Earlier this month, over the course of just a few days, not one but two popular and influential Seventies music groups confirmed that not only were they back together after more than four decades, but had each recorded more than an album’s worth of new music. ABBA, the best-selling Swedish pop foursome who disbanded in 1981 have a new full-length studio release, Voyage, due in November (it’s already broken pre-order records in the UK).
Meanwhile, surviving members of the rock band the Faces – superstar Rod Stewart, guitarist Ron Wood (who’s had a day job with the Rolling Stones since 1975) and drummer Kenney Jones (who was also briefly in the Who) announced that they’ve recorded fourteen new studio tracks and are planning some live shows in the near future.
Voyage will be ABBA’s first new studio album since The Visitors in 1981. The Faces have not yet announced when – or in what form – we’ll hear their new tracks, but if they were to be released as an album this year (which of course we hope), it would be their first such new release in nearly half-a-century (their last one, Ooh La La, came out in 1973).
This all had us thinking about the number of rock bands who’ve at some point come back with their first new studio album after maybe not quite that long but still an extended period, i.e. well over a decade, or even two. As with ABBA and the Faces, this is usually because the band simply wasn’t together for a long time.
Sadly, many older acts seem to assume that there’s no real demand for new music from them: anyone who’s been to a classic rock concert knows that the words “This is from our new album” is typically met with collective groans or even a Pavlovian response by which a good portion of the audience suddenly feels like they need to use the bathroom.
Accordingly, the reception and commercial performance of albums like these can vary greatly. Some actually do very well, but others don’t. Even rock critics don’t always welcome new material from a long-dormant act with open arms (in 1989 Rolling Stone equated Jefferson Airplane’s reunion album to watching once-great baseball players embarrass themselves on Old Timer’s Day). Thus, reunited bands – like long-running acts and even veteran solo artists – often forgo creating new studio material, believing that it’s not worth the trouble and expense when their target audience “just wants to hear the old stuff.” However, here’s is a look at eleven classic bands that did take the plunge, coming back with new music after quite a few years, and how they fared.
# 11 – THE CARS (14 years)
Quirky Boston rockers The Cars originally disbanded in 1988. Eight years later guitarist Elliot Easton and keyboardist Greg Hawkes attempted to continue to band as the New Cars, but the project was considered an utter failure (even with Todd Rundgren fronting the new line-up) and never even got as far as releasing a full studio album.
In 2010 Easton and Hawkes re-joined the two other surviving original members, vocalist/guitarist Ric Ocasek and drummer David Robinson (bassist/vocalist Benjamin Orr died in 2000) for live dates. The following year they released the all-new studio album Move Like This, which did move into the US Top 10 otherwise didn’t make much traction. Any real future that the band might have had ended with the Ocasek’s death in 2019.
# 10 – VAN HALEN (14 years)
We’re already anticipating the comments insisting that Van Halen III (1998), featuring one-time frontman Gary Cherone, shouldn’t be considered a Van Halen album. We’re just as sure at least a couple of people will try to make the same case even for the four multi-platinum albums that the band did with Sammy Hagar… but we’ll leave that topic for everyone’s next drunken bar argument. Strictly speaking, at least, we can say that Van Halen’s 2012 release A Different Kind of Truth – which marked the return of original lead singer David Lee Roth – was their first album of new material in fourteen years.
New-ish anyway: Many of the songs were re-workings of material that actually dated as far back as far as 1975 (the first single “Tattoo,” for example, was originally a song called “Down in Flames,” which was old news to Van Halen bootleg traders). In 2019, David Lee Roth deemed the band “finished,” a sentiment which sadly was clinched by the death of guitarist Eddie Van Halen the following year.
# 9 – THE BEACH BOYS (16 YEARS)
The Beach Boys have been a staple of summer concerts for what seems like – to quote one of their songs – “Forever,” even if for the past few decades the live version of the band has been comprised of longtime frontman Mike Love surrounded by rando touring musicians. In 2012 Love and other surviving original members, including songwriter Brian Wilson (Love’s first cousin), was able to put aside their differences long enough to tour together in commemoration of the group’s fiftieth anniversary.
While this seemed to epitomize that nostalgia entity that the Beach Boys had long become, during this period they also released an all-new studio album, That’s Why God Made the Radio. The record went Top 5 in the US, making it their highest charting since 1965 (their previous, released in 1996, didn’t even make the US Top 100). Less surprising was the fact that Wilson ultimately only lasted a short time in the touring band.
# 8 – BLONDIE (17 years)
New York City new wave band Blondie was a major success at the top of the Eighties but disbanded in 1982 after the disappointing commercial results of an album and tour. In the mid-Nineties, perhaps encouraged by the success of newer bands they’d clearly influenced (No Doubt, Republica), four original members – including lead singer Debbie Harry and guitarist Chris Stein – reformed the group.
The transition was not entirely smooth (the two holdout former members sued to prevent them from using the band’s name), but in 1999 they released a new full-length studio album, No Exit. The record made the US Top 20 and was certified gold, besting the performance of The Hunter, the last album from the band’s original run (plus, the single “Maria” went to number one in the UK). No Exit proved to be no one-time reunion, as the band has released another four new studio albums since then.
# 7 – JEFFERSON AIRPLANE (17 years)
In 1974 several members of the Jefferson Airplane re-christened the band Jefferson Starship, which after another decade was shorted to just Starship for legal reasons. By 1989, there were enough former members of the original band (including lead singer Grace Slick) to re-form under that name, touring and releasing a self-titled album of all-new material.
Ironically, Starship not only remained active but even had their own new release, Love Among the Cannibals, that same year. Anyone who’s read science fiction might have been concerned that Starship and Jefferson Airplane existing at the same time might have caused a riff in the space-time continuum. Fortunately, that didn’t happen, but Jefferson Airplane was grounded permanently after this.
# 6 – THE MONKEES (17 years)
In 1985, The Monkees became the subject of renewed interested after MTV began airing daily reruns of their 1966-68 sitcom, and the following year three of the four original members (Michael Nesmith being the holdout) decided to seize the occasion of the group’s twentieth anniversary to stage a full reunion. That tour exceeded all expectations, with the group going from amphitheaters to arenas before it was over. Unfortunately, they couldn’t maintain that momentum with the release of their first news album since 1970 the following year, Pool It!, to which the general response was “screw it”: it peaked at a disappointing #72 and is now generally considered to be the group’s weakest album (subsequent Monkees reunion projects – some of which included Nesmith – have fared a bit better).
# 5 – THE EAGLES (18 years)
Highly successful SoCal band The Eagles (they can currently boast having two of the three highest-selling albums of all time) disbanded in 1980 but returned in 1994 with a tour and live release both entitled Hell Freezes Over (quite possibly an overstatement, as guitarist Don Felder in his memoir indicates that the tentative plan was always for the band to eventually reunite). Their next full album of all-new material, released in 2008, was given the classier and less snarky title Long Road Out of Eden, and at thirty tracks was also the lengthiest in their history.
The band’s extended dormancy clearly hadn’t impeded their Midas touch in the slightest, since Eden went to number one not just in the US (where it’s been certified seven times platinum) but also the UK and at least five other counties. Despite the success, vocalist/drummer Don Henley said at the time that it would most likely be the last ever new Eagles album, a scenario made ever more likely by the death of vocalist/guitarist Glenn Frey in 2016 (although the band continues to tour).
# 4 – BLUE OYSTER CULT (19 years)
Unlike the other bands on this list, this one doesn’t represent any sort of a reunion project: Blue Oyster Cult have consistently been an active band since debuting in the early Seventies (1987 was the last year in which they didn’t perform a single live date). However, only guitarist/vocalists Donald Roeser (aka Buck Dharma) and Eric Bloom have been present for the band’s entire history, and BOC’s studio output has become sporadic since the mid-Eighties.
In 2020 they released The Symbol Remains, their first album of all-new material since Curse of the Hidden Mirror in 2001. Symbol Remains is the longest studio album in the band’s catalogue (maybe they took a cue from the Eagles?) and focused mainly on their harder sound (always a collaborative effort, the band allotted a surprising amount of the record to newer member Richie Castellano, who hadn’t appeared on any previous studio albums). Though not quite a throwback to their glory days, The Symbol Remains did become the first Blue Oyster Cult album to chart in the US since 1988’s Imaginos, and even went Top 40 in Germany.
# 3 – STEELY DAN (20 years)
Steely Dan – comprised of vocalist/keyboardist Donald Fagan and guitarist Walter Becker – was not only unique for their smooth-but-potent jazz-influenced sound, but also for the fact that beginning in 1974 they ceased to perform live, making them one of rock’s few successful studio-only bands at the time. This served them very well until the end of the Seventies, when a barrage of legal, creative and personal troubles prompted the duo to split up. They reunited in 1994, this time flipping the script entirely: they become strictly a touring live act, not putting out another new studio album until 2000’s Two Against Nature, which was followed by Everything Must Go three years later (both albums went Top 10 in the US). Becker died in 2017 but Fagan continues to tour under the band’s name.
# 2 – PINK FLOYD (20 years)
In 2014, nearly a quarter century after their last album of all-new material, The Division Bell (1994), Pink Floyd released The Endless River, a collection comprised almost entirely of instrumental and ambient music. Most of what appears had been either composed or recorded during sessions for that last album, quite of bit of which included contributions from group founding member Richard Wright, who died in 2008. Guitarist/vocalist David Gilmour would say that to a major degree it was all meant to be a tribute to the late Floyd keyboardist (and let’s just get this out of the way: David Gilmour and drummer Nick Mason acknowledged, not surprisingly, that at no point did they consider inviting long estranged vocalist/bassist Roger Waters to be part of the project).
Though some cynics dismissed the release as an afterthought or even a cash-grab, it entered the UK charts at number one and achieved that same position in at least twenty other countries (interestingly, not the US, where it had to settle for a still-impressive #3). Gilmour has also insisted that The Endless River closes the book on Pink Floyd’s legendary recording career.
# 1 – THE WHO (24 years)
In 1982 The Who underwent what was billed as a “farewell tour,” and the following year guitarist and principal songwriter Pete Townshend announced that he was officially done with the band. However, he and lead singer Roger Daltrey would both later admit that this was all just a way of giving themselves more flexibility to do the band when they wanted to, not when they had to. The Who played Live Aid just a couple of years later and have toured fairly regularly since 1989 (even after the death of founding member John Entwistle in 2002). However, another full-length Who album didn’t appear until 2006, with Endless Wire, and it was another extended gap before the next one, titled simply Who, was released in 2019 (and though Townshend says he’s continually working on new music, whether we ever get more originals from the Who remains to be seen).
11 Classic Bands Who Returned With New Music After A Long Gap article published on Classic RockHistory.com© 2021
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