Who Will Be the Inductees for the 2018 Rock & Roll Hall of Fame?

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It is always a favorite time of the year for me. The announcement of the nominees for induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame always draw a great deal of commentary, either about how well the “keepers of the Hall” did in making the nominations or in how much they screwed it up. Thus, when the nominees list was released last week, it was a cause for celebration or debate, depending on how you liked the list.

First, however, let’s look at who WASN’T on the nominee list…

PAT BENATAR

Just what does it take to get the preeminent female rocker of the 1980s to even get a NOMINATION to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, let alone inducted? A four-time Grammy winner, two multi-platinum albums, five platinum albums, three gold albums and rock anthems like “Heartbreaker,” “Hit Me with Your Best Shot,” and “Love is a Battlefield,” Benatar should have been in LONG ago. As of yet, however, she has not received even a nomination.

DURAN DURAN

They were a seminal part of the success of MTV back in the day and they brought about (for better or worse) the “video” era of music. They were nominated previously (at least they have that) in 2015 and 2016, but were overlooked this year. Along with their importance in MTV’s formation and development, the band was highly successful with critics and fans (and the fact that they are the only band who ever had a theme to a James Bond film go to #1 on the Billboard charts – “A View to a Kill”). If you’re going to induct other pop icons from the 80s like Madonna and such, Duran Duran deserves consideration.

OZZY OSBORNE

Sure, he’s already in as a member of Black Sabbath, but Osborne’s solo career lasted longer than his tenure with the Sabbath. In addition, it is arguable that his solo work – along with his continued discovery of ace guitar slingers like the late Randy Rhoads, Jake E. Lee, Steve Vai and Zakk Wylde – has been more influential than his previous time with the Sabbath.

I could keep on going (trust me, there’s plenty of snubs out there), but that would be a distraction from what we’ve come together for…the breakdown of the nominees. Here are your nominees for 2018 (in alphabetical order), a bit of backstory and an examination of their chances for induction come Spring 2018.

BON JOVI

Whether you like it or not, Bon Jovi was a force to be reckoned with in the 1980s. That Jon Bon Jovi has “kept the faith” for the most part with the other members of the band – save guitarist Richie Sambora – and continued to perform into the 21st century, it is difficult to conceive that they won’t be voted in by the Hall. Look for them on stage doing “You Give Love a Bad Name” next spring.

KATE BUSH

To be honest, I was completely stunned to see Bush nominated. Her ethereal voice and eclectic musical stylings were an acquired taste (one I tremendously enjoyed) and, thus, she never was a darling of the U. S. market (the U. K., her home country, LOVED her). If we’re looking at the critical aspect, Bush is a shoo-in; if it comes down to some perception of “popularity,” then probably not.

THE CARS

This might stun some readers, but I’ve had a complete 180 on whether the boys from Boston belong in the Hall. Last year I said that they weren’t good enough but, after I went back and reviewed their catalog, the diversity of their music swayed me. In the 70s, The Cars were a straightforward guitar rock band. As the 80s came along, however, they adapted to New Wave and then the MTV Generation, all while maintaining an unsurpassed quality to their overall efforts. It changed my mind and, hopefully, others will have reflected like I did and The Cars will enter the Hall this spring.

DEPECHE MODE

While I appreciate the music of Depeche Mode, it isn’t something that really set them out from the crowd of synthesizer bands of the 1980s. INXS, The Cure, The Human League…there’s a litany of bands that were similar in style to Depeche Mode that have just as much claim to a spot in the Hall. That’s why they won’t get in…it isn’t the Hall of Pretty Good, it’s the Hall of Fame.

DIRE STRAITS

This one falls under the category of “they weren’t in already?” Mark Knopfler’s exquisite finger picking guitar style is unique in the world of rock and makes for a distinct sound for the band. Add in a nearly 40-year career in creating smart, enjoyable songs and albums and it is long overdue for Dire Straits to be inducted.

EURYTHMICS

Here is another dilemma facing the voters. While Annie Lennox and Dave Stewart DESERVE to be in the Hall of Fame, there is a logjam in front of them for inductees. The problem with this (as you’ll see here in a second) is if you aren’t inducted early on in your eligibility, then you kind of get forgotten about. Unfortunately, that’s what I see happening to Eurythmics, who are more than qualified to be in.

J. GEILS BAND, LINK WRAY, LL COOL J, MC5, THE METERS, THE MOODY BLUES, RUFUS featuring CHAKA KHAN, and THE ZOMBIES

There was a reason I grouped all these artists together:  it’s because the explanation for their denial of entry into the Hall of Fame is based in the same reasoning. All had their moment in the sun in the History of Rock, but none of them ever made my jaw drop and say, “I’ve GOT to go see them perform!” About the closest one who would come to that criteria would be the J. Geils Band and MAYBE the Moody Blues. All of them together, however, are a part of that “Hall of Pretty Good” argument.

JUDAS PRIEST

If you’re going to recognize hard rock/metal in the Hall of Fame, it is incomplete without Judas Priest. Still pounding out their sound going on 40-plus years now, the Priest is, in many people’s opinion, THE preeminent hard rock/metal band. They definitely invented the “leather and studs” look that was prevalent for theirs and other bands and Rob Halford is one of the most memorable voices in the genre. As the ground breaker for a genre, Judas Priest should have been in the Hall long ago.

NINA SIMONE

Nothing against Simone or the massive amount of talent the woman had – and the travails she had to navigate through in the pre-Civil Rights era – but she’s just not “rock and roll.” There are at least a few nominees of this ilk every year for the Hall of Fame because, in some cases, while they are not traditional “rock and roll,” their style, attitude or actions has had an influence on the overall genre. Simone’s vocal abilities are legendary, but her overall influence on “rock and roll” is limited. Simone isn’t even a member of the Rhythm and Blues (R&B) Hall of Fame, making it tough to justify selection for the overall Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.

RADIOHEAD

Long a critical darling, Radiohead is one of those “fringe” rock bands that probably will come up in discussions over the next few years but never get in. Much like Television or Kraftwerk, they were seminal parts of the rock genre that inspired many acts that followed, but they’re just a little too obscure to capture the attention of many. As such, I don’t think that Radiohead will get into the Hall…but I’ve been wrong before.

RAGE AGAINST THE MACHINE

Here is the only other slam-dunk choice for the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame for 2018. Over the span of only four albums, RATM spawned the “rock/rap” genre. Beyond that point, RATM brought back one of the purposes that originally drove rock & roll:  the political nature that tries to change society. The lyrics of the band – enunciated to their full power by Zach de la Rocha – and the searing guitar work of Tom Morello gave their protests full throat. Morello is trying to keep the passion going that RATM brought with Prophets of Rage (and Chuck D of Public Enemy), but he’d be better advised to get back with de la Rocha.

SISTER ROSETTA THARPE

If you’ve never heard of Sister Rosetta Tharpe, you can be forgiven. But the work done by the woman – playing rock & roll when there was NO SUCH THING – cannot be ignored. In the 1930s and 40s, Tharpe melded blues, gospel, bluegrass, and country into a brew that eventually would become rock & roll music, influencing some of the biggest MALE names that ever were uttered in the music industry. Little Richard, Johnny Cash, Chuck Berry, and Elvis Presley all cited her as influential and her guitar work wouldn’t be out of place in today’s rock world. If you’d like to learn more about her, YouTube has a simply outstanding look at her life that is well worth the time to check out.

Guess it would be obvious that I personally think Sister Rosetta Tharpe should be inducted this spring!

Fans will be able to vote on the inductees, choosing up to five candidates per day until the vote closes. The top vote getter from that process is usually a lock for entry – the previous five winners of the Fan Vote (Rush, KISS, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Chicago, and Journey) all were inducted – and there are usually six or more nominees inducted. We’ll find out next spring who will be the newest members of the Hall…and we’ll be back to debate the merits of those inductions!

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If I Were the President of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame…

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Next weekend, the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame will open up the doors of its enclave for the 31st time to induct new members into its midst. Holding their ceremonies at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, NY, this Friday (April 8), this year’s inductees are quite eclectic, with some of them well deserved and overdue – such as Chicago and Deep Purple – some riding a wave of popularity due to recent attention – the gangsta rap pioneers N.W.A. – and two choices that were a bit surprising – Cheap Trick and Steve Miller. As with many of the ceremonies past, there is a bit of drama as to the festivities.

When it comes to Deep Purple, which incarnation of the band will be inducted? Much of the attention has been given to the late 1960s/early 1970s incarnations – the Mark 1 through Mark 3 versions of the band that featured musicians such as Jon Lord on keyboards, Ian Gillian on vocals, Ritchie Blackmore on guitar, Roger Glover on bass and Ian Paice on drums. Not so much attention has been given to the later renditions of the band that featured future Whitesnake vocalist David Coverdale, so we can pretty much count on the factor that the group of men who gave us milestone classics like “Space Truckin’,” “Smoke on the Water” and “Highway Star” are the ones that the Hall will be inducting.

The second story is will the entirety of Cheap Trick reunite for the show? In 2010, drummer Bun E. Carlos had a rather acrimonious split with singer Robin Zander, guitarist Rick Nielsen and bassist Tom Petersson, one that actually ended up in a courtroom (apparently the three men tried to cut Carlos out of his rightful piece of royalties from the band’s work…the trio lost the case). Since then, the men haven’t spoken, but they will apparently put aside the animosity and play for one night only. According to Nielsen, Carlos “is going to play the inductions because they’re inducting the people who made the records…he deserves it.”

I always get a little reflective when the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame ceremonies come up, mostly because I think there are several people there that shouldn’t be inside the walls without a ticket. Over the 31 years that the voters have put people into this hallowed sanctum, they have besmirched the walls with some who haven’t earned the right to be there. If, for one day, I were the President of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, I would remove these five members forever, correcting the wrongs of the past:

The Beach Boys (1988)

Probably one of the most overrated acts ever in the annals of U. S. music history, all the Beach Boys were is a doo-wop group who moved off the street corner and onto the beach. Their sound had already been created (unless you forgot Dick Dale, another erroneous non-entry into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame) and they very rarely deviated from a set pattern:  beach, surf, multiple girls (you might throw a car in there on a rare occasion). Lather, rinse, repeat. There was nothing that was groundbreaking about them at all; even their supposed masterpiece, Pet Sounds, was Brian Wilson looking to duplicate what producer Phil Spector had done with his “Wall of Sound.”

Madonna (2008)

Madonna

By far the most egregious error in the voting annals of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame committee. That Madonna got in the Hall before such people as Alice Cooper, Dr. John, The Crickets (Buddy Holly’s backing band), Heart, Rush and Albert King (just to name a few) is a miscarriage of justice beyond measure. Furthermore, there is no way that you can tell me with a straight face that Madonna had ANY impact on the development of rock music – if the category was POP music, then yes, Madonna’s fingerprints are all over it (hello there, Lady Gaga!). But this is the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and, last I checked, nobody is naming her as a significant influence.

Donovan (2012), Bill Withers (2015) and Steve Miller (2016)

Unfortunately, all of these men fall into the same category:  they all are pretty good at what they did. The problem is we are not electing people into the “Hall of Pretty Good.” This is the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, people!

I know this might sound sacrilegious, but while Withers’ works were memorable (“Ain’t No Sunshine,” “Lean on Me” and “Just the Two of Us” are all outstanding songs), he just didn’t have enough of them. This also could be said for Donovan; name me another song he did outside of “Sunshine Superman” and “Mellow Yellow?” You might be able to sway my thoughts on Miller, but I believe that he’s getting more of a vote on his pedigree (studying at the feet of the legendary Les Paul and Mary Ford as a child will get you those types of votes) than on any outstanding works he wrote or performed. These three men just don’t meet the criteria for what I would call “Hall of Fame material.”

Now that five places in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame have opened up, who should be inducted into those slots? I’m glad you asked. As the President of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, these five artists/bands will be the ones who will take over their rightful places. I’m completely blown away that they aren’t there already, to be honest:

The Runaways

Although Joan Jett is in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame along with her band The Blackhearts, they needed to go back a bit further to actually encapsulate the first band that broke Jett onto the rock scene. The Runaways were the first female hard rock band to enter the scene, led by vocalist Cherie Currie and the dual guitar attack of Lita Ford and Jett (little known fact is that Mikki Steele, who was a member of The Bangles, was originally the bassist for the group). Svengali Kim Fowley pushed the group as a “teenage jailbait” band, but their music was actually pretty damn good. Most known for their hit “Cherry Bomb,” The Runaways were huge stars in Japan and did pretty well in Europe. In the United States, they were before their time, but their members would go on to bigger success as solo artists.

Pat Benatar

Are you fucking kidding me? One of the most successful female rock artists of all-time, definitely one of the Top 50 artists of the 1980s, isn’t in the Hall of Fame yet?

Pat Benatar (who, to the best of my knowledge, has NEVER EVEN BEEN NOMINATED) followed up on the heels of The Runaways, carrying the banner for women in rock with an unapologetic, no-nonsense approach to the genre. Where Benatar took it a step further was she was the one in charge of her career – she didn’t bow to the dictates of a manager and she definitely didn’t kowtow to the record companies. On her VH1Behind the Music,” the story is famously told about the record executives that Benatar famously took down because they tried to sexualize her style early in her career. Perhaps that is why she hasn’t gotten the kudos she’s due…the record industry is still holding a grudge against her. And name me another hard rock singer who has a four-octave range and is classically trained?

Warren Zevon and Jimmy Buffett

You might be saying, “What makes these two guys different than those three you threw out above?” There’s plenty that makes them different!

In the case of Buffett, he literally created a genre of music that didn’t exist before he came along – tropical rock, or “trop rock,” a fusion of so many musical stylings that it is literally impossible to list them all (if you haven’t listened to a Buffett album or been to a Buffett concert and heard at least six musical styles, you must expand your musical knowledge) – and still is at the top of his game more than 40 years after hitting the road. He has a catalog of music that has inspired a host of entertainers today, such as Kenny Chesney, the Zac Brown Band and others from the U. S. and around the world. Finally, he’s a shrewd businessman, turning his biggest song – “Margaritaville” – into a mega-empire that includes restaurants, casinos, a clothing line and a Sirius XM radio station. That “empire” is now a private company that is thought to make hundreds of millions of dollars per year – that’s a nice nest egg to sit back on!

Zevon, who unfortunately passed away in 2003, probably did more for others’ careers than he did his own. He wrote songs that were hits for Linda Ronstadt and worked closely with Jackson Browne and The Eagles before finding some acclaim on his own. Always more of a critical darling, Zevon’s album Excitable Boy (his most commercial effort) brought Zevon’s biggest hit, “Werewolves of London,” while the remainder of his works on the album (including “Roland the Headless Thompson Gunner” and “Lawyers, Guns and Money”) showed his eclectic side. The remainder of his catalog presented an extremely diverse and talented artist who entertained and challenged his audience. Overall, he is highly respected in the music industry for his artistry, his passion and his individuality, things that the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame is supposed to honor.

Judas Priest

With both Chicago and Deep Purple going in this year and with KISS entering in 2014, you might think that there wouldn’t be any more “fan outrage” over artists not being in the Hall. That would be inaccurate, however, until the omission of Judas Priest is corrected.

Judas Priest has, for almost 40 years, been at the forefront of the hard rock/heavy metal genre, carrying the baton from the Led Zeppelin/Deep Purple/Jimi Hendrix/Black Sabbath early days of the game. With singer Rob Halford (or without, as the days of Tim “Ripper” Owens didn’t slow them down any) and the dual guitar attack of Glenn Tipton and K. K. Downing, the definitive style of Judas Priest is recognizable anywhere. They also have been heavily influential in the genre, with such bands as Pantera, Metallica and the New Wave of British Heavy Metal (NWBHM) of the 80s citing them as heroes.

There’s a whole litany of artists and groups I could get into that deserve a place in the pantheon of rock, but my day as President of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame is done. I’ll be watching the induction ceremonies on Friday night (or whenever the hell they’ll be on – thanks HBO!) and celebrating the music of the inductees for 2016. Then it will be time to consider who will be inducted for 2017 and the madness will begin again.

…But “Black Lives Matter” Isn’t Helping the Situation

There is an old adage, “there are two sides to every story.” I personally have always liked the rock band Extreme’s take with their album III Sides to Every Story. III Sides to Every Story was a concept album (an outstanding album that stretched genres in hard rock) regarding different “sides” to a story that was divided into three sections – “Yours,” “Mine” and “The Truth.” That concept is more realistic than many who divide things into two sections because, regardless of who is telling the story, there is some truth in both sides. That middle ground – “The Truth” or the third side – is 99 times out of 100 the way something occurred.

When it comes to the case of police shootings, especially of unarmed civilians, across the United States, there has been the grassroots growth of a “side” to help tell their story. The loosely affiliated group known as Black Lives Matter has sprung up across the country, trying to take the helm of the protests against the overreach of law enforcement in its actions against minorities. While a coalition such as this is necessary to continue to keep the focus on the actions of law enforcement, Black Lives Matter isn’t helping the situation and, in fact, the situation overall may be better off if they didn’t intercede.

Black Lives Matter actually date back further than the turmoil that first arose in 2014 and truly exploded over the course of 2015. The shooting of Trayvon Martin by George Zimmerman in Florida in 2013 – and his subsequent acquittal in a trial in Florida – brought about the usage of the hashtag “#BlackLivesMatter” on Twitter, long before any incidences from the past couple of years. It is only with the deaths of Michael Brown in Ferguson and Eric Garner in New York that the founders of BLM emerged as a nationwide organization. As of today, there are now 23 chapters of BLM, spread across the U. S., Canada and Ghana.

According to their website, BLM is an organization “intended to build connections between Black (sic) people and our allies to fight anti-Black racism, to spark dialogue among Black people and to facilitate the types of connections necessary to encourage social action and engagement.” What you won’t find on this webpage is the one thing that is critical for any organization to have to be successful in their endeavors – leadership on a national level. Without this leadership, the message of BLM can sometimes get lost and, in some cases, the tactics used by those in the organization’s name can be a detriment to the overall cause of the group.

We only have to look back to 2011 to see what happens when a movement initially has a good purpose but gets derailed by the lack of recognizable leadership. In September 2011, protesters took to the grounds of Zuccotti Park in New York City’s Wall Street area to protest against the largesse of the “1%.” What came to be called “Occupy Wall Street” intended to bring attention to several facets of life in today’s world – wage inequality, financial corruption, the other reasons behind the financial collapse that brought the Recession of 2008 to life – but gradually devolved into something that was nowhere near what the original intentions of the group had been.

By the time the protesters and their tent city in Zuccotti Park was busted up in November, there were various fringe elements hanging on the “Occupy Wall Street” movement. This occurred because there was no leadership for the group to issue its thoughts, its beliefs, its coherent goals. Instead of actually having an impact, by the time the Zuccotti Park grounds were cleared, there was little that was actually accomplished by the Occupy Wall Street “movement.”

In many ways, BLM is seemingly on the same path that the OWS movement trod before them. BLM initially had a very solid reason for coming together – the killing of unarmed men (in this case black) by law enforcement under suspicious circumstances – but lacked a national coalition to be able to organize its “chapters” and drive this message home first. As a result of the inability to have a focal point to work from, the individual chapters have gone about pushing the message to the people in all the wrong ways.

One of the most obvious methods of protesting was taken from the old marches from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., in blocking roadways while delivering the message through a walking protest. In some areas, however, BLM supporters weren’t just satisfied with getting their message across through a moving march, they decided to lie in the streets of major cities and block traffic, sometimes for hours on end. This method of protest violates one of the major keys of protesting:  don’t offend those whose opinions you’re trying to sway.

This style of protest became even more prevalent during the holidays this year. In Chicago – where there are seriously some issues with the police department – BLM protesters disrupted holiday shopping on Black Friday along the “Magnificent Mile,” the line of high end shops in the Windy City. It even reached the point that the Mall of America and the Minneapolis Airport (a city also protesting a police shooting) was the site of sometimes violent clashes between BLM and law enforcement.

Once you’ve made the point of your protest, then you can let life return to normal for people who had nothing to do with the situation. If you either continue to push your demonstration (look at the two months of OWS and how public opinion changed there) and exceed a reasonable amount of time, you can turn public opinion against your group and, hence, your cause. What was the reason for denying people the ability to shop? To really make them dislike you? That isn’t a desired end for the protests.

The next one was much more sinister in its message. According to several media outlets, marchers who were offered a booth inside the Minnesota State Fair this summer to advocate for their cause refused said location to instead march directly in the street outside the entrance to the carnival. During this march, the BLM banner was flying while the marchers chanted “Pigs in a blanket, fry ‘em like bacon.” Law enforcement officials viewed this as a death threat against officers (a reasonable assumption), one that was weakly refuted by BLM “leaders” who said they didn’t hear such words being used (the You Tube links are quite numerous).

Finally, there’s been the methods used by the movement to thrust themselves into the 2016 Presidential race. Through virtually storming several campaign stops – on both the Democratic and Republican sides – the BLM movement has tried to make their cause celebre the focal point of what is a very complex election (even to the point of demanding from each party a Presidential debate on racial justice; both parties declined). Not only have the persons involved with the organization disrupted several speeches from Presidential candidates, they have caused several campaign stops to be closed due to their disruptions.

Once again, with a solid national leadership and some organization, this wouldn’t have to happen. With those simple pieces of structure, there wouldn’t be the turn against BLM that there has been. I personally have several issues that are quite important to me in this campaign (on the federal, state and local levels) – the revamping (training, screening and monitoring) of law enforcement can be done on the state or local levels, not on the federal one.

Now you might say, “Well, you don’t understand, you’re white…” and you would be correct. I don’t understand what it is like to constantly be thought of as breaking the law by simply being a certain ethnicity. I don’t understand what it is like to be viewed with suspicion in virtually every aspect of life because of my skin tone. I do understand, however, that things can be changed through solid leaders and national organization…right now, Black Lives Matter doesn’t have that and they should remove themselves from the equation with law enforcement until there is such organization as mentioned previously to this organization that could do a great deal for life in these United States.

The Situation with Police Isn’t Changing…

Back in 2014, a young man was shot in the middle of the street in Ferguson, MO, reputedly in cold blood by a renegade cop who shot first and asked questions later. As the investigation played out, however, it was found that the young man, who was black, was possibly a suspect in a convenience store theft and allegedly reached inside the officer’s (who was white) car and wrestled for his weapon. Thus, the proper investigative organizations – including state and federal agencies and a grand jury convened for the case – decided not to press charges against the police officer, who summarily quit his position as a member of the force and disappeared.

Many have called the situation that occurred in Ferguson the spark of what has been an increase in attention to the conduct of police in the United States. While it was wrong in this case – the police officer was well within his authority to use his weapon against a suspect who had previously attacked him – there have now been a litany of other cases that have come up (perhaps thanks to the attention brought regarding police conduct in the Missouri case) that show the situation with police isn’t changing.

The true “spark” might have been the 2014 death of Eric Garner, a 43-year old father who, while allegedly selling loose cigarettes to people, was allegedly choked to death by police. After a great deal of investigation, a Staten Island, NY, grand jury found that the officer in question, Daniel Pantaleo, might have used an illegal move in restraining Garner but he wasn’t responsible for his death. While you might think that police would have gotten a bit smarter about the situation after this, it instead has become obvious that the cases of police misconduct are much more prevalent than we previously thought.

2015 saw the spark turn into a wildfire. In April, the confrontation between Walter Scott and officer Michael Slager in North Charleston rattled the nation. Claiming that Scott had (at the minimum) grabbed at his Taser, Slager said that he “feared for his life” (get ready, you’ll hear this frequently) in shooting Scott to death. This would have probably been the story that was accepted…until video came out that showed Scott, running away from Slager, mercilessly shot several times in the back and, as he lay dying, Slager come up to him and drop the Taser beside his body. That case, in which Slager was charged with murder and dismissed from the police force, is still pending.

Also in April, the death of Freddie Gray in a Baltimore paddy wagon – despite telling officers he needed medical attention and allegedly having his injuries made more severe through a “rough ride” (a jerking and rough treatment in the cage of a paddy wagon of a person under arrest for causing “problems” for officers) – set the Maryland skies ablaze. Rioting in the inner-city Baltimore neighborhoods brought back sad and eerie reminders of the Ferguson rioting a year earlier, but it seemed to calm once the District Attorney in the case indicted six Baltimore police officers on varying charges related to Gray’s death. One of those officers had his case end in a mistrial and will be retried in 2016; the other five are still awaiting trial.

This isn’t even looking at the case earlier in 2015 in Texas. A 17-year old girl, who had walked into a Longview, TX, police station, was gunned down by police. With a knife in her hand and four words – “I have a gun” – written on her hand, Kristiana Coignard was surrounded by three officers, with one of them shooting the teenager, who was obviously mentally off. After investigation by the Texas Rangers (the law enforcement arm, not the baseball team), no charges were brought against the officers involved.

Now, as we approach the end of 2015, one case from 2014 and several others in one major city over the past couple of years are painting law enforcement in an ever-worsening light. The November 2014 shooting of 12-year old Tamir Rice by Cleveland police officers was a tragedy that shouldn’t have occurred. According to testimony, Rice was carrying an air pistol – a BB gun, basically – and menacingly holding it out at passersby and cars. Police were called and, after two seconds of being on the scene, one officer, Timothy Loehmann, pulled his weapon and shot Rice in the torso; Rice would die the next day from the single shot.

From the start, this case has been a clusterfuck. The Cleveland DA, not wanting to taint his relationship with Cleveland police, laid the case at a grand jury’s feet while allegedly trying to ensure that charges wouldn’t be brought against the officers through manipulation of the evidence (such as getting paid experts to side with the police officers’ side of the story, something unheard of unless in a trial, among other things). This is despite evidence that Loehmann had been found to be an “emotionally unstable recruit unfit for duty” by a previous employer in law enforcement. The DA’s work prevailed as it was announced charges would not be brought against the officers on Monday, putting an entire city on the razor’s edge.

Another city that has been walking the tightrope of tension is Chicago. In a police shooting against a man in November 2014, city officials had dragged their feet on the investigation, including not releasing the videotape from the police cruisers at the scene that reportedly showed Officer Jason Van Dyke gunning down 17-year old Laquan McDonald on a Chicago street. After a Freedom of Information Act request from a local blogger wasn’t blocked by the courts, Chicago government authorities released the video to the general public in all of its ugliness and charged Van Dyke with first-degree murder…more than a year following the shooting.

The video showed McDonald, erratically walking down a street and allegedly waving a small pocketknife around (it cannot be seen in the video until it is kicked away from his body at the end), as police attempted to control the situation with their squad cars and their experience. Allegedly Van Dyke showed up to the scene and, within six seconds of arrival, pulled his weapon and pumped a full clip – 15 shots – into McDonald, who was spun around after two shots and laid prone on the ground as more shots entered his body. He laid in the street for several minutes, without any medical attention, while police cordoned off the scene.

Once again, video was the thing that brought out the discrepancies in the story. Van Dyke alleges that he felt “in fear of his life” in shooting McDonald and that McDonald had lunged at him; in fact, McDonald was walking away from Van Dyke when hit with the first shot. After emptying his clip, Van Dyke was reloading his .45 automatic and preparing to shoot some more until a fellow officer issued a “stand down” order. Perhaps more problematic that Van Dyke’s actions, for which he is currently charged with murder (the first time a Chicago police officer has been charged with murder since 1968) and will face trial in 2016, other officers AGREED with Van Dyke’s account, stating they immediately went in to provide medical attention to McDonald following the shooting.

Now there is another shooting that is roiling the Chicago landscape. The day after Christmas, 19-year old Quintonio LeGrier, allegedly wielding a baseball bat following a domestic disturbance, was shot to death by Chicago police. LeGrier wasn’t the only fatality, however; a 55-year old neighbor, Bettie Jones, was hit by stray police gunfire and died during the shooting. The investigation is ongoing in this case.

It is painfully obvious that there is a need for seismic change in the way police officers are trained and how they conduct themselves in the “real” world. Although it may be claimed that these are “isolated” incidences, when you add in other situations such as those in Alabama and in Maryland, it is happening far too frequently for it to simply be “rogue” officers (this doesn’t even bring up the embezzlement that the Illinois police officer had done for years before he committed suicide – while trying to make it look like he was killed in action – this summer). Through these simple steps, there might be a change in how officers are hired, trained and kept on the force.

Every two years, a police officer – regardless of position or power – should be subjected to a complete physical, psychological and financial review. These reviews would be withering, looking into social media usage and actions outside of the workday (hey, if we can fire teachers for starring in porn videos outside of school hours, we ought to be able to fire officers for being aligned with the KKK, as some in Missouri have alleged to have been) and into their personal lives. If an officer doesn’t agree to such testing, he should lay his badge and gun down then and there and leave the force.

In an effort to further ensure that the truth is discovered, all patrol cars should have video cameras on them and officers themselves should be wearing personal cameras. The penalties for not operating these devices should be dismissal from the police force and banishment from law enforcement. Through the usage of these devices – and the FULL release of said video on demand of the public (several locales are looking to block the public from seeing these videos, corrupting the system rather than making it more transparent) – the truth, more often than not in the favor of law enforcement, would be demonstrated.

Yes, a job in law enforcement is highly dangerous and can result in a person’s death. This doesn’t give a person the right to be the judge, jury and executioner when it comes to situations on the street. It also doesn’t give them carte blanche to indiscriminately fire weapons, as it appears this latest incident in Chicago was.

It is time there was definitive change in the way police conduct themselves for the constituency they are supposed to serve. The day of being able to “fudge” reports, plant evidence (remember the Charleston case) or skew a case through the appropriate language (“in fear of my life”) being used should be long past over. Stand up and take responsibility for what you are doing, law enforcement, or face even more problems down the road.

So Who SHOULD Be In The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame?

Last week, the nominations came out for the 2016 Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and, at the very end of my thoughts, I posited the question, “Who should have been nominated?” Mind you, the list of nominees was outstanding overall: longtime overlooked acts such as Chicago, Deep Purple and Yes getting nominated again (and three bands that I believe are long overdue the honor), newcomers like Janet Jackson, The Cars and Cheap Trick (all no votes) and outside shots such as The J.B.’s (another vote in from me), Chic (no) and N.W.A. (yes). However, there were several other artists that should have been on this year’s ballot if not already inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.

The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame is personal to me because of my long love affair with music. Despite the factor that I could never play an instrument with any high level of competence, I admire those that can create art out of music, words, melodies and thoughts. While it could be said that writing is something like that, the songwriter and/or musician is an artist that encompasses different aspects, pulling them into one cohesive idea. Thus, I’ve always been a huge fan of music overall and rock music in particular.

My first introduction to rock music dates back to someone who, unfortunately, I don’t know if they’re still alive. The year was 1971 and, riding around in a car with my half-brother Monty (his real name could have been Montague, don’t really remember) on a hot summer day, saw him pop a cassette into the tape deck. Suddenly the mystifying tones of David Bowie’s “Space Oddity” came pounding out of the speakers and, as I listened to the words and music, I was transported (you have to remember, these were the heady days of NASA’s Apollo space program) to being “Major Tom” and traveling through space myself.

From there, it was a quick indoctrination into the world of music. My mother had the classics – Johnny Cash, Merle Haggard, Waylon and Willie and others – from the country music side, but she also had such gems as The Temptations, The Supremes and other R&B acts from the 60s in the record cabinet. My investigations in the rock music genre touched on Santana, The Who, Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young and James Taylor, then began to branch out into the harder edged rock of ZZ Top, KISS and Led Zeppelin, among others (on a personal note, was always more of a Rolling Stones guy than the Beatles).

As the mid-70s passed, punk rock became the next touchstone. The Sex Pistols, New York Dolls, The Ramones – these were the gates to pass through on the way to adulthood. As I reached high school, not only was it the disco era but it was almost time for the double shotgun-blast of the New Wave from England and MTV, opening the world even further (and we cannot go on without also recognizing the New Wave of British Heavy Metal). As I had to be a part of the music scene, I did the only logical thing a person with little to no musical talent could do – I became a DJ.

Through the 1980s and well into the 1990s, I plugged along as a DJ at pretty much every radio format that you could think of doing. Album-Oriented Rock (AOR), Top 40, easy listening, R&B, adult contemporary, news/talk – about the only thing I didn’t do was country (much like “country” music today, there’s a thin line between what was country music then and pop music). Along the way, there were some great times had in the conduct of my job and…well, let’s just save those stories for another time.

Hopefully you see that who gets in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame is important, at least to me. It isn’t “live or die” important, mind you, but it is something that I want to show my son one day and say, “Yeah, I saw them, they were great.” Maybe we will sit down and listen to a CD or, pray tell, if we still have vinyl by then, an album, and talk about music and its history. He’s got a great musical ear, however, so he may be entertaining me with his music rather than our just listening to it.

OK, getting sappy here…

My criteria for putting someone in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame would be somewhat along the lines of what poker uses for its Hall of Fame. These are the criteria that I would use in putting someone in the Rock Hall:

1. Length of career with sustained critical or commercial excellence
2. Influence on a genre of music or on several artists
3. Respect from fellow musicians

Pretty simple, wouldn’t you say? Alas, there are some glaring errors in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. How about some of these artists, bands and contributors?

Warren Zevon – The singer-songwriter born in Chicago has been overlooked for far too long when it comes to the Rock Hall. Responsible for writing such songs as “Poor, Poor Pitiful Me” (covered by far too many artists to list but most notably by Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inductee Linda Ronstadt), Zevon was a part of the California scene in the mid-70s, working with such people as Jackson Browne, Neil Young, members of the Eagles and counting Bruce Springsteen amongst his admirers.

When it came to his own efforts, Zevon was beyond compare. Along with his iconic “Werewolves of London,” Zevon penned and performed such classics as “Lawyers, Guns and Money,” “Roland the Headless Thompson Gunner,” “Accidently Like a Martyr,” and “Keep Me in Your Heart,” which was nominated for a Grammy after Zevon’s death in 2003. With a career that spanned more than 30 years, commercial and critical success and the respect of your fellow musicians, there’s no one more deserving than Zevon for induction into the Hall.

Jimmy Buffett – Another product of the singer-songwriter era of the early 70s, Buffett is notable for forging his own path in the music industry. When I say his own path, I mean he created a whole GENRE of music that didn’t exist before – let’s call it “tropical rock,” music with a Caribbean/calypso/reggae/country feel that didn’t fit neatly into any of the “categories” of music in the 1970s (and still doesn’t today, to be honest). Buffett himself has said about that period, “I wasn’t country enough to be played on those stations and I wasn’t rock enough to be played on AOR.”

The way to beat that? Write a song like “Margaritaville” that transcended any charts, genres or radio stations. Today that song has led Buffett into the world of literature, casino and hotel ownership and a “40-year summer job” that the man still enjoys to this day as he approaches 70. He’s influenced a host of country musicians (the Zac Brown Band is a prime example) and, as owner of a recording studio and a record company (Mailboat Records) is ensuring that the “tropical rock” he created will have outlets for the future.

The Runaways – While Joan Jett went in with The Blackhearts last year, she really should have gone in with The Runaways because, without them, there is no Joan Jett.

The Runaways were “created” by producer Kim Fowley who, having drummer Sandy West and guitarist Jett in the fold, was looking to create a “jailbait” band of teenaged girls who could rock out just as well as any group of guys. First found by the group was Micki Steele, who didn’t last long but went on to join The Bangles, before gold was struck with guitar virtuoso Lita Ford, vocalist Cherie Currie and bassist Jackie Fox to fill out the roster. With the group lineup set, The Runaways broke ground as one of the first female hard rock/metal acts to ever have any success in the recording industry.

From the seminal track “Cherry Bomb” to other tunes such as “Queens of Noise” and “I Love Playin’ with Fire” (covered by Jett during her Blackheart days), the band earned a great deal of attention and respect in the industry. The members of the group went on to arguably better success as solo artists or in other creative endeavors, but they were the ones who helped to get such groups as The Bangles, The Go-Gos, Vixen and rock “chicks” like Pat Benatar, Chrissie Hynde and Deborah Harry (among many others) in the door. It is arguable that, without The Runaways, some if not all of these women wouldn’t have gotten into the industry.

Judas Priest – This is one of those omissions by the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame that is inexcusable. A band that has sold 45 million albums, generated rock anthems such as “Breaking the Law,” “You’ve Got Another Thing Comin’,” “Heading Out To The Highway,” “Living After Midnight”…I could go on, but you get the point. So what has kept them out?

Over the years, the band has been targeted in various arenas outside of music. They were accused of using subliminal messages in their album British Steel that allegedly caused two men to try to kill themselves. They’ve been targeted by conservative Christian groups for their musical content and singer Rob Halford has taken some sabbaticals from the band over the decades. But when you have a list of bands that were influenced by you such as Metallica, Megadeth and Pantera (among others), you’ve done your job well.

There are a slew of other artists that could be held up for consideration – The Carpenters, Kate Bush, Slayer, Bon Jovi, Thin Lizzy, Motorhead – and maybe they are just waiting for their time. There are also those “pop” artists that I am overlooking, but this is the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, after all. If you’re waiting for a time that “works,” however, take it from someone who watches how these Halls of Fame work – if you don’t get in within your first couple of years of eligibility, your chances of getting in get worse as time goes by. All the artists listed here deserve to have their place in the pantheon of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame…now will anyone listen and induct them?

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…

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…