Here’s a conundrum for you to puzzle on: Your band has been together going on nine years. You toured Ohio hundreds of times in a station wagon, caught a break with your third album, sold lots of copies of that and your fourth, sold a respectable bunch with your fifth, though it’s a major disappointment, mediocre and the band shows signs of burn out and now you’re trying to do an album with one hand and tour and your singer and your lead guitarist are major dope fiends and are at each other’s throats every night…. Is it time to break up your band?
Try this one: You’re together ten years, you’re replaced one guitar player, you’re coming off a string of successful albums, (though the last two are critical duds, they sell well), your lead guitarist is sinking into a drugged out haze, and suddenly, without warning, your other guitar player quits.Is this a sign you should break up your band?
John Lennon when asked in 1964 or 65 about how long the Beatles would go on replied, “You want to be big headed and say you’ll go on for ten years.” (Remember, at that time rock and roll was barley ten years old, depending on what you say the first rock and roll record was…) And the Beatles, when they broke up had been together ten years. Was John Lennon right? Is ten years about the workable limit for a rock and roll band?
Lets look at our examples above: Band one is Aerosmith. Joe Perry left, Jimmy Crespo made one great (criminally under-rated) record with the rhythm section and Tyler, then the Toxic Twins got back together, got sober, then lost their artistic integrity after being back together about five years and they continue to tour and make record, though their original fans continue to wonder why other than for the money and Steven Tyler’s ego.
Band two is the Rolling Stones of course. They made an album with a hodgepodge of guitar players (Black and Blue, which is not as bad as you think, not as bad as Goat’s Head Soup or It’s Only Rock and Roll) then brought in Ronnie Wood, who injected life into the band for exactly ONE record (Some Girls, Tattoo You is a collection of songs from 1974 to 1979) then the band falls apart, comes together and puts out new records every three years and a live records after every tour… Basically they’ve been skating by on name and reputation since 1978. Balls you say? Need I mention Undercover and Dirty Work? I see you all shuddering at those memories!
Think now about this: Chris Cornell (don’t kid yourself, when Chris said it was over, it was over) broke up Soundgarden after eleven years. The Clash and the Jam all said their peace in five years worth of recordings. The Replacements did all that in ten years. Should there be a mandatory rule/ law that bands have to break up or take a mandatory three-year hiatus ten years after the release of their first record?
Before you snap to a decision, think about this: How many band produce GREAT work after their ten-year anniversary? How many bands hit their artistic peak after ten years? Think about the careers of storied, legendary bands:
The Who 1964 – ???: Last Great Record – Quadrophenia 1974 [10 yrs]
Elton John 1970 – ??? LGR – Captain Fantastic 1976 [6 yrs]
Queen 1973 – 1996: LGR – The Game 1981 [8 yrs]
Aerosmith 1973 – ?? LGR 1st time around: Rocks [3 yrs] LGR 2nd time around [1984- pres] Pump 1989 [5 yrs]
U2 1981 – ??? LGR – Achtung Baby 1990 [9 yrs]
REM 1980 – ??? LGR – Document 1987 [7 yrs]
Yeah, there are a few souls who continue to do it and do it well, but how many ‘okay/ all right’ albums litter the wake of Lou Reed, Neil Young and the Kinks? Was it Elton John coming out of the closet or a decline in the quality of his songs that slowed his career after 1977? The history of Rock and Roll is just littered with bands that peak after 5 years, then die slow spiraling painful deaths like the Jefferson Airplane. Point all you like to the longevity of Yes, Jethro Tull, Pink Floyd, Kiss and the Grateful Dead and I ask again, how many great or even really good or interesting albums came after their ten year anniversary?
Face it, after ten years bands get weighted down with self importance (U2) or trying to meet critical expectations (REM) that they lose touch with the fun and spirit that drove them to be rock and rollers in the first place. Tommy Lee was a cool rebel in 1987; now he’s a clown. The only thing worse than someone trying to meet critical expectations or puffing themselves up in the mirror are those who can’t let it GO (ATTENTION MOTLEY!!!). ‘No one’s buying our solo rekkids, let’s reform and make some scratch and party like it’s 1995 again…’ I HOPE they have the good sense to KEEP AWAY FROM THE SPANDEX!!! Sadly, just like my parents generation flocks to see Paul McCartney hoping to relive that glory, people my age will dig out those Crue tour shirts and try to party like it is 1985 again and they will grouse and moan for days afterward about how they never USED to get hangovers.
They and we have to occasionally be reminded that rock and roll is a young man’s game. Sure the Stones can point to Muddy Waters and John Lee Hooker doing it until they’re 70… Those guys weren’t playing stadiums in front of football field sized video screens that do not hide the aging process. They weren’t jumping around like they had firecrackers in their shorts. They sat and PLAYED. It’s one thing to be Joni Mitchell or Van Morrison trying to play music, it’s another to be Mick Jagger. Anyone who made records in the 60s and still thinks their music is RELEVANT other than being Classic Rock is kidding themselves. People go to see Bruce, Dylan, Pink Floyd, the Stones, the Allmans, Paulie McC for the LEGEND… They don’t go to hear “Here’s a song from our new album.” As a matter of fact, that goes for the 70s and 80s bands, too. DO YOU HEAR ME ROD STEWART WHO’S TRYING TO RE-INVENT HIMSELF AS THE ENGLISH TONY BENNETT??? Hell, U2 almost followed the Queen path right into the sunset, though I hear this new album is more like War or October than anything else. But they took a long vacation after Pop and asked themselves if they’d gotten too big for their britches and at least took the right road and said ‘Yeah we have.’ Has REM done anything worth listening to since Bill Berry left the band? (I remember reading a long article in Musician back in 87 about how Berry and Buck were the ‘stay a cult band’ guys and Stipe and Mills were the ‘willing to go for mass appeal’ guys. Of course, Michael Stipe was quoted “I understand you can utilize this stuff and make it work for you without becoming a victim of it.” Better check again, Mike.)
I will admit bands do come up with good albums late in careers. AC/DC seems to cough one up every five years. And do the artists still have something to say? Probably. But are they going to reach numbers like they did way back when? No way. Did anyone see Stevie Nicks on VH1 trying to explain to Lindsey Buckingham how people who buy CDs now are the 17-35 demographic and how Mac fans won’t just drop everything to buy their new album; they have houses and cars and kids to pay for? (Which did not stop them for soaking us for 125 a pop on tour. And Say You Will was just another Lindsey Buckingham solo record he allowed Stevie to add to.. she’s relegated to a presence (as opposed to a force or a dynamo)on the record, perhaps explaining the mediocrity of the album. Maybe Lindsey did save his best work for his solo record again.)All I am suggesting is this: after ten-twelve years of working together, yes, you have a good feel for each other and where the other guy is going to be at any time… but most of the time, that leads to stale recordings and ego clashes. Even John Lennon knew that the end of the Beatles had come (though he was talked into Abbey Road, “something slick to preserve the myth.”). Too many bands try to hold on after their time or keep pushing forward when what they really need is a good two-year BREAK from each other. I’m not saying kill ALL of the dinosaurs, but be realistic about your expectations.
By Chaz Galupi