In Memoriam 2016: LxListening

2016 was not-so-great, and most pertinently here, it was the year the music died. Not only did we lose three stone-cold legends in David Bowie, Prince, and Leonard Cohen, we also lost many more way too soon.  So below is a brief tribute to some of those we will miss the most as well as an In Memoriam playlist with some of my favorite songs from these artists.

Sharon Jones

No one in 2016 brought more joy and energy to the stage than Sharon Jones. The soul singer, backed by Brooklyn’s soul revue band the Daptones, was the face of relentless joy and perseverance. Jones’s musical career didn’t start until her 40’s, where before she worked as a correctional officer on Rikers Island. Over the last 15 years, Jones has provided a shot of happiness everywhere she performed, including the last three years where she continued to perform even as she recovered from pancreatic cancer. However, she finally lost her battle to pancreatic cancer after a stroke on Election night that deteriorated her health after that. The world became a little less bright after her loss.

Phife Dawg of A Tribe Called Quest

One of the most influential rap groups of all-time lost their short, fierce, and clever MC Phife Dawg aka Malik Taylor. Phife died from diabetes during the making of their latest album We Got It From Here…Thank You 4 Your Service, their first in 20 years and one of their best.

Bernie Worrell of Parliament-Funkadelic and Talking Heads

A true musical pioneer and someone who expanded the role that keyboards and synthesizers play in rock music, Bernie Worrell wrote some of music’s most memorable keyboard riffs. From Parliament’s “Flashlight” and “Hit It and Quit It” to “Girlfriend is Better” by Talking Heads, Bernie brought the funk everywhere he went.

Alan Vega of Suicide

For those that love experimental electronic music, Suicide are sort of their Velvet Underground, the band that launched a thousand bands. The electronic New York duo made apocalyptic, avant-garde music that sounded frightening and like nothing else around. Vega died this year at 78, but his legacy lives today more than ever: where electronic music is now at the forefront of popular and independent music.

George Martin, Legendary Beatles Producer

There’s been countless arguments over who the “fifth” Beatle is, whether it’s often collaborator Billy Preston, early members Stu Sutcliffe or Pete Best, but I don’t think there is any doubt that the answer is George Martin, who produced almost every Beatles song you and I know and love. Martin expanded the studio as an instrument, and was a big proponent of why rock and roll became art and not just something fun for teens to dance to.

Leonard Cohen

I’m not sure there was ever a more poetic and graceful songwriter than Leonard Cohen. Dylan was certainly a greater political and urgent songwriter, but no one wrote more gracefully about love and death than Cohen. He was never the singer that he was a songwriter, and strangely his deep, husky voice in his 80s worked better for his subjects of aging and death than in his earlier year’s. Cohen’s voice and music aged like a barrel of bourbon, and his legacy will probably do the same.

Prince

Until high school, I thought Prince was just a weird, creepy, androgynous dude. Then my friend and fellow LxLer Austin introduced me to Sign o’ the Times, Prince’s ambitious 1987 double-album, and it was all downhill from there. From the perfect pop masterpiece of Purple Rain (I can’t name many other albums that I wouldn’t change a thing about) which is the perfect medium between pop and experimental Prince, to his legendary live performances (which I sadly never got to experience in person), to his surprisingly entertaining if somewhat troubled films, Prince could do more than almost any other artist. He could sing, dance, perform, write, play almost any instrument masterfully, dress, produce, create films, and so much more. I’m not sure there’s ever been a more wholly talented musician.

David Bowie

Perhaps more than any other musician, David Bowie was a voice for the outcast. I think that’s a big reason you see so many artists today, likely outcasts in their youth, see Bowie as their biggest inspiration and hero. Bowie was also a true musical chameleon, releasing almost 50 years worth of a music, from a musical-inspired Space Oddity, to an electronic music pioneer on Low, Bowie tried on a number of characters and genres throughout his near 50-year career. At the very end, the Thin White Duke released a prophetic final statement on death and the afterlife with Blackstar two days before his passing from liver cancer. His legacy will live on from his music and the many Kooks that followed him.

For more songs we love from artists that passed in 2016, check out this In Memoriam Playlist.

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LxL’s 20 Best Songs of 2015

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We may be running a bit behind already in 2016, but better late than never. Here is what we at LxL agreed were the top tracks of 2015:

20. Alabama Shakes – “Don’t Wanna Fight”
From the moment Brittany Howards screeching intro to beers into your ears, you can feel in your bones that this track is going to be great. It does not let down one bit throughout either.

Continue reading “LxL’s 20 Best Songs of 2015”

Our 10 Favorite Bowie Albums

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Editor’s Note: Today is a sad, sad day as one of our all-time favorite musicians and a true musical chameleon has passed. David Bowie was truly one-of-a-kind and a true advocate for the outcast. So we wanted to revisit our favorite Bowie albums list, one which if we were to redo this list, his latest and final release Blackstar really probably should land towards the end of this list: his best album in 35 years. It’s the perfect mourning, funeral album. 11So please buy/stream Blackstar today as it it shows an icon still pushing boundaries and making emotionally-resonant music 50 years into his career.

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It’s a freaky deaky kinda Bowie week here at LxL. Yesterday, we brought you the five best Bowies (or Bowie characters), and Tuesday came Bowie’s first release in over a decade. We will bring you a review for that next week, but for now, how about we hit you with our ten favorite Bowie albums? The music and fashion chameleon has wore many hats (and costumes) in his career, and today we bring you the ten best. Without further ado, here are the best albums by David Bowie in our humble opinion.

10.  Scary Monsters

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Aaaaahhh…scary monsters! Bowie’s first album in the 80’s was a real return to form, showcasing the sort of glammed-out, spooky, art rock he made a name for himself making in the early 70’s. Scary Monsters also bounces into a little disco with “Fashion” as well as one of the strangest sung Bowie songs in “Ashes to Ashes”, which also makes it one of the best – it’s just so unusual and eerie in the best kinda way.

9. Station to Station

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Coming off the irresistible Philly soul and disco of Young Americans, Bowie kept some of those characteristics but made a much more experimental record in Station to Station. Headlined by the evercool “Golden Years”, Station to Station serves as the bridge between the extremely opposite albums that it falls between: the Philly soul of Young Americans and the groundbreaking avant-garde electronic rock of Low.

8. Space Oddity 

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Transforming from young Londoner David Jones into the music icon David Bowie started with Space Oddity. Still remaining one of his biggest hits today, “Space Oddity” has Major Tom (David Bowie’s first character) lifting off out into space, and Bowie never really returned –  beside the time he fell to earth in the film The Man Who Fell to Earth, AND on Earthling, AND as Ziggy Stardust on The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust…but who’s counting.

7. Diamond Dogs

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A concept album (like so many of Bowie’s albums) based on George Orwell’s 1984, Bowie fell a little without Mick Ronson on lead guitar, but Diamond Dogs still delivers on several levels. Diamond Dogs is what it would sound like if Lou Reed and Mick Jagger kidnapped Bowie and then tried to convince people they were him as to keep down suspicion.

6.  Low

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For his most groundbreaking record, Bowie hooked up with the 70’s best producer, Brian Eno, the king of ambient and experimental electronic music. The former Roxy Music member would work his magic on Bowie like he would later do for both the Talking Heads and U2, combining brilliant atmospherics with strong songcraft to make yet another timeless record.

5. Young Americans

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Whoa that boy can groove. I would imagine when Young Americans came out, there was a handful of rock music fans just furious that Bowie was steeping into the deeply divisive genre of disco, but man did he knock it out of the park with Young Americans. Not only did the album produce three huge disco singles in “Young Americans”, “Fame”, and “Fascination”, but the album as a whole just swings and grooves like John Travolta on some funky acid.

4. The Man Who Sold The World

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The Man Who Sold The World was Bowie’s first with guitarist Mick Ronson and its the most riff-heavy, guitar rock album of his career. Oddly enough, “The Man Who Sold The World” is probably best known not as a Bowie song, but as one of the last songs that Kurt Cobain played at MTV Unplugged: Live in New York months before he took his own life – a fitting song for an artist who felt tortured by his own success.

3. Aladdin Sane

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Following the one-two punch of Hunky Dory and Ziggy Stardust will leave you knocked out 99% of the time, but Bowie managed to stay on his feet and deliver with Aladdin Sane. Aladdin Sane is the sound of David Bowie taking the glam-rock of Ziggy Stardust to a high-end New York jazz lounge at 2 in the morning.

2. The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars

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Our top two literally ended in a scoring tie (we occasionally rank and score albums with difficult lists), but just missed out with our tie breaker. Why is Ziggy Stardust so great you ask? Bowie combines his freaky vibe with the second best slew of songs of his career to make more than just a great album but a statement. The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust documents an androgynous alien rock star trip to Earth to tell people of its extinction in five years, only to meet his own at the hands of his own destructive behavior. The album stands as an anthem and rallying point for the oddballs, the weirdos, and those who just don’t quite fit in, rest assuring those that feel oh so lonely that “you’re not alone.”

1. Hunky Dory

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The crown jewel of Bowie’s catalog is Hunky Dory. Mixing glam-rock with cabaret and pop, David Bowie released 11 songs of pure songwriting gold. My favorites remain the endearing weirdo’s love song “Kooks” , the freak stomp of “Oh! You Pretty Things”, the heartwarming, showtuney shuffle of “Fill Your Heart”.  You also get some mega classics in “Changes”, “Queen Bitch”, and “Life On Mars”. Not to mention, Bowie had time to write “Song for Bob Dylan” and “Andy Warhol” as tributes to two of his artistic heroes. What does this album not have?

Just Missed

WesHeroes

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Like Low, Heroes splits about 50/50 in terms of instrumental and vocal songs, but when Bowie and company sing, they shine. Guitarist Robert Fripp of King Crimson fame helps the songs rock and Bowie’s singing, especially on his career-centerpiece and arguably greatest song “Heroes”, helps these songs soar.

Todd – Let’s Dance

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Anyone who knows Todd knows he likes to get on a good gawky giraffe dance once and a while. Let’s Dance allows him to do this, and for this, Todd is forever grateful to the Thin White Duke.

Austin – Heathen

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Heathen is one of Bowie’s late career gems, and with this album resulting from a collaboration and tour with Trent Reznor made this a surefire just miss for Austin, whom adores the both of them.

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The 10 Worst Christmas Songs of All Time

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We at LxL have a very strong love/hate relationship with Christmas music. Last week we focused on the rare Christmas gems that exist in music, so this week we decided to focus on the hate side of that relationship. Just as every sweet needs its sour, every Bing Crosby needs its Bryan Adams. Below are a few of the Christmas songs we loathe the most. The ones that really help induce a month of radio banishment, a lot of hair pulling as well as teeth cringing, and classic holiday depression/alcoholism. So below we give you our inspiration for wearing ear plugs until January 1st. Now let’s get scroogy! Onto the list:

Editor’s note: This list originally published in 2012.
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The 10 Best Music Videos (according to LxL)

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Looking back at our first four years of LxL, we were truly shocked we never did this list. We have talked about it a number of times, but for whatever reason, we never got the guts or time to go through and figure out the best music videos ever. In many ways, music videos feel like a thing of the past, hitting their high period during the 80’s when MTV launched and in the late 90’s with Carson Daly and TRL. But the last five years haven’t exactly been terrible for music videos either, with YouTube being a primary listening tool for people, music videos have gained more relevance again. So with the recent release of music video master Grimes and Bowie’s new music film Darkstar, we give you our 10 favorite music videos ever.
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The 10 Best Musical Supervillains

 Musicians that would make for the best super villains

Editor’s Note: This list originally published in 2012. With another summer of non-stop superhero movies (including Friday’s reboot of Fantastic Four) and the release of the first Suicide Squad trailer, this seemed like a great time to revisit our favorite music supervillains.

Last week, we gave you the Best Musical Superheroes. This week, we go to the Jokers, Magnetos, and Lex Luthers of music: the best music supervillains. While music no doubt has its fair share of noble heroes, rock ‘n’ roll has a long tradition of propagating evil personas to shock and scare our culture. So in honor  of our summer filled with superheroes, here are the villains in music most capable of conquering the world.
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Spring Fever: The 10 Best Spring Albums

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For any Midwesterners out there, spring is almost certain to be one of your favorite seasons.  The summer is sweltering hot and humid.  Winter (not this year fortunately) can be cold, wet, and depressing.  Fall is probably my favorite season, because more often than not the past ten years it means I get to watch post-season Cardinals baseball.  But spring means the birds are starting another long season, and the anticipation is at a fever pitch.
Continue reading “Spring Fever: The 10 Best Spring Albums”