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.