Sunday, June 22, 2008

Sports Karma's Top 10 Artists That Aren't In the Rock N' Roll Hall of Fame...But Should Be.

It's forever one of the great barstool debates, right up there w/ Ginger vs. Mary Ann, Less Filling vs. Tastes Great, and your favorite Star Wars movie (and why it's that great). Who belongs in the Rock N' Roll Hall of Fame (RRHOF)?

What makes this debate so interesting is that not only is it subjective in taste, but there's a huge inherent problem with the selection process. The artists elected to the RRHOF are all writers. That's right, rock critics. Rock critics and writers are the same people that are constantly trying to tell me that I'm idiot b/c I don't like Coldplay or emo. Unless it's slightly boring (Coldplay), intellectually highbrow (Radiohead), or generally not liked by the public at large (New York Dolls), the critics don't like the artists that we think should be in.

And that really is the biggest problem. Instead of electing the artists that sold the most records, influenced future artists, sold out stadiums and became worldwide radio icons, the rock critics would prefer to glorify the people they like, and it makes for a Hall of Fame that really just isn't. Look, I'm sure Patti Smith and the Talking Heads are influential in their own right and respect. I'm sure they wrote some fine songs, and make a lot of critics happy, but c'mon. 90 percent of Americans couldn't name a Patti Smith song if it jumped up and bit them on the ass. It would be like electing Mike Scott to the Baseball Hall of Fame.

So to that end, we at Sports Karma have put together the list of the Top 10 artists that aren't in RRHOF, but really should be. A few housekeeping rules before we get started. In order to qualify for induction, an artist must have released their debut album 25 years ago. So if you're wondering why Nirvana, Metallica, Guns N' Roses, Green Day, Bon Jovi, Foo Fighters, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Dave Matthews, Lenny Kravitz, Tool or Nine Inch Nails aren't on the list, it is because they are ineligible at this time. Metallica, Bon Jovi and RHCP, however, should be elected here very soon as the 25th anniversaries of their debut albums are coming up right around the corner.

We chose the list based on some pretty simple factors: Number of albums sold over the span of their careers, how big were they in their absolute prime, and how influential they are today. Not one of those factors alone is enough to get an artist in, but the combination of all three are huge. Remember, Air Supply had a string of #1 hit singles in the 80s that rivaled only the Beatles, but Air Supply sucks and has absolutely no influence on anyone except wusses and eunuchs. Remember too that Boston's debut album is the greatest selling debut album of all-time. But just because they sold a ton of records doesn't mean anything unless you like drummers with eight-foot afros.

Alright, enough foreplay: It's time to rock...

10. Motley Crue

The Crue are enjoying a career resurgence with the help of the new single "Saints of Los Angeles." Listening to this one reminds me why Motley Crue was so damned big back in the day. Simply put, they kicked a ton of ass. Mick Mars wrote riffs that were almost as scary as he was looking. Tommy Lee beat the crap out of the drumset like he was Bonham and Moon Reincarnated. Their shows were over-the-top, especially when they first started out in Los Angeles. They were busy lighting their pants on fire (literally), and bringing chainsaws on stage, revving them up and sawing off dolls' heads. Eventually, they matured as proved by their infamous ant-snorting contest w/ Ozzy.

As far as influence goes, they pretty much set the stage for the entire decade of 1980s heavy metal. Their look was pure glam, copied by virtually everyone of the day. They wrote heavy and melodic hooks, sold 72 million albums and slept w/ almost as many women, most of whom were in Playboy. They've written best-selling novels such as The Dirt and The Heroin Diaries, and a film is being made about them in 2009.

9. Ted Nugent

The Motor City Madman is probably in many ways better known for his conservative values, his hunting prowess and his love of guns than he is for being one of the best rock guitarists of his era. In a way, it's kind of a shame that Ted Nugent has never gotten the credit he honestly deserves. During his absolute prime in 1978, when he was swinging off vines in his loin cloth and rocking out on "Cat Scratch Fever," Nugent was overshadowed by a very young Eddie Van Halen. Once everyone started trying to figure out "Eruption," Nugent became only the second-best guitarist of his era. In a weird way, he was sort of the Kevin McHale of the late 1970s. Underappreciated, undervalued and really, really ugly.

When Nugent evolved in the 1990s as a conservative commentator, the critics who already dismissed him and his music as boorish only had more ammunition to throw at him. It became a classic case of someone shooting the messenger rather than taking a thorough look at the entire body of work. And when one looks at the body of work, Ted Nugent wrote some of the best rock music of his era. And he also cooks some of the tastiest venison steaks ever, but that's neither here nor there right now.

8. Deep Purple

Alright, we could certainly talk about how Deep Purple is one of the most underrated bands ever. We could talk about the virtuosity of Ritchie Blackmore, the absolutely throttling licks of "Burn" and "Highway Star," or the fact that they are still in the Guinness Book of World Records as The Loudest Band Ever (and that's saying a lot when you think about it).

But who are we fooling here? "Smoke On The Water" has remained as one of influential rock songs ever written. This is the song that makes every 14-year-old male want to pick up a guitar, crank the amp to 11 and rip out some lethal 3-chord rock. The second "Smoke On The Water" comes on the radio, every red-blooded male worth a salt will instantly turn into Beavis and Butthead. This is an achievement unto itself and worth of induction. Oh, and by the way, if you think one song can't get you into the RRHOF think again. Percy Sledge of "When A Man Loves A Woman" fame has been inducted, and I dare anyone to name any other song by Percy Sledge without looking it up. Go ahead.

7. The Cars

Perhaps my least favorite act on this list, The Cars, are nothing if not confounding to me. Even though I don't personally get the appeal of cheesy synthesizer sounds and the nasally voice of Ric Ocasek, they are immensely popular w/ both the critics and the public at large. I hear The Cars all the time on rock radio stations across the country, and I can't for the life of me figure out either:

A. Why are they on?


B. This classifies as ROCK???

Like I said, I don't get it. But just b/c I don't get it doesn't mean that I can deny that the people love 'em. Hell, music snobs love them, and I don't even think they love them ironically. Their music has endured at least 20 years, and that says a lot as well.

But here's the most confounding thing about The Cars that doesn't involve how in the hell Ric Ocasek married a supermodel: Unlike a lot of their peers from the late-70s, early-80s, they never embarrassed themselves by dragging out tours well into their 50s, looking completely haggard, and sounding like they generally suck. Bob Seger did this perfectly and got into the RRHOF simply by not humiliating himself (Seger, incidentally, waited until he was inducted and in his 60s before he humiliated himself.)

Simply put, there's a lot I don't understand about The Cars. And how they sold out The Summit is one of them. Oh well.

6. Journey

Unlike The Cars, I completely understand why Journey's not in the RRHOF. First of all, they are pretty much the epitome of 1970s "corporate rock" that rock critics hate so much. Journey, fairly or not, was lumped in with Foreigner, Foghat, Styx and Boston as being a pile of radio-driven profiteering schlock.

Furthermore, and I can't even begin to defend this, they replaced their iconic vocalist, Steve Perry, in the late 90s with a guy who looks and sounds precisely like him. This, to me, ultimately cheapens your art and your insults your fans. It's like Spam or Velveeta. Sure it may resemble the real thing, but it's not, and honestly, it's not really all that close either.

But there is one thing that is absolutely undeniable about Journey. From 1977-1983, they wrote some of the best rock music on the planet, and it's endured from that point. They have written timeless classics about love (Open Arms), family (Faithfully), ripped out some absolutely priceless guitar solos (Anyway You Want It shreds with absolute vigor), and people have eaten up to the tune of some 50 million albums sold.

And here's the most hypocritical aspect of critics, and this doesn't exclusively relate to Journey. Yes, they were and are an undeniably successful rock band. But just because they were successful doesn't mean they're irrelevant. Thriller, Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, Nevermind and Appetite For Destruction have individually sold, I think, about three trillion copies a piece. Last time I checked "Billie Jean" and "Smells Like Teen Spirit" are still really popular with sub-Saharan tribes that live w/out electricity or plumbing.

Although this is a complete exaggeration, we would be unwillingly stupid to believe that the aforementioned artists and albums haven't had a great deal of critical and cultural acclaim despite being wildly popular worldwide. So what if Journey sold a crapload of records and made a ton of money? So did Michael Jackson, Axl Rose and Kurt Cobain, and look how that's turned out for 'em.

5. Alice Cooper

Now we're starting to get into the downright painful, "What, they're NOT in the RRHOF?" territory. When I told my Dad about this list, I got to Alice Cooper and he said, "He's NOT?" Yup, pretty much. He even said it w/ capital letters and everything.

Alice Cooper, along w/ David Bowie and Queen, are amongst the greatest, most successful and most influential performers of the modern rock era. An Alice Cooper show wasn't just a concert--it was a headbanging Broadway production number complete w/ snakes, skeletons, mock hangings and fake beheadings. Rob Zombie and Marilyn Manson both have admitted to ripping off Cooper's schtick and borrowing a fair number of his ideas for their shows. Manson, in fact, pretty much owes his entire career to Cooper, inasmuch he pretty much stole his identity (guy with a girl's name, wears makeup on stage, imitates his stage show, pimps Milwaukee in Mike Myers movies, etc.)

But his stage show aside, Cooper also wrote some of the most underrated ass-kickers of the 1970s. "School's Out" has become a summertime classic, "Eighteen" is a bonafide coming of age tale, and "No More Mr. Nice Guy" is one of the most underrated songs of that decade. Billion Dollar Babies received the biggest advance for any album in history, at the time. Alice Cooper wasn't just a rock n' roll sideshow. He was legitimately a musical force in the 1970s and should be recognized as such.

Let's put it this way. This is how great Alice Cooper is: He was asked to host The Muppet Show and put on his ghoulish acts for a whole bunch of kids and their parents. And he pulled it off. Let's see Marilyn Manson copy that.

4. Stevie Ray Vaughn

Living in Austin for as many years as I have, I'd swear that Stevie Ray Vaughn was as big as Elvis, Vince Young, Kinky Friedman and Stubb's BBQ combined. SRV's stature and legend is simply immense, and although I'd grow weary of hearing him on the radio when I lived here, everytime I'd leave, the minute I'd hear that impeccably clean tone and that beer-choked voice, I'd grow immediately homesick and crave El Arroyo enchiladas and margaritas.

Beyond that, however, are two things that make SRV's exclusion from the RRHOF completely inexcusable.

1. He's not only one of the greatest blues guitarists ever, he's one of the greatest blues songwriters as well. And that's a huge point, by the way. George Thorogood is a fantastic bluesman, and a tremendous ambassador to the genre, but aside from "Bad To The Bone," he didn't actually write any of the songs that made him famous. SRV's catalog, however, is a deep and vast reservoir of blues-slinging, muddy, whiskey-guzzling goodness. He was one of the most prolific songwriters of the genre, and considering the fact that so few people actually write blues songs anymore, his collection is all the more impressive.

2. He's dead. I don't mean that as even tongue-in-cheek, but rock music, sadly, overvalues dead guys. I don't think rock music overvalues SRV by any stretch otherwise he'd already be in the RRHOF, but part of the inherent musical value that we now perceive of Sid Vicious, Kurt Cobain, Ritchie Valens and a whole slew of dead rockers can only be perceived due to their mortality. The same thing holds true for Heath Ledger, Tupac Shakur and Dylan Thomas, albeit, in different art forms.

The fact that the aforementioned Valens, Buddy Holly and Lynryd Skynyrd have all been immortalized for dying in a plane crash, and not SRV, is stupid. And here's SRV from his legendary 1985 performance at the Montreux Blues Festival to prove it.

3. Neil Diamond

Everyone loves Neil Diamond. Hell, even the critics that lambasted him his entire career are starting to embrace him. He's working on albums w/ legendary producer Rick Rubin. His songs have become anthematic classics ranging from Fenway Park singalongs to cocaine-snorting scenes in Pulp Fiction. Johnny Cash loved Neil Diamond in the 1960s, covered him in the 1990s, and Tenacious D loves him today. By all accounts, he seems like an absolute shoo-in to go in on the next ballot.

Neil has just one small problem, however. The critics that are finally coming around to him now still despise most of his songs from the 1970s. Forget about all the songs from the 1960s that Johnny Cash loved. Stuff like "Thank The Lord For The Night Time," "Cherry Cherry," and "Solitary Man," songs that have come to redefine the American blues-rock sound. Songs like "I Am, I Said," "Longfellow Serenade," and "Forever In Blue Jeans" have been beaten down and degraded more times than Andy Dufresne during his first two years at Shawshank. Critics hate his glittery get-up, despise everything about Jonathan Livingston Seagull, and wanted to rip his guts out Braveheart-style for daring to appear alongside Sir Lawrence Olivier in The Jazz Singer.

And you know what? I don't think Neil Diamond much cares what they or anyone else thinks. Good times never seemed so good.

2. Ozzy Osbourne

Lots of people are going to see this, and say, "Now wait a minute, Ozzy is in the RRHOF!" And you are only partially correct. Ozzy is in as the lead singer of Black Sabbath. I'm talking about solo-era Ozzy Osbourne w/ Randy Rhoades, Jake E. Lee and Zakk Wylde. I'm talking about Ozzy Osbourne who, as a solo artist, has become such a recognizable cultural figure that he has his own tour named after him.

Forget about his ridiculous reality show that his gravy-training wife put him up for. Ozzy Osbourne has produced and redefined the world of heavy metal permanently. True, it may have been more of the musicians that he surrounded himself w/, but the fact is that it's his name on the music in question, and he is the iconic figure most closely associated it w/ it. His solo career began w/ 1981's revolutionary Blizzard of Ozz, an album that took Black Sabbath's heaviness, and fused it w/ speed and classical precision. It is quite possibly the most underrated album of any genre once you consider the overall impact it had on heavy metal music. There is simply no way classical heavy metal bands like Judas Priest and Iron Maiden or speed/thrash bands like Metallica and Megadeth could have existed if Ozzy hadn't worked on this album.

His influence is practically omnipotent in the world of heavy metal. How a man could wield this much influence over rock music w/out being recognized formally for it is simply stunning. And rather ignorant.


It's the only band w/ its own Army. Their makeup job is as culturally important as The Beatles moptops, Mick's lips and Slash's hat. They are known to put on perhaps the greatest live show in rock music of any era.

At their exclusion is, perhaps, the greatest argument as to why the RRHOF needs to be reformated and the rules changed for induction. The critics will continually deny them entrance simply b/c they don't seem to be smart. And admittedly, maybe their songs aren't that smart. But KISS, specifically Gene Simmons, are geniuses of the business world, continually capitalizing on their adoring fan base, giving them what they want. And what they want apparently goes way beyond just a kick ass rock n' roll show. They want merchandizing out the ying-yang from lunchboxes to action figures, from guitars to coffins, KISS gives their fan base exactly what they want everytime.

You can deny the music all you want. But you can't deny influence. You can't deny 100 million records sold and billions of dollars more in total revenue. You can't deny the overall cultural impact KISS has had on American and worldwide culture. And you can't deny that Rock N' Roll All Nite kicks more ass than Chuck Norris. OK, that is the music. Whatever...