Ken Tucker Looks Back On 2017 In Music

Dec 18, 2017
Originally published on December 19, 2017 10:55 am

No collection of songs this year cohered to form a better picture of our collective mood than Kendrick Lamar's album DAMN. The rapper talks about feeling put-upon and abandoned, besieged and misunderstood, loved and hated. He samples voices from the Fox News channel; on the cut called "LUST.," he has a line about waking up "hoping the election wasn't true." His distinctive delivery is characterized by a flurry of syllables enunciated with hammering force. No matter how many times I hear it, it's thrilling.

The song of the year? I think it has to be something overwhelmingly popular and clever and catchy — all of which describes Cardi B's "Bodak Yellow," with its truculent vocal and its ticking time-bomb rhythm.

The rest of my top 10 music list is a mixture of albums and a book. I enjoyed the sonic experiments of rapper Vince Staples' album Big Fish Theory. I reveled in the grand pop statements of Lana Del Rey's Lust For Life and Kesha's Rainbow. I loved the country-music revisionism of Angaleena Presley's Wrangled and Margo Price's All American Made. I laughed at the rowdy rock 'n' roll of Low Cut Connie's Dirty Pictures (Part 1) and The Menzingers' After the Party. And I was mightily impressed by the honesty and wit of Loudon Wainwright III's autobiography Liner Notes.

This was a year that saw the deaths of some of music's most admired stars, including rock 'n' roll pioneers Chuck Berry and Fats Domino, country artists Mel Tillis and Don Williams, pop stars Glen Campbell and David Cassidy. Two of the most distinctive silenced voices belonged to Walter Becker from Steely Dan and Tom Petty.

The force of Tom Petty's death took a lot of people by surprise, including me. He was no revolutionary trail-blazer; his themes were reliable ones about heartache and despair; his Gainesville twang owed a lot to Bob Dylan and Roger McGuinn. But holy cow, did Petty ever rack up a thick pile of great hits. Listen to an album like 1979's Damn The Torpedoes, and even the songs that weren't released as singles sound like hits.

Torpedoes contains my favorite Tom Petty performance, on "Here Comes My Girl." I love the way it starts off with him talking, then yowling with strangled yearning, and then there's just full-throated crooning. For me, this 38-year-old song holds out a promise of desire and comfort that I needed to hear this year.

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TERRY GROSS, HOST:

This is FRESH AIR. Rock critic Ken Tucker has his annual list of his favorite music along with some thoughts about a number of rock, pop and country stars who died this year. Let's begin with music from Ken's No. 1 pick, Kendrick Lamar's album "DAMN."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LOYALTY.")

KENDRICK LAMAR: (Rapping) I got, I got, I got, I got loyalty, got royalty inside my DNA. Quarter piece - got war and peace inside my DNA. I got power, poison, pain and joy inside my DNA. I got hustle, though, ambition, flow, inside my DNA. I was born like this since one like this immaculate conception. I transform like this, perform like this was Yeshua's new weapon. I don’t contemplate. I meditate then off your, off your head. This that put-the-kids-to-bed. This that - I got, I got, I got, I got realness...

KEN TUCKER, BYLINE: No collection of songs this year cohered to form a better picture of our collective mood than Kendrick Lamar's album "DAMN." The rapper talks about feeling put upon and abandoned, besieged and misunderstood, loved and hated. He samples voices from the Fox News channel. On the cut called "LUST.," he has a line about waking up, hoping the election wasn't true. His distinctive delivery is characterized by a flurry of syllables enunciated with hammering force. No matter how many times I hear it, it's thrilling.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LOVE.")

LAMAR: (Rapping) If I didn't ride blade on curb, would you still love me? If I minimized my net worth, would you still love me? Keep it a hundred. I’d rather you trust me than to love me. Keep it a whole 100. Don't got you, I got nothing. Ay (ph), I got something. I got something. Hold up. We're going to function - no assumptions, feeling like Tyson with it. Knock it out twice. I'm with it. Only for the night. I'm kidding. Only for life. You're a homie for life. You're a homie for life. Let's get it. Hit that shoulder lean. I know what coming over mean - backstroke oversea. I know what you need. Already on 10, our money come in, all feeling go out. This feeling don’t drought. This party won't end. If I didn't...

TUCKER: My top 10 music list is a mixture of albums, one song and a book. I enjoyed the sonic experiments of rapper Vince Staples' album "Big Fish Theory." I reveled in the grand pop statements of Lana Del Rey's, "Lust For Life" and Kesha's "Rainbow." I loved the country music revisionism of Angaleena Presley's "Wrangled" and Margo Price's "All American Made." I laughed at the rowdy rock 'n' roll of Low Cut Connie's "Dirty Pictures (part 1)" and The Menzingers' "After The Party." And I was mightily impressed by the honesty and wit of Loudon Wainwright III's autobiography, "Liner Notes." The song of the year - I think it has to be something overwhelmingly popular, and clever and catchy, all of which describes Cardi B's "Bodak Yellow," with its truculent vocal and its ticking-time-bomb rhythm.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BODAK YELLOW")

CARDI B: (Rapping) Said, little - you can't - with me if you wanted to. These expensive. These is red bottoms. These is bloody shoes. Hit the store, I can get them both. I don't want to choose. And I'm quick, cut a - off, so don't get comfortable. Look, I don't dance now. I make money moves. Said I don't got to dance, I make money move. If I see you, and I don't speak, that means I don't - with you. I'm a boss. You a worker. I make bloody moves. Now she say she...

TUCKER: This was a year that saw the deaths of some of the most admired stars, including rock 'n' roll pioneers Chuck Berry and Fats Domino, country artists Mel Tillis and Don Williams, pop stars Glen Campbell and David Cassidy. Two of the most distinctive silenced voices belong to Tom Petty and Walter Becker from Steely Dan. Becker's collaboration with Donald Fagen was close, airtight. It's difficult to know who contributed what to any classic Steely Dan composition. But one thing that's ringingly clear is the tone of Becker's guitar playing, a unique mixture of rock and jazz phrasing. Listen to a chunk of Becker's solo on "Black Friday" from the 1975 album "Katy Lied."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BLACK FRIDAY")

STEELY DAN: (Singing) When Black Friday comes, I'm going to...

TUCKER: I think the force of Tom Petty's death took a lot of people by surprise, including me. He was no revolutionary trailblazer. His themes were reliable ones about heartache and despair. His Gainesville twang owed a lot to Bob Dylan and Roger McGuinn. But holy cow, did Petty ever rack up a thick pile of great hits. Listen to an album like 1979's "Damn The Torpedoes," and even the songs that weren't released as singles sound like hits. "Torpedoes" contains my favorite Tom Petty performance on "Here Comes My Girl." I love the way it starts off with him talking, then yowling with strangled yearning, and then there's just full-throated crooning. For me, this 38-year-old song holds out a promise of desire and comfort that I needed to hear this year.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HERE COMES MY GIRL")

TOM PETTY AND THE HEARTBREAKERS: You know, sometimes, I don't know why, but this old town just seems so hopeless. I ain't really sure, but it seems I remember the good times were just a little bit more in focus. But when she puts her arms around me, I can somehow rise above it. Yeah, man, when I got that little girl standing right by my side, you know, I can tell the whole wide world to shove it. Hey, (singing) here comes my girl. Here comes my girl. Yeah, and she looks so right. She is all I need tonight. Every now and then, I get down to the end of a day. I have to stop, ask myself why I've done it. It just seems so useless to have to work so hard and nothing ever seem to really come from it. And then she looks me in the eye and says, we're going to last forever. And man, you know...

GROSS: Ken Tucker is critic at large for Yahoo TV. Tomorrow on FRESH AIR - how religion, sex and gender became such big issues in American politics. My guest will be R. Marie Griffith, author of "Moral Combat: How Sex Divided American Christians And Fractured American Politics." Her book starts with the conflicts over women's suffrage and legal birth control, and ends with marriage equality and the Women's March after Trump's inauguration. I hope you'll join us.

FRESH AIR'S executive producer is Danny Miller. Our technical director and engineer is Audrey Bentham. Our associate producer for digital media is Molly Seavy-Nesper. Roberta Shorrock directs the show. I'm Terry Gross.

(SOUNDBITE OF TOM PETTY AND THE HEARTBREAKERS SONG, "HERE COMES MY GIRL") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.