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Old Ideas and Wrecking Balls: Rock's Top Senior Moments of 2012

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(Written/Compiled for Rock's Backpages, www.rocksbackpages.com)

THE 84 ROCK'S BACKPAGES contributors -- and other invited music aficionados who participated in its second Senior Moments poll -- had a heap of fun with their list titles.

As if "senior moments" and "silver-haired top tens" (both coined by RBP's editorial director Barney Hoskyns) weren't sly enough, David Quantick came up with the wonderful acronym MOPO -- "Music of Older People Origin." Robert (Robot) Hull rather bluntly labeled his submission "Top Ten Albums of the Year by Old Farts." Tim Riley's tag was "Geezer Youth." Holly Gleason called hers "Top 10 Dinosaur Rock Records." We could go on.

And yet, for all the merriment, there was also commitment to the cause. While rock may have started as youth music, and that's still an artistically vital and commercially lucrative part of it, it is indeed only a part of it.

Older musicians who were influenced by rock and all its related streams -- country, soul, blues, world music, hip-hop, dance, electronica, experimental, traditional and singer-songwriter folk and more -- keep right on going past 50. Not just going, but growing, as their bond with fans remains strong. That's especially true for the singer-songwriters who came of age in the 1960s and 1970s and now find themselves in their sixties and seventies. They sometimes are, as Loudon Wainwright puts in the title of an album that ranked 14th, "Older Than My Old Man Now."

As voter Wayne Robins explained it: "At age 62, responding to music is still the way I process the world, the place I feel most in my element. Evidently it's the same for these musicians, and together we're all aging if not always gracefully than certainly gratefully."

Actually, some of the people on this list are aging tempestuously, as they keep making fiery original music into middle age and beyond. In this, the best example is the dominating winner of this year's poll, Bob Dylan, who already long changed all the rules for what rock 'n' roll/pop music could be.

Now 71, his fiery "Tempest" was a clear, strong winner, mentioned on 37 ballots and netting 14 first-place votes. "The bard of the Old -- and sometimes New -- Testament slays various women, men and Titanic passengers in what is his fifth killer (pun intended) album since 1997," commented Michael Simmons, among several who ranked "Tempest" number one.

But Dylan was not the oldest member of our top 10. That was 78-year-old Leonard Cohen, whose "Old Ideas" came in third and who is more popular now than at any point in his long career. All we can say about that, really, is "Hallelujah!"

If Dylan maybe doesn't still do the kind of rollicking, Dylanesque rock songs that he recorded in the 1960s, one of his greatest protégés, Ian Hunter, still does. And he's actually two years older than Dylan. His "When I'm President" finished 18th despite a relatively low release profile (at least in the U.S.).

"From his incendiary output with Mott the Hoople in the '60s and '70s to his wildly erratic yet ultimately endearing subsequent solo career, Ian Hunter has translated his love of Bob Dylan into a compelling body of work," Brian Baker said. "'When I'm President' continues Hunter's new millennial revival, displaying his incredible range and songwriting gift."

It's almost as if the music is some kind of magic elixir or, more aptly, psychedelic pill to keep these oldsters feeling young. Which brings up 67-year-old Neil Young, whose two albums with Crazy Horse - "Psychedelic Pill" and "Americana" - finished second and 21st, respectively.

"With two amazing albums, his autobiography ("Waging Heavy Peace") and the Jonathan Demme documentary "Journeys" all released this year, as well as his tour with Crazy Horse, 2012 is Neil's year hands down," said voter Jeff Walker. "For me, he always has been and is one of the true touchstones of rock who remains as dynamic, vital and important an artist as ever. And he's proven that once again."

Our poll wasn't too male-dominated, either. Patti Smith's "Banga" and Bonnie Raitt's "Slipstream" tied for seventh, comparative youngster (at 52) Aimee Mann's "Charmer" was tenth, and soul singer Bettye LaVette's remarkable comeback of recent years continued with 12th place "Thankful N' Thoughtful."

Although she's but 30, St. Vincent made the list through her collaboration with 60-year-old David Byrne. Their "Love This Giant," ranked 24th.

There's room in the poll for 50+ artists, like LaVette, just finding or rediscovering their groove as they mature. Among the more striking examples, 72-year-old Dr. John, 40+ years on from his initial chart impact as the voodoo-drenched Night Tripper of New Orleans, scored with the sizzling, funky "Locked Down," produced by the Black Keys' Dan Auerbach. It finished at Number Four, ahead of Bruce Springsteen's "Wrecking Ball."

And then there's Bobby Womack, the 68-year-old soul singer who - with co-producers Damon Albarn and Richard Russell at the helm - delivered the very contemporary-sounding "The Bravest Man in the Universe." It finished in eighth place in the poll.

As for genre-defying 69-year-old experimentalist Scott Walker, his "Bish Bosch" finished twenty-third in the list. The December release probably would have done better if it were more widely heard, as three of its seven ballot mentions were for first place.

Senior Moments is meant as a reminder -- in a time when album sales are an endangered species and the mass media remains as youth-obsessed as ever -- that rock 'n' roll doesn't end at 50, 60 or 70.

"Ageism in terms of the 'valid' creation of 'relevant' rock music continues to mystify me," voter Mike Mettler said. "If anything, I find the music created by those deemed here to be seniors is just as vital and valid as anything being done today by anyone from any age bracket. And as far as I recall, almost no one told the likes of John Updike, Philip Roth, Bernard Malamud, Saul Bellow, et al to hang it up when they reached a certain age.

"I plan on rocking hard and rocking proud long past the time I enter my own personal rocking-chair phase, and I hope artists of the calibre of Dylan and Young forge new music right up until the very second they leave this mortal coil," he said.

THE SENIOR MOMENTS TOP 30!
1. Bob Dylan: Tempest
Points: 272
Ballot Mentions: 37
First-place Votes: 14
Age: 71

2. Neil Young & Crazy Horse: Psychedelic Pill
Points: 205
Ballot Mentions: 29
First-place Votes: 5
Ages: Neil Young (67); Billy Talbot and Ralph Molina (69); Frank "Poncho" Sampedro (62).

3. Leonard Cohen: Old Ideas
Points: 177
Ballot Mentions: 22
First-place Votes: 4
Age: 78

4. Dr. John: Locked Down
Points: 162
Ballot Mentions: 26
First-place Votes: 2
Age: 72

5. Bruce Springsteen: Wrecking Ball
Points: 144
Ballot Mentions: 21
First-place Votes: 3
Age: 63

6. Donald Fagen: Sunken Condos
Points: 125
Ballot Mentions: 19
First-place Votes: 6
Age: 64

7. (tie) Patti Smith: Banga
Points: 99
Ballot Mentions: 19
First-place Votes: 1
Age: 65

7. (tie) Bonnie Raitt: Slipstream
Points: 99
Ballot Mentions: 21
First-place Votes: 0
Age: 63

9. Bobby Womack: The Bravest Man in the Universe
Points: 84
Ballot Mentions: 13
First-place Votes: 1
Age: 68

10. Aimee Mann: Charmer
Points: 83
Ballot Mentions: 15
First-place Votes: 0
Age: 52

11. The Beach Boys: That's Why God Made the Radio
Points: 81
Ballot Mentions: 14
First-place Votes: 0
Ages: Brian Wilson (70); Mike Love (71); Al Jardine (70); David Marks (64); Bruce Johnston (70)

12. Bettye LaVette: Thankful N' Thoughtful
Points: 80
Ballot Mentions: 13
First-place Votes: 1
Age: 66

13. ZZ Top: La Futura
Points: 74
Ballot Mentions: 14
First-place Votes: 3
Ages: Billy Gibbons (62); Dusty Hill (63); Frank Beard (63)

14. Loudon Wainwright: Older Than My Old Man Now
Points: 73
Ballot Mentions: 9
First-place Votes: 2
Age: 66

15. Ry Cooder: Election Special
Points: 69
Ballot Mentions: 14
First-place Votes: 1
Age: 65

16. Van Morrison: Born to Sing: No Plan B
Points: 68
Ballot Mentions: 14
First-place Votes: 0
Age: 67

17. Bob Mould: Silver Age
Points: 66
Ballot Mentions: 11
First-place Votes: 1
Age: 52

18. Ian Hunter & the Rant Band: When I'm President
Points: 64
Ballot Mentions: 14
First-place Votes: 1
Age: 73

19. The dB's: Falling Off the Sky
Points: 62
Ballot Mentions: 9
First-place Votes: 1
Ages: Peter Holsapple (56); Chris Stamey (57); Gene Holder (58); Will Rigby (56)

20. Dexys: One Day I'm Going to Soar
Points: 59
Ballot Mentions: 9
First-place Votes: 3
Age: Kevin Rowland (59)

21. Neil Young and Crazy Horse: Americana
Points: 55
Ballot Mentions: 10
First-place Votes: 0
Age: (See No. 2)

22. Jimmy Cliff: Rebirth
Points: 49
Ballot Mentions: 9
First-place Votes: 0
Age: 64

23. Scott Walker: Bish Bosch
Points: 47
Ballot Mentions: 7
First-place Votes: 3
Age: 69

24. David Byrne & St. Vincent: Love This Giant
Points: 46
Ballot Mentions: 9
First-place Votes: 0
Ages: David Byrne (60); Annie Clark (30)

25. Public Image Ltd.: This Is PiL
Points: 42
Ballot Mentions: 7
First-place Votes: 0
Age: John Lydon (56)

26. Graham Parker & the Rumour: Three Chords Good
Points: 39
Ballot Mentions: 13
First-place Votes: 0
Ages: Graham Parker (62); Bob Andrews (62); Brinsley Schwarz (65); Martin Belmont (63); Steve Goulding (58); Andrew Bodnar (NA)

27. Joe Walsh: Analog Man
Points: 37
Ballot Mentions: 7
First-place Votes: 1
Age: 65

28. (tie) Paul Buchanan: Mid Air
Points: 36
Ballot Mentions: 6
First-place Votes: 0
Age: 56

28. (tie) Alejandro Escovedo: Big Station
Points 36
Ballot Mentions: 7
First-place Votes: 1
Age: 61

30. (tie) Bill Fay: Life Is People
Points: 36
Ballot Mentions: 7
First-place Votes: 0
Age: (late 60s)

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