Trying To Get To You

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

On Pop, Rock & The Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame

I don't like Abba. I've never liked them; not when I was a kid, nor when I was in my early 20's and they came in vogue amongst the alternative/indie/hipster set (ironically or not). I was at a party this past Christmas season, and when the guests started dancing and singing loudly along to "Dancing Queen," "The Winner Takes It All" and the like, I did all I could not to groan in their faces. Listening to them is like eating Sweet N' Low straight out of the packet; an experience that causes much retching.

Actually, I'm being too polite. Abba suck. Their songs always sounded to me to be on the level of advertising jingles, and if one tries to defend them by saying how great their melodies are, or how memorable their songs are, all I can tell you is that I can remember and sing the Oscar Meyer theme song that I last heard in the late 70's, but that doesn't make it "Like A Rolling Stone."

Last night, Abba were inducted into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame, and there's considerable debate as to "what it all means." Long time rock writer Steve Morse has an editorial piece in Sunday's Boston Globe in which he basically states that Abba don't belong in the RRHOF, not because they suck, but because they're pop, not "rock." And he said Madonna doesn't belong the RRHOF either, for much the same reason.

This is a standard complaint amongst some rock fans, who wonder why "rock" artists (white guys with guitars) like Kiss or Alice Cooper aren't in, yet "non-rock" artists like Run-DMC or Madonna are. But I think most of these fans get it wrong, mainly because they have little-to-no historical context for rock n' roll.

Rock n' roll, as it germinated in the 1950's, was like most new forms of music, a hybrid of many styles and forms. Obviously, it's biggest influences were black - blues, r&b and gospel (a fact that is all too often forgotten by many rock fans). But there was plenty of country and pop in artists like Chuck Berry (who has spoken of his influence from country and Nat "King" Cole), Buddy Holly and Elvis (who along with his r&b influences, loved Dean Martin), just as there was plenty of pop in the Beatles and Motown. Rock is inconceivable without pop.

And the corollary with modern pop artists is that most are inconceivable without rock. There is no Abba without the Beatles; there is no Madonna without David Bowie. In terms of hip-hop, at its lyrical best, in Public Enemy, 2Pac and others, they're all difficult to imagine without the revolutionary lyrical impact that Bob Dylan had on artists like Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, Curtis Mayfield and Bob Marley. One feeds off the other in a process that doesn't lend itself to neat categorization.

Do pop, hip-hop and non-rock artists belong in the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame? Sure, if they produced a great body of work. For my money, LL Cool J, the Beastie Boys, Public Enemy and other seminal rappers should be in there. They all made music that rocked harder and simply matters more than many of the artists that rock fans continually lobby for, like Rush, Alice Cooper, Dire Straits and others.

Abba may not belong in the Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame, but it's not because they weren't a rock band in the technical sense of the term. It's because they sucked.

Postscript: If the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame is in trouble, it's because as time goes by, there are fewer and fewer bands that everyone can agree on, and there are fewer and fewer bands that have had the cultural impact of its ancestors. There weren't going to be arguments about Little Richard or the Stones. But the Red Hot Chili Peppers? The Smiths? Duran Duran? Nirvana, Guns N' Roses and Pearl Jam (who I'm not a fan of) are shoo-ins. But 15-20 years from now, what bands that emerged from the 2000's will be deemed RRHOF worthy? The Strokes? Please. In that respect, the debates about the RRHOF only reflect the fragmentation of the music itself and the audience for it. You've got your music, I've got mine, and every once in a while we'll argue about it and let each other know that the other doesn't know what the hell they're talking about.

Monday, March 08, 2010

MP3 Of Apperance on Sirius/XM

So at long last, here is the mp3 version of the panel discussion I co-moderated on Sirius/XM's E Street Radio on the 25th Anniversary of the Born In The U.S.A. tour. We had a great panel and I couldn't be more pleased with how the discussion turned out. If you're a Bruce fan or a student of rock history, this is for you.

Download: Panel Discussion on the Born In The U.S.A. tour