While I’m jumping between topics, its time to go to one of my favorites for debate, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Every year, a slate of 15-16 nominees is composed by a team of perhaps 20 or 25 rock experts, ranging from critics to journalists to record industry executives to musicians. It’s a varied lot making these calls, ranging from conformo-smashers like Rage Against the Machine’s Tom Morello to critic emeritus Dave Marsh, to Bill Adler to Steve Van Zandt of the E-Street Band, and a man I have a great deal of respect for, Questlove of The Roots. From there, the ballot will be sent to an even wider swath of ‘music experts’, including all previous inductees of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. The committee won’t meet until August or September, their decisions won’t be made public until October, and the 5-7 (probably six) inductees won’t be named until the holiday season draws to a close.
Nevertheless, its fun to speculate what the ballot will look like, and to help us, there’s a few trends to be noted. Questlove and Morello, two of the newest members, have succeeded in giving the Rock Hall a more populist feel. Questlove openly wore a Hall & Oates t-shirt to the meeting last year, and lo and behold, they got on the ballot and made it into the hall, after over 20 years of being eligible. This means that the days of the committee relentlessly nominating “critics’ pets” like Laura Nyro and Solomon Burke until they got in may be drawing to a close. In addition to Hall & Oates, a number of artists with a broad popular following or large fan base, but a toxic reputation among critics, have gotten in: KISS, Rush, and even Cat Stevens fall into this category. Nominations in the last two years of Deep Purple, Yes, Kraftwerk, and others are also good signs that the committee is thinking in the right direction.
The other thing to keep in mind is that the committee’s definition of “rock and roll” is probably more ecumenical than yours. If “rock and roll” to you means a bunch of white guys writing their own songs in the 1970s with crunching guitars and screeching solos, you are going to be disappointed. You won’t see a ballot with 16 names like Boston, the Steve Miller Band, Electric Light Orchestra, Grand Funk Railroad, Styx, Journey, and so on. So expect to see lots of genres represented: progressive rock, singer-songwriter, glam, soul, hip-hop, disco, alternative, indie, and rap artists are all fair game, its not just “classic rock.”
To recap, the 2014 ballot released in Oct. 2013 was unbelievably strong and encouraging. Its sixteen nominees were (with the inductees in bold): Cat Stevens, Chic, Deep Purple, Hall & Oates, KISS, Linda Ronstadt, Link Wray, L L Cool J, The Meters, Nirvana, NWA, Paul Butterfield Blues Band, Peter Gabriel, The Replacements, Yes, and The Zombies. Some of these guys will certainly get another nomination, and some are already multiple nominees. Of those who didn’t get in last year, Deep Purple and NWA have been nominated twice, Cool J, Paul Butterfield and the Meters have been nominated thrice, and Chic beats all comers with 8 nominations, none of them successful so far.
Using history as our guide, I predict, at this early hour, these 16 nominees:
1. NWA: The originators of gangsta rap have a ‘Straight Outta Compton’ movie coming up, and remain in the public eye. Questlove and others have all but declared their intent to get them in this coming year. In the same way that induction for Ronstadt was cleared by no other female artists on the ballot last year, don’t expect the committee to water down their chances by nominating LL Cool J, Eric B. & Rakim, or any other artists primarily known for rap. (I have, however, included a pioneering hip-hop artist at #10.)
2. Lou Reed: He died just a hair too late for consideration in the 2014 class. I hate Velvet Underground and their alumni, but most of the people who make these decisions fawn over them. Lou will be on the ballot again, after a few years’ absence.
3. Deep Purple: I don’t like them that much either, but there’s no denying how important they were to the unfolding of heavy metal. They should have gotten in last year, and if they get in, other heavy metal acts like Alice in Chains and Judas Priest will follow.
4. Yes: I have a completely unprovable theory that Yes got voted in last year, realized they had a schedule conflict with the ceremony because of the progressive rock cruise they committed to, and it was quietly agreed to push their induction back a year. Either way, now that they’ve been on the ballot, they’ll be back. And hopefully, a Yes induction will pave the way for other progressive rockers like Jethro Tull, The Moody Blues, etc.
5. Green Day: The most popular pop-punk band ever? Yes, please! They seem poised to follow Nirvana as a rare first-year-eligible induction.
6. Nine Inch Nails: Believe it or not, NIN is becoming eligible for the first time, as 25 years have passed since Trent Reznor’s first release. Less likely to get in, but almost as likely to get a nomination.
7. Carole King: Every year for the last 4 or 5 years, a classic singer-songwriter has gotten in: Cat, Randy Newman, Laura Nyro, Tom Waits. Isn’t she the next one in the singer-songwriter pecking order? Her induction as a non-performer/songwriter several years ago doesn’t do justice to Tapestry, maybe one of the ten most culturally significant albums of the 70s, and her long, successful touring history.
8. Joan Jett: Her performance at last year’s ceremony subbing for Cobain on “Smells Like Teen Spirit” reminded us of how good she really was, and her nomination will appease both those clamoring for more straight-up rock, and those who were concerned by the presence of only one woman on the ballot last year (not counting some Chic vocalists).
9. Sonic Youth: See #8; their front woman also sang with “Hervana” at the induction ceremony last year, boosting their already considerable chances to get in as one of the more recent acts on the ballot. They will replace The Replacements in the “alternative rock pioneers” slot.
10. De La Soul: Questlove and others have made it clear that they are pulling for them, and their pioneering hip-hop makes a case for their historicity, even though this outfit is entirely unrecognized in Middle America.
11. The Zombies: A lot of people were rooting for The Zombies last year, including myself. Rock critics love them, the public recognizes a few of their songs (most notably “Time of the Season”), and they would be a good way to close the book on British Invasion bands. This will be their year, took a long time to come.
12. Dire Straits: No proof, no evidence, just a hunch. They’re too good of a band to have not gotten any consideration, and there’s no plausible explanation on why they haven’t gotten nominated yet that sticks.
13. The Eurythmics: We’re going to be getting more 80s nominees from here on in, and its hard to think of a more representative group from this decade. Their electronica and performance-art music videos were a crucial part of what made the early-MTV era so memorable.
14. Link Wray: Lots of rock historians were edified by Wray’s appearance on the ballot last year. If you haven’t heard his only real hit, “Rumble”, go play it for a minute; he invented both guitar distortion and power-chords as viable concepts within a song, influencing plenty of future axemen, including Pete Townshend. With the ceremony being held in Cleveland in 2015, and expectations thus a bit lower than this year’s in Brooklyn, an influential nominee with little name recognition might have a better chance this time around.
15. Bill Withers: Another singer-songwriter, but his soulful approach will hopefully keep votes from being drawn away from Carole King. Withers’ mid-70s hits, from “Lean on Me” to “Ain’t No Sunshine” reverberate to this day.
16. Chicago: The hall, as others have pointed out, has gotten more populist lately, and lots of commercially successful bands that were snubbed are finally getting recognized. If Hall & Oates can get in, why not Chicago? They had more hits than any rock band not in the Hall of Fame, and between Kath’s guitar, Seraphine’s drums, Cetera’s vocals, and Pankow’s horn arrangements, there’s no denying they pass the “excellence” test. Robert Lamm reported last year that sources told him they were the last cut from the ballot for the class of 2014.
Another thing to consider: the Rock Hall wants to avoid another KISS fiasco. Chicago dialed down their criticism of the rock hall in recent years, and both the band and Peter Cetera have intimated that a rock hall performance is the only way on earth that a reunion would happen. It could draw some good press for all parties concerned if it happens.