Musical Misgivings: Membership in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame
The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame has always engendered controversy. The uninitiated may chalk this up to artistic differences. But something else is going on in the selection process. I don’t know what it is, whether politics or just bad taste, but the amount of great artists who are overlooked every year is staggering. Most of the power on the committee belongs to Rolling Stone founder Jann Wenner and some close associates. Even in the arts, absolute power corrupts.
If I said to you that a band with 22 gold, and 18 platinum albums along with 21 Top 10 singles was not in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, what would your response be? That’s easy; you would say I was crazy. Well, it’s true. And the band’s name is Chicago and they have been one of the most innovative rock bands in American history. The band is second only to The Beach Boys in Billboard chart singles and album chart success among American bands. Over the course of their career they have had five number-one albums.
There are probably a multitude of reasons why Chicago is not in the Hall of Fame. The politics of the selection committee, personal vendettas against some of the band members and the band itself is probably to blame in some ways. After the hits dried up in the early 90s, they continued to tour but their shows started featuring medleys and got a little cheesy. It’s still unfair. Their musicianship isn’t any less fantastic. But turning into a “County Fair” act can hurt when many of the selection committee consider themselves “purists.” The band was around long enough and was influential to scores of other acts. Even Jimmy Guercio, their first manager, deserves to be in the Hall, not just for Chicago, but for many other acts like Blood, Sweat and Tears. He was as much an impresario as Don Kirchner.
Other acts excluded include Hall and Oates, KISS, The Doobie Brothers, The Marvelettes and Chubby Checker. Yes, even the man who brought us the Twist is excluded. Chubby wasn’t around very long from a Top 40 perspective, but his influence outlasted his pop persona. Why the snub? What exactly is the nominating process to get in the Hall of Fame? Madonna and Public Enemy are now members. This prompts the question: What is Rock and Roll? It can be defined, but maybe it’s only in the ear of the beholder.
Hall and Oates is another snub that particularly bothers me. It’s strange because I’m not actually a fan. But their ability is undeniable. They’ve had 6 #1 hits, numerous other Top 40 hits and were the only white act to simultaneously be on the Pop and R & B charts at the same time. Is it John Oates’ fro? The cheesy videos? I hope Daryl Hall's show "Live from Daryl's House" goes a long way towards getting him and Oates the respect they deserve. Just listen to those young artists who come to play with his band.
It’s not just artists but others like Brian Epstein. The late manager of the Beatles is still excluded. He changed the Beatles in profound ways, remaking their image which made them more popular (acceptable to the mainstream culture of the U.S.). The British Invasion led to groundbreaking changes in the American music scene. The Beatles had to get through the Please, Please Me stage and become established before they could have the creative power to make Sgt. Pepper or Let it Be. Without Epstein, that would not have been possible. His life was tragically cut short but he did much with his limited time.
No Chicago, Hall & Oates or Epstein. To me, it borders on the criminal. And what about Bob Geldof? He created what was at the time in 1985, the largest Rock and Roll show of the decade with Live Aid. It brought an unbelievable array of artists on live TV for 24 hours worldwide. Who knows how that influenced both the music and the fans in later years? He also revived the idea that music can be a force for change again.
Something is wrong when non-rock acts get in and acts like Chicago are left out. Look, I love Chuck D and Public Enemy. He was an innovator, but not with Rock and Roll. I consider Hip Hop a completely different genre of music on par with rock. Madonna was a genius at dance/pop music. And her talent lay in promoting herself, not songwriting.
They Deserve To Be Enshrined
But instead of me making some intellectual argument toting the various artists and bands, let’s look at some of the inductees instead. I think they make my argument for me. You decide if their supposed “influence” on the genre is really Hall of Fame worthy and equal to those excluded:
1. Leonard Cohen – Yes, brilliant songwriter. Influenced Bob Dylan and Paul Simon. Poet, novelist and songwriter. Putting someone in for indirectly influencing other songwriters opens up the door pretty wide. I mean, do you put the author of Ecclesiastes in the Hall because of the Birds’ Turn, Turn Turn? If Dylan wrote a couple of songs based on the poems of Siegfried Sassoon, do you put Sassoon in the Hall of Fame? Bizarre. Haven’t all poets influenced all songwriters in one way or another? Don’t forget about Dylan Thomas. Bob took his name from the man. The Bible is the most influential book of all time; shouldn’t it get a Nobel Prize for Literature?
Compare it to sports: Bobby Bonds is not in the Baseball Hall of Fame, but he did help raise his son Barry, didn’t he? And worked on his swing in the backyard (maybe). That’s influence. Barry Bonds is arguably one of the top 10 players of all time. Should all of Hank Aaron’s minor league and Negro league managers be in the Baseball Hall of Fame because of their influence on him? What about Tom Seaver’s first pitching coach? No, of course not. Where does it end? How about the Xavierian Brothers who ran Babe Ruth’s orphanage in Baltimore? Okay, there are scouts in the Baseball Hall of Fame and managers. But that selection committee is tough and they’ve had their stupid moments like recently not allowing any player in or the famous Aaron snub (lack of a unanimous vote). Overall, they get it right most of the time.
2. ABBA – Yes, it’s Sweden’s greatest contribution to 70s pop rock. Don’t get me wrong: it was great music and a lot of fun. But influential? Someone clue me on that one. The winner sometimes doesn’t take it all. Maybe the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame has finally met its Waterloo. All I can say is Mamma Mia! Okay, I’ll stop.
3. Guns and Roses – Okay, not just your average hair metal band. Appetite for Destruction is one of my all time favorites, and one of the greatest heavy metal albums of all time. But they were around for only 5 years with their original line up. What artists point to them as inspirations? Great act. Great musicians. Zero influence on the genre. There was no consistency. Their follow up to Appetite was deplorable. I better stop now because Duff McKagen doesn’t live too far from me.
4. Randy Newman – Really? Why not Henry Mancini, Elmer Bernstein or Jerry Goldsmith? Isn’t he known more for movie scores? I’m confused here. Even as a songwriter, he’s not rock and roll. Short People and L.A. don’t do it for me. Two of his more famous compositions, "Mama told me not to come," and "You can leave your hat on," are certainly great songs, and part of the culture, but Hall of Fame worthy? Yes, he’s worked with a lot of people. So what? So has George Duke, and he’s not in the Hall of Fame. What about David Foster? He's won an incredible amount of Grammys and he made the Chicago sound of the 1980s along with Peter Cetera. I don't get it. Look, he's a great songwriter but he could have waited.
Is there a Newman sound? Maybe if I listen to John Goodman sing “If I Didn’t Have You,” another fifty times, I might change my mind. Sorry. If someone can convince me with a cogent argument for the rock greatness of Randy Newman, let me know. Personally, Newman from Seinfeld has had a greater influence on pop culture. Truly a ridiculous entry. Better yet, it’s a joke.
5. Madonna – Yeah, her. ‘Nuff said. I have smoke coming out of my ears every time I think it about it. What’s next? Suddenly Susan as one of the greatest Rock and Roll movies of all time? It’s not the “Pop Music” Hall of Fame. It’s Rock and Roll, brother. And with her, that’s missing. Rock and Roll can be Pop, but not all Pop is Rock and Roll. This is going too far. They may as well hold open a spot for Lady Gaga.
Now, there are bands that I love and are inductees, but I don’t feel they should be in there. The Kinks are one. Look I’ve seen them live and I was at one of Ray Davies’ book tour performances in the mid 1990s. Unbelievable experience. But were they Hall of Fame worthy? More than Chicago? Cream is another. And finally, Creedence. Love ‘em. But not worthy. The Kinks have been around a long time. I’ll give them that. So maybe that qualifies. But Cream and Credence were not around very long. They were popular and made great music. I’d be in favor of their inclusion if so many others were not left out.
Entry into the Hall of Fame should be based on contributions musically, and influence. The contributions could just be making great music for a fairly long period of time (Journey, Foreigner, Kiss, etc.) or as in the case of Chubby Checker, help transform the genre toward something new. In the late 50s and early 60s, a guy like Chubby was a bridge between white and black culture in America. The importance of that is immeasurable. Take a look at the old footage of him performing on shows like American Bandstand doing The Twist. It looks funny now. But he was dancing around with white folks in the audience and on the floor. That's groudbreaking (i.e. influence). Today it's hard to imagine why that would cause such anger. The same goes for so many other black singers of that era. They have been overlooked for too long. Could you keep performing while receiving death threats?
Many critics dismiss Journey as pop rock or corporate rock. But how many guys took up guitar because they heard Neil Schon's licks? What about Steve Perry? I know there has to be artists today that took up music because they heard him sing. It's these little things that are overlooked when trying to measure greatness.
Popularity and longevity enter into it as well. If you’ve had multiple #1 hits over a decade, that’s pretty darn good. Also, the complexity of the music (i.e. Chicago, Hall and Oates), has to matter. It is an art form. Listen to Chicago's first two albums and try to tell me that it's not some of the most original material you've ever heard. And they were only in their early 20s!.
Taste is open to interpretation. I’m just asking for Jann Wenner and his cronies to be rational and fair. Good music is good music; you don’t have to like it to respect it. If you disagree, let me know. Or let me know the acts that you feel have been left out of the Hall.
Talent and Longevity Be Damned
Updates: Class of 2014 Nominees
Well, the nominees have come out and justice may be upon us. Hall and Oates has at least been nominated. We'll see if the selection committee comes to their senses. Nirvana is also on the list and a shoe in. They changed rock. Hair bands died with the release of Nevermind and In Utero. The rest of the list is diverse to say the least: NWA, Linda Ronstadt, KISS, The Replacements, The Meters (funk band), Chic, the classic disco/funk hitmakers, Deep Purple, Paul Butterfield Blues Band, Peter Gabriel, LL Cool J, Cat Stevens, Link Wray, Yes and the Zombies.
My other choices are simple: KISS, Peter Gabriel and Linda Ronstadt. KISS is what rock and roll is all about; having a good time, experimenting with new things and being outrageous. Peter Gabriel is an amazing artist and has been overlooked for years. Go back and listen to his work with Genesis as well as his solo career. His work was groundbreaking. As for Linda Ronstadt, I'm not the biggest fan, but she did influence a lot of woman singers to get into the business. And for that, she deserves the honor. I think her illness will also help garner some votes. Why not? She gave her life to her craft.
I stick to my guns regarding Hip Hop. It is a separate genre of music, on par with rock that was a force for social change and awareness, which deserves its own hall of fame. Chuck D was a genius. LL was great. Groundbreaking? Not really. My feelings about Hip Hop are similar to my feelings on Leonard Cohen; it's not rock and roll. It's great. But not rock. NWA was an amazing collection of talented artists that included Dr. Dre and Ice Cube. They were equivalent to Elvis and Bill Haley in the 1950s, when those two guys helped create what we now know as Rock and Roll. Two white men helped bridge the gap between the races through art. Hip Hop artists helped make the larger society aware of what was happening in urban America through a new art form. For that, they deserve their own HoF. We need to narrow down the genre a little. Chic was an awesome band. But not that much better than KC and the Sunshine Band. But disco was an offshoot of rock and roll, there's no denying that. The element were there.
The others are a mixed bag. I loved The Replacements but they will never be HoF worthy. Butterfield is a no. Also loved Deep Purple, but not that much better than their contemporaries. Now, for Yes, I have mixed feelings. Absolutely loved them. Saw them live. Unbelievable musicians. Their music was truly art. But HoF worthy? Not sure yet. Maybe next year. But then I go back to the single most terrifying metric: Madonna is a member. So why not Yes?
I will update the article as news comes down.
2014 Inductees - Some Wrongs Get Righted
Well, Hall and Oates and Kiss finally made it. But there 's still a long way to go.
As for the other nominees, Nirvana is the most deserving. They were groundbreaking; no doubt about it. But can't help be sad when you think of Cobain. Just a waste. Peter Gabriel? Great artist. I don't care. Linda Ronstadt was the sentimental pick and I'm glad to see her be honored. She is now in poor health and why not honor another woman. I go back to the same mantra: if Madonna is in, why not? Cat Stevens is kind of a bizarre pick. I don't get it. To me, he was just another singer/songwriter from the 70s. Cat Stevens is in but Chicago is not...do you see a problem?
Glad to see Brian Epstein make it. Don't know much about Andrew Loog Oldham except that he worked with the Rolling Stones. But from what I've read, the award is deserved. The E Street Band made it in and that's great. Terrific live performers and supporting Springsteen all those years should get them recognized.