Everyone knows that giving awards for art typically results in disaster. Just look at all the great movies that never won Best Picture or all the Grammys Led Zepppelin never received. But the voting for the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame is particularly infuriating because of an apparent contradiction in the Hall's voting criteria.
Most students of Rock (who aren't trying desperately to seem cool or be a contrarian) will tell you that The Beatles are the greatest band of all time. (Don't worry Rolling Stones fans, the Stones are still the best band named after a Muddy Waters lyric, featuring a tongue logo). There are two reasons The Beatles are held in such high esteem: having created about 50 timeless pop/rock gems in the few short years they were recording music, they established themselves as some of the finest songwriters in history; and despite their success, they strived constantly to grow as artists, putting forth a new sound with each cohesive album. It was The Beatles who introduced the idea of rock albums as works of art -- something to be anticipated, analyzed and cherished like a new Fitzgerald novel or Eugene O'Neill play.
And much like The Great Gatsby, their art could be turned into a highly flawed movie.
You would think the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame would appreciate those traits. After all, not only did they induct The Beatles, they also entered three out of four of The Beatles and their producer as individual artists. But here's the thing. Despite all this Beatles reverence, the Hall apparently hates all the influence that flows from The Beatles. There are many ways to make the Hall, but being an impeccable songwriter and/or releasing distinct concept albums, each employing its own sound and style is NOT the best path.
The Hall far prefers you to have a unique voice or imaage instead of an earnest and impressive body of work. How else could it induct flash-in-the-pan icons Percy Sledge, Guns n' Roses, and The Sex Pistols while ignoring the following careers? By the way, the entries below are not the only entrees that belong in the Hall, but they are five of the best names for showing the Hall hates artists who place their emphasis on craftsmanship and musical growth over rehashing their one iconic moment.
#5. The Cars
There are many bands who, like The Beatles, worried first and foremost about the song. Bands like Squeeze and XTC, where the songs were the star, not the frontman. But for this entry, after much deliberation, I'm going with The Cars. In the relatively short time they produced music, the Cars put out a string of pop rock staples: "Just What I Needed," "You're All I Got Tonight," "Let The Good Times Roll," "You Might Think" and many more.
At a time when music was broken into factions of New Wave and Punk, the cars found a way to merge the two. And while the band had a distinctive sound due to Ric Ocasek's (and occasionally, Benjamin Orr's) plaintive vocals, catchy harmonies, and Greg Hawkes' keyboards, the reason they rose above all other early 80s synth bands was due to the strength of solid, infectious songwriting. Sure they defined a way of using synths in pop music, but have you listened to just how good Elliot Easton's guitar solos are? Always immaculate and pushing at the edges of polished pop without overstepping its bounds. And unlike so much of early 80s pop consisting of static canned beats, The Cars had a rhythm section that was really interesting.
Even though they were an accomplished band, fully capable of recreating their sound live, they were never afraid to let the song take center stage, making it almost appropriate that they appeared as mannequins in one of their biggest hits Drive
This is actually live footage.
Thank you, Cars, for letting your songs speak for themselves. And the Hall thanks you too. but in the form a colossal and undeserved, "Drop dead."
#4. Jethro Tull
No one would call The Beatles progressive rock. I mean, they barely have any songs about magical mice. But The Beatles did pioneer the idea of albums as cohesive bodies of work and the "concept album" is the hallmark of the progressive rock that followed. It's pretty clear the Hall absolutely despises prog rock. With the massive exception of Pink Floyd, there's none to be found there. (Sure, you say Genesis, but without pop crap like Invisible Touch, the Hall never would have inducted them).
I won't deny there's good reason for hating prog rock At its worst, prog rock is showy and pedantic, replacing groove and soul with mathematics and bad poetry. But why would you ever judge a style of music by its worst indulgences? You wouldn't write off all pop music because of Justin Bieber's crap or all Heavy Metal based on Twisted Sister?
Sorry, Dee. Your suckitude will not destroy Black Sabbath for me.
So I decided there should be one prog rock entry on this list since the Hall has seen fit to snub Rush, Yes, Kansas, King Crimson, Emerson, Lake, & Palmer, The Moody Blues and a host of a bands who have made important contributions to rock. My prog rog pick? Jethro Tull.
Already, the haters are groaning, but, quite simply, there has never been another band that sounds anything like Tull and through their long career Tull has put forth several utterly flawless albums like Aqualung, Thick as a Brick, and Songs From The Wood. Also, unlike some bands that compose functionally retarded forest metaphors, Tull's lyrics were always really strong whether dissecting organized religion in a song like beat generation. Their music spanned styles from classic rock to celtic-inspired tunes to orchestral bombast.
Also, lead singer, Ian Anderson, can still play flute on one leg. Come on!
Some of you still aren't convinced. That's probably because you're a Metallica fan who remembers or heard about the time in 1989 when the Grammys gave Tull an award in the brand new Heavy Metal category. Well, guess what? That never happened. Not really. At that point, the category was best "Hard Rock/Heavy Metal Performance." (Subsequently the "Hard Rock" part was removed and made into its own category). 1989 was also the year of Tull's big comeback album, Crest of a Knave. Unlike some of their 80s offerings, it was getting radio play on the strength of Steel Monkey. Not their best song, but certainly a rock song and not the lame flute serenade some would have you believe.
I still feel the Hall is afraid to induct Tull because they'll be mocked. Well, it's been over 20 years. Get over it. Anyone who doesn't know Tull rocks doesn't know Tull. Here's one of their best. You might have to wait until 1:21 before you start headknocking. Deal.
#3. Peter Gabriel
Some of you are saying, "well, Peter Gabriel's not in the Hall, but his old band Genesis is, so no big deal." Still, more of you are probably saying, "wait. Peter Gabriel was in Genesis?" Still others are saying, "enough with these rock stars, Gladstone, I read your column for one reason only: dreamy pictures of you!"
Hey, girl. I like your style, but I'm listening to Peter Gabriel and you should too.
Brief review: Peter Gabriel is not some wacky guy who crafty Stax records-influenced soul pop in the 80s and just went away. Basing Peter Gabriel on "Sledgehammer," "Big Time" or even "In Your Eyes" is about as accurate as judging Cracked.com solely on jokes about how large Teddy Roosevelt's testicles are -- great and a crowd favorite, but far from the whole story. Peter Gabriel was a pioneer in what some called the art rock movement, mixing performance art with music as the frontman of Genesis long before the rest of the band aspired to slowly and surely make music more appropriate for beer commercials (and Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inclusion).
Stay with me. As historically important as the picture above it, it has nothing to do with why he belongs in the Hall.
But y'know what? Throw at all the work Gabriel did with Genesis and he still belongs in the Hall. From 1977 to 1992, he released a string of near perfectly crafted and distinct albums, each with its own distinctive sound and each having a tremendous musical influence. Peter Gabriel is one of the few artist in history whose 80s work is instantly recognizable as 80s music while NOT sounding dated. How many artists can you say that about? I love David Bowie and Bruce Springsteen and I'm glad they're in the Hall, but if you listen to "Let's Dance" or "Dancing in the Dark," you hear all the slick production of the moment. Great pop, but not timeless, and not why they're in the Hall.
Gabriel's work however, with its painstaking attention to sonic detail and craftsmanship, sounds as fresh today as when it was released. There is nothing dated about Solsbury Hill, Shock the Monkey, or Red Rain. And of course, there's all the work he did as a pioneer in the world music movement. By the way, fellow world music pioneer Paul Simon is in the hall for both Simon & Garfunkel and his solo work. I'm totally OK with that, but given the parallels' I'm not sure how you possibly keep out Gabriel. Let's say Simon's Graceland and Gabriel's So are about tied in terms of their monumental mid-80s influence. Pretty sure, the rest of Gabriel's solo work made more of an impact in the public's consciousness.
"Oh, but he's not a rocker," some of you are saying, no doubt while combing out your mullet and date-raping your sister. First of all, you should listen to the aggression in Intrude and No Self Control before you speak. (Also, you should probably stop violating your sister.) But more importantly, Peter Gabriel left a successful band to pursue different interests. He released solo albums with ever-changing musical styles. He chased no musical trends in the 80s while the rest of rock's hero's got lost in cheese. And he quite simply never made music anyone's way but his own. What's more Rock & Roll than that?