The Rock & Roll Hall of Shame
As you've probably heard, the 2003 Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inductees were announced recently. And, once again, there's a whole boatload of glaring omissions.
Among the non-invitees: Bob Seger, Yes, Linda Ronstadt, John Mellencamp, The Guess Who, Genesis, Black Sabbath, Thin Lizzy, Three Dog Night, the Moody Blues, KISS, Alice Cooper, John Denver, Hall & Oates, Johnny Rivers, Neil Diamond, Gram Parsons, Charlie Daniels, the Hollies, the Doobie Brothers, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Emerson, Lake & Palmer, Jethro Tull, Jackson Browne, Cat Stevens, Deep Purple, Steppenwolf and Chicago.
Of course, these are some of the most popular and enduring rock and pop artists of all time, yet they've not been named to the Hall, and many of them never will be. Why? Primarily because none of these artists is championed by Rolling Stone Magazine's Jann Wenner, the overlord of the dubious rock hall.
You think Pete Rose is being screwed by Major League Baseball? Well, I've got news for you: the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame is an even bigger joke.
According to RRHOF flaks, the Hall was established in 1983 to recognize the contributions of artists who've had a "significant impact on the evolution, development and perpetration of rock and roll." Five to seven performers are selected annually by an international voting body of so-called "rock experts." In other words, rock music critics, mostly, as well as some record execs and artists.
This month's coronation, which will he held March 10 at the Waldorf Astoria in New York, and subsequently shown on the VH1 cable network in between a ton of commercials, honors AC/DC, the Police, the Righteous Brothers, and two critical faves, the Clash and Elvis Costello. While all are somewhat deserving honorees, most are totally predictable, especially the last two.
The Clash has been beloved by the rock-crit establishment since the band debuted in the late 1970s. Don't get me wrong. I liked the Clash, and I was saddened by the recent news that Joe Strummer had died. But they were and remain an eternally overrated band that offered mainstream-loathing writers a potent alternative recipe of anger, leftist politics and edgy art, along with that working class/punk aesthetic and touches of reggae and world music. They were more a movement than a band. But, yes, some of their songs were pretty cool.
Costello, too, was a Rock & Roll Hall of Fame shoe-in. A talented but pretentious and sometimes melodically challenged singer-songwriter, the "other" Elvis, who has that cerebral/nerd appeal, has always been more popular with the cultural elite than with regular music-listenin' folks. I'm not saying he hasn't produced some good music over the last 25 years, because he has. But David Lee Roth said it best when he remarked, "The reason most music critics love Elvis Costello and hate Van Halen is because most music critics look like Elvis Costello."
Wenner and his overly cerebral, misfit underlings, who, collectively, did not get laid in high school and as a result have a permanent chip on their shoulders, often pick the cool, artsy or angsty over the melodic or simply good. Harboring under the misconception that cynicism equals intelligence, they've routinely and stupidly dismissed great bands like Yes and Chicago since they were old enough to drop a needle onto a record and subsequently write a mean, clever phrase about what they were hearing. Most of them don't have the slightest clue what good music is.
To most rock critics, melody is secondary. Instead, they consistently discard simple joy and sentiment in music, and dismiss most anything mainstream unless the artists are non-white or dead, or the music is doused in something angry, oblique, obscure, political, esoteric, subversive or socially significant.
One of the few members of the rock-crit old guard that I've ever been able to stomach is Cameron Crowe. As good a music writer as any of the more severe, carping cynics of his ilk, Crowe, in his days at Rolling Stone, never forgot what it was like to be a fan. He never forgot the rush he felt the first time he heard a great record or saw a great concert. Refreshingly, he had a more pupulist sensibility as well as an apparent decency and lack of mean-spiritedness about him that made him so much more valuable as a critic, because, unlike so many who make their living criticizing others, Cameron was someone who simply wrote about what he loved. He was truly a voice for the music-listening public, not an elite.
Granted, he was a little smarter than the average rock fan, a little more insightful, and he was certainly better able to capture his buzz with eloquent words. But he was a fan, just the same. Cameron was a nerd, true, but he wasn't a dark-hearted, venomous loser with a huge chip on his shoulder like so many of his rock-writing cousins. Cameron has, of course, gone on to greater fame as one of Hollywood's most accomplished filmmakers, a guy who makes movies filled with heart, humor and passion, but I wish there were more people like him writing music and voting on who makes it into the RRHOF.
Controlled by Wenner and run by a small, caviling group of music writers and music biz veterans, the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame committee simply has no set guidelines. The only real stated criteria are that the artist must have had some "influence" in rock and roll, and that the artist's first record must have been released 25 years ago. Otherwise, it's subjective and wildly inconsistent.
If it's simply a music critics' award, then just vote in all your art bands, two-chord punkers and obscure pleasures whom the general public doesn't give a crap about and be done with it. But then they turn around and vote in such popular artists as the Bee Gees, Led Zeppelin and the Eagles, all of whom are totally deserving, of course, but none of whom has ever been a critics' champion.
Which is it, guys? I am so confused. Evidently, among the popular, mainstream bands, the only ones who make it are the ones that somehow manage to transcend their own image like the Bee Gees, Zeppelin and the Eagles, who've all been shamefully slammed over the years by rock critics at Rolling Stone and elsewhere.
Let's look at some of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame honorees of past years, shall we? And I don't mean disrespect to these fine artists, but we're talking a Hall of Fame here. Del Shannon, for instance. Excuse me? The guy had one hit, "Runaway." What about Paul Anka, who had a boatload of hits? Why isn't he considered?
Then there's Parliament/Funkadelic, another critical fave that hasn't sold many records. If you put in these guys, who were funk icons, to be sure, but who barely even qualify as rock artists, how can you ignore legendary funk/pop bands like Earth, Wind and Fire? When it comes to songwriting and overall contributions to popular music, EW&F's Maurice White runs rings around P-Funk's George Clinton.
Last year, the selections included Steely Dan and Aerosmith. Both great American bands, sure, but you could level the same charge against Aerosmith that critics have thrown at Chicago that they've become a soulless power-ballad hit machine and lost their soul. As for Steely Dan, a fantastic studio phenomenon, no doubt, but I'm not sure they even fit into the rock and roll category anymore. Their early stuff, yes, but since "Pretzel Logic" this has largely been a jazz fusion band.
How about the Flamingos, Solomon Burke, Dusty Springfield and Richie Valens? While all are great artists in their own right, each is questionable as a member of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, especially Valens. With all due respect to Valens' family and to the many Valens fans out there, there has to be some level of quantity as well as quality for people who make it to this level. Could you imagine a baseball player making it to Cooperstown after playing one season in the Bigs?
The most glaring omission of all, however, is Chicago. Arguably the most popular and enduring American rock band of all time, Chicago, which is still selling records and selling out concerts worldwide, has been eligible for induction into this music hall of shame for nearly a decade. But it ain't gonna happen.
Chicago has been un unfair target of critics for years. Rolling Stone writers trash them every chance they get. But people who understand what good music is have been devoted to this band since the early records were played on progressive FM radio stations. Yes, Chicago was once considered musically subversive.
The first time I heard Chicago I was nine years old and living in the suburbs of Des Moines, Iowa. My dad was a rock DJ at the time, I was a budding drummer, and he loved to bring home records from the radio station and play them for me. One night dad came home clutching this double album called "Chicago Transit Authority." I hadn't heard of it, and wasn't sure what to expect.
I figured it was another jazz record, which my dad tried to slip into my psyche from time to time while I wasn't paying attention. I thought it was probably something along the lines of Stan Kenton or Woody Herman. "No, this one's different," he promised. "It's the greatest thing I've ever heard."
Skeptically, I said OK, I'd give it a listen. It took just Side One "Introduction," "Does Anybody Know What Time it Is" and "Beginnings" to hook me for life. This album rocked. It had absolutely everything about music I love and still love. Power. Joy. Balls. Heart. Emotion. Intelligence. Fun. Beauty. And, most important, melody. Yes, the "M" word, a strange and foreign concept to many rock critics.
Even at age 9, I remember being blown away by the combination of strength and tenderness in the music. I was flabbergasted by the amazing guitar work of Terry Kath, who, it would later be revealed, was Jimi Hendrix's favorite guitar player. I was stunned by that phenomenal and now legendary horn sound. I loved the soulful vocals of Kath, the deep, almost big-band voice of Robert Lamm and the beautiful tenor singing of Peter Cetera. And those songs. Unbelievable changes and major 7 chords with grace and depth.
Chicago knocked me out. For my money, "CTA" remains the greatest rock/pop music debut of all time. It's an incredibly mature and melodic piece of work, from start to finish. I listen to it to this day more than any other record. Since that debut, I've happily followed the band along for the 36-year ride. So have millions of others.
Remarkably, the band has stayed together all these years and has never gone more than a year without touring or recording. Obviously, the group has gone through some changes over the years. Kath died of an accidental self-inflicted gunshot wound in 1978, and Cetera left the band after the 1985 tour to pursue a solo career. But Lamm, my favorite member and the guy who wrote many of the band's early classics, is still there. So is that horn section Lee Loughnane, trumpet, James Pankow, trombone, Walt Parazaider, saxophone.
On record, Chicago's hard-driving rhythm and blues and jazz rock of the early days has been replaced to a large degree by a more polished, commercial, middle-of-the-road sensibility. But longtime fans of the group know what this band is really all about. In concert, Chicago still knocks your socks off.
Sure, they play some of their 1980s and '90s adult contemporary Cetera-penned hits to appease the newer fans. And by the way, those are still good songs. But they also play their earlier classics: "Make Me Smile," "Free," "Feeling Stronger Every Day," "Call on Me," "Wake Up Sunshine," "Dialogue," "25 or 6 to 4" to remind the older fans what this band is still made of.
Chicago is quite simply one of the greatest bands of the rock era, a band that has enjoyed worldwide sales of more than 120 million records and an astonishing 50 hits in the U.S. alone, including more Top Ten hits (20) than any other artist except the Beatles (34), and the Rolling Stones (24).
Yet the band, along with so many other great and deserving artists, are annually slighted by Wenner and his colleagues at the Rock & Roll Hall of Shame, er, Fame. What a bunch of terminal twits.