Some asshole white critic will assuredly write rock’s annual obituary toward the end of 2006 and cite every white retread alt-rock band that got hyped that year to prove its demise. And no mention will be made of all the kick-ass black bands that came to save yo’ pale ass—Gnarls Barkley, TV on the Radio, the Roots, 24-7 Spyz, Earl Greyhound, Dragons of Zynth, Pillow Theory, Alice Smith, etc. I know, because you did the same fucking thing in 2005 . . . and 2004 . . . and 2003 . . . and 2002 . . . and . . .
Brooklyn, New York
I have a question for everyone who put the Clipse, T.I., Lil’ Wayne and the Game on top of their lists. Are you embarrassed to play it around your girlfriends, wives, sisters, mothers, grandmothers, and friends? Yeah? Then WTF are you thinking?
A.S. Van Dorston
When the hell is country radio ever going to play a black artist? Solomon Burke and Candi Staton both released what are widely considered to be career country-soul records, so the quality of music is no excuse. Does Charley Pride have to be moldering in his grave before someone else breaks the country color line?
The big names made records that didn’t work, at least for me. Dylan’s latest just seemed offhand, Costello and Toussaint seemed pointless when you can just go out and buy a Lee Dorsey (or Allen Toussaint) record, Springsteen I’ve never gotten, Vince Gill got props for his undeniable skill but seemed merely professional over four discs, Solomon Burke made a nice record that I really enjoyed but that faded away once I shelved it. Ray Davies dipped into Americana and only shone when he went back to his glam days, the Dixie Chicks were no fun even as they sang well and got off a good song like “Bitter End,” and much as I admire Tom Waits, he, like Dylan and Costello, just needs to stop. Cat Power went to Memphis, big deal: Hey Cat, how was the barbecue spaghetti? What, you didn’t try it? Go home until you learn more, we’ll talk.
Times have changed. When Neil Young wrote “Ohio” in 1970, it galvanized a nation torn asunder by political deceit and the senselessness of Americans dying in a foreign war begun under false pretenses. In 2006, we’re mired in the same issues, but we’re so apathetic that Neil’s Living With War doesn’t even resonate? Sad.
Fairport, New York
The tragedy of New Orleans continues to unfold, even as the nation has moved on. Where I live, we still have an estimated 100,000 evacuees living in soon-to-expire subsidized apartments. The overwhelming sense of anger and loss inspired by this colossal failure of public service and political will pervades the music that made my list—from the obvious (Costello and Toussaint, Spearhead, NOSC) to the more subtle (Dylan, Simon, John Mayer). “Ain’t talkin’, just walkin’, through the cities of the plague . . .”
I am still in an angry and unforgiving mood 15 months after the Katrina tragedy. Many of my favorite recordings from 2006 demonstrated that it will take more than floods, hurricanes, and gross government negligence and inhumanity to kill New Orleans (and Louisianan) music, which is in many ways the heart of what’s best about American culture. Our New Orleans, released in late November of ’05 and thus belonging more to our current year, featured a series of heartbreaking, soulful performances that made most current popular records seem like kids playing at music.
And—remember we’re in Louisiana—the Ferriday Flash resurrected himself again. Worse than his unjust radio blackballing, worse than the booze- and drug-soaked malaise that resulted from two dead sons, worse than a near-fatal perforated ulcer, worse than the suspicion that he was actually a killer, worse than being trotted out for 1,000 nostalgic award- and tribute-show “Great Balls of Fire” retreads, worse than a million divorces, the news that Jerry Lee Lewis was voluntarily cloistered, bedridden, doped-up, and watching infinite Gunsmoke reruns was strictly venomous, debilitating. Talk about ending with a whimper rather than a bang—a Roman suicide would have been better. Then, not only a new, surprisingly vital, roaring, and consistent recording (Last Man Standing), but one that led with Lewis stomping all over an all-but-uncoverable Led Zep classic (“Rock and Roll”). Folks, renewal is a reality—it doesn’t matter what you’ve suffered.
New York, New York
James Brown was a rock ‘n’ roller, goddamn it: one of the original rock ‘n’ rollers, at that. Quit getting it twisted—soul and funk weren’t even categories for music when James came on the scene. He was chopping his wood alongside Little Richard, Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley, Ike and Tina, Sam Cooke, and Screamin’ Jay, among others. Brown gets shackled to the “Godfather of Soul” label so that we can’t have an intelligent discussion of his influence and legacy. Which makes it easy for folks not to have to think of him within the rightful context of being one of rock’s pioneers. To do so means subjecting the usual sacred cows (Elvis, the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, etc.) to a comparison of bodies of work. Frankly, it’s not even a contest . . .
Brooklyn, New York
In my world, he ruled and continues to do so. I enjoy the Beatles, to name one fairly well-known band of the ’60s, but there ain’t no comparison between their accomplishment as pure musicians and what Brown did in, say, “Cold Sweat,” which came out the same year as “Lovely Rita” and which continues to detonate in my mind, while Paul McCartney seems merely polite. I never met you, James, but I’m sure going to miss you.