The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame announced the 2005 inductees just a bit ago – it’s a very solid and substantial list: U2, the O’Jays, the Pretenders, Percy Sledge, Buddy Guy, and nonperformers Frank Barsalona and Seymour Stein.
This March’s induction ceremony at the Waldorf in NYC is going to be one flipping hot ticket: has a hotter or more contemporary group ever been inducted into the Hall than U2, whose How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb is currently No. 2 on the Billboard album chart? Springsteen is the only one I can think of who comes close. And with the still sweet-singing O’Jays laying down some soulful harmonies, Percy crooning his southern soul standards “When A Man Loves a Woman” and “Warm and Tender Love,” force of nature Chrissie Hynde and the latest Pretenders back on the chain gang, and Buddy Guy ripping it up with his blistering electric blues guitar, it’s going to be one hell of a show.
We have been closely following U2’s activities here, including reviews of Atomic and their resounding appearance on SNL.
I wrote the following earlier this year:
Ireland’s U2 is the most important and influential band of the post-punk era, joining ringing guitar rock, punkish independence, Celtic spirituality, innovative production techniques and electronic experimentalism — all held together by singer/lyricist Bono’s transcendent vision and charisma.
U2 — Bono (Paul Hewson), guitarist the Edge (Dave Evans), bassist Adam Clayton and drummer Larry Mullen — formed in Dublin in 1976 as a Beatles and Stones cover band while the players were all still in high school. In 1980 they were signed to Island Records and released their spectacular first album, “Boy,” produced by Steve Lillywhite.
The band’s sparkling, radiant sound jumped from the grooves from the first note of “I Will Follow” and rode Mullen’s massive drums and the Edge’s angular, careening guitar into history. Neither “Boy” nor its follow-up “October” (with the glorious “Gloria”) tore up the charts at the time (though both are now platinum), but “War” — passionate, martial “Sunday Bloody Sunday,” melodic wailing “New Year’s Day,” and the fierce, new wavy love song “Two Hearts Beat As One”—turned U2 into a worldwide phenomenon in 1983.
In preparation for 1984’s “The Unforgettable Fire,” producer Brian Eno had a long conversation with Bono, as he later told Q Magazine. “I said, ‘Look, if I work with you, I will want to change lots of things you do, because I’m not interested in records as a document of a rock band playing on stage, I’m more interested in painting pictures. I want to create a landscape within which this music happens.’ And Bono said, ‘Exactly, that’s what we want too.’”
The results of this fateful change of direction were Eno productions of U2 standards “The Unforgettable Fire” (including “Bad,” “Pride In the Name of Love”); Grammy’s 1987 Album of the Year, the personal yet universal “The Joshua Tree,” which made the band superstars (with “Where the Streets Have No Name,” “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For,” “With Or Without You” and “One Tree Hill”); 1991’s “Achtung Baby,” a brilliant and emotionally dark move toward electronica (“Even Better Than the Real Thing,” “One,” “Until the End of the World,” “Who’s Gonna Ride Your Wild Horses” and “Mysterious Ways”); and “Zooropa,” deeper still into Euro-dance music and electronics (‘93, with the title track, “Numb,” “Lemon,” “Stay”). Wow, what a journey.
U2 was the leading rock band of the ’80s because its members, like perhaps only Bruce Springsteen in the U.S., still believed that rock ‘n’ roll could save the world, and they had the talent to make that notion not seem hopelessly naive.
This earnestness and willingness to shoulder the heaviest of responsibilities led to soaring heights of achievement and escalating psychic and artistic demands that eventually led the band to adopt irony as its basic means of expression for a time in the ’90s.
All bands want to be cool, and in the ’80s U2 almost single-handedly made earnestness cool, but it was hard, relentless work. After the gritty, chunky guitars-and-idealism of the ’80s, the ’90s saw the diaphanous chill of electronics-and-irony, which was literally and metaphorically cool, but ultimately not what the band is about.
“All That You Can’t Leave Behind” (‘00) returned to what the band is about, and is the sonic and spiritual follow up to the “The Joshua Tree,” the band’s most idealistic, spiritual and melodically consistent album.
Remnants of the band’s forays into electronics seasoned the album (especially the impressionistic “New York”), but the Edge’s guitar returned to center stage where his unique, chiming style belongs, though it never upstages the songs, every one of which is blessed with a memorable tune.
Following the ecstatic release of the opening track “Beautiful Day,” the second song “Stuck In a Moment You Can’t Get Out Of,” states a seemingly modest but deeply profound, earnest and idealistic notion:
“I’m just trying to find a decent melody
A song I can sing in my own company”
They have found it and then some. U2 is now a mature, confident, still amazing band that knows it doesn’t have all the answers, but isn’t afraid to keep asking the right questions.
Producer Leon Huff on the O’Jays:
“Our company (Philadelphia International) really took off after we signed the O’Jays.
“I remember flying into Cleveland – a disc jockey had called to say ‘Man there’s a group in Cleveland that’s raising hell’ – so we took a flight out to Cleveland and went to see them at a club. They had lines around the corner. Those guys were tearing that club up. We stayed in Cleveland until we signed them. We took them back to Philadelphia and recorded and recorded and recorded.”
With the O’Jays, and Harold Melvin and the Bluenotes, the world of Gamble and Huff came together. In the ’70s G&H scored ten No. 1 R&B and nine Top 40 pop hits with the O’Jays; four No. 1 R&B and four Top 20 hits with Harold Melvin and the Bluenotes.
But more importantly, all the disparate elements of the G&H sound coalesced into something new: music with rhythmic muscle, melodic sophistication and orchestral leavening, combined with a newfound social and interpersonal awareness, all funneled through the great pipes of the O’Jays’ Eddie Levert and the Bluesnotes’ Teddy Pendergrass.
Recorded at G&H’s Sigma Sound with engineer Joe Tarsia, the roll began with the O’Jays’ “Backstabbers,” a remarkable combination of shimmering strings, Latin percussion, post-modern paranoia and a palpable sense of “this is it – there is nothing any of us could or should be doing other than making this music.”
G&H weren’t following Motown (where Norman Whitfield was making parallel strides) or anyone else (Curtis Mayfield and Isaac Hayes were independently exploring some of the same terrain) – G&B were leading.
In addition to making hits, G&H allowed house band MFSB to stretch out in the grooves of the songs, laying a funky foundation for the extended disco remixes of the later-’70s. Album cuts of such uptempo masterworks as the Bluenotes’ “Bad Luck” and “The Love I Lost”; MFSB’s “TSOP” (The Soul Train theme song) and “Love Is the Message”; and the O’Jays’ “992 Arguments,” “I Love Music” and (best) “For the Love of Money” reached lengths of up to 10-minutes of dance floor ecstasy.
“Money” is Huff’s all-time favorite “for the [anti-greed] message and for the song. I used to go the O’Jays concerts and they would drive people insane when they would close the show with that song.”
Formed in late-’70s London, the Pretenders have endured as one of the most successful groups to emerge from the New Wave era. Singer and rhythm guitarist Chrissie Hynde writes songs (such as “Brass in Pocket, “Back on the Chain Gang,” “Don’t Get Me Wrong” and “Middle of the Road”) about everyday survival with a tough, self-assured persona softened with romantic longing and maternal love.
Akron-native Chrissie Hynde spoke to the Plain Dealer after her nomination:
- “Personally, I hope it doesn’t happen, because I don’t like awards,” she said.
Hynde put together the Pretenders after she relocated to London in the mid- ’70s. The pop-rock group released its first single, “Stop Your Sobbing,” in 1979, followed by such hits as “Brass in Pocket (I’m Special)” and “Back on the Chain Gang.”
The band performed at the Concert for the Hall of Fame at Cleveland Municipal Stadium in 1995.
“It was one of the greatest days of my life,” Hynde said. “I’m glad the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is in Cleveland. . . . It’s nice if people like that sort of thing, they can go and see, you know, the trousers that Jimmy Page wore in 1910.
“But as far as the awards part of it and being inducted, I could give that a miss.”
The Pretenders have gone through numerous lineup changes through the years. Founding members James Honeyman-Scott (guitar) and Pete Farndon (bass) died of drug overdoses in 1982 and 1983, respectively.
The founder and president of Premier Talent Agency, Barsalona created the first legitimate rock and roll booking agency. Along the way, he single handedly reinvented the way artists, agents, venues and promoters did business. His roster included Led Zeppelin, Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, The Pretenders, The Who and U2.
The Chairman of Sire Records, Stein co-founded the label in 1966, and has been one of the most successful and influential executives in the music business. His ability to discover new talent led to signings of many groundbreaking artists such as The Ramones, Madonna, The Pretenders, Talking Heads, Seal, Depeche Mode, Ice-T, The Cure, The Smiths, kd Lang and Barenaked Ladies. The label is still going strong after nearly 40 years and still innovative with recent signings including The Von Bondies, HIM, Regina Spektor, The Fags and The Veronicas.