James Leroy Wilson's blog

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Sixty-something, or, Triumph of the Giants

The first of my first cousins, someone somewhere over 20 years older than me, e-mailed several of us two weeks ago announcing that she just saw Paul McCartney in concert - something she's waited, I suppose, some 40 years to do.

The Rolling Stones are also touring again, to rave reviews. Their new album is supposedly their best in 25 years. And since the late 90's Bob Dylan has recorded and performed to acclaim he hasn't had in decades.

There are pre-"rock music" giants like Elvis, Chuck Berry, and Buddy Holly in the "rock and roll" era. And there are near-giants of the rock music era like the Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, and the Who. (the Beach Boys count as near-giants in both eras) But the Beatles, Stones, and Dylan are the reigning Giants of the rock music era. And by all accounts, they're sounding better live than they ever have, far better than in their chart-topping prime.

(Yes, yes, Paul wasn't the Beatles, nor would his concert be all Beatles songs. But he'll do for the illustration. After all, if the Beatles were all alive and reunited for a concert tour, it would be 1965 all over again: too much screaming)

My point is, the best in songwriting, and the best in recording, have turned out, even decades later, to be the best on stage. No wonder: they're the ones with the best material. But they've apparently taken care to get better with age, as opposed to getting sloppy and lazy with all the adulation. They want to be good, and so they are good.

When they were in their mid-thirties, people thought acts like McCartney, the Stones, and Dylan, were getting old. Now, they're into their sixties, and performing better than ever.

I suspect that whatever it was that sparked their songwriting and recording genius in their twenties - whatever set them apart from their most brilliant contemporaries - is the same thing that sets their concerts apart now.

I don't think I've written anything praising the Beatles or Paul McCartney. What could I say that hasn't been said? But I have been bold enough to provide my thoughts on Bob Dylan here, and on the Rolling Stones here.

The sixties aren't as old as they used to be. You can still be at the top of your game. For those who aren't there yet, this is nothing but great news.


  1. Good articles, James, all three of them. You listed three of my favorite songs, Far Away Eyes, Before They Make Me Run, and the Beatles' And Your Bird Can Sing. One additional criteria I have for judging rock bands is their ability to execute musical styles outside of mainstream rock. As a product of the AOR generation, the entire library of music is important to me, so folk, country, urban blues and even satire have given me many of my faves. So, I can add the Stones' Factory Girl and Love In Vain and the entire second side of Led Zeppelin III.

    Any idea as to what ever happened to The Who's presence on radio?

  2. or - too many baby boomers with too much time and money on their hands prefer their classic rock genre live. But - i would instantly purchase tickets to see Becker and Fagan tour as Steely Dan or Joni Mitchell - so i shouldn't cast stones. Or rather i should Cast Stones - a monument to sticky fingers and brown sugar.

  3. If I may be so bold - the Beach Boys "near" great? Listen again! And Brian Wilson's current band is mind-bogglingly great, live and on disk.

  4. Steve, I'm also a fan of that side of Led Zeppelin III.

    B.W., I'd put the Beach Boys in as high a class as anyone, excepting the Beatles, Stones, and Dylan. But I'm just a casual fan, not an afficianado.