Age gets us all eventually. I'm only in my early twenties and already I'm having to do stupid things like eating healthier, quitting the smokes, and watching my blood pressure. So it really shouldn't come as any surprise that musicians start to slow down in their old age, especially if they've been plugging away at writing and recording since the 1960s.
Today, however, we'll look at five that started off in the era of free love and still produce records today that don't suck. In fact, these five are still producing amazing and relevant records that captivate audiences of all ages.
7. Wanda Jackson, Unfinished Business We're cheating a little bit here to fit Wanda Jackson on the list. She actually hit in 1958 with her self-titled debut record, but it was her only album before the 1960s so we'll give her a pass. Throughout the '60s, Jackson became the "Queen of Rockabilly," pioneering the genre and bringing it to audiences worldwide. Her influence can still be heard today, including in the music of Texas' own the Reverend Horton Heat.
In 2011, Jackson relaunched her career with Jack White and his Third Man Records. The Party Ain't Over, featuring White, came out that year and hit No. 17 on Billboard's Top Rock Albums chart. More than that, it restored Jackson to the public eye for the first time in years. She followed it up with another well-received record for Third Man in 2012 called Unfinished Business, featuring production by Americana songwriter and devotee Justin Townes Earle.
6. Mavis Staples, You Are Not Alone Mavis Staples began her career with the Staple Singers, a family band with her brothers and sisters, in 1948, when she was only 9 years old. She continued with them through the '50s and '60s, but she only launched her solo career in 1969.
Since then, she has experienced success as a singer and an actress, garnering recognition from artists as wide ranging as guitarist Ry Cooder, who produced her 2007 debut for Anti- Records, We'll Never Turn Back; Prince, who gave her a role in his 1990 movie Graffiti Bridge; and Wilco's Jeff Tweedy of Wilco, who produced her most recent record, 2010's You Are Not Alone. You Are Not Alone became a huge success for Staples, winning her first Grammy after all these years for Best Americana Album.
Staples has a follow-up with Tweedy titled One True Vine on the way in June and will be performing at this year's Free Press Summer Fest.
5. Roky Erickson, True Love Cast Out All Evil Austin's own Roky Erickson debuted in 1966 with his pioneering psychedelic rock band the 13th Floor Elevators. During the 1970s, he experienced a prolonged battle with mental illness and disappeared for some time. He returned to recording in the '80s, and has continued through to today.
He cut his most recent record, True Love Cast Out All Evil, with the much younger Austin band Okkervil River in 2010. It captured greater attention than Erickson had received in years, attention that was well-deserved: the record is yet another classic from the great songwriter.
4. Bob Dylan, Tempest In 2012, Bob Dylan released his 35th studio album since his 1962 self-titled debut, and that's not even counting his Bootleg Series, live records, or compilations. That's a hell of a run, and anyone could forgive him for making a shit album at this late date.
Instead, Dylan continued the victory lap he's been on since 1997's Time Out of Mind with another roots/blues/rock album called Tempest, which features some of his most expanded jamming and deepest songwriting to date.
3. Leonard Cohen, Old Ideas Though active in the entertainment industry since the '50s, Leonard Cohen released his first record in 1967, the appropriately titled Songs of Leonard Cohen. Aside from an extended break between 1992's The Future and 2001's Ten New Songs, he's more or less been at it consistently ever since.
On 2012's Old Ideas, Cohen may be admitting that he doesn't have much new to say at this point, but it doesn't matter when the songwriting is this powerful, his voice is this stirring, and the songs are this enjoyable. Ironically, it also became the most successful album of his career on the Billboard charts, proving a lot of people still want to hear about his ideas, old though they may be.
2. Scott Walker, Bisch Bosch A pop icon in the '60s along with the Walker Brothers, part of the post-Beatlemania wave of boy bands, Scott Walker was an unlikely candidate for success once the wave of his popularity died out. He was also an unlikely candidate to become one of the greatest experimental musicians of the 21st century, but life takes you to strange places sometimes.
After a mostly unsuccessful run in the '70s, Walker pressed on through the '80s and '90s with albums that grew progressively more bizarre and avant-garde, until his transformation into a postmodern genius was complete with 1995's Tilt. As he has recorded intermittently since, his most recent record being 2012's Bish Bosch, he has continued to reach the outer limits of musicality and has continued to shock and awe listeners.
1. David Bowie, The Next Day From his quaint self-titled debut in 1967, few could have expected David Bowie to become a trendsetter or a force in pop music for decades to come. Of course, that's what happened until his disappearance and seeming retirement from the music world in 2003. Up until very recently, he would have never made it to a list like this.
But this year he shocked the world by dropping a new single and announcing a new album for the first time in a decade. The Next Day hit in March and instantly made a splash as a tour-de-force of vintage Bowie sounds mixed in with a little bit of trademark experimentation and introspection. It's high-minded pop from the master of the form.
Most recently, Bowie pissed off the Catholic League, who described him as a "switch-hitting, bisexual, senior citizen." In other words, everything we love about Bowie in 2013, and The Next Day.
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