2008 in Review: Music News
First Appeared in The Music Box, February 2009, Volume 15, #2
Written by John Metzger
Fri February 6, 2009, 06:30 AM CST
When the final totals for music sales in 2007 were tallied in early January, the year proved to be better than many had expected. Even so, the news wasn’t good: Total album sales declined by 15 percent from the previous year. On the other hand, overall sales — which includes albums and singles as well as music videos and digital downloads — increased by 14 percent. In particular, sales of digital album and track downloads improved, rising 53 percent and 45 percent, respectively, from their 2006 levels. The improvements in digital sales, however, were not enough to overcome the sharp decline in the sale of physical products. Both consumer apathy — which the major labels have fed (at least in part) by playing into the notion of releasing singles rather than albums — and online piracy are to blame for the industry’s woes.
EMI planned to eliminate nearly 2,000 jobs, which amounts to one-third of its staff, as well as to cut loose a large portion of its roster of artists, many of whom didn’t earn any money for the label. The company also indicated that it would consolidate its operations in order to redefine and strengthen its core brands: Parlophone and Capitol.
The Grammy Awards celebrated its 50th anniversary in February with a surprise winner: Herbie Hancock took home trophies for Album of the Year and Best Contemporary Jazz Album for River: The Joni Letters. Hancock’s endeavor joined Joao Gilberto & Stan Getz’s self-titled set from 1964 as the only jazz albums to win top honors.
Even with Hancock’s victory, the night largely belonged to Amy Winehouse and Kanye West. Winehouse, who performed via satellite from London, won five Grammys, including Best New Artist. Her album Back to Black picked up a trophy for Best Pop Vocal Album, while her hit single Rehab won in the categories of Record of the Year, Song of the Year, and Best Pop Vocal Performance. Meanwhile, West won four Grammys. His album Graduation was named Best Rap Album, and his songs Stronger, Southside (featuring Common), and Good Life won for Best Rap Solo Performance, Best Rap Performance by a Duo or Group, and Best Rap Song, respectively.
Eric Clapton and Steve Winwood reunited for a three-night run at New York City’s Madison Square Garden. It was the first time that they had performed together at the venue since Blind Faith’s only U.S. tour in 1969.
On March 10, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame held its 23rd annual induction ceremony at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York City. Leonard Cohen, John Mellencamp, Madonna, The Ventures, and the Dave Clark Five were added to the institution’s roster. In addition, harmonica ace Little Walter was cited for his influence on rock ’n‘ roll, and Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff were given the Ahmet Ertegun Award for their pioneering work as songwriters and producers, which came to define Philly soul.
Bob Dylan won an honorary Pulitzer Prize in February for the tremendous influence he has had on popular culture in America and around the globe. While Dylan’s win certainly was deserved, it also came as a surprise, considering that the award typically has been given to artists working from jazz and classical repertoires.
Via a press conference held on April 24, the Grateful Dead announced that it was moving its archive of concert memorabilia to the McHenry Library at the University of California at Santa Cruz. Among the items that are included in the collection are the life-size skeletons that were featured in the video for Touch of Grey, the outfit’s first recording contract, assorted stage props, a number of tour T-shirts, fan correspondence, set lists, back stage passes, and piles of press clippings. At the time of the transfer, the estimated value of the collection was several million dollars.
The career of legendary music business executive Clive Davis changed course, once again, in April when he resigned as chairman and CEO of BMG North America in order to assume a new role as the chief creative officer of Sony BMG.
On May 7, at a concert that was designed to benefit the Count Basie Theatre in Red Bank, New Jersey, Bruce Springsteen surprised the audience by performing his classic albums Born to Run and Darkness on the Edge of Town in their entirety. The show raised $3 million, and the money will be used to refurbish the venue.
Feeling the effects of a shaky economy and an industry in turmoil, Starbucks reduced its entertainment division by almost 75% in May. The move was designed to refocus the company’s efforts on providing carefully selected, high-quality products to its niche audience.
The one-two punch of Napster and the iPod has had a detrimental impact upon sound quality. In May, several artists decided to fight back in their own ways in order to change the direction of the industry. T Bone Burnett developed a new encoding technology that works in a standard DVD player. Issued in July, John Mellencamp’s Life, Death, Love and Freedom was the first album to feature his CODE format. Meanwhile, Neil Young is following a more daring path. He is preparing to present the first 10 chapters in his long overdue collection of archival material only on Blu-ray. The collection is slated for release in early 2009.
On May 26, Paul McCartney was given an honorary doctorate degree in music by Yale University.
To memorialize the 1969 Woodstock Music & Arts Festival, the Museum at Bethel Woods opened its doors in Bethel, New York on June 2.
Throughout his career, Bob Dylan typically has kept his political inclinations to himself. In a surprising move, he outwardly endorsed Barack Obama for President in an interview with the London Times. He is one of many rock ’n‘ roll stars who professed their support of the Democratic candidate.
On July 10, the painted drum head that was used on the cover of The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band sold for $1.1 million in an auction at Christie’s.
Pearl Jam, Foo Fighters, Incubus, and The Flaming Lips joined together to pay tribute to The Who as part of VH-1’s Rock Honors program. Roger Daltrey, Pete Townshend, and their current touring outfit also performed at the event, which was held on July 12 at UCLA’s Pauley Pavilion.
With Shea Stadium slated for demolition at the end of the baseball season, Billy Joel celebrated the venue’s history with a pair of concerts in mid-July. Joel not only paid tribute to The Beatles’ legendary performances at Shea Stadium via a trio of cover songs (A Hard Day’s Night, Please Please Me, and She Loves You), but he also brought out several special guests, including Tony Bennett, John Mellencamp, and John Mayer.
On July 17, a huge cache of James Brown’s personal effects was auctioned at Christie’s, despite the protests of his children and business managers. The event was held to raise money to pay his delinquent tax bills. More than 350 items were up for grabs, including Brown’s Hammond organ, his black cape, and several pink leather couches. The auction wasn’t nearly as successful as many had hoped. It was expected to raise $2 million, but instead it brought in only $800,000.
There was more bad news for record labels in July: Nielsen SoundScan announced that record sales declined over 16% during the first half of 2008. Although digital sales continued to increase, the rate was considerably slower than in 2007.
On July 25, the Rolling Stones announced that it had declined an opportunity to renew its contract with EMI. Instead, the outfit signed with Universal Records in a deal that includes two new albums as well as the group’s catalog from Sticky Fingers through A Bigger Bang.
On August 7, The Police concluded its 15-month reunion tour with a show at Madison Square Garden in New York City. The band paid homage to Cream and the Jimi Hendrix Experience via covers of Sunshine of Your Love and Purple Haze, respectively. In a weird twist, it also invited the New York City Police Department’s marching band on stage during Message in a Bottle. Over the course of the 150-date sojourn, The Police grossed $358 million from the sale of 3.7 million concert tickets. The performance was dubbed as The Police’s final show — ever. Fans, however, are skeptical that this is the end of the road for the trio.
Angered over the use of his song Running on Empty in a campaign commercial, singer/songwriter Jackson Browne filed suit against Senator John McCain and the Republican National Committee in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles. Browne claimed that McCain had not asked his permission to use the song and therefore was guilty of copyright infringement. Browne also called the Lanham Act into play because the use of his song gave a false impression that he supported the Republican candidate.
The Allman Brothers Band announced that it was suing Universal Music Group regarding the albums it recorded for Capricorn Records. The band believes it was cheated out of royalties due from the sales of CDs and digital downloads of the music it made between 1969 and 1980. It is seeking more than $10 million in damages.
Australian rock outfit Wolfmother seemed poised for great things, but the trio of Chris Ross, Miles Heskett, and Andrew Stockdale announced that they were going their separate ways because they couldn’t agree creatively or personally on the future of the band. Stockdale plans to continue recording under the Wolfmother moniker.
On August 27, Kevin Cogill, a former employee of Universal Music Group, was arrested and charged with the unlawful distribution of material from Guns n’ Roses’ Chinese Democracy. An anonymous source sent Cogill an e-mail containing nine songs, which he proceeded to post on his blog. The FBI promptly took him into custody. Later in the year, the charges against him were reduced from felony to misdemeanor.
Ann and Nancy Wilson, the founders of Heart, are the latest rock ’n‘ roll artists to be angry with Senator John McCain’s presidential campaign. The sisters sent his campaign staff and the Republican party a cease-and-desist letter after their song Barracuda was used to introduce Alaska Governor Sarah Palin at the Republican National Convention.
The Rolling Stones’ tongue insignia is one of the most recognizable logos in rock ’n‘ roll. The original artwork, which was commissioned for 50 pounds in 1970, fetched 51,000 pounds when it was purchased by the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.
On September 30, guitarist Nils Lofgren underwent hip replacement surgery.
Phish announced that it would reunite for a string of tour dates in early 2009. The tour will commence on March 6 with a three-night engagement at the Hampton Coliseum in Hampton, Virginia.
By posting an official statement on his website, Robert Plant continued to deny that Led Zeppelin would reunite for a world tour in 2009. John Paul Jones and Jimmy Page have not ruled out the notion of hitting the road together without Plant.
On October 7, My Morning Jacket’s Jim James fell off a stage in Iowa City, forcing the postponement of the final two dates of the band’s tour.
The surviving members of the Grateful Dead — Bob Weir, Phil Lesh, Bill Kreutzmann, and Mickey Hart — set aside their differences to perform a benefit concert to support the presidential campaign of Barack Obama. The show was held at Penn State University. The Allman Brothers Band also joined the festivities.
The New York Times announced that Bono would be penning columns for its editorial page in 2009. The U2 front man won’t be paid for his work, but the position will provide him with a platform for discussing global poverty issues.
On November 7 and 8, Van Morrison performed his classic, 1968 effort Astral Weeks in its entirety for the first time. Although, for the record, he did re-sequence its songs. The shows, which were held at the Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles, were recorded for a live album.
Michael Jackson’s money troubles continued in 2009. On November 10, he sold his Neverland Ranch to a Los Angeles real estate company to avoid foreclosure. Earlier in the year, Jackson had defaulted on a $24.5 million loan.
Paul McCartney is full of surprises. Fresh after rekindling his partnership with Youth to record Electric Arguments, the sophomore set from his ambient side project The Fireman, McCartney confirmed longstanding rumors of a previously unreleased track from The Beatles on which the group delved into all kinds of experimental mayhem. Carnival of Light, a 14-minute free-form song, was played publicly only once for an electronic music festival. McCartney had wanted to incorporate the cut into The Beatles’ Anthology project, but his former band-mates vetoed the idea. He once again is pushing for its release.
Ray and Dave Davies have settled their differences, once again, and they have begun to work on what will be the first new album from The Kinks in 15 years.
Rolling Stone announced that contributing writer Robert Greenfield is in the process of turning his book Dark Star: An Oral Biography of Jerry Garcia into a major motion picture.
Red Hot Chili Peppers’ front man Anthony Kiedis is developing a program for HBO based upon his early days, growing up in Los Angeles. The show is to be titled Scar Tissue.
The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum opened a facility in New York City on November 24. Jimi Hendrix’s handwritten lyrics to Purple Haze and the white suit that David Byrne wore in Stop Making Sense are among the exhibits that are housed in the 25,000-square-foot venue in Lower Manhattan.
Continuing a year-long trend, The Who was recognized at the 31st Annual Kennedy Center Honors on December 7.
Coldplay was accused of plagiarism by guitarist Joe Satriani. Satriani, who filed a lawsuit in Los Angeles, believes that Coldplay’s Viva La Vida bears a striking resemblance to his own composition If I Could Fly. It probably doesn’t help matters that Coldplay previously admitted that it was prone to borrowing ideas from other artists.
Jeff Beck, Bobby Womack, Metallica, Run-DMC, Wanda Jackson, and Little Anthony and the Imperials will be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum in 2009. The Stooges and War were among the artists who were eligible but did not make the cut. The 2009 ceremony will be held on April 4, and it marks the first time that the party will be held in Cleveland.
The RIAA announced a shift in its strategy to combat the illegal sharing of copyright-protected works. Instead filing suit against individual users, the RIAA is planning to address matters through the infringing parties’ Internet service providers.
Warner Music Group abruptly announced that it was planning to pull all of its copyright-protected content, including music videos, from YouTube. The company had been negotiating with Google, YouTube’s owner, when talks fell apart after the parties couldn’t agree on the best method of compensating artists and songwriters as well as record labels and music publishers.
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