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
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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!