Saturday, August 20, 2011

The Crystals? Not just yet.

            In my previous entry, I laid out some guidelines for what I try to do with this blog.  And now I’m going to break one of those guidelines.  Despite my aversion to spotlighting individual artists, I’m going to focus on a single act.  That act is the Crystals.  I do so because they are something of an interesting intersection at this point, with an extra hazard thrown in.  Simply put, the Crystals are simultaneously between a rock and a hard place and yet also in a decent place to be inducted into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame.
            The first road that crosses is that of the ‘60s girl group.  Along with the Ronettes, the Crystals are something of the quintessential girl group, partially because of their affiliation with Phil Spector, who supposedly had a penchant for female acts at the time.  Seemingly na├»ve young girls, lighting the world on fire with their songs, their youth, their sound.  The tale of rock ‘n’ roll in the early ‘60s isn’t even close to accurate without girl groups.  Which brings us to the Crystals.  As one such poster-children group, they make seemingly good candidates.  They sang young and had songs that were very much about the teen scene of the early ‘60s.
            Which brings us to the darker side of that road: the professional respect factor.  Steadier and steadier, the trend of the NomCom, critics and people who follow the Hall Of Fame, and even among the laity; skews towards those who did more than just sing.  You have a much better chance if you wrote the vast majority your own songs, played a guitar (or keys or drums failing that), produced your own albums, distributed your work on your own label, created your own choreography, or even handled your stage persona and your own publicity.  And if you did all of that, you’re pretty much an eventual shoo-in.  Those who only sang, be it solo or in groups, do get in with some regularity, but lately, it’s often despite much murmuring. 
            Add to that, early ‘60s rock ‘n’ roll, among those same groups of people, tends to be unusually reviled.  It was inoffensive, usually about love or heartbreak (sometimes both), joyful, apolitical, supposedly drug-free, and created by larger groups of people each specializing in one aspect and few trying to be jacks of all trades… in short, everything that has been sacrilegious to the music industry from the late-‘60s on.  This plays out in reality with the Hall Of Fame.  Those affiliated with that time period generally have a hard time getting acknowledged, let alone inducted.  Despite being an able songwriter, Gene Pitney needed eight nominations before getting in.  From that same class, Brenda Lee went eleven years between her first and second nominations before getting in on her third.  Even writing his own songs and slinging an axe didn’t get Del Shannon inducted after any fewer than seven nominations.  And how about songwriting teams of Ellie Greenwich & Jeff Barry and Barry Mann & Cynthia Weil not being honored until 2010, and may not have happened were Greenwich still alive?  And that doesn’t even mention the fact that other than the first-round Ronettes, every girl group from the ‘60s has needed three nominations to get inducted—even the Supremes.
            Which brings us to the last bump in this road, what about other girl groups?  The Crystals are in a better place right now than others because not only have they been considered before, but also the recent push has been for those that were under Phil Spector’s control.  So which other girl groups are deserving?  The (50's girl group) Chantels have two past nominations, but still aren’t in.  There’s also the Marvelettes, one of Motown’s first power groups, and one of the few such groups from the classic era of that label still not in.  With Aerosmith having covered their “Remember (Walking In The Sand)” and “Leader Of The Pack” being considered a classic, as well as a handful of other great songs, you could also make an argument for the Shangri-La’s.  Let’s not forget the Chiffons either, whose track record keeps pretty steady with most of the other aforementioned.  The least of the possibly deserving girl groups though would be the Angels, and that would be a pretty difficult induction to accept.  Not that it’s ever gonna happen though.  Even right now, getting the Crystals in as a representative girl group will prove difficult.  (Had they had more commercial success, the Greenwich-Barry nom-de-plume group of the Raindrops would be an excellent candidate, since most of the stuff from their albums is fantastic.)
            Part of that difficulty comes with the other position we find them in: the house of Spector.  In the past, Phil Spector argued that with his wall of sound being so distinctly his signature, especially on the girl group records, he was the true artist, not the ones on the label. And there’s been a lot of support for that sentiment, too.  But over time, acts he famously produced (even if only for a couple records) and musicians who played for him have been getting in.  It began in 1991 with Ike And Tina Turner, and went on to include John Lennon, Hal Blaine, the Ramones, the Righteous Brothers, and George Harrison.  But it was the 2007 induction of the Ronettes that really saw Spector’s power crumbling, particularly because Spector himself blocked their nomination in the past as a member of the NomCom.  It continued in 2011 with the inductions of artist Darlene Love and session player Leon Russell.  The session players still have a few big names in the queue, but as far as the artists go, the Crystals are perhaps the last major name to aim for.  The Blossoms never broke big; Bob B. Soxx And The Blue Jeans were too minor and were pretty much the Blossoms with a male lead singer.  Any other big names that were ever associated with Spector (like Ben E. King) had oone or two records produced by him, but not the same level of control he wielded with his other acts.  So the Crystals are perhaps the last act in the house to try and induct, now that Darlene Love is in.
            But ironically, Darlene Love’s induction this past year may be the very reason getting the Crystals in has become much harder, and pretty much impossible for the next couple of years.  While championing the cause, both before her induction and at the actual induction ceremony, supporters for Love were very quick to remind everyone that it was Darlene’s voice on records credited to the Crystals, including two biggies: “He’s A Rebel” and “Da Doo Ron Ron.”  Without those two, the Crystals’ biggest weapons become “Then He Kissed Me” and “Uptown” which feature two different lead singers.  Getting Darlene Love inducted apparently was so important, that it didn’t matter if the merits of the Crystals were besmirched in the process.  The kicker to this is that those who supported Darlene Love’s induction could also well become the biggest proponents for the Crystals.  In their own zeal for Darlene, they shot the cause for the Crystals squarely in the foot.  To rally support for Darlene Love with Crystals’ records, and then try to use those same records to argue in favor of the Crystals comes off as pure flip-flopping, trying to have the argument both ways and win twice.  It just doesn’t work because it looks bad when people try to do it.  And without a proper passage of time, any attempts to use those same records for the Crystals that were used for Love is only going to hurt the cause of the Crystals.  Even worse, this reflects back into the first road of girl group power.  This makes the Crystals look even less deserving of Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame induction than the Angels... the L.A. baseball team, that is.
            In summation, maybe the Crystals are deserving of induction.  I personally wouldn’t object to it.  But if any of the NomCom are out there, don’t try for them on the ballot for the Class of 2012.  It just isn’t a smart idea.  For now, your best bet for girl groups is once again the Chantels.  Three’s been the lucky number for girl groups, after all.  Or the Marvelettes, who hold some important distinctions for Motown.  And if you want to continue to induct pieces in the house of Spector, maybe Ben E. King, even though it was only a major record or two.  Or Sonny And Cher, who first worked for Phil.  Or focus on the session men: Tommy Tedesco is a pretty big omission for the Side-Man category.  Or even go for arranger Jack “Specs” Nitzche as an Ahmet Ertegun Award recipient.  Now just isn’t the time to push for the Crystals.