Thursday, January 26, 2012

If the joint nom's a-rockin' Part 1 of 2

This year’s Hall Of Fame class shows many different possible trends. With half of the inductees having been eligible for less than five years, we see the possibility of future classes being comprised of recently eligible artists only, which is bad news for the KISS army and the Rush faithful. With Tom Dowd, Cosimo Matassa, and Glyn Johns being inducted in the Award For Musical Excellence (formerly known as Sideman) category rather than the Ahmet Ertegun Award category (formerly known as Non-Performer), we see that either the Hall Of Fame people consider engineers to be musicians, with the control board their musical instrument; or the Award For Musical Excellence really is more than just a renaming of the Sideman category, and we’ll see different things done in the future than they’ve been doing now. Worst of all, the induction of Freddie King as an Early Influence shows that the Hall Of Fame is neither apologetic about their mistakes (such as inducting Wanda Jackson as an Early Influence in 2009), nor any longer concerned about how they define concepts.

But a close second to King’s miscasting as an Early Influence for the honor of being the darkest cloud on the horizon is what is fondly referred to as the “joint nomination” of the Small Faces and Faces, or “Small Faces/Faces” as they were printed on the ballot. This was one of the most heated debates, if not the most heated, during the time between the announcements of the nominees and of the inductees. In a two-part effort, I’m going to dissect both sides of this issue, dealing primarily this time with the issue of Small Faces/Faces, and how the Hall nearly got it completely right this time.

It’s not an entirely foreign concept, mind you. The induction of “the Drifters” stood for both the Clyde McPhatter-era and the era that began as a renaming of the Five Crowns. The induction of Ricky Nelson also included the years billed as “Rick Nelson”, which admittedly is an incredibly fine hair to split. The induction of “Genesis” included both the years with and without Peter Gabriel. Van Halen’s induction included the post-Roth years derisively referred to by Diamond Dave devotees as “Van Hagar.” No one had a second thought about inducting the funk outfit under the joint moniker of “Parliament/Funkadelic”. We wouldn’t see the necessity of separate inductions for the Young Rascals and the Rascals, and perhaps most germane to the topic, there’s been a certain amount of ambiguity as to whether or not the induction of Jefferson Airplane also hailed the accomplishments of the Jefferson-less Starship era.

For the record, I supported the joint nomination. Like the Hall, I agree that it’s always been one band. As one NomCom member put it, the band could best be defined as “[Ian McLagan], Ronnie [Lane], and Kenney [Jones] working with...whomever they work with.” That definition has the diehard Small Faces fans foaming at the mouth, incensed. For some of them, Steve Marriott WAS the Small Faces, or at the very least the Small Faces couldn’t and didn’t exist without him, similar to how some would say the Beatles weren’t really the Beatles with Pete Best on the sticks, or Sammy Hagar was never really a member of Van Halen. For them, if any joint nomination should have taken place, it should have been “Small Faces/Humble Pie”, but they wouldn’t have done that, because they feel Marriott deserves induction at least twice.

The problem with this train of thought is that it all but sides with every case of Front Man Fever out there, and even pushes it to further extremes. If Steve Marriott was the Small Faces, then not only was Smokey Robinson the entire worth of the Miracles, Hank Ballard of the Midnighters, Paul McCartney of Wings, and so on, but then also Barry Gibb was the BeeGees, Diana Ross was the Supremes, Felix Caveliere was the Rascals, Steven Tyler was Aerosmith, etc. Put simply, this train of thought pretty much misses the entire concept of a group or band, and while there are occasionally members that hold the group together, it also usually takes a group consensus of dissolution for a group or band to be broken up. That isn’t what happened here. Steve left, Rod Stewart and Ron Wood came in, and the group continued.

There’s one other big and one lesser argument that are also used to argue against the joint nomination (and upcoming induction) of the Small Faces/Faces. The big one that still gets pulled out quite frequently is that their sound and style were much different in the Rod Stewart era than it was in the Steve Marriott era. Well, it’s easy to say that “Stay With Me” is much different than “Sha La La La Lee”, but it’d be sheer ignorance to say that the sound jumped from point A to point B without having ever evolved. The main piece of evidence I would like to submit at this point would be First Step, the first album released with Rod Stewart and Ron Wood as part of the band. If you listen critically, you’ll find that tracks like “Stone” and “Devotion” still emulate much of the same elements from the later songs of the Marriott days, like “Autumn Stone” and “Afterglow (Of Your Love).” Is it exactly like “Autumn Stone” or “Afterglow (Of Your Love)”? No, but then again, it wouldn’t be an evolution if it sounded exactly like those songs. Plus, it’d be unfair to expect Stewart to just impersonate Marriott without bringing anything new to the table himself, and Wood to be pretty much nothing at all in the band. Then there are songs like “Around The Plynth” and their cover of “Wicked Messenger” that point to the eventual direction of songs like “Ooh La La.” This album is a critical step in the evolution of the sound of the band.

Furthermore, it’s also worth noting that First Step is credited to “Small Faces”, not “Faces.” That means that Rod Stewart and Ron Wood were officially members of the Small Faces before the named got whittled down by a word. Steve Marriott was replaced, the group continued, and THEN the word “Small” was removed from the name. It would be technically correct to induct all six members under the moniker “Small Faces” and leave it at that, or “(Small) Faces” would work as well to better indicate the continuity of the history.

Which comes to the more minor argument some use to discredit that album by saying that they didn’t want to be called “Small Faces” or “Faces”, but the record company forced them to go with the familiar name. The proper response to this argument is “Boo-de-freakin’-hoo.” The Five Crowns were forced by the execs at Atlantic to adopt the name “the Drifters” to get their career going. Paul Revere And The Raiders wanted to keep the fact that one of the members was in fact named Paul Revere on the QT, but the record company insisted on capitalizing on it as much as possible, which even led to the Revolutionary War outfits. The corporate brass of White Whale Records forced the Turtles to spell their name correctly, rather than replacing the “u” with a “e,” “i,” or “y” like they had wanted. Let’s also keep in mind that many performers in music, movies, and television have to adopt stage names to make their act more memorable and more pronounceable. So yeah, the argument holds no water. Whatever the reason, whosever decision it was, the group was still known as the Small Faces at the time, and then later chose to call themselves the Faces.

In conclusion, the joint nomination of the Small Faces/Faces may be unpopular, but it is pretty defensible, and ultimately, imo, the right call to make. My main concern with it at this point is the potential for abuse this has down the line, which will be addressed in part two.

Monday, January 9, 2012

When the fifteen nominees for this year’s class were announced, I proceeded to rank those fifteen nominees in as objective a fashion as possible.  While I expected a lot of criticism for my rankings, the feedback was actually pretty encouraging, as most applauded my objective take.  Now, I try to take on a bigger task.  This time, I intend to rank all the past nominees who have yet to be inducted.  To date, there are thirty-five nominees who have not been inducted.  I am not including the five nominees who were later inducted in other categories (including this year’s Early Influence, Freddie King).  As I did last time, I tried once again to give innovation, influence, and impact (including commercial success) as equal footing as possible; I also tried to show no favoritism towards any particular genre or sub-genre of rock ‘n’ roll, meaning punk, doo-wop, hip-hop—all for the most part treated as equally (there was some discounting of country) as possible.  Remember, these are acts that have actually been nominated.  Not ones that should have, and this isn't a list of biggest snubs. 

The number rankings aren’t completely hard and set.  It’s more of a general area of where I place them.  Give or take about three places, or so.  Parenthetical numbers are the number of nominations so far.  Enough with the jibber-jabber.  Time to give you all something to complain about.

35. Conway Twitty (1):  He was a teen idol in his early days and a country superstar later on, neither of which tend to bode that well with getting an act inducted.  Additionally, not much influence.

34. Joan Jett And The Blackhearts (1): Despite the resounding party rock anthem of “I Love Rock ‘N Roll”, she has very little to her credit that goes beyond her mere riot girl image

33. Steve Winwood (1):  As a reminder, we’re only talking about his solo career, which has some cool breeze kinds of songs, but didn’t really break any new ground. 

32. Cat Stevens (1):  As far as singer/songwriters of the ‘70s go, his hardness of rocking places him somewhere between Gordon Lightfoot and Don McLean, with lyrics that were occasionally the wrong (read: TMI) kind of “personal.”

31. Randy Newman (1):  His greatest asset, his turn-of-phrase cleverness, is also his greatest liability.  He makes well-crafted songs that tend to come off as novelty.  He has a certain amount of influence, but it’s mostly of bourgeois appeal and doesn’t travel as far as it should.

30. Esther Phillips (2):  Her pre-‘60s (and arguably pre-rock era) hits were almost exclusively as the chanteuse for whatever name Johnny Otis’s band went by on any given record, and so inducting her as a soloist based on those is not entirely fitting.  Her ‘60s-and-later hits were sporadic and primarily covers, which doesn’t garner much accolades.

29. The Paul Butterfield Blues Band (1):  Despite a small handful of classics, even the fact that his band was interracial didn’t really fuel a blues revival during the height of the British Invasion.  Call it bad timing: had he broken out in the early ‘80s before his death in 1987, he could have had a good run of hits on the newly created “Top [[Album] Rock] Tracks” chart, a chart that helped spread the name, music, and reputation of another great blues revival outfit: Stevie Ray Vaughan And Double Trouble.

28. Johnny Ace (2):  A promising career cut short by folly.  Still, he had some good accomplishments as an R&B singer leading up to that.

27. The Sir Douglas Quintet (1):  They were innovative and influential in helping to create a new sub-genre; however, Tex-Mex is still a pretty niche style of music, and not all that pertinent to represent in the Hall Of Fame.

26. Gram Parsons (3):  Another powerful one-two combo of innovation and influence; however, alt-country pioneering really merits induction into the Country Music Hall Of Fame, not the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame, however strongly alt-country and its pioneers are linked to the folk-rock and the ever-changing music scenes of the late-‘60’s. 

25. The Chantels (2):  Broke out at the same time as the Shirelles, but never reached the same heights.  Still, “Maybe” and “Look In My Eyes” are excellent records and foundational to the girl group sound.

24. The Meters (1): Moderately influential in the realms of funk and soul, but not a lot of name recognition, and the songs are only somewhat well known.

23. Rufus with Chaka Khan (1): They had a solid string of R&B hits, dispersed intermittently with Chaka’s solo career, but as a group, the Pop crossover was not so immense, and they ended up standing in the shadows of bigger acts of the time.

22. Mary Wells (2):  Despite an enviable run of both R&B and Pop chart success, her chief accomplishment was really done by the Marvelettes first, even if it was on “Tamla” rather than the titular mother company “Motown.”  However, she also did help bring a Latin flavor to the R&B scene, which is something in itself, as many danceable rap songs nowadays are danceable because they’re infused with danceable Latin rhythmic schemes. 

21. The “5” Royales (2):  With an impressive string of six Top Ten R&B chart hits in the early-to-mid-‘50s, this vocal R&B group would make a fine representative of doo-wop.

20. Chuck Willis (6): Another career cut way too short, his legacy as the “Stroll King” or “Sheik Of The Blues” culminates nicely to get him six nominations so far.  The man who helped bring dancing to rock ‘n’ roll music, he’d be undisputed royalty if he’d lived and recorded through the ‘50s.

19. The J. Geils Band (3): Solid blues-influenced rock ‘n’ roll band with a solid run of hits and classics, but not regarded as being all that influential or innovative, and some even claim cronyism for their three nominations to date.

18. Afrika Bambaataa (1): Recognized as one of the founding fathers of hip-hop, but having never gotten big beyond the New York scene, and without the Soul Sonic Force as part of his nomination, he doesn’t merit any higher on the list.

17. Joe Tex (4): An impressive string of R&B and Pop chart hits, and considered by some to help influence rap’s style of vocal delivery, but he wasn’t the only one doing that (see also: Johnnie Taylor), and a lot of his songs are variations on the same theme.

16. The New York Dolls (1): Surprisingly influential in both the worlds of punk and of glam.  No real chart success, and arrived a few years after a couple of the other proto-punk acts.

15. Lou Reed (2): Probably unpopular call to put him this low, but the “godfather of punk” is too closely tied to his former group to earn his solo career the serious individual merit it may or may not deserve.  Plus, limited commercial success.  Still, he’s in the upper half of this list.

14. War (2): Funky Latin rock music.  They crossed a lot of barriers with memorable songs, despite not being very innovative.

13. Bon Jovi (1): Though not hugely innovative, they are a household name with a huge amount of commercial success and arguably epitomize an entire decade or generation.

12. Chic (6): “Good Times” is an extremely important record, plus their musical proficiency and production wizardry, it stands to reason that they’re going to get in eventually.

11. Heart (1): A powerhouse rock act whose songs have had staying power, and successfully spanned two somewhat different mini-epochs in rock ‘n’ roll history.

10. Eric B. And Rakim (1): Extremely well-crafted and flawlessly executed hip-hop music that took it to new levels, bridging two ages of hip-hop.

9. The MC5 (1): The proto-punk act that pioneered distortion as a musical gimmick, and helped influence a lot of bands, plus the title alone of their only hit, “Kick Out The Jams” seems to sum up the movement they helped create..

8. Ben E. King (3): Another solo artist that had some trouble distinguishing himself from his former group, this man had more commercial success than Reed, plus two songs that are absolute milestones of 60’s R&B, one of which contains the arguably most important and famous bass line in all of rock ‘n’ roll.

7. The Spinners (1): Among the groups that facilitated the transition from smooth soul to disco and beyond, they were one of the best.  A long string of R&B and Pop hits make them an eventuality now that they’ve finally been nominated.

6. The Dominoes (1): A full dozen Top 10 R&B hits in the formative days of rock ‘n’ roll, managing to cross over twice to the mainstream audience despite the for-the-time raunchy nature of “Sixty-Minute Man”, helped knock down the racial barriers, a seminal group of the pre-Elvis rock ‘n’ roll years.

5. Donna Summer (4): The Queen Of Disco helped influence a future generation of R&B and dance music stars, plus a superstar of the Pop, R&B and disco scene in her own right.

4. Kraftwerk (1): A Krautrock act that evolved greatly and is basically responsible for electronica music becoming what it is today.

3. The Cure (1): They’re the group that struck the alternative scene in its epicenter and sent it spiraling in many different directions.  A fair amount of commercial success to go with it, too.

2. LL Cool J (2): One of rap’s first superstars, not only did he help rap transition from an outfit form to a solo MC’s game, he also helped segue R&B into its smoother form during the mid-‘90s.  Much of mainstream pop music today is still built somewhat upon plans he helped lay.

1. KISS (1): While Nirvana may have ended KISS’s reign of influence (or maybe not), those years were an incredibly fruitful era, with many young guitarists influenced by KISS.  Their commercial success is extensive though seldom ever top of the heap.  Nonetheless, they’re cultural icons transcending more than just their genre, they transcended their industry.

So there you go, the thirty-five nominated-but-not-in acts.  It’s not definitive, but it’s an attempt.  Feel free to tear it apart.

P.S.  Welcome to 2012.