Wednesday, July 25, 2012

An All-Disco Ballot? Hear Me Out

With some of the comments being made recently, there's a actually a good supply of material to discuss, but with the NomCom's annual session looming nigh, I thought it'd be an interesting bait for discussion to throw this out.  Over the past couple years, fans and music industry insiders have shared a sense of surprise, be it serendipitous or chagrined, that Donna Summer hasn't gotten in the Hall Of Fame yet.  Now with her death, it almost seems a certainty that it will finally be her year, unless the ballot gets divided up with a Whitney Houston nomination, wherein the loyalties may split. 

However, the past failures to get Donna Summer in the Hall despite being on the four of the last five ballots only serve to magnify what seems to be an anti-disco bias in the voting bloc.  The BeeGees are in, as are periphery-of-disco acts Earth, Wind, And Fire and ABBA.  But beyond that, not so much.  So what, if  anything, should we do?  While the advocacy of all-disco ballot on my part is not entirely, and probably not even half, sincere, I also wouldn't be entirely opposed to it.  In fact, from a practical perspective, an all-disco ballot would actually be a pretty good idea for the following reasons:

1. It was a major musical movement in its own right.  The entirety of the 1970's is often referred as the "Disco era" despite the fact the widely regarded first true disco record wasn't released until 1974, and the movement continued into the early 80's.  But that says a lot right there.  The music of disco was huge, too huge to ignore, but for the most part, the Hall Of Fame's been trying to.  This is an oversight that needs rectifying.

2. It helped influence modern dance music.  While I'm not ignoring the influences of new-wave, Krautrock, post-punk, etc. or the importance of technological advances, the music of disco helped shape a main component of modern dance music, be it electronica, or the more mainstream combinations with hip-hop.  Its influence continues on, and that influence should be properly recognized.

3. The Nominating Committee wants it.  Okay, an overstatement here, but not far off the truth.  Two of the three most-nominated-but-still-not-inducted acts are Chic and Donna Summer, and between the two of them, they have ten nominations.  Add on to that the additional miss-out of Rufus with Chaka Khan this past year, plus the other disco and disco-periphery acts that have been brought up for consideration, there's a lot of love for it in the powers-that-be.  They might not want an "all-disco ballot" per se, but they have no problem nominating certain ones over and over again until they do get in.  There's plenty of precedent there.

4.  They could all probably fit onto one ballot.  How many disco (and periphery) acts could you make a serious argument for putting in the Hall?  We've already got Chic, Donna Summer, and Rufus with Chaka Khan as past nominees, plus the often danceable Philly-soul of the Spinners that isn't quite disco but goes nicely with it.  They've also previously considered the GAP Band, Barry White, Grace Jones, solo Chaka Khan, and the Commodores (again, not readily definable as disco, but could be part of the conversation).  And the sheer commercial success of acts such as KC And The Sunshine Band, Tavares, and Kool And The Gang make them factors too.  In my Vocal Hall Of Fame analysis, I also advised against discounting the possibility of the Whispers and Harold Melvin And The Blue Notes.  Throw in solo Diana Ross, probably also solo Lionel Richie, and as a bone to the disco crowd, Gloria Gaynor (who actually was a huge star on the disco charts in the '70s).  All total, that's 17 acts, a little larger than recent ballots.  Maybe you'd throw in one or two more (I wouldn't bring the Ohio Players or Trammps to the table, and Billy Preston's a little too far off for even the periphery of disco).  So if you whittle a few of the periphery artists off there, you've got what would probably be the entirety of the disco wing, alongside those already in, with the inclusion of some of the producers from that era too.  One shot, show it all there.

5. Once they're inducted, they'll never be nominated again.  Let's make it crystal clear... they could induct ever artist mentioned above, plus several less-deserving disco acts, and we still wouldn't be any closer to getting Deep Purple or King Crimson on the ballot.  As long as the NomCom doesn't want them on the ballot, they won't be.  Nonetheless, once an artist is inducted, their slot on the ballot and in the queues of NomCom members has to be filled.  It would never lead to a similar glut of classic/arena rock, '80s alternative, or anything else, but it may lead to tapping those places a little bit in the initial discussions, even if not onto the final ballot.  And that's still something.

6. It will shut up the race card drivers.  Predictably, there were cries of racism in the ranks when this year's inductees were announced.  Admittedly, this list did punch a couple holes in my previous arguments.  My response to them however, is simply to look at who did get in as a Performer: an act that everyone knew was going to make it, three acts that many, many people were surprised when they missed out on their previous nominations, plus an underdog that wasn't going to go away until she got in, and the dome-scratching joint nomination that now seems like a group of people the NomCom were bound and determined to put in at all costs.  So yeah, while they didn't get any Black artists in this past time around, getting Donovan, the Beastie Boys, and the Red Hot Chili Peppers in this time after surprisingly missing out before does act a little bit as a salve to that wound.  An all-disco ballot, however, would shut up those who claim racism for a good few years.  There are enough deserving Black acts to probably fill up a good five ballots or so, but an all-disco class (unless one of the inductees is KC And The Sunshine Band) will take the heat off the Hall, and keep that strawman locked away for a good while.

7. It will shut up the "Move forward already!" crowd.  While the Spinners and the Blue Notes did have hits in the '60s, every act mentioned really made it big in the '70s, and even into the early '80s.  While I personally feel there are many great acts from the '50s and '60s still missing from the Hall, a ballot without any prominent '60s presence will go a little distance with those who say not enough newer acts are getting noticed.  Granted, we already have those who want the doors shut on the '70s, but many more people, from all musical camps, see the '70s as a lode that has yet to be REALLY seriously mined.

8. Lots of rockers dabbled in disco (and its periphery).  Hey, remember "Miss You" by the Rolling Stones?  "December 1963 (Oh What A Night)" by the Four Seasons?  "I'm Gonna Let My Heart Do The Walking" by the Supremes?  "Catfish" by the Four Tops?  Even "Goodnight Tonight" by Paul McCartney?  Songs with disco overtones.  And let's not forget remixes that include "Here Comes The Night" by the Beach Boys, and even from never-to-make-the-Hall old school acts like Frankie Avalon and Bobby Rydell such as "Venus" and "Sway."  Fun fact, "Cover Me" by Bruce Springsteen also made the disco charts. 

9. Disco is part of rock'n'roll.  It just is.  It's a rhythmically driven music, and the beats of disco are quite similar to the beats of the rock'n'roll of the '60s.  Plus, put the guitar solo of "Hot Stuff" against that of just about any of your favorite classic rock songs.  Even if it doesn't always win out, the riffs from "Hot Stuff" put up a valiant fight each and every time.

So while we'll probably never see an all-disco ballot, there's also no reason to gripe when it appears on the ballot.  Let's not hide it.  Disco's part of the family.  Too bad Brenda Lee never recorded "Rockin' Around The Disco Ball."  Or maybe it's better that way.  Either way, it has a place in the Hall.