Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘Janet Jackson’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Read Full Post »

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

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

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

Photo of DETROIT SPINNERS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read Full Post »

Back in May, I posted my preliminary slate of predictions for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s nominees, in anticipation of the Rock Hall’s choices being revealed in early autumn.  The winners among these nominees will probably be published in December, and those artists will eventually be inducted as the Class of 2016.  What follows is essentially a reblogging of my earlier post, adding some new considerations where relevant, taking out some extraneous comments, and changing two of my fifteen picks.

Since my original post, we’ve had a couple of high-profile deaths in the Rock world, some of which impact my choices, but even more substantively, there has been a major overhaul within the Nominating Committee.  It seems as though around 16 members of the Nominating Committee were let go, leaving a core of perhaps 28 members.  My fellow Rock Hall watchers, especially Charles Crossley, Jr. and Neil Walls, did some great investigative work to piece together who was cut, including Bob Hilburn, Arthur Levy, Claudia Perry, and Roy Trakin.  The initial journalism on this development suggested that the committee on early rock and roll was decimated.  Certainly, those who were let go are older, whiter, and less institutionally tied to the Rolling Stone magazine hierarchy that dominates the induction process.  It isn’t unreasonable to guess that we will see even fewer 50s and early 60s acts than before, and the recent tilt toward 80s and 90s acts that dominated last year’s ballot will probably continue unimpeded.  Roger Friedman believes that Jann Werner wants to trim down the eligibility from 25 to 20 years after an artist’s release, but given Friedman’s slapdash journalism style, as well as the logistical problems of Tupac, Smashing Pumpkins, Mariah Carey, Beck, Rage Against the Machine, Radiohead, Biggie, and Pearl Jam all becoming eligible at once, makes me very skeptical.  For now, I have to assume that the autumn slate of nominees will be, as customary, 15 artists, all of whom released their first record at least 25 years ago.

1.  Nine Inch Nails:  NIN made it on the ballot during their first year of eligibility.  Lots of people thought they would get in, and they even placed second in the Rock Hall’s online fan ballot.  And yet, they didn’t make it; interestingly, out of the five winners on the fan ballot, they were the only ones who fell short among the actual voting committee.  It is likely that they will make a return appearance.

2.  Deep Purple: Many people were shocked when Deep Purple wasn’t on last years’ ballot, since they made it each of the two years prior.  If they had been nominated, they very well might have gotten in, spared from having to compete with popular hard rock acts Heart (2013) and KISS (2014).   We’ve arrived at a point where Deep Purple needs to get into Cleveland pronto.  The “Not in the Hall of Fame” site lists them as the single biggest Rock Hall snub, and there is an immense backlog of hard rock acts like Iron Maiden and Judas Priest that probably won’t have a realistic shot until Deep Purple is in.  Robert Hilburn is a known opponent of Deep Purple, so his dismissal from the Nom Com could help their chances.

3.  Yes: So, my theory last year that they had actually gotten voted in for the Class of 2014 but could not attend because of touring commitments was probably spectacularly wrong. But that doesn’t make Yes any less deserving.  Sadly, Chris Squire, the workmanlike bassist who was the only consistent member of the Yes lineup through their 45+ year history, died earlier this summer after a battle with leukemia.  It’s a shame; Squire deserved to see his band inducted while living.  Hopefully, Yes (one of my father-in-law’s favorite bands) will be able to reunite for a great tribute performance in Squire’s honor if nominated and voted in.

4.  The Meters:  This funky New Orleans outfit is unknown to many casual rock and roll fans, but their respect in the music industry is resolute and enduring.  They have appeared on the ballot four times before, including twice in the last three years.  Clearly, some influential folks are pulling strings for the Neville brothers and their cohorts.  Out of all the picks, this is the one I’m most iffy about- this spot could just as easily have gone to War.  Their appearance here is more of a reflection of my pessimistic belief that the ballot will include a few acts that just shouldn’t be in.  But R&B and/or funk will be represented.  You can count on it.

5.  Sonic Youth: The Rock Hall has really been struggling with an amorphous category that one might call post-punk or proto-alternative acts: edgier Gen-X mood music that dwells on disillusionment and eschewing melody for authenticity.  Someone from that world shows up on just about every ballot, but ends up falling short.  Last time, it was The Smiths.  The year before The Replacements, and a couple years earlier The Cure.  My own opinion is that The Cure are best qualified to take this spot, but my guess is that the Nom Com will finally settle on Sonic Youth, a name that’s been batted around for years.  Sonic Youth was only slightly less significant than The Cure, and was the hip 15-year-old babysitter to a lot of alternative acts when they were little kids, if that metaphor makes sense.  The Hall will be under (well-warranted) pressure to induct more women, and Kim Gordon’s presence will parry this criticism.  Gordon’s recent book, Girl In A Band, will also generate some chatter that will help them.

6.  Warren Zevon: Come on now, we know this routine.  There’s a singer-songwriter every year, and on his or her merits, it seems like their case for induction is shaky.  But they always make it in the end somehow.  (I’m sure you’ve met the last several models: Bill Withers, Cat Stevens, Randy Newman, Donovan, Tom Waits, Laura Nyro…)  While I’d like to see Carole King get this spot, Zevon has a strong chance this year.  Retiring late night host David Letterman has expressed his wish to see one of his favorite guests in the Hall, and where Letterman goes, Paul Shaffer is never far behind.

7.  NWA:  It’s clear that Toure and Questlove are committed to getting NWA in.  Last year, a lot of folks- including myself- thought they would pull it off, but it was not to be.  With a biopic of the group out in the theatres, and the ceremony in 2016 held in L.A. (within drive-by shooting distance of Compton), it is tough to see how NWA doesn’t make it back onto the ballot.  I am not a fan of their violence and misogyny (two social problems that are by no means limited to rap music; go listen to Nugent sometime if you doubt me.)    But with continuing police violence and discrimination against the black community dominating the news daily, “F— The Police” will keep resonating with the public.  Recently, Dr. Dre has started making some new music, and rumors of a reunion tour are starting to spread, adding to the buzz around their name.

8.  Chic: I feel so bad for Chic.  They have now been nominated nine times for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, more than any other artist except for soul legend Solomon Burke.  Nile Rodgers’ battle with cancer couldn’t muster enough sympathy to take them over the edge, nor could the spectacular success of Rodgers-produced “Get Lucky.”  Chic- or rather, Rodgers and assorted friends- have some new music out this year, but whether this will be enough remains anybody’s guess.  Chic is also a band more well loved by music historians than the general public: they earned less than 2% of the votes in the Hall’s official online fan ballot.

9.  J. Geils Band:  It took four tries, but Jann Werner finally shoe-horned the Paul Butterfield Blues Band into the Hall of Fame last year.  I don’t wish PBBB ill, but I think they leapfrogged over many more deserving and widely respected acts.  My guess is that PBBB’s successful induction will only encourage the Nom Com’s bad habits, and they will pick another Werner-sanctioned blues outfit filled with white boys.  (Rest assured that they will be nominated on the grounds of their earlier blues efforts, not 80s hits like “Centerfold.”)  The fact that Peter Wolf inducted PBBB this year is a pretty straightforward signal that we could see J. Geils Band return to the ballot for the fourth time after a few years’ absence.

10.  The Spinners: I originally had Big Star at this spot; Holly George-Warren is on the committee and recently wrote a biography of their tragic frontman, Alex Chilton.  Instead, I’m playing it safe.  The Spinners have been on two of the last three ballots, and several of their partisans survived the culling, including Questlove, Metallica manager Cliff Burnstein, and Dave Marsh.  (Read Marsh’s book of Rock Lists where he pontificates on the best records released each year.  There’s a Spinners single listed nearly annually throughout the 1970s.)

11.  Wille Nelson:  On the Dan Patrick Show, Rock Hall president Greg Harris was asked which uninducted artists deserved to be in the Hall.  Harris demured at first and dodged around the question, but the hosts kept badgering him.  The closest Harris got to an answer was an offhand mention of Willie Nelson.  Additionally, Seymour Stein has led a push for more country artists in the Hall.  Nelson has been racking up the accolades this year, with a heavy presence at the Grammys and a well-received autobiography.  There is precedent for the Hall putting in country artists who were often duet partners and collaborators with rock and rollers; just look at Johnny Cash and Bonnie Raitt.  And temperamentally, the Red Headed Stranger’s outlaw persona, Farm Aid activism, and egregious use of pot make him a good fit with the qualities the Rock Hall values; he has always been a figure more at home in Woodstock than the Opry.  There will be pressure to induct the 81-year-old singer while he is still among the living, and he’s never had a better chance to make the Rock Hall than this year.

12.  Ben E. King:   Ben E. King or Joe Cocker?  They are probably the two biggest solo artists to have died in the past year.  I doubt both will get nominated.  I’m pretty sure one of them will.  While my gut says “Joe Cocker,” all the tangible evidence points to King.  Springsteen and U2 performed “Stand By Me” in the wake of his death, and they have direct lifelines to the Nominating Committee.  The older guys on the Nom Com will remember his career fondly, and the younger folks will still be familiar enough with his catalog to give some sympathy-support.  Besides, King wrote at least some of his hit songs, and Cocker didn’t.  In fact, you’d have to go all the way back to 2003 and the Righteous Brothers to find the last time a white male interpretive singer (e.g. someone who didn’t generally write his/their own material) was inducted into the Hall of Fame.  And between Lou Reed, Peter Gabriel, all four Beatles, and all four members of CSNY among many others, heaven knows that the Rock Hall loves having new members into its so-called Clyde McPhatter Club of multiple inductees.  (Like McPhatter, King is already inducted as a member of the Drifters.)

13.  Smashing Pumpkins: This is my second change to my original post: an artist who became eligible for the first time this year, and displaces MC5 on my list.  Smashing Pumpkins were just too big in the 1990s and too influential to ignore.  The Rock Hall tends to pick at least one first-year-eligible act every year, and Smashing Pumpkins takes that crown, beating out Mariah Carey, Alice in Chains, and A Tribe Called Quest.  They don’t have ~quite~ the same historical significance as other acts honored with a nomination their first year out, which tend to be in the conversation for “100 Greatest Rock and Roll Artists Ever” (think Nirvana or Green Day or or Guns N Roses or even The Beastie Boys for recent examples.)  But given the Nominating Committee’s statistically younger demographics, and the undeniable trend toward shepherding 90s acts into the Hall, I am persuaded to include them on my list.

14.  Peter, Paul & Mary:  And now, finally, we come to- quite appropriately- my “Hail Mary” prediction, the most far-fetched selection on my list.  When Bob Dylan gave a speech at Musi-cares on his career, he singled out the trio for characteristically back-handed praise: “I didn’t usually think of myself as writing songs for others to sing, but it was starting to happen. And it couldn’t have happened with a better group. They took a song of mine that I’d recorded before that was buried on one of my early records (‘Blowin’ in the Wind’), and they turned it into a hit song. Not the way I would have done it — they straightened it out. But since then hundreds of people have recorded it. I don’t think that would have happened if it wasn’t for them. They definitely started something for me.”  Tom Morello was a performer at the event, so hopefully, he was paying attention to Dylan’s sage words.  But more than this, PP&M have been getting some high-profile attention lately.  In 2014, a two-years-behind-schedule retrospective for their 50th anniversary was published, with no less a figure than Secretary of State John Kerry writing the foreword.  What’s more, the Rock Hall summer film series is showing Festival!, a documentary on the great folk festivals of the 1960s, and the description of the film gives special attention to Peter, Paul & Mary, as well as Joan Baez (another artist I considered.)  To continue the momentum in their favor, the recent series of 50th anniversaries from the Freedom Struggle reminds us all of the courage and commitment the three of them showed, having performed at the March on Washington, and later speaking out against the Vietnam War and Apartheid.  And for most Rock Hall voters, left-wing activism never hurt anyone’s chances.  If I am reading these tea leaves correctly, all this amounts to the clearest chance a pure 60s folk act has had in a long time.

15.  Janet Jackson:  So far, we are missing one thing: a showstopper, a headliner.  No Rock Hall induction ceremony is complete without one, especially now that there is an expensive contract with HBO to honor.  It’s got to be Janet’s year.  My friends over at the Induct Janet social media campaign have continued to fight the good fight.  They have made sound arguments and politely but persistently lobbied musical critics and Nom Com members to recognize Miss Jackson’s contributions to 80s and 90s R&B and dance music.  Given how most online campaigns to induct certain artists are angry, barely literate screeds in ALL CAPS about the Nom Com’s bias and ignorance, their tact and dignity stand out.  Jackson’s chances are given a boost by her recent announcement that a new album and tour are in the works; this will be no nostalgia nomination, but a pick for an active, working artist.  Janet deserves to be in, and at any rate, it is really weird that Tito Jackson is in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and Janet is not.

— Unfortunately, there were some compelling choices I had to leave off, including the aforementioned Big Star, Joe Cocker, and MC5.  The Eurythmics have a good chance, especially given Annie Lennox’s standout performance at the Grammys.  And the removal of several old fogeys makes a second rap or hip-hop artist likely, probably L.L. Cool J or De La Soul.  In an effort to get more deserving women into the Hall, Joan Baez could be the folk nominee and perhaps recent Kennedy Center honoree Carole King could be nominated as a performer.  If so, King could become the first person inducted into the Hall in two separate categories, since she’s already in as a non-performing songwriter.

So, there’s my 15 picks.  This covers most of the bases, in terms of sub-genres of rock and roll, different eras, and racial representation.  Funk, folk, dance, singer-songwriter, R&B, classic rock, prog, alternative, country, and the blues are all represented here.  Given this excellent infographic on how few women are in the Rock Hall, my list includes five artists with at least one woman on board: Janet Jackson; Peter, Paul & Mary (Mary Travers), Sonic Youth (Kim Gordon), Smashing Pumpkins (D’Arcy Wretsky), and Chic (the various female singers they’ve employed over the years.)  6 of the 15 are artists of color.  9 have been nominated before, although this honor ranges from Ben E. King (last nominated during the Reagan administration) and Nine Inch Nails (nominated during their/Reznor’s first year of eligibility in the fall of 2014.)  5 of the 15 peaked artistically after 1980, though, a number that seems too low to me and has me worried that my own list is too indebted to the 1970s.  Another problem I foresee is that my choices smell a bit like a funeral parlor: between Ben E. King, Warren Zevon, Chris Squire, Mary Travers, Bernard Edwards, Easy E, and most of the Spinners, there’s plenty of great musicians who didn’t live long enough to take part in their induction.  The Hall may opt for more living artists.

Let me know your thoughts in the comments section!  I’d be curious to know: which 5 artists would you vote for if this was the actual ballot?  If it were me, I’d say: Janet Jackson; Peter Paul & Mary; Deep Purple; Chic; and either Yes or The Spinners for that fifth spot.  Eh, probably Yes, if only to pave the way for the Moody Blues or Jethro Tull next year.

Read Full Post »