We all have a moment when we realise that it’s not happening anymore, a feeling that forces us to wonder why we are working as hard as we are. And when that happens, it’s time to consider retirement. But for fans of rock music, retirement seems to be a dirty collocation of words, a feeling that their stars should be eternally youthful and vibrant.
The singers on this list made a go at retirement, before deciding to return to the live stages, where they felt they truly belonged. In their time of quiet respite, they realised that they were destined to sing on the stage and that it was a gift, not a job.
The singers had their reasons to return to the stage, but that’s not what this piece is about. Nor is it to speculate on why they returned to the stages, but it’s to acknowledge that they retired, but decided it wasn’t worth their time or energy. Singing was.
Out of the seven, one has since died, and another is in poor health, which makes their place in this list extra potent. In this instance, we look at their desire to retire earlier in their career. The songwriters felt it was time to drop out of the race, but returned to the stages triumphant and anxious for more.
The iconic musicians who reversed retirement plans:
7. Barbra Streisand
Barbra Streisand needed a break from the world of live performance and made what was supposed to be her final twirl in 2000. She wanted to focus on her acting work, so decided that it was the time to bow out from singing in front of thousands in the hope that it might give her more time to focus on projects nearer and closer to her heart. Whether or not Little Fockers was close to her heart is a moot point; she played her part well.
In 2016, she decided to return to her roots and publicly announced her return to the live stages, where the singer embarked on the “The Music… The Mem’ries… The Magic!” tour, netting her an impressive $53 million over 16 performances. That’s a lot of dough.
6. Phil Collins
Much to his embarrassment, Phil Collins’ solo career dwarfed Genesis from the get-go, but it increased his profile, allowing him to write, sing and drum with many of his favourite icons. But ubiquity came at a price, particularly in Britain where everyone from Spitting Image to Noel Gallagher mocked the singing drummer. It wore down on him, and in 2004 embarked on his “First Farewell Tour” in 2004. Judging by the tongue in cheek title, he was aware that he could be tempted back to the stages and wound up reuniting with Genesis 2007.
More seriously, he announced in 2010 that he had to give up drumming due to ill health, and ended his recording career with Going Back, a collection of Motown standards that had driven him as a youth. He would rejoin Genesis for one final bow in 2022, but according to son Nic – who played drums in his place – Phil Collins has decided to bow out for good. Maybe this time he’ll stay true to his word, but he’s earned his retirement and then some.
5. Tina Turner
At the tender age of 61, Tina Turner felt it was time to throw in the towel, after decades of near peerless work. “I’ve done enough. I’ve been performing for 44 years. I should really hang up my dancing shoes,” she admitted to Rolling Stone. The singer felt it was time to focus on other aspects of her life, having neglected to focus on it during the periods of intense creativity. As if acknowledging the intensity of the work-performing lifestyle, she named her final tour “Twenty-Four Seven”.
And then she came back in 2009, buoyed by a desire to return to the live stages. According to Billboard, the 59 shows bagged her a hefty $86.4 million in total. And when I read figures like that, I ask myself why did I give up singing lessons when I was 14?!
4. My Bloody Valentine
This one’s a bit of a cheat, but considering the artists on the list cheated their way out of retirement and back into the spotlight, I’m going to allow myself this one. Guitarist Kevin Shields is renowned for being intensely private, but he feels it pays dividends in the long run. “Everything I have ever done has paid for itself,” Shields told Rolling Stone. “I’ve never made anything in my life that hasn’t made money in the end. I’m not really worried.”
The band’s taut, emotionally coiled Loveless encapsulated 1991, but it also drove the band into near disrepair, especially as they found themselves unable to re-capture the magic for the third time. Much to everyone’s surprise, the band reunited in 2008, just in time to show Coldplay – riding an artistic high with ‘Violet Hill’ – who the real shoegazers were. And in 2013, they finally released their coveted third album. Sadly, it wasn’t very good.
3. Ozzy Osbourne
He was fired from Black Sabbath in 1980, and only through the encouragement of Randy Rhoads did he find the energy to return to the live stages. Inexplicably, he did better as a solo artist than he did fronting Black Sabbath, and when he reunited with the heavy-metal band at Live Aid, it was billed as ‘Black Sabbath feat. Ozzy Osbourne’. It wasn’t the happiest of reunions, but it was one Tony Iommi remembered in the early 1990s when he heard the singer was retiring.
The 43-year-old Ozzy Osbourne embarked on his “No More Tours” tour, which culminated in a reunion with Black Sabbath. The remaining Sabbath members felt this was the perfect way to cap his career, and the four of them ran through a blinding setlist. Osbourne spoiled this by returning to the public eye, reportedly bored by retirement. “Retirement sucked. It wasn’t too long before I started getting antsy and writing songs again,” he told Rolling Stone. He’s keeping busy to this day.
2. Mötley Crüe
The band really did mean to break up in 2015. They had done what they had set out to do and enjoyed a career that was longer and more fulfilling than anything their loudest supporters had dreamt for them. They even went as far as to sign a “cessation of touring agreement,” which was supposed to stand as their intention of retirement, following decades of non-stop work. If it sounded too good to be true, it was.
The band reunited for a video in 2019, which saw the rockers burn up their “cessation of touring agreement”, and the group announced their intention to return to the live stages. Unlucky for them, their reunion coincided with the pandemic, so their desire to show off their musical prowess hit a bump. But there’s still time, and while we’re waiting, we can always watch the juicy Pam & Tommy series, starring Baby Driver‘s Lily James.
1. David Bowie
Trust Bowie not to retire once, but multiple times during his career. The first time was during the Ziggy Stardust era, and the second came a little time later when he announced his retirement in 1976. Clearly, both rests did him good, as he emerged re-energised to record Aladdin Sane and Station to Station. But his retirement during the 2000s was much more final, and not even the release of The Next Day was enough to tempt him back to the stage.
“David [Bowie] is one of the best artists I’ve ever worked with. But every time I see him now, before I even speak to him, he goes, ‘I’m not touring’ and I say, ‘I’m not asking,’” music mogul John Giddings told Music Week. “He has decided to retire and, like Phil Collins, you can’t demand these people go out there again and again and again.” Like Collins, we have all that great music to return to.