July 2020 Recap: Rock Controversy Erupts Over Masks and Concerts
Throughout July 2020, the summer heat was match by the debates over coronavirus restrictions and, in particular, mask-wearing.
Axl Rose, Paul Stanley and Stevie Nicks all endorsed social distancing guidelines, while some artists, like Great White, followed through with large concerts despite the warnings.
Other musicians selected to use the extra down time to announce forthcoming projects. The Eagles unveiled a new concert film, while Ace Frehley, Metallica, the Rolling Stones and Robert Plant revealed various other new records, expanded albums and anthology sets. Finally, Steve Perry and Neil Young reminded the president that their music was off-limits.
You can read more about the biggest stories from July 2020 below.
Rockers Weigh In on Masking Debate
Guns N' Roses singer Axl Rose put U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams on blast, calling him a "coward" after Adams stated that people's individual decisions to attend large gatherings was "not a yes or no" question. Many musicians also used their platform to advocate for safe practices and call attention to the problem at hand. Some opted for a more direct approach, like Twisted Sister's Dee Snider, who stated that anti-maskers "are all fucking assholes."
Others encouraged their fans to wear masks and stay safe so that live concerts could resume as soon as possible. "Wear your mask! Don't listen to conspiracy theorists or graduates of the Internet University of Medicine," Paul Stanley tweeted. "While the credible authorities and experts continue to learn more about COVID-19, they remain in agreement about safety protocols. End of story."
Stevie Nicks echoed Stanley's message of solidarity when she shared an entry from her journal. "If everyone could just wear a mask and stay in as much as possible, you might be able to find this magical place I have found, in the early morning when everyone sleeps," she wrote. "Please don’t throw this world away. Please don’t give up on humanity and let this virus win this war. It is up to us now.”
Others, like Ratt frontman Stephen Pearcy, chose to emphasize their distance from all things political. "Politics leave me the fuck out, don’t be starting shit," he wrote. "Not into it. Not for press, not for nothing." Pearcy had originally drawn heat from a tweet he wrote with the hashtag "UnMask America," a tweet that turned out to be the fault of hackers.
Some bands faced the toughest criticism of all as they went ahead with live concert plans despite recommendations to postpone. Great White played a show on July 9 to a mostly mask-less crowd in Dickinson, N.D., where lead singer Mitch Malloy lives, and though the band put out a collective apology to upset fans, Malloy stood by his decision. "I never apologized. And never will," he wrote on Facebook. "It was an awesome gig at my good buddies' festival for my hometown crowd."
Eagles Debut Concert Film on ESPN
During the July 4 weekend, the Eagles treated fans to a new concert film, Live From the Forum MMXVIII, a 26-song collection pulled from three separate September 2018 shows at the Los Angeles arena. The film premiered on ESPN, an unusual channel choice for a concert film, but one that ultimately made sense given that both music and sports fans had been shut out of live events for several months. As the pandemic had forced their Hotel California tour dates to be postponed to 2021, the band still wanted to offer fans something to have fun with in the meantime.
"It just seemed natural to us, and we’re thrilled that the guys at ESPN agreed with us," said Eagles manager Irving Azoff, who noted that the band "went crazy" for the idea. "We were trying to give everybody a Sunday night of touring when they’re stuck at home."
It was the band's first release since founding member Glenn Frey's death in 2016, as well as the first official recorded appearance of two new members, Deacon Frey, Glenn's son, and country star Vince Gill. Vinyl, CD, Blu-ray and DVD versions of the show were released later in the year.
Rolling Stones Announce 'Goats Head Soup' Details
The Rolling Stones announced they'd be releasing an expanded version of their 1973 album, Goats Head Soup, with the addition of three previously unreleased songs, "Scarlet," "All the Rage" and "Criss Cross."
"I really feel close to this album, and I really put all I had into it," Mick Jagger said in regards to the new release. "I guess it comes across that I'm more into the songs."
"Scarlet" had an especially interesting background with Led Zeppelin's Jimmy Page featured on guitar. The collaborative circumstances between Page and Keith Richards came about as the band prepped a follow up album in October 1974. Working in a studio in London, Page assumed the session with Richards was an informal one.
"It was great, really good," Page added. "We stayed up all night and went down to Island Studios where Keith put some reggae guitars over one section. I just put some solos on it, but it was eight in the morning of the next day before I did that."
New Albums From Metallica, Ace Frehley and Robert Plant
Even as the pandemic kept music venues shuttered and live concerts a distant memory, musicians pushed on with their releases.
Kiss' Ace Frehley unveiled plans for a new album of covers, Origins, Vol. 2, a followup to 2016's Origins, Vol. 1. The new record featured songs by Led Zeppelin, Mountain and Humble Pie, and included guest appearances from artists like Lita Ford, Cheap Trick's Robin Zander and former Kiss guitarist Bruce Kulick. "The great thing about doing a covers record is I don't have to write the songs," Frehley said. "So, all I have to do is kind of make it my own, maybe change the solo a little, maybe change the arrangement a little and then get some guest stars."
Meanwhile, Metallica announced the release of Metallica and San Francisco Symphony: S&M2, a live record featuring two 2019 performances with the San Francisco Symphony. A Deluxe Box set accompanied the release, including vinyl, CD and Blu-ray, guitar picks and sheet music used by the orchestra and signed by the four members of Metallica.
Robert Plant also revisited the past for his new solo anthology Digging Deep: Subterranea. The set, which contained 30 tracks from Plant's solo career, featured three previously unreleased songs, "Nothing Takes the Place of You," "Charlie Patton Highway (Turn It Up - Part 1)" and a duet with Patty Griffin, "Too Much Alike."
"I’ve got stuff everywhere," Plant said. "So it might be a good way to gather some pretty powerful stuff and just eke it out there…It’s not just about stuff that came out through the normal channels."
More Rockers Object to Trump's Use of Their Music
And as politicians hit the campaign trail, musicians paid close attention to their soundtracks. When President Donald Trump visited Mt. Rushmore for July 4 and played the Journey hit "Don't Stop Believin'," Steve Perry fired back, tweeting ""As one of the songwriters of 'Don’t Stop Believin',' I have not given permission to any political candidate to use this song!" In a similar position himself, Neil Young tweeted "This is not OK with me..." upon discovering the Trump campaign had used his song "Rockin' in the Free World," and later filed a lawsuit against the president for copyright infringement.