I am delighted that my first round of Rock and Roll Hall of Fame prospects, rounding out the bottom ten, was so well received. I should add, in response to some confusion, that I am ranking them based on my perception of how deserving they are, as opposed to their likelihood of induction. (I’d like to think that the two are related, but that doesn’t always happen, of course.)
This next round includes some of my more controversial choices, as well as a few artists who are consensus “why aren’t they in yet?” picks. Two of my choices became eligible for the first time in the past year, but were passed over by the Nominating Committee. And only one from this batch of ten has been nominated before.
90. The Pogues: Maybe because it was Christmastime and “Fairytale of New York” got its annual moment to shine, but The Pogues were the final addition to the list. (I always knew the bottom 10 artists I wanted on my list- usually borderline choices, symbolic of a larger trend or genre- but this next batch of ten saw more changes and shifts than any.) Anyway, The Pogues ushered in one of more intuitive syntheses in 1980s music, that of punk and folk- particularly Celtic folk. In a way, the visceral anger at oppression at the hands of the English middle class made traditional Irish music and post-Sex Pistols punk a natural fit for one another, with an embrace of non-conformity serving as the impetus for a catalog rich with stories of boozehounds and rejects that make up the canon of Shane McGowan, Jem Finer, and company. The Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock and Roll calls their music “Joycean” and that’s a great assessment, with fragmentary stories without satisfactory conclusions carry the day. While “they inspired bands like Dropkick Murphys” isn’t exactly the kind of impact most artists dream of, they showed the greater, almost novelistic, lyrical possibilities of punk. But amazingly, this loutish group, always a couple strokes of bad luck away from being a below-average pub band in Stoke Newington, grew as artists. If I Should Fall From Grace with God replaced Irish instruments with a Middle Eastern motif in the “Turkish Song of the Damned” and jazz, Greek, and singer-songwriter influences in their music, without it ever seeming like a desperate try at a world music album for the Grammys.
89. Moby: The role of the deejay is an ephemeral one, often selecting and arranging music but rarely creating it. And yet, deejays were the medium by which rock and roll reached nearly every listener for generations. To wit, the Rock Hall’s Cleveland connection is largely justified because it was Alan Freed’s base of operations. With this in mind, deejay par excellence, Moby, needs to enter the Rock Hall conversation, having first become eligible this year. Moby didn’t invent techno, in much the same way that Nine Inch Nails didn’t invent industrial, but it was through his body of work that the genre reached a kind of artistic maturity and came into its own as a genre. With symphonic strings and synth rarely out of the mix, his beats borrow from disco, gospel, 80s pop, metal, and almost any other genre you can name, with some of kind of anthemic chorus cutting through just when the trance has lulled you into its grip. His eclectic and transcendental body of work reflected Moby’s own rich inner life. As a proud vegan and animal rights activist, he also practices a spiritualist form of Christianity at odds with conventional evangelicalism, while he also raises awareness of those who, like himself, suffer from deep anxiety. Both who he was and what he produced made Moby a kind of an icon for those on the younger side of Generation X, much as Morrissey was for the older side. And as a golden boy of the 90s and early 2000s rave scene, he wins the “zeitgeist” component I established in my criteria by a country mile; it’s hard to talk about that time and place without Moby factoring into the discussion. His two most indispensable works are the alternative-oriented 1995’s Everything is Wrong and the blues electronica of 1999’s Play, but this hardly does justice to the length and breadth of his career, which also includes soundtracks, remix projects, and commercials. He won’t get in for a long time, especially if Kraftwerk or Brian Eno or DJ Kool Herk aren’t in yet; it is a difficult route for artists who are more “organizers of sound” than traditional guitar-bass-and-drums musicians. But he should be someone to watch out for. Certainly, the Rolling Stone crowd and the critical community hold him in high esteem.
88. Soundgarden: It didn’t all start with Nirvana. As we explored with Moby, inventing a genre and being a crucial part of a genre’s success are not the same thing. Now, I wasn’t listening to grunge in the 90s; I never heard “Black Hole Sun” until it showed up as part of Weird Al’s “Alternative Polka.” Mindful of this, I asked my friend Ryan, who actually did follow that scene as a teenager, why Soundgarden was important. And here’s what he said: “…well, important is very relative. Important to what, specifically? If we’re talking about the Seattle grunge scene, anything that brought more spotlights to it is, in many ways, good. They were around long before Nirvana, like Alice in Chains, and had respectable levels of success prior to Nevermind…They morphed heavy metal with something different- something more funk, more raw” Great answer Ryan! (And you should totally check out Ryan’s band, The Strange Neighbors.) Within the world of 90s alternative and grunge, there is a tendency to see Nirvana as Artist Zero, but in fact, many of their contemporaries outdated Cobain and company and laid more of the foundations for the Seattle scene. Louder Than Love (1990) and Badmotorfinger (1991) both made waves as the first grunge albums supported by a major label. Even if they didn’t reach a wider audience until Nirvana kicked those doors open, that matters. Finding a way to merge the authenticity of post-punk, the gravity of metal, and the relentless rhythm of funk, their work cast a gloomy and introspective shadow filled with angst and contained rage that resonated with plenty of people who were disillusioned with the rank commercialism of the 90s. As the recent death of Scott Weiland reminds us, the grunge and alternative scene exacted a heavy price on its darlings. Soundgarden quit when they were hot, as Ryan reminded me, and played the game on their own terms. Now that Nirvana is in, the question of the next grunge/90s alternative act on the docket is one that weighs on the minds of many Rock Hall watchers. The answer is probably Pearl Jam, eligible for the Class of 2017, but after that? The smart money, I think, is on Soundgarden.
87. Emmylou Harris: What are the boundaries of rock and roll? Did Miles Davis deserve induction in 2008 as a jazz artist who merely collaborated with rockers on occasion? What about a Nina Simone induction? This kind of question is a particular puzzler for country, partly because country not only predates rock and roll, but was a crucial antecedent and one of rock and roll’s chief dialogue partners going forward. So, how far do you go inducting country-oriented stars into a museum for rock and roll? That’s a tough question to answer. Johnny Cash got in without much controversy. Willie Nelson and Patsy Cline are on most people’s radar. My own philosophy is that if an artist worked heavily in conversation with rock and roll, they should be considered. And few bridged the chasm between rock and roll and country with the longevity and the artistry of Emmylou Harris. Her own duet partner, Gram Parsons, has been nominated before and is considered a top-shelf omission from the Rock Hall because of his seminal work in laying the foundations of country-rock, and as a distance ancestor to alt-country. I agree with that, even as I am astounded that Harris isn’t always given the same respect. Harris was smart (she wasn’t valedictorian of her high school class for nothing) and marketed her music to both the Opry crowd and fans of country-rock that experienced a mid-70s heyday when The Eagles and like-minded bands were at their apex. Listen to Luxury Liner, and it’s pure mastery. It swings and twangs with the requisite pedal steel, but it has rock and roll’s edge and the singer-songwriter’s introspection. She’s also earned points for staying artistically active; while many Seventies artists’ output became criminally uninteresting in the 90s and after, Emmylou’s work has continued on without any perceptible decline in quality. Her body of work grew old as gracefully as she did. Besides her work with Parsons, she’s kept her rock rolodex filled with collaborations with Linda Ronstadt, Bob Dylan, Bonnie Raitt, and The Band among many, many others. If she were ever nominated, there’s a suitcase full of artists in the Hall who stand ready for vote for her. And as one of the first people to successfully exist in both the rock and country milieus simultaneously, like a songbird Padre Pio, she should get more serious attention for the Rock Hall. And if she doesn’t, she can always polish those 13 Grammy Awards.
86. The Shadows: Many before me have noted that the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame has a decidedly American accent. While obvious cases like The Beatles or The Who were inducted readily and eagerly, more borderline cases from the U.K. tend to have longer waits, simply because it is less likely that someone on the Nom Com saw them in a club before they got famous. I could take or leave the man who was often their frontman, Cliff Richard, who many of the major British Invasion acts despised as a second-rate Elvis (although jealousy of his massive chart success may have factored into their derision.) Richard may have been the first rock superstar in Britain, but his records often had a derivative and calculated sound, analogous to those early Pat Boone or Conway Twitty records. No, I’m more interested in his backing band, The Shadows. From the late 50s until well into the 1960s, they pioneered the modern rock and roll combo of lead and rhythm guitar, bass, and drums and anticipated much of the British Invasion. Led by Hank Marvin, they embarked upon a series of evocative instrumental records. “Apache” was probably the most well-loved of them (and was later reincarnated as a funky rap song by the Sugar Hill Gang). But one shouldn’t neglect “Walk Don’t Run,” “Kon Tiki”, or “The Frightened City”, each of which has its own personality that shimmers in the barren years between the Day the Music Died and The Beatles’ debut on Ed Sullivan. Altogether, they racked up 14 British Top 10 hits without Richard within the space of five years. Remember, one of the first numbers The Beatles recorded in a professional studio on their own was an instrumental tribute to this band called “Cry for a Shadow.” If The Shadows have an encouraging antecedent, it’s The Ventures, another glittering Sixties instrumental group that was a surprise victor in their very first nomination.
85. Los Lobos: The Nominating Committee dropped a huge surprise when Los Lobos surfaced as one of the nominees for the Class of 2016. One faithful reader of this blog, KING, correctly predicted this outcome, but almost everyone else was astonished, even though Future Rock Legends listed them among artists that had been previously considered before. I originally thought this was a borderline-absurd choice, but when I did my research, I realized how mistaken I was. Whatever you think of Los Lobos’ chances, don’t dismiss them as just the band that recorded a bunch of Ritchie Valens covers for the La Bamba soundtrack. No, this was a band that paid its dues the way few have, breaking out only when its members were older adults after years of toiling in small clubs and wedding receptions, finding a way to merge roots rock with a strong pedigree in the norteno milieu. As one band member put it, “we found America through the service entrance.” In every sense, they were workmanlike innovators who merged genres. How Will the Wolf Survive is regarded by many as one of the best albums of the 1980s, and recorded both a traditional Mexican album La pistola y el corazon as well as a collection of Disney covers, neither sounding remotely gimmicky, and each in the spirit of their overall body of work. And we are just scratching the surface and ignoring worthy albums like Kiko and The Neighborhood. Dave Marsh, the august music critic, seems to have played a critical role in getting them on the ballot this year, vociferously defending them in a radio interview he gave in November. Los Lobos, he maintained, “took the folkloric style of Mexican music, combined it with the funkier side of [the punk scene in L.A.]” Getting into the Hall of Fame, he went on, should be based on how famous you should be, not on how famous you are. And to be sure, Latin music has not gotten fair credit for it’s role in shaping rock and roll, like a forgotten ancestor whose name has been scratched out of the family tree. So far, only Santana and Valens and maybe some of Linda Ronstadt’s later work are nods in this direction- and Valens had barely begun exploring the fusion of latin and rock when he died at age 17. For years, I wished that the industry experts would listen to ordinary rock and roll fans rather than using the Nom Com to impose their tastes on Rock Hall enshrinement. I still think that to a certain degree, but I also now believe the inverse to be true: rock fans should listen up when a group as well versed as the Nom Com thinks an artist is worthy of nomination: just because you haven’t heard very much about them doesn’t mean they aren’t very good. Two years ago, when I started following the Rock Hall seriously, I thought the two worst picks on the 2014 ballot were The Meters and the Paul Butterfield Blues Band, just because I had never run into them before. As it turned out, that was entirely wrong. In this case, the experts were right, and they are right again here– Los Lobos hadn’t entered many conversations on Rock Hall prospects, but they should be part of the discussion.
84. Dan Fogelberg: Most people reading this have at least sorta agreed with my choices…up to this point. Dan Fogelberg belongs to that most maligned phylum of musical creatures, the sensitive 1970s singer-songwriter. There’s nothing wrong with being sensitive, but I prefer to consider Fogelberg an excellent storyteller in the best American tradition. More eclectic than many of his contemporaries, he readily incorporated jazz, folk, and bluegrass, and was a natural multi-instrumentalist. And if you take the trouble to listen to any of his albums all the way through, you’ll see that he could rock as well; many of his best songs are strong uptempo numbers like “Phoenix” and “The Language of Love,” not just ballads about meeting your old lover at the grocery store. But those, too, are well-crafted. Listen to The Innocent Age, a sprawling double album addressing nostalgia and looking back at childhood and adolescence. It’s easy to scoff at this introspective topic, but this record is one of the very finest in the singer-songwriter genre, every bit as good as Sweet Baby James and Tapestry. In fact, it’s one of my twenty favorite albums, easily. Holiday staple “Same Old Lang Syne” is on there, as was top 10 hit “Leader of the Band.” But listen to the complex lyrics and epic scope of “Into the Passage” and the Celtic-infused “Nexus”- two great songs that never got onto radio rotation. Soft rock harbored some of the most thoughtful and reflective of material in the rock milieu, and it should not be easily dismissed as “yacht rock” for the nouveau rich of the Kissinger era. If we’re looking at quality of material within its genre, Fogelberg deserves a chance to be in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. It’s true.
83. Jimmy Buffett: If putting Fogelberg on a list of people who should be in the Rock Hall made you skeptical, including Jimmy Buffett might make you think I’ve lost my damn mind. Like Rush and KISS, Buffett is disadvantaged by the churlish reputation of his fans. Your wife’s ne’er-do-well brother who never had a real job is a Parrothead. The jackass in Human Resources who just cut your buddy’s department but always seems to enjoy a martini lunch is a Parrothead. I get that. I do. But I also get that Jimmy Buffett has created his own mythos in his songs and in his novels that compares with little else in the rock and roll legendarium. It’s a kind of Gulf Coast Narnia for the dissolute, littered with eccentrics, drifters, and remittance men. Buffett’s best songs in his 27 studio albums create compelling character sketches that span the Caribbean, from the most-interesting-man he encounters in “Last Mango in Paris,” to the mythical Jolly Mon, to the exotic and enigmatic Salome of “Salome Plays the Drums.” All of this coheres into a hedonist philosophy of living for today, embracing the absurd and spontaneous, and lamenting the inevitable hangover the next day. Go listen to the stream-of-consciousness “Fruitcakes”, or the nostalgia of “Pencil Thin Mustache” or the bildungsroman of “Pascagoula Run.” Buffett fans aren’t stupid; many of them live terribly uninteresting lives with his music as their chief Bacchanalian outlet. And more than anyone this side of the Grateful Dead or Bob Marley, Buffett’s catalog and concert culture created a way of life, a worldview; even if its disciples wore Hawaiian shirts and cargo shorts. There’s a reason his career is stronger than ever 40 years in, and he was racking up #1 albums in the 2000s. Even in terms of genre, Buffett contributed to a Gulf Coast sound, merging elements of country and western with nearby Latin and Caribbean influences coming in from the sea lanes- with occasional flecks of roots rock and Cajun showing up every now and then as well. Altogether, it’s a cohesive testament on par with the work of Leonard Cohen and Tom Waits, even if Buffett never shared their critical acclaim and hipster credentials. If you forget the mercenary element of his career, shamelessly hawking frozen coconut shrimp and boxed margarita mix, there’s a body of work that is Rock Hall worthy– even if it is sometimes worthy in spite of itself.
82. A Tribe Called Quest: The first but certainly not the last hip-hop artist to appear on the list, A Tribe Called Quest emerged in the early 90s as part of the Native Tongues collective on the New York scene. Hip hop was still accruing its sense of self as a genre, in the years following the landmark Afrika Bambaataa records. In a way, ATCQ and its contemporaries were kind of a counter-reformation challenging the violence and hard-edged street life of N.W.A. In contrast, the Native Tongues people felt like they were in the middle of a love fest. Afrocentric ideas and beats, an indirect legacy of 70s icons like Maulana Karenga, served as the cornerstone for this vibrant, but in many ways unfortunately short-lived movement. One of their biggest advocates, Questlove, effused that they were “stylish, jazzy, funny, soulful, smart, and everything else. They were socially conscious without being too self-conscious about it.” By far the most jazz-oriented group in this collective, Q-Tip and company had wonderful improvisation to their work, often sampling jazz records and jazz licks as easily as others might sample a drum beat or horn break from James Brown. (“Mind Power” from Beats, Rhymes, and Life is one of my favorite essays in this medium.) But this belies the hard work and craftsmanship that so many of their listeners missed. Philosophical but never ponderous, they were just as conscious about being black in America- and all that implied- as N.W.A., but chose artful self-realization instead of the gangsta life.
81. The Clovers: My chronological rule separating performers from early influences was “peaking in 1954 or later”- a tad arbitrary, but there you have it. The Clovers might bend that rule, but they certainly do not break it. Their most remembered hit song,1959’s “Love Potion #9” was a Leiber-Stoller favorite that received a popular cover version in the British Invasion era- the one that is, unfortunately, covered on your local Oldies station instead of The Clovers. The Hall has not been kind in recent years to the manifold R&B vocal groups from the 1950s. It’s been over a decade since The Dells were inducted, and the Moonglows and the Flamingos before them. The Five Royales only squeaked in last year as an “Early Influence.” I do hope that the era of 50s R&B isn’t closed yet. And certainly, rock and roll was not always kind to them, it’s a shame that by the mid-1950s, harmonic vocal work was often limited to intentionally bland, colorless background set to rock and roll backing- think of the Jordanaires’ work on Elvis’s records. It’s like watching an exceptional group of actors relegated to nondescript supporting roles on a cheesy sitcom that’s beneath their talents. In contrast, The Clovers’ vocals pop with personality, build to climax, and shine with flecks of humor that anticipated a group like The Coasters (I love the line in “One Mint Julep”: “I got six extra children from bein’ frisky.”) We praise artists for invention in the form of albums, and forget that a full 33 rpm disc was a luxury afforded only to established artists. Instead, The Clovers made a series of great 45-rpm records with sparkling piano, wailing saxophone, and five guys singing their hearts out.