The latest batch of nominees for The Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame have been announced and once again, Iggy Pop and The Stooges have both been excluded. One of these years Jann Wenner and company will get it right. Maybe. For now, these much luckier acts, nine in total, will be counting on enough votes to put them through. Let’s go over the names one by one:
When you mention his name, few will recognize it. Even less people have heard his music. But all should be aware of the importance of this pioneering hip hop artist. A former gangbanger turned peace activist, the once-named Kevin Donovan (according to the Internet Movie Database) paved the way for the global emergence of rap. 30 years ago, according to Wikipedia, he started having “block parties” in the Southern Bronx area of New York. In 1978, he established his own group: the Zulu Nation. By the start of the next decade, he began his long recording career.
Like many influential artists, he rarely enjoyed commercial success. His most important single was his first. Planet Rock was issued in 1982 and featured a sample of Kraftwerk’s 1977 single, Trans-Europe Express. Hip hop was never the same. The following year he released Renegades Of Funk which was covered nearly 20 years later by Rage Against The Machine. (The latter was a rock radio hit. The former was a flop.)
One of the most profilic rap artists, his most recent releases were two versions of the same album. In 2005, there was Metal and Metal Remixes.
What are his chances for rock immortality? Not very good. With more prominent names on the ballot this year, his chances are quite slim. Since this is his first nomination, it’s quite likely he’ll have another chance in the years to come. He’s only 50 years old so it’s also very likely that by the time he gets inducted, he will be alive to enjoy the honour. But not this year.
The Beastie Boys
Imagine it. Three upper class white guys with Jewish roots combine their mutual loves of punk rock and hip hop into one obnoxious yet irresistibly commercial mix. Far less productive than Afrika Bambaataa, Mike D (Mike Diamond), Ad Rock (Adam Yauch) and MCA (Adam Horowitz) have nonetheless done for rap music what Elvis did for rock and roll. They brought it to the mainstream. The same year that Aerosmith remade Walk This Way with Run DMC (another important hip hop trio), The Beastie Boys unveiled their debut, License To Ill, which was produced by the great Rick Rubin. It became the first rap album to top Billboard’s sales chart. It would not be the last.
What was once exclusively the terrain of Black Americans is now a truly international music movement. Vanilla Ice aside, white rappers like Kid Rock and Eminem are equally as respected as guys like Ludacris and LL Cool J. And that’s all thanks to The Beastie Boys. (Did you know that “Beastie” originally stood for Boys Entering Anarchistic States Towards Internal Excellence?)
Paul’s Boutique, the 1989 follow-up to License which was produced by The Dust Brothers, was a late bloomer, an album that was initially not as commercially or critically acclaimed as its predecessor. Today, it’s considered a highly influential album. Other full-length releases like Check Your Head (which featured the band playing traditional rock instruments while rapping), Ill Communication and Hello Nasty kept the trio’s profile high throughout the 1990s.
Initially believed to be sexist brats who hated gay people (according to Alan Cross, the working title of License To Ill was Don’t Be A Faggot), The Beasties became far more socially and politically conscious in the 1990s. Freeing Tibet from the clutches of imperialist China became an important personal cause (which inspired the star-heavy annual Tibetan Freedom Concerts).
With rap starting to get its due at The Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame (Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five were inducted last year), The Beastie Boys are the strongest hope this year for a hip hop act to be so honoured. It’ll be a total shock if they don’t make the cut on this, their first nomination.
A return nominee, this four-piece from New York still hasn’t got any respect from voters. (Check out what I wrote about their chances last year here.) Will their fate be different this time around? I say no for the exact same reasons I gave in 2006.
The Dave Clark Five
Another rejected act from last year, Tom Hanks cited them as inspiration for his 1996 directorial debut, That Thing You Do! (This was my view on their previous nomination.) Unfortunately, like Chic, they’ll have to settle for just being nominated. With so many highly successful names on the ballot this year, it’ll be very difficult for this British Invasion-era quintet to break through.
The lone Canadian nominee, it’s remarkable that this long-admired poet has yet to be enshrined in The Hall Of Fame. Like The Beastie Boys, he comes from a Jewish background, although his upbringing was more middle class. Born in Montreal in 1934, Cohen would initially make his mark with books of prose in the 50s and 60s. Near the end of the decade, he started a solo musical career with his album, Songs Of Leonard Cohen.
Never a huge or reliable hitmaker on his own, nor terribly productive for that matter (he’s only made 11 studio albums in 40 years), he found greater success through other people’s interpretions of his material. Judy Collins scored a hit with Suzanne. The Neville Brothers remade Bird On A Wire for the 1990 movie of the same name. Bono and the much missed Jeff Buckley, among others, took individual stabs at Hallelujah. Jennifer Warnes trumped all of them by making a whole album of Cohen tunes. (He made a guest appearance on the most famous song from the record, First We Take Manhattan.) According to Wikipedia, there are over 30 Leonard Cohen tribute albums. I’m Your Fan and Tower Of Song are the best known titles.
That being said, his music has found a greater audience through movies than it ever did on the radio. McCabe & Mrs. Miller, Pump Up The Volume and Natural Born Killers are just three of the many films to showcase particular numbers in his catalogue. His unmistakably foreboding baritone is the dead giveaway.
And if that’s not enough to convince voters to induct him, why not throw in a couple of his sexual conquests, as well? There was a one-night stand with Janis Joplin (immortalized in Chelsea Hotel #2) and his ’90s relationship with the beautiful Rebecca DeMornay. Eat your heart out, Hugh Hefner.
Then again, he might be a sentimental favourite this year, thanks to his victorious lawsuit against his former manager who screwed him over money he may never collect. (Many in the business can relate to that awful mess.) A master lyricist who’s long suffered from depression and dark thoughts (a point not lost on comedian Roger Abbott of The Royal Canadian Air Farce who’s humourously impersonated Cohen for years), it’s no wonder so many alternative acts have drawn inspiration from his work. Besides, his name still carries a lot of weight. He’s already in The Canadian Music Hall Of Fame and The Canadian Songwriters Hall Of Fame. This year, it’s The Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame’s turn to honour him.
She can be a monster, a colossal pain in the ass, and egomaniacal. She can make questionable decisions (speaking with a faux-British accent, agreeing to be photographed with Vanilla Ice, dating Vanilla Ice). And she doesn’t always have the courage of her convictions (like cancelling the original video for American Life because of its anti-war sentiment). But of all the artists up for induction, Mrs. Ritchie is the surest bet of them all.
Just look at these career stats: 12 number one singles in America and Britain (19 in Canada and 22 in Japan, her highest individual total in a single market). 39 number one dance hits in America. Of the 47 songs that have hit Billboard’s Hot 100 Chart, 36 peaked in the Top 10. Every studio album she’s ever released has gone platinum. (Like A Virgin remains her biggest seller with over 10 million copies sold domestically.) Six of them topped Billboard’s sales chart. (Only Barbra Streisand has more with eight.) Overall, she has sold between 200 and 250 million records, an estimated figure but incredible nonetheless. She’s batting 6 for 25 at the Grammy Awards. And she’s won a simply astounding 68 MTV Video Music Awards.
Not bad for a woman who wasn’t supposed to have all this success. Believe it or not, Cyndi Lauper was supposed to be the bigger star. But while Lauper pretty much disappeared from the mainstream at the end of the 1980s, Madonna continues to be highly regarded and controversial. From her entertaining self-titled debut in 1983 to 2005’s Confessions On A Dance Floor, her much appreciated return to form, with memorable moments in between, she’s had quite the career. The Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame honour is hers for the taking.
Before the release of his first album in 1976, his first manager, Tony DeFries (who was guiding David Bowie simultaneously), changed his last name to Cougar, a temporary annoyance that would inevitably be discarded 15 years later. In the end, while it made this Indiana singer/songwriter sound cooler, the change was unnecessary. The songs were the real star of the show.
Another cantankerous American superstar, who hit the Top 40 a number of times before the decade was through, Mellencamp’s massive success really begins with American Fool, his fifth album, in 1982. (It remains his only number one seller.) Smash hits like Hurts So Good (which peaked at number two in America) and Jack & Diane (his only number one single) were all over the radio. The videos for those tracks were endlessly played on video channels, which also helped sell tons of albums. The following year came Uh-Huh and a name change. For the rest of the decade, he would be John Cougar Mellencamp. (He’d drop “Cougar” altogether for the release of Whenever We Wanted in 1991.)
From American Fool to Mr. Happy Go Lucky, Mellencamp made a strong, lasting impression with rock radio audiences. Seven of his biggest songs (Hurts So Good, Lonely Ol’ Night, Paper In Fire, Cherry Bomb, Get A Leg Up, Again Tonight and What If I Came Knocking) all hit number one on Billboard’s Mainstream Rock Chart. Since then, it’s been very difficult for him to compete with the next generation of rockers. After Your Life Is Now was issued in 1998, Mellencamp struggled to crank out more hits. Things have gotten so bad for him that he broke one of his longstanding rules (never licensing his music for TV ads) to sell records. In the end, Our Country only succeeded on Adult Contemporary stations, despite being heard in those famous GM Truck commercials. (It peaked at #88 on Billboard’s Hot 100 Chart and failed to break through on rock radio.)
Nevertheless, his back catalogue speaks for itself. He’s written and recorded lots of good songs, he’s well-respected (especially for his association with Farm Aid) and he’s a genuine rock and roll bad ass (multiple marriages since he was 17, bad personal habits, rabid perfectionist), all strong reasons why he’ll receive the Rock Hall honour this year. He deserves to be inducted, regardless.
Disco music owes a great debt to this woman. Without her contributions to the genre, it might not have survived. (The Saturday Night Fever soundtrack would most certainly not be as popular as it turned out to be.) After paying her dues in Europe for the first half of the ’70s, Summer was signed by Casablanca Records in 1975 where she would conquer her own country’s music charts. The song that changed everything was Love To Love You Baby, a cheeky epic produced by Pete Bellotte and co-written by Summer and Georgio Moroder with a strong emphasis on rock, an unusual approach for a dance single. Featuring her own multiple orgasms (something she was reluctant to go through with and which later freaked out her uptight Christian parents), the almost 20-minute track singlehandedly extended the life of the growing underground dance scene. Prior to its release, disco songs were short and tight like old school rock. It was hard to really get going on the dance floor when these numbers only lasted a few minutes. Summer’s debut American single changed all that. Now it was possible to dance to a single song for a far longer period of time. (DJs appreciated these epics for reasons that should be obvious.) As a result, more epics were issued. The Saturday Night Fever album is loaded with them. (Disco Infernal by The Trammps remains a classic standout.)
It took two years but Summer would follow up that pioneering breakthrough (a number two smash on the Hot 100) with a number of substantial Top 5 mainstream successes starting with I Feel Love in 1977. Her commercial peak came at the end of the ’70s and the start of the ’80s. Last Dance, Bad Girls, a remake of MacArthur Park, Hot Stuff, Dim All The Lights, On The Radio, The Wanderer and even a duet with Barbra Streisand, No More Tears, became radio staples. From 1975 to 1979, Summer accumulated twelve number one dance singles and topped the Billboard Hot 100 chart four times.
Another important commercial achievement were the three consecutive number one double albums she had starting with Live & More in 1978 and followed by Bad Girls and her greatest hits set in 1979. As the phony Disco backlash started gaining momentum in the early ’80s, Summer switched record labels (she became David Geffen’s first signed act) and inevitably re-tooled her sound. In 1983, She Works Hard For The Money became a Top 5 hit and in 1989, This Time I Know It’s For Real hit the Top 10.
Despite many periods where Top 40 success was stubbornly elusive, Summer has remained a popular dance artist. Since 1994, she’s had three more number one dance hits. Still active in the new millennium, her most recent single, I Got Your Love was a Top 5 dance hit in 2005.
In a year where the most recognizable names are the best bets for induction, Donna Summer should be one of the honourees.
You know their biggest hit: Walk Don’t Run. What you might not know are the number of lives that number two single changed. George Harrison, Gene Simmons, Joe Walsh, Steven Stills, Joe Perry, Elton John and many others, if Wikipedia is to be believed, all have cited this one song has having a strong influence in their young lives and future musical careers. While this Seattle-based instrumental outfit did have other hits (their version of the Hawaii Five-O theme was a Top 5 smash, for instance), nothing topped their 1960 signature blockbuster.
After failing to find an audience initially with a singer onboard, they eventually decided to stick with bare instrumentation. Incredibly, it was the best decision they ever made. They’ve sold well over 100 million records worldwide. Although they were most prominent in the ’60s, the band have experienced a couple of resurgences. First, during the punk explosion in the late ’70s and again in the mid-90s after Quentin Tarantino threw in some surf instrumentals on the soundtrack to his terrific Pulp Fiction.
The band is still active today despite line-up changes and deaths.
But is this the year they get honoured? I don’t think so.
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Sunday, September 30, 2007