After doing a blog post about the way the media treats new albums by musicians who have reached ‘a certain age’, I decided to follow it up with a Top Ten Albums Made By Old People (and, yes, the name is meant to be tongue-in-cheek) list. I’ve noted down the age that the artists were when the albums were released, based on a) Wikipedia and b) my mathematics, so don’t quote me on it…
1 – Brian Wilson – Smile (Aged 62)
When it comes to not writing someone off, you’ll indulge me in putting my favourite up at the top. Brian Wilson had tried to make Smile when he was a hot young thing and it had nearly destroyed him, so it was all the more impressive and rewarding when he was finally able to return to it in his 60s and come up with something so special. Sure, his voice would have been better if he’d done it as a young man, but that didn’t make this any less incredible.
2 – Johnny Cash – American Recordings (Aged 62)
Johnny Cash was washed-up before American Recordings came out. Sure, he was a legend and he’d always be remembered for his work in the 50s and 60s, but he’d done precious little since. In his seventh decade, surely he’d carry on coasting? Wrong, he hooked with Rick Rubin, made an album in his living room and it was the best of his whole career, kickstarting an amazing renaissance that lasted until his death and blew away any preconceptions about old people making music.
3 – Bob Dylan – Time Out Of Mind (Aged 56)
Like his old pal Cash, Bob Dylan was going nowhere before this album. Stuck in a creative rut and heading for retirement, he suddenly found inspiration in his fears about mortality. With Daniel Lanois on production, Dylan came up with one of his finest albums and, like Cash, kickstarted his career and set him up for a run of similarly impressive albums.
4 – Loretta Lynn – Van Lear Rose (Aged 70)
Even more so than any of the others on this list, Loretta Lynn’s comeback was out-of-the-blue. She had a position of respect in the country music world, certainly, but wasn’t really a recording artist of great critical or commercial note as she approached her 70s, but a hook-up with super-fan and superstar Jack White changed all that. Of course, White’s role as producer attracted lots of the attention, but this album was all about Lynn, who wrote all but one of its songs.
5 – Bruce Springsteen – Magic (Aged 58)
In contrast to many of those above, The Boss had already experienced his comeback by the time he recorded Magic, but it was no less remarkable that he was maintaining such a hot streak of form with so many albums quickly following 2002’s The Rising. Magic represents the peak of his recent recordings, mixing classic E Street rockers with more reflective songs about growing old, politics and the loss of a dear friend.
6 – Ali Farka Toure – Savane (Aged 66)
Ali Farka Toure had been established for quite some time as one of the most respected African blues musicians around, having first burst onto the Western music scene in the early 80s. He maintained that reputation for quality through the rest of his life and ended his career on a real high with Savane, released in 2006, four months after he lost his battle with bone cancer.
7 – Neil Young – Le Noise (Aged 64)
Neil Young’s long and varied career has had quite a few peaks and troughs and he’s been no less wilfully inconsistent as he’s grown older, following an album that his fans (allegedly) tried to prevent being released (Fork In The Road) with a stunning stripped-down album produced by Daniel Lanois and mostly featuring just Young and his electric guitar. He’s in his mid-60s but still trying whatever he fancies.
8 – Frank Sinatra – She Shot Me Down (Aged 66)
Sinatra kept on performing and sporadically recording until his death, but his last highlight came in the early 80s when he released an album of torch songs that recaptured the glory of his classic era in a way that few of his other later releases managed. It didn’t fare too well in terms of charts or sales, but it’s one that has grown in stature since then.
9 – Elton John and Leon Russell – The Union (Aged 63 and 68)
Two for the price of one here. Elton John has been a good vein of form since 2001, so it was no surprise that he delivered the goods again here, but it’s extra special because he roped in the wonderful Leon Russell to join him, making the best album either of them have been involved in for a very long time (with fellow oldies Brian Wilson and Neil Young helping out.) A combined age of 131 doesn’t hold these two back.
10 – Ibrahim Ferrer – Buena Vista Social Club Presents (Aged 72)
The oldest artist on the list, Ibrahim Ferrer had plugged away in Cuba for an entire career before finding fame as one of the stars of the Buena Vista Social Club. Two years later, he hooked up again with Ry Cooder to release his first international solo album at the age of 72, making him famous around the world, so he was able to spend the next six years touring the world before passing away in 2005.