How do Pearl Jam, ELO, Yes and Journey measure up songwriting-wise?

(Posted by Mark Caro)

So Pearl Jam, Electric Light Orchestra, Tupac Shakur, Yes, Journey and Joan Baez are the latest Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees, with Nile Rodgers receiving the Award for Musical Excellence, whatever that is, after his band Chic failed to get in on its 11th nomination.

What does this have to do with songwriting?

Well, all of these artists are responsible for songs, though Tupac’s hip-hop is a completely different beast from what folks strumming on guitars come up with. I don’t really view Baez as being in the rock world as much as the folk world, and she’s better known for her interpretations than her own original songs anyway.

Journey…um…can I admit that I always had a soft spot for “Lovin’, Touchin’, Squeezin’”? Otherwise, these guys were never my thing; there’s any number of straight-up, slickly produced commercial rock bands that I prefer, including Foreigner and Boston, and it’s not like I love those two either. (“Hot Blooded” though…) Heck, if we’re talking about durable commercial bands, the Cars should be in the RRHOF, no?

At any rate, I blame David Chase for ending “The Sopranos” on “Don’t Stop Believin’” and getting the whole Journey journey rolling again.

I can live with Yes being in there; they really were a huge deal back in the day, and they managed to produce some indelible pop records (“I’ve Seen All Good People”; “Roundabout,” with those mountains that come out of the sky and stand there; “Going for the One” and, yes, “Owner of a Lonely Heart”) amid all that prog virtuosity.

In the words of Randy Newman, I love that ELO, though the lesson here is one of craft rather than personal expression. Jeff Lynne is a master of constructing pop songs, and he has created so many catchy, memorable ones. I’d put “Livin’ Thing” atop that list, and you can’t argue with “Evil Woman” or “Tightrope” for that matter, and as Newman sang, “I love that ‘Mr. Blue Sky.’ Almost my favorite is ‘Turn to Stone.’ And how ‘bout ‘Telephone Line’….”

None of these songs have any deep, meaningful resonance with me. But I sure enjoy hearing them. “Write an ELO Song” would be an excellent songwriting assignment — Steve?

Then there’s Pearl Jam. You know Pearl Jam. I like some of their songs, Eddie Vedder seems like a cool guy, and I believe him. I mean, I never make a point of seeking out, say, “Jeremy,” “Even Flow” or “Alive,” but I don’t turn them off when they come on. I do enjoy “Daughter,” “Elderly Woman Behind the Counter in a Small Town,” “Better Man” and “The Fixer,” and there are so few durable rock bands around these days that I don’t begrudge them.

For what it’s worth, Nirvana was better than Pearl Jam, but I’d take Pearl Jam over Foo Fighters.

You can argue that Chic’s “Good Times” had the most impact of any of these artists’ songs. Queen’s “Another One Bites the Dust” and Pink Floyd’s “Another Brick in the Wall, Pt. 2” probably don’t sound the way they do otherwise — and forget about those Rodgers-featuring Daft Punk smashes such as “Get Lucky.”

How about you? Which of these artists' songs have inspired you the most?