March 31, 2017

Thinking Outside the Pyramid: 10 New Acts for the Rock Hall Conversation

In these sharply divided times, there is one thing we can all agree on: There are too many acts that are not in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. This problem is the foundation on which almost all Rock Hall chatter sits. Even a casual observer of the institution is familiar with the common, fill-in-the-blank questions asked like a broken record: "Why aren't ____ in the Rock Hall?!" or " ____ aren't in yet?!" Let's call this the Moody Blues Syndrome, or MBS. Talk to your doctor!

Yes, the outrage and indignation runneth over, and occasionally it's loud enough to make a difference; for every outcry of "Why aren't Jethro Tull in the Rock Hall?!" there is the B-side of, "At least they finally put in Rush! Why did those jerks wait 14 years?!"

In terms of who's missing from the Hall, most grievances have been aired quite sufficiently at this point. Sometimes, patience is rewarded (longtime snub Yes gets inducted on April 7), but at other times, not so much (the Moody Blues, indeed, are 28 years eligible, but have yet to see a single nomination).

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame 
Maybe you know all this. Maybe you don't. It's entirely possible you don't give a flying V. In any case, it's time to put the usual gripes on the back burner and, if you will, "think outside the pyramid" in Cleveland. On the fringes of this fraught discussion lies a vibrant population of artists that, generally, don't come up on the Rock Hall conversation radar. (The Northumbrian Countdown blog crafted an excellent list of 100 prospects in 2015, which included one of the choices below.) 

There's value in rounding up the wild cards—those Rock Hall long shots that don't cross people's minds as much. Remember, the Hall is prone to set the nominator to "stun"—did you really expect a Bad Brains nomination last October? Or Steppenwolf for that matter?

You might smack your forehead, or you might even agree that the artists listed below merit a nomination. Either way, here are 10 new acts for the Rock Hall conversation:

Missing Persons
Missing Persons - The more one watches the MTV videos and listens to the kinetic singles "Words," "Walking in L.A." and "Destination Unknown,"the more it becomes evident just how much peroxide-blonde Missing Persons frontwoman Dale Bozzio, with her boundary-pushing glam attire and squeaky vocals, is owed a huge debt by both Lady Gaga and No Doubt's Gwen Stefani. Influence? Look at the outfits, listen to the vocal tone and mannerisms. She could be their mother. Madonna's influence on inevitable Rock Hall inductee Gaga has been stated repeatedly; Bozzio's impact on her is also worthy of examination. This relatively forgotten new wave act truly deserves a critical reassessment, as everything that was intoxicatingly neon, synthed-up, and robotic about the genre is all right here. 

Peter Tosh
Peter Tosh - A founding member of the Wailers and iconic solo artist, the late Peter Tosh would be a welcome addition in Cleveland. His landmark, pro-cannabis 1976 solo album Legalize It found him stepping out of the shadow of Bob Marley, and established this Rastafarian as a monumental figure in reggae. His stature and success put him on tour with the Rolling Stones, and he even had a hit with "(You Gotta Walk ) Don't Look Back," a duet with Mick Jagger that the duo performed on Saturday Night Live. At 42 years old in 1987, Tosh was tragically killed at home during a robbery, but his impact resonates today, in modern reggae and genres beyond.
George Michael

George Michael - Sadly, there's nothing like death to put a spotlight on an artist's accomplishments. A shocking 2016 passing in a year full of them (on Christmas Day, no less), beloved pop genius George Michael departed way too soon. However, it's what he left behind—a sterling, globally embraced songbook—that matters now. Considering the mega-hits with Wham as well as his astonishing solo career (albums like the 1987 blockbuster Faith and Listen Without Prejudice, Vol. 1, songs like "Father Figure," "Freedom (90)," and "Fastlove"), his legacy is secure. It may still take some time for the Hall to come around for a pure pop artist like Michael (Janet Jackson is still struggling to achieve induction), but it's hard to think of a more deserving candidate among major pop stars. His influence can be heard and seen in everyone from Justin Timberlake to Sam Smith to Adele. Most recently, in the Key & Peele film Keanu, Michael's music even won over a car full of hardened gang members, to hysterical, legend-burnishing effect. Talk about cultural impact.

KRS-One
KRS-One - "If you don't know me by now/I doubt you'll ever know me/I never won a Grammy/I won't win a Tony," proclaims KRS-One on 1995's "MC's Act Like They Don't Know," a pure statement of his hardcore hip-hop intent. But let's move the needle back a track. Once the leader of revered hardcore hip-hop act Boogie Down Productions, Kris Parker eventually became the solo artist KRS-One, combining beats with social and political consciousness to mindset-shaking effect. This Bronx-hailing MC is a favorite of Public Enemy's Chuck D, and was even tapped by R.E.M. to guest rap on 1991's "Radio Song," which opens their mega-selling LP Out of Time. Perhaps that isn't anyone's favorite track, but KRS-One boasts a slamming, illuminating body of work, including the furious, intellectual Return of the Boom Bap and 2008's Maximum Strength, where this preacher-teacher delivers a hip-hop master class. While it's highly probable other names like LL Cool J, Snoop Dogg, and A Tribe Called Quest will get Rock Hall attention first, KRS-One is still a righteous candidate.

Bryan Adams
Bryan Adams - It's a tricky game, drawing conclusions based on precedent where the Rock Hall is concerned. However, presuming the populist embrace in Cleveland that has in recent years yielded the induction of "uncool," often critically loathed AOR acts (KISS, Chicago, especially Journey), Canadian hit machine Bryan Adams is now a prime target for a nomination. The sandpaper-voiced singer-songwriter, upon even a cursory glance, has a daunting stack of qualifications—100 million records sold globally, Juno Awards, a Grammy, and catchy rock songs that have been inescapable for four decades now. His 1984 Reckless tracks "Run to You" and "Summer of '69" alone could nudge him into serious contention, but there's plenty more Top 10 hits where that came from, and even a damn cool duet with no less than Tina Turner, "It's Only Love." With Journey members' names now being etched onto the signature wall at the Rock Hall museum, it's just denial to think that Bryan Adams' name won't be added there too, eventually. Call him a lightweight if you must, but his industry resume finds him punching well above his weight class.

INXS

INXS - Australia seems pretty under-represented at the Rock Hall. There are the Bee Gees and AC/DC, and that's about it. However, the simmering, anthemic rock of the late Michael Hutchence and company could lead to a nomination. From edgy, gestational early records like Shabooh Shoobah (including "Don't Change") to the fully-formed global smash Kick in 1987 ("Need You Tonight,"Never Tear Us Apart"), this Sydney out fit melded funk, horns and a punchy energy, selling 50 million records worldwide. Tragedy took the charismatic Hutchence away from the world in 1997, but a Rock Hall induction would be a nice bookend to the INXS story.

Grace Jones
Grace Jones - Perhaps the wildest of Rock Hall wild cards, this striking, Jamaica-born denizen of the hedonistic Studio 54 and all-around multi-hyphenate—model-actor-singer-disco queen—delivered some magnificent music that by no means should be ignored. After a brief era of mirror-ball-targeted efforts in the '70s, Jones switched gears, working with Sly & Robbie on exotic pop albums such as Warm Leatherette and Nightclubbing, which fused rock, reggae and Jones' aloof yet commanding vocal style. Hollywood came calling for this spectacular alien eventually, and she found herself starring in Conan the Destroyer, A View to a Kill, and Vamp, but it's easily Jones' musical exotica that stands the test of time. Nightclubbing's reissue in 2014 received a 9.0 review on Pitchfork, a development that invited a younger generation to experience Grace, as did her recent contribution to The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Pt. 1 soundtrack, "Original Beast." In 2008, she released her first new album in 19 years, Hurricane, which means the avant-garde Jones is by no means done with us yet. It would take one hell of an advocacy argument in a Nomination Committee meeting, but Jones was a groundbreaking, influential artist, and an eccentric genius. What a lovely surprise a nomination would be.

Billy Idol
Billy Idol - That lip snarl. That spiky hair. All those hits. Still, Billy Idol, who cut his teeth with U.K. punk band Generation X, then reinvented himself in America in the '80s with a string of classic, fist-pumping singles and videos, isn't even a blip on the Rock Hall radar. Does his career warrant a nomination? It feels more like a yes than a no, with his memorable look, catalog of Top 40 singles, and his inescapable presence to this day on the radio. Artists who broke through with the help of MTV have indeed had induction and nomination success, from Madonna to Joan Jett to Janet Jackson. Why not this Idol? The often stuffy, self-important institution could sure use a shot of unabashed fun, and Billy's just the guy to bring it. Crank up "White Wedding," "Rebel Yell," or "Eyes Without a Face," and see if you still want him removed from contention. Billy's the definition of rock and roll.

Sade
Sade - "There's a quiet storm/And it never felt like this before," confides Sade Adu on the international 1985 hit "The Sweetest Taboo," pulling the listener into her romantic, dreamy corner of the universe. But will a quiet storm ever gather on Lake Erie and hit the Rock Hall in the form of a Sade nomination? It's nice to think there's a whisper of a chance, as this reclusive yet legendary R&B/soul singer wields an outsized influence on modern R&B, impacting everyone from Janet Jackson to D'Angelo to Beyoncé. The London-raised, Nigeria-born icon's musical excellence can be heard across her discography, from 1984's Diamond Life to 2010's Soldier of Love. Few acts are their own genre; this is no ordinary artist. One interesting metric for Sade's reach is that one of her CDs is actually included in one all-inclusive beach resort's honeymoon vacation package. Is she responsible for more babies than Barry White? Discuss!

Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds
Nick Cave and the Bad SeedsThe black-clad transgressor and songwriter Nick Cave might be described as "dark." But that descriptor is far too facile, it does no justice to the shape-shifting, pysche-bashing storm he and his Bad Seeds have summoned on record and onstage throughout their career. This is Hall of Fame-caliber art. Cave is a sinister minister, a piano bar romantic, and at his concerts/post-punk tent revivals, a stalking, hot-blooded Quasimodo ringing bells that aren't rung enough in modern music. They just don't build them like this anymore. With the exception of the late Leonard Cohen, one is hard-pressed to identify another musical figure armed with such a varied, literary, and death-haunted repertoire. And the Bad Seeds? A murder of crows that emit atmosphere like a warm arterial spray. Whether it's "The Mercy Seat" (later covered by Johnny Cash) or Murder Ballads' bullet-ridden trauma "Stagger Lee" or the spare, devastating 2016 album Skeleton Tree, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds have far exceeded many of their peers. They've built a harrowing, influential, and often elegant body of work that's greater than their cult following would indicate. Nominating them would be a tasteful maneuver on the Rock Hall's part. 

March 13, 2017

Long Live Prog: 5 Prog Acts Due for the Rock Hall

"Long Live Rock" is the Rock Hall's shiny new slogan, but the panoramic picture that is rock and roll has not entirely come into focus in Cleveland. Many legitimate rock subgenres—key building blocks of the rock and roll pyramid, if you will—are not yet in place. Goth? Not yet... sad! Electronic music? Kraftwerk's been nominated four times to no avail. Industrial? Nine Inch Nails haven't been pounded in yet, despite two tries. And let's not get started on '80s hard rock/"hair metal" which effectively has zero representation in the Hall thus far, despite many possibilities. It appears these subsets are just too edgy for that pyramid on Lake Erie.

Still, there are reasons for hope despite the Hall's seemingly exclusionary policy. One beloved subgenre, progressive rock, or "prog," has seen its fortunes improve, especially of late. In 2013, Rush was finally welcomed into the Hall to the ovation of suburban geeks and Bass Player magazine subscribers everywhere, and next month at Brooklyn's Barclays Center, another long-snubbed prog favorite, Yes, will be inducted (sadly two years too late for their late bassist, Chris Squire, to have seen it happen).

As the Rock Hall no longer considers prog to be a four-letter word, here are five more progressive rock acts due for induction:

King Crimson
King Crimson - The prog mothership. Much as Kraftwerk created the boilerplate for electronic music, Robert Fripp and a huge, shape-shifting cast of instrumental wizards (Tony Levin, John Wetton, Ian McDonald, Adrian Belew, Bill Bruford, Greg Lake and many others) set the prog template. They're now 24 years overdue for the Hall.

The Moody Blues - Disregard singer-guitarist Justin Hayward's recent lament that "It's too late now" for the Moody Blues' Rock Hall nomination/induction; it's really not. The nearly three-decade snubbing of these orchestral English prog masters could easily come to an end, if the trend indicated with Rush and Yes continues. A nomination this October almost feels inevitable.

Procol Harum
Procol Harum - Nominated in 2013, and 25 years eligible, the soulful British prog troupe behind "Whiter Shade of Pale" could easily return to the ballot, especially if Nomination Committee member Steven Van Zandt has anything to do with it. They are a beloved progressive rock entity, in any case, and one of those overdue groups that seem to make perfect sense for the Rock Hall. 

Jethro Tull - Eligible for 24 years now, Jethro Tull is one of those bands casual observers of the Rock Hall express shock over when you tell them they're not in yet. With "Aqualung," "Locomotive Breath," and "Bungle in the Jungle" to the band's credit, not to mention a memorable Anchorman reference, it's getting tougher as the years pass to justify their absence from the Hall. Heaving sighs and eyerolls from critics certainly haven't prevented other acts from being inducted. Even with the flute often front and center, the Tull does rock pretty damn hard.

Emerson, Lake & Palmer
Emerson, Lake & Palmer - A progressive rock supergroup, London, England's ELP—keyboardist Keith Emerson, singer-bassist Greg Lake, and drummer Carl Palmer—enjoyed commercial success and radio's embrace, even though they had their critics ("A waste of time, talent and electricity," sniped DJ John Peel). Musically gifted as they were audacious, ELP notably brought orchestras on tour to recreate their complex, classical-influenced sound. The singles "Karn Evil 9" and "Lucky Man" were rotated endlessly on the FM rock dial in the '70s and beyond, and the trio built a dynamic, influential discography, including Brain Salad Surgery (featuring cover art by H.R. Giger). As is too often the case with being honored by the Rock Hall, any induction would be posthumous for two-thirds of the band, as both Emerson and Lake passed in 2016. They still very much belong in the conversation.