By Dennis Hartley
While I abhor the concept of tossing creative artists into the gladiatorial pit (art, prose, poetry, music and film are not competitive sports), my sworn duties as a pop culture critic occasionally require me to add my two cents worth of bread, in regard to such circuses.
The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame has announced their 15 nominees: The Cars, Chic, Chicago, Cheap Trick, Deep Purple, Janet Jackson, The J.B.s, Chaka Khan, Los Lobos, Steve Miller, Nine Inch Nails, N.W.A., The Smiths, The Spinners, and Yes. Worthy artists all, but (this is what I hate about “contests”) how do I justify my 5 picks (the Hall’s yearly limit for new inductees) without seeming to denigrate the rest? By doing my job and plowing forward (alphabetically):
- Cheap Trick– The “newest” artists on my list stormed out of the gate in 1977 taking names and kicking ass as the missing link between the Beatles and punk. While they could be seen as direct descendants of melodic power pop pioneers like Big Star and The Move, they weren’t afraid to turn the Marshalls up to “11” and rage like balls-to-the-wall rockers . I think that’s why they’re one of those rare bands (like AC/DC and The Ramones) that metal, punk, new-wave, alternative and pop fans can all get together on. And if you ever get a chance to see them live…do not pass it up!
Best 3 albums: Cheap Trick, In Color, Heaven Tonight
2. Chicago– While I’m not fond of their schmaltzy (if chart-topping) descent into “adult contemporary” territory from the 80s onward, there is no denying the groundbreaking nature of those incredible first three double albums Chicago Transit Authority (1969), Chicago II and Chicago III (what I call their “Roman Numeral Period”). Those early albums were (for the time) a bold fusion of hard rock, blues, soul, jazz, and Latin styles, fueled by the late great Terry Kath’s fiery guitar and accentuated by a tight horn section. Not to mention an impressive catalog of radio hits over the years. Let ’em in, already!
Best 3 albums: Chicago Transit Authority, Chicago II, Chicago III
3. Deep Purple– It’s criminal that this seminal hard rock outfit hasn’t been ushered into the pantheon yet. They’ve been around since the late 60s, and had a major influence on the genre. There were many lineup changes over the decades (chiefly involving lead vocalists and lead guitarists), but the quality and power of their music never faltered. The most well-known lineup featured one of rock’s great screamers, Ian Gillian on lead vocal, and maestro of the whammy bar Ritchie Blackmore on guitar. Ian Paice (drums), Roger Glover (bass) and Jon Lord (keyboards) completed the classic team. I must mention the worthy contribution of the excellent (if less-heralded) 1975 Purple lineup that produced Come Taste the Band, featuring the late great Tommy Bolin (guitar), Glenn Hughes (vocals and bass), and future Whitesnake front man David Coverdale (lead vocals).
Best 3 albums: In Rock , Machine Head, Come Taste the Band
4. The Spinners– I was also a bit gobsmacked to learn that these guys have not already been inducted. For god’s sake, they’ve been around for nearly 50 years, and should be considered (at the very least) as the godfathers of “smooth groove”. Their classic period was the 70s, when they became the ambassadors for the “Philadelphia Sound” through their fruitful collaboration with songwriter-producer Thom Bell. If “I’ll Be Around”, “Could it Be I’m Falling in Love”, “Games People Play”, or “The Rubberband Man” comes on the radio while I’m in my car, I’ll still crank it up without hesitation and sing along at the top of my lungs (with my windows rolled up…as a public service).
Best 3 albums: Spinners, Mighty Love, Pick of the Litter
5. Yes– Long before MTV (or YouTube), my teenage self would while away many hours listening to Yes with a good set of cans, staring at Roger Dean’s art, envisioning my own music videos (special effects courtesy of the joint that I rolled on the inside of the convenient gatefold sleeve). Good times (OP sighs, takes moment of silence to reflect on a life tragically misspent). Anyway, why this band hasn’t been inducted yet is beyond me. Complex compositions informed by deeply layered textures, impeccable musicianship, heavenly harmonies, topped off by Jon Anderson’s ethereal vocals; an embodiment of all that is good about progressive rock (I know the genre has its detractors, to whom I say…”You weren’t there, man!”). R.I.P. bassist/vocalist Chris Squire, who we sadly lost this year.
Best 3 albums: The Yes Album, Fragile, Close to the Edge