All-Time MLB Franchise Rankings, 2015 Edition

I wanted to get the latest list of Major League Baseball franchise rankings done before the start of the 2015 season, but obviously that didn’t happen. But that’s OK, right?

Last year I split the list into two posts ranking the best and worst teams in MLB history, but in keeping with the other sports lists I maintain I’m putting all 30 active franchises in one place. So with that  out of the way, here are how the rankings are compiled:

The Criteria

The categories and point values are as follows:

  • 20 points for a World Series title. Pre-1903 titles are not counted.
  • 15 points for a league pennant.
  • 6 points for a playoff series win (e.g. Division Series or Wild Card Game).
  • 4 points for a division title.
  • 3 points for a regular season winning percentage of .556 or higher, -3 points for a percentage of .444 or lower.
  • 1 point for a winning season, -1 point for a losing season.
  • Consecutive winning regular seasons are worth 2 points starting with the second, 3 points for the third, 4 points for the fourth, and so on. The counter is reset after any non-winning season. So if a team has three winning seasons in a row, they get a total of 5 points.
  • A multiplier is included, which is based on a franchise’s all-time regular-season winning percentage.

Here we go with this year’s updated rankings. Previous year ranks are in parentheses.

The Top 10

#1. New York Yankees (#1) — 23.45 avg.

#2. San Francisco Giants (#2) — 8.67 avg.

#3. Boston Red Sox (#3) — 7.75 avg.

#4. St. Louis Cardinals (#4) — 7.69 avg.

#5. Los Angeles Dodgers (#5) — 7.23 avg.

#6. Oakland Athletics (#7) — 5.73 avg.

#7. Atlanta Braves (#6) — 5.72 avg.

#8. Detroit Tigers (#9) — 4.93 avg.

#9. Pittsburgh Pirates (#10) — 4.75 avg.

#10. Arizona Diamondbacks (#8) — 5.44 avg.

Not much movement in this group except toward the bottom. The Diamondbacks continue their tumble toward the middle 10, having lost more than half a point from their all-time franchise average from 2013. In fact Arizona is just one of two teams to drop more than one spot this year, the other being Philadelphia.

The World Series champion Giants boosted their average by a league-best .35 points in 2014 but aren’t even within reach of the Yankees. Let’s just say that I don’t see NY relinquishing the top spot during my lifetime.

The Mediocre 10

#11. Chicago Cubs (#11) — 4.64 avg.

#12. Toronto Blue Jays (#12) — 4.20 avg.

#13. Chicago White Sox (#13) — 3.83 avg.

#14. Cincinnati Reds (#14) — 3.64 avg.

#15. Cleveland Indians (#15) — 3.39 avg.

#16. New York Mets (#16) — 2.944 avg.

#17. Baltimore Orioles (#17) — 2.938 avg.

#18. Kansas City Royals (#23) — 2.24 avg.

#19. Miami Marlins (#18) — 2.09 avg.

#20. Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim (#20) — 2.05 avg.

The big shakeup here is from the Royals, who rode a Cinderella season all the way to an American League pennant and rose five spots in this list as a result. Taking their place in the bottom-feeder section are the aforementioned Phillies.

The Bottom 10

#21. Philadelphia Phillies (#19) — 2.03 avg.

#22. Houston Astros (#21) — 1.63 avg.

#23. Minnesota Twins (#22) — 1.58 avg.

#24. Tampa Bay Rays (#24) — 0.95 avg.

#25. Texas Rangers (#25) — 0.61 avg.

#26. Milwaukee Brewers (#26) — 0.40 avg.

#27. Washington Nationals (#27) — -0.0268 avg.

#28. San Diego Padres (#28) — -0.0270 avg.

#29. Colorado Rockies (#29) — -0.25 avg.

#30. Seattle Mariners (#30) — -0.57 avg.

The poor didn’t get a whole lot poorer this year, but neither did they get much better except for Kansas City. Both the Astros and Twins dropped one spot, while the Rays, Rangers, Brewers, Nats, Padres, Rockies, and Mariners stayed right where they were last season.

I guess there’s something to be said for consistency at least.

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The 10 Worst Teams in Major League Baseball

The 10 Worst MLB Franchises (through 2013)

I was hoping to get this done prior to the start of the 2014 Major League Baseball season, but such is life. Anyway, the title of this post should say it all. Just as I did for the NHL last year, I’ve devised a super-secret, proprietary system for ranking all current baseball franchises. To see my rankings for other leagues, as well as all my sports lists, check out this page.

But before I get to the list of the ten worst MLB teams of all-time, a few notes of explanation are needed.

  • Rankings are based on average points per season, not total points.
  • For the few franchises whose history stretches back to the 19th century (Braves, Cardinals, Reds, etc.), I am only counting seasons played as members of the National League.
  • I am awarding points for a playoff series win for teams that won the special Division Series held at the end of the strike-shortened 1981 season.
  • Records from previous franchise locations are included. So for example, the Nationals’ totals include their time as the Montreal Expos.

The Criteria

The categories and point values are as follows:

  • 20 points for a World Series title. Pre-1903 titles are not counted.
  • 15 points for a league pennant.
  • 6 points for a playoff series win (e.g. Division Series or Wild Card Game).
  • 4 points for a division title.
  • 3 points for a regular season winning percentage of .556 or higher, -3 points for a percentage of .444 or lower.
  • 1 point for a winning season, -1 point for a losing season.
  • Consecutive winning regular seasons are worth 2 points starting with the second, 3 points for the third, 4 points for the fourth, and so on. The counter is reset after any non-winning season. So if a team has three winning seasons in a row, they get a total of 5 points.
  • A multiplier is included, which is based on a franchise’s all-time regular-season winning percentage.

While I may tweak my formula in future years, I think what I have now accomplishes my two most important objectives — to reward consistently good play in the regular season and to not give older franchises too much of an advantage just by virtue of being around for so many years. World Series titles alone do not a great team make.

That’s about it! Let’s get to the rankings, good through the end of the 2013 MLB season.

Seattle Mariners logo#1. Seattle Mariners (-0.57 avg.)

After 37 seasons in the books, all the Mariners have to show for their time in baseball are three division titles and three ALDS wins. Seattle didn’t even complete a winning season 1991, their fifteenth in Major League Baseball.

Since their last playoff appearance, in 2001, the Mariners have completed just four winning campaigns and have lost more than 100 games twice.

#2. Colorado Rockies (-0.25 avg.)

20 years is probably enough time to stop using the excuse of being an expansion franchise, wouldn’t you say? Nevertheless, other than a Cinderella run all the way to the World Series in 2007, Colorado hasn’t had much going for it. In fact they have almost as many 90-loss campaigns (5) as they do winning seasons (7).

#3. San Diego Padres (-0.0270 avg.)

All you need to really know about the Padres is that they currently boast the worst all-time regular season winning percentage (.464) of any team currently in existence. To be fair, they have advanced to the World Series twice (1984 and 1997) since joining the league in 1969. But those two seasons are the only ones in which they’ve won a playoff series.

Montreal Expos sticker logo#4. Washington Nationals (-0.0268 avg.)

The Nationals missed out on third place on this list by a mere fraction, but it really doesn’t matter much. Since joining the league as the expansion Montreal Expos in 1969, the franchise has captured a measly two division crowns and won a single playoff series.

The current Nats squad might help put some more distance between themselves and San Diego, but they have a climb in front of them to catch the number five team on this list.

#5. Milwaukee Brewers (0.37 avg.)

Speaking of which, how strange of a coincidence that three of the four ’69 expansion teams are clumped together on this list? The Brew Crew has been mediocre or just plain bad for much of its 45-year history, with more than twice as many losing seasons as winning ones, and an astonishing 14 seasons in which they lost at least 90 games. That’s almost one out of every three years on average that the Brewers have stunk.

#6. Texas Rangers (0.71 avg.)

By average, the Rangers are almost twice as good as the Brewers. Unfortunately that’s not saying much. Texas managed an amazing streak of futility when they went their first 36 seasons before making the playoffs. They have picked up the pace since then, advancing to the postseason six times since 1998 — and the last four years in a row — but they need to do a lot more winning to move out of this list.

#7. Tampa Bay Rays (1.04 avg.)

It truly is a tale of two franchises with Tampa. From their inception as the Devil Rays in 1998 through 2007 they were not just bad, they were really bad. Like, 90-plus losses every year bad. But since 2008 the franchise has undergone a remarkable transformation, winning two AL East titles and making the playoffs four times in the process. They’ve also won at least 90 games in each of the last four campaigns and have battled for divisional supremacy with the Yankees and Red Sox.

#8. Kansas City Royals (1.61 avg.)

Two teams on this list, of which the Royals are one, have the dubious honor of actually winning at least one World Series title. But since winning their lone championship in 1985, the Royals have wandered the baseball desert. In those 28 seasons KC has had losing records in 20 of them, four of which also featured more than 100 losses. And on top of all that (there’s more?), the Royals have had two winning seasons — TWO — since 1994.

Minnesota Twins logo#9. Minnesota Twins (1.63 avg.)

And the Twins are the other team to achieve ultimate glory and still sit in the bottom ten. Setting aside Minnesota’s two World Series titles in 1987 and 1991 — as well as their 1924 title won as the Washington Senators — the franchise has simply compiled too many bad seasons to not reach the bottom of the league’s proverbial barrel.

Consider the following as well: 113 total seasons (the Senators were a charter AL franchise), 66 losing seasons, 40 seasons at or below .444, and almost 700 games below .500.

#10. Houston Astros (1.75 avg.)

It took the team formerly known as the Colt .45s a whopping 44 years to reach their first World Series. In the interim, the Astros didn’t compile more than three consecutive winning years until the 1990s. The last three seasons of Houston baseball have been historically awful, as the team lost 100+ games in each of them.

The Mediocre Five — #11. Los Angeles Angles of Anaheim (1.92); #12. Philadelphia Phillies (2.06); #13. Miami Marlins (2.23); #14. Baltimore Orioles (2.78); #15. New York Mets (3.02)

1979 Pittsburgh Pirates World Series Champion team photo

Yer Out! The 10 Longest Active World Series Title Droughts in MLB History

1979 Pittsburgh Pirates World Series Champion team photo

The last edition of this post ran in October 2012. Given that the two teams in the World Series this year aren’t on the list, I feel pretty safe running it now.

The 2013 Major League Baseball season is down to its last series, and so I turn my attention once again to the unlucky ten — the franchises that currently hold the longest streaks in baseball for years gone by without a World Series championship. Some of these teams have at least managed to reach the summit of the Major Leagues, while others have a sad empty spot in their trophy cases.

Season totals are current through the end of the 2013 MLB season. For more fun and informative sporting lists, check out this handy dandy index page.

#10 — Kansas City Royals (28 seasons)

George Brett and Willie Wilson of the 1985 Kansas City RoyalsFew teams have fared more poorly in the 21st century than the Royals. The glory days of the ’70s and ’80s must look like a speck in the rearview mirror of KC faithful, who last enjoyed a World Series crown over the rival St. Louis Cardinals in 1985 behind the hitting of George Brett and the pitching of Bret Saberhagen and Dan Quisenberry.

The Royals kept things respectable up until about the mid 1990s, and then the bottom fell out. The 1985 season marked not only the Royals’ only championship but their last first-place finish and playoff appearance. In fact, prior to this season you had to go back to 2003 for the team’s last finish above .500, and all the way back to 1995 for their last finish better than third place in their division.

KC did turn in a quite respectable 86-76 record this season, and was in playoff contention through the summer.

#9 — Detroit Tigers (29 seasons)

1984 Sports Illustrated with Alan Trammell of the Detroit TigersOne season before the Royals won their last title, they were vanquished in the ALCS by the Detroit Tigers, who went on to defeat San Diego Padres in five games. It was Detroit’s fourth World Series title and first since 1968. And like the Royals, the Tigers managed to hold it together for awhile after their championship season.

And while Detroit didn’t fall quite as far as KC during the ’90s, they were decidedly mediocre. When the ’90s ended, though, the Tigers gave new meaning to the word suck. The 2003 squad set the bar for modern-day futility when they set an American League record with 119 losses, one off the Major League record. But things turned around in a big hurry in 2006 — the Tigers improved by an astonishing 24 games, won a wild card berth, and advanced to the World Series. There they lost in five games to the Cardinals.

Other than a stumble in 2008, Detroit has remained competitive since then, making the postseason over the last three seasons.

#8 — Baltimore Orioles (30 seasons)

I didn’t realize before I started compiling this list that the first three teams also won their last World Series titles one after another. I’m sure it means nothing but it’s a neat coincidence anyway.

So the Orioles. They won their third MLB crown — I’m not including their time as the St. Louis Browns — in 1983 in five games over the Phillies, thanks to some great O’s pitching that limited Philly to nine runs total. But since then, Baltimore has managed just two more postseason appearances, the last one in 1997.

Since the ’97 the Orioles have been at or near the bottom of the AL East division in just about every season but the last few. Under manager Buck Showalter, the O’s have had consecutive winning seasons and are legitimate contenders in the division.

#7 — Pittsburgh Pirates (34 seasons)

Oh, Pittsburgh. Despite only placing #7 on this list, my money is on the Pirates moving up to the top spot at some point in the next several years. I just don’t see any meaningful, lasting turnaround in the Pirates’ future. I may change my tune if they can turn in some more seasons like the one they just finished, however, which culminated in the team’s first playoff appearance since the first Clinton administration.

But for now, 1979 remains the high water mark for most of the fans still around today. That’s the year “We Are Family” was the Buccos’ theme song, they won 98 games and cruised past the Cincinnati Reds en route to the World Series. There they pulled off an incredible comeback, returning from a 3-1 deficit to win three straight against the Baltimore Orioles and claim their fifth World Series title.

#6 — Seattle Mariners (36 seasons)

And now we reach the first franchise on our list to have never won the World Series. So if your math skills are on par with mine, you can figure out that the Mariners entered the league in 1977. Since then they’ve had one legitimately good run, from 1995-2003. During that stretch they won three AL West titles, made the playoffs four times, and reached the ALCS three times.

It hasn’t been all bad since 2004, but it’s mostly been a lot of mediocre baseball. Well there have been two 100-plus loss seasons (2008 and 2010), which is kind of bad.

#5 — Washington Nationals, San Diego Padres & Milwaukee Brewers (44 seasons)

The Nationals’ season total takes into account their many years as the Montreal Expos (1969-2004), in case you were wondering. Les Expos made the postseason just one time (1981), when they lost in five games to the Los Angeles Dodgers in the NLCS. And then of course they got royally jobbed by the MLB players’ strike in 1994, as they were leading their division at the time the strike started.

Milwaukee Brewers 1982 World Series patch

The Brewers’ last shot at an MLB title came in 1982.

The Nationals themselves were dismal until 2011, when they finished one game below .500. Then of course there is the 2012 season, by far the best for the franchise since the Expos won 94 games in 1993. The Nats captured their first NL East title since Montreal won the division in the strike-split ’81 campaign.

The Padres, like the Mariners, have never tasted ultimate glory in the World Series. They have, however, had two chances to do so. The 1984 club lost the World Series to the aforementioned Detroit Tigers in five games, while the 1998 Padres were unceremoniously swept by the New York Yankees. Most recently, San Diego made the playoffs in ’05 and ’06, losing both times to the Cardinals in the NLDS.

The Brewers spent one season in Seattle as the Pilots, and have called Milwaukee home since 1970. Their lone World Series appearance came in 1982 while they were still an American League franchise. There they took a 3-2 series lead over the Cardinals before letting it all slip away. They Brew Crew had a shot at redemption in the 2011 NLCS, but lost again to the Cards in six games.

#4 — Houston Astros (51 seasons)

Of all the MLB franchises to never win a World Series championship, the Astros have had the most opportunities (in terms of playoff appearances). Since their inception as the Colt .45s in 1962, the ‘Stros have made the postseason nine times. But it took until time #8 before they won their first playoff series, beating the Braves 3-2 in the 2004 NLDS.

They were stopped in the 2004 NLCS by St. Louis, but returned in 2005 to beat them in an NLCS rematch. In Houston’s first and only World Series appearance to date, they were blanked by the Chicago White Sox (Chicago’s first title since 1917).

Houston is currently in the midst of a rather terrible run of baseball, having compiled three straight 100-plus loss seasons. Not even a move to the AL West in 2013 was enough to change the team’s dismal fortunes.

#3 — Texas Rangers (52 seasons)

The Rangers’ title drought includes their 11 years as the Washington Senators (1961-1971) as well as their time in the Lone Star State. It took until 1996 for Texas to even crack their postseason appearance drought. But three times in four years they were stymied by the Yankees in the ALDS, winning just one game in those three series.

After 1999 Texas went into a bit of a slumber, awakening in 2008 under manager Ron Washington to finish second in the AL West. They’ve been on a nice run since then, capturing two division crowns and advancing to the World Series twice — losing to the Giants in 2010 and then the Cardinals in ’11. The Rangers lost a one-game playoff this year and failed to qualify for the postseason.

#2 — Cleveland Indians (65 seasons)

Cleveland Indians - 1948 World Series champions

The 1948 Cleveland Indians

Now we’re getting into an area where you can no longer credit bad luck or rotten circumstances to a title drought. Or maybe you can, I don’t know. All I know is that few cities have embodied sports futility like Cleveland in recent years, and few teams have carried that banner better than the Tribe.

Cleveland’s last World Series title came during the Truman Administration, when they defeated the Boston Braves in six games for only their second Major League championship. They returned in 1954 but were swept by the New York Giants in a series highlighted by Willie Mays’ iconic catch in Game 1.

As the 1960s dawned, the Indians entered the desert and didn’t emerge until the mid-’90s. From 1960 through 1993, Cleveland’s best regular season finish was their third-place campaign of 1968. But in 1994 they opened a new stadium — Jacobs Field — and began a new era of Indians baseball. From ’94 through 2001 Cleveland captured six AL Central crowns and advanced to two World Series. They came oh so close to winning it all in 1997 against the expansion Florida Marlins, but suffered a heartbreaking defeat in 11 innings in Game 7.

The Indians made the playoffs for the first time since 2007 this season, but lost the AL Wild Card Game to the Rays.

#1 — Chicago Cubs (105 seasons)

Man, what can I say about the Cubs that hasn’t been said a thousand times before? I was going to include a picture from their last World Series title, but it predates photography.

The 1908 Chicago Cubs - World Series Champions

The 1908 Chicago Cubs – World Series Champions

Ha ha, kidding of course. But seriously, 1908 was a long damn time ago. That was the second year of a back-to-back championship run for Chicago, who beat the Tigers twice. They certainly had plenty of chances after that, as they returned to the World Series in 1910, 1918, 1929, 1932, 1935, 1938, and finally 1945, coming away empty-handed each time. After that, well…

Chicago fielded some decent teams in the late ’60s and very early ’70s, but otherwise it was one disappointing season after another. Then the ’84 club came out of nowhere to capture the NL East with 96 wins before losing to the Padres in the NLCS. Then it was back to the bottom until another shocking run in 1989. They took first place again but got stopped by another California squad — the Giants — in the NLCS.

The pattern for the Cubs nowadays seems to be some really good seasons sandwiched in between really bad ones. Twice in this century they’ve bounced back from awful finishes to win the NL Central. But in all this time, the closest they’ve come to returning to the World Series was the 2003 NLCS — the year of Steve Bartman.

The last three years have been pretty rough for the Wrigley Field faithful, as only the utterly putrid Pirates and Astros have kept the Cubs from living in the divisional basement. So barring another dramatic turnaround, Chicago will continue to hold the dubious honor of the longest stretch in North American professional sports without a title. Their 103 years of frustration and counting far eclipses similar streaks for the NFL’s Arizona Cardinals, the NBA’s Sacramento Kings, and the NHL’s Toronto Maple Leafs.

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Akara 2010 Shogi (Japanese Chess) Computer

Computers Have Taken Our Jobs, Now They Want Our Games

Janken Robot Wins Rock-Paper-Scissors

We’ve grown accustomed to machines taking over routine jobs that humans used to perform (think auto assembly, telephone operators, etc.). But now, the machines are even taking away our fun. Recently, researchers at Japan’s Ishikawa Oku Laboratory unveiled a robotic hand that is unbeatable at the time-honored game of rock-paper-scissors (Roshambo).

That’s right, the friggin’ machines have taken rock-paper-scissors away from us. And this is simply the latest example of artificial intelligence ruining our cherished games and acting like a giant buzzkill with circuits in the process.

“What Is an Ass-Kicking?”

IBM's Watson on Jeopardy! with Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter

In 2011, IBM’s Watson supercomputer appeared on Jeopardy! and wiped the floor with two of the show’s greatest champions, Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter. Even after missing the Final Jeopardy clue, Watson still racked up $35,734 in winnings. Jennings and Rutter combined won just over $15,000.

King Me, Hoser Meatbag!

Chinook Checkers/Draughts Computer

Canadian researchers developed a computer program named Chinook, which was essentially unbeatable at checkers/draughts. In 1995, Chinook won the Man vs. Machine World Checkers Championship, defeating Grandmaster Don Lafferty 1-0, with 31 draws. In 2007, the lead developer on the Chinook team, Jonathan Schaeffer, published a humble paper titled “Checkers Is Solved.”

Computers Own Chess in Two Hemispheres

Akara 2010 Shogi (Japanese Chess) Computer

We all know about IBM’s Deep Blue computer besting world chess champion Gary Kasparov in 1997, but that was small potatoes. After all, Western chess only has 10123 games that can be played out. The Japanese version, shogi, has 10224. And a computer named Akara 2010 only needed 86 moves to beat top women’s shogi player Ichiyo Shimizu in 2010.

RoboKeeper Is Unstoppable, Available for Bar Mitzvahs

Scientists are still working on robots that can beat the best humans at soccer, but German researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute seem to already have the goal keeping thing down. Behold RoboKeeper, a motion-detecting robot that can block everything kicked its way. Oddly enough, RoboKeeper seems to be used mostly for parties and other money-making events, which is kind of a waste. But you can’t argue with the results.

RoboKeeper, the Robot Soccer Goalie

RoboKeeper Soccer Goalie Computer Image

Here’s video of RoboKeeper stopping some pretty damn good kicks. Skip ahead about a minute if you don’t care about the setup.

Othello/Reversi — A Minute to Learn, a Lifetime to Lose

 Logistello (Moor) Othello/Reversi computer

Computers have actually been kicking our ass in Othello for years. An early program called Moor (get it?) first won a game against world champion Hiroshi Inoue in the early ’80s. The domination was complete by 1997, when an improved program called Logistello whipped world champion Takeshi Murakami 6-0.

Murakami was quoted at the time as saying, “Frankly, I have a very slim chance of winning it. I can not find any defect or weakness.”

James Brown – A Soulful Christmas (1968)

8 More Christmas Albums You Need To Own

Several years ago I shared eight of my favorite (and best, if I may humbly say so) Christmas albums. I think it’s high time to add to that list, so here are another eight Yuletide platters that would make worthy additions to any holiday music collection. As on the first list, there’s enough variety here that you should be able to find something new to love. So here we go, in no particular order…


A Time to Be Jolly (1971)
Bing Crosby

A Time to Be Jolly - Bing Crosby

Bing was in his late 60s and in the last decade of his legendary career when this was released on the brand new Daybreak Records label in 1971. The only thing that gives this away, however, are the vintage late-’60s/early ’70s MOR musical arrangements, which are really quite nice. Most of the tracks on A Time to Be Jolly kick off with some slightly vanilla choral parts, but when Bing’s ageless croon pops up everything just feels right. The highlight of this set for me is the title track, which is like the rest of the album is a tad hokey but is winningly earnest. (This collection has been re-released under a few different names since ’71, most recently as the ingeniously titled Christmas Album.)


A Ding Dong Dandy Christmas! (1959)
The Three Suns

A Ding Dong Dandy Christmas! - The Three Suns

Look, I’m not even going to try to pretend this isn’t cornier than ethanol. The Three Suns were reportedly Mamie Eisenhower’s favorite group, which should tell you something. A Ding Dong Dandy Christmas! is not music to be played with the lights down and the fireplace crackling. This is nothing more than fun Space Age holiday pop, with the kitsch turned up to 11 (witness their unconventional arrangement of “Jingle Bells,” complete with tuba and accordion). It’s also guaranteed to bring some Christmas glee to even the Grinchiest holiday humbug.


Merry Axemas: A Guitar Christmas (1997)
various artists

Merry Axemas: A Guitar Christmas (1997)

Consider this to be the polar opposite of the Three Suns. While you might be inclined to write Merry Axemas off as a nothing more than a festive electrified wankfest, it’s actually pretty substantial holiday tuneage. Hard rock and blues rock dominate the album, as you might expect with a name like “Merry Axemas,” but their are a few subdued tracks that really shine. Eric Johnson’s “The First Nowell” is understated and atmospheric, as is Jeff Beck’s string-bending rendition of “Amazing Grace.” The best of the bunch is Steve Vai’s “Christmas Time Is Here” (via Vince Guaraldi), although the Alex Lifeson’ decidedly un-Rush-like “The Little Drummer Boy” doesn’t lag far behind.


Christmas Becomes Electric (1969)
The Moog Machine

The Moog Machine - Christmas Becomes Electric (1969)

Hey, I’m not above listening to novelty albums during Christmas, and this falls squarely into that category. There are a whopping 17 songs on this LP, but most of them clock in at under two minutes. And honestly, that’s just long enough to bask in the vintage Moog glory without overdoing it. Any of the songs here are as good as the others, so let’s go with a peppy number and a slower one — here’s “Deck the Halls” and “Silent Night.”


Christmas with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir (1993)
The Mormon Tabernacle Choir

Christmas with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir

OK, time to class up this list a little. At last check the Mormon Tabernacle Choir was up to about 106 albums released, and truth be told this one probably isn’t that much better than the rest. Really, you pretty much know you can expect a certain level of quality and consistency when you play an album like this. The choral arrangements are lovely and the whole thing just oozes sophistication. So why is this particular holiday album of theirs worth seeking out? Among other reasons, their stunning version of “Silent Night.” The counter-melody (I think that’s the term) of the pipe organ lends the song a haunting, otherworldly sound that gives me chills every time I hear it.


A Soulful Christmas (1968)
James Brown

James Brown – A Soulful Christmas (1968)

The Godfather of Soul released two holiday albums in the 1960s — this one and 1966’s James Brown Sings Christmas Songs. I have to give the edge to A Soulful Christmas, if for no other reason than the inclusion of “Santa Claus Go Straight to the Ghetto,” which is as awesome as the title sounds. True, the arrangements are thoroughly non-traditional but if you don’t mind a sweat-soaked dose of vintage funk and R&B mixed in with the usual Yuletide fare, this is the album to own. Of course if you really want to go nuts, you can find most of the songs from these two records as well as others on the mid-’90s JB compilation, Funky Christmas.


Ultra-Lounge: Christmas Cocktails Part Two (1997)
various artists

Ultra-Lounge: Christmas Cocktails Part Two (1997)

If you liked volume one of the Christmas Cocktails collection, there’s no reason not to like the second. It’s the same fun, whimsical blend of retro holiday cheer, featuring many of the same artists from the first set (Lou Rawls, Nancy Wilson, Les Brown, and Eddie Dunstedter all return). While Part Two doesn’t hit quite as many high notes as the first volume, it’s hard not to love tracks like Rawls’ “Merry Christmas, Baby” or the Ventures’ surftastic “Frosty the Snowman.” A word of advice however — skip Part Three.


A Merry Christmas With Bing Crosby & The Andrews Sisters (2000)
Bing Crosby and The Andrews Sisters

A Merry Christmas With Bing Crosby & The Andrews Sisters

Yeah I’m double-dipping with Bing — so what of it? The credits on this compilation are a tad misleading, as only a half dozen of the 20 songs actual feature Der Bingle and the Andrews Sisters performing together. But those six — most notably their rendition of “Jingle Bells” as also heard in A Christmas Story — are worth the price of admission alone. The rest of the album is nearly as awesome, with seven solo Bing tracks and six more from the Sisters by themselves.

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29 Palms

Road Trip! — Ten Songs Inspired by Real Places

29 Palms

Many people are inspired by their favorite songs about places to visit the locations that inspired them. But don’t bother looking for 22 Acacia Avenue or Xanadu on Google Maps — they don’t exist anywhere but in their songwriters’ minds. Elsewhere, however, there are plenty of songs that were inspired by real places. Here are ten of them, should you feel the urge to make a pilgrimage.

(You can also check out this list on my Spotify playlist.)

#1. “Lakeside Park” — Rush

Port Dalhousie lighthouseRush drummer and lyricist Neil Peart grew up in Port Dalhousie, Ontario and spent many youthful summers on the village’s most popular beach — Lakeside Park. Peart paid tribute in an atypically nostalgic song on Rush’s third album, 1975’s Caress of Steel.

Peart later reminisced about his Lakeside Park experiences in an interview for Traveling Music: “Another important setting in my childhood and early teens was Lakeside Park, in Port Dalhousie. When I was 14 and 15, I worked summers at Lakeside Park as a barker (‘Catch a bubble, prize every time,’ all day and night), and there was music: some of the kids brought transistor radios to work, and the music of that summer of 1966 played up and down the midway. At night, when the midway closed, we gathered around a fire on the beach, singing. Lakeside Park resonated in my life in so many deep ways, especially those fundamental exposures to music that would be forever important. It’s all gone now. All that’s left, apart from memories, is the old merry-go-round.”

#2. “Barrytown” — Steely Dan

Barrytown is a hamlet within the town of Red Hook, in southeast New York state. Steely Dan co-founders Donald Fagen and Walter Becker attended college at Bard College in nearby Annandale-on-Hudson. While there it seems they took note of town’s inhabitants, namely the members of Sun Myung Moon’s Unification Church (“Moonies”), which opened a seminary there in the ’70s (“I can see by what you carry/that you come from Barrytown”). “Barrytown” appeared on Steely Dan’s 1974 LP Pretzel Logic.

#3. “29 Palms” — Robert Plant

The town of Twentynine Palms sits in the desert southeast of California and is home to both Joshua Tree National Park and the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center. It’s also the setting for a song from Robert Plant’s 1993 solo LP Fate of Nations. Plant has confirmed that he was inspired to write “29 Palms” while on tour with Canadian singer Alannah Myles in California in 1990, but has stopped short of confirming rumors that the two were a romantic item.

#4. “Elvira” — The Oak Ridge Boys

There are two important things to know about “Elvira.” The first is that although the Oak Ridge Boys had a hit with the song in 1981 (#1 U.S. Hot Country, #5 U.S. Hot 100), it was actually a cover of a song written by Dallas Frazier fifteen years earlier. The second is that Elvira refers not to a woman but to a street in East Nashville. The story goes that Frazier was the passenger in car driven by publisher Ray Baker, and he found inspiration when he saw the street sign for Elvira Ave. (off of US 31E, aka Gallatin Road or Gallatin Pike). However, there are no contemporary accounts of the road being “on fira” that day.

#5. “(Don’t Go Back To) Rockville” — R.E.M.

Mike Mills, R.E.M. bassist and co-founder, wrote this as a literal plea to his one-time girlfriend, Ingrid Schorr, to not return to her parents’ home in Rockville, Maryland. Schorr’s recounting of the song’s inspiration goes like this — “In the spring of 1980 I was at college in Athens, Georgia. My once-good grades had given way to behavior that my parents were starting to get wind of, and they instructed me to come back home to Maryland for the summer. I didn’t want to go. Everything in Athens was so… fresh and exciting. I had just started taking part in the innocent decadence that would sustain the scene for the next several years. And I was just beginning a romance with Mike Mills, the bass player in the weeks-old R.E.M. A few weeks before the end of spring quarter he said to me—we were at Tyrone’s, the local rock club, standing between the Rolling Stones pinball machine and the Space Invaders game, playing neither—’I finally meet a girl I like and she’s got to go back to Rockville.'”

#6. “Devil’s Island” — Megadeth

It would be easy to assume that “Devil’s Island,” from Megadeth’s 1986 album Peace Sells… but Who’s Buying?, is some sort of Satanic Club Med. It was in fact the site of an infamous French penal (and former leper) colony that operated from 1852 until 1952. The island lies roughly six nautical miles off the coast of French Guiana in South America, and housed thieves, murderers, and political prisoners for a century. More than 80,000 prisoners were sent to the island, many of whom were never heard from again. The island’s most famous resident was Alfred Dreyfus, who was convicted of treason and shipped there in 1895. Dreyfus was pardoned and released in 1899, and through him the French public learned of the horrors of Devil’s Island.

#7. “Penny Lane” — The Beatles

Penny LaneThe lyrics to “Penny Lane,” whimsical and nostalgic as they are, sure seem the stuff of fantasy. In fact there is a real Penny Lane in Liverpool, where the Fab Four were born. Paul McCartney (who wrote the song) and John Lennon often met at Penny Lane junction in the Mossley Hill area to catch a bus into the center of Liverpool.

In the ’50s and ’60s this was a significant bus terminus for several routes, and buses with “Penny Lane” displayed were common throughout Liverpool. The street itself is named after James Penny, an 18th century slave trader, and is an important landmark for Beatles fans — some of whom made an unfortunate habit of stealing signs bearing the road’s name.

#8. “Dead Man’s Curve” — Jan and Dean

While the term “dead man’s curve” has been applied to any number of dangerous turns, Jan & Dean’s Top 10 hit from 1964 refers to a drag race held on one in particular. The race (between a Corvette Sting Ray and a Jaguar XKE) starts at Sunset and Vine and heads west along West Sunset Blvd. for about seven miles, passing North La Brea Ave., North Crescent Heights Blvd., and North Doheny Dr. along the way. The North Whittier Drive curve, an almost ninety-degree right turn traveling west on Sunset Boulevard just past North Whittier Drive, is the dead man’s curve that results in the fiery crash heard in the song.

#9. “Soul Kitchen” — The Doors

As recounted by Doors drummer John Densmore in his book Riders on the Storm, the “Soul Kitchen” was a small soul food restaurant called Olivia’s. It was located at 2615 Main Street, at the intersection of Ocean Park Blvd. and Main in Santa Monica, and it was run by — you guessed it — Olivia, who cared not for late-dining patrons. Jim Morrison, who wrote the lyrics to the song, ate there often and had to be shooed out at closing time, inspiring him to write lines like “Well the clock says it’s time to close now/I know I have to go now/I’d really like to stay here all night… Let me sleep all night in your soul kitchen/warm my mind near your gentle stove/turn me out and I’ll wander, baby/stumbling in the neon grove.”

#10. “Relaxin’ at Camarillo” — Charlie Parker

Camarillo State Mental HospitalThis is one of Bird’s greatest compositions, and certainly one of my favorites, but has a rather sad background. Parker, whose drug habit started when he was a teenager, dogged him throughout his all-too-brief life. Heroin was Parker’s drug of choice, but booze would do as well.

In 1946 an inebriated Parker set fire to the mattress in his California hotel room and ran into the lobby wearing nothing but his socks. He was arrested and sentenced to stay in Camarillo State Mental Hospital. When he emerged from the institution after six months he was (briefly) clean and wrote the song that bears the hospital’s name.

Camarillo State Hospital closed in 1997 and the buildings are now part of California State University, Channel Islands.

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hurricane on radar

The 10 Deadliest Atlantic Hurricanes in History

The 1900 Galveston HurricaneToday marks the beginning of the 2011 Atlantic hurricane season (which runs until November 30). Throughout the summer we’ll be looking at some of the worst hurricanes in history, in terms of death tolls and damage amounts. Up first is a review of the ten deadliest hurricanes ever spawned in the Atlantic Ocean.

One interesting fact that stands out to me is that unlike the list of the ten deadliest tornadoes, only three of these tropical cyclones occurred after 1950. This is a direct result of improved weather forecasting technology, which can typically allow for days of advanced notice rather than hours. So as a comparison, the infamous Hurricane Katrina, while still dealing a devastating blow to the U.S. Gulf coast, isn’t even in the top 20 in terms of casualties — although the nearly 1,900+ killed is still a tragically large number.

1. The Great Hurricane of 1780

Few meteorological details on this storm are known, but we understand this much — In October 1780 more than 20,000 perished in the Caribbean as it tore through the Lesser Antilles, Puerto Rico, Hispaniola, Bermuda, and possibly East Florida and some U. S. states. Rep0rts of the day claimed that every tree in Barbados was downed, but not before all being stripped of their bark.

Among the dead were 4,000 French soldiers who drowned near Martinique when their ships were capsized. The soldiers were aboard 40 ships involved in the American Revolution.

Hurricane Mitch2. Hurricane Mitch (1998)

As with many tropical cyclones, most of Mitch’s devastation was due not to fierce winds, but rather to torrential rainfall and flooding. In particular, Honduras (35.89 inches), Guatemala (23.62 inches), and Nicaragua (62.87 inches) were deluged with precipitation. Nearly 20,000 people in the region died, to say nothing of the mass devastation to housing, crops, and infrastructure.

In Honduras, an estimated 70–80% of the transportation infrastructure of the entire country was wiped out, including nearly all bridges and secondary roads. The damage was so great that existing maps were rendered obsolete.

Damage from the 1900 Galveston hurricane3. The 1900 Galveston hurricane

The hurricane that slammed into Galveston, Texas in September 1900 is still the deadliest one to ever strike the United States. Many of the deaths could have been prevented has the low-lying island of Galveston acted on proposals from some concerned citizenry and erected a protective seawall. The highest point of Galveston was 8.7 feet above sea level; the storm surge from the hurricane was more than 15 feet, enough to wash over the entire island.

When it was all over, an estimated 8,000-12,000 were dead, including one as far away as New York City. Needless to say, construction on the Galveston Seawall began in 1902.

4. Hurricane Fifi (1974)

Funny name aside, Fifi is the second-wettest hurricane to hit Honduras (after Mitch), and killed more than 8,000 people — most of them in Honduras. Nearly a quarter of those fatalities were in the city of Choloma, which lost between 2,800 and 5,000 of its population of 7,000 due to massive flooding.

5. Hurricane San Zenon (1930)

Also known as the 1930 Dominican Republic Hurricane, was a small but powerful Category 4 storm. It made landfall on September 3 near Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic, packing peak winds of 155 mph. It cut 20-mile-wide swath of destruction and three whole districts in Santo Domingo. The Red Cross put the death toll at 2,000, although estimates ran as high as 8,000.

6. Hurricane Flora (1963)

With a total death toll of between 7,186 – 8,000, Flora was at the time the deadliest Atlantic hurricane post-Galveston. In addition, agricultural damage to the island of Tobago was so great that they abandoned crops altogether and switched to tourism as their main source of income. Some locations in Cuba received more than 80 inches of rainfall; Santiago de Cuba reported 100.39, the highest measured amount in the history of Cuba.

7. 1776 Pointe-à-Pitre hurricane

As you might expect, little is known about this storm. It struck Guadeloupe in the Lesser Antilles on September 6, 1776 and by the time it was over more than 6,000 were dead. The cyclone also struck a large convoy of French and Dutch merchant ships, sinking or running aground 60% of the vessels.

8. The Newfoundland Hurricane of 1775

At least 4,000 perished when this storm hit the British colony of Newfoundland (in what is now Canada). Most of the dead were English and Irish sailors, who drowned. The storm is Atlantic Canada’s first recorded hurricane and the country’s deadliest natural disaster.

It is thought that this same storm struck North Carolina and Virginia about a week earlier, and that what hit Newfoundland was the remnant.

Damage from the Okeechobee hurricane (1928)9. The Okeechobee hurricane (1928)

This was just the second recorded hurricane to his Category 5 on the Saffir-Simpson scale. It’s also the only Cat 5 storm to hit Puerto Rico at that strength. It’s known as the Okeechobee hurricane due to the deaths of at least 2,500 people in South Florida — they died when a storm surge from Lake Okeechobee breached the dike surrounding the lake, flooding an area covering hundreds of square miles.

At least an additional 1,200 in Guadeloupe lost their lives, as well as roughly 300 in Puerto Rico (where this is known as the San Felipe II Hurricane). Total fatalities are estimated to be at least 4,078.

10. The 1909 Monterrey hurricane

An estimated 4,000 people or more in Mexico died when this storm hit in August 1909. Peak winds were measured at 120 mph, a Category 3 on the Saffir-Simpson scale. Half of the city of Monterrey was destroyed, including four city blocks on the south side. 800 died in that area alone. Catastrophic flooding occurred when the reservoir dam near Monterrey burst.

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The 10 Deadliest Tornadoes in World History

In spite of all our technological advancements and so-called human ingenuity, we are ever at Mother Nature’s mercy. 2011’s deadly tornado in Joplin, Missouri — just one of many to strike the American Midwest that weekend — is a stark reminder of that fact. In total, more than 1,000 tornadoes touched down in the U.S. in April 2011 — the most active month on record.

But while the U.S. is home to the most tornadoes on a yearly basis, advances in research and early detection have helped reduce the number of fatalities from twisters. As a result, the list of the 20 deadliest tornadoes (or tornado outbreaks) ever contains just five from the United States. Here are the full top ten. Some of these totals are estimates of course, owing to time or lack of properly published information.

#1: Daulatpur-Saturia, Bangladesh (April 26, 1989)

Wreckage from the Daulatpur-Saturia, Bangladesh Tornado

Wreckage from the Daulatpur-Saturia, Bangladesh Tornado

An estimated 1,300 people died from this tornado, which was a mile wide and cut a swath of destruction 50 miles long. The injuries were estimated to be around 12,000. Due to poor housing and construction standards, the tornado completely destroyed virtually every structure it touched. The death toll from this twister is nearly twice as high as the second-deadliest on this list.

#2: Madarganj to Mrizapur, Bangladesh (May 15, 1996)

Around 700 people perished and 30,000 homes were destroyed. Many of the victims were blown long distances — up to 0.9 miles — and found hanging in trees. In addition, softball-sized hail pounded the area.

#3: The Tri-State Tornado (March 18, 1925)

The Tri-State Tornado

The Tri-State Tornado

This is the most infamous tornado to hit the United States in the last century. The continuous 219-mile track it left was the longest ever recorded in the world.

Over three-and-a-half hours, the tornado traveled from southeastern Missouri, through Southern Illinois, then into southwestern Indiana. When it was over, 695 people were dead.

The twister was part of a larger outbreak that day that killed nearly 750 throughout Kansas, Alabama, Tennessee, Kentucky, and Indiana.

#4: Manikganj, Singair and Nawabganj, Bangladesh (April 17, 1973)

Two cyclones joined to form one deadly tornado. Multiple villages were completely flattened, and 681 lost their lives (the unofficial death toll topped 1,000).

#5: Northeast suburbs of Dhaka, Bangladesh (April 14, 1969)

Two (or possible three) tornadoes struck and killed 600 people on this day. According to a government official upon his visit to the scene, “I saw what no amount of words could aptly describe. Damage was colossal. Tragedy was harrowing.”

#6: The Valletta Tornado (September 23, 1551 or 1556)

The deadliest cyclone of this age touched down as a waterspout in the Grand Harbour of Malta. Before making landfall it destroyed an entire armada of ships that was docked and waiting to sail into battle. At least 600 died.

Artist’s impression of the Sicily tornadoes (Chris Chatfield)

#7 (tie): Magura and Narail Districts, Bangladesh (April 11, 1964)

The Magura/Narail twister destroyed more than 30 villages and left 500 dead. All 400 villagers from Bhabanipur were never seen again and presumed dead. While the official death count was 280, hundreds went missing.

#7 (tie): Sicily, Italy (December 1851)

In December 1851, two waterspouts moved onshore at the western end of Sicily, becoming large, violent tornadoes. This was as a pair of tornadoes, but details are very scarce; it may have been a single multiple-vortex tornado. It remains the second deadliest tornado event in recorded European history.

#7 (tie): Madaripur and Shibchar, Bangladesh (April 1, 1977)

The cyclone that struck Madaripur and Shibchar also killed around 500 people, 43 of whom were found floating in the river. No buildings or trees were left standing.

#10: Belyanitsky, Ivanovo and Balino, Russia (June 9, 1984)

Details are not easy to come by, as this outbreak took place during the time of the Soviet Union. Research indicates that a group of tornadoes (a few of which may have been of F5 strength on the Fujita scale) hit western Russia. An estimated 400 died, but the total may be as high as 700. The area affected by the tornadoes covered an area of 400,000 square kilometers.

The Ivanovo tornado was one of the worst in Russian history. It killed 95 people over the course of its 81-mile journey. Several concrete reinforced structures were completely destroyed, about 1180 homes were also leveled by the half-mile wide twister.

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Platters that matter: 20 albums that changed my life (#10—#1)

At long last, I present the conclusion of my list of 20 albums that have had the most impact on me and my love of music. For a brief refresher, you can check the back half of the top 20 here. But for your convenience, here’s the list:

#20 — Queen, The Game
#19 — Seals & Crofts, Summer Breeze
#18 — Kiss, Creatures of the Night
#17 — Iron Maiden, The Number of the Beast
#16 — Run-D.M.C., Raising Hell
#15 — Kiss, Alive!
#14 — Rush, A Farewell to Kings
#13 — Miles Davis, Kind of Blue
#12 — Emerson, Lake & Palmer, Pictures at an Exhibition
#11 — various artists, Jazz Master Files

OK, now that we’re all caught up, let’s finish this thing already. As a reminder, this is no particular order but I know people love countdowns so there you go.

#10 — Genesis, Duke

If Rush was my gateway drug into progressive rock, then Genesis was my first major score (damn, I suck at drug references). Anyway, while Nursery Cryme opened me up to new possibilities in musical composition, it was the more straightforward and pop-leaning Duke that became part of the soundtrack of my life. Although it signaled a further break from the group’s progressive past, the dynamic performances and raw, emotional lyrics hit me like a bag of bricks.

I got into Duke during my freshman year of college, an emotionally turbulent time for me to say the least. While I loved the music on this record, the themes of troubled relationships and emotional loss really left a mark on me. Part of the album was informed by Phil Collins’ crumbling marriage, which was brilliantly reflected in “Misunderstanding” and Please Don’t Ask.” But the songs that will stick with me forever are Tony Banks’ dreamy and slightly morose “Heathaze” and the dense, dramatic “Cul-de-Sac.”

#9 — The Beach Boys, Endless Summer

This album is proof positive that compilation albums aren’t always a cheap record company money grab. I knew and dug a handful of Beach Boys songs when I nabbed this collection many years ago, but by the time I made my way through all of its 21 songs I was totally converted. This is no ordinary greatest hits package, rather it’s a document of much of the best pop music American had to offer in the 1960s (which is funny when you consider that I bought this in Canada).

I quickly moved to snap up as many classic Beach Boys albums as I could after hearing this, and I’ve never looked back.

#8 — Mr. Bungle, California

Some time around 1999—2000 I was in a huge rut with my music. I felt like I had explored as much as I could with pop, rock, and metal, and there was nothing left to discover. So I went to one of the few places on the internet you could go back then to research music — the All Music Guide. I started plugging in my favorite bands to see what it recommended, and it was likely my love of Faith No More that brought me to Mr. Bungle, Mike Patton’s “other” band. I read about their most recent album, California, and decided to give it a shot.

Good call on my part. I got no further than the second song, “None of Them Knew They Were Robots,” when I felt my passion for music rekindle. I felt like I had been dropped in the middle of a strange, exotic land where I didn’t know the language but I understood what everyone was saying. Bungle’s brand of schizo music jumps from gentle pop crooning to techno to surf music to death metal, usually in the course of a single song. California excited me like no album had in a long time, and led to my second Great Musical Awakening.

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