Monday, 29 June 2009

Critiquing cultural icons

When I was writing my earlier post about Janet Jackson's Rock Hall credentials, my brother pointed out that Michael Jackson had died. Although I nowadays have no interest in his music except when it comes to potential theme songs for anti-road building campaigns, I am still extremely interested as to how people see the culture behind Michael Jackson. My mother herself is very critical, saying his extravagance, especially on drugs, makes CityLink look thrifty!!

Rod Dreher, a writer whose critiques are very interesting and revealing, has written on his blog a number of telling articles about Michael Jackson's childhood problems. His point that Michael Jackson had no childhood before he was thrust into the spotlight and that this made him extremely eccentric is very revealing. Even before I lost interest in him (and commercial 1980s music) I had heard similar things said about Michael Jackson in encyclopedias like Grolier. Dreher here is particularly revealing about the way Jackson used art, not to confront his own fears, but to escape from them into a fantasy world. Songs about loving young women may represent something Michael Jackson wished to be but was not and did not know how to be, though so much of it seems safe for the youngest and most strictly-raised children when they are insulated from the person making the music (though I have always been and still am generally a believer in letting art rather than the artist do that "talking").

A more revealing critique still can be found in the humorous but childlike King Of Pop Dead At 12. In King Of Pop Dead at 12, we see Michael Jackson's life compressed into twelve years. It does have a telling effect that is very revealing for a person like myself who has a tendency toward childish rants even in my thirties when everybody around me says I should be far more mature.

Sunday, 28 June 2009

Comparative climate in Brisbane for November 2008

The following table will illustrate how wet November 2008 was in Brisbane, as discussed in the Bureau of Meteorology's summary and map.

It can be seen that the only wetter November in Brisbane since 1860 when reliable records commenced was in 1981, whilst the total spring rainfall in Brisbane was the seventh highest. It is interesting to note that only in 1972 and 1943 was Brisbane's spring rainfall so nearly in excess of the annual rainfall in Melbourne.

Brisbane: Ten Wettest and Driest Novembers and Springs

November rainfall in millimetres
November rainfall in millimetres
Spring rainfall in millimetres
Spring rainfall in millimetres

Friday, 26 June 2009

Keltner analysis of undiscussed Rock Hall Artists: Janet Jackson

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.

I have already done three Keltner tests on undiscussed artists:
My next artist, first eligible in 2007/2008, is Janet Jackson. Janet Jackson is mentioned in Using the Billboard Hot 100 All-Time Top Artists as a Predictor for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame or: Why the Charts Don't Matter as proof that her tremendous commercial success does not makes for likely induction.

She began with two albums of the typical MOR pop style of the 1980s, Janet Jackson and Dream Street, which however sold very poorly. It was only with her 1986 album Control that she attracted public attention. The album topped the US charts and reached the Top 10 in UK, in the process generating six singles and attracting attention for Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis' production work, which was to become a critical part of Janet Jackson's career. Her next album, 1989's Rhythm Nation 1814, set a record with its seven Billboard Top Five singles, including "Miss You Much", "Escapade", "Black Cat", "Love Will Never Do (Without You)", "Alright", "Come Mack To Me" and "Rhythm Nation". Though the album was not universally praised, Robert Christgau admired the way she made her music into a message.

After Rhythm Nation 1814, Janet Jackson took a much more sexually assertive attitude with her fifth album janet. and made her film debut with Tupac Shakur in Poetic Justice. Her next full album, 1997's The Velvet Rope, was a concept album about her disillusionment with celebrity, but continued to sell in enormous quantities with its sexually explicit lyrics and guest appearances from cutting-edge rapper Q-Tip. 2001's All For You and 2004's Damita Jo showed Janet becoming more assertively sexual than ever, in the later case having to have a "clean" version issued in addition to the regular one. 2006's 20 Y.O. was her last album with longtime collaborators Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, and came simultaneously with a return to acting, whilst 2008's Discipline was marred by record company problems.

An evaluation of Janet Jackson's Rock Hall credentials based on the Keltner criteria, which actually come from the Baseball Hall of Fame follows.

1) Was Janet Jackson ever regarded as the best artist in rock music? (Did anybody, while Janet Jackson was active, ever seriously suggest Janet Jackson was the best artist in rock music?): Most likely not. Unlike preceding pop megasellers (Donna Summer, brother Michael, Madonna), Janet reached her peak whilst the pop charts were turning away from the synthesised pop of the 1980s towards more guitar-driven music like Nirvana, Pearl Jam and 1990s Metallica and Red Hot Chili Peppers, who took over from Michael as the premier artist on radio.

2) Was Janet Jackson ever the best artist in rock music in her genre?: Well, if we exclude Madonna, she could qualify in several genres, but having to do that would probably exclude her from any of them.

3) Was Janet Jackson ever considered the best at her instrument?: No, she was never highly regarded for her singing, which was often criticised even by sympathetic critics. However, as a dancer and stage performer, Janet might qualify because her dance routines were influential in the pop world of the 1990s.

4) Did Janet Jackson have an impact on a number of other artists?: Yes. Control and Rhythm Nation, though by no means the first albums of the New Jack Swing genre, were vital in popularising them and influenced such artists as Bobby Brown and Paula Abdul. They also were critical influences on established artists like brother Michael (Dangerous), Whitney Houston (I'm Your Baby Tonight) and Sheena Easton (What Comes Naturally).

5) Was Janet Jackson good enough that she could play regularly after passing her prime?: Yes, most definitely. Janet Jackson has been continuing to record at an unusual rate for one with so much experience, actually increasing her productivity with age even as her commercial and critical fortunes fall off. Even Madonna could not manage that so well, nor did previous pop megastars like Elvis Presley and Elton John. (Brother Michael's death will prove a test for her I think).

6) Is Janet Jackson the very best artist in history that is not in the Hall of Fame?: No, unless you define "best" as most commercially successful. However, as outlined above Janet's artistic impact is too small for such a claim to be valid even compared to the few above her in terms of chart success.

7) Are most singers who have a comparable recording history and impact in the Hall of Fame?: Definitely. The nearest in terms of commercial impact who are not would be Olivia Newton-John or perhaps Dire Straits, and none who are not had anything like the non-musical impact Janet had over the years. I recall hearing on one news show that Janet was the second most hated artist after brother Michael by Chinese censors, and I know other megasellers who have never been discussed are accepted even by despotic dictators.

8) Is there any evidence to suggest that Janet Jackson was significantly better or worse than is suggested by her statistical records?: The fact that, despite the assertively sexual tone of many of her records, Janet Jackson not had the same public controversy of her rivals for "Billboard's biggest-selling artist" (Elton John, Madonna, Michael Jackson) might be taken as in her favour because it suggests Janet knows how to cope with the pressure of fame - which are notorious for bringing pop stars down - better. Otherwise little to say.

9) Is Janet Jackson the best artist in her genre that is eligible for the Hall of Fame?: Yes, there is little doubt that she is the most significant artist in the pop and dance/pop genres who is eligible for the Hall of Fame, and importantly will remain so for a long time yet.

10) How many #1 singles/gold records did Janet Jackson have? Did Janet Jackson ever win a Grammy award? If not, how many times was Janet Jackson nominated?: Janet Jackson had a total of ten number one pop singles and nine number one r'n'b singles. Every album she recorded from Control to Damita Jo has gone multi-platinum and to the top two positions, with six reaching the pinnacle. She won a total of five Grammys, only one of which was for a song.

11) How many Grammy-level songs/albums did Janet Jackson have? For how long of a period did Janet Jackson dominate the music scene? How many Rolling Stone covers did Janet Jackson appear on? Did most artists with this sort of impact go into the Hall of Fame?: Janet Jackson had only one Grammy-level song, "That's The Way Love Goes", but she dominated the music scene for almost two decades, as noted above in her six number one Billboard albums, which must be a major recommendation. Janet Jackson was certainly a prominent figure on Rolling Stone covers, as shown by her appearance here from its limited archives. Despite her limited Grammy success, the way in which Janet Jackson dominated pop music for so long means one would have to answer this question in the affirmative.

12) If Janet Jackson was the best artist at a concert, would it be likely that the concert would rock?: Most of the Grammy's Janet Jackson won were for her videos rather than for her music and her live performance, especially its choreography, was the most influential part of her work. Thus, one would probably give this a "yes".

13) What impact did Janet Jackson have on rock history? Was she responsible for any stylistic changes? Did she introduce any new equipment? Although the SOS Band with the production of Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis was the truest inventor of New Jack Swing, Janet certainly changed black popular music in the late 1980s to a quite standardised sound. She could be credited with popularising portable microphones on stage, but they have hardly been a significant innovation.

14) Did Janet Jackson uphold the standards of sportsmanship and character that the Hall of Fame, in its written guidelines, instructs us to consider?: There seems very little to say here.

Verdict: Janet Jackson was really an extraordinarily solid hitmaker with great skill at adapting herself to cultural trends she did not start, and as such has not been surpassed in popular music. Her longevity and the sheer number of hits leads to a verdict of induct. (It would I think be unfair for Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis not to get in as a Non-Performer if Janet does).

Monday, 22 June 2009

Is there really some land that can replace Australia's drying farmland way back in Europe?

In this New York Times article, the population decline that set in over the former so-called "German Democratic Republic" (more accurately something like the Stalinist Satellite of Germany!) since the fall of Stalinism in 1989 is described in serious terms.

Stories of:

1) 45 percent of apartment blocks in Hoyeswerda being demolished due to lack of demand
2) the number of school students in parts of Saxony falling by 46.5 percent from one year to the next
3) wolves returning to Saxony

make me feel as though, with forecasts of a fourth consecutive year of severe drought in southeastern Australia, there is a genuine opportunity if conservation bodies are willing to take it.

Even if for certain reasons not all of the land from which housing could be demolished is arable, it is, owing to the extreme youth of its flora and fauna, of negligible biological conservation value. Soils in Europe also contain around ten times more available phosphate than soils in Southern Australia that have been leached for as much as ten thousand times longer and under hotter climates.

So, if food prices continue to rise due to the inevitable desertification of Australia's farmland, there would be great sense in trying to re-establish farming on land in former Stalinist nations from which apartments are being demolished due to lack of demand. What would be still more satisfying is for people in Europe to recognise the exceedingly low conservation value of their land vis-a-vis Australia, Southern Africa and the tropics and accept that it is not in the best interest of the globe's lowest-fragility ecosystems that as much of them be conserved as possible.

Wednesday, 17 June 2009

The depth of the problem with free market conservation

In The Politically Incorrect Guide to Capitalism, Robert P. Murphy says that:

"the free market encourages sound conservation and stewardship, whereas government regulation leads to waste and needless pollution"

Although I can sympathise to some extent with what Murphy says about how the free market can help conserve species, what I do know from basic books on global plant biodiversity that in fact the heavily glaciated regions of Europe and North America are of practically zero conservation value at all because all their species are shared with adjacent unglaciated regions and migrated a mere ten thousand years ago. Their species also generally have much larger populations than those of hotter unglaciated regions. In biological terms, the species that dominate cool to cold glaciated regions are generalists combining extreme competitiveness and high tolerance. They also have very reliable runoff with coefficients of variation usually around 10 percent, which is about the level required for reliable hydroelectric dams.

Despite their low conservation value, it is precisely these regions where free markets encourage conservation. The impossibility of agriculture in very cold and/or wet climates, plus the attraction provided by the spectacular scenery, make
tourism a lucrative if costly business, as shown by these pictures from Iceland.

On the other hand, in Australia with soils containing soluble nutrients at levels an order of magnitude below European or North American soils and runoff ratios that range from ten to thirty percent those of comparable climates elsewhere, the free market does almost nothing to encourage conservation owing to the longage of both energy and land supply making agriculture cheaper than anywhere else in the world. This encourages highly extensive farming, but because there is little scenery to compare with that of most other continents outside of a few very remote areas and the Wet Tropics, Australia has lost completely many of its important ecosystems, especially grasslands. Australia is also ranked as the fourth most biologically diverse country in the world behind Brazil, Indonesia and Colombia, which of itself should require much tougher conservation standards than for other developed countries, although seventy-five percent of Australia's native plant biodiversity in concentrated in the Wet Tropics and South West Botanical Province of WA. A uniform requirement of 5 percent land in conservation reserves as suggested by the United Nations appears extremely lenient to tropical countries, Australia and southern Africa.

It would undoubtedly be better if levels of conservation required were graded according to that country's biological diversity and the fragility of its ecosystems - so that countries with unusual climate or runoff variability or poor soils were required to conserve more land. In heavily glaciated high latitude regions, unusable land undoubtedly provides all necessary conservation, but in countries like Australia which rank highly both in diversity and "ecosystem fragility" that is simply not the case and the free market provides distinctly inadequate conservation, even if state forests may encourage more rapid logging than under free market private forests (though there exists the danger of clearing then).

However, Australia's inability to establish higher conservation standards vis-à-vis other nations for Australia has even direr consequences. Mountain ash and other tall eucalypts are the most efficient plants in the world at absorbing rainwater owing to their deep, dense root systems and long, thin trunks. Moreover, this efficiency at absorbing water makes the forests of the Central Highlands in Victoria, according to this ABC article, the world's most efficient carbon sinks when pristine. Full Story states that their efficiency as a carbon sink is greatly reduced when disturbed by logging, but the problem is even worse because it is now clear that the present (since 2006) climate is already too dry to sustain such trees indefinitely. This will both add to increases in atmospheric carbon dioxide and ultimately wipe out the native flora of the High Country and its foothills to be replaced by drier-climate trees or even shrubland.

The ultimate lesson from what I have said is that free markets, whilst able to provide incentives for efficiency and conservation of resources, have an easily explainable tendency to do so in precisely the places that have the lowest biological conservation value. It is for this reason that one cannot recommend relying on capitalism to solve every environmental problem, even when government has often failed badly.

Tuesday, 16 June 2009

The mistaken belief in businessmens' conservatism

Many people today are very sceptical of big government because they realise it has brought to Eurasia, the Americas and New Zealand many severe social problems such as sub-replacement fertility and welfare states that could easily collapse as the old age dependency ratio rises. Social scientists also note how large welfare states depress fertility and countries with reasonable fertility always have no welfare whatsoever.

Some forecast that because of high old age dependency those nations will, like Japan already has to some extent, turn increasingly to robots to do work previously done by humans. Those who advocate abolition of the welfare state generally believe that either pensions provided by private companies to attract workers or stronger, larger families will be better at providing for those who cannot work due to age or physical incapacity. With more incentive to work because welfare is unavailable, these people believe that people would save more and create long-term economic growth. Austrian economists - the prominent believers in this theory - argue that before World War I this method provided the most sustained economic growth in the history of the world. They further think that much higher living standards would be obtained if the private sector carried out services done in Europe, North America and New Zealand by the public sector, because resources would be used more efficiently.

The problem with this viewpoint is that innovative businessmen themselves are often far from socially conservative. Andrew Carnegie, though praised by the traditionalist Catholic Thomas Woods in his Politically Incorrect Guide to American History, was anything but a cultural conservative, being a strong supporter of Darwinism. Henry Ford in his later life was a supporter of Nazism, which paleoconservatives view in the same light as socialism and hence a left-wing movement.

This lack of (social) conservatism amongst big businessmen is a question which has to be asked seriously by all involved in sociology. The most logical explanation for why business leaders would not be socially conservative is that, in order to compete on a free market, they consistently have to improve their product and become as efficient as possible in marketing it to people who are willing to buy their goods - most usually because they are made at a cheaper price that other businessmen can offer. Erik von Kühnelt-Leddihn points out that capitalism is as much in favour of progress as is socialism. In countries which according to the Austrian theory of "division of labour" are forced to specialise in whatever they have the least degree of competitive disadvantage, the incentive for progress will always exist because it is in advanced technologies where lack of usable land or labour is least important. Thus, we see "Small Island States" along with high mountain countries like Andorra and small city-states like Hong Kong become tax havens and dependent on tourism. Both business and tourism create very dense centres of employment.

Whilst tourism can provide very valuable incentives to conserve (as with southern Africa's wildlife) it is undoubtedly a barrier to sustainable demography in small island, high mountain and small city states because of their inherent scarcity of usable land, with the result that fertility rates even with their business-oriented tax systems are very low. In these ultra-urban environments, children are a liability because the path to a future requires a great deal of education. Exurbs, where family businesses can thrive and living costs are low enough to permit survival on one income, are the only non-primary producing areas where fertility remains high, but no land in these business-centred states exists to build exurbs.

The consequence of this is that it is efficient for big businessmen to believe in the very things decried by the Right, such as the legitimacy of abortion, homosexuality and cohabitation. Indeed, the big businessmen in a small island, high mountain or city-state business centre has more incentive to support the legitimacy of those things than does a politician in a larger state where primary production is more important.

Thus, it is wrong to assume that a limited-government nation will necessarily be so socially conservative as many on the Right wish. The very Industrial Revolution with all its economic gains for Eurasia and most of the Americas does not create a socially conservative culture even without big government.

Friday, 12 June 2009

Some change for the PIGs

One thing that has changed a little in 2009 is the PIG series that - despite having not the slightest trouble in recognising its limitations - I continue to follow to see if it can provide me with a challenge.

In late 2008, Regnery said the next PIG would be the Politically Incorrect Guide to the Vietnam War, and that this forthcoming title would be published in April this year.

However, because of the growing economic crisis and the election of Obama, Regnery decided to change their plan and Robert Patrick Murphy became the first author to write more than one Politically Incorrect Guide with the PIG to the Great Depression and the New Deal. I have talked quite a bit with people about this one and even, whilst visiting one of my half-sisters, watched Robert Patrick Murphy himself talk about the question of the Great Depression and why the New Deal failed to end it. The PIG to the Great Depression and the New Deal is actually rather better than I thought it would be because it goes into considerably more detail about how the Great Depression happened than did Thomas Woods' first PIG which I have never been able to admire because it omits far too much. Murphy was even willing to accept my point that World War I helped cause the Depression by making free-market solutions politically unacceptable. I wonder what he would say if asked about what caused World War I itself. Most historians believe World War I reflected deep structural weaknesses in the political system of Europe, but given the great knowledge of these Austrians, I imagine they could find a serious refutation.

However, it seems that there are still problems with the Politically Incorrect Guide series despite something of a success at their third attempt on the Great Depression. Regnery's next book will now be The Politically Incorrect Guide to the Founding Fathers, and merely looking at its cover makes one doubt that it answers the question of the Founders' views on key issues that makes them hated by people today.

However, the next book, The Politically Incorrect Guide to the 1960s, is even more problematic. Jonathan Leaf, its author, makes the probably-correct claim that "Dean Martin was topping the Billboard charts - not Jimi Hendrix", but what Leaf seems unable to recognise is that from Joe S. Harrington and David Keenan I know perfectly that Hendrix's albums made the Top 10 on Billboard and comparably-praised artists from ten years later like the Minutemen and Minor Threat never dented the Top 200 - something even the Velvets, Stooges, MC5 and Captain Beefheart all managed at least twice at various points. If you look at what David Keenan wrote in his Best Albums Ever...Honest one does indeed see that it was in the 1960s that cutting-edge music sold in ways not seen except perhaps during the late 1980s since the "punk revolution". Other critics have analogous opinions.

From what I know, Regnery would be better writing a Politically Incorrect Guide to the Reagan Era (or some similar title). Looking in a politically incorrect manner at the late seventies and eighties could offer something much more revealing and also offers a great deal of room to expand on. One exceedingly politically incorrect thing I imagine a Politically Incorrect Guide to the Reagan Era might say, following on from Hans-Hermann Hoppe, is that commercial radio was really much more farsighted than noncommercial radio and did a service protecting Americans from the decadence of punk and rap. America reversed Europe's move towards a self-centred secular culture precisely at the time punk tightened those traits in Europe and record companies were, as Harrington says, tightening their rosters. Because punk emerged on a European radio system monopolised by government, there would be a lot to say that could be potentially interesting and even original about how private radio owners really care much more than public ones about the ethics their users inherit.

Moreover, there would be interesting things to say about Afghanistan - a subject mishandled by one of the worst books in the series (on the Middle East).

Wednesday, 10 June 2009

Comparing outer suburbs with US homeschooling counterculture

Because my experience agree in many ways with the notion of home education and because I have learned over the years as much from my parents and their books as I have from education either at university or especially at school, I have over the last few years taken quite a bit of interest in alternative education. This leads me to learn about the conservative homeschooling counterculture that has been thriving in parts of the United States over the past decade or two.

Cleaning up my e-mail tonight, I found a table dealing with the political and cultural views of students of the conservative Patrick Henry College - whose premises reming me very closely of buildings I have seen many times riding through outer suburban Melbourne on buses.

The difference between their views and even those of students of other religious universities are striking on almost every issue. One can imagine how far these students really are from the world of university students in Europe, Canada and New Zealand! What I have done in the table is to compare their views with those of the equally distant outer suburbanites of Australia - with areas where outer suburbanites would differ from Patrick henry students marked in red and those where similarities are likely marked in bold.

What is most striking and agree with my contention that conservatives are far less materialistic than liberals is that only 24 percent of students at Patrick Henry College have an overwhelming desire to become well-off financially, as against 62 percent from more liberal religious colleges. I imagine than in wholly secular colleges the proportion would be much higher still - most likely above eighty or even ninety percent.

Such a result, when correlated with

1) their overwhelming opposition to legislation against global warming
2) universal opposition to homosexual marriage
3) opposition to a nation public health care campaign

can only be interpreted as proof that conservatives really are much less materialistic than liberals - a lack of materialism that seems to be shared by Australia's outer suburbs when one considers the lack of demand for luxury or non-mainstream goods there. It is my sincere hope that this character of the far right is recognised even for its negative aspects at least in Australia and that less conservative groups realise they may not survive if they do not deal with the problems materialism creates for them demographically.

Sunday, 7 June 2009

A prediction for the 2009/2010 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame ballot

When I did my first post on the backlog of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, I said I would ultimately make a prediction for the 2009/2010 ballot.

The fact that no other artist than Run-DMC has been so much as considered by the Nominating Committee should make one very careful about even suggesting a newly eligible artist, especially as there is no major rap group newly eligible in 2009/2010. Even among most backlog artists eligible only since about 1999/2000, there exists grave doubts about the seriousness with which the Nominating Committee views their candidacy.

I predict that the following nine artists will appear on the 2009/2010 ballot, listed in chronological order of eligibility:

- The Chantels: The Hall seems to wish to induct as many doo-wop groups as possible, and the Chantels undoubtedly have the reputation to be the next band in this genre inducted after Little Anthony and the Imperials. The Chantels were nominated for induction in 2001/2002, and I suspect that 2009/2010 may well be the time they get another chance.

- Dick Dale: A left-field candidate for sure. However, people say the Rock Hall will always try for at least one "guitar god" and with Stevie Ray Vaughan not discussed for the 2008/2009 nominations, Dick Dale is the obvious choice despite not having reached a ballot in over twenty years of eligibility (he was first eligible in 1987/1988).

- Joe Tex: Nominated for the ballot three times, most recently in 2005/2006, Joe Tex seems one of the most certain backlog inductees with the known bias towards black artists in the Hall. With Bobby Womack now inducted, it is hard to see Joe Tex waiting much longer for another ballot appearance.

- Randy Newman: If the Nominating Committee feel the Stooges are too unviable for election by record company bosses, Randy Newman might be a viable alternative with his late 1970s success. His satirical songwriting style was much adored by the punk crowd though his music was nothing like punk. Elvis Costello in particular sites Randy Newman as a key influence, and might be an inductor for the second successive year.

- The Meters: Though they lack a signature song as War had, the Meters were probably more significant in the development of funk music and were the house band for (non-Performer) inductee Allen Toussaint, which should give them a strong chance of a second ballot appearance after appearing without success in 1997/1998.

- solo Peter Gabriel: Often spoken of by Rock Hall insiders as one of the likeliest backlog inductees, the paucity of potentially viable new artists seems likely to make 2009/2010 the year when Gabriel finally reaches the ballot seven years after becoming eligible. The fact that Gabriel, like first-ballot inductees The Police, was strongly praised in 1980s Rolling Stone issues gives him a good chance of overcoming critical hostility to commercial music of that decade.

- Chic: Though yet again not inducted, my suspicion that apart from Chic and solo Peter Gabriel none of the "later" backlog artists are taken very seriously by the Nominating Committee makes me feel as though Chic will be tried until enough voters accept them as an inductee - or until the Nominating Committee finds that the number of electors voting them in is declining.

- The Beastie Boys: As a breakthrough artist for rap - and the first white rappers of any significance - it is hard to see a Nominating Committee that knows it will run into voter deadlock with just about any non-rap artist between the "punk revolution" and the late 1980s rap and grunge movements.

- The Red Hot Chili Peppers: As a modern superstar even if many old fans believe they sold out after Mother's Milk, it will be very hard to see the Nominating Committee failing to induct the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Like Metallica, they were a band who became superstars after pioneering a new style with four 1980s albums. The only problem is that their first two albums The Red Hot Chili Peppers and Freaky Styley were recorded with a completely different lineup, never dented the Billboard Top 200, and never became megasellers as Kill'Em'All and Ride the Lightning did after Metallica became superstars in the 1990s.

Bubbling Under:

If the artists listed above fail to make the 2009/2010 ballot, it will probably be because one or more of the following artists made it to the ballot:

- The Five Satins: They have the strength of being the only doo-wop act on the backlog who has never been put to the test of the voting body. The way in which the Nominating Committee has a tendency to take a rigid selection of artists that it views as potential candidates and subject them to a kind of merry-go-round could give the Five Satins a their turn.

- The Hollies: Many members of the nominating Committee are open about adoring the Hollies, and the wait they have had since being first eligible in 1989/1990 does seem excessively long even when one considers the critical attacks that have sometimes been made upon them.

- Yes: Rumours of bias against progressive rock are nothing new to the Rock Hall, but with the heavily prog-influenced Metallica seeking to assert their presence in the Hall, this may have to change. If we see a progressive band on the ballot soon, Yes are the logical and most likely candidate.

- Deep Purple: With the induction of Metallica, Deep Purple undoubtedly remain the biggest eligible heavy metal band not in the Hall. Although the short life of their classic lineup undoubtedly told and tells against them, the influence of "Smoke on the Water" and "Lazy" on so many metal guitarists is, as Joe S. Harrington says, enough to easily see Purple gain a ballot appearance especially in a year with only one remotely likely new candidate. Richie Blackmore may also prove the requisite "guitar god" for 2009/2010.

- T. Rex: Under the radar of the Nominating Committee since becoming eligible in 1992/1993, T. Rex stand as the most respected and commercially successful of the glam rock bands of the early 1970s. The indie rock scene admits T. Rex were a key influence, as do new wave bands the Cars and Devo (both possible though less likely inductees). Moreover, the presence of a recognisable hit single (they had many here in Australia) in the widely-covered "Get It On" could work in their favour. Bolan also formed his own label, anticipating many other musicians in the 1990s and beyond.

- The Stooges: Although I do feel that many in the Nominating Committee now judge that record company executives see their vast influence as destructive and that they were a commercial failure, the immense influence and respect they possess as a godfather to the "punk revolution" makes most within the core of the Nominating Committee strong and longstanding supporters of their induction. The Stooges, if back on the ballot will have three good chances for induction in 2009/2010, 2010/2011 and 2011/2012 - after which competition from rap and grunge will intensify considerably.

- Roxy Music: I know I must be careful being a big fan, but their influence and acclaim as one of the 100 Immortals by Rolling Stone makes it likely that they will soon reach a ballot after being eligible since 1997/1998. Over a third of all inductees since 2004/2005 have come from this list, and none are newly eligible in the next three years.

- solo Tina Turner: Like Roxy, listed as one of Rolling Stone's Immortals, and given praise for the sexual and assertive tone of Private Dancer during the 1980s, I would say Tina has a very strong chance for shot at a solo induction to go with that she has achieved as a duo with Ike Turner.

- Donna Summer: The most prominent singer in the disco era, Donna Summer had the "traditional" (essentially pre-grunge Rolling Stone) critical respect that has seemed to be decisive in gaining the Police and U2 first-ballot induction. She missed the ballot in 2008/2009 despite being widely predicted to make it, but Summer remains the best chance of 1970s commercial artists.

- The Sugarhill Gang: With Run-DMC's induction and the complete failure to discuss a single newly eligible non-rap artist during 2008/2009, there is great probability that most subsequent years will see multiple rap artists inducted, despite the opposition of many Rock Hall purists. Since it was the Sugarhill Gang who turned rap into a commercial proposition with "Rapper's Delight", they must potentially have a chance of a ballot place.

- The Replacements: Given their long-established critical favouritism and important role in spreading the "alternative" sound during and after the grunge era, the Replacements have been widely tipped as a likely Rock Hall inductee since before they became eligible in 2006/2007. Although one could argue against the Replacements by noting how Hüsker Dü, Sonic Youth, the Minutemen and Black Flag have never been discussed by the Nominating Committee, the fact that the Replacements moved with some success (Billboard Top 75) to a major label makes them not (at least not so much) vehemently opposed by the record company executives whose influence creates total deadlock when it comes to inducting 1980s non-rap artists.

Wednesday, 3 June 2009

Keltner analysis of undiscussed Rock Hall Artists: Sonic Youth

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.

I have already done two Keltner tests on undiscussed artists first eligible in 2008/2009, namely The Smiths (not worthy) and Slayer (worthy).

My next artist, first eligible in 2007/2008, is Sonic Youth. Acclaimed for their innovative guitar tunings and use of feedback, the band was one of the most prominent in the New York noise scene of the 1980s, along with the Swans. They switched through a number of independent labels in the 1980s, in the process producing albums like Bad Moon Rising, EVOL, Sister and Daydream Nation. By this time Sonic Youth had become perennial critical favourites and had been able to indulge in side projects, the first of which, Ciccone Youth, was a tribute to pop culture, which despite the band's highly experimental sound was an important part of their interests throughout their career, as reflected in their covering of some songs by Madonna.

In 1990 Sonic Youth switched to major label Geffen and released the album Goo, which hit the UK Top 40 and Billboard Top 100. Their following two albums, 1992's Dirty and 1994's Experimental Jet Set, Trash and No Star, broke them first into the UK Top Ten and then the Billboard Top 40. Beginning with 1995's Washing Machine, they moved towards longer songs and experimented with a three-guitar sound, in the process losing popularity but regaining some critical credibility they lost with Dirty.

Sonic Youth have continued to record into the 2000s with their reputation intact, in the process releasing the SYR series of experimental albums in addition to their regular releases.

An evaluation of Sonic Youth's Rock Hall credentials based on the Keltner criteria, which actually come from the Baseball Hall of Fame follows.

1) Were Sonic Youth ever regarded as the best artist in rock music? (Did anybody, while Sonic Youth were active, ever seriously suggest Sonic Youth were the best artist in rock music?): In many ways, Sonic Youth were regarded during the era of Sister and Daydream Nation as the best rock artist, or as some equivalent to that. I have seen them described as at the very least, "the most important" band of their time by Joe S. Harrington, and as, along with The Fall, the best band of the 1980s by a defunct college radio website.

2) Were Sonic Youth ever the best artist in rock music in their genre?: They were often regarded as the best band in alternative rock, though some would argue for the Butthole Surfers or Hüsker Dü. In no wave and noise rock, some would argue for Swans, who never had the interest in pop culture.

3) Were Sonic Youth ever considered the best at their instruments?: No. The tunings and other features they developed with guitars were innovative, but they were never considered unusually skilled.

4) Did Sonic Youth have an impact on a number of other bands?: Certainly. Their unusual tunings have been widely copied by bands such as Pavement and Stereolab, and their early sound also had influence on post-rock groups like Slint. It has often been said that Sonic Youth destroyed the notion of a synth-based future for rock music.

5) Were Sonic Youth good enough that they could play regularly after passing their prime?: Undoubtedly. The band still performs today twenty-five years after it released its first album. More than that, the rate of output has lessened much less than is usual for musicians their age (Kim Gordon was born in 1953).

6) Are Sonic Youth the very best artist in history that is not in the Hall of Fame?: From their era, perhaps - but if one thinks of such acclaimed classics as Trout Mask Replica, Funhouse or Tago Mago, then one probably would have to give this a "no".

7) Are most bands who have a comparable recording history and impact in the Hall of Fame?: Of the highly acclaimed punk, protopunk and alternative bands, the Velvet Underground, Sex Pistols, Ramones and Patti Smith are in the Hall, but the Stooges, the MC5, Captain Beefheart, Can, Neu!, Big Star, Television, Wire, Hüsker Dü, the Minutemen and Black Flag are not and mostly have not been discussed. However, none of those groups lasted as long as Sonic Youth have, and only Patti Smith sold more records, so that it is really tough to find artists properly comparable to Sonic Youth.

8) Is there any evidence to suggest that Sonic Youth were significantly better or worse than is suggested by its statistical records?: The fact that their back catalog continues to sell well even without remastering to improve resolution to 21st-century levels is a positive here, but like so many college radio bands there is a downside in how long it took them to be significant sellers after becoming well-known (and then they had to team up with Chuck D to get into the Billboard Top 100).

9) Are Sonic Youth the best artist in its genre that is eligible for the Hall of Fame?: It depends on what genre you define them as. In alternative rock, yes; in experimental rock they would be probably beaten by Can or Captain Beefheart; in noise rock, there are virtually no other artists yet eligible.

10) How many #1 singles/gold records did Sonic Youth have? Did Sonic Youth ever win a Grammy award? If not, how many times was Sonic Youth nominated?: This is the band's weak point. They had only one Top 40 single or album - Experimental Jet Set, Trash and No Star - and that was only in the Top 40 for a week. Sonic Youth were also never nominated for any Grammy.

11) How many Grammy-level songs/albums did Sonic Youth have? For how long of a period did Sonic Youth dominate the music scene? How many Rolling Stone covers did Sonic Youth appear on? Did most of the bands with this sort of impact go into the Hall of Fame?: Judging by the number of pictures shown here, Sonic Youth must have appeared on many Rolling Stone covers. Sonic Youth dominated the music scene for a decade, during which they became about the most successful underground band outside of the metal crowd. As Richie Unterberger says, very few underground acts can keep playing for this length of time at the top of the tree. However, for certain most artists with the sort of universal critical acclaim for so long a span as Sonic Youth had in the 1980s and 1990s are in the Hall of Fame.

12) If Sonic Youth were the best band at a concert, would it be likely that the concert would rock?: Sonic Youth's fame probably depends less on their live shows than most similar bands, and they never have had official live albums, so this does not entirely stand in their favour. The number of unofficial live bootlegs, however, does suggest Sonic Youth were a major concert force despite a lack of reports from people who have seen them live.

13) What impact did Sonic Youth have on rock history? Were they responsible for any stylistic changes? Did they introduce any new equipment? Did Sonic Youth change history in any way?: Certainly. Sonic Youth completely redefined what rock guitar could do completely. Once I read that a Sonic Youth song is easy to play once you know the tuning, but otherwise impossible. Their use of feedback was also a major innovation that paved the way for shoegazer and other genres in the late 1980s.

14) Did Sonic Youth uphold the standards of sportsmanship and character that the Hall of Fame, in its written guidelines, instructs us to consider?: The fact that they have been together with very few lineup changes, drug problems or known inter-band quarrels for so long suggests that Sonic Youth can certainly be held as having acceptable conduct.

Verdict: With definite positives on six criteria, potential positives on several others and negatives on only three, Sonic Youth are undoubtedly a worthwhile candidate if not so good as my previous study in Slayer. If you take the "Small Hall" line of Throwing Things (which I do at least to be consistent), Sonic Youth still appear to pass at least as many criteria as John Cougar Mellencamp who was accepted by Throwing Things. Thus I will give a verdict of induct.

A list of lists

Today I discovered a writer who wants to write a list of the Top 250 Albums, but at the same time is very critical of the lists published by magazines like Rolling Stone, Spin, Entertainment Weekly and most especially Time. The fact that only five of the most acclaimed albums in It Takes A Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back, Never Mind the Bollocks Here's The Sex Pistols, Horses, Are You Experienced? and The Velvet Underground and Nico are on both Time's list and Harrington's is suspicion enough. Only The Velvet Underground and Nico, Back in Black, and Kind of Blue are on both Time's list and David Keenan's The best Albums Ever...Honest.

Associated with this article is a supposedly forthcoming list of The 100 Worst “Top 100 Lists of All Time” of All Time. There is no evidence it has been published or ins the he progres sof being so, but if to my surprise I find it is I could not be more interested. It will be interesting to see which albums are accused of being most often wrongly praised - not that I'm likely to agree even if Nirvana, who moved me from commercial radio, are mentioned.