Friday, July 8, 2011

The Twenty Year Rule

I am the newly-appointed Minister of Cultural Affairs for the State. I have decreed that no pop band or artist may record for more than twenty years.

Because of the power accorded me, this means there is no Bob Dylan after 1982. No Rolling Stones after 1984. No Bruce Springsteen after 1993. No U2 after 2000.

This also means Green Day has bid us farewell. That Pearl Jam is in the process. And that the Dave Matthews Band has just two years left.

This raises questions. Who would lose the greatest portion of their legacy? Does a band or artist even contribute to its legacy after twenty years? And whose career would end on the highest note?

What I’ve done below is list five artists each from the sixties, seventies and eighties, and placed their careers in the context of the twenty-year rule.

I list the artist, what would be their final album, some significant albums that never would have been as a result and the number of studio releases which followed their twentieth anniversary:

Bob Dylan
Shot of Love (1981)
Infidels, Oh Mercy, Time Out of Mind, Love and Theft

The Rolling Stones
Undercover (1983)
Bridges to Babylon

The Kinks
Word of Mouth (1984)

The Moody Blues
The Present (1983)

Neil Young
This Note’s for You (1988)
Freedom, Ragged Glory, Living With War, Chrome Dreams II

Get a Grip (1993)

Bruce Springsteen
Human Touch, Lucky Town (1992)

Tom Petty
She’s the One (1996)

Crystal Ball (1998)

The Cure
Wild Mood Swings (1996)

All That You Can’t Leave Behind (2000)

Reveal (2001)
Around the Sun

St. Anger (2003)

The Red Hot Chili Peppers
By the Way (2002)

Green Day
21st Century Breakdown (2009)

Granted, the third category (significant albums made after a band’s twentieth anniversary) is highly-subjective. But it’s my blog and I can do whatever I want. You are free to quibble with Around the Sun and Mojo until the recession is over for all I care.

Next, a couple of things become clear. One, very few bands or artists have released a career-defining album after their twentieth anniversary. Or even many good ones. And two, solo artists fare better than bands.

What does it say that Bridges to Babylon is the best Stones album of the past twenty-seven years? This from a band that once released Beggar’s Banquet, Let It Bleed, Sticky Fingers and Exile on Main Street in a space of less than four years.

Or that U2 haven’t released a powerful album in over a decade? You could argue it’s been twice that for the Cure and Metallica. It might be more for Bruce. Prince has released one.

There’s a pattern here.

It’s interesting that soloists age better than bands. Fewer people equal fewer agendas. And fewer agendas mean less time wasted, which streamlines the creative process. However hard it may for a solo artist to find artistic inspiration twenty years down the road, it’s far-more difficult to get four or five people to even look for it at that point.

A band is marriage times five. Think about that.

Another thing. Even given the better odds for solo performers, the output of Dylan and Neil Young in their third and fourth decades is astonishing. They are rock and roll’s George Blanda. They are (if you’ll pardon the expression) musical freaks. Let’s face it. No one has a right to be making albums like Love and Theft two years away from being eligible for social security benefits.

It’s just not fair.

So you see, while my proposal may at first seem severe and even undemocratic, in the end it should be obvious that it couldn’t be more egalitarian.

Or is it?

Comments welcome.