The Best Records of 2018

One of the things that has been interesting, upon surveying other folks’ lists this year, is how little continuity there is. It seems like everybody heard different stuff 1 and everybody liked different stuff, and the world is a vasty panoply of opinions. This is probably the result of there not being a proper new Kendrick record this year.

In any event, the whole thing seemed nicely wide-open, and there was tonnes of new stuff that got in, and tonnes of stuff by people I already liked who really kicked it up a notch, including 2018’s biggest surprise: a Low album that is so good that it was actually shocking. Now, I love Low, as longtime readers will be aware, but this thing is incredible. It gives one hope that anybody can step up, even if they were already great to begin with.

And there’s forty-nine other albums that are nearly as good. Truly, an embarrassment of riches.

    1. Low – Double Negative
    2. Blood Orange – Negro Swan
    3. The Body – I Have Fought AGainst It But I Can’t Any Longer
    4. Busdriver – electricity is on our side
    5. Grouper – Grid of Points
    6. Kamasi Washington – Heaven and Earth
    7. Jeff Tweedy – WARM
    8. Jean Grae & Quelle Chris – Everything is Fine
    9. Tim Hecker – Konoyo
    10. Vince Staples – FM!
    11. Sumac – Love in Shadow
    12. Fire – The Hands
    13. Earl Sweatshirt – Some Rap Songs
    14. Nathan Bowles – Plainly Mistaken
    15. Deafheaven – Ordinary Corrupt Human Love
    16. Mick Jenkins – Pieces of a Man
    17. Carla Bozulich – Quieter
    18. Sons of Kemet – Your Queen is a Reptile
    19. Spiritualized – And Nothing Hurt
    20. JPEGMAFIA – Veteran
    21. Daniel Bachman – The Morning Star
    22. Meshell Ndegeocello – Ventriloquism
    23. US Girls – In a Poem Unlimited
    24. Trampled by Turtles – Life is Good on the Open Road
    25. Peter Brotzmann/Heather Leigh – Sparrow Nights
    26. Joey Purp – Quarterthing
    27. Sleep – The Sciences
    28. John Prine – The Tree of Forgiveness
    29. Milo – budding ornithologists are weary of tired analogies
    30. Kacey Musgraves – Golden Hour
    31. Hinds – I Don’t Run
    32. Yob – Our Raw Heart
    33. Chester Watson – Project 0
    34. Yowler – Black Dog in My Path
    35. Petite Noir – La Maison Noir/The Black House

 

  • Adam Remnant – Sourwood

 

  1. Meg Baird & Mary Lattimore – Ghost Forests
  2. McKaya McRaven – Universal Beings
  3. Mezbow – MONOAkuma
  4. The Internet – Hive Mind
  5. PC Worship – Future Phase
  6. Rico Nasty – Nasty
  7. Hypnodrone Ensemble – Plays Orchestral Favorites
  8. Lando Chill – Black Ego
  9. Keiji Haino & Sumac – American Dollar Bill/Keep Facing Sideways, You’re Too Hideous to Look at Face-On
  10. Noname – Room 25
  11. Oneohtrix Point Never – Age Of
  12. Emma Ruth Rundle – On Dark Horses
  13. Ill – Ill Will
  14. Marissa Nadler – For My Crimes

  1. at least, once you got past the Carters and Cardi B and Ariana Grande and all that sort of thing. 

The 2018 Goodreads Choice Awards

Goodreads has chosen, everybody! These are some of our more interesting awards, because they really are just nominated and selected by the populous, or at least that section of the populous that is represented by the users of giant book-review-site Goodreads. As previously discussed, this creates an interesting window into the workings of how and why people choose and enjoy books.

As such, it’s worth looking at less as a standard awards-granting ceremony, and more as a view of what it is we’re getting out of the books that the people who are willing to spend their time publicly expounding about them find it worth publicly expounding 1 about.

So let’s look upon the expoundment, and come to some conclusions!

Fiction

Jojo Moyes – Still Me

WHAT IT IS:The third in the “Me/You” series of books, which started with the mega-popular Me Before You series, which was made into a movie starring Danaerys Targarayen and Finnick Odair. It’s here in the “fiction” category, and nowhere to be found in the “Romance” category, which is the result of either some “no true Scotsman” nonsense or the same weird anti-genre impulse that says anything that gets popular and respected can’t possibly be from its original genre ghetto. I suppose which of those things you think is in play depends on which vector your cynicality about the nature of book-expounding comes in from 2.

WHAT IT SAYS: It’s a bit of a boring way to start out here, but it says that people love both romance novels (even if they aren’t calling them that) and already-familiar properties, which leads to a bunch of sequels winning this kind of award.

Mystery & Thriller

Stephen King – The Outsider

WHAT IT IS: A new book from a gigantically-famous writer, working outside of his usual genre (horror), or even the genre of the majority of his non-horror work (crime fiction).

WHAT IT SAYS: It says that people like Stephen King. He’s a wildly-likable writer who usually does interesting work. He’s also long done some expounding of his own about how much he loves mysteries, so it’s probably gratifying to be recognized as such for his contribution to the field, I suppose.

Historical Fiction

Kristin Hannah – The Great Alone

WHAT IT IS: A story of the hardships of going to Alaska in the seventies, and trying to survive that decision.

WHAT IT SAYS: The aphorism goes that history is about the time it’s written, the time it’s set, and the time it’s read. I think that historical fiction skews more heavily to the time that it’s written, and so it’s useful to see what people are interested in in terms of historical fiction at any given time. I also think that historical fiction is, somehow, given a frisson of pseudo-respectability 3 because it comes with a sort of implied promise that you could “learn something,” as though all fiction wasn’t instructive about something. This is a rant for another day, I suppose, but The Great Alone’s win says a lot about the thoughts of the people who enjoy this particular re-framing. What it says (and I know I’m kind of dodging here) is probably better guessed by someone who would ever read it, a set of people of which I am not a part.

Fantasy

Madeline Miller – Circe

WHAT IT IS: A re-imagining of The Odyssey from the point of view of the titular character, and an examination of a very particular archetype in classical stories.

WHAT IT SAYS: It’s not just the movie-going public/film industry that’s into remakes 4, and when there’s one that’s as thought-provoking, compelling and competently-executed as this one, people really respond to it.

Best of the Best

Angie Thomas – The Hate U Give

WHAT IT IS: So this category is here because it’s the tenth Goodreads awards, and this was the one that was voted better than all the other winners. I suppose it makes sense that it’s a genuine actual popular sensation, with an attendant movie that’s currently in theatres (and has been for, like, months), and that everyone who’s encountered seems to enjoy.

WHAT IT SAYS: That if you execute a piece of literary work that speaks deeply to people, they will reflect that by giving it awards. If this seems like a precise for basically this entire write-up, well, it kind of is, but in something that has been named the non-specific “best,” it’s hard to pull out specific reasons. The Hate U Give is about the best choice going in the category, so I’m pretty happy that I don’t have to try to figure out, say, A Court of Wings and Ruin or The Fart in Our Cars.

Romance

Helen Hoang – The Kiss Quotient

WHAT IT IS: A well-received debut novel that seems a little left-field for an awards program without a lot of left-field candidates 5.

WHAT IT SAYS: It beat out some real titans of the field, and also the execrable E.L. James “reimagining” that came out this year, so it says that the Romance field was ready for this kind of left-field stuff, I suspect.

Science Fiction

VE Schwab – Vengeful

WHAT IT IS: It’s about superheroes, and their scary dystopian experiments and stuff.

WHAT IT SAYS: People love scary-ass stories about how well actually, superheroes are scary and fascists. Seriously, our 6 taste for this stuff is almost-bottomless, and it seems like all of it gets praised to the high heavens. This is also a book in a series, and those do well because of the aforementioned familiarity business.

Horror

Stephen King – Elevation

WHAT IT IS: Stephen King’s second Goodreads Choice award of the year.

WHAT IT SAYS: That Stephen King is a familiar and crowd-pleasing name, especially among horror readers, and his work is good enough to easily reach consensus in something like this. It’s a dull answer, but it’s a true answer. Unfortunately his popularity chases away anything that would otherwise be communicated by the winner of this category. That’s not to say he doesn’t deserve it, only that it’s hard to see anything when he wins a popular-vote award other than his popularity, which is extreme, especially in literary terms, even now.

Humor

Tiffany Haddish – The Last Black Unicorn

WHAT IT IS: The most recent result of Haddish’s meteoric rise to top-tier funnypersonism.

WHAT IT SAYS: This one has most to do with Haddish herself – she’s a lively, captivating storyteller – and the compelling nature of her narrative, which includes some truly harrowing origins and a genuinely inspiring triumph over same. Since a feel-good story is much loved, and Tiffany Haddish’s rise to fame was quick enough to make people curious about it, and the book itself so satisfying, it stands to reason that people have a lot of good things to say about it.

Nonfiction

Michelle McNamara – I’ll Be Gone in the Dark: One Woman’s Obsessive Search for the Golden State Killer

WHAT IT IS: The work of true crime writing that may someday inspire its own work of true crime – it led to the arrest of the titular character after the author’s death.

WHAT IT SAYS: It’s hard to beat the meta-story here, of a deceased true crime writer actually solving a case. It’s also got the fact that the police insisted that she did not, in fact, deserve this credit, despite using her exact information and methods, and that it’s a gripping, exhaustive reading of a very captivating situation. Plus she set out to bring a monster to justice, and then it happened, even if she didn’t live to see it. Let it be a lesson that a job well done, centered around a thing that is important to the person doing it, is often its own reward, and could be so much more. It’s chaos, be kind.

Memoir & Autobiography

Tara Westover – Educated

WHAT IT IS: An account of a woman who managed to achieve the titular education, despite her origins in a survivalist cult in the middle of nowhere.

WHAT IT SAYS: It says that we probably find it comforting – for reasons both obvious and not – to read a story about how you can, no matter where you start, overcome those ideas and be a different person 7.

History & Biography

Maxwell King – The Good Neighbor: The Life and Work of Fred Rogers

WHAT IT IS: A thorough biography of a guy who we all spent a lot of time with on television when we were kids.

WHAT IT SAYS: It says that everybody likes Mr. Rogers, and there’s something especially attractive about spending time learning about someone who devoted his life’s work to kindness, and preached of neighborly love to everybody. It’s also got deep appeal for pedants who like to tell people that, in fact, Fred Rogers was not a sniper.

Science & Technology

Stephen Brusatte – The Rise and Fall of Dinosaurs: A New History of a Lost World

WHAT IT IS: It’s sort of half-biography of an extinct set of species (it tells the entire history of dinosaurs, as far as that goes), half-travelogue.

WHAT IT SAYS: It says that dinosaurs are awesome, and people like it when other people write about going to far-off places. I’ve spent several minutes trying to come up with a joke whose punchline is “Eat Prey Love”. Get it? Because dinosaurs and prey. I’ll try harder next time, I promise.

Food & Cookbooks

Chrissy Teigen – Cravings: Hungry for More

WHAT IT IS: It’s the newest cookbook by former 8 model and Instagram celebrity Chrissy Teigen.

WHAT IT SAYS: Cookbooks are a weird market that I don’t always understand, despite owning several dozen of them myself. Since it’s less permeable than other aspects of book-selling, famous people tend to do well. When a famous person puts together a well-done collection of well-photographed and of-the-moment recipes, then the result is something that sells a lot of copies.

Graphic Novels & Comics

Sarah Andersen – Herding Cats

WHAT IT IS: A collection of the tremendously, alarmingly viral slice-of-life webcomics that you’ve seen shared on [literally any place where people can share webcomics] a billion times.

WHAT IT SAYS: It says that we still like books of comic strips when they pop up. The resilience of the joke-a-day comic strip is a truly awe-inspiring thing, and while it’s true that their form has moved to one that’s more hospitable than “printed three inches high next to Dear Abby”, it’s also true that the actual inherent qualities of the joke-a-day strip have changed surprisingly little in the 120 or so years since they started existing, and that’s pretty incredible given how much the modes of doing business with them have changed in that same time period. Anyway, people like these comics, so they like books of these comics, just like they always have. Joke-a-day strips are, it seems, a constant.

Poetry

Amanda Lovelace – The Witch Doesn’t Burn in This One

WHAT IT IS: The sassy follow-up to The Princess Saves Herself in This One, this one about witches instead of princesses, information you could probably have gleaned from the title. You’re so smart.

WHAT IT SAYS: It says that people like sassy revision of very old stories (see above w/r/t our insatiable appetite for remakes). Beyond that, it’s a mystery to me, as is the reception to most poetry.

Debut Author

Tomi Adeyemi – Children of Blood and Bone

WHAT IT IS: A YA novel that reads like a sort of amalgamation of a bunch of other YA-stuff that people like, only considerably more West African.

WHAT IT SAYS: Adeyemi certainly wrote a very good book, and also revealed a particular talent for getting herself in public, so a lot of people heard about it. It’s easy to read, and it’s a window into a set of cultural storytelling tools and devices that a lot of people aren’t familiar with, which I suppose comes across as a “twist” on some fairly-normal YA storytelling.

Young Adult Fiction

Becky Albertalli – Leah on the Offbeat

WHAT IT IS: A YA book about a young lady who isn’t like all the other girls who finds love in high school and it’s bittersweet and also did we mention she’s not like all the other girls?

WHAT IT SAYS: It says that the portion of the YA audience that votes on Goodreads does not have a wide variety of interests

Young Adult Fantasy & Science Fiction

Sarah J. Maas – Kingdom of Ash

WHAT IT IS: The final book in the Throne of Glass series, each of which has won this award, which is pretty impressive, in its way.

WHAT IT SAYS: That if the YA lit pack is after stories about girls who are proudly different and fall in love (bittersweetly), then the YA fantasy pack is after the very highest of fantasy, and specifically that they want Ms. Maas to write it.

Middle Grade & Children’s

Rick Riordan – The Burning Maze

WHAT IT IS: If Sarah J. Maas’s run is impressive 9, then Rick Riordan’s is twice so – he’s won this category eight years in a row. They might as well name the thing after him.

WHAT IT SAYS: This category actually has surprisingly more variety (to a degree) than the YA categories, which is why I’m less flippant about this one I guess. But seriously, eight Rick Riordan books in a row says “we the Goodreads awards voters really like Rick Riordan”

Picture Books

Grace Byers – I Am Enough

WHAT IT IS: It’s a picture book. I’m not heartless here. It’s got pictures and a message.

WHAT IT SAYS: It says “I Am Enough” is a very good message for a picture book.


  1. There’s more to say about this, and I keep meaning to get off my duff and write the thing I’ve got notes for about why I write about awards so much – I think it’s an interesting bit of cultural flotsam – left behind by the crashing of the cultural view into the mass of art that it inevitably crashes through to get to something like a “consensus” – for varying views of consensus. 
  2. I tend toward the latter, as could probably be gleaned from my previous writing on the subject. 
  3. it has its own genre-barriers to contend with, so it’s not actual respectability, it’s not like HF novels win literary awards very often. 
  4. I mean, it’s also the video game industry (see the re-ports of basically every game ever) and the YouTube-viewing audience (see the indefatiguable appetite for people that cover songs on YouTube) and the television audience (see the reboots, and also the clot of shows where people sing and/or lip-sync to pre-existing songs). It’s something about the media-consumptive behavior of Americans, to be sure. 
  5. see, for example, especially the YA categories, which are dominated by the same couple of people, and also a bunch of the non-winners but finalists, who tend to shuffle around in each category from year to year. 
  6. by which I mean “the audience for this sort of thing” I, myself, have no taste for it 
  7. although she does manage this parting of ways without scorching any earth or what have you, which is probably also comforting in its way. 
  8.  it is entirely possible she still works as a model, I guess? 
  9. and, as noted above, I do think it’s impressive 

A Considered Look at Every Inductee to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Part 9

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 2So 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, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7 and Part 8 of this series.

Class of 2000

Eric Clapton

WHO HE IS: God, as contemporaneous British graffiti would have it. He’d probably agree.

WHY HE’S HERE: Well, as far as white blues dudes go, he was the most popular and the most accomplished. He was an almost unbelievably mechanically talented guitar player – that dude could play notes.

AND…?: He’s like, the picture in the dictionary next to “not my cup of tea.” When he showed up and played songs instead of doing whatever ostentatious guitar masturbation was his usual metier, he was sometimes pretty ok. That didn’t happen very often though.

RIGHTFULLY INDUCTED: Sure, as long as I don’t have to listen to him.

Earth Wind & Fire

WHO THEY ARE: An enormously popular R&B group

WHY THEY’RE HERE: They sold a bajillion records, and anyone with even a passing interest in R&B probably likes not only their records, but a bunch of records that sound very, very similar. Whether it counts as Rock and Roll is yet another argument, but I think I’ve hashed that one out enough in this space to call it a dead horse.

AND…?: The things that are the best about Earth Wind & Fire – the vocal interplay between the high-singing dude (Phillip Bailey) and the low-singing dude (Maurice White), and that unimpeachable horn section are somehow the only two elements that forty years of R&B didn’t take from EWF. That seems weird to me, although I suppose they’re also the hardest elements to duplicate.

RIGHTFULLY INDUCTED: Yes

The Lovin’ Spoonful

WHO THEY ARE: A folk band who wanted to make sure everyone believed in magic. I’m also fairly certain that they were Les Moore’s favorite band in the comic strip Funky Winkerbean, which made some to-do out of some belonging (an autoharp?) of John Sebastian’s in a decades-old run of strips that I absolutely cannot find any evidence of. Ah, well.

WHY THEY’RE HERE: Uh…because they had a couple of hits and the Hall of Fame voters have fond memories of falling asleep to these records? Because, like, I’m pretty sure that’s all you can do to a Lovin’ Spoonful record. Fall asleep, I mean.

AND…?: I dunno, guys. Usually I can recognize that something just isn’t for me while also being able to recognize what it is that makes people like them 3

RIGHTFULLY INDUCTED: No

The Moonglows

WHO THEY ARE: Cleveland’s pre-eminent rhythm and blues act!

WHY THEY’RE HERE: They should be an early influence, as most vocal groups from the fifties should. They were from Cleveland, where the HOF is located, and there are very few things people from Cleveland like more than other people that are from Cleveland 4. They were also managed by Alan Freed, so I guess maybe that?

AND…?: The Moonglows were fine, I’m just not seeing what would get them in, you know? They weren’t that good.

RIGHTFULLY INDUCTED: No, although because I am from Cleveland, I want very badly to say yes.

Bonnie Raitt

WHO SHE IS: The pre-eminent lady blues guitar player 5.

WHY SHE’S HERE: She’s the most popular lady blues guitar player.

AND…?: You know, I genuinely feel bad that I don’t have more to say here other than “lady blues guitar player,” but her music is pretty middle of the road. I’m sure she’s influenced a bunch of people to pick up guitars, but I don’t know who they are. She sold a bunch of records and stuff, and she was better than some of these people. Far be it from me to say that there should be fewer women in the HOF.

RIGHTFULLY INDUCTED: Yeah sure, I just don’t have a very good argument for it.

James Taylor

WHO HE IS: Sort of the apotheosis of singer-songwriterism.
WHY HE’S HERE: If you believe in the power of non-rock-oriented singer-songwritering, then it’s probably James Taylor who did that for you. He actually did a lot to take the “rock” out of “folk rock,” and I would argue that his music is anti-rock, such as it is, in that any of the sonic signifiers of rock music (especially band interplay, dynamics and/or volume as a fundamental compositional element, and most especially a focus on the method of achieving the note over the note itself 6) are diminished or specifically reversed in the case of James Taylor’s music. I believe this even without taking into account my own feelings about rock music – there is no particular virtue in being a rock musician, in and of itself, but I think that James Taylor emphatically was not one.

AND…?: I also don’t think his songs were very good, but I appreciate that he approached them genuinely and performed them with authority,. I have no issue with him making his music, I just think that not only does it fail to serve the genre (which is very common, and about which see above and much of the material in the previous entries), but it is counter to the genre.

RIGHTFULLY INDUCTED: Not to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, no. I think he’s in the Songwriter’s Hall of Fame. That’s a good place for him.

Nat King Cole

WHO HE IS: A prominent vocal jazz dude. He also hosted a tv show.

WHY HE’S HERE: Because he was, in the manner of all “Early Influences” an influence on the folks that would influence rock and roll 7. But he was super-successful and was a big influence on the idea of music being personality and performer-driven.

AND…?: The year 2000 might be the year of inductions that are the least to my taste, and Nat King Cole is in keeping with the trend.

RIGHTFULLY INDUCTED: Sure

Billie Holiday

WHO SHE IS: Also a vocal jazz person. She was a much better singer than Nat King Cole and, indeed, just about everybody.

WHY SHE’S HERE: For all of the same reasons as Nat King Cole (except the tv show – she never had a tv show), only moreso.

AND…?: Billie Holiday was much better than Nat King Cole, even as vocal jazz remains my least favorite kind of jazz.

RIGHTFULLY INDUCTED: Yes

Clive Davis

WHO HE IS: Yet another record label owner, this one one that is almost constantly fellated seemingly all the time. He talked a bunch of bullshits last year also, which was pretty entertaining.

WHY HE’S HERE: Again, because people can’t shut up about his ability to spend his money really changed things for the blah blah blah.

AND…?: His “eye for talent” is overrated, and I’m not a fan of him as a person.

RIGHTFULLY INDUCTED: Not really, but I’m probably alone in that one.

READER BE ALERTED: this is the first year that sidemen are recognized by the HOF, so there’s a bunch of them to follow, and 1 or 2 will be in every year subsequent to this one.

Hal Blaine

WHO HE IS: He was the drummer for the Wrecking Crew, who played on a bunch of records in the sixties in California.

WHY HE’S HERE: Like all of the people inducted under the sidemen banner, he’s here for being a more-than-capable studio musician.

AND…?: He’s an excellent drummer, and an induction for the people that actually made the sounds that appear on the records is great, and he’s definitely worthy of one of those.

RIGHTFULLY INDUCTED: Yes

King Curtis

WHO HE IS: A sax player. That’s him on “Respect”

WHY HE’S HERE: He was a very good sax player, played on a bunch of records that you’ve all probably heard.

AND…?: So I’m generally in favor of the sidemen category as an idea, but the fact remains that they’re all pretty much slam-dunk choices 8

RIGHTFULLY INDUCTED: Yes

James Jamerson

WHO HE IS: Did you know Motown didn’t credit recording musicians until into the seventies? Doesn’t that seem insane? I think it seems insane. Anyway, the person who was not credited as playing the bass on most of the early Motown hits was this guy.

WHY HE’S HERE: He played bass on most of the early Motown hits

AND…?: Bass. He played it. He sure did play that bass. Bass bass bass.

RIGHTFULLY INDUCTED: Sure.

Scotty Moore

WHO HE IS: Elvis’s guitar player.

WHY HE’S HERE: He played guitar on Elvis records, and is genuinely (along with Hal Blaine) one of the people in the sidemen category that most people can recognize the playing of, and name without working too hard for it.

AND…?: He is very much one of the most influential guitar players of all time, and he was probably a large part of the reason why this category had to exist in the first place.

RIGHTFULLY INDUCTED: Unquestionably

Earl Palmer

WHO HE IS: A tasty combination of iced tea and lemonade, named for the alcoholic golfer who allegedly invented him.

WHY HE’S HERE: Because he is refreshing and delicious on a summer day, whether you’re on the golf course or not.

AND…?: I don’t know how a frosty beverage played on all those Little Richard albums, let alone ten years before he was invented, but he sure did.

RIGHTFULLY INDUCTED: Yes

Class of 2001

Aerosmith

WHO THEY ARE: The textbook example of how far it’s possible to sink, quality-wise, and still remain some version of yourself as a band.

WHY THEY’RE HERE: Well, their seventies records were very popular, and did a lot to influence the image and sound (for better or for worse) of a lot of the hard rock that would come in the eighties. Sort of a de-homosexualized glam-image thing. Their sound was a little less influential, but that’s because they were never particularly sonically innovative.

AND…?: They’re fine. Their early records are very good, with somehow-increasingly-diminishing returns as they go, and presumably whatever their next somehow-deathless reunion record is going to sound like, it’s going to be really, really depressing. So it goes.

RIGHTFULLY INDUCTED: This is one of those cases where I have to make a decision 9Taken as a whole, they’ve got about five good years as a band and about forty as a terrible mockery of a band. But those five years are better than most bands managed, so I’m willing to say it’s enough to get them in.

Solomon Burke

WHO HE IS: Terrifically prolific R&B singer who had one foot firmly in classic-style R&B and another in old-style soul, and did both wonderfully.

WHY HE’S HERE: He had a real moment at the turn of the century, which I suppose led to the visibility he was granted that got him here. He was something like the Velvet Underground of R&B, although he had significantly more minor hits, making records that inspired people directly and immediately to start making other records, even if they didn’t sound exactly like him 10.

AND…?: I’m a little surprised, to be honest – he’s a fantastic singer and songwriter who made great records, but he’s a little outside even the purview of the RRHOF, but I’m super-happy to see him, especially after the deluge of “meh” that was the 2000 inductees.

RIGHTFULLY INDUCTED: Yes, if surprisingly

The Flamingos

WHO THEY ARE: The bottom of the doo-wop barrel.

WHY THEY’RE HERE: I am not a doo-wop expert, or even what you’d call a doo-wop fan under the circumstances, so I am a little more in the dark than usual when it comes to this sort of thing, but The Flamingos were dishwater dull, and their big hit was probably the worst version of “I Only Have Eyes For You” I’ve ever heard 11. There may be some argument to be made by doo-wop folks for their importance to doo-wop, but I’m having a hard time translating it to Rock and Roll, y’know?

AND…?: Dishwater dull. Seriously. There is a limit to smoothness, and this is downright frictionless.

RIGHTFULLY INDUCTED: Nope

Michael Jackson

WHO HE IS: The King of Pop

WHY HE’S HERE: Because, regardless of any set of feelings or thoughts on the matter, he couldn’t not be, given the history and circumstances of HOF induction

AND…?: I like Michael Jackson fine, if mostly in small doses

RIGHTFULLY INDUCTED: Yeah

Queen

WHO THEY ARE: the patron saints of rock music at sporting events and crowded bars. The subject of the second-most-monetarily-successful music biopic ever made.

WHY THEY’RE HERE: Practically, because they made the most popular glam rock ever made, and ignited a bunch of glam-esque musical passions. Bands inspired by Queen continue to happen all the time. Ideologically, Queen (along with Led Zeppelin and, to a considerably lesser extent, Kiss) are one of those “of the people” bands, with the standard line on them being that they were enormously popular without institutional approval 12, and thus were inaccessible to those brain types who just don’t “get” it. It’s a popular position among bands so enshrined, and it serves the band’s legacy well.

AND…?: I am on the record as being one of those brain types on whom the charms of Queen are almost entirely lost. I get what there is to like, but it pretty much entirely fails to connect with me, and I don’t really hear anything special about it beyond the mechanical talent of their singer.

RIGHTFULLY INDUCTED: I suppose they are, but there are a thousand rock bands I’d rather listen to at any given time.  

Paul Simon

WHO HE IS: Half of the only living boy in New York. The better half, to be fair.

WHY HE’S HERE: People really like Graceland 13, and he had plenty of hits besides, but mostly I think that this is probably mostly about making sure Art Garfunkel knows that he’s never the first banana.

AND…?: I don’t think I like any of Paul Simon’s non-Simon & Garfunkel music, but it’s undeniably successful and did a lot to bring “world” music to people’s attention, for whatever that’s worth.

RIGHTFULLY INDUCTED: Sure

Steely Dan

WHO THEY ARE: A pair of jazz-rock weirdos

WHY THEY’RE HERE: They were sort of outside-prog enough to seem weird to people that didn’t like prog which, at this point, still includes the HOF selection committee. Anyway, they were enormously successful and made a couple of records that people really like. Maybe they got inducted this specific year along with Paul Simon because Chevy Chase was out there bribing people.

AND…?: I mean, they’re fine. I’m happy to admit that they made records that changed the way a lot of things on the radio sounded, and I like some of what they do, but they’re primary issue is that it really doesn’t age well at all.

RIGHTFULLY INDUCTED: I guess, but I could change my mind about that at any time.

Ritchie Valens

WHO HE IS: Early rock and roll dude who died the same day the music did 14

WHY HE’S HERE: He had a surprising number of hits given the fact that his recording career both 1) lasted only two years and 2) began when he was fif-fucking-teen. “La Bamba” is nigh-unimpeachable, and “Donna” is almost as great.

AND…:?: He only made the one record during his lifetime, although he also sort of (unfortunately) pioneered the practice of every single recorded scrap of music being exploited by his record label/estate, and it’s a genuinely great record. Hard to argue with that, really.

RIGHTFULLY INDUCTED: Yes

NB: There are no early influences from this year, and will not be any more until 2009

Chris Blackwell

WHO HE IS: He started Island records.

WHY HE’S HERE: Because if you don’t fellate the record labels they might not give you stuff I guess.

AND…?: You cannot imagine to what extent I have nothing to say about the guy who founded Island records, despite liking plenty of Island Records’ output.

RIGHTFULLY INDUCTED: As far as it goes, sure.

James Burton

WHO HE IS: a truly dazzling rockabilly guitar guy.

WHY HE’S HERE: He’s inducted as a sideman, and played on a tonne of pre-/early- rock and roll songs. He also continued to play for a frightfully long time.

AND…?: Oh he was fantastic, no argument here.

RIGHTFULLY INDUCTED: Yes

Johnny Johnson

WHO HE IS: Chuck Berry’s piano player

WHY HE’S HERE: Leaving aside the HOF’s love of a piano man, he was pretty good, if generally overshadowed by Chuck Berry

AND…?: I think I have little to say but “Sure, why not?”

RIGHTFULLY INDUCTED: Sure, why not?

 


  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.  see above, as concerns Eric Clapton 
  4. NB that I have no idea how many HOF voters have any ties to Cleveland, it just seems like that would probably be a contributing factor. 
  5.  meaning she’s a lady who plays blues guitar, not that she plays guitar because of her lady blues. Although who the hell knows, she might. 
  6.  a functional definition of rock music is something that’s slippery, and every few posts in this series I need to highlight more aspects of them. I haven’t written the thing out yet because I don’t really know all the things that it would have to have in it in order to be a complete definition, and so I acknowledge that this argument in its current form remains somewhat undersupported and possibly even hard to understand. I assure you that it would not be any easier in person, but you’re welcome to give it a shot. 
  7. he died, in fact, the year that Help was released, so he didn’t really even live into the era we’d call “modern” rock music. 
  8. even looking down the line, I don’t really see anyone I don’t agree with, so it’s pretty clear sailing 
  9. for more about this decision, see previously. 
  10. nobody sounded exactly like him, though. 
  11. although it’s not like I’m kicking in doors to hear more version of it – I probably don’t think much more of the best version of it that I’ve ever heard, which is probably Peggy Lee’s, although, again, I’ve never done, like, a complete survey on it. 
  12. I’m not inclined to tie all of the rhetorical knots necessary to confront this argument w/r/t the HOF, but it’s a part of Queen’s “thing”, and it bears mentioning here. 
  13. and, y’know, appropriative post-colonialism in general. Big business, that. 
  14.  He’s up to 33% of the reason for it, in fact! 

Eight Tiny Lists for Hanukkah, Day 5: Albums I First Heard in 2018 That Were not Released in 2018

(With the following note: I didn’t know what to do with John Coltrane’s Both Directions at Once, which was pointedly not released at the time, but was recorded forever ago, and so I guess counts as an archival release? So consider it noted, and go get a copy, it’s great.)

  1. Planning for Burial – Quietly
  2. Satwa – Satwa
  3. Belong – October Language
  4. Bruxa Maria – Human Condition
  5. Sun Ra – Discipline 27-II