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childhood's end

music friday: the rock and roll hall of fame

Here is what the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame says about eligibility for entrance:

“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.”

Take the first part. Imagine a group that, on their AllMusic page, under “followed by”, has 21 artists listed, including everyone from Roxy Music and Madonna to David Bowie and Prince to Queen and Debbie Harry. That’s an influential group. Imagine also that one of the group’s songs all by itself was integral to “Rapper’s Delight”, “The Adventures of Grandmaster Flash on the Wheels of Steel”, Blondie’s “Rapture”, and “Another One Bites the Dust”. That’s an influential group.

Take the second part. Imagine a group that recorded seven albums between 1977 and 1983. Three of those albums were Top Ten on the R&B charts, with one of them making #1. They also hit #1 on various singles charts seven times. Imagine a group whose AllMusic biography reads:

There can be little argument that [they were] disco's greatest band; and, working in a heavily producer-dominated field, they were most definitely a band. By the time [they] appeared in the late '70s, disco was already slipping into the excess that eventually caused its downfall. [They] bucked the trend by stripping disco's sound down to its basic elements; their funky, stylish grooves had an organic sense of interplay that was missing from many of their overproduced competitors. [Their] sound was anchored by the scratchy, James Brown-style rhythm guitar of [left blank] and the indelible, widely imitated (sometimes outright stolen) bass lines of [left blank]; as producers, they used keyboard and string embellishments economically, which kept the emphasis on rhythm. [Their] distinctive approach not only resulted in some of the finest dance singles of their time, but also helped create a template for urban funk, dance-pop, and even hip-hop in the post-disco era. Not coincidentally, [the main band members] wound up as two of the most successful producers of the '80s.

That’s an innovative, superior group of style and technique, featuring musical excellence.

You’ve probably guessed, despite my clumsy attempt at hiding their identity, that I am talking about Chic, with Nile Rodgers and Bernard Edwards. They were not one of the inductees to the Hall announced yesterday. In fact, no other artist has been nominated for induction without actually getting into the Hall more often than Chic.

So, who took their place this year?

Cheap Trick, who had one of the all-time great singles in “Surrender”, have toured more than just about any band. They have influenced other artists, and at one time they were among the most popular rock and roll acts in the world. I tend to be picky about who I think is good enough, but Cheap Trick does not embarrass the institution.

Chicago is a perfect example of the enormous difference between critical acclaim and general popularity that often arises. They won induction largely because 37 million people cast a vote for them. On the other hand, Acclaimed Music, which collates critical opinion, lists Chicago as the 950th greatest artist in pop music history. Your tolerance for Chicago’s induction probably correlates with how much you trust critics and how much you trust 37 million Internet voters.

Deep Purple are kinda like the Cheap Trick of metal. They have sold a gazillion albums and are considered among the premier acts in their genre, which has been underrepresented in the Hall. I’m not a big fan of theirs, but I understand why they are going in.

Steve Miller? I wrote about him a couple of months ago when the nominations were announced. “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?” Um, no. And I remind you that Steve Miller is going in, while Chic still stands outside.

Finally, N.W.A are in. Rap, like metal, is underrepresented, and N.W.A were among the most influential rap artists of all time. We can argue over their lyrics, but they had the sound, the style, the technique, and yes, they belong.

None of this really matters, though, as long as Chic are on the outside looking in.