The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, that beacon of overindulgence, has struck out once again.
This year’s inductees, with all due respect to Nine Inch Nails, are the wonkiest group ever selected by the increasingly out of touch voting board. Along with NIN, the Hall will induct singer Whitney Houston, rapper Notorious B.I.G, Depeche Mode, the Doobie Brothers and T. Rex.
One of the most important aspects that should be considered by voters is range of influence. Any band that heralds in a new branch of genre should instantly get in. Nine Inch Nails took the destructive power of metal and added to it gothic overtones and self-loathing to solidify industrial rock into the mainstream. He mixed in dub beats and soundscapes to heavy riffs and his aching scream.
Nails’ head, Trent Reznor, has quietly become this generation’s most influential artist, second only to maybe Thom Yorke of Radiohead.
While Nine Inch Nails has become a touring institution, Reznor has expanded the group’s sound with releases like Ghosts I-IV, Hesitation Marks and Bad Witch and won an Oscar and Grammy for one of his many Hollywood soundtracks. He’s even responsible for the two wimpy guitar strums on the intro for that goddamn song “Old Time Road” by Lil Nas X. (Banging my head on the desk trying to wipe away the image of Reznor inducting little Nas X into the Rock Hall in 2025.)
T-Rex is an obvious lock, conceiving glam rock. Depeche Mode carved their spot at the top of moody synth-based rock in the 80s and are one of those groups with intense fandom.
Then we turn to Whitney Houston and the Notorious B.I.G., the acts furthest from the ethos of rock.
Can’t help but think they were largely included for their sensational untimely deaths. But I also wonder if they were picked simply to appease the growing calls of “more diversity” that rages from all quarters of Twitter when awards season rolls around. Not against all-inclusion in any sense, but what about these two artists have anything to do with rock and roll?
Houston’s big hit song was for a soundtrack. Her career went cold for a decade before overdosing on cocaine at a pre-Grammys party. Cocaine overdose is pretty rock and roll, but surely not the reason she’s in. B.I.G. was one of the great lyricists of rap’s heyday, an unmistakable delivery, but other than his murder being a Dateline episode I don’t see the rock and roll connection. But, hey, he’d be a first-ballot entry in the Hip-Hop Hall of Fame, which should expand beyond a museum.
Rappers in the Rock Hall was always a big question leading up to the late-70s eligibility period.
Should they or shouldn’t they? The first hip-hop entry was Afrika Bambaataa–the innovator DJ spinning records in the Bronx in the late-70s when NYC was engulfed in punk, disco and new wave. The Beastie Boys started out as a punk band and used rock, metal and punk samples in a way that had never been done before. Their first album is basically rock with some drunk shouting over it. Run DMC deserves the honor for sampling “Walk this Way” by Aerosmith and collaborating with the band. These early acts all have some significant tie to rock music’s history. It pretty much stops there, but every year there’s representation of the genre.
And if this induction garners more significance posthumously, like it seems with Houston and Biggie, then where is the love for Motörhead, MC5 and Thin Lizzy? Motörhead started out in England mid-70s and took what Black Sabbath was doing and sped it up. “Lemmy” Kilmister was the grisliest frontman and clenched the title until his death in 2015.
MC5 was part of the Detroit-area proto-punk scene of the late-60s, early-70s.
Like Hendrix or the Stooges, they were only around for a blip, but their influence has wide reach. Lead singer Rob Tyner and guitarist Fred “Sonic” Smith, who married Patti Smith, both passed in the early-90s; bassist Michael Davis, in 2012. From Dublin, Ireland, Thin Lizzy wrote some of the best drinking-on-a-Saturday-with-friends music in the 70s and were productive with 12 albums before bassist and lead vocalist Phil Lyncott passed in 1986.
The other nominees this year were Kraftwerk, Rufus featuring Chaka Khan, Soundgarden, Judas Priest, Dave Matthews Band, Pat Benatar and Todd Rundgren, who was nominated for the second consecutive time. What’s the hesitation? Rundgren didn’t only have some of the strongest hits of the 70s, he formed the prog-rock group Utopia, produced classic albums, wrote “Bang the Drum All Day,” and has experimented with his sound ever since.
The Doobie Brothers are a total throw-in, but in this group appear to be the only current live band, along with Depeche Mode.
So it’s 2020 and we’re celebrating rock and roll with the Doobies as the main act? Hopefully their cruise ship will dock in time for the show. Nothing against the group, they’ve kept at it over 40 years, but maybe the Hall should have a second annual show that is just every great forgotten act of the 60s and 70s.
Each year becomes more of a hodgepodge of acts that have little to do with each other. Eligibility for the nomination is 25 years from an act’s first official release. That currently puts us in the year 1995. Red Hot Chili Peppers, Green Day, Radiohead, Metallica, Nirvana and Pearl Jam have been inducted, but were sort of the resident 90s act each time.
How cool would it be to have a year with Sonic Youth, the Pixies, Smashing Pumpkins, Soundgarden, Beck, Kate Bush and Rage Against the Machine all enshrined?
It’d be such an iconic representation of a slice of music history instead of this fucking amalgam of artists from all over the decades. This would bring back the spectacle of collaboration that used to be the Final Megajam. Maybe this year we’ll get the Doobies doing a yacht rock take on “Head Like A Hole,” with Reznor shouting, “I’d rather die than give you control.”
Oh well, it’s all bullshit anyways. Hope the winners have a ball on Jann Wenner’s last dime.