Five In, Five Out – Making Changes to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame

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?

The Highwomen Deliver Emotional Effort, Sheryl Crow Going Out with a Bang

One of the things that the world of music has gotten hammered on over the past few years is the paucity of female performers, both on the radios and satellites of listeners and in the awards process (Grammys, CMAs, etc.). It is a fair argument too; in country music currently, you have to go down to #11 on the Billboard Country Singles chart to find the first female entry (Carrie Underwood) and, on the Billboard Hot 100, although the first three slots are occupied by women or male/female combos (Lizzo’s “Truth Hurts,” Shawn Mendes & Camilla Caballo with “Senorita” and Billie Eilish’s mopey “Bad Guy”), there are only two other female contributors in the Top 20 (the Ariana Grande/Miley Cyrus/Lana Del Rey collaboration for the reboot of Charlie’s Angels entitled “Don’t Call Me Angel” and Ariana Grande with Social House). With two new releases out from top female artists, you might think that this situation would change, but you’d be surprised.

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First up is the rather ostentatiously named The Highwomen, who have come out with their eponymous CD Highwomen. The quartet, consisting of Grammy winners Maren Morris, Brandi Carlile and Amanda Shires along with Grammy nominated songwriter Natalie Hemby, are all very accomplished performers and songwriters in their own rights. Coming together for this record, however, they put their egos at the door and come up with an emotional effort that delivers across the board for their purposes as a female country supergroup.

Let’s get one thing out of the way first, however: they probably should have called themselves something other than “The Highwomen.” That name harkens back to the 80s when four of the titans of country music – the late Johnny Cash and Waylon Jennings, Kris Kristofferson and Willie Nelson – joined forces as “The Highwaymen,” a country supergroup that brought each man commercial and critical success. By branding themselves as “The Highwomen,” it seems that Morris, Carlile and Company are equivocating themselves as equal to the legendary male artists who made the name famous (plus they’re putting a HUGE target on themselves). Even Dolly Parton, Emmylou Harris and Linda Ronstadt – the closest thing there was to a female “Highwaymen” previously – didn’t have the audacity to call themselves “The Highwomen.”

If you can get by the quartet calling themselves “The Highwomen,” you’re going to find a very solid outing from the artists involved. Of course, they have to start off the album with their version of The Highwaymen’s “Highwayman,” and it is naturally called “Highwomen.” It follows the pattern that was set by Cash, Nelson, et. al., with a call-and-response song about repressed women in history. A woman subjected to and executed during the Salem Witch Trials; a Freedom Rider murdered in the South; and (poignantly starting the song) a refugee from Honduras who took the long walk to try to seek asylum with her family in the U. S before dying on the trek. It is an excellent update from the male oriented original and starts a very emotional trek that runs through the album.

“We are the Highwomen,
Singing stories still untold.
We carry the sons you can only hold.
We are the daughters of the silent generation,
You send our hearts to die alone in foreign nations,
And they return to us as tiny drops of rain
But we will still remain…”

TheHighwomen2

Going deeper in the album there are some jewels for the listeners. Perhaps for the first time ever, there is a lesbian “kiss off” song called “If She Ever Leaves Me” that tries to subtly tell a cowboy that the woman he’s looking at picking up – Carlile’s secret lesbian lover – “thinks your cologne’s too strong, she’s into perfume” and that he has absolutely no shot. Another song that is noteworthy is “My Only Child,” a song from a mother to her child about why she didn’t have any more children for her child to play with.

The songs aren’t long on Highwomen, roughly three minutes in length for the 12 songs on the record, but each one packs an emotional punch that doesn’t get displayed often in music. If you’re a fan of the women in the group – or you just want to hear some damn good country (or maybe “Americana”) music – you’d be well advised to pick up the record.

SherylCrow

In her over 30-year career, Sheryl Crow has pretty much done it all. Originally a music teacher, Crow would in 1987 become a backup singer for Michael Jackson on his Bad tour. She would eventually find success as a solo artist through her debut album Tuesday Night Music Club in 1994. Now, more than 25 years later (Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, are you listening?), it looks as though Crow is calling it a close for her album recording career with her CD Threads.

Why does it seem like the Missouri songbird is ending her recording career? Because it seems that she brought everyone and their brother out to play with her on the album! Both Morris and Carlile from The Highwomen make appearances with Crow and they rank as the MINOR players on the record. Artists such as Stevie Nicks, Bonnie Raitt, Mavis Staples, Eric Clapton, Gary Clark, Jr., Keith Richards, Willie Nelson, Joe Walsh, St. Vincent, James Taylor and Emmylou Harris all add their prodigious talents to the record, making it for a stellar outing. Let’s put it this way: if this is the way that Crow wants to bid adieu to her recording career, she’s done a hell of a job.

SherylCrowThreads

There are several highlights on the record. “Prove You Wrong” with Crow harmonizing with Nicks and Morris, starts the record with a bang that sets the ever-increasing standard for the rest of the record. “Beware of Darkness” is an ode about falling too far down “the rabbit hole” and letting everyday news bring us down, brought to life by the guitar work of Clapton and the vocals of Sting and Carlile.

It is a couple of collaborations you don’t expect that seem to steal the record, though. First is a stunning “Redemption Day,” a duet with the late Johnny Cash. The collaboration took a version of her song that Cash recorded before he passed away and mixed it with her voice, delivering a performance for the ages. From Crow’s lilting voice to the gravely rumble of “The Man in Black,” the song that Crow wrote about the U. S. involvement in Bosnia gains new life in these times. Crow comments in the liner notes that “online trolls say ‘shut up and sing…’ I’d think no one would have the gall to tell Johnny Cash to shut up and sing…he’d probably respond with the famous photo Jim Marshall took of him at San Quentin, the shot taken ‘just for the warden.’”

JohnnyCashFlipsBirdWarden

The other collaboration is surprising in the mixing of genres that comes together. Crow teams up with Public Enemy’s Chuck D, soul singer Andra Day and guitar wizard Clark on “The Story of Everything,” a song that, according to Crow, “was born out of the feeling of frustration with the state of affairs in America…so much hope accompanied our first black President into office, but that hope turned into fear and division.” The foursome power through the song, calling out those who continue to push the divisiveness in the nation today, and they aren’t shy about laying it at a certain politician’s door. Musically the song is evocative, lyrically it is a protest from the people…and a warning that the people better pull their heads out of their asses.

The record could have been called “Sheryl Crow and Friends” because, without the ample assistance from Crow’s pals, the record wouldn’t have been as impactful as it is. Crow’s steady, beautiful mezzo-soprano is accented by each and every performer and she’s smart enough to know when to get out of the way and let her guests do their thing. If it is goodbye to recording for Crow, this is one hell of a way to exit the stage.

Alas, it appears nobody is listening to these artists. The Highwomen are currently ranked #53 on the Billboard Album charts after peaking at #10 two weeks ago, while Crow’s record reached #30 on the Albums chart and #2 on the Country Albums chart before plunging off in a mere two weeks. This is a sad statement on the music industry today, but it is something that REAL music fans will appreciate by supporting these women.

GASP! The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Gets It (Somewhat) Right!

 

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Normally this time of year has everyone in some state of aggravation. Mostly it comes from the holiday preparations (every year I’ve said I plan to start things earlier and instead it seems to be later), but it also comes from the yearly announcement of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inductees (OK, maybe not everyone). For a change, however, the Class of 2017 isn’t that bad, meaning that the voters, writers, and fans (yes, the fans get a vote)…GASP!…got it (somewhat) right this year.

After years of inducting some clearly questionable candidates (in 2016, the induction of N.W.A. drew the ire of rock fans; in 2015, it was Bill Withers; in 2014, Cat Stevens…you can go back each year and pick at least one), the bands and individuals that were voted in were either a solid lock for entry or a great argument to get in. For example, Pearl Jam was as close to a lock as you could get from the list of nominees as one of the originators of the “grunge” sound of the late 80s/early 90s rock scene. They were on the ballot for the first time and, yes, were worthy of that induction.

The 80s rock generation (and part of the 70s) was represented first by Journey. I wouldn’t have called this one – I believe it is the Rock & Roll Hall of FAME, not the Hall of PRETTY GOOD – but I also am not bent out of shape about their induction. If they are to be inducted, they must be inducted with singer Steve Perry; any other incarnation of the group would be an insult to the legend of the band.

journeyescape

Joining Journey is straddling that 70s/80s line is another inductee for the 2017 class, Electric Light Orchestra (ELO). Why they hadn’t been inducted previously is anyone’s guess, so it is far overdue for the Rock Hall to recognize the greatness of the band. It is also arguable that Jeff Lynne, the mastermind behind the ELO sound (and producer of some other great artists like Tom Petty, George Harrison, Roy Orbison, and Brian Wilson), deserves an induction as a solo artist or contributor.

The band Yes…yes, they weren’t in the Hall yet…is a correction of one of the grossest errors of the Hall of Fame. Stretching from their early work in the late 60s to their powerful work in the 80s, Yes deserves the induction arguably more than even ELO did. The question is what lineup do you go with? If you go with the early 80s lineup, you’re leaving out Rick Wakeman, arguably one of the finest keyboardists of the rock era. If you go with the original lineup, then you leave out Trevor Horn and keyboardist Geoff Downes (AND Wakeman), who were key to helping in the creation of the 80s sound of the group that led to their resurrection. I don’t envy the job of the Rock Hall staff in determining which people will be honored with induction as a member of Yes.

The singer/songwriters weren’t ignored this year either. Joan Baez, who was a part of the Vietnam protest era of the 1960s and continued to have an outstanding career in the early to mid-70s, wasn’t probably some people’s choice for that genre, but you cannot ignore her impact on rock music having a social impact. Baez inspired such women as Judy Collins, Bonnie Raitt and Joni Mitchell to their activism and entrance into the rock arena.

Even one of the longest “problem” spots for the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame got covered this year. Nile Rodgers, the legendary producer and leader of the funk/disco group Chic, will enter the Hall for “Musical Excellence.” This should, in the future, remove the attempts to put Chic into the Hall as a performer because, in all honesty, it was Rodgers and the late drummer Tony Thompson who were basically Chic (they had a rotating roster of female vocalists, never a defined female lead). Thompson, in his own right, should be looked at for this award in the future.

tupac

The ONLY question mark about this year’s inductees would be the inclusion of rapper Tupac Shakur on the roster. Shakur was a tremendously influential part of the “West Coast” sound of gangsta rap, even taking it to the point where the “East Coast/West Coast” rap wars began. Because of this standoff, Shakur was brutally shot to death on the streets of Las Vegas 20 years ago and probably brought about the death of ChristopherThe Notorious B.I.G.” (“Biggie Smalls”) Wallace six months later, possibly adding to the legend.

Tupac is a question mark because he didn’t have a wealth of material before his premature death. He’s released more albums since his passing than when he was alive and, to be honest, nobody is claiming that the posthumous work is the reason he’s being inducted. It also leaves the question open that, if you’re inducting Tupac, you’ve got to put Biggie in also (and Biggie’s repertoire is even less than Shakur’s). If you’re going strictly as an influence, I might be swayed on Tupac; if it is on his body of work, then I’m not as solidly behind his induction.

Even with these inductions, there’s still a wealth of artists out there that are more than deserving of entry. Out of the 2017 nominees, I’m slowly coming around to The Cars being inducted. As a purveyor of the synth sound of the 1980s (and their early work in the late 70s), I’ve always been a bit on the fence with the band. Now, I believe there is a place in the Hall for the group, just as there should be for another synthesizer-based band and 2017 nominee, Kraftwerk.

thinlizzy

I’ve also discussed ad nauseam about who deserves to get into the Hall. I’ve seen others believe in my choices of Pat Benatar, The Runaways and Judas Priest, and some have even given credence to Thin Lizzy, an outstanding choice if there is one. I’ve also been a longtime proponent of inducting Warren Zevon and Jimmy Buffett, but will now add Motörhead onto that list alongside a host of others.

Whatever the list of inductees is for this year, the concert that honors those inductees promises to be a bit calmer than the 2016 induction ceremonies. Bringing back the original Cheap Trick – with their estranged original drummer Bun E. Carlos – was tricky, but they pulled it off. 2016 inductee Steve Miller was perhaps the most vocal about his displeasure about the ceremonies AND the induction, points that he made long and loud both pre- and post-induction. If they can figure out the Yes conundrum, then they should be able to get through the awards ceremony without problems.

As to when that show will be, we’ll just have to wait and see. But for one magical year, it appears things are right with the world and the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame made the appropriate selections.