And with this post, my series on the 100 Greatest Rock Hall Prospects draws to a close. I can’t say enough how much I enjoyed doing this project, and how much I appreciate the feedback that I received from so many of my readers.
Since this has been one of the longest (and perhaps the most popular) series of lists on this blog, I do want to conclude with some final remarks. Firstly, I hope everyone realizes that my list is by no means intended to be the final word, or some authoritative guide to who should be in the Rock Hall. These choices are deeply subjective, and to some extent, tied to our own personal histories in ways that make a thorough, wholly rational analysis beside the point. Maybe I wouldn’t have put Peter, Paul & Mary on the list if I hadn’t seen them perform at the opening of the George McGovern Library in Mitchell, South Dakota. Maybe I would never have encountered the Indigo Girls if my wife didn’t appreciate their music. All of this is premised on extreme contingency. So if you have reservations with the choices I made, remember– there’s nothing stopping you from coming up with your own list.
But one thing I tried very hard to do was to suggest the deep stylistic breadth of rock and roll. Rock was the joyous and fortuitous coming together of the blues, of country-western, of folk, and gospel. Subsequently, rock and roll was never a monolith; even in its early days it harbored branches as diverse as Chuck Berry’s rapid-fire St. Louis blues style, the ethereal harmonies of 50s R&B vocalists, and country-influenced teen idols like the Everly Brothers. As a result, the various genres these pioneers spawned over the generations- disco, Philly soul, punk, new wave, alternative- you name it- all lay claim to the same musical inheritance. If you want to see more classic rock in the Hall, well and good, but don’t neglect the equally legitimate claims of these other genres. Don’t get so lost in “rock” that you forget to “roll.”
I promised some of my readers that I would make a list of 15 runners-up who almost made the list, but fell at the final hurdle. These artists, each of whom I carefully considered, were, in no particular order:
- Joe Cocker: Another great interpretative singer who put on an iconic performance at Woodstock.
- Buzzcocks: An influential transition between punk and power-pop. Green Day owes them big time.
- The Meters/Neville Brothers: Foundational funk music. Their impact on the charts was minimal, but you’d be hard pressed to find a more respected set of musicians.
- Emerson, Lake, and Palmer: Epic synthesizer solos, first-rate musicianship, and an inability to write songs under 7 minutes. What people either love or hate about prog.
- Fairport Convention: Incredibly influential English pastoral folk combo. Liege and Lief is one of my favorites, and a progenitor to mainstream celtic music.
- Carly Simon: Probably my mom’s favorite artist, so a painful omission. Lots of hits, and surprising longevity, just not enough originality or excellence.
- Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds: Gave introspective and utterly self-obsessed alternative music something it sorely needed: storytelling.
- Mahavishnu Orchestra: Performing meandering jazz rock with the sensibility of Indian ragas? Sign me up, immediately!
- Gloria Estefan & the Miami Sound Machine: No shortage of hits, and an important chapter in the long relationship between rock and Latin music. But just not enough gravitas for me.
- Jim Croce: His career was cut tragically short, but in the time that he had on earth, still managed to write “Time in a Bottle,” and one of my favorites, “I Got A Name.”
- King Crimson: They helped create progressive rock, but they weren’t around all that long, and even I find it difficult to listen to their material the whole way through.
- X: An indispensable component of the L.A. punk scene.
- Toots & the Maytals: So important to the development of reggae that I’m starting to second-guess putting Peter Tosh on my list instead of them.
- J.J. Cale: A roundly-respected guitarist and songwriter.
- Gil Scott-Heron: His spoken-word soul poetry is the missing link between 70s deep soul and rap.
In the end, though, I had to make some tough, even unpopular, choices regarding who to leave out. I tried to seek out, understand, and respect a wide array of opinion. If there was an artist lots of people I admire talked about as a Rock Hall contender, I tried to give them an honest listen, especially if I wasn’t already familiar with their work. But it is the duty of the conscientious critic to reserve the right, every once in a great while, to say that the rest of the music community has lost their minds. Hence, my most notable omission: Joy Divison/New Order, two groups with common members that I just couldn’t wrap my head around. It wasn’t just that I didn’t like them. I don’t like Black Flag or Megadeth, but I still included them. No, it was that I couldn’t fathom why anybody would like them or be influenced by them. It was like they were genetically engineered in a laboratory to drive me batty: punk’s lack of musicianship, alternative’s dreary self-obsession, and so on. I’m sure they influenced lots of artists, but I wouldn’t care to hear any of them.
A few other omissions that others remarked upon. My own tendencies toward the melodic and the harmonic make most experimental music a tough sell to me. Captain Beefheart was maybe the biggest casualty on that ground. If Bon Jovi only made it to #91, that was probably a good indication that things weren’t going to go well for Def Leppard. It’s possible that I was simply prejudiced against them, but it’s the head banging and the almost willful, unironic stupidity of tracks like “Pour Some Sugar On Me” that cost them. Arguably, the “style over substance” qualms kept The Scorpions and Motley Crue off the list as well. There were lots of classic rock bands that just didn’t have some kind of signature or calling card that made them stand out from their contemporaries. That doesn’t mean that they were terrible or anything, just lacking some form of distinction that made them stand out from their contemporaries. There’s nothing wrong with being a good old rock and roll band, but that won’t always be enough to get you in the Hall of Fame. Apologies, then, to Bad Company, Boston, Todd Rundgren, Blue Oyster Cult, Grand Funk Railroad, Styx, Foreigner, and others of their ilk. Rundgren’s career was so versatile, I hasten to add, that he’s one of the most deserving people I can fathom for a Musical Excellence Award.
Nor do a boatload of hits guarantee consideration; to think otherwise is to turn our understanding of music into a wholly commercial and mercenary practice. If the influence or quality or artistry wasn’t there, no number of hits could save you. I am a big advocate for more women in the Hall, but Connie Francis didn’t write her own stuff and didn’t play an instrument. That’s fine; lots of great artists didn’t, but they compensated by bold stylistic choices, or amazing vocals, or stellar live performances. Connie didn’t have any of that; her case boils down to “she had lots of hits,” most of which aren’t well remembered and didn’t age very well. Sorry. Similar problems felled Cher, George Michael, Huey Lewis, and others.
For petty political reasons, I disqualified Ted Nugent and Pat Boone. You spent your careers attacking people like me, so I feel no obligation to be remotely fair to you in return. Screw both of you.
For still others, their case is based on influence, and I still need more time to see how that influence bears out. If you were hoping for The Jam, My Bloody Valentine, or Pantera, that’s why they weren’t here.
Finally, a couple were outside of even my very broad definition of rock and roll. To me, if you weren’t clearly in the rock and roll family tree, then you needed to at least work with or collaborate with rock and rollers. Willie Nelson did this frequently, so he’s fine. Ditto Emmylou Harris. Nina Simone covered rock songs and rockers covered her songs. No problem. But Johnny Coltrane, while an immensely important jazz artist, didn’t have as direct a link to rock and roll as I needed. And if Patsy Cline had died in 1975 instead of 1963, she might have sung a duet with Gram Parsons, or gone on tour with Linda Ronstadt opening for her, but that didn’t happen. Lots of country-rockers look up to her, and for good reason, but her ties with rock and roll in her tragically short life were gossamer-thin.
So, if I made choices that vexed or upset you, I beg your patience. I’ll be the first to admit that I have a lot to learn about the great music that came out of the second half of the twentieth century. But at the very least, I hope that you found this project useful, entertaining, or informative. If you agreed with me, great! If not, I understand. Either way, I hope that I have helped everyone think about the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in a better, more ecumenical, and more systematic way. Often, we get mad at Rock Hall officials, simply because they don’t like the same music we do. And sometimes those of us with more avant-garde tastes treat rockists like barbarians at the gate. At the very least, I hope that we have the patience to listen to one another, and assume our best intentions. Hail, hail rock and roll. Deliver us from the days of old.