Corporate Attire For Corporate Rock (or The Old Guard Adopt the Suit Jacket In The 80s)

12 10 2007

Top Five Ageing Rockers In Suit Jackets

1. Eric Clapton

2. Rod Stewart

3. Phil Collins

4. Don Henley

5. Stevie Winwood

It is a strange fact that the Eighties did not kill off the careers of baby boomer rockers, but instead saw them play endless charity shows in suit jackets.

eric clapton

Why should this be surprising? Well, this was the decade after all where the re-invogoration of pop music from the twin forces of ’77 were finally felt commercially. Punk had slow filtered to the mainstream to make long solos and beards genrally unacceptable, and Bowie’s Berlin tryptiche had ushered in the looks and sonic tectures of Romo and synth pop, quite at odds with hoary old faces from the 60s. Moreover, the introduction of MTV properly allowed for the full synergy of multimedia marketing; it is of no surprise that acts such as Jacko, Madge and Prince prospered – but surely the old guard should have died off?

 rod stewart

Well, that’s not how it went down. Unholy forces intervened to make the Eighties a great decade to be an ageing Rocker past your prime. For one thing their baby boomer audience had grown up with them, and now they were ready to buy whole back-catalogues again on CD. For another the Live Aid / Princes Trust era reintroduced the world to these people as “legends”, forever getting together to be feted at superstar charity bashes.

phil collins

There was a time in the late 60s and early 70s where wearing a suit (often a white one), was a provocative act for a Rock Star, only confirming their countercultural status (think Dlyan at the Isle of Wight, George Harrison at the Concert for Bangladesh, Lennon on Abbey Road). Noone would confuse these guys with someone on their way into the office – the contrast to the wild hair, the impractical colour, the flared cut.

don henley

The same cannot be said of the 80s suit jacket of your typical dinosaur. Instead, we have the offensive near-admission that Rock music has become just a job to these guys, and this is their uniform. Sometimes made to look “funky” worn with a T Shirt and Jeans, the suit jacket successfully allowed a bunch of greying tossers to have perfectly popular vidoes on MTV by allowing them to tap into the woeful corporate fetishism of the era.

stevie winwood

I am not suggesting that attempting longevity of a Rock career is in itself sinful, but this was a period where record companies must have had a standard bulletin to older artists:

  • Get yourself a suit jacket – if you need tips look to that young gun Huey Lewis.
  • Lose your hippy hair and any sense of your identity- you may want to learn to blow dry.
  • Stop recording with a proper band – get Phil to show you how to achieve that gated drum sound and where to use some awful synth sounds.
  • If you ever were a songwriter, now would be a good time to stop and let someone completely soul-less take over those duties. Remember – we know the market.
  • Don’t forget to turn up to the next charity bash – I hear Tina Turner will be there!
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8 responses

12 10 2007
Paul C

I’d like to add Robert Palmer to the list as an honorary addendum. Nobody rocks a suit like The Palmer!

Now I’m sad. He’s dead, you know – buried in Lugano. His last album was actually quite good.

I think I need to leave the office now.

13 10 2007
bernardthompson

Ah, Mr Palmer – an interesting case in point, since MTV made him a far larger star in the 80s than he had been in his creative heyday in the mid to late 70s. He certainly relied heavily on the suit, but the video backing band were the key ingredient weren’t they? His tenure in Power Station must have familiarised him with the full possibilities of jackets with rolled up sleeves – I seem to recall them guesting on an episode of Miami Vice. I note Power Station members are dropping like flies, at least the Robert and the two guys from Chic – suspiciously the Duranie elements live on…

18 10 2007
kevmoore

Well of course there’s the connection; Miami Vice. Who would’ve thought that Crockett and Tubbs would have joined Robert Johnson in Clapton’s list of influences? Also, let’s not forget Phil Collin’s brave attempt to break out of this fashion hell with the pleading “No Jacket Required” …Ah, but it WAS required wasn’t it Phil? Subsequent releases nose-dived in comparison to earlier, vestement-clad works.
I’d like to add Mark King, veteran of Princes Trust concert house bands, to the list, he usually wore a fetching versache.

18 10 2007
bernardthompson

Additional connection Re: Miami Vice – way before Don Johnson became Sonny Crocket and showed the world the correct way to roll the sleeves of a jacket, he lived for years with Pamela Anne Miller AKA Pamela Des Barres AKA Miss Pamela, the infamous late 60s groupie. Miss Pamela almost certainly slept with all the baby boomer rockers on my list of shame – perhaps Don passed them such terribble fashion tips out of belated jealous revenge?
Not that EC requires help from anyone on how to take a passing fashion and wear it dreadfully – note the awful attempt to mimick the Hendrix look with that perm and pink cheesecloth in Cream, then his awful attempt to do the Country look in the ’70s.
Phil has certainly proved that there is “No Shame Required”.
I’m not sure I can add Mark King to this list – he is of a younger generation and perhaps belongs to a seperate Top Five, for which I have two more and would like to hear suggestions:
Top Five Musicians Who Contrived To Be Old Before Their Time In The 1980s (and wore bad suits):
1. Mark Knofler
2. Sting
3. Mark King
I can think of contenders for 4 and 5, but for now i’ll await suggestions.

19 10 2007
kevmoore

Now you have me reminiscing. My good friend, Keith Webb, drummer with Terry Reid and star of the cult film “Groupies” was indeed one of the first five plaster casted by Ms.Des Barres and associates. He sadly died earlier this year, but upon being told this, I treated him as a living god, obviously. Can I put Howard Joners in the separate 80s list of Old before their time? He very quickly morphed from cyber-punk gilbert o sullivan to bad suits…

19 10 2007
bernardthompson

Sad to hear of Keith’s demise – Terry may yet feature in a future Top 5 Acts Touted to Become Huge Who Never Quite Were.
As for Howard Jones – let’s have him on the list!

20 10 2007
David Westcott

tinmachinetinmachinetinmachinetinmachinetinmachinetinmachinetinmachinetinmachinetinmachinetinmachinetinmachinetinmachinetinmachinetinmachineetc.

20 10 2007
bernardthompson

Hmmm, Tin Machine. The problem I have with conceding this particular point is that I seem capable of forgiving Dame Bowie almost anything. I even listened to Tin Machine II last week, but I stopped short of “Oy Vey, Baby Tin Machine Live”, which is a particuklar form of torture not even I feel obliged to endure more than once a decade. Yes, suits were worn. Yes, it was all a terribly misjudged idea. But no, Bowie is not in the same league of shame as my Top Five.
In any case, David, would you like to make a suggestion to complete the Top Five Musicians Who Contrived To Be Old Before Their Time In The 1980s (and wore bad suits), currently standing at:
1. Mark Knofler
2. Sting
3. Mark King
4. Howard Jones
5. ?

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