Artists That SHOULD Be in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame: The 1950s and Before

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The current crop of artists and bands vying for entry into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame is a very impressive list. 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 from the 1950s and before 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 who have yet to be inducted for their influences on the world of rock music. In one case, the artist has earned a nod for their “early influence,” but they really should be inducted as well for the priceless value of their performances.

“Big Mama” Thornton

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One of the groundbreaking blues singers, Willie Mae “Big Mama” Thornton, called that because…well, there’s no way to be kind about this…she tipped the scales at around 450 pounds, was a vocalist who owned the R&B charts in the early 1950s. For those that only remember Elvis Presley’s 1955 version of “Hound Dog,” it was Thornton who originally brought the song to the masses in 1952 with her powerful version of the song written by Leiber and Stoller. She was one of the groundbreakers for women in the industry as well, like another person that will appear on this list.

The possible downsides for Thornton getting in is that she didn’t have the longevity that many would like in their performers. By the early 1960s, Thornton’s star had faded and many had forgotten about the blues pioneer. Also, beyond “Hound Dog,” Thornton did not have a lengthy list of hits, although another song she wrote and performed, “Ball ‘n’ Chain,” was never released by her record company; it would eventually become a monster hit in the hands of Janis Joplin, who viewed Thornton as an influence.

Dick Dale

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While the Beach Boys get the credit for the creation of “surf music,” that credit should really go to the master of the surf guitar, Dick Dale. Dale was at the forefront of innovation with the electric guitar in the 1950s, creating the “surf music” sound by combining Middle Eastern influences, reverb and pure speed in bringing out his unique sound. Dale’s career wasn’t a lengthy one but, to the Beach Boys, Jan & Dean and a host of other musicians and bands, Dale was a god.

Dale also is one of those artists that the Rock Hall misses out on honoring before they are no longer with us. Dale played right up to the last days of his life, passing away earlier this year from heart failure. It is very much like the nominations of Thin Lizzy and Motörhead this year, nominations that should have come long ago before the members of the group had passed away and not received the recognition they deserve.

Neil Sedaka

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This was one that I initially didn’t agree with before I started my research. I always thought that Sedaka was just another nauseating “candy coated” pop music thief of black artists’ music. It was only after I really started looking at his career that I gradually began to shift my opinion.

Sedaka started out in 1957 and, since that point, has written over 500 songs that either he or other popular artists have recorded and charted. His own performance library includes the classics “Oh! Carol,” “Calendar Girl,” “Next Door to an Angel” and “Breaking Up is Hard to Do.” After a lull when the British Invasion hit the U. S., Sedaka would come back in the 1970s with songs like “Bad Blood” and “Laughter in the Rain.”

Sedaka would also pen songs for such artists as The Captain and Tennille, ABBA, Connie Francis and Jimmy Clanton. Although I still am not a huge fan of him as an artist, I’ve got to give him credit for his longevity, success and critical acclaim that he’s garnered for more than 60 years.

Patsy Cline

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Anyone who watched Ken Burns’ documentary Country Music cannot disavow what Patsy Cline did for the music industry, country or otherwise. She was performing while still in her teens and her first big song, “Walkin’ After Midnight,” came when she was a mere 21 years old. That song, which topped not only the country charts but also the pop charts, catapulted her into the realm of the immortals.

Her contemporaries Brenda Lee and Wanda Jackson are already in the Rock Hall (Lee as a performer in 2002, Jackson as an “early influence” in 2009), so it is highly illogical to keep Cline out because she’s “not rock enough.” If it weren’t for Cline, it’s arguable that there’s no Dolly, no Loretta, no Reba, no Shania and no Miranda. And, taking the other path of the evolution tree, possibly no Janis, no Suzi, no Joan, no Anne and Nancy…you get my point. Patsy Cline deserves a slot in the Rock Hall.

Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys

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This is another artist that got a great deal of attention from the Burns documentary and it was well deserved. Their musical legacy is undoubtable, but what set Wills and his backing group apart was their non-stop touring, one of the things that is ENTIRELY rock and roll! The group would sometimes play three or four towns IN A SINGLE DAY and six of seven days per week (Wills did, as a good church man would, saved Sunday for worship).

Wills and His Texas Playboys technically are already in the Rock Hall as an “early influence” (1999), but they really deserve to be inducted as a performer outright. Without them, do we even hear of Hank Williams and his progeny, Johnny Cash, the “Texas Outlaws” (Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings and Company) or a host of others who came out during the 1960s and 70s? Maybe we do, but Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys paved the way.

Speaking of the 1960s, there are some from that era who haven’t been inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame as of yet! In the next part of this series of essays, we’ll examine those that have been the biggest oversights and, as of yet, have not been inducted into the Rock Hall. Will these oversights be corrected? The longer that we as fans – and the voters for the Hall – are removed from their heydays, the less likely it is that they will earn induction.

2016 Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Nominations: Who Gets In?

It seems that there is a “Hall of Fame” for virtually every aspect of human existence. If you are into clowns, there is the International Clown Hall of Fame in Milwaukee, WI, that is in actuality a serious look at a funny industry. On the lighter side, there is a Recreational Vehicle and Manufactured Housing Hall of Fame in Elkhart, IN, the “Pig Hill Hall of Fame” in East Elijay, GA and the International Hamburger Hall of Fame in Daytona Beach, FL (look these up, you’ll enjoy the laugh). Whereas some of these exist with their tongue firmly planted in cheek, there are those that have the gravitas deserving of a memorial to excellence.

Where the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, OH, lands is something that is debatable among Halls of Fame and music aficionados. In my opinion, it does honor, cherish and memorialize the greatest musicians and performers that have come through the genre. On the other hand you have my friend Mark, who believes that the Hall “is a totally lost cause and deserves to be burned to the ground…then the ground itself sewn with salt and dumped into Lake Erie.” As you can tell, just a little difference of opinion there.

Created in 1983 by a contingent of music biggest names (then-Atlantic Records founder and chairman Ahmet Ertegun, Rolling Stone founder Jann Wenner and several other prominent music executives), the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame didn’t get around to inducting members until 1986, when the inaugural class consisting of such luminaries as Chuck Berry, James Brown, Ray Charles, Fats Domino, The Everly Brothers, DJ Alan Freed, Buddy Holly, Jerry Lee Lewis and many others (here’s the list) were voted in as the inaugural class. Even after they started inducting members into the “Hall,” they lacked a physical location to properly acknowledge the inductees.

Although several cities with extensive ties to U. S. music history and the foundations of rock music, including Memphis, Detroit, Cincinnati and New York City were considered for the location, it was Cleveland that came up as the big winner in being named the home city of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1986 (Wenner was disappointed that New York didn’t get the Hall). Why did Cleveland, of all places, get the Hall? As it is with most things, it was money; Cleveland ponied up $65 million in public funding and more than 600,000 residents demonstrated their desire in signing a petition to bring the Hall to “America’s North Coast.”

Even with the money and the people in place, it would take another decade before the physical Rock & Roll Hall of Fame was built. In 1995, the I. M. Pei-designed building opened amid the fanfare of a huge concert that featured such rock luminaries as Bob Dylan, Aretha Franklin, Bruce Springsteen and Iggy Pop. Since then, it is estimated that more than 9 million visitors have made the trek to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame to pay their respects to the legends of the industry.

Now in its 33rd year of existence, the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame has caused its share of controversy as well as celebration. For every rock legend like a Buddy Holly or Chuck Berry ensconced in rock music’s Mount Olympus, there are those such as Dinah Washington (1993), Earth, Wind and Fire (2000), Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five (2007) and many others who aren’t exactly what you would think of when mentioning “rock music.” In particular, there is the Rock Hall’s recent moves toward recognizing “pop” music in its rolls (Madonna in 2008 and ABBA in 2010, to be precise) that seems to have angered rock “purists” beyond belief.

In my opinion, “rock music” is a wide encompassing umbrella. While some may not believe that the legendary bluesman Robert Johnson (an original inductee in 1986) had an influence on the genre, his exclusion from the Hall would be laughable for an organization looking to honor those who created “rock music.” Even such artists as Grandmaster Flash, one of the groundbreaking musicians in the rap genre, deserves induction into the Hall for his contributions to, yes, “rock music.” While I might have some personal preference issues with some of those in the Hall (especially Madonna), I’m more of the line that they are worthy of their inclusion in the institution due to their overall contributions to music in general and sometimes even rock music.

The list of nominees for induction in 2016 to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame once again reach across the decades and the genres. So who will have the best chance to get in this year? I’ve broken it down into three categories:  Shouldn’t Even Be Considered, Borderline Excellence and Sure Shot Legends.

Shouldn’t Even Be Considered

Chaka Khan – A long career in the industry best identified by her work with the seminal R&B group Rufus, but not exactly what I would call an indispensable musical artist. Without the ability to actually cite someone that she has had an extreme influence on – perhaps Nora Jones, maybe Alicia Keys? – Khan loses points on the “legend” scale. Add in the lack of longevity to her career and I’d have to say Khan shouldn’t be considered.

Chic – If this were a question as to voting in two of the members of the band – guitarist/producer Nile Rodgers and drummer Tony Thompson – then I’d be more than willing to welcome them into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. The problems are that Chic didn’t last all that long – they were one of the powerhouses of the Disco Era – but both Rodgers and Thompson’s greatest work came outside of their Chic days. Rodgers has been an outstanding producer across the entirety of the musical spectrum and Thompson laid down some of his best work with the rock super group Power Station. To put the entire band in when it was really Rodgers and Thompson who are deserving of the honor is a bit much.

Los Lobos – There is more than enough room in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame to look at how different cultures had an impact on the formation of the genre. For their part, Los Lobos is one of those artists or groups that would have to be considered. Unfortunately, they fall short on several aspects, including influence on later artists and general impact in the history of rock. Their only #1 song in the U. S. was a remake of “La Bamba,” for crying out loud. Los Lobos, unfortunately, shouldn’t have even made this list.

Steve Miller – The thing about ANY “Hall of Fame” is that it isn’t a “Hall of the Pretty Good.” That same “level” of excellence needs to be used here with Steve Miller. Although Fly Like an Eagle was a legendary album and certain songs he created are very memorable, I don’t hear any artist over the past 20 years or so admitting how much of an influence Miller was on their careers. I can’t put someone in the Hall that was simply good at doing their job, as Miller was, thus he falls into this category.

The Spinners – Once again, a case of pretty good but not legendary. The Spinners actually should be praising those legendary R&B groups before them (The Temptations, The Four Tops, etc.) as there aren’t many that note them as a seminal influence in their formation. Also not very long-lived as a group.

The Smiths – This is one of those that is on the border between getting out of this ranking and into the “Borderline Excellence” grouping. The group has had a huge influence on many other rock acts following it, but to say it had a huge degree of success might be stretching the term. Morrissey probably had more of an effect as a solo artist than the band did as a whole and longevity has to be called into question.

Borderline Excellence

Cheap Trick – As a longtime fan of the band – they were a constant on radio stations and at parties when I was growing up – I’d like to give Cheap Trick more love than I believe the Hall voters are going to give them. The band was a regional act – highly successful in the Midwest – but didn’t exactly have the staying power as the 80s closed. They are also hugely overrated by VH1, who put them in at #25 of the Greatest Artists of Hard Rock. In fact, Cheap Trick has the potential to go from this category down to the previous one.

The Cars – Another one of those “great, but not immortal” bands that came out of the 1980s. Unless you count singer Ric Ocasek’s ability to pick up a stunning bride (model Paulina Porizkova), The Cars weren’t outstanding in any area. They showed up, they did the job and they took home the supermodels. There are many other people who are more deserving of a seat in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame over this band.

Janet Jackson – This was a problematic one for me. Ask three different people where she should be, according to the rankings that we have here, and each of those three different people would probably put her in each category. She didn’t exactly blaze a trail – her brothers did that for her – and her music wasn’t exactly groundbreaking or influential. For a period there in the 80s, however, it was either her or Madonna reigning as the dominant female artist on the charts. For me, she falls into this category and perhaps one day might sway me to having her in the Hall.

Nine Inch Nails – Here we have another band that is thisclose to ticking over into the “Sure Shot Legends” group. Trent Reznor’s pet project for well over two decades, the band pushed the “industrial” rock movement forward and was the catalyst for a band such as Rammstein and much of the EDM movement today. Reznor is a talented musician who has won an Oscar for his score of the film The Social Network and is the recipient of other major awards; a couple more achievements like that and Nine Inch Nails will get in if not Reznor by himself.

Sure Shot Legends

Chicago – One of those bands that you say to yourself, “You mean they aren’t already in?” Chicago pioneered the jazz fusion rock that seemed to come out of the late 60s/early 70s, something that is still heard today in some of the music (Michael Buble or Adele comes to mind). For much of the 1970s and even the early 1980s, Chicago was a dominant force on the music scene. We’ll have to cut them some slack for the Peter Cetera Years, but it is high time that Chicago was a part of the biggest club in rock music.

Deep Purple – One of the most egregious errors ever committed by the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame has been the omission of this band from its rolls. The originators of “hard rock” or “heavy metal,” the band lasted from the late 60s into the 21st century, churning out bombastic rock all the way to the end. They also inspired many hard rock and metal bands that came out of the latter half of the 20th century. The only problem with putting Deep Purple in the Hall is which “Mark” do you put in? My vote goes to Deep Purple Mark II, which featured Ian Gillan, Jon Lord, Roger Glover, Ian Paice and Ritchie Blackmore as the members of the band and originators of such classics as “Smoke on the Water” and “Highway Star.”

The J.B.’s – If you’re going to have the singer for the group – legendary R&B performer James Brown – in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, you’ve got to have the band that backed him up. While Brown was renowned for the incendiary performances that he would leave on stage, somebody had to keep up with him on the musical side of the equation. The J.B.’s did exactly that, with saxophonist Maceo Parker and the Collins BrothersWilliam “Bootsy” and Phelps “Catfish” – eventually moving on to another landmark group, Parliament/Funkadelic in later years.

N.W.A. – This is probably my most controversial selection for election into the Hall. The originators of “gangsta rap,” N.W.A. still has their imprints on the music scene today. When they came out in the late 80s, their fist-to-the-face depiction of life in the inner city served as a reminder of what music can do when used as a tool for social change. It may be arguable whether “gangsta rap” effected that change at all, but it wasn’t for a lack of trying from N.W.A. and others. Add in the influence that the group had on other artists and N.W.A. should have been in the Hall long ago; they’ll probably get in this year on the steam generated from the film Straight Outta Compton.

Yes – Much like Chicago, “They aren’t in already?” The two bands are quite similar in that Yes was one of the first bands to push the “progressive rock” (or “prog rock”) sound that incorporated a great deal of keyboards and operatic flourishes. Yes was a “jam band” before jam bands were cool, often putting out individual songs that seemed as long as some artists’ albums. “I’ve Seen All Good People,” “Roundabout,” “Owner of a Lonely Heart” – the band was a critical and commercial success across the ages and, as such, deserves to be in the Hall.

The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame will allow for fans to vote on their website and that “fan vote” will be tabulated alongside ballots from other musical dignitaries to determine the final five or six who will walk through the doors in Cleveland to further rock immortality come April next year. Who will earn the honors? We’ll find out at the beginning of 2016.

Who should have been nominated? That, my friends, is a subject for another time…