Top 10 ‘Still Got It’ Albums
Rare is the musician, or band, that can remain artistically relevant decades into a career — which is why we’re celebrating the acts below with the Top 10 “Still Got It” Albums. To make the list, the artists had to make a quality, full-length record of original material at least 25 years after their debut that could potentially even rank among their most classic works. Most debuts by legendary rockers are memorable, but how well are they still doing more than a quarter-century down the road? These guys have proved they “still got it.”
Few musicians needed a Rick Rubin revamp the way the tres hombres in ZZ Top did. Drum machines and airless digital production had scrubbed all of the muddy, grimy greatness from the band’s blues-rock interplay until Rubin led the boys back to their basic sound. And yet, as its name suggests, La Futura isn’t merely a retro exercise. This is the sound of a ’70s band still tearing it up in the 21st century; a band in which gravelly voiced Billy Gibbons can cop a little hip-hop attitude in “I Gotsta Get Paid” before riding out into the boogie-woogie sunset. The groove awakens.
The Fireman (Paul McCartney)
Ever since Flowers in the Dirt, it seems like every new Paul McCartney album is celebrated as some sort of return to form. Surely, this one will be the record in which Macca does the good stuff and not so many of the cutesy things. During much of that time, he had been escaping the pressures of being “Former Beatle Paul McCartney” by recording electronic side projects with Youth (Martin Glover). The magic balance between experiment and sublimely melodic pop was finally achieved with the third Fireman record, Electric Arguments. There are moments of shimmering glory (“Sing the Changes”), muscular rock (“Highway”) and trippy gospel-folk (“Light from Your Lighthouse”). It’s almost like hearing the ’65-’67 Beatles reclaim their throne 40 years beyond.
After an eight-year drought, AC/DC released their “Still Got It” album to massive fan and critical approval. Black Ice, helmed by rock producer extraordinaire Brendan O’Brien, was packed with pummeling riffs and lean hooks that unleashed the runaway “Rock ‘n’ Roll Train” that is AC/DC. O’Brien encouraged the Young brothers to steer away from the blues exercises that had mired some of the band’s previous records, while getting singer Brian Johnson to “croon” and not just scream his vocals. The result was an album that had more in common with the punishing pop of the Bon Scott era as well as the meaty hooks of Back in Black. Sadly, Black Ice would also be a bookend for AC/DC. Due to Malcolm Young‘s dementia, and departure from the group, the album would be the final one to feature (and be co-written by) the legendary rhythm guitarist.
For better and worse, the Canadian curmudgeon has been fearlessly creative throughout his equally meandering and rewarding career. As such, his fans are sure to have rambling debates about what the ultimate latter-day Neil Young classic is. Our vote is for the expansive growl of 2012’s Psychedelic Pill, a double-disc release with Crazy Horse that lives up to the promise of that most legendary of collaborations. From the nearly half-hour opener (“Driftin’ Back”) to a 16-minute epic about the twilight of a marriage (“Ramada Inn”), there’s no shortage of room to stretch out. Young and his trusty steed display all of their ragged glory, getting tangled in one rustic jam after another that recall the past without trying to recreate it.
The Rolling Stones
Between the overblown ’80s and the forced sonic escapades of Bridges to Babylon, the Rolling Stones crafted a late-career gem (well, 30 years seemed late at the time). Voodoo Lounge returned Mick Jagger, Keith Richards and the fellas to their roots: stripped-back blues, a dash of country soul and pound-it-out rock ‘n’ roll. The wry slink of “Love is Strong” and the stomp-along energy of “You Got Me Rocking” are far from revolutionary, but that’s why Voodoo Lounge works. No new tricks, just winning songs and killer licks. For once, a new Stones record lived up to the legacy. It’s as close to classic as the Stones ever got in their old age.
Until the 2013 surprise of The Next Day, it looked like Reality was set to be David Bowie‘s swan song — and what a capper it would have been. Bowie was still discovering new corners in his voice, both his literal singing voice and his voice as a writer. The uncertainty of post-9/11 New York is layered throughout, from the despondence externalized on “The Loneliest Guy” to the defiant, new killer glam of “New Killer Star.” Bowie enlivens the Modern Lovers’ “Pablo Picasso” while getting appropriately arty on “Bring Me the Disco King.” In between those two tracks, the artist creates an arc. We’ve been taken on a journey, which is what Bowie always did in his best moments.
Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers
“I remember feeling like this,” Tom Petty drawls on “U Get Me High.” A few years after getting their Mojo working, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers went back into the garage to create Hypnotic Eye, a collection of rumbling nuggets. It’s tempting to term this record “vintage Heartbreakers” — and, in terms of tightly crafted melodic ditties, that’s about right. But Petty, Mike Campbell and the boys have never sounded quite this vigorous on record. “American Dream Plan B” slashes and burns. “Fault Lines” pits sneering guitar leads against a cascade of lilting harmonies. “Forgotten Man” is a diesel-fueled shimmy. And back to “U Get Me High,” which is a melodic stunner that grinds its way to an apex of white hot guitar and cartwheeling organ. Yes, we all remember feeling like this. Bless you, Heartbreakers, for still getting us high.
It’s been plainly obvious to anyone who has seen Cheap Trick perform in the past 15 years that they “Still Got It,” but the evidence hasn’t been as readily available on the band’s albums. That’s not the case with Rockford, named for the power pop institution’s hometown, which packs one hell of a sweet wallop. Robin Zander wails for his life, Rick Nielsen blazes through buzzsaw leads, Tom Petersson gets acrobatic on the bass, and Bun E. Carlos hammers it home. You can almost smell the burnt sugar between songs — tunes with gargantuan choruses (“Give It Away”), sweeping hooks (“O Claire”) and punky energy (“Come On Come On Come On”). The sound of Rockford is so robust, you’d swear it was made by a bunch of twentysomethings. But those guys wouldn’t have been able to keep up with Cheap Trick.
When Bruce Springsteen reassembled the E Street Band in the late ’90s, we were just excited to have one of the ultimate arena acts back on stage. No one dreamed that the crew would end up making an album that could go toe-to-toe with the likes of The River. Magically, that’s what came to be with this 2007 record, which pairs all the old E Street touchstones (Stax soul on “Livin’ in the Future,” roadhouse rock on “Radio Nowhere,” Wall-of-Sound pop on “Girls in Their Summer Clothes”) with Springsteen’s observations about what happened to America during the Bush administration: People are dying overseas, the politicians are up to their usual tricks and we can’t even seek solace in our decimated communities. And the radio sucks. When things are bad, Bruce is at his best. He’s the John McClane of rock and roll.
Although 1997’s excellent Time Out of Mind was seen as Bob Dylan‘s big comeback, 2001’s Love & Theft is his definitive (maybe the definitive) “Still Got It” album. Throughout his career, Dylan had been written off so many times that it’s more than a little humorous that he ended up making one of his very best albums after 40 years in the business. Love and Theft somehow collects all that is great about American music and yet only contains newly written music. Dylan croons, Dylan jokes, Dylan rambles, Dylan rocks throughout the 12 tracks, each of them more inviting and exciting than the next. Well, that’s not quite accurate. “Mississippi” is the best thing here, maybe the best song Dylan has written since the ’70s. Loaded with pearls of weary wisdom, it features the line “You can always come back, but you can’t come back all the way.” Maybe that’s true, but Bob came back as far as possible on Love & Theft.