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What’s this? You thought that I had suspended this series because of all the ado surrounding #RockHall2020? The joke’s on you, suckers. Alex Voltaire can walk and chew gum at the same time. Two of our presidents in this batch were most famous for their endeavors outside of politics in this timeline.

25. William Randolph Hearst26. Harry Lane27. John Philip Sousa28. Alexander M. Palmer

Designer’s notes: I really wanted to put Hearst and Sousa in a timeline at some point. Imagine, for a moment, that Hearst narrowly won some political races that he narrowly lost. Or that the most famous composer of marches in history took to politics instead? How would Sousa’s martial attitudes have changed the outcome of the First World War? How would a composer’s mentality affect grand strategy?

Also, I cannot wait for the day when some lazy high school student finds these cards, thinks they are actually presidents, and writes a report on them!

  1. George Washington (no party, Virginia, 1789-1797)
  2. John Adams (Federalist, Massachusetts, 1797-1801)
  3. Aaron Burr (Democratic-Republican, New York, 1801-1811)
  4. Alexander Hamilton (Federalist, New York, 1811-1817)
  5. Rufus King (Federalist, Massachusetts, 1817-1821)
  6. Charles Pinckney (Federalist, South Carolina, 1821-1824)
  7. Mahlon Dickerson (Federalist, New Jersey, 1824-1825)
  8. Henry Clay (Whig, Kentucky, 1825-1833)
  9. Stephen Decatur (Continental, Maryland, 1833-1837)
  10. Francis P. Blair (Continental, Missouri, 1837-1843)
  11. Levi Woodbury (Continental, New Hampshire, 1843-1845)
  12. Lewis Cass (Continental Democratic, Michigan, 1845-1849)
  13. Hamilton Fish (Whig, New York, 1849-1857)
  14. John C. Fremont (Whig, Alta California, 1857-1861)
  15. James H. Hammond (Continental Democratic, South Carolina, 1861-1864)
  16. Hector M. Johnson (Continental Democratic, Kentucky, 1864-1865)
  17. Robert E. Lee (Union and State, Virginia, 1865-1870)
  18. Thomas Hendricks (Union and State, Indiana, 1870-1873)
  19. Elihu Washburne (Whig Republican, Illinois, 1873-1877)
  20. James G. Blaine (Whig Republican, Maine, 1877-1885)
  21. James Weaver (Farmer-Labor, Iowa, 1885-1889)
  22. Zebulon B. Vance (Union-State, North Carolina, 1889-1894)
  23. Benjamin Pierce (Union-State, New Hampshire, 1894-1897)
  24. Joseph Foraker (Whig Republican, Ohio, 1897-1905)
  25. William Randolph Hearst (Democratic, New York, 1905-1909)
  26. Harry Lane (Peace Democrat, Oregon, 1909-1913)
  27. John Philip Sousa (Whig Republican, Washington D.C., 1913-1921)
  28. Alexander M. Palmer (Democratic, Pennsylvania, 1921-1929)
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It’s time to rustle up some cattle, put on our ten-gallon hat, and eat us some Frito pie for our annual Rock Hall rodeo roundup. This has become an annual tradition on this blog, where I explore each of the nominees in turn, looking at their likelihood of induction, worthiness of induction, and my own personal preferences among the artists. This year, I will make bold to add a fourth category–which artists are best for the Rock Hall’s bottom line— getting asses into seats for the ceremony, getting viewership of the HBO special, improving the Rock Hall’s public image, or encouraging visitors to come to Cleveland.

No time to waste, you jive turkeys.

Pat Benatar (Likelihood: 4; Worthiness: 6; Preference: 2; Bottom Line: 4): I am psyched about this nomination. I love Pat, and wish dearly that I had taken the time to see her when she was on tour and in my part of upstate New York last summer. In terms of kick-ass rock and roll women, she’s a strong contender; in fact, I would have put her in before Joan Jett. I’ll be the first to admit that long-term influence and innovation are lacking, unless we’re willing to consider the dramatic power of some of her music videos. She made some of the best 1980s commercially friendly rock–full stop. Benatar is also likely to get in this year; she sits atop the fan vote as of this writing, and she is a pick that both rockists and those of us wanting more women in the Hall can agree on.

Dave Matthews Band (Likelihood: 12; Worthiness: 12; Preference: 4; Bottom Line: 9). And…the nomination that shocked the world. If you are wondering why Dave Matthews isn’t last in the worthiness category, here’s my case. Seminal jam band from the golden age of jam bands; 25 years of selling out concerts especially at outdoor venues. Longevity of relevance. One of the only jam bands to have achieved multiple songs in the wider public consciousness and enjoy a critical mass of female fans. I understand why Rock Hall watchers and music writers more generally reacted viscerally to the news that they were on the ballot. Like some artists…Rush, KISS, Phish…it’s difficult to separate the band itself from their tedious advocates. Dave Matthews Band fans tend to have been business-majoring frat boys at state colleges who ended up becoming middle management at Lyft. When police pull them over for speeding, they ignore the fragrance of mary jane coming from the glove compartment and let them go on their way. They own multiple hackey sacks. Thankfully, the folks who attend their concerts aren’t on the ballot–the DMB itself is. I upped their likelihood to 12 on the off chance that they motivate their stoner base and do well in the fan vote. One of only two artists among the nominees to have had a song on one of my 39 Alex’s Mix CDs (“What Would You Say?” and “Grey Street” in case you were wondering.). Anyway, in nominating DMB the Rock Hall did their demographic research in at least one respect: their fans may not be the sorts of people to go to a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and this attention may possibly change that.

Depeche Mode (Likelihood: 5; Worthiness: 4; Preference: 8; Bottom Line: 6): The Cure’s induction was a tremendous omen for Depeche Mode. A British alternative act from the late 80s and early 90s that explored introspective themes while filling stadiums? Now that The Cure broke down the artificial “80s alternative” barrier, Depeche Mode stands a terrific chance. You could argue that they shouldn’t get in before Kraftwerk, and you wouldn’t be wrong exactly, but their significance as an electronic act that was wildly popular needs to be taken into consideration. Since the Crue or Cher or Willie Nelson didn’t get nominated, there’s a good chance they will headline the class and close out the show in Cleveland.

Doobie Brothers (Likelihood: 1; Worthiness: 8; Preference: 1; Bottom Line: 2): It finally happened– The Doobie Brothers are nominees. You can credit Irving Azoff if you wish, but the truth is, we’ll never know the hand he played or did not play. They would have been deserving candidates in any respect. Even in a group of nominees that’s a bit more classic rock heavy, they shouldn’t have any problems getting in. They are doing just fine on the fan vote, which at least positively correlates to induction. (Remember rule #1 of social science research: correlation is not causation!) It’s even possible they may overtake Pat Benatar for the top spot. Their secret weapon, of course, is Michael McDonald. Now that yacht rock is enjoying an irony-fueled comeback, the Doobies’ second act of their long career is no longer a liability. Besides, McDonald is the platonic ideal of a backup singer and has deep connections in the music industry that can’t hurt their chances. I look forward to their reunion with Big Mac during the ceremony– which is one surefire way to get Boomers to watch it on HBO.

Whitney Houston (Likelihood: 3; Worthiness: 5; Preference: 9; Bottom Line: 1). The pundits were right: Janet Jackson’s induction presaged Whitney Houston’s nomination. Houston is by far the most commercially successful artist nominated this year; she dominated singles and album charts from the mid 1980s and early 1990s. Many of those songs, in my opinion, have not aged well, with twinkly synths and vocal histrionics. But it’s hard to deny Whitney Houston– her success, her impact, her role as reigning diva of her time, her controlled melisma. She’s not in the top five of the fan vote, but holding her own– a feat considering how badly others in her wheelhouse have fared in years past. Moreover, the Rock Hall probably wants this to happen. It will deflect some of the all-too-deserving criticism about too few female and/or black inductees. And it has the potential for all kinds of memorable moments: Bobby Brown’s tearful acceptance speech. A tender performance by Cissy Houston and Dionne Warwick. Dolly Parton doing “I Will Always Love You” or Chaka Khan doing “I’m Every Woman” which will generate new buzz about their own Rock Hall candidacies. I’m just a bit skittish because Janet Jackson took three tries to get in. It shouldn’t matter, though–they were merely similar in that they were black women whose commercial peaks happened to coincide, even as they worked in different genres and put out vastly different records. New jack swing was perhaps a hard sell to some people, and Whitney’s tragic death alters the calculus. She should breeze right in.

Judas Priest (Likelihood: 13; Worthiness: 2; Preference: 10; Bottom Line: 8). According to Alan Light, this band tanked in the vote total when they were last nominated two years ago, even as they did quite well in the fan vote. They are just barely in the top 5 now, which cannot hurt their chances. What does hurt them, however, is the presence of another metal band, Motorhead. Priest deserves priority, in my opinion, but Motorhead at least seems a more sentimental choice, given the residual affection for Lemmy. I don’t even like metal that much, and I’m voting for Judas Priest in the fan vote; they are an indispensable band in a pivotal sub-genre. But that’s the issue, isn’t it? Bands usually get in the hall when they have transcendence— earning respect and admiration outside of a narrow demographic. Love for Judas Priest runs deep, but not especially wide. However, they have always been respectful in their attitude toward the Hall rather than acting like induction is their birthright– a strategy that clearly worked for The Zombies. Anyway, the Judas Priest and Motorhead nominations are an olive branch to the metal community, whether they were intended that way or not. Even if neither gets in–a very real possibility–the Rock Hall has cleverly foisted responsibility on those pesky official voters.

Kraftwerk (Likelihood: 11; Worthiness: 1; Preference: 5; Bottom Line: 15). Kraftwerk, of course, was the sine qua non in the history of electronic music. Their stuff lives on in hip-hop samples and indirectly in the influence they continue to have over acts like LCD Soundsystem and Daft Punk. Standard boilerplate over–I wish we could see the official vote count each year. I also wish we knew who exactly was on the voting committee–because that might tell us a lot. Are these teutons bringing up the rear every year or do they have a fighting chance? How many music writers and critics are given the ballot–and how old are they? This kind of information would be invaluable for gauging whether they are a hopeless case, a long shot, or a legitimate contender. One other consideration too important to ignore–with lots of HBO money on the line, it’s hard to see how a Kraftwerk induction helps their “bottom line.” With no household names and no songs your aunt would know, they wouldn’t exactly inspire indifferent viewers to tune in and pay up.

MC5: (Likelihood: 16; Worthiness: 13; Preference: 12; Bottom Line: 14). Give it up, guys. They aren’t getting in. I get it– they set the table for punk music, John Landau produced some of their records, Sonic Youth is named after their guitarist, important band among alternative and punk musicians. And you know– that’s a fine case! I liked MC5 more than I thought I would when I did the deep listening for the 100 Rock Hall Prospects project on my blog, even though I think I overrated them. Even as the lone true 60s act on the ballot, and even without fellow iconoclasts in Rage Against the Machine competing for space, an induction is still the longest of long shots.

Motorhead (Likelihood: 15; Worthiness: 9; Preference: 13; Bottom Line: 11). As I said in my initial reactions, it’s puzzling that they ended up on a ballot with Judas Priest– that’s two metal acts when other years have zero. It’s also not clear how Motorhead would translate to the induction ceremony. The three members who played on their most famous records are all deceased. There’s no question that Dave Grohl could give a great induction speech and sub for Lemmy, but it wouldn’t quite be the same.

Nine Inch Nails (Likelihood: 7, Worthiness: 3; Preference: 15; Bottom Line: 3). They may not be my cup of tea, but the enduring quality, significance, and innovation of Nine Inch Nails needs to be acknowledged. After three years off the ballot, they are back! They bring a solid fanbase to the proceedings– yet for some reason they are struggling in the fan vote at its early stages, despite performing well in the past. One intangible–and a significant reason why I have them ranked third in “the bottom line” is that inducting Trent Reznor in Cleveland, a city where he has deep roots, can make for an emotionally resonant evening. Having said all this, I still think NIN may fall just short.

Notorious B.I.G. (Likelihood: 2, Worthiness: 11, Preference: 16, Bottom Line: 7). A Singaporean former student of mine once described me as “not just white, but neon white.” So this is the most neon white thing I’ve ever said on my blog: I don’t understand why Biggie is such a big deal. He released one album while he was alive (although–hypocrisy alert– The Zombies didn’t do much more in their heyday and I still supported them). What little I have listened to doesn’t sound especially good, or edifying, or thoughtful. I’m not a rap guy, but I could appreciate what made NWA or 2pac significant artists who got in soon after their eligibility window opened. I’ve read why lots of others think Biggie matters, but so far I haven’t been convinced. So an open invitation to my readers: convince me. I’m willing to keep myself open to a persuasive argument for why Biggie deserves to be a first-year-eligible hall of famer. Anyway, my opinion doesn’t matter. John Sykes and Greg Harris have made it clear that this is Biggie’s year in a way that I haven’t seen the Hall blatantly promote since Nirvana six years ago. They’d have to be pretty damn sure he was getting in to talk like that.

Rufus, feat. Chaka Khan (Likelihood: 10; Worthiness: 10; Preference: 7; Bottom Line: 10).   This nomination’s patron saint is St. Jude, benefactor of hopeless causes. Having become “the new Chic”–the 70s R&B act that can’t get over the hump–Chaka Khan, this time with bandmates Rufus, returns to the ballot. There’s still an outside chance she will get in, but that’s partly because the ballot has very few women and very few R&B artists. On the other hand, it’s been a minute since two black women were inducted the same year, and I don’t think it will happen this time. I’m voting for Rufus anyway, partly in hopes that we’ll get another profane speech by Chicago drummer Danny Seraphine, who cowrote several songs with keyboardist David “Hawk” Wolinski.

Todd Rundgren (Likelihood: 9; Worthiness: 15; Preference: 3; Bottom Line: 16). Hey, remember that time last year when we all predicted Todd Rundgren would get in, but we were wrong? Fun times. Well, Todd is back. I have a soft spot in my heart for him; I’ve seen him live twice (most recently two weeks ago on his White Album tribute), and he’s the only person named Todd that I’m aware of who I don’t want to smack upside the head. Rundgren missed my original Top 100 Rock Hall Prospects by a whisker (he was my final cut), but I think I overrated him even so. See, Rundgren has respect in the music industry, and I think a lot of us are confusing respect with greatness or influence. He’s produced a flotilla of great records (which his nomination as an artist shouldn’t cover, at least in theory), wrote a handful of songs that remain on classic rock radio, but he didn’t really fundamentally change the game, nor was he a massive commercial success like Chicago or Journey to compensate. To make matters worse, he’s doing significantly worse in the fan ballot out of the gate this year, placing a pitiful eleventh in a metric where classic rock habitually overachieves. Finally, there’s the plain reality that he just isn’t going to show up. Ringo sweet talking him into it is the only scenario where I see that playing out; his reaction to his nomination was “no comment” and he’s talked liberally about his contempt for the institution. So he ranks last in the “Bottom Line” category: the only thing more disastrous for ratings than a Motorhead tribute without Lemmy is a Todd Rundgren tribute without Todd Rundgren.

Soundgarden (Likelihood: 8; Worthiness: 14; Preference: 14; Bottom Line: 5). What to think of Soundgarden’s nomination? I’ll say this: they were an act that lots of people wanted to see on the ballot, and they have novelty in their favor as first-time nominees. And they are pulling third in the fan vote at the moment. But in terms of wider public sentiment, they aren’t household names like first-year-eligible inductees Nirvana and Pearl Jam. Give the issues that deserving alternative bands have had in past years, I have trouble seeing Soundgarden get in, although if they do, it’s a strong signal to us late thirty-somethings that the Rock Hall is taking our era seriously. (For this reason, I put them fifth in the Bottom Line category.) I guess Chris Cornell getting a posthumous tribute and Aretha Franklin not getting one was more revealing than we realized at the time. I ranked them 14th in worthiness, but don’t read too much into that. Basically, #5-#15 in my Worthiness ranking are just different shades of “Deserving but not absolutely essential yet”. Does that make me a bad 90s kid?

T. Rex (Likelihood: 6; Worthiness: 7; Preference: 6; Bottom Line: 12).  If you subscribed to the theory that one “spot” on the ballot yields to another artist in that same wheelhouse…then you might have guessed T. Rex would take Roxy Music’s place on the ballot. In the “I can’t believe they’ve never even been nominated” category up until last week, T. Rex stands a very decent chance at induction. Being classic rock never hurt anyone’s chances. And while not nearly as influential as Roxy Music, they still have a large footprint, having influenced The Smiths, Soft Cell, Noel Gallagher, and Devendra Banhart, among many others. Stylistically, Marc Bolan’s lapels, sequins, and jackets created a timeless look, and Bolan’s particular form of masculinity which fueled T-Rextasy is very much back in style. On the other hand, they are floundering in 13th place on the fan vote–which should cater to their strengths–, were much bigger in Britain than they were in the UK, and it’s not clear who would show up to perform. T. Rex is like the inverse of Spinal Tap, where everyone except the revolving door of drummers is dead.

Thin Lizzy (Likelihood: 14; Worthiness: 16; Preference: 11; Bottom Line: 13). For me, Thin Lizzy was a bigger puzzlement than the Dave Matthews Band. I had a very friendly commentator try to sell me on them when I did my Top 100 Rock Hall Prospects a few years ago, but I’m just not persuaded. I don’t see the significance. They were Irish, but so what? They incorporated a few folk elements and made a hit of “Whisky in the Jar”, but if merging the folk tradition of the British Isles is your priority, why not just nominate Fairport Convention? They are the only act (aside from Biggie who wasn’t eligible at the time) that wasn’t seriously considered for my Top 100 Rock Hall Prospects at any time. Moreover, even their signature song, “The Boys are Back in Town” is an albatross– those verses about “crazy stuff that one chick did” haven’t aged well. If you like Thin Lizzy, that’s great! I’m genuinely glad. I like lots of bands that have no business being in the Rock Hall– America, for example. And Thin Lizzy is squarely in that category. Having said that, they are still infinitely more deserving than Motley Crue.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The big day has come and gone, and we finally know the group of contenders from which the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s Class of 2020 will be composed. You probably know the list by heart if you are reading this blog, but as a gentle recap, our 16 nominees are: Todd Rundgren, Kraftwerk, Notorious B.I.G., Depeche Mode, Judas Priest, Motorhead, Whitney Houston, Pat Benatar, Thin Lizzy, Dave Mathews Band, MC5, Nine Inch Nails, Rufus feat. Chaka Khan, Soundgarden, T. Rex, and the Doobie Brothers.

I don’t know how much I can say that hasn’t already been said by Donnie, Michelle, Zoot Marimba, and others. I’ll keep my comments brief and cursory, with the understanding that I’ll look at each of the nominees in a future post that will explore their worthiness and their chances.

I Suck at Predictions: I only got five right– my lowest total ever, and a thorough embarrassment. I thought for sure I had them pegged with Motley Crue and Cher, and I made what were, in hindsight, too many “stretches” that didn’t play out: A Tribe Called Quest, Richard Thompson, and Big Mama Thornton among them.

The MTV Generation is Here: Perhaps more than any previous ballot, there is a sense that we have moved past the 1960s and mostly the 1970s. MC5 is the only act that released much of anything in the Sixties themselves. While the Doobies, Rundgren, and a few others represent the so-called “Me Decade” (or the “Earth-Tone Polyester Decade” if you prefer), the center of gravity is clearly MTV. How much of a role incoming chairman John Sykes played this year is not quite clear, but he has to be happy with the number of MTV darlings on the ballot. Depeche Mode, Pat Benatar, and many of the others owe at least a degree of their success to strong MTV backing. I’d say it’s looking pretty good for Duran Duran in #RockHall2021.

Where the Ladies At?: This is, in turns, both puzzling and infuriating. Despite multiple high-profile entreaties to nominate and include more women–made most eloquently by Evelyn McDonnell–we ended up with two individual women (one of whom is dead and cannot vote in subsequent elections), and a large funk band where Chaka Khan’s vote will be diluted by a half dozen also-rans in Rufus. Consider for a moment that they could have nominated Cher, Dolly Parton, Carole King, Carly Simon, PJ Harvey, Big Mama Thornton, Patti LaBelle, The Go-Gos…or groups with at least one prominent woman like B-52s, Sonic Youth, Smashing Pumpkins, and so on. None of them would have been out of place among these sixteen artists. Frankly, I’m upset about this. Others–particularly Michelle–have said more significant things about this than I could, but this is unacceptable. It denies the role women had in the development of rock and roll, and it flies in the face of Sykes’s talk about expand their demographics.

The Kiosks Matter…but not in the way you think: I’m glad to see that there was at least some quality control with respect to the kiosks. A lot of us were afraid Motley Crue, the top finisher on the Rock Hall’s kiosks for visitor voting, would earn a free spot on the ballot. It turns out they didn’t! In the end, only Dave Mathews Band made the ballot of out the top winners. Given that Motley Crue’s nomination could have created buzz (for better or worse) and contributed to good viewership numbers on HBO, I’m surprised that the Rock Hall didn’t grab the shiny object, and am gratified that such a lousy band wasn’t given an automatic spot on the ballot. Ditto for some of the other less inspired choices the geniuses who use the kiosks came up with: Boston, Styx, Blink-182, Freddie Mercury solo…

R&B Gets Shafted: This isn’t quite a “mostly white ballot”– believe me, there’s racial imbalance, but as longtime reader Gassman points out, Soundgarden, Rufus, Depeche Mode, Dave Mathews Band, and Doobie Brothers are all multi-racial ensembles in an industry that–for all the borrowing between heritages–doesn’t have a lot of integrated groups. No, the issue is the limited role that R&B plays. It’s basically just Rufus/Chaka Khan. That’s it. I’m not persuaded that Whitney Houston is R&B; I see her more as a pop princess, given her AOR-friendly hits, and a lack of discernible debt to, say, Motown or Stax or 70s funk in most of her records. (Ironically, the great exception is “I’m Every Woman,” which is, of course, one of Chaka’s songs.) So– one big problem seems to be that advocates of R&B–Dave Marsh perhaps, certainly Craig Werner, Claudia Perry, Touré, Bob Merliss…are long gone. Did Questlove have the flu when they put this ballot together? Did he get food poisoning from the giant hoagie and have to go home early to convalesce?

Too Much Metal?: Metalheads can be an irritating lot, but they have a point when they complain that the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame has done them dirty. The last sorta-metal act to get in was Deep Purple (and I’d consider them more hard rock), and Judas Priest looked dead in the water after Alan Light revealed how poorly they had done among voters. Instead, we got two metal bands– Judas Priest and one of Dave Grohl’s pet projects, Motorhead. On top of that, they are also competing against hard rockers Thin Lizzy. There’s just not enough oxygen in the room for all three of them. It reminds me of the Class of 2015 ballot, where they put lots of R&B acts in (Marvellettes, Withers, Chic, War, Spinners) and all they did was cancel each other out. We ended up with just Withers, the most mainstream and arguably the least accomplished of the group, getting in.

A Lack of Pleasant Surprises: In the last few years, I felt that there were usually a couple choices where I could say, “I may not vote for this person, but I’m delighted someone like them could show up on the ballot. I respect that decision a lot.” You know— John Prine, Los Lobos, Bad Brains. The closest we got to a real surprise wasn’t necessary a pleasant one; in fact it generated the most incredulity and ridicule of all: The Dave Mathews Band. Now, I had Dave Mathews slotted in as one of my latest batch of 100 Rock Hall prospects last time I updated my list, and I don’t regret it. But if we are tackling the 90s, putting DMB in before…let’s see…Smashing Pumpkins, Mariah Carey, Rage Against the Machine, Beck, Weezer, Oasis…that’s just…wrong.

Free Willie!: The single thing that most puzzles me is this. We know that Paul Shaffer put Willie Nelson’s name up for nomination at the meeting. So how in holy hell did Dave Mathews Band (or Thin Lizzy. Or MC5) end up with more votes than the Red-Headed Stranger? I’m an imaginative guy, but I have a hard time seeing how they could have arrived at that outcome.

So that’s the first draft of my thoughts. To sum them up– this is a bit of a strange ballot, and doesn’t at all present the Rock Hall’s best self and its necessary role as an institution of education. This isn’t the sort of ballot to make you rethink your assumptions and check out new artists or material. There’s more to come—since my wife will be away for a job interview, I can do plenty more blogging (the sound of typing makes her queasy, so I usually have to find other places to write). In the next few days, look for Alex Voltaire’s rundown of each of these sixteen artists. For now, I’ll just say that voting for this group is a bit tedious and unrewarding. Kraftwerk and Pat Benatar were the only two I felt enthused about. I ended up rounding out the list with Judas Priest, an act that #5 on my original ranked list of Rock Hall Prospects, Rufus/Chaka Khan, because a Rock Hall class without any R&B would be ahistorical, and the Doobie Brothers by virtue of being my favorite act among the sixteen. I thought about Nine Inch Nails (wholly deserving), Depeche Mode (80s/90s alternative is still dreadfully underrepresented), and Todd Rundgren (just because he put on a good show at his White Album concert that I saw last week).

Let’s crack into the 20th century! And don’t worry, Rock Hall peeps– I intend to have my commentary on the Class of 2020 nominations up in a couple days.

21. James Weaver22. Zebulon B. Vance23. Benjamin Pierce24. Joseph Foraker

Designer’s notes: This period is notoriously difficult for finding compelling presidential timber. In the end, I chose an intriguing figure who won multiple states as a third-party candidate in Weaver. I also considered–what if Southerners could actually get elected nationwide in the 1880s? Vance- a pro-industry man trying to remake an agricultural economy- worked. And then– if Franklin Pierce was never elected president, then he wouldn’t have taken his family on that fateful train ride that derailed, killing his young son Benny. What if Benny lived to adulthood? My guess is that he would have been a dough-faced bootlick like his father. Finally, Joseph Foraker– as a gold standard, high-tariff, morally respectable Ohio Republican, it’s striking that he wasn’t ever close to becoming president in our timeline. In fact, that’s part of the problem; fellow Buckeye McKinley had seniority over him, and Teddy Roosevelt took a shining to Taft, blocking his support within his home state.

  1. George Washington (no party, Virginia, 1789-1797)
  2. John Adams (Federalist, Massachusetts, 1797-1801)
  3. Aaron Burr (Democratic-Republican, New York, 1801-1811)
  4. Alexander Hamilton (Federalist, New York, 1811-1817)
  5. Rufus King (Federalist, Massachusetts, 1817-1821)
  6. Charles Pinckney (Federalist, South Carolina, 1821-1824)
  7. Mahlon Dickerson (Federalist, New Jersey, 1824-1825)
  8. Henry Clay (Whig, Kentucky, 1825-1833)
  9. Stephen Decatur (Continental, Maryland, 1833-1837)
  10. Francis P. Blair (Continental, Missouri, 1837-1843)
  11. Levi Woodbury (Continental, New Hampshire, 1843-1845)
  12. Lewis Cass (Continental Democratic, Michigan, 1845-1849)
  13. Hamilton Fish (Whig, New York, 1849-1857)
  14. John C. Fremont (Whig, Alta California, 1857-1861)
  15. James H. Hammond (Continental Democratic, South Carolina, 1861-1864)
  16. Hector M. Johnson (Continental Democratic, Kentucky, 1864-1865)
  17. Robert E. Lee (Union and State, Virginia, 1865-1870)
  18. Thomas Hendricks (Union and State, Indiana, 1870-1873)
  19. Elihu Washburne (Whig Republican, Illinois, 1873-1877)
  20. James G. Blaine (Whig Republican, Maine, 1877-1885)
  21. James Weaver (Farmer-Labor, Iowa, 1885-1889)
  22. Zebulon B. Vance (Union-State, North Carolina, 1889-1894)
  23. Benjamin Pierce (Union-State, New Hampshire, 1894-1897)
  24. Joseph Foraker (Whig Republican, Ohio, 1897-1905)

After some controversial presidencies last time, we face overwhelming sectional resentment and distrust, as the U.S. enjoys a market revolution and an industrial veneer a bit earlier–thanks to the vision of Henry Clay. Which of these dueling visions will be chosen– slave or free? Imperialist or liberator? Internationalist or isolationist?

17. Robert E. Lee18. Thomas Hendricks19. Elihu Washburne20. James G. Blaine

Designer’s notes: Having been in Maine for the last 11 weeks, I’m glad that I finally got Blaine in. Harry Turtledove had him as president at roughly the same time in How Few Remain, and I think it was a solid choice. Because there’s no Civil War, Lee is available to serve as president. His historical reputation as the “noble Confederate” is entirely overblown and dangerously robust, but in terms of ideology, I guess he was no worse than, say, James Polk in our timeline, who still cracks the top 15 when presidents are ranked. The elevator at my workplace in Singapore flashes inspirational quotes, one of which was uttered by General Lee. My favorite Lee quote, in contrast, is: “I surrender.”

  1. George Washington (no party, Virginia, 1789-1797)
  2. John Adams (Federalist, Massachusetts, 1797-1801)
  3. Aaron Burr (Democratic-Republican, New York, 1801-1811)
  4. Alexander Hamilton (Federalist, New York, 1811-1817)
  5. Rufus King (Federalist, Massachusetts, 1817-1821)
  6. Charles Pinckney (Federalist, South Carolina, 1821-1824)
  7. Mahlon Dickerson (Federalist, New Jersey, 1824-1825)
  8. Henry Clay (Whig, Kentucky, 1825-1833)
  9. Stephen Decatur (Continental, Maryland, 1833-1837)
  10. Francis P. Blair (Continental, Missouri, 1837-1843)
  11. Levi Woodbury (Continental, New Hampshire, 1843-1845)
  12. Lewis Cass (Continental Democratic, Michigan, 1845-1849)
  13. Hamilton Fish (Whig, New York, 1849-1857)
  14. John C. Fremont (Whig, Alta California, 1857-1861)
  15. James H. Hammond (Continental Democratic, South Carolina, 1861-1864)
  16. Hector M. Johnson (Continental Democratic, Kentucky, 1864-1865)
  17. Robert E. Lee (Union and State, Virginia, 1865-1870)
  18. Thomas Hendricks (Union and State, Indiana, 1870-1873)
  19. Elihu Washburne (Whig Republican, Illinois, 1873-1877)
  20. James G. Blaine (Whig Republican, Maine, 1877-1885)

As of this writing, we are nearing the fourth Democratic debate. And as we languish in mid-October, I am thinking that Elizabeth Warren is likely to take the nomination. No disrespect to Joe Biden, who was actually my first choice in 2008–but his age, the lack of focus in his campaign, the gaffes, and the new Ukraine imbroglio show some of his weaknesses. It’ll all come down to grass roots activism, though– and there, I think, Warren has an advantage. As Sen. Sanders heals from a heart operation, Sen. Harris endured a few lackluster debates, and the others have failed to get out of the single digits, I think she’ll end up as the insurgent/left-liberal darling to take on the party establishment, much as Obama ended up doing in 2008: an outsider pick who isn’t ~too~ far outside as to be threatening. There’s a reason why relatively few endorsements have happened within the party yet.

I might be wrong about all this, but let’s imagine for a moment that I’m correct. Within the next several months, she’ll need to address the first big, public choice that a presumptive nominee can make: selecting a running mate. Get it wrong, and you might end up like McGovern picking Tom Eagleton and have your campaign’s credibility hopelessly damaged. Or you could get it wrong and still manage a win, like Bush Sr. picking a clearly underprepared Dan Quayle. It didn’t help him one bit, but he won in spite of this puzzling selection. You could pick a great running mate who helps you win– think Kennedy picking an older Southern Protestant in Lyndon Johnson, or Trump using Pence to assuage the doubts of just enough evangelical voters. And finally, you can pick the right person and things will still turn out badly: Ed Muskie was the perfect running mate for Hubert Humphrey in 1968 given the political gravity at the time, and he still lost.

What kind of running mate should Elizabeth Warren pick? I have a few guidelines:

  • AVOID picking someone from either the Northeast or the Left Coast. Right now, one of the Democrats’ biggest problems is its seeming cultural dissonance from Middle America– the Midwest, the farm states, the Southwest, Appalachia. Warren, who was born in Oklahoma and has strong ties to Houston, is far more Middle American than people realize, certainly more Middle American than Trump. But it’s perception that counts. Aim for the heartland.
  • STRIVE TO pick someone who can win over a demographic that might be Warren-skeptical. Perhaps suburban voters, who Democrats did well with in 2018, but might be wary of a candidate too far to the left. Or someone who can win over blue-collar Obama-Trump voters.
  • AVOID picking someone from the Senate who will be replaced by a Republican. In most cases, that means a Democratic senator serving a state with a GOP governor. That’s bad news for Sherrod Brown, among others.
  • STRIVE TO pick someone with a different set of political expertise- environmentalism, foreign relations, energy, executive experience…they are all possibilities.
  • IGNORE gender. Let’s put it this way: someone who isn’t going to vote for a ticket with two women probably wasn’t going to vote for Liz Warren to begin with. If the running mate is male, fine. But given how many all-male tickets we’ve had that were accepted as perfectly legitimate, an all-female ticket shouldn’t be seen as such an iconoclastic move.

Our ten veepstakes leaders:

  1. Pete Buttigieg: A solid, steady debater who has always acquitted himself well. He exceeded expectations and may be the only Democratic also-ran who is politically stronger at the end of this process than they were at the beginning. Like Warren, he speaks well from a “religious progressive” angle, and understands the struggles of small Rust Belt cities. He’s more moderate (he would say “pragmatic”) than Warren, but I don’t think that’s a bad thing; Warren’s a policy wonk, Buttigieg as mayor had to deal with how ideas play out in practice. He adds military service to the ticket–something conspicuously absent from Trump-Pence, and I would LOVE to see him take down the homophobic Pence in a debate. He ticks the most boxes too: age balance, regional balance, ideological balance.
  2. Julian Castro: Castro also had a strong first debate, and while his star has dimmed slightly since, he hasn’t been afraid to go for the jugular in a way that belies his youth and pleasant demeanor. He caught some flak for implying Joe Biden was too old, but I think that moment is overblown and even misinterpreted. So far, Elizabeth Warren is struggling with minority voters in the Democratic primaries. They’ll probably come around in the general election if she’s the nominee, but it’s important to generate enthusiasm. Putting the first Hispanic person on a major party ticket would accomplish that. It may not be enough to flip Texas, but it could very well make the difference in Arizona and help nail down Nevada and Colorado.
  3. Tammy Duckworth: Vice-presidents have historically been the “attack dog” so that the guy on the front of the ticket can be lofty and principled. (Think Bob Dole’s role  on the Ford ’76 ticket, or Biden on the Obama ticket). Duckworth would make a tremendous attack dog: sharp, pointed, and lots of military experience. Indeed, seeing an amputee take out someone she dubbed “Cadet Bone Spurs” would be amazing. Moreover, in a “woman power” election, she has credentials as the first senator to bring a child she is caring for onto the Senate floor. She won’t make much difference in electoral math, coming from safe blue Illinois, but she is capable, and Trump won’t be able to help himself: he’ll inevitably say something about her Asian heritage or her disability that will show just how craven he is.
  4. Tammy Baldwin: Um…she just won re-election in Wisconsin– an Obama ’12 state that Trump won– by a double digit margin. Put her on the ticket, and assuming you win Michigan and Pennsylvania (scratch that- don’t assume you will win those states!), hold the Clinton states, and congratulations! You have 270+ electoral votes. Baldwin is a good, stalwart liberal, never one to shake things up, but she would nonetheless be historic as the first LGBTQ person on a major ticket. Wisconsin governor Tony Evers would pick an immediate replacement for the Senate, but a special election would be held several weeks later, and there’s a real possibility someone like Scott Walker could take it.
  5. William McRaven: Picking pure military figures is risky: for every subtle and crafty Dwight Eisenhower, there’s a politically incoherent Zachary Taylor or a senile James Stockdale. Yet McRaven shows promise: he, of course, was the commanding officer of the Seals unit that took out Osama bin Laden. As chancellor of the University of Texas system, he’s been on the front lines of controversial issues, such as guns on campus, and is a very effective public speaker. Once again, he paints a contrast with Trump in terms of both military service and public service. And unlike Castro, maybe he will help carry Texas.
  6. Doug Jones: Look, Doug Jones is going to lose his re-election campaign. He’s a good man, but he’s not going to win a Senate race in Alabama in a presidential election year when his opponent is not a pedophile. Rather than have him go out losing re-election by double digits, just make him your running mate, knowing this seat is flipping red no matter what you do. While white, his work on behalf of bringing the Birmingham bombers from the civil rights era to justice will probably help mobilize the black community. And he reassures Southerners that the Democrats do not hold them in contempt. If he doesn’t end up on the ticket, he’d make a compelling choice for Attorney General.
  7. Martin Heinrich: You can always play it safe. Heinrich–the junior senator from New Mexico–is young, telegenic, and is a champion of environmental issues, which have rightly gotten so much attention lately. He’s also strikingly handsome. Far from an empty suit, he’s nevertheless a low risk choice from everything we can see, and he may be a tip of the hat to Democrats’ growing strength in the Southwest. This will also give him some credibility to speak on immigration. He won re-election by 24% in a former swing state.
  8. Tim Walz: Walz’s congressional district, comprising much of the southern rim of the state and including small cities like Rochester, is likewise the exact kind of place where Democrats need to rebound. Walz wracked up a sufficiently progressive record without necessarily having many truly progressive constituents. The upper midwest turned against the Democrats big time in 2016, but they made a comeback of a sort two years later in the midterms. Walz won an open seat by 11 points– the first time Minny elected two consecutive Democratic governors ever. There’s a saying in politics that veeps can’t win an election for you, but they can lose it. Civil, service-oriented, and nondescript, Walz ain’t hurting anyone. His military service once again provides a good contrast to a Trump-Pence ticket.
  9. Jon Tester: Steve Bullock’s terrible presidential campaign and worse judgment in not running for what I think is a winnable Senate seat in Montana takes him out of the running. Let’s stay in Big Sky country, though: Tester, in contrast, won three elections, albeit each of them narrowly, in a red state. And he did it through authenticity, good constituent relations, and learning how to communicate to voters in rural areas. Given how poorly Democrats have done in these areas, Tester offers a lifeline to improving. They may not carry many rural counties in 2020, but with someone like Tester, maybe they can shift the balance to 45% in some tiny counties where Hillary only got 35%. A “cutting losses where you are weak” strategy could help, under certain circumstances, pull out the win in places like Iowa, and who knows? It might even make Montana competitive. Clinton carried it in 1992, and Obama came within striking distance in 2008. But be warned— Bullock would pick Tester’s successor, and he whiffed picking a replacement for Max Baucus last time. (He also screwed up more than one lieutenant governor selection.) Eventually, there will be a reckoning and its tough seeing a Democrat win a special election here for Tester’s rest-of-term replacement.
  10. Russ Feingold: Let’s keep left-wing energy going, shall we? For progressives of my age, Feingold is a hero: his opposition to the war in Iraq, his Warren-esque love of campaign finance reform, his sole Senate vote against the Patriot Act. Feingold lost the 2016 Senate re-match with Ron Johnson, but I honestly don’t think it was his fault. National Democrats assumed he couldn’t lose, and poured their resources elsewhere. He did everything he could do to win, including strong grassroots operations, but the national environment did him in. He would become the second Jewish person on a major-party ticket, after Joe Lieberman. And as a former senator, nothing would be risked by picking him. Moreover, he is also a strong foreign policy guy; had he not lost his 2010 Senate race, he probably would have become chair of the Foreign Relations Committee.

What do you think team? Did I miss anyone? Who do you think would best help Elizabeth Warren win and govern?

Where is the point where an alternate timeline jumps the proverbial shark? I’ve kept things “interesting but plausible” in my timelines so far…I think. But we have some weird stuff happening at this point– #14, #15, and #16 each have a profound scandal attached to their presidencies, each of which speaks to larger prejudices in American society.

13. Hamilton Fish14. John C. Fremont15. James Henry Hammond16. Hector M. Johnson

Designer’s notes: See what I mean about jumping the shark? I’m not sure that someone as diehard southern as Hammond could have been elected, even as racial violence and prejudice inflamed the North. With Hector Johnson, we’re in new territory for my timelines…the first person who straight-up didn’t exist IRL. I have always been fascinated by Richard Mentor Johnson, someone who almost openly cohabited with a mostly-white slave woman and treated her for most intents and purposes as his wife (and couldn’t emancipate her because Kentucky law forbid it). And he even raised their daughters as his own. What if he and a pale-skinned slave had a son together, and Johnson raised him as his heir and ushered him into public life without anyone knowing his true heritage? I wonder…

  1. George Washington (no party, Virginia, 1789-1797)
  2. John Adams (Federalist, Massachusetts, 1797-1801)
  3. Aaron Burr (Democratic-Republican, New York, 1801-1811)
  4. Alexander Hamilton (Federalist, New York, 1811-1817)
  5. Rufus King (Federalist, Massachusetts, 1817-1821)
  6. Charles Pinckney (Federalist, South Carolina, 1821-1824)
  7. Mahlon Dickerson (Federalist, New Jersey, 1824-1825)
  8. Henry Clay (Whig, Kentucky, 1825-1833)
  9. Stephen Decatur (Continental, Maryland, 1833-1837)
  10. Francis P. Blair (Continental, Missouri, 1837-1843)
  11. Levi Woodbury (Continental, New Hampshire, 1843-1845)
  12. Lewis Cass (Continental Democratic, Michigan, 1845-1849)
  13. Hamilton Fish (Whig, New York, 1849-1857)
  14. John C. Fremont (Whig, Alto California, 1857-1861)
  15. James H. Hammond (Continental Democratic, South Carolina, 1861-1864)
  16. Hector M. Johnson (Continental Democratic, Kentucky, 1864-1865)