100 Essential Albums of All Time – The BusBoys, Minimum Wage Rock & Roll (1980)

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The history of rock and roll – hell, the history of recorded music, be it country, pop, or otherwise – is replete with those groups, bands and singers who didn’t quite make it into the cultural mainstream. For every group like the Beatles, the Rolling Stones or Aerosmith (or virtually any other member of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame), there are literally thousands of other bands who didn’t quite reach their level of popularity. Sure, some may have had that proverbial “cup of coffee” with the music industry – here’s a salute to you, One Hit Wonders! – but there are many more who never even achieved that level of success.

Arguably one of those who falls into one of the categories above – and which category is almost as difficult as categorizing their musical stylings – is the California group The BusBoys. Founded in Los Angeles in the late 1970s as disco was beginning its demise, The BusBoys featured singer/keyboardist Brian O’Neal and his brother, Kevin (bass), as the driving force behind the group. Joined by singer Gus Louderman, who handled most of the lead vocals for the band, Mike Jones (additional keyboards), Victor Johnson (guitars) and Steve Felix (drums), The BusBoys made inroads into the music world – and, in particular, the rock music world – although something wasn’t quite what some would expect…maybe you can identify it.

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That’s right. The entirety of the band was black save for Felix, who was Hispanic, and the band played driving rock music with both a rhythm and blues feel as well as tidbits of new wave tossed in. Lyrically the band took on some rather touchy subjects – even more then than they might be now – such as working for less than what one deserves, nuclear annihilation, minorities moving into the suburbs, the Ku Klux Klan, where blacks “should be,” and a host of other charged issues. Just as you would think there were too serious, then The BusBoys would break out the party time tunes and just rock your ass off!

The BusBoys released their debut album, Minimum Wage Rock & Roll, to resounding critical acclaim. Feted for their efforts at combining diverse musical genres as surf rock, new wave, doo wop and rock and pop stylings, Minimum Wage Rock & Roll didn’t have a weak point on the entirety of the album. The first song off the record, “Dr. Doctor,” was a stomping rock and roll song sung with gusto by the bluesy Louderman while the O’Neal brothers and the rest of the ‘Boys jammed behind him. “Minimum Wage” brought a Clash-esque vibe into the mix while discussing what someone had to do to make a living.

The BusBoys weren’t done yet. The group hit its stride on the record with “There Goes the Neighborhood” (not the version done by Ice-T and Body Count, let me assure you), a tune about how “the white folks movin’ in/there gonna bring their next of kin” – or a juxtaposition of what many suburban communities say when minorities come into their previously sacrosanct areas. “Johnny Soul’d Out” could be The BusBoys’ autobiography and an ode to Chuck Berry’s Go Johnny Go – about a singer/musician who is “into rock and roll and giving up the rhythm and blues.” The first side is rounded out by the Ramones-blitz of “KKK,” a recital of how a black man is good enough to do such things as go to war, but not allowed to fully be a part of the “American” culture.

The second side featured some strong material also. “D-Day” focused on the aftermath of a nuclear holocaust, while “We Stand United” and “Respect” reflected on the desires of many just to be accepted for what they are. There’s even a bit of a R&B/new wave influenced “grinder” called “Anggie” (the first sexual experience) and a song about being an athlete and ready for their starring moment (“Tell the Coach”) to add to the excellence of the album.

What made Minimum Wage Rock & Roll such an essential album was the racial comportment of the band – blacks just didn’t DO rock music in this era (Bad Brains were about the only other black rock band of this era as it was a few more years before Living Colour would reach prominence) – and the myriad of musical stylings that were featured on the album. Trying to include such a mixture of musical stylings would have been a failure in the hands of a lesser group; The BusBoys made it sound like it was all in a typical Friday night of partying with the band.

The BusBoys, alas, were like the proverbial Roman candle, rocketing into the stratosphere in a blur of flashing colors only to flame out or crash rather quickly. The band was featured in the Eddie Murphy/Nick Nolte classic 48 Hrs. as the bar band playing in Murphy’s “black” bar, and they contributed the title track, “The Boys are Back in Town,” to the soundtrack of the movie. Just as it seemed that they were ready to take off, however, The BusBoys crashed to earth.

The second album, American Worker (1982), for some reason did not feature “Boys” on it (although it featured another song that The BusBoys performed in 48 Hrs. called “New Shoes”). It did feature, however, a version of “Heart and Soul” that would be more successful for Huey Lewis and the News a year later. Although it reached the charts in the U. S., it wasn’t nearly as successful as Minimum Wage Rock & Roll and would signal the end of the run for The BusBoys, although they have continued recording (two more albums, Money Don’t Make No Man and (Boys Are) Back in Town, which finally corrected the error of The BusBoys not being able to put “The Boys are Back in Town” on one of their albums earlier) and are still active today.

Part of the reason that we all love music is its abilities to be able to surprise you. When you’re not even able to drive and discover that there are rock bands that aren’t lily white (I knew about Hendrix but hadn’t discovered Phil Lynott at that point) that are just as good if not better than what you’re being told is “rock & roll,” it has a way of sticking with you. The BusBoys to this day are a band that remains one of my favorites and their opus was Minimum Wage Rock & Roll. If you’ve never heard it or the band, you’d be well advised to check them out.

Previous entries in the 100 Essential Albums of All Time:

Rockpile – Seconds of Pleasure

Metallica – …And Justice For All

Rick Wakeman – Journey to the Centre of the Earth

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100 Essential Albums of All Time – Rockpile, Seconds of Pleasure (1980)

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Being able to link different eras through a quasi-genealogy track – father begat son, who begat grandson, who began grandson, and onward – is something that many artistic endeavors look to tie together. For country music, there is the desire to tie together the gospel, bluegrass and “Appalachian” sounds to its current product (and for some, that is a LONG stretch). For blues, it is that link to virtually every branch of rock music. So, what was it that brought rock to the “new wave” that came out in the late 1970s/early 1980s? While the punk rock that emanated from New York City in the late 1970s certainly helped, you need look no further than the very underappreciated band Rockpile and their only official album release, the cheekily titled Seconds of Pleasure, for a better piece of evidence.

The members of Rockpile separately are probably more recognizable to the general music fan than the band itself. Guitarist and singer Dave Edmunds is arguably the person who created the band, with a solo album called Rockpile in 1970 and a backing band that featured the same name. In teaming up with another English virtuoso, guitarist and singer Nick Lowe, he found a kindred spirit who followed along the same musical path that he did. That path – a devotion to 50s style rockabilly with touches of blues but an overtly poppy personality – was something that both did well in the prior work before the only official Rockpile album.

The reason I keep calling it “the only official album” is that the entirety of the band – Edmunds, Lowe, drummer Terry Williams and guitarist Billy Bremner – played on several albums together through the middle point and to the end of the 1970s. Two of Edmunds’ solo efforts, Tracks on Wax 4 and Repeat When Necessary and the album recognized as Lowe’s tour de force in Labour of Lust, were essentially Rockpile jamming on the albums with Williams and Bremner’s quality playing. If you go back and listen to the works, you can pick up on this fact rather easily.

Through the 70s, Lowe and Edmunds teased the audience with their solo work and, by using Rockpile as their “house band,” whetted the appetite of fans for an official Rockpile album. The combinations and musical stylings that the band put together have been given credit for breaking ground in “new wave” music, with Elvis Costello (Lowe wrote the song “(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding”), Graham Parker (Edmunds penned “Crawling from the Wreckage”) and many other artists…these were songs that were more than likely created from this quartet through the 1970s.

Even though there was a great desire to get something going officially on a Rockpile effort, the band was hamstrung by the fact that their leadership, Lowe and Edmunds, were both signed to different labels. Edmunds was a part of the Swan Song stable (the label formed by Led Zeppelin), while Lowe recorded for the now-defunct Radar Records. It wasn’t until 1980 that Edmunds put out an album called Twangin… to complete his Swan Song contract that Rockpile could actually come out from the shadows.

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The original LP was priceless in its simplicity and its ability to deliver the best of Rockpile. The list of songs from the album, including “Teacher Teacher,” “A Knife and a Fork,” “When I Write the Book,” “You Ain’t Nothin’ But Fine” and “Wrong Again (Let’s Face It)” (written by Squeeze’s Chris Difford and Glenn Tilbrook), demonstrated the incredible musicianship of the band. It also demonstrated the skillful lyricists that Lowe and Edmunds had become, with their priceless ability to turn a phrase.

Unfortunately, just as they were about to receive the accolades for the work that they had done, it all came crashing down on Rockpile. Perhaps because there were two “alpha dogs” at the helm of the ship – both Lowe and Edmunds, replete with producing, writing and playing credits that rivaled each other, had a bit of a time taking directions from each other – Rockpile was reaching the end of their productivity just as they were getting recognition for their work. Lowe, who had married Carlene Carter (Johnny Cash’s stepdaughter) in 1979, was not only touring with Rockpile but the band was serving as her backing band for her tour also. Tensions continued to rise between the duo until, in 1981, they would break up Rockpile, with Lowe saying in the liner notes for the 2004 expanded release of Seconds of Pleasure (which features Rockpile’s version of “Crawling from the Wreckage”), “We got together for fun and when the fun had all been had we packed it in.”

How bad was the breakup of Rockpile? Although Williams and Bremner would hold onto ties with Lowe (each played on his recordings in the 1980s), it wasn’t until 1990 that Edmunds would return to work with his former bandmate on Lowe’s album Party of One. It was perhaps even more important the other hatchet that was buried between the two men; Edmunds served as the producer of that album which received critical acclaim (in 1988, Edmunds had produced one song on Lowe’s album Pinker and Prouder Than Previous, but the 1990 reunion was of greater importance).

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It is arguable that Lowe and Edmunds – either through their solo work or through their days when Rockpile was the rage – are deserving of induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. Their litany of songwriting and producing and the bridge that they formed from the sounds of the 1950s to what would become the “new wave” era of the 1980s can’t be overlooked. If there was going to be a band that you would induct for their only recorded effort (officially), Rockpile would be it and Seconds of Pleasure would be that very record…it can be played in any era and it would be at home, be it today or sixty years ago.

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Previous entries in the 100 Essential Albums of All Time:

Rick Wakeman, Journey to the Centre of the Earth
Metallica, …And Justice for All

100 Essential Albums of All Time – Metallica, …And Justice for All (1988)

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The 1980s were arguably the greatest time in the history of hard rock/heavy metal. A genre that spans back to the late 1960s, hard rock/heavy metal’s onslaught in the 80s was mainly highlighted by the sub-genre known as “hair metal,” or bands that brought the flashy look of glam rock (think David Bowie and T. Rex) to the “leather and chains” look of metal (Judas Priest). While bands such as Bon Jovi, Def Leppard and others seemingly claimed the crown of hard rock/heavy metal, there was another more diverse and deeper group of bands that were under-recognized for their work.

Behind the “hair metal” bands were a quartet of hardcore bands that delivered raw, aggressive and powerful hard rock/metal for their devoted fans. Anthrax, Slayer and Megadeth formed three quarters of that foursome, with Metallica rounding out the group. The San Francisco-based band was in a bit of flux come 1987, however, with several issues facing the band and their future.

In 1987, the band was coming off the untimely death of their bassist, Cliff Burton, who was killed in a bus crash while the band toured Europe in 1986. Burton’s replacement, Jason Newstead, was unproven – he had only played on The $5.98 EP:  Garage Days Re-Revisited recordings and wasn’t considered a “member” of the band – and singer/guitarist James Hetfield was recovering from an arm injury from a skateboarding accident. Toss into the mix that the group was looking for a new record company and it seemed that Metallica’s next move was going to be one of the most important of their careers.

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At the start of 1988, Metallica headed to the studios to record the new album and were once again beset with problems. Early mixes of the records weren’t up to their satisfaction, resulting in two different producers being used for the album. Hetfield, the lyricist for much of Metallica’s work, was also writing the words while the album was being recorded. Finally, Newstead wasn’t happy with the lack of “presence” of his bass riffs on the record; depending on who is to be believed, that error fell on the shoulders of the sound mixer or drummer Lars Ulrich, who was also involved in the mixing process.

When the album was released in August 1988, …And Justice for All was recognized as a masterful change in the band, one for the good in many ways. First, the band eschewed the blitzkrieg pace of “speed metal” that had become the hallmark of their earlier work (such as Ride the Lightning and Master of Puppets). Instead, they opted to crafting longer and more complex works. Metallica also worked in many tempo and mood changes, making their compositions more nuanced.

Then there were the lyrics, the words that Hetfield put to these new compositions. The stories told on …And Justice for All weren’t “happy go lucky” ones, delving into such subjects as political malfeasance, legal injustice and other wrongs through such human activities as war and censorship. By far the simmering track “One” became THE song of the album and it has etched its place into rock, metal and Metallica history.

The song itself is a masterpiece, starting off with the sounds of war before quietly moving into the chords of lead guitarist’s Kirk Hammett’s notes of dread to introduce the song. The song slowly builds in intensity, with Hetfield’s snarl commanding attention from the start, while Ulrich and Newstead provide the solid foundation for the song. By the time the double-bass kickers of Ulrich drive the end of the song, Hetfield and Hammett are releasing the hounds of their guitars and Newstead drives the bass line home, the listener is left in awe of the entirety of the song.

The subject of “One” – the return of a soldier, crippled and disposed of by the military and, seemingly, the nation – was one that hammered into many minds (and served as a callback to Vietnam and a precursor to Iraq). At over seven minutes, it was one of Metallica’s longer songs and, at the same time, most poignant and powerful. It, along with the video, was what drove …And Justice for All and Metallica into the stratosphere.

The video for “One” was arguably just as big as the song. Splicing together snippets of the film Johnny Got His Gun (about a soldier who is basically a prisoner of his body after being injured in battle) along with a video-staple band “performance” shot, the video was one of the most popular videos in the history of MTV (you know, back when they actually DID play videos). But with all this critical success the band, the album and the song were dismissed by those who SHOULD have known what they were talking about.

In 1989, Metallica was nominated for a Grammy in the inaugural year of a new category, Best Hard Rock/Metal Performance Vocal or Instrumental. Along with Jane’s Addiction, AC/DC and Iggy Pop, the members of Metallica (who had performed “One” just prior to rockers Lita Ford and Alice Cooper awarding the first Grammy in the category) stood in disbelief as Jethro Tull was awarded the statue for their album Crest of a Knave. It is widely considered one of the biggest blunders in the history of the Grammy Awards (even bigger than the Milli Vanilli fiasco) and demonstrated just how “out of touch” Grammy voters were when it came to a genre that many had no clue about (in 1990, Metallica was nominated for “One” in the newly created category of Best Metal Performance).

Through it all, Metallica and …And Justice for All has weathered the standards of time. In time for the 30th anniversary of the album (and if that doesn’t make you feel old, nothing will), the band is remastering the album, with some mentioning that they will be fixing the Newstead bass lines so that they are more prominent (and including some gems to make the reissue worth getting). If you missed the record the first time around, you’d be well advised to grab the reissue and relive the era when hard rock/heavy metal was a vibrant part of the music industry.

100 Essential Albums of All Time – Rick Wakeman, Journey to the Centre of the Earth (1974)

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Arguably one of the most creative and influential bands in the history of rock music was Yes. Formed in 1968 as the “Age of Aquarius” was being born, it wasn’t until the 1970s that they began to garner some success. In 1971, keyboardist Rick Wakeman replaced the original keyboardist, Tony Kaye, who had issues with guitarist Steve Howe and who didn’t want to play anything that organs and pianos. Wakeman’s joining the band seemed to be the catalyst to even greater success for Yes. Wakeman’s work on Fragile and Close to the Edge brought the band critical and commercial success, with classics like “Roundabout” and “And You and I” etched into the history of classic rock. After the 1974 album Tales from Topographic Oceans – and at the apex of the success of Yes (pre-1980s) – Wakeman felt the desire to move into new artistic directions and left the band, however.

A classically trained pianist, Wakeman often would play piano, organ and synthesizer all in the same song with the complex compositions that Yes brought to the music world. But Wakeman wanted to do even more. His thoughts had moved towards the Jules Verne novel Journey to the Center of the Earth and a musical adaptation that was utterly immense on the scale he wanted in 1974 and still would be considered a major production today.

The project actually took two years to write, with Wakeman collaborating with conductor David Measham and arrangers Will Malone and Danny Beckerman to tell the science fiction story with music that the legendary Verne penned in 1864. When it came to who would play the rock opera with him, Wakeman did not go for well-known musicians through his connections in the music world (what his label wanted him to do). He instead tapped people he played with at a local bar to perform, with the London Symphony Orchestra and the English Chamber Choir providing support on the project. Through it all, Wakeman stayed dedicated to his dream, even selling several cars he owned and mortgaging his home to fund the passion play. In the end, the writing alone cost Wakeman, by his estimates, £40,000.

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Journey to the Centre of the Earth was a live recording, with two concerts schedule on January 18, 1974 at the Royal Festival Hall in London at 6PM and 9PM. Initially Wakeman wanted both concerts to be recorded, but the musicians for the London Symphony demanded that they be paid for both performances of Wakeman’s opus if they were recorded. A chastised Wakeman thus used the first performance as a kind of “dress rehearsal,” then taped the second performance for what would eventually become Journey.

Once the concerts were completed, Wakeman and sound engineer Paul Tregurtha, who had to overcome several problems that came up with the master tapes. A mike cable coming unconnected and a tape change – which lost some of the narration by actor David Hemmings (original choice was Richard Harris) – had to be fixed, with Wakeman and Tregurtha bringing up the levels of other mikes to overcome the lack of a mic and Hemmings rerecording his narration in the studio. Once the masters were complete, however, the true struggle began.

Wakeman’s label, A&M Records, absolutely hated what they were presented with. As luck would have it, it was the U. S. branch of the label and its co-founder Jerry Moss, that actually brought the album to the masses. Moss thoroughly embraced the album and chided his underlings for lacking the vision to put the record out. The British arm of A&M changed their minds and released the album on May 3, 1974.

The success of Journey was immediate. One week after its release, the album reached the top of the British album charts and was the first album from A&M Records to achieve that feat. It went to #3 in the U. S. for two weeks and spent 27 weeks in the Top 200. Wakeman was nominated for a Grammy Award the next year for Best Pop Instrumental Performance (which went to Marvin Hamlisch for “The Entertainer”). Flying high with his success, Wakeman left Yes and went on to a highly successful solo career that allowed him to dance back and forth over the years between his solo pursuits and runs with other bands (rejoining Yes off and on from 1978 through today and a memorable stint as a part of Anderson, Bruford, Wakeman and Howe in 1988).

What was it that made Journey such an essential album?

Wakeman was a perfectionist when it came to his music and Journey captured every bit of his passion. Not only was his work on the keyboards (which surrounded him on the stage in the Royal Festival Hall and included synthesizers, organs, pianos, clavinet and three Mellotrons (among other keyboard instruments) outstanding, he made sure that everything was mastered with state of the art equipment. The way to especially hear the quality of this recording is through the vinyl release of the album and the usage of special stereo equipment.

One of the things that are known in the music industry – but not by the general listener or fan – is that music is “condensed” when it is recorded. That basically means that the highs are brought down and the lows brought up because, through the radio equipment of the day, nobody could tell the difference (and it is further condensed on the air). It is with the usage of a particular piece of stereo equipment that the true sounds of music – brought back to their original highs and lows – can be heard.

It was a critical piece of stereo equipment – called a stereo expander – which allowed for the true sound of the music to come through when played back. In the 1970s, this was an expensive piece of equipment, but it was a critical one to enjoy Journey in all its glory. The vocals were crisp, the symphonic pieces were solidly backing the performance (you could literally almost pick out each instrument in the orchestra) and Wakeman’s virtuoso work on the myriad of keyboards all came out when played back through the expander. It all adds up to a priceless musical experience, one that can be somewhat achieved through the CDs that have been issued, but the original vinyl was the best way to hear it.

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Arguably Journey to the Centre of the Earth was the apex of Wakeman’s career. It was also arguable that it was the apex of his creativity, although he did go on after that to produce another dozen solo albums along with his work with Yes and ABWH. With its technical superiority, Wakeman’s mastery of his craft and his dedication to the product, Journey to the Centre of the Earth is without doubt an essential album for anyone’s collection.

We’re going to continue on with this, but they won’t be numbered. With such a collection (100 albums), it would be impossible to rank one above another. This is the first in that series and hopefully we’ll be able to complete this over the next year…or so!

Elton John & Bernie Taupin Tribute CDs “Revamp” & “Restoration” Evoke Different Responses

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Earlier this year, the legendary pianist, vocalist and performer Elton John announced that, after 50 years on the road as a musician, he would be retiring from the road. There’s plenty of reason to believe John when he says this – he’s never even mentioned the idea of quitting prior to 2018 and seems quite happy performing (his residency in Las Vegas was one of the hottest seats in town). The announcement of his retirement disappointed many of his longtime fans and made interest in his concert tour more special that simply being able to see the virtuoso.

Along with his farewell tour, John has also been feted with not one but two new CDs from artists paying tribute to the songwriting of John and his studio partner, Bernie Taupin. This isn’t the first time that the duo has gotten this treatment; back in 1991, they were the subject of a tribute album called Two Rooms: Celebrating the Songs of Elton John & Bernie Taupin (the title of the CD reflected the fact that John and Taupin often worked separately on songs, with John coming up with the music and Taupin writing the lyrics in…two rooms). The record featured artists as diverse as The Who, Kate Bush, Oleta Adams, The Beach Boys, Wilson Phillips and Bruce Hornsby (his version of “Madman Across the Water” is nearly as good as the original) and their take on some of the classic music from John & Taupin.

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With John calling an end to his touring days, it seems natural for another trip down memory lane and instead of one CD, fans get two. There’s a reason for this:  one CD, called Revamp, is filled with the top artists from the pop world and their renditions of popular John/Taupin tunes, and the other CD, called Restoration, features the best in current country music taking their shots at saluting John/Taupin. Surprisingly, it is the country side that wins out the “reimaging” (why not just “tribute”) battle between the two CDs.

Revamp kicks off with a snippet of John performing “Bennie and the Jets” before segueing into rapper Logic and P!nk joining forces for a rap/pop version of the tune. The twosome takes the classic song and make it their own, entertaining the listener and offering hopes that the remainder of the CD will be as adventurous. Unfortunately, that doesn’t come to be as pretty much every other song on the disc holds close to the original renditions.

Coldplay’s “We All Fall in Love Sometimes” falls flat, never even coming close to inspiring the listener, but Alessia Cara attempts to redeem that performance with a well-done version of “I Guess That’s Why They Call it the Blues.” Ed Sheeran turns “Candle in the Wind (2018)” into a folksy tune and Florence + the Machine hold serve with “Tiny Dancer.” Mumford & Sons (“Someone Saved My Life Tonight”) shows up for a so-so rendition before the top two performances take the CD.

Mary J. Blige demonstrates some very powerful vocals in tearing into “Sorry Seems to Be the Hardest Word” and really does make the song hers. By far the top song on the album is the collaboration between rapper Q-Tip and Demi Lovato, who take the classic tune John performed with Kiki Dee, “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart” and stand it on its head. Where the original tune was a piece of pop pablum, Q and Lovato turn it into a reggae/R&B mixed effort that comes off fabulously. Their approach wouldn’t have worked on any other song from the John/Taupin catalog, so it was outstanding that the right performers and song were matched up. Although Miley Cyrus (“Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me”) and Lady Gaga (“Your Song”) cover their respective tunes admirably, the Killers (“Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters”), Sam Smith (“Daniel”) and Queens of the Stone Age (“Goodbye Yellow Brick Road,” possibly the worst effort on the CD), come up short on their work.

Revamp is devoid of the artists taking their chances at recreating John/Taupin classics. For the most part, they stuck to the material and, while enjoyable, I’d rather see them stretch a bit and attempt something new. This doesn’t make Revamp bad, it’s just it pales in comparison to its companion disc.

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Surprisingly, it is the country artists that take part in the tribute on Restoration that take the most chances in their interpretations of John & Taupin’s songs. From the start of the CD, with Little Big Town delivering a daring rendition of “Rocket Man,” the country artists seem to be more comfortable with deviating from the originals. The country artists also delve deeper into the John/Taupin catalog than the pop artists did.

Although there is a repeated song – Maren Morris’ OK version of “Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters” – and a repeated artist – Miley Cyrus shows up again to give a so-so performance of “The Bitch is Back” – the other artists take some chances with some deep cuts from the John/Taupin catalog. The Brothers Osborne deliver a stunning rocking version of “Take Me to the Pilot” and country legend Willie Nelson contributes a well-done version of “Border Song,” but other artists stretch their legs.

This isn’t to say they all hit the mark. Don Henley and Vince Gill give up an uninspired version of “Sacrifice” and Lee Ann Womack’s start slow/finish strong version of “Honky Cat” are a bit of a disappointment, but they are more than made up in such choices as Miranda Lambert (“My Father’s Gun”), Chris Stapleton (“I Want Love”) and Kacey Musgraves (“Roy Rogers”). Two duets bear special mention because of their uniqueness, the Rhonda Vincent/Dolly Parton collaboration on “Please” and Roseanne Cash and Emmylou Harris’ stirring rendition of “This Train Don’t Stop There Anymore.”

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For its sheer daring and stylistic changes, Restoration comes out as the better CD than Revamp. It could have been for the fact that the pop singers weren’t as well versed in Elton John’s music or that they didn’t feel comfortable taking such songs and making them their “style.” It really seemed that the country artists understood John and Taupin’s works much better, displayed in the chances they took in song choices and the way they were performed. While you can’t go wrong with either one (nor the original Two Rooms…in fact, ownership of all three is well worth having in the catalog), it is clear to see that one is better than the other.

Conservatives, You Lost the Right of Moral Outrage Long Ago

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Under the current administration, there has been no lack of turmoil, controversy and/or outrage. If the day ends in “y,” then Orange Foolius has either said something to insult an ally, tweeted some bullshit racial move to appease his racist base or otherwise shown himself to be a grade A buffoon. Still, this last weekend was one that was special, and it spells out something that conservatives should have learned a long time ago…you have lost the right at moral outrage.

For the second time in his pitiful embarrassment of a tenure in office, Orange Foolius declined to attend the 2018 White House Correspondents’ Dinner, a staple of the scene in DC since 1921. In that dinner, the President and his staff join the journalistic corps and MEMBERS OF BOTH PARTIES to celebrate journalistic activities and a free press. Except for a handful of times (1930, 1942 and 1951, when it wasn’t held), the dinner has gone off without a hitch. Fifteen Presidents, starting with Calvin Coolidge in 1924, have shown up for the festivities, with only Ronald Reagan (1981, after his assassination attempt), Jimmy Carter (1978 and 1980) and Richard Nixon (1970, 1972, 1974) passing on the affair.

The entertainment for the WHCD has changed over the years. When the dinner started, there were singers between the courses. That developed into a post-dinner show which, in the past, featured entertainers such as Bob Hope, Frank Sinatra, Danny Thomas, Benny Goodman and Duke Ellington gracing the stage of the Hilton in DC (the traditional host of the WHCD). Since 1983, however, the host of the evening has been a comedian, with Elayne Boosler, Stephen Colbert, Al Franken (pre-Senator days), Jon Stewart and Jay Leno (among others) taking the mic.

What hasn’t changed about the night is the format of the program. Whoever was the host would essentially serve as the emcee of a roast, with the various politicians and journalists gathered together both receiving their due course of abuse. For those of you that aren’t comically inclined, a “roast” is where a group gathers to allegedly fete a person, but instead tell off-color jokes, imitations and innuendoes as the night goes on. At the end, the person who has served as the butt of the jokes gets up and gets their revenge, using the same roasting style on the folks who have spoken before him. It is an extremely funny night of entertainment, hence the success of the Friars’ Club roast that dates back to 1950, the Johnny Carson and Dean Martin roasts in the 1970s/80s, and the Comedy Central roasts over the past 15 years that have featured comedian Denis Leary, actress Pamela Anderson and a certain candy ass that can’t show up to the WHCD.

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Orange Foolius, with the vehement war he wages against anybody that wants to tell the truth about his indiscretions, criminal acts and outright subversion and corruption in running for the office in 2015, decided that he wouldn’t attend last year’s WHCD, instead running a “counter-program” of a political rally among sycophants, deviants and deplorables – you know, the GOP – in Pennsylvania. Fast forward the clock a year and, to be honest, it isn’t a surprise that he did it again, only this time in Michigan. What was the surprise was the idiotic reaction of conservatives and the GOP in the face of what has been the gist of the WHCD since its inception.

Comedian Michelle Wolf, an outstanding young comic with a tongue that would eviscerate an alligator, was the emcee for the post-dinner gathering and she spared no barbs. Without the usual subject of the roast available, it fell on the White House staff of the asshole who decided not to show up to face the slings and arrows. What seems to have piqued the irritation of the snowflake GOP and conservatives is this EXACT JOKE (quoted verbatim) that Wolf told:

And, of course, we have Sarah Huckabee Sanders. We’re graced with Sarah’s presence tonight. I have to say I’m a little star-struck. I love you as Aunt Lydia in “The Handmaid’s Tale.”

Mike Pence, if you haven’t seen it, you would love it.

Every time Sarah steps up to the podium, I get excited because I’m not really sure what we’re going to get: you know, a press briefing, a bunch of lies or divided into softball teams. “It’s shirts and skins, and this time, don’t be such a little bitch, Jim Acosta.”

I actually really like Sarah. I think she’s very resourceful. Like, she burns facts, and then she uses the ash to create a perfect smoky eye. Like, maybe she’s born with it; maybe it’s lies.

It’s probably lies.

And I’m never really sure what to call Sarah Huckabee Sanders. You know, is it Sarah Sanders? Is Sarah Huckabee Sanders? Is it Cousin Huckabee? Is it Auntie Huckabee Sanders? Like, what’s Uncle Tom but for white women who disappoint other white women? Oh, I know: Aunt Coulter.”

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Now, first off, the ENTIRE JOKE is pretty damn tame when it comes to roast material. Consider that, in a Comedy Central roast, one of the top jokes was about how one of the roasters enjoys picking up truck stop transvestites…you’ll see Wolf’s was a love tap in comparison. But the way that most took the comments were that they were focused on Sanders’ LOOKS.

There is no way in holy hell that there was anything in those comments that could have targeted Sanders’ appearance in ANY MANNER. Yet conservatives acted like Wolf walked up to Sanders and performed one of Orange Foolius’ favorite acts in her face. The White House Correspondents’ Association, the folks who HIRED WOLF TO EVISCERATE THE ROOM, issued a wimpy ass mea culpa and have indicated they are considering altering the program in the future. This is utterly fucking ridiculous.

Perhaps what the WHCA was upset with was that Wolf took THEM down a few notches with her commentary:

Wolf: “There’s a ton of news right now issues a lot is going on and we have all of these 24-hour news networks and we could be covering everything. Instead we’re covering three topics. Every hour is trump, Russia, Hillary and a panel full of people that remind you why you don’t go home for Thanksgiving.

You guys are obsessed with Trump, did you used to date him? Because you pretend like you hate him, but I think you love him. I think what no one in this room wants to admit is that Trump has helped all of you. He couldn’t sell steaks or vodka or water or college or ties or Eric, but he has helped you. He’s helped you sell your papers and your books and your T.V. You helped create this monster and now you’re profiting off of him. If you’re going to profit off of Trump, you should at least give him some money because he doesn’t have any. Trump is so broke –”

Audience: “How broke is he?”

Wolf: “He grabs pussies because he thinks there might be loose change in them. Like an immigrant brought here by a parent who didn’t do anything wrong, I got to get the fuck out of here, good night. Flint still doesn’t have clean water.”

FYI, folks…comedy is not pretty, as Steve Martin used to say. And these jokes didn’t even break skin in the context of a “roast.” For conservatives to grab their pearls and look for the nearest fainting couch is pretty damn hypocritical of them considering the bastard that they elected in 2016. You remember him? The one who grabs women by the pussy, who calls foreign nations “shitholes,” who has said pretty much every objectionable thing you can say about minorities, foreigners, women (do you REALLY want to relitigate the Rosie O’Donnell history, GOP?), Gold Star parents, veterans (remember that “I like people that weren’t captured” comment about John McCain?)…and the list goes on.

Then there’s the constituency…need I say more than this:

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Conservatives, GOP? YOU have given up any right to the moral objection when YOU elected this shitstain to represent your party. YOU have given up your right to ANY outrage over what is said about someone because YOU don’t even police your own. YOU have shown that you have no MORAL CODE NOR CONDUCT, therefore YOU have no place to raise your voice one iota in commentary on the subject.

Whether the WHCD will be altered in the future – or, if the incoming president Oliver Knox shows the makeup of a spineless cephalopod and ends the historic tradition – is anyone’s guess. But don’t criticize someone like Wolf who shows up and DOES THEIR JOB and pull your support for the very thing you claim to prize – the freedom of speech and of the people to comment on their leadership. And conservatives and GOP trollops who claim indignation about Wolf’s commentary? Why don’t you start with your own, first at the top and then work your way down to other slime bags and their commentary (trust me, Rick Santorum is one that needs gagging on a daily basis). Then you MIGHT start making ground back to having some semblance of morality.

OK, Hollywood…Point Made. Now Let’s Move on To a Solution…

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It wasn’t like there was no warning regarding the issue. Prior to the 75th Annual Golden Globe Awards, which were handed out on Sunday, there was a well-done demonstration by the ladies who make up Hollywood – actresses (whom I prefer to call actors, but regardless), directors, writers, technical staff, etc. – regarding the ongoing issue of sexual inequality, sexual harassment and sexual assault. The ladies involved in making the statement all chose to wear black dresses – not sure of the symbolism, but effective, as everyone from Oprah Winfrey to the newest clipboard carrier on set came dressed in their finest black gowns.

What came next had me saying, “OK, Hollywood. You’ve made your point. Now let’s move on and work on the issue…”

Globes host Seth Meyers, a tremendously funny guy, popped a couple of jabs at two of the culprits, former Hollywood honcho Harvey Weinstein and actor Kevin Spacey, whose actions brought on the “black dress” protest and the new “Time’s Up” stance to fight such actions. He even poked Winfrey, seated center stage as the recipient of the Cecil B. DeMille Award for “outstanding contributions to the world of entertainment,” by noting he had chastised Orange Foolius in 2011. From that act, where Meyers said that Orange Foolius had no shot at the Presidency, Meyers proclaimed to Winfrey, “You will never be President! Never!” with the obvious implication.

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Meyers had the right touch with his opening monologue. He recognized the issues that Hollywood and, fuck, the entire world is facing with the conduct between men and women, and moved on, knowing his monologue wasn’t going to solve the issue. If only others – those who won the Golden Globes statuette – would have taken the same approach.

Time and time again, women who won the prestigious award handed out by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association opened their statements by thanking those who helped them reach their level of success. Various parents, teachers, acting coaches, managers, all got their moment in the sun, as is normal with these situations. Then the winners would, almost to a woman, go off on their specific rant about the situations of the last year and how women “weren’t afraid to speak out now.”

Now, let’s set this straight from the start. That they took the moment to make a statement about ANYTHING that they wanted wasn’t the problem. These speeches – whether at the Golden Globes, the Emmys, the Tonys or the Grammys – are always infused with commentary on the social condition. There were many who spoke about how Hollywood, with those in Washington D. C. lacking the ability, clarity or state to be able to discuss ANY issue regarding morality in this country (look at who the GOP nominated and tell me they have ANY moral base today), was now taking up the mantle of a moral stance with this issue. No, that didn’t happen, it was just another instance where Hollywood’s elite used their platform to promote a social or political agenda.

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Having said this, the repeated instances of women marching to the stage for their awards and the continued brow-beating of the male gender reached a point where it wasn’t commentary, but it was male-bashing. Close to the end Elizabeth Moss, who is an outstanding actress who won the award for Best Actress in a Television Drama for her work on The Handmaid’s Tale, stepped up and delivered a statement where she paraphrased the woman who wrote the book, Margaret Atwood (“We no longer live in the blank white spaces at the edge of print. We no longer live in the gaps between the stories. We are the story in print, and we are writing the story ourselves.”). Lo and behold, it comes out afterwards that Moss is allegedly a member of the “Church” of Scientology (which is also allegedly a church), itself beset with multiple complaints of subjugation of women, blockage of investigation of and disavowal of sexual assault.

Then came Winfrey’s speech in front of the gathered throng and those watching around the world. First off, let’s make this perfectly clear: Winfrey could buy Barack Obama’s former speechwriters and still have enough left over to take over a decent sized country. So, the factor that she came out with an outstanding speech shouldn’t have been a surprise to anyone. But it was the continuance of the bashing of the male race – not any suggestions for moving forward, not mentioning that both sides are necessary to discuss the situation – that was left out of Winfrey’s magical words.

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(And for those that are touting “Oprah 2020,” pump the brakes. The replacement for an egomaniacal billionaire who wants to be a dictator is NOT another billionaire who wants to be a savior to the masses.)

By the time the end of the more than three-hour awards ceremony had reached its conclusion, I had about reached the end of my rope regarding the constant stream of male-bashing. OK, ladies, you made your point. While it didn’t totally ruin the program, it certainly put a damper on things as male actors had to walk out on stage, sheepishly with their tail between their legs and an “I’m sorry” look on their face, after yet another evisceration of their entire gender by one of their female contemporaries.

(And I am not even going to start in on actor Natalie Portman’s snide-ass comment about “five MEN” (her emphasis) being nominated for Best Director…for fuck’s sake, let’s take care of one issue at a time.)

Almost a year ago, I wrote about how difficult it is for women in any arena of business, media or Hollywood. I accepted the commentary from ladies like sports broadcaster Erin Andrews and singers Kesha and Lady Gaga regarding their incidences of assault by men either in the industry or, in Andrews’ case, a Peeping Tom who took advantage of her. I stated then that I wondered how women could put up with such behavior from the other gender of the species.

LadyGagaKesha

The answer, however, is not to swing the pendulum 180 degrees to the other side. All men are not slathering sex fiends and all women are not saintly ingenues. The answer is that there’s a middle ground that must be found and, once that turf has been discovered, then there can be discussion on the issue. It isn’t to villainize people who might be a part of the solution to the problem – yes, men who haven’t committed these acts along with women – as it seemed it was on Sunday night.

This is just the start of Awards season and we probably haven’t seen the end of the protests. One of the biggest songs of the year is “Praying” from Kesha, an emotional soul-ripper penned in response to her accusations of sexual assault by her former producer; she’s up for Best Solo Pop Performance at this year’s Grammys for the song (the show is January 28). There will be more protests of the type seen on Sunday at the Academy Awards in March and probably also at the Emmys. But before more of entertainment’s elite ladies start sharpening their pens into swords for this fight, perhaps they should look for solutions instead of chastising those not responsible. Remember Rose McGowan, the actor whose statements regarding Weinstein started the #MeToo movement? She perhaps said it best…where were Winfrey or Meryl Streep when Weinstein was assaulting her? The answer is they weren’t believing her account.