After some controversial and acrimonious choices last time, perhaps this list is on surer footing. One reason I suspect this is because there isn’t a single artist I’m crazy about, in terms of personal taste, in this group. Hopefully that’s a sign of objectivity?
Well, here’s the next batch of ten artists who deserve some more attention from the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Mostly by coincidence, they are focused a bit more on post-80s artists, and include some sterling live acts whose chart performances and studio recordings don’t tell the whole story. Three of these artists have been nominated before.
80. Chaka Khan/Rufus: Whether you prefer Rufus as a group or Chaka Khan as a solo artist, one of these permutations should get some serious Rock Hall love. As we’ll see, the Rock Hall is historically unkind to divas not named Aretha, and Chaka Khan is among the very greatest of divas. (And this is emblematic of a larger problem. Less than 8% of those inducted in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame are women.) “Chaka Khan” and “Rufus w/Chaka Khan” have each been nominated once before. With Rufus, she was part of the transition from funk to disco, with a certain rough edge seen in the anthemic chorus of “Tell Me Something Good.” On her own, she further honed one of the most powerful voices in popular music. Peter Cetera loves telling the story of how the two of them were performing a duet on the Arsenio Hall Show, and Chaka’s voice actually broke the microphone. “I Feel for You” was a landmark record: a synthesis of rap, pop, and R&B. The problem might be that Chaka’s production values from the mid-80s sounds extremely dated: heavy, synthetic, and overdone, to the point that even her powerhouse voice gets lost in the mix. Just listen to “Ain’t Nobody” or “Through the Fire” from that era and you’ll see what I mean. So, Chaka Khan is damned by her association with two genres in disrepute: disco and 80s R&B. Ironically, that selfsame legacy may endear her to the Nom Com, which has always had a soft spot for talented, though oft-ridiculed disco artists. And with advocates like Questlove in her corner, Chaka Khan- one way or another- can probably expect another nomination real soon. And she may very well get in, if she’s not against a bevy of classic rockers. Can you imagine what a great moment it would be to end Chaka’s part of the show joined by Mary J. Blige and Laura Hill joining her for “I’m Every Woman?”
79. The Flaming Lips: Including bands of more recent vintage on a list like this is always a chancy prospect. Although eligible today, a group like The Flaming Lips has a very long wait ahead of them until they see a nomination, and who knows how well they’ll be remembered by that time. Although formed in 1983, and achieving a mid-90s break with “She Don’t Use Jelly,” The Flaming Lips did not achieve their greatest success until arguably after the new millennium had arrived. Their music is often described as “psychedelic,” but while that’s not wrong, it is an incomplete assessment; they are a long way off from Jefferson Airplane. Their work is moody, world-building, atmospheric, and transcendental. Often- and not unreasonably- compared to Pet Sounds, Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots was a landmark album. There’s nothing like it. With electronic experimentation, swooping orchestration, bombastic yet achingly vulnerable, it also had roots in the 60s with Neil Young-ish delivery and thank God somebody brought back the electric sitar! Rolling Stone magazine ranked it at #27 on their list of the best album of the 2000s. The amazing thing was how easily The Flaming Lips revived the genre of the psychedelic, notorious for its lack of focus and inconsistency, and infused it with the ethos of self-conscious, authenticity-driven alternative music and made this unlikely synthesis work. Less well remembered are their experiments to make the listening experience more interactive. At one point in the 90s, the band set up shop in parking lots and having a makeshift audience trigger pre-recorded sounds. This led to the Zaireeka experiment- a sprawling four-disc set one could listen to simultaneously or in sequence. Through it all, they remain an ethereal live act with a strong emphasis on visual spectacle. They are intensely private and public at the same time, like Wayne Coyne locked inside his clear plastic hamster ball during one of their concerts. And their epochal weirdness isn’t even through yet–it appears the group is working on a collaboration with Miley Cyrus as we speak.
78. Dionne Warwick: She had 31 top forty hits. 69 top 100 hits. Contributed to a #1 hit in three different decades if you count both the Billboard Hot 100 and the R&B charts. She remained one of the most bankable artists in the industry for two decades. She was the sweet voice by which the sublime songwriting of Hal David and Burt Bacharach entered the public consciousness. And if imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, take note of how The Carpenters copied Warwick’s template for “Close to You” as did Dusty Springfield for “Wishin’ and Hopin'” to massive success. So, why isn’t Dionne in yet? There’s a couple reasons. Several of her records are not even soft rock, but easy listening. Her velvety voice and breezy arrangements conjure images of cocktail hour and plastic on the furniture that is sometimes discordant with the image of rock and roll. Others note, not unfairly, that if she recorded on Atlantic Records she’d be in by now. And there’s no doubt that she hurt her image in the 1990s doing those goofy “Psychic Friends Network” commercials that exploited the desperate and gullible. But Warwick delivered the decisive version of some of the 20th century’s best songs, and in ways that aren’t easy to appreciate today, was a pioneer for black women. Can you name many African-American women who were given their own television special in the 60s? I can’t; but Warwick wrapped up that honor in 1969. So, while Aretha and Diana Ross and the others are more fondly remembered by rock historians, we can’t forget Warwick’s vital contributions during one of America’s most turbulent decades.
77. Slayer: One of the four horsemen of thrash metal, the Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock and Roll is dead on: “if Slayer did not exist, the tabloid press would invent it.” With Hades, Satan, death camps, and mass murder as recurring themes in their music, they seemed to come out of central casting to assault middle-class values. What I appreciate about this is that one can certainly argue that they aren’t glorifying any of these visceral themes, but are perhaps ruminating on the evil of the human condition. Everything about their music is fast, relentless, and a sonic hellscape. With guitar parts evocative of the fiercest tempest you’ve heard, deep drums, and an unsettling vibrato, they set the template for countless thrash bands that came after them. Kerry King respectfully expressed a hope that Slayer will get into the Hall one day, but he may have to be patient. Presently, talking about a Slayer induction is a mere thought experiment; they haven’t got a prayer until Judas Priest and Iron Maiden are in. But when these acts are cleared, perhaps the Hall can more seriously discuss metal- a genre most of its members hold in some measure of disdain. At this rate, Slayer’s producer, Rick Rubin, is probably more likely to enter the Hall of Fame before they do. But for their bold engagement with unsavory topics, their role in the creation of a major sub-genre, their continued success selling out arenas even today, and their reputation as lightning rods of controversy make them an indelible part of what rock and roll is all about.
76. Fugazi/Minor Threat: Out of the 100 prospects on this list, Fugazi and their predecessors in Minor Threat might be near the bottom in terms of name recognition. It’s a pity, because they were both a key ingredient of the hardcore scene, and helped create the straightedge culture that eschewed sex, drugs, and alcohol to stay present-minded and clear-headed. Moreover, they were devout advocates of the D-I-Y ethos. For all of Pearl Jam’s famous battles with Ticketmaster, Fugazi went several steps farther, often printing their own tickets, and avoiding major labels so that they could produce their music affordably and as they see fit. Ian MacKaye and his mates probably left millions of dollars on the table in order to be true to their beliefs, which strikes me as remarkably bad-ass. But I’ve focused perhaps too much on their attitude, and not enough on their music. This, too, is significant. While incorporating elements from punk and metal is hardly original- dozens of groups did that before them- they also used some reggae beats to create a more eclectic and worldly sound to the sometimes-juvenile hardcore scene. Unfortunately, in an age where the music-industrial complex runs roughshod over the artists and their fans, running up unfair margins on CDs and concert tickets, Fugazi and Minor Threat have been M-I-A for a dozen years now. Their wholesale rejection of all that is institutional and back-scratching makes them incongruous with how the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame operates. Which is why artists of their character are needed now more than ever.
75. Billy Ward & His Dominoes: Billy Ward was, by all accounts, a ruthless taskmaster, but his Dominoes, who at various points included Clyde McPhatter and Jackie Wilson, were one of the more important vocal groups of the 1950s. They just barely cruise in as an artist, rather than an early influence, on a technicality: their biggest hit was “St. Therese of the Roses” from 1956, and peaking 1954 or after is the cut-off for this project, at least where I’m concerned. At any rate, the Dominoes were an important piece of 1950s R&B, capable of being smooth and ornate one moment, and raunchy and rude the next. 1952’s “Have Mercy Baby” is a genuine contender for the first real rock and roll song, with edge and swagger that more straightforward R&B didn’t have. And of course, there’s the brilliant sexual innuendo of “Sixty Minute Man,” clever enough to not attract attention from the naive, but with fantastic lines like “fifteen minutes for blowin’ my top.” It’s a bold boast of black sexual prowess at a time when black expressions of sexuality could still get someone lynched. Despite its ribaldry, it was the first R&B song recorded by a black artist to reach the top of the pop charts, an important auger of things to come. And they even have some historical cred by being scheduled to perform at the Moondog Coronation Ball, arguably the first rock and roll concert. Here’s a crazy thought-piece. Given the number of famous people who got their start in this group, a Dominoes induction would make Jackie Wilson a member of the Clyde McPhatter Club for two-time inductees. Would it also mean that Clyde McPhatter (also inducted with the Drifters and as a solo artist) is no longer the first member of the Clyde McPhatter Club, but the second member of the Eric Clapton Club for three-time inductees? My head hurts now.
74. Phish: When you talk about can’t-miss live acts, Phish has got to be near the top of the list. They have a fanatical cult following, so often compared to the Grateful Dead, that follows them from city to city like a rock and roll stations of the cross. Their music lends itself readily to the extended jams and sense of belonging that have become their calling card. As many of their fans know, Phish is committed to making each concert a unique experience to be cherished, never repeating a setlist in an age where most artists repeat the same show city after city. And they did more than copy the Dead, for sure; they are virtuoso musicians, merging the requisite rock and roll with Vermont-country, and a bit of the improvisational character of jazz. Phish is, no doubt, on the Rock Hall’s radar. In 2010, they inducted no less a group than Genesis, and Trey Anastasio recently toured the vaults with Rock Hall CEO Greg Harris. Furthermore, Future Rock Legends predicted a Phish nomination for 2016 like a bolt out of the blue, which suggests that they know something I don’t. My dream Phish induction? Having Trey Anastasio team up with Dennis DeYoung for a supergroup called Phish-Styx. We’ll see. The Rock Hall tends to favor chart success and artists whose support is wide, rather than deep, and it cuts against the Rolling Stone-sanctioned history of “serious music” the 1990s as one of angsty grunge.
73. Alice in Chains: Speaking of the 1990s as a decade of angsty grunge, we come to Alice in Chains. Maybe you disagree with my placing them above Soundgarden, but there’s no denying their importance to the grunge movement. One important element they have over Soundgarden is their more enduring success at a national level. It’s tricky to engage with that element, because grunge was, in many ways, contemptuous and suspicious of success, especially extended success. Nevertheless, they kept at it. From their breakout Dirt album from 1992, they stayed relevant. Even in 2013, The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here was widely considered one of the best albums that came out that year, and a follow-up is in the pipeline. Still, that longevity came with tragic consequences. Years of hard living and drug addiction cost Layne Staley his life, and their frontman’s demise had a ripple effect. Bassist Mike Starr, probably the last person to see Staley alive, never forgave himself for obeying his bandmate’s demand that he not call 911. Starr himself succumbed to an overdose in 2011. For all this, any discussion of the greatest songs of the 1990s that isn’t completely fixated on pop has to account for “Rooster” and “Man in the Box.” Their metal-fused alternative sound set the table for acts like Disturbed and Korn later in the decade. Eligible for the first time this year, they may have to wait a while in order to receive a nomination.
72. MC5: When I talked about the Sixties as a turbulent decade in Warwick’s section, few encapsulated the decade’s revolutionary atmosphere better than the MC5. Initially, I thought I hated The MC5. As it turned out, I simply don’t like their best known song, “Kick Out the Jams.” Once you get into the rest of their catalog, though, you’ll encounter a remarkably prophetic group. With this band, garage rock fulfilled its destiny and got political; these guys were genuine revolutionaries- to the point of hiring John Sinclair as their first producer and joining the White Panther Party. (Contrary to how the name might sound, the organization was radically anti-racist, not a white nationalist group). At a time when Detroit was in the midst of race riots born from decades of police oppression and ghettoizing public policies, MC5 chose to stand with those who were speaking out and fighting back. With their far-left politics, they fundamentally wanted to overturn the system, and the revolution permeated their music in “Motor City is Burning” and “The American Ruse.” They even played at the notorious Chicago 1968 demonstrations where Mayor Daley’s goons beat up on protestors with what Senator Abraham Ribicoff called “Gestapo tactics.” Their influence resounds through the decades, and punk, metal, and alternative artists all claim them as influences. Guitarist Fred “Sonic” Smith married Patti Smith and played a role in her career’s success, and was also the namesake of Sonic Youth. And Wayne Kramer remains a legendary figure, still dreaming of revolution after all these years. They were nominated once in 2003 and haven’t returned to the ballot since. But with Tom Morello of Rage Against the Machine and presumably their second manager, Jon Landau- both Nom Com members- pulling for them, we might very well see a return appearance from the true Motor City madmen. Longevity isn’t on their side- they recorded only three studio albums in their prime- but everything else points to MC5’s long-term significance.
71. The Doobie Brothers: It is starting to annoy me when people list their chief Rock Hall snubs, and every single act is a 70s classic rock artist. It’s usually a sign of narrow musical interest and little historical perspective on what rock and roll actually was and where it came from. Still, there is no shortage of deserving artists in the area, and while they shouldn’t have a monopoly on the Rock Hall, there are several worthy contenders from that world still waiting in the wings. The Doobie Brothers clearly stand among them. Given how much of Deep Purple’s case depends on that iconic riff from “Smoke on the Water,” isn’t the riff from “China Grove” on that same level of significance? Moreover, The Doobies were a juggernaut that could dominate any way you liked with their versatility. They charted hit after hit that remains in radio rotation to this day: “Long Train Runnin,'” “Listen to the Music,” “Black Water,” “Jesus is Just Alright” while also making cohesive, explorative albums that showed off their top-notch musicianship and the interesting rhythmic possibilities that came with having two drummers. Longevity? How about top ten hits in 1973 and 1989? They also found a sweet spot between popular and critical acclaim, racking up 4 multi-platinum albums and a Grammy Award for Record of the Year. And they even had two distinct eras with the more rootsy Tom Johnston days at the beginning giving way to the velvet tenor of Michael McDonald by the late 70s so often associated with soft jazz and yacht rock. More than anything else, these guys were fun. Their music boogied with a well-acknowledged debt to R&B, and was never more serious than it had to be. Hidden Under Headphones, which has its own very fine list of Rock Hall prospects, wrote that “their music is a time, a place, a spirit, an essence”- evocative of many of the best qualities of the 70s and 70s music, it’s layered harmony symbolized partly by the band’s multi-racial membership. Nevertheless, This upcoming year’s inducted class of classic rockers bodes well for The Doobie Brothers. I had, in my head, put them roughly at the same level of both worthiness and likelihood as someone like fellow Bay Area guy Steve Miller, so Miller getting in shortens the queue for them. But the Miller induction, without his eponymous band, also points to a problem. One factor that may hurt The Doobie Brothers’ chances is their voluminous membership at a time when the Rock Hall wants to cut down on ceremony run times and induction speeches. This band had a higher turnover rate than an insolvent Radioshack franchise.