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The Rock ’n Roll Haul of the Not-So-Famous

October 16, 2014

Struggling Weekly, Oct. 16, 2014

            I’m sure you were all waiting with baited breath for it: the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame has announced the nominations for its 2015 inductees.

            I first heard about it on the Classic Vinyl channel on SiriusXM satellite radio, which I occasionally switch to from my favorite channel, Deep Tracks. CV broadcasts from the Alan Freed studio at the RRHF, the Cleveland, Ohio — that’s where the Hall is located — facility named after the disk jockey who first called the music rock and roll, back in the 1950s.

            I was driving when I heard the announcement, and thus wasn’t taking notes, but I do remember thinking, “What?” Or rather, “Who?” for many of the acts which may receive the honor.

            Now, the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame is admittedly a bit different than your sports hall of fame. The baseball hall, for instance, doesn’t admit honorees until they have been out of the game for at least five years — and then only after a rigorous balloting procedure involving sportswriters and players.

            The RRHF, conversely, will admit inductees 25 years after they release their first recording, regardless of whether they are still active or not. And considering how many acts are still touring and recording 30, 40, 50 and more years after breaking into the business, there are a lot of potential inductees out there.

            The rock hall also inducts musicians individually and as ensembles. With all the breaking up and combining that happens in rock music, that means a musician could be inducted two or three times, perhaps more.

            But the elastic standards for nomination and induction, and the balloting process, have produced some candidates that seem to defy the definition of “fame.” At least for me, a fan who has been following rock and popular music for more than 50 years. For about a third of the 15 nominees for the RRHF Class of 2015, I’d be hard pressed to name one song they’ve recorded.

            Green Day? Have they really been recording for a quarter-century? Nine Inch Nails? Wasn’t that Grunge Rock? Not into that. The nominee page on the RRHF website says Kraftwerk was “The foundation of all synthesizer-based rock and roll and electronic dance music.” Not sure that’s a good thing.

            I vaguely remember Chic from the 1970s. The RRHF says they saved disco, which I personally won’t hold against them. The Smiths apparently lasted only five years, which should perhaps argue against Hall of Fame status, and included Morrissey, who a lot of people seem to detest.

            
N.W.A. I believe stood for “N-word with Attitude”; the inductee page says “Massive influence, sonic power and boundary-smashing perspective.” If you could get past the rap/hip-hop sound, the bad language and worse attitudinizing would probably push you back out. But some people insist that rock is supposed to be offensive.

            Joan Jett & the Blackhearts supposedly proved that chicks could rock, too. But I think Chrissy Hynde of the Pretenders kicked her butt.

            There are some diamonds in this rough bunch of nominees, though. Motown is mostly good stuff, and the Marvelettes are billed as the label’s first hit-makers. The Paul Butterfield Blues Band gave us Mike Bloomfield — who helped electrify Dylan — and Elvin Bishop, besides some great music.

            Lou Reed, one of the founding members of the Velvet Underground, did a lot of dark and disturbing stuff, but unquestionably was an influential figure in rock. The Spinners represent the Philadelphia Sound, an important vein of rhythm and blues, and turned out some great songs.

            Sting’s already in the Hall with the Police, who did some top-notch stuff; I thought he was rather tedious as a solo artist, though. War broke out by backing former Animals lead singer Eric Burdon, and the new style they brought to the British Invasion leader showed up in recordings like “The Cisco Kid,” “The World Is a Ghetto,” “Why Can’t We Be Friends?,” “Low Rider” and “Summer.”

            
I’m not that big into the blues, but the late Stevie Ray Vaughan was undoubtedly one of the great modern guitarists in that genre. Bill Withers sang amazingly well for a guy who stuttered when he spoke; his body of work wasn’t that large, but he had several big hits that were good tunes.

            The RRHF allows fans to vote on the nominees, and I may take a shot at it this year. Maybe I can do something to keep the infamous, and not-so-famous, out of the Hall of Fame.

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