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Once again it’s that time of year when music lovers all across the land slam their face into their hands and cry, “why, why, why?” – the annual announcement of new Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees.
This year’s crop was full of particularly bad choices and you could almost hear a collective groan from the internet when the results were released.
I’m not sure who this star chamber of judges is that seem to value record sales, radio-friendly tunes, and randomness over substance, but they really annoy me, so much so that I’m going to offer my alternative take on the 2020 inductees using the criteria of groundbreakers, innovators, first-movers, and influencers before any other metrics.
Inductee: Whitney Houston
Alternative: Pat Benatar
Yes, Whitney Houston was talented and sold a gazillion records, but so have Mariah Carey, Garth Brook, Taylor Swift, and Rhianna – and they’re not in the Hall of Fame.
Houston didn’t bring anything new to the music world and the vote to induct her was most likely influenced by the sad and tragic circumstances surrounding her fall from grace and far too young demise.
Pat Benatar on the other hand – who was one of the nominees for the class of 2020 – changed the way females were viewed in a rock and roll context.
Whereas other rock divas like Nancy Wilson of Heart and Chrissie Hynde of The Pretenders - both previous inductees - took a more melodic approach in their songs, Benatar – like Joan Jett – took the “I’m gonna punch you in the face and you’re gonna like it” approach.
This is why even the most misogynistic of rock and roll dudes in the ’70s and ’80s, when asked if they wanted the station changed when a Pat Benatar song came on the radio responded, “Nah, leave it. She’s cool.”
Inductee: Nine Inch Nails
Alternative: Gary Numan
Put together, Nine Inch Nails’ first two albums and EP equal one and a half great albums. Then it’s all downhill from there.
Trent Reznor is a super talented guy who has gone on to win a Golden Globe, Oscar, and Grammy for his film scores, but that shouldn’t have any reflection on NIN, which is a great band, just not Hall of Fame worthy.
But ask Reznor who he things should be inducted, and he’ll tell you, “Gary Numan.”
At first, this may seem like a laughable proposition. You mean the guy who sang “Cars?”
But if you dig a little bit deeper, you’ll find an artist who was doing the whole dystopian alienated outsider pop music thing before Billie Ellish’s parents even met.
And Numan has influenced a generation of musicians, many of whom have sampled or covered his songs, like Nine Inch Nails, Foo Fighters, Marylin Manson, and Weezer just to name a few.
Inductee: T. Rex
Alternative: T. Rex
Despite being a mostly British/Euro phenomenon, for the sheer number of bands and musicians Marc Bolan influenced, I’ll allow this.
Inductee: The Notorious B.I.G.
I’m out over my skis on this one as I’m not a rap fan and know little to nothing about the genre.
I will say though, it seems like LL Cool J should get in before Biggie, as even a dorky white guy like me knows he was the first rap superstar.
Inductee: The Doobie Brothers
Alternative: Tower of Power
My dad loved the Doobie Brothers and I’ve been listening to them ever since I was a little kid. But let’s be honest, they’re the poor man’s Steely Dan.
In fact, when Donald Fagan and Walter Becker decided to turn the group into a studio-only duo, guitarist and original band member, Jeff “Skunk” Baxter, took a demotion and transferred to the Doobies.
The band had some great years, particularly those with Michael McDonald, the highlight of which everybody knows was their legendary two-part guest shot on the seminal 70s TV show “What’s Happening!!,” in an episode entitled, “Doobie or Not Doobie.”
But despite that, there’s should only be room in the Hall of Fame for one Yacht Rock band, and Steely Dan is already in.
Now, if you’re looking for an overly membered band to induct, look no further than Tower of Power.
This pop, funk, soul fusion band from the East Bay boasts a permanent five-piece horn section and is one of the most sampled bands ever.
This partial list of those who’ve appropriated a drop or a beat from Oakland’s finest includes A Tribe Called Quest, De La Soul, Fergie, Rick Ross, The Chemical Brothers, Cypress Hill, Nine Inch Nails, Art of Noise, Fatboy Slim, Drake, Will.i.am, Jeff Beck, and the Beastie Boys – three times.
Inductee: Depeche Mode
Alternative: The Damned
Once again, Depeche Mode, good band, but not great band.
The thing about Depeche Mode is that they could be any electronica band from the same era.
I defy you to tell me why – other than longevity – they’re any different than New Order, Erasure, Joy Division, Duran Duran, The Human League, OMD, Yazoo, or any number of similar bands.
What about them is Hall of Fame worthy?
The Damned, on the other hand, is credited as being the first UK punk band to put out a single (“New Rose”), album (“Damned, Damned, Damned”), and to tour the United States.
Their songs have been covered by Guns N’ Roses, The Offspring, Mudhoney, and the Goo Goo Dolls, their fans include Duff McKagen, Billie Joe Armstrong, and Eddie Vedder, and both Lemmy and Chrissie Hynde had (short) stints in the band.
And if there was any question about their influence on Kurt Cobain, listen to the main riff from “Come As You Are” by Nirvana and compare it to The Damned’s “Life Goes On.”
But what’s more impressive about The Damned - and Hall of Fame deserving - is that they were pioneers and influencers in three separate music genres.
This includes punk first, then hardcore, where they influenced everyone from Motörhead, to Black Flag, to the Bad Brains.
And after that, they were one of the earliest, if not the earliest band to play the music and embrace the aesthetic of what is known today as Gothic Rock.
One of life’s saddest ironies is that this member of UK punk’s original “Holy Trinity” - which includes The Clash and the Sex Pistols – is the only one of the three yet to be inducted into the Hall of Fame, and the only one that is still touring, recording, and going strong after almost 45 years.
Dave Grohl with the lead singer of The Damned, Dave Vanian
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