Sunday, February 5, 2012
Music Milestones 2011: Teen Spirit to King Tut
Advancing age, no doubt is what makes me appreciate anniversaries and the passing of those who made a difference in our lives and culture.
Let’s start with some anniversaries and reappearances. It was thirty years since the debut of a music cable channel, chronicled this year with the publication of a book, “I Want My MTV.” It was the was 20th anniversary of Nirvana’s “Never Mind” which drummer Dave Grohl observed by releasing his seventh Foo Fighters album and a documentary film, Foo Fighters Back and Forth. Another film by Cameron Crowe for PBS celebrated 20 years of Pearl Jam. DC punk rockers, Fugazi proved you can be on hiatus and on the internet by releasing the first of some 800 recorded concerts for download on a pay what you can basis. They Might Be Giants marked 25 years with a new release.
Other comebacks included The Cars after 22 years, Aretha with a CD sold exclusively at Wal-Mart and banjo player Steve Martin, whose album of original compositions with the Steep Canyon Rangers (along with Paul McCartney and The Dixie Chicks) reprised his mega-hit from 1978, King Tut. There were a number of tribute albums, including cover collections of Buddy Holley, Hank Williams and Waylon Jennings. Woody Guthrie’s family continues to mine his archives for new collections.
Most rock bands break up more frequently than they change socks but R.E.M. made it 31 years, leaving a legacy that both musicians and wordsmiths can appreciate.
The year saw the passing of many music stars. Here are some you may have missed.
• Jean Dinning, who wrote “Teen Angel” and recorded by her younger brother Mark.
• Gladys Horton, an original Marvellete whose “Please Mr. Postman,” was Motown’s first number one hit.
• Hazel Dickens, blue grass champion of the working poor who wrote “Mama’s Hand.” Her haunting voice graced the soundtracks of Harlan County, USA and Matewan.
• Gil Robbins, a member of The Highwaymen and father of Actor Tim Robbins. He began his career as drum major for the UCLA marching band, was a backup singer for Harry Belafonte and later managed the Gaslight Café in New York City.
• Don Devito, a record producer who did Dylan’s “Blood on the Tracks” and “Desire.”
• Sylvia Robinson, who as part of a duo, Mickey and Sylvia recorded the 1957 hit, “Love is Strange” and then produced, 22 years later, the first hip-hop single, “Rappers Delight,” which sold 14 million copies for her Sugarhill Gang label.
• Tom Keith, the incomparable sound effects man for Prairie Home Companion.
• Hugh Martin who composed songs for Judy Garland to sing in Meet Me In St. Louis and penned these classic lyrics:
“Have yourself a Merry Little Christmas/ Let your heart be light
From now on our troubles will be out of sight.”
The year 2011 saw Tom Waits, Darlene Love, Alice Cooper, Dr. John and Neil Diamond enter the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Diamond was also feted by the Kennedy Center along with Sonny Rollins and YoYo Ma.
The Smithsonian announced that it has rescued the last replica of Parliament Funkadelic’s Motherhip and will put it on display at the National Museum of African American History when it opens in 2015.
Bob Dylan performed in China after agreeing not to sing several songs including, “The Times They Are a Changing” and “Chimes of Freedom.”
Finally, a fond farewell to financier and music lover Warren Hellman who, in 2001 founded the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Concerts in San Francisco’s Gold Gate Park. The free concerts showcased hall of fame talent and his philosophy about philanthropy:
“Money is like manure. If you hold on to it, it stinks. But if you spread it around, good things grow.”