Handicapping the Hall

Yesterday, the nominees for this year’s induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame were announced and I announced who I think should be in – Dr. John, Alice Cooper, Neil Diamond, LL Cool J, Chic, Joe Tex and Tom Waits. Here’s why:

Dr. John – The great synthesizer and popularizer of New Orleans music; and, as John Swenson has argued over the years, a subtly smart chronicler of life in New Orleans.

Alice Cooper – One of the great, snotty rock ‘n’ roll voices, particularly in the period that defined his career – Love it to Death (1971) through Billion Dollar Babies (1973) or perhaps Muscle of Love (also 1973). Few voices before or after have conveyed so much attitude, particularly so much contempt for the middle-aged middle class. I expect voters will value his theatrics more, but his voice and the band are why those records are still compelling.

Neil Diamond – Simply too many great songs to be ignored even if I don’t care much for what he (or Alice, for that matter) has become.

LL Cool J – One of the first stars of hip-hop, and someone who was great from the start, cutting “I Can’t Live Without My Radio” and “Rock the Bells” when he was 18. Faces and stars are central to the process of helping a subculture find a broader audience and obviously, hip-hop found a significantly larger audience.

Chic – The great band in disco, one that actually existed, could play, and cut great songs. “Good Times” was doubly ubiquitous as a song on its own and the sample under Sugarhill Gang’s “Rapper’s Delight.”  Also, Chic crystalized the great concept in disco – the coolly fabulous people meet in their finery on the dance floor, and it’s a concept that has become so ubiquitous that it seems like it has always existed.

Joe Tex – The great synthesist of country and soul.

Tom Waits – Here, his influence is massive and obvious, and perhaps there are young Waitsian bands all around America. That aside, the breadth of his work is remarkable, and unlike some in this list of nominees whose later years have been undistinguished, he’s become more interesting, more personal and more idiosyncratic with age.

One good reason to root for this outcome: John Michael Rouchell wrote yesterday on Twitter, “Just imagine, for a minute, Tom Waits and Dr John’s acceptance speeches on the same night. Amazing.”

One of the sadder handicapping pieces came from industry analyst Bob Lefsetz. In a letter yesterday, he wrote:

Donna Summer broke disco in the U.S. Then again, isn’t it the ROCK AND ROLL HALL OF FAME?  Get your own damn hall.  But she did make that great rock influenced album “Bad Girls”, but if we’re gonna put her in, don’t we induct the mastermind, Giorgio Moroder?  Or is image now key and who actually does the work is irrelevant?  In other words, do we induct Ke$ha instead of Dr. Luke?  Don’t laugh, twenty five years from now Wenner’s kids will be controlling the Hall just like nincompoop Steve Forbes runs his family’s empire.

Some of the other nominations are suspect too.  LL Cool J does belong in the hip-hop Hall of Fame, when Russell Simmons builds one, but check back through the pages of “Rolling Stone”, how many times was he mentioned?  I mean where’s the blueprint here, what are the rules?  Chic?  Why?  Darlene Love, maybe.  Joe Tex, sure.  Chuck Willis…he’s out of my purview.  Donovan, it’s been too damn long, but he won’t get in either.  If you want to induct one rap act, I’ll let you get away with the Beastie Boys, for “Paul’s Boutique”, but if LL Cool J gets in and they don’t my head is gonna spin.

While I have a similar concern about Donna Summer vs. Giorgio Moroder, the ‘disco and hip-hop aren’t rock ‘n’ roll’ argument sounds so late 1970s that it’s hard to take seriously. Does he still fit into his “Disco sucks” T-shirt? And to hold the line against disco and hip-hop but nod with approval toward R&B artists Darlene Love and Joe Tex seems confused (to be kind).

In other handicapping efforts, Time sees Alice, the Beastie Boys and Bon Jovi as locks.

Ann Powers at the L.A. Times (who wrote this great take on the Ponderosa Stomp) argues for Chic, Laura Nyro and Labelle (the latter having been left off the ballot).

The Houston Press is having trouble with some of this year’s nominees when Devo, Rush and Thin Lizzy have yet to be nominated.

The Baltimore Sun shares John Michael’s excitement at the prospect of Dr. John and Tom Waits sharing a stage.

Kirk Baird at the Toledo Blade shares Lefsetz’ “disco sucks” attitude and also wants to know where Rush‘s nomination is.

The Philadelphia Weekly pretty much took a crap over the whole project.

  • Pltrhd

    Nice analysis.Thanks for the link to Ann Powers’ piece. I wonder if Alice Cooper’s right wing politics will weigh against his possible inclusion.

  • Anonymous

    I think his status as a theatrical performer will trump everything. Besides, as other pundits have noticed, the R&R Hall of Fame tends to like hard rock (The ‘disco sucks’ contingent tend to be more in line with the Hall’s sentiments than I am), which bodes well for Alice and Bon Jovi.