Pages Menu
TwitterFacebooklogin
Categories Menu

Posted by on Jan 26, 2020 in Blog, Essays | 0 comments

The 20 Most Baffling Grammy Award Winners of All Time

 

 

Since the awards were first doled out in 1959, the Grammys have translated into little more than a rubbernecking exercise for millions of watchers baffled by what’s happened to popular music.

Now in its 62nd year, the annual presentation is a proverbial dumpster fire of clashing musical genres and a twisted assemblage of conflicting generational tastes.

The latest chapter of chaos combined with curiosity will be written on Sunday night, at 7 pm CST with the CBS live telecast of the Grammy Awards.

The mish-mash of generational rivalries, wandering attention spans, and awkwardly pigeon-holed acts crammed into misnamed categories have produced many inexplicable (and undeserving) winners.

What follows are my picks for the most outrageous Grammy Award winners of all time, along with my correct choice as to who should have won the award instead for that year.

Dishonorable Mention (11-20):

 

(20) “Moon River,” by Henry Mancini winning “Record of the Year” in 1962, instead of The Dave Brubeck Group for “Take Five.” Mancini was a wonderful composer and “Moon River” became a huge hit as the accompanying soundtrack to the movie Breakfast at Tiffany’s. But “Take Five” stood the test of time far better and it remains one of the best jazz recordings ever.

(19) “Use Somebody,” by Kings of Leon winning “Record of the Year” in 2010, instead of Lady Gaga for “Poker Face.” It’s not that “Use Somebody” isn’t a well-executed and deserving song. It’s just that Lady Gaga’s exemplary effort was far more innovative and globally infectious — both then and now.

(18) “Don’t Worry, Be Happy,” by Bobby McFerrin winning “Record of the Year in 1989, instead of Michael Jackson for “Man in the Mirror.” Somehow, an annoying bubble-gum song with a terrible message (don’t worry, be happy? really? seriously?) topped the far more serious and deserving monster hit by one of the greatest artists in pop history (before his personal scandals). The only explanation for this egregious mistake was that voters must have been suffering from Michael Jackson fatigue, as he pretty much dominated the 1980s music scene and by then some rivals were bitterly tired of him.

(17) River: The Joni Letters, by Herbie Hancock winning “Album of the Year” in 2008, instead of Amy Winehouse for Back to Black. For more than three decades, Hancock has given the world a lot of great music. But this was far from is best career effort. Winehouse was the edgier, far more interesting, crossover-pick for her throwback R&B style and extraordinary vocal interpretations on what remains a flawless album (one of my favorite compositions of the last ten years).

(16) “You Light Up My Life,” by Debby Boone winning “Song of the Year” in 1978, instead of “Evergreen” performed by Barbra Streisand and composed by Paul Williams, which was the only tie in Grammy history. Boone’s embarrassingly cheesy ballad now comes across little more than a wide-lapelled polka-dotted fashion statement and a throwback to a gutless period in popular music dominated by coked-up disco queens and the vanilla saccharine of Barry Manilow. It’s hard to believe nominees the Eagles, Carly Simon, and Glen Campbell all lost to this sappy feather-haired nobody. My two choices would have been either Stevie Wonder (“Sir Duke“) or the brilliantly-composed “Star Wars Theme,” by the great composer John Williams.

(15) “Games People Play” by Joe South winning “Song of the Year” in 1970, instead of anything else from the rich catalog of popular music recorded and released not just within the rock genre, but the golden era of Motown, as well. Even prolific composer Burt Bachrach, who had two nominations in this category (canceling each other out, most likely) was a far more deserving choice. Has anyone ever heard of Joe South since he walked on stage that night, beating out Diana Ross, the Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Jackson 5, Neil Diamond, and B.B. King (“The Thrill is Gone” was eligible that year — how did that not win?).

(14) “Roseanna,” by Toto winning “Record of the Year” in 1983, instead of Willie Nelson for “Always on My Mind.” What an awful song and a regrettable pick. A disgrace. An embarrassment. Disreputable. Utterly baffling. Insane. Voters much have been smoking some of Willie Nelson’s weed. “Every Breath You Take” by the Police, “Sweet Dreams” by The Eurythmics, and “Beat It” by Michael Jackson all came out that year. “Roseanna” won over those songs? How?

(13) Two Against Nature by Steely Dan winning “Album of the Year” in 2000, instead of anything else released that year. Give it to Radiohead, Eminem, Paul Simon, or Beck — all who were nominated and then bypassed for the best album that year. Not Steely Dan. My picks would have been Garth Brooks’ live double album or Christina Aguilera’s self-titled debut best-seller.

(12) Hootie and the Blowfish winning “Best New Artist” in 1996, instead of either Alanis Morrissette or Shania Twain. No brainer. Enough said. No excuse for this oversight. Even at the time, anyone could see Morrissette and Twain’s natural talent and staying power as potentially volcanic forces in popular music. Not Hootie. Not the Blowfish.

(11) “Kiss from a Rose,” by Seal winning “Record of the Year” in 1996 instead of TLC’s “Waterfalls.” TLC was a wonderfully gifted R&B girl group, and this was their biggest crossover hit. But that didn’t matter. Seal’s overwrought and melodramatic torture of a song “Kiss from a Rose” won, mostly because the flop from two years earlier got remixed into the Batman movie soundtrack, and then quickly shot up the charts. That wasn’t even Seal’s best song released from that epic album. “Prayer for the Dying” was. Listen to the two songs. It’s no contest.

And now, the worst, least-deserving, most outrageous ten winners of all time:

The Top/Bottom Ten

.

(10) Milli Vanilli — “Best New Artist,” 1990

It’s easy to see a much clearer picture now, rather than back then, when these two pop music Grammy winners from Germany faked and lip-synched their way to a scandalous victory. Fortunately, their careers ended up on the ash heap of music history, which gives us all hope that the same fate could ultimately befall all the Autotune frauds and phonies. Milli Vanilli was exposed and discredited, their Grammy award was stripped away, and their careers mercifully ended, delighting those of us whose ears still painfully echo with the horrors of stolen music.  Using session musicians (and taking the credit) is problematic for any Grammy winner.  But committing fraud is another.  Good riddance.

Who Should Have Won — Indigo Girls

(9) “Winchester Cathedral” (The New Vaudeville Band) — Best Contemporary Song, 1966

In an astonishing year in music that produced timeless classics including — Born Free, California Dreamin’, Summer in the City, Strangers in the Night, Wild Thing, Good Vibrations, I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry, The Sound of Silence, Homeward Bound, Wipeout, Land of 1,000 Dances, If I Were a Carpenter, Zorba the Greek, and Yesterday (this is only a partial list!) — guess what song ended up winning the “Best Contemporary Song” Grammy that year? Answer — “Winchester Cathedral” by those rock legends, The New Vaudeville Band. Urgh!

Who Should Have Won — The Beach Boys (“Good Vibrations”)….or maybe not, since all the Beach Boys recordings were really done by The Wrecking Crew.

(8) Burl Ives (“Funny Way of Laughin”) — Best Country and Western Song, 1963

Burl Ives doesn’t get his historical due.  He was a multi-talented songwriter, musician, and actor — one of the few to be nominated for both an Oscar and Grammy. He performed folk songs, played villains in movies, did voiceovers, and was even blacklisted during the McCarthy era. Yet, he is perhaps best known today for his iconic song and self-portrayal in the annual “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” television program shown every Christmas season. Ives won a Grammy in 1963 for a song that’s since been forgotten, which wasn’t even a country song, edging out the iconic voice and life of George Jones, someone who would prove to be a giant influence in country music for the next five decades. Jones, then a breakout artist with one of his very first hit recordings, deserved the Grammy.

Who Should Have Won — “She Still Thinks I Can,” By George Jones

(7) Starland Vocal Band — Best New Artist, 1977

Look up the Starland Vocal Band sometime, if you want a good laugh. The group recorded had one lame hit, the wickedly torturous “Afternoon Delight,” the epitome of a musical bologna sandwich and a fitting soundtrack for the decline of Western civilization. Even the rock group Boston, which was nominated in this category, lost to the trifling trio. This was a very bad year for popular music, arguably the worst ever as rock was phasing into disco and (later) new wave. And punk was still considered an oddity, if not outright musical anarchy.  Note:  This very well could be ranked #1 as the worst, most undeserved Grammy Award ever given, and if you doubt this, check out THIS VIDEO.

Who Should Have Won — The Clash

(6) “Most High” (Jimmy Page and Robert Plant) — Best Hard Rock Performance, 1999

Every rock n’ roll and blues fan reveres the music of Led Zeppelin. That said, this was one of the two frontmen’s weakest efforts, no doubt brought about by the opportunity of a potentially lucrative reunion album and tour, however brief that lasted. Meanwhile, Marilyn Manson, Metallica, Pearl Jam, and Kiss were each overlooked by voters in this category. The Grammy voters got it wrong in Led Zeppelin’s heyday from 1968-1978 by not giving them any awards, and then committed and even more atrocious act by bestowing upon them what amounts to an apology award more than two decades later, long after their musical and cultural relevance was over.

Who Should Have Won — “The Dope Show,” by Marilyn Manson

(5) Eric Clapton (“Layla”) — Song of the Year, 1992

It’s painful to include master songwriter and performer Eric Clapton on any “undeserving list.” He’s one of the greatest guitarists in popular music in history and probably deserves far more official accolades. But his 1992 Grammy win for a re-worked acoustical version of a song initially recorded in 1970 made no sense whatsoever, especially given the force the musical force that Nirvana was at the time. The song that should have won instead defined a new sound and an entire generation and continues to receive praise as one of the most innovative rock songs ever recorded. It’s on virtually every “greatest” list of songs.

Who Should Have Won — “Smells Like Teen Spirit” (Nirvana)

(4) A Taste of Honey — Best New Artist, 1978

Disco was certainly king during the late 70s, and this honor was a mirrored ball tossed to a manufactured cookie-cutter musical group that ultimately became a one-hit-wonder, with that timeless classic “Boogie Oogie Oogie.” Don’t worry, you’re not alone. I don’t know it either. A Taste of Honey disbanded soon thereafter and would be a historical footnote were it not for their mystifying victory as the music industry’s “Best New Artist” in a year with far better nominees.

Who Should Have Won — Elvis Costello

(3) Bobby Russell (“Little Green Apples”) — Song of the Year, 1969

How could voters ignore the Beatles masterpiece “Hey Jude,” which was easily the most deserving song of the year? A landmark achievement, the self-composed track was the first single ever released on Apple Records and was recorded in the summer of ’68 following the group’s return from three-months in India. That turned out to be a gargantuan year for the Fab Four, with several hits coming off the Magical Mystery Tour sessions, followed by the stellar double-disc release only months later, known as The White Album. Oh, and then there were two other popular hit singles, “Revolution” and “Lady Madonna.” Breaking with tradition, “Hey Jude” wasn’t even included on any album collection (until after the group’s final breakup in 1970). The song spent a staggering nine weeks at number one, then a record — this in the midst of an explosive era when society was rapidly changing, racial and cultural barriers were coming down, and so much extraordinary music was being recorded — from rock n’ roll to Motown. “Hey Jude” shattered conventional formulaic radio-friendly thinking at the time, clocking in at more than 7 minutes. What begins as a slow piano-laden ballad with a single voice becomes an orchestral tour-d-force, finishing off with the memorable sing-a-long, “na, na, na — na, na, na, na.” Never has anything so simple sounded so amazing, as this live appearance in the U.K. on The David Frost Show reveals:


So, what won that year, instead? Chew on this. Bobby Russell’s mostly forgettable sleepy lullaby “Little Green Apples,” performed by O.C. Smith. Remember that one? I didn’t either. So, I had to look it up. Here’s the “Song of the Year” winner for what was arguably the greatest year of popular music in history.  And besides, the song was recorded by not less than three singers, also released as a single by Patti Page and O. C. Smith on separate occasions that same year.  What makes the Bobby Russell version special?  Answer — nothing.  Russell didn’t even write the song!  Outrageous.

 What Should Have Won — “Hey Jude” (The Beatles)

(2) Jethro Tull — Best Hard Rock/Metal Performance, 1988

Jethro Tull….heavy metal?  Indeed.  British rock group Jethro Tull floored the audience and shocked the music world in 1988, winning a Grammy in a category they had no business even being nominated in. The flute-infused rock act dusted off cobwebs from the early 1970s by winning the “Best Hard Rock/Metal Performance” honor, kicking far more deserving Metallica off to the curb. This incomprehensible oversight caused a major shakeup in the way musical genres were classified from that point forward. Two years later, Metallica, which was at the height of their creative peak, did indeed win a Grammy. The metal group took to the stage and famously quipped, “First thing we’re going to do is tank Jethro Tull for not putting out an album this year!”

 Who Should Have Won — Metallica

(1) Vaughn Meader (The First Family) — Album of the Year, 1963

Chances are, you’ve never heard of this artist or this mostly-forgotten album, which inexplicably won “Album of the Year” in 1963. In fact, this became one of the fastest-selling albums of all time and racked up with more than 7 million total records sold. Vaughn Meader’s entire act consisted of doing his impression of President John F. Kennedy, lampooning the famous Kennedy mystique, and mocking political events of the day. The first family reportedly hated it, which probably drove up sales even higher due mostly to curiosity. Strangely, way back then “Album of the Year” wasn’t just reserved for music. Comedy was also eligible for consideration (recall Bob Newhart’s landmark win in this category in 1961, which was probably well deserved). However, Vaughn’s off-the-wall album wasn’t even the best comedy performance of the year. That title most certainly should have gone to Lenny Bruce, then at the height of his popularity and in the news constantly at the subject of major controversy. Meanwhile, Vaughn Meader’s one-trick-pony career went into the tank after the terrible events of November 1963, since no one wanted to laugh anymore about dead President. All that’s remembered now is that this album should go down as the worst Grammy Award winner of all time.  Here’s the far better choice (here’s what a real singer sounds like without Autotune):

Who Should Have Won — I Left My Heart in San Francisco by Tony Bennett

 

Most Bizzare Five-Time Grammy Winner of All Time — Christopher Cross

.

Guess who has more Grammy Awards than the Beach Boys, Chuck Berry, The Doors, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Bob Marley, Diana Ross, Led Zeppelin, Queen, The Who, or Tupac Shakur — combined?

Answer — Christopher Cross.

This milquetoast music maven won a whopping five Grammys in the year 1980 for his breakthrough debut album, which produced a quick flurry of hit singles. But his syrupy one-dimensional ballads ended up as pop music’s equivalent of pet rocks and beanie babies. In fairness to Cross, he didn’t fit the ideal profile of an MTV-friendly artist, an 80s-era detour, which was entirely based on appearances and superficiality. Within a few years of a smashing debut and five fuddled acceptance speeches at that year’s Grammys, Cross had all but disappeared from the charts. His last Billboard appearance was way back in 1985.

Meanwhile, the Beach Boys, Chuck Berry, The Doors, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Bob Marley, Diana Ross, Led Zeppelin, Queen, The Who, and Tupac Shakur have never won a Grammy Award.

 

NOTE:  READ MY COLUMN ON THE 2020 GRAMMY AWARDS HERE.

__________

 

Read More

Posted by on Jul 10, 2019 in Blog, Essays, Politics | 0 comments

“Chasing the Moon” is a Blast [Review]

 

__________

 

Now approaching the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 space mission, get ready for a bombardment of well-intended but predictable homages and historical remembrances to humanity’s greatest technical achievement.  However, one documentary towers above the rest.  The latest episodes “American Experience” on PBS take a familiar story you may think you already know and add some unexpectedly compelling twists and turns — making this the best documentary of the year.  In short, watching “Chasing the Moon” is a blast.

 

Chasing the Moon is a three-part television series running this week on PBS stations all over the country.  It’s the latest offering from American Experience, the typically outstanding weekly documentary which has run for 31 straight years (and counting), yet it somehow still manages to stay fresh with every new episode.

This latest series divided chronologically into three parts at two-hours each (six hours, total) might be the most compelling of what’s been an extensive historical canon, which is really saying something given that American Experience has aired 337 episodes, to date.  Rarely have we collectively watched such an authentic, unabridged, behind-the-scenes story told with such a perfect balance of accuracy and entertainment.

So, what else makes this show so good?

Try this — brutal honesty.  Most, if not all previous documentaries on America’s space program treat the subject with jingoistic reverence.  The astronauts are heroes.  The United States beat the Soviet Union in the race to the moon.  Each successive space program — Saturn, Gemini, and Apollo — represented a concoctive triumph of American ingenuity.

Each one of these points is undeniably true.  Yes, the astronauts were heroes.  Yes, the USA did beat the Soviet Union in the space race.  And yes, Apollo 11 was indeed justification for worldwide celebration — the glorious equivalent which had not seen before, nor since.

Chasing the Moon, made by Robert Stone, extends far beyond what’s been a standard fluffy newsreel-driven, school-classroom interpretation of American history, both in terms of which stories are told and how they are portrayed.  It’s far better than a Tom Hanks’ movie.  It’s even better than the wonderful CNN-produced movie on the space program released earlier this year, which I saw and enjoyed.  This series takes that concept, then digs much deeper.

If you think you already know about the space program and the remarkable story of Apollo 11, consider just a few eye-opening, jaw-dropping facts purveyed from the first episode titled, “A Place Beyond the Sky,” which covers the early period of the American space program, roughly years 1957 through 1963:

FACT #1 — Americans landed on the moon (first) because we got the smarter Nazis.  We were lucky.  After World War II and the downfall of Nazi Germany, the East and West divided former-Nazi scientists who had been the first to develop advanced rocket technology.  Ugly pasts were scrubbed.  Old associations were buried.  History was forgotten.  This story isn’t exactly new, of course.  But it’s told in this documentary with refreshing candor that lends to credibility for other controversial aspects of the film.

FACT #2 –— America’s space program had absolutely nothing to do with the pursuit of scientific progress, at least in terms of attracting popular support.  The NASA space program was all about one thing only — winning the Cold War.  Early on, America was losing that crucial battle.  1. The Sputnik satellite in 1957, followed in short order by 2. Laika the Dog’s orbit (the first living creature in space), and 3. Yuri Gagarin’s manned-space mission, 4. the first woman in space, 5. the first multiple manned mission,  and 5. first spacewalk outside the capsule — ALL these Red Scare triumphs scared the hell out of most Americans, who thought the United States was falling behind the Soviets.  This fear (recall the phantom  “missile gap”) probably swung the outcome of the 1960 presidential election, resulting in John F. Kennedy’s election.  The average American wasn’t/isn’t interested in science.  He/she wants to be better than the other guy.

FACT #3 — We forget just how dangerous early space flights were for the astronauts who boarded those rockets.  At least a dozen test-rockets blew up on the launching pad.  Each disaster is shown here on film, in astonishing clarity.  It took someone truly special, with “the right stuff,” to strap himself into a tin can with enough high-octane fuel and explosives underneath the seat to blow up ten city blocks, trusting one’s fate entirely to engineers.  Moreover, let’s also remember the astronauts were civil servants.  They didn’t earn much money.  They were expected to look and act like celebrities, on the salary of a mid-grade military officer, with a growing family.  The financial burdens of being an astronaut are explored here for the first time on film.

FACT #4 — President John F. Kennedy gets most of the credit for the success of the space program and mission to the moon (six years after his death).  But it was President Lyndon B. Johnson who twisted arms of reluctant senators and drove the budgets through Congress.  LBJ got things done.  Kennedy gave great speeches and pontificated his dream of sending a man to the moon.  It was Johnson who actually made it happen, politically speaking.  Unfortunately, our perceptions do not reflect reality.

FACT #5 — The three primary focal points of NASA’s space program were/are in Florida, Alabama, and Texas.  This was not a random occurrence.  The high-tech space sites were not chosen for any geographic advantages.  Each location was nothing more than a political payoff to swing key senators and congressman to vote for the most expensive high-tech program in history.  Furthermore, most of the country (about 60 percent) was AGAINST funding the space program, at least in the early years.  The documentary reveals how the opposition turned into supporters.

FACT #6 — Initially, ten astronauts were picked for the space program.  Make that — ten WHITE, MALE astronauts were chosen for the space program.  Certainly, this lineup was a reflection of the time.  However, in the second phase of the program, Robert F. Kennedy (then, Attorney General) pushed for the inclusion of at least one Black astronaut.  Later, a Black Air Force fighter pilot was chosen — Ed Dwight (not to be confused with counterpart Ed White).  He successfully completed all the grueling astronaut training and passed the tests, along with his colleagues.  However, Dwight was eventually relegated to a remote assignment and never made it into space, largely due to the despicable treatment received from so-called American hero Chuck Yeager, who comes across horribly in this documentary.  The Kennedy Administration, which actually did so little on civil rights, failed to push for Dwight’s inclusion in the program.  Three years later, during the Johnson Administration, Robert H. Lawrence, Jr. became the first to break NASA’s color barrier.

FACT #7 — Here’s a historical fact you’ve likely never heard before.  JFK was uncertain as to whether he could fulfill his 1962 pronouncement at Rice University about putting a man on the moon.  He secretly agreed to a collaborative deal with Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev that the two countries would work together on the space mission.  However, JFK was shot and killed before the joint international venture was initiated.  Then a short time later, Khrushchev was ousted from power.  Hence, the demise of these two men derailed what might have been the most unlikely of cooperative efforts.

FACT #8 — Cape Canaveral, Florida (later re-named Cape Kennedy) exploded by 300 percent in population, due entirely to the space program.  New homes had to be built for workers.  That meant a boom, but also higher prices and even some resentment from older natives.  The documentary focuses on how those communities changed with the influx of astronauts, government workers, and tourists.

FACT #9 — Astronauts are unwaveringly portrayed in a positive light, as loyal and faithful men devoted to country and family.  While this is somewhat true, it’s not the whole picture.  Let’s also remember the astronauts were good-looking, age 30-something, strong virile men who were national heroes, who were used to living their lives on the edge.  They were more popular than movie stars.  And, they loved to take chances.  They liked being in the limelight.  High-risk behavior was in their DNA.  It’s why they were chosen.  The documentary touches on NASA having to do some “clean up” on the astronaut’s behavior.  Hey, let’s not kid ourselves.  They were remarkable men, but they were also human.  Bars.  Women.  Work hard.  Play harder.  Bravo to this program for revealing who these men really were, instead of the icons we often associate with their acts of bravery.

FACT #10 — All these incredible events and achievements in outer space took place during a period of revolutionary change, racial upheaval, and intense division within America.  Incredibly, some of the astronauts even confessed they had intense feelings of guilt for being involved the space program while many of their military colleagues in the were fighting in battle, and some were even shot down in Vietnam.  This emotional reaction to being an astronaut and a national hero wasn’t something I’d heard, nor considered before.

FACT #11 — What does a TV network do if the rocket explodes in mid-flight?  Remember, the earliest space missions were highly risky.  No one knew how the public might react to seeing a man die on national television, in an explosion on a rocket.  Television networks and the White House didn’t know if the launch should even be covered live.  What if the space capsule exploded?  Remember, this was 1962.  The viewing public wasn’t used to seeing dangerous, cutting edge, live events broadcast on television.  This is one of many reasons we often see crowds of people crowding around television sets.  It all seems surreal now.  But this was a difficult possibility to ponder, back then.

FACT #12 — Even a bigger problem for CBS, NBC, and ABC — what does a national network show for hours at a time during the coverage?  Relay technology didn’t exist back then.  There were no cameras of the space capsule after a few minutes of taking off.  One executive was interviewed who said, “60 million people were basically watching nothing but live radio broadcast.  There was absolutely nothing to show the public.  We winged it.”

Indeed, America’s space program was “winging it.”  Astronauts.  Engineers.  Politicians.  Television networks.  Everyone was winging it.  No one really had much of a clue what they were doing.  No one had ever done anything like that before.  Everyone looked to the heavens.  Everyone took a shot in the dark.  Thanks to some genius, long hours, trial and error, and even a little luck — it all worked.

This is the remarkable message and story of Chasing the Moon.  It’s an astonishing collection of unearthed footage and facts.  It’s real history.  It’s incredible entertainment.  It’s must-see television.

Lest you think this review has been a spoiler — these highlights are my recollections just from Part 1.  There’s so much more to learn and enjoy in Parts 2 and 3.  Trust me.  Seek out this remarkable program and watch.  Please — aim high.  Chase the moon.  This is what great filmmaking and storytelling are all about.

Here’s a short preview:

 

__________

 

Read More

Posted by on Feb 24, 2019 in Blog, Essays, Movie Reviews, Video 1 | 2 comments

Lights, Camera, Action! Our 2019 Academy Award Predictions [Video]

 

 

Some time ago, I ran into one of the smartest and most successful sports handicappers in Las Vegas at a party.  His moniker is, to no surprise, “Las Vegas Cris.”

Let’s call him “LVC” for short.

I discovered that LVC loves movies.  He goes to see at least a couple of films each and every week.  LVC purchased one of those monthly passes where you can practically see as many films as you like for roughly the price of what two tickets would regularly cost (around $24).  So, he goes to the movies and ends up seeing lots of very good films, and also comes across some real clunkers.

LVC and I share a lifelong love of movies.  We thought it would be a fun project to film a video and discussion of our picks for the best and worst in movies over the past year, along with our Oscar picks.  We planned on shooting a one-hour pilot, but got wound up and went kinda’ long.  Let’s call this the lengthier “Director’s Cut.”

If you want to skip the fluff and go straight to the Oscar picks, fast forward to the 26-minute mark.  Also, the last 20 minutes or so is pretty good where we hand out our worst movie awards.

Special thanks to Andrew Geber for the production and Jack Gramley for supplying some of the technical equipment.

Note that I’ll probably shift to a podcast format shortly and invite several guests on to discuss a variety of topics.

Thanks for LVC for some great insight.

“Couch Potato Critics” sounds about right……

 

 

__________

 

Read More

Posted by on Feb 17, 2019 in Blog, Essays, Politics, What's Left | 0 comments

Prosecute Jussie Smollett to the Fullest Extent of the Law

 

 

Why is there any sympathy for Jussie Smollett?

The television star’s incendiary allegations that he’d been the victim of an ugly racial attack imploded yesterday.  His story fell apart.  It was apparently, all an act.

Smollett had claimed he was assaulted on a downtown Chicago street by pro-Trump racists wearing red MAGA hats while walking late at night.  His allegations sounded implausible from the start.  That’s the reason so many of us sympathetic to the victims of hate crimes took a “wait and see” approach to the alleged incident.  Not that racially-motivated and homophobic attacks like the one described by the TV actor don’t happen in America.  Yes, they do.  It’s just that so many pieces of Smollett’s case didn’t seem to add up.

Admittedly, I’d never heard of Jussie Smollett until this controversy.  He’s the co-star of a popular hit television show, Empire.  Based on a persistent and often feisty social media presence, Smollett, who is a gay Black man, has been described as an outspoken activist.

Investigators now believe the attack on Smollett was a fabrication.  It was staged.  If this proves to be true, he’s about to become the new Tawana Brawley.  Recall, she’s the despicable young girl who accused multiple police officers of a brutal gang rape thirty years ago, sparking national outrage.  Eventually, a thorough investigation found that she made the whole thing up.

Although there are clear parallels in the two cases, there are also significant differences.  Brawley was a poor Black girl with little education.  Not that she deserved any slack but let’s also remember:  Brawley was a minor, just 15 when she claimed she’d been raped by four men.  At least there were grounds for understanding what happened in the Brawley case.  The girl lived in an abusive household, feared severe punishment for staying out late one night, and made up her story as an excuse.

Smollett has no excuses for fabricating his criminal conspiracy.  He’s a relatively affluent, seemingly intelligent man, with a highly-successful career and — until this moment — a very bright future.  Inventing such a far-fetched story makes absolutely no sense, nor has any justification whatsoever.

Accordingly, Jussie Smollett should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law.

The Chicago Police Department spent a countless number of hours on this case which began three weeks ago.  Law enforcement dedicated considerable manpower to their investigation.  Dozens of people were interviewed.  Businesses with surveillance cameras were summoned to provide any evidence of a crime.  Hence, police wasted considerable time and effort chasing an invisible rabbit down a hole.  These pointless efforts reduced the precious resources available that might otherwise have been allocated elsewhere in Chicago, which does have a serious crime problem.  If dozens of police officers were out rabbit hunting Smollett’s false claims, that’s less law enforcement on the streets, and by consequence, more incidents of unsolved crime.  Smollett has done a terrible thing, and now he should pay for it.

But the real victims of Smollett’s deception (if eventually proven), are all those people from lesser backgrounds with little money, fame, or power who must live in constant fear and have to endure pervasive racism and homophobia in their daily lives.  They don’t have Smollett’s easy access to media nor talent for playing the convincing role of a crime victim, so they won’t get on TV to tell their stories.  The casualties of this contrived canard are future victims of hate crimes.  Now, because of doubts and discord and the lingering impossible-to-ignore memories we all have, they’ll face even more doubts.  They must meet higher, perhaps impossible thresholds, to prove when racially-motivated crimes actually do happen.  The movement Smollett purportedly wants to help shall ultimately pay the highest cost for his blatant deception.

That’s the real crime.

If evidence is found to implicate Jussie Smollett in a conspiracy, then he must be prosecuted.  Then, if he’s found guilty — lock him away.  For a long time.

We must make an example in this case and send a clear message:  There’s more than enough racism and homophobia in America already, without having to make things up.

__________

 

Read More

Posted by on Feb 10, 2019 in Blog, Essays, Music and Concert Reviews | 0 comments

Matt Lessinger’s Annual Grammy Awards Analysis and Forecast [2019]

 

 

If you’re a regular reader and not yet up to speed on Matt Lessinger and his expertise on awards shows and analysis, then I’m not sure what else to say.

He’s been introduced here before.  Get with the program.

Let’s skip the usual preamble and get straight to Matt’s thoughts on tonight’s Grammy Awards.  For the record, I know nothing about this year’s music or ceremony, which will air tonight.  The Grammy Awards typically warbles between mesmerizingly great and train wreck awful.  I expect more of the same, tonight.

For those who appreciate the science of handicapping and value great analysis, I urge you to read his thoughts here, which should be valued as a terrific handicapping outlier.   You need not be knowledgable of the music nor interested in the Grammy’s to value the high level of this work — which is why I’m eager to share Matt’s contribution here at my site.

Matt’s e-mail to me reads as follows:

.

.

Hi Nolan:
.
Sadly, I’ve looked at the Grammy odds on three different sites, and the best odds were on Bovada each time.  You know the offshore sites are getting worse when Bovada has the best lines!  That’s unfortunate because they are only allowing a max bet of $125. on each category, and I have no idea how they came up with that number, but they are standing firm on that max.  I don’t have the time or the resources to scour for a site with potentially better odds and/or maximums, but if anyone can find one and they are willing to share that information, it would be most appreciated.  In the meantime, the odds listed here can all be found on Bovada at the time of this writeup.
.
The most obvious difference from years past is that there are now eight nominees in each category instead of five.  That makes our job a little harder, but there’s still value to be found and money to be made.  The other difference is that the nominees lean way more in the direction of hip hop than in years past. If I had been forced to bet on who this year’s nominees would be, admittedly I would have gotten slaughtered.  For example, if you look at the category for Best Pop Vocal Album, which has six nominees (Taylor Swift, Ariana Grande, Camila Cabello, Kelly Clarkson, Pink, Shawn Mendes), I would have said that each of those albums could easily have landed in the Album of the Year category. Instead, NONE of them were nominated!  For Taylor Swift and Ariana Grande to not have been nominated in an eight-horse field for Album of the Year is downright shocking.  It may signal that the Grammys are going in a new direction.  However, until they prove that they are willing to change the way they hand out the actual winners trophies, we have to assume for betting purposes that they are still the same old Grammys.
.
I’m going to list the categories in order of confidence, going from least to most.
.
Let’s begin:
.
SONG OF THE YEAR
.
“Shallow” by Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper is the -300 favorite and will almost certainly win.  There are going to be two themes that repeat themselves throughout the categories.  The first is that there are no standout nominees in any category.  In my humble opinion, “Shallow” is not even a particularly good song, but it may be the best one in this weak field.  The second recurring theme is that we will summarily dismiss any hip-hop nominees, even though there are more than usual this year, until it is shown that they can win the open categories on a more regular basis.  With regard to this category, that eliminates half the field.  Out of the ones that are left, Lady Gaga is the only one with a winning Grammy track record, having won six of them in the past.  “Shallow” is the logical choice, but at -300 it is unplayable.  I’m going to take a complete flyer for a token wager on the longest shot in the field, “The Middle” by Zedd and Maren Morris.  Bombs away!  My simple logic is that it is the only other song in the field that would be considered pop.  On the one hand, the fact that none of the Best Pop Albums were nominated for Album of the Year signals a move away from pop music.  On the other hand, Grammys have always rewarded pop musicians in the open categories, most notably Taylor Swift and Adele in recent years.  “The Middle” might be the only upbeat song in the entire field, and it wouldn’t shock me if some voters gravitate to it just because it sounds uplifting in a sea of comparatively depressing music.
.
My play: “The Middle” by Zedd and Maren Morris at 33-1, for a very small wager.  But if you’re willing to lay the heavy wood, you’ll probably win with “Shallow” at -300.
.
.
BEST NEW ARTIST
.
When the nominees were announced, my initial reaction was that Dua Lipa would be the odds-on favorite.  Instead, H.E.R. is the -110 favorite and Dua Lipa is +180, and it’s far back to the rest of the field.  Anecdotally speaking, H.E.R. is from Vallejo, CA which is a half hour away from me, and I listen to R&B music, and I had never heard any of her songs before.  Once I listened to her, I had to admit I liked her music quite a bit, and she has a recognizable talent such that she could certainly win.  But her resume doesn’t match up to Dua Lipa, who has already had a #1 song (New Rules) and international radio airplay.  At the given prices, Dua Lipa is definitely the better value play.  It’s hard to summarily dismiss the longshots – someone like Luke Combs or Margo Price could certainly be bombs away at 22-1 – but the problem in this category is that it’s hard to predict which longshot the voters would gravitate towards, so it’s easier to just stick with the proven commodity.
.
My play: Dua Lipa at +180
.
.
ALBUM OF THE YEAR
.
Disclaimer: As much as I try to keep my personal musical opinions out of this process and stick to cold, hard analysis, sometimes that’s just not possible. This is one of those times.
.
Kacey Musgraves is the +120 favorite. I am quite sure a country artist has never been favored in this category for as long as I’ve been following Grammy betting.  To me that signals the weakness with the other nominees more than it signals the strength of her album.  She could certainly win, but there’s no value there.  The 2nd and 3rd choices are the Black Panther album, which is essentially Kendrick Lamar, and then Drake.  Both are hip-hop artists, and so I’ll say the same thing I’ve said every year for the past 15 years: the hip-hop artists who have previously won Album of the Year are Outkast and Lauryn Hill.  That’s it, that’s the list.  If one of them becomes the third member of that list, more power to them, but at +250 and +350 they’re unplayable.  Cardi B and Post Malone are two more hip-hop artists that can even more easily be dismissed.  Brandi Carlile and H.E.R. are the two longest shots on the board, and justifiably so.  Out of the last four nominees I listed, Carlile is the only one who should have any shot at winning due to her career longevity, which is often rewarded in the AOTY category, but sometimes just being nominated is the reward, which is what this feels like.
.
That leaves Janelle Monae, who is listed at 6-1 on Bovada, but I’ve seen her as low as 3-1 elsewhere.  Being completely honest, this is more of a hunch play than anything else.  It simply feels like it should be her time.  She is an R&B artist, which has historically been more successful in the open categories than either hip-hop or country.  She has had a musical career spanning almost 15 years, which is more than most of this field can claim.  Prince was an uncredited collaborator on the album, and assuming the voters are aware of that, his recent passing will certainly carry some weight. It was one of the most critically acclaimed albums of the year.  And finally, inserting my own two cents, this album deserves to win. At 6-1 the value is there.
.
My play: Dirty Computer by Janelle Monae at 6-1.
.
.
RECORD OF THE YEAR
.
Despite the constant insistence that Song of the Year and Record of the Year are two distinct categories, the same song wins in both categories way too often to be a coincidence. “Shallow” is the -300 favorite for SOTY and will probably win.  So why is it the +160 second choice in this category, and “This is America” by Childish Gambino is the -150 favorite?  I tried to find a logical reason and couldn’t come up with one.  This is the best bet on the board.  I’ll include another token wager on “The Middle” in case it sweeps both categories, but it’s far more likely that Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper will get the scoop.
.
My play (Best bet): “Shallow” at +160
Token wager: “The Middle” at 22-1
.
.
Good luck to everyone this year!
.
Cheers,
.
Matt L
.
_________
Read More
css.php