Who Will Join The Hall In 2007?

It’s that time again.  The Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame has announced the next batch of finalists for its 2007 induction ceremony. 
For some strange reason only 9 acts made the list this year.  (Normally, there are 15.)  In the end, only 5 will be officially invited to live forever in the hallowed halls of Cleveland’s popular tourist attraction.  Let’s examine the finalists and determine who deserves to be inducted, who will be inducted and who will get the shaft.
“Le freak c’est chic,” declared this New York quartet which Rolling Stone considers to be the best disco band of its time.  Led by axeman Nile Rodgers and late bassist Bernard Edwards, Chic released 7 studio albums in 6 years to much success and acclaim.  (Luther Vandross sang for them from 1977 to 1979.)  Besides the aforementioned Le Freak, probably their best known hit, they also scored with Dance Dance Dance, Good Times, I Want Your Love and many others.  Rodgers and Edwards, who produced and wrote their own material for the group, also wrote hit singles for other artists including Diana Ross (Upside Down), and Sister Sledge (We Are Family).  Rodgers later became a very successful producer on his own working with David Bowie and Duran Duran among others. 
Having said all that, what are the band’s chances for induction?  Not good.  They’ve been denied before and I have a feeling it will happen again.  I only remember a few of their singles so I can’t make a stand on their music personally.  All I know is their music is still very much alive today thanks to its endless sampling.  (The bass line from Rapper’s Delight, the most influential hip hop song, is taken from Chic’s Good Times.  Many rap songs have used that very same sample.) 
Their chances for acceptance all depends on how many die-hard Chic supporters there are among the thousand or so voters deciding their fate.  They weren’t there for them a few years ago and I doubt they’ll be there this year.  Their time will come, I’m sure, but not this time.
The Dave Clark Five
It must suck to see all of your contemporaries (The Beatles, The Beach Boys, The Rolling Stones and many others) easily secure the keys to rock and roll eternity while you’re still waiting to get the go-ahead.  But that’s been the fate of The Dave Clark Five, who quietly built up a large catalogue of pop hits during their heyday in the 1960s.  They’re one of my parents’ favourite groups.  Tom Hanks is a fan, too.
Despite releasing hit after hit on both sides of the pond, this British quintet (named after their drummer who also served as their manager) were always in the shadow of The Beatles.  Probably best known for Glad All Over, their other big hits include Because, Over And Over (their only number one single in America), Bits And Pieces, Anyway You Want It, Catch Us If You Can, and You Got What It Takes. 
I can’t say personally whether they belong in the hall or not, based on the quality of their music.  They are certainly a staple of Golden Oldies stations and chances are, even if you’re not familiar with their name or the titles of their songs, you’ve heard them endlessly on those particular types of stations. 
According to Wikipedia, Glad All Over is the official anthem of Crystal Palace, a British soccer team.  (Other clubs like Port Vale and Blackpool play the song when either team scores at home.  Think of the song as their Song 2 or Rock And Roll Part 2 or Vertigo.)
But they have stiff competition this year.  I think the more familiar American acts will earn more votes and as a result, The Dave Clark Five will not be accepted. 
Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five
In 1982, with an assist by guest rapper Melle Mel, Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Flash unleashed one of the most important rap songs in music history.  The Message was the ultimate ghetto travelogue, a litany of horrible images inspired by tough times in tough neighbourhoods in Reagan’s America.  Nearly 25 years later, it remains just as powerful as it was when it first appeared.  Also successful was their anti-drug anthem, White Lines, later covered by Duran Duran for their Thank You CD.
Successful before the emergence of Eminem, N.W.A and Run DMC, Grandmaster Flash might be the most important DJ in rap history.  According to the All Music Guide, he established three basic DJ moves – cutting (“moving between tracks exactly on the beat”), back-spinning (“manually turning records to repeat brief snippets of sound”) and phasing (“manipulating turntable speeds”) – all of which are standard practice by today’s DJs. 
He wasn’t a commercial behemoth like the aforementioned acts but he did establish “the basic vocabulary” for the modern rap DJ which will live on long after he passes.  Let’s face it, rap is the number one style of music today.  It’s bigger than rock, pop and even country.  One of two rap pioneers up for the induction honour, I would think Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five are the strongest bet.
I’ve been a fan of this longtime Athens, Georgia quintet since the 1980s, well before they became one of the biggest and most respected bands of the 1990s.  Many talk about “the R.E.M. model”, how they’ve been able to maintain artistic integrity for so many years without having it chiselled away by an increasingly greedy and impatient music business and how they divide all their profits evenly.  True, it appears their best music is behind them but what a catalogue.
Peter Buck said it best in the liner notes of the band’s second greatest hits package in 2003.  He mentioned that there were 2 distinctive periods of R.E.M.:  before Losing My Religion (pre-1991) and after (1991 to the present).  Before the band’s biggest single success (a top 5 single), they were on the now-defunct indie label, IRS.  Steadily building a fan base for 6 years, beginning with the Chronic Town EP in 1982 and ending with the first greatest hits release, Eponymous, in 1988, they then wisely switched to the artist-friendly Warner Bros., where they experienced their greatest successes.  Their most acclaimed and commercial records appeared between 1991 and 1994.  Out Of Time was an unlikely smash in a year filled with eclectic blockbusters.  Automatic For The People is considered their best album and Monster lived up to its name.  A terminal fixture on the radio and TV, it was during this period that R.E.M.’s star shone brightest. 
Then came the Aneurysm tour of 1995 where 3 of the members all had to deal with sudden, dreadful health scares.  As a result, the band’s longtime drummer, the unabrowed Bill Berry (author of the deeply moving Everybody Hurts), ended his tenure just before the recording of the Up album.  Since then, despite some terrific singles, (and the entertaining New Adventures In Hi-Fi CD in 1996) the band has pretty much peaked at this point.  Unlike U2, who are back to making important records worthy of their earlier triumphs, R.E.M. seems stuck in a creative and commercial rut.  Maybe an official invite to The Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame would stir up their passions again.  I think it will happen and there’s no question they deserve it.
The Ronettes
Even though they weren’t nearly as successful as other girl groups of their era like The Supremes, The Ronettes may have had more influence.  Led by the charismatic Ronnie Spector, this all-female trio with the beehive haircuts scored their biggest successes in the 1960s with Ronnie’s then-husband, the eternally psychotic Phil Spector (now awaiting his fate in a murder trial) orchestrating everything in the studio.  The remarkably perfectionistic Phil gave them their biggest triumph, Be My Baby, Brian Wilson’s favourite song.  (Wilson responded with the similiar sounding, Don’t Worry Baby, which he recorded with The Beach Boys.  Before The Beach Boys made it a success on their own, Wilson offered the song to Spector and The Ronettes.  They turned it down.)
Be My Baby hit number 2 in 1963 and has been a staple of pop culture ever since.  No other single they released during their 7-year run ever finished so high on the pop charts in America.  And now I understand why they’ve never been inducted into The Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame.  One big song is not good enough to be accepted.  I think they’ll be snubbed.
Patti Smith
She is the most unglamourous chick rocker and yet the most influential in rock and roll history.  She once proclaimed on record, “I don’t fuck much with the past, but I fuck plenty with the future.” And indeed she did.  Everyone from Debbie Harry in Blondie to modern bands like Hole, Kittie and The Donnas owe a lot to “the godmother of punk”.  Best known for her 1978 Top 10 smash, Because The Night (co-written with Bruce Springsteen), this Rimbaud-worshipping, hairy-pitted punk pioneer became the Dylan of the New York punk underworld. 
Her solo work has been snubbed before.  Even The Patti Smith Group has been rejected in the past.  Despite influencing U2 (who have their own version of Dancing Barefoot), and R.E.M. (Michael Stipe was obsessed with her first record, Horses, as a teenager) and continuing to see her work interpreted by other artists (Marilyn Manson did a version of Rock N Roll Nigger for the Smells Like Children CD), I suspect only one important punk icon will get recognized this time.  And it won’t be Smith.
In terms of influence, certainly she belongs there.  Any time you hear Alanis Morissette, Kate Bush, Courtney Love, Fiona Apple or Peaches voicing their views through their lyrics, chances are Smith showed them the way.  (When Roseanne Barr talks about her 1988 hit, People Have The Power (an idea her late husband, Fred “Sonic” Smith, challenged her to write about) on an episode of her self-named sitcom, you know her influence goes beyond music.)  
But I’ve not heard enough of her music to know for sure whether or not her catalogue really compares with some of the other acts up for induction this time around.  That being said, she will be passed over.  Her induction will have to wait another year.
The Stooges
On April 21st of this year I voiced my displeasure at the fact that neither Iggy Pop nor his groundbreaking band, The Stooges, had been officially invited to join The Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame.  I felt then (as I do now) that he should be honoured twice:  for drafting the blueprint for disagreeable yet strangely accessible alternative music with The Stooges and for his much superior solo work.  
This year, once again, Iggy, the solo artist, has been snubbed but not The Stooges, who have yet another chance to be terminally enshrined.  Their odds have never been better.  They’re only competing with 8 other acts for the honour this time around, not the usual 14 like in past years.  And with a reformed version of the band working feverishly in the studio to prepare their first studio album in 34 years (not to mention all the live gigs they’ve been doing from time to time), they’ve been keeping a high profile.
Iggy is a bonafide living legend, a true original, a survivor despite everything good and bad that’s happened to him.  He’s a devoted student of the blues who twisted and manipulated this style of music into something much more corrosive and dangerous, and ultimately, more satisfying.  Like Howard Stern, he was an outsider who influenced the mainstream’s future and showed the world there was another way of providing good entertainment for the people.  Many have imitated him and his ideas resulting in more commercial success for themselves than Iggy himself has had.  Indeed, The Stooges never had a hit during their two previous incarnations.  No commercial radio airplay, no gold records.  But like The Velvet Underground, a large number of disenfranchised and ambitious musicians worshipped their records, covered them frequently in concert and in the studio, and corrupted the mainstream by following his lead.  We’re all better for it.
The three studio records that The Stooges produced – The Stooges (1969), Funhouse (1970) and Raw Power (1973) – never sounded like products of their time.  They sounded like the future.  They still do.  During this period, they gave us Search & Destroy (later heard in a Nike ad), No Fun (covered by The Sex Pistols), I Wanna Be Your Dog, Raw Power (covered by Guns N’ Roses), 1969, 1970, Your Pretty Face Is Going To Hell and many others.  Many of their disciples like The Ramones, The Clash, The Sex Pistols, U2 and countless others are already in the Hall.  It’s time to correct this oversight and induct The Stooges into the Hall Of Fame.  I think it will finally happen next year.  Iggy, make it the speech of your life.
Joe Tex
I am unfamiliar with this rap pioneer who died 24 years ago, not too long after celebrating his 49th birthday.  A successful soul singer of the 1960s and 70s, according to Wikipedia, he actually coined the term “rap” to describe “[h]is style of speaking over music…”.  The All Music Guide says he “made the first Southern soul record [Hold What You’ve Got] that also hit on the pop charts [number 5 in 1965]…”
The Texas-born pioneer struggled through the 1950s despite winning a talent contest in 1954, but found his niche the following decade after hooking up with “Nashville song publisher Buddy Killen”, says the All Music Guide.  Tex wrote Baby You’re Right for James Brown and it peaked at number 2.  He recorded at Muscle Shoals studio before it became a popular place to cut records.  He also wrote and cut the first successful anti-Vietnam War anthem, I Believe I’m Gonna Make It, in 1966. 
I have a strong feeling that Tex is gonna make it.  I don’t know if he deserves it – I’ve never heard of any of his songs – but based purely on the pioneering moves he made as a performer and writer, he probably belongs there on that basis alone.  It’s too bad he’s not alive to enjoy this honour next year. 
Van Halen
They are the cockroaches of Rock, surviving every apocalyptic musical trend over the past 30 years.  And like R.E.M. and The Stooges, they’re one of my favourite all-time groups.  Originally called Mammoth, it was Indiana-born singer David Lee Roth who convinced Dutch brothers Alex and Eddie to name the band after their surname.  A wise move.  Alex was the original guitar player and Eddie played drums.  They ended up switching.  Another wise move.  Gene Simmons liked this band enough to champion them and have them tour with Kiss.  From their first studio album, Van Halen (1978), to their second greatest hits package, Best Of Both Worlds (2004), they’ve known instinctively how to win us over time and time again. 
The secret weapon is Eddie Van Halen, a guitar player so good that when Michael Jackson wanted him to play the solo on Beat It, he nailed it on the first take (and stupidly, refused to take any money for the lucrative gig).  Neither a failed marriage nor tongue cancer has stopped him.  Nor has putting up with 3 different singers.
Gary Cherone was the least successful, lasting only one album (the much-drubbed Van Halen 3 in 1998).  Although Sammy Hagar had his detractors during his initial decade-long stint with the band (they made up a few years ago), it didn’t hurt the band’s record sales or their creativity.  But, without question, Roth was the definitive frontman, fearless and lovably obnoxious in equal doses.  Eternally quotable, he gave many a memorable interview during his time in the band.  He gladly won over the women while the rhythm section won over the men.  
Their best album remains 1984 which features their two greatest singles, Jump and Panama.  22 years later, it’s still killer.  The self-titled debut comes a close second.  (Their version of You Really Got Me emasculates The Kinks’ original.) 
I can’t imagine them being passed over again.  Besides, David Lee Roth could use some cheering up.  And everybody wants to see Eddie play again.  They will make it and they deserve it.
Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Wednesday, November 1, 2006
10:49 p.m.
Published in: on November 1, 2006 at 11:08 pm  Leave a Comment  

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