Looking back at this entry from a year ago, I thought 2021 was going to kick off the new “Roaring 20’s.” Instead the year was hammered by Delta and Omicron variants, record inflation, and a broken supply chain. There was still a ton of great music that slipped out, and a return of live music. (Favorite show: The Monkee’s Mickey Dolenz and Mike Nesmith shortly before Nesmith’s sad death on December 10.)
Most of my musical consumption this year came from making playlists on Spotify, especially when I was laid low by COVID in August. (The fever sent me on a Steely Dan bender for some reason.) Spotify gave me a great musical project source thanks to my University of Oregon students. As an extra credit assignment, I created a “Race & Ethnicity Mix Tape” playlist. They submitted songs of racial consciousness and healing and we ended up with 229 tunes. Thanks to my Gen Z students, several artists were new to me. (Joey Bada$$ was popular in the mix.)
The musical highlight of the year was definitely the long-awaited release of Peter Jackson’s 8-hour Beatle documentary, Get Back, airing on Disney+ over the Thanksgiving holiday. Insight into the Beatles’ process and a chance to re-write the Let It Be record made it endlessly engrossing. Filmed the same year, 1969, Summer of Soul (on Netflix) gave a brilliant look at a Harlem black music festival that was overlooked by history as Woodstock hogged the limelight.
This year’s top album pics are not necessarily the best selling or most critically-acclaimed releases of 2021. I’m sure Tyler, The Creator’s Call Me If You Get Lost is amazing and I’ll dive into Adele’s 30 and Kasey Musgraves’ Star-Crossed when I’m not quite as melancholy (i.e., living it). These are the albums that brought me joy and repeated listenings in ’21. I recognize that three of these artists, Wanda Jackson, Charles Lloyd, and Ringo Starr, are in their 80s. Paul McCartney turns 80 in June and Tony Allen would be 80 but died last year at 79. They demonstrate the longevity of creativity, and are balanced out by teenagers Olivia Rodrigo and Young Thug (who recently turned 20).
The top spot is reserved for The Beatles (surprise, surprise). The 5-disc “Super Deluxe” release of 1970’s Let It Be(remixed by Beatles producer George Martin’s son Giles) provided endless moments of Beatle discovery from the vaults, including a Fab Four version of George Harrison’s “All Things Must Pass.” The packaging was stellar and stood as likely the last gift of unheard Beatle music for fans. The “in the room” outtakes served as a perfect soundtrack to the Get Back film.
This has been a weird year for music for me. The budget tightened as Cozy got bigger and the sabbatical cushion got smaller. Weekly trips to Music Millennium were replaced by lots of speaking engagements and news interviews about the rise of fascism in Trump’s America. I buried my ears in old John Coltrane albums as I read Ascension: John Coltrane and His Questby Eric Nisenson. I spent a lot more listening time in 1964 than 2017, perhaps as an escape from the endless bad news of America going into the ditch. Just turn on KMHD radio and forget about the train wrecks (both literal and not) for a moment.
In my book, The Mission of the Sacred Heart, I posit a theory about the music of the seventh year of each decade. There is one pop album and one underground album that truly defines the decade. 1967: The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s and The Velvet Underground & Nico, 1977: Saturday Night Fever and the Sex Pistols’ Never Mind the Bullocks, 1987: U2’s The Joshua Tree and Public Enemy’s Yo! Bum Rush the Show, 1997: The Spice Girl’s debut and Radiohead’s OK, Computer. The theory sort of falls apart with the death of the album in the 2000s. (You could make the case that 2007 fell to Kanye West and the White Stripes). But what will it be for 2017? It wasn’t exactly the Summer of Love 2.0. It may take years to figure out how we survived a year without a new Beyoncé album.
We did make it to a few great shows this year. Paul Weller in Seattle was probably my favorite and Solange in Portland was pretty epic. Beck and Spoon on the Portland Waterfront were mass entertaining. Runaway Lita Ford rocked Dante’s and getting to sing with Drivin’ N’ Cryin in Marietta, Georgia was a hoot. (Kevn Kinney introduced me as “Randy Blazak from U2!”) Herb Albert gave a master class in pop history at the Aladdin and Sting and Michael Kiwanuka brought some neo-soul to town. Bomba Estereo and Y La Bamba covered our Latin fixes. We had a great night with Shannon & the Clams and Portland garage kings The Shivas. However, I missed a ton of great gigs, choosing stay home and sing Frozen songs with Cozy.
I missed a lot of great music this year. I hear both the War on Drugs and Roger Waters have brilliant new albums out.. I know everyone has Kendrick Lamar’s DAMN at the top of their year-end polls. I loved his last one but I’m just tired of rap albums where every other word is “bitch.” It shows a lack of imagination, no matter how brilliant your commentary might be. The anti-Trump music is finally coming out. Jason Isbell’s “White Man’s World” is a chilling take on election day and I must have played “Fuck Donald Trump” by YG a hundred times on the binks jukebox. Maybe 2018 will be our 1968. You say you want a revolution? Well, you know. Is it streaming?
So this isn’t the best new albums of the year, just the ones I enjoyed the most, while Andrea painted and Cozy built increasingly impressive towers of blocks. I’ve already written about my complete submission to the joyous Harry Styles album, so it should be of no surprise that it tops my heart’s charts. We lost some greats, like Chuck Berry and Sharon Jones, and some old friends returned to remind us that, despite our foray into the Upside Down, great music will always sustain us.
Harry Styles – Harry Styles
Sharon Jones & the Dap Kings – Soul of a Woman
Childish Gambino – Awaken, My Love!
U2 – Songs of Experience
SZA – Cntrl
Sleater-Kinney – Live in Paris
Tim Darcy – Saturday Night
Jason Isbell & the 400 Unit – The Nashville Sound
Dhani Harrison – In///Parallel
Ringo Starr – Give More Love
Paul Weller – A Kind Revolution
Algiers – The Underside of Power
Father John Misty – Pure Comedy
Drivin N Cryin – Mystery Road Expanded Edition
Portugal, The Man – Woodstock
Chuck Berry – Chuck
Cheap Trick – We’re All Alright
Waterboys – Out of this Blue
Big Thief – Capacity
Dream Syndicate – How Did I Find Myself Here?
And Special Portland Topper: Jared Mees – Life is Long Besides being a perfect album, it gave me the theme song for my podcast, Recovering Asshole.