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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For ease of reference, my rankings were:

Worthiness:

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

Ranking favorites:

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

Likelihood: 

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

Bottom line:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Our “Good Place”-style version of the hereafter is having one final Beatles reunion in the form of a week-long festival. Part 1 looked at supporting acts and duets between various combinations of Beatles. Part 2 explored George and Ringo’s solo sets. For Part 3, we’ll look at the solo sets Paul and John have cooked up.

Paul McCartney solo set:

  • Paul McCartney: lead vocals, bass, guitar, piano
  • Linda McCartney: keyboards, background vocals
  • Brian Ray: guitar, bass, background vocals
  • Rusty Anderson: guitar, background vocals
  • Abe Laboriel, Jr.: drums, percussion, background vocals
  • Paul “Wix” Wickens: keyboards, accordion, background vocals

  1. Junior’s Farm
  2. Can’t Buy Me Love
  3. Jet 
  4. All My Loving 
  5. Letting Go
  6. I’m Looking Through You
  7. FourFiveSeconds (w/ Kanye West and Rihanna)
  8. Sing the Changes
  9. Eat at Home 
  10. Back in the USSR
  11. Flaming Pie 
  12. I’ve Just Seen A Face 
  13. Things We Said Today 
  14. Here, There, and Everywhere
  15. Blackbird (solo on guitar)
  16. Every Night (solo on guitar)
  17. At the Mercy (solo on piano)
  18. Lady Madonna (solo on piano)
  19. Yesterday (just Paul on guitar, Wix on keys)
  20. Listen To What the Man Said
  21. We Can Work It Out (w/ Stevie Wonder)
  22. Band on the Run
  23. Queenie Eye 
  24. You Never Give Me Your Money
  25. Got to Get You Into My Life 
  26. Kansas City/Hey Hey Hey Hey 

Encore:

  1. Let It Be
  2. Maybe I’m Amazed
  3. Golden Slumbers/Carry That Weight/The End

Paul’s set is characteristically a crowd-pleaser. Big hits abound, but he also surprises with a number of deep cuts from fan favorite albums: “Queenie Eye” from New, the title track to Flaming Pie, and “Eat at Home” from Ram all make it into the set. Although the ballads deliver as always, Paul connects most fully with the audience during the rockers, including a rousing, set-closing “Kansas City”, the Chuck Berry and Beach Boys homage “Back in the USSR,” and fun, unpretentious “Can’t Buy Me Love.” A number of absences make people wonder what songs will make it into the Beatles’ upcoming set, noting that “Live and Let Die,” “The Long and Winding Road,” “My Love,” and “Hey Jude” all didn’t get played. Aside from a few puzzling comments from Kanye when he was brought out to the stage, this concert goes without a hitch.

John Lennon solo set:

  • John Lennon: lead vocals, guitar, piano, harmonica
  • Earl Slick: lead guitar, background vocals
  • Klaus Voormann: bass, background vocals
  • Nicky Hopkins: keyboards, background vocals
  • Alan White: drums
  1. I’m Losing You 
  2. Yer Blues 
  3. You Can’t Catch Me 
  4. Help! 
  5. Much Too Late for Goodbyes (w/ Julian Lennon)
  6. In My Life 
  7. Surprise Surprise (Sweet Bird of Paradox)
  8. You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away
  9. Julia/Mother
  10. Imagine
  11. Working Class Hero 
  12. (Just Like) Starting Over 
  13. Hey Bulldog
  14. Whatever Gets You Thru the Night (w/ Elton John)
  15. Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds (w/ Elton John) 
  16. Watching the Wheels 
  17. One Day at a Time
  18. Walking on Thin Ice (w/ Yoko Ono) 
  19. Money (That’s What I Want)
  20. Everybody’s Got Something To Hide (Except Me and My Monkey)
  21. Dizzy Miss Lizzie 
  22. New York City 

Encore:

  1. Instant Karma (We All Shine On!)
  2. Johnny B. Goode 
  3. Give Peace a Chance 

Giving a concert longer than any he gave as a solo artist, John Lennon did not disappoint. Although sometimes flubbing lyrics, as is his wont, this set delivers by playing to Lennon’s strengths of radical political activism and his love of old time rock and roll. He eschews most of the early Lennon-McCartney compositions in favor of the more introspective material from both the band and his time on his own or with the Plastic Ono Band. Highlights include the first time John and Julian perform on stage together, with a proud dad handling the harmonica parts on “Just Too Late for Goodbyes.” Even Yoko’s contribution to the set, poignantly the song John helped her record on the night he died, is well received. Elton provided glitz and showmanship by helping out with Lennon’s first #1 as a solo artist, “Whatever Gets You Through the Night” and the piano man’s version of “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds.”

So– that’s all there is for now. Part 4 will cover the highly anticipated reunion of all four Beatles on stage. Any predictions for their setlists?

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In Part 1, we went through the first few days of the festival, with a number of Beatles-related acts getting to perform, along with every duo possible among The Beatles. Next up are the lads’ solo sets. Day 4 sees both Ringo and George giving full-length concerts in anticipation of the Beatles reunion show just days away.

Ringo Starr’s band:

  • Ringo Starr: lead vocals, drums, percussion
  • Joe Walsh: guitar, vocals
  • Todd Rundgren: guitar, keyboards, vocals
  • Billy Preston: keyboards, vocals
  • Richard Page: bass, vocals
  • Mark Rivera: saxophone, keyboards, percussion
  • Zak Starkey: drums, percussion

Ringo Starr’s setlist:

  1. What’s My Name
  2. Matchbox
  3. Don’t Go Where the Road Don’t Go
  4. Other Side of Liverpool 
  5. Boys
  6. Missouri Loves Company
  7. I Saw the Light (Todd Rundgren on lead vocals)
  8. Will It Go Round in Circles (Billy Preston on lead vocals)
  9. Kyrie (Richard Page on lead vocals)
  10. In The City (Joe Walsh on lead vocals)
  11. Love Me Do
  12. Snookeroo 
  13. Don’t Pass Me By
  14. Back Off Boogaloo
  15. That’s The Way God Planned It (Billy Preston on lead vocals)
  16. Bang on the Drum (Todd Rundgren on lead vocals)
  17. Life’s Been Good to Me (So Far) (Joe Walsh on lead vocals) 
  18. Broken Wings (Richard Page on lead vocals) 
  19. No No Song 
  20. Yellow Submarine
  21. Oh My My
  22. Liverpool 8

Encore: It Don’t Come Easy, With A Little Help From My Friends.

Ringo gives an all-star band style performance, sharing the spotlight with some famous friends. Wisely avoiding his late 70s and early 80s records, he adroitly mixes old Beatles favorites, his early 70s records, and his more recent output. A number of surprising deep cuts make the show, including “Missouri Loves Company” from Ringo Rama, and “Snookeroo,” the b-side to “No No Song” written by Elton John and Bernie Taupin. The all-stars are tight, anchored by Starkey and Rivera’s musicianship. Walsh and Rundgren clown around and play off each other well, giving the proceedings some comic relief. Billy Preston’s enthusiasm is ineffectious, while Page, still as a statue on stage, provides perfect high tenor harmonies.

George Harrison’s band:

  • George Harrison: lead vocals, guitar
  • Dhani Harrison: guitar, background vocals
  • Herbie Flowers: bass, background vocals
  • Gary Wright: keyboards, background vocals
  • Jim Keltner: drums, percussion
  • Ray Cooper: drums, percussion

George Harrison’s setlist:

  1. The Inner Light (w/ Ravi Shankar)
  2. Within You, Without You (w/ Ravi Shankar)
  3. I Want to Tell You
  4. Any Road
  5. Not Guilty 
  6. Dark Horse 
  7. Cheer Down 
  8. Nothing Shaking (But the Leaves on the Trees)
  9. Sad-Eyed Lady of the Lowlands
  10. Give Me Love (Give Me Peace on Earth)
  11. Badge (w/ Eric Clapton)
  12. Cloud Nine (w/ Eric Clapton)
  13. While My Guitar Gently Weeps (w/ Eric Clapton)
  14. Life Itself 
  15. Old Brown Shoe
  16. Isn’t It A Pity
  17. Marwa Blues
  18. Devil’s Radio 
  19. End of the Line 
  20. Something
  21. Savoy Truffle (w/ Muscle Shoals Horns)
  22. Got My Mind Set On You (w/ Muscle Shoals Horns) 
  23. All Things Must Pass ((w/ Muscle Shoals Horns)

Encore: What Is Life? (w/ Muscle Shoals Horns), My Sweet Lord

Never the most engaging frontman, Harrison engages in some wry jokes and banter with his bandmates throughout the set. He begins with Ravi Shankar and about a half dozen musicians who back up George, his eyes closed and sitting cross-legged on a cushion, as they perform two of The Beatles’ best-known Indian-flavored tracks. As the Indian musicians leave the stage, George’s more conventional rock and roll accompanists join him, and a roadie hands him his psychedelic guitar from the Magical Mystery Tour era. Shortly after a couple covers of his favorite artists–Carl Perkins and Bob Dylan–his frenemy Eric Clapton joins him on stage. They perform the Cream staple “Badge”, the title track to Harrison’s comeback album Cloud Nine, and of course, “While My Guitar Gently Weeps,” with Clapton’s guitar solo earning some of the loudest cheers of the night. He visits some obscure tracks for the second half of his show such as the Wilburys song “End of the Line,” “Life Itself” from Somewhere in England, and the Grammy-winning “Marwa Blues.” After a rousing “Something”, Harrison invites the famous Muscle Shoals horn section to the stage for a few numbers before an encore that includes perhaps the two best known songs from his iconic All Things Must Pass.

John and Paul’s solo sets are up next. Any guesses on what they will play?

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I’ve been watching The Good Place lately on the suggestion of a number of friends who thought it might be my cup of tea. I’m pleased to say that their suggestion was spot-in; it’s unexpected and delightful to see a prime-time major-network television show devoting time to, say, Soren Kierkegaard and esoteric considerations of what justice is like when our time on earth is over.

Over the course of four seasons, our four human protagonists on the show (aided by reformed demon Michael) realize that one’s fate after death is bogged down in a cumbersome points system that no modern person could possibly overcome to avoid going to “The Bad Place” due to the unintended consequences of their actions. They ultimately convince the heavenly (and hellish) hosts to remake the system. Most people will spend some time in a “bad place” to confront the harm they’ve caused and to finish growing and developing as a person before reaching the “good place.”

Yet the characters ultimately find “the good place” unfulfilling, inert, and too perfect for its own good. In order to enjoy eternity, they realize, their own eternities have to end: our existence needs to be finite. And so a mechanism is devised for someone, after a time enjoying “the good place” and all its experiences and happy reunions, to go peacefully off into oblivion “whenever you’re ready,” as the title of the final episode describes.

This seems like a very strange set-up for a fun post about a fantasy Beatles reunion. But suppose “the good place” is more or less what the hereafter is like? The Beatles and all their contemporaries and compatriots are there– and in time, each of us is there as well. Before The Beatles go off into that final sunset, let’s say they arrange one last reunion concert to end all reunion concerts. In fact, let’s imagine they go a step further and make it a reunion festival.

Preparations are in the works for a few Bearimys, but press agent Derek Taylor finally announces Brian Epstein’s plans for the festival.

It starts out with three days’ worth of mini-sets in a festival atmosphere: but with better sanitation, lots of comfy cushions to sit on, perfect crisp early autumn weather, and a few dozen food trucks offering fare ranging from classic British fish and chips to bahn mi.

The first day of the festival is reserved for acts that inspired John, Paul, George, and Ringo. Short 45-minute sets are reserved in different corners of the grounds for Chuck Berry, Carole King, Roy Orbison, Ray Charles, Carl Perkins, Buddy Holly & the Crickets, Little Richard, Eddie Cochran, The Shirelles, and Gene Vincent. A few key absences stand out; Jerry Lee Lewis is still struggling his way through the Bad Place, unable to fully grasp the problematic nature of marrying one’s 13-year-old cousin. Elvis is still somehow legally obligated to Col. Parker’s absurd movie contract in the afterlife, and is off filming his 583rd feature, Macau Madness.

Days two and three feature many of the Fab Four’s contemporaries and colleagues. Artists during this part of the festival include Harry Nilsson, Badfinger, Mary Hopkins, Peter & Gordon, Bob Dylan, Billy J. Kramer and the Dakotas, Denny Laine, Leon Russell, Tom Petty, Peter Frampton, Cilla Black, Jeff Lyne and the Electric Light Orchestra, Gerry & the Pacemakers, Jools Holland, Joe Walsh, The Meters, Steve Miller, Donovan, The Rutles, Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band, Ravi Shankar, Jackie DeShannon, and The Band.

The Beatles themselves take part as well. To help generate some excitement and anticipation, they sporatically perform in duos throughout these two days, performing short six-song sets with a few backup musicians. Between themselves, John, Paul, George, and Ringo make an agreement to not perform the same song twice during the festival.

Paul and George–maybe the most fraught interpersonal relationship in the group–come first, with a collaboration between them that ended up on the first disc they recorded, “In Spite of All the Danger.” They follow with a breezy “I’ll Follow the Sun” and with a knowing wink, do “Wah Wah,” a song Harrison wrote to vent out his frustrations on Macca during the Let It Be sessions. The Cute One and The Quiet One carry on with “Handle with Care,” as McCartney steps in for Roy Orbison on the bridge. Paul and George swap to ukuleles for “Dance Tonight,” and finally, Paul breaks out his fuzz bass to end with a rousing “Think For Yourself.”

John and Ringo go next for a fun, back-to-basics set that begins with “I’m the Greatest,” featuring some spritely keyboard work form Billy Preston. Lennon performs “Cold Turkey” followed by a jocular “What Goes On”, the latter being a rare collaboration between Lennon and Ringo. Feigning a yawn, Lennon then performs “I’m So Tired” before ending with “Goodnight Vienna” and one of Ringo’s finest moments as a drummer, “Rain.”

Paul and Ringo go next, and having lived the longest, they certainly had the most opportunities to collaborate. They begin with an ersatz “Temporary Secretary”, before switching to a tender “Walk With You” and “Six O’Clock,” an earnest song Macca wrote for the Ringo album. Next is one of Ringo’s #1 hits, “You’re Sixteen,” and Paul gamely reprises his kazoo solo from the 1973 original. “Helter Skelter” comes next, raucous and loud as could be, with Ringo gleefully shouting “I’VE GOT BLISTERS ON MY FINGERS!!” before concluding with “Beautiful Night,” from Flaming Pie.

John and George begin on a rocking note with “Give Me Some Truth”. John says some uncharacteristically kind words about George’s hard work to create the backwards solo on “I’m Only Sleeping” before they perform that track for the audience. Next, they go back to the Hamburg days to break out the instrumental “Cry for a Shadow.” George, shy in front the microphone after all these years, talks about John’s influence on his early life and the hurt his assassination caused before performing “All Those Years Ago.” As a lark, they tease the first verse of “How Do You Sleep” before switching to “Do You Want To Know A Secret.” For their finale, George is handed a sitar, and the two perform “Norwegian Wood.”

George and Ringo–perhaps the strongest and least complicated Beatles relationship (even after George and Maureen slept together) share a visible camaraderie during their set. Beginning with Dylan’s “If Not For You,” George then uses his slide guitar for the deep cut “King of Broken Hearts” from Vertical Man. As mutual Carl Perkins fans, their enjoyment at playing “Honey Don’t” is manifest, with Ringo giving one of his trademark invitations to a George guitar solo. “Photograph”–a collaboration between the two that went to #1–comes next, and Ringo thanks George for his help composing “Octopus’s Garden”. To end their set, they visit Harrison’s Cloud Nine album with the nostalgic “When We Was Fab.”

It goes without saying that John and Paul’s set is the most highly anticipated, and their performance closes out this segment of the festival. The lineup is stripped down: just the two of them come out at first, each with an acoustic guitar, to perform “Two of Us.” Then, they are joined by Jim Keltner on drums, and McCartney utility man Brian Ray switching between guitars, bass, and keyboards as needed. The foursome perform “The Ballad of John and Yoko” after reminiscing how much fun it was to record the song just the two of them in early 1969. During “Let Me Roll It”, Paul notes how he tried to make a song in the style of Lennon’s solo work, and invites John to take a verse. Things take a more serious turn with “The Song We Were Singing” from Flaming Pie. After doing one of their initial “Lennon-McCartney Originals,” “One After 909,” they conclude the set with the final song recorded by The Beatles, “Real Love.”

Needless to say, anticipation is at a fever pitch for the big day. But getting the four lads on stage together will have to wait. Each Beatle is getting a solo set in the festival– and we’ll cover that in Part 2.

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I was ending my sophomore year in high school and having an awkward but necessary conversation with my band director. After 4 years, I was hanging up my baritone horn and quitting our school’s concert and marching band. The reason? We weren’t playing any Chicago songs although the band was well suited for the format. (This was 1999, by the way.)

I relate this story so you know how serious I’ve been about Chicago at some stages of my life. I’ve seen them in concert 7 times. I even saw Peter Cetera, even though it was literally the worst concert I’ve been to (yes, I ranked them.) As I mentioned on the Rock Hall Watchers podcast, my righteous indignation at their being snubbed by the Hall of Fame for decades was the particular rabbit hole I dove down that led to my deeper interest in the institution. Even today, they are my third favorite artist of the classic rock era, behind The Beatles and Elton John. So I’m going to attempt something I’m a little bit surprised I’ve never done yet here– I’m going to do a countdown ranking of the band’s classic era.

Perhaps I ought to clarify– by “classic era”, I mean more or less the Terry Kath era, from their first album (Chicago Transit Authority) to XI, each of which was produced by James Guercio. Moreover, the quality declines precipitously after XI, with a revolving door of guitarists, over-democratic creative process, and producers with no idea how to record a horn section. You might think this means we’ll look at the tracks from eleven albums, but I’m skipping over their quadruple-live album (Live at Carnegie Hall) and IX, which was a greatest hits collection. So– nine albums worth of material, four of which were originally released as a 2-vinyl disc set. During much of this era, the band’s output sold like gangbusters, with 5 straight records in that sequence hitting #1.

We’ll explore some classic hits, some failed but noble experiments, some tasty deep cuts, and some truly baffling errors in judgment. I love Chicago, but in the same way you affectionately love that uncle of yours with the bad dad jokes and terrible fashion sense, who won’t stop talking about goddamn Keith Emerson. We’ll start at the bottom and work our way up to greatness.

92.” You Get It Up” (Chicago X- the one with the chocolate bar): The song’s title tells you exactly what it’s about. It would be an insult to call this “filler”…filler is the musical equivalent of empty calories. This is more the musical equivalent of force-feeding someone a cyanide bonbon. Raunchy tracks can be fun– how many funk outfits pulled that off?- but with the creepy group vocals, and rhyming the title with “I’m your buttercup” this is an indictment of a band that thought they could record literally anything and it would become a hit record.

91. “Free Form Guitar” (Chicago Transit Authority– the one where the band isn’t calling itself just Chicago yet.): Here’s the thing: avant-garde has its time and place. But it’s not random and it’s not accidental; it’s carefully, deliberately arranged. For all the flack that goes into “Revolution No. 9,” it was at least carefully arranged and crafted to create a sense of society devolving into chaos. Legend has it that Kath wasn’t even aware the tapes were rolling when he messed around with feedback on his guitar. And yet here we are- six minutes of guitar noise; heaven help the poor sap listening to this on cassette. Still somehow better than “You Get It Up.”

90. “Critic’s Choice” (Chicago VI– the one that looks like money): Chicago’s relationship with rock and roll literati– a concept that would have been foreign just a year or two before their first record was recorded– was fraught to say the least. Rolling Stone, Creem, Crawdaddy— they all relished a chance to give the band a dismissive review. Understandably pissed off, Robert Lamm wrote a track blasting the critics. In theory, that’s not a bad concept, but in practice, it’s a slow, whiny, cri de coeur, made worse by the fact that it’s VI‘s opening track and features no other band members.

89. “Gently I’ll Wake You” (Chicago X): Part of X‘s limp to the finish line, the twee verses clash with a louder, brasher chorus when the horn section comes in. Um…getting louder when you get to “gently I’ll wake you” defeats the point of the song, guys.

88. “Anyway You Want” (Chicago VIII– the one with the cardinal patch): Peter Cetera gets to write the opener this time, and it’s a paint-by-numbers uptempo track that somehow sounds plodding and unoriginal. This is a recurring theme in Cetera’s tracks– he rarely writes songs tailored to his bandmate’s strengths.

87. “Jenny” (Chicago VI): Terry Kath’s ode to his dog and one of the rare Chicago songs to feature a girl’s name. There’s no horn section–not necessarily a problem–but it’s also poorly mixed and TK’s vocals are hard to discern– except for the song’s closing observation: “There’s always someone waiting just to shit on you.”

86. “Italian From New York” (Chicago VII– the gold leather-bound album): The instrumentals on VII have grown on me a lot over the years, but not so this one. Mostly just some ponderous electric piano noodling.

85. “Prelude/A.M. Mourning/P.M. Mourning/Memories of Love” (Chicago II– the cloudy cityscape one): Clocking in collectively at 9 minutes, this is a failed attempt at a lush, orchestrated vintage sound. Not wanting for ambition, I think it’s great that the band delved into classical, but this isn’t the way to do it. The pizzicato violins, Terry’s poor lyrics, the heavy-handed orchestration: II would have been a substantively better without it.

84. “Liberation” (Chicago Transit Authority): What is “Liberation”? The better question to me is: why is “Liberation”? As in, why is this track on the album? Get rid of this and “Free Form,” and you’d have one hell of a strong debut record. “Liberation” is over thirteen minutes long. That’s no crime in and of itself, but it fails to take us anywhere that the other tracks on the record didn’t cover. The band sounds, frankly, tired recording this and it shows. This is James Pankow’s only songwriting credit on their debut album, and a poor harbinger of his terrific work just around the corner.

83. “Policeman” (Chicago XI– the map one): How surprising it must have been to see Robert Lamm– Mr. “We dedicate ourselves to the revolution in all its forms”– write an observational and highly sympathetic character sketch of a down-on-his-luck cop. His wife left him, he only has his cat for company, he sees deep injustices every day. In a way, this is of a piece with the increasing sympathy for the white ethnic blue-collar worker of the mid-to-late 70s, best seen in Lordstown strike, police unrest in Detroit, and Travolta’s characters in films like Saturday Night Fever. But my problem is its cheesy arrangements presaging the band’s direction for the balance of the Seventies. There’s velvety mellow (think “All Is Well” from V) and fake-wood-paneling mellow. This is the latter.

82. “Hope for Love” (Chicago X): Oh dear; our third entry from X in this lowest tier. Here’s the thing: for all of his reputation as a rocker, a lot of Terry’s songs are minimalist, slow, and soulful. Sometimes it works– “Til We Meet Again” on VIII is a great example of that. Other times, it seems like Terry is phoning it in, drunk, and/or undisciplined in executing these kinds of tracks. This one ends X on an overwrought note, repeating “I don’t know” ad infinitum.

81. “Mama Mama” (Chicago X): And our fourth entry from X among the twelve lowest spots on the ranking. Peter Cetera had a weird fixation on “mama” throughout the 70s, and this would surface in the ad-libs on “If You Leave Me Now,” and “Mama Take” and “Aloha Mama” from arguably the band’s worst album, Chicago XIII. Twee, sung in falsetto, and lushly orchestrated, this lacks the rhythm, soul, and arrangement that made Chicago great.

So– our lowest batch of songs. I hope the band’s fans will forgive the snark– it all comes from a place of love, and we are slowly working our way up to Chicago’s very best material.

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To celebrate Sir Paul’s 78th birthday this week, I’m posting a list of what I believe to be the 50 best songs McCartney released during his now-50 year long solo career. I’m being a bit broad in what I think of as “solo”– it includes collaborations with other artists and Wings material as well. Rolling Stone did a fine list of this nature…I applaud many of its choices from McCartney II and for keeping “My Love” off the list.

  1. Band on the Run (Band on the Run)
  2. Heather (Driving Rain)
  3. Maybe I’m Amazed (McCartney)
  4. Jet (Band on the Run)
  5. Calico Skies (Flaming Pie)
  6. Wanderlust (Tug of War)
  7. Somedays (Flaming Pie)
  8. Another Day (single)
  9. Young Boy (Flaming Pie)
  10. This One (Flowers in the Dirt)
  11. Little Lamb Dragonfly (Red Rose Speedway)
  12. Listen to what the Man Said (Venus and Mars)
  13. Silly Love Songs (Wings at the Speed of Sound)
  14. Veronica (w/ Elvis Costello)
  15. Monkberry Moon Delight (Ram)
  16. Mrs. Vanderbilt (Band on the Run)
  17. English Tea (Chaos and Creation in the Backyard)
  18. Junior’s Farm (single)
  19. Beautiful Night (Flaming Pie)
  20. New (New)
  21. Back Seat of My Car (Ram)
  22. The Lovers That Never Were (Off the Ground)
  23. Here Today (Tug of War)
  24. Let Me Roll It (Band on the Run)
  25. Put It There (Flowers in the Dirt)
  26. Sing the Changes (Fireman single)
  27. Queenie Eye (New)
  28. Helen Wheels (Band on the Run)
  29. Heaven on a Sunday (Flaming Pie)
  30. Venus and Mars/Rock Show (Venus and Mars)
  31. Flaming Pie (Flaming Pie)
  32. FourFive Seconds (w/ Rihanna and Kanye West)
  33. Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey (Ram)
  34. Ballroom Dancing (Tug of War)
  35. Jenny Wren (Chaos and Creation in the Back Yard)
  36. Footprints (Press to Play)
  37. The World Tonight (Flaming Pie)
  38. Ever Present Past (Memory Almost Full)
  39. Old Siam Sir (Back to the Egg)
  40. Waterfalls (McCartney II)
  41. Only Mama Knows (Memory Almost Full)
  42. Riding to Vanity Fair (Chaos and Creation in the Back Yard)
  43. Temporary Secretary  (McCartney II)
  44. Nineteen Hundred and Eighty Five (Band on the Run)
  45. Fuh You (Egypt Station)
  46. Figure of Eight (Flowers in the Dirt)
  47. Say, Say, Say (w/ Michael Jackson)
  48. Friends to Go (Chaos and Creation in the Back Yard)
  49. Hossanah (New)
  50. You Gave Me the Answer (Venus and Mars)

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Personae Dramatis:

 

Moderators/Chairmen of the Nom Com:

  • Nick (@NickDBambach): Academic librarian by day, professional wrestling fan by night, writer at The Audio-Visual Repository at all hours. Moderator and tech support for this exercise.
  • Mark (@alex_voltaire): Expat historian who writes at The Northumbrian Countdown. Timekeeper and comic relief for this exercise.

 

Nominating Committee:

  • Charles (@cvcjr13): Perhaps the very first recorded Rock Hall Watcher and a noted advocate of rock pioneers. Blogs at Our Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
  • Darin (@DarinGaley): Longtime FRL fixture and defender of underground acts who didn’t sell that many records. 
  • Darren (@hinesd24): Moderator of projects at Future Rock Legends and blogs at Hammer of the Gods. From the great state of South Dakota.
  • David (@dschnelwar): A freelance music writer and longtime contributor at Future Rock Legends.
  • Donnie (@dd25beatlesfan1): Donnie’s been involved in virtually every Rock Hall Watcher project every year for the past several years. Frustrated Pacers fan. Shares Nick’s appreciation for professional wrestling. Oversees Donny’s Blog.
  • Eric (@Erockracy): Co-host of the Hall Watchers podcast and keeps the E-Rockracy blog.
  • Neil (@futurerocklgnds): The All-Father. The man behind the common denominator of Rock Hall Watching, Future Rock Legends.
  • Joe (@joekjoek): Stand-up comedian and co-host of @rockhallpod.
  • Kyle (@Gassman3268): Creator of the Song Project, Album Project, and Rock Hall Projected/Revisited efforts at Future Rock Legends. Also shares Alex Voltaire’s interests in Disney World and electoral politics.
  • Greg (@GregP821): Longtime Rock Hall Watcher and contributor at Future Rock Legends.
  • Mary (@InductDennis): co-host of Hall Watchers, and keen supporter of the “bad boy” among the Wilson brothers.
  • Mike (@InductJanet): The only one of us who may have actually been instrumental in getting his or her favorite artist inducted.
  • Jason (@jasonvogit): Curator of the Rock Hall Whatever and longtime FRL participant.
  • Michelle (@mb1a32): Curator of Iconic Rock Talk Show. Serving up first-rate commentary for several years. Adult-onset Cars fan.
  • Paul: Longtime fixture at Future Rock Legends from the Bluegrass State.
  • Joshua (@rockmoviespod): Host of the Movies That Rock podcast.
  • Tom (@jetfan1): Music blogger since God was a boy at Tom Lane’s Blog.
  • Philip (@succotash_54): One of the more tenured Rock Hall watchers, who blogs at Rock Hall Monitors.
  • Troy (@troylsmith): Music journalist covering all things Rock Hall for @clevelanddotcom. 

 

Let’s be honest with ourselves. If you are reading this post, you’ve probably wanted to be in the room where it happens. You’ve wanted a chance to advocate for your favorite or most deserving musicians and get them on the ballot for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. When the actual Rock and Roll Hall of Fame releases its ballot each autumn, perhaps you’ve thought that you could do better, if given the chance. Maybe your favorite genre isn’t given a fair shake. Perhaps you wish older acts or more modern acts had more of a presence. If only you could have a chance to make your case—you could get that one deserving act into the Hall and immortalize them. We all love the Rock Hall. But we also think it would be better if we were its gatekeepers!

This question–“what would I do if I had a seat at the table?”—has pursued everyone who follows the Rock Hall for years. And it became especially poignant in the last few months. The outbreak of COVID-19 necessitated a delay in the induction ceremony until October. In the meantime, we’ve seen artists with viable cases like John Prine, Kenny Rogers, and Kraftwerk co-founder Florian Schneider pass away and lose their chance to take part in their own induction.

Why not take this morose state of affairs and make something better from it? Nick from the Audio-Visual Repository and Mark (or Alex Voltaire) at the Northumbrian Countdown put their heads together and decided to assemble their own nominating committee and see what happened- part fantasy draft, part sociological experiment. With most of the country under orders to stay at home whenever possible, conditions made it fairly easy to get 20 or so people spread across four time zones to meet together on Zoom. It’s not like we had anywhere else to go, right?

So Nick and Mark went about putting together a Nominating Committee. After briefly making it open to everyone, we quickly reconsidered and made it invitation-only, revolving around the “family” of sorts at Future Rock Legends (FRL). Doing this made us a bit uneasy but was also probably necessary: we needed to cap the number of participants to make it viable and limit it to people we were comfortable working with and had a long history of interacting respectfully with. If you wanted to be part of this and weren’t included, we both feel badly about it—we didn’t exclude anyone out of malice or groupthink. We were just trying to make this exercise more manageable.

That said, we crafted a lineup of other Rock Hall bloggers, tweeters, and FRL posters and tried to nail down both rules and a time for this. In the end, here’s what we came up with:

 

  • We intended to put together a ballot of sixteen artists for the Class of 2021. This means that Jay-Z, Foo Fighters, Robyn, and the Chemical Brothers are all eligible.
  • To that effect, one of the sixteen spots would be reserved for a no-brainer act that should obviously be on the ballot. A straightforward, open vote would take place between four candidates: the two biggest newly eligible names (Jay-Z and Foo Fighters) and two artists who previously won FRL’s annual tournament of the biggest Rock Hall snubs (Kraftwerk and Judas Priest.)
  • Just like the real Nom Com, everybody gets to nominate two acts for the remaining fifteen spots on the ballot. The order would be chosen randomly, and proceed in a snake draft format of two rounds. (That means whoever went last in Round 1 would go first in Round 2.) Each person will have two minutes to make their case for their acts. You cannot pick an artist that somebody else has already nominated.
  • Once we have our list of acts put forward by the committee, everyone will cast an online ballot for exactly fifteen of them. Whichever fifteen acts get the most votes will fill out our ballot for the Class of 2021. In the likely event of a tie, we’d cast an open vote to break it. (We had originally planned for more discussion or allowing everyone to make a case for an act they hadn’t nominated, but our meeting would run absurdly long, and this segment had to be jettisoned.)
  • Regrettably, this event is BYOH (Bring Your Own Hoagie).

 

With these rules in place, we had a week before our Zoom meeting to figure out who we wished to nominate. Immediately, our line of thinking changes: do we advocate our favorite artists? Do we try and correct historic imbalances—of genre, of race, of gender, of era? Do we simply pick who we construe as the most deserving? Find out who our mock committee picks in our next installment, to be published at the Audio-Visual Repository.

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Uuuugh. Anxiety, boredom, tedium, mixed with gratitude, love, and joy. That’s been my elixir over the last three weeks since my presumably final semester teaching in Singapore ended. After two weeks of self-isolation I was able to reunite with my wife and my 8-month-old son, neither of whom I’d seen since late January. I’m so delighted to be with them, even though I’m still on the clock and doing “professor stuff” remotely for what is now a bunch of online classes. I won’t lie– it is terrifying to have an infant with a respiratory illness who is on oxygen during a time like this. And it is enraging to see hucksters peddle hydroxychloroquin and contribute to hoarding when your kiddo has an actual documented medical need for it.

I need an outlet when I can get one. So even though we are far, far away from a serious conversation about the Rock Hall’s class of 2021, just for my own sanity, just for the simple joys of indulging in a hobby, I need to write about what may happen. I understand that the process of predicting nominees has come from a bit of good-natured criticism from voices like @InductDennis from the Rock Hall Watchers podcast. And that’s fair– time is probably better spent debating who actually should be in the Rock Hall on their merits rather than getting inside the Nominating Committee’s heads. Yet the part of our lizard brains that loves to play the prophet–even when we’re wildly, comically wrong–is hard to squash. It’s similar to guessing the Oscar nominees, or mock drafts, and the kind of wishful thinking and vicarious living that makes us feel as if our opinions matter.

16 nominees, like last year.

Jay-Z: If Tupac is often considered the best rapper of all time, and Biggie has a reputation as the most influential rapper of all time, Jay-Z might very well hold claim to the most successful rapper of all time. With a wide cultural footprint, decades of hits, albums that are in the conversation of “most iconic for their time,” …collectively, if you accept that hip-hop and rap have a place in the Rock Hall, Jay-Z’s place in its pantheon is all but a given.

Foo Fighters: Are they the last truly important rock and roll band? Maybe. what’s less debatable is that they played the “Rock Hall game” with aplomb. Dave Grohl and Taylor Hawkins inducted Queen back in 2001. Grohl did the honors for Rush in 2013, and of course, serves on the Nominating Committee.

Dave Mathews Band: For years, we wondered: who will be the first act to top the statistical cipher that is the fan vote, yet fail to get inducted? The Dave Mathews Band turned out to be our answer last year, and their fans were seriously pissed. Whether the Rock Hall could have done a better job explaining how the fan vote is counted is up for debate. Given the massive fan base this band has– which, given their customary age and social class, makes them a coveted demographic for the museum– it would be very bad form indeed if they weren’t given a second chance to prove themselves. I still think it’s within the realm of possibility that they win the fan vote a second year in a row and still don’t get in.

The Go-Gos: I don’t think Pat Benatar will be on the ballot. It’s not so much that she didn’t make it in (as #2 on the fan vote!), so much as her somewhat unresponsive and unenthusiastic mien during the whole affair that might make the Foundation question whether she’d even show up for the ceremony. Benatar was a populist pick and she was by no means a critical favorite– just to cite one example, Evelyn McDonnell’s voluminous compendium of Women Who Rock does not include Benatar among the 100+ women celebrated. Better luck might be found with the Go-Gos. They have historicity as the first band to score a number one hit with only women playing on it. And they surely have a sense of the moment as well- a jukebox musical built around their songs had debuted on Broadway, a documentary on their career had been produced, and a reunion tour was planned before COVID-19 shut that down until further notice.

Chaka Khan/Rufus: This is becoming the new free space at the center of the Bingo card. Good for the Rock Hall for continuing to support R&B artists– even though the backlog of 70s guitar groups that have gotten inducted in recent years makes the band’s induction as unlikely as ever. I’d love to see, say, Chicago– who collaborated with her and share Windy City origins– make a full court press for Rufus. Rock and roll began life as music you could dance to–Chaka Khan perhaps kept that spirit alive in the 70s and 80s more than anybody outside the Hall right now.

Kraftwerk: This is another option that is becoming a near-perennial. Every once in a while, Kraftwerk drops out (usually when there is a cerebral or prog act it might draw votes away from), but we have multiple Nom Com members complaining about Kraftwerk’s omission, and as the committee diversifies and gets younger, they are more likely to be devotees of artists who owe Kraftwerk a debt.

The Meters: Three bands with metal credentials were nominated last year: Thin Lizzy, Motorhead, and Judas Priest. None of them got in. And R&B was thoroughly shafted on last year’s ballot, with only Chaka Khan/Rufus and, if your definition of R&B is generous, Whitney representing this key genre. It’s possible that Ellis Marsalis’s death will remind folks about how key the New Orleans sound was to the development of popular music, and The Meters were New Orleans during the golden age of classic rock.

Cher: One of my complaints about the last several Rock Hall classes is its relative lack of camp and fabulousness. Cher– with a long career that has spanned her duets with Sonny in the mid-60s to covering ABBA songs last year, and an unending litany of Farewell Tours in between, is therefore a likely and attractive prospect. Her presence alone almost guarantees that the next class won’t be a sausage-fest. Her records have, like Chaka Khan’s, been dance-floor staples, and Cher has been a dramatic fashion icon and hero of LGBT culture over the years. I wrestled with choosing her or Dolly Parton as the “you-can’t-screw-this-up female inductee” before landing on Cher for more solid rock and roll credentials.

Rage Against the Machine: One more group on the cusp of a reunion tour before COVID-19 shut it down. With corporate greed never more apparent than during a global pandemic, the machine has elicited more rage than ever. It’s not a great look if the Hall nominates two acts with members on the Nominating Committee, but avoiding conflicts of interest has never been their strong suit.

Sonic Youth: With T. Rex and Roxy Music getting in after years of snubbery, Sonic Youth has catapulted to the higher echelons of important acts that have never been nominated. Given their influence on alternative and grunge, it’s only a matter of time before this iconic band is given the nod.

New York Dolls: They were nominated once a long time ago– way back in 2001. And it’s a little surprising that they haven’t been nominated since. They played with gender in innovative ways, helped create punk and glam, and had a raft of influence on everyone from the Ramones to the Smiths. Maybe it’s time to give MC5 a rest and let another weird, impactful, radical act without much chart success have a chance to prove their mettle.

John Prine: While I was sad to see this iconic songwriter pass away, I was heartened by the public outpouring of affection on his behalf. His nomination two years ago seemed like it was a nice tip of the hat to someone who didn’t have a chance to get voted in. (Prine even publicly encouraged his fans to vote for The Zombies instead!) Well, John Prine isn’t around to discourage his own induction and what was a long-shot nomination on 2018’s ballot will find him in a favored position on 2020’s.

The B-52s: We need a queerer Rock Hall. The B-52s have been considered before, and given that the Hall loves danceable music and is reasonably open to new wave styles, The B-52s seem to have the requisites for a nomination. They have also, in the last couple years, got favorable treatment in both Rolling Stone and the New York TimesGo read Nick Bambach’s piece on them if you aren’t convinced of their credentials. I just can’t wait to see Yoko Ono and RuPaul catfight over who gets the honor of inducting them.

Duran Duran: This will be the big 80s/Gen X act for the 2021 slate. With their more influential contemporary, Depeche Mode, getting in, the doors are open for Duran Duran. They consistently do well in the museum’s kiosks, and with an MTV guy now in charge of the place, I can’t imagine that one of the video channel’s darlings from their early years of broadcasting will be left out in the cold. They might very well give DMB a run for their money in the fan vote, and expect them to get many a “guilty pleasure” checkmark from the expansive Voting Committee.

Peter Frampton: This is the closest to a pure classic rock pick in this batch. Frampton has been diagnosed with a degenerative muscle disease that necessitated a final tour, and the window in which Frampton can participate in his own induction might be dwindling. Another clue that Frampton might be on the docket is that he is collaborating on his autobiography with Alan Light, who has had a great deal of luck shepherding acts onto the ballot in recent years, not the least of which was Nina Simone. Frampton is well regarded in the music industry, and his teen idol good looks from the Comes Alive era belie his considerable skills as a guitarist and songwriter.

Fela Kuti: Joe and Kristen spent an entire podcast during the fall ringing up various former and current Nominating Committee members to see their reactions to the Class of 2020 ballot. Amy Linden was one of those voices and dropped a fascinating tidbit during their phone call: she had advocated for African music legend Fela Kuti during the hoagie-driven Nom Com meeting. Kuti would be a remarkable choice– a mythic and larger-than-life figure in the field of world music, many a rock and roller looks up to his oeuvre.

What do you think of this, Rock Hall people? My guess is that if this were the ballot, we’d be looking at Jay-Z, Cher, Peter Frampton, John Prine, Duran Duran, and Foo Fighters.

 

 

 

 

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