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Let’s imagine this scenario for a moment. It is a brisk, rainy, mucky June evening as I walk through the leafy, mildly bohemian section of Rochester I call home. As I zip up my jacket and turn up my collar up against the wind, a limo pulls up alongside of me. It’s the Clinton team! They’ve tracked me down to ask for some advice on who should be in the cabinet for a possible Hillary Clinton administration.

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This cabinet reflects the advice I would give, although there are no doubt plenty of experts with greater policy experience and more extensive rolodexes than I. Now that Secretary Clinton generally won the 26 April primaries in the Mid-Atlantic and the nomination is statistically about as secure as it can get, it’s never too early to think about the transition to governing. Broadly, I think the key is to avoid filling the cabinet wholly with people with whom she is already comfortable. Historically, the problem with the first Clinton administration was trusting things to a tiny cabal of family loyalists. This is surely a recipe for failure.  The very best administrations in American history- Washington’s, Lincoln’s, FDR’s, Monroe’s, Kennedy’s- had divergent points of view, free access to the president, and the right mix of autonomy and accountability. The following sketch tries to balance old Clinton people with worthy Obama folks, some people outside of the rough and tumble of politics, and even a Republican or two.  If there’s a bias anywhere, it’s that I did pick a number of people committed to ending poverty and hunger- both in the U.S. and abroad. More fundamentally, I wanted a cabinet of people who were ethically clean, undeniably competent, and could enact just and fair reform within the system. This isn’t a cabinet full of hash-tagging revolutionaries. These are mostly people with governing and managerial skill who can get shit done. I’ve listed here both the formal cabinet departments as well as offices that are considered “cabinet-level” but whose occupants aren’t considered “secretaries” and who are removed from the presidential line of succession.

Secretary of State: Jon Huntsman, Jr. He’s a classic tax-cutting conservative in domestic economic policy, but he won’t be handling the domestic economy in this office. Huntsman instead embodies the best of three worlds, with business experience, governing experience from his 8 years in Utah, and foreign policy experience from his time as ambassador to both China and Singapore. I strongly believe that a smart, productive pivot to Asia is the best foreign policy, and Huntsman embodies that to the tee. As a Republican, his commission would signal that politics stops at the water’s edge, and he got along well with Clinton when they were both in the State Department. Conspicuously, he has been silent on an issue many Republicans have roundly denounced, the recent nuclear agreement with Iran. And as far as this goes, silence probably signifies agreement. Or ambition.

Secretary of the Treasury: Jeffrey Sachs. I was blown away when I heard him speak in South Dakota back in 2006. Sachs would be an unconventional choice: someone who hasn’t worked in the banking industry and is instead considered one of the foremost economists alive today. In the aftermath of the Cold War, Sachs helped multiple countries adjust their economies to a market system, and in recent years has been heavily invested in ending the cycle of poverty that plagues the developing world. His relationship with 90s Clinton administration mainstay Larry Summers is none too cozy, but Summers’s moment has passed, and a more conscientious philanthropist-economist model is what today’s economy calls for. He’s respected by the economic establishment but is able to make pointed critiques and challenges to their authority: he once called the IMF “the Typhoid Mary of developing economies.”  Sachs is smart- he was a tenure-track professor at Harvard before he turned 30- but he has a good heart alongside one of the sharpest and most responsive minds in the world of markets.

Secretary of DefenseMichele Flournoy. Perhaps the biggest mystery of this list is why Flournoy isn’t already Secretary of Defense. James Carafano, a defense expert at the Heritage Foundation., noted that “she’s already mastered the Pentagon bureaucracy and shown herself to be in lockstep with President Obama as a team player who is easy to work with.” In the past, she’s served as under-secretary of Defense for Policy, and led the Obama administration’s Defense Department’s transition team. In the interim, she’s started a think tank called the Center for the New American Security.  I considered UN ambassador Samantha Power (she did, though, call Hillary a “monster” in the heat of the 2008 primaries), and Rhode Island senator Jack Reed (he’s allegedly been offered the job multiple times and has refused). But Flournoy will do nicely. She would be the first woman to serve as Secretary of Defense.

Attorney General: Lori Swanson.  Unless you live in Minnesota, there’s a good chance you haven’t heard of Lori Swanson. She’s served as attorney general of the Land of 10,000 Lakes since 2007, and has been a big part of the DFL’s recent success in what had been considered a swing state ten years earlier. She’s been roundly acclaimed for her work in consumer protection, cracking down on fraud and fleecers. As one watchdog group writes, “Attorney General Swanson has been a tireless champion for consumers in America, whether leading the charge against predatory mortgage lending, protecting seniors from marketing abuses, or defending our basic American right to have credit card disputes resolved impartially and not through a stacked deck.”  In an age of Trump University, she’s also taken on for-profit colleges that were little more than disreputable degree mills. The only problem is that she might want to run for Governor of Minnesota in 2018 when Mark Dayton retires. Other options I weighed were Deval Patrick (he’s retired to the private sector and seems done with politics) and Carmen Ortiz (talented, but often over-prosectures for minor offenses).

Secretary of the Interior: Christy Goldfuss.  With responsibility over the vast swath of national parks, wildlife refuges, and other federal lands, this department couldn’t be more important. Goldfuss would be ready to hit the ground running. Sharp and well-connected, she has held a variety of positions. She’s worked as a reporter, and a staffer on the House Committee for Natural Resources, and the National Park Service, before becoming made manager of the Council on Environmental Quality by President Obama last year. Goldfuss is genuinely skilled at media interaction and public engagement. Moreover, her work at the liberal think tank Center for American Progress makes her a natural fit with my Chief of Staff selection.  At 39 (this is an estimate based on when she graduated college), she’d be the youngest cabinet member in this administration.  A native of Connecticut, she’d also be only the second east-coaster to hold this job since 1900. I wanted to put Mark Udall in this spot; his father is still considered the best Secretary of the Interior ever, but there were already enough scions on this list.  My other instinct was to put a environmentalist Bernie supporter here, like Michael McGinn or Rocky Anderson, but each has a reputation for being ornery and a bit self-righteous. This position, frankly, changed hands more than any other: other names I thought about were another CEQ head Nancy Sutley and environmental lawyer Carolyn Raffensberger.

Secretary of Agriculture: David Beckmann. For this job, I considered former Arkansas senator Blanche Lambert Lincoln and Marshall Matz, who was George McGovern’s right hand man on the Senate Select Committee on Nutrition and Human Needs. But I remembered how the Eisenhower administration ran, when Ike selected a Secretary of State known in large part for his active lay churchmanship, John Foster Dulles. This inspired me to look for someone from a religious organization doing good social justice work- a choice resonant with Clinton’s sincere, but often unacknowledged, Methodism. For the last 25 years, Beckmann has served as president of Bread for the World, raising awareness, producing scholarship, and coordinating interfaith efforts to combat global and domestic hunger. A Lutheran pastor who is also a trained economist, Beckmann understands the nuances of the Agriculture Department’s most fundamental charge: make sure hungry people get enough to eat. Part lobby, part charity, Beckmann has been at the forefront of successful efforts to get Congress to increase its spending on development assistance. In terms of getting food to people who need it, Beckmann is one of the sharpest, most effective thinkers and administrators one can imagine.

Secretary of Commerce: Indra Nooyi. For over a decade, Nooyi has served as CEO of Pepsico. In that capacity, she’s made Pepsi not just successful but socially responsible as well. She’s removed potentially harmful substances like aspartame from their beverages. As it turned out, the right thing to do was also the profitable thing to do. Pepsico is more vibrant than ever, and has successfully positioned its offerings as “fun for you” (potato chips and regular soda), “better for you” (diet soda or baked potato chips), and “good for you” healthy treats. Moreover, Nooyi has an inspirational life story, a good corporate citizen, and regularly appears on annual lists of the Most Powerful Women in the World.  Others on my list included Ashifi Gogo, Ursula Burns, and Andrea Jung.

Secretary of Labor: Tom Perez. If beltway buzz is to be believed, Perez may find himself at Number One Observatory Circle as vice-president, rather than the Department of Labor. But tradition holds that one cabinet member from the previous administration who is doing good work be kept on board. George W. Bush kept on Secretary of Transportation Norm Mineta, and Barack Obama asked that Robert Gates stay on as head of the Department of Defense. Perez may choose to run for Governor of Maryland, or for Ben Cardin’s seat in 2018 if he retires, but for now, he’s a terrific fit for the Department of Labor. He’s been, frankly, brilliant at framing the issues of working people in terms of social justice when there’s often a disconnect between the lunchpail and the activist wings of the Democratic Party.

Secretary of Health and Human Services: Audrey Haynes. One of the clearest Obamacare success stories in its early years was its state exchange in Kentucky. Although a redoubtable red state in presidential elections, under Democratic Governor Steve Beshear and Health and Family Services secretary Haynes, the efficient Kynect system came into being.  While the Obamacare website rollout was wracked with bugs, Kynect worked smoothly from the start.  Over 400,000 Kentuckians signed up, and the state’s uninsured rate was cut in half with smooth public relations and easy coordination with Medicaid, private insurance companies, and national Obamacare policies. Haynes will have little difficulty transitioning from provincial Kentucky to the White House: she was once Tipper Gore’s chief of staff. I also considered Steve Beshear himself, Illinois congresswoman Cheri Bustos, and United Therapeutic executive Martine Rothblatt.

Secretary of Housing and Urban Development: Andre Carson. Carson represents much of Indianapolis, a city with very high foreclosure rates. During his time in the House, he’s worked on the Financial Services Committee to make sure fraudulent housing loans are more widely known to the public. And as a former policeman, Carson has a sense of how urban neighborhoods work in a way that escapes many seasoned politicians. Janette Sadik-Khan might also work in this capacity.

Secretary of Transportation: Gabe Klein. Klein was once described as a “guerrilla bureaucrat,” a policy wonk with a cult following and a record of getting stuff done. He’s been the transportation commissioner in Chicago and DC, where he’s faced the challenge of urban sprawl with private-public partnerships and finding innovative solutions such as bikeshare programs and his work at Zipcar. In short, he’s left the cities he’s worked for as more walker-friendly and better able to handle the oppressive traffic tantamount living in cities today. For years, “transportation” meant cars, but now it means pedestrians and cyclists. Klein might do the impossible and make the U.S. Department of Transportation sexy. The other contender for this spot was former Minneapolis mayor R.T. Rybak, but two Minnesotans seemed a little…much.

Secretary of Energy: Susan Eisenhower. For years, Eisenhower- Ike’s granddaughter- has been a key advocate, advisor, and consultant on energy issues. Her chief area of expertise is nuclear proliferation, particularly with regards to Russia. She’s sat on the Nuclear Threat Initiative Board and has worked as a blue-ribbon panel member for Department of Energy commissions more than once in the past. Ideally, my Secretary of Energy would be more of a climate change guru like Dan Reicher, but with Russia’s menacing maneuvers, and the nuclear capabilities of Iran and North Korea of no small importance, a “national security” kind of Secretary of Energy might be wiser in the short term.

Secretary of Education: Eduardo Padron.  Time named him one of the ten best college presidents in America. That’s an accomplishment, because Padron isn’t a president of an Ivy League school; quite to the contrary, he’s president of Miami Dade College, the nation’s largest community college. Obama has been a vocal advocate of transforming the role of the community college in America in a more affordable, academically rigorous and career-friendly way, and Padron has spent years making these goals a reality. Padron, an economist born in Cuba, is a tireless advocate for helping members of poor, underserved communities get the education they need to escape the poverty cycle. He boasts, not without cause, “In Miami, almost everybody you talk to is a graduate of this college, everybody in leadership positions, from our people in Congress, our people in the state legislature, our mayors, our commissioners, the state attorney, the public defender, the chief of police, the fire chief. I could go on and on and on, but it’s even more impressive in the private sector. … Right now, we have about 17 bank presidents who are Miami Dade graduates.”

Secretary of Veterans’ Affairs: Mike Michaud.  In 2014, Congressman Michaud averred re-election to Maine’s rural 2nd district to run for Vacationland’s governor. That didn’t work out, and after some speculation about his future, took a job as an Assistant Secretary of Labor in a role that facilitates the training and hiring of veterans. Maine- especially the 2nd district- has an unusually large number of military veterans, and Michaud is no stranger to representing their interests. He was one of the first to identify the VA incompetence under Eric Shinseki and demand reform. Michaud also sponsored an act in Congress that would have given tax credits to businesses that hire veterans. As someone conversant in the fields of veterans’ affairs, health care, and labor, he’d be a slam dunk at the VA.

Secretary of Homeland Security: William McRaven. McRaven will bring compelling leadership and a determined problem-solving mindset to this crucial office. He is, of course, best known for leading Operation Neptune Spear, the mission to take out Osama bin Laden in his Pakistan hideout. In the meantime, he’s had time to readjust to civilian life as the president of UT Austin. The Washington Post calls him “an one of the most experienced terrorist hunters in U.S. government” who would often accompany teams even as a three-star admiral.  A Politico longform article called him “the last four-star hero…a transformational leader in a tumultuous time.” McRaven is seemingly the perfect candidate- lots of character, widely described as “humble,” not even the barest whisper of scandal, an ability to inspire subordinates, and a striking amount of courage. According to the Politico article, he confronted SEAL legend Dick Marcinko when he ordered McRaven to perform a risky and highly illegal and unethical operation. McRaven would have no trouble making tough choices and using clear insight for the bevy of challenges faced by Homeland Security.

Chief of Staff: John Podesta. I’m putting him on here no matter how badly my auto-correct wants him to be John Pedestal. He’s the only true Clintonista on this list, the only one who played a large role in the 90s Clinton administration. In the last 40 years, the role of Chief of Staff has become one of no small importance, a gatekeeper who is responsible for coordinating access to the president, the person who has to serve as the bad cop to the POTUS’s good cop. Podesta has served in this capacity before, as Bill Clinton’s second chief of staff. He’s the current chairman of Secretary Clinton’s presidential campaign, and was a key part of the Obama-Biden transition team, making him an important bridge between Clinton Democrats and Obama Democrats, if such a distinction even makes sense any more. Although clearly part of an “establishment,” he’s also been one of liberalism’s staunchest defenders from the 90s going forward, and founded the seminal think tank, the Center for American Progress. In terms of connections, administrative ability, and standing up for a set of principals while working towards feasible solutions, Podesta’s by far the best choice.

Chairman of the Council of Economic Advisors: Joseph Stiglitz. This is not a glamorous position- most Americans have no idea it exists- but it is an important one for setting the tone for economic policy. This one is a major sop to Bernie Sanders and his supporters, as Stiglitz has been an important advisor to his campaign. His work, which is cited more than almost any other economist at work today, is deeply critical of unchecked free market boosterism. In recent years, he’s been at the forefront of resolving Greece’s debt problem without resorting to austerity. Like Podesta, Stiglitz is returning to a job he held in the 90s under Bill Clinton.

OMB Director: Jeffrey Zients. Zients has the job now, and I’d say let’s keep him where he is. He’s a known problem solver, who’s finest moment was supervising the overhaul of the buggy healthcare.gov website during its problematic rollout. One colleague has expressed amazement at Zients’s ability to “solve seemingly intractable problems” and dedicate his life to public service after a lucrative career in the private sector that made him a millionaire many times over. He and his South African-born wife formed the Urban Alliance Foundation, which helps provide job training and mentorship for underprivileged inner-city youth. As a fun point of trivia, Nelson Mandela even attended his wedding!

Trade Representative: Jennifer Granholm. Trade policy has unexpectedly become a sexy topic, and free trade fever that’s dominated the last 30 years of public policy has been called into question by grassroots groups across the political spectrum. They even successfully pushed Hillary to reconsider her position on TPP. International trade is inevitable, and rightly so, but who better to protect U.S. interests than someone who was Governor of Michigan for eight years? As the governor who weathered the automotive crisis, she’s been a sharp-elbowed advocate for policies that favor U.S. industrial development while maintaining strong internationalism- working with Sweden in recent years to support a green energy economy.

EPA director: Marc Edwards. There weren’t many heroes that came out of the Flint, Michigan water crisis, but Edwards was one of them. When one Flint mother brought water from the beleaguered city to be tested, Edwards found that the amount of lead in the water supply was hundreds of times higher than safe levels. As Scientific American put it, “Edwards’s team uncovered the widespread use of lead testing practices that deviated from EPA protocol” and blew the whistle on their findings. Steven Chu’s work as Secretary of Energy has shown that a professor can serve effectively in a cabinet department, and in that tradition, putting Marc Edwards in charge of the EPA would send a powerful message. I might have considered former New Mexico senator Jeff Bingaman, but this job may be too small for a guy who was in the Senate for 30 years.

UN Ambassador: Ertharin Cousin. Cousin has a long history in the United Nations already. For the last four years, she’s worked as the Director of the UN Food Program that works out of Rome. Her efforts have ensured that millions throughout the world get enough to food to survive in precarious situations. In the process, she is, like others on this list, a regular on Forbes and Time lists of powerful and influential women in the world. She’s in charge of what the Telegraph calls “the world’s largest humanitarian organization,” and has worked hard to mix providing immediate aid in disaster and famine conditions with sustainable development. “So often, we’d come in and say, ‘We have the answers.’ But now we’re allowing governments or communities to lead, and then we’ll come in with long-term strategies. That’s what will ensure that we’re moving towards the solutions that will end hunger.” As UN Ambassador, Cousin is uniquely qualified to advocate for these causes on an even greater stage.

Small Business Administration: Hala Moddelmog. As head of the Atlanta Chamber of Commerce, Moddelmog has personified a strong civic-minded business model. She’s worked as CEO of Arby’s and Susan G. Komen for the Cure. When the Georgia state legislature tried to follow North Carolina’s lead and pass a “religious freedom” bill that would in practice limit LGBT persons ability to be hired or buy goods or services from, a wide array of businesses. Moddelmog led the business community in opposing the law, and ultimately Governor Deal pledged to veto the bill. Atlanta has long prided itself as the city that was “too busy too hate,” prioritizing economic innovation and growth over petty prejudice. Moddelmog is a nice continuation of that tradition. A second choice might be a one-time small-business owner, former New Mexico Lt. Governor, Diane Denish.

So that’s who I would advise if I were asked. It’s a tentative list, and necessarily so. Elements like personal chemistry can also factor into the decision, and I’m simply not privy to this kind of information in regards to who would work in a President Hillary administration and who wouldn’t. Still- it works. And without really trying to, this cabinet achieves some important milestones. Of the 22 positions, 9 are held by women- not parity, but an all-time high. We’ve also got our first Muslim cabinet member (Carson) and our first two Hindus (Nooyi and, surprisingly, Klein.) Nooyi would also become the first person of Indian descent to hold a cabinet office (I think), and Michaud would be the first openly gay cabinet secretary (although others have held cabinet-rank offices). In a xenophobic chapter in our history, three (Padron, Granholm, and Nooyi again) are immigrants.  When President Obama formed his cabinet, he was criticized for having no CEOs and no Southerners. Well, there are plenty of CEOs and company presidents (Huntsman, Moddelmog, Nooyi, and Zients). And there’s no shortage of Southerners either, between McRaven (Texas), Padron (Florida), Moddelmog (Georgia), and Haynes (Kentucky). There’s a good mix of policy wonks like Klein and Eisenhower, effective governors like Huntsman and Granholm, and congress-folk like Carson and Michaud.  Add in some academics (Sachs, Edwards, Stiglitz), humanitarians (Beckmann), military men (McRaven), old cabinet hands (Podesta, Perez) and people who have worked effectively at the state level (Haynes, Swanson), and you’ve got an effective breadth of experience.

Any problems? Well, for one, I wish I had some more relatively young people on this list. Only 4 of the 22 will be under 50 on Inauguration Day, 2017 (Carson, Goldfuss, Zients, and Klein). And there’s far too many people on the list who are 60 years old, plus/minus a few years (a shockingly high 8 cabinet members fall in that age range.) That’s not a knock, necessarily, on older people. It’s just that different generations, I’ve found, have very different problem solving styles, and more Gen X’ers, and even an odd millennial, might have added some more flavor to a cabinet stocked with people on the younger end of the Baby Boom. I also wish I could have added another Republican (I wrestled with Sachs vs. Sheila Bair as Secretary of the Treasury). I also do not have any senators- past or present- on my list, which is astonishing because I love studying the history of the Senate. But when I see people predict a cabinet, there’s a tendency to lazily pick out senators rather than casting a wider net (through obvious choices like Elizabeth Warren on Treasury, or Jack Reed on Defense, Michael Bennet on Education, and so on.)

I’d love some feedback, if anyone cares to provide some. Who would you pick for the next cabinet?

 

 

Twice before, I’ve posted my ten top candidates for Hillary Clinton’s running mate, on the not-unreasonable assumption that she will be the Democrats’ nominee.   And here is my third, and probably penultimate, installment (I’ll try to write one last edition in June or July when the convention nears and when we’ve seen more trial balloons floated that could telegraph her thought process.)

Sanders has had a very good run, but I don’t believe he will win the nomination. Generally, he’s had his best luck in states with caucuses (not too many left, and they tend to be small states) and states with extremely white populations (which doesn’t help in larger, more diverse, delegate-rich states like California, New York, or Illinois.) But he’s inspired a great many people to engage in politics. I hope Sanders supporters will stay in the game and continue to be a force in the Democratic Party and national politics more generally in the years to come. I’m hopeful that a strong speech by Sanders in Philadelphia this summer will convince them to campaign for Hillary just as hard as they would have for him. Moreover, Sanders has fulfilled his destiny, in the sense that while his candidacy was always far-fetched, he succeeded in pushing Clinton to the left. And what’s more, he’s done it in ways that make it undesirable to shift toward the center in the general election. As it currently stands, Hillary’s come out against the TPP and it’s more likely than not that her running-mate will be an olive branch to the Bernie Bros.

One change is that I have not one but three (well, two and a half) potential female running mates lined up for Secretary Clinton.  Every once in a while, I hear someone say that our country “isn’t ready” for that kind of thing. Why is it that an angry, racist billionaire with no political experience becoming president is plausible, and a ticket with two qualified women is not? Let me put it this way- since women earned the right to vote nationwide starting in the 1920 election, there have been 24 presidential elections. With two major parties, and two spots on each ticket, that’s a total of 96 “spots” on a presidential ticket since then. Of those 96 spots, only two were held by women: Geraldine Ferraro in 1984 and Sarah Palin in 2008- and both were in the less prestigious vice-presidential spots. Or to put it differently, 46 out of those 48 tickets were all male. Why is one all-female ticket so ridiculous? With 20 female senators, a large handful of female governors, and no shortage of female cabinet members and congresswomen, there’s never been a more qualified batch of female vice-presidential prospects for a presidential candidate to choose from.

In past installments, I set out a number of rules that increasingly don’t make sense any longer: no New Englanders, no women, nobody over 60. The last few months have tossed out the rulebook of conventional wisdom, and the Trump candidacy made a monkey out of almost every political pundit both famous and obscure. So now- these requirements are no longer on the table. Oldsters, Yankees, and other women could very well provide the right temperamental and ideological qualities to the ticket.

  1. John Hickenlooper: Hickenlooper was suggested by longtime Northumbrian reader Jared. And for a long time, I didn’t take his prospects seriously, largely for superficial reasons (I didn’t think two white candidates both north of 60 would work.) But the more I look at Hickenlooper, the more I like him. As the Sanders candidacy has shown, one doesn’t have to be young to resonate with younger voters. And Hickenlooper won in Colorado in 2010 and 2014- two disastrous years for Democrats- suggesting that he could help Clinton’s shaky prospects in the Centennial State. Under Hickenlooper, Colorado voters legalized marijuana use, and the governor also signed important gun control bills into law. He also ran a brewery in his earlier days, giving him both small-business experience that independents love while paradoxically burnishing his hipster credentials. In terms of exuding competence, bringing a swing state into play, and generating appeal to Sanders supporters, Hickenlooper is the complete package.
  2. Sherrod Brown: Brown has made a career for himself as a scrappy populist with disheveled hair, traits that should recommend himself to Bernie fans.  Although Brown recently endorsed Hillary, picking him telegraphs to the Bernie Bro that their concerns have been heeded, and views such as theirs will have a voice in a Clinton pt. II administration.  As a known opponent of monied interests and having a strong blue-collar background, he has the anti-establishment chops that Hillary may need to generate extra enthusiasm.  Running for re-election in 2012, Brown ran significantly ahead of Obama in Ohio, which may very well recommend him as a avenue to win the mother of all swing states.  The only real drawback is that John Kasich (who himself may factor into the Republican ticket- especially if there is a contested convention) would get to pick his successor.
  3. Elizabeth Warren: At times, I am tempted to see streaks of misogyny among Sanders supporters’ treatment of Sec. Clinton. Sometimes that actually does happen, and lots of Bernie Bros that I know personally have deep problems with female authority or toxic relationships with their ex-wives or ex-girlfriends that they tend to project onto Hillary. And yet, many of them love Elizabeth Warren for her no-nonsense approach to breaking up big banks and rewriting the special privileges the rich and well-established enjoy in our tax code.  Warren has become a darling, a heroine, to those who see deep inequalities in our political and economic system that stack the deck against working families. If Clinton wants a game-changer, a Warren vice-presidential pick would certainly accomplish that.  Massachusetts currently has a Republican governor, but state rules mandate a special election to determine who will ultimately fill the remainder of the term.
  4. Julian Castro:  If you want a new face that can change the political calculus, this one is it.  He was mayor of San Antonio, he gave the keynote address at the 2012 convention, and is currently getting some federal experience as Secretary of Housing and Urban Development.  He has youth, he has charisma to burn, and now has both executive and federal experience.  Moreover, he could be a long-term investment on making Texas and Arizona, with large numbers of Hispanic youths, purple states down the line, although this may not happen in the 2016 election.  The only problem- and his reason for dropping since the last ranking- is my realization that the San Antonio mayoralty is somewhat symbolic, and involves relatively little day-to-day governing.  In other words, Castro’s readiness to serve as president may come into question–but we’ll see how he does at HUD.
  5. Gary Locke:  Also returning to this list is Gary Locke, a man with a splendid resume who accentuates competence.  He won’t take any swing states off the map for Hillary, but has proven himself capable many times over as governor of Washington, Secretary of Commerce, and most recently as Ambassador to China.  His apparent dutifulness and even dullness show sparks of life, such as when he allowed Chinese dissident Chen Guangcheng to seek refuge at the American embassy in Beijing, and flying economy class on his flights.  He would also make history as the first Asian-American on a major party ticket.
  6. Amy Klobuchar: She’s won two commanding victories in Minnesota, a state Republicans want to win badly.  She consistently receives stellar approval ratings in an age of widespread dislike of government.  And she now has a book out, The Senator Next Door, that has been very well received, and is viewed in some quarters as a clarion call for humbler, more responsive government officials.  She’s made remarkably few enemies and is part of the refreshing culture of teamwork that thrives among women in the Senate.  And senators from Minnesota have made some great vice presidents in the past, as evinced by Hubert Humphrey and Walter Mondale.   Ironically, if a man was the presidential candidate, Klobuchar would be a no-brainer to join the ticket, but she won’t get the nod if Clinton dismisses out of hand the idea of a female running mate.
  7. Mark Warner: Warner’s stock has fallen considerably, going from an odds-on favorite to a more remote possibility. Essentially, the decline in his fortunes is due not to any missteps on his part, but a change in the calculus of a Clinton victory. Right now, Hillary’s problem isn’t being seen as “too liberal,” but “too neo-liberal” if that makes sense- the sense that she is too tied to vested interests, and too tied to foreign trade deals that hurt domestic blue-collar workers.  One of the more moderate Democrats in the Senate, Warner strikes all the wrong notes, as someone who became a millionaire in the cellular phone industry. He also demonstrated a surprising glass jaw, winning re-election in 2014 by a shockingly low margin against a hack of an opponent. Still, as an otherwise popular governor and senator from an important swing state, Warner is too good on paper to ignore.
  8. Al Franken: Humor is the best way to take down Trump, and watching Franken read  mean tweets about his endorsement of Hillary shows his razor-sharp wit.  While he has cast his lot with Clinton, he has the same anti-establishment tenor that has bolstered the Sanders campaign. He won re-election in 2014 by a wide margin in a bad year for Democrats. And while he could have been a joke candidate, his already-keen political analysis has become greater from his eight years in the U.S. Senate, making him a viable vice-presidential candidate.  Especially with Trump as the most likely nominee at this point, why not pick another- for lack of a better word- entertainer- except one with actual experience in governing?  This is one SNL veteran who is most definitely ready for prime time.  Like Klobuchar, Franken would be replaced in the short term by Minnesota’s DFL governor, Mark Dayton.
  9. Jack Reed: Another guy who violates my rules: he is relatively old (almost 70) and is from New England.  What makes Reed different is his military service: the man was a West Point cadet, and has reportedly been asked to serve as Secretary of Defense for the last two vacancies and may have been on Obama’s shortlist for the vice-presidency at one point.  Reed is a no-nonsense, constituency-oriented man who would make mincemeat out of a careless Republican opponent in the vice-presidential debate.
  10. Republican Surprise: This final pick isn’t so much in favor of a particular person so much as a general strategy.  If someone truly dangerous gets the GOP nomination, it’s not hard to see a number of more moderate, good-governance Republicans peeling off from their party and supporting Clinton, no matter how painful it may be for them. This option is out if Rubio or Kasich somehow pulls off the nomination.  But if a demagogue like Trump or an unlikable jackass like Cruz gets it, this becomes a real possibility. I’d peg Susan Collins or possibly Brian Sandoval as two candidates. Sandoval, of course, was floated as a trial balloon for the Scalia vacancy on the Supreme Court; he is a very effective and often quite moderate governor of Nevada. And Hillary would probably kill to have a moderate, pro-choice, Medicare-expanding Hispanic Republican governor of a key swing state on a ticket with her.  Collins is also an option. It’s another all-female ticket, but Collins is probably the most moderate Republican in the Senate, is disgusted with the Tea Party, and is on good terms with Clinton. (Hillary actually threw her a bridal party when she got married a couple years ago.)  Moreover, Collins is a respected voice on foreign policy, and if Clinton wants to accentuate the dangers of putting foreign policy novices in the White House, a Collins nomination could do wonders.  The optics aren’t ideal- two Northeastern, senior-citizen women who voted for the Iraq War- but politics isn’t about working in ideal situations. The only question is- would the Maine senator even consider it?

So, if you have kept track, we have four new additions to the list (Hickenlooper, Warren, Franken, and Republican Surprise). That means four individuals from my previous list are out.  I dropped the following from the list:

Ron Kind: An implausible pick to begin with, I wasn’t happy with his vote to keep Syrian refugees out of the country.  At any rate, he would be a better candidate for Governor of Wisconsin in 2018 to take down Scott Walker on his quest for a third term. He’s proven he knows how to get votes in the Badger State outside of Madison and Milwaukee, a trick few Democrats in that state have mastered.

Tammy Baldwin: It’s just too risky to let Wisconsin governor Scott Walker appoint her successor. But it would be groundbreaking to have the first openly LGBT person on a major party ticket, to say nothing of another all-female ticket possibility.

Michael Bennet: He was a tempting possibility, for sure.  He’s a 51-year-old senator from a key swing state (Colorado), and his emphasis on education would appeal greatly to the demographic Bill Clinton’s ’96 campaign targeted successfully: soccer moms. But Bennet will probably face a competitive race for his Senate seat in 2016, and it could create problems if he had to run for both offices at once. (You can get away with it if your seat is very safe, like Biden’s in ’08, but not when you are running in a hotly contested swing state.)  Moreover, his pedigree is a little too professional, from the Ivy League background to the fact that his brother runs The Atlantic.  In an environment where Ted Cruz’s eligibility is questioned, the fact that Bennet was also born outside the U.S. may be an issue Hillary just doesn’t want to deal with.

Evan Bayh: A moderate’s moderate, Bayh is exactly the sort of professional, central-casting candidate the 2016 electorate is rebelling against on both sides of the aisle.  A scion of a political family with a lobbyist wife, it’s hard to see the upside to Bayh at this stage, even if Indiana was a winnable state.

What do you think? Anybody I left off? Do you think my reasoning is sound? Let me know in the comments below.

I wrote this poem, quite literally, the evening before the Iowa caucus. In all the craziness over the Rock Hall talk, I forgot to post it here. I hope it is enjoyed.

 

Twas the night before caucus, as I sat and I groused,

at the rank office seekers from the Senate and House
The yard signs were set on our front lawns well known
In hopes that the canvassers leave us alone
As the candidates uttered policies Darwinian
And professed the whole ballgame, like 2 Corinthians
Since ma loved no Clinton and I felt no Bern
We rested our brains like some unpaid intern

When out on the driveway arose such a noise
That I’m sure it was heard from Dubuque to Des Moines
Quickly I sprung, wond’ring what the hell happened
Was it some neer-do-well or a drunk precinct captain?
Then what to my wondering eyes did I scan
But a stretch limo pulled by some eight also-rans
“Make America Great!” said it’s motto, remodeled
I knew in a moment it must be the Donald
More rapid than vetos his posse they came
In a Long Island accent, he called their out their names:
Now Carson! Now, Rand Paul! Now Kasich and Christie!
On, Marco! On, Jeb! Bush!, On Huckster and Carly!

And the limo sped off, ’twas no smooth apparatus
It was shaky and doubtful as Ted’s legal status
“Divide all the Moderates! Build a Mexican wall!
Or else you’re fired, you’re fired, you’re fired, all!”
As the limo sped off, I could see it was true
With a sack full of red hats, there stood Mr. Trump too

Uninvited he walked through the door, no true hurdle
It was open to access like Hill’s email server
As he tried to win over castoff Perot voters
He promised to stop Muslim migrants and quotas
With his pockets outstretched from two wives’ alimony
He sneered when he laughed with a cadence so phony
He then offered a deal in this late evening hour
If I gave him a pledge, I could stay in Trump Towers!
I wished I could help him, but I couldn’t do so
I was white and in debt as the next Bernie Bro.

His eyes how they glowered, his hair, orange as Boehner,
And his stage makeup dolled on just like Megan Trainor
His hairpiece immaculate, set like a swan
Like Bill Shatner’s between TOS and Wrath of Khan

And laying his finger inside of his nose
His toupee sprouted wings, through the chimney he rose
He sprang to his limo, with his whip, gave a crack
And they vanished like a bioweapon left in Iraq
But I heard him shout out, as he lurched to the Right,
Happy Caucus to all, 9 months til ‘Lection Night!

 

And with this post, my series on the 100 Greatest Rock Hall Prospects draws to a close. I can’t say enough how much I enjoyed doing this project, and how much I appreciate the feedback that I received from so many of my readers.

Since this has been one of the longest (and perhaps the most popular) series of lists on this blog, I do want to conclude with some final remarks. Firstly, I hope everyone realizes that my list is by no means intended to be the final word, or some authoritative guide to who should be in the Rock Hall. These choices are deeply subjective, and to some extent, tied to our own personal histories in ways that make a thorough, wholly rational analysis beside the point. Maybe I wouldn’t have put Peter, Paul & Mary on the list if I hadn’t seen them perform at the opening of the George McGovern Library in Mitchell, South Dakota. Maybe I would never have encountered the Indigo Girls if my wife didn’t appreciate their music. All of this is premised on extreme contingency. So if you have reservations with the choices I made, remember– there’s nothing stopping you from coming up with your own list.

But one thing I tried very hard to do was to suggest the deep stylistic breadth of rock and roll. Rock was the joyous and fortuitous coming together of the blues, of country-western, of folk, and gospel. Subsequently, rock and roll was never a monolith; even in its early days it harbored branches as diverse as Chuck Berry’s rapid-fire St. Louis blues style, the ethereal harmonies of 50s R&B vocalists, and country-influenced teen idols like the Everly Brothers. As a result, the various genres these pioneers spawned over the generations- disco, Philly soul, punk, new wave, alternative- you name it- all lay claim to the same musical inheritance. If you want to see more classic rock in the Hall, well and good, but don’t neglect the equally legitimate claims of these other genres. Don’t get so lost in “rock” that you forget to “roll.”

I promised some of my readers that I would make a list of 15 runners-up who almost made the list, but fell at the final hurdle. These artists, each of whom I carefully considered, were, in no particular order:

  1. Joe Cocker: Another great interpretative singer who put on an iconic performance at Woodstock.
  2. Buzzcocks: An influential transition between punk and power-pop. Green Day owes them big time.
  3. The Meters/Neville Brothers: Foundational funk music. Their impact on the charts was minimal, but you’d be hard pressed to find a more respected set of musicians.
  4. Emerson, Lake, and Palmer: Epic synthesizer solos, first-rate musicianship, and an inability to write songs under 7 minutes. What people either love or hate about prog.
  5. Fairport Convention: Incredibly influential English pastoral folk combo. Liege and Lief is one of my favorites, and a progenitor to mainstream celtic music.
  6. Carly Simon: Probably my mom’s favorite artist, so a painful omission. Lots of hits, and surprising longevity, just not enough originality or excellence.
  7. Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds: Gave introspective and utterly self-obsessed alternative music something it sorely needed: storytelling.
  8. Mahavishnu Orchestra: Performing meandering jazz rock with the sensibility of Indian ragas? Sign me up, immediately!
  9. Gloria Estefan & the Miami Sound Machine: No shortage of hits, and an important chapter in the long relationship between rock and Latin music. But just not enough gravitas for me.
  10. Jim Croce: His career was cut tragically short, but in the time that he had on earth, still managed to write “Time in a Bottle,” and one of my favorites, “I Got A Name.”
  11. King Crimson: They helped create progressive rock, but they weren’t around all that long, and even I find it difficult to listen to their material the whole way through.
  12. X: An indispensable component of the L.A. punk scene.
  13. Toots & the Maytals: So important to the development of reggae that I’m starting to second-guess putting Peter Tosh on my list instead of them.
  14. J.J. Cale: A roundly-respected guitarist and songwriter.
  15. Gil Scott-Heron: His spoken-word soul poetry is the missing link between 70s deep soul and rap.

In the end, though, I had to make some tough, even unpopular, choices regarding who to leave out. I tried to seek out, understand, and respect a wide array of opinion. If there was an artist lots of people I admire talked about as a Rock Hall contender, I tried to give them an honest listen, especially if I wasn’t already familiar with their work. But it is the duty of the conscientious critic to reserve the right, every once in a great while, to say that the rest of the music community has lost their minds. Hence, my most notable omission: Joy Divison/New Order, two groups with common members that I just couldn’t wrap my head around. It wasn’t just that I didn’t like them. I don’t like Black Flag or Megadeth, but I still included them. No, it was that I couldn’t fathom why anybody would like them or be influenced by them. It was like they were genetically engineered in a laboratory to drive me batty: punk’s lack of musicianship, alternative’s dreary self-obsession, and so on.  I’m sure they influenced lots of artists, but I wouldn’t care to hear any of them.

A few other omissions that others remarked upon. My own tendencies toward the melodic and the harmonic make most experimental music a tough sell to me. Captain Beefheart was maybe the biggest casualty on that ground.  If Bon Jovi only made it to #91, that was probably a good indication that things weren’t going to go well for Def Leppard. It’s possible that I was simply prejudiced against them, but it’s the head banging and the almost willful, unironic stupidity of tracks like “Pour Some Sugar On Me” that cost them. Arguably, the “style over substance” qualms kept The Scorpions and Motley Crue off the list as well. There were lots of classic rock bands that just didn’t have some kind of signature or calling card that made them stand out from their contemporaries. That doesn’t mean that they were terrible or anything, just lacking some form of distinction that made them stand out from their contemporaries.  There’s nothing wrong with being a good old rock and roll band, but that won’t always be enough to get you in the Hall of Fame. Apologies, then, to Bad Company, Boston, Todd RundgrenBlue Oyster Cult, Grand Funk Railroad, Styx, Foreigner, and others of their ilk. Rundgren’s career was so versatile, I hasten to add, that he’s one of the most deserving people I can fathom for a Musical Excellence Award.

Nor do a boatload of hits guarantee consideration; to think otherwise is to turn our understanding of music into a wholly commercial and mercenary practice. If the influence or quality or artistry wasn’t there, no number of hits could save you.  I am a big advocate for more women in the Hall, but Connie Francis didn’t write her own stuff and didn’t play an instrument. That’s fine; lots of great artists didn’t, but they compensated by bold stylistic choices, or amazing vocals, or stellar live performances. Connie didn’t have any of that; her case boils down to “she had lots of hits,” most of which aren’t well remembered and didn’t age very well.  Sorry.  Similar problems felled Cher, George Michael, Huey Lewis, and others.

For petty political reasons, I disqualified Ted Nugent and Pat Boone. You spent your careers attacking people like me, so I feel no obligation to be remotely fair to you in return. Screw both of you.

For still others, their case is based on influence, and I still need more time to see how that influence bears out. If you were hoping for The Jam, My Bloody Valentine, or Pantera, that’s why they weren’t here.

Finally, a couple were outside of even my very broad definition of rock and roll. To me, if you weren’t clearly in the rock and roll family tree, then you needed to at least work with or collaborate with rock and rollers. Willie Nelson did this frequently, so he’s fine. Ditto Emmylou Harris. Nina Simone covered rock songs and rockers covered her songs. No problem. But Johnny Coltrane, while an immensely important jazz artist, didn’t have as direct a link to rock and roll as I needed. And if Patsy Cline had died in 1975 instead of 1963, she might have sung a duet with Gram Parsons, or gone on tour with Linda Ronstadt opening for her, but that didn’t happen. Lots of country-rockers look up to her, and for good reason, but her ties with rock and roll in her tragically short life were gossamer-thin.

So, if I made choices that vexed or upset you, I beg your patience. I’ll be the first to admit that I have a lot to learn about the great music that came out of the second half of the twentieth century. But at the very least, I hope that you found this project useful, entertaining, or informative. If you agreed with me, great!  If not, I understand. Either way, I hope that I have helped everyone think about the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in a better, more ecumenical, and more systematic way. Often, we get mad at Rock Hall officials, simply because they don’t like the same music we do. And sometimes those of us with more avant-garde tastes treat rockists like barbarians at the gate. At the very least, I hope that we have the patience to listen to one another, and assume our best intentions. Hail, hail rock and roll. Deliver us from the days of old.

 

Let me begin the proverbial final countdown by saying how grateful I am for all the feedback people have sent me.  My last post, covering picks #20-11 was a milestone in the history of the Northumbrian Countdown.  It broke two records: one for most views in a single day (433) and most comments on one post (presently at 38, including my own.) At last, we arrive at the ten highest picks.  (Or, if you want to view it differently, the acts that I think would make the strongest two upcoming Rock Hall classes, alongside not-quite-eligible-yet Pearl Jam and Radiohead.) Here my picks for the top ten Rock Hall prospects.  The Hall and I are in agreement, at least to some extent: six of the ten have been nominated before.

yes band10.  Yes: Progressive rock fans are not demure in their attitudes toward the Rock Hall. Most of their favorites are not in the Hall, and no act’s omission gets their goat like that of Yes. I’m not exactly a prog guy, but their unhappiness is duly noted and not misplaced. Yes was nominated twice, and unfortunately for the two most competitive ballots in recent memory: the Class of 2014 and 2016. It’s a shame, because while Yes is a definitional “love ’em or hate ’em” band, their insistence on musicianship and craftsmanship is perhaps the greatest in the rock canon. From the meticulous bass work of the late Chris Squire, Rick Wakeman’s octopusinal (yes, I just made that word up) keyboard chops, Steve Howe’s folk-tinged guitar work, this was a band that fundamentally knew the nuts and bolts of how music was composed, and took rock and roll in ambitious new directions, with multi-part suites, time signatures changes, and ethereal harmonies. They made a song a journey to be savored rather than a brief, encapsulated moment in time. (Howe is ultimately responsible for one of my favorite guitar solos, but it’s on a Queen record, “Innuendo”, not a Yes record.) They helped lay the groundwork for progressive rock along King Crimson, Genesis, and others, and even, by virtue of their complexity, helped inspire punk as a counterrevolutionary response to their grandiose approach. The cliche is that you can’t dance to a Yes record, and some of their tracks sound more like they want to impress the listener rather than move her, and that’s probably true.  But rock and roll was rarely more ornate or majestic than when Yes was at the helm.

dire straits9.  Dire Straits: Out of all 100 snubs on this list, the Dire Straits’ absence makes the least sense to me. It seems as though they have every quality one would like in an inductee. In Mark Knopfler, they had one of the great guitarists. And one of the most original vocalists too- it’s hard to forget his retching singing style. They did well as a singles band.  And an albums band too- Brothers in Arms has to at least factor into the discussion when you talk about the best ones to come out of the 1980s. Their video for “Money for Nothing” pioneered the use of computer imagery in videos while musing on the significance of MTV itself. They were a critical band at a critical impasse (they were the first, for example, to sell a million copies of an album on CD.) But for me, their greatest strength was their singular songwriting (usually Knopfler) and song-crafting (usually the whole band) skill. So many of their tracks were like tiny epics in a self-contained world of their own, bringing out the drama and the tension of the ordinary. You have an updated love story in “Romeo and Juliet,” a meditation on a struggling jazz band in “Sultans of Swing,” and a requiem for a dying town in “Telegraph Road.” Their overall quality- no, their overall excellence– stands out, even in a list as competitive as this top ten.

Photo of DETROIT SPINNERS

8.  The Spinners: There aren’t many working relationships in the history of rock and roll that yielded better fruit than The Spinners and producer Thom Bell. In the 1970s, they collaborated on a small armada of the very best R&B hits of their time, and epitomized the genre of Philly Soul: lush, heavily orchestrated, emotive records with an unmistakable rhythm. Their canon creates, in a very real way, a soundtrack for the 70s, equally accepted within the black community while achieving great success among white listeners as well.  No single act captured the time and place that was “Soul Train” more than The Spinners. There’s the urgent “I’ll Be Around,” the sweet “Could It Be I’m Falling in Love,” the perfectly-arranged duet with Dionne Warwick “Then Came You,” a cover of “Working My Way Back to You” that had Frankie Valli fleeing back across the Hudson, and a song I request at every single wedding reception I attend, “Rubberband Man.” They even had some great deep tracks from albums nobody listens to anymore like “Sadie,” a sweet and sincere essay on the inner-city family. The Hall has usually tried to be cognizant of R&B’s contributions to the rock and roll story, but voters seem stubbornly committed to keeping the Spinners out.  It’s a strange thing.  The O’Jays, in my own opinion, a cooler but ultimately less indispensable band, got in on only their second nomination way back in 2005. But on three ballots that, at least in theory, were less competitive, The Spinners floundered. On the last three ballots, we had exactly one black R&B artist let in: Bill Withers.  That nonsense needs to end now. 70s R&B remains criminally underrepresented, and the Nom Com needs to keep at it and where down voters’ resistance. (Rescinding Eddie Trunk’s voting privileges would also be a good start.)

peter paul mary7.  Peter, Paul & Mary: This is probably the choice in my top 10 that will generate the most controversy. At the very least, I hope you’ll hear out my reasons for putting a largely acoustic folk trio in my top ten. Maybe their most instructive song was the Noel Stookey-penned “I Dig Rock and Roll Music”- as Tom Lane once reminded us, they weren’t professing their love for rock and roll! Instead they were, well, digging into it, needling it. The song called out rock and roll’s tendency to obfuscate, and comment on the pressing concerns of the Sixties only furtively and indirectly. “But if I really say it, the radio won’t play it, unless I lay it between the lines,” as they sang. They challenged rock and roll to do better, from the perspective of folk, one of it’s great ancestor genres. And PP&M practiced what they preached. With a deep Greenwich Village pedigree, they helped rescue folk from the sort of twee, banal folk music for College Republicans that the Kingston Trio was then riding to great success. PP&M are ranked this highly for bringing a social conscience and a willingness to engage in the great struggles of their time. They essentially opened for Martin Luther King at the March on Washington in 1963. They played at Selma, risking a beating from George Wallace’s thugs. Even when they reunited, it was usually motivated by a hope to change the world for the better, like a non-proliferation rally, or an anti-Apartheid concert, or George McGovern’s presidential campaign. They brought Bob Dylan’s social vision into the mainstream with their cover of “Blowin’ in the Wind”- certainly not the best cover version of all time, but for all intents and purposes, perhaps the most significant.  Maybe Dylan would have become a huge success if PP&M didn’t usher his material into the mainstream and pluck him out of near-obscurity, but we’ll never know. Ultimately, other rockers took up the challenge Peter, Paul & Mary set forth with their freedom songs. From the Concert for Bangladesh to Live Aid to “Ain’t Gonna Play Sun City,” Peter, Paul & Mary started the ball rolling and made rock and roll more than teenage dance music, but a force to be reckoned with in the unfolding of history.

the smiths6.  The Smiths: Jillian Mapes said it best: The Smiths remain “shorthand for ‘I was a teenage outcast.'” As one of the most important founders of alternative rock, they drew more clearly than anyone else the differences that set this world apart from mainstream top 40 rock. The Smiths have been nominated twice- the last two ballots, in fact. They will (and should) get in, and if they do, it will likely be a tense reunion- especially between morose frontman Morrissey and underappreciated guitarist Johnny Marr. Still, together, for a few precious years, they were one of the most important voices of the 1980s. They captured the feeling of emptiness that accompanied prosperity and deprivation alike, the loss of connectedness, and meditations on life moving on without you- so similar, in some respects, to Lady Murasaki’s Tale of the Genji nearly one millennium earlier.  At the same time, they weren’t afraid of embracing the political, even naming one of their albums after the hardcore vegetarian mantra, Meat is Murder. They took unhappiness and longing and made it beautiful. I’m not a fan of “How Soon is Now,” perhaps their most famous song, but “There Is a Light that Never Goes Out” is one of the most affecting tracks I’ve ever heard. There aren’t many people on my list who meant more to their fans than The Smiths. If you experienced alienation or disappointment, they were the soundtrack of your sorrow in the 80s. A comet that burned brightly and briefly, the Smiths not only galvanized the softer, mellower side of alternative, but also inspired hundreds of indie bands to pick up their instruments and voice their private frustrations.

judas priest5.  Judas Priest: While I don’t think every proficient metal band should be in the Rock Hall, Judas Priest has probably more reason to be aggrieved than any of their contemporaries. Rob Halford has repeatedly said that he’d love to be inducted, “it’s a validation.”  It’s altogether a refreshing and professional change from the “screw you for ignoring us” approach of many snubbed artists. Out of all the metal bands that aren’t in yet (which is basically every metal band that ever existed with four or five exceptions), Priest made a canon of consistently excellent, memorable, and suitably hard-rocking songs that didn’t feel the need to be unnecessarily thoughtful, and were rarely overblown.  In an age of Sauvignon Blanc-swilling yacht-rockers and punks who couldn’t play proficiently, Judas Priest restored the rightful balance of competence and edge. If nothing else, they established the template that most metal bands after them followed: the crunching guitars, the black leather, the theatricality, the thumping vocal delivery best seen in “Hell Bent for Leather.” Virtually every metal band that came after attempted to be a louder, more outrageous, or more offensive version of Judas Priest. And none of them succeeded. As someone who had to sit through VHS tapes about the satanism of 80s rock at my evangelical college, it gives me great pleasure to put Judas Priest in my top 5 Rock Hall prospects.

carole king4.  Carole King: King was nominated once in the Rock Hall’s early years and inducted as a non-performer with her songwriter-ex-husband Gerry Goffin.  From all appearances, the Rock Hall thinks this enough, but I hope they reconsider. As King’s recent enshrinement at the Kennedy Center shows, her significance goes beyond the Brill Building repertoire she helped establish, important though that was. Like many women of her time, her hard work and ingenuity took place behind the scenes and out of the public eye. It was only when she found the courage to sit on a piano bench, get behind a microphone, and take her show on the road that she achieved her greatest significance. Tapestry and its follow-ups are landmarks of the singer-songwriter movement. Along with her friend James Taylor, she influenced more than anyone else the trend in the 1970s toward mellow, personal, revelatory, and deeply introspective material. It was as if both Laurel Canyon artists and the wider public looked back on the wreckage of Altamont, and wondered if the answer was not so much in great festivals and gatherings, but in the truth each of us contained and interpreted inside of ourselves. (Tapestry, by the way, also won a Grammy, sold 25 million copies, and was on the charts for a Dark Side of the Moon-esque six years) I can’t tell you the number of times someone who was there at the time told me something like, “Tapestry told me what it meant to be a young woman in the 70s” She showed that a woman could succeed as a performer and in the more intellectual capacity as a writer. In doing this, King influenced almost every female singer-songwriter that came after her, as a kind of role model for confident artists who didn’t have to create a bold, brassy public persona to get a message out. Watching her perform with Sara Bareilles a couple years ago at the Grammys reminded me that PJ Harvey, Tori Amos, Amy Winehouse, Kate Bush, Sarah McLaughlan, Carly Simon, and basically every Lilith Fair artist out there owes Carole King big time. The excellence of her example made it all the more easier for them to be, well, natural women, in the unforgiving environs of rock and roll.

janet jackson3.  Janet Jackson: Janet’s case comes down to success and impact. Given the moribund state of R&B during the 1980s, Janet Jackson helped give the genre a greater credibility and, for the first time in a while, a real sense of energy and dynamism.  She did so, I might add, by leaving an indelible mark on the charts. 26 top ten hits, including tracks that serve as significant epoch-markers of the late 80s and early 90s: “Control,” “Black Cat,” and “Rhythm Nation.” She brought a more urban feel and a hard-edge feminism to her genre, and was a better performer than either Whitney or Mariah, two of her more important contemporaries.  Jackson just kept going, putting out significant albums deep into the 1990s with The Velvet Rope, and even her latest album and tour is generating no shortage of positive buzz. It’s a shame, really, that her career was put on the skids by the Super Bowl incident. (You know, the one where the guy actually at fault, Justin Timberlake, continued to be a major chartbuster afterward, even as he ungallantly blamed a “wardrobe malfunction” for the nationally televised undressing.) There’s a dissertation waiting to be written on what this said about gender politics, the female body, and pop culture.  Despite all of this, the Janet story is hardly over. Her influence continues to play out, and her impact can be found in everyone from Missy Elliot to Pink to Robyn to Rihanna to Beyonce. She established a very different kind of template for female artists than #4: one that refused to act demure, suffered no fools, and ruthlessly turned out R&B-infused dance pop hit after dance pop hit. Remember- rock and roll started out as music that inspired you to get up and shake your ass on the dance floor. Janet both preserved and expanded that legacy.

kraftwerk2.  Kraftwerk: Influence, influence, influence.  A legion of music writers have suggested that Kraftwerk is second only to The Beatles in terms of overall influence on the direction of rock and roll music as a whole. It’s an exaggeration, of course, but it isn’t as much of a whopper as you might think. It’s hard to know what to say about them that hasn’t become hackneyed by now. They inaugurated the regularization of electronica in popular music. While Moog synthesizers and elaborate keyboards were mainstays long before they came along, their culture of arty arrangement made this technology not the window dressing of Abbey Road, but the building blocks of something wholly new. Philosophically, their work was nuanced, meditating on Beach Boys-style freedom of movement (“Autobahn”) to the grim futurism of “The Robots.” In the process, their inventive use of electronic instruments paved the way for new wave, gave new vitality to older careers such as David Bowie’s, and inspired synth-pop bands from Depeche Mode to Wham!, and electronica dance acts such as LCD Soundsystem and Daft Punk. They even unwittingly assisted the development of hip-hop, as we explored in Afrika Bambaataa’s section. Ultimately, Kraftwerk helped musicians from every corner of the globe realize that they could use technology and electronic equipment as a tool to better express themselves.  Sometimes that means using lush electronic soundscapes as a canvas, sometimes it means putting electronic instruments out in front as a hook, sometimes it means manipulating these sounds to create a pulsing rhythm to get your audience onto the dance floor.  You can say that Kraftwerk is synthetic and alarmingly inorganic, and you won’t entirely be wrong. But I perceive a humanism and an artistry that somewhat paradoxically constitutes their greatest importance. The Nom Com did the right thing by Kraftwerk: with three nominations, they’ve had a chance to get in. But it’s up to voters to brush up on their history, reconsider their Teutophobia and get Kraftwerk in.

1.   moody bluesThe Moody Blues: At the very top of our countdown, we have none other than The Moody Blues! A couple of years ago, I asked a bunch of fellow Rock Hall followers to list out which 200 or so artists they felt ~should~ be in the Hall of Fame- whether they were already in or not.  One act that wasn’t already in got a vote from every single participant- this one.  That didn’t affect my decision, but it does suggest the degree to which Moody Blues are a no-brainer. After hanging out among the lower ranks of the British Invasion band, the Moodys hit their stride in 1967, when they recorded Days of Future Passed.  It was a landmark record: one of the very first concept albums, one of the first to use symphonic backing to make a fuller, more encompassing canvas of sound. And they took it on the road.  My dad isn’t and wasn’t a big concert-goer, but forty years later, he still speaks with a certain sense of awe when remembering seeing The Moody Blues perform live- they actually dared to recreate their multi-layered, elaborate tracks on stage just a couple of years after The Beatles essentially said, “screw it, the songs on Revolver are too tough to try and replicate on stage.” I put The Moody Blues at #1 because they showed, in some ways, greater ambition, and did more to make rock music beautiful, ornate, and sophisticated than almost anyone- inside the Hall or out. “Nights in White Satin,” obviously, is a case study: deeply resonant without being mawkish, and yet complex and stately without being pretentious. They found a way to combine the rock and roll’s earnestness and present-mindedness with the the gravitas of the Western classical music tradition. For a track that’s seven and a half minutes long, “Nights” is disarmingly simple: an alienated youth is in love with someone. Isn’t that the story of rock and roll right there? With the Moodys, the elements of rock and roll had been transubstantiated into fine art.

So, there we are!  We’ve made it through my 100 choices for the most deserving candidates for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame out of those presently eligible.  Now that you know who made the list, it becomes clear who did not.  If you are wondering, “where’s Joy Division/Captain Beefheart/The Marvelettes/Def Leppard/Harry Nilsson/Connie Francis?” those are all legitimate questions.  I hope, in the next week or so, to do a post wrapping things up, reflecting on the list now that it is finished, and explaining some of my choices along the way.  I’ll also reveal 15 runners-up who I considered for this ranking, but who ultimately fell at the last hurdle. Thank you for your kind attention! This series was a blast to do, and I hope that, in some small way, it contributes to our collective understanding of our rock and roll heritage.

We arrive at our penultimate installation of our Rock Hall Prospect series, looking at the 100 artists currently eligible for the Hall (Class of 2016 or earlier).  I didn’t plan it this way intentionally, but one theme that stands out in this batch is its very distinct 1980s flavor.  In fact, possibly 9 out of the 10 following artists (either clearly or arguably) peaked at some time in that decade.  Again, this isn’t by design on my part, but nevertheless, it does show that the Rock Hall has neglected some of the most iconic artists from that time period, as it whittles away at the 1960s and 1970s C-lists.  Although these are some of our most highly-ranked contenders, the Rock Hall isn’t quite in agreement: only 4 have been nominated previously.

I have also updated the links sidebar on my site, getting rid of defunct or dormant pages, and including some newer ones, including an excellent blog that serves as a digital archive of Horizons, my favorite Disney attraction.

weird al yankovic20.  Weird Al Yankovic:  It’s quite likely that some readers think Weird Al is placed too high, or maybe should not be on the list at all.  Let me explain my case as best I can.  Tom Stoppard’s play Arcadia takes place across several decades, and in every scene features a tortoise, the sole creature with the longevity to witness to the entire narrative as it unfolds.  In a lot of ways, Weird Al was like that tortoise.  As trend after trend unfolded, as political and cultural events marched through the landscape of history, as movies and television shows came and went, Weird Al was there, resiliently bursting their bubble and busting their balls.  Some of the acts he lampooned were ushered into the rock and roll pantheon: Nirvana, Madonna, and Green Day are but a few of the artists whose legitimacy was validated by the fact that Weird Al made fun of them.  Others fell by the wayside, as he parodied forgotten mooks like Men Without Hats and Gerardo.  But the craziest thing of all was that Weird Al kept getting better.  Eventually the songs about food and television gave way to funny, but slyly insightful material.  “Party in the CIA” took on the national security state in a way no serious song could. “Whatever U Like” was the smartest take I heard on the 2008 economic collapse, and “Skipper Dan” was a strangely affecting meditation on broken dreams, where a Julliard-trained actor ends up as the guide on Disneyland’s “Jungle Cruise.”  Way back in my intro to this series, I described one of my chief criteria as “zeitgeist,” the ineffable quality of representing one’s time.  Almost every person who was a fourteen-year-old boy at some point between Al’s debut and the present remembers a time when he was the funniest person he knew.  Watching the video for “Amish Paradise” for the first time was one of my ten most cherished music memories of all time.  And other people can say the same for the first time they heard “Eat It” or the time they came across “White and Nerdy” on youtube.  Last year, Al debuted his last conventional album from a brick-and-mortar record label, ending an over 30-year trajectory where he entered our homes through MTV, and concluded with Mandatory Fun.  Al realized that he had even managed to outlive the record industry itself.  Al is the tortoise, man.  Al is the tortoise.

duran duran19.  Duran Duran: What made the 1980s so memorable?  I would argue that it’s partly the visual element brought about by MTV, but it is also the tension between mainstream rock and alternative rock- between bravado and vulnerability, between “rocking pretty hard” and reaching out to various outcasts, drifters, and slackers. Duran Duran didn’t always make a good impression, but they brought back the ethos of snotty rock star behavior to heights not seen since the Rolling Stones’ prime.  (My favorite moment was when they sued their own fan club in 2014.) In spite of themselves, they helped construct the fabric of their decade more fully than almost any artist not yet in the Hall.  I was searching for the right way to characterize them, and an article from the Guardian finally gave me the right framework: they were escapism.  “Girls on Film” and other songs in their canon flaunt riches they didn’t yet have, and their videos used exotic locales most of their fans could only hope to visit one day, in the midst of dreary Thatcherism. It worked: “Hungry Like the Wolf” is vintage early 1980s, “Rio” is utterly classic, and “Ordinary World” as mature a pop ballad as any.  But you need some quality beyond “having lots of hits” and “rocking pretty hard.” Ultimately, Duran Duran pointed toward the directions pop music would go: sarcastically earnest, assisted by electronics, and beholden to supplementing the music with videos.

Kate Bush18.  Kate Bush: She did us all an immense favor by making art rock actually sound intimate.  A wunderkind protege of David Gilmour, Bush developed into a consummate artist.  She took  the ambitious scope and artistry of prog and had the gall to make it sensual.  “Wuthering Heights” is more than just another prog piece with literary pretensions; Bush injects both haunting spiritualism and carnal yearning into the mix.  Or consider one of my favorite tracks- not just of hers, but of anyone’s- “The Man with the Child In His Eyes.”  She wrote that when she was 13, but it’s one of the most natural, emotionally resonant pieces I’ve heard from any artist.  Overall, her work kicked 80s British songwriting in directions it needed to go: the jaunty choruses (“Babushka”), the expressionism, the girl power (“Wuthering Heights” was the first song written and performed by a woman to be a UK #1.) Most female songwriters were of the slower, more introspective type.  Bush made it possible for one to be innovative, techie, and smart as well; Lady Gaga probably owes Kate Bush far more than she will ever owe Madonna. Unfortunately, most of her hits were in Great Britain, and we all know what the Rock Hall thinks of acts that only made a big splash on the other side of the pond.  Still, on the heels of a triumphant series of concert performances- her first in over thirty years, in fact- Kate Bush is back, and a Rock Hall nomination would be a great way to celebrate one of its great visionaries.

Arts

17.  The Cars: When The Cars received a surprise nomination in October, many music fans were cheered by this accolade.  The Cars, after all, managed to be both entirely presentist and fully backward-looking when they hit their peak as the 70s turned to the 80s.  They mastered the new wave use of synth with the economy of punk.  And yet, their simple, straightforward name for themselves hearkened back to rock’s earliest roots.  The titles of their songs, like “My Best Friend’s Girl,” made rock and roll music about being a teenager again.  From their rockabilly-throwback guitar solos to their reliance on catchy riffs, they were fun without being silly, good songwriters without fretting about authenticity, and embraced mainstream success without ever seeming to sell out.  That’s a tough balance to strike, let alone doing so with lyrics that were, as Bob Stanley put it, “worthy of Buddy Holly” in their effective simplicity.  This Boston band was one of rock and roll’s great success stories of its time, and a no-brainer for Rock Hall induction.  I frankly wish they had gotten in this year instead of maybe Cheap Trick and Deep Purple, but that, as they say, is life.

ll cool j16.  L.L. Cool J.: L.L. Cool J is significant for, I think, two reasons.  Firstly, his debut marked the moment where rap focused chiefly on the rapper, something that seems intuitive today, but in it’s earlier days was much more of a dynamic partnership between a rapper and the deejay (see, for example, Eric B. & Rakim).  This doubled with the growing significance of the rapper as a solo artist, not as part of a posse- other than outliers like Wu-Tang Clan, we haven’t seen too many ensembles succeed for more than a brief moment in time.  Ultimately, L.L. Cool J. brought more braggadocio and swagger to rap- listen to “Mama Said Knock You Out” one more time, and it’s words apart from the slower, chiller approach of the Furious Five or Rakim.  In essence, he epitomized a moment where rap transitioned from “street CNN” to self-promotion mixed with personal introspection.  (consider, for example, some of his 90s work, where he unpacks the trauma of seeing his father shoot his mother and grandfather.)  This all actually leads to my second point, L.L. Cool J’s work to make rap mainstream.  When Kanye or Jay-Z or Eminem records go multiple platinum rather than mere gold, that’s because people like Cool J. blazed the trail of mainstream acceptance.  Sometimes it didn’t work- the ballads on 1989’s Walking with a Panther were toxic in hip-hop circles and almost killed his career in the cradle.  More recently, he collaborated with Brad Paisley on “The Accidental Racist.”  It was one of the most clueless tracks I had heard in a long time- it compared centuries of institutional racism and labor theft with Paisley’s…um…discomfiture with ghetto culture, I guess.  I actually use that song to illustrate the concept of “false equivalency” in my classes.  It singlehandedly torpedoed his candidacy for the Class of 2014.  But when L.L. Cool J. connected, he really connected, and managed to turn rap and hip-hop into a part of the national vernacular.

journey15.  Journey:  I’ve been religiously following Rock Hall affairs for a little over two years now, and maybe one element that always bothers me at some level is the occasional contempt that I perceive for mainstream rock and roll and it’s fans. Everybody wants to be a Sonic Youth fan, nobody admits to liking Journey. I’ll be the first to grant you that much of more radio-oriented rock isn’t  carefully crafted, or especially memorable.  Yet, there is a denial of what these acts mean to their listeners. I spent four summers during college working in the assignment department at the phone company. (Back when people had landlines, these were the individuals who assigned you a phone number when you moved into the area, and programmed your account to have features such as 3-way calling or Caller ID.) My co-workers were almost all women in their 40s, born in the early 1960s, whose education did not go further than high school. Most were named Debbie or Tina. It’s distressingly easy for critics to dismiss their tastes as a lowbrow gumbo of NASCAR, Red Lobster, and above all, Journey. That would be deeply in error. For many in this category, Journey takes on an almost mythic significance. “Don’t Stop Believing'” is their Iliad, Steve Perry is their Homer. Journey made more household-name songs than perhaps anybody on my list of 100: “Lovin’, Touchin’ Squeezin’,” “Faithfully,” “Open Arms,” “Any Way You Want It.” Writing memorable songs with strong hooks isn’t as easy as it looks, and to do that a dozen times with songs that still resound on classic rock radio today is a remarkable accomplishment. After all, “Don’t Stop Believing,” a track over 30 years old, is the most downloaded song of all time. As I said in my earlier posts, “Zeitgeist” is one factor I take into consideration, and as far as influencing its time and place, Journey’s power ballads and arena rock had an impact as deep as it was wide.

Eurythmics14.  Eurythmics: While we’re on the topic of major 80s hitmakers, you can’t discount Eurythmics.  Somewhere in the meeting point of synth-pop and new wave, this duo harnessed the possibilities that were germinating in electronic popular music, but gave it a distinctive emotive feel and artistic flair.  David Stewart’s arrangements and technical wizardry was part of that equation, but probably more of their success was due to the singular talent of Annie Lennox.  Her ethereal, husky, and above all soulful voice, her sharp androgynous look, and the surprising vulnerability that she brought to songs like “Here Comes the Rain Again” made them perhaps the most successful new wave artist, even if Talking Heads was the most critically acclaimed.  Lennox was exactly what top 40 needed at the time- a brassy, commanding voice and a strong visual presence to navigate the early MTV era, best seen in that immortal video for “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This.)”  I almost feel like the duet with Aretha, “Sisters are Doin’ It For Themselves” was a kind of passing of the torch, not just between generations, but between genres as well.

chic13.  Chic: Who else could be at the unlucky #13 spot than Chic?  Chic has now been nominated and rejected 10 times, more than any other artist.  Some of those nominations were, in my opinion, foolish ones– what was the Nom Com thinking by putting two disco artists on the same ballot year after year, when Donna Summer and Chic took votes away from one another?  Every year, we think something- Nile Rogers’s cancer scare, or Pharrell Williams’ success with the Rogers-produced “Get Lucky”- will push them over the top, but to no avail.  That’s a shame, really.  Chic, in their time, revolutionized dance music and the production of top 40 pop.  They came together with a knowledge of how to build a compelling sonic palette (it’s not a coincidence that Rogers and Bernie Edwards met as musicians for a stage production of Sesame Street, which specialized in packaging soul and R&B songs for the masses.  Witness “The Skin I’m In” or even the famous Philly-Soul pinball sequence.) In their time, they mattered: “Le Freak,” “Dance, Dance, Dance” and “Good Times” were fundaments of 70s R&B-turned-disco, and we easily forget that the first purpose of rock and roll was music for dancing and movement, not music for listening alone with a fancy set of noise-canceling headphones. Since those halcyon disco days, the importance of Chic remains intact- Rogers-produced work, and even the recent “Uptown Funk” that was #1 for over ten weeks are linear descendants of the groove-based, non-linear sound devised by this ensemble.  Make fun of disco all you want if it makes you feel like a big man, but know this: it was one of the only safe spaces for persons of color and gay, lesbian and gender-queer individuals during it’s time.  Chic’s rhythmic emphasis, its inspiration of hundreds of hip-hop beats, and its ingenious banality that made all welcome on the dance floor are lasting contributions to the rock and roll story.

the cure12.  The Cure: The Cure is adamant that they are not a goth band, but their influence over other goth bands and emo bands, which often challenge traditional masculinity, cannot be overstated. Tracks like “Boys Don’t Cry” fundamentally rethought gender relationships in the rock and roll universe. With the wild-haired Robert Smith fronting the group, they embraced teenage melancholy and loss, the sadder side of what the Cars did at #17, as evinced in “Just Like Heaven” and “Lovesong.” For all their mopey reputation, they were also far more stylistically diverse than popular memory affords.  Listen to the slightly jazzy “Lovecats,” or the poppy “Friday I’m In Love,” or the synth-heavy “Lullaby” that unexpectedly used some reggae rhythms for emphasis. These were genuinely great musicians, not a bunch of whiners in mascara. Given how their dark tones, dreary spirituality, and intense brooding had an impact on underground acts for decades since, The Cure is an essential non-mainstream choice for the Rock Hall.  If, of course, we’re judging things by influence over a lifestyle or subculture, rather than total records sold. They were nominated in 2012, but they were up against Beastie Boys, Red Hot Chili Peppers, and Guns N Roses.  (Absurdly, Laura Nyro and The Small Faces, only two of the Rock Hall’s worst choices, also got in that year.) Although the Nom Com has turned elsewhere in recent years, they’ll be back on the ballot before long.

iron maiden11.  Iron Maiden:  My friend Dani works in New York State politics and has a mantra she recites to herself around Election Night: “signs don’t vote, but people do.”  In other words, don’t confuse enthusiastic, outward professions of support with the overall atmosphere beneath the surface, where a candidate with quieter supporters may prevail.  If Rock Hall inductions were determined by t-shirt sales, or raw fan devotion, Iron Maiden would have gotten in a long time ago.  I’ll say this: Iron Maiden may be the most successful heavy metal band behind Metallica, in terms of records sold and in maintaining a devoted fan base.  They didn’t invent metal, certainly, but they did refine it, figure out its aesthetic, and give it a manifesto that it lacked before.  There isn’t much politics in Black Sabbath, except of the most nebulous kind.  “Run to the Hills,” however, is a chilling track about the extermination of the American Indian, one that counters the stereotype of metal being thoughtless head-banging music.  Through all this, Iron Maiden has clung on to relevance and longevity, still selling out stadiums decades after their prime.  That they did this without much mainstream radio play or MTV exposure is a testament to word of mouth and the community- both real and virtual- that metal fans have created for one another.  While some metal fans can cleave to a narrow, Eddie Trunk-like point of view that views metal as the culmination and fulfillment of rock and roll, metal-heads are right about one thing: Iron Maiden is a serious snub of the higher order.  Now that Deep Purple is in, perhaps Iron Maiden will finally have their chance at a nomination.

And now- all that’s left is the top ten!  Anybody want to take some guesses as to which artists made it, and in what order?

We only have three installments left, and this one will bring us up to the cusp of our top 20.  Although some of these artists are among our strongest contenders, amazingly only 3 have been nominated before.  This batch of artists is, as every batch of ten has been, an eclectic group: R&B, alternative, folk, the British Invasion, and classic rock are all represented.

ben e. king30.  Ben E. King:  How much should one or two sublime songs transform someone into a contender?  That’s the question attendant to any discussion on Ben E. King.  “Spanish Harlem” is still remembered fondly, and he had a string of R&B hits that extended well into the 1970s.  But at the end of the day, his credentials come down to three words: “Stand By Me.”  It is rightly one of the most well-loved songs of its time, and it’s been covered by so many artists I wouldn’t dream of even beginning to list them.  The song was inducted into the Library of Congress registry, and according to BMI, was the fourth-most played song of the 20th century.  There’s precedence for cases like King’s where a couple songs overshadowed a long and eclectic career.  Ultimately, both the Nom Com and the voters thought Bill Withers deserved to be in, and his case rested essentially on the nostalgic value of “Lean On Me” and “Ain’t No Sunshine.”  If King at #30 seems too high, consider this: there probably isn’t a rock and roll song as important as “Stand By Me” whose (eligible) singer isn’t in the Hall of Fame.  Unfortunately, since his death in the spring of 2015, the Nom Com had a great chance to nominate him last November and decided not to do so.  Although he was nominated once during the Rock Hall’s early years, he appears to be one more victim of the unspoken consensus to move beyond the 1950s and early 60s.

Joan Baez29.  Joan Baez:  In the beginning, there was Baez.  She played the guitar acceptably, and didn’t usually write her own music, but in the best folk tradition tinkered with songs, deconstructed them, rearranged them, and made them her own.  Of course, one man looms over her career, her former boyfriend Bob Dylan, whom Baez quietly encouraged and ushered into the Greenwich Village scene and into greatness.  Dylan more or less quit the social activism as soon as people started to, you know, look up to him for it.  He almost immediately shot back with tracks like “Ballad of a Thin Man” and “Maggie’s Farm” which blithely told the seekers of the Sixties to look elsewhere.  It wasn’t him, babe.  Baez, though, stayed with it- playing Woodstock, visiting Vietnam with a peace delegation, and supporting LGBT rights before it was cool.  Baez was even banned from playing in several South American countries in the 80s, for fear that she would inspire revolution and reform if she challenged the iron-fisted juntas that ruled at the time.  She was a voice of deep conscience connecting folk with what would eventually become known as soft rock.  Play her debut album from 1960, and you’ll find that it’s a near-masterpiece.  The pacing, the depth, nuance, and control make it something far from the wan Kingston Trio tracks of the same era.  What came after was even more special, from “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down” to “Diamonds and Rust” and “Sweet Sir Galahad.”  As one of popular music’s singular voices and a lynchpin of rock and roll’s engagement in the great questions of its era, Baez is one of the most important figures not yet inducted.

willie nelson28.  Willie Nelson: He has become such a cultural icon that we forget just how good the music actually is.  Often low-key, plaintive, and the very soul of expression, Willie Nelson never needed artifice to communicate with the public, just a song, a headband, and his faithful guitar, Trigger.  Nelson’s career, spanning well over 50 years, has been a touchstone in the close relationship shared between country and rock and roll.  The red-haired stranger has spent that time not only been building bridges between these two genres, but also speeding over that bridge in pimped-out tour bus smoking a $3,000 doobie.  His time in Austin in the late 60s could not have been more fortuitous, putting him in a Southern city with a burgeoning hippie scene.  It was the perfect place for him to cultivate the authentic and yet carefully crafted public persona that made him a household name.  Pick whichever Nelson you prefer: the early 60s Opry hand, the 1970s outlaw, the Farm Aid activist, or the 90s evergreen running afoul of the IRS but remaining a can’t-miss live act well into his old age.  When you look at his body of work, and how important that was for country-rock, his resume basically writes itself: “Always on my Mind,” “Mothers Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to be Cowboys” “Whiskey River,” “Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain,” “On the Road Again.”  If you think Willie Nelson isn’t rock and roll enough to be in the Hall of Fame, all I have to say is that I’m amazed you found my blog, Mr. Simmons.

sonic youth27.  Sonic Youth:  The last two times I tried to guess the Rock Hall’s annual ballot, I predicted a Sonic Youth nomination and was proven wrong both times.  But I remain unchanged in my belief that Sonic Youth could- and should- get nominated any year now, especially as those who came of age in the 80s gain a greater toehold on the nominating process.  Sonic Youth were kind of like the cool babysitters to lots of alternative, grunge, and other underground types when they were kids, if that makes sense.  Kim Gordon, Thurston Moore and company recorded a legendarium that defied easy categorization, with tracks like “Teenage Riot” and “Schizophrenia” that definitely weren’t pop, clearly weren’t metal, but were harder than most of what passed for alternative in those days.  They picked up where Velvet Underground and eventually Patti Smith left off, cribbed a bit of Big Star along the way, and developed their own deliberate, intense, and ultimately enveloping style that avoided easy hooks in favor of the experiential.  Jason Woodbury of the Phoenix New Times describes them this way: “Sonic Youth asserted their importance in introducing a whole generation of slacker kids to outsider music by using Spin and Rolling Stone as a pulpit for preaching the gospel of white noise, hardcore history, and experimental music.”  Sonic Youth created a form of music that was too cool for mainstream radio and content to be darlings of the underground.  Whatever indie was, and whatever it became, Sonic Youth helped make that happen.

tina turner26.  Tina Turner:  The question of including Tina Turner was a great philosophical puzzle for me.  She was inducted once already as Tina Turner, alongside Ike in the early 90s.  I thought, “does she deserve another induction as Tina Turner?”  It’s one thing if Croz, for example, gets in once as a Byrd and again thru CSN, but what about getting inducted twice under one’s own name?  And then I remembered the precedent where Paul Simon got inducted twice under a similar aegis, once via Simon & Garfunkel and again through his solo work.  So, that settles it, at least for me.  It’s time to induct Tina Turner for her own solo career.  Let’s get her an induction where her name isn’t resting beside an egotistical and sullen bully like Ike who beat her and bruised her and tormented her, even as they made some of the great records of the 1960s and 70s together.  Tina Turner was one of the very greatest rock and roll performers, with a commanding stage presence that suffered no fools nor any second-raters.  She pulled off the greatest mid-life renaissance by any artist I’ve seen- male or female- with a string of 1980s hits that included “Private Dancer,” “The Best,” and the immortal “What’s Love Got to Do With It.”  Turner’s career is so lauded and so decorated that there’s a wikipedia page devoted to the awards she’s received.  Among them are seven Grammy Awards since her breakup with Ike, and placement in Rolling Stone‘s very competitive 100 Immortals list.

The Zombies25.  The Zombies:  Let’s do the British Invasion right by getting in the last band from that era whose place is the Hall is beyond reasonable dispute: the Zombies.  These Hempstead boys learned all the requisite tricks from The Beatles and The Animals but added their own distinctive flavor that made them stand out by a head among most of their other rivals.  Namely, the electric piano of Rod Argent and their tendency to write songs in darker, more melancholic minor keys, which showed a sophistication utterly foreign to, say, Gerry & the Pacemakers or Billy J. Kramer & the Dakotas.  While their early hits like “She’s Not There” showed a great deal of promise, their pinnacle turned out to be their swansong.  Odessey and Oracle was one of the very finest albums to come out of the 1960s.  You probably know its evocative psychedelic hit “Time of the Season” but if you aren’t already familiar with them, give the celebratory post-incarceration “Care of Cell 44” a listen.  Or else the music-hall flavored “This Will Be Our Year” or the achingly beautiful “Changes.”  Recorded at virtually the same time as Sgt. Pepper, it showed how rock and roll could be ethereal, symphonic, and transcendent in ways that had not been charted before.  Like the fictional monsters from which they derived their name, The Zombies don’t seem to die; they were on tour last year and their influence on low-key, moody indie artists stand out as one of their chief legacies.

nine inch nails24.  Nine Inch Nails: Like Eno at #33, Nine Inch Nails have challenged the sonic landscape of rock and roll.  The late David Bowie said this about them: “Trent [Reznor]’s music, built as it is on the history of industrial and mechanical sound experiments, contains a beauty that attracts and repels in equal measure: Nietzsche’s “God is dead” to a nightclubbing beat.  And always lifted, at the most needy moment, by a tantalizing melody.”  As some have pointed out to me before, Nine Inch Nails didn’t invent industrial–artists like Throbbing Gristle and Cabaret Voltaire have that distinction. But Nine Inch Nails took the genre further, made it more popular without losing anything that made it great.  Annie Zalesky wrote that “more than any band, NIN is determined to haul rock ‘n’ roll into the modern age,” with impeccable theming and atmosphere buttressing often dark and nihilistic lyrics.  NIN passes the “excellence” test, and convincingly used industrial pioneers’ sound with elements of metal, soul, alternative, and funk that resulted in “Hurt” and “Closer.”  Few took more time than Reznor in giving his music the right “atmosphere,” a process that some have called “sound collages” that set the mood even better than his pain-wracked lyrics.  Resting comfortably within Rolling Stone magazine’s 100 Immortals, it’s clear that the right people like Nine Inch Nails.  So far, they’ve been eligible for two years, and have been nominated in each of those two years.  And since not just critics but also some rockers favor their candidacy (including Eddie Trunk), it’s quite likely that the voters will honor them more decisively in the near future.  Assuming that the ceremony is in Cleveland next year, Reznor might be in for quite the homecoming in 2017.

jethro tull23.  Jethro Tull:  Classic rock is already well represented in the Hall, which makes me feel fine about not including every single act in the genre on my list.  Most of its big names are already in.  But Jethro Tull’s omission continues to puzzle.  They have not one, but two of the all-time great albums from rock and roll’s most competitive era in the early 70s: Aqualung and Thick as a Brick.  You have a concept album about a lecher that doubles as a reflection on the nature of religion and God, as the confessional and the gutter are never far apart.  The other is a self-aware parody of the ostentatious concept album, purporting to be about a literary wunderkind.  Ian Anderson and crew brought the naturalism of English folk and the ambitious scope of prog on a collision course.  Sometimes the results were uneven, but they were always distinctive.  There was that flute.  There were lots of classic rock bands I considered for this list but ultimately rejected because they didn’t have a signature style, nor a particular calling card that made them stand out from their contemporaries.  With Jethro Tull, that was never the issue: there were acoustic guitars that gave way to electric as the song caught fire, long suites without breaks except to turn the record over, and Anderson’s flute as almost a recurring character in their music.  If anything, Tull’s longevity killed their chances.  They endured when, say, Parsons or the frontman of #22 died out.  And instead they just kept running on that Locomotive Breath, creating astonishingly decent new music and winning Grammy Awards they probably shouldn’t have.  In other words, it’s remained easy for some rock critics (are you reading as well, Mr. Marsh?) to maintain grudges.  Hopefully, that, too, will change.

t. rex band22.  T. Rex:  The fact that T. Rex hasn’t even been nominated for the Rock Hall seems like a Euclidian proof that the institution views rock and roll from a deeply American set of lenses.  What is quickly forgotten in this light is the sensation that this group created as glam music hit its apex, alongside such contemporaries as David Bowie and early Queen.  This hysteria was called “T. Rextasy” and enveloped the United Kingdom with glittering UK Top 5 songs: “Telegram Sam,” “Metal Guru,” “Children of the Revolution.”  There was nothing like Marc Bolan and this troupe.  They were sensual (how easy we forget lines like “you’ve got the teeth of the hydra upon you” in “Bang a Gong.”)  They made rock and roll more visually engaging.  And Bolan was able to cast a wide net with his audience.  Bob Stanley writes: “He should have taken America by storm: he wrote melodic riff-born rock songs that could charm bikers and birds.”  For a handful of years, he was Great Britain’s biggest rock star, bar none.  But eventually, Bolan sputtered.  He put on weight, succumbed to drugs and died in a car crash at age 29, and we subsequently misremember that his contemporary and rival Bowie was the only person doing arty space-rock in those years.  That’s a shame, because in the same way #21 won her long war against Whitney Houston, Bowie won the long war against T. Rex, though they were surely worthy adversaries, even in defeat.  If T Rex ever gets in, their induction speech is likely to be short; the only living member from its primary lineup is drummer Bill Legend.

mariah carey21.  Mariah Carey:  I can hear the comments now: “too high!  too high!”  Is she?  The only thing that’s too high is Mariah’s 5-octave range.  As I’ve said before, chart success is a factor, but not a totalizing factor.  Still, it’s hard to find fault with 27 top ten hits (that’s the fifth highest total ever, by the way.)  Or the 18 Billboard #1 hits (second only to The Beatles, incidentally.)  In fact, even if she existed primarily as a songwriter and never sang a note, she would have written more #1 hits than any songwriter of the rock and roll era not named Lennon or McCartney.  But the story is so much more than the statistics.  Just like Idina Menzel was doing on Broadway at roughly the same time, Carey moved the female voice in popular music into the direction of belting, going for power, force, and vibrato without losing its control or emotional range.  She successfully navigated her MOR origins in order to push R&B into a more energetic, thoughtful, and in some ways, biographical mode as her work became more self-revelatory as she found her voice as a writer.  And Carey was the only artist I can think of who could thrive on BET and still have her music played in an orthodontist’s office.  She easily collaborated with rappers, and fostered the “hip-pop” trend of the 90s.  I could go on with accomplishments like this for a while: she sang virtually the only Christmas staple to come out of the 90s, and two of the three longest-tenured #1 hits are hers: “One Sweet Day” and “We Belong Together.”  As an artist, Carey was about as versatile as it got, capable of dance remixes, urban R&B, and legendary ballads, often all on the same album.  Trini Trent puts it this way: “with her incredible sense of pitch, she draws on the precision timing of Ella Fitzgerald, the styling of Sarah Vaughan, the range of Minnie Ripperton, and the grit of Aretha Franklin.”  Indeed.  What should have been a no-brainer first-year-eligible nomination last October is likely to be a long wait until Janet and Whitney get in first.

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