Friday, October 18, 2013

Thoughts on the Class of 2014 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Nominations

1. The most shocking thing about the Class of 2014 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame nominees isn't so much who was nominated (eligible acts must have released their first record in 1988 or earlier), but that at least four of the rock & roll nominees aren't already in there. How is it possible that Kiss, the seminal American rock band of the 1970s, has yet to be inducted? Or first-time nominees Peter Gabriel, inducted as a former member of Genesis in 2009 but never solo, and Yes, the premiere progressive/art-rock band of the '70s (even more so than the Gabriel-led Genesis)?

One might think that Deep Purple would have muscled its way in solely on the strength of the band's 1973 classic "Smoke on the Water," which contains what might arguably be the best-known guitar riff in the history or rock? Meanwhile, ZZ Top, hardly what I'd call key to the history of rock & roll, has enjoyed a spot in the hallowed Hall since 2004. That nominating committee must be full of "Legs" men.

2. For years, I've been damning the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame for failing even to nominate Linda Ronstadt, one of the guiding lights of the same country-rock movement of the early '70s that produced Eagles, inductees since 1998, whose four original members were once in Ronstadt's backing band. I suspect it has a lot to do with the Hall's bias against women and artists who didn't/don't write their own material. That didn't stop Brenda Lee and Dusty Springfield from gaining admittance, but I'm pretty certain it leaves iconic interpreters of song like Connie Francis and Barbra Streisand continuously on the outside looking in.

Ronstadt is unique among the aforementioned interpretative singers in that before turning to the Great American Songbook and adult-contemporary pop in the '80s, she embodied the spirit of old-time rock & roll from a female perspective. Her recent revelation that she's suffering from Parkinson's Disease probably had a lot to do with her first nomination, and after Nirvana, she's the 2014 inductee least likely to be passed over. Better 20 years late (she's been eligible since 1994) than never.

3. I love Daryl Hall and John Oates as much, if not more, than any child of the '80s, but the great duo's nomination might be this year's biggest head-scratcher for me -- not because there's any question about their worthiness, but because this is precisely the kind of mainstream pop act that the Hall (no relation to Daryl) generally ignores. I would say that the voters are running out of "rock & roll" to honor were in not for the perennially overlooked artists in Nos. 1 and 2, and the fact that acts as influential and decade (the '70s)-defining as ELO and Roxy Music have yet to be nominated. Though the input of fans (whose votes will count toward the inductees for the second consecutive year) gives them more of an edge than they would have had in 2011, Hall & Oates probably don't stand a chance of getting in this time. Their inclusion on this short list, however, bodes well for the future chances of '80s icons like Duran Duran and Pat Benatar.

4. At first, I was slightly perplexed by Cat Stevens' nomination because I've always thought of him as the Donovan of the '70s: a dark-haired male solo singer-songwriter responsible for a handful of standards -- "The First Cut Is the Deepest," "Moonshadow," "Peace Train" -- but always overshadowed by more iconic figures of his time (James Taylor, Elton John, the solo Beatles). Then I remembered that Donovan has been in the Hall since 2012, which makes me wonder, what took them so long to finally nominate the artist formerly known as Steven Demetre Georgiou (his birth name), now known as Yusef Islam?

Could his religious/political convictions (he converted to Islam in 1977) have had anything to do with it? Islam once said that author Salman Rushdie should be killed for committing the sin of blasphemy with his 1988 novel The Satanic Verses, a comment that could be interpreted (and was, by some) as an affront to the freedom of speech that rock & rollers hold as being more hallowed than God, or Allah. As Sinead O'Connor well knows, it rarely does one's career or legacy any good to preach what you practice.

5. It's nice to see the Hall recognizing '80s college rock by shortlisting The Replacements, but I've always considered the Paul Westerberg-led band to be second-tier among the movement's headliners, and it seems even more so when you consider that far more influential and eligible "The" bands like The Cure, The Smiths and Pixies (who are generally, if not officially, known "The Pixies") continue to go un-nominated. I recently watched a 2003 documentary on Morrissey in which he said he wishes "the very very worst" for former bandmate Mike Joyce, so I'm curious which Smiths would actually show up if my all-time favorite band were ever inducted and what they'd do if they all did. It might be the best chance we'll ever have to see all four on the same stage ever again.

6. Why does Chic keep getting nominated for induction? I'd say the eighth time should finally be the charm, but I don't think Chic deserves to get in. Although the disco act was responsible for at least one of disco's greatest moments -- the 1979 No. 1 single "Good Times" -- Chic was basically just a moniker under which disco maestros Nile Rodgers and the late Bernard Edwards, with assorted, revolving vocalists, got to be a relatively short-term recording act. Those immortal basslines may have been infinitely influential to the stars of the second British invasion in the early '80s (one of which, Duran Duran, Rodgers and Edwards would go on to separately produce), but lyrics like "Everybody dance/Clap your hands/Clap your hands" only supported the dismissal of disco as mindless entertainment.

Instead of Chic, Edwards (posthumously) and especially Rodgers should be up for induction -- again -- under their own names. Scratch that. They should have been invited in years ago. Rodgers' production and songwriting credits outside of Chic (with and without Edwards), which include career-biggest hits by Hall of Famers David Bowie ("Let's Dance") and Madonna ("Like a Virgin") and four decades worth of smashes, from Sister Sledge's 1979 We Are Family album to Daft Punk's recent No. 2 hit "Get Lucky," trump everything Chic did during its six-year original run. He transcends disco, and he's so much more than Chic. He deserves to be honored for the entire spectrum of his talent, not just a few late-'70s hits, awesome as at least one of them was.

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