How long can a rock band rock before they fall apart?

Years ago, I did an event with Don Letts, the DJ, Clash confident, radio presenter, writer, and member of Big Audio Dynamite.

“The average life expectancy of a band is seven years. During that time, they form, start gigging, release some albums, hit a peak and then break fall into a period of decline that eventually results in their breakup. That’s what happened to the Clash, the Smiths, the Beatles–plus or minus a couple of years.”

That pronouncement has stayed with me. With a few exceptions (U2, Radiohead, Pearl Jam and a few others), it’s rare for a rock band to hold together for more than a decade. This article from 500 Words backs that up.

Obvious statement alert: The Beatles were an incredible band. But to me, the most incredible thing about them was that they released all of their albums — all the songs we all know and love — over an eight year span (from 1963’s Please Please Me to 1970’s Let It Be). Eight years!¹

I find myself thinking back to this incredible fact quite often. Now, obviously The Beatles were around before this recording span — as everyone knows, they cut their teeth/got their 10,000 hours of “practice” in Hamburg before releasing an album — but this condensed output is no less incredible. Even more so in today’s day and age where we often wait two, three, four — or more! — years between a single album from our favorite bands.

Thinking about this reality always then leads me to think about the true impact that bands have in terms of time of relevance. And it feels like most bands — big bands — tend to peter out after a decade of relevance. Sure, the very biggest (and in some cases “best” though this is, of course, subjective) bands sometimes last two decades. The biggest of all, maybe three — or, insanely, four/five. But if we’re being honest, how many of them are actually relevant — really relevant — after that initial decade of power? There might be a handful. And that’s if we’re being generous.

It’s a good read. Keep going.

Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 30+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

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