The 2013 Rock Hall Nominees

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame announced its ballot for induction this year. It’s a pretty impressive list: Nirvana, Hall & Oates, Deep Purple, NWA, Chic, Linda Rondstadt, KISS, Cat Stevens, LL Cool J, Peter Gabriel, The Zombies, The Replacements, Yes, The Meters, Link Wray, and the Paul Butterfield Blues Band.

That’s an impressive and extremely eclectic list. A couple of these have me scratching my head as to why they aren’t already in. The Hall is letting people vote on their choices through December 10. The top five vote getters will have their tallies factored into the final decision by the Hall. Fans can only vote for five each. I voted. I’m not happy I can only do five because really, 3/4 of them deserve it, and the rest all have reputations that make a case for inclusion. So who did I vote for?

Nirvana on MTV's Unplugged

Source: MTV

NIRVANA

This one is kind of a no-brainer, one of those bands that should get in on the first ballot. Nevermind was one of those watershed moments in rock when the music changed. Grunge was coming. No doubt about it. But Alice in Chains tried to be a heavy metal band before Nirvana exploded, and Pearl Jam’s label marketed them as hair metal. The combination of moody Kurt Cobain’s song writing, the frenetic drumming of Dave Grohl, and the calm center of the storm that was Krist Novocelic caused an earthquake in rock music. Add to that Pat Smear of The Germs at the end of the band’s career, and you have a revolutionary band that dragged punk kicking and screaming and into the mainstream.

The music died with Cobain, but it freed up future Hall of Famer Grohl to create The Foo Fighters with Smear, members of Sunny Day Real Estate, and Dave’s blonde, bearded clone Taylor Hawkins.

KISS live in 2013

Llan We, used under Creative Commons

KISS

Rock as theater taken to the nth degree. Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley have kept the hell fire burning since 1973 with an impressive line-up of side players, current drummer Eric Singer the longest lasting member.

The band went hair metal in the 1980’s after ditching the make-up, but came roaring back with the original line-up for a time, returning to their grease paint ways. KISS is definitely a marketing machine, but how many kids picked up a guitar because Paul was the Star Child, Gene was the Demon, and the rest played a whole host of other comic book-inspired characters? They might be a money-making juggernaut, but they definitely impacted rock and roll in a big way.

NWA

Source: EMI (?)

NWA

Okay, I admit it. I’m not a fan. But I’m not much of a hip hop fan to begin with. But like their contemporaries, Nirvana, they caused an earthquake in music. And they weren’t shy with the lyrics. Their classic Straight Outta Compton scared the hell out of people.

Though Easy E died in the early 1990’s, Ice Cube and Dr. Dre went on to be giants in hip hop. Dre would discover Snoop Dogg, stare down thuggish impresario Shug Knight, and do what Knight couldn’t do: Bring the world a white rapper with cred, in this case, Eminem. Before NWA, I said, “What the hell is rap?” Since NWA has faded into history, I’ve said, “What the hell happened to rap?”

Deep Purple in 2013

Photo: Jonas Rogowski, used under Creative Commons

Deep Purple

Geddy Lee of called out the Hall for overlooking Deep Purple again when Rush was inducted into the Hall of Fame. At one time rivaling Led Zeppelin, Purple has one of the largest family trees in rock. Ritchie Blackmore is cited as a major influence by a majority of rock guitarists, including his two replacements in Purple, Steve Morse and the late Tommy Bolin. The band overlapped Black Sabbath, giving that band two of its post-Ozzy lead singers, and spawned Rainbow and Whitesnake. Plus how can you go wrong when you’ve created one of the most memorable riffs in rock history? You know. Da da dah! Da da du-Dah!

Hall & Oates

Photo: Gary Harris, used under Creative Commons

Daryl Hall and John Oates

This is one duo that, like Deep Purple, should have been in long ago. They came out of Philadelphia around the same time as prog pop artist Todd Rundgren, and there’s a similarity between the sound of the two acts that’s hard to define.

But Hall & Oates were all about blue-eyed soul. “Sara Smile” is a seventies classic, but then there’s that string of eighties tunes starting with “Kiss on my List” and going all the way through “One on One.” The videos might have been silly, but the sound was real in a way many R&B artists have forgotten how to make happen.

Their approach is on display on Hall’s show Live from Daryl’s House. The music is played live, using the room (until this coming season, a restored colonial house Hall owned) as an instrument unto itself, with all the imperfections and happy accidents left intact. This is how he and John Oates have made music since 1973.

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Live From Daryl’s House

Live From Daryl's House logo

Good Cop Bad Cop Productions

Some time in 2007, Daryl Hall of Hall & Oates fame decided that, instead of the endless touring longtime rock and country musicians seem to do late in their careers, why not bring the music home and put it up on the web or, better, television where more people can see it with only the guests having to travel? Hall has a reconstructed 18-century colonial house in Upstate New York, near where he, partner John Oates, and most of their supporting musicians are based. The only travel would be done by the guests, who would show up, jam, and “have some food, drink some wine.” The result was an hour-long webcast-turned-TV-show Live from Daryl’s House.

Once upon a time, I knew everything there was to know about music and was constantly up on the latest bands. If I didn’t know them, so much the better. I’d get to know them soon enough. That lasted through the nineties, which, to me, was the last great decade for original music with grunge, post-grunge, Brit pop, post-punk, matured heavy metal, and Lillith Fair. It was like the early 1970’s all over again.

Then came American Idol. That pretty much shut down music for me. Is Marillion doing another album? Is there a Rolling Stones album I don’t have yet? Why hasn’t Kurt Cobain’s corpse been reanimated? Chop chop. I want more Nirvana! The Foos aren’t making albums fast enough!

This just all served to make the 2000’s a bigger suckfest than I already thought they were. And then my friend Brian Thornton turned me onto Live From Daryl’s House. Even some of those singers and bands I didn’t like for being too poppy sounded great just jamming in the great room of Daryl’s restored colonial home. The show is Hall with various session musicians from his solo work and Hall & Oates. John Oates does not appear, but he is frequently mentioned. Anyone can show up, from obscure prog rockers Minus the Bear to sexy alternative rocker Grace Potter to seasoned veterans like Joe Walsh and Todd Rundgren (who brought the show to his home in Hawaii. You haven’t lived until you watch a bunch of guys on acoustic guitars play “Bang the Drum” while a hula dancer struts her stuff.) Hall even had his idol, Smokey Robinson, appear. By the way, an elderly Smokey still sounds better without autotune and no studio trickery than the Black Eyed Peas on a good day.

There is a cooking segment as Hall will have a local chef come in to demonstrate what’s for dinner that day. Sometimes, as in the case of the Goo Goo Dolls’ John Rzeznik, the guest musician(s) will do the cooking. Late in the show, the musicians all sit around a big table with that day’s dish to swap war stories from the studio and the road.

Usually, the show has about four to six songs, split between Hall’s backlist and the guest’s. Often younger musicians will want to sing some of Hall’s classic hits. For instance, the female lead singer for Fitz and the Tantrums would not be denied her chance to sing “Sara Smile,” while Minus the Bear picked an obscure song from Hall’s Sacred Songs that originally featured King Crimson’s Robert Fripp at his most bizarre. But it’s also a chance for Hall to sing on new material. Grace Potter, for instance, was excited to hear Hall’s harmonies on her hit “Paris (Ooh La La).”

One thing that comes up time and time again during the dinner discussion near the end of the show is the way the music sounds when they play. Many of the musicians note that they love the sound of the room at Hall’s home and marvel at how, aside from wiring it up for electricity, it is closer to the original house than many restored homes. The other noteworthy subject is how imperfect the music sounds. A note goes somewhere unplanned. The rhythms are frequently improvised. There’s just enough rehearsal to learn the songs they play. This is a philosophy that made Keith Richards a personal hero to me, and it’s one Hall is very big on: Play the room, and don’t over-polish the music.

As such, I’ve discovered a lot of new musicians and developed respect for some I didn’t care for previously. I became a fan of Grace Potter and of Nick Waterhouse (“Say I Wanna Know”) as a result. And I fell in love with Philadelphia singer Nikki Jean after hearing her singing Hall & Oates “One on One.”

This is how music is supposed to be written, played, and recorded: On real instruments, with the room as much a part of the sound as the players, and with all its imperfections and unexpected turns left intact.