By: Keith Spera, NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune
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:
Bon Iver, the Civil Wars, the Alabama Shakes and country music sibling act The Band Perry enjoyed breakout years. So did singer, songwriter and New Orleans native Frank Ocean, a member of the Los Angeles-based hip-hop collective Odd Future, who made headlines as one of the first, and only, major R&B/hip-hop artists to speak openly of a homosexual experience. His “Channel Orange” CD earned a slew of nominations for the 2013 Grammys, including album and record of the year.
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.
Miami rapper Rick Ross emerged as hip-hop’s self-declared bossman – he was the subject of a hilarious Rolling Stone cover story – while Nicki Minaj confirmed her status as rap’s reigning iconoclast with “Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded.” In the realm of indie hip-hop, Seattle-based rapper Macklemore and his producer/deejay Ryan Lewis’ “The Heist” entered the Billboard 200 at No. 2, thanks in part to the hit single “Thrift Shop.” The straight duo also earned national attention for the song and video “Same Love,” which supported gay marriage.
The year’s most left-field smash was South Korean rapper PSY’s “Gangnam Style.” The “K-pop” equivalent of “Macarena,” "Gangnam Style"'s popularity was fueled in large part by an oft-parodied viral video that has rung up more than one billion – that’s billion – views and counting on YouTube. It is now the most-watched YouTube clip ever – another Mayan sign of the end of days.
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.
The Foo Fighters also took a break, but it wasn’t rehab related. Frontman Dave Grohl has other interests to pursue, mostly notably his direction of “Sound City,” a documentary about the fabled California recording studio where Nirvana, Fleetwood Mac, Tom Petty and many others made classic albums.
Country superstars Kenny Chesney and Tim McGraw’s co-headlining Brothers of the Sun stadium extravaganza, which stopped at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in August, was among the year’s top-grossing tours. Fellow country leading men Jason Aldean and Eric Church graduated to arena headlining status. Carrie Underwood, Luke Bryan and Lady Antebellum also did big business at the turnstiles and (mostly virtual) record stores.
Lionel Richie remade previous Commodores and solo hits as duets with country singers on “Tuskegee,” one of the year’s top sellers. Hootie & the Blowfish singer Darius Rucker, enjoying a robust second career as a country singer, joined the short list of African-American inductees of the Grand Ole Opry.
Divas were the flavor du jour on reality TV as Louisiana’s own Britney Spears joined the “X Factor” experts’ panel and Nicki Minaj and Mariah Carey bickered as new “American Idol” judges. “The Voice” announced that Shakira and Usher would replace judges Christina Aguilera and Cee Lo Green, who opted to return to their music careers.
As reigning heartthrob Justin Bieber turned 18, he faced stiff competition from pre-teen girls’ latest boy-band infatuation: The British imports of One Direction, who co-starred in a cola commercial alongside Drew Brees.
Not going gently into that good night, veterans Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen and Leonard Cohen each issued acclaimed albums – “Tempest,” “Wrecking Ball” and “Old Ideas,” respectively – and toured extensively. Not to be outdone, Neil Young wrote a colorful memoir, “Waging Heavy Peace." He also reunited with his Crazy Horse combo for the folk standards collection “Americana” and a double-album of sprawling rock, “Psychedelic Pill,” as well as a tour that shook City Park during the Voodoo Experience.
Equally grizzled shaman Dr. John’s cross-generational collaboration with Black Keys guitarist Dan Auerbach yielded the celebrated “Locked Down,” which was widely feted by the national press. He even earned a multi-page spread, with art-directed photos, in Rolling Stone.
Enduring Canadian power trio Rush enjoyed a banner year, thanks to its invigorated, 19th studio album, “Clockwork Angels,” and yet another successful arena tour. Much to the relief of faithful if aggrieved fans, Rush was voted into the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame’s 2013 class alongside Heart, Public Enemy, Donna Summer, Randy Newman and Albert King.
The surviving original Beach Boys, including Brian Wilson, reunited for a well-received new album, “That’s Why God Made the Radio,” and extensive 50th anniversary tour, which kicked off at Jazz Fest. Van Halen released “A Different Kind of Truth,” its first full album with original vocalist David Lee Roth since 1984, but cancelled the final 32 dates of an otherwise successful tour after a final show at the New Orleans Arena.
Madonna’s spectacle of a halftime performance during Super Bowl XVLI previewed her equally extravagant tour in support of her “MDNA” album, which also visited the New Orleans Arena.
The Rolling Stones reassembled for a handful of 50th anniversary concerts in London and New York. While in New York, they also took part in the all-star 12-12-12 benefit concert at Madison Square Garden for the Hurricane Sandy relief effort. They joined a who’s who of old-school British rock stars – Paul McCartney, Eric Clapton, The Who, Roger Waters – plus Bruce Springsteen, Bon Jovi, Billy Joel and, less successfully, Kanye West, in a concert telecast to a massive worldwide audience.
The music world lost an assortment of marquee names in 2012. Dick Clark, “America’s Oldest Teenager” and longtime host of “American Bandstand” and “New Year’s Rockin’ Eve,” died of a heart attack. Don Cornelius, founder and host of “Soul Train,” committed suicide.
Cancer claimed Levon Helm, the drummer in The Band, and Adam “MCA” Yauch, one-third of the Beastie Boys.
Other notable deaths included blues belter Etta James; disco star Donna Summer; “Take Five” jazz pianist and songwriter Dave Brubeck; Davy Jones of the Monkees; crooner Andy Williams; Deep Purple keyboardist Jon Lord; rock guitarist and bandleader Ronnie Montrose; sitar master Ravi Shankar; bassist Donald “Duck” Dunn of Booker T & the MGs; singer and guitarist Chuck Brown, the “godfather of go-go music”; country music pioneer Kitty Wells; bluegrass banjo titans Earl Scruggs and Doc Watson; saxophonist Andrew Love of the Memphis Horns; and singer and composer Johnny Otis, the “godfather of rhythm & blues.”
But none of these likely enjoyed a send-off as unique as New Orleans’ own “Uncle” Lionel Batiste. The Treme Brass Band drummer set out for Gloryland in full Frenchmen Street finery while standing up at his own wake.
Not even Whitney Houston could top that.