There is no such creature as a “typical” year in music. That having been said, 2014 was arguably more noteworthy than most. Forget digital downloading, streaming music services are the new trend not only driving the music industry but at least two items on this list. The year also witnessed a superstar make the choice to gracefully ride off into the sunset at the pinnacle of his career. And, a sad fact of life for any site covering roots music, too many great musicians took a more permanent bow in 2014. Beyond that, there was typical mixed-bag of great albums, musical milestones and miscellaneous weirdness.
Without further ado, then, here are 14 memorable music moments from 2014:
#14) Saying Goodbye
The year saw the loss of several notable artists, including GWAR frontman Dave Brockie, Cream bassist Jack Bruce, soul-rock British Invasion vocalist Joe Cocker, sax player Bobby Keys (who backed Buddy Holly and The Rolling Stones among many others), seminal country/roots instrumentalist Arthur “Guitar Boogie” Smith, eccentric bluesman Little Joe Washington and blues guitarist/Woodstock alum Johnny Winter.
#13) Back in the Saddle Again
Garth Brooks released his first studio album in 13 years.
#12) The Blues is Where You Find It
The Mississippi Blues Trail added a number of new markers commemorating (among others) bandleader, trumpeter and producer Willie Mitchell; the legendary Sonny Boy Williamson and the town of Moorhead, Mississippi — commemorated in W.C. Handy’s seminal “Yellow Dog Rag” as the place “Where the Southern cross the Dog.”
#11) Festival Tragedy
A drunk driver plowed into the crowd at the annual South by Southwest music festival in Austin, killing four and injuring many more.
#10) Out in the Country
Reflecting the changing face of country music, two well-known artists, Ty Herndon and Billy Gilman, came out as gay.
#9) You Don’t Have To Go Home, But You Really Can’t Stay Here
A number of historic music venues closed or announced they would close, including New York City’s Roseland Ballroom, Nashville’s Owl Farm and Dallas’s Lakewood Theatre.
#8) But Does He Play a Mean Pinball?
The Who’s Roger Daltrey warned pop heartthrob Justin Bieber that if he doesn’t get himself under control, he’s going to end up like Keith Moon. Daltrey thus becomes the first person in the history of the universe to mention both Justin Bieber and Keith Moon in the same sentence.
#7) Sure, you could do it the Easy Way
Greil Marcus demonstrated why he may be the greatest living music journalist/historian with the publication of “The History of Rock ‘n’ Roll in Ten Songs.” Eschewing big names and instantly recognizable hits, it is an accessible, enjoyable and educational work examining the origins and evolution of rock through music by ten artists most of us have never heard of.
#6) Life Imitates Art?
AC/DC drummer, Phil Rudd was charged with soliciting muder-for-hire (weren’t they supposed to be the ones offering “dirty deeds, done dirt cheap?”). Charges were later dropped for insufficient evidence.
#5) Still the Man in Black
With the release of the posthumous album, Out Among The Stars, Johnny Cash showed he makes better music dead than most artists do alive.
#4) They Still Haven’t Found What They’re Looking For
Irish alt-rock supergroup U2 miscued by dumping their new album Songs of Innocence into every iTunes account. In a reaction that probably had more to do with concerns over privacy than musical approval, a lot of iTunes subscribers weren’t all that happy with the surprise gift.
#3) Off the Platinum Standard
Reflecting changing music-buying habits, it was November before any album released in 2014 hit certified-platinum status. First past the post was Taylor Swift’s 1989.
#2) It’s No Joke
In June, after a musical career stretching almost four decades, satirist/parodist “Weird” Al Yankovic hit the #1 spot on Billboard’s Hot 200 for the first time with the album Mandatory Fun (Admittedly, this had more to do with those changing music-buying habits than with new Weird Al fans coming out of the woodwork. Still, we’re proud to live in a world where this happened).
#1) Happy Trails
George Strait went out on top. In Arlington, Texas, the final concert of his farewell tour set the North American record for largest-ever indoor concert, with attendance estimated at 105,000 (Less well documented but equally the bittersweet end of an era, blues-rockers The Allman Brothers Band formally called it quits in October).
The Awaiting the Flood family wishes everyone a safe and enjoyable New Year’s Eve. We look forward to seeing you back here for more great roots music coverage in 2015.