December 28, 2012
In the larger world of popular music, 2012 will go down as a typical year – if by “typical,” you mean the usual parade of sky-high triumphs, stunning flame-outs, and assorted corpses, coronations, condemnations and just plain craziness. More than a couple New Orleans natives, Dr. John and Frank Ocean among them, factored in national story lines this year. Some of the year’s highs and lows:
The tragic and triumphant intersected at the 54th Grammy Awards in February. In her final moment of diva drama, Whitney Houston died in her Beverly Hilton Hotel room hours before mentor Clive Davis hosted his annual pre-Grammy party in the same building. Producers of the next night’s Grammy telecast hastily assembled a tribute to Houston’s heyday, highlighted by Jennifer Hudson’s rendition of “I Will Always Love You.”
As a far happier counterbalance in that same telecast, Adele sang publicly for the first time since undergoing vocal cord surgery. Confirming her commercial and critical dominance, her smash “21” album won six gold Gramophones, including song, record and album of the year. The following week, “21” sold a staggering 730,000 copies – proof that truly great albums are still in demand.
The Rebirth Brass Band’s “Rebirth of New Orleans” sold somewhat fewer copies that same week, but did win the first-ever Grammy for best regional roots music album, a new, catch-all category created as part of a reduction in the overall number of categories.
The Taylor Swift juggernaut proved as potent as ever. Prefaced by the hit single “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together,” her "Red" album moved a staggering 1.2 million copies its first week – the highest weekly sales total for any album in more than a decade.
Elsewhere, contemporary guitar hero and marketing genius Jack White stepped out smartly with his first solo album, “Blunderbuss,” which was destined for multiple year-end best-of-2012 lists. A Soundscan tally of 600,000 for Mumford & Sons’ second effort, “Babel,” helped the band avoid the dreaded “one-hit-wonder” tag.
Mouse-head deejay Deadmau5 became the first electronic dance music artist to appear on the cover of Rolling Stone magazine, certifying EDM’s pop culture status. The Mayans incorrectly predicted this as one sign of the apocalypse.
How to succeed in the music business: Demonstrating the value of hard work, determination, patience and radio-worthy hooks, decade-old rock-blues duo the Black Keys headlined its first arena tour. The duo’s “El Camino” album received an additional publicity bump when the NCAA used the Keys’ “Gold on the Ceiling” as its Final Four theme song.
How to not succeed in the music business: The plug was pulled on the carefully calibrated fall promotional campaign and tour for Green Day’s trilogy of new albums after frontman Billie Joe Armstrong entered rehab. In October, fellow Bay Area guitar enthusiasts Metallica substituted for Green Day at the Voodoo Experience.