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.

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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.

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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.

Where Do We Draw the Line? All Things Are NOT the Same

The events of the last month or so – hell, if you want to be serious, it’s dating back to the 1990s – have opened the door of Pandora’s Box. Whether it is in the world of relations between men or women or even something as small as what constitutes a joke, it seems we want to eradicate the impropriety, even the ability to laugh at ourselves. If it delves into a needle of a person’s appearance, a stereotype, or a myriad of other situations, it seems as though it has become verboten. This has caused me to wonder a few things:  just where do we draw the line? And that led to my second thought:  all situations are not the same.

A couple of months ago, I saw one of my favorite films of all time. Mel Brooks’ Blazing Saddles was on AMC (and unedited at that!) and I laughed my ass off all the way through it. The performances were priceless in the film, from Cleavon Little’s streetwise (and black) Sheriff Bob to Gene Wilder’s drunken Waco Kid, there wasn’t a dull moment in the film about a black man assigned to be a sheriff for a racist town. There was also a litany of jokes about Mexicans, Indians, blacks, Jews, and a host of others that would be considered “inappropriate” today.

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Imagine my surprise when I heard Brooks discuss the issue in an interview soon after. In an interview with the BBC, Brooks commented that he could probably have done Young Frankenstein, but Blazing Saddles could never have been made. “Never ‘Blazing Saddles,’ because we have become stupidly politically correct, which is the death of comedy,” Brooks stated to the BBC. But Brooks’ groundbreaking and legendary comedy isn’t the only piece that might be “wrong” to watch today.

AMC was also the home of another cinematic classic I viewed recently. The original M*A*S*H, with Donald Sutherland as Hawkeye Pierce and Elliott Gould as Trapper John McIntyre, depicted the Korean War with all its warts. It is arguable that there were enough things to twist the panties of today’s sensitive souls, with just the name of one of the characters (‘Spearchucker’ Jones), the usage of drugs and treatment of women by…well, virtually everyone…to get outrage going.

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You think this was just something from the 70s? Another favorite film of mine is Doctor Detroit, a middling 80s comedy starring Dan Aykroyd as a nebbish college professor who, when plied with alcohol, drugs, and sex by a bevy of beauties (that included his future wife Donna Dixon), becomes a chiropractor/crime lord (and the women’s pimp) to not only save them but his college. In the 90s, it was Ace Ventura:  Pet Detective, the story of an inept detective chasing a transgendered (and very sexual, if you’re to believe one scene) former football player. The 21st century hasn’t changed this brand of comedy, or did you miss the Harold & Kumar series?

The movie industry in 2017 has been ravaged by the accusations of some of the most powerful men in Hollywood and the long-rumored “casting couch.” This trend caught one of the most powerful men in Tinseltown, Harvey Weinstein, who was alleged to have attempted to use his position as a “make or break” player in the movie business to have sexual relations (sometimes even forced) with women looking for their big break. Add in other alleged situations such as actor Kevin Spacey, director Brett Ratner and hip hop legend Russell Simmons, and now actor Jeffrey Tambor and it all is coming to a head.

This same year the same accusations have rocked the media and political professions, some proven, some “paid off.” Former Fox News president the late Roger Ailes, Bill O’Reilly, now Charlie Rose…all have been alleged to have committed some form of harassment of women. In politics it dates back even further to the peccadillos of John Kennedy and Bill Clinton. For it to come around to today’s incidences, with both Al Franken and Roy Moore being castigated for their actions, isn’t surprising. And remember, more than a dozen women – and a rape allegation of a 13-year old – are awaiting the person who sits in the most powerful seat in the land (remember right after “grabbed them by the pussy” on the Access Hollywood bus?) To this day, he has never answered for those transgressions.

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I am reminded of when I was back in my radio days. At that time, the biggest name in the game was (and arguably still is) Howard Stern. Stern’s programs routinely featured (and still does) in-depth discussion of sexual actions, women’s anatomy, the derision of the handicapped, and basically set the format for “morning show” radio (the “morning crew” days). As someone who worked in those days, the different “morning show” crews were constantly trying to gain the edge over each other with who could put up the sleaziest, sexiest, most outrageous morning show, making the most fun of the most people that are in existence. And you know what? The audiences LAUGHED ALL THE GODDAMN WAY with them. (And if you want a look at what it was like for a woman in the music business, check out Lita Ford’s autobiography Living Like a Runaway for all the gory details.)

I do realize that this is a new age, a new era, but it is beginning to get a bit out of hand. Can anyone reading this tell me what they did 20 years ago? How about 30? Do you remember every interaction you’ve ever had with the opposite sex (or, in some cases, with the same sex)? Were they all innocent engagements with absolutely nothing memorable about them? Then ask yourself this:  is there a possibility that someone else you were with that they remember the situation completely different than you do?

There needs to be some lines set out. In a court of law, there are differing degrees of murder – first degree, second degree, manslaughter, all the way down to legally allowing a person to kill another human being (self-defense, or “Stand Your Ground”). Sexual assault and harassment can go in the same ways as there are differing standards that could be set.

To compare the pedophilic acts of Moore to Franken’s nobody comedy writer dream of getting to lock lips with a Hooters waitress who made it (and acting like a 15-year old virgin in the process of rehearsing it) is completely asinine. The actions of both men are a FORM of sexual assault. But to hold Franken up as “the same” as Moore – who allegedly fiddled with some 14-year-old child and cruised malls to score teenage girls as a 30-plus year-old man (and a District Attorney at that) – is outright lunacy.

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And just what should be the punishment for these actions? In the case of those in Hollywood, their careers have been destroyed, their reputations in tatters, while the women haven’t emerged any better for telling their stories. Franken may very well lose his seat in the U. S. Senate, while Moore should never be seated if elected next month. Is it worth destroying someone’s very existence for something that happened when they were at a completely different stage in their lives?

I don’t pretend to know the answers and, after reviewing everything, I myself am cloudier on the issue than when I started. But if we’re looking for saints in our politics, we’re going to have very empty chambers to decide the laws. If we’re looking for saints in business, comedy, entertainment, and the news, then there’s going to be a very bland life ahead for our progeny. Brooks said it best in that BBC interview when he said, “It’s okay not to hurt feelings of various tribes and groups. However, it’s not good for comedy. Comedy has to walk a thin line, take risks. Comedy is the lecherous little elf whispering into the king’s ear, always telling the truth about human behavior.”

We still have to find how far those risks can go, in comedy and other arenas in life, and, if they were violated long ago, what the appropriate punishments should be.

Who Will Be the Inductees for the 2018 Rock & Roll Hall of Fame?

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It is always a favorite time of the year for me. The announcement of the nominees for induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame always draw a great deal of commentary, either about how well the “keepers of the Hall” did in making the nominations or in how much they screwed it up. Thus, when the nominees list was released last week, it was a cause for celebration or debate, depending on how you liked the list.

First, however, let’s look at who WASN’T on the nominee list…

PAT BENATAR

Just what does it take to get the preeminent female rocker of the 1980s to even get a NOMINATION to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, let alone inducted? A four-time Grammy winner, two multi-platinum albums, five platinum albums, three gold albums and rock anthems like “Heartbreaker,” “Hit Me with Your Best Shot,” and “Love is a Battlefield,” Benatar should have been in LONG ago. As of yet, however, she has not received even a nomination.

DURAN DURAN

They were a seminal part of the success of MTV back in the day and they brought about (for better or worse) the “video” era of music. They were nominated previously (at least they have that) in 2015 and 2016, but were overlooked this year. Along with their importance in MTV’s formation and development, the band was highly successful with critics and fans (and the fact that they are the only band who ever had a theme to a James Bond film go to #1 on the Billboard charts – “A View to a Kill”). If you’re going to induct other pop icons from the 80s like Madonna and such, Duran Duran deserves consideration.

OZZY OSBORNE

Sure, he’s already in as a member of Black Sabbath, but Osborne’s solo career lasted longer than his tenure with the Sabbath. In addition, it is arguable that his solo work – along with his continued discovery of ace guitar slingers like the late Randy Rhoads, Jake E. Lee, Steve Vai and Zakk Wylde – has been more influential than his previous time with the Sabbath.

I could keep on going (trust me, there’s plenty of snubs out there), but that would be a distraction from what we’ve come together for…the breakdown of the nominees. Here are your nominees for 2018 (in alphabetical order), a bit of backstory and an examination of their chances for induction come Spring 2018.

BON JOVI

Whether you like it or not, Bon Jovi was a force to be reckoned with in the 1980s. That Jon Bon Jovi has “kept the faith” for the most part with the other members of the band – save guitarist Richie Sambora – and continued to perform into the 21st century, it is difficult to conceive that they won’t be voted in by the Hall. Look for them on stage doing “You Give Love a Bad Name” next spring.

KATE BUSH

To be honest, I was completely stunned to see Bush nominated. Her ethereal voice and eclectic musical stylings were an acquired taste (one I tremendously enjoyed) and, thus, she never was a darling of the U. S. market (the U. K., her home country, LOVED her). If we’re looking at the critical aspect, Bush is a shoo-in; if it comes down to some perception of “popularity,” then probably not.

THE CARS

This might stun some readers, but I’ve had a complete 180 on whether the boys from Boston belong in the Hall. Last year I said that they weren’t good enough but, after I went back and reviewed their catalog, the diversity of their music swayed me. In the 70s, The Cars were a straightforward guitar rock band. As the 80s came along, however, they adapted to New Wave and then the MTV Generation, all while maintaining an unsurpassed quality to their overall efforts. It changed my mind and, hopefully, others will have reflected like I did and The Cars will enter the Hall this spring.

DEPECHE MODE

While I appreciate the music of Depeche Mode, it isn’t something that really set them out from the crowd of synthesizer bands of the 1980s. INXS, The Cure, The Human League…there’s a litany of bands that were similar in style to Depeche Mode that have just as much claim to a spot in the Hall. That’s why they won’t get in…it isn’t the Hall of Pretty Good, it’s the Hall of Fame.

DIRE STRAITS

This one falls under the category of “they weren’t in already?” Mark Knopfler’s exquisite finger picking guitar style is unique in the world of rock and makes for a distinct sound for the band. Add in a nearly 40-year career in creating smart, enjoyable songs and albums and it is long overdue for Dire Straits to be inducted.

EURYTHMICS

Here is another dilemma facing the voters. While Annie Lennox and Dave Stewart DESERVE to be in the Hall of Fame, there is a logjam in front of them for inductees. The problem with this (as you’ll see here in a second) is if you aren’t inducted early on in your eligibility, then you kind of get forgotten about. Unfortunately, that’s what I see happening to Eurythmics, who are more than qualified to be in.

J. GEILS BAND, LINK WRAY, LL COOL J, MC5, THE METERS, THE MOODY BLUES, RUFUS featuring CHAKA KHAN, and THE ZOMBIES

There was a reason I grouped all these artists together:  it’s because the explanation for their denial of entry into the Hall of Fame is based in the same reasoning. All had their moment in the sun in the History of Rock, but none of them ever made my jaw drop and say, “I’ve GOT to go see them perform!” About the closest one who would come to that criteria would be the J. Geils Band and MAYBE the Moody Blues. All of them together, however, are a part of that “Hall of Pretty Good” argument.

JUDAS PRIEST

If you’re going to recognize hard rock/metal in the Hall of Fame, it is incomplete without Judas Priest. Still pounding out their sound going on 40-plus years now, the Priest is, in many people’s opinion, THE preeminent hard rock/metal band. They definitely invented the “leather and studs” look that was prevalent for theirs and other bands and Rob Halford is one of the most memorable voices in the genre. As the ground breaker for a genre, Judas Priest should have been in the Hall long ago.

NINA SIMONE

Nothing against Simone or the massive amount of talent the woman had – and the travails she had to navigate through in the pre-Civil Rights era – but she’s just not “rock and roll.” There are at least a few nominees of this ilk every year for the Hall of Fame because, in some cases, while they are not traditional “rock and roll,” their style, attitude or actions has had an influence on the overall genre. Simone’s vocal abilities are legendary, but her overall influence on “rock and roll” is limited. Simone isn’t even a member of the Rhythm and Blues (R&B) Hall of Fame, making it tough to justify selection for the overall Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.

RADIOHEAD

Long a critical darling, Radiohead is one of those “fringe” rock bands that probably will come up in discussions over the next few years but never get in. Much like Television or Kraftwerk, they were seminal parts of the rock genre that inspired many acts that followed, but they’re just a little too obscure to capture the attention of many. As such, I don’t think that Radiohead will get into the Hall…but I’ve been wrong before.

RAGE AGAINST THE MACHINE

Here is the only other slam-dunk choice for the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame for 2018. Over the span of only four albums, RATM spawned the “rock/rap” genre. Beyond that point, RATM brought back one of the purposes that originally drove rock & roll:  the political nature that tries to change society. The lyrics of the band – enunciated to their full power by Zach de la Rocha – and the searing guitar work of Tom Morello gave their protests full throat. Morello is trying to keep the passion going that RATM brought with Prophets of Rage (and Chuck D of Public Enemy), but he’d be better advised to get back with de la Rocha.

SISTER ROSETTA THARPE

If you’ve never heard of Sister Rosetta Tharpe, you can be forgiven. But the work done by the woman – playing rock & roll when there was NO SUCH THING – cannot be ignored. In the 1930s and 40s, Tharpe melded blues, gospel, bluegrass, and country into a brew that eventually would become rock & roll music, influencing some of the biggest MALE names that ever were uttered in the music industry. Little Richard, Johnny Cash, Chuck Berry, and Elvis Presley all cited her as influential and her guitar work wouldn’t be out of place in today’s rock world. If you’d like to learn more about her, YouTube has a simply outstanding look at her life that is well worth the time to check out.

Guess it would be obvious that I personally think Sister Rosetta Tharpe should be inducted this spring!

Fans will be able to vote on the inductees, choosing up to five candidates per day until the vote closes. The top vote getter from that process is usually a lock for entry – the previous five winners of the Fan Vote (Rush, KISS, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Chicago, and Journey) all were inducted – and there are usually six or more nominees inducted. We’ll find out next spring who will be the newest members of the Hall…and we’ll be back to debate the merits of those inductions!

A Tale of Two Concerts…

If you’ve been around here for any length of time, you might have noticed that I have an affinity for music. It really doesn’t matter what the genre is…rap, rock, country, metal, punk, you name it, I probably have an inkling about it. About the only thing that I might be a bit deficient on would be classical music, but I can listen to it an appreciate it. Thus, a couple of shows that I saw within the past month demonstrate both sides of the musical spectrum.

On June 22, my lovely wife and I headed to Amalie Arena to see the rapper Pitbull and the balladeer Enrique Iglesias entertain a packed house. When you can fill a 20,000-seat arena with no problems, you know you’ve made it. And the crowd was as diverse as you might expect for such a multi-cultural show: whites, blacks, Latinos/Latinas, young and old…everyone was there for the party. And, for their part overall, the two entertainers for the night held up their end of the deal.

Pitbull3

Iglesias was, for me, the surprise of the night. Considering that he had his first success back in the 1990s as a younger man, the 42-year old Iglesias was energetic and put on a great show (something that those who have been around the business for a lengthy time don’t sometimes do – that’s what they mean by “mailing it in”). There are those of you reading that might recognize the song “Hero,” which was a massive hit in 2001, but I was a bit surprised by how many of the other songs that I recognized by him. “I Like It (which also featured Pitbull prior to his massive success),” a song that was made popular on the reality show Jersey Shore, and other tunes had the crowd going over the span of his 45-minute set.

There was one moment that was extremely special, however. Bringing the mood down into a very intimate setting, Iglesias and his band slowly trod a path through the crowd to the back of the arena, where stools were arranged for the performers to sit on. From that locale, Iglesias and his band performed a couple of tunes for the entirety of the crowd, but made it special for those in the back who are often ignored during a show. It was a nice touch, especially the “troubadour” walk from the stage to the alternate stage and back.

Between shows, there was a DJ (my wife informed me that he was supposedly Pitbull’s uncle, although I am not sure on that) who performed as the roadies broke the stage. I’m not the biggest fan of watching someone work the turntables – it takes a special talent to do it, don’t get me wrong – and as such I was less than thrilled with this part of the program. It was a good time to go get refreshments, however, and it seemed that many were following my lead.

Pitbull2

As far as Pitbull’s performance, it wasn’t the first time I had seen him. My wife and I had attended the 2016 93.3 FLZ Jingle Ball prior to Christmas, which was headlined by Pitbull. Instead of getting a reduced show (the Jingle Ball lineup also featured Martin Garrix, Fifth Harmony, Walk the Moon, and a few others), this would be the first time seeing the Cuban-American superstar doing a whole show. Let’s just say that I wasn’t disappointed either time.

Pitbull’s music – a goulash of Cuban rhythms with pop, rap and dance stylings tossed in and usually featuring Pitbull rapping while a vocalist fills in the chorus – isn’t for everyone but, if you are someone who does enjoy this genre, then you know how good he is. He was backed by a full band and a cadre of female dancers who changed costumes at least four times by my count. But it wasn’t the accoutrements that made the show great, it was the skills of Pitbull to work the crowd.

Pitbull1

Whether he was using his music – and there’s a lengthy resume of hits he rolled out, including “Timber,” “Hotel Room Service,” and many others – or simply speaking to the gathering, Pitbull maintained control of the show entirely. With this said, it didn’t seem as if it were that much longer than the abbreviated show he delivered when he was performing at the Jingle Ball. It was a fun show and would do it again, to be honest, but it was kind of like cotton candy – sweet to eat but with little substance.

Less than a week later (June 28), I went to a show that was completely the other end of the spectrum. The venue was Skipper’s Smokehouse, a nice little dive with great food and an even greater repertoire of music. Imagine if you will an old tobacco shack with a stage, a restaurant that doesn’t have any air conditioning and an outdoor area looking at a bare bones stage that has a few seats but, for the most part, has its patrons standing up for a show.

AlejandroEscovedo1

This was the venue for one of the true treasures of the music world. Alejandro Escovedo may not be a household name of the level of Pitbull or Iglesias, but he’s is one of the most respected musicians in the industry, cited by Bruce Springsteen and “Little Steven” Van Zandt as an influence. Escovedo has also been through the travails of the music industry, starting off with the punk rock band The Nuns before joining Rank & File in the early 1980s (whom Escovedo said sounded like “punk rock done by George Jones”). He went solo after leaving Rank & File and, for the past 30 years or so, has been grinding the small venues of Texas and, on this night, Florida, plying his trade.

Pat Puckett, an old friend who backed Escovedo during the 1980s, opened the night with a very bluesy set that was perfect for the surroundings and for opening for Escovedo. Puckett’s guitar work was quite good and it really seemed as if his set was too short. He is a popular performer in the Tallahassee area so, if you’re in the mood for some excellent guitar work and a solid rock & roll show, you should check out Puckett.

AlejandroEscovedo2

Escovedo came out as a thunderstorm broke out, but you couldn’t have moved any of the roughly 600 people who were massed there from their spots. Escovedo ripped through some songs from his current CD, Burn Something Beautiful, highlighted by his performance of “Heartbeat Smile.” By the time he closed the night’s proceedings with his best-known song “Castanets” (notable as it was seen on former President George W. Bush’s iPod), the entirety of the crowd was on its feet, rocking the shack around them as the skies cleared around midnight.

One of the nicer things about these smaller shows is that the performer will more often than not come out and sign CDs and talk to those who attended the show. Escovedo did that, spending some time with my wife and talking about the Austin, TX, music scene before getting a photo with both of us. It was a great way to end the evening.

AlejandroEscovedo3

So, which was better?

I lean more to the rock side of things, so Escovedo would get my vote. But what was remarkable about the shows was the complete 180 that each presented. From the stylish, staged, and choreographed show from Pitbull and Iglesias to the rugged, rough and ready rock & roll show presented by Puckett and Escovedo, there wasn’t a thing that they had in common except for one thing…the love of music.

If you haven’t done it in a while, I suggest you get back in the ring and give it a try. Go to a concert at your local stadium – doesn’t matter if it’s a rock show or a pop concert – and go to one of your local venues that has performers sometimes just playing for the drinks they’re quaffing. They are both the heart of the music world and, with hope, you can get something out of both experiences.

Volbeat Deserving Of “Next Big Thing” Status; Amaranthe Presents Unique Sound

One of the things I enjoy in my well-rounded life is some great music. There are things that I come across that I simply cannot stand (such as Taylor Swift’s caterwauling…seriously, can someone give the girl a gift certificate to buy a voice?), but when I come across something I find great, I like to tell people about it. As my general preference is for harder edged rock, it will often go in that direction (but not always…).

Of late, there are several bands that I am very high on. Previously I told you about Halestorm and, if you want to get on that train, they should have a new album out towards the end of the year (meanwhile, jump on their ReAniMate 3.0 covers album). Here’s two more that you should be considering: one is a major opener for one of the biggest tours of the summer and the other presenting a different sound, if you will, in the hard rock genre. As always, I don’t claim to be on the band first, but I do think they’ve got some legs to them for the future!

Volbeat

Volbeat is a band out of Denmark that has been a 16-year “overnight success.” Despite having great success in Europe with their mixture of rockabilly, hard rock, and punk – surprisingly, the band rarely embraces a hard-core metal or thrash sound – Volbeat was unable to penetrate the U. S. market to any great extent. That changed with their latest release, Seal the Deal and Let’s Boogie, which debuted in the Billboard Magazine‘s Top Five Albums the week of its release last year. As we speak, Volbeat is joined by Avenged Sevenfold (on some stops) as the warmup acts for the massive Metallica “WorldWired” tour that is hitting stadiums in the U. S. and worldwide.

That they all are considered hard rock acts (Metallica delves into thrash metal and A7X crushes their more metalcore sound) demonstrates the diversity of the hard rock arena. Volbeat, as stated before, aren’t your typical metalheads, incorporating sounds from across the spectrum into their particular brew. On earlier efforts, Volbeat’s sound was more inspired by country music such as Johnny Cash (their effort previous to this, Outlaw Gentlemen and Shady Ladies, had a theme to it that gave you impressions of a Clint Eastwood spaghetti Western). With Seal the Deal, however, Volbeat has a sound more reminiscent of The Offspring than anything else.

The first song on the album, “The Devil’s Bleeding Crown,” was a very strong effort that just didn’t seem to click with U. S. audiences when it was released as a single. It wasn’t until the eponymous title track was released that some success occurred for singer Michael Poulsen, guitarist Rob Caggiano and bassist Kaspar Boye Larsen. “Seal the Deal” was a powerful piece of music that rumbled from the speakers, with the guitars provided by Caggiano being particularly notable. Since then, hard rock radio has been all over “Black Rose,” which may outdo “Seal the Deal” in popularity.

Surprisingly, Volbeat can sound almost melodic with the music they create. Do not be fooled, however, they do have an edginess to their lyrics that can be surprising and, in some songs, imagery of Hell and the Devil are implied. There are tunes about darkness, redemption and “selling the soul” that some might not like. That would be their misfortune, because most of the songs have a finish where, if the protagonist doesn’t emerge on top, they are at least fighting towards the future.

Along with the songs mentioned above, there are a couple other efforts that are noteworthy on Seal the Deal and Let’s Boogie. “The Gates of Babylon” is a very good track from the album, but it is a cover song on the album that is even more surprising because of its quality. Taken from the Georgia Satellites (an 80s outfit that is highly underrated), “Battleship Chains” demonstrates that Volbeat takes their inspiration from a wide assortment of musical genres. The future is going to be fantastic for this band and, with the next couple of years, I can easily see them becoming a huge part of the music scene in the U. S.

Another great foreign act that has been chipping away at the walls in the U. S. (the metaphorical ones, not the ones some idiot wants to put up) is Sweden’s Amaranthe. Another one of those multi-year “overnight sensations,” the band actually started in 2008 and has been pretty much non-stop touring and recording since then. They had a bit of success in 2013 with the song “Drop Dead Cynical” from their Massive Addictive album, but they have found their stride with their latest release, Maximalism.

Pinning Amaranthe down to a “sound” is roughly like trying to give a cougar a bubble bath in a thimble. First off, the band encompasses some elements of EDM but loves to roll out a metal guitar assault to go over the hypnotic background. They can sometimes veer into the realm of “pop” music, which may offend some of those who are more hardcore, but they always seem to be able to bring it back to a more “hard rock” sound when necessary. That may be because of the triumvirate of vocalists that Amaranthe employs.

Amaranthe

That’s right…three vocalists. First there is Elize Ryd, who gives an ethereal quality to some songs when she’s not rocking out with an unbelievable voice. Ryd gives credibility to the Amaranthe sound whether they are in their more experimental modes or they are driving the guitars down your throat. A nice meshing with Ryd WAS Joacim “Jake E.” Lundberg, who had a voice that harmonized nicely with Ryd as they performed the “clean” vocals (Lundberg, after the release of Maximalism, left the band and was replaced by Nils Molin).

There’s a reason I say “clean” vocals. The third vocal effort on the album is Henrik Englund, who provides the “death growl (a guttural vocal styling where it sounds like the beasts from Hell are emerging from your speakers)” or the “unclean” vocals on the record. While it may sound like it is a complete mess, Amaranthe has been able to put together songs that perfectly accentuate the stylings of each of their singers and, likewise, the other members of the band (Olof Morck on guitars and keyboards, Johan Andreassen on bass and Morten Lowe on drums).

Of particular excellence is “Boomerang,” an effort that would have been perfect on pop radio had it not been for the crushing guitars and Englund’s growling of his lyrics. A song about how someone tries to put another person down – but the person keeps coming back “like a boomerang” – it is an outstanding tune that epitomizes Amaranthe very well. Two other songs, “That Song” and “21” are also excellent, but most surprising is a ballad that demonstrates the abilities of the band quite well.

Supersonic” is a tune that Englund takes a break from and let’s Ryd and Lundberg exercise their vocal abilities on. Yes, it is a ballad – and everyone usually HATES a metal ballad – but it works for Amaranthe because of the dual vocals (not a duet – each vocalist has a lyrical segment written for them). Using some orchestral instrumentation along with the band’s musicians, it may give some a comparison to Amy Lee and Evanescence, but “Supersonic” soars in its own right and serves as an excellent “palate cleanser” for an outstanding record.

You may not have heard of them yet, but they’ve got the potential – especially with Ryd’s photogenic qualities and the power of the band – to be a breakout act, possibly even on the pop charts (bands always appreciate crossover success, not to mention their record companies). They’ll have to get control of some of their personnel issues – not only from Lundberg’s departure last year, but Englund replaced original “unclean” vocalist Andreas Solveström in 2013 – to fully realize their potential, but if they can record more albums like Maximalism, it will push Amaranthe into the stratosphere of the hard rock/metal world.