David Lister: The Week in Arts

Why can't old rockers write decent songs?

Share
Related Topics

Fair enough. I am certainly not one of those who says that that Sixties icons should retire to a home for rock gentlefolk. There's nothing more boring and fatuous than adding up the ages of the Rolling Stones. If they can attract hundreds of thousands of people to rock concerts and give exhilarating shows then let them keep going. McCartney and Dylan also continue to give memorable concerts. It is not the live performance aspect that is a problem.

The curiosity for me is that the Sixties icons have lost some of their gift for songwriting. As The Independent's rock critic pointed out in his review yesterday, McCartney's album has hardly any tunes and forgettable lyrics. The Stones' album is cheered, only because it is of a reasonable standard, but no one can name a single song from it, let alone sing along to one. Dylan's gets raves, but then it is an album of bootleg recordings from the Sixties.

The truth is that the ageing process in rock stars does not particularly affect live performance, even though that is what is always wrongly seized upon. But, more than in any other art form, it does seem to affect the writing and composition. Bob Dylan's recent albums have been worthy with the very occasional stand-out track. But how amazed would the world be if "Mr Tambourine Man" or "Like a Rolling Stone" was released now. They are from a different planet. Paul McCartney has written nothing remotely comparable to "Penny Lane" or "Eleanor Rigby" for decades. If the new Stones album contained a "Street Fighting Man", jaws would drop.

But why can't it happen? These are the same people with the same talent. I put the point to Pete Townshend and Roger Daltrey when I met them a while back. Daltrey seemed to agree, saying that Townshend could yet be the great chronicler of middle-aged angst. We shall see if that is the case when a new Who album is released shortly. Townshend told me that the great pop songs of the Sixties relied a lot on "youthful energy". Somehow, that's not quite good enough as an explanation. Verdi retained his talent for composition long after the youthful energy had worn off; Arthur Miller's later plays never quite matched his great early period, but always repaid study; choreographers and film directors as often as not improve with age.

It is in pop and rock that things seem to take a wrong turn with the onset of middle age. Elton John's last album was something of a return to form. He said that he had sat down and had a long think and admitted to himself that nothing he had done in the past 30 years or so had matched the songs of his vintage period of 1970-76. It was a painful admission to have to make to himself, but it meant that he made an extra effort with the new one.

Perhaps, before their next albums, McCartney, Jagger and Dylan, should listen to one of their vintage works and not only try to match it but also try to work out why rock composers lose their way. I don't know the answer either. But this slightly eerie echo of the Sixties provides evidence that rock composers lose it at far too young an age.

Sing-along-a-Scarlett

It is reported this week that Andrew Lloyd Webber is considering the 20-year-old movie actress Scarlett Johansson for the role of Maria in his stage production of The Sound of Music in the West End next year.

Miss Johansson is as assured as she is attractive. But this could be a risky venture. She's a little young (Julie Andrews was 28 when she played the role on film), but that might not be too big a handicap. She's a little too sexy for the wholesome ex-nun. But perhaps she can play that down.

No, the real problem could be that for years now The Sound of Music has been screened as a singalong musical, often at gay fests, and often with audiences in costume. Will Miss Johansson be able to cope with seeing images of herself in the stalls, singing her words with gusto? Has Lloyd Webber warned her: "Don't worry about the nuns in the audience. They are just musical aficionados in drag."

It might be a bit much for a 20-year-old. But good luck, Scarlett. Climb every mountain.

* A cultural quiz question which will normally stump the most avid arts aficionado is "Who is the opposition culture spokesman?". Give up? It's Theresa May. I knew that, but I confess I didn't know until I saw it flashed up on TV the other day what her actual title was. She is, in fact, the Conservative Party spokeswoman on Family and Culture. Ah, that all too telling word "and". You never find frontbench spokesmen for something and health or something and education or something and defence. But culture? That can happily be a second strand to a portfolio.

The arts world should point out to the next leader of the Conservative Party that the nation's culture is important enough to have a portfolio all to itself. As a second strand it gets quietly forgotten. I have seen Theresa May pontificating on family issues. I can't recall any major statement from her about culture.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Administrative Assistant / Order Fulfilment

£14000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An exciting opportunity to join a thrivi...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped OTE: SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consulta...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped OTE: SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consulta...

Recruitment Genius: Production Operative

£13000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Due to a period of sustained an...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Syria's Kurds have little choice but to flee amid the desolution, ruins and danger they face

Patrick Cockburn
A bartender serves two Mojito cocktails  

For the twenty-somethings of today, growing up is hard to do

Simon Kelner
Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones
Theme parks continue to draw in thrill-seekers despite the risks - so why are we so addicted?

Why are we addicted to theme parks?

Now that Banksy has unveiled his own dystopian version, Christopher Beanland considers the ups and downs of our endless quest for amusement
Tourism in Iran: The country will soon be opening up again after years of isolation

Iran is opening up again to tourists

After years of isolation, Iran is reopening its embassies abroad. Soon, there'll be the chance for the adventurous to holiday there
10 best PS4 games

10 best PS4 games

Can’t wait for the new round of blockbusters due out this autumn? We played through last year’s offering
Transfer window: Ten things we learnt

Ten things we learnt from the transfer window

Record-breaking spending shows FFP restraint no longer applies
Migrant crisis: UN official Philippe Douste-Blazy reveals the harrowing sights he encountered among refugees arriving on Lampedusa

‘Can we really just turn away?’

Dead bodies, men drowning, women miscarrying – a senior UN figure on the horrors he has witnessed among migrants arriving on Lampedusa, and urges politicians not to underestimate our caring nature
Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger as Isis ravages centuries of history

Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger...

... and not just because of Isis vandalism
Girl on a Plane: An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack

Girl on a Plane

An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack
Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

The author of 'The Day of the Jackal' has revealed he spied for MI6 while a foreign correspondent