Dec 04, 2018

All of Hitsville’s ranking lists for New York


I’ve done a few lists for New York magazine and its website Vulture — variations on “All 213 Songs by the Beatles, Ranked in Order From Worst to Best.” They seem like listicles, but they are actually quite long, and try to tell the story of the band, along with other things, in addition to the commentaries on the songs.

Anyway, here they all are:


All 15 2019 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Nominees, Ranked

From Roxy Music to Def Leppard.

All 214 Artists in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Ranked From Best to Worst

From Chuck Berry to Bon Jovi.

66 Oscar Monologues and Opening Numbers Ranked, From Worst to Best

From Seth MacFarlane and Snow White to Chris Rock and NPH, with lots of Bob Hope in the middle.

All 147 Michael Jackson Songs, Ranked From Worst to Best

From his voice to his image to his dancing, it was so easy to get swept up in his High Pop Art. Then things got weird.

All 139 the Clash Songs, Ranked From Worst to Best

Death or Glory?

All 165 Pink Floyd Songs, Ranked From Worst to Best

So, you think you can tell Meddle from The Division Bell?

All 213 Beatles Songs, Ranked From Worst to Best

We had to count them all.

All 74 Led Zeppelin Songs, Ranked From Worst to Best

The biggest, loudest, heaviest band of all.

Nov 04, 2018

Hitsville on Jeremy Dylan’s ‘My Favorite Album’ podcast


Jeremy Dylan has been creating this weekly chat with someone in the music business for more than five years: The subject, most weeks, is the guest’s favorite album, and hence the name of the podcast.

Dylan is a journalist and filmmaker in Australia. I found him an attentive interlocutor who doesn’t miss much. You can hear all of his conversations here.

My chat with him about London Calling can be found here.


Nov 02, 2018

Notes on the Arizona McSally/Sinema race for Senate


I did a story on the Martha McSally-Kyrsten Sinema race for Phoenix magazine. For reasons that are neither here nor there, it was one of those articles where the process was a bit messed up, so I haven’t been sharing it on social media.

But there was something in it I have been thinking about and wanted to share.

My conversation with McSally was sour. The campaign gave us just a few minutes (like 11 minutes). The scene was in a nondescript office at a dusty concrete yard in Chandler after a small campaign event.

McSally spent the first minutes of the interview speed-talking about how “radical” and “extreme” Sinema was, with some side attacks on the economy of the state of California. (California has a $9 billion budget surplus and a significantly lower unemployment rate than Arizona.) When I finally got to ask some questions, things went south immediately. I made a bland statement about how Arizona was changing. (After all, there were two women running for Senate—when the state’s 11 previous senators had all been men, and had each served an average of 20 years.)

McSally disagreed, “I don’t know that I buy that the state is changing.”

I thought, OK, let’s talk about the changes. Her opponent identifies as bisexual. Did McSally support gay marriage?

“It’s a state’s issue and the Supreme Court has settled it,” she said.

I pressed her on her own views, and on her position on gay adoption as well, but she avoided the questions, saying it “wasn’t in her foxhole.”

“It’s not something that the federal government gets involved in.” That’s not true on several levels.

I was surprised at the lack of sophistication in her response. The right cloaks the hostility towards gays on the part of many church groups as a religious freedom issue. I would have thought McSally would have pivoted to that talking point.

You’d think that McSally would have been better prepared for such question given that her opponent was Sinema. Was McSally going to stand up in a debate and say her opponent didn’t have the right to marry whom she wanted, or adopt a child?

I moved on to Trump. I noted that a host of former top U.S. intelligence officials were criticizing his dealings with Russia, some saying he wasn’t fit for office.

“Who are they to make these decisions?” she snapped in response.

I was taken aback. “The former director of the CIA?” I ventured.

“Whatever,” she replied.

*     *     *

Again, it was weird she wasn’t prepared for the question. She could have gently suggested that the men were partisan, hinting that, in the past, other intelligence officials had criticized Obama. (They were people like Michael Flynn, but no matter.) I wasn’t prepared for “Whatever.”

This was the second time in two questions she didn’t have a coherent, non-risible answer to a predictable question.

We moved on to specifically the Russian meddling in U.S. elections. She downplayed these attacks on the American electoral process, referring to it as “propaganda.” “The Russians [always] meddle in elections,” she said. “They were doing it long before I was a kid out of the Air Force Academy, when we were studying the propaganda tactics of the Soviet Union.”

We weren’t talking about propaganda, of course. I asked her, “Are you happy with what the Trump Administration has done to fight it?”

To which she answered this: “Not everything is the government’s responsibility.”

*     *     *

She went on a bit, saying that the Department of Homeland Security had done “a lot” and that we “need to protect our election integrity.”

But you didn’t hear her criticize Russia. (But boy had she gotten exercised about California!)

The words “not everything is the government’s responsibility”—delivered in response to a question about attacks on the United States by Russia—I thought were pretty goofy. We see various poltroons deliver glib, nonsensical lines like that on TV (mostly on Fox), but you don’t generally hear them in the real world.

I lived in DC for six or seven years—I lived next door to George Bush’s press secretary—and as you’d expect found most people there smart and reasonable. I was caught off guard by an actual candidate for office in the state where I live deliver preposterous statements like that out loud.

I thought then, and think now, that for the third time in almost literally as many minutes, Martha McSally was not able to answer a simple question on an obvious subject in a way that wasn’t evasive, moronic, or, in the last example, almost patently disqualifying for someone running for national office who is supposed to be protecting the country.

Anyway, this is what happens when campaigns are run as so-called “air wars” of TV commercials. Phoenix magazine is obviously a major state publication, one that had invested a significant amount of time and money to get a story done. Her campaign offered the magazine—and by extension its readers—11 minutes for an interview.

And we saw what happened: When a candidate in a cocoon is exposed to actual substantive questions from an actual journalist, she shuts down.

McSally was the nation’s first female fighter pilot, and is now a U.S. representative from Tucson. She’s obviously not an insignificant person. But I got little sense of it in my chat with her—and certainly didn’t see someone qualified to be a United States senator.

May 12, 2016

Recent articles by Hitsville

For the Columbia Journalism Review:
“Nate Silver unloads on the New York Times”

FIVETHIRTYEIGHT’S NATE SILVER ripped into The New York Times in general—and the paper’s new media columnist,Jim Rutenberg, in particular—on the FiveThirtyEight election podcast on Monday. The minutes-long rant included loaded words like “dishonest” and “unethical.”

Screen Shot 2016-05-12 at 5.03.30 p.m.

Silver and his operation had an alliance with the Times during the time of the 2012 election. The attack showed that there’s little love lost over the split, at least from Silver’s perspective. It also

 proved that Donald Trump, the apparent victor in a race that reporters across the spectrum called spectacularly wrong up until the very end, is still roiling the media world.

Screen Shot 2016-05-12 at 5.01.15 p.m.For Vulture (New York magazine website):
Radiohead’s Shtick Resonates Anew in the Trump Era With A Moon Shaped Pool

Now, with 48 hours notice, we have A Moon Shaped Pool, which is, leaving aside the annoying lack of a hyphen in the title, a capital-A album. Do you remember the opening passages of King of Limbs? The atonal beeps, like something out of a Terry Riley piece? A Moon Shaped Pool, by contrast, begins with a coursing and dramatic guitar line, as powerful an attack as we’ve heard from the band in more than 15 years, flecked first with some processed strings, and then a hysterical reedy bleat, like a bassoon about to undergo a tracheotomy.

For Vulture (New York magazine website):
His Name Was Prince. And He Was Funky. 

Screen Shot 2016-05-12 at 4.59.14 p.m.

With the death of Prince, let’s celebrate “this thing called life,” as His Purpleness himself put it. For him it was inseparable from love — his second and most heartfeltsubject — and from sex, his third and most lascivious. They were all part of the same thing. He was arguably the most crazily multitalented pop star we have ever seen: a singer, songwriter, producer, multi-instrumentalist, dancer, performer, and impresario of the first rank. He was also a dutiful actor, a worthy inhabitant of the Madonna-Kardashian-Trump ether of tabloid antics, a narcissist of dizzying dysfunctionality, a crank, and also, in the end — what’s the word? — a presence. I remember being at a Warner Bros. convention, sitting at a big ballroom table with a bunch of cynical journalists. Prince walked by — tiny, in purple and high heels — and we all dropped our drinks. A few minutes later he was onstage rolling around on the top of a white grand piano singing “Nothing Compares 2 U.” We all knew what he was trying to do to the piano. He was a fucker. No, I mean: a literal fucker. Beside everything else, he stood astride the world and fucked famously. He was the world’s most advanced rock star.


Apr 10, 2016

Liz Phair, Steve Albini & Me

newcity cover

Twenty-two years ago, the music producer sent me a letter at the Chicago Reader, complaining about a piece I’d written on Liz Phair, the Smashing Pumpkins, and Urge Overkill.  It was 1993 and those three acts were at the front of of a roller-coaster ride of fame as the city’s rock scene came to national attention.


albini fax

The exchange has become part of Chicago rock lore — to this day it comes up regularly in writing about the scene.

His note created a months-long letters war in the paper, but I’ve never responded. Recently, a writer in the Reader (which is, sad to say, a shell of its former self) cited the note and dissed me in the process. I thought it was time to talk about some of the issues the letter raised, let folks know how ’93 unfolded from my perspective in the cheap seats, and, not least, settle a few scores.

New City, a competing paper in town, agreed to run the result. It was, editor and publisher Brian Hieggelke said, the longest piece they’d ever run.

You can read the piece — with major and cameo appearances by Phair, Albini, Urge, Billy Corgan, Jim DeRogatis, Brad Wood, Brigid Murphy, Jeff Tweedy, Sue Miller, Joe Shanahan, Jim Ellison, the Stalkers, Courtney Love, and Sheila Sachs — here.