By Brian Ives
The Lollapalooza Nation has officially reached the age where the biggest bands of the era are starting to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. In 2012, the Red Hot Chili Peppers were inducted; the Beastie Boys got in that year as well. In 2014, Nirvana entered the Hall; last year, Green Day. This year, no alternative rock bands are represented, but the next few years should see a steady stream of bands from the late ’80s and early ’90s being honored. Here’s thirteen bands who are already eligible and overdue for induction.
Jane’s Addiction: We’ve already explained, at length, why Jane’s should already be in. Not only should be Hall of Famers by now; they should have been inducted before Nirvana and Green Day (as they debuted before either of those bands). But (a) they paved the way for a new breed of bands merging the formerly opposing schools of punk and metal (b) they did so in a way that somehow got heavy rotation on MTV and the radio and (c) they actually created an event that brought diverse bands together and conditioned a new generation to expect to see rock and hip-hop acts on the same concert lineup and led to the festival culture that dominates the summer touring season today.
Nine Inch Nails: There were a lot of “industrial” bands in the late ’80s, but none with songs that were as addicting as Trent Reznor’s. Reznor, the sole member of the “band,” recast technology, including drum loops and samples, as something that rock and metal bands could use without losing street cred.
Reznor reinvented himself on each of NIN’s first three releases (1989’s Pretty Hate Machine, 1992’s Broken EP and 1994’s The Downward Spiral) and he was surely one of the most abrasive artists to have a hit single. And an unlikely hit it was: during an era where guitar ruled, “Closer” was an industrial disco jam with not much guitar, in which Mr. Renzor suggested his desire to fornicate with you “like an animal.” Of course, the NIN catalog holds up regardless of the success of “Closer.” Of Spiral, David Bowie said, “Second to the Velvet Underground, there has never been better soul-lashing in rock… Trent’s music, built as it is on the history of industrial and mechanical sound experiments, contains a beauty that attracts and repels in equal measure: Nietzsche’s ‘God is dead’ to a nightclubbing beat. And always lifted, at the most needy moment, by a tantalizing melody.” High praise indeed.
Soundgarden: The seminal Seattle record label SubPop was originally created for one reason: to release music by Soundgarden. That would be significant in and of itself, but it’s the band’s stellar discography that warrants their inclusion.
Few of their peers evolved from album to album as they did; when they started they were a combination of doomy Sabbath-inspired riffage combined with Jesus Lizard-like abrasiveness. But they matured into something altogether different: an incredibly powerful band with a great melodic sense (not unlike Led Zeppelin) who were able to take on adult subjects in a way that few bands of their generation did: take a close listen to “Mailman,” “4th of July” or even “Rowing.” They broke up at the right time, and when they reunited, they released an album that actually held up to their legacy, no mean feat.
Hole: It’s true that, for many reasons, Courtney Love’s personality often gets more attention than her music, which is a shame. But Black Sabbath doesn’t get penalized for The Osbournes; similarly, Hole’s music should be seen on its own, divorced of any other context. Just listen to Live Through This, one of the greatest albums of one of the greatest eras of rock music. That’s really all that should matter (but, by the way, Celebrity Skin was a great album too).
Moby: No matter your opinion of EDM, there’s no denying that it is one of the most dominant strains of popular music in 2016. Back when electronic dance music was being made by mostly faceless DJs, Moby became one of its first stars, and introduced the genre to the MTV crowd and alternative rock fans, first with 1995’s Everything is Wrong, and four years later with the much more radio friendly Play, which incorporated samples from the building blocks of rock and roll music: early gospel and field hollers. Moby was also a musician, so he combined beats and samples with live instruments (he plays guitar, bass and keyboards), paving the way for a new generation of musicians.
Primus: Quick: name another band who played the Main Stage at Lollapalooza, Ozzfest, and the jam-band heavy H.O.R.D.E. tour in the ’90s. You can’t! During that time, Primus also opened for U2 in stadiums, for Rush in arenas and on the historic Anthrax/Public Enemy tour in theaters. That’s all interesting on paper, but it’s the music that counts. And in an era filled with uncompromising and weird bands, they were the least compromising and the weirdest, at least of those who headlined large venues. They shared the Zeppelin, Sabbath and Floyd influences of many of their peers, but they stood out because they were also listening to Tom Waits (whom they collaborated with), King Crimson and Frank Zappa. They were also one of the few bands of the era who had a great sense of humor.
The Smashing Pumpkins: In the early ’90s, there were kind of unspoken rules about what was and wasn’t cool; perhaps “alternatively correct” is a phrase that works here (full disclosure: it’s a term I read Jeff Ament of Pearl Jam using in an interview). Punk rock was cool, heavy metal and classic rock weren’t (even though they were sort of obvious influences on so many bands). Stripped down production was cool; having too much other than distorted guitars/bass/drums wasn’t. And on their first two LPs, 1991’s Gish and 1993’s Siamese Dream (both classics), the Smashing Pumpkins fit right in. And then they started taking risks. On 1995’s double album (!) Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness, they used pianos, strings and production that, at least on some songs, could be referred to as Spector-esque. And it worked: they became arena headliners with an album that boasted an armful of hit singles. The electronic-pop tune “1979,” though, was a hint of what was to come. 1998’s Adore also turned up its nose at the conventions of the day by sounding more like Depeche Mode than Nirvana. As witnessed on their current tour, Billy Corgan is still finding ways to challenge his audience and reinvent himself.
The Cure: Hands down, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame has not overlooked any genre or sub genre as egregiously as it has the post-punk movement. Judging by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s inductees, rock music went straight from the ’70s punk scene (the Ramones, the Clash, the Sex Pistols, Blondie, Talking Heads) to ’90s alt-rock (Nirvana, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Green Day). There’s an important middle era in between, and that’s post-punk. Few bands were as important to that era, and few were as enduring as, the Cure. They were one of the groups at the center of the so-called “goth” music, but that term can be a bit reductive; the band evolved , big time, over their first string of albums. They started out as a band with a rather heavy Joy Division debt and became something more psychedelic and Hendrixian. Even with a few songs that bordered on being hit singles, they never quite seemed to be mainstream; being a Cure fan wasn’t just a statement of the music you liked, it was a statement on your very identity. They remain incredibly popular: they have a three night stand at New York’s Madison Square Garden on their schedule for later this spring.
The Smiths: Another crucial post-punk band; the term “sounds like nothing you’d ever heard before” may be somewhat overused (even, or especially, by this writer). But when the Smiths debuted in the early ’80s, there truly never had been anyone who sounded like that. Much of that could be attributed to frontman Morrissey, but guitarist Johnny Marr’s role can’t be discounted either; he updated aspects of ’60s-era Rolling Stones, Who and Byrds to become a new kind of unflashy guitar hero. No band was as influential on British “indie” rock in the ’80s and early ’90s as they were. Their “How Soon Is Now?” has actually been referred to as the “Stairway to Heaven” of the ’80s.
Joy Division: Probably the band single most influential in moving British music from punk to what would come next (alternative or “indie,” whatever you want to call it). One of the first bands signed to Factory Records, Joy Division weren’t really about the anger of punk rock; they were more about creating a mood, and that mood was haunted. Sadly, that mood wasn’t just a pose: frontman Ian Curtis committed suicide at age 23, after only two full albums, but those albums changed the course of British music, and were also hugely influential to Smashing Pumpkins, Moby and U2. Out of the ashes of that band, guitarist/keyboardist Bernard Sumner, bassist Peter Hook and drummer Stephen Morris would form synth-rock pioneers New Order; there’s a good argument that both bands should be inducted together the way the Small Faces and the Faces got in together.
Bjork: Even in the weirdo-fest that was ’90s rock, she seemed completely bizarre, which is just how she seemed to like it. After leaving ’80s college rock favorites the Sugarcubes, the Icelandic singer began forging a totally new and unique path in the ’90s with her solo career. But by moving from guitar-based music to dance music, she ended up with some iconic hits on her first few albums, including “Human Behavior,” “Big Time Sensuality,” “Venus as a Boy,” “Army of Me,” “Hyperballad,” “Isobel” and a bonkers cover of a 1950s hit, “It’s Oh So Quiet.” She’s always been ahead of her time, but for a brief moment in the early ’90s, pop culture caught up to her, allowing her to make a bigger impact on the mainstream than she had before or since.
The Pixies: Let’s put this in simple terms: no Pixies = no Nirvana. As Kurt Cobain told Rolling Stone about “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” “I was trying to write the ultimate pop song. I was basically trying to rip off the Pixies. I have to admit it. When I heard the Pixies for the first time, I connected with that band so heavily I should have been in that band — or at least in a Pixies cover band. We used their sense of dynamics, being soft and quiet and then loud and hard.” 1989’s Dolittle is rock perfection.
Depeche Mode: Starting out as a dancy synth-pop band (“People Are People“), they were one of the first bands to build their sounds around keyboards and synthesizers (as opposed to using them to embellish a guitar-based sound) and their dark ballads and anthems soon gathered outsiders en masse, as they became a stadium headlining band. One of the dominant alternative rock bands of the late ’80s, Depeche Mode maintained their popularity even during the guitar based early ’90s.
Radio.com will cover this year’s Rock and Roll Hall of Fame ceremony live from the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York, this Friday night, April 8.