Media/Entertainment

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame deserves Madonna…

daveclark5.jpg My old pal and bandmate Mike asked me to write a few lines about this, so I will:

This year’s induction group for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (hereafter referred to as the R&R HOF) includes the following:

Leonard Cohen, John Mellencamp, The Dave Clark Five, and The Ventures. Madonna’s been inducted, too, but I’ll get to her in a few….

Let’s look at this group with a purely jaundiced eye (mine) for a few moments, shall we? And let’s NOT look at them as fans but as reasonable, rational creatures who know something about music, the music business, and about the traitor to music horse shit purveyor that is Jann Wenner, chair of the artist selection committee, who manipulates the selection system.

The selection process has long been considered tainted, but I’ll say no more about that for now and simply assess the credentials of these latest inductees in my usual snarkily entertaining way:

Leonard Cohen – Quick! Name a song he wrote beside “Suzanne.” Uh huh. Thought you might have that problem. Should even an intellectuals’ darling who’s really a one hit wonder be in the R&R HOF? Besides, shouldn’t a singer/songwriter be able to sing? I think you know the correct answer…. I mean, Donovan‘s not in, Nick Drake’s not in, and Cohen is?

John Mellencamp – You may not like his work, but it’s uniformly very good – and sporadically it’s great. I’d say he’s an “on the bubble” case….

The Ventures – Since they taught just about every freakin’ kid in America to play guitar, including Mike and me, they get in. Ask anybody over the age of 45 to play “Walk, Don’t Run” or “Pipeline.” You’ll understand pretty quickly what the word “influence” means…. (Surely to God Dick Dale’s already in, right…? RIGHT…?)

The Dave Clark Five – I’m going to make my brother in music Mike go ballistic here – but, NO, they don’t belong. Why? Because if THEY go in, Herman’s Hermits have to go in. Same time period, career arcs almost identical, memorable tuneage equally as poppy and silly. Influence almost equally as non-existent. The Hollies would have been a much more worthy choice. (And why, I wonder, are the Lovin’ Spoonful in when the Hollies aren’t?) Do you want that? Herman’s freakin’ Hermits in the R&R HOF? Do, you, Mike? That’s what I thought…. 😉

Last, but certainly not least, there’s Madonna. Interestingly, the Wikipedia list of R&R HOF inductees calls her an “entertainer.”

madonna.jpg Madonna’s about a lot of stuff – marketing, second/third wave feminism, cultural rebellion, bad acting, self-indulgent children’s books – but she’s NOT, repeat NOT about music. I’d fain to guess that the song most associated with Madonna is “Material Girl.” Think about that for a moment – and decide if that’s what rock and roll means to you.

I feel comfortable saying it’s not.

And that’s why the R&R HOF has become the joke it has become. And why its selection of Madonna is of a piece with what it has become. Because Madonna is about THE BUSINESS, not about THE MUSIC – and she’s going into the R&R HOF because all the assholes of my generation, like Jann Wenner, who didn’t have the talent to write and play THE MUSIC themselves have chosen to make it about nothing but THE BUSINESS.

And so many artists who had the talent have been ignored because it’s easier to manipulate – or, in the case of Madonna, collude with – creatures who are not musical artists but instead are images that can be shilled to line the pockets of guys jealous that the band always got the girls….

So now they’ve taken the worst girl of them all and elevated her to the status of legend.

And they’re bloody well welcome to her….

29 replies »

  1. Okay, list: i’m your man, bird on a wire, dance me to the end of love, hallelujah, everybody knows, sisters of mercy, famous blue raincoat, i could go on… But maybe I’m just an intellectual elitist. Yep, just checked. That’s me. And I like songs with good words, whether or not they’re hits. Or “one-hits.” After all, the entire music industry is so tainted by money and marketing that a song’s popularity can’t possibly be a reliable indicator of its worth. Wait, you just said that.

    As far as singers/songwriters being able to sing… I don’t know. Makes sense. Cohen’s performances of his own songs are never my favorite renditions. Then I think of Tom Waits, Roy Orbison, my beloved Willie Nelson, and you know, I don’t think singing or even musical performance is just about hitting notes in a pretty way. Maybe that’s why the category is called “performers” instead of “people who can sing well.”

    Of course, I don’t really give a rat’s ass about the R&R HOF or what it should be. Mine is not an insider’s or even an aficionado’s view.

    Besides, I know all the words to “Material Girl.”

  2. Two things.

    1: Mellencamp isn’t a bubble case, he’s a slam dunk. On the merits of his work, and CERTAINLY compared to the parade of jackasses they’ve already let in. His work is consistently good, and look at 1980-1987: Nothin’ Matters and What If It Did, American Fool, Uh-Huh, Scarecrow, and The Lonesome Jubilee. That’s one helluva five-record run, you know, and for a couple of records there he was as important as Springsteen. Yes, I said it, and I meant it. Scarecrow was the Midwestern Born to Run, or at least the Midwestern Born in the USA.

    The real issue is whether he should want his legacy tarnished by association with the R&RHoF.

    2: Is Graham Parker in yet? No? Fuck ’em all.

  3. Euphrosyne: Tom Waits can sing – it may be a gravelly blues voice, but the boy can sing! Same for Dylan (at least when he was younger – that twangy tenor of his is the perfect folk singer’s voice – compare him to Woody or Pete Seeger – he stands up just fine).

    Cohen can’t sing for shit. And I’m much more familiar with his work than I let on. Hell, I’m an intellectual, too, remember. 😉 But he doesn’t merit the Hall (or the Hall if it didn’t suck like an Electrolux) – especially not ahead of talents like Nick Drake or hell, even Donovan. Their songwriting stands up to his (Drake’s is uniformly superior) and they could/can both sing.

    Bob Lefsetz has long railed against the Hall’s NYC hipster bias. I’m surprised they let Mellencamp in, good Indiana boy that he is….

    Sam: I don’t disagree that Mellencamp should be in. Hell, I like his work. But he always worked in the shadow of Springsteen and felt slightly imitative of him – you know, in the way that REO Speedwagon was imitative of Steely Dan… 😉 In all seriousness, John’s work is very worthy. I mean, Jesus, they let the freakin’ Bee Gees in….

    And, yes, GP belongs in. And so does Joe Jackson. And Mott the Hoople. And Alice Cooper. And lots of others who’ve been ignored so they could put in the likes of Patti Smith….

  4. I can’t believe I’m doing this, and I expect that you and Sam will hand me my head, but here goes.

    Madonna belongs there. Hate her guts if you want, but she’s influenced a LOT of today’s musicians, especially women. I see Madonna in Gwen Stephani. I see Madonna in Alanis Morisette. And I see Madonna in Brittney (unfortunately), among others I try to avoid listening to whenever possible.

    It strikes me that your complaint is that the HoF has become too money driven. Fair enough – can’t dispute that. But influence on culture and music matters, and Madonna has influenced both, although not always in what we might consider a positive direction.

    Hate Madonna if you want (I’m not a fan of much of her music myself), but if I had to vote on who had earned entry into a real Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, she’d be on my list. Not on top, certainly, but definitely on it.

  5. Woot woot! You go, Nature Boy!

    So Jim, it’s who’s being left out that’s really twanging your strings? Okay, I get that. Maybe they can let Cohen into the songwriter category and duct-tape his mouth shut. And then let Madonna take a bunch of faux BDSM pictures of him for her next literary effort…

    Ew. I just threw up a little in my throat.

  6. Well, it wouldn’t be the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame if we didn’t deride it. That’s what rock is all about. It’s about the rebel kids who flip the bird to the teacher monitoring the school dance. We say “fuck those conformists” and head out to the parking lot and get drunk. Once you’re in the Hall, you’re immediately a parody of your former self.

    Oh, and my beloved Cars and Devo are not yet in the hall, so all is well and right in the world.

    At the current burn rate, the HoF must figure that the industry is churning out four great new bands every year. Or they plan to be irrelevant and/or bankrupt by then. Financially bankrupt, I mean.

  7. Euphrosyne: It’s not just who’s left out – it’s why they get left out. A band like The Hollies gets left out, But CSN (and sometimes Y) get in? As do the Byrds and Buffalo Springfield? When did Graham Nash become less important than Stephen Stills or David Crosby (I’d admit all three are less important than Neil Young.)

    There’s a logic gap there. It’s like The Yardbirds are in and Graham Gouldman (later of 10CC) who wrote their biggest hits – “For Your Love,” “Heart Full of Soul”) isn’t. The selection process makes no freakin’ sense. That’s my real complaint. If you let Cohen in, Laura Nyro, Janis Ian, Gouldman, and other great songwriters have to go in, too.

    Let me further illustrate: Gouldman wrote, in addition to the Yardbirds’ tunes mentioned above, “Bus Stop” and “Look Through any Window” for the Hollies, “Listen, People,” and “No Milk Today” for Herman’s Hermits, and “I’m Not in Love” and “The Things We Do for Love” for 10CC. Not a bad resume for anybody. You’re probably familiar with Nyro’s and Ian’s contributions….

    fikshun: The fact that Devo and The Cars aren’t in and REM and U2 are says a lot about what the HOF “values.” (Ha, Ha, I made a funny. “Values” = $$$$! Ha, Ha….)

    The HOF is already irrelevant. Looks like at least one TunesDay will be devoted to offering everyone the chance to build a REAL R&R Hall of Fame.

    One other point – speaking musician to musician now – we’d both love to be in the HOF and think we’d deserve it – even though we’d dismiss it as horse shit. See you in the parking lot – bring Courvoisier, will ya? 😉

  8. Brian, let me thank you for the softballs. I’ll try to make this hurt as much as possible. 🙂

    Let’s see here, Madonna belongs in the HoF because of Britney, Alanis and Gwen. Hee hee hee. Okay, let me begin by asking you if you noticed the words “Rock & Roll” in the title of that HoF. If so, what do you think they mean?

    I have long argued that Madonna is extremely important, but not for her music. She changed the industry and made it possible for women to step out from behind their svengalis and exert greater control over their careers. That’s a very good thing, and if I’m looking to illustrate her importance on the influence front I’m going to point to the whole damned Lilith Fair instead of the trio you choose.

    So if we’re admitting her as an industry influence, I might actually agree. She kicked some doors down in ways that have benefited the music landscape dramatically.

    But: Britney is one that takes care of herself, can we agree?

    Alanis was an industry put-up job who failed a couple times at being Paula Abdul before somebody finally said “hey, what if we make her an Angry Chick? And maybe nobody will pay attention to what she’s actually singing and realize that her songs are dumber than dirt?” (Apologies to her apologists here, but review the lyrical content of “Isn’t It Ironic,” “It’s Not Fair” and “Hand in My Pocket” and get back to me.) What’s even funnier is this: check her AMG profile: what happened to those records she did before Jagged Little Pill? Here’s the cover of her debut:

    Hmmm. In truth, up until she met Glen Ballard, she was Britney. An even better comparison might be Avril Lavigne. And note this about Ballard, from AM’s AMG profile: “Ballard had previously written Michael Jackson’s hit ‘Man in the Mirror,’ produced Wilson Phillips’ hit debut album, and worked with David Hasselhoff. Despite the duo’s mainstream pop pedigree, they decided to pursue an edgier, alternative rock-oriented direction. The result was Jagged Little Pill, which was released on Maverick Records, Madonna’s label.”

    Things that make you go “hmmmm.”

    Now, about Gwen. Is there a bigger disappointment in the world of music today? I don’t know – let’s watch this and see:

    Long live rock & roll…..

  9. You’re welcome, and thanks for the Lilith Fair reference. IMO, though, Madonna speaks to pop sensibility more than it does to the more self-made women of the Lilith Fair. I would never say that Madonna kicked open doors for women like Tori Amos, Suzanne Vega, or the Indigo Girls, and they’re more in the Lilith vein, IMO.

    But you still mostly bypassed the point I was trying to make.

    Madonna’s influence is hugely important, as you said, and she’s arguably the most popular woman entertainer/musician in recent history. She has regularly reinvented her music, both changing with the times and, again because of her popularity, even driving changes in the music scene (at least, to my less-than-deeply informed eye) herself.

    You once said that greatness was defined by a set of characteristics (over on the 5th Estate perhaps? I couldn’t find the post and comments here). I’d love to hear how you think Madonna stacks up on those characteristics, and why. And I’d like to hear the same thing from Jim, if he’s so inclined.

    When you have a woman whose voice seemed to define popular music for the 1980s, you cannot deny her influence. Her ongoing influence since would not have been possible had she not proven flexible, adaptable, and adroit in both her music and her business sense. In my opinion, those things are why she qualifies for membership in even a real R&R HoF, never mind the one we actually have.

    Heck, her business sense, social conscience, musical adaptability, and sense of culture is right up there with U2 (inducted: 2005).

  10. Jim – In response to your #7 comment above, I’ve got a question for you.

    Since you don’t like the way that inductees are chosen today because it gives too much emphasis on the money an artist has made, what would you prefer instead? How would you change the decision-making process?

  11. Brian, I think you’re sidestepping the key points.

    1: Yes, Madonna mattered a great deal for the Lilith Fair crowd. Not musically, but because she made it possible for women in all phases of the industry – ALL of them – to take control of their careers. Madonna was good for Tori and Sarah McLachlan.

    2: Pop doesn’t equal rock, and popularity doesn’t equal excellence.

    3: Industry relevance doesn’t make you a great performer. Ahmet Ertegun was incredibly important, but not as an artist.

    In sum, if Madonna belongs in the HoF – big if, that – it’s as an industry influence figure ONLY.

  12. 1. Fair enough. The “control your own career” angle was one I hadn’t thought about.

    2. You’re claiming that pop music isn’t rock and roll, right? Why not? What are the characteristics of rock and roll that pop music doesn’t meet?

    Popularity doesn’t equal excellence, but IMO it has to be part of the equation that goes into deciding who’s worthy of a HoF and who isn’t. And yet you, and Jim as well, seem to all but ignoring that. The Beatles and Elvis belong for popularity, influence on later musicians and music at large, and their critical acclaim. Madonna is popular, has had a huge amount of influence, and even some critical acclaim (although it’s certainly more mixed that Elvis or the Beatles), but because her critical acclaim is somehow less than another artist, that automatically excludes her?

    That’s nearly as bad as what Jim’s saying – that the R&R HoF is focused nearly exclusively on the money an artist made.

    Influence matters. Money matters. Ability to put on a good live show matters. Popularity matters. Musical ability matters. Critical acclaim matters. But you seem to be elevating musical ability and critical acclaim onto a altar over all the others, and that’s not right either.

  13. You’re claiming that pop music isn’t rock and roll, right? Why not? What are the characteristics of rock and roll that pop music doesn’t meet?

    Sorry, not going down that rathole. Let me answer this way. Is hip-hop rock and roll? Gospel? Blues? Jazz? Country? R&B?

    How about classical? Is classical distinct from rock? If so, how? And be clear, I’m going to beat you on the head with Emerson’s “Piano Concerto #1” no matter what you say.

    There are boundaries between forms and we can point to interactions along all these boundaries. But we use the terms more or less effectively. If I say to you that Trace Adkins is a country artist, you have an idea of the terrain in which his music dwells.

    Madonna has done some things that were rockish, to be sure, but the main body of her career lies in the realms of techno-dance. I’m not arguing for a radically exclusive definition, but I am arguing that if the term means everything then it means nothing.

    Popularity doesn’t equal excellence, but IMO it has to be part of the equation that goes into deciding who’s worthy of a HoF and who isn’t. And yet you, and Jim as well, seem to all but ignoring that.

    Don’t be silly. We’re not ignoring the role of popularity. We’re merely noting that for the R&RHoF selection committee it has become the ONLY criterion. For me it matters, but less than seven or eight other factors.

    The Beatles and Elvis belong for popularity, influence on later musicians and music at large, and their critical acclaim.

    And if not for their influence, the sheer power of their artistic vision and their massive social influence, they wouldn’t belong in the HoF, either.

    Madonna is popular,

    So was “The Macarena.”

    …has had a huge amount of influence,

    Granted.

    …and even some critical acclaim…

    None as a rock & roll artist. I know you don’t want to face the fact that not all music is rock. If they want to rename the place the Popular Music Hall of Fame this whole discussion goes away completely, doesn’t it? But they didn’t. They used those pesky words – “rock & roll.”

    Influence matters. Money matters. Ability to put on a good live show matters. Popularity matters. Musical ability matters. Critical acclaim matters. But you seem to be elevating musical ability and critical acclaim onto a altar over all the others, and that’s not right either.

    Sorry, but you’re sort of accusing us of doing the precise opposite of what we’re doing. The arguments Jim and I are making are pretty clearly articulated. Somewhere along the way you’ve turned “$$$ shouldn’t be the ONLY criterion” into “popularity shouldn’t matter at all.”

    A comprehensive argument is being made and you’re not going to get very far by cornering a couple small points and suggesting that I’m saying something I never said.

  14. If the artist(s) don’t or didnt play rock and roll then they shouldn’t be nominated. That ends the debate on Madonna…an MTV and media created hack.

  15. I’m arguing for a radically exclusive definition, but I am arguing that if the term means everything then it means nothing.

    No kidding. You’re definition of “rock and roll” is so limiting that I could make an argument that most of the music I’ve ever listened to doesn’t qualify. Madonna doesn’t qualify, but neither does Oingo Boingo or the Brian Setzer Orchistra (both being more big-band revival than rock). Hell’s bells, you’ve so radically limited the term that I’m not even sure if Metallica or Queen or Tori Amos qualifies anymore by your definition, and until your last post, all three were “rock” to me, along with probably 90% of so-called folk musicians in the U.S., people like James Taylor, Simon and Garfunkle/Paul Simon, and bands like Wilco.

    It strikes me that you’re almost, but not quite, calling for a static definition, a pidgeonholing of the form, and denying its ability to evolve. Please tell me I’m mis-reading you.

    Rap isn’t rock, but IMO pop is. As far as I can tell, pop music wouldn’t exist without rock having come first, and it’s not evolved so far as to be its own species like rap, R&B, etc. Stylistically, pop shares enough characteristics with rock that pop music belongs in the same musical bucket, at least as the R&R HoF has defined it.

    You’re going to have a hard time convincing me other wise, too, unless you can at least point me to some description of the similarities/differences between rock and pop, something that you don’t appear to want to do.

    We’re not ignoring the role of popularity. We’re merely noting that for the R&RHoF selection committee it has become the ONLY criterion.

    No, that’s not entirely accurate (both parts of it, actually).

    If the HoF were focused exclusively on popularity, then the list of HoFers would look a lot more like this list (best selling artists world-wide) or this one (best selling artists in the U.S.) than it actually does, and while there’s a lot of crossover between the lists, they’re hardly identical.

    Jim’s original post also put the nail into this coffin – The Dave Clark Five and the Ventures don’t qualify along the “only money matters” line, and Jim said so. Neither of them are exactly mega-artists of the Madonna variety, or even of the John Mellencamp variety so far as I can tell. But Jim also said:

    …she’s going into the R&R HOF because all the assholes of my generation, like Jann Wenner, who didn’t have the talent to write and play THE MUSIC themselves have chosen to make it about nothing but THE BUSINESS.

    That statement is remarkably clear – it’s all about money, and correspondingly about the artist’s popularity. Which makes Jim’s original argument internally contradictory, and as a result your counterclaims are similarly inconsistent.

    None as a rock & roll artist…. They used those pesky words – “rock & roll.”
    And, as I said above, you’re using a definition of “rock and roll” that is so restrictive that I’m not sure I can even recognize it.

  16. No kidding. You’re definition of “rock and roll” is so limiting that I could make an argument that most of the music I’ve ever listened to doesn’t qualify.

    I don’t know about all the music you’ve listened to so I can’t address that. I know what we have talked about in the past, and if that’s representative, then no, you certainly could not make that argument.

    Madonna doesn’t qualify, but neither does Oingo Boingo or the Brian Setzer Orchistra (both being more big-band revival than rock).

    Boingo most certainly does qualify – can’t imagine why you’d think a group playing all those guitars and basses and drums and keys and doing fairly straight-up rock wouldn’t qualify, but it makes me think you’re reaching a bit. BSO employs a big band format, but does a lot of essentially rock music (rockabilly influenced and so on).

    Hell’s bells, you’ve so radically limited the term that I’m not even sure if Metallica or Queen or Tori Amos qualifies anymore by your definition, and until your last post, all three were “rock” to me, along with probably 90% of so-called folk musicians in the U.S., people like James Taylor, Simon and Garfunkle/Paul Simon, and bands like Wilco.

    And now you’re just being silly again. So I have some idea what the heck you’re talking about, would you point to what I said that suggests Queen isn’t a rock band?

    It strikes me that you’re almost, but not quite, calling for a static definition, a pidgeonholing of the form, and denying its ability to evolve. Please tell me I’m mis-reading you.

    Of course you’re misreading me – and you’re trying very hard to do so, which explains your success.

    In truth, nothing I have said here is even a remotely radical argument, and you’re having trouble because you’re trying to position me as having done so.

    Rap isn’t rock, but IMO pop is.

    Rap isn’t rock? Really? But Grand Master Flash is in the HoF. The Red Hot Chili Peppers aren’t rock?

    Now who’s narrowing the definitions?

    And what’s the difference between pop and rock, while we’re at it?

    As far as I can tell, pop music wouldn’t exist without rock having come first, and it’s not evolved so far as to be its own species like rap, R&B, etc. Stylistically, pop shares enough characteristics with rock that pop music belongs in the same musical bucket, at least as the R&R HoF has defined it.

    Brian, what is this pop “style” you’re talking about? Isn’t “pop” short for “popular”? Which is to say, it includes all music that is popular by some broad measure? And if so, doesn’t that mean that pop is an industry definition and not a genre style?

    That statement is remarkably clear – it’s all about money, and correspondingly about the artist’s popularity. Which makes Jim’s original argument internally contradictory, and as a result your counterclaims are similarly inconsistent.

    I think Jim is pointing out that there are some inconsistencies in the system – duh – but that the guiding principle is the business. You seem hellbent on making this an essentialized, all-or-nothing kind of argument. It isn’t, and I’m not sure why you’re wrestling harder with this than I am. I suspect you’re just having a run at a hardcore case of hypothesis testing, and the fact that you’re spending most of your time trying to find holes in our arguments instead of build some kind of cohesive counter-argument is revealing. Which is fine by me.

    Let’s try it a little differently. Why don’t you tell me what you’d exclude from the “rock & roll” tent (aside from rap)? If you don’t like our boundaries, show me where you’d draw them. Also, tell me what kinds of quantitative popularity thresholds you think a performer needs to hit to gain admission to the HoF. How do these sales figures weigh against all the critical factors that Jim and I are insisting on?

  17. You’ve actually gone and made one of my points for me, Sam – the definition of rock & roll that you like is inclusive enough for big-band influenced groups, folk-influence groups, adult alternative, etc. Why not pop music too, or, if you prefer, “techno-dance”?

    I’ll admit that I may be using terms incorrectly, but here’s how I define “pop,” by way of examples that qualify (and, not coincidentally, have stylistic similarities): Madonna, the Bee Gees, Celine Dion, Fleetwood Mac, October Project, Paul Simon, The Thompson Twins, Paula Abdul, Starship, Corey Hart, Pet Shop Boys, some Billy Joel, some Elton John, Toto, Gloria Estafan, some REM, lots of David Bowie, Cher, Phil Collins.

    Things that are “popular” that aren’t Pop in any way include, again by way of example: Metallica, The Doors, Def Leppard, Pearl Jam, Nirvana, Pink Floyd, the Beatles, Rolling Stones, Big Head Todd and the Monsters, Dave Matthews Band, Queen, The Eagles, The Clash, The Who, Depeche Mode, Jethro Tull, Greatful Dead, Red Hot Chili Peppers.

    Now, you know what “official” styles the various artists I’ve listed belong to – you tell me what most of them fit in. To me, though, both lists are “rock & roll.”

    Let me put this whole definitional argument into a form that hopefully explains better where I’m coming from. When R&R was new, it was pretty well isolated from R&B, Gospel, etc, and styles like goth, industrial, techno, metal, and adult alternative simply didn’t exist. Rock was reasonably homogeneous. In the decades since, though, R&R has gone from being a single, largely distinct genre, to a family of genres under which goth, pop, industrial et al reside. It’s very similar to the taxonomic differences in the biological tree of life (plants, animals, fungi). Comparing classical vs. R&R is like comparing a reptile to a mammal – they’re both animals, both have bones and a spinal cord, but one lays eggs and has scales, while the other has fur and lactates.

    However, comparing R&R against punk or pop is pointless, because they’re both within the R&R family tree. And at this point, R&R of the Beatles/Who/Stones variety has become another sub-genre in the R&R taxonomic tree.

    It appears to me that the definition part of this argument depends entirely on whether you believe that the sub-genres that have evolved off R&R also qualify as R&R or not. You seem to be claiming that they don’t, but I feel they do. At the moment, the R&R HoF also feels that they do too.

    My biggest complaint about yours and Jim’s argument isn’t that there’s been some hyperbole and exaggeration, but rather that you seem to want the HoF to follow your personal definitions of greatness. And in your definitions, popular appeal and income have been reduced in importance below other factors like critical acclaim, musical ability, etc. I have to ask, though – what gives you the right to declare that the HoF should used your personal criteria instead of theirs?

    There’s no doubt in my mind that, if you and Jim had your way, the HoF would have a radically different composition than it does today. But if the HoF inductees are actually voted on by a reasonably large group of so-called experts, then it’s fair to bet that the HoF would look a lot different if any two of them were exclusively responsible for choosing the inductees.

    This is why I’m looking forward to Jim’s suggestions on how he’d change the selection process – it strikes me that it’s reasonably fair already, given that inductees are voted on by a large group of “experts.” How he’d suggest making it more fair will be an interesting read.

  18. You’ve actually gone and made one of my points for me, Sam – the definition of rock & roll that you like is inclusive enough for big-band influenced groups, folk-influence groups, adult alternative, etc. Why not pop music too, or, if you prefer, “techno-dance”?

    Let me answer you thusly. In Brianland Celine Dion is not only a rock and roll artist, she’s a hall of famer (massive popularity, right?) Amy Grant. Jessica Simpson. C+C Music Factory. I can go on.

    On what grounds would you exclude any of them? If you can, then you prove my point. If you can’t, then you acknowledge my earlier point that a term that includes everything means nothing.

    I’ll admit that I may be using terms incorrectly, but here’s how I define “pop,” by way of examples that qualify (and, not coincidentally, have stylistic similarities): Madonna, the Bee Gees, Celine Dion, Fleetwood Mac, October Project, Paul Simon, The Thompson Twins, Paula Abdul, Starship, Corey Hart, Pet Shop Boys, some Billy Joel, some Elton John, Toto, Gloria Estafan, some REM, lots of David Bowie, Cher, Phil Collins.

    These artists are all pop in that they’re popular. Some are clearly rock artists while others aren’t.

    Now, you know what “official” styles the various artists I’ve listed belong to – you tell me what most of them fit in. To me, though, both lists are “rock & roll.”

    If Paula Abdul, Cher, Celine and Gloria Estefan are rock and roll in your book, then I can’t help you. Seriously, at some point it becomes clear that we don’t share any assumptions at all. In your world the term “rock and roll” has no meaning at all. It seems to be the same thing as the word “music,” and given what you have now done I don’t see how you can exclude any style from your definition.

    Round up all the people who agree with you. Stand in the middle of them. Talk to them for awhile about music. Look around. Then get back to me. 🙂

    Let me put this whole definitional argument into a form that hopefully explains better where I’m coming from. When R&R was new, it was pretty well isolated from R&B…

    Ummm, you’re kidding, right?

    Rock was reasonably homogeneous. In the decades since, though, R&R has gone from being a single, largely distinct genre, to a family of genres under which goth, pop, industrial et al reside.

    Agreed. But it has not grown into a term that encompasses everything.

    It appears to me that the definition part of this argument depends entirely on whether you believe that the sub-genres that have evolved off R&R also qualify as R&R or not. You seem to be claiming that they don’t, but I feel they do. At the moment, the R&R HoF also feels that they do too.

    Of course sub-genres belong. But not everything you hear on the radio is a sub-genre. To use your analogy, putting Madonna into the R&RHoF is like putting an alligator into the mammal hall of fame.

    My biggest complaint about yours and Jim’s argument isn’t that there’s been some hyperbole and exaggeration, but rather that you seem to want the HoF to follow your personal definitions of greatness. And in your definitions, popular appeal and income have been reduced in importance below other factors like critical acclaim, musical ability, etc. I have to ask, though – what gives you the right to declare that the HoF should used your personal criteria instead of theirs?

    No, Brian, we want the HoF to follow critically defensible criteria on genre and merit. Not what I think, but what an informed swath of critically informed students of music think. (And I don’t mean indusrty whores here.) They can have their HoF based on their standards and criteria – kinda like the Grammies, which get more ludicrous with each passing year – and that’s fine.

    Ultimately, all arguments of this sort are really arguments about criteria. If we can agree on those, the rest falls into place pretty neatly. Jann and his band of money-sucking roadwhores have a set of criteria that are pretty clear – they don’t care about any kind of meaningful definition of “rock and roll” and business concerns trump critical ones. Fine – they are what they are and we all know what they are.

    There’s no doubt in my mind that, if you and Jim had your way, the HoF would have a radically different composition than it does today.

    Also, the sun rose in the east this morning.

    But if the HoF inductees are actually voted on by a reasonably large group of so-called experts, then it’s fair to bet that the HoF would look a lot different if any two of them were exclusively responsible for choosing the inductees.

    Again, criteria. So let me get all my cards on the table, because I by god do have criteria. Well-articulated ones, too. I developed the stuff below when I was working up my Best CDs of the ’90s post a few years back. Agree or don’t, but have you worked your evaluation principles out to this degree?

    ____________

    1: Social Relevance (Art as Social Document). A great album should in some way affect or impact the social/cultural context. Whether it provides insightful comment on the political issues of the day, stands as a monument to a moment in time, or even spurs members of the culture to some kind of important action, the greatest of albums are more than music – they’re cultural landmarks.

    2: Artistic/Lyrical Substance (Art as Art). A great album should offer artistic substance in something approximating a “traditional” fashion, even if that substance is more personal than social. Perhaps the lyrics are accomplished imagistically in the same way the finest poetry is, or maybe they tell compelling stories; maybe the musicianship is innovative and groundbreaking and so splendid that it ranks among the finest performances ever; or perhaps the totality of the work allows the artist to accomplish something that words or music alone couldn’t capture. Rock is a fun form, but at its best it uses its popular platform to do the kinds of things great art has always done.

    3: Influence. Great art begets great art. The greatest albums/CDs are ones which influence and inspire other musicians to greatness, and as such their import extends well past the direct impact they have on audiences. So when many brilliant recording artists point to a common influence, a greatest albums list would do well to include that influence.

    4: Musically Engaging. Lyrics often provide the depth, but the music itself is the hook. While everybody perhaps has a different idea of what’s hip and listenable, almost nobody sits through music which doesn’t appeal to their sense of “catchiness.” Well, duh. Maybe this goes without saying, but I thought I’d say it anyway.

    5: The Artist. Greatness is about context. Albums are the products of all sorts of factors, and one of the most critical is the context of the creator. It’s no accident that most great albums are produced by people we consider to be great artists. As such, if we’re faced with something like a hypothetical tie between album A and album B, the notion that album A was created by, say, The Beatles ought to be a consideration if album B were the one great shot by an otherwise undistinguished artist.

    6: Critical Response. Just because a famous critic liked it doesn’t make it great, necessarily, but we’re engaged in some small way with a larger, longer cultural dialogue over art, music, and the socio-political dimensions thereof. It’s valuable to occasionally engage the thoughts of our peers. Maybe we agree, maybe they guide us, or maybe we decide that they’re morons, but they represent another context which we’re better off being familiar with.

    7: Innovativeness. The greatest art changes art. Artists who come after are forced to consider the way in which the genre is different, and in doing so find that their own work is changed, hopefully for the better.

    8: Popularity. And we’re well-advised to go in fear of this one, because sales and airplay do NOT equate to quality. That said, a work’s ability to resonate with many people matters. A critically accomplished album that somehow fails to engage an audience is arguably less great than a similarly accomplished album that sells 20 million copies and lodges itself in the public consciousness for decades.

    One note as to what I think is NOT a fair criteria: personal taste. This is a bit ingenious, I admit, because nobody can listen to everything, and we’re necessarily limited to what we hear. So I acknowledge that my taste dictates, sometimes to a large degree, the things I will hear and the things I will not hear. I’m FAR more likely to hear the latest from a dreampop/space rock band than I am the latest from a “jam” band like Phish. That said, I don’t listen to Phish because I have a good idea what to expect and my list of relevant criteria tends to place lesser value on the things they’re best at and higher importance on the things they’re not very good at (or very concerned with).

    If I’m wrong to do this, we can have that argument later. I’m just ‘fessing up in advance.

    That said, my “greatest” and “favorite” lists might overlap on a maximum of 50% of the discs included in a particular project, and in my annual list of Best CDs of the Year, I have only named my favorite disc of the year #1 once. On the forthcoming Best of the ‘90s list I can tell you in advance that over half of the Top 20 wouldn’t be on my “favorite discs of the ‘90s” list. So I’m not perfect, but I’m trying very hard to separate my taste from my critical function, to the extent that is possible.

    So, how does this relate to the Best o’ 90s? Well, it does change things. When evaluating stuff from the past year you can pay more attention to criteria that deal with direct artistic merit – songwriting, performance issues, etc. But it’s hard, if not impossible, to do justice to longer-view criteria like “social relevance” or artistic influence because you simply haven’t had time to tell how important a work is going to be.

    However, when analyzing a decade (or longer period) those “big” categories become a lot more important. As the clock approaches 2000 we sort of DO know what defined the decade (at least we have a decent idea – who knows WHAT historians might think 50 years from now?) So in assessing my best of the decade I’ll be a little less concerned with the criteria that dictated what I had to say when these same records were first released and more concerned with the longer view.

    Of course, as I have said a thousand times before, there’s no formula, and some things on the list might not have been especially famous or defining in an obvious way, and when that happens I’ll try to explain why I rated it as I did.

  19. Darrell: I’m happy for Reznor and will at some point grab the record. He’s smart and innovative, and may the gods be with him.

    Of course, it’s easier for you to do this kind of thing when you’re established and have millions of fans already. A lot of bands have given their CDs away free with less success than, oh, say, Radiohead…..

  20. I’m not arguing that you have criteria for greatness, Sam, nor am I arguing that you have a right to your opinion, or even that you’re qualified to have an informed opinion. I’m arguing that your informed opinion isn’t any more “correct” than any other informed opinion just because it’s yours. And you haven’t proven to me that all the HoF critics who vote on who gets in and who doesn’t are, as you say, “industry whores”. In fact, I suspect that there are a number of critics in the HoF selection group who believe pretty strongly in the same criteria, even in the same order, that you do.

    If you have information that supports your argument that the majority of R&R HoF selection group are, in fact, “industry whores,” then you haven’t presented it – it’s certainly not self-apparent to me. And as with several of our disagreements in the past, just because something is immediately clear to you doesn’t make it clear to the rest of the planet. You’re making a pretty heavy-duty claim here, one that I was willing to let slide for a while, but not any longer. Show me proof or stop making unsupportable claims, Sam. I’ll happily admit to my being wrong if you can prove I am.

    You’re ignoring the thrust of my analogy, Sam – Abdul et al are rock & roll because they’re direct-line descendants of “classic rock & roll”. Rock & roll as a style is somewhere below “music” at the top of the taxonomy, but well above the genres or sub-genres of “easy listening”, adult alternative, hard rock, metal, goth, industrial, etc. All of which are also generically rock & roll for the same reason.

    Ultimately, while all of those genres are generically “rock & roll”, what you’ve chosen to refer to as “rock & roll” for a HoF is arbitrary according to your own views, however well informed. You’re arbitrarily excluding Cher or Abdul because they don’t fit your decision of how far up the rock & roll family tree you want to prune off for definitional purposes. But you haven’t bothered to explain your reasoning for why you’ve chosen to prune where you have. I can easily see either declaring “rock & roll” as one tiny sub-genre of the greater “rock & roll” family tree or as the entire tree. What I’d like to know is why you’ve apparently chosen neither of those options – and why the HoF hasn’t either, for that matter. You’re both choosing something in the middle of the tree, which makes no sense to me.

  21. I’m not arguing that you have criteria for greatness, Sam, nor am I arguing that you have a right to your opinion, or even that you’re qualified to have an informed opinion. I’m arguing that your informed opinion isn’t any more “correct” than any other informed opinion just because it’s yours.

    Can you point to where I said this? Because I can point to where I said the exact opposite.

    And you haven’t proven to me that all the HoF critics who vote on who gets in and who doesn’t are, as you say, “industry whores”. In fact, I suspect that there are a number of critics in the HoF selection group who believe pretty strongly in the same criteria, even in the same order, that you do.

    I believe a look at some of the decisions this august body has made demonstrates clearly that such people are a distinct voting minority. Let’s steer clear of words like “all” if we can. As I noted a couple exchanges back, you’re using these kinds of extreme frames to position me as saying things I never said in my life.

    You’re making a pretty heavy-duty claim here, one that I was willing to let slide for a while, but not any longer. Show me proof or stop making unsupportable claims, Sam. I’ll happily admit to my being wrong if you can prove I am.

    This is a nice sidestep, but I can’t help noting that you have again not addressed some of the key issues put before you. You act as though you’re the inquisitor and I have an obligation to answer all questions to your satisfaction (despite the fact that you’re clearly in no mood to be persuaded, no matter what is said). But this isn’t my final exam in Rockology and you aren’t the head of my committee. It’s a conversation of some give and take, and you’ve so far been patently unwilling to address the very kinds of questions you insist that I answer. There are some interesting questions on the table about where YOU draw the lines, about YOUR criteria for exclusion, and so on.

    My claims aren’t unsupportable. The ones you have attributed to me are absolutely ludicrous, though.

    You’re ignoring the thrust of my analogy, Sam – Abdul et al are rock & roll because they’re direct-line descendants of “classic rock & roll”.

    Incorrect. Abdul is, if anything, a direct descendent of traditional R&B, a genre that predated and helped shape a wing of rock and roll. Humans and chimps have a common ancestor, but that doesn’t make mean that somehow men are a subset of chimps.

    Rock & roll as a style is somewhere below “music” at the top of the taxonomy, but well above the genres or sub-genres of “easy listening”, adult alternative, hard rock, metal, goth, industrial, etc. All of which are also generically rock & roll for the same reason.

    I hope you’re better at biological taxonomy than you are the musical variety. 🙂 Easy listening is not – never has been – a sub-genre of rock. Easy listening as we know it today derives from MOR – middle of the road – a style that substantially preceded rock and roll. Some AA derives from rock, but it’s better understood as a hybrid of MOR, perhaps jazz, in some cases R&B, etc.

    In other words, many of the things you’re trying to pretend are rock and roll are demonstrably part of a separate line and could have evolved into something like their present state even if rock had never occurred.

    You’re starting to sound like a guy who’s never heard any music from the ’50s or before except rock, because you’re making some faulty assumptions of fact.

  22. And here we have the perfect example of why Mrs. E will forever avoid the upper reaches of academia… endless disputation over classification, definition, taxonomy, qualification and the fencing in of something which is intrinsically fluid. I’m not saying there’s no value in the process, but given the finite quality of human life, I would rather spend my limited time speeding through the hills in my little car, with the top down, belting out Pretty Hate Machiine and reliving my misspent youth.

    You guys can figure it out.

  23. I applaud Mrs. E on her mission of Academia Avoidance. I remember too many days when my attempts at same went a lot like Rodney King’s LAPD avoidance.

    Truth is, if I hit the Powerball there’s going to be a convertible with a nice stereo and everything Reznor ever recorded on the iPod. Of course, I’ll have to have some change-up music in there, as well. Something like Sam Cooke….

  24. It’s a conversation of some give and take, and you’ve so far been patently unwilling to address the very kinds of questions you insist that I answer.

    Admitted, and guilty as charged. But since you’ve been avoiding some of my questions as well, I felt turnabout was fair play. For example, you declined to put Madonna up against those characteristics you delineated in your last post, instead focusing on whether she qualified as “rock & roll” instead.

    I’m not going to attempt to delineate specific genres, as you had asked, because frankly I don’t have the detailed background in music that you and Jim do. I actually trust both of your critical faculties in that regard, contrary to how it might seem during this discussion. Just as an example, I’ve never even heard of MOR, so I can’t dispute what you say about easy listening any more than I could confirm it.

    My criteria for exclusion, if I could ever convince myself to choose one, would be as I said in my last email – either all descendants of original R&R, or just the most narrow of definitions. Which means (assuming I’ve got the family relationship right, which I may not) that it would either include punk, metal, industrial, and techno or it would be JUST groups like Queen, the Stones, Dave Matthews, and Rusted Root – no grunge, no metal, no punk. One of the two, but I’m not qualified which one to choose.

    I’m arguing that your informed opinion isn’t any more “correct” than any other informed opinion just because it’s yours.

    Can you point to where I said this? Because I can point to where I said the exact opposite.

    After looking back again, I concede this point. My apologies. I’m still curious how you’d go about ensuring that an “informed swath of critically informed students of music” wouldn’t be “industry whores,” but maybe Jim will give us something along those line in his TunesDay post.

    As far as Paula Abdul being a descendant of R&B, I guess that I’d never thought about that. Considering that I have limited ability to determine the difference between R&B and R&R, I suppose that’s not too surprising. I can usually tell big differences (or at least what I consider to be big differences), things like blues vs. jazz vs. country vs. rock&roll, but R&B sounds like its the same as R&R to me. From what little I know about their history, they both come from the same roots, which is probably why they’re so similar to my ear.

  25. Madonna in no way deserves to be in the hall of fame for rock and roll because obviously…her music isn’t rock and roll. It’s going to be harder now, though, to get artists who deserve to be in the hall of fame who can actually make good, original music. How Oingo Boingo hasn’t managed to get into the hall of fame i haven’t got a clue at all.
    It seems as if it’s all just a popularity contest now, not good music with good meaning.
    Oingo Boingo is the biggest contender to go in, yes i’ll keep going on and on about Oingo i can go all day because they deserve it. The originality of their music is great and how they basically started ska music, a pretty big genre if you haven’t noticed. Also lyric wise, Danny Elfman strikes gold with songs like “Who Do You Want To Be?” and “Sweat”, yet because these songs basically make fun of people who just care about popularity, they fail to make it because Madonna has a nice ass and knows how to put on a push-up bra.