By Dennis Hartley
(Originally posted on Digby’s Hullabaloo on October 19, 2019)
The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame has announced their 16 nominees for 2020, 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 11). Just remember kids…it’s only rock ‘n’ roll. So relax.
The nominees: Notorious B.I.G., Whitney Houston, Pat Benatar, Dave Matthews Band, Depeche Mode, the Doobie Brothers, Judas Priest, Kraftwerk, MC5, Motörhead, Nine Inch Nails, Rufus featuring Chaka Khan, Todd Rundgren, Soundgarden, T. Rex, and Thin Lizzy.
As usual, the Hall plays fast and loose with the definition of “rock and roll”, but there you have it. This year is a tough one; I’ve already lobbied previously for 4 of this year’s returning nominees (Judas Priest, Kraftwerk, MC5, and Todd Rundgren) and I am pushing for 2 of them again because they are way overdue. However, I am limited to 5 selections, so 3 of my picks are from among the 9 first-time nominees (just for the record, Soundgarden and Motörhead were my runner-ups from that “first-time nominee” pool).
The Doobie Brothers – Yes, I was just as surprised as you that this band wasn’t already in the Hall of Fame; one would think this is a shoo-in. They’ve been around 50 years, sold 40 million albums, and have been a staple artist on classic rock stations for decades.
There were two distinct iterations of the band’s “sound” in the course of their most productive years; the Tom Johnston era (1970-1975), and the Michael McDonald era (1975-1982). Johnston steered the band into rock-country-blues-R&B territory, and McDonald added his patented “blue-eyed soul” and jazz-pop leanings to the mix when he replaced Johnston as front man. Regardless of who was at the helm, their brand has consistently stood for well-crafted songs, tight live shows and outstanding musicianship.
Best 3 albums: Toulouse Street (1972), The Captain and Me (1973), and Takin’ It to the Streets (1976).
Kraftwerk (6th nomination…yes, SIXTH…c’mon already!) – 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 who were able 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 in their early days. They’re not laughing now, as Kraftwerk’s influence still flourishes in rock, hip-hop and club music.
Best 3 albums: Autobahn (1974), Trans-Europe Express (1977), and Computer World (1981).
Todd Rundgren (2nd nomination) – It’s shocking to me that the Hall waited until last year to nominate Todd; he had my vote (it didn’t take…they never listen to me). After all, he’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).
Thin Lizzy – If the Hall wishes to uphold the integrity of the “rock” in their namesake, they’ll do the right thing and induct this first-time nominee into its ranks, pronto. Founded in Dublin, Ireland in 1969, this hard-rocking outfit was led by charismatic vocalist/bassist Phil Lynott until his untimely death in 1986.
They had a revolving door of guitarists…but what players: including Eric Bell, the late great Gary Moore, and the classic dual-guitar lineup of Scotsman Brian Robertson and American import Scott Gorham.
“Thin Lizzy Classic” pretty much died with Lynott’s passing, but the band has continued to tour in various iterations, bolstered by a strong song catalog and high-energy performances. I saw them with Deep Purple in Seattle back in 2004, and they still have it!
Best 3 albums: Vagabonds of the Western World (1973), Jailbreak (1976) and Johnny the Fox (1976)
T. Rex – Another first-time nominee that seems like a no-brainer. Originally formed as the duo Tyrannosaurus Rex in 1967, songwriter-lead vocalist-guitarist Marc Bolan and percussionist/obvious Tolkien fan Steve Peregrin Took (aka Steve Porter) put out several albums of acoustic Donovan-style psychedelia before going electric, adding personnel and shortening the band name to T. Rex in 1970 (and never looking back).
Bolan’s unique coupling of hard-driving power chord boogie with pan-sexual stage attire turned a lot of heads in 1970, eventually making him the (literal) poster boy for what came to be labelled as “glam-rock” (although, to my ears Bolan’s songs remained strongly rooted in traditional Chuck Berry riffs and straight-ahead blues-rock…albeit chockablock with playfully enigmatic and absurdist lyrics). With his prolific songwriting, charismatic stage presence and guitar chops, Bolan was like David Bowie and Mick Ronson rolled into one. T. Rex had a marked influence on punk-rock, New Romantic and Goth. Induct now!
Best 3 albums: Electric Warrior (1971), The Slider (1972) and Tanx (1973).