What can you say about a year in which not only did one of music’s biggest brands, U2, endure vilification for giving away their music, but that they probably deserved it?
That far fewer people bought music but far more found new ways to consume it?
That a format left for dead at the dawn of the CD era somehow became the music industry’s fastest (albeit still niche) growth area?
Yes to all of the above and the ones below, too.
1. Old leftovers became new albums
Twenty years after abandoning a series of improvised instrumental tracks and, presumably, retiring, Pink Floyd ended up creating one of 2014’s most successful albums. The Endless River was fashioned out of material deemed surplus to the band’s 1994 release, The Division Bell.
They weren’t the only ones to complete the past. Lost on the River: The New Basement Tapes comprised snippets of unreleased songs written by Bob Dylan during the 1967 recording of Dylan and The Band’s original Basement Tapes (which finally saw a comprehensive release this year) and completed by the likes of Elvis Costello, Marcus Mumford and My Morning Jacket’s Jim James.
Queen executed a similar strategy on a more modest scale on last month’s Forever, an odds-and-sods compilation featuring material recorded back when Freddie Mercury and bassist John Deacon were in the band and completed this year by Brian May and drummer Roger Taylor.
Ray Davies is already talking about revisiting a trunkload of uncompleted vintage material for a new Kinks album in 2015. It’s not a stretch to imagine acts of a similar vintage — the Rolling Stones, for instance — adopting the same approach, especially given the numerous tracks that remain unfinished from the Voodoo Lounge sessions.
2. Album leaks stopped mattering
Remember the furor that erupted over the leak of Taylor Swift’s new album and Madonna’s next one? Neither does anyone else.
3. On Dec. 4, older artists became even more marginalized
That’s the day Billboard and Soundscan implemented a fundamental change to the way it calculates its album chart rankings: it started counting streams and individual song downloads.
Specifically, 10 downloads of an individual track or 1,500 song streams now represent one album sale. Given that hit singles routinely rack up tens of millions of streams, that is no small adjustment.
One immediate effect: veteran artists, whose older audiences are less inclined to stream or download, took an immediate tumble. Pink Floyd’s aforementioned The Endless River, for example, plunged from No. 3 to No. 33.
4. Streaming gave us infinite choice — and showed how disinclined we are to use it.
Canada’s first music-streaming report finally came out in August and seemed to show that the sheer volume of material available doesn’t necessarily expand what we listen to.
As fyimusicnews.ca observed: “The top 100 list reads much like a mid-year top 100 CHR (contemporary hit radio) countdown with a few notable exceptions, including Survivor’s 1982 hit ‘Eye of the Tiger’ scoring 100.8K spins and placing 94th on the 100 list, Blue Swede’s ‘Hooked on A Feeling’ with 170.5K spins at 39 (from 127) and Herb Alpert & The Tijuana Brass’s ‘Spanish Flea’ logging 211.1K streams and jumping 310 to 29 on the chart.”
5. The world was in upheaval in 2014. Not that you’d know it by the music.
What would happen if someone made an album containing a song that called for the assassination of Kim Jong-un? We’ll probably never have to find out.
Ferguson, government surveillance, the new Cold War. Other than a pair of powerful songs on D’Angelo’s Black Messiah album this month inspired in part by the Michael Brown shooting, those topics were virtually unacknowledged in song this year. We can only hope 2015 will be different, in both the world at large and the music that soundtracks it.
VINYL COUNTDOWN: The four Fleetwood Mac albums that were boxed up in 2013 are finally being issued individually. Then Play On, Kiln House, Future Games (the first to feature Christine McVie) and the luminous Bare Trees, originally released between 1969 and 1972, are scheduled for Feb. 24. Lagging behind the 40th anniversary CD/DVD release of Jethro Tull’s War Child by two months, a limited edition of the LP version is set for Jan. 13. Pressed on 180-gram vinyl, it has been remixed by Steven Wilson.
The vinyl version of the compilation The Who Hits 50, which came out on CD back in October, will finally see the light of day in early 2015. The double-LP set is due out in Canada on Feb. 3.
RETRO/ACTIVE: Can a septuagenarian pull off the punishingly long drum solo on the 17-minute album version of “In-a-Gadda-Da-Vida”? We’re about to find out.
Iron Butterfly, featuring Ron Bushy, who just turned 73, is reuniting for a tour and album, their first since 1975’s justly forgottenSun and Steel).
Bushy is the only remaining member from the lineup of “In-a-Gadda-Da-Vida,” not to mention the only member to appear on all six of the band’s studio albums. The reunited band will also feature two other members with Butterfly ties: guitarist/vocalist Mike Pinera, formerly of Blues Image (he co-wrote “Ride Captain Ride”), who joined in 1970, and Doug Ingle Jr., who’ll play organ and sing, just like his dad did.
It turns out they do make them like that any more. Featuring alumni from pop-metal gods Whitesnake (guitarist Doug Aldrich), Night Ranger (bassist Jack Blades) and Journey (drummer/vocalist Deen Castronovo), new power trio Revolution Saints have slotted Feb. 24 for the release of their self-titled debut album.
The lead single, “Turn Back Time,” is buffed to a blindingly high sheen, just like they used to do it in 1985.