Posts Tagged ‘Greatest 100 Rock Hall Prospects’

No, I will not YIELD.

Anyway, here’s part 2 of my end-of-year compilations of lists. The first was on the top 100 already-inducted Rock Hall artists, here’s a simple list of my own Top 100 Rock Hall Prospects as they currently stand. This is not, in any way, intended to compete with my friend Nick’s ongoing Hall of Fame Prospects project on his blog- for which he is doing some excellent writing and fine analysis.

This list is a good demonstration of how my own ideas of what a qualified prospect is have changed through the years. Also, a good many of my original 100 have been inducted, and 3 or 4 years of newly-eligible prospects have shaped it as well. Soon, I’ll have pt. 3 up- my Top 100 future eligibles.

  1. Kraftwerk
  2. Carole King
  3. LL Cool J
  4. Judas Priest
  5. Mariah Carey
  6. The Smiths 
  7. OutKast 
  8. Smashing Pumpkins 
  9. Big Mama Thornton 
  10. Kool and the Gang 
  11. The Spinners 
  12. Dolly Parton 
  13. Chic 
  14. Monkees 
  15. Weezer 
  16. Eurythmics
  17. Kate Bush
  18. Duran Duran 
  19. Willie Nelson
  20. Sonic Youth
  21. Pixies 
  22. Todd Rundgren 
  23. The Go-Gos
  24. No Doubt
  25. The B-52s 
  26. Rage Against the Machine 
  27. Weird Al Yankovic 
  28. Iron Maiden
  29. Beck 
  30. Mary J Blige 
  31. Pat Benatar 
  32. Peter, Paul and Mary 
  33. Jimmy Buffett 
  34. Jethro Tull
  35. Solo Tuna Turner 
  36. Soundgarden 
  37. Cher
  38. Joy Division/New Order 
  39. Dr. Dre
  40. Dead Kennedys 
  41. Dave Mathews Band 
  42. War 
  43. The Replacements 
  44. Motörhead 
  45. Big Star 
  46. Ozzy 
  47. Bjork 
  48. Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds 
  49. Snoop Dogg
  50. Black Flag
  51. New York Dolls
  52. Jane’s Addiction 
  53. Salt N Pepa 
  54. Toots and the Maytals 
  55. Indigo Girls 
  56. The Commodores 
  57. TLC
  58. Phish 
  59. Selena 
  60. The Shangri-Las
  61. Dick Dale 
  62. Peter Tosh 
  63. A Tribe Called Quest
  64. Tool 
  65. Gloria Estefan 
  66. Sleater-Kinney
  67. Patti Labelle 
  68. Wu-Tang Clan 
  69. The Meters 
  70. The Jam
  71. PJ Harvey 
  72. Dionne Warwick 
  73. Chuck Willis 
  74. The Pogues 
  75. Tori Amos
  76. Bikini Kill
  77. Brian Eno
  78. The Clovers 
  79. Erik B and Rakim 
  80. Flaming Lips
  81. Los Lobos 
  82. The Roots
  83. Daft Punk
  84. Sade 
  85. Cliff Richard’s and The Shadows 
  86. Sting 
  87. Lucinda Williams 
  88. The Buzzcocks 
  89. Bad Brains
  90. Harry Nilsson 
  91. They Might Be Giants 
  92. Aphex Twin 
  93. Richard Thompson 
  94. Emmylou Harris 
  95. Johnny Burnette and the Rock’n’Roll Trio 
  96. Pet Shop Boys
  97. Siouxie and the Banshees
  98. The Chicks 
  99. Portishead 
  100. Fela Kuti

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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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And with this post, my series on the 100 Greatest Rock Hall Prospects draws to a close. I can’t say enough how much I enjoyed doing this project, and how much I appreciate the feedback that I received from so many of my readers.

Since this has been one of the longest (and perhaps the most popular) series of lists on this blog, I do want to conclude with some final remarks. Firstly, I hope everyone realizes that my list is by no means intended to be the final word, or some authoritative guide to who should be in the Rock Hall. These choices are deeply subjective, and to some extent, tied to our own personal histories in ways that make a thorough, wholly rational analysis beside the point. Maybe I wouldn’t have put Peter, Paul & Mary on the list if I hadn’t seen them perform at the opening of the George McGovern Library in Mitchell, South Dakota. Maybe I would never have encountered the Indigo Girls if my wife didn’t appreciate their music. All of this is premised on extreme contingency. So if you have reservations with the choices I made, remember– there’s nothing stopping you from coming up with your own list.

But one thing I tried very hard to do was to suggest the deep stylistic breadth of rock and roll. Rock was the joyous and fortuitous coming together of the blues, of country-western, of folk, and gospel. Subsequently, rock and roll was never a monolith; even in its early days it harbored branches as diverse as Chuck Berry’s rapid-fire St. Louis blues style, the ethereal harmonies of 50s R&B vocalists, and country-influenced teen idols like the Everly Brothers. As a result, the various genres these pioneers spawned over the generations- disco, Philly soul, punk, new wave, alternative- you name it- all lay claim to the same musical inheritance. If you want to see more classic rock in the Hall, well and good, but don’t neglect the equally legitimate claims of these other genres. Don’t get so lost in “rock” that you forget to “roll.”

I promised some of my readers that I would make a list of 15 runners-up who almost made the list, but fell at the final hurdle. These artists, each of whom I carefully considered, were, in no particular order:

  1. Joe Cocker: Another great interpretative singer who put on an iconic performance at Woodstock.
  2. Buzzcocks: An influential transition between punk and power-pop. Green Day owes them big time.
  3. The Meters/Neville Brothers: Foundational funk music. Their impact on the charts was minimal, but you’d be hard pressed to find a more respected set of musicians.
  4. Emerson, Lake, and Palmer: Epic synthesizer solos, first-rate musicianship, and an inability to write songs under 7 minutes. What people either love or hate about prog.
  5. Fairport Convention: Incredibly influential English pastoral folk combo. Liege and Lief is one of my favorites, and a progenitor to mainstream celtic music.
  6. Carly Simon: Probably my mom’s favorite artist, so a painful omission. Lots of hits, and surprising longevity, just not enough originality or excellence.
  7. Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds: Gave introspective and utterly self-obsessed alternative music something it sorely needed: storytelling.
  8. Mahavishnu Orchestra: Performing meandering jazz rock with the sensibility of Indian ragas? Sign me up, immediately!
  9. Gloria Estefan & the Miami Sound Machine: No shortage of hits, and an important chapter in the long relationship between rock and Latin music. But just not enough gravitas for me.
  10. Jim Croce: His career was cut tragically short, but in the time that he had on earth, still managed to write “Time in a Bottle,” and one of my favorites, “I Got A Name.”
  11. King Crimson: They helped create progressive rock, but they weren’t around all that long, and even I find it difficult to listen to their material the whole way through.
  12. X: An indispensable component of the L.A. punk scene.
  13. Toots & the Maytals: So important to the development of reggae that I’m starting to second-guess putting Peter Tosh on my list instead of them.
  14. J.J. Cale: A roundly-respected guitarist and songwriter.
  15. Gil Scott-Heron: His spoken-word soul poetry is the missing link between 70s deep soul and rap.

In the end, though, I had to make some tough, even unpopular, choices regarding who to leave out. I tried to seek out, understand, and respect a wide array of opinion. If there was an artist lots of people I admire talked about as a Rock Hall contender, I tried to give them an honest listen, especially if I wasn’t already familiar with their work. But it is the duty of the conscientious critic to reserve the right, every once in a great while, to say that the rest of the music community has lost their minds. Hence, my most notable omission: Joy Divison/New Order, two groups with common members that I just couldn’t wrap my head around. It wasn’t just that I didn’t like them. I don’t like Black Flag or Megadeth, but I still included them. No, it was that I couldn’t fathom why anybody would like them or be influenced by them. It was like they were genetically engineered in a laboratory to drive me batty: punk’s lack of musicianship, alternative’s dreary self-obsession, and so on.  I’m sure they influenced lots of artists, but I wouldn’t care to hear any of them.

A few other omissions that others remarked upon. My own tendencies toward the melodic and the harmonic make most experimental music a tough sell to me. Captain Beefheart was maybe the biggest casualty on that ground.  If Bon Jovi only made it to #91, that was probably a good indication that things weren’t going to go well for Def Leppard. It’s possible that I was simply prejudiced against them, but it’s the head banging and the almost willful, unironic stupidity of tracks like “Pour Some Sugar On Me” that cost them. Arguably, the “style over substance” qualms kept The Scorpions and Motley Crue off the list as well. There were lots of classic rock bands that just didn’t have some kind of signature or calling card that made them stand out from their contemporaries. That doesn’t mean that they were terrible or anything, just lacking some form of distinction that made them stand out from their contemporaries.  There’s nothing wrong with being a good old rock and roll band, but that won’t always be enough to get you in the Hall of Fame. Apologies, then, to Bad Company, Boston, Todd RundgrenBlue Oyster Cult, Grand Funk Railroad, Styx, Foreigner, and others of their ilk. Rundgren’s career was so versatile, I hasten to add, that he’s one of the most deserving people I can fathom for a Musical Excellence Award.

Nor do a boatload of hits guarantee consideration; to think otherwise is to turn our understanding of music into a wholly commercial and mercenary practice. If the influence or quality or artistry wasn’t there, no number of hits could save you.  I am a big advocate for more women in the Hall, but Connie Francis didn’t write her own stuff and didn’t play an instrument. That’s fine; lots of great artists didn’t, but they compensated by bold stylistic choices, or amazing vocals, or stellar live performances. Connie didn’t have any of that; her case boils down to “she had lots of hits,” most of which aren’t well remembered and didn’t age very well.  Sorry.  Similar problems felled Cher, George Michael, Huey Lewis, and others.

For petty political reasons, I disqualified Ted Nugent and Pat Boone. You spent your careers attacking people like me, so I feel no obligation to be remotely fair to you in return. Screw both of you.

For still others, their case is based on influence, and I still need more time to see how that influence bears out. If you were hoping for The Jam, My Bloody Valentine, or Pantera, that’s why they weren’t here.

Finally, a couple were outside of even my very broad definition of rock and roll. To me, if you weren’t clearly in the rock and roll family tree, then you needed to at least work with or collaborate with rock and rollers. Willie Nelson did this frequently, so he’s fine. Ditto Emmylou Harris. Nina Simone covered rock songs and rockers covered her songs. No problem. But Johnny Coltrane, while an immensely important jazz artist, didn’t have as direct a link to rock and roll as I needed. And if Patsy Cline had died in 1975 instead of 1963, she might have sung a duet with Gram Parsons, or gone on tour with Linda Ronstadt opening for her, but that didn’t happen. Lots of country-rockers look up to her, and for good reason, but her ties with rock and roll in her tragically short life were gossamer-thin.

So, if I made choices that vexed or upset you, I beg your patience. I’ll be the first to admit that I have a lot to learn about the great music that came out of the second half of the twentieth century. But at the very least, I hope that you found this project useful, entertaining, or informative. If you agreed with me, great!  If not, I understand. Either way, I hope that I have helped everyone think about the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in a better, more ecumenical, and more systematic way. Often, we get mad at Rock Hall officials, simply because they don’t like the same music we do. And sometimes those of us with more avant-garde tastes treat rockists like barbarians at the gate. At the very least, I hope that we have the patience to listen to one another, and assume our best intentions. Hail, hail rock and roll. Deliver us from the days of old.


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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We only have three installments left, and this one will bring us up to the cusp of our top 20.  Although some of these artists are among our strongest contenders, amazingly only 3 have been nominated before.  This batch of artists is, as every batch of ten has been, an eclectic group: R&B, alternative, folk, the British Invasion, and classic rock are all represented.

ben e. king30.  Ben E. King:  How much should one or two sublime songs transform someone into a contender?  That’s the question attendant to any discussion on Ben E. King.  “Spanish Harlem” is still remembered fondly, and he had a string of R&B hits that extended well into the 1970s.  But at the end of the day, his credentials come down to three words: “Stand By Me.”  It is rightly one of the most well-loved songs of its time, and it’s been covered by so many artists I wouldn’t dream of even beginning to list them.  The song was inducted into the Library of Congress registry, and according to BMI, was the fourth-most played song of the 20th century.  There’s precedence for cases like King’s where a couple songs overshadowed a long and eclectic career.  Ultimately, both the Nom Com and the voters thought Bill Withers deserved to be in, and his case rested essentially on the nostalgic value of “Lean On Me” and “Ain’t No Sunshine.”  If King at #30 seems too high, consider this: there probably isn’t a rock and roll song as important as “Stand By Me” whose (eligible) singer isn’t in the Hall of Fame.  Unfortunately, since his death in the spring of 2015, the Nom Com had a great chance to nominate him last November and decided not to do so.  Although he was nominated once during the Rock Hall’s early years, he appears to be one more victim of the unspoken consensus to move beyond the 1950s and early 60s.

Joan Baez29.  Joan Baez:  In the beginning, there was Baez.  She played the guitar acceptably, and didn’t usually write her own music, but in the best folk tradition tinkered with songs, deconstructed them, rearranged them, and made them her own.  Of course, one man looms over her career, her former boyfriend Bob Dylan, whom Baez quietly encouraged and ushered into the Greenwich Village scene and into greatness.  Dylan more or less quit the social activism as soon as people started to, you know, look up to him for it.  He almost immediately shot back with tracks like “Ballad of a Thin Man” and “Maggie’s Farm” which blithely told the seekers of the Sixties to look elsewhere.  It wasn’t him, babe.  Baez, though, stayed with it- playing Woodstock, visiting Vietnam with a peace delegation, and supporting LGBT rights before it was cool.  Baez was even banned from playing in several South American countries in the 80s, for fear that she would inspire revolution and reform if she challenged the iron-fisted juntas that ruled at the time.  She was a voice of deep conscience connecting folk with what would eventually become known as soft rock.  Play her debut album from 1960, and you’ll find that it’s a near-masterpiece.  The pacing, the depth, nuance, and control make it something far from the wan Kingston Trio tracks of the same era.  What came after was even more special, from “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down” to “Diamonds and Rust” and “Sweet Sir Galahad.”  As one of popular music’s singular voices and a lynchpin of rock and roll’s engagement in the great questions of its era, Baez is one of the most important figures not yet inducted.

willie nelson28.  Willie Nelson: He has become such a cultural icon that we forget just how good the music actually is.  Often low-key, plaintive, and the very soul of expression, Willie Nelson never needed artifice to communicate with the public, just a song, a headband, and his faithful guitar, Trigger.  Nelson’s career, spanning well over 50 years, has been a touchstone in the close relationship shared between country and rock and roll.  The red-haired stranger has spent that time not only been building bridges between these two genres, but also speeding over that bridge in pimped-out tour bus smoking a $3,000 doobie.  His time in Austin in the late 60s could not have been more fortuitous, putting him in a Southern city with a burgeoning hippie scene.  It was the perfect place for him to cultivate the authentic and yet carefully crafted public persona that made him a household name.  Pick whichever Nelson you prefer: the early 60s Opry hand, the 1970s outlaw, the Farm Aid activist, or the 90s evergreen running afoul of the IRS but remaining a can’t-miss live act well into his old age.  When you look at his body of work, and how important that was for country-rock, his resume basically writes itself: “Always on my Mind,” “Mothers Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to be Cowboys” “Whiskey River,” “Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain,” “On the Road Again.”  If you think Willie Nelson isn’t rock and roll enough to be in the Hall of Fame, all I have to say is that I’m amazed you found my blog, Mr. Simmons.

sonic youth27.  Sonic Youth:  The last two times I tried to guess the Rock Hall’s annual ballot, I predicted a Sonic Youth nomination and was proven wrong both times.  But I remain unchanged in my belief that Sonic Youth could- and should- get nominated any year now, especially as those who came of age in the 80s gain a greater toehold on the nominating process.  Sonic Youth were kind of like the cool babysitters to lots of alternative, grunge, and other underground types when they were kids, if that makes sense.  Kim Gordon, Thurston Moore and company recorded a legendarium that defied easy categorization, with tracks like “Teenage Riot” and “Schizophrenia” that definitely weren’t pop, clearly weren’t metal, but were harder than most of what passed for alternative in those days.  They picked up where Velvet Underground and eventually Patti Smith left off, cribbed a bit of Big Star along the way, and developed their own deliberate, intense, and ultimately enveloping style that avoided easy hooks in favor of the experiential.  Jason Woodbury of the Phoenix New Times describes them this way: “Sonic Youth asserted their importance in introducing a whole generation of slacker kids to outsider music by using Spin and Rolling Stone as a pulpit for preaching the gospel of white noise, hardcore history, and experimental music.”  Sonic Youth created a form of music that was too cool for mainstream radio and content to be darlings of the underground.  Whatever indie was, and whatever it became, Sonic Youth helped make that happen.

tina turner26.  Tina Turner:  The question of including Tina Turner was a great philosophical puzzle for me.  She was inducted once already as Tina Turner, alongside Ike in the early 90s.  I thought, “does she deserve another induction as Tina Turner?”  It’s one thing if Croz, for example, gets in once as a Byrd and again thru CSN, but what about getting inducted twice under one’s own name?  And then I remembered the precedent where Paul Simon got inducted twice under a similar aegis, once via Simon & Garfunkel and again through his solo work.  So, that settles it, at least for me.  It’s time to induct Tina Turner for her own solo career.  Let’s get her an induction where her name isn’t resting beside an egotistical and sullen bully like Ike who beat her and bruised her and tormented her, even as they made some of the great records of the 1960s and 70s together.  Tina Turner was one of the very greatest rock and roll performers, with a commanding stage presence that suffered no fools nor any second-raters.  She pulled off the greatest mid-life renaissance by any artist I’ve seen- male or female- with a string of 1980s hits that included “Private Dancer,” “The Best,” and the immortal “What’s Love Got to Do With It.”  Turner’s career is so lauded and so decorated that there’s a wikipedia page devoted to the awards she’s received.  Among them are seven Grammy Awards since her breakup with Ike, and placement in Rolling Stone‘s very competitive 100 Immortals list.

The Zombies25.  The Zombies:  Let’s do the British Invasion right by getting in the last band from that era whose place is the Hall is beyond reasonable dispute: the Zombies.  These Hempstead boys learned all the requisite tricks from The Beatles and The Animals but added their own distinctive flavor that made them stand out by a head among most of their other rivals.  Namely, the electric piano of Rod Argent and their tendency to write songs in darker, more melancholic minor keys, which showed a sophistication utterly foreign to, say, Gerry & the Pacemakers or Billy J. Kramer & the Dakotas.  While their early hits like “She’s Not There” showed a great deal of promise, their pinnacle turned out to be their swansong.  Odessey and Oracle was one of the very finest albums to come out of the 1960s.  You probably know its evocative psychedelic hit “Time of the Season” but if you aren’t already familiar with them, give the celebratory post-incarceration “Care of Cell 44” a listen.  Or else the music-hall flavored “This Will Be Our Year” or the achingly beautiful “Changes.”  Recorded at virtually the same time as Sgt. Pepper, it showed how rock and roll could be ethereal, symphonic, and transcendent in ways that had not been charted before.  Like the fictional monsters from which they derived their name, The Zombies don’t seem to die; they were on tour last year and their influence on low-key, moody indie artists stand out as one of their chief legacies.

nine inch nails24.  Nine Inch Nails: Like Eno at #33, Nine Inch Nails have challenged the sonic landscape of rock and roll.  The late David Bowie said this about them: “Trent [Reznor]’s music, built as it is on the history of industrial and mechanical sound experiments, contains a beauty that attracts and repels in equal measure: Nietzsche’s “God is dead” to a nightclubbing beat.  And always lifted, at the most needy moment, by a tantalizing melody.”  As some have pointed out to me before, Nine Inch Nails didn’t invent industrial–artists like Throbbing Gristle and Cabaret Voltaire have that distinction. But Nine Inch Nails took the genre further, made it more popular without losing anything that made it great.  Annie Zalesky wrote that “more than any band, NIN is determined to haul rock ‘n’ roll into the modern age,” with impeccable theming and atmosphere buttressing often dark and nihilistic lyrics.  NIN passes the “excellence” test, and convincingly used industrial pioneers’ sound with elements of metal, soul, alternative, and funk that resulted in “Hurt” and “Closer.”  Few took more time than Reznor in giving his music the right “atmosphere,” a process that some have called “sound collages” that set the mood even better than his pain-wracked lyrics.  Resting comfortably within Rolling Stone magazine’s 100 Immortals, it’s clear that the right people like Nine Inch Nails.  So far, they’ve been eligible for two years, and have been nominated in each of those two years.  And since not just critics but also some rockers favor their candidacy (including Eddie Trunk), it’s quite likely that the voters will honor them more decisively in the near future.  Assuming that the ceremony is in Cleveland next year, Reznor might be in for quite the homecoming in 2017.

jethro tull23.  Jethro Tull:  Classic rock is already well represented in the Hall, which makes me feel fine about not including every single act in the genre on my list.  Most of its big names are already in.  But Jethro Tull’s omission continues to puzzle.  They have not one, but two of the all-time great albums from rock and roll’s most competitive era in the early 70s: Aqualung and Thick as a Brick.  You have a concept album about a lecher that doubles as a reflection on the nature of religion and God, as the confessional and the gutter are never far apart.  The other is a self-aware parody of the ostentatious concept album, purporting to be about a literary wunderkind.  Ian Anderson and crew brought the naturalism of English folk and the ambitious scope of prog on a collision course.  Sometimes the results were uneven, but they were always distinctive.  There was that flute.  There were lots of classic rock bands I considered for this list but ultimately rejected because they didn’t have a signature style, nor a particular calling card that made them stand out from their contemporaries.  With Jethro Tull, that was never the issue: there were acoustic guitars that gave way to electric as the song caught fire, long suites without breaks except to turn the record over, and Anderson’s flute as almost a recurring character in their music.  If anything, Tull’s longevity killed their chances.  They endured when, say, Parsons or the frontman of #22 died out.  And instead they just kept running on that Locomotive Breath, creating astonishingly decent new music and winning Grammy Awards they probably shouldn’t have.  In other words, it’s remained easy for some rock critics (are you reading as well, Mr. Marsh?) to maintain grudges.  Hopefully, that, too, will change.

t. rex band22.  T. Rex:  The fact that T. Rex hasn’t even been nominated for the Rock Hall seems like a Euclidian proof that the institution views rock and roll from a deeply American set of lenses.  What is quickly forgotten in this light is the sensation that this group created as glam music hit its apex, alongside such contemporaries as David Bowie and early Queen.  This hysteria was called “T. Rextasy” and enveloped the United Kingdom with glittering UK Top 5 songs: “Telegram Sam,” “Metal Guru,” “Children of the Revolution.”  There was nothing like Marc Bolan and this troupe.  They were sensual (how easy we forget lines like “you’ve got the teeth of the hydra upon you” in “Bang a Gong.”)  They made rock and roll more visually engaging.  And Bolan was able to cast a wide net with his audience.  Bob Stanley writes: “He should have taken America by storm: he wrote melodic riff-born rock songs that could charm bikers and birds.”  For a handful of years, he was Great Britain’s biggest rock star, bar none.  But eventually, Bolan sputtered.  He put on weight, succumbed to drugs and died in a car crash at age 29, and we subsequently misremember that his contemporary and rival Bowie was the only person doing arty space-rock in those years.  That’s a shame, because in the same way #21 won her long war against Whitney Houston, Bowie won the long war against T. Rex, though they were surely worthy adversaries, even in defeat.  If T Rex ever gets in, their induction speech is likely to be short; the only living member from its primary lineup is drummer Bill Legend.

mariah carey21.  Mariah Carey:  I can hear the comments now: “too high!  too high!”  Is she?  The only thing that’s too high is Mariah’s 5-octave range.  As I’ve said before, chart success is a factor, but not a totalizing factor.  Still, it’s hard to find fault with 27 top ten hits (that’s the fifth highest total ever, by the way.)  Or the 18 Billboard #1 hits (second only to The Beatles, incidentally.)  In fact, even if she existed primarily as a songwriter and never sang a note, she would have written more #1 hits than any songwriter of the rock and roll era not named Lennon or McCartney.  But the story is so much more than the statistics.  Just like Idina Menzel was doing on Broadway at roughly the same time, Carey moved the female voice in popular music into the direction of belting, going for power, force, and vibrato without losing its control or emotional range.  She successfully navigated her MOR origins in order to push R&B into a more energetic, thoughtful, and in some ways, biographical mode as her work became more self-revelatory as she found her voice as a writer.  And Carey was the only artist I can think of who could thrive on BET and still have her music played in an orthodontist’s office.  She easily collaborated with rappers, and fostered the “hip-pop” trend of the 90s.  I could go on with accomplishments like this for a while: she sang virtually the only Christmas staple to come out of the 90s, and two of the three longest-tenured #1 hits are hers: “One Sweet Day” and “We Belong Together.”  As an artist, Carey was about as versatile as it got, capable of dance remixes, urban R&B, and legendary ballads, often all on the same album.  Trini Trent puts it this way: “with her incredible sense of pitch, she draws on the precision timing of Ella Fitzgerald, the styling of Sarah Vaughan, the range of Minnie Ripperton, and the grit of Aretha Franklin.”  Indeed.  What should have been a no-brainer first-year-eligible nomination last October is likely to be a long wait until Janet and Whitney get in first.

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This next installment of the 100 Greatest Rock Hall Prospects brings us to the halfway point in our exploration of the performers best poised to take their rightful place in Cleveland.  This batch includes 2 previous nominees, and 2 potential members of the Clyde McPhatter Club.  It’s also a good time to remember the loss of David Bowie, an artist in every sense of the word who showed all of us the limitless possibilities of rock and roll’s promise.

60.  The CommodoresThe Commodores:  Someone- I think it was Dave Marsh, but I’ve forgotten- described The Commodores as funk music for guys who sit when they pee.  It’s a cruel jibe, and like most cruel jibes, contains an element of truth.   But certainly, it isn’t the whole truth.  The Commodores started off as a surprisingly good funk outfit, though closer to the Bar-Kays than Parliament.  It’s easy to forget that their first big hit, “Machine Gun,” was a fast-paced instrumental, not a ballad.   For years, they produced top-notch funk that was forgotten as they transitioned to singers of smooth Lionel Richie-penned numbers later in their career.  Listen to “The Bump,” “Too Hot Ta Trot,” “Slippery When Wet,” and other songs from that era, and you’ll see what I mean.  But the slower songs were also of high quality: “Easy” is a brilliantly-crafted smooth love song, and even the schmaltzy “Three Times a Lady” is better understood as more of an aberration in their catalog.  Most of their slower songs were more thoughtful; witness “Sail On,” a forgotten minor hit that even channels a bit of CSNY.  Maybe some purists aren’t happy with the fact that the Commodores went in a more commercial direction instead of  emphasizing the black nationalism of many other artists in their wheelhouse.  But it wasn’t easy to find a sweet spot between the pop charts and groovy R&B, but they succeeded in a big way in joining these worlds.  Lionel Richie also gives them a kind of ace in the hole in terms of induction, generating both name power and what I call the “fondness factor”. Remember that the only black R&B artist voted in during the last three years is the one with the greatest “fondness factor,” or nostalgia attached to his candidacy, Bill Withers.  Partly through Richie’s enduring celebrity, the Commodores are broadly loved by the wider public in a way that Chic, War, and other, perhaps more technically artistic choices, are not.  And these days, like it or not, that’s probably enough.

59.  Smashing PumpkinsSmashing Pumpkins:  At the risk of oversimplifying, they took alternative and made it beautiful and ethereal.  Doesn’t their resume look Rock Hall-ish?  They certainly pass the zeitgeist test, and they do so in an interesting way, by appealing to both those on the later side of Generation X and the older side of Millenials like myself.  You couldn’t listen to music in 1995 and not be conversant in the Smashing Pumpkins.  They brought back some things that grunge, for all of its authenticity, lacked: melody and listenable production instincts.  Lots of different people could like them, which wasn’t true of many artists in the 1990s.  The kids listening to pop could dig the Pumpkins, and so could the grunge and alternative people, without looking like sell-outs to their friends.  When you consider how hopelessly balkanized that decade was from the standpoint of taste, how few common points of reference existed for the wider body of music listeners, that is a profound accomplishment.  They recorded two albums that factor into “best of the decade” discussion, Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness and Siamese Dream.  Iconic songs deeply identifiable to their decade?  Sure: “Bullet with Butterfly Wings,” “1979,” “Tonight, Tonight,” “Disarm,” “Today.”  Enigmatic and erratic frontman?  check.  Not only that, but Billy Corgan has a long list of collaborations with other artists that lots of artists with Rock Hall level profiles tend to have and signal wide industry respect.  Collaborators range from Courtney Love to Robert Smith of The Cure to Ray Davies.  Oh, and he also inducted Pink Floyd in 1996, when hundreds of artists would have killed for that honor.  Clearly, the Rock Hall went in a 70s classic rock direction for 2015, the first year they were eligible.  But it will only be a matter of time until Smashing Pumpkins are on the ballot.

58.  the replacementsThe Replacements:  Last time around, I explained why Big Star deserves more serious attention, and one reason is because groups like The Replacements studied their work and brought their own personal sensibilities to it.  Alex Parenne was right when he said that the band’s oeuvre was “a glorious, extended tribute to a particularly upper-Midwestern variety of failure.”  Failure is about right: the band had only one top 100 hit, but many of its fans wear their lack of success as a badge of honor.  Their music gave outcasts of the 1980s a place to ruminate, combining the morose elements of post-punk with the pulled-back power pop of Big Star often thrown in, as appropriately seen in “Alex Chilton.”  As low-fi pioneers, they were instrumental in the creation of alternative music, never loud for the sake of being loud, thoughtful without being cerebral.  Their temperament was bemused, even as Paul Westerberg’s vocals communicated anguish and hurt in his own inimitable way.  If you like your music wry, ironic, and out of the mainstream, The Replacements are probably in your dojo.  They were nominated once before, for the Class of 2014, but they were given a hopeless scenario of going up against Nirvana and a bunch of 70s and 80s classic rock favorites.  They never had a chance, and unless Generation X exerts a greater control over Rock Hall affairs, they may have a long wait to get into the Hall.

57.  peter toshPeter Tosh:   With the exception of Jimmy Cliff’s surprise nomination and induction in 2010, it’s like the Rock Hall forgot that reggae existed apart from Bob Marley.  While I’m still not entirely sold on the merits of Cliff’s induction, Peter Tosh is clearly the next man up in the reggae queue.  His music was decidedly different from his contemporary Marley.  There were stronger R&B influences, frequent collaborations with Anglo-American artists, and a greater swagger to his music (“Walking Razor”) that contrasted to Marley’s universal bonhomie.  With his early work with the Wailers (who weren’t inducted with Bob, I might add), he was present at the birth of reggae which adapted rocksteady beats, infusing politics and social concerns, and playing a ragged guitar during the offbeats.  Like many of the great rock legends, Tosh’s music was of a piece with his activism.  He strongly supported marijuana legalization, like many a rastaman before him, but also spoke out for human rights (“Equal Rights”) and against nuclear proliferation.  His death in 1987 (a home robbery gone wrong which may or may not have had ties to the Jamaican government) brought a prolific career and a singular life to an end.

56.  Black FlagBlack Flag:  In some ways, this choice is my attempt at something close to objectivity: out of all 100 prospects, I probably dread listening to Black Flag the most.  “T.V. Party” is the worst track I’ve ever heard.  I’m not saying that in a twee “‘T.V. Party’ is the worst track I’ve ever heard, but it’s great” sense.  Don’t misunderstand me.  It is actually the worst track I’ve ever heard by a major artist.  If you thought the Ramones were a little too polished and played their instruments a little too proficiently, Black Flag was there for you.  They were a crucial part of the 1970s and 1980s punk scene in L.A. and contributed to the creation of hardcore as its own legitimate field of punk music.  In terms of their worldview and aesthetic, they also helped pioneer the D-I-Y culture that thrived in punk, and that included their own record label. More than anything else, a band like this is emblematic of the deep distrust in institutions- any institutions- that Americans felt toward the end of the 1970s.  Listen to the hopelessness of “Gimme Gimme Gimme”, the disillusionment of “My War,” and there’s that raw, visceral quality that clearly spoke to people in an L.A. soaked in materialism and the military-industrial complex during an age of limits.  As a historian of that era, I find them fascinating, if only because they help explain the jaundiced worldview that caused so many people to buy Pet Rocks as gag gifts.  As a Rock Hall watcher, I allow that they are clearly one of the most significant punk acts that isn’t in the Hall yet.  (Not that there are very many punk acts there to begin with.)  As a listener, I still think they’re terrible.  But that was probably the point all along.

55.  MonkeesThe Monkees:  Last year, an article on Buzzfeed went viral that purported to debunk every reason that’s ever been used to keep the Monkees out of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.  Some of their arguments are quite sound.  Object to them not playing their own instruments?  Well, then you must object to Motown as well.  Do you think they were just television stars?  Well, they were the progenitors of MTV too.  But the article misses one crucial counter-argument.  The Temptations and The Supremes might not have written their own stuff or played any instruments on their records.  But David Ruffin never sat behind a drum set on national television to give the public the impression that he did!  Oh, and the Motown groups all paid their dues thanklessly for at least a few years, and weren’t just told to sing into a microphone like Mickey Dolenz or Davy Jones (ironically, the two Monkees with no prior musical training) for instant, guaranteed success.  So the Monkees remain divisive among rock experts, although a consensus is slowly forming in their favor.   They were a studio creation designed to capitalize on The Beatles’ success, but over time, the band found their voice, learned to play instruments acceptably, eventually wrote some of their own material, and slowly degenerated into terrible artistic choices (Head) before petering out.  And it’s hard to dismiss those great early records.  Don Kirshner used the best Brill Building songwriters and a crack team of musicians to create a signature sound indebted to The Beatles and The Byrds but with a joyousness all its own.  “I’m a Believer,” “Pleasant Valley Sunday,” and “Daydream Believer” are all rightfully iconic.  And their records are immensely more listenable than any other teen idol from the 60s.  Go ahead, listen to some early Sedaka, or Frankie Avalon, or Bobby Sherman and see if any of them hold up nearly as well.  As a group that followed Pinnochio’s trajectory and started out a creation before slowly earning personhood, the Monkees were an inseparable part of the Sixties sound, and introduced countless pre-teens to the world of rock and roll.

54.  StingSting:  #54 and #53 are of a piece.  Both are Englishmen who struck out on solo careers after success in a legendary band.  Both played unconventional instruments for a lead singer.  Both have recorded soundtracks for a Disney animated feature.  First, let’s discuss Sting.  When Sting was nominated for the Class of 2015, a lot of people were horrified and thought he was undeserving.  I don’t think that’s true, but I wonder if a lot of that reaction was an optical illusion.  Peter Gabriel had just gotten in the year before, so for Sting, who was manifestly not as important as Gabriel, to possibly get in just one year later seemed a miscarriage of justice.  Honestly, it’s not that Sting was inducted too soon, it’s that Gabriel was inducted far later than he should have been.  At any rate, here’s my case for Sting.  He was an important contributor to world music, and his albums, including Dream of the Blue Turtles, Nothing Like the Sun, Ten Summoners’ Tales, and Brand New Day found ways to incorporate jazz, reggae, folk, and in BND’s case, trance in ways that rarely succeeded in a top 40 format.  A lot of people dismiss that and they shouldn’t.  If, say, receptionists at dentist’s offices and middle-school English teachers like Sting, why does the critical community treat this as a bad thing?  It’s a genuine breakthrough when that happens.  And if Sting is a gateway drug to exploring, say, Tosh at #57, or Fela Kuti at #100, so much the better.  Oh, and he recorded one of the few really good Christmas albums in the entire rock canon: the evocative If On a Winter’s Night, which cleverly incorporated medieval hymnody and folk songs, when most artists would have done “White Christmas” and “Let It Snow.”  Sting’s musicology, his eclectic style, his ability to use music from anywhere in the world without seeming derivative or appropriating, is unparalleled.

53.  Phil CollinsPhil Collins:  This pick is going to seriously piss some people off, but hear me out.  Collins was one of the voices that dominated the 1980s, whether you like it or not.  His songs formed, in some ways, the spine of the burgeoning adult contemporary format which was, by 1980, trying to distance itself from its earlier reputation as the “Easy Listening” format.  Rock and roll is often contemptuous of the old, and Collins found a way to remain in the conversation and keep aging, balding baby boomers engaged in the sphere of the rock tradition as well.  Fundamentally, his music spoke to people who were not teenagers and may not have even been young adults anymore, people whose first marriage turned out to be a mistake, and struggled to make sense of their lives between driving their eight-year-old to karate practice and fulfilling their alimony payments.  “Take a Look at Me Now,” “One More Night,” and  “I Wish It Would Rain Down,” became self-suffering torch songs for that demographic.  His songs live on in pop culture infamy: “what the hell is Sussudio”?  “Is the drowning from ‘In the Air Tonight’ literal or metaphorical?”  “Who is Billy, and why might he lose that number?”  And show me anyone who says that they haven’t air-drummed to “Take Me Home,” and I’ll show you a liar.  Although the charts don’t make any definitive case, it’s worth remembering that he had 16 top 20 hits, and a few important tracks like “You’ll Be in My Heart” that just missed that goal.  Why is Collins higher than his contemporary from The Police?  Because “In the Air Tonight” is in the debate for “Best Song of the 1980s” and has one of the most iconic drum parts ever recorded, that’s why.  Beat that, Sting!

52.  Salt N PepaSalt N Pepa:  The Hall needs to get around to nominating their first female rap artist eventually.  Some people might think that honor should go to Queen Latifah, but I’d advocate for Salt N Pepa.  Here’s why.  Making it as a female rapper in an industry with rampant, egregious misogyny could not possibly have been easy.  They refused to be objectified, demanded respect, and set the terms for themselves- both in their lyrics and in real life.    While Madonna was frankly sexual largely to attract attention to herself and generate water-cooler buzz, Salt N Pepa were frankly sexual with a larger purpose in mind.  “Let’s Talk About Sex” made lots of parents nervous, but it was a plea for honest communication that abstained from abstinence and talked about sex as a wonderful thing, but warned their fans not to be taken advantage of.  In an age of bad PSAs that we all had to watch in Health class in high school, “Let’s Talk About Sex” was funny, daring, and honest.  And, of course, their catalog goes even further.  “Push It” and “Shoop” found Salt N Pepa (along with DJ Spinderella) reveling in their sexuality in ways girls were not encouraged to do, oggling boys in ways that male rock artists had been oggling women since time immemorial.  “None of Your Business” challenged slut-shaming before anybody was even talking about slut-shaming.  “Whatta Man,” their collaboration with En Vogue, was the master stroke in all this, a celebration of healthy relationships that never crossed the line into mawkishness.  Salt N Pepa were sharp, self-possessed pioneers who took risks, and managed to succeed in the hip-hop world and the pop universe at the same time.  It’s time the Hall recognized them as such.

51.  DevoDevo:  One traumatic moment can change a life.  Or two.  That’s what happened to Mark Mothersbaugh and Jerry Casale, two undergraduates at Kent State in 1970.  In Casale’s case, he witnessed with his own eyes the moment when the Ohio National Guard turned their rifles on their fellow citizens in a spray of gunfire that killed four and injured many more.  Both knew some of the victims.  It’s effect on them was profound, imparting on them a sense that humanity was de-evolving into a primative, ersatz state, a philosophy that guided their musical output.  Consider “Whip It”: harmless fun, but with sinister hints of violence and fascism (Whip it, after all, is a command, not a request.)  Elie Attie of the Washington Post nails it when he says this about their bloodless, synthetic, almost intentionally bad cover of the teenage anthem “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction”: “it can be seen as a turning point in rock: the moment earnestness melted into irony, the moment that swagger turned to self-consciousness and scrutiny.”  Yes!  That’s it exactly.  And Devo did this by incorporating a rich, though often disturbing, visual element that implied a nuclear holocaust that somehow resulted in everybody wearing the same yellow jumpsuits and stupid red hats.  The lyrics were never the point; they were intentionally banal.  Go ahead, read the lyrics to “Uncontrollable Urge” and “Mongoloid.”  As such, they represented perhaps rock’s most decisive break with the ethos of love and New Left idealism that reigned in the 60s, in favor of cynicism and deconstruction.  The only question is: would anyone vote for them?  As we’ve seen, a certain amount of nostalgia and sentimentality is behind nearly any Rock Hall induction, and frankly, nobody feels nostalgic for Devo.  Unless, of course, your stock portfolio includes hefty investments in yellow jumpsuits and stupid red hats.

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Welcome to our fourth chapter in the unfolding series, The 100 Greatest Rock Hall Prospects, looking at five score eligible artists most deserving of induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.  Last time, our ten prospects were heavily weighted toward the 90s and beyond.  This group is a bit more eclectic, bookended by  1950s legends who are unjustly forgotten by the wider public.  In between, there’s the customary mix of classic rock, blues, hip-hop and other important genres critical to the development and evolution of rock and roll.  Also, out of my 100 Rock Hall prospects, I’m ashamed to say that I have only seen six of them perform in person.  (Hey, as my blog shows, I also love Disney World too, and I can’t afford two expensive hobbies.)  Two of those six- #66 and #64- are in this post.

70.  link wrayLink Wray:  How much do you weigh influence, how much do you weigh longevity, and how much do you weigh chart performance?  At the center of these questions stands Link Wray.  He had a total of one top 20 hit.  But that hit was “Rumble,” a fierce instrumental evocative of street fights in an age where rockers had brass knuckles, not contract riders.  Pete Townshend, Eric Clapton, and Jimmy Page have all sung his praises.  His records are probably the first ones to use power chords and intentional distortion.  On the other hand, the Hall is a public institute, and his catalog- perhaps even “Rumble”- isn’t largely known to the wider public.  So what you think about Link says a lot about what you want the Rock Hall to be: a museum to educate?  A place to celebrate success?  Whatever you believe, the Hall has taken notice of Wray: he has friends on the Nom Com, and his lone nomination for the Class of 2014 generated lots of positive buzz.  But the last two years, not a single 50s act was on the ballot.  Is the Hall giving up on these acts? We had a purging of early rock and roll experts from the Nominating Committee this year, which may give us one clue that the Hall wants to pivot out of the 1950s.

69.  johnny winterJohnny Winter:  The last few years have been good ones for blues fans who follow the Rock Hall.  Albert King snuck into the Class of 2013 as a performer, when everyone thought that his presence on the ballot was a stalking horse for an Early Influence induction.  The Class of 2015 was even more auspicious, with two acts, Stevie Ray Vaughan & Double Trouble and the Paul Butterfield Blues Band getting in.  One obstacle, though, is that a lot of great bluesmen are better candidates for Early Influence than as rock-era performers.  Tom Lane has a terrific catalog of blues greats deserving of Rock Hall recognition, but almost all of them will get in as Early Influences, their careers having peaked before the beginning of the rock era.  So- whither the bluesman?  It seems to me that Johnny Winter would be the next great blues prospect for the Rock Hall as an era-appropriate performer.  Although his death two summers ago did not result in a Rock Hall nomination, his record is sound.  He was one of the great Texas blues guitarists, and an important trail-blazer for people like Stevie Ray.  He did one of the more polished sets at Woodstock.  He recorded three of the best blues albums of the period: Johnny Winter, Second Winter, as well as Johnny Winter And.  In these albums, his voice, halfway between a snarl and a wail, blazed an influential trail.  Bruce Conforth of the University of Michigan was only exaggerating by a modicum when he said, “any blues artist who picked up a guitar after 1968 was influenced by Johnny Winter.”  Winter also wracked up a number of accolades without ever seeming a critic’s pet: he earned multiple Grammy nominations, was on the cover of the first issue of Guitar World, and was the first white (in his case, really white) musician inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame.

68.  ozzy osbourneOzzy Osbourne:  F. Scott Fitzgerald once observed that there are no second acts in American lives.  That may be true, but there can be second acts for unhinged Englishmen who decapitate bats with their own teeth.  Heaven knows that the Hall likes ushering people into the Clyde McPhatter Club for two-time inductees, so I guess Ozzy has that going for him.  In some ways, solo Osbourne picked up where Black Sabbath left off, with dark themes and metallic ambiance.  In other ways, he exceeded Sabbath, heretical as that might seem.  Insofar as that’s true, much of the credit goes to his sideman Randy Rhoads, who was one of the greatest guitarists of his age, bringing classicist influence to the world of heavy metal.  Rhoads and Osbourne made two great albums together Blizzard of Ozz and Diary of a Madman before Rhoads’ untimely death in a plane crash.  He has an advocate too: Rage Against the Machine’s Tom Morello is on the Nominating Committee, and has expressed hope for getting Rhoads- in some fashion- into the Hall.  And for perspective, Morello named his son Rhoads!  Moreover, Ozzy played a role in keeping metal alive, using his name recognition to headline Ozzfest, which introduced the genre to new generations and brought dozens of bands a wider audience and recognition.  Osbourne may come across like a sentence-slurring buffoon, but there is method in his madness.

67.  bjorkBjork:  Although her best work was deep in the 90s, Bjork is eligible for the Rock Hall through a glaring technicality.  Her first album was recorded when she was an 11-year-old Icelandic wunderkind in 1977, easily clearing the Rock Hall’s 25-year requirement.  Once into adulthood, Bjork became the toast of the art pop world: enigmatic, elfin, and always pushing boundaries.  Bjork is, in her own words, a “communicator between all sorts of different worlds:” a kind of emissary or intermediary connecting the avant garde, academics, and culture vultures to the wider public.  When I listen to “Unravel” or “Army of Me,” I have the same “my mind has been seriously messed with,” feeling from the last time I was at the Tate Modern in London.  There was nobody like her: her work was danceable (4 #1 hits on the US Dance Chart, btw), thoughtful, engaging, and not nearly as pretentious as it could have been.  Out of all the Rock Hall prospects on my list, maybe nobody embodies the ideal of the artist as well as Bjork.  Will the Hall agree?  I avant garde a clue.

66.  three dog nightThree Dog Night:  When was the last time the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame successfully inducted a white, male artist who did not largely write his own material?  Believe it or not, it was in 2002, 14 years ago, with the Righteous Brothers.  For a plethora of reasons that have a lot to do with our cultural conditioning, we accept African-Americans and women who interpret songs as artists, but we dismiss white guys who do the same as inauthentic and hackish, even if we acknowledge their vocal talent.  Here, we arrive at Three Dog Night, a group that was repeatedly successful, even dominant, during some of rock and roll’s most competitive years.  I remember them fondly; a solid 8 or 9 of their songs were on regular rotation on the Oldies station when I grew up: “Celebration,” “An Old Fashioned Love Song,” “Mama Told Me Not to Come,” “Easy to Be Hard,” and on it goes.  Any band would have coveted one top-shelf soul singer; 3DN had a trio of them: Chuck Negron, Danny Hutton, and the late Cory Wells, each with a distinctive style.  Is there a more iconic moment from 1971 than Negron wailing, “Jeremiah was a bullfrog?” with such conviction that the line actually made sense?  They often arranged the songs themselves, and found a kind of top 40 nirvana that was tailor-made for their easy harmonies, and smart production.  A lot of critics are contemptuous of success, but earning a Top 20 song isn’t easy, and Three Dog Night had over a dozen in just five years.  In doing this, they provided necessary ballast for some important singer-songwriters whose careers were shaky at the time: Laura Nyro, Paul Williams, Harry Nilsson, Hoyt Axton, Randy Newman, and more.  Maybe your favorite bands rocked harder, or wrote their own stuff, but I see no reason to punish Three Dog Night for being roundly successful interpretive singers.  That’s the worst kind of rockist snobbery.

65.  big starBig Star:  Let’s explore where rock and roll was in 1972.  In some quarters, rock was getting soft, sensitive and introspective, courtesy of James Taylor, Jim Croce, Loggins and Messina and others.  In other quarters, metal was coming into its own, courtesy of Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, and Deep Purple.  And in still other sectors, solo artists coming out of the 60s were still trying to establish their own solo careers after their first band imploded.  Wings, Argent, EL&P, CSNY, Blind Faith, War, BTO, and countless other bands began as flotsam from the great sinking galleons of the Age of Aquarius.  In a way, Big Star could be counted among them too; its frontman was Alex Chilton, late of The Box Tops.  That’s him doing the impassioned lead vocal on “The Letter” at the tender age of 17.  Anyway, Big Star intuited that maybe the best direction to go isn’t louder or softer, but back.  Not in the sense of being backward-looking or reactionary, but to pull your punches, aiming for a hypnotically droll sound, as if everything is in the back of the mix.  Even the upbeat rockers in their catalog have a strange lulling effect.  They created some great songs along the way: “The Ballad of El Goodo,” “Way Out West,” “In the Street,” but you probably haven’t heard them very often on classic rock radio.  While the group tanked commercially, it was their fellow musicians who took note of their sound.  R.E.M., Pixies, Wilco, Counting Crows, and the Gin Blossoms all borrowed from their almost alt-country, power-pop sound.   As I said last year, the band is like a secret handshake among musicians, to see who really knows their history.  Big Star has so many fans in so many quarters of influence and power that I can’t see them not getting a nomination sometime soon.  Holly George-Warren, who is on the Nom Com, actually wrote a book on Chilton a couple years ago, which is a good omen.

64.  Indigo GirlsIndigo Girls:  What’s the point of blogging if you aren’t going to try and influence people?  Every time I blog about the Rock Hall, I get about 300 extra visitors from retweets and other publicity.  I want to use that limited, but very real, exposure to make perhaps the first credible case for the Indigo Girls in the Rock Hall.  Did they light up the charts?  No, but quite a few Rock Hall prospects didn’t either.  Their importance is in one of the only criteria that the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame explicitly states: excellence.  Their songwriting is sublime and thoughtfully mature.  “Galileo” talks about how we make the same mistakes over and over again in our lives.  “Closer to Fine” is about self-realization.  “Ship of Hope” is about abandoning optimism.  “Shame on You” challenges white privilege, including their own.  (I love the line “You know me and Jesus, we’re of the same heart; the only thing that keeps us distant is that I keep fucking up.”)  They managed to be relevant and even political without ever being shrill.  Amy Ray and Emily Sailers couldn’t have come at a better time.  In an age where electronics dominated music (not always a bad thing, of course), they offered a badly-needed acoustic alternative.  They resuscitated folk rock, mentored dozens of other fledgling female singer-songwriters, earned a handful of Grammy nominations (and absolutely should have won Best New Artist in 1990, which went to Milli Vanilli.)  Oh, and they were among the leading lights of Lilith Fair, an absolutely crucial component of women finding their own voices as artists in an industry dominated by men in the 1990s.  Our culture does extremely poorly by women of medium build over the age of 50.  If you aren’t conventionally sexy, nobody wants anything to do with you.  I take great comfort and hope in Ray and Sailers kicking ass in concert, proudly playing their own instruments and writing their own material, as talented, self-possessed middle aged women.  We really need to see more of that.

63.  Eric B. and RakimEric B. & Rakim: The name of the duo itself reflects the priority’s of rap’s early days: the DJ (Eric in this case) got first billing over the rapper (Rakim), in much the same way that Grandmaster Flash got billing over the Furious Five.  As such, they set the template for much of rap that would follow; as Stetasonic would later rap, “James Brown was old until Eric and Ra came out.”  It turns out that the decision to sample the Godfather of Soul in “Eric B. is President” was a portentous one that built the mold for funk-indebted rap for years to come.  I described Big Star as being in the back of the mix, but the same could be said of Rakim’s raps.  His style is slow, contemplative, and reflective, maybe best seen in “I Know You Got Soul,” a sharp contrast to the aggressive, combative style of many of his contemporaries who attacked the mic ferociously.  And the samplers ended up being sampled themselves: Eric B. and Rakim remain hip-hop and rap staples to this day, and Jay-Z, Nas, and countless others stand on their shoulders.

62.  The B-52sThe B-52s:  Do you think this is a silly choice?  You shouldn’t.  The essence of rock and roll is partying, and with their call-and-response lyrics, firm grasp of rock and roll bop, and Fred Schneider’s staccato vocals, there aren’t many bands that make people smile quite so readily.  They knew their history, too: listen to that organ riff from “Rock Lobster,” and there’s an artist who owes a debt to ? and the Mysterians.  Much of their appeal was in their backwards-looking nature: the bouffant wigs, the beach party thematics, and their unironic desire to have a good time embodied the sunniest aspects of 1960s pop.  But they were hardly reactionaries.  Although they never took themselves too seriously, they were in some respects important innovators.  They helped bring new wave music into the mainstream, but in a far different direction from Blondie and Talking Heads (both of whom got in years ago, by the way), embracing what new wave actually sounded like (campy sci-fi) and running with it.  What else?  Few acts had so many openly gay band members, and The B-52s helped create a safe space in the aftermath of the death of disco where sexuality could be expressed honestly and celebratorily.

61.  Johnny BurnetteJohnny Burnette & the Rock ‘N Roll Trio:  If you haven’t listened to “Train Kept A-Rollin,'” do me a favor and listen to it before reading any further.  It’s okay.  I’ll wait.  (Twiddles thumbs.  Whistles.)  Wasn’t that amazing?  It’s only a bit over two minutes, but it’s powerful and it’s relentless.  You won’t hear the Rock ‘N Roll Trio much on the radio, and for whatever reason, they aren’t remembered as nostalgically as their contemporaries.  But in terms of influence, and above all, quality, they stand apart.  The Rock ‘N Roll Trio were important pioneers of the sound that was eventually called rockabilly- rock and roll music with country-and-western and hillbilly twang emphasized.  You can hear elements of Buddy Holly with Burnette’s hiccuping vocals (although Burnette largely predated him.)  And you can hear elements of Carl Perkins in the twang.  But while Holly affected innocence and Perkins oozed a rough-hewn but genteel warmth, the Trio were threatening, tough, and sexual.  Their admiration by their peers and descendants is also very solid.  Aerosmith and the Yardbirds idolized them, and The Beatles played “Lonesome Tears In My Eyes” as part of their Cavern-era repertoire.  And they were doing more or less the same thing as Elvis at the same time Elvis started.  As their biggest advocate, Charles Crossley, points out, Elvis’s very first radio appearance was in 1953, performing alongside the Rock ‘N Roll Trio.  Burnette also probably gets some cred for his solo career as well, which includes “You’re Sixteen,” which was turned into a #1 hit by Ringo Starr of all people.  At any rate, the era of the 1950s shouldn’t be over for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.  It’s a shame that the voting body just won’t have it.

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After some controversial and acrimonious choices last time, perhaps this list is on surer footing.  One reason I suspect this is because there isn’t a single artist I’m crazy about, in terms of personal taste, in this group.  Hopefully that’s a sign of objectivity?

Well, here’s the next batch of ten artists who deserve some more attention from the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.  Mostly by coincidence, they are focused a bit more on post-80s artists, and include some sterling live acts whose chart performances and studio recordings don’t tell the whole story.  Three of these artists have been nominated before.

80.  chaka khanChaka Khan/Rufus:  Whether you prefer Rufus as a group or Chaka Khan as a solo artist, one of these permutations should get some serious Rock Hall love.  As we’ll see, the Rock Hall is historically unkind to divas not named Aretha, and Chaka Khan is among the very greatest of divas.  (And this is emblematic of a larger problem.  Less than 8% of those inducted in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame are women.)  “Chaka Khan” and “Rufus w/Chaka Khan” have each been nominated once before.  With Rufus, she was part of the transition from funk to disco, with a certain rough edge seen in the anthemic chorus of “Tell Me Something Good.”  On her own, she further honed one of the most powerful voices in popular music.  Peter Cetera loves telling the story of how  the two of them were performing a duet on the Arsenio Hall Show, and Chaka’s voice actually broke the microphone.  “I Feel for You” was a landmark record: a synthesis of rap, pop, and R&B. The problem might be that Chaka’s production values from the mid-80s sounds extremely dated: heavy, synthetic, and overdone, to the point that even her powerhouse voice gets lost in the mix.  Just listen to “Ain’t Nobody” or “Through the Fire” from that era and you’ll see what I mean.  So, Chaka Khan is damned by her association with two genres in disrepute: disco and 80s R&B.  Ironically, that selfsame legacy may endear her to the Nom Com, which has always had a soft spot for talented, though oft-ridiculed disco artists.  And with advocates like Questlove in her corner, Chaka Khan- one way or another- can probably expect another nomination real soon.  And she may very well get in, if she’s not against a bevy of classic rockers.  Can you imagine what a great moment it would be to end Chaka’s part of the show joined by Mary J. Blige and Laura Hill joining her for “I’m Every Woman?”

79.  flaming lipsThe Flaming Lips:  Including bands of more recent vintage on a list like this is always a chancy prospect.  Although eligible today, a group like The Flaming Lips has a very long wait ahead of them until they see a nomination, and who knows how well they’ll be remembered by that time.  Although formed in 1983, and achieving a mid-90s break with “She Don’t Use Jelly,” The Flaming Lips did not achieve their greatest success until arguably after the new millennium had arrived.  Their music is often described as “psychedelic,” but while that’s not wrong, it is an incomplete assessment; they are a long way off from Jefferson Airplane.   Their work is moody, world-building, atmospheric, and transcendental.  Often- and not unreasonably- compared to Pet Sounds, Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots was a landmark album.  There’s nothing like it.  With electronic experimentation, swooping orchestration, bombastic yet achingly vulnerable, it also had roots in the 60s with Neil Young-ish delivery and thank God somebody brought back the electric sitar!  Rolling Stone magazine ranked it at #27 on their list of the best album of the 2000s.  The amazing thing was how easily The Flaming Lips revived the genre of the psychedelic, notorious for its lack of focus and inconsistency, and infused it with the ethos of self-conscious, authenticity-driven alternative music and made this unlikely synthesis work.  Less well remembered are their experiments to make the listening experience more interactive.  At one point in the 90s, the band set up shop in parking lots and having a makeshift audience trigger pre-recorded sounds.  This led to the Zaireeka experiment- a sprawling four-disc set one could listen to simultaneously or in sequence.  Through it all, they remain an ethereal live act with a strong emphasis on visual spectacle.  They are intensely private and public at the same time, like Wayne Coyne locked inside his clear plastic hamster ball during one of their concerts.  And their epochal weirdness isn’t even through yet–it appears the group is working on a collaboration with Miley Cyrus as we speak.

78.  dionne warwickDionne Warwick:  She had 31 top forty hits.  69 top 100 hits.  Contributed to a #1 hit in three different decades if you count both the Billboard Hot 100 and the R&B charts.  She remained one of the most bankable artists in the industry for two decades.  She was the sweet voice by which the sublime songwriting of Hal David and Burt Bacharach entered the public consciousness.  And if imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, take note of how  The Carpenters copied Warwick’s template for “Close to You” as did Dusty Springfield for “Wishin’ and Hopin'” to massive success.  So, why isn’t Dionne in yet?  There’s a couple reasons.  Several of her records are not even soft rock, but easy listening.  Her velvety voice and breezy arrangements conjure images of cocktail hour and plastic on the furniture that is sometimes discordant with the image of rock and roll.  Others note, not unfairly, that if she recorded on Atlantic Records she’d be in by now.  And there’s no doubt that she hurt her image in the 1990s doing those goofy “Psychic Friends Network” commercials that exploited the desperate and gullible.  But Warwick delivered the decisive version of some of the 20th century’s best songs, and in ways that aren’t easy to appreciate today, was a pioneer for black women.  Can you name many African-American women who were given their own television special in the 60s?  I can’t; but Warwick wrapped up that honor in 1969.  So, while Aretha and Diana Ross and the others are more fondly remembered by rock historians, we can’t forget Warwick’s vital contributions during one of America’s most turbulent decades.

77.  Slayer2Slayer:  One of the four horsemen of thrash metal, the Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock and Roll is dead on: “if Slayer did not exist, the tabloid press would invent it.”  With Hades, Satan, death camps, and mass murder as recurring themes in their music, they seemed to come out of central casting to assault middle-class values.  What I appreciate about this is that one can certainly argue that they aren’t glorifying any of these visceral themes, but are perhaps ruminating on the evil of the human condition.  Everything about their music is fast, relentless, and a sonic hellscape.  With guitar parts evocative of the fiercest tempest you’ve heard, deep drums, and an unsettling vibrato, they set the template for countless thrash bands that came after them.  Kerry King respectfully expressed a hope that Slayer will get into the Hall one day, but he may have to be patient.  Presently, talking about a Slayer induction is a mere thought experiment; they haven’t got a prayer until Judas Priest and Iron Maiden are in.  But when these acts are cleared, perhaps the Hall can more seriously discuss metal- a genre most of its members hold in some measure of disdain.  At this rate, Slayer’s producer, Rick Rubin, is probably more likely to enter the Hall of Fame before they do.  But for their bold engagement with unsavory topics, their role in the creation of a major sub-genre, their continued success selling out arenas even today, and their reputation as lightning rods of controversy make them an indelible part of what rock and roll is all about.

76.  FugaziFugazi/Minor Threat:  Out of the 100 prospects on this list, Fugazi and their predecessors in Minor Threat might be near the bottom in terms of name recognition.  It’s a pity, because they were both a key ingredient of the hardcore scene, and helped create the straightedge culture that eschewed sex, drugs, and alcohol to stay present-minded and clear-headed.  Moreover, they were devout advocates of the D-I-Y ethos.  For all of Pearl Jam’s famous battles with Ticketmaster, Fugazi went several steps farther, often printing their own tickets, and avoiding major labels so that they could produce their music affordably and as they see fit.  Ian MacKaye and his mates probably left millions of dollars on the table in order to be true to their beliefs, which strikes me as remarkably bad-ass.  But I’ve focused  perhaps too much on their attitude, and not enough on their music.  This, too, is significant.  While incorporating elements from punk and metal is hardly original- dozens of groups did that before them- they also used some reggae beats to create a more eclectic and worldly sound to the sometimes-juvenile hardcore scene.  Unfortunately, in an age where the music-industrial complex runs roughshod over the artists and their fans, running up unfair margins on CDs and concert tickets, Fugazi and Minor Threat have been M-I-A for a dozen years now.  Their wholesale rejection of all that is institutional and back-scratching makes them incongruous with how the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame operates.  Which is why artists of their character are needed now more than ever.

75.  dominoesBilly Ward & His Dominoes:  Billy Ward was, by all accounts, a ruthless taskmaster, but his Dominoes, who at various points included Clyde McPhatter and Jackie Wilson, were one of the more important vocal groups of the 1950s.  They just barely cruise in as an artist, rather than an early influence, on a technicality: their biggest hit was “St. Therese of the Roses” from 1956, and peaking 1954 or after is the cut-off for this project, at least where I’m concerned.  At any rate, the Dominoes were an important piece of 1950s R&B, capable of being smooth and ornate one moment, and raunchy and rude the next.  1952’s “Have Mercy Baby” is a genuine contender for the first real rock and roll song, with edge and swagger that more straightforward R&B didn’t have.  And of course, there’s the brilliant sexual innuendo of “Sixty Minute Man,” clever enough to not attract attention from the naive, but with fantastic lines like “fifteen minutes for blowin’ my top.”  It’s a bold boast of black sexual prowess at a time when black expressions of sexuality could still get someone lynched.  Despite its ribaldry, it was the first R&B song recorded by a black artist to reach the top of the pop charts, an important auger of things to come.  And they even have some historical cred by being scheduled to perform at the Moondog Coronation Ball, arguably the first rock and roll concert.  Here’s a crazy thought-piece.  Given the number of famous people who got their start in this group, a Dominoes induction would make Jackie Wilson a member of the Clyde McPhatter Club for two-time inductees.  Would it also mean that Clyde McPhatter (also inducted with the Drifters and as a solo artist) is no longer the first member of the Clyde McPhatter Club, but the second member of the Eric Clapton Club for three-time inductees?  My head hurts now.

74.  phishPhish:  When you talk about can’t-miss live acts, Phish has got to be near the top of the list.  They have a fanatical cult following, so often compared to the Grateful Dead, that follows them from city to city like a rock and roll stations of the cross.  Their music lends itself readily to the extended jams and sense of belonging that have become their calling card.  As many of their fans know, Phish is committed to making each concert a unique experience to be cherished, never repeating a setlist in an age where most artists repeat the same show city after city.  And they did more than copy the Dead, for sure; they are virtuoso musicians, merging the requisite rock and roll with Vermont-country, and a bit of the improvisational character of jazz.  Phish is, no doubt, on the Rock Hall’s radar.  In 2010, they inducted no less a group than Genesis, and Trey Anastasio recently toured the vaults with Rock Hall CEO Greg Harris.  Furthermore, Future Rock Legends predicted a Phish nomination for 2016 like a bolt out of the blue, which suggests that they know something I don’t.  My dream Phish induction?  Having Trey Anastasio team up with Dennis DeYoung for a supergroup called Phish-Styx.  We’ll see.  The Rock Hall tends to favor chart success and artists whose support is wide, rather than deep, and it cuts against the Rolling Stone-sanctioned history of “serious music” the 1990s as one of angsty grunge.

73.  alice in chainsAlice in Chains:  Speaking of the 1990s as a decade of angsty grunge, we come to Alice in Chains.  Maybe you disagree with my placing them above Soundgarden, but there’s no denying their importance to the grunge movement.  One important element they have over Soundgarden is their more enduring success at a national level.  It’s tricky to engage with that element, because grunge was, in many ways, contemptuous and suspicious of success, especially extended success.  Nevertheless, they kept at it.  From their breakout Dirt album from 1992, they stayed relevant.  Even in 2013, The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here was widely considered one of the best albums that came out that year, and a follow-up is in the pipeline.  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 isn’t completely fixated on 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.   Eligible for the first time this year, they may have to wait a while in order to receive a nomination.

72.  MC5MC5:  When I talked about the Sixties as a turbulent decade in Warwick’s section, few encapsulated the decade’s revolutionary atmosphere better than the MC5.  Initially, I thought I hated The MC5.  As it turned out, I simply don’t like their best known song, “Kick Out the Jams.”  Once you get into the rest of their catalog, though, you’ll encounter a remarkably prophetic group.  With this band, garage rock fulfilled its destiny and got political; these guys were genuine revolutionaries- to the point of hiring John Sinclair as their first producer and joining the White Panther Party.  (Contrary to how the name might sound, the organization was radically anti-racist, not a white nationalist group).   At a time when Detroit was in the midst of race riots born from decades of police oppression and ghettoizing public policies, MC5 chose to stand with those who were speaking out and fighting back.  With their far-left politics, they fundamentally wanted to overturn the system, and the revolution permeated their music in “Motor City is Burning” and “The American Ruse.”  They even played at the notorious Chicago 1968 demonstrations where Mayor Daley’s goons beat up on protestors with what Senator Abraham Ribicoff called “Gestapo tactics.”  Their influence resounds through the decades, and punk, metal, and alternative artists all claim them as influences.  Guitarist Fred “Sonic” Smith married Patti Smith and played a role in her career’s success, and was also the namesake of Sonic Youth.  And Wayne Kramer remains a legendary figure, still dreaming of revolution after all these years.  They were nominated once in 2003 and haven’t returned to the ballot since.  But with Tom Morello of Rage Against the Machine and presumably their second manager, Jon Landau- both Nom Com members- pulling for them, we might very well see a return appearance from the true Motor City madmen.  Longevity isn’t on their side- they recorded only three studio albums in their prime- but everything else points to MC5’s long-term significance.

71.  doobie brothersThe Doobie Brothers:  It is starting to annoy me when people list their chief Rock Hall snubs, and every single act is a 70s classic rock artist.  It’s usually a sign of narrow musical interest and little historical perspective on what rock and roll actually was and where it came from.  Still, there is no shortage of deserving artists in the area, and while they shouldn’t have a monopoly on the Rock Hall, there are several worthy contenders from that world still waiting in the wings.  The Doobie Brothers clearly stand among them.  Given how much of Deep Purple’s case depends on that iconic riff from “Smoke on the Water,” isn’t the riff from “China Grove” on that same level of significance?  Moreover, The Doobies were a juggernaut that could dominate any way you liked with their versatility.  They charted hit after hit that remains in radio rotation to this day: “Long Train Runnin,'” “Listen to the Music,” “Black Water,” “Jesus is Just Alright” while also making cohesive, explorative albums that showed off their top-notch musicianship and the interesting rhythmic possibilities that came with having two drummers.  Longevity?  How about top ten hits in 1973 and 1989?  They also found a sweet spot between popular and critical acclaim, racking up 4 multi-platinum albums and a Grammy Award for Record of the Year.  And they even had two distinct eras with the more rootsy Tom Johnston days at the beginning giving way to the velvet tenor of Michael McDonald by the late 70s so often associated with soft jazz and yacht rock.  More than anything else, these guys were fun.  Their music boogied with a well-acknowledged debt to R&B, and was never more serious than it had to be. Hidden Under Headphones, which has its own very fine list of Rock Hall prospects, wrote that “their music is a time, a place, a spirit, an essence”- evocative of many of the best qualities of the 70s and 70s music, it’s layered harmony symbolized partly by the band’s multi-racial membership.  Nevertheless, This upcoming year’s inducted class of classic rockers bodes well for The Doobie Brothers.  I had, in my head, put them roughly at the same level of both worthiness and likelihood as someone like fellow Bay Area guy Steve Miller, so Miller getting in shortens the queue for them.  But the Miller induction, without his eponymous band, also points to a problem.  One factor that may hurt The Doobie Brothers’ chances is their voluminous membership at a time when the Rock Hall wants to cut down on ceremony run times and induction speeches.  This band had a higher turnover rate than an insolvent Radioshack franchise.

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