To continue a series that has been quiet for a while, here is the latest installment where I reply to messages sent to me that require too lengthy of a comment to put in the comment section of a post but deserve instead a full blog. Here is a comment I recently got from one my readers with a suggestion for my series on the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame:
I would like to suggest Pete Townshend (solo) be nominated for the R&R HoF. Here are his Top 100 Solo Songs http://supergroup.netfirms.com/index7.htm This list blows away the solo material of Ringo’s Top 100, and George and John’s Top 100 as well. It for sure blows away the Top 100 solo songs of Lou Reed, Jeff Beck and Stevie Nicks. And even if you don’t factor (because The Who are already in) that Townshend wrote 99% of The Who’s songs (here are The Who’s Top 200 songs btw http://supergroup.netfirms.com/index5.htm ) Townshend’s solo catalog on its own still blows away (in my opinion) many of the inductees.
Let’s discuss Pete Townshend as a solo artist. Let’s compare his record on the Hot 100 with that of other artists who have been inducted relatively recently who the author of the comment views as comparables. Over the course of his career as a solo artist, Pete Townshend has had 4 songs hit the Hot 100, including one top ten (the #9 “Let My Love Open The Door”), the #26 “Face The Face,” the #72 “A Little Is Enough” and the #89 “Rough Boys.” How does this stack up with artists like Ringo Starr, George Harrison, John Lennon, Lou Reed, Jeff Beck, and Stevie Nicks? Here are the numbers:
Ringo Starr: 2 #1 hits (Photograph, You’re Sixteen), six additional top tens, the #3 “Snookeroo” and “No No Song,” the #4 “It Don’t Come Easy,” the #5 “Oh My My,” the #6 “Only You (And You Alone),” and the #9 “Back Off Boogaloo.” Then there are three additional top 40 hits, the #26 “A Dose Of Rock & Roll,” the #31 “It’s All Down To Goodnight Vienna,” and the #38, “Wrack My Brain.” That is not even including two additional Hot 100 songs with the #74 “Hey! Baby” and the #87 “Beucopus of Blues.” Admittedly, Starr’s resume is a little thin, but he has built up a huge deal of goodwill with his session work with other musicians and his well-regarded All Starr Bands that help provide big audiences to legacy acts.
George Harrison: 3 #1 hits (“My Sweet Lord/Isn’t It A Pity”, “Give Me Love (Give Me Peace On Earth)”, and “Got My Mind Set On You”), a #2 hit with “All Those Years Ago,” a #10 hit with “What Is Life,” a #15 hit with “Dark Horse,” a #16 hit with “Blow Away,” a 20 hit with “You,” as well as moderate hits with the #23 hits “Bangla Desh/Deep Blue” and “When We Was Fab,” the #25 “This Song,” the #36 “Dig Dong, Ding Dong,” the #53 “Wake Up My Love,” and a #94 placement with a reissue of “My Sweet Lord” in 2002. Admittedly, George Harrison doesn’t have the most impressive resume overall but it is way more distinguished than Pete Townshend’s solo record.
John Lennon: 2 #1 hits (“Whatever Gets You Through The Night” and “(Just Like) Starting Over”), a #2 hit with “Woman,” two #3 hits with “Instant Karma!” and “Imagine,” a #5 hit with “Nobody Told Me,” a #9 hit with “#9 Dream,” a #10 hit with “Watching The Wheels,” top twenty hits with like #11 “Power To The People,” “the #14 “Give Peace A Chance,” the #18 “Mind Games,” and the #20 “Stand By Me.” Then there are other Hot 100 hits like the #30 “Cold Turkey,” the #42 “Happy Xmas (War Is Over),” the #43 “Mother,” the #55 “I’m Stepping Out,” the #57 “Woman Is The N***** of the World,” and the #80 “Jealous Guy.” This is a solo body of work that is considerably above Townshend’s.
Lou Reed: Only one hot 100 entry with the #16 “Walk On The Wild Side.” This is a very poor commercial record for an inductee, admittedly, although he is very well-regarded by critics and viewed as highly “influential” for his work with the New York Dolls and as a solo artist and with many more albums released than Pete Townshend has as a solo artist.
Jeff Beck: He has a single Hot 100 entry with the #48 “People Get Ready/Back On The Street/You Know, We Know” single with Rod Stewart, but he has had several notable and successful albums, a lot of chart success in the UK, as well as a lot of goodwill from playing and performing with a lot of other musicians. Again, this is the case of an artist whose relatively thin case for influence based on commercial success is benefited by his larger musical record, a more successful record than Pete Townshend has in terms of albums and collaborations.
Stevie Nicks: 4 top 10 hits (the #3 “Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around, the #4 “Talk To Me,” the #5 “Stand Back,” and the #6 “Leather And Lace”), four additional top 20 hits (“the #11 “Edge OF Seventeen,” the #14 “If Anyone Falls,” and the #16 hits “I Can’t Wait” and “Rooms On Fire”), two additional top 40 hits (the #32 “After The Glitter Fades” and the #33 “Nightbird”) and additional Hot 100 hits with the #56 “Sometimes It’s A Bitch,” the #57 “Maybe Love Will Change Your Mind,” and the #60 “Has Anyone Ever WRitten Anything For You”). And that is not even including her guest appearances on such songs as the #5 hits “Whenever I Call You Friend” and “Gold,” the #8 “Magnet And Steel,” as well as the #34 “Lost Her In The Sun” and the #37 “Needles And Pins,” among others. It is no particular surprise that this is a considerably more notable solo career than Pete Townshend has had, and again, her influence goes beyond her own songs to her success at collaborating with others.
Ultimately, I don’t think that Pete Townshend’s solo career is quite notable enough to make a strong case for the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. That is not to say that he won’t be inducted, as he certainly has a few notable songs. Still, an induction campaign would probably require the popular use of his songs by other artists and his recognition as being a breakthrough artist dealing with issues of homosexuality (see, for example “Rough Boys”), or the religious ideas of Buddhism (“A Little Is Enough”). Until his songs start being sampled and re-made or re-contextualized by contemporary artists, he will not be as notable a case as other 80’s acts who likewise have been snubbed from the RRHOF.