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I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: I only have enough time and money for one vice and one expensive hobby, and I’m sticking with scotch and visiting Disney World, respectively. For this reason, I’m not exactly a prolific concert-goer. But when I found out that The Zombies were on tour again and were headed to Niagara Falls, a mere hour and a half from my summer residence in Rochester, I had to buy tickets for my wife and I.

The venue was actually really cool. I am reluctant to see shows in casinos because they tend to lean on artists to shorten the set, in hopes that patrons will spend some time at the roulette wheel before bedtime. That happened when I saw Crosby & Nash and Three Dog Night at casino showrooms. (Geez…that last sentence made me sound rather elderly. Did I mention I’m only 32?) Happily, we got a full-length show in a venue called The Bear’s Den at the Seneca Niagara Casino that sat less than 500 souls and was meant for close encounters with great musicians.

This post isn’t quite intended as a concert review, but it needs to be said that The Zombies put on a great show. Their musicianship and craftsmanship was on display from the beginning, starting the show with a largely forgotten A-side, “I Love You.” I was impressed by Colin Blunstone’s stage presence: he was probably the most gentle and soft-spoken frontman I have ever seen, but he owned it and never seemed to want for energy. His voice lost a lot of the breathiness that made songs like “Time of the Season” so memorable, but Blunstone’s learned some tricks to keep his range and sustain in great shape. Rod Argent- what can I say? He’s probably my favorite keyboard player in the rock and roll pantheon, and I made sure we got seats near stage right so I could watch him play. So much of the dense, church organ sound that we associated with 60s psychedelia comes from Argent and his contemporaries, so it was great to see a master perform his trade. The rest of the band was very solid, including 75-year-old bassist Jim Rodford, who is not only Argent’s cousin but a longtime touring member of The Kinks.

Their setlist was also top-notch; they played their three big hits that everybody knows, of course. But they also ventured into some lesser known singles, some deep tracks from their magnum opus Odessey and Oracle, a couple wisely chosen covers, a few tracks from Argent and Blunstone’s solo careers, and the requisite tracks songs off their new album. I appreciated that, unlike many artists from their era, they never resorted to cliche. None of that “I can’t hear you” schtick with the audience. None of that “they told us Niagara Falls really knows how to rock” nonsense. Instead, they told us of the stories behind their songs. And they told us why they matter.

In essence, The Zombies concert was an articulate, and ultimately persuasive, plea for inclusion in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. This was evident at the start when they were introduced as “Rock and Roll Hall of Fame nominees, The Zombies!” Now, my wife saw Chic in Singapore last November. They sure as hell weren’t introduced as “ten time Rock Hall nominees– Chic!” And most of Argent’s and Blunstone’s stories were keen to name-drop, pointing out people who had covered their material, or credited them as an influence, or who opined a favorable view of their music. During the show, they referenced Tom Petty, Dave Grohl, KISS, The Jam, Paul McCartney, Patti Labelle, and countless others. And they even stressed  how many indie artists credited them as an influence- and this is to an audience whose median age was probably in the early 60s, and whose demographics are not very indie-friendly. (I hasten to add that there were lots of under-40s there too, suggesting how well The Zombies have aged. Many of them were quite evidently admiring musicians.)

Essentially, The Zombies are one of the only artists from the 60s not in the Hall of Fame who really deserve to be there. They are on the Rock Hall’s radar, too. The band was nominated for the Class of 2014, perhaps partly on the back of an open letter they had written about how much they enjoyed their visit to the Rock Hall. Unfortunately, they didn’t get in– they were up against the most competitive ballot any of have seen for a long time, including Nirvana, Peter Gabriel, Yes, NWA, Linda Ronstadt, and KISS, among others. And I’m on record as a big fan and advocate of theirs: they were among my higher ranking Rock Hall Prospects when I explored worthy future additions to the Rock Hall.

This is all the more remarkable, given the band’s fairly limited output during their heyday. In their 60s’ prime, they only recorded one true studio album- their swansong, Odessey and Oracle. (Their other album, Begin Here, was essentially a compendium of singles and EP material, the Zombies equivalent of A Collection of Beatles Oldies.) That album happened to be one of the greats, one of Rolling Stone‘s 100 greatest albums actually. But their ticket was punched, historically, by the sheer volume of artists who were influenced by them. That, I think, is what elevates The Zombies beyond most of their British Invasion contemporaries like The Hollies or Herman’s Hermits or Gerry & the Pacemakers. Remember, The Zombies recorded the moody “She’s Not There” on the cusp of age 20, in 1964–when The Beatles were still recorded pop bonbons like “Eight Days A Week” and “Can’t Buy Me Love.” Instead, The Zombies experimented with minor keys, unusual modulations, and eventually psychedelic dreamscapes.

In the process, their inventiveness in the studio and jazzy psychedelia inspired their contemporaries, but eventually they became something of a grandfather to indie music. (Odessey and Oracle sold so poorly at first that it became the ultimate “I had this album before it was cool” record.) Charles Crossley, Jr., a Rock Hall watcher given to exhaustive research and record-keeping, lists the following artists as those who were inspired by The Zombies, or covered their songs, or collaborated with them in some way: Argent and Colin Blunstone, of course, as well as the Ventures, Love, Santana, the Bee Gees, Genesis, Electric Light Orchestra, Badfinger, Dinosaur Jr., Todd Rundgren, XTC, Matthew Sweet, Crowded House, the Beau Brummels, Procol Harum, Alan Parsons Project, Yo La Tengo, Eminem, the Monkees, the Modern Lovers, Dave Matthews Band, Sonny & Cher, Jonathan Richman, the Smithereens, the Left Banke, Aimee Mann, America, Dwight Twilley, DJ Shadow, the Shadows Of Knight, Belle & Sebastian, 10cc, the Posies, Gentle Giant, Vanilla Fudge, Supertramp, Family, Let’s Active, Boo Radleys, My Morning Jacket, the Youngbloods, Elliott Smith, the New Pornographers, the Beautiful South, the Shins, Ron Sexsmith, Spoon, Sufjan Stevens, Emitt Rhodes, Television Personalities, the Electric Prunes, Foo Fighters, 3rd Bass, Super Furry Animals, Eric Matthews, People, Game Theory, Smith, People, Strawberry Alarm Clock, Apples In Stereo, Neutral Milk Hotel, Juice Newton, the Young Fresh Fellows, Kid Frost, Miguel, the Nylons, Superdrag, Neko Case and Nick Cave (duet), OK Go, Os Mutantes, Joe Byrd & The Field Hippies, Jellyfish, the Sea And Cake, Deerhoof, Olivia Tremor Control, Beulah, the Fastbacks, the La’s, Blue Ash, the Clean, Michael Penn, Malcolm McLaren, the Explorers Club, Kurt Elling, Roy Wood of the Move, Robyn Hitchcock of the Soft Boys, Susannah Hoffs of the Bangles, Sneakers, Brent Bourgeois of Burgeois-Tagg, Blake Lewis and Girl Talk, among many others.

That’s quite the legacy, isn’t it? Again- note the indie angle between Yo La Tengo, New Pornographers, Belle & Sebastian, Elliott Smith, Neutral Milk Hotel, and many more. Yet, they also inspired rockers as diverse as Todd Rundgren to Santana. The Zombies, in their brief run, showed us all the possibilities when you marry atmosphere to melodicism. Their songs’ jazzy timing and unconventional keys made a group of musicians initially dismissed as stiff mods deserving of a second look. And a third look. Until they became a rare creature, indeed: a band the wider public is aware of, but whose work is well loved and a shared common currency among musicians. In the end, The Zombies punched above their weight, and mattered in the long run more than most of their contemporaries. With any luck the Rock Hall will grant this St. Albans band their wish, and let them into their halls. This will be their year. Took a long time to come.

Greetings, Northumbrians! It has been a good long while since I blogged about Rock Hall matters- in fact, I’ve been radio-silent on this topic since I finished up my Top 100 Rock Hall prospects series almost two months ago.

In that time, we’ve certainly seen some fascinating developments in the world of Rock Hall news, much of it around the Class of 2016. We had a possible Chicago reunion with Peter Cetera implode at the eleventh hour over an apparent disagreement over the key in which “25 Or 6 To 4” ought to be played. N.W.A. suddenly revealed that they weren’t going to perform at the ceremony within the last 72 hours. Deep Purple just couldn’t resolve decades-long feuds with multiple band members. And Steve Miller, belying his easygoing psychedelic blues rock, stopped being polite and started getting real, dismissing his handlers and “going rogue” about his bad experiences with the Rock Hall. In my judgment, this was justifiably so. The rest of his band wasn’t honored, he was inducted by The Black Keys who he hadn’t even met prior to the rehearsals for the show, and he felt slighted by being given only 2 tickets for the ceremony. If his kids wanted to attend, Miller would have to fork out hundreds of dollars to get them a spot at his stage-side table. Miller aired his grievances even further by decrying the lack of women in the Rock Hall. While he’s right, The Black Keys were quick to point out that Miller had 40 years to put a woman in his eponymous band and failed to do so. Cheap Trick was the only inductee that didn’t screw it up, both reuniting and performing ably to close out the show.

After a successful ceremony for 2014 (highlighted by Hervana) and 2015 (which pulled off a quasi-Beatles reunion), 2016 was the Franklin Pierce of Rock Hall induction ceremonies: a certifiable near-failure. In the end, the 2016 ceremony was a set of lost opportunities that exposed a number of cracks in the Rock Hall’s facade. It seemed everybody came out of the experience unhappy. Artists like Miller felt slighted. Critics- myself included- were shocked by the sausage-fest the ceremony became. Having an all-male class might be an accident, but having all-male presenters too was pure mismanagement. Classic rock purists, who should have been gratified by 4 artists tailor-made for their tastes, still complained about NWA’s induction. Even the induction of Bert Burns under the Musical Excellence banner seemed sketchy because Little Stevie was bankrolling a musical about his life. It’s a small wonder that even  Jann Werner didn’t bother showing up. To get you up to speed, let me refer you to some people who have gotten the right idea: E-rockcracy nailed the issues at stake while Philip at Rock Hall Monitors diagnoses the problem and advocates some ideas to fix the Rock Hall.

The problem is that I don’t see a way to go forward. If the Rock Hall can be accused of elitism and aloofness, it’s not like the wider public is any better. To the contrary, their tastes are worse. This year’s vote showed, if nothing else, that if you put a 70s classic rocker on the ballot, they will get in, no matter how dubious their qualifications. (This, by the way, is why I generally oppose inducting backing groups and ancillary members in most circumstances. The last thing we need is more random Belmonts, Wings, Silver Bullets, or 80s touring members of Chicago or Deep Purple further compromising the quality control on the Voting Committee. They’ll just stack the deck even further in favor of Classic Rock.) Indeed, the classic rock-voting robots even manipulated the online vote this year.

Worse, I don’t really have any good solutions. We are stuck in an era of transition for rock and roll, between a popular medium and a high art. I’m reminded of a book I read for my doctoral exams: Highbrow/Lowbrow: the Emergence of Cultural Hierarchy in America.  Originally, something like Shakespeare was written and originally performed as “low art”- culturally accessible and consumed by ordinary individuals. But over the course of time, it became a scholarly province, as reading Shakespeare became incorporated into middle-class ideals of “the good life,” and became classic literature. In the process, Shakespeare was immortalized, but forever lost some of its coarseness and crudeness from when shabby groundlings took over the cheap seats and heckled performers. It’s a bit like that: rock and roll was a popular medium, and it’s a common critique to say that a Hall of Fame belies its very purpose. But without anybody really intending it to, it became a fine art, one analyzed by cultural critics and academics, and one for whom the passage of time negates its original crudeness and earthy texture. Elvis and Little Richard are hardly risqué by today’s standards.

As a result, for all the criticism lobbed at the Rock Hall, I’m sympathetic to its plight, to a certain extent. Like it or not, rock and roll overachieved into a cultural force, and with that evolution comes the need for a canon, and a swarm of experts to determine what is or is not “classic” or “great” about it. It riles everyday fans who were present at the creation, who got stoned in their Chevy and then went to a Grand Funk Railroad concert in ’73, to see artists they love picked apart and sometimes dismissed. And it irks the critic and the scholar to see schlubs with terrible taste complain about Styx not being in the Hall when innovators and conscientious musicians like Chic and Kraftwerk and Nine Inch Nails are still on the outside looking in. The critic is horrified that this year had zero female inductees, and nobody from the soul or R&B family. The classic rocker insists that this is mere affirmative action, PC run amok. A truly revolutionary group- NWA- is honored and wants to perform a song called “F— Tha Police” but the ceremony is in a massive arena that probably requires a police security presence. We’re at an impasse between expert and everyman, insider and outsider, and this year’s ceremony revealed that tug of war better than most.

Where does the Rock Hall go from here, then? If I had to impose one suggestion on the chaos, it’s to resolve the problem of age. Frankly, the 1980s and 1990s are hard done by, and the quorum of 70+ year old white men on the Nom Com and the voting committee is partly to blame. Get younger voices. Get more minority voices. Get female voices. Get underground voices. Get Jessica Harper on the Nom Com. Or Steven Hyden. Or an academic like Princeton’s Daphne Brooks, who understands what’s at stake. Rock and roll is big, and beautiful, and broad– a tree with many roots and many branches. The group that puts the ballot together- and the people who vote on the ballot- should reflect this.

And I think, in the pit of Joel Peresman, Dave Marsh, and Jann Werner’s stomachs, they know this is true. For this reason, I think that for the Class of 2017, they will probably go in a very different direction, even if they don’t make any real changes on the nominating committee or the voting committee. In fact, I don’t think there will even be a single act that fits the narrowest definition of 70s classic rock, since they had their chance to shine this year. It’s going to look an awful lot like the ballot for the Class of 2015.

So, while I’m far from making my official predictions for the Oct. 2016 ballot for the Class of 2017, I think it might look something like this: Pearl Jam. Tupac. Nine Inch Nails. The Smiths. Chaka Khan. The Commodores. A Tribe Called Quest. Kraftwerk. Sting. Willie Nelson. Nina Simone. Eurythmics. Chic. Johnny Winter. The Shangri-Las. Two first-year eligibles, six returning nominees, and seven snubs. That’s a stretch. Few ballots have had as many new faces. But there’s never been a better time to untie some knots, open the windows to fresh air, and challenge insider and outsider alike to wonder: what is great rock and roll music?

Let’s imagine this scenario for a moment. It is a brisk, rainy, mucky June evening as I walk through the leafy, mildly bohemian section of Rochester I call home. As I zip up my jacket and turn up my collar up against the wind, a limo pulls up alongside of me. It’s the Clinton team! They’ve tracked me down to ask for some advice on who should be in the cabinet for a possible Hillary Clinton administration.

—-

This cabinet reflects the advice I would give, although there are no doubt plenty of experts with greater policy experience and more extensive rolodexes than I. Now that Secretary Clinton generally won the 26 April primaries in the Mid-Atlantic and the nomination is statistically about as secure as it can get, it’s never too early to think about the transition to governing. Broadly, I think the key is to avoid filling the cabinet wholly with people with whom she is already comfortable. Historically, the problem with the first Clinton administration was trusting things to a tiny cabal of family loyalists. This is surely a recipe for failure.  The very best administrations in American history- Washington’s, Lincoln’s, FDR’s, Monroe’s, Kennedy’s- had divergent points of view, free access to the president, and the right mix of autonomy and accountability. The following sketch tries to balance old Clinton people with worthy Obama folks, some people outside of the rough and tumble of politics, and even a Republican or two.  If there’s a bias anywhere, it’s that I did pick a number of people committed to ending poverty and hunger- both in the U.S. and abroad. More fundamentally, I wanted a cabinet of people who were ethically clean, undeniably competent, and could enact just and fair reform within the system. This isn’t a cabinet full of hash-tagging revolutionaries. These are mostly people with governing and managerial skill who can get shit done. I’ve listed here both the formal cabinet departments as well as offices that are considered “cabinet-level” but whose occupants aren’t considered “secretaries” and who are removed from the presidential line of succession.

Secretary of State: Jon Huntsman, Jr. He’s a classic tax-cutting conservative in domestic economic policy, but he won’t be handling the domestic economy in this office. Huntsman instead embodies the best of three worlds, with business experience, governing experience from his 8 years in Utah, and foreign policy experience from his time as ambassador to both China and Singapore. I strongly believe that a smart, productive pivot to Asia is the best foreign policy, and Huntsman embodies that to the tee. As a Republican, his commission would signal that politics stops at the water’s edge, and he got along well with Clinton when they were both in the State Department. Conspicuously, he has been silent on an issue many Republicans have roundly denounced, the recent nuclear agreement with Iran. And as far as this goes, silence probably signifies agreement. Or ambition.

Secretary of the Treasury: Jeffrey Sachs. I was blown away when I heard him speak in South Dakota back in 2006. Sachs would be an unconventional choice: someone who hasn’t worked in the banking industry and is instead considered one of the foremost economists alive today. In the aftermath of the Cold War, Sachs helped multiple countries adjust their economies to a market system, and in recent years has been heavily invested in ending the cycle of poverty that plagues the developing world. His relationship with 90s Clinton administration mainstay Larry Summers is none too cozy, but Summers’s moment has passed, and a more conscientious philanthropist-economist model is what today’s economy calls for. He’s respected by the economic establishment but is able to make pointed critiques and challenges to their authority: he once called the IMF “the Typhoid Mary of developing economies.”  Sachs is smart- he was a tenure-track professor at Harvard before he turned 30- but he has a good heart alongside one of the sharpest and most responsive minds in the world of markets.

Secretary of DefenseMichele Flournoy. Perhaps the biggest mystery of this list is why Flournoy isn’t already Secretary of Defense. James Carafano, a defense expert at the Heritage Foundation., noted that “she’s already mastered the Pentagon bureaucracy and shown herself to be in lockstep with President Obama as a team player who is easy to work with.” In the past, she’s served as under-secretary of Defense for Policy, and led the Obama administration’s Defense Department’s transition team. In the interim, she’s started a think tank called the Center for the New American Security.  I considered UN ambassador Samantha Power (she did, though, call Hillary a “monster” in the heat of the 2008 primaries), and Rhode Island senator Jack Reed (he’s allegedly been offered the job multiple times and has refused). But Flournoy will do nicely. She would be the first woman to serve as Secretary of Defense.

Attorney General: Lori Swanson.  Unless you live in Minnesota, there’s a good chance you haven’t heard of Lori Swanson. She’s served as attorney general of the Land of 10,000 Lakes since 2007, and has been a big part of the DFL’s recent success in what had been considered a swing state ten years earlier. She’s been roundly acclaimed for her work in consumer protection, cracking down on fraud and fleecers. As one watchdog group writes, “Attorney General Swanson has been a tireless champion for consumers in America, whether leading the charge against predatory mortgage lending, protecting seniors from marketing abuses, or defending our basic American right to have credit card disputes resolved impartially and not through a stacked deck.”  In an age of Trump University, she’s also taken on for-profit colleges that were little more than disreputable degree mills. The only problem is that she might want to run for Governor of Minnesota in 2018 when Mark Dayton retires. Other options I weighed were Deval Patrick (he’s retired to the private sector and seems done with politics) and Carmen Ortiz (talented, but often over-prosecutes for minor offenses).

Secretary of the Interior: Christy Goldfuss.  With responsibility over the vast swath of national parks, wildlife refuges, and other federal lands, this department couldn’t be more important. Goldfuss would be ready to hit the ground running. Sharp and well-connected, she has held a variety of positions. She’s worked as a reporter, and a staffer on the House Committee for Natural Resources, and the National Park Service, before becoming made manager of the Council on Environmental Quality by President Obama last year. Goldfuss is genuinely skilled at media interaction and public engagement. Moreover, her work at the liberal think tank Center for American Progress makes her a natural fit with my Chief of Staff selection.  At 39 (this is an estimate based on when she graduated college), she’d be the youngest cabinet member in this administration.  A native of Connecticut, she’d also be only the second east-coaster to hold this job since 1900. I wanted to put Mark Udall in this spot; his father is still considered the best Secretary of the Interior ever, but there were already enough scions on this list.  My other instinct was to put a environmentalist Bernie supporter here, like Michael McGinn or Rocky Anderson, but each has a reputation for being ornery and a bit self-righteous. This position, frankly, changed hands more than any other: other names I thought about were another CEQ head Nancy Sutley and environmental lawyer Carolyn Raffensberger.

Secretary of Agriculture: David Beckmann. For this job, I considered former Arkansas senator Blanche Lambert Lincoln and Marshall Matz, who was George McGovern’s right hand man on the Senate Select Committee on Nutrition and Human Needs. But I remembered how the Eisenhower administration ran, when Ike selected a Secretary of State known in large part for his active lay churchmanship, John Foster Dulles. This inspired me to look for someone from a religious organization doing good social justice work- a choice resonant with Clinton’s sincere, but often unacknowledged, Methodism. For the last 25 years, Beckmann has served as president of Bread for the World, raising awareness, producing scholarship, and coordinating interfaith efforts to combat global and domestic hunger. A Lutheran pastor who is also a trained economist, Beckmann understands the nuances of the Agriculture Department’s most fundamental charge: make sure hungry people get enough to eat. Part lobby, part charity, Beckmann has been at the forefront of successful efforts to get Congress to increase its spending on development assistance. In terms of getting food to people who need it, Beckmann is one of the sharpest, most effective thinkers and administrators one can imagine.

Secretary of Commerce: Indra Nooyi. For over a decade, Nooyi has served as CEO of Pepsico. In that capacity, she’s made Pepsi not just successful but socially responsible as well. She’s removed potentially harmful substances like aspartame from their beverages. As it turned out, the right thing to do was also the profitable thing to do. Pepsico is more vibrant than ever, and has successfully positioned its offerings as “fun for you” (potato chips and regular soda), “better for you” (diet soda or baked potato chips), and “good for you” healthy treats. Moreover, Nooyi has an inspirational life story, a good corporate citizen, and regularly appears on annual lists of the Most Powerful Women in the World.  Others on my list included Ashifi Gogo, Ursula Burns, and Andrea Jung.

Secretary of Labor: Tom Perez. If beltway buzz is to be believed, Perez may find himself at Number One Observatory Circle as vice-president, rather than the Department of Labor. But tradition holds that one cabinet member from the previous administration who is doing good work be kept on board. George W. Bush kept on Secretary of Transportation Norm Mineta, and Barack Obama asked that Robert Gates stay on as head of the Department of Defense. Perez may choose to run for Governor of Maryland, or for Ben Cardin’s seat in 2018 if he retires, but for now, he’s a terrific fit for the Department of Labor. He’s been, frankly, brilliant at framing the issues of working people in terms of social justice when there’s often a disconnect between the lunchpail and the activist wings of the Democratic Party.

Secretary of Health and Human Services: Audrey Haynes. One of the clearest Obamacare success stories in its early years was its state exchange in Kentucky. Although a redoubtable red state in presidential elections, under Democratic Governor Steve Beshear and Health and Family Services secretary Haynes, the efficient Kynect system came into being.  While the Obamacare website rollout was wracked with bugs, Kynect worked smoothly from the start.  Over 400,000 Kentuckians signed up, and the state’s uninsured rate was cut in half with smooth public relations and easy coordination with Medicaid, private insurance companies, and national Obamacare policies. Haynes will have little difficulty transitioning from provincial Kentucky to the White House: she was once Tipper Gore’s chief of staff. I also considered Steve Beshear himself, Illinois congresswoman Cheri Bustos, and United Therapeutic executive Martine Rothblatt.

Secretary of Housing and Urban Development: Andre Carson. Carson represents much of Indianapolis, a city with very high foreclosure rates. During his time in the House, he’s worked on the Financial Services Committee to make sure fraudulent housing loans are more widely known to the public. And as a former policeman, Carson has a sense of how urban neighborhoods work in a way that escapes many seasoned politicians. Janette Sadik-Khan might also work in this capacity.

Secretary of Transportation: Gabe Klein. Klein was once described as a “guerrilla bureaucrat,” a policy wonk with a cult following and a record of getting stuff done. He’s been the transportation commissioner in Chicago and DC, where he’s faced the challenge of urban sprawl with private-public partnerships and finding innovative solutions such as bikeshare programs and his work at Zipcar. In short, he’s left the cities he’s worked for as more walker-friendly and better able to handle the oppressive traffic tantamount living in cities today. For years, “transportation” meant cars, but now it means pedestrians and cyclists. Klein might do the impossible and make the U.S. Department of Transportation sexy. The other contender for this spot was former Minneapolis mayor R.T. Rybak, but two Minnesotans seemed a little…much.

Secretary of Energy: Susan Eisenhower. For years, Eisenhower- Ike’s granddaughter- has been a key advocate, advisor, and consultant on energy issues. Her chief area of expertise is nuclear proliferation, particularly with regards to Russia. She’s sat on the Nuclear Threat Initiative Board and has worked as a blue-ribbon panel member for Department of Energy commissions more than once in the past. Ideally, my Secretary of Energy would be more of a climate change guru like Dan Reicher, but with Russia’s menacing maneuvers, and the nuclear capabilities of Iran and North Korea of no small importance, a “national security” kind of Secretary of Energy might be wiser in the short term.

Secretary of Education: Eduardo Padron.  Time named him one of the ten best college presidents in America. That’s an accomplishment, because Padron isn’t a president of an Ivy League school; quite to the contrary, he’s president of Miami Dade College, the nation’s largest community college. Obama has been a vocal advocate of transforming the role of the community college in America in a more affordable, academically rigorous and career-friendly way, and Padron has spent years making these goals a reality. Padron, an economist born in Cuba, is a tireless advocate for helping members of poor, underserved communities get the education they need to escape the poverty cycle. He boasts, not without cause, “In Miami, almost everybody you talk to is a graduate of this college, everybody in leadership positions, from our people in Congress, our people in the state legislature, our mayors, our commissioners, the state attorney, the public defender, the chief of police, the fire chief. I could go on and on and on, but it’s even more impressive in the private sector. … Right now, we have about 17 bank presidents who are Miami Dade graduates.”

Secretary of Veterans’ Affairs: Mike Michaud.  In 2014, Congressman Michaud averred re-election to Maine’s rural 2nd district to run for Vacationland’s governor. That didn’t work out, and after some speculation about his future, took a job as an Assistant Secretary of Labor in a role that facilitates the training and hiring of veterans. Maine- especially the 2nd district- has an unusually large number of military veterans, and Michaud is no stranger to representing their interests. He was one of the first to identify the VA incompetence under Eric Shinseki and demand reform. Michaud also sponsored an act in Congress that would have given tax credits to businesses that hire veterans. As someone conversant in the fields of veterans’ affairs, health care, and labor, he’d be a slam dunk at the VA.

Secretary of Homeland Security: William McRaven. McRaven will bring compelling leadership and a determined problem-solving mindset to this crucial office. He is, of course, best known for leading Operation Neptune Spear, the mission to take out Osama bin Laden in his Pakistan hideout. In the meantime, he’s had time to readjust to civilian life as the president of UT Austin. The Washington Post calls him “an one of the most experienced terrorist hunters in U.S. government” who would often accompany teams even as a three-star admiral.  A Politico longform article called him “the last four-star hero…a transformational leader in a tumultuous time.” McRaven is seemingly the perfect candidate- lots of character, widely described as “humble,” not even the barest whisper of scandal, an ability to inspire subordinates, and a striking amount of courage. According to the Politico article, he confronted SEAL legend Dick Marcinko when he ordered McRaven to perform a risky and highly illegal and unethical operation. McRaven would have no trouble making tough choices and using clear insight for the bevy of challenges faced by Homeland Security.

Chief of Staff: John Podesta. I’m putting him on here no matter how badly my auto-correct wants him to be John Pedestal. He’s the only true Clintonista on this list, the only one who played a large role in the 90s Clinton administration. In the last 40 years, the role of Chief of Staff has become one of no small importance, a gatekeeper who is responsible for coordinating access to the president, the person who has to serve as the bad cop to the POTUS’s good cop. Podesta has served in this capacity before, as Bill Clinton’s second chief of staff. He’s the current chairman of Secretary Clinton’s presidential campaign, and was a key part of the Obama-Biden transition team, making him an important bridge between Clinton Democrats and Obama Democrats, if such a distinction even makes sense any more. Although clearly part of an “establishment,” he’s also been one of liberalism’s staunchest defenders from the 90s going forward, and founded the seminal think tank, the Center for American Progress. In terms of connections, administrative ability, and standing up for a set of principals while working towards feasible solutions, Podesta’s by far the best choice.

Chairman of the Council of Economic Advisors: Joseph Stiglitz. This is not a glamorous position- most Americans have no idea it exists- but it is an important one for setting the tone for economic policy. This one is a major sop to Bernie Sanders and his supporters, as Stiglitz has been an important advisor to his campaign. His work, which is cited more than almost any other economist at work today, is deeply critical of unchecked free market boosterism. In recent years, he’s been at the forefront of resolving Greece’s debt problem without resorting to austerity. Like Podesta, Stiglitz is returning to a job he held in the 90s under Bill Clinton.

OMB Director: Jeffrey Zients. Zients has the job now, and I’d say let’s keep him where he is. He’s a known problem solver, who’s finest moment was supervising the overhaul of the buggy healthcare.gov website during its problematic rollout. One colleague has expressed amazement at Zients’s ability to “solve seemingly intractable problems” and dedicate his life to public service after a lucrative career in the private sector that made him a millionaire many times over. He and his South African-born wife formed the Urban Alliance Foundation, which helps provide job training and mentorship for underprivileged inner-city youth. As a fun point of trivia, Nelson Mandela even attended his wedding!

Trade Representative: Jennifer Granholm. Trade policy has unexpectedly become a sexy topic, and free trade fever that’s dominated the last 30 years of public policy has been called into question by grassroots groups across the political spectrum. They even successfully pushed Hillary to reconsider her position on TPP. International trade is inevitable, and rightly so, but who better to protect U.S. interests than someone who was Governor of Michigan for eight years? As the governor who weathered the automotive crisis, she’s been a sharp-elbowed advocate for policies that favor U.S. industrial development while maintaining strong internationalism- working with Sweden in recent years to support a green energy economy.

EPA director: Marc Edwards. There weren’t many heroes that came out of the Flint, Michigan water crisis, but Edwards was one of them. When one Flint mother brought water from the beleaguered city to be tested, Edwards found that the amount of lead in the water supply was hundreds of times higher than safe levels. As Scientific American put it, “Edwards’s team uncovered the widespread use of lead testing practices that deviated from EPA protocol” and blew the whistle on their findings. Steven Chu’s work as Secretary of Energy has shown that a professor can serve effectively in a cabinet department, and in that tradition, putting Marc Edwards in charge of the EPA would send a powerful message. I might have considered former New Mexico senator Jeff Bingaman, but this job may be too small for a guy who was in the Senate for 30 years.

UN Ambassador: Ertharin Cousin. Cousin has a long history in the United Nations already. For the last four years, she’s worked as the Director of the UN Food Program that works out of Rome. Her efforts have ensured that millions throughout the world get enough to food to survive in precarious situations. In the process, she is, like others on this list, a regular on Forbes and Time lists of powerful and influential women in the world. She’s in charge of what the Telegraph calls “the world’s largest humanitarian organization,” and has worked hard to mix providing immediate aid in disaster and famine conditions with sustainable development. “So often, we’d come in and say, ‘We have the answers.’ But now we’re allowing governments or communities to lead, and then we’ll come in with long-term strategies. That’s what will ensure that we’re moving towards the solutions that will end hunger.” As UN Ambassador, Cousin is uniquely qualified to advocate for these causes on an even greater stage.

Small Business Administration: Hala Moddelmog. As head of the Atlanta Chamber of Commerce, Moddelmog has personified a strong civic-minded business model. She’s worked as CEO of Arby’s and Susan G. Komen for the Cure. When the Georgia state legislature tried to follow North Carolina’s lead and pass a “religious freedom” bill that would in practice limit LGBT persons ability to be hired or buy goods or services from, a wide array of businesses. Moddelmog led the business community in opposing the law, and ultimately Governor Deal pledged to veto the bill. Atlanta has long prided itself as the city that was “too busy too hate,” prioritizing economic innovation and growth over petty prejudice. Moddelmog is a nice continuation of that tradition. A second choice might be a one-time small-business owner, former New Mexico Lt. Governor, Diane Denish.

So that’s who I would advise if I were asked. It’s a tentative list, and necessarily so. Elements like personal chemistry can also factor into the decision, and I’m simply not privy to this kind of information in regards to who would work in a President Hillary administration and who wouldn’t. Still- it works. And without really trying to, this cabinet achieves some important milestones. Of the 22 positions, 9 are held by women- not parity, but an all-time high. We’ve also got our first Muslim cabinet member (Carson) and our first two Hindus (Nooyi and, surprisingly, Klein.) Nooyi would also become the first person of Indian descent to hold a cabinet office (I think), and Michaud would be the first openly gay cabinet secretary (although others have held cabinet-rank offices). In a xenophobic chapter in our history, three (Padron, Granholm, and Nooyi again) are immigrants.  When President Obama formed his cabinet, he was criticized for having no CEOs and no Southerners. Well, there are plenty of CEOs and company presidents (Huntsman, Moddelmog, Nooyi, and Zients). And there’s no shortage of Southerners either, between McRaven (Texas), Padron (Florida), Moddelmog (Georgia), and Haynes (Kentucky). There’s a good mix of policy wonks like Klein and Eisenhower, effective governors like Huntsman and Granholm, and congress-folk like Carson and Michaud.  Add in some academics (Sachs, Edwards, Stiglitz), humanitarians (Beckmann), military men (McRaven), old cabinet hands (Podesta, Perez) and people who have worked effectively at the state level (Haynes, Swanson), and you’ve got an effective breadth of experience.

Any problems? Well, for one, I wish I had some more relatively young people on this list. Only 4 of the 22 will be under 50 on Inauguration Day, 2017 (Carson, Goldfuss, Zients, and Klein). And there’s far too many people on the list who are 60 years old, plus/minus a few years (a shockingly high 8 cabinet members fall in that age range.) That’s not a knock, necessarily, on older people. It’s just that different generations, I’ve found, have very different problem solving styles, and more Gen X’ers, and even an odd millennial, might have added some more flavor to a cabinet stocked with people on the younger end of the Baby Boom. I also wish I could have added another Republican (I wrestled with Sachs vs. Sheila Bair as Secretary of the Treasury). I also do not have any senators- past or present- on my list, which is astonishing because I love studying the history of the Senate. But when I see people predict a cabinet, there’s a tendency to lazily pick out senators rather than casting a wider net (through obvious choices like Elizabeth Warren on Treasury, or Jack Reed on Defense, Michael Bennet on Education, and so on.)

I’d love some feedback, if anyone cares to provide some. Who would you pick for the next cabinet?

 

 

Twice before, I’ve posted my ten top candidates for Hillary Clinton’s running mate, on the not-unreasonable assumption that she will be the Democrats’ nominee.   And here is my third, and probably penultimate, installment (I’ll try to write one last edition in June or July when the convention nears and when we’ve seen more trial balloons floated that could telegraph her thought process.)

Sanders has had a very good run, but I don’t believe he will win the nomination. Generally, he’s had his best luck in states with caucuses (not too many left, and they tend to be small states) and states with extremely white populations (which doesn’t help in larger, more diverse, delegate-rich states like California, New York, or Illinois.) But he’s inspired a great many people to engage in politics. I hope Sanders supporters will stay in the game and continue to be a force in the Democratic Party and national politics more generally in the years to come. I’m hopeful that a strong speech by Sanders in Philadelphia this summer will convince them to campaign for Hillary just as hard as they would have for him. Moreover, Sanders has fulfilled his destiny, in the sense that while his candidacy was always far-fetched, he succeeded in pushing Clinton to the left. And what’s more, he’s done it in ways that make it undesirable to shift toward the center in the general election. As it currently stands, Hillary’s come out against the TPP and it’s more likely than not that her running-mate will be an olive branch to the Bernie Bros.

One change is that I have not one but three (well, two and a half) potential female running mates lined up for Secretary Clinton.  Every once in a while, I hear someone say that our country “isn’t ready” for that kind of thing. Why is it that an angry, racist billionaire with no political experience becoming president is plausible, and a ticket with two qualified women is not? Let me put it this way- since women earned the right to vote nationwide starting in the 1920 election, there have been 24 presidential elections. With two major parties, and two spots on each ticket, that’s a total of 96 “spots” on a presidential ticket since then. Of those 96 spots, only two were held by women: Geraldine Ferraro in 1984 and Sarah Palin in 2008- and both were in the less prestigious vice-presidential spots. Or to put it differently, 46 out of those 48 tickets were all male. Why is one all-female ticket so ridiculous? With 20 female senators, a large handful of female governors, and no shortage of female cabinet members and congresswomen, there’s never been a more qualified batch of female vice-presidential prospects for a presidential candidate to choose from.

In past installments, I set out a number of rules that increasingly don’t make sense any longer: no New Englanders, no women, nobody over 60. The last few months have tossed out the rulebook of conventional wisdom, and the Trump candidacy made a monkey out of almost every political pundit both famous and obscure. So now- these requirements are no longer on the table. Oldsters, Yankees, and other women could very well provide the right temperamental and ideological qualities to the ticket.

  1. John Hickenlooper: Hickenlooper was suggested by longtime Northumbrian reader Jared. And for a long time, I didn’t take his prospects seriously, largely for superficial reasons (I didn’t think two white candidates both north of 60 would work.) But the more I look at Hickenlooper, the more I like him. As the Sanders candidacy has shown, one doesn’t have to be young to resonate with younger voters. And Hickenlooper won in Colorado in 2010 and 2014- two disastrous years for Democrats- suggesting that he could help Clinton’s shaky prospects in the Centennial State. Under Hickenlooper, Colorado voters legalized marijuana use, and the governor also signed important gun control bills into law. He also ran a brewery in his earlier days, giving him both small-business experience that independents love while paradoxically burnishing his hipster credentials. In terms of exuding competence, bringing a swing state into play, and generating appeal to Sanders supporters, Hickenlooper is the complete package.
  2. 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 himself may factor into the Republican ticket- especially if there is a contested convention) would get to pick his successor.
  3. Elizabeth Warren: At times, I am tempted to see streaks of misogyny among Sanders supporters’ treatment of Sec. Clinton. Sometimes that actually does happen, and lots of Bernie Bros that I know personally have deep problems with female authority or toxic relationships with their ex-wives or ex-girlfriends that they tend to project onto Hillary. And yet, many of them love Elizabeth Warren for her no-nonsense approach to breaking up big banks and rewriting the special privileges the rich and well-established enjoy in our tax code.  Warren has become a darling, a heroine, to those who see deep inequalities in our political and economic system that stack the deck against working families. If Clinton wants a game-changer, a Warren vice-presidential pick would certainly accomplish that.  Massachusetts currently has a Republican governor, but state rules mandate a special election to determine who will ultimately fill the remainder of the term.
  4. 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.
  5. Gary Locke:  Also returning to this 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. Amy Klobuchar: She’s won two commanding victories in Minnesota, 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 evinced by Hubert Humphrey and Walter Mondale.   Ironically, if a man was the presidential candidate, Klobuchar would be a no-brainer to join the ticket, but she won’t get the nod if Clinton dismisses out of hand the idea of a female running mate.
  7. Mark Warner: Warner’s stock has fallen considerably, going from an odds-on favorite to a more remote possibility. Essentially, the decline in his fortunes is due not to any missteps on his part, but a change in the calculus of a Clinton victory. Right now, Hillary’s problem isn’t being seen as “too liberal,” but “too neo-liberal” if that makes sense- the sense that she is too tied to vested interests, and too tied to foreign trade deals that hurt domestic blue-collar workers.  One of the more moderate Democrats in the Senate, Warner strikes all the wrong notes, as someone who became a millionaire in the cellular phone industry. He also demonstrated a surprising glass jaw, winning re-election in 2014 by a shockingly low margin against a hack of an opponent. Still, as an otherwise popular governor and senator from an important swing state, Warner is too good on paper to ignore.
  8. Al Franken: Humor is the best way to take down Trump, and watching Franken read  mean tweets about his endorsement of Hillary shows his razor-sharp wit.  While he has cast his lot with Clinton, he has the same anti-establishment tenor that has bolstered the Sanders campaign. He won re-election in 2014 by a wide margin in a bad year for Democrats. And while he could have been a joke candidate, his already-keen political analysis has become greater from his eight years in the U.S. Senate, making him a viable vice-presidential candidate.  Especially with Trump as the most likely nominee at this point, why not pick another- for lack of a better word- entertainer- except one with actual experience in governing?  This is one SNL veteran who is most definitely ready for prime time.  Like Klobuchar, Franken would be replaced in the short term by Minnesota’s DFL governor, Mark Dayton.
  9. 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.
  10. Republican Surprise: This final pick isn’t so much in favor of a particular person so much as a general strategy.  If someone truly dangerous gets the GOP nomination, it’s not hard to see a number of more moderate, good-governance Republicans peeling off from their party and supporting Clinton, no matter how painful it may be for them. This option is out if Rubio or Kasich somehow pulls off the nomination.  But if a demagogue like Trump or an unlikable jackass like Cruz gets it, this becomes a real possibility. I’d peg Susan Collins or possibly Brian Sandoval as two candidates. Sandoval, of course, was floated as a trial balloon for the Scalia vacancy on the Supreme Court; he is a very effective and often quite moderate governor of Nevada. And Hillary would probably kill to have a moderate, pro-choice, Medicare-expanding Hispanic Republican governor of a key swing state on a ticket with her.  Collins is also an option. It’s another all-female ticket, but Collins is probably the most moderate Republican in the Senate, is disgusted with the Tea Party, and is on good terms with Clinton. (Hillary actually threw her a bridal party when she got married a couple years ago.)  Moreover, Collins is a respected voice on foreign policy, and if Clinton wants to accentuate the dangers of putting foreign policy novices in the White House, a Collins nomination could do wonders.  The optics aren’t ideal- two Northeastern, senior-citizen women who voted for the Iraq War- but politics isn’t about working in ideal situations. The only question is- would the Maine senator even consider it?

So, if you have kept track, we have four new additions to the list (Hickenlooper, Warren, Franken, and Republican Surprise). That means four individuals from my previous list are out.  I dropped the following from the list:

Ron Kind: An implausible pick to begin with, I wasn’t happy with his vote to keep Syrian refugees out of the country.  At any rate, he would be a better candidate for Governor of Wisconsin in 2018 to take down Scott Walker on his quest for a third term. He’s proven he knows how to get votes in the Badger State outside of Madison and Milwaukee, a trick few Democrats in that state have mastered.

Tammy Baldwin: It’s just too risky to let Wisconsin governor Scott Walker appoint her successor. But it would be groundbreaking to have the first openly LGBT person on a major party ticket, to say nothing of another all-female ticket possibility.

Michael Bennet: He was a tempting possibility, for sure.  He’s a 51-year-old senator from a key swing state (Colorado), and his emphasis on education would appeal greatly to the demographic Bill Clinton’s ’96 campaign targeted successfully: soccer moms. But Bennet will probably face a competitive race for his Senate seat in 2016, and it could create problems if he had to run for both offices at once. (You can get away with it if your seat is very safe, like Biden’s in ’08, but not when you are running in a hotly contested swing state.)  Moreover, his pedigree is a little too professional, from the Ivy League background to the fact that his brother runs The Atlantic.  In an environment where Ted Cruz’s eligibility is questioned, the fact that Bennet was also born outside the U.S. may be an issue Hillary just doesn’t want to deal with.

Evan Bayh: A moderate’s moderate, Bayh is exactly the sort of professional, central-casting candidate the 2016 electorate is rebelling against on both sides of the aisle.  A scion of a political family with a lobbyist wife, it’s hard to see the upside to Bayh at this stage, even if Indiana was a winnable state.

What do you think? Anybody I left off? Do you think my reasoning is sound? Let me know in the comments below.

I wrote this poem, quite literally, the evening before the Iowa caucus. In all the craziness over the Rock Hall talk, I forgot to post it here. I hope it is enjoyed.

 

Twas the night before caucus, as I sat and I groused,

at the rank office seekers from the Senate and House
The yard signs were set on our front lawns well known
In hopes that the canvassers leave us alone
As the candidates uttered policies Darwinian
And professed the whole ballgame, like 2 Corinthians
Since ma loved no Clinton and I felt no Bern
We rested our brains like some unpaid intern

When out on the driveway arose such a noise
That I’m sure it was heard from Dubuque to Des Moines
Quickly I sprung, wond’ring what the hell happened
Was it some neer-do-well or a drunk precinct captain?
Then what to my wondering eyes did I scan
But a stretch limo pulled by some eight also-rans
“Make America Great!” said it’s motto, remodeled
I knew in a moment it must be the Donald
More rapid than vetos his posse they came
In a Long Island accent, he called their out their names:
Now Carson! Now, Rand Paul! Now Kasich and Christie!
On, Marco! On, Jeb! Bush!, On Huckster and Carly!

And the limo sped off, ’twas no smooth apparatus
It was shaky and doubtful as Ted’s legal status
“Divide all the Moderates! Build a Mexican wall!
Or else you’re fired, you’re fired, you’re fired, all!”
As the limo sped off, I could see it was true
With a sack full of red hats, there stood Mr. Trump too

Uninvited he walked through the door, no true hurdle
It was open to access like Hill’s email server
As he tried to win over castoff Perot voters
He promised to stop Muslim migrants and quotas
With his pockets outstretched from two wives’ alimony
He sneered when he laughed with a cadence so phony
He then offered a deal in this late evening hour
If I gave him a pledge, I could stay in Trump Towers!
I wished I could help him, but I couldn’t do so
I was white and in debt as the next Bernie Bro.

His eyes how they glowered, his hair, orange as Boehner,
And his stage makeup dolled on just like Megan Trainor
His hairpiece immaculate, set like a swan
Like Bill Shatner’s between TOS and Wrath of Khan

And laying his finger inside of his nose
His toupee sprouted wings, through the chimney he rose
He sprang to his limo, with his whip, gave a crack
And they vanished like a bioweapon left in Iraq
But I heard him shout out, as he lurched to the Right,
Happy Caucus to all, 9 months til ‘Lection Night!

 

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:

  1. Joe Cocker: Another great interpretative singer who put on an iconic performance at Woodstock.
  2. Buzzcocks: An influential transition between punk and power-pop. Green Day owes them big time.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. Fairport Convention: Incredibly influential English pastoral folk combo. Liege and Lief is one of my favorites, and a progenitor to mainstream celtic music.
  6. Carly Simon: Probably my mom’s favorite artist, so a painful omission. Lots of hits, and surprising longevity, just not enough originality or excellence.
  7. Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds: Gave introspective and utterly self-obsessed alternative music something it sorely needed: storytelling.
  8. Mahavishnu Orchestra: Performing meandering jazz rock with the sensibility of Indian ragas? Sign me up, immediately!
  9. 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.
  10. 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.”
  11. 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.
  12. X: An indispensable component of the L.A. punk scene.
  13. 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.
  14. J.J. Cale: A roundly-respected guitarist and songwriter.
  15. 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 RundgrenBlue 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.

 

Let me begin the proverbial final countdown by saying how grateful I am for all the feedback people have sent me.  My last post, covering picks #20-11 was a milestone in the history of the Northumbrian Countdown.  It broke two records: one for most views in a single day (433) and most comments on one post (presently at 38, including my own.) At last, we arrive at the ten highest picks.  (Or, if you want to view it differently, the acts that I think would make the strongest two upcoming Rock Hall classes, alongside not-quite-eligible-yet Pearl Jam and Radiohead.) Here my picks for the top ten Rock Hall prospects.  The Hall and I are in agreement, at least to some extent: six of the ten have been nominated before.

yes band10.  Yes: Progressive rock fans are not demure in their attitudes toward the Rock Hall. Most of their favorites are not in the Hall, and no act’s omission gets their goat like that of Yes. I’m not exactly a prog guy, but their unhappiness is duly noted and not misplaced. Yes was nominated twice, and unfortunately for the two most competitive ballots in recent memory: the Class of 2014 and 2016. It’s a shame, because while Yes is a definitional “love ’em or hate ’em” band, their insistence on musicianship and craftsmanship is perhaps the greatest in the rock canon. From the meticulous bass work of the late Chris Squire, Rick Wakeman’s octopusinal (yes, I just made that word up) keyboard chops, Steve Howe’s folk-tinged guitar work, this was a band that fundamentally knew the nuts and bolts of how music was composed, and took rock and roll in ambitious new directions, with multi-part suites, time signatures changes, and ethereal harmonies. They made a song a journey to be savored rather than a brief, encapsulated moment in time. (Howe is ultimately responsible for one of my favorite guitar solos, but it’s on a Queen record, “Innuendo”, not a Yes record.) They helped lay the groundwork for progressive rock along King Crimson, Genesis, and others, and even, by virtue of their complexity, helped inspire punk as a counterrevolutionary response to their grandiose approach. The cliche is that you can’t dance to a Yes record, and some of their tracks sound more like they want to impress the listener rather than move her, and that’s probably true.  But rock and roll was rarely more ornate or majestic than when Yes was at the helm.

dire straits9.  Dire Straits: Out of all 100 snubs on this list, the Dire Straits’ absence makes the least sense to me. It seems as though they have every quality one would like in an inductee. In Mark Knopfler, they had one of the great guitarists. And one of the most original vocalists too- it’s hard to forget his retching singing style. They did well as a singles band.  And an albums band too- Brothers in Arms has to at least factor into the discussion when you talk about the best ones to come out of the 1980s. Their video for “Money for Nothing” pioneered the use of computer imagery in videos while musing on the significance of MTV itself. They were a critical band at a critical impasse (they were the first, for example, to sell a million copies of an album on CD.) But for me, their greatest strength was their singular songwriting (usually Knopfler) and song-crafting (usually the whole band) skill. So many of their tracks were like tiny epics in a self-contained world of their own, bringing out the drama and the tension of the ordinary. You have an updated love story in “Romeo and Juliet,” a meditation on a struggling jazz band in “Sultans of Swing,” and a requiem for a dying town in “Telegraph Road.” Their overall quality- no, their overall excellence– stands out, even in a list as competitive as this top ten.

Photo of DETROIT SPINNERS

8.  The Spinners: There aren’t many working relationships in the history of rock and roll that yielded better fruit than The Spinners and producer Thom Bell. In the 1970s, they collaborated on a small armada of the very best R&B hits of their time, and epitomized the genre of Philly Soul: lush, heavily orchestrated, emotive records with an unmistakable rhythm. Their canon creates, in a very real way, a soundtrack for the 70s, equally accepted within the black community while achieving great success among white listeners as well.  No single act captured the time and place that was “Soul Train” more than The Spinners. There’s the urgent “I’ll Be Around,” the sweet “Could It Be I’m Falling in Love,” the perfectly-arranged duet with Dionne Warwick “Then Came You,” a cover of “Working My Way Back to You” that had Frankie Valli fleeing back across the Hudson, and a song I request at every single wedding reception I attend, “Rubberband Man.” They even had some great deep tracks from albums nobody listens to anymore like “Sadie,” a sweet and sincere essay on the inner-city family. The Hall has usually tried to be cognizant of R&B’s contributions to the rock and roll story, but voters seem stubbornly committed to keeping the Spinners out.  It’s a strange thing.  The O’Jays, in my own opinion, a cooler but ultimately less indispensable band, got in on only their second nomination way back in 2005. But on three ballots that, at least in theory, were less competitive, The Spinners floundered. On the last three ballots, we had exactly one black R&B artist let in: Bill Withers.  That nonsense needs to end now. 70s R&B remains criminally underrepresented, and the Nom Com needs to keep at it and where down voters’ resistance. (Rescinding Eddie Trunk’s voting privileges would also be a good start.)

peter paul mary7.  Peter, Paul & Mary: This is probably the choice in my top 10 that will generate the most controversy. At the very least, I hope you’ll hear out my reasons for putting a largely acoustic folk trio in my top ten. Maybe their most instructive song was the Noel Stookey-penned “I Dig Rock and Roll Music”- as Tom Lane once reminded us, they weren’t professing their love for rock and roll! Instead they were, well, digging into it, needling it. The song called out rock and roll’s tendency to obfuscate, and comment on the pressing concerns of the Sixties only furtively and indirectly. “But if I really say it, the radio won’t play it, unless I lay it between the lines,” as they sang. They challenged rock and roll to do better, from the perspective of folk, one of it’s great ancestor genres. And PP&M practiced what they preached. With a deep Greenwich Village pedigree, they helped rescue folk from the sort of twee, banal folk music for College Republicans that the Kingston Trio was then riding to great success. PP&M are ranked this highly for bringing a social conscience and a willingness to engage in the great struggles of their time. They essentially opened for Martin Luther King at the March on Washington in 1963. They played at Selma, risking a beating from George Wallace’s thugs. Even when they reunited, it was usually motivated by a hope to change the world for the better, like a non-proliferation rally, or an anti-Apartheid concert, or George McGovern’s presidential campaign. They brought Bob Dylan’s social vision into the mainstream with their cover of “Blowin’ in the Wind”- certainly not the best cover version of all time, but for all intents and purposes, perhaps the most significant.  Maybe Dylan would have become a huge success if PP&M didn’t usher his material into the mainstream and pluck him out of near-obscurity, but we’ll never know. Ultimately, other rockers took up the challenge Peter, Paul & Mary set forth with their freedom songs. From the Concert for Bangladesh to Live Aid to “Ain’t Gonna Play Sun City,” Peter, Paul & Mary started the ball rolling and made rock and roll more than teenage dance music, but a force to be reckoned with in the unfolding of history.

the smiths6.  The Smiths: Jillian Mapes said it best: The Smiths remain “shorthand for ‘I was a teenage outcast.'” As one of the most important founders of alternative rock, they drew more clearly than anyone else the differences that set this world apart from mainstream top 40 rock. The Smiths have been nominated twice- the last two ballots, in fact. They will (and should) get in, and if they do, it will likely be a tense reunion- especially between morose frontman Morrissey and underappreciated guitarist Johnny Marr. Still, together, for a few precious years, they were one of the most important voices of the 1980s. They captured the feeling of emptiness that accompanied prosperity and deprivation alike, the loss of connectedness, and meditations on life moving on without you- so similar, in some respects, to Lady Murasaki’s Tale of the Genji nearly one millennium earlier.  At the same time, they weren’t afraid of embracing the political, even naming one of their albums after the hardcore vegetarian mantra, Meat is Murder. They took unhappiness and longing and made it beautiful. I’m not a fan of “How Soon is Now,” perhaps their most famous song, but “There Is a Light that Never Goes Out” is one of the most affecting tracks I’ve ever heard. There aren’t many people on my list who meant more to their fans than The Smiths. If you experienced alienation or disappointment, they were the soundtrack of your sorrow in the 80s. A comet that burned brightly and briefly, the Smiths not only galvanized the softer, mellower side of alternative, but also inspired hundreds of indie bands to pick up their instruments and voice their private frustrations.

judas priest5.  Judas Priest: While I don’t think every proficient metal band should be in the Rock Hall, Judas Priest has probably more reason to be aggrieved than any of their contemporaries. Rob Halford has repeatedly said that he’d love to be inducted, “it’s a validation.”  It’s altogether a refreshing and professional change from the “screw you for ignoring us” approach of many snubbed artists. Out of all the metal bands that aren’t in yet (which is basically every metal band that ever existed with four or five exceptions), Priest made a canon of consistently excellent, memorable, and suitably hard-rocking songs that didn’t feel the need to be unnecessarily thoughtful, and were rarely overblown.  In an age of Sauvignon Blanc-swilling yacht-rockers and punks who couldn’t play proficiently, Judas Priest restored the rightful balance of competence and edge. If nothing else, they established the template that most metal bands after them followed: the crunching guitars, the black leather, the theatricality, the thumping vocal delivery best seen in “Hell Bent for Leather.” Virtually every metal band that came after attempted to be a louder, more outrageous, or more offensive version of Judas Priest. And none of them succeeded. As someone who had to sit through VHS tapes about the satanism of 80s rock at my evangelical college, it gives me great pleasure to put Judas Priest in my top 5 Rock Hall prospects.

carole king4.  Carole King: King was nominated once in the Rock Hall’s early years and inducted as a non-performer with her songwriter-ex-husband Gerry Goffin.  From all appearances, the Rock Hall thinks this enough, but I hope they reconsider. As King’s recent enshrinement at the Kennedy Center shows, her significance goes beyond the Brill Building repertoire she helped establish, important though that was. Like many women of her time, her hard work and ingenuity took place behind the scenes and out of the public eye. It was only when she found the courage to sit on a piano bench, get behind a microphone, and take her show on the road that she achieved her greatest significance. Tapestry and its follow-ups are landmarks of the singer-songwriter movement. Along with her friend James Taylor, she influenced more than anyone else the trend in the 1970s toward mellow, personal, revelatory, and deeply introspective material. It was as if both Laurel Canyon artists and the wider public looked back on the wreckage of Altamont, and wondered if the answer was not so much in great festivals and gatherings, but in the truth each of us contained and interpreted inside of ourselves. (Tapestry, by the way, also won a Grammy, sold 25 million copies, and was on the charts for a Dark Side of the Moon-esque six years) I can’t tell you the number of times someone who was there at the time told me something like, “Tapestry told me what it meant to be a young woman in the 70s” She showed that a woman could succeed as a performer and in the more intellectual capacity as a writer. In doing this, King influenced almost every female singer-songwriter that came after her, as a kind of role model for confident artists who didn’t have to create a bold, brassy public persona to get a message out. Watching her perform with Sara Bareilles a couple years ago at the Grammys reminded me that PJ Harvey, Tori Amos, Amy Winehouse, Kate Bush, Sarah McLaughlan, Carly Simon, and basically every Lilith Fair artist out there owes Carole King big time. The excellence of her example made it all the more easier for them to be, well, natural women, in the unforgiving environs of rock and roll.

janet jackson3.  Janet Jackson: Janet’s case comes down to success and impact. Given the moribund state of R&B during the 1980s, Janet Jackson helped give the genre a greater credibility and, for the first time in a while, a real sense of energy and dynamism.  She did so, I might add, by leaving an indelible mark on the charts. 26 top ten hits, including tracks that serve as significant epoch-markers of the late 80s and early 90s: “Control,” “Black Cat,” and “Rhythm Nation.” She brought a more urban feel and a hard-edge feminism to her genre, and was a better performer than either Whitney or Mariah, two of her more important contemporaries.  Jackson just kept going, putting out significant albums deep into the 1990s with The Velvet Rope, and even her latest album and tour is generating no shortage of positive buzz. It’s a shame, really, that her career was put on the skids by the Super Bowl incident. (You know, the one where the guy actually at fault, Justin Timberlake, continued to be a major chartbuster afterward, even as he ungallantly blamed a “wardrobe malfunction” for the nationally televised undressing.) There’s a dissertation waiting to be written on what this said about gender politics, the female body, and pop culture.  Despite all of this, the Janet story is hardly over. Her influence continues to play out, and her impact can be found in everyone from Missy Elliot to Pink to Robyn to Rihanna to Beyonce. She established a very different kind of template for female artists than #4: one that refused to act demure, suffered no fools, and ruthlessly turned out R&B-infused dance pop hit after dance pop hit. Remember- rock and roll started out as music that inspired you to get up and shake your ass on the dance floor. Janet both preserved and expanded that legacy.

kraftwerk2.  Kraftwerk: Influence, influence, influence.  A legion of music writers have suggested that Kraftwerk is second only to The Beatles in terms of overall influence on the direction of rock and roll music as a whole. It’s an exaggeration, of course, but it isn’t as much of a whopper as you might think. It’s hard to know what to say about them that hasn’t become hackneyed by now. They inaugurated the regularization of electronica in popular music. While Moog synthesizers and elaborate keyboards were mainstays long before they came along, their culture of arty arrangement made this technology not the window dressing of Abbey Road, but the building blocks of something wholly new. Philosophically, their work was nuanced, meditating on Beach Boys-style freedom of movement (“Autobahn”) to the grim futurism of “The Robots.” In the process, their inventive use of electronic instruments paved the way for new wave, gave new vitality to older careers such as David Bowie’s, and inspired synth-pop bands from Depeche Mode to Wham!, and electronica dance acts such as LCD Soundsystem and Daft Punk. They even unwittingly assisted the development of hip-hop, as we explored in Afrika Bambaataa’s section. Ultimately, Kraftwerk helped musicians from every corner of the globe realize that they could use technology and electronic equipment as a tool to better express themselves.  Sometimes that means using lush electronic soundscapes as a canvas, sometimes it means putting electronic instruments out in front as a hook, sometimes it means manipulating these sounds to create a pulsing rhythm to get your audience onto the dance floor.  You can say that Kraftwerk is synthetic and alarmingly inorganic, and you won’t entirely be wrong. But I perceive a humanism and an artistry that somewhat paradoxically constitutes their greatest importance. The Nom Com did the right thing by Kraftwerk: with three nominations, they’ve had a chance to get in. But it’s up to voters to brush up on their history, reconsider their Teutophobia and get Kraftwerk in.

1.   moody bluesThe Moody Blues: At the very top of our countdown, we have none other than The Moody Blues! A couple of years ago, I asked a bunch of fellow Rock Hall followers to list out which 200 or so artists they felt ~should~ be in the Hall of Fame- whether they were already in or not.  One act that wasn’t already in got a vote from every single participant- this one.  That didn’t affect my decision, but it does suggest the degree to which Moody Blues are a no-brainer. After hanging out among the lower ranks of the British Invasion band, the Moodys hit their stride in 1967, when they recorded Days of Future Passed.  It was a landmark record: one of the very first concept albums, one of the first to use symphonic backing to make a fuller, more encompassing canvas of sound. And they took it on the road.  My dad isn’t and wasn’t a big concert-goer, but forty years later, he still speaks with a certain sense of awe when remembering seeing The Moody Blues perform live- they actually dared to recreate their multi-layered, elaborate tracks on stage just a couple of years after The Beatles essentially said, “screw it, the songs on Revolver are too tough to try and replicate on stage.” I put The Moody Blues at #1 because they showed, in some ways, greater ambition, and did more to make rock music beautiful, ornate, and sophisticated than almost anyone- inside the Hall or out. “Nights in White Satin,” obviously, is a case study: deeply resonant without being mawkish, and yet complex and stately without being pretentious. They found a way to combine the rock and roll’s earnestness and present-mindedness with the the gravitas of the Western classical music tradition. For a track that’s seven and a half minutes long, “Nights” is disarmingly simple: an alienated youth is in love with someone. Isn’t that the story of rock and roll right there? With the Moodys, the elements of rock and roll had been transubstantiated into fine art.

So, there we are!  We’ve made it through my 100 choices for the most deserving candidates for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame out of those presently eligible.  Now that you know who made the list, it becomes clear who did not.  If you are wondering, “where’s Joy Division/Captain Beefheart/The Marvelettes/Def Leppard/Harry Nilsson/Connie Francis?” those are all legitimate questions.  I hope, in the next week or so, to do a post wrapping things up, reflecting on the list now that it is finished, and explaining some of my choices along the way.  I’ll also reveal 15 runners-up who I considered for this ranking, but who ultimately fell at the last hurdle. Thank you for your kind attention! This series was a blast to do, and I hope that, in some small way, it contributes to our collective understanding of our rock and roll heritage.