The Critics Were Wrong.



The reason the critics all like Elvis Costello better than me is because they all look like Elvis Costello. – David Lee Roth

We thought it would be fun to detail some of the most glaring examples of Rock Criticism gone wrong. And to prove it takes one, or maybe two, to know one…we enlisted Rob Tannenbaum (ex-Rolling Stone) and Craig Marks (ex-Spin) to host the proceedings.

So, here you have it. A Slacker Radio countdown of 50 great artists and songs, from Kanye West and Taylor Swift to Paul McCartney and Led Zeppelin that the critics, at least in one important moment in time, got totally and completely wrong.

When The Critics Were Wrong – The Countdown.

Highlights include:

“She’s no Ashanti” – The NY Times upon the release of Beyonce’s first solo album.
“Jimmy Page is a very limited producer and a writer of weak, unimaginative songs” – Rolling Stone on Led Zeppelin’s debut.
“Deserves the conniving self-pitying voice that is his curse” – Robert Christgau and The Village Voice on James Taylor
“Oozes lumpy sincerity” – NY Times on Macklemore
“Kanye isn’t quite MC-enough to hold down the entire disc” – Rolling Stone on Kanye West’s College Dropout.
“Deeply irritating; sub-Fergie” – Slate on Kesha.
“The most insufferable band of the decade” – Jon Pareles and the NY Times on Coldplay
“Queen may be the first truly fascist rock band” – Dave Marsh and Rolling Stone on Queen
“Incredibly inconsequential and monumentally irrelevant” – Rolling Stone on Paul McCartney’s RAM album.
“Laughable” – Nick Tosches & Rolling Stone on Yoko Ono.

Happy listening.

What Was The Greatest Year In Music?


There’s a certain kind of music fan that seems to enjoy arguing about  music, almost as much as listening to it. Categories can be broad an all-encompassing  — Top 10 Songs Ever, Desert Island Discs, Most Important Artists, or the topics can by specific — Best Songs About Food, Greatest Quincy Jones Productions, Ten Best Beatles Songs, but in almost every case, the conversations are ardent.

HighFidelity Jack Black crop

Both WXPN in Philadelphia and Slacker Radio are filled with people like this — passionate music obsessives who like a good dialogue, and love   contextualizing music. They don’t just hear melodies and lyrics, they experience the political, social and pop culture matrix of the song’s era.

So, when Bruce Warren, music obsessive and programming lead for WXPN, mentioned to me that they were planning a special month around the Greatest Year In Music History, we got very excited.


Surely there had to be one year that towered over the rest. How could there be a better year for music than 1967, the “summer of love”, and its soundtrack of Sgt Pepper, Good Vibrations, and Aretha Franklin’s Respect?  Well, tell that to a jazz head who counts 1959 as the year that Brubeck’s Take Five, Mingus’s Ah Um, and perhaps the greatest jazz album ever, Miles Davis’s Kind Of Blue were released. And what about 1984 with pop royalty like Prince, Madonna, and Michael Jackson all releasing argubably their greatest albums, while The Replacements, Husker Du and a slew of American college radio heroes reinvented the underground in response?

miles davis kob

What was the greatest year in music history?  On second look, this was a really tough question to answer. Music is so personal, and so hard to pin down. Still, the question itself seemed like a perfect fit for a quick partnership between WXPN, Slacker, and our respective audiences. Could we collectively try to answer what is perhaps an impossible, or at least impossibly subjective question?

Replacements Let It Be

We are enormous fans of WXPN and their take on radio — hand-crafted, intelligent, with a distinctive editorial voice. Their hosts are knowledgable and relatable, and they know their music history backwards and forwards. Slacker, in turn, has a passionately engaged audience, some pretty impressive musicologists of our own, and a technology platform perfect for skipping from year to year as you listen and decide.

So, with a couple of quick phone calls, and a spirited conversation or two about what years to include, the WXPN on Slacker partnership regarding The Greatest Year In Music was born.

We invite you to listen on both Slacker and, and join in by voting for your favorite years here.

Let the rumpus begin.

Guilty Pleasures Are Dead…And Bigger Than Ever



Irving Berlin said, “Popular music is popular because a lot of people like it.”

Recently the metrics meets storytelling site polygraph ( published a piece by Matt Daniels on the most timeless songs from the 1990’s. More specifically, using Spotify plays as a yardstick, Daniels took a look at how resilient songs from the 1990’s were for today’s all-the-worlds-music-at-my-fingertips streaming music listeners.

As you might expect cultural clarion calls like Nirvana’s Smells like Teen Spirit, Red Hot Chili Pepper’s Under The Bridge, Radiohead’s Creep, and Eminem’s My Name Is dominated. These songs are all different…or are they? After all, they’re all personal declarations of adolescent pain. The kind of pain that has fueled much of the great rock and hip hop of the last 30 years. These songs are variations on “I am hurting, the world is a mess, it’s in my kiss deal with it”.


The 60’s gave us My Generation, we were Comfortably Numb in the 70’s, The Smiths and songs like Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now helped define the 80’s, and then came the 90’s. For every Smells Like Teen Spirit or Creep, there were hundreds more where they came from. Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Smashing Pumpkins, and a legion of downcast “complaint rock” bands ruled MTV and radio in the era. Apparently, in the 1990’s it was hip to be bummed.

goth coloring book

OK then. Through the ages, teenage angst has been constant in pop music. But when listeners are not bummed out, and they can listen to any song they want from the anonymity of their smart phone and headphones, what else do today’s streamers want to hear?

Apparently, they want to hear…crap.


The kind of “crap” that in the pre-Napster Rock era (1964–2000) you had to be ashamed to buy. Or more charitably…a concentrated set of incredibly catchy, sometimes dopey, wonderfully catchy pop songs, formerly known as Guilty Pleasures.

You see, streaming music sites like Spotify, Pandora and Slacker have done more than open up the catalogue of all music to anyone with broadband — they have killed Guilty Pleasures. This has happened gradually but surely over the last ten years. No one needs to know exactly what you are listening to in those headphones, and even if they did judge you for your momentary dalliance with Roxette or Bryan Adams, it was just momentary. There are a million other songs just a click away, so what’s the big deal? It’s not like you’re going to get a Spin Doctors Two Princes tattoo, right

Contrast our present day ease of entry, ease of escape with the 1990’s. Can you imagine the walk of shame for a 16 year old Gen X’er as she ambled up to the Tower Records counter with a CD or two from Britney or The Spice Girls along with her Sonic Youth and Nirvana masterpieces? That was simply not going to happen.

spice girls

Guilty Pleasure pop like Britney’s Baby One More Time and The Spice Girls Wannabee were mortal enemies before streaming. Now they are playlist kissing cousins. These songs dominate the catalogue spins across the streaming services.

Songs like Collio’s Gangsta’s Paradise, Celine Dion’s My Hear Will Go On, Blackstreet’s No Diggitty and Natalie Imbruglia’s Torn are no longer Guilty Pleasures at all. They are simply fun oldies. Perfect for your Songs That You Think Sucked…But Don’t playlist, or Wussiest Songs Ever station or Yes I’m Listening To Lite Rock, So What.

On a revenue level, these are massive catalogue streaming hits, generating huge market share gains for their labels.

Perhaps there are cultural and personal economic forces at play here too. The path to employment isn’t an easy one for millenials. Student loans, 24/7 connectivity and the resulting social media pressure have created a perfect sociological storm for disposable pop. Maybe impending adulthood sounds like crap a lot more than a Coolio song ever could. I’ll leave that one for the social scientists.

Financially, these songs are most certainly not crap. Thanks to streaming, these former Guilty Pleasures are now simply songs we love. Gangsta’s Paradise, Wannabee, and Britney’s hits are the new catalogue smashes. These are great pop songs ready for your “Hipster Karaoke”, “Stadium-Singalong”, or “Yacht-Rock Party”. Whatever your station or playlist is called, these songs are perfect.

Guilty Pleasures are dead. They’re also bigger than ever.

Van Morrison: Treasure … No Longer Buried.



I am, or at least try to be, a Van Morrison fan. Van is a notoriously “difficult” character — known for an ornery persona with labels, promoters, the press and fans alike. I have no problem with any of that. In fact, truth be told, I sort of like his wariness and mistrust of celebrity and of the music industry. And I’m certainly more than OK with the idea of loving the art, not the artist.

So, it wasn’t Van’s personality that made it tough to be a fan. Instead, it was simply the fact that his catalogue was a mess. The back-catalogue had fallen into incredible disrepair. For the last 15 years or so, a good portion of Van’s music was out of print on CD, and absent from streaming services like Spotify and Slacker. You literally could not listen to pristine versions of life-changing albums like St. Dominics Preview or Into The Music without breaking the law or breaking your bank account.

st doms

So, I approached the news that Sony was cleaning up and readying the Van Morrison catalogue with realistic expectations. Van Morrison was a self-professed music industry hater, grappling with a digital era that he certainly couldn’t feel much natural affinity with.

Listen to how many times Van reminds the Time Magazine interviewer here that he is “not a download artist”.

Yet, here we are. Sony has done a nice job, under no doubt difficult circumstances. The new Essentials CD is well curated, combining tracks from Them, the Warner titles, and Sony’s newly licensed stockpile into a worthwhile overview.

van essentials

More importantly, they have at least plugged the gaping digital hole that was Van Morrison’s streaming catalogue. 3 of the 4 Warner albums and these 33 Sony titles are now available for streaming. For depth of emotion, commitment to chasing the muse, and pure musical delight these albums represent a catalogue of music that rivals any solo artist in the history of rock.

Van creates a unique musical mix of R&B, Rock and Roll, Celtic folk, Soul, New Orleans blues and jazz, all while he searches for transcendence. It is art of the highest order.  It is the only music I know that sounds simultaneously completely spontaneous, and yet inevitable. And its all so intimate, so personal, as to make almost every other artist sound artificial.

Griel Marcus breaks this down:

People take Van Morrison personally. Incidents from his music enter the events of their lives – events in their love lives, their family lives, births and especially deaths – and people feel as if he put those incidents in their lives. As if, in some way, he’s there. Not in any magical sense – just in the manner in which art is supposed to work: it touches you. And won’t let go. People have always talked about the certainty they had that when Elvis Presley sang – on record, especially in person, but even on television – he was singing directly to them. This is different. It’s a feeling people get that Morrison has already lived the events that they’re living out or have lived out – or haven’t yet lived out, but may – that he’s been there first, and put those events into songs, into music, into an emotional form that can be transferred into a thing, a record, an LP or a CD or a download on a computer or an iPod, something you can physically refer to, that produces an apprehension of the real, the tangible. In other words, not he’s singing to you; in a certain sense, he has lived your life for you.

Listen to Van Morrison on Slacker here.

On Bruce Lundvall


I only spent time with Bruce once, but it was special and made a gigantic impression. We connected at an Al Green AOL Session he attended as chairman of Blue Note. As we watched Al sing his heart out in a small studio, I thanked Bruce earnestly for allowing us to attend and capture something so magical. He spent the next 15 minutes sincerely thanking us for our efforts, and talking with absolute humility about he had never seen Al sing in such an intimate setting, and how appreciative he was of our efforts in “letting” him (Bruce) have such a incredible musical experience. It was easily one of my best days on the planet. RIP.

“Without People; You’re Nothing” – Joe Strummer, Slacker & Reinventing Radio.


JSP0197-07-FPAs some of you know, I work at Slacker Radio as their head of Content & Programming. That means I’m lucky enough to have a seat at the table about what we offer our audience, and why.

About a year ago, we asked ourselves “What would radio sound and look like if it was invented AFTER the internet?”

Look, I used to love terrestrial radio. But consolidation and corporatization sucked almost all the personality out of it. And musical conservatism killed any chance of real discovery. And while I loved Napster’s original promise, and enjoyed the first few years of On-Demand services like Rhapsody, I found the endless search bar into playlist experience tired quickly. I missed the human element. The whole thing just felt cold.

So, “What would radio sound and look like if it was invented AFTER the internet?”
Today, with the unveiling of Slacker Radio’s new design and a slew of new programming and features, you can hear our answer to that question.

Slacker’s answer is to empower talented people. We have created a brand new technologically advanced platform, to serve people who have a passionate point of view, Our hosts
don’t sound like radio DJs. They come from press, clubs, YouTube, podcasting, and are huge fans and experts about their passions. They don’t check time, temperature and the weird news of the day. Instead, they are given the freedom to celebrate the music and culture that they love, and to pull no punches about what they hate.

Our listeners are given even more power than our hosts. Listeners can skip, heart, ban, time-shift, share and instantaneously talk back to us. They can even completely turn our hosts off!

We think this is a better way. A people first approach. Today, we attempt to reinvent radio.

We will get a bunch of stuff wrong. Our hosts will say occasional stupid things, and make mistakes. That’s what freedom brings. That’s being human.

But with personality-driven countdowns like 66 Songs That Changed Everything, Classic HipHop A-Z, The Worst Ideas In Music History, and The Greatest Gen X Songs, Slacker is committed to context, curation and storytelling. We believe what Joe Strummer said — “Without people, You’re nothing” We love music, we love artists and creativity, we love technology, and we believe with people, Radio can be great again.

Please give us a look and a listen. Today is day one.


Happy Holidays & hope you dig.

Slacker. Bringing Music Curation Back.


When I was a kid, pre-Internet, I had a love/hate relationship with the radio.

I grew up in New York, and in my teens WNEW-FM was my constant companion. WNEW positioned itself as the station “Where Rock Lives.” Every song seemed perfectly picked, placed, and contextualized — it was music curation at its finest. Listening as a twelve-to-thirteen-year-old, I discovered tons of new music, or at least artists who were new to me. Rock really did seem to live on that station. Its DJs were true hosts. I clung to every word that Jonathan Schwartz, Vin Scelsa, and Scott Muni uttered. After all, in a time before message boards or social media, these people were my friend – intimate friends who turned me on to Bruce Springsteen, the Grateful Dead, and Bob Dylan.

But after a while, I became frustrated with WNEW-FM. I had discovered a whole new world–punk rock –and WNEW wasn’t playing very much of it. I heard an occasional Ramones song, but where were the Sex Pistols, the Clash, the Jam, and Wire? WNEW was too busy playing Foreigner, Styx, and Journey. Yuck, yuck, and yuck. (Ironically, I now have a custom-made Slacker station called The Bands I Hated in High School Kinda Sound Good to Me Now–but I’m getting ahead of myself here.)

Eventually I broke up with WNEW. The station had betrayed me. There was just so much Foreigner I could take. It certainly was no longer the place where my rock lived. I abandoned WNEW, and I abandoned the radio.

Years later, Napster came onto the scene, and music listening changed forever. All the world’s music accessible with a click of a mouse. I loved Napster at first but soon grew uncomfortable with both its bad song results and its lack of artist support.

Through the 2000s I drifted from service to service online. Rhapsody, Imeem, Lala, iTunes, eMusic…I tried them all. But somehow, despite the cool music platform that the web had become, something was missing. Some days it was enough and I found treasures, but most days it felt a bit cold, clinical. Listening to music on these services was mostly clean and efficient, but it wasn’t all that entertaining, and it certainly wasn’t magical. These were algorithms and applications…not good friends crafting music experiences. The human element was missing.

For the first time in years, I found myself missing the old WNEW-FM.

Then, in 2011, I found Slacker.

Slacker would have seemed like an impossible dream to the eighteen-year-old me. It worked everywhere. On my computer, on my phone, in my car. Best of all is the curation. At Slacker, I have more than 200 pre-programmed stations to choose from. Sure, there are the expected genre stations — Today’s Hits, New Hip Hop, Country, and an excellent slate of Alternative stations. But Slacker also digs really deep with Eclectic Rock, Great Songs You Forgot, Old School R&B, and Grunge: 20 Years Later. These are thematic stations that terrestrial radio could never dream of.

With Slacker, I can access the biggest hits, or reinvent the concept of formats, on a daily basis. Only people who live and breathe music every day could come up with stations like Dive Bar Jukebox, Broken Heart Radio, or The 50 Most Embarrassing Facebook Songs. No algorithm in the world can put a music mix together like these stations.

With Slacker, I am able to follow hosts like Mat Bates and Scott Riggs, whose expert curation routinely blows me away.

I love Scott’s Indie Hits mix and I find Mat’s New Music First stations invaluable. I really couldn’t live without The New 40, the Slacker station that plays the best 40 songs regardless of genre, each and every week.

Yet as good at turning me on to music as Mat and Scott are, I love being able to overrule them, to have more power than the DJ, to take a good station and make it better. I can fine-tune any station by tweaking the music mix based on related artists, song popularity, and song age. Fine-tune is an extremely cool feature. I can add sports from ESPN, news from ABC, and talk from American Public Media.

At Slacker, I have total control of a music library of more than 13 million songs. I can lean in and make custom playlists. I can lean back by simply typing a band or song name into the Search box and just let the music play. For a guy who spent days as a kid making mixed tapes, this seems unbelievably fast, efficient, and wondrous.

Most important, at Slacker I feel like the human spirit of the old WNEW FM lives, but within a new technological construct. Experts like Scott & Mat make superb stations – they are bringing music curation back. The technology platform makes everything easier, better, more customizable.

So go ahead, poke around, play a station, or enter a song. It’s up to you — with Slacker, all you have to do is listen up.

Sage Advice: #1 – Why Do People STAY In The Music Business?

they may start because they love music, or because of some weird happenstance. But they STAY for one reason only…

“You know why people stay in the music business, Jack?
E. G. O.
Oh, they may start because they love music, or because of some weird happenstance. But they STAY for one reason only — Ego.”
— Jane Friedman.

Jane Friedman was a NY publicist, Patti Smith’s manager, and someone who really loved music. She taught me a valuable lesson during my first months in the music business.