On Thursday, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame announced its fifteen nominees for induction in the Class of 2016. Artists previously nominated include: Deep Purple, Yes, The Spinners, NWA, Chic, The Smiths, and Nine Inch Nails. There are plenty of first-timers, too: Chicago, Cheap Trick, Janet Jackson, The Cars, Steve Miller Band, Los Lobos, and The JBs. In a category of her own is Chaka Khan, who was nominated once before alongside Rufus, but is listed on her own this time around.
What are my thoughts? Well, you know that phrase, “be careful what you wish for?” If you have been clamoring for the Rock Hall to address the backlog of well-loved classic rock bands, this is your year. The problem is that there are so many of them that some will invariably cancel each other out. One thing I can guarantee is that we will ~not~ get an Induction class of Deep Purple, Yes, Chicago, Steve Miller, Cheap Trick and The Cars. Not gonna happen; the Hall’s voting and modus operandi are rightly considered with generational, racial, and gender diversity. Recently, Tom Lane listed some longtime snubs that would almost certainly be inducted the first time they were nominated. Cheap Trick, Chicago, Steve Miller, The Cars, and Janet are all listed; and I’m not picking on Tom. Under normal circumstances he would be absolutely right. (Any of those acts would have easily got inducted had they been picked for last year’s much less competitive class.) But nobody saw this kind of fan-service ballot coming. Invariably, some of these worthy acts will have to await a second nomination to get into Cleveland.
Which brings me to how our predictions went. I got 7 right (the same 7 as Mr. Lane, incidentally): Deep Purple, Yes, Janet Jackson, The Spinners, NWA, Chic, and Nine Inch Nails. E-rockracy got 8: good for you, man!
And Chicago got a nomination!!!!! This is a great moment for me- I’ve advocated for this since the late 90s. They are my favorite American band, and have long been, in my opinion, the most conspicuous Rock Hall snub. I really hope that this is the year that the band ultimately gets in- and that Peter Cetera and Danny Seraphine can reunite with the band, even if it is just for a few songs.
In my last post, I suggested that the process of nomination was volatile. An artist who everyone expected to be nominated might not make it: that definitely happened, via J. Geils Band. It looks like Stevie Van Zandt used his pull to help Cheap Trick instead. I also suggested that some artists who nobody picked might surface. The JBs took everybody by surprise. KING pulled off a very lucky guess with Los Lobos. And very few indeed anticipated The Cars or Steve Miller.
Essentially, the process made Rock Hall watchers look like fools. If you paid attention to the induction ceremony earlier this year, it yielded zero useful clues: Tommy James and Peter Wolf’s appearances were red herrings. Nor were the Grammys helpful. ELO and Annie Lennox put on masterful performances that did not result in nominations. Instead, the biggest tip-off was one that many people overlooked or misinterpreted: the dismissal of one third of the Nominating Committee. Most people thought that the change would either have a minimal impact, or at most, result in a ballot heavy in post-1980s acts. Instead, we have a version of the 2013 ballot for the Class of 2014: very 70s-centric with plenty of longtime snubs, and lots for classic rock enthusiasts to be happy about.
Except they aren’t happy. Go anywhere on the internet from Eddie Trunk to every two-bit music writer in every small city with its own newspaper, and complaints abound. Most of them amount to little more than racially tinged hatred of R&B and rap, questioning its place in the rock and roll pantheon, or else they amount to little more than “my three favorite bands weren’t nominated this year.” That’s the tragedy of the Rock Hall. They’ve taken some solid steps to include some long-overlooked artists in the last five or six years: Rush, Genesis, Heart, Alice Cooper, Peter Gabriel, KISS, Hall & Oates, and Stevie Ray all made it. But its never enough, and nobody acknowledges these positive steps forward. Eventually, complaining about Chicago and Cheap Trick being left out will simply give way to the next tier: complaining about Moody Blues, Jethro Tull, and Todd Rundgren. None of this is to excuse some of the bone-headed decisions the Rock Hall made in years past, but its enough to almost make a guy feel sorry for Jann Werner, Dave Marsh, and crew. Almost.
Anyway, I’ll do a formal assessment of the nominees in a few weeks, following my pattern of last year: evaluating 1) how much I like each artist 2) how worthy they are of an induction irrespective of my opinions, and 3) how likely they actually are to get in this year. I’ll end with a few stray observations:
- No pure singer-songwriter this year. Lots of people thought Warren Zevon, Harry Nilsson, or Sting would have a shot, but the correct answer was: none of them!
- Similarly, no blues guys. That’s not a bad thing, necessarily: Albert King, Stevie Ray, and Paul Butterfield all got in during the last three ceremonies, so its time to look at some other genres.
- Warm congratulations to #InductJanet. Mike Litherland wrote the book on how to run a strong, persuasive, and effective grassroots campaign. Haranguing the Rock Hall for being stupid and biased will never, ever, ever result in a nomination. You’ve got to play the long game, and you’ve got to play the classy game.
- The Hall paved a great path for NWA (no other rap acts) and Nine Inch Nails (no other 90s alt acts, particularly first-year eligible Smashing Pumpkins) this year.
- This list of nominees officially consigns Mariah Carey, Alice in Chains, A Tribe Called Quest, Moby, and the aforementioned Smashing Pumpkins into Rock Hall snubs.
- For all the acclaim this ballot is getting as a classic rocker’s dream, the R&B branch of the rock and roll family tree is still well represented, and there’s plenty of racial diversity. Six African-American artists are on the list this year: Janet, NWA, Chic, JBs, Chaka Khan, and The Spinners, and one Hispanic-American group, Los Lobos.
- Yet, there are still very few women: just Janet Jackson, Chaka Khan, and the somewhat anonymous and interchangeable singers in Chic. Strangely, there are no white women on the ballot this year.
- Backing bands are conspicuously absent. Steve Miller has seldom released music without his eponymous band, yet on the ballot, its just Steve. Chaka Khan is without Rufus. Nine Inch Nails might be reduced to just Trent Reznor. This is weird, but I think there are two reasons why this is happening, both of which are semi-understandable. 1) Quality control over the voting body. The last thing you want to do is to give something as valuable as a vote in this process to provincial sidemen. 2) Remember how long the last two induction ceremonies went? Last year’s passed the five hour mark. There are many reasons for this, but you can put plenty of blame on long-winded speeches from random Blackhearts and short-tenured E-Street Band members. I understand how one might feel as a fan and not seeing your favorite Steve Miller Band member inducted. Personally, I’d want Bill Champlin and Jason Scheff inducted with Chicago, but I know that’s never going to happen. If the band gets in, they already have Robert Lamm, Lee Loughnane, Jimmy Pankow, Walt Parazaider, Danny Seraphine, Peter Cetera, and Terry Kath’s widow taking turns at the podium. Consider for a moment how the hundreds of staff at the venue must feel as the ceremony moves into the early morning hours well beyond its scheduled running time and they have kids with babysitters at home. The gallant thing to do is to cap the ceremony at a reasonable length for everybody’s consideration.