Tuesday, October 2, 2007

SWING THE JUDGMENT HAMMER DOWN: Before I Keltnerize Metallica – that is, consider that band’s bid for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame by applying Bob's adaptation of a framework for baseball enshrinement popularized by Bill James – I want to get something off my chest. I don’t think Stan Musial should be in Cooperstown. Ralph Kiner either, or for that matter Willie Stargell. See, I just don’t like left fielders. I like fleet-footed center fielders, strong-armed right fielders, power-hitting corner infielders, that kind of stuff. I understand that some people like left fielders, but I’m not one of them. Plus, I don’t get why left-fielder fans think Musial or Yaz should be in the Hall – I already admitted that Ted Williams belonged in there, and how many left fielders do they need? Anyway, bearing in mind that I have not bought a Metallica album since 1984, voila, Keltner:

Was Metallica ever regarded as the best artist in rock music? Did anybody, while Metallica was active, ever suggest that Metallica was the best artist in rock music? On the first question, as a matter of general consensus, no. But there have been a great many fans, perhaps a plurality of heavy metal fans, who would answer yes to the second question.

Was Metallica ever the best artist in rock music in its genre? Without question, Metallica was both the critical and commercial heavyweight in its genre.

Was Metallica ever considered the best at its instruments? I think not, although Cliff Burton did popularize the heavy metal bass solo.

Did Metallica have an impact on a number of other bands? Yes, an immeasurable impact. When Metallica was rising to popularity, heavy metal was dominated by campy play-acting – cartoon Satanism, cartoon sexual bravado, glam makeup, colorful spandex, pointy guitars, all filtered through a barre-chord-based sameness. Metallica didn’t give a shit about how they looked (James Hetfield is one of the ugliest men ever to pick up a guitar), and they played an entirely different kind of music – impulsively fast riff-based thrash music with coarsely-shouted monotone vocals and an edge that would be punk except that it just wasn’t. If Metallica didn’t totally change heavy metal by itself, it at least was among the first bands to accept and popularize that change.

Was Metallica good enough that it could play regularly after passing its prime? Still going strong, so yes.

Is Metallica the very best artist in history that is not in the Hall of Fame? I’m not sure I’d go that far, but I think that a lot of fans would say yes – quite possibly more than the fans of any other artist.

Are most bands who have a comparable recording history and impact in the Hall of Fame? This would require research, which I’m too lazy to do. A pure guess, though, would be that most artists with similar longevity and commercial success, not to mention influence, are or will be in the Hall.

Is there any evidence to suggest that Metallica was significantly better or worse than is suggested by its statistical records? If anything, the fact that Metallica rose to prominence without any radio, MTV, advertising, or major-label support early in its career suggests that it worked harder than most for its considerable popularity.

Is Metallica the best artist in its genre that is eligible for the Hall of Fame? Since Black Sabbath is already in, yes.

How many #1 singles/gold records did Metallica have? Did Metallica ever win a Grammy award? If not, how many times was Metallica nominated? Four #1 albums, a #2, and a #6, plus seven Grammies (or, if I’m reading the chart wrong, Grammy nominations).

How many Grammy-level songs/albums did Metallica have? For how long of a period did Metallica dominate the music scene? How many Rolling Stone covers did Metallica appear on? Did most of the bands with this sort of impact go into the Hall of Fame? I don’t know the answers to these, except I’m guessing many, many, and some. As for the last question, yes, without a doubt.

If Metallica were the best band at a concert, would it be likely that the concert would rock? Pregnant women and people with spinal injuries should stay away.

What impact did Metallica have on rock history? Was it responsible for any stylistic changes? Did it introduce any new equipment? Did it change history in any way? Yes, see above. Also, while Metallica was not the inventor of the heavy-metal fatal bus crash (see Randy Rhoads), it was an early adopter.

Did the band uphold the standards of sportsmanship and character that the Hall of Fame, in its written guidelines, instructs us to consider? I don’t know, you decide: dead bass player (bus crash); three remaining members represent the three typical personalities of the heavy metal fan – petulant and antisocial, dorky, childishly pretentious; experimented with metrosexuality, but it didn’t take, except for with Kirk Hammett; sued fans (and were legally in the right, by the way, but what a PR disaster); got fed up with hyper-annoying Jason Newsted; employed a marriage counselor in a tremendously entertaining documentary.
Conclusion: Look, I take a lot of absolute positions around here. Sometimes it’s just that I’m excitable; sometimes I’m trolling a bit. In this case, though, I’m dead serious. It’s pretty obvious that if you accept that heavy metal is a genre recognized by the R&RHOF – that is, if left fielders deserve to be in the Hall, no matter how much you prefer third basemen – there is no cogent argument, commercial or critical, for Metallica’s exclusion.

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