August 23, 2016

Women That Should Be in the Rock Hall, Part 4: Big Mama Thornton, Patsy Cline, Sister Rosetta Tharpe

Blues, country, and gospel—talk about three key ingredients of rock and roll! On that note, three trailblazing, iconic figures comprise this installment of Women That Should Be in the Rock Hall: Willie Mae "Big Mama" Thornton, Patsy Cline, and Sister Rosetta Tharpe.

Willie Mae "Big Mama" Thornton
Big Mama Thornton
In 1953, there was a hit that had a 7-week stint at the top of the Billboard R&B charts: "Hound Dog" by none other than Montgomery-born Willie Mae "Big Mama" Thornton. It's a sterling accomplishment, and of course Elvis covered the Leiber and Stoller-penned song to even greater acclaim. Perhaps what further solidifies the Rock Hall case for the self-taught Thornton is a number she both wrote and performed, the 1968 hit "Ball 'n' Chain," later interpreted by Janis Joplin. A formidable, no-nonsense woman with the pipes and showmanship to back it up, Thornton is an unquestionable pioneer of rock and roll—a liberated blues belter and harmonica player shattering culturally-prescribed gender roles every time she stepped to the mic. She's never been nominated, but it's time she gets her due. Big voice. Big personality. Big songs. Big Mama Thornton.

Patsy Cline
Patsy Cline
Easily on the Mount Rushmore of the greatest country singers ever, Virginia Patterson Hensley left us far too young at age 30 in a 1963 plane crash. Her country and pop crossover legacy, however, is a rich one.  Cline recorded a pile of singles in the later half of the '50s, with "Walkin' After Midnight" emerging as a standout. When the '60s rolled around, and she was free from her earlier contractual shackles, she released the monumental hits "I Fall to Pieces" and "Crazy" (written by Willie Nelson). Indisputably, Cline built the stage on which so many female singers, regardless of genre, stand today. She was the first female solo artist to be inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame, all the way back in 1973. Thus, recognition from the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame should be forthcoming, given her pop chart success and iconic status. Musical excellence? Obviously. Influence? Everyone from Loretta Lynn to Linda Ronstadt (inducted) to Neko Case. The Hall is certainly not averse to honoring country-associated artists (i.e., Hank Williams, Johnny Cash), so Cline just feels like an inevitable selection. She's been eligible since 1982, but has never been nominated. In a world where genres increasingly blend together and myriad digital music platforms find us all consuming a wide variety of sounds, overlooking an artist of Cline's magnitude due to her perceived primary genre is short-sighted. She transcends country, and is worthy of a nomination.

Sister Rosetta Tharpe

Sister Rosetta Tharpe
Towering over the intersection of gospel and rock—wielding an electric guitar—is Sister Rosetta Tharpe (Rosetta Nubin), referred to by many as "the godmother of rock and roll." At one point, gospel music had no bigger star, and Tharpe's magnetism, ascendant voice, and instrumental prowess contributed to her being heard both on the radio and eventually by white audiences. With her hits "Rock Me" and "This Train" in the late '30s, this passionate, stylish figure began clearing the way for both R&B and, of course, rock and roll. Unsurprisingly, Tharpe courted controversy by performing both spiritual and secular material; her stages included both churches and nightclubs. However, her sacred/"profane" artistry, which spanned gospel, blues, jazz, R&B, and more, might ideally be seen now as bridge-building and rejecting labels—an affirmation that, despite our differences, we're all on this train together. In 1944, she recorded  "Down by the Riverside," which in 2004 was notably selected for the National Recording Registry of the U.S. Library of Congress, and her 1944 collaboration with boogie-woogie piano man Sammy Price yielded what is regarded as a clear antecedent of rock and roll, the Decca Records single "Strange Things Happening Every Day." Sister Rosetta Tharpe is the very definition of an artist that should be put into the Rock Hall under "Early Influence," but there's little doubt she deserves to enter those hallowed halls on Lake Erie.

July 6, 2016

Women That Should Be in the Rock Hall, Part 3: Kate Bush, Annie Lennox (Eurythmics), Sinead O'Connor

Time to move overseas! In the latest installment of this series on women that should be inducted into the Rock Hall, the focus turns to three magnificent, enigmatic voices from England, Scotland, and Ireland, respectively: Kate Bush, Annie Lennox (via Eurythmics), and Sinead O'Connor.

Kate Bush
A case study for the now-abandoned concept of "artist development," the preternaturally gifted Catherine Bush was signed to EMI at age 16, with an assist from Pink Floyd 's David Gilmour. She didn't release her debut The Kick Inside until she was 19, and that album's hit "Wuthering Heights" launched her into the stratosphere of popular consciousness in England, if not stateside. But it was just a matter of time. 

Literate, ethereal and wielding an unearthly voice, Bush released three more records with varying success, but there was no denying her vision and intellect. She eventually broke through in the U.S. with the mesmerizing track "Running Up That Hill" from the 1985 album Hounds of Love; it was also a major success in her homeland, even displacing Madonna's "Like a Virgin" off the top of the pop charts there. International recognition also came via her emotional duet with Peter Gabriel, 1986's "Don't Give Up." Bush went on to release such acclaimed efforts as The Sensual World (featuring the single "This Woman's Work"), The Red Shoes, and Aerial. In 2014, the reclusive legend sold out a 22-show residency in London, and in late-breaking news, she is being honored with an entire festival in Scotland this September called "Running Up That Hill – A Celebration Of The Work Of Kate Bush." With disciples ranging from Bj√∂rk to Tori Amos to Radiohead, hers is the type of peerless, critically-acclaimed career that the Rock Hall should ideally be honoring. Here's hoping they wake up and recognize one of the most significant art rock voices to have ever drifted into our orbit. 
Annie Lennox (Eurythmics)
The vocal half of new wave/synthpop icons Eurythmics, Annie Lennox would be a welcome addition to the Rock Hall via the act's induction. In 1980, the visually-savvy duo rose from the ashes of the band the Tourists, later becaming mainstays of both the charts and MTV. It all started with the harrowing single "Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)," and continued with such high-charting singles as "Who's That Girl, "Here Comes The Rain Again" and the boisterous "Would I Lie to You." 

Alongside her guitar-playing foil Dave Stewart, Lennox deployed an exquisite voice that continues to seduce, chill, and burn. And who could forget "Sisters Are Doin' it for Themselves," her duet with Aretha Franklin? Conveying a wide spectrum of human emotion whenever she takes the mic, Lennox is that rare, striking talent with just the right amount of commercial and critical success to merit her and Stewart serious consideration for the Hall. Her laudable, Oscar and Grammy-winning solo career and soundtrack work could also help the case for a Eurythmics induction. 

Sinead O'Connor
Arriving as passionate as she was serious, Irish wailer Sinead O'Connor rejected and revolutionized the music industry's notions of what a female pop star should look like, act like, or behave like. She entered the global frame in 1987 with her head-turning debut album, The Lion and the Cobra, which contained the college rock/pre-"alternative"-era hits "Mandinka" and "(I Want Your) Hands on Me." In one early career highlight, she performed "Mandinka" on the 1989 Grammys in a startling breakthrough performance. Of course, the zenith of O'Connor's career is I Do Not Want What I Haven't Got's "Nothing Compares 2 U," a timeless global hit penned by Prince and propagated by a bracingly intimate music video. Her discography continued in the decades to come with mixed success, though she received warm critical notices for 2014's I'm Not Bossy, I'm the Boss and especially 2012's How About I Be Me (And You Be You)? 

Let's be real: O'Connor is a polarizing figure; she's agitated everyone from Catholics to Miley Cyrus. But what has to be acknowledged is her powerhouse voice and warrior's resolve, as well as her influence on so many artists that followed her lead (see: any female "alternative" star of the '90s and beyond, and more than a few acts on the Lilith Fair roster). In spite of all the tabloid press and social media dust-ups that have tarnished her public perception over the years, O'Connor's contributions are cemented, and she absolutely shouldn't be undervalued. She burned so brightly, and has continued to release significant music. It would be unfortunate if her well-documented troubles hurt her Rock Hall chances, as she clearly meets the induction criteria of musical excellence and influence. She probably wouldn't show up to the ceremony—and might even have a few choice words for the institution—but she should still be given her due.  

June 24, 2016

Women That Should Be in the Rock Hall, Part 2: Pat Benatar

Sound. Vision. Both are key components in the career of Pat Benatar, the second subject of this series on women that belong in the Rock Hall.

When the scope of an artist's influence and cultural impact has become too large to quantify—and they have a truckload of hits—it's time to consider them for the Rock Hall. Yet Brooklyn-born, Long Island-raised mezzo-soprano Patricia Mae Andrezejewski remains on the outside looking in. Chalk that up to the increasingly indefensible elitism and sexism that apparently afflicts this institution, causing its Nomination Committee to repeatedly overlook and snub artists of her stature.

Eligible for induction since 2004, Benatar has been absent thus far from the Rock Hall conversation, but her presence has been felt for decades on the FM dial, concert stages, and MTV. Fierce, confident, and vocally gifted, she arrived in 1979 with "Heartbreaker," the lead track of her debut album In the Heat of the Night. It's one hell of an opening salvo (key lyric: "Don't you mess around with me") and a timeless pop-rock anthem. 

The Hall's exclusion of this nearly universally-admired performer is perplexing. Its two main criteria for induction, musical excellence and influence, abound here. If the complaint is that Benatar's heyday is relegated to the '80s, that shouldn't be a negative. As the first female artist to appear on MTV ("You Better Run" was the second-ever clip to air on the fledgling network), she paved the way for the later video success of Cyndi Lauper and Madonna, among others. She didn't write enough of her songs? The Rock Hall is teeming with artists that didn't always pen their own material, and in fact, Benatar co-wrote some of her sharpest singles, including "Treat Me Right," "Promises in the Dark," and "Fire and Ice." She won Grammys four years in a row between 1980 and 1983, underscoring the respect she earned in the music industry. And her sound evolved over time— there was the resonant choral pop of "We Belong" (a Top 10 hit) and a full embrace of synthesizers on the underrated 1985 single "Sex as a Weapon." 

We are strong: The "Love is a Battlefield" video
To further expound on Benatar's MTV contributions, her risk-taking maneuver of stepping into the shoes of a homeless teenager in the "Love is a Battlefield" video was a bonafide pop culture moment, not to mention a watershed depiction of streetwise female empowerment. Also, with its cinematic story arc and choreographed group dance sequence, it paralleled and served as a counterpoint to Michael Jackson's "Thriller" video. The "shoulder-shimmy-the-pimp-away" scene might seem a bit silly in hindsight, but don't miss the point: It was effectively Benatar taking control, and telegraphing the mission statement of her art: "We are strong." 

Pat Benatar is an icon—a rocker and balladeer that opened doors for everyone from Madonna to Katy Perry. She attained multi-platinum status, awards, and major airplay in a tough, male-dominated world, and did so with style and poise. Embraced by radio, MTV, and millions of fans—including teenage girls that dressed up like her—she's both a rock legend and a prime candidate for the Rock Hall. And in recent developments that boost her case, such contemporaries as Joan Jett and Heart have been inducted, while fellow AOR staples of her era like Cheap Trick and the Cars are finally making their way onto the ballot and beyond.
Copying: A Benatar lookalike in Fast Times at Ridgemont High

Maybe this quote from Benatar's memoir "Between a Heart and a Rock Place" says something the Rock Hall needs to hear:

“For every day since I was old enough to think, I’ve considered myself a feminist … I see women everywhere doing their thing and throwing themselves into situations headfirst, and not taking shit from anyone. It’s empowering to watch and to know that, perhaps in some way, I made the hard path they have to walk just a little bit easier.”

If nothing else, consider this: The woman that sang "Heartbreaker" and "Hit Me with Your Best Shot" is not in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Amazing.

She belongs.

June 10, 2016

Women That Should Be in the Rock Hall, Part 1: The Crystals, The Marvelettes and The Shangri-Las

Nominating a woman—what a concept, America! Now it's time to nominate more women for the Rock Hall, and also induct them.

In this series' first installment, the focus is on three '60s girl groups that, as time goes on, seem increasingly conspicuous in their absence from the Rock Hall: The Crystals, The Marvelettes, and The Shangri-Las. With harmony, romantic longing, and attitude, all three burst out of radio speakers in a turbulent decade, providing a vicarous voice and identity suggestions for teenage girls everywhere. And for better or for worse, they were overseen by svengalis such as Phil Spector, Berry Gordy, and George "Shadow" Morton. This might at least partially account for the lyrical subject matter (boys, rebels, kisses), which betrays a decidedly male projection of what young women are most concerned with (male validation, of course!). But when the songs hit the airwaves, there was no denying their cultural impact:  

"And when he walked me home that night/All the stars were shining bright/And then he kissed me..."

"Please Mister postman, look and see/Is there a letter, a letter for me..." 

"Betty, is that Jimmy's ring you're wearing?"

"Then He Kissed Me." "Please Mr. Postman." "Leader of the Pack." Just three of the songs, and all anthems so deeply woven into the musical fabric of the '60s that when one considers the fact that none of the acts that performed them have been inducted into the Rock Hall, it feels unjust. (In fairness, the Marvelettes have been nominated twice.)

A naysayer/Nomination Committee member might say these acts often didn't write their own songs, or that their success was largely due to their male benefactors. And which version of the Crystals are we talking about anyway, the "He's a Rebel" version (i.e. the Blossoms repackaged as the Crystals by Spector) or the "Then He Kissed Me" version? But put all that aside; if the discussion includes the Rock Hall's qualification of "musical excellence," one need only re-listen to these classic songs to grasp the depth of accomplishment here, and understand that these '60s girl groups are all richly deserving of induction.

In short? They all rock. Here are just a few reasons.

The Crystals 
Formed in Brooklyn in 1961, and signed to Phil Spector's Phillies Records. Their seven-year career of lush harmonies and smooth performances began with "There's No Other (Like My Baby)" and is marked by the bizarre decision by Spector (one of his many bizarre decisions) to produce and release a single sung by Darlene Love under the Crystals name ("He's a Rebel," a number one hit). The original Crystals rebounded with "Da Doo Ron Ron" and "Then He Kissed Me," two high watermarks of American rock and roll. A complicated history, to be sure, but what tremendous, buoyant, and unforgettable hit singles. "Da Doo Ron Ron" alone feels like enough to make a place for them in the Hall.

The Marvelettes
Formed in Inkster, Michigan in 1960, the Marvelettes boast Motown's first number one single, 1961's "Please Mr. Postman." The Supremes were their competition, yet Smokey Robinson was an important mentor, assisting with production and songwriting. Others involved with their musical output include Berry Gordy, Holland-Dozier-Holland, and Marvin Gaye. "Don't Mess with Bill" and "The Hunter Gets Captured by the Game" are among their other fine singles. They are the only act of the three here to actually receive previous Rock Hall nominations (in 2013 and 2015), but have yet to be inducted. Nonetheless, they've been honored by the Official Rhythm & Blues Music Hall of Fame and the Vocal Group Hall of Fame. Maybe three times nominated will be the charm.

The Shangri-Las
A Spector hovered over the Crystals, and the Shangri-Las were under a Shadow: George "Shadow" Morton, a genius producer and songwriter that orchestrated their widescreen teenage dramas. Most notable was the death-courting "Leader of the Pack" as well as the heartbreaking, seagull-accented "Remember (Walkin' in the Sand)." The Shangri-Las, in contrast to the more prim and proper girl groups of the era, cultivated a bad-girl image, complete with boots and leather pants. And the surging emotion on display in both "Leader" and "Remember" is perhaps the epitome of the teenage mindset — everything is magnified. The layered music responds in kind, featuring spoken dialogue, handclaps, and finger snaps alongside such sound effects as motorcycles revving and glass shattering like hearts. It all accompanies Mary Weiss' plaintive lead vocals, which anchor both of these remarkable tracks. As with the monumental achievement in song by the Crystals and Marvelettes, the Shangri-Las' two most popular singles (they also had the lesser hits "Give Him a Great Big Kiss" and "Out in the Streets"), played in tandem, provide one of the strongest arguments for induction that an act could have. 

May 20, 2016

The Who, The End?

The Who
Moda Center, Portland
May 17, 2016
"The sun came out today," noted Pete Townshend at the Moda Center, adding, "Life is good." It was a welcome bit of optimism from a serious rock and roll curmudgeon, a 71-year-old Brit on his umpteenth tour playing the bloody hits yet again. Townshend's words were atypical, but then again, something different was in the air at this event, as opposed to, say, that Who concert you saw back in 2004, or maybe in 1989 or the '70s. This felt like goodbye. For real this time.

While this "The Who Hits 50" extravaganza isn't billed as such, the band is definitely guilty of pioneering the "farewell tour" as it exists as a rock and roll construct. After Townshend went off the rails with substance abuse in the early '80s, the group heeded the cautionary tale of the late Keith Moon, leaving the road (if not the recording studio) after one last big jaunt, even appearing on the cover of a 1982 issue of Rolling Stone with the headline "The Who The End." Of course, many a rock act has embraced this folly, only to renege. It's become such a cliche that a certain L.A. glam-metal band, upon recently announcing a farewell tour, actually signed a contract beforehand that they wouldn't merely hit the road again when money got tight or they got bored. Hilarious.
This is the end: The Who (photo by Mary Layton)
Of course, the book of the Who was not fully written. In 1989, they returned with their "The Kids are Alright" tour to celebrate their 25th anniversary. And then, after the most protracted period of inactivity in their history, they resumed touring in 1996, and basically haven't stopped since. Diminishing returns? Depends on your perspective. Consider their 2000 tour specifically, when bassist John Entwistle was still alive. There was some truly fiery, dynamic instrumental interplay (even some jams!) and it proved that Roger Daltrey, Townshend, Entwistle and hired-gun drummer Zak Starkey (Ringo's son) could still really bring it. In 2002, Entwistle died in Las Vegas on a Thursday, and the band resumed touring the following Monday, playing the Hollywood Bowl in a defiant (some might say cold) demonstration of "the show must go on" imperative that brought bassist Pino Palladino into the fold. 

But let's jump ahead to 2016 and Portland, a continuation of the fifth Who tour since Entwistle passed. It's technically their 50th anniversary tour, but is now stretched to 52 years beyond their 1964 London formation, as this gig (and others) were postponed after Daltrey contracted viral meningitis in 2015. Originally slated for last September with opening act Joan Jett (not retained in favor of young Warrington, England group the Slydigs), the show finally took place, even if it was evident many folks opted for refunds, as dark scrims covered portions of the 300 level at the back. 

How was it? Well, perhaps it's easier to define a Who show in 2016 by what it is not, rather than what it is. In the context of "classic rock" giants that still stalk our arenas, this is not the high-energy, 35-song rock and roll revival that Bruce Springsteen can summon in his sleep on a Wednesday. This is not the mind-melting, illuminated trip through the cosmos that was David Gilmour's triumphant recent tour. This is not one of Paul McCartney's mega-impressive, tear-inducing bonanzas. No, this was a nostalgia ceremony and a valediction—Pete and Roger, slightly worse for the wear, but graciously honoring their touring commitments with sufficient fuel in the tank to remind fans why they loved this raucous, guitar-smashing band of London misfits in the first place.

Happy to be anywhere: Pete and Roger
There is clearly some unfinished business in the minds of Townshend/Daltrey (a better name for these proceedings, probably, but that imprimatur might not sell as many tickets). Capping a legacy/self-deification may be part of it. On a huge video screen behind them at one point, the side of a dramatically tall seaside cliff was emblazoned with classic, youthful images of Roger, Pete, John, and Keith, which suggested a Mount Rushmore of sorts. On this night, we got two of those guys, backed by Palladino, Starkey, guitarist Simon Townshend (Pete's brother), and curiously, three keyboardists (Loren Gold, John Corey, Frank Simes), none of whom were longtime adjunct Who member John "Rabbit" Bundrick. It was six hired guns behind two rock icons still engaging in their signature stage moves: one still windmilling and leaning energetically into his axe, the other doing microphone twirls, albeit with the tentativeness of a stiffer 72-year-old.

Nevertheless, it was a fist-pumping good time, even if the tea mug-toting Roger needed to take a whole song off to work himself into the climactic note of "Love, Reign o'er Me." And to Daltrey and Townshend's credit, they were gracious, coming off as bemused elder statesmen who are as surprised as you are that they're still touring. "I'm happy to be here," said Daltrey early on. "I'm happy to be anywhere!" Unusually conversational from the stage, Pete and Roger kicked things off with "Who Are You" and churned through a 21-song set that touched on key milestones in their tremendous songbook, from 1967's soaring "I Can See for Miles" (an apt notion from one of their earliest singles) to the trifle "Squeeze Box" to 1982's percolating, barbed wealth meditation "Eminence Front." A welcome deep cut emerged with the powerful Quadrophenia instrumental "The Rock," a terrific choice that nodded to their best album, its performance adorned by interspersed video images of global calamity and Who history. Their legacy was being put in perspective, and put to bed.

And what a legacy. At the risk of deploying a tired Who cliche, they didn't die before they got old, and so, loyal fan, they're up there playing for you one last time, and maybe for your kids that you brought along. Townshend summed it up best, dryly stating at the end of the show, "If this is your first time seeing us, tell your friends.... they've missed us!"

May 5, 2016

In the Air This Year? 2017 Rock Hall Dark Horses

A real dice roll, predicting what the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is going to do (you know, besides reliably tick people off). In any case, it's still pretty interesting to bat around some names, certain or otherwise, that might crop up as nominees each year. 

With the HBO broadcast of the 2016 induction ceremony now in reruns, why not start informally speculating on some of the dark horses that "could" surprisingly nab a nomination for the 2017 class (i.e., like Los Lobos this past year—did anyone see that coming?). These 10 acts aren't official predictions, aren't comprehensive, nor are they personal selections, necessarily. Sporadically mentioned in various quarters, it just feels like they're in the air around the Rock Hall conversation to some degree. Call them maybes. In other words, not Pearl Jam.

Black Flag - Formed in Hermosa Beach, CA, they were the pioneers of hardcore punk, blazing a screeching, take-no-prisoners trail across the U.S. They embodied the DIY ethic, self-releasing albums and touring in a van under such brutal conditions, they had to have wanted it. You want influence? It's remarkably widespread, with Nirvana, Sonic Youth, Pantera, Faith No More, Beastie Boys and Green Day just a smattering of names that owe them a huge debt.
Photo by Naomi Petersen
Black Flag

Phil Collins - Deluxe reissues of his solo work hitting the marketplace, and after a bizarre retirement phase where he collected a trove of Alamo artifacts (no, really), he's suddenly active again, playing live. So functionally and logistically, it's the right time, never mind that his fellow Genesis vocalist, Peter Gabriel, was enshrined solo in 2014. Collins bore the scarlet letter of "adult contemporary" as his solo career wore on, but his earlier efforts had some inventive edge ("In the Air Tonight," of course) and Top 10 cachet. Unless the Rock Hall nominators and voters just don't care anymore-oh-OH.  

Electric Light Orchestra - Musical mastermind Jeff Lynne was behind some innovative, catchy '70s hits with ELO, and he's lauded both as a producer and as a co-founder of the Traveling Wilburys. Lynne is the type of guy that could be inducted under Lifetime Achievement, or Musical Excellence, but ELO is an iconic name that wouldn't be out of place on the 2017 nominee list.

Eurythmics - One of the great duos of late-20th century popular music, the aesthetically-savvy new wave/synthpop act lit up the charts and MTV in the '80s starting with the haunting single "Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)" and many more after. Alongside her guitar-playing foil Dave Stewart, powerhouse vocalist Annie Lennox summoned an ice and fire that danced atop both chilly synth soundscapes and power chords to striking effect. They have plenty of hits and respect, so who am I to disagree?

J. Geils Band - The type of classic, all-American rock and roll band that will probably get in eventually. With FM radio staples the Cars achieving nominee status, and similarly, Cheap Trick inducted, J. Geils Band's chances would seem to increase. Also, there's the "Friend of the Rock Hall" thing: loose-limbed frontman Peter Wolf is regarded by the Rock Hall brass enough to be invited twice as an induction speaker, so J. Geils Band could likely be funneled into the nominee holding pen.

Journey - In a recent interview with Den of Geek, Rock Hall CEO Joel Peresman was asked about bands he was surprised weren't in yet, and he mentioned Journey. Sure, they're massively successful overall, but in Rock Hall terms, still reside in that dark horse realm, as populist arena rock of this ilk has been given acutely short shrift by the institution (think Boston, Kansas, Foreigner, Styx). But don', count out Steve Perry and company. 

Kool & the Gang - Yeah, you never need to hear "Celebration" ever again. But if you go to a wedding reception or any New Year's Eve event, rest assured, my friend, you will. Kool the Gang have actually been at it since the '60s, when they started as a jazz unit, but broke big in the next two decades as they brought in the funk and had crossover pop/R&B success. Quentin Tarantino gave them a boost in the '90s, featuring "Jungle Boogie" in Pulp Fiction, a classic track by any standard. So there's serious career longevity here, if nothing else. And their catalog of hits is undeniable. But the Rock Hall, really, you might ask? Well, if their road manager is to be believed, they have been "in talks" per this article. Unless we're being misled.

Little Feat - The late Lowell George's versatile collective, which encompassed blues, funk, country, R&B, and more, is legendary and still touring. Additionally, they're beloved enough by fans to land at #2 on Rolling Stone's recent readers poll of who should be inducted in 2017. This unlikely high placement is a result that smacks of ballot-stuffing, but perhaps it means Little Feat is on the Rock Hall radar. 

Sonic Youth
Randy Rhoads - Per his social media posts, Tom Morello has Rhoads on his "Mt. Rushmore of Rock and Roll." Morello's on the Nomination Committee and his persuasive powers were sufficient enough to get KISS inducted, so the late, prodigiously talented Ozzy Osbourne/Quiet Riot guitarist might just shred his way into a Musical Excellence recognition slot. Crazy, but that's how it goes.

Sonic Youth - Repeatedly mentioned as prime Rock Hall candidates, Sonic Youth, those New York City-based arbiters of guitar experimentalism, punk noise, and left-field alt-rock hits ("Kool Thing," "100%") would seemingly have the credentials the Hall is looking for. They were impactful, dynamic, and resolute in their art-damaged mission until they effectively disbanded due to the marital breakup of their principals, Thurston Moore and Kim Gordon.  For the musical performance of inductee Nirvana at the induction ceremony in 2014, Gordon was brilliant singing "Aneurysm," so there is definitely some Rock Hall association.

April 26, 2016

With an Intellect and a Savior-faire: A Personal Appreciation of Prince Rogers Nelson

I remember when the purple bomb hit.

It was MTV, 1983. Prince's "1999" video flashed onto the screen. Swirling spotlights. A solitary figure standing atop a tiered stage. Then, drums. Wendy and Lisa. Synchronized swaying and side-stepping. A purple bass. Dr. Fink, a guy in medical scrubs, on keys. Guitarist Dez Dickerson rocking guitar and a white Rising Sun headband. After sliding down a pole and hopping down to normal stage level, shiny trench coat flaring like a superhero's cape, Prince bounded into my life: "The sky was all purple, there were people runnin' everywhere..."

For me, the tectonic plates of popular music immediately shifted. Spinning around, grabbing the mic like he meant business, Prince was an alien, illuminating the television as if he'd been beamed down from Parliament-Funkadelic's Mothership. Little Richard hair. Impeccable wardrobe. Mustache. Dance moves like the baddest MF ever. No, this wasn't Adam Ant, Flock of Seagulls, or Men at Work, or any other staple of that fascinating early MTV era. This was a shimmering vision in purple, a renegade of funk, a charisma case in ascension.
Prince Rogers Nelson was a man with intelligence and savvy—a musical genius and preternaturally gifted performer who knew what he wanted, and where he was going. Rock stars rarely arrive with so many goods: songwriting, producing, singing, playing every instrument. Almost nothing compares to his rise, artistry, and game-changing cultural impact. He had a lion in his pocket, and baby, it was ready 2 roar. When "1999" splashed onto MTV, Prince was five provocative albums deep, but the clip was a key breakthrough—a quantum leap.

Gliding in next on the wings of a slow synth line was "Little Red Corvette," and it was off to the races. If you've read this far (and hey, thanks), there's no need to list all that came next, the collaborations, the accomplishments across the decades. A revolutionary intent on freedom from the outset, Prince redefined the music industry and fought many a righteous battle against it. He defied societal norms, was a guitar wizard, and won some of the deepest respect a musician can have. On a near-universal level, merely saying his name elicited reverence, a sort of unspoken, "Whoa, yeah. That guy. Astonishing." I feel wildly fortunate to have witnessed it, to have lived at the same time.

Still, Prince never seemed quite real. His well-cultivated mystique supported the idea that he truly existed in another dimension. But he did walk among us. Around the turn of the millennium, I went to the NAMM (National Association of Music Merchants) trade show at the L.A. Convention Center. While perusing an exhibit, I looked up and noticed a strange trio going by. One was a woman dressed up in a traditional taxi driver's uniform, with a cap labeled "TAXI". To her right was maybe a 10-year-old child, comically wearing an identical taxi driver getup. The other person on her left, to my disbelief, was... Prince. I quickly realized the woman was a bodyguard, and the kid, well, who knows? It was a bizarre posse. Prince floated down the aisle, turned a corner, and he was gone.

Farewell, Prince. No one in the whole universe will ever compare.