In 2012, readers flocked to a boisterous discussion on those times when the Beatles didn’t exactly impress.
Who knew there were so many people who don’t become violently ill — like we do — every time “The Long and Winding Road” comes on? The Fab Four’s entry in our always-heavily-debated Sucks Series was not only the best read thing here, it remains a hot spot for emotional debate, some 12 months after publication.
Elsewhere, Bob Dylan earned two nods on our 10-item list for most viewed stories in 2012 — first, as part of a discussion on his memorable collaborations with the Band, and then with the release of his celebrated new studio release Tempest.
[BEST OF 2012: We dug through everything - from rock and jazz to blues and prog, from live stuff to studio projects to bulky reissues - on a mission to divine the absolute best of the best for last year.]
New albums from Rush, Neil Young and Mark Knopfler and Donald Fagen — each of them representing, in their own way, a return to form from a signature classic-rock voice — each placed high in the 2012 reader poll.
An emotional reunion appearance featuring the surviving members of the Monkees was also a huge hit with their fans, as were talks with Steve Lukather on Toto, and Adrian Belew on the future of King Crimson.
As always, complete reviews, interviews and an opportunity to comment can be found by clicking on the titles …
SOMETHING ELSE! INTERVIEW: ADRIAN BELEW: Belew’s just-completed tour with Tony Levin and Pat Mastelotto presented an opportunity to revisit their time in King Crimson. Unfortunately, Belew says, partial reunions are all that fans are likely to see for the foreseeable future. Those joint concert dates, which saw the Adrian Belew Power Trio headlining a combined bill with Levin’s Stick Men, were highlighted by a King Crimson-focused encore that saw Belew, Levin and Mastelotto making rare appearances together on stage. Belew told us that he feels that they’re still just scratching the surface of the 1990s-era Robert Fripp-led six-piece experiments. He also talks about the difficulties in relearning Crimson’s complicated catalog and the suddenly murky future of the band. — Nick DeRiso
NEIL YOUNG, WITH CRAZY HORSE – PSYCHEDELIC PILL (2012): He opens with “Driftin’ Back,” a thunderous, nearly half-hour track that equals and, in some cases, surpasses so many of the songs that seek to contextualize the 1960s. I’m not sure anyone has better illustrated the impotent fury that followed for those who worked so hard toward change, only to see it all come to such a thudding conclusion. The album might have ended right there, if Psychedelic Pill — due October 29, 2012, from Reprise Records — were sequenced differently, if it only sought to look back. Instead, Crazy Horse is then granted a chance to do what it does best — to completely rock out, and thus recall every one of its earlier, floor board-rearranging triumphs with Young. In that way, they end up reconstructing the soaring promise, and the boundless joy, of the decade Young started out eulogizing here. — Nick DeRiso
MARK KNOPFLER – PRIVATEERING (2012): Knopfler works with a loose theme here, that of living by your wits on the high seas, but the broader messages found on Privateering are sure to resonate with anyone who’s faced down life’s mighty struggles. It’s been three years since the former Dire Straits frontman issued Get Lucky, and he clearly has been busy: This album includes 20 new original songs — to go with eight additional cuts on an expanded super deluxe edition. I’m struck not just by the depth of music, though, but also by the breadth of sounds on this, Knopfler’s seventh solo album. — Nick DeRiso
BOB DYLAN – TEMPEST (2012): For all of the album’s off-handed menace, for its many betrayals, for all of its fiery condemnations, Tempest offers commiserate moments of community, of gritty determination, of desire, of grace. Nobody ever gets saved, or even forgiven, as far as I can tell, But there are tender mercies, things worth grabbing onto, fleeting pleasures for those who’ve made it this far. Dylan — occupying simultaneously the role of leathered curmudgeon who’s seen it all, and tender-eyed romantic baring his chest — once more walks the fine line of contradiction, a place he has called home for so long that it ought to be re-christened in his honor. And, wouldn’t you know it? Even 50 years in, he still never loses his balance. — Nick DeRiso
DONALD FAGEN – SUNKEN CONDOS (2012): There’s no concept this time, but there’s plenty of coherency. Mostly dwelling on themes of romance gained, maintained and lost, with just a touch of that Steely Dan absurdist humor and plenty of well-hidden jokes (most of which I’ve still yet to figure out, but that’s half the fun), Fagen is working in familiar territory with no erosion of his songcrafting mojo. He remains masterful at the mid-tempo groove, fully realized bridges, and will jump on any opportunity to add an extra, enriching chord or two to keep the progressions from getting too predictable. — S. Victor Aaron
SHOWS I’LL NEVER FORGET: THE MONKEES, NOVEMBER 16, 2012: Many so-called nostalgia acts figure all the crowd wants is to hear the big hits. However, longtime fans were richly rewarded when The Monkees hit the stage and treated the audience to deep album tracks as well as the hits. In other words, fans of the Head movie were in their glory, as the now-trio — Micky Dolenz, Michael Nesmith, and Peter Tork — performed a healthy dose of the soundtrack. Along the way, the three saluted other Monkee member Davy Jones, who passed away in February 2012. Through videoclips and music, Jones was present in spirit. By the time it was over, the Monkees had accomplished their goal: celebrating their loyal fans and demonstrating that they have all evolved into top-notch performers. At the same time, they respectfully honored their departed bandmate. While the Monkees celebrated their past, they also acknowledged how far they have come as musicians. — Kit O’Toole
RUSH – CLOCKWORK ANGELS (2012): Time after time, I find myself reaching to re-cue this album when the last notes fade. What is it that brings me back? Most simplistically, it’s hearing Rush sound so vital and vibrant. Rush has typically done what it wanted to do, but just like you can sense a smile on the face of someone on the other end of the telephone line, music listeners can sense that same smile, maybe in the form of enthusiasm, in the playing. A little extra finesse here and there from Neil Peart’s expert drumming, a little something extra wild in Alex Lifeson’s guitar solo, or the flair of a grace note or two in Geddy Lee’s bassline. The band always at the top of their game — that’s what Rush is known for — but sometimes they play at the very top of the top, as here. — Tom Johnson
BOB DYLAN AND THE BAND – DOWN IN THE FLOOD (2012): A film that goes in-depth on one of rock’s most intriguing musical intersections, all of it over roughly a single decade beginning in 1966. In the end, Dylan had an incalculable impact on the Band: His lyrical mysteries, his sharply intuited narratives, permeated their earlier influences, creating an as-yet-unheard synthesis. The Band’s debut, utterly distinct, timeless and yet new, was different in every way from the ornate, polished hits of the day. At the same time, it was different than Dylan too, more vulnerable, more straight forward. As Dylan himself retreated further into the safety of country music into the late 1960s, the Band emerged with some of the guttiest, most mythically complex, most honest music of the decade. — Nick DeRiso
ONE TRACK MIND: STEVE LUKATHER ON TOTO’S “HOLD THE LINE,” “PAMELA, “HYDRA,” OTHERS: As Steve Lukather and Toto returned for a series of concert dates, the celebrated guitarist stopped by to explore a number of tracks from his time in the band — including “Hold the Line,” “Hydra” and “Pamela” — as well as a memorable moment as a sideman with Eric Clapton: “I talked my way into the Clapton session, because I wanted to meet him. It was the only time I have ever been nervous in my life. It was pretty funny. I just played a little rhythm guitar. I kind of froze up a little bit. It was the only time that ever happened to me. I kept saying: Oh, my God. That’s fucking Eric Clapton.” — Nick DeRiso
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. — S. Victor Aaron and Nick DeRiso