Friday, 23 January 2009

Keltner analysis of undiscussed Rock Hall Artists: The Smiths

The site A List of Things Thrown Five Minutes Ago discusses various artists' credentials for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

After finishing my analysis of the Rock Hall backlog, I always intended to analyse artists who have never been discussed by the Nominating Committee, but still might have credentials to justify induction. The aim of the process is to find out whether, on the basis of the Keltner list for a Hall of Fame, the Nominating Committee really is completely ignoring artists who have undeniable credentials to be in the Hall.

I do admit that there are some problems with the criteria, especially given known biases of the Nominating Committee and how they effect who is already in the Hall, but still I cannot see any better alternative.

The first artist I will discuss for this project is the Smiths. Consisting of vocalist Morrissey, guitarist Johnny Marr, bass guitarist Andy Rourke, and drummer Mike Joyce, they emerged on Rough Trade in the 1980s and in an era of vapid synth-pop became seen as heroes for their jangly guitar pop, which won them support on college radio in the US and eventually got their last two albums into the Billboard Top 100. Morrissey's lyrical skill and satirical tendencies were also highly regarded, though he was sometimes criticised for whining too much. They were first eligible this year, but not on any Nominating Committee member's short list.

I will give my own evaluation of the Smiths' Rock Hall credentials based on the Keltner criteria, which actually come from the Baseball Hall of Fame.

1) Were the Smiths ever regarded as the best artist in rock music? (Did anybody, while the Smiths were active, ever seriously suggest that the Smiths were the best artist in rock music?): Among critics in England in the 1980s there were certainly those who thought so, but with hindsight it is very hard to see that this was true in comparison to other indie artists like the Twins or R.E.M.

2) Were the Smiths ever the best artist in rock music in their genre?: If you exclude R.E.M., the Replacements (plus later Hüsker Dü) and even lesser-knowns like Half Japanese or Game Theory. Overall, I would again say no.

3) Were the Smiths ever considered the best at their instruments?: No. Johnny Marr was acclaimed for his skill, but he was never regarded as a genuine guitar virtuoso. The same might be said for Morrissey's lyrics, which was probably the most acclaimed part of their work by the critics.

4) Did the Smiths have an impact on a number of other bands?: Yes. Bands like Oasis, Suede and Blur cite them as a major influence only suspected when Brit-pop was at its height. Later alternative bands like Blink 182 also cite the Smiths as a key influence, so this criterion is very much in their favour.

5) Were the Smiths good enough that they could play regularly after passing their prime?: No. They disbanded in 1987 due to disagreements between Morrissey and Marr and have never played together since, though Morrissey did continue under the name with Rourke and Joyce for a little while.

6) Are the Smiths the very best artist in history that is not in the Hall of Fame?: No

7) Are most bands who have a comparable recording history and impact in the Hall of Fame?: Among eligible alternative heroes, very few are in the Hall of Fame, and such artists as the Buzzcocks and Television have never been considered by the Nominating Committee. Even the Jam, a closer parallel in that they were big in Europe but only a cult act in the States, have never made the Rock Hall ballot.

8) Is there any evidence to suggest that the Smiths were significantly better or worse than is suggested by its statistical records?: Perhaps their critical acclaim is not wholly justified. Also, their college radio airplay was never able to win them as much commercial success as R.E.M. or the Violent Femmes or 10,000 Maniacs.

9) Are the Smiths the best artist in its genre that is eligible for the Hall of Fame?: As mentioned above, there are several who would take precedence, including such British bands as the Buzzcocks and Wire (active before the college radio boom) and Americans the Replacements and Hüsker Dü.

10) How many #1 singles/gold records did the Smiths have? Did the Smiths ever win a Grammy award? If not, how many times were the Smiths nominated? So far as I know, they never had a gold record in the States and were never nominated for a Grammy. However, with The Queen Is Dead listed at #10 in Colin Larkin's poll of the Top 1,000 Albums and four albums in Rolling Stone's Top 500, the Smiths have a great deal of acclaim for the establishment press.

11) How many Grammy-level songs/albums did the Smiths have? For how long of a period did the Smiths dominate the music scene? How many Rolling Stone covers did the Smiths appear on? Did most of the bands with this sort of impact go into the Hall of Fame?: See previous post.

12) If the Smiths were the best band at a concert, would it be likely that the concert would rock? They did release a successful live album Rank, which is a sure sign that they were a good live act.

13) What impact did the Smiths have on rock history? Were they responsible for any stylistic changes? Did they introduce any new equipment? Did the Smiths change history in any way? Yes, at least in terms of changing history. According to The Rough Guide to Rock, the Smiths' true legacy lies in the way they changed the public's perception of indie music away from that of dark, inaccessible gothic rock to catchy, often satirical and offbeat pop music. This image change played a key role in the growth of alternative music after the Smiths disbanded.

14) Did the band uphold the standards of sportsmanship and character that the Hall of Fame, in its written guidelines, instructs us to consider?: Apart from Morrissey's occasional personal problems, most of which surfaced after they disbanded, probably yes.

Verdict: Only on a couple of the criteria would the Smiths qualify. On that basis, one would have to say don't induct.


Anonymous said... really need to check your facts. You are so wrong about The Smiths that it makes me damn angry. Who the fuck are you to say that The Smiths "possibly" had an impact on "a number" of bands? Dude, Oasis, Blur and every brit-pop band ever said temselves that The Smiths were major influences on them. You said possibly? Get a fucking clue before you post this shit man. The Smiths have even influenced a number of hip-hop and heavy metal artists as well. Ever heard of System of a Down? OutKast? Pantera? No Doubt? Blink 182? The Killers? Far out.

Anonymous said...

I can't believe you are comparing The Smiths to Television, The Jam, The Buzzcocks, 10,000 Maniacs, Violent Femmes and Wire. Who the fuck are Wire? Television had one critically acclaimed album and their 2nd is universally panned. The Smiths have been constantly praised throughout their whole lifetime. Rolling Stone Magazine ranked Morrissey/Marr as the 5th best songwriting duo of all time and Morrissey is ranked as the 17th greatest lyricists ever by Digital Dream Door and one of the top 8 ever by The Guardian newspaper and he is ranked higher by many other people. NME ranked them more influential than The Beatles. Check your facts man. Fuck.

jpbenney said...

I am a little sorry, but I feel you are rather rude.

Thank you though for your point about Oasis and Blur because my original source, written at the height of Brit-pop, made it seem dubious that the Smiths were the influence on that genre that you have confirmed.

About Television, however, I have to disagree. Most critics and even my own experience would suggest that Marquee Moon and even Adventure (which I have very rarely seen panned critically) are far more influential than the Smiths.

Have you read Joe S. Harrington's Top 100 Albums or Piero Scaruffi's histories of rock music?

Anonymous said...

No offense, but your detractors got it right. The Smiths made 4 studio albums, all of which are in the Top 500 lists for both Rolling Stone and Spin which are essentially mainstream American magazines that normally would hold alt Brit bands in lower regard than American rock outfits.

You're no expert on anything. What exactly are your credentials?

jpbenney said...

Re Top 500 lists for Rolling Stone and Spin, in fact a lot of the criticism I read is much less mainstream and can be very critical of the music that dominated college radio during the Reagan Era.

The knowledge of music criticism I have, and some listening, make me doubt that the Smiths were really so important as critics in mainstream magazines make them.

greatamericanblank said...

In truth, the first Anonymous is no more correct than you. Television's second album is most certainly not critically-panned. Heck, UK publication The Word called it one of the great underrated albums of our time, and it currently ranks in's 3000 highest-acclaimed albums.

Secondly, it is obvious he just posted twice. "Your detractors are right"? More like "Your sole detractor wishes he was right"...