Top 40 Smash Near Misses — “Born to Lose” and “If You Were Mine”

These posts are about the songs that just barely failed to cross the key line of chart success, entering the Billboard Top 40. Every song featured in this series peaked at number 41.

ray charles

Ray Charles made a name for himself in the nineteen-fifties and a tremendous performer who could move effortlessly back and forth between jazz and rhythm and blues. He also spoke regularly about his love for country music, cultivated during his upbringing in the South. “Hillybilly music” is what Charles called it, and he was convinced he could make a fine record with a batch of suitable songs, albeit tinged with his unique sensibility. After a jump from Atlantic Records to ABC-Paramount afforded Charles the opportunity to operate within a wider creative range, he set out to make his study of country music, recruiting skilled jazz arrangers to give the tracks an uncommon lushness. If music fans were surprised to see a Charles album entitled Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music, the shock didn’t prevent them from warming to the material. The 1962 album’s first single, “I Can’t Stop Loving You,” became Charles’s third chart-topper is as many years. The follow-up, “Born to Lose,” was similarly languid and jazzy, but it didn’t have the same staying power, peaking at #41.

Eight years later, no one questioned Charles’s status as a music legend, but his commercial prospects were on the wane. Largely pushed aside as rock ‘n’ roll evolved toward its nineteen-seventies thunder and bombast, Charles had a few mildly successful Top 40 singles across the latter half of the sixties, but he hadn’t seen one of his tracks make it into the Top 10 since “Crying Time,” early in 1966. He tried invoking country music again. In 1970, Charles released the album Love Country Style. The album’s first single, “If You Were Mine,” just missed the Top 40, and its follow-up, “Don’t Change on Me,” climbed just a little bit higher, peaking at #36. Charles found his way to the Billboard Top 40 as lead artist only one more time, logging another meager hit with the near-novelty 1971 single “Booty Butt.”

Other entries in this series can be found by clicking on the “Top 40 Smash Near Misses” tag.

College Countdown: CMJ Top 1000, 1979 – 1989 — #616 to #613

prefab wheels

616. Prefab Sprout, Two Wheels Good (1985)

Prefab Sprout found out they had a famous fan. During a discussion aired on BBC Radio, Thomas Dolby praised some of the material on Prefab Sprout’s 1983 debut album, Swoon. Connections were made, and Dolby met with Paddy McAloon, the band’s creative center. McAloon shared dozens of songs with Dolby, who then picked out a batch that he liked. McAloon was dispatched to polish the songs further. That material became the basis for the band’s sophomore release, which was recorded with Dolby in the producer’s chair.

Released in the U.K. as Steve McQueen, the album was retitled Two Wheels Good for the North American market after the estate of the name-checked actor expressed their potentially litigious discontent. It was probably general protectiveness of the future marketing strength of the recently deceased actor’s name that inspired but the protest, but I suppose there could’ve been some concerns that the music on Prefab Sprout’s record was so far removed from McQueen’s tough guy image. Living in the swoony place between new wave and the Madchester melanges to come in the late–nineteen-eighties and early–nineteen-nineties, the tracks on Two Wheels Good are pristine baubles of gleaming pop goodness.

“When Love Breaks Down” is arguably the finest example of what Prefab Sprout coule pull off. The cut is lush and lean at the same time, covering familiar ground for a pop song but making it all sound shiny and new, even slyly innovative. The icy percolation opening of “Goodbye Lucille #1” mellows into a smooth groove, and “Faron” comes across as an alternative universe version of Squeeze that was reared on Western swing. When the band shifts into ballad mode, it can get a little gooey  (“Appetite” is a prime offender), but there’s often a cheeky humor throughout that has a Kinks-like effect of adding friction to the smooth. “Moving the River” is a jaunty song about prickly domestic problems (“You’ve got a new wife/ How’s the wife taking it”), and the dreamy romanticism of “Desire As” is countered by wry, cynical lyrics (“I’ve got six things on my mind/ You’re no longer one of them”).

The album was a reasonable performer for Prefab Sprout in the U.K. On the other side of the Atlantic, it caused the most modest of ruffles, but it did generate just enough interest to become the band’s only album to make an appearance of the Billboard album chart, peaking at #178.

 

nelson vista

615. Bill Nelson, Vistamix (1984)

Former Be-Bop Deluxe bandleader Bill Nelson was solidly into his solo career in the mid–nineteen-eighties, but he was having difficulty operating within the complications of the music industry. Iconoclastic and wildly prolific, Nelson continually ran into difficulty working with record labels, leading to spotty distribution of his output, especially in the U.S. After he failed to secure North American distribution for the 1983 mini-album Chimera, Nelson decided to squeeze those lemons. He repackaged the tracks from Chimera along with a few of his stronger singles and dubbed the resulting collection Vistamix.

It turns out the compilation format serves Nelson well, if only because any release that puts the fabulously catchy 1980 single “Do You Dream in Colour?” and the vibrant and fulsome 1982 mini-hit “Flaming Desire” in the same place is performing a great service to the culture. In general, Vistamax shows off Nelson’s formidable skills as a musician and a songwriter, whether delivering quintessential new wave on “The Real Adventure” or uncorking dance music that swings with “Empire of the Senses.”  To the degree that the album is a resume presented to U.S. listeners, asking for their attention, it’s a compelling work.

Vistamix didn’t become a breakthrough, though. Nelson continued to toil in relative obscurity, but he definitely didn’t slow down. By rough count, Nelson’s output as a solo artist numbers well over one hundred full-length albums.

 

flock listen

614. A Flock of Seagulls, Listen (1983)

A Flock of Seagulls was quickly relegated to the status of one hit wonder. Although it’s undoubtedly true the band enjoyed only a brief period of significant mainstream success, they weren’t quite a sparkler that flared then fizzled in record time. Beginning with the MTV-propelled hit “I Ran (So Far Away),” A Flock of Seagulls pushed three straight singles into the Billboard Top 40, including the lovely, lovelorn “Wishing (If I Had a Photograph of You).” The latter song was the lead single from Listen, the band’s sophomore effort and attempt to prove they were an act with enough creative wherewithal to last.

The completely unclouded vision afforded by hindsight provides a view of A Flock of Seagulls dwindling quickly into insignificance until enough time passed for them to evolve into a nostalgia act. Listen surprisingly suggests their career might have progressed differently with a few fortuitous twists. “The Traveller” has a drive that positions it not far from early U2, when the Irish lads still sounded like a new wave band, and “Transfer Affection” is the kid of debonair pop that earned bands such as Prefab Sprout and Aztec Camera plaudits throughout the eighties. And “What Am I Supposed to Do” has a modern crispness, offering the reminder that more recent eighties-aping bands Cut Copy and White Lies build with blueprints A Flock of Seagulls helped draw up.

The shortcomings of A Flock of Seagulls are also present on Listen. When the band tries to stretch — as on the stately “The Fall” — the strain shows. The lack of range foretells the tumble to come, but most of Listen is sharp and engaging. The album unfurls a briefly convincing disguise of likely longevity over the band.

 

Journey escape

613. Journey, Escape (1981)

The last time a Journey album appeared on the Countdown, I felt obligated to concede the band knew how to open an album. And here we are again. Anyone who somehow got their hands on an advance copy of Escape, Journey’s seventh studio album, and dropped the needle at the beginning of side one, would have heard a keyboard introduction played by Jonathan Cain, a new addition to the band charged with replacing founding member Gregg Rolie. The melody flows back and forth for a bit before Steve Perry slides in, singing, “Just a small town girl/ Livin’ in a lonely world/ She took the midnight train going anywhere.” The song builds and builds, peppering in evocative details (“A smell of wine and cheap perfume”) and consistently heightening the drama until it feels like every bit of the cheap romanticism of rock ‘n’ roll is being channeled into this single cut. Putting aside all of the cultural baggage the song has accumulated over the years, I need to sheepishly submit a revised repeat of my earlier praise: “Don’t Stop Believin” is a pretty damn impressive beginning to an album.

Escape is by far the most commercially successful studio album from Journey. In the band’s catalog, only a greatest hits collection has sold more copies. Escape is band’s only album to reach the top position on the Billboard chart, and it yielded three Top 10 singles, outpacing other release. Among its hits are the album rock radio mainstay “Who’s Crying Now” and definitive power ballad “Open Arms,” which was blocked out of the top of the Billboard singles chart by the J. Geils Band’s “Centerfold,” as formidable of a smash as there was in the early-eighties.

The primacy of Escape makes sense and indeed has a touch of pop culture cosmic justice it. It might be the Journiest of Journey albums, from the previously mentioned hits to the blaring nostalgia of “Stone in Love” and the completely unconvincing hard rock posturing of “Dead or Alive.” Even the weird sci-fi cover art comes across as Journey bringing their mildly confused aesthetic to its absolute pinnacle. Good or bad, Escape is Journey, and Journey is Escape.

To learn more about this gigantic endeavor, head over to the introduction. Other entries can be found at the CMJ Top 1000 tag. Most of the images in these posts come straight from the invaluable Discogs

This Week’s Model — Billie Eilish, “Everything I Wanted”

billie

When a music artist is of an age that a high school locker assignment is still a typical area of concern, it compounds the tendency to assume every song is a confession. Rather than pure invention, they must be using their songwriting notebook as a stand-in for a diary, right? I know that’s a reductive view, detached from the realities of creativity, and yet it sometimes feels like the theory burns with authenticity.

The new Billie Eilish track, “Everything I Wanted,” is her first new music since the release her debut full-length earlier this year. When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go? became one of those modern rarities, an album that endured beyond the flare of its initial success. Nearly eight months after it hit record stores, the album is a mainstay in the Top 10 of the Billboard album chart and has sold over two million copies in the U.S. Eilish registered hit songs and almost immediately leveled up to playing stadiums. “Everything I Wanted” sure seems like a direct response to all that stratospheric success, directly addressing the pressure she feels.

The song is edgy, enticing, emotionally raw, and built upon subtle reinventions of pop structure that suggest it hasn’t even occurred to Eilish that there are rules to break. In short, it’s an extension of the blithe innovation that got Eilish to the exalted perch she sit on now. Maybe the track isn’t autobiographical, but it sure is true.

The New Releases Shelf — Magdalene

fka

For her sophomore full-length release, FKA twigs strips her music down to a fragile, spindly framework. Five years after the English musician delivered the mind-spinning debut LP1, she offers Magdalene, which retains the sense of relentless innovation and pushes further into elegant abstraction. A fleet of producers pitches in on the album, but twigs mostly credits noted experimental artist Nicolas Jaar with helping her find the creative direction for the album. There’s a clear kinship to Jaar’s airy, spare electronica in the way twigs makes the material as bare and raw as knees dragged across jagged asphalt, but there’s no doubt that the vision is purely, decisively the property of twigs.

The album’s title is a thesis of empowerment, reaching back to one of the first women who suffered the indignity of being diminished, portrayed as less than she was. On the track “Mary Magdalene”, twigs sings, “A woman’s work/ A woman’s prerogative/ A woman’s time to embrace/ She must put herself first.” It’s not just that first line, echoing a famous song by Kate Bush, that recalls the iconoclastic predecessor of precise, aching pop. There’s an unyielding emotion to twigs’s music, especially her singing. Every keening, twisting, or splintering note feels like it is calibrated for maximum impact.

Every track is a discovery, and new elements keep emerging. “Sad Day” has sputtering beats that are like the rolling streams between languorous pop oases, and “Thousand Eyes” is a zinging, buzzing act of constant escalation. “Fallen Alien” hints at what might happen if Fiona Apple rode her sensibility through a machine that projects M.I.A. into the soul. But, again, these comparisons are naturally strained, inadequate. They distract from the truth of twigs’s striking originality. She shapes otherworldly music and knows exactly how to place herself within it to maximize her impact. On “Holy Terrain,” her mellifluous vocals contrast with the shivery rap of Future. And the quietly majestic “Cellophane” is exquisite, like it’s cracking open a portal to a better pop universe.

And twigs is always powerfully present, spreading vivid feeling across artful, slightly cryptic lyrics that hint at pain and possibility at once. For other performers, material like that found on Magdalene can be distancing, feeling so refined it’s as if the blood has been drained out of it. The question of twigs changes that equation. She is too alive to possibility, crackling with icy charm. More than anything else, her vulnerability is so plainly, poignantly on display. One things for certain about twigs: She’s not hiding.

The Art of the Sell — Young MC for Pepsi Cool Cans

These posts celebrate the movie trailers, movie posters, commercials, print ads, and other promotional material that stand as their own works of art. 

pepsi cool cans

In the spring of 1990, Public Enemy released their third studio album, Fear of a Black Planet. The incendiary record continued the group’s leveraging of the thumping forcefulness of rap music against the bigotry-driven injustice perpetrated by the nation of millions engaged in a futile effort to hold them back. As much or more than the vaunted protest rock of the nineteen-sixties and early-nineteen-seventies, rap was the soundtrack to revolution. It reverberated with danger and possibility. The emergent musical form was simultaneously in the process of being ruthlessly consumed by the relentless forces of capitalism, which never met a rebellious force it couldn’t co-opt.

That same year, the epitome of a declawed rap star was cheerily making his way through the commercial landscape. In 1989, Young MC released his debut album, Stone Cold Rhymin’, which included the irresistible Top 10 single “Bust a Move.” Besides the enduring mystery of why about-to-be-married Larry would bypass his brother Harry for best man duties in favor of Harry’s closest chum, “Bust a Move” delivered Young MC a Grammy win (besting De La Soul and Public Enemy, among others) and a robust docket of endorsement deals. As Chris Rock noted in a comedy routine at the time, rap music had so quickly and thoroughly transformed from menacing to cuddly that even the Pillsbury Doughboy was spitting out rhymes. (The example sounds like comic hyperbole, but in this instance Rock was an accurate reporter.) And Young MC was eager to play along with the corporate taming of rap music, showing there wasn’t all that much distance between club jam and joyful jingle.

The team player ethos of Young MC was probably best demonstrated by his commercial for Taco Bell, for which he skillfully incorporated the chain’s “Run for the Border” slogan into a closing rhyme. But the ad I remember best found the fresh-faced rapper touting the designer packing gimmick employed by Pepsi, one last charge for supremacy in the waning days of the Great Cola War of the eighties. The commercial included the indignity of translating Young MC’s lyrics for the presumably square audience watching, as if he use of terminology like “hype receptacles” was going to require a kindly airline passenger stepping forward to explain she speaks jive. Mostly, though, the ad sticks in my mind because no matter how many times I saw it (and the thing was in near-constant rotation when it was current) I always expected the couplet “Cool cans are comin’, so don’t be afraid/ And if you get lucky, then you might get paid” was instead going to end with a different rhyming word that suggested the desired outcome for an individual actively seeking a partner for sexual congress. If still wish Young MC had delivered that version of the line. There’s more than one way to fight the power.

College Countdown: CMJ Top 1000, 1979 – 1989 — #620 to #617

throwing house

620. Throwing Muses, House Tornado (1988)

Hailing from Boston and famously signed to esoteric U.K. label 4AD, Throwing Muses spent the first chunk of their recording career adhering to a release model more typical of British acts. Over the course of 1986 and 1987, Throwing Muses put out three EPs, making certain London shops always had new music to promote. But the shorter releases had a tougher time getting a foothold in U.S. record stores. When Sire Records picked up the rights to release Throwing Muses material in the States, a full-length effort was called for. House Tornado, the band’s sophomore studio album, arrived in late spring of 1988. Sire, pushing for a breakthrough in the band’s homeland, replaced the very 4AD montage cover art with a stark, stylized image of the band rocking out on a front lawn, as if they were the cool chick version of the Georgia Satellites.

It was folly to position Throwing Muses as straightforward rockers, but a lot of the material on House Tornado has a pleasing edginess to it. The fevered agitation of “Juno” and the galloping tempo of “Marriage Tree” position Throwing Muses as practitioners of an artier, more elusive version of the jangled nerve heartland rock that was the lifeblood of college radio through the mid–nineteen-eighties. They even approximate a Feelies type of jittery energy on “Drive.” The tangly fluidity of “Run Letter” is a better indicator of where Throwing Muses would head in the future, but most of the House Tornado is marked by a purposefully disconcerting sonic jaggedness.

As was usually the case with the band’s early configuration most of the songwriting was handled by Kristin Hersh, with a couple tracks set aside for her bandmate and stepsister, Tanya Donelly (referred to as “Tea,” according to the Sire Records press release that accompanied the album). “The River” finds Donelly in a sharp, tingly mode that aligns nicely with the rest of the record. “Giant” is more fascinating because of the way its shifting tempos and keening melody forecasts the sparer, more experimental tracks from Belly, the band Donelly formed when she finally decided that a token couple of songs per album wasn’t going to keep her creatively satisfied.

House Tornado didn’t cross over to the degree Sire Records hoped, but it did further establish Throwing Muses as college radio favorites. Realistically, there were few other places the band’s lovely discordance was ever likely to fit.

 

depeche black

619. Depeche Mode, Black Celebration (1986)

When Depeche Mode released Black Celebration, their fifth studio album, the ill-informed assumption was that the band was venturing into witch-and-warlock gloom. Lead singer Dave Gahan explained the album’s animating premise was more more mundane.

“It’s actually about how most people in life don’t have anything to celebrate,” Gahan said at the time. “They go to work every day and then go down the pub and drown their sorrows. That’s what it’s about: celebrating the end of another black day.”

The oblique lyrics on the album-opening title cut only hint at a commemoration of workaday persistence (“I want to take you in my arms/ Forgetting all I couldn’t do today”), but musically the track conveys Gahan’s sentiment ably. It’s a disco song for people too weary to dance, its redundant sense of straggling purpose a mirror of the clock-punching grind of the survived day. As a singular effort, it’s an intriguing piece of stealth art pop, with familiar dance music elements tempered by heavy-footed energy dampeners. Spread out across a whole album, the acknowledgment of spiritual exhaustion starts to infect the music.

“A Question of Time” is clunking dance music, and the fussy layering on “Sometimes” comes across as an unsuccessful attempt at forestalling studio boredom. “A Question of Lust” merely drifts, the mild salaciousness of the title obscuring an overall drabness to the song (“It’s a question of lust/ It’s a question of trust/ It’s a question of not letting what we’ve built up/ Crumble to dust”). And anyone who wonders what the Beatles’ “She’s Leaving Home” would be like if it were conceived as an incredibly tepid goth rock finds their answer with “Dressed in Black.” One of the few tracks that stands out is “Here is the House,” mostly because it stands as the clearest precursor to the aching pop that would make the album Violator into a major hit a few years later.

Black Celebration was a solid performer for Depeche Mode at the time of its release, though received somewhat indifferently by a music press that was feeling a bit uncharitable to the band at the time. They’d achieved some wider commercial success with their prior album, Some Great Reward, so it was time for reactionary counterbalance. The album locked in as an important part of the Depeche Mode canon, and a mere three years later Spin placed it at #15 on their list “The 25 Greatest Albums of All Time,” just ahead of Al Green’s The Belle Album and trailing George Michael’s Faith.

 

eddy killer

618. Eddy Grant, Killer on the Rampage (1982)

Eddy Grant was born in the British West Indies and emigrated to the U.K. when he was twelve years old, joining his parents, who’d worked and lived there for several years. Grant’s father was a trumpeter, but it was the experience of seeing Chuck Berry play live that inspired Grant to pursue a career in music. He started with the Equals, a band that scored a U.S. Top 40 hit in the late nineteen-sixties with the single “Baby Come Back.” A solo career followed, with occasional success in the U.K. and nothing more than a cult following in the U.S.

Grant’s fortunes turned with Killer on the Rampage, his seventh solo studio album. It was also Grant’s first album after choosing to return to his Caribbean roots by moving to Barbados. He opened Blue Wave Studios there, and Killer on the Rampage was one of the first products to stem from the new facility. Accordingly, the album is airy, agreeable reggae songs, or at least tracks that have clearly been influenced by island rhythms. Some political anger occasionally bubbles up in Grant’s songwriting (as in the bold, forceful “War Party”), but more often the tracks just bob along. There might be a attention-getting element somewhere in the mix, such as the hornet-buzz synths on “Drop Baby Baby” (which include the lyrics “My heart does the tango/ With every little move you make/ I love you like a mango,/ ‘Cause we can make it everyday”). The norm is closer to “I Don’t Want to Dance,” which comes frightfully close to the lightweight pleasantness of Huey Lewis and the News.

Released as the album’s first single, “I Don’t Want to Dance” was a smash in the U.K., topping the chart for three weeks, in between similar runs by Culture Club’s “Do You Really Want to Hurt Me?” and the Jam’s “Beat Surrender.” Grant’s next single was the U.S. breakthrough that had long eluded him. “Electric Avenue” merged its reggae rhythm with a seething funk intensity, creating an utterly unique dance track. The single made it the runner-up spot on the Billboard chart, boxed out of the top position by the sixth and final week of Irene Cara’s “Flashdance… What a Feeling” at #1.

 

ultavox lament

617. Ultravox, Lament (1984)

The cover art for Lament, the seventh studio album from Ultravox, includes a photograph of the Callanish Stones, a circular arrangement of towering rocks in the Outer Hebrides in Scotland. With that in mind, I’d like to cede the initial analysis of the album to Andrew Johnstone, author of the 2010 book How The Neolithics Influenced Rock ‘n’ Roll. Of Lament, Johnstone writes:

The album saw the band move away from the synthesized pop of the New Romantic era, into one that featured a greater use of the guitar, so perhaps the inclusion of Callanish symbolized their return to what had been a more traditional means of music making, just as these sites, symbolize to some, a more naturally balanced time in our existence, of synchronicity with the landscape. 

Except for Johnstone’s perplexing deployment of commas, which I’ve preserved in case  my editing of the writing mechanics would disrupt some ancient code, the theory works fine for me. Ultravox, fronted by Midge Ure, was clearly consuming and reflecting the sounds of the day, and maybe offering a not-so-gentle reminder that they’d help shape the contours of the dance-driven pop music that was earning other bands greater global success. “White China” is similar to New Order, who were just starting to take major paddle strokes away from the post-punk dock, and “One Small Day” has a little INXS to it. And Ultravox performs it all with a great deal of stylish swagger, maybe best evidenced by the slithering “Heart of the Country” and the moony, puffed-up heartache of “When the Times Comes.”

As a perfect barometer of the cultural weather fronts around them, Lament includes “Dancing with Tears in My Eyes,” an exemplar of soaring, triumphant misery that was then the cooler edge of British pop. The track is exactly the sort of grand, tuneful wallowing that was earning devoted fandom for the Cure, the Smiths, and their eager copycats. Ultravox predated all those bands, of course, and the elders made it clear that they weren’t going to simply cede the floor to the upstarts.

 

To learn more about this gigantic endeavor, head over to the introduction. Other entries can be found at the CMJ Top 1000 tag. Most of the images in these posts come straight from the invaluable Discogs

Outside Reading — Thank You for the Chicken edition

succession

Filthy Rich by Michelle Dean

HBO’s Succession was amusing and sharp-elbowed in its first season. For the recently concluded second season, the series engaged a creative turbo boost that rocketed it to delirious new heights. Writing for The New York Times, Michelle Dean shrewdly analyzes the base appeal of the show’s gladiatorial bouts between conniving tycoons. She also pinpoints the true brilliance of Succession as its accurate cynicism about the likelihood of real justice against the wealthy narcissists who carelessly toss around obscene amounts of money in their efforts to build and cling to power. Dean’s closes the article — and her argument — with an observation that is pure, simple perfection.

 

prince

The Beautiful One by Dan Piepenbring

As I’ve acknowledged before, I usually come to New Yorker articles several weeks after publication, and therefore well after they’ve made the social media rounds. So forgive me if my timing seems astray. Dan Piepenbring writes about his experience as the hired co-writer of Prince’s planned memoir, recounting the unreal feelings that came with being drawn into the icon’s orbit. In Piepenbring’s rendering, Prince is beyond fascinating: clearly brilliant (he often seems to be barely keeping up with his own mercurial mind), sweetly generous, committed to maintaining authority over his own work, and deeply self-protective. As much as any other remembrance, this article makes me feel the profound loss of Prince.

 

Even After His Victim Forgave Him, the State Would Not. Until Now. by Dan Barry

eric pizer
(source)

This news article from The New York Times details the case of Eric Pizer, a Wisconsinite military veteran who became the first person in nearly a decade to receive a pardon from the governor. Although the framing of the story emphasizes that Pizer only threw one punch in the incident that led to a felony conviction, reporter Dan Barry doesn’t diminish the consequences. The person of the receiving end of Pizer’s blow endured two surgeries to his broken nose, still has trouble breathing, and suffers from migraines. And yet Pizer emerges as a convincing example proving the dismal state of the broader U.S. justice system. He’s worked hard to make amends for a singular incident, seemingly building a respectable life out of hard work and earnest attempts to simply do better. The felony on his record stood as a practically insurmountable wall, and it stayed in place in part because the state’s actively idiotic Republican governor decided he wasn’t going to pardon anyone — not a single person — throughout his entire tenure. Presumably meant as a proof he was “tough on crime,” the practice instead ignored the reality that systems are fallible and occasionally merit. More to the point, the pardon moratorium is part of the ongoing, mostly right wing–driven fetishizing of incarceration that has created a desperately broken approach that incubates criminality rather than creates a pathway to rehabilitation. A few weeks ago, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez was maliciously mocked for her comments on the need for wholesale reform of the U.S. prison system, but, as has usually been the case, she was was completely correct. We’re doing justice wrong.