My junior year of college, I shared a ‘suite’ with another girl named Karen. She moved in wearing black nail polish and exclaimed with joy over my milk crates of records. I remember her most for her great term she used for the general crap on the radio at that time: “BostonKansasForeignerJourneyStyx,” was what she called all of it, whether it was actually one of those bands or something similar, like the Alan Parsons Project (which always seemed to be on the radio when we walked into the cafeteria) or the Steve Miller Band. Objectively, of course, we could tell all of them apart; we were smart music fans. But they were all part of the general wall of bland corporate nothingness that you had to suffer through on FM radio to get to the good stuff.
I recall this because it was recently announced that, somehow, Steve Miller (of the Steve Miller Band) is part of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s class of 2016. Putting aside the general awfulness of the RRHOF that will not change until all the old white dudes making the decisions die, the announcement of Steve Miller’s inclusion is one of those watershed moments, like when Jethro Tull won the first Grammy for Best Hard Rock/Heavy Metal, over Metallica, nominated for …And Justice For All. (I will never forget the look on Alice Cooper’s face when Lita Ford read the winner’s name.)
By any objective criteria of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Steve Miller being anywhere nearby is a mistake. He was not the first in his particular genre of white dudes playing blues-rock, he was not the best at writing rock songs or pop songs, he did not influence thousands of kids to pick up a guitar, he did not spawn decades of imitators, he has pretty much never been cited as an influence. Yes, he wrote songs that made the Billboard charts and got radio airplay, but let’s remember that “The Pina Colada Song” was a hit, too.
But maybe there is something in Steve Miller’s career that I am unaware of, that makes him absolutely qualified to be in the Hall. Maybe I am missing something. I turned to AllMusic and immersed myself in his biography. His father knew Charles Mingus and Les Paul. He formed his first band with Boz Scaggs at the age of 12. He moved to San Francisco, opened for Chuck Berry, played the Monterey Pop Festival, and got signed to Capitol Records. Then, he wrote a bunch of songs and released a bunch of albums—some of which got airplay, some of which didn’t.
There is nothing here that is Hall of Fame level. It could be the story of any musician. Even when the bio shifts to his career in the 70s, with his first number one hit, it’s a recitation of hits released and records sold, but not any firsts, or bests, or anything at all exceptional, anything at all that makes the band stand out amongst any other bands doing exactly the same thing at the same time. If Steve Miller’s history is the history of a Hall of Fame caliber artist, then there is no such thing, because it is a shockingly bland pedigree.
Even the people who like Steve Miller can’t come up with much. A website defending Miller’s potential could only muster statements such as, “All five of us were fans of the Steve Miller Band, though none of us could really say that Miller was one of all time favorites or a must see on the concert tour. The Steve Miller Band certainly has a solid fan base, though based on our little cross section the fan base is not a passionate one.”
Texas Monthly’s Joe Nick Patoski wrote about Miller in the height of the 70’s, and the highest praise he could muster (in an article about Miller and Boz Skaggs) was, “…both performers are competent composes and good businessmen firmly in control of their respective careers.” Now, don’t get me wrong—I’m a big fan of any artist being able to make a living off of their art. An artist being successful does not make them not an artist, and success is a laudable goal. But that does not automatically make that music worthy of the Hall of Fame.
Regarding influence, none of the Steve Miller Band’s records appear on lists of influential or important albums from the 1970s. Not Rolling Stone, not Ultimate Classic Rock, not Paste, not Pitchfork. Not one record appears on Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Album list. Even fan sites about the Seventies do not list the Steve Miller Band. Anywhere.
Now, let’s look at the big hits. Steve Miller has five platinum albums, and three No. 1 songs: “The Joker,” “Rock ’N Me” and “Abracadabra.”1
This song is mostly famous because of a made-up word in the song, a word that Miller used not just once, but twice. Like, the actual entire etymology of English was not sufficient for Steve Miller, he had to make up a word. That word, of course, is ‘pompatus,” as in “pompatus of love.” THE MADE UP WORD DOESN’T EVEN MAKE SENSE IN THE CONTEXT OF THE GODDAMNED SONG:
“Some people call me the space cowboy.
Yeah! Some call me the gangster of love.
Some people call me Maurice
Cause I speak of the Pompatous of love.”
Let’s be fair; the entire verse doesn’t make sense, and he rhymed “love” with, well, “love.” But within that one verse, Miller also self-references two of his own songs. “Space cowboy” is a reference to a song with the same name, and “Maurice” is from a song called “Enter Maurice.” You get to do stuff like that when you are, oh, say, BOB DYLAN.
There are explanations (sort of) but really, it is just bullshit, and the fact that this piece of garbage became a hit is insane. I blame that fake wolf-whistle when he sings “Maurice”.
“Rock N Me”
Right now, you are thinking that you do not know this song. You do. You just call it “Keep On Rocking Me, Baby,” as do multiple lyrics sites on the internet. This is another nonsense song with idiotic lyrics, and another instance where Miller just keeps repeating words because he can’t think of anything else:
Don’t get suspicious
Now, don’t be suspicious
This is the lyrical equivalent of a dude-bro saying, “Just calm down” when you are actually very calm, but have pointed out that said dude-bro is dead wrong. The best he can come up with is “Just calm down.”
But then after that, Miller makes things worse by saying, “Babe, you know you are a friend of mine.” Yes, right, of course, we’re just friends. Now this is the audio equivalent of the most boring guy you ever dated — perfectly nice guy and was always polite to your parents, but you have to think really hard to remember his name. This is not anything that belongs in something called “The Hall of Fame.”
Now we’re in the 80s, and as they say, it’s like punk never happened, because this song is still very very firmly ensconced in the 70s. I blame MTV for any traction this particular song got, because it came out back when MTV would play anything reasonable that had video footage. And this song has everything: shirtless magicians, a wanna-be Tawny Kitaen in a leather bra, unnecessary fire, a fake Pagliacci that’s not fat, and one of the most execrable lines in music: “Black panties with an angel’s face.” True story, my sister was on a Girl Scout exchange the summer this song came out, and the mother of the exchange family would rush to turn off the radio when that song came on because of that line, not that you wouldn’t have cringed inside sitting next to a parent when it came on anyway.
Steve Miller gave an interview to Andy Greene of Rolling Stone after the induction announcement, and in this interview he basically asserts that he deserves to be in the Hall of Fame by dint of having “been there from the beginning.” This is one of the major problems of the RRHOF and its inscrutable nomination process, that even the people in the business don’t understand that it’s not supposed to be a lifetime achievement award. It’s bad enough that music fans say things like, “But he had so many hits, of course he should be in.”
This is why Steve Miller thinks he is in:
“I started playing rock & roll in 1956, so I’ve been here from the beginning. I’ve seen it go through everything, from the time in Chicago to out to San Francisco to all these different phases.”
That is the criteria for some kind of attendance award, but not something called the Hall of Fame. Miller then complains that the Hall didn’t do a thorough enough job vetting the 25 people who have been in his band over the years to determine who else in that band–none of whom he bothers to call out or mention by name himself, and it was his goddamn band–should have been inducted with him. If the guy whose name was on the record can’t know the key members of his group, why should the Hall?
Rock and roll is not a plastics manufacturer where you give an award to the guy on the assembly line who showed up every day and worked his machine for 40 years. “Oh, everyone loves Steve, never missed a day of work in his life, great dude.” He gets a dinner at the Outback and a plaque and the guys at the factory took up a collection to send him and his wife to Florida for a week.
Steve Miller was a successful musician. He had many hits; he sold many records. He’s still touring, going out on those classic rock package tours that clog the sheds every summer. But there has to be some kind of criteria of excellence that the Hall of Fame adheres to, or it’s not a Hall of Fame, it’s just a rock and roll museum, and that is the point where everyone will stop caring.
And in case you are about to WELL ACTUALLY us, no, “Fly Like An Eagle” didn’t go to number one. ↩