Rock and roll has long had a history of activism, political commentary and “calling out” those in power who are abusing their positions. Folk music was the catalyst for this, then country music somewhat picked up the banner. In the 1960s, however, political discussion in music became the domain of rock music.
The Vietnam War was the spark that lit this fire. As young men from the U. S. were sent to their potential doom in someone else’s battle, many rock artists and groups pointed out the ludicrous nature of this endeavor. Perhaps the best example of this was in the Crosby, Stills and Nash classic “Ohio,” which took on the dual tangent of the Kent State Massacre and the involvement of the U. S. military in the quagmire in Asia.
From then on, rock music took on several political targets. The birth of punk was in direct rebellion against the “corporate” nature of the music industry and government. Soul, funk, R&B and rap showed how life ACTUALLY was on the streets of inner-city America, despite the glowing terms of what the politicians said. Country, for the most part, took off into a “star-spangled” obedience of those in charge, refusing to question anything about everything.
As we approach the 20th anniversary of 9/11, this divergence has never been more apparent. While country music continues wrapping itself in the jingoism and faux patriotism that they do so well, rock music actually points out where there are problems in the system. This is pointed out in the work especially well in the music that came out from artists and groups after the attacks of that fateful day.
Many of the songs from rock musicians tried to tell the stories of those from the perspective of people who actually were in the situation that 9/11 presented. Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band gave us “The Rising,” a song focused on a firefighter who attempted to rescue those in the World Trade Center after the attack. Yellowcard did the same thing in their song “Believe,” writing about the rescue workers who faced the challenges of the destruction.
Sleater-Kinney, Rush, and Paul McCartney all presented songs about the attacks of 9/11. My Chemical Romance actually was formed after the 9/11 tragedy, with their first song “Skylines and Turnstiles” written by vocalist Gerald Way after he witnessed the Twin Towers fall on that day. Rappers stepped up with their own contributions, including The Beastie Boys, Twista and Faith Evans, Eminem, and 50 Cent, while other singer/songwriters like Tori Amos, Sheryl Crow, John Hiatt, and Melissa Etheridge added in their contributions.
So, what about country music?
Much like the rest of its sophomoric output, country music wrapped itself in imagery of the flag, the “righteousness” of religion and the “kick assery” that the badass U. S. of A. was going to inflict on ANYONE (they weren’t very particular, to be honest) that crossed their path. There were several artists who epitomized this moronic, Neanderthal mindset.
Toby Keith was perhaps the worst of them all, with his idiotic “Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue.” The song’s subtitle is “The Angry American” and Keith brought out about every trope there was about idiotic Americans and their perceived “exceptionalism.” Keith wasn’t the only one who fell to this mindset, however. The Oak Ridge Boys, Alan Jackson, and The Charlie Daniels Band were just a few of those who chose to go uber-patriotic instead of actually caring about the people involved and what brought about the situation (and this isn’t even mentioning Lee Greenwood’s “God Bless the U. S. A.” and its “God only supports godly Americans” idiocy).
This perhaps is more of a demonstration of the division of the musical genres by political calling more than anything else. For the most part, those that hew conservative (or vote Republican) want to “rally around the flag” and trumpet about their patriotism rather than actually doing something about the situation. Those that hew to the liberal side (or vote Democratic) find stories in the midst of the overarching situation and choose to tell those stories in an attempt to effect change, both political and otherwise, through their musical endeavors.
Sure, there are those that don’t match up with these thoughts. In the rock world, there is Ted Nugent…no more needs to be said. Kid Rock has also shown his asshattery through his words and stances. Country is also changing, with artists such as Willie Nelson, Jason Isbell, The Chicks, Maren Morris, Kacey Musgraves, The Highwomen and many others demonstrating with their actions that they are progressive-minded people.
Popular music and the arts as a whole are reflective of what the situation is in the country or city-state, something that has been true since the Greeks first offered their poetry, dramas and music for the citizens of Athens. This nation has been polarized since at least the day of the 9/11 attacks and, as a result, particular arenas of the arts have been “claimed” by those for their purposes. It isn’t surprising, then, that country music went to the chest-thumping, flag waving side (although Johnny Cash was reportedly quite liberal in his thought process), and that rock music went to actually trying to question why things happened the way they did.
The problem is that there won’t be a cure for this. The camps are entrenched in their beliefs, although you will have those that “rage against the machine” and demonstrate their individualism. Instead of being the unifying force that many think the attacks of 9/11 were, they have actually laid wide open the crevasse that exists between both sides – and this extends to the arts and music especially.
As the world seems to come out of the COVID pandemic and the shutdowns that occurred (and hope they do not return), the music world is beginning to emerge from its 18-month slumber. This means that plenty of these artists and groups are looking to get out on the road and, perhaps more importantly, release the music that they might have been sitting on for some time (Garbage, for example, was planning on releasing No Gods, No Masters in early 2020; it just came out in June).
This is a cause for celebration, because both new artists and older ones are beginning to emerge from the coronavirus-induced lockdown. Two of those artists we are going to be looking at today, the son of the late Eddie Van Halen, Wolfgang, and his “band” (more on this in a moment) and the outstanding return of everyone’s favorite alternative darling from the 1990s, Liz Phair. Both of these new releases are well worth inclusion in your CD racks (or your digital downloads), bringing some great sounds to the rock world.
To say it has been a tough year for Wolfgang Van Halen would be a massive understatement. He has had to bury his father, the iconic Eddie Van Halen, in October of 2020, and it has fallen on his shoulders to try to carry on the family name. Wolfgang has done that through the creation of a new “band,” Mammoth WVH (the “Mammoth” moniker was the original name of Van Halen), and the release of a self-titled CD.
Let us start with the good stuff from Van Halen and Mammoth WVH. The reason we have quotation marks on “band” is a simple one: Wolfgang played all the instruments on the album. Wolfgang shows that he is an excellent multi-instrumentalist, more than adequately showing his proficiency across the board, and Van Halen also wrote all 14 of the tracks that appear on the disc.
By far the best song on the record is the current release “Don’t Back Down,” which had a video that showed Van Halen playing with himself on each of the instruments on the track. The tune itself is a driving, inspired rocker that is a perfect for a summertime drive. Another excellent track is “Horribly Right,” which starts off with a chugging sound reminiscent of some older grunge acts.
The biggest thing to note about the tracks on the CD is that Wolfgang is in no way trying to use his father’s success to get a leg up (although there are plenty who will accuse him of this). Musically he stays a wide distance from the Van Halen band musical styling. If you did not know he was Van Halen’s son, many people would be crowing about how good this record is.
Here is the downside of the album, however. It is reported that Wolfgang began work on this album in 2015. That is six years to perfect the record, a luxury that many young acts do not have, and Wolfgang certainly will not have when it comes to trying to duplicate the success of this record (it is also understandable that he didn’t want to release the record while his father was going through his issues). Wolfgang’s vocals are also a bit weak; his voice is OK, but it is nothing that blows you away with quality or strength. If he is going to continue as the vocalist for the group, he would need to improve that aspect of his game.
That said, his dad did pretty well for not singing, didn’t he?
Expect to see a lot of Mammoth WVH this summer and fall, as Van Halen is putting a band around him to serve as a headlining act. It is well deserved, but I am going to be extremely interested in seeing what he does when he doesn’t have the years to work on something. Mammoth WVH is an outstanding first salvo, however…let’s see what comes next.
You can be forgiven if you do not know the name Liz Phair. After all, her last studio album Funstyle was released over a decade ago (2010). But if you ask your older sibling or perhaps your mother or father, they can regale you with the stories about the blisteringly smart work that Phair did in the 1990s, from her debut Exile in Guyville (her reply to The Rolling Stones’ Exile on Main Street) in 1993 to her equally outstanding follow up Whip-Smart.
After drifting too close to the sun for some of her fans – or, as the case may be, trying to be too popular, in their opinions – Phair’s success began to wane. Her label at the time, Capitol Records, forced her to work with songwriters who had penned tunes for Britney Spears and Avril Lavigne, which forced a more poppy sheen to her recordings. This didn’t sit well with Phair or her audience and, after 2010’s Funstyle, Phair stepped away from the recording industry.
Phair first began to emerge from her self-imposed exile with the compilation Girly Sound to Guyville, a 2018 25th anniversary celebration of her early work. That compilation, which brought some of her straight-to-cassette work on what was called the “Girly Sound” sessions, seems to have been a spark for Phair. In June, Phair released Soberish, arguably her best work since the Guyville/Whip-Smart 1-2 in the early 90s.
Always one who had a deft turn of phrase, Phair has not lost any of her talents in the decade-plus of wandering that she has taken. One of the more charming songs from the record is “Hey Lou,” her ode to the late Lou Reed told from the angle of his wife, performance artist Laurie Anderson (the video also featured a unique interpretation of the song featuring Reed, Anderson, and Andy Warhol puppets). The lyrical storytelling of Phair is priceless in the song, touching on not only the relationship of Anderson and Reed but also Phair’s appreciation of the duo.
By far the best song off the CD is the title track, “Soberish.” It is a confession from someone who is struggling with their sobriety but is taking the big step of getting back into the dating scene. Phair’s character in the song knows that it is not the thing that she should do, but she also knows that a little something from the bar will help to quell the questions dancing around her head. It is the story of the little inner battles that we all have faced at one point or another in our lives, sometimes in a romantic situation or sometimes elsewhere.
Lyrical dexterity spreads throughout Soberish like a rich tapestry, and the disc should be something that is in every record collection. “I meant to be sober, but the bar’s so inviting…” and other jewels abound on the disc, and it leaves you wanting more by the time you reach the end. Her voice is still tremendously resilient, showing the same toughness and delicacy that drew the music world to her back in the 1990s. We can only hope that Phair does not take another decade-plus sabbatical, because that would be a waste of an incredibly special treasure.
Everyone currently is ensconced in discussions about who will be the Class of 2021 for the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. I am going to step onto a rail that I often do not like to look, however. Imagine the scenario: suddenly John Sykes, the Chairman of the Rock Hall, has become incapacitated and you have been put in charge as only the third Chairman of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. For your first day, you can, on a ONE TIME ONLY basis, add five artists or groups to the Rock Hall. The trick is…you also must remove five artists or groups from the pantheon of rock gods.
Usually, I am not one who enjoys these mental exercises. Besides the fact that it is demeaning to an artist or group that worked their ass off to reach this pinnacle in their career, it also is a worthless use of brainpower because it isn’t going to change anything. At the end of the day, what I am thinking is not going to change what has already gone before – about the only way I am going to fix that is becoming good friends with Doctor Emmett Brown and tooling around in his DeLorean for a few hours.
It is human nature, however, to wonder about an “alternate history,” something that does fascinate me. There are plenty of books out there that offer a supposition of what the course of humanity would have been if a particular point in history changed. It is something that is also done in the military (wargaming is all about trying to deduce what would happen IF), in business and in gaming (figuring out what an opponent will do from different approaches).
One of my favorite streaming shows was The Man in the High Castle, the Amazon Video adaptation of the Philip K. Dick book. In that show, the Axis Powers won the Second World War and divvied up the States of America. A huge chunk of U. S. became a Nazi territory, the Pacific states were occupied by imperial Japan and a thin strip down the Rocky Mountains was left as an “Unclaimed Territory” that was essentially a “no man’s land” for those who looked to continue the war against the Axis. It was a terrifyingly realistic possibility, including the way that Dick saw how easy it would be for “Americans” to turn against their own, especially with a ruling Nazi Party or Imperial Japanese Army occupying the country.
What if the South had won the Civil War? What if John F. Kennedy had not been assassinated? What if 9/11 had not happened? These are things that many minds have considered, some realistically and some for dramatic effect. While it does not even come close to some of these monumental historical events in the human timeline, it is why I decided to change my mind and take on the question of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, at least on this occasion.
The only rule I held myself to is that, in my opinion, that the change I was making would be an IMPROVEMENT to the Rock Hall. I am not going to be intellectually lazy and say “(insert artist/group here) isn’t RAWK enough to be inducted” or “they don’t play RAWK music.” People who make this argument are simultaneously intellectually bereft and have no understanding of “rock and roll” history. I’ll try my best to make the argument for whoever I put in and whoever I take out – but it will not be based on the genre of music they do.
Let’s get it started, shall we?
Judas Priest IN – Bon Jovi OUT
There is plenty of other hard rock/metal bands that had much more impact and relevance on the development of the genre than Bon Jovi. A few of them are the aforementioned Judas Priest, Motorhead, Iron Maiden (on the ballot this year), Slayer, Anthrax, and Thin Lizzy, among many others. Judas Priest has, for 50 years, been the standard bearer for the music and, as such, they deserve to receive the acclaim they deserve while they all are still able to enjoy it.
Bon Jovi did little to have an impact on the genre. Basically, all Bon Jovi had was sales, which is not supposed to be a criterion for induction into the Rock Hall. It is reported that, upon hearing that the band had been nominated in 2018, Bon Jovi said “About fucking time.” That is not someone who is showing respect for the honor that induction into the Rock Hall is. If it had been my choice, they would have been waiting for a while longer, if not permanently.
Warren Zevon IN – Laura Nyro OUT
Zevon was one of the developers of the “California sound” that became prevalent in the 1970s. Many of the prominent artists from that decade – Jackson Browne, Linda Ronstadt, The Eagles, Bonnie Raitt, Bruce Springsteen and others – collaborated with him on his and their music or they performed his song. His storytelling and lyrical content were beyond compare; very few writers could come up with the twists of storytelling that Zevon could concoct.
Can you name a song that Laura Nyro had her hands on, either as a songwriter or as a performer? I know Nyro is one of those that is staked to the whipping post when it comes to inductions that the Rock Hall has made, but I have literally gone through her discography and cannot recall ever playing one of her songs or a song she wrote. It seems to me that Nyro was one of those inductions made by the Rock Hall to appear more “artistic.” That isn’t always a good idea.
Tina Turner IN – Stevie Nicks OUT
Tina Turner completely reinvented herself from her 60s image. In the 80s, she became a strong, vibrant performer who completely stunned audiences with the power of her work. It was such a departure from her previously inducted self (with Ike Turner, something that she might want to forget, too) that it more than deserves a second induction as a solo artist.
While Nicks is a tremendous performer, her solo work wasn’t that outstanding, to be honest. Already in with Fleetwood Mac, I do not believe that her solo efforts were that groundbreaking…entertaining, yes, but not groundbreaking. If you do not think Turner is a qualified choice for a second induction, then you would have to argue that Diana Ross as a solo performer was more deserving. Either Turner or Ross should have been the first female double inductee, not Nicks.
Kraftwerk IN – The Lovin’ Spoonful OUT
One of the biggest oversights by the Rock Hall has been its inability to induct the German band Kraftwerk into its hallowed halls. If there is a group that is identified with electronic rock – keyboard-based music – it would be Kraftwerk. Outside of Europe, however, the group had a difficult time finding success, especially in the U. S. This may be the exact reason that they have yet to be inducted into the Rock Hall despite being nominated six times and influencing entire generations of performers with their innovation.
The Lovin’ Spoonful were the beneficiaries of timing. Inducted in 2000, the band was around in an era when the Rock Hall voters were already through the truly immortal artists and were beginning to scramble around a bit to find qualified inductees to honor. In the years prior to the induction of The Lovin’ Spoonful, such questionable choices as Gene Vincent, Lloyd Price, Dusty Springfield, and Del Shannon were ushered into the Rock Hall. Just because you were struggling to come up with inductees should not be a reason to put someone in.
Joan Jett IN – Joan Jett OUT
I am sure that you are looking at that and saying, “How could you do that?” The simple fact is that Jett deserves to be in the Rock Hall. She was just inducted with the wrong group.
Jett’s work with The Runaways was by far more deserving of induction into the Rock Hall than Jett’s work with The Blackhearts (sure the guys in The Blackhearts enjoy hearing someone say that). The Runaways carried on the work of Fanny, The Pleasure Seekers, Janis Joplin, and Grace Slick to the next level – an all-female band that wrote their own stuff and played their own instruments. They were the forerunners to The Go-Go’s, The Bangles, The Donnas and several other all-female groups that have had great success following the glass-shattering by The Runaways.
I would rather see all those that I said should be “in” be inducted in their own right and leave the others in, too. They have earned the right to be called a “Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inductee” regardless of my personal thoughts. But if we are going to play the “alternate reality” game, who would you put in and take out?
It is arguably the biggest night for music during the year. The 2021 GRAMMY Awards were held for the 63rd time on Sunday night in Los Angeles. The awards look to honor the best that is in the music industry over a wide array of genres – rock, pop, rap, Americana, even classical – and offer a view as to what was the best of the year. In the very-COVID inspired show – the nominees were arranged in very spaced out (physically) tables while the performers were sequestered on a special five stage circle for performances – the Recording Academy arguably came out and put on one of the best shows of the past decade or so.
But that doesn’t mean that there weren’t downsides.
I’ve remarked on this before, but there certainly wasn’t enough “rock” oriented acts that performed during the program. But that is to be expected; rock music does not drive the needle (no pun intended) for music in the 21st century. It has become very much a pop and rap dominated show because that is what the people want to see (AKA those that have the disposable income to spend on streams, streaming services and the occasional CD). This does not mean that the GRAMMY Awards show is “trash” because these are the predominance of the acts that perform – it just means that is what is driving the industry nowadays.
Furthermore, if people did not watch the program, then they shouldn’t have a view on the show itself. You usually have to see something before you make any commentary on it – not five minutes, not a half-hour, WATCHED THE ENTIRE SHOW. It went slightly over three and a half hours (think it was closer to 3:45, if my memory is correct) and there were some moments that were exceptionally good…and very bad.
Without further ado, here’s The Best and The Worst of the 2021 GRAMMY Awards!
HAIM absolutely came out in the first half-hour of the program and blew away the competition. The sisters were nominated for Album of the Year for their work Women in Music, Pt. III and, with a very subdued set, proceeded to NAIL their tune “The Steps.” When the musicians and singers that were gathered on the stage are watching your performance and jamming just as hard as the band is, you have done your job. HAIM certainly carried the banner well for rock-oriented music and it was great to have them as the representative for the genre – there were not many more that graced the stage on Sunday night.
The partnership between Anderson .Paak and Bruno Mars bears watching. They came out with a very 70s R&B style (including matching leisure suits!) under the moniker “Silk Sonic.” It was good to see Mars back on stage again; it had been quite some time since he had been on the musical scene and he seemed to be in impeccable form. The duo also came out later in the show and delivered a scorching tribute to Little Richard during the “In Memoriam” segment that was outstanding.
It has been getting trashed elsewhere, but I thought that the “In Memoriam” tribute to the late Eddie Van Halen was perfect. There were many directions that they could have gone with this, but the GRAMMY producers decided that a minimalistic approach was the best one. Thus, we got a sweeping shot of Van Halen’s “Frankenhalen” guitar, on a perch in a spotlight by itself, while a video played Eddie utilizing his finger-tapping technique on a video screen behind it. It was a perfect tribute to someone who made his complicated work look oh, so simple…and it was a hell of a lot better than having Machine Gun Kelly butcher “Eruption” onstage.
I would listen to Brittany Howard, the bombastic vocalist/guitarist of Alabama Shakes, sing the damn phone book. Her take on “You’ll Never Walk Alone” during the “In Memoriam” was a soul-stirring performance. Chris Martin of Coldplay provided accompaniment on piano for the segment and the two absolutely made the song their own – exceedingly difficult to do for a song that has been made famous by a British soccer team (Liverpool FC) and as the closing song to comedian Jerry Lewis’ Labor Day Muscular Dystrophy telethon for decades.
I usually like Trevor Noah, the host of Comedy Central’s The Daily Show. He is extremely funny, has a great pulse on pop culture and, hey, let’s be honest…he is young, energetic and handsome. But he, on a couple of occasions, fawned a bit too much over the winners. He was nearly orgasmic when Beyonce won her first Grammy of the night, which tied her with Alison Krauss for the most Grammys won in a career. He was nearly beside himself when she broke the record later in the night.
Look, I am all for fandom. But, when you are hired to do the emcee job for a major awards show, you are supposed to put that fandom to the side and do the job. Noah failed on this account on a couple of occasions. If he hosts again next year, I certainly hope he tempers the “enthusiasm” and shows an equal appreciation to all the award winners.
While I did like the stage arrangement for the performances – five stages were arranged in a circle, with cameras in the center of that circle that could be directed at any stage chosen – you could still note the lack of audience excitement. Sure, watching Harry Styles jam to HAIM was cool, but the fans are a part of the experience. Seeing them enjoy it is more important than the artists themselves tapping their feet.
I am all for artistic expression. Having said that, I normally don’t like to see a reenactment of Thee Dollhouse in Tampa when I watch an awards show. Thus, Megan Thee Stallion and Cardi B’s performance of “WAP” wasn’t exactly a highlight of the show for me. I understand that the song was a MONSTER hit for the duo, but their interpretation of the song for the GRAMMY stage was a bit over the top. Like I said, if I wanted to go to Tattletales in Atlanta, I’ll go to Tattletales in Atlanta.
In a stark contrast with 2020, it seemed that the GRAMMY voters were not quite sure who to get behind this year. The four major awards were won by four different artists – Megan Thee Stallion for Best New Artist, Taylor Swift for Album of the Year, H.E.R. for Song of the Year and Billie Eilish for Record of the Year for “everything i wanted” – and it really did not seem that the voters had a clear favorite in mind. It was also painfully apparent that the best record didn’t receive any attention from the Academy at all – The Weeknd’s “Blinding Lights” and album After Hours would have dominated the show.
Overall, when the good outweigh the bad, you’ve done rather good. There was much more about the 2021 GRAMMY Awards show that was enjoyable than was not. Still, would like to see a rock award actually given out during the three-plus hours of programming – maybe that’s something they will get to in 2022!
After a year like we’ve never seen, the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame is trying to get back to business…somewhat. The COVID pandemic that wreaked havoc on last year’s system is beginning to subside, which allows the Rock Hall to move forward with its activities. Along with those changes, however, the Rock Hall is showing that they’re spreading a BIG tent to cover their activities.
First, those changes. In 2019, the Class of 2020 was named and they would have been inducted in ceremonies in April of that year. Because of the pandemic, however, their induction was delayed until November, when it became a virtual party held on HBO. The Rock Hall used this delay to finally get all activities for a given year under a “calendar year” setting – nominations in February, name the class in May, induct in November – that should help in the future.
The changes aren’t just in the timing of certain mileposts on the way to naming the Class of 2021, either. This will be the first year that John Sykes, the former founder of MTV and current executive at iHeart Radio, will serve as the chairman of the Rock Hall. The original chairman and founder of the Rock Hall, Jann Wenner of Rolling Stone fame, resigned from the lead of the organization in January of last year. So, it is now Sykes’ ship to sail and, if the list of nominees for 2021 is any indication, he’s already putting his mark on the building.
For 2021, there are 16 nominees under consideration by the 1000-member strong Voting Committee, made up of the living members of the Rock Hall and a contingent of knowledgeable music veterans – musicians, label executives, historians, journalists, DJs, managers and the Fan Vote, who adds in one vote with the Top Five vote getters from their polling. These votes will be tabulated and, in May, the Rock Hall will announce five or six of these artists as the Class of 2021. They will also probably add at least one more inductee from their non-voting wings of the Rock Hall – the Ahmet Ertegun Award for non-musical industry influencers, the Award for Musical Excellence (formerly the Sidemen category) and the Early Influencers. The AME hasn’t been awarded since 2017, so it is probably due for an inductee.
Without further ado, I present my ranking of the nominees for this year’s honors, but I do have a caveat. My personal feeling on the artist DOES NOT impact whether they will get in or not. In some cases, they will probably get in despite my personal thoughts!
Let’s begin, from the bottom to the top!
16. Dionne Warwick – For the life of me, I’ve been trying to figure out how and why Warwick merited nomination to the Rock Hall. Yes, she’s had an excellent career that dates to the 60s. Yes, she’s recorded a couple of nice songs. But NONE of what she did was what you might call “groundbreaking” or “innovative.” She has a pleasant but not outstanding voice…hell, she doesn’t even have the best voice in her family (that honor would go to her cousin, Whitney Houston). And her best work was in collaborations and rarely on her own talent. This just reeks of “industry insider” BS, and that is not a reason to put someone in the Rock Hall.
15. Fela Kuti – To be brutally honest, I actually said “Who?” when he was announced, then zipped over to Wikipedia to learn more about him. He is a truly amazing individual who took on human rights and political abuses in Nigeria and created his own style of music – Afrobeat. If he is inducted, he would be the first African inductee into the Rock Hall.
With this said, I don’t see it. He had some influence on Talking Heads and Peter Gabriel, among others, but to say he was a seminal part of rock history would be an incredible stretch. Once again, with this said, he is probably going to be inducted. The Roots’ ?uestlove, who is on the Nomination Committee, has long been an advocate for Fela to be honored. Someone with the power of ?uestlove does not use his power to get you nominated unless he is going to use that same power to get you inducted.
14. Mary J. Blige – Definitely one of the preeminent female vocalists in R&B, but I tried to think of one song that she did that just blew me away. I came up with blanks. If they had used this nomination on Queen Latifah, then it would be much higher on the list. Blige seems like a “OK, she got a nomination – that’s enough” selection.
13. Chaka Khan – There have been several attempts to get Khan in with the band she was a part of, Rufus, and those efforts to this point have failed. This is wrong because the band, including Khan, deserves induction. Taken by itself, Khan’s solo career isn’t filled with material that stops you in your tracks.
12. Devo – The Rock Hall has an exceedingly difficult time with several genres. Funk, hard rock/metal and singer/songwriters are a few, but another would be electronic music. To this day, Kraftwerk is still waiting for the call to join in the Rock Hall (outside of Rick Wakeman and maybe Keith Emerson, has anyone used keyboards better?), and I do not expect there to be more love for Devo’s approach. The recently retired Daft Punk is sitting in the shadows watching this one.
11. Carole King – I personally think this is a more sentimental choice by the Rock Hall than a quality one. King’s masterful work, Tapestry, is celebrating its 50th anniversary in 2021 and King is therefore getting more attention. But what did King do outside of Tapestry that made her a monumental figure in the history of rock? She’s already in the Rock Hall, a recipient of the Ahmet Ertegun Award with her songwriting partner Gerry Goffin, some would say that should be the extent of her recognition. Alas, don’t be surprised if she is voted in as a performer come May.
10. Tina Turner – If Turner wasn’t already in the Rock Hall with Ike, then I would be wholeheartedly behind this and it would be ranked much higher. But the tumultuous relationship between Ike and Tina is one that she would probably like to forget, and the Rock Hall would not be at all upset to get away from. Her 80s stylings were a complete departure from her previous heyday, so perhaps a second induction is appropriate for Turner.
9. LL Cool J – Someone who should have been in a lot sooner than this. The man known as James Smith has got another issue that he is going to have to deal with, however. There’s another rapper on the list who is all but a shoo-in to be inducted (more on that in a moment). But LL Cool J is being considered before a whole host of influential rappers that arguably should have been chosen first, including Eric B. & Rakim, Afrika Bambaataa, DJ Kool Herc and Coke La Rock. That’s going to hurt his chances too.
8. Todd Rundgren – There’s a reason that Rundgren is this low on the totem pole. In recent interviews, the multimedia wizard has basically given The Bird to the Rock Hall, stating that it meant nothing to him to be inducted. The Rock Hall has absolutely no problem in abiding by the wishes of those that it is looking to honor – several years ago, Chubby Checker put a full-page ad in many trade magazines, talking about how the Rock Hall “wouldn’t define him.” They’ve never nominated the originator of “The Twist” (although the song was one of the first included in the Singles category at the Rock Hall) and Rundgren faces the same fate if this is truly his sentiment.
7. Iron Maiden – Much like LL Cool J, Iron Maiden is getting the nom over a litany of people who should have already been inducted – Judas Priest, Thin Lizzy, and Motorhead, among others. They have also been quite loud in their distaste for the Rock Hall, so this may be a “one and done” nomination either way – either they’ll get in or they will be cast to the scrapheap because of their protestations. It’s too bad because they are more than deserving to be inducted.
6. Kate Bush – If the Rock Hall were in London, this would have been a no-brainer induction probably 15 years ago. Bush is arguably the most creative force in music from the 70s and 80s and has contributed heavily to the musical culture. Tori Amos, Fiona Apple and Jewel owe her a debt of gratitude for blazing the trail.
5. The Go-Go’s – Flat out, this is the easiest bio to argue of these nominees. The Go-Go’s were the first female band to write their music, play their instruments and go to #1 on the charts with their first album, Beauty and the Beat. They also served as a link between the punk rock of the late 70s to the more “pop” version that was found in The Bangles. A more solid inductee would be hard to find.
4. New York Dolls – Along with 2020 Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inductees Marc Bolan and T. Rex, the New York Dolls carried the banner for glam rock in the early 70s. They have been cited as influential in U. S. punk rock and its hard rock/metal movement. Guns N’ Roses owes a huge debt to the groundbreaking that the Dolls did on the scene.
3. Rage Against the Machine – Merging the worlds of rap, hard rock and political activism together, Rage Against the Machine did more in four albums than most bands do in a lifetime of work. They took the lead from bands like Mr. Bungle and Faith No More and put their political edge to work, bringing a great deal of attention to several causes. Their influence can also be seen in bands in the 21st century, including Papa Roach, Hollywood Undead, and Fever 333.
2. Jay-Z – If there is a reason that LL Cool J will not get inducted in 2021, it would be Mr. Shawn Carter. Jay-Z had an astronomical amount of success and influence in the rap world (my personal favorites are “99 Problems” and “Empire State of Mind” with Alicia Keys), but that wasn’t enough. He became a billionaire through his business acumen. Either one of those would be enough to get him inducted but, when you add in the factor of him performing at the Rock Hall Induction Ceremonies with special guest Beyonce (his wife), the Rock Hall is salivating at the possibilities.
1. Foo Fighters – If there has been any rock band that has carried the genre over the past 25 years, it would be Foo Fighters. Dave Grohl and Company have compiled a resume that hasn’t been equaled, although you can sometimes say that they play it way too safe. Grohl himself could have packed it in after Kurt Cobain’s death and Nirvana’s induction into the Rock Hall, but he chose to blaze his own path further into rock history. If he is inducted with Foos, Grohl would become the 24th person to earn double inductions (to this date, only Eric Clapton has been inducted three times, for his work with The Yardbirds, Cream and his solo career).
Who Is Going to Be Inducted?
The Rock Hall is looking to diversify their membership. That was something that Sykes stated when he took over the chairmanship of the Rock Hall last year. It isn’t an indictment of the Rock Hall’s previous work, but it is time that more women and more minorities were recognized for their contributions to rock history. That is going to be reflected by who is inducted this year.
If you listened to my show at Greater Manchester Rock Radio, I already laid out the list of who I believe will be inducted (and not my rankings above). Jay-Z and Foo Fighters are guaranteed inductees and, if there were two near-locks on the list, I would say that Carole King and Tina Turner will be joining the Rock Hall again. That leaves two more to consider (we will go with six inductees). The Go-Go’s will probably earn one of those two slots. Their history in the industry is just too influential to overlook – but that never stopped the Rock Hall from doing that! For the final slot, and just because I’d love to see what the band would do, I think that Iron Maiden will earn induction. But I wouldn’t at all be shocked if Fela Kuti wound up in somehow for the reasons I presented above.
Who will get in? If it is those artists who have trashed the Rock Hall previously, will they show up? Would it be another farce, such as Steve Miller’s induction in 2016? It would provide a spark to what is the 25th anniversary (the first induction ceremony was 1986) of inductions into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2021!
The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame is like no other Hall in existence. It is one of the few Halls that basically has only one criteria – that your first commercial release be done no later than 25 years prior (for 2021, that means artists whose first release was in 1996 or earlier are eligible). Most other Halls base their entry on the number of wins you’ve had (World Golf Hall of Fame), mystical statistical performance (any sports Hall) or that you were from a certain area (self-explanatory). Not the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame – if you’re good enough, if you had an impact on the shaping of popular culture and music over the last 70 years (or so) and you can get the votes, you get in.
This fact in itself makes the discussion over not only those elected to but also those who are nominated of great interest to many music fans. With the COVID-19 outbreak, it pretty much fucked up the entirety of the 2020 schedule for the Rock Hall, delaying and then canceling the 2020 Induction Ceremony for a very good list of artists (Whitney Houston, the Notorious B.I.G., The Doobie Brothers, Nine Inch Nails, Depeche Mode and T. Rex – Jon Landau and Irving Azoff were Ahmet Ertegun Award winners and named to the Rock Hall) before they were “virtually” inducted in November. Because of the late induction, the announcement of the 2021 Nominees is being pushed off as well, to probably February 2021.
You can lament this, but I think it is a great idea. It stretches the entirety of the process by the Rock Hall to cover a whole year instead of parts of two. With the naming of the nominees in February, that means the new Inductees won’t be announced until more than likely around May or June. Then they can induct them (hopefully in a live ceremony) in November. This works much better than announcing the Inductees in December and holding the Induction Ceremony in April or May (how it has worked in the past).
The delay also allows pundits, historians, fans, and critics to come up with their selections for who will be in the Nomination Class for the 2021 Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. I’ve studied over the last few years of nominations, who has gotten in, what kind of “buzz” is going around in the music world, and other intangibles to come up with a list of 15 artists and groups that should be nominated come February. Those in BOLD print are going to be the five choices I would make for entry and I’ve also tried to include some reasoning for the nomination.
Without further ado, here’s who I believe will earn nomination in 2021:
Jay-Z – Not only will Jay-Z earn a first year eligible (FYE) nomination, but he will also earn a FYE induction into the Rock Hall. It is a tough decision as to which part of the industry that Jay-Z has had more of an impact on – the rap world, where he has been a force for 25 years, or the recording industry itself through his ownership of Tidal and forays into label ownership and artist development. And, since the Rock Hall enjoys a great show, imagine Jay-Z trotting the boards with Beyonce? The Rock Hall is salivating at that thought.
Foo Fighters – If there’s been anyone to carry the banner for rock music in the past 25 years, it would be Foo Fighters. Dave Grohl could have easily packed up shop after the death of Kurt Cobain and Nirvana and just made guest appearances on records for the rest of his career. Instead, he forged on with his own sound and added to the legend of rock. Add in the factor that Grohl is a hell of a music historian himself and that he is on the Nomination Committee (he will have to abstain from voting for himself, likely), it would be odd if they aren’t a FYE nominee but also a FYE inductee.
Pat Benatar – Benatar has been snubbed by the Rock Hall for far too long. Her nomination last year was her first after 15 years of eligibility and it was considered that she was a “lock” for entry. Then they took the vote…Benatar was not only a choice by many but she was the runner-up in the Fan Vote from 2019 (hold on, we’ll get to that) and the Rock Hall has caught hell over bypassing her. With a chance to redeem themselves, I don’t expect the Rock Hall to get it wrong twice (then again, the Rock Hall does have a way to surprise you).
Dave Matthews Band – The top vote getter from the Fan Vote, which has been around for at least six years previous (I could be wrong), usually had been inducted by the Rock Hall. That included such entries as Bon Jovi, Rush and KISS, among others. DMB were the top vote-getters in 2019, but that and $1.50 got them a cup of coffee at McDonald’s – they were bypassed for entry into the Rock Hall, the first time that it had happened. I personally don’t see where DMB has earned entry – I’ve never been a jam band fan – but, since the Rock Hall caught shit for not inducting them with the 2020 class, I can’t see them keeping them out twice.
Judas Priest – This is one that the time is ticking on. The Priest has only been the driving force behind heavy metal for 50 years and, eligible since 1999, they’ve only received two nominations. I would hate to see them fall by the wayside like Kraftwerk (who, after being nominated six times, might have run out of chances), MC5 (nominated five times) or even Chic (nominated 11 TIMES), but it is a realistic possibility.
Rage Against the Machine – The practitioners of the hybrid rap/rock scene of the 90s, RATM combined their aggressive stylings with a socio-political bend that enraptured their fans. Or…maybe not so much. As they prepared for a since-postponed tour in 2020, some RATM fans became outraged at the political stances of guitarist Tom Morello and the band. In one of the funniest exchanges on Twitter, Morello, who holds a political science degree from Harvard, responded to an upset follower who said “I used to be a fan until your political opinions come (sic) out,” “What music of mine were you a fan of that DIDN’T contain “political BS”?” Gotta love that!
Kate Bush – Ah, to have more than five votes (then again, I might have used it on RATM)! Bush is one of the long-overlooked female vocalists from the 80s who should be recognized for her achievements. Her work with Peter Gabriel preceded an excellent solo career in the 80s, but she’s never gotten the acclaim that she deserves (Cyndi Lauper, Annie Lennox and others fall in this category). I’d love to give her a vote, but with some of the others that are on down the list, it makes it difficult.
Eurythmics – Falls into the same category as Bush. One of the many 80s acts that we should start inducting into the Rock Hall. In many cases, these artists have been eligible for 15 years and they’ve never even received a nomination, let alone induction. Time to start fixing this situation and quit bleeding the rock dry from the 1960s/70s.
The Go-Go’s – They came thisclose to getting one of my five picks. The first all-female band to have a #1 album on the Billboard charts, The Go-Go’s were groundbreakers for women in rock. Although they have a litany of women that they owe a huge amount of credit to (Fanny, The Runaways, Suzi Quatro), The Go-Go’s got there and inspired many others. Add in the recent documentary on Showtime and it is quite conceivable that The Go-Go’s earn an induction seat in 2021.
Duran Duran – Anyone who was alive during the 1980s was impacted by Duran Duran. They helped to shape the musical landscape of the 80s, not only with their music but also with their videos on MTV, and had a hand in fashion also, among other things. This is a band that has NEVER been nominated previously – that should be corrected this year and they should take a seat in the Rock Hall.
Alice in Chains – This is a group that may sneak into the Nominations because of recent buzz regarding the group. Seattle’s Museum of Pop Culture (MoPOP) inducted the band this fall into their rolls and, since there are only Nirvana and Pearl Jam currently carrying the banner for the Grunge Era of rock, a third would be nice (Soundgarden could fit in this category too). Unfortunately, grunge looks like it is going to get the same treatment that hard rock/metal has gotten over the years from the Rock Hall.
Todd Rundgren – Personally, I would love to see Rundgren get in. He’s more than deserving of it for his performing career, his usage of multimedia (witness his upcoming virtual concert tour) and his producing credits. Perhaps the only way to get this man in may be through the Award for Musical Excellence, which hasn’t been awarded since 2017 (to Chic’s Nile Rodgers).
The Smiths – Politics aside, The Smiths are more than worthy of nomination for their career’s labors. However, Morrissey’s tirades seem to have tarnished the potential induction of the band into the Rock Hall, and that’s unfortunate. They get on my list because they are one of the artists from the 2016 Nomination Class that hasn’t been inducted yet.
Beck – I’ve personally never been a huge Beck fan, but I can recognize his artistic creativity and the impact he’s had on other artists. The devotion from his fans are hard to ignore too. He was a FYE nominee, but he failed to go that extra step – he will get in, but will it be this year or in the future?
Daft Punk – A driver of the synth rock/electronic rock scene since the 90s, Daft Punk should be a slam dunk nominee/entry. But Kraftwerk…well, let’s just say that people would like to see them get in first rather than Daft Punk. It isn’t out of the question for the Rock Hall to commemorate those that have achieved great success over the originators, however – just look at how rap’s forefathers have languished behind some of those that have been inducted.
Alanis Morrissette – Another one who could sneak in and get a nomination, if not inducted. Morrissette’s been white hot of late, with a Broadway show (you know, when Broadway was actually performing) and a critically acclaimed album in 2020. She was first eligible in 2019 but was bypassed…the Rock Hall might want to correct that oversight.
Guess we’ll find out in 2021 just how close to right I am!
The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame has been around for almost 40 years now. It was established in 1983 by 2020 Rock Hall inductee Ahmet Ertegun and the first class was inducted in 1986. There was not an actual physical Rock Hall until it was built and opened in Cleveland back in 1995. It has served to be the pantheon of rock history, honoring the artists that have contributed to rock (and other) forms of music – truly the crème de la crème of music history.
There are something along the lines of 235 artists, groups and assorted industry insiders that have been inducted by the Rock Hall over the years, so you would justly be correct in that the truly immortal have been inducted into the hallowed shrine already. Still, there are those that have complained that “(insert your personal favorite artist here) hasn’t been inducted into the Rock Hall!” While there is some credence to some of these arguments, overall the Rock Hall, its Nominating Committee and the Voting Committee (a roughly 1000-strong contingent that is made up of the living members of the Rock Hall and select industry executives, music historians, DJs, music journalists and others) have gotten it right.
One thing that could be done better – and would put an end to some of the complaints – is a way to handle those from the past that some think should be in. The Baseball Hall of Fame has (or used to have) a Veteran’s Committee – a group whose sole raison d’etre is to look at the distant past and see if there are any credible entries for the Hall that have been overlooked. The Rock Hall would be well served in looking at creating such an entity like this, but there would have to be some significant parameters set on what this Veteran’s Committee would look like and how they would come to their decisions.
With that said, here are the initial parameters that should be set.
1) The Veteran’s Committee will consist of a 100-member panel, of which 10 members will nominate 15 artists, groups, early influences, industry executives or “insiders” (DJs, normally, or producers/managers) for induction. This Veteran’s Committee would be much like the Voting Committee that chooses the inductees for the Rock Hall – a group of artists from more than 50 years ago (more on this in a minute), DJs, industry executives, music historians and the like.
The nominations will have had to have made their first actions in the industry – a record release, entry into the business, something like that – no more recently than 50 years prior to the current calendar year. For example, if the Veteran’s Committee were to come to life this year, eligible artists for the first ballot cannot have had their first impact after 1970 – anyone who had their first interactions in the business prior to 1970 would be eligible for consideration.
Under the current rules for consideration, a candidate must have made their first release more than 25 years ago. That gives current candidates a 25-year period for consideration by the Nomination Committee of the Rock Hall and, if they are nominated, by the Voting Committee. It doesn’t infringe on their work and can truly be said to be reexamining what the two Committees might have missed. Thus, the 50-year guideline is an important one.
2) The Veteran’s Committee is allowed ONE (1) inductee per year. That inductee will have had to have earned 80% of the 100-member Committee’s votes (80). If no candidate gets 80% of the vote, then the Veteran’s Committee does not get an induction slot that year. If there are more than one candidate that gets the 80% voting margin, then the one who gets the most votes will be inducted – the runner up is going to have to wait until next year.
This is done to ensure that there is an overwhelming consensus of quality of the inductee. It would not be right for someone to simply get a majority of the vote from the 100-member Veteran’s Committee – that isn’t a hugely significant number (51). There has to be a slam dunk majority to signify that there is nearly a unanimous agreement to bypass both the Nomination Committee and the Voting Committee to induct someone they passed over.
3) If an artist, group, early influence or industry executive or “insider” is on the nominee list and receives under 10% of the vote from the Committee (10), that person is removed from consideration for the Rock Hall forever.
This is arguably the biggest criteria and the one that would put an end to some discussions of “they should be in the Hall.” Once again using the Baseball Hall of Fame as an example, if you can’t get a certain percentage of the vote once you become eligible (in baseball it is five years after your retirement), then you are stricken from future ballots. The same criteria should be used by the Rock Hall…if you cannot get 10 people to vouch for you in a 100-member group, you are not a viable candidate and should be removed from overall consideration.
This part of the criteria will upset some who back fringe artists (not saying that Gordon Lightfoot, pictured above, is a “fringe artist,”– in fact, he should already be in the Rock Hall…wait, that’s why this essay exists!) that they believe should be inducted. Those who are this vehement on a particular artist, group or other person are the true definition of “fan,” which is a shortened version of “fanatic,” or someone who has an unnatural support for a cause or person. “Fanatics” should not be allowed to overwhelm the vote of any organization that looks to honor those that were truly immortals.
There are probably some other rules that could be put into place, but these would be the baseline that a Rock Hall Veteran’s Committee should be founded under. The above rules will maintain the integrity of the Rock Hall vote because the threshold of induction is high, would allow for consideration of artists from the past that some might believe have been overlooked and will eliminate those who aren’t able to garner support to warrant induction. If the Veteran’s Committee were something along these lines, I could support it. Anything less would be an insult to the Rock Hall and its inductees who actually earned the honor the first time around.
Anyone who knows me knows that I love sports and music. Sporting events and concerts are major parts of my life (and enjoying them with my lovely wife is one of the things we like to do together), but that all changed when the COVID-19 pandemic broke out. Now, we’re facing a strange new world – just what will sporting events and concerts be like after a sense of “normalcy” has returned to the world.
With sporting events and concerts, people will be screened before they can enter the arena. If someone even has an elevated body temperature, they will be forbidden from entering the arena (I am sure (HAHA!!) that they will refund the ticket price). And there will be several instances of violence when security has to physically remove someone from the gate.
The arena itself will have something very much like what Walgreens or grocery stores are doing – there will be little dots on the floor to indicate how close people should be standing together in the concession lines. Once again, if someone is to violate those rules, they will be removed from the arena. Bathrooms will be the same way and you’ll probably have some sort of monitor to ensure that people wash up afterwards.
Finally, the actual arena themselves. You will have one seat in between each fan – in essence, you’re cutting the crowd in half. There will no longer be the “fan lines” where the kids can high-five the athletes before they enter the field/court/rink, they will probably back the fans up about 10 feet from the playing field and they will NOT be sitting close to the teams. And say goodbye to the T-shirt cannon and the cheerleaders going around the stands to do giveaways during timeouts.
Are ticket prices going to go up? Damn straight they will. The owners aren’t going to eat those profits from half the crowd being prevented from entering the arena, so more $$ will be charged for the individual tickets. Also expect to see the concessions/souveniers prices will go up too…just another way for the owners to pull in the money they’re losing from not being able to put the butts in the seat.
Outdoor sports may be slightly different, but you’ll probably see some similarities (distancing at concessions, seats left open) and concerts will be the same. We’re going to enter a brand new world and, for some, it is going to suck. But if it prevents outbreaks like we’ve just gone through, do you think it is worth it?
We’re only a few days from the announcement of the latest artists and groups that will be named to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame for 2020. For those that don’t make it in this year, they might be soothed by the idea that they should have many more shots at the brass ring. But who from the past may be running out of chances at getting into the Rock Hall?
Many might say that the truly immortal have already been enshrined and it is tough to nitpick this fact. Over the span of several essays, however, beginning with the 1950s and continuing in examining the 1960sand the 1970s, I’ve pointed out some artists and groups that have been overlooked for the honor of being inducted into the Rock Hall. In this, the final segment of our journey (we’d go on into the 90s, but only artists from 1990-1995 are currently eligible, so we don’t have a full decade to choose from), we’re going to take on a time when the music industry arguably made its biggest changes – the 1980s.
With the death of disco, the rise of New Wave, the “New Wave of British Heavy Metal,” the “popification” of country music and a little thing called Music Television (or MTV), the 80s would arguably be the most artistic time in the history of music (sorry, 70s fans). This decade also challenges what exactly is “rock & roll.” In the past, it could be said that it was defined as a hard guitar and three chords; with the advent of the 1980s, there were so many mashups of genres and different sounds being employed that the lines between genres began to blur. It is part of the reason that there are potentially so many candidates from the decade – and perhaps so many disappointments for fans.
I literally put together a list of artists and groups that, while great, I couldn’t decide whether they should be inducted or not. What do you do with Culture Club? How about X or Siouxsie and The Banshees? Living Colour? The Smithereens? I once again make the statement – this by NO means is a comprehensive list of those who have at the minimum an argument for being inducted. And this doesn’t consider those that have been nominated this year for induction, such as Nine Inch Nails and Depeche Mode. This is a look at arguably the most notable oversights by the Rock Hall to date – and they’ve got some time to change it, but not much.
Any list of 1980s artists or groups that should be inducted into the Rock Hall that doesn’t have Duran Duran somewhere near the top should be immediately ignored. The band exemplified the “New Wave” sound that echoed across the ocean from Europe, incorporating the dancier, synthesized “rock” that was becoming very popular at the start of the 80s. Along with other groups like Depeche Mode (nominated the last two years for induction), they were the backbone of the playlist on the burgeoning MTV through the 80s.
They would suffer a bit of a lull as the Grunge Era took over in the early 90s, but Duran Duran – named after a character from the Jane Fonda sci-fi film Barbarella – would reinvent themselves and come back better than ever. A career resurgence in the 90s and early Aughts saw them return as balladeers, with such songs as “Ordinary World” and “Come Undone” showing that the group was willing to change their sound with the times.
While they have been a darling of the fans over the years, the critics have been the shortcoming that possibly keeps Duran Duran out of the Rock Hall. 100 million albums sold in a career should say something, not to mention 21 Billboard Hot 100 hits over a 40-year timespan. But, perhaps showing the power that critical acclaim holds, the group has NEVER been nominated for the Rock Hall – perhaps it is time that fact was changed.
For all the acclaim that Judas Priest has gotten as one of the members of the “New Wave of British Heavy Metal,” and for all the clamor to induct Def Leppard (who weren’t even the BEST example of the NWOBHM roster) last year, there is another band that has been greatly ignored from the discussion. Iron Maiden has arguably been just as influential (if not more so) than Def Leppard and right on the heels of the Priest (who were lumped in with the NWOBHM despite coming out a decade before the term existed) as to the power of their influence. Despite this fact, Iron Maiden has never even sniffed the nomination list for the Rock Hall, and that’s a travesty.
Prior to 1980, hard rock/metal was stuck in a sludge-like monotony and bands like Metallica (inducted LONG ago) and Iron Maiden took a decidedly different direction from their predecessors. Instead of miring in the muck, Iron Maiden picked up the speed and added a virtuosity that wasn’t always evident in hard rock/metal music. With their mascot “Eddie” dominating their album covers and, usually, their stage performances, the Maiden have dominated hard rock/metal for nearly 40 years.
In addition to that touring, Maiden has also shown their power with their fandom. Sixteen studio albums and twelve live albums have sold more than 100 million albums and critics have adored the band, especially most of their early work. The potential downside is that Iron Maiden has never been very “radio friendly” and, thusly, hasn’t achieved a great deal of chart success. This isn’t indicative of how great the band is and why it should be in and arguably should have been inducted long ago.
(On a final note here, this is the time when there is a true test of whether the Rock Hall is going to ever give hard rock/heavy metal its due. Judas Priest and Motörhead have been nominated in 2020 and are fighting to get in. Only ONE of the “Big Four” of the 80s metal scene – Metallica, Megadeth, Anthrax and Slayer – is inducted into the Rock Hall and the odds of the other three getting in are slim and none, with slim heading for the door. Could inductions of some of these artists indicate that the Rock Hall still cares about “rock?”)
This was one that I had to debate for quite some time. I’ve never been a huge fan of the mopey, “goth” sound, simply because it is so morose, depressing and utterly void of an emotion outside “woe is me.” While I can understand where such writing comes from, that doesn’t necessarily mean that I want to wallow around in it. Thus, I really had to give The Smiths a hard look, especially since there are many others who swear by their work.
They’ve always been a critical darling and, for many fans, The Smiths’ spoke to something inside of them. That is one of the things that rock music is supposed to do – reach in and touch something inside of you. In the case of fans of The Smiths, it helped them through difficult times, told them that someone was experiencing the same issues that they were, and helped them avoid worse outcomes than if they hadn’t heard the band’s music. And honestly, in what universe does The Cure exist in the Rock Hall without their brethren in The Smiths?
Now, Morrissey may not have helped the band’s case with some of the statements he’s made in the past. And it is quite true that someone’s political and personal beliefs and/or actions have kept some nominees out (hi there, Ted Nugent!) or held up their nomination or election. In a perfect world, we’d separate those things away from the artistic side of the equation. In the case of The Smiths, it would be necessary to do to see them get the honor that they do deserve – even though I still don’t care for their music!
Before there was Lady Gaga, before there was Sarah McLachlan, before there was Tori Amos or Enya and even before an ingenue by the name of Madonna was making some noise, there was the ethereal voice of Kate Bush. Beginning in the mid-70s, Bush would provide voice work for Peter Gabriel before striking out on her own. Bush would break through with the angelic “Running Up That Hill” and “Wuthering Heights,” one of the rare instances of classic literature influencing someone’s rock musical stylings (a theme throughout Bush’s catalog). But Bush would also prove to be a groundbreaker in other areas, including synthesizer usage and, well, her being a female voice in a very male dominated business (it could be argued that she is the British equivalent of Pat Benatar, an artist who refused to let the record industry “sex up” her image to sell records).
Highly praised critically, Bush languished on the charts in the States, however. Other than the two songs mentioned previously, Bush had a hard time cracking the Billboard rankings. Still, Bush had huge success in Britain and Europe and continues to be a successful artist to this day. She was nominated for the Rock Hall in 2018 but, as with several other artists that earned only one nomination before being ignored, it seems that the membership of the Rock Hall are more interested in moving on to other more “accessible” artists and groups rather than honor eclectic and creative work from the past in Bush and other artists and groups.
The Go-Go’s/The Bangles
Let’s get beyond the fact that The Runaways should have been inducted and get right to the 80s, shall we?
Women were coming to the fore in the 80s, taking control of their own careers and playing the instruments instead of allowing the men to have all the fun (Ann and Nancy Wilson of Heart have to be added in that category, too, but I digress). And there were two acts that definitely rate getting into the Rock Hall. But if you could have only one of them, which one would it be?
In my opinion, that would have to be the no-brainer induction of The Go-Go’s. Although their career was relatively short (only five years) and their catalog relatively limited (only four records, three of which were actually impactful), The Go-Go’s were groundbreakers in putting all-female bands into the musical discussion. They were very good musicians, especially guitarist Charlotte Caffey and drummer Gina Schock (what a drummer name!) and, powered by the force of nature that was vocalist Belinda Carlisle, the group was destined for greatness. If they would have stayed together longer (they already had the creative, influential and critical boxes check marked), they arguably would have already been inducted into the Rock Hall.
If you don’t like The Go-Go’s, there’s always The Bangles. From out of the gate with their initial releases of “Hero Takes A Fall” and “Going Down to Liverpool” in 1981, the melodic harmonies and tight musicianship masked a creative and critically successful group of women who were self-assured and didn’t rely on their sexuality to get across. Having said that, they did have singer/guitarist Susanna Hoffs on the mic, which didn’t hurt in getting them attention either. If you were going to have a downside for the group, it would be that they didn’t write their biggest hit “Manic Monday” (a song penned by the then-named “Christopher,” who turned out to be huge Bangles fan Prince).
Looking back at the first three decades (roughly) of the history of rock and those still wrongly on the outside looking in, it is obvious that the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame has gotten it right more often than not. But, as more artists from the 90s and, in only five years, the Aughts start coming eligible, it is going to be tougher and tougher for those in the pre-50s to 80s eras to earn their seat in the Rock Hall. Furthermore, it is going to be tougher and tougher to discern just what is “rock & roll” as the genre lines blur even further. Then again, there is that argument that it is the Hall of FAME and not the Hall of PRETTY GOOD…and perhaps those from those earlier eras fall into the category of “pretty good” rather than the truly immortal.
The current crop of artists and bands vying for entry into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame is a very impressive lists. Cutting across all genres, including rap, pop, rock, metal and alternative music (it is arguable that folk isn’t included, but that’s a rarity instead of the norm), the potential inductees in 2020 will have many more shots at the brass ring. But who from the past may be running out of chances at getting into the Rock Hall?
There are 221 artists and/or groups in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, and many might say that the truly immortal have already been enshrined. It is tough to nitpick this fact but, in this first part of a series of essays on this subject, I was able to come up with five artists from the 1950s who have yet to be inducted for their influences on the world of rock music. In the second part of a multi-part essay series, the 1960s were covered with a selection of artists that covered genres that have contributed to the world of rock music. Now, it’s time for one of the most difficult decades to critique – the 1970s.
Before you think that all the greats from the 70s have been nominated, you’ve got to remember some that I’ve advocated for and for many years. In another article, I talked about artists such as Warren Zevon and Jimmy Buffett, who have never even been nominated. There’s also a corps of solid 70s rock bands – Boston, Styx and Kansas leading the way – that haven’t even been nominated. These artists and groups are a given, so let’s delve a little deeper and take a look at some artists who might not be on the top of the list but should be in the Rock Hall for their contributions to the genre (not saying those mentioned haven’t, but they’ve got their longtime advocates!). As a reminder, we’re not including those that have been nominated this year. And this by no means is a comprehensive list of those who should be inducted – they are arguably the most notable oversights, however.
New York Dolls
While they may sound like they are a women’s professional football team, the New York Dolls were actually the genesis for several formats of rock in the States of America. Led by David Johansen (who would go on to arguably greater success as a character he created, “Buster Poindexter”) and backed by guitarists Johnny Thunders and Sylvain Sylvain, the group came out around the same time as 2020 Rock Hall nominee T. Rex. Much like T. Rex did in England, the Dolls embraced the glam style of rock and opened up some minds while expanding the musical landscape.
The Dolls are credited with having an influence on punk rock, glam rock, and even metal to a degree, while their style of androgynous dress – dressing like the opposite sex to the point where you couldn’t determine if they were women or men – became a staple of bands from the 70s through today. Their music impacted such diverse bands as the Sex Pistols, Guns ‘N’ Roses and the Smiths, with their lead singer Morrissey a proclaimed acolyte of the band.
What works against the New York Dolls is something that works against many bright, shining lights that burn out on the battleground of rock music – they weren’t around very long. Founded in 1971, by 1976 the band had broken up (by the time the band broke up, Thunders had quit the group and Blackie Lawless, who would go on to front his own band W.A.S.P., was doing the axe work for the group). As previously mentioned, Johansen would go on to do “Hot! Hot! Hot!” and front a full orchestra called “The Banshees of Blue,” which was a FAR cry from what he did during his days with the Dolls. The group would reunite in the 2000s, but the magic was gone. A fitting end for the New York Dolls would be to reach the ultimate goal – the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.
KC and the Sunshine Band
Although many don’t like to mention it, the disco era was a part of rock and roll. Many top rock acts of the day, including KISS (“I Was Made for Loving You”), The Rolling Stones (“Miss You”), Rod Stewart (“Da Ya Think I’m Sexy”), The Kinks (“Superman”) and many others all did a “disco” song, partially so that they would remain relevant during the disco era. As such, the Rock Hall should recognize the era and induct the best from that genre, starting with KC and the Sunshine Band.
Founded in 1973, the band would quickly find success in the discotheques of the U. S., first with “Get Down Tonight” in 1975 and followed by a litany of hit songs like “That’s The Way (I Like It),” “I’m Your Boogie Man” (covered by White Zombie is a genre mashup for the ages), and “(Shake, Shake, Shake) Shake Your Booty.” Of their six Top Ten singles, five of those went to #1 and the other went to #2…a pretty good track record.
There are many out there who would say that Chic, featuring the late drummer Tony Thompson and vocalist/producer/songwriter Nile Rodgers, would be a better choice, but why limit it to just one? Chic has been nominated on a few occasions and, honestly, should have already been inducted (Rodgers was inducted in 2017 via the “Award for Musical Excellence”). There’s no reason why both groups can’t be inducted, and it would bring the crème of the disco world into the Rock Hall.
This was one that I had to really research before I came down for inducting the group. War was a groundbreaking funk act that not only pushed musical boundaries but also pushed the norms of the era. A multicultural ensemble, they were fronted for a time by Eric Burdon, who would ride with the group until he decided to go solo in the mid-70s. Whether with Burdon or without him, the group would put together a string of solid music.
Originally formed in 1969, War seemed to tap into the militancy of the time, when organizations and political elements felt they had to take stronger stances to make their points known. Beyond being multi-race, the music of War blended several different styles of music – Latin, jazz, blues and R&B – into a fusion that became a very recognizable sound. “Spill the Wine,” “Why Can’t We Be Friends,” and the classic “Low Rider” were the recognizable tunes from the band, only a sampling of the 14 songs that hit the Billboard Hot 100.
There might be others with a better chart history, but War delivered outside of simply the musical realm. They were groundbreakers in musical styling, they were groundbreakers in getting the best musicians for the band, regardless of race (much like 2020 Rock Hall nominee The Doobie Brothers), and they were able to maintain an excellence even after losing what many thought was the only thing driving them to success (Burdon). For these things, they do deserve induction.
Carole King and Gordon Lightfoot
As stated previously, I’ve been a longtime proponent of both Warren Zevon and Jimmy Buffett being inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. They have both been at the forefront of their genres – Zevon in the creation of the “California sound” of country rock (along with another potential nominee, Gram Parsons) and Buffett in the creation of “trop rock.” But there’s a couple of other singer/songwriters that should also be inducted.
Carole King’s contributions to the rock world are nearly too numerous to mention. Teaming up with Gerry Goffin in 1958, she would write 118 songs that hit the Billboard Hot 100, including such tunes as “Up on the Roof” (The Drifters), “One Fine Day” (The Chiffons), “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman” (Aretha Franklin) and many others. When she finally got around to doing her own material, King only came up with Tapestry, considered one of the greatest albums not only of the 1970s but of all time. She’s technically in the Rock Hall as a “contributor” with Goffin, but she deserves her own place in the building as a performer and songwriter.
Lightfoot is one of those artists that many say, “he’s not in there already?” The Canadian is one of the people who helped move folk music into the mainstream with such tunes as “If You Could Read My Mind’ and “Sundown.” It is his epic tour de force on “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” that most people remember him for, however. He’s been covered by such diverse artists as Johnny Cash, Herb Alpert, The Tragically Hip and Paul Weller.
None other than Billy Joel has said that he intentionally wrote songs to “sound” like Lightfoot, all the way down to the vocals. This can be heard in Joel’s classic album The Stranger, with the song “She’s Always a Woman” being perhaps the best example of the Lightfoot influence. Lightfoot continues to perform, and strongly it must be added (usually when you see an 81-year old onstage, it isn’t their best work – Lightfoot is the exception); it would be fitting for the man to receive recognition for his life’s work.
Nick Lowe and Dave Edmunds
This is arguably one of the more controversial choices because many people would say “who?” when these names are mentioned. But both men have been a key linchpin in the evolution of the British music scene, even today.
Lowe got his start in the early 70s with Brinsley Schwartz, a country and blues-based group, but his quirky approach and songwriting style didn’t lend itself to the staider sound that the band wanted. But it also allowed Lowe to pen songs that the band didn’t use that became staples of the rock world later on, songs such as “(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding” (a massive hit for Hall of Famer Elvis Costello) and the song that would become his biggest solo hit “Cruel To Be Kind.”
Lowe’s greatest contribution in stride with his songwriting was his producing. Not only did he produce Costello for many years, Lowe would be at the production board for the eclectic lot of Carlene Carter (his now ex-wife), The Damned, Paul Carrack, The Pretenders, John Hiatt, the Fabulous Thunderbirds and even the late Johnny Cash. His nickname ‘Basher’ came about because of his “bash it out” style in the studio, simply playing the songs and waiting until getting in the editing room to sweeten any sounds.
Edmunds followed a very similar path to Lowe. Playing the bar scene around the U. K., Edmunds demonstrated his virtuosity on the guitar, mostly concentrating on the blues and rockabilly. One of his big hits was in 1970 with a version of “I Hear You Knocking” that became a huge success. In the 80s, he would have some dabbling success as he tried to ride the MTV wave with “Slipping Away,” but he would be most remembered for his partnership with Lowe.
The Lowe/Edmunds duo partnered on arguably one of the iconic albums of the early 80s with their group Rockpile. Seconds of Pleasure was the only “official” Rockpile album (with Edmunds and Lowe sharing vocals alongside guitarist Billy Bremner and drummer Terry Williams), but the lineup basically served as the band for albums from Edmunds (Repeat When Necessary), Lowe (Labour of Lust) and Carter (Musical Shapes and Blue Nun). The Rockpile Years were the fusion of their love for the past in rock history while trying to move it forward in their own way.
While their chart legacy isn’t anything remarkable, the Edmunds/Lowe combination was one that brought the British music scene from the rockabilly sounds of the 1950s to the Beatles to the New Wave of the early 80s and onto this century. Their partnership, while fraught with infighting and disagreements, arguably brought out the best creatively between the duo. Like Lennon and McCartney or Jagger and Richards, the duo of Edmunds and Lowe (and there would probably be complaints from Lowe that it should be Lowe and Edmunds) need to be recognized for their contributions.
Next up is a decade that is going to provide even more arguments between rock aficionados. The 1980s are going to start the blurring of the lines between what traditionalists call “rock & roll” and what some call “pop” or other genres that aren’t as readily recognizable as “rock.” As I’ve stated before, it’s a big umbrella when you’re talking about “rock & roll” and there’s going to be some artists in our next part of this series that aren’t going to be your traditional “rock & roll” artists or groups. But we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it…in the next part of this series!