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Nominating the Not-So-Famous

October 19, 2016

      Well, it’s that time of year that we await with baited breath.

      No, not Columbus Day week. I’m talking about the announcement of the coming year’s nominees for induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. As in previous years — you can look it up in this blog’s archives — some of these “famous” acts left me scratching my head and wondering, “Who the hell are these people?”

      The list of 2017 nominations, released the morning I write this, consists of 19 solo artists and groups: Bad Brains, Joan Baez, the Cars, Chic, Depeche Mode, Electric Light Orchestra, the J. Geils Band, Jane’s Addiction, Janet Jackson, Journey, Chaka Kahn, Kraftwerk, MC5, Pearl Jam, Tupac Shakur, Steppenwolf, Joe Tex, Yes and the Zombies.

      Right off the top, and call me old-fashioned if you want, but — Bad Brains? That’s a thing, and not a phenomenon? They were — or maybe are, hard to tell how active they are these days — at least a rare conjunction of musical types: a jazz fusion band that turned into a “hardcore punk rock” outfit, but one influenced by reggae and the Rastafarian movement. OK …

      I listened to some clips just now, and whatever their influences, they feature one thing I always disliked about most punk: it’s played too fast. But maybe they’ll be voted in just for their exotic pedigree.

      I can safely say that that’s the only one of the nominees I knew zero about when I set fingers to keyboard this morning. I will hereafter comment on the others nominated, in descending order of how well I think they merit election to the RRHoF.

      Steppenwolf — This is a group that became annoyingly preachy at times in later years — John Kay, a German transplant to Canada, and a bunch of other guys from the Great White North referring to “us” in the Vietnam War-influenced song “Monster” was rather presumptuous. But this is the Rock Hall, after all, and they should get in just on the strength of “Born to Be Wild” and “Magic Carpet Ride.”

      The J. Geils Band — Starting out as an acoustic blues trio, the Geils Band broke some ground in blues-influenced rock, particularly in the prominence of the harmonica — “Magic Dick on his licking stick,” as lead vocalist Peter Wolf called it. Songs like “Give It to Me” were pretty infectious, and “Love Stinks” was an anthem to dystopian relationships.

      The Cars — From Boston, like the Geils band, the Cars fused a bunch of late 70s musical trends into some pretty good rock, and also produced one of the best of the 80s music videos. I own “Heartbeat City,” and consider it to be a minor classic — hardly a bad song on it.

      Yes — Surprised that they’re not already in the Hall, but I can say that about a number of other acts. That oversight is perhaps the result of the prejudice that many rockers have against progressive and art rock, but I’ve always liked this band’s knack for tackling more meaningful topics. For instance, Siddhartha Buddha (the opus “Close to the Edge”) and climbers dying on a frozen mountainside (“South Side of the Sky”). They performed the loudest concert I ever attended (in Madison in 1973) — and, according to insiders, had it not been for them, we would not have the classic rock parody movie “This Is Spinal Tap”!

      Electric Light Orchestra — This group had a great pedigree — most members came from the seminal late 60s/early 70s psychedelic rock band the Move, including influential musicians Jeff Lynne and Roy Wood. I can forgive some their pop excesses from the late 70s into the 80s, and they did do some novel material, like “Eldorado”; they also get credit for inspiring the title of this blog.

      The Zombies — A group with a trio of 60s hits, but with not a lot of other familiar material. Also, an interesting back-story: They cut a minor classic album, “Odessey and Oracle,” in 1967, but before one of the tracks, “Time of the Season,” could become one of the late-60s classic singles, they broke up. And then reunited, etc.

      Joan Baez — For those who think that rock is all about bucking the system, this protest-oriented artist probably is a no-brainer for induction. But did she really do all that much that was impactful? I own the album “Gulf Winds”; the title song is a wonderful bit of autobiography, and the Dylan -dissing “Oh, Brother” is delicious. She has a great voice, but there were songbirds with better song-writing chops.

      Joe Tex — You could say that Tex lost his “Soul Brother No. 1” throwdown with James Brown, who was inducted 30 years ago. The Godfather of Soul did some great stuff, but did he ever really top “Skinny Legs and All,” Tex’s second million-selling single? 

      If I vote, it will be for five (the allowed limit) of those seven. Why the others didn’t make the cut, I will discuss in next week’s blog.

 

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