On October 9th, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame announced its fifteen nominees for induction in its class of 2015 (which is when the induction ceremony will take place.) They were:
- Bill Withers (1st nomination)
- Chic (9th (!!!) nomination)
- Green Day (1st nomination- 1st year eligible)
- Joan Jett and the Blackhearts (3rd nomination)
- Kraftwerk (3rd nomination)
- Lou Reed (3rd nomination)
- Nine Inch Nails (1st nomination- 1st year eligible)
- NWA (3rd nomination)
- Paul Butterfield Blues Band (4th nomination)
- Stevie Ray Vaughan (1st nomination)
- Sting (1st nomination)
- The Marvelettes (2nd nomination)
- The Smiths (1st nomination)
- The Spinners (2nd nomination)
- War (3rd nomination)
As some of you may remember, I put up my predictions in June. I fully expected to get 8 or 9 right of the 16 artists I predicted and establish myself as the Nate Silver of the Rock Hall enthusiasts. Instead, I ended up with a measly six- NWA, Green Day, Nine Inch Nails, Joan Jett, Lou Reed, and my one wild Hail-Mary guess I made, Bill Withers. Congratulations to Tom Lane, who predicted nine correctly. What went wrong? Firstly, I screwed up by not including a blues artist, and in the end, two of them- PBBB and SRV- were nominated. I also guessed wrong for some genres. I thought Sonic Youth was going to be their “80s artist who inspired alternative music” pick, and The Smiths got that spot instead. But more than that, I thought the Nominating Committee would emulate their 2014 ballot from last year, which was well received. (And by ‘well-received’, I mean that most people who commented on it said ‘It’s about time these guys were nominated’ rather than ‘This ballot is a travesty!’) Therefore, lots of my choices were on last year’s ballot and didn’t get picked this year. Deep Purple. Yes. The Zombies. Link Wray. Which leads me to my thoughts on the ballot this year. I am disappointed by it, but not for the reasons you might expect.
One on one, there are lots of worthy artists who are up for consideration. A few weeks ago, I listed the 192 artists who I thought already belonged in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as of 2014, and Bill Withers, Chic, Kraftwerk, NWA, Stevie Ray, The Smiths, The Spinners, and War were on my list- that’s 8 of the 15 right there. If I were allowed to add artists eligible this year, Green Day would have made the list as well, and I would have given serious consideration to Nine Inch Nails. But you know how in jazz music, you have to hear the notes they aren’t playing? When you look at the ballot, you have to consider the artists- and the genres- who weren’t nominated. There isn’t a single true classic rock artist on here. Now, Philip over at Rock Hall Monitors points out that one reason the Nom Com is reticent to include more classic rock artists is because the big no-brainers (The Who, Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, Queen, Aerosmith, etc.) were all inducted a long time ago. And he’s right. But to include zero artists who belong in classic rock, progressive rock, or metal on a given year is a major oversight. Fans of all three genres have been seriously pissed off at the Rock Hall for taking their sweet time inducting Rush, Genesis, and Kiss, nominating Deep Purple and Yes, and ignoring Iron Maiden, Jethro Tull, Moody Blues, and Cheap Trick entirely. Seriously- go to a classic rock forum right now. I’ll wait. See what they are saying about the Hall of Fame ballot this year.
They are hella unhappy, right? And for once, I think their anger is justified. Classic rock and prog rock and metal fans can be childish and juvenile sometime, but in this case, their complaints are quite valid. For years, the Nominating Committee has been charged with elitism and favoritism, inducting their friends or their private record collections. The last couple years, it looked like the Rock Hall was addressing these concerns, acknowledging that they had, by their own bad judgment, becoming a laughingstock, had took positive steps to nominate Deep Purple, Yes, Rush, Kiss, Hall and Oates, and other artists hated by many critics but still loved by vigorous fan bases today. I just feel that the Rock Hall threw all that goodwill out the window with this ballot. It almost seems like they intended to thumb their nose at the casual fan and the classic rock hobbyist and tell them, “we know quality music– you don’t– here are the nominees.” With the exceptions of Stevie Ray and maybe the Smiths, nobody was clamoring to get any of these older artists in. The Nom Com had a great opportunity to telegraph support for the social media and the wider public by nominating Janet Jackson. The Induct Janet group has tens of thousands of Facebook followers, and its leaders did everything right- maintaining a respectful tone, getting celebrity support, doing interviews, making a case for her legacy, and most importantly, mobilizing and exciting a group of consumers who would have gladly ponied up the money to go to Cleveland and see Janet enshrined. And it didn’t pay off. That’s terrible. It’s not a tragedy, in an age of ISIS, Ebola, and Boko Haram, but it is a naked demonstration that the spirit of rock and roll can be snuffed out in committee rooms and in-clubs.
My dream- and this is a very idyllic dream- is that Rock Hall membership could be a conversation between the public and the experts. The Nom Com needs to stop holding the public in contempt, stop renominating personal favorites on an endless loop (PBBB, Chic, J. Geils Band), and maybe spend more time talking to music fans who don’t produce, make, or write about music for a living, but for whom music is an essential part of their lives. And for their part, I wish classic rock enthusiasts and metal-heads would be willing to explore some of the artists critics praise, listen actively outside their comfort zone, and embrace R&B, hip-hop, soul, disco, electronic, and yes, even rap, as part of the same broad family tree that looks to rock and roll as a common ancestor. There’s no question for me that these genres deserve consideration for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, but it should happen alongside of, and not at the expense of, classic rock, prog rock, metal and other genres that were snubbed this year, including folk and early rock and roll. I’ll look at the 15 nominated artists, one by one, in Part II, but I’ll conclude with a few random thoughts:
- Potentially, we could have three members joining the Clyde McPhatter Club for artists inducted twice. Sting is already in with the Police, Lou Reed is already in with Velvet Underground, and it is possible that War’s lineup might include Eric Burden, who was inducted way back in 1994 with The Animals.
- My colleague Donnie pointed out that the Hall is perceptibly moving past the 60s and 70s. If Green Day, Nine Inch Nails, NWA, Stevie Ray, The Smiths, and Sting are inducted- an entirely plausible scenario- you’d have six artists who released their debut records after 1980.
- I was right about one thing- LL Cool J wouldn’t be on this ballot. Presumably, this is because the Nom Com wanted a clear path for NWA, and Cool J would take away some votes that would ordinarily go to him. It’s similar to last year, where Linda Ronstadt was the only woman on the ballot, so they could get her in the Hall of Fame while she was still alive. Which brings me to…
- Only two women on this ballot- not counting the Chic vocalists- and its Joan Jett and the Marvelettes. I don’t like this either. Neither has that great a chance of actually being inducted, making it very likely that the Class of 2015 will be another sausage-fest for a Hall that doesn’t have enough female acts.