Thursday, April 7, 2011

They Should've Stopped While They Were Ahead

Karen: I'm gonna say upfront here, that this post is pretty negative. In fact, it might be considered cruel. But the truth will out - and the truth is (in my humble opinion), some bands or artists would be better off if they had just stopped producing new albums at some point. By better off, I mean their musical legacy would have been more secure, more impressive if they had just stopped at a high point, before they drifted off into mediocrity. My example is the Rolling Stones. I feel they've become a mockery of themselves. Think of all the crap they've put out in the last few decades - Undercover, Dirty Work, Bridges to Babylon -heck, I bought Tattoo You when it came out and I thought they had pretty much hit bottom then. Have they done anything truly memorable since Some Girls? I mean, this was the band that put out classics like Let It Bleed, Exile on Main Street, and Sticky Fingers. That was incredible work. Those albums still have a power and resonance today. Now I don't expect an artist to always hit a home run, but when it's obvious that they're really not even trying any more, well, then they should just pack it up and enjoy their wealth. But not the Stones. They just keep traipsing out on stage, diluting their greatness year after year. A band that was once rebellious and considered dangerous has transformed into a nostalgia act. They haven't made any attempt to reinvent themselves like many other 60s rockers; instead, they are riding on the coat-tails of their youthful selfs. Thankfully they haven't turned out too many albums recently, but it's almost too late, the damage has been done. To a lesser extent, I feel the same way about Aerosmith. They were a great hard rock band that arose from the ashes of their own self-destruction to become an over-produced, ballad band? Ugh. Do you think I'm being too harsh? Or do you have another example you want to discuss?


david_b said...


Great topic.. Huge Stones fan, played "Exile" the last few mornings coming in to work, now re-tuning my guitar in Open G to learn "Tumblin' Dice" (finally..).

Yes, it's a long argument, measuring the long-and-winding-road of our lads from Dartford. One great thing about Mick is that he's typically resists ANY greatest hits compliations or any 'oldies' type touring, which was smart for the band. They still tour with Buddy Guy, Eric occasionally, so they always showcase SUPER talent, striving to keep their touring fresh.

But you have to look at them more as a touring band, more so than a 'tour-de-force' in the music industry.. Granted, no more 'Some Girls' hits (Voodoo Lounge was them 'trying' to recapture 'Exile', but still had some great moments..), but it's become more of a 'personality' band as well, between Keith and Mick. They're institutions now, regardless of current musical creativity, so arguably, does that allow them license to always do 'Satisfaction'..? Sure.

Perhaps more along the vein of Dead concerts these days, the Stones will always be greatly loved and appreciated for still touring (funny as it is, I didn't see them until only a few years back..).

As for innovation..? Hey, it's 'Stones music'.. I am relieved that Ron Wood's more sober now, and can handle more intricate guitar parts. I've always irritated that the guitar 'weaving' got pretty sloppy by the time 'Some Girls' came out, especially after the lush beauty of Mick Taylor.., but if it's to keep the band together and still put on a good show, eh.., I'm fine with it.

If I really want to see them at the pinnacle, I can watch 'Ladies and Gentlemen..' or perhaps 'Stones in the Park', or better yet, performing 'Around and Around' during their set on 'The TAMI Show'.

david_b said...

Actually, in discussing their age and lifestyle changes, Bill Wyman said it best..:

"We used to throw TVs out the windows of our hotel rooms. Now we just sit and watch 'em."

Edo Bosnar said...

Not sure I completely agree with you about the Stones - on the one hand, I definitely think they hit their creative peak with "Exile on Main St." and "Some Girls", but they still did manage to produce a number of really good individual songs on various albums all the way up to "Voodoo Lounge." And I saw them live in 1989, and have nothing bad to say about that concert. Still, I would concede that they should have probably called it a day sometime in the 90s.
I definitely agree with you about Aerosmith - their "second coming" in the late 80s really left me cold.
Otherwise - and I know a lot of people won't agree with me on this - I think U2 should have just stopped after "Achtung Baby" (or maybe even "Joshua Tree/Rattle & Hum"). In artistic terms, I don't think they've done anything worthwhile since then...

J.A. Morris said...

I agree,'Some Girls' was their last good album. I'm not crazy about the 3 albums that preceded it('Goats Head Soup','It's Only Rock N Roll','Black And Blue') 'Tattoo You' is okay, but of course that was just a collection of outtakes(some of which dated back to the early 70s)cobbled together so they had a product to promote while on tour. Never felt the need to own it, or any of what came after.
I thought about going to see them in '89, but then I saw a clip from a show and they were playing 'One Hit To The Body'. I remember thinking "why are they playing that song, no one liked it or 'Dirty Work'!"
Plus,when Bill Wyman quit, they lost something. No,he's not as important as Jagger or Richards, but he's an original Stone & an underrated bassist, very important part of the rhythm section.
And you're right about Aerosmith too. They did lots of good,fun guitar rock in the 70s, now they're a joke.

Doug said...

Does it matter if an artist chooses to age with his/her fans? I am wondering about Elton John and Rod Stewart moving into the "adult contemporary" genre.

Opinions on that?


Horace said...

TATTOO YOU has a lot of good songs on it and holds up well.

J.A. Morris said...

Good question from Doug about aging. I think the recent "AC" albums by those guys are pretty awful. There should be some sort of "happy medium" between pretending you're still a 25 year old rock god and singing standards like John & Stewart.

I think Bruce Springsteen's work has "aged" as well an any aging rock icon's output. His recent albums are not as good as 'Born To Run','Darkness' or 'The River', but they're okay,better than any recent Stones offering. And he's also done two acoustic albums(featuring songs that are sometimes very disturbing),plus an album of American "roots" music('We Shall Overcome'),not just re-writing old songs and passing them off as new material.
If a 61 year old Springsteen was still writing songs about getting with Wendy/Mary/Rosie on hoods of Cadillacs,he'd be pathetic.

Karen said...

I want to thank Doug for bringing up the subject of later careers, and J.A. for expanding upon it.

I don't think an artist has to hang it up when they reach middle age, but I do hope they would age gracefully. If they have more to say, whether it's in their original style or a new one, that's fine.

Springsteen is a good example of this. I also like what Robert Plant has done with his career. But the Stones look like a parody of themselves now.

Creative people want to keep being creative; that's understandable. I'm sure some of them think they are turning out great stuff when it's actually awful. But with the Stones, I get the sense that they don't even care about artistic integrity now; it's just about money.

The Beatles and Led Zeppelin had relatively brief lifespans but left outstanding legacies. I'm firmly convinced that that brevity is what made it possible (and I do think that Zeppelin would have broken up around the same time, even if Bonham hadn't died). The Stones will always be considered one of the greatest rock bands, but they really do feel like a circus act now to me. It's like a baseball star who doesn't know when to retire, and plays several more bad seasons, diluting all his stats. I just think they'd leave a stronger legacy if they'd stopped say mid-70s. Based on their musical output, they haven't had anything interesting to say since then.


Anonymous said...

Very interesting blog. I'm probably the only deadhead around here, but if you wanna hear the ultimate "they were better back then" arguments, hit the Grateful Dead/Other Ones/Further sites. It even gets into "they were best this year", or even "best tour" specifics. I love the late 1973 stuff, one drummer, and Donna Jean's banshee wail was absent due to maternity leave. And 77-78 stuff that wasn't ruined by Donna's backup vocals. I saw all my shows in the 90s, and some of them were unbearable, (sonically).

I love the Stones (esp the Mick Taylor stuff), but haven't bothered picking anything up since Tattoo You. There HAS been the occasional nice tunes since ("The Worst" is pretty awesome, imo) And that SuperBowl half time show a couple years ago was soooooo disappointing, Man, i thought that was gonna be good. Never saw them live, regretfully, but i wouldn't bother now.

On a personal note, i just found a copy of SYMPATHY FOR THE DEVIL DVD for 7 bucks. It's been years; can't wait to find some time for a re-watch.


david_b said...

"Stones Aging Gracefully..??"

Not if ol' Keith has anything to say about it..

That's what I love about Keith. He's a self-acknowledged 'touring animal', that's how he's built, and he readily admits it. Other than Charlie and Bill, they all enjoy touring, which keeps 'em healthy and focused in their older years.

Hard to believe, I was still suseptable to Keith's 2nd hand smoke, even in the rafter seats..

Loved Keith's Chuck Berry project 'Hail Hail Rock'nRoll'.., it's a must-watch. Despite all the on-screen headaches with his hero.., Keith was determined to show Chuck warts and all, and lead an excellent backing band.

I implore anyone to check out Eric Clapton playing 'Wee Wee Hours' from that show on YouTube. One the most awesome guitar solo's ever (he actually takes two solos..), with Keith groovin' around behind him.

Great topic, close to my heart, Karen!

Anonymous said...

Did the Stones stay around too long? From a rock and roll perspective, sure they did. They probably should have folded up the tent after "Start Me Up."

However, you have to consider that most of their idols (at least Keith's and Wyman's) when growing up (Buddy Guy, B.B. King, Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley, etc..) all played or are still playing well into their 70's or 80's and still did some powerful music.

Given the way that modern music has turned into cookie cutter types that are basically interchangable, we should probably be glad the Stones are still out there plugging away. When they're gone, they'll take the mold with them probably.

Fred W. Hill said...

Seems to be rather difficult for most rockers to age gracefully, especially if they became very successful early in their career. Folkie types, such as, say, Tom Waits, who only achieved moderate success appear to maintain artistic integrity even as they reach retirement age. The reason, I think, is because they tend to sing about what really matters to them throughout their career, rather than trying to keep up with trends or to desperately come up with hits. Well, of course, that only applies if what matters to them is interesting and meaningful, rather than simply endless variations on "trying to make some girl" or how "cold" women who won't give in to their pleadings are.
Regarding the Stones, the last of their albums I bought were Tattoo You and Steel Wheels, and IMO each had some very good material, but even by the mid-70s, they were mixing in too much uninspired schlock, with Mick striving too hard to maintain his badass persona.

david_b said...

J.A.: Thanks for the thoughts on the 70s albums. One major fault I see for the mid-decade albums you mention, is that after 'Exile', when the Glimmer Twins took over, the 'sequencing' of album tracks were terrible, eliminating any sense of 'cohesive identity' in the albums such as 'Goatshead' and 'Its Only R&R..", same is true of 'Let It Bleed' actually.

I understand Miller produced both 'Goatshead' and 'Bleed', not Mick and Keith, so it's not just the Glimmers.

This limits the albums to becoming a list of songs/hits, but ultimately disappoints when heard as a whole. If you re-sequenced the songs in a better order, the album concept would improve greatly. Most of the tracks are great (some weak), you had that on 'Beggars' and 'Exile' as well.

Anonymous: Great points on Buddy and Mr. King by comparison.. They've matured and continue to play excellent music to both general and dedicated audiences, without the lauds or accolades of being creative or hitting new peaks by critics who weren't even around when they started.., etc.

Unlike any other band, for over 40yrs the Stones have been entertaining, without the need to be in the Top 10. Can they be viewed the same way..?

Anonymous said...

All these postings and no one quoted ‘not fade away’. Imagine if the Stones had formed, produced just their output from 68 – 72 (i.e Beggar’s Banquet to Exile) and disappeared. WOW. I guess a few bands have kind of done this. The Manic Street Preachers I think vowed to do this and their lyricist actually did vanish off the face of the Earth. The Smiths went out at the top.

Elton John has had a couple of really good renaissances since his 70’s heyday (Too Low for Zero, Sleeping with the Past & the One are all great albums from start to finish). I think Rod Stewart has got lazy. His best stuff is all early 70’s when he was trying to break away from the Faces.

For sheer Life-After-Death quality of a big dinosaur band, I’d have to throw Pink Floyd into the mix. Imagine if they’d done the Wall and then packed up. What a swan song. I genuinely think the Wall throws down a gauntlet about what can be achieved by a rock album which no-one, BUT NO ONE, has picked up in 30 years.

Momentary lapse of reason wasn’t great but it was shocking in that it was unmistakably Floyd without Waters, which was a real surprise: there was something Floyd all along that had nothing to do with Waters. I liked Division Bell and was gutted that they didn’t come back for more.

However, Waters solo albums are the gems that I wouldn’t be without. Amused to Death is outstanding. Really, truly breathtaking both lyrically and musically. I’ve never stopped listening to that album in nearly 20 years.


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