Sunday, October 02, 2011


The 2012 Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Nominees

Who Gets In, Who Gets Left Out?
by Wayne Robins

Last week, the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame announced the 15 nominees for 2012, of whom five will be inducted. Reactions ranged from casual single shoulder shrugs to full double shoulder shrugs. I got an email from an outraged media person wondering why neither Delaney & Bonnie nor Johnny nor Edgar Winter gets serious consideration. That required a brief explanation of our opinion that the hall is not a meritocracy that responds much to public opinion, but a cabal that operates something like a kindler, gentler version of Assad's Syria. Of course, in the real world, Syria matters, and the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame does not, except to the unnamed despots who otherwise would never willfully set foot in Cleveland. No one asked my opinion—the cabal has never asked for it, and after this, they certainly never will. Anyway, here are the final 15, and my reasons for or against their induction.

The Cure. They've got the longevity. But the overall level of the body of work is good rather than great. Longtime guitarist Porl Thompson doesn't get enough recognition, at least in the U.S.: He's the Johnny Marr to Robert Smith's Morrissey. Though I reluctantly learned to enjoy them in small doses, this band has certainly never been much of a cure for anything.

Heart. Popular in their time, but the notion that they were in some way groundbreaking is ridiculous. The first three hits from 1976-1977— "Crazy On You," "Magic Man," "Barracuda"—were mild entertainments of great appeal to those who could not relate to the sounds that were changing the world those years. Later hits tended towards the "adult contemporary" category. Neil Diamond (2011 inductee) spent most of his career in that walled garden as well. But if Heart had written "Solitary Man," "Kentucky Woman" or "I'm a Believer," we'd reconsider. No.

Freddie King. Outstanding blues guitarist. Even though King/Federal records tried to cross him over by titling one of his instrumentals "The Bossa Nova Watusi Twist," Freddie King's place is the Blues Hall of Fame.

The Small Faces/Faces. A conundrum. Most observers consider this the cabal's poorly thought-through attempt to ameliorate some of the disdain with which the rock hall is held in England. I mean, in terms of both their art and their commerce, the Small Faces (with Steve Marriott), and the Faces (with Rod Stewart) are two different bands, when you get right down to it.

The Spinners. Wonderful vocal group, unappreciated at Motown, that became stars at Atlantic. Also, they are wonderful, generous guys. I once panned, one of their shows at Westbury Music Fair...too much show biz, not enough soul, maybe good for a Vegas crowd, but a Louis Armstrong tribute centered around "Hello Dolly!" was off the mark. They wrote me a letter to tell me I was right, and that they would revamp the show after the next break. But I was probably wrong, just too cranky and depressed to give the show a fair shot. They taught me something about humility. I love the Spinners, but the rock and roll hall of fame is not the venue for this soul/R&B vocal group.

Donovan. On the plus side is "Sunshine Superman," "The Trip" and "Mellow Yellow." On the downside is "A Gift from A Flower to a Garden." The doors of the Hall of Fame do not beckon this year.

Beastie Boys. I took one piece of contraband with me to Russia in 1987: a homemade cassette of the Beastie Boys' "Licensed to Ill," which I gave to a teenager whose family invited a few of us over for a long evening of zakuskas and vodka. I wanted to impart the Beasties' message that you've got to fight for your right to party. Two years later, the Berlin Wall fell, and the U.S.S.R. imploded. I'm not saying the Beastie Boys tape had anything to do with it. But I'm not saying it didn't. As for the Hall of Fame? I don't think so. Not this year, anyway.

Eric B. & Rakim
. Pretty good rap group 25 years ago, but just because they are first-time eligibles, what in the world are they doing on this ballot? No.

Rufus with Chaka Khan. Most overrated act on the list. No.

Donna Summer. She is the one great singer to emerge from and define the disco era. But in case you haven't heard, disco is not rock 'n' roll. Let her in and the next thing you know the Village People will be knocking on the door.

And so who do I like for the R&RHOF for 2012?

Joan Jett and the Blackhearts. As a one-time literary consigliere to the Laguna family, I am biased. My fellow Long Islander Kenny Laguna, a former bubblegum writer/producer/musician had been patching together work for Berserkley Records on the West Coast and for Bill Curbishley, leader of the Who organization in London. While in England, he had done some sessions in London with a former Runaways guitarist, Joan Jett. He came home and told me he was thinking of putting all his chips on Jett. He played some rough tracks, including "I Love Rock & Roll." Between coughing spasms—we were both smokers in those days—I just said, "do it." He became manager and producer, and Laguna and Jett built a partnership, including Blackheart Records, that has now lasted 30 years. I don't agree with Kenny's insistence that the three most important bands in rock history are the Who, the Rolling Stones and Joan Jett and the Blackhearts, but that's wht made him successful as a manager: He believes. And so does Joan. During those 30 years, no one has worked harder than Joan Jett to make the point that if you're talking about rock and roll, she's part of the conversation. And if you're talking iconic rock and roll women, she is the conversation. And now that she's eligible, she's got a little tune that should be the hall's anthem.

Laura Nyro
. My heart says, yes, of course: Her music meant as much as anyone's did to me in 1967-1969, softening the blows of personal history, commingling hope and sadness in intimate ways. She was an outstanding songwriter, responsible for three of the Fifth Dimension's great pop hits (including "Stoned Soul Picnic" and "Wedding Bell Blues,"), and was a remarkable singer (with Labelle on the great 1971 album of R&B covers, "Gonna Take A Miracle." My head says that starting with "Eli and the Thirteenth Confession," Laura Nyro, the artist, made three brilliant albums in the late 1960s, magical realism as seen not through the prism of Monterey or Laurel Canyon, but from the fire escape of a tenement in the Bronx. And she died way too young, age 49, in 1997. So actually, my heart and my head are in agreement: Laura Nyro should be admitted.

Red Hot Chili Peppers
. Longevity, consistency, pride and attitude. Not many bands can make their best album ("Stadium Arcadium," 2006) nearly a quarter century after they started. Yes.

War. A very interesting band due for a revival. From being Eric Burdon's backup band on "Spill the Wine" (and a whole bunch of much odder songs), they developed one of the most attractive hybrid sounds of the seventies: L.A. rock and soul with Latino touches, a street smart edge that was generally happy, joyous and free. Yes.

Guns 'N Roses. I listened to "Chinese Democracy" last week, and it was much worse than I remembered it, anachronistic the second it was released and an embarrassment now, without a single outstanding or memorable song. But that was really an Axl Rose solo album. Guns 'N friggin' Roses should be entered into the Hall of Fame immediately by unanimous consent.

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