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Posts Tagged ‘Rock Hall Prospects’

It’s been a while. Most of life is good, but it hasn’t been amenable to finishing this project. My wife has been finishing her Ph.D. I still have plenty of teaching responsibilities. And I’ve been on some anti-anxiety medication that’s been thankfully very effective. But it does have a bit of a side effect in that while it lets me access my better self when I’m under duress, it also makes it harder to get as completely, totally absorbed in my hobbies as I was once.

So while I intend to keep blogging, I have to face facts and admit that I just don’t have the compulsion to finish my update to the Top 100 Rock Hall Prospects. At least not in the sense I had hoped, where I wrote a very short essay on each artist. I still have the occasional reader asking for an update, so just to avoid leaving this thread hanging, here’s my Top 100 Rock Hall Prospects, not counting newly eligibles like Biggie or Weezer.

  1. Kraftwerk
  2. Carole King
  3. Judas Priest
  4. The Smiths
  5. The Spinners
  6. L.L. Cool J
  7. Mariah Carey
  8. Willie Nelson
  9. Depeche Mode
  10. Nine Inch Nails
  11. Eurythmics
  12. Kate Bush
  13. Smashing Pumpkins
  14. Outkast
  15. The Pixies
  16. Beck
  17. Duran Duran
  18. Pat Benatar
  19. Rage Against the Machine
  20. Dick Dale
  21. A Tribe Called Quest
  22. T. Rex
  23. Jethro Tull
  24. Tina Turner
  25. Sonic Youth
  26. Iron Maiden
  27. Brian Eno
  28. Big Mama Thornton
  29. Weird Al Yankovic
  30. Whitney Houston
  31. Rufus/Chaka Khan
  32. Jane’s Addiction
  33. The Monkees
  34. The Commodores
  35. The B-52s
  36. The Shangri-Las
  37. War
  38. Phil Collins
  39. The Replacements 
  40. Big Star 
  41. Bjork
  42. Ozzy Osbourne
  43. The Doobie Brothers
  44. Sting
  45. Soundgarden
  46. Billy Ward & His Dominoes
  47. Johnny Winter
  48. Motorhead
  49. MC5
  50. Mary J. Blige
  51. Peter, Paul & Mary
  52. Emmylou Harris
  53. Jimmy Buffet
  54. The Clovers
  55. TLC
  56. Indigo Girls
  57. Devo
  58. Black Flag
  59. De La Soul
  60. Kris Kristofferson 
  61. Dionne Warwick
  62. Richard Thompson
  63. No Doubt
  64. PJ Harvey
  65. Chic
  66. Toots and the Maytals 
  67. The Go Gos
  68. Cliff Richard & the Shadows
  69. Joy Division/New Order
  70. Dead Kennedys
  71. The Guess Who
  72. Phish
  73. Bad Brains
  74. Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds
  75. Eric B and Rakim 
  76. Nick Drake
  77. The Pogues
  78. Carly Simon 
  79. Los Lobos
  80. Flaming Lips
  81. The Roots
  82. The Marvelettes
  83. They Might Be Giants
  84. The Meters
  85. Tori Amos
  86. Moby
  87. Siouxsie Sioux and the Banshees
  88. Kool & the Gang
  89. X
  90. Dave Mathews Band
  91. Gloria Estefan & the Miami Sound Machine
  92. Chuck Willis
  93. Foreigner
  94. Alice in Chains
  95. John Prine
  96. Tool
  97. Fela Kuti
  98. The Buzzcocks
  99. Emerson Lake and Palmer 
  100. Os Mutantes 

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Welcome to our second installment of the Rock Hall Prospects! This one is a bit of a challenge because nine out of the ten artists on this list require new write-ups: they weren’t on the original version of this project that debuted three years ago. So, welcome and happy reading. This particular batch is very heavy on the quality of “zeitgeist”, and many are seminal live acts that are essentially to commemorating their time and place in rock and roll’s history.

dave mathews90. Dave Matthews Band: This could end up being the most divisive choice of the entire one hundred. DMB has a relatively narrow but wholly devoted base of fans, and is still selling out concerts to this day. When I worked at a venue in Saratoga, NY back in 2005, it was an event when Dave Matthews and his crew came to town. Excuses for not being able to work that weekend were simply not tolerated; this was an all-hands-on-deck series of concerts requiring all the manpower we had to settle demand for tickets, and dealing with bizarre requests from stoners. (“Do I get the tickets cheaper if I buy them for both nights?”) In terms of being evocative of a time and place, DMB is up there with the most prominent acts coming out of the 90s. Dave Matthews Band elicits memories of hacky-sacks, hemp necklaces, and downloading concerts from Napster. To those who understand, no explanation is necessary. To those who do not, no explanation will ever suffice. Unlike Phish, another “you have to see them live” act, DMB was able to leverage their concert act into mainstream success, with “Crash Into Me,” “Ants Marching,” and “What Would You Say” among other songs in regular rotation in the Top 40 back then. Their haters are legion, and not entirely wrong, but there’s still no argument for putting the Dead in the Hall that doesn’t apply just as strongly to the Dave Matthews Band.

xband89. X: Simply, they put L.A. punk on the map, and helped make it a scene in the wider public consciousness. More than most punk outfits, they knew who their forebears were, and in the case of X, there is a recurring rockabilly pedigree that becomes manifest. Guitarist Billy Zoom played with Gene Vincent at one point–an important lineage when you consider that Vincent was actually the sneering malcontent that the less informed thought Elvis was back in the 50s. Maybe they hung on a bit too long, maybe they had a few too many reunions that went nowhere, but you have to judge these acts by their peak and not their valley. Realistically, if artists like Ted Nugent baked their own soufflé by injecting a particularly noxious brand of far-right politics into their act, Exene isn’t too far behind. At one point, she was tweeting that the Santa Barbara mass shooting was a hoax designed to further the cause of gun control. Oh well. As it stands, X’s work helped save the music scene from falling further down the abyss of yacht rock, and their stripped-down and poetic style was a necessary tonic.

kool-and-the-gang-70s-portrait-billboard-154888. Kool & the Gang: Talk about longevity. Kool & the Gang have been at it for over fifty years now, still going strong, and thriving as a top concert draw. It’s tempting to write them off as a KC & the Sunshine Band-style act, but– meaning no offense to KC– few could touch Kool & the Gang’s effortless musicianship and stamina. In recent years, artists like Bruno Mars have cribbed from their style– what is “Uptown Funk” if not for Michael Jackson making a non-aggression pact with Kool? Moreover, they are one of the most sampled artists of all time, perhaps second only to James Brown in that regard. Like another exceptional live band- J. Geils- they stumbled onto some hits that don’t necessarily give a representative view of their career or importance. They aren’t quite “Celebration” and “Cherish” just as the Geils Band isn’t exactly “Centerfold” and “Freeze Frame.” I’ll never forget my Sunday school teacher opining once that Kool & the Gang was the best live show she ever saw- and as she was married to a drummer, she had been to quite a few. Rock and roll is about getting up and dancing, and Kool & the Band may has this longer and more successfully than any active band today. Let’s hope that their recent induction into the Songwriters’ Hall of Fame leads them to Cleveland as well.

siouxsie-sioux-siouxsie-and-the-banshees-1-jan-1979-cafe-brussels-belgium-philippe-carly87. Siouxsie Sioux & the Banshees: When I was in high school, the goth kids unnerved me a little bit. They were unhumorous, foreboding, joyless–at least that was my impression. Had I dug a little further back then, I would have found that my misgivings were not only prejudicial but wrong-headed. Goth wasn’t an invitation to violence or anti-social behavior, but an honest effort by the dispossessed and the misfitted to hash out who they were when the mainstream offered them little of value. Few people contributed to what became goth culture in the English-speaking world more than Siouxsie Sioux. Like many of the  Sex Pistols’ orphaned progeny, her group had to find a way after their idols self-destructed. Her visual medium and enrapturing live performances crafted a place where the darker and less sightly parts of life could be enjoyed– this coming in part from a traumatic childhood. In doing so, punk and art-rock joined forces to great effect. And it’s hard to find a more common denominator among alternative than Siouxsie Sioux. Admiration for their work can be seen in The Smiths, Radiohead, Jesus and Mary Chain, TV on the Radio, The Cure, PJ Harvey. The list just goes on. The asexual art-punk style she cultivated- if such a genre can be said to exist- makes her every bit of an original and trendsetter as Joan Jett.

moby86. Moby: Eventually, the Rock Hall will have to figure out the role of the deejay. There were a few easy inductions when they were part of a larger ensemble- witness someone like Grandmaster Flash- but Danger Mouse and others are on the horizon. Moreover, deejays were the medium by which rock and roll reached nearly every listener for generations. To wit, the Rock Hall’s Cleveland connection is largely justified because it was Alan Freed’s base of operations. With this in mind, deejay par excellence, Moby, needs to enter the Rock Hall conversation, having first become eligible this year. Moby didn’t invent techno, in much the same way that Nine Inch Nails didn’t invent industrial, but it was through his body of work that the genre reached a kind of artistic maturity and came into its own as a genre. With symphonic strings and synth rarely out of the mix, his beats borrow from disco, gospel, 80s pop, metal, and almost any other genre you can name, with some of kind of anthemic chorus cutting through just when the trance has lulled you into its grip. His eclectic and transcendental body of work reflected Moby’s own rich inner life. As a proud vegan and animal rights activist, he also practices a spiritualist form of Christianity at odds with conventional evangelicalism, while he also raises awareness of those who, like himself, suffer from deep anxiety. Both who he was and what he produced made Moby a kind of an icon for those on the younger side of Generation X, much as Morrissey was for the older side. And as a golden boy of the 90s and early 2000s rave scene, he scores strongly into the “zeitgeist” component that I weigh in my rankings; it’s hard to talk about that time and place without Moby factoring into the discussion. His two most indispensable works are the alternative-oriented 1995’s Everything is Wrong and the blues electronica of 1999’s Play, but this hardly does justice to the length and breadth of his career, which also includes soundtracks, remix projects, and commercials. He won’t get in for a long time, especially if Kraftwerk or solo Brian Eno or DJ Kool Herk aren’t in yet; it is a difficult route for artists who are more “organizers of sound” than traditional guitar-bass-and-drums musicians. But he should be someone to watch out for. Certainly, the Rolling Stone crowd and the critical community hold him in high esteem.

tori-amos-michel-linssen-redferns-getty85. Tori Amos: The wave of female songwriters that came of age in the early 1990s was one of the most important musical developments of that era. Full stop. In terms of exercising broad cultural influence, shaping worldview, and uniting hitherto disparate artists, I’d even go so far as to argue that it rivaled Lollapalooza and the Seattle grunge scene as a social force. Some other folks from that time and place will show up later, particularly those affiliated with Lilith Fair, but one of the most talented of that coterie was Tori Amos. From the start, Amos confronted taboos, wrote songs you had to puzzle out, and could contain hard-hitting truths underneath a lilting piano melody. Her first album alone has lines like “boy, you best pray I bleed real soon,” and had a shocking track called “Me and a Gun” that dwelled on an imagined revenge for a real-life rape that she survived. Sady Doyle describes her singularity thusly: “Unlike, say, Lady Gaga, you never get the sense that Amos’ politics or “shocking” choices are part of a cynical marketing strategy. It’s just the sound of a woman who is absolutely assured of what she has to say, and how she wants to say it. Which, given the world we live in, is the most courageous thing of all.” For the late Gen X-ers and early millennials that comprised her fan base, Tori Amos was emphatically not your mother’s kind of singer-songwriter.  Her confessional but experimental style set the bar for generations of alt-singer-songwriters to come after her.

meters 1084. The Meters: In the end, Cleveland won out, but there are a half a dozen other cities where a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame would have made sense. Memphis might have surely worked. Philadelphia, home of American Bandstand, would have resonated. San Francisco could have evoked the Haight & Asbury era. Given that they created a decent rock and roll museum without being *the hall*, Seattle’s pedigree from Paul Revere to Pearl Jam could have sufficed. Heck, if you can put baseball’s Hall in tiny Cooperstown, New York, why not put rock and roll’s in Clear Lake, Iowa? But perhaps New Orleans has a better claim than any other city. A melting pot since before it was part of the USA, it’s rock and roll relevance runs through Fats and Ernie K. Doe and Dr. John– and, of course, The Meters. Their case isn’t that dissimilar to that of Booker T. and the MGs-  who were inducted way back in 1992. They were consummate sidemen and outstanding performers who could nonetheless produce sublime material on their own. Their contributions to funk are manifold, and they are up there with James Brown among the most sampled artists of all time in the hip-hop world. Although hardly apolitical, their style avoided the trappings of Black Pride of Brown or the Afro-futurism of Parliament, and they stuck to the singular subculture of New Orleans. You may not realize it, but they also helped inaugurate world music– listen to their collaboration with The Wild Tchoupitoulas as they create a sound both global, yet intricately rooted in The Big Easy. Unfortunately, it seems their fate to be nominated sporadically every few years and place close to dead last in the fan vote. But if any group has deserved the sobriquet of “Musical Excellence”, it’s the Neville Brothers and company.

tmbg_sep_copy.59f76e62f1a1683. They Might Be Giants: It’s never going to happen, but it should. They Might Be Giants has ridden their offbeat, goofball, but strikingly learned style to decades of success. The group has been around since the late 80s, debuted the Dial-A-Song feature, and made listeners scratch their heads ever since. There’s the covers that bring out absurdities originals never could–indeed, how many people know that “Istanbul not Constantinople” is not their own handiwork? In time, they further branched out into children’s music, broadway, television, and was one of the first artists to have truly their own online store, erasing the legions of middlemen between them and their listeners. And unlike another offbeat persona like Weird Al, their songs often made you think and weighed in on issues of substance–witness “Anna Ng” or “Your Racist Friend.” Indeed, my wife and I have used their songs in our classes, including “The Mesopotamians” and “Tippecanoe and Tyler Too.” When we think of alternative acts that need to be in the Hall, we think of Sonic Youth or The Smiths, but They Might Be Giants are also among the more deserving and innovative.

82. The Marvelettes: I kept them off the original 100 Rock Hall Prospects, but I heard marvelettesenough convincing arguments from Northumbrian Countdown’s readers to reconsider. The Marvelettes kick-started Motown’s reign in the 1960s, notching the label’s first #1 hit with the seminal “Please Mr. Postman.” In the end, the Marvelettes were undone partly because Berry Gordy fed his best material to The Supremes and The Vandellas in time, and partly because with two lead singers, it wasn’t clear who the group’s public face was. Without a Diana Ross or Gladys Knight or Martha Reeves, a lethal case of anonymity set in, contributing to a relatively short prime. For years, I assumed they were just a flash in the pan, because “Postman” was the only song of theirs that oldies radio played. Don’t make the same mistake I did, kids. “Danger Heartbreak Dead Ahead,” “Too Many Fish in the Sea,” and “Beechwood 4-5789” hold up with the best girl-group numbers of their era. Indeed, “Beechwood” might be the original “Call Me Maybe”!

the roots81. The Roots: In an erudite essay written almost five years ago, Roots drummer Questlove muses: “Once hip-hop culture is ubiquitous, it is also invisible. Once it’s everywhere, it is nowhere. What once offered resistance to mainstream culture (it was part of the larger tapestry, spooky-action style, but it pulled at the fabric) is now an integral part of the sullen dominant.” The entire Roots oeuvre seems to grapple with this riddle, avoiding the hippy ephemera that endeared De La Soul to white Brooklynites while avoiding the conspicuous consumption that Biggie, P-Diddy and others oversaw in the mid-90s. The result is maybe the best ongoing, consistently engaging collection of albums by any rap or hip-hop artist: Phrenology, Things Fall Apart, and How I Got Over are among the genre’s very finest. Narrative without being biographical, funny and referential, the band relies heavily on the beats Quest picked up with his touring soul-singer parents and the complex lyrical genius of Black Thought. Although they might be the world’s tightest backing band and reach millions nightly via Jimmy Fallon, the Roots are no mere sidemen. Conflict of interest though it may been, given Questlove’s status on the Nominating Committee, the Roots deserve a place in the conversation for the next hip-hop act in the Hall.

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I am delighted that my first round of Rock and Roll Hall of Fame prospects, rounding out the bottom ten, was so well received.  I should add, in response to some confusion, that I am ranking them based on my perception of how deserving they are, as opposed to their likelihood of induction.  (I’d like to think that the two are related, but that doesn’t always happen, of course.)

This next round includes some of my more controversial choices, as well as a few artists who are consensus “why aren’t they in yet?” picks.  Two of my choices became eligible for the first time in the past year, but were passed over by the Nominating Committee.  And only one from this batch of ten has been nominated before.

90.  pogues2The Pogues: Maybe because it was Christmastime and “Fairytale of New York” got its annual moment to shine, but The Pogues were the final addition to the list.  (I always knew the bottom 10 artists I wanted on my list- usually borderline choices, symbolic of a larger trend or genre- but this next batch of ten saw more changes and shifts than any.)  Anyway, The Pogues ushered in one of more intuitive syntheses in 1980s music, that of punk and folk- particularly Celtic folk.  In a way, the visceral anger at oppression at the hands of the English middle class made traditional Irish music and post-Sex Pistols punk a natural fit for one another, with an embrace of non-conformity serving as the impetus for a catalog rich with stories of boozehounds and rejects that make up the canon of Shane McGowan, Jem Finer, and company.  The Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock and Roll calls their music “Joycean” and that’s a great assessment, with fragmentary stories without satisfactory conclusions carry the day.    While “they inspired bands like Dropkick Murphys” isn’t exactly the kind of impact most artists dream of, they showed the greater, almost novelistic, lyrical possibilities of punk.  But amazingly, this loutish group, always a couple strokes of bad luck away from being a below-average pub band in Stoke Newington, grew as artists.  If I Should Fall From Grace with God replaced Irish instruments with a Middle Eastern motif in the “Turkish Song of the Damned” and jazz, Greek, and singer-songwriter influences in their music, without it ever seeming like a desperate try at a world music album for the Grammys.

89.  mobyMoby:  The role of the deejay is an ephemeral one, often selecting and arranging music but rarely creating it.  And yet, deejays were the medium by which rock and roll reached nearly every listener for generations.  To wit, the Rock Hall’s Cleveland connection is largely justified because it was Alan Freed’s base of operations.  With this in mind, deejay par excellence, Moby, needs to enter the Rock Hall conversation, having first become eligible this year.  Moby didn’t invent techno, in much the same way that Nine Inch Nails didn’t invent industrial, but it was through his body of work that the genre reached a kind of artistic maturity and came into its own as a genre.  With symphonic strings and synth rarely out of the mix, his beats borrow from disco, gospel, 80s pop, metal, and almost any other genre you can name, with some of kind of anthemic chorus cutting through just when the trance has lulled you into its grip.  His eclectic and transcendental body of work reflected Moby’s own rich inner life.  As a proud vegan and animal rights activist, he also practices a spiritualist form of Christianity at odds with conventional evangelicalism, while he also raises awareness of those who, like himself, suffer from deep anxiety.  Both who he was and what he produced made Moby a kind of an icon for those on the younger side of Generation X, much as Morrissey was for the older side.  And as a golden boy of the 90s and early 2000s rave scene, he wins the “zeitgeist” component I established in my criteria by a country mile; it’s hard to talk about that time and place without Moby factoring into the discussion.  His two most indispensable works are the alternative-oriented 1995’s Everything is Wrong and the blues electronica of 1999’s Play, but this hardly does justice to the length and breadth of his career, which also includes soundtracks, remix projects, and commercials.  He won’t get in for a long time, especially if Kraftwerk or Brian Eno or DJ Kool Herk aren’t in yet; it is a difficult route for artists who are more “organizers of sound” than traditional guitar-bass-and-drums musicians.  But he should be someone to watch out for.  Certainly, the Rolling Stone crowd and the critical community hold him in high esteem.

88.  Photo of SOUNDGARDENSoundgarden:  It didn’t all start with Nirvana.  As we explored with Moby, inventing a genre and being a crucial part of a genre’s success are not the same thing.  Now, I wasn’t listening to grunge in the 90s; I never heard “Black Hole Sun” until it showed up as part of Weird Al’s “Alternative Polka.”  Mindful of this, I asked my friend Ryan, who actually did follow that scene as a teenager, why Soundgarden was important. And here’s what he said: “…well, important is very relative. Important to what, specifically? If we’re talking about the Seattle grunge scene, anything that brought more spotlights to it is, in many ways, good. They were around long before Nirvana, like Alice in Chains, and had respectable levels of success prior to Nevermind…They morphed heavy metal with something different- something more funk, more raw”  Great answer Ryan!  (And you should totally check out Ryan’s band, The Strange Neighbors.)  Within the world of 90s alternative and grunge, there is a tendency to see Nirvana as Artist Zero, but in fact, many of their contemporaries outdated Cobain and company and laid more of the foundations for the Seattle scene.  Louder Than Love (1990) and Badmotorfinger (1991) both made waves as the first grunge albums supported by a major label.  Even if they didn’t reach a wider audience until Nirvana kicked those doors open, that matters.  Finding a way to merge the authenticity of post-punk, the gravity of metal, and the relentless rhythm of funk, their work cast a gloomy and introspective shadow filled with angst and contained rage that resonated with plenty of people who were disillusioned with the rank commercialism of the 90s.  As the recent death of Scott Weiland reminds us, the grunge and alternative scene exacted a heavy price on its darlings.  Soundgarden quit when they were hot, as Ryan reminded me, and played the game on their own terms.  Now that Nirvana is in, the question of the next grunge/90s alternative act on the docket is one that weighs on the minds of many Rock Hall watchers.  The answer is probably Pearl Jam, eligible for the Class of 2017, but after that?  The smart money, I think, is on Soundgarden.

87.  emmylou harrisEmmylou Harris:  What are the boundaries of rock and roll?  Did Miles Davis deserve induction in 2008 as a jazz artist who merely collaborated with rockers on occasion?  What about a Nina Simone induction?  This kind of question is a particular puzzler for country, partly because country not only predates rock and roll, but was a crucial antecedent and one of rock and roll’s chief dialogue partners going forward.  So, how far do you go inducting country-oriented stars into a museum for rock and roll?  That’s a tough question to answer.  Johnny Cash got in without much controversy.  Willie Nelson and Patsy Cline are on most people’s radar.  My own philosophy is that if an artist worked heavily in conversation with rock and roll, they should be considered.  And few bridged the chasm between rock and roll and country with the longevity and the artistry of Emmylou Harris.  Her own duet partner, Gram Parsons, has been nominated before and is considered a top-shelf omission from the Rock Hall because of his seminal work in laying the foundations of country-rock, and as a distance ancestor to alt-country.  I agree with that, even as I am astounded that Harris isn’t always given the same respect.  Harris was smart (she wasn’t valedictorian of her high school class for nothing) and marketed her music to both the Opry crowd and fans of country-rock that experienced a mid-70s heyday when The Eagles and like-minded bands were at their apex.  Listen to Luxury Liner, and it’s pure mastery.  It swings and twangs with the requisite pedal steel, but it has rock and roll’s edge and the singer-songwriter’s introspection.  She’s also earned points for staying artistically active; while many Seventies artists’ output became criminally uninteresting in the 90s and after, Emmylou’s work has continued on without any perceptible decline in quality.  Her body of work grew old as gracefully as she did.  Besides her work with Parsons, she’s kept her rock rolodex filled with collaborations with Linda Ronstadt, Bob Dylan, Bonnie Raitt, and The Band among many, many others.  If she were ever nominated, there’s a suitcase full of artists in the Hall who stand ready for vote for her.  And as one of the first people to successfully exist in both the rock and country milieus simultaneously, like a songbird Padre Pio, she should get more serious attention for the Rock Hall.  And if she doesn’t, she can always polish those 13 Grammy Awards.

86.  the shadowsThe Shadows:  Many before me have noted that the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame has a decidedly American accent.  While obvious cases like The Beatles or The Who were inducted readily and eagerly, more borderline cases from the U.K. tend to have longer waits, simply because it is less likely that someone on the Nom Com saw them in a club before they got famous.  I could take or leave the man who was often their frontman, Cliff Richard, who many of the major British Invasion acts despised as a second-rate Elvis (although jealousy of his massive chart success may have factored into their derision.)  Richard may have been the first rock superstar in Britain, but his records often had a derivative and calculated sound, analogous to those early Pat Boone or Conway Twitty records.  No, I’m more interested in his backing band, The Shadows.  From the late 50s until well into the 1960s, they pioneered the modern rock and roll combo of lead and rhythm guitar, bass, and drums and anticipated much of the British Invasion.  Led by Hank Marvin, they embarked upon a series of evocative instrumental records.  “Apache” was probably the most well-loved of them (and was later reincarnated as a funky rap song by the Sugar Hill Gang).  But one shouldn’t neglect “Walk Don’t Run,” “Kon Tiki”, or “The Frightened City”, each of which has its own personality that shimmers in the barren years between the Day the Music Died and The Beatles’ debut on Ed Sullivan.   Altogether, they racked up 14 British Top 10 hits without Richard within the space of five years.  Remember, one of the first numbers The Beatles recorded in a professional studio on their own was an instrumental tribute to this band called “Cry for a Shadow.” If The Shadows have an encouraging antecedent, it’s The Ventures, another glittering Sixties instrumental group that was a surprise victor in their very first nomination.

85.  los lobosLos Lobos:  The Nominating Committee dropped a huge surprise when Los Lobos surfaced as one of the nominees for the Class of 2016.  One faithful reader of this blog, KING, correctly predicted this outcome, but almost everyone else was astonished, even though Future Rock Legends listed them among artists that had been previously considered before.  I originally thought this was a borderline-absurd choice, but when I did my research, I realized how mistaken I was.  Whatever you think of Los Lobos’ chances, don’t dismiss them as just the band that recorded a bunch of Ritchie Valens covers for the La Bamba soundtrack.  No, this was a band that paid its dues the way few have, breaking out only when its members were older adults after years of toiling in small clubs and wedding receptions, finding a way to merge roots rock with a strong pedigree in the norteno milieu.  As one band member put it, “we found America through the service entrance.”   In every sense, they were workmanlike innovators who merged genres.  How Will the Wolf Survive is regarded by many as one of the best albums of the 1980s, and recorded both a traditional Mexican album La pistola y el corazon as well as a collection of Disney covers, neither sounding remotely gimmicky, and each in the spirit of their overall body of work.  And we are just scratching the surface and ignoring worthy albums like Kiko and The Neighborhood.  Dave Marsh, the august music critic, seems to have played a critical role in getting them on the ballot this year, vociferously defending them in a radio interview he gave in November.  Los Lobos, he maintained, “took the folkloric style of Mexican music, combined it with the funkier side of [the punk scene in L.A.]”  Getting into the Hall of Fame, he went on, should be based on how famous you should be, not on how famous you are.  And to be sure, Latin music has not gotten fair credit for it’s role in shaping rock and roll, like a forgotten ancestor whose name has been scratched out of the family tree.  So far, only Santana and Valens and maybe some of Linda Ronstadt’s later work are nods in this direction- and Valens had barely begun exploring the fusion of latin and rock when he died at age 17.  For years, I wished that the industry experts would listen to ordinary rock and roll fans rather than using the Nom Com to impose their tastes on Rock Hall enshrinement.  I still think that to a certain degree, but I also now believe the inverse to be true: rock fans should listen up when a group as well versed as the Nom Com thinks an artist is worthy of nomination: just because you haven’t heard very much about them doesn’t mean they aren’t very good.  Two years ago, when I started following the Rock Hall seriously, I thought the two worst picks on the 2014 ballot were The Meters and the Paul Butterfield Blues Band, just because I had never run into them before.  As it turned out, that was entirely wrong.  In this case, the experts were right, and they are right again here– Los Lobos hadn’t entered many conversations on Rock Hall prospects, but they should be part of the discussion.

84.  dan fogelbergDan Fogelberg:  Most people reading this have at least sorta agreed with my choices…up to this point.  Dan Fogelberg belongs to that most maligned phylum of musical creatures, the sensitive 1970s singer-songwriter.  There’s nothing wrong with being sensitive, but I prefer to consider Fogelberg an excellent storyteller in the best American tradition.  More eclectic than many of his contemporaries, he readily incorporated jazz, folk, and bluegrass, and was a natural multi-instrumentalist.  And if you take the trouble to listen to any of his albums all the way through, you’ll see that he could rock as well; many of his best songs are strong uptempo numbers like “Phoenix” and “The Language of Love,” not just ballads about meeting your old lover at the grocery store.  But those, too, are well-crafted.  Listen to The Innocent Age, a sprawling double album addressing nostalgia and looking back at childhood and adolescence.  It’s easy to scoff at this introspective topic, but this record is one of the very finest in the singer-songwriter genre, every bit as good as Sweet Baby James and Tapestry.  In fact, it’s one of my twenty favorite albums, easily.  Holiday staple “Same Old Lang Syne” is on there, as was top 10 hit “Leader of the Band.”  But listen to the complex lyrics and epic scope of “Into the Passage” and the Celtic-infused “Nexus”- two great songs that never got onto radio rotation.  Soft rock harbored some of the most thoughtful and reflective of material in the rock milieu, and it should not be easily dismissed as “yacht rock” for the nouveau rich of the Kissinger era.  If we’re looking at quality of material within its genre, Fogelberg deserves a chance to be in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.  It’s true.

83.  jimmybuffettJimmy Buffett:  If putting Fogelberg on a list of people who should be in the Rock Hall made you skeptical, including Jimmy Buffett might make you think I’ve lost my damn mind.  Like Rush and KISS, Buffett is disadvantaged by the churlish reputation of his fans.  Your wife’s ne’er-do-well brother who never had a real job is a Parrothead.  The jackass in Human Resources who just cut your buddy’s department but always seems to enjoy a martini lunch is a Parrothead.  I get that.  I do.  But I also get that Jimmy Buffett has created his own mythos in his songs and in his novels that compares with little else in the rock and roll legendarium.  It’s a kind of Gulf Coast Narnia for the dissolute, littered with eccentrics, drifters, and remittance men.  Buffett’s best songs in his 27 studio albums create compelling character sketches that span the Caribbean, from the most-interesting-man he encounters in “Last Mango in Paris,” to the mythical Jolly Mon, to the exotic and enigmatic Salome of “Salome Plays the Drums.”  All of this coheres into a hedonist philosophy of living for today, embracing the absurd and spontaneous, and lamenting the inevitable hangover the next day.  Go listen to the stream-of-consciousness “Fruitcakes”, or the nostalgia of “Pencil Thin Mustache” or the bildungsroman of “Pascagoula Run.”  Buffett fans aren’t stupid; many of them live terribly uninteresting lives with his music as their chief Bacchanalian outlet.  And more than anyone this side of the Grateful Dead or Bob Marley, Buffett’s catalog and concert culture created a way of life, a worldview; even if its disciples wore Hawaiian shirts and cargo shorts.  There’s a reason his career is stronger than ever 40 years in, and he was racking up #1 albums in the 2000s.  Even in terms of genre, Buffett contributed to a Gulf Coast sound, merging elements of country and western with nearby Latin and Caribbean influences coming in from the sea lanes- with occasional flecks of roots rock and Cajun showing up every now and then as well.  Altogether, it’s a cohesive testament on par with the work of Leonard Cohen and Tom Waits, even if Buffett never shared their critical acclaim and hipster credentials. If you forget the mercenary element of his career, shamelessly hawking frozen coconut shrimp and boxed margarita mix, there’s a body of work that is Rock Hall worthy– even if it is sometimes worthy in spite of itself.

82.  a tribe called questA Tribe Called Quest: The first but certainly not the last hip-hop artist to appear on the list, A Tribe Called Quest emerged in the early 90s as part of the Native Tongues collective on the New York scene.  Hip hop was still accruing its sense of self as a genre, in the years following the landmark Afrika Bambaataa records.  In a way, ATCQ and its contemporaries were kind of a counter-reformation challenging the violence and hard-edged street life of N.W.A.  In contrast, the Native Tongues people felt like they were in the middle of a love fest.  Afrocentric ideas and beats, an indirect legacy of 70s icons like Maulana Karenga, served as the cornerstone for this vibrant, but in many ways unfortunately short-lived movement.  One of their biggest advocates, Questlove, effused that they were “stylish, jazzy, funny, soulful, smart, and everything else.  They were socially conscious without being too self-conscious about it.”  By far the most jazz-oriented group in this collective, Q-Tip and company had wonderful improvisation to their work, often sampling jazz records and jazz licks as easily as others might sample a drum beat or horn break from James Brown.  (“Mind Power” from Beats, Rhymes, and Life is one of my favorite essays in this medium.) But this belies the hard work and craftsmanship that so many of their listeners missed.  Philosophical but never ponderous, they were just as conscious about being black in America- and all that implied- as N.W.A., but chose artful self-realization instead of the gangsta life.

81.  The CloversThe Clovers: My chronological rule separating performers from early influences was “peaking in 1954 or later”- a tad arbitrary, but there you have it.  The Clovers might bend that rule, but they certainly do not break it.  Their most remembered hit song,1959’s  “Love Potion #9” was a Leiber-Stoller favorite that received a popular cover version in the British Invasion era- the one that is, unfortunately, covered on your local Oldies station instead of The Clovers.  The Hall has not been kind in recent years to the manifold R&B vocal groups from the 1950s.  It’s been over a decade since The Dells were inducted, and the Moonglows and the Flamingos before them.  The Five Royales only squeaked in last year as an “Early Influence.”  I do hope that the era of 50s R&B  isn’t closed yet.  And certainly, rock and roll was not always kind to them, it’s a shame that by the mid-1950s, harmonic vocal work was often limited to intentionally bland, colorless background set to rock and roll backing- think of the Jordanaires’ work on Elvis’s records.  It’s like watching an exceptional group of actors relegated to nondescript supporting roles on a cheesy sitcom that’s beneath their talents.  In contrast, The Clovers’ vocals pop with personality, build to climax, and shine with flecks of humor that anticipated a group like The Coasters (I love the line in “One Mint Julep”: “I got six extra children from bein’ frisky.”)  We praise artists for invention in the form of albums, and forget that a full 33 rpm disc was a luxury afforded only to established artists.  Instead, The Clovers made a series of great 45-rpm records with sparkling piano, wailing saxophone, and five guys singing their hearts out.   

 

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Here is the first installment of my “100 Greatest Rock Hall Prospects” list, starting out at #100, and moving on to #1 in the coming weeks.  (Chicago, fortunately, lost their spot at #1 by virtue of being inducted.)  Hopefully, I’ll be able to imbed a Spotify playlist on this blog shortly, but please bear with me; I haven’t quite figured that trick out yet.  This particular batch has some eclectic, but somewhat borderline, cases.  Interestingly, five of these artists have already been nominated, but haven’t made it in yet.  Let me know your thoughts as we journey through the epochs of rock and roll.  Remember- this is just one guy’s opinion, so I hope you won’t take umbrage if your favorites aren’t on the list or are ranked too low for your liking.

100.  fela-kutiFela Kuti:  For all we complain about certain “snubs” from the Rock Hall, there are some genres, and indeed, some geographical regions that are left out in the cold entirely.  No artist who spent their career working from Africa, to give one less obvious example, has been inducted.  If the Hall ever looks in that direction, they could do no better than Fela Kuti.  Like Bob Marley before him, Kuti worked outside the Anglo-American axis, and pioneered a bold new synthesis while standing up to political oppression.  And also like Marley, he is regarded as much as a prophet as a musician.  Kuti’s contribution is Afrobeat, a dynamic synthesis of funk and traditional Nigerian rhythms, and a key progenitor to world music.  Redbull Music Guide calls him “A complex man who was equal parts shaman, showman, and trickster,” a crafty thorn in the side of the violent regimes that Nigerians endured during his lifetime.  If it weren’t for the horrific migrations out of Africa in the 1600s and 1700s, rock and roll could have never happened, so it is incumbent on us to recognize a figure who, more than anyone else, brought it all back home.  If this seems like a far-fetched choice, remember that Kuti has plenty of admirers in high places, ranging from Jay-Z to his onetime collaborator, Ginger Baker.

99.  Husker Du:  Husker-DuI was a bit dismissive about Husker Du in my introduction to this project, but they still deserve serious consideration for a Rock Hall induction.  They helped create alt-rock and set the table for Green Day and other latter-day acts that dominated radio when I was a teenager, except they did it years before it was cool.  Ultimately, they were a musician’s band, more famous for influence than for record sales.  Patrick Smith said it best: “To say that Hüsker Dü never cultivated any sort of image, in the usual manner of rock bands, is putting it mildly. These guys just didn’t look or carry themselves like musicians. And they didn’t care.”  Their records rarely had a picture of the band, but they were workmanlike, touring relentlessly to break out of the underground scene they were beholden to.  Husker Du bridged the gap between thrash and alternative, recording an essential album, Zen Arcade, with little time and a meager budget.  Nirvana, Pixies, the Foo Fighters and countless other acts cite them as an important influence.

98.  D.C. Talk: d.c. talkOne important genre that the Rock Hall has heretofore neglected (and will probably neglect for a very long time) is Christian Contemporary.  This is probably because its artists and its audience exist in a somewhat insular subculture in America far removed from anybody on the Nominating Committee.  But if your daddy listened to James Dobson on the radio and your mama read Amish romance novels, chances are, D.C. Talk was a part of your life in the 1990s.  D.C. Talk remains the most historically important Christian contemporary artist for the Rock Hall’s consideration, at least until Jars of Clay become eligible in 2020.  They started out recording plenty of spiritually uplifiting secular songs like “Lean On Me” and “Jesus Is Just Alright” before 1995’s Jesus Freak came out like a bolt out of the blue.  A lot of music that white evangelicals were listening to…well…let’s just say it was shoddily recorded and noticeably derivative.  There were lots of earnest singer-songwriters with acoustic guitars and beards, or Styx-wannabes like Petra.  D.C. Talk broke away from the evangelical tendency toward second-rate music, playing conscientious hip-hop-infused rock that didn’t sound like a pale imitation of existing artists.  Wisely, they tapped into post-punk and alternative’s need for personal authenticity and its identification with society’s misfits and losers, balancing the introspective with a finely-developed social consciousness.  Virtually every edgy Christian songwriter of a generation began his or her education with D.C. Talk.

97.  NyDolls3 New York Dolls: This pick goes against everything I stand for in terms of my personal taste, but it is tough to deny their longstanding influence.  The New York Dolls were gender-bending to a striking, and apparently persuasive, degree (just this semester, one of my students foolishly included them in a diorama on “women in rock.”)  There was this sorta Jagger-knock-off feel to their sound and their sneering and pouting temperament, but they were an important piece of what became punk music.  Even if they got there by way of glam.  I love that their first gig was in a homeless shelter; it’s the perfect encapsulation of the New York underground scene that embraced all kinds of people who were rejected elsewhere.  They challenged convention (particularly gender convention) with their wardrobe choices and became heroes to Patti Smith, The Ramones, and other top-shelf acts that became massively big later on.  (Then again, they also influenced KISS.  This isn’t something to be proud of; it’s more like remembering Lee Harvey Oswald for influencing Mark David Chapman.)  At a time when popular music was getting more complex and ethereal, New York Dolls not only brought it back down to earth, but into the gutter.  They lived fast, some of them died hard, and they enjoyed only a short career before disbanding, but everyone who was there at the time vouches for their importance.  The band was nominated once in 2001, but it may be a long time before they see the inside of the Rock Hall.  If it took the Sex Pistols five tries and the Stooges eight tries, they may have quite a wait ahead of them.

96. Harold Melvin Blue NotesTeddy Pendergrass/Harold Melvin and the Blue NotesEvery genre in the rock and roll family tree moves the listener in a different way.  The deep soul branch touches the most plaintive notes of our conscious selves, and speaks to our deepest hurts and our most aching longings.  I can think of no outfit that did this quite so well as Pendergrass- either with or without Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes.  Their most important (and most widely covered) hit, “If You Don’t Know Me By Now” is a track of profound emotional depth, and that’s just one of a small armada of hits that tore up the R&B charts through the 70s.  Pendergrass kept this going in his solo career, which was cut short by a freak accident that paralyzed him and shortened his life (eerie parallels to Curtis Mayfield, no?)  Actually, like Mayfield, Pendergrass and the Blue Notes also threaded a careful line between love songs and socially conscious numbers in tune with their times (give a listen to “Wake Up Everybody” for a fine essay in this genre.)  While figures like Barry White had a more conspicuous calling card in his spoken-word seduction, Pendergrass had chops that weren’t overshadowed by deceptive production.  Philadelphia artists have a habit of being ignored by the Rock Hall, as Daryl Hall pointed out at his own induction, and the Blue Notes would be a worthy addition given the absence of Philly soul from the Cleveland halls.  Classic rockers will have a fit, but I’d rather have a first rate soul outfit than a group of second-rate rockers.

95.  Procol HarumProcol Harum: For a few years, it seemed like Cleveland was letting every British invasion act it could remember into its halls.  When Procol Harum was nominated for the Class of 2013, it sure looked like a front-runner on a ballot filled with dicey blues and rap prospects.  Yet, they failed to get the votes, and I wonder why.  Inductees Dave Clark Five and The Hollies certainly had more hits, I’ll grant you that, but Procol Harum had significantly more vision behind it, and was a better fit for the Hall’s own agenda.  With a full-time lyricist at their disposal, they challenged rock and roll’s artistic boundaries, using greater classical influences, and a broader array of instruments- with the organ at the front of the mix- to create baroque pop.  The result of this technique was the glorious “Whiter Shade of Pale,” a track that serves as the exemplar of ambitious (if somewhat obtuse) psychedelia.  But don’t stop there, because “The Devil Came From Kansas,” “Conquistador,” and “A Salty Dog” were all ambitious and masterfully composed, rich gems waiting for those who are willing to delve further into their catalog.  All these factors make them important antecedents to progressive rock sensibilities.  Today, every artist records with a full orchestra as a fun lark.  But Procol Harum was perhaps the first band to do so with a 1972 album with the Edmonton Symphonic Orchestra, exploring how classical and rock and roll might be genres in collaboration rather than competition.  Procol Harum is still on tour today with its frontman Gary Brooker, and despite recurring lawsuits over “Whiter,” the band would be able to perform, and even skip the light fandango, if called upon.

94.  chuck willisChuck Willis: The Rock Hall has, traditionally, been very mindful of 50s R&B legends- people who didn’t have tons of hits that are played on Oldies radio today, but were indispensable to the foundations of rock and roll.  But a few of them never quite made it past the hurdles of induction.  Joe Tex is one of them.  Esther Phillips is another.  But arguably the turban-wearing Chuck Willis is the most influential of the figures in this category.  He was nominated on each of the Hall’s first five ballots, and once again in 2011, without success.  As the voting body becomes younger and perhaps less historically astute, Willis’s window is probably gone unless he gets a backdoor “early influence” nod.  It’s a shame, because he deserves induction without any asterisks.  He wrote his own material in a genre where that rarely happened, popularized “C. C. Rider” and The Stroll, one of Rock’s first dance crazes, and toggled easily between sincere ballads and riveting rockers.  His blend of crooning and wailing established the template for every number of R&B vocalists to come.  Unfortunately, he was felled by peritonitis in his prime, and died at the age of 30, one of rock and roll’s first big casualties, even predeceasing Buddy, Richie, and the Bopper.

93.  mary wellsMary Wells: Has the Rock Hall milked Motown dry?  It seems like every significant Motown artist is enshrined in the Hall, although the Nom Com seems on the lookout for more of them.  The Marvelettes have been nominated a couple times, most recently for the Class of 2015, but I think a stronger case can be made for Mary Wells if you’re going to close the book on Hitsville, USA.  Go back and listen to her old 45s, and you’ll hear a remarkable self-possession and personality shine through.  Sultry but sweet, emotive but confident, she should have had a much bigger career than she enjoyed.  It must have been tough as a female artist in the 60s, with the virgin/whore dichotomy at full bore.  Your output had to be demure enough to be respectable but sensuous enough to be interesting.  There aren’t many songs that are simultaneously both seductive and innocent as her vocal work on the coda of “My Guy.”  Unfortunately, she violated Rock and Roll Rule #3: Don’t Cross Berry Gordy.  (Rule #1 is “Don’t bite the head off a bat” and Rule #2 is “don’t marry your 13-year-old cousin.”)  Rumors persist that Gordy sabotaged her career after she left Motown, irritated by The Supremes getting more attention, better promotion, and more quality material.  But any way you slice it, the hits dried up prematurely for one of soul’s most talented vocalists.   

92.  megadethMegadeth: there are probably metal bands that deserve to be in before Megadeth, but they are certainly in the queue.  Founded by Metallica castaway Dave Muscatine, Megadeth presided over the creation of thrash-metal: angry, focused, intentional, and intense.  The band has danced with the devil for decades, with lyrics that explore death and destruction, but never wholly endorsing a violent worldview.  In terms of zeitgeist, it’s remarkable how well Megadeth directed their ire at the bloodlust of the 1980s, with a revived Cold War and a lot of unnecessary, phallus-waggling American incursions into Latin America and the Caribbean.  Nobody, as it turns out, was buying peace.  Although Muscatine has expressed interest in induction, it’s probably a long way off.  The Nom Com just isn’t interested in thrash metal, and their rivals, Metallica, belong to the Rock Hall’s “in-club” and these guys most definitely do not.

91.  bon joviBon Jovi: If you really stop and think about it, one of Cleveland’s more insidious biases is against artists that women tend to like more than men- perhaps a reflection of the male super-duper-majority on the Nom Com.  How many artists in the Hall of Fame today have a decisively female fan base?  Bobby Darin?  Ricky Nelson?  Neil Diamond?  I can’t think of too many more.  Teen idols tend to get passed over as long on image and short on chops.  Every once in a while, an exception like Peter Frampton- a surprisingly good guitarist- challenges that stereotype, but otherwise, good luck waiting for Bobby Vinton, Frankie Avalon, Lief Garrett, and Neil Sedaka to come to Cleveland.  But in the mid-to-late 1980s, Bon Jovi were not only teen idols, but the most well-remembered emblems of hair bands.  With long mullets, screechy guitar solos, and ear-worm hooks, bands like Bon Jovi tore up the charts in the mid-to-late 80s.  They wracked up a number of big hits made for stadium sing-alongs and Jon holding out the microphone to the audience (every song they’ve done seems to have a “wuhhh-oh” or an “aaah-ah” in the chorus crafted for this kind of moment.)  It was listener friendly, but almost factory-designed to vex the serious listener or critic, ever searching for technique and nuance.  But technique and nuance were never part of Bon Jovi’s appeal.  I had just started listening to Top 40 radio when “Always” was out, inaugurating Bon Jovi 2.0, and several years later, they did it again with “It’s My Life” and later remade themselves into John Mellencamp-style heartland rockers in the new millennium.  In a crazy way, a Bon Jovi comeback seemed more far-fetched and anachronistic than its contemporary Santana and Cher comebacks, partly because it was so tough to disassociate them from the mullet-infested, Dollar Store Springsteen side of the 80s.  After all, didn’t Nirvana exist to save us from bands like Bon Jovi?  Nevertheless, as a cultural artifact, as hitmakers of astonishing resilience, and as contributors to the rock and roll milieu, Bon Jovi deserves a place in the Hall.  “Tommy used to work on the docks” is one of the great opening lines in all of rock history.   Bon Jovi has been nominated once before- for the Class of 2011- but didn’t get in.  With the recent exception of Janet Jackson, that’s probably the most shocking non-induction in the last decade of Rock Hall history.  I’d expect them to get a second chance sooner rather than later- especially under the aggressive new management of Irving Azoff.

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