320.  “Sweet Talkin’ Guy”- The Chiffons (1966):  This was one of the more complex girl-group numbers, with some excellent counterpoint.  It’s a shame the Chiffons aren’t in the same conversation as the Shirelles or the Vandellas, because they were just as good.

319.  “Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye”- Steam (1969):  Originally, Steam recorded this as a throwaway b-side.  Instead, disc jockeys decided to play it over the intended single, and its been played to taunt losers at sporting events and election parties ever since.

318. “Rain”- The Beatles (1966):  Forget “Lucy”.  This is the Beatles’ best psychedelic track, using the mundane phenomena of rain to explore the otherworldly and transcendental.  It’s also my favorite Lennon vocal of all time; John sounds the perfect mix of stoned and earnest.

317.  “I Want Candy”- The Strangeloves (1965):  Bizarre and repetitive, this girl-group song demanded sweet treats to the Bo Diddley beat.

316.  “Care of Cell 44″- The Zombies (1968):  This track led off their epic “Odessey and Oracle” album.  It’s only about midway through the song that you realize that the singer’s girl is, in fact, getting released from prison, which makes the track’s Beach Boys-esque vocal bridges hilariously incongruous.

315.  “I’m Yours and I’m Hers”- Johnny Winter (1969):  The late 60s were a great time for blues revival.  Zeppelin was beginning, Albert, Fred, and B. B. King were all returning to the spotlight, Clapton was king, and this amazing albino guitarist with a rough as gravel voice comes out.

314.  “All Day and All of the Night”- The Kinks (1965):  The Kinks nailed this rock track as the perfect mix of true love and teenage lust.

313. “Salt of the Earth” – The Rolling Stones (1968):  The closing track to the Rolling Stones’ “Beggars Banquet” album.  I hadn’t heard it until the Stones broke it out for the Concert for New York City in 2001, held in the aftermath of September 11th.  At a time when the Kinks and the Beatles were satirizing high-class Edwardian society, the Stones wrote this peon to the everyman.

312.  “Woodstock”- Joni Mitchell (1969):  Mitchell desperately wanted to play at the legendary rock festival, but her manager had already booked her on Merv Griffin and wouldn’t let her reschedule.  Joni was heartbroken, but wrote the best song about the festival (and perhaps one of the best songs ~about~ the late 60s), and fired her manager.

311.  “21st Century Schizoid Man”- King Crimson (1969): Maybe “Nights in White Satin” was the first progressive rock track, but this codified the blueprints and sent them to the patent office.  Bombastic, experimental, and filled with proficient solos.

310. “I Feel Free”- Cream (1967):  It’s strange to hear a song this lightweight and almost poppy coming from Cream’s psychedelic blues pedigree.  With a vocal intro that owed a debt to doo-wop and virtuoso performances by Clapton, Jack Bruce, and Ginger Baker, its no wonder Cream became rock’s first super-group.

309.  “There’s a Kind of Hush”- Herman’s Hermits (1966):  When I first started listening to Oldies when my mom drove my brother and I to school, this one was in frequent rotation on 98.3.  I always loved its atmospheric qualities, and its ability to create a sense of lovers’ intimacy with primitive mid-60s recording material.  The Hermits were kind of a joke band, like a Monkees that hadn’t decided to fully sell out, but this was one of their better efforts.

308.  “I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel to be Free”- Nina Simone (1967):  Another classic freedom song from Nina Simone, the best, and most angry cabaret singer in the 60s.

307.   “Quarter to Three”- Gary “U.S.” Bonds (1961):  Bonds fell through the cracks of rock history, peaking at its dire years between the first wave of rock and the British invasion.  Thank God Springsteen and the E-Street band revived this track in the 70s, and rehabilitated the Bondsman’s career.

306.  “Heroes and Villains”- The Beach Boys (1967):  Writing the “Smiley Smile” album cost Brian Wilson his already-tenuous sanity, but one great piece that did surface is this meandering, chaotic multi-movement song.  It’s lesser-known middle-8 gives it a Mexican/Wild West motif that makes the whole piece make more sense (Heroes and Villains = sheriffs and desperadoes?).  When I saw the reunited Beach Boys two summers ago, this song was the one where Brian Wilson snapped out of his fog and gave a committed, even inspired, performance.

305.  “Who’s Making Love”- Johnnie Taylor (1968):  Taylor thrived in both late 60s soul and mid-70s disco, and this taunting track picks on the cuckold whose lady he’s just taken.  Taylor delivers this with such conviction that he sounds like a bizzaro jackass version of Wilson Pickett.

304.  “River Deep, Mountain High”- Ike and Tina Turner (1967):  You have to feel sorry for Tina, singing with and being married to one violent psychopath (Ike) and having her record produced by another violent psychopath (Phil Spector).  It never became the pop masterpiece that Spector imagined (and the arduous process of recording it might have made him 50% less stable), but its still one of the best vocal performances of the decade.

303.  “High Flyin’ Bird”- Richie Havens (1967): Havens gets into a pretty awesome groove here with some enchanting rhythm guitar and great ensemble playing from the rest of the band.

302.  “Angel of the Morning”- Merilee Rush (1968):  A historically important track, if only because it reflects women’s changing views on sexuality in the late 60s.  Rush asserts her sexual independence throughout the song in lines like “I’m old enough to face the dawn”, and “there’s no need to take a stand when it was I who chose to start.”  She clearly takes her man home, leaving him to take the “walk of shame” in the morning.  An amazing lyric for 1968.  Strangely, it was written by Chip Taylor, whose only other major hit was “Wild Thing.”

301.  “I Go to Pieces”- Peter and Gordon (1964):  This British Invasion folk duo crafted one of the sweetest and saddest songs from that era.  Never did the Brits more successfully emulate the Everly Brothers.


Although the team has spent most of the last twenty years in the basement of the Pacific division, the Warriors are one of the oldest teams in the NBA.  As we get ready for the 2014-15 NBA season, I thought it might be fun to make an all-time Golden State Warriors team.  Dangerous maniacs (Latrell Sprewell), talented people who didn’t give a damn when they were with Golden State (Bernard King, Robert Parish, Chris Webber), and lazy unmotivated asses (Joe Barry Carroll, Sleepy Floyd.)  Accomplishments cited include only the time spent as Warriors.


1.  Stephen Curry (PG, 2009-present): 1x All-Star, All-NBA 2nd team.  A better leader and floor general than Tim Hardaway, Curry had a breakout season this year, with a 50 win team, their third playoff appearance of the new millennium, and the first of many all-star appearances.

2.  Chris Mullin (SG, 1985-1997; 2000-2001): 5x All-Star, 1x All-NBA 1st team, 2x 2nd team, 1x 3rd team.  Mullin was the face of the organization during its renaissance in the late 80s and early 90s, a deadly outside shooter, and the hardest worker in the league.

3.  Rick Barry (SF, 1965-1967; 1972-1978):  1 ring, 1 Finals MVP, 8x All-Star, 1x All-Star MVP, 5x All-NBA 1st team, 1x 2nd team, 1 scoring title.  Rick Barry’s career had plenty of high points, as a young player in the 60s and a seasoned player in the 70s, one of the most consistent scoring threats and one of the best passing forwards ever.  Unfortunately, his loud mouth and penchant for alienating teammates also hurt the team in the long run.

4.  Nate Thurmond (PF, 1963-1974): 7x All-Star, 5x All-Defense team.  Although a center (and Wilt’s backup in the earlier parts of his career), Thurmond was just too good a player to keep out of the starting lineup.  The man was an unstoppable defensive monster, and a key component of Warriors teams that made the Finals in the 60s.  Unfortunately, his prime coincided with Wilt, Russell, Kareem, and Willis, which means he never made an All-NBA team or achieved much renown.

5.  Wilt Chamberlain (C, 1959-1965): 6x All-Star, six time scoring champ, 1x MVP, Rookie of the Year, 4x All-NBA 1st team, 2x 2nd team.  Wilt never won a championship with the Warriors, but his early career, he was a statistical force unequaled in league history.  His 100-point game happened in a Warriors jersey.


6.  Paul Arizin (SF, 1950-1962): 1 ring, 10x All-Star, 1x All-Star MVP, 3x All-NBA 1st team, 1x All-NBA 2nd team, 2x scoring titles.  He’s the man who invented the jump shot, and one of only three pre-shot clock players on Bill Simmon’s basketball pyramid.

7.  Tim Hardaway (PG, 1989-1996): 3x All-Star, 1x All-NBA Second Team, 1x All-NBA Third Team.  The facilitator of the Run-TMC era.

8.  David Lee (PF, 2010-present): 1x All-Star, 1x All-NBA Third Team.  The Warriors have had very few good power forwards in their history, but Lee is certainly among them.

9.  Neil Johnston (C, 1951-1959): 1 ring, 6x All-Star, 3 scoring titles, 4x All-NBA 1st team, 1x All-NBA 2nd team.  Maybe 6’8″ isn’t tall enough for the center position these days, but Johnston’s career is so important to early basketball that it would have been a sin not to include him.

10.  Phil Smith (SG, 1974-1980): 2x All-Star, 1 ring, 1 All-NBA Second Team, 1 All-Defense Team.  A forgotten piece of the puzzle to the 1975 championship.

Deep Bench:

11.  Tom Gola (SG/SF, 1955-1962): 1 ring, 5x All-Star, 1x All-NBA Second Team.  The first of the bigger, more aggressive guards.

12.  Joe Fulks (PF/C; 1946-1954): 1 ring, 3x BAA First Team, 1x All-NBA Second Team, 2x All-Star, 1 scoring title.  The first great Warrior.  Fulks led the Warriors to the first championship in the NBA’s immediate predecessor, the BAA.

Biggest Strengths:  It’s going to be difficult to outscore these guys.  You have three score-at-will players (Mullin, Chamberlain, Barry) in the starting lineup, and a very strong bench.  Also, with three reliable outside shooters in the starting lineup, who need to be guarded at all times, you’re eventually going to run out of guys to foul Wilt.

Biggest Worries:  There’s plenty of that.  1) Defense.  Nate Thurmond, a perennial All-Defense Team player throughout his career, can’t make up for the defensive liabilities of Barry, Mullin, and Curry.  All three are crafty and great at steals, but their defensive liabilities add up after that.  2) Ego.  Warriors-era Chamberlain pathologically needed the ball in his hands to perform.  Having to share with others will not be easy.  I’m also very worried about Rick Barry, his toxic interpersonal skills, and his inability to get along with  teammates.  3) This might be the whitest all-time team in the league not named the Boston Celtics. We’ve got Wilt, but this is not a team that will be playing above the rim.

How They’d Fare:  Well, they have between five and seven of the greatest 100 players in NBA history (Chamberlain, Barry, Mullin, Arizin, and Thurmond are undisputed, with Hardaway and Johnston in consideration as well.)  The Warriors’ history and longevity gives it some great players, but if faced with less decorated players from the modern era (like, say, an all-time Heat or Magic team), I can’t see them keeping up.

My very first rock concert took place an alarming 19 years ago, when I saw Ringo Starr perform with his All-Starr Band in the now-defunct Starlite Theatre in Latham, NY, which is near Albany.  I was 12 then, and the prospect of seeing a Beatle, up close and in person, was a thrilling one.  Now, its 2014, and I am crossing off the most important name on my concert bucket list: Paul McCartney.  (Other names on the list include Jimmy Buffett, Fleetwood Mac, Carole King, and Great Big Sea.)

If Paul’s health holds out, and there have been some alarming cancellations, all systems are ‘go’ for a July 5th concert in the surprisingly small-market Times Union Center of Albany, NY.  It has taken a truly prodigious amount of willpower to not look up recent McCartney set lists on setlist.fm, but I am holding out so that I can be surprised by what he plays on the day of.  To hold myself over, and my readership over, I submit to you my sort-of Fantasy Paul McCartney setlist, with one ground rule: parity between Beatles songs and solo songs.  Every Beatles song I select, in other words, needs to be matched by a song from one of Paul’s solo records or Wings records.  I’ve tried to find a good balance of big hits and delightful “deep tracks,” and including not just songs from the salad days of Paul’s solo career, but from his very well-crafted and thoughtful albums of the 1990s and 2000s.

May I then present to you:

  • Venus and Mars/Rock Show
  • Jet
  • Getting Better
  • Junior’s Farm
  • Can’t Buy Me Love
  • Calico Skies
  • We Can Work It Out
  • Listen to What the Man Said
  • Another Day
  • Hello Goodbye
  • Lady Madonna
  • Monkberry Moon Delight
  • English Tea
  • I Saw Her Standing There

Solo  set:

  • Every Night
  • Blackbird
  • Yesterday
  • Put It There
  • Flaming Pie

Full Band:

  • Back in the USSR
  • Band on the Run
  • I’m Looking Through You
  • Penny Lane
  • Veronica
  • Comin’ Up
  • Kansas City/Hey, Hey, Hey, Hey
  • Let It Be


Encore 1:

  • Hey Jude

Encore 2:

  • Maybe I’m Amazed
  • Abbey Road Medley (Golden Slumbers/Carry That Weight/The End)

What do you think, kind readers?  Would you do anything differently?

While I’m jumping between topics, its time to go to one of my favorites for debate, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.  Every year, a slate of 15-16 nominees is composed by a team of perhaps 20 or 25 rock experts, ranging from critics to journalists to record industry executives to musicians.  It’s a varied lot making these calls, ranging from conformo-smashers like Rage Against the Machine’s Tom Morello to critic emeritus Dave Marsh, to Bill Adler to Steve Van Zandt of the E-Street Band, and a man I have a great deal of respect for, Questlove of The Roots.  From there, the ballot will be sent to an even wider swath of ‘music experts’, including all previous inductees of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.  The committee won’t meet until August or September, their decisions won’t be made public until October, and the 5-7 (probably six) inductees won’t be named until the holiday season draws to a close.

Nevertheless, its fun to speculate what the ballot will look like, and to help us, there’s a few trends to be noted.  Questlove and Morello, two of the newest members, have succeeded in giving the Rock Hall a more populist feel.   Questlove openly wore a Hall & Oates t-shirt to the meeting last year, and lo and behold, they got on the ballot and made it into the hall, after over 20 years of being eligible. This means that the days of the committee relentlessly nominating “critics’ pets” like Laura Nyro and Solomon Burke until they got in may be drawing to a close.  In addition to Hall & Oates, a number of artists with a broad popular following or large fan base, but a toxic reputation among critics, have gotten in: KISS, Rush, and even Cat Stevens fall into this category.   Nominations in the last two years of Deep Purple, Yes, Kraftwerk, and others are also good signs that the committee is thinking in the right direction.

The other thing to keep in mind is that the committee’s definition of “rock and roll” is probably more ecumenical than yours.  If “rock and roll” to you means a bunch of white guys writing their own songs in the 1970s with crunching guitars and screeching solos, you are going to be disappointed.  You won’t see a ballot with 16 names like Boston, the Steve Miller Band, Electric Light Orchestra, Grand Funk Railroad, Styx, Journey, and so on.  So expect to see lots of genres represented: progressive rock, singer-songwriter, glam, soul, hip-hop, disco, alternative, indie, and rap artists are all fair game, its not just “classic rock.”

To recap, the 2014 ballot released in Oct. 2013 was unbelievably strong and encouraging.  Its sixteen nominees were (with the inductees in bold): Cat Stevens, Chic, Deep Purple, Hall & Oates, KISS, Linda Ronstadt, Link Wray, L L Cool J, The Meters, Nirvana, NWA, Paul Butterfield Blues Band, Peter Gabriel, The Replacements,  Yes, and The Zombies.  Some of these guys will certainly get another nomination, and some are already multiple nominees.  Of those who didn’t get in last year, Deep Purple and NWA have been nominated twice, Cool J, Paul Butterfield and the Meters have been nominated thrice, and Chic beats all comers with 8 nominations, none of them successful so far.

Using history as our guide, I predict, at this early hour, these 16 nominees:
1. NWA: The originators of gangsta rap have a ‘Straight Outta Compton’ movie coming up, and remain in the public eye.  Questlove and others have all but declared their intent to get them in this coming year. In the same way that induction for Ronstadt was cleared by no other female artists on the ballot last year, don’t expect the committee to water down their chances by nominating LL Cool J, Eric B. & Rakim, or any other artists primarily known for rap.  (I have, however, included a pioneering hip-hop artist at #10.)

2. Lou Reed: He died just a hair too late for consideration in the 2014 class. I hate Velvet Underground and their alumni, but most of the people who make these decisions fawn over them. Lou will be on the ballot again, after a few years’ absence.

3. Deep Purple: I don’t like them that much either, but there’s no denying how important they were to the unfolding of heavy metal. They should have gotten in last year, and if they get in, other heavy metal acts like Alice in Chains and Judas Priest will follow.

4. Yes: I have a completely unprovable theory that Yes got voted in last year, realized they had a schedule conflict with the ceremony because of the progressive rock cruise they committed to, and it was quietly agreed to push their induction back a year. Either way, now that they’ve been on the ballot, they’ll be back. And hopefully, a Yes induction will pave the way for other progressive rockers like Jethro Tull, The Moody Blues, etc.

5. Green Day: The most popular pop-punk band ever? Yes, please!  They seem poised to follow Nirvana as a rare first-year-eligible induction.

6. Nine Inch Nails: Believe it or not, NIN is becoming eligible for the first time, as 25 years have passed since Trent Reznor’s first release.  Less likely to get in, but almost as likely to get a nomination.

7. Carole King: Every year for the last 4 or 5 years, a classic singer-songwriter has gotten in: Cat, Randy Newman, Laura Nyro, Tom Waits.  Isn’t she the next one in the singer-songwriter pecking order? Her induction as a non-performer/songwriter several years ago doesn’t do justice to Tapestry, maybe one of the ten most culturally significant albums of the 70s, and her long, successful touring history.

8. Joan Jett: Her performance at last year’s ceremony subbing for Cobain on “Smells Like Teen Spirit” reminded us of how good she really was, and her nomination will appease both those clamoring for more straight-up rock, and those who were concerned by the presence of only one woman on the ballot last year (not counting some Chic vocalists).

9. Sonic Youth: See #8; their front woman also sang with “Hervana” at the induction ceremony last year, boosting their already considerable chances to get in as one of the more recent acts on the ballot. They will replace The Replacements in the “alternative rock pioneers” slot.

10. De La Soul: Questlove and others have made it clear that they are pulling for them, and their pioneering hip-hop makes a case for their historicity, even though this outfit is entirely unrecognized in Middle America.

11. The Zombies: A lot of people were rooting for The Zombies last year, including myself. Rock critics love them, the public recognizes a few of their songs (most notably “Time of the Season”), and they would be a good way to close the book on British Invasion bands. This will be their year, took a long time to come.

12. Dire Straits: No proof, no evidence, just a hunch. They’re too good of a band to have not gotten any consideration, and there’s no plausible explanation on why they haven’t gotten nominated yet that sticks.

13. Janet Jackson:  The social networking efforts of @InductJanet has done a lot of things right.  They’ve taken a persuasive, encouraging tone rather than the petty, indignant tones other fans of snubbed artists have fallen into (mostly metal heads and rockists), eliciting positive responses from everyone from Questlove to Missy Elliot.  And Janet deserves it. (updated Sept. 13 to replace The Eurythmics)

14. Link Wray: Lots of rock historians were edified by Wray’s appearance on the ballot last year. If you haven’t heard his only real hit, “Rumble”, go play it for a minute; he invented both guitar distortion and power-chords as viable concepts within a song, influencing plenty of future axemen, including Pete Townshend.  With the ceremony being held in Cleveland in 2015, and expectations thus a bit lower than this year’s in Brooklyn, an influential nominee with little name recognition might have a better chance this time around.

15. Bill Withers: Another singer-songwriter, but his soulful approach will hopefully keep votes from being drawn away from Carole King.  Withers’ mid-70s hits, from “Lean on Me” to “Ain’t No Sunshine” reverberate to this day.

16. Chicago: The hall, as others have pointed out, has gotten more populist lately, and lots of commercially successful bands that were snubbed are finally getting recognized. If Hall & Oates can get in, why not Chicago? They had more hits than any rock band not in the Hall of Fame, and between Kath’s guitar, Seraphine’s drums, Cetera’s vocals, and Pankow’s horn arrangements, there’s no denying they pass the “excellence” test. Robert Lamm reported last year that sources told him they were the last cut from the ballot for the class of 2014.

Another thing to consider: the Rock Hall wants to avoid another KISS fiasco. Chicago dialed down their criticism of the rock hall in recent years, and both the band and Peter Cetera have intimated that a rock hall performance is the only way on earth that a reunion would happen. It could draw some good press for all parties concerned if it happens.

My great-aunt died two weeks ago.  It was sad, especially because she was the last of my grandparents’ siblings to pass away (and all four grandparents were long since gone, making this truly the passing of a generation.)  During a meal we shared at an mildly upscale restaurant after her funeral, my brother, my cousin, and I talked not about our aunt, not even about our own lives, but how Lebron James could be stopped from winning.  Loathing for the stacked Miami Heat united all of the country beyond South Beach, but to our surprise and delight, the beaten-up San Antonio Spurs, whose best three players are all pretty deep into their 30s,  prevailed.

This turn of events gave Tim Duncan his 5th NBA championship ring since he joined the NBA in the 1997-98 season.  5 rings in 15 years: a great accomplishment.  All of this has made a wide variety of NBA bloggers wonder: how does this remarkable accomplishment reset Tim Duncan’s ranking among the all-time greats?  For Duncan, the problem is that his name doesn’t inspire a sense of wonder in the ways the hallowed names of Russell, Jordan, Bird, Chamberlain and others.  Duncan was so maddeningly consistent, his game so sound, that we forgot how great he was.  So here I am to quantify that greatness.

Here’s what I looked for: individual excellence, a wide variety of awards, ability to win championships, completeness as a player, and finally (this is where I differ from other rankers), I’m also including their ability as a teammate.  In other words, you can be an individual player of exceptional talent, but if you persistently undercut your team, behave selfishly, and act like a diva, no amount of native talent can compensate for what that takes away from the table.

1.  Bill Russell: Russell was a true champion, leading the Celtics to 11 championships, the greatest sustained run of excellence in any professional sport in American history.  Russell changed defense from an afterthought to an art form: he blocked shots with impunity, lived to rebound, and could utterly destroy a team’s game plan.   He may not have been the best player on offense, but that wasn’t needed in a team with lots of scrappy shooters.  But Russell made camaraderie and a commitment to win his priority; he stood up for his teammates, and led by example, and made the other Celtics want to go as far out of their way to win as Russell did.  This is what greatness means: it is more than being an excellent individual, it is inspiring those around you to excellence.  Nearly every teammate admired Russell so much that they never dared to do less than their best.  Even today, being a Celtic means something special, so when your career still impacts the league 50 years later, you know that you’ve achieved an unparalleled form of greatness.

2.  Michael Jordan: We have been hard-wired from our youth to view Michael Jordan as excellence in sports personified.  Every advertisement, every jump man logo, prodded us toward this wrongheaded consensus.  There were few flaws in Jordan’s game: unstoppable offensively, he could shut anyone down defensively, and he had an indomitable will to win.  But he was a terrible teammate, something that undermined the Bulls success: Jordan berated underperforming teammates, and punched a couple of them when they were guarding him too closely in scrimmage.  Throughout his career, he bought the hype that he was the greatest ever, and took to calling his teammates “my supporting cast,” a condescending designation that killed a lot of the Bulls’ camaraderie.  I’m also convinced that because Jordan was the league’s cash cow, and his success determined how much money it made like no other player before or since, MJ benefitted from favorable treatment from refs throughout his career, allowing him to travel, shove, and trip in ways no other player on this list could get away with.  I complain, but even with these flaws, it is hard to argue with 6 rings, multiple scoring titles, routine appearances on All-Defense teams, etc. A player blessed by the gods, his problematic personality keeps him from the top.

3.  Magic Johnson: Magic was the ringleader of the amazing 80s Showtime lakers.  It’s hard to stop a 6’8″ point guard who could distribute the ball, but also play rough and aggressively when necessary.  Magic lived to make his teammates better, and his infectious enthusiasm mattered almost as much as his ball handling skills.  Whatever you needed- extra rebounding, an outside shot, another forward, Magic could provide it.  Accordingly, he has 5 rings, 3 MVPs, and is the all-time leader in assists per game.  But you can argue that his true strength is in how he elevated the game of Kareem (#4), James Worthy, Michael Cooper, A.C. Green, and everybody else he played with.

4.  Kareem Abdul-Jabbar: Durability matters.  Perhaps the most celebrated collegiate basketball player ever, Lew Alcindor joined a moribund Bucks squad that won at an extraordinarily high level. He became Kareem, and slogged on for years, sullen, uncharismatic, rude to fans, but undoubtedly successful.  In the interim, he won 6 titles, led the league in rebounds, blocks, and scoring at different points, and is the all-time leading scorer in NBA history.

5.  Tim Duncan: There’s something to be said for the remarkable longevity.  5 titles in fifteen years?  6 finals appearances?  He’s called the ‘Big Fundamental’ for a reason: he will consistently get 20 points and 8 rebounds a game for eternity.  More than that, Duncan is an exemplary teammate who is not jealous when they win honors and he doesn’t (cases in point: Tony Parker’s NBA Finals MVP in ’07, and Kahwi Leonard in ’14.)  He has kept, through extraordinary camaraderie, a remarkable team together for well over a decade.

6.  Kobe Bryant: I hate the universe for forcing me to put Kobe this high; he’s easily the player I like least in this whole lot.  5 rings is a compelling argument, and Kobe worked his ass off to remain this good for this long, working hard all summer to add some new trick to his game every off-season.  Although he is reaching the end of his career, he has consistently made any team he plays on while healthy a contender, has multiple scoring titles, and has not neglected defense.  He is a complete player in a way his celebrated teammate Shaq is not (one reason among many why Shaq does not make my top ten.)

7.  Larry Bird: Bird’s blue-collar ethos and wiseass persona belie an amazing sense of vision, as though he saw games unfolding in a different dimension the rest of us mortals couldn’t see.  Bird was a rare forward who didn’t just rebound and take high-percentage shots, but shot from the outside, won 3-point contests, and was perhaps the best passing forward of all time.  He led the Celtics to 3 titles and made them perennial contenders, but his just okay-ish defense, and an injury-racked end to his career put him at #7 for me.

8.  Lebron James: Lebron will probably overtake Larry and Kobe by the time his career is over.  He might be the most physically gifted player on this list, with an ability to play small or power forward as needed, excellent passing, strong defense, and very few holes in his game.  And yet, the poor guy can’t get a break- he went from being “Disappointing in the Playoffs” Lebron in Cleveland to “He’s so Unstoppable he must be destroyed” Lebron in Miami- people despise him when he loses, and fear him when he wins.   The honors keep racking up: 4 MVPs in five years, a scoring title, perennial appearances on All-NBA and All-Defense teams.  For all these gifts, James fails in the clutch a little too often for my liking, and a 2-of-5 record in the finals is a blot on his resume.  But still, “championships or you are a terrible player” arguments can be extreme sometimes; just getting to the Finals after an 82-game season is a remarkable achievement in human endurance and dedication.  As demonstrated by…

9.  Jerry West:  Proof that rings and MVPs aren’t everything.  West is the only one in my top ten without an MVP, and just one championship ring.  Why, then, is he here? World class defense, remarkable performances in the clutch, and leading the Lakers to the finals 9 times in 12 years.

10.  Wilt Chamberlain: Proof that the stats can lie.  Chamberlain was unleashed into a league filled with slow 6’5″ power forwards named Norman; small wonder he dominated as a seven-footer in an almost all-white league.  His accomplishments: all the scoring titles, all the rebounding titles, the 100-point game, matter, for sure.  But he had significant flaws in his game: a lackadaisical attitude toward practice, he could only shoot within 10 feet of the basket, his terrible free-throw shooting.  Wilt was also untrainable, and except for the 1967 season, expected his teammates to service him.  His weird obsession with stats became a hinderance: he once took his team into the tank so that he could be the first center to lead the league in assists; he also wanted to get through his career without ever fouling out of a game, so he would repeatedly shut down after that 4th foul.  Anyone who praises Chamberlain’s statistical accomplishments is only feeding into this narcissistic behavior.  And If Wilt’s so great, why did he consistently fail when it mattered?  Why were two excellent teams willing to get rid of him for pennies on the dollar?  Why was he unable to win a championship except on teams loaded to the gills with help?

Rounding out spots #11-20, I’d put, in something approximating this order: Shaq, Oscar Robertson, Karl Malone, Elgin Baylor, Hakeem Olajuwon, Moses Malone, John Havlicek, Kevin Garnett, Isaiah Thomas, and Bob Pettit.

What?  You want me to name all 100 greatest players, you say?  I’ll do this in greater detail some day, but if we’re ranking them in “chunks” of ten, here’s how I’d do it:

#21-30:  Walt Frazier, Charles Barkley, Julius Erving, Bob Cousy, Scottie Pippen, Dirk Nowitzki, John Stockton, Dwyane Wade, David Robinson, George Mikan

#31-40:  Willis Reed, Kevin McHale, Patrick Ewing, Rick Barry, Jason Kidd, Gary Payton, Steve Nash, Clyde Drexler, Dolph Schayes, Allen Iverson

#41-50:  Kevin Durant, Sam Jones, Billy Cunningham, David Cowens, Dwight Howard, Chris Paul, Dennis Johnson, George Gervin, Wes Unseld, Paul Arizin

#51-60: Bill Walton, Bob McAdoo, Paul Pierce, Elvin Hayes, Pete Maravich, Nate Thurmond, Joe Dumars, Robert Parish, Bill Sharman, Reggie Miller

#61-70: Dominique Wilkins, Hal Greer, Neil Johnston, Tony Parker, Bernard King, Lenny Wilkens, James Worthy, Ray Allen, Jerry Lucas, Earl Monroe

#71-80: Chris Mullin, Tiny Archibald, Dave DeBusschere, Dave Bing, Sidney Moncrief, Alex English, Dennis Rodman, Chris Webber, Paul Westphal, Dave Thompson

#81-90: Connie Hawkins, Jack Twyman, Grant Hill, Bob Lanier, Alonzo Mourning, Carmelo Anthony, Tim Hardaway, Artis Gilmore, Adrian Dantley, Ed Macauley

#90-100:  Bobby Jones, Jerry Sloan, Tommy Heinsohn, Ben Wallace, Bobby Dandridge, Michael Cooper, Maurice Cheeks, Guy Rodgers, Joe Johnson, Gus Johnson

Sorry for switching projects.  I will return to the presidents- honest I will.  But I also know that I’d just be churning out mediocre stuff if I did, because my “history writing” energies are focused on finishing my book on McGovern and the Christian Left.

340.  “Bernadette”- The Four Tops (1967):  From the first punch of electric organ, this song is one of the most urgent of the entire Motown era.  A great vocal performance (especially the tight background vocals that are barely audible unless you deliberately try to listen to them).

339.  “Chapel of Love”- The Dixie Cups (1964): The Dixie Cups fall through the cracks when we talk about the great girl groups from the 1960s.  That’s a shame, because this song’s sweet innocence, while antiquated, is a great relic of its time.  I had it stuck in my head for most of the morning of my wedding.

338.  “Mother’s Little Helper”- The Rolling Stones (1966): Showing a remarkable versatility, the Stones go from being snide and condescending toward middle-class girls to middle-class housewives.  This song is intrinsically interesting because one of my professors, David Herzberg, is a historian of the ‘mother’s little helper’ drugs that proliferated in the 1950s and 1960s as the dark, self-medicating side of postwar housewifery.

337.  “Walk Don’t Run”- The Ventures (1960): A bright, shining beacon in rock’s darkest hour, this nifty little instrumental combo creates a tight sound with a memorable guitar melody, and it makes history as one of the very first surf instrumentals ever (although one could neither walk nor run on a surf board…)

336.  “Keep on Running”- The Spencer Davis Group (1965):  They were a great little combo for a little while, giving a young Steve Winwood his start with some great blue-eyed soul vocals.

335.  “Rocksteady”- Alton Ellis (1967):  Ellis took ska, slowed it down to something more deliberative and even sensual, and this song became the namesake of an entirely new genre of music in Jamaica.

334.  “A Sunday Kind of Love”- Etta James (1961):  James gives a great R&B vocal performance with some world class crooning.  Classy and brassy at the same time, James’ artistry shines through.

333.  “Traces”- Classics IV (1969):  These guys had a nice late-60s run that basically invented lounge-rock.  Easy melodies, emotive saxophone solos, this song was made for elevators and department store, but there’s no denying its craftsmanship.

332.  “White Rabbit”- Jefferson Airplane (1967):  Overrated.  But still a trippy journey into the subconscious, and possibly the first recorded comparison of LSD to Lewis Carroll’s flights of fancy.

331.  “The Inner Light”- The Beatles (1968): One of the most important facets of what made the Beatles great was George Harrison’s attempt to bring Indian music to western audiences.  This is truly a work of fusion: the text of the Tao Te Ching set against a classical Indian raga, replete with scales and instruments that most Westerners were scarcely familiar with.  A hell of a lot more groundbreaking than “Revolution No. 9″, don’t you think?

330.  “Guineverre”- Crosby, Stills & Nash (1969):  This spartan number from CSN’s first album shows David Crosby’s fiddly approach to music and his mystical approach to life all at once.  Filled with Arthurian nonsense, it remains a haunting and enchanting piece, using unusual guitar tunings and his peerless harmonies with Nash.

329.  “Devil With a Blue Dress/Good Golly, Miss Molly”- Mitch Ryder & the Detroit Wheels (1966):  Detroit wasn’t just Motown– it also gave us Mitch Ryder soulful rock-revival hit.  The outrageous mock-gospel background vocals give this song a great deal of camp value.  And yet, it paradoxically was one of the first blue-collar, Rust Belt rock songs of the 60s.  It’s a track that transgresses the genre and race boundaries in which we love to put music.

328.  “I Shall Be Released”- The Band (1967): Plaintive, stripped-down and spiritual, Richard Manuel delivers an emotionally aching performance in a tenor that paves the way for Neil Young.

327.  “Israelites”- Desmond Dekker (1968): This was the first time the wider public got a taste of Rastafarian theology.  Dekker subtly draws the connections between the Old Testament story and the wider African diaspora in some excellent early reggae with trademark piss-poor Jamaican production values.

326.  “Maggie’s Farm”- Bob Dylan (1965): Folkies love arguing about this song.  Is Dylan declaring his independence from the folkie movement?  From social issues?  From the rock industry?  He defiantly uses electric guitar on this, so….yes?

325.  “No Particular Place to Go”- Chuck Berry (1964):  This song vintage Berry: lots of kick-ass guitar, and cheeky lyrics (sure your safety belt was stuck, Chuck.  And I’m the pope.)  It’s such a great description of teenage idleness in the 50s and 60s that I use it in my class to make that very point.  I’d rank it higher, but, you know, Berry ripped off his own earlier hit “School Day” to write it, making this the 2nd song plagiarized off Chuck Berry on this list.  (Don’t worry, “Surfin’ USA” is coming)

324.  “I Wanna Take You Higher”- Sly & the Family Stone (1969): Loud and funky, with lots of punchy horns, the exchanges between the vocalists, and the sense of barely-controlled chaos contains everything that made Sly and the Family Stone great.

323.  “Barterers And Their Wives”- The Left Banke (1967):  The Left Banke were a brilliant group that self-destructed far too soon (another ‘lead songwriter is attracted to the lead guitarist’s girlfriend’ scenarios.  You know how that goes.)  But their attempt to synthesize rock music with older forms is perfected in this track off of their amazingly good debut album.   Here, they attempt an English folk tune of their own creation, all the while pointing at the futility of materialism.

322.  “Village Green Preservation Society”- The Kinks (1968): The Kinks had some of the keenest eyes of the 1960s, and while sometimes this could be poignant (“Waterloo Sunset”), it more often ended up on the side of the ridiculous.  “Village Green” is a wonderful send-up of local British movements opposed to any change at all in stodgy post-austerity Britain.

321.  “Sail Away”- The Kingston Trio (1961): The Kingston Trio were hugely important.  They had multiple albums that were #1 for 8+ weeks, invented the modern concept of touring, and took over the folky mantra from the Weavers (although they deliberately avoided the Weavers’ political controversies and were probably too preppy and collegiate.)  This song about escaping to the Caribbean is sad and wistful, and eloquently harmonized (and as un-Jimmy-Buffett as could be).

360.  “Come Together”- The Beatles (1969):  This song is maybe the coolest in The Beatles’ catalog, full of Lennon’s snarky character observations, completely untethered from its throwaway chorus, and also features some of the best bass-playing of Paul McCartney’s career.  It would rank higher if the melody wasn’t completely plagiarized from a B-list Chuck Berry tune, “You Can’t Catch Me.”

359.  “Nowhere to Run”- Martha Reeves & the Vandellas (1965):  1965 was a great year, but believe it or not, this is our first track from that annum mirabilis to appear on our list (remember, ’65 gave us both “Satisfaction” and “Yesterady” among many others.).  In the Motown hit factory, Reeves was celebratory and exuberant while Diana Ross was sultry and demure.  The Vandellas were, I think, the better group, but they weren’t given the best material, since Ross was sleeping with Motown president Berry Gordy and Martha Reeves was not.

358.  “Feeling Good”- Nina Simone (1965):  Simone’s work is full of heartbreak and bitterness, but this track proves the adage that living well is always the best revenge.

357.  “Breaking Up is Hard to Do”- Neil Sedaka (1962):  Sedaka was perhaps the least irritating of the early 60s teen idols.  I always appreciated how Sedaka wasn’t mass-marketed, and frequently showed up at television appearances in dorky haircuts and ugly sweaters.  At least he wrote his own material, which the likes of Frankie Avalon can’t say.  (Frankie Avalon, by the way, is my watchword for “everything wrong with the early 1960s music scene.”)  Anyway, this track has one of the great ear-worm melodies of the era, with an infectious “Down-dooby-doo down-down” vocal riff following it throughout.  It’s a standout track from one of pop’s bleakest eras.

356.  “The Tide is High”- The Paragons (1967):  Admit it, you thought the folks in Blondie wrote this, didn’t you?  As it turns out, its a ska track by a short-lived Jamaican group whose fuzzy 60s production actually fits the song quite a bit better than Blondie’s late-70s mariachi treatment.

355.  “Wedding Bell Blues”- The 5th Dimension (1969):  For years, I thought this track was on the Hair soundtrack or something, because its so theatrical, and you can see it being played out on stage.  Another great testament to Laura Nyro’s ability to write soul numbers so persuasively that one of the era’s preeminent black vocal groups took the song up eagerly.

354.  “Sweet Cherry Wine”- Tommy James & the Shondells (1969):  This song isn’t a radio staple like “Crimon and Clover” or “Draggin’ the Line”, but in a way its the most historically significant song the band recorded.  By the late 60s, James and the crew were breaking free of the mafia and finding a born-again faith.  This song reflects these changes (“sweet cherry wine” is, of course, a metaphor for the blood of Christ), and you can argue that its the first Christian Contemporary song ever recorded.

353.  “Scarborough Fair/Canticle”- Simon & Garfunkel (1966):  I’m a big sucker for counterpoint.   Paul Simon arranges something poignant and beautiful with this track from the Parsley, Sage, Rosemary & Thyme album.  He anticipates the baroque direction popular music would take in the next year, and oozes the song with the best elements of folk: beautiful acoustic instrumentation, a reverence for our musical heritage, and a biting social message.

352.  “Hide Away”- Freddie King (1960):  They say that there were three kings of the blues: B.B. King, Albert King, and Freddie King.  “Hide Away” is a great transition point between earlier Chicago blues and the rock instrumental.

351.  “A Hard Day’s Night”- The Beatles (1964):  That opening chord changed music forever.  That F-add-9 is loaded with anticipation, which is rewarded with one of the most energetic and focused of the early Beatles hits, and introduced the 12-string guitar to the pop lexicon.

350.  “Groovin'”- The Rascals (1967):  It rivals the Lovin’ Spoonful’s “Daydream” as the most mellow hit of the 1960s.  This tribute to weekend laziness is expertly served by Felix Cavaliere’s easy blue-eyed soul vocals.

349.  “Okie from Muskogee”- Merle Haggard (1969):  Is the song an earnest ode to old-fashioned, rural American virtue?  Or is it an especially clever satire of insular middle America?   In a way the song reminds me of the poetry of William Topaz McGonagall:  scholars still can’t figure out whether he was a brilliant parody of a bad poet, or an actual prodigiously bad poet.  In the same fashion, one can’t quite tell whether Haggard is extolling or ridiculing his song’s Okies.  He played it before country audiences who took it seriously, but he also performed it deadpan on the Smothers Brothers’ show, and plenty of countercultural acts have taken the song in as their own.  Maybe Haggard has the last laugh on all of us in the end.

348.  “Alice’s Restaurant”- Arlo Guthrie (1967):  This takes up almost the entire side of a record, but Guthrie, Woodie’s grandson, takes up the populist dissent tradition from his forebear.  An essay in the craft of hippie storytelling, “Alice’s Restaurant” is a pointed satire of the hypocrisy of the Vietnam War effort, where our hero successfully evades the draft by earning a criminal record from littering.

347.  “So Much in Love”- The Thymes (1963):  One of my favorite doo-wop records, this was recorded when doo-wop was all but dead as top 40 material.  The song is brilliant and simple in its harmonies, and I can’t help but smile at its earnest and endearing storyline about a seaside romance culminating in marriage.  Boyz II Men remade the song in the 90s to great effect.

346.  “Good Times, Bad Times”- Led Zeppelin (1969):  If you were listening to top 40 radio, Led Zeppelin’s first album  must have seemed like a bolt out of the blue.  Although they borrowed liberally from obscure blues artists, this is already an amazingly tight and proficient ensemble.  This raucous track, even with hints of the Yardbirds easily detected (no surprise, given Jimmy Page’s journeyman turn with the group), shows that the next generation of blues-rock has arrived.

345.  “The Dawn Treader”- Joni Mitchell (1968):  This track is from Mitchell’s debut album, released in 1968, just in time to make Mitchell one of the earliest female singer-songwriters to inspire dozens of careers in that vein in the 1970s like Carly Simon’s and Janis Ian’s.  Mitchell’s imagery is evocative even at this early stage in her career, and I found it impressive how she molds the words into the melody.  As good a lyricist as she is, the song would be just as effective in a foreign language, or in a made-up dialect like those Enya uses.

344.  “Girl From the North Country”- Bob Dylan with Johnny Cash (1969):  Dylan’s remake on the epochal Nashville Skyline album works with Johnny Cash and remakes this 1963 song with a greater earthiness and down-home feel than the original.  Interestingly, it borrows some lyrics from “Scarborough Fair” as well.

343.  “Ballet for a Girl in Buchanan”- Chicago (1969):  Chicago was almost shockingly ambitious and daring in their first three albums, and couldn’t be further apart from their 80s power ballads.  This suite was written by James Pankow, their trombonist who doubled as their horn arranger.  Clocking in at almost fifteen minutes, it moves from the band’s conventional jazz-rock into Bach arpeggios, Renaissance aires, and Copland-like Americana.  Two pieces of the suite were pared down as successful singles, “Make Me Smile” and “Colour My World.”

342.  “I Can Hear Music”- The Ronettes (1966):  Listening to this track, it becomes clear why Brian Wilson idolized record producer Phil Specter.  The production is lush, deliberate, and elaborate, effectively stealing the show from Ronnie and her friends.

341.  “I Saw Her Again”- The Mamas and the Papas (1966):  A great track that subtly hints at the inter-band love triangles that had developed by this point in time.  I love the false start before the second verse.  This is a fine stepping stone between Greenwich Village folk and psychedelia.


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