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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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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