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.


jeff kazee said...

IMO they need to take a 5 yr sabbatical on Inductions--getting more watered down-and confusing- with each year. Hey, I'm a fan and a musician-love the junk they have in Cleveland, love how the Hall has a Sideman category, etc. But, like Major League Baseball does with their Hall of Fame-the Undisputed Champion of HoFs--the RRHoF should ramp down the amount of honorees if the pool is less than stellar and wait for a true consensus. One more thing. Regarding the "Big Finale"--aside from the great Peter Wolf, couldn't those knucklehead guest vocalists have learned ONE verse of "Shake, Rattle & Roll?" watta joke.

也許 said...

thx u very much, i learn a lot

Northing said...

You're obviously young, much younger than myself and probably much younger than most of the folks who are responsible for listing possible inductees to the Hall. You probably weren't around when Abba was actually charting. Myself, I think rap and hiphop suck and should not be considered for the Hall (though, really, I don't give a rat's ass about it anyway, shouldn't even be considered music, precisely for your limited reason - I don't appreciate it. I'm a product of the 60's and 70's musically, lived only in the Rock era, listened to AM and FM radio, plyed lots of music in lots of bands, still am addicted to sound, though my focus has narrowed a bit since I managed record stores (What?) years ago. Abba made great records, inventiv, well-produced earworms that still capture people's attention and generate revenue. That's pop music. So, no, they didn't suck, they were ideals of the genre. I don't know, aside from the few rappers you mentioned, mostly older acts themselves, what types of music you do appreciate, but until you get a job on the Hall of Fame staff, your opinion is just as valid as anyone's, mine included, which ain't much. The way acts are inducted takes context away from the music, so, of course, kids raised on records stitched together from the labor of others like a shambling, electrically-charged monster can't appreciate the bubblegummy goodness of an act that cares nothing for politics or current dance beats. Im prefer to hear Dan Baird or Robbie Fulks perform 'Dancing Queen', anyway.

Anonymous said...

Oh come on now....Abba sucks? And this is coming from a no name wanna be? Get real!

Unknown said...

Why have a Hall of Fame at all?
It is so un-rock'n'roll it's a cosmic joke.
And if you are going to have a Hall of Fame, have it in Cleveland?
As Sam Phillips said- they got it wrong- Memphis, baby, Memphis