So much about this year in music felt weighty, ponderous and unforgettable. David Bowie put out his brilliant 25th record on his birthday in January. Two days later, he was dead. Leonard Cohen put out a record for his own 82nd birthday, and a few weeks later, he too was gone. And we lost Prince, George Martin, Pierre Boulez, Merle Haggard, Ralph Stanley, Bernie Worrell — and now I'm going to stop, because I'm getting sad again.
It feels like more music was released this year than ever before, and the fact that you could have access to 30 million songs for the price of nothing meant all of it was competing for your attention. So artists with money made events out of their albums. Beyoncé had her HBO special. Her sister Solange did a book. Frank Ocean built a staircase and two complete albums. Anderson .Paak put out two records for a total of 35 tracks. It's still not easy to say what Kanye did. And albums seemed to get longer: James Blake's 2011 record was a concise 38 minutes, while his 2016 album was exactly double that length. Everyone seemed to be trying to figure out how to stand out. Given the quantity, digging deep into these works of art was harder than ever.
So on this edition of All Songs Considered, NPR Music's Ann Powers, Stephen Thompson, Robin Hilton and I take a chronological audio stroll through 2016, looking at memorable moments and important releases. We'll also play a few lesser-knowns from our personal favorites, including Adam Torres, Greg Laswell and more.