Monday, September 22, 2008

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame nominations (UPDATED)

This year’s nominees for 2009 induction to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame have been announced. Let me preface this post with an acknowledgment that the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is a severely flawed institution. When you get down to it, almost any Hall of Fame is flawed, because it’s nearly impossible to set definitive criteria as to what makes one worthy of recognition. In women’s golf, you make the LPGA Hall if you win so many majors or tournaments. That’s about the only Hall I know with a true standard.

In sports, there are statistics to aid in determining who gets enshrined. But even stats are subject to interpretation. In music, things are even more skewed, because the number of hit records one has doesn’t come close to telling the whole story.

Obviously, a group with one true album (The Sex Pistols) or no great albums, but a legacy of terrific singles (countless ‘50s and ‘60s artists) can merit inclusion. But just being around for a long time shouldn’t be enough.

And sales and a certain "respectability" are critical. While I wouldn’t have The Eagles in the Hall, I can see arguments for including them. That being said, The Fall and Pere Ubu are way more qualified for inclusion, but they’ll never ever get nominated.

So the Hall is a joke. It doesn’t have to be. The Country Music Hall of Fame isn’t perfect either, but if you walk through the plaques there, you won’t raise your eyebrows too often. Then again, I’m a country music fan and not a scholar.

With that disclaimer out of the way, it’s still fun to discuss the merits of the nominees. Here’s the list: Jeff Beck, Chic, Wanda Jackson, Little Anthony and the Imperials, Metallica, Run-D.M.C., The Stooges, War and Bobby Womack.

Let me go in somewhat of a particular order:

Run-D.M.C. -- I think these guys are one of the most important acts in rock history. The press release notes how Run-D.M.C. was an innovator in using guitars in hip-hop. This is true, and it’s part of the band’s legacy. However, I think what made the boys from Hollis, Queens so important was how they boiled hip-hop down to an essence. Hammering beats and two human voices. Run and D.M.C. were both terrific emcees, whose styles complimented each other perfectly. Moreover, in the stark settings of the band’s early tracks, they commanded a listener’s attention with direct lyrics. They showed how elemental hip-hop could be and still be totally involving music. I can’t say enough about how great Run-D.M.C. is.

Wanda Jackson -- She’s the original queen of rock and roll. And she’s still going strong. At the Country Music Museum in Nashville, I saw a couple vintage television clips of Wanda in the ‘50s, and she was so charismatic. Listen to her classic sides and this really is a no-brainer.
The Stooges -- Weren’t they nominated last year? This band is so influential, taking blues rock in a new direction that inspired punk and post-punk, led by one of the all-time great frontmen. It’s a joke that the Stooges have had to wait this long.

Chic -- Like most of you, I’ve never heard a whole Chic album. I’m curious how it would hold up. Nile Rodgers and Bernie Edwards (with the help of Tony Thompson) created an incredible sound. It was a new type of R & B -- smooth, urbane, classy. It was made for the discos, but it had so much more going for it. Certainly more than one post-punker in the early-‘80s took some cues from Chic, whether it was trying to imitate them or subvert them. Get them in, please.

Metallica -- I still haven’t gotten around to listening to the early Metallica records. I’m sure I’d find some things to like about them. My first true exposure to Metallica was And Justice For All. While I can’t dispute the power of the band’s wall of sound, quite frankly, most Metallica music on that album, and subsequent songs I’ve heard over the years, is ponderous and supports bellowed lyrics that really shouldn’t be taken seriously by anyone over the age of 15. Not that there isn’t a place for that sort of thing. But I think Metallica is as cliched as the old metal that the band was supposedly supplanting. Metallica will obviously get in, but I think they are one of the most overrated bands of the past 20 years, no matter how kick ass the early stuff was.

Jeff Beck -- The original e-mail I got had Jeff's first name cut off. Meaning I though that Beck was nominated, which seemed a bit premature. So I've had to delete my Beck WTF? entry and here's the new (and correct) one. As for Jeff Beck, no one can argue with his talent as a guitarist. One of the all-time greats. But his solo work has only been sporadically worthwhile. I think his best work was with The Yardbirds. I figure he will eventually go in as a solo artist, because he's a legend. But it's for his talent not his (solo) artistry.

Little Anthony and the Imperials -- Really? I can only think of only two Little Anthony hits and I’ve read more than my fair share of rock histories, and these guys rarely make the footnotes, let alone the text. There are a lot of ‘60s acts who are more deserving. I think the Hall should admit individual records too -- then Little Anthony might have a better argument.

Bobby Womack -- I have a Womack compilation and I was a bit underwhelmed. His music was good, of course, but he’s a notch or two below the true soul legends of his era. But he’s a big industry guy (producer and songwriter too), and that will probably get him in.

War -- I wish I knew War’s albums better. I’ve had two greatest hits comps and I have to say that War deserves more respect, just based on the quality of the band’s singles. War definitely had a soul sound rooted in L.A. (adding a cool Latin influence) and a Dutch harmonica players. I don’t think of War as Hall material, but if they have LP cuts on par with "The Word Is a Ghetto", "All Day Music" and "Me and Baby Brother", that’s not too bad of a resume.

Please feel free to comment away. Thanks for reading this far!

1 comment:

Paul said...

OK, Jeff Beck sounds like a more reasonable nominee than Beck (though I think Beck will probably get consideration when he hits the 25 year mark).

I dislike the idea of the Hall, but here's how I'd vote:

Yes:
Jeff Beck
Chic
Metallica
Wanda Jackson
Run-DMC

No:
War
Bobby Womack
Little Anthony (although I give them a little more consideration than you. They evolved a little from a classic simple 50's Vocal Group (Tears on My Pillow/Two Kind of People - 1958) to the overblown pop production of their later hits (Going Out of my Head, Hurts So Bad, etc.).