gold star for USAHOF


04 Nov
Not in Hall of Fame



Kraftwerk exerted an influence on later styles including electronica and hip-hop.

Given that Germany, until the late 1960s, had no rock tradition but did have a technocratic one dating back much earlier than that, it is no surprise that it should spawn an initial wave of "krautrock" that emphasized electronic, synthesized sounds from bands such as Faust, Kraftwerk, and Tangerine Dream. (Can, also of that generation, pursued similar technological sounds only using more organic instrumentation.) With a penchant for simplicity and hypnotic repetition, along with flashes of deadpan humor, Kraftwerk, formed in 1970 by multi-instrumentalist mainstays Ralf Hütter and Florian Schneider, was the most accessible of the lot. That accessibility in turn translated to influence.

The lengthy title tracks to the 1970s albums Autobahn (Phillips/Vertigo, 1974) and Trans-Europe Express (Kling-Klang/EMI-Electrola/Capitol, 1977) evoked impressions of a long car trip and railroad trip, respectively, while exemplifying the monotonous yet lulling rhythm of both modes of transportation, enlivened occasionally by a passing distraction; in that respect, Kraftwerk manifested into rock the influences of fellow German electronic pioneer Karlheinz Stockhausen as well as American composer Steve Reich. Kraftwerk also displayed a droll sense of humor ("Showroom Dummies," with its sly shock of recognition for Doctor Who fans, and "The Model," which prefigures the supermodel phenomenon), all the more salient for coming from "humorless German engineers" forecasting the age of robots and computers ("The Man-Machine," "Computer World").

In fact, the Teutonic technocrats get quite punny on the bilingual (English and German) Radio-Activity (Kling Klang/EMI/Capitol, 1975), both verbally and aurally, as the album title and "Radioactivity" allude to both the communication medium and radiation, with the latter also getting its hearing on "Geiger Counter" and "Uranium," although "Radio Stars" is hardly a tribute to Jack Benny or the Lone Ranger but to pulsars and quasars instead (while also nodding musically to Tangerine Dream); meanwhile, "Airwaves" may fondly—if oddly—remind you of the theme music to Star Trek, and if you've heard the Chemical Brothers' "Leave Home," then you've heard the opening sample from "Ohm Sweet Ohm" (hah sweet hah!).

Kraftwerk's minimalist approach got old fairly quickly—by the early 1980s the band was repeating itself to no benefit—but by offering a stark, shiny, hypnotic sound from the future, it provided a tangible influence on avant-garde, hip-hop (Africa Bambaata's seminal "Planet Rock" was built upon "Trans Europe Express"), and New Wave while laying the foundation for electronica, which owes a significant debt to Kraftwerk and its forecasting the form a decade or two before it became pervasive.

Will the artist be voted into the Hall? Yes. Hall voters seem to be coming to terms with modern rock and pop styles, and part of that acceptance is acknowledging the influences on those styles. Voters will also be defusing criticism that they are biased toward American and British artists by making Kraftwerk the first German artist elected to the Hall.

Would I vote for the artist? Yes. Albeit it is a reluctant yes, as I do not think that Kraftwerk's body of work beyond Autobahn and Trans-Europe Express is remarkable. However, much like Black Sabbath, Kraftwerk exerted an influence that transcended its own artistic limitations. It is that influence and legacy, though, that pushes these "transistorized pranksters" (to borrow critic David Fricke's expression) into the Hall.

The Marvelettes

Background: One of Motown's earliest hit-makers, notching their only Number One single "Please Mr. Postman" in 1961, the Marvelettes were also one of the most anonymous of the Motown ensembles. That relative facelessness resulted in the group being overlooked as the label's solo artists and high-profile members of other groups became known quantities, but although the Marvelettes delivered Motown's first Number One hit ("Please Mr. Postman"), they were soon eclipsed by these more talented artists.

The girl-group did reach the Top Forty through 1968 as "Playboy," "Beechwood 4-5789," "The Hunter Gets Captured by the Game," "My Baby Must Be a Magician," and especially the winsome "Don't Mess with Bill" all made at least Number 20 on Billboard's Hot 100 pop singles chart. But the Marvelettes never abandoned the ultimately limiting format of the anonymous girl-group ensemble—Wanda Rogers eventually emerged as the group's singing personality, although she paled in comparison to Diana Ross and even Martha Reeves—and despite Smokey Robinson's guidance (he provided them with "Don't Mess with Bill," sung by Rogers), Motown relegated the Marvelettes to background status, and after "My Baby Must Be a Magician," they did begin to fade like the smoke from a conjuring trick.

Will the artist be voted into the Hall? No. Hall voters have been overly zealous in backfilling earlier artists, particularly from the 1960s, but Motown, justly so, is well-represented in the Hall of Fame, and the Marvelettes do not rise to the level of their more illustrious label mates.

Would I vote for the artist? No. The Marvelettes provided a handful of engaging hits throughout the 1960s, and although they were able to adapt to a number of production styles, they lack strong Defining Factors to qualify them for the Hall.

Nine Inch Nails

Nine Inch Nails
Nine Inch Nails has been a most visible industrial-rock artist.

Industrial rock had been simmering beneath the punk-rock surface since the late 1970s, and it accrued underground cachet throughout the 1980s, but it took Nine Inch Nails to thrust industrial into the mainstream—no small feat as the band has made few lyrical or musical concessions since its 1989 debut Pretty Hate Machine (TVT). That album featured one performer almost exclusively, Trent Reznor, and although Reznor has used a plethora of musicians on subsequent releases and concert tours, Nine Inch Nails has been the vehicle for Reznor's angst-ridden outbursts incorporating sex, politics, and religion (Pretty Hate's "Sanctified" and "Something I Can Never Have"), even as "Down in It" and "Head Like a Hole" demonstrated considerable pop accessibility. Going the Ministry route, NIN replaced the synth-pop of Pretty Hate Machine with a metal attack on the brutal 1992 EP Broken (TVT/Nothing), with remixes subsequently released as Fixed, as uncompromising tracks such as "Happiness in Slavery" and the hit "Wish" ushered the band into the ranks of influential noise merchants of the 1990s, with Reznor's lyrical and melodic hooks propelling him above the pack.

The Downward Spiral (Nothing, 1994)upped the ante as the concept album about suicide not only kept up the electro-metal assault but drew its inspiration from earlier experimental- and progressive rock (particularly David Bowie's Low); prog-rock stalwart Adrian Belew (King Crimson, Talking Heads, Frank Zappa) supplies distinctive guitar. The album contained the band's signature song "Closer" while the blistering "March of the Pigs" maintained the edgy aggression, and the jarring dynamics of "Mr. Self Destruct" chronicled the clashing social and personal upheaval. Subsequent recordings found Nine Inch Nails working through the implications of the sound it had found with mixed success, although With Teeth (Interscope, 2005) still proffered a catchy thumper in "The Hand That Feeds," and Year Zero (Interscope, 2007) was a full-blown examination of future political dystopia that was ultimately uneven and suggested that Reznor's insights were more effective in concentrated doses.

But as Reznor and Nine Inch Nails have continued to record and tour, their legacy has been established, and at this point it is simply a matter of updating the résumé. Reznor has garnished his reputation by supplying songs for film soundtracks and, with musician and composer Atticus Ross, has scored three David Fincher films, winning an Academy Award for The Social Network (2010), and establishing industrial rock as a mainstream genre—you cannot escape it even in the safety of your MultiPlex cinema.

Will the artist be voted into the Hall? Yes. Hall voters may be holding their noses as they check this box, but they also know that few acts have—perhaps no other act has—pushed industrial into the mainstream with such forceful conviction as has Nine Inch Nails.

Would I vote for the artist? Yes. Industrial music has remained murky and anonymous, but Trent Reznor and Nine Inch Nails have given it both a face and a voice, in turn making industrial a rock genre to be reckoned with as they have inspired subsequent musicians. Moreover, Nine Inch Nails's lyrical and musical contributions have helped to shape the course of contemporary rock.


N.W.A. changed hip-hop with its album Straight Outta Compton.

Sometimes the history of the Rock and Soul Era is punctuated by artists whose moment was brief but enduring, altering the course of the music irrevocably even though the artist's presence was fleeting. Bill Haley, the Sex Pistols, and Grandmaster Flash were such artists, and so was the hip-hop group N.W.A. Short for Niggaz wit Attitudes, N.W.A. wasn't the first gangsta-rap act—Schoolly D delivered the first truly graphic street-level vignettes (such as "PSK—What Does It Mean?), although Hall of Fame recognition for him is non-existent; first is not always lasting—but N.W.A. did deliver the definitive tract for the genre, Straight Outta Compton (Ruthless/Priority/EMI, 1988), N.W.A.'s second album, which has influenced countless acts while spawning the solo careers of Dr. Dre, Eazy-E, and Ice Cube. "Straight Outta Compton" is a gripping statement of purpose while "Gangsta Gangsta" details inner-city life in ambiguous terms and the notorious "Fuck tha Police" is a landmark challenge to authority that eerily presaged the 1991 Rodney King beating in Los Angeles and the subsequent rioting following the acquittal of the four L.A. police officers charged with the beating.

And that was it for N.W.A. Its first album was a tepid exercise that could hardly predict the impact Compton would have, and its releases subsequent to that quickly became uninspired and parodic. Furthermore, internal disputes ensured that N.W.A. would not last long, with Dr. Dre and Ice Cube embarking on substantial careers while Eazy-E, who also went solo, died in 1995. By that time, gangsta rap had become the dominant hip-hop genre while exerting a fascination throughout contemporary music and pop culture in general. N.W.A. had ratcheted up the stark storytelling of Grandmaster Flash and Run-D.M.C. while echoing the bluntness of rock's hardcore underground, and it pushed the Rock and Soul Era into a graphic, profane existence. Like it or lump it, you cannot ignore it.

Will the artist be voted into the Hall? No. This is despite the fact that the decks are cleared for N.W.A.—there is no other hip-hop act on this year's ballot—and the group seems to have backing in the nominating committee if it has made the ballot for three years in a row. Nevertheless, given the still-contentious nature of hip-hop being in the "Rock and Roll" Hall of Fame, I still don't see Hall voters voting for thiship-hop act anytime soon. Which doesn't mean that I don't hope that I'm dead wrong about that.

Would I vote for the artist? Yes. Although N.W.A.'s legacy amounts to only one album, its impact is what matters, and the band redirected the course of hip-hop, with a corresponding ripple effect on other musical and cultural forms, as a result of it. N.W.A. is the hip-hop equivalent of the Sex Pistols, and it will be interesting to see, if it is elected, if the group regards its election as a "piss stain" as well.

Lou Reed

Background: With a solo career that dates back to the early 1970s, Lou Reed has always divided opinion—critical darling, bête noire, underrated genius, overrated poseur—while his considerable output has similarly been uneven. Reed is already in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as the leading light of the Velvet Underground (inducted in 1996), while his solo material, stretching across four decades until his 2013 death at age 71, provides as many reasons to disqualify him as it does to recommend him.

Reed struck early with 1972's Transformer (RCA), which yielded the signature hit "Walk on the Wild Side"—Velvet Underground decadence diluted for Top 40 radio, albeit with "giving head" sneaking in nevertheless—while "Perfect Day" and "Satellite of Love" operated between the Velvets and David Bowie, who produced the album, and "Vicious" was a coolly ironic rocker. Berlin (RCA, 1973) was an ambitious song cycle that often seemed trapped between Cabaret and The Rocky Horror Show ("Caroline Says"). Sally Can't Dance (RCA, 1974) was uninspired time-filling—the title song plucked pieces from whatever pop trends caught Reed's fancy that day—while the live album Rock 'n' Roll Animal (RCA) from that same year enlisted a crack hard-rock band, including guitarists Steve Hunter and Dick Wagner, to pump up Reed's Velvets classics (including "Sweet Jane" and "Rock and Roll") to arena-level anthems (critic Ira Robbins deemed it "unbelievably bombastic"), which left Reed a sideman on his own material. But Metal Machine Music (RCA, 1975) signaled Reed's nadir: an interminable electronic drone and feedback exercise that functioned as commercial and critical suicide—although you know that an avant-garde quarter or two heralded it as subversive genius.

Such is the impact of Lou Reed. Also released in 1975, Coney Island Baby (RCA) tried to smooth ruffled feathers with the pleasantly languid title song; Reed's feint toward Leonard Cohen, "A Gift"; and another itchy rocker, "She's My Best Friend." Encouragingly, Street Hassle (Arista, 1978) aimed for the Big Statement of Berlin with better results (the title suite, "I Wanna Be Black," "Real Good Time Together"), although as punk and new wave pushed the old guard, including Reed, to the side, Reed's opportunity to snap up the grail seemed to have passed.

Or did it? Reed's early-1980s albums—he was back with RCA for The Blue Mask (1982), Legendary Hearts (1983), and New Sensations (1984)—promised a renaissance; the first two, recorded with legendary punk guitarist Robert Quine, offered stripped-down rockers and ballads in the Velvets' mode but with a definite contemporary feel, while New Sensations actually aimed for upbeat fun ("My Red Joystick"). Mistrial (RCA, 1986) tried to mix drum programming and social comment with middling results, but when Reed returned to minimalist rock with New York (Sire, 1989), he may have made the best album of his solo career: Although references to Jesse Jackson and Kurt Waldheim, among others, date the record now, New York contains Reed's most cogent songwriting, an unsentimental observation of events both global and local. "Dirty Blvd." was a hit, while "Sick of You" remains a timeless rant, and "Dime Store Mystery" is an elegy of sorts for Velvet Underground mentor Andy Warhol. Reed and former Velvets bandmate John Cale collaborated on Songs for Drella (Sire, 1990), a full-fledged memorial to Warhol, and as Reed moved through the 1990s and into the 21st century, his less-frequent releases exhibited increasingly elegiac airs, with The Raven (Sire, 2003) a grand homage to Edgar Allan Poe, until his own death in 2013.

Will the artist be voted into the Hall? No. Despite his passing last year, Lou Reed has never engendered widespread sympathy previously and is unlikely to do so now, although this year may be Reed's best shot at the Hall as he remains fairly fresh in the memory. Reed's reputation is scattered across various perceptions—subversive pioneer (and already covered with his induction with the Velvet Underground), punk inspiration, sardonic singer-songwriter, casually caustic rocker—and it is hard to see the overall groundswell of support coalescing to vote him in.

Would I vote for the artist? No. Lou Reed's solo career, which lasted a good four or five times longer than his career with the Velvets, has been a classic case of arrested development. Over the years, he has matured, to the point that New York remains a bracing statement although it is not a brilliant one, certainly not musically—although that is admittedly deliberate on Reed's part—but also not lyrically, either, no matter how intelligent Reed's observations are. Overall, Lou Reed's solo legacy is that of a minor talent whose reach exceeded his grasp.

Last modified on Saturday, 13 June 2015 13:39

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