Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘War’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Read Full Post »

As I was preparing for my last post, listing 100 Artists Who Belong in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, I was struck by how much I just didn’t know.  Frankly, I was feeling like a bit of a fraud for masquerading as a rock and roll expert- even though the truth of it is that my knowledge of popular music is based on following 3 artists fanatically, 10 other artists closely, listening to Oldies radio as a boy and a teenager, and being a historian of 1960s and 1970s America.  Not the worst pedigree, but certainly not the best.  But I got to thinking: there were so many classic albums that I had never listened to.  Indeed, in my thirty years on earth, I have not listened to a studio album by the Rolling Stones, Bob Marley, Elvis (Presley or Costello), The Moody Blues, The Supremes, Michael Jackson, Stevie Wonder, Genesis, etc, etc.

1.  To explore artists that intrigue me in greater depth

2.  To do credit to all-time greats whose music I still don’t know as well as I should

3.  To look at albums that were popular during my preteen and teenage years (mid-to-late 90s) that I just didn’t listen to at the time, since my friends and I were putting Rubber Soul on the turntable and acting like self-aggrandizing jackasses.

4.  To give artists I’ve ridiculed mercilessly their last chance to win me over (looking right at you, Rush, Kiss, etc.)

So- let’s begin.  As we go along, I try and listen to 100 new albums in the next 100 days, and I’ll give you my impressions as I go along.   Only a few rules:  I cannot have listened to the album in its entirety before, only one album per artist, and no greatest hits albums.

—–

1.  Linda Ronstadt- Hearts Like A Wheel (1974): I knew Linda Rondstadt was good, but I had no idea what a magnificent artist she was until I started my project with this record.  While she rarely writes her own stuff (a criticism, by the way, that we never direct toward The Temptations, The Supremes, The Grass Roots, etc.) she is a first-rate interpreter.  With a fantastic backing band that understands country and gospel idioms but keeps the album rooted in rock, Ronstadt’s powerful, expressive vocals are at the center of the record.  It pleases the ear and the soul without pandering or compromising artistic vision.  A fantastic, fantastic way to begin this project.

2.  Green Day- Dookie (1994):  With the exception of Real McCoy, the Gin Blossoms, and Weird Al, I was almost completely removed from music scene at the time, except when Top 40 radio played during woodshop class.  Anyway, in our Middle School choir in 7th grade, there was an 8th grader named Todd who sat directly in front of me, and he wore his “Dookie” t-shirt, well, about as often as I wore my “Abbey Road” t-shirt.  Seriously, I can still recite the entire track list for the album even though I never listened to it until this week.  Being almost entirely unfamiliar with punk, I wasn’t too sure what to expect.  It wasn’t made to be, I think, good or anything like that.  Like much of punk, the musical chops are beside the point- it is resentment and cynicism driving the music.  And I reflected how much the music would have resonated with my peers in the mid-90s.  Green Day’s angsty  schtick hit on the head the immature attempts at relationships, frustration with parents with awkward two-part harmonies.  In a way, its brilliant in how it captures an earlier point in our lives, in the same way that the wordly Hamburg-Germany veteran Beatles managed to write some of the most innocent songs of the 1960s.  It’s a fantastic sleight of hand.  While nobody will mistake these guys for geniuses, their ability to encapsulate the discontent of 14-year-olds in Poughkeepsie or some other semi-prosperous backwater is truly remarkable.

3.  Dusty Springfield- Dusty in Memphis (1969):   What a ballsy move it was for an English pop singer to hightail it to Memphis and record an album in soul music that goes toe-to-toe with Aretha at her peak.  I’m not totally convinced that the 3 different guys producing the record (including two all-time greats, Tom Dowd and Jerry Wexler) did the album’s m.o. justice– the strings and the horns are a bit intrusive, and Springfield’s voice has plenty of expression but does lack Aretha’s raw power and pipes.  And I deeply suspect that her well-deserved but ultimately premature induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (class of 1999- same as McCartney, Springsteen, and Billy Joel) owed more to her ties with Atlantic Records, which has had an absurd level of success getting their guys in the Hall of Fame.)  But man, this album can be easily and breezily sexy in its way- “Breakfast in Bed” and “Just a Little Lovin'” do so much with implication, while always staying in the realm of the innocent.  And that goes double for the album’s best-known track, “Son of a Preacher Man”, where we forget that the song is about the titular son teaching young Dusty about sex.

4. Fairport Convention- Liege and Lief (1969):  I was not very familiar with Fairport Convention, but kept hearing their name mentioned in conversations about electric folk.  I put on what appears to have been their best-received album and did some cursory research, and was quite impressed.   Folk, as it turns out, means something very different in the English context, and the entire album runs on moorish-highland and English countryside dalliances.  But what makes all this the more remarkable is the musical chops behind it.  I’m not totally sure how much I care for Sandra Denny’s voice, but the other members of the group throw in lutes and flutes and viols and play them with the jam-mentality of, say, the Grateful Dead’s records.  My favorite tracks here were the Medley and Matty Groves.

5.  Booker T. & the M.G.s- Green Onions (1962):  This band has gotten an absurd amount of respect from a lot of musicians I care very much about- from Neil Young to John Lennon to Sam and Dave.  When George Harrison made a trip to the U.S. to visit his older sister on the eve of British Beatlemania, one of the first things he did was buy a copy of this record.  The house band for Stax Records, the title track is by far their best known number, and their only hit.  Still, listening to this album made me realize the consummate talent at work here.  If you’ve listened to “Green Onions”, you might guess that the electric organ plays a great tole in their music, and you’d be right.  Booker T. uses the instrument as if it were their lead vocalist (and indeed, every song on the record is an instrumental).  But guitarist Steve Cropper is no slouch either- compare him to any of the early 60s or late 50s rock and roll guitarists, and he surpasses everyone except Chuck Berry.  In fact, this would be a great time to mention that Booker T. & the MGs is one of the first integrated rock band- and being based out of Memphis, and as a soul/R&B outfit, this was a greater artistic liability for its two white members than its two black members.

6.  Christopher Cross- Christopher Cross (1979):  So, you have an entire 50 minutes filled with banalities like “say you’ll be mine until the sun shines.”  There’s no edge here, there’s only the most manufactured of soulful expression on here.  As it turns out, it is possible to make a record with fewer meaningful things to say than Dookie.  But this album and Green Day’s forebears in the punk movement have more similarities than either would care to admit.  Both are, in their own manners, coping with the malaise, directionless nature, and overall depressing qualities of the late 1970s.  Some grew angry, brash, and resentful- and others, like Cross, dumbed themselves down, stopped commenting on social issues, and did low-key, easy-on-the-ear music with lots of swooping orchestras, plenty of soprano sax solos, with electric guitars severely reigned in.  Different strokes for different folks I suppose, but this soft AM-radio is as much a product of its time as anything.

7.  War- The World is a Ghetto (1972):  So much more to this band than their best-known song, “Why Can’t We Be Friends,” which isn’t on this album.  Instead, you get a fantastic funky urban record with long, extended jams, and plenty of Latin influences.  The great thing about The World is a Ghetto is that it can be appreciated at multiple levels- there’s social commentary, if you are willing to dig for it, but it also works just as well as great atmospheric music.

8.  Duran Duran- Rio (1982):  The first appearance from the 1980s in this project, I was struck at how aptly this album brought together radio-friendly synth-pop with decent chops as a band.  Duran Duran’s various members named Taylor (at most, there were three, and none were related) keep a sharp beat going.  While not every track is a winner (“Last Chance on the Stairway”), there are some nice pieces (“New Religion”) to go alongside the title track and “Hungry Like the Wolf.”

9.  Blood, Sweat & Tears- Blood, Sweat & Tears (1968): This sophomore release by the band shows how they are kind-of Chicago’s twin.  They were both, by this time, jazz-rock bands on Columbia Records, both were produced by James W. Guercio at this stage.  And yet, I am reluctant to say this, but this record is better than any single Chicago record- and Chicago is my third-favorite artist.   This band has chops, soul, and creativity in addition to blood, sweat, and tears.  David Clayton-Thomas is one of the forgotten greats among rock vocalists, and the song’s arrangements have plenty of clever touches: the gospel elements of “God Bless the Child”, the sharp tempo changes of “Spinning Wheel”, the Copland-esque additions to Laura Nyro’s “And When I Die.”  And yet, the Chicago comparison is flawed: Chicago was a rock band trying to be like Duke Ellington.  Blood, Sweat & Tears is more of a jazz outfit trying to sound like The Band.

10.  AC/DC- Back in Black (1980):  And here, our project enters metal territory for the first time.  Let me say this: metal is not for me.  I listen to music for tranquility, for harmonics, and for perspective.  Perhaps more Nietzchian forms of metal can provide the last of these, but AC/DC does not.  The lyrics are ruthlessly stupid, with one badly thought-out sexual metaphor after another.  Somehow, though, it is almost a platonic ideal of a metal album.  The hooks are memorable, the musicianship is proficient, and Brian Johnson fills in nicely for their recently-departed lead singer, Bon Scott.  To its credit, the band realizes with almost a sly wink that they are none-too-bright Aussie knuckleheads- and it works to great effect.  There’s a great dissertation waiting to be written on gender roles and gender expectations in their songs, though, and their startling immaturity make it clear why “Spinal Tap” had to happen.  Yet, so help me God, I liked this album, partly because it owns its limitations so well.  And it reminds me of going bowling with the guys on my dorm floor at a Christian university.  Our RA was trying to get us to watch documentaries connecting rock and roll with Satan worship, and sure enough, the bowling alley had an AC/DC cover band playing when we arrived.

If I had to rank these ten records based on how much I enjoyed them: Hearts Like a Wheel, Blood, Sweat & Tears, Liege and Lief, Green OnionsThe World is a Ghetto, Back in BlackDusty in Memphis, RioDookie, Christopher Cross.

Read Full Post »