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Why Old Bands Still Matter and Young Bands Should Try Harder

Posted: 07/11/2012 23:00

Led Zeppelin are back. The Stones are playing the O2. The original Status Quo lineup (aka The Frantic Four) are touring next year. The record shops are filled with new albums from Kiss and Aerosmith (well, they would be if there were any record shops). A couple of weeks ago, Jeff Lynne had two albums in the top ten.

If only this had happened a few weeks ago, we could have called it 'Rock-tober' and insisted that everyone grow sponsored mullets as a warm-up for Movember. But it didn't. It happened now, conveniently coinciding with the Classic Rock Roll of Honour, my magazine's annual awards show and usually the one time of the year when I am asked the following questions:

1) Shouldn't these old bands all just retire and let young bands have a go?
2) All these reunions - they're just doing it for the money, aren't they?
3) Can you introduce me to Jimmy Page?

The answers to all of those questions is 'no'. Well, apart from 2) to which the answer is OF COURSE IT'S ABOUT THE BLOODY MONEY!

At the risk of going all Music Week on you, consider the following analysis: The arse has fallen out of sales of recorded music. Bands that were used to the arrival of a big fat royalty cheque every year have suddenly seen it replaced by a cheque from Spotify and YouTube for, ooooooh, around £56.84. That won't pay for their room service bill, let alone keep their daughters in Jimmy Choos or maintenance on the house in Costa Rica. "But aren't they rich enough already?" I hear you cry. By any normal gauge, many of them are. But it's the same as it is for everyone: when your outgoings are greater than your incomings you get The Fear.

Austerity? Most rock stars think that's the name of a Dutch prog band.

Meanwhile touring has never been so lucrative and the appetite to see bands has arguably never been so great. There are more festivals competing for the same artists and pushing appearance fees up. Stories abound of bands that five years ago were asking £250,000 to play a festival, now demanding £750,000. It's rumoured that when AC/DC played the Download festival a few years back they got paid £3million. The Rolling Stones are rumoured to be getting £16million for four gigs. £4million a gig. That's a nice evening's work.

So should old bands move out the way and let the new bands in? Er, no. Young bands should be pushing the older acts out the way, making them seem irrelevant, out-playing and out-writing them. Rock'n'roll is a meritocracy. We groan at Paul McCartney closing the Opening Ceremony with yet another schlep through Hey Jude, but who's got the songs to take over? Which new band has got one of those instantly recognisable, undeniable, country-uniting anthems that everyone knows the words to? Not Dizzee Rascal, Frank Turner or the Arctic Monkeys that's fer sure.

To put it another way, no-one suggests we should stop reading old books or watching old movies. There's been a lot of books written since the days of Jane Austen, Charles Dickens and Ernest Hemingway, let alone Jack Kerouac, Norman Mailer and Sylvia Plath - do we suggest that those old classics have been made obsolete by the arrival of the latest clutch of hot young writers? Did Butch Cassidy & The Sundance Kid suddenly start to suck after the release of Avengers Assemble? Why doesn't Billy Connolly just stop making people laugh? Shouldn't Annie Leibovitz give it a rest with all them photographs? What is it with Frank Gehry and all those fucking buildings? GIVE SOMEONE ELSE A SHOT, FRANK!

(Sorry. Lost it for a second there. But you see what I'm saying.)

There is a tendency to mollycoddle new bands. "Aw da poor liddle lambs just don't get a break these days." Classic Rock's sister mag Prog had its first awards show in the summer and I was sitting with Marillion, a band that are anathema to the tragically-cool but in fact pioneered the currently-hip fan-funded model, where the fan-base pays in advance for an album (a la Pledge Music/Kickstarter).

"Obviously what Marillion did was innovative," I said to Marillion singer Steve Hogarth, "but it helped that you already had an audience to be able to do it. What can young, up and coming bands do?"

"I'll tell you what they can do," said Steve. "They can be brilliant."

Earlier this year I was hauled before the 'indie police' on Radio 5 to talk about the bill at the Isle of Wight festival (headlined by Tom Petty, Bruce Springsteen and eager young upstarts Pearl Jam). I explained that, contrary to what some believe, we're actually quite keen supporters of new music on Classic Rock magazine. But, if I had to be honest, none of the new bands that even we've championed recently have written songs to stand with Whole Lotta Love or The Boys Are Back In Town. I haven't heard a new Walk This Way, We Will Rock You or Jumping Jack Flash, never mind a London Calling, a Going Underground or a Sex And Drugs And Rock'N'Roll. Not a whiff of a Smells Like Teen Spirit and nary a sign of even a Motorcycle Emptiness.

It's true that times have changed - in our multi-channel, DAB radio, YouTube, Spotify and Soundcloud world, without Top Of The Pops or a Top 40 we're all aware of - it's harder to achieve the same kind of critical mass that propelled those songs to classic status but also...there just aren't the songs.

The new music editor of the NME took me to task on this. There ARE the songs he said. For example, he said, there's a new band called Milk Maid whose songs are this, that and the other. The DJ was kind enough to play it for us.

This is it here.

I'm saying nothing.

Post script: If you think that the Stones, Led Zep etc are too old for rock, why not apply this logic to your workplace?

"Sorry Barbara - you're doing a great job, everyone's happy with your work, the clients love you, if anything you're over-qualified in this post... But we're going to have to let you go."

"Wha-? B-b-but why?"

"You're too old, love. It's undignified. You know that hot young thing in reception? We think the whole office would be much cooler and vibrant and *now* if she was in your seat."

See you at the tribunal.

//info//
The Classic Rock Roll of Honour Awards are on 13 November at London's Roundhouse. The new issue of Classic Rock is on sale now.

 

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