Monday, May 23, 2011

10 Most Likely Next Members of the Clyde McPhatter Club

One of the more interesting phenomena of the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame is what is often referred to as the “Clyde McPhatter Club.”  The Clyde McPhatter Club is the unofficial name for the group of people who have been inducted into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame more than once.  It happens when one person is involved with different endeavors that get inducted into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame.  The “club” is named after Clyde McPhatter, the first person to accomplish this feat when he was inducted as a solo artist in 1987 and as a member of the Drifters in 1988.  Other members of this illustrious elite include Michael Jackson, Eric Clapton, Sammy Strain, and most recently Graham Nash.  Every year, there’s usually one potential member somewhere on the ballot, and with no potential members from the last ballot, it’s even more interesting speculation to guess who will be the next member to get inducted.  With that, here’s my evaluation on the ten most likely to become the next member of the Clyde McPhatter Club.  Honorable mentions for this Top Ten include Rod Stewart, Gram Parsons, Rob Trujillo, and Ozzy Osbourne.  As a disclaimer, this is not my personal preferences list, or what should be.  This is based on the trends at the Hall Of Fame.  I could very easily be wrong.  And as always, I welcome your thoughts on the matter in the Comments section.

10. Ringo Starr
Inducted first: the Beatles, 1988

As the only member of the Beatles yet to be inducted as a solo artist, there’s a sense of incompletion with many of the more hardcore Beatle fans.  His solo efforts and his very talents have frequently been panned as being subpar, and lacking in innovation and influence.  Worst of all, he seldom wrote his own material.  Sacrilege!  Still, the good time rock ‘n’ roll and steady commercial success in the early to mid ‘70s, plus even the love for the Beatles will always keep Ringo as a tangible possibility, even if they don’t get around to it until after he’s gone, like they waited with George.

9. Smokey Robinson
Inducted first: solo artist, 1987

Smokey’s induction as a soloist in 1987 was on a technical loophole that borders on the obscene (he did record as a soloist in 1958, but didn’t really take off as a solo artist until the 1970’s.)  Meanwhile, the Miracles, one of Motown’s biggest and most influential groups, remains not inducted.  The quandary with this situation is that supposedly if they were to finally induct the Miracles, it would tantamount to the Hall Of Fame’s powers-that-be admitting that they made a mistake.  However, at this point, supporters of the Miracles simply don’t care.  They’ll acknowledge the worthiness of Robinson’s solo career, the technicality of Robinson first recording for End Records in 1958, and even agree to having Robinson inducted a second time… whatever they want, just fix this glaring oversight!  One of those supporters in the past has been Robinson himself, too.  Having inducted Little Anthony And The Imperials in 2009, it looks possible that the Hall Of Fame may just give the Miracles their due and Robinson his second induction.

8. Carole King
Inducted first: Gerry Goffin And Carole King, 1990

Gerry Goffin and Carole King were a legendary songwriting duo in the ‘60s, and they were rightfully inducted as Non-Performers in 1990.  However, there’s always been a buzz about the need to induct Carole as a solo Performer for her amazing work, most notably in the ‘70s.  She hasn’t been nominated since being inducted with Gerry Goffin, but her name still comes up frequently as being a deserving candidate.  If she were to sneak through, it might open the floodgate to recognize other inductees who were influential in more than one category.  She’d also be the first female member of the Clyde McPhatter club.

7. Jackie Wilson
Inducted first: solo artist, 1987

Before Wayne Newton, the nickname “Mr. Excitement” belonged to this man, and his incredible voice and magnificent solo career first received just dues in the second year of inductions.  However, before his sterling solo career, he was a member of Billy Ward And The Dominoes.  The Dominoes were nominated in 1997, but have yet to receive a second nomination.  As time progresses, the odds of important ‘50s acts getting inducted slowly get slimmer.  However, the Dominoes are also a group that might be inducted in the Early Influence category.  Unfortunately, it may also happen that if the Dominoes were inducted, they might be inducted without Wilson, since he was brought in to replace former lead singer… Clyde McPhatter.  Hey, maybe Clyde can get his third induction out of the ordeal too.

6. Ben E. King
Inducted first: the Drifters, 1988

He hasn’t been nominated as a soloist since being inducted with the Drifters, but if they went back this past year to nominate Chuck Willis again, Ben E. King might once more get support for his solo career.  It’s hard to say how the current tide favors King, but with two monumental singles in the early ‘60s, one of which is an absolutely landmark piece of rock and roll, plus a steady career through the ‘60s and ‘70s, when he hit the top ten again… well, you can’t really rule him out.

5. Sting
Inducted first: the Police, 2003

The Police were a first-year-eligibility slam-dunk for induction, and sure enough, 2003 saw their arrival in the Hall.  Sting’s been eligible for a year or two now, and with a fairly successful solo career, he stands a serious chance of getting recognition once again.  His solo career isn’t quite held as legendary as the legacy with the Police, but his commercial success might just be enough to carry him over and in again.

4. Tina Turner
Inducted first: Ike And Tina Turner, 1991

The first regularly-produced-by-Phil-Spector act to be inducted, Ike And Tina Turner were a powerhouse duo of soul music in the ‘60s and ‘70s.  By comparison, Tina Turner’s solo career was much more commercially successful.  However, there is speculation of an anti-‘80’s bias of sorts with the Hall.  The acts that have been inducted after breaking big during the ‘80s have thus far comprised a relatively short list.  Still, if any one such act has a real shot, Tina Turner as a soloist is one of those with the best chances.

3. Phil Collins
Inducted first: Genesis, 2010

With a decidedly lighter turn in his career during the ‘90’s, it may be a little while longer before he gets serious consideration.  In fact, “You’ll Be In My Heart” may be just as detrimental to his case as “You Don’t Bring Me Flowers” was for Neil Diamond, but Neil Diamond made it in eventually, so Phil Collins has a legitimate shot at it.  If they focus more on “In The Air Tonight” and less on “You’ll Be In My Heart”, Collins may get in sooner than later.

2. Peter Gabriel
Inducted first: Genesis, 2010

It was a tough decision to determine whom to rank higher between Collins and Gabriel.  However, Gabriel’s solo work is considered more “artistic” than Collins’.  Peter’s work hasn’t been nearly as prolific as Phil’s, but Peter Gabriel’s solo efforts have actually received consideration before, although not yet making it to the final ballot.  Overall, I say that gives solo Peter Gabriel the slight edge over solo Phil Collins in being the next member of the Clyde McPhatter Club.

1. Steve Winwood
Inducted first: Traffic, 2004

Steve Winwood is the seemingly obvious choice as the most likely next member of the Clyde McPhatter Club.  He’s been nominated once before for the Class of 2003, plus he’s been under consideration as a member of both the Spencer Davis Group and Blind Faith.  Of these three possibilities, it’s actually his solo career that has the best chance right now.  The Spencer Davis Group is at least behind Donovan in terms of the pecking order of ‘60s British Invasion acts that they’re trying to induct right now, and may even be behind a couple others.  Blind Faith’s career was notably short, and besides which, there’ll be clucking about whether or not we really need to induct Eric Clapton a fourth time.  So for now, Winwood’s solo career stands the best chance, but with so many possible avenues of induction, he’s the most likely candidate to be inducted into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame a second time.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

FUSE short-changed us, and bombed.

For the past three years, the broadcast rights for the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame induction ceremonies have belonged to the FUSE Network. That contract has been fulfilled, and eyes are focused on which network will win the broadcast rights for next year’s ceremonies. People who follow the goings-on at the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame have overall been less than impressed with FUSE’s treatment of the induction ceremonies these past three years, the worst of which was the 2011 induction ceremonies. But looking at the three past ceremonies also requires looking at the classes of inductees themselves, the presenters, who’s attending, etc. With that, the following suggestions are made for the next network that wins the broadcast rights for the ceremonies, things to keep in mind. Network execs, take notice.

1. You’re most likely a premium cable/satellite network.
Seriously think about the implications of this. Television itself is nearly universal. Basic cable or satellite services are also more common than not. Premium services, on the other hand, nowhere near as much. On top of which, the sheer number of channels available means the pie is divided even more ways. Additionally, they have to pay extra money just to get your channel. So if someone’s tuning in to watch a special, incredibly unique event on your channel, they’re expecting primo treatment, and you’d better deliver. This is something that needs to be an overarching paradigm when considering the other factors involved with this specific program. The people at the FUSE Network failed on this aspect horrendously in their broadcast of the 2011 ceremonies when their presentation was almost stylistically identical to the presentations of past ceremonies that would air on VH1, a basic cable channel. If you’re not going to outdo a basic cable chop-and-splice mish-mash, make way for someone who will.

2. Don’t cheapen their interest in the subject matter.
If they’re interested enough to watch a premium network’s live presentation, they probably have a serious interest in the subject matter. This is true of those who watch the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame induction ceremonies. In this case, they may have their favorite inductees, but they have at least some interest in ALL the inductees, why they’re worthy of induction, the performances, etc. Cover it! 2011 was a tremendous disaster in this regard with the clips of performing interwoven with the speeches, but worst of all was the treatment of the Non-Performer inductees (a.k.a. the Ahmet Ertegun Award recipients). All of the speeches were edited, but what aired of John Densmore’s speech for Elektra Records founder Jac Holzman was a couple sentences at best, that of Jac Holzman’s acceptance speech was even less, and Judy Collins’ performance of “Both Sides Now” in tribute to Holzman saw but a few bars aired. And Specialty Records founder Art Rupe? Ignored outright. No airing of any part of Lloyd Price’s induction speech, no words from those accepting on behalf of the late Rupe, and only a bar or two of “Stagger Lee” as the tribute to him. Just because he’s no longer with us doesn’t mean he didn’t exist to the world of rock ‘n’ roll, and those willing to tune in to a premium channel to see the ceremonies either know who both these men are and their importance, or are interested enough to learn more and delve deeper, or both. They know Rupe’s dead. They don’t care that Rupe’s dead (well, they do, but you know what I mean). They still want to see his induction. Don’t underestimate their interest and passion.

3. Keep the cameras rolling
What I really loved about the 2008 induction ceremonies was their fly-on-the-wall approach with the broadcast. All the normal procedural silences between speeches, performances, montages of inductees’ accomplishments—all intact. In the world of unscripted broadcasting, those silences are awkward at best, deafening and dangerous at worst. Yet for those who watched, those pauses were much hardly awkward at all. It felt like being at the Waldorf as well, sitting at a table with the elite, waiting it out with them, wondering what was next. It was a suspenseful kind of silence, the kind you find in action movies, waiting for either the hero or villain to make the next move. When they tried filling in those pauses in subsequent years, they did it with things like interviews outside the dining hall that seemed like a good idea in theory, but didn’t pan out in practice, mainly because you could still hear the music going on deep in the background, which made you think you were missing ongoing performances, thus missing out on even more valuable programming. Even worse were the commercials (more on that in a moment). As painful as Justin Timberlake’s induction speech of Madonna was to watch, interrupting it or trimming it down would have been a more painful alternative. If Kanye West wants to crash the stage and say he’s gonna let Barry Gibb finish his speech, but Donna Summer was the best disco act of all time, of ALL TIME, keep it rolling (as well as the subsequent beatdown of West by Gibb). When Terry Sylvester showed up unexpectedly with a guitar and joined in on “Long Cool Woman (In A Black Dress),” it was just good television, even if it looked like it was supposed to happen from the way Pat Monahan surrendered the microphone. In fact, any theater performer will tell you that slip-ups work best when you can make them seem like they’re scripted. Keep filming it!

4. Get underwriters, not sponsors
The commercials, absolute momentum killers. We get it: there’re bills to pay for the right to broadcast, the crews that are required, etc. We get all that. But they kill momentum. We’re still on the high of seeing an artist perform and want that to carry over as the next inductee is introduced. Then the commercials. It’s like the boss calling you in as you’re just leaving for vacation, like having the phone ring as you’ve just sat down in a hot bath, like being walked in on mid-coitus. And when it comes back, it’s not as easy to get the momentum going again. What made 2008’s ceremonies so great for the home viewer was that VH1 Classic Rock made the atmosphere like a concert, or gala dinner. They made the audience feel like they were there. You can’t do that with commercial interruptions. Again, you’re a premium service channel. Your parent company probably isn’t dishing out the funds or personnel so you can give it the Oscar or Grammy style of treatment, which includes control of the pacing or order of events. Take your cue from PBS… get underwriting. Plug the hell out of them on either end of the show. Or even superimpose the logo in the bottom of the screen during those transitional pauses. But do NOT go to commercial. If it is in ANY way possible, forgo commercials. Even cross-subsidization on the part of the parent company is preferable to commercial breaks. Whatever it takes to better execute point three, and keep those cameras rolling.

5. Prioritize your camera direction better
I’m no art director, nor a cinematographer, so it’s very easy to dismiss what I say out of hand; in fact, I encourage you to take any of these suggestions with the appropriate number of salt grains necessary. I just know what I enjoy seeing, and what I don’t. This is the night for the inductees. We want to see the inductees, the presenters, the family members in the audience as the inductee thanks them, the montages. That’s all good. What we don’t need to see are tight close-ups of random audience members with their iPhones out snapping pictures. When someone is giving a speech, we don’t want to see two other audience members having a private conversation that you can’t hear or even lip-read. When the performances are going on, we don’t want close up shots of the non-celebrity players, like the aloof sax player, the bassist who’s getting a little too much into it, or the drummer with the hipster beret on (hey Paul Shaffer, you’re in charge of the band, make him lose the beret, please!). For the most part, they actually do a good job of this. It just needs a little fine-tuning.

6. The network edits best which edits least
Maybe that’s misstated. Maybe it’s more a matter of, “The editor has done his job right when no one’s sure if he’s done anything at all.” That means doing things with more subtlety, or not at all. As a reminder, you’re probably a premium network. This means you’re not legally held to the same decency regulations that the FCC imposes upon the regular networks. So, if Billy Joel wants to cuss up a storm, let it go. If a lyric in a song has the F-bomb, let the bomb drop. I don’t approve of swearing for the sake of swearing, but this is the rock ‘n’ roll world. Impropriety of speech is usually either the normal modus operandi of the domain, or is a side effect of the crazed and warped minds of the superstars. It’s simply a calculated risk when you get… well, any group of people together. Even more so with the stars of the rock and roll world. But the diminished need for editing applies to more than just the language; it also applies to time constraints. Is anyone really going to care whether or not the program finishes cleanly at the bottom or the top of the hour? Not really. Don’t rush the performances, don’t splice up speeches, and don’t omit any induction outright for the sake of time. This is a big night, and people will understand if it goes longer. More importantly, they’ll still keep watching if it goes late. You’re a premium network; it doesn’t matter as much if you end up being off-cycle.

7. Who’s doing what matters
However, if you are going to succumb to the pressures that cause you to ignore any of the above suggestions, a little common sense can go a long way. Don’t split-screen the speech with the performance. We want to see both and give both undivided attention. If the artist isn’t going to perform, it may matter who performs the tribute. The Stooges performing in Madonna’s place? Oh yes, we have to see that. Faith Hill performing for ABBA? Not as much. Damien Rice performing for Leonard Cohen? Not at all. For this past year’s ceremonies, they mostly edited optimally, but then kept editing. The problem there was they edited too much for too small a time period. FUSE really had a chance to do it right for 2011. All five of the Performer inductees performed for themselves, as did the Side-Man (Musical Excellence Award) inductee, which hasn’t come close to happening since 2007. The Non-Performer tribute performances were from a Hall Of Famer and a singer/songwriter who’s been considered for nomination before. There was nothing that should have been cropped. Keep track of who’s doing what. It really does matter.

8. There’s a reason it’s called “the All-Star Jam.”
FUSE, you really screwed us over on this one this year. ‘Nuff said.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Is Doo-Wop underrepresented in the Hall?

Let's face it: if a new blog post appeared everyday about a sub-genre that is probably underrepresented by the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame, or at least is perceived to be, there'd be at least a full month's worth of blogs, and that's a conservative estimate.  However, in the case of doo-wop music, an interesting conundrum presents itself.  Doo-wop is itself the original sub-genre of rock'n'roll, if not the original actual form of rock'n'roll music.  Its importance cannot be overstated.  Doo-wop was to the mid-fifties what guitar bands were to the sixties: that which exploded and saw many, many acts form, try to become discovered, and the first to have many one-hit wonders.  It was the first style of rock'n'roll whose prevalence gave indication that this was not just a passing fad.  And even Nominating Committee member Seymour Stein is a self-proclaimed "doo-wop fanatic."

On the other side of the coin, there is the mindset that there is nothing left from the '50s worth inducting, which is when doo-wop thrived.  And even if there were, don't even bother trying, because there are many, many more important acts from the guitar-driven era of rock'n'roll that should be inducted first... so many that no doo-wop act not already in could ever be among the first fifty most deserving acts anymore.

And there is some credence to that argument.  Chiefly because there really haven't been too many superstars of the doo-wop genre.  No 'Beatles" of the doo-wop era, so to speak.  There are a myriad of quintessential doo-wop songs that you simply cannot seriously discuss rock'n'roll without mentioning.  The problem is, there were just about as many groups as there were songs.  No one will ever deny the importance of "Earth Angel", but it was really the only thing the Penguins ever had to show for themselves.  Same with groups like the Spaniels, the Rays, the Silhouettes, or the Cadillacs.  Even acts that did have a few hits are often only remembered for one... and that includes the majority of the doo-wop acts already in the Hall.

Still, it might be reasonably well-argued that doo-wop is in fact underrepresented in the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame, in terms of inducted artists.  First, let's start by looking at who's in there.  You've got acts that are definitely in the doo-wop category: the Flamingos, the Moonglows, Little Anthony And The Imperials, Frankie Lymon And The Teenagers, and even Hank Ballard (who shouldn't have been inducted without the Midniters, but that's another blog).  Then there are those inducted acts that could probably be included under that umbrella: the Drifters and the Dells, specifically.  And there are those that kind of hover on the fringe of the definition of doo-wop: the Shirelles, the Platters, and the Four Seasons.  Lastly, you've got the outliers, where you're pretty much confusing doo-wop with those styles that were rooted in it, perhaps to suit your own needs, and in this case, those outliers would include the Ronettes and Martha And The Vandellas.

So, start with the assumption that no one would seriously suggest that the Ronettes and Martha And The Vandellas were doo-wop, you look at the next group.  The Platters' lush harmonies and slow ballads often obscured the rhythmic elements that were there, and even the occasional upbeat song they recorded (check out "I Wanna" and "Bark, Battle, And Ball").  The background singing was more often soft "ahs" and "oohs", and not the crisper syllables usually shaped by consonant sounds that traditionally go with doo-wop music.  So calling them doo-wop is a bit of a stretch.  The Four Seasons definitely started out as a doo-wop group, literally doing the street corner thing, but by the time they broke big, they had evolved into something that was very different, that used a rhythm section to carry the rhythm line, and used background vocals for accentuation and even counter-melody.  So it really isn't appropriate to include them either.  The Shirelles either, for much of the same reasons.  Their style just doesn't fit the bill.  The Dells started out doo-wop, however, by the time they became big on the pop scene, they were singing soul music...the kind of soul you also heard from the Delfonics, Chi-Lites and Stylistics.  And it is in that legacy that they are more remembered.  So you could call them doo-wop, but that really is only telling half the tale.  This is also very much the case with the Drifters, only with that weird twist that they were in fact two different groups.  The Clyde McPhatter era Drifters definitely fit the bill with classics like "Drip Drop", "Bip Bam" and of course, "Money Honey".  However, the much better known era of the Drifters was the era of the Five Crowns, who were bestowed with the name of the Drifters.  And while they were certainly vocal R&B, much like the Shirelles, calling that era of the Drifters "doo-wop" isn't quite accurate.

Which brings us to those who were definitely doo-wop.  Of those, Little Anthony And The Imperials are pretty much the only one of those that a casual fan could name more than one song by.  Some might be able to name more than one from Hank Ballard, but without the Midniters, doo-wop isn't really done justice, since it really does require a group effort, unless you're Neil Sedaka.  Also of those, most of them are known for the softer-style of doo-wop:  the Moonglows with "Sincerely", the Flamingos with "I Only Have Eyes For You", Little Anthony And The Imperials with "Tears On My Pillow."  So in the "Definitely Doo-Wop" camp, they're all pretty much either softer, remembered for only one song, injustly without their group, or maybe a combination of more than one of those factors.

Not that there's anything wrong with the softer doo-wop.  "Earth Angel" and "In The Still Of The Nite (I Remember)" are rightfully landmark for their contributing to the evolution of soul music, the vocal R&B sound of the early '60s and even in some Motown.  But other than "Why Do Fools Fall In Love" and "Finger-Poppin' Time", upbeat doo-wop really doesn't have much represenation.  Where's the upbeatness of doo-wop that we heard in songs like "I Wonder Why", "Sorry (I Ran All The Way Home)" and "Get A Job"?  In that sense, doo-wop really isn't well-represented by the Hall.

So how do we correct it?  Who should be inducted to correct this seeming oversight?  The following acts come to mind:

The Diamonds: if any group could be said to be the Beatles of doo-wop, it's the Diamonds.  They had a good run of hits in the mid-to-late '50s, which was the actual heyday of doo-wop music, and with their own hit covers of quintessential songs like "Church Bells May Ring," "Silhouettes," and "Little Darlin'", you're covering a good bit of ground with their inclusion.  Even though their songs weren't original, they represent a bigger chunk of significant doo-wop than a lot of other groups.

The Clovers: since music experts don't seriously support the idea of saying rock'n'roll "began" in 1955, the Clovers are a much more excellent fit for the Performer category than the Early Influence.  And with songs that have been nodded to from acts like the Diamonds, the Searchers and the Steve Miller Band, it should be much more difficult not to give them their proper acknowledgement than it has been thus far.

Danny And The Juniors: with two important anthems at a time when the demise of rock'n'roll was believed inevitable, plus a string of other minor hits that kept them going for awhile, they're a decent pick.  To have TWO anthemic doo-wop songs is actually a pretty big accomplishment.

The Del-Vikings: like Danny And The Juniors, with the added bonus of being recognized as one of the first interracial groups in rock history.  People who have a say in the goings-on at the Hall love the social change aspect of rock'n'roll.  Well, here it is.

The Harptones: okay, they actually are better known for their slower songs.  But hey, well-known and revered versions of "Life Is But A Dream", "This Is My Story" and "A Sunday Kind Of Love", plus the unbelievably catchy only hit of "Why Should I Love You', the Harptones wouldn't be a bad call.

The Tokens: admittedly a pet cause of mine.  Almost criminal that they aren't as well known for great songs like "Tonight I Fell In Love" and "I Hear Trumpets Blow" as they are for "The Lion Sleeps Tonight", but given their overall catalog and the music industry practices that they were well among the first to implement, you really could do a lot worse than give this underappreciated group some credit.  Hey, at least I didn't list them first this time.

So there's a look for you.  While we're busy touting Rush, Sonic Youth, King Crimson, and Dead Kennedys, let's not snub where it all began either.  Viva la Doo-Wop.