Wednesday, April 28, 2021

Battle Royale for the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame: It's All About the Music, Man

 This is going to be my last entry in this series evaluating the candidates for the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, but it may be the most significant one: How good was their music? This is necessarily a personal assessment, but I’m also going to take into account the opinions of people I respect. There are a lot of lovers of popular music who have better taste than me.

Believe me, you don’t want me making the final decision on who should be in the Hall of Fame, because nobody wants Alan O’Day to be inducted. (As an aside, Robert Christgau’s continuing affection for the forgettable DeBarge album In a Special Way, which he voted for in the latest Rolling Stone Greatest Albums of All Time poll, emboldens all of us who have that one idiosyncratic album we love that nobody else even bothers to have an opinion about. You wanna love Head East or Teena Marie? Christgau gives you his blessing.) 

On the other hand, the Hall of Fame has, for some reason, entrusted me with this decision, so I may as well take my shot. My taste is as valid as anyone's, right? My final ballot will be posted shortly: 

1. Carole King Anyone familiar with my writing knows that early 1970s pop is my sweet spot for music, and Carole defined that genre. A composer first and a performer second, her songs were as well-crafted as anything you heard on the radio then, or anything you’ve heard since.

2. The Go-Go’s Those records still sound incredible, poppy and fun with a punk undertone, and Gina Schock’s surf-rock rhythms buoying the whole thing. I just wish they had held it together for a little while longer.

3. Dionne Warwick She’s had a LOT of hits, and that Bacharach/David 1960s material is about as good as pop music gets. I probably listen to Dionne as much as any artist here.

4. New York Dolls Their Bowie-in-a-garage-band stuff is totally hot, isn’t it? If they had just had a left-field pop hit, like Lou Reed and T. Rex did, they’d be in already, but for some reason “Personality Crisis” didn't make the charts. Thanks also to Todd Rundgren, about whom more shortly.

5. LL Cool J The ultimate radio star among the first wave of crossover rappers, he sure knew how to make a hit, from the silky “Going Back to Cali” to the powerhouse “Mama Said Knock You Out.” I love the fact that a Irish folkie (Luka Bloom) covered “I Need Love,” demonstrating just how versatile and universal this music was.

6. Todd Rundgren Like Carole King, he turned out effortless pop classics in the 1970s, songs that manage to sound of their time but still feel fresh today.

7. Chaka Khan A tremendous vocalist and spell-binding presence, and the hits still sound good. But I can’t help noticing she was reliant on talents like Stevie Wonder and Prince for her most indelible work.

Jay-Z Jay’s type of music has never been my bag, and I’m willing to accept that that’s the fault of my limited tastes. But in good conscience, I can’t rate him very highly on this scale.

9. Fela Kuti Sister Rosetta Tharpe was on the ballot a few years ago. She of course fell short in the traditional voting, since hardly anyone knows who she is, but the Hall of Fame inducted her anyway in some sort of pioneers category. I suspect the same fate may await Fela. His music is great (the little I’ve heard of it), but how am I supposed to compare him to Dionne Warwick or the Foo Fighters?

10. Tina Turner Once again I am reminding you that we are judging Tina here solely on her solo work, which for my money isn’t nearly as exciting as the Ike and Tina stuff. Tina agrees with me; she thought “What’s Love Got to Do With It” was unexciting and didn’t want to record it at first, thinking “I Can’t Stand the Rain” would be the hit from her comeback album. Don’t get me wrong, it’s good stuff, but there’s stiff competition here.

11. Rage Against the Machine Rap-rock ultimately didn’t have much of a shelf life, but they certainly did it better than anyone, with an ever-innovative Tom Morello on guitar and Zach de la Rocha trying to be the postmodern Joe Strummer, and occasionally succeeding.  

12. Devo A fun but ultimately limited band, I always felt like their weakness was their songwriting. My favorite song of theirs was their deconstruction of “Satisfaction,” but there’s only so many times you can pull that trick.

13. Kate Bush I am a sucker for this type of gossamer pop, but Bush takes it to an extreme, often eschewing rhythms altogether. And she can be awfully pretentious. In the end, I end up respecting her work more than enjoying it.

14. Mary J. Blige The female R&B singer category is very crowded this year, and I’m afraid Mary comes in at the bottom of it for me. It’s a tough crowd.

15. Foo Fighters The kind of chugging, well-crafted rock that’s always welcome on the radio, but you tend to forget as soon as the next song comes on. Dave Grohl’s already in, you know.

16. Iron Maiden Ugh.

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.