Ten Years Gone

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

4 Comments

  1. Ten years – how about two CDs? It’s really hard to find a band that even can string two good recordings together. Most new groups or singer/songwriters put out their best stuff on their first disc. Everything goes downhill from there. The only ones this doesn’t seem to apply to are the groups that take several discs to get a good one out and then go right downhill after that like No Doubt.
    This is probably why trance, electronica and house are so big in the clubs. Once you’re used to monotony you don’t even look for anything new or fresh. But is it the recording companies or the artists that are the problem?

  2. Ten years – how about two CDs? It’s really hard to find a band that even can string two good recordings together. Most new groups or singer/songwriters put out their best stuff on their first disc. Everything goes downhill from there. The only ones this doesn’t seem to apply to are the groups that take several discs to get a good one out and then go right downhill after that like No Doubt.
    This is probably why trance, electronica and house are so big in the clubs. Once you’re used to monotony you don’t even look for anything new or fresh. But is it the recording companies or the artists that are the problem?

  3. I have often pondered this issue, the seemingly inevitable decline in vitality over time that all creative people face, especially those involved in making rock and roll music. Maintaining any relationship is a challenge, and when ego and various substances are factored in it seems an impossible task. When I read the phrase “rock and roll is a young man’s game” in Mr. Galupi’s conundrum piece, I bristled a bit at the exclusion of women in this declaration–which brings me to my example of a band that I believe *has* produced “GREAT work after their ten-year anniversary,” and that would be Sonic Youth.

    Perhaps Kim Gordon has managed to alter the typical male model of interband communication enough over the past 24 years so that they can continue challenging themselves and their audience with new sound/song hybrids every couple of years? Perhaps the fact that drug use hasn’t taken its toll on any one of the members has something to do with it? Or the fact that they all are actively involved in outside projects, so that when they come together to make Sonic Youth music they are focused on the matter at hand?

    I realize that many critics think they have been making the same record for years now, but close listening will reveal the flaw in this lazy critique. When I compare their last four records with those of REM and U2, I think of how all three of these bands mattered to me in 1987 and how I can hardly hear REM or U2 these days without wincing. The U2 fellows even admitted to lifting one of SY’s riffs (from “Dirty Boots,” on Goo) for their “Vertigo” iPod-aided hit in a recent issue of Rolling Stone. I don’t know why REM doesn’t disband, as they always claimed they would in the ’80s if any one of the four founding members left the band. It’s the Stipe Solo Project at this point.

    So, in review, Sonic Youth formed in 1981. Of their post-1991 records, I would submit the following as containing “GREAT work.”
    Dirty (1992)
    Washing Machine (1995)
    A Thousand Leaves (1998)
    Sonic Nurse (2004)

  4. Hmmmm good comments guys;

    Don -I think the blame lies in both. Record companies now don’t GIVE the artist time to GROW [think of Kiss on Casablanca… what if it had been down to those first two albums to make or break your band? Aerosmith, according to their book was about to be dropped but gave the RECORD COMPANY an extension to allow their second record to be made!], they need that hit right out of the box, and either

    A> They get their hit, but there’s no way for an artists to foillow up something they’ve had years to write and hone in 1 year, thus creating the artists downfall, by which time the label has moved onto their next big thing… OR

    B> They don’t get their hit, don’t promote, don’t allow the artist time to develop a base and wind up breaking the artitst’s spirit. The artist threw all of his chips into one hat and missed… now he’s a has been at 23…

    Tom – Ooooh, Sonic ‘Ute… better arguement than U2 or REM, but [just MY opinion] they’ve been making good records, but not OUTSTANDING records since Washing Machine. I have not heard the last one, but I have found I like about half of each one since WM… I can no longer get into 9 minute slabs of wall of NOISE.

    But I do stand politically corrected. Joan Jett can still rock even if she doesn’t get played on the radio. The Heart girls can still get it done now that they’ve dropped the big hair and lipstick fix.

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