Now that we know who will be in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s Class of 2016, this might be a good time to turn our attention to the acts that remain on the outside looking in.  This project will explore 100 acts that I believe to be most deserving for induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.  I write this knowing full well that the Rock Hall is something of a powder keg and any attempt to discuss it online often degenerates into acrimony and bedlam.  The internet is littered with people expressing their opinions, some more well thought out than others, about bad choices the Hall made: both marginal artists that it let in and deserving visionaries who were left out.  Everyone has their own beliefs and their own internal logic regarding who should be next.  Here’s mine.

You may notice that I have called this list “Rock Hall Prospects” rather than “Rock Hall Snubs.”  “Snub” is a loaded word, is it not?  It implies that there is a bias, or a petty, arbitrary reason for the group’s omission from the Hall of Fame.  The recent inductions of Rush, KISS, and Chicago suggest that there really isn’t a blackballing of certain artists, and commonly, solid acts are missing from the Rock Hall because of limited room (only 200 or so artists are in, a smaller number than it sounds), or the lack of a true advocate on the Nominating Committee.  A group like T. Rex is widely liked by many critics, musicians, and experts, but doesn’t seem to have any diehard supporters where it counts.  Compare that to Hall & Oates, who had Questlove in their corner, a man worked the room like a presidential candidate at the Iowa State Fair and through dogged persistence, got them on the ballot after 16 years of eligibility.  Most of these acts have not been intentionally slighted because Jann Werner has been maliciously plotting against them.  Rather, they end up patiently waiting their turn among dozens of genres and more than forty years’ worth of eligible acts.  For example, there’s a bit of a disco pecking order: The Bee Gees and Donna Summer were logical first inductees in that genre, leaving Chic and Rufus/Chaka Khan waiting eagerly in the wings, and Kool & the Gang and Barry White twiddling their thumbs in the vestibule.

A few words, though, on my biases and my methods.  My criteria include…

I.  Originality and Innovation: Did the artist approach rock and roll in  some new way?  Did they refine or improve new techniques, or fuse heretofore different genres?  Please don’t confuse “originality” with songwriting.  There are lots of great artists who did not write their own material, but whose interpretations were just as trailblazing.  There had to be something striking or unique about the artist that made them unmistakably different from their contemporaries.  Ultimately, this standard cost groups like Bad Company, Badfinger, Foreigner, and Grand Funk Railroad.  I mean, suppose you’re the poor sap who had to gave a speech inducting Badfinger.  What would you even say?  “This band existed, and for a brief time, was popular?”  No; each artist on this list has to have a calling card, a claim to fame.

II. Musical Excellence: It’s one thing to be innovative; it’s another to be good.  Did the artist have chops–vocally or instrumentally?  Was their body of work well-crafted, the product of practice and skill?  Did they work hard and pay their dues to produce good music, or were they just in it for fame, groupies, and a quick buck?

III.  Creating a Substantive and Successful Body of Work: You’ll notice that I didn’t quite say “commercial success.” The public can be fooled into buying bad music (Bay City Rollers, Olivia Newton-John, etc.) but the converse side of this argument is that rock critics and rock literati are not the only gauge of who matters.  Like it or not, rock and roll is not just an artistic enterprise, it is a commercial one as well, and acts that resonate with the masses over the long-term despite being toxic to the experts should be granted due consideration.  Having a big hit and then building on it with more hits is much, much harder than it looks.  More often, it comes down to strong musical instincts and talent, rather than solid promotion and good fortune.  So for this list, I am prioritizing acts that had a good, long run making worthwhile music.  If an artist was a quick flash in the pan, I’ll still consider them, but they’d better be really significant in some other way.  Rock and roll is a marathon, not a sprint.  Longevity matters.

IV. Zeitgeist: If an artist was undeniably evocative of a particular time and place, that redounds to their favor.  The Zombies might fall a bit short on Criterium #3, but they excel at #4.  They only had a few big songs, but if you hear any of them on the radio, they are unmistakably evocative of the mid and late-1960s.  Being able to embody a genre’s best qualities, or personifying a political and social movement are intangible qualities that have to be taken into account.

So that’s what I’m looking for.  I do need, though, to add some things I am not taking into consideration, or arguments for or against certain artists that I find fallacious.

Fallacy #1: That’s not Rock Enough: I grow weary of self-professed music experts complaining that Madonna or Public Enemy have made it into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame before Blue Oyster Cult or Boston.  How, they ask, can these acts be considered rock?  Madonna is pop, and Public Enemy is rap, so the case must be closed to them.  “This is the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, not the Music Hall of Fame,” they sneer, as they blare their Aerosmith and gaze admiringly at their “George Wallace for President, ’68” poster.  Just in the list week, I’ve read depressing comments about #RockHall2016 saying “Is this the politically correct Hall of Fame?” or “Get rap it’s own hall of fame!!!”

These people are called “rockists,” known for their somewhat narrow view of rock and roll as the province of guitar-based, almost always white and male, musicians who write their own songs.  Go listen to Eddie Trunk’s brigade to get a taste of this jaundiced worldview.  Many of these people are quite smart, in their way.  Many of these people have impressive talents.  But a broad knowledge of music history that extends beyond their 10 favorite bands is not one of them.  Read basically any online article on the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame ever written, and in the comments section, you’ll see them come out of the woodwork.  They are very indignant about this slight against the Doobie Brothers’ honor and tend to write half the words of any given sentence in all caps and use descriptors like “SHAM” and “TRAVESTY!!1!!”  For an example of this line of reasoning, look at this list of 40 snubs from UltimateClassicRock.  It’s filled with deserving acts to be sure, but the jackwagons who compiled it didn’t think that it was problematic that none of the 40 acts included any black guys or women, and any genre beyond classic rock and proto-alternative is left out.

Rock and roll’s legacy is bigger and broader than these voices would have it.  In fact, very little true “rock and roll” was made after 1959 with a few exceptions.  Almost all music made afterwards, beyond that first generation of rock and roll that was inaugurated by Elvis, Jerry Lee, Fats, Chuck, Little Richard and crew, is a descendant of rock and roll, rather than rock and roll itself.  This goes for British invasion bands, metal, prog, Motown, disco, soul, alternative, synth-pop, Krautrock, shoegazing, art rock, you name it.  None of these genres are illegitimate; quite the contrary, they can each trace their origins to those early 50s records, some taking after more of the rock side, some favoring the roll.  So, think of that first generation of rock and roll as Abraham, sometimes called the founder of monotheism.  Catholicism, Methodism, Baptists, Hassidic Jews, Reformed Jews, Shia Muslims, Sufis, and others trace their spiritual lineage back to Abraham- some more directly than others- but all of these faiths can claim to be “Abrahamic.”  In the same way, rap, industrial, funk, and all those genres I just listed earlier can claim to be rock and roll: they have a lineage, direct or circuitous, to those 1950s pioneers who combined the twang of country, the rhythm and sensuality of the jump blues, and unbridled joy of gospel.  The point is, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame has to be shared between different sub-genres, and there should be room for everyone who produced quality music in this medium.

Fallacy #2: Post Hoc Ergo Propter Hoc:  If your Latin is a bit rusty, this simply means, “Because A happened before B, A is a direct cause of B.”  I am skeptical of arguments along the lines of “How can Husker Du be in before Green Day?  Without Husker Du, Green Day would never have even existed!”  Maybe you’re right on that point, but Green Day achieved greater success, was more culturally relevant, and released a couple of albums that are indispensable toward understanding popular music in the mid-1990s through the early 2000s.  Perhaps they were too commercial for your liking, but they were, by any fair measure, more impactful even if they stood on Husker Du’s shoulders.  Lonnie Donegan and The Shadows and Chet Atkins all inspired The Beatles, but that doesn’t mean they should have been in before the Fab Four.  For this reason, I’m a bit less inclined toward 50s and early 60s artists than some other Rock Hall watchers I admire very much, especially Philip (at Rock Hall Monitors) and Charles Crossley.  The Rock Hall can and should educate the public on rock and roll’s historical foundation, including those R&B-oriented artists who don’t get included in Dick Clarks’ 20-CD retrospectives, but we also can’t deny that a lot of great artists thrived in the 1980s and 1990s.

I tried to be fair in my ranking, but I’m only human.  A few of my personal favorites who were sitting on the edge made it in, although a couple artists I really like didn’t (America, Edgar Winter Group.)  And I’m only human; a couple longtime vendettas may have influenced my picks.  This hindered Ted Nugent (his case was dubious anyway, but he’s spent the last several years threatening the president and questioning the patriotism of left-leaning people like myself, so I’m certainly not going to include him), and Todd Rundgren (no personal animus, but the Buffalo classic rock station overplayed “Hello It’s Me” so often that I just can’t get into his music) among others.  So my list is totally objective.  Except when it isn’t.

So sit back, because in the next several weeks, we’re going to explore 100 top-notch artists who deserve enshrinement in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.  We’ll look at neglected artists of historical significance from the 1950s, a few remaining holdouts from the 1960s, overlooked artists from the embarrassment of riches that was the 1970s music scene, as well as important standouts from the 1980s and 1990s, several of which remain significant to this day.  You’ll see plenty of classic rock and oldies favorites, but you’ll also read cases for Philly soul artists, rappers, indie, folk, alternative, and punk.

A couple clarifying points before I wrap up:  by eligible artists, I mean those who could have conceivably been inducted in 2016, or whose first record was issued in 1991 or earlier.  So, no Pearl Jam, Tupac, Radiohead, or Lady Gaga.

As always, a big thank-you goes out to Future Rock Legends and Not In The Hall of Fame, great journalists like Troy Smith and Chris Molanphy, and fellow Rock Hall watchers like Tom Lane, Philip at Rock Hall Monitors, and Donnie Durham.  I learned a great deal from all of you, and each of you influenced my countdown in some way.

Last 15 cuts from my list?  It was tough, but in the end, I had to let go of: Emerson, Lake & Palmer; Boston; Junior Walker & the All-Stars; The Stylistics; Mahavishnu Orchestra; Tommy James and the Shondells; Cyndi Lauper; Joe Cocker; Carly Simon; Patti LaBelle; Supertramp; Lenny Kravitz; Fairport Convention; Jim Croce; and Sade.  Sorry, guys.

Okay, I think I covered everything.  In a few days, I’ll post the first ten reveals for the Top 100 Rock Hall prospects.

Well, it finally happened.  After nearly 20 years of complaining that Chicago was not in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, a habit that has dated back to high school, they were voted in as one of the five members of the Class of 2016.  The other four inductees are N.W.A., Cheap Trick, Deep Purple, and Steve Miller.  As of this writing, we do not know who, if anyone, will be chosen for categories aside from artists; there were no non-performers or Musical Excellence choices as of yet.

My first impression is that each of the five inductees is more than deserving on their own merits.  But when taken together, you have a weirdly monochrome class, with 4 classic rock mainstays who peaked in the 70s, and an almost comically incongruous N.W.A.  R&B was shamefully given the shaft this year by the voters.  Voters had a feast to choose from: The JBs, Chic, Chaka Khan, Janet, and the Spinners.  And nobody got enough.  And it’s not like they “took votes away from one another” because clearly, the four classic rock acts didn’t “take votes away from one another” either.  No women in this year’s class either.  Hrmmph.

This brings us to a bigger problem the Rock Hall will need to address: it’s lack of diversity as of late.  Let’s look at the last three classes of artists, as an example- just artists, not Musical Excellence or Early Influence or anything like that.  That’s a total of 17 musicians: Nirvana, KISS, Peter Gabriel, Cat Stevens, Linda Ronstadt, Hall & Oates, Paul Butterfield Blues Band, Lou Reed, Bill Withers, Green Day, Joan Jett & the Blackhearts, Stevie Ray Vaughan & Double Trouble, Chicago, Cheap Trick, Steve Miller, N.W.A., and Deep Purple.  Out of these last three classes, we’ve had only two female artists (Ronstadt and Jett), 2.5 black artists (Withers, N.W.A. and multi-racial PBBB), and only three non-Americans (all Brits- Gabriel, Stevens, and Deep Purple.)  So- a sizable number of these acts are white, male, and American: 9.5  out of 17, in fact (the .5 is the other half of PBBB).  This is especially a problem because it is probably a reflection of the voting committee’s makeup to some extent or another: privilege conferring privilege.  When great female artists like Whitney, Janet, Mariah, Nina, Carole, and Dionne; great black artists like The Spinners, Chic, and Big Mama Thornton; and great non-Americans like Yes, Peter Tosh, The Cure, and the Kraftwerk are on the outside looking in, it may be necessary to reboot the system.

To that extent, the acts that do get in seem to be heavily focused on nostalgia rather than historical importance.  That is, if you meant something to late Baby Boomers/early Gen X’ers, you have an abnormally high chance of induction.  Think of people who were moved by “Lean On Me”, which helped Withers, the affection for Cat Stevens’ troubadour-ish 70s records, and the deep catalogs of Chicago and Steve Miller, which work equally well in classic rock or soft rock radio formats to remain embedded in the public mindset.  This tends to penalize 80s and 90s acts (The Smiths should have gotten more love this year), and experimental acts that don’t resonate on a deep level with the wider public.  That may be one reason why acts like Nine Inch Nails, Kraftwerk, and Yes keep getting passed over- they only really and truly move a small number of fans.  Even if you understand the case for their induction on an intellectual level, the personal ties aren’t always there to check off the box if you have to limit your ballot to five picks.

In the end, I correctly predicted four out of the five: Cheap Trick, Chicago, Steve Miller, and N.W.A.  My only mistake was Janet instead of Deep Purple.  This brings me to my next point: how could Janet not get in?  She was one of the most impactful and successful artists on the ballot, and it seems like biases against R&B and unfounded questions of her artistic merit got in the way.  That’s terrible.  I hope she’s nominated again next year.  (And I suspect next year’s ballot will pull away from Classic Rock, after the genre got its veritable wish list in this year.)

Last year’s ceremony was blissfully free from drama of the “will they show up or won’t they” variety.  Two inductees were dead, another (Paul Butterfield Blues Band) had several key members pass away, Green Day’s lineup has always been stable, and the Blackhearts were an afterthought to Joan Jett.  This time, there are more complex questions of who to induct, particularly with Deep Purple (with an amorphous lineup and lots of bad blood between the members) and Chicago.  As a longtime fan, I am eager for a reunion with Peter Cetera and Danny Seraphine- and the induction ceremony is likely the only chance for this.  On the other hand, I feel bad for Bill Champlin and Jason Scheff, who were each in the band for 25+ years and sang lead on multiple top 10 hits.  Scheff will probably perform with the band (since Cetera hasn’t touched a bass guitar in ages) but Champlin probably won’t even be invited.  That’s a shame.  But I also realize that the Hall has to cap things somewhere: the last few ceremonies were marred by random Blackhearts and E-Street Band members hogging the podium.  Also, Cheap Trick has issues with its estranged drummer, Bun E. Carlos.  N.W.A., of all people, should be the least problematic, though someone may deputize for the late Eazy-E.  And Steve Miller was inducted by his lonesome, without his eponymous band- again, ostensibly to cut down the ceremony’s running time.

I also want to make a major announcement here: my next big project on the Northumbrian Countdown is my analysis of the 100 greatest prospects/snubs for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.  I hope that my readers, especially those from Future Rock Legends, will take interest.  In the next week or so, I’ll start the countdown, which will include any artists eligible up to the class of 2016.  I wanted to see who would get in this year’s class before I began.

So- lots of good acts got in this year, but the genres were unbalanced and unrepresentative.  R&B is an essential part of rock’s family tree, and acts from this branch are neglected only at great peril to the Rock Hall’s historical credibility.  As a longtime Chicago fan, though, this is a great day that has been a very long time coming.

To conclude, here are my ideas for who gets to give the induction speech for each artist:

N.W.A.: Questlove.  He did a great job for Hall and Oates, and his calm temperament and deep historical knowledge makes him perfectly positioned to explain why N.W.A. mattered at the time and revolutionized late 20th century music to win over skeptics and haters.

Steve Miller: Chrissie Hynde.  Essentially, the two are cut from the same cynical, ball-busting cloth, and Hynde recently covered “The Joker” with Jason Mraz.

Deep Purple: Alice Cooper.  Classy, gregarious, and a sharp contemporary to Deep Purple’s groundbreaking work in hard rock.

Cheap Trick: Billy Corgan.  Corgan is a major fan, and it would send us Rock Hall watchers into a “wait, does this mean Smashing Pumpkins will be nominated next year” tizzy.

Chicago: Philip Bailey and Verdine White.  This is just too sensible to ignore.  Chicago and Earth, Wind and Fire like and respect each other enough to have toured together several times.  They can curtail Chicago’s achilles’ heel (its white bread reputation) and putting the two of them on stage can counteract the disturbing lack of R&B at this year’s ceremony.



an all-time NBA team?

Among connoisseurs of the NBA’s long history, it can be fun to determine your all-time team.  But at the same time, it can also be a tiresome and repetitive exercise.  After all, most people would select the same players: Michael Jordan, Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, Wilt Chamberlain.  And to be sure, that would be a remarkable team.  But it wouldn’t be much fun to watch, nor would there be any real point in assembling such a team.  If you could get the all-time greats gathered from their respective primes, it would be like the Dream Team from 1992 but even moreso: they would dominate any game they could possibly play to an extent that it would no longer be fun to watch, because the soul of all athleticism is competition.

So, suppose I and maybe 9 other guys had access to a time machine, and we could bring together players from their 3-year prime, each as prone to injury, error, and hubris as they were in real life.  Assuming that we are all assembling different guys, this would add a level of competition and parity to any games we might play against one another.  Let’s assume this league would have two months of training to get classic-era guys up to speed with the modern league, 3 seasons of 60 games, each followed by a small playoff among the top 4 teams.  Your goal is to win a championship in that time, multiple championships if possible.

To keep the teams competitive and different from one another, let’s say that the other GMs and I agree that each one of us can pick just one of the top 10 NBA players of all time.   And then, to add even more tough decision-making, you can only pick two of the next 20 all-time greats, or to put it differently, those who occupy spots #11-30.  Let’s call this the 1-2 rule.  The other 9 players on your list must not be on the “consensus list” of the top 30 NBA players of all time.

Who might those top ten be?  For me, there were 11 possible figures deserving of that honor.  Intelligent people of goodwill might disagree, but I think a strong agreement among fans would emerge for, in some order or other: Wilt Chamberlain, Shaquille O’Neal, Oscar Robertson, Kobe Bryant, Michael Jordan, Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, Bill Russell, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Tim Duncan, Lebron James.  I have to knock out someone to make ten, and for me, it’s unfortunately Oscar.  Despite jaw-dropping numbers, he is one of only 3 guys on that list who was MVP only once, and he is the only one who was never the best player on an NBA championship team.  In fact, he was never even the best player on an NBA finals team.

So let’s move Oscar to our #11-30 category.  Who fills out the other 19 spots is a bit trickier, but I ultimately think a consensus would emerge around Moses Malone, Julius Erving, Jerry West, John Havlicek, Bob Pettit, Karl Malone, Elgin Baylor, Isiah Thomas, and Hakeem Olajuwon; again, not necessarily in that order, for the first ten spots in this group.  And for the other ten?  I’d say Charles Barkley, Kevin Durant, John Stockton, Scottie Pippen, Dwyane Wade, Dirk Nowitzki, Kevin Garnett, Rick Barry, David Robinson, and Bob Cousy.  Knicks fans would be pissed that I don’t have Frazier, Reed, or Ewing, but too bad.  I think most NBA experts can agree on these men being the 30 greatest NBA players ever, or the first 30 players picked in an all-time draft, or however you want to splice it.

So- again- only 1 from the top 10, and 2 from the second list, and other than that, I can fill out my 12-man roster however I want.  In forming my team, I tried to reconcile both skills on the court, with the delicate mix of personalities and psychological roles on the team.  I therefore need one and only one genuine, unquestioned leader, and I need a bunch of guys who are fundamentally okay with playing complementary roles on a team, don’t need the ball all the time to be effective, and can co-exist and even thrive with great teammates.  Not every player plays every element of the game perfectly, but together, I think my team will make some basketball of unsurprising excellence.

Who to pick from the top 10?  Out of the possibilities, I dismissed some out of hand: Shaq?  Too inconsistent, was barely on the list, and sometimes wants to entertain more than win.  Kobe?  Doesn’t always play nice with teammates.  Wilt?  Terrible in the fourth quarter of big games, and if you take him out of the early 60s, he’s not going to score 50 points a game against modern players.  Obviously, picking Michael Jordan, a man with no weaknesses in his game and who is hands-down the best player in the game’s history, was a big temptation.  It was tough, but I went in another direction; Jordan quit the game three different times, got frustrated with his teammates, and has an almost maniacal competitive streak that might be just as likely to make a team combust as it is to propel it to victory.  While his game is virtually flawless, his temperament made him a poor fit for an a team of this sort.  I ultimately chose Bill Russell.  Sure, in the modern era, he won’t be nearly so effective and may not put up those gaudy rebound numbers, but his ability to lead a great team is unrivaled; he led the Celtics to 11 championships in his career, a feat unrivaled in professional sports in the United States.  His ability to wreck havoc defensively, to psychologically intimidate, to get the best of out his teammates, and his instinct to see victory as a team prerogative rather than an individual accomplishment makes him ideal for a project like this.  His only real weakness to speak of are his unimpressive offensive numbers, but I’ve got my choice of other prolific scorers on my team.  Shouldn’t be a problem.

What about the other two players I’m allowed to pick from list #2?  I thought a lot about Dwyane Wade; I could have used a Jordan impersonator who brought many of his best qualities to the table.  I also could have used Kevin Garnett’s raw power.   I ultimately decided on Scottie Pippen and Jerry West, two modern players who did fine on their own, but thrived when surrounded by great teammates.  Think of West’s keynote year in 1972 (33 game winning streak?) and his ability to coexist with Elgin Baylor and even selfish head cases like Wilt Chamberlain.  Think of Pippen’s career as an all-purpose utility man, who could shut down any player, and even play point forward if necessary- the perfect second banana to Jordan’s Bulls.  Both players are tough, resilient, versatile, offensive and defensive threats, who won’t challenge Russell’s leadership of the team.

That gives me the rest of NBA history to pick from.  Rounding out my starting lineup are:

Stephen Curry: I may be a Warriors homer, but since Curry hasn’t made it to the Top 30 players yet, now’s the time to take him.  He’s led Golden State to what is, as of this writing, a 24-game winning streak (28 games if you count into last season), and is on track to beat his own record for most three-pointers made in a season.

Maurice Lucas: He won’t factor into any discussions of the Greatest NBA Player of All Time, but someone like Lucas is exactly what every championship team needs: a banger, an enforcer, someone who can defend his teammates.  Bill Walton swears that Lucas was the true key to the magical Trail Blazers season in 1977, and who am I to disagree?  Although largely forgotten and underrated, he was a 4x All-Star, and showed up multiple times on All-Defense teams, but his contributions to the game are the sorts of things that don’t show up in the statistics.

So that’s my starting lineup.  Every man is an NBA champion, four of my five are world-class defenders.  You can’t win– I’ve got Russell and Lucas on the inside, but I’ve also got West and Curry spreading the floor, with Pippen toggling between these two modes.

What about the bench, then?

Kevin McHale: If I need to switch to a finesse power forward, we’ve got McHale.  More of an offensive threat than Lucas, his arsenal of post moves and keen basketball IQ makes him the perfect sixth man for this team.

Russell Westbrook: If I need a more muscular, aggressive point guard, it would be hard to go wrong with triple-double machine Russell Westbrook if I can’t have Oscar.

Joe Dumars: Jordan-insurance, and a solid hybrid guard.  When Dumars and the Pistons were in their prime, they managed to stop Jordan nearly every year, unless the Celtics got to them first.

Chris Mullin: A third long-distance threat, Mullin will also double as the workout/practice leader, given his reputation as the league’s most notorious gym rat.  Ultimately, Mullin’s work ethic gives him the edge over Reggie Miller and Ray Allen.  He’s probably the weakest defender on the team, but as a guy who’s coming off the bench for instant offense, I’m not terribly worried.

Bill Walton: I’m deeply concerned about his injuries, but as a backup center, I’m sure Walton will thrive as he once did with the Celtics, coming off the bench.  Perhaps the greatest passing center of all time, Walton is more of an offensive threat than Russell, and hits every other mark for this team: unselfishness, defense, winning, and infectious teamwork.

Deep bench:

Kahwi Leonard: With a Finals MVP and a Defensive Player of the Year award under his belt, Leonard has arrived.  He’s observed what made those Spurs teams work in the past, and given it a fresher, more visceral edge.

Robert Horry: The twelfth man, Horry is sort of the team’s good-luck charm: a clutch player who always seems to have a remarkable game when his team most needs it.

So, to recap, my team is:

  1.  Bill Russell (Center- starter, 1960-63)
  2.  Maurice Lucas (Power Forward- starter, 1976-79)
  3.  Scottie Pippen (Small Forward- starter, 1990-93)
  4.  Jerry West (Shooting Guard- starter, 1969-72)
  5.  Stephen Curry (Point Guard- starter, 2013-16)
  6.  Bill Walton (Center- reserve, 1976-79)
  7.  Kevin McHale (Power Forward- reserve, 1984-87)
  8.  Chris Mullin (Small Forward- reserve, 1989-92)
  9.  Joe Dumars (Shooting Guard- reserve, 1987-90)
  10.  Russell Westbrook (Point Guard- reserve, 2012-15)
  11.  Kahwi Leonard (Small Forward/Shooting Guard- reserve, 2013-2016)
  12.  Robert Horry (Power Forward/Small Forward- reserve, 1999-2002)

How’s that?  No Michael Jordan, No Magic, No Larry, and yet I still found multiple ways to beat your team.  I’ve got three legendary outside shooters, two of the most inventive post players in McHale and Walton, and multiple world class defenders who can adapt to any opponent’s strategy.  Although only three guys on my team were MVP, 8 showed up on an All-Defense team, 10 were NBA champions, and all 12 played in the NBA finals during their careers.  I think victory hinges on three elements:

  1.  As I said earlier, there’s a clear team hierarchy.  Russell is the leader, Curry is the offensive general, Lucas is the enforcer, McHale is the comic relief, and Walton, Pippen, and Dumars are the classy public relations face of the team.  Everybody knows their place and aside from Russell, every last player has thrived in a  complementary role at some point in their career.
  2. Sportsmanship.  Russell is arguably the most respected athlete of his day.  And the NBA’s sportsmanship award is named after Joe Dumars, for pity’s sake.  Add the all-around acclaim earned by the other players on the team, and this is not just a first-rate basketball team, but it is stocked with first-rate character as well.
  3. Just about every great dynasty in NBA history is covered: the Jordan Bulls, the 60s Celtics, the 60s/70s Lakers, the Bird Celtics, the Popovich-era Spurs, the Shaqobe Lakers, the Bad Boys Pistons, the ascendant Golden State dynasty, and the magical late 70s Blazers are all represented.  Only the Showtime Lakers and maybe the early 70s Knicks are missing.  (I thought about Worthy in place of Mullin or Horry, but I don’t think it’s necessary.)

What do you think?  If you had to play by the same rules (1 of the top 10, 2 of the next 20)- who would you pick?





a short update

I’d just like to clarify, as I’ve intimated on Twitter, that I’m changing my predictions for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame class of 2016 to:

  1.  N.W.A.
  2. Janet Jackson
  3. Chicago
  4. Cheap Trick
  5. This spot is giving me trouble.  I can see it going to Deep Purple, Yes, Steve Miller, and maybe even The Spinners, The Smiths, and Los Lobos.  Ultimately, I think Future Rock Legends has the right idea in predicting Steve Miller.  There’s always one “how the Hell did they win?” kind of entry each year, and it tends to be the blues artist.  Miller is the bluesist guy on the list, and remember, Rock Hall voters picked both Stevie Ray Vaughan and Paul Butterfield last year, and Albert King for the Class of 2013.  I think there will be a confluence of blues enthusiasts and San Fran scene veterans (think of all the Grateful Dead alumni who have voting rights) to turn things his way in a competitive ballot.

with Chic in the mix if they go to 6 selections.

I am switching out Nine Inch Nails and Yes for Chicago and Steve Miller, essentially.  Yes has lots of prog rock love, but every other proggy act has either a vibrant subculture (Rush) or is in the conversation for the Top 100 Rock and Roll acts of all time (Genesis).  Ultimately, I don’t think there are enough prog/art rock/experimental fans among the voters to carry Yes, even with Chris Squire’s recent death.  The same wariness toward the experimental- seen in lots of failed Kraftwerk nominations- may doom Nine Inch Nails.  As for Chicago, FRL is right to point out that their schedule puts them in New York close to the presumptive ceremony date (and puts touring partners Earth, Wind, and Fire in the same vicinity to give the induction speech.)  And the band’s induction would be a ratings boon, especially if Cetera and Seraphine show up.  While critics hate them, I think they have enough love from their 70s contemporaries and enough grudges lifted by Werner and company to carry the day.

I’d also expect The JBs to get a Musical Excellence Award, and maybe one or two producers (most likely candidates?  Nile Rodgers (if Chic doesn’t get in), Rick Rubin, and Brian Eno.)

First of all, I just wanted to say that my last post on possible Hillary running mates was my 200th post on the Countdown.

For all that I blog about the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, there is still one more institution in popular music that is regarded with still greater cynicism, whose decision-makers operate in still greater secrecy, and whose choices are even more marked by shades of elitism and contempt for the average listener.

I am speaking, of course, of the Grammys.  Although watching the Grammys makes for fun television, there’s a reason why the awards ceremony is taken far less seriously than its counterparts among the Emmys and the Oscars.  Awards given are almost correlated to which artists perform or turn up for the ceremony, which questions the authenticity.  During breakout years in rock and roll, they’ve given the best record to “The Girl from Ipanema.”  They gave the first Heavy Metal Grammy to Jethro Tull.  In ’67 they gave the Best Record award to “Winchester Cathedral” by the New Vaudeville Band over “Eleanor Rigby” and “Good Vibrations.”  And they never gave a non-lifetime achievement award to Led Zeppelin, The Beach Boys, Chuck Berry, The Doors, Jimi Hendrix, The Who, or Bob Marley.

But maybe their most egregious category, the one that most demonstrates their inability to gauge success or merit, is the Best New Artist award.  It’s fraught with difficulties in that the boundaries of what is “new” are somewhat arbitrary.  Green Day, for example, won the Best New Artist award on their third record, and six or seven years after they had started out.  So, I thought I might revisit the Best New Artist award with the benefit of hindsight, to see which years the Grammys correctly predicted  the future of popular music milieu, and which years they gave away the game to one-hit wonders who were never seen or heard from again.  In each case, I’ll stick with the Grammys slate of nominees, and work from there.  This first segment will go from the first such award in 1960 to 1978.

1960: Winner: Bobby Darin.  Nominees: Edd Byrnes, Johnny Restivo, Mark Murphy, Mavis Walters

Alex’s take: Good call.  Darin ended up with a career that was sadly cut short by congenital health problems, but in the time he had made some fun rock record and matured into a classy, somewhat retro style in the vein of “Beyond the Sea.”  Murphy and Walters, I might add, might be obscure today, but were first-rate jazz vocalists in their time.

1961: Winner: Bob Newhart.  Nominees: Joanie Summers, Leontyne Price, Miriam Makeba, The Brothers Four.

Alex’s take: I like the idea that a good comedian can be nominated for- and win- the Best New Artist award.  But Leontyne Price was one of the first great African-American opera singers.  Miriam Makeba became a proud anti-Apartheid activist, and I think one of the most important African entertainers of the 20th century.  Newhart revolutionized comedy in the 1960s with his button-down observations, but Makeba edges him out.

1962: Winner: Peter Nero.  Nominees: Ann-Margaret, Dick Gregory, The Lettermen, Timi Yuro.

Alex’s take: Hmmm..1962 might not have been the most inspiring year.  Dick Gregory was one of the first black comedians to break out of the minstrel stereotype with acute social observations.  The Lettermen were exactly the kind of group that would be extinct by 1964, Ann-Margaret was hot but of limited musical talent, and Yuri was a cool contralto.  By the way, I love the social conscience the early Grammys showed in their choices.  For all that, Peter Nero was still the right choice; a phenomenal piano player with a long career.

1963: Winner: Robert Goulet.  Nominees: Peter, Paul & Mary, Allan Sherman, The Four Seasons, New Christy Minstrels, Vaughn Meader.

Alex’s take: It’s a shame Dylan isn’t here, but given what we have, I can see why Goulet was such a compelling choice as a Broadway legend.  Allan Sherman was probably America’s most important comic of the early 60s, and The Four Seasons had a boatload of falsetto-driven hits.  (Vaughn Meader was an unfortunate choice as a Kennedy impressionist whose career lost its single gimmick after the president’s assassination.)  Peter Paul & Mary win hands down, though.  They revitalized folk music, brought it back from the brink of agreeable and apolitical Kingston Trio nonentities, infused it once again with social conscience, and brought Dylan to the masses.

1964: Winner: The Swingles.  Nominees: John Gary, Trini Lopez, The J’s with Jamie, Vikki Carr.

Alex’s take: What a terrible group of nominees- the J’s with Jamie don’t even have a wikipedia page!  Carr enjoyed an interesting career in jazz, and Trini Lopez was expected to be the future of folk before his career imploded.  The Swingles, the actual winner, did some cool vocal renditions on classical music, but nothing remotely worthy of a major industry award.  Verdict?  A pox on all of your houses.

1965: Winner: The Beatles.  Nominees: Antonio Carlos Jobim, Astrud Gilberto, Morgana King, Petula Clark.

Alex’s take: The Beatles.  No comment necessary.

1966: Winner: Tom Jones.  Nominees: Sonny & Cher, Glenn Yarborough, Herman’s Hermits, The Byrds, Marilyn Maye, Horst Jankowski.

Alex’s take: This is roughly the moment where the Grammys stop being revolutionary and started getting twee.  Yarborough was the musician on The Hobbit animated film, incidentally.  Jones is much too Vegas, and not innovative enough.  Sonny & Cher and Herman’s Hermits had negligible levels of musicianship, so that leaves the twangy, trippy Byrds as the best choice.

1967: Winner: No Award (??)

1968: Winner: Bobby Gentry.  Nominees: Harpers Bizarre, Jefferson Airplane, Lana Cantrell, the 5th Dimension.

Alex’s take: What the hell?  Harpers Bizarre- the guys who did a bad cover of “Feelin’ Groovy”?  (Speaking of which, why weren’t Simon and Garfunkel ever nominated for this award?  Socially conscious folk-rock is clearly in the Grammys’ wheelhouse!)  This is a bad lot of candidates, but Jefferson Airplane ended up being the most impactful of them in the long run.

1969: Winner: Jose Feliciano.  Nominees: Jeannie C. Riley, O. C. Smith, Cream, Gary Puckett & the Union Gap.

Alex’s take: Hmm. Riley lit up the charts with “Harper Valley PTA,” Puckett had three hits that all sounded exactly the same, and Smith’s career wasn’t very substantial.  Here’s the thing- this award isn’t for rock and roll, it is for popular music.  On that ground, I agree that Feliciano matters more, in the end, than short-lived but very talented Cream.

1970: Winner: Crosby, Stills & Nash.  Nominees: Chicago, Led Zeppelin, Oliver, Neon Philharmonic.

Alex’s take: Chicago is my third favorite music artist of all time.  CSN is my fourth favorite music artist of all time.  Led Zeppelin still deserved to win.

1971: Winner: The Carpenters.  Nominees: Anne Murray, Melba Moore, The Patridge Family, Elton John.

Alex’s take: The Carpenters are a quintessential Grammy-oriented group, but it is hard to deny my second-favorite artist, Elton John.  40 top 40 hits, and dozens of songs to the Western canon?  One of the easiest choices on this list.

1972: Winner: Carly Simon.  Nominees: Bill Withers; Emerson, Lake & Palmer; Chase; Hamilton, Joe Frank & Reynolds.

Alex’s take: Wait…seriously?  Hamilton, Joe Frank & Reynolds– don’t pull your love– was nominated for a Grammy?  I love the MST3K sketch where the crew can’t figure out how many people are actually in the group.  Geez.  EL&P is a surprising choice; the Grammys are most definitely not prog friendly.  Simon wasn’t a bad choice, but I’d go with Bill Withers.  He was a late bloomer, but as his recent Rock Hall induction shows, “Lean On Me” and “Ain’t No Sunshine” ultimately mattered more than “You’re so Vain.”

1973: Winner: America.  Nominees: Eagles, Harry Chapin, John Prine, Loggins and Messina.

Alex’s take: I love the soft rock group America.  One of my favorite guilty pleasures.  Chapin and Prine are intriguing choices, but it is hard to deny The Eagles.

1974: Winner: Bette Midler.  Nominees: Barry White, Maureen McGovern, Eumir Deodato, Marie Osmond.

Alex’s take: This is one instance where I’ll definitely not be voting for McGovern.  It’s a strange group of nominees from a really good year in popular music.  White was one of the sexiest singers who ever lived.  Bette Midler, though, was the rightful winner– for longevity in popular music and versatility; she was still scoring monster hits in 1991 that I’ve been hearing performed at talent shows ever since.

1975: Winner: Marvin Hamlisch.  Nominees: Phoebe Snow, Johnny Bristol, Graham Central Station, David Essex, Bad Company.

Alex’s take: Geez.  Bristol, Graham Central Station, and Essex were all flashes in the pan.  Bad Company?  I refuse to reward mediocrity in any form.  I considered Snow, but ultimately I thought back to seeing Hamlisch perform in Saratoga several years before his death and being bowled over by his personality.  He reinvented, in many ways, the role of the conductor and composer into a jovial and more interactive light.  Out of a suspect group of candidates, he’s probably the best.

1976: Winner: Natalie Cole.  Nominees: Amazing Rhythm Aces, Brecker Brothers, Morris Albert, and KC and the Sunshine Band.

Alex’s take: For the third year in a row, the Grammys picked a terrible slate of candidates, but nevertheless picked the best artist out of this group.  Cole, like her father, was a vocalist whose expression and articulation was of the very first rate.

1977: Winner: Starland Vocal Band.  Nominees: Boston, Dr. Buzzard’s Original Savannah Band, The Brothers Johnson, Wild Cherry.

Alex’s take: Good God!  Seriously, Grammys, you’re killing me.  Starland Vocal Band is one of the worst choices made by any major award in any year.  Dr. Buzzard’s group is actually a very interesting interpretation on Latin music, but Boston‘s stellar, near-flawless debut album makes them the winner for me.

1978: Winner: Debby Boone.  Nominees: Andy Gibb, Stephen Bishop, Shaun Cassidy, Foreigner.

Alex’s take: Debby Boone is automatically disqualified for being Debby Boone.  Gibbs had lots of hits, but a career cut short tragically.  As a loyal Rochesterian, I need to give props to Lou Gramm and Foreigner.


So, what do you think?  It looks like the Grammys were right only 7 out of 18 time so far.  Stay tuned when we will take this project into the mid-to-late 90s.

Way back in March of 2014, I posted on who I thought nominee-presumptive Hillary Clinton’s best running mates might be.  Here we are more than 18 months later, exactly one year away from the presidential election, and maybe 8 or 9 months away from Hillary having to make this decision for herself.  As a recap, back then I suggested:

  1. Mark Warner (former senator from and governor of Virginia)
  2. Evan Bayh (former senator from and governor of Indiana)
  3. Julian Castro (mayor of San Antonio)
  4. Brian Schweitzer (former governor of Montana)
  5. Martin Heinrich (senator from New Mexico)
  6. Tim Kaine (former senator from and governor of Virginia)
  7. Michael Bennet (senator from Colorado)
  8. John Lynch (former governor of New Hampshire)
  9. Sherrod Brown (senator from Ohio)
  10. Tim Roemer (former congressman from Indiana)

What a difference 18 months can make in the world of politics.  Some choices were weak ones to begin with (Roemer, Lynch).  Some prospects have compromised their chances in some way (Schweitzer gave a truly bizarre interview where he implied that Eric Cantor was gay.)  And some new figures have emerged on the scene.

Here are a few considerations that altered my thinking between now and then:

  • The unexpected grassroots momentum of Bernie Sanders.  I knew Hillary would face some competition for the nomination, but I was genuinely surprised at how robust Sanders’ campaign turned out to be.  The hashtag-generating, email-circulating, borderline-trollish behavior of the “Berniebro” notwithstanding, Sanders has successfully pushed Clinton to the left, and demonstrated that democratic socialism was no longer a fringe belief system, but a viable perspective that deserves a seat at the table.  In terms of the veepstakes, that means Clinton cannot pick a “Blue Dog” Democrat as her husband once did with Al Gore.
  • The disastrous 2014 and 2015 elections.  They wiped out the party nationally, particularly in places that might not vote for Democrats on a presidential level, but remained viable on a state or local level.  West Virginia, Kentucky, Arkansas- dirt poor states which had high numbers of registered Democrats as recently as 2008- just keep getting redder and redder.  This should focus Hillary’s meta-strategy on not just winning but creating a strong ticket nationally, one that can replenish the bench.  Her party will, 10 years from now, need congressmen and state assemblymen, and state attorneys general in 2016 if it wishes to offer compelling candidates in the future.
  • Sit down for this one, ’cause imma blow your mind.  I think it is possible that Hillary might pick a female running mate.  That’s right.  If we pick apart her aforementioned problem about seeming too safe, too much of a known quantity, unable to really inspire people, the prospect of the first all-female ticket on a major party would shatter that preconception.  Some people might think that America isn’t ready for that, or some nonsense.  Since women gained the right to vote nationally, there have been…let’s see here…24 presidential elections, and with two major parties, that’s 48 presidential tickets.  46 of them have been all male.  2 of them had one woman in the less prestigious vice-presidential spot.  There are now dozens of qualified female candidates, more than ever before in American history.  Don’t give me any of this nonsense about America being “ready” for an all-female ticket.
  • Secretary of State Clinton also has to navigate the directions her opponents have gone.  The sideshow that the Republican nomination has become, where at one point the leading three candidates had never held elective office before, means that the Democrats have to not just generate excitement but run on professionalism and competence.  Anecdotally, I remember an old co-worker of my dad’s who hated liberals, but just felt he had to vote for Obama in 2008 because of Sarah Palin’s manifest incompetence and birdbath-deep knowledge of the issues.  That kind of “better the devil you know” thinking can actually help wrack up not only wins but majorities. Even if someone saner like Rubio or Bush is nominated, Clinton’s ticket has to accentuate the “do you really what to put these guys in charge?” mentality.  So, there are no true “Hail Marys,” no generals, no career businessmen, and nobody who is a novice to the art of governing.
  • If at all possible, insofar as Hillary is looking for senators, she will probably prefer those who serve in states with Democratic governors, and thus will be replaced- at least temporarily- with Democrats.
  • Other than that, the basic calculus is in place: avoid oldsters and avoid north-easterners.
  1.  Sherrod Brown: Brown has made a career for himself as a scrappy populist with disheveled hair, traits that should recommend himself to Bernie fans.  Although Brown recently endorsed Hillary, picking him telegraphs to the Bernie Bro that their concerns have been heeded, and views such as theirs will have a voice in a Clinton pt. II administration.  As a known opponent of monied interests and having a strong blue-collar background, he has the anti-establishment chops that Hillary may need to generate extra enthusiasm.  Running for re-election in 2012, Brown ran significantly ahead of Obama in Ohio, which may very well recommend him as a avenue to win the mother of all swing states.  The only real drawback is that John Kasich (who is himself a strong vice-presidential contender for the Republicans) would get to pick his successor.
  2.  Michael Bennet: As disastrous news swept the Democratic party from nearly all corners on Election Night, 2014, John Hickenlooper’s narrow re-election as governor of Colorado made me think: “this is great for Michael Bennet.”  Although Bennet is running for re-election in 2016, if he is somehow picked and somehow wins both the presidential race and his Senate race, a Democratic governor would choose his replacement.  Anyway, Bennet is young, from an important swing state, and has a key trait that assisted the Clinton-Gore ’96 campaign: soccer moms.  That is, Bennet’s stock in trade is in education, having once been the Denver Superintendent of Schools.  Michael Bennet is a figure made to appeal to suburbanites who might favor Republicans on fiscal issues, but are appalled by the global warming denialism and conspiratorial mindset.
  3.  Mark Warner: A Warner vice-presidency will stick a sock into the mouth of those who argue that Democrats are bad for business.  The former cellular executive proves that left-leaning politics and financial success don’t contradict, and his experience as a governor and senator of a major swing state complete what looks like a great resume on paper.  His story could provide a compelling counter-narrative if someone like Bush or Rubio picks someone like Carly Fiorina as a running mate.  On the other hand, Warner dropped the ball a bit as the keynote speaker at the 2008 DNC, and ended up having a surprising glass jaw in his re-election in 2014.  He was expected to win handily even in a terrible year for Democrats, and ended up prevailing by less than a percentage point.  To be sure, 2014 had terrible turnout, but it has turned Warner into something less than the surefire winner he was a short time ago.
  4.  Amy Klobuchar: She’s won two commanding victories in a state Republicans want to win badly.  She consistently receives stellar approval ratings in an age of widespread dislike of government.  And she now has a book out, The Senator Next Door, that has been very well received, and is viewed in some quarters as a clarion call for humbler, more responsive government officials.  She’s made remarkably few enemies and is part of the refreshing culture of teamwork that thrives among women in the Senate.  And senators from Minnesota have made some great vice presidents in the past, as Hubert Humphrey and Walter Mondale would agree.   Ironically, if a man was the presidential candidate, Klobuchar would be an odds-on favorite to join the ticket, but she won’t get the nod if Clinton dismisses out of hand the idea of a female running mate.
  5.  Gary Locke: Making his first appearance on my veepstakes list is Gary Locke, a man with a splendid resume who accentuates competence.  He won’t take any swing states off the map for Hillary, but has proven himself capable many times over as governor of Washington, Secretary of Commerce, and most recently as Ambassador to China.  His apparent dutifulness and even dullness show sparks of life, such as when he allowed Chinese dissident Chen Guangcheng to seek refuge at the American embassy in Beijing, and flying economy class on his flights.  He would also make history as the first Asian-American on a major party ticket.
  6. Julian Castro: If you want a new face that can change the political calculus, this one is it.  He was mayor of San Antonio, he gave the keynote address at the 2012 convention, and is currently getting some federal experience as Secretary of Housing and Urban Development.  He has youth, he has charisma to burn, and now has both executive and federal experience.  Moreover, he could be a long-term investment on making Texas and Arizona, with large numbers of Hispanic youths, purple states down the line, although this may not happen in the 2016 election.  The only problem- and his reason for dropping since the last ranking- is my realization that the San Antonio mayoralty is somewhat symbolic, and involves relatively little day-to-day governing.  In other words, Castro’s readiness to serve as president may come into question–but we’ll see how he does at HUD.
  7. Tammy Baldwin: Talk about a slam dunk for winning leftist enthusiasm.  Baldwin, the junior senator from Wisconsin, is one of the more progressive members of the Senate, where she will have served for four years as of 2016, after several years in the House beforehand.  She would also be the first LGBTQ person on a presidential ticket (well, openly anyway, depending on your conclusions about James Buchanan.)  If you want to make cynical young people in cities care enough to vote, this would be a strong pick.  And having an opponent of same-sex marriage- a near-certainty no matter who the Republicans pick- have to look Baldwin in the eye during the vice-presidential debate could make for some compelling television.  Although Baldwin’s ascendency to the vice-presidency would mean the onerous Scott Walker appointing her replacement, perhaps Hillary will think the risks are worth the rewards, and that Baldwin’s seat won’t determine control of the Senate.
  8. Ron Kind: If we are looking at Wisconsin anyway, let’s turn to the House.  Kind has consistently won in the blue-collarish, mostly rural 3rd district of Wisconsin covering LaCross and Eau Claire- the kind of wavering Democratic voters Hillary must be eager to shore up.  His work as a football player and an ally of William Proxmire, the senator from Wisconsin who famously gave out Golden Fleece Awards for excessive government spending, could make him an appealing candidate.  And he still has more experience in Congress than fellow Wisconsinite Paul Ryan had in 2012.
  9. Evan Bayh: All right, fine.  Bayh breaks most of the rules I set out, including no dorky-looking Blue Dogs and the obvious rule against two dynasties on one ticket.  But it is hard to find fault with his talent for winning landslide elections in a red state; even Bill Clinton said that one day he looked forward to voting for Bayh on a presidential ticket.  And the poor guy has had his heart broken by Gore, Kerry, AND Obama, according to some accounts the second-or-third choice each time.  He lacks charisma, but if you are Hillary, a flair for avoiding controversy and unwanted attention is probably more desirable.  Nevertheless, this will not excite the grassroots; Bayh went directly to the Fox News Analyst circuit after retiring from the Senate in 2010, and his wife is a corporate lobbyist.  Still, for heartland wholesomeness, Bayh is hard to beat, and since he isn’t a senator anymore, you don’t have to risk forfeiting a seat.  (His father, Birch Bayh, is also one of my heroes, and is the only surviving senator who voted for the 1964 Civil Rights Act.)
  10. Jack Reed: Another guy who violates my rules: he is relatively old (almost 70) and is from New England.  What makes Reed different is his military service: the man was a West Point cadet, and has reportedly been asked to serve as Secretary of Defense for the last two vacancies and may have been on Obama’s shortlist for the vice-presidency at one point.  Reed is a no-nonsense, constituency-oriented man who would make mincemeat out of a careless Republican opponent in the vice-presidential debate.

And Tim Kaine, Martin Heinrich, and Jeff Merkley just narrowly miss out.  What do you think?  Am I off my rocker, or have I forgotten someone important?  Let me know in the comments below- and I hope to do another one of these for the Republican nominee— once we have a better idea who that nominee is!

A few weeks ago, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame released the slate of nominees for their Class of 2016.  The list surprised many longtime hall watchers, including myself, with a number of classic rock favorites receiving their first nomination after years of being passed over.  As I reckon it, this ballot’s biggest story is the tense competition between these six vintage classic rock acts: Deep Purple, Yes, Chicago, Steve Miller, Cheap Trick, and The Cars, all unconscionable snubs to many rock fans.  Yet, this remains a diverse ballot, with rap, R&B, industrial, post-punk/alternative, funk, and even a fascinating Tex-Mex rock ensemble in the form of Los Lobos.  Similar to my approach last year, I’d like to do a run-down on the nominees.  In a slight modification of the method used at Rock Hall Monitors, I’ll conduct three rankings: 1) my personal preferences among the nominees (loosely defined as ‘if I had to listen to a half hour of music by one artist, which of these guys would I pick first’) 2) a hopefully objective ranking of their worthiness for the Rock Hall.  Considerations I will explore are artistic skill, innovation, influence, zeitgeist (e.g. were any of these artists indispensable to a particular time and place) and having a strong canon of memorable songs that made the soundtrack of our lives.  3) I will finally explore what I believe to be the likelihood of these 15 being inducted as artists.

The “Worthiness” part was especially hard to rank: the top nine are all preeminent artists in their genre, whether it is soft rock, disco, hard rock, or dance pop.

Chaka Khan (Personal Rank: 12; Worthiness: 13; Likelihood of Induction: 9):  So the Nominating Committee ditched Rufus.  That’s okay, because so did Chaka Khan.  This year, solo Chaka has an uphill battle: R&B diva competition from Janet Jackson, and disco competition from Chic.  (How many Rock Hall voters will vote for two artists affiliated with disco?  I mean, I know that Chaka Khan’s career is much more than that, but disco has a habit of dominating historical memory.  Its sort of like how if you wore a “Members Only” jacket in the 1980s, nobody will ever let you forget it.)  Still, industry respect counts for a great deal, and Chaka Khan has that in droves.  She is also the best singer on this ballot by any fair measure, which can’t hurt.  Besides, part of me would like to see Janet Jackson and Chaka Khan get in during the same year.  Here’s why: when was the last time the Rock Hall inducted two different artists that included women of color in the same year?  One would have to go back fully twenty years; it was 1996, when The Shirelles and Gladys Knight & the Pips were enshrined on the same night.   So far, Questlove has shown a knack for getting his favorite R&B acts not only nominated but inducted, as Hall & Oates and Bill Withers can attest.  We’ll see if the trend holds.  At the same time, remember this: it took the death of Khan’s contemporary, Donna Summer, to trigger her induction.  I’m not sure I like Chaka Khan’s chances absent a similar calamity.

Cheap Trick (Personal Rank: 9; Worthiness: 11; Likelihood of Induction: 4):  Many observers thought Stevie Van Zandt would throw his weight behind the J. Geils Band, whose praises he has sung from the twitter-sphere many times.  And maybe he did, but the Van Zandt project that actually bore fruit this year was Cheap Trick.  The imminent power-pop combo is often discussed in reverential tones, and is one of the only artists on this list who successfully toggles between popular acclaim and critical respect.  As one recent article put it, “The band’s music is poppy without being lightweight, aggressive without being overly indebted to hard rock, dangerous yet not threatening. Above all, their songs are empathetic, as they epitomize the universal teenage roller coaster of lust, longing, restlessness, disaffection and skepticism.”  I see that point, but I’m not sure I agree.  They are hardly my favorites on this list, and I’m not totally convinced that they aren’t just a more successful version of The Romantics.  But regardless of what I think, “Live at Budokan” is among the most fondly remembered live albums in the rock pantheon.  In terms of influence, they cast a wide net from Green Day to Nirvana to Guns N Roses.  I ultimately think that these qualities make Cheap Trick the likeliest of the six classic rock ensembles to actually make it through.

Chic (Personal Rank: 11; Worthiness: 4; Likelihood of Induction: 6): It’s a dubious distinction for sure, but Chic is now on its 10th nomination.  The Nom Com spent years pitting Chic and Donna Summer against one another, each dooming the other’s chances (lots of people might vote for one disco act.  Few would vote for two.)  This year, they are up against Chaka Khan– that’s less formidable competition, but if they couldn’t get in during the competitive but R&B-light Class of 2014 ballot, at a time when a Nile Rodgers song was riding high on the charts, what makes this scenario any different?  It’s possible that pity for Chic, or a desire to no longer see them on the ballot each year, might factor in.  The Rock Hall might throw in the towel and give Nile Rodgers a Musical Excellence Award.  Who knows?  But I seriously doubt that Chic would be nominated over and over again if they were perennially tanking in actual votes.  I’m putting their chances at #6, fully cognizant that it is very risky to place their chances this high.  As my Geometry teacher once told me, “if you always do what you always did, you’ll always get what you always got.”  If you keep nominating Chic, they’ll keep getting shot down.  But clearly, the Nom Com disagrees with this Euclidian truism, and thinks that Chic can make it this year, despite being rejected nine times before.  And the only other person who has been nominated as often as Chic, soul legend Solomon Burke, got in on his tenth try.   We’ll see who is right.

Chicago (Personal Rank: 1; Worthiness: 1; Likelihood of Induction: 7): This is the point where my objectivity might fail me.  It was a rewarding moment to see that Chicago was nominated for the first time.  Personally, I think they should have been inducted 15 years ago.  I’ve written on my blog before about how Chicago is more than a soft rock outfit.  Their first six studio albums (four of which were double albums) were filled with bold and commercially successful experiments in free-form jazz, classical-influenced suites, and Terry Kath’s prodigious guitar chops.  If you dismiss Chicago as dentist’s office music, go read a post I wrote on this blog a few years ago recommending Chicago songs for people who hate Chicago, and listen to the tracks I’ve selected.  However, I need to say something that might shock the systems of other Chicago fans reading this: Chicago’s. Induction. This. Year. Isn’t. Inevitable.  Their trajectory has precedents for and against their induction.  Let’s look at other famous, chart-busting Rock Hall snubs who were nominated years behind schedule.  Hall & Oates and Neil Diamond got in the first time around.  KISS and Bon Jovi didn’t.  Which track will they take?  On one hand, Chicago falls rather short on one major criterion, that of influence; aside from a few latter-day soundalike records like “Vehicle” and “Brandy, You’re A Fine Girl,” nobody really emulated their sound in the long term.  Very few people who have made a career out of writing about music like them, with Rolling Stone magazine being a particularly free-flowing fountain of enmity.  In short, as self-evident as their induction seems to me, I am not convinced that the votes are there.  Nevertheless, one thing in their favor is that they simply have more songs known by the general public than anybody else on this list–  by a country mile, in fact.  “Saturday in the Park,” “25 or 6 to 4,” “Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is”, “If You Leave Me Now,” etc, etc.  They are, by some measures, the second best selling American rock group ever, and have charted almost forty Top 40 hits.  Moreover, a possible reunion with Peter Cetera- who hasn’t performed with Chicago in over thirty years- is exactly the kind of scenario whoever is planning the HBO special wants to see, and I’m sure some people vote with this in mind.  I have them pegged as the 7th most likely to get in– the Rock Hall’s biggest snub will probably continue to be snubbed, but I hope to be proven wrong.

Deep Purple (Personal Rank: 7; Worthiness: 9; Likelihood of Induction: 8):  While nobody knows for sure, I think it’s a pretty safe bet that if Deep Purple were nominated last year, they would have gotten in easily, with no real hard rock competition.  Instead, they seem to only be on the ballot when facing off against compelling alternatives: they were up against Heart for the Class of 2013, and KISS in 2014.  Nevertheless, many people consider Deep Purple to be one of the great snubs of Rock Hall lore; in fact, Notinhalloffame.com and Northumbrian Countdown friend Donnie Durham both list Deep Purple as their #1 Rock Hall prospect.  And Deep Purple seems to be the hard rock choice the Nom Com is “stuck” on.  That is, we may not see Judas Priest or Iron Maiden get their shot until Ian Gillan & Co. get in.  Still, history is against them.  If it took Black Sabbath 8 tries and it took Lynyrd Skynyrd 7 tries, will it really take Deep Purple only 3?  Moreover, Deep Purple’s personnel conflicts and cantankerous relationship with the Rock Hall may work against them.  Still, while facing off against many classic rock artists, they are still the only hard rock act on the list this time.  We’ll see if that’s enough.

Janet Jackson (Personal Rank: 8; Worthiness: 2; Likelihood of Induction: 2):  It might surprise you that for all my advocacy of a Janet nomination, I am actually not that big a fan of her music.  For better or worse, Jackson peaked during one of my least favorite eras of Top 40 music, the turn from the late 80s to the early 90s when she shared air time with the New Kids on the Block and Tiffany.  However, I do know a worthy cause when I see one, and on the merits, there is no denying that Janet Jackson is Rock and Roll Hall of Fame material.  After intense lobbying from the Induct Janet team, Ms. Jackson is one of the nominees, after almost a decade of eligibility.  She has lots of the qualities that ultimately make for successful inductees: influence, relevance, name recognition, and a canon of hits.  Rock and roll purists will turn up their noses at Jackson, but very few of these individuals have access to a ballot.  The Rock Hall has a way of making sure that the Voting Committee is committed to an ecumenical and diverse understanding of rock and roll.  I think we can rest in confidence that one nomination will be enough for Janet.  And if she gets in, she really should pay for #InductJanet founder Mike Litherland to sit at the table with her; she probably owes her induction to him.

Los Lobos (Personal Rank: 6; Worthiness: 14; Likelihood of Induction: 12): Los Lobos was a surprise for many Rock Hall Watchers this year.  The more I explore their catalog, though, the more respect I have for them.  They did plenty of interesting work combining rock and roll with Chicano influences, and it would be a grave mistake to think that their catalog was limited to Richie Valens covers for the La Bamba soundtrack.  They have my respect, even though they wouldn’t necessarily have my vote.  It is easy to look at the nominees, and see Los Lobos and the JBs as the two whose candidacies are the most far-fetched.  I urge you not to make that mistake!  The Voting Committee loves artists who flit between genres, and who have contributed to the world music oeuvre in some way, and Los Lobos fits that profile quite nicely.  I don’t expect them to get in, but I would not be bowled over in surprise if it were to happen.  They are definitely the sleeper pick that every wise Rock Hall Watcher should keep a sharp eye on.

Nine Inch Nails (Personal Rank: 14; Worthiness: 7; Likelihood of Induction: 3): The Nom Com gave Nine Inch Nails an almost ideal ballot.  They stand out like a sommelier in Utah amidst this collection of radio-friendly, top 40 nostalgia hitmakers.  Last year, they were up against first-year-eligible Green Day, which may have hurt their chances.  This year, they will probably inherit much of Green Day’s coalition of voters.  They are the only purely post-1990 act on the ballot, and face no 90s alternative competition from Smashing Pumpkins or Soundgarden or any of their contemporaries.   Rock critics and Rolling Stone magazine folk love them; they are among the very few of the magazine’s “100 Immortals” who are not in the Hall yet.  While the classic rock vote is balkanized six ways, Nine Inch Nails probably has enough respect from admiring musicians and sharp critics wary of commercial success.  Consider David Bowie’s sage words: “Trent [Reznor’]s music, built as it is on the history of industrial and mechanical sound experiments, contains a beauty that attracts and repels in equal measure: Nietzsche’s “God is dead” to a nightclubbing beat. And always lifted, at the most needy moment, by a tantalizing melody.” They experimented with sound as few artists have done, helping to create the genre of industrial.  (By the way, although NIN broke out during my early teenage years, alternative and industrial just weren’t my scene.  In fact, the first time I heard NIN, Green Day, or Smashing Pumpkins songs were through “The Alternative Polka” on Weird Al’s Bad Hair Day.)

N.W.A. (Personal Rank: 15; Worthiness: 3; Likelihood of Induction: 1): I’m not saying the vote is rigged or anything, but I have a feeling that the Rock Hall will find a way to get N.W.A. in this year.  With the Straight Outta Compton film becoming an unlikely summer blockbuster, and with #BlackLivesMatter still keeping on, N.W.A. has proven prescient and relevant.  And with Tupac becoming eligible next year, they need to address their backlog of rap acts.  It’s a shame that the ceremony was unexpectedly moved from Los Angeles to New York; it would have been fitting for N.W.A. to be enshrined so close to Compton.  N.W.A. more or less invented gangsta rap and all that entails.  They still fall under my broad definition of rock and roll’s family tree, and in terms of genre, they deserve to be in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as much as anybody on this list.  What makes them stand out is their influence on rap in the 1990s, and giving popular music a long dormant edge that made it seem truly menacing and revolutionary.  On a purely intellectual level, of course they deserve to be in the Hall.  But in terms of structural justice, I can’t support them and wouldn’t vote for them if I could.  While they are absolutely right in identifying the systemic problem of law enforcement’s assumption of black guilt, I have a difficult time squaring this aspect of their work with their routine violence against women, and for that matter, their routine violence against anyone they didn’t like.  There’s a world of difference between the harmless braggadocio of L.L. Cool J’s “Mama Said Knock You Out” and the N.W.A. canon.  This toxic worldview isn’t unique to gangsta rap, of course, and too many people criticize violent black artists while giving violent white artists (Ted Nugent?) a pass, but for all their importance to the rock and roll milieu, I can’t get very excited about their fourth nomination.  But what I think ultimately doesn’t matter.  Out of all the acts on here, I am by far the most certain about N.W.A.’s chances.

Steve Miller (Personal Rank: 2; Worthiness: 12; Likelihood of Induction: 14): The Steve Miller Band is my second favorite artist on this list, if we are using personal preference as our metric.  There’s no accounting for taste, and frankly, Miller is almost a guilty pleasure, not far removed from my love of America and Jimmy Buffett.  I dig his dreamy and bluesy psychedelic soundscapes, and “Swingtown” and “The Joker” are two of my favorite songs from the 1970s.  At the same time, I acknowledge the cretin-like quality of some of his music, from inventing the word “pompatus” to rhyming “he won’t let those two escape justice” with “he makes his living off other people’s taxes.”  Of the six classic rock outfits on the ballot, Steve Miller appears to be the longest shot.  He just doesn’t stand out as a snub like the others from that genre, and isn’t as commercially successful as Chicago or the Spinners, nor as critically revered as Cheap Trick, nor as influential as Deep Purple or The Cars.  Miller is stuck behind the 8-ball like War was last year, amidst more distinctive R&B acts.  The only possible route to success is his understated blues pedigree; he’s the closest thing this ballot has to a bluesman this year, and the Voting Committee saw fit to induct two artists in that genre last year: Paul Butterfield Blues Band and Stevie Ray Vaughan + Double Trouble.

The Cars (Personal Rank: 4; Worthiness: 10; Likelihood of Induction: 10):  Remember the 2008 Democratic primary, where Chris Dodd and Joe Biden, two men with long senatorial careers and distinguished public records, both ran and essentially cancelled each other out amidst a field of younger, more exciting candidates?  That’s basically what happened here with Cheap Trick and The Cars.  They were near-contemporaries who both peaked around 1980, even as they belonged to slightly different genres: Cheap Trick to power pop, and The Cars to more synthesizer-heavy new-wave pop.  (Kind of like how Biden was the foreign policy guy and Dodd was the finance guy.)  In short, either of these two bands would have a much clearer shot if the other wasn’t on the same ballot.  And ultimately, this works against The Cars more than Cheap Trick.  The Cars might have more hits that are well-remembered today, but they don’t quite match Cheap Trick’s reputation among other musicians and music experts.  I wouldn’t count them out, but if my hunch that 2- maybe 3- of the classic rock bands will get in is correct, I don’t think The Cars will be one of them.

The JBs (Personal Rank: 10; Worthiness: 15; Likelihood of Induction: 15): Although the Nominating Committee had apparently considered them before, The JBs were the one pick that absolutely nobody saw coming.  In fact, I had to quickly google them when the nominees were announced.  I can see a kind of logic behind the pick.  They were, after all, James Brown’s backing band at the time he transitioned from the godfather of soul to the Prometheus of funk, delivering a dangerous fire to the likes of us mere mortals.  Still, I wonder if their chances are doomed because nobody expects them to realistically win.  Or to be more specific, most experts think they will be inducted in a roundabout fashion as a Musical Excellence Award winner.  Call it the Wanda Jackson Precedent, if you will: in 2009, Jackson was nominated, failed to get enough votes on the ballot, and was awarded a dubious Early Influence award instead.  (Dubious because she was a contemporary of Elvis and other first-generation rockers.)  It happened to Freddie King two years later, and expectations that a Early Influence award was in the cards anyway may have sunk poor Link Wray’s nomination for the Class of 2014.  (Unfortunately, Wray didn’t even get the Early Influence consolation prize.)  Occasionally, there is an exception: Albert King was unexpectedly inducted after his first nomination for the Class of 2013.  Anyway, now that the JBs are on the Nom Com’s radar, they will get in the Hall one way or another eventually.  Although talented, funky, and influential, they don’t have Albert King’s renown, so expect them to be inducted for Musical Excellence or a resuscitated Sideman award.

The Smiths (Personal Rank: 13; Worthiness: 6; Likelihood of Induction: 11): The Hall has not been kind to alternative acts from the 1980s.  Aside from a super-headliner like R.E.M., acts from this time and place flounder, whether its The Cure, The Replacements, or in the case of last year, The Smiths.  I don’t quite see how their prospects have changed any.  This ballot is less 80 and 90s-heavy than last year, but the Voting Committee just hasn’t shown the interest or gumption in this particular corner of rock and roll’s legacy.  But make no mistake: they are as important to their genre as Yes is to prog, as Deep Purple is to hard rock, and as Chic is to disco.  I will say, though, that they have grown on me a bit more since last year (when they were my 14th favorite act of 15!) and they probably meant more to their fans than anyone else on this list.  To disillusioned Gen X’ers trying to find their way in the world without losing their soul or their social conscience, The Smiths were stalwart companions on the journey.  If they do manage to get in this year, it will be interesting to see if a reunion with Morrissey and his fellows is a love-fest or full of Guns N Roses-style acrimony.

The Spinners (Personal Rank: 3; Worthiness: 8; Likelihood of Induction: 13): Philly soul was an essential part of the 1970s sound, and although the Spinners hailed from Detroit, their records, particularly under Thom Bell’s production, are some of the best examples of that genre.  They earned a small armada of hits after evolving from a somewhat generic 60s soul outfit into an exciting, entertaining, heavily-orchestrated ensemble that was ideal for the Soul Train era.  I love them, too; in fact, I will probably request “Rubberband Man” at every wedding reception I attend for the rest of my life.  Aside from Chicago and maybe Janet, they were the most bankable hitmakers on this list.  “Could It Be I’m Falling In Love?”  “Then Came You”?  “I’ll Be Around”?  Entertainers more than artists, they should still be no-brainers for the Rock Hall.  But with so many long-awaited first-timers, and the historic problems that 70s R&B artists have had in the last few years, they’ll probably have to keep waiting.  It just doesn’t make sense to me.  The O’Jays, with a similar resume, had a fairly painless induction process.  And I just don’t see how The Faces and Laura Nyro- two of the Rock Hall’s worst choices ever- got more votes than The Spinners did when they were first nominated for the Class of 2012.  Curiouser and curiouser.

Yes (Personal Rank: 5; Worthiness: 5; Likelihood of Induction: 5): Yes was first nominated for the Class of 2014, a ridiculously stacked group that included Nirvana, Deep Purple, KISS, Peter Gabriel, Joan Jett, Link Wray, and other heavy hitters.  Allegedly, they came within 20 votes or so of induction.  (Although with recent rumors that only 200-300 ballots are generally returned, this number seems less impressive than it once did.)  Prog rockers have generally done well once the Nom Com deigned to put their names forward, and Rush and Genesis got in with no real problems.  Yes- with a less rabid fan base than Rush and fewer memorable hits than Genesis- might be a trickier nut to crack.  The death of bassist Chris Squire reminded many people that Yes should have gotten in years ago.  Yes deserves it; their ambitious songwriting and their musical proficiency is rarely matched anywhere else in rock’s pantheon.  Like Deep Purple, they are also at the front of a very long backlog of acts in their genre.  It seems like Yes may need to get in for the Moody Blues or Jethro Tull to have much of a prayer.  And a reunion of the surviving members of classic Yes could be ratings magic, even as Paul Shaffer begs the band not to play any 12-minute suites with 4-minute synth solos.

A few random thoughts to wrap things up:

  • This is, again, a very, very strong ballot.  Assuming the JBs are in there as a stalking horse for a Sideman or Musical Excellence Award, any other combination of artists would constitute one of the strongest induction classes of the new millennium.  Even the artists I don’t especially like, such as Nine Inch Nails and N.W.A., are worthy candidates in terms of importance in the rock pantheon.
  • No matter who gets in- I can’t tell what song they would play for the final jam.  Last year’s class had lots of potential candidates for a feel-good or poignant finale: “Lean On Me,” “With A Little Help From My Friends,” “I Love Rock and Roll,” even “Good Riddance (Time of Your Life.)”  While “Smoke on the Water,” or “25 or 6 to 4,” or “I Want You To Want Me” are all good songs, they lack that kind of wallop.

So, if rumors are correct that only 5 artists are nominated, I predict N.W.A., Janet Jackson, Nine Inch Nails, Cheap Trick and Yes.  If a sixth artist gets in, add Chic.  If seven artists are enshrined against all hope, then you can include Chicago.  Right now, the online fan poll at rockhall.com is a mess, overtaken by classic rock-loving robots, without any security measures to protect the integrity of the vote.  But if I could vote, I would go with Chicago, Yes, Janet Jackson, and The Spinners consistently, alternating the fifth vote between beleaguered Chic, the stalwart Cars, and guilty pleasure Steve Miller.

What do you think?  Who will get in?  Who deserves to get in? Let me know in the comments below.


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