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rockers, class of '88

Gonna get briefer and briefer ... if you've read this far, you know the method, if what I'm claiming doesn't sound right, check Acclaimed Music.

The Beach Boys: Sixties icons. Best album, Pet Sounds, is #2 on the all-time album list at Acclaimed Music. By the early 70s, their prime had clearly passed. Brian Wilson, the guiding light behind the band, was 24 when the band made Pet Sounds.

The Beatles: This one is easy. The consensus pick for greatest band ever. When they broke up, the oldest guy in the band (Ringo) was 30 years old. Despite many great albums, none of the group's solo efforts ever topped what they'd done as Beatles.

The Drifters: Defeated the "theory" a bit by a nice bit of trickery, in that they changed most of the members of the group in mid-career. Whatever ... their peak lasted until 1964, at which time their lead singer of the moment, Johnny Moore, was 30 years old.

Bob Dylan: Because Dylan's had a resurgence (Time Out of Mind and Love and Theft were released when he was 56 and 60 years old), because he's had previous "comebacks," most notably in the mid-70s, because he still matters so much in his 60s, for all of these reasons and more, Bob Dylan is often mentioned to me as a guy who "proves" me wrong. But in fact, he's the boilerplate for my theory: early peak followed by gradual decline, with occasional resurfacing. Bob Dylan's first nine albums were all fine-to-classic, influential, timeless, the best that literate rock and roll has to offer. By the time he recorded Nashville Skyline, he was 28 years old. Bob Dylan was at his peak in his 20s. He then made some complete crap (I'm sorry, revisionists who try to rescue Self Portrait are deaf) and some average-at-best albums, then revived himself in the mid-70s, especially with Blood on the Tracks, made when he was 34. The 25 years after Desire were mostly of little interest, although occasionally he'd put out an album that was as good as New Morning. As noted, he's made a couple of excellent albums in the last few years. That does not constitute the peak of his career, which was clearly the 60s, not when he was 60.

The Supremes: Part of your opinion here will rest on what you think of Diana Ross's solo career. The Supremes are not my favorite Motown act, and Diana Ross mostly leaves me cold. In any event, the Supremes peak was in the 60s, Ross left the group when she was in her mid-20s, and after "Upside Down" and "I'm Coming Out" when she was 36, Ross made precious little good music.

That's five more artists, four of whom clearly fit the "early peak, then decline" pattern, one of whom, Bob Dylan, also fits but admittedly retains the ability to make great music into his 60s. I'm up to, what, 30 Hall of Famers, and I still see no evidence that rock and rollers get better decade after decade.


Via Dr. Frank:

* Grab the nearest book.
* Open the book to page 23.
* Find the fifth sentence.
* Post the text of the sentence in your journal along with these instructions.

You try it.

[I don't mean you should try this. I mean the fifth sentence on page 23 of the nearest book was "You try it."]

[I don't know if I'm supposed to say anything else. But I will. The quote comes from Lynda Barry. "Common Scents," appearing in The Best American Non-Required Reading 2003, edited by Dave Eggers.]

rockers, class of '87

I'll try to be more brief here ... most of these artists have similar stories to the first batch.

The Coasters: Many classic hits through "Little Egypt" in 1961, nothing on the charts since. Hard to get a handle on the ages of all the various Coasters, but it looks like they were in their 20s and 30s in 1961.

Eddie Cochran: Died at 21.

Bo Diddley: Influential innovator places two singles and two albums on the Acclaimed Music lists, all from the 1950s. By the time of his 1964 greatest hits package, he was already past his prime ... he was 35.

Aretha Franklin: The greatest of all woman rock and rollers is also the first person in this little survey who is still making albums people want to hear ... last year's So Damn Happy made #11 on the R&B charts, #33 overall. Between 1967 and 1973, Aretha had seven albums and twelve singles make the Acclaimed Top 2000 lists, including the #5 single of all-time, "Respect," recorded when Aretha was 25. She's made plenty of albums the last 30 years; I certainly hope no one reading this thinks those 30 years constitute the peak years for an artist who gave us such sublime music back in the day. From 1967-1973, Aretha Franklin was 25-32 years old.

Marvin Gaye: Died tragically at 44. Especially unfortunate for our purposes, because he was still a vital artist in his 40s, and it would be interesting to know where his music might have gone as he got older. He also seemed to have more than one peak ... the 60s singles artist, the early-70s album artist, the eccentric genius of his final albums. Acclaimed Music doesn't give us a definitive answer: his highest-ranked single was from 1968, highest-ranked album from 1971, by which time he was 32, but "Sexual Healing" and the Midnight Love album from 1982 are also among Gaye's best. I don't think either "side" can claim this one.

Bill Haley: I don't think I would have put him in the Hall of Fame, but whatever. He was 30 when "Rock Around the Clock" stormed the world; his importance didn't last much beyond that moment.

B. B. King: Here's a guy who remains a vital and entertaining artist even as he approaches 80. (Last year's Reflections made #2 on the blues charts.) I wonder if we'll find as I go through this stuff that blues guys have longer-lasting and older peaks. Acclaimed Music puts B's peak from around 1965 (Live at the Regal, his best album) through 1971, and that seems about right ... the last 30+ years have seen a lot of good music from King, but not a consistent batch of great albums.In any event, King had a peak that probably lasted 20 years, which is pretty damn impressive, he made his best album when he was 40, his peak didn't end until he was 46. The trajectory is the same as most of the rest of these folks, but BB was at the top a lot longer.

Clyde McPhatter: Died before he reached 40, career had been in tatters for some years before that.

Ricky Nelson: Another odd choice for a Hall of Fame, Ricky made better records than Bill Haley and co-starred in one of my favorite movies, Rio Bravo, but is a bit lightweight for this company. Nonetheless, the first stage of his career was pretty much over by his mid-20s, his comeback with "Garden Party" came when he was 32, and by the time he died at 45, he hadn't made an album in four years.

Roy Orbison: His late-80s resurgence with the Traveling Wilburys and the posthumous solo album Mystery Girl might make Orbison an outsider to my theory. But that's an illusion ... Orbison's last couple of years represented his first solid recordings in almost 25 years, and while those were good recordings, Acclaimed Music points us to a better period, the early 60s when Roy had five singles among the Top 1000 of all time. By the end of that peak, Orbison was 28 years old.

Carl Perkins: He was 23 when he recorded "Blue Suede Shoes," which was the most important thing he ever did.

Smokey Robinson: He would seem to be the perfect candidate to destroy my theory: he's a mature artist, a brilliant songwriter and singer, still vital in his 30s, when he invented Quiet Storm and recorded one of the most perfect records ever, "Cruisin'." and followed it up with "Being With You." Smokey's work in the 60s was so great that it's hard to say he ever matched it, but you can make a case that as of 1981, Smokey Robinson, age 41, was as important an artist as ever. But he hasn't really done much of interest in the 20+ years since then. Chalk up one for the theory.

Big Joe Turner: Turner was already in his 40s when he recorded "Shake Rattle and Roll." Ultimately, I'm not sure Big Joe is a rock and roller, but in any event, he maintained a longer peak period than most ... similar to B.B. King, now that I think of it. Maybe there is something about blues guys. Which leads me to:

Muddy Waters: I shook his hand one time. It was like touching Mt. Rushmore, and I'll never forget it. Muddy's best work was probably his 50s singles, four of which make the Acclaimed Top 2000. ("Rollin' Stone," "Hoochie Coochie Man," "Mannish Boy," and "Got My Mojo Working" ... those four songs could be a career all by themselves, and I dare say those four songs DID make careers for an awful lot of blooz bands.) He was in his late-30s/early-40s for those singles, so like the other blues guys, he has a later peak period than most rockers. He also recorded a candidate for Best Album By an Artist in His 60s, Hard Again in 1977 (in the Top 1000 albums of all time at Acclaimed). By the time I saw him (and shook his hand), he was in his 60s, he sat down through most of his set, he relied mainly on those classics from the 1950s ... he was still mesmerizing, of course. I think a pattern is developing with the blues guys ... similar trajectory, but longer lasting and with a later peak. It would be interesting to examine why blues guys aren't quite the same as rockers.

Jackie Wilson: From "Reet Petite" to "Higher and Higher," a nice ten-year run, although in fairness Wilson recorded a lot of dreck during that period as well. Still, it's easy to define his peak as existing somewhere in that ten-year run; when the run finished, he was 33 years old.

So what does this batch tell us? More rock and roll pioneers who didn't have extended careers, a few blues guys for whom it looks like the "theory" would have to be adjusted a bit, and a couple of R&B/Soul greats, Aretha and Smokey, whose careers fit nicely with the theory. I've gone through 25 artists now, and I've yet to see anything that convinces me the basic theory is wrong ... said theory, to remind anyone who just joined in, being that rock and rollers' careers more closely resemble those of athletes than those of "artists," reaching a peak in the earlier years (through about the mid-30s in most cases), followed by gradual decline interrupted on occasion by delightful reminders of how good they can be. Not one of the rock and roll pioneers had a career that started with hits in their 20s, better hits in their 30s, even better stuff in their 40s, and so on into their 50s, 60s and even 70s. So far there hasn't been a single example of a career that has maintained a peak level into the artist's 50s. (There are examples we've mentioned in other posts, most notably Lucinda Williams, but for the 25 Hall of Famers so far, no one has done it.)

I don't know what it means or why it should matter ... I'm just an obsessive/compulsive music fan with too much time on my hands, trying to figure out if what I suspect is true, is in fact true.

rockers, class of '86

Chuck Berry: Chuck Berry is a candidate for the greatest rock and roller of all time. Between 1955 and 1959, Berry had eight singles that made the Acclaimed Music list of the Top 2000 Singles of All Time. In the same period, he had two albums that made the Top 2000 Albums list. Outside of that period, he only makes the list in 1964, for the "Promised Land" single and St. Louis to Liverpool album. Berry is still alive and is probably out there somewhere right now playing "Johnny B. Goode," but as far as I can tell he hasn't recorded a studio album in 25 years. His peak was clearly the late 1950s. Between 1955 and 1959, Chuck Berry was 29-33 years old.

James Brown: The Godfather of Soul has 13 singles in the Top 2000 list. Six of them, including the three highest-ranking tunes, come from the period between 1963-1967. His highest-ranking album, Live at the Apollo, also comes from this period, as does another Top 2000 album, Prisoner of Love. Brown reinvented himself, and pretty much created Funk, during the late 60s-early 70s, which is also reflected in the Acclaimed lists ... not sure if we want to say he had a peak in the mid-60s and another slightly lesser peak a few years later, or just combine the two. If we extend his peak all the way through 1974's "Big Payback," we get to the point when the Godfather was 41 years old. Since then, Brown has released countless albums ... no one could possibly argue that the last 30 years have been a match for JB's first 20.

Ray Charles: Between 1958 and 1962, the Genius had six albums and seven singles which make the Top 2000 lists. Since 1962, he has never had a single or album place in those lists. In that peak time period, Ray was 28-32 years old.

Sam Cooke: I mention him for the sake of completeness, but since he was only 33 when he died, we'll never know how his music would have fared when he aged.

Fats Domino: One of early rock and roll's most delightful musicians, Fats had five singles and one album between 1955 and 1960 that made the lists, none in the 44 years since then. During that period, Fats was 27-32 years old.

The Everly Brothers: Six singles and two albums in the Top 2000 between 1957 and 1961. Their Roots album was a nice comeback in 1968, but by the early 70s they had broken up. Between '57 and '61, the brothers were 20-24 and 18-22.

Buddy Holly: See Sam Cooke above. Died when he was 22.

Jerry Lee Lewis: The Killer was 22 when he recorded "Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On" and "Great Balls of Fire." While his reinvention as a country singer in his mid-30s resulted in some good music and increased popularity, his best work remains those early Sun singles.

Elvis Presley: Elvis changed the world when he was 19 years old. He was The King until he entered the Army at 23 ... the next ten years were far from his best. In 1968 he came up with the greatest comeback in rock and roll history; he was 33 years old at the time. The quality of his music declined over the next several years, and he died at 42.

Little Richard: This magnificent artist created the unfathomably great "Tutti Frutti" when he was 19 years old. He followed that groundbreaking work with several more classic singles over the next two years, then found the Lord and began cutting gospel records. In 1959, His Biggest Hits was released, and the title remains true 45 years later. At the time, Richard was 23 years old.

There they are, the ten inaugural inductees, ten of the greatest musical artists of all time in any genre. Ten classic rock and rollers. With the possible exception of James Brown's greatest funk period (which lasted until he was 41), all of their greatest work was recorded by the time they turned 33 years old. For this batch of rock and rollers, anyway, it is clear: their peak years came early in their careers, not later.

old rock and rollers: a methodology

OK, I'm gonna try to get more organized about this. I'll take all the people who have been inducted as performers into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame ... that doesn't include "early influences," "lifetime achievements," or "non-performers." I'll assume that the list of HoF performers is representative of the best rock and rollers who have been around long enough to get older ... it's not perfect, but it'll do.

Then I'll try to identify the performers' peak. I'm not going to try and figure out who made the best album by a 50-year-old, nor am I going to figure out who aged well, or who had a nice career renaissance in their later years. I want to know when their peaks were and how old they were at the time, to the point of trying to figure out if there's a standard age range for a rock and roller's peak years. I'll use Acclaimed Music as the primary source for deciding when an artist's peak occurred, although I use other sources as well.

So, the first batch of performing inductees, the inaugural Hall of Fame class of 1986, was:

Chuck Berry
James Brown
Ray Charles
Sam Cooke
Fats Domino
The Everly Brothers
Buddy Holly
Jerry Lee Lewis
Elvis Presley
Little Richard

Starting with the next post, and then occasionally until I get done or get bored, I'll post more inductees.

career trajectories: rydell and eddy

I may have to come up with a new way to randomly select musicians for my Career Trajectory game ... the only two April 26 rock and roll birthdays I could come up with where the artist is old enough to be relevant are Bobby Rydell and Duane Eddy. Those are too easy ... both were pretty much finished by their mid-20s.

Let's see, who else just had birthdays? Roy Orbison would have been 68 last Friday. While Roy had a nice revival in his last years, he recorded almost every song of his that you'd recognize before he was 30 years old.

Peter Frampton that I spoke of last week? Biggest star in music when he was 26, pretty much forgotten before he was 30.

Iggy Pop's birthday was last week. The Stooges broke up when he was 26, and even if you want to argue that he's equaled that work in his solo career (I wouldn't say that, but some might), the only solo albums of his that get attention from Acclaimed Music are from 1977, when he was 30.

Dusty Springfield? She cut Dusty in Memphis when she was 30.

The various permutations of the Jefferson Airplane? No offshoots ever reached the heights of the original band ... not Starship, not Hot Tuna, not any of 'em. The last great Airplane album was Volunteers in 1969 ... 35 years later, none of the band members have matched it. The band members were 27-31 years old in 1969.

Al Green? Hasn't had an album show up on Acclaimed Music since 1977.

How about Janis Ian? The last time she had the critics' attention was when she was 24.

Before I go to bed, Emmylou Harris is still pretty much as good as she ever was, and she just turned 57.

rock and roll career trajectories continued

I've written on this a few times ... what the heck, here's the greatest hits on the subject so far:

rockers in their 50s
more on age and music
career trajectories

I'm obsessing about this again because of a discussion we're having on, inspired by a piece in the Buffalo News by Jeff Miers, "Top 50 list reveals tension over age and rock." Miers writes:

Some people will argue that Eminem is as important an artist as, say, the Beatles, or Led Zeppelin, or Marley, or Gaye. We'll see about that. And at its core is the popular myth that rock and pop are, and should be, young people's music. There are simply too many examples of artists improving as they age for this claim to hold water.
It's that last sentence that I am contesting. I think it's very likely the case that rock and roll careers have a trajectory that is closer to that of an athlete than it is to our common conception of what an artist's career might be like. That is, rock and roll careers tend to peak at a relatively early age, say late-20s to mid-30s. The greatest rock and rollers are still capable of excellence as they get older, but their most consistent period of greatness is almost always in their younger years, and this is, I don't know, interesting to me and not something with which Jeff Miers would agree.

In the RMAS thread, there's some argument about how we might ascertain a rocker's career trajectory. I've often used the ratings in the All Music Guide as a quickie way to check this, but Acclaimed Music is really the best, at least for rockers of the album era, since it usefully collates critical consensus and thus gives a pretty clear picture of how critics view an artist's career.

I've said all of this before in the previously-mentioned blog posts, so why am I blathering again? Well, I've come up with a new continuing feature, "continuing" meaning "until I get bored of it," which means I might never do it again, I might do it every day for a month. I'm gonna take a different artist each time, and look at their career trajectory. In order to introduce some randomness to this (I don't want to just pick people who will prove my point), I'll use birthdays as a starting point. Today, two "rockers" have birthdays, Stu Cook (bass player for Creedence Clearwater Revival) and Björn from ABBA. I'm not v.interested in ABBA, althoug Björn works perfectly to make my point: he was 37 when ABBA broke up, he hasn't done much of note since. And Stu Cook is kinda obscure, so how about I make John Fogerty today's Artist Trajectory Guy.

Creedence was one of the greatest rock and roll bands of all time, and Fogerty was the guiding artistic spirit of that band. Acclaimed Music's system puts CCR as the 39th greatest artist of all time, just ahead of Roxy Music. When Creedence broke up in 1972, John Fogerty was 27 years old. What happened to Fogerty's Hall of Fame career after that?

In 1973, he made a mostly-forgotten one-man-band album under the name "The Blue Ridge Rangers."

In 1975, he released John Fogerty, which included a couple of minor classics in "Rockin' All Over the World" and "Almost Saturday Night." Acclaimed Music lists it as the 45th most critically acclaimed album of the year, the 1694th most acclaimed album of all time (62 places below Pendulum, a Creedence album from 1970).

Then, due to a variety of factors, he didn't make another album for nine years.

In 1985, he released his best solo album, Centerfield, which hit #1 on the charts and was #28 on the "Acclaimed" charts for the year. It was the last album thus far in his career that made the Acclaimed charts.

The follow-up album, Eye of the Zombie, was not only lacking in critical acclaim (AMG gives it 2 stars out of 5), it never got higher than #73 on the charts.

And then he didn't make another album for eleven more years. Blue Moon Swamp was probably about as good as Centerfield, if not up to the best of Creedence. Fogerty then released a live album that included Creedence songs in the set-list.

And he hasn't made an album in the six years since.

So we've got an artist whose best work was done by the time he was 27 years old, who has on a couple of occasions since then cranked it up to something approaching his highest levels, but who remains best known for what he did in the late-60s/early-70s. I'd say that's a vote in favor of my Theory of Rock and Roll Career Trajectories.

stolen poll idea

I saw this first at Jorit's place. Don't blame her for my answers.

Abortion?:kill 'em all, I don't care
Death Penalty?:don't kill 'em all, I'm against it
Prostitution?:why not
Alcohol?:why not
Marijuana?:why not
Other drugs?:why not
Gay marriage?:why not
Illegal immigrants?:why not
Smoking?:why not
Drunk driving?:throw 'em in the slammer
Cloning?:why not
Racism?:kill all the racists
Premarital sex?:why not
Religion?:fuck all religions
The war in Iraq?:throw the Bushies in the slammer
Bush?:fuck Bush
Downloading music?:why not
The legal drinking age?:it's probably about right as it is
Porn?:why not
Suicide?:why not

What is your stand on..... brought to you by BZOINK!

penn, teller, and skepticism

I'm a fan of the Showtime program Penn & Teller: Bullshit. Neal pointed out that the second season has been worse than the first, suggesting that they've already run out of topics. What I've noticed is that they use the Cato Institute for a lot of their sources, which may have been true in Season One as well but I didn't pick up on that. Basically, I've come to realize that if we are to label Penn & Teller, it's more accurate to call them libertarians than to call them skeptics. They can be both, of course ... just because I identify with the latter and not the former doesn't mean they can't coexist in the same person. But I haven't always taken the same pleasure out of Season Two as I did the first time around.

And now I've discovered something called A Skeptical Blog that is quite well done, a left-wing skeptic's site. And this guy has some v.insightful things to say about Bullshit scattered throughout his blog. I've pulled one because I recall being impressed by the P&T episode in question ... this blog entry makes me rethink my own position, which is always a good thing: "Penn & Teller: Exposing Bullshit or Spreading It 2?":

Penn & Teller ... are not concerned with the truth (even with the truth is something as simple as "I don't know"). They are only concerned with presenting their political views in as favorable a light as possible. Not that there is anything basically wrong with this, but when I watch a show that claims to expose Bullshit, I don't expect that show to start slinging it itself. I will still watch when Penn & Teller do shows on the paranormal. I am able to evaluate their evidence because after all, it is what all three of us are expert at. But when people come up to me and say they don't believe anything P&T say on their show, how will I be able to blame them? Guys, as a fellow magician and skeptic, I can't help but hang my head in shame.

acoustic sunrise

Here's another way for obsessive-compulsive people to play on the Internet.

Some radio stations post playlists online. If you have a favorite program, it's nice to have an archive of what's been played. And with Rhapsody, you can use those station playlists to create Rhapsody playlists. Load in a bunch of songs, hit shuffle play, and you've got your own version of your favorite show.

Among the programs I've found enjoyable are The Bonnie Simmons Show, with the great 70s DJ still going strong once a week on KPFA; Little Steven's Underground Garage, hosted by the E Street Soprano; and Morning Becomes Eclectic out of Santa Monica College. Here's a Rhapsody Playlist culled from KFOG's Acoustic Sunrise show:

"I Don't Want To Know" - Fleetwood Mac
"Block Dog" - David Wilcox
"Free Man In Paris" - Joni Mitchell
"Bears" - Lyle Lovett
"Talk About The Passion" - R.E.M.
"The Heart Of Saturday Night (Looking For)" - Shawn Colvin
"A Hazy Shade Of Winter" - Simon and Garfunkel
"I Am The Sun" - Ben Taylor Band
"Don't Know Why" - Norah Jones
"Helpless" - Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young