Posts Tagged ‘Soundgarden’

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.



Read Full Post »

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Read Full Post »