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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Does EVERYTHING Have to be Political Nowadays?

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Yesterday was one of the more fun days of the entire calendar year, unless you had a dog in the hunt or lots of cash riding on the myriad of outcomes. Super Bowl LI (51 if your Roman numeral translator is on the fritz) featured the scrappy, underdog Atlanta Falcons versus the dastardly and favored New England Cheaters Patriots in the battle for the National Football League championship for 2016. The game itself – once again, depending on who you rooted for – was arguably one of the best in history. But what was the recurring theme that ran through pretty much everything that happened yesterday indicates a particularly troubling aspect that is occurring in our society.

I started watching about 4PM (Eastern Time), usually the time when the new Super Bowl ads start showing, but what showed up on the screen? The Resident, sitting down with Fox News “editorial commentator” (because he damn sure isn’t a journalist) Bill O’Reilly, discussing politics. Now I am pretty sure that President Barack Obama was the first president to sit down with whichever network was broadcasting the Super Bowl game – Obama, if nothing else, is a huge sports fan – and the networks, especially Fox, used that time to get political with the man in the White House. The bigger question is why did this relatively young “tradition” need to continue?

It isn’t about the politics. There are enough times that The Resident can get on television, can get on the internet or even online. There’s scant little time in today’s world when you can get a respite from the onslaught of politics. That would be proven as Super Bowl Sunday wore on.

Reports from several outlets stated that the entirety of the pre-game and halftime shows – featuring the cast members of the musical Hamilton and the outstanding entertainment prowess of six-time Grammy winner Lady Gaga, respectively – were being broadcast by Fox on a five second delay shouldn’t have surprised anyone, but it seemed that everyone was SHOCKED by this travesty. Fox, it seemed, was “violating” free speech rights of the performers by potentially editing their performances (albeit about the best they would be able to do is hit a “mute” button). This seemed to upset many, but it really shouldn’t have.

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Since the 2004 Super Bowl and “Nipplegate,” every live event has been put on a delay, in theory to allow for the producers/directors to switch cameras or to mute the audio should someone utter one of George Carlin’s “Seven Dirty Words.” I’ve actually watched sporting events on television where one of the players involved in the game action utters an expletive and it is muted by whichever network is broadcasting the game rather than aired (that doesn’t mean there aren’t instances it slips through). It goes back a bit further than that to 2003 when U2 singer Bono, while accepting an award at the Golden Globes for their work on the soundtrack for the film Gangs of New York, said that receiving the award was “really, really fucking brilliant.” The blood running from the ears of those whose sensitivities were violated brought about this change, it wasn’t something that came from the election of The Resident and his vociferous supporters.

What it did demonstrate is that virtually everything that goes on nowadays is being viewed through the political prism whether it is applicable or not. It isn’t a new phenomenon, either, as I can recall back to the Bill Clinton administration when an innocent online discussion about gender inequality or even minimum wage increases would normally have one idiot that would bring up the Monica Lewinsky situation or some other political hot topic and go off the rails. That is the first point where, if there were some travesty that occurred or situation that defied whatever “norms” people assigned to something that the phrase “Blame (insert President here),” happened. Since then, it’s only gotten worse.

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Talk about how changing light bulbs from incandescent to LED can save energy and money? Fucking Obama (it was actually President Bush II who signed the order in 2007 to make it law)! FEDEX has to buy more tires because the roads are bad (not the potential 100,000 miles that they put on each set in a short time span)? Government pricks! “Censoring” Lady Gaga from singing on the Super Bowl? Motherfuckers at Fox! How DARE they! An actor makes a statement in support of the current President? Racist bastard (actor Matthew McConaughey was castigated by liberals for suggesting that everyone “give The Resident a chance” despite the fact that he never endorsed him. The Neo-Nazi website Breitbart, however, all but promoted McConaughey for sainthood for “defying the Hollywood elite” despite not knowing just who the hell he is)!

While politics is something that people can believe passionately about, it isn’t and shouldn’t be interwoven into every goddamned thing that we do in our existence. There is the ability to turn on the television and simply watch a television show or a movie without it being some sort of allegorical statement about our world today. There are the chances to listen to music or read where the subject matter isn’t about one political side or the other. There is plenty of sad realities of life that occur that politics doesn’t even touch, let alone have any effect on. There are also plenty of joys that never see a political side.

The same can be applicable to people. While you may find that you like someone – maybe even love them – very much but they have a different political philosophy than you, that in no sense is a reason to get rid of them. There are plenty of areas outside of that one miniscule part of life that makes those people enjoyable for 99.5% of the time. It makes literally no sense to excommunicate someone from your circle simply because of that reason alone (the same is also true of religion and being a believer/non-believer, but that’s a discussion for another time).

Does that mean that you must listen to everyone? No, not in the least. For example, if someone believes that there were 3-5 million illegals who voted in the 2016 Presidential campaign even though EVERY SHRED OF EVIDENCE says otherwise – then it is best to not discuss political topics with that person. That STILL doesn’t mean they can’t be important to you and your life, you just choose not to share that tiny segment of the world.

Then there are those that show themselves to be so inflexible in dogma that discussion cannot move forward one iota. Those are the people that you cannot do anything about (you’re not going to change their mind). It is best to disassociate from those, even though at one time they might have been a valuable person.

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It is important to say that, if someone broaches the political issue with their commentary, then it is free game. Actor Meryl Streep was roundly castigated by the conservatives for her comments during this year’s Golden Globe awards. Likewise, singer Toby Keith was lambasted by liberals for playing The Resident’s inauguration. THOSE are situations where politics could enter the discussion, when someone is actually exercising their free speech rights, not when it is what someone MIGHT do once they hit the stage or get a microphone in front of them. It is very much a Schrödinger’s Cat paradox in that you don’t know what you’re going to get until you “look in the box” – the actual moment that a particular artistic situation presents itself.

With the above said, everyone could chill out a bit instead of injecting politics into every waking moment of our lives. We need those moments to decompress, to take time to examine instances that arise in the political spectrum and come up with thoughts that help us develop as people and perhaps as informed members of a community. To apply the political litmus test to everything in your existence sounds like a way to perpetually live in either fear or anger.

Halestorm’s “ReAniMate 3.0,” Letters from the Fire’s “Worth the Pain” Two Worthy Hard Rock Efforts

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I’ve long been a music aficionado, especially the hard rock/metal genre. Sure, I’ll enjoy a Billy Joel concert (as I did most recently in Orlando) or even the newer pop music out there (my lovely wife and I went to the 2016 Jingle Ball, featuring Pitbull, Fifth Harmony, Martin Garrix, Chainsmokers and many other artists residing in the Top 40 today), but I always come back to my home. Perhaps it is the power of the guitars or the political nature of many of the lyrics (yes, they are saying something with their words and commentary – take the time to read the liner notes if you miss them the first time around), but hard rock/metal speaks to me more than many other genres in the industry.

Honestly, today’s hard rock/metal scene isn’t your granddaddy’s brand. The blues rock that such groups as Led Zeppelin, Cream, the Who and the Rolling Stones (yes, I am going to toss them in the hard rock genre – for their time, they were the “punks” of their era) bear little resemblance to the power drivers such as Metallica, Disturbed or even more pop-driven hard rock/metal bands like Breaking Benjamin or Shinedown. But they’re still hard rock/metal and still damned entertaining in their own right.

There’s a great deal of hard rock/metal out there right now, but these are two efforts that have caught my ear of late. If you’re looking for some great music, you might want to look these up.

Halestorm, ReAniMate 3.0

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Halestorm is one of the preeminent bands in the hard rock/metal genre today. Powered by the blistering vocals of Lzzy Hale (who happens to throw in badass guitar work also), the nimble and crushing lead guitars of Joe Hottinger and the guttural tempo setters in bassist Josh Smith and drummer AreJay Hale (Lzzy’s brother), Halestorm is one of the most popular acts in the business. That perch has allowed them to take on some pet projects, including the continuation of this series of cover EPs.

ReAniMate 3.0: The CoVeRs eP is the third in a series of “cover Eps” that Halestorm has issued over their career. The first, naturally called ReAniMate: The CoVeRs eP and released in 2011, brought a diverse selection of songs such as Lady Gaga’s “Bad Romance” (one of the best covers of all-time in this writer’s opinion), the Beatles’ “I Want You (She’s So Heavy)” and Skid Row’s “Slave to the Grind” under one artist. In each case, Halestorm took the songs and added their own touches to them, basically creating their own versions of songs people thought they knew (the exact challenge facing anyone who takes on a previously released tune).

That highly successful EP (how successful? A recent eBay auction for a signed copy of the CD went for $175) begged for a follow up and, after releasing a CD of their own material, Halestorm obliged their fans. ReAniMate 2.0: The CoVeRs eP was released in 2103 and followed in the same format as the first. This time around, Hale & Company took on Judas Priest (“Dissident Aggressor”), Daft Punk (“Get Lucky”), Pat Benatar (a natural in “Hell is for Children”) and Fleetwood Mac (“Gold Dust Woman”). It also seemed to leave the audience wanting more and, earlier this month, Halestorm would deliver again.

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ReAniMate 3.0: The CoVeRs eP rockets out of the gate with arguably the best song on the disc. The remake of Whitesnake’s “Still of the Night” gets the unmistakable treatment from Hale and her mates, hedging close enough to the original that it is familiar but applying their own touch. Hale’s voice gives Whitesnake lead man David Coverdale a run for his money and the rest of the band is more than able to power out the song.

The second-best song on 3.0 is Halestorm’s take on the Joan Jett and the Blackhearts classic “I Hate Myself for Loving You.” On the first two discs, Hale and her group did not touch any Jett tunes, either solo or from her days in the Runaways. It seems as if it would be a perfect match and, in this case, it was, as Halestorm takes the Jett standard to new heights.

There was one clunker on the disc, however. I never was a fan of Sophie B. Hawkins and perhaps that is why I didn’t really care for the Halestorm remake of “Damn, I Wish I Was Your Lover.” While Hale can pull off the poppy tunes like this (and she’s already put some country artists to shame who dared try to match her on stage), it didn’t work for the remainder of the band, in my thought. This is the only down point of the record, however, as the rest of ReAniMate 3.0: The CoVeRs more than makes up for it. These cover Eps are nice, but it really whets the appetite for original Halestorm material that is supposed to come later this year.

Letters from the Fire, Worth the Pain

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Trying to reach the rarefied air that Halestorm exists in, the band Letters from the Fire have had a jaded history. Originally formed in 2007 as Park Lane, guitarist Mike Keller and high school friend Grayson Hurd found bassist Clayton Wages and singer Eliot Weber and mucked around the San Francisco area, eventually changing their name to Letters from the Fire in 2012. Following their debut release Rebirth, there was apparently another overhaul of the band, with Cameron Stuckey coming on as rhythm guitarist and, perhaps most importantly, shifting from Weber’s male voice to the female voice of Alexa Kabazie (with Hurd and Weber departing).

The changes have made a great deal of difference for Letters from the Fire. Their latest full-length album, Worth the Pain, is a magnum opus of their career. From start to finish, Keller, Kabazie and Company have put their entire heart and soul into the record. For that effort, they have created a 13-track crusher of an album.

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Where to start with the best songs of Worth the Pain? It comes out of the gate with “Perfect Life,” featuring Keller’s excellent lead guitar efforts and Kabazie’s emotional and powerful vocals. “Mother Misery” continues the high level of excellence out of the band and “Give in to Me” is simply outstanding. The title track is a powerful tune…it is angry, aggressive, and appropriate. “My Angel” has excellent tempo and mood changes throughout the song and “Holy Ghost” starts quietly but turns into a raging storm by the end.

If there were one qualm to have with this record from Letters from the Fire, it would be that the lyrical content could reach out a bit more. Most of the songs are of the “fuck you, you broke my heart” sentiment; there are indicators, though, that the band could stretch beyond this with some deeper lyrics. As this is the first effort from this lineup, it really raises some expectations for the follow up.

Letters from the Fire’s Worth the Pain is reminiscent of Amy Lee and Evanescence, but to lop them in with that band would be doing them a disservice. They’ve got the chops to stand on their own and they’ve got the experience. Now it is just a matter of driving to the end and the success that they seem destined for…and Letters from the Fire seem to have the spirit to do just that.

The Democrats: Calm as a Duck On Top of the Water…

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After the debacle that was the Republican National Demolition Derby last week (really didn’t think it was possible to bottle up that much hatred in one room), the Democrats get their turn in the barrel for the next four days. Starting today up until former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is nominated on Thursday, the Democratic National Committee will throw their shindig in Philadelphia to nominate their choice for President and the proceedings have the appearance of a duck. If you know anything about ducks, they look calm and placid on top of the water, but they’re paddling like hell underneath it to keep everything moving.

It pretty much seems that, at every step along the way, the Democrats have tried to shoot themselves in the foot at every opportunity that they get. 2016 was supposed to be the year that they were supposed to reward Clinton for her patience after getting beaten in 2008 by Barack Obama and, for the most part, the major players that could have given her issues stayed out of the way. Vice President Joe Biden didn’t have it in his heart following the passing of his son and other prominent Democrats lacked the national name recognition to be able to mount a charge (looking at you here, Martin O’Malley). But the DNC was definitely caught with their pants down when it came to a certain septuagenarian from New England.

Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont caught on to the wave of voter disdain for those in Washington (despite him being a part of the Washington scene for the past 25 years) and threw the first of several monkey wrenches into the coronation of Clinton. The first warning shot came in Iowa, where Clinton eked out the slimmest of victories over Sanders, and continued onward. At some points, Sanders would pull off the impossible – evidenced by his win in Michigan – and many, especially younger voters, were enthused by the policies espoused by Sanders (free college, $15/hour minimum wage, etc.).

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Sanders proved to be an excellent foil for Clinton, whipping her into shape for the general election as she had to campaign hard in the Democratic primary to ward off Sanders’ run. Neither would be able to garner the number of delegates outright to be able to earn the nomination, so the choice came down to the super delegates, the members of the Democratic Party who serve as the final arbiter of such decisions. Despite the cries that it was unfair – but, to be honest, Sanders knew the rules and failed to attempt to even woo them before the primaries began (probably because he just joined the Democratic Party to run for President, not because of a long affinition for the group) – super delegates overwhelmingly supported Clinton and, as a result, she will be the nominee Thursday evening.

All is not calm in the Democratic world, however. There are factions of Sanders supporters that, despite what their candidate has said about supporting Clinton and defeating Cheeto Jesus, are behaving like petulant children who will pout because they didn’t get their way. These “supporters” have threatened to either not vote or to vote for another candidate, such as the Libertarian Party’s Gary Johnson or the Green Party’s Jill Stein (who ran an underhanded campaign in offering to give up her nomination for President if Sanders would join their party), to “make their protest known.” There’s only one problem with this:  by doing so, they would be giving the election to the Orangutan Mutant, who would destroy the system far worse than Clinton ever could.

Throw in the perceived voting irregularities, Clinton’s investigations by the Republican-led Senate over Benghazi and the Federal Bureau of Investigation over her private e-mail server, Clinton’s less-than enthusiastic approach to campaigning (the female Clinton has always been a policy wonk, unlike her husband and former President Bill Clinton, who enjoyed the campaigning) and the idea that it was “ordained” by the DNC that Clinton would be the nominee (among other things) and there’s plenty of “paddling like hell” under the water that is occurring.

That doesn’t even begin to add in the latest Democratic shooting of foot. Leaked e-mails from a Russian hack show that the DNC at the minimum wasn’t happy about the Sanders campaign looking to usurp the nomination from Clinton and, at the max, actively was wondering how to stop Sanders’ rise. While none of the e-mails were from Clinton, one e-mail in particular from the Chief Finance Officer of the DNC, Brad Marshall, questioned Sanders’ religious background and whether he was an atheist (many socialists, as Sanders purports to be, are at best areligious and at extreme atheist) and how it could be used against him in certain areas of the country.

Although there is little to no evidence that any action was taken on this or other e-mails, the chair of the DNC, Representative Debbie Wasserman-Schultz of Florida, has been ushered out as the chairman of the DNC effective following the convention (not a big deal as she would have served her term by the end of the November elections) because of the viewed impropriety. This has been something the Sanders campaign has sought for some time because of several perceived slights from Wasserman-Schultz towards the campaign and the scheduling of debates (something that the Sanders campaign agreed to before the campaign started). The actions following Wasserman-Schultz’s announcement aren’t going to soothe anyone’s feelings, however.

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The hiring of Wasserman-Schultz by the Clinton campaign as “honorary chair” of the campaign isn’t going to settle any ruffled feathers. Instead of just letting Wasserman-Schultz lurk behind the scenes and advise the campaign – much like what many think deposed Fox News honcho Roger Ailes will do with the Drumpf campaign since his dismissal – the announcement by the Clinton faction is a stick in the eye to the Sanderites. It is a sign once again that, instead of a placid lake, there are at least ripples in the water.

Alas, as the Democrats converge on the City of Brotherly Love for their convention, their attempts at showing a “united” front seem to be coming apart at the seams. Over the next week, there will be the usual parade of party hierarchy and celebrity speakers (including Lady Gaga – take that, Mr. Oompah Loompah, for star power!), but it is going to be the thoughts of two people that will draw the most attention.

First off will be Sanders and his speech on Monday night. Sanders has already appeared with Clinton on the campaign trail and fully endorsed his former opponent, but it will be how well he can convey that same message, after all of the turmoil of the past few days, and be taken as sincere with his speech. Several other people in the Sanders camp, including his wife Jane and former campaign manager Jeff Weaver, would also be great advocates for Sanders supporters to move on to Clinton.

Hillary Clinton Begins Presidential Campaign In Iowa

The final person who will be able to make an impact is Clinton herself. No matter how many people say good things about her, whether it is family, coworkers, friends or rivals, it will be Clinton’s speech on Thursday night that will sway many opinions. Can she find a way to present the current course of the United States in an optimistic light and show how her Presidency would further the goals of the country? This will be important because of the “doom and gloom” speech that was sputtered last week (hell, the entire Republican National Demolition Derby sounded like the Hellmouth had opened and demon spawn were ravaging the world). If Clinton can show that there is an “adult in the room” and project a solid, stable base for the next Presidency, it could go a great way to winning over people.

But that’s not coming until Thursday. Until that time, we’ll have to see if the Democrats can put it together and not just give the appearance of unity but actually show that it exists. If they are able to overcome their own self-inflicted wounds, then they will come out of Philly with the rockets roaring. If they can’t, then there’s the 4:1 chance that Cheeto Jesus might rise up from the brimstone.

If I Were the President of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame…

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Next weekend, the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame will open up the doors of its enclave for the 31st time to induct new members into its midst. Holding their ceremonies at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, NY, this Friday (April 8), this year’s inductees are quite eclectic, with some of them well deserved and overdue – such as Chicago and Deep Purple – some riding a wave of popularity due to recent attention – the gangsta rap pioneers N.W.A. – and two choices that were a bit surprising – Cheap Trick and Steve Miller. As with many of the ceremonies past, there is a bit of drama as to the festivities.

When it comes to Deep Purple, which incarnation of the band will be inducted? Much of the attention has been given to the late 1960s/early 1970s incarnations – the Mark 1 through Mark 3 versions of the band that featured musicians such as Jon Lord on keyboards, Ian Gillian on vocals, Ritchie Blackmore on guitar, Roger Glover on bass and Ian Paice on drums. Not so much attention has been given to the later renditions of the band that featured future Whitesnake vocalist David Coverdale, so we can pretty much count on the factor that the group of men who gave us milestone classics like “Space Truckin’,” “Smoke on the Water” and “Highway Star” are the ones that the Hall will be inducting.

The second story is will the entirety of Cheap Trick reunite for the show? In 2010, drummer Bun E. Carlos had a rather acrimonious split with singer Robin Zander, guitarist Rick Nielsen and bassist Tom Petersson, one that actually ended up in a courtroom (apparently the three men tried to cut Carlos out of his rightful piece of royalties from the band’s work…the trio lost the case). Since then, the men haven’t spoken, but they will apparently put aside the animosity and play for one night only. According to Nielsen, Carlos “is going to play the inductions because they’re inducting the people who made the records…he deserves it.”

I always get a little reflective when the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame ceremonies come up, mostly because I think there are several people there that shouldn’t be inside the walls without a ticket. Over the 31 years that the voters have put people into this hallowed sanctum, they have besmirched the walls with some who haven’t earned the right to be there. If, for one day, I were the President of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, I would remove these five members forever, correcting the wrongs of the past:

The Beach Boys (1988)

Probably one of the most overrated acts ever in the annals of U. S. music history, all the Beach Boys were is a doo-wop group who moved off the street corner and onto the beach. Their sound had already been created (unless you forgot Dick Dale, another erroneous non-entry into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame) and they very rarely deviated from a set pattern:  beach, surf, multiple girls (you might throw a car in there on a rare occasion). Lather, rinse, repeat. There was nothing that was groundbreaking about them at all; even their supposed masterpiece, Pet Sounds, was Brian Wilson looking to duplicate what producer Phil Spector had done with his “Wall of Sound.”

Madonna (2008)

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By far the most egregious error in the voting annals of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame committee. That Madonna got in the Hall before such people as Alice Cooper, Dr. John, The Crickets (Buddy Holly’s backing band), Heart, Rush and Albert King (just to name a few) is a miscarriage of justice beyond measure. Furthermore, there is no way that you can tell me with a straight face that Madonna had ANY impact on the development of rock music – if the category was POP music, then yes, Madonna’s fingerprints are all over it (hello there, Lady Gaga!). But this is the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and, last I checked, nobody is naming her as a significant influence.

Donovan (2012), Bill Withers (2015) and Steve Miller (2016)

Unfortunately, all of these men fall into the same category:  they all are pretty good at what they did. The problem is we are not electing people into the “Hall of Pretty Good.” This is the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, people!

I know this might sound sacrilegious, but while Withers’ works were memorable (“Ain’t No Sunshine,” “Lean on Me” and “Just the Two of Us” are all outstanding songs), he just didn’t have enough of them. This also could be said for Donovan; name me another song he did outside of “Sunshine Superman” and “Mellow Yellow?” You might be able to sway my thoughts on Miller, but I believe that he’s getting more of a vote on his pedigree (studying at the feet of the legendary Les Paul and Mary Ford as a child will get you those types of votes) than on any outstanding works he wrote or performed. These three men just don’t meet the criteria for what I would call “Hall of Fame material.”

Now that five places in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame have opened up, who should be inducted into those slots? I’m glad you asked. As the President of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, these five artists/bands will be the ones who will take over their rightful places. I’m completely blown away that they aren’t there already, to be honest:

The Runaways

Although Joan Jett is in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame along with her band The Blackhearts, they needed to go back a bit further to actually encapsulate the first band that broke Jett onto the rock scene. The Runaways were the first female hard rock band to enter the scene, led by vocalist Cherie Currie and the dual guitar attack of Lita Ford and Jett (little known fact is that Mikki Steele, who was a member of The Bangles, was originally the bassist for the group). Svengali Kim Fowley pushed the group as a “teenage jailbait” band, but their music was actually pretty damn good. Most known for their hit “Cherry Bomb,” The Runaways were huge stars in Japan and did pretty well in Europe. In the United States, they were before their time, but their members would go on to bigger success as solo artists.

Pat Benatar

Are you fucking kidding me? One of the most successful female rock artists of all-time, definitely one of the Top 50 artists of the 1980s, isn’t in the Hall of Fame yet?

Pat Benatar (who, to the best of my knowledge, has NEVER EVEN BEEN NOMINATED) followed up on the heels of The Runaways, carrying the banner for women in rock with an unapologetic, no-nonsense approach to the genre. Where Benatar took it a step further was she was the one in charge of her career – she didn’t bow to the dictates of a manager and she definitely didn’t kowtow to the record companies. On her VH1Behind the Music,” the story is famously told about the record executives that Benatar famously took down because they tried to sexualize her style early in her career. Perhaps that is why she hasn’t gotten the kudos she’s due…the record industry is still holding a grudge against her. And name me another hard rock singer who has a four-octave range and is classically trained?

Warren Zevon and Jimmy Buffett

You might be saying, “What makes these two guys different than those three you threw out above?” There’s plenty that makes them different!

In the case of Buffett, he literally created a genre of music that didn’t exist before he came along – tropical rock, or “trop rock,” a fusion of so many musical stylings that it is literally impossible to list them all (if you haven’t listened to a Buffett album or been to a Buffett concert and heard at least six musical styles, you must expand your musical knowledge) – and still is at the top of his game more than 40 years after hitting the road. He has a catalog of music that has inspired a host of entertainers today, such as Kenny Chesney, the Zac Brown Band and others from the U. S. and around the world. Finally, he’s a shrewd businessman, turning his biggest song – “Margaritaville” – into a mega-empire that includes restaurants, casinos, a clothing line and a Sirius XM radio station. That “empire” is now a private company that is thought to make hundreds of millions of dollars per year – that’s a nice nest egg to sit back on!

Zevon, who unfortunately passed away in 2003, probably did more for others’ careers than he did his own. He wrote songs that were hits for Linda Ronstadt and worked closely with Jackson Browne and The Eagles before finding some acclaim on his own. Always more of a critical darling, Zevon’s album Excitable Boy (his most commercial effort) brought Zevon’s biggest hit, “Werewolves of London,” while the remainder of his works on the album (including “Roland the Headless Thompson Gunner” and “Lawyers, Guns and Money”) showed his eclectic side. The remainder of his catalog presented an extremely diverse and talented artist who entertained and challenged his audience. Overall, he is highly respected in the music industry for his artistry, his passion and his individuality, things that the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame is supposed to honor.

Judas Priest

With both Chicago and Deep Purple going in this year and with KISS entering in 2014, you might think that there wouldn’t be any more “fan outrage” over artists not being in the Hall. That would be inaccurate, however, until the omission of Judas Priest is corrected.

Judas Priest has, for almost 40 years, been at the forefront of the hard rock/heavy metal genre, carrying the baton from the Led Zeppelin/Deep Purple/Jimi Hendrix/Black Sabbath early days of the game. With singer Rob Halford (or without, as the days of Tim “Ripper” Owens didn’t slow them down any) and the dual guitar attack of Glenn Tipton and K. K. Downing, the definitive style of Judas Priest is recognizable anywhere. They also have been heavily influential in the genre, with such bands as Pantera, Metallica and the New Wave of British Heavy Metal (NWBHM) of the 80s citing them as heroes.

There’s a whole litany of artists and groups I could get into that deserve a place in the pantheon of rock, but my day as President of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame is done. I’ll be watching the induction ceremonies on Friday night (or whenever the hell they’ll be on – thanks HBO!) and celebrating the music of the inductees for 2016. Then it will be time to consider who will be inducted for 2017 and the madness will begin again.

Why Do Women Put Up with Us?

I’ve thought about it before but, over the past couple of weeks, I’ve really begun to wonder in depth how the female part of the species homo sapiens puts up with the male gender. Let’s get beyond the usual stuff – leaving the toilet seat up, “men are from Mars, women are from Venus” generalities – and get down to the brass tacks. In a couple of instances of late from the news, things would be much different if there was a female mind in charge.

ErinAndrews

Earlier this week, Fox Sports sportscaster Erin Andrews was awarded by a Tennessee jury $55 million in damages stemming from a 2008 incident with a “fan.” In that situation, the pervert reversed the peephole in Andrews’ hotel room door in Nashville, TN, and videotaped (with his cellphone) Andrews in the nude as she prepared for her broadcasting duties with her then employer ESPN. The only way the videos were ever found out about was because the asshole decided to try to sell them to TMZ, that great bastion of journalism.

Of course the perv was found and convicted, spending 27 months in jail (far too short if you ask me), but the damage was done. Andrews spent a great deal of time and money in trying to remove them from the internet – something that is virtually impossible – and eventually filed a civil lawsuit against the criminal and the hotel for their negligence (it was alleged that the hotel gave the man extensive information as to Andrews’ whereabouts in the hotel, even putting him in a nearby room to hers). After two weeks of testimony – which included a tearful Andrews recounting, over two days of testimony, how the situation still affects her today in taunts when she is on college campuses and one of the executives of the hotel actually WATCHING THE VIDEO DURING A DINNER MEETING during the trial (for which the executive vehemently apologized – afterwards) – Andrews was awarded $55 million, although she’ll probably never see a nickel of the money (and it probably wasn’t about that, at least for Andrews).

Kesha

While there is a bit of “good” (hey, there’s still a nude video of Andrews out there if you really want to find it) news in that case, another case that has come up isn’t as pleasant. The pop star Kesha’s battle against record producer Dr. Luke was resolved (temporarily) of late, with the courts barring Kesha from doing any recording without it coming from work between her and the producer, whom she claims signed her to a contract at an extremely young age under the influence of drugs. Kesha has also alleged that Dr. Luke raped her and, throughout their working relationship, continually berated her verbally, emotionally and continued the sexual abuse.

The music industry has divided itself along the natural lines, the industry bigwigs on the side of Luke and the performers on the side of Kesha. Taylor Swift (whom I normally wouldn’t give the time of day) stepped up with $250,000 to help support Kesha during a “trying time,” and other artists such as multi-Grammy Award winner Adele, Demi Lovato, Snoop Dogg, Kelly Clarkson (who stated her former management “blackmailed” her into working with Luke) and actor Mariska Hargitay (Law & Order:  SVU), herself a longtime anti-rape and domestic violence advocate, have voiced support. Lady Gaga has firmly announced her support, recounting her story of her early days in the recording industry and how she, like Kesha, was attacked by a male who was supposed to be helping her career rather than relieving one of his “tensions.”

LadyGagaKesha

These are but two of the more visible cases of where men continue to subject women to degrading situations. I am positive that it happens literally millions of times per day across the United States and around the world, whether it is something as seemingly innocent as a “darlin’” when a subordinate performs a task to literally and physically raping a woman while they work with or for a male superior. It shouldn’t happen and it has to be asked why women allow it to continue?

There are, for lack of a better term, the “fantasies” of women taking over in culture and changing it through the utilization of their own powers. There is a classic Greek play called Lysistrata by the Greek playwright Aristophanes in which women, upset with the ongoing fighting in the Peloponnesian War, withhold carnal pleasures from their husbands until the fighting is stopped. It is arguable, however, that the Church put a quick kibosh on that and, over the next 2000-3000 years, women went into the shadows.

IcelandWomenStrike1975

In 1975, however, women finally took a stand, at least in one nation. In Iceland, women went on strike – that’s right, every woman, whether a traffic cop, housewife, bank clerk or mother – walking off their jobs and out of their homes. The resulting 25,000-plus women (astonishing considering the island nation’s population was only about 200,000 at that time) shut down the country and were able to win concessions from the government. The next year, equal pay laws were passed in Iceland and, in 1980, Vigdis Finnbogadottir was the world’s first elected female president and won reelection in 1988.

Here in the United States, women either do not understand the power they wield or do not want to “rock the boat” on the situation. If the female of our species were to achieve something along the lines of what the Icelandic women did, the impact on the United States – not only economically but politically, culturally and socially – would be seismic.

Instead of only a handful of women being in elected seats of power in Washington, D. C., it is extremely possible that MORE women would be elected to those positions, maybe even a majority of the positions. Businesses would be led by strong, smart ladies who would be led by doing the right thing rather than JUST what the bottom line says. And perhaps we would show more consideration for our fellow persons, as it really does seem that the males of this species don’t really give a fuck beyond their own skin casing as to what others do.

But is it impossible for U. S. women to pull off what the Icelandic ladies did? U. S. women are a diverse lot – more so than the homogenous nation of Iceland – and perhaps they would have the same troubles that men have in this country of deciding a course of action. I would have hope, though, that they would have a better nature than the male gender does and would be able to work through situations rather than compare dick sizes.

WonderWomanHome

Trust me, I’m not advocating for a Diana Prince/Wonder Woman-like home of Themicyra here. We all have to work together on this traveling roadshow called Planet Earth. But a little more equality between the two genders – achieved through a Ladies’ Strike – would be able to bring us a bit closer to refining the country into the best version it can be – and isn’t that what we’re looking for the United States to be?

So here’s my challenge…Ladies! Time to stop what you’re doing! Moms, put the kids down! Make Dad take care of them for a day. Teachers, cops, mayors, professors, physicians, psychiatrists, astronomers to zoologists…plan one day for the “U. S. Women’s March and Strike,” bring the country to a standstill, march on your state’s capitals and bring about the change that is necessary for the country. Women have and have always had the power…it is time that power is demonstrated, much like your sisters did in Iceland more than 40 years ago. It’s time for women to truly step to the fore!

2016 Grammys: Who Will Win? Who Should Win?

Grammys

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!

Lamar

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.

KaseyMusgraves

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.

ChrisStapleton

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!