In the first two audits in this series, Part 1 and Part 2, I outlined the method and criteria I use for auditing (in Part 1) as well as emphasizing the historical understanding and context that this Hall, like other Halls of Fame, provides to our understanding of pop culture (in Part 2). I also determined that, overall, the Hall in the first ten years did a fairly good job of inducting artists worthy of the sobriquet "Hall of Famer." Granted, the Hall was inducting artists who were among those forming the music of the Rock Era (broadly, the mid-1950s to the present), and thus their influence and legacy is correspondingly strong.
However, as the Hall entered its second decade of selecting inductees, and as the pool of undisputed Hall of Famers dried up, at least from the formative decades, the Hall could have been (I will leave it to you, dear reader, to determine whether that should be "should have been") more discerning in its inductions. Although the number of inductees in this period, 33, is the fewest of the first three five-periods, 14 of those inductees are borderline picks, and nine of them are clearly unworthy picks. The trend during this five-year period essentially reverses the trend of the preceding ten years, and can be seen as the beginning of the skepticism regarding the judgment of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. But are we being too critical?
Is the "Small-Hall" Approach Really Warranted?Repeating briefly the caveats from Part 1 that, lacking the objective metrics used in assessing sports legacies, determining which musical act is "Hall-worthy" is ultimately a highly subjective exercise—as is any audit of same. So, considering that music is such an expansive and amorphous quantity, should we apply such scrutiny to these Hall of Fame inductees?
To use a perfectly lame response: it depends. Depends on what? How emotional you want to get. Music appreciation is a highly emotional and intensely personal experience, and one that is ultimately subjective—what might move you might not move someone else. Music that affects you in a positive, uplifting manner is by your definition "great" precisely because it has those qualities that you find positive and uplifting. In that sense, everyone has his or her respective "Hall of Fame" comprising the artists, or at least their musical pieces, that represent lasting greatness.
But to create a collective Hall of Fame means having to account for all manner of artists and genres, not just the ones you prefer. That forces you to have to consider—as objectively as you can—artists and genres you might not enjoy. One of the criticisms of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is that it does seem to snub certain genres—including disco, progressive rock, heavy metal, and hip-hop—as it seems to favor others, for instance, early rock and soul. Although I happen to be a big fan of that era, I do think that it might be over-represented. Which brings us to the headlining question: Why the "small Hall" approach?
A "small Hall," a Hall of Fame that includes only the top rank of artists from a specific era or genre, emphasizes the best examples of those eras and genres. To paraphrase loosely from the Lovin' Spoonful, if you had to tell a stranger about what rock and soul is, you could point to the artists in the Hall of Fame as both definitions and examples of each form. Thus, those artists should be ones who genuinely deserve to be labeled "Hall of Famers." They must rank highly in as many of the Defining Factors—innovation, influence, popularity, crossover appeal, and legacy—as they can, and if, as in the case of Bill Haley, the Velvet Underground, and the Sex Pistols, or will be the case with Nirvana, they do not rank highly, they must have been crucial to a fundamental aspect of development during the Rock Era.
The "small Hall" approach is by definition elitist. But the adverse approach devalues the term "Hall of Famer"—if the range of inductees is so broad, then there is not much distinction to that honorific. By inducting marginal and undeserving artists, it demeans the honor bestowed upon those deserving ones; if everyone is exceptional, then no one is.
Another problematic aspect to selection is contingency: the idea that an artist might be worthy of the Hall of Fame—but that another artist deserves to be inducted first. This relativism is understandable but is really a covert case for the artist or artists, whether specified or not, who have not yet been inducted. Moreover, by making the choice a conditional one, it does not properly evaluate the artist who has been inducted. While comparisons are unavoidable—artists are measured by how they represent their style or genre and their era in relation to other similar artists—in the final analysis, artists are either Hall of Fame material or they are not, irrespective of any other artist's standing in the Hall.
With these factors in mind, I do believe that a "small Hall" represents the best example of music from the Rock Era. As with any measurement of quality, it is easier to start with the bar for admission raised high to indicate the standards expected of inductees. Once the bar has been lowered too much, however—we'll get to Percy Sledge by and by—then the prestige and the very meaning of what it means to be a Hall of Fame artist is devalued. Again, if everyone is exceptional, then no one is.
The induction period from 1996 to 2000 found the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame lowering that bar for admission significantly with its overly generous selections. With the usual caveats concerning my biases and limitations, I detail the selections for this period below.
1996: Strength before the Decline7 Inductees: David Bowie, Jefferson Airplane, Little Willie John, Gladys Knight and the Pips, Pink Floyd, the Shirelles, the Velvet Underground
Yes: David Bowie, Jefferson Airplane, Pink Floyd, the Velvet Underground
Borderline Yes: Little Willie John, the Shirelles
No: Gladys Knight and the Pips
With four marquee artists—David Bowie, Jefferson Airplane, Pink Floyd, and the Velvet Underground—deserving induction into the Hall of Fame without dispute, 1996 was the strongest year for inductions in this period. Two artists, Little Willie John and the Shirelles, have been largely forgotten by contemporary audiences but their influence and legacy are strong enough to merit inclusion. Unfortunately, that cannot be said for Gladys Knight and the Pips, who persevered through various stylistic shifts but in the end are not distinctive enough to merit their induction.
Hip Pop Alternatives: David Bowie, Jefferson Airplane, Pink Floyd, the Velvet UndergroundAll four of these artists, especially David Bowie, gained widespread name recognition although none except Bowie attained it through the conventional channels of pop stardom—and Bowie changed his personas so often that listeners never knew what they would be getting from release to release. Jefferson Airplane and Pink Floyd, the latter particularly, were 1960s underground icons that burst into the mainstream, and while the Velvet Underground struggled for recognition during its brief lifetime, its recorded legacy is a seminal influence on post-Sex Pistols rock. All four artists helped to shape the Rock Era.
David Bowie: The first great chameleon of the Rock Era, David Bowie kept pop audiences fascinated with his constant stylistic shifts. Canny, articulate, with an astute sense of tastes and trends, Bowie's career can be seen either as artistic restlessness or an unwillingness (or inability?) to commit himself; the latter seems likely, as his output, excepting one or two periods, has a surface sheen that doesn't always hold up to scrutiny. Nevertheless, Bowie's best material emerges from many of his incarnations and has influenced both his contemporaries and subsequent generations—Madonna, for one, adopted Bowie's methodology wholesale. Bowie's early woodshedding might have been, with occasional exceptions ("Space Oddity"), overly precious, but by the time he hit on his Ziggy Stardust persona in the early 1970s he became the face of glam-rock. Moving through blue-eyed soul ("Fame," "Young Americans"), Bowie, working with Brian Eno, reinforced his artistic credentials with some fairly impressive progressive rock ("Heroes", Low) before effecting an early-1980s pop resurgence (Let's Dance). Becoming an elder statesman by the end of that decade, Bowie gamely kept up with trends (the alt-rock outfit Tin Machine) but his legacy was already firmly established. And it's no surprise that his ability to shift personas translated into the best acting career of any Rock Era major artist.
Jefferson Airplane: The best of the 1960s San Francisco hippie bands, Jefferson Airplane earned this distinction through the astute wedding of its expressive singer-songwriter frontline of Marty Balin, Paul Kantner, and Grace Slick to a muscular power trio comprising guitarist Jorma Kaukonen, bassist Jack Casady, and drummer Spencer Dryden. This potent combination yielded many of the era's signature songs ("Somebody to Love," "White Rabbit," "Volunteers," "Wooden Ships") while the band's considerable concert firepower held up better than more celebrated jamming contemporaries the Grateful Dead and Quicksilver Messenger Service—check the live Bless Its Pointed Little Head for proof. Not that the Airplane couldn't be indulgent (After Bathing at Baxter's), but its best material (including "Plastic Fantastic Lover," "Today," and "Crown of Creation") defines the genre. More importantly, that material made Jefferson Airplane a vital part of rock's development. Just don't mistake the Airplane for the (mostly) soulless corporate-rock Jefferson Starship that emerged from the ashes of the smoking Airplane wreck. That's another tale.
Pink Floyd: Pink Floyd, the first progressive-rock band inducted into the Hall, is the poster child for classic rock and all the derision that label can imply. After all, Floyd's pompous, humorless technocracy was a natural target for punk and New Wave's abrasive minimalism. But listeners who think that the band's career began with 1973's landmark Dark Side of the Moon album—a prime example of high-tech, high-concept polish—would be surprised by Floyd's manic, uneven beginnings in Britain's 1960s psychedelic underground. Under its original leader, singer and guitarist Syd Barrett, Pink Floyd tossed folk song structures, The Wind in the Willows, and electronic experimentation into a hard-rock blender and flipped the switch. The results were alternately startling and disappointing (nevertheless, they still influenced the first wave of "Kraut rockers" such as Can and Faust), although by Meddle Barrett had been long gone (though not forgotten—drug-casualty Barrett would remain Floyd's touchstone) and bassist Roger Waters was unveiling his Big Ideas that would dominate Floyd's 1970s output. Those Ideas culminated with the grandiose allegory The Wall, which seemed to spell the end of the decade, classic rock, and the band itself, which, absent Waters, lumbered on as a headless body does. All of which means that Pink Floyd is about as big a band that you'll find in the Rock Era, and that Johnny Rotten didn't really hate them as much as he claimed.
The Velvet Underground: The influence and legacy of this cornerstone of modern rock is encapsulated by the canny, oft-quoted observation usually attributed to Brian Eno: During its existence, the Velvet Underground didn't sell many records, but everyone who bought one started a band. Indeed, this bold, brash, minimalist outfit clearly lacked a key Defining Factor—popularity—during its short life span from the late 1960s to the turn of the 1970s as the band, spearheaded by singer, guitarist, and songwriter Lou Reed, toiled in obscurity before dying an unnoticed death. Yet the Velvets' blending of harsh, dissonant attitudes ("I'm Waiting for the Man," "Sister Ray"), frank subject matter ("Heroin" and "White Light/White Heat" dealt with drugs; "Venus in Furs" with sadomasochism), and surprisingly affecting ballads ("Femme Fatale," "What Goes On") became the ground-zero influence for countless post-Sex Pistols bands—and not just hard-rocking ones as the Velvets' gentler fury proved to be more widespread and adaptable. The band's final album, Loaded, found it edging closer to convention although no less influential for it ("Sweet Jane," "Rock and Roll"). Modern rock is inconceivable without the Velvet Underground.
Trilling along the Edges: Little Willie John, the ShirellesWhile neither Little Willie John nor the Shirelles ring many bells with modern listeners, both artists exerted sufficient innovation and influence in the first decade of the Rock Era to justify their status as pioneers substantial enough to belong in the Hall of Fame. These capsule summaries should refresh older memories and inform newer ones.
Little Willie John: The story of this 1950s R&B singer is pure blues legend: A marvelous singer, Little Willie John's best-known songs, "Fever" and "Talk to Me, Talk to Me," became bigger hits for other, white artists, while his life was a tragically short one—incarcerated for manslaughter, John died a short while later in prison at age 30. Yet John's career output, recorded for King Records, documents a supple, expressive voice bridging the gap between R&B and soul—his soaring passion certainly influenced label mate James Brown, for instance. Although Peggy Lee had a bigger hit with "Fever," John's version emphasizes its sultry itchiness, as does the blues pleading of "Need Your Love So Bad," with his vocal tics recognizable to any Brown fan. Yet John's yearning tenor evinced the vulnerability found in "Talk to Me, Talk to Me" and "Let Them Talk"—almost a bel canto performance, thanks to the underpinning strings—while "Suffering with the Blues" and "Will the Sun Shine Tomorrow" demonstrated his earthier approach. John could also take a sprightlier tone, as "All around the World" (also known as "Grits Ain't Groceries"), the bouncy "Sleep," and especially "Leave My Kitten Alone" sported sly and occasionally suggestive humor. Who knows what Little Willie John could have accomplished had he lived, but the distinctive catalog he did generate makes him a Hall of Famer.
The Shirelles: It takes a girl-group aficionado to truly appreciate the differences among the many acts that dominated the pop charts in the early 1960s, most of which seemed to sing about the same subject: the exquisite joy and anguish of young love. So, does it matter which girl-group is inducted into the Hall, if the genre should be represented (as it should be)? Yes, it does, because just as all penguins do not look alike to other penguins, the Shirelles stood out among their peers. They had longer and stronger chart success than many, and their influence began early—the Beatles covered "Boys" early in their career. Led by singer Shirley Owens, the Shirelles' sweet harmonies expressed both teen romance ("I Met Him on a Sunday," "Baby It's You") and more mature relationships (the stirring "Soldier Boy"). Their hit cover (albeit in its second try on the charts) of the "5" Royales' "Dedicated to the One I Love" is often regarded as the definitive version despite the Mamas and the Papas' better-known rendition. Finally, the Shirelles delivered a pair of timeless gems: "Tonight's the Night," which quivered with the anticipation of losing one's virginity, and "Will You Love Me Tomorrow," which voiced the eternal anxiety that followed: Will you respect me in the morning? As an exemplar of the Rock Era transitioning from adolescence to young adulthood, the Shirelles belong in the Hall.
Journeymen and -Woman: Gladys Knight and the PipsThe pairing of female vocalist Gladys Knight with a male backing group, the Pips, was an unusual one, and over the course of their long career they developed a notable interplay, superbly exemplified by their best-known song, the 1973 smash "Midnight Train to Georgia," one of the great story-songs of classic rock and soul. But although the group had been making hit records since the early 1960s ("Every Beat of My Heart"), Gladys Knight and the Pips lacked the consistent excellence over the course of their career to rise to the level of a Hall of Fame act.
After cutting their teeth as a vocal harmony group in the early 1960s, Gladys, her brother Merald ("Bubba"), and their cousins Edward Patten and William Guest moved to the Motown subsidiary Soul later in the decade. There they initially produced some tough-sounding sides ("Everybody Needs Love," "The End of Our Road") that culminated with their swaggering cover of "I Heard It through the Grapevine" (with bonus points for whichever Funk Brothers drummer opens the record with that Art Blakey-styled flourish). It was their recording of the heavily arranged "If I Were Your Woman," which saw Gladys discarding her gospel abandon for a more controlled vocal style, and with the Pips receding further into the mix, that set the tone for their 1970s hits—"Neither One of Us (Wants to Be the First to Say Goodbye)," "I've Got to Use My Imagination," "Midnight Train to Georgia"—but as the decade wore on that approach ossified into formulaic triteness, and by the 1980s, after abortive solo attempts by both Gladys and the Pips, they were playing out the string.
Never a gifted stylist nor possessed of a remarkable instrument, Gladys Knight was instead a solid industry professional, as were the Pips. If Gladys Knight and the Pips were a baseball pitcher, they would be an innings-eater, a dependable, back-of-the-rotation starter who gets you through the dog days of the schedule but not whom you hand the ball to for a crucial game. Those pitchers can often be remembered fondly, but they are not considered serious Hall of Fame candidates. The same goes for journeymen and -woman Gladys Knight and the Pips.
1997: Covering the Spread7 Inductees: The Bee Gees, Buffalo Springfield; Crosby, Stills, and Nash; the Jackson 5, Joni Mitchell, Parliament-Funkadelic, the Rascals
Yes: Joni Mitchell, Parliament-Funkadelic
Borderline Yes: The Bee Gees, Buffalo Springfield, the Jackson 5, the Rascals
No: Crosby, Stills, and Nash
The seven inductees for 1997 largely included artists who apprenticed in the 1960s before coming into their own in the 1970s, and they included both rock and soul acts—and those designations aren't automatic indicators of race, as both Funkadelic and the Rascals prove. The one exception is Buffalo Springfield, which folded before the end of the decade, although most of the band went onto bigger careers in the 1970s, including Stephen Stills of Crosby, Stills, and Nash. Both Joni Mitchell and the blanket coverage of George Clinton's two biggest bands, Funkadelic and Parliament, have solid credentials for the Hall. The Bee Gees, Buffalo Springfield, the Jackson 5, and the Rascals all deserve their inductions, although each case should be made to confirm this assessment for doubters. But even though Crosby, Stills, and Nash carry heavyweight credentials, a considered assessment of their output reveals an aggregation with lightweight accomplishments, truly a case of star power exceeding actual ability.
Deep Influence: Joni Mitchell, Parliament-FunkadelicAbout as unlikely a pairing as you'd ever see, singer-songwriter Joni Mitchell and two of George Clinton's biggest funk icons, Parliament and Funkadelic, hold watertight credentials for the Hall of Fame not only for their own accomplishments but for their influence on contemporaries and subsequent artists.
Joni Mitchell: To call Joni Mitchell the female Bob Dylan is not a slight but only to point out that she, like Dylan, is an utterly singular artist whose material has proved to be highly adaptable by other artists. Mitchell's poetic vulnerability can't mask her keen insights into human psychology, particularly with respect to matters of the heart—and other organs further south. Beginning with a folk-oriented approach in the late 1960s, Mitchell soon shot to the forefront of the singer-songwriter movement of the 1970s with songs ("Big Yellow Taxi," "Both Sides Now," "Chelsea Morning," "Woodstock") that encapsulated the liberation, joyousness, and uncertainty of the era, both personally and socially, through both her own performances and interpretations by other artists. Mitchell's albums Blue and Court and Spark are essential albums of the Rock Era, filled with the essence of this insightful, impressionistic troubadour: "All I Want," "Carey," "California," "A Case of You," and "The Last Time I Saw Richard" on the former, and "Help Me," "Free Man in Paris," "People's Parties," and "The Same Situation" on the latter, which also flashed gentle wit with a cover of Lambert, Hendricks, and Ross's "Twisted." That nod to jazz, also signaled by the Tom Scott-led band on Court and Spark, broadened in the 1970s and, as Jackson Browne had done, she made forays into explicit political commentary by the 1980s. Janis Joplin broke ground for women in rock, but Joni Mitchell built their foundation.
Parliament-Funkadelic: It's not hard to imagine Parliament and Funkadelic mastermind George Clinton as a spacey yet sly mad scientist concocting various musical creatures in his underground recording laboratory; indeed, one of his spin-off groups was called the Brides of Funkenstein. And if one of the hallmarks of any Clinton project is its endless crowing about the primacy of "da funk," the fact remains that collectively Clinton's various bands remain icons of the style, not just during its 1970s heyday but in perpetuity as samples on countless hip-hop tracks—West Coast gangsta rap in particular seems inconceivable without them. Clinton's bands drew from his repertory company: Parliament was the soul- and R&B-oriented band (highlighted by Bernie Worrell's keyboards and synthesizers) while Funkadelic was the rock band (highlighted by Jimmy Hazel's guitar), with Bootsy Collins's elastic bass driving both acts and singers such as Gary Shider and Junie Morrison articulating the various pronouncements including "Get up for the Down Stroke," "P. Funk," "Flash Light," "Who Says a Funk Band Can't Play Rock?," "Give up the Funk" and the socially-aware gems "Chocolate City" and "One Nation under a Groove." Along with his writing and bandleading, Clinton's blending of the political and the profane recalls Frank Zappa's, marking him as a singular and off-kilter talent, one who proved to be a strong and lasting influence—just check the descending synth line on any Dr. Dre joint for continuing evidence.
Blowing Bubbles: The Bee Gees, Buffalo Springfield, the Jackson 5, the RascalsThe Bee Gees, the Jackson 5, and the Rascals, three of the four inductees "on the bubble"—their cases are not clear-cut and must be made—did enjoy pop success during their glory days, with the Bee Gees actually enjoying much greater success during their second phase in the disco era. The fourth "bubble" inductee, Buffalo Springfield, proved to be influential on subsequent artists while its individual musicians went onto greater fame. Because of their contributions to pop music during the Rock Era, all four are worthy of enshrinement.
The Bee Gees: Think of the Bee Gees and it's impossible not to think of Saturday Night Fever, which was to the late 1970s what Woodstock was to the late 1960s: the bellwether of a period's tastes and attitudes. The soundtrack to that John Travolta film, which cemented disco's primacy, showcased the Bee Gees' best-known—and best—songs: "Night Fever," "How Deep Is Your Love," the funky "Jive Talkin'," and the tremendous "Stayin' Alive." But the Bee Gees, the singing trio of brothers Barry, Maurice, and Robin Gibb, had been assaulting the pop charts since the Woodstock Era with Beatles-esque efforts such as "To Love Somebody," the curious story-song "New York Mining Disaster 1941," and the treacly "How Can You Mend a Broken Heart" before their celebrated 1970s ascendancy. Not merely distinctive performers—their close harmonies and Barry's falsetto are instantly recognizable—the Bee Gees also wrote their own songs and have been widely covered. Don't let the effortlessly catchy quality of the Bee Gees' best songs lull you into thinking they're lightweights—they are an indelible pop presence, poster boys of their 1970s heyday, and are Hall of Famers because of it.
Buffalo Springfield: Although Buffalo Springfield existed for a short time in the mid-1960s, its adroit blending of rock, folk, and country influences formed, along with the Byrds' similar efforts, the foundation of country rock and, more broadly, the California rock that dominated the 1970s pop landscape. Fronted by guitarists Ritchie Furay, Stephen Stills, and Neil Young, with a subtly driving rhythm section of bassist Bruce Palmer (followed by Jim Messina) and drummer Dewey Martin, Buffalo Springfield's best material retains an enduring freshness decades later. Stills and Young were the primary songwriters, with Furay chipping in by the second album (Buffalo Springfield Again). Young's expansive, eclectic approach, which included hard rock ("Mr. Soul"), art rock ("Expecting to Fly"), rustic ballads ("I Am a Child"), and Big Statements ("Broken Arrow"), previewed the restless exploration that marked his solo career, while Stills wrote the best material of his journeyman career for Springfield—"Rock and Roll Woman," the brilliant "Bluebird," and the political anthem "For What It's Worth." That last song was the group's only real hit, and Buffalo Springfield's relative commercial failure spelled an early end to the band. But its influence loomed large and is lasting enough to rightfully earn the band a spot in the Hall of Fame. (In addition to Stills's and Young's later fame, Furay formed the country-rock outfit Poco, and Messina hooked up with Kenny Loggins.)
The Jackson 5: Just because the Jackson 5's lead singer grew up to be Michael Jackson doesn't give this bubblegum-pop act an automatic Hall pass, although the Weird One's phenomenal ability was on clear display even before his voice broke. In fact, once you get past their hugely successful singles, the Jackson 5 cranked out production-line filler particularly by the mid-1970s, when the band left Motown for CBS/Epic. However, it was its start at Motown that pointed the way from 1960s soul and toward the sophisticated slickness of 1970s soul; moreover, the Jackson 5 became the prototype for any number of boy bands, particularly those that began to proliferate in the 1990s. If those aren't Hall-worthy credentials for you, a listen to the best of the Jackson 5's singles, especially the first flush from "I Want You Back" on, will show why this band gains admittance—albeit just barely. The swaggering "I Want You Back," "ABC" (not as innocent as it might sound initially), "The Love You Save," with its early hints of Michael's pyrotechnics, and "Never Can Say Goodbye" (later a hit for Gloria Gaynor) are all infused with infectious exuberance, while the ballad "I'll Be There," a duet with brother Jermaine, gave the Jackson 5 depth and texture, with Michael still singing rings around his siblings regardless of the tune.
The Rascals: What separated the Rascals from any number of 1960s AM-radio mainstays (for instance, Tommy James and the Shondells, Paul Revere and the Raiders, and Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels) wasn't just singing frontmen Eddie Brigati and Felix Cavaliere, although they were both terrific examples of blue-eyed soul singing. Along with guitarist Gene Cornish, who chipped in vocals, and spirited drummer Dino Danelli, the Rascals (known originally as the Young Rascals) in their prime pumped out driving, soulful gems that still sound fresh and engaging today. The kicker is that most of them were written by Cavaliere, either with Brigati or by himself—although, ironically, their most infectious hit, "Good Lovin'," was an Olympics' cover—and it didn't hurt that the band recorded for Atlantic, with Tom Dowd and Arif Mardin providing guidance and occasional instrumental ringers. Beginning with the spirited (if awkwardly titled) "I Ain't Gonna Eat out My Heart Anymore," the Rascals fired off a string of instantly appealing hits: "Good Lovin'," "You Better Run" (later covered by Pat Benatar), "I've Been Lonely Too Long," the evergreen "Groovin'," and "How Can I Be Sure." With "People Got to Be Free," the Rascals dove into socio-political waters, which uncovered their limitations as they struggled to make the Big Statement in songs like "Heaven," "Carry Me Back," and "Glory Glory," which also evinced a spiritual flavor. But the Rascals' joyous bursts of pop-soul captured the Sixties' zeitgeist so effortlessly that their inclusion in the Hall of Fame should not be a surprise.
Overblown Reputation: Crosby, Stills, and NashIt's tempting to consider Crosby, Stills, and Nash a supergroup: David Crosby came from the Byrds, Stephen Stills from Buffalo Springfield, and Graham Nash from the Hollies, with Stills's former Springfield bandmate Neil Young joining now and then. However, it is sans Young, as CS&N, that this overrated act was inducted. Over the decades, its folkish soft rock, highlighted by the (allegedly) gorgeous harmonies of Crosby and Nash, has kept the hippie tradition limping along, exemplified by their rockish cover of Joni Mitchell's "Woodstock," even scoring hit singles into the early 1980s ("Southern Cross," "Wasted on the Way").
But although CS&N can be considered standard bearers for the singer-songwriter movement of the 1970s, the truth is that the best of that movement (Mitchell, Jackson Browne, et al) has handily eclipsed this trio. No matter how alluring Stills's "Suite: Judy Blue Eyes" might still sound, the rest of CS&N's output is trite, pallid dullness that descends alternately into shallow moralizing or nostalgia. Considering that Crosby and Stills had already been inducted with their former bands (Nash would be inducted with the Hollies in 2010), this unmerited induction is establishment nepotism—hardly appropriate for these supposed freak-flag wavers, no?
1998: Superstars and Forgotten Ones6 Inductees: The Eagles, Fleetwood Mac, the Mamas and the Papas, Lloyd Price, Santana, Gene Vincent
Yes: The Eagles, Fleetwood Mac, Santana
Borderline Yes: Gene Vincent
No: The Mamas and the Papas, Lloyd Price
The choices for 1998 were split between 1970s superstars the Eagles, Fleetwood Mac, and Santana, and backfilling from the 1950s (Lloyd Price and Gene Vincent) and the 1960s (the Mamas and the Papas). The '70s superstars are difficult to dispute, even if two of the acts, the Eagles and Fleetwood Mac, also exemplify the decade's hype although their output does withstand scrutiny. That isn't the case for the Mamas and the Papas, who might have been popular during their decade, the 1960s, but whose catalog appears slight today. Of this year's earliest acts, Lloyd Price was never more than a journeyman—but Gene Vincent is a legitimate contender, one whose case deservedly resulted in his induction.
Classic Rock Superstars: The Eagles, Fleetwood Mac, SantanaThe Eagles and Fleetwood Mac are quintessential 1970s pop stars, dominating the AM airwaves of the time before becoming staples of classic-rock radio for decades to come. Santana the band enjoyed some singles success but is better known for its rich fusion of Latin flourishes with blazing jazz-rock, while Carlos Santana the individual is one of the most distinctive guitarists of the Rock Era. Their Hall credentials have, as the Eagles might put it, "in the long run" proved to be watertight. Whatever you might think of 1970s rock and pop, all three are an integral part of it.
The Eagles: By far the most successful country-rock band, the Eagles exemplified the slick, jaded callousness of the 1970s with a string of hits that have blended into the fabric of pop culture. That's not to denigrate the sharp tunefulness, courtesy of the band's principal songwriters, guitarist Glenn Frey and drummer Don Henley, or effortless harmonies the Eagles could conjure seemingly at will. But let's face it: Even though songs like "Take It Easy" (co-written with Jackson Browne) and "Peaceful Easy Feeling" evoke the mellowness of California rock, songs like "Lyin' Eyes," "Already Gone," "Life in the Fast Lane," and "The Long Run" display a churlishness, even a spitefulness, that signals the mean-spirited self-centeredness at the core of their suburban ennui—their bitchiness has a shallowness that epitomizes the Me Decade. They obviously struck a chord with listeners, though, no accident as the best of them, including "Already Gone," Life in the Fast Lane," and "Hotel California," were undeniably catchy, and with the addition of guitarist Joe Walsh for the second half of the 1970s, the Eagles gained a measure of hard-rock credibility. Given their assured ascendancy to the elite of 1970s pop-rock, it is impossible to conceive of the Hall of Fame without the Eagles, proving that in "The Long Run" they got the last laugh.
Fleetwood Mac: When guitarist Peter Green named his blues band after the drummer, Mick Fleetwood, and the bassist, John McVie, who could have known that they would indeed turn out to be the sole constants in the band's long and tortuous history? Under Green, who had cut his teeth with Fleetwood and McVie in John Mayall's Bluesbreakers, Fleetwood Mac moved from blues to shades of folk- and progressive rock ("Oh Well," "Black Magic Woman," "Albatross," "The Green Manalishi"). Then, when Green and guitarist Jeremy Spencer left (under odd circumstances), Fleetwood Mac toiled in the wilderness, acquiring guitarist Bob Welch and keyboardist Christine Perfect for the lean early 1970s. Perfect soon married McVie, and then Mac hooked up with singer Stevie Nicks and guitarist Lindsay Buckingham, and the best-known variation of the band was born. The albums Fleetwood Mac and especially Rumours made Mac exemplars of California rock, driven by the supple rhythm section and capped by the composing and singing of Buckingham, Christine McVie, and Nicks. A juggernaut as it entered the 1980s, Mac kept on the charts but gradually faded into the nostalgia circuit. Along with the Eagles, Fleetwood Mac was a hallmark of 1970s pop-rock, although its 1960s woodshedding gave it more depth and substance. The Hall's biggest mistake here was in not inducting Welch along with the others—Welch was instrumental in getting the band noticed by its label, Warner Bros., leading to its eventual multi-platinum success.
Santana: Releasing its debut album in 1969 before delivering an electrifying performance at Woodstock later that year, Santana began with hippie roots, and in truth leader and guitarist Carlos Santana never did abandon that peace-and-patchouli philosophy. Fortunately, he also pioneered the blending of Latin influences with a driving rock beat, accented with jazzy touches, capping it with his sweet-toned guitar leads featuring a sustain that can stretch into next week. The first few albums mixed tough-rocking hits ("Evil Ways," "No One to Depend On," "Black Magic Woman"—copped directly from Fleetwood Mac but so definitive that many listeners assume it's a Santana original—and "Oye Como Va," rivaling "La Bamba" for Latin identity in rock) with fiery instrumentals ("Jingo," "Soul Sacrifice") before Caravanserai marked the path into Latin-jazz fusion. Santana persevered despite occasional chart pandering ("Open Invitation"), although Santana scored his biggest hit, "Supernatural," at a time when his contemporaries were strictly on the nostalgia circuit. The worst you can say about Santana is that it is responsible for spawning Journey—singer-keyboardist Gregg Rolie and Santana's guitar protégé Neal Schon apprenticed with Santana before forming that corporate-rock monstrosity. Otherwise, Santana helped to shape the course of rock music.
Overlooked No More: Gene VincentBecause "Be-Bop-a-Lula" is the go-to Gene Vincent track for countless early-rock anthologies, it fosters the belief that Vincent was a one-hit wonder. That sublime song was his biggest hit, peaking at Number Five in 1956, although he did make the Top Forty again with "Lotta Lovin'" and "Dance to the Bop." But more importantly, Vincent, along with his band the Blue Caps, cut a slew of edgy, bracing sides that epitomized the high-energy, almost anarchic spirit of early rock and roll and rockabilly. They also establish Vincent as the best rock and roll singer of the period not named Elvis Presley.
Why Vincent never became a star remains a mystery, although his label, Capitol, was known for pop and easy listening acts and initially lacked the wherewithal to promote rock music (it almost fanned on the Beatles). Too bad, as Vincent and His Blue Caps not only never abandoned their early style ("Who Slapped John?," "Race with the Devil," "Crazy Legs"), more crucially, they extended it further than anyone else except Presley—"Git It" has a structure and hipness that is years ahead of its time. Moreover, they pushed past the seeming innocence of early rock and soul with a number of songs—including "Woman Love," "Jezebel," and "She She Little Sheila"—that suggested more going on with his girl than chaste goodnight kisses at the front door.
With a terrific backing unit that included lead guitarist Cliff Gallup, a razor-sharp soloist who influenced Jeff Beck, among others, Gene Vincent swaggered with more confidence than Carl Perkins and exuded more polish than Eddie Cochran, and he could sing rings around both. He could even pull off audacious imitations of Presley ("Baby Blue," patterned on "Heartbreak Hotel") and Buddy Holly ("My Heart"). And even though Capitol sometimes saddled him with hoary show-biz standards ("Over the Rainbow," "You'll Never Walk Alone"), Vincent's versatile voice could take them in effortless stride—his rendition of "Unchained Melody" lays its rock and soul claim to that chestnut before the Righteous Brothers got to it. More so than Perkins or Cochran (whose fate is tied with Vincent's—they were both in the 1960 English car crash that killed Cochran and badly injured Vincent), Gene Vincent is the deserving inductee from the rockabilly division of early rock.
Missing Magnitude: The Mamas and the Papas, Lloyd PriceProof that nice guys (and gals) do finish last sometimes: Both the Mamas and the Papas, the hippie-folk quartet that struck commercial gold in the 1960s, and Lloyd Price, an R&B singer whose greatest success occurred in the 1950s, have an engaging presence, but a closer examination of both acts' works will reveal a glossiness and superficiality that is missing the magnitude necessary to be Hall of Famers.
The Mamas and the Papas: What the Mamas and the Papas did best was to make folk-based hippiedom appealing to a general audience. The Mamas were Michelle Phillips, young and sexy, and Cass Elliot, not so much but blessed with the pipes, while the Papas were John Phillips, the group's mastermind and a key figure in 1960s music through his stewardship of the epochal 1967 Monterey Pop Festival, which introduced Jimi Hendrix, Otis Redding, and the Who to wider audiences, and Denny Doherty, seemingly the precursor to John Oates of Hall and Oates: what does he do, exactly? The vocal quartet scored a number of hits in the 1960s: "Monday, Monday" and "California Dreaming" were splendidly sung odes to the era's quest for alternative lifestyles (although listen closely and you can detect the same middle-class convention that underscored Simon and Garfunkel's work), while "Dedicated to the One I Love" and "I Saw Her Again Last Night" tackled romance. Perhaps their most endearing hit was "Creeque Alley," a tongue-in-cheek autobiography that skirted the folk idiom. In the end, the Mamas and the Papas were as emblematic and as substantial as the Lovin' Spoonful—a Time-Life essential but hardly one for the Hall.
Lloyd Price: Another pioneer who bridged the gap between R&B and soul, Lloyd Price had, at least initially, the same swagger as did Hank Ballard—check Price's original, sandpaper version of his signature "Lawdy Miss Clawdy," done in 1952 for Specialty (original home to, don't forget, Little Richard) against his slicker (and faster-paced) version for ABC Paramount in 1959. And Price was undoubtedly the first artist of the Rock Era to score a Number One single with a murder ballad—"Stagger Lee," a (pardon the expression) deathless tale that had been part of African-American mythology for generations (a saga detailed by Greil Marcus in his classic 1975 rock and roll study Mystery Train, and one that impressed mordant Nick Cave, who made it the centerpiece of his 1996 album Murder Ballads). With ABC Paramount, Price belted out hits like "Personality," "Lady Luck," and "I'm Gonna Get Married," backed by eager choruses and brassy horn sections, that exhibited an aggressively likeable appeal. As a writer and performer, Lloyd Price made his mark on the transition of R&B into rock and soul, but it wasn't a definitive mark, and his Hall of Fame inclusion is unwarranted.
1999: Only One Boss Choice7 Inductees: Billy Joel, Paul McCartney, Curtis Mayfield, Del Shannon, Dusty Springfield, Bruce Springsteen, the Staple Singers
Yes: Bruce Springsteen
Borderline Yes: Paul McCartney, Curtis Mayfield, Del Shannon, the Staple Singers
No: Billy Joel, Dusty Springfield
As the millennium approached, signaling both the Rock Era's middle age and nearly 15 years of Hall of Fame selections, the pool of candidates demanded further scrutiny. In 1999, only Bruce Springsteen of the seven inductees emerged as an unequivocal choice. True, there were two other marquee pop names inducted, Billy Joel and Paul McCartney, while Curtis Mayfield and the Staple Singers drew attention to those artists overlooked in soul and R&B, and Del Shannon and Dusty Springfield were surprising examples of overlooked early talent. Both Mayfield and McCartney had been inducted with their previous bands, forcing an examination of how significant their solo careers had been, while Billy Joel demonstrates that commercial success is not the only Defining Factor that determines Hall-worthiness.
Ticket to the Promised Land: Bruce SpringsteenAs the most significant American rocker since Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen has been the prime exponent of working-class sensibility since the 1970s. The Boss managed to match his mammoth ambition with a comprehensive approach—lyrics, music, arrangement, and production—that has produced some of the most stirring material of the Rock Era. Although Springsteen has produced, particularly in his early days, too many songs that reiterate the same small-town tropes and clichés, the best of those still ring with rock and roll spirit, as did the marathon concerts he staged that united performer and audience as few others have done before or since. Born to Run, The River, and Born in the U.S.A. are essential rock and roll statements, which isn't to say that any song not on those albums—"Blinded by the Light," "Rosalita," "The Promised Land," "Atlantic City," "Brilliant Disguise," "Streets of Philadelphia," and "The Rising," among others—is not. Having ascended to the top rank of rock myth-makers—Elvis, Dylan, the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, even U2—Bruce Springsteen needs no further explanation of his Hall of Fame credentials.
Solid Subordinates: Paul McCartney, Curtis Mayfield, Del Shannon, the Staple SingersWhile none of these four artists have a clear-cut case for the Hall, neither do they have to be excused for their inclusion, although you might need to be reminded that Del Shannon was not a one-hit wonder although that particular hit, "Runaway," is all that contemporary audiences remember.
Paul McCartney: Of all the Beatles, Paul McCartney seemed to have the best shot of reaching the Hall of Fame as a solo artist. A songwriter of charming, if sometimes cloying, facility, he was the only one to lead a legitimate working band, Wings, and both as its leader and as a solo artist, McCartney supplied enough quality material to justify his inclusion separate from the Fab Four. Don't hold pretenses such as The Liverpool Oratorio or Standing Stone against him—he was trying to prove that he was as much an artist as his erstwhile songwriting partner John Lennon was. And in fact, it is easy to fault McCartney for providing more filigree than substance in his post-Beatles work. As a solo artist, he is not a shoo-in to the Hall, but there are sufficient gems populating his uneven body of work to merit consideration: "Maybe I'm Amazed," "Uncle Albert/Albert Halsey," Band on the Run ("Jet" especially), "Listen to What the Man Said," and "Take It Away" all displayed the emotional and melodic appeal of his Beatles days, as did "Silly Love Songs," although that saccharine fluff also defines McCartney's philosophy toward music-making. It was well-nigh impossible for any of the Beatles to escape the shadow of their previous band, but commercially and, to an extent, critically, Paul McCartney fared best.
Curtis Mayfield: As the guiding force behind the Impressions, already in the Hall (Class of '91), Curtis Mayfield had been working out the socially-conscious ideas that exemplified his solo output in the 1970s. His best-known solo project is the soundtrack to the 1972 blaxploitation film Super Fly, a landmark album that found Mayfield's best songs—the hard-hitting trio of "Freddie's Dead," "Pusherman," and "Super Fly"—almost at odds with the film's ambiguous portrayal of drug-dealing even as they evinced a spare, loping funk. Indeed, Super Fly, along with Marvin Gaye's What's Going On, Stevie Wonder's Innervisions, and Sly and the Family Stone's There's a Riot Going On, defined a sea-change in African-American pop that would influence 1970s funk and 1980s hip-hop, with that sea-change presaged by Mayfield's Impressions material, particularly the band's songs on Curtom ("Choice of Colors," "This Is My Country"). For Super Fly alone, Mayfield would merit consideration for the Hall, but the best of his other solo material buttresses the argument: the encouraging "Move on Up" and equally sardonic "(Don't Worry) If There's a Hell Below, We're All Gonna Go," the symphonic "Beautiful Brother of Mine," and the sweet love song "The Makings of You." Mayfield also did several film soundtracks besides Super Fly, with his work for the Bill Cosby-Sydney Poitier vehicle Let's Do It Again the next-best thing. Curtis Mayfield's case is similar to Paul McCartney's: Both are overshadowed by their previous bands, but their solo careers are substantial enough to nudge them into contention.
Del Shannon: Spanning the interstice between Elvis Presley's induction into the army and the Beatles' arrival in the United States, Del Shannon was the best rocker of the early 1960s this side of Roy Orbison. His best-known hit, the evergreen "Runaway," exemplifies Shannon's paramount skills: impassioned vocals, a catchy story, and forward-thinking arrangements. Indeed, Shannon supplied the roadmap to more sophisticated songwriting and production in the later 1960s, and it was only the era's "two-fifty and out" singles mentality that kept Shannon from developing his musical ideas (including female backing singers) further.
True, he did repeat the "Runaway" formula ("So Long Baby," "Hey! Little Girl"), but he also developed its inherent complexity into a series of heartbreak opuses: "Little Town Flirt," the wickedly spiteful "Hats off to Larry," and "Cry Myself to Sleep," which prefigures Lesley Gore's "It's My Party." Shannon's "Sue's Gotta Be Mine" echoed the Four Seasons—his earnest, sometimes strident tenor often rose smoothly into falsetto—and he was the first American artist to cover the Beatles (1963's "From Me to You"). Moreover, "Keep Searchin' (We'll Follow the Sun)" and "Stranger in Town" are proto-punk gems, while "Show Me" sports a bass line that seems to be the inspiration for Iron Butterfly's "In-a-Gadda-da-Vida"; even his 1970 collaboration with Brian Hyland (yes, the "Yellow Polka-Dot Bikini" guy), "Sister Isabelle," contains a droll twist—he managed to drive his girl into a convent. (Take that, George Costanza.) Largely unheralded even after his untimely 1990 death, Del Shannon's contributions to early rock and roll development merit his induction into the Hall of Fame.
The Staple Singers: Although the Staple Singers are often identified as a gospel act, they have never had a problem injecting a healthy dose of contemporary pop sources into their spare but appealing approach. In that respect, they echo Curtis Mayfield and the Impressions with their blending of the spiritual and the secular; it's not surprising, then, that they've performed a number of Mayfield's film soundtracks, notably 1975's Let's Do It Again. And while the band—"Pops" Roebuck, his three daughters Cleotha, Mavis, and Yvonne, and son Purvis (with Cleotha and Purvis members at various times)—did produce several gospel albums for Riverside (including the modest, restrained 1962 Christmas album The Twenty-fifth of December), Pops's sharp, spare guitar (sometimes recalling B.B. King's single-string runs) and, more significantly, Mavis's expressive, seductive contralto voice definitely strayed beyond the church. Early on, they were hip to Bob Dylan ("Masters of War"), Buffalo Springfield ("For What It's Worth"), and the Band ("The Weight"; they also performed it in The Last Waltz), and wedding a social conscience to spiritual inspiration, the Staple Singers created a series of exuberant, if occasionally sententious, hits for Stax including "Heavy Makes You Happy (Sha-Na-Boom-Boom)," "I'll Take You There," "Oh La De Da," and "Respect Yourself." Outside of Sam Cooke, Aretha Franklin, Al Green, and Elvis Presley, the Staple Singers are the strongest examples of gospel's influence on rock and soul in the Rock Era's first half.
Over- and Under-inflated Pop: Billy Joel, Dusty SpringfieldOf the two artists who should not have been inducted in 1999, Billy Joel is certainly the major star, and many would consider him at least a borderline Hall of Famer. Dusty Springfield, on the other hand, should have been a bigger star than she had been. Springfield's case is tragedy; Joel's is farce.
Billy Joel: There are several parallels between Billy Joel's career and Elton John's: Both are singer-pianists who became stars in the 1970s. Both blended various styles into their pop confessionals. And both began with undercooked and overwrought albums before finding stardom. But whereas John seemed to project sincerity (albeit superficially)—and, crucially, a sense of humor—Joel seemed to project nothing but calculation on his way to the big time ("Piano Man"). This ambition is in itself not damaging—just ask Bob Dylan or Bruce Springsteen—but Joel, despite a passel of pop-rock hits, simply doesn't have the artistic credentials to justify a Hall of Fame induction. At best he's a professional pop craftsman who understands how to hook a listener with glibness but not how to touch one with feeling. Joel once recorded an album called 52nd Street, an explicit nod to Manhattan's famed jazz strip, but the subtitle to all of Joel's albums should be Tin Pan Alley: His career of purveying the shallowest of pop does nothing to perpetuate rock and roll—and everything to denigrate it. "It's still rock and roll to me," indeed.
Dusty Springfield: To call the former Mary O'Brien the British Janis Joplin overstates the case, but Dusty Springfield did possess a strong, soaring, sensual voice that straddled pop and soul, and she was an important female presence in the 1960s just as Joplin was. Had Brenda Lee not existed (more on her in a future installment), and had Springfield established herself in the 1970s, after her first blush of pop stardom in the 1960s, she would be a Hall of Famer.
Following her start in the Peter, Paul, and Mary knockoff the Springfields ("Silver Threads and Golden Needles"), Springfield became a solo star with a sting of lush pop singles ("I Only Want to Be with You," "Wishin' and Hopin'") that showcased her impressive pipes perpetuating girl-group cliché, nowhere more so than on the melodramatic "You Don't Have to Say You Love Me." Indeed, how Springfield never recorded a song for a James Bond movie remains a mystery, although she did record the coy "The Look of Love" for the 1967 Bond parody Casino Royale. Then Springfield recorded Dusty in Memphis (1969) for Atlantic, and the genuine R&B-soul backing and production (led by Jerry Wexler) proved Springfield to be a legitimate blue-eyed soul interpreter, particularly on the putative Aretha Franklin vehicle "Son of a Preacher Man" (famously revived for the Pulp Fiction soundtrack) and other gems such as "Breakfast in Bed." However, Springfield was unable to capitalize on this promising direction and faded into the background through the 1970s.
Here is where the Dusty Springfield story turns tragic because as she reached full maturity as a soul interpreter (predicted by 1967's exciting "What's It Gonna Be?") on lost treasurers such as "Mama's Little Girl" and Martha and the Vandellas' "A Love Like Yours" (I defy you to tell me this is a white girl singing), listeners had moved on. By 1987, the Pet Shop Boys had rediscovered Springfield ("What Have I Done to Deserve This?"), but her legacy had already been written. Dusty Springfield had the talent to be a Hall of Famer, just not the opportunity to realize that, and that is the sad reality.
2000: Scraping in by Reputation6 Inductees: Eric Clapton; Earth, Wind, and Fire; the Lovin' Spoonful, the Moonglows, Bonnie Raitt, James Taylor
Borderline Yes: Earth, Wind, and Fire; Bonnie Raitt, James Taylor
No: Eric Clapton, the Lovin' Spoonful, the Moonglows
The millennium didn't begin well for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame: Of the six inductees, none were sure-fire picks. Three do merit inclusion, and for all three, who run the gamut from smooth soul (Earth, Wind, and Fire) to singer-songwriter confessional (James Taylor) to blues-rock (Bonnie Raitt), it is their critical reputations that carry the load for their cases. But reputations are not infallible—Eric Clapton is the biggest name here, but his solo work, which forms the bulk of his professional career, is journeyman fodder overall. The Moonglows have a claim or two to rock and soul history, but they are not significant enough to merit inclusion. And as for the Lovin' Spoonful, its inclusion is needless nostalgic backfilling—it was as if the Hollies were to be inducted. Oops—I'm getting ahead of myself . . .
Reputedly Worthy: Earth, Wind, and Fire; Bonnie Raitt, James TaylorThree of the six 2000 inductees who do belong in the Hall all enjoy solid critical reputations, but a closer examination of all three—Earth, Wind, and Fire; Bonnie Raitt, and James Taylor—finds that all three might have been coasting on those reputations. Nevertheless, Earth, Wind, and Fire and Taylor produced at a high enough level for long enough, while Raitt, an industry veteran with a long career of highs and lows, is distinctive enough to distinguish the Hall of Fame.
Earth, Wind, and Fire: With its seamless blending of pop-inflected soul and light R&B delivered with an exuberant polish, prime-period Earth, Wind, and Fire also imparted a spiritual uplift suggested by the band's proto-New Age name. And although earlier songs like "Evil" and "Keep Your Head to the Sky," along with midwife tunes like "Mighty Mighty," seem stripped down next to Earth, Wind, and Fire's sumptuous mid-1970s hits, this band, despite its relentlessly positive messages, has an ultimately superficial impact—it's no wonder that they can handle the Beatles' "Got to Get You Into My Life" with such aplomb. Make no mistake: The smartly arranged appeal of the hits "Fantasy," the bouncy "September" and "Sing a Song," and the near-philosophical treatise "That's the Way of the World" are signature '70s statements. However, so is "Reasons," which, despite Philip Bailey's impassioned pleading, is as jive a seduction rap as the Me Decade produced. Still, the percolating "Getaway" and the swinging "Shining Star" were wholesome alternatives to bleaker or seamier contemporary funk exercises. Commitment, professionalism, and a clutch of stellar performances are just enough to shepherd Earth, Wind, and Fire into the Hall.
Bonnie Raitt: It's true that you can count the number of notable female slide guitarists on one hand, and that novelty might be the compelling reason why Bonnie Raitt deserves to be in the Hall of Fame. This isn't to denigrate Raitt's capabilities because over the course of her career she established herself both as a believable blues-rock singer and an assured interpreter of songs from Jackson Browne ("Under the Falling Sky"), John Hiatt ("Thing Called Love"), and Eric Kaz ("Love Has No Pride") to Randy Newman ("Guilty") and John Prine ("Angel from Montgomery"). Raitt's career began strongly in the early 1970s, the young daughter of Broadway singer John Raitt who dived into blues and folk from the start, mixing covers with her own similarly-inspired efforts ("Give It up or Let Me Go"). But by the mid-1970s, Raitt and a string of producers encountered a series of stylistic dead-ends, exemplified by her dreadful cover of Del Shannon's "Runaway," that mistook slickness for tastefulness. Raitt's 1989 hit album Nick of Time seemed to mix both qualities but it found the elder stateswoman in fine voice while lacing her adult-contemporary approach ("Too Soon to Tell," the title track) with reminders of her blues-slinging education ("Thing Called Love," "Real Man"). While never a commanding talent, Bonnie Raitt is a singular one, and that is enough to earn her a trip to Cleveland.
James Taylor: Emerging at the end of the 1960s with a relaxed, appealing assurance, James Taylor was the prototype of the singer-songwriter, combining sensitivity and insight into acoustic-based packages delivered, crucially, with judicious understatement coloring his immediately engaging voice. At first, Taylor evoked romantic archetypes ("Something in the Way She Moves," "Sweet Baby James") seemingly without effort while offering plainspoken psychological complexity—for example, the moving "Fire and Rain" chronicled his struggle with depression, while "Carolina in My Mind" echoed the theme of emotional escape with quiet conviction. But Taylor soon found himself sliding into unctuous sentiment—his cover of Carole King's "You've Got a Friend" held the charm of a television commercial, as did his own "Your Smiling Face." Just as bad was his cover of Marvin Gaye's "How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved by You)"—his asides couldn't be any whiter—although Taylor proved he could essay R&B with his winsome version of "Handy Man" while "Steamroller" held a similar bluesy charm provided you imagined Taylor calling himself a "churnin' urn of burnin' funk" with tongue firmly in cheek.. James Taylor remained capable of astute observation ("Mexico," "Only a Dream in Rio") and introspection ("Golden Moments") as he became a definitive voice of the American male, and that makes him a Hall of Famer.
Overblown Reputations: Eric Clapton, the Lovin' Spoonful, the MoonglowsBoth products of their respective eras, the Lovin' Spoonful and the Moonglows provided enjoyable highlights of those eras but when compared to their contemporaries, both ultimately lack the credentials to earn a place in the Hall. Meanwhile, Eric Clapton has enjoyed a lengthy career that has seen him become an elder statesman of rock—but an examination of his solo work reveals his inherent mediocrity as an artist. All three acts suffer from overblown reputations that led, erroneously, to their induction into the Hall.
Eric Clapton: In 1989, singer-guitarist Eric Clapton released an album called Journeyman, and as critic Robert Christgau so acidly put it: "What did you expect him to call it—Hack?" The guitar god of the 1960s, Clapton put his pedestrian voice first from the early 1970s on as he eventually became a solo star—and more significantly, an entertainer. His choice of models, J.J. Cale and Don Williams, steered him into the middle of the road, and while he could still flash his blueswailing from time to time ("Motherless Children," "I Can't Hold Out," Money and Cigarettes), Clapton had ambled a long way from his lean and hungry days. That wouldn't be so bad if only he had something interesting to say, vocally and instrumentally, as a pop-rock star, but he offered little insight with either his voice or his guitar. It took the death of his young son to spur a heartfelt ballad, but the cynic might say that "Tears in Heaven" falls somewhere between mawkish and manipulative, and even 1970's masterful Layla (credited, don't forget, to the pseudonymous Derek and the Dominos) contained hints of the mellow nodding and noodling that defines Clapton's solo work. Clapton is a rightful Hall of Famer with the Yardbirds and Cream. His solo work wilts in comparison.
The Lovin' Spoonful: Despite a name that hints toward the bluesman's 10 cc's of manly essence, the Lovin' Spoonful were a lightweight folk-pop alternative to the Byrds and Buffalo Springfield. Considering that those two bands are already in the Hall, and that the Lovin' Spoonful didn't do anything to further their innovations, this is another unwarranted induction. Certainly the band was a delightful part of the 1960s' musical fabric, not only with the engaging hits "Do You Believe in Magic?," "Daydream," "Do You Ever Have to Make up Your Mind?," and the terrific "Summer in the City," but also with the soundtrack to Woody Allen's directorial debut, the 1966 spy spoof What's up, Tiger Lily?. Of course, Allen did not approve of the band's musical numbers being added in post-production, but it was an indication of the band's surge of popularity at the time. (That experience spurred Allen to secure creative control of all his subsequent films—how's that for indie spirit?) That still isn't enough to justify the induction of the Lovin' Spoonful no matter how much "Welcome Back, Kotter," band leader John Sebastian's later, solo hit theme song from the 1970s Gabe Kaplan situation comedy, kept you in school.
The Moonglows: Certainly the Moonglows were a polished and professional doo-wop and R&B act whose success in the 1950s bore some influence on ensemble soul singing in the 1960s. In a very real sense, that was inevitable: Moonglows' guiding force Harvey Fuqua became one of Berry Gordy's key operatives at Motown, and the act once featured a young singer named Marvin Gaye. Furthermore, the reference to Pagliacci, the jealous clown of Leoncavallo's opera, in "(I'm Afraid the) Masquerade Is Over" was later echoed in Smokey Robinson and the Miracles' "Tears of a Clown." But although the Moonglows developed a rich, pleasing ensemble singing style, used to convey the heartbreak and innocence of young love—ardently in their first hit, "Sincerely," "Please Send Me Someone to Love," and "Sweeter Than Words," playfully in the sprightly "See Saw," and a little too earnestly in "In My Diary" and the overly portentous "The Ten Commandments of Love," their last hit—they lacked the distinction of contemporaries Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers and the Flamingoes, or the second-act success of Little Anthony and the Imperials, to be Hall of Famers.
1996 – 2000: CodaIn its third five years of selecting inductees, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inducted 33 artists. The table below shows those 33 categorized as noted previously: Yes, Borderline Yes, and No.
|Breakdown of Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Inductees, 1996 – 2000
|Pct. of Total
In the expansive scenario, that the Borderline Yeses are justified, the Hall rises to mere competence: only 72.7 percent of its inductees are worthy of induction, with more than a quarter, or 9 of 33 total inductees, not worthy of the Hall.
In the exclusive scenario, that the Borderline Yeses are not justified, the Hall fails decisively because those Borderline Yeses, more than 40 percent of the total, drag the success rate down to 3 of 10 of the overall inductees that are truly Hall-worthy, while in 2000, the Hall did not even have a sure-fire inductee.
Admittedly, the exclusive scenario is the extreme situation, although it does mirror the behavior of many sports Halls of Fame, such as baseball and ice hockey, in which a scant handful are inducted every year. The Borderline Yeses—an imperfect term that might not carry a positive connotation although it is not meant as a slight—are definitely worthy of the Hall; the fact that there are so many in this audit period should indicate only that as the musical styles and acts of the Rock Era grow more expansive, justifications for these artists should be explained for those who might not be as familiar with them.
Nevertheless, the period between 1996 and 2000 found the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame becoming more permissive in its inductions, in some cases, such as Eric Clapton and Billy Joel, seeming to be impressed by their commercial success, while in other cases , such as Lloyd Price and Dusty Springfield, seeming to regard their artistic contributions as more significant than they really are. Again, if you are not a small-Hall proponent, then you might find their exclusion in this audit to be unnecessary and perhaps even unfair. But if you are a small-Hall proponent, you will recognize that their Defining Factors are simply not adequate.
Will this trend continue during the next audit period? Stay tuned to find out!
Fictitious Athlete Hall of Fame
Fictitious Rock and Roll Hall of Fame
DDT - 16:25
RIP Johnny Winter, dead at 70, cause not known at this time. Fine, pioneering guitarist who is in the Blues Hall of Fame, and deservedly so. "Rock and Roll, Hootchie Koo," Johnny.
DDT - 16:45
RIP: Tony Gwynn, dead from salivary-gland cancer at age 54. Cherish your memories of this great Hall of Famer.
bojanthebest - 23:31
Congrats to Oscar De La Hoya for getting into the Boxing Hall of Fame.
bojanthebest - 06:03
Congrats to Ronnie Milsap. Some reason I can't read the main articles.
Committee Chairman - 06:25
Saw this today....a must read IMO: http://www.grantland.com/story/_/id/10261642/mlb-hall-fame-voting-steroid-era
DDT - 02:01
Baseball's newest HoFers: Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, Frank Thomas. Craig Biggio is hurting: 74.78 percent! PEDs guys still being punished; bye-bye, Rafael Palmeiro. Not a travesty like last year.
bojanthebest - 01:58
Congrats to Maddux, Glavine and Thomas for making the Hall today. Biggio should have made it also.
Spheniscus - 07:12
Torre and Cox were taken on by Rick Reilly, as well as LaRussa. I am in the camp that they should all be in, as should Bonds, Clemens, and McGwire. But the double standard is interesting.
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