Twelve Year Rule – clipping the long tail of rock & roll

Does even the greatest band stop producing great work after time?

What’s the premise?

A colleague at work made the following observation (my words): “All the great bands have a period of 12 years in which they release their best works. Even if they keep together for a lot longer, you can’t put their recent works in the same league as their best works.”

It seems to me that there is a lot of plausibility to this, but I thought I would think it through with some examples…


As ever I will start with the Mighty Hawkwind – I think they’re great and it’s my blog. Their first album was 1970 and also called Hawkwind. If we add 12 years we get to 1982 – this gets us safely past Levitation and all the great 70s works. We are already in the territory of Choose Your Masques. To be honest IMHO I would go to 1984 and Chronicle of the Black Sword. This is outside the rule, includes some less classic albums (e.g. Church of Hawkwind) but misses the lesser (and here comes the flaming) albums since, all of which I still own and their are some decent tracks here and there.


More comfortable territory for most readers, Genesis released Genesis to Revelation in 1969 so add on 12 to get to 1981. This gets to Abacab some of which I really like, includes Then There were Three which some people don’t like. It does miss the more popular later albums but I don’t think that causes a problem with the theory.

Pink Floyd

Cambridge local boys, they released Piper at the Gates of Dawn in 1967. Add on 12 to 1979 we get to The Wall. Case proved!

The Rolling Stones

In 1964 the Stones released The Rolling Stones so 12 gets to 1976 and Black and Blue. We are probably already into the tail of the classic period.

The Who

Releasing My Generation as late as 1965, 1977 just misses 1978s Who are You. Not far off though.


Yes released Yes in 1969 so again we look to 1981. This makes the cut before 90125 and everything since. Again some decent material gets left out but we have the mights 70s canon intact.


On my small sample, I think the 12 Year rule is a decent rule of thumb, and something I will apply wider when I get the time – no doubt it fails on some bands, but does provide an interesting point of view.


2 thoughts on “Twelve Year Rule – clipping the long tail of rock & roll

Add yours

  1. Mr Zimmerman?
    1962 – Lands on the Greenwich Village scene with Bob Dylan, rising on a trajectory through the 60’s, temporary failings in the late 60’s early 70’s, let us forget Self Portrait.
    1974 – Planet Waves – and inkling of a return.
    1975 – Blood on the Tracks. He’s back…
    1980 – Saved… uh oh… where’s this going?
    1986 – Knocked out Loaded – that’s where…
    1992 – Back in the game with Good as I Been to You, heading to the greatness that is Modern TImes in 2006.

    Is it possible that Bob is the exception that disproves the rule. There is perhaps somehting of the comet about him with the apoapsis happening with a regularity…


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