Wednesday, October 3, 2007

JUSTIFY MY VOTE: You may have heard of Madonna. She's up for the Rock Hall this year, but is she worthy? Perhaps the Keltner test will help:

1. Was Madonna ever regarded as the best artist in rock music? Did anybody, while she was active, ever suggest that Madonna was the best artist in rock music?

Regarded as the best in all of rock? Perhaps not. Critical respect hasn’t always followed Madonna around, but admiration for her tenacity and endurance certainly has.

2. Was Madonna ever the best artist in rock music in her genre?

Hells yeah. From 1983-1989 (Madonna, Live A Virgin, True Blue, Like A Prayer), you’re not going to find anyone who recorded that many memorable, great pop songs and had that level of impact on the culture.

Here’s just the singles from that period: Everybody, Burning Up, Holiday, Borderline, Lucky Star, Like A Virgin, Material Girl, Crazy for You, Angel, Into the Groove, Dress You Up, Live To Tell, Papa Don’t Preach, True Blue, Open Your Heart, La Isla Bonita, Who’s That Girl, Causing A Commotion, Like A Prayer, Express Yourself, and Cherish. If you can't sing pretty much all of them -- and if you don't like just about all of them -- then you're not of my generation.

Then there’s Vogue and Justify My Love, and then a brief dry period before Ray of Light re-established herself as an avatar of dance music. She picked the right producers at the right times, throughout her career, and has stayed current for a damn long time.

3. Was any member of Madonna ever considered the best at his instrument/role?

Does “most famous female celebrity in America” count?

4. Did Madonna have an impact on a number of other artists?

Every female artist since Madonna owes her a significant debt for opening up the space to be confident and sexual and provocative. This leads to both good results (Liz Phair, PJ Harvey) and bad ones (Britney Spears, Jessica Simpson).

She may have had an impact on the use of music video in promoting recording artists.

Madonna basically invented the concert-as-choreographed-Broadwayish-production which so many artists followed today.

Oh, and the Beastie Boys were the opening act on her first tour.

5. Was Madonna good enough that she could play regularly after passing her prime?

Sure. Whenever she wants. She’s become a better singer over time, and has had an unerring sense of the zeitgeist. She’s the third-oldest woman to have a number-one single (“Music”), behind Cher (“Believe”) and Tina Turner (“What’s Love Got To Do With It?”)

6. Is Madonna the very best artist in history that is not in the Hall of Fame?

Best? Depends on your respect for pop music and phenomenon-creating.

Biggest? Yes.

7. Are most artists who have a comparable recording history and impact in the Hall of Fame?

Artists with her level of impact are first-ballot inductees. Artists with her level of impact don’t really need Keltner analysis.

8. Is there any evidence to suggest that Madonna was significantly better or worse than is suggested by its statistical records?

I think we know how big Madonna is. As Fametracker would say, Madonna's current approximate level of fame is "Madonna," and back in the 1980s and 1990s, she may have been even more famous than Madonna, if that's possible. If anything, her level of fame may lead some to underestimate just how good she was as a recording artist as well.

9. Is Madonna the best artist in her genre which is eligible for the Hall of Fame?

She is the best pop performer, and best female artist, not in the Hall of Fame.

10. How many #1 singles/gold records did Madonna have? Did Madonna ever win a Grammy award? If not, how many times was Madonna nominated?

Six number one albums, four #2s and a #3. Twelve number-one hits and thirty-six top tens. Only Mariah Carey has more #1 singles; Madonna is tied with Diana Ross and the Supremes for second among female artists.

She has recorded forty-seven top 40 singles, a record for a female artist, and among all artists is only behind Elvis Presley's 104, Elton John’s 54 and The Beatles’ 51.

Seventeen platinum albums, twelve of them going multi-platinum, two diamond (10 million+ sold). Only Barbra Streisand has more top-ten albums among female artists.

Her seven #1s in the 1980s ties the most for a female artist with Whitney Houston.

Twenty-five Grammy nominations and six wins, her first not being until 1992 (a video award), followed by three for Ray of Light, one for “Beautiful Stranger” and one for Confessions on the Dance Floor.

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

She has dominated the music scene whenever she wanted to – 1983-1991, especially. Madonna has appeared on more magazine covers than almost any other entertainer of her generation.

12. If Madonna was the best band at a concert, would it be likely that the concert would rock?

You would have a good time. I attended the Blonde Ambition tour, and it was hella fun.

13. What impact did Madonna have on rock history? Was Madonna responsible for any stylistic changes? Did Madonna introduce any new equipment? Did Madonna change history in any way?

Her impact on music history is unmistakeable -- the roles a female artist could inhabit, the importance of video and image, etc. Entire college courses can be constructed around the question. Whether it’s a good thing or a bad thing is debatable, but she can’t be responsible for all of her cultural offspring. Among that downside? She helped popularize and (to a certain extent) legitimize the use of prerecorded vocals in "live" performance.

Madonna is a singular artist who, yes, changed music history, and it took a long time for the public to understand just how smart she was at cultivating and maintaining her image.

14. Did the band uphold the standards of sportsmanship and character that the Hall of Fame, in its written guidelines, instructs us to consider?

Well, at Live Aid 1985, she did say “I ain’t takin’ shit off today” and kept to her word. Her spirit of calculated defiance and provocation embodies what the RRHOF celebrates.

I leave you with the words of Dan Bern, from “Tiger Woods”:
I got a friend whose goal in life
Was to one day go down on Madonna
That's all he wanted
That was all
To one day go down on Madonna
And when my friend was thirty-four
He got his wish in Rome one night
He got to go down on Madonna
In Rome one night in some hotel
And ever since he's been depressed
'Cause life is shit from here on in
And all our friends just shake their heads
And say, "Too soon, too soon, too soon,
He went down on Madonna too soon
Too young, too young, too soon, too soon"
I don’t know if there’s more to say. Oh, okay, this video,which always makes me smile.

Absolute first-ballot inner-sanctum inductee.

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