By Dennis Hartley
The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame has announced their 15 nominees for 2019, which must be weeded down to 5 for the next induction. Once again, I will dutifully fulfill my mission as an alleged pop culture critic and argue for my 5 picks (while hopefully not enraging fans of the remaining 10). Just remember kids…it’s only rock ‘n’ roll. Relax.
The Hall’s nominees are: Def Leppard, Devo, Janet Jackson, John Prine, Kraftwerk, LL Cool J, MC5, Radiohead, Rage Against the Machine, Roxy Music, Rufus featuring Chaka Khan, Stevie Nicks, The Cure, The Zombies (who I already endorsed last year) and Todd Rundgren. So here’s who I feel should be in the clique…and why:
Devo – Yes, that retro-futurist band with two Bobs and two sets of brothers who made vaguely unsettling videos you could dance to…they must be inducted immediately. They emerged straight outta Akron in 1973, and they were…different. It took them a spell to find an audience, as they initially leaned more toward arch performance art than conventional musicality. Yet they turned out to be quite musical; and with benefit of hindsight, unarguably visionary.
Best 3 albums: Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo! (1978), Freedom of Choice (1980), and New Traditionalists (1981).
Kraftwerk – In terms of innovation and lasting influence, this German “krautrock” outfit (founded 1970) holds the most import of my 5 selections. While not necessarily the first band to embrace electronica, they were among the first to seamlessly forge the technology with pop sensibilities. Eschewing traditional guitar-bass-drum backup for synths, vocoders, and drum machines, Kraftwerk upped the ante with self-consciously detached, metronomic vocals that caused many to snicker and dismiss the band as a novelty act. They’re not laughing now, as Kraftwerk’s influences continue to flourish in rock, hip-hop and club music.
Best 3 albums: Autobahn (1974), Trans-Europe Express (1977), and Computer World (1981).
MC5 – Granted, they may not be as musically innovative as others who are enshrined in the Hall of Fame, but if you consider “attitude” a key component of rock and roll, these Detroit-based rockers had it in spades. Call it what you will, proto-punk, garage, psych…they were loud, fast, and aggressive long before it was fashionable. In fact, they scared the living shit out of the mellow peace love and dope crowd at the time. Perhaps most notably, they were boldly outspoken and overtly political (which got them into a lot of trouble during the Nixon years), paving the way for activist bands like The Clash, Rage Against the Machine, Public Enemy, System of a Down, and Green Day. This is the fourth time they have been nominated…if there has ever been a time to kick out the jams, it’s NOW, motherfuckers!
Best 3 albums: Kick Out the Jams (1969), Back in the USA (1970), and High Time (1971).
Roxy Music – This English outfit (founded in 1970) had very strange optics for its time. They looked like a hastily assembled jam band comprised of space rockers, 50s greasers, hippie stoners, and goths, fronted by a stylishly continental 30s crooner. But the music they made together was magic. It also defied categorization and begged a question; do we file it under glam, prog, pop or art-rock? The answer is “yes”. They were a huge influence on art punk and new wave, and even their earliest music still sounds freshly original. Let ’em in!
Best 3 albums: Roxy Music (1972), Siren (1975), and Avalon (1982).
Todd Rundgren – It’s shocking to me that the Hall has waited this long to nominate Rundgren, who’s been in the biz for over 50 years (and is still going strong). He is a true rock and roll polymath; a ridiculously gifted singer-songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, and record producer extraordinaire. He is also a music video and multimedia pioneer. Granted, his mouth gets him into trouble on occasion (he is from Philly you know), and he does have a rep for insufferable perfectionism in the studio-but the end product is consistently top shelf (including acclaimed albums by Badfinger, The New York Dolls, Meatloaf, The Tubes, Psychedelic Furs, and XTC). Whether he’s performing pop, psych, metal, prog, R&B, power-pop, electronica or lounge, he does it with flair. A wizard and a true star.
Best 3 albums: Something/Anything? (1972), Todd (1974) and Faithful (1976).