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We had to wait longer than usual to know our Rock Hall class this year. Customarily, the inductees are revealed in late December, but the announcement tarried until the new year. At any rate, the wait is over. The class is: Whitney Houston, Notorious B.I.G., The Doobie Brothers, Depeche Mode, T. Rex, and Nine Inch Nails, with Irving Azoff and Jon Landau for the Ahmet Ertegun Award for non-performers.

The Winners:

  • Me: Let’s be honest. We all predicted Pat Benatar and we all got it wrong. Having acknowledged this, my list of “if there’s seven inductees….” included Pat and the six artists who actually got in. Judas Priest, Soundgarden, DMB and Rundgren– they all turned out to be fool’s gold. This is a small recompense for only guessing five nominees this year.
  • HBO: This should make entertaining television at the very least. Two artists- Biggie and Whitney–are dead, and T. Rex became Spinal Tap in reverse where everybody but the obscure drummer died! But in a way, that might make for a better viewing experience. That’s three fewer acceptance speeches and a chance for the Rock Hall to tailor first-rate tribute performances. At the very least, it’s less of a logistical headache than trying to reunite, say, Dire Straits or Kiss. Let’s just hope we don’t get a Bobby Brown or P-Diddy filibuster.
  • Alternative: One aspect overlooked with this class is that a major alternative act from the 80s got in for the second straight year: Depeche Mode. When you add what might be called “alternative-adjacent” Nine Inch Nails, this might be the genre’s best class to date. The Cure, it seems, did in fact break down that barrier. If Morrissey’s big mouth keeps The Smiths in the doghouse, expect nominations for Pixies, Sonic Youth, or a return engagement from The Replacements in years to come.
  • Rock Hall insiders: Awarding Azoff and Landau stinks to high heavens. Landau has broad leverage over the nominating committee and Azoff also has deep Rock Hall connections to the point where many of us foresaw Stevie Nicks, Bon Jovi, and Doobie Brothers getting nominations simply because they are clients of his. It’s a bit too much coming four years after Bert Burns got an Ertegun at a time when Little Stevie was involving in writing a musical about him. More significantly, Azoff played a role in Ticketmaster’s almost complete monopoly over access to concerts and other live events, and he’s a big part of the reason that your tickets to see Tool cost so much more than they have to. If Azoff had to be inducted, I wish it had been the same year as Pearl Jam, to see Eddie Vedder give him a piece of his mind…
  • First-time nominees: With the exception of the Class of 2019, most classes in recent years are majority first-time nominees. This continued the trend– four of the six (Biggie, Whitney, T. Rex, Doobies) appeared on the ballot for the first time this year. It could be the novelty of seeing them nominated, it could be that voters don’t like what the Rock Hall reheats and serves up year after year. But it’s a trend worth noting.

The Losers:

  • The Fan Vote: It took a while, but for the first time since the fan vote was unveiled for the class of 2013, the winner did not get in. It ended up being Dave Mathews holding the bag. I wish this trend had first been broken for Bon Jovi two years ago or Def Leppard last year, but there you have it. Moreover, only one act in the top 5- The Doobies- got in, leaving fans of Pat Benatar, Soundgarden, Judas Priest, and DMB feeling let down. Lots of folks on twitter and facebook are complaining about the fans being deceived. Nonsense; like my students complaining of undeserved poor grades, they simply didn’t read the directions. The Rock Hall was always direct and honest about the fan vote’s statistically insignificant impact and never made any promises that its results would correlate to actual induction. It would be a nice gesture, I suppose, for Greg Harris to say “look, we’re sorry if you voted and your favorites didn’t get in, but we will definitely take the fan vote into consideration when looking at nominees for next year.” (Assuming, of course, that this was said in good faith!) Anyway, the fan vote’s reputation as a bellwether took a beating this year, as did the predictive role of those kiosks in Cleveland. Any sense that topping the fan vote was a golden ticket into the Hall has been disabused.
  • Women: If there was one big recurring leitmotif for coverage of the Rock Hall this year, it was the need to include more women. More inductees. More nominees. More committee members. Yet, the class after Janet Jackson admonished the institution to “induct more women,” our resulting class implausibly has fewer women than the one before! Just one–Whitney–got in, and of course, she won’t be able to vote going forward. So– dozens more male voters will get ballots; not one woman. A deep and endemic problem gets worse. Let me challenge the Rock Hall: there’s dozens and dozens of deserving nominees. Next year, make sure half the acts on the ballot have at least one woman in their roster. Strive for parity.
    • One other thing. We have to push the Rock Hall to do better on this grounds. I challenge each of my fellow Rock Hall watchers to do a blog in the upcoming months putting forward the names of five potential women to add to the Nominating Committee. If we all shout, maybe someone will hear.
  • Hard rock and metal: Judas Priest blew their second chance to get in the Hall, but the Nom Com didn’t do them any favors, setting them up against Motorhead and Thin Lizzy. The stockpile in this particular genre continues to grow. Keep in mind, however, that this is nothing new for harder rock acts. Deep Purple needed a few tries to get in, as did Black Sabbath.

With all this in mind, what happens now? To answer that question, allow me put forth my Best Plausible Scenario for the 2020 induction. By “Best Plausible,” I simply mean what can be done within the confines of HBO’s needs, superstar egos, and the Rock Hall’s penchant for screwing up a free lunch.

  1. Nine Inch Nails (inducted by Robert Smith)
    1. Closer to God
    2. Head Like a Hole
    3. Hurt (w/ Lucinda Williams)
  2. Non-Performer Awards: Irving Azoff and Jon Landau (inducted by Don Henley and Bruce Springsteen)
  3. Notorious B.I.G. (inducted by Sean “Puffy” Combs)
    1. Hypnotize (Puff Daddy)
    2. Mo Money, Mo Problems (Lil Wayne and Kelly Price)
    3. Sky’s the Limit (Lil Kim and and Busta Rhymes)
    4. Realest Niggas (Ashanti)
  4. T. Rex (inducted by Marc Almond)*
    1. Telegram Sam (Marc Almond and Pixies)
    2. 20th Century Boy (Marc Almond and Pixies)
    3. Bang A Gong (Get It On) (My Chemical Romance)
  5. Depeche Mode (inducted by Lauren Mayberry)
    1. Enjoy the Silence
    2. I Feel You
    3. Personal Jesus
  6. In Memoriam (“Drive” performed by Weezer)
  7. Whitney Houston (inducted by Kevin Costner)
    1. Saving All My Love For You (Dionne Warwick)
    2. I Will Always Love You (Toni Braxton)
    3. I Wanna Dance with Somebody (Nelly Furtado)
    4. I’m Every Woman (Chaka Khan, joined by Dionne Warwick, Lucinda Williams, Ashanti, Lauren Mayberry, Toni Braxton, and Nelly Furtado)
  8. Doobie Brothers (inducted by Zac Brown)
    1. Long Train Runin’ (w/ Zac Brown)
    2. Takin It To the Streets (w/ Michael McDonald)
    3. Minute By Minute (w/ Michael McDonald)
    4. China Grove (w/ Michael McDonald)
  9. Jam: Cleveland Rocks (led by Ian Hunter and Joe Walsh)

*Why Marc Almond of Soft Cell? Well, the group was one of the clearest inheritors of glam within the vein of new wave and Almond always listed T. Rex as one of his biggest influenced. But there’s another key connection. “Tained Love” was first recorded by Gloria Jones, Marc Bolan’s girlfriend.

This would work, right? Stay tuned for my next post, where I’ll project “Best Plausible” Rock Hall inductions for the following seven years. The key to making this work? Changing hosting responsibilities to a seven-year cycle of cities important to rock and roll history.

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It’s time to rustle up some cattle, put on our ten-gallon hat, and eat us some Frito pie for our annual Rock Hall rodeo roundup. This has become an annual tradition on this blog, where I explore each of the nominees in turn, looking at their likelihood of induction, worthiness of induction, and my own personal preferences among the artists. This year, I will make bold to add a fourth category–which artists are best for the Rock Hall’s bottom line— getting asses into seats for the ceremony, getting viewership of the HBO special, improving the Rock Hall’s public image, or encouraging visitors to come to Cleveland.

No time to waste, you jive turkeys.

Pat Benatar (Likelihood: 4; Worthiness: 6; Preference: 2; Bottom Line: 4): I am psyched about this nomination. I love Pat, and wish dearly that I had taken the time to see her when she was on tour and in my part of upstate New York last summer. In terms of kick-ass rock and roll women, she’s a strong contender; in fact, I would have put her in before Joan Jett. I’ll be the first to admit that long-term influence and innovation are lacking, unless we’re willing to consider the dramatic power of some of her music videos. She made some of the best 1980s commercially friendly rock–full stop. Benatar is also likely to get in this year; she sits atop the fan vote as of this writing, and she is a pick that both rockists and those of us wanting more women in the Hall can agree on.

Dave Matthews Band (Likelihood: 12; Worthiness: 12; Preference: 4; Bottom Line: 9). And…the nomination that shocked the world. If you are wondering why Dave Matthews isn’t last in the worthiness category, here’s my case. Seminal jam band from the golden age of jam bands; 25 years of selling out concerts especially at outdoor venues. Longevity of relevance. One of the only jam bands to have achieved multiple songs in the wider public consciousness and enjoy a critical mass of female fans. I understand why Rock Hall watchers and music writers more generally reacted viscerally to the news that they were on the ballot. Like some artists…Rush, KISS, Phish…it’s difficult to separate the band itself from their tedious advocates. Dave Matthews Band fans tend to have been business-majoring frat boys at state colleges who ended up becoming middle management at Lyft. When police pull them over for speeding, they ignore the fragrance of mary jane coming from the glove compartment and let them go on their way. They own multiple hackey sacks. Thankfully, the folks who attend their concerts aren’t on the ballot–the DMB itself is. I upped their likelihood to 12 on the off chance that they motivate their stoner base and do well in the fan vote. One of only two artists among the nominees to have had a song on one of my 39 Alex’s Mix CDs (“What Would You Say?” and “Grey Street” in case you were wondering.). Anyway, in nominating DMB the Rock Hall did their demographic research in at least one respect: their fans may not be the sorts of people to go to a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and this attention may possibly change that.

Depeche Mode (Likelihood: 5; Worthiness: 4; Preference: 8; Bottom Line: 6): The Cure’s induction was a tremendous omen for Depeche Mode. A British alternative act from the late 80s and early 90s that explored introspective themes while filling stadiums? Now that The Cure broke down the artificial “80s alternative” barrier, Depeche Mode stands a terrific chance. You could argue that they shouldn’t get in before Kraftwerk, and you wouldn’t be wrong exactly, but their significance as an electronic act that was wildly popular needs to be taken into consideration. Since the Crue or Cher or Willie Nelson didn’t get nominated, there’s a good chance they will headline the class and close out the show in Cleveland.

Doobie Brothers (Likelihood: 1; Worthiness: 8; Preference: 1; Bottom Line: 2): It finally happened– The Doobie Brothers are nominees. You can credit Irving Azoff if you wish, but the truth is, we’ll never know the hand he played or did not play. They would have been deserving candidates in any respect. Even in a group of nominees that’s a bit more classic rock heavy, they shouldn’t have any problems getting in. They are doing just fine on the fan vote, which at least positively correlates to induction. (Remember rule #1 of social science research: correlation is not causation!) It’s even possible they may overtake Pat Benatar for the top spot. Their secret weapon, of course, is Michael McDonald. Now that yacht rock is enjoying an irony-fueled comeback, the Doobies’ second act of their long career is no longer a liability. Besides, McDonald is the platonic ideal of a backup singer and has deep connections in the music industry that can’t hurt their chances. I look forward to their reunion with Big Mac during the ceremony– which is one surefire way to get Boomers to watch it on HBO.

Whitney Houston (Likelihood: 3; Worthiness: 5; Preference: 9; Bottom Line: 1). The pundits were right: Janet Jackson’s induction presaged Whitney Houston’s nomination. Houston is by far the most commercially successful artist nominated this year; she dominated singles and album charts from the mid 1980s and early 1990s. Many of those songs, in my opinion, have not aged well, with twinkly synths and vocal histrionics. But it’s hard to deny Whitney Houston– her success, her impact, her role as reigning diva of her time, her controlled melisma. She’s not in the top five of the fan vote, but holding her own– a feat considering how badly others in her wheelhouse have fared in years past. Moreover, the Rock Hall probably wants this to happen. It will deflect some of the all-too-deserving criticism about too few female and/or black inductees. And it has the potential for all kinds of memorable moments: Bobby Brown’s tearful acceptance speech. A tender performance by Cissy Houston and Dionne Warwick. Dolly Parton doing “I Will Always Love You” or Chaka Khan doing “I’m Every Woman” which will generate new buzz about their own Rock Hall candidacies. I’m just a bit skittish because Janet Jackson took three tries to get in. It shouldn’t matter, though–they were merely similar in that they were black women whose commercial peaks happened to coincide, even as they worked in different genres and put out vastly different records. New jack swing was perhaps a hard sell to some people, and Whitney’s tragic death alters the calculus. She should breeze right in.

Judas Priest (Likelihood: 13; Worthiness: 2; Preference: 10; Bottom Line: 8). According to Alan Light, this band tanked in the vote total when they were last nominated two years ago, even as they did quite well in the fan vote. They are just barely in the top 5 now, which cannot hurt their chances. What does hurt them, however, is the presence of another metal band, Motorhead. Priest deserves priority, in my opinion, but Motorhead at least seems a more sentimental choice, given the residual affection for Lemmy. I don’t even like metal that much, and I’m voting for Judas Priest in the fan vote; they are an indispensable band in a pivotal sub-genre. But that’s the issue, isn’t it? Bands usually get in the hall when they have transcendence— earning respect and admiration outside of a narrow demographic. Love for Judas Priest runs deep, but not especially wide. However, they have always been respectful in their attitude toward the Hall rather than acting like induction is their birthright– a strategy that clearly worked for The Zombies. Anyway, the Judas Priest and Motorhead nominations are an olive branch to the metal community, whether they were intended that way or not. Even if neither gets in–a very real possibility–the Rock Hall has cleverly foisted responsibility on those pesky official voters.

Kraftwerk (Likelihood: 11; Worthiness: 1; Preference: 5; Bottom Line: 15). Kraftwerk, of course, was the sine qua non in the history of electronic music. Their stuff lives on in hip-hop samples and indirectly in the influence they continue to have over acts like LCD Soundsystem and Daft Punk. Standard boilerplate over–I wish we could see the official vote count each year. I also wish we knew who exactly was on the voting committee–because that might tell us a lot. Are these teutons bringing up the rear every year or do they have a fighting chance? How many music writers and critics are given the ballot–and how old are they? This kind of information would be invaluable for gauging whether they are a hopeless case, a long shot, or a legitimate contender. One other consideration too important to ignore–with lots of HBO money on the line, it’s hard to see how a Kraftwerk induction helps their “bottom line.” With no household names and no songs your aunt would know, they wouldn’t exactly inspire indifferent viewers to tune in and pay up.

MC5: (Likelihood: 16; Worthiness: 13; Preference: 12; Bottom Line: 14). Give it up, guys. They aren’t getting in. I get it– they set the table for punk music, John Landau produced some of their records, Sonic Youth is named after their guitarist, important band among alternative and punk musicians. And you know– that’s a fine case! I liked MC5 more than I thought I would when I did the deep listening for the 100 Rock Hall Prospects project on my blog, even though I think I overrated them. Even as the lone true 60s act on the ballot, and even without fellow iconoclasts in Rage Against the Machine competing for space, an induction is still the longest of long shots.

Motorhead (Likelihood: 15; Worthiness: 9; Preference: 13; Bottom Line: 11). As I said in my initial reactions, it’s puzzling that they ended up on a ballot with Judas Priest– that’s two metal acts when other years have zero. It’s also not clear how Motorhead would translate to the induction ceremony. The three members who played on their most famous records are all deceased. There’s no question that Dave Grohl could give a great induction speech and sub for Lemmy, but it wouldn’t quite be the same.

Nine Inch Nails (Likelihood: 7, Worthiness: 3; Preference: 15; Bottom Line: 3). They may not be my cup of tea, but the enduring quality, significance, and innovation of Nine Inch Nails needs to be acknowledged. After three years off the ballot, they are back! They bring a solid fanbase to the proceedings– yet for some reason they are struggling in the fan vote at its early stages, despite performing well in the past. One intangible–and a significant reason why I have them ranked third in “the bottom line” is that inducting Trent Reznor in Cleveland, a city where he has deep roots, can make for an emotionally resonant evening. Having said all this, I still think NIN may fall just short.

Notorious B.I.G. (Likelihood: 2, Worthiness: 11, Preference: 16, Bottom Line: 7). A Singaporean former student of mine once described me as “not just white, but neon white.” So this is the most neon white thing I’ve ever said on my blog: I don’t understand why Biggie is such a big deal. He released one album while he was alive (although–hypocrisy alert– The Zombies didn’t do much more in their heyday and I still supported them). What little I have listened to doesn’t sound especially good, or edifying, or thoughtful. I’m not a rap guy, but I could appreciate what made NWA or 2pac significant artists who got in soon after their eligibility window opened. I’ve read why lots of others think Biggie matters, but so far I haven’t been convinced. So an open invitation to my readers: convince me. I’m willing to keep myself open to a persuasive argument for why Biggie deserves to be a first-year-eligible hall of famer. Anyway, my opinion doesn’t matter. John Sykes and Greg Harris have made it clear that this is Biggie’s year in a way that I haven’t seen the Hall blatantly promote since Nirvana six years ago. They’d have to be pretty damn sure he was getting in to talk like that.

Rufus, feat. Chaka Khan (Likelihood: 10; Worthiness: 10; Preference: 7; Bottom Line: 10).   This nomination’s patron saint is St. Jude, benefactor of hopeless causes. Having become “the new Chic”–the 70s R&B act that can’t get over the hump–Chaka Khan, this time with bandmates Rufus, returns to the ballot. There’s still an outside chance she will get in, but that’s partly because the ballot has very few women and very few R&B artists. On the other hand, it’s been a minute since two black women were inducted the same year, and I don’t think it will happen this time. I’m voting for Rufus anyway, partly in hopes that we’ll get another profane speech by Chicago drummer Danny Seraphine, who cowrote several songs with keyboardist David “Hawk” Wolinski.

Todd Rundgren (Likelihood: 9; Worthiness: 15; Preference: 3; Bottom Line: 16). Hey, remember that time last year when we all predicted Todd Rundgren would get in, but we were wrong? Fun times. Well, Todd is back. I have a soft spot in my heart for him; I’ve seen him live twice (most recently two weeks ago on his White Album tribute), and he’s the only person named Todd that I’m aware of who I don’t want to smack upside the head. Rundgren missed my original Top 100 Rock Hall Prospects by a whisker (he was my final cut), but I think I overrated him even so. See, Rundgren has respect in the music industry, and I think a lot of us are confusing respect with greatness or influence. He’s produced a flotilla of great records (which his nomination as an artist shouldn’t cover, at least in theory), wrote a handful of songs that remain on classic rock radio, but he didn’t really fundamentally change the game, nor was he a massive commercial success like Chicago or Journey to compensate. To make matters worse, he’s doing significantly worse in the fan ballot out of the gate this year, placing a pitiful eleventh in a metric where classic rock habitually overachieves. Finally, there’s the plain reality that he just isn’t going to show up. Ringo sweet talking him into it is the only scenario where I see that playing out; his reaction to his nomination was “no comment” and he’s talked liberally about his contempt for the institution. So he ranks last in the “Bottom Line” category: the only thing more disastrous for ratings than a Motorhead tribute without Lemmy is a Todd Rundgren tribute without Todd Rundgren.

Soundgarden (Likelihood: 8; Worthiness: 14; Preference: 14; Bottom Line: 5). What to think of Soundgarden’s nomination? I’ll say this: they were an act that lots of people wanted to see on the ballot, and they have novelty in their favor as first-time nominees. And they are pulling third in the fan vote at the moment. But in terms of wider public sentiment, they aren’t household names like first-year-eligible inductees Nirvana and Pearl Jam. Give the issues that deserving alternative bands have had in past years, I have trouble seeing Soundgarden get in, although if they do, it’s a strong signal to us late thirty-somethings that the Rock Hall is taking our era seriously. (For this reason, I put them fifth in the Bottom Line category.) I guess Chris Cornell getting a posthumous tribute and Aretha Franklin not getting one was more revealing than we realized at the time. I ranked them 14th in worthiness, but don’t read too much into that. Basically, #5-#15 in my Worthiness ranking are just different shades of “Deserving but not absolutely essential yet”. Does that make me a bad 90s kid?

T. Rex (Likelihood: 6; Worthiness: 7; Preference: 6; Bottom Line: 12).  If you subscribed to the theory that one “spot” on the ballot yields to another artist in that same wheelhouse…then you might have guessed T. Rex would take Roxy Music’s place on the ballot. In the “I can’t believe they’ve never even been nominated” category up until last week, T. Rex stands a very decent chance at induction. Being classic rock never hurt anyone’s chances. And while not nearly as influential as Roxy Music, they still have a large footprint, having influenced The Smiths, Soft Cell, Noel Gallagher, and Devendra Banhart, among many others. Stylistically, Marc Bolan’s lapels, sequins, and jackets created a timeless look, and Bolan’s particular form of masculinity which fueled T-Rextasy is very much back in style. On the other hand, they are floundering in 13th place on the fan vote–which should cater to their strengths–, were much bigger in Britain than they were in the UK, and it’s not clear who would show up to perform. T. Rex is like the inverse of Spinal Tap, where everyone except the revolving door of drummers is dead.

Thin Lizzy (Likelihood: 14; Worthiness: 16; Preference: 11; Bottom Line: 13). For me, Thin Lizzy was a bigger puzzlement than the Dave Matthews Band. I had a very friendly commentator try to sell me on them when I did my Top 100 Rock Hall Prospects a few years ago, but I’m just not persuaded. I don’t see the significance. They were Irish, but so what? They incorporated a few folk elements and made a hit of “Whisky in the Jar”, but if merging the folk tradition of the British Isles is your priority, why not just nominate Fairport Convention? They are the only act (aside from Biggie who wasn’t eligible at the time) that wasn’t seriously considered for my Top 100 Rock Hall Prospects at any time. Moreover, even their signature song, “The Boys are Back in Town” is an albatross– those verses about “crazy stuff that one chick did” haven’t aged well. If you like Thin Lizzy, that’s great! I’m genuinely glad. I like lots of bands that have no business being in the Rock Hall– America, for example. And Thin Lizzy is squarely in that category. Having said that, they are still infinitely more deserving than Motley Crue.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The big day has come and gone, and we finally know the group of contenders from which the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s Class of 2020 will be composed. You probably know the list by heart if you are reading this blog, but as a gentle recap, our 16 nominees are: Todd Rundgren, Kraftwerk, Notorious B.I.G., Depeche Mode, Judas Priest, Motorhead, Whitney Houston, Pat Benatar, Thin Lizzy, Dave Mathews Band, MC5, Nine Inch Nails, Rufus feat. Chaka Khan, Soundgarden, T. Rex, and the Doobie Brothers.

I don’t know how much I can say that hasn’t already been said by Donnie, Michelle, Zoot Marimba, and others. I’ll keep my comments brief and cursory, with the understanding that I’ll look at each of the nominees in a future post that will explore their worthiness and their chances.

I Suck at Predictions: I only got five right– my lowest total ever, and a thorough embarrassment. I thought for sure I had them pegged with Motley Crue and Cher, and I made what were, in hindsight, too many “stretches” that didn’t play out: A Tribe Called Quest, Richard Thompson, and Big Mama Thornton among them.

The MTV Generation is Here: Perhaps more than any previous ballot, there is a sense that we have moved past the 1960s and mostly the 1970s. MC5 is the only act that released much of anything in the Sixties themselves. While the Doobies, Rundgren, and a few others represent the so-called “Me Decade” (or the “Earth-Tone Polyester Decade” if you prefer), the center of gravity is clearly MTV. How much of a role incoming chairman John Sykes played this year is not quite clear, but he has to be happy with the number of MTV darlings on the ballot. Depeche Mode, Pat Benatar, and many of the others owe at least a degree of their success to strong MTV backing. I’d say it’s looking pretty good for Duran Duran in #RockHall2021.

Where the Ladies At?: This is, in turns, both puzzling and infuriating. Despite multiple high-profile entreaties to nominate and include more women–made most eloquently by Evelyn McDonnell–we ended up with two individual women (one of whom is dead and cannot vote in subsequent elections), and a large funk band where Chaka Khan’s vote will be diluted by a half dozen also-rans in Rufus. Consider for a moment that they could have nominated Cher, Dolly Parton, Carole King, Carly Simon, PJ Harvey, Big Mama Thornton, Patti LaBelle, The Go-Gos…or groups with at least one prominent woman like B-52s, Sonic Youth, Smashing Pumpkins, and so on. None of them would have been out of place among these sixteen artists. Frankly, I’m upset about this. Others–particularly Michelle–have said more significant things about this than I could, but this is unacceptable. It denies the role women had in the development of rock and roll, and it flies in the face of Sykes’s talk about expand their demographics.

The Kiosks Matter…but not in the way you think: I’m glad to see that there was at least some quality control with respect to the kiosks. A lot of us were afraid Motley Crue, the top finisher on the Rock Hall’s kiosks for visitor voting, would earn a free spot on the ballot. It turns out they didn’t! In the end, only Dave Mathews Band made the ballot of out the top winners. Given that Motley Crue’s nomination could have created buzz (for better or worse) and contributed to good viewership numbers on HBO, I’m surprised that the Rock Hall didn’t grab the shiny object, and am gratified that such a lousy band wasn’t given an automatic spot on the ballot. Ditto for some of the other less inspired choices the geniuses who use the kiosks came up with: Boston, Styx, Blink-182, Freddie Mercury solo…

R&B Gets Shafted: This isn’t quite a “mostly white ballot”– believe me, there’s racial imbalance, but as longtime reader Gassman points out, Soundgarden, Rufus, Depeche Mode, Dave Mathews Band, and Doobie Brothers are all multi-racial ensembles in an industry that–for all the borrowing between heritages–doesn’t have a lot of integrated groups. No, the issue is the limited role that R&B plays. It’s basically just Rufus/Chaka Khan. That’s it. I’m not persuaded that Whitney Houston is R&B; I see her more as a pop princess, given her AOR-friendly hits, and a lack of discernible debt to, say, Motown or Stax or 70s funk in most of her records. (Ironically, the great exception is “I’m Every Woman,” which is, of course, one of Chaka’s songs.) So– one big problem seems to be that advocates of R&B–Dave Marsh perhaps, certainly Craig Werner, Claudia Perry, Touré, Bob Merliss…are long gone. Did Questlove have the flu when they put this ballot together? Did he get food poisoning from the giant hoagie and have to go home early to convalesce?

Too Much Metal?: Metalheads can be an irritating lot, but they have a point when they complain that the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame has done them dirty. The last sorta-metal act to get in was Deep Purple (and I’d consider them more hard rock), and Judas Priest looked dead in the water after Alan Light revealed how poorly they had done among voters. Instead, we got two metal bands– Judas Priest and one of Dave Grohl’s pet projects, Motorhead. On top of that, they are also competing against hard rockers Thin Lizzy. There’s just not enough oxygen in the room for all three of them. It reminds me of the Class of 2015 ballot, where they put lots of R&B acts in (Marvellettes, Withers, Chic, War, Spinners) and all they did was cancel each other out. We ended up with just Withers, the most mainstream and arguably the least accomplished of the group, getting in.

A Lack of Pleasant Surprises: In the last few years, I felt that there were usually a couple choices where I could say, “I may not vote for this person, but I’m delighted someone like them could show up on the ballot. I respect that decision a lot.” You know— John Prine, Los Lobos, Bad Brains. The closest we got to a real surprise wasn’t necessary a pleasant one; in fact it generated the most incredulity and ridicule of all: The Dave Mathews Band. Now, I had Dave Mathews slotted in as one of my latest batch of 100 Rock Hall prospects last time I updated my list, and I don’t regret it. But if we are tackling the 90s, putting DMB in before…let’s see…Smashing Pumpkins, Mariah Carey, Rage Against the Machine, Beck, Weezer, Oasis…that’s just…wrong.

Free Willie!: The single thing that most puzzles me is this. We know that Paul Shaffer put Willie Nelson’s name up for nomination at the meeting. So how in holy hell did Dave Mathews Band (or Thin Lizzy. Or MC5) end up with more votes than the Red-Headed Stranger? I’m an imaginative guy, but I have a hard time seeing how they could have arrived at that outcome.

So that’s the first draft of my thoughts. To sum them up– this is a bit of a strange ballot, and doesn’t at all present the Rock Hall’s best self and its necessary role as an institution of education. This isn’t the sort of ballot to make you rethink your assumptions and check out new artists or material. There’s more to come—since my wife will be away for a job interview, I can do plenty more blogging (the sound of typing makes her queasy, so I usually have to find other places to write). In the next few days, look for Alex Voltaire’s rundown of each of these sixteen artists. For now, I’ll just say that voting for this group is a bit tedious and unrewarding. Kraftwerk and Pat Benatar were the only two I felt enthused about. I ended up rounding out the list with Judas Priest, an act that #5 on my original ranked list of Rock Hall Prospects, Rufus/Chaka Khan, because a Rock Hall class without any R&B would be ahistorical, and the Doobie Brothers by virtue of being my favorite act among the sixteen. I thought about Nine Inch Nails (wholly deserving), Depeche Mode (80s/90s alternative is still dreadfully underrepresented), and Todd Rundgren (just because he put on a good show at his White Album concert that I saw last week).

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Ah, my favorite time of the year. For us growing legions who follow the Rock Hall (there are now dozens of us! Dozens!), we wait in anticipation to see which artists will get nominated. And then, about ten weeks later, we’ll know who will get inducted…and then, we watch the ceremony unfold, with its manifold dramas, happy reunions, tributes, and performances. With now two Rock Hall podcasts operating, a growing blogging presence from Jason Voight and Nick Bambach, and many of the old crew of bloggers still doing their thing, I look forward to seeing who will make everyone’s list of predictions.

Here’s mine. Last year, we had 7 acts– each either very deserving or very well-known- get in. Genres that hadn’t had much success lately like 80s alternative (The Cure), and 80s & 90s R&B (Janet) and art rock (Roxy Music) broke on through to the other side. A good part of my thinking can be reduced to either “who is next in line?” or “who might the people who nominated those acts turn to next?”

I also realize I’m jumping the gun and posting a little early. There’s a good reason for this. While visiting family in Maine, my 7-months-pregnant wife began to complain of blurred vision and uncomfortable swelling. We checked into a hospital where she was diagnosed with severe pre-eclempsia that required an immediate emergency c-section. And so, little Alex Jr. was born at only 32 weeks. Mrs. Voltaire has been discharged and is doing fine, but it will take tiny Alex a while to get his little lungs developed in the NICU. He’ll make it, but my life is now slow, long, repetitive days in a hospital. I needed some distraction, and as often happens, I turned to the Rock Hall community as one venue of solace among many.

  • Mötley Crüe: Currently in the lead at the Rock Hall’s kiosks where you can vote for who you want to see in the Hall of Fame. Def Leppard and Stevie Nicks took this route to nomination and induction, so I’ll go along with it until it isn’t predictive. This band has also enjoyed a year of big publicity, with The Dirt hitting Netflix. Yet their infamy is a liability (as infamy usually is). Mötley Crüe’s rap sheet, which includes battering women, foggy recollections of sexual assault, and racism directed at Sylvia Rhone will hurt them. Let the record show that for a number of reasons, I do not support their nomination. If Mötley Crüe’s talent for playing music was as great as their talent for almost killing themselves and others, then they would have been inducted a decade ago.
  • Cher: The highest-ranked woman on the kiosks. Cher also had a good past 18 months, culminating in a Mama Mia sequel. Her long career continues to roll on, as an outspoken icon and sartorially daring performer on her eighth round of farewell touring. I can think of a great many women who should be inducted before Cher in terms of merit, talent, and influence, but I’m fine with the prospect of her getting in.
  • Depeche Mode: The Cure busted down the doors of bleak 80s alternative big time last year. With two relatively recent nominations under their belt, Depeche Mode seems likely to be next in line– especially if the Hall understandably doesn’t want to deal with Morrissey’s bullshit. If the ballot isn’t overstuffed with 70s classic rockers, expect them to have an excellent chance of making it this year.
  • Kraftwerk: Just a little German band that basically all subsequent electronic music (including Depeche Mode!) is heavily indebted to. They have been nominated five times.
  • Rufus and Chaka Khan: If my guess is right, this ballot may be light on funkiness, making it likely that Chaka will get nominated with her old band. With Rufus or without, this is now the free space at the center of the bingo board.
  • New York Dolls: Roxy Music is in! And rightly so. Maybe T-Rex, the other big 70s band that was a bigger deal in Britain than in the US might be next. But maybe, if we’re looking at glam androgyny, a punk direction is called for. And New York Dolls were nominated– but that was way back for the class of 2001, when the nominating committee had a markedly different lineup.
  • The B-52s: Maybe there’s room for another avant-garde group on the ballot. Nick Bambach has done some great work on The B-52s’ prospects. They pioneered a daring, retro-future style and made rock and roll campy and fun again, like the 50s B-movies they sent up. With high-profile articles in New York Times and Rolling Stone in recent months, it’s easy to see enough people in the room agreeing to give the B-52s a turn. With two movies about gay rock musicians breaking box office records this year, The B-52s–four out of five of whom identified as LGBT–would also be timely.
  • Eurythmics: The Rock Hall loves soulful vocals, and recent changes in the nominating committee reflect a friendliness toward MTV, VH1 and music videos. Can you pick a more 80s moment than Annie Lennox in a suit, with a pointer and a globe? They were nominated two years ago, and I don’t think it was a one-and-done affair.
  • The Doobie Brothers: These guys have seen so many of their contemporaries get in, it’s almost embarrassing. They were and are major classic rock artists. I understand the Nom Com moving a step away from that after the Moody Blues/Dire Straits/Cars year, but the Doobies are one of the last bands from that genre that really does deserve to get in. They still tour, had plenty of hits in two distinct eras, and were one of the few racially integrated groups to have achieved that level of success. It’s also pretty easy to get an HBO-friendly reunion with Michael McDonald. Let’s see if signing with Irving Azoff paid dividends.
  • Tommy James & the Shondells: Well, The Zombies finally got in! But the Nom Com is still filled with old guys reliving their sixties’ youth. According to Future Rock Legends, Tommy James has been previously considered, and it’s not hard to see Little Stevie, Paul Shaffer, and some of the others make a case for this band. A couple years ago, Miami Steve inducted James into the New Jersey Music Hall of Fame, for those of you keeping notes.
  • Notorious B.I.G.: Look, I think LL Cool J is now one of the five most inexplicable snubs, but the voters aren’t having him. To avoid making the hip-hop backlog worse than it already is, Cool J may be iced in favor of first-year-eligible Biggie. I don’t especially like Biggie and I struggle to see why he was such an icon, but I doubt the Rolling Stone Industrial Complex sees it that way.
  • A Tribe Called Quest: Who Cares About the Rock Hall did a bang-up job on this Native Tongues outfit and the continued relevance they have today. Possibly the most critically acclaimed hip-hop group ever, they could very well sneak on to the nominating list. Two rap acts have shared a ballot before, after all. With Janet Jackson in, Questlove gets to advocate for someone else, and his Mo Meta Blues is so generous in its praise of ATCQ, I have to think they are next in line.
  • Big Mama Thornton: It went under the radar, but Holly George-Warren recently gave a presentation on this seminal blueswoman. She did “Hound Dog” before Elvis. She was with Johnny Ace when he died. She played the drums and harmonica! Warren wants to make “make a compelling case for Thornton’s place in the blues and R&B pantheon.” This might help her efforts. If Big Mama shows up, don’t be surprised if this culminates in an early-influence induction, a la Sister Rosetta.
  • Weezer: In exceptional years, two FYE (that’s First Year Eligible) acts might show up. Think Green Day/Nine Inch Nails. Think Radiohead/Rage. Think Pearl Jam/2pac. Biggie/Weezer fits nicely into this pattern. With Weezer you have a band that had pretty impressive longevity, several indispensable songs anybody who was young in the 90s remembers, a couple iconic albums, and a deep influence on how indie developed. Oasis is eligible too, of course, but the Gallaghers rival only The Smiths as a nightmare reunion to manage. Remember, bassist Scott Shriner was involved in the 2018 ceremony, deputizing for Benjamin Orr during The Cars’ set.
  • Richard Thompson: What list would be complete without a left-field choice? As previous years have shown, a long-shot act like John Prine or Los Lobos can appear without much warning. Rolling Stone has been touting Shoot out the Lights, recorded with his then-wife Linda as one of the iconic albums of the 80s whenever they gin up a “Greatest Albums” list to boost their sales. His stunning lyricism, deep mystical philosophy, his shimmering creativity, and his singular guitar work could very well commend him to the Rock Hall powers.

So, if I had to guess, I’d say Motley Crue, Cher, Doobies, Biggie, and Depeche Mode would get in, adding B-52s if six, and Eurythmics if seven. My five votes on the fan ballot would go to Kraftwerk, Eurythmics, Big Mama Thornton, A Tribe Called Quest, and The B-52s.

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A little ahead of schedule, I’m delighted to begin my update on the 100 Greatest Rock Hall Prospects– one hundred artists who have been passed over at least once before, who I believe to be deserving of a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction.

osmutantesmutantes69c100. Os Mutantes: Our countdown begins with this obscure pick–indeed, so obscure that they do not even show up in my third edition Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock & Roll. Although they will never be a household name stateside, Os Mutantes stand as a testament to the influence of rock and roll on geopolitics outside the English-speaking world. Like Czechoslovakia’s Plastic People of the Universe, this group played a key role in using rock and roll to challenge a totalitarian regime in the 1960s. While the Plastics were beholden to Zappa-esque freakiness, Os Mutantes was more aligned with early Pink Floyd infused with native bossa nova influences. Rugged electric folk blended with latin guitar and sonic experimentation in music that explored taboo and impolitic themes. In this fashion and in a time and place prone to right-wing military coups, they were a key part of the Tropicália scene in 60s Brazil. Incredibly, a version of Os Mutantes is still at it today throwing brickbats in this age of renewed strongman government across the world. Kurt Cobain, Beck, and Flea have all vouched for them in the past, and if an impactful, hyper-political act like MC5 can get nominated multiple times, Os Mutantes should as well.

ELP99. Emerson, Lake & Palmer: Prog has enjoyed a good few years at the Rock Hall. Perennial snubs Yes and The Moody Blues were inducted, as were a couple groups that longtime reader Enigmaticus calls “prog adjacent”- The Zombies, Chicago, and Electric Light Orchestra. The urgency to set wrongs aright for progressive rock has therefore lessened. But if we are going to tell prog’s story, we have to account for Emerson, Lake & Palmer. Enjoying greater longevity than King Crimson, ELP made several of the seminal albums in this genre: Tarkus, Brain Salad Surgery, and the Works albums among them. It’s hard, though, to say much original about ELP because so many of the clichés about prog ring true for them. There’s top notch musicianship and inventive compositional skill. Keith Emerson so often operated on a different plane from anyone else in the genre, and Greg Lake and Carl Palmer are two of the greatest ever on their respective instruments. In fact, Carl Palmer is probably the best drummer I’ve ever seen live (albeit with Asia.) And yet, there’s a difference between music that impresses and music that moves. For all the cleverness, and for all the mastery and technique, the results were often clunky and over-ambitious, like a 20-minute epic about a mutant armadillo. Nevertheless, in all their theatricality, and their bombast, and their undeniable virtuosity, it’s impossible to tell the story of prog without ELP.

buzzcocks98. The Buzzcocks: Punk is certainly one of the genres that the Hall has not done the best job of representing. It took the Sex Pistols several tries to get in, and a similar fate befell the Stooges. Green Day was, on the other hand, a striking success, a rare first-year eligible that made it in recent years. Granted, they were pop-punk, and lots of diehard punk fans scorn Green Day- made for bored American millennials who grew up in the suburbs and hated every minute of it. But Green Day played the long game, earning respect from rock and roll figureheads, showing up for award ceremonies, and even producing a Broadway musical. Anyway, if we are going to explore pop-punk, let’s look at one of Green Day’s most important ancestors, the Buzzcocks. Pete Shelley’s recent death was the kick in the ass we needed to remind us how good this group was, adding more melodic songwriting beyond the Sex Pistols’ pay grade, but also harboring a degree of crassness and sexuality that was merely implicit in ur-punk. Indeed, lines like “homo superior/in my interior” made veiled reference to Shelley’s bisexuality, while earning a ban from the BBC. On Shelley’s death, members of Green Day, Smashing Pumpkins, Pearl Jam, The Cure, and REM all paid testament to the influence of his music. That alone should give the Buzzcocks some Rock Hall credibility.

fela-kuti97. Fela Kuti: If Os Mutantes represents the relevant contributions to rock and roll from South America, Fela Kuti stands in for the sundry artists who worked within postcolonial Africa. Like Bob Marley before him, Kuti operated outside the Anglo-American axis, and pioneered a bold new synthesis while standing up to political oppression. And also like Marley, he is regarded as much as a prophet as a musician. Kuti’s contribution is Afrobeat, a dynamic synthesis of funk and traditional Nigerian rhythms, and a key progenitor to world music. Redbull Music Guide calls him “A complex man who was equal parts shaman, showman, and trickster,” a crafty thorn in the side of the violent regimes that Nigerians endured during his lifetime. If it weren’t for the horrific migrations out of Africa in the 1600s and 1700s, rock and roll could have never happened, so it is incumbent on us to recognize a figure who, more than anyone else, brought it all back home.  If this seems like a far-fetched choice, remember that Kuti has plenty of admirers in high places, ranging from Jay-Z to his onetime collaborator, Ginger Baker. Fela’s music demonstrated a rebel spirit in the best rock and roll tradition, always one step ahead of those ready to arrest him and those ready to canonize him.

tool-band96. Tool: It’ll be a cold day in hell when Tool is nominated. For one, they may be too recent. For another, the Hall isn’t always great with metal and alternative acts–especially ones that don’t “play the game” and show up for marquee events. Instead, Tool merely has one of the best records of alternative metal in the 90s, with a handful of the genre’s most important albums, including Undertow, Laterus, and AEmina. In the past, I’ve advocated for someone like the Eurythmics partly because of how they developed rock and roll’s visual culture, and Tool deserves the same consideration. Their guitarist doubles as their art director, as the band made several brilliant but borderline-disturbing stop-motion music videos. The 90s and early 2000s had all kinds of terrible faux-metal (looking right at you, Limp Bizkit!), but Tool was something else. With their musicianship, cult following, and unusual time-signatures, they demonstrated that metal and alternative could be artful, inventive, and thought-provoking as well, without degenerating into self-mockery or Spinal Tap-ish spectacle. As we celebrate a group like Roxy Music getting into the Hall, let’s remember one of their more unlikely heirs.

john prine95. John Prine: What a surprise it was to see John Prine’s name among the Class of 2019 nominees back in October. I have to admit-  he was barely on my radar before this time, but the more I read about him and the more I listened to his work, I was taken aback by this thoughtful singer-songwriter. Drug abuse, relationships gone sour, veterans’ issues– there was hardly a topic Prine couldn’t explore with wry insights one could take away. One of my favorites of his was his evisceration of shallow middle-American patriotism, “Your Flag Decal Won’t Get You Into Heaven Anymore.” He wrote a good album in 1970, but this doesn’t make him any better or worse than 15 different Rock Hall prospects. What makes Prine remarkable is his modern relevance and his ability to bring out the best in those who admire him. He continues to crank out great albums and consistently wows the biggest names in the music industry, all without really becoming a household name. But excellence? He’s got it. Influence? He’s got it too. Kacey Musgraves, Jason Isbell, Sturgill Simpson–virtually everybody in Americana–as well as famous admirers ranging from Bob Dylan to Johnny Cash–are eager to sing his praises. As long as the purpose of the Rock Hall is partly to educate Americans on the history of rock music and not merely validate their favorites, there’s a place for John Prine.

alice in chains94. Alice in Chains: One change between the first version of the 100 Rock Hall prospects and this current one is that Soundgarden and Alice in Chains have switched spots, with Soundgarden now ranked higher. Both however, are seminal grunge acts with tragic histories. Even if Alice in Chains had longer and more sustained success, grunge was, in many ways, contemptuous and suspicious of success, especially extended success. Better to burn out than fade away and all that. Nevertheless, they kept at it.  From their breakout Dirt album from 1992, they stayed relevant. As late as 2013, The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here was widely considered one of the best albums that came out that year.  Still, that longevity came with tragic consequences.  Years of hard living and drug addiction cost Layne Staley his life, and their frontman’s demise had a ripple effect.  Bassist Mike Starr, probably the last person to see Staley alive, never forgave himself for obeying his bandmate’s demand that he not call 911. Starr himself succumbed to an overdose in 2011. For all this, any discussion of the greatest songs of the 1990s that looks beyond pop has to account for “Rooster” and “Man in the Box.”  Their metal-fused alternative sound set the table for acts like Disturbed and Korn later in the decade. With the Hall still working on the 90s A-list (Radiohead failed to get in on the first try, Rage is still waiting, Mariah’s never been nominated), Alice in Chains has one heck of a long wait on their hands, I think.

foreigner93. Foreigner: One of my longstanding in-jokes with friends is the “Portuguese Phil Collins” dilemma: somebody in Portugal has to fill the same cultural space as Phil Collins does in the English speaking world. Let me use this as a springboard to make the case for Foreigner: somebody had to occupy the same ground they assumed. A rock band with a raft of hits, a command of the power ballad and the hook-filled chorus, and an ability to be played on both “soft rock classics” and “album-oriented rock” stations with equal legitimacy. And that somebody who occupied that ground could have well and truly sucked, could have crassly abandoned musical chops for image, and it would have been fine. They still could have remained popular for years and made shameful amounts of money. Foreigner could do all those things and maintain that kind of success while still being…kinda good. And, of course, Lou Gramm’s connection to my adopted hometown of Rochester doesn’t hurt either (indeed, my mother-in-law ran in his crowd back in the day.) They had more success than you remember: “Cold as Ice,” “Hot Blooded,” “I Want to Know What Love Is,” “Urgent,” Juke Box Hero.” While just listing songs is no substitute for argument, they were very nearly Journey’s equal in finding a niche between rock and roll authenticity and mass mainstream success. But it doesn’t help their case that so many rock and roll insiders have carried water for them: Jann Wenner allegedly demanded that “I Want to Know What Love Is” be included in Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Songs of Rock and Roll, and Ahmet Ertegun suggested that Foreigner- an act on his docket- be nominated before the rest of the committee politely but firmly rebuffed him.

chuck willis92. Chuck Willis: The Rock Hall has traditionally been very mindful of 50s R&B legends- people who didn’t have tons of hits that are played on Oldies radio today, but were indispensable to the foundations of rock and roll. But a few of them fell through the cracks. Joe Tex is one of them. Esther Phillips is another. But arguably the turban-wearing Chuck Willis is the most influential of the figures in this category. He was nominated on each of the Hall’s first five ballots and once again in 2011, each time without success.  As Rock Hall voters slowly move into late baby boomer and early Gen X territory, Willis’s window is probably gone unless he gets a backdoor “early influence” nod. It’s a shame, because he deserves induction without any asterisks. He wrote his own material in a genre where that rarely happened, popularized “C. C. Rider” and The Stroll, one of Rock’s first dance crazes, and toggled easily between sincere ballads and riveting rockers. His blend of crooning and wailing established the template for every number of R&B vocalists to come.  Unfortunately, he was felled by peritonitis in his prime, and died at the age of 30, one of rock and roll’s first big casualties, even predeceasing Buddy, Richie, and the Bopper.

Gloria Estefan91. Gloria Estefan & the Miami Sound Machine: In my own research, one striking theme is how many nominators–Dave Marsh among others- -want “south-of-the-border” music represented in the Rock Hall. This explains the otherwise-inexplicable nomination of the Sir Douglas Quintet back in …, as well as the more recent nomination of Los Lobos. If we are going to explore latin or tejano or norteño music and its connections to rock and roll, we should acknowledge one of the breakthrough artists of the 80s and 90s: Gloria Estefan & the Miami Sound Machine. Look, you can consider songs like “Conga” or “Rhythm is Gonna Get You” and smirk if it makes you feel smarter, but from the beginning, rock and roll was intended to get young people up and dancing. Estefan brilliantly merged Florida’s Cuban culture with burgeoning 80s dance music, so that Latin pop became a legitimate category, a stepping stone that eventually helped Selena, J-Lo, Ricky Martin, and the Macarena become commercially viable in the United States. Nowadays, an artist like Demi Lovato can make a latin-infused track and nobody bats an eyelash. Lots of different artists- Santana, Sergio Mendes, the Iglesiases, made it happen, but nobody did it so well, so long in a pop-rock medium as Estefan.

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I have to confess to my readership—this is my favorite post to write each year at the Countdown. Discerning the slate of nominees is like solving a Rubik’s cube, with overlapping considerations trying to align…”okay, there’s obviously got to be some R&B acts…what about alternative?….who would draw an audience for an HBO special?…who became eligible this year?…who has been in the news lately?” and so on. After considering and reconsidering dozens of plausible nominees, I’ve arrived at my 19 predictions for the ballot that will determine the Class of 2019 for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

There are some considerations that can help us make wiser predictions for this kind of thing. The Who Cares About the Rock Hall podcast with former Nom Com member Roy Trakin was an invaluable asset. Trakin was candid about conflicts of interest and the role that certain power players have in the process. One might also consider what the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland is itself emphasizing. Also potential clues may lurk in the fact that their biggest special exhibit this year dwelled on the role of television, from Dick Clark to Soul Train to MTV and beyond. I also think that last year’s ceremony was unsatisfying in many respects, even though there were some enjoyable highlights. The Dire Straits’ frontman, Mark Knopfler, did not show up and the band ended up inducting themselves. Jon Bon Jovi gave a long-winded self-congratulatory speech, which was preceded by a disrespectful Howard Stern rant. The best performances of the night were by special guests like Brittany Howard and Mary J. Blige, not the inductees themselves. In other words, I don’t think that the 70s and 80s-heavy classic rock motif of the last few classes is long for this world. I’d predict a sharp turn toward the 80s and 90s.

The new category for Singles may also influence things. In introducing this institution during April’s ceremony, Little Stevie Van Zandt maintained that just because a musician has a single enshrined doesn’t mean that they will never be in the Rock Hall as artists.  I’m sure he meant that sincerely, but I also wonder if this doesn’t mitigate some of the urgency for Link Wray, Steppenwolf, and others. I’ll save my predictions for the Singles for another time, though.

And so, I present to you….my #RockHall2019 predictions.

Radiohead: What the heck happened last year? How did perhaps the most critically praised band of the last 20 years fail to get in on their first ballot? They had a touring conflict last year, but all signs suggest reparable fallout. Bigger Rock Hall feuds have been mended before. It’s possible, as Roy Trakin hinted, that this might be a case where their induction was simply “deferred” to a year when they could show up. They are simply too big not to be up again this year.

Rage Against the Machine: They are a deserving act, to be sure. But it also screams “conflict of interest!!” as guitarist Tom Morello is also on the Nominating Committee. Unfortunately for us all, but fortunately for their prospects, their music and its themes have aged all too well and remain as relevant as ever.

Janet Jackson: Jackson has been receiving awards and accolades left and right recently, culminating with a Billboard Icon award. Her induction into the Rock Hall should have happened years ago, and it will be an embarrassment to this institution if she isn’t on the ballot this year. If she is, expect the third time to be the charm. It’s worth noting that costumes from the Rhythm Nation tour were on display for the television exhibit this year…

Chaka Khan: Every ballot has had one– sometimes multiple– artists affiliated with disco in some way ever since those acts became eligible. That doesn’t mean that said artists worked exclusively in the medium, but dance music, and the ways in which gender, race, and sexuality intermingled is something that the decision-makers at the Foundation clearly care about. I am wondering by now if Chaka Khan–with or without Rufus–is the new Donna Summer or Chic. We might expect a nomination every year until ~something~ happens.

The Zombies: The Rock Hall loves the Zombies. The Zombies love the Rock Hall. I love the Zombies. The Zombies might love me. I don’t know. Be that as it may, they have had continued bad luck–always nominated in years they probably can’t win. Usually this means they are pitted against similar-ish groups: psychedelic rockers like Steppenwolf, or British Invasion bands like Moody Blues. Put them up on the Class of 2015 ballot, though, and I’m pretty sure they could have beaten Bill Withers or the Paul Butterfield Blues Band. The Zombies are still road warriors and sometimes tour with 4 of the 5 original members from 1964. I think the committee will give them one more chance. If they don’t pull it off, “Time of the Season” might be inducted as a single, and they might move on.

L.L. Cool J: Look, rap and hip-hop are only going to get more competitive as the years go on. Outkast is eligible this year. So is Wu-Tang Clan. Biggie, Eminem, and Jay-Z aren’t far behind. Eric B & Rakim, A Tribe Called Quest, De La Soul, Queen Latifah, Salt N Peppa, Dre. Dre, Ice Cube, and many others are already waiting in line. Consequently, it’s going to look bad if the first breakout solo rapper isn’t in yet. My hunch is that they will clear the board of similar acts for L.L. Cool J to make his path easier.

Eurythmics:  They were nominated last year, and I even predicted that they would get in. No such luck. The emphasis on music on television, though, gives them an advantage. I can’t think of many images that I can associate with 1980s MTV more than Annie Lennox, beautiful and androgynous, with that pointer stick and globe while wearing a suit. Lennox’s reputation as a vocalist, and her influence on Sinead O’Connor, Florence Welch, Janelle Monae, and others, make Eurythmics a formidable nominee, regardless of the competition.

Judas Priest: Few acts on the ballot last year generated as much praise as this pioneering heavy metal act. Their presence preempts any complaints about “where’s the real rock and roll acts?” Although there are few obvious heavy metal advocates in the board room, Judas Priest has more than earned the right to follow Deep Purple into the halls of Cleveland. And as Tom Morello recently put it, “whenever you see metal bands on the ballot, you can blame me.” So it sounds like Judas Priest has an advocate and Morello isn’t giving up on them. Their gentlemanly and patient attitude toward the Hall certainly won’t hurt their chances either.

Joe Tex: It would be…odd if there were not at least one artist on the ballot whose career was not active before the British Invasion. Who should it be? Link got a backdoor induction last year. I have a feeling Dick Dale might be honored the same way. Ditto The Marvelettes– especially since their advocate, Bob Merlis, is no longer on the committee and they haven’t been nominated since he left. So it would have to be someone who didn’t have one, big iconic song that people identify with him or her- someone who can’t be shoehorned into the Singles category. My guess is Joe Tex. Tom Lane wondered if he might get nominated if Dave Marsh– a known fan of his- is no longer on the Nom Com. I’m willing to gamble that he might.

Depeche Mode: It seems like there needs to be an act associated with industrial, electronic, and alternative. Nine Inch Nails got a nomination their first two years eligible. Depeche Mode got a nod the following two years–possibly because someone who worked closely with them- Sandy Alouete- earned a berth on the committee at that time. So– heavily 80s, memorable music videos– I don’t think a third straight nomination for Depeche Mode is a hard sell given the kind of class I think they are going for.

Duran Duran: Let’s explore the patterns. Every year there is an uber-populist act, usually hated by journalists, critics, and music historians but who sold crazy amounts of records and filled arenas. Usually, a big reunion is hoped for. They will run away with the fan vote. You know the drill—Rush. Kiss. Chicago. Journey. Bon Jovi. My guess is that Rock Hall CEO Greg Harris- an import from the Baseball HOF who is much more of a museum guy and a numbers guy more than a music guy- is part of the move in this direction. Anyway– who is going to be that populist, Barclays Arena-filling act this year? Def Leppard is a popular choice, and I’ll happily concede it might be them. However, I’m inclined toward Duran Duran. Here’s my reasoning: they were touring and fairly intact recently. Given the emphasis on television this year, this act had some iconic, escapist videos. And movies like Ready Player One and television shows like Stranger Things have continued to stoke the particular brand of 1980s nostalgia that Duran Duran plays to. Timeliness, at least, is on their side.

Doobie Brothers: I think they are getting their first nomination ever this year for a few reasons. One is their new affiliation with Irving Azoff, whose influence seems to have helped Bon Jovi. Another is that it just makes sense that they are next in queue in the “70s classic rock snubs” now that Dire Straits, Moody Blues, The Cars and others are in. In fact, they are one of the last 70s rockers of this basic genus that still has a reasonable claim to being in the hall. Thirdly, reunions make great television, and The Doobie Brothers seem to be on good terms with Michael McDonald, and he usually shows up for a guest spot once or twice per tour. If they are nominated, you can count on them earning one of those top five spots in the fan vote– and an induction as well, in all likelihood.

Pixies: Who will our late 80s/early 90s alternative act be this year? In the past, we’ve been treated to The Smiths, The Cure, The Replacements, and Jane’s Addiction. With David Grohl on the Nominating Committee, it’s only a matter of time before Pixies get a nomination. Pixies established many of the building blocks of Nirvana’s sound, and of course, they were pretty incredible in their own right. They remain a sturdy Generation X favorite, and are touring with Weezer as we speak.

Roxy Music: It’s got to be one of these years, right? The Who Cares About the Rock Hall podcast put together as good a case for Roxy Music as can be made. This group is impossible to pin down except for a vague and largely unhelpful designation as “art rock.” Elliptical as they were, their wide and deep influence on countless artists that came after them will not be lost on the powers that be in the Rock Hall. Like Pixies, I doubt they would get an induction the first (or second or third) time around, but this is a group that should absolutely be on their radar. I don’t even like them, and I’ll admit that they are one of the most significant artists that has never been nominated.

Stevie Nicks: The museum is gettin’ interactive. Now you can vote on acts you would like to see in the Hall of Fame. Oddly, the choices tend to be a bit…same-ish and rarely fluctuate the way you would expect. Def Leppard is a common choice…one reason I think have a shot this year. But Stevie is also there. That’s…interesting. Like George Harrison, her solo repertoire didn’t take us anywhere that her work in a band didn’t already do better. Yet her influence on female artists is palpable, and there will be no shortage of younger acts eager to do Stevie homage. Putting her on the ballot also serves as a rampart against the ugly optics of an all-male class like 2016.

The Shangri-Las: I’ve predicted them the last two years and it didn’t happen. And yet I remain confident that I will eventually be right. Look, the Shangri-Las were New York underground before there was a New York underground. It might seem silly to claim that the girl-group that did “Leader of the Pack” was filled with bad-asses who presaged the core components of punk, but unbelievably, that’s what happened. And people acquainted with the New York underground scene are manifold on the committee. Recall that Seymour Stein even supervised a failed attempt at a reunion record in the 1970s. It’s easy to see the Shangri-Las pulling a coalition together in the committee room consisting of old-timers and younger members who are wise to their influence on, say, Amy Winehouse.

Kool & the Gang: My Sunday school teacher in 10th grade once opined that a Kool & the Gang concert was the best show she had ever been to. It seemed like a strange opinion at the time, but I think it is an entirely defensible one now that I’ve had nearly 20 years to dwell on that remark. Kool & the Gang are culturally relevant now, with artists like Bruno Mars often cribbing from their style and grooves. They were recently feted at the Songwriter Hall of Fame. Consider, too, the artists who have sampled this act over the years. A partial list includes: NWA, 2pac, Will Smith, The Prodigy, Ice Cube, Nas, Eric B & Rakim, Wu Tang Clan, Public Enemy, A Tribe Called Quest, LL Cool J, Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg.  That’s a murderer’s row of rap and hip-hop legends. (Maybe that’s a poor choice of words.) The Hall will sometimes surprise us by putting an exceptional live act on the ballot whose recorded legacy doesn’t quite do them justice- Los Lobos, JBs, Bad Brains, J. Geils Band, Paul Butterfield. Kool & the Gang would very much be an act like that.

The B-52s: Quick- who are the most important icons of gay culture in the Rock Hall? Elton. Queen. Madonna. Bowie. Maybe we’ll include Tina Turner and Dusty Springfield, if only for their influence over drag culture. What about icons not in the hall? Cher is the obvious candidate– but despite resurfacing for Mama Mia 2, her career has never been well regarded by music experts like those on the committee, and even her fans would agree that she’s always been more of a personality than an artist. Doesn’t that make The B-52s next in line? With four out of five members identifying as queer, their music was as elliptical at the time as their sexuality.  Their music hearkened to campy 50s monster movies and beach parties, but they weren’t remotely retro. Instead, it was a little bit punk, and dance, and new wave. They were more like the Talking Heads filtered through Yoko Ono, while playing at the best party you ever attended in college. Moreover- they are on tour this summer, and getting lots of positive buzz. And isn’t it intriguing that Rolling Stone published a flattering retrospective on the group in June?

Beck: This might not happen, but my goodness…he’s done everything one can expect from a first-year eligible act. Widespread critical respect. Genre-bending music. Experimental but sells out arenas. A small armada of Grammys. Cozying up to the Rock Hall (remember his Lou Reed tribute at the 2015 show?) Outkast is eligible as well this year. They deserve to be in– and they will be someday. But given that their biggest hits are still only 15 years in the rear-view mirror, while “Loser” is nearing 25, I believe Beck will be given priority. We might get no first-year eligibles this year. But if we get any, the smart money’s on Beck.

So, those are my predictions. We’ll see in a couple months whether I was on to something or not. As always, these are just predictions, not necessarily who I think is most deserving of induction. Some other names I considered were: Average White Band, Boz Scaggs (did you know Jann Wenner produced an album of his?), Pat Benatar, Outkast, and A Tribe Called Quest. Of course, any year, Kraftwerk, J. Geils Band, The Spinners, The Meters, and other repeat nominees are strong contenders and I mulled over them as well.

Also– brace yourself for the unexpected. The Nominating Committee may go back to just fifteen nominees. They might throw us for a loop and change the criteria from, say, 25 years to 15 or 20. They might decide to nominate in categories. Committee members may be added or relieved of duty. We just don’t know- and their decisions may very well undermine the assumptions that go into these predictions, and those of my fellow Rock Hall watchers.

Finally, if I was somehow was correct on all 19 nominees, I’d vote for Janet and The Zombies for certain. I’d probably fill out the ballot with Eurythmics, Judas Priest, or LL Cool J. in the remaining spots. I’d expect the actual inductees to be Duran Duran, Radiohead, Janet Jackson, Stevie Nicks, Doobie Brothers, and maybe L.L. Cool J if they leave room for six.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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On twitter, I expressed a hope that the #RockHall2018 announcement would include some kind of surprise…hopefully not an agonizing one.

That didn’t quite happen–which isn’t to say that there wasn’t the element of the unexpected. The Rock Hall kept the results quiet until formally announced on Sirius, which is rare indeed. As for the inductees themselves, they fell in line with everyone’s expectations. Almost.

As you probably know by now, it’s… Bon Jovi. Nina Simone. Dire Straits. The Cars. Moody Blues. Sister Rosetta Tharpe as an Early Influence.

So, as far as surprises go, the disappointing surprise was that there were only five performer inductees, plus Sister Rosetta Tharpe. For a ballot this strong and deep, with nineteen artists, that’s an unfortunately small class. The other surprise is Radiohead’s absence; almost every Rock Hall monitor had them pegged to get in. They were the surefire, can’t-miss first-year-eligible act, as Nirvana, Green Day, and Pearl Jam were before them.

Radiohead didn’t do themselves any favors by their public ambivalence about getting in the Hall, scheduling a tour through South America at the same time as the ceremony in April. Still, one has to wonder about their absence from this class. Steve Hyden writes that it “seems like transparent punishment for saying they wouldn’t show up.” While the facts might be otherwise, the optics are certainly not good.

Next, it seemed beforehand like the Rock Hall expanded its voting committee with the inclusion of an array of younger voters. If so, they weren’t exactly in evidence (or perhaps they simply filled out their ballots in ways similar to older voters). With the exception of can’t-miss Bon Jovi, all the acts that had success in the 90s: LL Cool J, Depeche Mode, RATM, Radiohead…fell short, in spite of being worthy candidates. Millennials will not be drawn to this HBO special unless some stellar special performances are in the works.

And what to do with Sister Rosetta Tharpe, who was on the ballot as a rock-era performer, despite having records out in the 1930s? A lot of people are upset about that, and I don’t really think there is any need to be.  My guess is that when the Nominating Committee met, they brought her name up as an Influence, but one of the more brazen members–Dave Marsh, perhaps?–loudly insisted that Tharpe was “as rock and roll as any of these other guys” or something to that effect, and demanded that she be on the ballot as a performer. Tired of arguing, the other committee members rolled their eyes and agreed, with the proviso that she’d get in as an Early Influence when she inevitably failed to get enough votes.  There’s nothing wrong or corrupt about any of this; it’s just the way things work when you have divergent opinions among powerful people sharing a committee together. Many bloggers predicted her to be inducted as an Early Influence, which is not only what happened, but where she belonged in the first place. I’m delighted by this: I ranked Early Influence candidates last summer, and Tharpe was my #1 choice.

Tharpe is one of two black women in this year’s class–the first since Donna Summer in 2013. The other, of course, is Nina Simone. I’ve made Nina my cause celebre ever since Chicago got in the Hall. And I’m beyond delighted to see it happen– the result, I’m sure, of positive coverage in the alternative media, a fine biographical film, and a superb documentary–all making the historical case for a woman who sang, played piano, and dared to be proud of her African heritage in an age where every cultural force discouraged her from doing so. I can’t wait for the tribute performance, and I hope the Hall has Elton and Mary J. Blige on speed-dial.

Nevertheless, the elephant in the room is that, for the third year running, we have a class dominated–I’d say overwhelmed–by classic rockers who peaked somewhere between 1969 and 1986. This time, we have late 70s/early 80s icons The Cars and Dire Straits. Both are deserving, of course. The Cars left an imprint on radio-friendly, synthesizer-driven pop, and their effortless hooks can be heard throughout the 80s and 90s in groups like Weezer. Dire Straits are a sterling example of “musical excellence” with superb storytelling and Knopfler’s top-shelf guitar work. Moody Blues gives us a prog-friendly act for the second year in a row. I originally listed them as my #1 Rock Hall prospect more than a year ago. I overvalued them as such, but there’s no question that they helped make rock and roll a more artistic and expressive medium. Bon Jovi? I still think they are kind-of hacks, but they mastered arena rock, achieved an improbable longevity–and it’s easy to look down on acts with a mostly-female fan base. And I want to avoid doing that. So, despite my misgivings, each of these acts is fine. Each deserves to be in. But as a whole, this class is once again troublingly monochromatic. I dearly wish an alternative act, or Chaka Khan’s funky disco, or iconoclastic MC5 was there to make this class give a broader picture of what rock and roll is and can be. Right now, Nina and Sister Rosetta are the only voices in a different direction. And that, too, is a problem to consider in the long run: four white, male over-55 acts have multiple members who now enjoy voting privileges. Nina and Sister Rosetta, the only women, and the only persons of color, have both passed away. Altogether, this adds to an already-troubling imbalance among Rock Hall voters.

Frankly, though, it would be a bit hypocritical of me to criticize this too far. My own votes on the fan ballot and the artists I advocated for were certainly classic-rock heavy. I consistently voted for Nina, The Zombies, The Cars, Dire Straits, and Eurythmics. Not exactly as stylistically diverse as it could be, and certainly grounded in the classic rock era. Replace Eurythmics with Bon Jovi and The Zombies for their contemporaries The Moody Blues, and that’s basically the class.

Instead, I want to focus my efforts in the coming year toward encouraging and lobbying the Rock Hall to make this induction process more transparent. They don’t have to record the nominating committee meetings. They don’t have to share who nominated who. But, especially given the Radiohead sketchiness, and other problems like the Dave Clark Debacle of ’07, they do need to 1) have an independent agency certify the voting results; and 2) Release the overall numbers of votes for each artist. In the past, they’ve said that they don’t want to create disparities in a Rock Hall class in terms of “who got more votes” or “who is more worthy.” Nonsense. These artists are all professionals. They can deal with bruised feelings that come from Jon Bon Jovi getting more votes than Mark Knopfler. So, I hope I can get my fellow Rock Hall followers on board with my Crystal Blue Persuasion Initiative to encourage these acts of transparency in what I believe is a good, worthwhile institution that nevertheless needs a booster shot of accountability.

So…on to #RockHall2019, I guess? I’ll be curious to see where it goes, but right now, I’d bet on a return of Janet and Nine Inch Nails to the ballot; repeat appearances by Rage, Judas Priest, The Zombies, Eurythmics, Link, and Chaka Khan; Duran Duran as the next Fan Vote winner; and Doobie Brothers as the Boomer favorite. David Letterman will get his wish and we’ll see Warren Zevon.  Beck. And Dre. For the last five years, we’ve chipped away at the backlog of well-loved 1970s classic rockers. If you asked someone in 2012 who the biggest snubs were, chances are he or she would rattle off “Chicago, KISS, Hall & Oates, Deep Purple, Cheap Trick, Yes, The Cars…” Well, they are all in now. How many truly top-shelf acts from that genre are left. I have to say, Jethro Tull and Bad Company don’t have the same kind of urgency as any of those acts. It’s time to move on from 70s and 80s classic rock. It’s time to put childlike things, and perhaps childhood favorites, away.

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I’m on a bit of a #RockHall2018 kick, so why stop at evaluating the nominees? Let’s also explore some options regarding who might give the induction speeches for the various artists on the ballot. This can be a tricky thing. First choices may be unavailable or unwilling to come (what- you think the Rock Hall didn’t try to reach out to Bob Dylan when inducting Joan Baez?) And on occasion the Hall steps in it by choosing an inductor who is unknown to the honoree; that happened when the Black Keys were chosen to induct Steve Miller. Miller had never met them before and wasn’t sure who they were!

I tried to select persons who would be on good terms with the inductee- either an influence of theirs, or someone influenced by them, or a friendly contemporary. When possible, I tried to shake up race and gender considerations. The 2016 ceremony was partly a near-disaster because only white male acts inducted the white male acts, and a black man inducted a group of black men (NWA). It didn’t confound stereotypes or show the complexity of rock’s history. To the contrary, some of the better speeches over the years had inductees of a different race and/or gender than their toastmaster. (Think Patti Smith inducting Lou Reed, Questlove inducting Hall & Oates, and Tom Morello inducting KISS).

So here are my best guesses:

Bon Jovi: I had some problems with this one; there aren’t very many great artists working today who took their cues from Bon Jovi. I considered Adam Lambert and Bryan Adams, but ultimately landed on two men who carried on the legacy into the 90s: John Rzeznik and Robby Takac of the Goo Goo Dolls. They toured together in the early 2000s, and understood their instinct for anthemic stadium rock and it’s appeal to teenage girls.

Kate Bush: Bjork and Peter Gabriel would both work- and might be coaxed into a performance. But Bush started out as a protege of David Gilmour, and she should be inducted in the same manner.

The Cars: There is no shortage of 21st century artists who harnessed The Cars’ melodic instincts and embrace of electronic backdrops. Weezer, though, stands out among them- right down to the backward-looking glances at 50s rock that inspired “Buddy Holly” just as it inspired “My Best Friend’s Girl.” Rivers Cuomo, come on down.

Depeche Mode: Let’s get Trent Reznor. Depeche Mode was an important antecedent to Nine Inch Nails, and this would hopefully grease the skids for NIN’s own induction into the Rock Hall.

Dire Straits: It writes itself: Sting. You definitely want him to sing “I want my MTV” don’t you?

Eurythmics: So– soulful singing that experiments with electronica. Florence Welch from Florence and the Machine would fit that bill nicely, giving the Hall a contemporary artist to include in the ceremony.

J. Geils Band: This is hopefully a theoretical exercise, but Chris Robinson, the frontman for The Black Crowes, is a big fan. They also toured together a handful of years ago.

Judas Priest: Hear me out before you slam me.  Let’s get one of England’s loudest bands- Spinal Tap- to induct Judas Priest. Wouldn’t it be great to have Michael McKean and Christopher Guest in wigs and outrageous regalia on stage inducting their fellow British metal royalty? And since Spinal Tap was famously bad heavy metal, they are well-poised to show us what good heavy metal really is. And the guys in Judas Priest, I’m sure, would be good sports about all this, and are big fans of This Is Spinal Tap.

L.L. Cool J.: I am afraid that the Rock Hall will portray Cool J as more ‘street’ than he actually was, if he were to be inducted. Let’s acknowledge him for what he is- a very good, historic rapper whose chief contribution isn’t fighting the power, or picking fights with the police, but making rap a mainstream presence that transcended racial lines. Queen Latifah had a similar significance, and the two starred together amicably in the film Last Holiday.

MC5: Fred Smith’s nickname lent itself to Sonic Youth, which would make Kim Gordon an extraordinary choice for this task. (Patti Smith, another woman who was involved in a recent Rock Hall ceremony, might also be involved as Fred’s widow.)

The Meters: Again- the odds of The Meters getting inducted are so low as to make this a mere thought experiment. But I’d go with two artists who used The Meters as backup, and know better than anyone else how good they are. Dr. John and Patti LaBelle would be my two choices.

The Moody Blues: A tough one. The temptation is to double-dip with someone like Peter Gabriel or go to the progressive rock well with someone like Ian Anderson. But Alan Parsons would also do a fine job- and has worked with this evergreen band on one of their perennial Moody Blues Cruise outings.

Radiohead: Possibly the biggest name getting inducted in 2018 deserves an equally big name giving their speech. Two artists who have inspired Thom Yorke would both do an extraordinary job: Michael Stipe (who hit it out of the park inducting Nirvana) and Tom Waits.

Rage Against the Machine: It’s only fitting that someone else who pointed fingers and challenged an unjust system through his music should do the honors. Morello’s now-collaborator Chuck D of Public Enemy would be an apropos choice indeed.

Rufus w/ Chaka Khan: So…Rufus’s keyboard player was David “Hawk” Wolinski. In the late 1970s, he happened to write a handful of songs with…Danny Seraphine. Yup. The former Chicago drummer surprised everyone in the Barclays Center with a funny, warm, and utterly profane speech when his band finally made it into the hall. Let’s bring him back to the stage to induct this funky R&B outfit.

Nina Simone: This is another joint induction- but I’d lobby strongly for Elton John and Mary J. Blige to join forces. Elton fundamentally knows his shit about Simone’s life– he even named his piano Nina and recorded a version of “Young, Gifted, and Black” when he was cutting cheap soundalike records for discount labels in the late 60s. Blige, for her part, was originally contracted to play Nina Simone before scheduling delays led to her losing the part to Zoe Saldana. Together, with Elton on the keys and Blige at the microphone, they could potentially give the performance of the night. (They already worked together on this kickass version of “I Guess That’s Why They Call It The Blues.”)

Sister Rosetta Tharpe: You know who listened to Tharpe as a young girl? And not only listened, but felt empowered to take guitar lessons and find ways to bring gospel and rock together? Mavis Staples. That’s who.

Link Wray: Robbie Robertson just took part in a documentary explaining Wray’s preeminent role in Native American contributions to rock and roll. It seems like the former guitarist for The Band should do the honors.

The Zombies: For many years, The Zombies were a forgotten band following their breakup. But in the deepest, darkest, late 70s, Paul Weller, the Modfather himself, remembered the lessons learned from Odessey in Oracle– which he frequently cites as his favorite album.

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Now we have had a few days to let the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s nominees percolate a bit, and we’ve had some time to reflect on their merits. I’d like to continue my coverage, as is my tradition, by looking at each of the nominees in turn, and evaluating them in three areas: one is my simple, highly subjective ranking of how much I like them, which I will call preference. I’ll also attempt to more objectively evaluate each nominee on their worthiness to join the rock and roll greats in Cleveland. Finally, I’ll weigh in on the likelihood of their induction this year. Before I begin, I’d like to give a shout-out to Philip over at Rock Hall Monitors- I heavily borrowed this format of discussing the nominees from him.

With 19 nominees again this year, there’s no time to waste. Let’s get down to it.

Bon Jovi (Preference: 11, Worthiness: 18, Likelihood: 3) Well, the weird extended feud- which seems to have included Bon Jovi pulling their swag from the Rock Hall- seems to be over. Bon Jovi was nominated before- for the Class of 2011- but fell short. The fact that, say, Darlene Love, got in that year and they didn’t speaks volumes. The voters didn’t like what they were selling. But that was before the fan vote. As long as the fan vote has been there, its winner has gotten in- even if, in the case of KISS, we couldn’t track down an actual Rock Hall voter who picked them. I’m not saying it’s rigged or anything- I’m really not- but let’s just say the Hall has an incentive to induct Bon Jovi. The bad publicity of the almost inevitable fan vote winner failing to get inducted is one reason. The good publicity of uniting the band with estranged guitarist Richie Sambora is another. Still- if there was ever a time that a fan favorite might not get in- this would be the one. I still think they are a near-lock. Journey got in- but they weren’t on the same level of hackery and critical hatred and contempt from their contemporaries as Bon Jovi. We’ll see.

Kate Bush (Preference: 6, Worthiness: 13, Likelihood: 16) I think I predicted her a few years ago, never taking that prospect very seriously. Well, here we are! Kate Bush is one of the very best songwriters of her era, and has a place in British pop history as having performed the first #1 both written and sung by a woman (“Wuthering Heights”). Her oeuvre, very much like an avant-garde playlet set to music, wasn’t everybody’s cup of tea. (It is my cup of tea, though. “The Man with the Child in His Eyes” is one of my favorite tracks by any performer.) Yet, she stands out as an artist among the artists listed here. Unfortunately, she was much bigger in the UK than in the USA, and the Hall’s voters definitely tilt American. Moreover, the Hall must be aware that she will almost certainly be a no-show to the ceremony: she is a famously unwilling traveler, and took 35 years between concerts prior to her 2014 engagements in London. Moreover, she’s competing with Eurythmics in the arty new wave women category- and frankly, she’s just not the icon that Annie Lennox is.

The Cars (Preference: 4, Worthiness: 5, Likelihood: 5) With the exception of Chaka Khan, this is the only act on here that has been placed on the ballot each of the last three years. The Cars are in a sweet spot: lots of classic rock staples, but lots of critical love. Later baby boomers love them, but whichever Gen X music writers are voters probably view them highly as well. There’s also no shortage of modern acts who are fans of their work, keeping them relevant today.   But they might face the same issue that plagued them the last two years: being the sixth or seventh favorite act of too many voters, and not quite getting their box ticked.

Depeche Mode (Preference: 19, Worthiness: 10, Likelihood: 13) I’ll say this for Depeche Mode: they probably had more influence on what music sounds like today than anyone else on this list. Taking Kraftwerk’s embrace of electronica and achieving top 40 success, they were a major stadium act of their day.  They are fully deserving of Rock Hall induction, even if their music is much darker and not quite as melodic or organic as what I would prefer in my own listening habits. Acts of their caliber, though, have trouble getting in. While Depeche Mode isn’t quite alternative, the fact that The Smiths or The Replacements didn’t get in sniffing distance of induction doesn’t bode well, nor does Nine Inch Nails’ failure to get in during their two nominations.

Dire Straits (Preference: 3, Worthiness: 4, Likelihood: 6) Well, here was a surprise! Dire Straits were one of those acts that fell under the radar, never really coming up in any list of egregious snubs. And yet, now that they are up for consideration, the case for them seems evident. Mark Knopfler was one of the great rock guitarists of his era, they made some pioneering music videos, and- frankly- they stand out for me in terms of crafting fine rock and roll more than any other act on the ballot. Listen to their songs, and you get poetic slices of life with first-rate musicianship: “Espresso Love,” “Telegraph Road,” “Romeo and Juliet,” “Sultans of Swing.” And come on…you know you want Sting to come out and do “Money for Nothing” at the ceremony. This was a great, great choice, and they just might make it through, even on a competitive ballot like this year’s.

Eurythmics (Preference: 5, Worthiness: 9, Likelihood: 7) I knew if I kept predicting them, I would eventually be right! Eurythmics have a number of qualities that commend themselves to an easy induction process. The hall loves soulful singers, and Annie Lennox is probably the best singer on the ballot, depending on your feelings about Chaka Khan. She took the sonic palette of new wave and infused it with depth and humanity. Dave Stewart, for his part, has worked with the Heartbreakers, Ringo Starr, Stevie Nicks, Mick Jagger, Daryl Hall, and plenty of others. The hall has also given VH1 and MTV veterans a stronger presence on the Nom Com (and presumably the Voting Committee too) in recent years, and Eurythmics certainly made the most of the music video format.

J. Geils Band (Preference: 17, Worthiness: 19, Likelihood: 11) Ah, geez. Someone on the committee loves these guys, because this is their fifth appearance. By all accounts they were a very fine live band and I’m willing to look past their somewhat embarrassing string of 80s hits. I don’t think they suck or anything, but in my own judgment, they just don’t clear the bar of excellence or influence or even record sales to have even the remotest case for the Rock Hall. Nevertheless, I’m not willing to write off their chances. They have a “your favorite band’s favorite band” thing going for them, and voters loved blues acts enough to induct two of them in 2015. But J. Geils- essentially Chic without the charm or the pity votes- probably isn’t joining Stevie Ray and Paul Butterfield in the hall this year.

Judas Priest (Preference: 13, Worthiness: 6, Likelihood: 12) It seems like just last year, we were debating who would be next metal act now that Deep Purple was in. Some said Iron Maiden, some solo Ozzy, others noted Dave Grohl’s affinity for Motorhead. Instead, it was Judas Priest, in my opinion the most deserving of that lot. Judas Priest has been safely in my top ten Rock Hall prospects in both the 2015 and 2017 itinerations. But look…it took Deep Purple three tries to get in and they were considered the most egregious Rock Hall snub in some quarters. Hardly any one outside the metal community feels that way about Priest. They are an eminent metal band, and unlike others on this list, they are genuinely honored and delighted to have been nominated. I hope they get in one day, but this just doesn’t feel like their year. I’m sure they have Eddie Trunk’s vote, but it isn’t going to be enough.

L. L. Cool J (Preference: 18, Worthiness: 8, Likelihood: 8): Well, LL Cool J has the rap and hip-hop genres all to himself on the ballot this year (although Rage as a foot in that river). He has been feted by the Kennedy Center, but will it be enough? Two rap acts have gotten in during the last two years, but NWA was a proud iconoclast benefitting from a bestselling movie, and 2pac was a cultural icon in the conversation for the best rapper of all time. LL Cool J seems a little…safe after these two. And there may very well be “rap fatigue” among the voting body that still isn’t 100% sold on the genre. Having said that, LL Cool J has to be considered a contender on any ballot he’s on, but his chances seem a bit middling this year.

MC5 (Preference: 15, Worthiness: 15, Likelihood: 18) Tom Morello’s influence surfaces here as well, with one of his favorites earning their third nomination. This band is very much like a secret handshake among rock nerds and political iconoclasts. Despite a short heyday, they made history with their notorious manager John Sinclair, and their rough-hewn records and performances influenced everyone from My Chemical Romance to Sonic Youth. Don’t expect an induction this year, though: if it took several nominations for The Stooges, for example, to get in, MC5 isn’t making it with this many classic bands on the ballot. Plus, they are competing with RATM and Nina Simone as the most politically charged act on the list this year.

The Meters (Preference: 10, Worthiness: 17, Likelihood: 19) My respect for The Meters has grown exponentially since the day they were last nominated four years earlier. I hadn’t even heard of The Meters at the time, and therefore assumed that they didn’t deserve to get in. I was mistaken. Although they rank only 17th in terms of deserving nomination, I can’t say enough how much respect I have for their funky beats, halting and jerky rhythms and distinctive New Orleans sound. Having said all that, if Chic couldn’t get in under any number of scenarios, don’t expect The Meters to fare better.

The Moody Blues (Preference: 7, Worthiness: 2, Likelihood: 1) When I declared The Moody Blues as my #1 Rock Hall prospect back in 2015, that was probably…too much. I felt like I needed to put a ~real~ rock and roll band in the top spot, and so didn’t consider Janet or Kraftwerk or Carole King or someone for that honor like I should have. Nevertheless, The Moody Blues are one of the most famously egregious Rock Hall snubs ever. Even ten years ago, people were listing them alongside Chicago, Kiss, Genesis, Neil Diamond, Alice Cooper, and the like. Well- those artists are now in. And it’s the Moody Blues’ turn to join them.

Nina Simone (Preference: 2, Worthiness: 1, Likelihood: 4) Some people think she’s not quite rock and roll, or that she would be more fitting in an Influence or Musical Excellence category. I sort of understand, but ultimately come down strongly on inducting Nina as an artist. Like Miles Davis or Johnny Cash, she was a bridge between genres. She readily covered rock and roll standards in a jazzy nightclub style, and rock and rollers covered her songs too (most famously, “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood.”) In her career, she branched out to record some of the most direct civil rights anthems of her time. While, say, Odetta’s songs prayed for peace, Simone pointed fingers and demanded justice in “Mississippi Goddamn” and “I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel To be Free.” It’s no wonder that her influence continues through such figures as Beyonce, Lauryn Hill, Alicia Keys, and Mary J. Blige- any of whom would happily drop everything to help induct her in Cleveland. Dave Davies from The Kinks publicly tipped his hand with an enthusiastic “for God’s sake” preceding his intent to vote for her. I think that’s prescient. Do you honestly think the surviving Animals won’t pick her? Do you honestly think Paul McCartney- who credits her “I Put A Spell On You” for the sultry “I love you, I love you, I love you” bridge in “Michelle” won’t find a spot for her? Or Elton John, who named his damn piano after her? Or Mavis Staples? Or surviving members of the Family Stone? Or the Furious Five? Or the social justice-friendly critics and executives who put Joan Baez in last year? Don’t be silly. Nina Simone is getting in.

Radiohead (Preference: 9, Worthiness: 3, Likelihood: 2)  Back in the late 1940s, William Randolph Hearst gave a famous directive to his vast media empire: Puff Graham. A network of radio stations and newspaper outlets then spent months establishing Billy Graham as the nation’s evangelist par excellence, handing him fame and success- albeit in recognition of his considerable skills as a revivalist. That’s not unlike the relationship between the Rolling Stone Industrial Complex and Radiohead. For years, they’ve told us that The Bends and OK Computer are two of the greatest albums of their time. They found a space for them among their 100 Immortals (and believe me, they were very stingy about including post-1970s acts.) All of this was deserved, no doubt- but it didn’t hurt to have friends in high places. Their acclaim has translated to some of the most well loved records of the late 90s- and if the voters could put Green Day in during their first year, Radiohead should be a piece of cake.

Rage Against the Machine (Preference: 14, Worthiness: 7, Likelihood: 9)  I appreciate Rage Against the Machine, which gave my generation a hyper-politicized group as earlier generations had MC5 or Country Joe and the Fish. Rage was far more popular than either- to the point of developing a near sub-culture around themselves, and any discussion of great albums from the turn of the millennium will have to include The Battle of Los Angeles. In a different year with different contenders, I would be optimistic about their prospects. But now? They face competition from Radiohead for the “newbie who has to get in on the first ballot” stakes. They face competition from MC5 and Nina Simone as the most “woke” act available. Morello is an amazing guitarist, but he’s up against Mark Knopfler and Link Wray. Too much pressure from too many quarters- an unlucky ballot for RATM.

Rufus, feat. Chaka Khan (Preference: 12, Worthiness: 16, Likelihood: 15) I’m curious how Rufus got tied to Chaka Khan again- the last two years, it was just Chaka by herself. If anything, this makes Khan’s prospects even more unlikely- people don’t really remember Rufus, and they are more tied to the funkier end of disco, while Khan’s solo career put her into more favorable diva territory. It’s distantly possible they’ll get in, but if it took Donna Summer five tries before her death made her nigh-inevitable, I can’t see Chaka Khan having better luck. It’s a shame- Rufus and Chicago collaborated frequently, and I’d love to hear Danny Seraphine make another profane induction speech.

Sister Rosetta Tharpe (Preference: 8, Worthiness: 12, Likelihood: 17) I’m still a little puzzled by Tharpe’s inclusion on the ballot. She is, beyond dispute, a key piece of rock and roll history– but her heyday was in the 40s and early 50s. I’m not exactly sure what the Nom Com is up to– are they greasing the skids for an Early Induction award (of which Tharpe is wholly deserving?) Did someone else get the Early Influence slot and this was a consolation prize? Some other folks have said “nobody will vote for her, because they know she’ll get in as an Early Influence.” I don’t agree–it’s giving Rock Hall voters too much credit for knowing how their institution works. I doubt very many rock legends have the brain-space to remember Freddie King and Wanda Jackson’s backdoor inductions between touring, buying HD televisions, and remembering to give their former mistresses hush money.

Link Wray (Preference: 16, Worthiness: 14 Likelihood: 10) Link is back! His family has been great to me over the years, and I am delighted for them. His case may be helped by the recent documentary (I’m not sure how many people knew he was part Native American when he was last nominated for the Class of 2014). Nevertheless, like that ’14 ballot, he’s up against A-list 90s acts, and a bevy of never-before-nominated classic rock favorites. Yet as a 50s guitar hero whose stock and trade was rough and ragged instrumentals, he might very well sneak in by virtue of his uniqueness- there isn’t anyone like him on the ballot this year.

The Zombies (Preference: 1, Worthiness: 11, Likelihood: 14) Look, I’m in the tank for The Zombies. They are one of my favorite artists. Odessey and Oracle is one of my ten favorite albums of all time. If I were starting a superband, I’d pick Rod Argent as the keyboard player and work backward from there. I want them to get in, and in a different year, they’d make it. Put them on the ’15 ballot instead of Paul Butterfield, and I have a hunch they’d earn enough votes to get inducted. It’s unfortunate, because they are more musically excellent and more significant in the long term than either The Dave Clark Five and The Hollies- each of whom has been in the hall for the better part of a decade. Unfortunately, last year they were up against fellow psychedelic keyboard-heavy act Steppenwolf. And this year, they are up against their contemporaries The Moody Blues, who are more famous and had more longevity. (To emphasis the point of them being contemporaries, remember that “Nights in White Satin” and “Time of the Season” were recorded within weeks of each other.) Maybe someone like Terry Sylvester of The Hollies will vote for both, but I’d imagine most people will diversify their ballots a bit more– which puts The Zombies in a precarious place.

So…where does this go from here? If I had to predict the Class of 2018, I think Moody Blues, Radiohead, and Bon Jovi are gimmes, although I’d love to be proven wrong on Bon Jovi. I’m pretty confident about Nina Simone for reasons I detailed in her section. And I’ve got a good feeling about The Cars. For a radio-friendly, critically-acclaimed group, I just can’t see them falling short a third time. But that sixth spot, assuming there is one, is giving me fits. Dire Straits and Eurythmics seem like the two most logical choices. But I would give an outside chance to LL Cool J, J. Geils Band, Rage Against the Machine, and Link Wray. The others strike me as very long shots. In a contest between Dire Straits and Eurythmics, I’d have to predict the former. Knopfler is a top-shelf guitarist, and his songwriting and storytelling is their secret weapon. The hall loves those features, as the relatively painless inductions of Leonard Cohen, Tom Waits, Randy Newman, and Bill Withers all suggest. the problem is that this gives us a class very similar to last year’s: a bunch of classic rock mainstays, a first-year-eligible act or two, and just one woman and one artist of color. (In fact, in this case, they would both be the same person- Nina Simone!)

Who am I voting for on the rockhall.com fan vote? Well, The Zombies and Nina Simone are two pet projects of mine, and two of my favorite artists of all time. Of course I’m voting for them. I want to usher The Cars in after three tries, so they are in, too. I would round it out with Dire Straits and Eurythmics, two of my favorite artists who are also among my top 15 Rock Hall prospects. While I really appreciate The Moodies, I’m so confident of their chances that I don’t think they need my vote. Kate Bush and Sister Rosetta were in contention as well. I’m fine making Radiohead and RATM wait another year. That’s not a very balanced vote on my part- too many acts that peaked in the early 80s- but I can live with that. (For comparison, my votes last year went to: Pearl Jam, Janet Jackson, Joan Baez, Kraftwerk, and The Zombies.)

What do you think? Am I on the right track with my directions? Have a pegged your favorites wrong? Let me know in the comments- until then, we have two and a half months of speculating to do!

 

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The news leaked a little early, but around midnight on 5 October, we learned the identity of our nominees for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s class of 2018. There were plenty of returning nominees: The Cars, LL Cool J, Link Wray, The Zombies, Depeche Mode, MC5, Rufus feat. Chaka Khan, J. Geils Band, The Meters, and Bon Jovi. We also have a collection of snubs receiving their first nomination. Two of them- Sister Rosetta Tharpe and Nina Simone- were theoretically eligible for the Rock Hall’s first class back in 1986. They are rounded out by Moody Blues, Dire Straits, Eurythmics, Judas Priest, and Kate Bush. Radiohead and Rage Against the Machine earned a nomination on their very first year of eligibility.

Wow! That’s quite a group. First impressions? It’s hard to go wrong with any of these. Almost. J. Geils is a joke, and I’m not fond of the Bon Jovi pick for reasons I’ll get in to…but you could make a fine class out of this batch if done properly. Lots of longtime snubs are addressed in acts like The Moody Blues. Metal-heads will be vindicated by Judas Priest finally earning a nomination.

A few things stand out, though. Others have noticed this- but this ballot is very light on R&B. (Remember, R&B is narrower than “black artists who don’t rap.”) Simone and Tharpe aren’t really in that genre, as jazz and gospel performers respectively. That leaves  Rufus/Chaka and The Meters. That’s…pretty astonishingly low, especially since these are two of the least likely acts to actually get enough votes. Compare that to the ballot for the Class of 2015 where Chic, War, The Marvelettes, The Spinners, and Bill Withers all vied against one another.

Two other omissions strike me as odd: Nine Inch Nails and Janet Jackson. I would have bet the farm on the Rock Hall moving heaven and earth to induct Reznor in Cleveland, a town he is deeply rooted in. For whatever reason, that didn’t happen. Janet was also passed by- an odd choice given how well her nomination was received during the last two years and the guaranteed ratings boost she would give the HBO special.

And then there’s Sister Rosetta Tharpe. I have mixed feelings about this. I’m thrilled that she’s now on the Rock Hall’s radar; she was listed as #1 when I ranked Early Influence candidates this summer, and that’s just the issue. Her best work was in the 1940s and early 1950s– an Early Influence by any fair assessment. The prospect of her getting in as an artist isn’t unprecedented- Muddy Waters is in as an artist too, and he peaked during that same period. But it’s very weird, and raises questions about whether this nomination is a bad faith effort to just grease the skids for an Early Influence or Musical Excellence nod. In fact, it was unusually ballsy for the Rock Hall to nominate a total of three acts whose first record came out before 1960: Tharpe, Nina Simone, and Link Wray.

And, frankly, I’m not thrilled with the Bon Jovi pick. I’m talking an awful lot of smack, given that I included them in my 100 Rock Hall Prospects, but this continues a depressing trend of choosing uber-commercial acts who don’t clear the Musical Excellence bar.  The Journey nomination seemed just a bit fishy to me last year, and Bon Jovi coming back- suspiciously after mending ties with the Rock Hall and re-donating their swag for exhibition- also raises concern. Look- if you like hair bands, great. Good on you. But musically, Bon Jovi is not in the same class as the other 18 musicians on this ballot. It’s true. And yet, they are currently leading the Rock Hall’s fan poll. That poll didn’t exist when they were first nominated back in 2011. But since it was initiated, the winner of the fan poll has always been inducted. In fact, at least three of the top five artists who win the fan poll get in. That’s disconcerting when black and female artists with greater musicianship tend to sink like stones in the public poll as hoards of suburban baby boomers vote for their favorites- look at the Meters and Rufus and Kate Bush rounding out some of the last places. If the trend holds and Bon Jovi gets in, who is next– Duran Duran? Def Leppard? Foreigner? Do they all get in before Kraftwerk and The Smiths too? Where does it end?

Finally, it’s hard to see who had the most influence on making this ballot. Tom Morello’s hand can be seen clearly in MC5 and Judas Priest’s nominations- both artists the RATM guitarist advocated for. But Questlove’s involvement cannot be readily perceived, nor can David Grohl’s. Those expecting a Soundgarden nomination were disappointed.  Similarly, my theory about Paul Shaffer nominating Warren Zevon also turned out to be bunk.

But let’s re-examine my predictions. I am proud to say that I got nine right: Radiohead, Rage Against the Machine, The Zombies, Eurythmics, LL Cool J, Link Wray, Nina Simone, J. Geils Band, and Moody Blues. Irritatingly, lots of artists I’ve predicted in other years showed up this year when I didn’t pick them: Judas Priest, The Meters, Kate Bush, Dire Straits, and MC5 all fell into that category. Troy Smith got an impressive ten right- congratulations!

For all my complaining, my two pet favorites, The Zombies and Nina Simone, are both nominees this year. If nothing else, I’m very grateful for that.

Hopefully this weekend, I’ll flesh this out, as is my custom, by rating each of the nominees on three scales: 1) how much I personally like them; 2) how deserving they are of induction; 3) how likely they are to be inducted.

Oh, and as a point of trivia- the top ten artists in my 2017 update to my Rock Hall Prospects have all now been nominated at least once: Moody Blues, Kraftwerk, Nina Simone, Carole King, Janet Jackson, Judas Priest, The Spinners, Dire Straits, and The Smiths. In fact, everybody in my top 15- with the sole exception of Mariah Carey- has  been nominated as well.

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