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.

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Let’s Put It This Way…Fuck 2016

For anyone who has been around a good length of time, there are years that are remembered more fondly than others. For myself, there’s 2006, when I met my lovely wife; 2008, when we were married, and 20xx when we had our son. Then there are those years that are better left unsaid (mine was 1988 and let’s not get into why except to say that I came out of it a better person). With all of this said, there’s only one way to put the latest ‘trip around the sun’ and that is…fuck 2016.

There were two main areas that were ravaged over the past 365 days (and we’ve yet to actually reach New Year’s Eve, for fuck’s sake). One was the entertainment industry and, in particular, the music industry. When the year kicked off with the death of David Bowie (January 10) from liver cancer, it caught everyone by surprise simply because the very private Bowie had not informed the world he was in failing health.

A little more than a week later, another stunning death occurred. The Eagles’ Glenn Frey would pass away on January 18 following intestinal surgery and, by the end of the month, a band’s history was decimated by the death of two former members. Oddly enough on the same day – January 28 – Signe Toly Anderson, the original vocalist for Jefferson Airplane, and the former lead guitarist for the band, Paul Kantner, both passed away at the age of 74.

Arguably the most surprising death of the calendar year was the passing of Prince in April. “The Purple One” was found unresponsive in the elevator of his Paisley Park home on April 21, ending a charade that had been going on apparently for years. Bedeviled by pain from his strenuous and acrobatic performances over the last 30-plus years, Prince was found to have been using the painkiller fentanyl and overdosed on the powerful drug.

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The sheer number of deaths of legendary figures of the music world continued to mount throughout the entire year. Maurice White of Earth, Wind and Fire (February 4); Merle Haggard (April 6); Leonard Cohen (November 7); Sharon Jones, a fiery soul singer often called the “female James Brown” (November 18); two members of one band in Keith Emerson (March 11) and Greg Lake (December 7)…the legends that left had many music aficionados stunned into silence. To administer the coup de grace for the year, former Wham! front man and solo sensation George Michael passed on Christmas Day.

Add these in with the deaths of such acting icons as Alan Rickman (January 14), Abe Vigoda (January 26), Garry Shandling (March 24), Patty Duke (March 29), Gene Wilder (August 28), Florence Henderson (November 24) and Alan Thicke (December 13), sports legends like Muhammad Ali (June 3), Gordie Howe (June 10), Arnold Palmer (September 25) and former Tennessee women’s basketball coach Pat Summitt (June 28) and political figures such as Nancy Reagan (March 6), Elie Wiesel (July 2), Fidel Castro (November 25) and John Glenn (December 8), and even the hardest of souls would have to say that this has been a pretty devastating year (and we’ve barely scratched the surface of those who passed in 2016 – the awards shows this spring are going to be pretty somber affairs when it comes to the “In Memoriam” segment).

It is often asked why people get emotional over the death of entertainment figures, sports heroes or even politicians. It is because it is usually a link to our youth that has been snatched away from us by the talons of the Grim Reaper. Along with that past link, there is also the wealth of work that we will never hear or see those people perform again. In some cases, yes, the person has lived a full life…it still doesn’t make it easier on those who consider themselves fans of the person or their achievements in life to recognize the passing of the body but not the soul.

The other area that was particularly screwed up in 2016 was the world of politics (sorry if you were looking for something else). At the start of the year, it seemed that there were legitimate candidates on both sides of the aisle that would provide for a good choice for the citizens of the States of America. Then a narcissistic, xenophobic racist fascist stepped to the fore.

The man who would eventually become the GOP nominee was not challenged by his own party, partly because they thought he was a joke (and he is) but also because they thought that he had no chance to win. They also didn’t want to offend the “base” that flocked to him like lemmings off a cliff because that “base” was something they had taken a long time to create through their actions of the past 16 years. By pushing them away too hard, they would threaten their own chances when the GOP nominee fell out of favor.

The only problem with that was he never did. Instead of falling from favor, more members of the Ignorati came along for the ride. And because they could not coalesce behind an alternative member – one wasn’t conservative enough, another was too conservative, another’s family had been there before, another was too young, etc. – they allowed a travesty to take over their party. In fact, many of those stayed on the sidelines EVEN WHEN THEY NOMINATED HIM and thought that the Democratic nominee for President, Hillary Clinton, would be the one to take him down.

Through the mechanizations of many parts, Election Day instead resembled “The Purge” as the Ignorati worked such an unlikelihood that no one considered it possible. To win, the GOP nominee had to sweep at least four states – some combination of Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Virginia, North Carolina, and Florida – to be able to win the presidency. The GOP nominee took six of the seven, with Virginia the only holdout. The margin of victory in those states amounted to around 100,000 votes and the GOP nominee would actually lose the popular vote to Clinton.

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Now we enter a world that, with Twitler in charge, is a much darker place. He continues to threaten different agencies, looking for the names of those scientists who have done research on climate change or women who have worked to advance women’s rights in foreign countries. He continues to harp on developing a registry for Muslims, threatening to enrage a religion that is the second largest in the world with 1.6 BILLION devotees. He also threatens to take us back to the era where a simple error – lost contact with command and control, a “broken arrow” of a stolen or misplaced nuke or a simple regime change in a country – could bring us to the brink of thermonuclear disaster.

The only way to stop such a despot is to fight on every corner, for every fiber and inch of earth that is possible. It will be more difficult in 2017 as the GOP has complete command of the government, but they now also have no fucking excuses when (and it will be when) things go FUBAR. There may be those who say wait for a couple of years to change the narrative, but the time is now to stop any forward momentum that the GOP nominee may think he has (which he is highly mistaken – there is no “mandate” as many members of the Ignorati have been claiming).

These were just the two jewels of the crappy crown that topped the Year 2016. With hope, we can put this year behind us and find better things going on in the New Year. Let’s blow the horns, rev up the noisemakers and tip the bottle of champagne…fuck 2016! It’s done! And let’s hope that 2017 brings us better circumstances than the previous 365 days has.

When U R Gone, What 2 Do with Ur Legacy

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It’s taken me a few days to come to grips with the death of the legend that is known as Prince and, to be honest, there aren’t words that can express the depths of the impact of his death. Barely older than myself at 57, Prince Rogers Nelson stepped into his elevator on Thursday last week at his sprawling Paisley Park recording studios/home in Minneapolis and, with no one else around, passed away inside the car. In one moment, another icon of the music industry had been stolen from the world.

2016 has been a particularly difficult year for iconic musical legends. The one most applicable to Prince was David Bowie (who also had a seismic impact on myself) and the two, if not cut from the same cloth, at least were in the same skein of fabric. Both were innovators in the music they created; they followed the path of their own choosing and, upon their death, it was automatically known that there would be no one else like either of them. Add in other legends like B. B. King, Merle Haggard, Paul Kantner, Glenn Frey, Lemmy Kilmister and Maurice White (just to name a few) and, if there’s a Heaven, then the joint is rocking pretty hard lately.

Perhaps the Grim Reaper can leave musicians alone for a while…

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There are several other legendary performers that Prince has a great deal in common with, however. One of the big issues that has come out is that Prince was notoriously known to keep a humongous stash of his own recorded materials on the grounds of the Paisley Park studios. A past studio musician who worked with Prince in the 1990s stated that, at that time, there were at least 50 albums of unreleased material that were in basically a bank vault inside the home. Now that Prince has passed away, will there be similar comparisons to Jimi Hendrix, Tupac Shakur and Michael Jackson as to their posthumous activities?

Hendrix only released three albums of original material prior to his death in 1970 but, following his passing, it seems there were tracks just laying around that he had worked on. Between 1971 and just last year, 59 total albums have been released bearing Hendrix’s name (12 studio, 25 live and 22 compilations) and this isn’t even counting Extended Play (EPs), singles or “official bootlegs” of Hendrix performances. The same is true in the case of Shakur; he released four albums prior to his death in 1996 and seven albums after his demise. Hell, Shakur even came back as a hologram at Coachella in 2012 to “perform” for the crowd.

Jackson didn’t escape this type of action either. While he was a bit more prolific with his career prior to his death in 2009 (ten solo albums plus his work with his brothers as the Jackson 5 or the Jacksons), he – or, better yet, the Jackson estate – has released two albums of work posthumously, Michael and Xscape. There was also a documentary movie released, This Is It, that detailed out the preparations for the World Tour that Jackson was set to embark upon before his death.

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Estimates on Prince’s entire estate at the time of his passing have been put at $250 million (probably much better off than any of the men whom we’ve discussed previously when they left this mortal coil) and it is conservatively thought that, over the next five years through just what is in the marketplace currently, another $100 million could be earned by the Prince estate. The question becomes what do you do with that wealth of material that Prince put in the vault.

If there were 50 albums of material in the mid-90s, with someone like Prince there are probably a couple of hundred albums of FINISHED product there now, waiting for eager fans to hear. There’s probably another couple of hundred of albums consisting of bits and pieces that could be cobbled together into some form of functional music. The question becomes do you just keep it locked away? Or do you go ahead, realize the potential goldmine that you have and release it?

There are plenty of cases where a writer or musician will leave a piece unfinished because it just doesn’t feel right for a particular mood that they are working on at that moment. In other cases, they lose the momentum that drove them to write the piece in the first place or they simply forget that they were working on it in its entirety and move onto other things they feel are more challenging. These things really happen – you ought to see the number of things I start writing that either never reach fruition or fizzle out…if I revisit them today, they move forward hesitatingly again until that fateful moment that they get forgotten about.

Since I am in no manner as productive as Prince, as musically talented or as in demand as to my product (I’d like to think I can turn a phrase or two sometimes, however), the dilemma becomes whether he left explicit instructions for his family members following his passing. It is possible that he detailed out what to do with this vault of recordings down to the T and his family will follow them faithfully. It is possible that he dictated that those recordings never reach the ears of the civilized world, which would be a true tragedy. Then again, the family may go against any of Prince’s postmortem wishes (or a court might) and just release things as they need the money and it will seem as if Prince never left us.

The worst thing that could happen is that Prince’s family sells the rights to Prince’s legacy to either a record company or another artist. This is what happened in the 80s when Jackson bought the rights to The Beatles catalog (and destroyed the friendship he had with Sir Paul McCartney, who encouraged him to get into music rights ownership, over the issue). Simply the material that is in public today should be enough for Prince’s family to be able to not only live well but be able to erect some sort of appropriate way to memorialize their loved one who left far too soon. To sell off his legacy in such a manner would be heresy to his memory.

I personally hope that we do get some more QUALITY Prince material – in my opinion, there’s a reason that Prince put those recordings in a vault…he didn’t feel that they were of the standard that he wanted his audience to hear. But if his family were to deem those recordings should stay unheard by the public – or if Prince himself explicitly dictated that they weren’t to be released (the worst thing to hear would be that they would be destroyed – it would seem like another fire at the Library of Alexandria for music lovers), then those wishes would have to be respected. There is one thing that is clear – we’d love to not be thinking about this issue and instead wondering when Prince would either perform next or what would be the general groove of his next album.

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2016 Grammys: Who Will Win? Who Should Win?

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By now, most of you might have learned something about my background. If not, for 20-odd years of my life I worked in the radio industry as a music director and DJ. I worked in pretty much every format that you could imagine and reached what was, at that time, one of the Top 75 markets in the United States in North Carolina, a pretty nice achievement. I was also reaching that age that, if you weren’t working as the program director, in other areas of station management or on the morning or afternoon drive teams, you weren’t going to be sticking around the industry for much longer. Thus came one day when I woke up and decided to move on rather than have the door hit me in the ass somewhere down the road.

The love affair that I’ve had with the Grammys dates back prior to my days in radio, back to my love for music overall (something else that I’ve written about here) in my youth. As I grew up, the artists that I saw on television or heard on the radio became the things that I looked for in the record stores and tried to learn about through other media. In doing this, I also learned to find out about new music and artists and try to figure out what would be the “next big thing” in music. When it became a career in radio, that love of music made it seem more fun than actually having a job could ever be.

Time has gone on and, even though I don’t have a radio job that requires that I know every intimate detail about an artist as I used to have to know, I still love the music industry. I’d go back on the radio – even satellite radio (a gig on Radio Margaritaville or some of the other channels on SiriusXM Radio would be nirvana) – in a heartbeat if someone offered me a gig. Thus, when Grammys Weekend rolls around, you know where I will be come Monday evening and the awards show.

The artists that are nominated this year aren’t necessarily my favorites – and one, Taylor Swift, I would rather listen to two cats fighting in a box made of chalkboards and filled with aluminum foil than listen to – but even now I am still knowledgeable about their work. Therefore, I’ve scanned the Crystal Ball to see who will win the Grammys for the biggest prizes of the night and I will also offer up who I believe should have won the Grammy. To be honest, sometimes the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences (NARAS) is completely off base, either going too artistic or not really honoring the best work from the year…more often, it’s not honoring the best work of the year!

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ALBUM OF THE YEAR

Sound & Color, Alabama Shakes
To Pimp a Butterfly, Kendrick Lamar
1989, Taylor Swift
Traveller, Chris Stapleton
Beauty Behind the Madness, The Weeknd

Who Should Win:  While I am partial to Alabama Shakes and Brittany Howard’s bluesy guitar and howling-wolf vocals, Lamar would be the best artistic choice out of this mix. Lamar’s album dominated the R&B charts for the year and “Alright” was an excellent tune. I could also go for Stapleton or The Weeknd…anyone but who will probably get it.

Who Will Win:  Swift was basically shut out of the Grammys last year as “Shake it Off” won her exactly ZERO awards. The problem here is that Alabama Shakes and Singleton are basically going to cut up one side of the vote – the “rocker” vote – and Lamar and The Weeknd are going to divvy up the R&B side of the equation. That leaves the lane wide open for Swift to slip through the cracks (and she can do that easy – I’ve seen more curves on a 2X4) and steal this award. It would also shut up her fan base that says the Grammys don’t “respect” her as an artist (there’s a reason for that…Swift ISN’T one!).

RECORD OF THE YEAR

“Really Love,” D’Angelo and the Vanguard
“Uptown Funk!” Mark Ronson featuring Bruno Mars
“Thinking Out Loud,” Ed Sheeran
“Blank Space,” Taylor Swift
“Can’t Feel My Face,” The Weeknd

Who Should Win:  I said it when it came out that “Uptown Funk!” was one of the catchiest pieces of music that I’ve ever heard; for the Grammy voters not to recognize Ronson and Mars for their work here would be unforgiveable.

Who Will Win:  I think the Grammy voters will agree with me here. The only problem is that the song may have been too far back in memory for some to recall how good it was. I could see The Weeknd possibly taking this or, in a real surprise, Sheeran for his ballad (the Grammy voters do like themselves a ballad to vote for).

SONG OF THE YEAR

“See You Again,” Wiz Khalifa featuring Charlie Puth
“Alright,” Kendrick Lamar
“Girl Crush,” Little Big Town
“Blank Space,” Taylor Swift
“Thinking Out Loud,” Ed Sheeran

Who Should Win:  The song that got me this year was the Khalifa/Puth duet from the movie Furious 7. The song’s usage, coupled with the death of actor Paul Walker, made it a tremendously poignant song and one that had an impact on many people. It was such a heart-wrencher that, during the People’s Choice Awards, actor Vin Diesel broke into song – and tears – singing this song to honor Walker as he accepted the award for Best Film.

Who Will Win:  If he is overlooked on the Album of the Year race, this is where Grammy voters will try to make it up to Lamar. It is also possible that this could be said to Sheeran, too, should he not win Record of the Year.

BEST NEW ARTIST

Courtney Barnett
James Bay
Sam Hunt
Tori Kelly
Meghan Trainor

Who Should Win:  Tori Kelly has perhaps the richest voice that I’ve heard in quite some time. She’s probably going to be the artist that has the best career out of this bunch, but that doesn’t mean anything right now. This is a category that once honored A Taste of Honey over Elvis Costello and The Cars, remember that.

Who Will Win:  It’s Trainor’s award to lose. She’s by far had the most commercial success with “All About That Bass” and her debut album and she does bring that “doo wop meets hip hop” sound that Grammy voters think is so unique (sorry, my sarcasm monster escaped). There’s sometimes you shouldn’t combine musical genres and this is one of them.

BEST POP VOCAL ALBUM

Piece by Piece, Kelly Clarkson
How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful, Florence + The Machine
Uptown Special, Mark Ronson
1989, Taylor Swift
Before This World, James Taylor

Who Should Win:  Readers will know that I have a tremendous admiration for Florence +The Machine and they should win this award hands down. How Big…, from start to finish, was the most complete work that the band has ever done and should be recognized (also wonder why it isn’t nominated in the Alternative category, but I digress). I’ve also enjoyed Clarkson for years, but this last album wasn’t her best work.

Who Will Win: Once again, if Swift doesn’t get any of the “big” awards, this would fall to her as a consolation prize. I could also see the Grammy voters pulling a fast one here, though.

James Taylor getting nominated in this category would be prime for one of those idiotic moments in Grammy history when someone is honored WAY past their prime (don’t get me wrong, this isn’t to say Taylor’s latest album isn’t any good, it just isn’t his best work) for their career. Other examples of this would be Steely Dan’s 2001 Grammy win for Album of the Year for Two Against One (over more deserving subjects as Eminem, Paul Simon, Radiohead and Beck) and the inaugural Hard Rock/Metal Performance Vocal or Instrumental Grammy in 1989, which went to Jethro Tull over Metallica (still one of the greatest tragedies in Grammy voting).

BEST ROCK ALBUM

Chaos and the Calm, James Bay
Kintsugi, Death Cab for Cutie
Mister Asylum, Highly Suspect
Drones, Muse
.5:  The Gray Chapter, Slipknot

Who Should Win:  One of the breakout bands of 2016, Highly Suspect should be the ones who walk on the stage on Monday night to pick up this award. Other than Best New Artist, however, Grammy voters are wont to giving out accolades to newcomers (unless said newcomer just blows everyone out of the water); they are more apt to vote for those that have paid their dues in the business. Hence…

Who Will Win:  This is an easy one for Muse to take home. Although Drones is quite a distance from their best work (I’ve always been partial to The Resistance myself), Muse has put the required time in and it is their time to be rewarded. With only one Grammy win, Slipknot (2006 for Best Metal Performance for “Before I Forget”) might also be in the mix.

BEST ALTERNATIVE MUSIC ALBUM

Sound & Color, Alabama Shakes
Vulnicura, Bjork
The Waterfall, My Morning Jacket
Currents, Tame Impala
Star Wars, Wilco

Who Should Win:  I have to admit, I haven’t given this band much of a listen, but many in the industry say that Tame Impala is one of the big up and comers in the Alternative scene. Perhaps when I see them come up on Sirius XM I’ll give them a stronger listen because, at this point, they really have failed to grasp my attention – but, then again, I might not be the audience that they are targeting!

Who Will Win:  Once again, we come back to one of those “if you don’t…/then you will…” situations. If Alabama Shakes doesn’t garner Album of the Year, this is going to be their consolation prize.

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BEST COUNTRY ALBUM

Montevallo, Sam Hunt
Pain Killer, Little Big Town
The Blade, Ashley Monroe
Pageant Material, Kacey Musgraves
Traveller, Chris Stapleton

Who Should Win:  In her sophomore effort, Musgraves has shown she is going to be a force to be reckoned with on the country music scene (and one of the few country artists that I like). She could have stuck close to what won her the Best Country Album Grammy in 2013 (for Same Trailer Different Park) but Musgraves instead chose to challenge herself by moving in a more artistic direction both lyrically and musically. In a genre that likes its artists to stay in their lanes, Musgraves is pretty refreshing.

Who Will Win:  Unfortunately for Musgraves, Stapleton is kind of unseating her in the “individuality” streak. A longtime bluegrass and country musician and writer who backed up such diverse artists as Adele and Brad Paisley and written songs with Peter Frampton, Sheryl Crow and Vince Gill, Stapleton finally decided to step out from the shadows and show himself. The resulting effort was Traveller which, if it doesn’t garner any big awards, should see the country side of the aisle recognize his efforts at the minimum.

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So what do you see as the big awards for the Grammys come Monday night? Or will you even be watching? Who knows, we may see Lady Gaga, during her tribute to late, legendary David Bowie, actually come out dressed as the Thin White Duke himself!

A Treatise Remembering the Thin White Duke

Many years ago, I was but a wee one who was still trying to forge my identity, my signature, my own style, if you will. At that age perhaps it was a bit young to even think about things like that, but everything you go through at that age would help hammer you into what you will become. I always had an interest in the space program – this was a time after NASA had landed astronaut Neil Armstrong on the moon, but also just after the failure of Apollo 13 put the kibosh on moon missions for a period. I also was beginning to build an interest in music, although in the beginning only one format was made available.

My mom and father were both avowed country music fans – to the point of using that line from The Blues Brothers where Joliet Jake and Elwood ask the woman what type of music was played in the honky tonk bar they’ve arrived at and she says, “Both types:  country and western” – so there wasn’t much beyond the staples of the time in the house:  Conway Twitty, Tammy Wynette, Loretta Lynn…you know, the basics. If there was some “renegade” country music played, it was George Jones or perhaps Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings or something along that level. I always knew that there was something else out there, especially when I poked around through my mom’s album collection and saw bands that looked nothing like the country artists she listened to, folks like The Supremes, The Temptations, The Four Tops, Jefferson Airplane…I knew someday I had to hear those groups.

Fortunately, that day came much sooner than either my mom or father ever thought would be possible. My father had another son by another woman, my half-brother Monty, who sometimes came around when he was “in the area.” On one of those trips, my half-brother and I ended up riding around in his Monte Carlo, for no apparent reason, when he finally said to me, “Hey, you like space…here’s something you should check out.” He pulled out a cassette and popped it into the player. After a few moments, the intro to David Bowie’s “Space Oddity” and its fade-in synthesizers gently entered my mind for the first time.

From the first listen to that song, I was hooked not only on the artist but on the music. The guitars, the lyrical storytelling, everything was there that was in country music, it just seemed better in this format. Monty would move on a few days later – leaving the cassette with me – and I would wear it out. I only saw him a few more times over my young life and, to this day, do not actually know whether he is alive or not.

When I heard about the death of David Bowie this morning from cancer at the age of 69, I remembered that time long ago in my life and how much that Bowie had been interlaced with my existence. The days of “Space Oddity”, of course, begat the Ziggy Stardust Era of Bowie’s work, where he took on the persona of an outer space alien that came to Earth. The music that emerged from that era – “Starman,” “Jean Genie” and “John, I’m Only Dancing” being particularly memorable – seemed to be something that others in what was called “rock music” weren’t doing.

Then came the stage of Bowie’s career that I particularly enjoyed. Blending the sounds of rock, soul, German and synthesizer music, the Thin White Duke epitomized the cool of the 70s. Supposedly an offshoot of his character from the film The Man Who Fell to Earth, the Duke was a distantly cool but always in tune person. Unfortunately, Bowie probably was able to draw the ability to conceive such a character – as I learned later in life – because of massive amounts of drug use (while drug use can help artistic performance and development, it can also be the destroyer of those same worlds).

Fortunately for Bowie, he was able to emerge on the other side for what was arguably his greatest phase of his career. Following a few Brian Eno/German influenced albums (especially Low and Lodger), the 80s would be where Bowie would truly bloom. Perhaps because of the video element added by MTV – or perhaps because of his own development as an artist – Bowie would crank out his finest work in this decade. Scary Monsters (and Super Freaks), Let’s Dance, Tonight and his work with Queen on “Under Pressure,” his Live Aid performance and his duet with Mick Jagger on “Dancin’ In The Street” all gave Bowie the credit as an artist that he truly deserved. He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1996 and, over the two decades since then, has simply delighted us fans with everything he ever did (and this is completely glossing over all the work he did in films and on stage as an actor).

And I’ve been fortunate enough to have been there for most all of it.

Bowie was formative in my early years and during my career in radio. That era of the 1980s was his heyday and was the apex of my career in Album Oriented Rock (AOR) radio and, in reflecting back on those times, it always seemed as if Bowie was just ever so slightly ahead of the curve, as he had been since his days of “Space Oddity” and Ziggy Stardust. Even after I left the radio business, his later work still had that artistic edge, looking forward to the next big thing, that was always the benchmark of Bowie’s life and career, whether it was in music, acting, art or a myriad of other areas he would dip his fingers into.

Perhaps it is a sign of age, or the passing of time, when we begin to lose our heroes, be they athletic, musical, acting or even familial, that it begins to hurt the worst. Even from my time in radio, I’ve been unfortunate to see men younger than me pass away:  Jani Lane of Warrant and Scott Weiland of Stone Temple Pilots are two who come to mind off the bat, but their deaths were from their own problems and issues. Even some of the greats that I thought I’d have in my old age, like Stevie Ray Vaughan, were unable to join me in potentially making it to my rocking chair. Lemmy just passed and some of the others, like Bruce Springsteen and others, are on the other side of 60; hell, Bono only has a few years on me!

David Bowie led one of the most remarkable lives that mankind can even imagine. He was at the forefront of his generation, but he was also mindful of his place in the world. He was an artist, but he also appreciated the beauty in the work of others. The world is a much darker place without the visage of the Thin White Duke looking down upon it.

So Who SHOULD Be In The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame?

Last week, the nominations came out for the 2016 Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and, at the very end of my thoughts, I posited the question, “Who should have been nominated?” Mind you, the list of nominees was outstanding overall: longtime overlooked acts such as Chicago, Deep Purple and Yes getting nominated again (and three bands that I believe are long overdue the honor), newcomers like Janet Jackson, The Cars and Cheap Trick (all no votes) and outside shots such as The J.B.’s (another vote in from me), Chic (no) and N.W.A. (yes). However, there were several other artists that should have been on this year’s ballot if not already inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.

The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame is personal to me because of my long love affair with music. Despite the factor that I could never play an instrument with any high level of competence, I admire those that can create art out of music, words, melodies and thoughts. While it could be said that writing is something like that, the songwriter and/or musician is an artist that encompasses different aspects, pulling them into one cohesive idea. Thus, I’ve always been a huge fan of music overall and rock music in particular.

My first introduction to rock music dates back to someone who, unfortunately, I don’t know if they’re still alive. The year was 1971 and, riding around in a car with my half-brother Monty (his real name could have been Montague, don’t really remember) on a hot summer day, saw him pop a cassette into the tape deck. Suddenly the mystifying tones of David Bowie’s “Space Oddity” came pounding out of the speakers and, as I listened to the words and music, I was transported (you have to remember, these were the heady days of NASA’s Apollo space program) to being “Major Tom” and traveling through space myself.

From there, it was a quick indoctrination into the world of music. My mother had the classics – Johnny Cash, Merle Haggard, Waylon and Willie and others – from the country music side, but she also had such gems as The Temptations, The Supremes and other R&B acts from the 60s in the record cabinet. My investigations in the rock music genre touched on Santana, The Who, Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young and James Taylor, then began to branch out into the harder edged rock of ZZ Top, KISS and Led Zeppelin, among others (on a personal note, was always more of a Rolling Stones guy than the Beatles).

As the mid-70s passed, punk rock became the next touchstone. The Sex Pistols, New York Dolls, The Ramones – these were the gates to pass through on the way to adulthood. As I reached high school, not only was it the disco era but it was almost time for the double shotgun-blast of the New Wave from England and MTV, opening the world even further (and we cannot go on without also recognizing the New Wave of British Heavy Metal). As I had to be a part of the music scene, I did the only logical thing a person with little to no musical talent could do – I became a DJ.

Through the 1980s and well into the 1990s, I plugged along as a DJ at pretty much every radio format that you could think of doing. Album-Oriented Rock (AOR), Top 40, easy listening, R&B, adult contemporary, news/talk – about the only thing I didn’t do was country (much like “country” music today, there’s a thin line between what was country music then and pop music). Along the way, there were some great times had in the conduct of my job and…well, let’s just save those stories for another time.

Hopefully you see that who gets in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame is important, at least to me. It isn’t “live or die” important, mind you, but it is something that I want to show my son one day and say, “Yeah, I saw them, they were great.” Maybe we will sit down and listen to a CD or, pray tell, if we still have vinyl by then, an album, and talk about music and its history. He’s got a great musical ear, however, so he may be entertaining me with his music rather than our just listening to it.

OK, getting sappy here…

My criteria for putting someone in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame would be somewhat along the lines of what poker uses for its Hall of Fame. These are the criteria that I would use in putting someone in the Rock Hall:

1. Length of career with sustained critical or commercial excellence
2. Influence on a genre of music or on several artists
3. Respect from fellow musicians

Pretty simple, wouldn’t you say? Alas, there are some glaring errors in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. How about some of these artists, bands and contributors?

Warren Zevon – The singer-songwriter born in Chicago has been overlooked for far too long when it comes to the Rock Hall. Responsible for writing such songs as “Poor, Poor Pitiful Me” (covered by far too many artists to list but most notably by Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inductee Linda Ronstadt), Zevon was a part of the California scene in the mid-70s, working with such people as Jackson Browne, Neil Young, members of the Eagles and counting Bruce Springsteen amongst his admirers.

When it came to his own efforts, Zevon was beyond compare. Along with his iconic “Werewolves of London,” Zevon penned and performed such classics as “Lawyers, Guns and Money,” “Roland the Headless Thompson Gunner,” “Accidently Like a Martyr,” and “Keep Me in Your Heart,” which was nominated for a Grammy after Zevon’s death in 2003. With a career that spanned more than 30 years, commercial and critical success and the respect of your fellow musicians, there’s no one more deserving than Zevon for induction into the Hall.

Jimmy Buffett – Another product of the singer-songwriter era of the early 70s, Buffett is notable for forging his own path in the music industry. When I say his own path, I mean he created a whole GENRE of music that didn’t exist before – let’s call it “tropical rock,” music with a Caribbean/calypso/reggae/country feel that didn’t fit neatly into any of the “categories” of music in the 1970s (and still doesn’t today, to be honest). Buffett himself has said about that period, “I wasn’t country enough to be played on those stations and I wasn’t rock enough to be played on AOR.”

The way to beat that? Write a song like “Margaritaville” that transcended any charts, genres or radio stations. Today that song has led Buffett into the world of literature, casino and hotel ownership and a “40-year summer job” that the man still enjoys to this day as he approaches 70. He’s influenced a host of country musicians (the Zac Brown Band is a prime example) and, as owner of a recording studio and a record company (Mailboat Records) is ensuring that the “tropical rock” he created will have outlets for the future.

The Runaways – While Joan Jett went in with The Blackhearts last year, she really should have gone in with The Runaways because, without them, there is no Joan Jett.

The Runaways were “created” by producer Kim Fowley who, having drummer Sandy West and guitarist Jett in the fold, was looking to create a “jailbait” band of teenaged girls who could rock out just as well as any group of guys. First found by the group was Micki Steele, who didn’t last long but went on to join The Bangles, before gold was struck with guitar virtuoso Lita Ford, vocalist Cherie Currie and bassist Jackie Fox to fill out the roster. With the group lineup set, The Runaways broke ground as one of the first female hard rock/metal acts to ever have any success in the recording industry.

From the seminal track “Cherry Bomb” to other tunes such as “Queens of Noise” and “I Love Playin’ with Fire” (covered by Jett during her Blackheart days), the band earned a great deal of attention and respect in the industry. The members of the group went on to arguably better success as solo artists or in other creative endeavors, but they were the ones who helped to get such groups as The Bangles, The Go-Gos, Vixen and rock “chicks” like Pat Benatar, Chrissie Hynde and Deborah Harry (among many others) in the door. It is arguable that, without The Runaways, some if not all of these women wouldn’t have gotten into the industry.

Judas Priest – This is one of those omissions by the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame that is inexcusable. A band that has sold 45 million albums, generated rock anthems such as “Breaking the Law,” “You’ve Got Another Thing Comin’,” “Heading Out To The Highway,” “Living After Midnight”…I could go on, but you get the point. So what has kept them out?

Over the years, the band has been targeted in various arenas outside of music. They were accused of using subliminal messages in their album British Steel that allegedly caused two men to try to kill themselves. They’ve been targeted by conservative Christian groups for their musical content and singer Rob Halford has taken some sabbaticals from the band over the decades. But when you have a list of bands that were influenced by you such as Metallica, Megadeth and Pantera (among others), you’ve done your job well.

There are a slew of other artists that could be held up for consideration – The Carpenters, Kate Bush, Slayer, Bon Jovi, Thin Lizzy, Motorhead – and maybe they are just waiting for their time. There are also those “pop” artists that I am overlooking, but this is the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, after all. If you’re waiting for a time that “works,” however, take it from someone who watches how these Halls of Fame work – if you don’t get in within your first couple of years of eligibility, your chances of getting in get worse as time goes by. All the artists listed here deserve to have their place in the pantheon of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame…now will anyone listen and induct them?