When last we convened, the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame had just announced its 2016 class, consisting of the undeniable N.W.A along with Cheap Trick, Chicago, Deep Purple and Steve Miller. These latter four acts range from the eminently worthy to the inexplicable, but all fell under the general rubric of Seventies Classic Rock. Out of a fairly diverse pool of candidates, ranging from the JBs and Chaka Khan to the Smiths, it was hard to miss how sharply focused the inductees were on one era and one type of music. The door seemed to be wide open for Foghat.
That brings us to this year’s crop of nominees, which includes holdovers Yes and the Cars along with newcomers Journey, the J. Geils Band and ELO, all of whom could be described fairly or unfairly as Seventies Classic Rock and have to be tabbed as favorites, based on last year’s results. Once again this year, I have been tasked, fairly or unfairly, with evaluating the pool of candidates. And once again, I will be sharing with you the reader my thought processes as to why I am casting my vote for certain acts.
Before we embark on that journey, as it were, I thought I would elucidate some of the criteria I use in evaluating these artists and their work, and then I'll start trotting out the essays where I attempt to answer these questions on behalf of the candidates. Bill James once described the Baseball Hall of Fame as "a self-defining institution that has by and large failed to define itself,” but Cooperstown is the OED compared with the Rock Hall. At least everyone understands that baseball players' ultimate goal is to win games, but Leonard Cohen and Janet Jackson and Kraftwerk and Lloyd Price all seemed to be pursuing different goals. How can you measure them up for the same honor?
To approach that problem, here are some of the questions I ask myself:
How good was their music? The most important question, and probably the most subjective one.
What kind of impact did they have on the culture? There are bands like the Velvet Underground and the Ramones who have a huge influence on the future of music without ever really having hits. On the other hand, someone like Lionel Richie can be unavoidable for years without leaving any trace of his work. In my opinion, cultural impact is exactly the kind of thing that the Hall of Fame should be recognizing. But it’s also critical to ask:
How many hits did they have? No matter what you think of Chicago, they had a staggering 35 Top Forty singles and 20 Top Tens, which is more than Rod Stewart or the Beach Boys or the Temptations. That kind of thing is hard to look away from. The number of hits often seems to work in inverse proportions to an act's cultural impact, which requires a bit of a balancing act. But hey, they can’t all be the Beatles.
How much responsibility did they have for their own music? An auteur like Prince is obviously going to get a lot more credit for his work than someone like the Marvelettes, who released some wonderful singles but didn’t do much more than come in and sing on them at the final stage of production. This question is the only reason I can think of that the Mamas and Papas would sail in easily, while the extremely comparable Fifth Dimension have never been seriously considered, despite twice as many Top Forty hits.
How cool were they? No, wait – this is the most important question.