Saturday, December 6, 2014

The Best Music Of 2014

Everything rocks and nothing ever dies.

With that out of the way, let's us look back on the year of new releases and reissues.  And if you thought that last year was slim pickings, this year makes last year look like a big event. Music today is just a flavor of the week and then forgotten.  A year that only a couple of releases sold a million copies, Taylor Swift's 1989 and maybe Pink Floyd The Endless River but that's it.  Used to be big events when a new release did come out and stores would open at midnight on Tuesday but those days are gone just like most of the record stores that used to do that.  In a world of so much variety never that Corporate Radio has centralized the playing list that nothing new gets played on classic rock radio but you can hear Back In Black in regular rotation just like 1980 all over again. Except the lesser known bands never get played and all you hear is Back In Black.  And basically this is not another blog to say that radio sucks dung, I've managed to make that point countless other times.  But never have I seen such an era that when the new AC DC album came out, radio didn't play it in its entirety, they peppered some of the new tracks with Back In Black once again.

Fact of the matter is that music today takes a back seat to the overplayed on radio.  And most new music sounds the same be it country, top forty and rock.  Today's music has borrowed more from rap and processed beats and Munford and Sons inspired sing along, or whoever decided to cop Seven Nation Army as today's Jock Jam that you see and hear at football stadiums across the country.  Who decides what songs are acceptable or what's not needs to be slapped upside the head.  Marching bands being replaced by the bell tone of Hell's Bells or Crazy Train over the PA means AC DC or Ozzy should get a nice check from ASCAP and BMI, which will go nicely into the payments of the best care that Malcolm Young can get.  But the rockers from the 70s and 80s are getting older and some are past 70 if they're still living.  There's not too many left on this planet but some are still recording. Some 80 year olds like Willie Nelson, John Mayall, Leonard Cohen and Tony Bennett made new releases this year and they're worth a listen or two.  But nowadays after the releases, they're forgotten within a week or two.  And nobody cares like they used to.
The buying public of ten, twenty years ago have families, and getting older themselves. Prices continue to go up, disposable income is less and less and music mags from the past are becoming more Entertainment Weekly or The Enquirer rather than tout new music and exciting bands.  And Rolling Stone Mag is a joke upon itself, even by their best of list, which I guarantee you that most of the 50 best albums they tout, only 1 or 2 will be remembered a year from now.  And Songs For The Innocent makes Pop sound like The Joshua Tree.

For the most part the old rock and rollers released new albums as well. Neil Young had two, although I commend him for following his own muse, both weren't as good or memorable as the last two he issued with Crazy Horse.  Being in love might had something to do with it, but for myself there wasn't any point of spending 70 dollars to hear his 2 record love letter to Darryl Hannah. David Crosby spoke out against that and for the effort Young said no more CSNY reunions.  A much more happier reunion was the return of Christine McVie to the aging Fleetwood Mac and the shows have been reviewed as great.  A victory lap so to speak to reclaim past glories, even though Stevie Nicks issued a new album and it sold less than Time, the Fleetwood Mac 1995 bomb.  The rock goddess we loved and had fantasies being with are now 60 plus years old.    And today's sex symbols have enough staying power as last month's Playboy pinup.  Even with 40 something Jennifer Lopez rubbing butts with Iggy Azalea at the AMA's last month is now a thing of the past. Or seeing some Kadashian tramp showing off her buns or baby bump just to let the world know they're still there.  Some folk do but for the rest of us, we have better things to do than knowing what's Kortney or Kim is doing for today.  But I don't care, not even for Nicki No Talent Minaj who continues to flaunt booty at the drop of the hat or pants.  It doesn't affect me, nor you.

Which comes to the best of the year.  Perhaps one of the least interesting of years,  I reviewed about 40 albums and CDs and basically what it comes down to is which ones I would play the most rather than the one that has lasting value.  For lasting value we keep playing them right?  I looked back on the best of 2009, and I don't think the Manic Street Preachers or Monsters Of Folk have gotten much play here although they did make the list.  Jamey Johnson and Heart's inclusion in the 2012 best of are been donated for a better cause. Ditto for blues sweetheart Samantha Fish whose Runaway and Black Wind Howlin have been given new homes. Still worth getting if you find them, but for myself I kinda of fell out of favor with them.  Or just made me go back to the original sources or influences such as the Friday expanded edition of Buddy Guy and Junior Wells Play The Blues.  But in terms of real new good music, there wasn't much of it anywhere.  Crappy digipacks, expended editions of the original albums, even more crappier digipacks, the three music mafia labels jacking prices up 2 dollars all figured into a shorter list of tunes to consider.  And yet another Best Of The Who Hits 50 to avoid, this gave me the feeling that buying new music is as pointless as they come. Judas Priest made a return to form and they were forgotten three weeks after their new album. Nobody plays it but they'll play You Got Another Thing Coming.

So, from what limited resources that was available to me, The top albums of the year comes from albums that I can remember and perhaps might serve as some things that I'll play again next year or after that.  But there's no guarantee that I'll be around next year to think up of the best of the year that is for the ages.  What I do is that U2 nor Bruce is on this list.  And that's a step in the right direction.

The Strypes-Snapshot (Photofinish/Island)

After all the albums out there, this one seems to be on the player more often than not.  For those who enjoy a bit of that old Pub rock sound made famous by Eddie And The Hot Rods or Doctor Feelgood, you'll dig this album, their version of Rolling And Tumblin has managed to be heard on my radio show Townedger Radio and they cover Heart Of The City by Rockpile.  That's all you need to know.

Bob Dylan/The Band-The Basement Tapes Raw (Columbia/Legacy)

Forgo The New Basement Tapes hype, that T Bone Burnett, Elvis Costello minor league all star lineup of putting old Dylan lyrics into limp Americana and go for the real thing, Dylan jamming with The Band without record label pressure to make what would be the first true bootleg album and the seeds of Americana.  Nobody could top Dylan when he was in his prime and The Basement Tapes Raw presents that, and without the overdubs of the 1975 Basement Tapes first album, still worth getting and taking notes to point out differences.

The Townedgers-Forthcoming Trains (Radio Maierburg)

I know.  It's one of my own but if I didn't like it and play it as much as I have been this year, this would not be on the list.  After the sloppy mess of 30, The Townedgers return to a much more comfortable level of acoustic and hard rock to make Forthcoming Trains their best since Pawnshops For Olivia.  The Crazy Horse meets Motorhead vibe of Wolfie has been good enough to make the playlist at Kill Radio and Lucky Star.  A more streamlined Midnight Run and Just Enough Love without the drum boasts of previous years shows a new mentality.  But also the sad and reflective How Hard It Is or the playful Our Love (Endless Highway) shows the versatility that is Rodney Smith and company.  But then again economic drum playing can go further than the bombast of years beforehand.  If only The Townedgers could be this fun from here on out.

The Essential Kinks (Legacy)

Not entirety, the MCA years are missing but Andrew Sandoval does pick most of the best of the Kinks hits from You Really Got Me to Scattered, a track off the 1992 Phobia debacle.  He does overdo it by adding three songs off the scattershot  Sleepwalker, the 1977 Arista debut, but only one from Arthur. Another quibble is a live Lola from the goofy 1980 live One From The Road rather than the studio, but for the most part the concept albums of the 70s from RCA are kept to a minimum, but you do get faves like Days, Waterloo Sunset, All Day And All Of The Night and the beginnings of heavy metal You Really Got Me.  And of course the best Dave Davies written song ever......Living On A Thin Line.  For a 50 year career sampler, it does quite well, unlike The Who Hits Fifty.

Beck-Morning Phase (Capitol)

Despite what George Stravois tells you, this is actually a lot better than Sea Change,  A lot of folk don't care much for Beck Hansen and his new age pop like tunes but I find Morning Phase to be a nice listen after a hard day at work. Blackbird Chain reminds me of Roger Waters' segment in Ummagumma. I probably have this record too high on the Best Of, but then again most of these songs are not in order.  Unless it's the first three.

The Empty Hearts (429 Records)

Power pop supergroup produced by Ed Stasium.  Not destined for the radio, unless it's Underground Garage.  Wally Palmer from The Romantics provides the vocals, Clem Burke from Blondie and many others pounding away on drums and Elliot Easton from The Cars on Guitar, and Andy Burbuk from Chesterfield Kings playing bass.  Garage rock still played by dudes in their 50s and 60s and still kicking it.

Kings Of The Sun-Rock Til You Drop (Self release)

One of the most underrated rock bands ever, The Kings from down under featured the Hoad Brothers, Jeffery and Clifford, the latter being the closest thing to Keith Moon since Clem Burke.  A well kept secret among fans, their 2 RCA albums hold up better than Guns And Roses, you know what album.  A third album never released here proper and sells for big bucks via Ebay, The Hoad brothers soldered on till Jeffery decided to retire.  Clifford on the other hand, took over lead vocals and gave us this album which picks up where Full Frontal Attack left off.  The hour long effort of Rock Till You Drop passes by like a speeding train. Cliff's vocals is a bit less radio ready than his brother but songs like Switchblade Knife and Fire On The Mountain recalls the hard rock swagger of Serpentine or Vampire.  This is real rock and roll, unlike the "real rock" that passes for real rock on Corporate radio.

Spanky And Our Gang-Complete Mercury Singles Collection (Real Gone Music)
The Grassroots-Best Of The Dunhill Singles (Real Gone Music)

This year has been very scant on reissuing forgotten bands of the 60s who used to rule the AM airwaves. Rhino is a corporate entity, Shout Factory is on their last legs and Razor And Tie is too busy trying to become Century Media.  Omnivore has been instrumental of remembering the 80s and 90s alternative rock side of things with a Scruffy The Cat demos (Legacy was supposed to come out with an best of Scruffy The Cat that ended up being download only or just scrapped the whole thing, Corporate Labels, all for the bottom line and not art) and keeping Jellyfish alive with reissues of their Charisma CDs.  Gordon Anderson is the best of reissues and I picked Spanky And Our Gang and The Grassroots out of the pile because these bands were a big part of my growing up years.  The Grassroots is not complete; No Smoke Without Fire was left off in favor of an alternative take of Let's Live For Today (with a censored line) but The Dunhill Singles shows a band that started out being a P F Sloan led band to a more pop centered horns driven hit making machine with Two Divided By Love, one of the lesser faves but perhaps the band better known as Steve Barri's personal production band.  The early hits with the failed Mr. Jones leading things off I still enjoy to hear as well as Where Were You When I Needed You or Only When You're Lonely, a very moody song not so different than what the Walker Brothers were putting out.  But thankfully, Real Gone did put on Love Is What You Make It, a under-performing 1973 should have been hit. The late Rob Grilli turned out to be a perfect vocalist for the Lambert/Potter Two Divided By Love or Sooner Or Later. But they also boosted some good song writers in Dennis Proviser and Warren Entener.  Somewhat of a more rocking Gary Puckett and The Union Gap but it's a shame that Real Gone didn't include the B sides such as Somebody To Love (B side to Love Is What You Make It, and probably would have been a bigger hit with it's catchy beginning hook) or Fly Me To Havana (B to Wait A Million Years) which has a middle part like Steppenwolf's Rock Me. MCA's spotty Best Of The Grassroots albums and CD never quite told the story like Dunhill Singles. And probably the best overall view of The Grassroots since Rhino's 1990 2 CD attempt.

For Elaine (Spanky) McFarlane and their blues folk band Spanky And Our Gang is more pop than ever in rock and they made such happy songs like Lazy Day and the corny B side of Byrd Avenue and this is where I begin to take notice with that song.  The Complete Mercury Singles, does have both a and b sides, and does have the 3 minute Sunday Morning with the bizarre coda/mistake ending that went missing through the years and countless reissues, a six minute version with studio chatter ruins is on Spanky's Greatest Hit(s) and another version without the coda was on a 45 reissue and Polygram's late 90s Greatest Hits but basically Universal screwed them over by taking one cut out for the The Millennium Collection. The Complete Mercury Singles starts out with the not usually heard And Your Bird Can Sing.  While Sunday Will Never Be The Same is their claim to fame (or Lazy Day), the best single that defines them and made me a fan was Sunday Morning and B side of Echoes or Everybody's Talking, with two versions on this, a later reissue omits the ocean sounds of the early single.  Or the take it any way you want to Like To Get To Know You complete with weird out ending.  But perhaps the infamous Give A Damn (taboo at that time due to the D word, we're come a long way from that) which a Bible Thumper complained and got the record pulled from the charts is not a protest song of burn baby burn but trying to find ways to reach the world to care about what's going on.  Their last album Anything You Choose/Without Rhyme Or Reason with the songs running into run another is worth hearing and it's good to see Three Ways From Tomorrow back on a best of comp. But tragedy was always a part of Spanky And Our Gang and when Malcolm Hale passed away at age 27 from a faulty heater the band was no more.  Nevertheless I think Spanky And Our Gang was just as important to pop rock music as The Mamas And Papas, plus they had a better sense of humor than the better known band.  The Complete Mercury Singles makes that point quite well.

Drive By Truckers-Oceans Away (ATO)

I have never been a big fan of the DBTs, most if not all of their albums were passing fancy, and only one Decoration Day got some plays but the rest I didn't really get into to.  But Oceans Away for me is their best since Decoration Day and it actually comes out rocking and swinging away on Shit Shot Counts. And for the first time ever, Mike Cooley wrote half the songs and Patterson Hood wrote the rest, never did we ever had Cooley work this much into any album.  And Cooley's songs do stick out, Primer Coat could be about anybody I know I went to school seeing their daughter being married off, or just being set in their ways.  That doesn't mean Patterson Hood is resting his laurels, he is at his best either paying tribute to a fallen roadie (Grand Canyon) or bashing some Conservative (or perhaps it's W Bush) on That Part Of Him.  Oceans Away, like any new album got a lot of press when release but nobody notices it much anymore, till you revisited the album again.  But when you do play it again, you do take notice.

The Len Price 3-Nobody Knows (JLM Recordings)

I never get tired of hearing bands be it British, American or whatever playing the same three chords in the tradition of The Who or The Kinks or Green Day.  Len Price 3 has always made my ten best of every year they put records out and so did Steve Van Zandt before Wicked Cool decided to focus on girl band acts. The title track, Billy Mason continues the Len Price 3 tradition of songs clocking around 2 and half minutes. It's a tough job but somebody gotta do it since most of the real rock bands of today rather dick around with pro tools, auto tuning and mope singing.  Hell with that.

Black Lips-Underneath The Rainbow (Vice)

I forgot all about this album while compiling the best list, so I must include this.  The Black Lips has been around for many a year and while their albums are garage rock noise at times their ambitions get the best of them.  Such as that live album they did across the border when Atlantic took a chance on them and lost.  Underneath The Rainbow just might be their most accessible album of all time, with side 1 actually playing quite well for 60s type inspired garage rock of the long forgotten (Sonics, Wailers), Some zaniness happens on side 2 beginning with Boys And The Band, and of course Do The Vibrate.  But overall, the record is a winner, right down to the freaky vinyl look.

AC/DC  Rock Or Bust (Columbia)

For those about to rock we salute you.  AC/DC as we know and love.  And simplified down to three chords and Brian Johnson's howls.  And it goes by fast with 11 songs at 34 minutes.  No bullshit rock and roll. 

Runner Ups.

Leonard Cohen-Popular Problems (Columbia)
Miranda Lambert-Platinum (RCA)
Slipknot: .5) The Gray Chapter (Roadrunner)
Body Count-Manslaughter (Sumerian)
Robert Plant-Lullaby And The Ceaseless Roar (Nonesuch/WB)
Jack White-Lazaretto (Third Man/Columbia)
Judas Priest-Redeemer Of Souls (Epic)
Doobie Brothers-Southbound (Arista)
Joe Bonamassa-Different Shades Of Blue (J & R Adventures)
Ace Frehley-Space Invader (E One)


Leon Russell-Life Journey (Universal)
Stevie Nicks-24 Carat Gold (Reprise)
John Mayall-A Special Life ( Forty Below)
Jack Clement-For Once And For All (I.R.S.)
Benmont Tench-You Should Be So Lucky (Blue Note)

Honorable Mentions:

Pink Floyd-The Endless River (Columbia)
Saliva-Rise Up (Rum Bum)
Foo Fighters-Sonic Highways (Roswell)
Against Me!-Transgender Dysporia Blues (Total Trouble)
Old 97's-All Messed Up (ATO)

There you have it.  Yet another list of what is considered the be the best that 2014 had to offer. The number where I put albums basically came of what I remembered at the time.  That no one album stood out from another, so perhaps it's easy to say there was a tie for 11th place and so forth on the acknowledgements and honorable mentions.  Which leaves the ones in purgatory a step ahead of the turds of the year.  Perhaps in the future I'll return to Tom Petty's Hypnotic Eye or Black Stone Cherry's Magic Mountain to listen and if there's anything to keep it on the shelves I'll keep them. Otherwise they'll be donated for some quick cash and paying off bills.  Same thing for Bob Seger's Ride Out.

The question remains of what 2015 has to offer.  The forecast is that less and less new stuff will be reviewed or even considered due to the major labels continuing to raise CD prices and not promoting the bands.  Next year we see the return of Belle And Sebastian, The Charlatans UK first album since the passing of Jon Brookes and Steve Earle returns in March with a new album as well.  But in a field of music, I don't expect much to come out for me to get interested in anymore.  I heard it all before and the bands I grew up listening to are now senior citizens or retired or just dead and classic rock radio rehashes the same 200 songs every day.

Perhaps if I do compile a best of this year, provided if I'm still around this time next year, I'm certain it will be much more shorter than this year.  Even the reissues are not thought provoking as they once was.  I simply have no use for investing in Led Zeppelin outtakes or 4 CDs of Velvet Underground outtakes.  Vinyl is too high and so are box sets and record stores are becoming fewer and fewer.  The one remaining thing is thrift stores and the kindness of strangers who give up their collections due to time and space limitations. If it has a label, and in good condition and if I haven't heard it, it's new to me.  There's lots of competition out there, Thrift stores are usually picked clean but once in a while I'll strike a treasure trove of goodies.  That's where my focus will be for next year and thereafter.

Until then....


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