gold star for USAHOF


04 Nov
Not in Hall of Fame


The Paul Butterfield Blues Band

Background: This home-grown outfit was among the first to explore American blues rock but found itself overshadowed by the spate of British acts that leapt to prominence in the mid-1960s from the Rolling Stones on down. The irony is that the Paul Butterfield Blues Band learned at the feet of the Chicago masters and at times even featured members of Howlin' Wolf's bands. Led by singer and harmonica player Paul Butterfield, who picked up his instrumental cues from Little Walter, and highlighted by guitarists Mike Bloomfield—arguably the greatest white blues guitarist you've never heard of—and Elvin Bishop, the Paul Butterfield Blues Band released a self-titled debut album for Elektra Records in 1965 that was a high-energy, if overly literal, distillation of Chicago blues—from "Born in Chicago" to "Mellow down Easy" to "Look over Yonder's Wall"—that spotlighted both Butterfield's and Bloomfield's impressive chops.

The next album, 1966's East-West (Elektra), was even better as the band blended jazz and even East Indian influences into its blues-rock core, the former with a cover of Nat Adderley's "Work Song" and the latter with the lengthy title instrumental: "East-West" was a revolutionary track that stood at the forefront of the extended instrumental workouts soon to be found in psychedelia and in the next wave of blues-rock jamming—the seeds of the Allman Brothers' guitar interplay, for instance, can be found here in Bishop's and Bloomfield's fretwork. When Bloomfield departed, Butterfield regrouped with a horn-based approach, as exemplified by 1967's The Resurrection of Pigboy Crabshaw (Elektra) that anticipated the big-group jazz-R&B sound soon to be associated with Blood, Sweat and Tears and the Chicago Transit Authority as well as with Bloomfield's own short-lived Electric Flag. However, Butterfield's curse was being able to forecast trends but being unable to capitalize on them, either through inadequate songcraft or modest arrangements that, barring exceptions such as "East-West," didn't fully explore the implications he had uncovered.

Will the artist be voted into the Hall? No. With its third nomination in as many years, the Paul Butterfield Blues Band either has been close in recent voting or it has one or more champions on the nominating committee. However, the presence of Stevie Ray Vaughan on this year's ballot may siphon this possible groundswell of support that is keeping this band alive as the blues or blues-rock pick. Regardless, this is still an act that appeals to aficionados and not to general listeners—in other words, a marginal one.

Would I vote for the artist? No. Although it might be unfair that the British blues rockers nabbed the spotlight from Butterfield and his band, it is not unjustified—they used the form as a springboard to more substantial developments. Butterfield did anticipate a number of musical trends but he couldn't translate them into commercial success or significant influence.


Chic has been nominated for the Hall an unprecedented nine times.

Blending rock and R&B influences into its bouncy disco strategy, Chic offered a grittier, funkier take on dance music, and in the process provided inspiration for hip-hop and rock artists—the hit "Good Times," and particularly Bernard Edwards's rubbery bass line, provided the bedrock for, among others, the Sugarhill Gang's "Rapper's Delight" and for Queen's "Another One Bites the Dust." Edwards also provided another signature low-register classic for the risqué smash "Le Freak" as he and guitarist Nile Rodgers, both veteran session men, crafted the earthy foundation of Edwards's thick bottom and Rodgers's chicken-scratch guitar—funk elements dating back to James Brown's JBs—that supported the washes of strings and the airy voices of the female singers whose words carried an undertone of social unease even as the overt message was to "Dance Dance Dance," another key hit for the collective.

Chic offered a durable approach for disco, but by the 1980s the genre was getting buffeted, and the band had often been unfairly cast as relics of that period, exemplified by the seeming vacuity of tracks such as "I Want Your Love" and "Everybody Dance." Yet Chic developed a hybrid sound that proved accessible not only to dance styles—Chic's contemporary Sister Sledge bore a literal relationship to Chic's sound—but also to urban, hip-hop, and rock styles, while the full yet economical production work of Edwards and Rodgers, the hallmark of Chic's success, quickly became in-demand, thus perpetuating Chic's influence. As any number of the anonymous disco bands from that period fade into nostalgia, the impact and influence of Chic becomes more salient.

Will the artist be voted into the Hall? Yes. This is Chic's ninth nomination, and with no other disco act on the ballot this year, its supporters on the nominating committee must believe that a majority of voters will check the Yes box if only to keep Chic from appearing on subsequent ballots. With Donna Summer elected two years ago, and last year's Hall and Oates induction still relatively fresh in voters' minds, the consensus could be that dance music may in fact be more significant than thought previously.

Would I vote for the artist? Yes. Admittedly a borderline pick, Chic nevertheless transcends its primary genre, disco, while influencing various styles. Its impact on hip-hop pioneers Grandmaster Flash and the Sugarhill Gang alone is an indication of Chic's impact on the development of music of the Rock and Soul Era, even crossing over into hard rock (cf. Queen's "Another One Bites the Dust").

Green Day

Green Day
Green Day is eligible for the Hall for the first time this year.

Combining the energy and candor of punk- and underground rock with an undeniable pop appeal, Green Day may offend purists but it has done as much to keep stripped-down but increasingly smarter rock before a mass audience as have—dare we say it?—Nirvana. The trio—singer and guitarist Billy Joe Armstrong, singer and bassist Mike Dirnt, and drummer Tré Cool (Frank Wright)—channeled suburban disaffection and ennui into compact outbursts that over time evolved from brash adolescence to surprisingly reflective maturity while seldom abandoning the essential elements of rock and roll: hard-driving guitar, bass, and drums, and a passionate voice with a point of view.

After two albums of indie-label woodshedding, Green Day exploded onto the mainstream stage with 1994's Dookie (Reprise), which marshaled head-snapping rockers ("Basket Case," "She," and the compelling "Welcome to Paradise") with the more considered observations of "Longview" and the confident swagger of "When I Come Around" to establish the band as instant heavyweights. After Dookie's runaway success, the follow-up Insomniac (Reprise, 1995) couldn't help but seem disappointing—but in addition to showcasing the band's continuing maturity, Insomniac rocked harder and more convincingly, led by the punchy gem "Brain Stew," the high-velocity "Jaded," and instantly familiar "Stuck with Me," while "Walking Contradiction" streamlined previous attitudes into more than a cocky pose. Green Day's ambition soared on Nimrod (Reprise, 1997), sampling various styles (even surf instrumentals with "Last Ride In") with varying degrees of success, although its pop-punk approach remained largely intact on the Hüsker Dü-like blur of "Nice Guys Finish Last" and the Stray Cats-styled stomper "Hitchin' a Ride," while "Redundant" reached back to 1970s power-pop arrangements and "Good Riddance (Time of Your Life)," its surface magnanimity masking subtle barbs, found Green Day fully immersed in the ballad game.

That acoustic approach informed 2000's Warning (Reprise), which drew from folk as it turned its gaze toward social issues, its relative drop in commercial success counterbalanced by the band's rising critical esteem. "Minority" made its political statements explicit while "Macy's Day Parade" slyly disguised its insightful commentary as it and the droll, clever "Warning" recalled Paul Westerberg and the Replacements; meanwhile, "Waiting" seemed to reach all the way back to the Beatles for inspiration. Warning set the stage for 2004's American Idiot (Reprise), a full-blown concept album about the antihero "Jesus of Suburbia" and his search for truth, meaning, love—or something—and while Green Day may have ultimately overreached itself (the title of "Boulevard of Broken Dreams" itself is a howling cliché, not to mention the song's musical resemblance to Oasis's "Wonderwall"), it did show the band and its principal songwriter Armstrong continuing to develop and mature. In any case, the album spawned a successful stage version and a film version still in development, and by now Green Day, its career path now advancing in the same fashion as Pink Floyd and the Who, could hardly be ignored.

Will the artist be voted into the Hall? Yes. Green Day's story is much like that of Nirvana's, which opened the path for Green Day in the first place, albeit with a happier ending: Band crystallizes a brash hard-rock sound with immediate commercial appeal, and in Green Day's case band is able to progress to the point that its work transcends the music world and broaches the broader reaches of pop culture. Probably the closest thing to a sure bet on the 2015 ballot.

Would I vote for the artist? Yes. Complaints about Green Day's being derivative are almost beside the point in the face of the band's ability to internalize its influences and inspirations into a truly appealing musical and lyrical approach. Green Day's songs sound instantly familiar, and before you've worked out just where you've heard them before they have hooked themselves into your ear and have become enduring. The kicker is an increasing intelligence born of disaffection but savvy enough to make itself accessible.

Joan Jett and the Blackhearts

Background: Singer and guitarist Joan Jett might have had a lurid start as a member of the punk-bait Runaways, but once she went solo in the late 1970s, she quickly established herself as a genuine hard-rocker informed by punk chops and attitude. The title song to Jett's debut Bad Reputation (Boardwalk, 1981, although it had been issued the previous year as an eponymous self-release) announced her defiant presence with a brash bash, as did the hit title-track declaration from her follow-up album, I Love Rock 'n' Roll (Boardwalk, 1981), with the Blackhearts now fully in tow. That album featured another hit, an intriguing cover of "Crimson and Clover"—intriguing because Jett couldn't change the gender of the song's subject without changing the lyrics—but that also underscored the defining characteristic of Jett's career: She has been primarily a juke box, churning out a host of cover versions (including an entire album of them titled The Hit List for Blackheart/CBS Records in 1990) that showcases her taste and knowledge—with some, such as her take on Lesley Gore's pre-feminist anthem "You Don't Own Me," being downright inspired—but not necessarily her artistic ability. (Even "I Love Rock 'n' Roll" was a cover of Arrows' mid-1970s single.)

Granted, Jett has recorded a number of her own compositions, and some of them have gained success, such as "I Hate Myself for Loving You" (albeit written with song doctor Desmond Child), although many of her own songs seem to scream "issues": "Let Me Go," "Don't Abuse Me," "Love Is Pain," "Victim of Circumstances," "You're Too Possessive," "Fake Friends," and "This Means War" among them. The psychological interpretations are best left to her therapist, and Jett is hardly alone in airing her grievances in song, but apart from "Let Me Go" and a couple of others, they don't make for memorable rock songs, certainly compared to the verve she brings to her renditions of "I Love Rock 'n' Roll," "Do You Wanna Touch Me," "You Don't Own Me," and "Everyday People." As an inspiration to riot grrrls and other female rockers, Jett comes on like Chrissie Hynde's kid sister, and that sums up Jett's problem: She has never stepped out from the shadows of others to establish herself as an artist in her own right.

Will the artist be voted into the Hall? Yes. Joan Jett looks like the kind of female rocker Hall voters would love to embrace—brash and post-punk but with a firm attachment to the classic-rock legacy through all those cover versions. Not that the voting won't be close, but compared to some of the nominees the Hall has elected, Joan Jett is not the worst.

Would I vote for the artist? No. Joan Jett doesn't rise to the level of a Hall of Famer in terms of Defining Factors. Her musical approach is derivative and hardly innovative, and it doesn't carry much insight or lasting appeal. As a hard rocker, she is generally enjoyable but ultimately non-essential.

Last modified on Saturday, 13 June 2015 13:39

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