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Old 10-31-2004, 09:35 AM   #1
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(10-31-2004) Good Isn't Good Enough -- Los Angeles Times*

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Good Isn't Good Enough
Some inductees don't belong in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and their presence diminishes the feats of those who do. Such as? Here is one voter's Class of '04.

By Robert Hilburn, Times Staff Writer

How do you measure greatness in pop music?

Rock and Roll Hall of Fame voters have been wrestling with that question for nearly 20 years and they certainly haven't figured it out, or they wouldn't have ended up honoring such marginal figures as Brenda Lee and the Righteous Brothers.

It feels a little cruel to mention just those artists when fully two dozen of the more than 125 inductees have questionable credentials. The problem is that the Hall of Fame induction process has been caught up in the spirit of "the more the better" — a misplaced generosity born partly out of a wrongheaded notion that these musicians were so wonderful we must honor them all and partly out of the idea that the annual banquets (and accompanying TV shows) are more fun if there are lots of inductees on stage.

The reality is that having too many inductees dilutes the meaning of Hall of Fame membership. By consistently admitting seven or more artists each year (only six times have fewer acts been inducted), the Hall of Fame forces voters to go beyond the obvious A list of performers on the ballot of 15 nominees and dip into the B and C levels.

The easiest way to demonstrate the gap between the essential artists and the merely admirable is to mention them side by side.

There should be no debate over the likes of Elvis Presley, Chuck Berry, the Beatles, Jimi Hendrix, the Rolling Stones, Bruce Springsteen, Bob Marley and Prince.

But what about such inductees as Duane Eddy, the Four Seasons, Billy Joel, the Dells and ZZ Top?

Lee had big pipes for such a little girl, hence the nickname "Little Miss Dynamite." But her biggest hits, including "Sweet Nothin's," sound hopelessly dated in a way that her contemporary Patsy Cline's records never could.

The Righteous Brothers' "You've Lost That Lovin' Feelin' " was one of the most inspired singles ever made, but it was record producer Phil Spector, not the Righteous Brothers, who supplied the vision. (Spector, deservedly, is in the Hall of Fame in the nonperformer category.)

No one said the selection process would be easy. In baseball, you can rely on statistics to prove your point. If you hit 500 home runs or register 300 pitching wins, you've got a ticket to the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y.

The process in rock is far more subjective. You run into lots of trouble when you rely chiefly on statistics. Joel probably rode the "hits" card into the Hall. He's had 33 Top 40 singles, more than any of the 15 nominees on this year's Rock Hall of Fame ballot — 33 more, in fact, than Gram Parsons, Grandmaster Flash & the Furious Five, the Stooges and the Sex Pistols, each of whom has played a more crucial role in the development of modern pop music. It's also 18 more hits than U2.

Without the aid of statistics, voters have to rely on two barometers: their personal evaluation of the quality of the music and the influence of the artist.

It's not an easy process, but it's also not as hard as the Hall of Fame voting makes it seem.

This year's nominees: the J. Geils Band, Grandmaster Flash & the Furious Five, Buddy Guy, Wanda Jackson, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Randy Newman, the O'Jays, Parsons, the Pretenders, the Sex Pistols, Percy Sledge, Patti Smith, the Stooges, Conway Twitty and U2.

In the balloting (which is conducted among more than 700 record executives, musicians and critics), each voter is asked to list eight choices in order. The seven (or sometimes fewer) with the most votes are inducted. Results will be announced in November.

The good news is that this is one of the few times in recent years when there are seven quality candidates. The bad news is the voters probably will end up with some misguided choices among the (presumably) seven inductees. After all, they've bypassed Parsons, Newman, the Sex Pistols and Smith in the past.

There are several tempting B-level nominees, but these are the seven candidates that deserve most to be saluted.

Vote 'em in

U2 — By any measure, this is an A-level Hall of Fame act, one that deserves to be mentioned alongside the greatest rock groups ever. With its distinctive guitar sound and inspirational themes, the Irish quartet is filled with such ability, ambition and competitive spirit that my belief is it would have battled the Beatles and the Stones on both the sales chart and the year-end critics' lists if it had gone head to head in the '60s. John Lennon and Bono would have adored each other. They might not have just written songs together but also teamed for social causes.

Gram Parsons — It's shameful how this Los Angeles-based singer-songwriter has been passed over for years by Hall of Fame voters. Though nothing he did on his own or with the Flying Burrito Brothers ever made a Top 10 sales chart, his mix of the sentimental heart of country music and the biting energy of rock helped shape one of the most valuable and affecting strains in all of contemporary pop music. His songs and style are echoed in the works of such diverse artists as the Eagles, the Rolling Stones, Elvis Costello, Ryan Adams and Norah Jones. Wasn't it endorsement enough that the reclusive Keith Richards flew across the country to honor Parsons at two tribute concerts here last summer?

The Sex Pistols — This rowdy, irreverent British band has been passed over because some feel it didn't leave enough of a body of work to deserve Hall of Fame status. It did last for only the blink of an eye, but what a blink. Johnny Rotten, Steve Jones and mates may have just been following a rock rebellion script — as detractors are quick to point out — but they turned the staid pop world on its head with their raw, audacious approach. They helped inspire a generation of musicians to take up arms.

The Pretenders and Patti Smith — It's hard to separate these entries because the Pretenders' Chrissie Hynde, through her charisma and seductive voice, and Smith, with her poetic vision and strong will, both helped convince rock 'n' roll that it wasn't just a man's world. Hynde made the bigger impact initially, but Smith may have had the more lasting influence. She too remains a strong, vital artist.

Randy Newman — It's hard to tell which is the dumber argument against Newman's overdue induction: (a) that the marvelous L.A singer-songwriter had only one Top 40 hit ("Short People") or (b) that he wasn't really part of rock 'n' roll. The reality is that rock, at least in the context of the Hall of Fame, has become an umbrella term to salute the most inspiring voices in contemporary pop, which is why so many soul and R&B artists are in it. Newman's songs may draw more from traditional pop and the blues than rock, but they offer such a rare and rich blend of wit and wisdom that critics have been forced to add "Newmanesque" to their vocabulary.

Grandmaster Flash & the Furious Five — Like the Sex Pistols, this hip-hop outfit held our attention for only a brief time, but its socially conscious "The Message" was such a landmark single that almost by itself, it gave rap artistic credibility. There will be a lot of rap acts inducted into the Hall in coming years, including Run-DMC, Public Enemy and N.W.A, and they all were inspired by "The Message" and the turntable wizardry of Joseph Sadler (a.k.a. Grandmaster Flash).
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Old 10-31-2004, 09:43 AM   #2
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Old 10-31-2004, 10:03 AM   #3
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U2 — By any measure, this is an A-level Hall of Fame act, one that deserves to be mentioned alongside the greatest rock groups ever. With its distinctive guitar sound and inspirational themes, the Irish quartet is filled with such ability, ambition and competitive spirit that my belief is it would have battled the Beatles and the Stones on both the sales chart and the year-end critics' lists if it had gone head to head in the '60s. John Lennon and Bono would have adored each other. They might not have just written songs together but also teamed for social causes.
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Old 10-31-2004, 10:16 AM   #4
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Well said.
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Old 10-31-2004, 10:41 AM   #5
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U2 had better make it in...or I'll storm the place with a giant pitchfork!
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Old 10-31-2004, 11:28 AM   #6
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I think I get that this is an "important" recognition, to make it into "the rock n roll" hall of fame.
But it's all so subjective, isn't it? I guess it's like getting a star on the street in Hollywood. It's not even based on current 'numbers' or critic-reviews is it? So, it's not like the academy award, it's more like a lifetime-achievement award, with no guidelines really as to what counts, like there is in baseball or football stats.

A small part of me wouldn't mind seeing them 'dissed' actually, since that in its way creates more buzz about the whole process and the "real" merits of the performer(s) in question.

I heard like baba o'reilly or some who-tune the other day in the car, by the way, and no offense to who4life or Edge or anyone, but I didn't quite find it as groovy as I'd recalled. In fact, it seemed kinda 'pedestrian' to me, to sound snotty about it (knock the snot out of me; I'm in that kinda mood!)

cheers!
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Old 10-31-2004, 12:57 PM   #7
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Quote:
Originally posted by starsgoblue
U2 had better make it in...or I'll storm the place with a giant pitchfork!
If it comes down to that, can I come too?
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Old 10-31-2004, 01:36 PM   #8
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John Lennon + Bono = one hell of an idea.
Too bad it will never happen.
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Old 10-31-2004, 06:54 PM   #9
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There's no way U2 won't get in, especially with the new album. In these speculations they really just ought to be a given.
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Old 10-31-2004, 07:17 PM   #10
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Old 10-31-2004, 09:59 PM   #11
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That's a good question he poses, how would U2 have fared in the 60's? Who wins head-to-head in popularity/sales/critical acclaim:

U2
The Beatles
Led Zeppelin
The Stones
etc...

??
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