A ros­ter like an iPod playlist

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s new nom­i­nees are laud­ably di­verse.

Los Angeles Times - - Calendar - ann.pow­ers@latimes.com



When the list of this year’s nom­i­nees for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame ar­rived Mon­day, the first thing that oc­curred to me was a very cur­rent cliché. The ros­ter — eclec­tic, cen­ter­less, open to many in­ter­pre­ta­tions — seemed very much like an iPod playlist.

The nom­i­nees for in­duc­tion into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2011are: Alice Cooper, the Beastie Boys, Bon Jovi, Chic, Neil Di­a­mond, Dono­van, Dr. John, the J. Geils Band, LL Cool J, Dar­lene Love, Laura Nyro, Donna Sum­mer, Joe Tex, Tom Waits and Chuck Wil­lis.

Doesn’t this un­usu­ally long and laud­ably di­verse list seem like it could be on some­body’s mix at the gym? Per­haps not a drag queen’s, to steal a re­cent line from “Glee” — but from one an­gle it does ful­fill that stereo­type, with disco fa­vorites Chic and Sum­mer shar­ing megabytes with glam rock’s scary un­cle Alice Cooper, cof­fee­house chanteuse Nyro and girl group heart­breaker Love.

Or maybe it’s the Nano of a sub­ur­ban mom or dad. I reg­u­larly meet sev­eral on the soc­cer field who will be de­lighted for Bon Jovi, one of the hard­est-work­ing bands in show­biz and this year’s pop­ulist choice. Like so many artists once scorned for be­ing “too pop” — like Di­a­mond, for ex­am­ple — Bon Jovi has been rec­og­nized more re­cently for its con­sum­mate craft and ded­i­ca­tion to the art of en­ter­tain­ment. One thing that’s gone up­side down in the iPod age is the no­tion of what’s hip. Lov­ing “Cherry Cherry” and ad­mit­ting you rock out in the car to “Livin’ on a Prayer” are now signs of open-mind­ed­ness.

J. Geils Band, an un­der­dog but a fa­vorite of some Rock Hall in­sid­ers, is in some ways the Bon Jovi of an ear­lier gen­er­a­tion — a bar band gone na­tion­wide. And a par­al­lel can be drawn be­tween Di­a­mond and Dono­van. Both song­writ­ers were seen in their prime as main­stream­ers of coun­ter­cul­tural sounds and styles; now, both are re­born pro­tégés of the pro­ducer Rick Ru­bin, con­tem­po­rary pop’s prime con­veyor of the stamp of au­then­tic­ity and a big in­flu­ence on this year’s list.

Hip from the be­gin­ning, the pre­vi­ously nom­i­nated Beastie Boys — like LL Cool J, early sign­ings to Ru­bin and Rus­sell Sim­mons’ Def Jam Records — get an­other chance this year, and in some ways, the pi­o­neer­ing hip-hop punks stand alone; they’re this year’s purest rep­re­sen­ta­tives of the 1980s col­lege-rock crowd. Put the Beast­ies and Jon Bon to­gether on a playlist, though, and add in heart­throb rapper LL Cool J, and what do you have? A quin­tes­sen­tial 21st cen­tury wed­ding re­cep­tion mix.

In­die types could also claim first-time nom­i­nee Waits as their own, though he re­ally tran­scends any sub­cul­ture or sim­ply de­fined cat­e­gory. The singer-song­writer and Anti-Records artist prob­a­bly will be lauded by sev­eral va­ri­eties of mu­sic snobs as this year’s bravest choice.

Yet Waits would eas­ily fit on a playlist with Dr. John. The New Or­leans stal­wart con­nected roots mu­sic to psy­che­delic rock in ways sim­i­lar to what the Cal­i­for­nia con­trar­ian, in his mid­pe­riod, did for it and post­punk.

As for the two lesser­known, roots mu­sic-as­so­ci­ated names on this year’s list, both make fit­ting pre­de­ces­sors to this era of de­light­fully mixed-up flash. Wil­lis was a blues-rock dandy known for cross­ing over from R&B to pop. Tex was a soul shouter and ri­val of James Brown whose dis­tinc­tive vo­cal ap­proach pre­dated rap.

I’d be happy for vir­tu­ally any com­bi­na­tion of this year’s nom­i­nees. Like any mu­sic nerd, I have a few fa­vorites.

Fore­most is the pre­vi­ously nom­i­nated Chic — not just a great disco band, but a great band, pe­riod. The sound and style cre­ated by Nile Rodgers and Bernard Ed­wards set the stage for both hip-hop and New Wave. I’d also ad­vo­cate for Nyro, a sim­i­larly hard-to-clas­sify artist known for de­fy­ing racial stereo­types. Nyro, who died in 1997, made al­bums that were com­plex, joy­ful and gen­uinely unique. I’d like to see her friends in the all-fe­male funk-soul trio Labelle get in first, but Nyro is up for the slot, and de­serves it.

It goes with­out say­ing that I’d love to see Waits make it in. He’s a crit­ics’ fa­vorite, af­ter all. But he also has a wicked sense of hu­mor and a vi­sion­ary at­ti­tude that never reg­is­ters as pre­ten­tious. Con­versely, per­haps, I’m hop­ing that Di­a­mond gets a nod. With help from Ru­bin, the Jewish Elvis has re­cently up­dated his sound and gained some of the re­spect he’s due.

Fi­nally, is it too much to hope that both the Beastie Boys and LL Cool J gain spots in the Hall? It’s only been a few years since the in­sti­tu­tion be­gan to ac­knowl­edge hip-hop’s over­whelm­ing in­flu­ence on con­tem­po­rary cul­ture. It’s time for some catch-up.

If Nir­vana pi­o­neered the hard-soft dy­namic in rock (and you know that band will get in the in­stant it’s el­i­gi­ble), LL did it for rap. He’s an all-around en­ter­tainer who’s still mak­ing his mark, now mostly as an ac­tor. And the Beast­ies are much more than Brook­lyn’s bratty rap­pers — they fused punk and hip-hop in a hugely in­flu­en­tial way.

Apart from specifics, I’m glad that the Rock Hall has fully em­braced the iPod ap­proach to des­ig­nat­ing im­mor­tal­ity. That lit­tle de­vice and the cul­ture of down­load­ing it have thor­oughly shuf­fled pop’s hi­er­ar­chies, mak­ing this an era of al­ter­nate re­al­i­ties, proudly per­sonal value judg­ments and left­field no­tions of great­ness. It’s tough to cre­ate any kind of canon now; mu­sic fans so rarely agree. But by go­ing be­yond the edges of its com­fort zone into the ter­ri­tory of the great mix, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is now lead­ing the way.

SINGER-SONG­WRITER: Tom Waits, a first-time nom­i­nee and crit­ics’ fa­vorite, tran­scends any sim­ply de­fined cat­e­gory of mu­sic or sub­cul­ture.

Jeff Chris­tensen

DIVA: Donna Sum­mer made her name in disco.

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