THOUGHTS ON THE ROCK AND ROLL HALL OF FAME NOMINEES FOR 2017…

Here’s the list of nominees, for those who haven’t seen it yet:

  • Bon Jovi
  • Kate Bush
  • The Cars
  • Depeche Mode
  • Dire Straits
  • Eurythmics
  • J. Geils Band
  • Judas Priest
  • LL Cool J
  • MC5
  • The Meters
  • Moody Blues
  • Radiohead
  • Rage Against the Machine
  • Rufus featuring Chaka Khan
  • Nina Simone
  • Sister Rosetta Tharpe
  • Link Wray (Pictured above)
  • The Zombies
I’ll get to my picks in a bit, but first a few notes: Nina Simone, like Joan Baez, Miles Davis and a few others from previous years, would be a fine pick for the Contemporary Influence category I keep suggesting. These could be handled by the Hall itself and need not deprive actual rock and rollers from a place on the ballot.
Sister Rosetta Tharpe should have been inducted years ago as an Early Influence–which is how she should still be inducted. Again, why is someone who could easily and deservedly be put in the Hall by extra-ballot means,
taking a spot from somebody who can only be put in as a performer?
Having said that….

I try to approach this announcement a little differently each year. I’ll reiterate that I think having a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is a good and worthy idea, and remains so no matter how bizarrely or even corruptly it is run. My three visits there were all memorable and reinforced my belief that, as Rock and Roll fades from the cultural landscape, it is better to have a flawed institution dedicated to its memory than no institution at all.

The great problem facing the Hall now, though–a problem that increases year by year–is whether and when to shift the emphasis from the years when Rock and Roll was the center of the culture (roughly the mid-fifties through the mid-eighties), to a later time period where rock was a diminished presence (roughly the mid-eighties to the turn of the millennium), or a ghostly one (the turn of the millennium to now).

It’s a testimony to just how much more Rock’s peak years matter that the shift hasn’t yet occurred. Crit-faves Radiohead and Rage Against the Machine are the only acts (of nineteen) on this year’s ballot who started their careers after rock’s fall, and twelve of the nineteen acts began in the seventies or earlier. If the late eighties/early nineties had been rife with Hall worthy acts, you can bet they would be dominating the proceedings by now.

We’ll see how it all plays out in the future, but, for now, I want to play a little game.

Let’s just focus on the sixties.

There are three nominees who made their first big impact in that decade: Simone, the Moody Blues, MC5 and the Zombies. (Note: The Meters began in the sixties but had their biggest impact in the early seventies, so I’ll exclude them.)

I like all three acts fine, especially the Zombies. But seeing them listed together made me start idly wondering just how many sixties-era acts I would pick over any of them.

I assumed there would be ten.

Boy was I wrong. Here’s who I thought of off the top of my head, in the order I wrote them down. (Which says nothing about who should go in first–the Small Hall vs Big Hall debate is long ended. It’s a Big Hall and they are all worthy.) Most have never been nominated. I’ve paired as many as are reasonable with a near equivalent act of similar weight (or sometimes less) who is already in:

Dionne Warwick (Dusty Springfield)
The Marvelettes (The Ronettes)
Mary Wells (Ruth Brown)
Junior Walker (Darlene Love…who also made great records on her own and was just as great helping out others.)
Joe Tex (Solomon Burke)
The Shangri-Las (There are no equivalents to the Shangri-Las, which should be its own statement.)
Paul Revere and the Raiders (The Animals)
Tommy James (Randy Newman…who, except for “Short People,” wasn’t as popular, and, except for “Sail Away” wasn’t as good or as weird either. Or, if you prefer, Tom Waits, who didn’t have a “Sail Away” or a “Sweet Cherry Wine” in him.)
The 5th Dimension (The Mamas and the Papas)
The Turtles (The Hollies)
Glen Campbell (Brenda Lee, whose crossover legacy he extended by a decade)
Manfred Mann (Traffic…they were tonier, but not better…or as popular)
Jan and Dean (The Coasters)
Sonny and Cher (Shirley and Lee….Wait, they aren’t in? What’s wrong with these people?)
Three Dog Night (Neal Diamond)
The Move (The Small Faces)
Lesley Gore (Wanda Jackson)
Johnny Rivers (Gene Pitney)
Jackie DeShannon (Cat Stevens….No, wait. That’s not fair. Bonnie Raitt? Still not fair. Laura Nyro? Leonard Cohen? Are you kidding?)
John Mayall (Paul Butterfield)
Dick Dale (The Ventures)
Peter, Paul and Mary (Joan Baez)
Timi Yuro (Gene Pitney…he had more hits but he didn’t make better records. Not too many people did.)
Nancy Sinatra (LaVern Baker. Among other things, Nancy was a better blues singer)
Petula Clark (Ritchie Valens…What, you think “Downtown” wasn’t as great a record as “La Bamba?” Or as “rock and roll?” You should listen again.)
Mitch Ryder (The Yardbirds. What Jeff Beck did for guitar chords, Mitch did for vocal chords.)
Fairport Convention (The Jefferson Airplane, who sold more records but weren’t as good. One could almost say the same about the Band but I don’t want to start making people mad.)
Jerry Butler (solo) (Percy Sledge)
The Monkees (The Beatles….just kidding. But I’ll take them over the DC5, not to mention the Zombies.)

Of course, similar lists could be put together for the fifties and seventies. Just something for you, me and the Hall to think about.

As for my five picks:

The Cars, J. Geils Band, The Meters, Rufus, Link Wray.

Those who wish to participate in the fan voting (which can have a small impact if there’s a close vote for the final spot) you can go here…I’ll save any further thoughts for the inductees, which will be announced in December.

Til then…Mr. Wray on the night he invented Heavy Metal.

 

 

TURN IT UP AND PLAY IT LOUD (Lonnie Mack, R.I.P.)

lonniemack1

Back when I did my “Favorite Albums by Artists Who Have Never Been Nominated for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame” series, I knew going in that I would forget a few. The biggest oversight by far was Lonnie Mack’s The Wham of that Memphis Man! which should have been the very first album on the list. I’ll whap myself up side the head later. For now, let me take the occasion of his passing to make partial amends.

Recorded in 1963, released in 1964, that particular album brought Mack a whiff of short-term fame, via a couple of instrumentals (including a cover of Chuck Berry’s “Memphis”) that rode the Pop charts. It also bought him a lifetime of respect, as in, “if he never did anything else, he’d still be a legend.”

Of course he did a lot more, before and after, including gather up Merle Travis and T-Bone Walker and Les Paul into one glorious style that influenced virtually anyone you’ve ever heard of who has picked up a guitar since.

One thing he did that was almost alone among white boy guitar gods of any era, and absolutely unique among the handful (Scotty Moore, Paul Burlison, James Burton, Duane Eddy, Link Wray, Dick Dale, et al) who set the early style for hard rock long before the British Invasion, was sing on a level with the great black blues players. Actually, he sang on a level that would have made him a legend if he had been born with ten thumbs. With cultural giants falling like autumn leaves, I’ll just say that no death leaves a bigger hole in the purely musical Cosmos than his.

As another prophet once said. “Turn those speakers up full blast and play it all night long!”

lonniemack2

 

THE BRITISH INVASION (Great Vocal Events In Rock and Roll History, Volume 1)

Okay, back to the mission here with a new category.

Yes, this past week marked the fiftieth anniversary of the Beatles arriving in America, but it also, of course, marks the same anniversary of the beginning of what came, almost instantly, to be called the “second British Invasion” and then came (in the instant after that) to be called the British Invasion.

For shorthand historical purposes, this latter phrase has ever since referred to the tide of British acts who followed immediately in the Beatles path to success in America. Like pretty much every other rock and roll moment/movement between the early fifties and the early nineties, this “British Invasion” was, first and foremost, carried along by singers. It might seem self-evident that this is so, but most of what’s ever been written about the great changes the Beatles (and the Invasion in general) wrought have tended to focus on anything but singing, focusing instead on the rise of self-contained bands, the genius of the best bands being defined as those who wrote the best songs, the veneration of guitar gods, how witty and engaging some of the lads were in press conferences, whether the Beatles really were bigger than Jesus and so forth.

But the British Invasion finally rose and fell on great singing, just like nearly every other significant development in rock history before and after. So I thought I’d round up a list of some of the key vocal performances from 1964–66 that set the standards–and the limits–of just how far this thing proved it could go as commerce and/or art.

I think I included every really formidable singer from the Invasion proper who had any success at all on this side of the pond, though, of course, most of these made many other great records, so bear in mind this is only a representative sample. (I listed lead singers for groups and harmony singers where I thought they added something significant to the record. Also, where possible, I tried to find some interesting live version of the song in question for a link. But if you only want to close your eyes and listen to one, I’d recommend “It’s My Life” which is played off the original 45 and sounds superior to any CD mix I’ve heard.)

[Final note: This list is very roughly chronological but it’s really more about the gradual opening up of psychic space, as opposed to dates on a calendar….If you want to believe that’s code for “I’m way too lazy to look up every single one of these recording dates!” well, I won’t exactly give you an argument.]

“I Want To Hold Your Hand”–The Beatles (Paul McCartney, John Lennon, lead vocals): The kick-starter and a true update of the Everlys, with John and Paul as indistinguishable from each other’s heartbeats as they would ever be on record. They were never able to repeat the magic of this one live because (at least in every performance I’ve seen) they always stood at separate mikes and rather far apart. Fortunately for us, them and the world, the space they clearly needed on stage disappeared in the recording studio.

“She Loves You”–The Beatles (Paul McCartney, John Lennon, lead vocals, George Harrison, harmony vocal): Sheer rhetorical brilliance. Here were the Beatles, on their second big American single, claiming a special kinship (reinforced by the passion and intimacy of the harmonies) with the sort of staunch young female who made them a cultural phenomenon to begin with. It was a kinship they (John in particular, though Paul’s oft-expressed “well-it-would-be-nice-if-they-only-screamed-at-musically-appropriate-times” attitude speaks volumes as well) frequently made a point of disowning the moment it was commercially safe to do so. But the record itself was somehow both thunderous and sublimely intimate in its moment and has remained so in every moment since.

“I Only Want To Be With You”–Dusty Springfield: Dusty hit the charts the week after the Beatles with a record that very likely would have been an American hit in any case, providing, as it did, an instant bridge between the then reigning girl group sound and the blue-eyed soul waiting just around the corner. A solo vocal that sounds like a wave crashing on the beach. Only you, Dusty, only you.

“House of the Rising Sun”–The Animals (lead vocal, Eric Burdon): Maybe it was the JFK assassination or the Beatles on Sullivan. Maybe it was the Stones on The T.A.M.I. Show. Maybe it was something else. But you could stake a fair claim on “the Sixties” really being born here. When a working class English kid could step up to the mike and deliver a blues vocal on a par with Muddy or the Wolf then all bets were off and confusion was bound to continue its reign long after the exhilaration faded.

“Do Wah Diddy Diddy”–Manfred Mann (Paul Jones, lead vocal): Okay, an epic vocal on “House of the Rising Sun” is one thing, but this couldn’t possibly have been what Jeff Barry and Ellie Greenwich had in mind when they wrote this.

“You Really Got Me”–The Kinks (Ray Davies, lead vocal): Dave Davies’ ripped-and-ready guitar chords get most of the love, but, great as all that is, it’s also mostly a fine variant on things Link Wray and Paul Burlison and Lonnie Mack had already gotten up to (in some cases, years before). But Ray’s vocal really was something new and astonishing, a maelstrom of self-pity turned on its head so that the anger always underlying such emotions comes boiling to the top in what was ostensibly a lyric designed to express the same aching sentiments as, for instance, Smokey Robinson’s “You Really Got a Hold On Me.” Here, the “sentiment” is basically along the lines of “if you don’t love me as much as I love you, I’ll punch you in the face.” There was one occasion later, on “I’m Not Like Everybody Else,” where Ray even topped himself–there, he sounded both more plaintive and more dangerous at the same time. But this was the breakthrough.

“I’m Into Something Good”–Herman’s Hermits (lead vocal, Peter Noone): This swept aside Earl Jean’s version on its way up the charts. One of the uglier aspects of the British Invasion was that it temporarily brought back the practice of “cover” versions–i.e., a white version very specifically designed to sublimate the air play of a black original–which the original rock and rollers had laid to waste. Just to complicate things a bit further, though, some fair amount of the time the record by the highly marketable English lads was just as good (see the Moody Blues’ version of “Go Now,” co-opted from Bessie Banks, or Manfred Mann’s “Sha-la-la,” co-opted from the Shirelles, for other convincing examples; see the Stones’ “Time Is On My Side” co-opted from Irma Thomas, for one among many not-so-convincing examples). Case in point is that, at least on this record, Peter Noone actually sounded like a male version of a girl group singer. For a solid year after–and despite Noone’s more usual penchant for sounding closer to an especially adenoidal Music Hall escapee (“No Milk Today” and “Must To Avoid” very much excepted)–the Hermits battled the Dave Clark Five for second place among British acts on the American charts. Evidently, young women were not entirely immune to hearing a cute boy sing themselves back to themselves.

“Needles and Pins”–The Searchers (lead vocal, Mike Pender, harmony vocal Chris Curtis): A rare great harmony record by a Liverpool band other than the Beatles themselves (more about that below), and perhaps more noted now for its influence on American folk rock via twin six-string guitars that presaged the twelve-string jangle of the Byrds’ early hits. But the vocal shouldn’t be sold short, marking as it did a kind of link between the American folk movement and the folk rock that would explode a year later.

“Is It True?”–Brenda Lee: A bit of a cheat but only a bit. Obviously Brenda’s not British. But this was recorded in London with Mickie Most (likely England’s greatest record producer)** at the console and Jimmy Page (yes, that Jimmy Page) on guitar. No way any of that was happening without the Invasion and, based on the evidence, the LP Lee reportedly planned to make in England that never materialized is a great loss indeed. Beyond its own considerable value, notable for providing proof that British vocalists would not have to rely on American studio expertise when it was time to make great records on the assembly line. If the locals could hang with Brenda Lee, they could hang with anybody.

“Glad All Over”–Dave Clark Five (Mike Smith, lead vocal): The seeds of Power Pop and Glam. Also, about as subtle as a sledgehammer–an approach well-noted by many after it started making a whole lotta money. And lots of other people did make money going down this same path–though relatively few made similar magic.

“Downtown”–Petula Clark: Jesus, Mary and Joseph. Suddenly, Brits other than Dusty Springfield (i.e., Brits who weren’t geniuses) could do Bacharach-style Orchestral Pop. Now things were getting serious! It turned out that–other than Dusty Springfield–really only Petula Clark could do it and that even she could only do it so transcendently this once. But I wouldn’t be surprised if it made a lot of American session pros a great deal more nervous than “I Want To Hold Your Hand” ever did. (And just how Pop was it? Well, I first heard it in a shopping mall when I was five, with Christmas decorations festooned all around…and I promise you it changed my life.)

“My Generation”–The Who (Roger Daltrey, lead vocal): Not a big hit in America initially but an anthem an awful lot of people took to heart precisely because of its stuttering vocal. A sixties’ version of the semi-articulate angst-ridden ethos James Dean had spoken to (and for) in a much more artificial context a decade earlier. (For an even more exhilarating version of the same basic world view, see “The Kids Are Alright.” For an even nastier one, see “The Good’s Gone.”)

“(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction”–The Rolling Stones (Mick Jagger, lead vocal): The Stones had made some good records before this. Mick Jagger had even waxed a few really fine vocals. But, for the most part, the fuss they kicked up in the first year and a half of the Invasion is–musically speaking–a little hard to hear these days. The band smoked from the beginning, but early Jagger generally sang as though American English (especially black American English) was a foreign language he had learned phonetically. This is where he sold his soul to the Devil so he could complete with his idols, perhaps even surpass them. Compete he did. Surpass them he even perhaps occasionally did. Beginning in about 1973, the Devil got payback–he always does, whatever you decide to call him–but it was beyond belief while it lasted and it really did begin here.

“He’s Sure the Boy I Love”–Lulu: This was a remake–not simply a cover (as it was not designed to compete with the original on the charts and was not even released as a single)–of a Crystals’ hit on which Darlene Love had sung lead. Make that, the mighty Darlene Love. No way was Lulu supposed to dig in her heels and blow past Darlene Love (even if she was greatly assisted by a superior arrangement). But it happened. On a bit of album filler no less–and it is out of such miracles that cults are born and raised. Proof, if anybody needed it, that the Brits had a pretty deep bench.

“Look Through Any Window”–The Hollies (Alan Clarke, lead vocals, Graham Nash and Tony Hicks, harmony vocals): One interesting, little-noted fact about the Invasion was that, having been made possible by a great harmony vocal group, it produced relatively little great harmony singing aside from the Beatles themselves. While the Fab Four’s own vocal impact in America was enormous (with implications that stretched from the Byrds in ‘65 to Buckingham/Nicks’ era Fleetwood Mac in the seventies to the Bangles in the eighties, and that’s just scraping the surface), only one of the British harmony groups who arrived in their wake were remotely in their league. This was their best early record and if they–or anyone–bettered it later on, it wasn’t by much.

“Gloria”–Them (Van Morrison, lead vocals): Displaced Irishman on his way to becoming the Invasion’s greatest singer howls at the moon and gives every garage band in the history of the world from that moment forward a reason to exist–not to mention hope. (Not to mention a break from playing “Louie, Louie”!)

“It’s My Life”–The Animals (Eric Burdon, lead vocal): “We Gotta Get Out of This Place,” was just as great and certainly more iconic–it’s still the go-to record for anyone who wants to short-hand Viet Nam-as-nightmare. But I’m going with this one because it’s possibly the angriest vocal ever recorded. By the end of it, Burdon actually sounds like somebody who might stab you in the throat–but only if you get in his way.

“Gimme Some Lovin'”–The Spencer Davis Group (Stevie Winwood, lead vocal): The first instance of a popular record that involved speaking in tongues. Can’t say the idea caught on, but it’s still out there, waiting….

“Help” (John Lennon, lead vocal, Paul McCartney and George Harrison, harmony vocals) and “I’m Down” (Paul McCartney, lead vocal, John Lennon and George Harrison, harmony vocals)–The Beatles: Two sides of a 1965 forty-five. Side A featured John the acerbic rocker at his most vulnerable (he said in later interviews that he should have done it as a ballad). Side B featured Paul the romantic doing his crazed Little Richard imitation (and matching the original). All of which helps explain just how they were able to stay on top of this incredible wave for its duration.

“Friday On My Mind”–The Easybeats (Stevie Wright, lead vocal): Although an American studio confection who called themselves the Strangeloves made some classic, self-consciously primitive records while pretending to be Aussies (to exploit the Invasion, naturally), the first real Australian hit (albeit one recorded in England) was this garage-style classic from sixty-six. The only thing stranger than the combination of passion and opacity suggested by too much contemplation of a line like “Even my old man looks…good” is hearing Wright actually sing it. I might be delusional but, at this distance, I swear at least a hint of everything that bubbled up from down under afterwards is contained in this record: the Bee-Gees, Olivia Newton-John, AC/DC….whatever. I tilt my head this way and that and I hear it. Every bit of it. No really.

“Season of the Witch”–Donovan: A droogy, starry-eyed Scottish lad–who never did anything else even remotely similar–defines the future and names the era we’re still living in. Let’s just say that the psychological distance between this record and what, for lack of a better term, I’ll call “the present,” is considerably less than the distance between this record and “I Want To Hold Your Hand” which had been recorded two years earlier. (Note: I reserve the right to pick this one again when I do my inevitable “Greatest Folk Rock Vocals” post!)

**(Most produced five of the records on this list and his range went from the Animals to Herman’s Hermits. Later on, his range went from “To Sir With Love” to “You Sexy Thing.” He really should be in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.)

CONGRATS TO ROCK HALL INDUCTEES 2014…AND A REMINDER NOT TO FORGET

The 2014 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees have been announced:

Congratulations to Nirvana, KISS, Hall and Oates, Peter Gabriel, Cat Stevens and Linda Ronstadt.

I’ve been stumping for Ronstadt on this blog for pretty much the entire twenty-two months of its existence (and in the occasional letter-writing campaign for many a long year before that) so I’m only sorry that it took the announcement of a debilitating disease for the Hall to do the right thing by her.

Hall and Oates were the only others I voted for myself on the fan ballots that were available at Rolling Stone and Future Rock Hall, but there were strong cases for all the others and part of what’s fun (and very rock and roll) about the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is that it covers a lot of ground and makes for a lot of good arguments.

A lot of folks are naming Cat Stevens as the margin call this time around, and some are even insisting that the Hall must be cooking the books to keep including so many crit-fave singer-songwriters year after year (Leonard Cohen, Tom Waits, Laura Nyro and Randy Newman have gone in previously).

Sorry, but my guess is that if the Hall’s voting gurus do fix the process–and I’ve never seen anyone produce any real evidence that this is the case–it’s more likely to throw a bone to truly vocal fan bases like the KISS army.

And I don’t find it difficult to believe that there is a bloc of voters who consistently rally around a genre of performers they happen to like and think are worthy. (And I’ll add, once again, that with Cat Stevens now stacked up with all the others on one side, their combined weight still doesn’t tip the scale against Jackie DeShannon all by herself on the other. I’ll be saying the same thing after John Prine and Warren Zevon are doubtless added in the near future.)

In any case, my own margin call is Peter Gabriel (already voted in as a member of Genesis). Excepting truly no-brainer exceptions like the solo Michael Jackson, I don’t think anyone should be inducted twice while so many of the deserving haven’t been inducted once. And, if there are going to be two-time inductees, then Smokey Robinson (in as a performer, but should be in as a non-performer as well), Jerry Butler (in as a member of the Impressions, with whom he made only one record, but not in as a solo performer, though he was/is a far greater and far more influential artist than Gabriel or many others already inducted) and Carole King (ditto), would all be considerably more worthy than Peter Gabriel.

But the real disappointment for me  (though not a surprise) was in Link Wray not getting in.

It is passing strange that Wray and Johnny Burnette’s Rock N’ Roll trio, the two acts who rest at the very heart of the Hard Rock genre which brings out the loudest complaints year-after-year from fans who feel it is “under-represented”–complaints that will likely only shift emphasis (rather than subside) now that the Rush and KISS armies have been appeased–receive so little public support from either the artists who later made gazillions off their basic ideas, or the fans who stump for those artists.

I like the idea that bands like Rush and KISS have passionate fan bases who have kept pressure on the Hall all these years. And I like the idea that they were rewarded for their faith….better than I like the bands in question as it happens (even though I like the bands just fine and love a few of their records).

But we shouldn’t forget where all that Sturm und Drang really came from (you might need to double click this one):

And I’ll take it as a hopeful sign that Mr. Page does have a vote!

(NOTE: Just FYI: If I had a “real” ballot, I would have cast one of my votes for Nirvana. I figure the fan’s ballot, in which the total fan vote gets counted as one, is for the fan in me, not the responsible citizen.)