“The Wonder Twins” Arlene Brown and Christine Mitchell discuss this year’s class of Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees.
Rock and Roll Hall of Hame Class of 2014:
Christine Mitchell: Hey Arlene, the 2014 inductees to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame were announced, and I’m waxing nostalgic. I thought we could trade memories and impressions of these artists and chat about their impact on music today. You game?
Arlene Brown: AH!! Are you kidding?? Yes!!! I’m totally excited for this induction!!! Who do you want to start with?? Nirvana? KISS? Some groovy Hall & Oates?
CM: I’d like to start off with Linda Ronstadt, mostly because I have these hazy memories of seeing her on tv as a kid. In fact, it was on The Muppet Show and she was signing ‘Blue Bayou’. The froggies were ribbiting and she was being backed by an unusually sedate Animal and the rest of Electric Mayhem; typically hammy Muppet stuff. But Linda sounded incredible. She gave it her all. Her voice is so incredibly rich and full of depth. As I got older I think I felt more annoyed with her (I went through a Buddy Holly phase along with my dad and her version of ‘It’s So Easy’ still sounds corny to me) since she sang so many cover songs, but the reality is that in the 1970’s, she was just about the only lady rocker around, and she refused to be sexualized to sell her music. Bands like The Runaways and singers like Pat Benatar came AFTER Linda Ronstadt. That stands as a huge contribution to feminism AND rock music.
AB: Linda Ronstadt to me was just one of those women who was going to do her thing and not give a rat’s big fat toe what anyone thought. There was a time when The Eagles were here backup band before they became mega-stars. She would take a man’s song, and would totally make it her own. She gave a woman’s touch to “After the Gold Rush” by Neil Young (with Dolly Parton and Emmylou Harris,) Roy Orbison’s “Blue Bayou” and “Alison” by Elvis Costello just to name a few. Even though some don’t consider her “rock” enough, she definitely influenced others to take rock to the next level. I loved the 70’s. I wonder if I have a Linda Ronstadt record to play? Do you have one I can borrow?
CM: You can borrow my husband when he’s in one of his ‘Different Drum’ earworm fits. He just went through another phase after the inductees were announced, but the last time it got stuck in his head I swear he was singing it for six weeks straight. Thank you, Michael Nesmith.
CM: My parents joined some record club for a very short period of time in the 70’s, and that’s how we ended up with KISS’ ‘Love Gun’. We never, EVER listened to it, except for one song, ‘Christine Sixteen’, because, well, it had my name in it. And when you’re a little squirt you have no idea what a song like that is about. I just thought of it as ‘my song’, however wrong that was at the time. But even better than the song was the album cover, with all of the scantily-clad, face-painted women resting at the feet of the band. And the band. Such…hairy chests. Why did they wear those wild, chest hair-baring outfits? Why did they all wear platform boots? One looks like a cat? Why did the one with his tongue snaking waaaay out of his mouth have DEMON PLATFORM BOOTS? I don’t think I was even five years old yet. And people worry about kids running out in the street…well, yeah, that’s a legitimate problem. KISS played pretty typical rock, but when they took the whole Ziggy Stardust idea and amplified it by 500%, they became iconic.
AB: Do you know of all the inductees this year, KISS is the only one my kids didn’t know? Seriously? I bought them the “limited edition” PEZ dispenser candy set of the band. I thought it was cool. My kids thought I was crazy. I couldn’t help but ask “How do you not recognize these guys?” KISS has put their faces on everything. And I mean, absolutely everything. Comic books, lunch boxes, board games, action figures, cologne, body wash/shampoo, deodorant, even condoms. And so much more. We’re talking almost One Billion (yes, that’s a B) dollars worth of licenses sold. (thanks BrandWeek Magazine for that info!) Oh, and the also made some amazing music. Crazy music. But definitely crazy rock music!! And after 15 years of not making the Hall of Fame, can I just say “FINALLY!” Even Genesis is in the Hall of Fame.
CM: I was too young to appreciate Peter Gabriel’s work with Genesis, although I’m familiar with the dresses and animal heads (cool man, cool). But I was at the height of my MTV watching when his videos for ‘Sledgehammer’ and ‘Big Time’ got heavy rotation, and whenever either of those came on I would stop whatever I was doing and pay very close attention (Aardman Animation, the guys behind Wallace and Gromit FTW!). Awesome stuff. Peter’s voice is so singular, with its breathy-scratchy feel, and when he slips up a couple of octaves it sounds a little bit transcendent.
AB: Well, to be inducted twice, once with Genesis and then on his own merit, that says a lot about this guy. Peter Gabriel, to me, was a great songwriter. And I absolutely love his smooth and soothing voice. Probably my favorite song of his is “In Your Eyes.” Hands down. But he has done so much for human rights, too. Did you know he has received the “Man of Peace” award from the Nobel Peace Prize Laureates? Twice? Truly, one amazing human being. For more on his Human Rights Organization “Witness” go here. You know, Peter Gabriel and Yusuf performed “Wild World” together in 2003 for Nelson Mandel’s AIDS awareness concert. Here’s the video.
CM: Yusuf Islam, aka. Cat Stevens, has been such a quiet force in music for so many decades. His songs are captivatingly beautiful and timeless. I have always had this sort of folksy hippie image of Yusuf/Stevens for ever so long, due to songs like ‘Trouble ‘ and ‘Wild World’. I was surprised and pleased to hear this poppy little number off of his first record ‘Matthew and Son’, ‘Here Comes My Baby’, on the soundtrack for ‘Rushmore’. It is and yet isn’t identifiably Cat Stevens, but it’s completely adorable.
AB: I completely agree. Even before he converted to Islam, he had that folksy spiritual feeling to him. I was so happy when he released “An Other Cup” in 2006. It is a truly, simply beautiful album. “”Heaven/Where True Love Goes” is a perfect example. He also won a “Man of Peace” award, too! Peter and Yusuf have done so much for Human Rights. Truly commendable.
Who’s next? I have “Born to Run” from the E Street Band and Bruce Springsteen stuck in my head. I remember listening to E Street when I was really little. My sisters would play that record over and over again. If there was a music soundtrack to my childhood it would probably have a good mix of Bruce and E Street Band in it.
CM: The E Street Band has a sound like no other, and I think that a lot of it was due to the crazy-tastic sax-playing of Clarence Clemons. It’s blaring, brassy, and it’s completely wonderful. And they didn’t just record with The Bruce: Bob Dylan, Meat Loaf, Neil Young, Lou Reed, Dire Straits, David Bowie, Peter Gabriel, Stevie Nicks, Sting, Ringo Starr, Ray Davies, Ronnie Spector, Lady Gaga, and Aretha Franklin have all recorded with The E Street Band (thanks, Wikipedia). That’s quite a list, and it’s also the short version. BAM
CM: Good old Daryl Hall and John Oates. It’s great to see them finally getting some credit for their arguably awesome work. They’ve taken a lot of ridicule over the years, but I think it was very misdirected. These dudes know how to write PERFECT pop/R&B songs, and they’re so perfect that they seem simple and easy, which is absolutely not the case. In the late 90’s, back before MP3 players and after mixtapes, I spent the requisite overnight conversion and burning to create a CD that I entitled ‘The Wilfred Brimley Mix: Hall and Oates in the Morning’. I sort of pretended it was a goofy joke that I did this, but the reality was that I secretly LOVED these songs and I listened to them over and over in my car, I sang along, I grooved in my seat…GREAT, great music. Daryl Hall’s voice is unbeatable. Their videos (WARNING: excessive fog and/or bad dancing) were horrendous, but hey, watch a few old videos by The Police before you cast your stones.
AB: You won’t hear me complain about this duo. Seriously. I have loved Hall & Oates for years! Years! “Private Eyes,” “Maneater,” “You Make My Dreams,” “I can’t go for that.” I instantly start singing every one of these songs just from their titles. I’m so glad I finally restocked my record collection with these guys. They are a must in anyone’s collection, even if it’s MP3s, cds, records, or even cassette tapes! I wonder if my sister has an 8 track with Hall & Oates. Reminds me of my childhood. All those musty smells of old vinyl and 8 track tapes.
CM: Mmmm…I smell Seattle again. Nirvana. I type it fondly. I owe a huge chunk of my musical history to this band, even though I never got to see them live. For me, the grunge explosion that Nirvana brought to the fore happened right when I was entering college and starting to see live bands, so I have them to thank for the wealth of music that either came from or passed through Seattle at that time. There is pre-Nirvana music and post-Nirvana music, and the division is clear. Rock would not be what it is today without this band.
AB: You know, if I could change anything in my past, it would be to run away from my home in the midwest and move to Seattle when Nirvana was getting big. I would have gone to every single one of their shows. I would have probably been arrested for stalking them. For me, personally, I still cry/get chills/get butterflies whenever I see photos of Kurt Cobain. There was something about his eyes. I could just stare at them forever. Then when I listen to his words, the riffs of his guitar, I’m just moved to another level of emotion. The trio of Kurt, Dave Grohl, and Krist Novoselic can never ever be replicated. Many bands have tried. But no one will ever have the same magic these three had. Ever.
I can only imagine that if this trio would have continued to make music together, our world would be completely different. Don’t know if they would have been the best “role models” for my kids. Granted, I get a little giggly when my left handed daughter pulls out her guitar and says “MOM! Just like Kurt and Jimi Hendrix!” But to be perfectly honest? I’ve met a few “rock stars.” Got to know them as people. And we’re all just normal people spinning around on this great big globe. But of all the “rock stars” out there, Kurt Cobain is the one that I really truly would have wanted to get to know. Maybe asked him to teach me to draw. Had a beer or 3 with him. Who knows? But since I can’t go back in time, I can tell you, that Nirvana not only touched those here in Seattle. They affected everyone everywhere. They changed what we thought was rock. They taught us to scream and to not give a flip about what anyone else thought. Don’t bend to others’ ideals. Be who you are and well, everyone else can just go, well, you get the point. So, I’ll just imagine that Kurt’s dream came true from this quote he said in “The Daily of the University of Washington” 5/5/1989:
“I’d like to live off the band, but if not, I’ll just retire to Mexico or Yugoslavia with a few hundred dollars, grow potatoes, and learn the history of rock by thumbing through back issues of Creem Magazine.“
Congrats to all of these well deserved inductees. I cannot imagine our world, or my music collection, without a single one of these people.
CM: Agreed. Congratulations to the top notch class of 2014.