ROCK AND ROLL is experiencing the mid-life crisis predicted for it long ago, and old rockers are dropping like stock in the McDonnell-Douglas Corporation. Yesterday was Mick Jagger's 36th birthday. As he ponders how to bow gracefully out of the premier position he's held for over a decade, other performers who have had less of a chance to stockpile tax-free bonds and Krugerrands are struggling to find ways to establish their financial security.
The Who would have won the sweepstakes five years ago for "most likely to burn out," but the Avis of British rock bands continues to plug along--even after the death of Keith Moon. They've added a new drummer and a keyboard man and are touring America this fall.
Unfortunately, their new movie, The Kids Are Alright and its soundtrack album don't nearly do justice to the band's legendary performing style. Peter Townshend plays his guitar by rotating his arm like a vertical helicopter blade; Moon grins and leers through drum solos; John Entwistle, like all bass players, stands expressionless. You can see all this in The Kids Are Alright; but you miss the music. For some reason, Jeff Stein--who put the movie together--chose a few very good film sequences and mixed them up, without any sense of order, with a lot of trashy ones.
YOU'LL SEE MORE performances of "My Generation" than you'll care to count--"My Generation" in front of screaming boppers, circa 1965; "My Generation" on the Smothers Brothers Show; "My Generation" blues-style; and so on. But virtually no tracks from Tommy, Quadrophenia, or Who's Next--except for "Baba O'Riley" and "We Won't Get Fooled Again," the two best sequences in the movie.
Stein doesn't try to show us anything more about the Who than what we already know--that its members are quite ugly, that they can play extremely good music, and that they used to smash their instruments. He couldn't resist putting every Townshend guitar-smashing ever recorded on film into his movie.
The album from the movie has little of interest for anyone who has several old Who albums; it might serve as a good "best of" collection for those who don't. But even in its two-records-for-little-more-than-the-price-of-one format, its chief reason to exist seems to be to make a little more money for the band. Townshend has to keep up his monthly payments to his guru somehow.
Whatever ups and downs in productivity they've had over the years, the Who have never dropped out of the public eye as a major band. The Kinks, who date back as far as the Who or the Stones, made a few hits like "You Really Got Me" and "All Day and All of the Night" and then dropped into cultdom. For many years a small, dedicated audience bought the weird but often witty concept albums they'd put out each year.
A couple of years ago, though, the Kinks signed with Arista and decided to regain some popularity and sales. The double-album rock operas stopped flowing from Ray Davies' pen, and instead out popped instant, catchy, and only slightly pre-digested album sides of five marketable songs.
Low Budget will undoubtedly be a huge success, not least because Davies slavishly follows the formula that made the Stones' Some Girls a successful comeback album. A disco track, "Superman," will spearhead Low Budget's blitzkrieg on the mass market. Another song, "National Health"--with an unadorned bass line and spare mixing--sounds strikingly like the Stones' "Shattered." Several other tracks are fast-paced, punk-influenced ditties. And so on.
WITH THEIR MORE commercial style, today's Kinks are undoubtedly reaching more people, but what they're bringing is not the wonderful old tongue-in-cheek satire Davies specialized in. Instead, these songs are filled with trite statements of no great import--things like:
Nervous tension, man's invention,
Is the biggest killer that's around today
Let the tension out or it will build
And build inside and strike you down someday
"Superman" is funny as far as disco songs go, but compared to "Lola" it's like Steve Martin next to Groucho Marx.