The Year in Music 2016: Our Writers Answer Five Big Questions
The year in music was filled with dizzying highs and staggering lows – sometimes, as with David Bowie or AC/DC, all within one artist’s storyline. We saw amazing comebacks, sad farewells and some very surprising twists as 2016 unfolded. But which one stood out the most? And what can we look forward to as the calendar flips to 2017? We gathered our writers for a roundtable discussion …
1) What was the biggest classic rock highlight of 2016?
Michael Gallucci: Bowie released one of his greatest albums just days before he died. It was already a deep, poignant work that got deeper and more poignant following his death. Bowie was always one of music’s most restless and forward-thinking artists. Blackstar not only proved it was possible to write about imminent death without pathos, it proved classic rockers don’t have to settle for recycling their pasts.
Annie Zaleski: It’s a tie between Cheap Trick finally being inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (chills!) and the amount of stellar new music released by Rockford’s finest and dozens more classic rock artists. The prevailing party line is that seasoned artists don’t have anything new to say, but musicians absolutely bucked that trend this year.
Nick DeRiso: David Bowie’s final album – and I felt that way even before his sudden passing cast the entire project in a new light. The jazz-laden Blackstar showed that he was still pushing, and pushing hard, against conventions well after many of his contemporaries have slumped into the oldies-act touring circuit.
Matt Wardlaw: I loved the hell out of the second Mudcrutch record and getting to see them play the Riviera in Chicago was so much fun. I’ve got my fingers crossed that perhaps we’ll see a live record from the tour.
Matthew Wilkening: The overall high quality of the new albums put out by David Bowie, Paul Simon, the Rolling Stones, Metallica, Iggy Pop, Leonard Cohen, Mudcrutch, the Monkees and others. We may not be getting the same quantity of classic rock records as years past, but nobody’s wasting their shot.
2) What was the biggest disappointment / saddest news of 2016?
Gallucci: In a year of way too many deaths (Prince, Merle Haggard, Leonard Cohen, on and on and on … ), David Bowie’s hit the hardest, especially coming just days after he released his last, great album.
Zaleski: For me, probably David Bowie’s death, because it was so unexpected and came two days after he released Blackstar, which is such an astounding record.
Wardlaw: Without question, the loss of Glenn Frey, David Bowie and Prince. I had only seen Bowie one time (in 1995, with Nine Inch Nails) and was hopeful that I would get another shot at seeing a full headlining show. Prince was still on my concert bucket list and it seemed like chances were good that I might be able to finally mark that one off. As someone who enjoyed both Glenn Frey’s solo work and his work with the Eagles, I felt like he still had good songs left that we were going to hear. The last Eagles show that I saw in 2013, Frey and Henley sat alone on stage with a couple of acoustics. That, along with some of the other deeper cuts they played in the first set, was really cool. I was hopeful that the good mojo of that tour might lead to something positive in the studio for the Eagles.
Wilkening: This bleeds into 2015 by a few days, but losing Lemmy, Bowie and Glenn Frey within three weeks of each other was pretty staggering. It seems our generation has arrived at the age where our musical heroes go to Vegas and / or heaven. One thing that’s pretty remarkable – all three of those artists were still running strong right up to the end, decades into their respective careers.
3) What was the year’s biggest surprise?
Gallucci: The Guns N’ Roses reunion. I figured it would happen eventually — the band was just too greedy not to take a piece of that action. But I was surprised that it came together so quickly, efficiently and with so little drama.
DeRiso: That the Rolling Stones, for so long dormant, could rouse themselves so convincingly once more with a studio return to their blues roots. Blue and Lonesome showed you can go home again.
Wardlaw: Probably the ARW tour from Jon Anderson, Trevor Rabin and Rick Wakeman. I was surprised that it finally happened and that Anderson was in such good form vocally (after seeing some acoustic performances from him in recent years that were really so-so when it came to the vocals). As a Yes fan, I wouldn’t have placed any bets on seeing Trevor Rabin back on a concert stage, so that was a really nice surprise. I’m happy that the shows went so well and will look forward to new music from ARW in the new year hopefully — and further U.S. tour dates!
Wilkening: Axl Rose’s renaissance. I’m a Chinese Democracy tour defender, but the reunion shows with Slash and Duff McKagan were just on another level. This lineup clearly worked their collective asses off, and it paid dividends with the best Guns N’ Roses shows in who knows how long. And as if that wasn’t enough, he also swoops in to rescue and totally invigorate AC/DC’s tour. The fun he was having at that Cleveland show was so infectious. My favorite rock memory of the year was seeing Axl happily dancing at the far side of the stage, out of the sight of most of the crowd, while Angus soloed on “Let There Be Rock.”
4) We lost a lot of great artists and bands this year. How worried are you about the future of classic rock?
Gallucci: I’m more worried about artists who’ve just given up on doing anything worth hearing anymore. For every David Bowie, Paul Simon and Rolling Stones who released exciting new albums this past year, there are at least a dozen or two other veteran acts who put out lazy records that nobody heard or cared about. It’s not death that’s killing classic rock; it’s the artists’ lack of ambition.
Zaleski: There are plenty of vibrant acts preserving and extending classic rock’s legacy; to name a few, Metallica, Pearl Jam, Bonnie Raitt and Tedeschi Trucks Band. So in that respect, classic rock’s future will be fine. The genre will perhaps just sound and look different than what a lot of people are used to, which will fans to keep an open mind and embrace newer acts.
DeRiso: It’s hard not to see this as a sign of things to come, as rock’s Greatest Generation passes into old age. Then again, considering their lifestyle choices, perhaps we should be thrilled we’ve had them this long.
Wardlaw: I don’t know how much we can worry. Our favorite artists are all getting older and it seems like we’re seeing the natural changing of the guard as they start to pass on. There are legacy artists like Pearl Jam, Foo Fighters, Phish and Dave Matthews who have now been active for more than two decades (or longer) and remain strong arena draws. Naturally, I am sad to think about the day when many of my favorite bands and singer/songwriters won’t be making new music, but there are also new folks emerging each day that will fill in those gaps and it seems likely that there will be no shortage of unreleased material from cornerstone classic rock artists that will continue to be released for decades to come.
Wilkening: If this year was any indication, we should at least get quality if not quantity from the established acts. We should really think about letting some new bands into the club, because obviously the herd is thinning. No more Bowie, Motorhead, Eagles, Twisted Sister, no more Black Sabbath in about two months. Somebody needs to put Airbourne into a prime opening tour spot as soon as possible. We should all probably give more love and attention to bands such as Rival Sons, the Answer and Blackberry Smoke.
5) What album / tour / event are you most looking forward to (or hoping for) in 2017?
Gallucci: I hope there are fewer deaths in 2017. I can’t think of a year where so many important modern figures (from Bowie to Muhammad Ali) died way too young than 2016.
DeRiso: Even non-fans have to be curious if Yes and Journey will reunite with their long-departed classic-era frontmen in conjunction with their hall of fame inductions. I know I am.
Wardlaw: The news that Tom Petty and Joe Walsh will tour together in 2017 is certainly exciting. Walsh and his band have been playing great shows over the past couple of years and Petty is always fun. It will be interesting to see what sort of nuggets Petty might pull out of his catalog for the tour. As a fan, I’m also hopeful that Steve Perry will take the stage with Journey and perform at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremonies — and I’ll be looking forward to seeing Journey (sans Perry, it would appear) playing full album shows featuring Frontiers and Escape.
Wilkening: Reportedly Robert Plant’s making a second album with the Sensational Space Shifters, that’s exciting. Kiss is hinting at a new record, which is great news on its own and also gives me the chance to torture a segment of our Facebook readership by writing about them every other day. If I’m fantasy booking, I’d love to see what Guns N’ Roses could do in the studio together – and please, please let Jimmy Page be serious about making new music again.
Rockers We’ve Lost in 2016