A couple weeks ago, I posted my list of the ten most probable running mates for Hillary Clinton. For the sake of equal coverage, I’ll try and guess the ten most likely running mates for Donald Trump, but I’ve got to say- it ain’t easy. Trump’s decision-making is a bit erratic, driven by vendetta, and often contemptuous of conventional wisdom. I wouldn’t be so quick to dismiss it- it got him the Republican nomination in spite of monumental opposition.

A few guiding philosophies. Trump has signaled that his running mate would be someone who is wiser in the ways of Washington and can be a sort of liaison with Congress. One aide also suggested in May that picking a woman or a minority would be seen as “pandering,” and therefore a white man is likely. (I think that notion is ridiculous, but that’s another matter altogether.) But taking the campaign at its word, this list is a bit light on female and racial minority choices.  And so, in a sentence I never thought I’d have to write a year ago, here are what strikes me as the ten most plausible running mates for Donald Trump.

  1. Bob Corker: Corker has been a loyal Trump lieutenant since it became clear that he would be the nominee. Corker has spent a decade in the Senate, and is the chair of the Foreign Relations Committee, shoring up one of Trump’s weaknesses. And they are two of a kind in some ways: Corker was also involved in the real estate business in Tennessee.
  2. Tom Cotton: A remarkable choice that few are talking about. He may look like a paleo-conservative Jim Halpert, but don’t let that fool you. Cotton won in a landslide against Mark Pryor, who was so well regarded in Arkansas that he ran unopposed in 2008! Cotton served in Iraq, is 6’5″ and went to Harvard, and has an eerie ability to stay on message as evinced in his debates with Pryor. He fits well with both small-government conservatives, religious conservatives, and foreign policy hawks; he was ringleader in the letter Senate Republicans sent to Iran warning them not to trust to a U.S. nuclear deal.
  3. Rick Scott: The tragic shooting in Orlando has put Scott in the spotlight. He was elected by a minuscule margin in Florida during two bad years for Democrats, and he may not help that much given the wider electorate in presidential years. Like Trump, though, Scott has a background in some shady business dealings. Huffington Post notes that “Scott was best known as a record-setting fraudster whose bilking of Medicare reached cartoon-villain proportions: under his stewardship Columbia/Hospital Corporation of America pleaded guilty to 14 felonies and was forced to pay a $2 billion fraud settlement, the largest in the history of the United States.”
  4. Newt Gingrich: Another figure who Trump might pick on the basis of 1) loyalty and 2) knowing how Congress works. His reputation as one of the party’s intellectual voices and a deep understanding of win over suburban voters as he did with his Contract with America would be valuable. However, Gingrich has had some scandals over his head surrounding his resignation as speaker and his cheating on his wife while Congress was impeaching Bill Clinton…for lying about cheating on his wife.
  5. Marsha Blackburn: Another Tennessean possibility for Trump. She’s ignorant as hell (Blackburn believes the earth is cooling, not warming), but she’s still a social conservative with sterling credentials and recently led the House inquiry into Planned Parenthood. Given that social conservatives have not fully warmed up to Trump, Blackburn would be a clear signal that Trump’s recent conclave with evangelical leaders wasn’t mere social gravy.
  6. Chris Christie: For his first term, at least, Christie was heralded as a remarkably effective governor in New Jersey, projecting a tough persona while often able to work things out in a bipartisan fashion. If Trump wants a veep who will do much of the heavy lifting for him- think of the role Cheney performed for Bush 43- Christie is a likely choice. Moreover, the Donald appreciates loyalty, and since Christie unexpectedly endorsed Trump, he hasn’t backed down.
  7. Jeff Sessions: Shelby, the junior senator from Alabama, was one of the first major politicians to support Trump’s campaign. Sessions’s career is an education in dog-whistle politics and The Donald could learn a lot from him about how to signal things to white voters without appearing overtly racist.
  8. John Kasich: Trump’s relationship with the other major competitor in the primaries, Ted Cruz, is in the toilet after Trump went after Cruz’s father for allegedly having a role in the JFK assassination and intimating he had damning information about his wife. Yet the relationship between Kasich and Trump was strangely cordial by Trumpian standards; I think the worst of it was some unkind tweets about Kasich’s table manners. The fact is that Trump probably needs someone like Kasich who can probably secure Ohio and maybe have spillover appeal in Pennsylvania. But Kasich’s campaign was based on civility and even a certain amount of kindness and generosity. Will he hold his nose and campaign with Trump?
  9. Catherine McMorris-Rodgers: This is one more name that I’m surprised more people aren’t mentioning. McMorris-Rodgers is genuinely concerned with widening the GOP tent and getting more voters- particularly younger women- on board. She’s the only woman in GOP House leadership and represents eastern Washington state. If he wants someone to run interference with Congress and expand the party’s base, this would be a smart pick. If you want suburban soccer moms to even consider Trump, you’d need someone like her.
  10. Scott Brown: If Trump is serious about making a play for white males in the Northeast, Brown could be a real asset. Brown famously won the open seat for Ted Kennedy’s spot, and his ideological fuzziness mirrors Trump’s in some way. The problem is that Brown was defeated by Elizabeth Warren and Jeanne Shaheen within the span of two years, and if there’s one thing The Donald holds in contempt, it’s losing.

What do you think? Did I miss anyone?

Here’s a fun fact, by the way. There has never been a person on a Republican ticket who was both 1) born in, and 2) held office in the South. Some were born in the South but didn’t hold office there, like Eisenhower, whose family moved to Kansas when he was young. Others held office in the South, but were born elsewhere, like the Bushes. (On a technicality, I’m disqualifying Andrew Johnson, who wasn’t really a Republican and at any rate, in 1864, the Republicans momentarily re-branded themselves as the Union Party.) If chosen, Blackburn, Corker, Shelby, and Sessions would be the first true Southerner on a Republican ticket. (Gingrich, though he held office in Georgia, was born in Pennsylvania, and Rick Scott was born in Illinois.)

Do you think it’s too early to ruminate on the next class of Rock and Roll Hall of Fame artists? Think again. By the end of the summer, the Nominating Committee will meet and hammer out the presumably 15 or so candidates for inclusion in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Historically, the list is released around October. I will probably make my final predictions around Labor Day, but I also wanted to get out some preliminary predictions, perhaps in the vain hope that somebody on the committee reads them.

Before I list my initial predictions, I need to discuss my sense of the overall feel or theme of the ballot. When I look back at #RockHall2016, it’s clear that several things went wrong, and I’d imagine the Committee will be eager to correct them. First of all, the kerfuffle with Steve Miller shows that they need to treat inductees better, explain to them what the Hall of Fame is about, solicit their input, and make them feel like honored guests rather than cash cows. Secondly, attempts at big reunions failed to materialize. Although estranged drummer Danny Seraphine showed up for Chicago’s induction, Peter Cetera pouted when the band wouldn’t play “25 or 6 to 4” in his key and stayed home. Neither could multiple Deep Purple alumni overcome years of hostility. NWA managed a reunion, but the Rock Hall still screwed it up by not reaching an agreement to perform (which probably involved NWA wanting to do more controversial material.) Only Cheap Trick managed to get their act together, and thus the fourth most important inductee ended up closing the show! Thirdly, #RockHall2016 was roasted for its lack of diversity. Only one African-American artist, a caricature of gangsta rap like NWA, made it in. The other four were white classic rockers from the late 1960s and 1970s. Not only were there no female artists inducted, but there were no female presenters. All the white, male acts were inducted by white males. The black, male act was inducted by a black male. The 1950s, most of the 1960s, most of the 1980s, and most of the 1990s were unrepresented by the five artists’ heydays.

All this is to say: the ceremony taught me almost nothing about rock and roll. I had to watch the ceremonies in earlier years to understand why Paul Butterfield mattered despite a lack of hits, or why Jett was more than a good cover artist, she established what it meant to be a woman in rock like few others have. Aside from one instance of NWA defending it’s place in the rock pantheon in defiance of Gene Simmons’s more…um…apartheidish views, there wasn’t a single great moment. In contrast, think of all the cool moments from the previous two ceremonies: Joan Jett, Tommy James, and Miley Cyrus rocking out over “Crimson and Clover”- three distinct generations united. Bill Withers watching with visible emotion as Stevie Wonder sang his songs. Hervana. A reunion of the two surviving Beatles. One of Cat Stevens’s only stateside appearances since the Ford administration. You can get a good ceremony and a good class in the modern Rock Hall era, where inductions are arena spectacles filmed for HBO. But you have to work at it and ask yourself what rock and roll is really all about.

For this reason, I think the Rock Hall is going to veer away from 1970s classic rock favorites, and we’ll see a ballot that resembles the Class of 2015 much more. This will be a slate of nominees designed to show the breadth and depth of rock and roll, which will push boundaries and hopefully challenge people who don’t think rap, country, R&B, or electronica count.  So, after this long preamble, here are my initial predictions:


1. Pearl Jam: This is as close to a sure thing as I can imagine. Pearl Jam- an artist that ranks among Rolling Stone’s New Immortals and VH1’s 100 Greatest Artists- is widely regarded as the most important rock band of the 1990s after Nirvana. On the eve of their 25th anniversary, they continue to tour, rail against Ticketmaster, and dominate by virtue of their longevity. This is their year.

2. Tupac: With NWA out of the way, Tupac is the prohibitive favorite as the next rap act to get in. This is also his first year eligible, and while this is a posthumous nomination, there would be no shortage of rappers willing to pay homage to Tupac in (presumably) Cleveland. In his short life, Tupac was earnest, poetic, soulful, violent, and above all, complicated. While NWA was the “id” of late 1980s inner-city consciousness, Tupac is remembered as more of a Bob Marley style “folk saint” for the Nineties; his biography matters less than the semiotics. Regardless of the history or the memory, his albums are still among rap’s finest of the 1990s. Nom Com member Alan Light wrote a book on him several years ago, so we can safely assume that his name will at least be brought up in committee.

3. Nine Inch Nails: It’s clear that the Rolling Stone Industrial Complex likes Trent Reznor’s dark sonic landscapes and nihilistic textures. He was nominated during his first two years eligible, and I don’t see any reason for that trend to stop now. Like other “love them or hate them” artists like Sex Pistols or Patti Smith or Donna Summer, this one is going to take a few nominations to get in.

4. Chic: Hindu mythos is prefaced upon the samsara, the interminable cycle of life, death, and rebirth, from which the soul longs to break free. Every year, Chic is nominated and fails to get in, only to be renominated again. Can Chic escape this cosmic turning of the wheel this year?

5. Kraftwerk: Have you noticed that every year since 2013, either Yes or Kraftwerk has been nominated? Although they exist in different genres, both bands have a reputation for being cerebral, prodigiously skilled, and impossible to dance to. Last year was Yes’s turn, and to my dismay, they didn’t get in. Kraftwerk, the #2 band on my Rock Hall Prospects list, should be up next if the trend holds.

6. The Cure: Since 2012, there has been a “early alternative band for angsty misfits” slot on the ballot. It’s gone to The Cure, The Replacements, and for the last two years, The Smiths. After watching the personnel squabbles with the Class of 2016, the Nom Com may want to focus on a band that doesn’t have an epic Morrissey vs. Johnny Marr feud at its heart. The Cure have been touring across the U.S. recently, doing insanely long and prolific concerts and generating great buzz.

7. Carole King: One of my favorite moments from the past year in the music world was watching Carole King being honored at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. Seriously, watch this: she can’t handle her life when Aretha Franklin comes out and performs “A Natural Woman” on piano. This is indicative of the massive amount of respect Carole King has, and her importance has been underscored by the recent jukebox musical about her career. Almost every female singer-songwriter of the past 50 years owes Carole King big time. She should be honored- and her induction as a non-performer doesn’t begin to cover her significance. Her choice to leave the Brill Building, get behind a piano, and sing about her own life set the mold. To recap- in the last three years, she was honored at the Kennedy Center, performed at the Grammys, and had a musical come out. Is a Rock Hall nomination- her first since the institution’s early years- also in the cards?

8. The Meters: The JBs got the “funk slot” on the ballot last year. But The Meters have gotten two nods in the last five years. This New Orleans outfit couldn’t have more support from industry experts and are widely respected in the same way that the Paul Butterfield Blues Band was.

9. MC5: On the grounds of an unconvincing technicality, Rage Against the Machine is eligible this year. They released some demos in 1991, which makes them eligible, I guess, to be nominated in 2016 and inducted in 2017. Here’s what I think will happen: Tom Morello, who sits on the committee, will not recuse himself. I believe his character is such that he will say something like, “Oh geez…we don’t deserve it yet. It’s ridiculous to nominate us when many of the people who influenced us aren’t in yet.” And then he will make the case for his favorite pet project: revolutionary, iconoclastic MC5. Now, don’t get me wrong: Rage Against the Machine deserves to be in the Hall. But it should be 25 years after a *real* release.

10. The Zombies: There is some real buzz about The Monkees this year, with a great new album out and a tentative peace with its three surviving members. While we’ve seen some longstanding Rock Hall grudges like KISS, Rush, and Chicago dissolve in the last few years, I’m thinking the Monkees might still be a tough sell for the Nom Com. Instead, why not The Zombies? They are also touring, it’s original lineup has 4 of 5 members still alive, all of whom appear to be on good terms. And The Zombies, as I wrote in a blog post back in May, have influenced a vast number of artists and are well loved by rock writers, historians, and journalists. Just last year, they appeared at a panel commemorating the career of the Who with Stevie Van Zandt and Holly Robinson: both on the Nominating Committee. Indeed, they were nominated for the Class of 2014, but faced an extremely competitive ballot. This will be their year. Took a long time to come.

11. Eurythmics: The nomination of The Cars last year shows that the Nom Com is at least thinking in a New Wave direction. So why not Eurythmics? David Stewart and Annie Lennox have been known to reunite from time to time. They played a great role in infusing the technical and electronic possibilities of new wave with real soul, courtesy of Lennox’s deep, resonant alto voice. And the “Sweet Dreams” video was one of the most iconic during the infancy of MTV. Given Lennox’s well-received Grammys performance a couple years ago and her great album of Tin Pan Alley standards, this would be a strong nod to the 1980s.

12. Nina Simone: Simone is hot right now. A lovingly made documentary about her life dropped on Netflix last year. A biopic about her 1980s tailspin is coming out very soon. The most important album of 2016 will almost certainly be remembered as Beyonce’s Lemonade. Did you notice the Nina Simone LP conspicuously placed in some of the videos? And each of these mediums made the case for Simone’s influence and importance: she was a defiant black woman who demanded justice- and not always non-violently. She was also a troubled soul who had an abusive husband and struggled with substance abuse and addiction. As I argued in my Rock Hall Prospects, she covered rock and roll and rock and roll covered her jazzy nightclub act, and this kind of wide respect and collaboration made everybody stronger. She belongs in the Rock Hall.

13. A Tribe Called Quest: Since he earned a berth on the Nom Com three years ago, Questlove has had a great deal of success getting his favorite acts nominated. He’s championed NWA, Kiss, Hall & Oates, Bill Withers, the Spinners, Chaka Khan, and others. Since the first four are already in, it’s easy to imagine Questlove channeling his energies into two other acts that were deeply influential to his own career: De La Soul and A Tribe Called Quest. Quest effused that ATCQ were “stylish, jazzy, funny, soulful, smart, and everything else.  They were socially conscious without being too self-conscious about it.”  Q-Tip’s recent collaboration with the Chemical Brothers and the unfortunate passing of Phife Dawg have kept them in the news.

14. Willie Nelson: Right before my flight to Singapore last August, a rumor circulated around the internet that Willie Nelson had passed on, and I had to wait 24 hours until I landed and got settled in my hotel to learn whether or not it was true. This vignette is a reminder that Nelson needs to be commemorated while he’s still among the living. He fostered countless collaborations between the worlds of country and rock, and he made those boundaries more porous. Of course, the Red-Haired Stranger still tours, and shows up on venues as diverse as the John Lennon tribute concert and Steven Colbert’s Christmas special. Maybe Gram Parsons or Patsy Cline will get the nod instead, but I have a feeling somebody from country will show up this year.

15. The Shangri-Las: And now, my annual “Hail Mary” pass. For decades, the Shangri-Las have been like a secret handshake among rock experts: an easily overlooked girl group that had an influence that belied its limited body of work. While most girl groups projected a wholesome image, the Shangri-Las wore go-go boots and seriously looked like you shouldn’t mess with them. “Leader of the Pack” and “Remember (Walking in the Sand)” changed the sonic landscape of Top 40 and made more atmospheric and evocative records possible. They’ve influenced artists as diverse as Amy Winehouse, the New York Dolls, and Blondie. It’s not hard to see some rogue voice on the committee- maybe someone like Dave Marsh- make an unexpected case for them and persuading everyone else to go along.

So, those are my picks. Most artists are alive, and most bands are at relative peace with one another. Those who have passed away (Tupac, Simone, some of the Shangri-Las) could command incredible tribute performances.  2 first-time eligible artists, 5 artists who were passed over for nomination, and 8 previously nominated artists. Is this list realistic? My instinct is that the actual list may have more R&B artists, but I couldn’t figure out which of them it would be! War? The Spinners? But there are five artists with at least one inductable female member (King, The Shangri-Las, Simone, the singers from Chic, and Annie Lennox). Given that this ballot will be released a few weeks before the U.S. potentially elects a female president, this stronger (but not quite equal) girl power on the ballot will have deeper resonance.  You might notice that there are no classic rock bands from the 1970s. Rockists will lose their minds if a ballot like this one actually happened, typing vitriol on the internet so urgently that their red “Make America Great Again” hats will be irreparably sweat-stained.

No offense is intended if your favorite artists didn’t show up–it’s not that I don’t think they are worthy, it’s that I don’t think the Nom Com will go in their direction this year. So apologies to fans of this blog who support Janet, or the Monkees, or Dennis Wilson, or Link Wray, or whoever else. Janet was a painful omission; she deserves to be in. But she will also be giving birth around the time as a ceremony as a first-time mother at the age of 50. It might be better for all concerned if they deferred a second Janet nomination until she could show up at full strength and in good health to perform in person.

Other tough cuts included J. Geils Band, Johnny Winter, Chaka Khan, Warren Zevon, Sting, and The Commodores.

What do you think? Feel free to comment with some of your own ideas for who might appear on the ballot in October.

Since my rock concert-going life began in the July of 1995, I have, by my count, been to 38 shows on 3 different continents. I’ll be the first to admit that the lists of artists isn’t especially diverse and is certainly not representative of my age group. There’s too many old white guys from the 1970s. But- partly to distract myself- I felt I needed to rank them. In doing this, I am struck by how arbitrary this is- my mood, the people I was with, the seats I had, and the performer’s own attitude and health all shaped the list. So, here goes. I’ve listed the artist, the year, and the venue where relevant. And I’m really sorry at how repetitive this list is- Ringo appears four times, Chicago appears six times, and some variation of Crosby, Stills and/or Nash appears five times.

  1. Ringo Starr & His All-Starr Band (1995, Starlite Theatre, Latham, NY): You never forget your first. Rock concert that is. I’m pretty sure about 80% of people will say that their first rock concert was probably their favorite. Starlite was demolished several years ago, but it was an in-the-round theatre, and my seat was on the aisle. That night I got to slap a high-five with Ringo as he jogged down to the stage. Seeing a Beatle as a 12-year-old obsessed with The Beatles was an ethereal experience. I still remember the whole almost 3-hour show in intricate detail. Other All-Starrs were John Entwistle, Randy Bachmann, Billy Preston, Felix Cavaliere, and Mark Farner.
  2. Crosby & Nash (2005, Royal Festival Hall, London): With a new album out, this 50% of CSNY played several of its best tracks, as was expected. But they didn’t shy away from the deep tracks: “Cathedral,” “In My Dreams,” “Wind on the Water”, and “Carry Me,” all made appearances alongside requisite numbers like “Teach Your Children.” Their stage banter was captivating, the product of their great comic timing and their long decades of genuine friendship. I was a TA for a London program at a conservative Christian college at the time, so it was great to get away from all that for a night and dig into the counterculture. A great, lefty, Bush-bashing show in probably my favorite venue.
  3. Paul McCartney (2014, Times Union Center, Albany, NY): It was Paul McCartney. He played over 30 songs in three hours. He never took a break. He’s a Beatle. Any questions?
  4. Peter, Paul & Mary (2006, Corn Palace, Mitchell, SD): In my grad student duties, I was on hand for the opening of the George McGovern Center at Dakota Wesleyan University. It was part concert and part reminiscing on stage about the ’72 campaign with Senator McGovern and Mike Farrell from MASH. McGovern and Mary Travers have since passed on, so it’s hard not to look back on this with some sadness. The concert was a clarion call for social justice, and I’ll never forget Travers- who spent the show seated and hooked to an oxygen machine- standing up with the help of her cane to sing “If I Had a Hammer.” In its way, it was the most rock and roll moment on this list.
  5. Janelle Monae (2014, Rochester Jazz Festival, Rochester, NY): You might notice that most people on this list are old, sometimes damn old. Monae was in peak artistic and physical form, with boundless energy, focus, commitment, and engagement with the audience. She even invited everyone to dance with her on stage during the finale, “What An Experience.” With James Brown no longer among the living, Monae takes his mantle as the hardest working person in show business.
  6. Elton John (1998, Times Union Center, Albany, NY): The Big Picture had just come out, but Elton only played two songs from the thing. Instead, we got lots of hits and plenty of audience interaction; he must have spent a solid ten minutes of the show signing things for people in the front row.  He surprised us by throwing in rarities like “Mona Lisa’s and Mad Hatter’s,” “Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy,” and “The Simple Life.” A great performer at the most stable period in his career.
  7. The Beach Boys (2014, Saratoga Performing Arts Center- henceforth SPAC, Saratoga NY): When I heard that the surviving Beach Boys were reuniting for their 50th anniversary, I knew I had to get Heather and I a ticket. Mike Love and Bruce Johnston reunited with Brian Wilson, Al Jardine, and David Marks for a show that was more awesome than it had a right to be. Although none of these men appeared to have their instruments in the mix, that was okay; they had a fine band to carry them. But they ran toward some bold choices, from Johnston’s “Disney Girls” to Mike Love’s transcendentalist “All This Is That.” But everybody spent the show watching Brian, who was caught in his own world, plunking away at the keys for most of the time. But when he tuned in- say, on the bridge of “Surfer Girl” or the great vocals of “Sail On, Sailor” the audience collectively cheered him on.
  8. CSN (2001, SPAC): A week before I started college, my dad and I took in this show and sat on the lawn. Chatty and happy to be rid of Neil Young after the CSNY2k tour, the show was a love fest punctuated by Stills’ latin-infused take on “Dark Star.”
  9. The Eagles (2003, Times Union Center, Albany, NY): Touring without Don Felder for the first time, the other four Eagles had an immaculately arranged show. All the hits were there, all the harmonies were tight, but nothing was left to spontaneity. I’ll remember this as the show I attended with a friend who had the courage to come out to me just a couple weeks earlier.
  10. Chicago (2003, Proctor’s Theatre, Schenectady, NY): Proctor’s is a lovely old Vaudeville Theatre, and a great venue for a band like that. They put on a terrific Christmas show, and my friend Keeley and I had sixth or seventh row seats somehow. The audience was unusually high energy and Keeley and I managed to get the horn sections’ attention a few times.
  11. The Zombies (2016, Bear’s Den, Niagara Falls, NY): For a band that’s been at it for over fifty years, The Zombies had great camaraderie and a remarkably tight band. Colin Blunstone was a refreshingly low-key and soft-spoken frontman. It was great to see him and keyboardist extraordinaire Rod Argent play some tracks from one of my favorite albums, Odessey and Oracle. Intimate venue, too: The Bear’s Den only seated about 300.
  12. Brandi Carlile (2015, Danforth Music Hall, Toronto): Another rare show from a fairly young artist. Despite a weird emo-dixieland opening act, Carlile’s authenticity shown through. Her band (excellent by the way) was frazzled as their tour bus broke down and they were working on only a couple hours’ sleep, but remained spot-on. Brandi actually sang an unrehearsed song a cappella without a mic to a young fan she had met earlier in the day. Although I didn’t get to hear “Dying Day” (the theme song for the intercontinental long distance romance Heather and I for two years), it was a focused, committed, strikingly rocking show.
  13. Billy Joel (1999, Times Union Center): If you are going to see Billy Joel, it’s got to be in New York, even if it’s upstate. There’s a synergy with the rest of the audience that’s probably missing when Joel plays in, say, Spokane. Joel gamely admitted no new material and stuck to an admirable mix of hits and lesser-known favorites like “And So It Goes.” My dad and I went, and he actually got us seats in the corporate box. We were facing Joel’s back, but still….
  14. Indigo Girls (2014, Whitaker Center, Harrisburg, PA): Our society doesn’t do right by 50-year-old women. So it was refreshing to see two consummate songwriters and guitarists hone their craft in mom jeans and flannel. One thing I always appreciated is that they invited their opening act to sing the encore with them. I’ve never seen any other artist do that.
  15. Elton John & Billy Joel (2001, Carrier Dome, Syracuse, NY): This was surely the most heavily attended show on the list: the Carrier Dome seats 56,000 people for shows like this. It was fun to see them interact- Billy would dedicate a song to an ex-wife, Sir Elton would dedicate a song to an ex-husband- but ultimately the parts were greater than their sum. When you try and fit these two giants together, the setlist became predictable and neither artist really owned the stage like they did individually.
  16. Chicago (2001, Turning Stone Casino, Verona, NY): I saw them once before, but this was my first time as an actual fan. 2001 was about the time when Chicago’s live act stopped doing hit medleys and started to think about its legacy. Accordingly, some downright daring choices were made, including the avant-garde “A Hit By Varese” and an acoustic dressing down of “Look Away.”
  17. Weird Al Yankovic (1996, Starlite Theatre): Look, I’m not proud of this, but like many 13-year-olds, I thought Al was the funniest man on earth. My mom, bless her heart, took my brother and I and suffered through a 15-minute stand up act, and then 2 hours of Al. The amazing thing was how energetic Al was. He put on a true multimedia show, replete with costume changes. Also unexpectedly, he used the show to play songs he couldn’t record, since he didn’t have the original artists’ permission. So a Rembrandts pastiche, “I’ll Repair for You,” showed up, as did a spoof of the Beatles reunion “Gee, I’m A Nerd.”
  18. Ringo Starr and His All-Starr Band (2016, Lakeview Amphitheater, Syracuse, NY): The show was only about two weeks ago, but it held up. Ringo, at 75, is still energetic and a lovably awkward frontman. His All-Starrs, however, were a cut above other incarnations of the band. I was impressed by Mr. Mister’s Richard Page whose high tenor voice is still crystal clear at 63 years of age. Todd Rundgren’s raw joy at playing with Ringo shown- for the fourth consecutive year- through. Steve Lukather’s guitar chops were prodigious. And although this was the fourth time I saw Ringo, he enlivened the setlist with rarely heard Beatles numbers “What Goes On,” “Matchbox,” and one of my favorites, “Don’t Pass Me By.”
  19. Weird Al Yankovic (2009, Turning Stone Casino): 12 years since I last saw him, Weird Al was still doing an impressive multimedia show. But Al himself had changed: his material got just a hair more political, and he’d had a full career since then. My friend Nate and I sat at a table with a father and his 12-year-old daughter. She had encountered Al through “White and Nerdy” and “Canadian Idiot.” The generational torch had been passed.
  20. Ringo Starr and His All-Starr Band (2000, Landmark Theatre, Syracuse, NY): My immediate family and two of my best friends piled in the minivan for this show. Ringo, only 60 then, led a good solid show. But the band didn’t quite gel. While Jack Bruce was probably the most impressive bass player I’ve seen live, pianist Eric Carmen was sullen and detached the whole show, prompting a few teasing remarks from Ringo that probably didn’t help matters.
  21. Chicago + Earth, Wind, and Fire: A jazzy, upbeat double bill that I saw with Nate. The respect between these two great artists were palpable, but EWF’s proud afrocentricity made Chicago seem just a bit bland and white-bread in comparison.
  22. CSN (2009, SPAC): One last show with Nate- it’s a shame that all the rock concerts we attended together were below average. Anyway, CSN made the odd choice to start the show with about 4 or 5 cover songs, ranging from the Dead’s “Uncle John’s Band” to Dylan’s “Girl From North Country.”
  23. Ringo Starr and His All-Starr Band (2010, Canandaigua Performing Arts Center): The lowest-ranked of the four Ringo shows; even Ringo seemed unhappy to be playing in Canandaigua. Although Edgar Winter was a great addition, some of the other guys seemed like they weren’t quite famous enough for an All-Starr Band. (Gary Wright?  Wally Palmar from The Romantics?)
  24. Chicago (2002, SPAC): I got stood up by my date for the show and had to have my brother join me at the last minute. (He was able to use this as an excuse to get out of his baccalaureate service, so it was a good deal for him.) That colored my perception of the show, and as much as I love the band, the experience seemed tired and derivative.
  25. Three Dog Night (2007 (?), Turning Stone Casino): The recent death of Cory Wells has effectively turned Three Dog Night into a one-trick pony, so it was good to see him and Danny Hutton together when I could. My table at the casino included a couple who had a bizarre hatred for the Belgians. “Eli’s Coming” was not played.
  26. Chicago + Doobie Brothers (2010, SPAC): I sat on the lawn with my parents and Rick, one of my favorite grad school colleagues. The two artists played the beginning and ending of the show together, but I’m just not that interested in the Doobie Brothers if Michael McDonald and Skunk Baxter aren’t there.
  27. Barry Manilow (2002, SPAC): Look, I’m not happy about this either. But I was working at the assignment department of the phone company, my co-workers were all Baby Boomers named Cathy and Debbie, and they all cajoled the 19-year-old intern to go see Barry Manilow with them. To my surprise, Manilow was a consummate showman. He kidded the audience. He danced and cuddled with fans who were picked to sing “Can’t Smile Without You” on stage with him. He sang a medley of commercial jingles he had written. There is a place for people like Manilow. That place is not within earshot of myself, but a degree of respect was earned.
  28. Chicago (2006, Rochester Auditorium Theatre): My girlfriend at the time was graduating college that day, so I took her to…a Chicago concert? Hmmm…I think I see why she broke up with me a few weeks later for being “insufficiently fabulous.”
  29. Jars of Clay (2007, Houghton College Chapel, Houghton, NY): Houghton, rarely awash in excess cash, somehow managed to get the princelings of Christian contemporary, Jars of Clay, to come to our school. Although I had graduated two years earlier, I made every effort to attend. Matthew Wertz (“Everything’s Right”) was a cool opening act, and I appreciate that the Jars, fresh off a trip to Africa, were in full-on social-justice mode. But their “Much Afraid” album from 1997 is one of my favorites, and they didn’t play a single track off of it.
  30. Crosby & Nash (2011, Niagara Falls Casino): Crosby told a hilarious story about being high in the 80s and singing “Find the Coast of Sweden” instead of “Find the Cost of Freedom.” But it was otherwise a pale imitation of their stellar 2005 show. This wasn’t Crosby and Nash’s fault. But the casino made them shorten their set list so that the audience could hit the casinos earlier. As a result, they had to drop 4-5 songs from the set–invariably the deep tracks that I most wanted to hear.
  31. Edgar Winter Group/Grand Funk Railroad (2005, Empire State Plaza, Albany, NY): Edgar was his fine, bluesy self. Grand Funk Railroad, however, are stupefying flag-waving simpletons who can only get cheers when they say things like “is our country great or what?”
  32. Elton John (2015, Star Vista, Singapore): The venue was state of the art, but the sound mixing was horrible and Elton’s drummer, Nigel Olsson, just can’t play the drums well. On top of that, Elton had a cold, and while he soldiered on, a bad vibe infected the entire backing band in a way that was visible from even the cheap seats. I had wanted to take Heather to see Elton for a long time, and it’s disappointing that this was the way it turned out.
  33. Simon & Garfunkel (2004, Times Union Center): The songs were well chosen, and a surprise appearance by the Everly Brothers was a pleasant addition. But it was clear that Simon & Garfunkel just didn’t like each other and there was no visible warmth in their repartee on stage. They were only in it for the money and it showed.
  34. The Beach Boys + Chicago (1997, Times Union Center): The Beach Boys were on first. It was one of their first shows after Carl stopped touring as his cancer advanced. Frankly, the band didn’t seem to know what to do without him. Chicago? Well, this was before I was a fan or knew any of their material beyond what was played on the Oldies station. My family and I left during Walt Parazaider’s ten minute flute solo on “Just You’N’Me.”
  35. Weird Al Yankovic (1997, Starlite Theatre): And in a testament to maternal love, my mom took my brother and I a second time one year later. Weird Al did the exact. same. show. Except to plug the upcoming Weird Al Show, even the banter was identical.
  36. CSN (2005, SPAC): The show was only a few months after the sublime performance at Royal Festival Hall at #2, but it couldn’t have been more different. Someone insisted on there being both a keyboardist and a guy playing Hammond organ on all songs, drowning out most of the acoustic qualities CSN is best known for. Stills left the stage for several Crosby & Nash numbers and C&N left the stage for Stills’ new material. I was pretty sure Stills was going to punch Crosby during the second set.
  37. Roger Waters (2012, Times Union Center): This is a good example of how arbitrary everything is. I took my dad, a big Floyd fan in his day, as a Father’s Day gift. Waters’s tour, playing “The Wall” in its entirety, is high concept, multimedia, and well planned. His “stick it to the man” schtick got real tired, real fast though, and he lost any nuance that makes the best political music work. The show was held on the day that the Supreme Court validated Obamacare. So when Waters sang “Mother, should I trust the government?” I’ll never forget the sickening “NOOOOOO” that spread across the audience.
  38. Peter Cetera (2006, Turning Stone Casino): Peter Cetera is an asshole. He somehow co-opted the Syracuse Symphony to play with him, although he’s not nearly famous enough for that sort of thing. He was contracted to play a private show at the casino, so you know what? He only played a 70 minute show for us to make room for it. The tickets were full price, of course. Oh, and there was still a ten-minute intermission where they played a video clip of Chicago as Cetera changed outfits- during such a short show! He interrupted the band during their first number to ask them to start over with the truncated setlist. He made fun of the casino for not selling alcohol. Some of the shows on this list weren’t great, but this is the only one where I felt royally ripped off. Screw you, Peter Cetera.

And there we have it. 38 shows, most of them quite good. Here’s hoping that #39, the Tedeschi-Trucks Band with Los Lobos, holds up in a few weeks.

On June 7, Hillary Clinton clinched the requisite number of delegates to become the presumptive nominee of the Democratic Party.  Obviously, this was a historic occasion, the first time that a major party has chosen a woman to be their standard-bearer.  In this capacity, Hillary Clinton’s next big task will be to select a running-mate. This is of no small importance; it’s a window into their decision-making ability and their judge of character. For the fourth and final time before the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, I have ranked her ten most likely running mates. Realize, of course, that this list is far from comprehensive and it’s entirely possible that her veep pick isn’t on here.

Within the next two or three weeks, I hope to outline the most likely contenders for Donald Trump’s running mate. That, of course, is a much dicier prospect, given the erratic nature of his campaign, the fact that virtually anybody in the Republican Party could theoretically balance this ticket in some way, and the likelihood that top contenders may have asked not to be considered.

  1. Tim Kaine: Everything we know about Sec. Clinton suggests that her decision-making is careful, focus-tested, and anything but spontaneous. With this mindset, Tim Kaine might become the vice-presidential pick purely by virtue of checking off the most boxes: He’s been a governor, he’s presently a senator on both the Foreign Relations and Armed Services committees, he’s from a swing state, his replacement in the Senate would be picked by a Democratic governor, and he’s a devout Catholic who speaks fluent Spanish. More than that, he’s got the right temperament and is likely to be a good team player who makes few headaches for campaign management.
  2. Elizabeth Warren: An awful lot hinges on whether Bernie Sanders concedes graciously and how receptive his supporters are to a Hillary candidacy. If Team Bernie is reticent, Elizabeth Warren could be a potentially excellent olive branch to the progressive/social democrat wing of the party. She’s got a genius for explaining complicated economic ideas in laymen’s terms, and she’s a strong consumer advocate in ways that will connect with middle-class and suburban voters. Due to some unusual rules in Massachusetts, Republican Governor Charlie Baker will get to pick her initial successor, but there will be a special election not long after, in which Seth Moulton or Joseph Kennedy III would be prohibitive favorites. The question is: does she want it? Warren would lose a lot of independence as a vice-president when she could be a ringleader for congressional progressives and be re-elected to the Senate indefinitely.
  3. Jeff Merkley: Only one other sitting senator has endorsed Bernie Sanders’ campaign, and that’s Oregon senator Jeff Merkley. He’s a solid retail politician, a left libertarian skeptic of national security overreach, and would be replaced in the Senate by a Democratic governor’s selection. If Hillary wants to pick someone formally aligned with Sanders without having to pick Sanders himself, Merkley would be a fine choice.
  4. Sherrod Brown: Brown, the only person to appear in all four versions of this list, ought to be a slam-dunk: he’s an economic populist, a free-trade critic, and a scrappy stump-speaker. He’s endorsed Hillary but would easily appeal to a lot of Sanders people. And best of all, he’s from the all-important swing state of Ohio. It’s a dream ticket, except that Kasich is governor of Ohio and would get to appoint Brown’s replacement through the 2018 midterms. Given how narrow the control of the Senate might be, is that a risk Hillary will want to take? Another consideration is this Politico article which suggests that Bernie feels betrayed by Brown endorsing Clinton, and would not recommend him as a veep if Hillary asks for his input.
  5. Al Franken: To be honest, this is who I would pick. Franken is sharp, comfortable with the media from his long tenure on SNL, and his barbed rhetoric would give plenty of red meat to the base. Perhaps the most efficient way to defeat Trump is with humor and pointing out his absurdity, and this comedian can perform that function like no other. Franken is also a far better senator than anybody has suspected, and won re-election handily in 2014.
  6. Xavier Becerra: Julian Castro, according to rumor, is not quite in the running any longer. Too eager for the job, not enough hard experience. While organizing candidates by racial background is problematic in some ways, Becerra in many respects took Castro’s place on pundits’ lists. Becerra is a solid, policy-wonk congressman from the L.A. area, and was on the “Supercommittee” that tried to resolve the debt impasse. He’s disciplined, workmanlike, and – noticing a pattern here- unlikely to embarrass Clinton. Few would be better prepared to counter Trump on immigration: Becerra represents one of the most immigrant-heavy districts in the nation; and what better way to show the human consequences of Trump’s demagoguery by having an actual son of immigrants on the ticket? And he’s every bit as qualified to be vice-president as another key congressional wheel, Paul Ryan, was four years ago- which makes the inevitable charges from the GOP that this is a “pandering pick” all the more ridiculous.
  7. Tom Perez: There has been a great deal of beltway buzz about Perez, who would be an unconventional choice. He’s never won an elected office before, but his tenure as Secretary of Labor has won high praise from policy wonks. Perez has signaled sympathy and support for Black Lives Matter and other identity-fused accountability movements, and his background gives him a chance to be a good voice for working families.  According to this Politico article, “my strong guess,” one White House aide said, “is that if you took a straw poll of staffers here about who they’d pick for the ticket, Tom would do very well.” As one of the most important voices in President Obama’s second-term domestic agenda, Perez would be a compelling choice to win over voters struggling in a plutocratic job market. Both Perez and Becarra have the added benefit of not being senators, and therefore not having to worry about a seat falling- in the short or long term- to the opposition party.
  8. John Hickenlooper:My blog’s single most faithful follower, Jared, is in Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper’s corner. History, however, is not. Democrats almost never choose governors as vice-presidential nominees. Ed Muskie was the last, in 1968, and he hadn’t been a governor in ten years at the time! In fact, you’d have to go all the way back to 1924 to find the last time the Democrats picked a sitting governor for the vice-presidential spot: William Jennings Bryan’s justly forgotten brother (and Nebraska guv) Charles Bryan. Hickenlooper is fun, roundly successful, and has a quirky past running a brewery before becoming mayor of Denver. But he’s generally considered more of a free-trade guy- a big no-no for Bernie Bros. And his recently released autobiography was refreshingly candid but full of damning vignettes, including youthful drug use and going to see Deep Throat with his mother in the Seventies (!)
  9. Cory Booker: Booker is in the same position as Warren in the sense that a Republican would get to pick an immediate successor, but a special election- where Democrats are prohibitive favorites- would take place before the 115th Congress ended. Booker is also in the same position in the sense that another northeastern senator might not be the best balance. Booker is hard to pin down. He’s one of the more neoliberal members of the Senate, and even at one point argued that Democrats should tone down their criticism of Mitt Romney’s time at Bain Capital in 2012. Well-rounded, he’s on all the right committees and has a good balance of executive experience and an understanding of national issues. Yet, he’s a young face in a party whose great figures are getting old, great at using social media, and he is legendarily great at constituent services. As mayor of Newark, famously shoveled one elderly constituent’s walk after she sent him a tweet! If Hillary wants to groom a successor, Booker is a good choice. If she wants a pick that will make Bernie’s supporters swoon, she’d best look elsewhere.
  10. Amy Klobuchar: She’s a distant 10th and the most remote choice by far on this list. But I wonder if what this ticket needs is a dollop of Midwestern decency. I recently finished Klobuchar’s memoirs, and I was struck by her command of policy, her sense of humor, and a refreshing authenticity that didn’t require a media persona. She’s just a good, hardworking, fundamentally competent moderate progressive. Klobuchar has won two landslide elections in Minnesota, a blue-leaning swing state. If anybody but Hillary were on top of the ticket, Klobuchar would be the prohibitive favorite as running mate.

And there you have it! Are there any prospects that you believe I’ve left out? Would you have ranked them differently? Let me know in the comments below.


Over at Future Rock Legends, we’re working hard to rank the top 100 albums of all time, as well as the top 100 of each decade. Because if we don’t, who will?

It is interesting to me how a canon of greatness is created. Slowly over the last few decades, the great rock and roll albums were determined by a long process dominated by a devoted, but increasingly mainstream, rock and roll press. Think Rolling Stone. Think VH1. Think now-defunct standards like Creem and Crawdaddy. Think longtime critics like Robert Hilburn or Lester Bangs or Dave Marsh. We’ve had enough time for a sense of which albums were the best to percolate. By now, almost everybody regards, say, Sgt. Pepper, or Ziggy Stardust, or Led Zeppelin IV among the best rock and roll works that were ever created. Even if those albums aren’t your cup of tea, most people will acknowledge their eminence.

But our own list of personal favorites? That’s another enchilada entirely. I’ve made a list of my 100 favorite albums, or the 100 albums dearest to me in some way. While they mostly reside in the rock and roll galaxy, there are a few outliers, as you will see. #4, for instance, might surprise you. It’s by three Adirondack musicians who are collectively called the Jamcrackers, and include a great songwriter (Dan Berggren), the “first lady of the Adirondacks” (Peggy Lynn), and one of the best hammered dulcimer players on earth (Dan Duggan.) I urge you to check them out, if rustic folk from the north country is your thing.

My Personal 100 Favorite Albums:

1. The Beatles – Abbey Road (1969)
2. Elton John – Captain Fantastic and The Brown Dirt Cowboy (1975)
3. Paul McCartney- Flaming Pie (1997)
4. Dan Berggren, Peggy Lynn & Dan Duggan- Ten Miles to Saturday Night (1999)
5. Brandi Carlile- Bear Creek (2012)
6. Carole King – Tapestry (1971)
7. Chicago – Chicago Transit Authority (1969)
8. Janelle Monáe – The Electric Lady (2013)
9. Fleetwood Mac – Rumours (1977)
10. Crosby & Nash- Wind on the Water (1975)
11. The Zombies – Odessey And Oracle (1968)
12. Linda Ronstadt – Heart Like a Wheel (1974)
13. Cat Stevens – Tea For The Tillerman (1970)
14. Brian Eno – Ambient 1: Music For Airports (1978)
15. Dan Fogelberg- The Innocent Age (1981)
16. The Beatles – Revolver [UK] (1966)
17. Simon & Garfunkel – Bridge Over Troubled Water (1970)
18. Joni Mitchell – Blue (1971)
19. Queen – A Night At The Opera (1975)
20. Elton John- Tumbleweed Connection (1971)
21. Chicago V (1972)
22. Mumford And Sons – Sigh No More (2009)
23. Original Broadway Cast- Avenue Q (2003)
24. Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young – Deja Vu (1970)
25. Pink Floyd – Dark Side of the Moon (1973)
26. Various Artists – O Brother, Where Art Thou? (2000)
27. Sting- If On a Winter’s Night (2009)
28. Billy Joel- Piano Man (1973)
29. Jars of Clay- Much Afraid (1997)
30. Kate Bush – The Kick Inside (1978)
31. Original Broadway Cast- RENT (1996)
32. David Crosby- If I Could Only Remember My Name (1971)
33. Fairport Convention – Liege and Lief (1969)
34. Tom Lehrer- An Evening Wasted with Tom Lehrer (1959)
35. Weird Al Yankovic- Bad Hair Day (1996)
36. The Beatles – Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band (1967)
37. Adele – 21 (2011)
38. Pink Floyd – The Wall (1979)
39. Great Big Sea- Play (1997)
40. Ray Charles – Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music (1962)
41. Edgar Winter Group- They Only Come Out at Night (1972)
42. Indigo Girls- Indigo Girls (1989)
43. The Beatles – Rubber Soul [UK] (1965)
44. Bon Iver – For Emma, Forever Ago (2007)
45. TLC – CrazySexyCool (1994)
46. The Eagles- The Eagles (1972)
47. Real McCoy- Another Night (1994)
48. The Band – Music From Big Pink (1968)
49. James Taylor – Sweet Baby James (1970)
50. Paul McCartney- Chaos and Creation in the Backyard (2005)
51. Drive-By Truckers: Southern Rock Opera (2001)
52. Marvin Gaye – What’s Going On (1971)
53. Jefferson Airplane – Surrealistic Pillow (1967)
54. Bruce Springsteen – The Rising (2002)
55. Crosby & Nash- Crosby & Nash (2004)
56. Dusty Springfield – Dusty in Memphis (1969)
57. Bob Dylan – The Times They Are a-Changin’ (1964)
58. Stephen Stills- Stephen Stills (1970)
59. Jethro Tull – Aqualung (1971)
60. Brandi Carlile- The Firewatcher’s Daughter (2015)
61. Curtis Mayfield – Superfly (1972)
62. The Pogues – If I Should Fall From Grace With God (1988)
63. Dire Straits – Making Movies (1980)
64. The Flaming Lips – Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots (2002)
65. They Might Be Giants – Flood (1990)
66. Amy Winehouse – Back To Black (2006)
67. Death Cab for Cutie- Trasatlanticism (2003)
68. Aretha Franklin- Young, Gifted, and Black (1972)
69. Nickel Creek- Nickel Creek (2000)
70. The Left Banke: Walk Away Renee- Pretty Ballerina (1967)
71. Peter Gabriel – So (1986)
72. De La Soul – 3 Feet High and Rising (1989)
73. Ringo Starr and his All- Star Band: Ringo Starr & His All-Star Band (1989)
74. Harry Belafonte: Calypso (1956)
75. Parliament/Funkadelic – Mothership Connection (1975)
76. The Moody Blues – Days of Future Past (1967)
77. Warren Zevon- Excitable Boy (1978)
78. War – The World Is A Ghetto (1972)
79. The Beatles- A Hard Day’s Night (1964)
80. Jimmy Buffett- Changes in Latitude, Changes in Attitude (1977)
81. Bill Withers- Still Bill (1972)
82. The Who – Who’s Next (1971)
83. Louis Armstrong, David Brubeck, et. al- The Real Ambassadors (1962)
84. Original Broadway Cast- Hamilton (2015)
85. George Harrison- Cloud Nine (1987)
86. Blood Sweat & Tears- Blood Seat & Tears (1968)
87. Los Lobos- How Will the Wolf Survive? (1984)
88. The Rutles- The Rutles (1978)
89. Ravi Shankar – Chants of India (1997)
90. Gin Blossoms- Congratulations I’m Sorry (1996)
91. Jim Croce- I Got a Name (1973)
92. America- Holiday (1974)
93. Sufjan Stevens – Illinois (2005)
94. The Spinners- New and Improved (1974)
95. Emmylou Harris- Roses in the Snow (1980)
96. Nitty Gritty Dirt Band- Will the Circle Be Unbroken? (1972)
97. Smashing Pumpkins – Mellon Collie And The Infinite Sadness (1995)
98. Jamcrackers- Jamcrackers (2005)
99. Florence & the Machine- Ceremonials (2011)
100. Willie Nelson- The Red-Headed Stranger (1975)

I’ll be the first to admit that there’s a lot of 1970s AM radio stuff for which I am well known. What are some of your favorites?

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: I only have enough time and money for one vice and one expensive hobby, and I’m sticking with scotch and visiting Disney World, respectively. For this reason, I’m not exactly a prolific concert-goer. But when I found out that The Zombies were on tour again and were headed to Niagara Falls, a mere hour and a half from my summer residence in Rochester, I had to buy tickets for my wife and I.

The venue was actually really cool. I am reluctant to see shows in casinos because they tend to lean on artists to shorten the set, in hopes that patrons will spend some time at the roulette wheel before bedtime. That happened when I saw Crosby & Nash and Three Dog Night at casino showrooms. (Geez…that last sentence made me sound rather elderly. Did I mention I’m only 32?) Happily, we got a full-length show in a venue called The Bear’s Den at the Seneca Niagara Casino that sat less than 500 souls and was meant for close encounters with great musicians.

This post isn’t quite intended as a concert review, but it needs to be said that The Zombies put on a great show. Their musicianship and craftsmanship was on display from the beginning, starting the show with a largely forgotten A-side, “I Love You.” I was impressed by Colin Blunstone’s stage presence: he was probably the most gentle and soft-spoken frontman I have ever seen, but he owned it and never seemed to want for energy. His voice lost a lot of the breathiness that made songs like “Time of the Season” so memorable, but Blunstone’s learned some tricks to keep his range and sustain in great shape. Rod Argent- what can I say? He’s probably my favorite keyboard player in the rock and roll pantheon, and I made sure we got seats near stage right so I could watch him play. So much of the dense, church organ sound that we associated with 60s psychedelia comes from Argent and his contemporaries, so it was great to see a master perform his trade. The rest of the band was very solid, including 75-year-old bassist Jim Rodford, who is not only Argent’s cousin but a longtime touring member of The Kinks.

Their setlist was also top-notch; they played their three big hits that everybody knows, of course. But they also ventured into some lesser known singles, some deep tracks from their magnum opus Odessey and Oracle, a couple wisely chosen covers, a few tracks from Argent and Blunstone’s solo careers, and the requisite tracks songs off their new album. I appreciated that, unlike many artists from their era, they never resorted to cliche. None of that “I can’t hear you” schtick with the audience. None of that “they told us Niagara Falls really knows how to rock” nonsense. Instead, they told us of the stories behind their songs. And they told us why they matter.

In essence, The Zombies concert was an articulate, and ultimately persuasive, plea for inclusion in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. This was evident at the start when they were introduced as “Rock and Roll Hall of Fame nominees, The Zombies!” Now, my wife saw Chic in Singapore last November. They sure as hell weren’t introduced as “ten time Rock Hall nominees– Chic!” And most of Argent’s and Blunstone’s stories were keen to name-drop, pointing out people who had covered their material, or credited them as an influence, or who opined a favorable view of their music. During the show, they referenced Tom Petty, Dave Grohl, KISS, The Jam, Paul McCartney, Patti Labelle, and countless others. And they even stressed  how many indie artists credited them as an influence- and this is to an audience whose median age was probably in the early 60s, and whose demographics are not very indie-friendly. (I hasten to add that there were lots of under-40s there too, suggesting how well The Zombies have aged. Many of them were quite evidently admiring musicians.)

Essentially, The Zombies are one of the only artists from the 60s not in the Hall of Fame who really deserve to be there. They are on the Rock Hall’s radar, too. The band was nominated for the Class of 2014, perhaps partly on the back of an open letter they had written about how much they enjoyed their visit to the Rock Hall. Unfortunately, they didn’t get in– they were up against the most competitive ballot any of have seen for a long time, including Nirvana, Peter Gabriel, Yes, NWA, Linda Ronstadt, and KISS, among others. And I’m on record as a big fan and advocate of theirs: they were among my higher ranking Rock Hall Prospects when I explored worthy future additions to the Rock Hall.

This is all the more remarkable, given the band’s fairly limited output during their heyday. In their 60s’ prime, they only recorded one true studio album- their swansong, Odessey and Oracle. (Their other album, Begin Here, was essentially a compendium of singles and EP material, the Zombies equivalent of A Collection of Beatles Oldies.) That album happened to be one of the greats, one of Rolling Stone‘s 100 greatest albums actually. But their ticket was punched, historically, by the sheer volume of artists who were influenced by them. That, I think, is what elevates The Zombies beyond most of their British Invasion contemporaries like The Hollies or Herman’s Hermits or Gerry & the Pacemakers. Remember, The Zombies recorded the moody “She’s Not There” on the cusp of age 20, in 1964–when The Beatles were still recorded pop bonbons like “Eight Days A Week” and “Can’t Buy Me Love.” Instead, The Zombies experimented with minor keys, unusual modulations, and eventually psychedelic dreamscapes.

In the process, their inventiveness in the studio and jazzy psychedelia inspired their contemporaries, but eventually they became something of a grandfather to indie music. (Odessey and Oracle sold so poorly at first that it became the ultimate “I had this album before it was cool” record.) Charles Crossley, Jr., a Rock Hall watcher given to exhaustive research and record-keeping, lists the following artists as those who were inspired by The Zombies, or covered their songs, or collaborated with them in some way: Argent and Colin Blunstone, of course, as well as the Ventures, Love, Santana, the Bee Gees, Genesis, Electric Light Orchestra, Badfinger, Dinosaur Jr., Todd Rundgren, XTC, Matthew Sweet, Crowded House, the Beau Brummels, Procol Harum, Alan Parsons Project, Yo La Tengo, Eminem, the Monkees, the Modern Lovers, Dave Matthews Band, Sonny & Cher, Jonathan Richman, the Smithereens, the Left Banke, Aimee Mann, America, Dwight Twilley, DJ Shadow, the Shadows Of Knight, Belle & Sebastian, 10cc, the Posies, Gentle Giant, Vanilla Fudge, Supertramp, Family, Let’s Active, Boo Radleys, My Morning Jacket, the Youngbloods, Elliott Smith, the New Pornographers, the Beautiful South, the Shins, Ron Sexsmith, Spoon, Sufjan Stevens, Emitt Rhodes, Television Personalities, the Electric Prunes, Foo Fighters, 3rd Bass, Super Furry Animals, Eric Matthews, People, Game Theory, Smith, People, Strawberry Alarm Clock, Apples In Stereo, Neutral Milk Hotel, Juice Newton, the Young Fresh Fellows, Kid Frost, Miguel, the Nylons, Superdrag, Neko Case and Nick Cave (duet), OK Go, Os Mutantes, Joe Byrd & The Field Hippies, Jellyfish, the Sea And Cake, Deerhoof, Olivia Tremor Control, Beulah, the Fastbacks, the La’s, Blue Ash, the Clean, Michael Penn, Malcolm McLaren, the Explorers Club, Kurt Elling, Roy Wood of the Move, Robyn Hitchcock of the Soft Boys, Susannah Hoffs of the Bangles, Sneakers, Brent Bourgeois of Burgeois-Tagg, Blake Lewis and Girl Talk, among many others.

That’s quite the legacy, isn’t it? Again- note the indie angle between Yo La Tengo, New Pornographers, Belle & Sebastian, Elliott Smith, Neutral Milk Hotel, and many more. Yet, they also inspired rockers as diverse as Todd Rundgren to Santana. The Zombies, in their brief run, showed us all the possibilities when you marry atmosphere to melodicism. Their songs’ jazzy timing and unconventional keys made a group of musicians initially dismissed as stiff mods deserving of a second look. And a third look. Until they became a rare creature, indeed: a band the wider public is aware of, but whose work is well loved and a shared common currency among musicians. In the end, The Zombies punched above their weight, and mattered in the long run more than most of their contemporaries. With any luck the Rock Hall will grant this St. Albans band their wish, and let them into their halls. This will be their year. Took a long time to come.

Greetings, Northumbrians! It has been a good long while since I blogged about Rock Hall matters- in fact, I’ve been radio-silent on this topic since I finished up my Top 100 Rock Hall prospects series almost two months ago.

In that time, we’ve certainly seen some fascinating developments in the world of Rock Hall news, much of it around the Class of 2016. We had a possible Chicago reunion with Peter Cetera implode at the eleventh hour over an apparent disagreement over the key in which “25 Or 6 To 4” ought to be played. N.W.A. suddenly revealed that they weren’t going to perform at the ceremony within the last 72 hours. Deep Purple just couldn’t resolve decades-long feuds with multiple band members. And Steve Miller, belying his easygoing psychedelic blues rock, stopped being polite and started getting real, dismissing his handlers and “going rogue” about his bad experiences with the Rock Hall. In my judgment, this was justifiably so. The rest of his band wasn’t honored, he was inducted by The Black Keys who he hadn’t even met prior to the rehearsals for the show, and he felt slighted by being given only 2 tickets for the ceremony. If his kids wanted to attend, Miller would have to fork out hundreds of dollars to get them a spot at his stage-side table. Miller aired his grievances even further by decrying the lack of women in the Rock Hall. While he’s right, The Black Keys were quick to point out that Miller had 40 years to put a woman in his eponymous band and failed to do so. Cheap Trick was the only inductee that didn’t screw it up, both reuniting and performing ably to close out the show.

After a successful ceremony for 2014 (highlighted by Hervana) and 2015 (which pulled off a quasi-Beatles reunion), 2016 was the Franklin Pierce of Rock Hall induction ceremonies: a certifiable near-failure. In the end, the 2016 ceremony was a set of lost opportunities that exposed a number of cracks in the Rock Hall’s facade. It seemed everybody came out of the experience unhappy. Artists like Miller felt slighted. Critics- myself included- were shocked by the sausage-fest the ceremony became. Having an all-male class might be an accident, but having all-male presenters too was pure mismanagement. Classic rock purists, who should have been gratified by 4 artists tailor-made for their tastes, still complained about NWA’s induction. Even the induction of Bert Burns under the Musical Excellence banner seemed sketchy because Little Stevie was bankrolling a musical about his life. It’s a small wonder that even  Jann Werner didn’t bother showing up. To get you up to speed, let me refer you to some people who have gotten the right idea: E-rockcracy nailed the issues at stake while Philip at Rock Hall Monitors diagnoses the problem and advocates some ideas to fix the Rock Hall.

The problem is that I don’t see a way to go forward. If the Rock Hall can be accused of elitism and aloofness, it’s not like the wider public is any better. To the contrary, their tastes are worse. This year’s vote showed, if nothing else, that if you put a 70s classic rocker on the ballot, they will get in, no matter how dubious their qualifications. (This, by the way, is why I generally oppose inducting backing groups and ancillary members in most circumstances. The last thing we need is more random Belmonts, Wings, Silver Bullets, or 80s touring members of Chicago or Deep Purple further compromising the quality control on the Voting Committee. They’ll just stack the deck even further in favor of Classic Rock.) Indeed, the classic rock-voting robots even manipulated the online vote this year.

Worse, I don’t really have any good solutions. We are stuck in an era of transition for rock and roll, between a popular medium and a high art. I’m reminded of a book I read for my doctoral exams: Highbrow/Lowbrow: the Emergence of Cultural Hierarchy in America.  Originally, something like Shakespeare was written and originally performed as “low art”- culturally accessible and consumed by ordinary individuals. But over the course of time, it became a scholarly province, as reading Shakespeare became incorporated into middle-class ideals of “the good life,” and became classic literature. In the process, Shakespeare was immortalized, but forever lost some of its coarseness and crudeness from when shabby groundlings took over the cheap seats and heckled performers. It’s a bit like that: rock and roll was a popular medium, and it’s a common critique to say that a Hall of Fame belies its very purpose. But without anybody really intending it to, it became a fine art, one analyzed by cultural critics and academics, and one for whom the passage of time negates its original crudeness and earthy texture. Elvis and Little Richard are hardly risqué by today’s standards.

As a result, for all the criticism lobbed at the Rock Hall, I’m sympathetic to its plight, to a certain extent. Like it or not, rock and roll overachieved into a cultural force, and with that evolution comes the need for a canon, and a swarm of experts to determine what is or is not “classic” or “great” about it. It riles everyday fans who were present at the creation, who got stoned in their Chevy and then went to a Grand Funk Railroad concert in ’73, to see artists they love picked apart and sometimes dismissed. And it irks the critic and the scholar to see schlubs with terrible taste complain about Styx not being in the Hall when innovators and conscientious musicians like Chic and Kraftwerk and Nine Inch Nails are still on the outside looking in. The critic is horrified that this year had zero female inductees, and nobody from the soul or R&B family. The classic rocker insists that this is mere affirmative action, PC run amok. A truly revolutionary group- NWA- is honored and wants to perform a song called “F— Tha Police” but the ceremony is in a massive arena that probably requires a police security presence. We’re at an impasse between expert and everyman, insider and outsider, and this year’s ceremony revealed that tug of war better than most.

Where does the Rock Hall go from here, then? If I had to impose one suggestion on the chaos, it’s to resolve the problem of age. Frankly, the 1980s and 1990s are hard done by, and the quorum of 70+ year old white men on the Nom Com and the voting committee is partly to blame. Get younger voices. Get more minority voices. Get female voices. Get underground voices. Get Jessica Harper on the Nom Com. Or Steven Hyden. Or an academic like Princeton’s Daphne Brooks, who understands what’s at stake. Rock and roll is big, and beautiful, and broad– a tree with many roots and many branches. The group that puts the ballot together- and the people who vote on the ballot- should reflect this.

And I think, in the pit of Joel Peresman, Dave Marsh, and Jann Werner’s stomachs, they know this is true. For this reason, I think that for the Class of 2017, they will probably go in a very different direction, even if they don’t make any real changes on the nominating committee or the voting committee. In fact, I don’t think there will even be a single act that fits the narrowest definition of 70s classic rock, since they had their chance to shine this year. It’s going to look an awful lot like the ballot for the Class of 2015.

So, while I’m far from making my official predictions for the Oct. 2016 ballot for the Class of 2017, I think it might look something like this: Pearl Jam. Tupac. Nine Inch Nails. The Smiths. Chaka Khan. The Commodores. A Tribe Called Quest. Kraftwerk. Sting. Willie Nelson. Nina Simone. Eurythmics. Chic. Johnny Winter. The Shangri-Las. Two first-year eligibles, six returning nominees, and seven snubs. That’s a stretch. Few ballots have had as many new faces. But there’s never been a better time to untie some knots, open the windows to fresh air, and challenge insider and outsider alike to wonder: what is great rock and roll music?


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 187 other followers