Jingoism Versus Activism: The Difference Between Country and Rock Regarding 9/11

Rock and roll has long had a history of activism, political commentary and “calling out” those in power who are abusing their positions. Folk music was the catalyst for this, then country music somewhat picked up the banner. In the 1960s, however, political discussion in music became the domain of rock music.

The Vietnam War was the spark that lit this fire. As young men from the U. S. were sent to their potential doom in someone else’s battle, many rock artists and groups pointed out the ludicrous nature of this endeavor. Perhaps the best example of this was in the Crosby, Stills and Nash classic “Ohio,” which took on the dual tangent of the Kent State Massacre and the involvement of the U. S. military in the quagmire in Asia.

From then on, rock music took on several political targets. The birth of punk was in direct rebellion against the “corporate” nature of the music industry and government. Soul, funk, R&B and rap showed how life ACTUALLY was on the streets of inner-city America, despite the glowing terms of what the politicians said. Country, for the most part, took off into a “star-spangled” obedience of those in charge, refusing to question anything about everything.

As we approach the 20th anniversary of 9/11, this divergence has never been more apparent. While country music continues wrapping itself in the jingoism and faux patriotism that they do so well, rock music actually points out where there are problems in the system. This is pointed out in the work especially well in the music that came out from artists and groups after the attacks of that fateful day.

Many of the songs from rock musicians tried to tell the stories of those from the perspective of people who actually were in the situation that 9/11 presented. Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band gave us “The Rising,” a song focused on a firefighter who attempted to rescue those in the World Trade Center after the attack. Yellowcard did the same thing in their song “Believe,” writing about the rescue workers who faced the challenges of the destruction.

Sleater-Kinney, Rush, and Paul McCartney all presented songs about the attacks of 9/11. My Chemical Romance actually was formed after the 9/11 tragedy, with their first song “Skylines and Turnstiles” written by vocalist Gerald Way after he witnessed the Twin Towers fall on that day. Rappers stepped up with their own contributions, including The Beastie Boys, Twista and Faith Evans, Eminem, and 50 Cent, while other singer/songwriters like Tori Amos, Sheryl Crow, John Hiatt, and Melissa Etheridge added in their contributions.

So, what about country music?

Toby Keith - CBS News

Much like the rest of its sophomoric output, country music wrapped itself in imagery of the flag, the “righteousness” of religion and the “kick assery” that the badass U. S. of A. was going to inflict on ANYONE (they weren’t very particular, to be honest) that crossed their path. There were several artists who epitomized this moronic, Neanderthal mindset.

Toby Keith was perhaps the worst of them all, with his idiotic “Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue.” The song’s subtitle is “The Angry American” and Keith brought out about every trope there was about idiotic Americans and their perceived “exceptionalism.” Keith wasn’t the only one who fell to this mindset, however. The Oak Ridge Boys, Alan Jackson, and The Charlie Daniels Band were just a few of those who chose to go uber-patriotic instead of actually caring about the people involved and what brought about the situation (and this isn’t even mentioning Lee Greenwood’s “God Bless the U. S. A.” and its “God only supports godly Americans” idiocy).

This perhaps is more of a demonstration of the division of the musical genres by political calling more than anything else. For the most part, those that hew conservative (or vote Republican) want to “rally around the flag” and trumpet about their patriotism rather than actually doing something about the situation. Those that hew to the liberal side (or vote Democratic) find stories in the midst of the overarching situation and choose to tell those stories in an attempt to effect change, both political and otherwise, through their musical endeavors.

Sure, there are those that don’t match up with these thoughts. In the rock world, there is Ted Nugent…no more needs to be said. Kid Rock has also shown his asshattery through his words and stances. Country is also changing, with artists such as Willie Nelson, Jason Isbell, The Chicks, Maren Morris, Kacey Musgraves, The Highwomen and many others demonstrating with their actions that they are progressive-minded people.

Popular music and the arts as a whole are reflective of what the situation is in the country or city-state, something that has been true since the Greeks first offered their poetry, dramas and music for the citizens of Athens. This nation has been polarized since at least the day of the 9/11 attacks and, as a result, particular arenas of the arts have been “claimed” by those for their purposes. It isn’t surprising, then, that country music went to the chest-thumping, flag waving side (although Johnny Cash was reportedly quite liberal in his thought process), and that rock music went to actually trying to question why things happened the way they did.

The problem is that there won’t be a cure for this. The camps are entrenched in their beliefs, although you will have those that “rage against the machine” and demonstrate their individualism. Instead of being the unifying force that many think the attacks of 9/11 were, they have actually laid wide open the crevasse that exists between both sides – and this extends to the arts and music especially.

Artists That SHOULD Be in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame: The 1980s

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We’re only a few days from the announcement of the latest artists and groups that will be named to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame for 2020. For those that don’t make it in this year, they might be soothed by the idea that they should have many more shots at the brass ring. But who from the past may be running out of chances at getting into the Rock Hall?

Many might say that the truly immortal have already been enshrined and it is tough to nitpick this fact. Over the span of several essays, however, beginning with the 1950s and continuing in examining the 1960s and the 1970s, I’ve pointed out some artists and groups that have been overlooked for the honor of being inducted into the Rock Hall. In this, the final segment of our journey (we’d go on into the 90s, but only artists from 1990-1995 are currently eligible, so we don’t have a full decade to choose from), we’re going to take on a time when the music industry arguably made its biggest changes – the 1980s.

With the death of disco, the rise of New Wave, the “New Wave of British Heavy Metal,” the “popification” of country music and a little thing called Music Television (or MTV), the 80s would arguably be the most artistic time in the history of music (sorry, 70s fans). This decade also challenges what exactly is “rock & roll.” In the past, it could be said that it was defined as a hard guitar and three chords; with the advent of the 1980s, there were so many mashups of genres and different sounds being employed that the lines between genres began to blur. It is part of the reason that there are potentially so many candidates from the decade – and perhaps so many disappointments for fans.

I literally put together a list of artists and groups that, while great, I couldn’t decide whether they should be inducted or not. What do you do with Culture Club? How about X or Siouxsie and The Banshees? Living Colour? The Smithereens? I once again make the statement – this by NO means is a comprehensive list of those who have at the minimum an argument for being inducted. And this doesn’t consider those that have been nominated this year for induction, such as Nine Inch Nails and Depeche Mode. This is a look at arguably the most notable oversights by the Rock Hall to date – and they’ve got some time to change it, but not much.

Duran Duran

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Any list of 1980s artists or groups that should be inducted into the Rock Hall that doesn’t have Duran Duran somewhere near the top should be immediately ignored. The band exemplified the “New Wave” sound that echoed across the ocean from Europe, incorporating the dancier, synthesized “rock” that was becoming very popular at the start of the 80s. Along with other groups like Depeche Mode (nominated the last two years for induction), they were the backbone of the playlist on the burgeoning MTV through the 80s.

They would suffer a bit of a lull as the Grunge Era took over in the early 90s, but Duran Duran – named after a character from the Jane Fonda sci-fi film Barbarella – would reinvent themselves and come back better than ever. A career resurgence in the 90s and early Aughts saw them return as balladeers, with such songs as “Ordinary World” and “Come Undone” showing that the group was willing to change their sound with the times.

While they have been a darling of the fans over the years, the critics have been the shortcoming that possibly keeps Duran Duran out of the Rock Hall. 100 million albums sold in a career should say something, not to mention 21 Billboard Hot 100 hits over a 40-year timespan. But, perhaps showing the power that critical acclaim holds, the group has NEVER been nominated for the Rock Hall – perhaps it is time that fact was changed.

Iron Maiden

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For all the acclaim that Judas Priest has gotten as one of the members of the “New Wave of British Heavy Metal,” and for all the clamor to induct Def Leppard (who weren’t even the BEST example of the NWOBHM roster) last year, there is another band that has been greatly ignored from the discussion. Iron Maiden has arguably been just as influential (if not more so) than Def Leppard and right on the heels of the Priest (who were lumped in with the NWOBHM despite coming out a decade before the term existed) as to the power of their influence. Despite this fact, Iron Maiden has never even sniffed the nomination list for the Rock Hall, and that’s a travesty.

Prior to 1980, hard rock/metal was stuck in a sludge-like monotony and bands like Metallica (inducted LONG ago) and Iron Maiden took a decidedly different direction from their predecessors. Instead of miring in the muck, Iron Maiden picked up the speed and added a virtuosity that wasn’t always evident in hard rock/metal music. With their mascot “Eddie” dominating their album covers and, usually, their stage performances, the Maiden have dominated hard rock/metal for nearly 40 years.

In addition to that touring, Maiden has also shown their power with their fandom. Sixteen studio albums and twelve live albums have sold more than 100 million albums and critics have adored the band, especially most of their early work. The potential downside is that Iron Maiden has never been very “radio friendly” and, thusly, hasn’t achieved a great deal of chart success. This isn’t indicative of how great the band is and why it should be in and arguably should have been inducted long ago.

(On a final note here, this is the time when there is a true test of whether the Rock Hall is going to ever give hard rock/heavy metal its due. Judas Priest and Motörhead have been nominated in 2020 and are fighting to get in. Only ONE of the “Big Four” of the 80s metal scene – Metallica, Megadeth, Anthrax and Slayer – is inducted into the Rock Hall and the odds of the other three getting in are slim and none, with slim heading for the door. Could inductions of some of these artists indicate that the Rock Hall still cares about “rock?”)

The Smiths

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This was one that I had to debate for quite some time. I’ve never been a huge fan of the mopey, “goth” sound, simply because it is so morose, depressing and utterly void of an emotion outside “woe is me.” While I can understand where such writing comes from, that doesn’t necessarily mean that I want to wallow around in it. Thus, I really had to give The Smiths a hard look, especially since there are many others who swear by their work.

They’ve always been a critical darling and, for many fans, The Smiths’ spoke to something inside of them. That is one of the things that rock music is supposed to do – reach in and touch something inside of you. In the case of fans of The Smiths, it helped them through difficult times, told them that someone was experiencing the same issues that they were, and helped them avoid worse outcomes than if they hadn’t heard the band’s music. And honestly, in what universe does The Cure exist in the Rock Hall without their brethren in The Smiths?

Now, Morrissey may not have helped the band’s case with some of the statements he’s made in the past. And it is quite true that someone’s political and personal beliefs and/or actions have kept some nominees out (hi there, Ted Nugent!) or held up their nomination or election. In a perfect world, we’d separate those things away from the artistic side of the equation. In the case of The Smiths, it would be necessary to do to see them get the honor that they do deserve – even though I still don’t care for their music!

Kate Bush

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Before there was Lady Gaga, before there was Sarah McLachlan, before there was Tori Amos or Enya and even before an ingenue by the name of Madonna was making some noise, there was the ethereal voice of Kate Bush. Beginning in the mid-70s, Bush would provide voice work for Peter Gabriel before striking out on her own. Bush would break through with the angelic “Running Up That Hill” and “Wuthering Heights,” one of the rare instances of classic literature influencing someone’s rock musical stylings (a theme throughout Bush’s catalog). But Bush would also prove to be a groundbreaker in other areas, including synthesizer usage and, well, her being a female voice in a very male dominated business (it could be argued that she is the British equivalent of Pat Benatar, an artist who refused to let the record industry “sex up” her image to sell records).

Highly praised critically, Bush languished on the charts in the States, however. Other than the two songs mentioned previously, Bush had a hard time cracking the Billboard rankings. Still, Bush had huge success in Britain and Europe and continues to be a successful artist to this day. She was nominated for the Rock Hall in 2018 but, as with several other artists that earned only one nomination before being ignored, it seems that the membership of the Rock Hall are more interested in moving on to other more “accessible” artists and groups rather than honor eclectic and creative work from the past in Bush and other artists and groups.

The Go-Go’s/The Bangles

Let’s get beyond the fact that The Runaways should have been inducted and get right to the 80s, shall we?

Women were coming to the fore in the 80s, taking control of their own careers and playing the instruments instead of allowing the men to have all the fun (Ann and Nancy Wilson of Heart have to be added in that category, too, but I digress). And there were two acts that definitely rate getting into the Rock Hall. But if you could have only one of them, which one would it be?

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In my opinion, that would have to be the no-brainer induction of The Go-Go’s. Although their career was relatively short (only five years) and their catalog relatively limited (only four records, three of which were actually impactful), The Go-Go’s were groundbreakers in putting all-female bands into the musical discussion. They were very good musicians, especially guitarist Charlotte Caffey and drummer Gina Schock (what a drummer name!) and, powered by the force of nature that was vocalist Belinda Carlisle, the group was destined for greatness. If they would have stayed together longer (they already had the creative, influential and critical boxes check marked), they arguably would have already been inducted into the Rock Hall.

If you don’t like The Go-Go’s, there’s always The Bangles. From out of the gate with their initial releases of “Hero Takes A Fall” and “Going Down to Liverpool” in 1981, the melodic harmonies and tight musicianship masked a creative and critically successful group of women who were self-assured and didn’t rely on their sexuality to get across. Having said that, they did have singer/guitarist Susanna Hoffs on the mic, which didn’t hurt in getting them attention either. If you were going to have a downside for the group, it would be that they didn’t write their biggest hit “Manic Monday” (a song penned by the then-named “Christopher,” who turned out to be huge Bangles fan Prince).

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Looking back at the first three decades (roughly) of the history of rock and those still wrongly on the outside looking in, it is obvious that the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame has gotten it right more often than not. But, as more artists from the 90s and, in only five years, the Aughts start coming eligible, it is going to be tougher and tougher for those in the pre-50s to 80s eras to earn their seat in the Rock Hall. Furthermore, it is going to be tougher and tougher to discern just what is “rock & roll” as the genre lines blur even further. Then again, there is that argument that it is the Hall of FAME and not the Hall of PRETTY GOOD…and perhaps those from those earlier eras fall into the category of “pretty good” rather than the truly immortal.

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

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The current crop of artists and bands vying for entry into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame is a very impressive list. Cutting across all genres, including rap, pop, rock, metal and alternative music (it is arguable that folk isn’t included, but that’s a rarity instead of the norm), the potential inductees in 2020 will have many more shots at the brass ring. But who from the past may be running out of chances at getting into the Rock Hall?

There are 221 artists and/or groups in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, and many might say that the truly immortal from the 1950s and before have already been enshrined. It is tough to nitpick this fact, but in this first part of a series of essays on this subject, I was able to come up with five artists who have yet to be inducted for their influences on the world of rock music. In one case, the artist has earned a nod for their “early influence,” but they really should be inducted as well for the priceless value of their performances.

“Big Mama” Thornton

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

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

Dick Dale

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

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

Neil Sedaka

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

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

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

Patsy Cline

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

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

Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys

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

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

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