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Posts Tagged ‘Link Wray’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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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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I’ve been, at times, a relentless critic of the Hall in Cleveland.  I have challenged them over poor decisions (Laura Nyro, Gene Pitney, Del Shannon, Percy Sledge, The Moonglows), but I am happy to give credit where credit is due, even to a mysterious corporate institution for commemorating something uncontrollable and critic-proof like rock music.

Let me start out by saying that this is an exceptionally strong ballot– the strongest, perhaps, since the the 90s, when The Allman Brothers and The Band were still waiting their turn to be inducted.  16 nominees, rather than the customary 15, were put forth, of which 5 or 6 are usually inducted into the Rock Hall in Cleveland.  Let’s explore those 16:

Nirvana:  Wow.  Um…these guys were a bolt out of the blue in the late 80s and early 90s, are credited with inventing grunge music  and single-handedly steering a credible course away from their dreadful contemporaries like New Kids on the Block and Bananarama.  Angsty and desirous of success without commercial compromise, they burnt out quickly with Kurt Cobain’s suicide, but never faded away.

Paul Butterfield Blues Band:  I frankly have no idea who they are or why they are being inducted.  It looks like they are a pet favorite of Rolling Stone magazine founder Jann Werner, but if you have to explain to anyone who these guys are, they probably don’t belong in the hall of fame.  This is the second or third time they have been nominated.

KISS:  With gaudy grease makeup, and pyrotechnics aplenty, KISS became rock’s most famous live act.  They only had a couple of hits actually chart, but that was never really the point– they have a dedicated fan base that has stayed with them for decades.  While Nirvana conscientiously eschewed selling out (Cobain even wore a “Corporate Magazines Still Suck” t-shirt on the cover of Rolling Stone), KISS did this with shameless abandon.  Lunch boxes, comic books– you name it, and KISS was willing to put their likeness on it.  Critics hate them, but if Rush can get in, all bets are off on those grounds.

Yes:  Progressive rock virtuosos will sing the praise of Yes.  While their only big hit, “Owner of a Lonely Heart” came deep into the 80s, their 1970s albums are as complex as anything, with key changes and time signature changes along thick layers of solos.  They are proficient, even virtuoso, musicians, but do they lack the soulful expression that the Rock Hall has historically valued?

Chic: Soul and funk infused disco impresarios, Chic’s songs “Le Freak” and “Good Times” gave some artistic and creative credibility to rock music’s unfairly maligned sub-genre.

The Meters:  Not terribly familiar with them, but a funky African-American band from all accounts.  Seriously, though, why them and not War?

L.L. Cool J:  LL helped rap become socially acceptable in a way that NWA most certainly did not.  He has been nominated before, but to no avail.

Linda Ronstadt:  Her former backup musician Don Henley loudly complained that she had been excluded from the hall.  And then she announced that because of her Parkinson’s Disease, she will likely never sing in public again.  Although not great as a songwriter, her covers showed immense creativity in merging pop, rock, country, and soul.  You can make a case that she was the most important woman in popular music in the 1970s.

Deep Purple:  These guys were essential to the development of hard rock– but are best known for the 8-note riff that begins “Smoke on the Water”, nearly every guitarist’s first song.

Link Wray:  An early rock and roll instrumentalist whose name, frankly, I had never heard until he was nominated.

Cat Stevens: One of the great singer-songwriters of the early 1970s, before leaving pop music for nearly 30 years after converting to Islam.  Countless indie artists look to him as an inspiration, and his “First Cut is the Deepest” is one of the most covered songs of all time.

Peter Gabriel:  The former Genesis frontman went on to a lucrative solo career, and was an acknowledged pioneer in both making world music commercially viable and making music videos into an art form, most notably in “Sledgehammer.”

NWA:  Considered by some to be the progenitors of gangsta rap, Straight Outta Compton was a brickbat hurled at suburban ignorance of inner-city life.   Their most well-known song, “F— da Police” resonated with many in the aftermath of the Rodney King beating and the L.A. riots, while earning public scorn from then-President George H. W. Bush.   NWA was nominated last year for the first time, but their contemporaries, Public Enemy, ended up getting inducted instead.

The Zombies:  One of the most underrated 1960s groups, you’ve probably nonetheless heard some of their radio staples: “Tell Her No”, “She’s Not There”, and “Time of the Season.”  What you probably haven’t heard is their fantastic Odyssey and Oracle album, a piece that has aged remarkably well for a late 60s psychedelic record, and whose music wouldn’t sound out of place on a Belle & Sebastian record today.

The Replacements:  Although they did not have very many hit songs, they are a favorite among the musically-literate for pointing the way toward grunge and alternative music.

Hall & Oates:  You would be hard-pressed to find more consistent hit-makers in the early 1980s.  Finally, their fans have penetrated the nominating committee, including Jimmy Fallon’s bandleader Questlove, who conspicuously wore a Hall & Oates t-shirt to the nominating meeting.   Will their radio-friendly blue-eyed soul hits like “Kiss on My List” and “Sara Smile” get them inducted?  Only three eligible artists with more top ten hits than these guys aren’t in (Janet Jackson, Whitney Houston, and…wait for it…Chicago.)

First of all, let me say again that this is a remarkably strong ballot, and much more praiseworthy than I anticipated.  There are plenty of acts who have been nominated before, several terrific first-time nominees, and, well, it wouldn’t be the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame if there weren’t some pet projects and head-scratchers in there too.  So, who gets in, or who should get in?  Well, if I were just picking my five favorite artists from the above, that’s easy: Cat Stevens, The Zombies, Hall & Oates, Linda Ronstadt, and Peter Gabriel.

If I were able to vote for the nominees (each voter gets to pick five), on the grounds of historicity, quality, and longstanding influence, I would have to go with: Nirvana, Yes, Cat Stevens, Linda Ronstadt, and Peter Gabriel.

-But if I were to pick the five or six who will actually get voted in?  Well, there is a calculus here, and to help us figure this out, it is instructive to look at the last several lists of inductees to guide our choices.  There are permeable patterns which suggest who will get in– if you explore the past few years, several patterns and groupings emerge.

i.  The last two hall of fame ballots have seen rap artists get in- Beastie Boys in 2012, and Public Enemy in 2013.  Now, this has raised hackles, and numerous critics have voiced, not without reason, their opinion that rap has no place in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, in the same way that, say, Bobby Darin or the Pretenders have no place in a theoretical Rap Hall of Fame.  The trouble, though, is that nobody can quite decide what rock music encompasses, and every person’s definition of what is or is not rock and roll can be likened to Potter Stewart’s famously subjective definition of pornography: “I know it when I see it.”  And once you set the precedent, you are stuck with it.  Putting in Johnny Cash opens the door for more country artists.  Letting Miles Davis in opens the jazz floodgates, and so on.  Like it or not, we have not seen the last of inductees from the rap genres, and you can probably expect Queen Latifah, Salt N Pepa, Dr. Dre (as a solo artist or producer), and Eminem to all be inducted when they become eligible.

ii.  The Rock Hall has made an honest to goodness attempt to include more women recently.  Not necessarily the women I would have chosen (i.e.: Laura Nyro), but the last four years have seen Heart, Donna Summer, Nyro, ABBA, and Darlene Love (who provided the vocals for many records credited to The Crystals in the early 60s).  It is likely that at least one female artist or predominately female group will get in.

iii.  Along similar lines, we can expect at least one, probably two, black artists.   To its credit, there has never been, in the history of the Rock Hall, a whitewash class, with the odd exception of 2012.   (And even this can be explained, since that was the year a number of backup groups, such as Smokey Robinson’s Miracles, and James Brown’s Famous Flames, were retroactively inducted with their respective bandleaders.)  The Hall has been diligent, even over-diligent, about acknowledging the importance of more African-American-heavy elements of rock: early blues greats, the doo-wop groups, Motown, and to a certain extent disco.  (I wish more Philly soul groups like the Chi-Lites and the Spinners were in, but oh well…).  Consider this– in 2013, black artists were 3 of the 6, 1 of 5 in 2011, 1 of 5 in 2010, and 3 of 5 in 2009.

iv.  The Hall has also realized the immense popular animus against them, and is slowly making its peace with the greater public and with armchair rock critics who complain about The Cure or Bachman-Turner Overdrive getting snubbed (and I have surely been among them).  The internet has succeeded, generally, in calling out lots of terrible choices they made in the past.  Consider, for example, the truly dreadful 2009 inductees: Little Anthony & The Imperials, Jeff Beck, Bobby Womack, Metallica, and Run-DMC.  Um…what?  Out of the whole lot, Metallica was the only one who seemed like a mortal lock.  Since then, we’ve seen the hall include long-time snubs (Neil Diamond, Genesis, and most importantly for net-roots activists, Rush, with its massive internet fan base.)  Everyone has some artist they love that isn’t in the Hall of Fame, but slowly, some of the more egregious snubs are getting in, or at least receiving nominations.

Keeping all this in mind, I would venture to guess (in rough order of likelihood) that the following will be inducted:

1.  Nirvana:  This could very well be the last group that unquestionably deserves to get in during their first year of eligibility.  Nirvana started the grunge movement, and set the direction for rock music for the rest of the 1990s.  I just don’t see any outcome where Nirvana does not get in.

2.  Linda Ronstadt:  Did you notice that of the 16 nominees, only one of them was principally female?  (Yes, I know Chic had some female singers, but come on, so did Lynyrd Skynyrd).  The Hall has, understandably, come under scrutiny for being a sausage fest sometimes, and a number of its early induction classes, including the inaugural 1987 class, were all male.  As noted above, this has changed in recent years, and this trend will continue.  Ronstadt’s illness will help, but her fantastic career, sterling voice, and genre-hopping albums will secure her a place in the Hall.

3.  Chic:  The band’s principal member, Nile Rodgers, has had a few banner years recently, with high-profile collaborations with Daft Punk and Adam Lambert.  Moreover, the group has been nominated 7 or 8 times, I think.  And once in a great while, an artist who is perennially nominated will be voted in, just to shut their advocates up and make some room for new blood next year.  That, after all, is how we got Solomon Burke and Laura Nyro in– voters just got sick of seeing them.  Between these two factors, Chic is in.

4.  NWA:  For reasons stated above, rap is not going away.  With few voting members likely to take umbrage with their anti-law enforcement past, the band’s historical importance in bringing about gangsta rap will likely make their nomination happen.  I suspect, though, that the Rock Hall will take a year or two after before nominating another rapper.  At this point, the A-list of historic rap acts remotely connected to rock and roll is exhausted.  Make no mistake, however: rap will continue to play a part in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

5.  KISS:  With a deal in the works to broadcast from HBO, the Rock Hall will be under pressure to bring out the big guns, and KISS can do that– and their induction will quiet some complaints about the Rock Hall’s bias.  For another year anyway.  The powers that be cannot avoid the chance to end a ratings-killing induction ceremony with “I Want to Rock and Roll All Night.”  But I am a little nervous here– many professional musicians and rock critics, who make up most of the voters, hate KISS with a great passion.

6.*  Hall & Oates:   With a list of nominees this good, I think it is very likely we will see six, rather than the customary five, inductees.  If that is the case, I suspect that choice #6 will be these guys.  Questlove’s advocacy, and even the parody group Garfunkel & Oates, have made this duo visible again.  There’s no good reason for keeping them out unless you are opposed to commercial success.

A few more words– a couple of these nominees are clearly pet projects of one guy, whether it is E-Street Band alum Steve Van Zandt, or late-night emcee Paul Schaffer, or Jann Werner– and I think the Meters, Wray, and Paul Butterfield all fall into those categories.  I doubt very much they will be chosen.  LL Cool J is also unlikely– if one rap act gets in, its NWA, and Cool J just made a fool of himself with the self-fulfillng prophecy that was “The Accidental Racist.”  I’d love to see The Zombies get in, but if the votes weren’t there when Procol Harum was nominated last year, I just don’t foresee it.  If KISS doesn’t make it, Deep Purple will probably take their slot, and if Hall & Oates doesn’t get in, my guess is Cat Stevens.  We usually get one singer-songwriter per year (Donovan, Randy Newman, and Tom Waits, the last three years), so it might be Yusuf’s turn.  The others?  I suspect Yes and Peter Gabriel will get in eventually, but this is not their year on a crowded ballot.  And Gabriel is already inducted with Genesis, so there’s no urgency there.  The Replacements?  Why put in the guys who led to Nirvana when you can just induct Nirvana instead?

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