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Posts Tagged ‘The Meters’

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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After a bit of deliberation, I am comfortable enough to post my predictions for the 2016 ballot for the 2017 class of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. We probably won’t see the ballot until October, and most of my fellow Rock Hall watchers won’t post their predictions until around Labor Day. But I have a lot of free time now that I won’t have in September, when I’ll need to devote myself to teaching my classes and copy-editing my upcoming book on George McGovern and Progressive Christianity.

I posted my preliminary picks a couple months ago, and I’ve largely kept them, making this something of a repost. I swapped out MC5 and Eurythmics for a couple choices that struck me as more plausible. My original post was aggressively un-classic rock, due to the lack of diversity from the Class of 2016. Instead, I think the Rock Hall will surely veer away from- but not totally eschew- 1970s classic rock favorites, and we’ll see a ballot that resembles the Class of 2015 much more. In fact, that’s probably the biggest change with this slate of predictions: I added two artists that more comfortably fit into a strict definition of “classic rock.” Nevertheless, if my prediction holds, this will be a slate of nominees designed to show the breadth and depth of rock and roll, which will push boundaries and hopefully challenge people who don’t think rap, country, R&B, or electronica count.

Having said all this, I predict 2 first-time eligible artists, 8 previous nominees, and 5 longtime snubs.

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

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

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

4. Chic: Hindu mythos is prefaced upon the samsara, the interminable cycle of life, death, and rebirth, from which the soul longs to break free. Every year, Chic is nominated and fails to get in, only to be renominated again. Can Chic escape this cosmic turning of the wheel this year? I hope so. Modern dance music owes them a considerable debt of gratitude. Along with Kraftwerk and James Brown, they constitute a kind of holy trinity of rap sampling.

5. Kraftwerk: Have you noticed that every year since 2013, either Yes or Kraftwerk has been nominated- but never on the same ballot? Although they exist in different genres, both bands have a reputation for being cerebral, prodigiously skilled, and impossible to dance to. Last year was Yes’s turn, and to my dismay, they didn’t get in. Kraftwerk, the #2 band on my Rock Hall Prospects list, should be up next if the trend holds.

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

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

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

9. The Cars: They were a surprise nominee last year, and got lots of positive buzz. Any other year, they probably would have sailed right in, but they were up against a hyper competitive ballot of other classic rock greats. The Cars have a little something for everybody: commercial success but also critical acclaim. They defied easy boundaries, incorporating new wave, power pop, and elements of punk and rockabilly. They were innovative, but not inaccessible. I think if they surface on the ballot again, they’d be a strong favorite.

10. The Zombies: There is some real momentum  behind The Monkees this year, with a great new album out and a tentative peace with its three surviving members. While we’ve seen some longstanding Rock Hall grudges like KISS, Rush, and Chicago dissolve in the last few years, I’m thinking the Monkees might still be a tough sell for the Nom Com. Instead, why not The Zombies? They are also touring, it’s original lineup has 4 of 5 members still alive, all of whom appear to be on good terms. Their album Odessey and Oracle is widely regarded as one of the best of the 60s, and a precursor to indie.  Just last year, they appeared at a panel commemorating the career of the Who with Stevie Van Zandt and Holly Robinson: both on the Nominating Committee. Indeed, they were nominated for the Class of 2014, but faced an extremely competitive ballot. The Zombies also have a good relationship with the Hall, which may redound to their benefit; they may be chosen over the Prefab Four not only because of their critical acclaim, but by simply wanting induction more.

11. Judas Priest: On the grounds of an unconvincing technicality, Rage Against the Machine is eligible this year. They released some demos in 1991, which makes them eligible, I guess, to be nominated in 2016 and inducted in 2017. Here’s what I think will happen: Tom Morello, who sits on the committee, will not recuse himself. I believe his character is such that he will say something like, “Oh geez…we don’t deserve it yet. It’s ridiculous to nominate us when many of the people who influenced us aren’t in yet.” And then he will make the case for the next metal band in the queue now that Deep Purple’s in: Judas Priest. Morello has spoken highly of them in the past, and even performed and collaborated with some of its members, and is in a good place to advocate on their behalf. Now, don’t get me wrong: Rage Against the Machine deserves to be in the Hall. But it should be 25 years after a *real* release.

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

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

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

15. The Shangri-Las: And now, my annual “Hail Mary” pass. For decades, the Shangri-Las have been like a secret handshake among rock experts: an easily overlooked girl group that had an influence that belied its limited body of work. While most girl groups projected a wholesome image, the Shangri-Las wore go-go boots and seriously looked like you shouldn’t mess with them. “Leader of the Pack” and “Remember (Walking in the Sand)” changed the sonic landscape of Top 40 and made more atmospheric and evocative records possible. They’ve influenced artists as diverse as Amy Winehouse, the New York Dolls, and Blondie. Arguably, they’ve had a greater influence on 21st century pop than any other girl group from their era. It’s not hard to see some rogue voice on the committee- maybe someone like Dave Marsh- make an unexpected case for them and persuading everyone else to go along.

So, those are my picks. Most artists are alive, and most bands are at relative peace with one another. Those who have passed away (2pac, Simone, some of the Shangri-Las) could command incredible tribute performances.  2 first-time eligible artists, 5 artists who were passed over for nomination, and 8 previously nominated artists. Is this list realistic? My instinct is that the actual list may have more R&B artists, but I couldn’t figure out which of them it would be! War? The Spinners? But there are four artists with at least one inductable female member (King, The Shangri-Las, Simone, the singers from Chic). Given that this ballot will be released a few weeks before the U.S. potentially elects a female president, this stronger (but not quite equal) girl power on the ballot will have deeper resonance.

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

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

I also suspect, for whatever it’s worth, that we’ll see maybe Sister Rosetta Tharpe as an Early Influence and The Revolution get a Musical Excellence Award.

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Back in May, I posted my preliminary slate of predictions for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s nominees, in anticipation of the Rock Hall’s choices being revealed in early autumn.  The winners among these nominees will probably be published in December, and those artists will eventually be inducted as the Class of 2016.  What follows is essentially a reblogging of my earlier post, adding some new considerations where relevant, taking out some extraneous comments, and changing two of my fifteen picks.

Since my original post, we’ve had a couple of high-profile deaths in the Rock world, some of which impact my choices, but even more substantively, there has been a major overhaul within the Nominating Committee.  It seems as though around 16 members of the Nominating Committee were let go, leaving a core of perhaps 28 members.  My fellow Rock Hall watchers, especially Charles Crossley, Jr. and Neil Walls, did some great investigative work to piece together who was cut, including Bob Hilburn, Arthur Levy, Claudia Perry, and Roy Trakin.  The initial journalism on this development suggested that the committee on early rock and roll was decimated.  Certainly, those who were let go are older, whiter, and less institutionally tied to the Rolling Stone magazine hierarchy that dominates the induction process.  It isn’t unreasonable to guess that we will see even fewer 50s and early 60s acts than before, and the recent tilt toward 80s and 90s acts that dominated last year’s ballot will probably continue unimpeded.  Roger Friedman believes that Jann Werner wants to trim down the eligibility from 25 to 20 years after an artist’s release, but given Friedman’s slapdash journalism style, as well as the logistical problems of Tupac, Smashing Pumpkins, Mariah Carey, Beck, Rage Against the Machine, Radiohead, Biggie, and Pearl Jam all becoming eligible at once, makes me very skeptical.  For now, I have to assume that the autumn slate of nominees will be, as customary, 15 artists, all of whom released their first record at least 25 years ago.

1.  Nine Inch Nails:  NIN made it on the ballot during their first year of eligibility.  Lots of people thought they would get in, and they even placed second in the Rock Hall’s online fan ballot.  And yet, they didn’t make it; interestingly, out of the five winners on the fan ballot, they were the only ones who fell short among the actual voting committee.  It is likely that they will make a return appearance.

2.  Deep Purple: Many people were shocked when Deep Purple wasn’t on last years’ ballot, since they made it each of the two years prior.  If they had been nominated, they very well might have gotten in, spared from having to compete with popular hard rock acts Heart (2013) and KISS (2014).   We’ve arrived at a point where Deep Purple needs to get into Cleveland pronto.  The “Not in the Hall of Fame” site lists them as the single biggest Rock Hall snub, and there is an immense backlog of hard rock acts like Iron Maiden and Judas Priest that probably won’t have a realistic shot until Deep Purple is in.  Robert Hilburn is a known opponent of Deep Purple, so his dismissal from the Nom Com could help their chances.

3.  Yes: So, my theory last year that they had actually gotten voted in for the Class of 2014 but could not attend because of touring commitments was probably spectacularly wrong. But that doesn’t make Yes any less deserving.  Sadly, Chris Squire, the workmanlike bassist who was the only consistent member of the Yes lineup through their 45+ year history, died earlier this summer after a battle with leukemia.  It’s a shame; Squire deserved to see his band inducted while living.  Hopefully, Yes (one of my father-in-law’s favorite bands) will be able to reunite for a great tribute performance in Squire’s honor if nominated and voted in.

4.  The Meters:  This funky New Orleans outfit is unknown to many casual rock and roll fans, but their respect in the music industry is resolute and enduring.  They have appeared on the ballot four times before, including twice in the last three years.  Clearly, some influential folks are pulling strings for the Neville brothers and their cohorts.  Out of all the picks, this is the one I’m most iffy about- this spot could just as easily have gone to War.  Their appearance here is more of a reflection of my pessimistic belief that the ballot will include a few acts that just shouldn’t be in.  But R&B and/or funk will be represented.  You can count on it.

5.  Sonic Youth: The Rock Hall has really been struggling with an amorphous category that one might call post-punk or proto-alternative acts: edgier Gen-X mood music that dwells on disillusionment and eschewing melody for authenticity.  Someone from that world shows up on just about every ballot, but ends up falling short.  Last time, it was The Smiths.  The year before The Replacements, and a couple years earlier The Cure.  My own opinion is that The Cure are best qualified to take this spot, but my guess is that the Nom Com will finally settle on Sonic Youth, a name that’s been batted around for years.  Sonic Youth was only slightly less significant than The Cure, and was the hip 15-year-old babysitter to a lot of alternative acts when they were little kids, if that metaphor makes sense.  The Hall will be under (well-warranted) pressure to induct more women, and Kim Gordon’s presence will parry this criticism.  Gordon’s recent book, Girl In A Band, will also generate some chatter that will help them.

6.  Warren Zevon: Come on now, we know this routine.  There’s a singer-songwriter every year, and on his or her merits, it seems like their case for induction is shaky.  But they always make it in the end somehow.  (I’m sure you’ve met the last several models: Bill Withers, Cat Stevens, Randy Newman, Donovan, Tom Waits, Laura Nyro…)  While I’d like to see Carole King get this spot, Zevon has a strong chance this year.  Retiring late night host David Letterman has expressed his wish to see one of his favorite guests in the Hall, and where Letterman goes, Paul Shaffer is never far behind.

7.  NWA:  It’s clear that Toure and Questlove are committed to getting NWA in.  Last year, a lot of folks- including myself- thought they would pull it off, but it was not to be.  With a biopic of the group out in the theatres, and the ceremony in 2016 held in L.A. (within drive-by shooting distance of Compton), it is tough to see how NWA doesn’t make it back onto the ballot.  I am not a fan of their violence and misogyny (two social problems that are by no means limited to rap music; go listen to Nugent sometime if you doubt me.)    But with continuing police violence and discrimination against the black community dominating the news daily, “F— The Police” will keep resonating with the public.  Recently, Dr. Dre has started making some new music, and rumors of a reunion tour are starting to spread, adding to the buzz around their name.

8.  Chic: I feel so bad for Chic.  They have now been nominated nine times for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, more than any other artist except for soul legend Solomon Burke.  Nile Rodgers’ battle with cancer couldn’t muster enough sympathy to take them over the edge, nor could the spectacular success of Rodgers-produced “Get Lucky.”  Chic- or rather, Rodgers and assorted friends- have some new music out this year, but whether this will be enough remains anybody’s guess.  Chic is also a band more well loved by music historians than the general public: they earned less than 2% of the votes in the Hall’s official online fan ballot.

9.  J. Geils Band:  It took four tries, but Jann Werner finally shoe-horned the Paul Butterfield Blues Band into the Hall of Fame last year.  I don’t wish PBBB ill, but I think they leapfrogged over many more deserving and widely respected acts.  My guess is that PBBB’s successful induction will only encourage the Nom Com’s bad habits, and they will pick another Werner-sanctioned blues outfit filled with white boys.  (Rest assured that they will be nominated on the grounds of their earlier blues efforts, not 80s hits like “Centerfold.”)  The fact that Peter Wolf inducted PBBB this year is a pretty straightforward signal that we could see J. Geils Band return to the ballot for the fourth time after a few years’ absence.

10.  The Spinners: I originally had Big Star at this spot; Holly George-Warren is on the committee and recently wrote a biography of their tragic frontman, Alex Chilton.  Instead, I’m playing it safe.  The Spinners have been on two of the last three ballots, and several of their partisans survived the culling, including Questlove, Metallica manager Cliff Burnstein, and Dave Marsh.  (Read Marsh’s book of Rock Lists where he pontificates on the best records released each year.  There’s a Spinners single listed nearly annually throughout the 1970s.)

11.  Wille Nelson:  On the Dan Patrick Show, Rock Hall president Greg Harris was asked which uninducted artists deserved to be in the Hall.  Harris demured at first and dodged around the question, but the hosts kept badgering him.  The closest Harris got to an answer was an offhand mention of Willie Nelson.  Additionally, Seymour Stein has led a push for more country artists in the Hall.  Nelson has been racking up the accolades this year, with a heavy presence at the Grammys and a well-received autobiography.  There is precedent for the Hall putting in country artists who were often duet partners and collaborators with rock and rollers; just look at Johnny Cash and Bonnie Raitt.  And temperamentally, the Red Headed Stranger’s outlaw persona, Farm Aid activism, and egregious use of pot make him a good fit with the qualities the Rock Hall values; he has always been a figure more at home in Woodstock than the Opry.  There will be pressure to induct the 81-year-old singer while he is still among the living, and he’s never had a better chance to make the Rock Hall than this year.

12.  Ben E. King:   Ben E. King or Joe Cocker?  They are probably the two biggest solo artists to have died in the past year.  I doubt both will get nominated.  I’m pretty sure one of them will.  While my gut says “Joe Cocker,” all the tangible evidence points to King.  Springsteen and U2 performed “Stand By Me” in the wake of his death, and they have direct lifelines to the Nominating Committee.  The older guys on the Nom Com will remember his career fondly, and the younger folks will still be familiar enough with his catalog to give some sympathy-support.  Besides, King wrote at least some of his hit songs, and Cocker didn’t.  In fact, you’d have to go all the way back to 2003 and the Righteous Brothers to find the last time a white male interpretive singer (e.g. someone who didn’t generally write his/their own material) was inducted into the Hall of Fame.  And between Lou Reed, Peter Gabriel, all four Beatles, and all four members of CSNY among many others, heaven knows that the Rock Hall loves having new members into its so-called Clyde McPhatter Club of multiple inductees.  (Like McPhatter, King is already inducted as a member of the Drifters.)

13.  Smashing Pumpkins: This is my second change to my original post: an artist who became eligible for the first time this year, and displaces MC5 on my list.  Smashing Pumpkins were just too big in the 1990s and too influential to ignore.  The Rock Hall tends to pick at least one first-year-eligible act every year, and Smashing Pumpkins takes that crown, beating out Mariah Carey, Alice in Chains, and A Tribe Called Quest.  They don’t have ~quite~ the same historical significance as other acts honored with a nomination their first year out, which tend to be in the conversation for “100 Greatest Rock and Roll Artists Ever” (think Nirvana or Green Day or or Guns N Roses or even The Beastie Boys for recent examples.)  But given the Nominating Committee’s statistically younger demographics, and the undeniable trend toward shepherding 90s acts into the Hall, I am persuaded to include them on my list.

14.  Peter, Paul & Mary:  And now, finally, we come to- quite appropriately- my “Hail Mary” prediction, the most far-fetched selection on my list.  When Bob Dylan gave a speech at Musi-cares on his career, he singled out the trio for characteristically back-handed praise: “I didn’t usually think of myself as writing songs for others to sing, but it was starting to happen. And it couldn’t have happened with a better group. They took a song of mine that I’d recorded before that was buried on one of my early records (‘Blowin’ in the Wind’), and they turned it into a hit song. Not the way I would have done it — they straightened it out. But since then hundreds of people have recorded it. I don’t think that would have happened if it wasn’t for them. They definitely started something for me.”  Tom Morello was a performer at the event, so hopefully, he was paying attention to Dylan’s sage words.  But more than this, PP&M have been getting some high-profile attention lately.  In 2014, a two-years-behind-schedule retrospective for their 50th anniversary was published, with no less a figure than Secretary of State John Kerry writing the foreword.  What’s more, the Rock Hall summer film series is showing Festival!, a documentary on the great folk festivals of the 1960s, and the description of the film gives special attention to Peter, Paul & Mary, as well as Joan Baez (another artist I considered.)  To continue the momentum in their favor, the recent series of 50th anniversaries from the Freedom Struggle reminds us all of the courage and commitment the three of them showed, having performed at the March on Washington, and later speaking out against the Vietnam War and Apartheid.  And for most Rock Hall voters, left-wing activism never hurt anyone’s chances.  If I am reading these tea leaves correctly, all this amounts to the clearest chance a pure 60s folk act has had in a long time.

15.  Janet Jackson:  So far, we are missing one thing: a showstopper, a headliner.  No Rock Hall induction ceremony is complete without one, especially now that there is an expensive contract with HBO to honor.  It’s got to be Janet’s year.  My friends over at the Induct Janet social media campaign have continued to fight the good fight.  They have made sound arguments and politely but persistently lobbied musical critics and Nom Com members to recognize Miss Jackson’s contributions to 80s and 90s R&B and dance music.  Given how most online campaigns to induct certain artists are angry, barely literate screeds in ALL CAPS about the Nom Com’s bias and ignorance, their tact and dignity stand out.  Jackson’s chances are given a boost by her recent announcement that a new album and tour are in the works; this will be no nostalgia nomination, but a pick for an active, working artist.  Janet deserves to be in, and at any rate, it is really weird that Tito Jackson is in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and Janet is not.

— Unfortunately, there were some compelling choices I had to leave off, including the aforementioned Big Star, Joe Cocker, and MC5.  The Eurythmics have a good chance, especially given Annie Lennox’s standout performance at the Grammys.  And the removal of several old fogeys makes a second rap or hip-hop artist likely, probably L.L. Cool J or De La Soul.  In an effort to get more deserving women into the Hall, Joan Baez could be the folk nominee and perhaps recent Kennedy Center honoree Carole King could be nominated as a performer.  If so, King could become the first person inducted into the Hall in two separate categories, since she’s already in as a non-performing songwriter.

So, there’s my 15 picks.  This covers most of the bases, in terms of sub-genres of rock and roll, different eras, and racial representation.  Funk, folk, dance, singer-songwriter, R&B, classic rock, prog, alternative, country, and the blues are all represented here.  Given this excellent infographic on how few women are in the Rock Hall, my list includes five artists with at least one woman on board: Janet Jackson; Peter, Paul & Mary (Mary Travers), Sonic Youth (Kim Gordon), Smashing Pumpkins (D’Arcy Wretsky), and Chic (the various female singers they’ve employed over the years.)  6 of the 15 are artists of color.  9 have been nominated before, although this honor ranges from Ben E. King (last nominated during the Reagan administration) and Nine Inch Nails (nominated during their/Reznor’s first year of eligibility in the fall of 2014.)  5 of the 15 peaked artistically after 1980, though, a number that seems too low to me and has me worried that my own list is too indebted to the 1970s.  Another problem I foresee is that my choices smell a bit like a funeral parlor: between Ben E. King, Warren Zevon, Chris Squire, Mary Travers, Bernard Edwards, Easy E, and most of the Spinners, there’s plenty of great musicians who didn’t live long enough to take part in their induction.  The Hall may opt for more living artists.

Let me know your thoughts in the comments section!  I’d be curious to know: which 5 artists would you vote for if this was the actual ballot?  If it were me, I’d say: Janet Jackson; Peter Paul & Mary; Deep Purple; Chic; and either Yes or The Spinners for that fifth spot.  Eh, probably Yes, if only to pave the way for the Moody Blues or Jethro Tull next year.

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I’ve been, at times, a relentless critic of the Hall in Cleveland.  I have challenged them over poor decisions (Laura Nyro, Gene Pitney, Del Shannon, Percy Sledge, The Moonglows), but I am happy to give credit where credit is due, even to a mysterious corporate institution for commemorating something uncontrollable and critic-proof like rock music.

Let me start out by saying that this is an exceptionally strong ballot– the strongest, perhaps, since the the 90s, when The Allman Brothers and The Band were still waiting their turn to be inducted.  16 nominees, rather than the customary 15, were put forth, of which 5 or 6 are usually inducted into the Rock Hall in Cleveland.  Let’s explore those 16:

Nirvana:  Wow.  Um…these guys were a bolt out of the blue in the late 80s and early 90s, are credited with inventing grunge music  and single-handedly steering a credible course away from their dreadful contemporaries like New Kids on the Block and Bananarama.  Angsty and desirous of success without commercial compromise, they burnt out quickly with Kurt Cobain’s suicide, but never faded away.

Paul Butterfield Blues Band:  I frankly have no idea who they are or why they are being inducted.  It looks like they are a pet favorite of Rolling Stone magazine founder Jann Werner, but if you have to explain to anyone who these guys are, they probably don’t belong in the hall of fame.  This is the second or third time they have been nominated.

KISS:  With gaudy grease makeup, and pyrotechnics aplenty, KISS became rock’s most famous live act.  They only had a couple of hits actually chart, but that was never really the point– they have a dedicated fan base that has stayed with them for decades.  While Nirvana conscientiously eschewed selling out (Cobain even wore a “Corporate Magazines Still Suck” t-shirt on the cover of Rolling Stone), KISS did this with shameless abandon.  Lunch boxes, comic books– you name it, and KISS was willing to put their likeness on it.  Critics hate them, but if Rush can get in, all bets are off on those grounds.

Yes:  Progressive rock virtuosos will sing the praise of Yes.  While their only big hit, “Owner of a Lonely Heart” came deep into the 80s, their 1970s albums are as complex as anything, with key changes and time signature changes along thick layers of solos.  They are proficient, even virtuoso, musicians, but do they lack the soulful expression that the Rock Hall has historically valued?

Chic: Soul and funk infused disco impresarios, Chic’s songs “Le Freak” and “Good Times” gave some artistic and creative credibility to rock music’s unfairly maligned sub-genre.

The Meters:  Not terribly familiar with them, but a funky African-American band from all accounts.  Seriously, though, why them and not War?

L.L. Cool J:  LL helped rap become socially acceptable in a way that NWA most certainly did not.  He has been nominated before, but to no avail.

Linda Ronstadt:  Her former backup musician Don Henley loudly complained that she had been excluded from the hall.  And then she announced that because of her Parkinson’s Disease, she will likely never sing in public again.  Although not great as a songwriter, her covers showed immense creativity in merging pop, rock, country, and soul.  You can make a case that she was the most important woman in popular music in the 1970s.

Deep Purple:  These guys were essential to the development of hard rock– but are best known for the 8-note riff that begins “Smoke on the Water”, nearly every guitarist’s first song.

Link Wray:  An early rock and roll instrumentalist whose name, frankly, I had never heard until he was nominated.

Cat Stevens: One of the great singer-songwriters of the early 1970s, before leaving pop music for nearly 30 years after converting to Islam.  Countless indie artists look to him as an inspiration, and his “First Cut is the Deepest” is one of the most covered songs of all time.

Peter Gabriel:  The former Genesis frontman went on to a lucrative solo career, and was an acknowledged pioneer in both making world music commercially viable and making music videos into an art form, most notably in “Sledgehammer.”

NWA:  Considered by some to be the progenitors of gangsta rap, Straight Outta Compton was a brickbat hurled at suburban ignorance of inner-city life.   Their most well-known song, “F— da Police” resonated with many in the aftermath of the Rodney King beating and the L.A. riots, while earning public scorn from then-President George H. W. Bush.   NWA was nominated last year for the first time, but their contemporaries, Public Enemy, ended up getting inducted instead.

The Zombies:  One of the most underrated 1960s groups, you’ve probably nonetheless heard some of their radio staples: “Tell Her No”, “She’s Not There”, and “Time of the Season.”  What you probably haven’t heard is their fantastic Odyssey and Oracle album, a piece that has aged remarkably well for a late 60s psychedelic record, and whose music wouldn’t sound out of place on a Belle & Sebastian record today.

The Replacements:  Although they did not have very many hit songs, they are a favorite among the musically-literate for pointing the way toward grunge and alternative music.

Hall & Oates:  You would be hard-pressed to find more consistent hit-makers in the early 1980s.  Finally, their fans have penetrated the nominating committee, including Jimmy Fallon’s bandleader Questlove, who conspicuously wore a Hall & Oates t-shirt to the nominating meeting.   Will their radio-friendly blue-eyed soul hits like “Kiss on My List” and “Sara Smile” get them inducted?  Only three eligible artists with more top ten hits than these guys aren’t in (Janet Jackson, Whitney Houston, and…wait for it…Chicago.)

First of all, let me say again that this is a remarkably strong ballot, and much more praiseworthy than I anticipated.  There are plenty of acts who have been nominated before, several terrific first-time nominees, and, well, it wouldn’t be the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame if there weren’t some pet projects and head-scratchers in there too.  So, who gets in, or who should get in?  Well, if I were just picking my five favorite artists from the above, that’s easy: Cat Stevens, The Zombies, Hall & Oates, Linda Ronstadt, and Peter Gabriel.

If I were able to vote for the nominees (each voter gets to pick five), on the grounds of historicity, quality, and longstanding influence, I would have to go with: Nirvana, Yes, Cat Stevens, Linda Ronstadt, and Peter Gabriel.

-But if I were to pick the five or six who will actually get voted in?  Well, there is a calculus here, and to help us figure this out, it is instructive to look at the last several lists of inductees to guide our choices.  There are permeable patterns which suggest who will get in– if you explore the past few years, several patterns and groupings emerge.

i.  The last two hall of fame ballots have seen rap artists get in- Beastie Boys in 2012, and Public Enemy in 2013.  Now, this has raised hackles, and numerous critics have voiced, not without reason, their opinion that rap has no place in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, in the same way that, say, Bobby Darin or the Pretenders have no place in a theoretical Rap Hall of Fame.  The trouble, though, is that nobody can quite decide what rock music encompasses, and every person’s definition of what is or is not rock and roll can be likened to Potter Stewart’s famously subjective definition of pornography: “I know it when I see it.”  And once you set the precedent, you are stuck with it.  Putting in Johnny Cash opens the door for more country artists.  Letting Miles Davis in opens the jazz floodgates, and so on.  Like it or not, we have not seen the last of inductees from the rap genres, and you can probably expect Queen Latifah, Salt N Pepa, Dr. Dre (as a solo artist or producer), and Eminem to all be inducted when they become eligible.

ii.  The Rock Hall has made an honest to goodness attempt to include more women recently.  Not necessarily the women I would have chosen (i.e.: Laura Nyro), but the last four years have seen Heart, Donna Summer, Nyro, ABBA, and Darlene Love (who provided the vocals for many records credited to The Crystals in the early 60s).  It is likely that at least one female artist or predominately female group will get in.

iii.  Along similar lines, we can expect at least one, probably two, black artists.   To its credit, there has never been, in the history of the Rock Hall, a whitewash class, with the odd exception of 2012.   (And even this can be explained, since that was the year a number of backup groups, such as Smokey Robinson’s Miracles, and James Brown’s Famous Flames, were retroactively inducted with their respective bandleaders.)  The Hall has been diligent, even over-diligent, about acknowledging the importance of more African-American-heavy elements of rock: early blues greats, the doo-wop groups, Motown, and to a certain extent disco.  (I wish more Philly soul groups like the Chi-Lites and the Spinners were in, but oh well…).  Consider this– in 2013, black artists were 3 of the 6, 1 of 5 in 2011, 1 of 5 in 2010, and 3 of 5 in 2009.

iv.  The Hall has also realized the immense popular animus against them, and is slowly making its peace with the greater public and with armchair rock critics who complain about The Cure or Bachman-Turner Overdrive getting snubbed (and I have surely been among them).  The internet has succeeded, generally, in calling out lots of terrible choices they made in the past.  Consider, for example, the truly dreadful 2009 inductees: Little Anthony & The Imperials, Jeff Beck, Bobby Womack, Metallica, and Run-DMC.  Um…what?  Out of the whole lot, Metallica was the only one who seemed like a mortal lock.  Since then, we’ve seen the hall include long-time snubs (Neil Diamond, Genesis, and most importantly for net-roots activists, Rush, with its massive internet fan base.)  Everyone has some artist they love that isn’t in the Hall of Fame, but slowly, some of the more egregious snubs are getting in, or at least receiving nominations.

Keeping all this in mind, I would venture to guess (in rough order of likelihood) that the following will be inducted:

1.  Nirvana:  This could very well be the last group that unquestionably deserves to get in during their first year of eligibility.  Nirvana started the grunge movement, and set the direction for rock music for the rest of the 1990s.  I just don’t see any outcome where Nirvana does not get in.

2.  Linda Ronstadt:  Did you notice that of the 16 nominees, only one of them was principally female?  (Yes, I know Chic had some female singers, but come on, so did Lynyrd Skynyrd).  The Hall has, understandably, come under scrutiny for being a sausage fest sometimes, and a number of its early induction classes, including the inaugural 1987 class, were all male.  As noted above, this has changed in recent years, and this trend will continue.  Ronstadt’s illness will help, but her fantastic career, sterling voice, and genre-hopping albums will secure her a place in the Hall.

3.  Chic:  The band’s principal member, Nile Rodgers, has had a few banner years recently, with high-profile collaborations with Daft Punk and Adam Lambert.  Moreover, the group has been nominated 7 or 8 times, I think.  And once in a great while, an artist who is perennially nominated will be voted in, just to shut their advocates up and make some room for new blood next year.  That, after all, is how we got Solomon Burke and Laura Nyro in– voters just got sick of seeing them.  Between these two factors, Chic is in.

4.  NWA:  For reasons stated above, rap is not going away.  With few voting members likely to take umbrage with their anti-law enforcement past, the band’s historical importance in bringing about gangsta rap will likely make their nomination happen.  I suspect, though, that the Rock Hall will take a year or two after before nominating another rapper.  At this point, the A-list of historic rap acts remotely connected to rock and roll is exhausted.  Make no mistake, however: rap will continue to play a part in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

5.  KISS:  With a deal in the works to broadcast from HBO, the Rock Hall will be under pressure to bring out the big guns, and KISS can do that– and their induction will quiet some complaints about the Rock Hall’s bias.  For another year anyway.  The powers that be cannot avoid the chance to end a ratings-killing induction ceremony with “I Want to Rock and Roll All Night.”  But I am a little nervous here– many professional musicians and rock critics, who make up most of the voters, hate KISS with a great passion.

6.*  Hall & Oates:   With a list of nominees this good, I think it is very likely we will see six, rather than the customary five, inductees.  If that is the case, I suspect that choice #6 will be these guys.  Questlove’s advocacy, and even the parody group Garfunkel & Oates, have made this duo visible again.  There’s no good reason for keeping them out unless you are opposed to commercial success.

A few more words– a couple of these nominees are clearly pet projects of one guy, whether it is E-Street Band alum Steve Van Zandt, or late-night emcee Paul Schaffer, or Jann Werner– and I think the Meters, Wray, and Paul Butterfield all fall into those categories.  I doubt very much they will be chosen.  LL Cool J is also unlikely– if one rap act gets in, its NWA, and Cool J just made a fool of himself with the self-fulfillng prophecy that was “The Accidental Racist.”  I’d love to see The Zombies get in, but if the votes weren’t there when Procol Harum was nominated last year, I just don’t foresee it.  If KISS doesn’t make it, Deep Purple will probably take their slot, and if Hall & Oates doesn’t get in, my guess is Cat Stevens.  We usually get one singer-songwriter per year (Donovan, Randy Newman, and Tom Waits, the last three years), so it might be Yusuf’s turn.  The others?  I suspect Yes and Peter Gabriel will get in eventually, but this is not their year on a crowded ballot.  And Gabriel is already inducted with Genesis, so there’s no urgency there.  The Replacements?  Why put in the guys who led to Nirvana when you can just induct Nirvana instead?

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