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.