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.
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.
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.