Fans are passionate by nature, so each year’s unveiling of the Hall of Fame’s newest recruits assures an equal and opposite reaction from champions for other influential artists. Here’s one critic’s pantheon of rock stalwarts as yet ignored by the Hall monitors.
With all due respect to the committee, what does a band need to do to be worthy of induction in the HoF? Leave a permanent cultural mark with an influential sound that redefined post-Beatles pop-rock? Score countless hits that resound through the teen-ages? Continue to make records and play vital live shows well past their sell-by date? If you answered “all of the above,” then Cheap Trick and their legion of devotees must be wondering what, exactly, you are waiting for. P.S. — They recorded “I Want You to Want Me.” What more do you want?
History, as we all know, is written by the winners. And while the New York Dolls achieved many great things in their relatively brief initial lifetime, you wouldn’t exactly call them a great success story. They never sold a lot of records. Their career was chaotic and decadent, and their legacy has been marred by drug addiction and untimely death. But without the Dolls there is no punk, no glam, no glitter, and a great deal less of the swagger appropriated by lesser bands that came after them (including many a Hall of Famer).
It may be true that one thinks of the Cars less as a band in the classic sense than as a never-ending flood of hits that are as inescapable (and as pleasing) today as they were 30-plus years ago. But is that a strike against them? They helped inaugurate the synthesizer as a rock instrument as important and versatile as the guitar. They bridged the gap between the dinosaur ’70s and the new wave ’80s. They were the Cars! Let them brush your rock ‘n’ roll hair, Hall of Fame!
“It seems that we are all going to have to come to terms with Grand Funk,” wrote Lester Bangs. What did he know that the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame does not? Surely the HoF folks have heard “We’re an American Band.” And surely when it comes on, they turn it up, because they are human. More evidence? How about their indefatigable blue-collar sound, minted just as rock began to take itself seriously, and preserved through the ’70s. They were as tough and as durable as their credo: “We’ll help you party down.” Can’t argue with that.
No matter how much we’d all like to pretend otherwise, the 1970s did, in fact, occur. And Styx is one of the definitive bands of that decade, so let’s not sit here — like a certain Hall of Fame I could mention — and act like the band behind such diverse radio staples as “Come Sail Away,” “Babe” and “The Best of Times” can be ignored like bad news we just don’t want to hear. Those who don’t learn from history are doomed to repeat it, and “Mr. Roboto” is never far from the discussion.
Another band whose legacy of inspiration threatens to outweigh its actual music, this legendary Detroit outfit was ahead of its time in so many ways that it’s easy to forget how important it was to the advancement of hard, raw rock ‘n’ roll before metal took over. Easy, that is, until you hear the fury of “Kick Out the Jams” and consider the MC5′s rude, anthemic lineage. This is the kind of band the Hall of Fame should be known for celebrating.
The shadow cast by the Beatles reached well into the ’70s. But even after breaking up, the members could agree on one thing: The Electric Light Orchestra was the only natural heir to their sound. Hugely melodic, heroically ambitious and rather funny, ELO were equal parts pomp and pure heart. The band were also unafraid of inauthenticity and grandeur, which is probably what’s keeping them out of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, which is a pity, since a little (intentional) absurdism would serve the Hall well.
In the early ’70s, David Bowie dominated the British isles with a blend of outer space androgyny and a tough, catchy, art rock aesthetic. He copped most of his best moves from Roxy Music. Roxy and their visionary leader, Bryan Ferry, were a more purely British/European phenomenon than Hall of Famer Bowie, which may have contributed to their not being as internationally iconic. But their records are astoundingly fresh today, and their fearless image consciousness influenced everyone from the Sex Pistols to Lady Gaga.
The ’80s were unkind to many great ’70s rockers. They were especially rough on Heart. Though the Reagan years yielded hits, power prom ballads like “These Dreams” and “What About Love” tended to obscure the ferocity (as well as the folkie filigree) of the Wilson sisters’ early years, rising up out of the wilderness of Vancouver, B.C., (where the Seattle-area natives decamped) to transform a bar band into an arena band at a time when women in rock were supposed to be groupies and wives.
The recent announcement of Phil Collins‘ retirement reopens the dusty folio of the case for Genesis as Hall of Fame inductees. At first, Collins was merely the drummer (and a powerhouse one) for this theatrical progressive rock combo led by Peter Gabriel. When Gabriel went solo, he took his weirdo ambitions with him, leaving Collins to sing (while drumming) and lead the group into a second career as hit-makers. The resulting Jekyll and Hyde identity actually makes Genesis a more interesting candidate than many. Its two bands in one — minimum!
The industrial Northern England town of Sheffield gave rise to many notable bands in the ’80s: ABC, Human League, Cabaret Voltaire and — oh, yeah — the one that sold more records and rocked harder (and dumber) than all of them put together and multiplied by a thousand. Their colours may be primary, but Def Lep (not to be confused with Led Zep) are the archetypal ’80s hard rock band and have the megahits to prove it. Bonus point: They’ve survived multiple tragedies. There’s no room for snobbery at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Sanctified by infinite karaoke renditions of “Love Is a Battlefield” by girls eager to signify their relationship to heartache (to heartache), Pat Benatar has emerged as the quintessential rock woman of the past 30 years. If she is less iconic than, say, Madonna, it’s only because her commitment was to rock ‘n’ roll as music, as lifestyle, as tribe. She never went pop, never traded on her ample talent and sex appeal to use rock as a stepping stone. If they made a Hall of Fame for that, it’d be a pretty small induction ceremony. But Benatar would be there.
When we found out that the signature riff to Boston’s “More Than a Feeling” (the ultimate car radio song) was also the foundation to Nirvana‘s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” (the ultimate reject anthem), the world of pop music became a whole lot smaller and made a whole lot more sense. Ordinarily, “Feeling” would be enough to declare Boston HoF-worthy, and “Teen Spirit” seals the deal. But when the guys have the nerve to name their band after an entire American city, it seems almost perverse to deny them a place in the pantheon. They’ve obviously earned it.
Speaking of Jekyll and Hyde bands, the Doobies’ career can be divided into two distinct segments: before and after the advent of Michael McDonald as lead singer. Pre-M.M., the Brothers were a muscular and melodic feel-good rock band, typified by classics like “Black Water” and “Listen to the Music,” among many others. Post-M.M., they became a surgically tooled funk groove outfit defined by “What a Fool Believes” and “Minute by Minute.” Two very different sounds. And yet, Brothers to the last.
The debate surrounding the Monkees’ worthiness to be Rock and Roll Hall of Famers is as old as the Hall itself. The original objections — manufactured for TV, didn’t write/play all their own stuff, not truly rock — have been undone by subsequent inductions (Neil Diamond, ABBA, and the Mamas and the Papas, we’re looking at you). More importantly, though, the mere existence of the pre-Fab Four artfully blurred the line between real and synthetic, and rock ‘n’ roll has been.