When I heard the news a few weeks back that Tom Jones would be working with Jack White for White's "Blue Series" singles, I was initially baffled. But then it started to make sense. First of all, as I learned from a recent reading of Keith Richards' autobiography Life, Jones wasn't always the smarmy, lecherous-to-the-max crooner my mind conjures when I think of him today. Like the Stones, he started as a working-class British (well, Welsh, but you see where I'm going) dude who wanted to sing blues music. And he was damn good at it. Later came the tight trousers, chest hair, and hyper-masculine songs like "What's New Pussycat" and "She's a Lady," neither of which I can think of without a shudder. And despite my personal ick-factor, he's been astronomically successful, selling over 100 million records and performing in Vegas weekly since the late 1960s. Women shower him with underwear at every performance to this day. While a recent attempt at a more "authentic" sound, 2010's Praise and Blame, was panned by even his record label (Island's vice-president asked via email if the project was "a sick joke" and demanded his money back), Jones, at age 70, is surely a very successful man. He just isn't cool.
And that's where a "fixer" like White comes in. Between White's rejuvenation of the careers of country greats like Loretta Lynn and Wanda Jackson, Rick Rubin's work with Johnny Cash, and Jeff Tweedy's recent collaboration with Mavis Staples (not to mention the entire output of T. Bone Burnett), it's becoming a time-honored tradition-- bringing back to the fold a formerly great musician who's strayed from what they're best at, and in doing so, revitalizing a stagnating career. In some instances, the musician is stil commercially successful, like Jones, but needs a shot in the arm to reinvigorate their creativity. When it works, it leads a performer to a new era of music. When it fails, at least they tried. But lord knows, a lot of people need it. So here's my list of the ten musicians most in need of a career makeover. Apologies in advance if it's too boomer-oriented, but let's face it, they are the people who most need help getting back on the path to greatness. Bonus fun: Guess whether I'm pulling from the best or the worst of their catalog for the YouTube videos!
10. Yacht rock (the whole genre)
The very opposite of Animal Collective, yacht rock, aka the smoothest music possible, is dying for a resurrection. Take your pick from Steely Dan (whose recent albums were well-reviewed Grammy winners, but whose live show a fan described as akin to watching a cover band), Christopher Cross, Toto, The Doobie Brothers, Kenny Loggins or Michael McDonald, any of whom are due for a comeback of epic proportions. Michael McDonald already sang on a Grizzly Bear track, and Destroyer's Kaputt was the closest thing to a smooth rock album in years. You see where I'm heading with this.
9. Tina Turner
Despite continuing to perform live and record guest appearances, Turner hasn't put out an album of solo material since 1999's Twenty Four Seven. That release put her squarely in the pop category, but for her next effort, what about something that takes her back to her soul roots?
8. Fleetwood Mac
I love classic Fleetwood Mac more than anything. But I fear any talk of a new album, because I know it will be terrible, unless they change the formula. They're planning to tour this year, but haven't released an album since 2003's extremely patchy Say You Will. Lindsey Buckingham even told Billboard he'd be open to relinquishing the reins and working with a new producer. It's also the 35th anniversary of Rumours. Can someone please step up to the plate?
7. The Rolling Stones
Hear me out on this one. Like I said, I recently read Keith Richards' autobiography, Life. During the course of said reading, it became clear to me that whatever Richards might say or even believe, The Stones have been running on fumes for the last two decades, maybe longer. I don't know what it would take to make them really reach for some new inspiration, or if Richards and Mick Jagger will ever get over hating each other. Since everyone involved makes more money than God, it's unlikely they'll change the formula, and 2005's A Bigger Bang was seen as a return to form. But let's face it, we've been saying that since the '80s. Will they ever make it back to their Exile roots?
6. Chris Cornell
If at any point in your career your music can be described as rap-rock, you've gone wrong somewhere. But the bigger crime than Audioslave is Cornell's solo albums, which, rather than take the charming Eddie-Vedder-with-a-ukulele route, instead have choices like acoustic covers of "Billie Jean." That's just wrong.
5. Eric Clapton
So necessary he made my brainstorming list twice. An amazing guitarist (seriously, what band hasn't he been in?) who now coasts on mid-tempo shuffle... endlessly. What will it take to make Clapton cool again?
4. Rod Stewart
Second verse, same as the first. Someone who used to be talented who now puts out album after album of jazz standard pablum. I'm sure he's making plenty of money, but no new fans.
3. Liz Phair
One of my all-time musical heroes for her honest lyrics and innovative guitar playing, her classic '90s albums like Exile in Guyville and Whip-Smart are as great now as they were when they first came out. But somewhere down the line, she took an extremely wrong turn, ending up with a sound closer to Jewel or some overproduced pop singer than the badass of her early albums. Her 2010 album Funstyle, released independently on her website because no one would put it out, is so indescribably terrible it's soul-crushing. Poor Liz Phair. She's fallen so far it's even discredited her earlier achievements, as I've even heard rumors she had help writing those great '90s albums. Though I'm sure that's not the case, she would be a prime candidate for career rehab. Can the next album come out on Matador, please?
2. Emitt Rhodes
"The One-Man Beatles" has put out almost zero new material since the '70s, but the Rhodes camp shows signs of life of late. In November, he released three new songs with backing vocals by members of The Bangles and guitar work by Richard Thompson. Since Rhodes always meticulously recorded his own material, he doesn't need help from a producer per se. But someone to align his name with would be perfect. Let's hope Richard Thompson does the trick.
1. The Stone Roses
Someone needs to make sure any new material isn't the second coming of The Second Coming.
Okay, those are my picks. Got someone you'd like to nominate for a Jack White-style career massage? Add 'em in the comments!