I really thought twice about the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame when that came in. I always was of a mind that it’s an inherently stupid idea to put something like that in a glass case.
I can’t tell you what I had for breakfast, but I can sing every single word of rock and roll.
Hey, hey, my my Rock and Roll will never die
It’s November. The climate conflicts with itself. The World Series was a less than exciting battle between a West Coast team that continues to dodge aspirations of a championship and a team from a smallish city on the east coast whose name I cannot even bring myself to type. Spring like days magically transform themselves into 30-degree nights and sweaters and jackets leap from their month’s long imprisonments in vain pretensions of protection against the coming onslaught of bitter weather. Hockey has just gotten under way and the newest Knicks roster again will for all who still carry fond yet faded memories of Willis Reed and his famous limp, provide inevitable disappointment in June. Classrooms are hopping again, as the sun disappears just a bit more quickly each day and our clocks, watches, computers and telephones await the changing of the guard from savings to standard time. Thousands of seriously masochistic personalities will very soon charge across the Verrazano Narrows bridge on foot for a less than scenic view of the five boroughs over 26.2 miles, sucking wind and the more than occasional vapors of exhaust whilst busily wondering if they remembered everybody worth remembering in their last will and testaments. That’s right, it is time once again for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame nominations.
Now “to be perfectly clear” as a former occupant of the Oval Office who like the present occupier was also a big seller of plastic Halloween likenesses and an equal object of the attentions of special prosecutors liked to say; this missive is not a big fat endorsement of the Hall. Said “museum” is run by a board that engages in extreme patronage and nepotism as well as the whims of one music magazine publisher in particular.
I am not a musician myself (although I do play a little harmonica and have been accused by more than a few of singing a bit too loudly in the shower) and I am sure that those who have entered the less than hallowed halls of the institution in Cleveland (a city which for all intents and purposes is the most appropriate place for such a building) are deserving. Most of the professional voters have much more skin in the game than I ever will. We (the “fans”) may, each of us vote once a day through the voting period and at the end of such period all our ballots will be compiled as one ballot consisting of the first five vote getters among us. So, without further ado here are this year’s 15 nominees:
Def Leppard, Janet Jackson, John Prine, Kraftwerk, LL Cool J, MC5, Radiohead, Rage Against the Machine, Roxy Music, Stevie Nicks, The Cure, Todd Rundgren, Rufus & Chaka Khan, The Zombies
As time goes by I fear many acts will fall undeservedly into a chasm of the forgotten, even as their work continues to both entertain and influence.Some are on this years list so maybe they will finally get their due. My “top snubs” might not be in line with the “top snubs” of many others. It’s all good. It’s only rock and roll and I like it. Yeah, yeah, yeah!
Rock and roll was born of rebellion and what could be more of a counterpoint to that very ethos than a monument to corporate merchandising and branding? Still, none of us want to see our heroes snubbed. I feel inadequate to the task of advocating for acts with whom I am unfamiliar. Some, however are nonetheless obvious candidates. For example, I am not a huge fan of Madonna and are not as familiar with her catalog aside from the omnipresent hits, but if she wasn’t already inducted in 2008 I would right now be advocating for her. Her musical, cultural and fashion influence over three decades is obvious. Anyway, here are my suggestions to whom it may concern.
Todd Rundgren: (First nomination) His work has stretched the limits of what it is to be a rock and roll force. From his days with The NAZZ through his solo career and his work with his progressive band Utopia on through his producer role of such acts as Patti Smith, Grand Funk Rail Road and Badfinger among many others The Hermit of Mink Hollow has pushed the boundaries of modern American popular music, opening doors for sound experimentation through modern machinery in manners that were then experimental and are now quite common. Will the Hall see “the light” this year. Yeah, I think so.
Tommy James and the Shondells: (Never nominated) Perhaps the single most career damaging decision Tommy James ever made was declining an invitation to appear at Woodstock, where lesser known acts of the time marched straight into the pantheon of legend. To be fair he was in Hawaii when he got a call asking if he wanted to leave paradise to play at a pig farm in upstate New York, at least that was how it was put to him. Looking at it that way, his decision at the time seemed exceptionally reasonable. Crimson and Clover and Crystal Blue Persuasion both pretty much defined the psychedelic era. Mony, Mony fifty years later is still a staple at just about any sports stadium and arena, I Think We’re Alone Now has been covered by a cast of thousands including but not limited to Tiffany and Lene Lovich. Hanky Panky, Sweet Cherry Wine, Ball of Fire, Draggin’ the Line did some considerable time on the top 40 as well.
The Guess Who: (Never Nominated)Can you guess who was among the biggest selling singles bands of the early 1970’s. American Woman with its power chord intro (following the acoustic guitar one on the album but left off the radio single) and the sublime guitar line that runs right through it has been covered and recovered by any number of respectable artists, the most noteworthy being Lenny Kravitz. Laughing, Undun, No Time, These Eyes, No Sugar Tonight/New Mother Nature, Bus Rider, Share the Land followed and helped this Canadian combo rule the airwaves. They also gave birth to another rock monster band, Bachman/Turner Overdrive. Certainly, the powers that be can show some love someday to the Canadian band who reminded us of the essential powers of the American female.
Steppenwolf: (Nominated once) Upon hearing Born to be Wild and the phrase “Heavy Metal Thunder” legendary rock critic Lester Bangs was inspired to baptize an entire new genre of American rock and roll music. The song became the calling card of an entire generation fed up with the affectations of the previous one. Magic Carpet Ride invited everybody on a pleasant trip and whatever that meant in the 60’s. Monster held a mirror up displaying an image revealing that Yankee Doodle wasn’t so Dandy. The Pusher took the mask off our great American love affair with drugs long before we all caught on to the tricks of Big Pharma. Not to mention the Canadian leader of the pack, John Kaye made leather jackets and sunglasses fashionable again a decade after The Wild Ones.
Roxy Music: (First nomination)At a time when other British “glam” acts David Bowie, T-Rex, Mott the Hoople and Queen ruled the roost it would indeed be understandable if Roxy Music became lost in the shuffle, but they didn’t. From the time they released their first single Virginia Plain and their debut album Roxy Music in the same year they would become one of the most influential British bands. With a pedigree that consisted of Bryan Ferry and Brian Eno with guest spots by people like Paul Carrack (Squeeze, Mike and the Mechanics) and legendary session drummer Andy Newmark (Sly and the Family Stone, David Gilmour, Roger Waters, John Lennon and a whole bunch of etcs) how could they miss? Good question. They didn’t, and the hall should not miss with their much-deserved nomination this year.
Mott the Hoople: (Never nominated) Believe it or not there was a time when Queen served as the opening act for Ian Hunter’s crew of vagabonds. They were so good that at a time when they were less than commercially successful and about to break up no less a legend than David Bowie convinced them not to and gave them his classic “All the Young Dudes” to record. Mick Ronson spent some time with them. Their influence continues to this day.
Harry Nilsson: (Never nominated) It is unfortunate that for many Harry Nilsson is best remembered for being thrown out of the Troubadour in Los Angeles for drunkenly heckling the Smothers Brothers with John Lennon. He rarely performed live and never toured, yet he left behind a prestigious collection of works. His cover of Fred Neil’s Everybody’s Talkin from the film Midnight Cowboy was his first single to chart. His own composition for the movie I Guess the Lord Must Be in New York City was ultimately not used for the movie but did manage to chart as well. His composition One was a huge hit for Three Dog Night. He had hits of his own with Coconut, Jump into the Fire, and Spaceman. He did the music for the children’s animated film The Point which spawned the top 40 single Me and My Arrow. His recording of Best Friend was never released by him but did serve as the very hummable theme to the TV series The Courtship of Eddie’s Father. His recording of Without You by Badfinger members Pete Ham and Tom Evans earned him his second Grammy. But perhaps one of his finest moments was on an album that sold notoriously badly. Nilsson Schmilsson and Son of Schmilsson were very big sellers but it was his 1973 record A Touch of Schmilsson in the Night that is most revealing. It is produced by Gordon Jenkins a noted Sinatra arranger with a notorious hatred for rock and roll and legend has it particularly, The Beatles whom Nilsson adored. The album is filled with standards flowing effortlessly one into another with Harry’s three and a half octave vocal and Jenkins incredible arrangements leading the way. On paper it should not have worked and commercially it didn’t, but it is perhaps his finest moment as a singer and interpreter of the music of others. It certainly was a forerunner to an oncoming trend of other pop singers discovering standards and stretching their artistic visions. Linda Ronstadt later did a very successful series of albums with Nelson Riddle. Others have followed including Rod Stewart in the early part of this century. But Harry Nilsson paved the way.
The J. Geils Band: (Five nominations)There is a moment in Billy Crystal’s Mr. Saturday Night when the movie’s protagonist recalls appearing on the Ed Sullivan show years earlier and what was to be his career defining moment had him following The Beatles. Well as Ringo would later sing It Don’t Come Easy. I am quite sure the feeling must have been akin to what many headliners felt when they had to follow the J. Geils Band. Now I am sure that at some point J. Geils was the headline act on whatever ticket they were appearing on. I just never experienced them that way. I saw them at least three times and each time they opened and each time the headliners had to have had second thoughts about taking the stage as the frenzy they incited left very little room for growth. How high can an audience go when they have already bounced off the ceiling far too many times? How much more of it can the ceiling take? It was always nothing but a house party. If this keeps up they will soon be competing with Chic for the Peter O’Toole Memorial Award for nominees that never win. Not bad company to be in.
Gram Parsons: (Nominated three times) The Byrd’s 1968 Sweetheart of the Rodeo could never have happened without Gram Parsons. Although he was only with the group for this one record it is without question the most important album in the band’s catalogue and yet when the group was inducted in 1991 he was not among the inductees. His work soon after with the Flying Burrito Brothers stamped him as country rock’s most important innovator . He was an influence on the Rolling Stones in general and Keith Richards in particular. His influence is most apparent on their Let it Bleed album and on the songs Country Honk and Love in Vain. The Burritos will likely never be inducted and since he died at the tender age of 26 his legacy is in great danger of being forgotten. The Hall simply must find a way of honoring this genius.
The Spinners: (Nominated three times) Their mix of the old Four Seasons hit Working My Way Back to You with Forgive Me Girl was such a big hit that many people forgot that the front end of it was a hit for four Jersey Boys more than a decade earlier. It’s a Shame, Could it Be I’m Falling in Love? Cupid (I’ve Loved for a Long Time), should be enough for induction but in total they have launched 21 songs onto the Billboard top 100 with 18 of them powering into the top 40. They had six Number 1’s on the US R&B charts. Their muscle on the other side of the Atlantic was also significant with eleven top forty chartings in the UK including a number one with Working My Way Back to You/Forgive Me Girl which peaked at number 2 here. Enough said, I think.
The Zombies: (Fourth Nomination) In stark contrast to most of the other bands in the first wave of the 1960’s British invasion the Zombies brought a jazz influence to their recordings, paving the ground for other bands like Procal Harem and The Moody Blues to push the envelope on what would become known later as Progressive Rock. Time of the Season, Tell Her No, and She’s Not There (Covered years later by Santana) certainly can stand on their own on just about anybody’s list of classic cuts. The key board work of Rod Argent and the vocals of Colin Blunstone laid down a template of sophistication seldom heard in the annals of the contemporary rock and roll scene of the time
Ten Years After: (Never nominated)If Alvin Lee and Ten Years After did nothing else but their historic rendition of I’m Going Home at Woodstock they would still be knocking on the door of the Hall. That moment on record and in the movie is one of the high points of the festival for a generation of future guitarists who wanted to be able to play “that fast”. But it was more than the speed, it was the sweaty commitment to the groove and the almost hypnotic state of Lee himself that makes the track so unforgettable. But aside from that one moment they were a great concert draw and recorded quite a few notable albums including A Space in Time which hoisted the top 40 hit I’d Love to Change the World. My personal favorite is Cricklewood Green with the hit Love Like a Man and Sugar the Road and Me and My Baby. Mr. Lee’s guitar playing on Cricklewood affords a closer look at the subtlety and nuance of a man playing with passion and virtuosity and not just the speed that he was most noted for.
Emerson, Lake and Palmer: (Never nominated) Never have three people made so much well played noise. Their albums were monsters and they filled 20,000 seat arenas with great regularity. Keith Emerson’s escapades with organ and synthesizer were the very definition of showmanship, Carl Palmer, formerly of the Crazy World of Sir Arthur Brown (Fire) was a virtual motion machine behind the skins and Greg Lake formerly of King Crimson played the guitars and basses and did the singing. Father Christmas has taken its place in the pantheon of great Christmas songs. C’est La Vie and Still You Turn Me On both charted in the top 40 and Lucky Man from their first album is probably their best known single cut and is to this day a staple of Classic rock programming. Who else could do that much Mussorgsky, Aaron Copland, Dave Brubeck, Bartok, mixed in with a little Henry Mancini and bits of King Crimson and still get away with calling it rock and roll? Twenty thousand pot heads would stick with them and then go back and play the records repeatedly while playing air keyboards in the process. They were a unique combo the likes of which we may never see again.
Doobie Brothers: (Never nominated) Their biggest album Minute By Minute with new member Michael McDonald was a multiple Grammy winner and supplied them with another handful of hits but long before he arrived the group had already hit with Jesus is Just Alright, China Grove, Long Train Running, Blackwater, Listen to the Music and Another Park Another Sunday. If Creedence Clearwater Revival was the template for American rock and roll singles in the late 60’s and early 70’s it can be reasonably argued that the baton was passed for the latter 70’s directly to The Doobies.
Johnny Winter: (Never nominated)Not to throw shade at the late great Stevie Ray Vaughn but you can’t get to him without first going through Johnny Winter as far as great white Texas rock blues guitar slingers And Johnny was as white as you can get. He was an Albino. But his playing was all sorts of colorful. Aside from producing three Grammy nominated albums for Muddy Waters. He took the former McCoys of Hang on Sloopy fame and their leader Rick Derringer and fitted them into his own band for a while as .Johnny Winter And. This ensemble produced the popular Derringer penned Rock and Roll Hootchie Koo. He is already in the Blues Hall of Fame and is ranked on Rolling Stone’s 100 Greatest Guitarists at 63. In my own humble opinion, it really should be much higher.
Joe Cocker: (Never nominated) Upon hearing him for the first time the temptation to laugh conflicted with the equal but opposite pang of sympathy as his voice painted a mental picture of someone gargling on chipped glass. But once the shock of the introduction to him wore off, and the panorama of what he was creating came into focus you were moved and being so moved thirsted for more. His appearance at Woodstock is another one of those iconic moments that people of another generation will never likely ever forget. Nor will many ever forget his Saturday Night Live appearance where he was joined on stage by John Belushi while performing Dave Mason’s Feelin’ Alright. But he was one of the great rock and roll interpreters. He began singing in bars in Sheffield, England at 14 but he never learned to play an instrument and much of his spasmodic arm movement was just a very early example of air guitar.He covered The Beatles (She Came in Through the Bathroom Window, With a Little Help from My Friends, Something ) as well as Leon Russell (Delta Lady) who served as his band leader for the Mad Dogs and Englishmen tour. Other rock and R&B standards included The Letter and Cry Me a River. His cover of Randy Newman’s You Can Leave Your Hat On embodies the full sultriness that the composer’s own version lacks. His later hits Up Where we Belong from the movie An Officer and a Gentleman and You Are So Beautiful still enjoy substantial airplay. His voice was one of the most original, distinctive and moving in the history of rock and roll and his induction into the hall should be an automatic. His exclusion is both a mystery and an insult. It has been speculated that his omission was due to his not being a composer, but truthfully neither was Elvis.
Humble Pie: (Never nominated) Humble Pie Rockin’ the Fillmore is by almost any standard one of the most iconic live rock albums of the 1970’s. It is most unfortunate that shortly after the release of the album young guitar phenom Peter Frampton left the group due to personal problems with group leader Steve Marriott formerly of the Small Faces. Despite that the band soldiered on as a live attraction and their renditions of Black Coffee, 30 Days in the Hole, and I Don’t Need No Doctor stamped them as a mainstay of British Blues power rock. Their follow-up album after Frampton’s departure Smokin” was their highest charting and Frampton himself after a few early solo struggles of course hit a grand slam with Frampton Comes Alive so perhaps the split was best for everyone. Still the Pie’s influence on a generation of later bands was considerable. Steve Marriott is already inducted as a member of the Small Faces but the Pie’s induction would finally bring Peter Frampton in and bring some overdue recognition to Greg Ridley, Jerry Shirley and Clem Clempson.
Junior Walker and the All Stars: (Never nominated)Road Runner, Shotgun, What Does It Take (To Win Your Love) made Autry DeWalt Mixon, Jr. AKA Junior Walker and his All Stars a significant act for Motown in the 1960’s and 70’s. Walker’s tenor saxophone was immediately recognizable and was influenced by the styles of Louis Jordan and Illinois Jacquet. He also had R&B hits with covers of The Supremes Come See About Me and Marvin Gaye’s How Sweet it IS (To Be Loved by You). Shotgun was voted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 2002 and Junior Walker was inducted into the Rhythm and Blues Foundation in 1995.
T-Rex: (Never nominated)The type of success this band experienced at least in England from 1970 to 1973 could only be compared to one other group. That band being the Beatles puts Marc Bolan’s band in significant territory. Truth be told ( here I go again I guess) I was not a big fan of the group, but I do have a collection that I find enjoyable and more to the point their influence and the sustained popularity they endured must be acknowledged. Next to David Bowie they are the most significant innovators of what came to be known as Glam Rock. They have been cited as influences on a diverse number of other acts including the New York Dolls, Kate Bush, Siouxsie and the Banshees, Joy Division, and The Smiths all of whom may someday enjoy their own induction ceremonies. Unfortunately, Marc Bolan was killed in a car accident two weeks before his 30th birthday. Jeepster and Bang a Gong still enjoy major play on classic radio stations.
Big Mama Thornton: (Never nominated) Quick, who first recorded Ball and Chain and Hound Dog? If you said Janis Joplin and Elvis Presley, you would be so so so wrong. Hound Dog spent 7 weeks on the Billboard R&B chart at number 1, three years before Elvis got his hips on it. She not only recorded Ball and Chain first she also wrote it. Unfortunately, at the time her label Bay-Tone Records decided not to release it so Big Mama missed out on all the publishing royalties when the Joplin recording was made. Big Mama was deprived by the state of racial segregation in this country and in the music business at the time of what should have been her greatest successes. If the Hall is about opening doors, open them for this very large influence.
Out of the twenty acts listed 13 have never been nominated. Two are nominated for the first time, one has been nominated once in the past and four have been nominated multiple times without getting the invitation to the dinner. Of this year’s nominees, nine hold multiple nominations and six are first timers.
There are many more I could make a case for but me thinks that is enough for now. There’s always next year when more artists will fall between the cracks of marketing and forgetfulness. For now, I will wrap this up because In A Gada Da Vida babies, this thing is turning out to be longer than the album version of American Pie. Put another dime in the jukebox baby. And rollover Beethoven, I need a shot of rhythm and Blues.