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.
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.
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.
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.
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.