I haven’t blogged about the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame for several years, having been put off my feed my by some of dumb choices made by the fan voters and the Hall’s committee of experts.
But the latter corrected a long-running mistake last year, by finally choosing Todd Rundgren — one of rock’s real creative geniuses — for induction. So when I heard that the nominees for the next class of inductees were being announced, I decided I would look them over and write about them. (The nominee announcement was something that used to be done in October, but maybe it was COVID that changed that?)
I had heard some of the nominees named on Sirius XM, but I just looked at the complete list for the first time. And started scratching my head, just like not-so-old times. Five of these acts will be “enshrined” in the RRHoF: Beck, Pat Benatar, Kate Bush, Devo, Duran Duran, Eminem, Eurythmics, Judas Priest, Fela Kuti, MC5, New York Dolls, Dolly Parton, Rage Against the Machine, Lionel Richie, Carly Simon, A Tribe Called Quest and Dionne Warwick.
Off the top, a couple of the acts, Fela Kuti and A Tribe Called Quest, I’ve never heard of. But my ignorance of the latter is easily explained by the fact that I don’t pay any attention to rap music — which also accounts for the fact that I can’t name one song by Eminem, one of several other nominees where the name rings a bell, but the music doesn’t: Judas Priest, the New York Dolls and Rage Against the Machine.
So, in my opinion, you can take two off the list right away, because I think rap doesn’t qualify under the fourth word of the phrase “rock and roll music.” The Hall’s web page for the nominees cites Kuti’s “generational impact,” and he was a major force in African music — but his Wikipedia entry does not list a single rock and roll musician he influenced. Other than Sir Paul McCartney, who heard him perform live in the early 1970s and said later that it was “one of the greatest music moments of my life.” OK, there’s a guy who had seen a few great music moments …
Continuing the process of elimination, Judas Priest is the next to go. Didn’t know that they sold as many records as they have — more than 50 million? — or recorded as many albums as they did (18, the latest in 2018). But only one of their singles charted on the Billboard Hot 100 (they fared better on the magazine’s Rock chart). They allegedly influenced a lot of heavy metal bands — not a point in their favor, in my opinion — and were ranked as the second-greatest metal act of all time; Black Sabbath was No. 1 in that ranking. Well, I guess Judas Priest could have done worse …
The New York Dolls are said to be one of the forerunners of punk rock, another genre that I’m not all that fond of. Their footprint wasn’t that big, timewise, and the fact that they allegedly heavily influenced Kiss and the Sex Pistols is not going to get them my vote.
MC5 and Rage Against the Machine have both been on the ballot several times before, sometimes at the same time. The former is credited with being an early influence on punk and political rock, but the original lineup only lasted nine years, and produced only three albums.
RATM’s been around since 1991 and has sold more than 16 million albums. But the fact that they’ve been nominated every year since they became eligible in 2017, except one, without success, should say something — like, “four strikes and you’re out.”
Beck is and has been doing some interesting music, and he’s been recording for the required 25 years, but his work seems to have a multiple-personality disorder. Kate Bush? Minor 1980s MTV presence as far as I knew; she had 25 Top 40 hits in the U.K., but I could only sort-of name two of them.
The ’80s is represented by three other nominees, Devo, Duran Duran and the Eurythmics. I enjoyed Duran Duran — catchy tunes, attractive music videos — and they sold a lot of records, but I don’t think they had that much of an impact on The Music.
Devo and the Eurythmics I think did have more of an impact, particularly the latter. As I blogged when they were on the ballot in 2018: “Dave Stewart had an unfailing pop sensibility, Annie Lennox was one of the great voices in rock at the time, and they managed to use synthesized, electronic music in a way that wasn’t as cloying as many of that decade’s acts.” Devo had a weird schtick — the hazmat suits, goggles, flower-pot hats — and a Top 15 hit, “Whip It”; again, though, I didn’t see a lot of impact on rock and roll.
I think the Eurythmics will make my cut, so now there are six left on my list, and I can vote for five. Richie was commercially very successful, both as front man for the Commodores and as a solo act, but he also wrote bunch of hits covered by others, so he’s in. Ditto for Warwick, whose wonderful voice has sold more than 100 million records, won six Grammy Awards and put more singles on the Billboard Hot 100 during the rock era than all but one artist.
Benatar has recorded 15 Top 40 singles and eight platinum albums, sold more than 35 million LPs and won four Grammys. But she would get my vote for one record, “Hit Me with Your Best Shot,” a Top 10 hit. Yeah, put another notch in your lipstick case …
Which leaves two ladies, Dolly Parton and Carly Simon. The Two and Only, as Johnny Carson referred to her, is an amazing entertainer, who has sold zillions of records and won many, many awards. Most of that was in the field of country and western, and she was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame more than 20 years ago. Were her few crossover forays into pop enough to get her into the Rock and Roll Hall?
Simon had a bigger footprint than I remembered, with 13 Top 40 singles and five platinum albums and a longer career than I thought. She also wrote some wonderful lyrics, particularly “That’s the Way I’ve Always Heard It Should Be,” which was No. 10 hit, and created a celebrity mystery with “You’re So Vain.”
I’m going to have to do best two-out-of-three with the Eurythmics, Parton and Simon — if I vote. Because, as I’ve blogged previously, I still think the concept and process are suspect, and that the RRHoF is as much theme park and swag-marketing machine as a Hall of Fame.