THUMBS UP OR THUMBS DOWN? The 2017 Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Nominations

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From better-late-than-nevers Yes, MC5, and the Zombies, to the somewhat questionable likes of Tupac, the Bad Brains and Chic, to outright headscratchers Jane’s Addiction, Journey, and Electric Light Orchestra, the annual Jann Wenner-powered Rock Hall ritual remains ripe for rants. Luckily the fans themselves get at least a partial say by voting for their faves. The full list of nominees: Bad Brains, Chaka Khan, Chic, Depeche Mode, ELO, J. Geils Band, Jane’s Addiction, Janet Jackson, Joan Baez, Joe Tex, Journey, Kraftwerk, MC5, Pearl Jam, Steppenwolf, The Cars, The Zombies, Tupac Shakur, Yes.

BY REV. KEITH A. GORDON

Ed. Note: the Rev. Keith A. Gordon, a longtime BLURT supporter and contributor, is a veteran rock scribe going back to the dawn of recorded time. He currently helms a mini-publishing empire and music journalism blog, That Devil Music, always a solid and credible source of music opinion. Speaking of which, we’ve conducted a number of interviews with Gordon over the years, most recently in 2014 (on the occasion of the publication of Best Rock Writing 2014, which, incidentally, included contributions by several BLURT regulars), and then again last year (when he published a compendium of his blues writing, Rollin’ ‘n’ Tumblin’). So if his below observations on the yeas and nays regarding the recent Rock Hall nominations for 2017 find you agreeing with him or, alternatively, wanting to put his head on a spear, I trust you will also find similar solace with the interviews. He also has a brand new book titled Let It Rock! Rock ‘n’ Blues Album and Book Reviews, and you can get more details on how to order that or any of his other in-print titles via ThatDevilMusic.com. What can I say? Support the home team! Okay, take it away, Rev… (This essay originally appeared at ThatDevilMusic.com.)

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The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Foundation released its 2017 list of nominees for possible induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, Ohio next spring. As usual, the list elicits a tsunami of hot takes as people debate the merits of each of the otherwise worthy nominees. The Reverend has taken a pretty firm stance on the Hall of Fame in years past, and this new list of nominees is no different.

I’ve offered my own takes below on who should get inducted – and who shouldn’t be inducted – into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame; if you think differently, please feel free to state your case in the comments section below. Keep in mind that beyond the performers listed below, a number of worthy artists remain unconsidered for the Rock Hall, including the Moody Blues, Humble Pie, Motörhead, Jason & the Scorchers, Roxy Music, and King Crimson, to name a few. Also remember that the Reverend is a lifelong rockist and an old fart raised during the classic rock era of the 1970s…the music really was better back in the day, and this perspective is reflected in my picks below…

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Yes to Yes!

What makes an artist or band “worthy” for induction to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame? I’m not sure what Rolling Stone magazine founder Jann Wenner and the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Foundation’s guidelines are (the Foundation has little to do with the physical Hall of Fame in Cleveland but chooses who is inducted), but here’s my take. A Hall of Fame artist should possess agreed-upon talent (by industry, critics, and fans); exerted influence on the evolution of the genre; push the musical envelope creatively; and while commercial success isn’t a necessity, in combination with the above traits, it adds to an artist’s legacy. By these standards, there’s really no damn good reason why British prog-rock legends Yes aren’t already in the Hall of Fame.

Now, my friend and colleague Martin Popoff has literally written the book on Yes and has previously argued in favor of their induction, so it’s unlikely that I’ll add much to this discussion. For both their groundbreaking creative endeavors in progressive rock, and their amazing commercial run of Top 10 albums during the 1970s (Fragile, Close To The Edge, Relayer, and Going For The One remain enduring, influential works), Yes has earned their induction. The band’s virtuoso musical talents through the years – singer Jon Anderson; guitarists Peter Banks, Steve Howe and Trevor Rabin; bassists Chris Squire and Trevor Horn; keyboardists Tony Kaye, Rick Wakeman, and Patrick Moraz; and drummers Bill Bruford and Alan White – defined a genre and inspired several generations of musicians to follow.

Detroit’s almighty MC5 are a conundrum, another band that should have already received induction into the Rock Hall. Yes, they only released three albums during their fast-burning career, but they made a lot of noise and arguably helped create both punk rock and heavy metal. If fellow Motor City madman the Stooges are in (inducted 2010), so too should the MC5. Pearl Jam’s nomination was a gimme, and the band’s status and importance during the Grunge era are unparalleled. Pearl Jam brought arena-conquering muscle and sinew back to rock ‘n’ roll after the (mostly) wimpy ‘80s, and their pro-consumer actions on behalf of their fans is the icing on the cake.

The Zombies deserve induction, not only for their outstanding early body of work, but also for the enduring influence of those albums. The J. Geils Band are on the bubble for me – I love the band, and those early albums (their 1970 self-titled debut, 1971’s The Morning After, 1972’s Live: Full House, and 1973’s Bloodshot) offer a high-octane fusion of blues and rock that was as influential at the time as the Paul Butterfield Blues Band was a decade earlier. Sensing changes in the musical currents, the J. Geils crew beat fellow travelers ZZ Top to the line, albums like 1978’s Sanctuary, 1980’s Love Stinks, and 1981’s Freeze-Frame mixing radio-friendly synth-pop into the band’s heady brew of R&B and blues influences and scoring on the charts. Call ‘em the “poor man’s Aerosmith” if you will, but I’d put ‘em in…

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No to Hip-Hop & Pop

As I’ve argued many times, it’s called the “Rock & Roll Hall of Fame” for a reason, and no matter their contributions to art, music, or film, hip-hop and pop artists should never be inducted. If it’s a “pop culture” hall of fame, then drop the pretense and call it such. Otherwise, cut out these gratuitous nominations made in the name of some sort of false diversity. For instance, somebody on the nominating committee really wants to see Chic inducted so they’re back on the ballot again this year. They shouldn’t be inducted for the sole reason that they aren’t a rock band by any stretch of the imagination. Yes, main man Nile Rodgers produced a great record for David Bowie, but that’s just not enough to make the cut. Sorry, Chic lovers…

The legend of Tupac Shakur has undeniably grown in the years since his death, and although the rapper released four acclaimed, influential albums during his lifetime, he wasn’t a rock artist and his influence on rock music was minimal (and I’m not even discussing the posthumous flood of dodgy album releases). I’d also include Janet Jackson under this category – a talented and popular dance-pop artist with one foot in the R&B grooves of the ‘90s – but she’s not a rocker, no matter Wenner’s fever dreams.

Joe Tex’s nomination is problematic in that while he was a great R&B singer, I don’t consider him to be a great artist and don’t feel that his influence extended to rock musicians the way that, for instance, the work of James Brown, Ray Charles, and Little Richard did. Tex’s career was almost entirely played out on the R&B charts, and he had only a pair of crossover hits stateside and only one single ever charted in the U.K. The nomination of folk music legend Joan Baez is some sort of joke, because beyond her brief flirtation as Dylan’s muse, there’s nothing in her career that even remotely “rocks.”

Willing to risk pissing off what little punk readership we have, I’d also nix Bad Brains from induction into the Rock Hall, and I’m kind of surprised that the band was nominated in the first place. Moderately influential on the ‘80s rock scene, the bulk of Bad Brains’ artistic output came via indie labels like ROIR, SST Records, and PVC Records – which, in itself, doesn’t disqualify them for induction – but much of the band’s music just isn’t notable and wasn’t distributed widely enough to have made a big difference. Quick, name a single Bad Brains album beyond their self-titled 1982 debut…yeah, I thought so. Sure, they influenced the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Fishbone, but I’d rather induct the latter and forget about the former.

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Not This Year (Or Any Other)

Sheesh, is there a more overrated band on the planet than Jane’s Addiction (save for maybe Smashing Pumpkins)? Yes, Perry Farrell and gang have a loyal and vocal following, but they released a mere three over-hyped albums during their short heyday (1987-90), hitting the upper region of the charts but once, which is not a Hall of Fame worthy career in my mind. Sure, they made some innovative music before spiraling into addiction and pretentiousness, and kudos to Farrell for traveling freakshow that was Lollapalooza (at least before the event became as bloated as Farrell’s bands), but we also have JA to thank for rap-metal outfits like Korn and Limp Bizkit. Yikes!

Never, never, never for Journey, a rock band in name only. Through their arena-rockin’ years during the late ‘70s and early ‘80s, they were closer to the pop world than true rockers. Former Santana guitarist Neal Schon squandered his talents on this horrible band, and Steve Perry was a grating, faux soulful vocalist fronting a bunch of career opportunists. Synth-pop new wavers Depeche Mode were hot shit in their U.K. homeland, but their commercial peak in the U.S. came late in the game, and while they chalked up four RIAA sales awards, they never really made any waves stateside and their influence is restricted to a bunch of electronic-rock wankers and dance-pop outfits.

I could make a similar argument with Kraftwerk, who were an undeniably influential band in the very narrow sphere of electronic rock (a/k/a “Krautrock”), but the band literally disappeared early in the 1980s, and only scored one commercial and critically acclaimed album stateside with 1974’s Autobahn. I’d also question the merits of electronic rock and its place in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, but I’d promote artists like Brian Eno, Keith Emerson (ELP), or Rick Wakeman (Yes) – all of whom pioneered the use of synthesizers and Mellotrons in rock ‘n’ roll – before I’d induct Kraftwerk.

The nomination of Electric Light Orchestra (ELO) is also a hard one as I’m a fan of the band, but although they had a sweet commercial run in the mid-to-late ‘70s with four Top Ten albums and a pair of Top 20s, I can’t readily argue their overall importance to rock ‘n’ roll music. If anything, I’d rather induct ELO frontman Jeff Lynne’s earlier band, the Move, and even Lynne’s side gig as a superstar producer (Roy Orbison, Tom Petty, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, Brian Wilson), where he often coaxed great performances out of the artists he was recording, has more real potential for Rock Hall induction than does ELO.

As for 2017 nominees that I haven’t mentioned in this rant, well, it’s because they aren’t much worth mentioning. You have until December 5th, 2016 to vote for your favorite artists, so hit up the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame website to register your choices.

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Contact the Rev at ThatDevilMusic.com

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