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For Rock Hall of Fame, Supposed "Influence" More Important Than Mass Popularity?

Influence seems to be the main criteria for entrance into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame
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Should Charles Brown be in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame before Todd Rundgren or Jeff Lynne?

By Phill Marder

Sifting through a year's worth of comments, or influence and other stuff that doesn't mean squat...

Over the past year I've gotten a lot of mail and just about every piece has appeared in print, with the one or two that were complimentary receiving priority. But we've still got readers using the "I" word, the most overused and meaningless word around, except, perhaps, diva.

Now, why do I loathe and detest the word influence? I was puzzled myself. Never used to have violent reactions to that word. What suddenly made me cringe whenever I saw it in print? After much thought, the source of my discontent revealed itself.

The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame keeps inducting artists who are cult favorites while ignoring true Rock & Roll giants. And almost every time I'd read the bio or publicity release issued by the RRHOF, the word influence was the reason as in, "they/he/she didn't sell five records in their lifetime, but they were a huge influence on every artist who ever lived. There's no way to prove it. Just take our word for it because we nominated them and voted them in and we (the 30 or 40 members of the nominating committee) know better than all you saps out there buying the music."

Some examples - and just a few because there's enough for a whole year's worth of blog entries -
Charles Brown - The Hall of Fame biography states, "Charles Brown was a major musical figure in the pre-rock and roll era of the late Forties and early Fifties." and later states "Brown’s mellow blues stylings fell out of favor during the rock and roll revolution of the Fifties."

Nothing against Brown, but the guy - according to the Hall of Fame, itself - wasn't even popular during the Rock & Roll era, so why is he in the Hall of Fame when so many famous rockers are not? Well, according to the Hall of Fame biography, he had a lot of rhythm & blues hits in the '40s and he's often cited as an influence on Ray Charles. Great. Then he should be in the Rhythm & Blues Hall of Fame. If he must be in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, why not in the "Early Influence" category I asked when this article was first printed as Brown was listed in the Performer category by the Hall of Fame website. Readers Roy and Tom Lane questioned this (see comments) and the next day (10-18-2011) Brown's category was changed to Early Influence. Good job gentlemen.

"Guitarists ranging from Eric Clapton and Mike Bloomfield, to Peter Green, Jeff Beck and Carlos Santana have all acknowledged their debt to Freddie King (1934-1976), the 'Texas Cannonball,'” says the Hall of Fame. And they owe nothing to any other guitarist? The HOF resume of BB King states, "His influence on a generation of rock and blues guitarists - including Eric Clapton(again), Mike Bloomfield and Stevie Ray Vaughan - has been inestimable." King is quoted as saying, "We don't play Rock and Roll. Our music is Blues, straight from the Delta" and the HOF calls him "the genre's(Blues) most recognizable and influential artist." Meanwhile, a truly great guitarist who actually played on many Rock & Roll hits can't get a nomination. I speak of Glen Campbell.

The Velvet Underground "one of the most important rock & roll bands of all time"?

Here's one of my favorites. Again, from the Hall of Fame biography - "The influence of the Velvet Underground on rock greatly exceeds their sales figures and chart numbers. They are one of the most important rock and roll bands of all time, laying the groundwork in the Sixties for many tangents rock music would take in ensuing decades. Yet just two of their four original studio albums ever even made Billboard’s Top 200, and that pair – The Velvet Underground and Nico (#171) and White Light/White Heat (#199) – only barely did so."

How can you make statements like that? How can you prove they were so influential or one of the most important bands of all time. Who's saying this nonsense? Hardly anyone bought their records. Why? Because they couldn't play and couldn't sing. And most of their songs weren't even very good.

Brian Eno is quoted as saying, "The first Velvet Underground album only sold 10,000 copies, but everyone who bought it formed a band."

First of all, that's a ridiculous statement if taken as fact. Eno's point is made, though. They were "highly influential." But how many of those inspired to start bands were inspired because they felt, "these guys are so bad, we can't be any worse!"? So I offer my own ridiculous statement - "Chicago sold only six billion albums, but every horn player in the universe bought one and was inspired to join or start a Rock & Roll band." As insane as that remark is, it certainly makes more sense than Eno's quote, or the Hall of Fame's, for that matter.

For those who have complained about Percy Sledge's induction, take this, the opening line of Sledge's bio on the Hall of Fame website - "If Percy Sledge had only recorded 'When a Man Loves a Woman,' one of the greatest of all soul songs, he would have earned his place in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame."

Really? One song gets you into the Hall of Fame? That's like a guy going into Cooperstown after hitting a home run in his first at-bat, then adding a few singles mixed in with a ton of strikeouts over the next couple decades. Isn't there supposed to be a great body of work? How about all the great songs recorded by Mary Wells, Jerry Butler, Dionne Warwick etc., etc.? How about Neil Sedaka, Jack Scott, Freddy Cannon, US Bonds, Johnny Rivers, etc.? How about some I haven't even written about, such as the great Chuck Jackson, who could sing circles around Sledge. But wait...I forgot...who was on Atlantic Records?

And the dreck has continued year after year. This years bios tell us: "Together, the Small Faces and Faces have been a lasting inspiration on artists like the Black Crowes, the Jam’s Paul Weller, the Replacements and Oasis," like all the great artists yet to be nominated never inspired anyone.

"In the 1990s, (Joan) Jett’s no-nonsense attitude and guitar sound was a major influence on the riot grrrl movement, and she went on to produce Bikini Kill and record with L7. Her success inspired renewed interest in the Runaways, who were dismissed in their day as a gimmick." Not really. They were dismissed as being not very good. As far as the influence part goes, ever hear of Fanny, Marianne Faithful, Cher? How 'bout the baddest of the bad girls - Nancy Sinatra? And didn't Suzi Quatro have the black leather, biker chick look a couple years before the Runaways. Yes, she did. But the Shangri-Las had it years before Quatro, too.

Chaka Khan? "...influencing pop stars and critical favorites from Mary J. Blige to Ledisi. (It is impossible to imagine the contemporary hip-hop-soul diva without Khan’s earthy, rhythmically savvy template.)" My sentiments exactly.

The HOF bio acknowledges Eric B. & Rakim made just four albums, BUT "All four albums were hugely influential – it is difficult to imagine contemporary stars like Jay-Z and Eminem existing at all without them." I'm sure both Jay-Z and Eminem would be washing cars now if not for Eric B. & Rakim.

Laura Nyro? "Elton John acclaimed her influence to Elvis Costello: “The soul, the passion, the out-and-out audacity of her rhythmic and melody changes was like nothing I’d ever heard before.”

Get the picture? You can take any artist you like and find someone to call them influential. Worse still, you can find some pretentious "music critic" to make outlandish statements, and quote them in your supportive bios.

"The Clash is the only band that matters" and "The Clash brought Great Britain to its knees." !Yikes! There were a lot of bands selling a lot more records, so evidently other bands did matter, especially to a music industry basing its survival on sales. As for the Great Britain quote, even the American colonies didn't bring that Empire to its knees. We just kicked its shins a few times. The Nazi bombing of London may be the only event to bring the Empire to its knees...and even that wasn't for long. Brit rhymes with grit, you know.

I liked The Clash, but other bands - The Moody Blues, The Guess Who, even bands such as The Grass Roots and The Buckinghams and hundreds of others - also mattered.

Should the Small Faces be inducted before The Monkees, The Moody Blues, Deep Purple or Rush?

When I asked him to provide proof of the Small Faces' "influence," reader Steve very articulately and politely responded, “'Proof' as you’ve described it is pretty much unprovable. All I have to go by are the countless artists who have cited (Steve) Marriott as one who inspired them. The list is considerable, and goes back to Robert Plant (a fan of Small Faces), Paul Stanley, Steve Perry, Rod Stewart himself, and especially Chris Robinson who has praised Marriott on many occasions."

Point taken. But again, I really doubt if Plant or any of the others Steve mentioned would have been tax accountants or professional boxers or something else if they hadn't heard Marriott.

So, I give Steve - and you - this quote from Plant: "When I was a kid I used to hide behind the curtains at home at Christmas and I used to try and be Elvis." He didn't try to be Steve Marriott, he tried to be Elvis.

And for every Paul Stanley and Steve Perry inspired by Marriott, I can give you an example such as Brian Wilson saying of The Monkees, perhaps, according to fan reaction, the biggest Rock Hall omission to date, "The Monkees inspired me to write 'Break Away' with my dad." Or what about Taylor Swift, perhaps the biggest star out there today, who recently named Bon Jovi one of her influences

And speaking of Elvis (sorry Declan, there's only one Elvis), isn't he "the King Of Rock & Roll?" Wasn't one of his favorite singers Dean Martin? You can hear Martin in many of Elvis' vocal inflections. You even can see Martin in many of Elvis' mannerisms. If you're going to put people into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame on the basis of influence, why isn't Dean Martin in there?

Before I leave you, back to Nyro. I wrote "Laura Nyro – May have more nominations than memorable songs written" and concerning Chaka Khan I said, "In all the years I’ve studied this subject, never once have I seen or heard this group (Rufus) or Chaka Khan mentioned as one that should be in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. Not once." For Eric B. & Rakim, I simply wrote, "Who?"

On Facebook, a gentleman commented, "...the Laura Nyro diss is stupid. And if you don't know who Eric B. & Rakim are, do some research. And the Chaka Khan slam is also ignorant. BTW- the nominating committee has previously considered her in the past."

The "diss" (wow, I got to use cool, new lingo) was stupid? Nyro has been nominated the last three years and, in my opinion, only wrote two truly memorable songs, "And When I Die" and "Wedding Bell Blues." The former became memorable thanks to the talent of Blood, Sweat & Tears, the latter thanks to a great showing by the Fifth Dimension. I considered "Eli's Coming," but that really took a great job by Three Dog Night to make it a smash. Nyro, herself, had no hits and her albums sold moderately, at best. She was good, and she wrote other good songs, but, as I stated, "Maybe she deserves it (induction). But before Burt Bacharach & Hal David, Bob Crewe, Jimmy Webb, PF Sloan, Thom Bell and countless other songwriting greats?" Of course, that's probably a stupid question, too.

Laura Nyro, the greatest songwriter not yet inducted into the Rock Hall of Fame?

The Chaka Khan "slam" ignorant? Maybe. I didn't realize it was a "slam." To me, it's just fact. What I wrote was factual. The nominating committee previously considered her? What's that mean...they sat around a table and someone said, "What about Chaka Khan?" I wasn't at that table, and it's not likely I'll ever be invited, so nobody ever recommended her to me - verbally or in written form - and that's what I stated. Just ignorant fact.

As for the research comment, the "Who?" was written tongue in cheek because I would imagine most Goldmine readers would have that response. But if I or any reader of Goldmine has to "do some research" to learn about someone who is nominated for the Hall of Fame, then they shouldn't be nominated. Chubby Checker and approximately 1,000 other artists never nominated, have more Hall of Fame credentials than Eric B. & Rakim and I wouldn't have to do research to find out who they are.

The biggest problem I've seen the last year is that the Hall of Fame has no criteria except the 25-year rule. That's why the word "influence" is so prominent in their prose. In many cases, there's nothing else to justify their selections.

Next time, we're going to offer some criteria that actually can be substantiated by fact, not just opinion, and some other changes the Rock Hall may wish to consider. If you have any suggestions, please place them in the comment section.

We're also going to take a close look at just what constitutes "Rock & Roll," another hot button topic among readers.

Maybe, just maybe, we can influence the Hall of Fame enough that it actually gets in tune with the public. Did I just use the word influence? Quick - hand me a gun.