Steve Miller Band's Hall of Fame Nomination: Does that Reach Out and Grab Ya?

Steve Miller
Steve Miller
"Steve Miller Press 2010" by Tim Brown - Space Cowboy Records. Licensed under GFDL via Wikimedia Commons.

Look, if we’re being real about the 2016 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame nominations, there’s probably no one more deserving than Chic, if for no other reason than that this is the disco superstars’ 10th nomination. Of course there are many other reasons — chart data, importance to a particular era of human history, that the original lyrics to their signature hit (“Le Freak”) were “aaaaah, fuck off!” after guitar player Nile Rodgers wasn’t allowed into Studio 54 — but the longevity of the band’s annual snub is probably the one voters have read the most about. I’d happily spill some more words on this band, but Chic don’t have a Dallas connection, so I’m stuck trying to make a case for the Steve Miller Band’s inclusion, since its titular frontman spent much of his childhood and teenage years in Dallas before ending up in San Francisco and churning out a bunch of mid-’70s chart toppers.

Those chart-toppers, though! Some are great, and just as many are silly; a few are arguably terrible. Regarding that last grouping, one analysis of this year’s nominees cited “Abracadabra” as the most salient reason not to include the Steve Miller Band among the five inductees. I agree that song is pretty bad. I don’t think it’s a damnable offense, despite rhyming the title word with “grab ya.” In fact, let’s say some new rapper samples that song and changes the rhyme of the abracadabra couplet to “dab ya” (or I dunno, maybe “stab ya”); I’d wager that most people would suddenly give “Abracadabra” another hearing, and the song would likely slide into the “silly” bucket of Steve Miller hits. Of course, we could waste the entire afternoon determining SMB’s HOF-inclusion merits on a song by song basis, but in the aggregate, the Steve Miller Band’s greatest hits are pretty solid.

What’s funny about all those songs that tons of people presumably enjoy: I have never met a person in life who would claim Steve Miller Band as his or her absolute favorite, at least to the extent that the band would warrant induction over its fellow nominees. A Steve Miller Band superfan is almost an abstraction, like dark matter, terror or love. Compare that with the other classic rock nominees, like Los Lobos or Deep Purple; the odds that you’ve encountered someone who holds Deep Purple in the highest esteem are much greater, as are the odds that this hypothetical person has also owned a van.

Unfortunately, fan van ownership is not a deciding factor for a band to deserve a spot in the HOF pantheon. Moreover, the 2016 nominees are spread across many different corners of the pop music genre map, and White Dad Rock is no longer a shoe-in. Forget about Chic for a second. The nominee pool also includes Janet Jackson and NWA, both who are in the midst of a renewed limelight cycle, since Jackson has a new album out, and NWA has a box-office-winning hagiography that’s still in theaters, not to mention renewed relevance against a national backdrop of police aggression and African American oppression. When there’s heightened static between the proponents of “black lives matter” and “police lives matter,” it’s kinda hard to sell people on the charms of “Take the Money and Run.”

More than any of those reasons, I think what really torpedoes the Steve Miller Band’s chances is that in order to put them in the HOF, you have to examine their competitors' faults and see how they match up to SMB’s successes; they’re OK, but someone else has to do something genuinely awful (more awful than writing “Abracadabra,” for example) to keep them out. It’s a little bit like choosing to eat at Subway over Jimmy Johns; JJ’s is easily a better sandwich, but maybe one time the store was dirty or you got torn up from bad mayo, so Subway’s ubiquity and familiarity is better than some singular outlying factor. You could also say that SMB deserves the recognition more because they’ve been a continuous entity since 1966, but that’s sort of saying that HOF inclusion is a rock and roll pension. Surely it’s more prestigious than that. Guess we’ll have to ask Nile Rodgers about it next year.


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