Dec 032009


There have been a few performers who started life as music journalists. Not many have gone the other way but Robert Forster, co-founder of the Go-Betweens, has always been a little unorthodox. He has been making a name for himself as very fine writer about music and last month released a collection of reviews, essays, and fiction all about music.

It’s called 10 Rules of Rock and Roll.

Rules 10 through 6 have been hashed over these last few days. If you need a refresher, here they are:

10. The three-piece band is the purest form of rock and roll expression.
9. Great bands don’t have members making solo albums.
8. Every great artist hides behind his manager.
7. The guitarist who changes guitars on stage after every third number is showing you his guitar collection.
6. No band does anything new on stage after the first 20 minutes.

Following are rules 5 through 1, THE BIG PAYOFF I’ve promised! Drum roll, please!

5. The band with the most tattoos has the worst songs.
4. Being a rock star is a 24-hour a day job.
3. Great bands tend to look alike.
2. The second to last song on every album is the weakest.
1. Never follow an artist who describes his or her work as dark.

Did you anticipate any of these in posting your own rules? What do you have to say for these rules now?


  59 Responses to “10 Rules of Rock and Roll”

  1. I heard that Lou Reed once said that the perfect R & R band was TWO guitars, bass and drums.

    There have been stupendous three piece ensembles (The Who, ZZ Top, Hendrix Experience, Ramones, Nirvana) however the four piece, (Beatles, Stones, Creedence, Television, seems to be the definitive way to rock!

  2. 2000 Man

    Being a Stones fan, I tend to think the correct number of people in a band is five (two guitars, bass, drums, singer). This provides a fat sound, everyone can concentrate on what they’re supposed to be doing and multitasking much, and there’s plenty to watch for the fans. But I think all it takes is two to be “pure.” The Black Keys seem to have as much purity and firepower as any trio ever did.

    Then again, the phrase “purity” used with “trio” is probably just a way for Buddy Holly fans to wink at each other without drawing attention.

    Great bands do whatever they want, including making solo albums.

    I wouldn’t know about the manager thing. I’d imagine that’s what the manager’s job is – keep the band members away from media and fans, and get good contracts. What else do you need him for?

    I love when Keith Richards changes his guitar. They all sound exactly the same! No matter what guitar Keith plays, it just sounds like Keith, and I think other guys are like that, too. I totally agree with that one.

    There’s something to be said for the twenty minute thing, but how much “new” are people looking for? Things need to make sense, so by the time twenty minutes are up, the fans and the band kind of need to know where they both stand to make sure the whole thing comes off right.

    That guy doesn’t look very rock n roll, but at least he’s got an opinion. I bet that’s a pretty good book!

  3. hrrundivbakshi

    10. Hogwash.

    9. Maybe. The Kinks recorded some of their all-time best work while Dave Davies was producing his first, never-actually-released solo LP. On the other side of the ledger: how awful the Stones — not to mention KISS — had gotten by the time the solo albums started coming out.

    8. Huh?

    7. Agreed!

    6. No!

  4. I agree about the two guitars, bass and drums line up.

    Also, I wonder if solo albums might have been able to save the Beatles or the Replacements.

    I agree with the rest of the rules but I WANT to see the guitar collection. That’s one of the best things about seeing Mike Campell and Tom Petty live.

    On a related note, I can’t remember where I heard it but Johnny Ramone had 3 simple rules for playing live:
    1. Guard your area on the stage
    2. Always play to the back of the room
    3. Never use a boom mic stand.

  5. Mr. Moderator

    I love rules, so this book sounds right up my alley.

    10. I’m in the 2-guitar camp with Lou Reed – or a quartet at the least, like The Who. To me a 3-piece band signifies that the bandleader has serious social shortcomings – no offense to Saturnismine and any other leaders of rock trios whom I know to be totally cool people with no more social shortcomings than those of us in larger bands.
    9. This is true, and considering that Dave Davies’ solo album was not released only strengthens this point.
    8. The great artist hiding behind the powerful manager seems true and helps explain my own complete lack of greatness.
    7. True.
    6. I disagree. Sometimes things start cooking only after the initial 20 minutes.

    I’m looking forward to the top 5 rules and seeing what other rules need to be added!

  6. Mr. Moderator

    Wow, Johnny Ramone was against boom mic stands? I had no idea. That’s a big sticking point for me and, especially, Townsman Andyr. I have much more respect for Johnny Ramone. Thanks.

  7. Hey Mikeydread,
    Hold off posting the top five for a little bit. I’d like to see if we can come up with any of the other rules.

  8. Does one of the rule address the fact that democracy does not work in a band setting? The best you can hope for i a benign dictatorship.

  9. Mr. Moderator

    A rule my bandmates and I have only twice disregarded in more than 25 years of playing together:

    No shorts on stage (hardcore musicians excepted)

  10. Excellent example, Mod. I’m embarrass to say that years ago I broke that rule on one occasion but even as I was doing it, I knew it wasn’t right.

  11. I agree with the “no shorts” rule, but doesn’t the drummer get a pass on that one, since in most cases no one (depending on the stage setting) can see below his/her waist?

    Things that happened on stage after the first 20 minutes:

    1. Angus Young moons the audience.
    2. Jimi Hendrix lights his Strat on fire.
    3. Pete Townsend smashes his guitar/amp.
    4. Keith Moon kicks his bass drum and tom-toms over.
    5. Keith Richards takes a baseball swing with his guitar on stage during an encore in the movie “Let’s Spend The Night Together” and nearly knocks the teeth out of a fan who got too close. Keith was just following Johnny Ramone’s #1 rule about guarding your space on stage.

    etc., etc., etc., etc…..

  12. jeangray

    I’ve actually always used the rule that all band members have to agree on a decision or it’s a no-go. Helps to resolve the lingering resentment issue.

    Or I suppose it might have something to do with my lack of long term success in the musik biz. If only I’d have been more decisive…

  13. As a member of a three-man group, I can only agree with this. I would count The Who as a three-man group, too. Vocalists don’t count. There may be four members, but when any one of the three men playing instruments can also sing, then they are a three-man group. The only time The Who becomes a four-man group is when Roger strums a geetar. Same for Led Zep. This makes The Stones a four-man group for me. That’s just my opinion.

    Having said all that, we just played a GREAT gig this past weekend in which we added another guitarist who I think we are asking to join us on a permanent basis. It just fills the sound out and gives it bit more rawk. Our egos were fed by this prospective fourth member by his statement of “there were no shortcomings in our sound without him…” It was nice, but there was brief time we were a four-man group and I liked the noise we made.

    Being in the Deep South, I did make the mistake of wearing shorts to an outdoor festival gig. It just wasn;t right on any level and from that moment on, I never cared how hot it was. I wear long pants.


  14. 2000 Man

    I think The Stones are a bad example for the solo album thing. Jagger’s She’s the Boss didn’t come out until 85, and if you ask me, their last great album was Undercover, so they didn’t really change anything. The thing that kind of messed things up was when Mick finally had some decent material with Wandering Spirit and didn’t call The Stones. The songs are only good because they sound like Stones songs, he should have called The Stones in. They may have came up with a really terrific album, considering how prolific they were in that period (early 90’s).

    cdm’s Replacements theory is a good one. They may have been able to keep it together, but then again if Paul had a real, bonafide hit song, would he have came back?

  15. 2000 Man

    Little Steven said something about three man bands not having enough visual appeal live. I don’t necessarily agree with that, but then I’m a nerdy fanboy.

  16. Mr. Moderator

    sonny, good question about an exclusion for drummers. It’s a tough call: I guess if they’re playing a hot, summer outdoor gig we can make exceptions – or if they go barechested along with the shorts, for added sex appeal…maybe.

    TB has made me think of a new rule: Singers count as band members, whether they holster a guitar or not. The Who are a 4 piece!:)

  17. alexmagic

    I definitely think you need a fourth person on stage, unless your drummer is in a mobile drumming suit and can wander around. You need at least three people up front so you can have those “singer and lead guitarist play guitar at each other face-to-face while grinning broadly because this is just so awesome” moments, the “rhythm and lead guitarists play back-to-back” moments, the “bass player and guitarist who isn’t singing lead share a mic to sing backing vocals” formation and the “frontman tries to engage the bass player in playful stage antics, but the bass player doesn’t really get into it, so the frontman goes back over to the lead guitarist” dynamic.

    I think these formations/moments probably need better, punchier names. Can we work on that? Seems like the kind of terms The Hall should be defining.

    I suspect that Forster may favor the power trio because it would rule out any possibility of a full scale Rock Iwo Jima moment, and I can appreciate that. But I don’t think you can reach true Rock Iwo Jima status with just three people up front. You need at least four people for that.

    I like the “guard your space” notion attributed to Johnny Ramone. It speaks to a lot of thought put into proper stage formation, and I also like the idea of a musician actively – and with force if necessary – fending off any attempts by bandmates to get into the space he or she has claimed.

  18. The Who are definitely a four-piece. The Stones are five. I could not begin to imagine these bands without their lead singers. But they are still the three-man or four-man groups.

    (I have my own silly rules for these things…and, yes, they only make sense to me…)


  19. 10. Agreed. He’s saying it’s the purest form–he’s not saying it’s the best form.

    9. Agreed. Solo albums should come out after the band breaks up–although an exception could be made for The Beatles’ White Album (pretty much all solo performances).

    7. Disagree–if the guitarist is using different tunings.

    My guess for a rule (1-5) is great bands turn down, not up.

  20. BigSteve

    jeangray wrote:

    I’ve actually always used the rule that all band members have to agree on a decision or it’s a no-go. Helps to resolve the lingering resentment issue.

    I am reminded, as I often am, of the Pere Ubu protocols — There’s lots of interesting stuff on this topic in the introduction, but these passages are apropos:

    Pere Ubu doesn’t vote unless the outcome will be unanimous. Opinions are polled and if anyone is likely to dissent a vote is deferred and nothing happens. In practice we operate by consensus. This has had disastrous commercial consequences. It means that we sometimes don’t do anything.


    Band meetings are rare events. They usually have apocalyptic consequences. Hence, the rarity. When a band meeting is called everyone knows there’s trouble coming. In Ubu’s history there have been only three or four of them. Ubu is organized so as to minimize the need for conversation – no, so as to eliminate as far as possible any conversation.

  21. Mr. Moderator

    This rule is particular to guitar and bass players, but it may apply to anyone playing an instrument while standing on stage – I can’t say:

    The spread of the guitarist’s feet should be greater than the width of the guitarist’s hips and, ideally, equal to or greater than the width of the guitarist’s shoulders.

  22. I just found the Rolling Stone article in which the singer from Rooney mentions the advice that Johnny Ramone gave him. There are five points and the more I think about it, the more more sense it makes for them to count as the remaining 5 rules:

    – Play to the back row, not the people in front;
    – get a straight mike stand, not a boom stand;
    – own your section of the stage;
    – watch the money;
    – learn what other people did that was cool. (Mod, I think your extremely salient point about the guitar player stance fits in here).

  23. Mr Mod wrote:

    “TB has made me think of a new rule: Singers count as band members, whether they holster a guitar or not. The Who are a 4 piece”

    It’s only NOW that you think of singers as band members! Sheesh. Even Darryl Jones got recognition earlier than I did 🙁

    10 – No

    9 – Not until they are ex-members

    8 – Only if they are as fat as Albert Grossman or Peter Grant

    7- Agree

    6 – Disagree – I sweat throug my shirt after 20 minutes!

    Agree: Only Straight Stands and No Shorts

  24. alexmagic

    The spread of the guitarist’s feet should be greater than the width of the guitarist’s hips and, ideally, equal to or greater than the width of the guitarist’s shoulders.

    Every mental image I can summon of Hendrix features a very narrow foot-spread. Does the rule account for this, or is there a Jimi Hendrix Exception?

  25. Mr. Moderator

    Yeah, Hendrix could have stood in a pool of Farina with his ankles tied together and he still would have been cool enough to be excepted from that rule.

  26. I have to admit that I use a boom stand. Sorry, guys.


  27. trolleyvox

    Dr John wrote: “7. Disagree–if the guitarist is using different tunings.”

    Not necessarily. Especially if there are roadies involved and the guitarist at no time other than during the performance has to carry his own equipment. (see the bylaws of Tom Petty, Section IV.i.) I remember a Jayhawks show where Gary Louris, with at least 6 musicians on stage, played a Rickenbacker 12 string for just one song, with no appreciable sonic difference.

    An argument can be made that tuning changes do not rock. I would say that they at least have the potential to not rock, and that speaking as someone who writes and intermittently performs material in various tunings, a guitar change can be a momentum killer during a set at the very least. Alternate tunings also imply an intellectual, bookish, serious disposition and may indicate folk undertones and an inability to talk to loose women (Paul Westerberg being an exception).

    As for showing off one’s guitar collection, it’s a double-edged sword. Depends on the guitars, the player, the venue, the audience draw, and if the other band features a six string bass through a Trace Elliott amp, which to me is the equivalent of shorts, or at least a lack of serious commitment to your look and to rock itself.

  28. Mr. Moderator

    Mad props on the six-string bass via Trace Elliott amp:shorts analogy, Tvox!

  29. Wow. I use a boom stand, wear shorts, AND play a six-string bass through my Trace Elliott rig. I also play in a three-piece group with no manager. There’s no hope for me!

  30. Mr. Moderator

    If rules are made to be broken and rock ‘n roll’s about breaking rules, you’ve got it made, TB:) Please, all, have thick skin during this thread, which promises yet another day’s worth of Forster’s Rules of Rock and then some. I’m sure we’ve all violated someone’s rock rule at some point or another. What’s good is that we have rules and can use them to feel more certain of our place in this big, bad world!

  31. As a drummer myself, I say: No Shorts.

  32. 10. Agree that it might be “the purest” but it is not always the best.
    9. I disagree.
    8. This is BS.
    7. Yes. But that is cool with me!
    6. More BS.

    As for shorts – I’ve worn them behind the kit (and a dress for that matter…)

    Our guitar player insists on no boom stands.

  33. BigSteve

    The number one rule of Rock: No stinking rules!

  34. Mr. Moderator

    BigSteve, you know there’s a rule that states that some rocker must state that there are no rules in rock ‘n roll whenever this issue arises. No one gets out alive.

  35. Just to clarify: The only reason I prefer a boom to a regular stand is that I am very active and would likely destroy a regular stand. Besides, Lemmy uses booms and he’s cool, so I’m in good company.

    I wore shorts once and never again. I have had the desire to own or play a bass with more than four strings. I have never had the desire to own a Trace Elliot rig of any sort (I’m not a fan of neon green).


  36. mockcarr

    Rule number four, I don’t wanna see anyone NOT drinking.

  37. junkintheyard

    Unless this is the Jazz Ensemble Town Hall, The Singer is a band member. The Ramones without Joey?! Come come now.

    10. Agreed. Wink.
    9. It’s like having an affair.
    8. I don’t know if I could hide begind Alan Klein. Will he sue me for saying that? yikes! hahaha, this is probably true. Brian Epstein perhaps?
    7. I think one or two changes are ok. Say, between an acoustic and electric.
    6. I always thought the first 20 were a warm up. There have been some amazing finales and encores. Not to mention the great moments mentioned above. This rule is horse hockey.

  38. mockcarr

    I hope there’s a rule that if you have to show the audience how to clap with the song, or holler at them to do something in “unison”, you are a loser and should quit.

    I agree with Mr. Clean’s answers, although the three piece may not even be pure, I keep thinking of all those pianos in 50’s R&R and the vital rhythm guitar thereafter, even if it was an overdub or some Oliver showing up on stage to play that part.

  39. junkintheyard

    And while I love Johnny Ramone, my guitarist would knock his mic over every two seconds.

  40. Sounds like he is describing ZZ Top

    No Solo Records
    Hide Behind Bill Ham
    Show off Guitars
    All the tricks/effects are in 1st half of the show

  41. Another clarification on my part: The singer is a full on band member. I wouldn’t even think of The Who without Daltrey or Zeppelin without Plant. These vocalists are VITAL to the group’s sound/look. The reason I describe these bands as “three-man groups” is because these are the breakdown of intruments in the band. Are the vocals an instrument? Sure! But, what if (and this is a big “what if”) Page or Jones poseesed the same vocal abilities of Plant? They would have sounded the same and no one would have known the difference. Of course, one could argue that Daltrey and Plant and Jagger defined the entire front man genre, but that’s another discussion.

    I do not mean to diminish the role of the lead vocalist. They are important to pop/rock music. Like I said, I have my weird ideas about these things.


  42. Boom stands? OK unless they are set up high and the arm is at a 90 degree angle. If you need a small arc to keep from hitting your guitar on the stand than that’s totally fine

    Shorts? I can’t think of a situation for shorts on stage unless you are playing Hip-Hop and the shorts are down past your knees.(same for Sweat Pants)

    Trios? Playing bass, I HATE to have another amp besides mine on MY SIDE of the drums, especially a guitar amp. I am ok with the 4th instrument being (1) Harmonica (2) Piano (3) acoustic guitar… if they don’t have an amp and stay off my side of the stage

    (PS – I will be playing bass in THREE trios this Sunday Night. Two are guitar, bass & drums and one is two acoustic guitars and bass…and my side of the stage will be protected!)

  43. 2000 Man

    I think the number one rule should be “Never wear your own band’s T shirt on stage.” Unless it’s so limited that you’re the only guy with one, shilling your merch much more than mentioning the table back there is crappy. The bigger your band, the less you should stand under your band logo while wearing your band logo, with your band logo sticker on your drummer’s bass drum.

    Did we ever do the ten rules for audience members?

  44. I think we should define a trio as latelydavidband does: Three Instruments

    Led Zeppelin
    The Who
    Cheap Trick


    The Police
    ZZ Top

  45. machinery

    I’m a big two guitar, base, drums guy … but I can’t imagine the Jam or the Minutemen having a 4th member. And Paul Weller wasn’t lacking in any social graces (Fritz either 🙂 And the dbs and replacements were mere shells the moment the fourth guy bowed out.

    How’s that for not coming down on any side?

  46. machinery

    XTC, too. Oh, and I hate when a “three-piece” suddenly gets on stage with another guitarist hidden in the shadows.

  47. Mr. Moderator

    Townsman machinery, young Weller seemed like a perfect example of a guy fit for the limited social interactions afforded by a trio, no? You and your old bandmate, on the other hand, exuded so much good cheer and healthy humanity that there wasn’t room for a fourth player. The same seemed to be true for the Minutemen.

  48. machinery

    How about the rule: no mics that look like anything other than a mic? Sorry Prince, you’re out. Oh, and no “classic, old-timey mics, either … unless you’re Buddy Holly era rock. Sorry Tom Waits, you’re out, too.

  49. The Old-timey mics sound like crap anyways. I am blown away every post-Christmas gig where some musician shows off his shiny new Sure Mic that looks like 1958 and sounds like garbage, feeds back, etc…

  50. mikeydread

    Rule 10. Examples of classic trios not previously mentioned. Talking Heads, pre-Jerry Harrison and Joy Division. Bass, drums, guitar. Enough said.

    Rule 7. I recently saw Paul Weller live and it was like Saturday afternoon at the music shop. He changed guitars more than most in the crowd changed their underwear. It became quite tedious. If you haven’t work out your sound by that point in the career it might be time to think about what it is you are really aiming for,

    Robert Forster does sometimes have his tongue near the cheek, he is, I think, writing this list with a smile and some affection. So not taking his prescription too seriously is clearly the way to go.

    I think he missed a trick with the ‘no shorts on stage’ rule. There would be nothing to gain by breaking that one. Look at Henry Rollins.

  51. So what were the other rules? Did anyone guess correctly?

  52. Mr. Moderator

    mikeydread, do you want to post the top 5 rules in a separate post or should I update this one and let the already well-established discussion continue here? This is great fun.

  53. 5. The band with the most tattoos has the worst songs.
    Not necessarily. See Guns ‘n Roses.

    4. Being a rock star is a 24-hour a day job.
    Absolutely true. Prince gets dressed every day like he’s on stage, even if he’s just hangin’ with the NPG or layin’ down some Jesus-lovin’ rhymes. And have you ever seen Keef in sweats? I think not.

    3. Great bands tend to look alike.
    Alike and not so pretty. Sadly true. Examples: Glimmer Twins, Toxic Twins, Kinks (oh yeah, they should look alike, those two boys out front were expelled by the same vagina).

    2. The second last song on every album is the weakest.
    I imagine this should say “second TO last.” Anyway, it’s a toss-up between the second to last (STL) on side one and this. Case in point: on Who’s Next, the STL song on side one is Entwistle’s My Wife. The STL song on side two is Behing Blue Eyes. You make the call!

    1. Never follow an artist who describes his or her work as dark.
    Amen. Anyone who uses this adjective (Depressed Mood, er, I mean Depeche Mode; The Smiths, Bauhaus can go slit their wrists while wearing black turtlenecks as far as I’m concerned.

    Whew! That felt good!

  54. hrrundivbakshi

    5. The band with the most tattoos has the worst songs.
    Sheesh — only a “rock critic” could write something as inane as that. (Motorhead, anyone?) For some reason, this statement reminds me of one of Diamond Dave Lee Roth’s many pithy statements about the rock industry, to wit: “the reason all the rock critics love Elvis Costello is because all the rock critics LOOK like Elvis Costello.”

    4. Being a rock star is a 24-hour a day job.
    Totally agree. Anybody who slacks off on the rock star image/job is by definition *not* one. You might sell a shitload of albums, but that don’t make you a ROCK STAR, baby!

    3. Great bands tend to look alike.
    I shall take this to be a ringing endorsement of my rule that the greatest rock music ever made was made in band uniform.

    2. The second last song on every album is the weakest.
    Shit, what does this even *mean* anymore? (And for the record, “My Wife” totally cock-punches “Behind Blue Eyes.” It shouldn’t be on “Who’s Next,” but that’s a different issue.

    1. Never follow an artist who describes his or her work as dark.
    AMEN. Unless you mean “follow” as in “on stage.” In which case I would love, love, LOVE to be in a sunshine pop band (e.g., the lighter side of the Turtles, Association, etc.) that got to follow Nine Inch Nails or Marilyn Manson onstage at, like, a big stadium festival gig. You know, run out on stage in matching robin’s egg blue polyester suits with white belts and shoes, our guitars and basses hiked up to our tits, launching into a rousing version of “Let’s Call It a Day Now” by the Razor’s Edge. (Want to hear the tune I’d blow Marilyn and Trent off the stage with? Check it out here: )

  55. I have been told that when sequencing an album one should put the least favorite song second-to-last. Whether this holds true in practice, is hard to say. It’s probably like fixating on the number 23 – if you are looking for it, you will find it.

  56. BigSteve

    5. The band with the most tattoos has the worst songs.

    I think tattoos are stupid (though I love the Who song Tattoo). Self-mutilation is what songwriting is for. Don’t be so literal.

    4. Being a rock star is a 24-hour a day job.

    A corollary of this would be that a true rock star has no time to be a musician.

    3. Great bands tend to look alike.

    Funny, when I read this I thought he meant that each great band tends to resemble every other great band, which is a very silly proposition.

    2. The second last song on every album is the weakest.

    More or less true. Weaker material tends to go towards the end of an album, but artists usually save something good for last.

    1. Never follow an artist who describes his or her work as dark.

    An artist describing his or her work in any way is generally a bad idea.

  57. Mr. Moderator

    5. True.
    4. True.
    3. HOW TRUE!!!
    2. When true, extremely true! (See “Sacrificial Bonfire” on XTC’s Skylarking.)
    1. Probably true – it’s OK it it IS dark, but not if self-described as such. The truly dark artists who are good always claim that there’s a lot of humor in their music that stupid critics overlook.

  58. junkintheyard

    5- GNR is trash BUT Lemme is GOD. Rule doesn’t hold.
    4- This might be true. For Stars, that is. Notice he didn’t use the “pure” line here.
    3- Define “great” because I have seen waves of similar looking Hair Metal bands producing rubbish.
    2- Second to last rule is the weakest.
    1- This holds the most water out of any of the rules. I have only found one band to say that and pull it off.

    In conclusion- these rules are complete horse shit. Just look at the cover. The photo alone is the opposite of Rock And Roll. It screams wanker. This guy is the biggest wanker in rock history (if he should be included in rock. I will endeavor to listen to his music to see if he at least has the musical chops).

  59. mikeydread

    Robert Forster doing the business.

Lost Password?

twitter facebook youtube