Sizing up this year’s Rock Hall class

By Malcolm X Abram
Beacon Journal pop music writer

Print
Reprint
Subscribe
Add This
rockhall14cut_7
This Oct. 1, 2012 file photo shows sisters Ann, left, and Nancy Wilson from Heart in New York. The eclectic group of rockers Rush and Heart, rappers Public Enemy, songwriter Randy Newman, "Queen of Disco" Donna Summer and bluesman Albert King will be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame April 18 in Los Angeles. (Photo by Victoria Will/Invision/AP Images)

The 28th annual Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony is upon us.

After the excitement caused by having the show in Cleveland last year, it has moved west, taking place at the Kodak Theatre in Los Angeles on Thursday. A (surely truncated) version of the festivities will be broadcast on HBO at 9 p.m. May 18. The museum isn’t doing a live simulcast as in past years, so you’ll just have to wait to hear the speeches and see the one-off performances.

With the year of eligibility at 1988 (artists are eligible 25 years after their first recording), the Rock Hall Foundation’s mysterious voting body has been playing a bit of catch-up with some worthy groups (The Stooges, Black Sabbath) that have been ignored due to … well, no one but the voters can say why, but the charges of personal biases could become glaring if ’80s hair and arena metal and synth pop bands are welcomed before some of the groups that influenced them.

The hall has essentially altered its concept to the Rock and Roll (and Pop) Hall of Fame, and the inductee lists have certainly become more varied. This class includes hip-hop, prog-rock, electric blues, R&B, disco and pop, and while some fans may still be arguing over “what is rock?” the hall has apparently decided the answer is “just about anything that’s popular.”

Here is your Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Class of 2013.

Rush

(Geddy Lee, bass/vocals/keyboards; Alex Lifeson, guitar; Neil Peart, drums/percussion/lyrics)

For many rock fans, this prog-rockin’ trio’s conspicuous exclusion, having been eligible since 1996, is a clear sign of voter bias. In 2005, a journalist who had covered all of the inductions told me one voter had declared that as long as that person had any say, Rush would never be inducted. Perhaps that person relented or lost his veto power.

Rush was never much of a critics’ band, and for listeners, their exacting, prog-influenced brand of rock is often a love-it-or-hate-it proposition. Rush’s global fan base is ardent, loyal and as detail-oriented as its music, which allows the group to still fill arenas and stadiums four decades along. To detractors, Rush is a prime example of rock that is all head, little heart, and absolutely nothing from the nether regions.

The band’s early sound got it accused of being Led Zeppelin wannabes, and its 1974 self-titled debut was a failure until Cleveland’s WMMS began playing Working Man, securing the band’s first hit and one of its strongest regional fan bases. Most of the 1970s albums leaned on extended concept songs such as the Ayn Rand-inspired 2112 (1976) and Hemispheres (1978).

In the ’80s, Rush became more radio-friendly, with hits such as The Spirit of Radio and Freewill from Permanent Waves (1980). The quadruple-platinum Moving Pictures (1981), solidified their place in history, featuring Tom Sawyer (which inspired millions to take up air drumming), Limelight and Red Barchetta.

Rush went through a heavy synthesizer period that tested the patience of some fans, before returning to a more guitar-dominated sound in the 1990s. Clockwork Angel (2012) debuted at No. 2 on the Billboard 200.

Peart has long set the standard for rock drummers (as in “well, she’s no Neil Peart, but she’s pretty good”). He uses a massive kit for his taut, syncopated, carefully constructed and complex fills, rolls and grooves, and fans eagerly anticipate his solos (generally considered an outdated 20th-century rock concert trope).

Rush’s influence can be heard in the music of acknowledged fans such as Foo Fighters, prog-metalheads Tool, grunge kings Smashing Pumpkins, Primus and others.

Get to know Rush: For an easy entry into the catalog (20 studio albums and nine live albums), start with the big boy, Moving Pictures. If you want to dive into the deep end, 2112 shows their concept album prowess.

Presenters: Dave Grohl and Taylor Hawkins of Foo Fighters.

Heart

(Ann Wilson, vocals/guitar/flute; Nancy Wilson, vocals/guitar/mandolin; Roger Fisher, guitar; Steve Fossen, bass; Howard Leese, keyboards/synthesizer/guitar; Michael DeRosier, drums)

This is another induction that should have happened around the time the band was first eligible, in 2001. Madonna before Heart? C’mon!

The Wilson sisters may not have founded Heart (Fisher and Fossen were its first members, under a different name) but they are certainly the, um, heart of the group’s nearly 40-year run. Today, a band fronted by a couple of strong females might not seem particularly special, but that is in part because Ann and Nancy Wilson spent the 1970s suffering many sexist, condescending, sleazy and creepy slings and arrows.

Heart wasn’t the only female-driven ’70s rock band, but it is arguably the most successful, with 30 million records sold and Top 10 albums in each of the past four decades. Classic-rock radio got a welcome estrogen boost from Ann’s tough, powerful voice in Barracuda (about music industry sleazeballs), Magic Man, Crazy On You and Even It Out.

In the ’80s, Heart scored with big power ballads such as These Dreams and What About Love before taking some time off. Since returning in the early 2000s, Heart has been receiving late-career hosannas.

While young woman rockers have more role models these days, Heart’s continued success (its 2010 album Red Velvet Car peaked at No. 10 on the Billboard 200) should be an inspiration to anyone who plans to be a rock ’n’ roll lifer.

Get to know Heart: If you like the tough, confident rockers, 1976’s Dreamboat Annie has Magic Man and Crazy On You. Or you could cheat and get the two-disc compilation Essential Heart, which has those along with the ’80s and ’90s power ballads.

Presenter: Chris Cornell of Soundgarden. Heart will perform with Pearl Jam’s Mike McCready and Alice in Chains’ Jerry Cantrell.

Public Enemy

(Carlton Ridenhour aka Chuck D, emcee; William Drayton aka Flavor Flav, vocals/hype man; Richard Griffin aka Professor Griff, minister of information; Norman Lee Rogers aka Terminator X, DJ)

As hip-hop continues to creep into the rock hall, Public Enemy is a logical choice after Run DMC, Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, and last year, the Beastie Boys.

While those three groups managed to cross over into the pop world, Public Enemy’s staunch pro-black nationalistic, anti-white supremacy, left-wing stance made them lightning rods for controversy, and heroes to a generation of young fans and aspiring producers. It was a perfect storm at a time when hip-hop was growing commercially, if not quite intellectually.

Chuck D’s commanding voice and dense, angry, unapologetic rhymes, aimed at the hearts and minds of urbanites (though suburbanites including Nirvana’s Kurt Cobain were also affected), were balanced by class clown Flavor Flav’s stream-of-consciousness exhortations.

They helped spawn a sub-genre of “conscious” rap artists, taking hip-hop out of the party and off the block into the political arena. The group’s primary production team, the Bomb Squad, used a signature dense, heavily layered sampling style with then-unusual sources such as metal band Slayer and purposely harsh and abrasive sounds to add tension, with Terminator X’s active scratches on top, to forge a sound like no other in hip-hop.

Platinum-selling It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back (1988) included Rebel Without a Pause, Bring the Noise and Don’t Believe the Hype. It made Billboard’s Top 50 and hit No. 1 on the now defunct and politically incorrect “Top Black Albums” chart.

Fear of a Black Planet took on topics such as racism in media, interracial and cultural relationships, institutional racism, and self-empowerment, and contained perhaps the group’s best known song, Fight the Power, along with Welcome to the Terrordome and Flavor Flav’s relatively light-hearted 911 Is a Joke. Apocalypse 91 The Enemy Strikes Black (1991) included a bit of musical outreach in the form of a cover of Bring the Noize featuring trash-metal band Anthrax.

While many of today’s mainstream rappers spit bars about exotic dancers, overpriced material goods and their own egos, and many young fans couldn’t name a rap album released before they were born, Public Enemy’s influence is arguably felt more strongly in rock and other genres. Electronic artist Autechre, roots rocker Ben Harper, Bjork, Nine Inch Nails and M.I.A. have all listed P.E. albums and/or tracks among their favorites.

Get to know Public Enemy: The incendiary clarion calls for black pride and self-empowerment (and some dope beats) found throughout It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back should set you on the right course.

Presenters: Spike Lee and Harry Belafonte.

Randy Newman

Newman is a quintessential songwriter’s songwriter and a multiple Oscar-, Grammy- and Emmy-winning film composer. Millions of people, young and old, know at least a few of his songs, but a healthy chunk of those folks wouldn’t know the bespectacled Newman if he walked up to them wearing a Toy Story T-shirt and singing his controversial and misunderstood 1977 hit Short People.

Newman the songwriter is known for his often cynical, cocked-eyebrow and humorous third-person takes on issues at a time when many popular singer/songwriters were writing deeply personal musical confessionals.

The list of artists who have interpreted Newman’s songs is staggering. Hits include Three Dog Night’s Mama Told Me Not to Come and Joe Cocker’s You Can Leave Your Hat On; he’s been covered by Nina Simone, Pat Boone, the Flaming Groovies, Harry Nilsson (who released an entire album of Newman songs), Ringo Starr, Peggy Lee, the O’Jays, UB40, Leonard Cohen, Tom Jones, Etta James, Pedro the Lion, George Jones and many, many others.

While others may have had bigger hits with his songs, Newman did get into the spotlight with the aforementioned Short People and another misunderstood hit in 1983, the affectionately ironic yuppie-scum-baiting I Love L.A.

For younger folks, Newman’s work as a film composer is literally part of the soundtrack of their lives, as he has scored all three of the Toy Story films and other kids’ movies. Ragtime garnered him the first of his 20 Oscar nominations. Newman still records and tours, and is considered one of America’s best songwriters of any genre.

Get to know Randy Newman: That’s a tough one, but his 1972 album Sail Away contains You Can Leave Your Hat On; the bluesy, orchestrated title track, sung from the point of view of a recruiting slave trader; the satirical Political Science; and two Ohio-themed tunes, Burn On, about the flammable Cuyahoga River, and Dayton, Ohio, 1903.

Presenter: Don Henley. Newman will perform with John Fogerty and Jackson Browne.

Donna Summer

Summer’s inclusion in the rock hall confounds listeners who only think of her as the “Queen of Disco.” Listening to her initial pop hit, the 1975 classic 17-minute, Georgio Moroder-produced disco seduction song Love to Love You Baby, one would never know the depth of Summer’s talent. That Top 5 crossover hit, with its slick and sexy bass groove on which Summer breathes and coos as if she’s in the midst of la petite mort, and its follow-up, the synth-driven club hit I Feel Love, helped bestow the disco label she was saddled with for much of her career.

But the singer/songwriter, who died last May of lung cancer, had plenty more under her signature shoulder-length curly locks. In 1977, Summer released two concept albums, I Remember Yesterday and double album Once Upon a Time, all of which she co-wrote, as she did for much of her career.

Bad Girls began to show other sides of Summer in songs, including the rock-flavored Hot Stuff, which earned Summer her second Grammy, and the title track, which took a sympathetic look at prostitutes. In 1979-80, Summer had four No. 1 songs, and the string of hits continued into the ’80s as she expanded her sound and subject matter.

Summer stuck up for working women with the blue-collar anthem She Works Hard for the Money, encouraged female empowerment with the Barbra Streisand duet Tears (Enough is Enough), made folks dance with On the Radio, took on reggae with State of Independence and turned the tortured metaphor of MacArthur Park into an R&B hit.

Her commercial fortunes declined in the ’90s, just as her reputation and appreciation for her work grew among a generation of younger soul singers, though To Paris With Love from her final album Crayons (2009) topped the Billboard Dance Chart. Stats don’t tell the whole story, but Summer had at least one Top 40 hit every year between 1976 and 1984.

Performers: Christina Aguilera and Jennifer Hudson.

Get to know Summer: Summer’s most beloved songs are spread across her packed catalog. But 1979’s Bad Girls, which has the title track, Hot Stuff and fan favorite Dim All the Lights, deftly melds the disco queen with the R&B and pop star.

Lou Adler

A songwriter (he co-wrote Sam Cooke’s Only Sixteen), label owner/executive, and movie and music producer, Adler had a hand in many of pop music’s enduring hits and several classic films.

Adler got his start in the 1950s co-managing surf duo Jan and Dean with Herb Alpert. In the 1960s, he founded Dunhill Records, with hits including Barry McGuire’s 1965 hit Eve of Destruction, and a bunch more, courtesy of the Mamas and the Papas, such as California Dreamin’, Monday, Monday and Dedicated to the One I Love.

After Adler sold Dunhill he founded Ode Records which had another hit with Scott McKenzie’s 1967 hippie classic San Francisco (Be Sure to Wear Flowers in Your Hair). That same year, Adler was one of the organizers of the legendary Monterey International Pop Festival and its accompanying film, which helped make stars out of Jimi Hendrix and the Who, and gave the world Otis Redding’s show-stopping set.

Adler was also in the producer’s (and label owner’s) chair for singer/songwriter Carole King’s massive hit Tapestry, and had the foresight to sign a couple of stoner comedians named Cheech & Chong, producing albums including Big Bambu and their debut film, Up In Smoke.

That encouraged Adler’s forays into films, and after seeing the original stage production of the musical The Rocky Horror Show, he snapped up the rights and took a chance on the 1975 big-screen version, The Rocky Horror Picture Show, which has become a cult classic still screened in midnight showings.

Presenters: Cheech & Chong. Carole King will perform.

Albert King

This seminal bluesman was left out of the hall while his more famous acolytes (and a few peers) were welcomed. King, whose solo recording career began in 1954, wasn’t just one of the Three Kings of the Blues (along with inductee B.B. and Freddie King, still waiting). His thick, heavy-handed and very electric guitar tone and technique, which placed melody and his signature string bends above having an arsenal of licks, was a blueprint of the Chicago Blues sound.

King, a lefty who played a Gibson Flying V named Lucy strung for a right-handed player, was first known by blues aficionados as a sideman for Jimmy Reed. But his singing voice, just as thick and expressive as his playing, wasn’t heard until his first solo hit in 1961, Don’t Throw Your Love On Me So Strong.

King really made an impact in 1966 when he signed with Southern soul label Stax Records, where he recorded some of his most famous songs backed by the label’s crew of funky studio aces including Booker T & the MGs. That union yielded relatively daring blues/R&B hybrid classics, including 1967’s Born Under a Bad Sign. His concerts began to fill up with not just blues fans but young rock fans, too. Other hits include Crosscut Saw and Drowning On Dry Land.

In the ’70s, King continued to bridge the increasing gap between the blues, R&B and funk on I’ll Play the Blues for You, where he was backed by the Bar-Kays, and the title track is one of several of his songs to be sampled by hip-hop producers.

As with 2005 inductee Buddy Guy (who listed King as one of the artists who deserved to be inducted before him), King’s music was a huge influence on the 1960s British blues-rockers as well as Jimi Hendrix, Joe Walsh (who performed at King’s funeral in 1993) and Stevie Ray Vaughan, whose early tone and style came directly from the King/Hendrix trick bag of licks.

Presenter: John Mayer. Mayer and Gary Clark Jr. will perform.

Get to know King: Those interested in the funky blues stuff should start with Born Under a Bad Sign or his 1962 album The Big Blues. To hear and see the king in action, check out the CD/DVD In Session, recorded live in a television studio in 1983 with young acolyte Stevie Ray Vaughan.

Quincy Jones

Quincy Jones’ impact on popular music cannot be overstated or easily summarized.

In his six-plus-decade career, he has worked with or helped create pop superstars, jazz legends, award-winning films and television. He produced We Are the World, and a little record that happens to be one of the most popular and best-selling albums in recorded history, Thriller.

Jones began as a jazz trumpeter but health problems forced him to put down the horn and pick up the pen as a composer, arranger and conductor for artists such as (his good buddy) Ray Charles, Frank Sinatra, Lionel Hampton, Dizzy Gillespie, Dinah Washington, Count Basie, Tommy Dorsey and others.

Jones also had hits as a bandleader with Soul Bossa Nova, and his 1981 album The Dude contained the funky Ai No Corrida, and introduced Akron’s James Ingram with the Quiet Storm ballad Just Once.

Jones helped break the glass ceiling for black film composers when director Sidney Lumet asked him to score The Pawnbroker in 1965. He would score more than 30 films, including In Cold Blood (1967), In the Heat of the Night (1967) and The Color Purple (1985). A generation of TV watchers grew up whistling his familiar and funky themes to shows such as Ironsides and Sanford & Son.

In 1977, Jones hooked up with Michael Jackson and they produced three huge records: Jackson’s solo breakthrough Off The Wall, superstar-making Thriller, and Bad, all three of which exceeded 20 million copies sold (Thriller is somewhere between 60 million and 100 million, depending on the source).

In 1989, Jones had another hit album as a leader when he brought together contemporary R&B, gospel, hip-hop and jazz artists for the multigenerational sonic summit Back on the Block, which won seven Grammys, made the Billboard Top 10 and gave the world one damn fine slow jam in The Secret Garden (Sweet Seduction Suite).

Performer: Usher.

Get to know Jones: It’s hard to pick one from 60 years of very varied work, so I’ll break it down.

Producer: Thriller (though I prefer the warm, funky sound and songs of Off The Wall).

Jazz arranger: It Might as Well Be Swing, Frank Sinatra and Count Basie and his Orchestra.

Solo albums: Depends on whether you want the early jazz or the funky soul and pop he made later. Let’s split the difference with the jazz fusion/pop/soul record Smackwater Jack, which has funky tunes such as the title track along with nice versions of Ironsides and Hikky-Burr, the goofy theme to The Bill Cosby Show featuring the man himself.

Malcolm X Abram can be reached at mabram@thebeaconjournal.com or 330-996-3758. Read his blog, Sound Check Online, at www.ohio.com/blogs/sound-check, or follow him on Twitter @malcolmxabram.


© 2014 The Akron Beacon Journal  ●  Ohio.com  ●  Enjoy  ● 44 E. Exchange Street, Akron, Ohio 44308