Music's Obsession With Anniversaries Has Gotten a Little Out of Control
Has it been 30 years already?
The new year of 2017 was still four days away when Rhino Records announced that the City of Los Angeles would officially proclaim January 4 as “Day of the Doors,” marking 50 years to the day since the release of the Aldous Huxley-loving rockers’ debut album. Pop culture’s “everything old is new again” aesthetic and the public’s bottomless appetite for nostalgia have combined to create an endless feedback loop of anniversaries, but even then the music business and the media that covers it may have let things get a little out of hand lately. Rarely does a week go by anymore without another article arguing why this or that album deserves its rightful place in history, or at least another listen.
Now, I understand why anniversaries are important. They’re mathematical; after all, numbers don’t lie. They’re an easy way to measure our greatest achievements, both personal and cultural, even as the inevitable shadow they cast reveals how they are fading more and more into the rearview mirror.
With that in mind, Thursday morning I ran the word “anniversary” through my email archive, and can now report that 2017 marks Anthrax’s 35th year as a band, 40 for New Jersey college-radio greats the Feelies, and 50 for newly minted (at last!) Rock & Roll Hall of Famers Yes. Touring-wise, anniversary milestones this year include Neil Diamond (50), Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers (40), “Next to You, Next to Me” country group Shenandoah (30) and the John Lennon Educational Tour Bus (20). In a nutshell, PR reps will use any means necessary to keep artists’ names out there so somebody like me might write about them, and anniversaries number among their primary tools.
Besides The Doors, 1967 alone gave us the Velvet Underground’s debut; Otis and Janis at Monterey Pop; “Somebody to Love” and the Summer of Love; brilliant singles “To Sir, With Love,” “For What It’s Worth,” “The Letter” and “Ode to Billie Joe”; and, with four days left in the year, Bob Dylan’s John Wesley Harding. Just like they did in 2016, the Monkees had a pretty big year then too. Jumping ahead a bit, the big names in Houston music circa 2007 were (among others) Devin the Dude, Little Joe Washington, Million Year Dance, Paris Falls, Spain Colored Orange, SkyBlue72, the Jonbenét, Drop Trio and D.R.U.M.
Perhaps by now you have an idea what an easy rabbit hole anniversaries can be to fall into. Therefore, I spent an afternoon looking up albums released in years ending in the number “7” (plus 1992, now 25 years ago) that are important – to me, true, but to a lot of other people too. Other writers will almost surely discuss these records at length later on in the year, so consider this article just the first domino to fall.
The Beatles, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band: May be the only musical anniversary of 2017 that really matters to the more Boomer-controlled media outlets.
Aretha Franklin, I Never Loved a Man the Way I Love You: Features “Respect,” “Dr. Feelgood,” the title track and two Sam Cooke tunes, one of which is “A Change Is Gonna Come.” Sublime.
Love, Forever Changes: Never mind Sgt. Pepper’s, Arthur Lee’s masterpiece unlocks the secret history of ’60s rock: audacious, adventurous, disquieting. Revered today, it barely made a ripple on the charts.
Thirteenth Floor Elevators, Easter Everywhere: Hendrix stole the headlines, but these Texans shot the moon, bringing bluesy garage-rock to the innermost reaches of the human mind. Drugs may have been involved.
Fleetwood Mac, Rumors: Still a classic. Earworms like “Go Your Own Way” and “Dreams” continue to reveal tiny pleasures as the years (and radio spins) roll by.
The Clash, The Clash: From “Janie Jones” forward, righteous British fury and reggae. U.S. version actually superior thanks to deadly cover of Texan Bobby Fuller’s “I Fought the Law.”
David Bowie, Low: Set in a sci-fi future via Cold War Berlin, Iggy Pop lurking nearby, Bowie sheds his pop-star skin (temporarily) to bask in Brian Eno’s labyrinth of electronica.
Queen, News of the World: Maestro Freddie Mercury is at the height of his powers, even as the album never quite recovers from the opening wallop of “We Will Rock You,” “We Are the Champions” and “Sheer Heart Attack.”
Townes Van Zandt, Live at the Old Quarter, Houston, Texas: This double-length set sat fallow for four years before becoming a textbook for generations of Texas songwriters, none of whom could ever dream of approaching the fragile beauty of Townes’s doomed poetry.
U2, The Joshua Tree: Word is Bono et al.’s summer stadium tour will balance brand-new Songs of Experience with a complete run-through of this U.S.-obsessed blockbuster. “Running to Stand Still”!
Public Enemy, Yo! Bum-Rush the Show: Greater things were to come, but this is Chuck and Flav’s wakeup call to end all wakeup calls, even (and maybe especially) for us white folks in the suburbs.
Sonic Youth, Sister: Prime NYC art-rock and precursor to the next year’s Daydream Nation.
R.E.M., Document: The last “good” R.E.M. record? Nah, but their last for I.R.S. holds up better than a lot of their later work.
Lyle Lovett, Pontiac: Even stronger than his debut, Pontiac distilled Lovett’s elegant sarcasm into wordplay as glittering as the lights of L.A. County.
Alice In Chains, Dirt: Peak grunge from Seattle’s junkies from hell, led not by the late Layne Staley’s haunted vocals but Jerry Cantrell’s anguished guitar.
Dr. Dre, The Chronic: Unleashing Snoop Dogg and retrofitting George Clinton’s Mothership for the ’90s, Dre’s Compton tour de force reveals a new layer with every new cloud of smoke.
The Black Crowes, The Southern Harmony & Musical Companion: The Atlanta retro-rockers were about 25 years too late to the boogie-rock party, but too deep in the pocket to care.
TLC, Ooooohhhhh...On the TLC Tip!: Disguised under all those baggy clothes was arguably the best R&B group of the ’90s, male or female, though they wouldn’t fully ripen until CrazySexyCool.
Radiohead, OK Computer: The “forward-thinking” and “futuristic” nature of the 2017 Coachella headliners’ last great pop album may be the party line, but expect little to no acknowledgment by Radiohead themselves.
The Notorious B.I.G., Life After Death: Released two weeks after Biggie was shot dead, Life After Death intertwines MC and mythology forever after. “Hypnotize” claims rap immortality, but it’s just the start.
Old 97’s, Too Far to Care: Thermonuclear alt-country classic driven by the feverish camaraderie forged in van tours and fear of what may be waiting at home — an empty bed.
Neutral Milk Hotel, In the Aeroplane Over the Sea: Jeff Mangum’s magical lo-fi land of make-believe is a lovely place to visit, but you wouldn’t want to fall asleep there.
Bob Dylan, Time Out of Mind: As preachers and politicians fail us one after the other, Dylan, rarely better at 56, is only too happy to tell us what time it is — not dark yet, but getting there.
Spoon, Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga: After years of ramming the door to indie-rock stardom with his shoulder, Britt Daniel finally broke it down here, marshaling wicked pop smarts to ride shotgun alongside two other essential ingredients for any successful album: rhythm and soul.
Miranda Lambert, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend: “Kerosene” lit the match, but Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is what made Miranda Lambert a Nashville star — feisty, ambitious, funny and vulnerable; the anti-Underwood.
The White Stripes, Icky Thump: Jack and Meg may or may not have known Icky Thump would be their final hurrah (to date), but this hot mess of an album leaves it all on the table anyway, gleefully indulging whims like mariachi horns and Celtic folk without muting the duo’s primal thwack.
Kanye West, Graduation: Roping in Elton John, Steely Dan, Daft Punk and Chris Martin, Kanye orchestrates his most grandiose productions yet to match his flamboyantly neurotic lyrics, arguably his last record on which the songs cash the checks his ego was writing.
Kendrick Lamar, Good Kid, m.a.a.d City: Kanye to Kendrick; what a juxtaposition. The brightest rap mind of his generation proved introspection can be a star quality after all. Maybe they’re not so different.
The xx, Coexist: Skeletal and soulful, the chilly UK trio’s second album finds a balm for heartache buried underneath a pervasive feeling of loneliness. Best experienced with repeated listens in the pre-dawn hours.
ZZ Top, La Futura: Opening with "I Gotsta Get Paid," a swag-heavy reinterpretation of DJ DMD’s drug-rap classic “25 Lighters,” was probably the last thing fans expected out of a ZZ Top album, especially after a nine-year layoff. When it's all over, we could only marvel at what a premier bluesman Billy F. Gibbons is.
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