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Posts Tagged ‘Eurythmics’

I’m ready. Why wait? I realize this post is coming early this year, but I’m comfortable with my predictions, and don’t foresee changing them.

Somewhere in New York City, a group of about two dozen men and women will come together and put together the ballot from which the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s Class of 2018 will be chosen. Some of these will be longtime record industry executives. Others will be musicians, critics and other music writers, academics, and even the odd former MTV VeeJay. This post will try and guess who they will choose, based on previous ballots, news stories, and plain old intuition.

The committee deciding this ballot will have been under a certain degree of public pressure. Some progressive and feminist voices have urged the Rock Hall to work harder to induct worthy female acts, most notably the Inspirer series Induct These Women. This isn’t unwarranted; out of the last four years’ 23 performer acts inducted, only three were women. Only four out of nineteen acts nominated last year were women or included women in their lineup. On top of that, the Nominating Committee has to face a hard reality. Baby boomers continue to dominate the ranks of voters, and nearly every 70s classic rock favorite that gets on the ballot will be inducted, usually at the expense of a more significant act that didn’t have the hits (Kraftwerk) or a more deserving act from the 80s or 90s (Nine Inch Nails, Janet Jackson.) On the other hand, there is the faustian bargain with HBO to consider as well. Bigger acts with mass appeal net bigger audiences for the pay-per-view special, a consideration that may have encouraged Chicago, KISS, and Journey’s nominations after years of being snubbed.

My best guess is that the Nom Com will eschew the Seventies Classic Rock feel of the last few years. Part of this is because there aren’t too many no-brainer acts left from that era. We’d all like the Moody Blues or The Cars to get in one day, but other than that, Bad Company, Styx, and EL&P don’t have quite the same urgency as Deep Purple or Yes once did. Frankly, for all the criticism thrown their way, the Rock Hall has chipped away at inducting the most egregious snubs from that era with remarkable efficiency in the last five or six years.

One factor guiding my choices was a trend that I noticed, which may or may not be significant in the end. Unless the Rock Hall is really pushing an artist (think Chic or NWA), most repeat nominees have shown up two out of the last three years. A striking number meet that criteria: The Spinners, Chaka Khan, Nine Inch Nails, The Smiths, The Cars, Yes, Kraftwerk. I will try to guess partly with this trend in mind. Think of it like the three-field rotation system used in fiefdoms across Medieval Europe. Any given piece of land will lay fallow one-third of the time to let the soil rest and replenish its nutrients. Similarly, snubbing an act can generate as much hype (hey! why isn’t so-and-so on the ballot this year?) as nominating them. All this is to say- if an artist has been nominated the last two years in a row, I’m probably giving them a pass this time.

Also complicating this process is that we just don’t know how many acts will be nominated. In the last four years, we’ve had 15 (Class of 2016), 16 (Class of 2014), and even 19 (Class of 2017) artists on the ballot. So, here’s what I’ll do. I’ll list 15 acts that are definitely on my list. #16 will be contingent on their being 16 nominees, #17 if there are 17 nominees, and so on.

Radiohead: This year has been marked for some time as “the one where Radiohead gets in.”  For years, the Rolling Stone Industrial Complex has been drilling OK Computer‘s greatness into our heads. The last time that Rolling Stone’s experts gathered to name the 100 Greatest Artists of All Time, Radiohead placed #73. When VH1, where many other Nom Com members have roots, did the same, Radiohead did even better (#29). All signs suggest that they will be nominated on their first possible ballot; Radiohead’s presence is about as safe a bet as I can imagine.

Janet Jackson: And now, my exception to the three-field rotation theory. I think Janet is one of those acts that the Rock Hall really wants in, and people like Questlove are on hand to make sure that happens. Janet is one of the most significant artists of post-1980 R&B, a pioneer of visual style and production, who also happens to have one of the biggest caches of Top Ten hits of any modern Top 40 artist. The fact that she’s not in is a veritable justice malfunction. Worthy on her own merits, her induction would also alleviate criticisms that the Rock Hall hasn’t been fair to artists of color, women, and post-baby boom acts. Besides, you need a showstopper for the HBO special, and Janet is perhaps the best all-around entertainer on this list.

L.L. Cool J: The Northumbrian Countdown also projects L.L. Cool J to return to the ballot for the first time since the Class of 2014. Since that year, the Hall has not run two hip-hop/rap artists on the same ballot in order to clear the table for NWA, and then 2pac. This leaves L.L. Cool J. remaining as probably the most historically significant rap artist currently eligible. His recent Kennedy Center honors only adds to his renown. As an added bonus, enough time has passed to make people forget about the god-awful “Accidental Racist,” whose only virtue was giving me an example of false equivalency to use in my history classes.

Nine Inch Nails: If the two-thirds theory holds, we can welcome Trent Reznor back on the ballot after a surprising absence last year. Since the ceremony will be held in Cleveland this time around, the Rock Hall will surely not want to miss out on the fantastic optics of nominating this eminent industrial act on its home turf.

Soundgarden: The tragic suicide of Chris Cornell earlier this year is likely to resonate with the Nominating Committee. Both Tom Morello and Dave Grohl knew him well; Grohl through the early grunge scene in Seattle, and Morello through their collaborations in Audioslave. Soundgarden was a solid contender for “the next alternative/grunge act on the docket” even before this sad occurrence. It’s very likely that Morello and Grohl will use their political capital to try and honor their departed friend.

The Zombies: So, this year, one of the only British Invasion bands still touring went out and performed Odessey and Oracle (one of Rolling Stone‘s Top 100 albums of all time, btw) in its entirety, often to packed houses and rave reviews. On top of this, The Zombies got their very own mini-exhibit in the Rock Hall this July (alas, it opened just a week after my own visit!) Given their influence on indie music and mods like The Jam, the Zombies had an outsized significance that belied their short heyday and limited oeuvre.  The Hall wants them in, and so do I.

The Smiths: This is another returning nominee. It seems like the Nom Com has agreed that this band is the 80s alternative choice they will focus on, perhaps at the expense of The Cure and The Replacements. While Grohl’s addition to the Nom Com got most of the attention, I’ll bet you didn’t notice that MTV and VH1’s Sandy Alouete is also aboard now. When she worked at Reprise Records one of her clients was…wait for it…Morrissey. Between this and The Smiths’ appearance on the ballot for 2015 and 2016, I think it’s fair to think they might show up again. Unless Morrissey wore out his welcome with Alouete (and since it is Morrissey we are talking about, that’s entirely possible).

Nina Simone: This is a risky prediction. She isn’t listed on Future Rock Legends’ master list of previously considered artists. Her connection to rock and roll isn’t obvious and requires a bit of historical context and critical thinking. But look at Joan Baez, someone who admitted in her own induction speech that she wasn’t entirely a rock-and-roller. She got in easily the first time she made a ballot, and her influence on Dylan, Joni Mitchell, and every Lilith Fair artist made her selection fairly uncontroversial. Now that Baez is in, I think the Nom Com might pick another woman with outspoken politics, this time a jazz and blues piano player who aligned with Black Pride and stared down the Jim Crow system. Of course, her suitability is enhanced by the vast number of R&B stars who look up to Simone, not the least of which is Beyonce, who put in some Nina ‘easter eggs’ in her Lemonade videos. Just last month, the Turning the Tables project listed her I Put A Spell On You album as the third greatest album by a woman.

War: This may be indicative of nothing, but this multi-racial funk band has been nominated regularly in three-year intervals: 2009, 2012, 2015…and 2018? The Nom Com loves 70s soul; Questlove and many others think highly of them. This is a band that’s easy to nominate, but perhaps hard to induct.

Link Wray: His nomination for the Class of 2014 was greeted with acclaim by rock historians and record collectors, even if he didn’t get in. This 1950s power chord innovator may get another chance, thanks to the impending release of the film Rumble, exploring Native American contributions to popular music. The film boasts involvement from two Nom Com members, Robbie Robertson (who is himself of Mohawk heritage) and Steve Van Zandt.

Warren Zevon: One of the highlights of last year’s ceremony was David Letterman’s speech for Pearl Jam, arranged at the last minute when Neil Young was too ill to do the honors himself. Letterman’s funny, moving panegyric to the famous grunge band ended with a wish that his friend and frequent Late Show guest, Warren Zevon, would be inducted. Letterman might get his wish sooner than he expects. The Hall loves nominating elliptical, but darkly poignant, singer-songwriters: Leonard Cohen, Randy Newman, Tom Waits: all of them were not only got nominated, but inducted with minimal fuss. Happily, Letterman’s maestro, Paul Shaffer, is on the committee and usually serves as music director for the ceremony. He’s in a good position to facilitate werewolves in Cleveland this year.

Roxy Music: There is nothing in the news that suggests this will happen, but geez…it’s got to be one of these years, right?

J. Geils Band. It seems unlikely that the Hall would nominate so many deceased artists, but J. Geils got a nomination last year, so it is unlikely they would be denied after the death of their namesake member. At any rate, the Rock Hall is pretty fond of the blues, so they’d be under consideration even without a visitation from the “death fairy.” The Nom Com often takes a “wait your turn” approach, and it seems J. Geils is somehow ahead of Johnny Winter and John Mayall & the Bluesbreakers in the “white boys playing the blues” queue.

Eurythmics: The need for more women in the Rock Hall could redound to the benefit of Annie Lennox. I considered solo Stevie Nicks for this spot as well, but the Hall loves soul, and few people did more to infuse the sometimes sterile feel of new wave with soulful vocals. Lennox has been fairly visible the last few years, between appearances at the Grammys and an acclaimed album of standards. From their history-making videos, to the overt girl power of “Sisters are Doing It For Themselves,” the Eurythmics tick all the boxes we might associate with likely Rock Hall nominees.

Rage Against the Machine: And I’m bookending my original 15 picks with another act eligible for the first time this year. Here’s what I think will go down: Tom Morello’s philosophy is such that he’ll probably say something like, “it’s bullshit that I get to be on the nominating committee that might put my band in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. It’s also bullshit that Rage Against the Machine could get in before MC5, before Judas Priest, maybe before Nine Inch Nails, and other bands that influenced us. Please- don’t nominate us this year.” I’m willing to bet, though, that someone on the committee makes a case like this: “right now, the machine is in full force. A bloodthirsty form of capitalism is running amok. Bigotry is going unchallenged. Law enforcement is killing unarmed black men in the name. We need Rage Against the Machine now, more than ever.” And I’m willing to bet that Morello relents.

So those are my predictions if there are fifteen nominees, the historical norm for the last decade or so. But if there are sixteen, add The Shangri-Las. While fellow-girl group The Marvelettes have been nominated before, The Shangri-Las probably have more contemporary relevance, and at any rate, Marvelettes supporters were likely the sort of committee members who got axed in the Great Purge of 2015. The Shangri-Las had a darker, more serious edge to them, influencing Amy Winehouse, Blondie, and countless others.

If there’s seventeen, add Moody Blues. It’s astonishing that they haven’t been nominated before. While there’s little to suggest any real movement in their favor this year, the Rock Hall’s trend of nominating popular hitmakers from the 1960s, 70s, and 80s is undeniable. I am really loathe to predict this band- not because I don’t like them, but because their presence would almost certainly block a Zombies induction.

Eighteen nominees? Make it The Spinners. Cliff Burnstein, a known advocate of theirs, remains on the committee, and are enjoyed by Questlove as well. My two-thirds guideline would also predict a return nomination by The Spinners.

And if last year’s total of nineteen nominees is repeated, my final prediction would be PJ Harvey.  It’s a stretch- she also seems to have not been considered before by the committee, but then, she only became eligible last year. One possible advocate to look for would be Lenny Kaye. Kaye was a member of the Patti Smith Group, and Harvey is one of the more important heirs to Smith’s legacy. Critics such as those on the committee have usually held PJ Harvey in great esteem, and when Rolling Stone met to determine the 500 Greatest Albums of All Time, an eyebrow-raising three of them were hers. (To emphasize how impressive that is, consider that Elvis, Madonna, The Clash, Marvin Gaye, and Michael Jackson also had three albums on the list.)

So those are my best guesses for the ballot this year. Remember, these are merely who I ~think~ will be nominated, not my picks for the most deserving of the honor. All told, I think this would be a strong ballot if it happened, although some would decry its lack of pure classic rock.  Even with 19 picks at my disposal, though, there were many other artists I wish I could have included. I don’t have any country, or heavy metal, or true punk artists on the list. I’m also worried that there are too many deceased artists among my projections.  Simone, Wray, Zevon, Chris Cornell, J. Geils, and all but one classic-era Spinner are gone. And it pained me to leave off Devo (which shares NIN’s Ohio origins), Depeche Mode, Foreigner, Carole King, Kraftwerk, Joe Cocker, Judas Priest, A Tribe Called Quest, and lots of others.

What do you think of my predictions? If this were actually the ballot, I’d probably vote for Nina Simone, The Zombies, The Spinners, Janet Jackson, and Eurythmics. But the six artists who would get inducted would probably be Radiohead, Janet, Nina, Moody Blues, Nine Inch Nails, and LL Cool J.

In the weeks ahead, keep your eyes peeled for other predictions- most of the other Rock Hall watchers are listed on my blogroll, and their writings are definitely worth a look. When the ballot is finally announced sometime in October, I hope you’ll revisit the Countdown as we pick it apart and try to guess who will be inducted.

 

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Do you think it’s too early to ruminate on the next class of Rock and Roll Hall of Fame artists? Think again. By the end of the summer, the Nominating Committee will meet and hammer out the presumably 15 or so candidates for inclusion in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Historically, the list is released around October. I will probably make my final predictions around Labor Day, but I also wanted to get out some preliminary predictions, perhaps in the vain hope that somebody on the committee reads them.

Before I list my initial predictions, I need to discuss my sense of the overall feel or theme of the ballot. When I look back at #RockHall2016, it’s clear that several things went wrong, and I’d imagine the Committee will be eager to correct them. First of all, the kerfuffle with Steve Miller shows that they need to treat inductees better, explain to them what the Hall of Fame is about, solicit their input, and make them feel like honored guests rather than cash cows. Secondly, attempts at big reunions failed to materialize. Although estranged drummer Danny Seraphine showed up for Chicago’s induction, Peter Cetera pouted when the band wouldn’t play “25 or 6 to 4” in his key and stayed home. Neither could multiple Deep Purple alumni overcome years of hostility. NWA managed a reunion, but the Rock Hall still screwed it up by not reaching an agreement to perform (which probably involved NWA wanting to do more controversial material.) Only Cheap Trick managed to get their act together, and thus the fourth most important inductee ended up closing the show! Thirdly, #RockHall2016 was roasted for its lack of diversity. Only one African-American artist, a caricature of gangsta rap like NWA, made it in. The other four were white classic rockers from the late 1960s and 1970s. Not only were there no female artists inducted, but there were no female presenters. All the white, male acts were inducted by white males. The black, male act was inducted by a black male. The 1950s, most of the 1960s, most of the 1980s, and most of the 1990s were unrepresented by the five artists’ heydays.

All this is to say: the ceremony taught me almost nothing about rock and roll. I had to watch the ceremonies in earlier years to understand why Paul Butterfield mattered despite a lack of hits, or why Jett was more than a good cover artist, she established what it meant to be a woman in rock like few others have. Aside from one instance of NWA defending it’s place in the rock pantheon in defiance of Gene Simmons’s more…um…apartheidish views, there wasn’t a single great moment. In contrast, think of all the cool moments from the previous two ceremonies: Joan Jett, Tommy James, and Miley Cyrus rocking out over “Crimson and Clover”- three distinct generations united. Bill Withers watching with visible emotion as Stevie Wonder sang his songs. Hervana. A reunion of the two surviving Beatles. One of Cat Stevens’s only stateside appearances since the Ford administration. You can get a good ceremony and a good class in the modern Rock Hall era, where inductions are arena spectacles filmed for HBO. But you have to work at it and ask yourself what rock and roll is really all about.

For this reason, I think the Rock Hall is going to veer away from 1970s classic rock favorites, and we’ll see a ballot that resembles the Class of 2015 much more. This will be a slate of nominees designed to show the breadth and depth of rock and roll, which will push boundaries and hopefully challenge people who don’t think rap, country, R&B, or electronica count.  So, after this long preamble, here are my initial predictions:

 

1. Pearl Jam: This is as close to a sure thing as I can imagine. Pearl Jam- an artist that ranks among Rolling Stone’s New Immortals and VH1’s 100 Greatest Artists- is widely regarded as the most important rock band of the 1990s after Nirvana. On the eve of their 25th anniversary, they continue to tour, rail against Ticketmaster, and dominate by virtue of their longevity. This is their year.

2. Tupac: With NWA out of the way, Tupac is the prohibitive favorite as the next rap act to get in. This is also his first year eligible, and while this is a posthumous nomination, there would be no shortage of rappers willing to pay homage to Tupac in (presumably) Cleveland. In his short life, Tupac was earnest, poetic, soulful, violent, and above all, complicated. While NWA was the “id” of late 1980s inner-city consciousness, Tupac is remembered as more of a Bob Marley style “folk saint” for the Nineties; his biography matters less than the semiotics. Regardless of the history or the memory, his albums are still among rap’s finest of the 1990s. Nom Com member Alan Light wrote a book on him several years ago, so we can safely assume that his name will at least be brought up in committee.

3. Nine Inch Nails: It’s clear that the Rolling Stone Industrial Complex likes Trent Reznor’s dark sonic landscapes and nihilistic textures. He was nominated during his first two years eligible, and I don’t see any reason for that trend to stop now. Like other “love them or hate them” artists like Sex Pistols or Patti Smith or Donna Summer, this one is going to take a few nominations to get in.

4. Chic: Hindu mythos is prefaced upon the samsara, the interminable cycle of life, death, and rebirth, from which the soul longs to break free. Every year, Chic is nominated and fails to get in, only to be renominated again. Can Chic escape this cosmic turning of the wheel this year?

5. Kraftwerk: Have you noticed that every year since 2013, either Yes or Kraftwerk has been nominated? Although they exist in different genres, both bands have a reputation for being cerebral, prodigiously skilled, and impossible to dance to. Last year was Yes’s turn, and to my dismay, they didn’t get in. Kraftwerk, the #2 band on my Rock Hall Prospects list, should be up next if the trend holds.

6. The Cure: Since 2012, there has been a “early alternative band for angsty misfits” slot on the ballot. It’s gone to The Cure, The Replacements, and for the last two years, The Smiths. After watching the personnel squabbles with the Class of 2016, the Nom Com may want to focus on a band that doesn’t have an epic Morrissey vs. Johnny Marr feud at its heart. The Cure have been touring across the U.S. recently, doing insanely long and prolific concerts and generating great buzz.

7. Carole King: One of my favorite moments from the past year in the music world was watching Carole King being honored at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. Seriously, watch this: she can’t handle her life when Aretha Franklin comes out and performs “A Natural Woman” on piano. This is indicative of the massive amount of respect Carole King has, and her importance has been underscored by the recent jukebox musical about her career. Almost every female singer-songwriter of the past 50 years owes Carole King big time. She should be honored- and her induction as a non-performer doesn’t begin to cover her significance. Her choice to leave the Brill Building, get behind a piano, and sing about her own life set the mold. To recap- in the last three years, she was honored at the Kennedy Center, performed at the Grammys, and had a musical come out. Is a Rock Hall nomination- her first since the institution’s early years- also in the cards?

8. The Meters: The JBs got the “funk slot” on the ballot last year. But The Meters have gotten two nods in the last five years. This New Orleans outfit couldn’t have more support from industry experts and are widely respected in the same way that the Paul Butterfield Blues Band was.

9. MC5: On the grounds of an unconvincing technicality, Rage Against the Machine is eligible this year. They released some demos in 1991, which makes them eligible, I guess, to be nominated in 2016 and inducted in 2017. Here’s what I think will happen: Tom Morello, who sits on the committee, will not recuse himself. I believe his character is such that he will say something like, “Oh geez…we don’t deserve it yet. It’s ridiculous to nominate us when many of the people who influenced us aren’t in yet.” And then he will make the case for his favorite pet project: revolutionary, iconoclastic MC5. Now, don’t get me wrong: Rage Against the Machine deserves to be in the Hall. But it should be 25 years after a *real* release.

10. The Zombies: There is some real buzz about The Monkees this year, with a great new album out and a tentative peace with its three surviving members. While we’ve seen some longstanding Rock Hall grudges like KISS, Rush, and Chicago dissolve in the last few years, I’m thinking the Monkees might still be a tough sell for the Nom Com. Instead, why not The Zombies? They are also touring, it’s original lineup has 4 of 5 members still alive, all of whom appear to be on good terms. And The Zombies, as I wrote in a blog post back in May, have influenced a vast number of artists and are well loved by rock writers, historians, and journalists. Just last year, they appeared at a panel commemorating the career of the Who with Stevie Van Zandt and Holly Robinson: both on the Nominating Committee. Indeed, they were nominated for the Class of 2014, but faced an extremely competitive ballot. This will be their year. Took a long time to come.

11. Eurythmics: The nomination of The Cars last year shows that the Nom Com is at least thinking in a New Wave direction. So why not Eurythmics? David Stewart and Annie Lennox have been known to reunite from time to time. They played a great role in infusing the technical and electronic possibilities of new wave with real soul, courtesy of Lennox’s deep, resonant alto voice. And the “Sweet Dreams” video was one of the most iconic during the infancy of MTV. Given Lennox’s well-received Grammys performance a couple years ago and her great album of Tin Pan Alley standards, this would be a strong nod to the 1980s.

12. Nina Simone: Simone is hot right now. A lovingly made documentary about her life dropped on Netflix last year. A biopic about her 1980s tailspin is coming out very soon. The most important album of 2016 will almost certainly be remembered as Beyonce’s Lemonade. Did you notice the Nina Simone LP conspicuously placed in some of the videos? And each of these mediums made the case for Simone’s influence and importance: she was a defiant black woman who demanded justice- and not always non-violently. She was also a troubled soul who had an abusive husband and struggled with substance abuse and addiction. As I argued in my Rock Hall Prospects, she covered rock and roll and rock and roll covered her jazzy nightclub act, and this kind of wide respect and collaboration made everybody stronger. She belongs in the Rock Hall.

13. A Tribe Called Quest: Since he earned a berth on the Nom Com three years ago, Questlove has had a great deal of success getting his favorite acts nominated. He’s championed NWA, Kiss, Hall & Oates, Bill Withers, the Spinners, Chaka Khan, and others. Since the first four are already in, it’s easy to imagine Questlove channeling his energies into two other acts that were deeply influential to his own career: De La Soul and A Tribe Called Quest. Quest effused that ATCQ were “stylish, jazzy, funny, soulful, smart, and everything else.  They were socially conscious without being too self-conscious about it.”  Q-Tip’s recent collaboration with the Chemical Brothers and the unfortunate passing of Phife Dawg have kept them in the news.

14. Willie Nelson: Right before my flight to Singapore last August, a rumor circulated around the internet that Willie Nelson had passed on, and I had to wait 24 hours until I landed and got settled in my hotel to learn whether or not it was true. This vignette is a reminder that Nelson needs to be commemorated while he’s still among the living. He fostered countless collaborations between the worlds of country and rock, and he made those boundaries more porous. Of course, the Red-Haired Stranger still tours, and shows up on venues as diverse as the John Lennon tribute concert and Steven Colbert’s Christmas special. Maybe Gram Parsons or Patsy Cline will get the nod instead, but I have a feeling somebody from country will show up this year.

15. The Shangri-Las: And now, my annual “Hail Mary” pass. For decades, the Shangri-Las have been like a secret handshake among rock experts: an easily overlooked girl group that had an influence that belied its limited body of work. While most girl groups projected a wholesome image, the Shangri-Las wore go-go boots and seriously looked like you shouldn’t mess with them. “Leader of the Pack” and “Remember (Walking in the Sand)” changed the sonic landscape of Top 40 and made more atmospheric and evocative records possible. They’ve influenced artists as diverse as Amy Winehouse, the New York Dolls, and Blondie. It’s not hard to see some rogue voice on the committee- maybe someone like Dave Marsh- make an unexpected case for them and persuading everyone else to go along.

So, those are my picks. Most artists are alive, and most bands are at relative peace with one another. Those who have passed away (Tupac, Simone, some of the Shangri-Las) could command incredible tribute performances.  2 first-time eligible artists, 5 artists who were passed over for nomination, and 8 previously nominated artists. Is this list realistic? My instinct is that the actual list may have more R&B artists, but I couldn’t figure out which of them it would be! War? The Spinners? But there are five artists with at least one inductable female member (King, The Shangri-Las, Simone, the singers from Chic, and Annie Lennox). Given that this ballot will be released a few weeks before the U.S. potentially elects a female president, this stronger (but not quite equal) girl power on the ballot will have deeper resonance.  You might notice that there are no classic rock bands from the 1970s. Rockists will lose their minds if a ballot like this one actually happened, typing vitriol on the internet so urgently that their red “Make America Great Again” hats will be irreparably sweat-stained.

No offense is intended if your favorite artists didn’t show up–it’s not that I don’t think they are worthy, it’s that I don’t think the Nom Com will go in their direction this year. So apologies to fans of this blog who support Janet, or the Monkees, or Dennis Wilson, or Link Wray, or whoever else. Janet was a painful omission; she deserves to be in. But she will also be giving birth around the time as a ceremony as a first-time mother at the age of 50. It might be better for all concerned if they deferred a second Janet nomination until she could show up at full strength and in good health to perform in person.

Other tough cuts included J. Geils Band, Johnny Winter, Chaka Khan, Warren Zevon, Sting, and The Commodores.

What do you think? Feel free to comment with some of your own ideas for who might appear on the ballot in October.

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We arrive at our penultimate installation of our Rock Hall Prospect series, looking at the 100 artists currently eligible for the Hall (Class of 2016 or earlier).  I didn’t plan it this way intentionally, but one theme that stands out in this batch is its very distinct 1980s flavor.  In fact, possibly 9 out of the 10 following artists (either clearly or arguably) peaked at some time in that decade.  Again, this isn’t by design on my part, but nevertheless, it does show that the Rock Hall has neglected some of the most iconic artists from that time period, as it whittles away at the 1960s and 1970s C-lists.  Although these are some of our most highly-ranked contenders, the Rock Hall isn’t quite in agreement: only 4 have been nominated previously.

I have also updated the links sidebar on my site, getting rid of defunct or dormant pages, and including some newer ones, including an excellent blog that serves as a digital archive of Horizons, my favorite Disney attraction.

weird al yankovic20.  Weird Al Yankovic:  It’s quite likely that some readers think Weird Al is placed too high, or maybe should not be on the list at all.  Let me explain my case as best I can.  Tom Stoppard’s play Arcadia takes place across several decades, and in every scene features a tortoise, the sole creature with the longevity to witness to the entire narrative as it unfolds.  In a lot of ways, Weird Al was like that tortoise.  As trend after trend unfolded, as political and cultural events marched through the landscape of history, as movies and television shows came and went, Weird Al was there, resiliently bursting their bubble and busting their balls.  Some of the acts he lampooned were ushered into the rock and roll pantheon: Nirvana, Madonna, and Green Day are but a few of the artists whose legitimacy was validated by the fact that Weird Al made fun of them.  Others fell by the wayside, as he parodied forgotten mooks like Men Without Hats and Gerardo.  But the craziest thing of all was that Weird Al kept getting better.  Eventually the songs about food and television gave way to funny, but slyly insightful material.  “Party in the CIA” took on the national security state in a way no serious song could. “Whatever U Like” was the smartest take I heard on the 2008 economic collapse, and “Skipper Dan” was a strangely affecting meditation on broken dreams, where a Julliard-trained actor ends up as the guide on Disneyland’s “Jungle Cruise.”  Way back in my intro to this series, I described one of my chief criteria as “zeitgeist,” the ineffable quality of representing one’s time.  Almost every person who was a fourteen-year-old boy at some point between Al’s debut and the present remembers a time when he was the funniest person he knew.  Watching the video for “Amish Paradise” for the first time was one of my ten most cherished music memories of all time.  And other people can say the same for the first time they heard “Eat It” or the time they came across “White and Nerdy” on youtube.  Last year, Al debuted his last conventional album from a brick-and-mortar record label, ending an over 30-year trajectory where he entered our homes through MTV, and concluded with Mandatory Fun.  Al realized that he had even managed to outlive the record industry itself.  Al is the tortoise, man.  Al is the tortoise.

duran duran19.  Duran Duran: What made the 1980s so memorable?  I would argue that it’s partly the visual element brought about by MTV, but it is also the tension between mainstream rock and alternative rock- between bravado and vulnerability, between “rocking pretty hard” and reaching out to various outcasts, drifters, and slackers. Duran Duran didn’t always make a good impression, but they brought back the ethos of snotty rock star behavior to heights not seen since the Rolling Stones’ prime.  (My favorite moment was when they sued their own fan club in 2014.) In spite of themselves, they helped construct the fabric of their decade more fully than almost any artist not yet in the Hall.  I was searching for the right way to characterize them, and an article from the Guardian finally gave me the right framework: they were escapism.  “Girls on Film” and other songs in their canon flaunt riches they didn’t yet have, and their videos used exotic locales most of their fans could only hope to visit one day, in the midst of dreary Thatcherism. It worked: “Hungry Like the Wolf” is vintage early 1980s, “Rio” is utterly classic, and “Ordinary World” as mature a pop ballad as any.  But you need some quality beyond “having lots of hits” and “rocking pretty hard.” Ultimately, Duran Duran pointed toward the directions pop music would go: sarcastically earnest, assisted by electronics, and beholden to supplementing the music with videos.

Kate Bush18.  Kate Bush: She did us all an immense favor by making art rock actually sound intimate.  A wunderkind protege of David Gilmour, Bush developed into a consummate artist.  She took  the ambitious scope and artistry of prog and had the gall to make it sensual.  “Wuthering Heights” is more than just another prog piece with literary pretensions; Bush injects both haunting spiritualism and carnal yearning into the mix.  Or consider one of my favorite tracks- not just of hers, but of anyone’s- “The Man with the Child In His Eyes.”  She wrote that when she was 13, but it’s one of the most natural, emotionally resonant pieces I’ve heard from any artist.  Overall, her work kicked 80s British songwriting in directions it needed to go: the jaunty choruses (“Babushka”), the expressionism, the girl power (“Wuthering Heights” was the first song written and performed by a woman to be a UK #1.) Most female songwriters were of the slower, more introspective type.  Bush made it possible for one to be innovative, techie, and smart as well; Lady Gaga probably owes Kate Bush far more than she will ever owe Madonna. Unfortunately, most of her hits were in Great Britain, and we all know what the Rock Hall thinks of acts that only made a big splash on the other side of the pond.  Still, on the heels of a triumphant series of concert performances- her first in over thirty years, in fact- Kate Bush is back, and a Rock Hall nomination would be a great way to celebrate one of its great visionaries.

Arts

17.  The Cars: When The Cars received a surprise nomination in October, many music fans were cheered by this accolade.  The Cars, after all, managed to be both entirely presentist and fully backward-looking when they hit their peak as the 70s turned to the 80s.  They mastered the new wave use of synth with the economy of punk.  And yet, their simple, straightforward name for themselves hearkened back to rock’s earliest roots.  The titles of their songs, like “My Best Friend’s Girl,” made rock and roll music about being a teenager again.  From their rockabilly-throwback guitar solos to their reliance on catchy riffs, they were fun without being silly, good songwriters without fretting about authenticity, and embraced mainstream success without ever seeming to sell out.  That’s a tough balance to strike, let alone doing so with lyrics that were, as Bob Stanley put it, “worthy of Buddy Holly” in their effective simplicity.  This Boston band was one of rock and roll’s great success stories of its time, and a no-brainer for Rock Hall induction.  I frankly wish they had gotten in this year instead of maybe Cheap Trick and Deep Purple, but that, as they say, is life.

ll cool j16.  L.L. Cool J.: L.L. Cool J is significant for, I think, two reasons.  Firstly, his debut marked the moment where rap focused chiefly on the rapper, something that seems intuitive today, but in it’s earlier days was much more of a dynamic partnership between a rapper and the deejay (see, for example, Eric B. & Rakim).  This doubled with the growing significance of the rapper as a solo artist, not as part of a posse- other than outliers like Wu-Tang Clan, we haven’t seen too many ensembles succeed for more than a brief moment in time.  Ultimately, L.L. Cool J. brought more braggadocio and swagger to rap- listen to “Mama Said Knock You Out” one more time, and it’s words apart from the slower, chiller approach of the Furious Five or Rakim.  In essence, he epitomized a moment where rap transitioned from “street CNN” to self-promotion mixed with personal introspection.  (consider, for example, some of his 90s work, where he unpacks the trauma of seeing his father shoot his mother and grandfather.)  This all actually leads to my second point, L.L. Cool J’s work to make rap mainstream.  When Kanye or Jay-Z or Eminem records go multiple platinum rather than mere gold, that’s because people like Cool J. blazed the trail of mainstream acceptance.  Sometimes it didn’t work- the ballads on 1989’s Walking with a Panther were toxic in hip-hop circles and almost killed his career in the cradle.  More recently, he collaborated with Brad Paisley on “The Accidental Racist.”  It was one of the most clueless tracks I had heard in a long time- it compared centuries of institutional racism and labor theft with Paisley’s…um…discomfiture with ghetto culture, I guess.  I actually use that song to illustrate the concept of “false equivalency” in my classes.  It singlehandedly torpedoed his candidacy for the Class of 2014.  But when L.L. Cool J. connected, he really connected, and managed to turn rap and hip-hop into a part of the national vernacular.

journey15.  Journey:  I’ve been religiously following Rock Hall affairs for a little over two years now, and maybe one element that always bothers me at some level is the occasional contempt that I perceive for mainstream rock and roll and it’s fans. Everybody wants to be a Sonic Youth fan, nobody admits to liking Journey. I’ll be the first to grant you that much of more radio-oriented rock isn’t  carefully crafted, or especially memorable.  Yet, there is a denial of what these acts mean to their listeners. I spent four summers during college working in the assignment department at the phone company. (Back when people had landlines, these were the individuals who assigned you a phone number when you moved into the area, and programmed your account to have features such as 3-way calling or Caller ID.) My co-workers were almost all women in their 40s, born in the early 1960s, whose education did not go further than high school. Most were named Debbie or Tina. It’s distressingly easy for critics to dismiss their tastes as a lowbrow gumbo of NASCAR, Red Lobster, and above all, Journey. That would be deeply in error. For many in this category, Journey takes on an almost mythic significance. “Don’t Stop Believing'” is their Iliad, Steve Perry is their Homer. Journey made more household-name songs than perhaps anybody on my list of 100: “Lovin’, Touchin’ Squeezin’,” “Faithfully,” “Open Arms,” “Any Way You Want It.” Writing memorable songs with strong hooks isn’t as easy as it looks, and to do that a dozen times with songs that still resound on classic rock radio today is a remarkable accomplishment. After all, “Don’t Stop Believing,” a track over 30 years old, is the most downloaded song of all time. As I said in my earlier posts, “Zeitgeist” is one factor I take into consideration, and as far as influencing its time and place, Journey’s power ballads and arena rock had an impact as deep as it was wide.

Eurythmics14.  Eurythmics: While we’re on the topic of major 80s hitmakers, you can’t discount Eurythmics.  Somewhere in the meeting point of synth-pop and new wave, this duo harnessed the possibilities that were germinating in electronic popular music, but gave it a distinctive emotive feel and artistic flair.  David Stewart’s arrangements and technical wizardry was part of that equation, but probably more of their success was due to the singular talent of Annie Lennox.  Her ethereal, husky, and above all soulful voice, her sharp androgynous look, and the surprising vulnerability that she brought to songs like “Here Comes the Rain Again” made them perhaps the most successful new wave artist, even if Talking Heads was the most critically acclaimed.  Lennox was exactly what top 40 needed at the time- a brassy, commanding voice and a strong visual presence to navigate the early MTV era, best seen in that immortal video for “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This.)”  I almost feel like the duet with Aretha, “Sisters are Doin’ It For Themselves” was a kind of passing of the torch, not just between generations, but between genres as well.

chic13.  Chic: Who else could be at the unlucky #13 spot than Chic?  Chic has now been nominated and rejected 10 times, more than any other artist.  Some of those nominations were, in my opinion, foolish ones– what was the Nom Com thinking by putting two disco artists on the same ballot year after year, when Donna Summer and Chic took votes away from one another?  Every year, we think something- Nile Rogers’s cancer scare, or Pharrell Williams’ success with the Rogers-produced “Get Lucky”- will push them over the top, but to no avail.  That’s a shame, really.  Chic, in their time, revolutionized dance music and the production of top 40 pop.  They came together with a knowledge of how to build a compelling sonic palette (it’s not a coincidence that Rogers and Bernie Edwards met as musicians for a stage production of Sesame Street, which specialized in packaging soul and R&B songs for the masses.  Witness “The Skin I’m In” or even the famous Philly-Soul pinball sequence.) In their time, they mattered: “Le Freak,” “Dance, Dance, Dance” and “Good Times” were fundaments of 70s R&B-turned-disco, and we easily forget that the first purpose of rock and roll was music for dancing and movement, not music for listening alone with a fancy set of noise-canceling headphones. Since those halcyon disco days, the importance of Chic remains intact- Rogers-produced work, and even the recent “Uptown Funk” that was #1 for over ten weeks are linear descendants of the groove-based, non-linear sound devised by this ensemble.  Make fun of disco all you want if it makes you feel like a big man, but know this: it was one of the only safe spaces for persons of color and gay, lesbian and gender-queer individuals during it’s time.  Chic’s rhythmic emphasis, its inspiration of hundreds of hip-hop beats, and its ingenious banality that made all welcome on the dance floor are lasting contributions to the rock and roll story.

the cure12.  The Cure: The Cure is adamant that they are not a goth band, but their influence over other goth bands and emo bands, which often challenge traditional masculinity, cannot be overstated. Tracks like “Boys Don’t Cry” fundamentally rethought gender relationships in the rock and roll universe. With the wild-haired Robert Smith fronting the group, they embraced teenage melancholy and loss, the sadder side of what the Cars did at #17, as evinced in “Just Like Heaven” and “Lovesong.” For all their mopey reputation, they were also far more stylistically diverse than popular memory affords.  Listen to the slightly jazzy “Lovecats,” or the poppy “Friday I’m In Love,” or the synth-heavy “Lullaby” that unexpectedly used some reggae rhythms for emphasis. These were genuinely great musicians, not a bunch of whiners in mascara. Given how their dark tones, dreary spirituality, and intense brooding had an impact on underground acts for decades since, The Cure is an essential non-mainstream choice for the Rock Hall.  If, of course, we’re judging things by influence over a lifestyle or subculture, rather than total records sold. They were nominated in 2012, but they were up against Beastie Boys, Red Hot Chili Peppers, and Guns N Roses.  (Absurdly, Laura Nyro and The Small Faces, only two of the Rock Hall’s worst choices, also got in that year.) Although the Nom Com has turned elsewhere in recent years, they’ll be back on the ballot before long.

iron maiden11.  Iron Maiden:  My friend Dani works in New York State politics and has a mantra she recites to herself around Election Night: “signs don’t vote, but people do.”  In other words, don’t confuse enthusiastic, outward professions of support with the overall atmosphere beneath the surface, where a candidate with quieter supporters may prevail.  If Rock Hall inductions were determined by t-shirt sales, or raw fan devotion, Iron Maiden would have gotten in a long time ago.  I’ll say this: Iron Maiden may be the most successful heavy metal band behind Metallica, in terms of records sold and in maintaining a devoted fan base.  They didn’t invent metal, certainly, but they did refine it, figure out its aesthetic, and give it a manifesto that it lacked before.  There isn’t much politics in Black Sabbath, except of the most nebulous kind.  “Run to the Hills,” however, is a chilling track about the extermination of the American Indian, one that counters the stereotype of metal being thoughtless head-banging music.  Through all this, Iron Maiden has clung on to relevance and longevity, still selling out stadiums decades after their prime.  That they did this without much mainstream radio play or MTV exposure is a testament to word of mouth and the community- both real and virtual- that metal fans have created for one another.  While some metal fans can cleave to a narrow, Eddie Trunk-like point of view that views metal as the culmination and fulfillment of rock and roll, metal-heads are right about one thing: Iron Maiden is a serious snub of the higher order.  Now that Deep Purple is in, perhaps Iron Maiden will finally have their chance at a nomination.

And now- all that’s left is the top ten!  Anybody want to take some guesses as to which artists made it, and in what order?

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