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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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If it seems as though we just got through inducting the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s class of 2017, that’s because we did. With the ceremony in Brooklyn less than two months in the rear view mirror, we’re not even close to the Nominating Committee’s late summer meeting, let alone the announcement of the nominees. In general, the other Rock Hall watchers and I will be making our official predictions for the Class of 2018 nominees around Labor Day. So please understand the tentative and exploratory nature of this post.

The last few years of Rock Hall inductees have certainly been interesting ones. Game-changing first-ballot inductees have gotten in, and the list of classic rock snubs is continually whittled down. In the last four years alone, Yes, Chicago, Deep Purple, Steve Miller, Cheap Trick, Hall & Oates, Peter Gabriel, ELO, and Journey have all gotten in. But as a recent interview with Boston’s Tom Scholz has demonstrated, it’s never enough for some people. Get those acts in, and those same voices will clamor for Def Leppard, Judas Priest, The Cars, Dire Straits, and so on. And while a case can be made for any of these (well, maybe not Def Leppard…), the backlog continues to grow for 80s alternative, soul, country-rock, and other genres.

There will be a few wrinkles that will complicate this year’s predictions. One of them is the fluctuating number of nominees, ranging from a low of 15 to a peak of 19. Another is the unusually high number of quality acts that are eligible for the first time this year. Yet another is how the Rock Hall will respond to public pressure– in particular, a strong online movement has made known its displeasure of the lack of female inductees, voters, and committee members. So I’m going to simply list 25 acts that I’m considering for my predictions, acts that I believe have a strong chance of being nominees, in no particular order.

  1. Janet Jackson: I feel comfortable enough to say this: now that Nile Rogers is in, I think we’re through with Chic nominations. We can debate whether or not this was the correct move until we’re blue in the face, but realistically, I don’t think we’ll see Chic on the ballot again. I believe that Janet Jackson will take their place as the act that gets nominated every year until induction. Questlove supports her, she’d guarantee a large audience for the HBO viewing, and she’d correct the recent drought of black and female artists. Embarrassingly, a living black woman has not been inducted into the Hall since Claudette Robinson back in 2012.
  2. War: War seems to get nominated every three years, and it seems to coincide with when the ceremony is held in Cleveland. War is neither fair nor foul, and seems to have few hardcore advocates or vocal opponents, making this pick a difficult one to gauge.
  3. Radiohead: For the last 20 years, Rolling Stone has drilled through our heads that it thinks OK Computer is the best album since Nevermind. An almost guaranteed choice for their first year eligible.
  4. Rage Against the Machine: Conflicts of interest abound. Bassist Tom Morello is on the committee, and given his antiestablishment attitudes, he might very well recuse himself or ask that his band not be inducted until its main influences, such as MC5, are in. But I suspect the rest of the committee will overrule him.
  5. Nine Inch Nails: Almost everyone expected this band to be nominated last year, and we were surprised when they were not. I think they’ll be back, partly because of Trent Reznor’s connections to the Cleveland area.
  6. Devo: Speaking of Cleveland connections, this electronic act, presaging humanity’s decline into stupidity, violence, and chaos, turned out to be remarkably prescient.
  7. Moody Blues: At this point, they’re the most notable absence among the 60s and 70s classic rock crowd. Most ballots have a populist choice, and it might well be these guys.
  8. L.L. Cool J.:  After a few years, the tumult over “The Accidental Racist” is over. (I still, though, continue to use it in my classes as a textbook example of false equivalency.) L.L. Cool J., who was once rumored to be the top vote-getter among the Nom Com, is poised to return to the ballot. Especially now that 2pac broke the “solo rapper” barrier.
  9. Eurythmics: Journey’s nomination and induction shows that 80s nostalgia runs high. It’s hard to think of many 80s moments more iconic than a gender-bending Annie Lennox with a pointer and a globe in the “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)” video. Lennox has been feted with award show appearances and a successful standards album as of late, and she and David Stewart are probably game for a brief reunion.
  10. Joe Cocker: His name has been batted around for a while, most notably by Billy Joel and Maureen Van Zandt, as a Rock Hall snub. Admittedly, he ticks a lot of marks we usually see: Baby Boomer nostalgia, bluesy styles, and a knockout performance at Woodstock.
  11. Soundgarden: The tragic death of Chris Cornell has made 90s guys recognize how great Soundgarden was. They were a band that was often overshadowed by other 90s alternative acts, even though they presaged many of them. I’d be surprised if Tom Morello and Dave Grohl didn’t use their leverage to nominate this act.
  12. The Spinners: Questlove and Cliff Bernstein are still on the committee. That means there’s always a chance we’ll see the iconic 70s soul group return.
  13. The Cure: Although this spot may well go to The Smiths, or The Replacements, or even Sonic Youth, we might also see The Cure return after several years’ absence. The growing importance of the HBO special makes it imperative that the band in question actually show up intact and willing to perform. And The Cure just completed a highly successful tour last year.
  14. Warren Zevon: After David Letterman gave the best speech of the night this year, how can the Nom Com deny him his wish to see his old friend and favorite guest Warren Zevon in the Hall?
  15. Roxy Music: It’s got to happen one of these years, right?
  16. Nina Simone: I’ve predicted her for the last couple years, and I know I’ve got to be right eventually. The Rock Hall tends to like acts that challenged the war machine and/or the Jim Crow system– look at the Baez and MC5 nominations last year. Simone took on both- and her record’s cameo in Lemonade underscored how influential she has been in R&B’s development.
  17. Willie Nelson: Some have said that he’s a better fit for Musical Excellence, and maybe they are right. But it seems silly to honor Nelson that way when he’d probably breeze through the regular ballot. Willie Nelson may be primarily a country act, but his career had significant crossover with- and influence over- the development of rock and roll.
  18. Patsy Cline: Or they might go in this direction. If you want more women in the Rock Hall, you might as well pick someone who would almost certainly get in, right? Like Nelson, there may be other ways of getting her in the Hall- maybe Early Influence, given that her connections to rock and roll in life were much more tenuous than Nelson’s?
  19. The Zombies: They’ve been cruising across the U.S., performing Odessey and Oracle in its entirety and getting rave reviews. Everyone who frequents the Countdown knows I’m a huge advocate of The Zombies. Let’s get them in while Rod Argent and Colin Blunstone are still out there performing. This will be their year. Took a long time to come.
  20. Link Wray: Rock historians and top-shelf 60s guitarists can’t say enough good things about him. He made the ballot once, for the Class of 2014, so there is always the chance he will resurface. But every passing year makes it less likely we’ll see 50s artists show up.
  21. J. Geils Band: I honestly don’t see the appeal, although their backers say they were one of the best live acts ever. Given that they are already in the Nom Com’s favor, the recent death of the titular Mr. Geils makes me think that the Nom Com will honor him with another- possibly final- nomination.
  22. Foreigner: Jann Werner loves them, to the point of allegedly shoehorning “I Want To Know What Love Is” onto Rolling Stone’s list of 500 greatest songs. While I wouldn’t vote for them, I’d appreciate their induction; as a loyal Rochestafarian, I know well that Lou Gramm has deep roots in my adopted hometown. Anyway, with lots of hits and plenty of nostalgia, this is the kind of act that HBO is hoping gets inducted, especially if they can pull off an elusive reunion.
  23. Chaka Khan: On the other hand, maybe Chaka Khan is the new Chic. She’s been nominated two years in a row, and acts are rarely nominated for three (one reason why The Cars and Kraftwerk didn’t make it on my list this year). But given that the Nom Com loves funky disco stuff, it would be foolish to write her off.
  24. Carole King: So, last year she performed Tapestry in its entirety in front of tens of thousands of people in Hyde Park. There is a musical out on her life. And a documentary. I have an unprovable theory that there was a Baez vs. King logjam that finally broke last year. Now that Baez is in, let’s do the right thing and induct Carole King as a performer, and not just for her Brill Building songwriting.
  25. Toots & the Maytals: Every year there’s a WTF nomination along the lines of Bad Brains or Los Lobos- not unjustifiable, per se, but certainly a big surprise. I think it’s going to be these guys this year.

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