October 25, 2016

Zombies, Brains, and Addiction: Considering the 2017 Rock and Roll Hall Fame Nominees

So... 19 nominees. 19! This startling move on the part of the Rock Hall might best be described as "public outreach," i.e., "See, we nominated someone you like!" Whether you're into hardcore (Bad Brains), synth-pop (Depeche Mode), anthemic Top 40 pop-rock (Journey), rap (Tupac Shakur), or folk (Joan Baez), there was something for you on this ballot. At the same time, there are naturally a lot of frustrated Moody Blues, Harry Nilsson, Monkees, Nine Inch Nails, and Judas Priest fans out there. (Nothing like a Rock Hall nominee list to spotlight the artists that are not getting their due.)

In any case, here are E-Rockracy's (relatively) quick takes on the 19 Rock Hall nominees:

Bad Brains - The ballot's forehead-slapping surprise, and maybe a turning point. This tremendous nomination just gave hope to any fan of fringe/cult acts no one had any reason to imagine would ever be nominated. Alien Sex Fiend, 2018 is your year! Or maybe it'll be Black Flag's.

The Cars - Most predicted a return to the ballot this year, and here they are. A worthy act that should get in eventually.

Chaka Khan - Back again this year, and fresh from honoring Prince at a tribute concert in Minneapolis. Does she get enough of the 800+ votes, though?

Chic - What comes after 10 nominations? An 11th. Hopefully not a 12th. Inductee predictions will come later, but Chic has just got to be inducted at some point. Their inclusion here yet again makes one think that that the Rock Hall went with a whopping 19 nominations because Chic was taking up one of the spots yet again. Good times.

Depeche Mode - To see them on the same ballot as Kraftwerk is encouraging on one hand, but disjointed on another.  The Mode is deserving, this is a welcome nom, and they'll be inducted eventually, but no follower of electronic-based music would argue they should go in before Kraftwerk. This nomination seems to have simultaneously subtracted Nine Inch Nails and the Smiths from the ballot.

Electric Light Orchestra - Jeff Lynne finally gets his due. ELO is one of those acts people automatically assume was in years ago. There seems to be big momentum with them already.

Jane's Addiction Here we go... with a few nominations in the coming years. Apparently Dave Grohl had a hand in this nomination. However it happened, they belong in the conversation. Their recognition will open the door for other acts of the Lollapalooza/"alt-nation" era that have been snubbed thus far. The Pixies come to mind.

Janet Jackson - Truly a stunner that she didn't get in last year. With this overstuffed ballot, though, there's reluctance to to say Janet is a 100% lock for the next class. 

J. Geils Band Their fourth nomination. Picturing them among the final five is difficult, but if the Hall pulls a December surprise and inducts six or seven acts, they could easily be included.

Joan Baez - "She's not in yet?!" - nearly anyone I've mentioned Baez to, in discussing the nominees this year.  An overdue nomination.

Joe Tex - This fifth nomination for the widely respected, late soul/R&B performer was unexpected, as he'd not been put on the ballot since 2011. His first nomination was way back in 1998. So this year's nod may primarily be a gesture of respect, as few would predict he makes the induction cut.


Journey - Rock Hall CEO Joel Peresman did an interview earlier this year saying he was surprised Journey wasn't in yet. Interesting! Spoiler alert: He also mentioned Bon Jovi. We're halfway there!


Kraftwerk - A fourth nomination. It just doesn't seem like the wider voting body is checking the box for them. They might end up being the Robot Chic, as the years go on.


MC5 - The committee recognizes MC5's influence on punk rock with this nomination, which is great. Do they get lost in this huge ballot? Hopefully not, but probably.


Pearl Jam - If the Cubs win the World Series this month, Eddie Vedder's life will have peaked. This Rock Hall thing though, will be pretty nifty too! As others have noted, Neil Young is an ideal induction speaker, but I'm actually pulling for Vedder's spiritual godfather Pete Townshend. The Who album Quadrophenia maybe has a larger footprint on Pearl Jam's music than any one Neil album, though Young's fierce independence is unquestionably a lighthouse for these sure-thing inductees as well. (The induction speaker gig, though, might be Chris Cornell's to lose.)


Steppenwolf - Refreshing on one level to see a name almost no one has really been talking about for the Hall; this is a truly out of the blue nod. But many would have preferred "heavy metal thunder" by way of Judas Priest, not to compare them in any way, shape or form. Steppenwolf, like others on this ballot, are most likely earning the "we were nominated" distinction (still enviable by any standard). 


Tupac Shakur - As many predicted, on the nomination list the first year this rap icon was eligible. Does he get in this year? It might be 50-50.


Yes - Eligible for 22 years, and this is their third nomination. It's feeling like it may be their year finally. Telling that the Rock Hall listed the members that would be inducted.


The Zombies - This British Invasion group, who created some truly artful and impeccably crafted '60s rock, do feel conspicuous in their absence from the Hall. This is their second nomination, and they're bound to garner a competitive amount of votes when the ballots are distributed. Still, and nothing against them at all, there's a lingering sense that they got the spot that might have went to the Moody Blues or the Monkees. 

October 11, 2016

Candidates for the Rock Hall's Ahmet Ertegun Award

There is always someone behind the scenes. It's the unsung heroes, the inconspicuous figures that have a hand in holding everything together and creating magic.

This very concept is formalized and honored by the Rock Hall in the form of the Ahmet Ertegun Award (previously called "Non-Performer"). The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame's website defines it as an honor for "songwriters, producers, disc jockeys, record executives, journalists and other industry professionals who have had a major influence on rock & roll.Previous recipients of this award (granted under either "Non-Performer" or the later label, "Ahmet Ertegun") include Alan Freed, Jerry Wexler, Bill Graham, Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff, Clive Davis, Quincy Jones, and, last year, Bert Berns.

While it's unclear if the Hall will give the Ahmet Ertegun Award out during the ceremony next April, it's been a regular feature, and reasonably likely. Time to shine a light on two deserving icons—one a record label founder, artist mentor, and producer extraordinaire, the other a unique studio wizard with a vibrant discography of his own.

LL Cool J with Rick Rubin
Rick Rubin
A more significant figure in the American recording industry in the last 30-plus years is tough to think of. Co-founder of Def Jam Records with Russell Simmons in 1984 out of his NYU dorm room, Frederick Jay "Rick" Rubin's early activity involved releasing LL Cool J's first single "I Need a Beat," and signing Public Enemy and the Beastie Boys (both acts now Rock and Roll Hall of Famers). The label head and producer was present at one of the major convergences of rap and rock, 1986's "Walk this Way," where Aerosmith and Run-D.M.C. were forever joined in record-scratch matrimony. If that wasn't enough, he produced Slayer's Reign in Blood the same year. 

With an ear for hip-hop, metal, rock, folk, country, and whatever it is the Mars Volta does, Rubin proceeded to form American Recordings and serve as co-head of Columbia Records. But ultimately, it's the astounding list of musicians that he's manned the boards for that makes him such an airtight case for the Ahmet Ertegun award—such varied, multi-platinum artists as Red Hot Chili Peppers, Johnny Cash, Tom Petty, Jay-Z, AC/DC, Dixie Chicks, Adele, and scores of others. Rubin has been a major force in popular music and something of an expert at artist reinvention and revitalization; from the Beastie Boys' Licensed to Ill, to Aerosmith's reboot, to the Chili Peppers, to Cash's priceless late-career triumphs, the producer has overseen it all. A ubiquitous icon of the industry, Rubin is very much due for Rock Hall recognition.


Daniel Lanois

Daniel Lanois
Given his decades-long string of shimmering, atmospheric albums, there's certainly an argument for the gifted, Quebec-born songwriter-guitarist-arranger Daniel Lanois to enter the Rock Hall as a performer. But wow... does that seem like a long shot, or what? Not as remote a possibility, however, is his receiving the Ahmet Ertegun Award for his sterling, otherworldly production work. Here's a multi-hyphenate that has earned his spot in the Hall.

It was a slow start for Lanois; after a few years in the early '80s working alongside his brother Robert offering buzz-worthy production services in Hamilton, Ontario, Lanois began a collaborative relationship with none other than Brian Eno, and he and Eno went on to co-produce U2's The Unforgettable Fire. After the Fire, Peter Gabriel came calling, and Lanois produced the blockbuster album So, as well as U2's 1987 soaring masterpiece The Joshua Tree. Other highlights include his career-boosting work for Bob Dylan (Oh Mercy, Time Out of Mind) and his production of Emmylou Harris' Wrecking Ball. Along the way, Lanois' genius was also poured into his own records; he's forged his own highly-regarded discography, from his debut Acadie to the harrowing score for the movie Sling Blade to 2016's Goodbye to Language. History, and the Rock Hall, may yet end up canonizing him for his high-profile production work, and that's not at all a bad thing. This sonic conjurer would be a totally worthy Rock Hall honoree, however it happens.

September 9, 2016

Predictions: The 2017 Rock Hall Nominees

So who are the lucky 15? Given last year's Rock Hall class, expect at least a partial shift away from classic rock. For the Class of 2017, newly eligible Pearl Jam is the consensus favorite, and previous nominees will be back. However, it's the unforeseen wild cards that always hold the most intrigue, and some of the picks below are very much in that anything-can-happen spirit. Let's go crazy. Let's get nuts.

On that note, in no particular order, here are E-Rockracy's 15 nominee predictions for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Class of 2017:

Pearl Jam - Arriving fully formed in 1991 with their monolithic debut Ten, Pearl Jam has never wavered, building a sterling rock career that has to be the envy of any of their peers. They've held a firm grip on that elusive, all-too-rare thing artists like Neil Young and R.E.M. possess: artistic integrity. They've got the anthems, the diehard following, and they continue to play stadiums and arenas. And what a saga: They outlasted "grunge," battled Ticketmaster, endured tragedy, and forged a contemplative yet triumphant identity that is singular, earning fans from Pete Townshend to your little sister. Plainly, they are this year's shoo-in. Eddie Vedder and company will serve as a ceremony headliner and heavy draw for the HBO broadcast. 

Subversive Spudboys: Devo

Devo - Just a hunch, but given Gerald Casale's recent talk at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame museum in August (titled "It's a Beautiful World: Devo and the Subversive Politics of Rock"), it appears the institution is finally warming up to the Ohio spudboys. Devo is a truly special act with intelligence, a distinct worldview, and an unforgettable aesthetic. Their influence reaches far and wide. Case in point: Pearl Jam once dressed up as Devo and performed "Whip It" at a Halloween concert, so there's "all star jam" potential there if both acts went in. Imagine a dozen or so rock legends wearing red flower pot hats, it's almost worth inducting them simply to arrive at that scenario.

Los Lobos
Los Lobos - This eclectic troupe, which refers to itself as "just another band from East L.A." was a welcome addition to last year's list of nominees, and one few could have predicted. They didn't make the induction cut, but their rootsy, shape-shifting rock, multiple Grammys, and reportedly strong advocacy within the NomCom should keep them on the ballot.

Judas Priest - If one was to bet on which two artists Tom Morello is putting forth in this October's nomination scrum, the smart money would be on MC5 (below) and Judas Priest. Furthermore, Rock Hall voter Eddie Trunk went on record again recently, voicing his support of the metal gods' induction. Regardless of your opinion of Trunk, he is arguably metal and hard rock's most visible and active champion: the man who directly speaks to/fires up the larger base. Trunk represents a wider legion of metal fans/defenders of the faith that want Judas Priest (and other metal acts) to get their due. This is as much about validating heshers' personal taste as it is giving it up for one of the reigning titans from the New Wave of British Heavy Metal. Black Sabbath is in, Deep Purple is in... it's Judas Priest's turn.

Nine Inch Nails - Nominated the last two years, and there's no reason to think industrial-rock necromancer Trent Reznor won't be back again. (Three times is probably the charm for induction, too.) The purist, and even Reznor, might passionately argue that Kraftwerk, Depeche Mode, and even the Cure should enter the Hall first, but NIN commands immense respect in the industry.

Billboard chart toppers: The Go-Go's
The Go-Go's - Rolling Stone published a recent interview with singer Belinda Carlisle, and it was noted twice in the article how the Go-Go's stand alone as the only all-female group that writes and plays its own music to hit the top of the Billboard chart. It's a solid reason for Rock Hall consideration, and a possible signal that they're headed toward a nomination. Even in the absence of this article, there's a valid case to be made for the Go-Go's, who emerged from the L.A. punk scene and took the airwaves and MTV by storm with "Our Lips are Sealed," "We Got the Beat," and "Vacation," among other hits. They're on a farewell tour right now, so it might be a shrewd move on the Hall's part to catch them while they're still relatively active. 

The Cure - Nominated once in 2012, and they're too iconic and influential to ignore forever. With their entrancing repertoire, longevity, and current tour, they're an easier sell on the ballot than the never-going-to-reunite Smiths, whose place they'd be taking this year. Robert Smith and company are a legendary British troupe with a global multitude of followers. "Just Like Heaven," pretty much a perfect song, would almost be enough to enshrine them. And what a spectacular addition to the Rock Hall ceremony they would be.

2Pac - A towering, near-mythical figure in rap, the late Tupac Amaru Shakur has sold 75 million records globally. He started out initially—and relatively inauspiciously—as as a backup dancer and emcee for the Digital Underground, then struck out on his own and released 2Pacalypse Now in 1991. Controversy and violence were the hellhounds on his trail, never far behind, but his raw talent, extensive discography, and ongoing influence are irrefutable. 2Pac's most revered album statement is his Death Row Records debut, All Eyez on Me, released in 1996the year he died at age 25 after being gunned down in Las Vegas. As far as his Rock Hall chances, he's #86 on Rolling Stone's 2011 "Greatest Artists of All Time," a 100-entry list that, per Future Rock Legendsputs him among only 7 artists that are not yet inducted. It's just a matter of time.

The Shangri-Las
The Shangri-Las - Eligible since 1990 but never nominated, these purveyors of widescreen teenage dramas produced by George "Shadow" Morton nonetheless feel like a natural fit for the Hall. Their achievements in song include the death-courting "Leader of the Pack" and the poignant, seagull-accented "Remember (Walkin' in the Sand)." Countering the more prim and proper girl groups of their time, the Shangri-Las cultivated a edgier image, decked out in boots and leather pants. Their influence can be seen and heard in everyone from punk rockers to Madonna to Adele.

MC5 - Eligible for 25 years, and nominated in 2003. Time to "Kick Out the Jams" again. One of the key building blocks of American punk rock, Detroit's fiery MC5 is a favorite of NomCom member Morello, who may be advocating for them this year. In fact, Prophets of Rage, his current combo alongside of his Rage Against the Machine rhythm section as well as Chuck D and B-Real, recently covered MC5's "Kick out the Jams" in Toronto with Dave Grohl on drums. That sure is a lot of Hall of Famers digging on one punk band. 

Hear that "Rumble"? It's Link Wray
Link Wray - 33 years eligible, and nominated in 2014. The pioneering guitarist, who essentially invented the power chord and inspired Pete Townshend to pick up a guitar, is one of the more glaring Rock Hall snubs, and is bound to return to the ballot. A wildly deserving and influential figure in rock and roll. 

The Cars - "Hello again!" Nominated last year, and it was surprising the beloved, percolating new wave crew—a staple of FM radio like many of the eventual inductees—didn't make the final cut. They'll be back this year. How many groups can boast that Andy Warhol directed and appeared in one of their music videos, anyway?

Kool the Gang  - This year's ballot will have some stunners, and Kool & the Gang could be among them. They're an American musical institution (try getting through New Year's Eve without hearing "Celebration"—it can't be done), and their accomplishments are legion. They've been doing it since 1964, when they started as a jazz unit, but broke out in the next two decades, mastering funk and achieving crossover pop/R&B success with an avalanche of charting singles. They are among of the most sampled acts ever ("Summer Madness" alone has been sampled 160 times by artists including Ice Cube, Snoop Dogg, and Mary J. Blige),  and "Cherish" was a smash hit in 1985. They've been a presence in theaters too; "Summer Madness" appeared in Rocky, and Quentin Tarantino memorably featured "Jungle Boogie" in Pulp Fiction. So there's career longevity, a catalog of hits, and, given their astonishing sampling statistics, clear influence

The Monkees
The Monkees - It may be now or never for the Monkees and the Hall, but the timing sure feels right. They have an acclaimed new album, Good Times (on which they collaborated with Rivers Cuomo, Ben Gibbard,  and Noel Gallagher, among others), and a current tour that will even find Mike Nesmith sitting in with both Micky Dolenz and Peter Tork for one show in L.A. They were a pop culture sensation in the '60s, have plenty of smash hits, and are still at it 50 years later. Detractors should get over that "fictional band" stigma; it's been proven wrong time and time again. 

Sonic Youth - New York City's masters of guitar noise and left-field alt-rock hits ("Kool Thing," "100%") exuded a remote urban cool, yet were wholly committed to their punk-inspired craft... that is, until they disbanded in 2011 due to the marital breakup of Kim Gordon and Thurston Moore. The band is a darling among the rock intelligentsia, but lest you think they're too fringe, they once appeared on "The Simpsons." Also, it doesn't hurt that Gordon performed Nirvana's "Aneurysm" during the 2014 induction ceremony. It may take a few nominations to get them in, but Sonic Youth is due to hit the ballot

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.