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Uuuugh. Anxiety, boredom, tedium, mixed with gratitude, love, and joy. That’s been my elixir over the last three weeks since my presumably final semester teaching in Singapore ended. After two weeks of self-isolation I was able to reunite with my wife and my 8-month-old son, neither of whom I’d seen since late January. I’m so delighted to be with them, even though I’m still on the clock and doing “professor stuff” remotely for what is now a bunch of online classes. I won’t lie– it is terrifying to have an infant with a respiratory illness who is on oxygen during a time like this. And it is enraging to see hucksters peddle hydroxychloroquin and contribute to hoarding when your kiddo has an actual documented medical need for it.

I need an outlet when I can get one. So even though we are far, far away from a serious conversation about the Rock Hall’s class of 2021, just for my own sanity, just for the simple joys of indulging in a hobby, I need to write about what may happen. I understand that the process of predicting nominees has come from a bit of good-natured criticism from voices like @InductDennis from the Rock Hall Watchers podcast. And that’s fair– time is probably better spent debating who actually should be in the Rock Hall on their merits rather than getting inside the Nominating Committee’s heads. Yet the part of our lizard brains that loves to play the prophet–even when we’re wildly, comically wrong–is hard to squash. It’s similar to guessing the Oscar nominees, or mock drafts, and the kind of wishful thinking and vicarious living that makes us feel as if our opinions matter.

16 nominees, like last year.

Jay-Z: If Tupac is often considered the best rapper of all time, and Biggie has a reputation as the most influential rapper of all time, Jay-Z might very well hold claim to the most successful rapper of all time. With a wide cultural footprint, decades of hits, albums that are in the conversation of “most iconic for their time,” …collectively, if you accept that hip-hop and rap have a place in the Rock Hall, Jay-Z’s place in its pantheon is all but a given.

Foo Fighters: Are they the last truly important rock and roll band? Maybe. what’s less debatable is that they played the “Rock Hall game” with aplomb. Dave Grohl and Taylor Hawkins inducted Queen back in 2001. Grohl did the honors for Rush in 2013, and of course, serves on the Nominating Committee.

Dave Mathews Band: For years, we wondered: who will be the first act to top the statistical cipher that is the fan vote, yet fail to get inducted? The Dave Mathews Band turned out to be our answer last year, and their fans were seriously pissed. Whether the Rock Hall could have done a better job explaining how the fan vote is counted is up for debate. Given the massive fan base this band has– which, given their customary age and social class, makes them a coveted demographic for the museum– it would be very bad form indeed if they weren’t given a second chance to prove themselves. I still think it’s within the realm of possibility that they win the fan vote a second year in a row and still don’t get in.

The Go-Gos: I don’t think Pat Benatar will be on the ballot. It’s not so much that she didn’t make it in (as #2 on the fan vote!), so much as her somewhat unresponsive and unenthusiastic mien during the whole affair that might make the Foundation question whether she’d even show up for the ceremony. Benatar was a populist pick and she was by no means a critical favorite– just to cite one example, Evelyn McDonnell’s voluminous compendium of Women Who Rock does not include Benatar among the 100+ women celebrated. Better luck might be found with the Go-Gos. They have historicity as the first band to score a number one hit with only women playing on it. And they surely have a sense of the moment as well- a jukebox musical built around their songs had debuted on Broadway, a documentary on their career had been produced, and a reunion tour was planned before COVID-19 shut that down until further notice.

Chaka Khan/Rufus: This is becoming the new free space at the center of the Bingo card. Good for the Rock Hall for continuing to support R&B artists– even though the backlog of 70s guitar groups that have gotten inducted in recent years makes the band’s induction as unlikely as ever. I’d love to see, say, Chicago– who collaborated with her and share Windy City origins– make a full court press for Rufus. Rock and roll began life as music you could dance to–Chaka Khan perhaps kept that spirit alive in the 70s and 80s more than anybody outside the Hall right now.

Kraftwerk: This is another option that is becoming a near-perennial. Every once in a while, Kraftwerk drops out (usually when there is a cerebral or prog act it might draw votes away from), but we have multiple Nom Com members complaining about Kraftwerk’s omission, and as the committee diversifies and gets younger, they are more likely to be devotees of artists who owe Kraftwerk a debt.

The Meters: Three bands with metal credentials were nominated last year: Thin Lizzy, Motorhead, and Judas Priest. None of them got in. And R&B was thoroughly shafted on last year’s ballot, with only Chaka Khan/Rufus and, if your definition of R&B is generous, Whitney representing this key genre. It’s possible that Ellis Marsalis’s death will remind folks about how key the New Orleans sound was to the development of popular music, and The Meters were New Orleans during the golden age of classic rock.

Cher: One of my complaints about the last several Rock Hall classes is its relative lack of camp and fabulousness. Cher– with a long career that has spanned her duets with Sonny in the mid-60s to covering ABBA songs last year, and an unending litany of Farewell Tours in between, is therefore a likely and attractive prospect. Her presence alone almost guarantees that the next class won’t be a sausage-fest. Her records have, like Chaka Khan’s, been dance-floor staples, and Cher has been a dramatic fashion icon and hero of LGBT culture over the years. I wrestled with choosing her or Dolly Parton as the “you-can’t-screw-this-up female inductee” before landing on Cher for more solid rock and roll credentials.

Rage Against the Machine: One more group on the cusp of a reunion tour before COVID-19 shut it down. With corporate greed never more apparent than during a global pandemic, the machine has elicited more rage than ever. It’s not a great look if the Hall nominates two acts with members on the Nominating Committee, but avoiding conflicts of interest has never been their strong suit.

Sonic Youth: With T. Rex and Roxy Music getting in after years of snubbery, Sonic Youth has catapulted to the higher echelons of important acts that have never been nominated. Given their influence on alternative and grunge, it’s only a matter of time before this iconic band is given the nod.

New York Dolls: They were nominated once a long time ago– way back in 2001. And it’s a little surprising that they haven’t been nominated since. They played with gender in innovative ways, helped create punk and glam, and had a raft of influence on everyone from the Ramones to the Smiths. Maybe it’s time to give MC5 a rest and let another weird, impactful, radical act without much chart success have a chance to prove their mettle.

John Prine: While I was sad to see this iconic songwriter pass away, I was heartened by the public outpouring of affection on his behalf. His nomination two years ago seemed like it was a nice tip of the hat to someone who didn’t have a chance to get voted in. (Prine even publicly encouraged his fans to vote for The Zombies instead!) Well, John Prine isn’t around to discourage his own induction and what was a long-shot nomination on 2018’s ballot will find him in a favored position on 2020’s.

The B-52s: We need a queerer Rock Hall. The B-52s have been considered before, and given that the Hall loves danceable music and is reasonably open to new wave styles, The B-52s seem to have the requisites for a nomination. They have also, in the last couple years, got favorable treatment in both Rolling Stone and the New York TimesGo read Nick Bambach’s piece on them if you aren’t convinced of their credentials. I just can’t wait to see Yoko Ono and RuPaul catfight over who gets the honor of inducting them.

Duran Duran: This will be the big 80s/Gen X act for the 2021 slate. With their more influential contemporary, Depeche Mode, getting in, the doors are open for Duran Duran. They consistently do well in the museum’s kiosks, and with an MTV guy now in charge of the place, I can’t imagine that one of the video channel’s darlings from their early years of broadcasting will be left out in the cold. They might very well give DMB a run for their money in the fan vote, and expect them to get many a “guilty pleasure” checkmark from the expansive Voting Committee.

Peter Frampton: This is the closest to a pure classic rock pick in this batch. Frampton has been diagnosed with a degenerative muscle disease that necessitated a final tour, and the window in which Frampton can participate in his own induction might be dwindling. Another clue that Frampton might be on the docket is that he is collaborating on his autobiography with Alan Light, who has had a great deal of luck shepherding acts onto the ballot in recent years, not the least of which was Nina Simone. Frampton is well regarded in the music industry, and his teen idol good looks from the Comes Alive era belie his considerable skills as a guitarist and songwriter.

Fela Kuti: Joe and Kristen spent an entire podcast during the fall ringing up various former and current Nominating Committee members to see their reactions to the Class of 2020 ballot. Amy Linden was one of those voices and dropped a fascinating tidbit during their phone call: she had advocated for African music legend Fela Kuti during the hoagie-driven Nom Com meeting. Kuti would be a remarkable choice– a mythic and larger-than-life figure in the field of world music, many a rock and roller looks up to his oeuvre.

What do you think of this, Rock Hall people? My guess is that if this were the ballot, we’d be looking at Jay-Z, Cher, Peter Frampton, John Prine, Duran Duran, and Foo Fighters.

 

 

 

 

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We had to wait longer than usual to know our Rock Hall class this year. Customarily, the inductees are revealed in late December, but the announcement tarried until the new year. At any rate, the wait is over. The class is: Whitney Houston, Notorious B.I.G., The Doobie Brothers, Depeche Mode, T. Rex, and Nine Inch Nails, with Irving Azoff and Jon Landau for the Ahmet Ertegun Award for non-performers.

The Winners:

  • Me: Let’s be honest. We all predicted Pat Benatar and we all got it wrong. Having acknowledged this, my list of “if there’s seven inductees….” included Pat and the six artists who actually got in. Judas Priest, Soundgarden, DMB and Rundgren– they all turned out to be fool’s gold. This is a small recompense for only guessing five nominees this year.
  • HBO: This should make entertaining television at the very least. Two artists- Biggie and Whitney–are dead, and T. Rex became Spinal Tap in reverse where everybody but the obscure drummer died! But in a way, that might make for a better viewing experience. That’s three fewer acceptance speeches and a chance for the Rock Hall to tailor first-rate tribute performances. At the very least, it’s less of a logistical headache than trying to reunite, say, Dire Straits or Kiss. Let’s just hope we don’t get a Bobby Brown or P-Diddy filibuster.
  • Alternative: One aspect overlooked with this class is that a major alternative act from the 80s got in for the second straight year: Depeche Mode. When you add what might be called “alternative-adjacent” Nine Inch Nails, this might be the genre’s best class to date. The Cure, it seems, did in fact break down that barrier. If Morrissey’s big mouth keeps The Smiths in the doghouse, expect nominations for Pixies, Sonic Youth, or a return engagement from The Replacements in years to come.
  • Rock Hall insiders: Awarding Azoff and Landau stinks to high heavens. Landau has broad leverage over the nominating committee and Azoff also has deep Rock Hall connections to the point where many of us foresaw Stevie Nicks, Bon Jovi, and Doobie Brothers getting nominations simply because they are clients of his. It’s a bit too much coming four years after Bert Burns got an Ertegun at a time when Little Stevie was involving in writing a musical about him. More significantly, Azoff played a role in Ticketmaster’s almost complete monopoly over access to concerts and other live events, and he’s a big part of the reason that your tickets to see Tool cost so much more than they have to. If Azoff had to be inducted, I wish it had been the same year as Pearl Jam, to see Eddie Vedder give him a piece of his mind…
  • First-time nominees: With the exception of the Class of 2019, most classes in recent years are majority first-time nominees. This continued the trend– four of the six (Biggie, Whitney, T. Rex, Doobies) appeared on the ballot for the first time this year. It could be the novelty of seeing them nominated, it could be that voters don’t like what the Rock Hall reheats and serves up year after year. But it’s a trend worth noting.

The Losers:

  • The Fan Vote: It took a while, but for the first time since the fan vote was unveiled for the class of 2013, the winner did not get in. It ended up being Dave Mathews holding the bag. I wish this trend had first been broken for Bon Jovi two years ago or Def Leppard last year, but there you have it. Moreover, only one act in the top 5- The Doobies- got in, leaving fans of Pat Benatar, Soundgarden, Judas Priest, and DMB feeling let down. Lots of folks on twitter and facebook are complaining about the fans being deceived. Nonsense; like my students complaining of undeserved poor grades, they simply didn’t read the directions. The Rock Hall was always direct and honest about the fan vote’s statistically insignificant impact and never made any promises that its results would correlate to actual induction. It would be a nice gesture, I suppose, for Greg Harris to say “look, we’re sorry if you voted and your favorites didn’t get in, but we will definitely take the fan vote into consideration when looking at nominees for next year.” (Assuming, of course, that this was said in good faith!) Anyway, the fan vote’s reputation as a bellwether took a beating this year, as did the predictive role of those kiosks in Cleveland. Any sense that topping the fan vote was a golden ticket into the Hall has been disabused.
  • Women: If there was one big recurring leitmotif for coverage of the Rock Hall this year, it was the need to include more women. More inductees. More nominees. More committee members. Yet, the class after Janet Jackson admonished the institution to “induct more women,” our resulting class implausibly has fewer women than the one before! Just one–Whitney–got in, and of course, she won’t be able to vote going forward. So– dozens more male voters will get ballots; not one woman. A deep and endemic problem gets worse. Let me challenge the Rock Hall: there’s dozens and dozens of deserving nominees. Next year, make sure half the acts on the ballot have at least one woman in their roster. Strive for parity.
    • One other thing. We have to push the Rock Hall to do better on this grounds. I challenge each of my fellow Rock Hall watchers to do a blog in the upcoming months putting forward the names of five potential women to add to the Nominating Committee. If we all shout, maybe someone will hear.
  • Hard rock and metal: Judas Priest blew their second chance to get in the Hall, but the Nom Com didn’t do them any favors, setting them up against Motorhead and Thin Lizzy. The stockpile in this particular genre continues to grow. Keep in mind, however, that this is nothing new for harder rock acts. Deep Purple needed a few tries to get in, as did Black Sabbath.

With all this in mind, what happens now? To answer that question, allow me put forth my Best Plausible Scenario for the 2020 induction. By “Best Plausible,” I simply mean what can be done within the confines of HBO’s needs, superstar egos, and the Rock Hall’s penchant for screwing up a free lunch.

  1. Nine Inch Nails (inducted by Robert Smith)
    1. Closer to God
    2. Head Like a Hole
    3. Hurt (w/ Lucinda Williams)
  2. Non-Performer Awards: Irving Azoff and Jon Landau (inducted by Don Henley and Bruce Springsteen)
  3. Notorious B.I.G. (inducted by Sean “Puffy” Combs)
    1. Hypnotize (Puff Daddy)
    2. Mo Money, Mo Problems (Lil Wayne and Kelly Price)
    3. Sky’s the Limit (Lil Kim and and Busta Rhymes)
    4. Realest Niggas (Ashanti)
  4. T. Rex (inducted by Marc Almond)*
    1. Telegram Sam (Marc Almond and Pixies)
    2. 20th Century Boy (Marc Almond and Pixies)
    3. Bang A Gong (Get It On) (My Chemical Romance)
  5. Depeche Mode (inducted by Lauren Mayberry)
    1. Enjoy the Silence
    2. I Feel You
    3. Personal Jesus
  6. In Memoriam (“Drive” performed by Weezer)
  7. Whitney Houston (inducted by Kevin Costner)
    1. Saving All My Love For You (Dionne Warwick)
    2. I Will Always Love You (Toni Braxton)
    3. I Wanna Dance with Somebody (Nelly Furtado)
    4. I’m Every Woman (Chaka Khan, joined by Dionne Warwick, Lucinda Williams, Ashanti, Lauren Mayberry, Toni Braxton, and Nelly Furtado)
  8. Doobie Brothers (inducted by Zac Brown)
    1. Long Train Runin’ (w/ Zac Brown)
    2. Takin It To the Streets (w/ Michael McDonald)
    3. Minute By Minute (w/ Michael McDonald)
    4. China Grove (w/ Michael McDonald)
  9. Jam: Cleveland Rocks (led by Ian Hunter and Joe Walsh)

*Why Marc Almond of Soft Cell? Well, the group was one of the clearest inheritors of glam within the vein of new wave and Almond always listed T. Rex as one of his biggest influenced. But there’s another key connection. “Tained Love” was first recorded by Gloria Jones, Marc Bolan’s girlfriend.

This would work, right? Stay tuned for my next post, where I’ll project “Best Plausible” Rock Hall inductions for the following seven years. The key to making this work? Changing hosting responsibilities to a seven-year cycle of cities important to rock and roll history.

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It’s time to rustle up some cattle, put on our ten-gallon hat, and eat us some Frito pie for our annual Rock Hall rodeo roundup. This has become an annual tradition on this blog, where I explore each of the nominees in turn, looking at their likelihood of induction, worthiness of induction, and my own personal preferences among the artists. This year, I will make bold to add a fourth category–which artists are best for the Rock Hall’s bottom line— getting asses into seats for the ceremony, getting viewership of the HBO special, improving the Rock Hall’s public image, or encouraging visitors to come to Cleveland.

No time to waste, you jive turkeys.

Pat Benatar (Likelihood: 4; Worthiness: 6; Preference: 2; Bottom Line: 4): I am psyched about this nomination. I love Pat, and wish dearly that I had taken the time to see her when she was on tour and in my part of upstate New York last summer. In terms of kick-ass rock and roll women, she’s a strong contender; in fact, I would have put her in before Joan Jett. I’ll be the first to admit that long-term influence and innovation are lacking, unless we’re willing to consider the dramatic power of some of her music videos. She made some of the best 1980s commercially friendly rock–full stop. Benatar is also likely to get in this year; she sits atop the fan vote as of this writing, and she is a pick that both rockists and those of us wanting more women in the Hall can agree on.

Dave Matthews Band (Likelihood: 12; Worthiness: 12; Preference: 4; Bottom Line: 9). And…the nomination that shocked the world. If you are wondering why Dave Matthews isn’t last in the worthiness category, here’s my case. Seminal jam band from the golden age of jam bands; 25 years of selling out concerts especially at outdoor venues. Longevity of relevance. One of the only jam bands to have achieved multiple songs in the wider public consciousness and enjoy a critical mass of female fans. I understand why Rock Hall watchers and music writers more generally reacted viscerally to the news that they were on the ballot. Like some artists…Rush, KISS, Phish…it’s difficult to separate the band itself from their tedious advocates. Dave Matthews Band fans tend to have been business-majoring frat boys at state colleges who ended up becoming middle management at Lyft. When police pull them over for speeding, they ignore the fragrance of mary jane coming from the glove compartment and let them go on their way. They own multiple hackey sacks. Thankfully, the folks who attend their concerts aren’t on the ballot–the DMB itself is. I upped their likelihood to 12 on the off chance that they motivate their stoner base and do well in the fan vote. One of only two artists among the nominees to have had a song on one of my 39 Alex’s Mix CDs (“What Would You Say?” and “Grey Street” in case you were wondering.). Anyway, in nominating DMB the Rock Hall did their demographic research in at least one respect: their fans may not be the sorts of people to go to a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and this attention may possibly change that.

Depeche Mode (Likelihood: 5; Worthiness: 4; Preference: 8; Bottom Line: 6): The Cure’s induction was a tremendous omen for Depeche Mode. A British alternative act from the late 80s and early 90s that explored introspective themes while filling stadiums? Now that The Cure broke down the artificial “80s alternative” barrier, Depeche Mode stands a terrific chance. You could argue that they shouldn’t get in before Kraftwerk, and you wouldn’t be wrong exactly, but their significance as an electronic act that was wildly popular needs to be taken into consideration. Since the Crue or Cher or Willie Nelson didn’t get nominated, there’s a good chance they will headline the class and close out the show in Cleveland.

Doobie Brothers (Likelihood: 1; Worthiness: 8; Preference: 1; Bottom Line: 2): It finally happened– The Doobie Brothers are nominees. You can credit Irving Azoff if you wish, but the truth is, we’ll never know the hand he played or did not play. They would have been deserving candidates in any respect. Even in a group of nominees that’s a bit more classic rock heavy, they shouldn’t have any problems getting in. They are doing just fine on the fan vote, which at least positively correlates to induction. (Remember rule #1 of social science research: correlation is not causation!) It’s even possible they may overtake Pat Benatar for the top spot. Their secret weapon, of course, is Michael McDonald. Now that yacht rock is enjoying an irony-fueled comeback, the Doobies’ second act of their long career is no longer a liability. Besides, McDonald is the platonic ideal of a backup singer and has deep connections in the music industry that can’t hurt their chances. I look forward to their reunion with Big Mac during the ceremony– which is one surefire way to get Boomers to watch it on HBO.

Whitney Houston (Likelihood: 3; Worthiness: 5; Preference: 9; Bottom Line: 1). The pundits were right: Janet Jackson’s induction presaged Whitney Houston’s nomination. Houston is by far the most commercially successful artist nominated this year; she dominated singles and album charts from the mid 1980s and early 1990s. Many of those songs, in my opinion, have not aged well, with twinkly synths and vocal histrionics. But it’s hard to deny Whitney Houston– her success, her impact, her role as reigning diva of her time, her controlled melisma. She’s not in the top five of the fan vote, but holding her own– a feat considering how badly others in her wheelhouse have fared in years past. Moreover, the Rock Hall probably wants this to happen. It will deflect some of the all-too-deserving criticism about too few female and/or black inductees. And it has the potential for all kinds of memorable moments: Bobby Brown’s tearful acceptance speech. A tender performance by Cissy Houston and Dionne Warwick. Dolly Parton doing “I Will Always Love You” or Chaka Khan doing “I’m Every Woman” which will generate new buzz about their own Rock Hall candidacies. I’m just a bit skittish because Janet Jackson took three tries to get in. It shouldn’t matter, though–they were merely similar in that they were black women whose commercial peaks happened to coincide, even as they worked in different genres and put out vastly different records. New jack swing was perhaps a hard sell to some people, and Whitney’s tragic death alters the calculus. She should breeze right in.

Judas Priest (Likelihood: 13; Worthiness: 2; Preference: 10; Bottom Line: 8). According to Alan Light, this band tanked in the vote total when they were last nominated two years ago, even as they did quite well in the fan vote. They are just barely in the top 5 now, which cannot hurt their chances. What does hurt them, however, is the presence of another metal band, Motorhead. Priest deserves priority, in my opinion, but Motorhead at least seems a more sentimental choice, given the residual affection for Lemmy. I don’t even like metal that much, and I’m voting for Judas Priest in the fan vote; they are an indispensable band in a pivotal sub-genre. But that’s the issue, isn’t it? Bands usually get in the hall when they have transcendence— earning respect and admiration outside of a narrow demographic. Love for Judas Priest runs deep, but not especially wide. However, they have always been respectful in their attitude toward the Hall rather than acting like induction is their birthright– a strategy that clearly worked for The Zombies. Anyway, the Judas Priest and Motorhead nominations are an olive branch to the metal community, whether they were intended that way or not. Even if neither gets in–a very real possibility–the Rock Hall has cleverly foisted responsibility on those pesky official voters.

Kraftwerk (Likelihood: 11; Worthiness: 1; Preference: 5; Bottom Line: 15). Kraftwerk, of course, was the sine qua non in the history of electronic music. Their stuff lives on in hip-hop samples and indirectly in the influence they continue to have over acts like LCD Soundsystem and Daft Punk. Standard boilerplate over–I wish we could see the official vote count each year. I also wish we knew who exactly was on the voting committee–because that might tell us a lot. Are these teutons bringing up the rear every year or do they have a fighting chance? How many music writers and critics are given the ballot–and how old are they? This kind of information would be invaluable for gauging whether they are a hopeless case, a long shot, or a legitimate contender. One other consideration too important to ignore–with lots of HBO money on the line, it’s hard to see how a Kraftwerk induction helps their “bottom line.” With no household names and no songs your aunt would know, they wouldn’t exactly inspire indifferent viewers to tune in and pay up.

MC5: (Likelihood: 16; Worthiness: 13; Preference: 12; Bottom Line: 14). Give it up, guys. They aren’t getting in. I get it– they set the table for punk music, John Landau produced some of their records, Sonic Youth is named after their guitarist, important band among alternative and punk musicians. And you know– that’s a fine case! I liked MC5 more than I thought I would when I did the deep listening for the 100 Rock Hall Prospects project on my blog, even though I think I overrated them. Even as the lone true 60s act on the ballot, and even without fellow iconoclasts in Rage Against the Machine competing for space, an induction is still the longest of long shots.

Motorhead (Likelihood: 15; Worthiness: 9; Preference: 13; Bottom Line: 11). As I said in my initial reactions, it’s puzzling that they ended up on a ballot with Judas Priest– that’s two metal acts when other years have zero. It’s also not clear how Motorhead would translate to the induction ceremony. The three members who played on their most famous records are all deceased. There’s no question that Dave Grohl could give a great induction speech and sub for Lemmy, but it wouldn’t quite be the same.

Nine Inch Nails (Likelihood: 7, Worthiness: 3; Preference: 15; Bottom Line: 3). They may not be my cup of tea, but the enduring quality, significance, and innovation of Nine Inch Nails needs to be acknowledged. After three years off the ballot, they are back! They bring a solid fanbase to the proceedings– yet for some reason they are struggling in the fan vote at its early stages, despite performing well in the past. One intangible–and a significant reason why I have them ranked third in “the bottom line” is that inducting Trent Reznor in Cleveland, a city where he has deep roots, can make for an emotionally resonant evening. Having said all this, I still think NIN may fall just short.

Notorious B.I.G. (Likelihood: 2, Worthiness: 11, Preference: 16, Bottom Line: 7). A Singaporean former student of mine once described me as “not just white, but neon white.” So this is the most neon white thing I’ve ever said on my blog: I don’t understand why Biggie is such a big deal. He released one album while he was alive (although–hypocrisy alert– The Zombies didn’t do much more in their heyday and I still supported them). What little I have listened to doesn’t sound especially good, or edifying, or thoughtful. I’m not a rap guy, but I could appreciate what made NWA or 2pac significant artists who got in soon after their eligibility window opened. I’ve read why lots of others think Biggie matters, but so far I haven’t been convinced. So an open invitation to my readers: convince me. I’m willing to keep myself open to a persuasive argument for why Biggie deserves to be a first-year-eligible hall of famer. Anyway, my opinion doesn’t matter. John Sykes and Greg Harris have made it clear that this is Biggie’s year in a way that I haven’t seen the Hall blatantly promote since Nirvana six years ago. They’d have to be pretty damn sure he was getting in to talk like that.

Rufus, feat. Chaka Khan (Likelihood: 10; Worthiness: 10; Preference: 7; Bottom Line: 10).   This nomination’s patron saint is St. Jude, benefactor of hopeless causes. Having become “the new Chic”–the 70s R&B act that can’t get over the hump–Chaka Khan, this time with bandmates Rufus, returns to the ballot. There’s still an outside chance she will get in, but that’s partly because the ballot has very few women and very few R&B artists. On the other hand, it’s been a minute since two black women were inducted the same year, and I don’t think it will happen this time. I’m voting for Rufus anyway, partly in hopes that we’ll get another profane speech by Chicago drummer Danny Seraphine, who cowrote several songs with keyboardist David “Hawk” Wolinski.

Todd Rundgren (Likelihood: 9; Worthiness: 15; Preference: 3; Bottom Line: 16). Hey, remember that time last year when we all predicted Todd Rundgren would get in, but we were wrong? Fun times. Well, Todd is back. I have a soft spot in my heart for him; I’ve seen him live twice (most recently two weeks ago on his White Album tribute), and he’s the only person named Todd that I’m aware of who I don’t want to smack upside the head. Rundgren missed my original Top 100 Rock Hall Prospects by a whisker (he was my final cut), but I think I overrated him even so. See, Rundgren has respect in the music industry, and I think a lot of us are confusing respect with greatness or influence. He’s produced a flotilla of great records (which his nomination as an artist shouldn’t cover, at least in theory), wrote a handful of songs that remain on classic rock radio, but he didn’t really fundamentally change the game, nor was he a massive commercial success like Chicago or Journey to compensate. To make matters worse, he’s doing significantly worse in the fan ballot out of the gate this year, placing a pitiful eleventh in a metric where classic rock habitually overachieves. Finally, there’s the plain reality that he just isn’t going to show up. Ringo sweet talking him into it is the only scenario where I see that playing out; his reaction to his nomination was “no comment” and he’s talked liberally about his contempt for the institution. So he ranks last in the “Bottom Line” category: the only thing more disastrous for ratings than a Motorhead tribute without Lemmy is a Todd Rundgren tribute without Todd Rundgren.

Soundgarden (Likelihood: 8; Worthiness: 14; Preference: 14; Bottom Line: 5). What to think of Soundgarden’s nomination? I’ll say this: they were an act that lots of people wanted to see on the ballot, and they have novelty in their favor as first-time nominees. And they are pulling third in the fan vote at the moment. But in terms of wider public sentiment, they aren’t household names like first-year-eligible inductees Nirvana and Pearl Jam. Give the issues that deserving alternative bands have had in past years, I have trouble seeing Soundgarden get in, although if they do, it’s a strong signal to us late thirty-somethings that the Rock Hall is taking our era seriously. (For this reason, I put them fifth in the Bottom Line category.) I guess Chris Cornell getting a posthumous tribute and Aretha Franklin not getting one was more revealing than we realized at the time. I ranked them 14th in worthiness, but don’t read too much into that. Basically, #5-#15 in my Worthiness ranking are just different shades of “Deserving but not absolutely essential yet”. Does that make me a bad 90s kid?

T. Rex (Likelihood: 6; Worthiness: 7; Preference: 6; Bottom Line: 12).  If you subscribed to the theory that one “spot” on the ballot yields to another artist in that same wheelhouse…then you might have guessed T. Rex would take Roxy Music’s place on the ballot. In the “I can’t believe they’ve never even been nominated” category up until last week, T. Rex stands a very decent chance at induction. Being classic rock never hurt anyone’s chances. And while not nearly as influential as Roxy Music, they still have a large footprint, having influenced The Smiths, Soft Cell, Noel Gallagher, and Devendra Banhart, among many others. Stylistically, Marc Bolan’s lapels, sequins, and jackets created a timeless look, and Bolan’s particular form of masculinity which fueled T-Rextasy is very much back in style. On the other hand, they are floundering in 13th place on the fan vote–which should cater to their strengths–, were much bigger in Britain than they were in the UK, and it’s not clear who would show up to perform. T. Rex is like the inverse of Spinal Tap, where everyone except the revolving door of drummers is dead.

Thin Lizzy (Likelihood: 14; Worthiness: 16; Preference: 11; Bottom Line: 13). For me, Thin Lizzy was a bigger puzzlement than the Dave Matthews Band. I had a very friendly commentator try to sell me on them when I did my Top 100 Rock Hall Prospects a few years ago, but I’m just not persuaded. I don’t see the significance. They were Irish, but so what? They incorporated a few folk elements and made a hit of “Whisky in the Jar”, but if merging the folk tradition of the British Isles is your priority, why not just nominate Fairport Convention? They are the only act (aside from Biggie who wasn’t eligible at the time) that wasn’t seriously considered for my Top 100 Rock Hall Prospects at any time. Moreover, even their signature song, “The Boys are Back in Town” is an albatross– those verses about “crazy stuff that one chick did” haven’t aged well. If you like Thin Lizzy, that’s great! I’m genuinely glad. I like lots of bands that have no business being in the Rock Hall– America, for example. And Thin Lizzy is squarely in that category. Having said that, they are still infinitely more deserving than Motley Crue.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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On twitter, I expressed a hope that the #RockHall2018 announcement would include some kind of surprise…hopefully not an agonizing one.

That didn’t quite happen–which isn’t to say that there wasn’t the element of the unexpected. The Rock Hall kept the results quiet until formally announced on Sirius, which is rare indeed. As for the inductees themselves, they fell in line with everyone’s expectations. Almost.

As you probably know by now, it’s… Bon Jovi. Nina Simone. Dire Straits. The Cars. Moody Blues. Sister Rosetta Tharpe as an Early Influence.

So, as far as surprises go, the disappointing surprise was that there were only five performer inductees, plus Sister Rosetta Tharpe. For a ballot this strong and deep, with nineteen artists, that’s an unfortunately small class. The other surprise is Radiohead’s absence; almost every Rock Hall monitor had them pegged to get in. They were the surefire, can’t-miss first-year-eligible act, as Nirvana, Green Day, and Pearl Jam were before them.

Radiohead didn’t do themselves any favors by their public ambivalence about getting in the Hall, scheduling a tour through South America at the same time as the ceremony in April. Still, one has to wonder about their absence from this class. Steve Hyden writes that it “seems like transparent punishment for saying they wouldn’t show up.” While the facts might be otherwise, the optics are certainly not good.

Next, it seemed beforehand like the Rock Hall expanded its voting committee with the inclusion of an array of younger voters. If so, they weren’t exactly in evidence (or perhaps they simply filled out their ballots in ways similar to older voters). With the exception of can’t-miss Bon Jovi, all the acts that had success in the 90s: LL Cool J, Depeche Mode, RATM, Radiohead…fell short, in spite of being worthy candidates. Millennials will not be drawn to this HBO special unless some stellar special performances are in the works.

And what to do with Sister Rosetta Tharpe, who was on the ballot as a rock-era performer, despite having records out in the 1930s? A lot of people are upset about that, and I don’t really think there is any need to be.  My guess is that when the Nominating Committee met, they brought her name up as an Influence, but one of the more brazen members–Dave Marsh, perhaps?–loudly insisted that Tharpe was “as rock and roll as any of these other guys” or something to that effect, and demanded that she be on the ballot as a performer. Tired of arguing, the other committee members rolled their eyes and agreed, with the proviso that she’d get in as an Early Influence when she inevitably failed to get enough votes.  There’s nothing wrong or corrupt about any of this; it’s just the way things work when you have divergent opinions among powerful people sharing a committee together. Many bloggers predicted her to be inducted as an Early Influence, which is not only what happened, but where she belonged in the first place. I’m delighted by this: I ranked Early Influence candidates last summer, and Tharpe was my #1 choice.

Tharpe is one of two black women in this year’s class–the first since Donna Summer in 2013. The other, of course, is Nina Simone. I’ve made Nina my cause celebre ever since Chicago got in the Hall. And I’m beyond delighted to see it happen– the result, I’m sure, of positive coverage in the alternative media, a fine biographical film, and a superb documentary–all making the historical case for a woman who sang, played piano, and dared to be proud of her African heritage in an age where every cultural force discouraged her from doing so. I can’t wait for the tribute performance, and I hope the Hall has Elton and Mary J. Blige on speed-dial.

Nevertheless, the elephant in the room is that, for the third year running, we have a class dominated–I’d say overwhelmed–by classic rockers who peaked somewhere between 1969 and 1986. This time, we have late 70s/early 80s icons The Cars and Dire Straits. Both are deserving, of course. The Cars left an imprint on radio-friendly, synthesizer-driven pop, and their effortless hooks can be heard throughout the 80s and 90s in groups like Weezer. Dire Straits are a sterling example of “musical excellence” with superb storytelling and Knopfler’s top-shelf guitar work. Moody Blues gives us a prog-friendly act for the second year in a row. I originally listed them as my #1 Rock Hall prospect more than a year ago. I overvalued them as such, but there’s no question that they helped make rock and roll a more artistic and expressive medium. Bon Jovi? I still think they are kind-of hacks, but they mastered arena rock, achieved an improbable longevity–and it’s easy to look down on acts with a mostly-female fan base. And I want to avoid doing that. So, despite my misgivings, each of these acts is fine. Each deserves to be in. But as a whole, this class is once again troublingly monochromatic. I dearly wish an alternative act, or Chaka Khan’s funky disco, or iconoclastic MC5 was there to make this class give a broader picture of what rock and roll is and can be. Right now, Nina and Sister Rosetta are the only voices in a different direction. And that, too, is a problem to consider in the long run: four white, male over-55 acts have multiple members who now enjoy voting privileges. Nina and Sister Rosetta, the only women, and the only persons of color, have both passed away. Altogether, this adds to an already-troubling imbalance among Rock Hall voters.

Frankly, though, it would be a bit hypocritical of me to criticize this too far. My own votes on the fan ballot and the artists I advocated for were certainly classic-rock heavy. I consistently voted for Nina, The Zombies, The Cars, Dire Straits, and Eurythmics. Not exactly as stylistically diverse as it could be, and certainly grounded in the classic rock era. Replace Eurythmics with Bon Jovi and The Zombies for their contemporaries The Moody Blues, and that’s basically the class.

Instead, I want to focus my efforts in the coming year toward encouraging and lobbying the Rock Hall to make this induction process more transparent. They don’t have to record the nominating committee meetings. They don’t have to share who nominated who. But, especially given the Radiohead sketchiness, and other problems like the Dave Clark Debacle of ’07, they do need to 1) have an independent agency certify the voting results; and 2) Release the overall numbers of votes for each artist. In the past, they’ve said that they don’t want to create disparities in a Rock Hall class in terms of “who got more votes” or “who is more worthy.” Nonsense. These artists are all professionals. They can deal with bruised feelings that come from Jon Bon Jovi getting more votes than Mark Knopfler. So, I hope I can get my fellow Rock Hall followers on board with my Crystal Blue Persuasion Initiative to encourage these acts of transparency in what I believe is a good, worthwhile institution that nevertheless needs a booster shot of accountability.

So…on to #RockHall2019, I guess? I’ll be curious to see where it goes, but right now, I’d bet on a return of Janet and Nine Inch Nails to the ballot; repeat appearances by Rage, Judas Priest, The Zombies, Eurythmics, Link, and Chaka Khan; Duran Duran as the next Fan Vote winner; and Doobie Brothers as the Boomer favorite. David Letterman will get his wish and we’ll see Warren Zevon.  Beck. And Dre. For the last five years, we’ve chipped away at the backlog of well-loved 1970s classic rockers. If you asked someone in 2012 who the biggest snubs were, chances are he or she would rattle off “Chicago, KISS, Hall & Oates, Deep Purple, Cheap Trick, Yes, The Cars…” Well, they are all in now. How many truly top-shelf acts from that genre are left. I have to say, Jethro Tull and Bad Company don’t have the same kind of urgency as any of those acts. It’s time to move on from 70s and 80s classic rock. It’s time to put childlike things, and perhaps childhood favorites, away.

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Now we have had a few days to let the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s nominees percolate a bit, and we’ve had some time to reflect on their merits. I’d like to continue my coverage, as is my tradition, by looking at each of the nominees in turn, and evaluating them in three areas: one is my simple, highly subjective ranking of how much I like them, which I will call preference. I’ll also attempt to more objectively evaluate each nominee on their worthiness to join the rock and roll greats in Cleveland. Finally, I’ll weigh in on the likelihood of their induction this year. Before I begin, I’d like to give a shout-out to Philip over at Rock Hall Monitors- I heavily borrowed this format of discussing the nominees from him.

With 19 nominees again this year, there’s no time to waste. Let’s get down to it.

Bon Jovi (Preference: 11, Worthiness: 18, Likelihood: 3) Well, the weird extended feud- which seems to have included Bon Jovi pulling their swag from the Rock Hall- seems to be over. Bon Jovi was nominated before- for the Class of 2011- but fell short. The fact that, say, Darlene Love, got in that year and they didn’t speaks volumes. The voters didn’t like what they were selling. But that was before the fan vote. As long as the fan vote has been there, its winner has gotten in- even if, in the case of KISS, we couldn’t track down an actual Rock Hall voter who picked them. I’m not saying it’s rigged or anything- I’m really not- but let’s just say the Hall has an incentive to induct Bon Jovi. The bad publicity of the almost inevitable fan vote winner failing to get inducted is one reason. The good publicity of uniting the band with estranged guitarist Richie Sambora is another. Still- if there was ever a time that a fan favorite might not get in- this would be the one. I still think they are a near-lock. Journey got in- but they weren’t on the same level of hackery and critical hatred and contempt from their contemporaries as Bon Jovi. We’ll see.

Kate Bush (Preference: 6, Worthiness: 13, Likelihood: 16) I think I predicted her a few years ago, never taking that prospect very seriously. Well, here we are! Kate Bush is one of the very best songwriters of her era, and has a place in British pop history as having performed the first #1 both written and sung by a woman (“Wuthering Heights”). Her oeuvre, very much like an avant-garde playlet set to music, wasn’t everybody’s cup of tea. (It is my cup of tea, though. “The Man with the Child in His Eyes” is one of my favorite tracks by any performer.) Yet, she stands out as an artist among the artists listed here. Unfortunately, she was much bigger in the UK than in the USA, and the Hall’s voters definitely tilt American. Moreover, the Hall must be aware that she will almost certainly be a no-show to the ceremony: she is a famously unwilling traveler, and took 35 years between concerts prior to her 2014 engagements in London. Moreover, she’s competing with Eurythmics in the arty new wave women category- and frankly, she’s just not the icon that Annie Lennox is.

The Cars (Preference: 4, Worthiness: 5, Likelihood: 5) With the exception of Chaka Khan, this is the only act on here that has been placed on the ballot each of the last three years. The Cars are in a sweet spot: lots of classic rock staples, but lots of critical love. Later baby boomers love them, but whichever Gen X music writers are voters probably view them highly as well. There’s also no shortage of modern acts who are fans of their work, keeping them relevant today.   But they might face the same issue that plagued them the last two years: being the sixth or seventh favorite act of too many voters, and not quite getting their box ticked.

Depeche Mode (Preference: 19, Worthiness: 10, Likelihood: 13) I’ll say this for Depeche Mode: they probably had more influence on what music sounds like today than anyone else on this list. Taking Kraftwerk’s embrace of electronica and achieving top 40 success, they were a major stadium act of their day.  They are fully deserving of Rock Hall induction, even if their music is much darker and not quite as melodic or organic as what I would prefer in my own listening habits. Acts of their caliber, though, have trouble getting in. While Depeche Mode isn’t quite alternative, the fact that The Smiths or The Replacements didn’t get in sniffing distance of induction doesn’t bode well, nor does Nine Inch Nails’ failure to get in during their two nominations.

Dire Straits (Preference: 3, Worthiness: 4, Likelihood: 6) Well, here was a surprise! Dire Straits were one of those acts that fell under the radar, never really coming up in any list of egregious snubs. And yet, now that they are up for consideration, the case for them seems evident. Mark Knopfler was one of the great rock guitarists of his era, they made some pioneering music videos, and- frankly- they stand out for me in terms of crafting fine rock and roll more than any other act on the ballot. Listen to their songs, and you get poetic slices of life with first-rate musicianship: “Espresso Love,” “Telegraph Road,” “Romeo and Juliet,” “Sultans of Swing.” And come on…you know you want Sting to come out and do “Money for Nothing” at the ceremony. This was a great, great choice, and they just might make it through, even on a competitive ballot like this year’s.

Eurythmics (Preference: 5, Worthiness: 9, Likelihood: 7) I knew if I kept predicting them, I would eventually be right! Eurythmics have a number of qualities that commend themselves to an easy induction process. The hall loves soulful singers, and Annie Lennox is probably the best singer on the ballot, depending on your feelings about Chaka Khan. She took the sonic palette of new wave and infused it with depth and humanity. Dave Stewart, for his part, has worked with the Heartbreakers, Ringo Starr, Stevie Nicks, Mick Jagger, Daryl Hall, and plenty of others. The hall has also given VH1 and MTV veterans a stronger presence on the Nom Com (and presumably the Voting Committee too) in recent years, and Eurythmics certainly made the most of the music video format.

J. Geils Band (Preference: 17, Worthiness: 19, Likelihood: 11) Ah, geez. Someone on the committee loves these guys, because this is their fifth appearance. By all accounts they were a very fine live band and I’m willing to look past their somewhat embarrassing string of 80s hits. I don’t think they suck or anything, but in my own judgment, they just don’t clear the bar of excellence or influence or even record sales to have even the remotest case for the Rock Hall. Nevertheless, I’m not willing to write off their chances. They have a “your favorite band’s favorite band” thing going for them, and voters loved blues acts enough to induct two of them in 2015. But J. Geils- essentially Chic without the charm or the pity votes- probably isn’t joining Stevie Ray and Paul Butterfield in the hall this year.

Judas Priest (Preference: 13, Worthiness: 6, Likelihood: 12) It seems like just last year, we were debating who would be next metal act now that Deep Purple was in. Some said Iron Maiden, some solo Ozzy, others noted Dave Grohl’s affinity for Motorhead. Instead, it was Judas Priest, in my opinion the most deserving of that lot. Judas Priest has been safely in my top ten Rock Hall prospects in both the 2015 and 2017 itinerations. But look…it took Deep Purple three tries to get in and they were considered the most egregious Rock Hall snub in some quarters. Hardly any one outside the metal community feels that way about Priest. They are an eminent metal band, and unlike others on this list, they are genuinely honored and delighted to have been nominated. I hope they get in one day, but this just doesn’t feel like their year. I’m sure they have Eddie Trunk’s vote, but it isn’t going to be enough.

L. L. Cool J (Preference: 18, Worthiness: 8, Likelihood: 8): Well, LL Cool J has the rap and hip-hop genres all to himself on the ballot this year (although Rage as a foot in that river). He has been feted by the Kennedy Center, but will it be enough? Two rap acts have gotten in during the last two years, but NWA was a proud iconoclast benefitting from a bestselling movie, and 2pac was a cultural icon in the conversation for the best rapper of all time. LL Cool J seems a little…safe after these two. And there may very well be “rap fatigue” among the voting body that still isn’t 100% sold on the genre. Having said that, LL Cool J has to be considered a contender on any ballot he’s on, but his chances seem a bit middling this year.

MC5 (Preference: 15, Worthiness: 15, Likelihood: 18) Tom Morello’s influence surfaces here as well, with one of his favorites earning their third nomination. This band is very much like a secret handshake among rock nerds and political iconoclasts. Despite a short heyday, they made history with their notorious manager John Sinclair, and their rough-hewn records and performances influenced everyone from My Chemical Romance to Sonic Youth. Don’t expect an induction this year, though: if it took several nominations for The Stooges, for example, to get in, MC5 isn’t making it with this many classic bands on the ballot. Plus, they are competing with RATM and Nina Simone as the most politically charged act on the list this year.

The Meters (Preference: 10, Worthiness: 17, Likelihood: 19) My respect for The Meters has grown exponentially since the day they were last nominated four years earlier. I hadn’t even heard of The Meters at the time, and therefore assumed that they didn’t deserve to get in. I was mistaken. Although they rank only 17th in terms of deserving nomination, I can’t say enough how much respect I have for their funky beats, halting and jerky rhythms and distinctive New Orleans sound. Having said all that, if Chic couldn’t get in under any number of scenarios, don’t expect The Meters to fare better.

The Moody Blues (Preference: 7, Worthiness: 2, Likelihood: 1) When I declared The Moody Blues as my #1 Rock Hall prospect back in 2015, that was probably…too much. I felt like I needed to put a ~real~ rock and roll band in the top spot, and so didn’t consider Janet or Kraftwerk or Carole King or someone for that honor like I should have. Nevertheless, The Moody Blues are one of the most famously egregious Rock Hall snubs ever. Even ten years ago, people were listing them alongside Chicago, Kiss, Genesis, Neil Diamond, Alice Cooper, and the like. Well- those artists are now in. And it’s the Moody Blues’ turn to join them.

Nina Simone (Preference: 2, Worthiness: 1, Likelihood: 4) Some people think she’s not quite rock and roll, or that she would be more fitting in an Influence or Musical Excellence category. I sort of understand, but ultimately come down strongly on inducting Nina as an artist. Like Miles Davis or Johnny Cash, she was a bridge between genres. She readily covered rock and roll standards in a jazzy nightclub style, and rock and rollers covered her songs too (most famously, “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood.”) In her career, she branched out to record some of the most direct civil rights anthems of her time. While, say, Odetta’s songs prayed for peace, Simone pointed fingers and demanded justice in “Mississippi Goddamn” and “I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel To be Free.” It’s no wonder that her influence continues through such figures as Beyonce, Lauryn Hill, Alicia Keys, and Mary J. Blige- any of whom would happily drop everything to help induct her in Cleveland. Dave Davies from The Kinks publicly tipped his hand with an enthusiastic “for God’s sake” preceding his intent to vote for her. I think that’s prescient. Do you honestly think the surviving Animals won’t pick her? Do you honestly think Paul McCartney- who credits her “I Put A Spell On You” for the sultry “I love you, I love you, I love you” bridge in “Michelle” won’t find a spot for her? Or Elton John, who named his damn piano after her? Or Mavis Staples? Or surviving members of the Family Stone? Or the Furious Five? Or the social justice-friendly critics and executives who put Joan Baez in last year? Don’t be silly. Nina Simone is getting in.

Radiohead (Preference: 9, Worthiness: 3, Likelihood: 2)  Back in the late 1940s, William Randolph Hearst gave a famous directive to his vast media empire: Puff Graham. A network of radio stations and newspaper outlets then spent months establishing Billy Graham as the nation’s evangelist par excellence, handing him fame and success- albeit in recognition of his considerable skills as a revivalist. That’s not unlike the relationship between the Rolling Stone Industrial Complex and Radiohead. For years, they’ve told us that The Bends and OK Computer are two of the greatest albums of their time. They found a space for them among their 100 Immortals (and believe me, they were very stingy about including post-1970s acts.) All of this was deserved, no doubt- but it didn’t hurt to have friends in high places. Their acclaim has translated to some of the most well loved records of the late 90s- and if the voters could put Green Day in during their first year, Radiohead should be a piece of cake.

Rage Against the Machine (Preference: 14, Worthiness: 7, Likelihood: 9)  I appreciate Rage Against the Machine, which gave my generation a hyper-politicized group as earlier generations had MC5 or Country Joe and the Fish. Rage was far more popular than either- to the point of developing a near sub-culture around themselves, and any discussion of great albums from the turn of the millennium will have to include The Battle of Los Angeles. In a different year with different contenders, I would be optimistic about their prospects. But now? They face competition from Radiohead for the “newbie who has to get in on the first ballot” stakes. They face competition from MC5 and Nina Simone as the most “woke” act available. Morello is an amazing guitarist, but he’s up against Mark Knopfler and Link Wray. Too much pressure from too many quarters- an unlucky ballot for RATM.

Rufus, feat. Chaka Khan (Preference: 12, Worthiness: 16, Likelihood: 15) I’m curious how Rufus got tied to Chaka Khan again- the last two years, it was just Chaka by herself. If anything, this makes Khan’s prospects even more unlikely- people don’t really remember Rufus, and they are more tied to the funkier end of disco, while Khan’s solo career put her into more favorable diva territory. It’s distantly possible they’ll get in, but if it took Donna Summer five tries before her death made her nigh-inevitable, I can’t see Chaka Khan having better luck. It’s a shame- Rufus and Chicago collaborated frequently, and I’d love to hear Danny Seraphine make another profane induction speech.

Sister Rosetta Tharpe (Preference: 8, Worthiness: 12, Likelihood: 17) I’m still a little puzzled by Tharpe’s inclusion on the ballot. She is, beyond dispute, a key piece of rock and roll history– but her heyday was in the 40s and early 50s. I’m not exactly sure what the Nom Com is up to– are they greasing the skids for an Early Induction award (of which Tharpe is wholly deserving?) Did someone else get the Early Influence slot and this was a consolation prize? Some other folks have said “nobody will vote for her, because they know she’ll get in as an Early Influence.” I don’t agree–it’s giving Rock Hall voters too much credit for knowing how their institution works. I doubt very many rock legends have the brain-space to remember Freddie King and Wanda Jackson’s backdoor inductions between touring, buying HD televisions, and remembering to give their former mistresses hush money.

Link Wray (Preference: 16, Worthiness: 14 Likelihood: 10) Link is back! His family has been great to me over the years, and I am delighted for them. His case may be helped by the recent documentary (I’m not sure how many people knew he was part Native American when he was last nominated for the Class of 2014). Nevertheless, like that ’14 ballot, he’s up against A-list 90s acts, and a bevy of never-before-nominated classic rock favorites. Yet as a 50s guitar hero whose stock and trade was rough and ragged instrumentals, he might very well sneak in by virtue of his uniqueness- there isn’t anyone like him on the ballot this year.

The Zombies (Preference: 1, Worthiness: 11, Likelihood: 14) Look, I’m in the tank for The Zombies. They are one of my favorite artists. Odessey and Oracle is one of my ten favorite albums of all time. If I were starting a superband, I’d pick Rod Argent as the keyboard player and work backward from there. I want them to get in, and in a different year, they’d make it. Put them on the ’15 ballot instead of Paul Butterfield, and I have a hunch they’d earn enough votes to get inducted. It’s unfortunate, because they are more musically excellent and more significant in the long term than either The Dave Clark Five and The Hollies- each of whom has been in the hall for the better part of a decade. Unfortunately, last year they were up against fellow psychedelic keyboard-heavy act Steppenwolf. And this year, they are up against their contemporaries The Moody Blues, who are more famous and had more longevity. (To emphasis the point of them being contemporaries, remember that “Nights in White Satin” and “Time of the Season” were recorded within weeks of each other.) Maybe someone like Terry Sylvester of The Hollies will vote for both, but I’d imagine most people will diversify their ballots a bit more– which puts The Zombies in a precarious place.

So…where does this go from here? If I had to predict the Class of 2018, I think Moody Blues, Radiohead, and Bon Jovi are gimmes, although I’d love to be proven wrong on Bon Jovi. I’m pretty confident about Nina Simone for reasons I detailed in her section. And I’ve got a good feeling about The Cars. For a radio-friendly, critically-acclaimed group, I just can’t see them falling short a third time. But that sixth spot, assuming there is one, is giving me fits. Dire Straits and Eurythmics seem like the two most logical choices. But I would give an outside chance to LL Cool J, J. Geils Band, Rage Against the Machine, and Link Wray. The others strike me as very long shots. In a contest between Dire Straits and Eurythmics, I’d have to predict the former. Knopfler is a top-shelf guitarist, and his songwriting and storytelling is their secret weapon. The hall loves those features, as the relatively painless inductions of Leonard Cohen, Tom Waits, Randy Newman, and Bill Withers all suggest. the problem is that this gives us a class very similar to last year’s: a bunch of classic rock mainstays, a first-year-eligible act or two, and just one woman and one artist of color. (In fact, in this case, they would both be the same person- Nina Simone!)

Who am I voting for on the rockhall.com fan vote? Well, The Zombies and Nina Simone are two pet projects of mine, and two of my favorite artists of all time. Of course I’m voting for them. I want to usher The Cars in after three tries, so they are in, too. I would round it out with Dire Straits and Eurythmics, two of my favorite artists who are also among my top 15 Rock Hall prospects. While I really appreciate The Moodies, I’m so confident of their chances that I don’t think they need my vote. Kate Bush and Sister Rosetta were in contention as well. I’m fine making Radiohead and RATM wait another year. That’s not a very balanced vote on my part- too many acts that peaked in the early 80s- but I can live with that. (For comparison, my votes last year went to: Pearl Jam, Janet Jackson, Joan Baez, Kraftwerk, and The Zombies.)

What do you think? Am I on the right track with my directions? Have a pegged your favorites wrong? Let me know in the comments- until then, we have two and a half months of speculating to do!

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Here we are at the last of the three posts which highlight worthy candidates for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s auxiliary categories. I have for your consideration a dozen picks for the now seldom-used Early Influence category. One problem is that the past keeps catching up to us: artists like Wanda Jackson and Freddie King were given a backdoor induction into the Hall through this category after failing to get enough votes as performers on the ballot. It’s problematic, partly because our criteria for “early” keeps changing.  The Nom Com grows less likely to pick artists from rock and roll’s infancy and voters are less likely to choose them when they do.

  1. Sister Rosetta Tharpe: This gospel blueswoman has become a cause célèbre among Rock Hall followers. Listen to her music and you can hear the blueprints of rock and roll being painstakingly drawn up. While the blues and country are important strands of the story, both are riddled with loss and lamentation. Where does the joy come from? I think it’s the gospel influences, and their call-and-responses, their profound hope are a large part of the answer.  Tharpe had all that in spades, and had all the marks of authenticity classic rockers love: she played the guitar, and she wrote her own music. She helped bring gospel into the mainstream, merging the genre in a convincing synthesis with the jump blues. Sister Rosetta was all about rock and roll’s paramount mission: finding a meeting ground of the sacred and the profane. She helped usher Little Richard into fame, and was listed as a major formative influence for artists as varied as Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, Aretha Franklin, and Tina Turner. There’s even hints of social conscience to come in her music– listen to her admonition to “study war no more” in the gospel classic “Down By the Riverside.”
  2. Patsy Cline: You can certainly make an argument for Patsy Cline to get in as a performer rather than an influence. The chronology is right, but for me, the genre isn’t. She was a Nashville-centered country-and-western artist who recorded material almost wholly from that milieu. Maybe if she had lived longer, she might have done a trio with the Everly Brothers, or gone on tour with Linda Ronstadt or something, but we’ll never know. What we do know is how Patsy Cline is one of the most articulate and resonant popular music vocalists of the 20th century, and her contralto sound looms large over a throng of vocalists. To listen to her songs is to know loneliness and loss intimately.
  3. Ivory Joe Hunter: Fellow Rock Hall guy Charles Crossley recently came up with a master list of 1,100 artists for Cleveland’s consideration that puts my list of 100 to shame. #1 on his list is Ivory Joe Hunter. My own philosophy is that artists who peaked artistically before 1954 should be “early influences”– and Hunter would be a very fine addition in that category. His work in the late 40s and early 50s found a way to merge blues and country- two of the “primary color” genres that created rock and roll. While other artists in these genres were ragged, Hunter was often smooth and soulful, and his “Landlord Blues,” “Since I Met You Baby,” and “Pretty Mama Blues” are essential listening.
  4. The Carter Family: The Carters lit up the country circuit as far back as 1926 and remained a presence on the American music scene well into the 1950s and 1960s. Maybelle Carter was one of the first country singers to use a guitar, and with the help of Leslie Riddle, they scoured the countryside for the music of the South, Appalachia, and the Ozarks. In doing so, their songs, “Will The Circle Be Unbroken,” “Keep on the Sunny Side,” and “Wildwood Flower” remain standards to this day. June Carter, of course, was part of this family line.
  5. Roy Brown: Dave Marsh, in his book of rock lists, went to town trying to list over 100 candidates for the very first rock and roll song. Quite a few of them were Roy Brown’s- no doubt, you’ve heard “Good Rocking Tonight,” and maybe “Rockin’ at Midnight” and “Hard Luck Blues” as well. Rolling Stone’s Encyclopedia of Rock and Roll notes that he was a fundamental part of shaping the New Orleans sound, and that B.B. King and Bobby Bland modeled their singing style after his enthusiastic jump blues vocals.
  6. Charlie Patton: Tom Lane has brought Patton’s name up on his own blog as a possible Early Influence nominee. And since Patton is widely regarded as “The Father of the Delta Blues,” it’s hard to deny him that honor. His epic “High Water Everywhere” told the tale of the devastating 1927 Mississippi floods. Temperamental, wild, and dying at the age of 43, leaving a trail of wives and girlfriends in his wake, he lived the quintessential blues life.
  7. Sonny Boy Williamson I: The blues changed the moment Williamson stepped forward and used the harmonica as a lead instrument. His output shaped the Chicago blues scene, and he even served as a mentor to Muddy Waters and Jimmy Rogers. His murder at the age of 34 ended the life of a great artist. It’s not his fault that another harmonica player purloined his name and made a career out of being a Sonny Boy imposter.
  8. Lonnie Donegan: The fate of the world changed unexpectedly when Lonnie Donegan became the face of the skiffle craze in Britain in the 1950s. All across the British Isles, youngsters imitated Donegan’s use of homemade instruments like tea-chest basses and washboard percussion as he performed Jimmie Rodgers and Lead Belly songs in a fast, fervent style. It’s well known that the Quarrymen began as a skiffle group, unskilled even by the genre’s undemanding standards- but Ronnie Wood, Graham Nash, Roger Daltrey, and Robin Trower all started out as British skiffle devotees. It introduced a generation of schoolchildren in the U.K. to Americana.
  9. Harry Belafonte: It’s hard to believe- but Harry Belafonte vs. Elvis Presley was a legitimate teen idol debate in 1956. At the same time as ElvisMania began, the calypso craze engulfed America. Belafonte was its herald, as his album Calypso stayed at #1 for 8 weeks. Belafonte’s music tried to find points of connection between the folk music ethic and the music of his Caribbean ancestry. In the process, Belafonte developed a profound social conscience. He was a strong celebrity presence in the civil rights movement; how many people know that he paid for Martin Luther King, Jr.’s funeral out of his own pocket? His battles blazed a path for future rock and roll entertainers. When Petula Clark touched his arm when they sang “On the Path to Glory” on Clark’s television show, it ignited a national controversy. No white woman had touched a black man on national television. When Southern television stations threatened to not show the program, Belafonte told Clark, “let’s take ’em on.” Clark’s producer destroyed all other takes of their duet without touching, and the show was broadcast to rave reviews. Belafonte, I might add, is also on good terms with the Rock Hall. He helped induct both Pete Seeger and Public Enemy.
  10. Tom Lehrer: This Harvard-trained mathematics professor was also one of the greatest satirists of the 20th century. When Borscht Belt foolishness like Allan Sherman dominated musical comedy, his dark, cynical perspective skewered Cold War nihilism with such numbers as “We Will All Go Together When We Go” and “So Long Mom.” In an age where cloying numbers about halcyon days past were topping the charts, Lehrer turned The Browns’ “The Old Lamplighter” into “The Old Dope Peddler.” Any time a rock and roller uses satire to skewer a social problem, they owe Lehrer a debt- whether it’s Randy Newman songs, Weird Al’s sharper material (“Whatever U Like,” “Skipper Dan”), Dead Kennedy’s “Holiday in Cambodia” or Faith No More’s “We Care A Lot.”
  11. Odetta: Folk met the blues with this singular talent. Folk music could at times be wearily NPR-ish and insistent on authenticity, but Odetta made sure it had the blues’ naturalism and rhythm intact. The folk revival of the 1950s and early 1960s laid the groundwork for rock and roll to address the great struggles that would face the nation in the Vietnam era, and Odetta was one of the most crucial figures in that movement. Like recent Rock Hall inductee Joan Baez, she sang at the March on Washington and was a steady presence at civil rights marches. Oh- and Bob Dylan credits her as the person who piqued his interest in folk music.
  12. Django Reinhardt: Behold- Europe’s first guitar hero. His gypsy stylings worked beautifully with jazz, and everyone from Chet Atkins to The Allman Brothers have imitated his fluid stylings. The photographer Harry Benson once remembered from his time with The Beatles: John loved talking about the intellectuals he had met. Paul loved talking about the movie stars he’d met. Ringo loved talking about the royalty he’d met. George talked about Django Reinhardt. “I’ll never be as good as he is,” Benson recollected Harrison saying, “but that’s what I’m aiming for.” Or consider Jerry Garcia’s praise: “His technique is awesome! Even today, nobody has really come to the state that he was playing at. As good as players are, they haven’t gotten to where he is. There’s a lot of guys that play fast and a lot of guys that play clean, and the guitar has come a long way as far as speed and clarity go, but nobody plays with the whole fullness of expression that Django has.”
  13. Ah, what the heck. Let’s make it a baker’s dozen and include Wynonie Harris. His profane variations of the jump blues had the swing and verve that is identifiable as protean rock and roll. Even a young Elvis Presley watched him, and incorporated his vocal stylings and physical presence into his own act. With songs like “I Like My Baby’s Pudding,” you can see where Big Joe Turner and others got the idea of lacing their songs with delicious innuendo.  Harris helped bring “race music,” as it was called back then, from the (relative) margins and into the public consciousness.

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If there’s one thing shared among visitors, writers, and critics who follow the Rock Hall, it is the deeply held belief that the institution isn’t doing justice to some group or other. It might be a genre- heavy metal, or 70s R&B, or 80s alternative. It might be a demographic or time-frame: women, minorities, Gen X music, and so on. I’d argue that one of the bigger dilemmas is that contributors to rock and roll outside of performing artists have the most reason to be aggrieved. I’ve followed the Rock Hall intently for the last four induction cycles. In that time, we had only 3 non-performers (Brian Epstein, Andrew Loog Oldham, and Bert Burns); 3 Musical Excellence recipients (Nile Rodgers, Ringo Starr, and the E Street Band); and a pitiful one lone Early Influence (The “5” Royales. I don’t know why the “5” is in quotation marks either.)

A couple months ago, I solicited advice from some of the other Rock Hall watchers in terms of some good prospects for these categories. Tom Lane, Michelle Bourg (who did her own list), and Charles Crossley, Jr. all came through with some fine suggestions. I took some, rejected others, and did my own research to supplement theirs. What follows are my 20 prospects for Musical Excellence, and I will follow in a later post with 10 Early Influence ideas, and 15 Non-Performers. Keep in mind- this list isn’t intended to be exhaustive, and just because someone you admire isn’t on the list doesn’t mean that I don’t think they are Rock Hall-worthy. This is merely a list of who I see as the biggest priorities, or who I would advocate for if given the chance.

  1. Brian Eno: It’s hard to think of a producer, musician, and visionary who has played a greater role in the unfolding of rock and roll in cerebral, abstract, and atmospheric directions. From his early work playing keyboards for Roxy Music, to his production for David Bowie, U2, Coldplay, and many others, to his groundbreaking ambient albums, Eno is a towering figure in 20th century music, not just rock and roll.
  2. Willie Nelson: He’s not early enough to be an early influence. He has rock and roll characteristics, sure, but he is widely thought of as a country artist. Why not just give The Red-Headed Stranger a Musical Excellence Award and be done with it? His career has spanned decades, he became one of the greatest touring artists in modern history, and he routinely traversed the frontiers between genres. He’s in his mid-80s now, so let’s do the right thing and honor him while he’s among the living. And bring plenty of munchies to the after-party.
  3. Funk Brothers: The lineup fluctuated, but they ultimately played on more #1 hits than The Beatles and Elvis combined. Bassist James Jamerson is already inducted, but Joe Messina, Earl Van Dyke, and Benny Benjamin have played on dozens of the great Motown songs you know and love. From the ethereal organ of the Four Tops’ “Bernadette” to the rattlesnake tambourine in “I Heard It Through the Grapevine” they always knew how to accentuate a great song. Otis Williams of The Temptations once opined that The Funk Brothers “must go down in history as one of the best groups of musicians anywhere.” Always essential and always unobtrusive. Berry Gordy did his best to make sure they didn’t get enough credit to enjoy leverage and bargaining power. So let’s make sure they are enshrined in the Rock Hall and give them the plaudits that so often eluded them in the prime of their careers.
  4. Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section: They contributed the snappy arrangements and solid musicianship behind Wilson Pickett, Aretha Franklin, and other soul greats of the 1960s and 1970s. Organist Spooner Oldham is already in, but his colleagues are left out in the cold, just like most of the Funk Brothers.
  5. Todd Rundgren: If ever there was a good fit for this category, Rundgren is it. None of his bands–Nazz or Utopia–quite have a Rock Hall resumé, and certainly Rundgren’s chops as a producer need to be taken into account as well. He should be inducted, if only to hear Meat Loaf’s speech and to get “Bang on the Drum” as the jam at the end of the show.
  6. Lee “Scratch” Perry: His recording career and his production work with Bob Marley and the Wailers helped put reggae on the map. Prolific and confrontational, he has also been a champion for reggae artists who have been taken advantage of by major record labels. He’s also collaborated with a number of artists outside his immediate field, including Paul McCartney and The Beastie Boys.
  7. Carol Kaye: Seriously. How is this woman not in the Rock Hall yet? While other members of the famous Wrecking Crew are in, including drummer Hal Blaine and pianist Leon Russell, their bass player and sometimes-guitarist is still inexplicably left out. Never mind Kaye’s obstacles making it as a female instrumentalist in a stubbornly male field, her track record is astounding. That’s her playing on everything from “California Girls” by The Beach Boys, to “La Bamba” by Ritchie Valens, to Freak Out! by Frank Zappa & the Mothers, to one of my favorite guilty pleasures, “Midnight Confessions” by The Grass Roots. Music writers use the word “inexcusable” a lot when talking about the omissions of their pet favorites. This one is actually inexcusable.
  8. The JBs: They earned a surprise nomination for the Class of 2016, shocking the hell out of everybody, even though Future Rock Legends listed them as “Previously Considered.” They are, of course, best known as James Brown’s backing band, although they released a number of fine titles under their own name. They are significant, firstly, for their role in helping the Godfather of Soul create the elemental groove of funk music. But secondly, their horn riffs, and drum lines, and bass parts are among the most sampled in hip-hop.
  9. Billy Preston: The Rock Hall sometimes gets into a bad habit of inducting everybody associated with The Beatles- perhaps partly because it is a guaranteed ratings boost. Preston may not be the true “Fifth Beatle”- George Martin earns that title, with Neil Aspinall and Mal Evans as backups- but his skill at the electric organ saved the moribund “Get Back” sessions from outright collapse. More than that, Preston had a number of fine, upbeat R&B tracks in the 70s, including “Outa Space”, “Will It Go Round in Circles”, and “Nothing From Nothing.” He was one of the great session and touring sidemen of rock history, working with three solo Beatles, Eric Clapton, The Rolling Stones, Ray Charles, Little Richard, and even the Red Hot Chili Peppers. He also wrote “You Are So Beautiful” and his philosophy of serial monogamy inspired Stephen Stills to write “Love the One You’re With.” Quite a legacy.
  10. The Revolution: If we are going to induct the E Street Band, why not them? If they were ever going to get it, it should have been the ceremony directly after Prince’s death. They truly lived up to their name, revolutionary in their gender and racial make-up, and revolutionary in bringing together funk, R&B, 80s technology, and pop sensibilities that helped Prince become one of the preeminent artists of his day.
  11. The Section: Look- 70s singer-songwriter and soft rock was a hell of a lot more musically sophisticated and difficult to play than anybody gave it credit for. The genre favored the composer over the ensemble, so the backing musicians behind the artist were often consigned to obscurity. Leland Sklar, Russ Kunkel, Craig Doerge, and Danny Kortchmar were iconic and inescapable. Here’s a partial list of their oeuvre: Carole King’s Tapestry, CSN and affiliated solo projects, Linda Ronstadt’s work, Sweet Baby James, “Werewolves in London,” Jackson Browne, Dan Fogelberg. They are Laurel Canyon.
  12. MFSB: Similarly, the hi-hat-focused beat of disco gets overlooked as well, and MFSB, more or less the house band on the Gamble and Huff recordings, should also be inducted. They had a hit of their own with “The Sound of Philadelphia,” and laid down the beat for The O’Jays, The Spinners, Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes. But maybe their most historically significant recordings were for artists like The Trampps, which established the contours of what a good, artistically sound disco recording should be like.
  13. Randy Rhoads: He’s in the conversation as one of the greatest rock guitarists of all time, but he somehow isn’t in the Hall. His playing for Ozzy Osbourne, among others, added the classicist’s precision to the dark and brooding brand of Ozzy’s metal, and his untimely death in the 1980s has only added to his legend. Incidentally, Nom Com member Tom Morello actually named one of his kids after Randy Rhoads, so you know there’s a good chance that this induction might actually happen.
  14. Ry Cooder: Another one of the legendary guitarists who should be honored with an induction. Rolling Stone named him 8th on its list of all-time guitarists. His back-to-the-roots style was a great fit for the 1970s, and added much of the character and proficiency that made The Stones’ Sticky Fingers, Randy Newman’s mid-decade output, and Captain Beefheart’s Safe As Milk so memorable.
  15. The Andantes: There’s an interesting precedent here with Darlene Love. As many rock hobbyists know, Phil Spector ushered in The Crystals’ career. But as he maniacally attempted to perfect their sound, he brought in uncredited singers to take their place, ultimately using more fake Crystals than a sketchy Atlantic City jeweler. One of them, Darlene Love, was finally- at the urging of Steve Van Zandt- nominated and inducted. The Andantes are sort of the parallel for Motown- unsung, uncredited, and poorly remembered. When the relationship between Diana Ross and the other Supremes, Mary Wilson and Cindy Birdsong, became toxic, The Andantes backed Ross on the last few years’ worth of Supremes records, a run that included a handful of #1 hits. They also provided the female background vocals on hits like “Baby, I Need Your Loving” and “Reach Out (I’ll Be There),” and whenever a woman’s voice was needed on Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On.” That’s them playing off Mary Wells during the coda of “My Guy.” An unheralded group that deserves better.
  16. The Meters: Like The JBs, this funk outfit has been nominated before as an artist, and probably didn’t come even close to getting the votes necessary for induction. Of course, as stand-alone artists, The Meters are very fine. “Cissy Strut” and “Look-Ka Py Py” have deep grooves and unassailable musicianships. But The Meters also carved out a niche as the backing group for anybody passing through New Orleans.  As Allen Toussaint’s house band, they also played on records by Dr. John, Wings, Paul Simon, Joe Cocker…the list goes on. And like The JBS, their funky riffs have been used liberally in hip-hop samples for over three decades running. I can’t wait for Trombone Shorty’s induction speech.
  17. Al Kooper: The Forrest Gump of rock and roll. He seemed to have been there at so many key moments. He played on The Royal Teens’ “Short Shorts” (alongside future Four Season Bob Gaudio). He wrote “This Diamond Ring” for Gary Lewis and the Playboys. Despite never playing organ before, he faked his way into a Bob Dylan session and played that iconic part on “Like A Rolling Stone.” He founded Blood, Sweat & Tears. He discovered Lynyrd Skynyrd (hey, no one’s perfect.) He played guitar on Who’s Next and Electric Ladyland. Amazing resumé.
  18. Nikolas Ashford & Valerie Simpson: It would be a shame if, like Carole King, they got in as non-performers, because they had a fine run of hits on their own auspices. But they are most well known for their songwriting efforts together, which included most of the Marvin Gaye/Tammi Terrell duets (including “Ain’t Nothing Like the Real Thing” and “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough”), and “I’m Every Woman.” They even did an underrated album, Been Found, featuring collaborations with Maya Angelou.
  19. Danger Mouse: There’s a real danger indeed if the Rock Hall keeps focusing so intently on 1960s and 1970s output. To break the geriatric death grip of the Boomer generation, I want to put forward Danger Mouse as a worthy recipient for excellence in a number of different fields. If we are looking at great producers, Danger Mouse should be in the conversation with George Martin, Phil Spector, and others. The Observer writes of him, “Whether as a producer, songwriter or recording artist, Danger Mouse doesn’t have a signature sound so much as a signature feeling – intense, atmospheric, melancholy-laden.” He took the immersive feel of, say, Pink Floyd, and brought it into other elements of popular music. In the process, he produced records for Adele, Outkast, Norah Jones, and The Black Keys. The 1970s and 1980s divided “black music” and “white music” in ways we are still grappling with today, but Danger Mouse has found clever ways of bringing them back together as of old, perhaps nowhere more adroitly than the Beatles/Jay Z mashup “The Grey Album.” As a musician, a deejay, and a producer, Danger Mouse needs to be recognized as a modern-day great.
  20. Babyface: For the final spot, we have the man who, perhaps more than anyone else, helped create modern R&B. Like a contemporary Smokey Robinson, he does it all- sings smooth and soulful hits, writes, and produces. Lets see…he helped create New Jack Swing; helped Boyz II Men make some of the longest-tenured #1 hits ever, produced one of my favorite 90s groups, TLC; founded two record labels; thrived outside of R&B by producing for Eric Clapton and Madonna; was involved in 26 #1 R&B hits; and won 11 Grammy Awards. Other artists he’s produced for: Michael Jackson, Toni Braxton, Whitney Houston, Paula Abdul, and Ariana Grande. And that’s just the wikipedia version of his life.

So- those are my twenty Musical Excellence choices. I tried to pick people who excelled in multiple areas of rock, or didn’t fit easy categorization: performers who were songwriters, deejays who were producers, genre-benders, and so on. Stay tuned- we’ll tackle Early Influences and Non-Performers next.

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While we wait for the Nominating Committee to have their annual meeting, I thought I might revise the list of 100 Rock Hall Prospects that I sketched out in January of last year. Since then, four acts on the list have been inducted (Joan Baez, Journey, Electric Light Orchestra, and Yes), lots of new acts became eligible, and my own tastes and judgment have changed (hopefully evolved).

So, here is the new list. Please bear in mind that these are all artists who have been passed over at least once, so Class of 2018 eligibles like Radiohead or Rage Against the Machine will not appear on the list.

  1. Kraftwerk
  2. Janet Jackson
  3. The Moody Blues
  4. Nina Simone
  5. Judas Priest
  6. The Smiths
  7. Carole King
  8. The Spinners
  9. Dire Straits
  10. The Cure
  11. The Cars
  12. Eurythmics
  13. L. L. Cool J.
  14. Kate Bush
  15. Mariah Carey
  16. Nine Inch Nails
  17. The Zombies
  18. T. Rex
  19. Tina Turner
  20. Sonic Youth
  21. Willie Nelson
  22. Dick Dale
  23. Brian Eno
  24. Jethro Tull
  25. Whitney Houston
  26. Depeche Mode
  27. Smashing Pumpkins
  28. Iron Maiden
  29. Weird Al Yankovic
  30. Pixies
  31. Dead Kennedys
  32. Pat Benatar
  33. Emmylou Harris
  34. Motorhead
  35. Big Mama Thornton
  36. War
  37. The Guess Who
  38. Roxy Music
  39. A Tribe Called Quest
  40. Jane’s Addiction
  41. Devo
  42. Salt N Pepa
  43. Phil Collins
  44. Sting
  45. The Monkees
  46. PJ Harvey
  47. Duran Duran
  48. Black Flag
  49. Warren Zevon
  50. Peter Tosh
  51. The Replacements
  52. The Commodores
  53. Johnny Burnette & the Rock ‘N Roll Trio
  54. The B-52s
  55. Eric B. & Rakim
  56. Indigo Girls
  57. Big Star
  58. Three Dog Night
  59. Ozzy Osbourne
  60. Johnny Winter
  61. Link Wray
  62. The Doobie Brothers
  63. MC5
  64. Alice in Chains
  65. Phish
  66. Chic
  67. Billy Ward & His Dominoes
  68. Fugazi/Minor Threat
  69. Dionne Warwick
  70. Bjork
  71. The Flaming Lips
  72. Peter, Paul & Mary
  73. Rufus/Chaka Khan
  74. Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds
  75. The Clovers
  76. De La Soul
  77. Blur
  78. Jimmy Buffett
  79. The Shadows
  80. Bad Brains
  81. Ben E. King
  82. Lucinda Williams
  83. Gram Parsons
  84. Soundgarden
  85. Moby
  86. Emerson, Lake & Palmer
  87. The Pogues
  88. The Jam
  89. Bon Jovi
  90. Megadeth
  91. Tori Amos
  92. Mary Wells
  93. Chuck Willis
  94. Kris Kristofferson
  95. Teddy Pendergrass/Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes
  96. Toots and the Maytals
  97. The Shangri-Las
  98. New York Dolls
  99. Os Mutantes
  100. Fela Kuti

At this point, I might add that some artists on my original list were phased out. DC Talk, Husker Du, Dan Fogelberg, Slayer, Can, and Procol Harum. Afrika Bambaataa got removed in the light of pederasty charges. Los Lobos got kicked out because they didn’t do “La Bamba” when I saw them perform last year.

A couple similar artists switched places: Emmylou Harris, I think, should get the nod over Gram Parsons. I recently read Kill Your Idols, a collection of essays taking the piss out of allegedly classic albums, and their demolition of Grevious Angel won me over. I also switched A Tribe Called Quest and De La Soul, with ATCQ now being ranked higher.

Some artists trended downward since last time: Chic (due to Nile Rogers’s Excellence Award), Peter Paul & Mary (Baez’s induction accomplished the same point- acknowledging folk’s role in politicizing rock music), Iron Maiden (#11 was way, way too high) Duran Duran, and Ben E. King. Artists who moved up include Nina Simone (who breaks into the Top Ten), and Nine Inch Nails, among others. Kraftwerk has wrested the #1 spot from Moody Blues after some careful deliberation.

The sharp-eyed may notice several new additions: The Jam, Toots & the Maytals, Tori Amos, Lucinda Williams, Os Mutantes, The Shangri-Las, Kris Kristofferson, Bad Brains, Emerson Lake & Palmer, Blur, Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds, and PJ Harvey have all debuted.

So, this is where things stand for the summer of 2017. As always, your commentary and your critiques are valued.

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For the last few years, coverage of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame has been the Northumbrian Countdown’s bread and butter. Sure, I will comment on the state of Walt Disney World, or modern politics, or even religion from time to time, but the fact remains: a vast majority of the traffic that gets to this site arrives because of something I’ve written about rock and roll. So it might be surprising to know that I never visited the hallowed halls of Cleveland. And this is in spite of being a three hour drive from the museum during my grad school days in Buffalo, and a four hour drive from my current digs in Rochester.

Why did it take so long? For years, my absence was for petty reasons: I refused to visit until Chicago was inducted. Their induction in April, 2016 took care of that obstacle, however the best weekends for visiting were hampered by the Cavaliers’ victory parade, the RNC, and my perpetual difficulties traveling. But on July 1, I finally made it! And so did lots of other people. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame was crowded…it was easily the most crowded I have ever seen any museum. At first I thought that it was because of the new Power of Rock exhibit, but the true factor quickly became clear: the Cleveland Browns’ stadium was a quarter mile away, and was hosting a U2 concert later that evening. As you can imagine, that would lead to some congestion in the Rock Hall earlier that day!

As far as my impressions go, the museum has a lot going for it. More than anything else, the museum makes you feel like rock and roll is a holy thing. The great glass pyramid keeps your eyes gazing toward the top, giving the visitor a sense of grandeur that reminds me of my visits to London’s Gothic cathedrals in terms of imparting majesty. The museum feels like an interactive journey through the sacred. It was affecting to see the handwritten lyrics for “London Calling,” or the piano that Jerry Lee Lewis abused to get the riveting pulse he needed for “Great Balls of Fire.” As a hopeless Beatles fan since I was 10, the Fab Four artifacts took my breath away- to see Ringo’s drums from the Shea Stadium era, or an actual outfit worn by one of The Beatles in a photo I’ve seen dozens of times felt to me as though a myth was becoming real and tangible.

Yet the museum was insistent on making sure we understood its narrative. There was really no way to proceed except by going through early influences, winding through thoughtful exhibition space on gospel, country, and blues influences on the genre. Unlike, say, the Strong Museum of Play in Rochester, this isn’t a “choose your own adventure” kind of museum. There’s only so many ways you can get through it. After this introductory material- Elvis! Followed by rock’s early years, and eventually, the showcases take a geographic focus, with Detroit, Memphis, New Orleans, and London all taking center stage. The Rock Hall even dedicates a great deal of space to justifying its Cleveland roots, with Alan Freed taking a key part in the narrative, and posters for the Moondog Coronation Ball. From there, space is dedicated to various keynote artists: The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Hendrix, Bowie, Prince, and the like.  But one needs to get through the final stages- contemporary descendants of rock and roll- to complete the journey. The Rock Hall’s very design forces the visitor to confront hip-hop, Adele, Janelle Monae, and other modern standard-bearers. The message is clear: rock and roll headed off in many directions, and guitar-based acts are not the only, or even the most important, part of that legacy. In fact, the lack of 70s classic rock bands stood out baldly: Aerosmith, Chicago, Boston, Cheap Trick, — all of those were downplayed.

One area that surprised me with its spartan qualities were the plaques denoting who had been inducted to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame during each year. That was it…just a name, with no explanation of who Percy Sledge was, or why Brenda Lee was significant. However, a sign nearby solicited ideas for #RockHallHonors to figure out a more suitable way to acknowledge those who climbed the mountain and got inducted.

But as I left, I noticed a few things that stood out by their absence. For one, the museum was wholly focused on artists and musicians. The effect rock and roll had on crowds, listeners, dancers, was never fully explored. That, to me, leaves the visitor wondering his or her own role in this story, and makes music something that is passively received- a notion that I am sure most rock and roll experts- including those on the museum board- would contest. One encouraging movement to rectify this came across in a series of interactive booths were your choice of rock icon (Mary Wilson, or Smokey Robinson or Michelle Phillips or Alice Cooper) elicited your favorite concert memories or who you think should be in the Hall of Fame. (I gave a pretty cogent case for Nina Simone, if I do say so myself.)

Moreover, why does rock and roll matter? Perhaps the museum treats this question as self-evident, nevertheless the question remains — why do we listen to rock? Why do we care about it? The museum didn’t offer any coherent answers, and perhaps there are none to be had. But if I ran this particular zoo, I’d have maybe spent more time on Dylan’s impact on, say, ’68 in America; the Plastic People of the Universe inspiring Prague Spring; Live Aid’s noble failure to combat poverty– or its relations to modern politics, racial identity, fashion, or attitudes toward sex. Aside from a strong section on censorship of rock and roll that touched on why the genre was seen as dangerous, the exhibitions chose not to engage with these issues.

In the end, though, these are just some rough sketches from a historian who reads too much and thinks too much. All told, I had a great time- especially once the crowds died down. Nevertheless, I encourage those in charge of this project to more overtly engage the question of “why rock and roll matters” beyond celebrating this pantheon of great figures and allowing these Midwestern pilgrims to glimpse at relics and curios. Even so, I didn’t get to see everything this time around- and I will gladly be back. Despite my critiques, this is a museum that Cleveland can be proud of. But I wouldn’t mind seeing Nina Simone get in. And The Zombies. And Kraftwerk. And Janet Jackson. And…

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