What else can you say when the most influential and aesthetically satisfying work of the year isn’t on a record label, can’t be bought in retail stores and is illegal to boot? Welcome to 2004, folks, where DJ Danger Mouse’s remarkable Jay-Z/Beatles mash-up Grey Album raises all sorts of probing post-postmodern conundrums...


Hey, as Years Go, 2004 Was One, Wasn't It? DJ Danger Mouse, Brian Wilson, Bob Dylan, U2, Green Day Provided Some Solace
TRAKIN'S BEST OF THE WORST: To paraphrase Chucky Dickens, it was the best of the worst of times. What else can you say when the most influential and aesthetically satisfying work of the year isn’t on a record label, can’t be bought in retail stores and is illegal to boot? Welcome to 2004, folks, where DJ Danger Mouse’s remarkable Jay-Z/Beatles mash-up Grey Album raises all sorts of probing post-postmodern conundrums, from the nature of making music to how it’s distributed to the shifting nature of intellectual property in a digital universe. Of course, it’s already been co-opted by the establishment (see Jay-Z/Linkin Park), but it was fun while it lasted, and it did carve out common ground between old-school rockists and new-school hip-hoppers.

But you can feel the air going out of the Best Album year-end wheeze with every new iPod hook-up. Who even listens to the songs on albums in the order in which they're programmed? Unregenerate Boomers, that's who. Passed over by the mass marketers that now hunger over their kids, whose shortened IM-addled attention span minds can absorb 10 simultaneous media messages, but can't concentrate enough to read a paragraph, let alone a book

So it's no wonder then that two of my other fave albums offered epiphanies from rock legends in the present and past, when men were men and an album was a two-sided vinyl platter with 12 songs. One of two of my feel-good stories of the year (the Dolls' comeback was the other ), Brian Wilson’s SMiLE (Nonesuch) represents music therapy in action, while Bob Dylan’s Live 1964 Concert at Philharmonic Hall (Legacy/Sony) shows how we were so much younger then. SMiLE is the ultimate catharsis (take that, Mike Love and you, too Murry) 38 years after the fact, as Brian gets the last "smile," if not the last laugh. The sixth in Dylan's ungoing live "bootleg" series captures an icon before he knew he was one (though his recent autobiography indicates he knew all along). The audience's delight in hearing these not-yet standards provides a brief period of discovery before the mythology and expectations Dylan so laments in Chronicles kick in.

Dylan's book, the first of a promised three editions, is truly mind-boggling. His thoughts about how the creative process can be as arbitrary and obscure as inspiration itself is something that continues to trouble him as he, to his mind unsuccessfully, tries to recreate that initial burst of genius. After awhile, he just gives up and concentrates on his craft and the work. It's all very fascinating, especially if you have any interest in what makes the enigmatic man tick, which has so often seemed to involve the deadpan put-on. At least in Chronicles, Dylan comes off like he's trying to be as straightforward as he can, which can be as deceptive as the rusted-out Buick that he describes on his front lawn. With idiosyncratic tastes and non-sequitir segues, it's Dylan at his wiliest. When I recently ran into Neil Young manager Elliot Roberts, who is mentioned several times in the book, he replied how fascinating it was to read the conversations and events Dylan related about him, most of which he admitted he could barely recall. Just goes to show you the relativity of artistic truth.

The two best-received ainstream rock releases had to be U2’s How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb (Interscope) and Green Day’s American Idiot (Reprise), both of which paid homage to the past; U2, their own and Green Day, that of The Who and David Bowie. Now, if you tell me that rock music is headed to be our generation's jazz in terms of an ever-diminishing niche audience and media influence, I'd say you might well be right, but then, as long as there are hormonally driven teenage boys and girls, there will be some form of rebel music. My own two kids, 16 and 14, are just as interested in the Stones, the Beatles, R.E.M. and Nirvana as they are in Eminem, The Thrills, System of a Down, White Stripes or Coheed and Cambria.

Hip-hop continued to grow in new and unexpected ways. Kanye West’s College Dropout (Roc-A-Fella/IDJ) and The StreetsA Grand Don’t Come for Free (Vice/Atl.) were impressive for their diversity as well as their conceptual skillz. West and Mike Skinner are, first and foremost, storytellers, with a marvelous sense of character and setting, creating the equivalent of hip-hoperas.

My favorite new artists of the year were both females: Nellie McKay for her impressive crossover cabaret meets hip-hop, Sandra Dee-meets-Sarah Silverman cutting edge in the impressive debut, Get Away From Me (Columbia) and Go Betty Go, whose Worst Enemy EP (SideOneDummy) featured four teen Latinas from Glendale doing intelligent Blondie-style pop-punk with a true possibility at merging rock en espanol with the KROQ sensibility. Along with PJ Harvey’s Uh Huh Her (Island), they were the best female rock records of the year.

Roots: Loretta Lynn’s Van Lear Rose (Interscope), Los LobosThe Ride (Hollywood) The best pure American music of the year, the former courtest of producer/fan Jack White, the latter a summary of three decades as L.A.'s finest East Side rockers.

Soundtrack: Garden State (Epic/ SMS), Cold Mountain (SMS)
The former was as instrumental in telling the story of its film as The Graduate was, giving the film its flavor, and its raison d'etre as the movie whose plot twist turns on a Shins song. The latter's T Bone Burnett-produced soundtrack (especially Jack White's contributions) provided the glue that kept the underrated film's oft-rambling tale coherent.

Live Albums: The Return of the New York Dolls (Sanctuary), The PixiesLive in Indio (DiscLive), Lou Reed, Animal Serenade (WB)
As I said, I am forever indebted to Morrissey for convincing the Dolls to return and take back their legacy. And while quibblers may quibble, the new band played those classic tunes even better than the original band... and don't tell me that's not saying much.

Comebacks: New York Dolls, Prince, Patti Smith
I've waxed about the Dolls. To my mind, they're more important than Aerosmith (except for "Walk This Way"), Kiss and Motley Crue put together, all of whom took elements of the Dolls as a springboard to their success. The Soundscan-fueled Prince comeback was pretty impressive, and it's always great to see and hear Patti, whose Trampin' offered solid proof she hasn't lost her game. Now let's get her into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Underrated: Courtney Love, Dean Martin
I always feel sorry for people who are smarter than the room and feel compelled to let everyone know it. I have a begrudging respect for Love, without completely ruling her out as a suspect in the death of her husband, of course. Her public antics over the past year were pretty sad and pitiable in and of themselves, but they also resulted in an often-brilliant album that captured all that excess, hype and tabloid headlines and shoved them back in our face with glee. America's Sweetheart may be the most fucked-up album since, oh, say, Tonight's the Night or There's a Riot Going On. But it captures our own celebrity-obsessed culture with a poison pen equal to Love forebears like Frances Farmer and Dorothy Parker. Not even Yoko Ono made an album this good. As for Dino, his status as a singer is usually overshadowed by ex-partner Jerry Lewis or pal Frank Sinatra, but the recent Capitol/EMI reissue, Dino: The Essential Dean Martin proves, while not as technically impressive as his Rat Pack brethren, Martin was still the epitome of casual cool, the Cary Grant of pop, capable of urbane sophistication or eyeball-rolling, physical humor. Any vocal shortcomings were overwhelmed by his one-to-one directness. Dean Martin’s hip insouciance was adopted by the post-war generation as its stylistic/behavioral credo, but it could well be the next big thing, too.

Jon Stewart, Michael Moore
Sorry, I just don't get Stewart. His deadpan ironic hipster is way too cool for me, though I'm happy he cops to his Hebrew heritage. He just seems like a younger, more self-aware version of fellow politicomic wannabes Dennis Miller and Bill Maher. None of them are as vital, or important, or, more importantly, as funny as Howard Stern. Or Artie Lang, for that matter. Michael Moore is effective, in a bludgeon-you-over-the-head/nod-nod-wink-wink-aren't-we-smarter-than the man-in-the-street kinda way, but at this point, way too full of himself.

Songs: Jay-Z/Beatles, "99 Problems/Helter Skelter," D12, "My Band," U2, "Miracle Drug," Kanye West, "All Falls Down," OutKast, "Roses," Hoobastank, "The Reason," Eminem, "Mosh," Beastie Boys’ "Open Letter to NYC," Black Eyed Peas’ "Let’s Get It Started," The Killers’ "Somebody Told Me"
Several people have told me that this version of "99 Problems" turned them on to the Jay-Z original, and they're not kidding... Mashing it up with "Helter Skelter" was just brilliant, one of the many musical highlights of The Grey Album. D12's song is the best Eminem song of the year, while U2's "Miracle Drug" is just overwhelmingly passionate and emotional; whether you like that kind of thing is another story. Kanye West's song proved he had serious crossover power as a soul crooner and superstar producer, while OutKast's "Roses," a holdover from 2003, turned out to be irresistible in its playground rhymin' kinda way. You'll be hearing the Hoobastank song at high school proms and weddings for the rest of your life. Just call it a "guilty" pleasure, in more ways than one. Eminem's "Mosh" was inspiring, mostly for the timing of the video and its instant distribution, while the Beastie Boys/Dead Boys track was the best commercial mash-up record of the year. Even though I preferred the earlier "Let's Get Retarded," the original, the BEP/NBA promo was damn near ubiquitous and rousing almost every time. And The Killers' "Somebody Told Me" is a spirited buffing up of the '90s Manchester Hacienda dance-rock vibe with a welcome dollop of Vegas glitz.

1. Collateral: Michael Mann's film, is on the surface, a thriller, but underneath has some fascinating things to say about the thin line between good and evil, inner city racism and urban grit, fate and free will, with Jamie Foxx's best performance of the year, and a totally underrated turn by Tom Cruise.

2. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind: Michel Gondry and Charlie Kaufman's metaphysical love story is the best romantic comedy of the year, even a little better than Sideways, with arguably the standout performance of Jim Carrey's career and Kate Winslet not far behind.

3. Kill Bill Vol. 2: Quentin Tarantino's homage to Hong Kong martial arts, Italian spaghetti western and his own idiosyncratic trash mythology, is pulp fiction at its finest, with larger-than-life turns from Uma Thurman and David Carradine, among many others.

4. DIG!: (Palm Pictures): Ondi Timoner’s seven-years-in-the-making (‘96-’03) movie chronicling the divergent fortunes of Portland bands Brian Jonestown Massacre and Dandy Warhols was the best non-fiction film of the year, a hilarious look at rock stardom and the record industry, with starmaking turns by BJM's incredibly egotistic but driven frontman Anton Newcombe and the band’s wacky, bushy-haired, mutton-chop-wearing tambourine player Joel Gion, a Harpo Marx for our time.

5. Sideways: Jim Taylor's screenplay is the best of the year, while director Alexander Payne continues to carve out a niche for himself as the post-modern Preston Sturges, with delicate performances from one and all. Paul Giamatti is the new Woody Allen.

6. Garden State: Zach Braff's debut is a wonderfully idiosyncratic tale of Generation Y that evokes, but never apes, such coming-of-age flicks as The Graduate and You're a Big Boy Now, as the best indie-rock soundtrack of the year fills in any gaps of logic with shivers of emotion.

7. Kinsey: Liam Neeson and Laura Linney as the sex researcher and his devoted wife are certain Oscar nominees in Bill Condon's politically charged, surprisingly absorbing tale of sex and nature along with the lure and limits of science in describing, and trying to capture, human behavior.

8. Spider-Man 2: Sam Raimi's sequel is even better than the original, the rare summer blockbuster that touches on human frailty and emotion. Toby Maguire won't get too many mentions around award time, but he deserves one.

9. Ray: Jamie Foxx's daring performance is, of course, the linchpin, but Taylor Hackford's affection for musical history and the specifics of the record industry backdrop, which he first showed off in The Idolmaker, are key in making this otherwise traditional biopic jump off the screen.

10. Polar Express IMAX 3D: Every barb the critics aimed at Robert Zemeckis' "original version" is answered in this dazzling, totally involving E-ticket ride. You can almost feel the snowflakes on the tip of your nose. If you haven't seen the IMAX 3D edition, you haven't seen this movie.

Disappointments: The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, I [Heart] Huckabees

New TV: The Office, Lost, Entourage, Da Ali G Show, Family Bonds, HUFF, Desperate Housewives, Games 4-7 of Boston Red Sox-New York Yankees playoff

Books: Jonathan Lethem’s Fortress of Solitude, Walter Yetnikoff’s Howling at the Moon, Fred Goodman's The Secret City, Jacob Slichter's So You Wanna Be a Rock & Roll Star, Neil McCormick's Killing Bono

Continuing the literary trend of portraits of the rock critic as young man (and woman), Lethem's novel is a sprawling urban epic about growing up in a black gentrifying neighborhood in Brooklyn next to a legendary soul singer in the throes of cocaine addiction. Like his fellow Jonathans, Safran Foer and Franzen, Lethem is a post-modern stylist who writes himself into his story, but doesn't spare the petard. Yetnikoff, Slichter and McCormick wrote the best books of the year both about a music business that is imploding before our very eyes and a nostalgic yearning for where it came from. Mansion on the Hill author Goodman's story of the hidden world of Bronx's massive Woodlawn Cemetery is a meticulously researched series of profiles of some of New York's forgotten heroes buried there, a kind of Ragtime-meets-Alienist view of the city at the turn of the last century. On the way, he deals with his own intimations of mortality and midlife crisis in their now-lost-to-the-dustbins-of-history tales.

Daryl Hall and John Oates’ Top 10 Soul Songs of All Time: Daryl: Delfonics' "Didn't I Blow Your Mind," Marvin Gaye's "What Going On," Al Green's "I'm Still in Love With You," O'Jays' "For the Love of Money," Marvin Gaye's "Let's Get It On," O'Jays' "Backstabbers," Aretha Franklin's "Daydreamin'," Marvin Gaye's "Distant Lover," Teddy Pendergrass' "Love TKO"; John: Temptations’ "My Girl," Smokey Robinson and the Miracles’ "Oh Baby Baby," James Brown’s "Papa’s Got a Brand-New Bag," Curtis Mayfield’s "Gypsy Woman," O’Jays’ "Love Train," Jerry Butler’s "Western Union Man," Junior Walker and the All-Stars’ "Road Runner," Sam & Dave’s "With My Baby," Five Stairsteps’ "Ooh Child," Otis Redding’s "Try a Little Tenderness."

Motorcycle Diaries
Book: Philip Roth, The Plot Against America
Album: The Killers, Hot Fuss
Concert: Dredg at the Wiltern, L.A.
Toy: iPod

Getting married.
Movie (tie): Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Shrek 2
Book: Eric Larson, Devil in the White City
Album: DJ Danger Mouse, The Grey Album
Concert: Joss Stone at House of Blues, L.A.
TV: Survivor: Vanuatu
Toy: Blackberry 7100t

Featured on MTV's Artists to Watch shows, premiering Sunday (12/18):
Hip-Hop Artists to Watch: T.I.
, Rupee, Mike Jones f/Slim Thug, The Game f/50 Cent, The Diplomats f/Jim Jones

Rock Artists to Watch: The Music, Kasabian, The Zutons, Riddlin' Kids, The Bravery, Razorlight, Fall Out Boy

Top 5 Movies:
1. The Incredibles
2. Spider-Man 2
3. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
4. Finding Neverland
5. I, Robot

Best Foreign Language Film:
House of Flying Daggers

Best Actor
Jamie Foxx
(Ray, Collateral)

Best Actress
Kate Winslet (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind)

Best Rap Album
2 Pac
, Loyal to the Game
Young Buck, Straight Outta Cashville

Best Alternative Album
Muse, Absolution

Best R&B Album
Usher, Confessions

Best Concert of the Year
Muse at the Wiltern: Words cannot begin to describe how amazing this band is live. I got to see them twice this past year, and if they are playing near you next year, I would definitely put it on your to do list.

Best Sports Moment
Steve Finley
’s walk off grand slam to cap a seven-run ninth inning against the San Francisco Giants to clinch the NL West Division.

Hot new artist to look for in 2005:
John Legend (Sony Urban): He is putting the soul back into R&B.

Some upcoming events to look forward to:
Jan 1
5:30 p.m.
The Tostitos Fiesta Bowl
: Utah vs. Pitt: The new coach of Florida battles the new Stanford coach.

2 p.m.
Rose Bowl
: Michigan vs. Texas: What happened to California?

5:30 p.m.
Nokia Sugar Bowl:
Auburn vs. Virginia Tech: Auburn odd team looking in from the outside.

Jan 4
5 p.m.
Orange Bowl: USC vs. Oklahoma: For the big one... Steroid tests televised live after the game.

Million Dollar Baby
(Dec. 15): Director/star Clint Eastwood does Burgess Meredith sotto voce style in this distaff version of Rocky, with an equally low-key Morgan Freeman and Oscar nom-bound Hilary Swank.

The Aviator (Dec. 17): Leo D is dashing aviator/filmmaker/womanizer Howard Hughes in Martin Scorsese's eagerly anticipated biopic.

Flight of the Phoenix (Dec. 17): Remake of '60s "plane crash in the desert" movie, with Dennis Quaid. Can it be as good as Lost?

Spanglish (Dec. 17): James L. Brooks returns with his first movie since As Good As It Gets, with Adam Sandler and Tea Leoni as a married pair working their mojo out through their Spanish-speaking maid.

The Sea Inside (Dec. 17): Javier Bardem is getting Oscar talk as a quadraplegic Spanish fisherman fighting for his right to die with dignity. Directed by Alejandro Amenabar, who did The Others.

Meet the Folkers (Dec. 22): The Jay Roach-directed sequel to Meet the Parents, with Barbra Streisand and Dustin Hoffman as the titular Fockers (I just wanted to say that), joining a cast that includes Robert De Niro and Ben Stiller.

Hotel Rwanda (Dec. 22): Don Cheadle is getting plenty of award-season buzz as a hotel manager who shelters more than 1,000 refugees during the battle that broke out in this African country just a few years ago.

The Woodsman (Dec. 25): Convicted sex offender Kevin Bacon tries to adjust to life outside prison, striking up a relationship with real-life wife Kyra Sedwick in a role that is being touted for an Oscar nom. Just the thing for Christmas day, from buzzworthy first-time director Nicole Kassell.

In Good Company (Dec. 29): Paul Weitz, one-half of the brother team that directed American Pie and About a Boy, tackles this story of a corporate executive (Dennis Quaid) who has a younger man (That '70s Show's Topher Grace) promoted over him, only to learn his wife's pregnant and his daughter (Scarlett Johansson) is having an affair with his new boss.

The Assassination of Richard Nixon (Dec. 29): Set in 1974, Sean Penn is a disgruntled businessman who thinks shooting Nixon will solve all his problems, based on a true story, with Don Cheadle and Naomi Watts.

A Love Song for Bobby Long (Dec. 29): Scarlett Johansson received a Golden Globe nomination as a southern belle who returns home after her mother dies and moves into a dilapidated mansion to take up residence with a rather down-on-his-luck John Travolta and a guy writing a book about him.