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Comebacks, Legal Problems, Music Downloads Mark 2006 in Pop

2006 provided plenty of headlines: Rock greats fell out of trees while others simply produced some of the best music of their careers. Pop icons fell afoul of the law while audiences stayed away from concerts in droves - they were too busy downloading music at home. VOA's Ray McDonald takes a look at the year's pop music highlights.

The 2006 Record of the Year Grammy winner hinted at some of the surprises to come: Green Day, formerly known for its adolescent approach to punk rock, took home a pair of trophies for its ambitious concept album American Idiot and the single "Boulevard of Broken Dreams."

Away from the podium, live music had a bumpy ride in 2006. U.S. concert attendance continued to fall, while individual ticket prices rose. Lesser-known acts scaled back arena sizes, while sure-thing attractions such as the Rolling Stones sat back and counted their money.

The veteran rockers set a world record in 2006, grossing an estimated $437 million from their latest tour. The Stones did have an unexpected hiatus when guitarist Keith Richards underwent brain surgery - he fell out of a coconut tree while on holiday in Fiji.

Other veteran acts also did well: The Who issued its first studio album since 1982; The New York Dolls returned with their first studio set since 1974 - and 65-year-old Bob Dylan earned rave reviews for his latest set, Modern Times. No less an authority than Rolling Stone magazine proclaimed it the year's best album.

The hip-hop world also witnessed two high-profile comebacks: Sean "Diddy" Combs released Press Play, his first solo album in seven years, while rapper-cum-record executive Jay-Z ended a three-year layoff with Kingdom Come. He and his girlfriend Beyoncé Knowles continued to dodge marriage rumors while providing a steady source of headlines.

Generating a different sort of press was hapless Britney Spears. The one-time pop queen continued her downward spiral. After filing for divorce from her husband Kevin Federline, she was photographed carousing with heiress-turned pop singer Paris Hilton and trouble-prone actress Lindsay Lohan. Britney ends the year under scrutiny by California state child welfare authorities, who fear she may be neglecting her two infant sons.

U.S. music lovers continued to neglect their former recorded medium of choice. Compact disc sales experienced their fifth drop in six years, while digital downloads continued to skyrocket.

Before we return to our iPods and mp3 players, however, let's take a moment to remember those who left us in 2006. Ahmet Ertegun - who revolutionized U.S. music when he co-founded Atlantic Records in 1947 - died December 14 after slipping into a coma. He had fallen in October, while attending a concert by his former clients, The Rolling Stones.

Also departing this year were Atlantic Records soul great Wilson Pickett; Pink Floyd founder Syd Barrett; R&B keyboardist Billy Preston, known for his work with The Beatles; 1950s' R&B star Ruth Brown; gospel singer-turned soul star Lou Rawls; and Arthur Lee, who fronted the band Love. He was one of the few African-American rock stars of the 1960s.