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. 

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