Rock Hall Inductee Steve Miller: How could the Spinners and Chaka Khan not get …
Cheap Trick’s Robin Zander on Rock and Roll Hall of Fame: ‘It’s overwhelming’.
“When you look at the people not inducted, it’s crazy,” he told me Thursday after I heard he was named to the 2016 class. “The Spinners were one of the greatest live acts ever to sing and play. The groundbreaking Compton rap act N.W.A. will join a quartet of 1970s era FM radio rockers — Chicago, Cheap Trick, Deep Purple and Steve Miller — as 2016 inductees into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
“She called me up in tears, and I thought, Oh my God,” Zander said by phone from Los Angeles, sounding a bit like he might be tearing up himself. “I’m kind of verklempt. Dre, MC Ren, DJ Yella and the late Eazy-E — kicked down the door to suburban Middle America with their politically charged debut full-length Straight Outta Compton. Dre and Ice Cube, was elected after three unsuccessful nominations in a year when a movie about the group’s career, “Straight Outta Compton,” was a box-office hit. Their hard-core tales of life on the street on songs like “F— the Police” made them a provocative chart presence in the late 1980s and influenced an empire of other acts. Zander himself has been ambivalent about Cheap Trick’s Hall of Fame chances over the 13 years the band has been eligible. “We honestly never thought that we were going to be in, I got to tell you the truth,” he said. “We talk about it quite a bit, and we’re kind of like, ‘Yeah, it’s great just to be nominated, but if we don’t get in, so what?
That’s the living embodiment of the summer tour that rolls into the local shed and you can get a $15 lawn ticket on Groupon.” There is another way to view induction. Guitarist Miller came out of the San Francisco rock scene and became a dependable maker of pop hits like “Take the Money and Run,” “Fly Like an Eagle,” “Jet Airliner” and “Jungle Love.” Midwestern favorites Cheap Trick succeeded with a highly amped version of Beatles-influenced melodies on hits “Surrender” and “Dream Police.” Their “Live at Budokan” album is one of rock’s best-known live sets. That unlike sports halls, where certain statistical realities can almost require inclusion – unless you’re a juicer or spent too much time, ahem, at the track – the rock temple is entirely subjective. N.W.A’s bars took the First Amendment and ran with it, especially with the protest anthem “F— Tha Police.” At their 1989 show in Detroit, the city’s police department showed up to the arena with the intent of arresting them on stage and wound up cuffing them in their hotel lobby after.
The FBI even targeted the Ruthless rappers, sending a warning letter to Priority Records, which housed N.W.A’s music, in the midst of the media storm surrounding the controversial track. Carlos at the induction ceremony, April 8 at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn? “I’m going to make that phone call today,” Zander said. “I’m sure he’ll be there.
Cheap Trick moved swiftly to capitalize on the honor, announcing Thursday they had signed a new deal with Taylor Swift’s label, Big Machine Records. The timing would have been perfect: She just put out Unbreakable, her first album in years and her best in even longer, and she’s currently on the road reminding the world that she has an incredible body of work. Their personal tales of street violence, their controversial perception of women (See: “ A Bitch Iz A Bitch”) and their feelings about the men in blue were presented unapologetically. Their catalogue is unimpeachable and their sphere of influence rock solid, so I wonder if the holdout is because of the utter impossibility of a proper reunion and the difficult soul that is Morrissey (though it should be noted that neither of those elements stopped Guns N’ Roses from getting in a few years back). Did he think it was unfair other deserving bands and musicians didn’t make the cut? “It’s like that one year of the Grammys where Jethro Tull got in there as heavy metal,” he said. “How does anybody come to this decision?
His wife was flooded with congratulations at their daughter’s school drop-off on Thursday, and Zander knows that when he returns home from the West coast next week, he’ll see plenty of well-wishers at Lightning and Rowdies games, as well as hometown haunts like the Whistle Stop Grill and Bar. “I can’t wait to get there and enjoy Christmas with my family, who deserve more credit than I do for this whole thing,” he said. “I love everybody there, and I just want everybody there to know that I appreciate their support. Raiders and Kings caps and heavy gold chains — became a fashion statement mimicked by their fans, which ranged from hardcore hip hop heads in American cities to a growing group of bored middle class suburban rap fans who were drawn to that gritty realness and “truth” that Lamar spoke about. They absolutely belong in the Hall—or conversely, perhaps they simply shift the nomination to Rodgers specifically, as the entirety of his career undoubtedly qualifies him. In many ways, their album also served as a prelude to the madness of the 1992 L.A. riots that broke out following the acquittal of four LAPD officers who caught on videotape beating Rodney King. They totally belong, and the fact that they used sidemen and outside songwriters seemed like a reasonable argument 15 years ago but now seems just silly.
Dre’s alleged past abuse with women, the fallout with Eazy-E before his death from AIDS in 1995), their stories from the ‘hood rang louder than the cop sirens, at a time when pop was the hustle for most rappers to chase. Artists have to wait 25 years after their first record before becoming eligible for consideration for the Hall, and though Amos’ solo debut Little Earthquakes came out in ‘92, her debut Y Kant Tori Read came out in ‘88. The big-screen biopic appealed to old school fans and N.W.A newbs alike (though the motion picture received heavy criticism for omitting Dre’s abuse allegations). Even their solo careers post-N.W.A, especially Cube and Dre, injected hip-hop’s DNA with the unfiltered aggression later heard in Snoop Dogg, the late Tupac, Eminem, 50 Cent and the aforementioned K.Dot. Sometimes dismissed as a novelty act thanks to the ubiquity of “Rock Lobster” and “Love Shack” at lame weddings, but their albums are all awesome and their influence runs deeper than you might think.
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