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Published:September 12th, 2008 16:08 EST
The 2009 Rock Hall Inductions From A Purist

The 2009 Rock Hall Inductions From A Purist

By Christopher HIllenbrand

If you were lucky enough to have a ticket stub, stained with mud from the hallowed grounds of Woodstock and to have survived the upheaval and rebirth the sixties begot, 1989 became a year that you had long been waiting for. For its inaugural year as the Mecca for popular rock junkies, the Rock N` Roll Hall Of Fame And Museum inducted artists who truly bench marked rock music as an All-American institution. In fact, for the next ten years, the Rock Hall Committee upheld that unspoken creed of paying deference to the most revered and influential rock acts of the first three-quarters of the twentieth century. Since then though, the "foremost authorities" of the Pop Rocks Hall have chosen personal preferences instead of merit for their annual choices. The last three years have shown this disregard to the music`s legends that have been waiting: some with prolific careers stretching back to 1967, for induction into the newly-soiled hall. They seem to have confused the meaning of deferred with the meaning of deference. First off, the criteria distinguishing whether or not an artist is even eligible to be inducted has changed: now it seems that record sales before sustained critical acclaim and influence has priority in determining each year`s inductees.

For instance, Madonna and John Cougar Mellancamp were obviously considered to be equally as important as Leonard Cohen: the greatest poet-songwriter next to Dylan, in the Rock Hall`s 2008 ceremonies. Cohen, on the cusp of turning 74 on September 21st, has seemingly been waiting for the miracle to come in his own life, let alone his residence in the tower down the track. Though a prerequisite for induction is twenty years in popular music: Madonna`s inclusion came only twenty-five years after her first album while it took Mellancamp thirty; Cohen`s came 41 years after his album: Songs Of Leonard Cohen came out in the fall of 1967. Neither of Cohen`s fellow inductees merits the accomplishments as he himself, who has written over 150 songs (almost all of which are profound poetry). Based on the mere facts that Cohen`s composition, "Hallelujah" was rated the greatest popular song in Canadian music history and his ranking of sixth on Paste Magazine`s 100.

 Greatest Living Songwriters, he should`ve been bestowed that honor years ago.

Let`s analyze an overview of groups, who though deserving of the Hall`s esteem, have been inducted rather prematurely relative to their tenure on the pop scene. R.E.M., the epitome of American underground jangly alternative in the eighties and the first-half of the nineties, lost their stride when their drummer and songwriting collaborator Bill Berry left ten years ago, and subsequently released a string of mediocre albums. U2, the most commercially successful band and the most critically acclaimed band since The Beatles have to thank Roxy Music and latter-day Clash for U2`s trademarked guitar leers and brooding aesthetic respectively. Blondie, who without the Playboy Bunny appeal of Debbie Harry, would`ve only been a several hit wonder in the background of other New Wave artists. Though these are only a few examples, amongst many, clearly there is a bias toward the more popular yet less accomplished artists of the past and present.

Being vocal as I am on the errors of their past, I move to suggest an amendment that would rectify some of my (and the true rock fan`s) grievances for the 2009 induction ceremonies. Being objective and impersonal, I have the great honor to include artists who not only represent various styles and sub styles of rock but also are true pioneers in rock music history.

2009 Inductees

  1. Tom Waits
  2. Public Enemy
  3. Roxy Music
  4. Peter Gabriel
  5. Devo

1). Tom Waits " As a true journeyman beginning his career in the company of other immensely innovative singer-songwriters in the early seventies, Tom Waits got lost in the shuffle. Never commercially successful in the States, critics and college students alike had the final word on his genius though. With respect to other singer-songwriters like Springsteen, Dylan, (and to another extent) Neil Young; his catalog is as deep and well crafted though far more diverse. Where Dylan and Springsteen sung about the plight of the common working man, Waits drew his songs from dirt-bags and scoundrels, and communicated it through beatnik inspired lyrics. Even from his earliest recordings in 1973, Waits had demonstrated an innate talent to sing his brand of complicated and disjointed narratives in a progressively changing style. During the seventies, his style summoned comparisons to classic jazz and traditional pop; while his career on became increasingly theatrical. Known as a tireless pursuer of music tuned to the beat of his own eccentric drum, Waits has compiled a catalog that rivals Dylan`s in total songs written and sheer eclectic scope. With his unique style of wailing from the deepest purgatory through his raspy baritone, he has solidified his reputation as the definitive barroom bard.

Tom Waits (born 1949), had been traveling the club circuit for years before he was noticed by a talent scout from Asylum Records. His first release for the label: Closing Time (1973) was the masterpiece of a new singular talent rooted in early rock and roll, and Tin Pan Alley akin to Hoagy Carmichael. The album yielded a series of standards including "Old Shoes (& Picture Postcards)", "Ice Cream Man", and his timeless paean to a quest of life on the open road, "Ol` 55", which later became a hit for The Eagles. His early work featured a more yearning and melancholic style similar to many singer/songwriters in the early seventies. Though never heard on mainstream airwaves, his songs and the raw poetry behind them greatly influenced artists who followed him in roots rock like T-Bone Burnett and Robbie Robertson (of The Band fame) from the seventies onward. The seventies saw many more triumphs in the forms of the albums: Small Change, (Looking For) The Heart of Saturday Night, Blue Valentines, and Foreign Affairs. The song "Heartattack And Vine" from the album of the same title was actually referenced to a comedy bit routine by Robin Williams.

After getting married, his career began to flounder in the early eighties as his old-fashioned piano-driven music began to wan. As a result, he unloaded his manager, producer, and his label. After landing a deal with Island Records, his next record: Swordfishtrombones (1983), became the record by which his entire residency with Island was judged. Where piano provided the melodic relief to his discordant vocal cords in the past, brass and percussion instruments were utilized giving his new sound an earthier and unrelenting drive than ever before while some of the album`s tracks featured his more familiar piano overtones from his Asylum years. "Underground" and "Shore Leave" are two prime examples of his transition to the more fractured and rhythmical storytelling, while " Johnsburg , Illinois " is a concise ode to his wife, Kathleen Brennan (who became his songwriting partner thereafter), and her hometown. In the same formula he devised on his previous effort, but realized fully: Rain Dogs (1985) is one of his best albums, if not his most consistent. Through the abstract theatrical numbers of lesser (though still defining) tracks like "Big Black Mariah" and "Tango Til They`re Sore", "Jockey Full Of Bourbon", "Time", "Union Square", "Singapore" and "Downtown Train" (the latest became a hit six years later for Rod Stewart) stand out as some of the greatest songs Waits ever penned.

While balancing his music career with a career in acting, Waits produced a series of albums in the late eighties and early nineties that reflected his interest in early 20th century German theater. Bone Machine (1992): his most ominous record to date (which is no small task), premiered the same year as Bram Stoker`s Dracula in which he played a minor role. After staging The Black Rider, his musical tale of a sinister carnival sideshow leading the innocent astray, his next effort came five years later in 1999 with Mule Variations, his first album with indie label, Epitaph, which garnered him a Grammy for Best Alternative Album.

The new millennium found Waits reaching into his vaults for material he composed in 1990 with his wife and dramatist Robert Wilson. In 2002, he released Alice and Blood Money, both of which were written in that collaboration. In 2004, he released his last studio album Real Gone, before compiling the three-disc set of album tracks, outtakes, and rarities entitled Orphans: Brawlers, Bawlers, and Bastards in 2006.

Top Ten Definitive Songs

Ø      Ol` 55

Ø      Ice Cream Man

Ø      Tom Traubert`s Blues (Four Sheets To The Wind In Copenhagen)

Ø      (Lookin` For) The Heart Of Saturday Night

Ø      Jersey Girl

Ø      Shore Leave

Ø      Jockey Full Of Bourbon

Ø      Time

Ø      Downtown Train

Ø      Innocent When You Dream (24)

2). Public Enemy " When Rap began in the late seventies, it was merely regarded as a passing fancy in the music business. Though artists like Kurtis Blow and Grandmaster Flash & His Furious Five incorporated socially-conscious messages into their music, they were scoffed by music critics. No one would`ve predicted the sociopolitical impact rap would receive in ten short years when Public Enemy revolutionized pop music.

Carlton Ridenhour (A.K.A. Chuck D) had been a graphic design major at Long Island`s Adelphi University, when he met Hank Shocklee and Bill Stephney while they all DJ-ed for a college radio station in 1982. They became close as they learned they shared the same passions for politics and music. On the insistence of Shocklee, Ridenhour rapped some of his own lyrics over Shocklee`s mixed demo tapes which laid the groundwork for the song "Public Enemy No. 1". After appearing on Stephney`s radio show as his new persona: Chuck D and playing the cassette he and Shocklee produced, Ridenhour soon drew notice from Rick Rubin, Def Jam co-founder and producer, who wanted him to sign a record deal. Before signing on, Ridenhour bided his time while conceiving the idea for a visionary hip-hop group. The main focus of this group would be to convey the solution to racial injustice through radical messages for political change.

Public Enemy, as his group would come to be called, would consist of various alter-egos and a Black Panther aesthetic. Chuck D, the grave deliverer of topical polemics against the establishment, would front the group; Flavor Flav (born William Drayton), dressed in oversized attire and glasses with a clock hanging from his neck, would fulfill the needed comic relief to Chuck`s frenetic intensity; Terminator X (born Norman Lee Rogers), would scratch the LPs while layering arranged samples on top of the song`s beats; Professor Griff (born Richard Griffin) would be the choreographer to the female dance crew, Security For The First World: dressed in fatigues and berets, performing military steps and carting fake Uzis. Shocklee became the group`s main producer while Stephney acted as Public Enemy`s publicist.

With the final preparations in place, Public Enemy signed to Def Jam records and released their debut album, Yo! Bum Rush The Show in 1987. Though rudimental in demonstrating the studio savvy of Hank Shocklee and the group`s production team: The Bomb Squad, the album`s effective yet subdued beats with the forceful oratory from Chuck D garnered acclaim from R&B critics while the mainstream rock critic still shrugged it off as just another gasp from a dying genre.

Their second album, It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back (1988), cleared any doubts the rock community at large possessed over the merit of rap as a genuine style of rock. Featuring breakthroughs in blending 70s funk and free jazz with new sampling methods and textures of noise, the album furthermore showcased the ever-widening scope and subject matter of Chuck D`s lyrics. In a stone-cold logic, he conveyed his messages in a fiercely urgent tone only to have it magnified by the musical tapestry weaving around his every word.

The militant attitude of the group began to come back to haunt them, as Chuck D made the comment that their music was the "Black CNN" implying that the media never addressed the problems within the black community. Professor Griff`s anti-Semitic remarks only fanned the flames of controversy, and got him fired from the group.

Their third album: Fear Of A Black Planet (1990) picked up where their last album left off. Perhaps the finest hour of The Bomb Squad in cut-and-paste production, the album highlighted Chuck D`s maturing flow in expanding his musical vocabulary. Songs like "Welcome To The Terrordome", "Fight The Power", and "911 Is A Joke", developed on the group`s interplay of seriousness and levity prevalent in It Takes A Nation ".

After 1991`s Apocalypse 91 " The Enemy Strikes Back, the group went on hiatus due to several regime changes and Flavor Flav`s battles with substance abuse. Their first record in three years, Muse Sick-N-Hour Mess Age (1994), was panned by critics, but their soundtrack to the film: He Got Game in 1998 was heralded as their finest album since the early nineties. Since then, they`ve produced several albums of old unused tracks and new alike as their influential standing in rap has found an audience in new generations of rappers owing them a debt of gratitude.


Top Ten Definitive Songs

Ø      Public Enemy No. 1

Ø      Bring The Noise

Ø      Don`t Believe The Hype

Ø      Black Steel In The Hour Of Chaos

Ø      Prophets Of Rage

Ø      911 Is A Joke

Ø      Welcome To The Terrordome

Ø      Fight The Power

Ø      Shut `Em Down

Ø      He Got Game

3). Roxy Music " Out of the British progressive rock movement, and the experimental proto-punk on our side of the pond, Roxy Music melded the best elements of both styles. With a dash of decadent sex and a haughty fashion sense thrown in, they created their own distinctive musical personality.

Bryan Ferry and Brian Eno met as art school graduates playing gigs in and around London when they enlisted Andy MacKay (saxophone) and Phil Manzanera (guitar) to join their new band. With Eno manning the keyboards and Ferry as the handsome, yet androgynous swaggering singer, the group quickly gained notice in London `s nightclub scene.

With guitar and sax salvos intertwining with Eno`s electronic hooks and Ferry`s sultry vibrato, their self-titled debut in 1972 (and the singles it generated: " Virginia Plain " and "Remake/Remodel"), ascended the British pop charts. On the heels of the non-album single: "Pyjamarama", they released For Your Pleasure in `73. Less rambling in structure and more surrealistic in sonic texture, the album punctuated a poignant side to Bryan Ferry`s songwriting abilities. The album`s headliner: "Do The Strand" constructed on the exciting grooves found on their debut, and paved the way for the rest of For Your Pleasure.

Due to creative and personal difference, Brian Eno left the group after For Your Pleasure`s release, giving almost unlimited creative control to Ferry. Abandoning the amateurish progressive styles Eno had been instrumental in making; Ferry changed the overall aesthetic of their sound to artistic pop, more influenced by The Beatles and American soul. With Ferry now in charge of the group`s direction, the band went to work on their third album: Stranded, which also came out in 1973. Stranded marked this transition of less adventurous productions into taking advantage of his profitable pop sensibilities. "A Song For Europe " and "Mother Of Pearl" were prime examples of his burgeoning talents for writing infectious melodies. Roxy Music was in the prime of their existence in terms of musical creativity and experimentation (a la Ferry) due to the successive masterpieces: Country Life (1974) and Siren (1975). Arguably their most consistent pleasure to listen to, Country Life explores melding driving guitar rock with their arty glam sound: prevalent on a ballad from the album: "All I Want Is You". As well as showing a tightly knit unity in its songs, Country Life demonstrated the group`s growth from an outfit focusing on extended, somewhat unorganized riffs to a band concentrating on concise art pop. Siren continued their new polished tradition of glamorous pop music, and boasted Roxy Music`s first single to hit the Top 100 in the U.S. : "Love Is The Drug". "Sentimental Fool" was another highlight of the album.

The group began losing its vibrancy by their sixth album: Manifesto. Bryan Ferry, the group`s singer and most prolific songwriter, who focused more on accessibility than substance in this period, was to mostly to blame for their minimal success of late. As a result, the only other original members of Roxy Music: Andy MacKay and Phil Manzanera felt the strain that Ferry`s dominant presence brought to the band`s relationship.

With their last gasp of air and Ferry`s goal to redeem the group`s reputation, Avalon (1982) was their best and most ambitious album since Siren. Built on layers of ethereal sound-scapes and whirling guitar hooks, Avalon balanced the art rock of their glory days and the sheer pop appeal of their latter years in the timeless hits: "Avalon", "More Than This", and "Take A Chance On Me". The album focused on the themes of longing and transcendental love. After the subsequent tour and on a high note, Roxy Music called it quits with their reputation as the greatest glam rock band firmly instilled in the annals of music history.    

Top Ten Definitive Songs

Ø      Remake/Remodel

Ø      Ladytron

Ø      Pyjamarama

Ø      Do The Strand

Ø      A Song For Europe

Ø      All I Want Is You

Ø      Love Is The Drug

Ø      Sentimental Fool

Ø      More Than This

Ø      Avalon

4). Peter Gabriel " Long before he embarked on a solo career, Peter Gabriel made a name for himself as the eccentric front man of the prog-rock group: Genesis. Feeling dissatisfied with the direction the group was going, he took a two-year break from music before releasing his self-titled debut in 1977.  Peter Gabriel immediately dispelled any doubts about his talents away from the group; from the soaring guitar melody of "Solsbury Hill" to the brooding spirituality of "Here Comes The Flood", one could hear an artist coming into his own. His debut revolved around his talents, more notably in world beat and electronic music, to express the themes of introspection, spiritual verity, and polished pop potential critical later on in his career. Gabriel took a step back (so to speak) with his second self-titled album`s tone which resembles more of the 70s arena rock than the avant-garde influences in his last. Like its predecessor though, it elaborates on Gabriel`s intellectual side and generated modern rock hits in "D.I.Y", "On The Air", and "Indigo". But like the first, its cohesion falls apart in the hokey tracks rambling over the themes of the album`s individual strengths.. It would take him two years to attain his stride in his songwriting and how to convey it.

Peter Gabriel (3), his finest album, ushers you in and never lets up in its gloomy milieu surrounded by menacing guitars and disturbing synthesizers. Produced by Steve Lillywhite, the album reinforces its lasting power in each successive track, from the paranoid amnesiac "I Don`t Remember" to the cryptically political "Games Without Frontiers" (which made the Billboard Top 50 in the U.S. ). Equally as important is "Biko": his tribute to the slain South African anti-apartheid activist Steven Biko. Security (1982) combined the waves of sonic texture from his previous album, with Latin and West African rhythms to create a blend of ethnic tone poems with ambitious pop. "Shock The Monkey", his jerky interpretation of the Motown sound, made it to the Top 40 chart, while maintaining the flow of the album`s untamed ambiance. On the heels of Security`s success, he agreed to a one-time Genesis reunion to help fund his project: WOMAD (World of Music, Arts and Dance) geared toward bringing world musics to Western audiences through a yearly live concert of mainstream artists and native musicians. In 1984, he scored the soundtrack to Alan Parker`s film: Birdy, which was extolled by critics and awarded with the Grand Jury Prize at Cannes . In 1985, he formed Real World: a corporation devoted to bridging the gaps between progressing technology and universal world musics.

So was 1986`s biggest album and for good reason. It was his most cheery and confident record to date, ironically opening with the apocalyptic "Red Rain". The Stax-inspired "Sledgehammer" was a number one hit whose music video helped its popularity. Arguably the most well-known tribute to a facial feature: "In Your Eyes", was a moderate success at the time of So`s release, but achieved cult status when it was featured in the famous boom box scene in the film Say Anything in 1989.

He ventured further into his multimedia projects for Real World and composed the music to Martin Scorsese`s film, The Last Temptation Of Christ, in the late eighties. Passion (1989) as the album was titled due to legal concerns, served as the template for some of the ethno-musicological pursuits Gabriel delved into with Real World.

In 1992, he released the follow-up to So; Us whose biggest hit "Steam" plagiarized his earlier "Sledgehammer". So suffered from being the encore many years too late, already after his audience moved on. After the album`s disastrous response, he retreated from pop music until Up came in 2002 to mixed reviews and poor sales. Even with lagging appeal into the new century, his status as one of the most ambitious and innovative world-crossover musicians remains untouched.

Top Ten Definitive Songs

Ø      Solsbury Hill

Ø      Here Comes The Flood

Ø      On The Air

Ø      Games Without Frontiers

Ø      Biko

Ø      Shock The Monkey

Ø      Sledgehammer

Ø      In Your Eyes

Ø      Digging In The Dirt

Ø      Growing Up

5). Devo " Perhaps the greatest concept-minded rock band ever, Devo was the brainchild of then Kent State students Mark Mothersbaugh and Gerald Casale. They were inspired, after the Kent State massacre in 1970, to form a band founded on the principles of the cult philosophy of Oscar Kiss Maeth`s book: The Beginning Was The End. The band would be a persona of the ideals that the world is in fact is reverting back to a primitive herd mentality where conformity was paramount over individualism. Their songs reflected this ideology including many of the songs that would comprise their debut album including detached interpretations of classic rock songs.

A fixture of Akron, Ohio `s musical underground for years, Devo honed their stage presence into a robotic front with band members wearing yellow jumpsuits. Mark Mothersbaugh, the group`s front man, played the role of Booji Boy, wearing a mask resembling a deformed child to accentuate the model of this de-evolved mutation.

Not until 1976 did Devo break out into the new wave mainstream; while showing their concept film: The Truth About De-Evolution at the University Of Michigan Film Festival, they attracted the attention of a man in the audience. That man was David Bowie, who brought the group to Warner Brothers. With the meticulous producer extraordinaire: Brian Eno at the helm of their debut album: Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo!, the album became a cult classic and arguably the best album of their career with classic songs like "Jocko Homo" and "Uncontrollable Urge". The album also showcased the songwriting partnership between Mark Mothersbaugh and Gerald Casale blooming into a veritable force. Their twisted interpretation of "(I Can`t Get No) Satisfaction" on the album is still considered one of the finest remakes of the song.

Their sophomore release, Duty Now For The Future featured more of the guitar-and-synthesizer based melodies their debut showcased. Freedom Of Choice went platinum on the strength of "Whip It" and its music video, which exposed them to a wider audience than ever before on the then-new MTV. With their reputation as the most popular American new wave band of 1980, they went on to record New Traditionalists (1982), bolstered by the songs: "Through Being Cool", and "Beautiful World". Oh No! It`s Devo (1983), and Shout (1985) pigeonholed the group as has-beens unwilling to change the outdated keyboard timbre of their music, and subsequently, they faded into obscurity. Their comebacks, Total Devo (1988), and Smooth Noodle Maps (1990), resulted in a reunion tour.

In 2003, they reunited for a nationwide tour and released the single, "Watch Us Work It".

Top Ten Definitive Songs

Ø      Jocko Homo

Ø      Mongoloid

Ø      Uncontrollable Urge

Ø      (I Can`t Get No) Satisfaction

Ø      Smart Patrol/ Mr. DNA

Ø      Freedom Of Choice

Ø      Girl U Want

Ø      Whip It

Ø      Through Being Cool

Ø      Beautiful World