gold star for USAHOF


04 Nov
Not in Hall of Fame


The Smiths

The Smiths
The Smiths were one of the most popular and influential bands of the 1980s.

Hugely popular in Great Britain, the Smiths straddled the mainstream and the underground, the former through a shimmering, gorgeous jangle-pop approach that glided on ball bearings, and the latter through the singular, idiosyncratic, immediately distinctive voice and lyrics of lead singer Morrissey (first name Steven), whose keening, vulnerable persona and mannered air make Brian Ferry look and sound like Wilson Pickett. The Smiths' atmospheric mopery initially brooked comparisons with the romantic gloom of acts such as Depeche Mode and Spandau Ballet, although the Smiths parted company right away starting with their ordinary-sounding name—a direct repudiation of such pretentious appellations as Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark—to their shunning of synthesizers; instead, the band wedded the chiming, melodic, often multi-tracked guitars of Johnny Marr and the sturdy rhythm team of bassist Andy Rourke and drummer Mike Joyce to Morrissey's warbling, winsomely self-absorbed ruminations and rode them to post-punk glory.

Amazingly, the Smiths accomplished all this in the space of about five years in the mid-1980s, the band's output totaling four full-length studio albums and a passel of non-album singles. The first single, "Hand in Glove," memorably told us that the sun shines out of our behinds but made little initial impact; however, the follow-up "This Charming Man" struck gold while introducing the coy, teasing themes of homosexuality that helped to inform Morrissey's outlook, which came to encompass asexuality, celibacy, and the effects of child abuse among other deliberately non-commercial subjects. The Smiths' 1983 self-titled debut album for Rough Trade elaborated further with a remixed version of "Hand in Glove" while "Reel around the Fountain" was a lovely if ravaged ballad, and the elliptical, equivocal "What Difference Does It Make?" became another hit. The engaging single-only "Heaven Knows I'm Miserable Now" sharpened the Smiths' appeal as it became one of the band's signature songs (reference to Caligula notwithstanding); another non-album single, the compulsive, gently propulsive "How Soon Is Now?" made inroads in the United States. However, the band's second album Meat Is Murder (Rough Trade, 1985), although overtly political and bravely confrontational, seemed too strident despite—or because of—its condemnation of corporal punishment ("The Headmaster Ritual") and its support for depressives ("That Joke Isn't Funny Anymore") and vegetarianism (the title song).

The band rebounded with The Queen Is Dead (Rough Trade, 1986), which sharpened Morrissey's mordant wit into sardonic humor—if you believe that, in "Bigmouth Strikes Again," he is pulling our leg about knowing how Joan of Arc felt—and also sharpened Marr's guitar-driven hooks into sonic candy. "Cemetery Gates" and the unabashed "Never Had No One Ever" dared you not to cherish them as bruised and vulnerable plaints, as did the ethereal "The Boy with the Thorn in His Side," while the driving, U2-like title track was an oblique, fascinating rail covering personal and social politics, and "There Is a Light That Never Goes Out" is the wryly winsome ballad that should have conquered America. It didn't, but Louder Than Bombs (Rough Trade/Sire, 1987), a compilation aimed at the US market, came fairly close with its lode of choice singles ("William, It Was Really Nothing," "Sheila Take a Bow," "Shoplifters of the World Unite"). The Smiths' final studio album, Strangeways, Here We Come (Rough Trade, 1987), tried to broaden the band's musical attack, but despite a standout or two ("Girlfriend in a Coma," "Stop Me If You Think You've Heard This One Before") it ended the Smiths' career on a disappointing note. Morrissey went on to a notable solo career; the other Smiths, not so much.

Will the artist be voted into the Hall? No. The Hall loves British bands, but with its American bias, it all but demands that those bands have had significant success in the States—how else to explain the induction of the Dave Clark Five? Unfortunately, the Smiths' American success amounts to a strong cult following and a couple of singles (particularly "How Soon Is Now?") that somehow stumbled onto the American dance chart.

Would I vote for the artist? Yes. Not only did the Smiths encapsulate bracing 1980s attitudes with an appealing, accessible sound topped by a truly distinctive frontman in Morrissey, but those yearning, mournful emotions, spiked with an acid wit, proved to be influential on the next wave of alternative navel-gazers and social misfits, echoed in the emo movement and elsewhere. The Smiths carried the banner for latchkey kids, secondary school outcasts, the sexually confused, and the socially awkward everywhere.

The Spinners

The Spinners
The Spinners began their career in the early 1960s and are still performing.

You may be forgiven for thinking, "Wait a minute—aren't the Spinners already in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame?" With a career that stretches back to the early 1960s, this soul singing group has been a fixture of the classic rock and soul period, and, with lead singer Philippé Wynne and songwriter-producer Thom Bell, a hit-making machine in the 1970s, the group's heyday; thus, their inclusion in the Hall seems a foregone conclusion. Yet the Spinners may have been too polite to attract serious attention: Lacking the brooding melodrama of the Four Tops, or the lean, sharp moods of the O'Jays, or even the histrionics of Percy Sledge, the Spinners, particularly during the Wynne-Bell years, made their sentiments seem too effortless, as if they came too easily and thus eluded appreciation.

The Spinners tasted their first singles success in 1961 with the doo-wop-inflected "That's What Girls Are Made For," recorded with lead singer Bobby Smith for Harvey Fuqua's Tri-Phi Records. The group failed to chart a follow-up, but the Fuqua connection got them a spot on the Motown roster, where their 1965 single "I'll Always Love You" snuck into the lower reaches of the Top 40, but the pleasant if unexceptional plaint was easily overshadowed by the label's heavyweights (a fate similar to the Isley Brothers), and it took another five years for another hit, writer-producer Stevie Wonder's "It's a Shame," which featured the game falsetto of lead singer G.C. Cameron.

Signing to Atlantic but losing Cameron, the Spinners picked up singer Wynne and producer Bell, and under Bell's tutelage the group released the low-key, heavily arranged "How Could I Let You Get Away" in 1972. It failed to dent the Top 40, but then Bell and the group, with a pair of charismatic leads in Smith and Wynne, sharpened their approach—and the floodgates opened: the engaging "Could It Be I'm Falling in Love," "One of a Kind (Love Affair)," "Mighty Love," the funky "I'm Coming Home," "Love Don't Love Nobody," and the relaxed, swinging confidence of "I'll Be Around" were unabashed ear candy that all made the Top 20 between 1972 and 1974, culminating with their chart-topper recorded with Dionne Warwick, the swirling, incandescent "Then Came You." Even the de rigueur social commentary of "Ghetto Child" was appealing enough to chart. By the mid-1970s, Bell's formula was losing its luster—"Sadie," "Wake up Susan," "You're Throwing Good Love Away," and "Heaven on Earth (So Fine)" all missed the Top 40—although the instant charm of "Games People Play" and the hilarious funk of "The Rubberband Man" were both undisputed hits. Moreover, the Spinners' albums Spinners (Atlantic, 1973), Mighty Love (Atlantic, 1974), and Pick of the Litter (Atlantic, 1975) were substantial works in and of themselves—not merely hits-plus-filler packages.

Wynne left the Spinners in 1977, and the group parted company with Bell by 1979; the Spinners managed a pair of hits at the turn of the decade with the disco-inflected medleys "Cupid"/"I've Loved You for a Long Time" and especially "Working My Way Back to You"/"Forgive Me, Girl" before they moved onto the oldies and nostalgia circuit, their legacy already established.

Will the artist be voted into the Hall? No. With Chic, the Marvelettes, War, and Bill Withers also on the ballot, the easy charm of the Spinners is liable to be overlooked by voters. The group's biggest strength, instant accessibility, is also its biggest curse, which is why it took until 2012 just to get them on a ballot for the first time.

Would I vote for the artist? Yes. Percy Sledge is in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame—and the Spinners are not. In case that needs elaboration, the Spinners were among the top hitmakers of the 1970s, with an irresistibly engaging ensemble sound that helped to define the period. The Spinners have been long overdue for the Hall.


Background: When the Police halted operations in the mid-1980s, Sting (born Gordon Sumner), the band's lead singer, bassist, and principal songwriter, was tapped as the trio's best solo bet, and as if on cue he released his first solo album, The Dream of the Blue Turtles (A&M), in 1985. Reflecting Sting's jazz roots—jazz musicians backing Sting included saxophonist Branford Marsalis, keyboardist Kenny Kirkland, and drummer Omar Hakim—it was a critical and commercial success that spawned a number of hits including "Fortress around Your Heart," "Love Is the Seventh Wave," and a solo signature of sorts in "If You Love Somebody Set Them Free"; all three exemplified Sting's tendency toward keening romantic sentiment, although the topical songs "We Work the Black Seam," an ode to coal miners, and especially "Russians," an overwrought Cold War observation that even a cop from Sergei Prokofiev cannot ameliorate, suggested that he should leave politics to his former Police mate Stewart Copeland (whose father was, after all, a high-ranking field operative for the Central Intelligence Agency). The soundtrack to Bring on the Night (A&M, 1986), Michael Apted's documentary about Sting's budding solo career, underscored the jazz emphasis with live tracks that also featured Police songs.

But with . . . Nothing Like the Sun (A&M, 1987) and The Soul Cages (A&M, 1991), Sting made like Paul Simon and went international, particularly Latin as the former album prompted an EP, . . . Nada Como el Sol (A&M, 1988), that featured five tracks from Sun rendered in Spanish or Portuguese including "They Dance Alone," about Chileans disappeared under the Pinochet regime. Both albums were informed by the deaths of his parents, with The Soul Cages being particularly somber, although each managed hit singles, Sun with "We'll Be Together" and "Be Still My Beating Heart" (and the less said about Sting's embalming of Jimi Hendrix's "Little Wing" the better), and Cages with the title song and "All This Time." Sting lightened up with Ten Summoner's Tales (A&M, 1993), which yielded hits in "If I Ever Lose My Faith in You" and "Fields of Gold," although his self-important cleverness was becoming irritatingly cloy—yes, we know you were a teacher once and even managed to rhyme "Nabokov" in a Police song—a trait perpetuated in subsequent albums such as Mercury Falling (A&M, 1996) and Brand New Day (A&M, 1999), culminating with Sting's songs getting the orchestral treatment with Symphonicities (Deutsche Grammophon, 2010), by which time Sting had become fully regarded as being as insufferable as he is talented.

Will the artist be voted into the Hall? No. It may be a close vote as Sting has become the darling of middle-aged listeners wanting both sophisticated music and an articulate lyrical outlook. And with his previous success fronting the Police, Sting looks like his generation's Paul Simon. But Sting's urbane persona is polarizing, and voters may check the No box based on negative perception alone.

Would I vote for the artist? No. Sting has enjoyed a successful solo career, and his embrace of first jazz and then international styles has given him the veneer of a musicologist à la Paul Simon. However, despite some commercial and critical success, Sting does not rate highly enough in the Defining Factors to merit inclusion in the Hall of Fame strictly on his solo output.

Last modified on Saturday, 13 June 2015 13:39

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