I refuse to believe that the music being made today is any better or worse than what was created in the ’60s. We don’t have prolific output from The Beatles, Beach Boys or Bob Dylan anymore, but that isn’t to say that the music of our generation is any less important to the culture we live in. The thing that made Bob Dylan great wasn’t the way he was able to act as a voice of a single generation. He did something greater: He spoke for himself and created art for all generations. I still tear up whenever I hear that harmonica solo on “Desolation Row,” a song that was written more than 40 years ago.
Even today, the veterans can still hop into the studio and prove why they’re often thought of as rock ’n’ roll history’s all-time greats. I can’t even really call it respecting my elders, because I don’t listen to their music as art made by senior citizens. It doesn’t matter how old someone is when they make great art, and it doesn’t matter when they make it, either. Over the past year, some amazing music has been made by some of the rock stars of yesteryear. Here are just some of the artists who made great art decades ago, and continue doing so today:
Brian Eno and David Byrne—Everything That Happens Will Happen Today
Brain Eno is as relevant as producers come these days. Coldplay, arguably the biggest band in the world today, specifically signed him on for their latest studio album, Viva la Vida, knowing full well the success Eno can bring to a young group of go-getters. If he could do it for U2 and David Bowie, he could help Coldplay reach greatest-band status, too.
David Byrne’s music has inspired so many modern indie bands that most of them are probably unaware of it. He is an artistic genius beyond the musical scope, someone I couldn’t say enough good things about. This former Talking Heads frontman teamed up with one of the greatest rock producers of all time for Everything That Happens Will Happen Today, which Byrne and Eno self-released together. It’s an album that contains some of the best songs released this year.
Listen to “Strange Overtones” and “Life Is Long.” You won’t hear a couple of old-timers recalling the good old days; you’ll hear great music that you can’t wait to put on repeat.
Emmylou Harris—All I Intended to Be
Emmylou Harris is almost a lock-in for the most beautiful 50s-plus woman in the world. Beyond the superficial, Harris keeps country music something that’s worth caring about. Her latest album, All I Intended to Be, brings out all of those feelings you have when you’re 18 years old and longing for love. I can’t even hear a 61-year-old on this album, just an amazing songstress who can leave me an emotional wreck on the floor. It’s fantastic.
Further proof of her greatness: her contribution on Bright Eyes’ finest album, I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning. Harris sang a duo with Conor Oberst on what is possibly the high point of Bright Eyes’ career, “Landlocked Blues.” Harris has the ability to find the perfect blend. Her music is soft, but undeniably impactful.
Brian Wilson—That Lucky Old Sun
This man’s influence on modern music is unmatched. The reverb-soaked music of today sounds so much like Wilson’s Beach Boys, you’d think he should be receiving royalties. He created such a masterpiece with Pet Sounds, it’s hard to avoid taking a little bit of its musical wealth.
In 2004, Wilson finally released Smile, an album that could be deemed one of the top 10 albums of the decade, even though most of the music was created 40 years prior. It proved that he is still a genius. Following up on that genius is this year’s That Lucky Old Sun.
This music is inspired by California, the sun and good feelings. So while Panda Bear and Fleet Foxes get tagged as Pet Sounds-inspired, Wilson sits back and keeps on cranking out what will be forever remembered as the sound of American summertime. On “Oxygen to the Brain,” he sings, “Now it doesn’t matter what your age is / Don’t you know / It’s jut a state of mind.”
Brian Wilson (long vrs)
Randy Newman—Harps and Angels
This man has practically defined “cinematic” music. If he wants his listener to experience a certain emotion, he can play it out like a wizard. He’s been marvelously misunderstood over the years as a result of selling off his name to kids’ movies. But Newman is smarter than his simple music lets on. Underneath the happy little piano melodies, he is a satirist with a wit so sarcastic you’d think he was Mark Twain reincarnated.
Newman has always had this strength. You can hear it in his 1972 work, Sail Away, and it’s just as clear in 2008’s Harps and Angels. He has created some incredible compositions for film, but he is a songwriter at heart. Even Newman knowsthis: “So sick of hearing about the greatest generation / That generation could be you / So let’s see what you can do.”
Randy Newman – A Few Words in Defense of Our Country