Sunday, October 11, 2015

Rock and Roll Hall of Fame rant time

I'm going to go into this one a little earlier this year. Rather than wait for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame to announce its selections for the Class of 2016, I'm going to take a look at those selection, explain which ones are deserving of being in the Hall, offer some odds on each's chances of getting in, then finish up with basically the same rant I offered in the past.

So, the list of nominees:
  • The Cars
  • Chaka Kahn
  • Chic
  • Chicago
  • Cheap Trick
  • Deep Purple
  • Janet Jackson
  • The J.B.'s
  • Los Lobos
  • Steve Miller
  • Nine Inch Nails
  • N.W.A.
  • The Smiths
  • The Spinners
  • Yes
Lets start with the J.B.'s. For those unaware, this is the backing band of legendary singer—and Hall of Fame member—James Brown. Aside from this role, the band put out plenty of albums and singles on its own and two of its primary members—"Bootsy" Collins and his brother "Catfish" Collins—eventually joined up with George Clinton to help form the Parliament-Funkadelic cooperative (which was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1997, though the inducted group included only Bootsy Collins, not his brother). There's a strong series of linkages here to some seriously significant music, there's no doubt about that. And I guess, given the induction of The Crickets, The Miracles, and the like apart from the already-inducted front men of such bands like Buddy Holly and Smokey Robinson (a special at-large induction which occurred in 2012), there's a case to be made for the J.B.'s. Just not a very strong one, in my opinion. And probably in the opinion of many others, otherwise the J.B.'s would have gone in with the rest in 2012.

Next, Nine Inch Nails and The Smiths. I group these two together because they represent what I would call the "Velvet Underground effect" that permeates the music world. What I mean by that is that there are many acts/groups who are lauded for their "legacy," for their extensive influence on modern music in general and on specific genres in particular. So let me sum up my opinion on these sorts of acts with one word: bleck. I couldn't stand The Smiths when I was in college (and they were supposedly a "college band") and I can't stand them now. Any influence they have had on music is, in my opinion, unfortunate. I'm far less wound up about Nine Inch Nails, but at the same time I'm still not all that impressed. Of course, I'm not the one doing the choosing here.

Then there's perennial nominee Chic. This marks their tenth nomination to the Hall. And frankly, there's good reason for the nomination and good reason for the lack of success in this regard. Though wildly popular for a moment—that moment being the apogee of the Disco era—Chic has little else to warrant inclusion. And if it were up to me. I wouldn't include them. Not much different is Cheap Trick, though it's wild popularity occurred relative to the hard rock dominance of FM radio, wherein live cuts briefly were all the rage. And there's no question that Cheap Trick is a special concert band. But there are a lot of special concert bands. Most aren't in the Hall of Fame.

In contrast to the aforementioned wild popularity, there is the subdued popularity of the bands Los Lobos and Yes. I enjoy both bands very much, especially the latter. And I have to admit, if the Hall of Fame was limited to only bands that I really like, Yes would certainly make the cut. Los Lobos? Probably not. But of course, the Hall of Fame is not limited to the genres of music I prefer and frankly, if Emerson, Lake, and Palmer is not in the Hall, there's no reason for Yes to be there.

There are three individuals on the list, as well: Steve Miller, Chaka Kahn, and Janet Jackson. I'm not a fan of the last, but given how many fans she has and her commercial success, her induction seems to be almost a given. Whether or not she gets in this year is the only real question. As to Steve Miller, well the same is true of him. Though I think the fact that his music still sees heavy airplay on pretty much every classic rock station in the country is enough to push him across the line, sooner rather than later. Chaka Kahn represents something of a conundrum, I think. While her mainstream success was limited and mostly a function of Prince's efforts in penning I Feel For You for her, there is a bit of the "Velvet Underground effect" with her, too. A part of me really wants to say—to scream, really—"yes!" to her potential induction, but compared to the competition she faces in this class and will likely face in future ones, I can't really justify it.

Now, I could go into a detailed history of N.W.A, but frankly there's no point. Their rise from the streets of Compton—recently lionized in film—and the subsequent impact they had on the music world as a whole is well known. They're going in this round. And they should. The only real question is who they will choose to induct them. Or rather, will the surviving members be able to agree on such a choice.

Chicago, classic line-up
That leaves The Spinners, The Cars, and Chicago. With these three, we're talking about some serious hit-production. The Spinners dominated the R&B charts in the early and mid 70's. The Cars dominated the Rock charts and MTV-world in the mid 80's. And Chicago, well Chicago is the band for soft rock/adult contemporary. Between 1972 and 1975, Chicago released five albums, all of which peaked at number one and all of which went at least platinum. And they had thirteen more platinum albums (or better) besides those! There's some snootiness available for all three of these bands, some "well, they're not all that special/original" types of arguments. But who can question the kind of success these bands enjoyed? Given some of the other bands in the Hall of Fame, how can there be no room for these three titans (granted, I'm a big fan of all three)?

So, there you have...oh, wait! I forgot one: Deep Purple. Should Deep Purple be in the Hall of Fame? Here's an easy way to make that determination: ask all the other people in the Hall of Fame. Chances are, there'd be close to a 100% affirmative response. From my previous rant:
But the biggest one of all, the actual, real, honest-to-goodness-snub in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is Deep Purple. Who cares if Kiss, Peter Gabriel, or Cat Stevens is in or out as long as Deep Purple remains on the outside looking in? Led Zeppelin is in (1995). So is Black Sabbath (2006). Deep Purple is one of the most influential hard rock bands of all times. Heavy metal was more or less defined as a genre in full when Deep Purple released Machine Head in March of 1972.

It's tough now to understood just how significant this album was. Initially, only one single--"Never Before"--was released from the album, yet the album remained on the charts for over two years. Why? Because of the other tracks on the album, particularly "Smoke on the Water" (eventually released as a single). Most were just too long, in the minds of the record company execs, to work as singles. But the songs were burning up FM radio, heavily requested and played for years and years. "Smoke on the Water" went on to become one of the most-played songs on FM rock stations in the decade. It became so well known that it--along with "Stairway to Heaven"--gained a reputation as the first song one had to learn on the guitar. People who cannot otherwise play the instrument often know the first chords of "Smoke on the Water."

In December of 1972, Deep Purple released yet another game changer: a live double album entitled Made in Japan. Understand, this was two full LPs--four sides--of music, yet there were exactly seven songs on the album. Each side had two songs, except for the last which had only one ("Space Truckin'") which was almost twenty minutes long. Who did that? Who does that, now? Yet, Made in Japan went Platinum in the U.S., peaking at number six (number one in Austria, Germany, and Canada). It remains one of the greatest live albums ever released, according to just about anyone.

Musically, the classic line-up of Ritchie Blackmore on guitar, Jon Lord on keyboards, Ian Paice on drums, Ian Gillan on lead vocals, and Roger Glover on bass (from 1969-1973 and during some later reunion periods, like 1984-1989) is just about as good as it gets. Few bands could boast better. And of course, this is why Deep Purple enjoyed so much success with live performances and live albums: their ability to jam, to stretch out a song while still keeping it interesting.
So, there you have my take on this year's class of nominees. Incidentally, you can vote for your choices here. What are the odds for each getting in? Here are my totally unscientific odds
The Cars—4 to 1
Chaka Kahn—8 to 1
Chic—6 to 1
Chicago—10 to 1
Cheap Trick—2 to 1
Deep Purple—4 to 3
Janet Jackson—3 to 2
The J.B.'s—3 to 1
Los Lobos—5 to 1
Steve Miller—5 to 4
Nine Inch Nails—stone cold lock
N.W.A.—stone cold lock
The Smiths—4 to 1
The Spinners—5 to 1
Yes—10 to 1
Typically, five to seven acts are inducted each year. Thus, I suspect the 2016 class will be as follows: Cheap Trick, Deep Purple, Janet Jackson, Steve Miller, Nine Inch Nails, N.W.A. The J.B.'s are just on the outside looking in, followed by The Cars and The Smiths.

If I had my way, this would be the list of inductees: The Cars, Chicago, Deep Purple, Janet Jackson, Steve Miller, and The Spinners. Alas, I'm unlikely to have my way.

What's left? Oh, right. The rant. You know what, I think the clamor regarding Deep Purple has reached a tipping point, so I'll skip the rant. At least until December...

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