Kudos to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame for selecting Eric Clapton, Bonnie Raitt, the Lovin’ Spoonful, the Moonglows, Earth, Wind & Fire and that monster of rock, James Taylor.
This year’s class presents some interesting “all-star jam” questions. Will JT sing a verse from Earth, Wind & Fire’s “Boogie Wonderland?” Will the Spoonful’s John Sebastian play a long jug solo during “Layla?” Will non-performing inductee Clive Davis stop raving about Carlos Santana long enough to apologize for giving us Kenny G? We’ll find out at 9 p.m. Wednesday when VH-1 airs the festivities.
For me, the bigger question isn’t “Who’s in?” but “Who’s still out?” Like our Baseball Hall, which continues to snub the likes of Bill Mazeroski and Ron Santo, many worthy wannabes are on the outside looking in.
What follows is my list of the 10 most deserving “rock outsiders.” Don’t expect to see Steely Dan, Paul Simon or any other future shoo-ins. These 10 are neglected long shots. And remember: Artists become eligible 25 years after their first record is released. So all of the Blink-182 fans out there are in for a long, long wait.
1. Hollies — There’s no comparing these guys to the Beatles or the Stones. But there’s no comparing any other British Invasion group to Allan Clarke, Graham Nash and the rest of the Hollies. Impeccable harmonies and finely crafted pop songs have been the Hollies’ calling cards for 37 years. Earth to Nash: You sound better with Clarke and Tony Hicks than David Crosby and Stephen Stills.
2. Todd Rundgren — A one-man band who would never settle for simply writing pop gems, Rundgren expanded his horizons to become, as his 1973 album title immodestly claims, “A Wizard, A True Star.” Rundgren produced artists ranging from The New York Dolls and Grand Funk to Meat Loaf and Shaun Cassidy. As an innovator, Rundgren was a pioneer of music video and, perhaps most amazingly, saw the future of Internet music when I thought it was cool to be on the Commodore 64.
3. Gene Pitney — Big ballads, country, early ’60s pop, Pitney could sing it all. And with enough self-pity to make the sensitive singer-songwriters of the ’70s sound like The Archies. Another plus: Pitney wrote “Hello, Mary Lou” for Ricky Nelson.
4. Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff — Architects of the Philly soul sound of the ’70s, Gamble and Huff produced some of the decade’s best music by acts such as the O’Jays and Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes. Naturals for the non-performer section of the Hall, Gamble and Huff’s induction would open the door for protege Thom Bell, who made the other great soul records of the ’70s with the Spinners and the Stylistics.
5. Badfinger — The best “Behind the Music” that VH-1 has never made. Paul McCartney discoveries sign to Apple Records and have some big hits, but Harry Nilsson takes their album track, “Without You,” and goes to No. 1. Apple disintegrates; momentum is lost; band leaders Pete Ham and Tom Evans commit suicide. When all is said and done, Badfinger becomes one of the most influential power-pop bands in history.
6. Chicago — Let us count the reasons for inclusion: one of the first bands to incorporate a full horn section, Terry Kath’s innovative guitar work, Peter Cetera’s distinctive vocals, and the most Top 10 hits of any eligible act not in the Hall. Look away from what Chicago has become and remember what they were. Original, popular and underappreciated.
7. Hall and Oates — While Toto and Christopher Cross were winning Grammys in the pre-“Thriller” ’80s, this duo was racking up 12 Top 10 hits. They even had a No. 1 R&B hit! The most commercially successful duo in the rock era deserves the Hall call.
8. The Righteous Brothers — Only the Rascals could rival Bill Medley and Bobby Hatfield’s blue-eyed soul of the ’60s. Perhaps their connections to Patrick Swayze (Medley singing in “Dirty Dancing”; “Unchained Melody” in “Ghost”) have turned the Hall off. I have no answer. Unfortunately, Medley and Hatfield have a better chance of singing the love theme to “Road House II” than making the Hall soon.
9. Cliff Richard — Originally Britain’s answer to Elvis, Richard keep the music scene rolling overseas until the Beatles and friends took over. More than 100 hits later, “Sir Cliff” is still Britain’s most revered celebrity — and a talented pop singer. It makes no sense to Americanize the Rock Hall. Richard has earned his place in history.
10. Yes — OK, they should’ve called it quits a decade ago. Sure, their prog-rock brethren are better left unheard. Sure, they’ve had more lineup changes than TV’s “Saved by the Bell.” Luckily, Jon Anderson is the band’s Mr. Belding, the calm amid a storm of bombast. Say what you will about prog-rock, but Anderson, Bruford, Wakeman and Howe were ambitious, enthusiastic and great musicians to boot.
Just missing the cut — The Moody Blues, Bob Seger, Burt Bacharach, Johnny Rivers, The Guess Who, Linda Ronstadt, Big Star and Electric Light Orchestra.
Eric Coker is night/entertainment editor at The Daily Star.
This column was published March 3, 2000