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Superior Scribing Awards:
Other Great Pieces of Music Journalism

By Jason Gross

  • Joan Anderman: "The Irresistible, Singable, Stick-in-Your-Mindable Jingle is Dead" (Boston Globe, January 9, 2005)
    The day of the advertising jingle is coming to an end. Its replacement is...the classic rock catalog and aging rock stars who can't get their songs played elsewhere.

  • Julian Baggini: "The Great Music Debate" (Sunday Herald, February 6, 2005)
    Franz Ferdinand's Alex Kapranos and composer James MacMillan square off on the old high vs. low culture debate. The winner? Baggini, who reminds us that complexity doesn't necessarily equal quality and that best sellers aren't necessarily the best music.

  • Sara Bir: "Filmed Notes" (North Bay Bohemian/Metro Active, October 19, 2005)
    Tracing what makes a good or bad music biopic, including how "screenwriters face the challenge of bending a life into a satisfying arc--that is, there's a beginning, a road to discovery, and a resolution."

  • Eric Boehlert: "Payola is Dead! Now What Will We Listen To?" (Salon, January 5, 2005)
    While many don't mourn the death of the pay-for-play system of radio, thinking it will clean up the airwaves, others worry that it will mean that the majors will have even more presence in playlists.

  • Geoff Boucher: "Ex-Door Lighting Their Ire" (L.A. Times, October 5, 2005)
    John Densmore of the Doors decides that he doesn't want corporate money for his band's old songs. Not easy to say when you're not out touring or recording anymore. And as for a Doors reunion? "I would love to play with the Doors and play those songs again. I would. And I will play again as the Doors. Just as soon as Jim shows up."

  • Mark Caro: "Fees Mount for DIY Ticket-buying" (Chicago Tribune, January 9, 2005)
    The skinny on the 'convenience fees' that are passed along to ticket buyers. Sure, it's cheaper to process this online and use automated phone systems but does that discount get passed along to the consumer? Of course not. The bottom line? "They're doing this because they can," (Pollster's Tony) Bongiovanni said, "not because they have to."

  • Christian M. Chensvold: "If It's Hip and Trendy, They're Not Interested" (L.A. Times, July 20, 2005) [Link not available]
    Relax--it's now hip to be unhip so you don't have to worry about keeping up with everything trendy. Truth be known, was that ever hip?

  • Jason Cherkis: "Novelty Rock" (Washington City Paper, July 8-14, 2005)
    "Why good writers are the worst thing that's ever happened to pop-music criticism." He's right to say that any hip novelist can get their byline on a music review that's totally free of substance but if these scribes are too light on critcism, he's a little too harsh with it himself.

  • J.D. Considine: "How the Eagles Became America's Band" (Globe and Mail, March 29, 2005)
    On yet another tour with no new material in a quarter-century, they're still one of the best-selling acts of all-time. Without being blatantly patriotic, they are (as Grand Funk once tried to claim) THE American band.

  • Robert X. Cringley: "Dethroning King Gillette" (PBS, January 27, 2005)
    Apple is not selling songs, but rather, hardware, which is probably why other online services can't beat them at their own game.

  • Kevin Downey: "MTV: Network of the Forever Young" (Media Life, March 28, 2005)
    Don't feel too bad if you can't relate to what's on MTV anymore. You're not supposed to. Then again, your kids will complain about the same thing one day...

  • Andrew Druckenbrod: "The Toxic Tyranny of the World Premiere" (New Music Box, April 30, 2005)
    "Art music thrives best not under the hot light of hype but in the soft reflection of one's mind...We could then focus on the composer and the merits or faults of the piece, not the fact that it has the musical version of new-car smell."

  • Deepa Fernandes: "Radio Insurgente" (In These Times, January 10, 2005)
    Mexico's truly underground radio, run by the Zapatista insurgents and demonstrating what a powerful medium it can be (at least until the government shuts them down).

  • Zoe Gemelli: "Shrine of the Polymorph Madonna" (Creative Loafing, November 23, 2005)
    It's so easy to pick on the former Material Girl nowadays but rarely is she dissected this thoughtfully. No, of course she doesn't make classic music any more, but Gemelli takes the time to discover why and what goes wrong with Mrs. Ritchie's latest non-persona persona, including a mini-fantasy where she returns to her Detroit roots (with disastrous effects).

  • Patrick Goldstein: "Original Concept? Sorry, We'll Pass" (L.A. Times, June 25, 2005) [Link not available]
    The entertainment downturn isn't just in music. Movies are feeling it too. One reason might be that we've seen and heard it all before, from American Idol to Alanis re-doing her multi-platinum debut (though those have both done well).

  • Dean Goodman: "Ray Charles Finally Gets His Due in Hollywood" (Reuters, January 25, 2005)
    "Music-themed pictures are a tough sell, especially when the subject is an old, blind, black man."

  • James S. Granelli, Sallie Hofmeister, and Jon Healey: "FCC Finds Itself Up to Its Neck in Hot Issues" (L.A. Times, January 24, 2005) [Link not available]
    Much as I'd like to sing "Ding dong the witch is dead" now that Michael Powell abdicated his FCC mantle (guess he figured with his dad leaving, he needed to clear out as well), his legacy is one of inconsistencies and lingering messes. Not to worry--rest assured that he has a job with NewsCorp lined up and he's looking like a model of restraint compared to his successor.

  • Rob Harvilla: "Like Clichés on Acid" (East Bay Express, January 5, 2005)
    An admirable resolution to stay clear of words like "swirling," "eclectic," "cerebral," anthemic" and "seminal." Good luck--I've already used some of them in this review.

  • David Hinckley: "Give Rap a Break" (New York Daily News, March 27, 2005)
    50 Cent and the Game aren't the whole rap spectrum, as I'm sure you know. The problem is that most non-fans don't realize this. Sad to say, that's why we need articles like this. "From the love songs of LL Cool J and Usher to the hard rhymes of Public Enemy to the humor of Snoop Dogg, with a hundred thousand party and road mixes in between, hip hop has survived because it matters to its listeners. When it doesn't, and not before, it will go away." Right--Usher isn't exactly hip-hop, though...

  • Steven Hyden: "Indestructible? Maybe Not, But Don't Write Obituary Just Yet" (Appleton Post-Crescent, December 9, 2005)
    While trying to sum up the traps that print media faces with the threat of the Net, he hatches two queasy music references before he hits a homer with a CD/album thought. "You also have blogs, a revolutionary medium that bucks the mainstream media by taking its content, putting some different words on top of it and passing off the final result as original. It's like what P. Diddy did to 'Every Breath You Take' when he made 'I'll Be Missing You.' Which means newspapers are like Sting, more talented but nowhere near as hip...Newspaper folk put up a brave front, but believe me, we take in sagging circulation numbers with the steely calm of Courtney Love at a Foo Fighters concert...Call me naive, but I think newspapers will survive. We may not be printed on actual newsprint, but we will still be called newspapers, just like CDs are still called albums 20 years after vinyl disappeared."

  • Mark Jenkins: "The 500 Club" (Washington City Paper, November 2005)
    Blender and Rolling Stone's top 500 singles of all time both tell a lot more about the repsective mags than you think (or your own tastes). Plus a good tie-in about how Blender stacks up with Creem and this great line: "Compared to today's pop factories, Motown's Hitsville studios and the Brill Building look like the Cabaret Voltaire."

  • Reed Johnson: "A Strong, Soulful, Wicked, Frail City" (L.A. Times, September 5, 2005) [Link not available]
    A tally of the cultural loss in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

  • Greg Kot: "Bono: 'We Need To Talk'" (Chicago Tribune, May 22, 2005)
    Even from his lofty perch as one of the world's biggest rock stars, Bono is still sensitive about his press. So much so that he called Kot to confront him about some of his U2 coverage. To his credit, Kot stood his ground and insisted that the mega-band had been coasting for a while now. You could read this a number of ways. Kot is a very good and influential writer, but the Irish singer is obviously concerned enough about his coverage to take an extraordinary step like this. "Some of what is going around as a result of your article is not just unhelpful to our group and our relationship to our audience, but just really problematic for what in the broad sense you might call rock music. The things you think are wrong with it, and the things that I think are wrong with rock music, are polar opposite. Your vision of rock and mine are 180 degrees apart. And that's why I need to talk to you."

  • Jeff Leeds: "The Most Expensive Album Never Made" (New York Times, March 6, 2005)
    A fascinating, compelling tale of the long-awaited Guns N' Roses album that still hasn't materialized. Someday, the whole truth will come out (Tommy Stinson, Buckethead, and Les Claypool will speak) and rest assured, it will be even stranger than we imagined.

  • Anders Smith Lindall: "To Rock 'Sweet Home Chicago,' Mess With Texas" (Chicago Sun-Times, March 27, 2005)
    One of the best SXSW reports I've seen because it lays out so clearly the mysterious dance between art and commerce that happens at this festival. It's not grimy or starry-eyed, just realistic.

  • James MacMillan: "The Finished Symphony" (The Scotsman, November 20th, 2005)
    There's more than a smell of elitism here about classical vs. 'low' art but the idea that some music is so refined that it should be carefully listened to and absorbed and never become background fodder is pretty revolutionary in these portable-music, multi-tasking days.

  • Devin McKinney: "The John & Curtiss Show" (American Prospect, December 14, 2005)
    A middle-aged mid-west cult legend annually toasts the late Beatle every year since his death, not in a tomb-like way but in a wild-ass manner that Lennon would have surely appreciated. How could he have not loved a man who spits on Republicans and pulls down his pants to share a chicken dinner with the Four Tops?

  • Bob Mehr: "The Godfather of King Drive" (Chicago Reader, April 22, 2005) [Link not available]
    The sad and strange (actually, very strange) story of Arrow Brown, a would-be mogul who ran an indie R&B label in the '70's. He was all set to disappear into obscurity until another indie label reissued his catalog, some fifteen years after his death. (The story is also available at the Numero Group website). Also see Mehr's interesting look into Tylenol's low-key indie-rock marketing campaign: "The Pain of Youth" (Chicago Reader, February 11, 2005).

  • Jeffrey Morgan's "Media Blackout" column (Metro Times)
    Snark that's actually funny, dashed off in 10-20 words or less. Not always brilliant but he does reel off some good ones in every column. His Coldplay review: "Coldplay. Coldpain. Coldpause. Coldeject. Coldreject." His Goblin Cock review: "How to explain that they sound like Blue Cheer on Valium? I know: They're KISS in disguise!"

  • Raju Mudhar: "Hipster, Interrupted" (Toronto Star, April 9, 2005)
    As John Leland's recent book attests, being hip ain't easy. Even more so today as its definition shifts daily in the Net age. Also, as Mudhar notes, the underground cutting edge style has little time to bubble up anymore--it's international news even when it's in its infancy. And as the saying goes, once a story/trend/celebrity hits (insert name of mainstream mag of your choice), you know that it's dead and over.

  • Mark Anthony Neal: "Rhythm and Bullshit?: The Slow Decline of R&B, Part One: Rhythm & Business, Cultural Imperialism and the Harvard Report" (PopMatters, June 3, 2005)
    You might do just as well reading Nelson George's Death of Rhythm and Blues, but Neal provides enough information after that book to tell the story of how R&B got eaten up, spit out, and transformed by other styles. Definitely a shame--the old school stuff is due for a revival.

  • Joe Nickell: "Let's Get Critical" (The Missoulian, December 30, 2004)
    Critics top 10 lists usually don't jibe with the Top 40. And why is that? Do writers listen to more albums and hear each one less often?

  • Dominic P. Papatola: "Friendship and Criticism Make For an Uneasy Blend" (Pioneer Press, May 08, 2005)
    Why it's not easy (or advisable) for writers to become too chummy with musicians, especially ones they might cover. Even constructive criticism, which is the most you could ask from a buddy, can be easily misconstrued.

  • Chris L. Penenberg: "An Obscene Waste of Energy" (Wired, January 6, 2005)
    Why the FCC is no longer relevant and needs to be abolished. God speed!

  • Tara Pepper: "Making Their Own Breaks" (Newsweek International, Sept. 26, 2005)
    Not exactly breaking news but a good summing up of how, with computer technology and the Net, this is truly the era of the DIY artist. Also see Greg Kot: "Revenge of the Indie Rockers" (Chicago Tribune, September 18, 2005).

  • Chris Reidy: "Net Puts Old Jukebox on Endangered List" (Boston Globe, January 6, 2005)
    Giving more choices to the public is good in theory but will that mean the decline of the megastars who usually dominate airplay? And should the customers or management control the playlist?

  • Elizabeth Renzetti: "Innovators vs. Re-heaters" (Globe and Mail, June 4, 2005)
    The secret behind Robert Plant's anti-careerist careerism and why other rock dinosaurs don't have an off switch. The secret is keeping active and experimental in their lives. We could all learn from that.

  • Simon Reynolds: "Even as a Child, I Felt Like an Alien" (The Observer, May 22, 2005)
    A wonderful piece-by-piece dissection of Smith's legendary debut album, Horses, and no, you don't know everything about it that you think you do (or should).

  • Don Santina: "Reparations for the Blues" (Black Commentator, March 7, 2005)
    A strong case for the argument in the title.

  • David Segal: "Memoirs of A Music Man" (Washington Post, August 28, 2005)
    After fours years on the pop beat, a writer hangs up his rock and roll shoes, remembering a contentious reader schooling him on boy bands at a concert, Jon Pareles' Korn fandom, and his own search for the "great Live Concert Moment."

  • David Shaw: "Indecent? That Sums Up All of This Moral Posturing" (L.A Times, February 28, 2005) [Link not available]
    "But in keeping with our society's consistently misplaced values and misplaced anxieties, most of the fines for indecency have involved depictions or discussions of sex and/or execratory functions. Saving Private Ryan aside, violence is generally deemed suitable in the land of Jesse James, Al Capone, John Wayne, and Donald H. Rumsfeld."

  • Stephanie Simon: "A Crescendo of Budget Problems" (L.A. Times, January 9, 2005) [Link not available]
    You thought rock bands were the only ones having problem with ticket prices? It turns out that almost all American orchestras are in financial trouble, with the musicians having to take pay cuts as a result.

  • Stay Free Daily: "How did Mad Hot Ballroom Survive the Copyright Cartel?" (Stay Free, July 14, 2005)
    A graphic example of how the insanity of getting song clearances nowadays is stifling the creative process. Want to include a cell phone ring or the background music playing at a store for a few seconds? Fork over $5000.

  • Bill Stevenson: "How Broadway Tuned Out" (New York Daily News, April 17, 2005)
    The Great White Way was once a haven for pop hits, but no more. The problem? The gap between what's on the stage and what's on the charts is wider than ever, even with several hit rock musicals and artists like Jay-Z and Gwen Stefani pinching material from there.

  • Dave Tianen: "Costello's Road Traveled Only By Himself" (Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, April 5, 2005)
    Give credit to Tianen for getting the quotes out of him, but also give credit to Elvis C for these astute observations about why 100s of specialized online stations aren't going to help music as a whole: "What a desperate waste the way radio has gone since the day when the management of these different crooners were making recordings off the radio of the shows. It was so revolutionary what they were doing...When all of this music was close together, the great strengths emerge. That's how you get Elvis Presley. That's how you get rock 'n' roll. By putting things in boxes and competing them against each other, you kill the music's ability to become like a chemistry set. You can write reams and reams of musicological analysis of Elvis Presley, but all he did was combine things he loved. He grew up with gospel and the Ink Spots and the Mills Brothers and Bill Monroe and Big Maybelle, and all these things get mixed up."

  • Scott Timberg: "Pops: From Light to Lite" (L.A. Times, June 19, 2005) [Link not available]
    One of the most reviled of classical forms still stands a chance of rescuing the genre from obscurity. Roll over Arthur Fielder and tell John Williams the news.

  • Unknown: "The Greatest Story Never Told" (HipHopDX, April 18, 2005)
    Reginald C. Dennis recalls his salad days at the Source (early-mid '90s), years before the current skirmishes. Rest assured that any feedback from the magazine won't be constructive.

  • Mary Voboril: "Opera's Real Phantom" (Newsday, January 11, 2005)
    Jane Klaviter sits quietly (transparent to the audience) at the edge of the Metropolitan Opera House's stage, ready to feed lines to discombobulated divas. As the article subtitle notes, she is in many ways an "unsung hero," as Pavarotti himself attests.

  • Tom Waits: "It's Perfect Madness" (The Observer, March 20, 2005)
    A fascinating tour of Waits' record collection with excellent narration, full of water imagery. Some of it obvious (Beefheart, his old buddy Ribot), some of it not (opera arias). Still, somewhere in his crates, Elmore James and Kurt Weil lurk also...

  • Wayne & Wax: "We Use So Many Snares" (Wayne & Wax Blog, August 8, 2005)
    Not just an impressive history of reggaeton but also a great demonstration of what a blog or online entity can do that a print publication can't: aural demonstrations of what's being explained in detail.

  • Carl Wilson: "Plug it Again, Sam: Pay for play is back in the music business" (Globe and Mail, August 13, 2005)
    Despite the recent lawsuits, payola isn't going away. In fact, it's a great American tradition.


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Introduction

1. Super-Scribing Awards: Best Writing of the Year

2. Superior Scribing Awards: Other Great Pieces of Music Journalism

3. Non-Music/Musical Stories: Great Writing About the Other Arts

4. Amazing Stories in and of Themselves

5. The Ignoble Prizes: Worst Music Writing of the Year