These days it's much more lucrative for a performing artist – any performing artist, young or old, famous or unknown – to tour than to sell albums. Many established acts (Billy Joel, Fleetwood Mac) still play relentlessly, even though they haven't recorded any new material in years. So we have to go back a ways to find successful performers who kept putting out records even after they abandoned the stage. (Time will tell if Neil Diamond and Elton John are good at their word and will keep recording in their post-tour lives.)
- The Beatles. In the most famous example of this rare career move, the Fab Four quit touring in 1966 because their frenzied audiences were stressing them out. So they went off to record Sgt. Pepper and the rest is history. As a solo artist, John Lennon also retired early: his last live dates were in 1974. We'll never know if he would have toured to promote 1980's Double Fantasy, or any other music he might have recorded after that.
- XTC. This Beatles-influenced British band were renowned for their live shows. But after frontman Andy Partridge suffered a mid-tour breakdown in Hollywood in 1982, XTC became a studio-only act and released nine more albums.
- Talking Heads. The Heads' 1983 tour in support of Speaking in Tongues was a milestone in live performance. Jonathan Demme filmed their Hollywood gigs, which became Stop Making Sense, arguably the greatest concert film of all time. How do you top that? According to David Byrne, you don't. At least not onstage: the group retreated into the studio, recorded three more albums, then split in 1991.
- Queen. Queen's 1986 tour would be their last, at least in their classic formation. (I don't count the recent Brian May/Roger Taylor outings, with Adam Lambert on vocals, as "Queen".) After Freddie Mercury received his HIV diagnosis in 1987 – not, as Bohemian Rhapsody would have you believe, before the band's 1985 Live Aid barnstormer – all agreed that his declining health wouldn't withstand a grueling tour schedule. The band then recorded three studio albums: their last, Made in Heaven, was released four years after Mercury's death.
- David Bowie. Six years ago, I would have put my favorite artist Kate Bush at the top of this list: she had only toured once, in 1979, then produced seven tour-free albums over the next three decades, all while enduring taunts of "recluse". Then in 2014 she surprised everyone by announcing a remarkable 22-night stand in London. Cat Stevens/Yusuf Islam pulled a similar trick. But not Bowie, who suffered a heart attack during his 2004 Reality tour and left the road for good. His final studio album Blackstar came out just two days before his 2016 death.
- Nick Drake. The cult English singer/songwriter was forced to play a few opening sets in 1969 to promote his debut LP Five Leaves Left. By all accounts they were disastrous, and the painfully shy Drake never played live again, though he did record two more albums (Bryter Layter and Pink Moon). When he overdosed at 26, he had sold fewer than four thousand records. More than twenty years later, public interest in Drake's music spiked after his song "Pink Moon" was used in a Volkswagen commercial.
- Brian Eno. One of those ubiquitous names in rock, Eno is as famous for his collaborations (including with Byrne and Bowie) as he is for his own work. Eno has toured relatively recently – 2010 – but the prolific studio denizen has since cranked out his 18th, 19th, and 20th albums.
- Joni Mitchell. The folk icon played a couple songs live over two nights in 2013, but her last proper tour was in 2000. She has since released two albums – one of which, 2007's Shine, consisted of brand new material. Owing to health woes, it's not likely that the 75-year-old Mitchell will ever hit the road again.
- R.E.M. Athens' favorite sons decided to go out on top, at least as far as touring was concerned: their dates supporting their well-received 2008 album Accelerate were their last. Their 2011 flop, Collapse Into Now, fulfilled R.E.M.'s contractual obligations with their record label and they disbanded later that year. I suppose it's too early to say whether they'll never play live again. If they do, I'll replace them on this list with Leonard Cohen, who released one more studio album after his final tour, and is currently set to release another, even though he's been dead for three years.