Artists That SHOULD Be in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame: The 1970s

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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 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

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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

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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.

War

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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.

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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.

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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

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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!

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Is Moving Closer to Parody than Relevance

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Let’s start this with a disclaimer.

From my youth, I’ve loved music. I can remember saving up my money when my age was yet in single digits to buy records to play at home. As I got into high school, me and my best friend DJ (his real name was Dennis, but DJ was the ONLY name he went by) would go on field trips to nearby Champaign and religiously make a pilgrimage to the University of Illinois’ campus record store, Mabel’s (yes, back then it was a record store and had a small performance area). We’d emerge after hours of scanning over the racks with armfuls of albums, with my stack normally leaning towards things like the Bus Boys, Elvis Costello and the Motels, among literally hundreds of others.

After high school, I delved into the world of music even more. While in college I started working as a radio DJ, something that would be a career over the next 20-plus years of my life. From that small college station until I was a Music Director at an AOR (Album Oriented Rock) station in a Top 75 market (and even afterwards when I went into news/talk), music – and rock music in particular – was a staple in my life. As I have gotten older, music still resonates with me and, with age, I’ve expanded my listening interests into many diverse styles of music including two that I previously despised, rap and country.

Thus, it pains me when I say the following:  After looking at the list of the nominees for induction into the Class of 2017 for the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, which was released a couple of weeks ago, I’ve now come to the realization that enshrinement in this group is moving closer to a parody along the lines of This is Spinal Tap than being the venerable Valhalla of rock music that it should be.

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Yes, there’s been these rumblings before. None were louder, perhaps, than the commentary from one of last year inductees, Steve Miller, regarding what the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame has become. In various areas, Miller railed over pretty much every aspect of the Hall (“I think it’s time for the people running this to turn it over to new people…you don’t need to insult every artist that comes along,” was one of his calmer comments), signifying his displeasure with the outfit. “You tell me what the hell is the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, and what does it do besides talk about itself and sell postcards?” he asked.

Miller was the embodiment of what many had said of late regarding the Hall. Thought of originally as the pinnacle of rock music royalty, of late the Hall has been inducting what many would consider “non-rock” artists and bands, stating that their contributions “to rock music history and music overall” warranted their induction into rock music’s biggest honor. I’ve always contended that, in 9.9 of 10 of those cases where the artist wasn’t “rock” (a very wide ranging scope, to be honest), then their contribution to the actual evolution of rock was pertinent (this is why I don’t have a problem with Johnny Cash being in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame).

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In looking at the crop of nominees for the 2017 Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, there are some very qualified candidates on the list. One of the “first time” nominees for the hall is Pearl Jam and they should be a virtual lock for entry because of their contributions to the “Seattle sound” that was pioneered by Nirvana and their group. Another first-time nominee – and this one surprised me quite a bit – was Electric Light Orchestra, who should also find their way into the Hall for their innovative usage of electronics, keyboards and production (all in the masterful hands of Jeff Lynne) and their contributions to the music.

Whereas in year’s past I didn’t get bugged by some of the “non-rock” nominees – hell, I agree that rap acts like the Beastie Boys, Run DMC and N.W.A. and other “non-rock” acts like Donna Summer, Darlene Love and Bob Marley SHOULD be in the Hall – this year’s list of nominees left me wondering why they were being nominated when they shouldn’t have even been considered. Besides Pearl Jam and ELO, here’s the list of other nominations (asterisk means it is a first-time nomination):

Kraftwerk
Yes
The Cars
The Zombies
Joe Tex
J. Geils Band
The MC5
Bad Brains*
Depeche Mode*
Jane’s Addiction*
Joan Baez*
Journey*
Steppenwolf*
Janet Jackson
Chaka Khan
Chic
Tupac Shakur*

Now, you could give me viable reasons for any of the artists down to Steppenwolf being nominated for the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. Personally, why Journey and Steppenwolf have never been considered previously is gross misconduct by Hall voters. Over the remainder of the list, I personally would question the inclusion of Joe Tex (yes, a hard-working individual who overcame a great deal of adversity to become a rival of Hall of Famer James Brown), the J. Geils Band (solid group, not “Hall of Fame” outstanding) and Bad Brains and maybe Jane’s Addiction (reasoning ditto to J. Geils’ nomination). Where it goes off the rails for me – repeat, for the first time ever – is in some of the “non-rock” nominations.

Chic has been nominated several times and, on first view, they would be a viable contender. The real drivers of that group, however, were Nile Rodgers, the late Bernard Edwards and the late drummer Tony Thompson. Inducting a “group” requires that all the members were great and that’s where Chic falls short. I can see nominating and even inducting Rodgers and Thompson (I remember his powerful work with Robert Palmer and The Power Station – outstanding music), but to put every person in Chic (usually featuring a rotating cast of female vocalists that joined Rodgers and Edwards) isn’t Hall worthy.

Jackson and Khan, while fine vocalists who were charting gold during their careers, didn’t exactly do anything that would have separated them away and make them Hall worthy, either. Being the sister of the members of the Jackson 5 isn’t an immediate pass (and, really, what did she do that was notable?). Khan, if you include her time with Rufus, has a bit more credibility as to Hall-worthiness, but there’s not enough of it on the resume to push her over the top.

My biggest criticism would be with Shakur, however. Yes, Tupac was one of the first voices for “gangsta rap,” but we’ve already inducted the originator of that field in N.W.A. Additionally, if you induct Shakur, why aren’t you inducting Biggie Smalls (just as powerful a performer and rapper) or Sean “Puff Daddy/P-Diddy (or whatever the hell he calls himself these days)” Combs for their work? Shakur is one of those performers that, in many people’s eyes, an early (and violent) death made them a musical martyr. As such, he must be revered in their opinion…reverence because of near-deification is not what I would call Hall worthy.

When it comes to “non-rock” entities, you’ve got to have blown the doors off things to be considered for entry inside the gates. A Madonna, a Johnny Cash, a Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five…THESE are the types of performers who, by their music and by their styles, personified the “rock attitude” despite the fact they weren’t performing traditional “rock” music. Every one of the persons or bands nominated this year don’t fit that category for enshrinement.

Of course, I couldn’t end this without my own “WHY AREN’T THESE GUYS NOMINATED” choices, and this is just a sample of those that should have already been in the Hall. Pat Benatar, Warren Zevon, Jimmy Buffett, Dolly Parton (one hell of a songwriter who has had an impact on music overall, what the Hall is supposed to venerate), Kate Bush, Roxy Music, Iron Maiden, Dead Kennedys, Black Flag, X, Duran Duran and Kool and the Gang (all never nominated) and the New York Dolls, the Wailers and Afrika Bambaataa all should be in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame RIGHT NOW as they have arguably done more for “rock” music than those under consideration for 2017.

But I digress, at least for now. We’ve got the list of nominees and, for this year, we’ll have to deal with them. But if the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame doesn’t want to continue down that road of becoming a joke of itself, a parody of what it is supposed to represent, it would behoove them to start considering the actual ROCK artists (and those “non-rock” performers who truly had an impact) that they are bypassing.

N.W.A.: The More Things Change…

In the mid- to late-1980s, I was working in the radio industry as the music director at an Album Oriented Rock (AOR) station in North Carolina. While the music we played was the opposite of what was occurring on the Top 40 or Urban stations (I would have said polar opposite, but we weren’t country music), we were still aware of the rumbles of change that thundered across the musical spectrum. I actually got behind two bands in my time there – one was Faith No More with their song “Epic” and the other was the band that term – thundered – was the best way to explain:  the phenomenon that was the rap group N.W.A.

N.W.A. – the seminal rap group that featured Eric “Eazy-E” Wright, Andre “Dr. Dre” Young, O’Shea “Ice Cube” Jackson, Lorenzo ‘”MC Ren” Patterson and Antoine “DJ Yella” Carraby – exploded on the scene in 1988 with their debut album Straight Outta Compton. The album contained explicit descriptions from the group about life in the inner city (in this case, the Los Angeles subdivision known as Compton) and, in particular, the trials and tribulations that faced black men (and, as a sidelight, the black community) at that time. With the movie of the same name opening up today, it is easy to see that the more things change, the more they stay the same.

The year was 1988 when N.W.A. came out and it gave voice to millions that had never had even a face to that time. Previous rap music, although occasionally containing a strong message (in fact, “The Message” from Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five was one of the first rap songs about how difficult life was in the inner city), was more about the party in most cases (“Rapper’s Delight” from the Sugarhill Gang or “Fight For Your Right” from the Beastie Boys) or a cover tune (“Walk This Way” from Run DMC). It also owed more to old school R&B and disco than any other musical format, with base tracks from songs like Chic’s “Good Times” or perhaps Parliament/Funkadelic providing the bottom layer that rappers would lay their tracks over.

With N.W.A., all bets were off. Their guttural bass notes came at the listener like a thunderbolt and guitars and other sound effects were utilized to bring the city to life on the tracks. But what was the major difference was the lyrics. Not content to simply talk about the activities at a party or the sexual conquests that the MC had the previous evening, N.W.A. broadcasted straight from the street and what the residents of the inner city faced throughout their daily lives:  harassment from law enforcement, drug usage and addiction, rampant crime and other less-than enjoyable aspects of living in the inner city.

The advent of N.W.A. brought about the “gangsta” rap style that covered the remainder of the 1980s and stretched into the early 2000s. Although the group that was N.W.A. didn’t make it deep (the band broke up in 1991 and reunited for a short time in 1998), Young and Jackson would go on to long careers in music (Young is now a billionaire after founding Beats by Dre) and/or acting (Jackson is well-sought as a performer in both film and television). Wright would unfortunately pass from AIDS in 1995 and Patterson and Carraby carried on in music, without the same impact as their days with N.W.A.

With the movie coming out today, there is a focus placed once again on N.W.A. and the music that they delivered. As someone who had been around the block even then, I knew that the message that N.W.A. was delivering was dead on, shining a spotlight on a situation that isn’t talked about at formal dinner parties. What is starkly evident from listening back to such artists as N.W.A. today is that there isn’t much different between the situation then and now.

When Eazy-E, Dre and Ice laid down the raps about being harassed by law enforcement for simply being in a certain area and a certain color, those situation still are a part of the headlines today. Crack cocaine usage ravaged the inner city during the times of N.W.A.; today, it is heroin, alcohol and crack that take their toll. Education isn’t any better today than then, it may in fact be worse. Housing continues to be an issue and many believe the only path to “getting out” of the inner city is through athletics or music. And this is only scratching the surface of the situation.

The solutions to these issues aren’t easy and, in many cases, cost money that seemingly isn’t there anymore (according to politicians). When an inner-city kid has the same access to educational materials as someone at the best suburban school, we’ll have made progress. Housing could be improved, but the lack of land still would require the high-rise apartment complexes that are prominent in Chicago and New York. Drug usage and the actions of law enforcement are perhaps the most difficult in that no amount of money would change the situation; the only thing that will change those things are attitudes regarding drug criminalization and training of future police officers.

If you’re heading to the movieplex this weekend to see Straight Outta Compton this weekend, marvel at how these young men brought a cultural situation into the glaring light of the world. Then lament how we haven’t been able to change anything since N.W.A. first rapped about these situations. The more things change, the more they stay the same…