If you take a look around, pretty much anywhere music lovers find themselves, you'll likely see that classic rock is in the air. No, we’re not talking about the gentle tones of REO Speedwagon wafting overhead while you shop at Nordstrom Rack. We’re talking about the old-school rockers still out there doing their thing in an exciting way. What these legends are doing isn’t tired or past its freshness date. In fact, it’s rather choice.
Perhaps you’ve recently found yourself browsing the aisles of your favorite local record store, or perhaps you’ve been looking for a great flick to catch at the theater or at home. Maybe you’ve decided it’s time for a big concert night out. It seems like now, more than ever before, you have a plethora of new choices from the likes of the Beatles and Bruce Springsteen, as well as plenty of other members of the classic rock vanguard.
There’s no denying that music’s bejeweled crown for 2019 could, and should, be rightfully handed to Lizzo, Kacey Musgraves, Billie Eilish or Brandi Carlile. Few folks would be able to mount any sort of decent counter against the claim for any of these year-defining artists. Carlile’s majestic Grammy performance of “The Joke” and Lizzo’s BET Awards offering of “Truth Hurts” are perhaps the two single video clips from 2019 that will survive the strongest for decades to come.
What we’re saying, though, is that 2019 wouldn’t have been nearly as exciting or as triumphant had it not been for some of these old-timers ignoring the ticking clocks and flipping calendars.
Let’s put it this way; in 2019, classic rock somehow managed to be current rock.
Let’s start with the records. While certain Hall of Famers such as “Piano Man” Billy Joel happily remind us that new music is likely never coming, others of his generation are a bit more adventurous. Never one to simply do the same thing over and over again, Springsteen released a lush, orchestral album of soaring country-politan tunes in June; Western Stars was met with deserved critical acclaim while debuting at No. 2 on the Billboard album chart. The alleged taste-making gatekeepers of Pitchfork even gushed that Western Stars is “vast and luxurious” and that it’s the Boss’ “best studio album in years.”
Lest we forget, this western-tinged sonic experiment followed a year’s worth of Springsteen on Broadway, the Tony-winning one-man show that set all sorts of attendance records. How easy would it have been for the Boss to call up his trusty E Street Band mates and hit the road pumping out anthem after anthem, all in the name of the mighty dollar and the low-hanging fruit of guaranteed adoration? Reports indicate we’ll see a tour like that in 2020, but 2019 had a different, more adventurous calling for the Boss.
It’s worth noting that the Beatles found themselves atop the charts again. Fifty years after its initial release, the group’s canonized Abbey Road album again made waves with a slew of deluxe offerings with remastered audio. With 70,000 copies of the record being sold the week of its re-release in September, it’s safe to say John, George, Paul and Ringo are every bit as fresh and current as they’ve been in decades.
Any discussion revolving classic rock artists still raging against both machines and dying light that doesn’t include Neil Young is dead on arrival. The politically active Godfather of Grunge just released a killer record of new material. Colorado, the first LP he’s recorded with his trusty, buzz saw of a backing band, Crazy Horse, in many years is a potent, raw mix of Young’s power and singular vision.
In a very masters-of-all-media sort of way, the Beatles and Bruce Springsteen have managed to make significant splashes on both the music and movie charts this year. Straightforward biopics of the Fab Four and the Boss would’ve likely been mega hits, judging by the runaway success of the Queen flick Bohemian Rhapsody and Elton John’s Rocketman. But instead, the alternative reality tale Yesterday, directed by Oscar winner Danny Boyle, and director Gurinder Chadha’s Blinded by the Light, based on a true story, offered inventive looks into how music can grip us, bridge gaps and inspire generations.
And for his part, the king of the Jersey Shore, Springsteen, has taken a keen interest in utilizing films as a living, breathing extension of his musical work. Debuting only a couple of weeks before 2018 ended, the Netflix special documenting his Broadway show premiered to unanimous praise, while a theatrical release centering around the Western Stars album has maintained an over 90 Rotten Tomatoes rating throughout its autumn run.
And while we’re on the subject of the world's greatest living idols, it’s only reasonable, albeit morbid and depressing, to understand they won’t be physically with us forever. Never again will we hear new music or go to a concert by solo stars such as Prince, David Bowie, Merle Haggard or Tom Petty. And, since we’re being honest here, seeing Fleetwood Mac, the Eagles, Dead and Company, and even more recent acts such as Stone Temple Pilots hit the road without vital members has its warmer instances, but leaves us feeling cold more often than we’d like to admit.
It’s not unreasonable to suggest that knowing the sun will likely soon set on the paths of our favorite artists is a motivating factor for catching them in concert one last time, or possibly, for the first time, finally. The tenuous nature of the timeline was waved before us all too prominently in 2019.
The spring North American tour for the Rolling Stones was pushed back a few months following Mick Jagger’s heart surgery, while the Who, Elton John and Willie Nelson each had to cancel concerts this year because of illness. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the Stones made everyone forget how old they are when the tour did take place, thanks to Mick’s youthful gyrating and Keith Richards’ ageless guitar licks.
Avoiding the elephant-sized grim reaper in the room might make for a more pleasant train of thought, and there’s no sense in enjoying something simply out of fear. After all, it’s the music we’re into. It’s not as though Sir Paul is going to knock on our door with a bottle of wine for a backyard cookout. We understand that the earthly forms of these gods are merely temporary shells. But as long as McCartney, Springsteen, Dylan, Young, the Stones and Willie are not only alive, but still creating, we get to live in their moment just as much as we’re enjoying our own moments.
Axl Rose only got it partly correct when he sang “nothing lasts forever, even cold November rain.” The creative primes and the lives of our favorite artists indeed do not go on for eternity, but the gifts they’ve bestowed upon us over the years most certainly will. In 2019, it’s been nice to see so many titans ignore any hints of the coming twilight in order to progress and create in the present knowing their legacy is intact.
The best classic rock is indeed timeless. As 2019 has proved, the best classic rock artists will almost certainly always feel very current.
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