Was Carly Rae Jepsen‘s “Call Me Maybe” a huge hit in 2012? Hell yeah. But did Medleyville staffers select it as Song of the Year or as a runner-up? Hell no.
Tunes by they-still-got-it singer/songwriters (Bob Dylan and Graham Parker) and you-should-know-about-’em bands (Diamond Rugs and The Allah-Las) did make the cut. Here’s a look at those and some other high points of 2012.
DONALD GAVRON’S TAKE ON ’12:
* Album of the Year: Psychedelic Pill by Neil Young and Crazy Horse (Reprise).
Something magical happens when Young and his longtime stable mates Crazy Horse get together. This ballsy second collaboration in 2012 (their first was Americana) finds everyone in fine garage band form.
Honorable mention 1: Banga by Patti Smith (Columbia).
The punk songstress again weaves a web of wondrous compositions, filled with anger, religious overtones, and yearning.
Honorable mention 2: Old Ideas by Leonard Cohen (Columbia).
The sublime and subliminal existential musings of a weary soul survivor are on full display here, as Cohen’s crooning voice digs straight through to the marrow.
Honorable mention 3: Oceania by The Smashing Pumpkins (EMI).
The welcome return to form of this alt-rock band reminds everyone that Billy Corgan (the only remaining original member) is still one of the best guitarists around, and he can still craft multi-textured gems like an expert diamond cutter.
* Song of the Year: “Duquesne Whistle” by Bob Dylan.
A bouncy honky-tonk tune that is also a meditation on death — something Dylan delivers with whimsical aplomb.
Honorable mention 1: “Walk Like a Giant” by Neil Young and Crazy Horse.
A muscular and spirited mini epic from Young and company.
Honorable mention 2: “Angels” by The xx.
This hypnotic, trance-like tune is one of many exemplary cuts on this English indie band’s sophomore effort.
Honorable mention 3: “Clouds Are Lies” by The Brian Jonestown Massacre.
It’s difficult to single out this psychedelic-infused composition from the other tracks on this compelling album, reminiscent of Pink Floyd and Syd Barrett.
* Hype of the Year: American Idol‘s upcoming season.
The new lineup of judges has already been beset by diva problems. Low ratings, desperate pronouncements from the judges last season (“This is the best show ever!”) and predictability (how many white guys with guitars are going to continue to win) are signs that this show has run its course.
* Hope for the New Year: Lower ticket prices and handling fees for concerts.
There is no reason why anyone should pay more to see a concert than a Broadway play or sporting event (although these things are getting outrageous also). The obscene handling fees charged today are more than the actual cost of a concert ticket back in the day.
GEORGE HENN’S TAKE ON ’12:
* Album of the Year: Signs & Signifiers by JD McPherson (Rounder).
The full-length debut from this punk-turned-rockabilly crooner is far from a retro-sounding novelty, thanks to sharp songwriting, ace musicianship and McPherson’s suitably soulful voice.
Honorable mention 1: Glad All Over by The Wallflowers (Columbia).
After solo forays, Jakob Dylan does more than reconvene his old band: He reinvents it on an album with edgy arrangements and his most dark-hued lyrics yet.
Honorable mention 2: Falling Off the Sky by The dB’s (Bar None).
Improbably, after some 30 years apart, these critical indie-pop darlings sound better than ever on an expertly crafted reunion disc.
Honorable mention 3: Great Ideas in Action by Archie Powell and the Exports (Good Land).
Powell’s smart, angst-filled pop-punk songs are almost too life-like sketches of frustrated — and sometimes medicated — twentysomethings, but are anything but bleak thanks to such powerful hooks.
* Song of the Year: “Call Girl Blues” by Diamond Rugs.
John McCauley‘s impassioned, frayed vocals on a heart-wrenching boy-meets-hooker story somehow make his protagonist seem sympathetic, even endearing. Give the Deer Tick frontman bonus points for contributing a song this darn catchy to this side project.
Honorable mention 1: “Gravity” by Soul Asylum.
Dave Pirner & Co. capture the crunch and craft of the band’s strongest tunes on their best track since the mid-’90s — just in time for fellow founding member Dan Murphy to quit the band.
Honorable mention 2: “Arlington’s Busy” by Graham Parker and the Rumour.
Leave it to a transplanted Brit — albeit a songwriter well known for toting a king-size B.S. detector — to give Americans and the media an appropriate tongue-lashing for giving short shrift to the war Afghanistan.
Honorable mention 3: “Scratching Circles” by JD McPherson.
As McPherson describes hot licks, cheap kicks and pretty women on his jump-jiving dance floor, it sure sounds like a howling good time.
* Concert of the Year: Ronnie Wood and Friends: Golden Nugget/Atlantic City, N.J./April 21.
Wood and his impressive crack band of cronies, including longtime Rolling Stones supporting players Chuck Leavell and Bernard Fowler, did this gig as a favor to the casino’s owner. It was also a treat for fans of the guitarist, who got to stretch out and show the breadth of his impeccable playing beyond his more reserved role with the Stones.
Honorable mention 1: Old 97’s — Webster Hall/New York, N.Y./Oct. 23.
By performing 1997’s classic Too Far to Care album in its entirety, followed by a rollicking hour of choice cuts from the rest of their career, the alt-country stalwarts found a new way to show off their absurdly deep catalog.
Honorable mention 2: X — Wonder Bar/Asbury Park, N.J./Dec. 7.
The legendary foursome, whose members are teetering on either side of age 60, proved as ageless and formidable as punk rock itself.
Honorable mention 3: Dramarama — The Stone Pony/Asbury Park, N.J./May 20.
Some nine years after reuniting, the eternally unsung post-punk band showcased a bevy of new material that suggested its much-delayed new album will be worth the wait, and then some.
* Hype of the Year: Alabama Shakes release debut LP, Boys & Girls.
The young retro-soul act’s glowing review on a taste-making music blog last year launched a relentless buzz that, refreshingly, proved largely justified, as Boys & Girls finds the quartet sounding very much like old pros (having a natural soul shouter like Brittany Howard sure helps).
* Hope for the New Year: The Rolling Stones will rethink milestone celebrations.
After a run of 50th anniversary concerts featuring colossal (even for them) ticket prices, unimaginative setlists and only a couple of interesting, er, wrinkles, here’s hoping Mick Jagger and the boys will get it right on their 75th anniversary tour!
MIKE MADDEN’S TAKE ON ’12:
* Album of the Year: The Carpenter by The Avett Brothers (American Recordings/Universal Republic).
The newly expanded five piece (now featuring full-time drummer Jakob Edwards) is starting to show a more self-aware side as they get a bit older. The freewheeling Avetts who still can tear down the house as a live act are de-emphasized here in favor of a more contemplative songwriting team. The end result is maybe lyrically more pout than shout, but if the harmonies and playing are just as intense, the listeners are still in for a treat.
Honorable Mention 1: Boys & Girls by The Alabama Shakes (ATO Records).
A solid, soul-stirring debut from a band destined to be near the top of many best-of-2012 lists.
Honorable Mention 2: Local Business by Titus Andronicus (XL Recordings).
At times a bit wordy and cynical, but nonetheless, this is a spirited effort from one of New Jersey’s brightest post punk acts.
Honorable Mention 3: Enjoy the Company by The Whigs (New West Records).
A more upbeat set of songs really suits the Athens, Ga., power trio well.
* Song of the Year: “Tell Me (What’s On Your Mind)” by The Allah-Las.
This is a song that seems like it just got dug out of a time capsule, or maybe it’s a forgotten Mick Jagger/Keith Richards nugget from the mid-’60s. With its quasi-psychedelic swirl of jangling guitars, a dreamy chorus and sugary lyrics, if you were to play this for baby boomers, they’ll swear that they had this 45.
Honorable Mention 1: “Ain’t Messin Round” by Gary Clark Jr.
Some punchy brass upfront helps this toe tapper of a rock/soul gem.
Honorable Mention 2: “How to Live” by Band of Horses.
The song is moody without being dreary. It’s musically interesting without being overly complicated, and best yet, it has a cleaner sound than most of the band’s reverbed productions.
Honorable Mention 3: “Respective Coasts” by Craig Finn.
A standout song about a tough breakup carried cross country — not from Finn’s solo debut, Clear Heart Full Eyes, but instead from a compilation released by Esquire magazine called Pacific Standard Time.
* Concert of the Year: Deer Tick — The Stone Pony/Asbury Park, N.J./April 20.
There is something to be said about understanding the magic that one venue can produce for a band that wants to believe and an audience that accepts it as is. Deer Tick isn’t what one would call a tight band, but on this sweaty night in late April, it used that looseness to the best of its advantage in the way that many a group has at the Pony.
* Hype of the Year: Taylor Swift.
Ms. Swift — or better yet, the media’s infatuation with her — is a bit alarming. Why is the teen favorite seemingly on the lips of every entertainment expert older than 30? Both Swift and those who endlessly cover her need a good long break from each other, and I hope they never, ever, ever — oh, you know the rest.
* Hope for the New Year: 1990s nostalgia.
Over the summer, there was a package tour with Sugar Ray, Everclear, Gin Blossoms and Marcy Playground. If those bands with their varying degrees of talent and charm can hit the road, maybe a tour full of more critically acclaimed acts is not too far off. Imagine, if you will, a triple bill of Superdrag, Soul Asylum and Cracker hitting your favorite state fair or theater — or maybe Mary Lou Lord, Liz Phair and Letters to Cleo for the old-school alterna-chicks. It can and should happen.