Pardon me while I feign outrage for a fake institution.
The annual conundrum known as the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame nominees list was announced Thursday, and it’s as baffling as ever. In fact, so shaky is its philosophical foundation that arguing seems pointless. Sting? Solo Lou Reed? Both are already in as part of their primary bands, and neither reached similar heights on their own.
Is the list of potential inductees so shallow that we’re resorting to doubling up now? Is the bar for rebellious punk innovators now dropped to Green Day? The Spinners put out some great singles (“Rubberband Man”), but quick, name a Spinners album. War rules, and helped connect cultures, but a few amazing compositions does not a Hall of Fame act make.
FOR THE RECORD
A photo cutline in this post misspelled the last name of Black Flag member Greg Ginn as Gihn.
This year’s list mostly relies on the bogus rock narrative as conveyed by the once-dominant music players that imagined and financed the rock hall -- to the exclusion of history and the hindsight it affords. It’s a flawed tale crafted by self-appointed, if nobly intentioned, storytellers with a vested interest in continuing a narrative that long ago proved to be bunk.
History is written by the winners. This year those victors, many of them deserving of kudos if not a spot in my version of the Hall, including Nine Inch Nails, Green Day, Kraftwerk, N.W.A, Chic, the Smiths, Joan Jett & the Blackhearts, the Spinners, the Paul Butterfield Blues Band, the Marvelettes, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Bill Withers and War, along with Reed and Sting.
But the most high-profile nonstarters are much more revealing. They include King Crimson, Deep Purple, Roxy Music, Kate Bush, Link Wray, Yes, Janet Jackson and more names that keep popping into the head even as I write this.
As may be obvious, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s narrative is no more correct or incorrect as yours or mine. The only difference is a building in Cleveland and a fancy ceremony you’re not invited to. Considering how many subgenres were spawned in the ‘70s and ‘80s (disco, punk rock, Krautrock, hip-hop, electronic dance music, power pop), the music’s very nature defies any one narrative. For devoted fans of the genre, to suggest otherwise is condescending.
(In addition, is it not obvious that to earn consideration by the Hall one must have at one point participated in the major label system or garnered positive attention from Rolling Stone magazine during the eligible years?)
I long ago stopped caring about this Rock Hall fiction -- except to argue against its quasi-definitive version of history. But after ranting against this whole parlor game, I’m now offering a corrective.
Notwithstanding the perennially snubbed artists mentioned above, if curation of the Hall were turned over to me as a way of expanding the conversation, they would be as follows. (These aren’t in any particular order, and is created for maximum outrage.)
1. The Fugs. The first punk band, the Fugs were born in 1963 from the ashes of the New York City folk scene. A defiant cry from the Lower East Side of Manhattan, the Fugs poked at rock ‘n’ roll, ridiculed it, bastardized it while penning essential odes to the gutter, cocaine and many subjects otherwise untouched in rock music. The band hinted at a future to come with the arrival of the Velvet Underground a few years later.
2. Roxanne Shante and Elease “The Real Roxanne” Jack. A wild-card set of choices, perhaps, but the two helped deliver the earliest, most resonant female denials in the rising genre of rap music -- all in response to a novelty 1984 crush track. The resulting “Roxanne Wars” became an early rap sensation, with dozens of response records released in the wake of UTFO’s original hit, “Roxanne, Roxanne.” The craze further confirmed the unlimited potential of rap, and offered an outlet to a gender until then excluded from the male-dominated conversation.
3. Bad Brains. The greatest hardcore band ever? Check. A band that could slide from punk to reggae and back with more adeptness than the Clash? Yes. An influence on entire generations of nonwhite rebels looking to bust through the constraints of the rock divide? Certainly. Washington, D.C.’s greatest rock export (with apologies to Minor Threat, also not in the Hall)? You know it.
4. Brian Eno. A worthy nominee in his own right, his work over the years includes so many should-be Rock Hall inductees that mention of his work unwinds a whole spool of wire: In addition to his solo work and output as part of Roxy Music, Eno has produced music by David Bowie, Iggy Pop, DEVO, the B-52s, U2, Coldplay and dozens of others.
5. Can. One of the most influential bands of the last four decades, German band Can helped define a new kind of rock ‘n’ roll groove, one that had very little to do with blues, country or the American experience. Instead, Can celebrated hypnotic, swirling rhythms and a rigid, mechanical funkiness that still sounds vital.
6. Black Flag. There is no Green Day without Black Flag. (Or, for that matter, without the Buzzcocks, who are also not in the Hall of Fame.) A voice of suburban angst, Black Flag connected the alienation of Ronald Reagan’s America with a youth energy. Where the Sex Pistols were cartoon characters, Black Flag were dudes with guitars on a mission.
7. The Belleville 3 (Juan Atkins, Kevin Saunderson and Derrick May). At some point the institution is going to have to acknowledge post-disco dance music that’s not Madonna. To ignore it is to further delegitimize the Hall for a generation for whom rock ‘n’ roll (as defined by Rolling Stone founder Jann Wenner and Bruce Springsteen manager Jon Landau) is great-grandpa’s music.
The obvious starting point would be to induct Detroit’s “Belleville 3,” three producers who helped birth modern techno and electronic dance music starting in the early 1980s. In the Detroit suburb of Belleville, Atkins, May and Saunderson found glory and groove within the machine, and helped launch modern DJ culture.
8. Iron Maiden. Truth be told, I’d vote for Venom here, as that British band did more to introduce speed metal and was a key influence on Metallica and Slayer (the latter of which is another obvious snub). But Iron Maiden, like Deep Purple, ventured down a whole new adrenalized avenue, burning everything in its path (and past), and sold more records. In the process, it inspired could-be burnouts everywhere to think of a future filled with headbanging.
9. Siouxsie and the Banshees. As influential as she is a singular onstage presence, few musicians helped define the look and sound of post-punk like Siouxsie Sioux. Many Cure fans might argue that Robert Smith and company deserve to be nominated, but Siouxsie’s sound, voice and style continues to ripple. (Plus, Siouxsie has better skills with lipstick.)
10. Link Wray. “Rumble” from 1958 is too scary to ignore, and Link Wray’s guitar tone taught countless future guitarists that menacing distortion can be had by merely poking a hole in your amp cone. After Wray, feedback was never the same.
11. Captain Beefheart. Because Frank Zappa is already in and the artist born Don Van Vliet is more deserving.
Honorable mention: Electric Light Orchestra, the Troggs, Giorgio Morodor, the Slits, Sonic Youth, Pere Ubu, Throbbing Gristle, Television, the Pogues and roughly 10,000 others.
Want to argue further? I’ll join in below if you want to call me on this ridiculous list.
Looking for music tips? Follow Randall Roberts on Twitter: @liledit