Kanye West Grammys Debate Reaches Michael McDonald

Marc Hogan

By Marc Hogan

Lead News Writer
on 02.11.15 in News

This must be a very strange year, because it’s mid-week and people are still arguing about the Grammy Awards. It has seemed right to overlook some of the more vituperative responses, such as the open letter from Garbage’s Shirley Manson describing Kanye West using a reference to female anatomy, or the predictable ugliness from Motley Crue and Kiss members. Credit Beck for being a class act all along about West’s criticism of his Album of the Year win — criticism that was certainly unfair to Beck, if not to the Grammys themselves.

It’s hard, though, to ignore the remarks from ’70s-’80s yacht-rock golden voice Michael McDonald, if only because the fact of him weighing in on West is such a cosmic surprise. McDonald’s rich, molten-chocolate tones exist in a category of their own, and his influence has persisted through the years, whether in the core sample of Warren G and Nate Dogg’s “Regulate” or a 2009 guest vocal for Grizzly Bear. And yet McDonald has offered a disappointingly out-of-touch take on West saying Beck should give the Grammy he won to Beyoncé.

On ESPN Radio’s Dan Le Batard Show, McDonald said (via Hypetrak): “I don’t think it even really bears too much thought, it’s pretty obvious what Kanye’s problem is. When Kanye gets to a point where he can actually put a couple of notes together either vocally or two bars of valid music playing an instrument, then he might have a right to criticize somebody else. Until then I think he’s just talking to hear the sound of his own voice.”

Pressed about what contemporary artists don’t make sense to him, McDonald at first said he doesn’t like to critique other people’s music. “The whole kinda cut-and-paste thing is a certain kind of artform all by itself,” he added. “I don’t know if I call it songwriting from a musician’s viewpoint, but it’s what it is and people like it obviously. But the shenanigans that seem to go along with that whole particular camp, who needs it? … Beck is obviously a consummate musician. He plays instruments, many instruments. He can make his own record without having a fleet of computer operators onboard.”

Maybe the clownish, locker-room vibe of the radio show affected McDonald — seriously, don’t listen unless you want to hear grown men shouting and calling each other “stupid” over children’s games — because he hasn’t always sounded so obtuse about contemporary music. “Rap is like any other genre,” he told Billboard last year. “There are the people who are very creative with it and do remarkable things… and then there’s that whole quadrant that sounds alike. There’s great stuff that’s taken the genre to a new level over the years, and ‘Regulate’ was one of those tracks that was kind of a landmark.”

By the way, “I Keep Forgettin’”? The song sampled on “Regulate”? It was a cover of an old Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller tune, first recorded in 1962 by Chuck Jackson. Nobody does everything; West and McDonald need to make up.

You should be sure to read Wondering Sound contributor Eric Harvey’s 2014 “How Michael McDonald, the Affable Captain of Yacht Rock, Lost His Voice” essay over at Deadspin.