Back in May, I posted my preliminary slate of predictions for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s nominees, in anticipation of the Rock Hall’s choices being revealed in early autumn. The winners among these nominees will probably be published in December, and those artists will eventually be inducted as the Class of 2016. What follows is essentially a reblogging of my earlier post, adding some new considerations where relevant, taking out some extraneous comments, and changing two of my fifteen picks.
Since my original post, we’ve had a couple of high-profile deaths in the Rock world, some of which impact my choices, but even more substantively, there has been a major overhaul within the Nominating Committee. It seems as though around 16 members of the Nominating Committee were let go, leaving a core of perhaps 28 members. My fellow Rock Hall watchers, especially Charles Crossley, Jr. and Neil Walls, did some great investigative work to piece together who was cut, including Bob Hilburn, Arthur Levy, Claudia Perry, and Roy Trakin. The initial journalism on this development suggested that the committee on early rock and roll was decimated. Certainly, those who were let go are older, whiter, and less institutionally tied to the Rolling Stone magazine hierarchy that dominates the induction process. It isn’t unreasonable to guess that we will see even fewer 50s and early 60s acts than before, and the recent tilt toward 80s and 90s acts that dominated last year’s ballot will probably continue unimpeded. Roger Friedman believes that Jann Werner wants to trim down the eligibility from 25 to 20 years after an artist’s release, but given Friedman’s slapdash journalism style, as well as the logistical problems of Tupac, Smashing Pumpkins, Mariah Carey, Beck, Rage Against the Machine, Radiohead, Biggie, and Pearl Jam all becoming eligible at once, makes me very skeptical. For now, I have to assume that the autumn slate of nominees will be, as customary, 15 artists, all of whom released their first record at least 25 years ago.
1. Nine Inch Nails: NIN made it on the ballot during their first year of eligibility. Lots of people thought they would get in, and they even placed second in the Rock Hall’s online fan ballot. And yet, they didn’t make it; interestingly, out of the five winners on the fan ballot, they were the only ones who fell short among the actual voting committee. It is likely that they will make a return appearance.
2. Deep Purple: Many people were shocked when Deep Purple wasn’t on last years’ ballot, since they made it each of the two years prior. If they had been nominated, they very well might have gotten in, spared from having to compete with popular hard rock acts Heart (2013) and KISS (2014). We’ve arrived at a point where Deep Purple needs to get into Cleveland pronto. The “Not in the Hall of Fame” site lists them as the single biggest Rock Hall snub, and there is an immense backlog of hard rock acts like Iron Maiden and Judas Priest that probably won’t have a realistic shot until Deep Purple is in. Robert Hilburn is a known opponent of Deep Purple, so his dismissal from the Nom Com could help their chances.
3. Yes: So, my theory last year that they had actually gotten voted in for the Class of 2014 but could not attend because of touring commitments was probably spectacularly wrong. But that doesn’t make Yes any less deserving. Sadly, Chris Squire, the workmanlike bassist who was the only consistent member of the Yes lineup through their 45+ year history, died earlier this summer after a battle with leukemia. It’s a shame; Squire deserved to see his band inducted while living. Hopefully, Yes (one of my father-in-law’s favorite bands) will be able to reunite for a great tribute performance in Squire’s honor if nominated and voted in.
4. The Meters: This funky New Orleans outfit is unknown to many casual rock and roll fans, but their respect in the music industry is resolute and enduring. They have appeared on the ballot four times before, including twice in the last three years. Clearly, some influential folks are pulling strings for the Neville brothers and their cohorts. Out of all the picks, this is the one I’m most iffy about- this spot could just as easily have gone to War. Their appearance here is more of a reflection of my pessimistic belief that the ballot will include a few acts that just shouldn’t be in. But R&B and/or funk will be represented. You can count on it.
5. Sonic Youth: The Rock Hall has really been struggling with an amorphous category that one might call post-punk or proto-alternative acts: edgier Gen-X mood music that dwells on disillusionment and eschewing melody for authenticity. Someone from that world shows up on just about every ballot, but ends up falling short. Last time, it was The Smiths. The year before The Replacements, and a couple years earlier The Cure. My own opinion is that The Cure are best qualified to take this spot, but my guess is that the Nom Com will finally settle on Sonic Youth, a name that’s been batted around for years. Sonic Youth was only slightly less significant than The Cure, and was the hip 15-year-old babysitter to a lot of alternative acts when they were little kids, if that metaphor makes sense. The Hall will be under (well-warranted) pressure to induct more women, and Kim Gordon’s presence will parry this criticism. Gordon’s recent book, Girl In A Band, will also generate some chatter that will help them.
6. Warren Zevon: Come on now, we know this routine. There’s a singer-songwriter every year, and on his or her merits, it seems like their case for induction is shaky. But they always make it in the end somehow. (I’m sure you’ve met the last several models: Bill Withers, Cat Stevens, Randy Newman, Donovan, Tom Waits, Laura Nyro…) While I’d like to see Carole King get this spot, Zevon has a strong chance this year. Retiring late night host David Letterman has expressed his wish to see one of his favorite guests in the Hall, and where Letterman goes, Paul Shaffer is never far behind.
7. NWA: It’s clear that Toure and Questlove are committed to getting NWA in. Last year, a lot of folks- including myself- thought they would pull it off, but it was not to be. With a biopic of the group out in the theatres, and the ceremony in 2016 held in L.A. (within drive-by shooting distance of Compton), it is tough to see how NWA doesn’t make it back onto the ballot. I am not a fan of their violence and misogyny (two social problems that are by no means limited to rap music; go listen to Nugent sometime if you doubt me.) But with continuing police violence and discrimination against the black community dominating the news daily, “F— The Police” will keep resonating with the public. Recently, Dr. Dre has started making some new music, and rumors of a reunion tour are starting to spread, adding to the buzz around their name.
8. Chic: I feel so bad for Chic. They have now been nominated nine times for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, more than any other artist except for soul legend Solomon Burke. Nile Rodgers’ battle with cancer couldn’t muster enough sympathy to take them over the edge, nor could the spectacular success of Rodgers-produced “Get Lucky.” Chic- or rather, Rodgers and assorted friends- have some new music out this year, but whether this will be enough remains anybody’s guess. Chic is also a band more well loved by music historians than the general public: they earned less than 2% of the votes in the Hall’s official online fan ballot.
9. J. Geils Band: It took four tries, but Jann Werner finally shoe-horned the Paul Butterfield Blues Band into the Hall of Fame last year. I don’t wish PBBB ill, but I think they leapfrogged over many more deserving and widely respected acts. My guess is that PBBB’s successful induction will only encourage the Nom Com’s bad habits, and they will pick another Werner-sanctioned blues outfit filled with white boys. (Rest assured that they will be nominated on the grounds of their earlier blues efforts, not 80s hits like “Centerfold.”) The fact that Peter Wolf inducted PBBB this year is a pretty straightforward signal that we could see J. Geils Band return to the ballot for the fourth time after a few years’ absence.
10. The Spinners: I originally had Big Star at this spot; Holly George-Warren is on the committee and recently wrote a biography of their tragic frontman, Alex Chilton. Instead, I’m playing it safe. The Spinners have been on two of the last three ballots, and several of their partisans survived the culling, including Questlove, Metallica manager Cliff Burnstein, and Dave Marsh. (Read Marsh’s book of Rock Lists where he pontificates on the best records released each year. There’s a Spinners single listed nearly annually throughout the 1970s.)
11. Wille Nelson: On the Dan Patrick Show, Rock Hall president Greg Harris was asked which uninducted artists deserved to be in the Hall. Harris demured at first and dodged around the question, but the hosts kept badgering him. The closest Harris got to an answer was an offhand mention of Willie Nelson. Additionally, Seymour Stein has led a push for more country artists in the Hall. Nelson has been racking up the accolades this year, with a heavy presence at the Grammys and a well-received autobiography. There is precedent for the Hall putting in country artists who were often duet partners and collaborators with rock and rollers; just look at Johnny Cash and Bonnie Raitt. And temperamentally, the Red Headed Stranger’s outlaw persona, Farm Aid activism, and egregious use of pot make him a good fit with the qualities the Rock Hall values; he has always been a figure more at home in Woodstock than the Opry. There will be pressure to induct the 81-year-old singer while he is still among the living, and he’s never had a better chance to make the Rock Hall than this year.
12. Ben E. King: Ben E. King or Joe Cocker? They are probably the two biggest solo artists to have died in the past year. I doubt both will get nominated. I’m pretty sure one of them will. While my gut says “Joe Cocker,” all the tangible evidence points to King. Springsteen and U2 performed “Stand By Me” in the wake of his death, and they have direct lifelines to the Nominating Committee. The older guys on the Nom Com will remember his career fondly, and the younger folks will still be familiar enough with his catalog to give some sympathy-support. Besides, King wrote at least some of his hit songs, and Cocker didn’t. In fact, you’d have to go all the way back to 2003 and the Righteous Brothers to find the last time a white male interpretive singer (e.g. someone who didn’t generally write his/their own material) was inducted into the Hall of Fame. And between Lou Reed, Peter Gabriel, all four Beatles, and all four members of CSNY among many others, heaven knows that the Rock Hall loves having new members into its so-called Clyde McPhatter Club of multiple inductees. (Like McPhatter, King is already inducted as a member of the Drifters.)
13. Smashing Pumpkins: This is my second change to my original post: an artist who became eligible for the first time this year, and displaces MC5 on my list. Smashing Pumpkins were just too big in the 1990s and too influential to ignore. The Rock Hall tends to pick at least one first-year-eligible act every year, and Smashing Pumpkins takes that crown, beating out Mariah Carey, Alice in Chains, and A Tribe Called Quest. They don’t have ~quite~ the same historical significance as other acts honored with a nomination their first year out, which tend to be in the conversation for “100 Greatest Rock and Roll Artists Ever” (think Nirvana or Green Day or or Guns N Roses or even The Beastie Boys for recent examples.) But given the Nominating Committee’s statistically younger demographics, and the undeniable trend toward shepherding 90s acts into the Hall, I am persuaded to include them on my list.
14. Peter, Paul & Mary: And now, finally, we come to- quite appropriately- my “Hail Mary” prediction, the most far-fetched selection on my list. When Bob Dylan gave a speech at Musi-cares on his career, he singled out the trio for characteristically back-handed praise: “I didn’t usually think of myself as writing songs for others to sing, but it was starting to happen. And it couldn’t have happened with a better group. They took a song of mine that I’d recorded before that was buried on one of my early records (‘Blowin’ in the Wind’), and they turned it into a hit song. Not the way I would have done it — they straightened it out. But since then hundreds of people have recorded it. I don’t think that would have happened if it wasn’t for them. They definitely started something for me.” Tom Morello was a performer at the event, so hopefully, he was paying attention to Dylan’s sage words. But more than this, PP&M have been getting some high-profile attention lately. In 2014, a two-years-behind-schedule retrospective for their 50th anniversary was published, with no less a figure than Secretary of State John Kerry writing the foreword. What’s more, the Rock Hall summer film series is showing Festival!, a documentary on the great folk festivals of the 1960s, and the description of the film gives special attention to Peter, Paul & Mary, as well as Joan Baez (another artist I considered.) To continue the momentum in their favor, the recent series of 50th anniversaries from the Freedom Struggle reminds us all of the courage and commitment the three of them showed, having performed at the March on Washington, and later speaking out against the Vietnam War and Apartheid. And for most Rock Hall voters, left-wing activism never hurt anyone’s chances. If I am reading these tea leaves correctly, all this amounts to the clearest chance a pure 60s folk act has had in a long time.
15. Janet Jackson: So far, we are missing one thing: a showstopper, a headliner. No Rock Hall induction ceremony is complete without one, especially now that there is an expensive contract with HBO to honor. It’s got to be Janet’s year. My friends over at the Induct Janet social media campaign have continued to fight the good fight. They have made sound arguments and politely but persistently lobbied musical critics and Nom Com members to recognize Miss Jackson’s contributions to 80s and 90s R&B and dance music. Given how most online campaigns to induct certain artists are angry, barely literate screeds in ALL CAPS about the Nom Com’s bias and ignorance, their tact and dignity stand out. Jackson’s chances are given a boost by her recent announcement that a new album and tour are in the works; this will be no nostalgia nomination, but a pick for an active, working artist. Janet deserves to be in, and at any rate, it is really weird that Tito Jackson is in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and Janet is not.
— Unfortunately, there were some compelling choices I had to leave off, including the aforementioned Big Star, Joe Cocker, and MC5. The Eurythmics have a good chance, especially given Annie Lennox’s standout performance at the Grammys. And the removal of several old fogeys makes a second rap or hip-hop artist likely, probably L.L. Cool J or De La Soul. In an effort to get more deserving women into the Hall, Joan Baez could be the folk nominee and perhaps recent Kennedy Center honoree Carole King could be nominated as a performer. If so, King could become the first person inducted into the Hall in two separate categories, since she’s already in as a non-performing songwriter.
So, there’s my 15 picks. This covers most of the bases, in terms of sub-genres of rock and roll, different eras, and racial representation. Funk, folk, dance, singer-songwriter, R&B, classic rock, prog, alternative, country, and the blues are all represented here. Given this excellent infographic on how few women are in the Rock Hall, my list includes five artists with at least one woman on board: Janet Jackson; Peter, Paul & Mary (Mary Travers), Sonic Youth (Kim Gordon), Smashing Pumpkins (D’Arcy Wretsky), and Chic (the various female singers they’ve employed over the years.) 6 of the 15 are artists of color. 9 have been nominated before, although this honor ranges from Ben E. King (last nominated during the Reagan administration) and Nine Inch Nails (nominated during their/Reznor’s first year of eligibility in the fall of 2014.) 5 of the 15 peaked artistically after 1980, though, a number that seems too low to me and has me worried that my own list is too indebted to the 1970s. Another problem I foresee is that my choices smell a bit like a funeral parlor: between Ben E. King, Warren Zevon, Chris Squire, Mary Travers, Bernard Edwards, Easy E, and most of the Spinners, there’s plenty of great musicians who didn’t live long enough to take part in their induction. The Hall may opt for more living artists.
Let me know your thoughts in the comments section! I’d be curious to know: which 5 artists would you vote for if this was the actual ballot? If it were me, I’d say: Janet Jackson; Peter Paul & Mary; Deep Purple; Chic; and either Yes or The Spinners for that fifth spot. Eh, probably Yes, if only to pave the way for the Moody Blues or Jethro Tull next year.