postseason throwback
disgruntled, by asali solomon

music friday: here comes the rock and roll hall of fame again

What do I say that I haven’t said before? Mitchell Cohen has a good piece: “the hall”.

If you’d like to cast a vote or two yourself, you can go here:

As always, the two biggest problems with this Hall are 1) that the criteria for induction are too vague (“We shall consider factors such as an artist's musical influence on other artists, length and depth of career and the body of work, innovation and superiority in style and technique, but musical excellence shall be the essential qualification of induction”), and 2) rock and roll isn’t sports, you can’t go by the stats, it’s all just opinion. OK, those are really just one problem.

My thoughts on two of this year’s nominees:

Chic has been nominated so many times I’ve lost count. They belong in any Hall of Fame; their absence is a crime. They deserve induction based not only on the work of the band; Rodgers and Edwards extend the greatness of Chic with their work in production.

A big thing about these nominations has always been the divide (when it exists, which isn’t always the case) between lots of record sales and critical acclaim. Chicago may have sold 100 million albums, but the critics have rarely been fans of the band. The example I’ll use this year is Steve Miller.

The Steve Miller Blues Band opened at the very first rock concert I ever attended (they also performed as Chuck Berry’s backup band ... the resulting show turned up on a Berry live album). They hadn’t released any albums yet. Boz Scaggs had yet to join the band. In 1968, the soundtrack to a little-known movie, Revolution, was a minor hit in the Bay Area. It featured three local acts (Quicksilver Messenger Service, Mother Earth, and the Miller Band), with the highlight being Miller’s cover of an Isley Brothers tune, “Your Old Lady”. The song was pretty basic, but Miller laid down some of the finest guitar solos heard on that recording.

The band signed a big contract, went to England, and recorded their first album with Glyn Johns at the helm. There were a lot of reasons why that first album was so good compared to many of the other debuts of the Bay Area psychedelic bands. The oddest part, to my mind, is that the first side was the pinnacle of SF psychedelic rock (yes, I know about the Grateful Dead, just stating a personal opinion). It was odd because Miller didn’t seem like a “real” hippie. He was a blues man, famously a prodigy at a very young age, and his idea of good musicianship wasn’t the same as, say, Big Brother and the Holding Company. Miller sounded professional from the get-go, as Side Two of that first album, Children of the Future, demonstrated. So that’s the paradox: my favorite piece of psychedelia (Side One of Children of the Future) came from a blues band who were mostly up to other things, musically. (“Song for Our Ancestors”, which led off their second album, Sailor, was a more concise version of that psychedelic feel.)

He continued making albums on a regular basis, until 1973, when “The Joker” changed things. Miller became a dominant figure in mid-70s rock, with huge albums like Fly Like an Eagle and Book of Dreams. Greatest Hits 1974-78 summarized this period ... it sold more than 8 million copies.

Have I described a Hall of Famer to you? For my tastes, that greatest hits album includes maybe half-a-dozen classics. I love Children of the Future and much of Sailor. But mostly, I think Miller gets nominated because of that mid-70s run, so the question becomes, do “Take the Money and Run”, “Rock’n Me”, “The Joker”, “Fly Like an Eagle”, and “Jet Airliner” constitute a Hall of Fame career? Toss in his first two albums if, like me, you think that was his peak.

I don’t see it. Miller was not influential. He was a solid professional, his music matched what people wanted to hear for a few years, but I don’t recall anyone saying their careers grew out of their love of Steve Miller’s music. Honestly, I think Boz Scaggs has a better case for the Hall.

The point is that I don’t know what makes a Rock and Roll Hall of Famer. Except that if there’s no room for Chic, the Hall is pointless.

Here is Chic with “Good Times”:

And here is Side One of Children of the Future: