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Posted by on Mar 12, 2018 in Blog, Essays, Las Vegas, Music and Concert Reviews | 0 comments

What Happened to Las Vegas Lounge Acts? Future Stars Given a Chance to Shine in Red Rock Casino Show



The audience was treated to a pleasant surprise at Red Rock’s free variety show on Sunday.

About 20 minutes into the monthly matinee “Brunch to Broadway,” the emcee ushered four local high school students onto the stage.  Two were young girls, aged 16 and 17.  The two other kids were a 14-year-old boy and a 12-year-old girl.

Inviting minors onstage to join a live show at a casino seemed a bit unusual.

“Brunch to Broadway” is 75-minutes of music with a live band.  Years ago, these types of shows were quite popular.  They used to be called “lounge acts.”  Every big casino had one.  Lounge acts played both afternoons and nights, and sometimes even into the early morning.  Shows were free, although seeing the most popular entertainers often required a two-drink minimum, and getting a really good table usually mandated a generous tip to the Maitre’d.  Many popular singers and comedians of the past century began their careers as Las Vegas lounge acts.

Unfortunately, searching for a free lounge act on the Las Vegas Strip has become tougher than finding a casino that pays 2 to 1 on blackjack.  Lounge acts have pretty much disappeared.

However, there are some notable exceptions.  Several “locals” casinos — which means resorts catering mostly to local residents instead of out-of-town visitors — continue to offer this throwback to the past.  Red Rock (owned by Stations Casinos) and Suncoast (owned by Boyd Gaming) host regular variety shows in their showrooms.  Most are free.  As one might expect, the crowds in attendance skew a bit older.  But I’ve also seen many families and young people in the audiences.  It’s nice seeing shows featured that can be enjoyed by everyone.

Brunch to Broadway” is fun.  But it’s nothing out of the ordinary.  We’ve enjoyed this show on three occasions (there’s a different show each time).  The set list mostly includes show tunes and standards from the classic American songbook.  Performers rotate in and out from various shows around town.

Sunday’s show was special, however.  The two younger kids joined a four-piece band — which then became a six-piece band.  Instantly, a horn section was born.  The boy played the saxophone.  The girl played the trumpet.  The kids didn’t always hit every note perfectly.  But that didn’t seem to matter.  It was really cool to see the youngsters playing alongside professional musicians in a live show.  The kids appeared to be having the time of their lives.

The two teen girls each sang a solo.  Later, they sang together.  Both girls were excellent.  But, the audience could tell they were also a little nervous.  Again, none of this mattered.  Their songs were from Broadway show tunes.

A bit later, the other full-time performers continued the show.  Finally, the entire ensemble cast did a few songs together with the band.  It was all good fun.  The price (free) was certainly right.

The episode impressed me.  Bringing four youngsters onstage and giving them a chance to perform in front of a live audience added something really special to the performance.  Sure, it’s understandable that Strip casinos would never take a chance like this — inviting school-age children to play in a live show.  Visitors don’t pay $130 for a seat in the Bellagio showroom to see a 12-year-old trumpet player.  But locals’ casinos are different.  We have other expectations.

Indeed, locals’ casinos are very much part of our communities.  People in our neighborhoods often work there.  We go to movies at Red Rock and Suncoast (many locals casinos now have movie theaters).  We eat at restaurants there.  How nice to see a few casinos allowing youngsters to display their talents alongside full-time professional performers.  What a marvelous idea.

The best way to keep great music alive is making sure that children are exposed to it.  If they aren’t exposed to songs we grew to love, then gradually the music will fade away.  If young people don’t develop an appreciation for the classics, then some of the greatest music ever written will be forgotten.  Allowing local high schoolers the chance to perform music we enjoy and even mix in some of their own more contemporary stuff is a win-win arrangement for everyone.

After the show at the exit, the performers greeted members of the audience.  We remarked to each young entertainer how much we appreciated them for giving their time and talent.  See the photograph above of the two young ladies who performed in the Sunday show.

Sure, this was a small thing.  A few kids performed in a free Las Vegas show.  What’s the big deal?

Well, maybe this is a big deal.  If more high school kids are given the chance to sing and play  musical instruments at casinos, then perhaps free lounge acts will make a comeback, someday.  If kids are provided with a creative outlet and allowed to pursue their talents in songwriting and performing, perhaps not quite so many will become absorbed by e-games and techno-music.

What happened on Sunday afternoon made a positive impression on me.  Hence, I congratulate Red Rock casino management and the band for inviting these young stars of tomorrow up to the stage.  Hopefully, the seeds of great music have been planted for many more generations to come.

At least it’s a start.


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Posted by on Jan 28, 2018 in Blog, Essays, Sports Betting, Uncategorized | 0 comments

Matt Lessinger’s 2018 Grammy Awards Predictions (Gambling)



Gambling on the Grammys this year?  It’s not an exaggeration to say no one in the world has picked more Grammy winners for profit over the past five years than my dear friend — Matt Lessinger.  Here are his latest thoughts on this year’s nominees:


Note:  I’m posting this (unedited) write-up, which was just received from Grammy-betting guru Matt Lessinger.  I will update the page with more info as I receive it. 






Sorry for the super late write-up.  In the interest of time, this will be shorter than past write-ups. The Grammy Awards are tonight.  Let’s make some money.

As has been the case in recent years, I can find odds only on the four major betting categories. Here is my take on each of those categories:


BEST NEW ARTIST:  Alessia Cara is the -200 favorite, and she seems like the logical choice, and the line seems about right.  If the line was closer to even money, I would make a play on her, but at -200 I’ll pass.

No bet in this category.


RECORD OF THE YEAR (RotY): Despacito is the -250 favorite, and again seems like the logical choice. The song was already an international hit, then they added Justin Bieber to the English language version of the song and it became the most listened to pop song in any calendar year ever.  That makes it hard to beat.  Kendrick Lamar is the +240 second choice with Humble.  I personally like the song, but I wouldn’t touch that from a betting perspective.  Bruno Mars is the +650 third choice with 24k Magic.  I would like to get better odds than +650, but I think there’s a chance that Bruno Mars sweeps the major categories.  He is historically a favorite of Grammy voters, and his throwback style aligns perfectly with what has seemed to be their preference in years past.

Small play: 24k Magic for Record of the Year at +650 or better.


SONG OF THE YEAR (SotY):  The -150 favorite in this category is 1-800-273-8255.  Yes, that is the title of the song.  It is also the number for the suicide prevention hotline.  It was a collaboration song done by a number of artists, and it’s obviously a heavier song than the average nominee.  If song of the year was truly being given to the best written song, then probably this song deserves to win.  However, in many years, there seems to be little separation between RotY and SotY.  Very often the artist who wins one also wins the other.  For that reason, it’s hard to justify a collaboration song being the favorite.  Despacito is the +200 second choice, and if it wins RotY as it will likely do, then it’s chances for SotY go up substantially.  Bruno Mars is nominated again as the +375 third choice, but for That’s What I Like — a different song than his RotY nominee.  I don’t think the same artist has ever won RotY and SotY in the same year for different songs, but if anyone might do it, he’s got a shot.  Since I view the odds on the favorite as too low, I think there’s value in the other two likely winners.

Small play: Despacito for Song of the Year at +200 or better.

Small play: That’s What I Like for Song of the Year at +375 or better.


ALBUM OF THE YEAR (AotY):  THIS is where we take our shot.  Kendrick Lamar is the -300 favorite with DAMN.  Yes, that is the title of his album.  There is no question that is a turnoff to some of the more traditional Grammy voters.  He is a hip-hop artist.  NO hip-hop artist can EVER be made a -300 favorite in AotY, until the Grammy voters show some inclination to vote for one.  In the history of the Grammys, your only AotY hip-hop winners are Lauryn Hill and Outkast.  As Tony Kornheiser would say, “That’s it! That’s the list!”  This has FADE written all over it.  I personally like Kendrick Lamar.  His album is fantastic, it’s received plenty of critical acclaim, and yet I would make it +200 AT BEST.  So while I recognize that there’s about a 33 percent chance that he will win, I maintain that a bet on anyone else is +EV.

Let’s spread the money around a little bit.  24K Magic by Bruno Mars is +300 on Bovada, but I managed to find it at +460 on a rogue site, so I went balls to the wall at that price.  I would still make a large play at +300.  I cannot reiterate enough that Grammy voters stick with what they like.  He is a Grammy favorite, to the point that he beat Michael Jackson for Best Male Vocalist the year that Michael Jackson died! That’s basically their way of saying that they have found a new king of pop.  Bruno Mars is everything that Grammy voters like.  He is my best bet of the night.

Having said that, there are arguments to be made for every other nominee as well.  Lorde is the +700 third choice.  She is the only female nominee, which carries a lot of weight in the “year of the woman.”  Her album has received plenty of critical acclaim, and it would not be any sort of surprise if she were to win.  I will be placing a decent bet on her as well.

The fourth choice is Jay-Z at +1200.  He fits the “Lifetime Achievement Award” angle, although that almost always goes to old white males.  Nevertheless, we are at the point in time where hip-hop artists can have a body of work that dates back 20 years as his does, so even though no one would realistically make the case that his album was the best album of the year, he could win from that angle.  As a side note, it would be an unbelievable slap in the face to Beyonce if Jay-Z wins AotY when she was repeatedly nominated and never won.  I’ll make a small hedge play on him to protect my other two wagers.

The longest shot is Childish Gambino at +1500.  He fits the “lucky to be nominated” angle, which wins a shocking amount of the time.  Most recently, four years ago, I would have told you that Daft Punk was lucky just to be nominated, and sure enough they won as the longest shot on the board.  In 2010 Arcade Fire was lucky to be nominated, and I bet them from that angle and collected at 8-1. But I gotta draw the line somewhere!  This would just be an upset of biblical proportions and I have to take a stand at some point, so no bet on CG.  Instead, my action is as follows:

BEST BET: Bruno Mars to win Album of the Year at +300 or better.

Medium play: Lorde to win Album of the Year at +700 or better.

Small play: Jay-Z to win Album of the Year at +1400 or better.


Good luck to everyone this year, and especially to Bruno!


Matt L

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Posted by on Dec 8, 2017 in Blog, Essays | 1 comment

Is Country-Western Music Conservative or Liberal?



Country music is regarded as a bastion of conservative politics and traditional values.  But is this accurate?   Fact is, and history shows — many of country music’s most revered icons are far more liberal than you think.


The National Finals Rodeo just hit Las Vegas.  They’ll be here for the next week.  So, the local entertainment scene features attractions appealing mostly to cowboys and cowgirls.

I just attended a country music show at the Suncoast Showroom.  Country music isn’t really my thing.  However, I recognize the extraordinary achievements and immense contributions made to music and culture by many great singers and songwriters of this exclusive genre of Americana.  Indeed, I understand why country music appeals to tens of millions of people — especially those who describe themselves as politically conservative, and particularly those who profess a strong belief in “traditional values.”

Here’s a perfect example:  Tonight’s Suncoast show closed with a rousing encore of Lee Greenwood’s famous ode to both faith and country — “God Bless the U.S.A.”  I once saw Greenwood perform his song in person while attending the 1984 Republican National Convention, held in Dallas.  Greenwood didn’t just write a catchy tune.  He penned an anthem for the ages, which is still used to stir the emotions of millions of conservative-minded Americans.  To this day, many Republican politicians use the song as a soundtrack during their campaigns.  It might as well be the G.O.P. theme song.

A local singer did his best to impersonate Greenwood and recreate the patriotic fervor.  He succeeded.  To my astonishment, as the song went on, the audience began standing up, one by one.  At first, only a few.  Then, a few dozen.  Next, a few hundred.  By the song’s conclusion, almost everyone in the audience was standing, with hands in the air.   It was like a religious revival.

This overt politicization isn’t something new.  I’m old enough to remember a similar-themed country song with just as powerful a message recorded back in 1969, titled — “Okie from Muskogee.”  Written and performed by Merle Haggard, the song was an instant smash hit.  The lyrics reflected a conservative backlash to the Vietnam War protestors and liberal counterculture:

We don’t smoke marijuana in Muskogee,
We don’t take our trips on LSD,
We don’t burn our draft cards down on Main Street,
We like livin’ right and bein’ free.

In addition to Lee Greenwood and Merle Haggard (who died last year), there’s also Hank Williams, Jr., Charlie Daniels, and younger country stars who are outspoken conservatives.  Accordingly, it’s easy to assume country music is the drum parade of the Right.  Sure, Leftists and liberals mostly dominate Rock n’ Roll, Rap, R&B, and pretty much every other genre of modern music.  But country remains king in the heartland of the “real America.”

There’s just one problem.  This conclusion is wrong.

Fact is, and history shows — over the past 50 years or so, most country music icons have been surprisingly progressive on the issues that ultimately came to define them.  They defied social norms and blazed new trails, both musically and lyrically.  Successful artists tend to be liberal as a natural progression of creativity.  The reason is simple.  Trendsetters forgo expectation.  They challenge audiences, including their fans, to go beyond where they might be comfortable.  Repeating the same musical formulas over and over again doesn’t create legends.  Sinatra, Elvis, Dylan — all were radically different departures from what came before them.  The same holds true for country music.

Consider a few of the more famous country music icons who are/were liberals:

Johnny Cash One of country’s first “outlaws,” Cash was jailed seven times, drank-hard and lived even harder, and for many years had a serious drug habit.  Given his earlier troubles, he came to embrace a strong belief in human redemption and became a champion for penal reform.  His concerts for incarcerated prisoners, many on death row, included some of the best performances of his career.  “Fitting these gigs in around his relentless touring schedule, the ‘Man in Black’ performed for inmates all over the U.S., always unpaid, and in the process, became a passionate and vocal spokesman for prisoners’ rights,” explained the BBC in a feature story.  Later, when he achieved huge crossover success, Cash hosted a nationally-televised variety show.  He shocked his core audience by personally inviting musicians associated with the counterculture onto his program where he often performed alongside them.  This guest list included — Bob Dylan, Eric Clapton, Neil Young, James Taylor, and other “hippies.”

Willie Nelson — Arguably the most famous country singer in the world today, Nelson is now in his 80s.  After penning several hits but also struggling as a live performer during the 1950s and 1960s, Nelson began to embrace the Leftist look by growing his hair long when such a thing wasn’t done in country music.  He became the face and more essentially, the voice, of a new sound known as progressive country.  Nelson went on let the world know that he regularly smoked marijuana when such an admission was still considered scandalous.  He also organized and performed many times at the annual Farm Aid events and other concerts intended to help causes associated with the Left.

Kris Kristofferson — Like Willie Nelson, Kristofferson has written many of the greatest songs ever associated with country music (many of which enjoyed massive crossover appeal).  Born in Texas and once a Rhodes Scholar (he holds a Masters Degree in literature from Oxford), Kristofferson’s political transformation came at a time when America was changing, too.  “When I first left the country for school in England I remember getting in all kinds of scrapes in Europe about the United States.  I thought they were all mistaken.  But the more information I got the more I realized there were things I wasn’t crazy about that my government was doing, and most is the disrespect for international law and treaties or organizations like the World Court and the United Nations.  It’s like [peace activist] Helen Caldicott said; there’s only one party in the U.S. and it’s the war party, and it’s in charge of all three branches of the government,” Kristofferson once said in an interview [HERE].  Pretty solid Leftist credentials.

This list could go on.  Other country liberals include The Dixie Chicks, Waylon Jennings, Tim McGraw, LeAnn Rimes, Steve Earle, Brandy Clark, and several others.  Even country matriarch Loretta Lynn (who now professes to be a Donald Trump supporter) once shocked her traditional audiences when she wrote and sang songs during the early 1970s about birth control and women’s rights.  Not every female country singer advised the ladies to Stand by Your Man.”

The talent of these country icons isn’t just abundantly obvious in the music.  Each one has managed successfully to speak and act, and even perform openly onstage as outspoken liberals, yet still somehow to appeal to a much wider traditional conservative base.  Performing for masses of people who not only do not share their views but may be offended by them makes for a paradox.  They’re the counterweight to Wall Street bankers pumping their Rolex-encrusted fists to the Rolling Stones’ “Street Fighting Man.”  Oh, the irony.

The long legacy of Leftist country musicians is clear.  However, younger country stars have a critical role to play in progressive politics, too.  Sure, it’s great that plenty of academics, scientists, and other so-called “elites” fight for liberal causes.  But the ongoing political, economic, and cultural battle isn’t going to be won at a campus protest in Berkeley or on the editorial pages of Mother Jones.  Changing minds and gaining support comes one person at a time and is far more likely to be accomplished by a country performer strumming a guitar while playing to a packed house in Paducah.

Past and present, many country music stars are heroes.  Regretfully, most haven’t been sufficiently appreciated by liberals not just for what they’ve done, but for the immense personal and professional risks they’ve taken.  They risked their careers.  Standing up for personal conviction is easy when surrounded by allies.  But standing up and fighting for an unpopular cause with family, friends, and peers isn’t so easy.  Speaking up for justice to mobs of injustice comes at a price.  Doing the right thing when everyone else around you seems to be doing the wrong thing can be dangerous.  That’s courage.

Rockers and rappers get most of the credit as social catalysts and cultural beacons.  To millions, they are trendsetters, and deservedly so.  But the real front lines in the debate of ideas lies in the grimy saloons and on country music stations in music whistled to by coal miners and truckers who drink whiskey every Saturday night and read the Bible every Sunday morning and still shed a tear when the National Anthem gets played.  This is where the battle needs to start, must be fought, and ultimately be won.

Let country music’s bravest voices sing to those minds and open up those hearts.



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Posted by on Dec 4, 2017 in Blog, Essays | 0 comments

The Wizard of Esteban



The Wizard of Esteban:

Saturday Night Showtime Turns Into a Wonderful Holiday Surprise


Years ago, before barcodes were embedded into our DNA, it was commonplace for confused travelers to board the wrong airplane.  Some lost souls even landed in the wrong city.

During boarding time, usually rushed and chaotic, travelers used to fork over paper tickets which were often hard to read.  Occasionally, distracted ticket agents failed to verify the itinerary.  So, more than a few unlucky passengers took seats on half-empty airplanes headed in the wrong direction.  Imagine the shock of boarding a plane you thought was headed for San Francisco, but landing instead in Cleveland.

These stories were so common that they didn’t even make the news unless something really unusual happened.  Once, a man reportedly misheard “Auckland” as “Oakland” over the loudspeaker and ended up on the other side of the world — in New Zealand [TRUE STORY].  I used to wonder what kind of idiot would be dumb enough to get on the wrong airplane.

Well — now I know.

While I didn’t exactly end up stuck in Cleveland in early December, I did commit the Las Vegas version of boarding the wrong plane.  Here’s what happened:

This time of year, Marieta and I try and catch as many shows as we can.  We’re lucky to live in a city with events just about every night of the week.  Even local community and school performances are surprisingly good.

One of Marieta’s favorite shows is “The Wizard of Oz.”  A musical version of the movie classic was playing last Saturday night at a nearby performing arts center.  Tickets were reasonably priced at $12 and were available at the door.  Showtime was listed at 7 pm.

We were in a rush that night and ended up arriving at the Summerlin Library Auditorium just a few minutes before the show was to begin.  From the instant we pulled into the parking lot including some time spent in the lobby, there was something peculiar about the whole scene.

“The Wizard of Oz” is a popular family treat.  Children are especially fond of the famous tale of young Dorothy, who mistakenly gets caught up in what turns out to be a magical journey which takes her far away from Kansas.  In a sense, Dorothy kinda’ gets on the wrong plane, too.

Of all the people gathered inside the lobby buying tickets and lined up to take their seats, no children were present.  Not one.

I didn’t give this too much thought at the time.  So, we got in line and finally arrived at the window to purchase two tickets.

“That will be $50,” the lady said.

“Huh?  Fifty bucks?  I thought tickets were $12.”

“Tickets are $25 each” snapped the lady who looked at me like I was from outer space.

Marieta and I glanced each other, our eyes darting back and forth, mystified as to how some local troupe of amateurs performing “The Wizard of Oz” at a public library could get away with the audacity of charging us fifty bucks for a couple of tickets.  What a shakedown.

But, we were here.  We’d already come all this way.  A few seconds of confusion gave way to a collective sigh of a response best described by the three letters….W-T-F.  Moments later, Marieta and I were seated on Row H, Seats 10 and 11.  It’s a cliche to brag we had the best seats in the house.  But — we had the best seats in the house.

The show was about to start.  We looked around the packed auditorium and couldn’t help but confirm our earlier observation.  Where in the hell were the kids?  Everyone sitting in the audience containing about 300 people was adults — mostly aged 50 and up.

Another thing was even more puzzling.  The stage was dark and had no set decorations.  All that was visible was an elevated drum set to the rear and a stool positioned at the front of the stage, surrounded by a few amplifiers.  This seemed like a very odd set up for a musical revue of “The Wizard of Oz.”

Oh well.  Perhaps we were about to see the modern avant-garde version.  Who knew what to expect?

Seconds later, the house lights dimmed.  Then, a man dressed in all black with a wide-brimmed hat wearing dark sunglasses walked out onstage.  Without any introduction, he sat on the stool and began plucking his guitar in a melodic fashion, slowly building to a robust crescendo.

Hey!  Where’s the scarecrow?  Where’s the tin-man?  Where the cowardly lion?  Where’s Toto?

Still oblivious to the reality that we’d bought two tickets to the wrong show and were sitting in a darkened auditorium clueless to what was going on, we finally figured things out.  Fortunately, we weren’t headed for Cleveland.  Instead, by an incredible stroke of luck, we ended up sitting 30 feet away from one of the most enthralling guitarists in the world.

It was Esteban!,

Esteban is famous.  He’s played thousands of shows all over the world.  He’s been nominated for Grammys.  Many of us know him just as much for his instructional techniques as his own playing.  He also earned millions selling guitars on television.  Esteban normally plays for thousands of people at a time.  What was he doing playing here on a Saturday night at a tiny library auditorium in Las Vegas?

As the show continued on, we discovered from his storytelling that Esteban’s daughter lives in Summerlin.  She arranged this special public performance for her father.  He was accompanied onstage by a drummer and his daughter, on the violin.  Few musicians can get away with such a small ensemble and yet still manage to keep things exciting.  Esteban’s natural charisma, extraordinary skill, and genuine enthusiasm for his music more than filled the room.

We were treated to nearly two and a half hours of many different kinds of music — from classical guitar to Flamenco, from rock n’ roll to Christmas songs to Simon and Garfunkel.  Throughout the cosmopolitan set, which even included a short intermission, Esteban interspersed spontaneous personal reflections about his life and the music.  He provided lots of background stories which greatly enhanced the audience’s appreciation of the material he chose to perform.  Some stories were very emotional.  Some were funny.  Quite a few were inspirational (Esteban was badly injured years ago in a car crash caused by a drunk driver and stopped playing the guitar for a decade — he lost an eye in the wreck).  But the highlight of the night was Esteban paying a rare tribute to one of his idols, Ravi Shankar, who died last year.  Esteban mimicked the unique sound of the Indian sitar by sliding his fingers madly across the guitar’s frets, while also providing a more conventional rhythm accompaniment to a ballad that was a 12-minute back-and-forth razzle of The Beatles’ “Norwegian Wood” and “Here Comes the Sun.”  Watching Esteban’s guitar technique was like sitting in on a master class.

After the show was over, Esteban went out into the lobby and shook hands and signed autographs.  This wasn’t just Esteban up close and personal.  We felt like we were special guests.

This was an extraordinary show witnessed simply because of a mistake and a stroke of dumb luck.

Perhaps boarding the wrong airplane isn’t so bad after all, if it’s going to a better place.


Note 1:  Later, we learned “The Wizard of Oz” was playing at a different library (on Charleston).  We had shown up at the wrong place.

Note 2:  Esteban plans on performing at the Summerlin Library again, at least two more times next year.  I strongly recommend seeing his show, which is at least as good as any headliner on The Strip in a far more intimate setting, and where free parking is not an issue.  Tickets priced at $25 are a steal.  [ESTEBAN’S WEBSITE IS HERE]



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Posted by on Jun 18, 2017 in Blog, Essays, Music and Concert Reviews | 1 comment

Are Great Pop Musicians Washed Up by Age 30?



Recently, I read an intriguing retrospective of the dreadful Paul McCartney solo studio album, Ram — released 46 years ago today:


Recorded in the spring of 1971, Ram was McCartney’s second post-Beatles musical overture.  At the time, the lackluster album was universally eviscerated by critics.  In one of the kinder and gentler reviews, Rolling Stone described Ram as “incredibly inconsequential” and “monumentally irrelevant.”  Spoiled by a steady assembly line of Lennon-McCartney classics from the preceding decade, the public didn’t care much for the new music either.

Aside from the stellar Band on the Run, released a few years later in late 1973, most of McCartney’s other solo projects consisted of mostly patchwork collections of erratic inconsistency, while engaging on occasion, far more often mere trinkets of Paul’s much-celebrated earlier works.

By 1982, when McCartney crossed his 40th birthday, he’d all but retreated from the cutting-edge cliff of innovation de facto morphing into the world’s highest-paid nostalgia act (albeit, still a remarkable live performer filled with boundless energy, even today at 75).  If pressed to tell the truth, most hard-core Paul fans would probably have a difficult time naming a truly great McCartney-composed song released within the past 35 years.  For whatever reason, Rock’s Mozart has become Muzak.

To be fair, McCartney’s post-Beatles stuff has always been unfairly judged against the gold standard of pop music genius.  Expected to continue the greatest creative run in recorded musical history indefinitely, when Liverpool’s Fab Four plugged in their prehistoric instruments (by today’s standards) and changed everything within the eye blink of seven-year stretch, most fans and critics looked to McCartney as arguably the most talented of the group, and therefor best suited to transition as a solo artist and simply pick up where he left off right after the painful band break up in 1970.  Yet despite some valiant solo efforts along the way, McCartney has failed to deliver anything remotely close to the catalog of masterpieces when the far more youthful icon — still in his 20’s — wrote (or co-wrote) an astonishing collection of more than 300 songs, many the soundtrack to a generation.

How could the same creative source of ingenuity who penned “Yesterday” and “Eleanor Rigby” (by age 24), followed up by “Hey Jude” and “Let it Be” (by age 27) fade into a has-been, creatively speaking?  Indeed, how does the same musical sage who composed so many classics later record and release so many utterly forgettable songs?


Do great pop musicians run into creative gauntlet by age 30, and if so — why? [Note:  For purposes of discussion, I made “30” the creative cutoff.  But it could be 29, or 31, or 32 — the point being that musical creative talent diminishes perhaps over time]

The evidence does seem pretty convincing.  In my introduction, I picked on Paul McCartney because he’s one of the best-known musicians in history and his career is easier for us to judge over a longer stretch.  However, I could have said pretty much the same thing about the Rolling Stones or The Who — the two other legendary bands of the 1960’s trifecta.  I could also have plucked several other rock icons — including David Bowie, Elton John, Queen, U2, or Bruce Springsteen and made a similar argument that most of their creativity reached a peak prior to their 30th birthday.  Then there’s Bob Dylan, arguably the greatest songwriter in our lifetime, who pretty much peaked by age 34 with Blood on the Tracks.

Let’s take a closer look at the Stones.  While Mick Jagger and Keith Richards have clearly stood the test of time (and then some), they haven’t written or recorded anything remotely close to the temblor of Beggar’s Banquet (1968) or Let it Bleed (1969), or Exile on Main Street (1972) in nearly four decades.  By the time the Rolling Stones had released their most memorable stuff, Jagger and Richards, the band’s primary songwriters, were both age 28.

The Who penned and recorded an astonishing burst of great music between 1965’s My Generation up through 1973’s Quadrophenia.  Then, Roger Daltry and Pete Townshend turned 30, and it’s been all downhill since, at least from a cutting edge creative standpoint (to be fair, Keith Moon, a seminal force, died in 1978 at age 32).

This discussion isn’t limited only to white males of a certain era.  It also applies to female songwriters and many soul and R&B artists, as well.

Consider Carole King, a monumental force of songwriting who — after spending years in the shadows penning hit songs for other artists — enjoyed her own personal breakthrough with Tapestry, released in 1971.  At the time, she was 29.  King remains a vibrant performer.  However, like McCartney and the Stones and the rest, she’s not written anything particularly memorable in the last 35 years.

Stevie Wonder was a child prodigy and a bombshell of musical creativity.  Wonder was one of the first R&B artists to seize full musical control of his material, intentionally choosing to write his own songs and experiment with new sounds when many Black artists remained under the thumb of record company executives.  The years between 1970 and 1977 for him were as fruitful any artist in history.  Wonder hit is creative peak in 1977 with the release of the epic album masterpiece, Songs in the Key of Life.  At the time, Wonder was 27 years old.


What explains such an apparent decline in musical creativity, at a relatively young age?

Other genres of popular expression don’t seem to suffer an age lapse at all.  Consider that over the years, many painters, writers, and comedians have produced their greatest works well into the 40’s and 50’s and beyond.

With writers, advancing age has been shown to be, not an inhibitor, but an elixir of creative inspiration.  Few writers make much of an impact while still in their 20’s.  But over time, as one masters the use of language and art of expression, (good) writers do tend to become better at their craft.  I’m not sure if it’s the same with architects or scientists, who must also call upon vast reservoirs of knowledge and experience.  However, it seems quite clear that virtually all artistic avenues crowded with older people doing better work now than yesterday, and destined to improve on their efforts tomorrow.

So, what makes music — or at least pop music — so much different?



Note 1:  Keep in mind, I’m strictly discussing musical creativity, not musical performance.  Many performers put on a great show well into their 50’s, and beyond.  However, very few write good music well into their 50’s, and beyond.

Note 2:  Consumers of pop music do tend to skew much younger than average.  This would explain why many of the most popular musical acts are teenagers and in their 20’s.  There’s simply more profit to be made catering to this younger audience.  Hence, younger and fresher artists get far more opportunities and perhaps even greater creative latitude than older more experienced artists.

Note 3:  Audiences could be as much to blame for the lapse in creativity as anything else.  Most audiences prefer to hear hit songs.  Most audiences don’t want to hear new (unfamiliar) music.  So, there’s pressure on older acts to deliver stale material and no longer push creative boundaries.

Note 4:  Finally, there’s obvious complacency which sets in once a musician is a multi-millionaire, earning royalties for the remainder of their lives.


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