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Rock Hall Roundtable I

Earlier this month, I had the honor of convening the first in what I hope will be a regular feature on the Northumbrian Countdown. I gathered some of the most insightful Rock Hall bloggers, tweeters, and podcasters to hash out the 2019 ballot, and where the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame needs to go from here. This particular edition includes Joe Kwaczala of the Who Cares About the Rock Hall? podcast, Nick Bambach of the Celluloid & Records Repository, Michelle Bourg of the Iconic Rock Talk Show, Donnie Durham, and myself. Of course, there’s no shortage of other experts like Philip from Rock Hall Monitors, Tom Lane, Charles Crossley, and many others, and I hope we’ll get to benefit from their insights in future editions.

Alex: Well, let me thank you all for participating in the first-ever Rock Hall roundtable.

Michelle: Thanks for having it!

Nick: Thanks Alex!

Donnie: Thanks for inviting me to be a part.

Alex: Maybe we could just start off with a brief introduction of who we are, and what drew us to the Rock Hall?

Nick: My name is Nick and I have been interested in the HOF for 6 years or so. I knew about it my whole life and of its existence, but given it little thought I begun seriously reading/writing about the HOF since the 2013 ceremony (when Donna Summer and Public Enemy were inducted).

Alex: I’m a historian who teaches for an American university in Singapore. From upstate New York– grew up in the Adirondacks, and live in Rochester, NY when I’m home. Essentially, I found the Rock Hall by…hating it, I guess! I was a big Chicago fan when I was in high school, and I couldn’t understand how a group that was so manifestly amazing to me kept not getting in. But eventually, I discovered Future Rock Legends, and got into looking at the nominees, and the processes in a more nuanced and less fan boyish way.

Nick: FRL was my discovery to seriously discussing the HOF as well.

Donnie: My name is Donnie. I first came to know of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1997, when they did a traveling tour, and there was some memorabilia of that year’s inductees at my mall. That was around the same time when I started listening to classic rock radio regularly which started my heavy interest/obsession with music and music history. Within a few years I found chat boards about the Rock Hall and started following it from then on. I found the Future Rock Legends site around 2009 ish, and that’s when I started discussing the Rock Hall more with fellow music fans. I also began watching the Rock Hall ceremonies on VH1 when they aired (back when VH1 was awesome in the late 90’s/early 00’s. I believe the first ceremony I saw was the 1999 one. And I also attened the Rock Hall for the first time in 2001 with my Dad.

Michelle: I’m in Atlanta, grew up in Iowa. I think I also started following the Hall back in 2013 or early 2014. I’m an adult onset Cars fan, and I was trying to figure out how to help get them in; discovered it’s just an endlessly fascinating/maddening topic. Rock Hall Monitors was the first site I found, FRL after that. My first Hall visit was in ’99-I remember the dark, silent plaque room at the top of the pyramid. It was deserted.

Joe: I’m Joe Kwaczala. I’m a stand-up comedian and writer in Los Angeles but originally from Pittsburgh. I’m a big music fan and oddly enough, a list fan, so the Hall and the inductions grabbed my interest at an early age. I’ve been watching the induction ceremonies and having varying degrees of “paying attention” and “following it” since the 2001 ceremony. I started to get more deeply back into it around 2014 and now I host a podcast called “Who Cares About the Rock Hall?” where I discuss it in-depth on a weekly basis.

Donnie: It seems like 2013/2014 was the turning point for most here on the roundtable as far as following the Hall at a serious level.

Alex: Yeah, let me just take this time to say, Joe, that your podcast has fundamentally changed the game. I learned more about “the room where it happens” from the work you’ve done than I have in the last several years on my own.

Nick: A lot of it started with the debate with my father about why Public Enemy should in the HOF and I think hip-hop should definitely belong in the HOF. He had no problems with Donna Summer because that was part of his generation though.

Donnie: Yes Joe, your podcast has changed the game of Rock Hall fandom and information for sure.

Michelle: Definitely – the most recent one had some excellent insights into fandom and the Hall for people of color; I’d love to ask him some more questions about that.

Joe: Let’s be clear: I am nothing if not a true game-changer

Alex: Maybe we could start by just offering our quick hot takes on the 2019 ballot. Most of us have had an opportunity to do so in our own blogs or other forums, but what are your thoughts?

Nick: 2019 is a step in the right direction. I think there’s more of an emphasis on post-1980s bands and bands that influenced the 80s/90s (Roxy Music, Kraftwerk especially). I wish there were more women and people of color. It’s great to Janet back on the ballot and hopefully this is her year. Happy to see The Cure back on the ballot and excited to see they’re in the top five of the fan vote.

Joe: Thank you for the kind words, everyone. And I agree that our most recent guest, Gerrick Kennedy, should have a ballot, given that he’s an extremely-informed music journalist for a major newspaper, who also happens to be young and diverse (something the Hall is apparently trying to include more of within the voting ranks)

Donnie: As for my general thoughts on the Rock Hall ballot this year, I like that they went back down to 15 nominees. I think that makes for better chances of the nominees to be inducted, and the list isn’t as cluttered and bloated. Also if you’re gonna have 5-6 inductees, 19 nominees is just way too much as a counter to that, IMO.

Nick: And 19 is such a weird number.

Alex: Yeah, I think backing off the classic rock by a few notches was a good choice. It’s still likely that we’ll have a class that is heavy in that genre anyway, but as a ballot of 15 acts? Solid.

Donnie: I’m pretty happy for everyone on the ballot. Devo and Todd Rundgren were particular happy surprises for me as I think Devo is a pretty overlooked band, while Rundgren is a “Renaissance” type of musical artist in that he can do it all. Obviously stoked to see Janet and Kraftwerk return to the ballot. The only weak points I feel are Stevie Nicks and John Prine. Although I get why both are on the ballot.

Alex: Nick is right, though…my sense is that they stacked the deck to get Janet and Stevie a path in, but it shouldn’t take these machinations to create a diverse class.

Nick: Definitely a solid ballot; more of a ‘critic’s’ ballot, not populist as in the last half-decade or so. There are no guarantees/slam dunks on this list. Very exciting since the last few have been so predictable.

Donnie: Well with the way the voting body is now, thats unfortunately how it is until changes are made.

Michelle: This ballot could serve as a bellwether for the future: the NomCom looks to be actively trying to make a move and have crafted a ballot to do that while still having to serve the corporate overlords with the Def Lep inclusion. The HOF is being hoisted on its own petard w/the “voting by peers” concept: artists can be as provincial as fans can be (You all saw Nick’s encounter w/Terry Sylvester?), so they’re having to do some scrambling before they lose all relevance. They’ve built in a fail-safe in that they don’t audit the results, though.

Donnie: I forgot about Def Leppard. Sorry to everyone here, but I’m ecstatic to see they’re on the ballot and they should’ve been inducted long before Bon Jovi.

Alex: Right– literally the 7th most important Hollie has a ballot and ain’t voting for anyone who recorded after the mid-70s.

Nick: Who would’ve thought I’d ruffle some feathers with a HOFer thou lol? I stand by my viewpoint and think his comments should be questioned, confronted and critiqued.

Joe: I really like this ballot. A good mix of deserving returning artists and “long-time-coming” new ones. Glad the number is down to 15. Mostly I’m very glad we don’t have some of those classic rock acts that have been dominating the inductions of the most recent years. Not to say bands like Jethro Tull or The Doobie Brothers aren’t deserving, but I think after the years we’ve just had, there’s no rush with them. We played catch up in that category– let’s do the same in other genres that have been passed over.

Donnie: Agreed. That’s a major problem with the voting process.

Alex: Well, let’s talk about it– maybe the weirdest thing about the ballot is its awkward mix of super-populist (Def Leppard, Stevie) with critics’ favorites like MC5 and Kraftwerk. So– Def Leppard….deserving or not? Donnie’s a yes, I’m a firm no.

Donnie: I’m a firm yes on Def Leppard! I’ll let everyone state their thoughts before I’ll defend my stance on them.

Joe: I think Def Leppard is very deserving! We’ll probably be doing an episode soon, but if you look at my categories: Pyromania and Hysteria are two MONUMENTAL albums. Both made RS’s 500 (although Pyromania dropped off when they redid it in 2012.) Tons of recognizable songs– with great riffs, if I may add. The late Steve Clark was a genius at that kind of thing. Hugely popular. Relevant for over a decade. I think they were influential, although that influence has probably waned. My mom knows them.

Michelle: Agree completely Nick. I like Def Leppard, but I don’t see how music is different because of them.

Nick: They are part of the ‘Fame’ aspect of the HOF. Popularity and commercial success is definitely a factor in Def Leppard’s candidacy. 2 Diamond-selling records in the 80s warrants their place on the ballot. Add some arena anthems and they are probably the only lock from this year’s ballot. If Bon Jovi got in, why not Def Leppard?

Donnie: My viewpoint on what the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and any HOF for that matter, is that it needs to tell the entire story of it’s subject based on it’s inductions. Meaning the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame needs to represent all styles, eras and trends of rock music’s history. And that includes hair metal which was one of the defining genres of the 1980’s music scene, like it or not. And Def Leppard is the band that really kickstarted that whole era. Pyromania breaking through on MTV and the pop charts in 1983 kickstarted metal (for that time)’s rise to the pop charts. In their wake Motley Crue broke through, Quiet Riot, Twisted Sister, Ratt, Poison and Bon Jovi became hugely successful acts. And while all of that was going on, Def Leppard remained the biggest act of that style and in that era.

Nick: I’m not a big DL fan but I can see why they warrant serious consideration. But I fear what will come in the wake of a DL induction.

Michelle: Excellent points

Joe: Anything bad that comes in the wake of a Def Leppard induction is already happening in the wake of a Bon Jovi induction

Michelle: True that, Joe.

Nick: Bon Jovi’s induction can summed up in one of their best-known songs: Bad Medicine. It isn’t what we need for the HOF.

Alex: right…my one big problem last year was “now that Bon Jovi kicked that door open, who follows”? So– we seem to think Def Leppard is a lock (I agree with that)– best guesses for…let’s say a 5-artist class?

Joe: I think that it will be a six artist class this year, but if I have to pick just five, I’m going with Def Leppard, Stevie Nicks, Todd Rundgren, Radiohead, and Janet Jackson. My sixth (which should maybe be in the five) is The Zombies

Alex: Working on the assumption that even hall of fame voters don’t know who is or isn’t already in the hall, Stevie stands out. My best guess is Stevie, Def Leppard, Janet, Todd Rundgren, and Radiohead. Hey- we match, Joe! And I’d also have the Zombies pegged at #6. They are doing well in the fan vote, and who are those rogue Vandellas and Ventures going to vote for?

Donnie: You know what? I actually think Todd Rundgren is the biggest lock of the class. [He] is critically acclaimed, has produced and worked with many Hall of Famers, is among the top 5 in the Fan Vote, and is one of the few “classic rock” acts on the ballot. I see a good portion of the voting body, both the artists and current HOFers and critics/writers voting for him.

Nick: Janet Jackson, Roxy Music, Stevie Nicks, Def Leppard and The Zombies (LL Cool J for the 6th spot).

Joe: I hope we’re not being too optimistic (no pun intended) with Radiohead and Janet!

Alex: wow– predicting a second Radiohead snub, Nick!

Michelle: Hmmm…Def Lep, Stevie, Janet, Zombies, Radiohead. I could see Todd getting an Excellence nod. I guess I’m afraid to think one of my fave artists could be an FYE, LOL

Donnie: I really don’t see why everyone thinks Todd is going to get a Musical Excellence award. Enough people will vote for him straight away.

Joe: I mean if Radiohead got snubbed already, why couldn’t it happen again? I guess the other line of thinking is maybe people last year thought they were a lock so didn’t vote for them but definitely will this time.

Nick: I feel that Rundgren might get lost in the shuffle and plus he’s fought with a lot of musicians in the past. It could come down to pettiness. He’s not as much of a lock as I thought 3 weeks ago

Michelle: You’re probably right…maybe support for Radiohead is as soft as it looks in the fan vote. If the Hall wants a “water cooler moment” Janet can provide that for sure, and Beyoncé is just one of many names who’d line up to induct her.

Donnie: Look at the trends of the Voting Body the last few years, rock artists from the late 60’s, 70’s, early 80’s mostly get voted in. Todd is one of the few artists from that era on the ballot.

Nick: I think Roxy Music has a far better shot this year. Brian Eno and Bryan Ferry are very well known and they are much respected. More so than any artist this year, I’ve seen more support for Roxy Music. They are a sleeper pick, for sure.

Joe: Also, I brought up Roxy Music to Seymour Stein, Bob Merlis, and Andy Paley, and they were not very responsive. Then I think Bob said “What about Slade?” and then we moved on.

Michelle: Their response on the podcast to Roxy and the Pixies shocked me

Alex: Well, on that line, any ideas for special categories this year? I know Questlove is trying to get Don Cornelius in as a non-performer.

Donnie: I have plenty of ideas for Early Influences, but whether the Hall will actually use that category this year, is doubtful.

Nick: Someone NYC based. Rick Rubin if LL Cool J doesn’t get in.

Joe: Maybe some of those old names Seymour Stein brought up like The Clovers or Ivory Joe Hunter? Not likely but we know they’re in the mix with his backing

Nick: I don’t think there will be an EIs this year

Donnie: I think it’d be pretty cool for Janet to get inducted as a Performer, and then same year they induct Terry Lewis and Jimmy Jam in the Non-Performers

Joe: If it’s Burt Bacharach, I’m taking full credit

Nick: Jimmy Iovine would be good too (Stevie Nicks connection). Plus have Dr. Dre induct him.

Donnie: But when it comes to the side categories, anyone after 1980 is pretty much a no-go for the Hall.

Alex: I still think Willie Nelson as Musical Excellence would be a great way to honor a good artist and gin up some ratings– but he could easily get into the Hall the old fashioned way if only they nominate him.

Donnie: I’d love to see the Clovers and Ivory Joe Hunter go in as Early Influences, in addition to Roy Brown, Wynonie Harris, Amos Milburn, Big Mama Thornton, etc.

Alex: Big Mama. Absolutely.

Joe: I also discussed with those guys Carol Kaye (oddly not much of a response) and then they brought up Glen Campbell (pretty good pick!)

Nick: Kaye’s omission is a travesty

Donnie: I’m pretty annoyed at how inconsistent the side categories have been for the Hall over the last 15 years. There’s so many names for the Non-Performers, Early Influences and Sidemen/Musical Excellence, it’s ridiculous.

Alex: one side thing I wondered if we could discuss– given Joe’s love of the Cure– when are we going to see those 80s alternative acts finally break the logjam. I think we all agree on the general worthiness of Depeche Mode, The Smiths, The Cure and others…when will we start seeing acts like that get in?

Joe: It’s happening soon. The Cure is going to get close and maybe even has an outside chance of getting inducted this year. The path is being cleared.

Donnie: I think it will be either the Cure or Depeche Mode that breaks the logjam

Nick: I thought the Eurythmics would be the first

Donnie: In Depeche Mode’s case there’s a lot of HOFers on the hard rock side that like them. Which I was very sad to see them not get in. They were the first group I ever really liked, so I have a soft spot for them to this day.

Nick: At this point, probably the Cure. I love DM so much and I think they would be in the top five on the fan ballot this year if nominated again.

Joe: They’re doing very well in the fan vote!

Alex: The Cure certainly have the “time and place” factor going for them. And they certainly burned fewer bridges than various members of the Smiths.

Michelle: Love DM…they should be in, but WHY THE HELL CAN’T KRAFTWERK GET ANY LOVE??? Can’t say I’m a fan, but I know they may have more influence than anyone else on that ballot.

Nick: Kraftwerk should get in too. It’s maddening their not in already.

Alex: Kraftwerk is probably the single most deserving snub.

Donnie: I have hardcore love for Kraftwerk, and they’re the most important band in music history not yet in the HOF. Unfortunately their importance on music is mostly on modern music, which most of the Voting Committee could care less about, so they don’t get the votes. Look at people like Terry Sylvester. You got plenty of voters that don’t think anything after 1970 mattered and Kraftwerk’s music is so imprinted on all aspects of modern music, so the old fuddy-duddies on the Voting Committee just don’t see how groundbreaking, innovative, and important Kraftwerk are.

Alex: So– trim down the voting rolls. .

Joe: I have been told they are actively trying to make the voting body younger and more diverse!

Nick: I think we can also diagnose it as the ‘Little Steven’ problem too. Only 60s/70s artists aka his generation.

Michelle: Trim the voting rolls or add category choices like Tom Lane’s Veterans Committee.

Donnie: Their influence was massive on 80’s music, then in the 90’s more traditional music came in vogue (from an instrumentation perspective) so it seems like their music (electronic) would be an 80’s fad, then as the 2000’s and 2010’s came along everything became electronic-based. Now Kraftwerk is the most important act ever on modern music.

Joe: Kraftwerk is going to either have to wait a long time or be on a “weak” ballot

Nick: Part of Kraftwerk’s problem is history: voters have to remember this was groundbreaking in the early 70s. We take them for granted.

Donnie: But again, most of the Voting Body hasn’t listened to anything new since the 90’s, so to them Kraftwerk’s style was a fad or irrelevant.

Michelle: I’ve heard they’re trying to quietly modernize the voters too…but they’ll still publicly say it’s “peers” because it looks better. For once the lack of transparency could be a good thing if they’re using the power for good.

Donnie: I don’t think that’s the issue Nick. A lot of the voting committee is so old they don’t even care about Kraftwerk’s impact.

Alex: well…I hate to cut things short, but it’s 1 am here in southeast Asia and I have a class to teach at 8:30 in the morning– I wonder if we might conclude with some brief thoughts on where we want the Rock Hall to go in the next few years and call it a successful roundtable?

Nick: More women, Alternative artists, people of color and most importantly less classic rock. And more R&B and Soul.

Donnie: I would like to see the Hall finally break through and induct more 70’s/80’s R&B and 80’s/90’s music in general. However I don’t want them to shut the door on the 60’s and classic rock music. I think 1-2 60’s/70’s rock acts with 3-4 modern acts would be a good balance.

Alex: to answer my own question, I think they’ll have to figure out how to balance populism with its mission to commemorate and curate history without going too far either way.

Michelle: More women, people of colors (with POCs repped in Hall management), a move into alternative rock (although as a Boomer, I hold there are a few from my era that still deserve), a nod to worthy metal acts and more non-performers.

Donnie: But it’s time for the Hall to start moving forwards on the 80’s and 90’s. Just don’t forget The Monkees, the Zombies, T. Rex, Jethro Tull, the Doobie Brothers, Bad Company, and Pat Benatar.

Joe: In conclusion, excited to see if the Hall goes down the path that this ballot seems to indicate. I bet it will but I also bet we’re looking at least one Foreigner or other classic rock band every year until climate change kills us all. Hope we creep into the modern era more and see a more diverse array of artists!

 

 

 

 

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October 9th was a good day. I was able to get some work done at home, having only one afternoon class to teach, came home to a lovely dinner, watched the season premier of Doctor Who, and when this was over, I was able to check out the Rock Hall nominees for the Class of 2019. (Remember, I live in Singapore, so the reveal happened at night for me.)

Wow. Interesting group. A few things stand out:

  • My idea that the recent exhibition of rock and roll on television would influence the nominees turned out to be dead wrong. In fact, hardly any of them have a truly iconic music video or television presence- maybe with the exception of Devo. That thinking led me to predict Duran Duran and Eurythmics, and even made me consider a last minute switch to The Monkees. Nope.
  • Personally? I see lots of deserving acts, but only one (The Zombies) that I am actively crazy about. Spinners, Carole King, Weird Al, A Tribe Called Quest, Pat Benatar, and other worthies would have been more my speed, but it’s not the Hall’s job to make me happy.
  • Only 15 nominees, many of which are returnees. It reminds me of the economy of the Class of 2015 ballot in some ways.
  • Overall, it’s a strong group of artists that the Nominating Committee put forward. But there’s not a lot of women (two solo artists plus Chaka Khan), nor a lot of artists of color (just LL Cool J, Janet, Morello, and various members of Rufus.)
  • They pulled back a bit from classic rock. It’s still theoretically possible- maybe even likely- to have a classic rock heavy class (Nicks, Rundgren, Zombies, Def Leppard), but I don’t feel like I’ve been concussed by a 1970s AM/FM transistor radio from Montgomery Ward.
  • In terms of surprising absences: Basically no pre-disco R&B, which might be a first for the hall. A lot of us predicted the Doobie Brothers- Irving Azoff didn’t seem to deliver the goods for them this year. Bad Company was another group that others- though not myself- predicted. Apparently, people extrapolated way too much from one photo with Miami Steve.

So having focused on what didn’t happen, let’s turn our attention to what did. As is tradition, I’m going to rank the 15 nominees three ways: their worthiness of induction, their likelihood of induction, and my own personal preference— essentially, who would I most want to listen to for a half hour?

The Cure (Worthiness: 5, Likelihood: 10, Preference: 3). I predicted them in earlier years due to their close association with teenage misery and their successful touring, but The Cure’s long-awaited reappearance on the ballot ended happening this time around, when I didn’t pick them. The Cure may have been more of a…um…curiosity when they first showed up for the Class of 2012 ballot. Since then, other alternative acts like Smiths, Replacements, Depeche Mode and Jane’s Addiction have come and gone, with none of them seeming to catch fire with voters. Alas! The paucity of Gen X inductees and voters is likely to doom their chances. They are one of the more deserving acts on the ballot, but I’ve got to assume that 80s alternative acts won’t make it, although they currently sit at third place in the fan vote. And geez…this year’s slate is so out of synch with my own tastes that The Cure is my third favorite– and I don’t even like The Cure!

Def Leppard (Worthiness: 15, Likelihood: 5, Preference: 13). Well, here’s our populist pick. They placed second in the kiosks at the Cleveland museum. Does performing well here automatically equate to a spot on the ballot? Or maybe it guarantees your name will be brought up? Who knows. Anyway, we have here the logical extension of inducting Bon Jovi last year– long on hair, short on impact. Bon Jovi at least had “voice of a generation” credentials and were more clearly evocative of a time and place. Def Leppard doesn’t quite have those qualities. While popular with audiences and a big draw, they lack a truly iconic song like “Livin’ on a Prayer” and they are a notch or two heavier than Bon Jovi, and heavier acts usually have a difficult time. If Judas Priest got a pitifully low number of votes and it took Deep Purple three tries to get in, we can’t treat Def Leppard as a sure thing.

Devo (Worthiness: 9, Likelihood: 8, Preference: 14). An ersatz group that looked toward posthumanism, Devo is an important band: new wave with a philosophical axe to grind. Elie Attie of the Washington Post nails it when she says this about their bloodless, synthetic, almost intentionally bad cover of the teenage anthem “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction”: “it can be seen as a turning point in rock: the moment earnestness melted into irony, the moment that swagger turned to self-consciousness and scrutiny.” I will say this- their pessimism about the state of humanity turned out to be prophetic. This is a long-deserved nomination, but I hope they get in during a year when the ceremony is held in their native Ohio.

Janet Jackson (Worthiness: 2, Likelihood: 2, Preference: 9). After a bizarre absence last year, Janet’s back! Having earned a raft of honors in the past year, and having the hypocritical vindictiveness of Les Moonves brought to light, she’s never had a better chance to get in. This would be a crowning achievement to Janet’s year of redemption, and it would guarantee the hall a show-stopping act that could help sell out the Barclays Center. Janet had an insane amount of hits, helped popularize new jack swing, and inspired a generation of R&B artists that came after her. For God’s sake, put her in.

John Prine (Worthiness: 13, Likelihood: 12, Preference: 4). I was only barely aware of Prine when the announcement of his nomination was made. And thus it was that I spent the following 48 hours listening to his back catalog on repeat. In the past, I arrogantly dismissed artists as unworthy if I wasn’t already familiar with them– after all, if I hadn’t heard of them, how good could they be? And so I dismissed, say, Link Wray or the Meters or the JBs. So I gave John Prine a shot– and I’m so glad he did. He is wry, heartfelt, funny, and poignant all at once. My respect for him grew exponentially– but I don’t think he has quite the iconic stature that merits a Rock Hall induction given other artists in his wheelhouse who aren’t in yet. I mean, why John Prine and not Willie Nelson? Or Gram Parsons again? Or Kristofferson? Prine’s a very compelling artist, but this is a bit too “critic’s choice” for me. While voters seem to like singer-songwriters, Prine might be a little too elliptical and a little too obscure to make it over the hump.

Kraftwerk (Worthiness: 1, Likelihood: 14, Preference: 5). I was in Melbourne, Australia with my wife and on the first full day of our visit, we ended up on the top of a rooftop bar, ordering veggie burgers and fruity drinks, looking out at the expanse of the city before us on a new continent- a new hemisphere for me. As the sun was setting, the deejay played “Autobahn” in its entirety. And it was magical. Look- we’ve been here before. Kraftwerk is more or less responsible for electronic music as we know it today, viewing the medium as an expressive form that can be used to communicate, and not the synthetic bloodless thing that we often mistake it for. Music historians and journalists will continue to sing their praises. But the voting body will look elsewhere. Let’s move on.

L.L. Cool J (Worthiness: 4, Likelihood: 7, Preference: 12). I think the Hall made the right call: get the most prominent “classic” rapper in before moving on to Outkast, Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg, Ice Cube, De La Soul, and whoever else is on the docket. Don’t let his numerous failed nominations fool you: L.L. Cool J is a serious contender on any ballot he appears on. With fewer classic rock demi-gods up this year voters may instead go with big names in important genres– and it helps that he’s not up against anyone else in the world of hip-hop. I think he’s about 50-50 in terms of odds to get in this year– frankly, his best chance yet. If Tupac and NWA can get in, Cool J isn’t that much of a stretch.

MC5 (Worthiness: 10, Likelihood: 15, Preference: 10). Tom Morello’s hand can once again be seen in the reappearance of the Motor City Five. They were a key building block of what became punk, and their influence runs deep if you look at Rage and even 80s alternative acts like Sonic Youth. Having said that, if it took The Stooges eight tries to get in, it’s hard to imagine MC5 getting in on try #4. I must regretfully name them my least likely act to actually get inducted this year.

Radiohead (Worthiness: 3, Likelihood: 1, Preference: 7). After the salty exchanges between Radiohead and the Foundation last year, it sure looks like amends have been made. Radiohead has been christened as the most important band of the late nineties onward by the same intelligentsia at Rolling Stone magazine that puts this ballot together. I will be very surprised if they don’t get in this year– and if they don’t, I think we can rightly despair for the fate of 90s acts in general.

Rage Against the Machine (Worthiness: 6, Likelihood: 13, Preference: 11). Rage is back as well. The Who Cares About the Rock Hall podcast had a great tidbit about Tom Morello’s competitive nature– he wants to get in the Hall, and isn’t likely to recuse himself from the proceedings. Unfortunately for Morello, voters haven’t caught up to him. All but the very pinnacle of nineties acts are going to face headwinds- and even their biggest strength- their anti-neoliberal politics- is up against a lot of other acts with political carriage between Prine, Devo, and MC5.

Roxy Music (Worthiness: 8, Likelihood: 11, Preference: 15). Some considered Roxy Music the most important act that was never nominated. Well, they no longer have that distinction. This was probably the most random prediction I got right this year, but I still think they have a hard road to Brooklyn this year. Art rock is usually a tough sell, and while Brian Eno is very highly respected, he wasn’t quite as prominent in Roxy Music as he would become as an ambient composer and top-shelf producer.  I honestly think solo Brian Eno would have a better shot than Roxy Music. For whatever reason, I’ve found Roxy Music irritating and borderline-unlistenable, even as I acknowledge their expansive influence.

Rufus/Chaka Khan (Worthiness: 11, Likelihood: 9, Preference: 8). I knew it! Chaka Khan is the new Donna Summer. Showing up with Rufus for the third time, she has a clear and wide field as the only pre-80s R&B act on the ballot. She’s not competing with any Meters, Wars, Spinners, Joe Texes, JBs, or anything else. For this reason, I think Chaka Khan is the sleeper pick of this slate of nominees. While I don’t ultimately think she’ll get in this year, I wouldn’t be completely shocked if she did. It’s clear that she has a lot of industry respect, and I can’t help but wonder if the low level of black and female artists was designed partly to help out the odds for her.

Stevie Nicks (Worthiness: 14, Likelihood: 3, Preference: 6). Well, the public demanded it, and the rock hall listened. As it currently stands, Stevie is in a narrow lead in the fan vote. Just spitballing, but I’d think she keeps the lead- her people overlap with The Voice/American Idol voters who are used to these kinds of aggressive, long-haul voting campaigns. Hordes of Carrie Underwood and Taylor Swift devotees will be flocking to the polls. But the main question at hand: don’t people realize Stevie is already in with Fleetwood Mac? Those who realize this are probably not voting for her. Those who don’t probably are. If nothing else, Stevie’s fate on this ballot will give us an indication of how well voters actually know the Hall itself. Unfortunately, I don’t think her work outside of the Mac deserves a Rock Hall induction; Bella Donna is a solid album, but her solo oeuvre doesn’t take us anywhere that her material with Fleetwood didn’t do better. And I feel terrible for saying this because Stevie Nicks ’76 is one of my two celebrity crushes alongside Linda Ronstadt ’74 (I believe celebrity crushes should have vintages, like wine.) And I feel…well…crummy for finding Rumours-era Stevie so attractive while not thinking her artistic merit is good enough. Hmmm.. I need to do some thinking about this.

Todd Rundgren (Worthiness: 12, Likelihood: 4, Preference: 2): Rundgren’s worthiness is a little low because I’m not sure how to factor his various bands like Utopia and his work as a producer into this. I’m also a bit worried about Rundgren’s critical commentary about the Hall– are we heading into another Dire Straits situation? His social media has supported his nomination so far, so I suppose that is a good sign. Anyway, Rundgren is a rare outlying classic rock-era artist who really deserves to be in the hall in some format or other. And since voters like classic rockers (and first-time nominees!), and he’s doing well at the early stages of the fan vote, I don’t think it’s wrong to think he’s a favorite for induction. He is also one of only two acts on this list that I’ve seen live (as Rundgren was part of Ringo’s All Starr Band, which I saw in 2016).

The Zombies (Worthiness: 7, Likelihood: 6, Preference: 1). And now, my favorite act on the ballot, and my pet cause now that Chicago, Joan Baez, and Nina Simone are in: The Zombies! The last three times they were on the ballot, they had their work cut out for them. The ’14 ballot had lots of other compelling first-time nominees: Peter Gabriel, Linda Ronstadt, Hall and Oates, Link Wray, Nirvana. The ’17 ballot pitted them up against a similar-ish psychedelic band, Steppenwolf. And the ’18 ballot pitted them up against an even better, even more similar-ish psychedelic band, the Moody Blues. Well, The Zombies have cleared the field. They are the only artist on this entire damn ballot who had a hit before 1970. So- where are the various Vandellas, Hollies, Ventures, and so on going to turn to? My guess is their only real contemporaries. The Zombies have never had an outlook this bright in their previous three nominations, and I so, so hope that this is their year.

So- those are my overwrought, overlong thoughts on the Class of 2019 ballot. I think my seven most likely picks are the ones that will carry the day, but the ranks within those seven are very tentative. I still believe that five or six of the following seven–Radiohead, Stevie, Def Leppard, The Zombies, LL Cool J, Todd Rundgren, and Janet–will get in. For what it’s worth, my fan vote will usually consist of The Zombies, Kraftwerk, Janet Jackson, LL Cool J, and Radiohead. Hardest cut? The Cure. Easiest cut? Def Leppard.

All right, party people: what do you think of all this?

At last, friends, we reach the final installment of this series. My Beatles ranking has dragged on for over a year, but now the end is nigh. A great big thank you goes out to those who have followed this project and given me feedback, commentary, and helpful critiques along the way. I hope you find this to be a satisfying conclusion.

15. “We Can Work It Out” (single): A great meal is made up of contrasts of flavors and textures, and so too is great music. Even more than “A Day in the Life”, “Getting Better”, or any other song you can name, the McCartney sweetness and Lennon bitterness complement each other to their greatest effect here. McCartney’s cheery upbeat song might have been a somewhat feeble effort on its own, but then it’s complicated by a Lennon bridge, a small but noticeable tempo change, and even a time signature switch to waltz time. Add the harmonium and an atmosphere that is surely gallic but not gimmicky, and you have one of the band’s finest singles.

14. “Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown)” (Rubber Soul): This track changed what a rock and roll song could do. While Dylan had written about enchanting and enigmatic women before, Lennon combines it with his more melodic instincts. While Dylan’s work also attains a smug temperament that looks down on the women he writes about- especially if they should be so bold to have social pretensions- Lennon knows he’s been outmatched. It’s a better piece for the humility. Moreover, “Norwegian Wood” weds Merseyside to the burgeoning folk music, while also introducing the band’s fan base to the sitar for perhaps the first time. Even Beatles fans might have trouble acknowledging this song as one of the most important of its decade, but it is exact that. It’s true.

13. “Yesterday” (Help!): It’s in the running for the most well-known and well-loved Beatles track and rightly so. Bestowed upon Paul McCartney in a famous and oft-recounted dream, he’s also the sole Beatle performing on the track. I would argue that what makes this song great is its unexpected restraint. Rather than go full-on orchestra, George Martin economizes with a tight string quartet. Rather than wear his heart on his sleeve, McCartney’s vocal performance has surprising notes of wistfulness that keep “Yesterday” far away from an unwanted designation as a torch song. Compare this to its rough Rolling Stones analogue, “As Tears Go By”– a song drenched in strings and with a maudlin delivery unsuited for Mick Jagger’s strengths as a singer. I don’t mean to bash the band’s contemporaries in this post, but it goes to show that even their most talented rivals often failed to walk the elaborate tightrope of the Beatles’ craftsmanship.

12. “Golden Slumbers/Carry That Weight/The End” (Abbey Road): The thing about Side 2 of Abbey Road is that it’s a bunch of slapdash songs that nonetheless sound absolutely brilliant when strung together. George Martin pushed The Beatles to think in more ambitious terms for their final album and that encouragement is brought to its fruition here. A gentle lullaby transposed by McCartney segues into the anthemic “Carry That Weight” which in turn reprises some pieces of earlier tracks without seeming remotely forced (something nearly every concept album ever has tried and failed to do.) Then- all of a sudden, it’s “The End.” The end of the album. The end of The Beatles. The end of the Sixties. John, Paul, and George exchange guitar solos- something we’ve never heard on record before. Ringo gets a short but sweet drum solo. And it ends in an elegiac note- in the same way that a Shakespeare play might end in a thoughtful couplet- “and in the end the love you take is equal to the love you make.” Amazing.

11. “A Hard Day’s Night” (A Hard Day’s Night): It’s the chord that captured a zeitgeist. That opening strum of George Harrison’s 12-string guitar instantly evokes all that was Beatlemania. The screaming, the chasing, the youthful passion– and then to be followed up with urgently mature uptempo rock and roll. Unpeel the lyrics, and it’s clear that this is about a couple cohabiting, and without being raunchy, it’s the most sexually overt of the band’s singles with the possible exception of “Please Please Me.” And brilliantly, nobody was any the wiser. Lennon’s R&B training gives the slightest notes of Isley Brothers or Wilson Pickett in a track that is otherwise emblematic of the evolving Merseyside sound. Add a short but sweet McCartney middle-eight for that necessary contrast, and you have one of the most accomplished of the early Lennon-McCartney songs.

10. “Penny Lane” (Magical Mystery Tour): For years, this was one of my favorite tracks, and I even wrote a parody called “Charlemagne” when I was a teaching assistant for a course on the history of Western Civilization in college. Warm personal memories aside, “Penny Lane” gives us the fine-grained detail of nostalgia where “Strawberry Fields” gives us a hazy outline. For a song about lovingly familiar things, it succeeds because of its unexpected qualities: A piccolo trumpet solo that comes out of nowhere if you haven’t heard the song before. A chord sequence that shifts suddenly to become more dramatic and tense (“the fireman rushes in”). Its detail could be banal if it didn’t have an intriguing sense that all of this everyday life is performative- that one “feels as if” they are “in a play.” It sets the stage for Sgt. Pepper‘s stagecraft that shows everyday life as rich in the psychedelic.

9. “Come Together” (Abbey Road): For a song whose melody line and opening phrase were ripped off from Chuck Berry, it’s remarkable that there’s still nothing like it. Not by The Beatles. Not by anyone. “Come Together” is murky. While most other songs of theirs bounce or preen or jangle or wink, this song prowls. Right down to Ringo’s drum line- which is like nothing else he’s ever done. Paul’s plays his bass on its higher frets with some great melodic playing, and we even get some moody Billy Preston organ in the mix. Who knows what it’s about- there’s the requisite Yoko allusions, and it may have started life as a Tim Leary campaign song, but what it became is a mystery, probably even to John Lennon. But as an ensemble, the band was never better.

8. “Twist and Shout” (Medley-Burns, Please Please Me): If it didn’t actually happen, it would be accused of being too novelistic. A band trying desperately to make it is in the studio. They’re exhausted. If this album flops, they’ll probably never get to record an LP again. They just recorded 10 songs for this debut album and are sucking lozenges. But there’s one more song to get in the can- a screaming, uptempo number that rocks up what had been a smooth R&B track in its original form. That singer gives it everything he has left- he leaves nothing on the table. He risks his larynx–remember, they probably have a show to perform within a day or two- for one take. It’s tricky, because you need to get the guitar solo just right as well as three-part harmonies after 10 hours of punishing work in your studio. The Beatles pulled it off. To this day, you’ll hear this desperate hail-mary pass of a song, a song so good and so fully their own it doesn’t seem like it could be a cover, at weddings, at dances, at office parties. When you listen to this song with your premium headphones and lovingly restored record player, remember that it was made to move, to shake, to be kinetic. And remember what The Beatles had to do for you to enjoy this song.

7. “Help!” (Help!): Perfectly commercial. Utterly confessional. There are so many distinctive touches in this song that we’ve stopped noticing. It was the first Beatles single to prominently feature an acoustic rhythm guitar,. There’s Paul and George anticipating John’s lead vocal line (their close study of girl-group records may have influenced this innovation.) Bold vocabulary choices that were allowed in the song anyway because of the band’s consistent track record of success. (Imagine, say, Gerry & the Pacemakers trying to convince their producer to let them do a song in 1965 with “Self-assured”, “insecure”, and “independence.”) Maybe others could have written a song that presented one’s naked, vulnerable soul to the world in 1965. But nobody except John Lennon could have made it a transatlantic #1 hit.

6. “Strawberry Fields Forever” (Magical Mystery Tour): This song’s greatness works in a number of ways. First- a recording marvel. If you’ve bothered to read to the end of this countdown, you no doubt are aware of how George Martin took two versions of this song recorded at different keys and different tempos, and at John Lennon’s behest that he merge them together somehow, made it work. This is more coincidence than ingenuity– speed a track up, and its key will go up too. But it still adds to the song immeasurably, as though John isn’t on our plane of existence, that indeed nothing is real or can be real. And it also accentuates the song’s voyage of self-discovery. Lennon’s lyrics are evocative but shuffle with a bit of indecision and indifference- “it doesn’t matter much to me,” “I think er, no, I mean, er yes…” before finally arriving at something like self-realization. He disagrees– and has come to a mature understanding of his own mind.

5. “I Am the Walrus” (Magical Mystery Tour): This bonkers, dada-esque track is utter chaos, complete nonsense, and so much of what John Lennon did well. Lennon wavered between writing throwaway nonsense and that nonsense actually being genius. The latter condition is clearly at work here, taking us through the proverbial rabbit hole leading who-knows-where. It’s filled with false turns- including a seeming middle-eight in an English garden that diverts us to another chorus. And it ends with a long, brilliant fade-out, with marching chants, clips of Shakespeare dialogue, and string sections ascending into the long horizon of the fade-out.

4. “Let It Be” (Let It Be): Uplifting and profound, “Let It Be” may be the closest thing to a secular hymn that’s been written in the last 50 years. A hymn should refocus one’s attention, invite singing along, and recenter oneself in solemnity- and that is why “Let It Be” joins a list of Beatles songs that have become true standards. There is a certain irony that this was written during a point where The Beatles broke up over arguments about who their manager should be and how to salvage Apple’s flagging finances, but whatever. Which version is the authoritative one- the single or the one on the “Let It Be” album? The one with the awesome George Harrison solo on the album, of course.

3. “Rain” (b-side): A track this subversively excellent could have only been on a B-side. And if you were curious enough to flip over “Paperback Writer,” you would be richly rewarded. John’s strung-out vocals, backwards effects, Paul’s bouncy bass-playing, and possibly the best drumming of Ringo’s career all come to a head here. It also uses some Indian-style drones, rarely changing chords and dwelling on one big thing: the altered state of consciousness that “Rain” celebrates. It’s not the band’s most well-known song, but “Rain” is nevertheless the band’s finest psychedelic track.

2. “Eleanor Rigby” (Revolver): If “Yesterday” is wistful, “Eleanor Rigby” is urgent and strikingly mature. Here, the string quartet stabs quickly and sharply, making the pain of loneliness almost physically manifest for the listener. Paul writes some of his most engaging lyrics: “face that she keeps in a jar by the door,” “buried along with her name”, “no one was saved.” With religious imagery, a tragic ending in which the song’s protagonists meet only in death, and an unconventional topic–a more platonic kind of loneliness than simply one’s girl leaving you–it shows the band’s evolution, not just as songwriters but as human beings.

  1. “Here Comes the Sun” (Harrison, Abbey Road): And now– our #1 song on the countdown. Maybe you are surprised that it is a George number– but it’s well-earned. The junior partner wrote what is, in my estimation, The best Beatles song. The Beatles’ catalogue was about celebrating the good in life, and an expression of unbridled joy and freedom in the difficult decade of the 1960s. And in that spirit, “Here Comes the Sun” was their greatest effort. It’s acoustic warmth reflects the song’s tone and topic, even as the Moog synthesizer gives us some unexpected elements. Even as the band sundered and their friendships frayed, the band pulled together their magic one last time and pointed the way toward better days ahead.

It took me a while, but here is our penultimate installment of “Ranking the Beatles’ Catalogue” where some of the all-time greatest Beatles songs jostle against one another. Before I begin, these last 30 songs all stand at the pinnacle of Beatles lore. When I feel the need to point out drawbacks to any song, it is with some reluctance– and then, only to explain why the song didn’t rank higher relative to its peers.

30. “Something” (Harrison, Abbey Road): It’s staggering how much growth as a songwriter George Harrison underwent between 1965 and 1969. Within four years, he went from providing ineffectual filler on Help! to an A-side single. There isn’t a known George Harrison track that is an unalloyed love song, free of either ambivalence or God-metaphors. “Something” is the closest, even with its almost Brian Wilson-esque admission that the love so commemorated may not endure forever.

29. “I Want to Hold Your Hand” (single): At a certain point, it becomes tricky to differentiate quality with historical significance. Certainly, this is one of the most important Beatles songs, as it broke them in America, and was the crest of Beatlemania– at least in that country. Tough though it is, if you take the song on its own merits, it still holds up. The song’s sweetness and innocence remains undiluted and scarcely comes across as an affectation. Instead, the song captures the simple, harmless thrill of that first contact, chugging along with John’s rhythm guitar, punctuated by handclaps, and perfectly contrasted with a fine middle-eight. It’s pop song-craft at its simple, effective best.

28. “I’ve Just Seen A Face” (Help!): This song ranks high for a simple reason: it makes me feel better than any other Beatles track. With a slight bluegrass air and a pleasing acoustic background, McCartney works in the same country-lite medium The Beatles had experimented with in the year prior to this song’s recording. Subtly, Paul is broadening his musical horizons, with a chorus that’s just barely a chorus- it’s only four lines long, while the verses are long, to the point of concluding with humming. It’s the perfect track to pick up the sometimes plodding second side of the Help! LP.

27. “If I Fell” (A Hard Day’s Night): This song is one of the most complex of the first two years of The Beatles’ recording career. And it encapsulates so much of what they did well: John gives the song an introduction that occurs nowhere else in the track (much like “Do You Want to Know A Secret?” and “Misery”), and John and Paul’s harmonizing is at their most immaculate. One scarcely knows which of them is singing the melody line, they blend together so well.

26. “In My Life” (Rubber Soul):  It is a great track, and a valuable marker in the band’s development as songwriters and voices of their generation. Nostalgia hadn’t quite been a topic for many rock and roll songs, and John- only 25 when we wrote this- looks at friends come and gone, and places that now only exist in his memory. George Martin pulls a neat trick with a vari-sped piano solo made to feel like a harpsichord, and Lennon’s soul-inflicted vocals ache in that final, slightly slower coda. I always felt like the second verse, where Lennon turns to romantic love, was a bit of a cop-out– and this on an album that had truly platonic songs for the first time- but that’s the only flaw I can find. A stellar track.

25. “Blackbird” (White Album): Closing out the White Album is this cleverly crafted acoustic piece. I’ve always felt like McCartney’s recollection that he wrote it as a civil rights anthem to be pure revisionism (much like Stan Lee’s insistence that he conceived the X-Men as an allegory of race in America). This benign falsehood should not detract from the accomplishment that is “Blackbird.” It is perhaps the single most compelling acoustic track in The Beatles’ catalog, rivaled only by “Smoke On the Water” and the first few bars of “Stairway to Heaven” as a rite of passage among guitar players. On the stripped-down, solo-album feel of this double record, “Blackbird” also fits in perfectly within its surroundings.

24. “Ticket to Ride” (Help!): Is Lennon ever in a world of hurt. If you haven’t read it yet, so pick up Rob Sheffield’s Dreaming the Beatles for the best literary treatment this song has received. Lennon’s fear of abandonment, hinted at throughout the band’s early material, becomes a full-blown crisis here, punctuated by some of the band’s heaviest guitar lines, and Ringo’s most convicted drumming. It’s certainly a testament to the Lennon-McCartney magic to make a song about suffering so effortlessly commercial and successful.

23. “She Said She Said” (Revolver): While we’re on the topic of Ringo’s drumming, this is also one of the finest specimens (man, was Ringo on a roll in 1966…) Its jerky, unpredictable rhythm establishes the mind trip that Lennon prepares to take us on. As with most of the band’s psychedelic oeuvre, the otherworldly is never very far from the childlike–the entire point of Lennon’s LSD trip- one somewhat based on a real-life conversation with Peter Fonda–is to make contact with the rightness one felt with the world of one’s childhood.

22. “I Saw Her Standing There” (Please Please Me): If we look at outstanding debut tracks on outstanding debut albums, we are in elite company. Nobody would blame you if you picked “Purple Haze” or “Break On Through” or “Sunday Morning” or Patti Smith’s “Gloria.” But there’s a strong case to be made for “I Saw Her Standing There”. As Mark Lewisohn notes in Tune In, the Lennon-McCartney songwriting team was barely off the ground in early 1963– tales of their writing “dozens” of songs as teens were dreadfully exaggerated. Given how new they are at this, “I Saw Her Standing There” is a marvel– constructed to include their trademark harmonies, vintage Merseybeat rhythm, and some of George’s best guitar work of their early years. It established, at the very beginning, that the best Beatles tracks wouldn’t be found on 45s. You’d have to dig a bit deeper.

21. “Nowhere Man” (Rubber Soul): It’s great on the British version, but it’s even better on the American version, where judicious cuts and additions lent the album a more consistently folk-oriented feel. Stateside, the Byrds-y guitar chimes along in better settings, and the band’s consistent three part harmonies throughout the verses carry the tune along effectively. Without even the slightest whisper of love or romance, it’s clear that The Beatles are comfortable moving into more introspective and esoteric material.

20. “I’ll Follow the Sun” (Beatles for Sale): This is a neat little track that stands out for being a unique creature in the Beatles’ catalog. One of the few actual Lennon-McCartney songs written “eyeball to eyeball” at Forthlin Road or at Mendips, early versions of this song are jagged and rockier. Perhaps influenced by a short holiday in Miami Beach, some subtle tropical touches are added- nothing too kitschy- and a pleasing acoustic medium is found. There’s some callousness underlying the song– McCartney’s prepared to move on from his love, not unlike “I’ll Be On My Way” from the BBC sessions. I’ll always cherish it, though, as two minutes of summery Beatles magic of the best kind.

19. “She Loves You” (single): Again, we arrive at the problem of divorcing quality from significance. The Beatles had a couple hits under their belt before releasing this song, but “She Loves You” becomes a useful marker for initiating full-on Beatlemania in their home country, dominating the charts for nine weeks, turning the band from a fad into a cultural force, and even providing their trademarks “hooooooo” vocalizations, replete with Beatle haircuts shaking in the breeze. Punctuated by Ringo’s inventive drum fills- Pete Best could never have cut it if he had lasted this long- it applies just the right amount of inventiveness (a third-person love story! Interesting for 1963 teen music), and cornball (the conceit of the sixth-chord at the very end). If you were looking for some music that wasn’t manufactured by some impresario or some bland, turtleneck-wearing teen idol in drab 1963 Britain, this song could not have been anything less than a bolt out of the blue.

18. “A Day in the Life” (Sgt. Pepper’s): Aaand here’s where I have to defend putting this song relatively low. It’s topped multiple other attempts to rank Beatles songs. And it’s a safe, uncontroversial choice. It’s the best song on what is widely regarded as their best album. It’s innovative. It allows you to avoid choosing between John and Paul, even though the best parts of the song are John’s. “A Day in the Life” is an epic– it builds up, it orgasms even. It is psychedelic while fluxing between John-mundanity (reading the newspaper) and Paul-mundanity (going to work). And yet- I’ve never worked out exactly how one is supposed to feel after listening to “A Day in the Life” Until I- or any one else- arrives at a satisfactory answer- at #18 it shall stay.

17. “Revolution” (b-side): We get a rare all-out rocker in this track. I never quite cared for the slower, methodical interpretation that graces the White Album, and while Lennon later dismissed the version that ended up on the flip side of “Hey Jude,” this song is just the kick in the ass the band- and the world- needed in 1968. It plays against expectation, ultimately becoming an anti-revolution song, to the point where a delighted National Review put it among its list of conservatarian rock songs along with “Ballad of the Green Berets” and “I Can’t Drive 55.” Ultimately, for all we’ve made John into a folk-saint and harbinger of societal change, skepticism and cynicism were maybe the only things he consistently believed in throughout his life. With classically Lennon overdone rhyming, and fifties homages that show up more clearly in the song’s promotional film, this is how we should remember John Lennon: granny glasses, a wicked grin on his face, long hair parted in the middle, pissing on everything he finds even mildly suspicious.

16. “You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away” (Help!): Dylanesque? Sure. It’s acoustic, introspective, and John carelessly throws the “hey!” wherever it lands, heedless of tone like a certain Minnesotan. But Lennon always had something going for him that Dylan never managed: sincerity. Whether or not it was a coded message to Brian Epstein, it works no matter what level of significance you give it. One of the secret ingredients making The Beatles so good in 1965 was their ability to experiment- especially topically- while forfeiting none of the soul that made them stand out with respect to their other British contemporaries. A straight-up folk version of this song just wouldn’t work. The song is more John looking at Dylan through a Barrett Strong prism.

I have to confess to my readership—this is my favorite post to write each year at the Countdown. Discerning the slate of nominees is like solving a Rubik’s cube, with overlapping considerations trying to align…”okay, there’s obviously got to be some R&B acts…what about alternative?….who would draw an audience for an HBO special?…who became eligible this year?…who has been in the news lately?” and so on. After considering and reconsidering dozens of plausible nominees, I’ve arrived at my 19 predictions for the ballot that will determine the Class of 2019 for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

There are some considerations that can help us make wiser predictions for this kind of thing. The Who Cares About the Rock Hall podcast with former Nom Com member Roy Trakin was an invaluable asset. Trakin was candid about conflicts of interest and the role that certain power players have in the process. One might also consider what the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland is itself emphasizing. Also potential clues may lurk in the fact that their biggest special exhibit this year dwelled on the role of television, from Dick Clark to Soul Train to MTV and beyond. I also think that last year’s ceremony was unsatisfying in many respects, even though there were some enjoyable highlights. The Dire Straits’ frontman, Mark Knopfler, did not show up and the band ended up inducting themselves. Jon Bon Jovi gave a long-winded self-congratulatory speech, which was preceded by a disrespectful Howard Stern rant. The best performances of the night were by special guests like Brittany Howard and Mary J. Blige, not the inductees themselves. In other words, I don’t think that the 70s and 80s-heavy classic rock motif of the last few classes is long for this world. I’d predict a sharp turn toward the 80s and 90s.

The new category for Singles may also influence things. In introducing this institution during April’s ceremony, Little Stevie Van Zandt maintained that just because a musician has a single enshrined doesn’t mean that they will never be in the Rock Hall as artists.  I’m sure he meant that sincerely, but I also wonder if this doesn’t mitigate some of the urgency for Link Wray, Steppenwolf, and others. I’ll save my predictions for the Singles for another time, though.

And so, I present to you….my #RockHall2019 predictions.

Radiohead: What the heck happened last year? How did perhaps the most critically praised band of the last 20 years fail to get in on their first ballot? They had a touring conflict last year, but all signs suggest reparable fallout. Bigger Rock Hall feuds have been mended before. It’s possible, as Roy Trakin hinted, that this might be a case where their induction was simply “deferred” to a year when they could show up. They are simply too big not to be up again this year.

Rage Against the Machine: They are a deserving act, to be sure. But it also screams “conflict of interest!!” as guitarist Tom Morello is also on the Nominating Committee. Unfortunately for us all, but fortunately for their prospects, their music and its themes have aged all too well and remain as relevant as ever.

Janet Jackson: Jackson has been receiving awards and accolades left and right recently, culminating with a Billboard Icon award. Her induction into the Rock Hall should have happened years ago, and it will be an embarrassment to this institution if she isn’t on the ballot this year. If she is, expect the third time to be the charm. It’s worth noting that costumes from the Rhythm Nation tour were on display for the television exhibit this year…

Chaka Khan: Every ballot has had one– sometimes multiple– artists affiliated with disco in some way ever since those acts became eligible. That doesn’t mean that said artists worked exclusively in the medium, but dance music, and the ways in which gender, race, and sexuality intermingled is something that the decision-makers at the Foundation clearly care about. I am wondering by now if Chaka Khan–with or without Rufus–is the new Donna Summer or Chic. We might expect a nomination every year until ~something~ happens.

The Zombies: The Rock Hall loves the Zombies. The Zombies love the Rock Hall. I love the Zombies. The Zombies might love me. I don’t know. Be that as it may, they have had continued bad luck–always nominated in years they probably can’t win. Usually this means they are pitted against similar-ish groups: psychedelic rockers like Steppenwolf, or British Invasion bands like Moody Blues. Put them up on the Class of 2015 ballot, though, and I’m pretty sure they could have beaten Bill Withers or the Paul Butterfield Blues Band. The Zombies are still road warriors and sometimes tour with 4 of the 5 original members from 1964. I think the committee will give them one more chance. If they don’t pull it off, “Time of the Season” might be inducted as a single, and they might move on.

L.L. Cool J: Look, rap and hip-hop are only going to get more competitive as the years go on. Outkast is eligible this year. So is Wu-Tang Clan. Biggie, Eminem, and Jay-Z aren’t far behind. Eric B & Rakim, A Tribe Called Quest, De La Soul, Queen Latifah, Salt N Peppa, Dre. Dre, Ice Cube, and many others are already waiting in line. Consequently, it’s going to look bad if the first breakout solo rapper isn’t in yet. My hunch is that they will clear the board of similar acts for L.L. Cool J to make his path easier.

Eurythmics:  They were nominated last year, and I even predicted that they would get in. No such luck. The emphasis on music on television, though, gives them an advantage. I can’t think of many images that I can associate with 1980s MTV more than Annie Lennox, beautiful and androgynous, with that pointer stick and globe while wearing a suit. Lennox’s reputation as a vocalist, and her influence on Sinead O’Connor, Florence Welch, Janelle Monae, and others, make Eurythmics a formidable nominee, regardless of the competition.

Judas Priest: Few acts on the ballot last year generated as much praise as this pioneering heavy metal act. Their presence preempts any complaints about “where’s the real rock and roll acts?” Although there are few obvious heavy metal advocates in the board room, Judas Priest has more than earned the right to follow Deep Purple into the halls of Cleveland. And as Tom Morello recently put it, “whenever you see metal bands on the ballot, you can blame me.” So it sounds like Judas Priest has an advocate and Morello isn’t giving up on them. Their gentlemanly and patient attitude toward the Hall certainly won’t hurt their chances either.

Joe Tex: It would be…odd if there were not at least one artist on the ballot whose career was not active before the British Invasion. Who should it be? Link got a backdoor induction last year. I have a feeling Dick Dale might be honored the same way. Ditto The Marvelettes– especially since their advocate, Bob Merlis, is no longer on the committee and they haven’t been nominated since he left. So it would have to be someone who didn’t have one, big iconic song that people identify with him or her- someone who can’t be shoehorned into the Singles category. My guess is Joe Tex. Tom Lane wondered if he might get nominated if Dave Marsh– a known fan of his- is no longer on the Nom Com. I’m willing to gamble that he might.

Depeche Mode: It seems like there needs to be an act associated with industrial, electronic, and alternative. Nine Inch Nails got a nomination their first two years eligible. Depeche Mode got a nod the following two years–possibly because someone who worked closely with them- Sandy Alouete- earned a berth on the committee at that time. So– heavily 80s, memorable music videos– I don’t think a third straight nomination for Depeche Mode is a hard sell given the kind of class I think they are going for.

Duran Duran: Let’s explore the patterns. Every year there is an uber-populist act, usually hated by journalists, critics, and music historians but who sold crazy amounts of records and filled arenas. Usually, a big reunion is hoped for. They will run away with the fan vote. You know the drill—Rush. Kiss. Chicago. Journey. Bon Jovi. My guess is that Rock Hall CEO Greg Harris- an import from the Baseball HOF who is much more of a museum guy and a numbers guy more than a music guy- is part of the move in this direction. Anyway– who is going to be that populist, Barclays Arena-filling act this year? Def Leppard is a popular choice, and I’ll happily concede it might be them. However, I’m inclined toward Duran Duran. Here’s my reasoning: they were touring and fairly intact recently. Given the emphasis on television this year, this act had some iconic, escapist videos. And movies like Ready Player One and television shows like Stranger Things have continued to stoke the particular brand of 1980s nostalgia that Duran Duran plays to. Timeliness, at least, is on their side.

Doobie Brothers: I think they are getting their first nomination ever this year for a few reasons. One is their new affiliation with Irving Azoff, whose influence seems to have helped Bon Jovi. Another is that it just makes sense that they are next in queue in the “70s classic rock snubs” now that Dire Straits, Moody Blues, The Cars and others are in. In fact, they are one of the last 70s rockers of this basic genus that still has a reasonable claim to being in the hall. Thirdly, reunions make great television, and The Doobie Brothers seem to be on good terms with Michael McDonald, and he usually shows up for a guest spot once or twice per tour. If they are nominated, you can count on them earning one of those top five spots in the fan vote– and an induction as well, in all likelihood.

Pixies: Who will our late 80s/early 90s alternative act be this year? In the past, we’ve been treated to The Smiths, The Cure, The Replacements, and Jane’s Addiction. With David Grohl on the Nominating Committee, it’s only a matter of time before Pixies get a nomination. Pixies established many of the building blocks of Nirvana’s sound, and of course, they were pretty incredible in their own right. They remain a sturdy Generation X favorite, and are touring with Weezer as we speak.

Roxy Music: It’s got to be one of these years, right? The Who Cares About the Rock Hall podcast put together as good a case for Roxy Music as can be made. This group is impossible to pin down except for a vague and largely unhelpful designation as “art rock.” Elliptical as they were, their wide and deep influence on countless artists that came after them will not be lost on the powers that be in the Rock Hall. Like Pixies, I doubt they would get an induction the first (or second or third) time around, but this is a group that should absolutely be on their radar. I don’t even like them, and I’ll admit that they are one of the most significant artists that has never been nominated.

Stevie Nicks: The museum is gettin’ interactive. Now you can vote on acts you would like to see in the Hall of Fame. Oddly, the choices tend to be a bit…same-ish and rarely fluctuate the way you would expect. Def Leppard is a common choice…one reason I think have a shot this year. But Stevie is also there. That’s…interesting. Like George Harrison, her solo repertoire didn’t take us anywhere that her work in a band didn’t already do better. Yet her influence on female artists is palpable, and there will be no shortage of younger acts eager to do Stevie homage. Putting her on the ballot also serves as a rampart against the ugly optics of an all-male class like 2016.

The Shangri-Las: I’ve predicted them the last two years and it didn’t happen. And yet I remain confident that I will eventually be right. Look, the Shangri-Las were New York underground before there was a New York underground. It might seem silly to claim that the girl-group that did “Leader of the Pack” was filled with bad-asses who presaged the core components of punk, but unbelievably, that’s what happened. And people acquainted with the New York underground scene are manifold on the committee. Recall that Seymour Stein even supervised a failed attempt at a reunion record in the 1970s. It’s easy to see the Shangri-Las pulling a coalition together in the committee room consisting of old-timers and younger members who are wise to their influence on, say, Amy Winehouse.

Kool & the Gang: My Sunday school teacher in 10th grade once opined that a Kool & the Gang concert was the best show she had ever been to. It seemed like a strange opinion at the time, but I think it is an entirely defensible one now that I’ve had nearly 20 years to dwell on that remark. Kool & the Gang are culturally relevant now, with artists like Bruno Mars often cribbing from their style and grooves. They were recently feted at the Songwriter Hall of Fame. Consider, too, the artists who have sampled this act over the years. A partial list includes: NWA, 2pac, Will Smith, The Prodigy, Ice Cube, Nas, Eric B & Rakim, Wu Tang Clan, Public Enemy, A Tribe Called Quest, LL Cool J, Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg.  That’s a murderer’s row of rap and hip-hop legends. (Maybe that’s a poor choice of words.) The Hall will sometimes surprise us by putting an exceptional live act on the ballot whose recorded legacy doesn’t quite do them justice- Los Lobos, JBs, Bad Brains, J. Geils Band, Paul Butterfield. Kool & the Gang would very much be an act like that.

The B-52s: Quick- who are the most important icons of gay culture in the Rock Hall? Elton. Queen. Madonna. Bowie. Maybe we’ll include Tina Turner and Dusty Springfield, if only for their influence over drag culture. What about icons not in the hall? Cher is the obvious candidate– but despite resurfacing for Mama Mia 2, her career has never been well regarded by music experts like those on the committee, and even her fans would agree that she’s always been more of a personality than an artist. Doesn’t that make The B-52s next in line? With four out of five members identifying as queer, their music was as elliptical at the time as their sexuality.  Their music hearkened to campy 50s monster movies and beach parties, but they weren’t remotely retro. Instead, it was a little bit punk, and dance, and new wave. They were more like the Talking Heads filtered through Yoko Ono, while playing at the best party you ever attended in college. Moreover- they are on tour this summer, and getting lots of positive buzz. And isn’t it intriguing that Rolling Stone published a flattering retrospective on the group in June?

Beck: This might not happen, but my goodness…he’s done everything one can expect from a first-year eligible act. Widespread critical respect. Genre-bending music. Experimental but sells out arenas. A small armada of Grammys. Cozying up to the Rock Hall (remember his Lou Reed tribute at the 2015 show?) Outkast is eligible as well this year. They deserve to be in– and they will be someday. But given that their biggest hits are still only 15 years in the rear-view mirror, while “Loser” is nearing 25, I believe Beck will be given priority. We might get no first-year eligibles this year. But if we get any, the smart money’s on Beck.

So, those are my predictions. We’ll see in a couple months whether I was on to something or not. As always, these are just predictions, not necessarily who I think is most deserving of induction. Some other names I considered were: Average White Band, Boz Scaggs (did you know Jann Wenner produced an album of his?), Pat Benatar, Outkast, and A Tribe Called Quest. Of course, any year, Kraftwerk, J. Geils Band, The Spinners, The Meters, and other repeat nominees are strong contenders and I mulled over them as well.

Also– brace yourself for the unexpected. The Nominating Committee may go back to just fifteen nominees. They might throw us for a loop and change the criteria from, say, 25 years to 15 or 20. They might decide to nominate in categories. Committee members may be added or relieved of duty. We just don’t know- and their decisions may very well undermine the assumptions that go into these predictions, and those of my fellow Rock Hall watchers.

Finally, if I was somehow was correct on all 19 nominees, I’d vote for Janet and The Zombies for certain. I’d probably fill out the ballot with Eurythmics, Judas Priest, or LL Cool J. in the remaining spots. I’d expect the actual inductees to be Duran Duran, Radiohead, Janet Jackson, Stevie Nicks, Doobie Brothers, and maybe L.L. Cool J if they leave room for six.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Just got back from my first trip to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Library and Archives. I can’t say enough about what a great facility it is, and how kind and helpful the staff were. I found some interesting material for my future book project on the Rock Hall and how public pantheons are created and contested. And it was great fun looking through the records of Ahmet Ertegun, Jerry Wexler, Norm Nite, and others.

Here we are…the antepenultimate edition of our Beatles countdown.

45. “You Can’t Do That” (A Hard Day’ Night): My most prominent memory of this song is its playing during the credits of the first episode of the Beatles Anthology series, with a tiny countdown clock in the corner showing the time until “Free As A Bird” would debut. That sense of frustration is also baked into the song. Indeed, one could write an article for a psychology journal about what it tells us about masculinity in the North of England. Paranoia, insecurity, and chauvinism all percolate and reinforce one another, underscored by the relentless churning of drums and rhythm guitar. Affection isn’t part of the equation for John…maintaining his fragile standing among friends is, however. To have them “laugh in my face” is the greatest misfortune imaginable.

44. “The Inner Light” (Harrison, b-side): This is Harrison’s finest Indian-flavored song– although ironically its text comes not from Hinduism but from the Dao De Jing. While Hinduism usually stresses active devotion and duty, Daoism often encourages allowing things to go their own way without interference. The result, though, is staggering and beautiful, with full South Asian backing and a gorgeous melody, whose instrumental breaks and droning tones encourage the reader to reflect on the esoteric lyrics.

43. “Lady Madonna” (single): And here we have the flip side of that single. It’s a beautiful homage to Elvis and Fats Domino. Although I’m not a fan of the sax solo– I find the Beatles mimicking the trumpet much more effective, actually– it’s an inventive lyric from Paul. Witness its nursery rhyme imagery, a thoughtful reflection on the role of women in society at a time that role was in great flux, and even some wordplay (“See how they run” could refer to her children, but also the runs in her stocking).

42. “And I Love Her” (A Hard Day’s Night): This song divides some fans. I find it simple, unassuming, and melodic in the best ways. Quiet, reserved, and unusually acoustic for this stage in their career, it shows the band branching out from their beat music heritage, and responding to the albums lack of cover songs to explore a greater breadth in their own material. Add a mature guitar solo from George, and you have a highlight from perhaps the best album of the Beatlemania era.

41. “Got to Get You Into My Life” (Revolver): This is a fun ode to the great love of Paul McCartney’s life– marijuana. This makes the song a clever bit of subterfuge, but what really makes this track so outstanding is its effortless copying of the Stax style. George Martin and Paul figured out how to make a British horn section sound like it had been imported from Memphis after an Otis Redding session. To do this at the height of Stax’s powers was a bold, cheeky move– and one that paid great dividends. Had it sounded more like a traditional Beatles song, “Got to Get You Into My Life” might very well have been a single in 1966.

40. “I Feel Fine” (single): This single, a #1 on both sides of the Atlantic, is famous for its use of feedback– unheard of on a pop record at the time. Even more intriguing is the darker, more echo-drenched sound that George Martin achieves. Although the song does betray that the band is running on fumes by the end of 1964. For the second time that calendar year, the lyric of a hit single alludes to “diamond rings”– a telltale sign of the band’s depletion (the same phrase shows up in the jettisoned “If You’ve Got Troubles” as well as the first drafts of “Drive My Car”- both similarly written under the gun in the midst of hectic schedules.)

39. “Sun King/Mean Mr. Mustard/Polythene Pam/She Came In Through the Bathroom Window” (Abbey Road): Questionable on their own, these tracks become a redoubtable and memorable melody when merging together, like a great Aquarian Voltron. It’s hard to believe “Her Majesty” was originally slated between “Mustard” and “Pam” given how intuitively the two flow together. “Bathroom Window” is the standout, I think, with the band hitting an uncommonly nice groove at the end. From a band that gave us Rocky Raccoon, Dr. Robert, the heroine of Norwegian Wood, Rita, Lucy– it’s the final set of intriguing characters that The Beatles introduced to their listeners.

38. “This Boy” (b-side): The track is pitch-perfect early 60s Smokey Robinson. In my discussion of “Dear Prudence” last time, I talked about how build-up was so important, and this track also accomplishes that very well, with a bridge leading up to an emotional precipice (“til he’s seen you cry-y-y-y-in'”). It also shows that the band’s tight harmonies were their secret weapon. Few groups could play instruments competently and sing together so well in tandem.

37. “Happiness is a Warm Gun” (White Album): Lennon’s finest track on the White Album. It goes to some pretty dark places- the title alone suggests that- with a first section about one of the nastiest characters appearing in the Beatles oeuvre followed by one of the few explicit drug references in their catalog. And after all that it ends with a mockery of doo-wop (satirizing the kind of sound “This Boy” was aiming for, in fact, while also poking fun at American gun culture.) Clever, cynical, heavy rock and roll, it has a lot of the things John Lennon did best.

36. “Getting Better” (Sgt. Pepper’s): Lennon and McCartney worked best as a team when they could offer contrast to one another. McCartney’s buoyant optimism finds its match in a dour bridge (with what sounds like an Indian drone further grounding it) about being cruel to one’s woman. Lennon offers, then, a shocking act of self-confession– physical abuse and emotional manipulation characterized a lot of his early relationship with Cynthia- in what is other wise all Paul’s song. But it’s no less true that the confession jars within the bouncy bass and effective background vocals that make this track a highlight of Side 1 on the most acclaimed album of all time.

35. “Can’t Buy Me Love” (A Hard Day’s Night): This was an unusual Beatles single at the time- from Paul’s lead vocal to its much more R&B flavor compared to earlier, more Merseyside beat efforts. In its rejection of materialism, its idealistic attitude, its insistence on love itself as the greatest good, it’s also a manifesto of everything The Beatles were that the Stones weren’t.

34. “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” (Harrison, White Album): This isn’t the first George Harrison track that is thoughtful, contemplative, and even a tiny bit judgmental (one can detect traces of “Think for Yourself” and “Within You Without You” between the lines.) But this song is…shall we say…elevated. As if George has finally become confident enough to make a track with similar ideas but one that owns their grandeur as well. Paul’s urgent piano notes that begin it, and Eric Clapton’s famous guitar solo suggest that *this track is important*– and it is. And it’s the first George track to be treated in that manner. And given all the bad things that were happening worldwide in 1968, the track’s mournful distance from a sad state of affairs was poignant in a way that we miss today- further suggested by a verse that got cut: “I look from the wings at the play you are staging…”

33. “It’s All Too Much” (Harrison, Yellow Submarine): I love this track, and I love how obscure it is. It feels like the track is almost a secret of one’s own, a forgotten George number on an album nobody listens to because Side Two is all George Martin instrumentals. It’s loud, brash, psychedelic, while just as philosophical as “The Inner Light”– “without going out of my door, I can know all things on earth” sounds very similar to “Show me that I’m everywhere, and get me home for tea.” With horn fills punctuating its long extended coda, it’s also surprising that the song got the production values it did. But there it is– a brash, bright, ostentatious number that’s almost Hendrixian and unlike anything else in their catalog. And it’s just sitting there, waiting for the casual fan who is about to dive deeper.

32. “Hey Bulldog” (Yellow Submarine): And similar things could be said about this track’s uniqueness. Recorded in early 1968 and consigned to the Yellow Submarine soundtrack (even then, its sequence was cut out of most American prints of the film), it languished in obscurity. And then something happened about 15 years go. “Hey Bulldog” enjoyed something of a renaissance. Indie bands started covering it. Music journalists wrote think pieces on it. Long-lost footage of The Beatles recording it at Abbey Road (to use the time filming the “Lady Madonna” video constructively) was discovered. And there are few times when the band manifestly enjoyed themselves more in the studio.

31. “Please Please Me” (Please Please Me): This is a terrific song- rightly the song that really broke them into the wider British market and by some metrics their first #1 hit. It is, certainly, a more exciting and arresting record than “Love Me Do”- with Paul’s high-pitched harmony, a good contrast with the middle-eight, and some wordplay that put The Beatles- already ahead of the game by writing their own material- in a higher strata of the atmosphere than any of their contemporaries. “Please Please Me” is also far more sexually charged than almost anything they recorded- ever. Pent-up frustration, the double-entendre of “please”, the desperation in Lennon’s voice. It’s a great track- and would be so even if it wasn’t historically significant.

 

60. “Words of Love” (Holly, Beatles for Sale): So, as some of you pointed out, I did write a piece trashing Beatles for Sale as the worst Beatles studio album many years ago. (I’d probably place Let It Be in that dubious honor if I had to do it again.) And in that hot take, I wrote that “Words of Love” was a note-for-note copy of Holly’s original. That’s close to the truth, but misses the essential ingredient. With John and Paul able to sing in harmony and both sound as though it were the melody line, with George’s chirpy guitar, the Crickets’ influence on The Beatles has never been more manifest. It sounds like it could have been a Lennon-McCartney song. It sounds like Holly had written it with The Beatles in mind. As such, it doesn’t copy the original so much as it is a truer version of the original.

59. “You Never Give Me Your Money” (Abbey Road): This track gives Side Two of Abbey Road so much of its distinctive character. The band’s harmonies were rarely tighter, and I think of this as the song that started The Beatles talking to each other through their music as their personal relationships sundered– beginning a song cycle that would go on to include “Early 1970,” “Sue Me Sue You Blues”, “How Do You Sleep,” “Here Today,” “All Those Years Ago” and many others. Paul plays with movement and tempo shifts within a single track, from the lethargic beginning, to Fats Domino boogie-woogie, to one of McCartney’s most effortless uptempo pieces during the finale.

58. “Til There Was You” (Wilson, With the Beatles): The band excels beyond their genre here. If “A Taste of Honey” was a piece of work and perhaps the weakest cover on their debut album, this standard is roundly a success. Although Paul’s vocals are a bit overwrought, the band clicks with George in particular being the hero of the track with an outstanding and highly articulate guitar solo. If he hadn’t replicated it so often in live performances, I’d almost be skeptical that it was him on record!

57. “All My Loving” (With the Beatles): As the first song played on Ed Sullivan, there is a great historicity to this track. Had it been released one year later, one might consider it riddled with Beatles clichés: droning background vocals, a Chet Atkins-style guitar solo, double tracking. Instead, it’s like one of my World Civilizations students complaining that Hamlet is clichéd: it’s because this is where all of the clichés originate. More than maybe any other song they recorded in 1963, it points the way forward to 1964 and the artistic directions the band would capitalize on for A Hard Day’s Night, Beatles for Sale, and the latter-day singles (that sounds like a great name for a church…)

56. “Here, There & Everywhere” (Revolver): I might get some grief for ranking this song comparatively low. Look- it’s a very fine number. But I’ve always found the harmonies a little half-baked and disinterested, Paul’s voice a little twee. There’s real genius here, though– and I see why it was a favorite of Brian Wilson’s, right down to its artful lyrical construction.

55. “Girl” (Rubber Soul): Rubber Soul was possibly the first record people realized was epochal at the moment of its release. (And remember, the concept that a record could be “epochal” and not just “profitable” was also quite new.) If there were any doubters into Side Two of the record, this track would have finally won them over. This “Girl” is even more enigmatic, even more cruel, than the one John encounters in “Norwegian Wood.” John’s insecurities of being “put down”, his Irish family’s Catholic ethos “pain would lead to pleasure” are all brought to light– the song’s high drama punctuated with guitars capo-ed so high as to have their pitch resemble bouzoukis.

54. “And Your Bird Can Sing” (Revolver): John borrows a leaf from Dylan, composing a song which seemingly criticizes a woman for putting on airs. With an intricate guitar part played by George, bright harmonies, and clever wordplay, this is hardly the most profound track on Revolver, but it is one of the songs in their repertoire that never fails to bring a smile to my face.

53. “Dear Prudence” (White Album): This track grew on me over the years- and here’s why. Maybe more than any other track in their catalog, it masters the build-up. Segueing effortlessly from “Back in the USSR” it begins reedy and ethereal, slowly adding more instrumentation, adding more voices the din urging Prudence Farrow to come out of her ashram. The tempo changes during the song’s conclusion, the finger-picking during the coda– it’s one of Lennon’s masterpieces and a priceless artifact of their time in Rishikesh.

52. “You’re Gonna Lose That Girl” (Help!): The first time I watched the film Help! and heard this song, I knew it was something special. It has one of my very favorite vocal performances in the entire Beatles catalog. While Lennon played up his vulnerabilities elsewhere on the album, he affects pure Northern brashness and confidence. Imagine “She Loves You” if the narrator decided to steal the girl from under his friend’s nose.

51. “When I’m Sixty-Four” (Sgt. Pepper’s): Objectivity fails me here, because this song was the first dance at my wedding reception. What I’ll say for it is this: Paul and George Martin succeed in creating an old-timey vibe to a song McCartney may have even begun to write before he was properly introduced to rock and roll. Heavy on clarinet, insistent on light snare-work, subtle on the electric guitar, it looks to the distant future of a relationship while simultaneously reinforcing its backward-looking Edwardian feel. And juxtaposing this to “Within You Without You” allows the engrossing atmosphere of each track to stand out as the album takes us from the mountaintop to the speakeasy.

50. “Back in the USSR” (White Album): Mike Love might be the most unlikeable frontman in rock and roll, depending on your feelings about Gene Simmons or Ted Nugent. Yet he seems to have been present at the creation when Paul started writing this cheeky pastiche of the Beach Boys. Brilliantly relocating his amours from balmy California to the sterile modernism of the Soviet Union, this might be the single funniest Beatles track, ironically conceived by the Beatle often regarded as the least comedically gifted.

49. “Because” (Abbey Road): It’s beautiful. It’s haunting. For all of the great harmonic performances listed among these fifteen songs, “Because” blows them all away. Lennon’s lyrics are faux-profound, but it doesn’t matter. With Moog synthesizer arpeggios that always reminded me of the Main Street Electrical Parade, John, Paul, and George’s triple-tracked voices pack a punch. The Beatles’ break-up is tragic in many respects, but one element of that tragedy is that the band never had an opportunity to follow up on the aural possibilities that this song began to explore.

48. “Hey Jude” (single): Again, I might get flack for ranking this song so low. It’s in the bizarre position of not being the most well regarded Beatles track, yet somehow being the most well regarded Sixties track by The Beatles. Let me clarify: when experts rank their songs, “Hey Jude” does well, but it’s never tops. But when experts rank “The Top Rock Songs Ever” or something of that nature, “Hey Jude” will almost certainly be the highest ranking Beatles song. And it’s not a bad candidate, to be sure. Although surely unintentional, it hearkens to St. Jude, patron saint of lost causes. And like such a saint, this song is a ray of hope in hopeless situations, an epistle of encouragement in our hour of need. It’s a small wonder this became the band’s best selling single.

47. “Tomorrow Never Knows” (Revolver): Among professional Beatles fans, there is a sacrosanct quality to this song. If it weren’t so damn historic, would there be a reason to talk about it? Does it work as a song? Perhaps those are unfair questions. For what it is, “Tomorrow Never Knows” introduces the listener to possibilities they never imagined, realities they have never conceived. With mad drumming from Ringo and a bevy of sound samples played forward and backwards, it creates a sonic landscape, an attempt to convey an entire state of existence through song. Brief, provocative, dramatic…it’s everything “Revolution #9” tried to be but wasn’t.

46. “You’ve Really Got a Hold On Me” (With the Beatles): The battle for the best Beatles cover song was always a tight race…for the second spot. Obviously “Twist and Shout” will win. But second place goes to this Smokey Robinson & the Miracles cover from their sophomore album. There’s an urgency in Lennon’s voice that synchs with the lyrics. It’s given contrast by the drone from George’s harmonizing vocals under John’s (smart choice to use him rather than Paul in this instance, by the way.) But the key moment is the “tied up” section that sort of substitutes for a middle-eight– that brief Ringo fill shows that flash of entropy that takes the song momentarily out of its body. It’s an exceptional soul cover and a highly inventive take on the band’s love of the Motown sound. Oh, and for those of you keeping score, we’ve wrapped up With the Beatles.