After a several months-long hiatus, it’s time to revisit my ongoing ranking of the Beatles back catalog.

165. I Wanna Be Your Man (With the Beatles): The band gets into a swampier, bluesier sound with this number. Its simplicity lends it to Ringo’s oeuvre, but I can’t help but think how epic this song would have been with differentiated verses, a murky guitar solo, Lennon’s harmonica, and letting John or Paul sing the vocals. There’s so much potential here.

164. I’ll Get You (b-side): It’s a pleasant enough song that does exactly what it’s intended to do: fill up the b-side of a hit single, in this case, the Beatlemania-igniting “She Loves You.” It’s one of the first times we see a glimpse of the otherworldly inclinations of John’s songwriting, from “picturing”, “dreaming,” and, of course, “imagining.”

163. Honey, Don’t (Perkins, Beatles for Sale): It’s a pleasant enough swing through a Carl Perkins favorite. Curiously, Ringo sings this track although historically it had been John’s throughout the band’s Cavern Club era. It fits Ringo’s luckless persona better than “Everybody’s Trying…” fits George’s, although the guitar solo is virtually the same thing played twice, and Ringo flubs some of the double-tracking.

162. P.S. I Love You (Please Please Me): The band’s first b-side, this track was re-recorded for their first LP. It is a pedestrian love-letter song, but McCartney’s soaring counterpoint over the droning voices of Lennon and Harrison are a strong signal of the band’s nascent confidence in the studio.

161. Only a Northern Song (Harrison, Yellow Submarine): George is having a bit of fun here, noting that The Beatles’ skewed publishing arrangements meant that they would see little profit out of their songs’ massive successes. But as would often happen throughout his solo career, the audience isn’t in on the joke, making the whole venture seem self-indulgent and petty. George Martin provides some damp and murky sound effects that add some life to this Sgt. Pepper outtake that found new life in the band’s animated film.

160. Dizzy Miss Lizzie (Williams, Help!): The band’s last canonical cover song (depending on your feelings about “Maggie Mae”), Lennon again delves into Larry Williams territory.  John affects a great deal of breezy confidence and passionate screaming that drives the song forward, but the band’s weariness shows in the song’s chug-along pace.

159. Tell Me Why (A Hard Day’s Night): A specimen of early Sixties British beat-pop, it is self-aware enough to be an amusing pastiche of the Beatles’ M.O. at this point. With the call-and-response vocals and a falsetto section that mocks “She Loves You,” it is made into a more serious effort by some of Ringo’s finest drumming of this period of the band’s  story.

158. The Word (Rubber Soul): A vague piece of early psychedelia, “The Word” prophetically points the way toward 1967. It does highlight Lennon’s underrated skills at harmony, with the acid cutting on the bottom balancing out McCartney’s honeyed high harmonies.

157. Rock and Roll Music (Berry, Beatles for Sale): It doesn’t improve much on Berry’s original, but then, I suppose it doesn’t have to. Lennon’s version is faster and more frantic than Berry’s more tempered original. But it goes to show: this song was “hallowed ground” for sixties’ acts, while it was conceived as a self-referential almost novelty tune when Berry wrote it in the fifties.

156. Wait (Rubber Soul): A version of this song was recorded and rejected from the Help! sessions, and running out of time to get a record out for the holiday season, the band took another stab at it. It is certainly easy to picture some wah-wah guitar on this track, which hearkens back to their early-1965 fascination with the sound. Its catchiness largely derives from the hair-trigger transition from the bridge to the verses.

155. Good Night (The White Album): Written by John and sung by Ringo, this song seems to have morphed in the studio from something quite sincere into an all-out parody of overblown Hollywood tunes. The choruses and orchestras come in thick from beginning to end; in fact, no other Beatles are to be found on the record! A suitably bizarre ending to the band’s most eclectic album.

154. Flying (Lennon-McCartney-Harrison-Starkey, Magical Mystery Tour): This used to rank very low- think bottom ten- on my list of Beatles songs. With due consideration and some good conversations with friends, I am rethinking my position. The guitar work about 20 seconds in is immaculate, and the electric organ overlays certainly help create the sensation of flight. As a jam band, though, The Beatles lacked the discipline and the proficiency to do very much, and so this song remained a short and evocative snippet.

153. For You Blue (Harrison, Let It Be): Look, you’ve got to leave the blues to the experts. The band’s skill set doesn’t really lend itself to the medium, and Lennon’s amateurish lap steel guitar work is little more than a twee novelty. It’s just a little surprising that this was the George song that they went with when, say, “All Things Must Pass” was available at the time.

152. Every Little Thing (Beatles for Sale): This ~might~ be the most average Beatles song in their entire catalog, with its nondescript place in the middle of the second side of an LP, and its focus on uncomplicated devotion. That’s not a bad thing– and the timpani percussion and Lennon’s strong rhythm guitar give the song added character.

151. There’s A Place (Please Please Me): Traditionally, this song is seen as the first glimmer of lyrical excellence from the Lennon/McCartney team and is often compared to its contemporary, “In My Room” by The Beach Boys with similar themes of solitude and introspection. “In My Room” is undoubtedly the more excellent of the two, but “There’s A Place” creates the space and quietude necessary for “Twist and Shout” to have the impact that it does at the end of the album.



So. As many of you know, I. Love. Disney. World. And not just visiting the parks, but learning about them, and celebrating their rich history, particularly the optimistic, collaborative view of the future purported by 80s and 90s Epcot Center.

Well, I just finished up my 10th visit, or the David Tennant Trip, as I like to call it. Just for some background, my last visit was exactly four years ago, under somewhat uncertain circumstances (my doctors found a lump on my neck, and I was waiting for a biopsy to determine what, exactly, it was. Thankfully, it was merely the outgrowth of a bone that had been broken many years ago and grew together funnily.) Also, my wife and I were going with kids. Not our own– they don’t exist yet. Rather, we took my wife’s brother and his wife, as well as their three kids, ages 7, 5, and 3-almost-4.  We stayed at adjoining rooms in the Art of Animation Resort.

Rather than cohere this into a narrative, I’m just going to list some stray impressions from my trip. If you’ve gone recently, I’d love to hear how your experiences may have approximated or differed from my own.

  1. One thing in Disney’s credit– we stayed at a value resort, and we rarely, if ever, felt like we were getting second-rate service or that we were receiving an inferior experience.
  2. Okay- Hollywood Studios. It has been my least favorite park for some time, and we also visited at a difficult point in its development. Soon, Toy Story Land and Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge will be up and running. But now? Great Movie Ride is being overhauled as a fun Mickey ride. Nothing’s in the building that used to house Art of Animation or Monster Sound Show. Voyage of the Little Mermaid, the Beauty and the Beast show, and Indiana Jones are still around, but are showing their age. The park has given up any pretense to being a functioning studio– the backlot tour is long gone and you won’t see Disney animators plying their craft- but the new stuff isn’t ready yet. Star Tours, Toy Story Mania, Tower of Terror, and Rock’n’Roller Coaster are still doing brisk business and are insanely fun– but that’s not a full, satisfying day in the parks.
  3. The kid’s meals were affordable and reasonably priced. Disney will find other ways to gouge you, of course, but I’m glad that’s not one of them.
  4. Also, the queues have only gotten better over time, with activities and videos to keep you entertained while waiting. Thunder Mountain and Space Mountain deserve special props.
  5. Fastpass is absolutely essential. If you intend to visit some E-ticket rides during your visit, make sure that you book Fastpasses as early as you can. I booked only a few days after my window opened, and was already restricted for some prime rides like Frozen Ever After.
  6. Speaking of which: what happens if a ride breaks down during your Fastpass window? We found out when Frozen Ever After unceremoniously broke down, to the great consternation of our 7 and 5 year-old nieces. Graciously, Disney lets you use your Fastpass at any other ride. So, Heather and I took the 3-year-old on Spaceship Earth a second time (he really wanted to go on “the big ball”) and the 5 and 7-year-old went on Soarin’ with their parents. And loved every minute of it.
  7. Those princess actresses do amazing work. We saw Anna, Elsa, two Rapunzels, Belle, two Ariels, Snow White, Mary Poppins, and Aurora during our trip, and they were poised, clever, and responsive. All the more impressive, since the 3-year-old’s interaction with each princess involved him listing off the presents he got for Christmas. The Rapunzel at the Akershus princess breakfast was a dead-ringer who had the mannerisms down.
  8. Not counting character greetings, I only did four attractions for the first time this trip: Goofy’s Barnstormer, Toy Story Mania, Voyage of the Little Mermaid, and Navi River Voyage. Barnstormer and Voyage were disappointing (Ariel’s singing was very flat on the latter), Toy Story Mania is an incredibly fun ride that I would never do without a Fastpass, and Navi River Voyage is a worthy return to form for Disney in the genre of slow, immersive, atmospheric boat rides.
  9. The 7-year-old and her dad waited nearly 40 minutes in line and were nearly ready to ride, when my niece could no longer hold her bladder and asked to use a bathroom. They were discouraged that they lost their place in line, but a cast member noticed, and gave them both Fastpasses. Very classy.
  10. Future World in Epcot needs some work. Future World East is a shambles, with both Wonders of Life and Universe of Energy down. Eventually UoE will become a Guardians of the Galaxy attraction, but still…that whole section of the park looks deserted, especially with Mission: Space underperforming.
  11. I am again amazed by Finding Nemo: the Musical in the Animal Kingdom. I sang its praises when I ranked Disney attractions almost three years ago, and I stand by my positive assessment: it’s the best theatre presentation in the parks by a country mile.
  12. I’m delighted that the ladies stamping passports and doing Kidcot activities in the American Adventure were both from Puerto Rico. A courageous choice in an era of resurgent white nationalism.
  13. I’m less delighted at some of the choices in the Voices of Liberty repertoire in the American Adventure pavilion. They are an elite a cappella group in period garb. Having them sing tripe like “God Bless the U.S.A.” is beneath their dignity and their talent.
  14. It’s incredibly cool to see my nieces and nephews enjoy rides that I loved as a kid. The 7-year-old ~got~ Spaceship Earth and asked good questions about its various scenes. The 5 and 3-year-old were just smitten with Figment. Even things that I wasn’t sure would fly for kids who grew up with on-demand shows on youtube- such as Carousel of Progress and the Peoplemover- were big hits.
  15. Holy crap, Bippity Boppity Boutique. We paid for the three kids to experience this (including the 3-year-old boy’s knightly transformation), but it was worth every penny. They each got lots of individual attention, and were all clearly moved by the experience. Within seconds of being issued his foam sword and cape, and swearing his knightly oath, my nephew started whacking us with the sword and humming the Imperial March. Very disconcerting.
  16. Sit down restaurant round-up: Kona Cafe at the Polynesian continued to do great work. I had a kickass pistachio-encrusted mahi-mahi with parsnip puree. San Angel inn- where my wife and I had our best meal of the trip in 2014- was our worst table service meal of the trip this time. Slow, unresponsive service- but the margaritas were great as usual. I was surprised by how good the Jungle Cruise Skippers’ Canteen was; my dinner was a tasty veggie curry stew, my drink was a pretty decent sangria, and our server, Emma, was amazing.  Akershus princess buffet? Well, you pay for the experience not the food, but at least there was a Norwegian buffet with some neat fish dishes and flaky pastries.
  17. The crowds were at a great point during our first two days– since the WDW Marathon crowd had gone home and the MLK Day vacationers hadn’t arrived. By our last day- in Epcot- crowds were big and intense, to the point where we waited nearly 40 minutes in line for Living with the Land! And it was cold! My brother-in-law coined the term “riding the struggle bus” to describe the 3-year-old’s behavior, but believe me- between the cold, the crowds, and the exhaustion of four days in the park, we were all on the struggle bus that day.
  18. And I have come to realize that I love Disney World more when there are people I can share it with. Watching three little kids observe the magic for the first time was tremendously rewarding, and I’m grateful that the adults outnumbered them!

#RockHall2018 hot take

On twitter, I expressed a hope that the #RockHall2018 announcement would include some kind of surprise…hopefully not an agonizing one.

That didn’t quite happen–which isn’t to say that there wasn’t the element of the unexpected. The Rock Hall kept the results quiet until formally announced on Sirius, which is rare indeed. As for the inductees themselves, they fell in line with everyone’s expectations. Almost.

As you probably know by now, it’s… Bon Jovi. Nina Simone. Dire Straits. The Cars. Moody Blues. Sister Rosetta Tharpe as an Early Influence.

So, as far as surprises go, the disappointing surprise was that there were only five performer inductees, plus Sister Rosetta Tharpe. For a ballot this strong and deep, with nineteen artists, that’s an unfortunately small class. The other surprise is Radiohead’s absence; almost every Rock Hall monitor had them pegged to get in. They were the surefire, can’t-miss first-year-eligible act, as Nirvana, Green Day, and Pearl Jam were before them.

Radiohead didn’t do themselves any favors by their public ambivalence about getting in the Hall, scheduling a tour through South America at the same time as the ceremony in April. Still, one has to wonder about their absence from this class. Steve Hyden writes that it “seems like transparent punishment for saying they wouldn’t show up.” While the facts might be otherwise, the optics are certainly not good.

Next, it seemed beforehand like the Rock Hall expanded its voting committee with the inclusion of an array of younger voters. If so, they weren’t exactly in evidence (or perhaps they simply filled out their ballots in ways similar to older voters). With the exception of can’t-miss Bon Jovi, all the acts that had success in the 90s: LL Cool J, Depeche Mode, RATM, Radiohead…fell short, in spite of being worthy candidates. Millennials will not be drawn to this HBO special unless some stellar special performances are in the works.

And what to do with Sister Rosetta Tharpe, who was on the ballot as a rock-era performer, despite having records out in the 1930s? A lot of people are upset about that, and I don’t really think there is any need to be.  My guess is that when the Nominating Committee met, they brought her name up as an Influence, but one of the more brazen members–Dave Marsh, perhaps?–loudly insisted that Tharpe was “as rock and roll as any of these other guys” or something to that effect, and demanded that she be on the ballot as a performer. Tired of arguing, the other committee members rolled their eyes and agreed, with the proviso that she’d get in as an Early Influence when she inevitably failed to get enough votes.  There’s nothing wrong or corrupt about any of this; it’s just the way things work when you have divergent opinions among powerful people sharing a committee together. Many bloggers predicted her to be inducted as an Early Influence, which is not only what happened, but where she belonged in the first place. I’m delighted by this: I ranked Early Influence candidates last summer, and Tharpe was my #1 choice.

Tharpe is one of two black women in this year’s class–the first since Donna Summer in 2013. The other, of course, is Nina Simone. I’ve made Nina my cause celebre ever since Chicago got in the Hall. And I’m beyond delighted to see it happen– the result, I’m sure, of positive coverage in the alternative media, a fine biographical film, and a superb documentary–all making the historical case for a woman who sang, played piano, and dared to be proud of her African heritage in an age where every cultural force discouraged her from doing so. I can’t wait for the tribute performance, and I hope the Hall has Elton and Mary J. Blige on speed-dial.

Nevertheless, the elephant in the room is that, for the third year running, we have a class dominated–I’d say overwhelmed–by classic rockers who peaked somewhere between 1969 and 1986. This time, we have late 70s/early 80s icons The Cars and Dire Straits. Both are deserving, of course. The Cars left an imprint on radio-friendly, synthesizer-driven pop, and their effortless hooks can be heard throughout the 80s and 90s in groups like Weezer. Dire Straits are a sterling example of “musical excellence” with superb storytelling and Knopfler’s top-shelf guitar work. Moody Blues gives us a prog-friendly act for the second year in a row. I originally listed them as my #1 Rock Hall prospect more than a year ago. I overvalued them as such, but there’s no question that they helped make rock and roll a more artistic and expressive medium. Bon Jovi? I still think they are kind-of hacks, but they mastered arena rock, achieved an improbable longevity–and it’s easy to look down on acts with a mostly-female fan base. And I want to avoid doing that. So, despite my misgivings, each of these acts is fine. Each deserves to be in. But as a whole, this class is once again troublingly monochromatic. I dearly wish an alternative act, or Chaka Khan’s funky disco, or iconoclastic MC5 was there to make this class give a broader picture of what rock and roll is and can be. Right now, Nina and Sister Rosetta are the only voices in a different direction. And that, too, is a problem to consider in the long run: four white, male over-55 acts have multiple members who now enjoy voting privileges. Nina and Sister Rosetta, the only women, and the only persons of color, have both passed away. Altogether, this adds to an already-troubling imbalance among Rock Hall voters.

Frankly, though, it would be a bit hypocritical of me to criticize this too far. My own votes on the fan ballot and the artists I advocated for were certainly classic-rock heavy. I consistently voted for Nina, The Zombies, The Cars, Dire Straits, and Eurythmics. Not exactly as stylistically diverse as it could be, and certainly grounded in the classic rock era. Replace Eurythmics with Bon Jovi and The Zombies for their contemporaries The Moody Blues, and that’s basically the class.

Instead, I want to focus my efforts in the coming year toward encouraging and lobbying the Rock Hall to make this induction process more transparent. They don’t have to record the nominating committee meetings. They don’t have to share who nominated who. But, especially given the Radiohead sketchiness, and other problems like the Dave Clark Debacle of ’07, they do need to 1) have an independent agency certify the voting results; and 2) Release the overall numbers of votes for each artist. In the past, they’ve said that they don’t want to create disparities in a Rock Hall class in terms of “who got more votes” or “who is more worthy.” Nonsense. These artists are all professionals. They can deal with bruised feelings that come from Jon Bon Jovi getting more votes than Mark Knopfler. So, I hope I can get my fellow Rock Hall followers on board with my Crystal Blue Persuasion Initiative to encourage these acts of transparency in what I believe is a good, worthwhile institution that nevertheless needs a booster shot of accountability.

So…on to #RockHall2019, I guess? I’ll be curious to see where it goes, but right now, I’d bet on a return of Janet and Nine Inch Nails to the ballot; repeat appearances by Rage, Judas Priest, The Zombies, Eurythmics, Link, and Chaka Khan; Duran Duran as the next Fan Vote winner; and Doobie Brothers as the Boomer favorite. David Letterman will get his wish and we’ll see Warren Zevon.  Beck. And Dre. For the last five years, we’ve chipped away at the backlog of well-loved 1970s classic rockers. If you asked someone in 2012 who the biggest snubs were, chances are he or she would rattle off “Chicago, KISS, Hall & Oates, Deep Purple, Cheap Trick, Yes, The Cars…” Well, they are all in now. How many truly top-shelf acts from that genre are left. I have to say, Jethro Tull and Bad Company don’t have the same kind of urgency as any of those acts. It’s time to move on from 70s and 80s classic rock. It’s time to put childlike things, and perhaps childhood favorites, away.

Recently, there has been a spate of sports blogs that have tried to gauge the 50 greatest NBA players of all time. Not ranking them necessarily, but merely listing them. When the NBA officially chose the 50 greatest of all time in 1996, it was a momentous occasion indeed- 47 of those honored gathered together at the subsequent 1997 All-Star game (only an injured Shaq, a reticent Jerry West, and a deceased Pistol Pete were missing.)

Here we are, over 20 years later. We’ve seen an entire generation of players come and go since then, adding their own contributions to the NBA pantheon. To honor them, I’d like to post my own list of the 50 greatest players in NBA history.

To do so, I had to kick out quite a few of the originals, each of whom was a giant in his own way. But I had to account for limited playoff success, a lack of accolades, and other nitpicks. Alas, this meant getting rid of:

  1. Nate Archibald
  2. Dave Bing
  3. Dave Cowens
  4. Billy Cunningham
  5. Dave DeBusschere
  6. Clyde Drexler
  7. Hal Greer
  8. Jerry Lucas
  9. Pete Maravich
  10. Robert Parish
  11. Bill Sharman
  12. Nate Thurmond
  13. Wes Unseld
  14. Bill Walton
  15. Lenny Wilkens
  16. James Worthy

Some brutal cuts here. It was arbitrary, but players who were arguably never one of the 7 or 8 best players in the league at any one time had to go, so goodbye Wilkens, Thurmond, Parish, and Worthy. Others had short primes (Maravich, Walton) or were the second-or-third-best guy on a good team (Unseld, Cowens, Cunningham, DeBusschere, Greer, Sharman, Worthy). I had to get rid of stat-padders (Lucas), a great citizen who nonetheless shouldn’t have made the 50 at 50 the first time around (Bing), and a guy whose game hasn’t especially aged well, Clyde Drexler– by far and away the toughest cut of them all.  I did keep three sublime “second bananas” or complementary players who might have had trouble carrying their own team: Kevin McHale, Sam Jones, and Scottie Pippen. To me, Pippen’s perimeter defense, McHale’s skills in the paint, and Jones’ penchant for last-second heroics and his 10 rings made them indispensable.

  1. Kobe Bryant
  2. Stephen Curry
  3. Tim Duncan
  4. Kevin Durant
  5. Kevin Garnett
  6. Dwight Howard
  7. Allen Iverson
  8. Lebron James
  9. Jason Kidd
  10. Steve Nash
  11. Dirk Nowitzki
  12. Chris Paul
  13. Gary Payton
  14. Paul Pierce
  15. Dwyane Wade
  16. Russell Westbrook

To me, Lebron, Kobe, Curry, Duncan, Garnett, and Nowitzki were no-brainers. Pierce’s all-around skills and clutch-time theatrics made him one of the last additions to the list, Paul may be the best all-around point guard the game has seen, Wade won 3 rings–including a Finals MVP, Payton is one of the very greatest perimeter defenders ever. Nash won two MVPs, and even if those were questionable, he revolutionized the game, and made it more fun, buoyant, and watchable. Iverson dragged a subpar team to the Finals, and is arguably the most culturally significant player of the new millennium. Kidd earned a ring with the Mavs and led an equally subpar Nets to two Finals appearances. Westbrook is now an MVP, made a Finals appearance, and repeated Oscar’s feat of averaging a triple-double. Howard might be my most controversial choice among the newbies, but I needed to include at least one post-Shaq center, and he’s far and away the best candidate. Pierce is the one exception to my customary “must make at least one all-NBA team” rule, but I’m okay with that.

So, that would leave my all-time Top 50 as:

  1. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
  2. Paul Arizin
  3. Rick Barry
  4. Charles Barkley
  5. Elgin Baylor
  6. Larry Bird
  7. Kobe Bryant
  8. Wilt Chamberlain
  9. Bob Cousy
  10. Stephen Curry
  11. Tim Duncan
  12. Kevin Durant
  13. Julius Erving
  14. Patrick Ewing
  15. Walt Frazier
  16. Kevin Garnett
  17. George Gervin
  18. John Havlicek
  19. Elvin Hayes
  20. Dwight Howard
  21. Allen Iverson
  22. Lebron James
  23. Earvin “Magic” Johnson
  24. Sam Jones
  25. Michael Jordan
  26. Jason Kidd
  27. Karl Malone
  28. Moses Malone
  29. Kevin McHale
  30. George Mikan
  31. Earl Monroe
  32. Steve Nash
  33. Dirk Nowitzki
  34. Hakeem Olajuwon
  35. Shaquille O’Neal
  36. Chris Paul
  37. Gary Payton
  38. Bob Pettit
  39. Paul Pierce
  40. Scottie Pippen
  41. Willis Reed
  42. Oscar Robertson
  43. David Robinson
  44. Bill Russell
  45. Dolph Schayes
  46. John Stockton
  47. Isiah Thomas
  48. Dwyane Wade
  49. Jerry West
  50. Russell Westbrook

What do you think? I’d be the first to admit how difficult it was to cut people from this list. Some of the hardest cuts were: Carmelo Anthony, Kawhi Leonard, James Harden, Dominique Wilkins, Reggie Miller, Ray Allen, Tiny Archibald, Wes Unseld, and especially Clyde Drexler. Indeed, this list was so competitive, I had to cut some MVPs: Unseld, Bob McAdoo, Dave Cowens, Bill Walton, and Derrick Rose. I kept Monroe on largely for his cultural impact on the game, bringing an array of street ball moves into the big leagues. And I almost put Yao Ming in for similar cultural reasons- namely, his role in expanding the league’s reach globally. If you would have made any different choices, let me know in the comments!

A small change

I will post more here soon– sorry to have left the Countdown dormant. Between 5 weeks of grading hell (why did I assign my students so much writing? Why are so many students enrolled in my classes this term?) and writing an article for a Canadian theological journal, time has been crunched.

But I want to post publicly a small change in my #RockHall2018 predictions. I’m swapping out Dire Straits for Eurythmics. The Eurythmics, in my mind, have the winning formula: profound influence on post-2000 pop, and an iconic visual style as the voting committee reflects the MTV age.

So, just to recap: I think the #RockHall2018 class will be: Moody Blues, Radiohead, Bon Jovi, Nina Simone, The Cars, and Eurythmics.

Having said that, I now think any number of surprises could happen. I originally perceived Moody Blues as a mortal lock, but that seems perhaps less likely the more I think about it–a similar prog group, Yes, struggled to get in on their first ballot and in terms of influencing the overall direction of rock and roll, they just aren’t as strong as I once thought. Bon Jovi? Raw critical contempt for them may hurt, whatever the fan vote says. Radiohead seems less of a surefire thing, especially with competition from Rage. So, we will see! Maybe The Zombies, who are creeping up in the fan vote, will secure a spot. Judas Priest could very well succeed, especially if the Nom Com has been adding more metal-friendly voters on the sly. Rage could win under the right circumstances. So could Link.  And that’s saying nothing of any little games that may happen with the other categories. Will Sister Rosetta be an Early Induction as many suspect? Others think Nina Simone is primed for Musical Excellence. The great–and frustrating–thing is that it is so hard to gauge how any of this will develop. For all we know, we may get a face-palming choice like Sting for Musical Excellence or something.

We’ll see! Voting closes in a little over a week. And with a ballot this strong, it would be hard to come away disappointed from whatever class develops, unless we get another monochromatic or exclusively male set of acts again.

I’m on a bit of a #RockHall2018 kick, so why stop at evaluating the nominees? Let’s also explore some options regarding who might give the induction speeches for the various artists on the ballot. This can be a tricky thing. First choices may be unavailable or unwilling to come (what- you think the Rock Hall didn’t try to reach out to Bob Dylan when inducting Joan Baez?) And on occasion the Hall steps in it by choosing an inductor who is unknown to the honoree; that happened when the Black Keys were chosen to induct Steve Miller. Miller had never met them before and wasn’t sure who they were!

I tried to select persons who would be on good terms with the inductee- either an influence of theirs, or someone influenced by them, or a friendly contemporary. When possible, I tried to shake up race and gender considerations. The 2016 ceremony was partly a near-disaster because only white male acts inducted the white male acts, and a black man inducted a group of black men (NWA). It didn’t confound stereotypes or show the complexity of rock’s history. To the contrary, some of the better speeches over the years had inductees of a different race and/or gender than their toastmaster. (Think Patti Smith inducting Lou Reed, Questlove inducting Hall & Oates, and Tom Morello inducting KISS).

So here are my best guesses:

Bon Jovi: I had some problems with this one; there aren’t very many great artists working today who took their cues from Bon Jovi. I considered Adam Lambert and Bryan Adams, but ultimately landed on two men who carried on the legacy into the 90s: John Rzeznik and Robby Takac of the Goo Goo Dolls. They toured together in the early 2000s, and understood their instinct for anthemic stadium rock and it’s appeal to teenage girls.

Kate Bush: Bjork and Peter Gabriel would both work- and might be coaxed into a performance. But Bush started out as a protege of David Gilmour, and she should be inducted in the same manner.

The Cars: There is no shortage of 21st century artists who harnessed The Cars’ melodic instincts and embrace of electronic backdrops. Weezer, though, stands out among them- right down to the backward-looking glances at 50s rock that inspired “Buddy Holly” just as it inspired “My Best Friend’s Girl.” Rivers Cuomo, come on down.

Depeche Mode: Let’s get Trent Reznor. Depeche Mode was an important antecedent to Nine Inch Nails, and this would hopefully grease the skids for NIN’s own induction into the Rock Hall.

Dire Straits: It writes itself: Sting. You definitely want him to sing “I want my MTV” don’t you?

Eurythmics: So– soulful singing that experiments with electronica. Florence Welch from Florence and the Machine would fit that bill nicely, giving the Hall a contemporary artist to include in the ceremony.

J. Geils Band: This is hopefully a theoretical exercise, but Chris Robinson, the frontman for The Black Crowes, is a big fan. They also toured together a handful of years ago.

Judas Priest: Hear me out before you slam me.  Let’s get one of England’s loudest bands- Spinal Tap- to induct Judas Priest. Wouldn’t it be great to have Michael McKean and Christopher Guest in wigs and outrageous regalia on stage inducting their fellow British metal royalty? And since Spinal Tap was famously bad heavy metal, they are well-poised to show us what good heavy metal really is. And the guys in Judas Priest, I’m sure, would be good sports about all this, and are big fans of This Is Spinal Tap.

L.L. Cool J.: I am afraid that the Rock Hall will portray Cool J as more ‘street’ than he actually was, if he were to be inducted. Let’s acknowledge him for what he is- a very good, historic rapper whose chief contribution isn’t fighting the power, or picking fights with the police, but making rap a mainstream presence that transcended racial lines. Queen Latifah had a similar significance, and the two starred together amicably in the film Last Holiday.

MC5: Fred Smith’s nickname lent itself to Sonic Youth, which would make Kim Gordon an extraordinary choice for this task. (Patti Smith, another woman who was involved in a recent Rock Hall ceremony, might also be involved as Fred’s widow.)

The Meters: Again- the odds of The Meters getting inducted are so low as to make this a mere thought experiment. But I’d go with two artists who used The Meters as backup, and know better than anyone else how good they are. Dr. John and Patti LaBelle would be my two choices.

The Moody Blues: A tough one. The temptation is to double-dip with someone like Peter Gabriel or go to the progressive rock well with someone like Ian Anderson. But Alan Parsons would also do a fine job- and has worked with this evergreen band on one of their perennial Moody Blues Cruise outings.

Radiohead: Possibly the biggest name getting inducted in 2018 deserves an equally big name giving their speech. Two artists who have inspired Thom Yorke would both do an extraordinary job: Michael Stipe (who hit it out of the park inducting Nirvana) and Tom Waits.

Rage Against the Machine: It’s only fitting that someone else who pointed fingers and challenged an unjust system through his music should do the honors. Morello’s now-collaborator Chuck D of Public Enemy would be an apropos choice indeed.

Rufus w/ Chaka Khan: So…Rufus’s keyboard player was David “Hawk” Wolinski. In the late 1970s, he happened to write a handful of songs with…Danny Seraphine. Yup. The former Chicago drummer surprised everyone in the Barclays Center with a funny, warm, and utterly profane speech when his band finally made it into the hall. Let’s bring him back to the stage to induct this funky R&B outfit.

Nina Simone: This is another joint induction- but I’d lobby strongly for Elton John and Mary J. Blige to join forces. Elton fundamentally knows his shit about Simone’s life– he even named his piano Nina and recorded a version of “Young, Gifted, and Black” when he was cutting cheap soundalike records for discount labels in the late 60s. Blige, for her part, was originally contracted to play Nina Simone before scheduling delays led to her losing the part to Zoe Saldana. Together, with Elton on the keys and Blige at the microphone, they could potentially give the performance of the night. (They already worked together on this kickass version of “I Guess That’s Why They Call It The Blues.”)

Sister Rosetta Tharpe: You know who listened to Tharpe as a young girl? And not only listened, but felt empowered to take guitar lessons and find ways to bring gospel and rock together? Mavis Staples. That’s who.

Link Wray: Robbie Robertson just took part in a documentary explaining Wray’s preeminent role in Native American contributions to rock and roll. It seems like the former guitarist for The Band should do the honors.

The Zombies: For many years, The Zombies were a forgotten band following their breakup. But in the deepest, darkest, late 70s, Paul Weller, the Modfather himself, remembered the lessons learned from Odessey in Oracle– which he frequently cites as his favorite album.

Now we have had a few days to let the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s nominees percolate a bit, and we’ve had some time to reflect on their merits. I’d like to continue my coverage, as is my tradition, by looking at each of the nominees in turn, and evaluating them in three areas: one is my simple, highly subjective ranking of how much I like them, which I will call preference. I’ll also attempt to more objectively evaluate each nominee on their worthiness to join the rock and roll greats in Cleveland. Finally, I’ll weigh in on the likelihood of their induction this year. Before I begin, I’d like to give a shout-out to Philip over at Rock Hall Monitors- I heavily borrowed this format of discussing the nominees from him.

With 19 nominees again this year, there’s no time to waste. Let’s get down to it.

Bon Jovi (Preference: 11, Worthiness: 18, Likelihood: 3) Well, the weird extended feud- which seems to have included Bon Jovi pulling their swag from the Rock Hall- seems to be over. Bon Jovi was nominated before- for the Class of 2011- but fell short. The fact that, say, Darlene Love, got in that year and they didn’t speaks volumes. The voters didn’t like what they were selling. But that was before the fan vote. As long as the fan vote has been there, its winner has gotten in- even if, in the case of KISS, we couldn’t track down an actual Rock Hall voter who picked them. I’m not saying it’s rigged or anything- I’m really not- but let’s just say the Hall has an incentive to induct Bon Jovi. The bad publicity of the almost inevitable fan vote winner failing to get inducted is one reason. The good publicity of uniting the band with estranged guitarist Richie Sambora is another. Still- if there was ever a time that a fan favorite might not get in- this would be the one. I still think they are a near-lock. Journey got in- but they weren’t on the same level of hackery and critical hatred and contempt from their contemporaries as Bon Jovi. We’ll see.

Kate Bush (Preference: 6, Worthiness: 13, Likelihood: 16) I think I predicted her a few years ago, never taking that prospect very seriously. Well, here we are! Kate Bush is one of the very best songwriters of her era, and has a place in British pop history as having performed the first #1 both written and sung by a woman (“Wuthering Heights”). Her oeuvre, very much like an avant-garde playlet set to music, wasn’t everybody’s cup of tea. (It is my cup of tea, though. “The Man with the Child in His Eyes” is one of my favorite tracks by any performer.) Yet, she stands out as an artist among the artists listed here. Unfortunately, she was much bigger in the UK than in the USA, and the Hall’s voters definitely tilt American. Moreover, the Hall must be aware that she will almost certainly be a no-show to the ceremony: she is a famously unwilling traveler, and took 35 years between concerts prior to her 2014 engagements in London. Moreover, she’s competing with Eurythmics in the arty new wave women category- and frankly, she’s just not the icon that Annie Lennox is.

The Cars (Preference: 4, Worthiness: 5, Likelihood: 5) With the exception of Chaka Khan, this is the only act on here that has been placed on the ballot each of the last three years. The Cars are in a sweet spot: lots of classic rock staples, but lots of critical love. Later baby boomers love them, but whichever Gen X music writers are voters probably view them highly as well. There’s also no shortage of modern acts who are fans of their work, keeping them relevant today.   But they might face the same issue that plagued them the last two years: being the sixth or seventh favorite act of too many voters, and not quite getting their box ticked.

Depeche Mode (Preference: 19, Worthiness: 10, Likelihood: 13) I’ll say this for Depeche Mode: they probably had more influence on what music sounds like today than anyone else on this list. Taking Kraftwerk’s embrace of electronica and achieving top 40 success, they were a major stadium act of their day.  They are fully deserving of Rock Hall induction, even if their music is much darker and not quite as melodic or organic as what I would prefer in my own listening habits. Acts of their caliber, though, have trouble getting in. While Depeche Mode isn’t quite alternative, the fact that The Smiths or The Replacements didn’t get in sniffing distance of induction doesn’t bode well, nor does Nine Inch Nails’ failure to get in during their two nominations.

Dire Straits (Preference: 3, Worthiness: 4, Likelihood: 6) Well, here was a surprise! Dire Straits were one of those acts that fell under the radar, never really coming up in any list of egregious snubs. And yet, now that they are up for consideration, the case for them seems evident. Mark Knopfler was one of the great rock guitarists of his era, they made some pioneering music videos, and- frankly- they stand out for me in terms of crafting fine rock and roll more than any other act on the ballot. Listen to their songs, and you get poetic slices of life with first-rate musicianship: “Espresso Love,” “Telegraph Road,” “Romeo and Juliet,” “Sultans of Swing.” And come on…you know you want Sting to come out and do “Money for Nothing” at the ceremony. This was a great, great choice, and they just might make it through, even on a competitive ballot like this year’s.

Eurythmics (Preference: 5, Worthiness: 9, Likelihood: 7) I knew if I kept predicting them, I would eventually be right! Eurythmics have a number of qualities that commend themselves to an easy induction process. The hall loves soulful singers, and Annie Lennox is probably the best singer on the ballot, depending on your feelings about Chaka Khan. She took the sonic palette of new wave and infused it with depth and humanity. Dave Stewart, for his part, has worked with the Heartbreakers, Ringo Starr, Stevie Nicks, Mick Jagger, Daryl Hall, and plenty of others. The hall has also given VH1 and MTV veterans a stronger presence on the Nom Com (and presumably the Voting Committee too) in recent years, and Eurythmics certainly made the most of the music video format.

J. Geils Band (Preference: 17, Worthiness: 19, Likelihood: 11) Ah, geez. Someone on the committee loves these guys, because this is their fifth appearance. By all accounts they were a very fine live band and I’m willing to look past their somewhat embarrassing string of 80s hits. I don’t think they suck or anything, but in my own judgment, they just don’t clear the bar of excellence or influence or even record sales to have even the remotest case for the Rock Hall. Nevertheless, I’m not willing to write off their chances. They have a “your favorite band’s favorite band” thing going for them, and voters loved blues acts enough to induct two of them in 2015. But J. Geils- essentially Chic without the charm or the pity votes- probably isn’t joining Stevie Ray and Paul Butterfield in the hall this year.

Judas Priest (Preference: 13, Worthiness: 6, Likelihood: 12) It seems like just last year, we were debating who would be next metal act now that Deep Purple was in. Some said Iron Maiden, some solo Ozzy, others noted Dave Grohl’s affinity for Motorhead. Instead, it was Judas Priest, in my opinion the most deserving of that lot. Judas Priest has been safely in my top ten Rock Hall prospects in both the 2015 and 2017 itinerations. But look…it took Deep Purple three tries to get in and they were considered the most egregious Rock Hall snub in some quarters. Hardly any one outside the metal community feels that way about Priest. They are an eminent metal band, and unlike others on this list, they are genuinely honored and delighted to have been nominated. I hope they get in one day, but this just doesn’t feel like their year. I’m sure they have Eddie Trunk’s vote, but it isn’t going to be enough.

L. L. Cool J (Preference: 18, Worthiness: 8, Likelihood: 8): Well, LL Cool J has the rap and hip-hop genres all to himself on the ballot this year (although Rage as a foot in that river). He has been feted by the Kennedy Center, but will it be enough? Two rap acts have gotten in during the last two years, but NWA was a proud iconoclast benefitting from a bestselling movie, and 2pac was a cultural icon in the conversation for the best rapper of all time. LL Cool J seems a little…safe after these two. And there may very well be “rap fatigue” among the voting body that still isn’t 100% sold on the genre. Having said that, LL Cool J has to be considered a contender on any ballot he’s on, but his chances seem a bit middling this year.

MC5 (Preference: 15, Worthiness: 15, Likelihood: 18) Tom Morello’s influence surfaces here as well, with one of his favorites earning their third nomination. This band is very much like a secret handshake among rock nerds and political iconoclasts. Despite a short heyday, they made history with their notorious manager John Sinclair, and their rough-hewn records and performances influenced everyone from My Chemical Romance to Sonic Youth. Don’t expect an induction this year, though: if it took several nominations for The Stooges, for example, to get in, MC5 isn’t making it with this many classic bands on the ballot. Plus, they are competing with RATM and Nina Simone as the most politically charged act on the list this year.

The Meters (Preference: 10, Worthiness: 17, Likelihood: 19) My respect for The Meters has grown exponentially since the day they were last nominated four years earlier. I hadn’t even heard of The Meters at the time, and therefore assumed that they didn’t deserve to get in. I was mistaken. Although they rank only 17th in terms of deserving nomination, I can’t say enough how much respect I have for their funky beats, halting and jerky rhythms and distinctive New Orleans sound. Having said all that, if Chic couldn’t get in under any number of scenarios, don’t expect The Meters to fare better.

The Moody Blues (Preference: 7, Worthiness: 2, Likelihood: 1) When I declared The Moody Blues as my #1 Rock Hall prospect back in 2015, that was probably…too much. I felt like I needed to put a ~real~ rock and roll band in the top spot, and so didn’t consider Janet or Kraftwerk or Carole King or someone for that honor like I should have. Nevertheless, The Moody Blues are one of the most famously egregious Rock Hall snubs ever. Even ten years ago, people were listing them alongside Chicago, Kiss, Genesis, Neil Diamond, Alice Cooper, and the like. Well- those artists are now in. And it’s the Moody Blues’ turn to join them.

Nina Simone (Preference: 2, Worthiness: 1, Likelihood: 4) Some people think she’s not quite rock and roll, or that she would be more fitting in an Influence or Musical Excellence category. I sort of understand, but ultimately come down strongly on inducting Nina as an artist. Like Miles Davis or Johnny Cash, she was a bridge between genres. She readily covered rock and roll standards in a jazzy nightclub style, and rock and rollers covered her songs too (most famously, “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood.”) In her career, she branched out to record some of the most direct civil rights anthems of her time. While, say, Odetta’s songs prayed for peace, Simone pointed fingers and demanded justice in “Mississippi Goddamn” and “I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel To be Free.” It’s no wonder that her influence continues through such figures as Beyonce, Lauryn Hill, Alicia Keys, and Mary J. Blige- any of whom would happily drop everything to help induct her in Cleveland. Dave Davies from The Kinks publicly tipped his hand with an enthusiastic “for God’s sake” preceding his intent to vote for her. I think that’s prescient. Do you honestly think the surviving Animals won’t pick her? Do you honestly think Paul McCartney- who credits her “I Put A Spell On You” for the sultry “I love you, I love you, I love you” bridge in “Michelle” won’t find a spot for her? Or Elton John, who named his damn piano after her? Or Mavis Staples? Or surviving members of the Family Stone? Or the Furious Five? Or the social justice-friendly critics and executives who put Joan Baez in last year? Don’t be silly. Nina Simone is getting in.

Radiohead (Preference: 9, Worthiness: 3, Likelihood: 2)  Back in the late 1940s, William Randolph Hearst gave a famous directive to his vast media empire: Puff Graham. A network of radio stations and newspaper outlets then spent months establishing Billy Graham as the nation’s evangelist par excellence, handing him fame and success- albeit in recognition of his considerable skills as a revivalist. That’s not unlike the relationship between the Rolling Stone Industrial Complex and Radiohead. For years, they’ve told us that The Bends and OK Computer are two of the greatest albums of their time. They found a space for them among their 100 Immortals (and believe me, they were very stingy about including post-1970s acts.) All of this was deserved, no doubt- but it didn’t hurt to have friends in high places. Their acclaim has translated to some of the most well loved records of the late 90s- and if the voters could put Green Day in during their first year, Radiohead should be a piece of cake.

Rage Against the Machine (Preference: 14, Worthiness: 7, Likelihood: 9)  I appreciate Rage Against the Machine, which gave my generation a hyper-politicized group as earlier generations had MC5 or Country Joe and the Fish. Rage was far more popular than either- to the point of developing a near sub-culture around themselves, and any discussion of great albums from the turn of the millennium will have to include The Battle of Los Angeles. In a different year with different contenders, I would be optimistic about their prospects. But now? They face competition from Radiohead for the “newbie who has to get in on the first ballot” stakes. They face competition from MC5 and Nina Simone as the most “woke” act available. Morello is an amazing guitarist, but he’s up against Mark Knopfler and Link Wray. Too much pressure from too many quarters- an unlucky ballot for RATM.

Rufus, feat. Chaka Khan (Preference: 12, Worthiness: 16, Likelihood: 15) I’m curious how Rufus got tied to Chaka Khan again- the last two years, it was just Chaka by herself. If anything, this makes Khan’s prospects even more unlikely- people don’t really remember Rufus, and they are more tied to the funkier end of disco, while Khan’s solo career put her into more favorable diva territory. It’s distantly possible they’ll get in, but if it took Donna Summer five tries before her death made her nigh-inevitable, I can’t see Chaka Khan having better luck. It’s a shame- Rufus and Chicago collaborated frequently, and I’d love to hear Danny Seraphine make another profane induction speech.

Sister Rosetta Tharpe (Preference: 8, Worthiness: 12, Likelihood: 17) I’m still a little puzzled by Tharpe’s inclusion on the ballot. She is, beyond dispute, a key piece of rock and roll history– but her heyday was in the 40s and early 50s. I’m not exactly sure what the Nom Com is up to– are they greasing the skids for an Early Induction award (of which Tharpe is wholly deserving?) Did someone else get the Early Influence slot and this was a consolation prize? Some other folks have said “nobody will vote for her, because they know she’ll get in as an Early Influence.” I don’t agree–it’s giving Rock Hall voters too much credit for knowing how their institution works. I doubt very many rock legends have the brain-space to remember Freddie King and Wanda Jackson’s backdoor inductions between touring, buying HD televisions, and remembering to give their former mistresses hush money.

Link Wray (Preference: 16, Worthiness: 14 Likelihood: 10) Link is back! His family has been great to me over the years, and I am delighted for them. His case may be helped by the recent documentary (I’m not sure how many people knew he was part Native American when he was last nominated for the Class of 2014). Nevertheless, like that ’14 ballot, he’s up against A-list 90s acts, and a bevy of never-before-nominated classic rock favorites. Yet as a 50s guitar hero whose stock and trade was rough and ragged instrumentals, he might very well sneak in by virtue of his uniqueness- there isn’t anyone like him on the ballot this year.

The Zombies (Preference: 1, Worthiness: 11, Likelihood: 14) Look, I’m in the tank for The Zombies. They are one of my favorite artists. Odessey and Oracle is one of my ten favorite albums of all time. If I were starting a superband, I’d pick Rod Argent as the keyboard player and work backward from there. I want them to get in, and in a different year, they’d make it. Put them on the ’15 ballot instead of Paul Butterfield, and I have a hunch they’d earn enough votes to get inducted. It’s unfortunate, because they are more musically excellent and more significant in the long term than either The Dave Clark Five and The Hollies- each of whom has been in the hall for the better part of a decade. Unfortunately, last year they were up against fellow psychedelic keyboard-heavy act Steppenwolf. And this year, they are up against their contemporaries The Moody Blues, who are more famous and had more longevity. (To emphasis the point of them being contemporaries, remember that “Nights in White Satin” and “Time of the Season” were recorded within weeks of each other.) Maybe someone like Terry Sylvester of The Hollies will vote for both, but I’d imagine most people will diversify their ballots a bit more– which puts The Zombies in a precarious place.

So…where does this go from here? If I had to predict the Class of 2018, I think Moody Blues, Radiohead, and Bon Jovi are gimmes, although I’d love to be proven wrong on Bon Jovi. I’m pretty confident about Nina Simone for reasons I detailed in her section. And I’ve got a good feeling about The Cars. For a radio-friendly, critically-acclaimed group, I just can’t see them falling short a third time. But that sixth spot, assuming there is one, is giving me fits. Dire Straits and Eurythmics seem like the two most logical choices. But I would give an outside chance to LL Cool J, J. Geils Band, Rage Against the Machine, and Link Wray. The others strike me as very long shots. In a contest between Dire Straits and Eurythmics, I’d have to predict the former. Knopfler is a top-shelf guitarist, and his songwriting and storytelling is their secret weapon. The hall loves those features, as the relatively painless inductions of Leonard Cohen, Tom Waits, Randy Newman, and Bill Withers all suggest. the problem is that this gives us a class very similar to last year’s: a bunch of classic rock mainstays, a first-year-eligible act or two, and just one woman and one artist of color. (In fact, in this case, they would both be the same person- Nina Simone!)

Who am I voting for on the rockhall.com fan vote? Well, The Zombies and Nina Simone are two pet projects of mine, and two of my favorite artists of all time. Of course I’m voting for them. I want to usher The Cars in after three tries, so they are in, too. I would round it out with Dire Straits and Eurythmics, two of my favorite artists who are also among my top 15 Rock Hall prospects. While I really appreciate The Moodies, I’m so confident of their chances that I don’t think they need my vote. Kate Bush and Sister Rosetta were in contention as well. I’m fine making Radiohead and RATM wait another year. That’s not a very balanced vote on my part- too many acts that peaked in the early 80s- but I can live with that. (For comparison, my votes last year went to: Pearl Jam, Janet Jackson, Joan Baez, Kraftwerk, and The Zombies.)

What do you think? Am I on the right track with my directions? Have a pegged your favorites wrong? Let me know in the comments- until then, we have two and a half months of speculating to do!