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Ann Powers

The new documentary Muscle Shoals recalls how interracial harmony in tumultuous times made possible a new kind of music. Leading African-American artists traveled to North Alabama — not exactly a place they thought they'd be welcome in the civil rights era — to jam with an all-white crew of session players. In little rooms near the wide Tennessee River, they perfected soul and anticipated Southern rock.

If Bob Dylan's long career as a genius of the American spirit has taught us anything, it's that one fan's trash is another one's treasure. "I never looked at songs as 'good' or 'bad,' only different kinds of good ones," he once said. Dylan's music, from the magpie folk of his early years to the historically conscious balladry of his current albums, has always reminded us that our legacy includes not just ennobling beauty, but also minstrelsy, dirty blues, sentimental sappiness and rama-lama-ding-dong.

Kathleen Hanna's voice shatters things — maybe glass, given the lung capacity behind her vibrating wail, but more importantly barriers and preconceptions. Her '90s band Bikini Kill helped revitalize both indie-rock and feminism; in that group and in Le Tigre, the beats-based trio that followed, Hanna created sounds and spaces that allowed women to feel free and full of themselves.

Sometimes, it can be difficult to notice a cultural sea change. At first, there's just a little, unexpected turn in the tide. But then, whoosh! The new current takes over, and old preconceptions are swept away. Country music seems to be in the middle of this process now.

Why Some Musicians Last

Sep 20, 2012

The mists of eternity wafted over my Twitter feed the other night. Okay, not quite — but talk of eternity, or at least of the pop scene in thirty years, did make for a lengthy and spirited group exchange. It started when a friend who's not fond of singing competitions asked whether Kelly Clarkson will be remembered in 2042.

Yesterday my husband and I had the same thought at the same time. It's not an uncommon occurrence for two writers who've spent decades arguing and enthusing about pop music. I mention it, in part, to stave off accusations that I'm plagiarizing from a nearby source, but also because I think what we reflected upon in light of the writer Jonah Lehrer's fatal mistake was probably in the minds of many music obsessives.

I fell in love with Bruce Springsteen for his swagger. It was ridiculous and offered so much hope. Here was a bony dude with the worst haircut ever, who wore T-shirts covered in holes — seriously, he looked like the fry cook at the amusement park where I worked as a counter girl in the summer — making music as big as the known universe.

Pop singer Donna Summer, whose long career began in the 1960s and reached its apex in the disco era of the '70s, died of cancer on Thursday at her home in Naples, Florida. Summer was 63 years old. According to Billboard magazine, the singer born LaDonna Gaines had 32 singles that charted in the Hot 100. Fourteen of them made it into the top 10. To hear Sami Yenigun's appreciation of Donna Summer's life and career, as heard on All Things Considered, click the audio link.

This Sunday the annual Grammy Award winners will be announced. One of the biggest categories is Song of the Year, which goes to a songwriter. Every day this week, we'll give you a little intel on one of the nominees. Today, Mumford and Sons' "The Cave."

This Sunday the annual Grammy Award winners will be announced. One of the biggest categories is Song of the Year, which goes to a songwriter. Every day this week, we'll give you a little intel on one of the nominees. Today, Bon Iver's "Holocene."

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