Can Mick and Keith still write great new classics?

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Posted by Hard Knox and Durty Sox on May 19, 1999 at 23:23:28:

A couple of weeks ago, I sent in some suggested poll questions via e-mail, some of which were not-so-serious, and Keno insisted that I post one of them as a message. I've been reluctant to do it, because it might be a little controversial, and I have no desire to get into a "flame war". Things seem a little slow at the board now, so this might sneak in and go relatively unnoticed. Instead of re-thinking and re-wording, I'm gonna be lazy and via copy-and-paste, plop the old e-mail text in here. This was the original "poll question":

What do Mick and Keith have to do to start writing great classic songs again, like they did from the mid-60s to early-70s?
(a) They need to hang out together a lot, like they did in the early days, instead of being apart so much
(b) They have to start roughing it again, to once more feel the hard knocks they experienced coming up; their biggest problem is that they've gotten into a comfort zone since they became rich, they've lost the fire that it takes to create great rock music.
(c) Nothing. The stuff they write nowadays is a lot better than that old '60s crap like BB and LIB.
(d) There's no hope - all rock musicians do their best work when they're young, like in their 20s.
(e) Beats me, I wish I knew, so I could tell them

So, in Keno's reply he asks me: "Tongue in cheek, right?". To which I responded:

I was trying to be funny with (c) and (e), but this question is actually the most serious one of the whole bunch. The question basically is: why is it that most of the classic Stones songs were written back in those years? Your top 40 list is very similar to mine, and most of those songs were created within a very narrow window of time. From my perspective, they wrote around 40 classics in a span of about 7-8 years (1965-72), and in the 26+ years since then (1973-99), they've written fewer than 5 more.

Regarding choice (a), is the reason because Mick and Keith aren't bosom buddies anymore, and live many miles apart, and only get together when it's time for the Stones to work again, in contrast to the earlier days when they were together a lot more? I don't think this is truly the explanation.

Regarding choice (b), this was something first suggested to me by a musician friend of mine, who grew up listening to the Beatles and Stones. He thought that they lost the knack for writing great songs because they became too comfortable, whereas in the earlier days the Stones did have to experience some real deprivation, and didn't lead such luxurious lives. I don't think this really explains it either, because there's different kinds of suffering, and even when someone becomes wealthy, they still go through pain and disappointment of various kinds, which would in turn inspire artistic creation, if that was really the key ingredient.

I personally think choice (d) is the reality, even though I worded it kind of flippantly. I don't think it's just a coincidence that just about every outstanding rock artist, particularly the ones who write songs, produced their best work while in their 20s, or early 30s at the latest. Just to name five off the top of my head - Steve Winwood (Traffic, Blind Faith), Eric Clapton (Cream, BF, Derek & the Dominos), Jimmy Page (Yardbirds, Led Zeppelin), Ray Davies (Kinks), Pete Townshend (The Who) - by the time these people reached their mid-30s, their greatest songs had already been written. Of course, we never got the chance to find out about some individuals, like Jimi Hendrix and Jim Morrison. I was never a big Beatles fan, so I'm not as qualified to critique them, and perhaps you might disagree and feel that John Lennon did some of his best work up to 1980, when he was almost 40. I do believe that the best songs that Paul McCartney wrote were during his time with the Beatles, when he was still in his early to late 20s. This theory doesn't apply to instrumentalists, because I feel musicians can and do get better on their ax well beyond their youthful years.

So, I hope I'm wrong, and the Stones surprise me with the greatest album of their career sometime in the future, but I'm not going to bet my life savings on that happening. Basically, I just have the feeling that rock musicians create their best work when they're young, because even without realizing it, they lose some of the energy and attitude they once had as they get older (maybe it's due to hormonal changes?).

Hope I didn't depress you too much with these opinions. Over a month ago, I thought of posting a message on this subject, but it's probably just as well that I didn't, because I might have gotten flamed to a crisp, and might have 3rd degree burns all over me now. ;-)

So all that was from the e-mails. Keno did follow up with some more comments, which weren't included here. A few things to add:
1. I think the Stones still put out lots of good music, I just don't think it's on a par with their very best work way back when. I even like most of B2B. Aside from the Stones, I listen mostly to music other than rock nowadays.
2. I'd like to see the Stones continue working together, and experimenting in the studio is OK with me. After all, recording the original Sympathy for the Devil as a samba, putting the choir in the original You Can't Always Get What You Want, and the strings and Asian motif of the original Moonlight Mile could be considered experiments of sorts. I would like to see them simplify the studio work, reduce the overdubs, no need for 5 guitar tracks or 4 keyboard tracks on a song - that's overdoing it.
3. About this board, I'm relatively new and was not familiar with the old SW and Exile boards that people mention, but I don't understand all the acrimony. I would think we'd be natural friends, being mutual Stones lovers, and certain animosities would more logically be directed at the Stones-haters out there. Instead, people tear into each other violently here over relatively minor things, like which album they like better.

Comments, anyone?

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