New Music from (Really) Old Rockers
The Rolling Stones, Neil Young — even Chuck Berry, age 90 — have albums in the works
As the musicians who comprised the core of 1960s rock — the most evolutionary (and revolutionary) period of rock ‘n’ roll — carry on into their septuagenarian years, we’re faced with a critical question as music fans:
Do we really want rock legends to keep producing new music over a half-century into their careers? Isn’t rock ‘n’ roll a young person’s vocation in the first place? Doesn’t everyone just want to hear the classic stuff when these (old) folks perform anyway?
This industry is barely kind to artists in their 50s — much less those in their 70s.
The question was fairly unprecedented until the 21st century, but as ’60s-era rockers — and their fans — have gone on to collect AARP cards and blue plate specials, it’s a real thing now.
Recent announcements of new music by The Rolling Stones and Neil Young have put the issue front and center.
The Stones, whose four members are a combined 290 years old (average age: 72.5), will release “Blue & Lonesome” on Dec. 2. It’s their 80th album, including studio, live, and compilation releases.
On the same date, Young, 70, will release “Peace Trail.” It’s the 38th record of his solo career, and his second album just in 2016. (An experimental live album, “Earth,” arrived over the summer.)
Those statistics for The Stones and Young don't include soundtracks or box sets, which would make the numbers even bigger. And they don't consider solo records by Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Ronnie Wood, or Charlie Watts, much less Wood's recordings with The Birds or Faces or The Jeff Beck Group. Or Young's recordings with Buffalo Springfield or Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, for that matter.
Simply put, they've all recorded an astonishing amount of music. Do we really need more?
Granted, that's a little unfair. Okay, probably more than a little. It's a true Catch-22 for these artists, who remain vibrant even as they become grandparents. (Jagger actually became a great-grandfather in 2014.)
If you choose not to retire from music, you'll either be criticized for just continuing to trot out cobweb-covered hits on the oldies circuit — or be criticized for continuing to put out music decades past your heyday.
Look at Chuck Berry, the absolute epitome of a living legend, a slam dunk for the Mount Rushmore of rock 'n' roll. The nonagenarian hasn't released a new studio album since 1979, so he — oh, wait, hold on a second.
On his 90th birthday (Oct. 18), Berry announced he'll be releasing a new studio album, "Chuck," in 2017. According to a press release, it will largely include new songs — new songs! — written and produced by Berry himself. (Talk about making prolific filmmaker Clint Eastwood, a mere 86, look like an upstart kid.)
Regardless, this industry is barely kind to artists in their 50s, much less those in their 70s (or 90s, for that matter). And you can't blame legendary artists for remaining creative well into their golden years. Music is their lifeblood, after all. As long as they can pick up a guitar or a drumstick, why not make some music? It's not like professional sports, where you have to hang up the cleats at a certain age.
With that said, it's rare for any late-in-life rock artist to still be considered a formidable creator of fresh music.
David Bowie, who died this year at 69, certainly counted. Beyond that, it's hard to think of many popular examples beyond 67-year-old Bruce Springsteen, whose most recent studio album, "High Hopes," debuted as the No. 1 album in the country in January 2014.
But even that recording fell well short of U.S. gold album status, which is 500,000 copies sold. (By comparison, "Born in the U.S.A." achieved diamond status: more than 15 million copies sold in America.)
As for The Stones' new record, it's not original music. Actually, it's a bit of a fresh idea itself (for The Stones, at least) in being the band's first record of all covers.
While the band's eponymous debut album in 1964 was mostly covers (many of them American rock 'n' roll and R&B tunes), it did include one Jagger-Richards composition, "Tell Me (You're Coming Back)."
"Blue & Lonesome" instead includes 12 tracks of Chicago blues, covering artists such as Howlin' Wolf, Little Walter, and Willie Dixon. The first single is a cover of "Just Your Fool," which was originally composed by Buddy Johnson and later adapted by Little Walter.
The Stones' old buddy, Eric Clapton, contributes guitar parts on two tracks, "Everybody Knows About My Good Thing" and "I Can't Quit You Baby." According to a press release from the group, the entire album was recorded in just three days.
As for Young, who was one of several artists (including The Stones) to perform at last month's Desert Trip, widely nicknamed "Oldchella," he's taken a different tack with "Peace Trail."
The 10 tracks are all new compositions, although they're in keeping with the powerful ecological theme the Canadian folk-rocker has explored on recent releases "Earth" and "The Monsanto Years."
About six weeks ago, Young released a video for album track "Indian Givers," which explores an issue that's just become more timely in recent weeks: protests against the Dakota Access Pipeline.
It's unlikely either The Stones or Young will be challenging young contemporary artists such as Adele, Taylor Swift, or Justin Bieber for record sales, although it's notable that Bowie's final album, "Blackstar," along with "Best of Bowie," are in the year's top five for 2016 American sales.
Granted, Bowie's passing played a role in that. As for The Stones and Young, we can only hope they live long — and prosper.