In Part One of this series, I ran through my cursory thoughts on the ballot for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s class of 2015.  There were fifteen artists on it, and a collection of rock music journalists, record executives, businessmen, and, of course, all living inductees, will soon receive their ballots.  Some will post their choices on instagram.  Most will keep their ballots secret.  But collectively, they will have an opportunity to vote for the inductees who will be formally enshrined in the spring of the coming year.  In this second and final segment, I will run down the 15 nominees, detailing my personal preferences (e.g. how much I like ‘em), their worthiness of induction, and their likelihood of induction.  These are just my own opinions- I hope they are informed opinions, but it is hard for any music fan to check his or her inclinations and preferences at the door.  In doing it this way, I am borrowing quite a bit from Philip over at Rock Hall Monitors.  I’m sure he will post his own rundown soon, so be sure to check it out.

Let me also say that in spite of any forthcoming snark, this isn’t a bad ballot, and I think all but Paul Butterfield, The Marvelettes, and Lou Reed deserve to be inducted sooner or later.  If history is our guide, though, only five or six will, though, so let’s look at who is probably going to Cleveland this year.  Going in alphabetical order, using last names when possible:

Paul Butterfield Blues Band: (Personal Rank: 9, Worthiness: 15, Likelihood: 15)

I don’t have any quarrel with the PBBB.  Really, I don’t.  But by now, they’ve become Exhibit A in Rock Hall cronyism.  They would not enter into any serious consideration if an influential board member did not really like them- in this case, Jann Werner.  Yes, they played Woodstock.  Yes, they were at Monterrey.  Sure, they are a competent and uniquely multi-racial blues combo.  But if they didn’t really innovate and they didn’t really resonate with the wider public, I don’t think their musical proficiency is enough to carry them through.  There is also no way they will be inducted this year; if a blues artist is getting in, its SRV.  I rank them dead last in both worthiness and likelihood.

Chic: (Personal Rank: 8, Worthiness: 6, Likelihood: 8)

These disco mavens have now been nominated nine times.  Only one artist- Solomon Burke- has been nominated more often.  When I first started tentatively following the Rock Hall a few years ago, I dismissed Chic as a joke candidate, the Harold Stassen of rock and roll, if you’ll pardon a political reference.  They wore me down.  Disco created a vibrant, safe space for two historically disadvantaged communities, urban blacks and gay men, and the anti-disco crowd has always seemed to have a vague George Wallace air of menace to it.  I now see Chic as legitimate, worthy candidates, masters of disco production, and one of the most sampled groups of all time.  What I don’t see is how they can get in this year when they couldn’t last year.  In October, 2013, I’ll remind you, Nile Rodgers-produced “Get Lucky” was riding high on the charts.  One year later, Rodgers has a couple more Grammy awards, but other than that, their situation is unchanged.  Maybe Chic will succeed with a less competitive slate of nominees this year, maybe voters will just say ‘to hell with it’, vote them in, and spare us another decade of Chic clogging valuable space on the ballot.  On the other hand, public support for a Chic nomination is tanking: they are dead last in the Rock Hall’s fan poll, earning less than 1% of the vote.  Public support, though, doesn’t necessarily correlate to the preferences of those who receive ballots.  My spider-sense tells me they are right on the cusp.  It could go either way.

Green Day (Personal Rank: 6, Worthiness: 3, Likelihood: 1)

It will be shocking in the extreme if Green Day doesn’t get in.  Having been in middle-school in the 90s, I was there at exactly the right time to watch their impact.  I don’t think it is an understatement to call them a generation-defining group, one that uniquely spoke to suburban angst, and, initially their pop-punk approach brilliantly turned punk’s revolutionary DIY ethos inward.  In 2004, they came full circle and made an overtly political statement disguised as a rock opera, American Idiot, that lampooned the war effort when it was still borderline-dangerous for a mainstream artist to do so.  (Let’s contrast this with Neil Young, a shockingly opportunistic artist who made plenty of money off of ‘Let’s Roll’ when America was hungry for Taliban blood, and then turned around in 2006 with ‘Living With War’, criticizing Bush and our engagement in the Middle East when the public had already decisively turned against him and it.)  There are legitimate arguments for holding off a Green Day induction; some say 2015 seems way, way too early for a band with thrived in the late 90s and early 2000s.  But nobody spoke to the disillusionment and cynicism of their times better than they.

Joan Jett and the Blackhearts (Personal Rank: 11, Worthiness: 10, Likelihood: 7)

Joan Jett is quickly on her way to becoming a perennial candidate.  She’s got her best chance yet this year, with only one other entirely-female artist, The Marvelettes, on the docket.  Happily for Jett, the most recent mental image we have of her is of her deputizing for the late Kurt Cobain and singing “Smells Like Teen Spirit” and playing its iconic guitar intro.  Arguably, she might also be the most “rock and roll” candidate on this list, a vague characterization to be sure, but I don’t see how anybody can challenge it.  She simply plays a brand of rock that cannot be hyphenated.  Add her status as an icon of kick-ass, rock-and-roll feminism and godmother to the riot grlls, and Jett could take off this year.  I’m still cleaving to an attitude toward the Blackhearts as “a bar band made good”, a lucky outfit that paid its dues, and I haven’t heard a convincing argument that Pat Benatar isn’t better.   But the Hall could certainly do worse than Joan Jett.  One of my students in Singapore was shocked when he heard that she wasn’t inducted yet- and who am I to argue?

Kraftwerk (Personal Rank: 7, Worthiness: 1, Likelihood: 12)

If you were asked ‘which body of music is under-represented in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’, you would probably say ‘prog’ or ‘metal’, right?  Nope.  It’s the massive, massive body of music by people who do not record in English.  Enter our synthetic Germanic overlords, Kraftwerk.  Ordinarily, you must understand, I can’t stand it when an artist is acclaimed to have “influence” but has no radio presence today on Oldies or Classic Rock radio, and no real hits to their name- if you didn’t resonate with the public at the time your music came out, how good can you be, really?  I’m making an epochal exception for Kraftwerk.  Their work with manipulating synthesizers to make all manners of sounds, create all manners of atmosphere, set the table for new wave, electronica, and, for that matter, any music that uses synthesizers today.  The website Not in the Hall of Fame ranks them as the second most worthy artist who isn’t in yet (Deep Purple is #1.)  They’ve been nominated before, and will probably be nominated again, because this likely won’t be their year- a quintessential love ‘em or hate ‘em artist, but a little weird and out there for some voters.

The Marvelettes (Personal Rank: 10, Worthiness: 14, Likelihood: 10)

Marvelettes fans will ask you: who was the first Motown act to have a #1 hit?  That’s not a legacy.  That’s the answer to a Trivial Pursuit question.  They had one major hit, a handful of minor hits, and quickly got plowed over by a Diana Ross-driven steamroller, and were subsequently trampled by the high heels of Aretha, Dusty, Gladys, Ronnie Ronette, and Martha.  It’s hard to make a case for them when commercially and artistically, every one of their latter-day rivals endured, thrived, and aged better than they.  If they demonstrably influenced them to a greater degree, I’d be less of an ass about it, but every worthy Motown act has been in for years, with the possible exception of Mary Wells.  I still think they have an outside chance of getting voted in, though.  The lack of women this year helps.  But- let’s say you are Smokey Robinson, heating one of the microwavable soul-food canisters bearing your name and image in your kitchen, and the titular postman slides this year’s Rock Hall ballot under your door.  Who do you vote for?  Easy- The Marvelettes and four other artists.  I’d imagine, old rivalries aside, most of the surviving Motown and doo-wop artists will do the same.  Now, imagine you are Paul McCartney, or the Dave Clark Five’s bassist, or The Hollies’ drummer or something, and you get the ballot.  Chances are, you remember the 60s girl groups fondly, and in a fit of nostalgia, check the box next to their name.  This adds up to a pretty sizable number of votes, right?

Nine Inch Nails (Personal Rank: 15, Worthiness: 5, Likelihood: 4)

We could end up in a scenario where a ‘band’ is inducted with only one member: multi-instrumentalist Trent Reznor.  Reznor’s role in fostering the genre of industrial music makes him a pioneer in the field- it just happens to be a field I do not like very much, and would not listen to if other options were available.  Anyway- inventive, experimental, and yet enjoying a sizable fan base– Nine Inch Nails is the sort of act that is high on influence and visibility within the music industry, but it didn’t necessarily resonate outside of its fan base.  Still, Nine Inch Nails has two things going for it: they are at this time leading in the Rock Hall’s fan poll, and since they inaugurated the poll two years ago, its winner has heretofore always gotten in.  The second factor is good television: Reznor is a Northeast Ohio boy, and given that the ceremonies are in Cleveland this year, the hometown crowd will be in his corner.

NWA (Personal Rank: 13, Worthiness: 2, Likelihood: 3)

For the third year in a row, NWA is nominated.  I think this is finally their year, for a number of reasons.  Questlove openly boasted something along the lines of “Next year it’ll be NWA on stage,” during last year’s induction ceremony.  More substantively, the Nom Com cleared the deck of not only any other rap groups, but any hip-hop either, avoiding scenarios where they split votes with Public Enemy in 2013 and L.L. Cool J in 2014.  For better or worse, though, the fate of rap groups is tied to the current news cycle.  Last year, “The Accidental Racist” torpedoed Cool J’s chances (while also giving me a great example to draw from when I teach about false equivalences in my history seminars.)  This year, the tragedy in Ferguson, Missouri has given NWA new relevance, as this article at The Daily Beast aptly demonstrates.  “F— The Police” will be a powerful sentiment after Michael Brown’s death, and one that I suspect Rock Hall voters who are not at all inclined to side with the police will follow.

Lou Reed (Personal Rank: 12, Worthiness: 13, Likelihood: 5)

Many of the less informed voices in the community lambasted the Nom Com for only nominating Lou Reed after he was dead.  Dudes, they nominated him twice while he was alive- it you have a bone to pick, its with the body of Rock Hall voters!  Reed is probably going to be the annual headache the Rock Hall gives me, where they induct an artist I loath (see KISS in 2014, and Rush in 2013).  I find Reed’s music drugged up, wildly inconsistent, and credible only because of stores of adoration he hoarded by hanging out with Andy Warhol back in the 60s.  He’s the quintessential ‘right-place, right-time’ guy, and his surly attitude and propensity for making enemies do not redound well on one of the luckiest men of the 1960s and 70s.  He’ll probably get in, since death or severe illness often tips the balance, but I don’t have to like it.

The Smiths (Personal Rank: 14, Worthiness: 7, Likelihood: 11)

One recent take on the Rock Hall put it best: “The Smiths remain shorthand for ‘I was a teenage outcast’.”  I gave them a good listen in preparation for writing this post, and I do not like them any more than I did before– too mopey for my tastes, although I appreciate their significance.  My opinion, though, has no bearing on their likelihood: their name generated some buzz and some enthusiasm amid the lackluster 3rd and 4th nominations of most people on this list, and Morrissey’s skill as a lyricist for Generation X is formidable.   While I think they should, and they will, be inducted eventually, I am bearish about their chances this year.  Few artists with their profile have gotten in on their first try- other “lead-up to alternative music” choices like The Replacements and The Cure similarly fell short in recent years.

The Spinners (Personal Rank: 2, Worthiness: 11, Likelihood: 13)

Last year, Daryl Hall, in his induction speech, gave the camera a steely glance and dared the Rock Hall to nominate more Philly-born-and-bred artists.  They didn’t this year.  But instead, they selected a museum-grade specimen of Philly soul, an under-appreciated genre, although The Spinners, in fact, hail from Detroit.  But with immaculate Thom Bell production and swooping strings complementing their native vocal talent and harmonies, it makes one hope they will join their almost-contemporaries The O’Jays in the hall. They are one of Tom Lane’s favorites, and you know what?  I like ‘em, too!  They had a small armada of hits in the mid-70s, an era that chewed up soul groups like they were late 50s doo-wop groups- but on the crucial matter of influence and impact, they fall short.  Who was trying to be The Spinners in the 1980s?  The Commodores?  I don’t think they’ll meet much success this year because, again, there’s too many other 70s R&B guys up against them, although each is in his own sub-genre.

Sting (Personal Rank: 4,  Worthiness: 12, Likelihood: 9)

My lack of enthusiasm for this year’s ballot was reinforced when I realized that Sting was my 4th favorite artist nominated this year.  I was surprised to see Sting get a nod this year.  It seems way, way too soon.  Another artist who broke off from a band and embarked on a lucrative career- Peter Gabriel- only got in last year.  So how does Sting, who also dabbled in world music, but wasn’t nearly so innovative, creative, or visionary- and I think even most Sting fans would agree- follow so closely on his heels?  It’s not like Sting’s career is a travesty or anything, but it looks like he got nominated because of his prolific visibility and connections in the industry- and he is, by far, the most famous person up for a vote this year.  It isn’t impossible that Sting has had his photo taken with half of the people who will be voting on him, and those personal touches may put him over the top.   One awkward moment at the induction ceremony could be NWA performing “F—the Police” with a former member of The Police on stage.

Stevie Ray Vaughan (Personal Rank: 3, Worthiness: 4, Likelihood: 2)

Even people who were ambivalent about the Rock Hall let out a tiny squeal when they saw that SRV was nominated, after being eligible for several years.  As one of the last truly top-shelf guitar icons, he deserves it.  He presided over a 1980s blues revival, and his untimely death and ethereal skill make him, by far, the coolest choice on this list.  It’s hard to think of very many people who can’t find space on their ballot this year for Stevie Ray; certainly Cat Stevens (now a voter, having been inducted earlier this year), undoubtedly among many others, have voiced their support.  He is currently second on the Rock Hall’s fan poll, and has probably benefited from significantly less ballot-stuffing than Nine Inch Nails.

War (Personal Rank: 5, Worthiness: 9, Likelihood: 14)

The Nom Com seems to like War- and you know what?  I don’t blame them.  They created a cool, vibrant sound that originally owed much to the drowned out psychedelia of their collaborator Eric Burdon, but soon found its own funk way that effortlessly alternated between fun (“Why Can’t We Be Friends”) and socially conscious (The entire The World is a Ghetto album).  After NWA, they are probably the most urban artist on here.  I wish them well, but I am pessimistic about their chances.  What did the Nom Com think would happen when they put four different R&B influenced 70s artists on the ballot- they are going to cancel each other out!  Neither as earnest as Bill Withers, as important to their genre as Chic, nor as commercially successful as The Spinners, War is probably the seventh or eighth favorite artist of most voters, and when you only get to vote for five, it is tough to see a way to Cleveland for them this year.

Bill Withers (Personal Rank: 1, Worthiness: 8, Likelihood: 6)

I made a longshot prediction that Bill Withers would be nominated this year, and I was delighted to see that it happened.  There’s a case to be made against Bill- his career didn’t last very long and petered out during the late 70s.  The case for him, though, is significantly stronger.  If you write five or six songs that speak deeply to the human experience, have universal appeal, and aged better than almost any other piece of music from that era, I think that is a remarkable gift.  When I listen to “Lean On Me”, I start believing in a universal subconscious; Withers tapped into something deep in all of us, and on intangibles like ‘how many people were encouraged by this song’ or ‘how many people had their sense of loss articulated perfectly by ‘Ain’t No Sunshine When She’s Gone’?  On the strength of “Lean On Me”, “Ain’t No Sunshine”, “Lovely Day”, “Just the Two of Us”, and “Grandma’s Hands”, and how well they convey the human experience, I say we need to induct Bill.  And the odds are in his favor– the voters love putting singer-songwriters in (Cat, Laura Nyro, Neil Diamond, Tom Waits, Randy Newman), and Withers is the purest singer-songwriter among the nominees.

Let’s wrap this thing up.  In terms of who I predict will be inducted, I’d bet the farm on Green Day and Stevie Ray Vaughan, and I’m pretty confident about Lou Reed, NWA and Nine Inch Nails.  Assuming they pick six artists again, though, that sixth spot is wide open in my opinion.  I can see it going 6 or 7 different ways.  Nostalgia may work for the Marvelettes, raw fame and personal contacts for Sting, the Hall’s history of inducting singer-songwriters may pan out for Bill Withers, Jett’s rock and roll feminism may succeed in a ballot lacking in guitar heroes, capitulation and weariness may work for Chic, and The Smiths’ critical accolades and importance to Gen Xers make them a strong contender as well.  As a historian, I have to use the past as a guide, and the way the inductees have fallen the last few years, it’s the singer-songwriter’s to lose, so the sixth spot on my prediction list is Bill Withers, although I also think Joan Jett is the next most likely contender after he.

If I had a ballot, I’d be required to vote for exactly five artists, so mixing their historical and musical merits with my own personal preferences, my votes would be for Green Day, NWA, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Kraftwerk, and Bill Withers.  (If I could have a sixth vote, it would easily be the Spinners, with War seventh.  And if I had a hammer, I’d smash patriarchy.)

On October 9th, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame announced its fifteen nominees for induction in its class of 2015 (which is when the induction ceremony will take place.)  They were:

  1. Bill Withers (1st nomination)
  2. Chic (9th (!!!) nomination)
  3. Green Day (1st nomination- 1st year eligible)
  4. Joan Jett and the Blackhearts (3rd nomination)
  5. Kraftwerk (3rd nomination)
  6. Lou Reed (3rd nomination)
  7. Nine Inch Nails (1st nomination- 1st year eligible)
  8. NWA (3rd nomination)
  9. Paul Butterfield Blues Band (4th nomination)
  10. Stevie Ray Vaughan (1st nomination)
  11. Sting (1st nomination)
  12. The Marvelettes (2nd nomination)
  13. The Smiths (1st nomination)
  14. The Spinners (2nd nomination)
  15. War (3rd nomination)

As some of you may remember, I put up my predictions in June.  I fully expected to get 8 or 9 right of the 16 artists I predicted and establish myself as the Nate Silver of the Rock Hall enthusiasts.  Instead, I ended up with a measly six- NWA, Green Day, Nine Inch Nails, Joan Jett, Lou Reed, and my one wild Hail-Mary guess I made, Bill Withers.  Congratulations to Tom Lane, who predicted nine correctly. What went wrong?  Firstly, I screwed up by not including a blues artist, and in the end, two of them- PBBB and SRV- were nominated.  I also guessed wrong for some genres.  I thought Sonic Youth was going to be their “80s artist who inspired alternative music” pick, and The Smiths got that spot instead.  But more than that, I thought the Nominating Committee would emulate their 2014 ballot from last year, which was well received.  (And by ‘well-received’, I mean that most people who commented on it said ‘It’s about time these guys were nominated’ rather than ‘This ballot is a travesty!’)  Therefore, lots of my choices were on last year’s ballot and didn’t get picked this year.  Deep Purple.  Yes.  The Zombies.  Link Wray. Which leads me to my thoughts on the ballot this year.  I am disappointed by it, but not for the reasons you might expect.

One on one, there are lots of worthy artists who are up for consideration.  A few weeks ago, I listed the 192 artists who I thought already belonged in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as of 2014, and Bill Withers, Chic, Kraftwerk, NWA, Stevie Ray, The Smiths, The Spinners, and War were on my list- that’s 8 of the 15 right there.  If I were allowed to add artists eligible this year, Green Day would have made the list as well, and I would have given serious consideration to Nine Inch Nails. But you know how in jazz music, you have to hear the notes they aren’t playing?  When you look at the ballot, you have to consider the artists- and the genres- who weren’t nominated.  There isn’t a single true classic rock artist on here.  Now, Philip over at Rock Hall Monitors points out that one reason the Nom Com is reticent to include more classic rock artists is because the big no-brainers (The Who, Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, Queen, Aerosmith, etc.) were all inducted a long time ago.  And he’s right.  But to include zero artists who belong in classic rock, progressive rock, or metal on a given year is a major oversight.  Fans of all three genres have been seriously pissed off at the Rock Hall for taking their sweet time inducting Rush, Genesis, and Kiss, nominating Deep Purple and Yes, and ignoring Iron Maiden, Jethro Tull, Moody Blues, and Cheap Trick entirely.  Seriously- go to a classic rock forum right now.  I’ll wait.  See what they are saying about the Hall of Fame ballot this year.

They are hella unhappy, right?  And for once, I think their anger is justified.  Classic rock and prog rock and metal fans can be childish and juvenile sometime, but in this case, their complaints are quite valid.  For years, the Nominating Committee has been charged with elitism and favoritism, inducting their friends or their private record collections.  The last couple years, it looked like the Rock Hall was addressing these concerns, acknowledging that they had, by their own bad judgment, becoming a laughingstock, had took positive steps to nominate Deep Purple, Yes, Rush, Kiss, Hall and Oates, and other artists hated by many critics but still loved by vigorous fan bases today.  I just feel that the Rock Hall threw all that goodwill out the window with this ballot.  It almost seems like they intended to thumb their nose at the casual fan and the classic rock hobbyist and tell them, “we know quality music– you don’t– here are the nominees.”  With the exceptions of Stevie Ray and maybe the Smiths, nobody was clamoring to get any of these older artists in.  The Nom Com had a great opportunity to telegraph support for the social media and the wider public by nominating Janet Jackson.  The Induct Janet group has tens of thousands of Facebook followers, and its leaders did everything right- maintaining a respectful tone, getting celebrity support, doing interviews, making a case for her legacy, and most importantly, mobilizing and exciting a group of consumers who would have gladly ponied up the money to go to Cleveland and see Janet enshrined.  And it didn’t pay off.  That’s terrible.  It’s not a tragedy, in an age of ISIS, Ebola, and Boko Haram, but it is a naked demonstration that the spirit of rock and roll can be snuffed out in committee rooms and in-clubs.

My dream- and this is a very idyllic dream- is that Rock Hall membership could be a conversation between the public and the experts.  The Nom Com needs to stop holding the public in contempt, stop renominating personal favorites on an endless loop (PBBB, Chic, J. Geils Band), and maybe spend more time talking to music fans who don’t produce, make, or write about music for a living, but for whom music is an essential part of their lives.  And for their part, I wish classic rock enthusiasts and metal-heads would be willing to explore some of the artists critics praise, listen actively outside their comfort zone, and embrace R&B, hip-hop, soul, disco, electronic, and yes, even rap, as part of the same broad family tree that looks to rock and roll as a common ancestor.  There’s no question for me that these genres deserve consideration for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, but it should happen alongside of, and not at the expense of, classic rock, prog rock, metal and other genres that were snubbed this year, including folk and early rock and roll. I’ll look at the 15 nominated artists, one by one, in Part II, but I’ll conclude with a few random thoughts:

  • Potentially, we could have three members joining the Clyde McPhatter Club for artists inducted twice.  Sting is already in with the Police, Lou Reed is already in with Velvet Underground, and it is possible that War’s lineup might include Eric Burden, who was inducted way back in 1994 with The Animals.
  • My colleague Donnie pointed out that the Hall is perceptibly moving past the 60s and 70s.  If Green Day, Nine Inch Nails, NWA, Stevie Ray, The Smiths, and Sting are inducted- an entirely plausible scenario- you’d have six artists who released their debut records after 1980.
  • I was right about one thing- LL Cool J wouldn’t be on this ballot.  Presumably, this is because the Nom Com wanted a clear path for NWA, and Cool J would take away some votes that would ordinarily go to him.  It’s similar to last year, where Linda Ronstadt was the only woman on the ballot, so they could get her in the Hall of Fame while she was still alive.  Which brings me to…
  • Only two women on this ballot- not counting the Chic vocalists- and its Joan Jett and the Marvelettes.  I don’t like this either.  Neither has that great a chance of actually being inducted, making it very likely that the Class of 2015 will be another sausage-fest for a Hall that doesn’t have enough female acts.

Who belongs in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame?

This is a question that many rock and roll fans, even those who have long since dismissed the actual Hall of Fame in Cleveland, have debated with zest.  At first, I took the critics’ part, viewing the Rock Hall as a corrupt, insular institution, largely because some of my favorite bands were not in it.  How could it be the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame without Chicago, or Emerson, Lake & Palmer, or The Guess Who, and so on.  All across the internet, it was the same story– every time someone learns that such-and-such an act isn’t in– ELO, Duran Duran, Whitney Houston– you name it- the response is as instinctual as it is indignant- “how can they not be in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame?  Rock and Roll Hall of SHAME is more like it!!!!!1!”  Every time.  Without fail.

All of this got me thinking.  It’s easy to cry out about a favorite artist being left out of the hall, but what if it isn’t that simple?  There is, after all, limited room in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.  By the nature of the beast, only a finite number of artists can get in, and those who are so honored earn this laurel at the expense of those left out.  So, let us assume, for the moment, that the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame has the correct ~number~ of artists already inducted.  For our purposes, that number is 192 artists inducted since 1986.  (Technically, it is 198 due to a number of backing groups for early rock pioneers who were inducted in 2012, but I consider these ret-cons, the Hall’s way of saying “Gee, we messed up– when we inducted Smokey Robinson, we should have included The Miracles.  When we inducted Buddy Holly, it should have been with The Crickets,” and so on.)

Anyway, the question remains- assuming that 192 is the “right” number of artists, ~which~ 192?  To help me answer that question, I sought help from a collection of Rock and Roll aficionados at the Future Rock Legends website.  I got six other knowledgable rock and roll fans to join me.  Each was tasked with making a personal list of the 192 artists who would be in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame if we had our druthers.  My only requirement was that they had to be eligible prior to the 2015 induction class– so, for example, Nirvana and Soundgarden (both first eligible in 2014, 25 years since their first record) were okay, but Green Day and Nine Inch Nails (first eligible in 2015) were not.  A great big Northumbrian Thank You goes out to my six colleagues for taking the time to compile their lists.

Altogether, the seven lists of 192 artists were a varied lot.  Some were very deferential to the Rock Hall’s choices, only switching out about a dozen or so artists.  Others of us, myself included, gleefully expunged the Rock Hall of its more dubious choices to put in our favorites, as well as longtime unaccountable snubs.  A few of us took pains to include a greater variety of rock’s sub-genres, which are historically overlooked.  Others of us took a slightly narrower view.  But here are my findings, put together from the seven of us who contributed:

First of all, there were 103 artists whom all seven of us agreed belonged.  A staggering 102 are already in the Rock Hall.  They are:

  1. ABBA
  2. AC/DC
  3. Aerosmith
  4. Al Green
  5. Alice Cooper (Band)
  6. Aretha Franklin
  7. B. B. King
  8. Beastie Boys
  9. Bill Haley (& the Comets)
  10. Billy Joel
  11. Black Sabbath
  12. Blondie
  13. Bo Diddley
  14. Bob Dylan
  15. Bob Marley (& the Wailers)
  16. Bruce Springsteen (& the E. Street Band)
  17. Buddy Holly (& the Crickets)
  18. Carl Perkins
  19. Chuck Berry
  20. Crosby, Stills and Nash (& Young)
  21. David Bowie
  22. Donna Summer (!)
  23. Dusty Springfield
  24. Earth, Wind & Fire
  25. Elton John
  26. Elvis Presley
  27. Eric Clapton
  28. Etta James
  29. Fats Domino
  30. Fleetwood Mac
  31. Gene Vincent
  32. Genesis
  33. Gladys Knight & the Pips
  34. Grateful Dead
  35. Guns N Roses
  36. Jackie Wilson
  37. Jackson Browne
  38. James Brown (& the Famous Flames)
  39. Jefferson Airplane (Starship)
  40. Jerry Lee Lewis
  41. Jimi Hendrix (Experience)
  42. John Lennon
  43. Johnny Cash
  44. Led Zeppelin
  45. Little Richard
  46. Lynyrd Skynyrd
  47. Martha & the Vandellas
  48. Marvin Gaye
  49. Metallica
  50. Michael Jackson
  51. Neil Young
  52. Nirvana
  53. Otis Redding
  54. Paul McCartney (& Wings)
  55. Paul Simon
  56. Peter Gabriel
  57. Pink Floyd
  58. Prince (& Revolution)
  59. Public Enemy
  60. Queen
  61. Ray Charles
  62. Red Hot Chili Peppers
  63. REM
  64. Rod Stewart
  65. Roy Orbison
  66. Run DMC
  67. Sam Cooke
  68. Santana
  69. Simon & Garfunkel
  70. Sly & the Family Stone
  71. Smokey Robinson (& the Miracles)
  72. Stevie Wonder
  73. Talking Heads
  74. The Allman Brothers Band
  75. The Animals
  76. The Beach Boys
  77. The Beatles
  78. The Bee Gees
  79. The Byrds
  80. The Clash
  81. The Doors
  82. The Drifters
  83. The Eagles
  84. The Everly Brothers
  85. The Four Seasons
  86. The Four Tops
  87. The Kinks
  88. The Platters
  89. The Police
  90. The Ramones
  91. The Righteous Brothers
  92. The Rolling Stones
  93. The Stooges (or Iggy & the Stooges)
  94. The Supremes
  95. The Temptations
  96. The Who
  97. Tom Petty (& the Heartbreakers)
  98. U2
  99. Van Halen
  100. Van Morrison
  101. Velvet Underground
  102. Wilson Pickett

And only one artist not currently inducted received votes from all seven of us.  Can you guess who it is?  Although I was hoping Chicago would be a unanimous choice, it was actually The Moody Blues.

Still- this is, at first glance, a credit to the Rock Hall’s selection.  Over half of its 192 artists were ~so~ uncontroversial that all seven voters, each with very different tastes, voted for them.  But let’s unpack that a bit more.

We still thought, collectively, that the Rock Hall made some less than stellar choices.  Here are the artists currently in the hall who received less than a majority of votes from us.  They are listed by number of votes received.

  1. The Faces/Small Faces (0)
  2. Laura Nyro (0)
  3. Percy Sledge (0)
  4. Bonnie Raitt (1)
  5. Gene Pitney (1)
  6. Linda Ronstadt (1)
  7. Little Anthony & the Imperials (1)
  8. Miles Davis (1)
  9. The Lovin’ Spoonful (1)
  10. Albert King (2)
  11. Bobby ‘Blue’ Bland (2)
  12. Bobby Womack (2)
  13. Buffalo Springfield (2)
  14. Cat Stevens (2)
  15. Clyde McPhatter (2)
  16. Darlene Love (2)
  17. Del Shannon
  18. Dr. John (2)
  19. Duane Eddy (2)
  20. Jimmy Reed (2)
  21. John Lee Hooker (2)
  22. Lavern Baker (2)
  23. Leonard Cohen (2)
  24. Little Willie John (2)
  25. Lloyd Price (2)
  26. Randy Newman (2)
  27. The Dells (2)
  28. The Flamingos (2)
  29. The Moonglows (2)
  30. Brenda Lee (3)
  31. Hank Ballard & the Midnighters (3)
  32. Isaac Hayes (3)
  33. Jeff Beck (3)
  34. Jimmy Cliff (3)
  35. Solomon Burke (3)
  36. The Ventures (3)
  37. Tom Waits (3)

So, it looks like Laura Nyro, The Faces, and Percy Sledge get some kind of special award for being such bad picks that not a single person in our project voted for them! 37 artists failed to get four or more votes, which would constitute a majority, but the problem is that the seven of us couldn’t agree on who should replace them!  Over 120 different artists who aren’t in the Hall of Fame as yet made our lists.  Those that ~did~ get a majority were:

  1. The Moody Blues (7)
  2. Chicago (6)
  3. Stevie Ray Vaughan (& Double Trouble) (6)
  4. The Spinners (6)
  5. Deep Purple (5)
  6. Devo (5)
  7. Electric Light Orchestra (5) (!)
  8. Iron Maiden (5)
  9. Judas Priest (5)
  10. Kraftwerk (5)
  11. T. Rex (5)
  12. The Cure (5)
  13. The Pixies (5)
  14. The Zombies (5)
  15. Yes (5)
  16. Carole King (4)
  17. Chic (4)
  18. Depeche Mode (4)
  19. Duran Duran (4)
  20. Janet Jackson (4)
  21. LL Cool J (4)
  22. NWA (4)
  23. Roxy Music (4)
  24. Sonic Youth (4)
  25. The Cars (4)
  26. The Eurythmics (4)
  27. The Replacements (4)
  28. The Smiths (4)
  29. War (4)

And lots of other artists got some votes, but not quite enough to constitute a majority.  I can’t list them all, but some more interesting choices included: The Monkees, Connie Francis, Afrika Bambaataa, Howlin’ Wolf, INXS, Motorhead, Peter Paul & Mary, Weird Al Yankovic, Soundgarden, The B-52s, Whitney Houston, and Tommy James & the Shondells.

I am not sure what conclusions to draw from my project, but I’ll make the attempt.

1) At first, I was afraid that the artists we thought ‘unworthy’ would be heavily persons of color, and that the artists we wanted in were whiter than a George Wallace rally.  To a certain extent, that happened- 20 artists of the 37 who didn’t get a majority were persons of color and only 6 of the 29 snubbed artists we want in the hall were.  That might be sketchy, but let me tentatively offer this explanation: rather than being a race thing, it might be a genre thing (although, to be sure, the two are connected.)  It seems we feel that there are some over-represented genres, namely early blues (and whether or not it should qualify as rock and roll), 50s vocal groups, and singer-songwriters, based on the already-inducted artists we did not support.   Similarly, there were, in our estimation, under-represented genres, particularly in the fields of glam, 80s electronic music, metal, proto-alternative, 70s pop, and especially progressive rock.  The fact that we generally supported the rap acts, and wanted more of them in (LL Cool J and NWA) was a pleasant surprise, and not at all what I expected.

2) Obviously, any social scientist would laugh scornfully at this project and my methodology.  Seven people is not even a remotely significant sample, and even one more participant would have changed the results substantively.  Moreover, our participants are, to the best of my knowledge, white males of various ages, making our group comically unrepresentative, even for a group of rock and roll historians.

3) I think that this project shows how difficult it is to operate a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.  There’s a strong core of no-brainer acts, but once you get past them, contentious choices that lack unanimous agreement seem unavoidable.  Madonna, The Yardbirds, Cream, ZZ Top and even Janis Joplin didn’t get all seven votes.  This makes me wonder if it is, in the end, impossible to create a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame that nobody could object to.  Ricky Nelson also failed to get unanimous support (I should know- I was the only one who didn’t vote for him), but I think he should get the final word: you can’t please everyone, so you’ve got to please yourself.  It was great fun to design my own rock hall, and to work on this project with my friends Tom H., Philip, JTRichey, Gassman, and Donnie at Future Rock Legends.  Thanks a lot, guys!

Needless to say, this is in the running for the geekiest project I have ever completed.  And, to put this in perspective, I am also the man who compiled a list of the 100 Greatest Senators in U.S. History.

nom com number crunching

About two weeks ago, without anybody noticing, the Nominating Committee met in New York City to determine who will be on the ballot of nominees for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s induction ceremony in 2015.  If the past is any indication, there will be 15-16 nominees, of whom 5-7 will get in, and it is likely that we will know who made it onto the ballot sometime around the middle of October.  For us Rock Hall followers, this is kind of like our Advent, a time of great anticipation and preparation.  It is also a time where no small amount of worrying takes place- will the Nom Com lay an egg again, putting up the J. Geils Band and the Paul Butterfield Blues Band, or some other critics’ pet over long-overdue artists?  What will the ballot- which hundreds of voters, including previous inductees will receive, look like?

We can’t know just now.  The Nom Com meeting has a level of secrecy that would not be out of place in a papal conclave.  Members are strongly encouraged to keep the proceedings under wraps.  In much the same way that cardinals take pride in their access to the highest church echelons and don’t always care for what the laity want, the Nom Com is also an insular bunch.  It includes many record producers, record executives, record critics, and of course, recording artists whose practical knowledge is no doubt great, but whose insider mentality and isolation from the grass roots and the average listeners’ experience leads to eclectic choices, repeat nominations for artists who don’t deserve it, and puzzling omissions.  Worse, a certain level of incest takes place here- there are plenty of artists who have recorded for record labels with execs on the Nom Com, and artists with personal friends or enemies on the Nom Com.  Everyone, in other words, knows each other- and two institutions, Atlantic Records and Rolling Stone magazine, have exerted undue influence.  At the same time, after the very bad classes from 2008-2012, when puzzlers like Laura Nyro, Tom Waits, The Faces, Bobby Womack, and Little Anthony and the Imperials got in- not bad acts, any of them, but figuring out how they got in before some other acts causes the brow to furrow.  Still, the Rock Hall has done some very good repair work in the last two years, by nominating and sometimes successfully inducting, long-time “I can’t believe they aren’t in yet” acts, most notably Rush and KISS, with their singularly dedicated fan bases.  We still don’t have Chicago, The Moody Blues, Janet Jackson, The Monkees, Iron Maiden, and other acts with long careers and motivated fan bases, but it’s a start.  Lots of people bash the Rock Hall relentless, but I try to give credit where credit is due, and single out improvement.  Last year’s class was great- I hate KISS, but their selection shows, at least, the Rock Hall is thinking in a more public-friendly direction, and the other picks last year- Linda Ronstadt, Nirvana, Hall and Oates, Peter Gabriel, and Cat Stevens, were all very solid.

In the meantime, a few Rock Hall hobbyists have compiled their own predictions for the ballot of inductees for the 2015 ceremony.  I’ve included, alongside myself, four slates of predictions from people who did not just list their selections, but took the time to explain their reasoning behind them.  Each of us assumed that there would be sixteen artists nominated, as was the case last year.

Rock and roll blogger Tom Lane picked:

  1. Green Day
  2. Stevie Ray Vaughan
  3. Yes
  4. Roxy Music
  5. Chic
  6. The Smiths
  7. Bill Withers
  8. The Monkees
  9. Nine Inch Nails
  10. Joan Jett & the Blackhearts
  11. Link Wray
  12. NWA
  13. Kraftwerk
  14. Chicago
  15. Deep Purple
  16. The Replacements

Rock Hall Monitors listed as their choices:

  1. NWA
  2. Yes
  3. Paul Butterfield Blues Band
  4. Link Wray
  5. Chubby Checker
  6. Nine Inch Nails
  7. Green Day
  8. the Meters
  9. Johnny Winter
  10. Joan Jett & the Blackhearts
  11. Deep Purple
  12. Lou Reed
  13. Sonic Youth
  14. Janet Jackson
  15. Average White Band
  16. Weird Al Yankovic

The very capable FRL poster Donnie reasoned out on the message boards that it might be:

  1. Chic
  2. LL Cool J
  3. Dick Dale
  4. Joan Jett & the Blackhearts
  5. Paul Revere & the Raiders
  6. Green Day
  7. Nine Inch Nails
  8. Mary Wells
  9. Depeche Mode
  10. Sonic Youth
  11. Stevie Ray Vaughan
  12. NWA
  13. Yes
  14. Deep Purple
  15. Lou Reed
  16. Janet Jackson

The Future Rock Legends site itself put forth:

  1. Kraftwerk
  2. Paul Butterfield Blues Band
  3. LL Cool J
  4. Chic
  5. Roxy Music
  6. MC5
  7. Sonic Youth
  8. Link Wray
  9. Green Day
  10. Nine Inch Nails
  11. Yes
  12. Deep Purple
  13. NWA
  14. Joan Jett & the Blackhearts
  15. Stevie Ray Vaughan
  16. Bill Withers

And, as a recap, my own predictions were:

  1. NWA
  2. Link Wray
  3. Janet Jackson
  4. Dire Straits
  5. Bill Withers
  6. Lou Reed
  7. Carole King
  8. Chicago
  9. De La Soul
  10. The Zombies
  11. Yes
  12. Deep Purple
  13. Green Day
  14. Nine Inch Nails
  15. Sonic Youth
  16. Joan Jett & the Blackhearts

Looking at these lists collectively, a couple things stand out.  Either the Rock Hall is getting more predictable, we are all Rock Hall polymaths, or some major groupthink is taking hold.  Six artists appear on all five lists: NWA, Yes, Deep Purple, Joan Jett, and two who are eligible for the first time this year, Green Day and Nine Inch Nails.  There are even more similarities one on one: I share nine predictions apiece with Tom Lane, FRL, and Donnie, and ten with Rock Hall Monitors.  Link Wray and Sonic Youth showed up on four of the five slates, while Janet Jackson, Lou Reed, Bill Withers, eight-time nominee Chic, and Stevie Ray Vaughan appeared on three of our five lists.

How did this happen?  In each of our cases, we looked at artists who have been nominated before, paid attention to artists who are admired by members of the Nominating Committee, followed patterns of what kinds of artists have been nominated before, and took a few blind shots in the dark (as in my prediction of Dire Straits, Donnie’s projection of Paul Revere & the Raiders, and the Rock Hall Monitors’ timely pick of Weird Al, who just enjoyed his first #1 album this year.)

Many of us made predictions based on the idea that the Rock Hall has an informal, and highly flexible, rule about nominating artists from particular genres each year.  I’ve listed some of the common genres or categories here, with some recent examples of artists who have been nominated:

  1. Singer-songwriter (Cat Stevens, Donovan, Laura Nyro, Tom Waits, Leonard Cohen)
  2. Rock and Roll Pioneer (Link Wray, The Chantels, Chuck Willis)
  3. Disco (Chic, Donna Summer, Rufus and Chaka Khan)
  4. Blues (Freddie King, Albert King, Paul Butterfield Blues Band)
  5. Popular Favorite/Longtime Snub (Neil Diamond, Bon Jovi, Kiss, Rush, Hall & Oates)
  6. Rap and Hip-Hop (NWA, Public Enemy, Erik B. and Rakim, LL Cool J)
  7. British Invasion (Procol Harum, The Zombies, The Faces, arguably Donovan, The Hollies)
  8. Early Alternative (Replacements, The Cure, Nirvana)
  9. 60s and 70s R&B (The Marvelettes, War, The Spinners)
  10. Prog (Genesis, Peter Gabriel, Yes, Rush, arguably Kraftwerk in a roundabout way)
  11. Classic Rock (strangely, the most neglected genre of all in recent years, but Heart and Deep Purple have recently been nominated)

You can see how this informed our thinking, right?  For instance, every one of us had a rock and roll pioneer on our list- in four of our cases, it was Link Wray, who was arguably the first to use distortion and power chords in rock music.  Donnie was the only one who didn’t include Wray, but he replaced him at the rock pioneer slot with another pioneer, Dick Dale, a pivotal figure in the development of surf music.  Every one of us had one or two (or, in my case, three) singer-songwriters, be it Lou Reed (admittedly, on the art-rock side of singer-songwriter), or Carole King or Bill Withers.  Looking this over, I made a big mistake in my own prediction by forgetting a blues-related choice.  I think it’s almost certain that at least one of the following will be nominated: Johnny Winter, Stevie Ray, or Paul Butterfield- and none of them made my list.

Many of us have also paid attention to the news to get a sense of momentum.  NWA is involved in a “Straight Outta Compton” film.  The untimely deaths of Johnny Winter and Lou Reed may result in a nomination, and last year’s Rock Hall induction ceremony included appearances by Joan Jett and Sonic Youth’s Kim Gordon also bear fruit.  It also helps to pay attention to name-dropping from known committee members.  Tom Morello, lately of Rage Against the Machine, is known to be a fan of the similarly anti-establishment MC5, while Questlove has singled out Withers, De La Soul, NWA, Sonic Youth, and others for praise.

Part of the problem, however, is the immense backlog that the Hall created by years of questionable choices and low numbers of artists inducted (many years, it is five or six, and I think seven is the ideal number, given how many great acts are on the outside looking in)  And the backlog grows with every passing year, as artists who first record in the 1990s become eligible.  In the next few years, A Tribe Called Quest, Pearl Jam, Alanis, Tupac, Beck, Radiohead, TLC, Rage Against the Machine, and many others, will qualify, only adding to the wait.  For this reason, some categories may be retired or de-emphasized.  We might very well be nearing the end of British Invasion acts (with the Zombies, for example, I was the only one who included an act that neatly fit in that category) and in a couple years, we might see the early rock pioneers category put away; there are now members of the Nom Com who are too young to remember the Sixties, after all.

All of this, ultimately, is a crapshoot.  The Nom Com may surprise us and bring back Bon Jovi after their 2011 nomination as their concession to popular opinion.  The Cure may beat out Sonic Youth as the proto-alternative act.  Perhaps some truly unexpected choices might get thrown at us.  Mary Wells has been batted around for years- is this the appointed hour for the Queen of Motown?  The Commodores?  Devo?  The 2015 ceremony is in Cleveland- maybe that bodes well for hometown heroes like The Raspberries.  Maybe they’ll take up Daryl Hall’s dare to induct more Philadelphia acts and go with vintage 70s soul acts like The Stylistics or Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes.  No one can say for the next couple of weeks.  Until then, we rock on, boats against the current.

260.  The Kinks- “A Well-Respected Man” (1965):  My friend Jared recently included The Kinks in his write-up of the 55 musical acts that have been the most influential and appreciated in his life.  I think that the Davies brothers and their cohort deserve their place.  That goes double for this track, a brilliant send-up of middle-class, clock-punching respectability– it is a cutting satire of a British society forever picking its poison between Mister Heath and Mister Wilson.

259.  The Animals- “We Gotta Get Out of This Place” (1965):  It’s already 1965, and Eric Burdon has, at that early hour, intuited that the decade can’t end well, and that dangerous and deadly dead-ends abound.  Nobody else was making such a gloomy and moody and discontented song in 1965, no one.

258.  The Rolling Stones- “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” (1969):  I love the evensong-like boys’ choir pastiche at the beginning of this track.  It seems like The Rolling Stones were forever mocking The Beatles six months after The Beatles’ latest project.  And so it is- mere months after Paul McCartney’s elegiac “Let It Be”, the Stones have a snotty, snide adventure through town with stately choral background vocals that send up Phil Spector’s treatment of the Get Back sessions.

257.  The Beatles- “I Am the Walrus” (1967):  This isn’t so much a psychedelic number, so much as a Lennon-sponsored foray into Lewis Carroll wordplay and pretzel logic.  Just as much credit needs to go to George Martin for effectively combining the song’s multiple movements, choral requirements, radio tunings, and other oddities.  It’s not the weirdest track The Beatles ever recorded (“You Know My Name (Look Up the Number”) earns that distinction) but it’s pretty darn close.

256.  Peter, Paul & Mary- “I Dig Rock and Roll Music” (1967):  Folk musicians have a well-earned reputation for lacking a sense of humor and being deadly earnest.  No so here.  As the golden age of folk music fell into decline, PP&M decided that if you can’t beat them, you can always send them up.  In a mere 150 seconds, they manage to spoof The Beatles, The Beach Boys, backwards tape loops, melotrons, and other mainstays of a hip culture to which they no longer belonged.

255.  Donovan- “Sunshine Superman” (1966):  I’m going to get pilloried for saying this, but I actually like Donovan and admire his work more than I like Dylan.  Donovan invites you along for the ride, Dylan demands that you acknowledge what a clever little genius he is.  “Sunshine Superman” is the kind of song Dylan could never make– satisfied with life but vividly descriptive, loaded with hooks, with subtle hints of Indian musicianship that you have to strain your ear to hear deep in the mix.

254.  The Guess Who- “No Time” (1969):  This is perhaps the best-crafted rock song by Canada’s most well-loved musicians.  Randy Bachman’s guitar part is proficient and expressive, stately without being busy, augmented by Burton Cummings’ convicted lead vocal.

253.  The Safaris- “Wipe Out” (1963):  The excitement of the surfing craze takes a maniacal turn here– two epic, rapid-fire drum solos unlike anything heard on top 40 radio before, and a crazed laugh that barely hangs on to its sanity at the beginning.  It is one of the very best instrumentals of the 1960s, even if its guitar work pales in comparison to the dean of surf rock, Dick Dale.  It’s a pity that the Safaris more or less shot their wad on this track- it would have been nice to see what else they could do.

252.  Gene Pitney- “(The Man Who Shot) Liberty Valence” (1962):  Pitney is one of the very poorest choices for induction that the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame ever made.  I might have been okay with his being inducted as a non-performer, because he was a very good songwriter.  Despite his shoddy overall resume, Pitney’s greatest triumph as a singer probably comes with this track, coming at the zenith of western television shows and comic books and that sort of thing in American society.

251.  Maurice Williams & the Zodiacs- “Stay” (1960):  One of the last hurrahs of the classic doo-wop era, its soaring high falsetto has made this track a mainstay in any film or television show set in the late 50s and early 60s.  As a fun point of trivia, it is the shortest record to reach #1 on the charts.  It’s only a minute and thirty-seven seconds- and the Zodiacs’ career wasn’t much longer.

250.  Dion- “Runaround Sue” (1961):  Dion was the only headliner to survive the disastrous Winter Dance Party tour in ’59 that claimed the lives of Buddy Holly, Richie Valens, and the Big Bopper.  This song is part of a deplorable double standard- Dion derides the same behavior in a girl in “Runaround Sue” that he praises in himself in “The Wanderer.”  Still, there’s no denying that Dion has arranged a very engaging track, which despite its gender inequality, is still sonically better than almost anything else on the radio in 1961.

249.  The Meters- “Cissy Strut” (1969):  Do you hear that sound?  It’s funk music being created, ostensibly by a pair of brothers in New Orleans.  The Meters were better as backing musicians than they were as artists in their own right, but this is still their best known track, as they attempted to find a new sound for inner-city black music that eschewed both Motown and the Stax sound associated with Booker T and the MGs in Tennessee.

248.  Canned Heat- “Going Up the Country” (1968):  To me, there’s no song that screams “Woodstock” more than this one.  The bass flute, the hippie and pastoral treatment given to the traditional blues structure.  There’s no better anthem for leaving the blight and the grime of the city and finding oneself in the wide open spaces of a certain upstate New York farm in 1969…

247.  The Crystals- “Then He Kissed Me” (1962):  This track rivals “Be My Baby” as Phil Spector’s very finest achievement.  The Crystals don’t always get their due because of their lineup that altered at Spector’s whim.  Here, though, Dolores Brooks’ vocals are the heroes as Spector’s all-encompassing, multi-tracked, multi-layered sound.  And better still, it’s a sweet, complete story of a couple meeting on a dance floor, falling in love, meeting each others’ parents, and finally, getting married.

246.  The Temptations- “The Way You Do the Things You Do” (1964):  I am not sure if this is distinguishable from the other songs of this era of The Temptations’ career- but it has so many of the great elements of a solid, competent Motown production.   Smokey Robinson’s lyrics are really just a three verses of pick-up lines, but its packaged and delivered so persuasively, that one hardly notices.

245.  Jimi Hendrix- “Foxy Lady” (1967):  When Hendrix hit the scene, he did not sound like anyone else on the planet– a virtuoso guitarist, not quite rock, certainly not rhythm and blues, not precisely psychedelic.  Hendrix wrote his own rules, and played fast and loose with conventional genres.  He employs this originality to what is, essentially, a seduction song with an urgent twist.

244.  Sly & the Family Stone- “Thank You (Fallentine Me Be Mice Elf)” (1969):  Speaking of the creation of funk, some major credit also needs to go to Sly Stone and his troupe– they name-check their earlier songs, and a thumping bass line and expertly timed horn augmentation make this song a tonic to the troubles America went through in the 1960s.  “Be yourself” is fundamentally a trope of the 1970s, forever enshrined as the Me Decade, and Sly anticipates this message in a way that makes it impossible to avoid getting up and dancing.

243.  The Happenings- “See You in September” (1966):  Oh, Happenings.  God love ya.  By 1966, the very peak of psychedelia, this kind of song was already done and over with– declarations of love and fealty over summer vacation suggested a morality that was out of fashion and already belonging to an earlier generation by the time free love abounded and any drug store would sell you contraception.  Listening to “See You in September” now, I’m shocked that the Four Seasons didn’t sue them.

242.  The Grateful Dead- “Dark Star” (1969): This track also goes out to Jared, the only appearance by one of his favorite bands, The Grateful Dead, in my top 400.  In a way, the Dead’s canon makes them a poor fit for this project- long, extended jams that live in the moment and thrive in the concert experience and don’t always work on record.  I will say this, though- the Dead’s music is always a journey- albeit a journey in a fog of hallucinogens- and here, the Dead invite the listener far beyond the stars.

241.  We Five- “You Were on My Mind” (1966):  Like the Safaris, this is another group that could have been very, very big, but ultimately did not go anywhere, despite talented vocal work and expressive musicianship.  Beverly Bivins’ low, deceptively sultry alto did something the Happenings could not– navigate the line between Kingston Trio-era “folk for Republicans” and the more ethereal and experimental sound of the mid-60s.

As I promised, I’m posting my own submission to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Challenge, picking the 192 eligible (as of 2014) artists I feel belong in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame: (with artists not in the actual Rock Hall yet having asterisks after their names)

  1. Afrika Bambaatta (*)
  2. ABBA
  3. AC/DC
  4. Aerosmith
  5. Al Green
  6. Alice Cooper
  7. America (*)
  8. Aretha Franklin
  9. B. B. King
  10. Beastie Boys
  11. Big Joe Turner
  12. Bill Haley
  13. Bill Withers (*)
  14. Billy Joel
  15. Black Sabbath
  16. Blondie
  17. Bo Diddley
  18. Bob Dylan
  19. Bob Marley & the Wailers
  20. Bob Seger
  21. Booker T. and the MGs
  22. Boston (*)
  23. Bruce Springsteen & the E. Street Band
  24. Buddy Guy
  25. Buddy Holly & the Crickets
  26. Carl Perkins
  27. Carly Simon (*)
  28. Carole King (*)
  29. Cat Stevens
  30. Cheap Trick (*)
  31. Chic (*)
  32. Chicago (*)
  33. Chuck Berry
  34. Cream
  35. Creedence Clearwater Revival
  36. Crosby, Stills & Nash
  37. Curtis Mayfield
  38. David Bowie
  39. De La Soul (*)
  40. Dead Kennedys (*)
  41. Deep Purple (*)
  42. Devo (*)
  43. Dionne Warwick (*)
  44. Dire Straits (*)
  45. Donna Summer
  46. Donovan
  47. Dr. John
  48. Duran Duran (*)
  49. Dusty Springfield
  50. Earth, Wind & Fire
  51. Eddie Cochran
  52. Elton John
  53. Elvis Costello & the Attractions
  54. Elvis Presley
  55. Eric Clapton
  56. Etta James
  57. Fats Domino
  58. Fleetwood Mac
  59. Frank Zappa
  60. Frankie Lymon & the Teenagers
  61. Gene Vincent
  62. Genesis
  63. Gladys Knight & the Pips
  64. Gram Parsons (*)
  65. Grandmaster Flash & the Furious Five
  66. Grateful Dead
  67. Guns N Roses
  68. Hall and Oates
  69. Heart
  70. Indigo Girls (*)
  71. Iron Maiden (*)
  72. Jackie Wilson
  73. Jackson Browne
  74. James Brown & the Famous Flames
  75. James Taylor
  76. Janet Jackson (*)
  77. Janis Joplin
  78. Jefferson Airplane
  79. Jerry Lee Lewis
  80. Jethro Tull (*)
  81. Joan Baez (*)
  82. John Cougar Mellencamp
  83. John Lennon
  84. Johnny Burnette & the Rock and Roll Trio (*)
  85. Johnny Cash
  86. Joni Mitchell
  87. Journey (*)
  88. Judas Priest (*)
  89. Kate Bush (*)
  90. King Crimson (*)
  91. Kraftwerk (*)
  92. Led Zeppelin
  93. Linda Ronstadt
  94. Little Richard
  95. Lynyrd Skynyrd
  96. Madonna
  97. Martha & the Vandellas
  98. Marvin Gaye
  99. Metallica
  100. Michael Jackson
  101. Muddy Waters
  102. Neil Diamond
  103. Neil Young
  104. Nirvana
  105. NWA (*)
  106. Otis Redding
  107. Parliament/Funkadelic
  108. Pat Benatar (*)
  109. Paul McCartney
  110. Paul Simon
  111. Peter Gabriel
  112. Peter, Paul & Mary (*)
  113. Pink Floyd
  114. Prince
  115. Public Enemy
  116. Queen
  117. Ray Charles
  118. Red Hot Chili Peppers
  119. REM
  120. Rod Stewart
  121. Roxy Music (*)
  122. Roy Orbison
  123. Run DMC
  124. Ruth Brown
  125. Sam & Dave
  126. Sam Cooke
  127. Santana
  128. Simon & Garfunkel
  129. Sly & the Family Stone
  130. Smokey Robinson & the Miracles
  131. Sonic Youth (*)
  132. Spencer Davis Group (*)
  133. Steely Dan
  134. Steve Miller Band (*)
  135. Stevie Ray Vaughn & Double Trouble (*)
  136. Stevie Wonder
  137. T. Rex (*)
  138. Talking Heads
  139. Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers
  140. The Allman Brothers
  141. The Animals
  142. The B-52s (*)
  143. The Band
  144. The Beach Boys
  145. The Beatles
  146. The Bee Gees
  147. The Byrds
  148. The Clash
  149. The Coasters
  150. The Cure (*)
  151. The Doobie Brothers (*)
  152. The Doors
  153. The Drifters
  154. The Eagles
  155. The Everly Brothers
  156. The Eurythmics (*)
  157. The Four Seasons
  158. The Four Tops
  159. The Impressions
  160. The Isley Brothers
  161. The Jimi Hendrix Experience
  162. The Kinks
  163. The Moody Blues (*)
  164. The O’Jays
  165. The Pixies (*)
  166. The Platters
  167. The Police
  168. The Pretenders
  169. The Ramones
  170. The Rascals
  171. The Righteous Brothers
  172. The Rolling Stones
  173. The Shirelles
  174. The Smiths (*)
  175. The Spinners (*)
  176. The Stooges
  177. The Stylistics (*)
  178. The Supremes
  179. The Temptations
  180. The Who
  181. The Yardbirds
  182. The Zombies (*)
  183. Tina Turner
  184. U2
  185. Van Halen
  186. Van Morrison
  187. Velvet Underground
  188. War (*)
  189. Weird Al Yankovic (*)
  190. Wilson Pickett
  191. Yes (*)
  192. ZZ Top


One thing that stands out is how difficult this was, how many heartbreaking choices there were.  If you think I’m proud that I left out Grand Funk Railroad, The Guess Who, Joan Jett & the Blackhearts, Electric Light Orchestra, The Hollies, Leslie Gore, Richie Valens, Jimmy Buffett, Sting, Three Dog Night, and Whitney Houston, you are very much mistaken.  I am pleased, though, that I limited myself to just two unashamedly guilty pleasures: America and Weird Al Yankovic.

It also means that I had to kick out just shy of 50 artists who were inducted into the Rock Hall in real life.  Artists I kicked out to make room for the asterisks were:

  1. Albert King
  2. Bobby ‘Blue’ Bland
  3. Bobby Darrin
  4. Bobby Womack
  5. Bonnie Raitt
  6. Brenda Lee
  7. Buffalo Springfield
  8. Clyde McPhatter
  9. Dave Clark Five
  10. Dion
  11. Duane Eddy
  12. Gene Pitney
  13. George Harrison
  14. Hank Ballard & the Midnighters
  15. Isaac Hayes
  16. Jeff Beck
  17. Jimmy Cliff
  18. Jimmy Reed
  19. John Lee Hooker
  20. KISS
  21. Laura Nyro
  22. Lavern Baker
  23. Leonard Cohen
  24. Little Anthony & the Imperials
  25. Little Willie John
  26. Lloyd Price
  27. Miles Davis (talented as all hell, but not associated with rock even tangentially)
  28. Patti Smith
  29. Percy Sledge
  30. Randy Newman
  31. Richie Valens
  32. Rick Nelson
  33. Rush
  34. Sex Pistols (no talent, weren’t together very long, and asked, in a rude and puerile letter, to not be inducted.  I’m only too happy to grant them their wish.)
  35. Solomon Burke
  36. Staple Singers
  37. The Dells
  38. The Faces/Small Faces
  39. The Flamingoes
  40. The Hollies
  41. The Jackson Five
  42. The Lovin’ Spoonful
  43. The Mamas and the Papas
  44. The Moonglows
  45. The Ronettes
  46. The Ventures
  47. Tom Waits
  48. Traffic

As well as the Ike half of Ike & Tina Turner.

Do you agree with my choices?  Let me know in the comments below.

I’m going to start by making one small change to my predictions for the Rock Hall’s class of 2015: swapping out the Eurythmics in favor of Janet Jackson.  The social networking efforts of @InductJanet has done a lot of things right.  They’ve taken a persuasive, encouraging tone rather than the petty, indignant tones other fans of snubbed artists have fallen into (mostly metal heads and rockists), eliciting positive responses from everyone from Questlove to Missy Elliot.  And Janet deserves it.


As a regular at the Future Rock Legends message board, which handles speculation on the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, I decided to conduct a challenge to my colleagues there.  So often, we gripe about the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s choices: how could Artist A possibly be snubbed and ignored, while Artist B got in?  This got me thinking– given the limited number of inductions in a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, who would be in it, if it were up to us, individually?  Could any of us have done better?

Here’s the Challenge, one I extend to any of my blogs readers:

If you care to, make me a list of the 192 eligible artists you think belong in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Do you think Duran Duran should be in, but not Laura Nyro? That the Pixies have a place, but putting in Gene Pitney was a mistake? Here’s your opportunity to put your money where your mouth is, and re-make the Hall— your way.

-Why 192? That is, by my count, the number of artists inducted (believing as I do that the 2012 slate of backing groups like the Miracles and the Comets, etc. were ret-cons– that is, the Hall saying “it should have been James Brown and the Famous Flames, not just James Brown”.)

If you accept, send me your list at popecharming@hotmail.com.

1. Please send your list in alphabetical order; this will ensure that you haven’t accidentally listed someone twice.

2. Please include artists who were eligible up to the 2014 induction ceremony, meaning that they released their first record at least 25 years ago. For example, Nirvana (whose first release was in 1989 and was first eligible in 2014) is okay, but Green Day (first release in 1990, first eligible in 2015) is not.  If you have any doubts as to their eligibility, look it up over at Future Rock Legends’ artists site.

3. Feel free to include or leave out backing groups as you please. For example, you might think Bob Seger and the Silver Bullet Band is appropriate, but you might also decide on Dion without the Belmonts.

4. I realize that this project, if you wish to participate, takes time– let’s set a deadline for September 25th.

5. Remember, this is just for artist inductions- not early influences, not producers, not sidemen.

Almost by definition, some of your choices will already be in the Hall, while others are not.  You might want to use the Future Rock Legends rock rankings, its list of previously considered artists, the other resources on that site, and most importantly, your own musical and historical judgment in making your choices.  If you’d like to see which artists are in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in real life, the easiest way is actually just taking this Sporcle quiz, give up as soon as you can, and look at the answers.

If you have the time and interest, I hope you will participate. It’s the best challenge you can accept this summer that doesn’t involve pouring a bucket of ice on your head.

I’ll post my own list of 192 very soon here, believing as I do in transparency and accountability.

Any interest in this, Rick M?  Jared?  Rock Hall expert Tom Lane?


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