Never before has it taken me so long to list my musical favorites for a calendar year — in this case, dear departed 2017.
Let’s begin with the usual explanation of parameters. I dimly recall a quote by Ray Charles to the effect that if he couldn’t whistle a song while he was walking down the street, the music simply didn’t register with him.
Broadly speaking, this describes my relationship with music, too. It isn’t to imply that avant garde chamber music and free jazz are lost to me. I enjoy them. But as it pertains to the admittedly expansive realm of pop and rock music, favorites tend to be those bits I can whistle, hum, or sing (mostly badly these days).
It’s how I judge music, and musical years.
I’m two months and a dozen new CDs into 2018, and the best way to explain the delay in categorizing 2017 is that it proved to be one of the best musical years in recent music according the only musical metric that really matters: there was lots of the sort of music that Roger tends to like.
Oddly, at the beginning of 2017 it seemed as though there’d be very little of note in my personal wheelhouse, and yet by year’s end, the bench ran so deep that my every effort to select a “best of” list kept hitting the rocks. In fact, there were numerous bits to like on just about every album I acquired by hook or crook in 2017, and while the pedant in me remains baffled, I’m feeling enriched as a result.
Know also that I don’t do play lists, downloads, Spotify, music on phones or various other newfangled bastardizations of The Way Things Ought To Be. Apart from listening to the classical music genre on WUOL-FM, I research music on YouTube and social media, and base album acquisitions on the results. Much to the dismay of the cats, most listening takes place on the home audio system, or via my laptop with headphones. On those rare occasions when I’m driving somewhere, I pack CDs for the trip.
It is my yearly aim to listen to what’s new from the artists who perform music I like. It’s a fairly broad spectrum and includes classical, jazz and world music, although admittedly the ever-shrinking center of my target is rock and selected pop. To repeat, I’m an unabashed fan of melody and songcraft.
My tastes seldom run to country, rap, hip-hop and contemporary AutoTune muddle pop (watch the introductory video for commiseration), but I differ from most listeners of my advanced age group in having learned over time to respect these genres for what they are. I like ALL music. I just don’t LISTEN to all of it, because there are types I like better than others.
My year in pop/rock concert viewing included U2’s Joshua Tree reprise in Louisville; a classic rock lineup of Edgar Winter, Alice Cooper and Deep Purple in Indy; and Lindsey Buckingham and Christine McVie at the Louisville Palace. Riffing on Edgar’s biggest selling album, I seldom go out at night, and as a result, my “live” music days are mostly in the past.
So be it; the drinks are cheaper this way.
Honorable mention for 2017:
Alice Cooper … Paranormal
Arcade Fire … Everything Now
Dan Auerbach … Waiting on a Song
Tom Chaplin … The Wave
Cold War Kids … La Divine
Richard Dawson … Peasant
Doing It in Lagos: Boogie, Pop & Disco in 1980s Nigeria
Downtown Boys … Cost of Living
Father John Misty … Pure Comedy
Neil Finn … Out of Silence
Flaming Lips … Oczy Mlody
Future Islands … “The Far Field”
Goldfrapp … Silver Eye
Robyn Hitchcock … Robyn Hitchcock
The Killers … Wonderful Wonderful
Maroon 5 … Red Pill Blues
JD McPherson … Undivided Heart & Soul
John Mellencamp … Sad Clowns & Hillbillies
Van Morrison … Roll with the Punches
Morrissey … Low in High School
Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real
Robert Plant and the Sensational Space Shifters … Carry Fire
Nathanial Rateliff & the Night Sweats
Sheer Mag … Need to Feel Your Love
Roger Waters … Is This the Life We Really Want?
Paul Weller … A Kind Revolution
Wolf Alice … Visions of a Life
Yusuf/Cat Stevens … The Laughing Apple
It’s important to note the many joys of the preceding: Sheer Mag channeling ACDC and Thin Lizzy with a powerhouse female vocalist; the sheer weirdness of English folky Dawson; Father John Misty’s lyrics; the roots brilliance of late period Mellencamp; Weller’s routine excellence; the Downtown Boys’ anthems for street protest marches; and even the Arcade Fire disco album.
But these albums didn’t plant themselves in my head in quite the same way as the Top 30 for 2017.
30 The Cribs … 24-7 Rock Star Shit
29 Matthew Sweet … Tomorrow Forever
28 Paramore … After Laughter
27 Phoenix … Ti Amo
26 Afghan Whigs … In Spades
25 Depeche Mode … Spirit
24 Ride … Weather Diaries
23 War on Drugs … A Deeper Understanding
22 White Reaper … The World’s Best American Band
21 Fastball … Step Into Light
20 The XX … I See You
19 Cheap Trick … We’re Alright!
18 Kasabian … For Crying Out Loud
17 New Pornographers … Whiteout Conditions
16 U2 … Songs of Experience
15 Rainer Maria … S/T
14 Liam Gallagher … As You Were
13 British Sea Power … Let the Dancers Inherit the Party
12 Alvvays … Antisocialities
11 Sleaford Mods … English Tapas
10 Sparks … Hippopotamus
09 Elbow … Little Fictions
08 Lindsey Buckingham Christine McVie … Buckingham McVie
07 Foo Fighters … Concrete and Gold
06 Michael McDonald … Wide Open
05 Squeeze … The Knowledge
04 The Amazons
03 Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds … Who Built the Moon
02 Temples … Volcano
01 Deep Purple … inFinite
No reviews, just my inner reality. It was a fine year in 2017, and already there are emerging ear worms among the 2018 releases from Shame, Simple Minds and Django Django, to name just three.
And, I’ve also been catching up with CDs from previous years by Travis, the Charlatans and the Len Price 3.
The best news of all for 2018: there’ll be a new Manic Street Preachers album in April. How can it possibly top 2014’s Futurology?
We’ll know, soon enough. Listening to music happily channels the junior high school kid in me, and as age 58 approaches, that’s more important than ever.