Madonna, Beasties, Mellencamp Up for Rock-God Status
by Josh Grossberg
Madonna's love may be on the borderline, but apparently her rock credentials aren't.
The Queen of Pop joined a disparate group of artists on the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame shortlist, a ballot that includes the Beastie Boys, John Mellencamp, Leonard Cohen and another music royal, Queen of Disco Donna Summer, for the Cleveland class of 2008.
Rounding out the nominees, which were announced Friday: Afrika Bambaataa, Chic, the Dave Clark Five, and the Ventures.
An act becomes eligible for induction 25 years after its first release, be it single, EP or album. That means the current contenders had to have issued their inaugural record no later than 1982.
Born Madonna Louise Ciccone in Detroit, the Material Girl emerged from New York's underground club scene and shot to fame on the success of her self-titled 1982 debut album, which spawned the singles "Holiday," "Borderline" and "Lucky Star."
Her follow-up, Like a Virgin, became her first chart-topper and went on to sell 19 million copies worldwide thanks to such ditties as "Material Girl," "Into the Groove" and "Dress You Up."
Her penchant for boundary-pushing behavior, both onstage and off, and constant reinvention has kept her on the charts and in the headlines. Over the course of her 25-year-old career, the 49-year-old entertainer has logged six number one albums (including her latest, Confessions on a Dance Floor), 12 number one singles and 49 top 10 hits on her way to selling more than 200 million albums worldwide.
The Beastie Boys—Mike "Mike D" Diamon, Adam "MCA" Yauch, Adam "Ad-Rock" Horovitz and their deejay, Michael "Mix Master Mike" Schwartz—not only paved the way for white rappers like Eminem but are considered among hip-hop's elder statesmen after their quarter-century career.
Like Madonna, the Beasties sprung from the New York music scene in 1982, but instead of party-hearty rap, the Boys were a hard-core punk band. But under the tutelage of Def Jam maestro Rick Rubin, they switched to rap, and their 1986 debut, License to Ill, exploded onto the charts with radio-embraced anthems like "(You Gotta) Fight for Your Right (to Party!)," "No Sleep till Brooklyn" and "Brass Monkey."
They enjoyed immense critical acclaim with such subsequent albums as 1989's Paul's Boutique, 1992's Check Your Head, 1994's Ill Communication (with the monster hit "Sabotage") and 1998's Hello, Nasty. The band has also gotten political, helping launch the Tibetan Freedom Concerts. Their most recent album was a dub-influenced postpunk instrumental affair, appropriately titled The Mix-Up.
Originally billed as John Cougar when his then agent thought his last name wasn't marketable enough, Mellencamp became the first artist since the Beatles to have two simultaneous Top 5 hits with "Hurts So Good" and "Jack and Diane" off his 1982 breakthrough, American Fool.
He changed his name to John Cougar Mellencamp and then eventually to just John Mellencamp while gaining artistic credibility with his Scarecrow album and such top 10 Heartland anthems as "Pink Houses," "Crumblin' Down," "Authority Song" and "R.O.C.K. in the U.S.A." He also cofounded Farm Aid with Willie Nelson and Neil Young. The concert series, which benefits strapped family farms, just celebrated its 22nd year.
A singer, songwriter, poet and novelist, Cohen achieved his first folk-rock success with a pair of songs on Judy Collins' 1966 album, In My Life, one of which, "Suzanne," became a signature hit. He eventually moved from his native Canada to New York a year later and established himself as a folk troubadour with his 1967 debut, Songs of Leonard Cohen. Cohen has influenced everyone from U2, Bob Dylan, Johnny Cash and R.E.M. to Kurt Cobain, Jeff Buckley and Rufus Wainwright.
Summer reworked her R&B sound to take advantage of the 1970s disco era and quickly established herself as one of its top performers. She scored three successive number one hit albums between 1979 and 1980, Live and More, Bad Girls and On the Radio. Among her best known songs are "Love to Love You Baby," "Hot Stuff," "Bad Girls," "This Time I Know It's Real," "She Works Hard for the Money" and the Bruce Springsteen-penned "Protection."
Chic was also among the biggest disco acts. Formed as a jazz-funk group in 1976 by Nile Rodgers, the band is best remembered for "Le Freak." Other hits included "Dance Dance Dance (Yowsah, Yowsah, Yowsah)" and "Everybody Dance." Chic's rhythms also inspired earlier hip-hop performers, notably the Sugarhill Gang, which sampled Chic's "Good Times" bass riff for "Rapper's Delight."
Bambaata is credited with laying the foundations for hip-hop in the 1970s as a deejay and South Bronx community leader. He began his performing career while still in high school. He founded a collective known as the Universal Zulu Nation that sought an end to gang violence through block parties that facilitated the development of rap music.
After building the Zulu Nation into a group consisting of deejays, rappers, break dancers, graffiti artists and writers, Bam released in 1982 the seminal Kraftwerk-sampling hit, "Planet Rock," which spawned a the genre known as electro-funk. He also joined forces with former Sex Pistol John Lydon for one of the earliest songs fusing rap with rock 'n' roll, "World Destruction."
Part of the original British invasion, the Dave Clark Five scored 1960s hits with "Glad All Over," "Over and Over" and "Bits and Pieces." The DC actually appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show more times than the Beatles or Rolling Stones and sold more than 50 million albums worldwide before disbanding in 1970.
A pioneering surf-guitar instrumental act from Seattle, the Ventures' best-known hits included 1960's "Walk Don't Run" and 1969's "Hawaii Five-O." The Beatles, Stephen Stills, Joe Walsh and Aerosmith have counted the band as an inspiration.
Nominees are chosen by a 70-member committee of label execs, rock historians and journalists, with ballots mailed to an international voting body of 700 music industry types. Ultimately, the five honorees will be announced in January, with the 2008 induction ceremony taking place, per tradition, at New York City's Waldorf-Astoria hotel in March.
Chic, the Dave Clark Five and the Ventures have all appeared on recent ballots but never made the cut.
Last year's inductees were R.E.M., Van Halen, the Ronettes, Patti Smith and the Hall's first rap act, Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five.