Despite all the computations
You could dance to a rock ‘n’ roll station,
And it was alright
(Lou Reed, from the Velvet Underground song “Rock and Roll”)
Last month I inducted five bands into the longitudes Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, and promised there would be five more. These, then, will wrap up the Top 10 artists I feel should have already been inducted, but so far been shunned by that other Hall. You know, the one whose museum is in Cleveland but whose VIP induction ceremonies are usually shifted to the Waldorf Astoria in New York.
Sorry about the sarcasm. I should try to keep things upbeat, especially when it comes to music. Anyway, this induction is a time to celebrate! A time to be happy! 🙂 And one of the best things about this ceremony is the total absence of self-congratulatory music biz backslapping, cronyism, and sloppy post-induction onstage “jamming” by bloated, bag-eyed, half-drunk, over-the-hill millionaire rock stars wearing ill-fitting dinner jackets.
Well, I tried.
The next five acts being inducted are… (Paul Shaffer, please leave the building):
New York Dolls: how can longitudes induct a band that made only one great record, and one very good follow-up? Well, the Sex Pistols made only one great record, and there would be no Sex Pistols – and therefore nobody to label the RnRHoF a “piss stain” – had it not been for these proto-punk nasty boys. Led by Mick Jagger look-a-like David Johansen (aka “Buster Poindexter”), the Dolls’ music was often ramshackle, but it was delivered with in-your-face panache. Songs like “Personality Crisis,” “Subway Train,” “Frankenstein,” “Trash,” and “(There’s Gonna Be a) Showdown” are stripped-down rock & roll before the fall, straight out of a Staten Island garage or Bowery basement. Classic New York City hard rock, with exaggerated androgyny just for humorous effect. Iggy and the Stooges made it to the RnRHoF, as well as the cartoonish Alice Cooper, so why not these guys, three of whom are already dead?? I’d ask record exec and RnRHoF guru Ahmet Ertegun, but he’s in rock & roll heaven too.
Todd Rundgren: the “Runt” seems like a 180-degree turn from the Dolls. And like the Moody Blues from last month’s induction, he polarizes opinion: you either love him or hate him. But Rundgren actually produced the Dolls’ classic debut album, as well as successful albums by Badfinger, Patti Smith, XTC, the Tubes, the Band, Hall & Oates, Grand Funk Railroad, Meat Loaf, Psychedelic Furs, and many more. He’s also famous for his groundbreaking work in media technology. But his induction rests on his own solo records, including his masterpiece, Something/Anything?, a double album filled with golden pop nuggets all written and sung by Rundgren and where he played almost all the instruments (long before the artist formerly or presently known or not known as Prince ). Bravely changing direction, Rundgren followed with the kaleidoscopic A Wizard, A True Star. Like many prodigies, Rundgren was erratic, and his philosophic excursions with his band Utopia didn’t help his case with RnRHoF. But he’s one of the pop renaissance men, along with Paul McCartney, Brian Wilson, and Stevie Wonder. And even more than the others, he was unafraid to risk failure or ridicule. Songs like “We Gotta Get You a Woman,” “Hello It’s Me,” “I Saw the Light,” “A Dream Lives on Forever,” “Can We Still Be Friends,” “Time Heals,” “Bang the Drum All Day,” and others only scratch the surface of his significant contributions to rock.
Fairport Convention: similar to Love (see first induction), Fairport Convention is unknown to many rock fans. They’re more familiar in England than America, where many hail them as Great Britain’s greatest folk-rock band. Like the Byrds in America, Fairport covered a lot of Bob Dylan songs when they started, but they soon found their own muse, plundering English folklorist Cecil Sharp’s archives to create their own British Isles brand of psychedelic folk-rock. Singer Sandy Denny is regarded as having one of the best voices in rock or folk, sort of a cross between Bonnie Raitt and Judy Collins (her beautiful song “Who Knows Where the Time Goes” was famously covered by Collins). Fairport also included critically respected guitarist-songwriter Richard Thompson. If you haven’t heard this band, I encourage you to check out the albums What We Did on Our Holidays, Unhalfbricking, and Liege and Lief, which form the core of their catalog and earn them a spot in longitudes’ Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.
Procol Harum: yet another English progressive rock band. What doesn’t RnRHoF like about these groups? Are they too Caucasian, or European, or musically proficient?? (I’m convinced Genesis was inducted due to their Phil Collins-era pop molasses, not Peter Gabriel’s earlier, more intriguing influence). But even critics of progressive rock are fond of Procol Harum. Their lyricist, Keith Reid, didn’t play an instrument, but wrote clever gothic poems with references to rusted sword scabbards and haunted ships. He had the perfect partners in pianist/arranger Gary Brooker and organist Matthew Fisher. This axis was ably assisted by Hendrix-styled guitarist Robin Trower and thunderous drummer B.J. Wilson. All of them gave Procol a sound like no other group, one that veered between crunching blues and soaring symphonic rock. Last year they were nominated by RnRHoF but missed induction (“Sorry boys, maybe next time”). A slap in the face to a great band that did “A Whiter Shade of Pale,” “Conquistador,” and made some very cool albums. Longitudes hereby corrects the injustice.
King Crimson: here is a British band that wrote long, complex songs with flute, violin, saxophone, and keyboards. And the keyboards included a Mellotron, a modified tape replay keyboard, no less. Oh my God, what heresy! What would Elvis say! Delta bluesman Robert Johnson is rolling in his grave (wherever his grave is located). Despite RnRHoF’s misgivings, longitudes recognizes Crimson’s importance in stretching the boundaries of rock, with their bold explorations into free jazz, classical chamber music, and dissonance. Led by erudite guitarist Robert Fripp, the only permanent member, King Crimson in the beginning included talented vocalist Greg Lake, later one-third of the supergroup, Emerson, Lake and Palmer, and multi-instrumentalist and tunesmith Ian MacDonald (who later went for the bread and formed Foreigner). Pete Townshend of the Who called Crimson’s debut album, In the Court of the Crimson King, “an uncanny masterpiece.” King Crimson influenced a lot of musicians, from Genesis to Rush to Nirvana. More than just a band, they were a forward-thinking musical aesthetic. But RnRHoF evidently prefers the group Heart. ‘Nuff said.