Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Rock And Roll Fantasy: The Three Greatest Acts That Never Were ... And Why They Deserve To Exist

More like a HARD ROCK CAFE without hamburgers!!!

A few weeks ago, Y103.9 DeeJay Jim Shea asked me if I would publish his Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame Essay in Forgotten Hits ...

Absolutely, Jim!!!

(Incredibly he addresses Gary's VERY comment ... received THIS MORNING, by the way ... in his piece!!!)

Here you go!

The Three Greatest Rock Acts that Never Were ...
And Why They Deserve to Exist
By James Shea

“Next to the Sex Pistols, rock and roll and that hall of fame is a piss stain. Your museum. (sic) Urine in wine. We’re not coming. We’re not your monkeys. If you voted for us, hope you noted your reasons. Your (sic) anonymous as judges but your (sic) still music industry people. We’re not coming. Your (sic) not paying attention.”

-The Sex Pistols, after hearing of their Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Induction in 2006 (Sprague)

Let us begin by agreeing that the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Foundation, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum in Cleveland, Ohio, its millions of patrons, and all of its sponsors do not represent a giant piss stain.

And let us also set aside the irony of a band taking a figurative public leak on the very institution that was welcoming and honoring them for, among other things, taking several very public leaks (packed with real urine goodness) on their adoring fans.

Let us also agree that the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is not just a Hard Rock Café, minus the overpriced food. Actually, they just started serving overpriced food last week (rim shot here).

Seriously, there is a temptation to dismiss any sort of discussion regarding the relative merits, influence, and legacy of anyone and anything, from rock stars to badminton players, as subjective and silly.

Let us agree that Rock Music is important, Rock History is important, and getting it right is very important.

The people at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum seem to think getting rock history right is very important. The Hall’s mission, as stated on their website is “ … to educate visitors, fans and scholars from around the world about the history and continuing significance of rock and roll music.”

It is interesting to note, in contrast, a mission statement on the National Baseball Hall of Fame’s website: “ … to honor excellence.” The people at the Rock Hall make no mention of honoring excellence or even technical proficiency. The music industry often awards gold records to those who make lots of money. The Rock Hall website is conspicuously devoid of any words describing the inductees as good for business (ironic, considering that if Elvis and the Beatles had just made wonderful music, and hadn’t made tons of money, there would be no Rock and Roll Hall of Fame). They only describe them as “legendary”. So we must, for now, live with a system with no quantifiable criteria for induction (like baseball batting averages). An act is legendary merely because the people at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame arbitrarily say it is legendary.

To that I say: we’re not gonna take it; never did and never will.

Imagine, if you will, that somebody got the bright idea that there should be a US President’s Hall of Fame. Sure, the first class of inductees would be Washington, Lincoln, Kennedy, and Reagan. Sure, all the Jefferson and Roosevelt fans would scream bloody murder, and then sober up and realize that if the US President’s Hall of Fame’s mission statement included something about education, that the omission of any President, for any reason, even the impeached pair of Johnson and Clinton, would compromise the museum’s historical accuracy, and therefore, its mission.

Granted, the analogy is not perfect. A President’s Hall of Fame that omitted William Henry Harrison would probably only be depriving the public of a good lesson about the value of zipping your lip in a monsoon. Also, I don’t think that a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame that omitted a moderately successful and otherwise nondescript disco-era act like Chic, or a politically inert Euro Pop phenomenon like ABBA would invalidate its historic, legendary vision, or ruin its credibility with rockers. Although it should be noted, for grins and giggles, that both Chic and
ABBA were “nominated”, but only ABBA had enough support to gain induction.

The exact nature of the support needed to gain induction (and just what a political crapshoot that can be) will be addressed in a moment. For now I come to the heart of my argument: that there are three legendary acts in rock and roll, all of which present a body of work so historically and financially significant, that rock historians who do not include it, who do not embrace it, who do not recognize it as legendary, have created a history that is mere rock and roll fantasy.

Can you sell 115 million albums worldwide (Ruhlman) and not be a legend?

Yes, according to the people at the Rock Hall. Neil Diamond still awaits his rightful place in rock history, despite the fact that, now pushing seventy, he still maintains the ability to get a 20 thousand seat, sold out venue, literally rocking.

In 2008, Neil Diamond ranked 7th on the list of top concert grosses with $81,206,383. (Toscano) Needless to say, you can’t just show up at age 70 and be a rock star. You have to have a significant history. Neil Diamond’s history is a
scholarly essential; rich and illustrative of his era, dating back to the legendary Brill Building, where he honed his craft alongside some of the best rock and roll songwriters of all time.

Diamond has written several rock songs (“I Thank the Lord for the Night Time”, “Cherry Cherry”, “Sweet Caroline”) that will be played on radio as long as it remains a vital medium. And to those who say he’s merely a crooner, not a rocker, remember that ABBA just got inducted.

If you have ignored the legend of Neil Diamond, the man who wrote I’m a Believer, then it would logically follow that you would also ignore the group that, in singing it, created a representative slice of the golden era of rock and roll: The Monkees; Mickey Dolenz, Michael Nesmith, Davey Jones, and Peter Tork had as stunning and fleeting a ride on the rock and roll roller coaster as has ever been seen. It truly was stunning, because nobody believed that there could be a four man band that would make everyone stop talking about the Beatles, even for one moment. And it was fleeting, because the Monkees chose to incriminate themselves in order to expose the carnies controlling the ride.

True, the Monkees added only vocal to their early work, the same as many Motown groups like the Temptations (enshrined in 1989). The Monkees also were not all proficient in the instruments they appeared to play on television, but this is just another way of saying that they created something in the studio that could not be faithfully reproduced live on stage.

Understand that using hired musical guns soon thereafter became the norm for top groups of that era: the Beach Boys (enshrined in 1988), the Doors (enshrined in 1993), and yes, The Beatles (enshrined 1988); who showed class by refusing to pile on in the Monkee beat down. John Lennon likened their humor to the Marx Brothers, and George Harrison said, “When they get it all sorted out, they might just be the best” (“The Monkees”), referring to the technical proficiency they displayed, once they had assumed control of their music.

Which leads us to the question: in terms of technical proficiency, which group was the best? You could (and I will) argue for yet another act relegated to drooling just outside the window of I. M. Pei’s magnificent, quirky edifice on the shores of Lake Erie: Chicago. Their first double album, Chicago Transit Authority, extended the musical boundaries that defined rock and roll. At the band’s core was a traditional, yet rock solid, foursome of guitarist Terry Kath, keyboardist Robert Lamm, drummer Danny Seraphine, and bassist Peter Cetera. But add to that a horn section, comprised of saxophonist Walt Parazaider, trombonist James Pankow, and trumpet player Lee Loughnane, and you had something that had never been heard before. Chicago debuted with their successful incorporation of jazz and rock the same year Miles Davis (enshrined in 2006) was credited with the invention of jazz rock fusion upon the release of his album Miles in the Sky. Another band that has received more critical praise than Chicago (with far less popular success) is Steely Dan (enshrined in 2001).

In terms of combined single and album sales, Chicago ranks as the second most popular US band of all time (Ruhlman), behind only the Beach Boys. Can such a group go the way of a Guantanamo detainee, and simply disappear, along with fellow Chicagoans; the Buckinghams (snubbed by the Rock Hall), and The Ides of March (also snubbed), all of whom shared The Chicago Sound? In reality, the answer is no. Chicago has the distinction of having had a chart album in five consecutive decades. But in the revisionist Rock and Roll Hall of Fame history
book, the answer is yes.

Are the members of the Roll and Roll Hall of Fame Foundation merely clueless, or somehow biased and corrupt? They appear clueless. I don’t feel there’s any outright corruption involved here, but I could certainly understand a bit of record label bias.

In 1997 the Young Rascals and Crosby Stills Nash and Young were part of the induction class. These are two fine, yet short lived acts (CSNY stayed together only two years), the resumes of which would be dwarfed by Neil Diamond, or the Monkees, or Chicago. Oh, and did I mention that the Monkess made their music on Colgems and Diamond and Chicago spent the lion’s share of their careers
with Columbia, while the Rascals and CSNY were with Atlantic? Did I further mention that this is the very label founded by the man who chaired the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Foundation from its inception until the time of his death, in 2006: Ahmet Ertegun?

Again, I expect someone who has signed and nurtured an act to have some sort of bias, but bias is hard to prove, so I withdraw it. A better description of the current Foundation would be royally arrogant, according to Roger Friedman of Fox News. His stunning March 14, 2007 article, entitled, “Rock Hall Voting Scandal: Rock Group Actually Won” revealed that the Foundation, despite its lofty, stated goals of elevating musicians, had given only $9,000 to indigent musicians and $53,000 to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum, despite an excess of $11 million in holdings.

It had also fallen under the iron rule of Rolling Stone Magazine publisher Jann Wenner, who had “appointed himself” Chairman following the death of Ertegun. Wenner then proceeded to weed out any dissenting voices on the committee, which votes on which nominees get inducted, and by Freidman’s head count, boasted only 3 actual musicians among its members.

Friedman’s article broke the story of (Epic Records artists) The Dave Clark Five; one of the brightest examples of “British Invasion” rock to hit America in rock’s golden age, whose members had been perennially snubbed until their Rock Hall nomination in 2007. When the votes were initially tallied, the band had enough for enshrinement, only to have that reversed by a last minute executive order. Wenner, it seemed, felt that the year’s enshrinement class, “didn’t have a rap group,” and so the DC 5 were usurped by Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, according to Friedman’s anonymous source.

If true, this allegation leaves us to wonder how many times worthy acts have been deprived of their rightful place in the Rock Hall by such arbitrary whims, which seem designed to satisfy some sort of ethnic quotas. The use of quotas can be effective in helping minorities realize their potential in various jobs or institutions of higher learning, but when artistic potential has already been realized, the music, its influence, artistic merit, commercial success, and historical significance should be the only determining factors as to whether it has made the people who created it worthy of induction.

The usually docile music public took notice of the voting scandal. Operating in damage control mode, the committee overwhelmingly voted to enshrine the Dave Clark 5 the following year. On March 10, 2008, Tom Hanks delivered the words that lead singer Mike Smith had waited most of his adult life to hear: the Dave Clark Five’s Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction speech. But he did not hear it. Mike Smith had died 11 days earlier at age 64.

Is it silly and sentimental to look upon the rock stars of our youth and see anything more than faded faces on a weathered record jacket? Take a longer look, and you will see real people with real feelings. You will see people who devoted their lives to something that gave us pure joy. You will see people who need you to return the favor. Sign petitions. Let the people at the Rock Hall know how you feel. Insist that they enshrine Neil Diamond, the Monkees, and Chicago. Insist that they turn their shady rock and roll fantasy into accurate and enduring rock and roll history.


Friedman, Roger. “Rock Hall Voting Scandal: Rock Group Actually Won” Fox Entertainment Group. 14 March 2007. Web. 11 Nov. 2009.

“The Monkees.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia foundation. May 2009. Web. 8 Nov. 2009

National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum. National Baseball Hall of Fame Library, “n.d.”. Web. 8 Nov. 2009

Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Inductees Overview. Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum, 2007. Web. 8 Nov. 2009

Ruhlman, William. “Biography of Neil Diamond.” AMG, 2009. Web. 8 Nov. 2009

Ruhlman, William. “Biography of Chicago.” AMG, 23 Jun. 2009. Web. 8 Nov. 2009

Sprague, David. “Sex Pistols Flip Off Hall of Fame.” Rolling Rolling Stone Magazine, “N. p.” 24 Feb. 2006. Web. 7 Nov. 2009.

Toscano, Paul. “Highest Grossing Concert Tours of 2008.” National Broadcasting Company, “N. p.” 3 Feb. 2009. Web. 7 Nov. 2009

Feel better now, Jim??? (Sometimes it really DOES help to vent!!! lol) And we've certainly done OUR share of venting these past few years. (This topic REALLY gets under my skin ... FAR more disappointing than what The Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame is and has become is knowing what it COULD have been ... and SHOULD have been. When The Museum was first founded, we felt vindicated ... Rock And Roll Music was FINALLY being accepted as an ART Form ... it was our validation ... we had CREDIBILITY ... but now it's become a joke ... the artists THEMSELVES don't even care anymore about who gets in and who doesn't. The very concept of ranking artists like Elvis, The Beatles, The Beach Boys, Bob Dylan and The Rolling Stones side by side "equally" with the likes of Grand Master Flash, Solomon Burke, Leonard Cohen, Bonnie Raitt, Miles Davis and Percy Sledge is just TOO much to bear ... and, like Jim says above, we're not going to take it anymore. This isn't the PEOPLE's Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame ... this is Jann Wenner's PERSONAL Hall Of Fame and it REALLY needs to stop. SOMETHING has to be done to restore ANY sense of sensibility, reason, rationale, reliability and honor ... and until they DO, less and less people will care. (Interestingly enough, when it came time to throw themselves an (albeit EARLY) 25th Anniversary Birthday Bash, it wasn't Iggy Pop and the Stooges or Afrika Bambaataa or Leonard Cohen that they invited to play. No, when it came time to actually going out and SELLING tickets, they went after a virtual Who's Who of Rock Royalty ... Bruce Springsteen, U2, Simon and Garfunkel, Billy Joel, Mick Jagger, Dion, Aretha Franklin, Crosby, Stills and Nash, John Fogerty, Stevie Wonder and Smokey Robinson ... because they KNOW who the REAL rock stars are. (Sadly, so many of the greatest rock artists have already passed before us ... but when it came down to "puttin' on the ritz", they KNEW who to invite.)

I'm not sure ANYTHING we do will ever change things ... Jim's suggestion regarding petitions has been tried numerous before ... and failed each and every time. We know of petitions for DOZENS of artists that have been submitted ... some with as many as 10,000 signatures on them ... and yet these artists never even made the ballot. This committee seems to have its own agenda ... and no amount of protest from the public has had ANY impact to date. (Again I suggest allowing the fans to vote in one new member each year ... get a feel for whose music REALLY impacted our lives. The fact that much of this music has never been off the radio for the past 40 years ought to tell you something ... clearly it had SOME impact!!!)

Some have called this year's inductees the "worst class ever", suggesting again that perhaps the most deserving acts have already been inducted. I disagree ... from my perspective, artists like ABBA, Genesis and The Hollies are finally getting their due. (Jimmy Cliff and "eighth time's the charm" Iggy Pop and the Stooges are ALSO being inducted this March.) Far more impressive (in my opinion) is the recognition of songwriters Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil, Ellie Greenwich and Jeff Barry, Mort Shuman and Otis Blackwell, all LONG overdue for recognition for their contributions to the evolution of rock and roll music. But The Hall still has a LONG way to go in terms of setting things right. Certainly ALL of the acts mentioned by Jim Shea above deserve THEIR rightful spot in The Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame. In addition to Neil Diamond, Chicago and The Monkees, our Forgotten Hits Readers seem to feel very strongly about The Moody Blues, Linda Ronstadt, Hall and Oates, The Guess Who, Pat Benatar, Heart, Todd Rundgren, Jack Scott, Freddy Cannon, Tommy James and the Shondells, Herman's Hermits, The Turtles, Paul Revere and the Raiders, Chubby Checker, Pat Boone, Connie Francis, Three Dog Night, Paul Anka, The Electric Light Orchestra, Neil Sedaka, The Zombies, Johnny Rivers, The Doobie Brothers, Jim Croce and Grand Funk Railroad.

Will some of these artists ultimately be enshrined ... most likely ... but it seems that The Hall is far more focused on inducting each year's batch of newest eligibles than it is in looking back at what got rock and roll to where it is in the first place ... and that's a shame. As we've stated so many times before, less and less of these "pioneers" are still around ... every year our hearts are saddened by the passing of more and more of our musical heroes. Induct these artists NOW so they can bask in the recognition ... let some of these "new kids" wait an extra year or two ... most of the folks on OUR list have already waited twenty or more! (kk)