I’ve written before about how my favorite radio station, WXPN, has been taking novel approaches to their programming for watch of the past eleven Octobers by conducting specialized countdowns based upon listener votes.
This year, they’re doing something different. While I don’t know exactly how they’re going to do it this year, the topic of discussion is the greatest year in music.
I have a problem with this idea at its most basic level. In any given year, there’s bound to be good music and bad music, but there’s something more important than that. If you look back to the ten albums that I voted for in the countdown for the greatest albums in 2005, for example, two albums on my list were all released in the same year: Tori Amos’s Under the Pink and Nine Inch Nails’ The Downward Spiral came out in 1994 (and Portishead’s Dummy nearly made my final list, also from the same year).
So that’s at least an argument for that year, isn’t it?
The problem is that the big event in music from that year, is the suicide of Kurt Cobain, the frontman for Nirvava. And the sadness from the death of a highly regarded musician can be a stain on just about any year for which we might otherwise vote. A lot of great music came out in 1970, the year Jimi Hendrix died. You can say the same thing about 1977, tempered by the death of Elvis Presley. Ditto for 1980 with the tragedy that was John Lennon. 1981? Harry Chapin. 1984? Marvin Gaye. 2009? Michael Jackson. 2011? Amy Winehouse.
The loss of a talented musician is a tragedy, and it happens every year. (This year alone, we’ve already lost Lesley Gore, Percy Sledge, Ben E King, and B.B. King).
So I can’t do it. At least in the era of rock music.
It’s not really subject to a vote like in past years, but in order to ease myself of the sorrow of the death of important musicians, I’m going to say that the greatest year in music was 1786. Mozart first performed The Marriage of Figaro, Beethoven was starting to make a name for himself, and baroque music was on the rise.
But there really was no “greatest year in music”. You can find good and bad music in any year. And if you look at the people who created it, there are real triumphs and tragedies each year, too.
Still, if you want my guess as to which year is going to end up being declared the greatest year, it’s not very hard to predict. Just look to the year in which the album that placed at number 1 back in ’05 for the greatest album countdown, and the year of the number one most memorable musical moments from the ’07 countdown: 1969.
Just look away from the deaths of Brian Jones, Judy Garland, Frank Loesser, and Pee Wee Russell that year.