Tuesday, April 6, 2021

Battle Royale for the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame: Animal Magnetism

 

I think it’s important to assess each of these artists in terms of their personality, their status as an icon, their mystique. Let’s face it: We’re talking about sex here. The sex appeal of each of the candidates may seem like a peripheral issue, but it’s an integral component of each act’s image, and in rock & roll, image is everything. And it’s fun to talk about, so what the heck. 

This will probably end up being the least important of our categories, but it’s good to have it on the record anyway. Note that I bring my own viewpoint to this as a heterosexual male, but I have tried my best to accommodate the perspectives of others. If Beyonce thinks someone is sexy, I’m going to take that under advisement.

 

  1. The Go-Go’s They were one of those rare groups – along with the Beatles and Buckingham-Nicks-era Fleetwood Mac-

    where each member had a distinct personality and contributed something specific and meaningful to the overall whole. And they did it while being as fun and fresh as any band ever, and as sexy as all get out.
  2. Jay-Z I will defer here to the judgment of the most desirable woman in the world.
  3. Tina Turner The owner of the most famous legs in the business, if not the world, she was also a survivor, a fighter, an icon, a movie star who also had her own Oscar-nominated biopic.

  4. LL Cool J I am struggling to explain why he’s two slots down from Jay-Z, when I can’t think of Cool J without remembering the phrase “breathtaking torso." I guess it’s because Cool J went on to become a minor TV star when his music career began to fade, while Jay-Z went on to become Jay-Z.
  5. Chaka Khan When she was just a teenager, Ike Turner invited her to become an Ikette, but she decided to stay in the job she had just taken, as the lead singer of Rufus. Good move. Ike later described her as “a catalyst emotionally and in other ways as well," if you know what I mean. Prince’s infatuation with her – he had a Rufus poster on his wall as a kid – eventually led to “I Feel for You.” And, I mean, just look at her.
  6. Dionne Warwick More classy than sexy, but her sophistication was palpable on all those Bacharach/David hits. Docked a notch for the Psychic Friends Network.
  7. Fela Kuti He had 27 wives, which is a handful, but he was also an important activist who ran for president of Nigeria and put out a song denouncing ITT, which I think we can all get behind. One million people attended his funeral in 1997.
  8. Kate Bush I love the video for “Wuthering Heights” where she acts like she’s speed-skating. Love her hair, too.
  9. Carole King Another example of spectacular hair, but Carole's image was

    always more of a best friend than a sexpot. I am more inclined to defer to the wisdom of Beyonce than to the wisdom of Neil Sedaka.  
  10. New York Dolls They were pretty much the same band as the Go-Go’s, weren’t they? An exciting five-member group that managed to be both startlingly new and definitive of its times, but sadly burned out way before we got tired of them. Plus both bands took the stage in women’s clothing. But the Go-Go’s looked a lot better doing it.
  11. Mary J. Blige Like a lot of these performers, Mary became an actor when her singing career started to fade. I think it says a lot about her that her justifiably Oscar-nominated turn in Mudbound was as a matriarch.
  12. Foo Fighters Do people still think these guitar bands are sexy? They seem more nerdy than anything to me.
  13. Devo They’re through being cool.
  14. Rage Against the Machine I get the sense that these boys would be slightly offended if you referred to them as sexy. Maybe not Zach.
  15. Todd Rundgren Rundgren was part of that Seventies series of rock stars who were basically faceless; if anyone remembers what he looked like, it’s probably because he was so homely.
  16. Iron Maiden Ugh.

Wednesday, March 17, 2021

Battle Royale for the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame: Cultural Impact

 

Today we’re going to try to assess the cultural impact of each of the candidates for the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. This is different from their status as musical influence, asking questions like: How often were they on the cover of Rolling Stone? Or better yet, the cover of Time? Did they ever become the proverbial household word? Were they on Saturday Night Live? Or The New Scooby-Doo Mysteries? (As far as I know, the only Hall of Famer with that distinction is Mama Cass Elliot, although Sonny and Cher and Jerry Reed still have a shot.)

This isn’t an easy thing to assess, since people like the New York Dolls (only there aren’t any people like the New York Dolls) had an exceedingly narrow but nevertheless noticeable impact on the culture. So, as with most of this categories, there will be a great deal of judgment involved. As President Kennedy said, “We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard.” Let’s do something that’s hard:

 

  1. Carole King A true superstar in the early 1970s, at that moment when Long Island housewives started wearing caftans and getting divorced. The best-selling album of all time at one point, Tapestry was on the charts continuously from April 1971 to January 1977. Lorne Michaels wanted her to appear on the first episode of Saturday Night Live (he settled for Janis Ian instead).
  2. Tina Turner Tina became an icon in the midst of her solo comeback in the 1980s, with not just hit records but a best-selling book and even an Oscar-nominated movie based on her life. What she did with Ike may have been more important musically, but her solo career was more impactful on America as a whole.
  3. Jay-Z Playing off a lyric in “Empire State of Mind,” my friend Rob Sheffield has made the case for J-Hova as the Frank Sinatra of rap. It’s a bold claim, and I am not in a position to say it’s wrong. At the same time, you could call Jay and Bey the Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor of the modern age. 

  4. The Go-Go’s 
    They came along at the perfect time, just as MTV was happening, but they also did an awful lot to create that moment. A greatly enjoyable, photogenic band with a sneakily original sound, welding together punk and pop and surf music in Gina Schock’s drumming. They posed for Rolling Stone in their underwear, like many other women had done, but nobody ever had more fun doing it.
  5. Dionne Warwick The sophistication she brought to the pop charts with her string of Bacharach/David hits in the 1960s was something that didn’t really exist aside from Ms. Warwick herself. That impact lessened as her career went on, although her biggest hits came in the 1970s (“Then Came You”) and 1980s (That’s What Friends Are For”).
  6. LL Cool J A huge figure in the first wave of rap that crossed over to not just the pop charts but mainstream American culture. He headlined a sitcom that ran for two seasons and has been on one form or another of NCIS in recent years. I’m not sure whether any of that counts toward the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, though.
  7. Devo They were on Saturday Night Live in 1978, when that was the hippest show on TV, and the nerd on Square Pegs (where they made a guest appearance) claimed his Devo helmet as his dearest possession. In between, they became MTV superstars with “Whip It.”
  8. Chaka Khan Chaka has the respect of everybody who’s anybody in R&B: Stevie Wonder and Prince wrote songs for her to sing, and she made huge hits out of both of them. She also has a street in Chicago named after her, but having said all that, I don’t see very many ways in which she has impacted the culture.
  9. New York Dolls Had a shot at being the Velvet Underground of the 1970s. But they weren’t.
  10. Rage Against the Machine One of the leading acts of the late 1990s, with a great deal of notoriety among the MTV crowd. My sense is that they were a bit of a supernova, whose fame diminished very quickly, although “Some of those who work forces are the same who wear crosses” has had a bit of a comeback lately.  
  11. Fela Kuti An international superstar who never had a lot of impact here in the States. Frankly, I don’t know what to do with him in this category.
  12. Foo Fighters Dave Grohl is a big star, and seems both well-liked and well-respected throughout the world of music and with the public at large. But let’s be honest: Foo Fighters will always be his second best-known band.
  13. Todd Rundgren Rundgren was part of that Seventies series of rock stars who were basically faceless; if anyone today remembers what he looked like, it’s probably because he was so homely.
  14. Mary J. Blige Despite all her hitmaking, Mary never became a household name, or even very visible. She didn’t really make a lot of magazine cover, aside from Essence.
  15. Kate Bush She was probably a big deal in Great Britain, right? I don’t live in Great Britain.
  16. Iron Maiden Ugh.

Thursday, March 11, 2021

Battle Royale for the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame: Musical Influence

One of the things I really like to see in a Rock & Roll Hall of Famer is someone who has influenced other artists, which to me is the true sign of innovation and stature. To that end, I’ve tried to uncover artists who claim, in the first person, to have been inspired by these candidates. I'm not convinced when some random schmo says, “Oh yeah, Lady Gaga is totally influenced by Kate Bush”; tell me what Gaga has to say on the matter.

This ranking is obviously heavily subjective, and my knowledge for may of these artists' legacies is limited. If you know of people who patterned their vocals after Chaka Khan, by all means, let me know.


1. Fela Kuti “They blew us – The JB's – away, so we told them that they were the funkiest cats we ever heard,” said Bootsy Collins of James Brown’s band and Funkadelic. Brian Eno said: “I told the Talking Heads that this was the music of the future, and it still is. This is what I’d have liked jazz to have become.” BeyoncĂ© covered Fela’s “Zombie” at  Coachella. You may notice that Fela’s followers are some of the biggest artists in the genre.

2. Devo Toni Basil and Neil Young worked with them; Rage Against the Machine, Moby and Nirvana covered them. David Bowie once introduced them onstage by declaring them “the band of the future,” 

3. New York Dolls The great music writer David Fricke told me that he was once interviewing Morrissey and let it slip that he had seen a New York Dolls show during their meteoric career. Morrissey just about plotzed; he was president of some sort of New York Dolls fan club, and was in awe that he got to meet someone who had seen them live. Morrissey, you may have noticed, is not easily impressed. 

4. Jay-Z My sense is that Jay’s influence has been stronger than that of LL Cool J (who we’ll get to later), through hitmakers ranging from Drake to DJ Khaled to Timbaland. I’m not an expert, though.

5. The Go-Go’s "The best songwriters of the 20th century [sic] have both cited the Go-Go's as being an influence — and they're not female,” said Jane Wiedlin. “That would be Kurt Cobain and Billie Joe Armstrong.” Their influence on females, though, is undeniable: “The Go-Go's music is deeply in our DNA,” said Danielle Haim. “One of the coolest things about the Go-Go’s and their music, for me, is how fun they make femininity feel," said Hayley Williams of Paramore. "They’ve never undermined their own identities to placate any notion that rock genres have to feel a certain kind of ‘tough.’ They’re so badass.”

6. LL Cool J “One of the rappers I studied and learned line for line bar for bar style attitude and class on the mic,” said Snoop Dogg. “Goat is why I still here. L. L. Cool. J. Is hard. As hell." 

7. Carole King A tremendous influence on the singer-songwriter movement of the 1970s, as exemplified by her friend and collaborator James Taylor, whose biggest hit was his cover of King’s “You’ve Got a Friend.” Remember, we’re considering here her strictly as a performer. 

8. Todd Rundgren Rundgren’s biggest influence is arguably on the acts he’s produced, which include Cheap Trick, the New York Dolls, Hall & Oates, Alice Cooper, Patti Smith and Grand Funk. But his biggest hit was Meat Loaf's Bat Out Of Hell, which is not a plus.

9. Dionne Warwick Obviously her work with Bacharach and David was very influential, but that was in large part because of the material. Strictly as a vocalist? I’m not seeing a whole lot there. 

10. Mary J. Blige “On behalf of all the women who came after you like myself, thank you for being you,” Rihanna said of the Queen of Hip-Hop Soul. “So we could feel comfortable with being ourselves.” 

11. Tina Turner We’re looking at Tina’s solo career, so think “Private Dancer”: Was that a very influential record? Were there a lot of singers who wanted to sound like “What’s Love Got to Do With It”? Anita Baker, maybe?

12. Chaka Khan Chaka cut a single with Ariana Grande, and it strikes me that there’s where her influence lies, with pop/R&B vocalists. As well-respected as she is, I don’t think she’s left that strong a legacy. 

13. Rage Against the Machine They began the rap-metal/nu metal movement that included such luminaries as, uh, Linkin Park and Limp Bizkit. I am hard-pressed to think of this as a plus.

14. Kate Bush "She appeared out of nowhere at the tail end of punk and sort of embodied the punk spirit by just being completely herself,” said Boy George. “She blew things apart with things like ‘Running Up That Hill,’ because it defied the classic logic of pop.” She’s so British that I’m sure there’s a lot of her work that lingered on the U.K. charts, but I don’t know a whole lot about that. Her avowed fans included Tupac and OutKast’s Big Boi, although I honestly don’t hear a lot of her in either of their work.

15. Iron Maiden  "They have always been, [among] the hard rock bands, the one that's probably inspired Metallica the most,” said Lars Ulrich. “They had cooler record covers.” 

16. Foo Fighters Foo Fighters seem to me like the last in a line – the last of the big guitar bands. There aren’t a lot of bands trying to sound like them these days. 


Friday, March 5, 2021

Battle Royale for the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame: Chartbusters

 

To start things off, we’re going to look at the hitmaking prowess of each of the nominees, which seems like it ought to be straightforward to measure, but it really isn’t. You can't just arrange the acts in the order of their total Number One hits. Artists like Mary J. Blige and LL Cool J dominated the R&B charts, while the Foo Fighters dominated the Alternative and Mainstream Rock charts – are those achievements as strong as Chaka Khan’s 12 Top Forty hits?

Then there’s the fact that you have to do some pretty serious era adjustments on these chart feats, since hardly anybody buys records anymore. That means that any contemporary album with any sales at all is going to show up on the album charts, even if its sales are next to nothing. To take one example, Carole King’s 2010 album Live at the Troubadour reached No. 4 on the charts on the strength of 78,000 sales in one week, which would have been a disappointing number for Head East two generations ago. A real hit album of today, like Taylor Swift’s Folklore, sells ten times as many units in a single week.

So there’s going to be a little subjectivity in this ranking. But as I see it, here’s how I’d rank the current crop of candidates in their chart impact: 

 


  1. Dionne Warwick Thirty-one Top Forty hits, ten of them reaching the Top Ten, two Number Ones (both collaborations: “Then Came You” with the Spinners, and “That’s What Friends Are For” with Stevie, Elton and Gladys).

  2. Jay-Z Nineteen Top 20 hits, with “Empire State of Mind” as the only Number One. Eleven of his 13 solo albums have gone to Number One on the charts.

  3. Chaka Khan Twelve Top Forty hits counting her work with Rufus, and eight hits that went to Number One on the R&B chart.

  4. Foo Fighters They’ve pretty much dominated the U.S. Alternative Airplay (26 Top Tens, 10 Numbers Ones) and Mainstream Rock (27 Top Tens, 9 Number Ones) charts. I wouldn’t be surprised if they’re the top performers on each of those charts, both of which debuted in the Eighties.

  5. Mary J. Blige Just four Top Ten hits on the Hot 100, and “Family Affair” is her only Number One single. But 20 Top Ten singles on the R&B chart, and most impressively, all 13 of her albums made the Top Ten on the albums chart, even her Christmas LP.

  6. LL Cool J Eight Number One R&B hits, nine Top Ten albums.

  7. Carole King More impressive as an album artist than a singles artist: Just four Top Twenty hits, but seven Top Ten albums (counting the aforementioned Live at the Troubadour), including three Number Ones.

  8. Tina Turner She and Ike are already inducted as a team, so this is strictly about her solo career, which consists of six Top Ten hits and two Top Ten albums.

  9. Todd Rundgren Six Top Forty hits, including a cover of “Good Vibrations” that peaked at No. 34 in 1976; can’t say that I’ve heard it.

  10. The Go-Go’s Five Top Forty hits, two of them in the Top Ten, including “We Got the Beat,” which peaked at Number Two.

  11. Rage Against the Machine Two Number One albums, no Top Forty hits but eight singles on the Alternative Rock chart.

  12. Kate Bush “Running Up That Hill” is her only stateside Top Forty hit, although she’s had seven Top Tens in the U.K., including her first single, “Wuthering Heights,’ which went to Number One.

  13. Devo Well, there’s “Whip It”…. The theme from Doctor Detroit didn’t even make the Top Forty.

  14. Iron Maiden They’ve had ten albums make the Top 20 on the U.S. albums chart, but never had a single even make the Hot 100.

  15. New York Dolls The self-titled debut album peaked at No. 116.

  16. Fela Kuti Nothing at all on the U.S. charts as far as I can see.

 

Wednesday, March 3, 2021

Battle Royale for the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame: Foreword

 

Once again this year I have been entrusted with a vote for the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, and as befits an honor like this, I intend to make a thorough review of the candidates before I cast my ballot. There are 16 nominees this year, competing for five slots, and it occurs to me that perhaps the best way to approach this is as a real competition, with five winners and 11 losers. Let’s stack the candidates up and let them battle it out against each other – that seems more sensible than just saying “Oh, Tina Turner, she’s great, I’ll vote for her.” None of that is to insinuate that Tina Turner is anything less than great, of course.


So this year we’ll rank each candidate according to the categories that seem most relevant to the Rock Hall: hit making, musical influence, cultural impact, coolness, etc. Rather than compare, say, Fela with Iron Maiden along a single vector of worthiness, we’ll stack all these qualities up and see how they turn out. Then at the end, the five acts that score the best will get my vote.

Part of the reason I want to do it this way is because every year people say things like, “Devo, man! How can you not vote for them?” With the nominees listed in order for each category, knowing that only the top five will make the cut, it’s much easier to offer up a reason: They’re nine slots less sexy than Kate Bush.

Here are the artists we’ll be considering this year:

  • Mary J. Blige
  • Kate Bush
  • Devo
  • Foo Fighters
  • The Go-Go’s
  • Iron Maiden
  • JAY-Z
  • Chaka Khan
  • Carole King
  • Fela Kuti
  • LL Cool J
  • New York Dolls
  • Rage Against the Machine
  • Todd Rundgren
  • Tina Turner
  • Dionne Warwick

I took this list directly from the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame site, so don’t blame me for the way they put JAY-Z in all caps. It’s not an acronym! From here on out, we’ll be calling him “Jay-Z” just like Beyonce does.

We’ll get started in the next couple of days. Thanks for being here.

Wednesday, January 8, 2020

T. Rex: Dirty and Sweet, Oh, Yeah

Ah, T. Rex. T. Rex was one of the first and most influential of the glam-rock bands of the early 1970s. In 1972, "Bang a Gong (Get It On)" went to Number Ten in the U.S. and was arguably the first glam hit on this side of the ocean.

They were huge in the U.K., with ten Top Five hits from 1970 to 1974, but they never again hit in America. Head honcho Marc Bolan was killed in a car accident in 1977, and T. Rex was done. I don't mean to plant spoilers up here, but this is the Thin Lizzy story all over again. The T. Rex saga is not appreciably different from that of Badfinger, who actually had four hits before the band started dying off, and nobody's nominating Badfinger for anything. 

What Makes Them Different T. Rex's influence was substantial. The Smiths, R.E.M., Joy Division, the New York Dolls, the Ramones, the Pixies, all cited T. Rex as an influence. They were name-checked in songs by the Who, David Bowie/Mott the Hoople, and My Chemical Romance. Slash's top hat seemed to be lifted straight from the cover of The Slider.

They were originally called Tyrannosaurus Rex, releasing four albums under that name. But their producer, Tony Visconti (who was also David Bowie's longtime producer), shortened it to T. Rex whenever he had to write it out, and the abbreviated version stuck.

Although they weren't together very long, T. Rex released eight albums in eight years. I admire that work ethic.

"Bang a Gong (Get It On)" was their only U.S. chart hit, but "Jeepster" also got some FM radio play, and "Debora" was heard in Baby Driver. They were a lot more than one song, despite what classic rock radio would tell you.

By the Numbers Four Number one singles in the U.K. In the U.S., they had two albums reach the Top Forty, Electric Warrior and The Slider, plus "Bang a Gong (Get It On)" in the Top Ten.

Will They Get In? As I said, T. Rex has a lot in common with Thin Lizzy, although my sense is that their cultural impact was more meaningful than that of the boys from Ireland. Another good comp for T. Rex is Nick Drake, who also put out some gorgeous, influential albums before dying way too young. Nick Drake never had a hit song, but his music still pops up on commercials and movies these days, and people LOVE him. Does that make him a Hall of Famer? Maybe, but the Hall hasn't seemed too kind to those types lately. Leonard Cohen, sure, but Leonard had a loo-o-o-o-ong career, and by the end of it, he was filling arenas. Does a rock band with a single hit and a short career but a noticeable footprint in the culture deserve to be inducted? I guess we'll find out.

Should They Get In? The Hall has seen fit to entrust me with a vote, so I guess I am the one who has to answer those questions. For now, I'm going to vote NO for T. Rex, but I could probably be persuaded otherwise. 

Wednesday, January 1, 2020

Motorhead: Overkill

In the past few years, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame has inducted the likes of Chicago, KISS, Cheap Trick, the Steve Miller Band, the Moody Blues, Yes, Journey, ELO... I mean, Deep Purple, really? They barely had any hits, or even a stable lineup. It seems as if any testosterone-heavy band with a modicum of artistic ambition that was popular in the 1970s is in danger of getting inducted.

That brings us to Motorhead, formed in 1975. They certainly weren't the worst band of their era, but their cultural impact here in the U.S. has been practically nil, aside from Freaks-like gaping at head honcho Lemmy Kilmister. Like Judas Priest, they were adored by Beavis and Butt-Head, and to be fair, they were better than the Priest. But not by much.

What Makes Them Different Lemmy was an enormous, mutton-chopped, multiple-warted frontman/bassist, and you were never going to mistake him for anyone else. "Kilmister" was his real last name, although "Lemmy" wasn't his real first name. He once said he didn't know how he got the nickname "Lemmy," and I believe him.

Lemmy was sort of a K-Mart version of Keith Richards - he claimed to have drunk a bottle of Jack Daniel's every day, was addicted to speed, and said he had slept with more than 1,000 women. He also collected (and repeatedly defended himself for collecting) Nazi memorabilia. His death, in 2015 at the age of 70, was the result of a combo platter of prostate cancer, diabetes, hypertension, cardiac arrhythmia, and congestive heart failure, making him also sort of a K-Mart version of Rasputin.

Motorhead's tribute record "R.A.M.O.N.E.S." cements the key connection between roaring heavy metal and speedy, pogo-able punk. It's also a really good single (and in true Ramones fashion, only 87 seconds long).

They weren't the first band to have an umlaut in their name - near as I can tell, that would be Blue Oyster Cult - but they were one of the first. No, I'm not going to use it here.

Lemmy also wrote the lyrics to Ozzy Osbourne's biggest pop hit, "Mama, I'm Coming Home," if you go for that sort of thing.

By the Numbers Motorhead never had a single reach even the U.S. Hot 100, much less the Top Forty. Prior to the last decade, when albums could chart while selling 5,000 copies, their highest-charting LP on the U.S. charts was 1916 (featuring "R.A.M.O.N.E.S."), which went to No. 142 in 1991.

Will They Get In? Motorhead is almost the definition of a cult band, although Lemmy's notoriety extends beyond the band's actual cultural footprint. I can't see that their cult has enough members to get them in.

Should They Get In? I have been listening to Motorhead while writing this entry. Remember when I said they were better than Judas Priest? I may have been wrong. I vote NO for Motorhead.

Thursday, December 26, 2019

The MC5: Total Destroy

The MC5 was featured in a very early cover story, by Eric Ehrmann, that helped put Rolling Stone on the map; when the magazine collected articles for a 25th anniversary issue, the MC5 profile was the earliest feature selected. I worked for the magazine at that point, and what struck me about that feature was how retrograde the band was. They lived together in a house in Detroit Big Pink-style, where they were attended to by their old ladies, who I don’t believe were even granted names in the article. Their entire function was to serve the men, although the article did praise the “total destroy barbecue” they prepared for the boys.

The MC5's debut album, the live Kick Out the Jams, hadn’t been released yet, but their reputation preceded them. They were at the crossroads of the hippie movement and what would come to be called punk, all roaring guitars and political anger, propelled by the anthemic title single.

That was probably the high point for the MC5, when they were all promise and no delivery. Shortly after that article appeared, Lester Bangs reviewed Kick Out the Jams for Rolling Stone, and he was not impressed, calling it “this ridiculous, overbearing, pretentious album.”

What Makes Them Different The MC5 really were an important band. Their saga kicks off the indispensable punk chronicle Please Kill Me, and their mix of heavy metal thunder and political broadsides showed a new way for rock music to go. All the White Panther Party rhetoric that surrounded the band at the time seems silly now, but hey, it meant something back then.

Lester Bangs notwithstanding, Kick Out the Jams has regained some luster in the ensuing years, being named to Rolling Stone’s list of the 500 Greatest Albums of All Time.

Guitarist Fred "Sonic" Smith went on to marry Patti Smith, and Patti Smith has really good taste. I am not exaggerating in the least when I say that her involvement with the MC5 lends them credence in my eyes.
,
They covered Sun Ra on Kick Out the Jams. How cool is that?

By the Numbers Kick Out the Jams reached a rather wan Number 30 on the album charts, with the title single going to Number 87. Their second album, Back in the USA, produced by future Springsteen honcho Jon Landau, peaked at Number 137.

Will They Get In?  When was the last time you heard an MC5 song? Their music hasn’t aged well, and their career was really short. I'm not feeling any sort of groundswell for the MC5.

Should They Get In? The MC5 had a certain amount of cultural significance, but let's face it, it wasn't that much cultural significance.  And the music has mostly been forgotten. I vote no for the MC5.

Tuesday, December 17, 2019

Kraftwerk: Fun Fun Fun

Kraftwerk has always been as much an art project as a band. In their native Dusseldorf back in the 1960s, when Florian Schneider was playing the electronic flute rather than the synthesizers that came to define the group’s music, they were more likely to play in art galleries than in conventional music clubs.

They reached their apotheosis with an eight-nine stand at New York City’s Museum of Modern Art in April 2012. Calling the show the Catalogue, Kraftwerk performed songs from one of its eight studio albums each night - one more trend they started - along with a futuristic stage show featuring glowing costumes, light shows and 3-D projections of robots in red shirts and black ties. The band had become literally a museum piece.

What Makes Them Different Is there anything about Kraftwerk that isn't different? They invented electronic dance music, about three decades before anyone else got around to it. Their work still sounds relevant today; it’s so much removed from its own time that it will never sound old. Despite relying on the bleeps and bloops of the pocket calculator, it was never bloodless, and was always fun.

They influenced the synth-pop of the 1980s, the hip-hop that followed that, the electronica that followed that, Bowie and Bjork and Afrika Bambaataa and Blondie all the way down to Daft Punk and Max Martin.

Other musicians have always loved Kraftwerk’s oddly funky electronica: Their work was used on Soul Sonic Force's “Planet Rock,” one of the earliest hip-hop hits, from 1982, and U2 covered Kraftwerk’s “Neon Lights" in 2004. “A great soul group, Kraftwerk,” Bono said in 2009. “Really an enormous influence on me as a 16-year-old.”

“I was reading a book about Leonardo da Vinci, and it said he was like a man who had woken up in the dark before everyone else got up hours later,” Chris Martin of Coldplay once said. “That's like Kraftwerk.”

Ralf Hutter says that the Beach Boys were an influence on Kraftwerk, and I believe him. In "Autobahn," though, they're not singing "Fun, fun, fun on the Autobahn," but rather  "Wir fahren fahren fahren auf der Autobahn," which is like German or something.

By the Numbers  Their only hit in the U.S. was "Autobahn," which went to Number 25 on the Hot 100 back in 1975. Even in Germany, only two of their singles ("Autobahn" and "The Model") went Top Ten, and God only knows what West Germans were listening to in 1974.

Will They Get In? Probably not. They seem pretty diametrically opposed to the people the Hall has been inducting, aside from having their glory days in the 1970s.

Should They Get In? In addition to being hugely influential - literally one of the most important bands in the history of rock & roll - Kraftwerk's music is still tons of fun to listen to. I vote JA on Kraftwerk.

Wednesday, December 4, 2019

Pat Benatar: Another Notch in Her Lipstick Case

When Pat Benatar first came on the scene in the late 1970s, it was common for her to be described as “classically trained.” She certainly had a big voice, but I suspect this was more marketing gimmick than truism; her higher education consisted of one year at SUNY Stony Brook, studying health education.

Benatar sang in nightclubs, stage musicals and commercials for several years before releasing her first album, In the Heat of the Night, at the relatively advanced age (for a pop starlet) of 26 in 1979. The second single, “Heartbreaker,” was a MOR hit, and Pat Benatar has been a star ever since.

What Makes Her Different There weren’t a lot of women singing hard rock in the late 1970s and 1980s, but Benatar seemed to wear the responsibility easily. "For every day since I was old enough to think, I've considered myself a feminist," she said. "It's empowering to watch and to know that, perhaps in some way, I made the hard path we have to walk just a little bit easier."

The Hall of Fame should recognize more women, but my first response to Benatar is: Where are the Go-Go’s? They were hitmakers from the same era who arguably had a larger cultural impact (plus they wrote their own songs). The Go-Go’s had a jukebox musical on Broadway, Head Over Heels, which is an honor that seems unlikely to befall Pat Benatar. There’s even a Go-Go’s documentary film that will be at Sundance next month. Where’s your documentary, Pat?

"You Better Run" was the second video ever shown on MTV, after "Video Killed the Radio Star."

“Pat Benatar” the act is really Pat Benatar the band, since she has been with guitarist/songwriter/producer Neil Giraldo since her very first album. They’ve also been together in real life as a married couple since 1982, and that’s kinda sweet, isn’t it?

The turn of the decade from the 1970s into the 1980s was not a very auspicious time for pop metal, as anyone who has listened to Survivor or Asia lately can attest to. With their full-throated vocals and knotty guitar parts, Benatar’s early hits still sound pretty fresh, especially “Heartbreaker” and “Hit Me With Your Best Shot."

By the Numbers Six triple platinum albums, including the Number One Precious Time, 15 Top Forty hits, including four Top Tens ("Hit Me With Your Best Shot," "Love Is a Battlefield," "We Belong," "Invincible")

Will She Get In? I mean, the Go-Go's were the first all-female band to make a real splash on the charts, and those songs still sound great. They snuck some surf-punk into pop melodies and harmonies - oh yeah, Pat Benatar. The Rock Hall has inducted an awful lot of people from Pat's era and genre, so I assume they'll do the same here.

Should She Get In? Probably, but this is only her first nomination. I think I'll wait for a different year, and for the moment, vote NO for Pat Benatar.