Common practice holds that all end-of-the-year music columns should have a bemused introduction along the lines of, "Despite what you may have gathered from listening to the radio, there actually was some good music released this year."
But that doesn't apply anymore. Radio may not be dead yet, but the notion that the medium represents mainstream tastes went out with the last DJ.
In 2004, corporate radio was just one of many outlets by which people sought out music. It was joined by the Internet, magazines, live music, television and movies, satellite radio and, most notably, mix CDs.
The discs that spent the most time in my CD player this year were mixes by my music geek friends Matt and Sarah; the "Garden State" soundtrack (essentially a collection of director Zach Braff's favorite tunes); Butch Walker's "Letters," which featured a track called "Mixtape"; and Rilo Kiley's "More Adventurous," which I bought after listening to Matt's and Sarah's homemade discs.
Rilo Kiley -- pretty but not overly poppy or happy, but not ridiculously sad, either, and rocking just a little -- seems to have become a mix staple, along with Franz Ferdinand, Elliott Smith and Bright Eyes.
The latter artist, along with Bruce Springsteen and R.E.M., was at the center of the Vote for Change movement, a variation of which was a pair of punk collections titled "Rock Against Bush."
Regardless of which candidate you preferred, I think we can all breathe a sigh of relief that music has stopped heading down the overtly political path it was on before Nov. 2. Music is at its best when it's subtle. Yes, Springsteen can get preachy, but before Vote for Change, his concerts were never political ads.
Music was still corporate in 2004, but to their credit, the labels inched closer to being in touch with the people who buy (or don't buy) their music. They offered singles for 99 cents on the 'Net and partnered with mainstream TV shows like "The O.C." to get more good stuff out there.
Indeed, the three "O.C." soundtracks are essentially mixes made by the country's most famous music geek, fictional character Seth Cohen (I like to think he acquired his good taste from Lane Kim, whom Seth was dating when he was known as David on "Gilmore Girls").
In fact, "The O.C." and "Gilmore Girls" are respected enough among musicians that to perform on these shows hardly qualifies as selling out. The Bait Shop has hosted Rooney, the Walkmen and the Killers, while Stars Hollow offers an eclectic blend: Grant-Lee Phillips crooning on a street corner; ex-Skid Row frontman Sebastian Bach joining Lane's band; the Shins, performing a spring-break set for Rory and Paris.
The communal spirit of 2004 -- music buffs sharing good tunes, musicians playing on each other's albums -- calls to mind the 1960s, at least as the decade is portrayed on TV's "American Dreams." Instead of mix tapes, they had record clubs for trading 45s among friends (Donovan's "Season of the Witch" was apparently a popular number). Instead of guest bands on "The O.C.," they had the straightforward "American Bandstand." Instead of Vote for Change there was subtler work by the likes of Bob Dylan.
In a recent issue of Rolling Stone, Dylan topped a panel's list of the 500 best singles of all time with "Like a Rolling Stone." I won't argue with that choice, but I do take issue with the list's disproportionate representation through the years -- 202 entries came from the '60s compared to 24 from the '90s and just three from the current decade.
I'd like to submit the Darkness' cheeseball anthem "I Believe in a Thing Called Love" (released in 2003, noticed in 2004) for Rolling Stone's consideration, but I had best stop there before I destroy my credibility by raving about Lindsay Lohan's "That Girl" or demanding that U2's "Vertigo" replace one of the band's interchangeable '80s ballads on the list.
Indeed, in a year when anti-establishment punk fans bought "Rock Against Bush" albums at Best Buy, it was hard to maintain an anti-corporate stance and a straight face at the same time. After all, good music could be found just about everywhere, even in Target commercials.
JOHN HANSEN, staff writer, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 855-5863.
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