After reading Judith’s amazingly well-written and impassioned July 23rd plea to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame to reconsider some of their long-held artistic and political stances, I felt the need as a lifelong student of the Billboard charts (and beyond) to comment on her article. But I didn’t want my reply to get lost on the comments page because I have similarly rich and strongly-stated opinions on this matter. Also I did some research regarding Judith’s complaints that I think comprise a valuable addendum to her fine and necessary editorial. So I’m posting my reply as a separate story rather than simply as a comment.
It seems that Judith (whom I’ve never met) and I are of the same age group, given her vivid recollections of the year 1976. I share like-minded memories of a great time to be a child, particularly a child (like me) aware of culture, politics, sociology, history, art, film, and music. So I also begin my piece by recalling my memories of that time in my life, in our country’s Bicentennial year, and how the craft of music continued to shape my worldview during three of those 12 glorious months. So I'm now starting to magically smell and taste
Shasta, Razzles, Icees, Cherry Charms pops, Funyuns, Funny Faces, Zotz, Marathon bars, and that Gold Rush Golden Nuggets chewing gum that used to come in a little prospector's bag. Like, I totally remember this creepy, funny Shasta commercial starring Frankenstein (here deemed "Igor," probably because of Universal Pictures' meddling), John Fiedler (Winnie the Pooh's Piglet, 12 Angry Men, Bob Newhart) and Happy Days dad Tom Bosley on voice-over!!!!
In the summer of 1976, the season from which my most vivid recollections of Bicentennial life and music derive, I was nine years old, set to hit the big ten in late October. At that time, my mother was working in personnel at a government agency and my father, a former Atlanta cop, was working for his father at a construction business the Treadway family owned. Being the grandson of a genius lawyer—my mother’s father—I had grown up listening to the volumes and volumes of classical music to which my grandfather, Mr. Pops (as I called him), was determined to expose me. This was a project of his that had begun probably as soon as I could talk. Beethoven was his chief love, then Mozart, Bach, and the hundreds of other great classical composers that lay well-played in his musty-smelling cabinet of ancient and new LPs.
I think at first a shock of fear would shoot up my spine when Mr. Pops would command me to sit down quietly and listen to the unparalleled sounds of the world’s great composers. But I know that shock disappeared when I discovered I loved this music. It was so totally new in its oldness that I was captivated. Still, I’m sure it would have irritated Mr. Pops to know that, when he he would leave his family’s post-war-designed Atlanta home on Franklin Circle, I would not often on my own continue to seek solace in the strength of Wagner, the gentleness of Vivaldi, or the energy of Liszt.
Instead, I switched on pop radio.
I had not yet started my own record collection—that would happen three years later when, after a windfall of cash came my way, I bought my first albums: The Beatles 1962-1966 (the blue greatest hits double album, printed on blue vinyl), The Beatles 1967-1970 (the red greatest hits double album, printed on red vinyl), and The Beatles (the famous White Album—yes—printed on white vinyl). Before that, though, I was lucky enough to have young parents who were, themselves, rock and pop fans. My mother, in particular, had (and still has) two 3’x 5’ sturdy wooden boxes that, at first glance, appear to be simple window seats, topped with black vinyl-covered padding on which to sit. A closer look would reveal a push button that would release the seat tops and open the wooden boxes to reveal the often still shrink-wrapped albums inside, often with yellow $1.98 K-Mart stickers still affixed to the plastic.
Some were purchased in her teens, some newly acquired. Among them: Chicago Transit Authority (the 6-album Carnegie Hall box set), Harper’s Bizarre, Herman’s Hermits, Black Sabbath, Iron Butterfly, The Beatles, Simon and Garfunkel, Creedence Clearwater Revival, The Bob Seger System (“Ramblin’, Gamblin’ Man”), The Guess Who, Elton John, Cat Stevens, Paul McCartney and Wings, The Swingin’ Medallions (“Double Shot of My Baby’s Love”), Tom Jones, Bee Gees, Electric Light Orchestra, The Monkees, Percy Faith, Kenny Rogers and the First Edition (“Just Dropped In To See What Condition My Condition Is In”), The Rolling Stones, Martha and The Vandellas, The Shirelles, The Box Tops, Paul Revere and The Raiders (“Kicks”), The Eagles, Deep Purple, Jimi Hendrix, and a whole lotta classical music.
When at home, to sing along with, I would most often pull out McCartney’s Band on the Run, Simon and Garfunkel’s Wednesday Morning 3 A.M., Cat Stevens’ Greatest Hits, CCR’s Green River, ELO’s Face The Music, Rolling Stone’s December’s Child, a 1972 Easy Listening compilation with the Mamas and the Papas, O.C. Smith, and Otis Redding on it, and Elton John’s Goodbye Yellow Brick Road.
But, in the summer of 1976, I spent most of my days at my grandmother’s house—Chick-Chick, we called her. Or Mom. I called my mom “Lynn” and my grandma “Mom.” Go figure. Even as a kid I did things my way.
At Mom’s house, I spent my days stationed beside the big radio in the family room. When I could HEAR the radio, that is. My 14-year old Uncle Jeff has just taken up the drums so they ruled the aural environment at the house, which I'm sure accounted for a certain rivalry between my uncle (who was more like an older brother) and I. The dreaded drums were located downstairs, in the extra-cool basement with the fancy bar and the comfy beds, and the pinball machine that had long ago stopped working. There, in the corner was a twelve-piece trap kit that Jeff played pretty well. Compared to my musical tastes, his seemed largely Southern-flavored—Neil Young, The Allman Brothers, The Shorty Watkins Band, Little Feat, ZZ Top, Bad Company, Moody Blues, and The Atlanta Rhythm Section were the live acts Jeff would venture out to go see in the summer of 1976. And I would sit downstairs marveling at the Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd albums he loved to play along with (“Several Species of Small Furry Animals in a Cave Grooving Together With A Pict” was the Pink Floyd cut I laughed most derisively at). Jeff was hipper than me, though, and I loved him for it. My Aunt Jerry, then married or at least about to be, was pretty with-it, too---that summer, she went to see Manfred Mann’s Earth Band, Seals and Crofts, Fleetwood Mac, Chicago (at Georgia Tech), ELO, Neil Diamond, and the Average White Band.
Upstairs, when the drums were off, the radio was on. I would listen mostly to top 40 stations like Quixie (WQXI, somewhere around 94 on the dial). Then there was Z-93 and 96 Rock as well. But my young ears liked Quixie. Back then, top 40 radio was in the baby stages of getting as repetitive as it is now. But still there was a lot of diversity. You could hear “Convoy” by C.W. McCall, “Never Gonna Give You Up” by Barry White, “Everything is Beautiful” by Ray Stevens, “Right Back Where We Started From” by Maxine Nightingale, “Shaft” by Isaac Hayes, “Claire” by Gilbert O’ Sullivan, and “Can’t Get Enough of Your Love” by Bad Company all in the same hour. On Sundays, I'd listen for hours to Casey Kasem's "America's Top 40" (all the way up to number one, unless a mall outing screwed things up). And at night: The King Biscuit Flour Hour, the trippy-sounding live concert show where you could hear Boston playing THAT album or The Grateful Dead playing THAT one. And finally, the creme de la creme: Dr. Demento at 9 pm on 96 Rock. God bless 'em, they hadda sense of humor back then, too. "Shaving Cream," "Star Drek," "Dead Puppies," "Pencil-Neck Geeks," "Fish Heads," "My Bologna," "Hello Mudda Hello Fadda," "Telephone Man," "Mr. Jaws," "They're Coming to Take Me Away Ha Haaaaaa!" (still the scariest top 5 record in chart history), "The Cockroach That Ate Cincinatti," "The Spam Song," "Dead Skunk," and "The Hawaiian War Chant" are the songs I remember hearing on this amazing program the most. Those days are over, lemme tell ya.
There were five, count ‘em, five Number One singles in the summer of ’76, from May 15 to September 1st: “Boogie Fever” by the family R&B band The Sylvers (who did some pretty cool songs the Jacksons never did, like the ultra-amazing “Misdemeanor”); “Silly Love Songs” by Wings (McCartney’s disco-influenced heavy bass obviously made everyone smile, because it stayed on top for 5 weeks); the somewhat frightening “Love Hangover” by Diana Ross (I always used to think “That can’t be Diana Ross” when she started singing “I don’t need no cure, I don’t need no cure”—I am still not sure that’s her); “Afternoon Delight” by the Starland Vocal Band (a smash of a one-hit-wonder,
who landed a bunch of Grammies at year’s end, and who made me go into a radio-station-dialing frenzy when I first heard their 45rpm confection; I immediately hadda hear it again); “Don’t Go Breakin’ My Heart” by Elton John and Kiki Dee (a rare single-only release from Elton, who was my boyhood idol and who wasn’t known for doing many duets then; this song was the most memorable release of 1976 for me. I remember listening to it over and over again, when my Uncle Jeff, who hated the record, came up to me and revealed to me that Elton was gay. I was young so I had to ask what that meant. I was shocked when I found out, but I couldn’t abandoned Elton because of that, so I shrugged, and I’m sure my Uncle Jeff walked away worried about me. "Don't Go Breakin' My Heart" would even provide me with my first glipse at a "video." Seriously, this is the first "video" I remember seeing (the second was 1979's Blondie hit "Heart of Glass"):
On TV, I chiefly remember watching Sonny and Cher, Barney Miller, The Captain and Tennille, All in the Family, Bob Newhart, Shields and Yarnell, The Hot L Baltimore, M.A.S.H., Pink Panther, Bugs Bunny, Happy Days, Laverne and Shirley, Schoolhouse Rock, Soupy Sales, Fat Albert, Carol Burnett, Sesame Street, The Electric Company, and Bicentennial Minutes (my God, Bicentennial Minutes---why don’t they release those on DVD!!!! Here’s the only one I could find, with Jessica Tandy)
At the movies: The Outlaw Josey Wales (Eastwood taking the lead from John Wayne), The Shootist (John Wayne’s last movie), Survive (the airplane-crash-in-the-Andes-with-cannibalism movie, on a double bill with Roeg’s horror film Don’t Look Now), Taxi Driver (on a rare foray into four-walled theaters, during which I fell asleep), The Bad News Bears (like a documentary of my little league days on the losingest team in league, the unfortunately yellow-suited--like the Bears--Orioles), Logan’s Run (exciting!!!), Gus (goofball Disney movie about a football-playing donkey), Shoot (stunning anti-gun drama with Cliff Robertson), Family Plot (Hitchcock’s finale), All The President’s Men, Tommy (probably for the 20th time), The Gumball Rally, Silent Movie (an intro to bawdiness for me), Ode to Billie Joe, Cannonball double-billed with Death Race 2000, and One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (still playing after its Oscar-winning late 1975 release). Here's the amazing, strangely-Disneyfied 1976 Bad News Bears trailer!!!! All childhood summers are sublime, but the summer of 1976 was more than that for me--so much so, I can’t detect a word hot enough to describe it. For the 200th Fourth of July alone, it was stratospheric. Add the music, movies, TV shows, radio and friendships, and we're now beyond the limits of the known universe in quality-summer talk. Okay. So enuff of the memories. Thanks for them, but we move on to the deeper issue at hand, namely…
What is it with this Rock and Roll Hall of Fame?
Judith’s July 23rd post tackling this issue got me to thinking. In that piece, she implored the RRHOF to consider honoring Neil Diamond, Chicago, The Doobie Brothers, Heart, Linda Ronstadt, Pat Benatar, Connie Francis, Cat Stevens, Cheap Trick, Alice Cooper, Hall & Oates, Peter Gabriel/Genesis/Phil Collins, Steve Winwood, the Monkees and Donna Summer.
Let’s get the no-brainers out of the way: The Monkees, Neil Diamond, Cat Stevens, Heart, Linda Ronstadt, Alice Cooper, Genesis, and Donna Summer all deserve immediate recognition. No arguments, just get on with it. I know one of these acts per year for the next ten years should be included. Again, screw the arguing…
The only person in Judith's original grouping I’m perhaps not familiar enough with is Connie Francis. She may make it in that Brenda Lee sort of way, but honestly, the hits of hers I know are good, but not that good. Sorry, Judith’s sister. May hafta wait a while (though maybe not that long…she did rank an impressive 6 #1 hits). Cheap Trick, Hall and Oates and Peter Gabriel may have to wait a bit longer, too. But they’ll get in, eventually, you can bet on it.
You see, being admitted into the RRHOF is largely a numbers game. You have five yearly slots, not including the specialty slots like Sidemen and Early Influences. With those five placements (which can be expanded to six or seven), if you look at the acts who have been admitted over the past few years, it seems as if the RRHOF have come up with a formula: A couple of 80s acts, one or two 70s acts (including one that had no real hits), and a 60s/50s act. One female is usually in there, as a solo or group inclusion; one or two black groups are in there; punk and post-punk is usually among the groups now; one hit-maker, if not three, is in the mix, and hip-hop is starting to claim its ground.
So one can reduce this sort of thing down to a silly math notion. But you should know something, Judith. I’ve done some research on the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame--primarily by calling my Beatlemaniac friend and all-around music expert Brad Hundt, and by reading the comments of Beatlefan publisher Bill King (billking.livejournal.com)--and have since found out something quite shocking. You know how the Hall supposedly has these 1000 people voting on each year’s entries? Well, this might be the case, but did you know two people have the right to overturn any results they can’t stomach. Those two people? Their photos are looming above this paragraph: Jann Wenner, longtime publisher of Rolling Stone magazine, and snooty/brilliant rock critic Dave Marsh (Springsteen biographer and writer of two of my favorite music books: The Heart of Rock n’ Soul: The 1001 Greatest Singles of All Time and The Book of Rock Lists).
The only mention I can find of Chicago, for instance, in Marsh’s Rock Lists book is in the “Worst of All Time” categories: most chiefly, the “40 Worst #1 Albums,” in which Chicago V, Chicago VI, Chicago VII, and Chicago VIII (as well as Blood Sweat and Tears AND Linda Rondstadt’s Living in the USA) all make appearances.
Short answer: Chicago will never make the RRHOF unless there’s a jazz-inspired riot of some sort. And I love Chicago. First concert my parents too me to, before the death of Terry Kath. Loud, boisterous and fun, it was. I can still sing, by memory, “Saturday in the Park” and “Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is” EXACTLY like the lead singer (I once did it for best friend/music addict Brian Matson and he blanched at how dead-on my imitation was). It’s wrong to leave Chicago out of the mix, no matter how much you despise them, Dave Marsh.
And who gave you and Jann the right to come waltzing in to overturn any democratically-arrived-at results, you insolent, outdated MFs? That’s cocky bullshit, if you ask me. That’s like having Academy Awards president Sid Ganis come in on a whim and say “Oh, God, not No Country For Old Men. Please!! How about American Gangster instead?” If news of this sort of thing came out regarding the Oscars, they’d be absolute hell to pay. And even if he does have a distaste for Linda Ronstadt (Which he must, given she's not in the RRHOF yet), why would've Jann Wenner placed her on the cover of Rolling Stone seven times? That doesn't make a whit of sense! She should be in the RRHOF tomorrow!!!!
As for Pat Benatar and solo Steve Winwood, they hit the airwaves around 1980 or so. That would mean that, given the 25-year wait before induction, they would have started being eligible in 2005. Often, if you notice, acts like The Mamas and the Papas have to wait ten years into their eligibility before their induction. So look for Benatar and Winwood around 2015. Again, this is a numbers game.
Judith had some wounding comments about the induction of many of acts that she found lacking. Her article encouraged the reader to look at the induction list. So I did. And, surprisingly, I agreed with almost everyone on the list, I have to say. The only ones I could see leaving off the 22 lists delivered since 1986 are Jackson Browne, the Righteous Brothers, Solomon Burke, Bonnie Raitt, The Lovin’ Spoonful, The Young Rascals, and Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers. And I would leave these guys off only because I have other inductees I’d have included. These acts are still landmarks of the business.
I close with my choices for the 30 acts that I THINK should be inducted into the RRHOF, now or when eligible: KISS (I hear Jann and Dave hate them, too; they're not my faves, but are indeniably the cause of an entire generation of young boys getting into rock n' roll), T-Rex, The Minutemen, Chicago, Electric Light Orchestra, The Monkees, Neil Diamond, Ringo Starr (maybe as a sideman), Wire, XTC, Burt Bacharach, Barry White, Run DMC, Public Enemy (I’m sure they make it on in a year or two), Frank Sinatra, and Tony Bennett (as early influences), Linda Rondstadt, Edgar Winter, The Carpenters, The Cars, Black Flag, Jim Croce, Cat Stevens, George Jones (I think there’s plenty of early blues repped; now how’s about some more early country), Leslie Gore, Joe Meek (as a producer), The Fleetwoods, Conway Twitty, The B-52s and...what the hell? Dr. Demento (or dj Barry Hansen, if you prefer).
Now I gotta listen to some records and look through my collection of these!!