Best of February 2012: Reader picks include Paul McCartney, Van Halen and (big surprise) Adele

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Little surprise here, but nothing topped Adele last month. When you diss the consensus album of the year, people tend to take notice. Heh.

February 2012 also saw the long-awaited arrival of Van Halen’s reunion album, and a new release from Paul McCartney — sparking a resurgence of interest in all things Beatles. Elsewhere, there were early peeks at upcoming projects from Todd Rundgren and Bruce Springsteen, a SER Sitdown with legendary rock drummer Kenny Aronoff (Chickenfoot, John Mellencamp, John Fogerty), and a rumination on those times when the Eagles didn’t exactly give us a peaceful, easy feeling.

Welcome to the Top 10 items from last month on, based on page views from our readers. Click through the titles for more …

No. 10

GIMME FIVE: SONGS WHERE THE EAGLES, WELL, SUCKED: The Eagles have been rightly praised for their canny combining of Glenn Frey’s city-slicker R&B with Don Henley’s country-fried rockabilly. Fans responded by sending every one of their albums to platinum status, including the 16-times smash Hotel California in 1976 and its seven-times platinum follow ups The Long Run and Long Road Out of Eden, from 1979 and 2007 respectively. That said, some of their work simply can’t be received with the best of our love. Over time, the Eagles seemed to settle into imitating their past successes, even as they slowly erased much of their rootsier early sound — not to mention Bernie Leadon. Then there was Henley’s growing voice in the band, if only because he’s always had a tendency toward pedantic, blissfully unaware fingerpointing. Which compelled us to start a list of the five worst offenders. — Nick DeRiso

No. 9

ONE TRACK MIND: KENNY ARONOFF ON KEY MOMENTS WITH JOHN MELLENCAMP, THE BUDDY RICH BIG BAND AND JOHN FOGERTY: Go inside a series of sessions with John Mellencamp, as Aronoff helps construct key elements on the singles “Jackie Brown,” “Wild Night” and “Jack and Diane” — the last, by far, the most successful but also the most difficult of them all. Find out why his guest turn on a Buddy Rich tribute project remains one of Aronoff’s most treasured memories, and how he found a kindred spirit in search of musical perfection over a decade and half tenure alongside Creedence Clearwater Revival’s John Fogerty. — Nick DeRiso

No. 8

ON SECOND THOUGHT: PAUL McCARTNEY AND WINGS – BACK TO THE EGG (1979): Released in May 1979, the album showcased a rebuilt Wings lineup, with lead guitarist Laurence Juber working in sharp counterpoint to Denny Laine. Also on board was co-producer Chris Thomas, a former assistant to George Martin for the Beatles’ White Album who brought an edgier style to much of the project — in keeping with his concurrent work with the Sex Pistols and the Pretenders. McCartney’s stated goal, back then, was to make a raw-boned rock record. And he largely succeeded, putting a bright charge into his sound after the soft-rock fluff of 1978’s London Town. Yet, Back to the Egg wasn’t the hit that McCartney’s new label bosses at Columbia had hoped, having “only” gone platinum in the U.S. The album ended up as a million-selling yet somehow overlooked swansong for Wings. — S. Victor Aaron, Nick DeRiso and Beverly Paterson

No. 7

GIMME FIVE: SONGS WHERE THE BEATLES, WELL, SUCKED: There is much about the Beatles that’s easy to love. The ornate pop, the long-haired peaceability, the arguments over which one’s your favorite. Still, lend them your ear and you’ll discover a few duds. Even a group as talented, and successful, as the Fab Four couldn’t help but round out a handful of albums with what could only charitably be called filler. Heck, they even had a few charttoppers that qualify. (Yes, we’re looking at you “Hello, Goodbye.”) We dug into the stuff that didn’t quite make their hall-of-fame resume — the ones where they took a bad song … and made it worse. (Originally posted on December 27, but still going strong with our readers.)S. Victor Aaron and Nick DeRiso

No. 6

PAUL McCARTNEY – KISSES ON THE BOTTOM (2012): This is not just a love letter to a lost era of songmaking, but one of the most evocative, deeply ardent records that McCartney has ever issued. Working in a higher vocal range that remains largely untouched by age, or his rugged third-act touring schedule, the ex-Beatle stirs up a spectacular range of emotions: The hushed, crepuscular melancholy of Peter van Steeden’s “Home (When Shadows Fall)” is matched only by the stirring resolve found on Haywood Henry’s “Get Yourself Another Fool” from this now thrice-married soon-to-be-70-year-old. McCartney’s trembling rapture throughout Irving Berlin’s “Always” finds a balancing moment in his impish hat-tipping joy during Johnny Mercer’s “Ac-Cent-Thcu-Ate The Positive.” (Originally posted as a sneak peek on January 18.)Nick DeRiso

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No. 5

TODD RUNDGREN – TODD LIVE CD/DVD (2012): These days, when it comes to Todd’s albums, it’s the two-disc pop classic Something/Anything? that gets the most love. But his 1974, lesser known Todd is by far the more musically adventurous record.  On this largely forgotten album, Todd goes from the pristine pop of songs like “A Dream Goes On Forever,” to styles incorporating everything from 1970s glam metal, to Zappa-esque, fusion-laced humor, to Brian Wilson-influenced symphonic sweep and beyond. The thing  is, Todd displays every bit the studio sophistication of much more universally lauded masterpieces like the Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds or Jimi Hendrix’s Electric Ladyland (both of which share many qualities with Todd, by the way). Yet, it receives nowhere near the same level of critical recognition as those albums do. — Glen Boyd

No. 4

BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN – WRECKING BALL (2012): Springsteen’s much-anticipated new studio album Wrecking Ball is — much as all the advance hype has suggested — a somewhat radical left turn for the artist, both musically and quite literally in the case of the lyrics. But it is also nowhere near the huge departure some of those early dispatches from the recording studio may have led some to believe. Wrecking Ball is still instantly recognizable as a Bruce Springsteen album. Reports using words like “experimental,” “loops” and “hip hop beats” to describe these songs — while not entirely off-base — don’t mean so much that Bruce has adopted some new-fangled, “hippity-hop, ya’ don’t stop” type of sound. Instead, Springsteen has simply expanded upon, and added new dimensions to the folk, blues, country and especially gospel influences that were always there anyway. — Glen Boyd

No. 3

GIMME FIVE: RINGO STARR SINGING SONGS BY THE OTHER BEATLES: As with the decades-old hit solo album for which it’s named, Ringo Starr’s Ringo 2012 includes an array of name guest stars. Unfortunately, unlike 1973’s Ringo, none of those friendly assists come from his fellow ex-Beatles. The truth is, the combination of Starr and material written by Paul McCartney, John Lennon and George Harrison has provided Ringo with many (some might say most) of his career highlights. Here’s our take on the Top 5 — with five more honorable mentions. We’ve left off, but only reluctantly, songs written by Starr or others that simply featured fellow Beatles. No, our list includes only songs that were originally composed by one of the other three Fabs. — Nick DeRiso

No. 2

VAN HALEN – A DIFFERENT KIND OF TRUTH (2012): It’s interesting that A Different Kind of Truth doesn’t always go for the easy hook (recalling Fair Warning), something that may surprise late-arriving fans of keyboard-driven pop successes like “Jump” (and certainly the subsequent period with David Lee Roth’s successor, Sammy Hagar). Some of the material requires more than one listen to completely absorb, and Anthony’s cloud-bursting tenor is missed at times. But A Different Kind of Truth has a way of burrowing in. That’s largely thanks to the presence of Roth, of course. He’s always good for spandex-splitting laugh or two. (NOTE: Fan interest in this reunion project was so high that subsequent reviews also shot into our readers Top 10 list, with Fred Phillips’ take polling at No. 3; and Mark Saleski’s piece at No. 9. So, we consolidated the rankings at No. 2, where this piece finished.)Nick DeRiso

No. 1

ADELE SWEEPS AT THE GRAMMYS, SO WE DIDN’T WE LOVE HER ALBUM MORE? We love Adele’s poise, her earthy attitude, the roiling emotion in her voice. So why don’t we love the newly crowned six-time Grammy winner’s album 21? Blasphemy, right? No question, Adele’s got the chops. Just not the material. Perhaps she is hampered by the time in which she lives. Maybe we give her too much credit for moving with startling ease past Madonna-bes like Lady Gaga and Katy Perry. She also has an almost primal spiritual force that shames fly-away countrypolitan stars like Taylor Swift. Yet Adele’s music doesn’t always match that dizzying promise. — Nick DeRiso

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