Friday, December 23, 2011

It ain't un-Rock to celebrate.

I love Christmas music.  Just about any kind.  Not every, but just about.  There are some songs out there that should truly never be played again.  But overall, I look forward to breaking out my catalog of Christmas music and making my way through as much of it as I can.

So I find it a little disheartening that more people don't enjoy it.  Especially in the rock circles.  Whether they think it's hokey, or they got inundated with it as children that it now makes them sick, or they hate all organized religion so vehemently, or just Christianity in general, that Christmas music is just anathema.  But one that is actually more funny than not is the argument that rock music is about being anti-establishment and there is nothing more "establishment" than the music of both a religious and federal holiday.

Well, to put it simply, the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame disagrees with you.  And all you need to do is look at their inductees.

First off, some of my favorite albums are Christmas albums by Hall Of Famers: Booker T. & The M.G.'s, the Ventures, the Four Seasons, the Beach Boys, Elvis Presley, Fats Domino, and the legendary album from Non-Performer Phil Spector (which featured Hall Of Famers the Ronettes, Darlene Love, and session players Hal Blaine and Leon Russell).  
And let's not forget Motown either.  Classic renditions of Christmas songs from the family built by Berry Gordy, Jr. including the Temptations, the Supremes, Gladys Knight And The Pips, the Jackson Five, plus original gems from Stevie Wonder  (which would also include James Jamerson and Benny Benjamin as Sidemen).  And not just Motown, but other soul greats that have chipped in at Christmastime include James Brown, the O'Jays, Aretha Franklin, Solomon Burke and Otis Redding.

The founding fathers of rock'n'roll were kind to Christmas too.  Already mentioned James Brown, Fats Domino, and Elvis, but let's not forget Chuck Berry, Bill Haley, Ray Charles, Roy Orbison, Ricky Nelson, the Drifters (both eras), etc.  We also can add Bobby Darin and Dion to that list as well.

Want it to be more modern?  We can go with Tom Petty And The Heartbreakers' "Christmas All Over Again", U2's versions of "Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)" and "Ave Maria".  Past nominee Bon Jovi has also had a couple Christmas songs.  Run-D.M.C.'s "Christmas Is" and the slightly embarrassing "Christmas In Hollis" bring rap to the scene.  Love her or hate her, Madonna's a part of both the Hall and the holidays with her rendition of "Santa Baby."  Bob Seger in the early days had "Sock It To Me Santa" and in later years had a version of "The Little Drummer Boy."  Police frontman Sting gave us the ethereal "Gabriel's Message" and former Fleetwood Mac member Stevie Nicks had a somber and sincere rendition of "Silent Night".  The leading sisters of past ballot nominee Heart aso took part in the festivities.  And even though they haven't been considered yet, new-wave devotees will note the amazing "Thanks For Christmas" performed by XTC under the pseudonym of "Three Wise Men."

Even the Beatles would put out annual Christmas records for members of their fan club (produced by George Martin), including "Christmastime Is Here Again."  Paul McCartney of course went on to put out "Wonderful Christmastime" backed with the interesting "Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reggae."  And while satirical at the time, we play John Lennon's "Happy Xmas (War Is Over)" with all sincerity and hope.  Though not as blatantly holiday related, I was pleased to ring in the New Year with George Harrison's "Ding Dong; Ding Dong."

And of course there's Darlene Love and Brenda Lee, two Hall Of Famers remembered best for their Christmas material.  Or Elton John with his perennial classic "Step Into Christmas".  2011 inductee Neil Diamond also has his "You Make It Feel Like Christmas."

And how about Early Influences?  Louis Jordan and Charles Brown for instance, and hopefully soon Sister Rosetta Tharpe or Amos Milburn?

The point is, there is nothing un-Rock about Christmas.  Even the likes of future possibilities Jethro Tull and Twisted Sister have found a way to be part of the celebration.  Christmas is for all music, all genres, and all people, whether you're the people who actually celebrate the Christian aspect, those who simply love seeing the glow on children's faces when they get that new toy they wanted, those who believe in goodwill towards mankind as helping establish world peace... Christmas has something for everyone. 

And to quote the song made famous by Early Influence inductee Nat "King" Cole: Although it's been said many times, many ways: Merry Christmas to you.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

2012 Inductee thoughts

Well, the 2012 inductees have been announced, and it's now the time for everyone who pays attention to give their opinion. 

My first thought was, "Crap, they leaked early again?!"

Second thought: No Spinners?  Rats.

Third thought: Just what WILL it take to get Sister Rosetta Tharpe inducted as an Early Influence?

On that last point, there's an article on Future Rock Legends about why inducting Freddie King as an Early Influence is a bad idea.  I highly recommend reading it.  The only thing I can add to it for now, though I feel a separate entry about the subject brewing up inside my fingers waiting to be typed out, is that the Rock Hall has always been irregular about which blues players get in as a Performer, and which go in as an Early Influence, especially those blues players that were around at the dawn of rock and roll.  B.B. King, Buddy Guy, Ruth Brown, John Lee Hooker and Muddy Waters are all Performer inductees, while Howlin' Wolf, Elmore James, and Willie Dixon get the Early Influence inductions.  What makes Freddie King so unique is that he had no releases before 1955 and never made any Billboard chart entry until 1960, so calling him "Early" by any stretch of the imagination just doesn't hold up.

None of that really addresses Sister Rosetta Tharpe, though.  Simply put, after being featured in the Museum's "Women Who Rock" exhibit, Tharpe seemed like a lock.  And we were ultimately disappointed. 

Also disappointing, at least for me, was no Spinners.  That's more just me.  I love their music, I feel they're really deserving, but like Tom Lane said on his blog, they're bound to be back.  You don't "one and done" a truly phenomenal soul group.

Don Kirshner getting the Ahmet Ertegun Award... I never would have guessed it.  I figured his chances were about the same as bubblegum music magnates Jerry Kasenetz and Jeff Katz.  Very pleasantly surprised.

It's worth noting that all three of the Musical Excellence Award recipients were primarily studio engineers, which strikes me as fascinating since we were unsure just WHAT was going to be done with this category.  When it was announced last year, the Foundation said it opened the door for new possibilities that weren't there before.  Honestly, I'm not seeing it so far.  Why couldn't these three have been Non-Performer inductees as well as Kirshner?  Is the mixing board enough like a musical instrument that these engineers are best placed in the category that used to be called Side-Man?  Well, if nothing else, it seems more than likely that "Musical Excellence" is not just a more politically correct version of  saying "Side-Man".  And all three deserve it, especially Tom Dowd, but congratulations to Glyn Johns and Cosimo Matassa as well.

And now for the Performers who did make the grade.  One thing that I feel absolutely must be pointed out is that this is the first time since 2006 that the repeat nominees constitute the majority of the inductees, four to two (three if you count King), which is two-thirds of the Performer inductees AND two-thirds of the repeat nominees getting in; the first-time nominees make up one-third of the Performer inductees and one-third of the first-time nominees are getting inducted.  Also, with Guns N' Roses, Donovan, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, the Small Faces/the Faces, and even the Beastie Boys and the spirit of Laura Nyro in the room too, we're sure to have one hell of an all-star jam at the end of the ceremonies (maybe one of Nyro's songs?  Doubt it), if egos and old wounds don't interfere.  Onto the class.
Guns N' Roses...everybody and their Aunt Ruthie called that one correctly.  And I'm proud that I'm one of the very few who correctly predicted  Laura Nyro as well.  Unfortunately, that's the extent of my correct guesses.  Still I can't be too sad.  I love the Beastie Boys and Donovan, so I'm glad they're in.  In a past entry, I wrote how I loathe the music of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, but in the entry before that one, I also admitted that they were probably the most objectively deserving act on the ballot.  It's like when a referee or umpire makes the possibly tough and probably unpopular, but ultimately right call that ends up hurting your team (Suh, you don't kick another player, dangit).  They deserve to be in.  These three are also loads off my mind in terms of wrenching my predictions in the past.  Both of the Beastie Boys' previous nominations and the lone previous nominations of both Donovan and the Red Hot Chili Peppers saw me place them as pretty strong locks.  Now the year I don't pick them, all three make it.  But as I said in my recap on the Chili Peppers, I have no idea how they missed out in 2010 either.  I won't question why now and not then, just glad that it's over for those three, all deserving members.

Which brings us to The Small Faces/The Faces.  I have to phrase it gingerly, to make sure I'm not misunderstood.  Their joint nomination has been wildly unpopular, especially with member of both incarnations Ian McLagan.  And with them getting inducted like this, it's bound to spur further joint nominations, an idea to which many of us Monitors are not particularly receptive.  Add to that the fact that they were the last band to be leaked out.  Early reports only mentioned the other five, and that was all we expected, since that's all they've inducted for the past six years, and voters only got to vote for up to five.  The fact that The Small Faces/The Faces were excluded initially by the leaks leads me to believe that they finished sixth in the voting and would normally have been left out.  Naturally I don't know for fact.  I can only speculate.  Maybe the votes ran so close and they decided not to shaft the close contender.  Maybe there was tie for fifth,  and rather than cast a tie-breaker, Jann S. Wenner decided to allow six Performer inductees this time.

Whatever the circumstances, however the votes totaled, we have six Performer inductees.  To which I say, good.  Ultimately, one of the chief complaints about the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame, after the usual who's not in complaints, is that they simply don't induct enough acts each year.  Maybe we can get them to push this number back up to seven, or higher.

Just induct them in the right categories.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Plug those leaks

For the Class of 2007, it was David Lee Roth of Van Halen
For the Class of 2008, it was John Cougar Mellencamp (and to a lesser extent Bob Bogle of the Ventures)
For the Class of 2009, it was Wanda Jackson
For the Class of 2010, nobody did it (that I know of).
For 2012, the safe money says if anyone, it's Axl Rose of Guns N' Roses, should they make it.

Of course, this is referring to the premature revelation of being elected for Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame induction, leaking the news that they've been selected before the official announcement can be made by the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame Foundation.  And for awhile, it was fun.  One act leaking it out that they've made it gives us a sneak preview.  It's like the trailers in the movies: you get a glimpse of the plot and who the major characters are, but it only heightens the anticipation and desire to actually go and see the whole movie.  It was much the same for the Rock Hall.  Knowing who one inductee would be made you all the more interested to see who got the other four seats, now that one chair has been filled.  In the case of Wanda Jackson, it was even more interesting, because it hadn't been revealed that she was an Early Influence inductee. 

But after what happened with the Class of 2011, I'm officially declaring that leaks are NOT welcome anymore.  For those who don't know, the entire Class of 2011 was leaked before the official announcement.  At first, they announced the five Performer inductees.  When I read  it, I was foremost glad that Darlene Love finally got her proper respect, but also kind of bummed that there was almost no surprise left.  Then I remembered that we still had the other categories to go.  Any Side-Men?  Early Influences?  Non-Performers?  Well, that could be our surprise.

No such luck.  That too was leaked out in short order.  There we were, we had the entire class before it could be announced.  And it felt like a letdown.  A bummer really.  The official announcement was a mere formality.  Someone joked about wikileaks ruining the surprise, but it still didn't make up for the fact that it actually kinda sucked to know before they could announce it.  It was like knowing all the major category winners from the Oscars before they could open the envelopes and announce them.

What made it worse is that NONE of the news came from the actual inductees themselves.  Alice Cooper was finally hounded into confirming the rumors, but only after the whole thing had been blown.  When an inductee lets on they're going to be inducted, you get their joy, flowing over the brim at the news, showing through even in print form.  When it comes from someone inside the Foundation, it's not the same.  Plus, that inductee only knows about THEM, not everyone else.

This year, the deadline for the votes is December 5th, this coming Monday, with the announcement slated for the 15th, roughly a week and a half later.  So, if there's any way we can spread the message around to eventually get back to whoever does it, make the message clear: DON'T LEAK THE NEWS!  Why?

1. If you're not one of the inductees yourself, you don't have the same elan they would have in announcing the news.  You're the guy who gets their jollies by wrecking the end of movies for others.

2. It's ultimately classless.

3. For us, this is like the Oscars, and we enjoy the anticipation leading up to the moment because it allows for spirited discussion as the deadline nears.  Don't take that away from us either.

4. After succesfully leaking the ENTIRE Class of 2011, there's nowhere else to go.  You've climbed Mount Everest.  No taller peak than that.  Now that we know it can be done, we realize that it's no fun, and there's no way to improve upon it further or outdo it.  Doing it again doesn't outdo it, it just makes it redundant.

So please, unless you're one of the inductees, keep your freggin' trap shut.  And once one inductee has been leaked, other inductees please don't ruin the surprise for us.  We want the elation to build up for your induction announcement so we can share your joy.  It can't build up to its proper apex if leaked early.

Thank-you very much.