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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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On Tuesday morning (well, Tuesday night for me, since I’m in Singapore) the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame unveiled its list of nominees for the Class of 2017. Although Troy Smith of the Cleveland Plain Dealer had telegraphed that the slate was very good and quite diverse, music fans across the world were taken by surprise to find that 19 nominees were put forth. This is more than any year since the Rock Hall’s foundational years, when the 1960s A-listers weren’t all in yet.

In case you haven’t heard, the nominees this year included: Bad Brains, Chic, Pearl Jam, Tupac Shakur, The Zombies, Janet Jackson, Yes, The Cars, Chaka Khan, Joan Baez, Joe Tex, Depeche Mode, Kraftwerk, Steppenwolf, MC5, J. Geils Band, Journey, Electric Light Orchestra, and Jane’s Addiction.

In the weeks ahead, I’ll run down the nominees one by one, offering my thoughts on who is worthy and who is not; who will get in and who probably won’t. But for now, let me just sketch out some of my first impressions on this fascinating list.

  • As others have already noted, there’s a little something for everybody here. Lots of different sub-genres from folk to punk to R&B made it, alongside some classic rock favorites.
  • I did notice one particular trend. With the exception of perennial Chic, every other artist who was on the last two ballots didn’t make it on to this one. In this case, that left Nine Inch Nails, The Smiths, and The Spinners in the lurch.
  • Congratulations, #InductJanet. You’ve run a great, classy, persuasive campaign that is still bearing fruit. I was skeptical that Jackson would be nominated, given her pregnancy and the possibility she might still be recovering when it’s time to perform. I’m delighted that the Rock Hall did the right thing and nominated her regardless.
  • The Rock Hall showed uncommon discipline this year; none of the names leaked or got out early, and they have replaced their robot-infested poll from last year with a new system requiring sign-in and limiting votes to one per day. It’s still possible, I suppose to get around it, and many aren’t happy that the vote totals are now secret, but I’m less bothered by it. It’s a step in the right direction.
  • In terms of our predictions, this made fools out of a great many of us. Despite 19 selections, I only got six right (Pearl Jam, Tupac, The Cars, Kraftwerk, Chic, and The Zombies). All of these were fairly obvious except for The Zombies, who I think I was the only Monitor to pick.
  • Also, a lot of artists we thought would make the ballot didn’t. Aside from NIN, The Smiths, and The Spinners, other frequently predicted artists who didn’t make the cut included: The Cure, The Monkees, Moody Blues, and Judas Priest.
  • Tom Lane correctly got nine (!!) predictions, while the rest of us tended to bottom out at six (Charles Crossley was another exception; he got eight correct.) Tom was especially prescient in naming Joan Baez.
  • This list is slightly (but only slightly) less America-centric than other years. There’s four British acts (ELO, Yes, The Zombies, and Depeche Mode), one Canadian act (Steppenwolf…Guess Who must be pissed right now), and out Teutonic overlords in Kraftwerk.
  • How does this connect to my Top 100 Rock Hall Prospects list? Remember- one of my rules was that each act must have been passed over at least once, so Pearl Jam and Tupac didn’t qualify at the time I wrote it. Other than that, three acts are from my top 10 (Kraftwerk, Janet, and Yes), and five others were in the top 30 (Journey, The Cars, Joan Baez, The Zombies, and Chic). Others placing on the list were Depeche Mode (#35), ELO (#46), Jane’s Addiction (#50), MC5 (#72), and Chaka Khan (#80). That leaves Bad Brains, Steppenwolf, J. Geils Band, and Joe Tex on the “bubbling under” chart. (Although if I had to do my list over, I’d include Bad Brains and maybe kick out Los Lobos purely out of spite, since they didn’t play “La Bamba” when I saw them this summer.)
  • Questlove’s fingerprints aren’t really on the ballot this year. There’s a couple acts he’s probably supportive of- notably Janet and Chaka Khan- but no act he’s on-the-record crazy about, like War, The Spinners, De La Soul, or A Tribe Called Quest. Did he miss the meeting this year?
  • It’s interesting that the Hall so prominently displayed the categories of inductees on their announcement page. It makes me wonder if we might have an Early Influence, Non-Performer, and Musical Excellence award. For the record, I’m going to call Sister Rosetta Tharpe for Influence, Brian Eno or Rick Rubin for Non-Performer, and The Revolution (as in Prince and…) for Musical Excellence.

So that’s where things stand presently. I’ll have a lot more to say soon, with formal rankings of the artists and deeper riffs in terms of what all this says about the Rock Hall and where it is going. For now, go vote for your favorites at Rockhall.com and stay tuned!

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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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I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: I only have enough time and money for one vice and one expensive hobby, and I’m sticking with scotch and visiting Disney World, respectively. For this reason, I’m not exactly a prolific concert-goer. But when I found out that The Zombies were on tour again and were headed to Niagara Falls, a mere hour and a half from my summer residence in Rochester, I had to buy tickets for my wife and I.

The venue was actually really cool. I am reluctant to see shows in casinos because they tend to lean on artists to shorten the set, in hopes that patrons will spend some time at the roulette wheel before bedtime. That happened when I saw Crosby & Nash and Three Dog Night at casino showrooms. (Geez…that last sentence made me sound rather elderly. Did I mention I’m only 32?) Happily, we got a full-length show in a venue called The Bear’s Den at the Seneca Niagara Casino that sat less than 500 souls and was meant for close encounters with great musicians.

This post isn’t quite intended as a concert review, but it needs to be said that The Zombies put on a great show. Their musicianship and craftsmanship was on display from the beginning, starting the show with a largely forgotten A-side, “I Love You.” I was impressed by Colin Blunstone’s stage presence: he was probably the most gentle and soft-spoken frontman I have ever seen, but he owned it and never seemed to want for energy. His voice lost a lot of the breathiness that made songs like “Time of the Season” so memorable, but Blunstone’s learned some tricks to keep his range and sustain in great shape. Rod Argent- what can I say? He’s probably my favorite keyboard player in the rock and roll pantheon, and I made sure we got seats near stage right so I could watch him play. So much of the dense, church organ sound that we associated with 60s psychedelia comes from Argent and his contemporaries, so it was great to see a master perform his trade. The rest of the band was very solid, including 75-year-old bassist Jim Rodford, who is not only Argent’s cousin but a longtime touring member of The Kinks.

Their setlist was also top-notch; they played their three big hits that everybody knows, of course. But they also ventured into some lesser known singles, some deep tracks from their magnum opus Odessey and Oracle, a couple wisely chosen covers, a few tracks from Argent and Blunstone’s solo careers, and the requisite tracks songs off their new album. I appreciated that, unlike many artists from their era, they never resorted to cliche. None of that “I can’t hear you” schtick with the audience. None of that “they told us Niagara Falls really knows how to rock” nonsense. Instead, they told us of the stories behind their songs. And they told us why they matter.

In essence, The Zombies concert was an articulate, and ultimately persuasive, plea for inclusion in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. This was evident at the start when they were introduced as “Rock and Roll Hall of Fame nominees, The Zombies!” Now, my wife saw Chic in Singapore last November. They sure as hell weren’t introduced as “ten time Rock Hall nominees– Chic!” And most of Argent’s and Blunstone’s stories were keen to name-drop, pointing out people who had covered their material, or credited them as an influence, or who opined a favorable view of their music. During the show, they referenced Tom Petty, Dave Grohl, KISS, The Jam, Paul McCartney, Patti Labelle, and countless others. And they even stressed  how many indie artists credited them as an influence- and this is to an audience whose median age was probably in the early 60s, and whose demographics are not very indie-friendly. (I hasten to add that there were lots of under-40s there too, suggesting how well The Zombies have aged. Many of them were quite evidently admiring musicians.)

Essentially, The Zombies are one of the only artists from the 60s not in the Hall of Fame who really deserve to be there. They are on the Rock Hall’s radar, too. The band was nominated for the Class of 2014, perhaps partly on the back of an open letter they had written about how much they enjoyed their visit to the Rock Hall. Unfortunately, they didn’t get in– they were up against the most competitive ballot any of have seen for a long time, including Nirvana, Peter Gabriel, Yes, NWA, Linda Ronstadt, and KISS, among others. And I’m on record as a big fan and advocate of theirs: they were among my higher ranking Rock Hall Prospects when I explored worthy future additions to the Rock Hall.

This is all the more remarkable, given the band’s fairly limited output during their heyday. In their 60s’ prime, they only recorded one true studio album- their swansong, Odessey and Oracle. (Their other album, Begin Here, was essentially a compendium of singles and EP material, the Zombies equivalent of A Collection of Beatles Oldies.) That album happened to be one of the greats, one of Rolling Stone‘s 100 greatest albums actually. But their ticket was punched, historically, by the sheer volume of artists who were influenced by them. That, I think, is what elevates The Zombies beyond most of their British Invasion contemporaries like The Hollies or Herman’s Hermits or Gerry & the Pacemakers. Remember, The Zombies recorded the moody “She’s Not There” on the cusp of age 20, in 1964–when The Beatles were still recorded pop bonbons like “Eight Days A Week” and “Can’t Buy Me Love.” Instead, The Zombies experimented with minor keys, unusual modulations, and eventually psychedelic dreamscapes.

In the process, their inventiveness in the studio and jazzy psychedelia inspired their contemporaries, but eventually they became something of a grandfather to indie music. (Odessey and Oracle sold so poorly at first that it became the ultimate “I had this album before it was cool” record.) Charles Crossley, Jr., a Rock Hall watcher given to exhaustive research and record-keeping, lists the following artists as those who were inspired by The Zombies, or covered their songs, or collaborated with them in some way: Argent and Colin Blunstone, of course, as well as the Ventures, Love, Santana, the Bee Gees, Genesis, Electric Light Orchestra, Badfinger, Dinosaur Jr., Todd Rundgren, XTC, Matthew Sweet, Crowded House, the Beau Brummels, Procol Harum, Alan Parsons Project, Yo La Tengo, Eminem, the Monkees, the Modern Lovers, Dave Matthews Band, Sonny & Cher, Jonathan Richman, the Smithereens, the Left Banke, Aimee Mann, America, Dwight Twilley, DJ Shadow, the Shadows Of Knight, Belle & Sebastian, 10cc, the Posies, Gentle Giant, Vanilla Fudge, Supertramp, Family, Let’s Active, Boo Radleys, My Morning Jacket, the Youngbloods, Elliott Smith, the New Pornographers, the Beautiful South, the Shins, Ron Sexsmith, Spoon, Sufjan Stevens, Emitt Rhodes, Television Personalities, the Electric Prunes, Foo Fighters, 3rd Bass, Super Furry Animals, Eric Matthews, People, Game Theory, Smith, People, Strawberry Alarm Clock, Apples In Stereo, Neutral Milk Hotel, Juice Newton, the Young Fresh Fellows, Kid Frost, Miguel, the Nylons, Superdrag, Neko Case and Nick Cave (duet), OK Go, Os Mutantes, Joe Byrd & The Field Hippies, Jellyfish, the Sea And Cake, Deerhoof, Olivia Tremor Control, Beulah, the Fastbacks, the La’s, Blue Ash, the Clean, Michael Penn, Malcolm McLaren, the Explorers Club, Kurt Elling, Roy Wood of the Move, Robyn Hitchcock of the Soft Boys, Susannah Hoffs of the Bangles, Sneakers, Brent Bourgeois of Burgeois-Tagg, Blake Lewis and Girl Talk, among many others.

That’s quite the legacy, isn’t it? Again- note the indie angle between Yo La Tengo, New Pornographers, Belle & Sebastian, Elliott Smith, Neutral Milk Hotel, and many more. Yet, they also inspired rockers as diverse as Todd Rundgren to Santana. The Zombies, in their brief run, showed us all the possibilities when you marry atmosphere to melodicism. Their songs’ jazzy timing and unconventional keys made a group of musicians initially dismissed as stiff mods deserving of a second look. And a third look. Until they became a rare creature, indeed: a band the wider public is aware of, but whose work is well loved and a shared common currency among musicians. In the end, The Zombies punched above their weight, and mattered in the long run more than most of their contemporaries. With any luck the Rock Hall will grant this St. Albans band their wish, and let them into their halls. This will be their year. Took a long time to come.

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We only have three installments left, and this one will bring us up to the cusp of our top 20.  Although some of these artists are among our strongest contenders, amazingly only 3 have been nominated before.  This batch of artists is, as every batch of ten has been, an eclectic group: R&B, alternative, folk, the British Invasion, and classic rock are all represented.

ben e. king30.  Ben E. King:  How much should one or two sublime songs transform someone into a contender?  That’s the question attendant to any discussion on Ben E. King.  “Spanish Harlem” is still remembered fondly, and he had a string of R&B hits that extended well into the 1970s.  But at the end of the day, his credentials come down to three words: “Stand By Me.”  It is rightly one of the most well-loved songs of its time, and it’s been covered by so many artists I wouldn’t dream of even beginning to list them.  The song was inducted into the Library of Congress registry, and according to BMI, was the fourth-most played song of the 20th century.  There’s precedence for cases like King’s where a couple songs overshadowed a long and eclectic career.  Ultimately, both the Nom Com and the voters thought Bill Withers deserved to be in, and his case rested essentially on the nostalgic value of “Lean On Me” and “Ain’t No Sunshine.”  If King at #30 seems too high, consider this: there probably isn’t a rock and roll song as important as “Stand By Me” whose (eligible) singer isn’t in the Hall of Fame.  Unfortunately, since his death in the spring of 2015, the Nom Com had a great chance to nominate him last November and decided not to do so.  Although he was nominated once during the Rock Hall’s early years, he appears to be one more victim of the unspoken consensus to move beyond the 1950s and early 60s.

Joan Baez29.  Joan Baez:  In the beginning, there was Baez.  She played the guitar acceptably, and didn’t usually write her own music, but in the best folk tradition tinkered with songs, deconstructed them, rearranged them, and made them her own.  Of course, one man looms over her career, her former boyfriend Bob Dylan, whom Baez quietly encouraged and ushered into the Greenwich Village scene and into greatness.  Dylan more or less quit the social activism as soon as people started to, you know, look up to him for it.  He almost immediately shot back with tracks like “Ballad of a Thin Man” and “Maggie’s Farm” which blithely told the seekers of the Sixties to look elsewhere.  It wasn’t him, babe.  Baez, though, stayed with it- playing Woodstock, visiting Vietnam with a peace delegation, and supporting LGBT rights before it was cool.  Baez was even banned from playing in several South American countries in the 80s, for fear that she would inspire revolution and reform if she challenged the iron-fisted juntas that ruled at the time.  She was a voice of deep conscience connecting folk with what would eventually become known as soft rock.  Play her debut album from 1960, and you’ll find that it’s a near-masterpiece.  The pacing, the depth, nuance, and control make it something far from the wan Kingston Trio tracks of the same era.  What came after was even more special, from “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down” to “Diamonds and Rust” and “Sweet Sir Galahad.”  As one of popular music’s singular voices and a lynchpin of rock and roll’s engagement in the great questions of its era, Baez is one of the most important figures not yet inducted.

willie nelson28.  Willie Nelson: He has become such a cultural icon that we forget just how good the music actually is.  Often low-key, plaintive, and the very soul of expression, Willie Nelson never needed artifice to communicate with the public, just a song, a headband, and his faithful guitar, Trigger.  Nelson’s career, spanning well over 50 years, has been a touchstone in the close relationship shared between country and rock and roll.  The red-haired stranger has spent that time not only been building bridges between these two genres, but also speeding over that bridge in pimped-out tour bus smoking a $3,000 doobie.  His time in Austin in the late 60s could not have been more fortuitous, putting him in a Southern city with a burgeoning hippie scene.  It was the perfect place for him to cultivate the authentic and yet carefully crafted public persona that made him a household name.  Pick whichever Nelson you prefer: the early 60s Opry hand, the 1970s outlaw, the Farm Aid activist, or the 90s evergreen running afoul of the IRS but remaining a can’t-miss live act well into his old age.  When you look at his body of work, and how important that was for country-rock, his resume basically writes itself: “Always on my Mind,” “Mothers Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to be Cowboys” “Whiskey River,” “Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain,” “On the Road Again.”  If you think Willie Nelson isn’t rock and roll enough to be in the Hall of Fame, all I have to say is that I’m amazed you found my blog, Mr. Simmons.

sonic youth27.  Sonic Youth:  The last two times I tried to guess the Rock Hall’s annual ballot, I predicted a Sonic Youth nomination and was proven wrong both times.  But I remain unchanged in my belief that Sonic Youth could- and should- get nominated any year now, especially as those who came of age in the 80s gain a greater toehold on the nominating process.  Sonic Youth were kind of like the cool babysitters to lots of alternative, grunge, and other underground types when they were kids, if that makes sense.  Kim Gordon, Thurston Moore and company recorded a legendarium that defied easy categorization, with tracks like “Teenage Riot” and “Schizophrenia” that definitely weren’t pop, clearly weren’t metal, but were harder than most of what passed for alternative in those days.  They picked up where Velvet Underground and eventually Patti Smith left off, cribbed a bit of Big Star along the way, and developed their own deliberate, intense, and ultimately enveloping style that avoided easy hooks in favor of the experiential.  Jason Woodbury of the Phoenix New Times describes them this way: “Sonic Youth asserted their importance in introducing a whole generation of slacker kids to outsider music by using Spin and Rolling Stone as a pulpit for preaching the gospel of white noise, hardcore history, and experimental music.”  Sonic Youth created a form of music that was too cool for mainstream radio and content to be darlings of the underground.  Whatever indie was, and whatever it became, Sonic Youth helped make that happen.

tina turner26.  Tina Turner:  The question of including Tina Turner was a great philosophical puzzle for me.  She was inducted once already as Tina Turner, alongside Ike in the early 90s.  I thought, “does she deserve another induction as Tina Turner?”  It’s one thing if Croz, for example, gets in once as a Byrd and again thru CSN, but what about getting inducted twice under one’s own name?  And then I remembered the precedent where Paul Simon got inducted twice under a similar aegis, once via Simon & Garfunkel and again through his solo work.  So, that settles it, at least for me.  It’s time to induct Tina Turner for her own solo career.  Let’s get her an induction where her name isn’t resting beside an egotistical and sullen bully like Ike who beat her and bruised her and tormented her, even as they made some of the great records of the 1960s and 70s together.  Tina Turner was one of the very greatest rock and roll performers, with a commanding stage presence that suffered no fools nor any second-raters.  She pulled off the greatest mid-life renaissance by any artist I’ve seen- male or female- with a string of 1980s hits that included “Private Dancer,” “The Best,” and the immortal “What’s Love Got to Do With It.”  Turner’s career is so lauded and so decorated that there’s a wikipedia page devoted to the awards she’s received.  Among them are seven Grammy Awards since her breakup with Ike, and placement in Rolling Stone‘s very competitive 100 Immortals list.

The Zombies25.  The Zombies:  Let’s do the British Invasion right by getting in the last band from that era whose place is the Hall is beyond reasonable dispute: the Zombies.  These Hempstead boys learned all the requisite tricks from The Beatles and The Animals but added their own distinctive flavor that made them stand out by a head among most of their other rivals.  Namely, the electric piano of Rod Argent and their tendency to write songs in darker, more melancholic minor keys, which showed a sophistication utterly foreign to, say, Gerry & the Pacemakers or Billy J. Kramer & the Dakotas.  While their early hits like “She’s Not There” showed a great deal of promise, their pinnacle turned out to be their swansong.  Odessey and Oracle was one of the very finest albums to come out of the 1960s.  You probably know its evocative psychedelic hit “Time of the Season” but if you aren’t already familiar with them, give the celebratory post-incarceration “Care of Cell 44” a listen.  Or else the music-hall flavored “This Will Be Our Year” or the achingly beautiful “Changes.”  Recorded at virtually the same time as Sgt. Pepper, it showed how rock and roll could be ethereal, symphonic, and transcendent in ways that had not been charted before.  Like the fictional monsters from which they derived their name, The Zombies don’t seem to die; they were on tour last year and their influence on low-key, moody indie artists stand out as one of their chief legacies.

nine inch nails24.  Nine Inch Nails: Like Eno at #33, Nine Inch Nails have challenged the sonic landscape of rock and roll.  The late David Bowie said this about them: “Trent [Reznor]’s music, built as it is on the history of industrial and mechanical sound experiments, contains a beauty that attracts and repels in equal measure: Nietzsche’s “God is dead” to a nightclubbing beat.  And always lifted, at the most needy moment, by a tantalizing melody.”  As some have pointed out to me before, Nine Inch Nails didn’t invent industrial–artists like Throbbing Gristle and Cabaret Voltaire have that distinction. But Nine Inch Nails took the genre further, made it more popular without losing anything that made it great.  Annie Zalesky wrote that “more than any band, NIN is determined to haul rock ‘n’ roll into the modern age,” with impeccable theming and atmosphere buttressing often dark and nihilistic lyrics.  NIN passes the “excellence” test, and convincingly used industrial pioneers’ sound with elements of metal, soul, alternative, and funk that resulted in “Hurt” and “Closer.”  Few took more time than Reznor in giving his music the right “atmosphere,” a process that some have called “sound collages” that set the mood even better than his pain-wracked lyrics.  Resting comfortably within Rolling Stone magazine’s 100 Immortals, it’s clear that the right people like Nine Inch Nails.  So far, they’ve been eligible for two years, and have been nominated in each of those two years.  And since not just critics but also some rockers favor their candidacy (including Eddie Trunk), it’s quite likely that the voters will honor them more decisively in the near future.  Assuming that the ceremony is in Cleveland next year, Reznor might be in for quite the homecoming in 2017.

jethro tull23.  Jethro Tull:  Classic rock is already well represented in the Hall, which makes me feel fine about not including every single act in the genre on my list.  Most of its big names are already in.  But Jethro Tull’s omission continues to puzzle.  They have not one, but two of the all-time great albums from rock and roll’s most competitive era in the early 70s: Aqualung and Thick as a Brick.  You have a concept album about a lecher that doubles as a reflection on the nature of religion and God, as the confessional and the gutter are never far apart.  The other is a self-aware parody of the ostentatious concept album, purporting to be about a literary wunderkind.  Ian Anderson and crew brought the naturalism of English folk and the ambitious scope of prog on a collision course.  Sometimes the results were uneven, but they were always distinctive.  There was that flute.  There were lots of classic rock bands I considered for this list but ultimately rejected because they didn’t have a signature style, nor a particular calling card that made them stand out from their contemporaries.  With Jethro Tull, that was never the issue: there were acoustic guitars that gave way to electric as the song caught fire, long suites without breaks except to turn the record over, and Anderson’s flute as almost a recurring character in their music.  If anything, Tull’s longevity killed their chances.  They endured when, say, Parsons or the frontman of #22 died out.  And instead they just kept running on that Locomotive Breath, creating astonishingly decent new music and winning Grammy Awards they probably shouldn’t have.  In other words, it’s remained easy for some rock critics (are you reading as well, Mr. Marsh?) to maintain grudges.  Hopefully, that, too, will change.

t. rex band22.  T. Rex:  The fact that T. Rex hasn’t even been nominated for the Rock Hall seems like a Euclidian proof that the institution views rock and roll from a deeply American set of lenses.  What is quickly forgotten in this light is the sensation that this group created as glam music hit its apex, alongside such contemporaries as David Bowie and early Queen.  This hysteria was called “T. Rextasy” and enveloped the United Kingdom with glittering UK Top 5 songs: “Telegram Sam,” “Metal Guru,” “Children of the Revolution.”  There was nothing like Marc Bolan and this troupe.  They were sensual (how easy we forget lines like “you’ve got the teeth of the hydra upon you” in “Bang a Gong.”)  They made rock and roll more visually engaging.  And Bolan was able to cast a wide net with his audience.  Bob Stanley writes: “He should have taken America by storm: he wrote melodic riff-born rock songs that could charm bikers and birds.”  For a handful of years, he was Great Britain’s biggest rock star, bar none.  But eventually, Bolan sputtered.  He put on weight, succumbed to drugs and died in a car crash at age 29, and we subsequently misremember that his contemporary and rival Bowie was the only person doing arty space-rock in those years.  That’s a shame, because in the same way #21 won her long war against Whitney Houston, Bowie won the long war against T. Rex, though they were surely worthy adversaries, even in defeat.  If T Rex ever gets in, their induction speech is likely to be short; the only living member from its primary lineup is drummer Bill Legend.

mariah carey21.  Mariah Carey:  I can hear the comments now: “too high!  too high!”  Is she?  The only thing that’s too high is Mariah’s 5-octave range.  As I’ve said before, chart success is a factor, but not a totalizing factor.  Still, it’s hard to find fault with 27 top ten hits (that’s the fifth highest total ever, by the way.)  Or the 18 Billboard #1 hits (second only to The Beatles, incidentally.)  In fact, even if she existed primarily as a songwriter and never sang a note, she would have written more #1 hits than any songwriter of the rock and roll era not named Lennon or McCartney.  But the story is so much more than the statistics.  Just like Idina Menzel was doing on Broadway at roughly the same time, Carey moved the female voice in popular music into the direction of belting, going for power, force, and vibrato without losing its control or emotional range.  She successfully navigated her MOR origins in order to push R&B into a more energetic, thoughtful, and in some ways, biographical mode as her work became more self-revelatory as she found her voice as a writer.  And Carey was the only artist I can think of who could thrive on BET and still have her music played in an orthodontist’s office.  She easily collaborated with rappers, and fostered the “hip-pop” trend of the 90s.  I could go on with accomplishments like this for a while: she sang virtually the only Christmas staple to come out of the 90s, and two of the three longest-tenured #1 hits are hers: “One Sweet Day” and “We Belong Together.”  As an artist, Carey was about as versatile as it got, capable of dance remixes, urban R&B, and legendary ballads, often all on the same album.  Trini Trent puts it this way: “with her incredible sense of pitch, she draws on the precision timing of Ella Fitzgerald, the styling of Sarah Vaughan, the range of Minnie Ripperton, and the grit of Aretha Franklin.”  Indeed.  What should have been a no-brainer first-year-eligible nomination last October is likely to be a long wait until Janet and Whitney get in first.

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Time’s a’wastin’!  Let’s go tackle the next batch of albums for my project:

11.  Bob Marley & The Wailers- Exodus (1977): Every college student who ever lived owns a copy of Legend, Marley’s posthumous greatest hits collection.  I sure did.  Marley is a global icon– both of oppressed people who see him as an icon in a diasporadic age, and of ignorant upper-middle class suburban guys who toke up to “Jammin'”.  Alas, more than any album I’ve listened to so far in this project, the hits are so far above the rest of the material, that there is no compelling reason to listen to the filler.

12.  Dr. John- Gris-Gris (1969):  Okay, I get the significance.  Dr. John incorporated rock with blues and bayou music, and his live shows had amazing elements of voodoo performance as well.  Nevertheless, Dr. John’s piano is buried deep in the mix, and the result is a terrible, almost unlistenable album.

13. Buddy Holly & The Crickets- The Chirpin’ Crickets (1957):   It was rare for a rock and roll artist to get a chance to record a long-playing record in the late 1950s– such a luxury was out of reach for many in Holly’s teenybopper clientele.  When listening, I am amazed at how many hits are packed on to it- “Maybe Baby”, “That’ll Be the Day”, “Oh, Boy!”.  Not every track works– when Holly doesn’t do his trademark hiccup-y “Ah-well-ah”s or “Ah-hoo-ah-hoo-hoo”s, he isn’t that distinguished a singer.  But his ability to craft songs this good at 21 years old makes his early death two years later all the more tragic.  More than any other 50s rock guy, Holly had the tools to succeed well into the 60s without getting fat and selling out Elvis-style.

14.  Tragically Hip- Up To Here (1989):  I listened to this album at the request of one of my dearest friends, Sam.  It was endearingly eager to avoid any genres- but the problem, one week after listening, is that I don’t remember a single song on it.  It just left almost no impression on me at all.  I didn’t hate it or anything, I just found it….nondescript.  I’m so, so sorry Sam.

15.  Aretha Franklin- Young, Gifted, and Black (1972):  Oh my goodness.  One of the most talented singers of the last half-century at the top of her game.  Timed expertly to channel Maulana Karenga and US, it revels in its Afro-centric themes, and gives Aretha some new areas to explore, while remaining true to her soul and gospel roots.  The musicianship backing her up, too, is top notch- and I was pleased to see Billy Preston listed among the keyboard players.  Great, great album.

16.  Dan Fogelberg- The Innocent Age (1981):  This is not only the best album I’ve listened to for this project, it probably moves up to my personal top ten list.  I always knew Fogelberg was a good songwriter, but this album goes beyond that– it is intensely personal and intensely universal- dwelling on the small moments that make the human experience– but never missing the mark with melody, and using hooks wisely and sparingly.  You’ve heard “Same Old Lang Syne” every Christmas, but “Nexus”, “Into the Passage” and “Run for the Roses” are just as good.

17.  The Zombies- Odyssey and Oracle (1968): I had often heard this album listed with Love’s Forever Changes as one of the great lost treasures of the 1960s.  It lived up to the hype, and nearly every song works, although the public will only remember the eerie call-and-response of “Time of the Season.”  Even more impressively, the album, by and large, hasn’t aged very much at all, and it sounds strikingly similar to what one might here on a Belle and Sebastian album today, as Heather pointed out.  “This Will Be Our Year” is a particular winner, with its minimalist arrangement and its Beach Boys-like ability to make teenage relationships seem the stuff of epic literature.

18.  Melissa Ethridge- Yes I Am (1993):  The album is widely believed to be an allusion to Ethridge’s then-recent public disclosure of her lesbian identity.  Whatever the implications of that may be (although I’ll be the first to admit the courage that took in the early 90s), this is Ethridge at her Springsteen-channeling finest.  The hits I remember from my teenage years (“Come to My Window” and “I’m the Only One” are competently supplemented with good storytelling and earnest heartland rock.

19.  Neil Young- After the Gold Rush (1970): Young has always been my least favorite member of CSNY, even though he is by far the most famous and most prolific.  But I am immensely glad that I gave one of his most famous solo albums, released the same year as Deja Vu, a good hard listen.  Young’s work from that era is almost heartbreakingly poignant, but he isn’t above a good fun romp (“Cripple Creek Ferry”), or social commentary only a Canadian could pull off, blasting George Wallace-style demagoguery (“Southern Man.”)  The fact that it took Lynyrd Skynyrd four years to come up with a rebuttal in “Sweet Home Alabama” isn’t saying much for their intellectual prowess.

20.  Yes- Close to the Edge (1972): Closing out our second group of ten, we have another band that has recently been nominated for the Rock Hall.  Yes is almost a textbook example of progressive rock, and is also a textbook case of the genre’s merits and flaws.  This album has just three tracks, the shortest of which clocks in just under nine minutes, and the longest of which exceeds 18.  It is said that progressive rock jettisons soulful expression in favor of instrumental proficiency, and this is exactly what happens.  To a trained ear, you can pick out some insanely difficult keys and time signatures- but that is just the problem.  I suspect Yes is more interested in impressing the listener rather than moving him or her.

So- where do these stand in relation to another?  If forced to rank them, here’s how I would do it:  The Innocent Age, Young Gifted & Black, Odyssey and Oracle, After the Gold Rush, The Chirpin’ Crickets, Yes I Am, Close to the Edge, Up To Here, Exodus, Gris Gris

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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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