Something Else! Reviews on the 2012 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame nominees

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The new nominations for induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2012 elicited the usual wailing and gnashing of teeth — even amongst us. More on that in a second.

First, here’s the list of nominees Beastie Boys, The Cure, Donovan, Eric B. & Rakim, Guns ‘N Roses, Heart, Joan Jett and the Blackhearts, Freddie King, Laura Nyro, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Rufus with Chaka Khan, The Small Faces/The Faces, The Spinners, Donna Summer and War.

Winners will be announced on April 14, 2012, at the 27th Annual Induction Ceremony, held in Cleveland, Ohio. Visit rockhall.com for more details on the nominations and induction ceremony.

Here’s a look back at our thoughts on a few of the nominees. Click through the titles for expanded coverage — oh, and scroll to the bottom for our thoughts on the 2012 class. Hint: There will be complaints. Many …

HEART – GREATEST HITS (1998; 2011 AUDIO FIDELITY REMASTER): The distractions when it comes to Heart (gender politics, obvious curtsies to Led Zeppelin, wall-to-wall 1980s power-ballads, etc.) are swept away with this single turned-up-to-11 instrumental interlude during “Magic Man.” I’m struck all over again by guitarist Roger Fisher’s ever-increasing distortion, just before a smeared prog rock-influenced keyboard descends from the heavens. Reportedly caused by the natural deterioration of a blown guitar amp, the sound begins to take on a ragged life of its own as this sparkling 24-karat Audio Fidelity remaster spins. Heart’s “Magic Man” (a No. 9 hit in 1976) has, right there inside of it, this brilliant piece of in-the-moment, well, magic — unlikely to happen again in the age of auto-tune, but buried for decades in a muddy pre-digital mix.

RED HOT CHILI PEPPERS – I’M WITH YOU (2011): Though they often play with a familiar steely aggression, the Red Hot Chili Peppers seem nevertheless to be rounding the corner into middle age. I’m With You, the band’s first project since the 2006 double-album Stadium Arcadium, is often focused on departures — of youth and of old friends, perhaps a direct reaction to the exit of guitarist John Frusciante. The longest layover in band history, clearly, gave them time to think. Still, this being the Red Hot Chili Peppers, and thunderous bassist Flea being, well, thunderous on the bass, you’d expect most of these ideas to be buried deep in the group’s trademark whomping frat-boy funk, right? Not so fast. This Rick Rubin-produced efforts ends up as the most layered, complex offering in a Peppers’ catalog dating back almost three decades.

RED HOT CHILI PEPPERS – GREATEST HITS (2003): The Chili Peppers is one of those bands that I resisted. They were getting airplay from Mother’s Milk (“Higher Ground”, no doubt) and I just did not get it. Then Blood Sugar Sex Magik came out. This was the Peppers’ London Calling, their Dark Side Of The Moon (and hopefully not their Frampton Comes Alive). The funk was undeniable: killer guitar riffs and powerful in-the-pocket drumming, all anchored by Flea’s kinetic and soulful bass. So one day at work I’m listening to BSSM and a co-worker asks me if I’ve heard the ‘real’ Chili Peppers. He offers up his LP copies of Uplift Mofo Party Plan and Freaky Styley. Cripes, this stuff is nuts!

LAURA NYRO – LIVE AT THE BOTTOM LINE (1988): You may already have an idea of Laura Nyro’s music, which has been covered by the likes of Blood Sweat & Tears, 5th Dimension and Three Dog Night. It’s got a lot of soul, with dashes of folk, jazz and even a Broadway showtune occasionally thrown in for good measure. Sometimes she can be confused with Joni Mitchell or Carole King, even though she slightly preceded them both as stars. Todd Rundgren has built much of his solo career around trying to duplicate the intricate, yet sweet-sounding melodies that was this lady’s stock in trade. But none of that makes a great live record. What does is a tight band, great arrangements, good vocals (supported superbly by Diane Wilson), song selection and good rapport with the audience. It’s all here.

ONE TRACK MIND: THE SPINNERS, “I’LL BE AROUND” (1972): From the first chunky guitar chords, the Spinners’ “I’ll Be Around” is a different kind of a song about getting dumped, and still loving her anyway, and thinking to yourself — and then saying out loud — that you’ll wait for as long as it takes for her to return, since there’s always a chance, no matter how remote, that these things work out in the end. A lean bass signature enters next, then the soaring strings required of any soul effort of the period, and some sly conga work by Larry Washington. Bobbie Smith cries then winks — “now it’s up to me, to bow out gracefully,” he sings, though you somehow know from the start that he won’t — in a performance as nuanced as the brilliant arrangement. It’s Philly Soul, personified — even if the group started out as four high school students in Ferndale, Michigan, a suburb of Detroit.

THE BEASTIE BOYS – SOME OLD BULLSH-T (1994): Some interesting early sides, featuring the Beastie Boys’ Pollywog Stew (an eight-song punk-thrash thing from 1982) with the “Cooky Puss” 12-inch from 1984, a surprise regional hit. Having already broken up and reformed several times, the Beasties had by then landed a studio gig recording commercial jingles. That knob fiddling led to a new complexity in their sound, with “Cooky Puss” and then “Bonus Butter” moving into a house-rap synthesis — but, this being the early 1980s, with a heavy disco vibe. Everybody knows what happened next.

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