Rocktober Special: Jeff Ament’s T-Shirt, Part 1

Last year, the rock and roll combination known as Pearl Jam was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and as part of the ceremony, Pearl Jam’s bass player, Jeff Ament, wore a shirt, protesting that a bunch of the people on it were not in the HOF 1Not necessarily being one to publicly gainsay Jeff Ament, but definitely being the sort of person that has an excess of opinions, this obviously created an opportunity to weigh in on at least one person’s candidates for “unjustly left out of the proceedings.”

So here you have it: part 1 of the special Rocktober analysis of Jeff Ament’s t-shirt. There’s a whole lot of them. I will try to be brief.

Brian Eno

People who are in the RRHOF: 1) superstar producers who made some of the most popular albums of all time. 2) Important, influential musicians who created entire subgenres of rock- or rock-derived music 2 3) members of beloved, highly-popular rock bands 34) thoughtful, highly-vocal supporters of taking rock music seriously as a form. A person who is not in the RRHOF: literally a dude who is all four of these things. This is an embarrassment.

THE VERDICT: Of course

Can

Can is my go-to answer for “rock band that does not get enough shine, ever”. They were an incredibly fertile, incredibly innovative band that flies under a lot of radars. They were ostensibly a motorik band 4, but they were also a tremendous psychedelic band, and an early adopter of noise-music philosophies in a rock music context. They deserve it in theory as much as any band ever could, although the odds that they’ll actually get there are pretty low. But then, that goes for most of these bands.

THE VERDICT: Very yes.  

The Buzzcocks

They started out a great band, wrote a handful of the best punk songs ever written, and kind of (along with the Damned) laid out the groundwork for pop-punk. Green Day is in the Hall of Fame, the Buzzcocks should be in the Hall of Fame.

THE VERDICT: yes

The Cars

I’ve talked about the Cars previously (including just last week). Good songs, good band, good chances of getting in, absolutely deserving.

THE VERDICT: Yes

Slayer

As previously mentioned, the RRHOF has a real hard time with heavy metal. If Judas Priest is making inroads just now, it might be a long, long time before Slayer is approached. That said, they were enormously influential, and had a four-album run 5 that is as strong as any heavy metal band I can think of. They should be in, but they won’t.

THE VERDICT: Yes

Faith No More

Ugh. Can we just…not?

THE VERDICT: No. I’m not doing this.

Fela Kuti

Afrobeat was a pretty big influence on a lot of what came after it, in terms of globalist dance music. It has fuck-all to do with rock music, but a certain kind of rock bass player 6 really goes for it. Some of the records are pretty good, and people that like him love him, but I still think maybe this is a pass.

THE VERDICT: Probably no.

Alice in Chains

Jeff Ament’s Seattle cohorts. Alice in Chains and Soundgarden are the two of the major players in grunge that haven’t gotten in yet, and Alice in Chains has a fairly strong bid – they changed the way rock bands on the radio sounded for a good long time. They made a couple of good records and did some interesting stuff, but I don’t really feel like it’s any kind of outrage that they haven’t made it in.

THE VERDICT: Nah.

Flipper

So there’s going to be a bunch of bands here that have one and exactly one great album, and they always cause a problem. Flipper are, structurally, an interesting band. Their first album, Generic, is an incredible blast of nihilistic amateurish noise-punk, and their remaining records are…moving away from that. As a trivial note, Flipper is also the band that, towards its end, contained Moby.

THE VERDICT: Not really. Generic is a super-great record though.

Gang of Four

Gang of Four is another single-album candidate. While their second record, Solid Gold, is quite good 7 – “What We All Want,” “Cheeseburger,” “I Love a Man in Uniform”, “Outside the Trains Don’t Run On Time” and “He’d Send in the Army” could be the backbone of a phenomenal record, but they’re mostly unsupported – what we’re talking about when we talk about Gang of Four is almost entirely Entertainment, a hugely-influential piece of immaculately-played and perfectly constructed dance-punk. Without Gang of Four, we have no Red Hot Chili Peppers, no U2 8, and nothing from a whole bunch of the bands that remain on this list.

THE VERDICT: Yes

Grand Funk Railroad

They’re an American band!

THE VERDICT: Of course not.

Guided by Voices

The things that make Guided by Voices unique are their prolificity, their ability to exist in a sort of quantum state whereby it’s never entirely clear if they’re broken up or not, and their wild, unbelievable inconsistency. The band that wrote “The Official Ironman Rally Song” also, after all, wrote “Liquid Indian”. In general, GBV can be a lot of fun, and it’s certainly an adventure, but I can’t think of why they’d need to be in the HOF.

THE VERDICT: No.

Motley Crue

Of all the bands on this list, these assholes probably have the best chance of getting in. This is proof that we live in the darkest timeline.

THE VERDICT: Not deserving, no.

Husker Du

I’ve made no secret about how much I love Husker Du. I’ve said a couple of times that I believe their Zen Arcade/New Day Rising/Flip Your Wig run in the mid-eighties to be just about the best three-album cycle a rock band has ever managed to pull off. They made hardcore you could sing along to, or, alternately, really loud folk songs you could slam dance to. They fused melody and extreme volume when the two things were seen as antithetical. They were one of the best bands ever to have existed.

THE VERDICT: Absolutely.

Iron Maiden

This year Judas Priest were nominated, and I feel like most of what I have to say can be sort of repeated here. They were hugely important and all that, and while their music does very little for me, they probably earned their spot.

THE VERDICT: Sure

Jane’s Addiction

As time goes by and the nineties recede further into the past, it becomes more and more true: Jane’s Addiction only really had one good album, and it’s really only half of that one that is still worth hearing.

THE VERDICT: No

Joe Jackson

I mean, I love Joe Jackson, but there’s already Elvis Costello, Randy Newman and Billy Joel, and I don’t know what Joe Jackson is bringing to the table that those three aren’t already providing.

THE VERDICT: Sadly, not

New York Dolls

The New York Dolls pre-reunion records 9 are wildly influential on glam rock, punk rock, and a huge amount of mainstream rock that came after them. It is downright silly that they aren’t already there.

THE VERDICT: Yes

The B-52s

So, at their inception, the B-52s were a white-hot party band that gave a lot of life to the Athens, Georgia punk and gay scenes alike. Even on their early singles and first album, they were clearly a force to be reckoned with in terms of bringing the ecstatic release back into rock music. And then Ricky Wilson tragically passed away, and they slowly lost that heat over the course of a long slide into being exactly the novelty band that their early material emphatically avoided being. If there’s ever a Rock and Roll Cautionary Tale Hall of Fame, they should be the first ones up on the door, but there isn’t, and they don’t really have a place in this one.

THE VERDICT: No

Jonathan Richman

So the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is very careful about how people are inducted. If they mean to induct you without your band, then you are inducted without your band 10. But Jeff Ament’s t-shirt is not an offiicial Hall of Fame document. So I’m going to assume that this is actually an induction for The Modern Lovers, who would be another shoo-in for the Single Song Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (for the all-time-great “Roadrunner”), and whose first album has a lot of devotees, and was a huge influence on a lot of non-mainstream rock to come after it. Jonathan Richman himself made a bunch of middling-to-ok records with a handful of good songs on them and did a bunch of weird shit like tour via Greyhound bus, which was influential in its own way 11, but not quite to the same extent, and it wasn’t nearly as good.

THE VERDICT: Jonathan Richman himself? No. The Modern Lovers? Yes, absolutely.

Kate Bush

I ran it down last week, but I’ll clarify: no, her music is terrible.

THE VERDICT: No. Her music is terrible.

King Crimson

This is a hard one. King Crimson were a huge part of prog rock, and were sort of the continual force (along with Rush) in keeping it around to the present day 12. A lot of art metal dudes took a lot from their early seventies albums, especially Earthbound and Larks Tongues in Aspic, and a lot of electronic folks are really impressed with Robert Fripp’s admirably weird “frippertronics”. So I suppose they probably, technically, have earned a spot, but all of the things that are impressive about King Crimson (mechanical talent, a relentless willingness to try new things, influencing future generations) are sort of against the backdrop of their horrible garbage music. So.

THE VERDICT: Yes, begrudgingly.

Duran Duran

Did you know that the original conception of the band when they started out was “The Sex Pistols meets Chic”? That’s what they tell people anyway. I can’t think of an example of a band that missed the mark any further than they did, if it is indeed the case.

THE VERDICT: Lord no.

Love

Love was a great band that made great records. I’m unsure of what their legacy is liable to be, certainly, but they had some influence, were a great psychedelic band, and I’m generally disposed to say “yes” even if I don’t have a real, rock-solid reason.

THE VERDICT: Sure, why not?

Lenny Kravitz

It’s nice of Jeff Ament to include obvious joke inclusions on his shirt. I can’t imagine anyone taking this seriously.

THE VERDICT: No

The Cult

It’s nice of Jeff Ament to include obvious joke inclusions on his shirt. I can’t imagine anyone taking this seriously.

THE VERDICT: No

Dinosaur Jr

The things that Dinosaur Jr is generally agreed to have brought to the table by silly people – guitar virtuosity and an early prototype of the “slacker” archetype that was big talk in the nineties – is actually significantly lesser than the things that Dinosaur Jr actually brought to the table. Namely, an ability to combine several different rock-derived genres – Southern Rock-style twang, heavy metal riffs, post-college rock mumbling, and, yes, cock-rock flashy guitar wizardry – as though in a cuisinart, creating a somehow homogeneous mass out of the seemingly far-flung parts. This is something that rock bands do now every day as a matter of course, and surely Dinosaur Jr wasn’t the first band to ever manage it, but they were the first band to be great as a result of it, and so they deserve a place.

THE VERDICT: yes.

King Diamond

I would call the continued influence of King Diamond on heavy metal more of a “problem” than a “rewardable success”. So, no.

THE VERDICT: No.

Minor Threat

Hardcore as a subgenre is a largely over-celebrated, over-touted form, but I suppose there’s room in the world for a couple of great hardcore bands 13, and Minor Threat were very much the best of them. So they probably belong, in the same sense as Slayer – for having an enormous impact on a smallish subgenre, and being clearly the best practitioners thereof.

THE VERDICT: Sure

The Minutemen

A platonically perfect band. They made great records, they (by all accounts – D. Boon died when I was three) played great shows, they made a bunch of their fans happy and better as human beings by making great, serious, innovative music that very much wasn’t the music that any other group of people could have made. Bands rarely come as high-quality and unimpeachable as The Minutemen, and they belong in the Hall of Fame even if only as an example of how things can be done.

THE VERDICT: Yep

The Misfits

Several entries ago, someone said “hey wait, Grand Funk Railroad were a rockin’ good time, what do you have against fun?” And I present to you this: The Misfits were great. They were super-great. They were funny, they rocked super hard, and they gave the world Glenn Danzig, one of the greatest rock vocalists of all time. But they aren’t, like, a Hall of Fame caliber band. They’re just a party band with a better singer. So there.

THE VERDICT: Not really

The Monkees

I’m not going to copy the thing about joke nominations in here, because this is exactly the kind of contrariast bullshit that I just can’t abide.

THE VERDICT: This should not even be a question.

Motorhead

Earlier I argued that Judas Priest and Iron Maiden should be in, and Motorhead has basically the same argument, only with the added caveat that they were 10-15 times better. So, yes, is what I’m saying.

THE VERDICT: Yes

Mountain

Wait, what? God, old people are weird.

THE VERDICT: No

Mudhoney

True story: Mudhoney spent a couple of years as my favorite rock band. I probably over-rated them. Their songs are pretty good, and they were pretty cool all the way up until the end of Matt Lukin’s time as their bass player, and I still listen to their records with much pleasure. I suppose they’re another band that responsible for influencing most of a microgenre – they were the first and, probably, least-arguable “grunge” band that wasn’t Nirvana – but I just don’t know. I’m pretty waffley here, as I can’t find any other reason to include them other than “I like them a bunch”.

THE VERDICT: Probably not, but I wouldn’t be mad if they did make it.

Nick Cave

I’m on the record as saying that if I had a time machine, I would use it to travel back to 1989 14 and see Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds somewhere storied and, preferably, crowded. 1989 because that would put it between Tender Prey and The Good Son, which would maximize my chances of seeing both “The Mercy Seat” and “The Ship Song” by my favorite incarnation of The Bad Seeds. For executing complicated music with unbelievable authority, for being perhaps rock music’s finest storyteller 15, for having maybe the greatest voice in rock music history, in terms of both quality and versatility (see the above-mentioned songs for a good idea of the expressive range in question), for generally being great for as long as anyone has – there’s, like, half a bad album in his catalog – Nick Cave absolutely, unequivocally belongs in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

THE VERDICT: That’s a great big “yes”

Nina Simone

I said most of what I had to say about Nina Simone a week ago, so I’ll recap quickly here: yes, absolutely, embarrassment she’s not in there already.

THE VERDICT: Yes

Nine Inch Nails

Nine Inch Nails is another band I’ve written about pretty extensively in previous writeups, so I’ll just say: they helped a lot of people discover a lot of crazy, experimental music, and that’s a good thing overall.

THE VERDICT: Yes

PJ Harvey

Her initial couple of albums – Dry and Rid of Me – made as part of an actual rock-trio that shared her name were top-shelf, just about flawless records 16. Her next few albums established her as a formidable songwriter and performer 17, and since about 2001 her recorded output has been marked by a relentlessly experimental approach that, admittedly, hasn’t had a particularly consistent yield, but which has always been admirable, and always clearly the work of an artist who was saying exactly what she wanted to say, which has influenced hundreds of other musicians, many of them women with a traditionally-unconventional approach. She’s also a deeply underrated guitar player.

THE VERDICT: Yes

Richard Hell

This is another one for the “single song” induction club. “Blank Generation” is great, and he was a key early member of the Heartbreakers and Television, both of whom were more important than any of his surviving recordings. He was incalculably influential on the look of early punk rock – a lot of those dudes are basically cosplaying Richard Hell – but musically, there isn’t much else there.

THE VERDICT: Not really

T Rex

A towering figure in glam rock, who actually had commercial success (a thing that sort of falls out of consideration for most of the people on this list), T Rex probably earns their spot as much as anyone could, despite the fact that they made music that is dull to the point of actual boredom.

THE VERDICT: Sure, but I’m not happy about it.

Roxy Music

Another important figure in glam, Roxy Music were also secretly a deeply-effective prog rock band. It means that, practically, they don’t have a fucking chance. But they were great for several albums, and pretty good after that, and you can see the “Brian Eno” entry above for my opinion on their original synthesizer player. They deserve a spot.

THE VERDICT: Yes

Judas Priest

Another one I covered a week ago. The answer is “yes” because of the heavy metal thing.

THE VERDICT: Yes

The Sonics

A lot of this is taking into account specifics, right? Direct influence, general artistic integrity, popular influence, etc. The Sonics were undoubtedly influential 18, but more than that, there should be a space made in the Hall of Fame for bands that executed their thing in an exemplary fashion, and The Sonics were nothing short of the greatest garage-rock band ever to live, and for that alone they should be celebrated.

THE VERDICT: Yes

Soundgarden

Much of what I have to say about Soundgarden – early Seattle people, grunge stuff, etc. – is also what I had to say about Mudhoney, but I will also say that Soundgarden also managed to be an admirably weird band that got onto the radio, which has something to do with how strange the radio was in the nineties, and a lot to do with the fact that they figured out how to make progressive art-metal that was also extremely likable music, and probably paved the way for a bunch of bands to gain fans they wouldn’t have otherwise.

THE VERDICT: Sure

Steppenwolf

Oh come the fuck right on with this nonsense.

THE VERDICT: Of course not

The Damned

The Damned were a big deal at the time, but their music hasn’t aged particularly well, and they went to some seriously stupid places at the end of their run. So we can applaud the early stuff – especially “Neat Neat Neat” – but I don’t think as a totality their career should be eligible for inclusion.

THE VERDICT: No

Hipgnosis

These are design dudes. They made a bunch of album covers (The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway, Electric Warrior, and the numerical majority of Pink Floyd’s albums just to give a representative sample), and created an aesthetic that says “the seventies, but the part of the seventies with a bunch of marijuana in it”. They’re as influential as designers go, and I actually can’t think of a single reason why they wouldn’t be in there already, so in they should go.

THE VERDICT: Yes

Thin Lizzy

Thin Lizzy is another of those bands that people get really, really into, even now. They’ve got fans with a level of obsession that most bands can only dream of inspiring. That’s fine, and I’m willing to believe that they have their reasons, even though I have absolutely no idea what they could be.

THE VERDICT: I mean, I can’t think of a reason why not, necessarily, but I still don’t really understand it.

The Waterboys

I do love the Waterboys, and I suppose their baroque-pop thing is a thing that’s worth celebrating, but I also feel like it’s sort of thin reasoning – they were moderately successful, and perhaps hearing them made someone start a band, but they were definitely more followers than leaders.

THE VERDICT: Probably not

The Bad Brains

They were a great hardcore band which, as I’ve mentioned, puts them in pretty rarified company. Their first album (the cassette-only ROIR self-titled one) was pretty much ground zero for a lot of what would come later, hardcore-wise. They applied their jazz-trained instrumental talents to playing faster and more aggressively than anyone else was trying, and they had a frontman who was one of the all-time great insane gibberers. If nothing else, there’s never been another band quite like them, and that’s good enough for me.

THE VERDICT: Yes

The Dead Kennedys

A lot of the political content of punk rock comes more-or-less straight from the Dead Kennedys 19, even to this day, and that’s largely what they’re remembered for. What they’re less-remembered for is the fact that they were, as bands go, actually good. Of all the San Francisco punk bands (Flipper is among their contemporaries, for example, see above) they were maybe the least outright weird, and probably one of the tightest musically. So they probably earned their spot on their influence and the fact that their records, despite their “of the moment” political content, still sound good.

THE VERDICT: Yes

Bauhaus

This is another band – like the B-52s or The Damned – that would have been better off had their career been truncated very early on. Their first few singles, especially “Bela Lugosi’s Dead” and “Dark Entries,” and even their first album, are mind-blowing. And even though they only went another few years in their original incarnation 20, they still managed to kind of overstay their welcome. So “Bela Lugosi’s Dead” absolutely has its place in the firmament, but I can’t say that the band as an entity does.

THE VERDICT: No

That about finishes things up for Part 1. Tune in next week for the rest of the t-shirt!


  1.  although it is not true that none of them are in the HOF, which I suppose is the risk you take when you make your own t-shirt. 
  2.  in this case, “ambient” music, with his astonishing Music for Airports 
  3.  with the simple caveat that in this case, the beloved, highly-popular rock band that Brian Eno was a part of was the not-inducted Roxy Music. 
  4.  also called “krautrock,” a term that I avoid because, well, it contains a slur, and a term which also includes Kraftwerk and Neu!, about whom see below. 
  5.  Hell Awaits, Reign in Blood, South of Heaven, and Seasons in the Abyss 
  6.  in all fairness, it’s Jeff Ament’s shirt, so….. 
  7.  Hard and Shrinkwrapped aren’t without their pleasures, but they’re hardly in anything like the same class. 
  8.  both of these bands have said as much themselves, I’m not just pulling names at random here. 
  9.  they have actually made more post-reunion records than they made in their original incarnation, which is always weird. 
  10.  this is why there’s a year where they induced a bunch of famous backing bands – The Crickets, The Comets, The Famous Flames, et al – because they had originally inducted only the singers. 
  11.  Just ask Calvin Johnson, who also stole his singing voice. 
  12.  some version of the band – whose only actual permanent real member is Robert Fripp – still exists to this day. Bill Rieflin is, of course, involved. 
  13.  there might honestly be, like, half a dozen maybe 
  14.  I would, of course, have to avoid meeting myself, as I was technically alive in 1989, but I had a pretty short range – I was not a nomadic, wandering six-year-old – so I’m confident in my ability to do so. 
  15.  I will take on any Leonard Cohen fan that wants to fight me on this one. I am willing to concede that he might not necessarily be better than Randy Newman. Maybe. 
  16.  Rid of Me has a pretty strong case for being one of the best rock records ever made, and only gets better as time goes by. 
  17.  the artist to whom it’s easiest to make a comparison is Nick Cave, with the biographical caveat that the two were a couple for a time, and also that Mick Harvey was her musical lieutenant on her best post-band record, To Bring You My Love. 
  18.  Jeff Ament, of course, spent his career associated with Seattle, from whence come the Sonics originally as well. 
  19.  they mined the same sort of lyrical territory of other bands from San Francisco that preceded them by a decade or so. 
  20.  they reunited several times, to diminishing returns 

The 2018 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Nominees

Of all the Rocktober traditions, perhaps the most important of them is the continued analysis of the nominees for the next class of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, just down the road from ONAT headquarters. As always, these are the definitive analyses, and are, of course, completely correct.

Bon Jovi

I suppose if there is anything to say for Bon Jovi, it’s that they pioneered the approach of “ripping off Bruce Springsteen super hard and selling a bunch of records as a result”. That’s certainly something that has been done many times since (albeit with less popular success), but should we really be rewarding it? Especially since the resultant music is so godawful terrible? I propose: we should not.

THE VERDICT: Nope.

Kate Bush

Kate Bush is a much-beloved eighties cult figure – right up there with Morrissey and Kirsty MacColl and all that – who you either know, like, dozens of songs by, or none at all. She would, were she to be inducted, be in the sort of vein of, say, Laura Nyro, in that you’d have to shrug and say “I guess so” but it would only highlight how weird it is that it’s her and not a bunch of other people. You know who else was eligible for nomination this year? Tori Amos, whose Little Earthquakes came out in 1992. Should’ve been her up for nomination instead. She’s a much better version of this sort of thing. Anyway, Kate Bush’s records (I’m one of the people whose heard dozens of them) are terrible and her music is terrible.

THE VERDICT: No, she is terrible.

The Cars

As I say every year: they had a bunch of great songs that were also hits, they changed the way a bunch of rock band started on the radio, they had a pretty long career that was conducted with a fairly high degree of integrity, they should already be in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

THE VERDICT: Yes

Depeche Mode

I simply cannot find more to say about how dumb I think it is that Depeche Mode is even in the conversation in the first place. I think I’ve said it all, but the recap is: boring, derivative, overblown buttcrap that doesn’t deserve a place in any kind of hall, let alone one of fame.

THE VERDICT: Never in life

Dire Straits

Dire Straits had, in the beginning, a fantastically inventive guitar player and an approach that wasn’t much like anything else on the radio. By the end of their career most of what made their early records striking was pretty much excised from the band (“Money for Nothing,” as fun as it may be, doesn’t really have a patch on “Sultans of Swing”, to use famous examples). It creates an interesting conundrum: Dire Straits were a band that were innovative and extremely popular, but not really both at the same time. I’m inclined to give them credit for it anyway, and just call it a wash.

THE VERDICT: Sure, but I reserve the right to waffle on it.

The Eurythmics

Call it the “trickle down Suicide theory.” Suicide were bona fide weirdo geniuses who came up with one of the all-time great musical ideas: have a deeply confrontational singer emote over the work of one synth dude. In England, there were a bunch of duos that followed the same sort of idea, and eventually this bubbled back up into a packageable form, with great financial success. Now, the Eurythmics definitely aren’t a bad band, and should probably get credit for familiarizing the masses with the idea. They did some interesting musical things, and Annie Lennox is a genuinely interesting person both as a singer and a conceptualist, so they probably get a pass.

THE VERDICT: Sure, why not?

J. Geils Band

I don’t think they belong in before The Cars, but they have many of the same arguments, albeit with the caveat that their music is somewhat lesser than The Cars’. Peter Wolf is always at the ceremonies, J. Geils himself just died, which always seems to add some friction to these bids. I guess I’m saying it’s probably their year, even if I have no strong feelings about them one way or the other.

THE VERDICT: Yes, but it’s not a strong yes.

Judas Priest

I do not have to like a band to be able to admit their importance here. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame has a strange relationship with heavy metal, certainly, and while I’m dubious that it’s going to get less strange, certainly Judas Priest isn’t a terrible direction in which to go. I can’t tell you the last time I purposefully listened to a JP song, let alone enjoyed one, but certainly they were enormously, almost incalculably, influential to several decades of heavy metal bands.

THE VERDICT: Yes

LL Cool J

Last time Ladies Love was nominated (in 2014), I asserted that he was one of those artists who only worked within his milieu. Recent personal circumstances (namely: reading Ed Piskor’s excellent Hip Hop Family Tree and researching the music therein) have sort of turned me around, at least on his early records. LL Cool J started out terrifyingly intense, and that’s definitely worth something. He’s also managed to conduct a rap career that has spanned a very long time, and changed his approach drastically to fit his different position in the world. His music still isn’t really my thing (except for his early singles), but he kind of provided the archetype for a kind of rapper that I would grow to enjoy quite a bit, so his influence feels a little bit more pronounced, and a little bit more tangible. I guess I’m saying I now feel he should be inducted, since clearly they’re going all-in on the inclusion of hip-hop. I’m still opposed to it in a general sense – it’s the rock and roll hall of fame, goddammit – but since that battle has been lost, by their own rules he ought to have a place in there.

THE VERDICT: Yes

The MC5

Every year I have a reason to trot out my argument that the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame should be able to include single songs. For the last couple of years, the centerpiece of that argument has been the continued nomination of The MC5. “Kick Out the Jams” is great, and while there are other (although not very many other) good MC5 songs, they don’t really have great albums, and it’s pretty much all downhill from “Kick Out the Jams.” I have to oppose their inclusion here for that reason, but honestly, if they just let songs get in on their own, there wouldn’t even be an argument, and it would be “Kick Out the Jams” all day.

THE VERDICT: Not really

The Meters

It has been twenty years since the Meters were first nominated. This is the fourth time they have been nominated. I have no idea what further case can be made for The Meters, or what on Earth is keeping them out, but it is appalling.

THE VERDICT: The Meters obviously belong in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Obviously.

Moody Blues

It’s true that prog rock had a long road to being included in the HOF. Last year’s induction of Yes completed the inclusion of most of the major players (although King Crimson is still out there, and so is Emerson, Lake and Palmer). It’s still not time to enshrine deeply minor players like the Moody Blues, however. After all, if we open the door to these guys, what are we going to say to Procol Harum? Or Blood Sweat & Tears? It’s a dangerous slippery slope, people.

THE VERDICT: No

Radiohead

This one seems like a real no-brainer. Radiohead have spent the twenty-five years that they’ve existed being relentlessly willing to change, and to challenge themselves and their listeners in a variety of ways. Some of them have been less satisfying to me, as an individual, than others, but they’ve never repeated themselves, and all of their albums have been the kind of things that, at least on paper, one is looking for when one looks for the work of a great rock band. A handful of their records – specifically the cycle of albums that includes The Bends, OK Computer, Kid A and Amnesiac – have been as outright influential as any records that have been released in my lifetime, and OK Computer especially is the kind of once-in-a-lifetime masterpiece that would be more than enough to warrant inclusion its own, even without the others.

THE VERDICT: Yes, easily.

Rage Against the Machine

For one thing, there’s a lot of rappers that inducted that aren’t a part of rock bands. For another thing, the Hall of Fame’s heavy metal problem is real. For another another thing, the Hall of Fame falls all over themselves to include bands on the strength of their guitar players. For some more things, even if all the bands that got popular in their wake were dumbshit brainded versions of a mixture of rap and heavy metal, RATM were there first, and additionally they did something that not enough bands that are in the Hall already – even some of the great ones – didn’t do: they quit while they were ahead, before they made a bad record.

THE VERDICT: Unequivocally.

Rufus featuring Chaka Khan

Chaka Khan has been nominated with and without Rufus. I suppose Rufus is more like Rock and Roll than not-Rufus, but still, I cannot figure out why. She had a bunch of hits for awhile, but they are largely forgotten and I can’t imagine there are a bunch of people that wish it was otherwise. I mean, obviously there are enough that she’s nominated here, but the line has to be drawn somewhere. And, as Captain Picard would tell us, it must be drawn heeyah. No further.

THE VERDICT: No

Nina Simone

Rock and Roll she most definitely is not, but in this case her mark on it is heard every time a nontraditional singer gets up there and wails their heart out. Nina Simone was one of the best singers the world has ever had the pleasure to hear, she wrote and interpreted some of the greatest songs, and she was, for most of her career, at the head of a series of white-hot bands. In the early sixties, before psychedelia would lead people down the road to welding different types of music and approaches together to make something decidedly more expressive, Nina Simone was already refusing to commit to a single genre, marrying vocal jazz to jump blues, to explosive ensemble playing, and completely reinventing what a ballad could possibly be. If no other argument I make in this space is attended to, it will be fine if Nina Simone makes it into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. She should have been there already, quite frankly. It is a shame that she was only nominated for the first time this year.

THE VERDICT: As loud and as forceful a “yes” as I can possibly manage.

Sister Rosetta Tharpe

I mean, she’s a pretty clear early influence on the whole thing – she was a huge success on the “Race records” charts, specifically, which would become the R&B charts, but she was an obvious precursor to what would become Rock and Roll. I think she probably could go in.

THE VERDICT: Yes

Link Wray

Last time Link Wray was nominated, in 2014, I suggested he was another candidate for the “single song” nomination that doesn’t, but should, actually exist, for his excellent song “Rumble.” I still believe this to be the case, and I still don’t really think it holds that he should be in there himself.

THE VERDICT: No

The Zombies

Every time The Zombies get nominated again and not inducted, it becomes increasingly baffling. Have these people not listened to Odyssey and Oracle?

THE VERDICT: Yes already, for crying out loud.

The Comeback Trail: Shania Twain

This is something of an unorthodox entry in The Comeback Trail series. Ordinarily I write about a band that I’ve had a generally positive relationship with – bands that I have, at one point, loved 1.

Shania Twain is not an act whose music I have ever loved. When previously discussed in this space 2, in fact, I have mentioned that it is emphatically, specifically not music I have ever loved. Shania Twain’s music was literally inescapable – I don’t know how I would have gone without hearing at least half a dozen of her songs to the point of ubiquity even if I had been in a position to try 3. Part of that is because that in a lot of ways, Shania Twain’s music represented, fairly specifically, the sort of thing that I started actively pursuing less-accessible music to get away from in the first place.

The sound of Shania Twain’s nineties records represents two things that I set myself against fairly early on. One was a very specific kind of overproduced, overtweaked recording style 4. The other was a specific kind of country-infusion into pop music that showed an “everything is everything” overreaching attitude 5. Part of the reason that her popular material, which started out bad and grew to be increasingly annoying through its unavoidability, has aged pretty poorly is that the environment that it helped set the table for – country music that is actually just pop music with a banjo in it – is still where we’re stuck, country-music-wise, for the most part 6.

Shania Twain’s fourth (and final, prior to Now) album, Up, was sort of the apotheosis of pop-countryism: it was released in three different versions 7 to maximize market penetration – each radio station could play the version of whichever song that corresponded to their own format – which led to it selling 20 million copies and topping the album charts for over a year. It’s worth noting that even with this calculated approach, it sold literally half of what her previous record sold 8.

She had a baby, released a greatest hits album, and announced publicly that new music was not forthcoming, if indeed it ever was coming at all. There were scattered things here and there – the greatest hits album had a couple of new songs on it, there was a song recorded for Desperate Housewives – and then the portion of her life that would later be used in the press as fodder for the backstory of Now developed.

She discovered that her husband – noted production-terrorist and affront-to-human-ears Mutt Lange – was having an affair with her best friend, and they went through a visible, highly-public divorce. Right around then she released her autobiography, in which she revealed that part of her withdrawal from public musical life had been the development of dysphonia, which she attributed to stress and lyme disease, and a need to re-learn how to sing and stuff. Shortly after that she married the Nestle executive that had formerly been married to the woman with whom Mutt Lange had had the affair. She had another kid with her second husband. Some of this is also covered in a concurrent reality show about her life, called Why Not?, which is probably the worst name for a reality docu-mini-series about a singer I’ve ever heard.

She had a residency in Vegas for awhile, still with no plans to record music 9, but she went on tour a few years later with the intention of it leading up to the release of her fifth album, which was to come out when she was 50 10

Which brings us to Now. The initial press for the album has focused on the record’s autobiographical properties, and specifically on the fact that the genesis of the album was the initial divorce (and, indeed, this divorce is touched on a couple of times in the lyrics, but see below) and the dysphonia. This is despite her insistence that she, a person who contains multitudes, has good moments and bad moments, thank you very much.

The press, however, chooses to focus on the bad – they mention the divorce 100% of the time, and very rarely mention that she’s since gotten (by all accounts happily) remarried, and focus on the occurence of dysphonia, rather than Twain’s triumph over it 11. Which is extremely odd, because the album itself is not what you’d call a “downer”.  

And so we come to the actual musical output here. The initial single was “Life’s About to Get Good” 12, and it was…a Shania Twain song, for the most part. So were follow-up singles “Swingin’ With My Eyes Closed,” “We Got Something They Don’t,” and “Poor Me.”

The whole album, really, is all the evidence one would need that even in her Lange-assisted heyday, the musical vision and direction were all Shania’s – the only differences, really, are in the production, which is now handled from a team of people who all have fingerprints in contemporary radio-pop music 13. She is credited as the writer on each of the songs 14, and the songs themselves are impressively variegated, even if, in this case, “variegated” means “occasional weird fake-reggae nonsense” and “choruses that kind of smudge together”.

In evaluating any comeback, one must talk about the record in and of itself. And in doing so, Shania Twain’s Now presents a problem. I, a person who has no more time in particular for Shania Twain’s music, having spent a lot of time held hostage by it, thought it was better than her nineties records by most yardsticks. She has lost a bit off her voice 15, but not actually that much, and mostly its only noticeable in the big, sing-to-the-cheap-seats moments on the album.

To someone who wanted another Shania Twain album – who wanted an album of giddy positivity-anthems and sweeping, operatic ballads – it might not actually be the droids they’re looking for. I don’t want to speak for anyone here, but while Now still isn’t something I’m going to be putting on of a Tuesday for a fun time, it’s still a markedly different experience than prior Shania Twain albums.

In the end, I suppose the answer is whichever you think it ought to be. As a Shania Twain album, it’s probably a pale imitation of the albums that made her very famous – it’s hard to imagine that many of these songs will stick around in the setlists and/or memories of her fans after the promotional cycle for this record is done, but, again, I can’t speak for anyone else – as a step in the personal growth of Shania Twain, it’s a strong one in the forward direction, and that’s about all you can really ask for in the first place I suppose.


  1.  in two thirds of the available examples – At the Drive-In and The Jesus and Mary Chain – bands that made some of my favorite records of all time. 
  2.   as part of the Considered Look at the Best-Selling Records of All Time series, here, here and here. 
  3.  for a current-day example, for you young folks out there, remember how even if you never intentionally listen to an Adele song, you end up knowing them all anyway? Shania Twain’s music was like that, except it was constant – there was one huge, paradigm-dominating single after another with no break between, and often some overlap, across every format. 
  4.  I was not a fifteen year old savant, I absolutely would not have been able to recognize that the thing I responded negatively to was “an overproduced, overtweaked recording style.” I knew that there was a sound to the records that I didn’t like, and I knew that it had something to do with being overproduced, but I didn’t know how or why yet. It’s only with hindsight that I can recognize why the production on, say, The Woman in Me is offensive to my ears and that of (to name an example) the first Slipknot record, which is not less produced, is not. 
  5.  again, the reader should note that I, at the time, was more apt to declare myself simply someone who did not like country music, primarily for reasons of being an adolescent who was concerned with propriety (identifying as a “country music fan” wasn’t what I wanted to be, because it was deeply uncool, as far as I was concerned, in 1998). 
  6.  in this regard, Shania Twain is more the end point of an evolution that started at the beginning of the decade, with Garth Brooks’ enormous popularity paving the road for pop acceptance of country music. It is, however, a turning point: Garth Brooks made country records that worked as pop records, Shania Twain made pop records that made stabs at country signifiers. 
  7.  a pop version, a country version, and an “international” version. 
  8.  actually, it sold less than that in the practical sense: album sales for double albums in the US are calculated per disc, so a double album that sells 20 million copies is actually only (only!) selling 10 million discrete units – this is why when you look at lists of the most popular albums in the US you see a preponderance of double-albums – The White Album, Garth Brooks’ Double Live, The Wall – that don’t appear on other lists, where they include sales figures from countries that don’t count them twice. 10 million is still an unfathomable number of units. 
  9.  although, to be fair, with the exception of Britney Spears, pretty much nothing says “I have no intention of recording new music” like a Vegas residency. 
  10.  it did not! She was off by two years.  
  11.  it is not easily teased out, in this case, if the focus on the negativity-based, “confessional” material here is a part of the press’ general tendency to value women baring themselves specifically and painfully in their music over all other expressions, or if it’s just because there’s an easier thing to hang the story on if you decide it’s about divorce and dysphonia. 
  12.  a title meant genuinely and earnestly, which, again, makes it weird that we’ve got to hear about the relentless misery that led to its genesis. 
  13.  which include slab of dry EDM granola Matthew Koma, and Ed Sheeran’s producer Jake Gosling, which, taken together, show that while the production is better, it’s still not good. 
  14.  a thing that at least one outlet calls out for being “ambitious,” as though people don’t write whole albums every fucking day of the year. 
  15. I mean, the dysphonia, despite being an overplayed bit of the album’s backstory, did, in fact, happen, as did the vicissitudes of time and all that. 

The 2017 BET Hip Hop Awards

It’s Rocktober, so, as always, it’s time to talk about…the BET Hip Hop Awards. Because that is the way the world works sometimes.

This year’s BET Hip-Hop Awards come mere weeks after Cardi B’s historic unseating of Taylor Swift to have the #1 song in the country 1, which is also a relief in 2017, when “Bodak Yellow” is also the first good song to have hit #1 2 since “Humble,” back in May.

Anyway, some rappers are nominated for some awards, and this year even more than last illustrates that mainstream hip-hop is currently in a real swingy time, with some of the nominees/most popular acts here doing legitimately great, impressive work, and some of it being horrifying garbage.

Which, I suppose, makes it no different from other music awards shows, except with much higher highs and lower lows.

Unlike other other awards shows, however, this one is hosted by the somehow-still-famous human megaphone emojii that is DJ Khaled. So in addition to being all over the place, it’ll also be super irritating to watch.

Yaaaaaaaaaay.

Impact Track

I am unclear on what “impact” means here, as usual. I suppose one could mean “social” impact, in which case it’s probably got to be “Humble,” but if you’re talking about “cultural” impact 3, it almost has to be Cardi B’s “Bodack Yellow,” for the aforestated popularity reasons. The presence of Tyler, the Creator’s “Who Dat Boy” seems to imply the latter – the political content of that song appears to be exactly nil – so I guess Cardi it is. I would like to mention, however, that Jay-Z’s “The Story of OJ” has the best opening line of the year.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Cardi B, “Bodack Yellow”

Sweet 16: Best Featured Verse

“Ain’t Nothing” deserves a special calling-out here because it’s not even very good, but it has two nominees in this category. It is, however, better than “I’m the One”, which has twice as many features and only one nominee in this category. “Rake it Up” is alright, and Nicki Minaj’s verse is fine, but “Black Beatles” is great, and “Bad and Boujee” is even better. I think “Bad and Boujee” has the edge, despite Lil Uzi Vert not being someone I’m usually interested in. Which I suppose also points to how good that feature is.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Lil Uzi Vert, “Bad and Boujee” (Migos)

Best Mixtape

I mean, it’s entirely possible that I’m unable to see past my own personal bias or whatever, but three of these mixtapes are unlistenably dumb, and two of the three that aren’t are fine, but nonspectacular. I’m saying it seems like Cardi B is really being set up to win, here.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Cardi B, Gangsta Bitch Music Vol. 2

Made-You-Look Award

Still A$AP Rocky! Still Nicki Minaj! Still Future! I suppose the answer to this is that some people in this world are just extra-good at getting noticed, in which case this sort of has to go to Nicki Minaj, I should think. Sorry, Quavo, but wearing sunglasses all the time probably isn’t enough to get you there.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Nicki Minaj

Hustler of the Year

So for one thing, Chance the Rapper proved that you can hustle your way into the most industrial parts of the music industry 4 without having a record label. For a second thing, Diddy is on this list of nominees despite me not actually noticing anything he did except get noticed a bunch. For a third thing, DJ Khaled made it onto this list, and is able to host the show, on little more than a really loud voice, a snapchat account, and an exceptionally cute baby 5. So, as much as I am loathe to say it, I suppose DJ Khaled has earned an award. Truly these are the end times.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: DJ Khaled 

Best New Hip-Hop Artist

Tee Grizzley and Playboi Carti were two of the people among the “unlistenably dumb” folks up in the mixtape category, so obviously that’s an inauspicious start. Amine is fine, but has never really clicked with me. This is yet another category that seems purpose-built to funnel awards to Cardi B.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Cardi B

Single of the Year

This is probably the best category so far – all of these except “Wild Thoughts” 6 are good songs –  and it really brings out some questions about what, precisely, we’re awarding with this one. As always, I choose to call it the best song of the year, regardless of its place in the sociocultural firmament. Although in this case, you could make an argument either way I suppose. It means that “Bodak Yellow” (a song with a set of highly symbolic circumstances around its popularity) doesn’t quite make it, and neither does “Bad and Boujee” (a great song with basically no extramusical impact), despite them both being great songs. “Mask Off” never really had a chance, I’m afraid. So it’s Kendrick, as could probably have been predicted.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Kendrick Lamar, “Humble”

MVP of the Year

Genre-based music awards shows 7 are always a little more difficult to write about because there aren’t very many people in there, and it’s hard to explain why, in this particular instance, it’s Kendrick or Chance or Cardi B, whereas last time it was, for slightly different reasons, Kendrick or Chance or Cardi B. In any event, this one is Kendrick (and not Chance or Cardi B), because I think he made a better record, and better videos, and has generally been better in the last couple of years for any number of reasons. So that’s pretty much that. Although I would love to see someone’s lists of reasons why it could even possibly have been DJ Khaled 8.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Kendrick Lamar

Producer of the Year

OK so once again we can just take DJ Khaled right out of there. DJ Mustard is reliably pretty good, but he didn’t have much of a year, production-wise, so he’s out, too 9. I’m not sure what London on Da Track would be nominated for outside of 21 Savage’s admittedly-great “Sneakin’,” but he’s not even the best producer to have worked with 21 Savage in the last year. Pharrell produced “OMG” and “Wings” for Vic Mensa, which is pretty cool, but doesn’t quite get there. Mike Will Made-It had another in a series of great years, and was responsible for “Humble,” which was single of the year back a couple of categories ago, and is a very strong contender, but I think Metro Boomin’ (who produced “Bad and Boujee”, which was almost single of the year back a couple of categories ago) tips the scales a bit with the sheer mass of great songs he helped birth into the world.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Metro Boomin’

DJ of the Year

I reserve the right not to prolong this any more than necessary. Oh, and it’s definitely not DJ Khaled.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: DJ Esco. The coolest DJ in the world.

Video Director of the Year

This category basically does not change from year to year. Hype Williams, Director X, Benny Boom, they’re all here every single time 10. That said, Hype Williams had a pretty light year, and nothing he did was that spectacular. Benny Boom spent the last year or so directing that Tupac movie, which is most assuredly not a music video, so I’m not sure what he’s doing here either. It is worth noting that Director X directed the videos for both “Work From Home” and “Work,” which establishes a real motif for the guy, but also does not earn him an award. The nomination of music video workhorse Dave Meyers in conjunction with Missy Elliot means it’s got to be the video for “I’m Better,” which is at least a pretty good video. But while the videos for “Mask Off,” “I Spy,” and “Wild Thoughts” aren’t all for great songs, they are all visually striking, well-directed videos, so it goes to Colin Tilley.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Colin Tilley

Lyricist of the Year

I don’t ever know the words to anything. So it’s Kendrick Lamar, despite the fact that Jay-Z had the opening line of the year and J. Cole went platinum with no features 11.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Kendrick Lamar

Best Collabo, Duo or Group

It didn’t necessarily need to be filled out by DJ Khaled, French Montana and Yo Gotti for it to be clear that this came down to “Black Beatles” vs. “Bad and Boujee”. Truly, in the future Rae Sremmurd vs. Migos may be the Beatles/Stones or Who/Led Zeppelin or Elvis/Carl Perkins of its time. I’ve staked my claim early and often, and even though “Black Beatles” is a super great song, it isn’t quite super great enough to take this one home.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Migos, “Bad and Boujee” (f Lil Uzi Vert)

Best Hip-Hop Video

One of the greatest things an awards show can do is to force us to confront ourselves. Do we seek the pleasure of the pop-radio hit, #1 rap candy song “Bodak Yellow,” or do we allow ourselves to enjoy the still-tasty, but much better for you “Humble”? The videos aren’t much help, as they sort of underscore the songs – one fleetingly pleasurable, the other intensely imagistic – but actually the medium itself helps define the parameters. There are surely great videos in this world that are worth thinking about and that help send their message, but “Humble” is, honestly, not one of them. So while “Humble” is the better song – and better for you – the pleasures of the “Bodack Yellow” video are apparent and immediate, and frankly, that’s what music videos are good for in the first place.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Cardi B, “Bodack Yellow”


  1.  Historically, even! The last time a woman-performed rap song without a feature was #1 was in 1999, with Lauryn Hill’s “Doo Wop (That Thing)”. 
  2.  My feelings on “Despacito” are a matter of record, “Look What You Made Me Do” is somehow even worse. 
  3.  this is, admittedly, a pretty fine, somewhat arbitrary, distinction. By “Social” I actually mean “sociopolitically,” meaning more that the thing leads somewhere in terms of the conversation around it, and by “cultural” I mean “cultural penetration,” where the thing in question has its own weight as an object, rather than as a referent. 
  4.  i.e. a Grammy, some television commercials, appearances on television all the time, a corporately-sponsored tour. You know, all of the things that seem like the worst things about having a mainstream music career. 
  5.  the baby being, of course, a recent addition and also a completely separate person, but he sure didn’t hurt matters any. 
  6.  and even “Wild Thoughts” isn’t that bad by the standards of a DJ Khaled song. It might even be the best one! 
  7.  these, both of the Country awards shows, and the music parts of the variegated awards shows (i.e. the People’s Choice Awards and the Teen Choice Awards, which aren’t specifically genre-focused but which run into the same problem of having a very small pool to draw from) 
  8.  someone, that is, who isn’t DJ Khaled, whose list of reasons why it’s him almost certainly consists of him shouting his name a bunch and telling me I played myself. ANOTHER ONE.  
  9.  although how much of this is because most of his prominent work in the last year or so has been middling Ty Dolla $ign singles is anyone’s guess. 
  10.  as evidence of the inconsistency of my judgments, I have had several wildly different opinions about all three of them in my writeups for this awards show over the years. 
  11.  I didn’t want to type that, I was obligated by the eldritch forces that control old people that write about hip-hop. 

The Best Records of September 2017

Open Mike Eagle – Brick Body Kids Still Daydream (One of the best records of the month, a strong contender for one of the very best albums of the year, and definitely the best record Open Mike Eagle has ever made, which is saying something, given that all of his records have been great. Absolutely essential listening.)

Ben Frost – The Centre Cannot Hold (Ben Frost’s third release of the year – the first being a weird soundtrack and the second being an EP that previews this very record – is also the best. The EP benefitted from some brevity and some general weirdness, and the Fortitude soundtrack was a good look at the other things he can do musically, but The Centre Cannot Hold sees him barrelling ahead in full, classic Ben Frost fashion)

Dalek – Endangered Philosophies (veteran noise-rap shouters make another aggressive, abrasive record, and the world is better for it)

LCD Soundsystem – American Dream (a rock-solid consistent band makes another great effort, even after the world’s shortest retirement)

Mogwai – Every Country’s Sun (Mogwai has done a bunch of enterprising, surprising, satisfying things in their career, but this one, where they sort of recreate their own history on one record, is among the best of them. It came out of nowhere, and it’s a delight to hear.)