As 2016 is drawing to its close, I’d like to take a look back through my own personal lens at some of the key events in rock music that touched me this year.
To people who know me or have glanced at the blog before it shouldn’t come as a big surprise that my thoughts mostly focus on artists who became big in the 60s, 70s and 80s. While I want to be careful not to dismiss the music that currently dominates the charts and acknowledge that some its artists are very talented, it simply doesn’t excite me much.
When I think of rock in 2016, the first thing that comes to mind are The Rolling Stones. Between their historic concert in Cuba; the cool film documentary Olé Olé Olé! about their 2016 Latin American tour that ended with their gig in Havana; the Exhibitionism exhibit I still have to visit; and their fantastic new album of vintage blues covers Blue & Lonesome, the Stones have been everywhere. That’s not bad for any artist, and even more remarkable for septuagenarians – okay, Ronnie Wood who is 69, but it’s close enough!
While during interviews in the documentary traces of age and previous drug use are evident, especially for Keith Richards and Charlie Watts, somehow it all magically changes as soon as these guys start playing music. In one of the movie’s coolest scenes, Mick Jagger and Richards give an impromptu performance of Honky Tonk Women, with Richards doing a great job on acoustic guitar. I also find it incredible how fresh and spontaneous the Stones sound on their new album after 50-plus years! For more on the album, read here. The Stones may be aging and, yes, it’s only rock & roll, but I like it – sure as heck!
Another rock icon who got a lot of well-deserved attention this year is Bruce Springsteen. Much of his omnipresence was powered by the box set The Ties That Bind: The River Collection, released in Dec 2015; The River Tour 2016; and his autobiography Born to Run. I feel The Boss, who at age 67 is not exactly a youngster either, pretty much is in a league of his own. I had the pleasure to see Springsteen with The E Street Band at MetLife at the end of August. Four hours of high-energy, non-stop rock & roll made for an unbelievable experience! You can read more about that show here.
Other Great Concerts
First and foremost, there was of course Desert Trip in October, probably a once-in-lifetime rock festival in Indio, Calif., though I read there is already some talk about Desert Trip 2. Dubbed “Coachella for old people” by Jagger, the event over two weekends brought together The Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, Paul McCartney, Neil Young, Roger Waters and The Who. While with the exception of Young I’ve seen all of these artists on other occasions, boy, do I wish I could have been there – perhaps the event should have been called “Coachella for old and rich people!”
Anyway, I also invested a good deal of money in concert tickets and saw some excellent shows this year. Apart from Springsteen, the highlights include Santana & Journey (April), BAP (June), Paul McCartney (July), Buddy Guy & Jeff Beck (July) and Bonnie Raitt (August). For more on the last four of these concerts, read here, here, here and here, respectively. The fantastic Santana & Journey show predated the start of the blog.
In addition to the Stones, my favorite albums for this year include new releases from three other “old hands” – Bonnie Raitt (Dig In Deep), Santana (Santana IV) and Sting (57th & 9th) – and a relative newcomer: Muddy Magnolias (Broken People), a rock band from Nashville around singer-songwriters Jessy Wilson and Kallie North. Other new music I’d like to acknowledge includes Elton John (Wonderful Crazy Night), 3 Doors Down (Us And the Night), Car Seat Headrest (Teens of Denial), Eric Clapton (I Still Do), Van Morrison (Keep Me Singing), Green Day (Revolution Radio), Melissa Etheridge (Memphis Rock & Roll), The Pretenders (Alone), Bon Jovi (This House Is Not For Sale) and Neil Young (Peace Trail). I’m planning to write a separate post on my Top Five releases in 2016. Look for it over the next week or two.
Icons we lost
Sadly, 2016 was a tough year in music, serving as a reminder that rock & roll is a brutal business. The pressure to make music that sells, the physical demands of touring, and in many cases past or present drug use are taking their toll, especially on artists who are north of their fifties.
Some of the great personalities in music we lost this year include David Bowie (Jan 10; 69), Glenn Frey (Jan 19; 67, founding member of The Eagles), Maurice White (Feb 3; 74; founder of Earth, Wind & Fire), George Martin (Mar 8; 90; producer of The Beatles), Keith Emerson (Mar 10; 71; keyboarder of Emerson, Lake & Palmer), Prince (Apr 21; 57), Leonard Cohen (Nov 7; 82) and Leon Russell (Nov 13; 74). This is by no means a complete list.
The one other event that stood out for me this year is Dylan’s Nobel Prize in Literature, which he was awarded in October. While I won’t get into whether or not he deserved it, one thing is for sure: the Swedish academy’s selection has redefined the boundaries of literature.
Even more remarkable has been the aftermath of the academy’s announcement. Dylan being Dylan, perhaps this shouldn’t have come as a big surprise. At first, he chose to ignore the award for weeks; then he acknowledged it halfheartedly, at least initially; then he said he might attend the award ceremony, if possible; only to ultimately inform the academy he could not be there due to “pre-existing commitments.” Instead, Patti Smith accepted the award on his behalf, and Dylan wrote a speech that was read to attendees of the banquet by the U.S. Ambassador to Sweden. Adding to the spectacle, Smith performed A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall as a tribute, and two minutes into the song suddenly stopped, apparently overcome by nerves, asking the orchestra to start again.
Technically, to fulfill the requirements of the award, Dylan is supposed to give a lecture within the next six months or so. Stay tuned for the final chapter.