Back in the 1980s, a baseball analyst (Bill James) created something called “The Keltner List”. That was a list of questions, all able to be answered with a straight yes or no, to tell you if a player belonged in the Hall of Fame without resorting to esoteric statistics.
See? The thing is, there’s a rock band out there that you can make an argument for it being the greatest of all-time and yet–it’s not in the Rock ‘n Roll Hall of Fame, even though the band has been around 40+ years and remains active. That’s right–still active, still creating good music (unlike the Rolling Stones), not on an oldies tour of state fairs (Chicago, Beach Boys, REO Speedwagon, etc). And yet? No respect.
There’s a pretty simple answer for it–they aren’t native English speakers. In fact, did you know, there are NO non-native English speaking groups in the Rock Hall. Could you imagine the Baseball HOF with no Marichal or Clemente (or this year’s Vlad Guerrero selection)?
If you know rock, know some history, you’d recognize the band as The Scorpions (which has produced three of the six greatest guitarists in rock–>the Schenker brothers and Uli Roth, the other three being Terry Kath who founded Chicago, Jimi Hendrix, and Eddie Van Halen). That’s like ignoring Tom Glavine and John Smoltz and only thinking of Greg Maddux!
In any event, let’s look at the Keltner questions:
1 – Is/was The Scorpions ever considered as the best band in rock? Did anybody ever suggest they were? No. (The suggestion is/was made, but only across central/eastern Europe. In English-dominated languages, never…but should a HOF devoted to music be restricted to artists from Britain-Australia-Canada-the US?? No!)
2 – Were The Scorpions ever the best in rock within their genre? Yes. The Scorpions are held up as the ultimate of the ‘big hair’ style of power rockers of the early 1980s. I suspect we could answer this with a ‘yes’ as well if we were to talk about power ballads. Everybody recognizes Scorpions power ballads whether it is Still Loving You or Winds of Change.
3 – Was any member of The Scorpions ever recognized as the best ever with an instrument? Yes. Obviously this is subjective, but you could argue that Michael Schenker (who went on to found his own group as well as UFO) was/is the greatest rock guitarist ever–and then you have his brother Rudi who could claim the title in the late 1980s when Eddie Van Halen started futzing around with keyboards more than his guitar. Oh, wait, I forgot Uli Roth…man, that’s a lot of guitar-excellence coming through a single band!
4 – Did The Scorpions affect the evolution of other bands? Yes–because of an interview I saw a couple weeks ago on YouTube. The introduction to ‘The Sails of Charon’ clicked for a couple guys named Hetfield and Mustaine (Metallica and then for Mustaine, Megadeth) and according to Hetfield shaped quite a bit of the material on Metallica’s first couple albums ‘Kill ’em All’ and ‘Ride the Lightning’. It’s not a connection I would ever have thought about or known about. Hetfield said that in concern, Metallica will always try to get guitar riffs from ‘The Sails of Charon’ in at some point.
5 – Are The Scorpions good enough that they can play regularly after passing their prime? Absolutely. They still do, even though their prime is now about 15-20 years gone. There are definite changes–they rest Klaus Meine’s voice strategically during performances and the guitarists likewise limit their running around stage and they now have a replacement drummer, but if they just stand and deliver, they’re close to their peak…you just don’t get as many of the theatrics, etc. anymore.
6 – Are The Scorpions the best eligible artist in history not in the Rock Hall of Fame? Embarrassingly so.
7 – Are most bands of comparable impact in the Hall of Fame? Yup, all of them.
8 – Does anything suggest The Scorpions are significantly better or worse than things like record sales would indicate? Yes. Their impact across the non-English speaking part of the world–and not just Europe. They remain popular in Japan as well. You also have a song that defines an entire era of European history and culture with 1989’s ‘Winds of Change’. Pretty much every German knows the song and its significance–most Americans know the song, but since we can’t identify all 50 of our own states, have no idea of the song’s historical importance related to German reunification and the end of the Cold War.
9 – Is The Scorpions the best artist of its genre not in the Hall? Yes.
10 – How many #1 songs did the band have? Gold records? Did they ever win a Grammy? How many nominations? None. ‘Wind of Change’ reached #1 in every tallied market in the world…except for the US and Britain. Gold records–only 2…because they had 8 platinum or multi-platinum albums. They have no Grammys, but have all sorts of international honors from every non-North American continent….(no, not Antarctica)
11 – Did the band have award-winning level songs? How long was the band at a dominating performance level? Were they ever on the cover of Rolling Stone? ‘Wind of Change’ not winning is silliness (like Jethro Tull winning for being a metal band…). In terms of peak-level performance, that would be from 1980’s ‘Animal Magnetism’ through 1990’s ‘Crazy World’–nothing but platinum albums (including a live compilation album in that–‘World Wide Live’). Within the US, no Rolling Stone cover–but it was on the German and Russian version of the magazine (I hadn’t really realized when I started this just how universal/deep the Rock Hall’s English language chauvinism would run….)
12 – If The Scorpions were a concert headliner, would it be a great concert? Yes, even now. Peak-Scorpions saw them co-headlining the Monsters of Rock with peak Van Halen. That’s just epic.
13 – Did The Scorpions have an effect on rock history? Did they change history in any way? Within music, were they style-innovators? Style, no. Rock history, no. But ‘Wind of Change’ is (with some hyperbole) credited with helping usher the fall of the Soviet Union and smoothing over German re-unification. Germans certainly feel that way.
14 – Were The Scorpions upstanding citizens? Are they known more for controversial/illegal behavior? I couldn’t find anything. They make music. They have stable home lives with kids (and grandchildren now). Of course, maybe the fact they aren’t doing lines of coke or chugging Jack Daniels gets held against them by the Rock HOF. One way or the other, The Scorpions aren’t really ‘bad boys’.
So–I think it’s pretty clear you’re looking at a Hall of Fame band. The thing is–I put ‘greatest’ in the header. There’s an argument to be made there. I’ll make it brief.
- A single (Wind of Change) that represents a historical moment completely.
- Three of the greatest guitarists ever.
- A voice/style you recognize immediately.
- A peak level of performance capable of headlining anywhere/gathering attention worldwide.
- A career spanning nearly 50 years, so that not only do you have a solid recording peak of 10 years, you have a career spanning 2/3 of rock’s existence
When we think of bands in the ‘greatest’ argument, they rarely have peak and longevity on their side. The Beatles and Led Zeppelin didn’t last a decade, Pink Floyd has a great peak, but not the longevity, The Who’s longevity was a 100% money grab (usually to get John Entwhistle out of bankruptcy). Chicago’s first 7-8 albums are brilliant, but then Terry Kath died and Peter Cetera became the dominating force, turning the band to pop from 1978-85 before he left and the band went into the wilderness of playing oldies venues, so you’ve got several good albums and about 15 of dreck.
I think, ultimately, it reduces the debate to three bands–peak plus sustained quality over decades of time. Listed alphabetically: Metallica, Rolling Stones, Scorpions. All three have taken creative risks, all three have maintained most of their membership over the years (barring retirement with the Stones/Scorpions now), and all three have styles/sounds you can immediately identify. Metallica was part of speed metal’s creation, the Stones were the bad boys of the British Invasion, and The Scorpions are the kings of power ballads–and you can never miss a Schenker guitar riff or solo.
So are the Scorpions ‘greatest’? There’s obviously no way to no–but it’s fun to have the argument, right?
PS. I think you can play devil’s advocate and throw Iron Maiden in to a greatest-ever argument because it’s got a high peak and longevity to go with it. Just sayin’.