You know it when you see it. A lot of artists can slip unnoticed past their expiration date, but it’s only a matter of time before the fans catch on. And the bigger the act, the more glaringly obvious it is when they are beyond the “gracefully” period of “bowing out.” Let it be known that most of these artists have made truly great music and are due respect for their achievements and even, to a degree, their longevity. Sadly, readers will find little of this respect reflected in the content below, but I hope that it is taken as implied, where appropriate (sit down, Great White). And so I give you twelve artists that should have hung it up by now:
12. Ozzy Osbourne / Black Sabbath
I don’t begrudge Ozzy his (now decade-old) reality-TV success, but he has to understand that The Osbournes demolished his image as a dark metal god, along with his career, which, let’s be honest, was more than half image-based. Maybe he doesn’t care, I don’t know. But just calling yourself “The Prince of Darkness” doesn’t make it so, Ozzy. Especially if you do it on your prime-time TV show while bickering with your comical wife. You are now America’s dottering, mumbling, semi-amusing, harmless old man. You can barely move, Ozzy. Go home and rest.
11. The Rolling Stones
This is becoming a bland Vegas revue. Overblown and inoffensive, The Stones are most often mailing it in. I’m glad Keith and Ron seem to be enjoying themselves, but the whole band is propped up live by too many auxiliary musicians and is neutered by the kind of ultra-safe sound mix that should be reserved for Barbara Streisand shows. Karaoke Stones. Then there are the abysmal bullshit guest appearances by Christina Aguilera, Sheryl Crow and, ugh, Fergie. The last couple of records? I don’t know, I haven’t listened to them. Wait, was I supposed to? I thought they were intended as conversation pieces, like coffee table books.
Yes, they were just on my list of best American rock bands. Just goes to show how easy it is to blow it. R.E.M., you are BLOWING IT. All of the music R.E.M has released since the early part of the 1990s has been non-descript, self-conscious mush, especially in comparison with their bold and honest early records. I just listened to their newest record and while they obviously still play together really well, the songs just aren’t there. What we have here sounds like an R.E.M. tribute band that decided to slip in some originals.
9. Great White
A terrible band, always and forever. People died because this band kept touring while still sucking so badly that they needed to set off pyrotechnics in a tiny club. The lead dude—the one constant over the years— isn’t even playing with them now. Is Great White that valuable a brand? Isn’t it now synonymous with failure and destruction? Are they going to start making Hindenburg brand airplanes? Is someone going to revive the Altamont Festival?
8. Fleetwood Mac
You only get so many incarnations and reunions before people get sick of you. Fleetwood Mac, which has existed since 1967, has used more than their share. The late-90s concert spectacular The Dance could have been a decent swan song—the most beloved and commercially successful lineup back together, doing the hits, and doing them well, with a few new tracks, some solo material…all good. Thanks for the memories, Mac. But no, they had to keep going. More records, sure. A VH-1 documentary capturing them in the studio? Of course. Even Christine McVie looked over one day at Lindsey and Stevie pantomiming the same old choreographed, self-indulgent faux Greek tragedy/drama and finally said “fuck this, I’m out of here.” Stevie, you’ve been great, but the witchy woman act is played out. You are an inspiration to all the Subaru drivers in the Whole Foods parking lot with “The Goddess is alive and magic is afoot!” bumper stickers. Your long love affair with cocaine somehow did not take your voice. Go do something with it. Give Tom Petty a call. Lindsey, you are an underrated singer, guitarist and songwriter. Drop the Mac and keep working on your increasingly good solo records. Mick, maybe you can get a guest spot on an episode of Idol. What about acting? You were great in The Running Man. Either way, no one wants to see their grandpa on stage with a set of wooden balls hanging from his belt.
Speaking of hanging from your belt… INXS was so close to being a really good band at the peak of their career. They were unfortunately defeated by bad ’80s production and pop star sterilization. Then Michael Hutchence…I dunno…died, let’s say, and the rest of the band staged a goddam game show to replace him. A game show. They even re-recorded one of their old singles with the new guy, who was then kicked out, and brought back in. All the ingredients of a really good, vital rock band, right? By all means, INXS, keep making records.
Knock it off, Metallica.
These old ladies have been stinking up the joint since…well, let’s be kind and say 1987’s Permanent Vacation. Get a Grip! was just as silly as the videos and the cover art (a pierced cow’s udder—cause that’s what you “grip,” see?) suggested. Then they started competing with Celine Dion for songs by mawkish hit-factory Diane Warren. After that came a back-to-basics blues album, grittily titled Honkin’ On Bobo. Most recently, they’ve been throwing each other off stage and hating one another in the press, yet they’re still together. Good to know they’re not doing it for the money. Did you know that the same band that recorded the classic LPs Toys in the Attic and Rocks also released a single called “Falling in Love (Is Hard on the Knees)?” It’s true.
4. Van Halen
I never cared much for Van Halen, even in the heyday, but they were once a young, lean and hungry band with a spectacular guitarist and a once-in-a-generation frontman. Well, let’s get rid of him, why don’t we? Hey, how about that meathead who sang “I Can’t Drive 55?” The end.
3. Guns N’ Roses
Guns N’ Roses stood out among their contemporaries for not being awful. Sure, there were a couple of compelling cuts off their otherwise tremendously overrated debut LP Appetite For Destruction. After that, they released a paean to pretentiousness in the form of a double LP (or something), chock full of dumbness and accompanied by epic (read: endless) concept-less concept videos. Then everyone was fired and it was just terrible singer and plastic surgery-victim Axl Rose who took forty years (roughly) to make a shit nu-metal record that everyone knew was going to suck, but still had to wait for because it was a cultural joke that needed a punchline. Our long national nightmare ended in Chinese Democracy, a worst-case scenario that even FEMA had not anticipated. In the meantime, Rose had, and then lost, a guitarist named Buckethead, who wears a bucket. On his head. Guns N’ Roses is the worst.
2. The Beach Boys
Somewhere in America, right now, there is a group of old men wearing Hawaiian shirts, white slacks and teal baseball caps that read “The Beach Boys,” playing Beach Boys songs. One of them might even be Mike Love. None of them are named Wilson. BE WARNED: This is not The Beach Boys and should not be accepted as a substitute. Unless you hate music, in which case, this is the band for you. You’ll find more soul at a Wilson Phillips reunion show than you will at a modern day Beach Boys concert.
1. The Who
The lead singer of The Who is Roger Daltrey. Roger Daltrey can no longer sing—at least not Who songs. Thus, The Who is a band whose singer can no longer sing songs by The Who. Do they think no one will notice? Going to a rock show should not be like watching a tightrope act at the circus. “Come on, Roger, you can do it! Here, we’ll all sing it with you, so this is less embarrassing for us.” These guys are actively demolishing their own legacy, while also keeping awesome drummer Zak Starkey from being in a useful band. Oh, hey, did I mention that two of the four original members are dead? One of them for more than thirty years? That too.