Monday, October 24, 2011

The Next 14 Artists Who Should Be Inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame

I just wrote an article for my Ourstage "Sound And Vision" column on "Why the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Is on the Verge of Becoming a Joke," and it got me thinking about the most egregious omissions overall. For the next few years, they should skip the nominating process and focus on righting ongoing wrongs by automatically inducting the most glaringly overlooked acts.

Once they're in, then the Hall of Fame should focus on other ways of fixing the induction process. First, they need to decrease the number of annual inductees (three performers and one non-performer only in years when there's a worthy candidate) to slow down the diminishing quality of honorees. I attended the ceremony in 1992, the year Johnny Cash was inducted, and all seven performing inductees (including Cash, the Isley Brothers, the Yardbirds and the Jimi Hendrix Experience) were true monsters of rock & roll. I also met Cash, who was as gracious as you might expect him to have been, and asked Alan Jackson to remove his cowboy hat so that I could see if he was hiding any baldness underneath, a la Dwight Yoakam. His wife gladly did it for him, revealing hat head and a hairline in the early stages of retreat.

Next, they should remove the "early influences" and "sidemen" categories and let those performers get in the same way everyone else does, broaden the definition of "rock and roll" to make the Barbra Streisands, the Frank Sinatras and the Connie Francises of music's past and present worthy of serious consideration, and allow induction only by current members with ties -- whether they be professional or influential -- to the inductees. (How dare they let Justin Timberlake induct Madonna in 2008 when her direct precursor in pop blonde ambition, Deborah Harry, was around to do it?)

But first, let's get these 14 artists into the Hall of Fame, where they belong.

If not for providing a decade's worth of hits that are still in heavy rotation around the world (including the all-ABBA music channel on the TV in my Bangkok pad), at least for spawning both an internationally successful stage musical and a 2008 movie in which Meryl Streep floundered trying to pull off ABBA's great Swedish songbook, proving that it wasn't quite as easy as the quartet made it look.

Donna Summer
Yes, I've heard: Disco is a dirty word, and Summer is perhaps the artist most devalued by it. But that's a disservice to the breadth of her work, which covered nearly every genre, and at its best ("I Feel Love," "Our Love"), still sounds as current as recent hits by Lady Gaga and Rihanna, two artists who might not even exist if Summer hadn't helped bust down the wall separating pop from electronic dance music in the '70s.

Depeche Mode
DM may not have been the most influential new-wave band (I'd tentatively bestow that honor on Human League), but it's the only iconic '80s act who actually had it biggest hits in the '90s, and whose continued relevance and activity does not revolve purely around nostalgia. I'll even forgive main songwriter/member Martin Gore for providing Susan Boyle with material ("Enjoy the Silence") for her upcoming third album, "Someone to Watch Over Me." By the way, Boyle's version is even worse that you would imagine!

Dolly Parton
Not only did she write the bulk of her hits (including "I Will Always Love You," a No. 1 pop single for Whitney Houston and a country No. 1 for its author, twice), but she's country music's only gay icon, a singer-songwriter whose fame transcends music. I can't imagine another country singer (aside from perhaps a resurrected Johnny Cash) who could make major news by announcing live dates continents away from Nashville, in Australia, where Parton will tour next month. What becomes a 65-year-old legend most? Eternal youth appeal. I have a 20-year-old friend who is dying to see Parton when she lands in Brisbane from November 25 to 27.

Loretta Lynn 
If Wanda Jackson could get in (in 2009), surely there's a spot in there for the woman whose life story won Sissy Spacek an Oscar and who could make a song with a title like "Out of My Head and Back in My Bed" sound like the furthest thing from a joke.

Willie Nelson
Like Parton, an iconic country performer who, for his contribution to the Great American Country Songbook, probably deserves the honor more than George Jones, who despite being country's greatest living singer never quite transcended the genre.

Roxy Music 
The band may have been a bit too avant-garde for the Hall of Fame's restricted tastes, but by honoring Roxy Music, they'd also be giving due props to Brian Eno. After leaving Roxy, he went on to become one of the most influential music producers in the history or rock, continuing to demonstrate viability with his work on the new Coldplay album, Mylo Xyloto, which comes out on Monday (October 24).

Electric Light Orchestra 
Of the Beatles-esque bands that emerged in the wake of the Fab Four's split, nobody honored the source material more impressively than ELO. The group did it so well that George Harrison invited leader Jeff Lynne to produce Cloud Nine, his 1987 comeback album, which spawned "Got My Mind Set on You," the final No. 1 solo hit by a former Beatle. On what musical planet is Steely Dan, inducted in 2001, more worthy?

Unless you're an icon (Madonna, Dusty, Aretha) or riding in on the arm of a guy or three (Tina Turner with Ike or Stevie Nicks with Fleetwood Mac), women get no respect from the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Nominated for the first time this year, Heart might be road-blocked by its middle-of-the-road '80s balladry, but the band would deserve a spot based solely on its '70s work and for originating the concept of women who rock. And if it's between Heart and fellow nominees Joan Jett and the Blackhearts to represent girls with guitars at the 2012 induction ceremony, the Wilson sisters can't lose.

Linda Ronstadt
Maybe she's never been nominated because in the '70s she broke the heart of someone on the nominating committee. Or maybe her genre hopping in the '80s was too confusing. If anything, that's exactly why she deserves in perhaps more than any still-un-nominated performer.

Like Heart, an MOR hit-making phase two in the '80s spoiled its legacy, but among '70s acts who spent the majority of the decade cranking out huge albums and singles with equal ease, Chicago was right up there with Bee Gees and Elton John. "Make Me Smile," "25 Or 6 to 4," "Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is," "Beginnings," "Colour My World," "Saturday in the Park," "Feelin' Stronger Every Day," "Just You N Me," "(I've Been) Searching So Long," "Call on Me," "Old Days," "If You Leave Me Now" and "Baby, What a Big Surprise," were all Top 10 hits featuring the original '70s line-up. Perhaps having multiple lead singers played a role, but aside from Three Dog Night (also featuring multiple vocalists), I can't think of a group of the time with more variety in its hit list, yet somehow Chicago always seems to be excluded from discussions of the pivotal acts of the '70s.

Dionne Warwick/Burt Bacharach and Hal David
Though it's easy to think of Warwick and her two primary songwriters in the '60s as a packaged deal, some of their greatest triumphs were accomplished separately ("Deja Vu" and "Heartbreaker" for Warwick, Bacharach/David's classic compositions for Carpenters and B.J. Thomas, and Painted From Memory, Bacharach's stunning 1998 collaboration with Hall of Famer Elvis Costello). But that the creative team responsible for some of the most enduring pop classics of the 1960s has yet to be considered is proof that the men behind the Hall of Fame are not only out of touch but of of their minds, too.

10 Other worthy inductees

Deep Purple
Cheap Trick
The Miracles
Barry White
Gram Parsons
Kate Bush
Luther Vandross
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