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Battle of the Aging Rock Stars

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I've often been known to mutter, "Life was so fun until David Lee Roth started losing his hair." With the recent announced reformation of Led Zeppelin, the Police, and Van Halen, it’s time to take a look at the relevance of our aging rock stars.

Prince: 49
Continuing recording relevance: 7
Ability as a live act: 10

Bat crazy in his personal life, but suddenly financially brilliant, no one can match his catalog or on-stage brilliance. He’s still likely to release a six-hour record that you can’t begin to filter, but it wouldn’t surprise me in the least to see him release a new monster single.

Led Zeppelin: Jimmy Page 63, Robert Plant 59, John Paul Jones 61
Continuing recording relevance: Won’t happen
Ability as a live act: Unknown

After seeing Page in the mid-'80s, I was sure he was close to death, and he’s been a musical non-entity for years. An embarrassing Live Aid reunion performance was blamed on Phil Collins. Fans will be excited to see the one off live gig, but with Jason Bonham now 9 years older than the age his father reached, it’s hard to expect much fire.

The Police: Sting 55, Andy Summers 64, Stuart Copeland 55
Continuing recording relevance: Won’t happen.
Ability as a live act: 9

With Sting becoming perhaps the most boring man alive, it was time to give in, cash in the 401k and rejoin his fellow law enforcement officers. Luckily, they did so with their chops intact.

Van Halen: David Lee Roth 53, Eddie Van Halen 52, Alex Van Halen 54
Continuing recording relevance: 4
Ability as a live act: 4

Who didn’t want this to happen? Unfortunately, it’s ten years too late. Dave has not only re-recorded his hits with a bluegrass album, but more importantly his voice is completely shot. Eddie is about 1,000 shots of Jack Daniels past his prime and easy as it is to mock Michael Anthony’s importance, Roth’s pipes will need his soaring backing vocals more than ever. Expect a train wreck of a tour that may not even reach its final planned date.

Bob Dylan: 66
Continuing recording relevance: 10
Ability as a live act: 5

Dylan, who once seemed like a spent creative force, somehow pulled out of the nosedive and became without a doubt the most relevant aging rocker of all time. Brilliant albums, a great XM radio show, a lauded autobiography, a great Scorsese documentary, and what looks to be a fascinating upcoming interpretation of his life by filmmaker Todd Haynes, Dylan is on top of the world, and refuses to stop touring.

Whether he could sing live years ago is something people still argue about, but frankly at this point to me he often sounds like Porky Pig on stage.

Paul McCartney:
Continuing recording relevance: 7
Ability as a live act: 9

Apparently sadness helps. McCartney, though having some personal issues, is having a career resurgence and boasts that killer catalog for live performances. Nevertheless, the Fidelity commercial and the Starbucks signing gnaw at me.

The Who: Pete Townshend 62, Roger Daltrey 63

Continuing recording relevance: 4
Ability as a live act: 8

Their recent comeback album was widely lauded, but frankly I don’t see it. Live Townshend still has the fire, and Daltrey somehow still looks like he’s in his 30s.

Phil Collins 56, Tony Banks 57, Mike Rutherford 56
Continuing recording relevance: 3
Ability as a live act: 4

Had they succeeded in drawing Peter Gabriel back into the fold, this might have been interesting. Instead, least necessary reunion ever.

The Rolling Stones: Mick Jagger 64, Keith Richards 63, Charlie Watts 66, Ron Wood 60
Continuing recording relevance: 2
Ability as a live act: 7

An upcoming performance film with Martin Scorsese in a small club setting sounds tantalizing. Keith’s ability to stay alive remains fascinating. Their new records are worthless.

Eric Clapton: 62
Continuing recording relevance: 5
Ability as a live act: 5

Healthy as he’s ever been, both physically and commercially, but he’s always put me to sleep.

Jeff Beck: 63
Continuing recording relevance: 7
Ability as a live act: 9

Still looks fantastic and plays with dynamic passion. When he feels like recording, it’s always worth listening to.

Ray Davies: 63
Continuing recording relevance: 8
Ability as a live act: 9

Long-awaited solo debut was fantastic, and the ensuing tour humorous, joyful, and amazingly energetic given the fact that he was shot in the leg during a trip to New Orleans a few years ago. Kinks reunion could happen, dependent on brother Dave’s post-stroke health and the state of the brothers hate/love relationship.

Jerry Lee Lewis: 71
Continuing recording relevance: 5
Ability as a live act: 10

Recent album was definitely worth listening to, but although the ability remains it won’t be easy for him to record. Nonetheless, he’s still as dangerous as ever, and when he deems to perform live, he still has the fury and passion to play any punk band off the stage.

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About Brad Laidman

  • Steve

    The last Stones record was great. Better than anything McCartney had done in ages, and definitely better than The Who’s ‘Endless Wire.’ My only fault with ‘A Bigger Bang’ was it’s length, it would’ve had a lot more impact being pruned down to 11-12 tracks, but it was the rawest, most rockin’ Stones disc in years.

    You forgot to mention Elton John…his ‘Peachtree Road’ album that came out about 3 years ago is one of the strongest of his career, IMO, even though no one heard it.

    You can’t get old people to listen to new songs; they just want to hear “Satisfaction” and “Hey Jude” until they die. Even if the Stones released another ‘Sticky Fingers’ or Bruce did another ‘Born To Run,’ no one would hear it outside of a few diehards. It’s sad, really.

  • JC Mosquito

    Mostly spot on, with the exception of the Stones’ albums being worthless – they’re not brilliant, mind you, but they do meet a minimum acceptable standard for rock and roll… which may not be saying much nowadays, really.

  • Sadie

    Eric Clapton a 5? Way to low. You must have missed his latest tour. Or the recent Crossroads Festival. Seriously five is a bit too low for recording and just ridiculously low for live act.

  • I’ll say “somewhat spot-on.” The Who’s recent album was incredible – the best thing since By Numbers. And as for Robert Plant being a “musical non-entity,” you are completely off the mark. His recent Mighty Rearranger was one of his best solo albums, period, and he’s had a pretty solid solo career (admittedly with a few missed-marks here and there.)

    I’d really rather see these old acts quit touring and just put out new music that they believe in. Seeing them, most of the time, they just can’t bring it like they used to. For most people going to these shows, if the band doesn’t live up to the legend they had 30 years ago, it’s a failure.

  • Che

    Your article is bound to bring out the ‘I disagree! how can you say that?’ crowd, but I think overall you nailed it. For the most part I’ve all but lost interest in the musicians you listed, with the exception of Bob Dylan. But where are the wimmenz on your list?

    Especially Patti Smith, who’s shown herself still fully capable of putting out strong music.

  • Sorry about the lack of women Che. Bonnie Raitt still turns me on.

    Apologies to Plant fans as I was referring more to the absence of Page.

    As for Clapton, just not my cup of tea, the most personally biased part of my article.

  • This was a fun read and I agree for the most part but how could you leave out BRUCE!!! I give him a 10 and a 10.

  • Kevin Cramsey

    The Stones’ new releases are worthless — utterly embarrassing that men this old don’t have anything at all to sing about other than girls. Mick didn’t even want to record “Bigger Bang,” — he knows the jig is up. Was a long time ago, actually. Keith, God bless him, contributed the worst song of his career to the album. Lyrics were simply horrific. As for the tunes, Boring Boring Boring. Let’s face it, the last good riff he came up with was “Start Me Up” 26 years ago! And The Who (the Two)? It’s a joke, really. Within a week or two of these releases, even the die-hard fans gave up and filed them away. And Elton John? His voice has deepened so much, he doesn’t even sound like him anymore. In closing, I admit that,like some of the defenders who have commented here, I try to fool myself on occasion. Convince myself that one of my old Rock’n’roll heroes still has what it takes. McCartney, for example. I knew that his new one wasn’t going to be very good, but I tried to make myself like it. Still, with a little distance between its release and now, I have to conclude that “Ever Present Past” is the only memorable song on “Memory Almost Full.” Well, maybe the simple mandolin one, “Dance Tonight,” that one does have a way of charming itself onto the playlist now and again. Other than that, pretty pedestrian for a man once so great. Dylan’s ability to continue to make good records isn’t surprising because it’s a literate, intelligent man who really knows music in all its forms. The same can’t be said of many of these other rock starts. Hence, they don’t really have as much to fall back on. Rather than try to write “Like A Rolling Stone” again, which he couldn’t if he tried, a smart cookie like Dylan goes back to the old folk and blues records and — when not stealing directly from them — reworks them in new ways, keeping his own musical evolution in tact along the way. Sorryt for being so long-winded, but I’ve spent a lot of years with this stuff and feel, rightfully or no, that I’ve got something to say. So there.

  • JC Mosquito

    Good points, there, Kevin, but – worthless? Even to say that it’s a buncha old guys playing to form, or even playing crap – there’s still some value seeing rock and rollers go where no man/woman has gone before – trying to maintain their status as a pop stars in spite of the age handicap. I know old blues men and women have been doing it for years, but blues & pop are different – youth never was a necessary requiremnt for playing the blues in the same way it was for pop or rock music.

  • Where’s Alice Cooper in the mix?

  • Cooper? Playing Golf.

  • Allycat

    I would have scored McCartney a bit lower on recording relevance (I am a swooning diehard female fan that grew up with every space on my walls and ceilings covered with Paul). While I do like “Memory” better than anything since “Venus and Mars”, it’s still seems to miss the mark (hate to admit it, but the album would seem so much more Paulish if Linda were providing her unique, tinny, nasaly background vocals. I almost miss her). I can’t even listen to “Chaos and Creation”.

    But I really must take exception to your knocking him down a point on his live act, just because of the Fidelity commercial and Starbucks deal. Looking at this list I see many, many commercial endorsements:

    Led Zeppelin: Cadillac
    Bob Dylan: really creepy Victoria Secret ads
    The Rolling Stones: Microsoft
    The Who: CSI Miami (or is it New York?)
    Ray Davies: that copier commercial. HP?

    And I’m sure I missed a few.

    But you said nothing of his stage act, other than his “killer catalogue”! C’mon, catalogue notwithstanding, this old fart puts on one hell of a show, playing up to 30 songs (and almost as many instruments – ok, I exaggerate) and nearly three hours. McCartney’s shows are an absolute carnival of light and sound, and he has the energy of a man half his age. The last time I saw him, he came out from behind the curtain and was playing a very well-executed and convincing “Foxy Lady” riff. For the visual and aural appeal, his fidelity to the Beatles sound, combined with the singalong factor and gee, just that happy, happy feeling you get for being in the presence of a Beatle and singing with him on all those wonderful songs, you have to give Sir Paulie a 10.

    Having had that rant, my second favorite concert experience was Aerosmith just prior to the Armageddon soundtrack power ballad era. It’s been a long time – are they still jamming it live?

  • bah, ya missed the highest scorers still going, who never stopped…from 71 till ..oh wait, they are still touring the new album

    Rush , this clip from the last tour in ’04

    my favorites from the “aging rocker” set

    your mileage may vary…


  • Bob

    Where’s U2 and Bon Jovi? Those two bands are more relevant than any artist listed in this article. Both continue to put out quality music and fantastic live shows.