Most of the music I was excited about in 2014 came from artists I have loved for years. I don’t get too involved in most of those in the Top 40, and that’s just the way it’s been for the past 25 years. I don’t hate everything that’s popular; I just don’t like most of it. I don’t really get it. I don’t think it’s about the music anymore.
One could argue that it hasn’t been about the music for decades, and for some people, that’s true. The music industry has always wanted to make money. Before records were a huge thing for most Americans, music was played live on the radio. Records became more popular once the rationing of WWII was finished and materials could be used in other ways again. Jukeboxes helped bring new music to the masses. Payola was becoming the norm. TV was used to help sell artists—not just the music was important anymore.
By the time MTV came along in 1981, there were so many genres of music with roots in rock and roll (which, of course, sprouted from rhythm & blues and country) that each had a distinct sound and look. So yes, the branding of artists and musical styles goes back to the early days of the music industry as an actual viable industry. But there’s something far more distasteful and insincere about the way it’s done now, though contemporary performers are up front about it. Elvis was a brand before anyone else, but that was Col. Parker’s doing; Elvis himself was all about the music. He wanted to be a serious actor as well, but bad movies got in the way since they still turned a profit.
I don’t really care if celebrities endorse booze, makeup, or cars, because they should make that money while they can. If a musician wants to endorse a particular brand of guitar or speaker, I mean, that makes sense. But I still don’t care for it. Build your empire! Dave Grohl has branched out into filmmaking, but the films he’s made are about music. He keeps it legit, and I appreciate that about him. He knows his reason for living is to share his love of music.
And that is mine as well. So here’s what I liked in music in 2014.
The list of new stuff I like is pretty short, and even this list contains some artists who have been around for a few years. The newest one is St. Vincent. I watched them on Saturday Night Live and really dug their whole 80s vibe on “Digital Witness” and “Birth in Reverse.” Annie Clark is fascinating, and I kept thinking she had sort of a Dale Bozzio vibe.
The song everybody loved in 2014 is Pharrell’s “Happy.” I already kind of liked Pharrell; “Pass the Courvoisier” was a great tune back in 2001. “Happy” helped start off 2014 just right. The whole G I R L album is actually pretty good. The man knows how to write a fucking great song!
And Bruno Mars is a motherfucker onstage! Holy shit! Every time I watch him perform live (unfortunately, never in person) I am completely blown away. He’s old school, he’s energetic, he’s on fire and nobody can touch him. He’s another one I liked before 2014, but his collaboration with Mark Ronson is such a throwback that I cannot contain my excitement. They did two songs on SNL in 2014, and they were the kind of performances that stick with you, even if you’re not a big music fan.
“Uptown Funk” is part James Brown, part Michael Jackson, part Morris Day and the Time. It is 100% funk and swagger (and I fucking hate that word!). Bruno can bring it like nobody else out there right now. He’s a true performer, and you can tell that he has the best time of his life when he’s on that stage.
Arctic Monkeys are a band I never paid any attention to until 2014. I had heard of them, but never heard their music until they changed the playlist in the store I used to work in. I heard “Brick by Brick” (released in 2011, but I never heard it until 2014, so it’s got to be included on this list) one day when I was working by myself for a few hours, and loved it instantly. I got on my hands and knees in front of the stereo to try to read the name of the song, and I was surprised. I guess I assumed that a band named Arctic Monkeys were just a bunch of lame-ass, whiny kids like most of what’s popular. Fuck, was I wrong!
And when Alex Turner and the band accepted a Brit Award and gave what some criticized as a rambling speech about the state of rock and roll, I had more reason to respect him and the band. I agree 100% with what he said, which reminds me a lot of the things Dave Grohl has to say about contemporary music. (Dave, by the way, is a huge fan of those guys.)
That rock’n’roll, eh? That rock’n’roll, it just won’t go away….It might hibernate from time to time and sink back into the swamp….But it’s always waiting there, just around the corner, ready to make its way back through the sludge and smash through the glass ceiling, looking better than ever. Yeah, that rock’n’roll, it seems like it’s fading away sometimes, but it will never die.
And there’s nothing you can do about it….
I pray that he is right!
I had heard in early 2014 that they were remastering Oasis’ first two albums to release in honor of the band’s 20th anniversary. Liam was not having it, asking how something that’s already been mastered could be improved. I bought them anyway, and dissected each three-disc set with the glee I originally had 20 years ago when I first heard the original versions.
There are some excellent live recordings on these releases, as well as a few songs I had not previously heard. I am in love with their version of The Beatles’ “You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away,” and I am not one for remakes, especially of The Beatles. But on this one they are not trying to make it their own, which I admire. I do love their version of “I Am the Walrus,” which they do make into an Oasis song. But that doesn’t even bother me! Oasis is one of the few bands that I will allow to get away with that.
The song that most impressed me is “It’s Better People” from (What’s the Story) Morning Glory? (Read my blog about the song here.) Every time I hear it I cannot believe I lived these past two decades without it.
These remastered albums may not have impressed Liam, but fuck it—for hard core Oasis fans like myself, they are necessary. We don’t need to be reminded of why we loved that band in the 90s, because we still love them. But hearing these songs in this way deepens our appreciation for their artistry and their place in history. It’s no joke to say they are one of the 20th century’s greatest musical acts.
In the spring of 2014 The Black Keys finally released Turn Blue, their follow-up to the brilliant El Camino. My sister and I are huge Black Keys fans, so it was a painful wait for new music from the boys. But we were not disappointed! A lot of people hate Turn Blue, and some people think it’s just all right, but I genuinely love it. I had many arguments with people, both fans and devoted anti-Black Keys forces alike, where I found myself defending an artist’s right to evolve. The first four Keys albums are blues; the next four are different, but they established what people now think of as the Black Keys sound, something that also gets criticized. I guess some people feel cool when they talk shit about a band that gets popular, even when they really have no idea what the band is all about. Whatever. I have all their albums, and I love each one based on its own merit. Patrick and Dan are really fucking amazing musicians, and I cannot wait to see what they create in the future.
And 2014 was also the year I got to see them in concert! I was first in line to buy tickets (I didn’t want to pay TicketMaster fees, so I went down to the venue in person), and that was a long summer spent waiting for September 6. It was totally worth the wait. (Read my blog about their show here.)
The album I looked forward to the most in 2014 was Foo Fighters’ Sonic Highways. Dave has been busy with a lot of stuff since 2011’s Wasting Light: He made the wonderful Sound City movie and album; gave an inspirational and hilarious keynote address at the SXSW festival; recorded “Cut Me Some Slack” with Paul McCartney, Krist Novoselic, and Pat Smear, otherwise known as Sirvana; played drums on Queens of the Stone Age’s …Like Clockwork; produced and played drums on Zac Brown Band’s EP The Grohl Sessions, Vol. 1; recorded “Fortunate Son” with the other Foos for John Fogerty’s Wrote a Song for Everyone, and performed it during November’s Concert for Valor; kicked ass onstage with Mick Jagger and Joan Jett; oh, and he and Nirvana were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame!
As if making a new Foo album isn’t enough work, Dave also created a masterpiece documentary series about the recording of it. He decided to learn more about the music that shaped and was shaped by America by visiting 8 cities that have deep roots in music, whether it’s rock and roll, punk, metal, jazz, blues, gospel, or country. As big of a music nerd as Dave is, he admitted that he had a lot to learn.
Each city inspired him to write a song for the album and featured an artist from that area. Joe Walsh, the Preservation Hall Jazz Band, and Gary Clark, Jr., each make an appearance on this fascinating record. As with The Black Keys new record, a lot of fans don’t care much for this new Foo. The documentary series got rave reviews, but some critics wondered whether the album itself could stand on its own without being tied to the episode that “explains” each song. What a bunch of bullshit. It’s fine to not like something, but once again, there are people who just like to hate on successful artists because it makes them feel cool. One asshole wrote an article about how much he dislikes Dave because he does too much and thinks he’s overexposed. That is so ridiculous, I don’t even want to respond.
Dave Grohl is one of the few guys out there who is sincere about everything he does. He won’t let Glee use his songs, but he has confessed to loving Shakira and singing along to Backstreet Boys songs. He’s a music fan, and that’s the most important thing to be if you want to be successful in music. He’s filthy rich, too, but that’s because he works really hard non-stop. He deserves it. I love Sonic Highways, the album and the documentary series. I will always look forward to anything and everything Dave is involved in. 2014 was a great year for him and the band. And they definitely helped me finish the year on a high note.
My prayer for 2015 is that we hear new music from The Strypes and Adele. I would love an Oasis reunion, but I doubt that will ever happen. They are supposed to remaster Be Here Now, so at least there’s that to look forward to. I hope to see Foo Fighters in concert again. And again. And again.
Other than that, I’d really like there to be a new artist who completely blows me away, somebody with staying power, somebody who is in it for the music. I’m more than happy to give my hard-earned money to a performer who does it because their soul needs them to. How many people on the Hot 100 fall into that category right now?