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Posts Tagged ‘Brian Eno’

If there’s one thing shared among visitors, writers, and critics who follow the Rock Hall, it is the deeply held belief that the institution isn’t doing justice to some group or other. It might be a genre- heavy metal, or 70s R&B, or 80s alternative. It might be a demographic or time-frame: women, minorities, Gen X music, and so on. I’d argue that one of the bigger dilemmas is that contributors to rock and roll outside of performing artists have the most reason to be aggrieved. I’ve followed the Rock Hall intently for the last four induction cycles. In that time, we had only 3 non-performers (Brian Epstein, Andrew Loog Oldham, and Bert Burns); 3 Musical Excellence recipients (Nile Rodgers, Ringo Starr, and the E Street Band); and a pitiful one lone Early Influence (The “5” Royales. I don’t know why the “5” is in quotation marks either.)

A couple months ago, I solicited advice from some of the other Rock Hall watchers in terms of some good prospects for these categories. Tom Lane, Michelle Bourg (who did her own list), and Charles Crossley, Jr. all came through with some fine suggestions. I took some, rejected others, and did my own research to supplement theirs. What follows are my 20 prospects for Musical Excellence, and I will follow in a later post with 10 Early Influence ideas, and 15 Non-Performers. Keep in mind- this list isn’t intended to be exhaustive, and just because someone you admire isn’t on the list doesn’t mean that I don’t think they are Rock Hall-worthy. This is merely a list of who I see as the biggest priorities, or who I would advocate for if given the chance.

  1. Brian Eno: It’s hard to think of a producer, musician, and visionary who has played a greater role in the unfolding of rock and roll in cerebral, abstract, and atmospheric directions. From his early work playing keyboards for Roxy Music, to his production for David Bowie, U2, Coldplay, and many others, to his groundbreaking ambient albums, Eno is a towering figure in 20th century music, not just rock and roll.
  2. Willie Nelson: He’s not early enough to be an early influence. He has rock and roll characteristics, sure, but he is widely thought of as a country artist. Why not just give The Red-Headed Stranger a Musical Excellence Award and be done with it? His career has spanned decades, he became one of the greatest touring artists in modern history, and he routinely traversed the frontiers between genres. He’s in his mid-80s now, so let’s do the right thing and honor him while he’s among the living. And bring plenty of munchies to the after-party.
  3. Funk Brothers: The lineup fluctuated, but they ultimately played on more #1 hits than The Beatles and Elvis combined. Bassist James Jamerson is already inducted, but Joe Messina, Earl Van Dyke, and Benny Benjamin have played on dozens of the great Motown songs you know and love. From the ethereal organ of the Four Tops’ “Bernadette” to the rattlesnake tambourine in “I Heard It Through the Grapevine” they always knew how to accentuate a great song. Otis Williams of The Temptations once opined that The Funk Brothers “must go down in history as one of the best groups of musicians anywhere.” Always essential and always unobtrusive. Berry Gordy did his best to make sure they didn’t get enough credit to enjoy leverage and bargaining power. So let’s make sure they are enshrined in the Rock Hall and give them the plaudits that so often eluded them in the prime of their careers.
  4. Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section: They contributed the snappy arrangements and solid musicianship behind Wilson Pickett, Aretha Franklin, and other soul greats of the 1960s and 1970s. Organist Spooner Oldham is already in, but his colleagues are left out in the cold, just like most of the Funk Brothers.
  5. Todd Rundgren: If ever there was a good fit for this category, Rundgren is it. None of his bands–Nazz or Utopia–quite have a Rock Hall resumé, and certainly Rundgren’s chops as a producer need to be taken into account as well. He should be inducted, if only to hear Meat Loaf’s speech and to get “Bang on the Drum” as the jam at the end of the show.
  6. Lee “Scratch” Perry: His recording career and his production work with Bob Marley and the Wailers helped put reggae on the map. Prolific and confrontational, he has also been a champion for reggae artists who have been taken advantage of by major record labels. He’s also collaborated with a number of artists outside his immediate field, including Paul McCartney and The Beastie Boys.
  7. Carol Kaye: Seriously. How is this woman not in the Rock Hall yet? While other members of the famous Wrecking Crew are in, including drummer Hal Blaine and pianist Leon Russell, their bass player and sometimes-guitarist is still inexplicably left out. Never mind Kaye’s obstacles making it as a female instrumentalist in a stubbornly male field, her track record is astounding. That’s her playing on everything from “California Girls” by The Beach Boys, to “La Bamba” by Ritchie Valens, to Freak Out! by Frank Zappa & the Mothers, to one of my favorite guilty pleasures, “Midnight Confessions” by The Grass Roots. Music writers use the word “inexcusable” a lot when talking about the omissions of their pet favorites. This one is actually inexcusable.
  8. The JBs: They earned a surprise nomination for the Class of 2016, shocking the hell out of everybody, even though Future Rock Legends listed them as “Previously Considered.” They are, of course, best known as James Brown’s backing band, although they released a number of fine titles under their own name. They are significant, firstly, for their role in helping the Godfather of Soul create the elemental groove of funk music. But secondly, their horn riffs, and drum lines, and bass parts are among the most sampled in hip-hop.
  9. Billy Preston: The Rock Hall sometimes gets into a bad habit of inducting everybody associated with The Beatles- perhaps partly because it is a guaranteed ratings boost. Preston may not be the true “Fifth Beatle”- George Martin earns that title, with Neil Aspinall and Mal Evans as backups- but his skill at the electric organ saved the moribund “Get Back” sessions from outright collapse. More than that, Preston had a number of fine, upbeat R&B tracks in the 70s, including “Outa Space”, “Will It Go Round in Circles”, and “Nothing From Nothing.” He was one of the great session and touring sidemen of rock history, working with three solo Beatles, Eric Clapton, The Rolling Stones, Ray Charles, Little Richard, and even the Red Hot Chili Peppers. He also wrote “You Are So Beautiful” and his philosophy of serial monogamy inspired Stephen Stills to write “Love the One You’re With.” Quite a legacy.
  10. The Revolution: If we are going to induct the E Street Band, why not them? If they were ever going to get it, it should have been the ceremony directly after Prince’s death. They truly lived up to their name, revolutionary in their gender and racial make-up, and revolutionary in bringing together funk, R&B, 80s technology, and pop sensibilities that helped Prince become one of the preeminent artists of his day.
  11. The Section: Look- 70s singer-songwriter and soft rock was a hell of a lot more musically sophisticated and difficult to play than anybody gave it credit for. The genre favored the composer over the ensemble, so the backing musicians behind the artist were often consigned to obscurity. Leland Sklar, Russ Kunkel, Craig Doerge, and Danny Kortchmar were iconic and inescapable. Here’s a partial list of their oeuvre: Carole King’s Tapestry, CSN and affiliated solo projects, Linda Ronstadt’s work, Sweet Baby James, “Werewolves in London,” Jackson Browne, Dan Fogelberg. They are Laurel Canyon.
  12. MFSB: Similarly, the hi-hat-focused beat of disco gets overlooked as well, and MFSB, more or less the house band on the Gamble and Huff recordings, should also be inducted. They had a hit of their own with “The Sound of Philadelphia,” and laid down the beat for The O’Jays, The Spinners, Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes. But maybe their most historically significant recordings were for artists like The Trampps, which established the contours of what a good, artistically sound disco recording should be like.
  13. Randy Rhoads: He’s in the conversation as one of the greatest rock guitarists of all time, but he somehow isn’t in the Hall. His playing for Ozzy Osbourne, among others, added the classicist’s precision to the dark and brooding brand of Ozzy’s metal, and his untimely death in the 1980s has only added to his legend. Incidentally, Nom Com member Tom Morello actually named one of his kids after Randy Rhoads, so you know there’s a good chance that this induction might actually happen.
  14. Ry Cooder: Another one of the legendary guitarists who should be honored with an induction. Rolling Stone named him 8th on its list of all-time guitarists. His back-to-the-roots style was a great fit for the 1970s, and added much of the character and proficiency that made The Stones’ Sticky Fingers, Randy Newman’s mid-decade output, and Captain Beefheart’s Safe As Milk so memorable.
  15. The Andantes: There’s an interesting precedent here with Darlene Love. As many rock hobbyists know, Phil Spector ushered in The Crystals’ career. But as he maniacally attempted to perfect their sound, he brought in uncredited singers to take their place, ultimately using more fake Crystals than a sketchy Atlantic City jeweler. One of them, Darlene Love, was finally- at the urging of Steve Van Zandt- nominated and inducted. The Andantes are sort of the parallel for Motown- unsung, uncredited, and poorly remembered. When the relationship between Diana Ross and the other Supremes, Mary Wilson and Cindy Birdsong, became toxic, The Andantes backed Ross on the last few years’ worth of Supremes records, a run that included a handful of #1 hits. They also provided the female background vocals on hits like “Baby, I Need Your Loving” and “Reach Out (I’ll Be There),” and whenever a woman’s voice was needed on Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On.” That’s them playing off Mary Wells during the coda of “My Guy.” An unheralded group that deserves better.
  16. The Meters: Like The JBs, this funk outfit has been nominated before as an artist, and probably didn’t come even close to getting the votes necessary for induction. Of course, as stand-alone artists, The Meters are very fine. “Cissy Strut” and “Look-Ka Py Py” have deep grooves and unassailable musicianships. But The Meters also carved out a niche as the backing group for anybody passing through New Orleans.  As Allen Toussaint’s house band, they also played on records by Dr. John, Wings, Paul Simon, Joe Cocker…the list goes on. And like The JBS, their funky riffs have been used liberally in hip-hop samples for over three decades running. I can’t wait for Trombone Shorty’s induction speech.
  17. Al Kooper: The Forrest Gump of rock and roll. He seemed to have been there at so many key moments. He played on The Royal Teens’ “Short Shorts” (alongside future Four Season Bob Gaudio). He wrote “This Diamond Ring” for Gary Lewis and the Playboys. Despite never playing organ before, he faked his way into a Bob Dylan session and played that iconic part on “Like A Rolling Stone.” He founded Blood, Sweat & Tears. He discovered Lynyrd Skynyrd (hey, no one’s perfect.) He played guitar on Who’s Next and Electric Ladyland. Amazing resumé.
  18. Nikolas Ashford & Valerie Simpson: It would be a shame if, like Carole King, they got in as non-performers, because they had a fine run of hits on their own auspices. But they are most well known for their songwriting efforts together, which included most of the Marvin Gaye/Tammi Terrell duets (including “Ain’t Nothing Like the Real Thing” and “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough”), and “I’m Every Woman.” They even did an underrated album, Been Found, featuring collaborations with Maya Angelou.
  19. Danger Mouse: There’s a real danger indeed if the Rock Hall keeps focusing so intently on 1960s and 1970s output. To break the geriatric death grip of the Boomer generation, I want to put forward Danger Mouse as a worthy recipient for excellence in a number of different fields. If we are looking at great producers, Danger Mouse should be in the conversation with George Martin, Phil Spector, and others. The Observer writes of him, “Whether as a producer, songwriter or recording artist, Danger Mouse doesn’t have a signature sound so much as a signature feeling – intense, atmospheric, melancholy-laden.” He took the immersive feel of, say, Pink Floyd, and brought it into other elements of popular music. In the process, he produced records for Adele, Outkast, Norah Jones, and The Black Keys. The 1970s and 1980s divided “black music” and “white music” in ways we are still grappling with today, but Danger Mouse has found clever ways of bringing them back together as of old, perhaps nowhere more adroitly than the Beatles/Jay Z mashup “The Grey Album.” As a musician, a deejay, and a producer, Danger Mouse needs to be recognized as a modern-day great.
  20. Babyface: For the final spot, we have the man who, perhaps more than anyone else, helped create modern R&B. Like a contemporary Smokey Robinson, he does it all- sings smooth and soulful hits, writes, and produces. Lets see…he helped create New Jack Swing; helped Boyz II Men make some of the longest-tenured #1 hits ever, produced one of my favorite 90s groups, TLC; founded two record labels; thrived outside of R&B by producing for Eric Clapton and Madonna; was involved in 26 #1 R&B hits; and won 11 Grammy Awards. Other artists he’s produced for: Michael Jackson, Toni Braxton, Whitney Houston, Paula Abdul, and Ariana Grande. And that’s just the wikipedia version of his life.

So- those are my twenty Musical Excellence choices. I tried to pick people who excelled in multiple areas of rock, or didn’t fit easy categorization: performers who were songwriters, deejays who were producers, genre-benders, and so on. Stay tuned- we’ll tackle Early Influences and Non-Performers next.

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After a short hiatus, I am back to chip away at the remaining Rock Hall Prospects, the presently-eligible artists who are up for consideration for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. There are two previous nominees on this list, and although I didn’t plan it this way, as a group, this set is heavily focused on solo artists.  In fact, fully seven of these are individuals, and only three are groups.  This list is especially rich in innovators and influencers, and is relatively (but not entirely) light on big hitmakers.  Do you think I made the right call with this collection of Rock Hall prospects?  Let me know in the comments below.

afrika bambaataa40.  Afrika Bambaataa:  Bambaataa is hip-hop’s Patient Zero.  Rather than using funk tracks as a background, Afrika Bambaataa dug deep and came up with Kraftwerk: the most incongruous choice imaginable, but one that became the gold standard of much of the hip-hop that came after, using its synthetic rhythm as a cornerstone.  He brought rap to the dance floor and party scene in ways that hadn’t been done before.  And he did this by embracing an ethos of self-awareness derived from his pan-African identity (Afrika Bambaataa, after all, is a Zulu-inspired title.)  Bambaataa was sharp, innovative, and like Grandmaster Flash before him, established the blueprints for many of the various rap dynasties that followed.  As Rolling Stone magazine put it, “Planet Rock launched hip-hop beyond two turntables and and party jams and created a space for Avant-Dance and Rap artists to work in harmony, presaging today’s anything-goes musical landscape.”  He was no dummy, either; Cornell University appointed him as a visiting professor a handful of years ago.

gram parsons39.  Gram Parsons:  “The Father of Country Rock.”  That distinction slights the very real contributions of Willie Nelson, Kris Kristofferson, Gary Stewart, Pure Prairie League, Poco, Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, and others.  The difference, of course, is that Parsons is widely seen as cooler than many of these choices.  This is partly by virtue of his untimely death (he didn’t even make it to the age of 27, when rockers usually go). And this may be partly by virtue of the even more untimely immolation of his corpse by a bunch of his friends who kidnapped his body to honor his wish of laying to rest at the Joshua Tree in southern California.  (I say “untimely immolation” as if such a thing as a timely immolation existed.)  Parsons has been nominated thrice before, during the height of the alt-country boom at the beginning of the 21st century.  This is for good reason: Parsons’s work to merge country and rock into a synthesis seemed seamless, organic, and the most natural thing in the world.  He knew country masterfully- what makes it swing, what makes it twang, what made it hit resonant notes in the soul that rock and roll hadn’t quite managed to achieve in his time.  It was more than just taking pedal steel to a rock track- his work was some of the most emotionally intelligent committed to record.  While I think his overall importance has been overblown by obscurantist rock critics, I can’t disagree with Parson’s worthiness.  I’d love to see him get in, if only for the inevitable Beck/Emmylou Harris duet at the ceremony.

pat benatar38.  Pat Benatar:  Partly on the “strength” of her performance with Nirvana, Joan Jett, Benatar’s chief rival, was inducted handily last year.  (I put “strength” in quotation marks  because if you replay the footage from the ’14 ceremony, Jett is clearly looking at a monitor for the lyrics to “Smells Like Teen Spirit” for the duration of the song.  If you don’t know the words to that song, it shouldn’t enhance your chances of getting in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.)  Jett may have been more ~culturally~ important in terms of setting the table for riot grrrls, and her classic black leather look weathered the decades better than Pat’s blue eye shadow and spandex which place her unmistakably in the early 80s.  But the fundamentals always favored Benatar to me.  Pat has more hits, a better voice, advanced guitar skills, and a superior edge as a songwriter (although for both women, many of their hits were covers).  For a handful of years, she was the most important woman in Top 40 rock, wracking up a number of masterfully crafted songs, many of which were foundational to the video culture that accrued from the early years of MTV: “Love is a Battlefield,” “We Belong,” “Hit Me With Your Best Shot,” and “Heartbreaker.”  Given that the Rock Hall is rightly criticized for including fewer women and fewer 80s artists than it ought, a Benatar induction would help set this to rights.

dead kennedys37.  Dead Kennedys:  With Dead Kennedys, punk music took a decidedly political turn, and by politics in this case, I mean world politics, geo-politics, not the lower-middle class ranting that typified the Sex Pistols.  Their frontman satirized the banality of American consumer culture with a deadly civil war in Nigeria to create the alter ego Jello Biafra.  Coming out of 1970s San Francisco, the group raged against all that was shallow, self-absorbed and superficial, taking particular glee in trashing New Age hippie-dippy lifestyles they saw around them, the “Suede/denim secret police,” as they called them in “California Uber Alles.”  Biafra boldly spoke out against skinheads and other violent types that had infiltrated the California punk movement, and even argued with Tipper Gore on the Oprah Winfrey Show about musical censorship.  They even got into a famous lawsuit for including a poster of “Penis Landscape” as an…um…insert into their Frankenchrist album. The Dead Kennedys were an impactful cultural marker, and a solid representation of punk’s evolution.

pixies36.  Pixies:  If we are going by declarations of influence, the Pixies stand out among late 80s and early 90s artists.  The sheer volume of alternative artists looking up to them is formidable, and not the least of their students was a young Kurt Cobain.  The excellent website Not in the Hall of Fame puts it this way: they “followed the rules of rock and roll construction and yet broke them at the same time.”  Their jerky rhythms, their build up from a lethargic verse to a visceral chorus, the female bass player before female bass players were cool–in every way you can measure, the Pixies were ahead of their time.  And unlike many bands whose Rock Hall merits are based on influence, the Pixies actually delivered the goods in terms of their catalog.  “Monkey Gone to Heaven” highlighted their trademark absurdity, while “Here Comes Your Man” showed an abiding respect for 1960s pop.  And, of course, several of their albums deserve consideration as among the best of their era, particularly Sub Rosa and Doolittle.  Given that the Rock Hall has nominated artists in the Pixies’ basic dojo–the Replacements, the Smiths–one can hold out hope that they will make it onto the ballot in the not too distant future.

depeche mode35.  Depeche Mode:  Depeche Mode’s sound was the product of Kraftwerk’s electronic experiments into a top 40 context, originally with hints of new wave pop (note the nod to Devo in the nonchalant background vocals of “Just Can’t Get Enough.”) and even traces of Velvet Underground and David Bowie artiness.  Depeche Mode took all these influences, combined them into a format that was synthetic but never less than fully authentic, and ended up selling 100 million records.  The band hit the scene in the 1980s, and got progressively darker, less pop, and unexpectedly, even more popular.  They submitted a classic for the ages in “Personal Jesus,” and a genuine benchmark in electronic pop, “Enjoy the Silence.”  To this effect, they filled stadiums in ways that few electronic acts had done before.   There’s a chance they might well be the most popular electronic band of all time, and one of the most impactful, with artists as eclectic as Marilyn Manson and Kanye West citing them as an influence, to say nothing of more obvious candidates like The Killers, Coldplay, and Arcade Fire.  They even snuck onto VH1’s 100 Greatest Artists of All Time.  It should raise some flags that they got on the list, and say, Simon and Garfunkel didn’t.  But when the Hall starts addressing the 80s more seriously (are you noticing this is a recurring theme?) Depeche Mode will be an important part of the conversation.

whitney houston34.  Whitney Houston:  Soul divas belong in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.  Deal with it.  And Whitney stands out among them.  She was almost certainly R&B’s biggest name from the mid-1980s into the early 90s, wracking up multiple #1 hits, multiple #1 albums, and setting a new standard for soul vocalists with flawless technique.  On top of that, she lived an archetypical rock and roll life, with widely publicized battles with drugs, tumultuous love affairs, and a tragic and premature death.  For several years, she had the honor of the longest-charted #1 hit, “I Will Always Love You,” an underrated candidate for the best Prom song of all time.  But as we see, chart success alone doesn’t a Rock Hall prospect make.  Lots of chart-busters aren’t on my list; good luck finding Conway Twitty, Olivia Newton-John, Cher, Huey Lewis and others on here.  They didn’t make the list and weren’t seriously considered.  Whitney was something different, someone the gods had clearly blessed with abundant talent, but not necessarily the self-possession to handle superstardom.  Journalist Tris McCall makes a case for her longstanding importance.  Vocalists- not just from pop music, but alternative and experimental alike- “nick her cadences, her inflection, her lightning-quick upper register, her sudden earthy growls, her carefully controlled melisma.”   One problem that stands out baldly is production values.  Houston’s overproduced and gaudy backing tracks have just not aged well except as nostalgia pieces; listen to that delicate but cringe-inducing electric piano part on “Greatest Love of All.”  If you put a mid-90s Mariah song on the radio today, it would more or less hold up.  Houston, for better or worse, belongs to ages past.

Brian Eno33.  Brian Eno:  Few have changed the sonic boundaries of the rock and roll universe in quite the way Brian Eno has.  With a pedigree that began with a turn as Roxy Music’s synth player, Eno charted a course that began in glam and art rock and led him to challenge the purpose of not just rock, but music itself.  While his early work had a certain spontaneity which informed Here Comes the Warm Jets, his very best contributions were immaculately and intricately arranged to evoke feeling.  First with Discreet Music and later with Music for Airports, his work strived to reconceptualize music as part of its environment, making sonic landscapes that fit into a natural setting in ways that paralleled Frank Lloyd Wright’s approach to architecture.  It didn’t create atmosphere so much as it complemented atmosphere to make its listening experience more contextual and fulfilling.  Since Eno’s ambient albums were the soundtrack for dozens of grading sessions for moribund undergraduate essays, I feel like I owe him one.  As someone who has used oblique strategies as a problem-solving tool, I feel like I owe him doubly.  While some might make a case for Eno has a Musical Excellence guy or non-performer, owing to his production work for U2, David Bowie, Coldplay and others, Eno’s record as a performer and artist eclipse all of these considerations.

Nina Simone32.  Nina Simone:  Simone was a study in contradiction.  She learned her craft at a conservatory and was one of the most gifted pianists in popular music in her day, but cleaved to a jazzy nightclub style that infused most of her catalog.  She showed up to play at the Selma marches, but disagreed with the pacifism that imbued the civil rights movement.  Simone wanted to violently smash Jim Crow out of existence, and by the mid-60s, was hanging out with the Malcolm X crowd.  At the peak of her career, she absconded to Africa partly to escape an abusive husband and partly to escape the toxic atmosphere that engulfed so much of America by the late 60s.  Her work had channeled the deep suffering of the black American experience perhaps more than any other musician of her era in ways that can only be described as haunting and evocative.  There’s the revenge of a life well-lived in “Feeling Good,” the prophetic condemnation of “Mississippi Goddamn”, and the finger-pointing of “Backlash Blues” that challenged white Americans bitching about quotas and busing.  Simone had experienced real suffering and true inequality, and she wasn’t afraid to tell you.  In all this, she conversed easily with more mainstream rock and roll, covering songs like “Don’t Let Me Be Understood” and “To Love Somebody,” while bequeathing songs like “See Line Woman” and “Young, Gifted, and Black” to the rock oeuvre.  Moody, enigmatic, and dangerous, Simone was one of the great performers of the 20th century.  She was so rock and roll that even most rock and rollers didn’t know what to make of her.

dick dale31.  Dick Dale:  If we are going to discuss overlooked rock and roll guitar heroes, the conversation has to include Dick Dale.  He was foundational to the creation of the evocative surf rock sound, capturing the motions of waves by achieving a rumbling vibrato from his guitar.  Rock and roll had plenty of really good guitarists before him, but Dale was the first one who seemed to come from another planet, the first one who could claim to be a true virtuoso.  “Miserlou” was a bolt out of the blue, taking a traditional Mediterranean melody, adding rock backing, and essentially creating a whole new genre- all decades before rock stars got cute by cribbing influences from world music. The most amazing part of all of this is that Dick Dale never really went away.  He performed with Stevie Ray Vaughan, toured consistently, and received an unexpected career boost in the 1990s courtesy of Pulp Fiction.  Even seemingly small decisions he made- using heavier strings or more powerful amps- triggered a series of events that are still playing out in popular music today.  At 78, he’s still out there, heedless of the diabetes and cancer he’s struggled with, sometimes performing with a catheter attached to his side.  This is one choice the Rock Hall really can’t screw up: get Dick Dale in the Hall of Fame while he’s still among the living.

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