The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame honored its Induction Class of 2022 last Saturday, a stirring list of performers that saw one of the most diverse classes in Hall history enshrined. Now, however, it is time to shift our view to the nomination process for the Class of 2023, which will probably be announced in late January or early February. In the final part of our series on the prospective 2023 class, I am going to look at those who might have fallen through the cracks in the Hall’s pursuit of rock and roll’s Parthenon.
Here’s the thing with those who have “fallen through the cracks.” In some cases, they are extremely borderline calls. The Hall has already gone through much of the early history of rock and roll and pulled the crème of the crop from the rosters. Anyone that is left is a tremendously flawed candidate – they may have been great at the moment but, compared to the overall history of rock and roll, they have faded in significance (that’s right…we see you over there in the corner, Steppenwolf, Three Dog Night, and Badfinger, among MANY others).
Thus, this means that the Fifties are done. There will not be another performer inducted into the Hall from that decade unless they are named through non-voting methods. That goes for the Sixties too – that decade has been thoroughly gleaned and cleaned of viable candidates for the Hall. The Seventies are getting close to that point also.
Think about it for a second – those artists that came out in 1985 have been eligible for the Hall since 2010. In many cases, they haven’t even received consideration for nomination, let alone induction. That’s why the Hall Induction Classes since 2020 have seen artists and groups from the Eighties and Nineties dominate the election process – The Cure, Nine Inch Nails, Tupac and Biggie, and many others, including Pat Benatar and Neil Giraldo (and let me note here – I was glad to hear that my long-standing contention that Benatar was holding up her induction until they also included her husband Giraldo was true!).
Here in this segment, I’m also going to include those artists that usually send the “RAWK” people into a spasmatic fit. That means country artists, pop princes and princesses, R&B crooners and groups, and rappers. Whether you like it or not, all those genres (and plenty of others) are a part of the rock and roll umbrella. As such, the best from those segments of the tree should be honored as a part of the rock and roll family – anything else would be disingenuous in an examination of “rock and roll.”
With the prerequisites set for Part III, let’s get started!
The Hall is known for putting out some nominations that make the average person say, “what the fuck?” or even question the Nomination Committee’s sanity. In the past, the picks of Fela Kuti and Sister Rosetta Tharpe fell into that category. Now, Tharpe is in the Hall (deservedly) and Kuti should be (and probably will, through the non-voting categories, this year or next). But who is that choice this time around?
I have two potential candidates in that arena that reach back into the foundations of rap. Long credited with the creation of the genre, DJ Kool Herc and Coke La Rock were the Brooklyn duo who were the first practitioners of “rap” styling. Herc would spin the discs on the turntable to provide the backbeat while La Rock spoke over the bass lines, detailing life in the inner cities and the struggles that were faced by those in dire situations. There was also a great deal of braggadocio, which was a staple of early rap. Any rap artist in the Hall now, and several rock acts also, owe a debt of gratitude to these men for their work.
Continuing in the rap vein, to this point in Hall history there have only been male rap artists that have been inducted. This is the year that the Nomination Committee should take care of that lack of female representation by nominating Queen Latifahm Missy Elliott, or MC Lyte for induction. Both ladies have been the benchmark that female rap artists have been judged against and for good reason – they are the pinnacle of the genre.
With the induction of Dolly Parton in 2022 (and, I’ll be honest here, I think Dolly might have been a WTF nomination that just happened to garner more support than the Hall expected), this opens the door for a plethora of country artists to get their due from the Hall. First on that list would be Willie Nelson, who has penned some of the greatest tunes in the history of music. His “outlaw” persona has always gone against the grain of the staid country establishment, making him more “rock and roll” than some “RAWK” artists and groups that have already been inducted.
The other from the country pool to be duly recognized would be Patsy Cline. Cline set the standard for a female vocalist in the early Sixties, regardless of the genre that you’re speaking of. Her life was cut tragically short, otherwise who knows what greatness would have come out of her. There are plenty of people who have been inducted into the Hall that would vouch wholeheartedly for the inclusion of Cline in the Hall.
If the “RAWK” crowd isn’t howling and hyperventilating by this point, they will after the next couple of passages. Even though she wouldn’t be my first choice for induction into the Hall, Mariah Carey punches all the boxes when it comes to being worthy of being a member of the Hall. A record-breaking performer, with crystal-clear vocals that have been the benchmark of excellence for years, and a legacy of success state that Carey should be considered if not inducted into the Hall.
There are a couple of R&B groups that would also be worthy of consideration. The Spinners are an outside choice for induction, but The Commodores would be an even more logical selection. What might stop The Commodores from receiving their due is the induction in 2022 of their de facto leader, Lionel Richie. Here’s a shocker for you too…The Fifth Dimension is not in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame! That should be rectified tout de suite.
With all these artists and groups mentioned, there are still viable rock artists and groups that bear mentioning for induction. There’s a whole list of singer/songwriters from the Seventies – Jim Croce, Harry Chapin, Nilsson, Dan Fogelberg, Warren Zevon, Jimmy Buffett – that would be worthy considerations. There are bands such as WAR and Blood, Sweat, and Tears, that have been overlooked. And hard rock/metal’s list of talent might overshine everyone on this list – Thin Lizzy, Motorhead, Iron Maiden, Anthrax, Megadeth, Slayer…I could go on, but I would just be making our metalhead friends angry!
The thing is, in a year when there isn’t a wealth of FYE (first-year eligible) contenders that will be automatic choices for induction (like Eminem in 2022, or Foo Fighters in 2021), that is the time to try to clear some of the backlogs from your rolls. 2023 is one of those years that the Hall gets a chance to reexamine some of those from the past that might be worthy of consideration and give them their shot for induction. The more time that goes by, the chances grow smaller for these artists and groups to be recognized.
So, let’s choose some of those “forgotten ones” to include here in 2023. How about:
Willie Nelson DJ Kool Herc and Coke La Rock Queen Latifah Motorhead Warren Zevon Mariah Carey The Commodores The Fifth Dimension Patsy Cline
And these are our prior selections from Part I and Part II for the Nomination Class of 2023 for the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame:
Rage Against the Machine New York Dolls Kate Bush Dave Matthews Band John Prine Jane’s Addiction Fiona Apple Jewel Sheryl Crow Korn Liz Phair
Not too shabby a list, huh? But I am sure that there are some selections that I might have missed, and I am always open to hearing other suggestions! It’s also a 20-person nomination class; in the past, the Nomination Committee has usually kept the number between 15-18, so I am probably going to be disappointed in a couple of areas – at least!
We’ve got a few months to debate this issue, however. The Nomination Committee usually discusses potential nominees over the course of the year, but its pace picks up after the Induction Ceremonies. Usually, by the end of January/beginning of February (in 2022, the nominees were announced on February 2), the Hall will announce who is under consideration for induction. Then the game begins again as to who will be a part of the Induction Class of 2023 for the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.
It has been nearly two weeks since the Rock Hall Nominating Committee, under the auspices of Jon Landau, Tom Morello, Questlove and twenty-some odd other people, released the names of the artists and bands that are nominated for this year’s Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Induction Class. It is arguably the best class that the Nomination Committee has produced in ages, giving the Voting Committee several differing artist and groups to consider for their place in the pantheon of rock and roll. In fact, it is going to be extremely difficult for the voters to pick only five choices for their ballots (traditionally the Voting Committee members are limited to only five votes).
Before we get into ranking the nominees for the Class of 2022, we have got to set one thing in stone. This is the ROCK & ROLL Hall of Fame, not the “Rock Hall of Fame.” Rock and roll is the overarching musical styling that has been popular since the 1950s, incorporating all forms of music including rock, jazz, country, folk, blues, electronica, funk, R&B, soul…I could go on all day listing the ingredients to the rock and roll gumbo, but we would never get to the actual point. “Rock music,” in fact, is only but a SMALL PART of what “rock and roll is.”
The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame was not created to be the personal jukebox of anyone. It is there for several purposes, none of them someone’s own personal glory. One of them is to honor those that have truly innovated in the world of rock and roll, those who had a massive impact on the music and society. Another purpose is to serve as a repository for the historical recording of these artists and the incredible music that they have done. The final, and arguably the most important part, is to serve as an area where this history can serve as a learning mechanism for those who come after us.
It is not about ticket sales. It is not about a great concert tour. It is not about being shit hot for three or four years. You have to have made your impact on rock and roll for a lifetime, not a flash in the pan. That is why many acts that people scream about have NEVER been nominated for the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and, in all actuality, probably never will.
On that note, let us take a look, in reverse order, at the nominees for the Class of 2022 for the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. This is going to be one of those things that, even if you are the worst, you are still in a rarefied air of a nominee, at the minimum.
17. Dionne Warwick – Back for another run at induction and, just like last year, I’ve got to wonder why. Is this like the brothers in Trading Places, wagering on whether they can make a bum into a Wall Street fat cat and betting each other a dollar on the outcome? I could imagine Tommy Mottola and David Geffen making this bet with each other, with one advocating for Warwick and the other against.
Look, Warwick is a pleasant voice. She has had an extensive career. But there are several downsides to her even being considered. She does not even have the best voice in her own family – that would go to Whitney Houston, hands down, and Sissy would even give a run. Another fact is that, on her popular tunes, she was not even top billing – on “That’s What Friends Are For,” she tagged on the coattails of Elton John, Stevie Wonder and Gladys Knight. No, Warwick is not deserving of induction and, since someone has to take the bottom rung of the ladder, this seems like a good place to start.
16. Carly Simon – After Carole King’s induction last year, Simon has become the cause celebre of many in the music world. This is Simon’s first nomination for induction and, on the surface, she would appear to be worthy of being higher on the list (writing and performing the classic “You’re So Vain” will do that for you). But if you look deeper, you will see the score isn’t quite as high as many think it should be.
Simon’s timeframe of success was actually shorter than you would expect for a vocalist. She was only truly successful from 1972-1978, and when the songs she performed were hits, they sometimes were not even her own creation (“Nobody Does it Better,” arguably her most noted hit outside of “Vain,” was written by Burt Bacharach and Carole Bayer Sager). Simon’s career is a case of one of those sayings that I often use – it is the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, not the Rock & Roll Hall of Pretty Good.
15. Lionel Ritchie – I put Ritchie this low because he is not being inducted in the right manner. Yes, his solo career in the 1980s was quite good, one of the biggest pop stars of the era. But it is the complete and utter disregard of his early career’s work – and what he should be nominated for – that is my cause of disagreement.
Ritchie should have been nominated with The Commodores, the R&B/funk act that were one of the groundbreakers in the world of music during the 1970s. There are a few others that fall in this category – Parliament/Funkadelic is already in, while Kool & The Gang and the Ohio Players should be considered (and there is always the argument for Rufus and Chaka Khan) – and to bypass The Commodores and just put Ritchie in on his own completely overlooks this group that put him on the map. It is an error that the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame makes FAR too often, not looking at the linear time of history, and one that should be rectified with the organization.
14. Beck – This is NOT an indictment of the talent, innovation and creativity of the artist known as Beck. It is more of a statement about the quality of the nomination class overall. SOMEBODY has to take the lower edges of the rankings and it sometimes comes down to individual preferences.
Beck has been one of the most creative artists of the 90s, but he always seems like he DOESN’T want the respect of anyone. If critics start to like him too much, he goes poppy. If he gets too popular, he breaks from his fans with a critically acclaimed effort. This constant zigzag of a career will allow you to make some really groundbreaking music, but it does not exactly endear you to anyone.
13. Devo – I can hear some wailing over this one right now. Devo has long been overlooked as one of the bands at the forefront of the synth rock/electronica era, serving as an influence on many who came after them in the 1980s and 90s. You could probably lay the inductions of The Cure and Nine Inch Nails on the mantle of Devo breaking the barriers.
Their minimalist stylings and quirky stage shows made the name of Devo in the late 70s/early 80s. But they were not really able to sustain that effort for an extended period. Mark Mothersbaugh, the founder and chief creator of Devo’s sound and vision, moved on to doing movie and television soundtracks, which might be where many know him best. I could see them being inducted if the ceremonies this year were held in Cleveland; as it is in Los Angeles, I think the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame might hold them off for a couple more years.
12. A Tribe Called Quest – I am going to be honest about this one from the start. My knowledge of rap is not outstanding, but I have heard of and recognize how influential the work of ATCQ has been. Because of my lack of knowledge, however, I cannot rank them any higher, especially with the talent that I believe is ahead of them.
The band incorporated different musical stylings into their rap product, with jazz and alternative music influences showing up in their tunes. They also took a different lyrical approach with some very astute commentary on inner city life and other social issues. Overall, they were a tremendously smart rap band and one that is deserving of a place in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame – just not this year (or at least by the voting method).
11. Fela Kuti – There were a whole bunch of people who said “who?” when Kuti was nominated in 2021. He has long been advocated for induction by Nomination Committee member Questlove and I am sure that Questlove does not get people nominated to not take them all the way to induction. Kuti is one of the people on the list of nominees who could very well take the Early Influence route to induction, especially if it does not look like he will be voted in.
You can hear the Afrobeat stylings that Kuti originated in many performers that have been inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. David Byrne of Talking Heads has called Kuti an influence on his musical stylings, and Peter Gabriel falls in that camp also. Is this advocacy enough to get Kuti over the hump? That is definitely a question that needs to be answered.
10. MC5 – Garage rock is one of the genres that you can certainly say has been shorted in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. MC5 is arguably one of the originals in that genre, along with some of the tunes from The Who and The Kinks, two of the British purveyors of what might be called “garage rock.” Mixing up surf stylings with their native Detroit R&B sound (and a heaping helping of political commentary), MC5 certainly set themselves apart from the pack in the 60s.
MC5, unfortunately, burned out rather quickly. They only got three albums under their belt in a brief three-year career and they’re basically known for one song – “Kick Out the Jams.” This seems more like a worthy entry for the Singles category (after not nominating any songs in 2021) rather than a full-fledged induction of the group.
9. Dolly Parton – What’s that? More screaming from the readers? This is why I made the statement I did at the start of our trek in this essay. Country music is an important part of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. To be honest, there should be more members of the country community inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame – I can think of Patsy Cline, Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, and even Hank Williams, Jr. and Garth Brooks as worthy of consideration.
But it should all start with inducting Dolly. She has had a monumental impact on music and her songwriting efforts are beyond compare. Her philanthropy is legendary (I wouldn’t want something like that to become a criterion for induction, but it works in Parton’s case). Considering that there are only 11 inductees from the country music realm among the 338 individuals and groups that have been previously into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, I think it is time we considered some more.
8. Eminem – A first year eligible nominee, you are also going to see Eminem inducted come November. I will say this right now, he is the only lock that is in the 17 nominees for this year’s class. He has been a critical and commercial juggernaut and has helped to further music and, yes, has been the controversial figure that traditionally is needed in music – what is more “rock and roll” than that?
So, you might ask…why is he rated so low? It is something that also applies to several others on this list. The overall excellence of the roster is going to push some artists/groups down the ladder. I get that some may have Marshall Mathers up higher than this, and I respect that. It is a situation where I felt the artists/groups ahead of Eminem were more deserving.
7. New York Dolls – Another one of those long-overlooked acts that should have been inducted many years ago. This is something else that the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame has become famous for – bypassing the forebears of a musical styling while inducting those that come after the fact. Don’t hold your breath on the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame changing this any time soon, either.
The Dolls were the forerunners of the glam rock/punk movement in the U. S., much like T. Rex pushed the genre in the U. K. The downside once again is a lack of longevity, something the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame voters like to take under consideration. But give kudos where they are due – New York Dolls are more than deserving of entry.
6. Rage Against the Machine – The four-time nominated band out of Los Angeles would seem to be a lock for induction. They said that back when they were first nominated in 2018…and in 2019…and in 2021. What could be holding RATM out? Could it be the fact of Morello’s involvement in the Nomination process? If so, that is a pretty shitty reason.
Combining the stylings of rap and rock into a potent and explosive brand of rock and roll, Rage Against the Machine pointed out the hypocrisies they saw in the world, whether it is the financial system or politics as a whole. These ideas don’t come from the void – Morello is a Harvard educated political science graduate, and he is well versed in pretty much every area that the band offers commentary. They might be denied entry is because of that dreaded “lack of longevity” – four albums in eight years before they broke up – but they burned bright when the fire was on.
5. Kate Bush – I have often said that, if the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame were located in London rather than Cleveland, it would look tremendously different. There would be many artists that would be inducted if it were in England that cannot seem to crack through the wall here in the States. Bush would be one of these artists.
With her ethereal voice and offbeat musical styling, Bush has set her own course throughout her entire career. She worked with David Gilmour and Peter Gabriel before striking out on her own and her music has incorporated literary classics into a perfect setting (“Wuthering Heights”). Bush should be inducted, sooner rather than later, to pay tribute to her outstanding body of work.
4. Eurythmics – You might put this band down lower, but the reason I hold them in the regard that I do is that they were at the forefront of a musical revolution. They not only added to the “MTV Generation” of rock and roll, Eurythmics also benefitted greatly from that exposure. Along the way, they touched on every form of music and did so outstandingly.
Annie Lennox and Dave Stewart had their hands in electronica, synth rock, R&B, soul, ballads, even just plain ol’ rock and roll, and they excelled in every area. Stewart’s mastery in the studio was overshadowed by Lennox’s simply mesmerizing vocal abilities, but one would not have been as great a success if they hadn’t joined with the other (at least in the early 80s). You might suggest that Lennox get a solo induction, but the way she should enter the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame is with Stewart and for their work in Eurythmics.
3. Duran Duran – Another beneficiary of the “MTV Generation,” it is hard to believe that this is the first nomination for Duran Duran to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. Why? Well, from what many have said, their “pretty boy” looks were held against them. Furthermore, they were not looked at as “serious” musicians, despite the fact that the band were true musicians and not a “front” group for session acts.
The musical styling of Duran Duran was diverse also. They could hit you with a great rock song, then come with a ballad, then deliver the pop side of the equation. The one constant was that they did it all excellently. And let us not forget the standard they set with their video work – the Rio album alone, and the videos done for that disc, should be enough to punch the ticket to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.
2. Judas Priest – If you look up “oversight” in the dictionary, you will find a picture of Judas Priest. They have been eligible for the Hall since 1999 and, in the time since then, have only earned TWO nominations, in 2018 and 2020. This third nomination should be their last, concluded with their induction.
Heavy metal would not be what it is today without the input of Judas Priest. From the “chains and leather” look to the driving, unruly sound of the dual guitar attack of Glenn Tipton and KK Dowling, it could only be topped with the operatic wail of Rob Halford to truly take it to the stratosphere. I would list the songs that would qualify them for the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, but we’d be here for hours if I did.
1. Pat Benatar – Benatar should really be a lA to Priest’s 1B, because both acts have been abused by the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame oversight in ignoring their contributions. If the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame is serious about inducting more women into its entourage, then why haven’t you already put in THE predominant woman rock star of the 1980s? If you talked about rock in the 80s, the conversation started with Benatar, and it finished there.
If there was one thing that is keeping her out, it would be a “conspiracy theory” that I’ve heard. Benatar, despite her greatness, might be holding out for having her husband/guitarist Neil Giraldo inducted alongside her. To put it bluntly, she might not take the induction if he is not inducted with her. I certainly hope that I am wrong in this case because, if it is true, it seems to be a rather silly reason (on both sides) to not induct such a legend.
This is the “best to worst” rankings of the nominees for the Class of 2022 for the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. It is in NO WAY what I think is going to happen when the inductions actually come down, however! The issue is that I have “my list” of who I would like to induct, and then there’s the “reality check” of those who actually will be inducted. We will get to that another time, probably before the announcement in May of the Class of 2022, but we’ve got enough meat to chew on here for discussion for quite some time!
On September 26, “Tampa” Earl hit the airwaves of Real Rock Radio, taking fans into the Wayback Machine to remember the history of Farm Aid on “Rockin’ in the U. S. A.” The 36th edition of the “fundraiser for the farmers” was held the day before but, if organizers John Mellencamp, Neil Young and Willie Nelson had gotten their way, it would have been a “one off” show! Earl discusses that and more in an hour of music from Farm Aid.
“Crackin’ the Seal” counted down the September rankings for the Real Rock Radio Warriors, the best of new rock from the Americas, while the New Artist Spotlight featured indie bands like Twelve Years Today, Kamenar, Concrete Kingdoms, Nocturne Wolf, The Black Skeleton, Ancient Settlers and Rivers of Nihil.
It was a great show and it only gets better when you hear it again! Tune in NOW!
One of the things that makes the world of music more interesting than normal is when artists collaborate. Whether it is two individual singers, a singer and a band, two bands or even a singer, a band and a DJ, these collaborations have brought some great music that spans different genres. We’re going to take a look at these collaborations that will embrace the worlds of pop, rap, country and hard rock…join us for the next hour!
Being able to create a memorable song is one of the great desires of any musician, singer or songwriter. Having that song become a hit is another dream. But to have a song that becomes so iconic that it is covered by another artist? THAT is when you’ve really made it!
In Part One of a two-part series, the Renegades Radio Podcast will take a listen to some of the greatest songs of all-time and the artists who originally recorded them and those who covered the song. It promises to be an eclectic mix of artists as we enter the world of “cover songs.”
One of the true Outlaws of music has made his opinion known regarding the ongoing situation on the States of America border. Read what country music legend Willie Nelson thinks of the current policy of the federal government here:
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. 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 for the remainder of 2018 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.
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.
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.”
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.