Whether reviewing the past year or looking into the next one, focusing on lists can be too restrictive.

Whether reviewing the past year or looking into the next one, focusing on lists can be too restrictive. (iStock)

A few years ago, I was compiling my obligatory best-of list for the year in music when something hit me: This is silly. I had been part of the routine for too long and it wasn’t romantic anymore. Why?

A) Most publications set deadlines for these lists at the beginning of November, which means if you release a record in either of the last two months of a calendar year, you probably won’t be included. So two out of the year’s 12 months are ostensibly ignored. It shouldn’t be “best of the year;” it should be “best of the year minus 1/6th of the year.”

B) Since when do any of these lists matter? I don’t know about you, but never, in the history of time, have I said, “Gee, I wonder what Rolling Stone’s No. 1 album of 2007 was,” and then furiously searched to find out. Once these things see the light of day, it’s in one ear, out the other.

C) They’re mostly all the same. There was a time when if Kanye West put out anything — anything — it was almost a rule that it needed to be in the top five of any reputable music outlet at the end of the year. Ditto for Radiohead. Bjork. The list is a lot longer than most people think. If you didn’t include certain artists, you simply didn’t have good taste. It’s groupthink at its ugliest.

And D) Why should music fans, lovers, writers, admirers or anything else in between have to consider only the last 10 months in music when they think about what they loved most that year in music? You could be 75 years old and magically decide to pick up a Rush album. If you love it, you could spend the next 11 months scouring the band’s catalogue and boom: Your year in music could be defined by songs that are half a century old.

It’s that last reason why I’m writing this. 2023 is over. The year wasn’t entirely defined by new music for me, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t a fruitful year all the way around.

Sure, there were new releases that I loved — albums by Sampha, Jenny Lewis, Nathaniel Rateliff and Matchbox Twenty (yes, that Matchbox Twenty) kept my attention for as long as they’ve been out — but I also took some time to revisit everything from old Phil Collins B-sides to a Chvrches record for which I was far too late to the party.

Then there were the live shows. I saw Peter Gabriel preview his first record in decades live and in color and it very much introduced those songs in a perfect manner for this attendee. Joss Stone blew my mind with a greatest hits set that left no … wait for it … Stone unturned. I wept watching Lyle Lovett perform with the National Symphony Orchestra. I sat in awe as Les Claypool and his buddies performed an entire Pink Floyd album. And then, of course, Matchbox Twenty (yes, again, that Matchbox Twenty).

How about books? Bill Janovitz’s “Leon Russell: The Master of Space and Time’s Journey Through Rock & Roll History” was a great tribute to one of rock’s weirdest minds. Peter Cooper’s “Johnny’s Cash and Charlie’s Pride: Lasting Legends and Untold Adventures In Country Music” turned out to be one of my favorite books ever … even if it didn’t come out in 2023.

My point is, between old music, new music, live shows, reading material and even the marriage of music and film (I maintain that seeing “Stop Making Sense” in a movie theater is essential for any pop music lover), 2023 was great year in music. Or, well, at least as far as I’m concerned. And in no way was that defined only by new releases.

So, as the calendar turns to 2024 and the cycle begins again, new music from new artists on the horizon and old records begging to be found by brand new ears, it’s only fair that I ask one final question, hopefully putting a bow on the past 12 months for all of us music lovers out there.

How about you?

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