Rick Rubin Lists the Artists Who Stayed Great Late into Their Careers

He also reflected on why so many musicians create their best work when they're young

BY Alex HudsonPublished Aug 23, 2023

Many of the greatest albums in music history were created by artists in their teens and 20s — but super-producer Rick Rubin has now identified some of the artists who have stayed at the top of their game late into their careers, as well as explaining why he thinks many artists create their best work when they're young.

Speaking with director Judd Apatow on the August 16 episode of Rubin's podcast Tetragrammaton, Apatow asked Rubin about artists who had remained great as they got older.

"The [Bob] Dylan example is a great one," Rubin said. "Time Out of Mind is ridiculous. Also, Modern Times is a beautiful album; I love that one."

He continued, "Neil Young can hit it out of the park on any given day. We're lucky to see Johnny Cash's last few albums really connect with people in an interesting way. I feel like Willie Nelson, sometimes, is just — I can't believe it, it's so beautiful. But, I would say, [they are] few and far between."

Apatow asked Rubin if other artists simply lost their qi as they got older. Rubin rejected this suggestion, instead speculating, "My best guess is: earlier in your career, your whole life is about your art. And then, through success, your life gets built up outside of your art — family, other obligations, more comfortable life, adult responsibilities. Whereas, when you're young, you don't have any of those — all there is is this dream."

He also noted that success can make artists less adventurous. He offered, "It's easy to fall back on: 'Oh, this worked last time. I could do something like that.' The hunger for staying new, finding the new way to do it [and] challenging yourself may not be as strong as it was when we were young."

Speaking of artists who stayed great, read Exclaim!'s recent ranking of Joni Mitchell's albums.

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