Rock is dead they say. Long live rock.
John Entwistle’s bandmate, Pete Townshend, penned those words in 1971, though they didn’t hit the turntable until the release of The Who’s Odds and Sods album in 1974. Townshend wasn’t the only pop culture icon of the early ’70s bemoaning rock and roll’s untimely death. John Milner, the bad boy of George Lucas’s 1973 film American Graffiti, declares that “Rock and roll has been going downhill since Buddy Holly died,” for example, a sentiment shared by Don McLean on 1971’s “The Day the Music Died.” Heck, as early as 1969 rock and roll was slipping into nostalgia: Sha Na Na played Woodstock, remember.
Yes, and for the next 50 years music fans and culture critics have declared that rock is dead. Punk killed rock. Disco killed rock. Hair metal killed rock. Grunge saved rock for a minute there, and then post-grunge killed it again. The general consensus these days is that rock is truly dead once and for all, and we have the numbers to prove it–sales, streams, etc. Go to a show or a festival, where thousands of kids are still rocking, and you’ll disagree, but that’s beside the point.
So why did the notion that rock is dead first rear its ugly head in the late ’60s/early ’70s? Do the math and you’ll see that the first generation of rock fans were pushing 30 around that time, and the music that mattered to them so much as kids was no longer the music that the labels were putting out. You’ve heard it–you’ve probably even said it: Music was so much better back in my day. It wasn’t really–it’s just that it mattered more to you then. And it’s not just music, by the way. The best era of Mad Magazine is when you were in the sixth grade; Saturday Night Live’s best seasons were the years when you first sought out edgy/political humor. Whether you love Catcher in the Rye or On the Road or even Harry Potter depends somewhat on when you first read those books.
So yeah, when 28 year-old John Entwistle entered the studio in 1972 to start work on his third solo album, he probably felt nostalgic for the good old days of rock n’ roll–the years when he was dancing alone in front of the radio in his grandparents’ South Acton home while Duane Eddy, Bill Haley, and Eddie Cochran blared from a tinny speaker. No wonder that Rigor Mortis Sets In contains three covers of first generation classics, among them this rather thin take on “Lucille:”
Rigor Mortis Sets In isn’t a bad album, but it’s not essential unless you’re a Who fan or you’re nostalgic for nostalgia. On the other hand, if you’re an alternate sleeve collector, put this one on your list. The U.K. and U.S. versions of the album cover are exact opposites, with the inner art becoming the outer art and vice versa. What’s pictured here is the U.S. version, which was also retitled John Entwistle’s Rigor Mortis Sets In, so there’s another album cover difference for you.
You can pick up a copy of either version for 3-5 bucks, but keep in mind that if you shop online international shipping is a killer. That three dollar UK pressing might run you 20 bucks after shipping. Happy hunting.