Mix Six: “Now and Then, Then and Now”

Perhaps you had a chance to read Jack Feerick’s Popdose Flashback  ‘91 post on Simple Minds.  In it, he said he had a half-assed theory that most bands only have five great albums in them. That’s it.  Five.  So, if you’re one of those bands/artists who have built up a fan base that stuck with you through your early breakthrough or slow-rise-to-fame period, right on through your experimental phase, and then to the moment you realized the music you made in your salad days was amazing and subsequently tried to recreate it, you should be able to test Jack’s theory.  So let’s take that theory and put it into practice with some side by side selections to hear how an artist grows (or doesn’t) from their early days to the latest releases. And who better to test this theory with than Baby Boomer rockers.


“Save The Life of My Child,” Simon & Garfunkel (Download)

By the time Bookends came out, Simon & Garfunkel had entered an experimental stage in terms of sonic embellishments to their recordings.  The folkie elements are certainly there, but with the wash of synthesizers that comes at the intro of the song, it’s clear that the duo were venturing into a harder sound.  What strikes me about “Save The Life of My Child” is that musically it reminds me of some of the stuff Simon was doing in the mid to late ’80s– and to a greater extent, what’s on his new album.

“Getting Ready for Christmas Day,” Paul Simon (Download)

Simon said that this is his best album in 20 years — which, if you’re doing the math, that album is The Rhythm of the Saints. What I like about this song, is that Simon has reached back to some of the things he and Garfunkel were doing on Bookends — like the odd music flourishes and the use of spoken word making this song quirky but substantive.

“Space Oddity,” David Bowie (Download)

Bowie found “his sound” on the title track to his 1969 album of the same name.  The album vacillates between (Bob) Dylanesque folk (which Bowie was inspired by), to more progressive rock.  “Space Oddity,” while taking its inspiration from 2001: A Space Odyssey, captures a similar trippiness that awaited Keir Dullea has he entered the star field and shown the secrets of the universe in the movie.


“Hole In The Ground” David Bowie (Download)

Now that Toy has been leaked online, it’s tough to know what to think of it since it’s an album that was blocked by Bowie’s record company, and only through some savvy business maneuvers by the Thin White Duke, was he able to release a number of the tracks as b-sides to songs off of Heathen.   Well, now we get more tracks all packaged under the moniker Toy — which is a group of re-recorded and newer songs.  When comparing the newer tracks to something like Space Oddity, one thing is clear: Bowie is clearly at a crossroads when it comes to his music.  Since much of Toy are re-recordings of his early material, the newer songs kind of compliment them, and thus the whole album sounds very retro — which is kind of an odd thing for David Bowie.


“Stop Your Sobbing” The Kinks (Download)

In the pantheon of British Invasion bands, the Kinks are kind of an anomaly. Their debut album had the perennial favorite “You Really Got Me,” but despite that hit, the band never really achieved the kind of megastar status that their fellow Brits from that era did. “Stop Your Sobbing” was one of their hidden gems that was tucked into side 2 of the album, and I would venture to guess that it wasn’t until the Pretenders covered the song on their debut album that it started to get some traction again.  Still, I like how Ray Davies affects a vaguely Caribbean accent (or attempts to do so) during the song.  It showed that while he’s not a great vocalist, he has enough style (and songwriting chops) to propel him (and the band) beyond bar band status.


“Days/This Time Tomorrow” Ray Davies with Mumford & Sons (Download)

The Kinks may not have been superstars like some of their contemporaries, but they were and are an influential band whose songs have inspired younger (though, by no mean young) musicians.  On See My Friends, Davies is often relegated to second fiddle — which produces mixed results– but when the collaboration works (as it does on this song), it shows what a powerful songwriter Davies is — at least when he was in his prime.

So, does Jack’s theory about performers having maybe five good to great albums in them seem to be accurate?  I would say he’s about right, but that doesn’t mean that performers the ones spotlighted here don’t have the capacity to write great songs as they age, it’s just that a fan may have to wade through a lot of mediocre to bad material on an album to find those gems.

  • http://jackfear.blogspot.com Jack Feerick

    Oh, man. Here I was, kinda beating up on myself anyway, thinking I should have put the Real Life article through one more draft because I first mention the Rule of Five almost as if in passing, without really expounding on the specifics; but then I figured, Nah, the thing’s already been through five drafts and anyway nobody’s going to take it that seriously. And then the article ended up hinging on it. And then you’ve gotta go and do this.

    To be clear, the Rule of Five — as I’ve found it to play out, anyway — has a couple of corollaries, the most important of which is that group and solo discographies must be considered separately. So Simon and Garfunkel can have their five Great Albums, and Paul Simon can have five Great Albums of his own. (In fact, in an earlier draft I used Simon and Garfunkel as an example of a group — the Police would be another — who made their five Great Albums right out of the gate and then broke up, leaving their legacy forever unspoiled.)

    As for Bowie; he’s the perennial exception, isn’t he? He was just so good, for so long. That extraordinary run between 1971 and 1983, from Hunky Dory through to Let’s Dance, twelve years, twelve studio albums and every one of them Great or near-Great, and which is which depends on which day of the week you’re asking me the question.

  • http://www.popdose.com Ted

    The Police is a great example, but then you look at Sting’s solo work, and he has maybe one and half great albums in his discography. Dire Straits is also a good example of having five great albums and then kind of sinking into mediocrity. I wish Mark Knopfler had five great albums as a solo artist, but none of non-soundtrack work has impressed me all that much.

    Yes, Bowie is an exception, but I think some of the records he put out in the ’90s were really great, too. For example, Black Tie White Noise and Earthling are two albums I still listen to.

  • http://www.popdose.com DwDunphy

    There are always exceptions to every rule, but a key component to the success, and seemingly inevitable waning, of an artist seems to come directly from their ability to maintain passion about their work. A struggling songwriter is liable to have more fire in them than a pampered superstar. They could be the same person yet, in many ways, vastly different.

  • http://www.popdose.com Ted

    I was thinking about the new Foo Fighters album (which I listened to a couple of times today), and while I believe they are passionate about their new songs, and they may have some success in selling records, I’m not sure these new tunes have “greatness” in them.