If you are in the business of selling blood pressure medicine, you probably discuss the inductees of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as often as possible. Just last week a complete stranger growled at me, while waiting in line to see The Zombies, “THEY SHOULD BE IN THE ROCK AND ROLL HALL OF FAME!” I almost responded with “Are you kidding me?” just to see if the guy’s head would have exploded. This is an institution that has given the green light to The Mamas & the Papas and Laura Nyro while snubbing the MC5 and the New York Dolls and Motörhead. On one hand, the RRHOF is the ultimate political joke, but it’s also viewed as the pinnacle of legitimacy by many fans and artists. Here’s a look at this year’s nominees.
The Cars. The Cars answered the question, “What would a group sound like that meshed Roxy Music with The Archies?” They were cool and catchy, detached yet fun. This is the first nomination for The Cars and they may scratch their way in by winning the fan vote. On a personal note, I’ve seen hundreds of bands perform live and none have put on a more flat, uninspired show than this crew.
Cheap Trick. Cheap Trick hit a musical sweet spot in the late 1970s – combining the melodicism of The Beatles with the brash attack of punk rock. Their artistic peak was short lived, but was marked by an explosive kinetic energy that few bands ever attain. With the legal issues that occurred after drummer Bun E. Carlos was removed from the band, a RRHOF performance with Cheap Trick in 2016 might win the soap opera drama award for the evening.
Chic. Chic attained the most rarefied status in popular music, becoming a universally critically acclaimed disco band. This is their TENTH nomination. Nile Rodgers earlier this year, ““I’ve always felt that dance music is on a lower rung of the rock ’n’ roll ladder. We played at Elton [John]’s Oscar party, and in an interview afterward he said Chic being nominated nine times for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and not being inducted may be the greatest crime in all of music.” I doubt that Chic’s failure to make the HOF would rate in the top 1,000 greatest crimes in all of music, but that statement is more of a reflection of the music business than of Chic’s aaaah-FREAK OUT, Studio 54 prowess.
Chicago. Chicago actually made some interesting jazz influenced pop/rock records before devolving into Peter Cetera’s sap farm. If street cred is your currency, this is one terminally bankrupt outfit.
Deep Purple. This is the third nomination for Deep Purple, perhaps they are on track to become the Chic of British hard rock/heavy metal. You could make the case for Deep Purple on commercial viability, longevity, and being influential (if you broke the hands of every guitarist that has never played the opening riff of “Smoke on the Water,” you would be done with that act before reading the end of this sentence). Can you make the case based simply on the overall quality of their work? Aye, there’s the rub.
Janet Jackson. Janet Jackson stepped out of the shadows of her family in the mid-80s and had a fifteen year streak with non-stop multi-platinum albums and over twenty Top Ten pop hits. Do I consider her a “Rock ‘n’ Roll” artist? No. Do I consider her a lock for induction? Yes.
The J.B.’s. The J.B.’s, the backing unit for James Brown from 1970 through the early ‘80s, might be the most obscure nominee for casual music fans. A confusing aspect of the nomination is that there were two distinctly different version of The J.B.’s – the original band included Bootsy and Catfish Collins and recorded some of the hottest funk tracks of the decade (“Sex Machine,” “Super Bad,” etc.). A different version of The J.B.’s, lead by Fred Wesley and Maceo Parker scored the pop/soul hits “Pass the Peas” and “Doing It to Death” in 1973/1974. I kind of see these guys sitting on the outside with The Meters, too funky and not mainstream enough for induction.
Chaka Khan. Chaka, Chaka, Chaka. Chaka Khan, Chaka Khan, Chaka Khan, Chaka Khan. She’s had a wonderful career, scoring her first pop hit (as part of the band Rufus) in 1974 (“Tell Me Something Good”) and winning her last Grammy in 2008 (with the album Funk This). However, I’m not sure that Chaka and Janet both get the nod in the same year.
Los Lobos. A really interesting nomination, probably the most versatile live act I’ve ever seen and a band with more rave reviews than Donald Trump has insults. Still, Los Lobos are somewhat of a novelty to casual audiences, since their only hit records were with Ritchie Valens cover tunes. In terms of artistic accomplishment and fearlessness in exploring new territory, this just another band from East L.A. deserves a slot.
Steve Miller. Miller was known as a gifted psychedelic blues rock artist in the 1960s, but built his legacy on his hummable 1970s Top 40 hits. Does mere pleasantness meet the standards of the RRHOF? Daryl Hall and John Oates are laughing hysterically at that question.
Nine Inch Nails. Nine Inch Nails has never been my particular vat of black eye shadow, but there’s no denying Trent Reznor’s talent. With 13 Grammy nominations and over 20 million albums sold, Reznor has took his version of industrial rock as much into the mainstream as possible. NIN seem like a lock at some point, as the HOF will need more ‘90s identified acts.
N.W.A. I considered these expletive spewing, cop hating bad boys a shoo in when they were first nominated, since gangsta rap was the rock ‘n’ roll of the late 1980s. Now that they’ve been biopic validated, it’s only a matter of time.
The Smiths. God, people love this band. God, people hate this band. Morrisey and Johnny Marr unmistakably broke new ground in popular music and were rewarded in the U.K. with 15 Top 40 hits between 1983 and 1987. Still, more of a cult act in the U.S. and probably too much of an acquired case for induction.
The Spinners. A tremendously underappreciated act who left Motown after scoring with the Stevie Wonder penned hit “It’s A Shame” in 1970 and went on to deliver some of the best Philadelphia soul songs of the 1970s. Bring in The Spinners and give hope to The Chi-Lites, The Stylistics, and The Delfonics of this world.
Yes. Yes were able to combine progressive rock tendencies with album oriented rock radio acceptance to find that haute cuisine/this is music that is “good for you” slot in the marketplace. For me, they represent the kind of tired “rock as art” pretentiousness that the Ramones were created to wipe off the cultural map. Let us take a moment and not dismiss the contributions of Yes, but celebrate the life of Johnny Ramone. It’s what the Rock ‘n’ Roll Deities want us to do. One, two, three, four…
I was happier because I knew I was happy
a snapshot of big hits and high tides, mostly high tides.
There is just a lot to love
the sound seemed to erupt from every side of the room
still on top
“danceable music for the end of days”
contracts its world in Nashisms
let’s take what we are offered
It’s the music, stupid