Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Eli's Coming

I have argued for quite a while that one of the failings of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is that it privileges Seriousness over frivolity, only tangentially acknowledging that rock and roll, which was born as kid stuff and gained a great deal of its early identity from not being Serious music, is supposed to be fun. It seems to me that if the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame wants to honor the whole spectrum of rock worth listening to, then it needs to make room for ephemera--artists who epitomized the spirit of fun that rock was born with. It should also honor achievements above and beyond the call of craftsmanship--especially if it's going to induct such minimally talented musicians as AC/DC.

I have argued elsewhere that Tommy James should be in the Hall, based on the fun quotient and craftsmanship obvious in "Crystal Blue Persuasion," "Sweet Cherry Wine," and "Crimson and Clover." And I am about to argue here that Three Dog Night should make it, too. Add it up: 18 straight Top 20 hits between 1969 and 1974 and three Number Ones, including "Joy to the World," one of a handful of 70s singles without which it's impossible to understand the decade at all. If the Hall intends to honor people whose primary contribution to the art form is selling lots of records (as their recent inductee lists have seemed to indicate), how much more evidence do they want? Half a dozen Top Ten albums? Oops, TDN's got that on their resume, too.

TDN didn't write their biggest hits, which works against their Seriousness, but if you don't write, you should at least have the good sense to record good tunes, which they did: Nilsson ("One"), Laura Nyro ("Eli's Coming"), Russ Ballard ("Liar"), Randy Newman ("Mama Told Me Not to Come"), Paul Williams ("An Old-Fashioned Love Song"), Hoyt Axton ("Joy to the World" and "Never Been to Spain") and Dave Loggins ("Pieces of April" and "Til the World Ends"). Also working against TDN's Seriousness is the fact that they are not remembered as a self-contained group. The three lead vocalists who originally founded the group, Cory Wells, Danny Hutton, and Chuck Negron, are well-remembered, but the musicians in the band are not: guitarist Mike Allsup, keyboardist Jimmy Greenspoon, bassist Joe Schermie, and drummer Floyd Sneed. Together, the seven of them sold more concert tickets than anyone else between 1969 and 1974 (a time when the Rolling Stones mounted two major American tours), and released a string of massively successful albums.

And on the scale of pure 45RPM pleasure, who ranks higher? "Easy to be Hard," from the musical Hair, is one of their most gorgeous performances, and "Celebrate," "Shambala," "Black and White," or "An Old Fashioned Love Song" are about as hooky as the 70s got. And let's not forget that they had some straight rock credibility, too, with a single like "Liar" and the album Cyan, one of the most-awaited releases of 1973. Most of TDN's biggest hits were produced by Richard Podolor, who probably belongs in the Hall himself.

Just as I said of Tommy James: Are you going to tell me Three Dog Night isn't at least as deserving of immortality as Prince or Rod Stewart? No sale.


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