Friday, December 14, 2007

Weak Sauce

For several years, I reviewed the Rock N' Roll Hall of Fame inductees over at There I outlined the classic beef -- the rock hall is more of pop hall, but pop, country, hip hop, blues, dance and jazz artists are not really judged for their success or influence in the rock era, only their "hipness." I also forewarned the obvious problem the hall is running into now -- what to do about the 1980s? After a few hip, significant commercial artists (U2, REM, Prince among them) the 1980's pose a lot of problems for the hall.

In the late 1980's when the hall started, this thing was easy. Many of the initial artists of the 1950's were still alive and kicking and the stalwarts of the 1960's were ready to praise themselves and their dead friends. But now, all those artists are now in the hall, and some artists are in several times (Clapton, Winwood, McCartney/Lennon/Harrison).

Today, they hit the 1980s and clearly they aren't going to induct a lot of the successful music of that era (Madonna clones, Hair Metal bands) and they aren't sure what to do about some of the post punky or influential but less commercial bands. My guess is that until the late 80's crop of early alt bands come up, the hall is going to have some boring, boring inductions, adding in leftover 60's and 70's bands who shouldn't be in if they haven't made it by now and a handful of recognized 80's acts.

Enough obvious complaining, the most enjoyable part of what I did in the past is running down the list of inductees and it's that tradition I'll carry on here.

Leonard Cohen -- No doubt a highly regarded song writer with an impressive career catalog. As a singer and performer, while I can appreciate his dry baritone, the production and arrangements of many of his best known songs has always given me the impression of really well done Casio demos -- they just don't hold up that well for me. But his songs in the hands of other singers always shine and while not as prolific as Dylan, his best lyrics stand strong next to that high standard -- it's hard to argue, in other words that he shouldn't be in.

The Dave Clark Five -- One of the most popular bands of the 1960's, they often knocked the Beatles and the Stones off the UK and American charts and "Glad All Over" is without question a classic single. But they were never that cool or influential not even compared to the far less commercially successful Kinks. They qualified for entry to the hall in 1990 and they're just getting in now -- they very definition of an afterthought.

The Ventures -- Speaking of an afterthought, the Hall walked and didn't run (BOOYA!) to induct these instrumental surf kings. There's no way to get around it -- surf music is corny and that's kept them out for a long time. The real reason I think they should be in is their contribution to rock education. They recorded some of the first "learn to play" rock guitar and bass records and following the lead of Les Paul lent their name to Mosrite guitars that would later end up in the hands of bands like the Ramones. Today, we expect every artist to sell a signature guitar and many have sold a "learn to play my style" book or recording. Every kid with a guitar has to start somewhere, and plenty of rock heroes started with the Ventures.

Johnny Cougar Sponsored by Chevrolet -- Mellencamp is an easy target. Beyond performing the service of singing "THIS IS OUR COUNTRY" for hire he's had legitimate heartland hits that in a purely commercial sense, probably resonated better with Americans than almost anything by Springsteen or Dylan. He also has kept Farm Aid going, which in theory helps support the small family farmer that's dying out -- but even those guys can cash in on all the odd government subsidies and are just as likely to pollute with over fertalizing or pesticides as any other part of agribusiness. In other words, I'm not sure I'm writing them a check this year. I guess when Bob Seger got in you had to let in Mellencamp, but I'm not sure either really belong.

Madonna -- She's never ever really rocked, but there's no doubt she's about as influential a force in popular music and culture as anyone in the last quarter century. Plus, unlike a lot of bubblegum pop and especially faddish dance music Madonna's best work really holds up. After Ray of Light and Music she's been in a bit of a lull, but I wouldn't be surprised if she finds a way to worm her way back into our ears in the future.

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Blogger Yale Bloor said...

You sound like either a PR hack and/or an em up gorilla or are you vieing for a job at the Cleveland Chamber of Commerce?
Hall of Famers? not a one!

1:00 AM  
Blogger Gorilla said...

I want nothing more to live in Cleveland it is after all the most ridiculous place to have the rock hall even if a Cleveland DJ coined the term.

You have to first accept the construct that there should be a museum of rock history, which is a pretty tenuous idea to begin with.

Then you have to accept that induction is based on a silly set of rules that eventually allow everybody in, IF they pass a certain "cool test" based in the mind of Jann the man.

To even discuss the inductees, that's the Kool Aid you have to drink -- otherwise you'll just rehash all the above points AND/OR substitute your only "cool test" which makes you no better than Mr. Wenner.

1:02 PM  
Blogger Little Earl said...

Exactly. If you want to talk about the Hall of Fame you have to play by their rules. The question is not, "Who do you think deserves to be inducted," because then you'll get all kinds of bad answers from people who think Styx and Foreigner should be inducted way before Madonna and Leonard Cohen. Hell, I might want the Shaggs to be in the Hall of Fame for all I know, but it's probably not likely, so it's not that interesting arguing about it. The real question is, "Who is likely to have a chance at being inducted that you think should be?" I would personally rather see Roxy Music, T. Rex, Todd Rundgren and Tom Waits in the Hall of Fame before John Mellencamp and the Dave Clark Five. But I'm not voting am I?

12:16 AM  

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