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If you are just starting to follow along with this project, welcome! I’ll refer you to our sprawling 512-seed bracket of…things I like! In the process, there’s a lot of self-reflection happening here as I whittle down what really matters. For now, though, we are in the weeds of our first round. No time to waste!

  • 21. The Monkees (MUS) vs. X-Men Origins: Wolverine (MOV). That first Wolverine movie was…something else. Explaining his amnesia by his getting shot in the head with an adamantium bullet? Retconning the origins of the White Queen and Cyclops? The atrocious misuse of Gambit? The unironic use of the “protagonist walks away from an explosion without looking back” cliché? The Prefab Four win in a walk. The Monkees.
  • 22. How Few Remain (BOK) vs. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (TV). Like almost every early millenial boy, the Ninja Turtles were an indelible part of our childhood. The cartoon we saw was very different from the grittier, satirical comic from which it originated, and in hindsight the voice acting was terrific and it rightly became a cultural phenomenon. TMNT doesn’t win however. How Few Remains is a stunning novel of alternate history, where one wartime missive that was intercepted in our timeline is kept secret in another. The South wins the Civil War. Maybe not an original premise, but the novel follows a second war between the USA and the Confederates twenty years later. Slavery still thrives in Dixie in the 1880s, Lincoln has become a Marxist, Theodore Roosevelt starts an unauthorized regiment, and Mark Twain is a modest newspaper editor in San Francisco watching it all unfold. How Few Remain.
  • 23. Penny Arcade (WDW) vs. Behind the Music (TV). The Simpsons’ episode spoofing Behind the Music was significantly better than any particular installment of the real thing. The Penny Arcade exhibit, showing turn of the century amusements on Main Street USA, isn’t the strongest contender here, but it still wins out. Penny Arcade.
  • 24. Nickel Creek (MUS) vs. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (MOV). The second and third Hobbit movies were leaden, cumbersome, Legolas-saturated messes. But there was reason to think the series might be going someplace good based on its first installment. The casting was spot on, the scenes between Bilbo and Gollum were pure magic, and Peter Jackson successfully managed to convey thirteen distinct personalities for each of the dwarves. Parts of it were very clunky: too many flashbacks and exposition scenes, comedy that didn’t land, terrible use of secondary villains. So–sorry Nickel Creek. You are pretty good Americana, but I’m siding with…An Unexpected Journey.
  • 25. Joni Mitchell (MUS) vs. Horizons (WDW). Joni is terrific; I wish I could have seen her in her prime. But Horizons (RIP) is in the running for my favorite Disney World attraction of all time. I suspect it will have plenty of subsequent rounds for me to explain why. Horizons.
  • 26. Linda Ronstadt (MUS) vs. Mexico Pavilion (WDW). A very tough choice. Ronstadt is one of the finest vocalists of her era and Heart Like A Wheel is one of my dozen or so favorite albums. The Mexico pavilion is much more than a cheap facsimile of our neighbor to the South– a colorful boat ride, a very decent restaurant, a tequila bar, strolling Mariachi bands. Really, it all comes across as much less stereotypical than I remember, although when I write about it, it does seem a bit like a Love Boat-era depiction of Mexico, despite attempts in recent years to give more space to pre-Columbian culture and modern folk art. A tough call, but Linda Ronstadt.
  • 27. Brandi Carlile (MUS) vs. Giannis Antetokounmpo (NBA). It’s not getting any easier, is it? The Greek Freak was a wonder when he burst on the scene four or five years ago. A modest draft prospect took off and exceeded even the most optimistic predictions for his career. Just yesterday night, he was named to the NBA’s 75 for 75 team and he has already achieved two of the metrics I look for in a top-10 all-time player: an MVP season and being the best guy on a championship team. Brandi, meanwhile, gets nominated for Grammys regularly while still not quite making it to the level of a household name. Even so, she was a tremendously good live act, and two of her songs, “Dying Day” and “The Eye” are among my very favorites. Since it’s all about my subjective preferences, the greater personal connection wins. Brandi Carlile.
  • 28. Countdown to Extinction (WDW) vs. Avengers: Infinity War (MOV). Frustratingly, Disney changed the ride’s name to simply Dinosaur after only a couple years of operation. It’s an exciting and bumpy ride through prehistoric terrain to track down an iguanodon. I’m afraid it can’t hold a candle to Infinity War however. The culmination of years of buildup in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, it was an even better payoff than most of us were expecting. It was a delight to see Thor interact with the Guardians, to see Peter Parker and Dr. Strange interact, and so on. Most movies in this bracket won’t fare well against Disney World rides, but in this case, it’s clearly Avengers: Infinity War.
  • 29. Lord of the Rings (BOK) vs. First Fifteen Lives of Harry August (BOK). Two novels of ambitious scope battle it out in this round. First Fifteen Lives is worth a look: it follows a young man who is born into a special class of individuals who, when they die, are born again in the same time and place as before, with all their memories of previous lives intact. Cool concept set in an exciting Cold War paradigm. But it’s no Lord of the Rings.
  • 30. Sherrod Brown (POL) vs. Lake George, NY (VIS). If Ohio had a Democratic governor who could replace him, populist progressive Brown probably would have been Hillary’s running mate. And who knows, maybe the outcome of the election would change with at least a running mate who exuded blue-collar authenticity (despite coming from an upper middle-class background himself!). Lake George, however, has the Great Escape theme park, stunning Adirondack foothills scenery, great restaurants, and dozens of tacky souvenir stores and roadside curiosities. Since I proposed to my wife there, it’s got to be Lake George.
  • 31. A More Perfect Constitution (BOK) vs. John Lennon (MUS). Larry Sabato’s book catalogs a number of amendments that would update a U.S. Constitution verging on being unworkable and obsolete in its present form. It’s a bit more moderate-y than my own inclinations, but well worth reading. In other news, it’s up against John Lennon. John Lennon.
  • 32. Germany Pavilion (WDW) vs. Eagles (MUS). One of the lesser Epcot World Showcase pavilions vs. a band even their fans are embarrassed to like. Sigh. Germany is probably the worst pavilion in Epcot’s World Showcase besides the U.S. one. And because their first two albums were some of the best country rock ever made it’s got to be Eagles.
  • 33. The Namesake (BOK) vs. At Home in Mitford (BOK). Two novels confront each other. The Namesake is another book I found so useful as to assign it in my classes– following the first generation of an Indian family to be born in America. His unusual name–given in honor of the Russian author Gogol–stands as an enduring metaphor of not quite being American and not quite being Indian as well. At Home in Mitford, though, is the closest to a “beach read” you’ll find in this tournament. This book is best described as…quaint as it follows an Episcopal priest in a small Carolinian town through some small misadventures. If you like the feel of, say, Mayberry, this book is for you. Since the last third of The Namesake runs out of steam as it follow’s the affair of Gogol’s wife, I am giving the win to At Home in Mitford.
  • 34. Mitchell, SD (VIS) vs. National Gallery, London (GAL). The provincial vs. the cosmopolitan. Mitchell is the most Midwestern place I’ve ever visited– home of George McGovern, and a place where some of the most gracious people I’ve met call home. It also has the famous Corn Palace, where the exterior is made out of designs rendered in husks and kernels of maize. The National Gallery was a frequent base for assignments during my Freshman year in London, where our lessons in the Renaissance or late Medieval Europe would be augmented with instructions to check out some of the gallery’s treasures. Those include a couple Da Vincis, J.M.W.’s “Rain, Steam, and Speed,” Caravaggio’s “Supper at Emmaus,” Van Gogh’s “Sunflowers.” It was incredible, but the warmth and neighborliness I experienced in Mitchell hasn’t been replicated anywhere else I’ve visited. Mitchell, South Dakota.
  • 35. Rome, Italy (VIS) vs. Splash Mountain (WDW). Splash Mountain is a rare case of Disney accomplishing masterful storytelling with already-extent intellectual properties. However, because Song of the South has been in the cultural doghouse for decades, most first-time riders are encountering B’rer Rabbit and crew for the first time. I only spent about 30 hours in Rome and my cheapskate, travel-anxiety-ridden 19-year-old self didn’t make the best use of it. It was still a once-in-a-lifetime 30 hours–and I got to see John Paul II! My friend Dave and I just happened to visit Vatican City during one of his visits through the crowd on the pope-mobile. Rome, Italy.
  • 36. Piña Colada (ALC) vs. Doctor Strange (MOV). Doctor Strange was…good, but not great. While delightfully mind-trippy in parts, and with Benedict Cumberbatch perfectly cast, parts of it were still kind of ponderous. One thing that’s never letter me down? While I’m not much into health food and into champagne, the victor is the humble Piña Colada.
  • 37. Satchmo Blows Up the World (BOK) vs. Sharon Jones (MUS). Sharon Jones should be more famous than she is, for sure. I especially love her Christmas album. But I’m going with the book. Satchmo Blows Up the World by Penny von Eschen was the first book I read in graduate school and studied the “Jazz ambassadors” that the Eisenhower state department sent to non-aligned countries as emissaries of American culture. The book delves deep into how these musicians wrestled with promoting the U.S. abroad while black rights were curtailed at home. Satchmo Blows Up the World.
  • 38. X2: X-Men United (MOV) vs. France Pavilion (WDW). Hmm. This one takes a bit of a think. X2 was the best of the first three X-Men films before they started reconning them. Alan Cumming’s turn as Nightcrawler was fantastic to watch–it was wonderful to see my favorite X-man come to life on the screen. The France Pavilion, though, is up there with Morocco as the best of the 11 in Epcot’s World Showcase. France has a kick-ass patisserie, where I usually get some pastries for the next morning. And it has the Impressions de France travelogue film, the only thing you can see in Epcot that is unchanged from opening day. Add in the street entertainment and wine kiosks, and I think the choice is becoming clear. France Pavilion.
  • 39. 1960: Making of the President (GAM) vs. Things Fall Apart (BOK). 1960: Making of the President is possibly my favorite board game of all time. This card-driven dynamo reconceptualizes the election as a territory-grabbing war game with lots of deep context and period-specific design. I took it everywhere with me during my dissertation research year to play a solo varient, but I’ve also gotten a handful of friends to play along as well (shout out to Dan and Dave, if you are reading this.) Things Fall Apart is one of the most significant pieces of literature to come out of Africa, and I assigned it in my World Civilizations II class. It’s a damning indictment of colonialism where a white person doesn’t show up until 75% of the way through the book. Since the criteria is which has been more impactful on me, rather than the world at large, the winner is 1960: Making of the President.
  • 40. Paul Wellstone (POL) vs. St. Francis of Assisi (ST). Wellstone was a great hero to progressives…who were 3-4 years older than I. At a time when the Democrats were beholden to Clintonesque “Third Way” centrism and triangulation, Wellstone was a grassroots, farm state liberal of the old school. And then he died in a plane crash shortly before his 2002 re-election. St. Francis, meanwhile, upended the medieval world bursting with commercial activity with a call for humility, simplicity, and earnestness– all without truly running afoul of the church. Saints haven’t done too well in this bracket so far, but I’m going to change that with the W for St. Francis of Assisi.

Okay, party people. Let’s get down to business. I direct your attention, as before, to the Omni-Bracket, the 512-seed tournament of…things I like. Remember, the only criteria is “which do I, Alex H. Voltaire, like better or has had a greater impact in my own life”. It’s not a judgment on the inherent value of the competing books, places I’ve visited, movies, musicians, etc. Subjectivity–namely my own–is key. I would still, however, like to hear your own choices to any of these matchups. Please remember, all matchups were randomly chosen and there isn’t a “high-seed” or “low-seed” in any meaningful sense.

It’s probably intuitive, but just so you know what the abbreviations stand for, it’s meant to avoid confusion between genres. For example, X-Men is both a movie and a television series. So the two or three letter code besides each entrant means:

  • MUS (music)
  • TV (television)
  • MOV (franchise movie)
  • GAM (game)
  • VIS (place I have visited)
  • BOK (book)
  • POL (postwar politician)
  • WDW (Disney World)
  • GAM (board or card game)
  • PRE (U.S. president)
  • RES (restaurant)
  • ST (Roman Catholic saint)
  • ALC (potent potable)
  • GAL (museum or gallery)
  • COM (comic strip)
  • NBA (basketball players)

  • 1. X-Men animated series (TV) vs. Weird Al Yankovic (MUS). The first of 256 (!) first-round matchups is a pretty tough one. The X-Men cartoon on Fox was significantly better than it had to be and addressed some complex themes on prejudice, religion, causality, and other hot topics. But I practically idolized Weird Al and observed everything he did for five years as a teenager. Neither holds up especially well, although I will concede that I don’t think I ever found anything as funny as I found the “Amish Paradise” video the first time I saw it. Weird Al.
  • 2. Jars of Clay (MUS) vs. Middle-Earth: The Wizards (GAM). METW was my gateway drug into collectable card games as a teenager in the 1990s. The artwork was breathtaking–superior to any other card game of its generation. It’s learning curve was steep, but its intricate rules and elegant design made you feel like you were journeying through Tolkien’s world. Sorry 90s Christian Contemporary act Jars of Clay. Where’s your God now? METW.
  • 3. Queen (MUS) vs. God’s Politics (BOK). Geez, man. Both of these deserved to advance. Queen has been my fourth or fifth favorite rock artist for most of my life. But God’s Politics by the great Jim Wallis was my first little inkling that I wasn’t alone as an undergraduate at a Christian college who was troubled by the rigid ideological conservatism and hawkish foreign policy views that dominated my campus in the early 2000s. One of the two or three books that was most influential in my life. Tough battle but a win for God’s Politics.
  • 4. Parks and Rec (TV) vs. The Pogues (MUS). I’m advocating for The Pogues on Nick and Darren’s Rock Hall Revisited concept, but that’s as far as it goes. Parks and Rec was a tonic to those of us who wanted to believe in the value of public service. And between Amy Poehler, Aziz, Chris Pratt, Nick Offerman, Aubrey Plaza…it might have had the best cast of any 21st century comedy series. Parks and Rec.
  • 5. Star Trek: Into Darkness (MOV) vs. She-Ra reboot (TV). The second film in the rebooted Star Trek series is our first movie in this project. It won’t be the first movie to advance however. Into Darkness had a good soundtrack and an excellent first twenty minutes, but was clearly the weakest of the Abrams-verse Trek movies. Although it might make me sound like a Bronie, the new She-Ra took a questionable 80s series and made it a masterpiece of tween sci-fi/fantasy, and rife with LGBT subtext. For the honor of Greyskull, I pick She-Ra.
  • 6. Cat Stevens (MUS) vs. Kateri Tekakwitha (ST). A Greek guy who became a Muslim vs. a Mohawk girl who became a Catholic. Kateri was the center of the magnificent Auriesville shrine along the Mohawk River. It was an incredible place of respite and it’s probably the place I think of both when I dwell on the Catholicism I was born into. But I’m not ranking the shrine, I’m ranking the saint. Was Kateri a turncoat to her people, or was she exhibiting a degree of agency by using Catholicism to avoid an unwanted marriage or to exercise greater control over her own life in the 17th century? I’d argue the merits of each possibility, but I’d rather listen to Tea for the Tillerman. Cat Stevens.
  • 7. The Wolverine (MOV) vs. Star Trek: Beyond (MOV). Our first matchup within the same category. The Wolverine (the one that takes place in Japan) was much better than its predecessor. But Star Trek: Beyond finally gave us the banter that I was hoping to see between Karl Urban’s Bones and Zachary Quinto’s Spock. It also paid a lovely homage to the late Leonard Nimoy and served as a solid swansong for Anton Yelchin. Star Trek: Beyond.
  • 8. Windsor, UK (VIS) vs. Doctor Who (TV). Windsor was cool…the palace there is an amazing place to visit if you are in the U.K., and it’s where my favorite English monarch, George VI, is buried. But something equally British, the Doctor Who series, easily wins in terms of impact on my life. I love watching the different interpretation each actor puts on the character, and it would win even if it did nothing else but launch David Tennant to international fame. Doctor Who.
  • 9. Talespin (TV) vs. Dinosaurs (TV). Both are television series from the early 90s that held up very well. With Talespin, you can appreciate the showrunners’ commitment to an art deco pre-Depression aesthetic. With Dinosaurs there was some subtle social commentary that 8-year-old me wasn’t in a position to understand. For sheer fun– I always wanted to be Kit Cloudkicker– Talespin wins.
  • 10. Dan Fogelberg (MUS) vs. Kim’s Convenience (TV). Kim’s Convenience had a lot of potential and could complicate the Asian-American narrative with that of a Korean family living in Canada. Yet it sacrificed a lot of that vision for cheap gags and cringe comedy. Fogelberg, meanwhile, made the Sgt. Pepper of soft rock, The Innocent Age. Dan Fogelberg for the win.
  • 11. Rogue One (MOV) vs. Norway pavilion (WDW). Our first Disney World entree. And it advances. I know a lot of fanboys were thrilled with Rogue One and rightly so: Vader kicks ass and we see a more realistic and frankly depressing view of what a slog a rebellion must have been. But the Norway pavilion in Epcot had the World Showcase’s best ride in Maelstrom, some of its best pastries, and a Princess buffet breakfast my nieces dragged me to that was much better than it had to be. Skål! Norway.
  • 12. Perry Bible Fellowship (COM) vs. Journey Into Imagination (WDW). Come on man. If you know anything about me by now, it’s my fanatical devotion to 80s and early 90s Epcot. Imagination.
  • 13. Ramayana (BOK) vs. Balmoral, UK (VIS). The Queen’s estate in Scotland is pretty magnificent, and I can see why she loves Balmoral so much. But the Ramayana is one of the greatest works of world classical literature, and is given particular flavor in R.K. Narayan’s translation. Ramayana.
  • 14. Japan pavilion (WDW) vs. Julian Castro (POL). Interesting choice here. The Japan pavilion has a very good teppanyaki dining experience and one of the better quick-service places in Epcot. The main attraction, though, is the shopping, which I’m not so much interested in. My second favorite candidate from the 2020 primaries will advance. Julian Castro.
  • 15. Ringo Starr (MUS) vs. Genessee Cream Ale (ALC). You may remember that I’m not including The Beatles among the musicians, so this only pertains to Ringo’s solo career. Nevertheless, Ringo was the frontman at my first rock concert back in 1995 and shaking his hand will end up in my life’s highlight reel. As much as I support my local brewery here in Rochester, easy win for Ringo.
  • 16. All the Powers of the Earth (BOK) vs. The Beach Boys (MUS). All the Powers is as fine a Lincoln biography as one can hope for, but it’s still weak applesauce compared to one of the most important acts of the 1960s. Even global antipathy for Mike Love can’t sink the prospects for The Beach Boys.
  • 17. Lamb (BOK) vs. The Muppet Show (TV). This might surprise you, given that I did a whole Twitter series last year on which Muppet corresponds to which president. Lamb, however, is one of the funniest, most moving novels I’ve ever read. It’s also completely bonkers. It follows the tale of Levi, who is known as Biff– Christ’s childhood best friend. In the 23 years between Christ’s boyhood disappearance in Jerusalem and the beginning of his public ministry–on which Christian doctrine is silent– Christopher Moore has the two buddies go East in search of the Wise Men, battling demons, studying in ascetic monasteries, and inventing Judo along the way. Lamb.
  • 18. Eurythmics (MUS) vs. Zurich, SWI (VIS). Unfortunately, I only spent six hours in Zurich while switching trains, and it’s a shame. I never got a chance to explore this beautiful Alpine city where I didn’t even buy a cup of coffee because I didn’t want to switch out my Euros. I hope to give it another go someday, but Annie Lennox must, by default, prevail. Eurythmics.
  • 19. CSNY (MUS) vs. Boston, MA (VIS). Look, Boston, you’re lucky you even made this bracket. I don’t like you, or your racist Southies, or your stupid football team. CSNY would have beaten 80% of the participants in this bracket, but I’m especially glad to see them dispatch of one of my least favorite American cities. CSNY.
  • 20. Robert Kennedy (POL) vs. Gospel (BOK). To explain the second combatant, Gospel is a novel by William Barnhardt about a Greek scholar and his hapless graduate student who discover the lost gospel of the apostle Mathias. A good novel– almost like The Da Vinci Code for people who are actually smart and have a sense of humor. Yet it’s so hard not to look at RFK and mourn the potential that was lost. Liberalism has failed completely to speak to the white working class or appeal to its better angels, and I can’t help but wonder if RFK could or couldn’t have threaded that needle. RFK.

So- those are our first twenty contests. Thoughts so far?

It’s been two and a half months since I last posted something on the Northumbrian Countdown. That is possibly my longest absence from this site in it’s now decade-long history. I’ve been much more active on Twitter, truthfully, and a lot of my energy has been spent toward my new podcast. If you aren’t aware of it, visit The Also-Rans site on Buzzsprout. The podcast takes a deep dive into the lives and legacies of the people who tried to become president but fell a bit short.

On to our main attraction, folks. I have been a little bit obsessed with NCAA-style brackets lately. I love taking part in others’ brackets on twitter, and I’ve done a couple of my own–one for Rock Hall inductees and an ongoing one for Rock Hall snubs. This has been fun…but what if the brackets went into a bigger and more expansive direction? And what if the brackets were more than just a popularity contest? What if they could be used as an opportunity for thoughtful reflection?

These thoughts brought me to the creation fo the Omni-Bracket. It has..um…512 participants. And the theme is simply “things I like” or “things that are important to me.” It will range from movies to musicians to places I’ve visited and even drinks I enjoy. Now, your first thought is probably “what a gargantuan, indulgent waste of time.” And that’s fair. But your second thought might be “how can you possibly compare two utterly different things?” How do you choose between, for example, the Haunted Mansion ride in Disney World and the singing career of Joan Baez? That’s the whole point! It forces me to choose between unlike things, between apples and oranges. The entire criteria for choosing will be almost comically subjective: “which of these two things do I value more, or has had the most positive influence over my life.”

So, what 512…erm…things will be competing on this bracket? As chaotic as this must seem, I did try to frame this with some semblance of organization. We’ll have…

  • 64 popular music artists
  • 64 Walt Disney World rides/hotels/events
  • 64 postwar politicians I admire
  • 64 movies that are part of a franchise
  • 64 television shows
  • 64 places I have visited
  • 64 books
  • and 64 wild-cards.

Even the wild-cards are structured just so. The 64 of them will include:

  • 8 potent potables
  • 8 restaurants
  • 8 presidents
  • 8 NBA legends
  • 8 board/card games
  • 8 comic strips
  • 8 saints
  • 8 museums

If you are curious as to who and what will be participating and what the matchups will be in the first round, let me direct your attention to our big bracket. I simply put the 512 participating items into random.org, assigned each of them a number from the resulting shuffle, and filled in the bracket thusly.

And if you think I’m not going to provide commentary on every binary choice…all 511…that this bracket affords me…well…you don’t know Alex Voltaire. I’ll also use this opportunity to point out that I’m not including The Beatles as one of the music artists because…well…that would be unfair to all the other contestants. And I’m also not including places where I’ve lived among the places I’ve visited, so Buffalo, Rochester, The Bin, London, and Singapore (with the exception of an island off its coast) will not be on the bracket.

I’m not even totally sure who or what will win this thing, but it’s the journey that counts right? I’ll be happy to entertain any early commentary and guesses as to which of these 512 “things” might win the largest, most self-indulgent project I’ve ever embarked upon on the Northumbrian Countdown. If this seems narcissistic, maybe you are right. But being a full-time caregiver to a 2-year-old is periods of boredom punctuated by periods of stress, which is tough sometimes for a guy trained to be an academic to weather. Playing these little games of “would you rather…” is one of the ways I keep my brain active during those dormant periods of boredom. I hope my gentle readers will indulge me.

Let the bracket begin!

We’ve talked, at times, about “desert island discs.” The BBC even has an absurdly long-running show where various public figures break down their choices for the records they would take with them if they were cut off from all society and all other music.

I’d like to try my hand at this activity– but with the usual Alex Voltaire-ish caveats. The scenario is: I’m stuck on a desert island (which means you poor sods won’t have any more primo content on the Countdown). Whoever is exiling me there is thoughtful enough to give me a decent hammock, and plenty of food, water, and Genessee Cream Ale. There’s also a record player and a generator with enough power to keep it going for a lifetime. The only hitch is that I am allowed only one record for each year starting with 1960. Live albums are allowed. Greatest hits collections are not.

That’s pretty generous! Yet it’s also unfortunately limiting. 1969 alone has many of my favorite albums. Abbey Road won–how could it not–but it also took Chicago Transit Authority, Liege & Leaf, Cloud Nine, Dusty in Memphis, and many others out of rotation. Conversely, there are years where I struggled to find one album I could live with– 1982 was one of those weaker years for my own tastes. (I’m not picking Thriller.) I landed on Chicago 16, to give you any idea how dire that year was. I found myself doing mental gymnastics to make sure all my bases were covered, and that there was a Beatles album, a Chicago album, some Elton, and so on.

Anyway, here are my choices:

1960: Tom Lehrer, Revisited 

1961: Sam Cooke, Swing Low

1962: Peter, Paul, and Mary

1963: Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan

1964: The Beatles’ Second Album

1965: Nina Simone, I Put a Spell On You

1966: The Beatles, Revolver

1967: The Left Banke, Walk Away Renée/Pretty Ballerina

1968:  The Zombies, Odessey and Oracle

1969: The Beatles, Abbey Road

1970: CSNY, Deja Vu 

1971: Carole King, Tapestry

1972: Chicago V

1973: Bob Marley & the Wailers, Catch a Fire

1974: Linda Ronstadt, Heart Like a Wheel

1975: Elton John, Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy

1976: Billy Joel, Turnstiles 

1977: Fleetwood Mac, Rumours

1978: Kate Bush, The Kick Inside

1979: Kool & the Gang, Ladies’ Night

1980: Dire Straits, Making Movies

1981: Dan Fogelberg, The Innocent Age

1982: Chicago 16

1983: The Official Album of Walt Disney World’s Epcot Center

1984: Los Lobos, How Will the Wolf Survive?

1985: Les Miserables, Original cast soundtrack

1986: Peter Gabriel, So

1987: George Harrison, Cloud Nine

1988: The Pogues, If I Should Fall From Grace with God

1989: Weird Al Yankovic, UHF Soundtrack and Other Stuff

1990: They Might Be Giants, Flood

1991: Bonnie Raitt, Nick of Time

1992: Indigo Girls, Rites of Passage

1993: A Tribe Called Quest, Midnight Marauders

1994: TLC, CrazySexyCool

1995: Real McCoy, Another Night

1996: Rent, original cast soundtrack

1997: Paul McCartney, Flaming Pie

1998: Enter the Haggis, Let the Wind Blow High

1999: Buffett Live, Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays 

2000: OutKast, Stankonia

2001: Drive-By Truckers, Southern Rock Opera

2002: Flaming Lips, Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots

2003: A Mighty Wind soundtrack

2004: Vienna Teng, Warm Strangers

2005: Coldplay, X&Y

2006: Sufjan Stevens, Songs for Christmas 

2007: Sara Bareilles, Little Voice

2008: Chicago, Stone of Sisyphus

2009: Sting, If On a Winter’s Night

2010: Mumford & Sons, Sigh No More

2011: The Decembrists, The King Is Dead

2012: Brandi Carlile, Bear Creek

2013: Janelle Monae, The Electric Lady

2014: Lake Street Dive, Bad Self Portraits

2015: Hamilton, original cast soundtrack

2016: Beyoncé, Lemonade 

2017: Sia, Everyday is Christmas

2018: Janelle Monae, Dirty Computer 

2019: Lizzo, Cuz I Love You

2020: Taylor Swift, Folklore 

2021: Chvrches, Screen Violence

I see that C-SPAN has released its 2021 update to its presidential rankings, and it’s the first to include Donald Trump. C-SPAN’s methodology isn’t a bad one, but it’s very numeric. Participants score every president from 1-10 in several categories like Administrative Skill and Relations with Congress. Its not at all a bad way to do things. I could point out some quibbles– nobody knows enough to gage every president insightfully in all these categories. I’ve been reading books on the presidents since I was five, and I have no idea how to place, say, Rutherford Haye’s administrative skill or Martin Van Buren’s relations with Congress. I was delighted to see the presence of a number of younger (for academia) scholars– Lindsey Chervinsky and Thomas Balcerski, for instance. I also could not help but note the pains they took to include more conservative scholars. Lee Edwards (who wrote the worst book I’ve ever read, Freedom’s College), Richard Norton Smith, Alvin Felzenberg, but more than that– tiny Christian colleges are overrepresented with two different Grove City professors (Grove City is one of only two schools that does not accept students who take on federal aid. Guess what? Their student body is almost entirely white, even by the standards of western Pennsylvania.) Other Christian colleges represented in that category are Harding University, Liberty, Southern Methodist, Colorado Christian University, Taylor, and Samford, and Baylor. There’s nothing wrong with these colleges necessarily–and I went to a private Christian liberal arts school for college, although you’d probably never guess it today. My point is simply– these kinds of schools seem overrepresented in the survey, and as a result, the makeup of the participating scholars probably resembles the overall American population reasonably well, but is decidedly to the right of where the discipline of history is as a whole right now. Anyway, you can see the results here.

My own ranking this year, for whatever its worth, is:

  1. Abraham Lincoln
  2. George Washington
  3. Franklin D. Roosevelt
  4. James Monroe
  5. Harry Truman
  6. Lyndon Johnson
  7. Theodore Roosevelt
  8. Barack Obama
  9. John Adams
  10. George H. W. Bush
  11. Thomas Jefferson
  12. Dwight Eisenhower
  13. Ulysses S. Grant
  14. John F. Kennedy
  15. John Quincy Adams
  16. William McKinley
  17. William Howard Taft
  18. James Garfield
  19. Bill Clinton
  20. Ronald Reagan
  21. James Madison
  22. Grover Cleveland
  23. Jimmy Carter
  24. Rutherford B. Hayes
  25. Zachary Taylor
  26. Chester Arthur
  27. Herbert Hoover
  28. Gerald R. Ford
  29. Woodrow Wilson
  30. Benjamin Harrison
  31. Millard Fillmore
  32. Warren Harding
  33. Martin Van Buren
  34. James K. Polk
  35. Richard M. Nixon
  36. John Tyler
  37. Calvin Coolidge
  38. William Henry Harrison
  39. George W. Bush
  40. Franklin Pierce
  41. Andrew Johnson
  42. James Buchanan
  43. Andrew Jackson
  44. Donald Trump

That might seem like a provocative title. Of course The Beatles were British. The accents, the funny haircuts, the cheeky interviews…to an American audience, the sheer alien-ness of this band when they landed at Indlewild Airport was palpable. Nobody goes hysterical over the familiar.

And all this is true: but listen–really listen–at those early records, and you’ll see how very American the Beatles presented themselves. Every cover song the band released canonically during the 60s was by an American artist. Every. One. Think about that for a second; not a single song composed by a countryman of theirs. In their endearing Liverpudlian drawl, they nonetheless sang of the touchstones of a romanticized early 60s American adolescence. Jukeboxes in “Roll Over Beethoven” and “Bad Boy.” Phone calls are ubiquitous; think of “No Reply” or “All I’ve Got To Do”–and British teenagers of the early 60s were most certainly not using the telephone on a lark to chat up some girl. “Yeah” and “hey” are ubiquitous. Even before they hit it big in America or were consciously writing for an American audience, they were a projection for an idealized American youth and sense of freedom that the young British public was actively consuming. One struggles to find a single turn of phrase in their catalog up until 1967 that wouldn’t communicate seamlessly to an American audience. Maybe “Paperback Writer” trades in some winks and nods at Fleet Street, and maybe Norwegian Wood uses the British slang “bird” for a woman, but that’s about it. Both songs *work* without any familiarity with their midcentury British context. There is the old adage that the United States and Great Britain are two countries divided by a common language, but it is hard to deny that a big slice of The Beatles’ appeal was in their ability to, in their Northern way, present as American.

All of that changes with Sgt. Pepper. Most notably, the aesthetics hearken back to the Edwardian salvation army bands rewired through the English music hall tradition. On the cover, callbacks to the band’s love of Americana–Tom Mix, Marilyn Monroe, Bette Davis and Dion–literally stand alongside mascots of Britannia such as Robert Peel, David Livingstone, Albert Stubbins (a footballer whom almost nobody in the U.S. would have recognized), and Lewis Carroll. Even the flotilla of Indian gurus that George insisted on including would only be possible through the networks created by British imperialism in the spiritual marketplace of the time.

Their ownership and projection of what it is to be English surfaces not only in the album’s visual art, but its raison de’tre, the music. Consider the following terms that show up in the album’s lyrics which may not have been intelligible to listeners outside the commonwealth, or for the very first time, communicate a cultural framework that is dissonant with American listeners. Allusions or turns of phrase include: House of Lords, Isle of Wight, “too dear” (in the sense of meaning too expensive), Albert Hall, Blackburn Lancashire, Meet the Wife, take some tea, meter maids, the motor trade, summersets, hogsheads. Implicit commentary on the English class system permeates “Lovely Rita” and “She’s Leaving Home.” Gone are the instrumentation of early rock and roll. Instead we get orchestras, harpsichords, an Indian sonic landscape from the country that colonized India for a century, clarinets, calliope, harmonium. When poor George is finally given a guitar solo, he’s no longer channeling Carl Perkins or Chet Atkins, and his playing only serves as a counterpoint to the nebulous worlds of “Fixing A Hole” or “Good Morning, Good Morning.”

Sgt. Pepper will probably always be seen first and foremost as a psychedelic album, and I understand why. It’s dreamy, otherworldly, transcendent, and clearly written under the influence of all kinds of drugs. I’d like to complicate this understanding with a sense that the album is also an act of self-creation. As the first album recorded by the band after quitting the touring circuit, it also stands as a manifesto of their renewed sense of Englishness, a backward looking album that plays with tropes, themes, and instruments of an imagined earlier time in their country’s history that all of them missed by about forty years. It’s as nostalgic a look at England as, say, Main Street USA’s take on small town Midwestern America in Disneyland. For the first time, the Beatles look at who they were with respect to the milieu around them. They no longer cosplay the American rock and roller, but in this sublime era of self-discovery, reimagine and recreate themselves as Englishmen on their own terms.

This is a short post after a two-month absence from the blog. Not to keep making excuses, but I’m watching a child full time while attempting to buy a house in the most lopsided seller’s market in a generation. I’ve been keeping close tabs on all the #RockHall2021 developments, however, between excellent podcast work from the Watchers and the Who Cares folk, Nick’s ongoing Rock Hall Reconsidered Project, and all the other manifold newsbites.

I’ll cut to the chase: here’s who I think, after a few months of watching reactions to this fascinating and precedent-shattering ballot, will get in.

Tina Turner: She is the biggest name with the biggest legacy on the ballot. While double-inductees sometimes face questions of “does so-and-so need to be in there twice?” with Tina it’s justified. Her 80s comeback was a triumph of human persistence and artistic rebirth. Yet, her near-certainty creates a problem: Turner is pretty much retired and I will be gobsmacked if she comes to Cleveland in a pandemic to take part. She may be involved, but it’s fair to say a performance–at least by the grand dame herself–is probably out of the question.

Carole King: I’m a little concerned that, among those who released their ballot choices, King isn’t always one of the five check-marks. Yet these disclosures have largely come from critics–and critics known for their edginess or too-cool-for-school attitude. I’m confident that the musicians who comprise this ballot will make a beeline for King–who is also maybe my biggest personal snub at this point. And King will show up.

Jay-Z: Honestly, this is less of a sure thing than I thought it was two months ago. L.L. Cool J is a serious contender on any ballot he appears on, and may draw votes away from Jay-Z, especially if voters can countenance one rap/hip-hop vote but not two. It’s also true that Jay-Z’s reaction to his nomination hasn’t been the most enthusiastic, and he’s giving off very Howard Stern “do I have to fly to Cleveland for this?” energy. Even still, he’s arguably the most successful rapper of all time, and if you are a millennial, 4 or 5 of his songs are an indelible part of your generational experience.

The Go-Gos: With a first-rate documentary making a case for their significance, the timing is right for The Go-Gos. New wave acts have done well in the Rock Hall lately, and there’s no denying their historicity. Eddie Trunk notwithstanding, if you want to vote for artists who wrote their own stuff and played their own instruments, The Go-Gos clear that hurdle.

Foo Fighters: A group whose nomination exists largely to raise Mary’s blood pressure, The Foo Fighters are still more likely than not to get inducted, I think. If Green Day can get in on their first try seven years ago, Foo Fighters should be able to do so as well. And like Green Day (and unlike Radiohead), the Foo Fighters show up to stuff. Complain all you like on their merits–I may or may not argue with you–but they fit the profile of first-year-eligible inductees.

That’s five. But with only three of them likely to be there, I doubt very much Greg Harris will stop there.

If there’s six, sign me up for Devo. They’re probably my least favorite artist on the ballot, and given all the other ersatz artists operating at the same time, I’m not quite getting the urgency. But in spite of my feelings, they were bold, had a unique visual aesthetic, and can thread the needle between “countercultural innovator” and “Classic rock”. Plus, their own Ohio roots gives HBO the potential for some terrific “going home” moments.

If there’s seven, I’m going to buck orthodoxy and suggest that New York Dolls have a real chance. Of the ballots released so far, NYD are showing up on a striking number, and their profile isn’t all that different from their contemporaries Roxy Music and T. Rex. In fact, New York Dolls have the added benefit of being, obviously, New Yorkers and having plenty of allies on the voting committee. They are also the queerest artist here, given their gender-bending aesthetic, which may also be an unexpected fount of support.

So those are my picks. Again, it’s Jay-Z, Carole King, Tina Turner, The Go-Gos, and the Foo Fighters, adding Devo if six and New York Dolls if seven. I don’t think LL Cool J can make it with another rapper on the ballot if he hasn’t managed it as the only rapper. Kate Bush has my vote, but may be too niche and English. Todd Rundgren has fallen flat on less competitive ballots than this one. If Judas Priest–a better and more significant band–couldn’t swing it, Iron Maiden shouldn’t logically fare much better. Fela Kuti is important, but a question mark to many voters. Dionne Warwick is lovely, but may be a bit too cocktail-hour, even for her contemporaries. Mary J. Blige has my vote on the fan ballot, and is our long awaited female hip-hop nominee, but doesn’t have a prayer unfortunately. With so many brassy female artists on this list, Chaka Khan will probably get drowned out, and Rage Against the Machine just doesn’t seem to have the momentum this year.

We will see if I’m right, though; I’m not 100% sure of my choices– if I had to pick one artist I’d be wrong about, it’d be Rundgren, I think. Well, the fan vote closes in a few days, and hopefully we’ll have our inductees a week or two after. Rock Hall, if you are listening, I reiterate my ancestral plea: Carole Kaye for Musical Excellence. Big Mama Thornton for Influence.

On Wednesday, 10 February, with only about 48 hours’ notice, the Rock Hall announced the nominees for its 2021 class. I happened to be at my parents’ place, dropping off my son before an eye appointment when the appointed hour arrived. When I read the nominees, I experienced the gratifying sensation of not wanting to throw my cell phone out the window in anger and exasperation. That’s because this is…if not exactly the ~strongest~ set of nominees I’ve seen in my years following the Hall (I’d say the Class of 2016 ballot has that honor), then it is certainly the most ~encouraging~ and evinces a Rock Hall headed in the right direction. Under the new leadership of John Sykes, a sea change seems to have occurred. We have a ballot that did justice to the 90s, reached back to the mid-60s, and had gender and racial parity after years of relative white-washing since the era of fan ballots and HBO broadcasts began. As many of you know by now, our 16 nominees were:

  • Kate Bush
  • Dionne Warwick
  • Iron Maiden
  • Foo Fighters
  • L.L. Cool J
  • Devo
  • New York Dolls
  • Carole King
  • Mary J. Blige
  • Chaka Khan
  • Jay-Z
  • Todd Rundgren
  • Tina Turner
  • Fela Kuti
  • The Go-Gos
  • Rage Against the Machine

That’s…a pretty fascinating ballot, ripe with good choices. I’d be happy with almost any permutation of inductees. Of course, Sykes alone is not entirely responsible for this. The Rock Hall has a rather terrific team of publicity folk, librarians, and archivists who played a quiet role behind the scenes. And I’d like to think that pressure from journalists like Evelyn McDonnell and bloggers like the Hall Watchers team were part of a larger grassroots effort.

As is my custom here on the Countdown, I’ll do a rundown of the nominees, ranking their 1) Worthiness; 2) How much I like Them (or Preference, for simplicity’s sake); 3) Their Likelihood of getting in, in my estimation; and 4) How good their induction is for the Rock Hall’s Bottom Line, from a publicity, financial, or respectability angle. I’ll also give a suggestion for a possible musician to give their induction speech.

Devo (Worthiness: 16; Preference: 14; Likelihood: 9; Bottom Line: 12). You know this is a good ballot when Devo might be the act I have the biggest problem with. And even then, it’s simply on speculative grounds like “would they have been as big if they hadn’t worn silly hats?”, and not particularly liking bands with manifestos. Devo makes its second appearance on a Rock Hall ballot, and this time, they would be inducted in their home base in northeastern Ohio. This could make them a sentimental favorite during the induction ceremony, and that goes double when you consider that we almost lost Mark Mothersbaugh to COVID last year. Suggested Inductor: Weird Al Yankovic.

Dionne Warwick (Worthiness: 13; Preference: 6; Likelihood: 7; Bottom Line: 9). Well, this was a pleasant surprise! Dionne Warwick was always at the periphery of inductable artists- she was in my original list of 100 prospects that I wrote four years ago, where I wondered whether her “cocktail-hour music” hurt her chances, despite a great voice, workmanlike professionalism, and some legendary songs from the Bacharach-David team. And for all we talk about Tina Turner’s comeback (and we should), it’s worth pointing out that Warwick never really faded out of the limelight in the first place and was a consistent chart presence from the 60s through deep into the 80s. It couldn’t hurt that she’s had a revival of sorts in the past year, between appearances on The Masked Singer and a playful persona she has cultivated on Twitter. Given the number of ex-Zombies, and ex-Vandellas and the such who get ballots, don’t count Warwick out. Suggested Inductor: Chance the Rapper.

New York Dolls (Worthiness: 14; Preference: 16; Likelihood: 15; Bottom Line: 14). A handful of Rock Hall watchers, myself included, predicted New York Dolls–usually in lieu of those Fan Vote bottom-feeders, MC5. Right now, the Dolls’ androgyny, playfulness, and proto-punk attitude is in. But unlike their near-contemporaries, T. Rex and Roxy Music, they didn’t produce a particularly large or particularly memorable body of work despite a profound impact on their peers. Don’t expect an induction here, but in case I’m wrong, I suggest Axl Rose.

Foo Fighters (Worthiness: 10, Preference: 8, Likelihood: 5, Bottom Line: 7). It was pretty foreseeable that Foo Fighters would make the ballot, not only on account of being one of the foremost rock and roll bands of the last 25 years, but also by virtue of Dave Grohl’s chumminess with the Hall and general likability. In some ways, they are to rock and roll what Boyz II Men were to R&B, the last great act in a dying genre. The Rock Hall Watchers team are a bit more critical of them than I would be- I’d argue that we are still seeing their influence play out, and I tend to prefer longevity and consistency over artists who were an extremely influential flash in the pan (see New York Dolls.) At any rate, like it or not, I’d say it’s about a fifty-fifty split whether they get in this year. Suggested Inductor: Dave Grohl’s Zoom-era sparring partner, Nadia Bushnell.

Jay-Z (Worthiness: 3, Preference: 11, Likelihood: 3, Bottom Line: 3). I owe Jay-Z a great deal because I can use him as a reference point in my history lectures. When talking about the Erie Canal, I can say that DeWitt Clinton has 99 problems, but a ditch ain’t one. When the topic turns to the Mughal Empire, I can say Emperor Akbar has 99 problems, but the Brits ain’t one. Truly, Jay-Z is the gift that keeps on giving. The 2021 Class has always had the subtext of “it’s Jay-Z’s year” about it, and I don’t think there’s any reason to challenge this piece of conventional wisdom. But I caution against giving Jay-Z a free ride. Journalist Bill Wyman eviscerated the corporatism of Jay-Z in his own take on the 2021 nominees, writing: “…he is the epitome of corporate hip-hop. His remarkable, lasting success and slick positions — from his art to his acts to his marriage — has made him a perennial superstar. But there is something bleak and empty about him”. He is perhaps the most successful rapper of all-time, although he is not, by any fair estimation, the best. I also wonder how many people will look at the ballot and say “wait…how can I vote for Jay-Z when L.L. Cool J isn’t in yet?” It was different with 2pac and Biggie, who achieved an almost spiritual significance in death. Suggested Inductor: Eminem, to herald #RockHall2022.

The Go-Gos (Worthiness: 8, Preference: 7, Likelihood: 8, Bottom Line: 6). Their nomination is entirely deserved, but it seems part of something larger and more metatextual. The Go-Gos documentary that was released last year to positive reviews spends an almost untoward amount of time considering why they aren’t in the Rock Hall, almost playing chicken with Jann Wenner. And still, it’s a fair question: as many readers know, they were the first band to achieve a #1 with only women playing on the record, and their significance extends far beyond mere trivia. Lately, we celebrate excellence that thrived despite structural unfairness in their way (consider Hidden Figures as an example), and this makes the Go-Gos accomplishments all the more remarkable. They could very well get inducted on their first try, but I’m not encouraged by what happened to some of their female contemporaries like Eurythmics, Kate Bush, and Pat Benatar. If they do get in, expect an enthusiastic reunion, and, as Gina Schock wished for, a terrific speech from P!nk.

Rage Against the Machine (Worthiness: 9, Preference: 15, Likelihood: 13, Bottom Line: 5). I see two obstacles to Rage’s chances this year. Number One is the Foo Fighters. Although they are in very different sub-genres, they are both perhaps the two most iconic rock bands of the late 90s and could potentially hamper each other’s chances. It’s also unlikely that they will both get in during the same year because it would look ~really~ bad if two bands with members on the Nominating Committee slide through. Number Two is less intuitive– it’s political stability. Do you like the feeling of not waking up in a state of panic and abject horror, checking your phone to see what insane thing the president has done or said? I sure like it. My point is that the steady-as-she-goes liberalism of Joe Biden blunts a lot of the fire and righteous anger that drives RATM and makes them perpetually relevant. There’s no doubt, though, that the Rock Hall would love to micromanage a rare, but very plausible, Rage reunion. Suggested Inductor: Chuck D.

Chaka Khan (Worthiness: 11, Preference: 4, Likelihood: 16, Bottom Line: 13). Fun fact: the number of Masked Singer participants on this year’s ballot is only slightly smaller than the number of women on last year’s ballot. This time showing up sans Rufus, Khan has very, very little chance on a ballot this competitive. Tina Turner and Dionne Warwick are both more famous, more influential, had more hits, while also enjoying a second chapter in their careers unfold in the 1980s. Allegedly, the Hall has a secret rule where you automatically get in if you earn seven nominations or have seven nominations in a row (sources disagree). If that’s true, and Khan’s work with or without Rufus is considered of a piece, she could get in through this loophole next year. Suggested Inductor: Erykah Badu.

Todd Rundgren (Worthiness: 12, Preference: 3, Likelihood: 4, Bottom Line: 15). Rundgren is close to my heart because he headlined the last concert I attended before the pandemic shut everything down. Despite this, I’m not as sold on his Rock Hall credentials as some of the other hobbyists are. He barely missed out on making my first list of 100 prospects, and it doesn’t help that his best work is divided between himself and two different bands, and intermingled with his other work as a producer. Having said all that, Rundgren may well get in on his third consecutive nomination. He’s the closest thing we have to a “70s classic rock in the narrowest possible sense of the genre” nominee, which certainly didn’t hurt the Doobie Brothers last year. But how does the Hall handle a problem child like Todd for the HBO broadcast? He has made it clear he holds the Hall in contempt and is extremely unlikely to show up for the festivities. He’s also alienated or pissed off a lot of people who might have given interesting induction speeches, like Meat Loaf or the XTC guys. He’s tight with Ringo, but he just inducted T. Rex last year. So, maybe Joey Molland of Badfinger as my suggested inductor?

L.L. Cool J (Worthiness: 2, Preference: 12, Likelihood: 12, Bottom Line: 8). I was surprised that the Rock Hall nominated a second rapper this year, given Jay-Z’s presence on the ballot. It would have made sense if they threw out a sacrificial lamb to honor with a nomination (think De La Soul or something similar), but LL Cool J is a legitimate contender any time he appears on a ballot. Indeed, he’s easily made it into the very highest eschelons of my own mental tabulation of the most egregious snubs from the Rock Hall. As I said earlier, the fact that LL Cool J isn’t in yet may give some voters pause before they automatically check off the box next to Jay-Z’s name. But how many Rock Hall voters are willing to vote for two rap acts? Not too many, I would guess. If I’m wrong, though, expect class and sophistication from L.L. Cool J, as well as an enthusiastic speech from…Ludacris?

Tina Turner (Worthiness: 7, Preference: 9, Likelihood: 2, Bottom Line: 4). Lots of positive press and buzz surrounded Tina Turner this year, so a lot of us predicted her to show up, and we were vindicated. It is almost certain that she will get inducted– I’d be beyond shocked if she didn’t, but given how Rock Hall voters have sometimes done black women dirty (such as Janet needing three tries), nothing is for certain. Unfortunately, it’s unlikely that 80-year-old Turner will fly from Switzerland in an improving but tentative global health environment to accept her award in person, but you can take it to the bank that she will record a very gracious acceptance speech and some standout tribute performances will be in the works. As for someone to give the speech, is Beyoncé not going to be in the house?

Iron Maiden (Worthiness: 5, Preference: 13, Likelihood: 6, Bottom Line: 1). Three acts with metal credentials were nominated last year. None of them got in. This year, one completely different metal act was nominated instead. Iron Maiden are perennial favorites at the Rock Hall’s voting kiosks, and if you look at white, male bands that aren’t in yet, sure- they take their place among the most prominent. Even so, I feel that their significance and fan base is limited to the metal community, and more people own Iron Maiden t-shirts than own Iron Maiden albums. Moreover, metal bands often take a few tries to get into the Hall, and Judas Priest–in my own opinion a superior ensemble–hasn’t made it yet. However, Iron Maiden has the hard rock lane all to itself this year, and winning over their massive corps of devoted fans has to be making Greg Harris see dollar signs in his sleep. I think they have a much stronger chance than my peers currently imagine. Suggested Inductor: Scott Ian of Anthrax.

Mary J. Blige (Worthiness: 6, Preference: 5, Likelihood: 11, Bottom Line: 10). I’m not humble enough to aver the fact that I was one of the only Rock Hall people who predicted her for the ballot. She was definitely a Hail-Mary pick–literally in this case–, and I’m still surprised I was right. Despite the unexpected appearance, Blige is eminently worthy. She was one of VH1’s 100 Greatest Artists of All Time, but consider this as well… Can you tell the story of 80s pop without Tina Turner? Possibly. Could you tell the story of 90s R&B without Blige? Not a chance. It won’t matter, but she’s an extremely deserving candidate. My Suggested Inductor is perhaps her most unlikely collaborator but one of her most consistent boosters: Elton John. While the Rocket Man is in the building, this would be a great opportunity to induct Bernie Taupin as a non-performer, but that’s a post for another day.

Fela Kuti (Worthiness: 15, Preference: 10, Likelihood: 14, Bottom Line: 11). Speaking of surprises…Fela Kuti? He was #100 on my original list of 100 Rock Hall prospects, and among these sixteen nominees, he’s only second from the bottom in terms of worthiness. I’m not going to vote for him, and I doubt he’ll get in, but I love the idea of nominating Kuti. It’s one of those picks like Los Lobos or John Prine, where you aren’t gonna vote for ’em, but you really respect that the committee thought highly enough about that artist to give him this kind of public acknowledgment. I could, though, be counting him out too early. Thanks to a grassroots campaign coming from Kuti’s native Africa, he’s been leading the Fan Vote. It’s uncertain if he’ll stay there, but this is a crafty choice if the intention was to put the Rock Hall on the radar of the developing world. Suggested Inductor: Bootsy Collins.

Kate Bush (Worthiness: 4, Preference: 2, Likelihood: 10, Bottom Line: 16). She’s back after a three year absence. When it comes to women who should be in the Rock Hall, Bush has to be near the top of the list. There has been no one like her: a wünderkind from England who drew ideas from progressive rock and classic literature to make dreamy soundscapes, who churned out great album after great album for a dozen solid years. The Kick Inside is easily on my list of the best albums of all time, and as indie music allows creative misfits let their freak flags fly, Bush has only become more impactful. Her notorious reclusivity means she won’t be in Cleveland, but maybe Lorde and Bjork can perform her tracks after Big Boi’s speech.

Carole King (Worthiness: 1, Preference: 1, Likelihood: 1, Bottom Line: 2). When I started following the Rock Hall, I was a stalwart advocate for: Chicago. Nina Simone. The Zombies. Joan Baez. Bill Withers. Dire Straits. Janet Jackson. Carole King. Well, now they are all in- as performers, except Carole King. Her influence as a singer-songwriter is far-reaching and expansive, virtually everybody in that genre owes something to her work. Given how revered Tapestry is on its 50th anniversary, given her impactful legacy, and given how fondly the 60s old-timers remember him, Carole King is as sure as a sure thing can be. I can’t wait to see her get into the Hall on her own merits. Suggested Inductor: Sara Bareilles.

Follow your own arrow, but on the Rock Hall’s site, I’m voting for Carole King, L.L. Cool J, Mary J. Blige, Kate Bush, and Todd Rundgren.

For ease of reference, my rankings were:

Worthiness:

  1. Carole King
  2. L.L. Cool J
  3. Jay-Z
  4. Kate Bush
  5. Iron Maiden
  6. Mary J. Blige
  7. Tina Turner
  8. The Go-Gos
  9. Rage Against the Machine
  10. Foo Fighters
  11. Chaka Khan
  12. Todd Rundgren
  13. Dionne Warwick 
  14. New York Dolls
  15. Fela Kuti
  16. Devo

Ranking favorites:

  1. Carole King
  2. Kate Bush 
  3. Todd Rundgren 
  4. Chaka Khan 
  5. Mary J. Blige
  6. Dionne Warwick 
  7. The Go-Go’s
  8. Foo Fighters
  9. Tina Turner
  10. Fela Kuti
  11. Jay-Z
  12. L L Cool J
  13. Iron Maiden 
  14. Devo
  15. Rage Against the Machine 
  16. New York Dolls

Likelihood: 

  1. Carole King
  2. Tina Turner
  3. Jay-Z
  4. Todd Rundgren
  5. Foo Fighters
  6. Iron Maiden
  7. Dionne Warwick
  8. The Go-Gos
  9. Devo
  10. Kate Bush
  11. Mary J. Blige
  12. L.L. Cool J
  13. Rage Against the Machine
  14. Fela Kuti
  15. New York Dolls
  16. Chaka Khan

Bottom line:

  1. Iron Maiden
  2. Carole King
  3. Jay-Z
  4. Tina Turner
  5. Rage Against the Machine
  6. Go-Go’s
  7. Foo Fighters
  8. LL Cool J
  9. Dionne Warwick
  10. Mary J Blige
  11. Fela Kuti
  12. Devo
  13. Chaka Khan
  14. New York Dolls
  15. Todd Rundgren
  16. Kate Bush

Although I am blogging this only two days before the Rock Hall is set to make its official predictions, I wrote most of these write-ups several months ago, and published them as a sequence on twitter. It occurred to me, however, that not everybody who reads this blog necessary follows @alex_voltaire on twitter. If you don’t, here is my list of #RockHall2021 predictions. If you ~do~ follow me on twitter, there’s very little new for you here, except for one replacement in my 16 predictions.

Jay-Z: Eminem may be the ~best~ rapper of all time, and LL Cool J may be the first significant solo rapper, but Jay-Z might have the case as the most successful rapper ever. Rolling Stone and VH1 both listed him as one of the 100 Greatest Artists fairly early in his career, and he is likely to join the exclusive club of first-year-eligible inductees.

Foo Fighters: We know that the Nominating Committee has no qualms about putting forward its own members. And David Grohl might be the most universally liked figure in rock and roll today. Foo fighters have been involved in Rock Hall proceedings for decades, and might be the last traditional guitar-bass-drums rock band nominated their first year. And let’s get Nadia Bushell to give the speech if they get in, huh?

Judas Priest: Last year’s ballot produced a surfeit of hard rock and heavy metal acts and Judas Priest didn’t prevail. Although Lemmy is remembered fondly, Judas Priest, with two nominations, seems to be in the Fastpass lane for the neglected heavy metal genre. Glenn Tipton’s Parkinson’s diagnosis makes it clear that the Hall can’t keep dragging their feet.

Rufus w/ Chaka Khan: Khan–with or without Rufus–might be the new Chic: a perennial and deserving nominee representing 70s R&B who can’t quite win over a quorum of voters. Righteous anger over her elimination from The Masked Singer may well translate into righteous anger over her absence from the Rock Hall.

Dave Matthews Band: A surprise choice last year, DMB made history as the first artist to win the fan vote without getting inducted. It would be bad publicity, to say the least, if they were not given a second chance to get into the Rock Hall. Their broad fan base and reputation as a transcendent live act make them a compelling choice for the Rock Hall’s bottom line.

Jethro Tull: It seems as though every year, there is at least one longtime-snubbed, classic rock radio staple nominated to appease an aging contingent of baby boomers. With the Doobies filling that role last year, Tull is, intuitively, next in line. Ian Anderson’s recent COPD diagnosis lends an air of urgency to this critically-detested bastion of Dad Rock.

Kraftwerk: Kraftwerk continues to be the “thinking person’s choice” for the worst Rock Hall snub, and generally, the more one knows about music history, the more likely it is that one supports them. The death of co-founder Florian Schneider should remind voters just how much contemporary music is playing in their sandbox.

Duran Duran: As original VJ Martha Quinn once remarked, “Everyone says ‘MTV made Duran Duran, but you know what? Duran Duran made MTV too.” With an MTV honcho chairing the Rock Hall these days, and with other synth acts from the 80s like Depeche Mode already in, this enduring guilty pleasure favorite may have their moment.

Soundgarden: Predating Nirvana and Pearl Jam, Soundgarden holds the lane on grungy 90s alternative groups. Chris Cornell’s suicide is still reverberating through the music industry years after the fact, and their nomination was one of the most well received of last year’s batch. There’s every reason to think they’ll get another shot.

Tina Turner: When our community of Rock Hall followers held a mock nomination meeting, Tina Turner earned a spot and ultimately won the most votes. No one in the actual Rock Hall might care, but it does show her viability as a solo artist. Turner simply pulled off the single biggest reinvention in the history of rock music.

The Go-Gos: Induct More Women. If public pressure and a change in leadership have any impact, The Go-Gos might well appear on a ballot for the first time. A formidable option any year, they currently have the wind at their backs with a new documentary chronicling the first all-female band to make a #1 record entirely on their own.

New York Dolls: For several years now, MC5 has been nominated without much forward momentum. Perhaps another band whose career was short, capricious, iconoclastic, and highly influential will take their place. Their raw sound, contempt for industry standards, and shameless androgyny give them a significance that overshadows their brief time in the spotlight.

Sonic Youth: With the Hall chipping away slowly but surely at the alternative backlog, we are now at a point where Sonic Youth takes its place among the most important bands ever nominated. It’s not hard to see someone–Lenny Kaye? Dave Grohl?–making a persuasive case for a band that has influenced artists ranging from Beck to Yeah Yeah Yeahs to Pavement.

Mary J. Blige: How much change will the John Sykes era bring? Although Jay-Z may be a runaway favorite for induction, don’t assume he’ll be the only artist in his genre. The Rock Hall has never nominated a female hip-hop or rap act, and Bluge–one of VH1’s 100 Greatest Artists of All Time several years ago–just might get a spot on the ballot.

Kool & the Gang: Often sampled, never duplicated, this band has been cranking out industry-best live shows for decades and have accumulated a great deal of influence and respect in that time. The death of one of their founding members this past year makes it clear that it is time that this band be recognized even though, like J. Geils Band, their biggest chart hits don’t really do them justice.

The B-52s: Carole King: I’m modifying my list at the eleventh hour to replace ersatz alternative dance group The B-52s (who I love) with Carole King (whom I practically worship). King has been very visable during this pandemic and finding new ways to connect to a wider audience. And it has not escaped my notice that the nominations are to be announced on the 50th anniversary—to the day–of Tapestry‘s release.

You never forget your first. Your first Congress that is. I initially began following U.S. politics in some depth during my senior year of college- ironically, when I was out of the country working as a teaching and resident assistant for my college’s honors program in London. This was in January of 2005, at the beginning of the 109th congress.

I say Congress, but really, it was usually just the Senate that fascinated me; the arcane procedurals, the easy-to-remember composition of two persons per state. It’s been 16 years now, and I thought it might be interesting to collate what happened to the senators from that first congress I followed. This is some back-of-the-envelope research here, and it’s probable that I forgot some people in some of the categories, but here is, to the best of my recollection, what befell these senators:

Still in the Senate:

  1. Maria Cantwell (Washington)
  2. Patty Murray (Washington)
  3. Dianne Feinstein (California)
  4. Ron Wyden (Oregon)
  5. Mitch McConnell (Kentucky)
  6. Dick Durbin (Illinois)
  7. Jack Reed (Rhode Island)
  8. Patrick Leahy (Vermont)
  9. Deb Stabenow (Michigan)
  10. Richard Shelby (Alabama)
  11. Lindsey Graham (South Carolina)
  12. John Thune (South Dakota)
  13. Jim Inhofe (Oklahoma)
  14. Richard Burr (North Carolina)
  15. Charles Grassley (Iowa)
  16. Mike Crapo (Idaho)
  17. Lisa Murkowski (Alaska)
  18. Jon Cornyn (Texas)
  19. Chuck Schumer (New York)
  20. Tom Carper (Delaware)
  21. Susan Collins (Maine)

Died:

  1. Craig Thomas (Wyoming)
  2. Ted Kennedy (Massachusetts)
  3. Robert Byrd (West Virginia)
  4. Arlen Spector (Pennsylvania)
  5. Ted Stevens (Alaska)
  6. Daniel Inouye (Hawaii)
  7. Robert Bennett (Utah)
  8. Jim Bunning (Kentucky)
  9. Daniel Akaka (Hawaii)
  10. Jim Jeffords (Vermont)
  11. Frank Lautenberg (New Jersey)
  12. Pete Domenici (New Mexico)
  13. Conrad Burns (Montana)
  14. Richard Lugar (Indiana)
  15. John McCain (Arizona)
  16. Tom Coburn (Oklahoma)
  17. Thad Cochran (Mississippi)
  18. Paul Sarbanes (Maryland)

Became governors after:

  1. Jon Corzine (New Jersey)
  2. Lincoln Chafee (Rhode Island)
  3. Mike DeWine (Ohio)
  4. Sam Brownback (Kansas)
  5. Mark Dayton (Minnesota)

Ran for president after 2005:

  1. Barack Obama
  2. John McCain
  3. Hillary Clinton
  4. Christopher Dodd
  5. Joe Biden
  6. Sam Brownback 
  7. Rick Santorum
  8. Lincoln Chafee 
  9. Lindsey Graham

Became president:

  1. Barack Obama
  2. Joe Biden

Became Vice President:

  1. Joe Biden

Served in the cabinet:

  1. Hillary Clinton
  2. Ken Salazar 
  3. Chuck Hagel
  4. John Kerry 
  5. Jeff Sessions 

Lost re-election: (* were losses in their party’s primaries)

  1. George Allen (2006)
  2. Lincoln Chafee (2006)
  3. Mike DeWine (2006)
  4. Rick Santorum (2006)
  5. Conrad Burns (2006)
  6. Jim Talent (2006)
  7. John Sununu (2008)
  8. Gordon Smith (2008)
  9. Ted Stevens (2008)
  10. Norm Coleman (2008)
  11. Elizabeth Dole (2008)
  12. Arlen Spector (*) (2010)
  13. Robert Bennett(*) (2010)
  14. Russ Feingold (2010)
  15. Blanche Lambert Lincoln (2010)
  16. Richard Lugar (*) (2012)
  17. Mark Pryor (2014)
  18. Mary Landrieu (2014)
  19. Bill Nelson (2018)

(Lisa Murkowski and Joe Lieberman both lost primaries but were re-elected anyway)

Chose not to run for re-election:

  1. Paul Sarbanes (2006)
  2. Mark Dayton (2006)
  3. Bill Frist (2006)
  4. Jim Jeffords (2006)
  5. Chuck Hagel (2008)
  6. Pete Domenici (2008)
  7. Wayne Allard (2008)
  8. George Voinovich (2010)
  9. Chris Dodd (2010)
  10. Kit Bond (2010)
  11. Evan Bayh (2010)
  12. Jim Bunning (2010)
  13. Judd Gregg (2010)
  14. Byron Dorgan (2010)
  15. Olympia Snowe (2012)
  16. Ben Nelson (2012)
  17. Kent Conrad (2012)
  18. Jon Kyl (2012)
  19. Joe Lieberman (2012)
  20. Kay Bailey Hutchison (2012)
  21. Daniel Akaka (2012)
  22. Jeff Bingaman (2012)
  23. Saxby Chambliss (2014)
  24. Carl Levin (2014)
  25. Tom Harkin (2014)
  26. Tim Johnson (2014)
  27. Jay Rockefeller (2014)
  28. Barb Boxer (2016)
  29. Harry Reid (2016)
  30. Barbara Mikulski (2016)
  31. Orrin Hatch (2018)
  32. Michael Enzi (2020)
  33. Pat Roberts (2020)
  34. Lamar Alexander (2020)

Resigned mid-term (for reasons other than taking a higher office)

  1. Mel Martinez 
  2. Trent Lott
  3. Jim Demint 
  4. Tom Coburn
  5. Johnny Isaksen 

At the Center of a Sex Scandal:

  1. Larry Craig
  2. John Ensign
  3. Pete Domenici