When a beloved band breaks up, it can be earth-shattering. A band feels like a family, and when it dissolves, it can be emotional. But how often do successful bands really break up?
We ran a data analysis of every band who has created a number one album since Billboard started tracking album sales in 1945. We only counted "bands" as being a group of two or more people performing under a collective name. Groups that consisted of a single frontman with a backing band (for example, Enoch Light and the Light Brigade) were not counted as "bands."
Based on our data, here's how many bands stay together:
There were 169 bands that made 321 number one albums. And only 54 of those 169 bands are broken up and not currently touring. That's 31.9% of bands! Obviously, the older a band is, the more likely it is to have broken up because a member died, or the performers are too old to tour, or they've retired. Twenty-four of the 54 broken-up bands had their first number one album pre-1965. That means that of 129 bands that had their first single after 1975, only 30 have broken up: 23.25%.
So if 3/4 of number one bands are still together and creating new albums and going on tours, why does it seem like this narrative of breaking up is such a staple? Maybe it's because breaking up is dramatic and we like drama. Maybe it's because the bands breaking up don't have the same level of success as bands who created a number one album.
Or maybe it's because bands are always threatening to break up by taking a hiatus from recording and touring.
Of the 169 bands we analyzed, 77 of them have taken a break from being a band at some point. That's 45.5% of bands! Almost half of the bands we know and love have at one point or another taken a "break" from being a band. Thirty-three of those bands have taken more than one hiatus over the course of their career.
The fear is that if your favorite band is going on hiatus, they might just break up. RIP *NSYNC. But that's not necessarily the narrative for bands that have created a no. 1 album!
Most bands that went on hiatus ended up getting back together! Fifty-three of the 77 bands took a break, reunited, and are still together today. That's 68.8% of bands formerly on hiatus that are performing and together today. Cross your fingers, One Direction fans!
What all this means is that if your favorite band scores a number one album, the odds of them breaking up—even after a hiatus—are much lower than the odds of them coming back together at some point in time where you could see them again. Number one bands are resilient. And there's a lot of money at stake.
Of the 53 bands that have already broken up, the average time they spent together was 14.9 years—and that number will probably be significantly higher once all of the bands that are still together break up. Here are the 10 longest-running bands with no 1 albums:
- The Isley Brothers — 61 years and counting
- The Beach Boys — 54 years and counting
- Rolling Stones— 53 years and counting
- Santana—48 years and counting
- Chicago —48 years and counting
- REO Speedwagon —48 years and counting
- Cross, Stills, Nash and Young — 47 years and counting
- Earth, Wind, and Fire —46 years and counting
- Queen — 45 years and counting
- America — 45 years and counting
And here are the bands with number one albums and the shortest runs:
- Blind Faith — together 1 year
- Cream –together 2 years
- Milli Vanilli —together 2 years
- The Firm—together 2 years
- The Mamas and Papas—together 3 years
- Creedence Clearwater Revival —together 5 years
- Wham! — together 5 years
- The Civil Wars —together 5 years
- Danity Kane —together 5 years
- The King Cole Trio —together 6 years.
One Direction would be number 9 this list, if they were confirmed to be broken up, having been together for 5 years before their hiatus. But with 68.8% of bands coming out of hiatuses (or false breakups) to tour and produce again, who's to say that these ten bands are really over? The Civil Wars and Danity Kane broke up in 2014, and either could reunite again eventually.
There's no telling what the future holds. But if we believe these numbers, the odds of any band breaking up for good are much lower than a potential future comeback.
Kelsey McKinney is a culture staff writer for Fusion.