Superior Scribing Awards: Other Great Pieces of Music Journalism

By Jason Gross

  • Jason Anderson: "Death of the Video Star" (CBC, January 17, 2006)
    In the early '80s, MTV made music video the be-all of promotion. Twenty years later, the form's fallen into disregard, with only a handful of noteworthy director's making their mark. Will a similar fate befall MySpace in 2025?

  • Antony Bruno: "Digital Rights In Question As Business Model" (Reuters/Billboard, October 15, 2006)
    Should be required reading for the RIAA and the major labels they do their bidding for. How long it'll take for them to get the message is anyone's guess...

  • Dan Brown: "Buying an Album Has Become a Political Act" (London Free Press, January 3, 2006)
    A worthy reminder that consumers vote with their wallets, including not just which artist and album they support but which store they buy their music from.

  • Tony Brummel: "It Smells Like Victory" (Daily Hits Double, February 15, 2006)
    A big indie gives Apple and Steve Jobs the middle finger, explaining why they won't go the I-Tunes route. Reasons: artists work hard on albums so why break them up? Why should they have to go along with any agreement Apple gives them while the company cleans up on the I-Pod market built on their backs? A pyrrhic battle to be sure, but you gotta admire the guy's chutzpah.

  • Stephen Buttry: "A Week of Stretching Our Story Muscles" (American Press Institute, January 20, 2006)
    A writers' workshop where words of wisdom fly about inspiration and perspective in writing and race also, which leads to discussions not just about blacks but also Native Americans, including a verbal beat-down from story-teller M. Scott Momaday. "Hey, reporter superstar, think your act is going far?/Hot-spot, hot-shot, your journalistic sweet talk/Spouting trust, so we must, let you on our sovereign land?/Fat chance, do your dance, get back to your news stand." Or how about this slap at supposedly culturally-sensitive scribes: "You want the inside, in-depth, Indian stories on the rez/Talking to the tribal folk, peering through the holy smoke--What a joke!/That's your goal? Bare our soul, promise us a better role?/Get real, no deal, you never say what we feel." Even Scott Weiland couldn't tell off reporters like that.

  • Justin Davidson: "The Manly Myth" (Newsday, April 13, 2006)
    In addition to mulling over Brokeback Mountain, Davidson traces questions about masculinity in the arts back to the struggle and conflict deep within Beethoven's symphonies. Stretching it a little? Maybe but it's definitely some food for thought.

  • John Densmore: "1965, The Strip and Arthur Lee" (Los Angeles Times, August 7, 2006)
    Of all the tributes to the late, wonderful, eccentric cult rocker, nothing beats this reminiscence from the most articulate member of a legendary rock band that eclipsed him commercially. Not just personal stories but a worthwhile look at Lee's words and how salient they are. Between this and his spirited defense of his embargo of the Doors' music for commercial purposes, you can tell that JD's designation as an 'essayist' is no joke.

  • Andreas Hale: "Who the Hell Am I? Has Jay-Z Outgrown Hip-Hop?" (HipHopDX, December 5, 2006)
    "Or "Can hip-hop grow up?" A spirited defense of Jay-Z's latest move toward maturity and how it can still get linked to the long-time rap staple of success-boasting.

  • Ivan Hewett: "Political Cacaphony" (Telegraph, May 11, 2006)
    "The experience of the 1960s and '70s seemed to show that political music is caught in a dilemma. If it uses radical language to say radical things, it can't connect with real political and social life. If it says simple things in a simple way, it loses all emotional subtlety and turns into propaganda. If the choice is that stark, then it's a lost cause, and we shouldn't be sad about the disappearance of the ideological strain in new music."

  • Charlotte Higgins: "'Make the Nasty Music Go Away!'" (Guardian, April 14, 2006)
    A 16-hour endurance test, in which the writer attempts to sit through the entirety of Wagner's Ring cycle. At first, she's exhilarated but after ten straight hours, she becomes delusional, blurting out the article's title, begging her mummy for help, and turning to booze for support. This ought to prove that just because digital media players provide us with longer listening times, we don't necessarily have to sit through marathon stretches of music.

  • Jegsy: "Pete Doherty and the KLF" (Record of the Day, February 10, 2006)
    The actual, real, honest-to-God story about how those KLF scamps concocted Pete Doherty and the Libertines. Readers' comments: "This isn't true but it should be." "It's true." "No it isn't."

  • Philip Kennicott: "The Opera Grapevine: Beyond the Chardonnay" (Washington Post, January 8, 2006)
    Why conformity is the preferred way to sing classical music and how a few brave artists (and record companies) go out on a limb to buck the trend. After all, how many Pavarottis do we need?

  • Nicolas Kenyon: "Is it Time the Pontiff Came to the Proms?" (Telegraph, July 29, 2006)
    Though it'd be nice for him to also mention Christian rock and Christian rap, Kenyon sensibly wraps Pope Benedict on the knuckles for stupidly attacking "guitar music." Despite his conservative teachings, John Paul II would never have been so unhip.

  • Mark Kidel: "The Pursuit of Hip Hop's Primal Roar" (Times Literary Supplement, July 12, 2006)
    Kidel makes a better case for Nik Cohn's book about NOLA rap than Cohn himself. "Cohn is not interested in the sweep of cultural history, but in his own salvation--while realizing that no such thing exists and that he must content himself with a few moments of tangible magic in a booming bass line. There is something at once appealing and faintly repulsive about Cohnís mix of narcissism and self-hate. But there is enough self-knowledge... (that) he does get closer than most white writers to the pulse of the African-American heart."

  • Jeff Leeds: "Iron Man Slows, and So Does the Industry" (New York Times, June 25, 2006)
    It's not just the revelation that aging stadium rockers need bland diets and masseuses to survive life on the road in their golden years but also the fact that these crowd pleasers won't be around much longer that makes this such an important story. The problem is that there aren't too many whippersnappers ready to fill the big arenas after these geriatric folks shake off their mortal coil.

  • om3ga: "Scratched CDs? No problem!" (om3ga, July 27, 2006)
    Good investigative journalism where the riddle of what fixes a nick on a CD is solved, going into detail about not just the surface of the discs but also what solutions might repair them. Water? Deodorant? Toothpaste? Oil? Nope. The magic cure-all is hair gel. Wonder if this is now going to be a standard accessory item at music stores...

  • Howard Parnell: "Downloading Empathy to Your iPod" (Washington Post, March 1, 2006)
    How does a woman deal with the loss of her 13-year-old son? She seeks out playlists from iTunes and finds others dealing with loss and commiserating with songs. In honor of her late son, she makes her own playlists to help not just herself but others as well cope with their own losses.

  • Leonard Pitts: "The Passing of an R&B Singer and the Lost Art of Beggin' Songs" (Chicago Tribune, November 21, 2006)
    Normally a thoughtful political correspondent, Pitts here pays tribute to Gerald Levert and the old-fashioned idea of the pleading R&B love song. Though it might sound a little too old-school, there's no denying an observation like this: "We live in an era where black music in particular is often a police blotter or a sex act or a product placement, but, less frequently, a love song."

  • Poptones: "Questions of Doom--Lyle Presler of Minor Theat" (Poptones, February 2, 2006)
    From straight-edge godhead to indie label A&R man to law school to Steve Albini rebuttals, Presler has a lot on his mind and his thoughts are worth heeding.

  • Ann Powers: "Latinos
    Give New Life to Neil Diamond Anthem
    " (L.A. Times, May 9, 2006) In the recent heated debate on immigration in the U.S., Diamond's "America" is both lauded and criticized by the immigrants who want their voices heard. Diamond himself was celebrating his ancestors coming here; surely, they had mixed feelings also.

  • Jeffrey Puckett: "The King is Dead, Long Live the King" (Courier-Journal, January 7, 2006)
    Just what would've happened had Elvis lived? Would he have gone country, gone gospel, fired the Colonel, become more patriotic? Until some psychic steps in, we may never know, but as Mojo Nixon once noted, Elvis is everywhere.

  • Erik Spanberg: "Pop! Goes the Curriculum" (Christian Science Monitor, March 2006)
    Tough luck if you're not an American Idol fan--it's the cultural phenom of our times. So much so that it's had an effect on music classes in schools, with kids lining to warble in pseudo-gospel tones and get insulted by Mr. Cowell in front of millions of people. Nevertheless, even more than MTV or RIAA programs that support music education, Idol is actually getting kids interested in the subject again.

  • Ray Suzuki: "Jet: Shine On" (Pitchfork, October 2, 2006)
    Puerile, juvenile and very funny. Also, an effective use of the web which many music scribes have failed to grasp so far. Just shows that a video is worth a 1000 words. Hopefully, the chimp will eventually get a byline, otherwise someone should call the ASPCA.

  • Craig Timberg: "A Nation Divided But Under a Groove" (Washington Post, December 30, 2005)
    A mixed race band in South Africa finds that it still plays to un-mixed crowds over a decade after apartheid is gone. Sad to say, old habits die hard. Then again, how different is it from crowds in many other countries?

  • uao: "Does Your CD Lose Its Value By the Bedpost Overnight?" (Blogcritics, December 28, 2005)
    An investigation into which genre is the best investment for the used CD market. Metal beats alt-rock and classical but '80s indie rock beats 'em all. None of them, however, are a match for jam-band favorites. Either they're the most economical or die-hard consumers out there, right?

  • Unknown Writer: "King Content" (Economist, January 19, 2006)
    Before you write off big media into the face of the Net, remember that they're no fools, still have dough and they're making deals with new media companies. In any case, even if they're knocked off their perch, there'll be new media giants taking their place and ripe to get knocked down too (i.e. Google).

  • Bill Ward: "Black Sabbath Drummer Blasts John Lennon Killer Movie" (Rockdirt, March 25, 2006)
    Ozzy never came up with anything as heartfelt in his reality show. "I object completely that we have available to us a movie about a guy who robbed millions of people of so much, who stamped out a brilliant mind, and who broke apart a family. When John Lennon died, my heart broke, and I've never gotten over his death, and I know that millions of other people got hurt also. Whoever is responsible for this movie, the money, the producers, the cast, the music, I fail to see how you can participate in anything that could bring more infamy to an already infamous murderer, robber and pain-bringer. I curse this movie, and hope that it rots in hell. I hope it's an utter failure. For me personally, it feels like another kick in the balls. It still hurts. He's been dead now for awhile, but it still hurts. This movie can only open up old wounds. For the sake of what?"

  • Joe Marminsky: "Post Rock" (Washington City Paper, December 22, 2006)
    Q: "Why Won't Anyone Blog About Rod Stewart?" Or the most of the rest of the Billboard charts for that matter? A: It's assumed that the major pubs already have that covered so why should anyone online say anything about all of these best-selling records?

  • Adam Williams: "Write On: Musings On Music Journalism" (PopMatters, January 18, 2006)
    Most articles like this are stupid and annoying because they take themselves too seriously. Williams is smart enough to know what a preening peeing-contest most criticism about criticism is (hopefully not these listings you're reading now). He does lose points for not having any questions about the Monkees though--a true dividing line in the rock crit world for sure.

  • Gaby Wood: "The Voice of America" (Observer, April 30, 2006)
    The secret of Jann Wenner's success is his Peter Pan syndrome as it turns out. His staff grows old and turns over, but he stays in charge, blowing whichever way the wind blows politically and, ultimately, musically. He's still the head of his own media empire with circulation over one million. Say what you will but he's outlived his conception and will likely do so well into his grey years. But who will carry on his legacy when he's gone?

  • Barney Zwartz: "Nothing If Not A Genius of Note" (The Age, January 21, 2006)
    Who was Mozart? The subject of an error-ridden Academy Award winning movie. A radical. A romantic before his time. A tactless drunk. A voracious reader and philosophy student. All of the above--definitely a larger than life figure and, as such, a pop star. "More nonsense has been written about Mozart than almost any historical figure except Jesus Christ."

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Choose a Section:

  • Introduction

  • Super-Scribing AwardsSuper-Scribing Awards: Best Writing of the Year

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

  • Amazing Stories in and of Themselves

  • The Ignoble Prizes: Worst Music Writing of the Year