Alex Stephenson THE MACGUFFIN MEN: The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame: Why Not Us?

 The MacGuffin Men, James and Alex, take a look at who they would like to see in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.

Last week, the candidates for induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame were announced. They weren’t particularly surprising: Public Enemy and N.W.A. were nominated, since the Hall appreciates pioneering hip-hop acts. Rush was nominated too, since the Hall of Fame appreciates the humourous way Geddy Lee pronounces ‘Tom Sawyer.’ Other nominees this year included Heart, Deep Purple, Kraftwerk, The Meters, Randy Newman, and like forty others. Every year, these announcements happen, and every year we debate them for maybe two minutes, before going back to discussing whether or not Eva Mendes really deserves Ryan Gosling. But regardless of how little average people seem to actually talk about it, the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame is probably the longest running cultural record of what music matters to the most people. Saying that a band is in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame will always carry some weight in an argument about a band’s place in history. The Hall is a place for popular and/or influential bands, but these bands must be particularly popular, or at least influential to a wide number of future bands. Bands like the Velvet Underground have influenced so many people that they’re in the Hall despite the average person not being able to hum the melody to Heroin; Bono’s stupid fucking sunglasses are so well known, and his music so popular, that of course U2 is in there, too. When the Red Hot Chili Peppers were inducted this year, nobody was surprised. With the possible exception of Radiohead, it’s hard to think of a modern band that deserves induction more than the kings of the cock sock.

Bands will continue to be inducted into this Hall of Fame, as that is what happens at Halls of Fame. When they actually happen, the ceremonies themselves will barely register with anybody but the biggest fans of the acts in question, but in time these inductions might be important, or at least interesting in a historical sense. I don’t particularly care if my favourite acts get in, so maybe this pursuit is fruitless; I might care more about who sweeps next year’s Latin Grammys*. But I also spend an inordinate amount of time each year claiming I hate the Academy Awards, so I’m probably just a liar when it comes to all things related to pop cultural awards. And since we MacGuffin Men take great pride in pre-awarding these honours ourselves, to people we think actually deserve them, that’s precisely what we’re going to do.

*Word on the street says Gloria Estefan’s new record will be bumping.

Jay-Z

Obviously. There is simply no way Sean Carter won’t be inducted at some point, probably as soon as the rules allow*. He’s often called the Bob Dylan of hip-hop, but Bruce Springsteen is actually probably a better comparison with the way Hova’s career has gone in the last ten years. Jay-Z has positioned himself as a ‘man of the people’ in the way no previous hip-hop star ever has, and his albums will continue to sell as long as he continues to make them. His recent set of eight consecutive performances in Brooklyn’s Barclays Center have had an aura of ‘for the fans’ around them, and nobody pays tribute to where they’re from more than Jay-Z. He is to his hometown borough what The Boss is to New Jersey, and perhaps even more so, given that Hova brought a professional basketball team to that home while Springsteen moved to the west coast.

*An artist is eligible for induction 25 years after the release of their first record.

Musically, Jay-Z is the first rapper to release a great, relevant record after turning forty, and he’ll probably be the first to do it after sixty as well... Which is awesome. Jay-Z will make grown man rap inside a genre that overly values immaturity, and he’ll do it on a scale where people actually know it exists (what Jay-Z lacks in doing things first, or best, he makes up for in doing them first in a popular context). The Hall of Fame has been inducting hip-hop legacy members over the past few years (Grandmaster Flash, Run-DMC), so the Hall has implicitly said that they value hip-hop. And outside of Run-DMC, no hip-hop artist deserves to be in a museum of popular music more than Jay-Z.

The Backstreet Boys and/or *NSYNC

Trying to predict who deserves to be inducted in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2025 is a difficult task. It’s almost impossible to find a truly popular rock band from the late 1990s that also is widely accepted as good. Pearl Jam was more interesting for fighting TicketMaster than releasing music at that point, and nobody actually enjoyed the music of the Goo Goo Dolls or Matchbox 20 inasmuch as they tolerated it. While it seemed like New Kids on the Block had competition from people with guitars in the late 1980s and early 1990s, the second half of the latter decade felt different. Mo Money Mo Problems had kicked in the door, but hip-hop was still a few years from really taking off in the mainstream, and the dominant form of popular music was inarguably, well, pop music (and perhaps whatever we want to call Carlos Santana’s Supernatural). Nobody who wanted to be taken seriously took these boy bands seriously because - objectively - their music was mostly terrible. But this music was culturally relevant because the people that liked it almost never took it objectively, which is what made it colossally successful. Michael Jackson has been inducted into the Hall of Fame, partially for the fact that he’s inspired pretty much every pop singer to come after him, but also because he sold a shit ton of records. Jackson might have made a better song than any of these boy bands’ entire catalogues put together, but he also made plenty of bullshit like that song with Paul McCartney, which is as least as bad as Show Me the Meaning of Being Lonely. By including Jackson, the Hall has recognized pop music (and don’t pretend like he’s a rock artist because of the guitar solos in Dirty Diana and Beat It), and they would be doing a poor job of recognizing pop music without a record of the 1990s boy bands, groups that continue to be influential even though they’re now relegated to Old Navy ads. The music might not be good, but it’s successful, and should probably be inducted, if only by historical default.

Blink 182 and/or Green Day and/or The Offspring

These three bands need to be looked at all at once, because of the similarity in their sounds and the timing of their careers. I can see each one of these bands being inducted in isolation, but as they occupy pretty similar spots on the musical spectrum, I doubt it will happen for all of them at the same time. The question then becomes which one of them gets in first when eligibility rolls around, as at least one of them deserves to be first-balloters. Pop punk was a big part of the music scene in the 1990s, and these three bands were a huge part of setting that in motion. It only seems logical that the Hall of Fame accepts pop punk as part of rock and roll, no matter how many parents who love classic rock told their kids these three bands weren't real rock and roll, with their power chords and lyrics about not being able to land skateboard tricks. The Hall has inducted both pop acts and punk acts, so a combination of the two should fit in. And while I wouldn't be shocked to see these three pioneers of the subgenre to all make it in someday, it becomes a question of who would make it first.

If only one of these three acts makes it, The Offspring would probably be the worst choice, and not just because they are my least favourite of the three, or the fact that someone in the band is named Noodles. Smash and Americana are both listenable albums, but later Offspring music is all pretty forgettable except Original Prankster, which is memorable mostly for the wrong reasons. Smash was their breakout success, but the ‘Spring had released albums earlier than their contemporaries, meaning they are eligible before Green Day and Blink 182. This is the only reason they could make it before the other two; as far as the music they created, they deserve that distinction the least. The Offspring didn't encapsulate teenage angst and insecurity as well as Blink 182 did, and never had long-term cultural relevance, and an eventual political element, the way Green Day did. Being ahead of the curve is definitely something the Hall of Fame would appreciate, but the band doesn't sum up what the subgenre would do best. Their head start may get them in their first, but if they were all eligible the same year, they'd be most likely to be left out. Also, I can't justify this one intellectually, but the Offspring are really fucking irritating.

For full disclosure, I will say that Blink 182 is my favourite of the three bands, but I am well aware of their flaws. Tom Delonge was an awful, awful singer at the start of their career, but he has figured out how to fix it. (Of course, now he seems like a total douchebag but I don't think those two things are entirely related.) Blink 182 was endlessly immature to a fault, and 66% of the founding members never showed any real musical talent. Their immaturity and sense of humour have made me laugh more than probably any other band, but this probably hurts their chances with the Hall of Fame, a group of people that take themselves and their hall very seriously... I can't imagine these people are going to enjoy mentioning album titles like Take Off Your Pants and Jacket or Enema of the State.

That same immaturity is part of what Blink did well, which was make music about the teenage experience, something they did better than Green Day and The Offspring. Some argue that the band never really matured emotionally or musically, and that this was their problem, but if pop punk is a genre for teenagers then I guess they knew their audience. Dammit, Going Away to College and Adam's Song will probably hold up as emotionally true and meaningful songs for people of that age for a while to come. With its catchy guitar riff, angsty (but not too angry) lyrics, self-deprecating video and explicitly stated theme of "I guess this is growing up," Dammit is a good candidate for all-time pop punk anthem, which probably can't be said about any other song/subgenre combination. Just that line alone speaks to the confusion and powerlessness that people feel as a teenager, and everything else about the songs works perfectly with it.

The case for Blink 182's induction is partly for their early success in an emerging genre, but that also goes for Green Day and The Offspring. What separates Blink is that they are the most teenage of those bands, which sounds insulting, but when that is the target of the subgenre, it's more of a compliment than anything.

However, of the three bands listed here, Green Day is the most logical choice for induction. Although I like Blink 182 more, Green Day is simply more likely Hall of Fame material for a few reasons. They went non-stop since they started, while Blink did break up/go on hiatus for a time, and The Offspring may as well have, as no one really gave a fuck about them after 2001 anyway. American Idiot and its political sentiments give Green Day the most meaningful album of the three bands, and punk is most appreciated by critics when it can be tied to social commentary (regardless of its listenability).

Pop punk is tough to negotiate because it's a bit of a paradox. Pop is supposed to be accessible, while the opposite is true of most definitions of punk music. When critics discuss the best punk music, it is usually discussed through the lens of its social significance, which is the case with punk music more so than any other genre. Green Day's American Idiot phase kept a bit of the edginess of punk in what is close to a pop rock band. No matter how late Green Day's political angle showed up, its anti-Bush, anti-war elements made the band look more mature and worthy of critical appreciation entirely separate from the actual music. And while Dammit is probably the best song for describing what it's like to be a teenager, Time of Your Life is the best song for looking back on what it was like to be a teenager. It is a song that I don't think I ever chose to listen to after hearing it once, and probably never will, but it is one of the biggest songs of their career for good reason. It is sappy and overused but undeniably effective, showing a softer, mature side of the pop punk genre that often lacks such things.

Watching footage of Green Day as they were starting out, it's hard to call them mature, but they certainly never seemed as juvenile as Blink 182, especially as years went by. They were more mature than Blink, more political than The Offspring and more consistently relevant than both of them and all this makes them the best candidate for the Hall of Fame.

Broken Social Scene

There is, of course, a different way for the Hall to go, as there’s always the option to ignore what’s popular and choose to induct what’s actually good. Kevin Drew and company are basically The Band for the early to mid-2000s indie scene; pretty much every band that influenced you to get into wearing green olive-coloured pants owes Broken Social Scene some type of debt of gratitude. Of course, Broken Social Scene isn’t particularly well known, which is mostly because even their poppiest music is still only accessible in the most inaccessible sense. But, much to Robbie Robertson and his fedora collection’s chagrin, The Band weren’t particularly well known when they were still releasing records, either. The people who were actually popular in rock music knew who they were, and those people (along with Martin Scorsese) helped raise The Band’s profile over time. Bands like Broken Social Scene were almost certainly influenced by The Band; in twenty years, there will be a crop of bands who were influenced by Broken Social Scene. Grand, epic pop music on this scale will rarely be accepted on a similarly sized scale to its sound, but it will always make a comeback every twenty years or so.

Russell Simmons and Rick Rubin

These guys started Def Jam, which would become every hip-hop record label’s inspiration. Rick Rubin will likely get into the Hall himself at some point for his career as a producer (examples include: early career Beastie Boys and Run-DMC, late career Johnny Cash), but Russell Simmons deserves to be right there with him. Anybody who knows hip-hop history is aware of the effect Simmons and Rubin had on the music; these were the first legitimate fans of the genre to release that genre of music commercially. (Even for something as small as being the people to convince a reticent Chuck D to join Public Enemy, these guys deserve recognition.) Jay-Z’s only able to be a business, man, because Rubin and Simmons first decided to be businessmen.

"Weird Al" Yankovic

I understand that this would be a tough sell to those in charge of that decision, as are most acts we’ve discussed so far. People who make and maintains halls/museum tend to take themselves and their work seriously, and probably wouldn't take kindly to someone they perceive as somebody who professionally insults musicians. What I think is flawed about that mentality is thinking of Weird Al as only a comedian, and not an actual musician. If we look at him and his band as musicians, they have had a very impressive career. They have been working together on every album since the 1980s, outlasting some of their parody targets by decades. Over that period of time, they have released several platinum albums and earned multiple Grammy wins. Weird Al has transcended music, having had a couple incarnations of his own TV show, appeared on others, starred in a movie and appearing in several others, directed music videos for other groups and has even written a bestseller. And even beyond awards, sales, and longevity, his musical career is quite impressive. He has shown an appreciation and understanding for dozens of genres over the years. For those who don't know, Weird Al doesn't only do direct parodies of songs, and has written originals since the beginning of his career. He also does what he describes as ‘style parodies’ in which he creates an original song in the style of a particular genre or artist. These songs, along with their videos, show that Al and his band have an understanding of these artists and a creative skill to write and perform in several different genres. His recent video for Craigslist, a song in the style of The Doors, is made funnier by how ridiculously accurate the music, vocals, and visuals are to the real work of The Doors.

It's this understanding and appreciation of rock and roll, among other genres, that contribute to how worthy he is for induction. It is impressive that he and his band can write in so many different genres and play them all in one night at a concert. Perhaps he doesn't belong in the same place as the other performers but I don't think they should continue to deny what an impressively well-rounded career Yankovic has made for himself in music.

It seems unlikely that the majority of the people listed here will actually get into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. We know we are making seemingly illogical arguments to an institution that seems to value logical thought. But these things make sense to us, and this is an institution that doesn’t have a lot of objective criteria. When one day down the road, as society begins to realize that Blink 182 is the most influential band of all time, you’ll be amazed at our forward-thinking, and how we blazed the trail of acceptance for those trailblazers.

Okay, that’s all bullshit… We’re probably wrong about everything here, but at least we cut out our pro-Ke$ha arguments, right?

 

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