Last week, the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame posted the nominees for induction into its 2014 class.
I’ve posted before about the Rock Hall. I love the place, and I think it’s actually important (many people don’t). I look at rock & roll as a uniquely American art form, something we should celebrate and protect. In the beginning, the Rock Hall was an affectation, but as rock’s founding fathers (and mothers) start to die off, and radio formats change, you can see the legacy and influence of rock & roll falling by the wayside.
When it comes to choosing who goes into the Hall, the RRHoF committee has their own criteria. I, being your average, over-opinionated human being, have my own. Here’s some thoughts about this year’s nominees. Note that the official rules say you can only pick five artists, so I had to make some hard choices.
It’s been said Jazz cheated on Big Band and had an illegitimate child with Blues, and named it Rock & Roll. Without the blues, there would be no rock. I’m a huge fan of good, quality blues acts, so I’m definitely partial on their entry into the Rock Hall.
The Paul Butterfield Blues Band filled a pretty big niche in rock history. Back in the 50’s, African-American blues artists like Muddy Waters, Bo Diddley, and Howlin’ Wolf were out doing their thing. Folks like Elvis Presley would take that music and put it into fast-paced, feel-good music for dance halls. But no one could ever claim Elvis was “the blues”. He basically stole blues music away from them, and turned it into Rock & Roll.
Paul Butterfield and his ilk did something different. They took that blues music and let it evolve into modern blues. They gave blues music a path into white-bread culture, where it would grow and foster great talents like Clapton, the Band, Neil Young, and others. Like the Missing Link in evolution, the Paul Butterfield Blues Band are an important part in the chain of modern blues music.
The Last Great Bluesman
Unfortunately, modern blues really wouldn’t last. By the late 1980’s, blues was “corporatized” and full of bland, cookie-cutter blues artists. You couldn’t tell one young blues musician from another. Folks realized the blues was great music, but the heart was leached out of it. Perhaps the record companies did it, perhaps MTV did it, perhaps we just didn’t have anything to be “bluesy” about anymore. Life simply became to easy in this country (but not for everyone, more on that later).
There was one exception in this “post-modern blues” era, and that man was Stevie Ray Vaughn. Vaughn was different. He wasn’t fronting a blues cover band, he was an actual bluesman, and a damned good one at that. He had that hardship in his music, hardship that was felt through his tremendous guitar playing. Nowadays, blues music has been relegated to small-town clubs and nostalgic filler pieces between sets by major artists to show “they respect the past”. Stevie Ray Vaughn was the last memorable member in a long line of bluesmen, and for that, he deserves a place in the Rock Hall.
Hip-Hop Rocks the World
I’m not a big hip-hop enthusiast. I can take it in small doses, but it’s not really my kind of music. Which is fine: it’s not meant for me. It’s meant for the same folks the blues was meant for back in the 30’s, 40’s & 50’s: the downtrodden and the disposessed. It’s their outlet, their release, and it’s just as valid as anything else that’s come before it. It’s pure rebellion, just like Elvis was pure rebellion against stuffy concert halls, James Brown was rebellion against stuffy gospel, the Grateful Dead was rebellion against stuffy conservatism, and the Ramones were rebellion against easy listening. Most “white folk” don’t like hip-hop because it’s rebelling against them, but judging by the shit-mess we’ve put this world into, we deserve to be rebelled against. Hip-hop is rock, if not in form then definitely in pure spirit of open rebellion, and deserves to be honored in the Hall.
NWA is the founding daddy of that harsh, rebellious, in-your-face hip-hop. I don’t even know what more to say. Me sitting here proclaiming NWA was vital to hip-hop’s maturity as an art form would be like me sitting here explaining how the Rolling Stones were important to rock. It’s obvious to everyone. If you think hip-hop should be in the hall, NWA should be at the top of it.
Funk Soul Brothers
I love old-time funk, soul, and R&B. My iPod is chock-full of P-Funk, the Isley Brothers, Tower of Power, Sly and the Family Stone and, of course, James Brown. If that stuff doesn’t make you feel good, you probably should get professional help.
So how in God’s name is War not in the Rock Hall yet? This is one of the biggest travesties in the history of the Hall, even bigger than Lynyrd Skynyrd’s long years of snubbing. I never found Lynyrd Skynyrd particulary interesting. They were a good band, a powerful band, and much-loved. But War, they had a tremendous sound, a unique sound, a sound that blended the happy peppiness of funk with a dead-stern serious message. They mixed African and Latin rhythms, put in a horn section, and tore it up in different ways on many, many songs. Man they were brilliant.
The Masters of Industrial Rock
Now it’s time for some real heavy shit, the stuff that should truly be called “rock”. I’m talking Nine Inch Nails. The Nineties was an awesome decade for rock music, and we’ve already seen the best of the decade — Nirvana — in the Hall. Like the 50’s, 60’s, and 70’s before it, the Rock Hall deserves to be absolutely stuffed full with representatives of the “grunge era”, and there’s no better addition than Nine Inch Nails.
It’s not just the work of the band itself, but frontman Trent Reznor has a great body of work outside that project as well. He almost deserves to be in as a “nonperformer” for his producing and writing credits, plus his movie soundtrack work. But being inducted as Nine Inch Nails is reward enough. They’re a great addition to the Hall, an early entrant for a ton of great Nineties inductees.
The Rest of the Nominees
So those are my five picks. Here’s a quick take on the rest of this year’s nominees:
- Chic — disco was an evolutionary dead end, the Piltdown Man of rock music. It was pointless, shallow, musically uninteresting, and had none of the rebellion that’s coursed through rock & roll’s veins since Lead Belly. I begrudgingly accept the Bee Gees as members, simply because one cannot deny the cultural powerhouse of “Saturday Night Fever”, but the other disco artists (ABBA? Donna Summer?) have no business there, and neither does Chic.
- Joan Jett & the Blackhearts — I loved Joan Jett when I was young. They were a true rock band, a welcome respite from the strangeness of the Eighties. I have absolutely nothing against them, I just don’t think they really added much to the genre as a whole. Plus I am limited to five picks, I think the others are more deserving.
- Green Day — simply too early. I definitely want them in the Hall. NIN is enough of a Nineties era band for this year’s induction ceremony.
- Kraftwerk — I’m certain, some day, Kraftwerk will be in the Hall as “the founders of electronica”. I guess I’m still wrestling with hip hop & rap being in the Hall, I’m not ready for techno.
- The Marvelettes and The Spinners — Fine groups, but I think the music of their style & era is so well represented in the Hall already, I don’t really see the point of them joining it as well.
- The Smiths — I lived through The Eighties, and listened to all the music stereotypical to that era (Flock of Seagulls, Soft Cell, Thompson Twins, etc.), and I have to tell you: it’s crap. Not quite “disco crap”, but only marginally better. It can be fun, I guess. I find it annoying. What’s weird about The Smiths is they’re not even the most influential of the stereotypical Eighties bands! I don’t even remember them — at all!
- Sting and Lou Reed — I don’t have a problem with band frontmen going solo and getting into the Hall twice. Clapton did it, so did Peter Gabriel and Paul Simon. The difference between those three and Sting & Lou Reed is they took their careers, their music, and their influence in new directions different than their band, making their own mark. Clapton’s solo work is so different from the Yardbirds and Cream; Peter Gabriel definitely turned left when Genesis turned right; and Paul Simon took music in awesome directions with Graceland and Rhythm of the Saints. My issue with Lou Reed is his solo work is nearly indistinguishable from the Velvet Underground’s. My issue with Sting is he did take his music in a different direction from The Police — into Easy Listening. Neither should be in the Rock Hall as solo artists in my opinion.
- Bill Withers — this one was a hard one for me. He’s written some very good songs, and has been covered by dozens of great rock artists. I guess I find his work just a little too mellow for true Rock Hall status. I guess he’s on-par with James Taylor and Joni Mitchell, so he’s not completely unfitting for Inductee status. I’m really on the fence, and my ambivalence kept him out of my five picks.
Rock Hall Misses
Here’s a few nominees I’d like to see on lists in the future.
- Prog Rock is lightly represented. Pink Floyd is in, Genesis is in, Rush (if you consider them “prog”) is in. You know who’s missing? Probably the most talented group of musicians to ever record a rock album. I’m talking about King Crimson. Yeah, they never had a big album and never became the commercial powerhouse of Yes or Emerson, Lake & Palmer. But that band had some of the best musicians to ever gather together and record an album. I saw them live in the 90’s as a “double trio”, with founder Robert Fripp and vocalist Adrian Belew on guitars, Trey Gunn and Tony Levin on bass, and Pat Mastelotto and Bill Buford on drums, and they absolutely blew my socks off. This wasn’t any “trippy progressive” stuff, this was simply … amazing. And you’ll hear lots of current artists extol their praises and cite them as influences. King Crimson definitely should be in the hall, just on their sheer talent.
- I lamented the shittiness of Eighties music earlier. The best representative of that much-maligned musical era? The Cars. They epitomized the genre, ruled the airwaves, ruled MTV, and were pretty damned talented. Ric Ocasek is still producing stellar albums. I’d like to see them as the official Ambassador of the Eighties in the RRH0F.
- Rick Rubin must be inducted as a nonperformer. Just look at this list of albums he produced:
- Beastie Boys Licensed to Ill
- Black Crowes’ Shake Your Money Maker
- Johnny Cash American Recordings series
- Danzig’s sdebut
- Audioslave’s debut album
- Neil Friggin’ Diamond’s Twelve Songs & Home Before Dark
- Adele’s massive-selling 21
This is just the tip of the iceberg, only a sampling across so many genres and so many generations of artists. It’s just ridiculous what this guy has been involved in, and he’s not just a sit-back-and-write-checks producer. He’s involved in all of these projects, working with the artists. This guy should absolutely be in the Rock Hall, full stop.
What do you think? Like my picks? Hate them? Think I’m massively full of shit? Let me know! Oh, and let the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame know as well.