“Don’t Shut Me Down”: Can ‘Legacy’ Artists Still Make an Impact with New Music?


Take a quick look at the UK singles chart right now, and it is abundantly clear that popular music today is largely created by young or new artists. While there are some exceptions in the form of older artists (largely DJs) who team up with younger pop stars (David Guetta), or artists with a massive young fanbase (Arctic Monkeys), the streaming-fuelled charts of 2022 are many miles away from the sales-dominated period of the 2000s, where artists like Cliff Richard or Rod Stewart could easily achieve a Top 5 hit with new music.

These days the likes of Richard and Stewart are only likely to chart high in the physical-dominated album charts, or perhaps sneak a week in the lower end of the Top 100 after spending a week at #1 on the iTunes chart thanks to how low sales are on there now. It is easy to understand why a casual music fan would see those so-called ‘legacy’ artists’ new music as a failure, only seeing them as little more than washed-up and irrelevant. This phenomenon has led to the extent that Ed Power of The Telegraph published an extremely poorly-researched article deeming legendary Swedes ABBA’s 2021 return with Voyage a “disaster” due to its singles chart positionings. In fact, that couldn’t be further from the truth.

ABBA’s lead single I Still Have Faith In You reached #14, while B-side Don’t Shut Me Down proved even more popular with younger streamers, amassing over 52 million Spotify streams, becoming the group’s first Top 10 hit in 41 years. What else needs to be shown to prove that there certainly was an appetite for new music by them? Power compares ABBA’s return to Elton John’s mainstream-collaboration filled The Lockdown Sessions, which spawned Cold Heart – the monster hit with Dua Lipa and PNAU that spent ten weeks in the Top 10. However, what Power appears to miss is a fundamental difference between the two. Voyage‘s respectable singles chart success (with five songs in total making the Top 70) shows that there is enough sustained interest in the group to certainly allow their comeback to be deemed a success, whilst Elton’s newfound chart success falls into the David Guetta category of an older artist teaming up with one of the biggest popstars in the world to guarantee chart success. Only one other single from The Lockdown Sessions made the Top 100, a tacked-on cover of the Pet Shop Boys’ It’s A Sin following a BRIT Awards performance earlier in the year. While frankly I would consider both albums a success, both reached #1 on the albums chart, a better way of assessing older artist’s commercial success since that is the dominating format amongst their older audience – it is simply wrong to deem ABBA’s return a ‘failure’ yet champion Elton’s method of creating hits where you’re not the main reason they’re being streamed.

Of course, generally, artists like ABBA and Elton John are an exception. More often than not, no singles from ‘legacy’ artists come close to charting (such as ol’ Cliff and Rod), thus their album sales must be taken into account. Thereby lies another issue that album sales are also not what they once were. Ten years ago it was frequent to see albums selling 200k+ every few weeks, these days only ABBA and Adele have come close to surpassing that total in their first weeks. These days anywhere from 30k+ in the first week is a fantastic total, and 50k+ is rare: only Lady Gaga, The Killers, Kylie Minogue, AC/DC, Harry Styles, Liam Gallagher, Muse, Olivia Rodrigo, Dave, Coldplay, Ed Sheeran, ABBA and Adele (for five weeks consecutively) have surpassed that so far this decade. What is immediately obvious is how all but Dave, Rodrigo, and Styles have been releasing music for well over a decade now, with most well over the 20-year mark now. Going back a little further to 2019, Rod Stewart and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra’s You’re In My Heart sold a remarkable 71k units in its second week to beat highly anticipated new albums from Harry Styles and Stormzy to the top spot.

While it is abundantly clear now that new music from ‘legacy’ artists can absolutely be successful, of course, it doesn’t have to be. While music is a business, many older artists have reached the point where they can have full creative control without any label restraints they may have had in the past. Tom Jones’ surprisingly innovative Surrounded By Time sees the pop prowess lean into experimental art rock, featuring a myriad of covers from a lesser-known 1970s Bob Dylan cut, a traditional Bible song, and a more recent release in the form of American folk supremo Todd Snider’s wonderfully witty Talking Reality Television Blues. It was a modest sales success in comparison to his predecessors, but it garnered him mass critical acclaim that is also often missing from legacy artists’ music that can’t quite live up to the classics.

It is also an option too for older artists to never release new music: Queen + Adam Lambert have now been touring for over a decade with only hints from Brian May of new material released, while System of a Down has been on many tours without any new album since 2005’s Hypnotize. After all, while new music from the bands and musicians of yesteryear can be exciting and clearly can still be commercially viable, sometimes we admittedly do just want them to shut up and play the hits!


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