RIFF REWIND 2023: Metallica, Miley Cyrus and Dolly Parton

Rolling Stones, Mick Jagger

Mick Jagger performs during the Rolling Stones’ Forty Licks Tour at Madison Square Garden in New York City in 2003. Photo by KMazur/WireImage. Photo by James Keivom/NY Daily News Archive via Getty Images.

In 2018 I completed a quest to list my top five (or so) songs for every year from 1967 to the present. I’ve since added 2019, 2020, 2021 and 2022.

Last year I included a couple new, young artists you may not have heard of. This year, including the honorable mentions, two acts are in their 70s (Rolling Stones, Dolly Parton) and one in their 80s. Less young, less new. But I like what I like and I make no apologies. It would be nice if it was an even mix every year, but apparently they don’t release albums specifically for the purposes of my year-end column.

A note for future readers dragging me for leaving out some great song I didn’t hear: It’s impossible to really distill down the best music from a year during that year. Nirvana’s “About a Girl” is one of the best songs of 1989 but Bleach sold a grand total of 40,000 copies, so I probably wouldn’t have heard it by then. People only noticed retroactively when Nevermind came out. If I find something better later, I’ll correcting myself.

Miley Cyrus — “Flowers”

Every year there’s one inescapable pop song that finds its way to every radio station and grocery store and car passing by—so that you’re never not hearing it. For 2023, at least for me, “Flowers” was that song.

I should be sick of it by now. You hear anything too much and it becomes like nails on a chalkboard. But I still enjoy this one, and that makes it one of the top five songs in the year. You know how much it takes for me to not get tired of an overplayed pop song? Amazing.

Plus, we should enjoy Miley Cyrus music while we can. She’s sounding more like Patty and Selma each year.

100 gecs — “Hollywood Baby”

I still don’t know what to make of 100 gecs. I don’t understand them at all and I don’t understand how their fans are so passionate and obsessed. It’s just one of those things, you know? Everyone’s got some.

That doesn’t mean I don’t like their music, mind you. There’s this vaguely unhinged quality to the structure that I can appreciate, that’s somehow getting more refined over time. Can you refine unhinged? This is all very confusing to me. “Hollywood Baby” is a good song and I enjoy it very much. I should probably stop thinking too much about it.

Metallica — “72 Seasons”

Last year I made a joke that I couldn’t include this song because I go by when the album is released, not the single. I half expected that there would be a song I liked more on the album to use instead but, no, this one still takes the prize.

Like my esteemed colleague Tony Hicks said in his review, 72 Seasons is fine. It’s Metallica doing a Metallica album, not one of its best but a solid record. I love when the band gets creative and tries new things, even if the result is St. Anger. But one of the greatest bands of all time going back to the well and doing the sort of songs that made it famous isn’t a bad thing by any means.

Of course, the next entry shows them up quite a bit.

The Rolling Stones — “Angry”

Hackney Diamonds blew my mind.

The Rolling Stones have been making albums steadily for 60 years, but like all bands, they never quite recaptured what made them great when they were young. I think the last new Stones album I liked was Bridges to Babylon back in the ’90s, but I was also a teenager then so I may have just not known any better.

Then, in their late 70s at the time of recording, the Stones come out with an album that sounds like it could have been from 1972. While 72 Seasons is Metallica doing Metallica in a critical sense, Hackney Diamonds is like if Metallica came out with an album that sounds like it was recorded just after …And Justice For All. It feels like it’s always existed, like it’s a classic Stones album I’ve been listening to since I was a kid.

I suspect this is going to be their last album and last tour. Never bet against them, but if it is, what an amazing note on which to go out.

Dolly Parton — “Bygones”

Speaking of septuagenarians, Dolly Parton came out with a rock album.

It’s mostly covers, but a lot of them have the original artists performing on them. “Baby, I Love Your Way” with Peter Frampton on guitar. “Long As I Can See the Light” with John Fogerty. “Let It Be” performed with the surviving Beatles, plus Frampton and Mick Fleetwood. It’s a ridiculous all-star roster with a very Dolly twist.

There are a few originals on there, though. “World on Fire” is the hit single that everyone’s heard, and it’s good, but “Bygones” needs more love. It’s a duet with Rob Halford from Judas Priest, Mötley Crüe’s Nikki Sixx on bass and John 5 on guitar. (As an aside, wondering how Dolly Parton knew John 5 was how I learned he quit Rob Zombie’s band and has been touring with Mötley Crüe, so presumably he came with Sixx).

I know it’s a twee cliche to be obsessed with Dolly Parton, but she really is very cool, a fantastic musician, has done a lot of good for the world and apparently missed her calling as a rock vocalist. She crushes it.

Honorable Mentions:

Gorillaz (featuring Stevie Nicks) — “Oil”
Alice Cooper — “I’m Alice”
Olivia Rodrigo — “Get Him Back!”

Follow publisher Daniel J. Willis and send column ideas to him at @bayareadata.press on BlueSky. (He has some invites if you ask nicely).

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