With the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s 2012 class announced today, we decided to dig into the archives and find the earliest articles in The Washington Post about each of this year’s six inductees. What we found was a bit surprising. Let’s just say that based on these early reviews, there was little reason to expect Hall of Fame enshrinement decades down the road.
Laura Nyro, Rod Stewart-era Faces, Red Hot Chili Peppers and Guns N’ Roses were either panned or given little expectation of future greatness. A 1985 profile of the Beastie Boys was less dismissive, and also talked about a potential supergroup with Sean Penn. (The band was in town opening for Madonna, Penn’s then-girlfriend, at the time.)
But the real jewel was finding an October 1967 review of a disastrous Donovan concert at Constitution Hall written by a pre-Watergate-famous Carl Bernstein. Not only does the review have an enormously famous byline, but the remark about the venue’s “atrocious sound system” is still a common complaint 44 years later.
Read all six articles from the Post’s past after the jump.
Concert review: Donovan at Constitution Hall
By Carl Bernstein, Oct. 10, 1967
The incredible musical gifts of Donovan, the English pop singer, Sunday night towered above one of the most ill-managed, rudely produced concerts ever seen in Washington.
The sheer fascination of Donovan’s dazzling vocal and instrumental arrangements, the haunting and mystical words to his songs and his breathy yet immensely soothing voice prevented the Constitution Hall appearance from becoming a debacle.
The staggering obstacles faced by Donovan and his audience were, surprisingly, attributable to Irvin and Israel Feld, who usually do a fine job managing Carter Barron Amphitheater and numerous other productions.
However, the Feld brothers are apparently completely insensitive to the younger audience who attend pop concerts. Rudeness to the patrons and lack of attention to the needs of the artist characterized virtually every facet of Sunday night’s concert arrangements.
To begin with, the audience was not admitted to Constitution Hall until 7:35 p.m., 35 minutes after the concert was scheduled to begin.
The delay was a result of sound and stage equipment in the hall not being ready until after 7 p.m. A Feld spokesman said things could not be ready on time because of an afternoon concert at the auditorium, but he had acknowledged that the management had known about the earlier performance long before it set the 7 p.m. start for the Donovan concert.
When the audience was finally seated, things got worse. First, two WEAM disc jockeys offered a few banal words to the audience and make huckster’s pitches for future Feld attractions. Appropriately, they were roundly booed by the audience and were hastened off the stage by their own embarrassment.
What followed was even more insulting than the disc jockeys (who, incidentally, Donovan refused to be introduced by, according to this staff).
As the music began, 12 uniformed “security guards” hired by the management began systematically pacing through the aisles, shining their flashlights in patrons’ eyes, under seats, on the walls.
Throughout the concert, one of the dozen gendarmes stood in front of the rim at stage center, periodically swinging a billy club, scanning the audience with a flashlight and resting his arm on the stage.
A management spokesman could offer no explanation for the behavior or presence of the guards. Despite the provocation, the audience remained as calm and well-behaved as symphony patrons.
Donovan, who appeared to be a bit confused by the police and the necessity for starting the concert late, also had to contend with an atrocious sound system and lighting more appropriate to a police interrogation room than a concert hall.
Nonetheless the 21-year-old singer prevailed. His songs, which blend an amazing amalgam of styles from cool jazz to rock to folk, are among the best being written today. Often the words to Donovan’s compositions assume a quality unmatched by any of his pop contemporaries, as when he sings of “fishing for time/with a wishing line/and throwing it back in the sea.” “Days of Wine and Roses” (unrelated to the other song by the same name), “Mellow Yellow,” “The Hampstead Incident” are among his best.
Similarly, his musical arrangements, which combine harpsichord, electric guitar, bongos, flute, drums and a string quartet are of unmatched beauty.
Concert review: The Faces at the D.C. Armory (opening for Grin)
By Tom Zito, Aug. 9, 1971
Rod Stewart is a superstar. What this means, on the most basic level, is that girls turn out for his concerts dressed more outlandishly than for most. On display Saturday night were feathered boas, sequined and velour hot pants and Pierrot-painted faces, as well as the usual 4,000-5,000 in blue jeans, halter tops and T-shirts.
Stewart and the Faces are known for their good-timey rock ‘n’ roll music as epitomized on their respective latest records, Stewart’s “Every Picture Tells a Story” (Mercury SRM1-609) and the Faces’ “Long Player” (Warner WS 1892). “Long Player” in particular captures the drive of their music.
But in order to play good music, a band has got to be together and on Saturday the Faces couldn’t seem to hold the beat for more than a few measures at a time (perhaps because of the acoustics?) as they moved through mostly old material and a few new tunes, including the Everly Brothers’ “When Will I Be Loved.” Even the usually well-stated guitar work of Ron Wood couldn’t sustain complete solos and also lapsed into sheer flash.
Concert review: Laura Nyro at Constitution Hall
By Tom Zito, Feb. 14, 1972
Whether you enjoy Laura Nyro depends on:
a) whether you are a member of her somewhat fanatical cult of followers who clap at the opening bars of each song and sing along;
b) whether you like songs that all sound basically the same;
c) whether you are able to overlook very mediocre piano playing.
Miss Nyro, who performed at Constitution Hall on Sunday night, sings in a style that combines the force of a soul shouter and the gentility of a whisper. Unforunately she lacks the bite of the former and the smoothness of the latter and consequently, her voice seems to wander between strained anguish and lush sentimentality.
Constitution Hall was almost filled on Sunday night with persons subscribing to alternative a: They loved it.
Concert review: Red Hot Chili Peppers at the Ontario Theatre (opening for General Public)
By Joe Sasfy, Dec. 10, 1984
Opening were Hollywood's Red Hot Chili Peppers, who pumped out an abrasive and nutty brand of funk and rap that eventually turned much of the audience against them. Their choppy funk was enriched by zany dancing, obscenity, squabbles with the audience and Hendrix-style guitar work.
Profile: Beastie Boys
By Richard Harrington, May 26, 1985
Definition of a good break for an unknown band: becoming the opening act in 35 cities on Madonna's "Virgin Tour."
Which is the case with New York's Beastie Boys, the first successful white rap group and purveyors of such underground hits as "Beastie Revolution." They'll do the honors at Merriweather Post Pavilion on Saturday.
The four Beasties have been enjoying their 20 minutes in the spotlight and, according to Adam Yauch, some of Madonna's fans have, too. "The reaction has been mostly good," Yauch says. "Usually they love it or they hate it. There's always been a reaction, I'll say that."
"It's not like bland Muzak," adds Adam "Ad-Rock" Horovitz, son of playwright Israel Horovitz. "It's real obnoxious, and it rubs you, either the right way or the wrong way."
The same could be said of a 1981 hard-core punk incarnation of the Beastie Boys. Inspired by a Black Flag performance and convinced they could be just as bad, they pursued a brief career on the CBGB circuit. Two years later, they ended a recording session with a rap parody titled "Cookie Puss," and within another year they had abandoned their instruments for the standard rap lineup of turntable-deejay-triple rappers. The other rapper is Michael Diamond (Mike D), while Rick Rubin (Double R) handles the deejaying.
There's still a strong element of parody at work in the Beastie Boys, though Yauch insists that "we've been playing so long that it's hard to just keep making jokes. Some of our songs are serious, but I don't think we could ever be too serious about it."
Next, they may incorporate Madonna's boyfriend into a band. There's been some backstage talk that actor Sean Penn may front a group in New York in the fall with several Beastie Boys picking up their instruments again.
Album review: Guns N’ Roses, “Appetite for Destruction”
By Mark Jenkins, Oct. 30, 1987
"I might be a little young," boasts Guns and Roses singer W. Axl Rose,"but honey I ain't naive."
That's open to interpretation, but one thing's for sure: The guys who wrote this debut album's macho odes to substance abuse, brutal sex and drunk driving — many of which couldn't be quoted in a general-circulation newspaper — are not exactly sheltered. This quintet, the latest product of L.A.'s heavy-metal foundry, won't win any awards from NOW, MADD or PMRC (or the MLA, for that matter).
Metal fans needn't take the blustering dim-bulb lyrics on "Appetite for Destruction" as seriously as Guns and Roses apparently does, though. The band's real gift is for raw but tightly structured metal of the Aerosmith school. Swaggering and jagged-edged yet melodic and smartly arranged, the band's songs more than equal the efforts of such better-known peers as Motley Crue. Still, those who listen for more than snarling riffs might wish for an occasional glimmer of humor.