Thursday, December 19, 2013

Deep Purple: okay, now it's personal

This year's inductees--as performers--into the self-proclaimed Rock and Roll Hall of Fame are as follows:
Peter Gabriel
Daryl Hall and John Oates (Hall and Oates)
Kiss
Nirvana
Linda Ronstadt
Cat Stevens
As it happens, this list includes my all-time favorite female singer, Ms. Linda Ronstadt. And she is most assuredly a deserving choice, in my humble opinion. As to the other choices, let me just say this: blah.

I get why each was nominated, I really do. Hall and Oates were a hit-machine in the late 70's and early 80's (interestingly enough, their first single--"She's Gone"--peaked at number sixty in 1974; I think it's their best, by far). Peter Gabriel is a serious talent, who had substantial success both as a member of Genesis and as a solo artist (but let's get real: he was better within Genesis than without). Nirvana, despite releasing only three studio albums, were huge in the moment, launched grunge rock into the stratosphere, and opened the minds of record company execs to the possibility of commercial success with alternative rock. Cat Stevens is a brilliant song-writer, whose socially conscious--yet very successful--work has earned him a place among the all time greats in this arena (how much of a "rock and roller" he is, though, is a very valid question).

Then there's Kiss. Kiss, Kiss, Kiss. I remember Kiss from back in the day. I had friends who were members of the "Kiss Army." I remember their big hits, from "Beth" to "Rock And Roll All Nite" ("Detroit Rock City" is my personal fave). But what I remember most about Kiss is seeing those four solo albums--using each member's face in full make-up as a cover--sitting in the 99 cents bin at Woolworth's for what seemed like practically forever. Because what Kiss really was--more than anything else--was an exercise in marketing. Every possible angle--at the time--was taken in this regard, all in an effort to win the support mostly of twelve to fifteen year-old boys. Tee-shirts, special clubs, other paraphernalia, limitless albums, goofy movies (Kiss Meets the Phantom? Really?), whatever it took to make money and make Kiss appear to be bigger and more significant than they ever really were.

Don't get me wrong, Kiss is not some terrible band at all. But neither are they on the same level as what I would call the truly great bands and performers in Rock and Roll history. To be fair, though, the whole "alternate persona" deal and elaborate stage set-ups were novel things, even groundbreaking to some extent, so there is definitely an argument to be had in favor of Kiss being inducted into to the Hall of Fame. Just as there is for the other inductees in this year's class. But there are also very strong arguments for not including any of them in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (with the obvious exception of Linda Ronstadt). And I'm going to give the best argument possible in this regard: none of these acts deserves to be in the Hall of Fame because Deep Purple is not in the Hall of Fame.

For a while now--years actually--Kiss fans have been lamenting the lack of the band's inclusion in the Hall, supposing that this was somehow a purposeful slight on the part of the selection committee. And you know what? It probably was. But so what? Again, we're not talking about a band whose music still dominates on classic rock radio stations (really, it never did). Take a look at this list of acts who are not in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (sorted by years eligible). Kiss went through 14 years of eligibility before being selected. Yet, bands like Steppenwolf, the Moody Blues, and Jethro Tull have all been eligible for more than twenty years. How can anyone--who has a clue--complain that Kiss has been singled out and treated badly here? Are they bigger, more significant to rock history than the three above? How about the Steve Miller Band? Or Chicago? Really, how can Hall and Oates get in when Chicago can't?

But the biggest one of all, the actual, real, honest-to-goodness-snub in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is Deep Purple. Who cares if Kiss, Peter Gabriel, or Cat Stevens is in or out as long as Deep Purple remains on the outside looking in? Led Zeppelin is in (1995). So is Black Sabbath (2006). Deep Purple is one of the most influential hard rock bands of all times. Heavy metal was more or less defined as a genre in full when Deep Purple released Machine Head in March of 1972.

It's tough now to understood just how significant this album was. Initially, only one single--"Never Before"--was released from the album, yet the album remained on the charts for over two years. Why? Because of the other tracks on the album, particularly "Smoke on the Water" (eventually released as a single). Most were just too long, in the minds of the record company execs, to work as singles. But the songs were burning up FM radio, heavily requested and played for years and years. "Smoke on the Water" went on to become one of the most-played songs on FM rock stations in the decade. It became so well known that it--along with "Stairway to Heaven"--gained a reputation as the first song one had to learn on the guitar. People who cannot otherwise play the instrument often know the first chords of "Smoke on the Water."

In December of 1972, Deep Purple released yet another game changer: a live double album entitled Made in Japan. Understand, this was two full LPs--four sides--of music, yet there were exactly seven songs on the album. Each side had two songs, except for the last which had only one ("Space Truckin'") which was almost twenty minutes long. Who did that? Who does that, now? Yet, Made in Japan went Platinum in the U.S., peaking at number six (number one in Austria, Germany, and Canada). It remains one of the greatest live albums ever released, according to just about anyone.

Musically, the classic line-up of Ritchie Blackmore on guitar, Jon Lord on keyboards, Ian Paice on drums, Ian Gillan on lead vocals, and Roger Glover on bass (from 1969-1973 and during some later reunion periods, like 1984-1989) is just about as good as it gets. Few bands could boast better. And of course, this is why Deep Purple enjoyed so much success with live performances and live albums: their ability to jam, to stretch out a song while still keeping it interesting.

I could go on and on here, note other hit songs, the obvious impact of Deep Purple on the genres of both heavy metal and hard rock, I could even cite various other inductees to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame--including Gene Simmons, by the way--who have gone on record as saying it's wrong that Deep Purple has not been inducted, but the truth of the matter is that it really doesn't matter. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame can claim to represent something, can pretend to be significant, but at the end of the day it's just an exercise in musical elitism, much like the Academy Awards and the Nobel Prizes are in other avenues.

People who know rock and roll know Deep Purple's place in history. The fanboys of other, lesser acts can fall all over themselves cheering the "success" of the same upon their selection, but the musicians in those acts and in the really deserving ones--from Kiss to Metallica to Rush--know the truth. Toto's guitarist, Steve Lukather sums things up in this 2008 interview (in answer to the question "will Toto ever be in the Hall of Fame"):
We were never getting in anyway. It's amazing some of the people they're letting in now, and the people who have been left out. They put Patti Smith in there but not Deep Purple? What's the first song every kid learns how to play?

And they're not in the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame? The glaring omissions...Yes, Genesis...they don't like prog rock. They don't like anybody who has any chops, basically. All of the people who SHOULD have been in there were in the first couple years. It's not like the baseball hall of fame, where it's based on stats. If you have the stats, they don't have to like you. You deserve to be in there based on what you brought to the table. But I'm not going to get too much into it, because ultimately it's a boring conversation. You know what? I've got awards. I've got two houses full of gold records. I've got to start taking them down because it starts becoming ridiculous, like my own personal mausoleum. I'm not saying it wouldn't be cool to be in there, but at the same time, the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame has lost its cool because of the glaring omissions. Alice Cooper's not in there? They were the first theatrical band out there. When I was in junior high school, I went from 8th grade until 9th grade listening to 'School's Out.'

I could make up my own hall of fame that would have more credibility...
Bingo, Steve. But if the acts now getting into the Hall of Fame want to prove they do have the chops, they could always stand up and say "no, we're not going to accept this until Deep Purple (and let's face it, The Moody Blues) has been inducted first!" I won't hold my breath, though. Until then, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is just a big joke.

Cheers, all.

3 comments:

  1. Luv Ronstadt (maybe folks will learn how to spell her name) remarkable voice. Rock and roll was lucky to have her when it did. Agree on the Moody Blues.

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    1. Lol! Sorry about those mispellings! Pretty bad since I had the proper spelling right in front of my eyes! And I got it right in the tags, oddly enough. But I agree, and thanks for the comment.

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  2. I go along with you all the way when concerning Deep Purple. Still can't see what Ronstadt has to do with rock'n'roll.

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