The A to Z of 2016

This site was named after a Prince single with alphabet in its title, so if there is to be an end of year review….an A to Z seems a better way than 50 records or the calendar year which would only start with that depressing moment Duncan Jones’ tweet, the Radio 4 programme, 6Music breakfast gave us the grim news. Trying to go through it in order (pointless), in terms of releases (it wasn’t all that, as the Best of/End Of year lists suggested…a list more of brand names in music than album achievement) seems an errand for another fool so without further ado….

Adele won most of the big awards for work she did in 2015, was brave enough to discuss her post-natal depression to Vanity Fair’s Lisa Robinson and announced four summer 2017 dates for Wembley Stadium by singing Baddiel, Skinner and the Lightning Seeds. A is also for Radiohead’s A Moon Shaped Pool because R, M and P were taken.

Bowie and Blackstar. What a way to leave the stage.

Christine and the Queens: The freshest newest act to hit magazine covers, the TOTP Christmas Day special and endorsement from Sir Elton Hercules John. Heloise Letissier sat regally above all the other pretenders to the French dance music throne who put out music in 2016. As that includes Daft Punk, Justice, Cassius and M83, she’s ruling over some pretty distinguished courtiers.

D is for Down Down. If Kings of Leon or Kasabian did something this good….imagine the music press….except they wouldn’t, would they? RIP Rick.

This whole alphabet could have been musical talents gone forever. Earth, Wind and Fire’s Maurice White and The Eagles’ Glenn Frey were another two lost to us this year.

G is for Mark Giuliana, the incredible drummer on Bowie’s Blackstar. Bowie’s always had good drummers from Woody Woodmansey to Omar Hakim, but this guy…this guy is good.

Hype. Beyonce and Frank Ocean released records in the dark of night without pre-release interviews and hype. Which was the biggest hype they could have given them. Result: in this day and age, the dreaded insta-review, and the rest of us taking stock to figure out how good Blond and Lemonade are. And Beyonce did a new one at the Superbowl which, whoever you are and not withstanding the importance of the Black Lives Matter cause, was just disrespectful.

If You’re Feeling Sinister..anniversary gigs at a packed Royal Albert Hall, the same night at Brexit. Belle and Sebastian had them dancing from the dome to the soundstage on the floor.

Just Change It. Insta-reviews, ticket booking fees, secondary booking agencies buying all the tickets through bots, streamed records finishing top of the charts over songs which have sold more (Drake vs Justin Timberlake) and the BBC only showing two Top of the Pops a year. There are other changes in music it would be nice to make but we’re only in J.

Michael Kiwanuka. Difficult second album syndrome? Not really. This was the year when the man who came be known for the Sound of 2012 poll delivered one of the Sounds of 2016 with Black Man in a White World.

Lemmy died in the Christmas holidays of 2015 so L is for Greg Lake, who left us in December, sadly not leading to a concerted campaign for I Believe in Father Christmas to reach the top of the festive 40. The man who suggested Keith Emerson (also lost this year) should try the Moog and the rest was history (and a tour which cost them a fortune years before the Pet Shop Boys lost £1.5m on the Performance tour. Their dates at the Royal Opera House were exquisite, and presumably didn’t lose them that kind of cash).

George Michael’s death on Christmas Day was sad, inexplicable, miserable, unexpected (maybe not entirely), but a reminder of the fact this man was such a creative fulcrum from Wham! Rap aged 17 to Cowboys and Angels before he’s out his twenties, is staggering.

Nobel Prize. This was the first year they gave one to the guy in Wyclef Jean’s Gone ‘Til November video. Unless Herta Muller or V.S. Naipaul were in it and I missed them.

Lapsley, Operator. Another sound of 2016. And (sort of) 1977, or whenever you carbon date the height of disco.

Phife Dawg and Q-Tip joined forced for A Tribe Called Quest’s We Got It From Here…Thank You 4 Your Service, their final album and first for eighteen years. 2016 wasn’t just the year of the musician death, it was the year of the fitting valedictory statement. In place of a last will and testament for the fans, they got to leave a great record without the hassle of probate.

Revolver. Like Blonde on Blonde and Pet Sounds, 50 years young. Anniversary pieces all round, including this one I wrote for

Songs In The Key of Life…performed in full at Hyde Park. A magical four-hour night. Critics sniped that it was overlong, but any gig where the setlist actually has the words “Superstition etc” written and Stevie drops a DJ set including When Doves Cry and Kiss into the encore, is not too long for me.

Tapestry was also performed in full at Hyde Park. Carole King tore through that in around 40 minutes. So we had the cast of Beautiful, a selection of her hits for other people like It Might as Well Rain Until September but, above all, we had the unimpeachably great set of songs from 1971. (A book on that year, 1971, by David Hepworth, was probably the music book I enjoyed most in 2016).

Unforgettable. The orchestra pulled together by Jules Buckley performing Soul Bossa Nova in front of Quincy Jones himself for the Quincy Jones Prom. It’s etched on my memory but finding it online means it has to stay unforgettable.

The Vault. With Prince gone, and half-sister Tyka in charge of the estate, the questions remain. He’s made two unseen films. The Crystal Ball triple album. Every live show recorded for posterity, including the Piano and a Microphone shows. All in the mythical vault at Paisley Park, waiting to be opened. When? When? When?

X Factor. Respectfully, it’s over. With two episodes of TOTP a year, and Jools Holland starting Later and Later (gone midnight) and taking the self-indulgent move of heading to Maidstone, the only music show on TV that matters – even if you despise it, it breaks new acts and it’s where the big acts come to perform their hits – is in trouble. The second Christmas single in a row to miss the top three, a lack of big acts (no Beyonce, Justin Timberlake or Adele performing but they did have Honey G, James Arthur and Louisa Johnson, twice) and a feeling that another reinvention may be beyond them.

You Want It Darker. Leonard Cohen says goodbye in just as classy a way as Bowie. A meditation on death, hope, love and unfinished business getting close to being cleared up.

Zoolander. The sequel had Sting. The Original had Bowie. So thank you 2016 for making us remember how good 2001’s Zoolander was by giving us Zoolander 2. For those clamouring for a sequel to a film we love, Zoolander 2 gave us pause for thought.

“…Feeling” – Good!

This site was dedicated to pop music, old and new, which made me get out of my seat, lost myself, find myself, get emotional, stop me in my tracks or just smile or dance. Not asking much.
Its name was inspired by Prince and just as I was getting it off the ground, we lost him. So ever since then, I’ve been listening to his music and there hasn’t felt the need to listen to someone else. Why would you when you’re wading through a catalogue as vast as his with the vault still to be discovered, right?
Then a song stops you in your tracks. The new James Blake album popped in my ears, and the new-ish PJ Harvey song landed late towards me, but then another song, destined to be this year’s Blurred Lines/Get Lucky/Uptown Funk rolled into town.
Justin Timberlake has long been trying to fill the loafers of Michael Jackson (“that’s a big glove to fill” as he told THE FACE ahead of Like I Love You), but with Can’t Stop the Feeling (let’s gloss over the fact it comes attached to a cartoon he’s voiced), he’s madde his most perfect lift of what made Jacko great. Max Martin (who else but Max Martin) has thrown the kitchen sink and the whole John Lewis utensils department at it. There’s a sneaky bassline (like Le Freak), a guitar break like Stevie’s Do I Do, a slowed down and speeded up vocal (like George Benson’s Gimme The Night), fingerclicks like Patrice Rushen’s Forget Me Nots) and a choir singing at the end (like Wanna Be Starting Something). It helps if you have a great chorus and you know how to sing. Whatever he and Max Martin were going for, they hit.
And it’s summer. No 1 all over the world guaranteed.

If it’s magic….When, not if….

Stevie Wonder’s Songs in the Key of Life, coming to Hyde Park on July 10th, threatens to be the greatest live event in the history of recorded sound.
That of course could be interpreted as an exaggeration. Intead, let’s look at why if anything it’s an understatement.
This record, forty years ago, is a double album which faces down all similar double albums in the genre (The White Album, Exile, Sign O The Times, Physical Graffitti, The Wall) and comes out singing and dancing on top of them all. It would be wrong in itself to say that Sir Elton John, President Obama (Michelle prefers Talking Book), George Michael, Kanye West can’t all be wrong but they agree on this. Songs in the Key of Life is the greatest album of all time. They make a strong case.
There are so many aspects which make this album exceptional and make the idea of a live concert irresistible.
If you start an album with a choir singing Love’s In Need of Love Today, and Have a Talk with God, as relevant today as they were 40 years ago, anyone who wants to dismiss those sentiments as trite, can listen to the third track, Village Ghetto Land. Stevie sings “would you like to go with me/down my dead end street” and before too long, you’re in a world of looting, beggars watching and eating their meals from wheely bins (Stevie sings “garbage cans” but this concert is off Park Lane, London) and environmental waste and extreme poverty. It could be Detroit or LA in 1976, London in 2016 or so many parts of Africa or Asia. Stevie finishes the song, a natural companion piece to Innervisions’ Living for the City: “Now some folks say that we should be/ Glad for what we have/ Tell me would you be happy in Village Ghetto Land.”
Are you sitting comfortably? The strength of this album is that frequently you’re not. It conjures up every emotion, from thought to movement on the next track.
The funk workout of Contusion wouldn’t normally be played at a Stevie Wonder concert but it will here – another fact that will make Songs in the Key of Live even more special.
If at this point of the concert, someone asks you to go and get a drink, or a small person asks for a loo break, say no.
You’d better be rooted to the spot. Or dancing. Dancing’s fine, but just don’t go anywhere. Following Contusion, Stevie and band will go into Sir Duke, I Wish, Knocks Me Off My Feet and Pastime Paradise. Four totally contrasting songs about the genius of Duke Ellington, being older (Stevie was 26 when he released this), one of the most romantic love songs of the modern age and a song about death which has been sampled into an international No 1 about (I’ve heard) Coolio and Michelle Pfeiffer teaching in the inner cities. Duke Ellington never did that.
Just when most groups would have run out of juice – and this is a solo record, remember- he drops the happy-sad Summer Soft, which will sound sublime on a summer’s day in one of central London’s greenest plains, Ordinary Pain, and when you think the music is like nothing you’ve heard on earth, he moves to a different solar system with Saturn. Ebony Eyes is ridiculously catchy, and he hasn’t even reached Disc 2 yet.
Isn’t She Lovely is about his baby daughter Aisha who has been joining him on the US gigs to sing it (perhaps don’t expect a bathtub in the Hyde Park gigs), the procession of Joy Inside My Tears, which nails sad-happy in the same way that Summer Soft on Disc One nails happy-sad.
This is the point you think you’ve heard everything. So Stevie will add double-history in the form of Black Man. Time will tell if the crowd at Hyde Park will shout out “Benjamin Banneker – a black man” to the questions from the band of who wrote the first almanac.
Not many musicians could deftly segue from history to geography, as Stevie does, with Ngiculela – Es Una Historia, which is Zulu and Spanish for “how many great songs on one set?”
You should know As, and Another Star soundtracked the BBC’s Brazil World Cup before he rounds off with All Day Sucker and Easy Goin’ Evening (My Mama’s Call).
Even if you’ve not heard this track, Mark Ronson has, as he asked Mr. W to repeat the same lazy harmonica on the opening and closing tracks to his last album, Uptown Special.
And that’s that. Unless he decides he wants to encore with Superstition, Higher Ground, For Once In My Life or Signed Sealed Delivered (I’m Yours), in which case you wouldn’t talk him out of it. 
If he didn’t perform those hits, you might in ordinary circumstances be disappointed, but these are no ordinary circumstances.
Songs in the Key of Live will be a history, geography and most of all music lesson in tecnical excellence. It will be the best example available of the album as live concert which works. If Paul McCartney performed The White Album in its entirety, you’d have to sit through Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da or The Continuing Story of Bungalow Bill. If Ringo performed Blackbird, you’d ask for your money back. But this one man, and his band, are going to make some beautiful sounds.
Yes, the band. Well, when you look at the musicians on Songs of the Key of Life, Herbie Hancock on Fender Rhodes piano, Nathan Watts on bass (Stevie’s Musical Director for so many decades), Greg Phillinganes, who played keys on Off The Wall and Thriller, Minnie Riperton on backing vocals for Ordinary Pain, Michael Sembello (of Flashdance’s Maniac fame) on Saturn. The lead guitar on All Day Sucker is from the man who wrote the theme for The West Wing (WG Snuffy Walden). It’s ridiculous.
Best of all, even if you do want to hear other tracks, you can enjoy two hours straight without some numbskull calling for I Just Called To Say I Love You. He may even do the ten minute version of Do I Do, from Musiquarium.
It promises to be quite an evening.
Now..does anyone have a spare ticket? That doesn’t involve handling charges of £8.60 a pop. Thank you.