Saturday, April 14, 2012

Ladies Sing the Blues

You would not know it from the press coverage leading up to tonight's ceremony, but there are acts other than Guns n' Roses being inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame this evening. One of the other inductees is the late Laura Nyro, who is an odd choice for several reasons. Nyro was a very highly regarded songwriter, with hits recorded by the likes of the Fifth Dimension ("Wedding Bell Blues," "Stoned Soul Picnic"), Blood, Sweat & Tears ("And When I Die"), and Three Dog Night ("Eli's Coming"). But she never had any hits of her own.

Nyro's only appearance in the Hot 100 was her cover of "Up on the Roof," which peaked at Number 92. I'd never heard her own records before today, which are highly regarded but hardly considered legendary. Frankly, I don't have a problem with putting someone in the R&R HoF almost entirely on the basis of their songwriting - I think songwriting is the crucial element of pop music - but I can see how some people might. She's being inducted as a performer, after all.

She's also being inducted as a woman, and as my friend Erika Berlin loudly pointed out to me not long ago, the Hall of Fame is woefully short of women. (And you thought I was drunk and not paying attention, didn't you?) There are roughly 25 women or female-led groups among the Hall's 279 inducted artists, depending on how you want to count acts like Blondie or Fleetwood Mac or the Mamas and the Papas or the Pretenders. No matter how you count 'em, though, you can't get 'em up past 10 percent.

Which female artists have been overlooked? A bunch, I'd say:

1. Janet Jackson Analogous male inductee: Rick Nelson Really, Janet is absurdly overqualified for the Hall of Fame, with 28 Top Ten hits and ten Number Ones. She has the most Top Tens of any eligible artist not in the Hall. She's won both the MTV Video Vanguard award and the mtvICON award. She's been one of the most famous and popular stars in the world of music for decades. The one knock against Jackson is that she's been dependent on other writers and producers, most notably Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, but on the 16-track Design of a Decade career retrospective, Janet has at least a co-writing credit on 13 of the songs. And it's been a long time since anyone said she wasn't in control. (No, I don't think Nipplegate has anything to do with her exclusion.)

2. Linda Ronstadt Analogous male inductee: Rod Stewart She was the dominant female pop star of the mid-1970s, with five Top Five hits from 1975 to 1977 alone, and 21 Top Forty hits overall. Like Johnny Rivers, Ronstadt specialized in not just covers but covers that had been hits for well-recognized artists, and she had enough juice to make them her own, like the Everlys' "When Will I Be Loved" and Roy Orbison's "Blue Bayou." When her pop-hit days were over, Linda genre-hopped through well-received albums of torch songs, Mexican folk songs, movie music and country standards with a facility that David Bowie would envy.

3. The Go-Go's Analogous male inductee: The Lovin' Spoonful As the Spoonful did with jug-band music, the Go-Go's turned surf punk into pop hits, although most of the Go-Go's hits have held up better. Both groups lasted only about four years, but were among the biggest stars in music during that period. And the Go-Go's made one of the great Rolling Stone covers of all time:

Plenty of female musicians had posed in their underwear before, of course. But Carly Simon looked like she was driven to do so by urges she could never name; Linda Ronstadt looked like someone threatened her into doing it. The Go-Go's were the first female rocks stars who looked like they posed in their underwear because it was fun. This, I would suggest, was a great leap forward not only for the girls but for us boys as well.

4. The Chantels Analogous male inductee: The Dells The Dells got in on the basis of one hit, "Oh, What a Night": The Chantels' "Maybe" is a better record than that, and they managed three other To Forty hits as well. Head Chantel Arlene Smith even wrote "Maybe," although she was cheated out of credit for it when the single was first pressed.

5. Carole King Analogous male inductee: Curtis Mayfield King was inducted along with Gerry Goffin in the non-performer category, and rightfully so. But she also had the biggest-selling album of all time for a long time, which ought to count for something, and went on to have a slew of post-Tapestry hits as well. If Laura Nyro belongs as a performer, Carole King does, too.

1 comment:

  1. In my opinion, Laura Nyro's original versions are vastly superior to the "Hit" covers the radio played. Those covers were pretty good, but Laura put much more Heart and soul into them, they are HER songs, you can definitely sense that when you listen to the her sing them. And the album cuts that were not covered are every bit as great - Laura, and her albums ARE Legendary to a lot of People, myself heartily included, and I thank the RARHOF for not making the same idiotic mistake the clueless radio programmers in the '60s and '70s made.