Rock’s 10 Biggest Surprises of 2023
If there's one thing we know about rock stars, it's to expect the unexpected.
That old adage proved true in 2023, as many of rock's biggest acts made surprising moves. For some, it was a decision to switch up their lineup -- either by choice or necessity. Others dealt with inner band turmoil, while some shocked fans by retiring from touring. Then there was the classic artists who made bold moves to embrace new technology, using new tools to salvage old material or even to create entirely virtual versions of themselves.
Here are Rock's 10 Biggest Surprises of 2023, presented in chronological order.
Mick Mars' Fallout With Motley Crue
Mick Mars announced he was retiring from touring in October 2022, with Motley Crue revealing his replacement, John 5, days later. Things appeared amicable between all parties, but in April 2023, Mars issued a lawsuit against his former band, claiming they were ripping him off financially. Both sides traded pointed public quotes, with Motley Crue claiming Mars was being “manipulated by his manager and lawyer.” Later in the year, Mars released his first solo music, while the Crue continued forth playing shows with their revamped lineup. Still, the dispute between both sides remains unresolved.
Josh Freese Joins Foo Fighters
At the end of 2022, Foo Fighters made it clear that they would still continue as a band following the tragic death of Taylor Hawkins. A series of top level drummers performed with them during two Hawkins tribute concerts, and speculation ran rampant about who could permanently end up with the job. Dave Grohl handled all of the drumming duties on the band’s 2023 album But Here We Are, leading some to suggest the head Foo might pull a Phil Collins and serve as frontman from behind the kit. At one point, Rufus Taylor, son of Queen’s Roger Taylor, was rumored to be the choice. Then, on May 21, Foo Fighters made their decision public, with veteran rocker Josh Freese tabbed to take over the role.
Annie Lennox Done Touring
In August, fans everywhere were caught off guard when it was revealed that singer Annie Lennox had quietly retired from touring. The news didn’t come via a press release or public announcement, but rather a statement from her Eurythmics bandmate, Dave Stewart. “Looking forward to this [tour], I love performing these songs,” Stewart wrote on social media, promoting his trek celebrating the 40th anniversary of Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This). “I spent 1,000’s of hours crafting them in the studio and had the best partner in Annie but she has said she won’t be touring anymore which I totally understand but I love our songs and I love playing live so I have selected brilliant all female musicians and three wonderful female vocalists.”
Jann Wenner Ousted From Rock Hall
As the co-founder of Rolling Stone magazine and the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, Jann Wenner enjoyed more than 50 years among the music industry’s elite. In September, while promoting his book The Masters, Wenner made inflammatory remarks during an interview with The New York Times. Wenner said that women were not “articulate enough on this intellectual level” to discuss rock history. He made similar comments about Black artists, then compounded the situation by saying: “Just for public relations sake, maybe I should have gone and found one Black and one woman artist to include here that didn’t measure up to that same historical standard, just to avert this kind of criticism.” Wenner, who exited Rolling Stone in 2016, was soon ousted by the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame over his sexist and racist remarks. The Hall of Fame’s board of directors voted to remove him just one day after the quotes went public. Only two people voted in support of Wenner keeping his role.
Ted Nugent Retires From the Road
With a career spanning six decades and a long history of electrifying live performances, Ted Nugent always seemed like a rock n’ roll lifer. That’s why many were so surprised when the Motor City Madman announced his 2023 tour would be his last. The trek, dubbed Adios Mofo, ran from July through September. And though Nugent adamantly insisted he’d never embark on an organized tour again, he admitted he’ll still find time for occasional performances. “My life revolves around my wife, my kids, my grandkids and my dogs, Nugent explained to UCR during the trek. “So I will never leave home to do a tour now. I can do gigs, if I can hub out of my Michigan cabin, which could include Ohio, Indiana, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Illinois, Michigan – and maybe eventually, Ontario again. But I’m never going to go on another ‘tour’ tour. This really is the last tour.”
Robert Plant Dusts Off 'Stairway'
Robert Plant’s feelings towards “Stairway to Heaven” have been well documented. Despite being one of Led Zeppelin’s most famous tunes – and among the most revered rock songs of all time – Plant has expressed disappointment in the track. As he’s explained it, the feelings stem from dissatisfaction regarding the lyrics. So it was incredibly surprising when Plant performed “Stairway to Heaven” at a charity benefit in England, hosted by Duran Duran’s Andy Taylor. The rendition -- Plant’s first performance of the song in over 16 years – reportedly came at the request of a wealthy benefactor who donated a “huge” sum. We think it was money well spent.
Jimmy Page Shows He Can Still 'Rumble'
Led Zeppelin legend Jimmy Page has largely stayed out of the public eye since the turn of the Millennium. That’s why it was so surprising to see the guitar god give an unannounced performance at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony. Page honored hugely influential guitarist Link Wray by delivering a rendition of his classic track “Rumble.” Even at 79 years old, Page flashed the dexterity that made him one of rock’s most celebrated ax wielders. The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame appearance marked Page’s first public performance since 2014.
New Beatles Song
The last thing anyone expected in 2023 was a new song from the Beatles. After all, the band broke up in 1974 and seemingly every last remnant of material had been mined for their sprawling Anthology set. But then, fate stepped in – or, more specifically, technology. With the aid of filmmaker and Beatles super fan Peter Jackson, Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr were able to salvage the long abandoned song "Now and Then." John Lennon's part was pulled from demos recorded prior to his death, while George Harrison’s contribution came from the '90s (when the surviving bandmates had first attempted to finish the track). By assembling these pieces with newly recorded parts from McCartney and Starr, the world was given their first new Beatles track in nearly 30 years.
Hall & Oates' Lawsuit
Since 1970, Hall & Oates had been a model of pop-rock consistency. Sure, there were bumps along the way, but across 18 studio albums in their Hall of Fame career, the duo seemed to more or less avoid the pitfalls that commonly plagued other classic acts. Then, in late November, things took a turn for the worse. Daryl Hall issued a lawsuit and restraining order against John Oates, claiming his partner’s plan to sell his share of their joint venture company would violate the terms of the pair's business agreement. Hall said he was “blindsided” by Oates’ move to sell, while Oates responded by saying he was “deeply hurt” by the accusations. With no resolution in sight, the legal battle sees poised to continue into 2024.
Kiss Unveils Their Avatars
For much of the year, fans keenly watched as Kiss enjoyed their well earned victory lap with the End of the Road tour. Considering it was the second farewell trek of the band’s career, many questioned if Kiss might change plans and return for another run. But then, on Dec. 2, the band played their final song at Madison Square Garden, bringing Kiss’ touring history to an end… kind of. “The end of this road is the beginning of another road,” frontman Paul Stanley declared in the set’s closing moments, with the band exiting the stage soon thereafter. Then, a surprise: the unveiling of Kiss avatars, which will allow the group to continue as a virtual act indefinitely. The announcement was polarizing, with some fans hailing Kiss’ ability to evolve and others claiming the group was tarnishing its legacy. The avatar Kiss won’t debut until 2027, leaving plenty of time for people to argue until then.
In Memoriam: 2023 Deaths
Gallery Credit: Allison Rapp