They may be oldies - but they are still goodies
You'd expect to see Britney or Beyonce at the top of the charts, not some croaky old codger like Bob Dylan - but the elder lemons of pop are back
STILL THINK POP is a young person's game? Tell that to the pensioner who is currently sitting pretty atop both the US and UK album charts with his new album, Together Through Life.Bob Dylan has confounded his critics - and his fans - many times during his long career, but this week's chart double-whammy could have the most jaded pop-watcher doing a double-take.
You'd expect to see Britney or Beyonce or some other youthful bird of paradise perched atop the Billboard 200, but not some croaky old codger whose best work is considered so far behind him not even a Tardis would get him back to his former glory. But the sales figures don't lie - just two weeks shy of his 69th birthday, Robert Allan Zimmerman has sold 125,000 copies of Together Through Life, putting him in pole position and leaving Lady GaGa and Miley Cyrus choking on his dust. In the UK charts, Together Through Lifehas put Lily Allen and Pussycat Dolls in the ha'penny place, and forced young guns The Enemy to settle for second place.
This is Dylan's fifth time topping the US charts - he previously hit the top in three consecutive years with 1974's Planet Waves, 1975's Blood on the Tracksand 1976's Desire. It took another 30 years for him to return to the top with 2006's Modern Times. This week's feat makes it two No 1s in a row for Dylan, but it was luck rather than artistic merit that helped him this time - this was a slow week for album sales, and the dearth of new releases meant that he had a clear run for the summit.
It's Dylan's seventh UK No 1, and his first since 1970's New Morning,which means that Bob has broken Tom Jones's record for the longest gap between solo No 1 albums.
It's been a long time coming, but it looks like the elder lemons of pop are finally taking back their crowns from the sweet-voiced young pretenders and regaining their rightful place at the head of the hit parade.
Taking a quick scan down this week's UK Top 100, we see new albums by AC/DC, Chris de Burgh and Christy Moore doing the business, plus a goodly proportion of best-of albums by Annie Lennox, Simply Red, ABBA, Madness, 10CC, Lionel Richie and The Beatles. And Carole King's re-released classic Tapestry has weaved its way back into record-buyers' hearts.
But nowhere is grey
power more apparent than on the live circuit, where the hottest ticket in town invariably has the oldest ticker around. You don't hear people talking excitedly about that Fleet Foxes gig, or begging you for spare tickets for Vampire Weekend. They're gushing about the return of Leonard Cohen for four nights at the O2, or ecstatically declaring the recent AC/DC gig the most kick-ass night of their lives. Take your pick from a veritable who's-who of veteran acts due to play here over the next few months: Eric Clapton, Rod Stewart, Elton John, Neil Young, Crosby, Stills and Nash, Jeff Beck and The Eagles are all on their way to these shores; Dylan just played two nights at the O2, and Bruce Springsteen is doing two nights at the RDS in July.
The thing about Springsteen is that, the older he gets, the stronger and more powerful he becomes, and the bigger his fanbase swells. Even young music fans, who weren't yet born when Born in the USAwas released, look up to the Boss with the kind of awe and reverence their parents can only dream of getting.
It's a long way from a show I saw in the mid-1990s, when Springsteen was a surprise guest of Joe Ely at the old Mean Fiddler venue (now the Village). A young raver, waiting impatiently for the gig to end and the disco to begin, turned to me and asked, "When are those oul' fellas finished?"
So, does this mean that the bright young stars of today are about to get crowded out of the charts and the venues by a resurgent army of greying gods and goddesses? Probably not. Rihanna, Beyonce and the latest winner of X-Factor will still shift units, but the form those units take will have changed. One reason for the strong showing of grandadrockers in the charts is that older music fans are still out there buying old-fangled CDs, while the younger fans are opting to get their music on downloads, ringtones, streaming torrents and via their favourite teen-angst TV series. It's ironic that the music biz, long dependent on an archaic model for marketing music, now has to rely on "50 quid man" to prop up a tottering industry.
The shift is also happening on the live front. While younger fans are sitting at home watching grainy videos of their favourite bands on YouTube, their parents are out spending the kids' inheritance to see all the bands they missed while they were busy bringing up their brood and kick-starting the Celtic Tiger. The baby boomers are the only ones left who can afford to go out and see a gig - and they don't even need to worry about getting a babysitter, since their kids are already at college or married with kids of their own, and certainly won't be able to afford the €90 to see Rod Stewart at Thomond Park.
For the current young crop, accustomed to downloading everything for free and getting tweets from the latest pop sensation, pop has become a deflated currency, and few bands manage to outlast their shortened attention span. The baby boomers, on the other hand, still attach value to music, and are willing to pay for a chance to relocate the lost chord that struck them as teenagers.
So stand aside, kids: Mom and Dad are taking pop music back - you had your chance and you blew it. Come back in another 50 years and maybe then we'll talk.