When should artists stop?

Josh Smith debates whether some artists reach a point in their career when they should consider retiring for the sake of musical redundancy.

Josh Smith
22nd February 2021
Image credit: Pixabay, Smooth Radio, Youtube
Some musicians just don’t know when to stop. Once the spandex stops fitting, some fans wish they could just sit down with them and say “no”. I, supreme autocrat of musical opinions, the Anthony Fantano of print, will dictate which bands were untimely, perfect or overdue to end.

One man rules untimely musician deaths — Jimi Hendrix. He entered the scene around 1966, released Are You Experienced in ‘67, shook the world, and in the same year released Bold as Love, shaking it once again. The following year saw the final official Hendrix album, Electric Ladyland, and once again people went wild. With three albums of hits, he toured the world, most notably Woodstock, until he died on September 18th, 1970. In these few years, Hendrix had more momentum than most musicians do in their careers. Other common examples are Kurt Cobain and Amy Winehouse. All three share a rather macabre nucleus of exciting momentum followed by sudden death, making their careers bittersweet. Nonetheless, their deaths have almost deified them and protected their music from later being tarnished by late-career mediocrity.

Their deaths have almost deified them and protected their music from later being tarnished by late-career mediocrity

Next is the golden mean of art, where the artist continues for the perfect amount of time to make their mark. I would put The Beatles here; they had a cracking decade, pushed their sound in interesting places, yet never became stale. Although, in theory, I would love to hear some new albums released in the ‘70s, part of me is glad they ended while ahead. After all, they  continued creating in solo projects, giving us both quality music and a strong Beatles legacy. I would also put Pantera here. Pantera ended in 2003 due to personal differences and never reformed due to the death of Dimebag Darrell in the same year. The legacy of the band is much stronger because of this end, especially as it prevented Phil Anselmo’s 2010s antics being dragged into the band. Many jazz musicians also deserve a spot in this section, especially John Coltrane. Like The Beatles, he spent around a decade in the limelight, took music in an sublime, experimental direction and ended his career at a peak.

In my eyes, two artists have aged the worst due to not ending at a ripe time: Mötley Crüe and Guns N’ Roses. They both share a very peculiar problem — their singers haven’t been able to sing for ages. Google Mötley Crüe Rock in Rio 2015 for a laugh. Guns N’ Roses are less comically bad but still are nothing like the Appetite for Destruction years. As honourable mentions, I would like to add two groups of artists collectively: those who have barely any original members and those who overcharge for gigs using their legacy, not sound. Lynyrd Skynyrd are the best example of the former and probably should have the ’77 breakup as a final swansong. The latter seems to be most bands from the ‘60s, especially those as big as The Rolling Stones. Sure, they can charge what they want but, to steal and edit a Bob Dylan lyric, 'Let me ask you one question / Is your money that good? / Will it buy you a legacy / Do you think that it could?'.

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