A Considered Look at Every Inductee Into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Part 6

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is a place that I find, as an institution, vexing. The actual, physical hall of fame – the pyramidal building on the lake in Cleveland – is pretty cool, but it is spoken and thought of often as an intangible – as a sort of arbitrating body on the worthiness of the body of rock musicians. My thought, for many years upon surveying lists 1  and the like was to think that they have about a fifty percent success rate for getting it anything like right.

But what if it doesn’t? Previously I listened to and considered each of the best-selling albums of all time, and learned that they were considerably more of a mixed bag than I had thought 2. So what if the inductees to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame are the same sort of deal?

And so it’s time to dive in and take a look at what the nominees and their enshrinement actually are.

Click the links for Part 1,Part 2,  Part 3, Part 4 and Part 5 of this series.

Class of 1994

The Animals

WHO THEY ARE:Vietnam-era British song interpreters, performers of a few songs that seemingly everyone breathing air with even a passing knowledge of rock music in the knows.

WHY THEY’RE HERE: They’d probably have a fighting chance for even just “House of the Rising Sun” and “We Gotta Get Out of This Place”, but I would argue that their finest contribution is one that the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame would be unlikely to actually honor – they were a performing-only band, and wrote very few of their own songs, and still managed to be a great band with a great body of work. Rock music is a performance-based enterprise, and it’s noteworthy to be good enough at it that you can re-shape, say, a standard like “House of the Rising Sun” around yourselves so effectively that it’s hard to think of it many other ways.

AND…?: Oh I like the Animals a lot. Hard not to, really. I’m sure I would have liked them more had I heard them through their mien and not just absorbed their music osmotically, but they’re still plenty good.


The Band

WHO THEY ARE: Canada’s finest gift to Americana 3. They were great on their own, they were great backing Bob Dylan, and they were great (allegedly) as the band The Barbarians on that band’s hit “Moulty” 4

WHY THEY’RE HERE: If nothing else, they backed Bob Dylan and were the subject of a fantastic Martin Scorsese movie 5. But also, during their initial run, they made a handful of very good records on their own, and their first two records are as good an opening salvo as one could hope for.

AND…?: They were decidedly their own thing the whole time also, even though from the vantage of 2018 what they’re doing sounds considerably more conventional. They blended together a lot of things that weren’t that commonly found in the same band at the time and, if you listen closely, really still aren’t. And all of this is written and until this moment I didn’t mention “The Weight,” which is one of rock music’s finest hours no matter how slice it.



Duane Eddy

WHO HE IS: Well, he played guitar on a bunch of songs associated with Lee Hazelwood 6, but people still pretty much think of either the theme from “Peter Gunn” or just, like, twang in general.

WHY HE’S HERE: The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame loves a guitar player, and he sure was one of those. He’s instantly recognizable, and I suppose if you want to include someone for their ability to play through spring reverb then he’s the one.

AND…?: Oh, I like Duane Eddy just fine, but come on.




Grateful Dead

WHO THEY ARE: The progenitors of the jam-band, the leaders of the idea that music is to be enjoyed with only the parts that you would normally request be specifically kept out of your music, and the band responsible for one of the most inexplicably-rabid fanbases of all time.


WHY THEY’RE HERE: They were around in the sixties San Francisco scene that is oft-feted in the traditional rock historical narrative. People went crazy for them. They seem like nice enough guys, I guess.


AND…?: They are basically the apotheosis of “you had to be there” thinking. You have to have seen them live, and if you did and didn’t enjoy it then there was something else you were doing wrong, and on and on and on. This is my official opinion on the matter 7: if something only works in its own time and milieu, then it doesn’t belong in a hall of fame, the idea of which is enshrinement forever. If it doesn’t work forever, then it doesn’t go in. If you “had to be there” then why would future folk who want some idea about the shape of rock and roll care about it? I applaud that they managed to be super-extra famous without actually having, y’know, hits or record sales 8, but stop short of praising them, because they did so on the back of a bunch of dumb drug associations and godawful music.


Elton John

WHO HE IS: The guy from The Lion King.


WHY HE’S HERE: Elton John sold ten bajillion records, wrote a bunch of songs that are all over the radio or whatever, and basically carried on in the Little Richard vein for several decades 9, only, y’know, whiter. He was tremendously popular and successful, and surely somebody set out to do things like Elton John, right?

AND…?: I have a hard time with this one. Elton John’s music is tremendously not my thing. He’s a good enough singer, and there’s plenty going on with his music that is good, but it’s largely by-the-numbers, and I can’t think of any real musical impact he had on music beyond his own sales impacts. I don’t know, folks.


RIGHTFULLY INDUCTED: I don’t actually think so.


John Lennon

WHO HE IS: The first Beatle to die.

WHY HE’S HERE: He was a Beatle, for starters. But also John Lennon did manage to construct a career in which he was responsible for some fantastic, direct raw-singer/songwriter stuff 10 and still managing to explore some deeply out-there furthest-corners experimental stuff 11, and was pretty good at all of it.

AND…?: He made some really tremendous music on both sides of the normal/abnormal coin. The fact that he also made some tremendously awful music in both areas is beside the point: his good stuff is so very good, and even when he failed, he failed full-on and honestly.




Bob Marley

WHO HE IS: The one reggae guy everyone can name.


WHY HE’S HERE: Even though reggae has very little do with rock music, Bob Marley did manage to have a pretty big influence on it anyway. He was an incredible singer and songwriter, who largely conducted his career at a high degree of integrity 12. He wrote great songs that have often been covered by rock dudes.

AND…?: It is fairly rare that the person who is agreed upon by consensus as being the best at something is actually the best 13, and Bob Marley is one of them. He was great.


Rod Stewart

WHO HE IS: Former singer for the Faces, he was removed from school by Maggie May, who then turned out to be old. Quelle horreur.

WHY HE’S HERE: He had a tonne of hits, and was a fantastic singer. The Faces were a legitimately great rock band, and he had moments of brilliance in his later career, almost none of which were giant radio hits.

AND…?: The person he is most similar to that I have discussed here is Elton John: his talent and popularity are unquestionable. He’s a satisfying song-interpreter who wrote (probably) too many of his own songs 14. Since he, himself, is a sort of simulacrum of his own influences, it’s hard to call out where he is having influence on others directly, or where it just sort of happened to coincide.

RIGHTFULLY INDUCTED: I don’t think so, no.

Willie Dixon

WHO HE IS: A blues guy most famous 15 for suing Led Zeppelin for songwriting credit, and receiving it in the eighties.

WHY HE’S HERE: Well, the Led Zeppelin thing probably. He was, however, also an extremely prodigious songwriter and an excellent singer.


AND…?: Sometimes he sang and played the upright bass at the same time, which is pretty cool. Beyond that, I don’t much care for it, but, y’know. He was clearly an early influence – Led Zeppelin stole his songs 16, and then a bunch of other people stole their songs.

RIGHTFULLY INDUCTED: Sure, it’s in the early influence category, and that seems reasonable to me.


Johnny Otis

WHO HE IS: “The Godfather of R&B”


WHY HE’S HERE: He had an enormous influence on R&B, which in turn had an enormous influence on rock and roll, but of course in the R&RHOF, R&B is rock and roll, which is annoying, so he’s an architect thereof.


AND…?: He’s here as a nonperformer, which is even more confusing, since he had a bunch of hits as a bandleader and stuff. I don’t know, man.




Class of 1995

The Allman Brothers Band

WHO THEY ARE: The archetypal southern rock band, complete with the archetypal rock tragedies and everything.


WHY THEY’RE HERE: Southern rock was a going concern for awhile in the seventies – after The Band and CCR made the connections they made, the Allman Brothers reified it into the commercial juggernaut it would become. They also pioneered the “the best album is the live album” existence that many great bands would go on to be a part of. Oh and they had two drummers. I don’t know if that’s good or bad on balance, but they did.


AND…?: A lot of Southern Rock takes the most obvious elements from the Allman Brothers and runs with it, which is, I guess, fair, but one of the things that the Allman Brothers did is occasionally get really weird, especially Duane. Part of the reason that their live albums are the best surviving documents of the band’s work are because that’s when the band would stretch out and abandoned their usual approach, resulting in some pretty interesting stuff. Unfortunately, nobody takes on that part of it.




Al Green

WHO HE IS: The Reverend himself, the second-greatest singer in popular music history 17

WHY HE’S HERE: He had a bunch of great songs, and he sang them extraordinarily well. A whole lot of R&B folks took off from his vocal style, perhaps more than anyone else’s (even Sam Cooke’s). He might be second only to Marvin Gaye in “dudes from the seventies whose vocal stylings were widely copied.”


AND…?: Al Green was a great singer and an occasionally-great songwriter, with considerable influence, and while I don’t know how much of that influence was actually on rock music, that is, again, not the thing we’re arguing about here anymore I suppose.




Janis Joplin

WHO SHE IS: Perhaps the only person that rivals the Grateful Dead in terms of being the avatar of the Woodstock-type sixties musician.


WHY SHE’S HERE: Well, she’s also sort of the dictionary definition of “nonstandard vocal approach that is nevertheless effective,” which is something that rock music deals pretty heavily in. She also died tragically and young, which is another thing that seems to wonders for your legacy.


AND…?: Her band was an unbelievable snore 18. I will say that if there’s anything endemic to this mid-nineties batch of inductees, it’s that we are the in “extremely competent at a thing, but not much more than that” era. The era of the specialist, as it were. Janis Joplin was an ok interpreter and a real banshee wailer of a singer (in a good way), and as a result her music is effective when she is effective, and pretty much a sodden mess the rest of the time.

RIGHTFULLY INDUCTED: I suppose since she’s inducted without her band, it probably stands to reason that she does belong here. So yes.


Led Zeppelin

WHO THEY ARE: The world’s premiere and foremost hard rock band. Basically the Beatles of being really loud.


WHY THEY ARE HERE: Because they were basically the Beatles of being really loud. Because the four of them were as good at doing what they did as any assemblage of players ever has been, and at least three of them invented new ways of doing their thing. They had an absolutely bulletproof run of albums, and even when their consistency died off their records still had moments of absolutely transcendent greatness.


AND…?: Oh I think Led Zeppelin are just the best. Even when they were preposterous and ridiculous, they were still pretty great. And on the rare occasions they were awful, they were awful genuinely, for their own reasons.




Martha and the Vandellas

WHO THEY ARE: A Motown girl-group most famous either for having a heat wave or dancing in the streets, depending on who you ask.


WHY THEY’RE HERE: I guess because everyone who ever recorded a note of music for Motown was under consideration, and someone was really plugging for every single Motown act to be inducted? I have no idea, here.


AND…?: I mean, they’re good enough. I certainly like them. Their songs were welcome on the Hitsville: USA box set, which I suppose shows my age. I just don’t see what they’ve done that elevates them uniquely among other such folk.



Neil Young

WHO HE IS: He’s one of the only genuine actual bona-fide certifiable geniuses in the whole building.


WHY HE’S HERE: He’s a phenomenal songwriter, it’s true, but he’s an absolutely inhuman guitar player. Unlike a bunch of other guitar players here, he pretty much destroys whatever he’s playing ever time he plays it. His consistency is way high. He’s also managed to make interesting music 19 over the course of six decades of working. He’s only ever done what he wanted, and every single iteration of doing it has yielded devotees that have copied it. He’s sold a bajillion records, he’s influenced a bajillion bands, he’s done everything you could want. If he’s made some bizarre business decisions over the years, well, that’s not his music.

AND…?: I like Neil Young. He was great. I have very little else to say about it.



Frank Zappa

WHO HE IS: Guitar-wielding smart-ass and general progenitor of a lot of “comedy”-based rock music.


WHY HE’S HERE: He did a lot to be conceptual and weird while never actually being prog 20. He was also a tireless supporter of popular music’s right to be vulgar, testifying before congress about it and everything. He did have a lot of technical skill at the guitar, and he did bring a classically-trained musicians eye to his rock music, which is something, I guess, and which a lot of people took off from for their own careers. So he had considerable influence.

AND…?: You know, I wouldn’t have juxtaposed them like this, but I believe that Frank Zappa has gotten the reputation that Neil Young rightfully deserves. Frank Zappa made intermittently brilliant music, but wasn’t half the guitar player he gets credit for being, and generally wasn’t as clever as he thought he was. Still and all, there’s little denying his considerable influence, and in the field of dudes I’m ambivalent toward, there’s a lot worse.




The Orioles

WHO THEY WERE: Yet another forties R&B group.


WHY THEY’RE HERE: I think it’s probably fair to say that they are the Martha and the Vandellas of the forties: they did have some hits, and somebody clearly had a real hard-on for getting them in there.


AND…?: Oh they were fine. I mean, again, it’s not that they were bad, it’s that I don’t understand why they were special, and I damn sure don’t think they had very much influence over rock and roll.




Paul Ackerman

WHO HE IS: A journalist who edited Billboard magazine for thirty years.


WHY HE’S HERE: I suppose since popularity is clearly part of the metric here, the folks that make the charts are a part of that.


AND…?: I actually have no opinion here. I know basically nothing about Paul Ackerman.



  1.  also the centerpiece of the museum itself, for those that have never been there, is a very long video encapsulating each inducted class, with clips of performances by most of them and things like that, and is generally a pretty cool thing to behold. 
  2.  although they did, as you can read here and going back from there, skew toward “pretty bad” 
  3.  at least until The Sadies, I suppose. 
  4.  more accurately, they were (allegedly) the backing band for the vocal performance by the regular Barbarians’ actual drummer, Moulty.  
  5.  possibly the greatest concert film ever made. 
  6.  I’ve never thought to be ticked off about it, but Lee Hazelwood is also not in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. That’s pretty dumb. He should be. Especially since Duane Eddy is.  
  7.  which I may actually be restating, I can’t remember. 
  8.  that’s not fair, they had “A Touch of Grey”. And occasionally one must sit through “Casey Jones” or “Truckin’,” but you see what I mean. 
  9.  while, in fact, Little Richard was also carrying on in the Little Richard vein. 
  10.  See the John Lennon Plastic Ono Band 
  11.  See the Yoko Ono version of Plastic Ono Band 
  12.  his personal life somewhat less so, but that’s about par for the course for HOF inductees at this point. 
  13.  Willie Nelson, John Lennon, Jimi Hendrix and John Bonham are the other ones that come straight to mind, I could maybe come up with one more if I thought real hard about it. 
  14.  I mean, for all that I don’t care for it, at least Elton John knew he needed help with the lyrics. There’s nothing wrong with knowing your limitations, guys. 
  15.  justly or unjustly 
  16.  My actual opinion on the matter is to take Led Zeppelin at their word: they were taking off from blues songs the way that other blues musicians were doing – blues people would bite bits of songs (much like rock musicians still do to this day) all the time, and it was just part of the blues economy. That Led Zeppelin didn’t think their thing was contextually different is a position that could be argued with, but I believe they were acting in good faith, and they never missed an opportunity to champion any of the blues music they took their influence from anyway. 
  17.  behind Sam Cooke 
  18.  it is worth noting that I used to believe the opposite, and as of this writing, I have no idea what I was hearing. 
  19.  albeit not every time – his songwriting isn’t nearly as consistent as his guitar player, is what I’m saying here. 
  20.  the R&R HOF hates progressive rock 

The 2018 MTV Movie and TV Awards

The MTV Movie and Television Awards remain the most mercurial of all awards shows. The categories change annually – for example while last year we had “Best Fight Against the System” and “Best American Story”, this year we have “Best On-Screen Team” and “Most Scaredest” or whatever it’s called 1 – but this is perhaps because the movies themselves don’t actually change that much from year to year.

It is perennially the same assemblage of high-dollar summer action movies 2, college-friendly studio comedies, and the occasional very serious drama, but now some of those classifications have stretched to include television shows. So, naturally, the vagaries of which aspect of the thing is awarded have changed, so that the whole thing doesn’t seem quite so samey.

Or at least so I presume. For all I know there’s some battle royale going on in the MTV offices whereby categories are fighting it out to be chosen, and nobody ever defeats “Best Kiss”. I’d believe it either way.

Best Fight

The Marvel fights here are all fun – especially the Thor: Ragnarok one – but this one comes down to two very different ideas. The fight between Charlize Theron and the sniper dudes in Atomic Blonde was realistic, kinetic and well-choreographed. It was a real technical achievement. On the other hand, a large part of the power of superheroes is the iconography 3, and Wonder Woman‘s fight across no-man’s land delivers on that. While the New Critics would have us analyze every text based only on the elements present therein, it’s hard to not feel something about the image of Wonder Woman, a much-loved character who finally got her own movie, the first female-led superhero movie, no less, rising up out of the trench in her full Wonder Woman costume and dispatching a bunch of soldiers. It’s a remarkably effective scene, and it definitely deserves whatever awards it can get.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Gal Gadot vs. German Soldiers, Wonder Woman

Best Music Documentary

Sean Combs’s rise to success certainly makes for good corporate speech, life-coach style storytelling, but there is very little of it that’s suited to a documentary. Jay-Z’s Footnotes for 4:44 is an interesting companion to a very good record, but it’s also not really elevated above that. Demi Lovato: Simply Complicated is the sort of bog-standard music documentary that used to clog deep cable before it started being produced by (and therefore clogging) YouTube.  Dr. Dre and Jimmy Iovine’s The Defiant Ones is similarly dull, and has the added benefit of eliding what would be the interesting part of either man’s story. Gaga: Five Foot Two is fine and at least has some traction and a reason to exist, which elevates it somewhat. 


Best On-Screen Team

I liked Jumanji more than I thought I would. I liked the second season of Stranger Things less than I thought I would. Ready Player One is pretty far beneath consideration 4. I think that the Black Panther folks were a better team than the It folks.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Chadwick Boseman, Lupita Nyong’o, Danai Durira and Letitia Wright, Black Panther

Scene Stealer

It’s true that Letitia Wright and Taika Watiti both walked off with their parts of their respective movies (Black Panther and Thor: Ragnarok), and it’s true that Dacre Montgomery and Madelaine Petsch are….people that exist on television, but only one of these people stole scenes in a movie so hard that she is, in fact, the host of this awards show based largely thereupon.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Tiffany Haddish, Girls Trip

Best Reality Series/Franchise

Whatever else you may say about how far RuPaul’s Drag Race has dragged itself away from its initial burst of funny creativity, it’s still a better show on its worst day than anything else in this godforsaken category.


Most Frightened Performance

This is most frightened not most frightening, so I’m going to assume we’re either meant to judge whether the person involved does the best job of convincing me they’re in the scariest situation possible, or the best job of conveying that they are the most scared in the first place. I don’t like it when I have to work to figure out what the category is expecting me to evaluate, so I’m going to assume that it’s Cristin Millioti. Her head is 85% eyeballs by volume 5, so she’s probably the best at looking real scared. If I weren’t allergic to Black Mirror I’d probably have more to say about it.


Best Kiss

Let me explain: I hate it for the same reasons I hate it every year. It’s dumb, it’s the bad kind of pandering, and I hate it.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: No one, ever. No one is ever the rightful winner of this category.

Best Villain

Now this is a category I can get behind. Two of the Disney properties here – Avengers: Infinity War’s Thanos and Star Wars: The Last Jedi’s Kylo Ren are well-humanized without being glorified, which is nice, and makes for a better villain. Lenny (Aubrey Plaza) is the vessel for one my favorite comic-book villains of all time (spoiler alert, I guess?), which is pretty cool, but not quite in the same league. This one comes down to a villain that’s just a literal inhuman cosmic monster (Bill Skarsgard in It) and a villain that’s tremendously human (Michael B. Jordan in Black Panther). I don’t want to say Michael B. Jordan is the Best Everything Ever, but, well…

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Michael B. Jordan, Black Panther

Best Hero

I think I said more-or-less everything I have to say about Wonder Woman, so if you go read the fight category that’s pretty much how I feel about it. I like Black Panther and Rey just fine in their movies, but they sort of come up short by comparison.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Gal Gadot, Wonder Woman

Best Comedic Performance

So anything from I Feel Pretty and Schitt’s Creek are right the heck out. Kate McKinnon was as good as she could be on Saturday Night Live, but since this is for the most recent season, and the most recent season was about as poorly-written a season as I can remember, I think maybe she wasn’t enough to save it. Tiffany Haddish deserves all of her praise for the year she became a star, but I find her occasionally to be exhausting to watch, so I guess I have to go with Jack Black here, for Jumanji.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Jack Black, Jumanji

Best Performance in a Show

This is the time where, annually, I praise the MTV Movie Awards for not separating the men and women into different acting categories. In addition to it (the segregation, I mean) being an absolutely ridiculous practice that only serves to enforce existing gendered casting 6, it also becomes extra-silly when most of the shows (all but one, in fact, although see below) are driven by women. Anyway, having said that, I think the best job done here was by Darren Criss who brought a real human element to someone who was, by all available evidence, not very easy to humanize, and who did so by transforming himself into something nigh-unrecognizable.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Darren Criss, The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story

Best Performance in a Movie

Boy, people sure did go extra-crazy for Timothee Chalamet in Call Me By Your Name. They also went crazy for him in Lady Bird, which Saoirse Ronan is representing here. Daisy Ridley continues to be quite good as Rey, but, y’know. Ansel Elgort is playing less a “character” than an “archetype,” which is cool and which I’m generally in favor of, but Chadwick Boseman is doing him one better in that regard.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Chadwick Boseman, Black Panther

Best Show

Well….huh. I mean, it’s not that I don’t see why these are the choices here, but somehow I still ended up somewhat blindsided by it. Go figure, I guess. I’m not a part of the theoretical audience for 13 Reasons Why, and also it is boring. I am definitely in the theoretical audience for Game of Thrones, but you can fill a soap opera with boobs and fire and I will still just think it’s a soap opera, and therefore boring. I think if Riverdale would have been more focused on bright colors and puns (like its source material) I would like it more, but as it is it’s boring. Stranger Things squandered a lot of promise on being….you guessed it…..boring. So I guess it’s Grown-ish, which at least has jokes.


Best Movie

All of these movies are good. It and Wonder Woman’s problems come when they hew to closely to their parent genre (i.e. they both trip and fall at the ending). Girls Trip is a fine comedy. Avengers: Infinity War loses considerable points (as great as it is) for requiring at least a passing knowledge of a couple of dozen other movies to get the full experience. That leaves us with Black Panther, which happens to be fine with me.



  1.  and yet “Best Kiss” is here every time, because we live in the darkest timeline. 
  2.  leaving aside that the categorization of “summer” and “action” are shifting due to there being tent-pole movies year-round – Black Panther is nominated here a bunch, and came out in February, formerly a film-release graveyard. 
  3.  this is a contributing factor to how the DCU continues to get it so wrong – they throw away the Superman-ness or Batman-ness of the characters in favor of subverting them, which sometime smakes for good comic book storytelling, but rarely actually works in movies. For all their much-discussed darkness, the Christopher Nolan Batman movies were still, fundamentally, optimistic and heroic. They also (and I like them quite a lot) don’t exactly function as classic Batman stories, and are movies first and foremost, but trade in on the iconography, which is, of course, what I’m talking about in the first place. 
  4.  in many ways, I am very easy to pander to. This is not one of those ways. 
  5.  please note that I mean she has the regular human complement of two eyeballs, but they’re very large, not that she’s, like, a beholder or something. 
  6.  that is to say, when you separate men and women as actors from each other, it becomes easiest to see the differences when the roles themselves are gendered more clearly – compare this category here to any half-dozen nominees for, say, the Golden Globes, even in comedy, and you’ll quickly see that the things that men and women are traditionally awarded for at more “serious” awards shows is pretty ridiculous. This is why it’s hard for me to take any awards show actually seriously, guys. Especially the ones about acting. 

Who the Fuck Listens to This: Jet – Get Born

Rock music used to be big business. Oh, there’s still plenty of sales, and even the most cursory look around at whatever the place you live is will yield a probably-thriving situation with lots of rock music around and available with very little effort. Hell, even if you live in  place that has no indigenous rock music, you can certainly head over to bandcamp, or spotify, or google, or what have you and, by giving up minimal information, be connected with as much rock music that is to your taste as you could ever want it to be 1. But it used to have a place on the pop charts. One of the last gasps of that time is the debut album from Australian also-rans Jet.

Jet were, at the time, the kind of manufactured bit of business that never really works anymore – they made an EP themselves, it somehow got into the hands of someone at NME, which in turn gave them the press acclaim necessary to get the attention of someone at Elektra. Said contract, and the ensuing full-court-press of their intial single, “Are You Gonna Be My Girl?” was sufficient to get the attention of someone in the Rolling Stones camp, and thus they opened for the Rolling Stones as a band that was less than a year old. They jumped straight to the top of the line, and became very famous without there being any intercedent actual fan presence and/or “buzz.” This is not possible anymore.

Oh, and they were terrible. “Are You Gonna Be My Girl” was a shameless rip-off 2 , and the rest of the record is a slightly-less shameless rip-off. There were three other singles. The piano ballad “Look What You’ve Done” was the best of them, and was listenable in a kind of “this is going to be played six times an hour on the radio anyway, so it could be worse” sort of way. “Cold Hard Bitch” was like someone took all the cleverness out of “Are You Gonna Be My Girl” (there was not a great deal of cleverness to remove, as you can probably surmise). Their nadir was “Rollover DJ” 3, perhaps the only song whose lyrical approach can be called “rockist”, and which manages to attack DJ-culture for containing zero ideas, as the fourth single for an album that is, itself, made up of songs that sound like copyright-dodging library-music rewrites of AC/DC songs. They sold a bajillion records, and got positive reviews in the British music press and in Rolling Stone 4, and there was a good couple of years there where people seemed to be convinced that they liked this band. And hey, maybe they did!

If they did, however, they didn’t for very long. They made two more records that never really captured the same amount of public attention that Get Born had. This is, to be blunt, a problem that the “force-market a band into the public eye” approach often bears out – there’s a way to get people to think something is interesting enough to spend money on once, but once the trick has been performed, there’s basically no reason to buy it again. Their second album, Shine On, sold somewhere in the neighborhood of 1/10 what Get Born sold (the former went platinum, the latter sold 137,000 copies), and their third album 5, Shaka Rock (this is the real, actual title of the album) sold about half of what Shine On had. Then the band fizzled out, having done what they, apparently, set out to do, until just now, when they are making their attempt to cash in on that lucrative reunion money with, of all things, a live album featuring the songs from the one of their albums anyone remembers, Get Born.

2003, however, was a long time ago! I was a different person, etc. We are fourteen years in the future, and I am a kinder, gentler sort. I like lots more radio music than I did at the time 6, and I’m more comfortable being into straight-up braindead rock music. On top of that, the record they’re releasing to remind you how much you liked them at the time isn’t just a retread or whatever, but a live album of the same material 7. Many great bands – Mission of Burma, Cheap Trick, Swans, the Who, Johnny Cash, Neil Young, Sam Cooke – were able to make live albums that were better than their studio albums. Rock music is, after all, for all the posturing otherwise from oldsters and stereo enthusiasts, a live music form – any rock band that’s good enough to elicit a genuine response in the first place is almost certainly at their best when they’re playing their instruments in the same place at the same time in front of an audience. So maybe I’ll enjoy Get Born Live, and answer the titular question of this feature with someone positive for a change.

Besides, the primary gripe about them, at least in terms of what you can find still-extant on the internet anyway, is that they’re deeply derivative. I think that’s kind of a bum criticisms. There are plenty of reasons to praise originality – it’s, y’know, more interesting, for starters – but I think even a band that takes heavy influence from other bands can, by assembling the pieces through their own limbs/voice/experience, come out with something original by the end. I like Cloud Nothings even though I like The Wipers. I like Lightning Bolt even though I like Ruins. I like Teenage Fanclub even though I like Big Star. I think that there’s something undeniably lesser about giving over your whole sound to a sort of cover-band aesthetic the way that Jet did it, but I don’t think that, on paper, I should necessarily be opposed to the music.

Opposed or not, however, it’s a live album released 15 years after their initial splash which is, in and of itself, baffling. For starters, fifteen isn’t exactly a memorable anniversary. Additionally, I can’t remember the last time a live album in the last, let’s say, twenty years that actually managed to sell any real copies (of course, having typed those words, I’m immediately going to remember that there’s some giant exception that I’m just not remembering right now well after I hit “publish” on this piece). Furthermore, aforementioned contractual/label reasons aside, nobody was clamoring for this, right? I mean, it’s recorded in 2004, so it was at least the band at the height of whatever their powers were, but was there material to be mined out of getting people to pay for this particular document of this particular show? It’s so baffling that it almost comes back around: if they’re releasing this particular thing, it must at leat be fun, right?

It is not fun, guys. The problem with Jet, then, is not that they’re derivative, but that their music is the wrong kind of dumb. It seems insulting, even. There’s a sort of “by the numbers” approach that betrays that they probably don’t even think about what they might be ripping off, because they’re doing all the “right” stuff to signify “rock band” and, therefore, they’re worthy of the attention. It’s like listening to a band assembled out of the worst bits about Oasis 8. If “Are You Gonna Be My Girl” isn’t actually an Iggy Pop rip-off, then “Get What You Need” definitely makes up for it by stealing the riff from “No Fun” 9, and then going absolutely nowhere with it. The aforementioned “Rollover DJ” is done no favors by the setting, and the main riff for that one, a song about making up original music because you’re better than somebody who makes music on computers, is taken directly and completely from “Takin’ Care of Business.” If there’s anyone keeping score, I’ll take a million records made by computers over any given BTO riff.

They run through their retreads, clearly marking time 10 to get to the big pile-up at the end, which starts after a stage-clearing, palate-resetting run through the ballads, including “Look What You Done,” which two paragraphs ago I said was the song I didn’t hate, but does not survive the job done to it on this travesty of a record. “Hey Kids” leads into “Are You Gonna Be My Girl,” which is arranged structurally to show that it is literally one ninety-second song repeated twice. The structural change they make is to shout “WELL C’MOOOOOOOOOON I SAID ARE YOU GONNA BE MY GIRL”. Twice. The dude does this stupid thing twice. Like, he stops the song and does a second time in the middle of the song. And then there’s a brain-dead smash-fingered guitar solo. Then, of course, it’s on to the single they were then developing, the incredibly-awful “Cold Hard Bitch,” except, to create tension, they play the pre-riff for about a minute before allowing the song to start. The song, on the record, starts with an admittedly-impressive “YEEEEAH” that goes on for some time. On the live record, it does not, it receives as perfunctory a “YEAH” as you can imagine having under the circumstances 11. It ends, mercifully, and then there’s a few more songs, including an overlong cover of “That’s Alright Mama” that features a really long guitar solo by the guy from The Living End. It’s bad.

But I repeat myself. So the question here posed is: who the fuck listens to this? And this, as much as anything I’ve done in a long time, is a question I do not know how to answer. People that remember Get Born faintly and/or fondly are going to call up Get Born and listen to that. People that are die-hard Jet fans probably do not need to hear the violence done to the material that this godawful live setting provides. People that have, I guess, heard about this band and wonder what the hype is about will be actively repulsed by how lazy and ridiculous this all is. So your guess is as good as mine.

  1.  I mean, I suppose if the answer is “none,” then you probably don’t have to read the rest of this paragraph. Or the preceding part but, well, I didn’t have the chance to tell you that at the beginning of the paragraph, see. 
  2.  it was, to most folks with ears, a rip-off of “Lust for Life,” but according to Wikipedia they insisted they were ripping off the Motown sound, and (again according to Wikipedia – I avoided the seemingly-endless press they got at the time fairly successfully, so most of this is through secondhand sources) Iggy Pop agreed. So fine, it’s a rip off of “Can’t Hurry Love”, not “Lust for Life.” Fair. 
  3.  a song that some informal polling reveals most people do not remember at all, which means it’s stuck in my head alongside “Bartender” by Rehab and “FreaXXX” by BrokenCYDE as songs that I am the only person to remember, and in all three cases it’s because a part of me literally died when I heard each one, and each song diminished my capacity to feel joy forever. 
  4.  it was also, at the height of Pitchfork’s influence, the recipient of perhaps their funniest ever record review. 
  5.  which, prior to writing this piece, I was not aware existed at all. 
  6.  biographically, 2003 would have been about as insufferable about things as I ever got, actually, so Jet was always going to be in my crosshairs. 
  7.  I’m assuming the reason for this is some kind of label strife or whatever, but I’m willing to give them the benefit of the doubt for it anyway. 
  8.  or, for that matter, the worst parts of their erstwhile tourmates The Rolling Stones. 
  9.  not a problem: it’s a great riff, and the best riff on the record. 
  10.  seriously – the first half of this record is the equivalent of that shit you do when you clock in for the day where you futz with your coffee cup and read emails and look at the weather and maybe write out a little list or whatever. It literally does nothing for the songs, nothing for the band and, I presume, nothing for the audience. 
  11.  it is outdone, for example, by every Plane Break that Comedy Bang! Bang! took in the early days, which used that song as its accompaniment. 

Shamelessly Punting: An Ordinal Ranking of Things

Hey guys! There are things in the pipeline, I swear, they just didn’t happen this week for whatever reason (one of them took a lot more time than I thought it would, and I didn’t have time to course-correct to get another one out before it went pear-shaped). So, as is my tradition, here are some lists that take the place of a regular weekly post. Please to enjoy.


The Months, ranked:

  1. October
  2. May
  3. June
  4. September
  5. December
  6. January
  7. November
  8. March
  9. July
  10. April
  11. August
  12. February


Days of the week, ranked:

  1. Saturday
  2. Friday
  3. Monday
  4. Sunday
  5. Thursday
  6. Wednesday
  7. Tuesday


Hours of the Day, ranked:

  1. 11:00 am
  2. 8:00 pm
  3. 9:00 pm
  4. 12:00 pm
  5. 6:00 pm
  6. 10:00 am
  7. 1:00 pm
  8. 10:00 pm
  9. 4:00 pm
  10. 11:00 pm
  11. 9:00 am
  12. 7:00 pm
  13. 12:00 am
  14. 8:00 am
  15. 5:00 pm
  16. 1:00 am
  17. 2:00 am
  18. 7:00 am
  19. 6:00 am
  20. 2:00 pm
  21. 5:00 am
  22. 3:00 am
  23. 4:00 am
  24. 3:00 pm

The Best Records of May 2018

The Body – I Have Fought Against it But Can’t Any Longer (while it’s true that it may seem counterintuitive for The Body – a band who built their early catalog out of their ferocious singing and playing – to make what might actually be their best record yet by sampling themselves and letting other excellent vocalists take over the mic, it happened anyway, and I can’t stop listening to it. A genuinely perfect album.)

Trampled by Turtles – Life is Good on the Open Road (if it had not come out at the beginning of summer, it might not sound like the idyllic bluegrass heaven that it does, but it did, and Trampled by Turtles are all geniuses.)

Carla Bozulich – Quieter (A trunk album – a vault-clearing set of songs with a variegated set of collaborators, including Sarah Lipstate and Marc Ribot – from Carla Bozulich is still better than most other albums by most other people.)

La Luz – Floating Features (what can I say, I love saddo surf music, and I don’t think there’s nearly enough of it in the world.)

Gnod – Chapel Perilous (I also love grinding noise-metal, but that comes as no surprise at this point. Seriously, though, this record would have made it even if it were only “Donovan’s Daughters.)

A Considered Look at Every Inductee in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Part 5

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is a place that I find, as an institution, vexing. The actual, physical hall of fame – the pyramidal building on the lake in Cleveland – is pretty cool, but it is spoken and thought of often as an intangible – as a sort of arbitrating body on the worthiness of the body of rock musicians. My thought, for many years upon surveying lists 1 and the like was to think that they have about a fifty percent success rate for getting it anything like right.

But what if it doesn’t? Previously I listened to and considered each of the best-selling albums of all time, and learned that they were considerably more of a mixed bag than I had thought 2 So what if the inductees to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame are the same sort of deal?

And so it’s time to dive in and take a look at what the nominees and their enshrinement actually are.

Click the links for Part 1,Part 2,  Part 3 and Part 4 of this series.

Class of 1992

Bobby “Blue” Bland

WHO HE IS: “Frank Sinatra of the Blues,” Bland was a Beale Street guy 3. He was a singer, predominantly, and sang a sort of gospel-y blues.

WHY HE’S HERE: He was connected to B.B. King, opening for him for decades, so maybe that? He also uh…”pioneered” the practice of getting super-duper fucked by his record label, which is a time-honored rock and roll tradition. Poor guy.

AND….?: I don’t know, man. He had a nice voice. He’s in the Blues Hall of Fame, which seems right. I can’t imagine what any of his music as to do with Rock music, or anything outside of the Blues circles in which he was very famous.


Booker T and the MGs

WHO THEY ARE: The house band for Stax records. Two of them are also members of the Blues Brothers’ band. You probably know “Green Onions,” even if you don’t think you know “Green Onions”

WHY THEY’RE HERE: They were a fantastic band that played on a bunch of amazing records by people who are also inducted into the rock and roll hall of fame 4, as well as making their own tremendous records. Still not Rock music, but still great.

AND…?: Oh, they were fantastic.


Johnny Cash

WHO HE IS: The country musician that it’s “ok” for non-country dudes to like 5. The last of the million-dollar quartet to be inducted. The Man in Black.

WHY HE’S HERE: You know, sometimes I pessimistically talk about the need for people to take things that are very good and, rather than use the quality of the thing to challenge their own assumptions (i.e. “this is good country music, so there must be good country music”), they remove the thing from its original context/genre and insist that it’s so good it must be something else entirely (i.e. “Johnny Cash is, if you think about it, more like a rock star” etc.). But I’m feeling chipper today, so I’ll just say his songs were good enough that they won people over that would ordinarily be opposed to his approach. He did have significant influence on folks of all sorts of genres, despite never really having anything at all to do with rock music. My favorite under-reported influence was that his band for a couple of decades, the Tennesse Two, pioneered the kind of primitive amateurism that would be celebrated in rock music. What I’m saying here is that Luther Perkins, his guitar player on his most famous albums, could barely fucking play his guitar, and Johnny Cash wasn’t much better at it.

AND…?: Great records, except for the ones that are terrible. The American Recordings records manage to be great even while they’re ridiculous, which, come to think of it, is also something that Johnny Cash did consistently.


The Isley Brothers

WHO THEY ARE: Well, the logline is that they were a long-running R&B group, but that leaves aside that they spent several decades being amorphous, ambitious and able to do pretty much everything they tried. They were wildly successful for a very long time, and really didn’t make much bad music along the way.

WHY THEY’RE HERE: A handful of their songs are songs everyone knows – “Shout” first and foremost among them, but also “It’s Your Thing,” “This Old Heart of Mine”, “Nobody But Me” and “Who’s That Lady”, to name a few more – and whatever their actual influence on rock and roll music may have been. Oh, and for one not-particularly-successful year, Jimi Hendrix was their guitar player (that’s him playing on “Testify”).

AND…: they were a fantastic band who made fantastic records. They fell off in the eighties, as the general currents of R&B and the production of the time carried them into some fairly uninspiring places, but they were very good for a very long time. They were even much closer to rock and roll than many of the R&B bands listed here.


The Jimi Hendrix Experience

WHO THEY ARE: Jimi Hendrix’s first, longer-running band. The band that made all of his studio albums 6.

WHY THEY’RE HERE: Well, they were Jimi Hendrix’s vehicle. It’s not very often that the person who is the best at something makes himself apparent with few challengers, and Jimi Hendrix is one of those people. He is the best player of the electric guitar that ever happened. There are lots of great guitar players, and plenty of super-great guitar players, and none of them are as good at playing the guitar as Jimi Hendrix. So this, his band that helped him create his studio work, is a band with an assured place. That said, they were also a fantastic band. Mitch Mitchell would have been the best musician in literally any other band he could’ve been in, and Jimi Hendrix is an underrated singer. And Noel Redding was, y’know, a bass player. He did a fine job.

AND…?: It can be hard to throw on a Jimi Hendrix record for funsies in 2018 – the best parts have been jackhammered into everyone’s skulls all the time by five decades of radio play – but they hold up really well, and are quite good. I have nothing bad to say about any of them, even though this is the first time I’ve really listened to them of my own volition in many years.


Sam & Dave

WHO THEY ARE: Double Dynamite! The Sultans of Sweat! You didn’t have to love them, but you did but you did but you did! And they thank you!

WHY THEY’RE HERE: They did a lot to invent modern R&B. They sang the shit out of everything all the time. They had a large number of giant hits. They had absolutely zero to do with rock music.

AND…?: Great singers, great songs. Bruce Springsteen goes on and on about them every now and again, which is pretty cool.

RIGHTFULLY INDUCTED: Oof. There are unlikelier people who I think are rightfully inducted, so I suppose they can get past me, but they really very much entirely were not a rock concern.

The Yardbirds

WHO THEY ARE: A british white-blues outfit with a bunch of famous guitar players or whatever. Eventually they morphed into Led Zeppelin, which was the most productive use of anyone’s time.

WHY THEY’RE HERE: Because they are a trivia question – “which band had all these famous guitar players in it?” – and because they pioneered white-blues. Their primary influence on rock music was finding reasons to praise them that had nothing to do with their bog-standard (but competently executed) take on the blues.

AND…?: there is nothing in any of these descriptions that should leave you with the impression that I think any of this is any good.

RIGHTFULLY INDUCTED: Several of the members of the Yardbirds would go on to be inducted, most rightfully, and that’s fine, but the band themselves are, once again, the answer to a trivia question, and aren’t due the seriousness with which they are considered.

Elmore James

WHO HE IS: Blues guy. He played more or less all the kinds of blues at once, on a really loud slide guitar.

WHY HE’S HERE: He was pretty great. He’s an “early influence” and for once I can’t argue: the dude had the coolest guitar sound in the world for a good decade for his entire career, and he was a fantastic, inventive player.

AND…?: I’m into it. He came up through a system where all music was music to dance to, and he got really good at making downright weird music that still compelled people to dance. That’s a pretty cool approach, and even if a lot of his acolytes make dumbshit music that I can’t get behind, he was very good.


Professor Longhair

WHO HE IS: A New Orleans jazzbo. He was around for a long time, and was big stuff in the seventies (right before his death) when a bunch of people were vocally into him.

WHY HE’S HERE: I guess the “big stuff in the seventies” thing? I don’t really know. He wrote some songs that get covered fairly often. My guess – and this is purely baseless, as the nomination/induction process is notoriously opaque – is that they wanted New Orleans jazz represented somewhere in the “early influences” section, and they landed on Professor Longhair. To be fair, if this is the case, that’s probably just about what I would’ve done.

AND…?: I don’t know. It doesn’t have anything to do with rock music. The people that took the most from Professor Longhair – the Meters, and the assorted Neville constellation – are absent from the HOF completely, which is a crime and a miscalculation, so it’s not even like his influence is felt very much among the artists that are in there.

RIGHTFULLY INDUCTED: Not really, but as a token representative of a subgenre, I suppose I can’t fight against it too hard.

Leo Fender

WHO HE IS: The guy who founded Fender guitars, and the guy who designed the Telecaster, the Stratocaster and the Bassman amp, among other things.

WHY HE’S HERE: Well, those three things (and their long, long list of copycats) are pretty indispensable to rock music as it is played.

AND…?: No argument here. Pretty open and shut.


Bill Graham

WHO HE IS: The show promoter who booked the Fillmore, which is a very famous (and historically important) venue, as well as a bunch of big extravaganza-type concerts.

WHY HE’S HERE: Because the Fillmore is a very famous (and historically important) venue. And the big, extravaganza-type concerts as well.

AND…?: I dunno. On the one hand, rock music is primarily live music. It certainly needs places to happen, and the Fillmore was definitely one of those places. On the other hand, he was still just a promoter.


Doc Pomus

WHO HE IS: An early lyricst. He wrote the words to “This Magic Moment.”

WHY HE’S HERE: I guess the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame would like you to believe that forties lyricsts have an appreciable impact on the form or content of Rock and Roll.

AND…?: He’s a lyricist.


Nesuhi Ertagun (actually from 1991, but I forgot to put him in there so he’s here)

WHO HE IS: Ahmet Ertugun’s brother. He was actually inducted in 1991, but I missed him. He got a lifetime achievement induction.

WHY HE’S HERE: In addition to being his brother, he was also Ahmet’s business partner.

AND…?: I mean, I guess if he did all the stuff Ahmet did, only wasn’t as out in front, he’s probably due.


Class of 1993

Ruth Brown

WHO SHE IS: A fifties R&B singer. She was also an activist for the rights of musicians.

WHY SHE’S HERE: She was very popular. Specifically, she was very popular for Atlantic records, which you may remember is the label founded by Ahmet Ertegun.

AND…?: She maybe should have been inducted as a non-performer for her activism, but she had nothing at all to do with rock music, and I’m not sure how much influence she’s had beyond her popularity.



WHO THEY ARE: A supergroup containing the “cream of the crop” of British blues musicians, largely according to…well, the members of the band.

WHY THEY’RE HERE: Because people cannot get enough of inducting Eric Clapton. Cream is probably the best band he’s ever been in 7. Ginger Baker was a terrific drummer, also.

AND…?: I mean, I get it. These guys got together and fulfilled a lot of the fantasies for the people who were then young people who, in 1993, were voting on whom they should induct into the rock and roll hall of fame. But this is very much a “you had to be there” situation, or else it requires a lot more of a premium placed on the pedigree of band members rather than on the actual music they actually made, which was sometimes fine, and mostly tremendously forgettable.




Creedence Clearwater Revival

WHO THEY ARE: A bunch of dudes from El Cerrito who want you to believe they are from the depth of the American South.


WHY THEY’RE HERE: They were an incomparable influence on Southern Rock, which did big business there for awhile. They were front and center about their politics, and took on a position of defending the underclasses. They created a half dozen actually great albums, and there’s not much wrong with their last couple. They got out while they were ahead.


AND…?: I mean, I love CCR to death and little pieces. The aforementioned six great albums came between July of 1968 and December of 1970, and they wrapped it up by 1972. In that time they wrote more great rock songs than most bands write in decades of work. They did it while only sounding like themselves, while at the same time never actually repeating themselves. Everything about their career was pretty admirable. Oh, and their last album, Mardi Gras, is their least-good, but has maybe their best song, “Lookin’ for a Reason.”




The Doors

WHO THEY ARE: The subject of a 1991 biopic by Oliver Stone.


WHY THEY’RE HERE: Well, they made an enormous impact in their time, and their behavior contributed to a tonne of legends and semi-truths that inflated the story around that enormous impact. They managed to create the “wildman singer”, and thus paved the way for your jumping-around Iggy Pop/Henry Rollins types, as well as giving your extra-cool Steven Tyler/David Johansson types someone that wasn’t Mick Jagger to crib from. They were a storied rock and roll band during a storied time in rock and roll history, and they managed inspire a bunch of people to make bands.

AND…?: There is a lot that goes with The Doors that is not any of those things. They managed to build this sort of legend, fuelled largely by half-truth and gossip, about their relationship to the world that’s all pretty hard to take, especially when it burrows into the idea of Jim Morrison as a shaman or a poet 8. It is impossible to deny that The Doors, as they are, were a band that inspired a bunch of people. It is also very, very difficult to listen to their music with any sort of clear-headedness, without also buying into the considerable unearned mythology, and also ignoring that half the band was composed of some pretty terrible people, including Mr. Morrison himself. It’s also worth noting that most of the things that are remembered and/or important about the band are extramusical – their singer’s shenanigans, their drug use, their approach to their music – which is always a red flag for a band’s presence in this sort of thing.

RIGHTFULLY INDUCTED: On paper, they were popular and influential, and people still like them, so there’s not really an argument for them not being inducted. So yes. But I implore all of you to listen to them as music, and not as the musical wing of a legend, and try to explain why any of it is special.

Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers

WHO THEY ARE: Another doo-wop group. You thought there weren’t any more doo-wop groups? I HAVE BAD NEWS FOR YOU, MY FRIEND.

WHY THEY’RE HERE: Well, they were very famous, certainly. And since the cutoff for “early influence” seems to end at about 1950, they are inducted as performers, and this is, of course, infuriating.

AND…?: Look, they were a perfectly fine doo-wop group, and they were at least more rock-adjacent than other doo-wop groups, such as it is, but holy smokes, folks.

RIGHTFULLY INDUCTED: It’s a shame they’re this far in, because if any doo-wop group belongs in here it’s probably them, but man, am I tired of having to evaluate doo-wop groups.

Etta James

WHO SHE IS: A tremendous singer who rode the blues all the way into early rock and roll.

WHY SHE’S HERE: This is another pretty open-and-shut case 9 – she was great, she sang great songs that people liked and remembered, and a lot of people have tried to sing that way.


Van Morrison

WHO HE IS: A Northern Irish singer who’s been making music pretty much continuously for fifty-odd years.

WHY HE’S HERE: A lot of people get credit for being great rock and roll singers without having a traditionally great voice, but none of them are as nontraditionally great as Van Morrison. That guy turned a set of really weird attributes into a surprisingly elastic, remarkably expressive instrument. He also wrote a bunch of songs that people really like, and admirably pursued whatever his own muse was at any given moment.

AND…?: I’m lukewarm-to-middling on most of his actual music, but I get what there is to like, and reserve the right to someday come around on it.


Sly and the Family Stone

WHO THEY ARE: Earth’s finest psychedelic funk band, and a band that still putatively exists in some form or another.

WHY THEY’RE HERE: Their completely bugshit crazy frontman aside, they made some incredible music. At their best, they were as good as anybody, and they managed to throw all sorts of influences into their sausage machine and make it all sound good and like it belonged together.

AND…?: They weren’t always at the top of their game, but their best work is some of the best work. That’s good enough for me.


Dinah Washington

WHO SHE IS: The Queen of the Blues! Blues has a lot of royalty, guys. A lot.

WHY SHE’S HERE: Well, she was an accomplished jazz singer 10, and sang in a style that would influence a bunch of people that would go on to influence rock music. Once again, the early influences are a little too early.

AND…?: She also recorded the best extant version of Hank Williams’s “Cold, Cold Heart,” which is no small feat.


Dick Clark

WHO HE IS: The deceased host of American Bandstand. And, more modernly, Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve.

WHY HE’S HERE: American Bandstand did genuinely bring rock and roll music into people’s houses, and he was the creator of it.

AND…?: I mean, there are lots of reasons to hold Dick Clark in disdain, but he did have a positive effect in this way.


Milt Gabler

WHO HE IS: A record producer who made a bunch of pre-rock and roll records of note.

WHY HE’S HERE: Some of those records were important, influential ones by people who are in this very hall of fame.

AND…?: The relationship that the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame has with record producers seems weird and nonsensical, but I’m feeling charitable today.


  1.  also the centerpiece of the museum itself, for those that have never been there, is a very long video encapsulating each inducted class, with clips of performances by most of them and things like that, and is generally a pretty cool thing to behold. 
  2.  although they did, as you can read here and going back from there, skew toward “pretty bad” 
  3.  B.B. King being the most famous Beale Street guy, musically speaking. 
  4.  My thoughts on Sam & Dave are below, and on Otis Redding and Wilson Pickett are elsewhere. 
  5.  as generally expressed in the phrase “I don’t listen to country music. Except Johnny Cash.” This is sometimes also extended to Willie Nelson and/or Hank Williams. I’m sure you’ve all heard people say it. Some of you are even the people who say it. 
  6.  Band of Gypsys, a glorious mess of a record that, nevertheless, features my actual two favorite Jimi Hendrix guitar performances – the opening one-two punch of “Who Knows” and “Machine Gun” – was actually a live album featuring a different band (the titular Band of Gypsys). 
  7. this is a pretty thin compliment. 
  8.  both of which were things that Jim Morrison called himself. 
  9.  with the usual kvetching that the bulk of her work was not done in the rock and roll idiom, although at least in this case some of it was.AND…?: I have neither an argument nor much to add to this one.  
  10.  I know! But she was queen of the blues! It’s crazy! 

The 2017 Nebula Awards

The SFF-Award season can probably be said to exist in the summer, and the first of the major sff awards 1 is also my favorite: the Nebulas. This year they are terribly close to the ONAT headquarters 2, and so there is an extra frisson from knowing they’re right there.

Anyway, it was a pretty good year, all told – nothing was actively a slog to get through, and even some of the things that I wouldn’t ordinarily like were better-than-usual examples of it. Peter S. Beagle 3 is going to be declared a grand master, and we’re all going to live happily with that.

Without further ado, the rightful winners of the 2017 Nebula Awards.

The Andre Norton Award for Young Adult Science Fiction and Fantasy

This one is not technically a Nebula, but it’s given out at the Nebula ceremonies, so I’m including it. Feel free to sue me. Both Cindy Pon’s Want and Fonda Lee’s Exo found teenage protagonists negotiating violent rebellion situations while also falling in luuuurrrrrrve with someone deeply entrenched in the situations (On opposite sides! They’re crossed by the very stars!) themselves. They are both fine 4 novels, but neither of them is ahead of the pack here. The “pack”, then, also includes Kari Maaren’s Weave a Circle Round, which propels itself along nicely and manages some good ideas, but which I found didn’t cohere as nicely around its central mythology as I would have liked. It was good, though. Sam J. Miller’s The Art of Starving is an incredible book – probably the best YA book I’ve read since I started doing this 5. It hits all sorts of fantastic notes about all sorts of subjects both near to me and otherwise, and doesn’t miss a step in its treatment of some pretty fraught territory.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Sam J. Miller, The Art of Starving

Ray Bradbury Award for Outstanding Dramatic Presentation

This is also not technically a Nebula, but the same deal applies down here also. This is a tricky category this year. One of the things that must be considered here is the work’s ability to hold up to an audience that isn’t already a part of its “thing.” That is to say: each of these things must be attended to singly and without consideration for its role in a larger sense – even though there is every hint that some things are included here for their role in a larger narrative. This comes to bear primarily on Star Wars: The Last Jedi, which is a very good Star Wars movie, but which is almost impossible to evaluate outside of its place in the Star Wars milieu. However 6, it’s not like Star Wars’s milieu is somewhere outside the mainstream or difficult to find out about, so it isn’t docked that severely. The question of where something falls in the narrative is actually going to affect “Michael’s Gambit,” the last episode of the first season of The Good Place, and a thing that’s impossible to talk about in good faith. I suppose there’s probably a rule about only single episodes being nominated, because otherwise it would just be the entire season, but as an episode itself, it hinges too severely on the rest of the season to work, awards-wise. The first season in toto would be an eligible recipient, though. The Shape of Water is the best movie about the love between a mute woman and not-Abe not-Sapien ever made. Wonder Woman and Logan are both exemplary superhero movies – among the best ever made, but they also each have their ending-troubles 7. Get Out was originally conceived with a better ending (look it up, folks), but the one we got was good enough to call it “not a flaw.”


Best Short Story

Rarely are these categories disparate enough that it’s genuinely difficult to figure out which of them is the best 8, but this one was pretty close. Fran Wilde’s “Clearly Lettered in a Mostly-Steady Hand” was good, but was a lot more “tone” than “story,” and seemed to have lost some effectiveness as a result. It’s nice to see something so oblique, and I like Fran Wilde generally, but it was the easiest to rule out. “Utopia, LOL”, by Jamie Wahls, was funny, but also relied heavily on a reveal that was…not actually much of a reveal, and so lost it at the end 9. Vina Jie-Min Prasad’s “Fandom for Robots” was also funny, and not as slight as it might have seemed, but isn’t quite ahead of the rest. Rebecca Roanhorse’s “Welcome to Your Authentic Indian Experience™” was also funny, but angrier and more pointed, and was very effective. It was probably more effective than Matthew Kressel’s “The Last Novelist (or a Dead Lizard in the Yard),” which was good, and about the finite-nature of lifespan, and contains some effective metaphorical storytelling and is very moving. But the winner here is Caroline Yoachim’s “Carnival Nine,” which is allegorical more than metaphorical, and tackles many of the things that “The Last Novelist” also deals with, only more effectively, and in a more emotionally-engaging way. I know, I know, the affective fallacy. Good thing I’m not a New Critic. 

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Caroline Yoachim, “Carnival Nine”

Best Novelette

As usual, many of the novelettes were either too long or too short. Richard Bowles’s “Dirty Old Town” is probably the former – the story spends a lot of time explaining a lot of information about the people and what happens to them that it might not have if it had been able to stretch out a bit in a longer form. Kelly Robson’s “The Human Stain” is the latter – there’s a lot of asides and showing-of-her-work, and it gets in the way of an elliptical, admirably mysterious bit of weirdness. Jonathan P. Brazee’s “Weaponized Math” is a military-sf novelette about how marines are super good at shooting things with guns and have a wealth of camaraderie from all their time spent shooting at things and learning how to shoot at things. It is 75% one fight scene 10. K.M. Szpara’s “Small Changes Over Long Periods of Time” manages to get over on wrapping its fairly-lurid romance tale in a really interesting piece of world – a world in which vampirism is regulated, and additionally an examination of how, in such a world, a trans* vampire 11 would be dealt with. Vina Jie-Min Prasad’s second appearance here, “A Series of Steaks” contains a Spoon reference in the title, and an internal Mclusky reference (among others), and is a cracking good caper story about a meat fabricator. Sarah Pinsker, however, contributed another tremendous, incredible story about the intertwining of lives and music, with “Wind Will Rove,” which is not only the best thing in this category, but possible the actual best work nominated for a Nebula. Or, at least, my favorite, which isn’t quite tantamount to the same thing, but makes it harder to distinguish.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Sarah Pinsker, “Wind Will Rove”


I suppose with as great as “Wind Will Rove”, we can forgive how relatively-unfulfilling “And Then There Were (N-One)” is. It’s a reasonably good murder mystery/love letter, although to what I won’t say in case you haven’t read it yet, but it’s not much of a standout here. Lawrence M. Schoen’s Amazing Conroy stories continue to reliably be a blast to read, and Barry’s Deal is a particularly good one, but they also aren’t really elevated beyond “a fun science-fictional time”. J.Y. Yang’s The Black Tides of Heaven was built around a fantastic character who I loved a lot, and came to a very satisfying conclusion, but also feels like it’s only part of the story, and is without its other half 12. Martha Wells’ “All Systems Red” is brilliant, tremendously entertaining, and deals with the what-if AI stuff really well, but also very much is an introduction. I would bet, if I were the sort of person to do so, that future Murderbot books will be nominated for similar such awards, and will probably deserve them. From here I’m torn. Ellen Klages’s Passing Strange is a fabulous piece of magic-oriented fiction, that deals with visibility and identity and all sorts of other such things. On the other hand Sarah Gailley’s River of Teeth is about cowboys who ride hippos and herd hippos and, well, there’s a lot of hippos in it. And it’s a western about a down-on-his-luck lawbreaker who has to get the band back together for One Last Heist. So Passing Strange is the sort of thing I’d like to encourage there to be more of in the world – satisfying emotionally and intellectually, carefully drawn, very much like the fluid, androgynous characters at its center, or the delicate chalk pictures that provide one of its plot points. River of Teeth, on the other hand, is a damn hippo. It’s bulky and pushy and bitey and totally rad. So I mean, it’s going to be River of Teeth, but definitely also read Passing Strange.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Sarah Gailley, River of Teeth (or possibly Ellen Klages, Passing Strange. I’m only making this decision because I have to here, by my own rules).


This is a real “best of times, worst of times” category right here. Lara Elena Donnelly’s Amberlough is, presumably, sff because it takes place on a world that isn’t Earth 13, but contains basically no further sff elements. Maybe they’re forthcoming. In any event, as retellings of Cabaret go, it’s not so bad, but it’s not really up to part in this category. Fonda Lee’s Jade City builds an interesting world and includes a couple of really great subplots, but the action is diffused a little too much, and the book takes on more than it seems to be able to handle effectively. Theodora Goss’s The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter is a sort of League of Extraordinary Gentledamsels, and it seems like it was a lot of fun to write, but was a little too self-conscious and not quite direct enough to go over 14. Muir Lafferty’s Six Wakes is a fun little mystery, but the ending is either so audacious that it has to be entertaining or utterly stupid, and I oscillate between these two positions every time I think about it. It has some nifty world-building, but not a whole lot of structural integrity as a story (i.e. there are huge whacks of it that don’t, in specific terms, make any actual sense). I’m a sucker for a book about a robot, and even more of a sucker for a book in which a robot decides to see how human it can be, and even more a sucker for a book in which corporations are dystopian generators of evilness, so Annalee Newitz’s Autonomous basically triple-suckered me into loving it to bits and pieces, which I do. It’s fantastic, but not quite as good as the last two. Daryl Gregory’s Spoonbenders is a fun, deeply moving story about people with actual superpowers. It deserves high praise for its plotting, even if nothing else, but it has tons of great stuff to dig into in its portrait of a family, and the huckster that holds them all together. But really, this one belongs justly and rightfully to N.K. Jemisen’s The Stone Sky. While it’s true that I thought The Obelisk Gate had a bit of a draggy case of second-book syndrome, The Stone Sky manages to stick the landing and create a deeply satisfying ending to the trilogy.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: N.K. Jemisen, The Stone Sky

  1.  I am not being fair to a bunch of awards right now when I say this, but I think the “major” line has to be drawn somewhere, and I’m drawing it at the Nebulas. 
  2.  they’re just right over there in Pittsburgh!\ 
  3.  whose work I am almost completely – barring a couple of short stories here and there – unfamiliar with. This is a large hole in my awareness, that I confess here to you fine people. 
  4.  and don’t actually have that much in common beyond a similar approach – one has aliens in it, the other just the regular Earth future.   
  5.  unless it’s Frances Hardinge’s The Lie Tree, but this isn’t the space for this argument. Could be Nimona, also, now that I think about it. 
  6.  and you’ll notice that I did not take this into consideration at all when I talked about last year’s Nebulas, awarding it to Rogue One because it was, as I said at the time “the best Star Wars movie released in my lifetime.” It still is, too. In that case, the field for the Bradbury award wasn’t as strong, and it fell upon me to declare something’s rightfulness given the candidates. Also I contain multitudes and all that.   
  7.  WW in the form of yet another giant-CG-villain showdown for the last half hour or whatever, Logan’s in the dumbest macguffin known to man, an adamantium bullet. Either movie would be considerably better with a different ending by which the ending was to work/the villain to be defeated. 
  8.  longtime readers will know that I rarely actually have any problem declaring something the winner, but I do acknowledge that this was a little trickier than usual.  
  9.  I suppose if there’s a unifying trend here, it’s this: good setups with bad endings. 
  10.  military sf is fine. I am not opposed to it as a matter of course – Jack Campbell! Lois McMaster Bujold! Joe Haldeman! – but this is particularly not-good. I’m sure it’s fun for people that like to read detailed descriptions of people shooting guns and then are rewarded with some entry-level pandering about the brotherhood of the military or whatever, but of all the things whose nomination I disagree with, this is the one that baffles me the most. At least this year. 
  11.  NB: this is a trans* person who is changed into a vampire, as all vampires are sort of trans-vampires, given that one cannot be born a vampire. Y’know, by the standard vampirism model. I’m sure there are exceptions. 
  12.  well, sort of. The Red Threads of Fortune isn’t really the other half of the story – they’re both self-contained – but it is the companion piece, and it does make the whole thing better. There’s also meant to be a third volume, but I haven’t read it. 
  13.  it’s also published by awards-juggernaut Tor 
  14.  there is also a narrative device throughout the book – which is being written by one of the characters – of the other characters interrupting her to put in their two cents. I kept thinking it would amount to something, but it’s just a way to provide metacommentary on the book itself while you’re reading it. It is not the most effective device, is what I’m saying here.  

The 2018 Billboard Music Awards

Every year, I consider not doing the Billboard awards. After all, there are two things going against it: 1) they are the kind of professionally-focused award that I tend to avoid 1, and 2) they’re actually based on sales and streaming data and whatnot, and so aren’t really the work of a body deciding award-worthiness so much as they are the result of an already-tabulated popularity contest 2.

But this year is different, this year I rebut both notions. For they are both televised and deeply silly, so whatever they’re subjecting themselves to, they are doing so via context and whatnot. Furthermore, they are chosen by the most ridiculous nominating body of them all: all of us. Even awards shows that allow for some kind of vote still have a self-selecting audience. Thanks to the fine people at Nielsen, every time we purchase/stream a song, we are voting for the Billboard awards.

The world is a vasty panoply of options, a smorgasbord of consumption for people who are looking for something. Even so, I feel it is fair to limit the options available to those that are here nominated. Obviously the kind of popularity that gets someone a Billboard award is the kind of popularity that one has to pay for and market toward, so while it was my initial impulse to declare the “rightful winner” the artist I think would most-justifiably be the most popular in a proper world, I am going to limit myself to the artists here nominated. It seems a reasonable position, and, after all, I’d hate to take the mantel of “arbiter of what is popular” from the shoulders of The People, after all.

In any event, this year the show will be hosted by Kelly Clarkson 3, and they’ll be presenting the Icon award to Janet Jackson, which is nice. Oh and there’s a thousand categories, so this’ll be presented speed-round style. To make the reading experience even easier, here’s a spoiler: I declared Kendrick Lamar the rightful winner in 26% of the categories. So here we go. 

Top Social Artist

This one is, y’know, explicitly fan-voted. As always with fan-voted it’s actually a weird Venn diagram of fans of the artist and, by the nature of these things, fans of the awards show. I have no idea how the two things would map onto each other, to be honest, but I also don’t know how one would take into account the totality of a popstar’s “social” presence, which is true for every single awards show with a “social” category.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Demi Lovato, I guess?

Billboard Chart Achievement

This one is also fan-voted, and it’s even more baffling. What the hell does this mean? The artist whose chart performance most pleased the fans of that artist? This is crazy and weird, guys. Define your categories.


Top Soundtrack/Cast Album

As enjoyable as they are, I still don’t think the Guardians of the Galaxy soundtracks should be eligible, although, again, it’s sales that decide it. I suppose Moana deserves to have sold the most, given that it’s the most cohesive and that it operates partially 4 in a genre that isn’t represented here very often.


Top Gospel Song

So the Gospel categories 5 are among the reasons that I don’t just give a blanket “rightfulness” – I don’t know much about any of this. Upon listening, I like the Travis Greene song the most.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Travis Greene, “You Waited”

Top Gospel Album

There’s also very little deviation in these categories, which is a thing that tends to happen at the Billboard awards – an album is generally heard on the strength of its singles, and generally represents an artist’s entire output during the eligibility period, so there tends to be some repetition. They’re not completely identical, however, and so we’re left assuming that Tamela Mann (who is present in the song category but not the album) had a single that didn’t drive people to her album, or that Marvin Sapp had an album that didn’t move its single. This is interesting to me, and part of why I do this, but also that’s about all there is to say about it. Oh, and Gospel is one of those genres where a live album can really work.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Travis Greene, Crossover: Live from Music City

Top Gospel Artist

One of the acts that is present in all three Gospel categories is Anthony Brown & group therAPy, and I have no idea why it’s capitalized like that, nor is information on said capitalization available easily to someone just encountering it. Maybe if I were more of a Gospel-head I’d know something. I guess it’ll remain a mystery.


Top Christian Song

True story: I did used to like Lecrae. I mean, I still like the stuff that I used to like, but it was awhile ago, and I haven’t checked back in with him in awhile. This new stuff seems fine. I can dig it.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Lecrae, “I’ll Find You” (f Tori Kelly)

Top Christian Album

One of these is an Alan Jackson album, and I still don’t like Alan Jackson.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Not Alan Jackson, whatever else is fine I guess. I have no opinion here, this is all pretty awful.

Top Christian Artist

Another true story: Hillsong UNITED and Hillsong Worship are two different outfits from two different megachurches called Hillsong on two different continents (a third megachurch band, Elevation Worship, is also in the offing). Whatever else is happening in the nightmare hellscape that we call this world, it took two different Hillsongs to get us there.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: uh…MercyMe I guess? But I’m not happy about this, either.

Top Dance/Electronic Song

Kygo from the Rio Olympics is still around, guys! Here he is! I don’t exactly hate this Zedd song, although I think I’ve had it foisted upon me in public too often to really enjoy it. It’s still the best option.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Zedd, “Stay” (f Alessia Cara)

Top Dance/Electronic Album

Avicii died, and that is sad, because he was very young. Since I don’t like any of this, I feel it’s fitting to call this category a memorial for Avicii.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Avicii, Avīci (01)

Top Dance/Electronic Artist

I mean, it would be more fair to give this one to Avicii, but what do I know. The answer to that question is: I know that everywhere I look, Marshmello is there. So I guess it’s him. He’s worn me down. I do like his headpiece.


Top Latin Song

I like the Bad Bunny part of “Mejores,” but I like all of “Mi Gente”. So that made this very easy.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: J. Balvin and Willy William, “Mi Gente” (f. Beyonce)

Top Latin Album

Some albums have an accretive power that gets you into the album as it flows from one moment to the next. Those albums are not any of these albums. I only ever listen to “Latin” music 6 when I’m researching one of these things, but I’m starting to get the idea that it might not be an “albums” genre, guys.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Christian Nodal, Me Deje Llevar. I like mariachi.

Top Latin Artist

Bachata, a genre that I have discovered only recently, is a kind of Dominican country-blues, but not like that at all. It has some sameyness problems, but for the most part is better than the other genres here represented, and it’s therefore easier for me to like Romeo Santos, the practitioner of Bachata in this category.


Top Rock Tour

The best of the old farts that still sell enormous amount of tickets on tour is a tough call to make. Rock music, as a touring economy at a small scale, is the healthiest it’s been within my lifetime. It’s easier – as it has been for a long time now – for bands to have fans anywhere they go, and play shows that are well-attended and profitable, provided the band has some kind of head on their shoulders. But only one of them would have even possibly found me in attendance, and that’s U2 7. So I guess they’re the winner.


Top Rock Song

I have, in the past, had nice things to say about Portugal, the Man. I may even still, but the sight of the animated Peter Rabbit bouncing around to the chorus of “Feel it Still” haunts my nightmares. It still isn’t as bad as Imagine Dragons. The Revivalists are  a pleasing-enough (if slight) old-style outfit that I don’t mind. I could try fainter praise, but not without expending more effort on it.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: The Revivalists, “Wish I Knew You”

Top Rock Album

Oh also Portugal, the Man’s album is called Woodstock, and that annoys me, although I couldn’t tell you why. Chart-rock just doesn’t do it for me.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: I mean, it’s still mostly Woodstock, I’m just mad about the name.

Top Rock Artist

This is another one where there’s a surge of sales because of someone’s death, in this case Tom Petty’s. I suppose that’s nice for the estate and family of Tom Petty, as well as for whatever it brings in for the surviving Heartbreakers.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers

Top Country Tour

I think the real winner he is not going to see any of these acts on tour, quite frankly.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: not going to see any of these acts on tour, quite frankly.

Top Country Song

The recent ACM awards showed that Country is finally heading out of its years-long bro-country wilderness, and that’s great, but the signs of its forward progress have not gone as far as the top of the Billboard charts yet, so this category is still full of execrable music.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Dustin Lynch is ok, I guess. “Small Town Boy” is the least-execrable song here.

Top Country Album

If you read the ACM awards, you saw this category in a basically-identical form. It was Chris Stapleton then, it’s Chris Stapleton now.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Chris Stapleton, Songs From a Room, Vol. 1

Top Country Duo/Group Artist

Once again, country music is the only category (other than the “general” or “overall” awards, see below) to have a duo/group category in addition to the individual categories. I do not know why this is. I do not know what this means.


Top Country Female Artist

On the one hand, I do appreciate that Kelsey Ballerini is forthright and upfront about the fact that she is a pop singer who performs in a country idiom. It hadn’t really been a done thing 8, so it’s refreshing. It doesn’t make her music any better, though.


Top Country Male Artist

I think we all know where this is going.


Top Country Artist

None of these people are the top of anything, and I’m going to set the whole thing on fire.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: The flames of righteous indignation

Top Rap Tour

Once again, the only one of these people I would go see is Kendrick.


Top Rap Song

Bodak Yellow” was a #1 hit, which is unlikely enough, and it ushered in the delightful public career of Cardi B., which is great, but it isn’t, y’know, actually that good a song. Not really. I mean, it’s fun and all. This is my stance, I guess.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Kendrick Lamar, “Humble”

Top Rap Album

Migos are here for Culture, not the far-inferior Culture 2, which may come up next year, since it did still sell like hotcakes, and Culture is genuinely great, but, for probably the last time in this space, I must say that it is less-great than DAMN. I mean, DAMN. won a Pulitzer. How would it win a Pulitzer and not a Billboard award, you know?


Top Rap Female Artist

Look, I know that it’s A Thing to decry that Bhad Bhabie has parlayed what should have been a single annoying appearance on a talk show into a “career” as a “rapper.” I know that it’s also A Thing to point out that, such as it is, she’s not a terrible rapper. Both of those things are true. Furthermore, since the Billboard awards is about sales, and not about the Whole Moral Point of it All, it can be excused that she’s here – she wasn’t specifically chosen. She was, in any way that matters, nonspecifically chosen. And I’m not some stick in the mud about all this: Cardi B came from a reality show, which isn’t much better, and she’s just fine. What I’m saying is, we are concerned, to an admittedly-amorphous standard, with what’s “rightful” here, and is there anyone among you who can say, genuinely, that Bhad Bhabie deserves to rightfully be in this position? Because I do not always know what “Rightful” is, but I know that this isn’t. And any of you who disagree are, of course, welcome to catch me outside. How about that.


Top Rap Male Artist

Oh, and fuck Post Malone, also.


Top Rap Artist

It’s obviously going to be Kendrick, but I feel I should also say: fuck Post Malone.


Top R&B Tour

Aw, Lionel Richie. What a thing there. Suppose we can chalk that one up to anticipation about American Idol or something? Since he hasn’t toured since the show started or whatever. I dont’ know. I can’t find myself in the headspace of someone who would go see Lionel Richie live. Ew.


Top R&B Song

There are, in fact, two Bruno Mars songs in this category. That seems excessive.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Khalid, “Young Dumb and Broke”

Top R&B Album

SZA famously doesn’t think Ctrl is very good. She is, literally, the only person that thinks this. She is a silly goose.


Top R&B Female Artist

Any of these folks would be fine winners and all that, but I think SZA really did have the best year, all things considered.


Top R&B Male Artist

I still like The Weeknd pretty well, and I liked Starboy a lot, but Khalid is really growing on me in a way that I did not expect, so I feel like it should be him, even though I wouldn’t be too put out either way.


Top R&B Artist

I do, however, have no trouble deciding between Khalid and SZA.


Top Touring Artist

Adding Bruno Mars and Ed Sheeran to the list does not make this any more difficult, or any more interesting, or change my answer in any way whatsoever.


Top Collaboration

God help me, I do not mind “Havana” as a song, and it is weird and gratifying that Young Thug is a full-on pop star.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Camila Cabella, “Havana” (f Young Thug)

Top Streaming Song (Video)

On the one hand, there are probably several perfectly good reasons why Cardi B’s video is here, but some of them are more obvious than others. On the other hand, it is actually a pretty cool video, as far as all that goes. However, since it’s probably the last time I’ll get to declare it so, “The Shape of You” remains the only video on this list in which Ed Sheeran gets punched, so it’s a great video.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Ed Sheeran, “The Shape of You”

Top Streaming Song (Audio)

I’ll be sad next year, when, in all likelihood, nothing as good as “Humble” will be noinated for every award all year. Sigh. Oh, additionally, so that it doesn’t go unsaid: fuck Post Malone.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Kendrick Lamar, “Humble”

Top Streaming Artist

I don’t want to give you guys the wrong impression here. I mean, it’s true that I have very little use for the whole entire crop of face-tatted mumble-rappers 9, but I do mean: fuck Post Malone in particular.


Top Radio Song

Is this really what’s played on the radio? When I’m hearing the radio – which is largely at the gym or whatever – it seems like it’s a lot more lady-heavy. There are no women here. This is weird.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Bruno Mars, “That’s What I Like”

Top Radio Songs Artist

The name of this category is super-unwieldy! But this category does have a woman in it. And while it’s not true that she won because she is a woman, it is also true that…well, this whole category bites the big one.


Top Selling Song

The people that spend their money on pop music have spoken, and they would like you to know that they quite like Imagine Dragons. So there.


Top Selling Album

It’s easy enough to look up sales figures and know how to be right about this, but I want, just for a few more days, to live in a world I can declare it rightful that DAMN. outsold [cosecant] or whatever the fuck Ed Sheeran’s bullshit album is called 10, reputation, which is uncapitalized and unlistenable.


Top Song Sales Artist

While we’re on the subject: fuck Post Malone.


Top Hot 100 Song

Presumably this is “the song that sold the most or whatever out of all of the songs on the Hot 100,” which I’m sure is more complicated than I think, but also is dumb when you’ve already got so many other distinctions in play. This is why these are all so short: there are TOO MANY CATEGORIES. Also, fuck Post Malone.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Kendrick Lamar, “Humble”

Top Hot 100 Artist

This year is so abysmal for the artists in most of these categories that I’m basically one step away from just opening a goddamn Church of Kendrick. Fuck Post Malone for real, tho.


Top Billboard 200 Album

So the Billboard 200 is the totality of all things considered in the streaming/sales divide, rather than just one or the other as in previous categories, which means that…honestly, it means it’s going to be the same person in all three places, because that’s probably how things work. Once again, I could look up the numbers to corroborate this, but I won’t. I’ll just say this: fuck Post Malone.


Top Billboard 200 Artist

I don’t know what deity intervened to make it so that only difference between this category and the last was the substitution of Chris Stapleton for Post Malone, but I’m (obviously) very happy about it.


Top Duo/Group

Hey look! It’s a category that I can’t just give over to Kendrick Lamar and be done with by definition! He’s not a duo OR a group! Huzzah!


Top Female Artist

Seriously, though. This is an indictment of the public: none of these women, except Taylor Swift, appear very often in these awards. And maybe they should. Apparently we’re in a “nobody listens to music made by women” phase of the world. That’s terrible. We should stop doing that.


Top Male Artist

For the last time in this piece, and with as much gusto as I can muster: fuck Post Malone.


Top New Artist

I like Cardi B more than Khalid in the main, although I probably listen to Khalid’s music more. I suppose I am part of the “not listening to music made by women” problem in this one regard. Ah, my own petard. There it is. Hoisting me.


Top Artist

I bet it would be really funny if I got all the way down here and then gave it to Post Malone, but no. He’s not even up for it. Once again, I choose to take this as a sign that there is tonnes of justice in the world, and we just haven’t seen it all meted out yet.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Kendrick Lamar, of course.

  1.  Sort of like the WGA awards or whatever 
  2.  there’s also the problem of it happening – and this is the second year in a row now – the same weekend as the Nebulas, which is why this is going up a week early. Last year I pushed the Nebulas up, but why should I respect the Billboard awards time slot? Those dudes suck. 
  3.   who, for whatever else, seems to really be taking this pivot into the world of television quite seriously. 
  4.  I mean, it’s an ineluctably Disney-ish version 
  5.  actually, all faith-based categories, I don’t really listen to any of it 
  6.  as defined by the people that make categories at awards shows 
  7.  they were touring behind The Joshua Tree, which is fine, and I only considered it for long enough to realize that I did not want to pay the price of a plane ticket to go to a football stadium to listen to a band play half a mile away while I watched them on a screen. Admittedly, the large-scale rock-star thing pretty much misses me entirely. 
  8.  remember that Taylor Swift “switched” and made some sort of kabuki of abandoning country music for pop, despite having straddled both charts, and didn’t acknowledge her pop background prior to that fact. 
  9.   who’d’ve thought that I would someday pine for a world in which they were only as bad as Lil Yachty. Ah, simpler times. 
  10.  True story: I’m looking right at the title, and I hate it so much that I still won’t type it here. 

The Comeback Trail Double-Header

So a couple of weeks ago, on the storied twentieth of April, two bands associated with marijuana usage 1 decided to release their first recorded statements since the Bush administration. Each caused their own ruckus, in their own way, and the two records have very little in common with each other, but nonetheless I am moved here to talk about A Perfect Circle’s Eat the Elephant and Sleep’s The Sciences.

Eat the Elephant was the more high-profile – A Perfect Circle, after all, had actual bona-fide on-the-radio hits right around the time rock radio ceased to be a going concern. They had been thought long gone, dropped down the oubliette of other rock-star side projects, when Maynard James Keenan, their singer, possibly to deflect the constant Tool-related questions 2, made rumblings about taking a break from Puscifer records/wine-making to work on some APC material. Soon the band’s only other constant member, erstwhile guitar tech Billy Howerdel, confirmed these plans, and the band hopped back into action.

A Perfect Circle was always an interesting – for a certain degree of remove attached to the word “interesting” – notion. Where Tool were self-consciously artsy 3, A Perfect Circle seemed like a way to apply the same ideas to what was then all over the radio. They revealed Keenan to be something of a dab hand at a pop song 4, and capable of writing tunes and lyrics that worked in the sort of rock-forward direct approach preferred by Howerdel. Howerdel, who wrote all of the songs, had worked for Billy Corgan, and while it might not be fair to reduce his set of influences that far, it doesn’t not sound like an alternate-universe Smashing Pumpkins, especially on the first record (see the then-ubiquitous “Judith”). Their first record, Mer de Noms, arrived, was extremely likable music, sold a bajillion copies, and was nigh-inescapable.

On their second record (and my favorite of their records, such as it is), The Thirteenth Step, they introduced the idea of making things much more dour, and brought in a bunch of new-wave-ish influences 5 to make their music moodier and darker, more sculptural than the straightforward blasting of Mer de Noms. It’s the second record that gave me real hope for their continued existence – it includes probably the best Failure cover ever recorded (“The Nurse Who Loved Me”) 6, and the use of guest musicians landed them their finest-ever moment, “The Noose”, which features vocals by former-Swan Jarboe and guitar from Nine Inch Nails’ Danny Lohner, and ended with at least one blogger thinking that Jarboe and Keenan should work together more 7. The record had legs, but didn’t sell nearly as well as the first one.

It was followed up by a covers album, where the band reworked “When the Levee Breaks” and “Imagine” into turgid, lightless exercises in Making a Point. It is not the most flattering version of the band’s sound, which meant that, when they hung it all up after the cycle for eMotive ended, it wasn’t very hard to say goodbye to them and assume the band had run its course.

They went their separate ways, with Keenan releasing a handful of records, with a revolving cast of collaborators, as Puscifer 8, and Howerdel more-or-less immediately making a record as Ashes Divide (which was never followed up), with the only stirring being the release of a greatest-hits record 9 several years later.

Eat the Elephant, then, veritably sped from announcement to release (the populous only really heard about it six or so months ago). It was made by the band’s usual MO, with Howerdel working up instrumental ideas and Keenan writing lyrics and melodies for them in a long distance back-and-forth, and the two eventually coming together to finish the songs and release the album. This time they allowed for an outside producer for the first time, radio-rock dude Dave Sardy 10, which is the first time a record hasn’t been produced by Howerdel.

The process itself – writing songs cross-country and then rewriting them and fiddling with them and retouching them and then fiddling with them some more and then massaging them into some sort of highly-fiddled-with shape – seems tortuous, and the results are…less than inspiring. Eat the Elephant is not a bad record as such – the singing is particularly good, the playing sounds ok, and it generally seems to represent the band, such as it is – but it doesn’t really go anywhere when it’s over.

Some of the songs, especially the opening one-two punch of the title track and “Disillusioned”, sound pretty cool, but aren’t very memorable when they’re over. Some of them (“Hourglass”, for example) sound like they might have been good ideas that just died in the process (or for some other, unknowable reason). For the first time in the band’s career, however, they have also managed songs that are just dreadful (“So Long and Thanks for All the Fish,” and “Get the Lead Out”). All told, the band would have been better off either spending more time assembling the simulacrum of the record, or less time on them and just recorded something more straightforward.

It’s not their fault that they suffer from the comparison made real by their choice of release date, but as far as comeback albums go, it’s hard not to recommend that every band try to learn something from Sleep.

Sleep were absolute titans of the stoner-metal scene right around the turn of the century. They made one relatively minor album (Volume 1) followed by one very good, trouble-free release (Holy Mountain), followed by one of the most storied 11 releases in history with their third album, Dopesmoker, a once-in-a-lifetime, all-time-great heavy metal album that for a long time did not get to be heard in the way the band intended. An hour-plus long single track, it was originally rejected by their label, and released promotionally in a remixed form 12. It was then released in an unauthorized form as Jerusalem by Tee Pee records 13, and more-or-less contemporaneously as a single-track bootleg. Eventually it saw what amounts to the actual version of the album with a remaster by the fine folks at Southern Lord, which version is the de facto “good version”, due to it 1) sounding good and 2) being actually available to people to listen to.

While all of this was happening, the band went their separate ways, with guitarist Matt Pike forming the mighty High on Fire, and Al Cisneros and Chris Hakius (the drummer at the time) comprising the almost-as-good-as-Sleep heavy band Om.

I suppose there’s another way that the two bands in this piece can be compared, it’s that Sleep left the world as underheralded geniuses, and reformed as a supergroup. They’re joined on drums by the outstanding Jason Roeder, who is also the drummer for Neurosis 14 and the record is produced by Neurosis’s samples-and-synthesizer maestro, Noah Landis 15. And so it came to pass that, with zero leadup or fanfare, Sleep released The Sciences on 4/20.

It is true that A Perfect Circle could have learned something from the seamless resumption that Sleep displays here, but it is also true that almost everyone could learn something from this one. Stitching together a couple of songs that were originally written at the time of Dopesmoker 16 with a few new pieces, the thing is as mighty a collection of riffs as could exist.

Ultimately, the record succeeds by enhancing the features of Sleep that already were there – it’s an unabashed slab of Sabbath-worshipping riffs welded together with Cisneros’s weeded-out lyrics 17 , and propelled by Roeder’s phenomenal drum performance. All rock music is better when it’s the sound of a set of people interacting with each other in a specific idiom, but heavy music is especially dependent on the interplay of the members themselves 18, and The Sciences is the sound of a set of people making music that only that set of people could possibly make. The fact that a couple of the songs predate one of the now-members’ involvement does not seem to change the fact that the three of them together have made an amazing artistic statement.

Anyway, this is running over into the fawning 19, and we all have places to be. So, is A Perfect Circle’s Eat the Elephant a worthy comeback, and does it have a place in their oeuvre? Eh. Maybe. It might grow on me. Their fans seem to like it well enough, and it certainly isn’t a crass retread or anything, so I guess it has its merits, I’m just not hearing them. The Sciences, however, is not only a worthy addition to the discography of Sleep, but might actually be their best record. It’s well and truly above and beyond anything anyone could have expected out of a Sleep record in 2018, that’s for sure. It might be the best record I’ve heard so far this year.

  1.  one very explicitly and one only by circumstance and/or fanbase 
  2.  Tool would have, for my own purposes here, been more thematic, and will almost certainly be revisited if their next album ever actually proves itself to exist. 
  3.  my feelings on Tool are thorny enough to warrant two different footnotes, and while at the time I thought they were an absolute godhead of weirdo-metal, I am now able to more-or-less identify them as the sort of gateway drug to weirdo-metal. They were proggy as hell, but satisfyingly heavy, and their music isn’t quite as good as I thought it was contemporaneously, but it’s still fun, and a lot of it – especially their second full-length record, Aenima – holds up pretty well. 
  4.  a sad teenager may very well be moping to “3 Libras” even now. 
  5.  a thing that was happening a lot at the time. 
  6.  incidentally, everyone should go listen to Failure’s records. They’re very good. 
  7.  some of you in the audience are probably pointing out that I’d probably say that about Jarboe and anyone, to which I say: fair. 
  8.  a band that was born as a Mr. Show sketch, in which Keenan appears. 
  9.  always a strange idea for a band with only three records, especially in 2013, even if it wasn’t exactly bad. 
  10.  Sardy is also a film scorer – he did Monster Trucks and End of Watch, among other things – and the producer of LCD Soundsystem’s Sound of Silver, which implies that he’s pretty good at working with people who usually – and probably should, on balance – produce themselves. He also, weirdly, worked with Sleep, see below.  
  11.  and, frankly, most botched 
  12. the remixing was handled by Dave Sardy, as mentioned above. The bands are connected again! 
  13. this is the version that I first heard 
  14.  one of the only heavy bands in history that’s better than Sleep 
  15. it remains the case that any album with multiple members of Neurosis on it is a very good album. 
  16.  “Sonic Titan” was a bonus track on the final, band-approved reissue of the record in 2003, and “Antarcticans Thawed” was a contemporaneous contribution. 
  17.  I’m not a lyrics person, as I mention here frequently, but Cisneros is a good lyricist – his koan-like chanting and mystic searching in Om is part of what elevates that band to genuine greatness – and his work with Sleep is self-aware and funny without being silly or overly-winking in a way that most stoner bands never really bother with. There’s a reason that Sleep is being fawned over in this space and I’ve never really said much about, say, The Sword.  
  18.  whether this is because heavy music is, due to circumstance and/or history, especially prone to weird, overtweaked production nonsense or because the fact that it works so gutterally requires complete honesty and directness is beyond the scope of this footnote, but I suspect that both factors play their part. 
  19.  this is why I don’t really review records in this space 

The Best Records of April 2018

Sleep – The Sciences (Stoner-metal titans make what may actually be their best record yet, and is certainly as compulsively listenable as anything they’ve ever done)

Grouper – Grid of Points (The shortest Grouper record is also one of the most interesting, becoming in itself a work about brevity and interruption. A truly beautiful record.)

Wrekmeister Harmonies – The Alone Rush (J.R. Robinson has adopted full-time frontman duties for his own band, and the result is as “normal” as a Wrekmeister Harmonies record has ever been)

Mind Over Mirrors – Bellowing Sun (Turns out that playing this stuff with a full band makes it that much better, and I’m hopeful that that’s Jaime Fennelly’s take-away from all this also, since this is the best Mind Over Mirrors record at a walk)

Christina Vantzou – No. 4 (A good month for experimental music, obviously. Also a good month for Kranky, which released both this and Grid of Points. Anyway, it’s also a good month to be, obviously, because this record is also incredible.)