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by AJ Ramirez

30 Sep 2009


The 2010 nominees for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame have been announced. The ballot includes KISS, the Stooges, Genesis, LL Cool J, ABBA, Jimmy Cliff, the Chantels, Darlene Love, Donna Summer, Laura Nyro, the Hollies, and the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Of these 12, five will be chosen for induction into the Hall early next year. That’s a pretty diverse selection.

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame has long suffered from two main flaws when it comes to choosing artists for induction. First, the Hall subscribes to the Rolling Stone definition of rock music: basically, all popular music since the late 1950s that isn’t country. In particular, what is favored is the music the baby bomber generation grew up on and loved. This makes perfect sense as the Hall was co-founded by Rolling Stone creator Jann Wenner, and features several contributors to the magazine on its nomination committee and in its voting pool. More problematic is that there is no hard metric to help decide an artist’s merit for induction. Unlike with sports hall of fames, artists are not measured by figures or performance statistics in order to ascertain their worthiness to join the Rock Hall. The only hard criterion is that an artist is only eligible for induction 25 years after they have released their first recording. Aside from this one rule, the 30-member nomination committee weighs concepts like influence and longevity in choosing artists for the ballot in lieu of more concrete measurements like record sales or number of awards won. Additionally, members of the nomination committee can easily exert their own personal prejudices, leading to the active lobbying of induction for some artists and the active dismissal of others held in low critical regard, regardless of that artist’s impact or influence. These factors combined explain why Percy Sledge, Miles Davis, and Madonna are in the Hall, and why Deep Purple, Genesis, and the Cure aren’t.

The Rock Hall of Fame has made some strides in addressing common criticisms of its induction process. For starters, the number of artists on the nomination ballot has been increased from nine to 12 artists this year. Additionally, the Hall’s Chief Curator Jim Henke has explained that the nominating committee has created three subcommittees to suggest nominations in particular genres (“one on progressive rock and heavy metal, one on hip-hop and one on early rock and rollers and rhythm & blues”), which inspires confidence that the Hall is aiming to reach outside the baby boomer music canon. Those considerations have resulted in a pretty intriguing ballot; while there are still head-scratchers (really, Laura Nyro?), there are a fair number of artists who definitely have earned their places in the history of modern music. Let’s take a look at a few of them.

by Sean McCarthy

24 Sep 2009


For music journalists, it would be easy to declare the release of the remastered versions of the Beatles albums as the end of the CD era. Bloggers and music writers, most notably NPR’s “All Songs Considered” host Bob Boilen said the new Beatles remastered CDs will likely be the last CDs many people will buy.

It would be a fitting epitaph for the format: Born: 1984 with Born in the U.S.A the first CD massive produced in the United States. Died: September 9, 2009 with the Beatles boxed set. Where I live, there is even some serious circumstantial evidence to back up this claim: the same month The Beatles released their remastered albums, Homers Music & Gifts, the largest independent music distributor in Nebraska will close two of its four locations.

Unfortunately, the end of CD purchasing just isn’t true. Yes, downloads are eclipsing CDs in terms of how people get their music, but what will keep the CD alive is not lower prices or even the quality of the product, but our insatiable desire to display stuff.

by Sarah Zupko

22 Sep 2009


It’s a huge release week, one of the most packed of the year. Fall is indeed here in force. Pearl Jam self-releases, but partners with retail behemoth Target, while indie rock unloads a treasure trove of new music, and British pop stages an invasion of sorts with the return of Mika, Richard Hawley and David Gray.

Pearl Jam - Backspacer: This is a giant release and marks the former grunge band’s embrace of pop, so perhaps it’s fitting that the normally anti-corporate Eddie Vedder and co. steered the exclusive big box store release to Target. The band is going it alone here with a self-release, something only the world’s biggest artists like them and Radiohead can really do and still move major units. The result has been near universal critical acclaim for the band’s new musical direction.

Basement Jaxx - Scars: The South London house duo release their first record since 2006’s Crazy Itch Radio. While nothing here trumps the sublime beats of 2003’s Kish Kash, Scars does offer an engaging selection of collaborations, including turns with Santigold, Amp Fiddler, and Yoko Ono.

by AJ Ramirez

18 Sep 2009


The reaction to rapper Kanye West’s interruption of singer Taylor Swift’s MTV Video Music Awards acceptance speech had snowballed in interesting ways. Even the President of the United States has called West a “jackass” for taking away Swift’s microphone to praise Beyonce Knowles’ “Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It)” video. Scores of celebrities have criticized his behavior, largely on Twitter. Meanwhile, a whole Internet meme has sprung up around West’s recent behavior. NME.com has assembled a gallery featuring choice samples of Photoshopped images where West inappropriately interrupts several pop culture figures (my personal favorite is the one where he interrupts Super Mario 64). Hell, when I checked Facebook the other day, I noticed a new quiz titled “Where will Kanye interrupt you?”

Now, it’s quite clear to anyone with a basic grasp of manners that West was indeed acting like a jackass, and he quite rightly has since apologized for the incident. Additionally, West’s behavior is a surprise to no one familiar with the rapper. West has become well-known for his attention-grabbing remarks over the years, ranging from stating “George Bush hates black people” during a 2005 benefit concert to support Hurricane Katrina victims, to exclaiming he was “done” with MTV after not winning a single award at the 2007 Video Music Awards, to repeated exaltation of his own genius. Still, this event has exploded into a cultural phenomenon because it illustrates how ridiculous West’s acts of idiocracy have become, and how much of it people will tolerate. You would think he’d stop acting like an idiot by now, but no, there he goes again. And do we really have to put up with this?

by AJ Ramirez

17 Sep 2009


The latest entry in the popular Guitar Hero video game series has now hit store shelves, but there has been some public discontent over the game’s playable avatar of late Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain. On September 11th, surviving Nirvana members Krist Novoselic and Dave Grohl issued a joint statement expressing that they were “dismayed and very disappointed” that the Cobain avatar could be used to play any song in Guitar Hero 5, not just Nirvana tunes. Meanwhile, Cobain’s widow Courtney Love has been raging on Twitter over the guitarist being included in the game to begin with, claiming Cobain would have loathed the game and that she would sue video game maker Activision over his image use.

Okay, let’s put aside the fact that both Love and Grohl had to give permission for Activision to use Cobain’s image and Nirvana’s music in the first place (making Love’s assertion that she never approved the likeness very odd). More importantly, let’s also push aside the cultural and historical baggage. Yes, Nirvana was the most important rock band of the 1990s, largely due to how it was resolutely spat in the face of rock music convention. Nirvana was at the center of the alternative rock revolution, which by its nature denounced commercial opportunism and despised the corporate music industry machine. Despite his well-documented drug problems, Cobain’s 1994 suicide is often interpreted by rock scholars as the ultimate act of defiance in the face of unwanted stardom. Nirvana does hold a hallowed place in rock history, but the group shouldn’t be treated as a sacred cow, never meant to mingle with the sort of artists they mocked and despised in a blockbuster media product. As a huge Nirvana fan myself, I too am certain that Cobain would have intensely hated his image appearing in the game. Then again, Cobain hated a lot of things, chief among them cleaning his apartment. The inclusion of a playable Kurt Cobain avatar in Guitar Hero 5 is definitely ill-advised, but it’s not because it devalues everything Nirvana stood for, as Love in particular suggests. It’s ill-advised because it looks utterly stupid.

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