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#RockHall2018 hot take

On twitter, I expressed a hope that the #RockHall2018 announcement would include some kind of surprise…hopefully not an agonizing one.

That didn’t quite happen–which isn’t to say that there wasn’t the element of the unexpected. The Rock Hall kept the results quiet until formally announced on Sirius, which is rare indeed. As for the inductees themselves, they fell in line with everyone’s expectations. Almost.

As you probably know by now, it’s… Bon Jovi. Nina Simone. Dire Straits. The Cars. Moody Blues. Sister Rosetta Tharpe as an Early Influence.

So, as far as surprises go, the disappointing surprise was that there were only five performer inductees, plus Sister Rosetta Tharpe. For a ballot this strong and deep, with nineteen artists, that’s an unfortunately small class. The other surprise is Radiohead’s absence; almost every Rock Hall monitor had them pegged to get in. They were the surefire, can’t-miss first-year-eligible act, as Nirvana, Green Day, and Pearl Jam were before them.

Radiohead didn’t do themselves any favors by their public ambivalence about getting in the Hall, scheduling a tour through South America at the same time as the ceremony in April. Still, one has to wonder about their absence from this class. Steve Hyden writes that it “seems like transparent punishment for saying they wouldn’t show up.” While the facts might be otherwise, the optics are certainly not good.

Next, it seemed beforehand like the Rock Hall expanded its voting committee with the inclusion of an array of younger voters. If so, they weren’t exactly in evidence (or perhaps they simply filled out their ballots in ways similar to older voters). With the exception of can’t-miss Bon Jovi, all the acts that had success in the 90s: LL Cool J, Depeche Mode, RATM, Radiohead…fell short, in spite of being worthy candidates. Millennials will not be drawn to this HBO special unless some stellar special performances are in the works.

And what to do with Sister Rosetta Tharpe, who was on the ballot as a rock-era performer, despite having records out in the 1930s? A lot of people are upset about that, and I don’t really think there is any need to be.  My guess is that when the Nominating Committee met, they brought her name up as an Influence, but one of the more brazen members–Dave Marsh, perhaps?–loudly insisted that Tharpe was “as rock and roll as any of these other guys” or something to that effect, and demanded that she be on the ballot as a performer. Tired of arguing, the other committee members rolled their eyes and agreed, with the proviso that she’d get in as an Early Influence when she inevitably failed to get enough votes.  There’s nothing wrong or corrupt about any of this; it’s just the way things work when you have divergent opinions among powerful people sharing a committee together. Many bloggers predicted her to be inducted as an Early Influence, which is not only what happened, but where she belonged in the first place. I’m delighted by this: I ranked Early Influence candidates last summer, and Tharpe was my #1 choice.

Tharpe is one of two black women in this year’s class–the first since Donna Summer in 2013. The other, of course, is Nina Simone. I’ve made Nina my cause celebre ever since Chicago got in the Hall. And I’m beyond delighted to see it happen– the result, I’m sure, of positive coverage in the alternative media, a fine biographical film, and a superb documentary–all making the historical case for a woman who sang, played piano, and dared to be proud of her African heritage in an age where every cultural force discouraged her from doing so. I can’t wait for the tribute performance, and I hope the Hall has Elton and Mary J. Blige on speed-dial.

Nevertheless, the elephant in the room is that, for the third year running, we have a class dominated–I’d say overwhelmed–by classic rockers who peaked somewhere between 1969 and 1986. This time, we have late 70s/early 80s icons The Cars and Dire Straits. Both are deserving, of course. The Cars left an imprint on radio-friendly, synthesizer-driven pop, and their effortless hooks can be heard throughout the 80s and 90s in groups like Weezer. Dire Straits are a sterling example of “musical excellence” with superb storytelling and Knopfler’s top-shelf guitar work. Moody Blues gives us a prog-friendly act for the second year in a row. I originally listed them as my #1 Rock Hall prospect more than a year ago. I overvalued them as such, but there’s no question that they helped make rock and roll a more artistic and expressive medium. Bon Jovi? I still think they are kind-of hacks, but they mastered arena rock, achieved an improbable longevity–and it’s easy to look down on acts with a mostly-female fan base. And I want to avoid doing that. So, despite my misgivings, each of these acts is fine. Each deserves to be in. But as a whole, this class is once again troublingly monochromatic. I dearly wish an alternative act, or Chaka Khan’s funky disco, or iconoclastic MC5 was there to make this class give a broader picture of what rock and roll is and can be. Right now, Nina and Sister Rosetta are the only voices in a different direction. And that, too, is a problem to consider in the long run: four white, male over-55 acts have multiple members who now enjoy voting privileges. Nina and Sister Rosetta, the only women, and the only persons of color, have both passed away. Altogether, this adds to an already-troubling imbalance among Rock Hall voters.

Frankly, though, it would be a bit hypocritical of me to criticize this too far. My own votes on the fan ballot and the artists I advocated for were certainly classic-rock heavy. I consistently voted for Nina, The Zombies, The Cars, Dire Straits, and Eurythmics. Not exactly as stylistically diverse as it could be, and certainly grounded in the classic rock era. Replace Eurythmics with Bon Jovi and The Zombies for their contemporaries The Moody Blues, and that’s basically the class.

Instead, I want to focus my efforts in the coming year toward encouraging and lobbying the Rock Hall to make this induction process more transparent. They don’t have to record the nominating committee meetings. They don’t have to share who nominated who. But, especially given the Radiohead sketchiness, and other problems like the Dave Clark Debacle of ’07, they do need to 1) have an independent agency certify the voting results; and 2) Release the overall numbers of votes for each artist. In the past, they’ve said that they don’t want to create disparities in a Rock Hall class in terms of “who got more votes” or “who is more worthy.” Nonsense. These artists are all professionals. They can deal with bruised feelings that come from Jon Bon Jovi getting more votes than Mark Knopfler. So, I hope I can get my fellow Rock Hall followers on board with my Crystal Blue Persuasion Initiative to encourage these acts of transparency in what I believe is a good, worthwhile institution that nevertheless needs a booster shot of accountability.

So…on to #RockHall2019, I guess? I’ll be curious to see where it goes, but right now, I’d bet on a return of Janet and Nine Inch Nails to the ballot; repeat appearances by Rage, Judas Priest, The Zombies, Eurythmics, Link, and Chaka Khan; Duran Duran as the next Fan Vote winner; and Doobie Brothers as the Boomer favorite. David Letterman will get his wish and we’ll see Warren Zevon.  Beck. And Dre. For the last five years, we’ve chipped away at the backlog of well-loved 1970s classic rockers. If you asked someone in 2012 who the biggest snubs were, chances are he or she would rattle off “Chicago, KISS, Hall & Oates, Deep Purple, Cheap Trick, Yes, The Cars…” Well, they are all in now. How many truly top-shelf acts from that genre are left. I have to say, Jethro Tull and Bad Company don’t have the same kind of urgency as any of those acts. It’s time to move on from 70s and 80s classic rock. It’s time to put childlike things, and perhaps childhood favorites, away.

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Recently, there has been a spate of sports blogs that have tried to gauge the 50 greatest NBA players of all time. Not ranking them necessarily, but merely listing them. When the NBA officially chose the 50 greatest of all time in 1996, it was a momentous occasion indeed- 47 of those honored gathered together at the subsequent 1997 All-Star game (only an injured Shaq, a reticent Jerry West, and a deceased Pistol Pete were missing.)

Here we are, over 20 years later. We’ve seen an entire generation of players come and go since then, adding their own contributions to the NBA pantheon. To honor them, I’d like to post my own list of the 50 greatest players in NBA history.

To do so, I had to kick out quite a few of the originals, each of whom was a giant in his own way. But I had to account for limited playoff success, a lack of accolades, and other nitpicks. Alas, this meant getting rid of:

  1. Nate Archibald
  2. Dave Bing
  3. Dave Cowens
  4. Billy Cunningham
  5. Dave DeBusschere
  6. Clyde Drexler
  7. Hal Greer
  8. Jerry Lucas
  9. Pete Maravich
  10. Robert Parish
  11. Bill Sharman
  12. Nate Thurmond
  13. Wes Unseld
  14. Bill Walton
  15. Lenny Wilkens
  16. James Worthy

Some brutal cuts here. It was arbitrary, but players who were arguably never one of the 7 or 8 best players in the league at any one time had to go, so goodbye Wilkens, Thurmond, Parish, and Worthy. Others had short primes (Maravich, Walton) or were the second-or-third-best guy on a good team (Unseld, Cowens, Cunningham, DeBusschere, Greer, Sharman, Worthy). I had to get rid of stat-padders (Lucas), a great citizen who nonetheless shouldn’t have made the 50 at 50 the first time around (Bing), and a guy whose game hasn’t especially aged well, Clyde Drexler– by far and away the toughest cut of them all.  I did keep three sublime “second bananas” or complementary players who might have had trouble carrying their own team: Kevin McHale, Sam Jones, and Scottie Pippen. To me, Pippen’s perimeter defense, McHale’s skills in the paint, and Jones’ penchant for last-second heroics and his 10 rings made them indispensable.

  1. Kobe Bryant
  2. Stephen Curry
  3. Tim Duncan
  4. Kevin Durant
  5. Kevin Garnett
  6. Dwight Howard
  7. Allen Iverson
  8. Lebron James
  9. Jason Kidd
  10. Steve Nash
  11. Dirk Nowitzki
  12. Chris Paul
  13. Gary Payton
  14. Paul Pierce
  15. Dwyane Wade
  16. Russell Westbrook

To me, Lebron, Kobe, Curry, Duncan, Garnett, and Nowitzki were no-brainers. Pierce’s all-around skills and clutch-time theatrics made him one of the last additions to the list, Paul may be the best all-around point guard the game has seen, Wade won 3 rings–including a Finals MVP, Payton is one of the very greatest perimeter defenders ever. Nash won two MVPs, and even if those were questionable, he revolutionized the game, and made it more fun, buoyant, and watchable. Iverson dragged a subpar team to the Finals, and is arguably the most culturally significant player of the new millennium. Kidd earned a ring with the Mavs and led an equally subpar Nets to two Finals appearances. Westbrook is now an MVP, made a Finals appearance, and repeated Oscar’s feat of averaging a triple-double. Howard might be my most controversial choice among the newbies, but I needed to include at least one post-Shaq center, and he’s far and away the best candidate. Pierce is the one exception to my customary “must make at least one all-NBA team” rule, but I’m okay with that.

So, that would leave my all-time Top 50 as:

  1. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
  2. Paul Arizin
  3. Rick Barry
  4. Charles Barkley
  5. Elgin Baylor
  6. Larry Bird
  7. Kobe Bryant
  8. Wilt Chamberlain
  9. Bob Cousy
  10. Stephen Curry
  11. Tim Duncan
  12. Kevin Durant
  13. Julius Erving
  14. Patrick Ewing
  15. Walt Frazier
  16. Kevin Garnett
  17. George Gervin
  18. John Havlicek
  19. Elvin Hayes
  20. Dwight Howard
  21. Allen Iverson
  22. Lebron James
  23. Earvin “Magic” Johnson
  24. Sam Jones
  25. Michael Jordan
  26. Jason Kidd
  27. Karl Malone
  28. Moses Malone
  29. Kevin McHale
  30. George Mikan
  31. Earl Monroe
  32. Steve Nash
  33. Dirk Nowitzki
  34. Hakeem Olajuwon
  35. Shaquille O’Neal
  36. Chris Paul
  37. Gary Payton
  38. Bob Pettit
  39. Paul Pierce
  40. Scottie Pippen
  41. Willis Reed
  42. Oscar Robertson
  43. David Robinson
  44. Bill Russell
  45. Dolph Schayes
  46. John Stockton
  47. Isiah Thomas
  48. Dwyane Wade
  49. Jerry West
  50. Russell Westbrook

What do you think? I’d be the first to admit how difficult it was to cut people from this list. Some of the hardest cuts were: Carmelo Anthony, Kawhi Leonard, James Harden, Dominique Wilkins, Reggie Miller, Ray Allen, Tiny Archibald, Wes Unseld, and especially Clyde Drexler. Indeed, this list was so competitive, I had to cut some MVPs: Unseld, Bob McAdoo, Dave Cowens, Bill Walton, and Derrick Rose. I kept Monroe on largely for his cultural impact on the game, bringing an array of street ball moves into the big leagues. And I almost put Yao Ming in for similar cultural reasons- namely, his role in expanding the league’s reach globally. If you would have made any different choices, let me know in the comments!

A small change

I will post more here soon– sorry to have left the Countdown dormant. Between 5 weeks of grading hell (why did I assign my students so much writing? Why are so many students enrolled in my classes this term?) and writing an article for a Canadian theological journal, time has been crunched.

But I want to post publicly a small change in my #RockHall2018 predictions. I’m swapping out Dire Straits for Eurythmics. The Eurythmics, in my mind, have the winning formula: profound influence on post-2000 pop, and an iconic visual style as the voting committee reflects the MTV age.

So, just to recap: I think the #RockHall2018 class will be: Moody Blues, Radiohead, Bon Jovi, Nina Simone, The Cars, and Eurythmics.

Having said that, I now think any number of surprises could happen. I originally perceived Moody Blues as a mortal lock, but that seems perhaps less likely the more I think about it–a similar prog group, Yes, struggled to get in on their first ballot and in terms of influencing the overall direction of rock and roll, they just aren’t as strong as I once thought. Bon Jovi? Raw critical contempt for them may hurt, whatever the fan vote says. Radiohead seems less of a surefire thing, especially with competition from Rage. So, we will see! Maybe The Zombies, who are creeping up in the fan vote, will secure a spot. Judas Priest could very well succeed, especially if the Nom Com has been adding more metal-friendly voters on the sly. Rage could win under the right circumstances. So could Link.  And that’s saying nothing of any little games that may happen with the other categories. Will Sister Rosetta be an Early Induction as many suspect? Others think Nina Simone is primed for Musical Excellence. The great–and frustrating–thing is that it is so hard to gauge how any of this will develop. For all we know, we may get a face-palming choice like Sting for Musical Excellence or something.

We’ll see! Voting closes in a little over a week. And with a ballot this strong, it would be hard to come away disappointed from whatever class develops, unless we get another monochromatic or exclusively male set of acts again.

I’m on a bit of a #RockHall2018 kick, so why stop at evaluating the nominees? Let’s also explore some options regarding who might give the induction speeches for the various artists on the ballot. This can be a tricky thing. First choices may be unavailable or unwilling to come (what- you think the Rock Hall didn’t try to reach out to Bob Dylan when inducting Joan Baez?) And on occasion the Hall steps in it by choosing an inductor who is unknown to the honoree; that happened when the Black Keys were chosen to induct Steve Miller. Miller had never met them before and wasn’t sure who they were!

I tried to select persons who would be on good terms with the inductee- either an influence of theirs, or someone influenced by them, or a friendly contemporary. When possible, I tried to shake up race and gender considerations. The 2016 ceremony was partly a near-disaster because only white male acts inducted the white male acts, and a black man inducted a group of black men (NWA). It didn’t confound stereotypes or show the complexity of rock’s history. To the contrary, some of the better speeches over the years had inductees of a different race and/or gender than their toastmaster. (Think Patti Smith inducting Lou Reed, Questlove inducting Hall & Oates, and Tom Morello inducting KISS).

So here are my best guesses:

Bon Jovi: I had some problems with this one; there aren’t very many great artists working today who took their cues from Bon Jovi. I considered Adam Lambert and Bryan Adams, but ultimately landed on two men who carried on the legacy into the 90s: John Rzeznik and Robby Takac of the Goo Goo Dolls. They toured together in the early 2000s, and understood their instinct for anthemic stadium rock and it’s appeal to teenage girls.

Kate Bush: Bjork and Peter Gabriel would both work- and might be coaxed into a performance. But Bush started out as a protege of David Gilmour, and she should be inducted in the same manner.

The Cars: There is no shortage of 21st century artists who harnessed The Cars’ melodic instincts and embrace of electronic backdrops. Weezer, though, stands out among them- right down to the backward-looking glances at 50s rock that inspired “Buddy Holly” just as it inspired “My Best Friend’s Girl.” Rivers Cuomo, come on down.

Depeche Mode: Let’s get Trent Reznor. Depeche Mode was an important antecedent to Nine Inch Nails, and this would hopefully grease the skids for NIN’s own induction into the Rock Hall.

Dire Straits: It writes itself: Sting. You definitely want him to sing “I want my MTV” don’t you?

Eurythmics: So– soulful singing that experiments with electronica. Florence Welch from Florence and the Machine would fit that bill nicely, giving the Hall a contemporary artist to include in the ceremony.

J. Geils Band: This is hopefully a theoretical exercise, but Chris Robinson, the frontman for The Black Crowes, is a big fan. They also toured together a handful of years ago.

Judas Priest: Hear me out before you slam me.  Let’s get one of England’s loudest bands- Spinal Tap- to induct Judas Priest. Wouldn’t it be great to have Michael McKean and Christopher Guest in wigs and outrageous regalia on stage inducting their fellow British metal royalty? And since Spinal Tap was famously bad heavy metal, they are well-poised to show us what good heavy metal really is. And the guys in Judas Priest, I’m sure, would be good sports about all this, and are big fans of This Is Spinal Tap.

L.L. Cool J.: I am afraid that the Rock Hall will portray Cool J as more ‘street’ than he actually was, if he were to be inducted. Let’s acknowledge him for what he is- a very good, historic rapper whose chief contribution isn’t fighting the power, or picking fights with the police, but making rap a mainstream presence that transcended racial lines. Queen Latifah had a similar significance, and the two starred together amicably in the film Last Holiday.

MC5: Fred Smith’s nickname lent itself to Sonic Youth, which would make Kim Gordon an extraordinary choice for this task. (Patti Smith, another woman who was involved in a recent Rock Hall ceremony, might also be involved as Fred’s widow.)

The Meters: Again- the odds of The Meters getting inducted are so low as to make this a mere thought experiment. But I’d go with two artists who used The Meters as backup, and know better than anyone else how good they are. Dr. John and Patti LaBelle would be my two choices.

The Moody Blues: A tough one. The temptation is to double-dip with someone like Peter Gabriel or go to the progressive rock well with someone like Ian Anderson. But Alan Parsons would also do a fine job- and has worked with this evergreen band on one of their perennial Moody Blues Cruise outings.

Radiohead: Possibly the biggest name getting inducted in 2018 deserves an equally big name giving their speech. Two artists who have inspired Thom Yorke would both do an extraordinary job: Michael Stipe (who hit it out of the park inducting Nirvana) and Tom Waits.

Rage Against the Machine: It’s only fitting that someone else who pointed fingers and challenged an unjust system through his music should do the honors. Morello’s now-collaborator Chuck D of Public Enemy would be an apropos choice indeed.

Rufus w/ Chaka Khan: So…Rufus’s keyboard player was David “Hawk” Wolinski. In the late 1970s, he happened to write a handful of songs with…Danny Seraphine. Yup. The former Chicago drummer surprised everyone in the Barclays Center with a funny, warm, and utterly profane speech when his band finally made it into the hall. Let’s bring him back to the stage to induct this funky R&B outfit.

Nina Simone: This is another joint induction- but I’d lobby strongly for Elton John and Mary J. Blige to join forces. Elton fundamentally knows his shit about Simone’s life– he even named his piano Nina and recorded a version of “Young, Gifted, and Black” when he was cutting cheap soundalike records for discount labels in the late 60s. Blige, for her part, was originally contracted to play Nina Simone before scheduling delays led to her losing the part to Zoe Saldana. Together, with Elton on the keys and Blige at the microphone, they could potentially give the performance of the night. (They already worked together on this kickass version of “I Guess That’s Why They Call It The Blues.”)

Sister Rosetta Tharpe: You know who listened to Tharpe as a young girl? And not only listened, but felt empowered to take guitar lessons and find ways to bring gospel and rock together? Mavis Staples. That’s who.

Link Wray: Robbie Robertson just took part in a documentary explaining Wray’s preeminent role in Native American contributions to rock and roll. It seems like the former guitarist for The Band should do the honors.

The Zombies: For many years, The Zombies were a forgotten band following their breakup. But in the deepest, darkest, late 70s, Paul Weller, the Modfather himself, remembered the lessons learned from Odessey in Oracle– which he frequently cites as his favorite album.

Now we have had a few days to let the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s nominees percolate a bit, and we’ve had some time to reflect on their merits. I’d like to continue my coverage, as is my tradition, by looking at each of the nominees in turn, and evaluating them in three areas: one is my simple, highly subjective ranking of how much I like them, which I will call preference. I’ll also attempt to more objectively evaluate each nominee on their worthiness to join the rock and roll greats in Cleveland. Finally, I’ll weigh in on the likelihood of their induction this year. Before I begin, I’d like to give a shout-out to Philip over at Rock Hall Monitors- I heavily borrowed this format of discussing the nominees from him.

With 19 nominees again this year, there’s no time to waste. Let’s get down to it.

Bon Jovi (Preference: 11, Worthiness: 18, Likelihood: 3) Well, the weird extended feud- which seems to have included Bon Jovi pulling their swag from the Rock Hall- seems to be over. Bon Jovi was nominated before- for the Class of 2011- but fell short. The fact that, say, Darlene Love, got in that year and they didn’t speaks volumes. The voters didn’t like what they were selling. But that was before the fan vote. As long as the fan vote has been there, its winner has gotten in- even if, in the case of KISS, we couldn’t track down an actual Rock Hall voter who picked them. I’m not saying it’s rigged or anything- I’m really not- but let’s just say the Hall has an incentive to induct Bon Jovi. The bad publicity of the almost inevitable fan vote winner failing to get inducted is one reason. The good publicity of uniting the band with estranged guitarist Richie Sambora is another. Still- if there was ever a time that a fan favorite might not get in- this would be the one. I still think they are a near-lock. Journey got in- but they weren’t on the same level of hackery and critical hatred and contempt from their contemporaries as Bon Jovi. We’ll see.

Kate Bush (Preference: 6, Worthiness: 13, Likelihood: 16) I think I predicted her a few years ago, never taking that prospect very seriously. Well, here we are! Kate Bush is one of the very best songwriters of her era, and has a place in British pop history as having performed the first #1 both written and sung by a woman (“Wuthering Heights”). Her oeuvre, very much like an avant-garde playlet set to music, wasn’t everybody’s cup of tea. (It is my cup of tea, though. “The Man with the Child in His Eyes” is one of my favorite tracks by any performer.) Yet, she stands out as an artist among the artists listed here. Unfortunately, she was much bigger in the UK than in the USA, and the Hall’s voters definitely tilt American. Moreover, the Hall must be aware that she will almost certainly be a no-show to the ceremony: she is a famously unwilling traveler, and took 35 years between concerts prior to her 2014 engagements in London. Moreover, she’s competing with Eurythmics in the arty new wave women category- and frankly, she’s just not the icon that Annie Lennox is.

The Cars (Preference: 4, Worthiness: 5, Likelihood: 5) With the exception of Chaka Khan, this is the only act on here that has been placed on the ballot each of the last three years. The Cars are in a sweet spot: lots of classic rock staples, but lots of critical love. Later baby boomers love them, but whichever Gen X music writers are voters probably view them highly as well. There’s also no shortage of modern acts who are fans of their work, keeping them relevant today.   But they might face the same issue that plagued them the last two years: being the sixth or seventh favorite act of too many voters, and not quite getting their box ticked.

Depeche Mode (Preference: 19, Worthiness: 10, Likelihood: 13) I’ll say this for Depeche Mode: they probably had more influence on what music sounds like today than anyone else on this list. Taking Kraftwerk’s embrace of electronica and achieving top 40 success, they were a major stadium act of their day.  They are fully deserving of Rock Hall induction, even if their music is much darker and not quite as melodic or organic as what I would prefer in my own listening habits. Acts of their caliber, though, have trouble getting in. While Depeche Mode isn’t quite alternative, the fact that The Smiths or The Replacements didn’t get in sniffing distance of induction doesn’t bode well, nor does Nine Inch Nails’ failure to get in during their two nominations.

Dire Straits (Preference: 3, Worthiness: 4, Likelihood: 6) Well, here was a surprise! Dire Straits were one of those acts that fell under the radar, never really coming up in any list of egregious snubs. And yet, now that they are up for consideration, the case for them seems evident. Mark Knopfler was one of the great rock guitarists of his era, they made some pioneering music videos, and- frankly- they stand out for me in terms of crafting fine rock and roll more than any other act on the ballot. Listen to their songs, and you get poetic slices of life with first-rate musicianship: “Espresso Love,” “Telegraph Road,” “Romeo and Juliet,” “Sultans of Swing.” And come on…you know you want Sting to come out and do “Money for Nothing” at the ceremony. This was a great, great choice, and they just might make it through, even on a competitive ballot like this year’s.

Eurythmics (Preference: 5, Worthiness: 9, Likelihood: 7) I knew if I kept predicting them, I would eventually be right! Eurythmics have a number of qualities that commend themselves to an easy induction process. The hall loves soulful singers, and Annie Lennox is probably the best singer on the ballot, depending on your feelings about Chaka Khan. She took the sonic palette of new wave and infused it with depth and humanity. Dave Stewart, for his part, has worked with the Heartbreakers, Ringo Starr, Stevie Nicks, Mick Jagger, Daryl Hall, and plenty of others. The hall has also given VH1 and MTV veterans a stronger presence on the Nom Com (and presumably the Voting Committee too) in recent years, and Eurythmics certainly made the most of the music video format.

J. Geils Band (Preference: 17, Worthiness: 19, Likelihood: 11) Ah, geez. Someone on the committee loves these guys, because this is their fifth appearance. By all accounts they were a very fine live band and I’m willing to look past their somewhat embarrassing string of 80s hits. I don’t think they suck or anything, but in my own judgment, they just don’t clear the bar of excellence or influence or even record sales to have even the remotest case for the Rock Hall. Nevertheless, I’m not willing to write off their chances. They have a “your favorite band’s favorite band” thing going for them, and voters loved blues acts enough to induct two of them in 2015. But J. Geils- essentially Chic without the charm or the pity votes- probably isn’t joining Stevie Ray and Paul Butterfield in the hall this year.

Judas Priest (Preference: 13, Worthiness: 6, Likelihood: 12) It seems like just last year, we were debating who would be next metal act now that Deep Purple was in. Some said Iron Maiden, some solo Ozzy, others noted Dave Grohl’s affinity for Motorhead. Instead, it was Judas Priest, in my opinion the most deserving of that lot. Judas Priest has been safely in my top ten Rock Hall prospects in both the 2015 and 2017 itinerations. But look…it took Deep Purple three tries to get in and they were considered the most egregious Rock Hall snub in some quarters. Hardly any one outside the metal community feels that way about Priest. They are an eminent metal band, and unlike others on this list, they are genuinely honored and delighted to have been nominated. I hope they get in one day, but this just doesn’t feel like their year. I’m sure they have Eddie Trunk’s vote, but it isn’t going to be enough.

L. L. Cool J (Preference: 18, Worthiness: 8, Likelihood: 8): Well, LL Cool J has the rap and hip-hop genres all to himself on the ballot this year (although Rage as a foot in that river). He has been feted by the Kennedy Center, but will it be enough? Two rap acts have gotten in during the last two years, but NWA was a proud iconoclast benefitting from a bestselling movie, and 2pac was a cultural icon in the conversation for the best rapper of all time. LL Cool J seems a little…safe after these two. And there may very well be “rap fatigue” among the voting body that still isn’t 100% sold on the genre. Having said that, LL Cool J has to be considered a contender on any ballot he’s on, but his chances seem a bit middling this year.

MC5 (Preference: 15, Worthiness: 15, Likelihood: 18) Tom Morello’s influence surfaces here as well, with one of his favorites earning their third nomination. This band is very much like a secret handshake among rock nerds and political iconoclasts. Despite a short heyday, they made history with their notorious manager John Sinclair, and their rough-hewn records and performances influenced everyone from My Chemical Romance to Sonic Youth. Don’t expect an induction this year, though: if it took several nominations for The Stooges, for example, to get in, MC5 isn’t making it with this many classic bands on the ballot. Plus, they are competing with RATM and Nina Simone as the most politically charged act on the list this year.

The Meters (Preference: 10, Worthiness: 17, Likelihood: 19) My respect for The Meters has grown exponentially since the day they were last nominated four years earlier. I hadn’t even heard of The Meters at the time, and therefore assumed that they didn’t deserve to get in. I was mistaken. Although they rank only 17th in terms of deserving nomination, I can’t say enough how much respect I have for their funky beats, halting and jerky rhythms and distinctive New Orleans sound. Having said all that, if Chic couldn’t get in under any number of scenarios, don’t expect The Meters to fare better.

The Moody Blues (Preference: 7, Worthiness: 2, Likelihood: 1) When I declared The Moody Blues as my #1 Rock Hall prospect back in 2015, that was probably…too much. I felt like I needed to put a ~real~ rock and roll band in the top spot, and so didn’t consider Janet or Kraftwerk or Carole King or someone for that honor like I should have. Nevertheless, The Moody Blues are one of the most famously egregious Rock Hall snubs ever. Even ten years ago, people were listing them alongside Chicago, Kiss, Genesis, Neil Diamond, Alice Cooper, and the like. Well- those artists are now in. And it’s the Moody Blues’ turn to join them.

Nina Simone (Preference: 2, Worthiness: 1, Likelihood: 4) Some people think she’s not quite rock and roll, or that she would be more fitting in an Influence or Musical Excellence category. I sort of understand, but ultimately come down strongly on inducting Nina as an artist. Like Miles Davis or Johnny Cash, she was a bridge between genres. She readily covered rock and roll standards in a jazzy nightclub style, and rock and rollers covered her songs too (most famously, “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood.”) In her career, she branched out to record some of the most direct civil rights anthems of her time. While, say, Odetta’s songs prayed for peace, Simone pointed fingers and demanded justice in “Mississippi Goddamn” and “I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel To be Free.” It’s no wonder that her influence continues through such figures as Beyonce, Lauryn Hill, Alicia Keys, and Mary J. Blige- any of whom would happily drop everything to help induct her in Cleveland. Dave Davies from The Kinks publicly tipped his hand with an enthusiastic “for God’s sake” preceding his intent to vote for her. I think that’s prescient. Do you honestly think the surviving Animals won’t pick her? Do you honestly think Paul McCartney- who credits her “I Put A Spell On You” for the sultry “I love you, I love you, I love you” bridge in “Michelle” won’t find a spot for her? Or Elton John, who named his damn piano after her? Or Mavis Staples? Or surviving members of the Family Stone? Or the Furious Five? Or the social justice-friendly critics and executives who put Joan Baez in last year? Don’t be silly. Nina Simone is getting in.

Radiohead (Preference: 9, Worthiness: 3, Likelihood: 2)  Back in the late 1940s, William Randolph Hearst gave a famous directive to his vast media empire: Puff Graham. A network of radio stations and newspaper outlets then spent months establishing Billy Graham as the nation’s evangelist par excellence, handing him fame and success- albeit in recognition of his considerable skills as a revivalist. That’s not unlike the relationship between the Rolling Stone Industrial Complex and Radiohead. For years, they’ve told us that The Bends and OK Computer are two of the greatest albums of their time. They found a space for them among their 100 Immortals (and believe me, they were very stingy about including post-1970s acts.) All of this was deserved, no doubt- but it didn’t hurt to have friends in high places. Their acclaim has translated to some of the most well loved records of the late 90s- and if the voters could put Green Day in during their first year, Radiohead should be a piece of cake.

Rage Against the Machine (Preference: 14, Worthiness: 7, Likelihood: 9)  I appreciate Rage Against the Machine, which gave my generation a hyper-politicized group as earlier generations had MC5 or Country Joe and the Fish. Rage was far more popular than either- to the point of developing a near sub-culture around themselves, and any discussion of great albums from the turn of the millennium will have to include The Battle of Los Angeles. In a different year with different contenders, I would be optimistic about their prospects. But now? They face competition from Radiohead for the “newbie who has to get in on the first ballot” stakes. They face competition from MC5 and Nina Simone as the most “woke” act available. Morello is an amazing guitarist, but he’s up against Mark Knopfler and Link Wray. Too much pressure from too many quarters- an unlucky ballot for RATM.

Rufus, feat. Chaka Khan (Preference: 12, Worthiness: 16, Likelihood: 15) I’m curious how Rufus got tied to Chaka Khan again- the last two years, it was just Chaka by herself. If anything, this makes Khan’s prospects even more unlikely- people don’t really remember Rufus, and they are more tied to the funkier end of disco, while Khan’s solo career put her into more favorable diva territory. It’s distantly possible they’ll get in, but if it took Donna Summer five tries before her death made her nigh-inevitable, I can’t see Chaka Khan having better luck. It’s a shame- Rufus and Chicago collaborated frequently, and I’d love to hear Danny Seraphine make another profane induction speech.

Sister Rosetta Tharpe (Preference: 8, Worthiness: 12, Likelihood: 17) I’m still a little puzzled by Tharpe’s inclusion on the ballot. She is, beyond dispute, a key piece of rock and roll history– but her heyday was in the 40s and early 50s. I’m not exactly sure what the Nom Com is up to– are they greasing the skids for an Early Induction award (of which Tharpe is wholly deserving?) Did someone else get the Early Influence slot and this was a consolation prize? Some other folks have said “nobody will vote for her, because they know she’ll get in as an Early Influence.” I don’t agree–it’s giving Rock Hall voters too much credit for knowing how their institution works. I doubt very many rock legends have the brain-space to remember Freddie King and Wanda Jackson’s backdoor inductions between touring, buying HD televisions, and remembering to give their former mistresses hush money.

Link Wray (Preference: 16, Worthiness: 14 Likelihood: 10) Link is back! His family has been great to me over the years, and I am delighted for them. His case may be helped by the recent documentary (I’m not sure how many people knew he was part Native American when he was last nominated for the Class of 2014). Nevertheless, like that ’14 ballot, he’s up against A-list 90s acts, and a bevy of never-before-nominated classic rock favorites. Yet as a 50s guitar hero whose stock and trade was rough and ragged instrumentals, he might very well sneak in by virtue of his uniqueness- there isn’t anyone like him on the ballot this year.

The Zombies (Preference: 1, Worthiness: 11, Likelihood: 14) Look, I’m in the tank for The Zombies. They are one of my favorite artists. Odessey and Oracle is one of my ten favorite albums of all time. If I were starting a superband, I’d pick Rod Argent as the keyboard player and work backward from there. I want them to get in, and in a different year, they’d make it. Put them on the ’15 ballot instead of Paul Butterfield, and I have a hunch they’d earn enough votes to get inducted. It’s unfortunate, because they are more musically excellent and more significant in the long term than either The Dave Clark Five and The Hollies- each of whom has been in the hall for the better part of a decade. Unfortunately, last year they were up against fellow psychedelic keyboard-heavy act Steppenwolf. And this year, they are up against their contemporaries The Moody Blues, who are more famous and had more longevity. (To emphasis the point of them being contemporaries, remember that “Nights in White Satin” and “Time of the Season” were recorded within weeks of each other.) Maybe someone like Terry Sylvester of The Hollies will vote for both, but I’d imagine most people will diversify their ballots a bit more– which puts The Zombies in a precarious place.

So…where does this go from here? If I had to predict the Class of 2018, I think Moody Blues, Radiohead, and Bon Jovi are gimmes, although I’d love to be proven wrong on Bon Jovi. I’m pretty confident about Nina Simone for reasons I detailed in her section. And I’ve got a good feeling about The Cars. For a radio-friendly, critically-acclaimed group, I just can’t see them falling short a third time. But that sixth spot, assuming there is one, is giving me fits. Dire Straits and Eurythmics seem like the two most logical choices. But I would give an outside chance to LL Cool J, J. Geils Band, Rage Against the Machine, and Link Wray. The others strike me as very long shots. In a contest between Dire Straits and Eurythmics, I’d have to predict the former. Knopfler is a top-shelf guitarist, and his songwriting and storytelling is their secret weapon. The hall loves those features, as the relatively painless inductions of Leonard Cohen, Tom Waits, Randy Newman, and Bill Withers all suggest. the problem is that this gives us a class very similar to last year’s: a bunch of classic rock mainstays, a first-year-eligible act or two, and just one woman and one artist of color. (In fact, in this case, they would both be the same person- Nina Simone!)

Who am I voting for on the rockhall.com fan vote? Well, The Zombies and Nina Simone are two pet projects of mine, and two of my favorite artists of all time. Of course I’m voting for them. I want to usher The Cars in after three tries, so they are in, too. I would round it out with Dire Straits and Eurythmics, two of my favorite artists who are also among my top 15 Rock Hall prospects. While I really appreciate The Moodies, I’m so confident of their chances that I don’t think they need my vote. Kate Bush and Sister Rosetta were in contention as well. I’m fine making Radiohead and RATM wait another year. That’s not a very balanced vote on my part- too many acts that peaked in the early 80s- but I can live with that. (For comparison, my votes last year went to: Pearl Jam, Janet Jackson, Joan Baez, Kraftwerk, and The Zombies.)

What do you think? Am I on the right track with my directions? Have a pegged your favorites wrong? Let me know in the comments- until then, we have two and a half months of speculating to do!

 

The news leaked a little early, but around midnight on 5 October, we learned the identity of our nominees for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s class of 2018. There were plenty of returning nominees: The Cars, LL Cool J, Link Wray, The Zombies, Depeche Mode, MC5, Rufus feat. Chaka Khan, J. Geils Band, The Meters, and Bon Jovi. We also have a collection of snubs receiving their first nomination. Two of them- Sister Rosetta Tharpe and Nina Simone- were theoretically eligible for the Rock Hall’s first class back in 1986. They are rounded out by Moody Blues, Dire Straits, Eurythmics, Judas Priest, and Kate Bush. Radiohead and Rage Against the Machine earned a nomination on their very first year of eligibility.

Wow! That’s quite a group. First impressions? It’s hard to go wrong with any of these. Almost. J. Geils is a joke, and I’m not fond of the Bon Jovi pick for reasons I’ll get in to…but you could make a fine class out of this batch if done properly. Lots of longtime snubs are addressed in acts like The Moody Blues. Metal-heads will be vindicated by Judas Priest finally earning a nomination.

A few things stand out, though. Others have noticed this- but this ballot is very light on R&B. (Remember, R&B is narrower than “black artists who don’t rap.”) Simone and Tharpe aren’t really in that genre, as jazz and gospel performers respectively. That leaves  Rufus/Chaka and The Meters. That’s…pretty astonishingly low, especially since these are two of the least likely acts to actually get enough votes. Compare that to the ballot for the Class of 2015 where Chic, War, The Marvelettes, The Spinners, and Bill Withers all vied against one another.

Two other omissions strike me as odd: Nine Inch Nails and Janet Jackson. I would have bet the farm on the Rock Hall moving heaven and earth to induct Reznor in Cleveland, a town he is deeply rooted in. For whatever reason, that didn’t happen. Janet was also passed by- an odd choice given how well her nomination was received during the last two years and the guaranteed ratings boost she would give the HBO special.

And then there’s Sister Rosetta Tharpe. I have mixed feelings about this. I’m thrilled that she’s now on the Rock Hall’s radar; she was listed as #1 when I ranked Early Influence candidates this summer, and that’s just the issue. Her best work was in the 1940s and early 1950s– an Early Influence by any fair assessment. The prospect of her getting in as an artist isn’t unprecedented- Muddy Waters is in as an artist too, and he peaked during that same period. But it’s very weird, and raises questions about whether this nomination is a bad faith effort to just grease the skids for an Early Influence or Musical Excellence nod. In fact, it was unusually ballsy for the Rock Hall to nominate a total of three acts whose first record came out before 1960: Tharpe, Nina Simone, and Link Wray.

And, frankly, I’m not thrilled with the Bon Jovi pick. I’m talking an awful lot of smack, given that I included them in my 100 Rock Hall Prospects, but this continues a depressing trend of choosing uber-commercial acts who don’t clear the Musical Excellence bar.  The Journey nomination seemed just a bit fishy to me last year, and Bon Jovi coming back- suspiciously after mending ties with the Rock Hall and re-donating their swag for exhibition- also raises concern. Look- if you like hair bands, great. Good on you. But musically, Bon Jovi is not in the same class as the other 18 musicians on this ballot. It’s true. And yet, they are currently leading the Rock Hall’s fan poll. That poll didn’t exist when they were first nominated back in 2011. But since it was initiated, the winner of the fan poll has always been inducted. In fact, at least three of the top five artists who win the fan poll get in. That’s disconcerting when black and female artists with greater musicianship tend to sink like stones in the public poll as hoards of suburban baby boomers vote for their favorites- look at the Meters and Rufus and Kate Bush rounding out some of the last places. If the trend holds and Bon Jovi gets in, who is next– Duran Duran? Def Leppard? Foreigner? Do they all get in before Kraftwerk and The Smiths too? Where does it end?

Finally, it’s hard to see who had the most influence on making this ballot. Tom Morello’s hand can be seen clearly in MC5 and Judas Priest’s nominations- both artists the RATM guitarist advocated for. But Questlove’s involvement cannot be readily perceived, nor can David Grohl’s. Those expecting a Soundgarden nomination were disappointed.  Similarly, my theory about Paul Shaffer nominating Warren Zevon also turned out to be bunk.

But let’s re-examine my predictions. I am proud to say that I got nine right: Radiohead, Rage Against the Machine, The Zombies, Eurythmics, LL Cool J, Link Wray, Nina Simone, J. Geils Band, and Moody Blues. Irritatingly, lots of artists I’ve predicted in other years showed up this year when I didn’t pick them: Judas Priest, The Meters, Kate Bush, Dire Straits, and MC5 all fell into that category. Troy Smith got an impressive ten right- congratulations!

For all my complaining, my two pet favorites, The Zombies and Nina Simone, are both nominees this year. If nothing else, I’m very grateful for that.

Hopefully this weekend, I’ll flesh this out, as is my custom, by rating each of the nominees on three scales: 1) how much I personally like them; 2) how deserving they are of induction; 3) how likely they are to be inducted.

Oh, and as a point of trivia- the top ten artists in my 2017 update to my Rock Hall Prospects have all now been nominated at least once: Moody Blues, Kraftwerk, Nina Simone, Carole King, Janet Jackson, Judas Priest, The Spinners, Dire Straits, and The Smiths. In fact, everybody in my top 15- with the sole exception of Mariah Carey- has  been nominated as well.

So…we are now about 4 or 5 weeks out from the Rock Hall announcing its nominees. At this stage in the game, we’ve heard predictions from almost all of the Rock Hall monitors with blogs or websites of their own. I encourage you to click on links taking you to the well thought-out, persuasively argued predictions from Troy Smith, Michelle Bourg, E-rockracy, Tom Lane, Donnie Durham, Charles Crossley, and the star around which we orbit, Future Rock Legends. Lots of other people made predictions on the Future Rock Legends board or in my comments section, but I had to draw the line somewhere, or a fun weekend activity would devolve into tedious number-crunching. Please accept my apologies if your picks weren’t included in this analysis.

One name is notably absent from this list, and that is Philip, who hosts Rock Hall Monitors. Earlier in the summer, Philip wrote a conscientious post encouraging the Nominating Committee to put out a ballot consisting entirely of women and/or persons of color as a means of addressing endemic discrimination in our society. It got a lot of pushback from many quarters, but Philip stuck to his guns. Rather than post a “protest prediction,” he abstained from making choices this year. I likewise urge you to read what he has to say.

To recap, my own picks were: Radiohead, Rage Against the Machine, LL Cool J, Nina Simone, The Zombies, Janet Jackson, War, J. Geils Band, Soundgarden, Eurythmics, Nine Inch Nails, Link Wray, The Smiths, Warren Zevon, Roxy Music, The Shangri-Las, The Spinners, Moody Blues, and PJ Harvey.

Each list had its own character, as always. Troy favored lots of returning nominees, especially from last year’s set. Charles’s list is almost a half-protest: he has 8 picks nobody else chose, and lots of choices from rock’s earlier years. I tended to focus on who has been a bit more high-profile as of late, and developed a two-years-out-of-three philosophy that is probably absolute nonsense.

But all of these lists share some common assumptions: more and better female nominees, a wide range of genres, and a strong presence from Tom Morello, Questlove, and newcomer David Grohl. With the exception of Troy, we all think the Hall will tone down the strong 70s classic rock flavor of the last two years.

Of course, we don’t know if there are more new members, or if some older members of the nominating committee have been shown the door, or left of their own volition. But that is what makes this so fun! Can we master the mind of the notoriously unpredictable Nominating Committee?

Between the 8 of us who made predictions, we agreed unanimously on four artists: Radiohead (the obvious first-year nominee), LL Cool J (a returning nominee who seems like the logical choice for the next rap act), Janet Jackson (a guaranteed ratings boost and one of the greatest hitmakers not in the hall), and Link Wray (who is projected to benefit from the new Rumble movie and Stevie Van Zandt’s brazen endorsement.)

At a near-unanimous 7? Everyone pegged The Cars except for me.

6 out of the 8 think Rage Against the Machine will be on the ballot on their first eligible year, and The Moody Blues will be on the ballot after a quarter-century of eligibility!

5- a narrow majority- are banking on 80s alternative mainstays The Smiths; the Nine Inch Nails; (both nominated for the Classes of 2015 and 2016 but passed over this year) and in the wake of Chris Cornell’s death, Soundgarden.

Half of us can foresee Eurythmics, Warren Zevon, and Kraftwerk. Kraftwerk shows up about half the time, and David Letterman gave a very public nod to Zevon in last year’s ceremony. But for half of us to pick Eurythmics because it basically “feels right?” That’s…interesting.

Three votes for a lot of acts- many of them returning nominees who may or may not show up: The Spinners, War, The Zombies, Roxy Music, Joe Tex, and Bad Company.

A tiny minority of two predictions each for: Nina Simone, Carole King, J. Geils Band, The Marvelettes, Los Lobos, Joe Cocker, Pat Benatar, and Black Flag.

And, of course, there are some elliptical choices. I was alone in suggesting The Shangri-Las and PJ Harvey. Michelle’s were Judas Priest (a popular choice last year), Carly Simon, The Commodores, and Big Star. Troy was delightfully all over the map with MC5, Boston, Peter Frampton, Donny Hathaway (!), Chaka Khan, and Steppenwolf. E-rockracy went with one-and-done nominees Jane’s Addiction and Procol Harum, alongside Motorhead, Foreigner, X, Todd Rundgren, and Alanis Morissette. X was an especially clever choice that would satisfy punk fans and those clamoring for more women in the hall. I wish I had thought of it. Donnie was alone in suggesting Patsy Cline (the only pure country artist on any list), Mary Wells, Kool & the Gang, and the late, lamented George Michael. Charles Crossley had an armada of unique picks: John Coltrane, The Guess Who, The Clovers, Wu-Tang Clan, Roy Brown, Cyndi Lauper, Bon Jovi, and Big Mama Thornton. FRL went with an artist who has been generating a lot of chatter on the site’s message boards (Stevie Nicks) as well as Chuck Brown, Billy Preston, and finally Harry Nilsson in the singer-songwriter slot. Tom Lane didn’t have any picks that weren’t shared (and it’s not like he was being derivative; he was one of the first to list his predictions! Go figure.)

Recent nominees that none of us predicted include The Cure, The Replacements, Depeche Mode, Bad Brains, The Meters, The JBs, and Sting. Other noteworthy absences were Willie Nelson, A Tribe Called Quest, The MonkeesSmashing Pumpkins, any blues act whatsoever aside from J. Geils, Mariah Carey with nearly twenty #1 hits, and the recently deceased Glen Campbell.

What do you think, readers? There are some great picks I wish I had thought of: X, Joe Tex, Stevie Nicks…and I have a funny feeling about The Guess Who this year. But every year, the Nominating Committee surprises us and makes us consider an artist that nobody saw coming. At any rate, in a little over a month, we’ll see who was right.