Best of lists are by definition pretentious, so I thought I’d avoid the whole argument and just go with my ten favourite moments of 2013. It’s really the same thing in the end, and it just feels more honest!
So without further ado, here are my 10 favourite musical moments of 2013:
- Jake Bugg
The young man from England (he’s one day older than Justin Bieber, but seems more mature by 50 years. At least.) made quite an impression with his self titled first release in late 2012 (at the tender age of 18!), and he’s followed through a year later with Shangri La, an impressive follow up. They say you have a lifetime to write your first album and 6 months to write your second. In his case, he’s so young that both periods almost balance out. His voice is a mix of Bob Dylan, Neil Young and Johnny Cash, and his music seems to be as old as these guys (except when he betrays his age by mentioning Twitter). I’m not sure how much commercial success awaits him, but he will be a bright star for years to come, whether or not the public catches on.
- The Winery Dogs
This super group, composed of Mike Portnoy, Billy Sheehan and Ritchie Kotzen was a big surprise, with its classic rock and catchy melodies. The band doesn’t thread new ground, but the songs are really well done and the musicianship is stellar. Since it’s a side project for all three musicians, it remains to be seen how much leg the band will have (especially with serial drummer Mike Portnoy’s habit of jumping from band to band) but let’s hope for a few albums out of these guys, and more touring. Read my review here.
- Rush makes it to the Rock n Roll Hall of Fame
OK, so the Hall’s pretty much a joke: it’s a museum that inducts people to fill its walls, and to put on a yearly show. It’s run by a bunch of snobbish critics (led by Jann Werner of Rolling Stone) who have a strange definition of rock and seem totally unaware of who influenced who. Their disdain of progressive rock is legendary, but this year they voted in Rush, who’ve been having a sort of resurgence in the last 6-7 years. The bad’s continually set the high bar for musicianship and literacy in their lyrics, and in their live performances, they were pioneers in the use of lasers and lighting. For 40 years of continuing excellence, we’re willing to forgive the fashion faux pas over the years, like the satin pyjamas from the 70’s, and Geddy Lee’s mullet from the 80’s. It’s too bad that guitarist Alex Lifeson had to act like a dumbass at their induction, and stretch a bad joke several minutes past its due time. Kudos to the Foo Fighters for their intro performance.
- A Band Called Death
An heart warming documentary about 3 brothers who formed a band in the early 70’s and started writing songs. Their music owed a lot to the era’s Detroit rock sound, but also ventured where few had gone before and to a certain extent laid the foundations of punk rock. While on the verge of being signed by Clive Davis, they were asked to change their name but they refused, torpedoing their shot at stardom. Their music was forgotten (much like Rodriguez, another Detroit musician from the early 70’s that time forgot until a documentary, Searching for Sugarman, brought him back to the spotlight) until the Internet and dumb luck got it out again, 40 years later. Read my review here.
- Sound City
Another documentary, this time about Dave Grohl’s quest to return to the legendary Sound City studios and chronicle its story. One Neve console later, he recorded an album with legendary guest stars to try to recapture the magic. Highlights include a song with Stevie Nicks called You Can’t Fix This, that just might be the best Fleetwood Mac the band never recorded, and a track combining Sir Paul McCartney with the remaining members of Nirvana, recorded through the soundboard that captured Nevermind. Think about it for a minute! The best way to describe this movie is as a love letter to the art of record making.
- The History of the Eagles
Both a 3 hour documentary and a tour, The History of the Eagles was the overarching theme of the band’s activities this year. The documentary went into a lot of details to cover their history, music and feuds, and despite the pretentiousness of having Glenn Frey and Don Henley spend 3 hours telling us how great they are, I walked away feeling I had a better understanding of why they rule their band with an iron fist. The tour was simply fantastic, covering their entire history (except 2009’s Long Road Out of Eden) and proved again that The Eagles might be an overplayed part of classic rock radio, but there’s a reason for it: they’re a kick ass band too.
- Hans Zimmer’s score to Man of Steel
If you thought Zimmer was facing one hell of a challenge following in the footsteps of Danny Elfman’s iconic Batman score, it was nothing compared to having to come up with an original voice for the Superman reboot. John Williams’s score to the 1978 movie is quintessential movie music, and it embodies perfectly that Truth, Justice and the American Way approach to Superman. This new version of Superman comes during more cynical times, and is more concerned about the inner turmoil of the character than his high flying heroics. Zimmer’s score wisely avoids attempting to out fanfare Williams, instead opting to score that inner strength. While the result will never reach the public consciousness the way Williams’s music has, Zimmer’s score is the perfect voice for this bleaker take on the 75 year old character.
- The Rolling Stones turned 50
Few could say they expected the Stones to survive the 70’s, let alone live to be 70. Arena rock is nearing retirement age, and but the Stones are still rolling. Is it the end though?
- Albums dropped without any advance notice
David Bowie did it, then Beyonce did it. Lady Gaga released her single ahead of time “because she couldn’t wait” (I still think it was planned to get out ahead of Katy Perry). This reminds me of the old days when we didn’t have access to up to the minute Twitter updates by artists, and BOOM, a new album by an artist you liked would land. Sort of gets rid of a lot of the hype. I like it.
- Queensrÿche’s self titled album
So we have two Queensrÿches now. You’d think it’d be double the fun, but no. Singer Geoff Tate’s version came out with an album that embodies everything that’s been wrong with the ‘ryche since the early 90’s: bad songwriting, and a reluctance to write songs that could truly be called Heavy Metal. Meanwhile, most people didn’t give much of a chance to the version made up of the rest of the band, with former Crimson Glory frontman Todd LaTorre on vocals, but they came out with a record that is pure Queensrÿche and offers solid material. While no one will ever mistake it for Operation: Mindcrime, it is nevertheless the type of album that fans have been waiting for.
The contenders who could have made the list:
Brian Tyler’s score to Iron Man 3, especially the retro 70’s end title track Can you Dig It?, Goblin’s first ever North American tour, Muse’s tour, Nightwish’s Nightime, Storytime live DVD, the Elvis at Stax archive release and Slash’s first ever soundtrack for the horror film Nothing Left to Fear.