Thursday, November 9, 2006

THESE ARE THE GOOD TIMES? Our 2006 Keltner Rock Hall series continues with an analysis of two bands, Chic and Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five. Both are on the list of 9 finalists.

Let me deal first with a basic question. The name of the Hall is clearly misleading. The “Rock and Roll Hall of Fame” is by no means limited to “rock and roll” or even “rock” music. Members of the Hall include blues musicians, soul stars, and country artists. The Hall has even inducted jazz musicians! Frankly, the name of the Hall should probably be something like the “Popular Music Hall of Fame.” Although there are (arguably) no disco artists or hip hop and rap artists in the Hall, I cannot see a principled objection to excluding them. Accordingly, I will proceed on the basis that Chic, a “disco” group, and GF&TF5, a “rap” group, should not be denied on the basis that they did not perform “rock and roll” music.

One last point before jumping into the Keltner questions. It turns out that Grandmaster Flash the person (born Joseph Saddler) does not actually appear on the songs "The Message" or "White Lines". I never knew that.

1. Was Chic or Grandmaster Flash ever regarded as the best band in popular music?

No. One could make the case that GF&TF5 made the most interesting music in 1982 and 1983, but I don’t think many people would agree that it was the best band in pop music at the time.

2. Was Chic or GF&TF5 ever the best band in pop music in its genre?

Quite possibly.

From 1977 to 1979 Chic released four major disco hits – “Dance, Dance, Dance”, which hit #6 on the pop charts, “Le Freak”, which was #1 for a whopping 6 weeks, “I Want Your Love”, which went to #7, and “Good Times”, which hit #1 on the pop charts and the R&B charts. Although there are other contenders, notably Earth Wind & Fire, Donna Summer, and the various P-Funk bands, Chic was probably the top disco band during that period.

Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five was clearly the most successful and influential rap group from 1982 to 1983.

3. Was any individual member of Chic or Grandmaster Flash ever considered the best at his instrument/role?


Bernard Edwards of Chic is considered one of the most important bass players of all time. His bass line from the song "Good Times" is one of the most frequently sampled pieces of music in history. It was used in the first major rap hit in history, Sugarhill Gang's "Rappers Delight". Edwards had a huge influence on other musicians.

Grandmaster Flash (the person) is one of the pioneers of hip-hop DJing, cutting (moving between tracks exactly on the beat), and back-spinning (manually turning records to repeat brief snippets of sound). I don’t feel confident about my ability to judge this accurately, but I think you would probably have to say that he was considered the best (or one of the best) at that role for at least the period from 1979 to 1983.

4. Did Chic or GF&TF5 have an impact on a number of other bands?


In the case of Chic, the impact is most obvious when you consider how often “Good Times” has been sampled. Wikipedia notes that the song has been “sampled innumerable times by artists of the most diverse genres, from Rap to Punk and Techno to Pop.” The groove from "Good Times" was the foundation of Queen's 1980 number one pop hit "Another One Bites the Dust."

Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five were among rap's greatest innovators, going far beyond the genre's party-oriented origins to explore somber issues such as drugs and life in the ghetto.

5. Were Chic and GF&TF5 good enough to play regularly after passing their prime?

No. Both bands had an amazing peak period, but limited long term “career” value. The members of Chic, especially Bernard Edwards and Nile Rogers, had a fair amount of success after the group disbanded. In 1996, Billboard Magazine honored Rodgers as the "Top Producer in the World".

6. Are Chic or GF&TF5 the very best bands in history that are not in the Hall of Fame?


7. Are most bands with a comparable recording history and impact in the Hall of Fame?

The Hall has not been kind to other disco artists or hip hop artists, although that may be because some of the key figures in each genre are not yet eligible.

As Adam noted earlier in his discussion of Depeche Mode, this is where we get into the messy Small Hall/Large Hall argument. On the one hand, Chic’s claim to fame is basically the four great songs listed above in #2 (plus a minor hit “Everybody Dance”). Those four hits were major chart successes and one song is incredibly influential. On the other hand, the band was not known for its albums and, well, five Top 40 hits for a band best known for its singles is a modest amount of hits to be considered for the Hall.

Similarly, GF&TF5’s claim to fame rests primarily upon three songs – “The Message”, “White Lines”, and “The Adventures of Grandmaster Flash on the Wheels of Steel” (the latter is a prime example of cutting). Three songs simply isn’t that solid a body of work.

8. Is there any evidence to suggest that the bands were significantly better or worse than is suggested by their records?

Probably not.

9. Are these the best band in their genres that are eligible for the Hall of Fame?

Hard to say. As noted above in #2, Chic is clearly one of the most deserving disco bands, possibly the best among those eligible. Other contenders would include Donna Summer and KC and the Sunshine Band, both of whom had far more hits than Chic did (but probably less influence on other artists). There are relatively few rap or hip-hop artists eligible, which makes it hard to answer this question for Flash and company. I would seriously consider Run-DMC and The Sugarhill Gang as deserving artists in Flash’s genre.

10. How many #1 singles/gold records did Chic or GF&TF5 have? Did Chic or GF&TF5 ever win a Grammy award? If not, how many times were they nominated?

Chic had two #1 singles, four gold singles, and two gold albums. Chic had no Grammy awards or nominations. Chic’s career came before the Grammy recognized separate categories for dance music.

Strangely enough, none of Grandmaster Flash’s hits made the pop charts. I believe that the band had three gold records. Like Chic, GF&TF5 had no Grammy awards or nominations. Flash’s career came before the Grammy recognized separate categories for hip hop music.

11. How many Grammy-level songs/albums did Chic or GF&TF5 have? For how long of a period did the bands dominate the music scene? Did most of the bands with this sort of impact go into the Hall of Fame?

See above.

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

Reports suggest that both bands were unusually good in concert.

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

Arguably yes. See above.

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

I have nothing to say here.

Conclusion: Like Adam, I am more of a Small Hall guy. These bands present a very difficult case for me. Each had only a few key songs, but those songs turned out to be quite influential. Ultimately, I am inclined to urge that Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five be inducted because I truly perceive that the band pioneered hip-hop, which has become the dominant musical genre of the past 20 or so years. I am inclined to pass on Chic’s induction, but I do wish the Hall would admit more disco artists.

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