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2012: A Chicago POV on the year in music

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2012 could go on the books with not one but numerous major musical headlines.

It was the year electronic dance music supposedly broke through (again). It was the year YouTube took the wheel, driving some of the chart's biggest hits ("Call Me Maybe," "Somebody That I Used to Know," the record-setting "Gangnam Style"). It was the year we lost Whitney Houston, the Beastie Boys' Adam Yauch, Jenni Rivera. It was the year hip-hop seemed to chill out about homosexuality. It was the year of a generational stalemate between a hardy crop of teen stars (Bieber, One Direction, Carly Rae Jepsen) and aging boomers who refused to go gently (the Rolling Stones, the Who, nearly everyone who played the 12-12-12 benefit concert). It was the year pop music finally became transparent -- in the form of a "holographic" Tupac Shakur.

Not a slow musical news year, for sure.

Here's a look back at some of 2012's biggest musical moments from our particular perspective here on the third coast ...

Goodbye, Glen: Country star Glen Campbell brought his farewell tour (booked following an Alzheimer's disease diagnosis) through the Chicago area in January at the start of a months-long journey, a classy final go-round for the 75-year-old legend.

Asian adventure: Chicago indie-pop band Canasta packed cold-weather gear and took off for a February tour of Mongolia, part of a U.S. State Dept. program and a fitting way to spearhead the band's 10th anniversary.

Obama sings again: During a February performance at the White House featuring Buddy Guy, Mick Jagger, B.B. King and more, President Obama was handed the microphone and dropped a couple of lines for his hometown from "Sweet Home Chicago."

Jennifer heals: Whitney Houston was found dead the day before the 54th Grammy Awards in February, and Chicago's Jennifer Hudson balanced grief and grace for a stirring performance of Houston's "I Will Always Love You."

"Chi-Town"!: Britain's the Cribs recorded part of their latest album, "In the Belly of the Brazen Bull" in Chicago with Steve Albini, including this first single -- a stomping anthem for our fair city.

"Soul Train" remembered: At the SXSW music conference in Austin, Texas, Tony Cornelius, son of "Soul Train" creator Don Cornelius, spoke eloquently and waxed nostalgic about the Chicago-born TV institution and his late father.

10 more Lollas: In March, the Chicago Park District announced an extension of its contract with Lollapalooza to keep the annual mega-event in Grant Park at least through 2021, complete with a tax deal and a new outlook on the fest's future.

Just what the name says: No. 1 band fun. played Chicago's Vic Theatre and lived up to its name, showing they've got a whole tackle box full of pop hooks beyond "Some Nights" and their smash hit "We Are Young" with Janelle Monae.

No, Cubs, no!: A radio contest to find a new fight song for the city's bearish team worried some fans that Steve Goodman's classic "Go, Cubs, Go" was being retired. Fear not, but check out "Let's Go Cubbies" by Chicago's the Fold.

Red hot and cool: Funk-rock quartet the Red Hot Chili Peppers reunited and wound up in Chicago twice this year, first in a musically solid (but vocally meh) arena show and then again as a Lollapalooza headliner.

Good to know ya again: This year featured numerous local and national events celebrating the centennial of Woody Guthrie's birth. The late folksinger's spirit hovered over Chicago guitarist Tom Morello's repeated performances at Occupy Wall Street events, was the focus of Bruce Springsteen's SXSW keynote, was celebrated with a tribute show in the middle of May's hoopla around the downtown NATO meetings, got Billy Bragg to sing some "Mermaid Avenue" songs again, and wrapped with a fine theatrical production of "Woody Sez."

Ministry resurrected: Never say never. Singer and impish impresario Al Jourgensen reassembled Ministry, his pioneering industrial band, for a new album and tour blasting back through the band's birthplace in June.

EDM becomes a BFD: The pervasiveness of electronic dance music -- in the sound of many pop hits and on the stages of many concert venues -- peaked locally when the new Spring Awakening Festival, originally scheduled just outside of Soldier Field, expanded into the stadium to accommodate the massive crowds.

Ivy on "The Wall": Roger Waters returned to town with his bold concert production of Pink Floyd's "The Wall," this time along the ivy in Wrigley Field. Ambitious barely covers it -- the show was stunning.

Thataway: One Direction debuted in Chicago in June, filling Allstate Arena with the requisite squealing teenage girls. Nice harmonies, sure, but the fawned-over British quintet mostly just stood around looking clueless. The boy band's album surfaced in November.

Foundational festival: Cornerstone -- the Lollapalooza of Christian pop music, a multi-day fest operated by Jesus People USA in Uptown -- ended a 29-year run in July in downstate Illinois.

The right pitch: Highlights at this year's indie-focused Pitchfork Music Festival included the ripping rock of Wild Flag, Japandroids and crowd-surfer Ty Segall, the typically understated return of Godspeed You! Black Emperor, the major stage debut of Chicago's eccentric Willis Earl Beal, plus a noted notable in the crowd watching rapper Kendrick Lamar's show: Lady Gaga.

Tickets at Taste: The new ticketed area at the concert stage during Taste of Chicago attempted to raise money for the struggling event, but its logistical and revenue returns got mixed reviews during shows by Jennifer Hudson, Death Cab for Cutie, Dierks Bentley and others.

Ocean of attention: R&B singer rank Ocean's "Channel Orange" tops many best-of lists for 2012 (including mine), and just before its release -- and his Lollapalooza engagement -- Ocean caused a stir with an enigmatic reveal of a previous same-sex relationship.

Single of the summer: C'mon, it was "Hot Cheetos & Takis."

A whole Lolla rain: There were many great performances at this year's Lollapalooza -- including Black Sabbath, the Black Keys, sun-drenched Sigur Ros and Jack White's two bands -- but its lasting impression was the wise-but-confusing evacuation of Grant Park ahead of a sudden August storm.

Wine and song: New York's City Winery opened an outpost in the West Loop in August, upping the ante for adult rock and singer-songwriter bookings. Finally, another place to rock out -- but with a decent pour in an actual glass.

Somebody we know for now: Australian pop singer Gotye stopped in Chicago in August for a performance of many other songs besides his saturated -- and frequently parodied -- hit "Somebody That I Used to Know."

Un-Caged: The MCA put up a clever exhibit in September of artifacts connected to composer John Cage, once a Chicago resident and an influence in rock music throughout the city and world.

Smashing through: Billy Corgan spent the year busier than ever -- reissuing more albums from the Smashing Pumpkins catalog, MCing events for his local pro wrestling group, opening a tea shop in Highland Park and this summer releasing an acclaimed new Pumpkins record, "Oceania," followed by a U.S. tour.

Riot on!: Riot Fest, Chicago's annual punk-inspired festival, expanded to include a weekend outdoors in the city's underappreciated Humboldt Park. The sets (Iggy Pop, Elvis Costello, more) were hot, the day was not, and the park was perfect.

Preachin' for teachin': When Chicago teachers went on strike in September, there was more to sing on the line than "Union Maid." Chicago rap duo Rebel Diaz contributed their well-crafted song "Chicago Teacher" to the cause.

Pauper: R&B-pop icon Prince scheduled three highly anticipated arena shows here in September, but got off to a rocky start. The first concert was less than great, and that night he didn't make it to his own touted and ticketed after-show at House of Blues.

Bruce is loose: Bruce Springsteen was everywhere in 2012 -- on a new album ("Wrecking Ball"), informing an innovative local theater's short plays based on his "Nebraska" album, and finally setting an attendance record for his September concerts at Wrigley Field.

South Side spotlight: Record labels descended on the South Side later in the year to sign up rising rappers from the city's "drill" scene, including Lil Reese, Lil Durk, King Louie and the talked-about Chief Keef -- a 17-year-old MC with a rap sheet and a new rap record.

Kells bells: It was a comeback year for R&B star R. Kelly, who published his not-so-revealing memoir, Soulacoaster, in June, followed by another acclaimed album, "Write Me Back." But the most heralded return was that of his nutty music-video soap opera "Trapped in the Closet," which premiered new chapters after Thanksgiving.

No "Mercy": Chicago's unchained rapper Kanye West started the year by revealing his relationship with the pointlessly famous Kim Kardashian via song ("Theraflu") and capped it with a celebrated mixtape, "Cruel Summer."

Who're the geezers?: Ahead of appearances on the Grammy nominations show and the Hurricane Sandy benefit, the Who performed its latest "Quadrophenia" revival at Allstate Arena.

Jingle style: PSY, the South Korean behind the year's most talked-about hit, "Gangnam Style," brought his horsey dance and wondrous one hit to Chicago's Jingle Bash concert in December.

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Thomas Conner

Thomas Conner covers pop music for the Chicago Sun-Times. Contact him via e-mail.


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This page contains a single entry by Thomas Conner published on December 25, 2012 4:00 AM.

Best of 2012: 10 pop songs was the previous entry in this blog.

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