it comes to "popular music"
in its most basic sense,1999 will go down as one of the worst years since
Pat Boone and Annette Funicello topped the charts. Yup, the Mouseketeers
Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera, N' Sync and the rest of their
25-year old brethren took it over. Did you think that the person
or, more accurately, the science lab that could generate sounds which made
the Spice Girls and the Backstreet Boys seem complex actually existed? When
the great ear cancer epidemic of 2010 hits, we won't know whether it was
the proliferation of cell phones or saccharine
airwaves in 1999 that did it.
And, ugh, the rap-metal-funk thing, oy! OK, people, see if you can follow me: A bunch of middle-aged clowns run a few multinational conglomerates. Said middle-aged men sit down in a big room with big leather chairs and think, "What do the kids want?" "Hm, Watkins, you got anything on that?" "Well, sir, it seems they still like to piss off their parents." So the suits get together and slap together some metal (annoys parents) and some rap (which still, after all these years, seems to scare a few folks in the Midwest) and put some naughty lyrics and photos of porn stars on it and voila: The kids eat it up. Why? "Because it's not like that Backstreet Boys crap, man!" Listen, the product is sweetened up and smutted down by the same people for the same reason: to get your money into their pockets so the shareholders don't fire them.
Still, the worthwhile and even the remarkable managed to flourish in the black shadow of the music industry. Despite distressing larger trends, 1999 proved to be a year of good albums: It was harder to decide what to leave off the list than to scramble for what was worthy of being on it. While big-time country meant Garth Brooks' latest insane marketing ploy and Shania Twain's newest bustier, it also quietly returned to its roots. For her lush "I've Got a Right to Cry," former Patsy Cline impersonator Mandy Barnett showed off pipes, sass and a crack band the likes of which hasn't been seen since ... well, Patsy Cline.
Hank Williams III proved himself to be more like Hank I than Hank II ever was, turning in a disc of road-weary, beer chugging, moanin' and weepin' tunes worthy of its "Risin' Outlaw" moniker. As if to settle the argument once and for all, Nashville's ultimate reigning diva Dolly Parton produced her best effort in years, if not decades. "The Grass Is Blue" returned the pristine wonder of her voice to its natural setting of traditional songs, mandolins and banjos.
Ladies' props also came around in hip-hop, as Eve raised herself above being merely the "First Lady of the Ruff Ryders" to prove that a woman can be as tough as DMX and as sexy as Foxy Brown. Eve's solo debut showed her ability to go from a hearts-'n'-flowers girly love song to a chillingly straight forward narrative about domestic violence. And it wasn't just the ladies who finally got theirs: Rap production overlord Prince Paul created two of the year's most original and impressive efforts but this time the epic tragedy "A Prince Among Thieves" and the comedy pastiche of "Handsome Boy Modeling School" had the brother doing it for himself.
In the reborn diva department, long-forgotten jazz singer Teri Thornton returned to prominence in a Cinderella scenario that had her going from battling cancer to headlining festivals, as well as releasing "I'll Be Easy to Find,"a disc that proved her to be among the top jazz vocalists in the business. Angie Stone, another recently discovered lady of distinction, had drifted around the music scene, hip-hopping in the '80s, collaborating with D'Angelo and Lenny Kravitz in the '90s, but closing the century with "Black Diamond," a funky, sultry, soulful makeout album for both the old school and new jack.
Yeah, I know A Tribe Called Quest called it quits this year. Curtis Mayfield died. Pretty much every band I liked got dropped during the Universal/Polygram merger. Many of the clubs I used to hang at got shut down by that creep of a mayor we're still stuck with. An incredible level of other rotten things happened. But I have this to say: I got to see Tom Waits. Which means it was a good year for me.
Lissa Townsend Rodgers