Friday, October 24, 2014

Who Should be in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (That Isn't Even On the Ballot)?

A few days ago I went through the fifteen names on this year's Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (RRHOF) ballot, dissecting the candidacy of each artist. But the equal (bigger?) debate when the ballot comes out each year is who wasn't on it at all. Without further adieu, here are the eligible artists not on this year's ballot that I think are most egregiously missing from the RRHOF. 

1. Gram Parsons

As I mentioned with Kraftwerk, there's a difference between artists who first take a sound to the masses, and artists who first take a sound to any attention at all. Often it's the artists that find mass appeal who receive all the historical credit, while the artists who first paved the way continue to languish in obscurity. There is little question that The Eagles were the most responsible for taking country rock to the masses. Yes, Linda Ronstadt, and Neil Young, and Poco, and certain Stones songs, and others all had an impact, but The Eagles are probably why the sound broke through. However, the RRHOF seems to be strangely ignoring why this sound even existed to break through in the first place. Before Don Henley met Glenn Frey, before Richie Furay formed Poco, before Neil Young recorded in Nashville, and before the Stones recorded "Honky Tonk Women," "Dead Flowers," or "Sweet Virginia," there was Gram. 

Gram Parsons is the biggest reason country rock exists, and really, there's no close second. He's who got Mick and Keith interested in writing country songs ("Wild Horses" was actually written for Gram's band a whole year before the Stones released their own version), he's who made the various members of The Byrds and Buffalo Springfield start seriously recording country music, he's who first released a major country rock album (The Byrds' Sweetheart of the Rodeo), and he's who gave us Emmylou Harris. The old cliche about The Velvet Underground is that only a thousand people bought their first album, but everyone who did ended up forming a band. With Gram, maybe only a few thousand people bought his albums, but everyone who did was already in a band, and immediately started writing songs like Gram. 

Now here's the problem with Gram: No one knows how to induct him. He released six albums in his life time, but those six albums were by four different artists. The first was with The International Submarine Band, who are not worthy of the RRHOF. The second was with The Byrds, who are already inducted, but Gram is mysteriously not an inducted member (even though he was the mastermind behind Sweetheart of the Rodeo, which might be their best album). The third and fourth were with The FLying Burrito Brothers, who were hugely important, but no one outside of music snobs has ever heard of them. Then the fifth and sixth were solo albums. So what do you do? I don't know, and even more importantly, I don't see why it's worth halting progress over the issue. It's the rock equivalent of a trivial semantic argument. The other key Burrito brother (Chris Hillman) and all of the relevant Byrds are already in, so just induct Gram Parsons and be done with it. 

2. The Replacements

80's indie rock and alternative music (what was at the time labeled "college radio") has thus far been a mostly ignored genre in the RRHOF. We basically have R.E.M. and U2 inducted, and that's completely it. There are a huge host of artists from that decade deserving further consideration (many of whom appear further down this list), but The Replacements are one of the only  bands that I think should be completely non-negotiable. I just don't see how we get to the 90's alternative music explosion without them. Their sound, their style, their sloppiness, their attitude, their journey to a major label, their evolution to more crafted pop songs, their substance issues, their unashamed love of metal (they covered Kiss on their best album, 1984's Let It Be), and so much more… the 90's as we know them just couldn't have happened without The Replacements.

3. Brian Eno

Like Gram Parsons, Eno is a bit tricky because his name was so many different (important) places that it's difficult to figure out precisely how to induct him. And again, I don't see why that should be a hindrance. As the original keyboardist of Roxy Music (also being conspicuously ignored by the RRHOF), a solo artist largely responsible for bringing ambient music and "pure" art rock to greater attention, and a producer responsible for some of the greatest albums of the post-60's (not hyperbole), his contributions are just too seminal. Three already inducted artists--Bowie, U2, and Talking Heads--released what are (un?)arguably the best albums of their careers with Eno at the controls, and they'll all happily tell you that he was more than simply a producer. He was a guiding force for those artists creating their most innovative and important work, helping them to tap into a side of their artistry that they might not have ever accessed otherwise. A case could definitely be made that he's the greatest post-60's producer in pop music history. He produced 11 albums on Rolling Stone's "500 Greatest Albums Ever" list from a few years ago, which (I believe) is more than anyone else. His solo work, while important, can just be looked at as a bonus to a career deserving of RRHOF induction. 

4. Joy Division/New Order

Here's a case, like The Small Faces/Faces, where we'll probably have to bite our collective tongues and allow these two bands to get inducted together, else neither will get in. Yes, they're different, but they're the same enough. After all, Joy Division was already headed in a synth-ier direction with their last few songs prior to Ian Curtis' death. Who's to say they wouldn't have basically become New Order anyway? 

Anyway, either of these bands should be locks to get in on their own, and together, I don't see how they can be left out. Joy Division was one of the most important post-punk bands, who sonically paved the way for both goth and indie-rock, and lyrically paved the way for the profound effect Morrissey and Robert Smith songs would have on a generation of depressed teenagers. And New Order are the most important and greatest British dance band since the BeeGees. (And yeah, I can't believe I just typed that sentence either.) Anyway, the influence of these two bands is literally everywhere, in bands as disparate and seemingly unrelated as Interpol and The Scissor Sisters. 

5. Nick Drake

Nick Drake is one of pop music's great casualties, because not only did he die far too young (he didn't even live long enough to be in rock's "Forever 27" club), but virtually no one bought or heard his three lovely albums in his lifetime. In the forty years since he died, that's obviously changed. Right now, Nick Drake is one of the most important folk rock musicians ever, as well as one of the best. More than anyone else, he's who moved folk rock away from the nasally meandering sound of the Dylan disciples and brought it into its current styling of somber etherealness. With the booming success of a new generation of Indie-folk artists like Bon Iver, Fleet Foxes, and Iron & Wine, it's prime time for Nick Drake--the primary influence of all three--to get inducted. 

6. The Cure

Who started or created "Goth" music is debatable, and whether you want to credit The Cure, Joy Division, Bauhaus, Siouxsie and the Banshees, or someone else is up to you. But far less debatable is which of those bands actually reached a large audience, and it's The Cure. Would goth music have ever even become a thing without Robert Smith leading the way for as long as he did? Doubtful. Just as important is that Smith didn't languish in one style, but rather moved from post-punk to goth to alternative to synth pop to dance pop, and then back through all of them again. As he cultivated an audience in each genre, he brought that audience with him to other places they hadn't been before, and that can't be underestimated. And for what it's worth, The Cure released music central to their legacy in three different decades, which comparatively few bands can ever say. ("Boys Don't Cry" was the late 70's, and "Friday I'm in Love" was the early 90's.)

7. Sonic Youth

"Art Rock" means a lot of different things to a lot of different people. It's a term that's fairly impossible to nail down. But even if we can't really define it, we can absolutely have associations with it. Has any band been called Art Rock more frequently--or accurately--than Sonic Youth? Has any band, other than maybe (maybe!) The Strokes, more perfectly embodied New York City over the last 40 years than Sonic Youth? Has anyone--other than maybe John Lennon in the opening seconds of "I Feel Fine"--ever made feedback sound cooler and sexier than Sonic Youth? For that matter, how many bands have ever even had a cooler and sexier name than Sonic Youth? How many albums not by Bruce Springsteen have more perfectly encapsulated the follies of the Reagan era than Daydream Nation? Has any rock and roll marriage ever seemed more perfect than Thurston Moore and Kim Gordon (until it depressingly ended, which we've all tacitly agreed not to talk about)? Forever a defining archetype of indie-cred coolness, we just don't celebrate Sonic Youth as much as we should. 

8. Depeche Mode

Say what you will about synth pop, but it changed and defined the 1980's as we know them. Depeche Mode took the raw material of Kraftwerk and reforged it into something that could be enjoyed by millions and millions of people. They also did so in an extremely catchy way that never remained stagnant, constantly shifting to darker and darker sounds, images, and subject matter, remaining relevant even into the 90's alternative explosion despite defiantly remaining loyal to synthesizers. Not an easy task to pull off, but so little of what Depeche Mode did well was ever easy. 

9. Boston 

Yeah, I know. Trust me, I know. We aren't supposed to take Boston seriously. But it's about time we did. What Tom Scholz and Bradley Delp did was, along with punk, and completely adjacent to it, seize rock radio away from the interminable drum solos of Led Zeppelin and the interminable classical influences of prog-rock and forge a new era of pop songs played with huge riffs and sung with soaring melodies. This music is slight and uninteresting, but it also conquered the world and all of us secretly love singing along to it. I'm not remotely suggesting inducting all of the major bands in this field--Styx, Journey, Foreigner, REO Speedwagon, Kansas, etc.--but Boston is the godfather to them all, as well as maybe the only one that never feels 100% uncool listen to. 

10. The Pixies

They bridge the gap between the feedback and artiness of Sonic Youth to the punk for the masses of Nirvana. They're an undeniably important stop on the journey to the 1990's, but also a band that released great music. Fight Club has, perhaps undeservedly, become one of the defining films of the 90's, and a Pixies song ("Where Is My Mind") is used to define the crescendo of that film. "Loud quiet loud" has become one of the most overused style descriptors in rock music, and The Pixies likely didn't even create that sound, but the term was created just for them. Kevin Bacon always said he may not be the greatest actor ever, but he's the only one with a game named after him. The sound of The Pixies has become one of the defining shorthands in rock music, just as Die Hard did for action films. For years, every pitch meeting described "Die Hard on a…" Today, we still describe new indie bands as "like The Pixies, but…"

A Baker's Dozen of Other Deserving Candidates

MC5/The New York Dolls--The two halves that made the whole of The Stooges, the garaginess and volume of the MC5 and the trashiness and showmanship of the New York Dolls. Both eventually deserve their rightful place. 

De La Soul--Responsible for arguably the greatest rap album ever (3 Feet High and Rising), as well as the kaleidoscopic soundscapes the more innovative hip hop acts continue to explore to this day. 

Television--I've argued before that they're the first Indie-Rock band, and they created a defining guitar style. 

Gang of Four--Anything ever described as "dance punk" starts here.

Steve Earle--No way he can be inducted before Gram, which is why he's down here. But he helped bridge a new generation between rock and country. 

Duran Duran--Helped define the sound of a decade, as well as the look of MTV, which can't be understated. They're susceptible to the same slightness arguments as Boston, but damn did they write good songs. 

Black Flag--There are a lot of other 80's underground bands that need to be inducted before we can travel down this road, but eventually…

The Jam--The missing link between the 60's Englishness of The Kinks and the 90's Englishness of Britpop. The Smiths might have been the ones that brought back the guitar sound, but The Jam kept the Union Jack cool as it came to band identity. 

Phish--An entire summer concert and festival industry exists at their behest. 

Dinosaur Jr/Husker Du--The next tier down of the 80's American underground, but also the progenitors of extremely influential guitar sounds. 

The Stones Roses--Where Britpop and British House music meet is a place created by these guys. 

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