Ever since the Beatles broke up, rock and roll has been obsessed with comeback tours.
Call it lifelong loyalty or an inability to say goodbye, but for a lot of fans, dealing with breakups is hard to do. That's why the rock world is full of reunion rumors, claiming, for instance, that the Fab Three will get back together with Julian Lennon filling in for his father, or that the Eagles are preparing to take flight again, or that Walter Becker and Donald Fagen will resume life as Steely Dan.
But there's another side to this issue, and that's the problem of bands that haven't broken up -- and should. Groups that should just Go Away.
Forget those flash-in-the-pan pop stars who seem inescapable for a while but generally fade into oblivion after a year or two of MTV overkill. This has nothing to do with the Debbie Gibsons and Vanilla Ices of the world.
Think instead of those fading stars who never seem to notice that the party's over and it's time to go home. These one-time hit-makers haven't graced the pop charts in years but soldier on nonetheless, grinding out new albums despite their music's increasing irrelevance.
Unlike truly enduring performers like Rod Stewart and Tina Turner, these acts age gracelessly, losing hair and gaining weight at an alarming rate. Worse, instead of improving with age, their musical abilities have actually decreased over time, making it a nightly struggle to keep those oldies sounding like goodies.
Sometimes, the problem seems more a matter of misrepresentation than anything else. This reviewer, for instance, once witnessed a combo purporting to be the Marvellettes whose line-up included two singers who could not possibly have been born when "Please Mr. Postman" topped the charts. What resulted ought to have been stamped "Return to Sender."
Not every act deserving of enforced early retirement is quite so fraudulent, of course, but that doesn't make them any easier to endure. What follows, then, is a short list of those who should consider hanging up their rock and roll shoes -- and soon.
* The Beach Boys. Never mind that the California beach culture chronicled in their early hits has long since ceased to exist. (Ask yourself: Does the word "dude!" appear anywhere in "Surfin' U.S.A."?)
Between Brian Wilson's absence and the death of his brother Dennis, the Beach Boys have slowly shifted their focus to the helium squeal of Mike Love -- which, artistically, is kind of like reconfiguring the Beatles' songbook to showcase Ringo's drum solos. Worse, the group's famed falsetto harmonies these days miss more often than they hit. Time to shut 'em down.
* Chicago. Back when they were still the Chicago Transit Authority, this group's music was daring and audacious, absorbing influences from Hendrix to Miles Davis to Stockhausen. Now, some 21 albums later, their sound is bland and boring, a near-anonymous wash of voices and instruments that leaves their songs seeming like Muzak, only with less melody.
And yet, they keep on touring and recording. Trombonist James Pankow once boasted to an audience that no matter what happened, his band would keep coming back. "We're the cancer of rock and roll," he said, proudly. But don't worry -- it's not too late for surgery.
* Crosby Stills and Nash. Part of the problem with close harmony groups is that if the harmonies aren't close, both the music and the listeners suffer. Unfortunately, that's too often the case with this trio, which sometimes seems to sing its three-part arrangements in three different keys. Add in the fact that CSN hasn't released a worthwhile single in at least a decade, and it definitely seems time to call it a career.
Unless, of course, that means they'll start making solo albums again.
* The Charlie Daniels Band. A mediocre singer and ham-fingered fiddler whose time came and went a decade ago, Daniels has talked about leaving music for Tennessee state politics for years. There's no time like the present, Charlie.
* Bob Dylan. As anyone who has caught his act in concert in recent years probably realizes, Bob Dylan hates being a living legend. He hates having to play for boobs who only want to hear his half-dozen best-known songs, and he hates obliging them night after night after night. So he takes his animosity out on the songs, until the likes of "Ballad of a Thin Man" and "Masters of War" are rendered unrecognizable.
Hey, Bob -- take a break. Get off the road. Hang around the house. Write some new songs, forget the old ones. We'll all be happier, believe me.
* Emerson, Lake & Palmer. What -- they're back? Haven't we suffered enough?
* The Moody Blues. On the one hand, it's hard not to admire a group that can sustain a 20-year career off one hit -- particularly when said single is as drippily moronic as "Nights In White Satin."
But on the other hand, isn't it time to put those "Days of Future" in the past? If the Moody Blues are truly that hung up on the way things used to be -- even their most recent hit, 1986's "Your Wildest Dreams," seemed stuck on their rock and roll youth -- perhaps they ought to do the honorable thing and take their career out of the present tense.
* Peter, Paul & Mary. Admittedly, these three are honorable people with good intentions and admirable politics. But their music is b-o-r-i-n-g, a watered-down whitewash of folk music that was barely palatable when it was current. What's the point in playing it now?
* The Rolling Stones. Sure, they used to be "The World's Greatest Rock and Roll Band." But be honest, now -- has anything since "Start Me Up" (released in 1981) been even remotely enjoyable? Do their stadium spectaculars, in which Jagger and company appear to be pea-sized from most seats, really have anything to do with rock and roll?
Face it: These guys have been coasting on reputation since the mid-'70s, and stopped actively caring about their albums a decade ago. So wouldn't it be better for all concerned if they retired to their country estates to let us remember them fondly?