Friday, February 28, 2014

NO ROOM FOR NICE IN THE ROCK AND ROLL HALL OF FAME

               The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame has released its annual list of new admissions to that philistine institution.  For reasons SR has previously lamented and explained, http://splashingrocks.blogspot.com/2013/01/too-polite-and-too-white.html, the internationally beloved and acclaimed Carpenters have predictably been excluded once again.

              The reason I have revisited a topic that is understandably esoteric to many is straigtforward:  It is emblematic of the dominance of the dark side in contemporary culture.

               Apart from the more detailed reasons set out in that post last year, and further amplified below, the blatant injustice of this perverse exclusion is nicely illustrated by the graphic below.  As documented in Joel Whitburn's The Billboard Book of Top 40 Hits (c) 2000, the Carpenters were the leading American hit-makers of the 1970's, surpassing such legendary peers as The Jackson 5, Chicago, and Stevie Wonder. Numerous other artists ranking well below the Carpenters on that list -- and far below them as well in terms of both musical artistry and enduring international popularity -- have been admitted to what amounts to Rolling Stone Magazine's pet museum of political and behavioral favorites.

                                                     TOP ARTISTS BY DECADE
Source:  Joel Whitburn, The Bill Board Book of Top 40 Hits © 2000
SEVENTIES
                                                                Artist                           Points
1.        Elton John                    2,021
2.        Paul McCartney            2,020
3.       Bee Gees                     1,834
4.       Carpenters                  1,644
5.       The Jackson 5              1,551
6.       Chicago                       1,480
                                                7.       Stevie Wonder              1,467

         Still, it must be conceded that this year's selections are otherwise unobjectionable and include several performers whose music appeals even to SR's admittedly uncontemporary tastes.  Hall & Oates (H&O), Linda Ronstadt, and Cat Stevens have all produced many impressive and moving recordings of lasting appeal, including H&O's She's Gone, Ronstadt's Blue Bayou, and Stevens' Morning Has Broken. Neither Nirvana nor Kiss comes anywhere near SR's horizons of musical enjoyment, but both groups undoubtedly have created the kind of lasting impact and popularity in the Hard Rock genre to warrant admission to any representative R&R Hall of Fame.  Only the last new selectee, former Genesis member Peter Gabriel, seems inexplicable on any basis other than the favoritism of the admission's group.  His individual hit-making credentials are not remotely comparable to his chart-making contemporaries -- e.g., he had only one Top 5 single while the Carpenters, for example, had 11 -- while his contributions as a member of Genesis have already been honored by that group's admission to the Hall in 2010.

         Notwithstanding all this, the unyielding exclusion of the Carpenters' from consideration for this honor warrants a very brief recapitulation of why this systemic bias flies in the face of objective criteria.  This can be illustrated by comparing their recording credentials to those of the three new admittees to the Hall with whom such a comparison is most relevant -- Hall & Oates, Cat Stevens, and Linda Ronstadt.  Kiss and Nirvana, of course, are so remote from the Carpenters in oeuvre, era, and audience as to make any comparison inapposite.  Comparisons with the former threesome are also more relevant because each of them, like the Carpenters, could be characterized as falling into the pop/middle-of-the-road category that some cite as a sufficient reason for excluding the Carpenters, John Denver, and similar "non-rock"artists.

                                                                               Annie Leibovitz/Rolling Stone
                      Still "Too polite and too white" for the Cliques that run the RRHOF

        Probably the simplest, most objective, and readily available basis for comparison is the popularity of each artist based on singles and album sales.  As shown in the table above, the Carpenters far surpassed any of the three RRHOF artists under comparison (and all other American recording artists, for that matter) in singles sales during the 1970's, the only decade in which all four artists were active throughout.  Indeed, none of those three artists appeared in the Top 25 for that period as compiled in the Billboard Book, although Hall & Oates ranked No. 3 among artists rated for the 1980's (the Carpenters' run ended conclusively with Karen's death in 1983, but actually much earlier due to her impairment of anorexia).  Still, artistic longevity is a virtue, not a vice, so it is fair to compare the full career sales of these four artists.

        The Carpenters had eleven Top 5 singles on the Billboard Hot 100 (the source of all the ratings here) and 10 or 11 Gold Singles (the status of their last Top 5 single, Only Yesterday, is unclear) during their 13-year recording career.  Cat Stevens had no Top 5 (T5) singles, while Linda Ronstadt had six.  Hall &Oates had eight T5 singles and six certified Gold Singles.  By this criterion, the Carpenters were clearly superior, although H&O did outdo them in total Hot 100 No. 1's, six to three. But the Carpenters also had five hits that reached No. 2, and an astonishing and incomparable 15 singles that reached No. 1 on Billboard's Adult Contemporary chart.  Based on the straightforward criterion of major hit songs, the Carpenters clearly surpassed the three RRHOF selectees compared here, although Hall & Oates admittedly comes close to them in that regard.

        As to albums, one objective and identifiable measure for recording superstars of this caliber is the number and multiples of platinum albums, as certified by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA).  A platinum album reflects U.S. sales (international success is discussed further below) of at least one million; a multiple of 2X platinum means at least two million, and so forth. The source for the data presented are the Discographies for each artist published on-line by Wikipedia.com.

        The comparison of U.S. album sales for these four artists is closer and more mixed Whereas both H&O and Cat Stevens totaled seven platinum albums, the Carpenters surpassed both of them with eight in their far shorter recording career.  Taking into account the multiples factor (i.e., total platinum units), however, the Carpenters' edge over these two RRHOF admittees was considerably greater.  For example, the Carpenters' mega-hit compilation album, The Singles: 1969-1973, was certified as 7X platinum, and their 1971 album, Carpenters, was 4X platinum.  In sum, the Carpenters significantly surpassed H&O and Cat Stevens in platinum album units as well as in hit singles.

        Linda Ronstadt, however, produced the most U.S. platinum albums among this comparison group, with a total of eleven, three more than the Carpenters.  Ms. Rondstadt's advantage in this criterion is offset, however, by the Carpenters far greater album success in the international market, where they far surpassed all others in the comparison group.

        During the period of these artists' careers, Japan was the world's No. 2 record market and the United Kingdom was No. 3. Using the Discography of each artist as reported on Wikipedia.com, the Carpenters' success in those leading international markets easily surpassed those of all three of the Hall of Fame selectees under comparison.

        In the No. 2 Japanese market, there is simply no comparison.  Of the three admitted artists under consideration here, only Linda Ronstadt's discography showed any significant album hits in Japan, and her highest-ranked reported album there was a mere No. 12.  In comparison, the Carpenters had enormous and enduring success in the Japanese market, where they are the third-leading all-time international group, surpassed only by Mariah Carey and the Beatles (in single sales, they were the No. 1 international group in Japan for many years until finally surpassed by a South Korean "K-Pop" group in 2012).  They had three No. 1 albums and eleven Top 10 albums in Japan.

       In the No. 3 UK market, both Cat Stevens and the Carpenters had great album success, with each scoring seven albums that reached the Top 5.  The Carpenters, however, had three No. 1 UK albums, whereas Stevens had but one. Neither H&O nor Ms. Ronstadt came close in the UK, with H&O scoring two Top 5 albums and Ms.Ronstadt none.

       But the Carpenters' great popularity in the UK and Japan was only a small part of their extraordinary and enduring international appeal and influence.  As amply documented here and elsewhere, e.g., http://splashingrocks.blogspot.com/2013/01/opening-splash-east-asia-and-carpenters.html, that appeal has extended even to the People's Republic of China, where one Chinese journalist went so far as to declare that the introduction of the Carpenters' music there "was the beginning of the [cultural] opening of China."  Incredible though it may seem to many, the Carpenters' music had historical significance in China as an important part of the cultural opening initiated by the reforms of Deng Hsiao Ping following the Cultural Revolution.

       One could go on and on, but SR will spare the reader further statistical onslaught.  The case is too clear for dispute:  by any objective criteria, the Carpenters should long since have been enthusiastically welcomed into any legitimate RRHOF; the argument that they are excluded from consideration because their music is not "rock-and-roll" has been repeatedly exposed as bogus by the admission of numerous other artists of similar oeuvre.

       The Carpenters have been excluded because their music and character exude an aura of romantic innocence that is alien to the closed minds of the jaded hipsters that jealously guard the gate of that calcified institution.  Depressing, but true.



       






No comments:

Post a Comment