Grading the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame's Class of 2014
Artwork by Tatiana Craine
A few weeks have passed since we found out who will be officially inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in April. Which means enough time has passed for the migraines and projectile vomiting to have subsided. Okay, the choices aren't all that bad. Although to dangle the Replacements in front of us like that, just to pull them away, is as cruel as telling you Ted Cruz is coming to speak at your school. Then saying, "Just kidding."
In any case, here's a scorecard for the inductees of the Class of 2014. Although using the words "class" and "Kiss" in the same sentence can get you sent to Bellevue for three days of observation. Ready? Okay then. I've done them in order. From the ones who make sense, to those who were seemingly picked by that mythic group of monkeys chained to typewriters.
1) NIRVANA - GRADE: A+
An obvious choice. But the right one. Not only were these guys great, they sported one of the best songwriters of the past 25 years. And, without any hype, they tapped into the psyches of millions of listeners. Because they felt you needed to know more about the details of real life, then the merits of twerking. My only concern? The night they perform, they will be fronted by Eddie Vedder. Which will require an onscreen interpreter. For the hearing impaired. And everybody else.
2) PETER GABRIEL - GRADE: A-
At his best, Gabriel took the dreaded term "art rock" and made it compact, tuneful and compelling. As opposed to, say, Yes, who made a three-record set I put on in 1973 and still isn't finished playing. Gabriel took the best elements of sophisticated music and straight ahead Rock and for a while, got them to co-exist without trying to gouge each others' eyes out. My reservations? He puts an album out about every 11 years. And every one of them contains a version of "In Your Eyes." It's a good thing Gabriel's getting in now, because he's been running on fumes for years. And a Miley Cyrus duet gets closer every fucking day.
3) HALL AND OATES - GRADE: B+
A really good singles band. And I love the controversy it must be causing. Considering there are rock critics out there who have more anger and skepticism about these guys than conspiracy theorists do about the Warren Commission. If you don't like "Rich Girl," "You Make My Dreams Come True" and "She's Gone," I feel inestimably sorry for you. On the downside? They've never really really made a great album that hangs together conceptually. But they're fun. And Daryl Hall has that one essential trait that every frontman must possess in order to achieve superstardom. That's right. Great hair!
4) LINDA RONSTADT - GRADE: B
As Yogi Berra use to say so sagely, "I feel strongly both ways," about Ms. Ronstadt. On the plus side, when she sang ballads as gorgeous as "Prisoner In Disguise," or "Heart Like a Wheel," you cried so hard, you used up your own sleeve and had to wipe your nose on the arms of total strangers. She sold a ton of records. She was as easy on the eyes as a lunar eclipse. On the downside? There's her musical eclecticism. Which was often so self-destructive, it made Evel Knievel look like a CPA. Her singing on those standards albums was often stiffer than Keith Richards's after two bottles of gin. And speaking of Keef, one of my worst nightmares use to be that Ronstadt would cover (and crucify) "Tumblin' Dice." Then she did. And I've believed in nightmares ever since. Thanks a lot, Linda.
5) KISS - GRADE: D
I expect the Kiss Army to burn crosses on my lawn for dissing them. In fact, I've even drawn outlines for those crosses, so they don't touch off the house. Yes, there are a couple of Kiss songs I like. Yes, they've sold so many records and so much product, that their GNP just surpassed that of Trinidad-Tobago. But if you love smart, street-level rock 'n' roll (like the New York Dolls), there's no way you don't despise these cement heads. They really seem to be the starting point, for when rock gave up and decided fake was easier than real. Their lyrics are dumber than the worst Steven Seagal movie. And Gene Simmons once wrote a whole song about anal sex. Which makes my Linda Ronstadt dream seem beatific in comparison. So this makes me ill. Again, Kiss Army, follow the outlines when you burn those crosses and no hard feelings.
6) CAT STEVENS - GRADE: D-
A little lower than Kiss, for the simple reason that they sometimes make you laugh intentionally. Craftsmanship be damned. This guy represents everything I despise about the ickiness and hypocrisy of "soft rock." Where to start? His desecration of Sam Cooke's "Another Saturday Night"? His being spotted wearing a swastika a year after recording "Peace Train"? How does a guy who mewls like a lovesick heifer and plays a nylon-stringed guitar get put in a place devoted to rock 'n' roll? Greater minds than mine have been working on that for years. And have yet, not come up with anything.
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