I’m a fan of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and feel that it’s important in preserving the history of the art form and recognizing important musical artists. However, they don’t always get it right. I mean, ZZ Top? Bob Seger? Whatever. Here are two that should be included and, with any luck, will be soon.
There’s a moment in Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982) where a character points out the various girls at school who dress like rocker Pat Benatar. It’s a funny joke, but there’s also an important point being made: Benatar was so influential in the early ’80s that girls wanted to be her. Moreover, her brand of mainstream rock had crossover appeal, with her records and concert tickets selling equally well among men and women. While Heart’s Wilson sisters, Fleetwood Mac’s Nicks and McVie, and Chrissie Hynde of the Pretenders â€” all important female artists â€” did their work within the confines of a band, Benatar has always been front and center bearing the success or failure of her music on her shoulders.
Independent, smart, and one of rock’s most powerful voices, she was able to take on the male-dominated AOR radio world and succeed time and again; “Hit Me With Your Best Shot,” “Heartbreaker,” “Fire and Ice,” and her pointed, angry anthem against child abuse, “Hell Is for Children,” all continue to receive heavy airplay on the radio. When MTV suddenly ruled the universe, Benatar seamlessly made the transition to videos with hits like “Shadows of the Night,” “We Belong,” and, of course, “Love Is a Battlefield.”
Madonna, one of this year’s Hall of Fame inductees, receives a lot of credit for her determination and ability to change her musical approach throughout her career, but Benatar was doing it long before the Material Girl and was kicking ass in the process. (She even expanded her sound on 1991’s True Love to explore her love of the blues.) To this day, Benatar tours extensively (with Neil Giraldo, her guitarist for the past 29 years and husband for the past 26) and continues to prove that rock and roll isn’t just a man’s world.
Why Peter Gabriel isn’t in the Hall of Fame yet is beyond me. Perhaps he’s still being penalized for his art-rock days in Genesis. I don’t know.
As a live act, Gabriel’s one of the best. Around 1978, inspired by Springsteen’s onstage work ethic, he became a consummate performer, giving his all every night. His set lists and choreography may be the same from concert to concert (hey, it works for the Stones), but Gabriel brings intensity and passion to each performance â€” he makes every audience member feel like he’s singing directly to them.
One of the most respected artists in modern music, Gabriel’s catalog is a collection of often bone-cutting personal songs that bore into the psyche (“Modern Love,” “Exposure,” and “Here Comes the Flood”). Not that he doesn’t know how to have fun â€” one listen to “Sledgehammer,” “Big Time,” and “Steam” and you realize the guy’s got a sense of humor. Then there are his videos: while many artists of his era shunned “promo films,” Gabriel embraced the art form as an extension of his music.
He’s always been a pioneer for new media and a champion for world music. Long before Paul Simon went to Graceland and David Byrne began to mambo, Gabriel was traveling the world discovering musicians and giving them exposure to the Western world. Without Gabriel it would’ve taken a lot longer for people to know who Shankar, Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, and Youssou N’Dour are and how wonderful their music is. After Passion (1989), his landmark soundtrack to Martin Scorsese’s The Last Temptation of Christ (1988), Gabriel created Real World Records, specializing in music from around the globe.
But Gabriel’s most lasting mark on music may be the example he sets with his humanitarian efforts. “Biko,” his masterful 1980 protest song about slain South African activist Steve Biko, opened the eyes of the world to the atrocities of apartheid. After that he spearheaded two large-scale tours for Amnesty International in 1986 and ’88 (during which he shared the stage with Springsteen). He continues to challenge, inspire, and move his listeners â€” to dance, sing, laugh, cry, or even rally against injustice. He deserves to be in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
* His third consecutive self-titled album, this is the one with the “melting face” cover.