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Posts Tagged ‘Nina Simone’

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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Do you think it’s too early to ruminate on the next class of Rock and Roll Hall of Fame artists? Think again. By the end of the summer, the Nominating Committee will meet and hammer out the presumably 15 or so candidates for inclusion in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Historically, the list is released around October. I will probably make my final predictions around Labor Day, but I also wanted to get out some preliminary predictions, perhaps in the vain hope that somebody on the committee reads them.

Before I list my initial predictions, I need to discuss my sense of the overall feel or theme of the ballot. When I look back at #RockHall2016, it’s clear that several things went wrong, and I’d imagine the Committee will be eager to correct them. First of all, the kerfuffle with Steve Miller shows that they need to treat inductees better, explain to them what the Hall of Fame is about, solicit their input, and make them feel like honored guests rather than cash cows. Secondly, attempts at big reunions failed to materialize. Although estranged drummer Danny Seraphine showed up for Chicago’s induction, Peter Cetera pouted when the band wouldn’t play “25 or 6 to 4” in his key and stayed home. Neither could multiple Deep Purple alumni overcome years of hostility. NWA managed a reunion, but the Rock Hall still screwed it up by not reaching an agreement to perform (which probably involved NWA wanting to do more controversial material.) Only Cheap Trick managed to get their act together, and thus the fourth most important inductee ended up closing the show! Thirdly, #RockHall2016 was roasted for its lack of diversity. Only one African-American artist, a caricature of gangsta rap like NWA, made it in. The other four were white classic rockers from the late 1960s and 1970s. Not only were there no female artists inducted, but there were no female presenters. All the white, male acts were inducted by white males. The black, male act was inducted by a black male. The 1950s, most of the 1960s, most of the 1980s, and most of the 1990s were unrepresented by the five artists’ heydays.

All this is to say: the ceremony taught me almost nothing about rock and roll. I had to watch the ceremonies in earlier years to understand why Paul Butterfield mattered despite a lack of hits, or why Jett was more than a good cover artist, she established what it meant to be a woman in rock like few others have. Aside from one instance of NWA defending it’s place in the rock pantheon in defiance of Gene Simmons’s more…um…apartheidish views, there wasn’t a single great moment. In contrast, think of all the cool moments from the previous two ceremonies: Joan Jett, Tommy James, and Miley Cyrus rocking out over “Crimson and Clover”- three distinct generations united. Bill Withers watching with visible emotion as Stevie Wonder sang his songs. Hervana. A reunion of the two surviving Beatles. One of Cat Stevens’s only stateside appearances since the Ford administration. You can get a good ceremony and a good class in the modern Rock Hall era, where inductions are arena spectacles filmed for HBO. But you have to work at it and ask yourself what rock and roll is really all about.

For this reason, I think the Rock Hall is going to veer away from 1970s classic rock favorites, and we’ll see a ballot that resembles the Class of 2015 much more. This will be a slate of nominees designed to show the breadth and depth of rock and roll, which will push boundaries and hopefully challenge people who don’t think rap, country, R&B, or electronica count.  So, after this long preamble, here are my initial predictions:

 

1. Pearl Jam: This is as close to a sure thing as I can imagine. Pearl Jam- an artist that ranks among Rolling Stone’s New Immortals and VH1’s 100 Greatest Artists- is widely regarded as the most important rock band of the 1990s after Nirvana. On the eve of their 25th anniversary, they continue to tour, rail against Ticketmaster, and dominate by virtue of their longevity. This is their year.

2. Tupac: With NWA out of the way, Tupac is the prohibitive favorite as the next rap act to get in. This is also his first year eligible, and while this is a posthumous nomination, there would be no shortage of rappers willing to pay homage to Tupac in (presumably) Cleveland. In his short life, Tupac was earnest, poetic, soulful, violent, and above all, complicated. While NWA was the “id” of late 1980s inner-city consciousness, Tupac is remembered as more of a Bob Marley style “folk saint” for the Nineties; his biography matters less than the semiotics. Regardless of the history or the memory, his albums are still among rap’s finest of the 1990s. Nom Com member Alan Light wrote a book on him several years ago, so we can safely assume that his name will at least be brought up in committee.

3. Nine Inch Nails: It’s clear that the Rolling Stone Industrial Complex likes Trent Reznor’s dark sonic landscapes and nihilistic textures. He was nominated during his first two years eligible, and I don’t see any reason for that trend to stop now. Like other “love them or hate them” artists like Sex Pistols or Patti Smith or Donna Summer, this one is going to take a few nominations to get in.

4. Chic: Hindu mythos is prefaced upon the samsara, the interminable cycle of life, death, and rebirth, from which the soul longs to break free. Every year, Chic is nominated and fails to get in, only to be renominated again. Can Chic escape this cosmic turning of the wheel this year?

5. Kraftwerk: Have you noticed that every year since 2013, either Yes or Kraftwerk has been nominated? Although they exist in different genres, both bands have a reputation for being cerebral, prodigiously skilled, and impossible to dance to. Last year was Yes’s turn, and to my dismay, they didn’t get in. Kraftwerk, the #2 band on my Rock Hall Prospects list, should be up next if the trend holds.

6. The Cure: Since 2012, there has been a “early alternative band for angsty misfits” slot on the ballot. It’s gone to The Cure, The Replacements, and for the last two years, The Smiths. After watching the personnel squabbles with the Class of 2016, the Nom Com may want to focus on a band that doesn’t have an epic Morrissey vs. Johnny Marr feud at its heart. The Cure have been touring across the U.S. recently, doing insanely long and prolific concerts and generating great buzz.

7. Carole King: One of my favorite moments from the past year in the music world was watching Carole King being honored at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. Seriously, watch this: she can’t handle her life when Aretha Franklin comes out and performs “A Natural Woman” on piano. This is indicative of the massive amount of respect Carole King has, and her importance has been underscored by the recent jukebox musical about her career. Almost every female singer-songwriter of the past 50 years owes Carole King big time. She should be honored- and her induction as a non-performer doesn’t begin to cover her significance. Her choice to leave the Brill Building, get behind a piano, and sing about her own life set the mold. To recap- in the last three years, she was honored at the Kennedy Center, performed at the Grammys, and had a musical come out. Is a Rock Hall nomination- her first since the institution’s early years- also in the cards?

8. The Meters: The JBs got the “funk slot” on the ballot last year. But The Meters have gotten two nods in the last five years. This New Orleans outfit couldn’t have more support from industry experts and are widely respected in the same way that the Paul Butterfield Blues Band was.

9. MC5: On the grounds of an unconvincing technicality, Rage Against the Machine is eligible this year. They released some demos in 1991, which makes them eligible, I guess, to be nominated in 2016 and inducted in 2017. Here’s what I think will happen: Tom Morello, who sits on the committee, will not recuse himself. I believe his character is such that he will say something like, “Oh geez…we don’t deserve it yet. It’s ridiculous to nominate us when many of the people who influenced us aren’t in yet.” And then he will make the case for his favorite pet project: revolutionary, iconoclastic MC5. Now, don’t get me wrong: Rage Against the Machine deserves to be in the Hall. But it should be 25 years after a *real* release.

10. The Zombies: There is some real buzz about The Monkees this year, with a great new album out and a tentative peace with its three surviving members. While we’ve seen some longstanding Rock Hall grudges like KISS, Rush, and Chicago dissolve in the last few years, I’m thinking the Monkees might still be a tough sell for the Nom Com. Instead, why not The Zombies? They are also touring, it’s original lineup has 4 of 5 members still alive, all of whom appear to be on good terms. And The Zombies, as I wrote in a blog post back in May, have influenced a vast number of artists and are well loved by rock writers, historians, and journalists. Just last year, they appeared at a panel commemorating the career of the Who with Stevie Van Zandt and Holly Robinson: both on the Nominating Committee. Indeed, they were nominated for the Class of 2014, but faced an extremely competitive ballot. This will be their year. Took a long time to come.

11. Eurythmics: The nomination of The Cars last year shows that the Nom Com is at least thinking in a New Wave direction. So why not Eurythmics? David Stewart and Annie Lennox have been known to reunite from time to time. They played a great role in infusing the technical and electronic possibilities of new wave with real soul, courtesy of Lennox’s deep, resonant alto voice. And the “Sweet Dreams” video was one of the most iconic during the infancy of MTV. Given Lennox’s well-received Grammys performance a couple years ago and her great album of Tin Pan Alley standards, this would be a strong nod to the 1980s.

12. Nina Simone: Simone is hot right now. A lovingly made documentary about her life dropped on Netflix last year. A biopic about her 1980s tailspin is coming out very soon. The most important album of 2016 will almost certainly be remembered as Beyonce’s Lemonade. Did you notice the Nina Simone LP conspicuously placed in some of the videos? And each of these mediums made the case for Simone’s influence and importance: she was a defiant black woman who demanded justice- and not always non-violently. She was also a troubled soul who had an abusive husband and struggled with substance abuse and addiction. As I argued in my Rock Hall Prospects, she covered rock and roll and rock and roll covered her jazzy nightclub act, and this kind of wide respect and collaboration made everybody stronger. She belongs in the Rock Hall.

13. A Tribe Called Quest: Since he earned a berth on the Nom Com three years ago, Questlove has had a great deal of success getting his favorite acts nominated. He’s championed NWA, Kiss, Hall & Oates, Bill Withers, the Spinners, Chaka Khan, and others. Since the first four are already in, it’s easy to imagine Questlove channeling his energies into two other acts that were deeply influential to his own career: De La Soul and A Tribe Called Quest. Quest effused that ATCQ were “stylish, jazzy, funny, soulful, smart, and everything else.  They were socially conscious without being too self-conscious about it.”  Q-Tip’s recent collaboration with the Chemical Brothers and the unfortunate passing of Phife Dawg have kept them in the news.

14. Willie Nelson: Right before my flight to Singapore last August, a rumor circulated around the internet that Willie Nelson had passed on, and I had to wait 24 hours until I landed and got settled in my hotel to learn whether or not it was true. This vignette is a reminder that Nelson needs to be commemorated while he’s still among the living. He fostered countless collaborations between the worlds of country and rock, and he made those boundaries more porous. Of course, the Red-Haired Stranger still tours, and shows up on venues as diverse as the John Lennon tribute concert and Steven Colbert’s Christmas special. Maybe Gram Parsons or Patsy Cline will get the nod instead, but I have a feeling somebody from country will show up this year.

15. The Shangri-Las: And now, my annual “Hail Mary” pass. For decades, the Shangri-Las have been like a secret handshake among rock experts: an easily overlooked girl group that had an influence that belied its limited body of work. While most girl groups projected a wholesome image, the Shangri-Las wore go-go boots and seriously looked like you shouldn’t mess with them. “Leader of the Pack” and “Remember (Walking in the Sand)” changed the sonic landscape of Top 40 and made more atmospheric and evocative records possible. They’ve influenced artists as diverse as Amy Winehouse, the New York Dolls, and Blondie. It’s not hard to see some rogue voice on the committee- maybe someone like Dave Marsh- make an unexpected case for them and persuading everyone else to go along.

So, those are my picks. Most artists are alive, and most bands are at relative peace with one another. Those who have passed away (Tupac, Simone, some of the Shangri-Las) could command incredible tribute performances.  2 first-time eligible artists, 5 artists who were passed over for nomination, and 8 previously nominated artists. Is this list realistic? My instinct is that the actual list may have more R&B artists, but I couldn’t figure out which of them it would be! War? The Spinners? But there are five artists with at least one inductable female member (King, The Shangri-Las, Simone, the singers from Chic, and Annie Lennox). Given that this ballot will be released a few weeks before the U.S. potentially elects a female president, this stronger (but not quite equal) girl power on the ballot will have deeper resonance.  You might notice that there are no classic rock bands from the 1970s. Rockists will lose their minds if a ballot like this one actually happened, typing vitriol on the internet so urgently that their red “Make America Great Again” hats will be irreparably sweat-stained.

No offense is intended if your favorite artists didn’t show up–it’s not that I don’t think they are worthy, it’s that I don’t think the Nom Com will go in their direction this year. So apologies to fans of this blog who support Janet, or the Monkees, or Dennis Wilson, or Link Wray, or whoever else. Janet was a painful omission; she deserves to be in. But she will also be giving birth around the time as a ceremony as a first-time mother at the age of 50. It might be better for all concerned if they deferred a second Janet nomination until she could show up at full strength and in good health to perform in person.

Other tough cuts included J. Geils Band, Johnny Winter, Chaka Khan, Warren Zevon, Sting, and The Commodores.

What do you think? Feel free to comment with some of your own ideas for who might appear on the ballot in October.

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After a short hiatus, I am back to chip away at the remaining Rock Hall Prospects, the presently-eligible artists who are up for consideration for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. There are two previous nominees on this list, and although I didn’t plan it this way, as a group, this set is heavily focused on solo artists.  In fact, fully seven of these are individuals, and only three are groups.  This list is especially rich in innovators and influencers, and is relatively (but not entirely) light on big hitmakers.  Do you think I made the right call with this collection of Rock Hall prospects?  Let me know in the comments below.

afrika bambaataa40.  Afrika Bambaataa:  Bambaataa is hip-hop’s Patient Zero.  Rather than using funk tracks as a background, Afrika Bambaataa dug deep and came up with Kraftwerk: the most incongruous choice imaginable, but one that became the gold standard of much of the hip-hop that came after, using its synthetic rhythm as a cornerstone.  He brought rap to the dance floor and party scene in ways that hadn’t been done before.  And he did this by embracing an ethos of self-awareness derived from his pan-African identity (Afrika Bambaataa, after all, is a Zulu-inspired title.)  Bambaataa was sharp, innovative, and like Grandmaster Flash before him, established the blueprints for many of the various rap dynasties that followed.  As Rolling Stone magazine put it, “Planet Rock launched hip-hop beyond two turntables and and party jams and created a space for Avant-Dance and Rap artists to work in harmony, presaging today’s anything-goes musical landscape.”  He was no dummy, either; Cornell University appointed him as a visiting professor a handful of years ago.

gram parsons39.  Gram Parsons:  “The Father of Country Rock.”  That distinction slights the very real contributions of Willie Nelson, Kris Kristofferson, Gary Stewart, Pure Prairie League, Poco, Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, and others.  The difference, of course, is that Parsons is widely seen as cooler than many of these choices.  This is partly by virtue of his untimely death (he didn’t even make it to the age of 27, when rockers usually go). And this may be partly by virtue of the even more untimely immolation of his corpse by a bunch of his friends who kidnapped his body to honor his wish of laying to rest at the Joshua Tree in southern California.  (I say “untimely immolation” as if such a thing as a timely immolation existed.)  Parsons has been nominated thrice before, during the height of the alt-country boom at the beginning of the 21st century.  This is for good reason: Parsons’s work to merge country and rock into a synthesis seemed seamless, organic, and the most natural thing in the world.  He knew country masterfully- what makes it swing, what makes it twang, what made it hit resonant notes in the soul that rock and roll hadn’t quite managed to achieve in his time.  It was more than just taking pedal steel to a rock track- his work was some of the most emotionally intelligent committed to record.  While I think his overall importance has been overblown by obscurantist rock critics, I can’t disagree with Parson’s worthiness.  I’d love to see him get in, if only for the inevitable Beck/Emmylou Harris duet at the ceremony.

pat benatar38.  Pat Benatar:  Partly on the “strength” of her performance with Nirvana, Joan Jett, Benatar’s chief rival, was inducted handily last year.  (I put “strength” in quotation marks  because if you replay the footage from the ’14 ceremony, Jett is clearly looking at a monitor for the lyrics to “Smells Like Teen Spirit” for the duration of the song.  If you don’t know the words to that song, it shouldn’t enhance your chances of getting in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.)  Jett may have been more ~culturally~ important in terms of setting the table for riot grrrls, and her classic black leather look weathered the decades better than Pat’s blue eye shadow and spandex which place her unmistakably in the early 80s.  But the fundamentals always favored Benatar to me.  Pat has more hits, a better voice, advanced guitar skills, and a superior edge as a songwriter (although for both women, many of their hits were covers).  For a handful of years, she was the most important woman in Top 40 rock, wracking up a number of masterfully crafted songs, many of which were foundational to the video culture that accrued from the early years of MTV: “Love is a Battlefield,” “We Belong,” “Hit Me With Your Best Shot,” and “Heartbreaker.”  Given that the Rock Hall is rightly criticized for including fewer women and fewer 80s artists than it ought, a Benatar induction would help set this to rights.

dead kennedys37.  Dead Kennedys:  With Dead Kennedys, punk music took a decidedly political turn, and by politics in this case, I mean world politics, geo-politics, not the lower-middle class ranting that typified the Sex Pistols.  Their frontman satirized the banality of American consumer culture with a deadly civil war in Nigeria to create the alter ego Jello Biafra.  Coming out of 1970s San Francisco, the group raged against all that was shallow, self-absorbed and superficial, taking particular glee in trashing New Age hippie-dippy lifestyles they saw around them, the “Suede/denim secret police,” as they called them in “California Uber Alles.”  Biafra boldly spoke out against skinheads and other violent types that had infiltrated the California punk movement, and even argued with Tipper Gore on the Oprah Winfrey Show about musical censorship.  They even got into a famous lawsuit for including a poster of “Penis Landscape” as an…um…insert into their Frankenchrist album. The Dead Kennedys were an impactful cultural marker, and a solid representation of punk’s evolution.

pixies36.  Pixies:  If we are going by declarations of influence, the Pixies stand out among late 80s and early 90s artists.  The sheer volume of alternative artists looking up to them is formidable, and not the least of their students was a young Kurt Cobain.  The excellent website Not in the Hall of Fame puts it this way: they “followed the rules of rock and roll construction and yet broke them at the same time.”  Their jerky rhythms, their build up from a lethargic verse to a visceral chorus, the female bass player before female bass players were cool–in every way you can measure, the Pixies were ahead of their time.  And unlike many bands whose Rock Hall merits are based on influence, the Pixies actually delivered the goods in terms of their catalog.  “Monkey Gone to Heaven” highlighted their trademark absurdity, while “Here Comes Your Man” showed an abiding respect for 1960s pop.  And, of course, several of their albums deserve consideration as among the best of their era, particularly Sub Rosa and Doolittle.  Given that the Rock Hall has nominated artists in the Pixies’ basic dojo–the Replacements, the Smiths–one can hold out hope that they will make it onto the ballot in the not too distant future.

depeche mode35.  Depeche Mode:  Depeche Mode’s sound was the product of Kraftwerk’s electronic experiments into a top 40 context, originally with hints of new wave pop (note the nod to Devo in the nonchalant background vocals of “Just Can’t Get Enough.”) and even traces of Velvet Underground and David Bowie artiness.  Depeche Mode took all these influences, combined them into a format that was synthetic but never less than fully authentic, and ended up selling 100 million records.  The band hit the scene in the 1980s, and got progressively darker, less pop, and unexpectedly, even more popular.  They submitted a classic for the ages in “Personal Jesus,” and a genuine benchmark in electronic pop, “Enjoy the Silence.”  To this effect, they filled stadiums in ways that few electronic acts had done before.   There’s a chance they might well be the most popular electronic band of all time, and one of the most impactful, with artists as eclectic as Marilyn Manson and Kanye West citing them as an influence, to say nothing of more obvious candidates like The Killers, Coldplay, and Arcade Fire.  They even snuck onto VH1’s 100 Greatest Artists of All Time.  It should raise some flags that they got on the list, and say, Simon and Garfunkel didn’t.  But when the Hall starts addressing the 80s more seriously (are you noticing this is a recurring theme?) Depeche Mode will be an important part of the conversation.

whitney houston34.  Whitney Houston:  Soul divas belong in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.  Deal with it.  And Whitney stands out among them.  She was almost certainly R&B’s biggest name from the mid-1980s into the early 90s, wracking up multiple #1 hits, multiple #1 albums, and setting a new standard for soul vocalists with flawless technique.  On top of that, she lived an archetypical rock and roll life, with widely publicized battles with drugs, tumultuous love affairs, and a tragic and premature death.  For several years, she had the honor of the longest-charted #1 hit, “I Will Always Love You,” an underrated candidate for the best Prom song of all time.  But as we see, chart success alone doesn’t a Rock Hall prospect make.  Lots of chart-busters aren’t on my list; good luck finding Conway Twitty, Olivia Newton-John, Cher, Huey Lewis and others on here.  They didn’t make the list and weren’t seriously considered.  Whitney was something different, someone the gods had clearly blessed with abundant talent, but not necessarily the self-possession to handle superstardom.  Journalist Tris McCall makes a case for her longstanding importance.  Vocalists- not just from pop music, but alternative and experimental alike- “nick her cadences, her inflection, her lightning-quick upper register, her sudden earthy growls, her carefully controlled melisma.”   One problem that stands out baldly is production values.  Houston’s overproduced and gaudy backing tracks have just not aged well except as nostalgia pieces; listen to that delicate but cringe-inducing electric piano part on “Greatest Love of All.”  If you put a mid-90s Mariah song on the radio today, it would more or less hold up.  Houston, for better or worse, belongs to ages past.

Brian Eno33.  Brian Eno:  Few have changed the sonic boundaries of the rock and roll universe in quite the way Brian Eno has.  With a pedigree that began with a turn as Roxy Music’s synth player, Eno charted a course that began in glam and art rock and led him to challenge the purpose of not just rock, but music itself.  While his early work had a certain spontaneity which informed Here Comes the Warm Jets, his very best contributions were immaculately and intricately arranged to evoke feeling.  First with Discreet Music and later with Music for Airports, his work strived to reconceptualize music as part of its environment, making sonic landscapes that fit into a natural setting in ways that paralleled Frank Lloyd Wright’s approach to architecture.  It didn’t create atmosphere so much as it complemented atmosphere to make its listening experience more contextual and fulfilling.  Since Eno’s ambient albums were the soundtrack for dozens of grading sessions for moribund undergraduate essays, I feel like I owe him one.  As someone who has used oblique strategies as a problem-solving tool, I feel like I owe him doubly.  While some might make a case for Eno has a Musical Excellence guy or non-performer, owing to his production work for U2, David Bowie, Coldplay and others, Eno’s record as a performer and artist eclipse all of these considerations.

Nina Simone32.  Nina Simone:  Simone was a study in contradiction.  She learned her craft at a conservatory and was one of the most gifted pianists in popular music in her day, but cleaved to a jazzy nightclub style that infused most of her catalog.  She showed up to play at the Selma marches, but disagreed with the pacifism that imbued the civil rights movement.  Simone wanted to violently smash Jim Crow out of existence, and by the mid-60s, was hanging out with the Malcolm X crowd.  At the peak of her career, she absconded to Africa partly to escape an abusive husband and partly to escape the toxic atmosphere that engulfed so much of America by the late 60s.  Her work had channeled the deep suffering of the black American experience perhaps more than any other musician of her era in ways that can only be described as haunting and evocative.  There’s the revenge of a life well-lived in “Feeling Good,” the prophetic condemnation of “Mississippi Goddamn”, and the finger-pointing of “Backlash Blues” that challenged white Americans bitching about quotas and busing.  Simone had experienced real suffering and true inequality, and she wasn’t afraid to tell you.  In all this, she conversed easily with more mainstream rock and roll, covering songs like “Don’t Let Me Be Understood” and “To Love Somebody,” while bequeathing songs like “See Line Woman” and “Young, Gifted, and Black” to the rock oeuvre.  Moody, enigmatic, and dangerous, Simone was one of the great performers of the 20th century.  She was so rock and roll that even most rock and rollers didn’t know what to make of her.

dick dale31.  Dick Dale:  If we are going to discuss overlooked rock and roll guitar heroes, the conversation has to include Dick Dale.  He was foundational to the creation of the evocative surf rock sound, capturing the motions of waves by achieving a rumbling vibrato from his guitar.  Rock and roll had plenty of really good guitarists before him, but Dale was the first one who seemed to come from another planet, the first one who could claim to be a true virtuoso.  “Miserlou” was a bolt out of the blue, taking a traditional Mediterranean melody, adding rock backing, and essentially creating a whole new genre- all decades before rock stars got cute by cribbing influences from world music. The most amazing part of all of this is that Dick Dale never really went away.  He performed with Stevie Ray Vaughan, toured consistently, and received an unexpected career boost in the 1990s courtesy of Pulp Fiction.  Even seemingly small decisions he made- using heavier strings or more powerful amps- triggered a series of events that are still playing out in popular music today.  At 78, he’s still out there, heedless of the diabetes and cancer he’s struggled with, sometimes performing with a catheter attached to his side.  This is one choice the Rock Hall really can’t screw up: get Dick Dale in the Hall of Fame while he’s still among the living.

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We’ve made it to the halfway point!

220.  “Rescue Me”– Fontella Bass (1965): If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, Aretha Franklin must have been tickled pink.  The entire record sounds like it was made in a laboratory trying to emulate the “Queen of Soul”.  From Bass’s gospel pedigree, to her command of the song’s call-and-response bridge, to her precociously early career, to the Stax-style production with punchy horns, it succeeds so well that the song is more memorable than much of Franklin’s own catalog.  While not a perfect specimen (Aretha would have never allowed her voice to be double-tracked to the extent we hear in “Rescue Me”), it is one of the most convincing marriages of song and performer that came out of the 1960s.

219.  “Walk Like A Man”– The Four Seasons (1963):  My friend Scott has a segment on his blog about the “secret weapons” of various bands– members whose contributions fall under the radar but were a crucial component of success.  He believes that Bob Gaudio, the band’s keyboardist and principal composer was the Four Seasons’ secret weapon, thriving in the background while Franki Valli fronted the band.  I think he’s right, but a case could also be made for Nick Massi, the band’s hardscrabble bass vocalist and vocal arranger.  This song showcases his talents in a big way, transforming what would otherwise be an ordinary song about a father telling his son to buck up after a breakup into one of the most memorable doo-wop songs of the early 60s.  Frank Valli’s falsetto could not soar so high if it wasn’t anchored by Massi’s low notes.

218.  “Ooo, Baby Baby”– Smokey Robinson & the Miracles (1965):  This song has been covered by many artists in the subsequent decades, but there is no denying the charm and atmosphere of the original.  It’s a sweet, hopeful song about love gone wrong, and must have set the tone for many a slow dance.  Smokey’s done better songs, but he was never this good at emotional communication.

217.  “People Got to Be Free”– The Rascals (1968):  Blue-eyed soul was a marvelous thing in the 1960s.  The Rascals were master practitioners in that art, with the Righteous Brothers as their only serious challengers.  What made the Rascals so great was that they never forgot who invented soul music, and they always went to great pains to make sure they shared a bill with artists of color.  Their empathy toward the civil rights moment shines through in this gem, a #1 hit with biblical allusions and a theme of brotherhood that cuts against the grain of that violent year.

216.  “Mississippi Goddamn”– Nina Simone (1964):  Simone made a second career out of herself by issuing pointed critiques of the black condition across the country, and down South in particular.  It’s very topical, and tough to duplicate.  She names names and points fingers, rather than relying on generalities, even taking some shots at Lurleen Wallace, running for governor of Alabama as her husband’s surrogate.   Folk songs that protest Jim Crow are a dime a dozen, but Simone’s cabaret stylings allow for layers of humor and drama and pathos to enter the song more easily.  Her line “I’ve even stopped believing in prayer” is especially poignant.  The song is a manifesto of the folly of “moving slow” in the civil rights movement.  “You don’t have to live next to me,” she intones, “you just have to give me equality.”

215.  “I Think We’re Alone Now”– Tommy James and the Shondells (1968):  I bloody well love this song.  To be sure, it ranks this low only because it is more of a guilty pleasure than an objective piece of greatness.  But from start to finish, it’s a damn great single.  The crickets chirping between the verses, the sense of urgency to make the most out of fleeting time alone.  This song captures the feel, the fear, the discovery of the sexual unknown, that comes with being young better than any song from this era not by the Beach Boys.

214.  “Cathy’s Clown”– The Everly Brothers (1960):  Perhaps the last great song that the two brothers wrote, it is more complex and melodic than their earlier work.  Essentially a polite way of acknowledge that one has become a cuckold, it has the neat trick of both Phil and Don’s lines serving as potential melodies; neither is quite dominant enough to be considered the harmony line.  John and Paul would later borrow this tactic in songs like “If I Fell.”

213.  “Wild Thing”– The Troggs (1965):  Ruthlessly and remorselessly stupid, “Wild Thing” is the beating heart of garage-rock that thrived in the 1960s and encouraged young, resourceful, and dubiously-talented musicians to attempt bands of their own.  With repetitive verses, an unforgiving guitar riff that was duplicated by hundreds of youngsters, and a bizarre flute solo in the middle of the song that presages psychedelia, the song lives in infamy.  Strangely, its author, Chip Taylor, also wrote “Angel of the Morning,” a manifesto of a woman’s sexual liberation.

212.  “Tuesday Afternoon”– The Moody Blues (1967):  While associated with progressive rock, The Moody Blues were actually much closer to the first-generation British Invasion bands than most people remember.  Part of the ambitious and orchestral Days of Future Passed project, the track is necessarily bouncier and more ponderous than its urgent and exquisite cousin, “Nights in White Satin.”

211.  “Spanish Caravan”– The Doors (1968):  One of the things that fascinates me is how innovative early single year of the 1960s was in retrospect.  In other words, more than any decade since, a record from, say, 1966, sounds substantively different from a record in 1968.  There was constantly new ground to furrow.  It’s fascinating to think that by 1968 nobody had thought to do a Spanish-style song in a serious way (that is, not counting novelty numbers like “Come a Little Bit Closer.”)  In fact, this song is based off of a guitar piece by turn-of-the-century Spanish composer Isaac Albeniz.  In this track, The Doors put Ray Manzarek’s organ in the far background in favor of Rob Krieger’s flamenco guitar.  The effect is mesmerizing and eclectic.  The Doors are, in my opinion, one of the most overrated bands of the 1960s, but when they delivered, they could produce some astonishing and unexpected results.

210.  “A Lover’s Concerto”– The Toys (1965):  By 1965, girl groups not named The Supremes were on the way out.  One of the last great efforts from this forgotten world is a one-off hit called “A Lover’s Concerto” by the Toys, a group that didn’t do much else.  Like #211, it is based on some classical motifs, in this case, the minuet in G major from one of Bach’s notebooks.  One critic, Dave Thompson, calls it “the apogee of the girl group sound,” and it is hard to disagree.

209.  “Seven O’Clock News/Silent Night”– Simon and Garfunkel (1966):  Sad and poignant, Simon and Garfunkel strike on the ingenious idea to juxtapose the soft Christmas hymn with the increasingly violent and unsettling evening news.

208.  “Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown)”– The Beatles (1965):  This record is a historic occasion.  It not only signifies John Lennon’s evolution as a more interesting songwriter willing to explore some of the dark places of the human condition.  The girl in this song is the first truly unconventional and even dangerous character we meet in a Beatles song.  More than that, The Beatles, for the very first time, introduce the sitar to western music.  George Harrison’s songs for the next few years would explore these boundaries further, but this is the first track in rock and roll to conscientiously break down barriers between east and west.

207.  “Bus Stop”– The Hollies (1966):  It’s a cute little trifle of a song, a self-contained story about love blossoming unexpectedly at a bus queue.

206.  “Crossroads”– Cream (1968):  Since the days of Robert Johnson, the concept of the crossroads, the point of decision between right and wrong, Jesus and the devil, has been a leitmotif in the blues.  Perhaps the greatest psychedelic blues outfit of them all tackles the theme their own way in this seminal track.

205.  “Hush”– Deep Purple (1968):  One of the first hard rock bands, Deep Purple became a sort-of gateway drug for lots of musicians and listeners.  Although “Smoke on the Water” would go on to be more famous, “Hush” introduces the band’s prominent guitars with some very 60s trappings, from psychedelic organ, to British Invasion-y background vocals, and its famous melody line.

204.  “Classical Gas”– Mason Williams (1968):  Hmm..this is the third song with classical pretensions in this set.  Strange!  Williams seems like a troubadour from a bygone age- a comedian, writer, and musician as well, like one of the players we see arriving at Elsinore in Hamlet.  In a similar Renaissance vein, “Classical Gas” has some captivating classical guitar and stately horns- making it a marching band staple ever since.  I love that songs like this could be #1 hits in the 60s.

203.  “And When I Die”– Blood, Sweat & Tears (1969):  And yet a fourth song!  BS&T is borrowing liberally from Aaron Copland in this cover version of a soul number originally written by Laura Nyro.  An existential singer-songwriter track became, with Chicago’s James William Guercio producing,it is a piece of twee Americana with a soundscape that evokes the frontier and its live-fast-die-hard ethos.  And it’s also perhaps the finest vocal performance given by David Clayton-Thomas.

202.  “Soul Finger”– The Bar-Cays (1967):  Riffing off of James Brown and his contemporaries, funk music was in its vibrant early stages in the mid-to-late 1960s, setting the stage for its maturation in the 1970s via groups like Parliament-Funkadelic.  The Bar-Cays, ostensibly Otis Redding’s backing group, hit on a fantastic and danceable riff.  The Bar-Cays might have become funk legends, but we’ll never know if they could have pulled it off.  Most of them perished in the same plane crash that claimed Redding.

201.  “Dear Mr. Fantasy”– Traffic (1967):  Traffic was a group that could have done so much more if they had a little more time and a lot more focus.  But as a near-supergroup with egos to juggle like Steve Winwood, Dave Mason, and Jim Capaldi, it is no wonder that they self-imploded.  “Dear Mr. Fantasy” is a great glimpse of what could have been however, and it is one of the strongest psychedelic tracks from this most psychedelic of years- transcendent and trippy.

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