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Last week, I gave a cursory overview of our slate of nominees for next year’s Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction. There was a lot of ground to cover, especially with nineteen nominees, the most since the Rock Hall’s infancy, and a lot of my thoughts were simple reactions to some startling choices made by the Nom Com. This time around, I hope to examine the nominees in some greater depth. Before we dive in, lots of other Rock Hall monitors have written great takes worth a look, including Philip, Michelle, Donnie, Eric, and Tom.

For me, I’m listing the 19 nominees alphabetically, with three rankings: 1) their Worthiness of being inducted into the Rock Hall on the grounds of influence, excellence, and role in rock’s unfolding history, 2) their Likelihood of actually being inducted, and 3) how they measure in the purely subjective measure of Preference, or how much I like them.

Bad Brains (Worthiness: 16, Likelihood: 18, Preference: 19): For many, this was the biggest surprise on the ballot, given the Hall’s reticence toward punk. In some ways, nominating this hardcore D.C. area band, whose influence in straight-edge culture is very palpable, almost seems like a warning shot to naysayers demanding greater populism and the HBO executives demanding marketable acts. The low marks in all three categories might mistakenly give the impression that I don’t like Bad Brains. Honestly? If and when I revisit my top 100 Rock Hall prospects, it’s more likely than not that Bad Brains will have earned a berth. It’s a solid nomination with ties to a number of Cleveland-neglected genres, and it sends a message.

The Cars (Worthiness: 8, Likelihood: 7, Preference: 3): The Cars are back after a surprise nomination last year. While their fellow classic rockers on last year’s ballot beat them to the punch, The Cars look like they are in pretty good shape. They straddle the line between commercial success and critical acclaim as well as anybody on this list, and what’s more, my appreciation for them has only grown in the last year. At the time of this writing, they are seated comfortably at #3 on the fan ballot. While that counts for very little, it does signal a clamoring for The Cars among the wider public. They are among my top 20 biggest snubs, and I’d love to see them get in. Unfortunately, with classic rock having been overdone last time, a couple populist favorites on the list, and a couple no-brainer first-time nominees, The Cars may find themselves stuck in neutral this year.

Chaka Khan (Worthiness: 15, Likelihood: 13, Preference: 13): Last year, Khan earned a solo nomination, and once again, she’s up against two competitors with whom she does not compare favorably: Chic from her Rufus days and Janet Jackson from her 80s solo career. When you add her troubles with drug addiction that sent her to rehab this spring, the prospects aren’t looking good for Chaka Khan. She’s a singer of singular talent, but if it took Donna Summer five nominations and an untimely death, there’s little chance that Chaka Khan is going to make it on her third try.

Chic (Worthiness: 6, Likelihood: 11, Preference: 9): At this point, we’ve run out of metaphors and cliches to describe Chic’s predicament- seriously, at this point, Susan Lucci should start demanding royalties every time a music writer weighs in on them. If Chic couldn’t get in during the Class of 2014 with Niles Rodgers-produced “Get Lucky” riding high in the charts, there’s very little this year that makes their “plausible but unlikely” chances any better. Hope springs eternal, and it’s unlikely that the Nom Com would keep nominating if they kept tanking in votes every year. Yet there’s no reason to think this year’s outcome will be different from any other.

Depeche Mode (Worthiness: 11, Likelihood: 15, Preference: 15): It was a pleasant surprise to see Depeche Mode show up, given the Nom Com’s reluctance to give the late 80s/early 90s B-list their due, while chipping away at the 1960s and 1970s C-list. It’s unfortunate that they are up against Kraftwerk; Depeche Mode took many of their ideas and made them palatable to the general public. When facing one another, it becomes a tricky choice between influence and success. This is a worthy selection, and an interesting substitute for Nine Inch Nails this year, but their prospects are still unlikely.

Electric Light Orchestra (Worthiness: 12, Likelihood: 3, Preference: 5): Reflective of the Rock Hall’s populist turn these last few years, ELO fits in with the current zeitgeist. Vintage 1970s bands have done very well the last few years, between KISS, Chicago, Hall & Oates, Cheap Trick, Steve Miller (Band) and others. ELO enjoys the added bonus of having frontman Jeff Lynne work with many inductees over the years, so if Tom Petty, Duane Eddy, Paul & Ringo, and any number of other artists still fill out their ballots, there’s a good chance that they can find room for the Electric Light Orchestra. Rabid fans of their classical-infused rock music have got to be pleased about their chances- in some ways, they are this year’s Chicago.

J. Geils Band (Worthiness: 18, Likelihood: 12, Preference: 14): Kind of like Los Lobos last year, J. Geils Band is one of those outfits that has my respect, but isn’t quite Rock Hall-worthy. Their live stuff is pretty fun, and their proficiency in the blues during the 1970s is quite impressive, if at odds with “Freeze Frame” and “Centerfold.” Clearly, some people on the Nom Com love them, and they have returned for their fourth nomination. While they are among the least deserving, in my opinion, I’m hesitant to write off their chances. Blues acts have had lots of luck in the last five years, with Albert King, Stevie Ray, and Paul Butterfield Blues Band all getting in. Even Steve Miller arguably got a boost from being the closest thing to a blues artist on last year’s ballot. While I don’t think J. Geils Band will have similar luck, especially if the Hall keeps their promise of five nominees, I wouldn’t count them out.

Jane’s Addiction (Worthiness: 13, Likelihood: 14, Preference: 10): And here we have our 1980s/1990s early alternative slot given to these Lollapalooza legends who ranked an even #50 on my list of Rock Hall prospects. I’d love to see more bands like this get in, but it’s a little ridiculous that they might outpace The Smiths, The Cure, The Replacements, and Sonic Youth in doing so. Nevertheless, it would be a real public relations coup to get that crowd to harbor a less cynical attitude toward the Hall. But unless Cleveland bestowed voting rights to a critical mass of Gen X’ers, expect Jane’s Addiction to have a lengthy wait.

Janet Jackson (Worthiness: 3, Likelihood: 6, Preference: 8): It was downright shocking that Janet didn’t get in last year. Even with a stacked ballot of other long-neglected acts, I expected her to sail right through. With a bit of classic rock fatigue from last year, though, Janet’s chances are still very good- although I’m not taking anything for granted. If she does get in, expect a monumental comeback performance after what I hope will be the delivery of a healthy baby. A Janet induction would be a triumph, and then maybe we can move toward Whitney Houston, Mary J. Blige, and a pet project of mine, TLC.

Joan Baez (Worthiness: 10, Likelihood: 5, Preference: 2): In hindsight, a Baez induction should have been obvious. With an entire exhibit on rock and politics on display in Cleveland during the RNC, someone like Joan was hiding in plain sight. Although she is important on her own merits, the recent attention given to Bob Dylan with his Nobel Laureate can’t hurt. Moreover, the Hall loves singer-songwriters and they usually cruise right in: Bill Withers, Cat Stevens, Donovan, and I suppose Steve Miller all had fairly painless induction processes. And none of those can match the historicity of Baez, someone who actually opened for Martin Luther King at the March on Washington. (I hasten to add, though, that Baez didn’t always write her own songs. She came from an age where folk singers appropriated, re-arranged, and re-wrote existing songs, or “messing with tradition” as Dan Berggren puts it.) I’m sure of only two things for Rock Hall 2017: Pearl Jam is getting in, and there will be at least one female performer after last year’s sausage-fest fiasco. Whether that’s Janet or Joan- hopefully both- remains to be seen.

Joe Tex (Worthiness: 17, Likelihood: 17, Preference: 16): Now here was a surprise. Most Rock Hall watchers thought Joe Tex’s days on the ballot were over, and that he had been passed by in favor of more marquee names like Withers, The Spinners, or even the yet-to-be nominated Commodores. Well, someone on the committee thought otherwise, and this year’s 60s’ soul and 70’s funk slot goes to Tex for nomination #5. Tom Lane likes him, but I don’t quite share the love- while a good artist, Tex just didn’t excel at any one thing, always seeming to be outpaced by someone like James Brown or the Isley Brothers. He’s one of the least likely to get in- if The Spinners couldn’t do it on a weaker ballot, Tex doesn’t have a prayer. But for those who hope the Rock Hall will push the casual music listener against his instincts and force him to learn his history, the Joe Tex nomination is encouraging.

Journey (Worthiness: 7, Likelihood: 4, Preference: 6): And right on schedule, here’s our uber-populist pick this year. Right now, Journey is running away with the fan poll, with a potent combination of classic rock fans and a demographic I like to call “50-year-old women named Tammy.” And I don’t begrudge them that success; they have a boatload of Top 20 hits, the most downloaded song of all time in “Don’t Stop Believing,” and for ordinary Americans, Journey is a key part of their milieu. If you wonder how they will pick off a key section of actual Rock Hall voters, remember: three years ago, we weren’t aware of a single person who disclosed their ballot that was voting for KISS, a band with similar, even greater, critical hatred. KISS still got in, and so will Journey unless I miss my guess.

Kraftwerk (Worthiness: 2, Likelihood: 16, Preference: 7): It’s great to see Kraftwerk back. They are the highest-ranked artist from my 100 Rock Hall Prospects (and were only edged in worthiness by newcomer Pearl Jam.) Unfortunately, a German band that made 10-minute long electronic tracks is a tall order in any year, let alone a 19-act ballot this strong. I love you, Kraftwerk, but with another electronic act in Depeche Mode, and another nominally cerebral act in Yes, you don’t have a prayer.

MC5 (Worthiness: 14, Likelihood: 19, Preference: 17): Speaking of politics and rock, MC5 is back, probably at Tom Morello’s behest. While Baez preached a nonviolent message palatable to 60s peacefests, MC5 was a radical New Left group that wanted an honest to god revolution. Despite their lack of chart success, they were important to the development of punk in articulating their dissent with mainstream society. Their surviving members are still somewhat high-profile, if eccentric, but they won’t be getting that call to play in Cleveland. Again, history is instructive: if it took The Stooges, an act on Rolling Stone‘s list of 100 immortals, 8 tries to get in, MC5 isn’t going to make it on their second nomination.

Pearl Jam (Worthiness: 1, Likelihood: 1, Preference: 11): For years, 2017 has been blocked out as “the year Pearl Jam gets in.” Well, it’s finally here, and like everyone expected, they got nominated. They were one of the most important acts from the 1990s, almost as innovative as Nirvana but with longevity, and virtually every male rock singer for the rest of that decade tried to sound like Eddie Vedder. Their only danger is that too many people will think they are a sure thing, and spread their votes elsewhere.

Steppenwolf (Worthiness: 19, Likelihood: 10, Preference: 12): It is a credit to the Nom Com that this is their only truly indefensible pick this year. This isn’t going to be popular with some of my readers, but– seriously, Steppenwolf? Somewhere in Manitoba, Randy Bachman is sullen and disgusted, and is cracking open yet another Labatt Blue. They had two big hits that are well remembered, and while hardcore record collectors insist on “The Pusher” and other later-day tracks as genius, I don’t buy it. They failed to produce a single good album, and yet as classic rockers from the right era, they have as good a chance as anyone. Every year, an act I either detest or think is wholly undeserving gets in (NWA, KISS, Lou Reed, Rush), and I’m afraid that this year, it may be Steppenwolf.

Tupac Shakur (Worthiness: 4, Likelihood: 2, Preference: 18): Tupac is loved by all the right people. Rolling Stone, which is probably the single biggest institutional influence on the voting committee, helped make 2Pac a modern-day legend, the object of reverence and devotion like an inner-city semiotic cross between Bob Marley and Che Guevara. He’s every bit as relevant and revolutionary as NWA, but somehow never caught the stigma of violence and misogyny that followed them to ignominy (although his own personal life was also problematic in those regards.) Anyway, I’m calling it- Tupac is getting in, and as the most important eligible rapper, I have no objections, despite my mixed feelings toward the genre.

Yes (Worthiness: 5, Likelihood: 8, Preference: 4): Poor Yes- prog rockers have been clamoring for their induction for years, and even on some strong ballots, it seemed like Yes had a good shot. Last year, they had to watch on HBO as fellow classic rockers Cheap Trick, Chicago, Deep Purple, and Steve Miller took to the podium in the Barclays Center. If Yes didn’t have what it took last year, it’s hard to see a different outcome this time, although one could have said the same thing about Deep Purple last year. Oh well. Should Yes get inducted, proggers can then commence complaining about King Crimson and ELP.

The Zombies (Worthiness: 9, Likelihood: 9, Preference: 1): I. Love. The Zombies. Rod Argent is probably my favorite rock keyboard player. Odessey and Oracle is in my top five favorite albums- all time. I am completely and totally in the tank for them. And yet, I’m still worried about their chances- I thought they would pull through when they were first nominated for the Class of 2014, but were somehow eclipsed by the likes of KISS and Hall & Oates. Well, one meaningless trend will help them this year- my favorite act on the ballot has made it in the last three years (Linda Ronstadt, Bill Withers, and Chicago, in case you were wondering). More seriously, I can see them pulling together an upset with a winning coalition. Surviving Dave Clark Fivers and other British Invasion vets will probably have their backs, and as one of the most soulful acts in that genre, it’s hard to see the odd Miracle or Vandella denying them a vote. If you add their sterling reputation in Indie circles, it’s not that hard to see The Zombies pull this off. I sure hope they do.

And there we stand. After last year, I think the Rock Hall will do anything in its power to get a more diverse class than last time- even if it involves some Class of 2007-style “creative arithmetic.” Expect at least one woman- probably Janet Jackson or Joan Baez- possibly both. If we go by likelihood, that means a class of Pearl Jam, Tupac, ELO, Journey, and Joan Baez if they stick with five, adding Janet Jackson if they go for six (they should), and The Cars if we get a supersized class of seven.

Who will I vote for in the Rock Hall’s fan ballot? Well, as I said before, Pearl Jam is massively influential and successful; although I don’t especially care for them, I have to vote for them. Because of her very real merits and my abiding respect for #InductJanet, Janet Jackson gets my vote too. They won’t get in, but as my 2nd most worthy Rock Hall prospect, Kraftwerk deserves it. We’re still seeing their massive influence play out today. I love The Zombies so much that I’ll overlook their somewhat brief heyday. And my inner McGovernite and my love of good folk music makes me pick Joan Baez to round out the list. But good lord! It’s kind of crazy that the Rock Hall cooked up a ballot so strong that I don’t have room for Yes, The Cars, Journey, ELO, 2Pac, or luckless Chic.

So- what do you think? Remember, these rankings are just one guy’s (hopefully informed) opinion. I’d love to hear who you think deserves induction in the comments below.

On Tuesday morning (well, Tuesday night for me, since I’m in Singapore) the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame unveiled its list of nominees for the Class of 2017. Although Troy Smith of the Cleveland Plain Dealer had telegraphed that the slate was very good and quite diverse, music fans across the world were taken by surprise to find that 19 nominees were put forth. This is more than any year since the Rock Hall’s foundational years, when the 1960s A-listers weren’t all in yet.

In case you haven’t heard, the nominees this year included: Bad Brains, Chic, Pearl Jam, Tupac Shakur, The Zombies, Janet Jackson, Yes, The Cars, Chaka Khan, Joan Baez, Joe Tex, Depeche Mode, Kraftwerk, Steppenwolf, MC5, J. Geils Band, Journey, Electric Light Orchestra, and Jane’s Addiction.

In the weeks ahead, I’ll run down the nominees one by one, offering my thoughts on who is worthy and who is not; who will get in and who probably won’t. But for now, let me just sketch out some of my first impressions on this fascinating list.

  • As others have already noted, there’s a little something for everybody here. Lots of different sub-genres from folk to punk to R&B made it, alongside some classic rock favorites.
  • I did notice one particular trend. With the exception of perennial Chic, every other artist who was on the last two ballots didn’t make it on to this one. In this case, that left Nine Inch Nails, The Smiths, and The Spinners in the lurch.
  • Congratulations, #InductJanet. You’ve run a great, classy, persuasive campaign that is still bearing fruit. I was skeptical that Jackson would be nominated, given her pregnancy and the possibility she might still be recovering when it’s time to perform. I’m delighted that the Rock Hall did the right thing and nominated her regardless.
  • The Rock Hall showed uncommon discipline this year; none of the names leaked or got out early, and they have replaced their robot-infested poll from last year with a new system requiring sign-in and limiting votes to one per day. It’s still possible, I suppose to get around it, and many aren’t happy that the vote totals are now secret, but I’m less bothered by it. It’s a step in the right direction.
  • In terms of our predictions, this made fools out of a great many of us. Despite 19 selections, I only got six right (Pearl Jam, Tupac, The Cars, Kraftwerk, Chic, and The Zombies). All of these were fairly obvious except for The Zombies, who I think I was the only Monitor to pick.
  • Also, a lot of artists we thought would make the ballot didn’t. Aside from NIN, The Smiths, and The Spinners, other frequently predicted artists who didn’t make the cut included: The Cure, The Monkees, Moody Blues, and Judas Priest.
  • Tom Lane correctly got nine (!!) predictions, while the rest of us tended to bottom out at six (Charles Crossley was another exception; he got eight correct.) Tom was especially prescient in naming Joan Baez.
  • This list is slightly (but only slightly) less America-centric than other years. There’s four British acts (ELO, Yes, The Zombies, and Depeche Mode), one Canadian act (Steppenwolf…Guess Who must be pissed right now), and out Teutonic overlords in Kraftwerk.
  • How does this connect to my Top 100 Rock Hall Prospects list? Remember- one of my rules was that each act must have been passed over at least once, so Pearl Jam and Tupac didn’t qualify at the time I wrote it. Other than that, three acts are from my top 10 (Kraftwerk, Janet, and Yes), and five others were in the top 30 (Journey, The Cars, Joan Baez, The Zombies, and Chic). Others placing on the list were Depeche Mode (#35), ELO (#46), Jane’s Addiction (#50), MC5 (#72), and Chaka Khan (#80). That leaves Bad Brains, Steppenwolf, J. Geils Band, and Joe Tex on the “bubbling under” chart. (Although if I had to do my list over, I’d include Bad Brains and maybe kick out Los Lobos purely out of spite, since they didn’t play “La Bamba” when I saw them this summer.)
  • Questlove’s fingerprints aren’t really on the ballot this year. There’s a couple acts he’s probably supportive of- notably Janet and Chaka Khan- but no act he’s on-the-record crazy about, like War, The Spinners, De La Soul, or A Tribe Called Quest. Did he miss the meeting this year?
  • It’s interesting that the Hall so prominently displayed the categories of inductees on their announcement page. It makes me wonder if we might have an Early Influence, Non-Performer, and Musical Excellence award. For the record, I’m going to call Sister Rosetta Tharpe for Influence, Brian Eno or Rick Rubin for Non-Performer, and The Revolution (as in Prince and…) for Musical Excellence.

So that’s where things stand presently. I’ll have a lot more to say soon, with formal rankings of the artists and deeper riffs in terms of what all this says about the Rock Hall and where it is going. For now, go vote for your favorites at Rockhall.com and stay tuned!

If you enjoy following or complaining about the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, this is a time of year that involves a great deal of waiting. We wait, especially, to hear about the slate of presumably 15 nominees for next year’s class. The last few years, that list comes out in the first week of October, but there’s always a chance that it might be sooner or later. Once that happens, music critics, armchair historians, deejays, and other riffraff will freely share their thoughts: no rock pioneers this year? How could Artist X be nominated before Artist Y?  Why has Artist Z been snubbed yet again?

Maybe in some sense this is a bit hobbyist, but there’s a reason why people tend to care so much, even those who profess that a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is unnecessary. Humanity is a pantheon-making creature, forever forming hierarchies and rankings, distinguishing that which is important or influential from that which is trivial and negligible. Perhaps it is the legacy of some evolutionary urge, or perhaps it is the product of too much free time, but we impose this sense of order on the music we love. We want to see our favorite bands enshrined. We want to see historically significant bands ignored by the wider public acknowledged. And we want to be part of the conversation about what makes rock and roll great.

In the interim, a number of Rock Hall followers have posted their own predictions as to who will appear on the ballot while we wait. Lots and lots of people have done this, but for the purposes of this post, I am going to limit my analysis to seven writers who consistently blog or post about Rock Hall issues and took the time to defend their choices. Those seven are Charles Crossley, Jr.; Tom Lane; the team at Future Rock Legends; Philip from Rock Hall Monitors, Eric from E-Rockcracy; my friend Donnie; and myself. I’ll share their lists, include my commentary, and then look for some trends.

Charles Crossley, Jr., a man with an encyclopedic knowledge of musical influence across the generations, predicted:

  1. Pearl Jam
  2. 2pac
  3. Nine Inch Nails
  4. Chic
  5. Big Mama Thornton
  6. Link Wray
  7. Electric Light Orchestra
  8. Kraftwerk
  9. The Spinners
  10. The Cars
  11. John Coltrane
  12. The Marvelettes
  13. Yes
  14. Janet Jackson
  15. Eurythmics

My take: This is a very well thought-out list, with a good mix of returning favorites like The Spinners and The Cars with some very plausible snubs showing up. Eurythmics is a solid choice: the Hall loves soul even though it is bearish on new wave, which makes Annie Lennox likely to be one of their first picks from that genre. John Coltrane is an interesting idea- not dissimilar to Miles Davis being chosen for the Class of 2008 despite a more tenuous connection to rock and roll. I do think, though, that there is a bit of wish fulfillment on Charles’s part: Wray, Thornton, Coltrane, and Marvelettes are collectively just too pre-British Invasion given the direction in which the Rock Hall has moved in the last couple years.

Tom Lane selected:

  1. Pearl Jam
  2. 2Pac
  3. Nine Inch Nails
  4. Chic
  5. Joan Baez
  6. The Monkees
  7. Eurythmics
  8. Kraftwerk
  9. The Commodores
  10. The Cars
  11. Chaka Khan
  12. Los Lobos
  13. Judas Priest
  14. Janet Jackson
  15. Yes

My take: This is another solid list. If there’s a trend in Tom’s line of thought, there’s lots of returning acts from last year’s ballot: 7 of them, in fact. He’s got The Commodores in lieu of one of his favorites, The Spinners, and like many of us, thinks that Judas Priest is the best poised to inherit Deep Purple’s spot as the heavy metal act on the ballot. Given Chaka Khan’s substance problems- she entered rehab a couple months ago- I wonder if the Hall might take a pass on her this year, especially when compounded with Janet’s pregnancy. But otherwise, great list. Baez deserves to get in.

Future Rock Legends released its annual list:

  1. Pearl Jam
  2. 2pac
  3. Nine Inch Nails
  4. Chic
  5. PJ Harvey
  6. Tommy James and the Shondells
  7. The Smiths
  8. Kraftwerk
  9. The Spinners
  10. Devo
  11. Janet Jackson
  12. Moody Blues
  13. Judas Priest
  14. Rage Against the Machine
  15. The Marvelettes

My take: I’d be thrilled if this were the actual ballot. It would be hard to complain about a slate that included 4 of my top 5 Rock Hall prospects from my project earlier this year (and 6 out of my top 10).  They are taking a big risk in suggesting 4 first-time-eligible nominees. They have 2pac and Pearl Jam, like everyone else, but also Harvey and RATM. It’s a bold move, but it would clearly signal a new direction after a very 70’s-heavy class last year. As always, FRL’s close eye on the news makes for a well-reasoned list of predictions.

Philip at Rock Hall Monitors:

  1. Pearl Jam
  2. 2Pac
  3. Nine Inch Nails
  4. Chic
  5. Pat Benatar
  6. The Monkees
  7. The Cure
  8. Kraftwerk
  9. The Spinners
  10. The Cars
  11. Janet Jackson
  12. The Smiths
  13. Judas Priest
  14. Los Lobos
  15. Moody Blues

My take: this is a slightly more plausible than FRL’s. By his own admission, Philip predicted conservatively this year; there isn’t a single pick I would describe as implausible. We have a striking 8 picks in common. Maybe the biggest surprise is Pat Benatar, but it is more than sensible for her to pick up some of Joan Jett’s support on the Nom Com, especially after last year’s all-male class.A nicely thought out list that balances critics’ favorites with longtime snubs.

Eric at E-Rockracy chose:

  1. Pearl Jam
  2. 2pac
  3. Nine Inch Nails
  4. Kool & the Gang
  5. Devo
  6. The Monkees
  7. The Cure
  8. Sonic Youth
  9. MC5
  10. The Cars
  11. The Go-Gos
  12. Link Wray
  13. Judas Priest
  14. Los Lobos
  15. The Shangri-Las

My take: Eric’s list is a bit idiosyncratic, but that’s not a bad thing at all. He and FRL chose Devo, a really crafty pick. With their Ohio connections, they would be a natural choice for the Rock Hall to promote. I think the Hall will have more R&B than this list suggests. And there’s two 80s alternative acts and two Tom Morello favorites in Judas Priest and MC5. Still, we share an off-kilter prediction- The Shangri-Las, of all people. The Go-Gos is also a courageous pick. They were the first group to put out a #1 record with all female musicians on it, but so far, I don’t believe a single member of the Nom Com is on record advocating for them.

Donnie picked 16 (which to be fair, happened for the Class of 2014):

  1. Pearl Jam
  2. 2pac
  3. Electric Light Orchestra
  4. The Commodores
  5. Pat Benatar
  6. The Monkees
  7. Sonic Youth
  8. Kraftwerk
  9. The Spinners
  10. The Cars
  11. Janet Jackson
  12. Smashing Pumpkins
  13. Judas Priest
  14. A Tribe Called Quest
  15. The Marvelettes
  16. Toots & the Maytals

My take: Donnie threw caution to the wind, suggesting Smashing Pumpkins in a year with lots of first-time-eligible artists, shared my far-fetched pick of ATCQ, and even put some reggae on the list with Toots & the Maytals. There’s an eye-popping 10 first-time nominees on his list. That’s an awful lot of snubs- many of them fan favorites- to get the nod at once, but that’s not totally dissimilar to what happened last year! Donnie took to heart the first rule of figuring out the Nominating Committee- expect the unexpected!

And finally to recap my list:

  1. Pearl Jam
  2. 2Pac
  3. Nine Inch Nails
  4. Chic
  5. Carole King
  6. The Zombies
  7. The Cure
  8. Kraftwerk
  9. The Meters
  10. The Cars
  11. Nina Simone
  12. Willie Nelson
  13. Judas Priest
  14. A Tribe Called Quest
  15. The Shangri-Las

My (revised) take: What I thought was a pretty conventional list is fraught with problems. There’s five artists on my slate that nobody else predicted (Zombies, King, Nelson, Simone, and The Meters) which isn’t an encouraging sign. Looking back, I wish that I had revised some of these to make room for Eurythmics, The Monkees, and maybe a more conventional R&B choice like The Commodores or The Spinners. The Monkees, especially, have a new album out with plenty of praise for Rolling Stone, and when KISS, Chicago, and Rush have gotten in, it’s clear that the Hall is letting go of some old grudges. But as The Cornelius Brothers and Sister Rose put it (and that’s one group that we can agree will never be in the Hall), it’s too late to turn back now. I’ll stick with my selections.

So, let’s look at the picture that emerges from these seven lists. Two artists appeared on all seven slates, and both of them are eligible for the first time this year: Pearl Jam and 2Pac. Nine Inch Nails, Kraftwerk, The Cars, and Judas Priest (!) were near-unanimous, with 6 selections apiece. Also appearing on a majority of our lists were: Janet Jackson, Chic, The Monkees, and The Spinners.

Interestingly, we all seem to believe that some changes in genre are afoot: nobody picked a pure 70s singer-songwriter like Warren Zevon or Jim Croce. Nor is there a clear blues pick- Simone is sorta in that genre but is more widely considered a jazz-woman. Nobody selected, let’s say, Johnny Winter or J. Geils Band- and maybe that wasn’t a great idea given that two blues artists were inducted just two years ago. Similarly, outside of a couple picks of Link Wray and Charles’s ideas concerning Big Mama Thornton and John Coltrane, we’ve more or less given up on artists with meaningful roots in the 1950s.

Some recently nominated artists didn’t show up on any of our lists, including Sting, War, LL Cool J, and The JBs. LL Cool J makes perhaps the most amount of sense, given that Tupac is a prohibitive favorite for nomination and probably induction this year.

In sum, it was a great deal of fun to read predictions by some of my friends who also follow the Rock Hall. We all have our rationales behind our choices, but the great thing is that there is no such thing as a bad prediction for now. We’ll have to wait until October to see who- if anyone- was right. It’s very possible that the ballot produced for the Class of 2017 doesn’t include some artists we were in agreement on. And it’s downright likely that some artists that none of us saw coming will be included as well. Stay tuned…

 

 

After a bit of deliberation, I am comfortable enough to post my predictions for the 2016 ballot for the 2017 class of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. We probably won’t see the ballot until October, and most of my fellow Rock Hall watchers won’t post their predictions until around Labor Day. But I have a lot of free time now that I won’t have in September, when I’ll need to devote myself to teaching my classes and copy-editing my upcoming book on George McGovern and Progressive Christianity.

I posted my preliminary picks a couple months ago, and I’ve largely kept them, making this something of a repost. I swapped out MC5 and Eurythmics for a couple choices that struck me as more plausible. My original post was aggressively un-classic rock, due to the lack of diversity from the Class of 2016. Instead, I think the Rock Hall will surely veer away from- but not totally eschew- 1970s classic rock favorites, and we’ll see a ballot that resembles the Class of 2015 much more. In fact, that’s probably the biggest change with this slate of predictions: I added two artists that more comfortably fit into a strict definition of “classic rock.” Nevertheless, if my prediction holds, this will be a slate of nominees designed to show the breadth and depth of rock and roll, which will push boundaries and hopefully challenge people who don’t think rap, country, R&B, or electronica count.

Having said all this, I predict 2 first-time eligible artists, 8 previous nominees, and 5 longtime snubs.

1. Pearl Jam: This is as close to a sure thing as I can imagine. Pearl Jam- an artist that ranks among Rolling Stone’s New Immortals and VH1’s 100 Greatest Artists- is widely regarded as the most important rock band of the 1990s after Nirvana. On the eve of their 25th anniversary, they continue to tour, rail against Ticketmaster, and dominate by virtue of their longevity. This is their year.

2. 2Pac: With NWA out of the way, 2Pac is the prohibitive favorite as the next rap act to get in. This is also his first year eligible, and while this is a posthumous nomination, there would be no shortage of rappers willing to pay homage to 2Pac in Brooklyn. In his short life, Tupac was earnest, poetic, soulful, violent, and above all, complicated. While NWA was the “id” of late 1980s inner-city consciousness, Tupac is remembered as more of a Bob Marley style “folk saint” for the Nineties; his biography matters less than the semiotics. Regardless of the history or the memory, his albums are still among rap’s finest of the 1990s. Nom Com member Alan Light wrote a book on him several years ago, so we can safely assume that his name will at least be brought up in committee.

3. Nine Inch Nails: It’s clear that the Rolling Stone Industrial Complex likes Trent Reznor’s dark sonic landscapes and nihilistic textures. He was nominated during his first two years eligible, and I don’t see any reason for that trend to stop now. Like other “love them or hate them” artists like Sex Pistols or Patti Smith or Donna Summer, this one is going to take a few nominations to get in.

4. Chic: Hindu mythos is prefaced upon the samsara, the interminable cycle of life, death, and rebirth, from which the soul longs to break free. Every year, Chic is nominated and fails to get in, only to be renominated again. Can Chic escape this cosmic turning of the wheel this year? I hope so. Modern dance music owes them a considerable debt of gratitude. Along with Kraftwerk and James Brown, they constitute a kind of holy trinity of rap sampling.

5. Kraftwerk: Have you noticed that every year since 2013, either Yes or Kraftwerk has been nominated- but never on the same ballot? Although they exist in different genres, both bands have a reputation for being cerebral, prodigiously skilled, and impossible to dance to. Last year was Yes’s turn, and to my dismay, they didn’t get in. Kraftwerk, the #2 band on my Rock Hall Prospects list, should be up next if the trend holds.

6. The Cure: Since 2012, there has been a “early alternative band for angsty misfits” slot on the ballot. It’s gone to The Cure, The Replacements, and for the last two years, The Smiths. After watching the personnel squabbles with the Class of 2016, the Nom Com may want to focus on a band that doesn’t have an epic Morrissey vs. Johnny Marr feud at its heart. The Cure have been touring across the U.S. recently, doing insanely long and prolific concerts and generating great buzz.

7. Carole King: One of my favorite moments from the past year in the music world was watching Carole King being honored at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. Seriously, watch this: she can’t handle her life when Aretha Franklin comes out and performs “A Natural Woman” on piano. This is indicative of the massive amount of respect Carole King has, and her importance has been underscored by the recent jukebox musical about her career. Almost every female singer-songwriter of the past 50 years owes Carole King big time. She should be honored- and her induction as a non-performer doesn’t begin to cover her significance. Her choice to leave the Brill Building, get behind a piano, and sing about her own life set the mold. To recap- in the last three years, she was honored at the Kennedy Center, performed at the Grammys, and had a musical come out. Is a Rock Hall nomination- her first since the institution’s early years- also in the cards?

8. The Meters: The JBs got the “funk backing band slot” on the ballot last year. But The Meters have gotten two nods in the last five years. This New Orleans outfit couldn’t have more support from industry experts and are widely respected in the same way that the Paul Butterfield Blues Band was.

9. The Cars: They were a surprise nominee last year, and got lots of positive buzz. Any other year, they probably would have sailed right in, but they were up against a hyper competitive ballot of other classic rock greats. The Cars have a little something for everybody: commercial success but also critical acclaim. They defied easy boundaries, incorporating new wave, power pop, and elements of punk and rockabilly. They were innovative, but not inaccessible. I think if they surface on the ballot again, they’d be a strong favorite.

10. The Zombies: There is some real momentum  behind The Monkees this year, with a great new album out and a tentative peace with its three surviving members. While we’ve seen some longstanding Rock Hall grudges like KISS, Rush, and Chicago dissolve in the last few years, I’m thinking the Monkees might still be a tough sell for the Nom Com. Instead, why not The Zombies? They are also touring, it’s original lineup has 4 of 5 members still alive, all of whom appear to be on good terms. Their album Odessey and Oracle is widely regarded as one of the best of the 60s, and a precursor to indie.  Just last year, they appeared at a panel commemorating the career of the Who with Stevie Van Zandt and Holly Robinson: both on the Nominating Committee. Indeed, they were nominated for the Class of 2014, but faced an extremely competitive ballot. The Zombies also have a good relationship with the Hall, which may redound to their benefit; they may be chosen over the Prefab Four not only because of their critical acclaim, but by simply wanting induction more.

11. Judas Priest: On the grounds of an unconvincing technicality, Rage Against the Machine is eligible this year. They released some demos in 1991, which makes them eligible, I guess, to be nominated in 2016 and inducted in 2017. Here’s what I think will happen: Tom Morello, who sits on the committee, will not recuse himself. I believe his character is such that he will say something like, “Oh geez…we don’t deserve it yet. It’s ridiculous to nominate us when many of the people who influenced us aren’t in yet.” And then he will make the case for the next metal band in the queue now that Deep Purple’s in: Judas Priest. Morello has spoken highly of them in the past, and even performed and collaborated with some of its members, and is in a good place to advocate on their behalf. Now, don’t get me wrong: Rage Against the Machine deserves to be in the Hall. But it should be 25 years after a *real* release.

12. Nina Simone: Simone is hot right now. A lovingly made documentary about her life dropped on Netflix last year. A biopic about her 1980s tailspin was just released. The most important album of 2016 will almost certainly be remembered as Beyonce’s Lemonade. Did you notice the Nina Simone LP conspicuously placed in some of the videos? Lauryn Hill, Feist, Muse, and the Carolina Chocolate Drops’ Rhiannon Giddens have all recently covered her songs.And each of these mediums made the case for Simone’s influence and importance: she was a defiant black woman who demanded justice- and not always non-violently. She was also a troubled soul who had an abusive husband and struggled with substance abuse and addiction. As I argued in my Rock Hall Prospects, she covered rock and roll and rock and roll covered her jazzy nightclub act, and this kind of wide respect and collaboration made everybody stronger. She belongs in the Rock Hall.

13. A Tribe Called Quest: Since he earned a berth on the Nom Com three years ago, Questlove has had a great deal of success getting his favorite acts nominated. He’s championed NWA, Kiss, Hall & Oates, Bill Withers, the Spinners, Chaka Khan, and others. Since the first four are already in, it’s easy to imagine Questlove channeling his energies into two other acts that were deeply influential to his own career: De La Soul and A Tribe Called Quest. Quest effused that ATCQ were “stylish, jazzy, funny, soulful, smart, and everything else.  They were socially conscious without being too self-conscious about it.”  Q-Tip’s recent collaboration with the Chemical Brothers and the unfortunate passing of Phife Dawg have kept them in the news.

14. Willie Nelson: Right before my flight to Singapore last August, a rumor circulated around the internet that Willie Nelson had passed on, and I had to wait 24 hours until I landed and got settled in my hotel to learn whether or not it was true. This vignette is a reminder that Nelson needs to be commemorated while he’s still among the living. He fostered countless collaborations between the worlds of country and rock, and he made those boundaries more porous. Of course, the Red-Haired Stranger still tours, and shows up on venues as diverse as the John Lennon tribute concert and Steven Colbert’s Christmas special. Maybe Gram Parsons or Patsy Cline will get the nod instead, but I have a feeling somebody from country will show up this year.

15. The Shangri-Las: And now, my annual “Hail Mary” pass. For decades, the Shangri-Las have been like a secret handshake among rock experts: an easily overlooked girl group that had an influence that belied its limited body of work. While most girl groups projected a wholesome image, the Shangri-Las wore go-go boots and seriously looked like you shouldn’t mess with them. “Leader of the Pack” and “Remember (Walking in the Sand)” changed the sonic landscape of Top 40 and made more atmospheric and evocative records possible. They’ve influenced artists as diverse as Amy Winehouse, the New York Dolls, and Blondie. Arguably, they’ve had a greater influence on 21st century pop than any other girl group from their era. It’s not hard to see some rogue voice on the committee- maybe someone like Dave Marsh- make an unexpected case for them and persuading everyone else to go along.

So, those are my picks. Most artists are alive, and most bands are at relative peace with one another. Those who have passed away (2pac, Simone, some of the Shangri-Las) could command incredible tribute performances.  2 first-time eligible artists, 5 artists who were passed over for nomination, and 8 previously nominated artists. Is this list realistic? My instinct is that the actual list may have more R&B artists, but I couldn’t figure out which of them it would be! War? The Spinners? But there are four artists with at least one inductable female member (King, The Shangri-Las, Simone, the singers from Chic). Given that this ballot will be released a few weeks before the U.S. potentially elects a female president, this stronger (but not quite equal) girl power on the ballot will have deeper resonance.

No offense is intended if your favorite artists didn’t show up–it’s not that I don’t think they are worthy, it’s that I don’t think the Nom Com will go in their direction this year. So apologies to fans of this blog who support Janet, or the Monkees, or Dennis Wilson, or Link Wray, or whoever else. Janet was a painful omission; she deserves to be in. But she will also be giving birth around the time as a ceremony as a first-time mother at the age of 50. It might be better for all concerned if they deferred a second Janet nomination until she could show up at full strength and in good health to perform in person.

Other tough cuts included J. Geils Band, Johnny Winter, Chaka Khan, Warren Zevon, Sting, and The Commodores.

I also suspect, for whatever it’s worth, that we’ll see maybe Sister Rosetta Tharpe as an Early Influence and The Revolution get a Musical Excellence Award.

What do you think? Feel free to comment with some of your own ideas for who might appear on the ballot in October.

A couple weeks ago, I posted my list of the ten most probable running mates for Hillary Clinton. For the sake of equal coverage, I’ll try and guess the ten most likely running mates for Donald Trump, but I’ve got to say- it ain’t easy. Trump’s decision-making is a bit erratic, driven by vendetta, and often contemptuous of conventional wisdom. I wouldn’t be so quick to dismiss it- it got him the Republican nomination in spite of monumental opposition.

A few guiding philosophies. Trump has signaled that his running mate would be someone who is wiser in the ways of Washington and can be a sort of liaison with Congress. One aide also suggested in May that picking a woman or a minority would be seen as “pandering,” and therefore a white man is likely. (I think that notion is ridiculous, but that’s another matter altogether.) But taking the campaign at its word, this list is a bit light on female and racial minority choices.  And so, in a sentence I never thought I’d have to write a year ago, here are what strikes me as the ten most plausible running mates for Donald Trump.

  1. Bob Corker: Corker has been a loyal Trump lieutenant since it became clear that he would be the nominee. Corker has spent a decade in the Senate, and is the chair of the Foreign Relations Committee, shoring up one of Trump’s weaknesses. And they are two of a kind in some ways: Corker was also involved in the real estate business in Tennessee.
  2. Tom Cotton: A remarkable choice that few are talking about. He may look like a paleo-conservative Jim Halpert, but don’t let that fool you. Cotton won in a landslide against Mark Pryor, who was so well regarded in Arkansas that he ran unopposed in 2008! Cotton served in Iraq, is 6’5″ and went to Harvard, and has an eerie ability to stay on message as evinced in his debates with Pryor. He fits well with both small-government conservatives, religious conservatives, and foreign policy hawks; he was ringleader in the letter Senate Republicans sent to Iran warning them not to trust to a U.S. nuclear deal.
  3. Rick Scott: The tragic shooting in Orlando has put Scott in the spotlight. He was elected by a minuscule margin in Florida during two bad years for Democrats, and he may not help that much given the wider electorate in presidential years. Like Trump, though, Scott has a background in some shady business dealings. Huffington Post notes that “Scott was best known as a record-setting fraudster whose bilking of Medicare reached cartoon-villain proportions: under his stewardship Columbia/Hospital Corporation of America pleaded guilty to 14 felonies and was forced to pay a $2 billion fraud settlement, the largest in the history of the United States.”
  4. Newt Gingrich: Another figure who Trump might pick on the basis of 1) loyalty and 2) knowing how Congress works. His reputation as one of the party’s intellectual voices and a deep understanding of win over suburban voters as he did with his Contract with America would be valuable. However, Gingrich has had some scandals over his head surrounding his resignation as speaker and his cheating on his wife while Congress was impeaching Bill Clinton…for lying about cheating on his wife.
  5. Marsha Blackburn: Another Tennessean possibility for Trump. She’s ignorant as hell (Blackburn believes the earth is cooling, not warming), but she’s still a social conservative with sterling credentials and recently led the House inquiry into Planned Parenthood. Given that social conservatives have not fully warmed up to Trump, Blackburn would be a clear signal that Trump’s recent conclave with evangelical leaders wasn’t mere social gravy.
  6. Chris Christie: For his first term, at least, Christie was heralded as a remarkably effective governor in New Jersey, projecting a tough persona while often able to work things out in a bipartisan fashion. If Trump wants a veep who will do much of the heavy lifting for him- think of the role Cheney performed for Bush 43- Christie is a likely choice. Moreover, the Donald appreciates loyalty, and since Christie unexpectedly endorsed Trump, he hasn’t backed down.
  7. Jeff Sessions: Shelby, the junior senator from Alabama, was one of the first major politicians to support Trump’s campaign. Sessions’s career is an education in dog-whistle politics and The Donald could learn a lot from him about how to signal things to white voters without appearing overtly racist.
  8. John Kasich: Trump’s relationship with the other major competitor in the primaries, Ted Cruz, is in the toilet after Trump went after Cruz’s father for allegedly having a role in the JFK assassination and intimating he had damning information about his wife. Yet the relationship between Kasich and Trump was strangely cordial by Trumpian standards; I think the worst of it was some unkind tweets about Kasich’s table manners. The fact is that Trump probably needs someone like Kasich who can probably secure Ohio and maybe have spillover appeal in Pennsylvania. But Kasich’s campaign was based on civility and even a certain amount of kindness and generosity. Will he hold his nose and campaign with Trump?
  9. Catherine McMorris-Rodgers: This is one more name that I’m surprised more people aren’t mentioning. McMorris-Rodgers is genuinely concerned with widening the GOP tent and getting more voters- particularly younger women- on board. She’s the only woman in GOP House leadership and represents eastern Washington state. If he wants someone to run interference with Congress and expand the party’s base, this would be a smart pick. If you want suburban soccer moms to even consider Trump, you’d need someone like her.
  10. Scott Brown: If Trump is serious about making a play for white males in the Northeast, Brown could be a real asset. Brown famously won the open seat for Ted Kennedy’s spot, and his ideological fuzziness mirrors Trump’s in some way. The problem is that Brown was defeated by Elizabeth Warren and Jeanne Shaheen within the span of two years, and if there’s one thing The Donald holds in contempt, it’s losing.

What do you think? Did I miss anyone?

Here’s a fun fact, by the way. There has never been a person on a Republican ticket who was both 1) born in, and 2) held office in the South. Some were born in the South but didn’t hold office there, like Eisenhower, whose family moved to Kansas when he was young. Others held office in the South, but were born elsewhere, like the Bushes. (On a technicality, I’m disqualifying Andrew Johnson, who wasn’t really a Republican and at any rate, in 1864, the Republicans momentarily re-branded themselves as the Union Party.) If chosen, Blackburn, Corker, Shelby, and Sessions would be the first true Southerner on a Republican ticket. (Gingrich, though he held office in Georgia, was born in Pennsylvania, and Rick Scott was born in Illinois.)

Do you think it’s too early to ruminate on the next class of Rock and Roll Hall of Fame artists? Think again. By the end of the summer, the Nominating Committee will meet and hammer out the presumably 15 or so candidates for inclusion in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Historically, the list is released around October. I will probably make my final predictions around Labor Day, but I also wanted to get out some preliminary predictions, perhaps in the vain hope that somebody on the committee reads them.

Before I list my initial predictions, I need to discuss my sense of the overall feel or theme of the ballot. When I look back at #RockHall2016, it’s clear that several things went wrong, and I’d imagine the Committee will be eager to correct them. First of all, the kerfuffle with Steve Miller shows that they need to treat inductees better, explain to them what the Hall of Fame is about, solicit their input, and make them feel like honored guests rather than cash cows. Secondly, attempts at big reunions failed to materialize. Although estranged drummer Danny Seraphine showed up for Chicago’s induction, Peter Cetera pouted when the band wouldn’t play “25 or 6 to 4” in his key and stayed home. Neither could multiple Deep Purple alumni overcome years of hostility. NWA managed a reunion, but the Rock Hall still screwed it up by not reaching an agreement to perform (which probably involved NWA wanting to do more controversial material.) Only Cheap Trick managed to get their act together, and thus the fourth most important inductee ended up closing the show! Thirdly, #RockHall2016 was roasted for its lack of diversity. Only one African-American artist, a caricature of gangsta rap like NWA, made it in. The other four were white classic rockers from the late 1960s and 1970s. Not only were there no female artists inducted, but there were no female presenters. All the white, male acts were inducted by white males. The black, male act was inducted by a black male. The 1950s, most of the 1960s, most of the 1980s, and most of the 1990s were unrepresented by the five artists’ heydays.

All this is to say: the ceremony taught me almost nothing about rock and roll. I had to watch the ceremonies in earlier years to understand why Paul Butterfield mattered despite a lack of hits, or why Jett was more than a good cover artist, she established what it meant to be a woman in rock like few others have. Aside from one instance of NWA defending it’s place in the rock pantheon in defiance of Gene Simmons’s more…um…apartheidish views, there wasn’t a single great moment. In contrast, think of all the cool moments from the previous two ceremonies: Joan Jett, Tommy James, and Miley Cyrus rocking out over “Crimson and Clover”- three distinct generations united. Bill Withers watching with visible emotion as Stevie Wonder sang his songs. Hervana. A reunion of the two surviving Beatles. One of Cat Stevens’s only stateside appearances since the Ford administration. You can get a good ceremony and a good class in the modern Rock Hall era, where inductions are arena spectacles filmed for HBO. But you have to work at it and ask yourself what rock and roll is really all about.

For this reason, I think the Rock Hall is going to veer away from 1970s classic rock favorites, and we’ll see a ballot that resembles the Class of 2015 much more. This will be a slate of nominees designed to show the breadth and depth of rock and roll, which will push boundaries and hopefully challenge people who don’t think rap, country, R&B, or electronica count.  So, after this long preamble, here are my initial predictions:

 

1. Pearl Jam: This is as close to a sure thing as I can imagine. Pearl Jam- an artist that ranks among Rolling Stone’s New Immortals and VH1’s 100 Greatest Artists- is widely regarded as the most important rock band of the 1990s after Nirvana. On the eve of their 25th anniversary, they continue to tour, rail against Ticketmaster, and dominate by virtue of their longevity. This is their year.

2. Tupac: With NWA out of the way, Tupac is the prohibitive favorite as the next rap act to get in. This is also his first year eligible, and while this is a posthumous nomination, there would be no shortage of rappers willing to pay homage to Tupac in (presumably) Cleveland. In his short life, Tupac was earnest, poetic, soulful, violent, and above all, complicated. While NWA was the “id” of late 1980s inner-city consciousness, Tupac is remembered as more of a Bob Marley style “folk saint” for the Nineties; his biography matters less than the semiotics. Regardless of the history or the memory, his albums are still among rap’s finest of the 1990s. Nom Com member Alan Light wrote a book on him several years ago, so we can safely assume that his name will at least be brought up in committee.

3. Nine Inch Nails: It’s clear that the Rolling Stone Industrial Complex likes Trent Reznor’s dark sonic landscapes and nihilistic textures. He was nominated during his first two years eligible, and I don’t see any reason for that trend to stop now. Like other “love them or hate them” artists like Sex Pistols or Patti Smith or Donna Summer, this one is going to take a few nominations to get in.

4. Chic: Hindu mythos is prefaced upon the samsara, the interminable cycle of life, death, and rebirth, from which the soul longs to break free. Every year, Chic is nominated and fails to get in, only to be renominated again. Can Chic escape this cosmic turning of the wheel this year?

5. Kraftwerk: Have you noticed that every year since 2013, either Yes or Kraftwerk has been nominated? Although they exist in different genres, both bands have a reputation for being cerebral, prodigiously skilled, and impossible to dance to. Last year was Yes’s turn, and to my dismay, they didn’t get in. Kraftwerk, the #2 band on my Rock Hall Prospects list, should be up next if the trend holds.

6. The Cure: Since 2012, there has been a “early alternative band for angsty misfits” slot on the ballot. It’s gone to The Cure, The Replacements, and for the last two years, The Smiths. After watching the personnel squabbles with the Class of 2016, the Nom Com may want to focus on a band that doesn’t have an epic Morrissey vs. Johnny Marr feud at its heart. The Cure have been touring across the U.S. recently, doing insanely long and prolific concerts and generating great buzz.

7. Carole King: One of my favorite moments from the past year in the music world was watching Carole King being honored at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. Seriously, watch this: she can’t handle her life when Aretha Franklin comes out and performs “A Natural Woman” on piano. This is indicative of the massive amount of respect Carole King has, and her importance has been underscored by the recent jukebox musical about her career. Almost every female singer-songwriter of the past 50 years owes Carole King big time. She should be honored- and her induction as a non-performer doesn’t begin to cover her significance. Her choice to leave the Brill Building, get behind a piano, and sing about her own life set the mold. To recap- in the last three years, she was honored at the Kennedy Center, performed at the Grammys, and had a musical come out. Is a Rock Hall nomination- her first since the institution’s early years- also in the cards?

8. The Meters: The JBs got the “funk slot” on the ballot last year. But The Meters have gotten two nods in the last five years. This New Orleans outfit couldn’t have more support from industry experts and are widely respected in the same way that the Paul Butterfield Blues Band was.

9. MC5: On the grounds of an unconvincing technicality, Rage Against the Machine is eligible this year. They released some demos in 1991, which makes them eligible, I guess, to be nominated in 2016 and inducted in 2017. Here’s what I think will happen: Tom Morello, who sits on the committee, will not recuse himself. I believe his character is such that he will say something like, “Oh geez…we don’t deserve it yet. It’s ridiculous to nominate us when many of the people who influenced us aren’t in yet.” And then he will make the case for his favorite pet project: revolutionary, iconoclastic MC5. Now, don’t get me wrong: Rage Against the Machine deserves to be in the Hall. But it should be 25 years after a *real* release.

10. The Zombies: There is some real buzz about The Monkees this year, with a great new album out and a tentative peace with its three surviving members. While we’ve seen some longstanding Rock Hall grudges like KISS, Rush, and Chicago dissolve in the last few years, I’m thinking the Monkees might still be a tough sell for the Nom Com. Instead, why not The Zombies? They are also touring, it’s original lineup has 4 of 5 members still alive, all of whom appear to be on good terms. And The Zombies, as I wrote in a blog post back in May, have influenced a vast number of artists and are well loved by rock writers, historians, and journalists. Just last year, they appeared at a panel commemorating the career of the Who with Stevie Van Zandt and Holly Robinson: both on the Nominating Committee. Indeed, they were nominated for the Class of 2014, but faced an extremely competitive ballot. This will be their year. Took a long time to come.

11. Eurythmics: The nomination of The Cars last year shows that the Nom Com is at least thinking in a New Wave direction. So why not Eurythmics? David Stewart and Annie Lennox have been known to reunite from time to time. They played a great role in infusing the technical and electronic possibilities of new wave with real soul, courtesy of Lennox’s deep, resonant alto voice. And the “Sweet Dreams” video was one of the most iconic during the infancy of MTV. Given Lennox’s well-received Grammys performance a couple years ago and her great album of Tin Pan Alley standards, this would be a strong nod to the 1980s.

12. Nina Simone: Simone is hot right now. A lovingly made documentary about her life dropped on Netflix last year. A biopic about her 1980s tailspin is coming out very soon. The most important album of 2016 will almost certainly be remembered as Beyonce’s Lemonade. Did you notice the Nina Simone LP conspicuously placed in some of the videos? And each of these mediums made the case for Simone’s influence and importance: she was a defiant black woman who demanded justice- and not always non-violently. She was also a troubled soul who had an abusive husband and struggled with substance abuse and addiction. As I argued in my Rock Hall Prospects, she covered rock and roll and rock and roll covered her jazzy nightclub act, and this kind of wide respect and collaboration made everybody stronger. She belongs in the Rock Hall.

13. A Tribe Called Quest: Since he earned a berth on the Nom Com three years ago, Questlove has had a great deal of success getting his favorite acts nominated. He’s championed NWA, Kiss, Hall & Oates, Bill Withers, the Spinners, Chaka Khan, and others. Since the first four are already in, it’s easy to imagine Questlove channeling his energies into two other acts that were deeply influential to his own career: De La Soul and A Tribe Called Quest. Quest effused that ATCQ were “stylish, jazzy, funny, soulful, smart, and everything else.  They were socially conscious without being too self-conscious about it.”  Q-Tip’s recent collaboration with the Chemical Brothers and the unfortunate passing of Phife Dawg have kept them in the news.

14. Willie Nelson: Right before my flight to Singapore last August, a rumor circulated around the internet that Willie Nelson had passed on, and I had to wait 24 hours until I landed and got settled in my hotel to learn whether or not it was true. This vignette is a reminder that Nelson needs to be commemorated while he’s still among the living. He fostered countless collaborations between the worlds of country and rock, and he made those boundaries more porous. Of course, the Red-Haired Stranger still tours, and shows up on venues as diverse as the John Lennon tribute concert and Steven Colbert’s Christmas special. Maybe Gram Parsons or Patsy Cline will get the nod instead, but I have a feeling somebody from country will show up this year.

15. The Shangri-Las: And now, my annual “Hail Mary” pass. For decades, the Shangri-Las have been like a secret handshake among rock experts: an easily overlooked girl group that had an influence that belied its limited body of work. While most girl groups projected a wholesome image, the Shangri-Las wore go-go boots and seriously looked like you shouldn’t mess with them. “Leader of the Pack” and “Remember (Walking in the Sand)” changed the sonic landscape of Top 40 and made more atmospheric and evocative records possible. They’ve influenced artists as diverse as Amy Winehouse, the New York Dolls, and Blondie. It’s not hard to see some rogue voice on the committee- maybe someone like Dave Marsh- make an unexpected case for them and persuading everyone else to go along.

So, those are my picks. Most artists are alive, and most bands are at relative peace with one another. Those who have passed away (Tupac, Simone, some of the Shangri-Las) could command incredible tribute performances.  2 first-time eligible artists, 5 artists who were passed over for nomination, and 8 previously nominated artists. Is this list realistic? My instinct is that the actual list may have more R&B artists, but I couldn’t figure out which of them it would be! War? The Spinners? But there are five artists with at least one inductable female member (King, The Shangri-Las, Simone, the singers from Chic, and Annie Lennox). Given that this ballot will be released a few weeks before the U.S. potentially elects a female president, this stronger (but not quite equal) girl power on the ballot will have deeper resonance.  You might notice that there are no classic rock bands from the 1970s. Rockists will lose their minds if a ballot like this one actually happened, typing vitriol on the internet so urgently that their red “Make America Great Again” hats will be irreparably sweat-stained.

No offense is intended if your favorite artists didn’t show up–it’s not that I don’t think they are worthy, it’s that I don’t think the Nom Com will go in their direction this year. So apologies to fans of this blog who support Janet, or the Monkees, or Dennis Wilson, or Link Wray, or whoever else. Janet was a painful omission; she deserves to be in. But she will also be giving birth around the time as a ceremony as a first-time mother at the age of 50. It might be better for all concerned if they deferred a second Janet nomination until she could show up at full strength and in good health to perform in person.

Other tough cuts included J. Geils Band, Johnny Winter, Chaka Khan, Warren Zevon, Sting, and The Commodores.

What do you think? Feel free to comment with some of your own ideas for who might appear on the ballot in October.

Since my rock concert-going life began in the July of 1995, I have, by my count, been to 38 shows on 3 different continents. I’ll be the first to admit that the lists of artists isn’t especially diverse and is certainly not representative of my age group. There’s too many old white guys from the 1970s. But- partly to distract myself- I felt I needed to rank them. In doing this, I am struck by how arbitrary this is- my mood, the people I was with, the seats I had, and the performer’s own attitude and health all shaped the list. So, here goes. I’ve listed the artist, the year, and the venue where relevant. And I’m really sorry at how repetitive this list is- Ringo appears four times, Chicago appears six times, and some variation of Crosby, Stills and/or Nash appears five times.

  1. Ringo Starr & His All-Starr Band (1995, Starlite Theatre, Latham, NY): You never forget your first. Rock concert that is. I’m pretty sure about 80% of people will say that their first rock concert was probably their favorite. Starlite was demolished several years ago, but it was an in-the-round theatre, and my seat was on the aisle. That night I got to slap a high-five with Ringo as he jogged down to the stage. Seeing a Beatle as a 12-year-old obsessed with The Beatles was an ethereal experience. I still remember the whole almost 3-hour show in intricate detail. Other All-Starrs were John Entwistle, Randy Bachmann, Billy Preston, Felix Cavaliere, and Mark Farner.
  2. Crosby & Nash (2005, Royal Festival Hall, London): With a new album out, this 50% of CSNY played several of its best tracks, as was expected. But they didn’t shy away from the deep tracks: “Cathedral,” “In My Dreams,” “Wind on the Water”, and “Carry Me,” all made appearances alongside requisite numbers like “Teach Your Children.” Their stage banter was captivating, the product of their great comic timing and their long decades of genuine friendship. I was a TA for a London program at a conservative Christian college at the time, so it was great to get away from all that for a night and dig into the counterculture. A great, lefty, Bush-bashing show in probably my favorite venue.
  3. Paul McCartney (2014, Times Union Center, Albany, NY): It was Paul McCartney. He played over 30 songs in three hours. He never took a break. He’s a Beatle. Any questions?
  4. Peter, Paul & Mary (2006, Corn Palace, Mitchell, SD): In my grad student duties, I was on hand for the opening of the George McGovern Center at Dakota Wesleyan University. It was part concert and part reminiscing on stage about the ’72 campaign with Senator McGovern and Mike Farrell from MASH. McGovern and Mary Travers have since passed on, so it’s hard not to look back on this with some sadness. The concert was a clarion call for social justice, and I’ll never forget Travers- who spent the show seated and hooked to an oxygen machine- standing up with the help of her cane to sing “If I Had a Hammer.” In its way, it was the most rock and roll moment on this list.
  5. Janelle Monae (2014, Rochester Jazz Festival, Rochester, NY): You might notice that most people on this list are old, sometimes damn old. Monae was in peak artistic and physical form, with boundless energy, focus, commitment, and engagement with the audience. She even invited everyone to dance with her on stage during the finale, “What An Experience.” With James Brown no longer among the living, Monae takes his mantle as the hardest working person in show business.
  6. Elton John (1998, Times Union Center, Albany, NY): The Big Picture had just come out, but Elton only played two songs from the thing. Instead, we got lots of hits and plenty of audience interaction; he must have spent a solid ten minutes of the show signing things for people in the front row.  He surprised us by throwing in rarities like “Mona Lisa’s and Mad Hatter’s,” “Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy,” and “The Simple Life.” A great performer at the most stable period in his career.
  7. The Beach Boys (2014, Saratoga Performing Arts Center- henceforth SPAC, Saratoga NY): When I heard that the surviving Beach Boys were reuniting for their 50th anniversary, I knew I had to get Heather and I a ticket. Mike Love and Bruce Johnston reunited with Brian Wilson, Al Jardine, and David Marks for a show that was more awesome than it had a right to be. Although none of these men appeared to have their instruments in the mix, that was okay; they had a fine band to carry them. But they ran toward some bold choices, from Johnston’s “Disney Girls” to Mike Love’s transcendentalist “All This Is That.” But everybody spent the show watching Brian, who was caught in his own world, plunking away at the keys for most of the time. But when he tuned in- say, on the bridge of “Surfer Girl” or the great vocals of “Sail On, Sailor” the audience collectively cheered him on.
  8. CSN (2001, SPAC): A week before I started college, my dad and I took in this show and sat on the lawn. Chatty and happy to be rid of Neil Young after the CSNY2k tour, the show was a love fest punctuated by Stills’ latin-infused take on “Dark Star.”
  9. The Eagles (2003, Times Union Center, Albany, NY): Touring without Don Felder for the first time, the other four Eagles had an immaculately arranged show. All the hits were there, all the harmonies were tight, but nothing was left to spontaneity. I’ll remember this as the show I attended with a friend who had the courage to come out to me just a couple weeks earlier.
  10. Chicago (2003, Proctor’s Theatre, Schenectady, NY): Proctor’s is a lovely old Vaudeville Theatre, and a great venue for a band like that. They put on a terrific Christmas show, and my friend Keeley and I had sixth or seventh row seats somehow. The audience was unusually high energy and Keeley and I managed to get the horn sections’ attention a few times.
  11. The Zombies (2016, Bear’s Den, Niagara Falls, NY): For a band that’s been at it for over fifty years, The Zombies had great camaraderie and a remarkably tight band. Colin Blunstone was a refreshingly low-key and soft-spoken frontman. It was great to see him and keyboardist extraordinaire Rod Argent play some tracks from one of my favorite albums, Odessey and Oracle. Intimate venue, too: The Bear’s Den only seated about 300.
  12. Brandi Carlile (2015, Danforth Music Hall, Toronto): Another rare show from a fairly young artist. Despite a weird emo-dixieland opening act, Carlile’s authenticity shown through. Her band (excellent by the way) was frazzled as their tour bus broke down and they were working on only a couple hours’ sleep, but remained spot-on. Brandi actually sang an unrehearsed song a cappella without a mic to a young fan she had met earlier in the day. Although I didn’t get to hear “Dying Day” (the theme song for the intercontinental long distance romance Heather and I for two years), it was a focused, committed, strikingly rocking show.
  13. Billy Joel (1999, Times Union Center): If you are going to see Billy Joel, it’s got to be in New York, even if it’s upstate. There’s a synergy with the rest of the audience that’s probably missing when Joel plays in, say, Spokane. Joel gamely admitted no new material and stuck to an admirable mix of hits and lesser-known favorites like “And So It Goes.” My dad and I went, and he actually got us seats in the corporate box. We were facing Joel’s back, but still….
  14. Indigo Girls (2014, Whitaker Center, Harrisburg, PA): Our society doesn’t do right by 50-year-old women. So it was refreshing to see two consummate songwriters and guitarists hone their craft in mom jeans and flannel. One thing I always appreciated is that they invited their opening act to sing the encore with them. I’ve never seen any other artist do that.
  15. Elton John & Billy Joel (2001, Carrier Dome, Syracuse, NY): This was surely the most heavily attended show on the list: the Carrier Dome seats 56,000 people for shows like this. It was fun to see them interact- Billy would dedicate a song to an ex-wife, Sir Elton would dedicate a song to an ex-husband- but ultimately the parts were greater than their sum. When you try and fit these two giants together, the setlist became predictable and neither artist really owned the stage like they did individually.
  16. Chicago (2001, Turning Stone Casino, Verona, NY): I saw them once before, but this was my first time as an actual fan. 2001 was about the time when Chicago’s live act stopped doing hit medleys and started to think about its legacy. Accordingly, some downright daring choices were made, including the avant-garde “A Hit By Varese” and an acoustic dressing down of “Look Away.”
  17. Weird Al Yankovic (1996, Starlite Theatre): Look, I’m not proud of this, but like many 13-year-olds, I thought Al was the funniest man on earth. My mom, bless her heart, took my brother and I and suffered through a 15-minute stand up act, and then 2 hours of Al. The amazing thing was how energetic Al was. He put on a true multimedia show, replete with costume changes. Also unexpectedly, he used the show to play songs he couldn’t record, since he didn’t have the original artists’ permission. So a Rembrandts pastiche, “I’ll Repair for You,” showed up, as did a spoof of the Beatles reunion “Gee, I’m A Nerd.”
  18. Ringo Starr and His All-Starr Band (2016, Lakeview Amphitheater, Syracuse, NY): The show was only about two weeks ago, but it held up. Ringo, at 75, is still energetic and a lovably awkward frontman. His All-Starrs, however, were a cut above other incarnations of the band. I was impressed by Mr. Mister’s Richard Page whose high tenor voice is still crystal clear at 63 years of age. Todd Rundgren’s raw joy at playing with Ringo shown- for the fourth consecutive year- through. Steve Lukather’s guitar chops were prodigious. And although this was the fourth time I saw Ringo, he enlivened the setlist with rarely heard Beatles numbers “What Goes On,” “Matchbox,” and one of my favorites, “Don’t Pass Me By.”
  19. Weird Al Yankovic (2009, Turning Stone Casino): 12 years since I last saw him, Weird Al was still doing an impressive multimedia show. But Al himself had changed: his material got just a hair more political, and he’d had a full career since then. My friend Nate and I sat at a table with a father and his 12-year-old daughter. She had encountered Al through “White and Nerdy” and “Canadian Idiot.” The generational torch had been passed.
  20. Ringo Starr and His All-Starr Band (2000, Landmark Theatre, Syracuse, NY): My immediate family and two of my best friends piled in the minivan for this show. Ringo, only 60 then, led a good solid show. But the band didn’t quite gel. While Jack Bruce was probably the most impressive bass player I’ve seen live, pianist Eric Carmen was sullen and detached the whole show, prompting a few teasing remarks from Ringo that probably didn’t help matters.
  21. Chicago + Earth, Wind, and Fire: A jazzy, upbeat double bill that I saw with Nate. The respect between these two great artists were palpable, but EWF’s proud afrocentricity made Chicago seem just a bit bland and white-bread in comparison.
  22. CSN (2009, SPAC): One last show with Nate- it’s a shame that all the rock concerts we attended together were below average. Anyway, CSN made the odd choice to start the show with about 4 or 5 cover songs, ranging from the Dead’s “Uncle John’s Band” to Dylan’s “Girl From North Country.”
  23. Ringo Starr and His All-Starr Band (2010, Canandaigua Performing Arts Center): The lowest-ranked of the four Ringo shows; even Ringo seemed unhappy to be playing in Canandaigua. Although Edgar Winter was a great addition, some of the other guys seemed like they weren’t quite famous enough for an All-Starr Band. (Gary Wright?  Wally Palmar from The Romantics?)
  24. Chicago (2002, SPAC): I got stood up by my date for the show and had to have my brother join me at the last minute. (He was able to use this as an excuse to get out of his baccalaureate service, so it was a good deal for him.) That colored my perception of the show, and as much as I love the band, the experience seemed tired and derivative.
  25. Three Dog Night (2007 (?), Turning Stone Casino): The recent death of Cory Wells has effectively turned Three Dog Night into a one-trick pony, so it was good to see him and Danny Hutton together when I could. My table at the casino included a couple who had a bizarre hatred for the Belgians. “Eli’s Coming” was not played.
  26. Chicago + Doobie Brothers (2010, SPAC): I sat on the lawn with my parents and Rick, one of my favorite grad school colleagues. The two artists played the beginning and ending of the show together, but I’m just not that interested in the Doobie Brothers if Michael McDonald and Skunk Baxter aren’t there.
  27. Barry Manilow (2002, SPAC): Look, I’m not happy about this either. But I was working at the assignment department of the phone company, my co-workers were all Baby Boomers named Cathy and Debbie, and they all cajoled the 19-year-old intern to go see Barry Manilow with them. To my surprise, Manilow was a consummate showman. He kidded the audience. He danced and cuddled with fans who were picked to sing “Can’t Smile Without You” on stage with him. He sang a medley of commercial jingles he had written. There is a place for people like Manilow. That place is not within earshot of myself, but a degree of respect was earned.
  28. Chicago (2006, Rochester Auditorium Theatre): My girlfriend at the time was graduating college that day, so I took her to…a Chicago concert? Hmmm…I think I see why she broke up with me a few weeks later for being “insufficiently fabulous.”
  29. Jars of Clay (2007, Houghton College Chapel, Houghton, NY): Houghton, rarely awash in excess cash, somehow managed to get the princelings of Christian contemporary, Jars of Clay, to come to our school. Although I had graduated two years earlier, I made every effort to attend. Matthew Wertz (“Everything’s Right”) was a cool opening act, and I appreciate that the Jars, fresh off a trip to Africa, were in full-on social-justice mode. But their “Much Afraid” album from 1997 is one of my favorites, and they didn’t play a single track off of it.
  30. Crosby & Nash (2011, Niagara Falls Casino): Crosby told a hilarious story about being high in the 80s and singing “Find the Coast of Sweden” instead of “Find the Cost of Freedom.” But it was otherwise a pale imitation of their stellar 2005 show. This wasn’t Crosby and Nash’s fault. But the casino made them shorten their set list so that the audience could hit the casinos earlier. As a result, they had to drop 4-5 songs from the set–invariably the deep tracks that I most wanted to hear.
  31. Edgar Winter Group/Grand Funk Railroad (2005, Empire State Plaza, Albany, NY): Edgar was his fine, bluesy self. Grand Funk Railroad, however, are stupefying flag-waving simpletons who can only get cheers when they say things like “is our country great or what?”
  32. Elton John (2015, Star Vista, Singapore): The venue was state of the art, but the sound mixing was horrible and Elton’s drummer, Nigel Olsson, just can’t play the drums well. On top of that, Elton had a cold, and while he soldiered on, a bad vibe infected the entire backing band in a way that was visible from even the cheap seats. I had wanted to take Heather to see Elton for a long time, and it’s disappointing that this was the way it turned out.
  33. Simon & Garfunkel (2004, Times Union Center): The songs were well chosen, and a surprise appearance by the Everly Brothers was a pleasant addition. But it was clear that Simon & Garfunkel just didn’t like each other and there was no visible warmth in their repartee on stage. They were only in it for the money and it showed.
  34. The Beach Boys + Chicago (1997, Times Union Center): The Beach Boys were on first. It was one of their first shows after Carl stopped touring as his cancer advanced. Frankly, the band didn’t seem to know what to do without him. Chicago? Well, this was before I was a fan or knew any of their material beyond what was played on the Oldies station. My family and I left during Walt Parazaider’s ten minute flute solo on “Just You’N’Me.”
  35. Weird Al Yankovic (1997, Starlite Theatre): And in a testament to maternal love, my mom took my brother and I a second time one year later. Weird Al did the exact. same. show. Except to plug the upcoming Weird Al Show, even the banter was identical.
  36. CSN (2005, SPAC): The show was only a few months after the sublime performance at Royal Festival Hall at #2, but it couldn’t have been more different. Someone insisted on there being both a keyboardist and a guy playing Hammond organ on all songs, drowning out most of the acoustic qualities CSN is best known for. Stills left the stage for several Crosby & Nash numbers and C&N left the stage for Stills’ new material. I was pretty sure Stills was going to punch Crosby during the second set.
  37. Roger Waters (2012, Times Union Center): This is a good example of how arbitrary everything is. I took my dad, a big Floyd fan in his day, as a Father’s Day gift. Waters’s tour, playing “The Wall” in its entirety, is high concept, multimedia, and well planned. His “stick it to the man” schtick got real tired, real fast though, and he lost any nuance that makes the best political music work. The show was held on the day that the Supreme Court validated Obamacare. So when Waters sang “Mother, should I trust the government?” I’ll never forget the sickening “NOOOOOO” that spread across the audience.
  38. Peter Cetera (2006, Turning Stone Casino): Peter Cetera is an asshole. He somehow co-opted the Syracuse Symphony to play with him, although he’s not nearly famous enough for that sort of thing. He was contracted to play a private show at the casino, so you know what? He only played a 70 minute show for us to make room for it. The tickets were full price, of course. Oh, and there was still a ten-minute intermission where they played a video clip of Chicago as Cetera changed outfits- during such a short show! He interrupted the band during their first number to ask them to start over with the truncated setlist. He made fun of the casino for not selling alcohol. Some of the shows on this list weren’t great, but this is the only one where I felt royally ripped off. Screw you, Peter Cetera.

And there we have it. 38 shows, most of them quite good. Here’s hoping that #39, the Tedeschi-Trucks Band with Los Lobos, holds up in a few weeks.