A few words before I move forward:
*I’m not here to argue about the Hall of Fame nomination process. I know it’s messed up. You know it’s messed up. Guess what? There’s nothing either of us can do about it. Might the nomination committee be playing favorites? Hey, it’s entirely possible. Now tell me if there’s a Hall of Fame or Hall of Fame-type organization in any field that doesn’t. When you own something, you don’t have to play by anyone else’s rules. It may not be “right”, but it is the way it is. And belly-aching about Kiss or Rush (or Chicago or Hall & Oates or Carole King or Carly Simon or The Commodores or Pat Benatar or Joan Jett or Yes or New Order or The Cure or Husker Du or The Replacements or Teddy Pendergrass or Luther Vandross or Donny Hathaway or Depeche Mode or The Go-Go’s or Big Star or Bad Brains or Black Flag or even freakin’ Duran Duran) not being in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame over the artists that were nominated isn’t going to change anything. No one’s gonna go to Jann Wenner’s office and stage a coup. Get over it. Lots of things in life are unfair. You want to complain? Start your own fucking Hall of Fame!
*I would like to say a word condemning some of the picks as being “not rock ‘n roll”. Generally, when people complain about Hall of Fame picks not being “rock ‘n roll”, they are referring to dance music artists (such as Madonna), pop music artists (like ABBA) or rap artists (like Grandmaster Flash and Run-DMC). Years of revisionist history leads many people to believe that “rock” music can only be made by a (usually white) dude with an electric guitar. While the person that holds this opinion might not be racist, that’s certainly a prejudiced way of thinking that is rooted in a racist perspective (or in dance or pop music’s case, homophobia or a homophobic perspective). People are using the terms “rock music” and “rock ‘n roll” interchangeably. In actuality, they aren’t the same thing.
Wikipedia.com defines rock ‘n roll as “a genre of popular music that originated and evolved…primarily from a combination of the blues, country music, jazz, and gospel music”. Dictionary.com defines rock ‘n roll similarly, calling it “a style of popular music that derives in part from blues and folk music and is marked by a heavily accented beat and a simple, repetitive phrase structure”. Those definitions being what they are (and under the assumption that this is the definition that the committee that chooses nominees and inductees operates under), who’s closer to that definition of rock ‘n roll? LL Cool J or Yes?
With that out of the way, I wanted to take a look at this year’s nominees-certainly one of the more eclectic bunches of artists to appear before the field that will pick the 5 inductees. You’ve got artists representing damn near every sub-genre that falls under the rock ‘n’ roll umbrella. Shock-rockers are mingling with disco divas, folk-singing troubadours and guitar-strumming hippies. Hip-hoppers alongside hair metal. I think I know a fair amount of music, but (because I’m sure I’ll get comments or at least people wanting to comment about my relative lack of familiarity in regards to certain artists) I don’t know everything, although I think I’m entirely capable of judging the influence and legacy of an artist without hearing much of their music.
After the jump, find the full list of nominees, as well as my picks to get in and who my personal favorites are.
Alice Cooper– What can you say? The guy’s the king of shock rock. The theatrical element of his look and his stage show had a direct influence on quite a few of the more, shall we say, colorful rock acts to emerge over the past twenty years (hell, he could’ve practically fathered Marilyn Manson). He was also one of the first rock acts of the Seventies to scare the fuck out of the right-wing types). “School’s Out” is unquestionably a rock classic, and while I’m relatively unfamiliar with the guy’s work, I’m familiar enough with him to know that he’s an icon in his genre and stands a pretty good chance of getting in (at least to satisfy the “rock” purists.
The Beastie Boys– Run-DMC may have been the first hip-hop group to cross beyond their genre limitations musically and commercially, but the Beasties were more successful commercially and critically, and they’ve also been one of the few hip-hop acts to remain commercially and artistically relevant into their third decade. While there are those that think their melanin deficiency aids their entrance into the HOF, I think the opposite. In order to appease PC-types, the Beasties have been denied entry twice before BECAUSE Wenner and company would like to see more black hip-hop acts inducted so no one can say that the Beasties coasted in due to being white. If they don’t get in this year, they’ll definitely get in next year.
Bon Jovi-I’m questioning this one big-time. While Jon and company have undoubtedly amassed quite the commercial track record, I don’t know how influential they were. How do you justify this one? These guys have never been critical faves (not by any stretch of the imagination), so I have a hard time seeing them being inducted. If they do get in, someone’s cooking the books big time.
Chic– Chic gets nominated every year, it seems. I’d say they actually stand a decent chance of getting in this time, if only to represent disco. Not to say they aren’t deserving. Nile Rodgers and Bernard Edwards were two of the most recognizable faces of a movement that was probably even more important from a civil rights perspective than it was from a musical perspective. Their music has held up quite well, Edwards and Rodgers went on to very successful careers in production, and lest we forget, hip-hop made it’s way into the Top 40 for the first time on the back of the “Good Times” instrumental.
Neil Diamond– I discovered Neil Diamond kind of backwards. Growing up, I knew him as the King of Lite Radio with hits like “Heartlight” and “Hello Again” (and that God-awful “America” song). It wasn’t until I was an adult that I noticed his vastly superior work of the Sixties and early Seventies, before Easy Listening came a-callin’. He’s also regained a bit of the critical cred he lost during his Vegas period by teaming with Rick Rubin and exploring a less…gaudy sound. I say he gets in.
Donovan-OK, I know “Sunshine Superman” and “Mellow Yellow” and all of that, but can we say Donovan really has Hall of Fame credentials? I don’t know, man. It’s a little weird that Donovan is up for induction and Cat Stevens is not. He’s not getting in.
Dr. John– Another artist I don’t know much about as far as owning or having heard much of his music, but from having worked in music for 17 years, I know the reputation he has in the industry and among critics. After the Neville Brothers and Fats Domino, he’s probably the most recognizable musician from New Orleans. This would definitely be an anti-mainstream vote, but I say he doesn’t get in either. I’d stick the Nevilles (or The Meters) in before him-especially if Wenner is as concerned with doing the PC thing from an ethnic perspective.
J. Geils Band-Here’s another head-scratcher. These guys are pretty B-list. They were mildly successful through the Seventies, blew up for a hot second in the early Eighties, and then pretty much disappeared. They’re not getting in.
LL Cool J-LL has smeared his rep by making really shitty albums for the past 10 years-shitty enough that they’ve obscured the fact that he is the most influential (living) solo rap artist in history. He was the first hip-hop sex symbol, he was the first rap artist to successfully appeal to both sexes, he was the first rapper to wage a successful comeback, AND he is at least one of, if not arguably the best live performer in the genre. As I mentioned to my buddy Gerry earlier today-the Beasties have a more consistently solid catalog, but LL was more influential. I’d say there’s a good chance he gets in.
And if this ain’t rock ‘n roll, I don’t know what is:
Darlene Love– Definitely a big part of the whole girl group sound of the Fifties and early Sixties, but here’s another artist whose long term influence you have to wonder about. Pull out “He’s a Rebel” and the original version of “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)” and tell me if you can name three Darlene Love (or Crystals) songs without going to Google or Wikipedia.
Laura Nyro– I discovered Laura thanks to a co-worker at Tower Records back in the Nineties and fell in love with her voice immediately. She wrote some of the most recognizable (and most covered) songs of the late Sixties and early Seventies, sustained a decent career of her own as well, but a) as an artist, she was certainly not commercially successful, and b) it’s hard to gauge her influence. I’ll have to point to an obvious oversight here and ask why Laura’s being considered for induction and Carole King (as an artist) is not (she’s in as a songwriter). I think if you ask most of today’s female singer-songwriters who their influences are, Joni Mitchell and Carole King will come up a lot quicker than Laura Nyro. This is not to take away from her amazing talent-I’m just not sure where she belongs here, and I’m certainly not of the mindset that says an artist belongs in the Hall of Fame just because I like them.
Donna Summer– She was the Queen of Disco (and there are a handful of records she made that could be considered “rock” in the revisionist-history sense), but she was also at the mercy of her producers-not much of an “artist” (unlike Madonna, well at least unlike Madonna until recently). She’s more important for the sound of her records than for anything else, and I think that hurts her chances. Like, I think people feel like if Donna gets in, the trophy should be split up between her, Giorgio Moroder and Pete Bellotte. Actually, fuck what people think-that’s what I think.
Joe Tex– Another B-list pick. I respect the fact that the nominating committee probably wants to stick up for artists who they feel have never gotten their proper due, but when you line up the male soul singers of the Sixties-whether by talent or by influence, does Tex even place Top Ten? I mean, you’ve got Sam Cooke and Jackie Wilson carrying over from the early part of the decade, and then you add in Otis Redding, James Brown, Smokey Robinson, Marvin Gaye…I know I’m missing a couple here as well. I believe that in a Hall of Fame, an artist should have a lasting body of work. In the event that the artist did NOT create a lasting body of work, the little work that they made should be of the paradigm-shifting variety (like, say, Nirvana). Tex had a handful of hit singles, but that was really it. If he does get in, though-someone is gonna have to play my jam below.
Tom Waits– Critics love Tom Waits. Other artists love Tom Waits. Tom falls into the Dylan category for me. As a lyricist, the man is in a master class. However, his voice is like nails on a fucking chalkboard. Actually, in this case more like razor blades on a chalkboard. I can’t listen to any of his songs unless someone else is singing them, but casting personal tastes aside, the man absolutely belongs in the rock and roll hall of fame. To Joe America, he may not have the name recognition of some of the other artists on this list (actually, besides Bon Jovi, this year’s list is pretty weak when it comes to mainstream American name value) but he’s definitely one of the more influential artists here, at least when it comes to other musicians.
Chuck Willis-Or, the only artist out of the 15 whose existence (and music) I was completely unaware of 48 hours ago. Willis had a handful of hits at the dawn of the rock era before dying (at the age of 30-geez!!) in 1958. I think the fact that he’s unknown or barely known to (I would imagine) the average popular music fan should exclude him from induction, but in this case I guess I lack the historical perspective to make a definitive judgment about that.
In the end, it’s hard to say what criteria the folks who nominate artists are looking for. These things are much easier to call in sports, where (to put it simply and stupidly) the best players get in. Stats are tangible. When it comes to things like music, influence and quality of an artist’s work are pretty subjective. Not to say there shouldn’t be some gimmes. I mean, c’mon-no one’s gonna make an argument about the influence and reach of Elvis or The Beatles or Springsteen or James Brown or Bob Marley or Joni Mitchell, right? But a lot of the artists up for induction this year straddle sort of a gray area, and it’s not very easy to justify their induction into a club that’s supposed to honor the best of the best, you know?
So-who gets in? My relatively educated guesses are Alice Cooper, The Beastie Boys, Neil Diamond, LL Cool J (yes, two hip-hop artists in the same year…that’s gonna piss a lot of people off) and Tom Waits.