The beat goes on and on- when should bands retire?


Jim Pietryga

Aged rockers Mick Jagger, Ron Wood, Keith Richards and Charlie Watts perform as the Rolling Stones in 2015. “It’s what we do man – we enjoy doing it and there’s thousands of people out there and they enjoy it too.” said guitarist Keith Richards in February 2018.

Nick Shepard, Staff Writer

The 1960’s and 70’s: two decades when radio waves were dominated by some of the greatest musical artists to ever walk the earth. From the Grateful Dead to Simon and Garfunkel, mega hit makers from that era have played countless tours since their formations, even though touring is a strenuous task. For 1960’s rockers, going on world tours at age 25 may seem like just another day in the life, but fifty years later, we still see bands that were touring in 1968 touring again in 2018. So, when is it a good time to call it quits?

In July of 1962, the Rolling Stones played their first ever gig together at the Marquee Club in London, and they haven’t stopped since. The classic lineup that included Keith Richards and Mick Jagger has been relatively unchanged since their first gig. Richards and Jagger were both 18 years old at the time, and now with both of them at 74, they are preparing for another European tour starting in May 2018. The Stones also released their twenty-fifth studio album in late 2016, and even for a band of men in their early seventies, the album hit number one on the United Kingdom album charts and was certified Platinum.

But recording in the studio with a wide range of modern technology to use could make virtually anyone sound at least somewhat listenable. Modern studio recording is a whole different ballpark than performing live on stage in front of an audience. Especially with today’s stage and studio technology, artists have no problem performing long past their prime, even if they may have a bit of a problem doing it physically.

In 1993, long time ‘Stones’ bassist Bill Wyman quit the band because he believed they were well past their sell-by date. That was twenty-five years ago. “I think he missed out on a very lucrative period in our existence,” said Rolling Stones drummer Charlie Watts in an interview with Daily Star. Watts wasn’t too far off, as their last three tours combined will likely have grossed about $1 billion. Just the mid-2000’s “Licks” tour alone raked in over $300 million, and their 2013 “50 & Counting” tour grossed around $100 million for a much more limited set of dates. Based on these numbers, it’s pretty clear to see it may not be just about the artist presenting their art, but maybe the paycheck. After all, Mick Jagger is already worth over $300 million, so why not raise that number?

So, when is “past their prime,” anyway? Many bands who rose to prominence in the 60’s and 70’s that are still touring today have lost up to multiple original members, many of whom were pioneers of the sound of whatever band they were in. The tragic loss of Queen’s mega talent Freddie Mercury in 1991 to AIDS was the biggest blow to the band anyone could’ve ever imagined. Yet, they continue to stay on the road without Mercury and bassist John Deacon, and instead chose to play with a touring band. They have since replaced Mercury with American Idol star Adam Lambert and Deacon with a touring bassist. The show has earned rave reviews since Lambert joined the group in 2012, but is it right to continue under the name of Queen after two long-time members departed? Many believe it’s wrongful of the band to continue without Freddie Mercury, not just because of the loss of his electrifying talent, but out of respect.

Losing key members is always a reason for bands to consider calling it quits, or else they may end up like The Beach Boys, who are currently touring with only one original member trying to replicate their iconic sound. The most obvious component of a band passing their prime would be old age. Not to turn this into a complete bash on the Rolling Stones, but the group simply doesn’t care about how old they get as long as they sell tickets. The Rolling Stones’ name may attract concertgoers, but if you’re going to see the Rolling Stones in 2018, you’ll be seeing four original members and over seven touring musicians filling up the sound that the ancient rockers are unable to produce anymore. If a band keeps adding personnel on tour to actually make them sound good, that’s a clear sign that it may be time to think about hanging it up. Bringing along touring musicians such as horn or string players is absolutely no issue, especially if it is essential to the band’s live sound, but groups that can’t produce a quality sound on their own anymore and rely on multiple stage musicians to boost their performance are probably unfit to continue. “Whitesnake needs to quit,” said Isaac Wimmer ‘18, chiming in on bands he thinks need to retire due to old age. “Quite honestly they’ve been [expletive] for a while.”

It’s easy to understand why some musicians may tour late into their life even well after they are physically able to perform well, since it may be the only thing they know. Bands like AC/DC have been doing it for so long they see touring as not just their lifelong occupation, but obligation. “Being part of AC/DC, making records and performing for the millions of devoted fans this past 36 years has been my life’s work,” said AC/DC’s longtime frontman Brian Johnson in an interview with Rolling Stone Magazine. Johnson parted ways with the band in 2016. For many musicians, life on the road is all they know and will ever know. “It’s easy to see why these iconic bands have such a hard time quitting,” said Nick Franzini ‘18, a fan of some 70’s classic rock. “For a lot of them they’ve spent their whole life touring, so giving that up when they don’t even necessarily have to can be really tough, I’d imagine.”

So, when should classic rock bands decide to hang it up for good? When every member passes away? When they are physically and/or mentally incapable of performing? Based on what has been seen in many bands still touring after forty or fifty years, the best time to call it off is when the original lineup of the band has trouble creating their own sound. Concertgoers paying money to see a band like Boston or the Steve Miller Band would arrive to find only one or two original members of the band surrounded by touring stage musicians playing their music. It’s all the band’s music, which is what they’re paying to hear, but other than maybe one or two members, you’re essentially hearing a tribute band. For modern day classic rock bands, it’s all about the name, for seeing a group like Aerosmith in 2018 is obviously nothing like seeing them in 1978. For the record, Aerosmith was just nominated for a Tony Award for their original song ‘Bikini Bottom Boogie,’ which was featured in the new Spongebob Squarepants Musical. That is where they are in their career.

When a band can no longer produce their own sound like they used to, they simply become parodies of themselves. Even though two of The Who’s four original members have passed on, it seems wrong to fill the stage up with keyboard and rhythm guitar players and continue under the legendary name ‘The Who.’ For the sake of their legendary name and music, bands are better off quitting before they become a complete novelty act. As great as the money and recognition may seem, sometimes it’s best to go out knowing you did it until you couldn’t sound like the band you once were anymore.