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It’s been a while since I’ve posted an update to my Beatles ranking. (I don’t know why I feel rushed…it’s not like the band is going to release new material any time soon that would throw off the numeration!) Anyway, we are solidly getting into the middle of the pack– and there’s lots of George songs and plenty of White Album material this time around.

150. One After 909 (Let It Be): One of the most affecting scenes in This Is Spinal Tap found  David St. Hubbins and Nigel Tufnel revisiting their earlier material in an interview with documentarian Marti Di Bergi. The ditty this dim-witted duo reminisce over bears a striking resemblance to “One After 909,” replete with train allusions. This song matters most as a window into early Lennon-McCartney songwriting, heavily reliant on tropes and still stuck in a derivative framework. There is still a childlike sense of “learning by parroting” that’s fascinating to observe in constructing the John & Paul partnership.

149. Doctor Robert (Revolver): This is one of the lesser efforts on the sterling Revolver album, and it started an unfortunate trend of rock artists writing surreptitious songs about their drug dealers. (This in turn gave way to an unfortunate trend of rock artists crediting their songs to their drug dealers as co-writers. Seriously. On Chicago’s Hot Streets some dude named Stash Wagner is listed as a co-writer. It’s got to be the horn section’s drug dealer. It’s got to be.) The song is redeemed- almost literally- by an angelic choir in the middle-eight, one of the few Beatles moments that makes me laugh at loud.

148. Maxwell’s Silver Hammer (Abbey Road): Haters are gonna hate. There are some who would characterize this track as the very worst in The Beatles catalog. If you don’t like Paul’s stuff, this may be part of the reason why: cutesy, all too clever, and over-rehearsed, it’s a macabre morality tale in search of a moral. I’m willing to defend it as having consistent characterization and some delightfully atmospheric synthesizers that remind me of progressive rock on anti-depressants.

147. All Together Now (Yellow Submarine): This trifle is perfect for a children’s movie starring The Beatles…although the suggestive “Can I take my friend to bed” line probably prevented this track from becoming a proper classic for the toddler set the way “Yellow Submarine” did. Whether its an affectation or not, an atmosphere that at least sounds convincingly spontaneous permeates this joyful track, including one of the final appearances of John’s harmonica on a Beatles track.

146. The Continuing Story of Bungalow Bill (White Album): Lennon’s contribution reflects what the band’s stay in Rishikesh did to the band: it’s a hyperbolic story-song based on characters the composer would likely not have met in any other circumstance. Its acoustic setting and sing-along qualities give it more of a campfire atmosphere. It’s a side of Lennon’s songwriting that we don’t get to see nearly as often as we like, even though this never would have made the album if it were confined to a single disc.

145. I’m So Tired (White Album): Nor, I think, would have this track. “I’m So Tired” encapsulates one of the things I find frustrating about the public debate over Lennon vs. McCartney. Our critical faculties tend to praise authenticity (or the appearance of authenticity) over competence and skill, which are less easy to feign. For the last 50 years now, Lennon has been praised by Jann Wenner, Philip Norman, and virtually everyone who has written meaningful work on the Beatles as the visionary. And often he is! But that also means that he’s given a pass for sloppily written songs about laziness, ennui, or dreariness. “I’m Only Sleeping” – granted, a significantly better song- is also a testament to this phenomenon. More to the point, “I’m So Tired” violates the first principle of songwriting: show– don’t tell. You shouldn’t have to give a song a name like that to convey that you are dragged out and unable to sleep.

144. The Night Before (Help!): This is a solid filler from the first side of the “Help!” album. It’s hard not to associate this track from the scene of The Beatles playing this in an open field surrounded by military backup in their second movie. While an ostensibly McCartneyesque track, Lennon makes some vital contributions on the organ and in background vocals whose weariness and sour notes provide a needed contrast to Paul’s melodic wistfulness.

143. Savoy Truffle (Harrison, White Album): This is the first of George’s four contributions to the White Album to make this list. It’s easy to dismiss this track as a list of chocolate sweets designed to pad the second disc. Yet there’s a lot more going on– Harrison’s ability to find the right words to match the meter of his compositions is one of his most underrated skills, and this track is especially well designed to show that off. But this track just rocks. It’s one of the most guitar-heavy on the album, but you probably didn’t notice– and George Martin effortlessly recreates the Memphis horn sound popularized by Stax.

142. Piggies (Harrison, White Album): Like “Savoy Truffle”, “Piggies” also has an unusually long melodic line with room for thirteen syllables. A social commentary every bit as biting as what Lennon was writing in 1968, its visceral attack on the British upper-middle-class conveys an anger and vulnerability that George- almost certainly the poorest of the Beatles in his youth- allowed to surface from time to time. The MVP of the track, though, is Chris Thomas, who often supervised sessions when George Martin got fed up with the band. Thomas went on to produce several Elton John albums in subsequent decades, including some favorites of mine like “Sleeping with the Past,” “Too Low for Zero” and “The Big Picture.” Oh, and he mixed “Dark Side of the Moon” as well.

141. Rocky Raccoon (White Album): McCartney often experimented in dated styles of music, as “When I’m 64”, “Honey Pie,” “You Gave Me the Answer,” and “Walking in the Park with Eloise” all demonstrate. Here, McCartney gives us a saloon number, emblematic of the British fascination with the American West that Mick Jagger, Bernie Taupin, and countless others of his generation shared. While much of the song runs on secondhand British interpretations of frontier tropes, the song has enough lyrical peculiarities to hold the listeners’ interest, with a leading lady who has three different names and the recurring motif of Gideon’s Bible.

140. Ask Me Why (Please Please Me): It’s been a while since any of you broke out Live at the BBC, but if you revisit the collection, one thing becomes clear: the Beatles often relied on experimenting with Latin rhythms early in their career. These weren’t very astute Latin rhythms– more Ricky Ricardo than Tito Puente- but they proved to be an effective way to shake up a punishing two-hour set in the Top Ten Club. Few of these vestiges made it into their recording canon, but “Ask Me Why” is one of the more prominent examples. The chord sequence is more complex than most other Lennon-McCartney tracks of this period, with minors, 7ths, and augmented chords, giving life and character to what is lyrically an undistinguished love song.

139. Old Brown Shoe (Harrison, b-side): This shuffle is a cut above the average Beatles b-side, with everyone getting a chance to shine. Harrison allows himself a short, but unusually raucous guitar solo, and contributes the bass line that generates the song’s forward momentum. McCartney also borrows from the saloon style of “Rocky Raccoon” for the barrelhouse piano.

138. I’ll Cry Instead (A Hard Day’s Night): Perhaps this song isn’t the strongest on its own, but it is an important harbinger of what is to come. Lennon’s vulnerability makes the song more autobiographical than the romantic inventions that marked the songwriting on the band’s first three albums. The band’s musical palette wasn’t sophisticated enough at this juncture to do more than to riff off some vaguely Chet Atkins-sounding riffs in order to make the song sound country-and-western. This stylistic shift makes it a shame that “I’ll Cry Instead” wasn’t featured in the movie (it was originally slated for the fooling-around-outdoors sequence that was eventually filled by “Can’t Buy Me Love.” It’s more introspective character would have added some darkness and depth to the soundtrack.

137. Honey Pie (White Album): A lot about your relationship with The Beatles depends on your tolerance for McCartney’s winsomeness. My tolerance for it– I’d even say my appreciation off it– is exceptionally higher than the norm, which makes me much more favorably inclined toward a track like “Honey Pie.” It’s easy, certainly, to appreciate the care that Paul, George Martin, and Chris Thomas took to make the song wound like a scratchy old 78-rpm record. Lennon must have gotten astigmatism rolling his eyes during the making of this song, but was probably delighted at getting to play an anachronistic electric guitar solo.

136. Mother Nature’s Son (White Album): This is a pleasant enough pastoral song, very much in character with the band’s romantic attitudes toward the first couple weeks in Rishikesh, and the acoustic instruments at their disposal. Nevertheless, it is hurt by one of the strangest production choices in the band’s catalog, some slightly out-of-tune brass sections. Frankly, they intrude on the song, and undercut its theme– though not in a clever or ironic way, at least as far as I can discern.

Thank you for your patience as I work my way through the catalog. With the end of the spring semester and my return to the USA, I should be able to whittle down this list more frequently in the months ahead.

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Singles and Albums

So. The Rock Hall, as I discussed in my last post, dropped a new category on us all of a sudden: singles. The idea was to honor exceptional songs, whose artists were not presently in the Rock Hall. Although Little Stevie Van Zandt suggested that this doesn’t mean that these artists will never be nominated or inducted at some future date, this does have some of the makings of a “back-door” induction. And this is especially so for artists who probably couldn’t make it through if they were up against modern legends like Radiohead, or potential classic rock icons like Jethro Tull.

I’ve listed my immediate- and in no respect comprehensive- list of 20 possible singles, and 20 possible albums to induct by artists not presently in the hall. (A couple, such as Ben E. King are inducted as part of other groups. And Carole King, of course, is already in as a non-performing songwriter.) I tried my best to pick songs and albums whose artists were deserving of some attention from the Rock Hall but were unlikely to be inducted any time soon. Part of the challenge was limiting this to artists whose career and impact could best be incapsulated in one single or one album. This doesn’t mean that they didn’t do quality work elsewhere, of course, but it’s the main way in which their legacy is remembered (such as Link Wray and “Rumble”, or Chubby Checker and “The Twist.”) Therefore, I tried to avoid artists with a lengthier career that didn’t have one particular standout record (such as The Smiths, Kraftwerk, The Spinners, Kate Bush, and others.)

Some singles:

  1. “My Guy”- Mary Wells
  2. “Please Mr. Postman”- The Marvelettes
  3. “Stand By Me”- Ben E. King
  4. “Personality Crisis”- New York Dolls
  5. “Rapper’s Delight”- Sugarhill Gang
  6. “Love Will Tear Us Apart”- Joy Division
  7. “This Revolution Will Not Be Televised”- Gil Scott-Heron
  8. “American Woman”- The Guess Who
  9. “Remember (Walking in the Sand)”- The Shangri-Las
  10. “I Will Survive”- Gloria Gaynor
  11. “Wild Thing”- The Troggs
  12. “Chantilly Lace”- The Big Bopper
  13. “Layla”- Derek & the Dominoes
  14. “Whip It”- Devo
  15. “In the Still of the Night”- The Five Satins
  16. “Inna Gadda da Vida”- Iron Butterfly
  17. “The Train Kept A-Rollin'”- Johnny Burnette & the Rock n’ Roll Trio
  18. “Miserlou”- Dick Dale
  19. “Gimme Some Lovin'”- Spencer Davis Group
  20. “Maybe”- The Chantels

Albums:

  1. Odessey and Oracle– the Zombies
  2. Tapestry– Carole King
  3. Forever Changes– Love
  4. Planet Rock– Afrika Bambaataa
  5. Trout Mask Replica– Captain Beefheart
  6. The Modern Lovers– The Modern Lovers
  7. Shoot Out the Lights– Richard and Linda Thompson
  8. All Mods Con– The Jam
  9. Music for Airports, Vol. 1– Brian Eno
  10. Marquee Moon– Television
  11. Grievous Angel– Gram Parsons
  12. Pacific Ocean Blue– Dennis Wilson
  13. The World is a Ghetto– War
  14. In the Court of the Crimson King– King Crimson
  15. Grace– Jeff Buckley
  16. CrazySexyCool– TLC
  17. Bat Out of Hell– Meat Loaf
  18. What’s the 411?– Mary J. Blige
  19. Boston– Boston
  20. The Stone Roses– The Stone Roses.

Any others? The singles’ list, especially, was difficult to cut down– just off the bat, “Happy Together,” “Duke of Earl,” “Kick Out the Jams,” and “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” might have been included.

The more I think about it, the more okay I am with these new categories– provided that they are done right. That means inviting the honorees to the ceremony, even if time restraints prevent them from performing. That means announcing them before the damn ceremony in the first place. But the potential here is great– every single act I’ve listed for albums, for example, would have a tough time getting voted in the usual way, with the exception of Carole King. The same goes for the artists who made those 20 singles– many of them have been nominated, or at least considered for nomination, by the committee. Yet, the larger voting body is reticent to give much attention to early rock, most forms of alternative, and R&B. The albums, especially, will allow for the Rock Hall to more credibly give attention to alternative and experimental artists who are absent from most ceremonies.

So ends another year of Rock Hall commentary and speculation.

Hooo boy. First of all, I’m sorry that I have been posting infrequently on this blog- sometimes to the tune of only one a month. My teaching load is a little bit heavier this year, as have some of my church responsibilities. But now that #RockHall2018 is over, let’s look at some of the larger storylines that emerged from the build-up to the ceremony.

  1. One very encouraging development is that the induction ceremony is slowly blossoming into nearly a week of festivities. I am not sure this will be the case in years where the ceremony is not in Cleveland, but it was great to see some collaboration between the museum and the foundation. Previous inductees were invited to give talks. The Moody Blues and Bon Jovi showed up for a press conference. There was a red carpet event. All of these are encouraging signs of making the induction process part of a unified whole and more tightly knitted into the museum experience.
  2. It seems like you can now vote (inconsequentially, of course) for artists you wish to see in the Rock Hall Museum. It seems like Def Leppard and Stevie Nicks– two artists that didn’t come close to making my list of 100 Rock Hall prospects– are among the early favorites.
  3. Things got Kafka-esque…maybe Thompson-esque is the better term…when, without any advance notice, Little Stevie Van Zandt got up on stage to announce inductees for a wholly new category…Singles! In retrospect, it doesn’t seem like a completely bad idea. There are lots of artists whose legacy can more or less be summed up by one great song that contributed in an exceptional way to the development of rock and roll. I have few quarrels with their choices: “Rocket 88,” “Louie Louie,” “Born to be Wild,” “A Whiter Shade of Pale”, “Rumble”, and Chubby Checker’s version of “The Twist.” I mean, perhaps a female artist should have been included somewhere, but other than that, all deserving songs. However, it raises some questions…why didn’t we know about this beforehand? Why weren’t any of the surviving artists on stage or seemingly even notified beforehand? Chubby Checker arguably wanted to be in the Rock Hall more than anyone–and he doesn’t appear to have been invited. Similarly, Link Wray’s family, who has been nobly campaigning for him should have been there, as should have Gary Booker from Procol Harum and others. Maybe they were worried about extending the ceremony’s run time. But this still seems like a decision that raises as many questions as it resolves. I’m glad some artists who weren’t going to get into the Hall under conventional means have some formal representation now. Yet it has to be asked– are we going to see The Marvelettes, The Zombies, Mary Wells, or MC5 honored in the same way? Stevie Van Zandt has said “no” and that none of this is intended to be a substitute for an artist’s induction. I have no reason to doubt his sincerity, but I’m not sure everyone on the Nom Com will see it that way.
  4. We’ve also learned that two members of the Nom Com have retired. Dave Marsh is gone– good riddance, I say. And perhaps my favorite member, music historian Craig Werner, is also gone. One new person- Amanda Petrusich is on board. She’s young (in the grey area between Gen X and millennial, and possibly the committee’s youngest member) and has gone some fabulous research on rare music that makes her a true wild card presence in the committee room.
  5. The Dire Straits induction was a shit-show. For the first time ever, nobody was invited to induct the artist at hand, with bassist John Illsley awkwardly inviting his band into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. As Future Rock Legends has noted, this seems petty and disrespectful, even if the Knopflers didn’t bother showing up. Eric over at E-rockracy came up with this insight: “It has to be observed that someone – anyone – officially involved with the Rock Hall could have at least introduced them with a short induction welcome. Greg Harris, Van Zandt… anyone. Strange situation.” Indeed.
  6. Howard Stern’s induction speech for Bon Jovi is getting rave reviews, but I am not buying it. Stern was disrespectful toward the Rock Hall and one more element of the smug entitlement the Bon Jovi crew has shown toward getting inducted into the Rock Hall. Stern’s speech, like Morello’s for KISS, smacks of empty populism, and confuses the act of filling stadiums with the process of creating quality music. The Grammys would never countenance a speaker who did nothing but lambast the legitimacy of the Grammys, nor would the Emmys tolerate a speaker who didn’t think the Emmys should exist. The Rock Hall would have been within its rights to show Stern the door, especially since he kept whining about having to make the trip over to Cleveland.
  7. The Killers saluted Tom Petty, and Ann Wilson and Alice in Chains commemorated Chris Cornell of Soundgarden. Both worthy tributes, but why wasn’t Fats Domino commemorated? He was an inaugural Rock Hall inductee, and indispensable to the creation of rock and roll’s blueprints.

So a very uneven ceremony. There were some legitimate high points, including the tributes to Nina Simone and Sister Rosetta- both more deserving and far more overdue than Bon Jovi. The Cars reunion was a great moment, made poignant by Ben Orr’s absence. Yet, the Hall botched things both under its control– how the new Singles category would be unveiled– and things out of its control– such as Mark Knopfler’s no-show. Still, lots of people worked hard to make this show a success, and soul and gospel music uncharacteristically got their due this year, for which I am grateful. But good God! Let’s move away from these 70s acts, shall we? The 1980s and 1990s are still waiting for their A and B-list acts to get in.

Since I know people are going to start asking about Class of 2019 nominees, let me just briefly sketch some thoughts. For one, the Knopfler and Radiohead debacles have probably made the Hall rethink English artists who don’t already have a strong, pre-existing connection to the institution. For another, I think we’ll see a lot of repeat nominees given the strength of this year’s crop. If I had to make an amorphous guess, 20 acts that I think have the best chance of being on the ballot: Rufus/Chaka Khan, Janet Jackson, Nine Inch Nails, Eurythmics, Judas Priest, The Meters, Smashing Pumpkins, Warren Zevon, Doobie Brothers, Big Star, Radiohead (in spite of everything that went down), Rage Against the Machine, LL Cool J, A Tribe Called Quest, Roxy Music, Beck, Duran Duran, Stevie Nicks, Def Leppard, and J. Geils Band,

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This is going to be a quick post, just so I can say that I’ve done something on the Countdown during the month of March. Several weeks ago, SLAM magazine produced its list of 100 greatest NBA players of all time. You can see the final results here, and an ESPN list that came out a year earlier here. I like both lists, and they were compiled by folks with a lot more NBA know-how than I. But there were still some puzzlers that struck me as false– Barkley over Karl Malone in the SLAM list? Ridiculous. Barkley made better copy, for sure, but Malone had a longer, significantly better career that culminated in two MVPs and the second-most points scored of all time. There was also a tendency to favor players with the allure of legend (such as Pete Maravich and Connie Hawkins) over more substantively accomplished athletes.

Here, then, is my own list of the top 100 NBA players of all time. While I tried to accommodate questions that will necessarily come from ranking players across ages– would George Mikan’s game hold up today? Would Russell Westbrook’s ranking be reasonable if he stopped playing tomorrow?– I ultimately came back to a single question: who gave their team the best chance of winning it all? If there’s demand, I might elaborate on my choices, but for now, I’ll just list my choices.

  1. Michael Jordan
  2. Lebron James
  3. Bill Russell
  4. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
  5. Magic Johnson
  6. Tim Duncan
  7. Kobe Bryant
  8. Larry Bird
  9. Wilt Chamberlain
  10. Shaquille O’Neal
  11. Jerry West
  12. Hakeem Olajuwon
  13. Moses Malone
  14. Oscar Robertson
  15. Kevin Durant
  16. Karl Malone
  17. Stephen Curry
  18. Julius Erving
  19. Kevin Garnett
  20. John Havlicek
  21. Dirk Nowitzki
  22. John Stockton
  23. Elgin Baylor
  24. Scottie Pippen
  25. Isiah Thomas
  26. Bob Pettit
  27. David Robinson
  28. Charles Barkley
  29. Dwyane Wade
  30. Jason Kidd
  31. Chris Paul
  32. Walt Frazier
  33. Elvin Hayes
  34. Patrick Ewing
  35. Allen Iverson
  36. Russell Westbrook
  37. Steve Nash
  38. Bob Cousy
  39. Gary Payton
  40. Dolph Schayes
  41. Clyde Drexler
  42. Willis Reed
  43. Rick Barry
  44. Paul Pierce
  45. Kevin McHale
  46. Reggie Miller
  47. Ray Allen
  48. James Harden
  49. George Mikan
  50. Wes Unseld
  51. Earl Monroe
  52. Dominique Wilkins
  53. George Gervin
  54. Dave Cowens
  55. Alonzo Mourning
  56. Kawhi Leonard
  57. Tony Parker
  58. Bob Lanier
  59. James Worthy
  60. Sam Jones
  61. Bill Walton
  62. Bernard King
  63. Nate “Tiny” Archibald
  64. Bob McAdoo
  65. Hal Greer
  66. Paul Arizin
  67. Dennis Johnson
  68. Nate Thurmond
  69. Dikembe Mutombo
  70. Robert Parish
  71. Dwight Howard
  72. Vince Carter
  73. Adrian Dantley
  74. Carmelo Anthony
  75. Alex English
  76. Kyrie Irving
  77. Sidney Moncrief
  78. Chris Mullin
  79. Bill Sharman
  80. Joe Dumars
  81. Chris Bosh
  82. Chris Webber
  83. Dave DeBusschere
  84. Tracy McGrady
  85. Jerry Lucas
  86. Draymond Green
  87. Dave Thompson
  88. Pete Maravich
  89. Pau Gasol
  90. Chauncey Billups
  91. Grant Hill
  92. Lenny Wilkens
  93. Anthony Davis
  94. Manu Ginobili
  95. Ben Wallace
  96. Paul Westphal
  97. Jack Twyman
  98. Maurice Cheeks
  99. Mark Price
  100. David Bing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

#RockHall2018 hot take

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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