Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Peeking in the parents' closet: reactions to the 2020 ballot.

By the time I hit publish on this entry, the nominees for the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame's Class Of 2020 will have been announced, and the race off and running.  As I type this, it's still an hour and a half before the live announcements.  And I live on the West Coast, which should tell you how excited I must actually be.  I had planned to sleep until 4:30 for the 5:00 livestream out here, but no-go.  I've been tossing and turning with such excitement that my cat Mickey doesn't even want to snuggle at my feet tonight/this morning.  He's curled up in my chair, forcing me to bring the laptop into bed with me.  It just isn't the same.  When my laptop purrs, it means something's wrong with it.  But the excitement is still there.  As has been said in the past, this is like Christmas morning for us.

Speaking of Christmas morning, I remember as a child when my older brother told me that--SPOILER ALERT--there was no Santa Claus and that our parents were buying our presents and storing them up in their closet for us.  Or hiding them under their bed.  I remember joining him in sneaking into their room during Advent and seeing the presents there before they'd had the chance to wrap them yet, knowing ahead of time what we were getting for Christmas.  Year after year we did this.  Finally one year, I realized that I didn't want to know ahead of time what in fact I was getting for Christmas.  This may also have been about the time I stopped thumbing through the various catalogs (this was pre-internet shopping, after all) with exuberance to see what delighted my eyes and thought would be cool to have, but I decided that knowing ahead of time ruined the spirit of it for me, having to pretend to be surprised and all that.

Well, if the announcements of the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame's nominees and inductees are like two Christmas mornings for us hobbyists each year, then we have our own version of peeking in the parents' closet.  It's when we go actively looking for the clues to tell us who the nominees are, or the inductees.  Some of these just plain fall into our lap.  Like our parents letting slip what'll be under the tree for us on the 25th, John Sykes, the newly appointed chairman of the Foundation, has personally leaked the announcments of the Notorious B.I.G., T. Rex, and Depeche Mode as nominees ahead of time.  Biggie of course was no surprise.  In my family, that's like asking for new a baseball mitt, because I'd outgrown my old one, and my parents were delighted that I had a sport that I loved playing.  I usually played either catcher or first base, by the way, sometimes second.  Anyway, Sykes did that, probably as a teaser to get us more excited.  Well, it didn't work for me.

Of course, I'm typing all this presciently, now an hour ahead of the announcement, because I type slowly and change wording willy-nilly, but we're also treating the statement by Paul Schaeffer that he'd be going to bat for Willie Nelson as hardcore proof that the country legend would be on the ballot.  Paul Schaeffer doesn't always make it known whom he's pitching, unlike Tom Morello, so the mention of Nelson from Schaeffer certainly does seem telling.

And then there are the clues that we've gone and looked for ourselves.  Last year, our community managed to figure out that there were seven inductees, and who they were, the night before they were revealed, by going to the website and typing in each nominee with the URL tags of "inductee," and depending upon whether we were redirected or got an error message, we knew who the inductees were.  This year, we've done that again, by keeping track of whose nominee pages from last year have vanished and whose were still up and running, which not only confirmed Depeche Mode, but also told us that the J. Geils Band and Kraftwerk would be back again.  Also, by searching the recent media packages that the Hall has put out to revamp their image, based on who gets mentioned the most, it seems we have reason to believe that Duran Duran, the Go-Go's, Whitney Houston, Motley Crue, Iron Maiden, Pat Benatar, and the Dave Matthews Band are also on the ballot this year.  I'm putting all these names in bold type ahead of time, too, so we'll see if I have to remove that typeface from any of those names in just under an hour now.

If I'm alone in this feeling, so be it, but I really don't want to know ahead of time who the nominees are.  It's not going to alter the reality of who's on the ballot and who's not by finding out early. I can wait until Christmas morning itself to find out, even if I have trouble sleeping the night before.  The contents under the wrapping paper aren't going to change if I wait to know what they are.  For the record, I don't blame Future Rock Legends at all for what any of it.  That site, being a dot-com site, and by the ads that are on the page, is clearly a revenue-generating enterprise for the owner, so he has a financial stake in this.  Also, he has a reputation for being a better source of information than the actual Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame website.  Seriously, a fan site is a more credible source than the institution's own site.  That's saying something, and maintaining that reputation requires diligence, so no issue with him doing what he does.

I guess I don't understand the impetus for the rest of us.  Again, maybe I truly am alone in this regard.  And maybe it's because with all the names being bandied about as being likely to be inducted, none of them actually excite me.  I like Duran Duran, the Go-Go's, Whitney Houston, and even Motley Crue, but when I make a list of favorite artists, none of them crack the Top 50, perhaps not even the Top 100.  Maybe that's the damper on my enthusiasm, and maybe that's the signal that I need to find a new hobby.  I don't think I will though, knowing myself.  You guys are stuck with me.  I've said it before too: most of my favorite acts are already in the Hall, for which I am very grateful, and of those that aren't, most of them are tough sells, best case scenarios.  I would be through the roof with excitement if Chubby Checker or Lesley Gore got on the ballot.  Love their music.  But Sykes seems to be dead-set on nailing the door shut on any pre-Nixon-presidency artists.  I'd also be giddy (and be certain Hell froze over) if DC Talk somehow got on the list; I love all five of their albums.  But seriously?  Never going to happen.  How happy I'd be if not just the Spinners, but Harold Melvin And The Blue Notes, or the Stylistics, or the Delfonics, or some more '70's soul got on.  Diversity seems slow in coming though.  Most of the women whose musical legacies make my eyes light up are already in, too, but the Pointer Sisters and Gloria Estefan both seem to have long waits for recognition, and most of the rest are pre-Nixon.  The closest shot I have to having an artist I really get excited listening to getting on the ballot is "Weird Al" Yankovic, whom I finally got a chance to see in concert last month.  And that ain't happening anytime soon either.  But many of you ARE gleeful fans of Duran Duran, T. Rex, Depeche Mode, etc.  I swear I'm not trying to take that away from you: binge-listening to the nominees continues to be a highlight for me every year, really getting to know artists' catalogs.  Nor am I trying to ruin it for you by saying I'm what you have to look forward to.  I am a pretty moody person at times, typing while sleep deprived, having briefly paused to turn off my alarm clock, which just went off, which means we're now a half hour away from the announcements.  Stream-of-consciousness blogging isn't a thing for a reason, folks.  But I'm still at a loss for why we need to deduce the answers ahead of time.  It's like trying decode the prophecies to find out when the world will end; you could be wildly wrong and you likely won't get all the answers you're looking for.  Is it the thrill of the hunt?  What then?  Suppose you actually figure them all out, 100%.  That feeling never comes again.  Like the Christmas when I actually got everything on my wishlist and getting presents never meant as much to me ever again, I feel like getting all the nominees (and inductees) ahead of time would only kill the thrill of the big announcements, not just this year, but every year afterwards, and I don't want that for you.  Enjoy the ride, the thrill, the suspense, the surprises.  Let yourself enjoy the roller coaster ride.  I'm still trying to get that sense of elan back.

So that's about all I've got to say prior to the announcements.  Still 20 minutes to go.  Gonna proofread what I've got so far, and I'll see after the break.

(five second musical break)

Welcome back everybody, hope you had a great break.  I hope over the break you allowed yourself some sense of wonder and delight.  Maybe even something that made you utter an awestruck "Goingo."  We have the nominees, and I've had to remove the boldface from several of those names.  Those that are still in bold are confirmed nominees.

Looking at the list of nominees, I predicted 5, maybe 5 1/2, depending on your bent.  In addition to Biggie and Depeche Mode, I also correctly predicted the MC5, Todd Rundgren, the Doobie Brothers to be on the ballot, plus another nomination for Rufus featuring Chaka Khan, though I only selected Chaka as a soloist.  I'm actually more excited that I correctly predicted there would be 16 nominees, and there weren't too many others who actually thought there'd be actually be exactly 16.

Onto the rest.  Classic rock rules the roost big time.  There's just no getting around it.  Along with the Doobie Brothers, Pat Benatar, T. Rex, and Todd Rundgren, we have Motorhead, Judas Priest, and Thin Lizzy.  And while Pat Benatar does represent the push for more women to be in the Hall, she's almost a token pick.  She deserves to be in, just as the Doors did, but just as AlexVoltaire called the Doors "the safe pick for being dangerous," Benatar is the woman that rockists tout to prove they're not anti-women, just anti-not-guitar music.  And whoa, two metal bands!

Speaking of women, Whitney Houston finally appears on the ballot.  I'm so glad to see her make the ballot.  I worry about her chances, but it's just so huge that she's actually nominated.

Sykes' vision of progressing forward is in motion too.  Not only do we have the Dave Matthews Band, but Nine Inch Nails returns to the ballot, and Soundgarden finally breaks onto the ballot too.

That's mentioning all the nomineees.  What's more interesting though is who missed.  The fan kiosk turned out to be pretty much nothing.  No Motley Crue, Blink-182, Iron Maiden, Cher, or solo Freddie Mercury.  Rage Against The Machine is off this year.  I thought they'd be on instead of Nine Inch Nails.  '80's post-punk got dissed pretty hard, except for Depeche Mode, though their career was much longer than that.

And I've already said it on Twitter and on FRL, but I'll state it again here: I don't know who all it will be, but I very easily see this being another 2016: four dad-rock bands and one rap act (if we're lucky).  Maybe a hint of 2018 with one woman inducted (who could still be strongly in the dad-rock wheelhouse).  So, I'm already setting myself up for disappointment here.  Looking for pleasant surprises.

And with that, it's time for me to get ready for work.  Enjoy the games, and may the fortunes be ever in your favor.

Monday, September 16, 2019

The pragmatic prediction for the 2020 ballot

As much as everyone loved my protest ballot, and thank you for all the kind feedback on Twitter, this is going to be my actual prediction for the ballot for the Class Of 2020 for the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame.  I was probably going to put this off awhile longer, but then we got wind that the Nominating Committee would be meeting this week, so time to get the rear in gear.  Whose names will be on the ballot?

There are a couple good places to start, but we'll start with the kiosk at the museum in Cleveland.  Just as there is no actual proof that finishing in the top spot in the fan ballot gets you inducted, it's not ironclad that topping the list on the kiosk gets you a nomination on the ballot, but that's still what happened with Stevie Nicks.  So until it fails us, we'll go ahead and suppose that Motley Crue is going to be nominated.  And because I haven't given too much thought into the matter, we're gonna go with #2 as well.  Last I knew, in second place was Blink-182.  It's pretty foolhardy to go for them as well, but since Def Leppard crept onto the ballot as well, it's worth taking a stab that they'll be a surprise newly eligible nomination. 

Speaking of those who are newly eligible, everybody's buzzing about The Notorious B.I.G. becoming eligible this year, and he's also a pretty safe bet.  With 2Pac getting in immediately, and their legacies inextricably intertwined by their deaths, it would be logical for the other half to get in immediately as well.  And for the most part, you have to be nominated before you can be inducted.  Predicting two newly eligibles is pretty gutsy, so we'll cut it off there and move on.

Oftentimes, we hobbyists like to conjecture that who will be nominated can be heavily predicated on who just got in.  Radiohead just got in, and to that end, I think the concentration will be on honoring fellow NomComm member Tom Morello, and there'll be a third consecutive nomination for Rage Against The Machine.  The Hall loves their own, and Morello is one of them, so they won't give up on this band just yet.  Because they want to get Rage in, I think they'll hold off on Nine Inch Nails, despite Trent Reznor's amazing speech for the Cure.  Despite the Ohio connection, their buddies come first.  Even though the two bands are not even similar in sound, to a room primarily full of old Whtie dudes, they're similar enough.  Rage first, then the Nails.  That said, inducting the Cure will open a door, mainly for more post-punk.  I think the push will be on again for The Smiths.  They're way too important and esteemed of a band to continue to ignore, they're going to have be revisited at some point.  With the Zombies finally in, I think they'll clear the pathway as wide open as they can to get The MC5 in.  Janet Jackson is in, and I'll echo Michelle Bourg of the Iconic Rock Talk Show, that ?uestlove is going to double down for Chaka Khan.  I think they'll push for her as a solo act this time, and if she gets in, that'll probably be the end of Rufus's ballot hopes.  I don't like it, but we know that's how they play the game.  And Roxy Music's induction opens a lot of doors as well, and I think a nomination hot off their inducting Roxy Music will be sweet music for Duran Duran, and they'll end up on the ballot, too.

In addition to the already stated, I think there will be a couple more returns from last year's ballot.  While Nine Inch Nails won't be on the ballot, I think they'll still want the Ohio connection and go for Devo again.  Additionally, the surprise missing out of Todd Rundgren will almost surely result in a duplicate nomination for him as well.  Depeche Mode may resurface too.

Of course, we need to load up on the fresh names, because statistically, the ballot is likely to be comprised of more first-time nominees than repeats.  Classic rock has a little representation with the Crue and Todd, but there'll be a little more, I think.  And as others have already mentioned, the name Irving Azoff is expected to have some clout, even if he's not actually in the room.  Many expected The Doobie Brothers to show up last year, and they're betting on the inevitable eventuality of their nomination.  So am I.  John Prine was a surprise nomination last year, and I think there'll be another left field candidate.  I have no idea who it will be, but it's been a little while since a blues name has been on the ballot, and I'll venture to guess Otis Rush will appear for the first time on the ballot.  But I'm really going out on limb and saying there'll be a second rap act on the ballot.  It's not so much a hunch as it is a wish to see life imitate art.  In the song, "We Made You," Eminem closes out with one of his usual shoutouts to Dr. Dre by saying, "Dr. Dre!  Two thousand twenty!"  Mathers might not have been speaking of the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame, but it'd be awesome if that were the case.  So I'm gonna predict the good doctor and hope that it comes true.  I don't have too much hope for more women on the ballot, sadly.  Despite the pleas of Janet and Stevie, that effort will die on the table.  But I'll throw out a couple more women, and hope for the best.  Following Stevie Nicks could very well be the nomination of Carly Simon to represent the singer/songwriter from the '70's slot.  And I think there will be a sweet sixteen nominees this year.  And the one crossover from my protest ballot, I'm going to predict The Pointer Sisters to finally see nomination this year.  I hope it happens.

So there we have it, my attempt at ESP, to match the people who'll be in the room this week, presumably, to hammer out the nominations for the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame.  Some safe picks, some gutsy, and hopefully one or two original names brought up.  If you'd care to comment, there's a section below for that..

Wednesday, September 4, 2019

Ballot for 2020, the Protest version

It's been a rough couple days.  My sleep has been lousy.  My car died on the road and the repair will cost over $900.  The refrigerator is on the fritz.  We're having a mild garbage crisis.  And I may have to move, with the landlord and neighbor bickering with potential legal ramifications.  Things aren't going swimmingly this week so far, but what has been a bright spot today was this week's episode of Hall Watchers with Eric and Mary, wherein Eric released his "realistic" ballot and prediction, and Mary divulged her "idealist" ballot that wasn't so much a prediction as it was a proclamation of what should be.  For want of a better term, we'll call it a prediction.

Or more accurately, a protest prediction.  The term "protest prediction" comes from fellow hobbyist Charles Crossley, Jr.  I don't specifically recall when he first started doing it, but I love the general concept of posting a ballot that should be, and for very specific reasons why, beyond mere "They should have been in long ago!" type of arguments.  That sentiment is usually intrinsic with any artist mentioned in a ballot that has been eligible for any length of time, but a protest ballot will often have more to say than just that.  Charles Crossley, Jr. does that well, as did Mary on this latest episode.  With my week the way it's been, I'm in a mad-as-hell-and-not-going-to-take-it-anymore mood, so I'll attempt a protest ballot of my own.  And I think that these protest nominations will say enough about the problems with the Hall to be worth writing in the first place, and hopefully worth reading too.  Let's ramp up the rage.

Chubby Checker: I've talked about why he should be in until I'm blue in the face, or fingers as this is a non-aural medium, sans the clacking of keys being pressed.  I won't expound at too great a length again.  His cover of "The Twist" is more than just a faithful cover; the enthusiasm in Checker's voice takes it above and beyond where Hank Ballard And The Midnighters left it.  To deny that is to downplay the importance of the singer in the annals of rock and roll.  His importance is compounded for being the capstone artist of a short-lived, but philsophically crucial record empire.  I also have to wonder if generations as young as mine would even know how to limbo without Checker's two great songs about that craze, or if it'd go the way of other '60s dances like the frug, the slop, or the majestic.  That's not a huge part of the argument for him, except to point out that he was more than just "The Twist," and even if he wasn't more than dance songs, so what?  Other artists have been inducted despite not busting out beyond a niche.  Let's get him on a ballot.

Link Wray:  A past nominee that people have been begging for the return of, again and again. An innovative guitarist whose innovations bled easily into realms of influence until the two were practically inseparable.  And how appropriate that the man responsible for a song called "Rumble" would be featured on a protest ballot.

The Shangri-La's:  There are a few girl groups I'd prefer to get in before the Shangri-La's, but the pathos of their songs, the vocal harmonies, and the need to induct more women should be enough reason to get them in the discussion.  I don't even like "Remember (Walking In The Sand)" or "Leader Of The Pack" all that much.  Fortunately, there are also "Give Him A Great Big Kiss," "Out In The Streets," "Give Us Your Blessing," and "Long Live Our Love," just to name a few.

The Chantels:  Speaking of girl groups I'd give precedence to, let's revisit these lovely voices.  "Maybe" is, in my opinion, the female equivalent of the Penguins' "Earth Angel (Will You Be Mine)."  And if not "Maybe," then certainly "Look In My Eyes" is one of the most euphoniously captivating records ever.  I'm spellbound every time I hear it.  One of the earliest important girl groups, they need to be nominated again.

Steppenwolf:  Have one anthemic song, it can possibly be dismissed.  Have two, you should be taken notice of.  Having been nominated once before, I've had the chance to discuss their role as a proto-metal band whose breed of blues rock is infectious and wakes the rebel spirit.  This is a band that has been done a disservice by radio conglomeration, but the knowledgeable music fan and historian will certainly look beyond "Magic Carpet Ride" and "Born To Be Wild."

Procol Harum:  Progenitors of prog, their breed of baroque rock is certainly unique.  So unique, that the only other artist that is routinely described as "baroque rock" is the Zombies.  And now that they're in, the only acceptable reason to procrastinate further on this act would be to focus attention on getting the MC5 in.

The Kingsmen: In addition to the party rock standard that is "Louie Louie," they kept the party going with other silly songs.  Sadly, that has become their legacy to anyone who knows more than just "Louie Louie," but as someone who loves "The Jolly Green Giant," and likes "Death Of An Angel," it'd be worth seeing the reactions of the Nominating Committee when their name gets brought up.  Additionally, the Hall has begun to appreciate rockers who also do good works; therefore, the Kingsmen could be worth glancing at further.  The Louie Louie Foundation works to purchase and return the rights of songs to the initial artists and writers, and the Hall should certainly appreciate the way that rights' ownership has a direct effect on the artistic growth and evolution of rock and roll as an artform.  In fact, if the Hall wished to lean heavily on the work of the Louie Louie Foundation as their justification, this band is one I'd probably be okay with getting the backdoor treatment as Award For Musical Excellence inductees.

Barrett Strong:  Another candidate who might be more aptly suited for induction in a different category, this was a Motown man whose biggest impact was behind the scenes, but stepped up to the microphone to give us one of the most universal songs that transcends practically every culture, certainly every developed culture.  An induction with Norman Whitfield receiving the Ahment Ertegun Award would certainly suffice, but this isn't just a ballot of nominees.  This is a protest.

Jackie Brenston And His Delta Cats:  We've listed an artist who might be better suited for the Award For Musical Excellence category, and one for the the Ahmet Ertegun Award, so let's include one that might be better suited for the Early Influence category.  Or maybe not, depending on your definition of rock and roll.  And a nomination for the group that released the song that some argue to be the very first rock and roll record would certainly force the conversation to a head.  If nothing else, that would be worth their nomination.

The Champs:  If it isn't obvious by now, these first eleven nominees are protests against the Singles category.  I don't even think of "Tequila" as that important of a record, but they were an early instrumental rock band, one of the earliest, and they did have other hits beside "Tequila," so while I would initially wince at the nomination, I'd still say it's better than leaving it at letting Little Steven have his unaired bit about the one record.

The Shadows Of Knight:  Since it was the Isley Brothers' version of "Twist And Shout" that got mention, we won't include the Top Notes in this protest.  As for this outfit, goodness no.  Garage rock bands are going to have a hard time getting acknowledged, and even inducting Tommy James And The Shondells would seem like lip service to the genre.  Still, there aren't many garage rock outfits I would see being worth inducting, much as I enjoy the style as a whole.  That said, I like this version of "Gloria" better than the one by Them, even though it is tamer.  "Here Comes The Night" aside, Van Morrison sounded much better as a solo artist.  Again, this is about protesting the Singles category, not so much about these garage rockers belonging in.

Carole King:  Now that we're done protesting the Singles category, and what it appears to do to an artist's chance of future nomination, let's get to other protests, like how the well-deserved induction of this woman as a songwriter has ended her Performer nominations to date.  Her Non-Performer induction came during the early years of the Hall, when "Small Hall" thinking very much ruled the day.  But as the rage against that machine has bubbled up to find an outlet in the populist movement, this is a woman that even self-proclaimed purists will sometimes tip their hats to and say, "Yeah, probably."  Nominate anew!

Tina Turner:  Similarly, this is another woman that was justly inducted with her ex-husband during the early years of the Hall, and likewise, the Hall has seemed content to leave it at that.  Tina wasn't eligible as a soloist when she wasn't inducted with Ike, so it's a little more forgiveable that she wasn't nominated for her later career shortly thereafter.  What's inexcusable is how the Hall has treated that induction as sufficient honors for this woman, originally listing her solo career in more detail on the page for "Ike And Tina Turner."  That success has been reduced to less than a full paragraph on that page now, so hopefully the Hall wants to give her a page of her own to expound more fully.  But that hasn't happened yet, so... protest!

King Curtis And His Noble Knights:  In all fairness, the Hall gave up on nominating King Curtis as a Performer long before they inducted him as a Sideman in 2000; however, it still feels a little unresolved to leave him and his outfit hanging like this.  Since I'm all about the resolutions, and since I'm okay with his credentials as a session musician getting him in, let's work on a second round for him.

Ben E. King:  Just like Carole King, inducting him with his group, the Drifters, ended the push to acknowledge his amazing solo career, and that ain't right.

Chic:  I think you know damn well what this one is protesting.  Honor the whole band instead of settling for the one person.  Nile deserved his, and at this point, Chic deserves theirs.  Let's rouse some rabble and do them some justice.

Jerry Butler:  Like Tina Turner, the 1991 induction of Jerry Butler as a member of the Impressions has stifled any mention in future conversations.  Also like Tina Turner, the old layout of the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame's website listed some of Jerry Butler's bigger solo successes in the timeline for the group induction, which has now disappeared.  Unlike Tina Turner's situation, I don't believe Jerry Butler as a solo artist is on the Hall's radar at all, particularly because Butler was only an Impression for one major record.  It very much is a situation of including him in one aspect so imaginary space wouldn't be wasted by acknowledging him later.  I hate when the Hall does that.  Rabble rabble rabble!

The Pointer Sisters:  This last choice might seem a bit out of place.  The rest, you can see what's being protested: the Singles category, Small Hall thinking for some who maybe deserve double induction, and rectifying badly handled situations.  But this one?  What's the protest?  Well, this one is me protesting... myself.  The Pointer Sisters are a group I very much believe deserve induction.  And yet, when I wrote my fantasy post about all-women nominees, they weren't on it.  When I list African-American artists that are snubbed, somehow they are remembered later on.  In terms of '70's and '80's acts, they'll clean slip my mind on occasion.  Even when discussing acts whose ties to the Boss, and thereby Jon Landau and Miami Steve Van Zandt, give them a slight advantage toward nomination and induction... you guessed it, they sometimes get lost in the mix.  I don't know how or why, but every time I realize I did it again, I want to let out an anguished wail like Joe Cocker does in his version of "With A Little Help From My Friends."  Maybe it's because they don't fit into any one box.  I don't know.  But I want them in, and I'm upset that I forget how much I believe they should be in.  So I'm listing them in protest of me.  BLARGH!!!

If nothing else, the Hall gives us an endless amount of stuff to protest, and this list could be much longer, but I think eighteen is an alright number to work with.  So, how's that for my first protest ballot?  And thank you to Mary of Hall Watchers for giving me the inspiration to do it.  And thank you, Mary, for outing your husband as a hater, guzzling that Haterade against my Jersey Boys.  Now we know whom he'll vote against in the "Tuesday Loseday" poll next week.  But even though Eric's a nefarious foe of Frankie and the Four, I still intend to follow his lead and post a pragmatic prediction for the 2020 ballot soon.  This has been fun.  Hope to see all of your Comments below.

Sunday, August 11, 2019

A Proposition For Propositions

It's 2019, and you wouldn't know it from the amount of politics that has already been in the news that this is not an election year.  In all fariness, some lower level municipal, county, and maybe even state elections happen on the odd-numbered years specifically so that they aren't drowned out by the national stage theatrics.  But even if it's not for an office that will be elected this year, campaigns for those offices are already happening, and not just in the Democratic Party candidates' races.  I know, because I work for the post office and have been delivering a bit of political mail already.

What does this have to do with the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame?  Superficially, not much, but as it is now early August, we are getting to that point where very soon, the names in our little community will be posting their official, engraven predictions for who will be on the ballot, in preparation for the Nominating Committee's meeting in New York City, and eventual press release of the ballot.  As notorious as I am at being one of the later predictions and commentaries to be up with each passing year, wouldn't it be a fun twist if I got the early jump and beat almost everybody to the punch?  Well, you'd be jumping the gun in assuming that.  That's not what this post is about.  Neener neener.

Nor is this going to be about transparency, which the Hall has a notorious lack of, but this post is going to be about the ballots.  When it comes to elections in America, many voters who don't just vote straight-ticket often only vote for the big enchilada races, primarily presidential, maybe gubernatorial, and maybe enough people care enough about the national congressional races.  But they'll ignore positions such as county drain commissioners, or university boards of trustees, and the like.  Even more than that, if someone votes for all the races, there's another side to it they might ignore, particularly if they vote straight-ticket.  A political ballot is usually comprised of more than just names of people for a position; there are also propositions.

Obvious, right?  I'm pretty sure every election cycle, there's a "Proposition 2."  It wouldn't be a political season without ads telling us to vote "No on Prop 2."  But because the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame is nowhere near as democratic as our national and state infrastructures, there's never been a call for there to be propositions on the annual ballots.  Well, I'm going to suggest that it happen.  Like everything else in life, there's potential for abuse, but my idea regarding propositions for this ballot are to correct the instances of "abuse of power" that have already occurred with the inductions of the Hall.

By which, of course, I mean the "back door inductions."  Depending on your narrative, you might call the first "back door induction" to be that of Carole King, with her songwriting parter Gerry Goffin, after a singular attempt to induct her as a Performer.  But despite my not having included her in my reranking of Past Nominees, the songwriting team of Goffin-King is a notable and distinct effort and enterprise from Carole King's career as a singer.  So, not counting her, the most acceptable first instance of a back door induction would probably be that of Elmore James as an Early Influence in 1992, after failing to receive enough votes for the Class Of 1991.  At that time, the Hall didn't have quite the public presence that it does now, and most probably thought little about it.  Most probably also didn't give too much thought about King Curtis being inducted as a Sideman in 2000, after being on the first six ballots for the Performer category, with a nine year absence following that.  The back door inductions really began to catch notice in 2008, when the Hall announced Wanda Jackson as an Early Influence inductee for 2009.  That caught people's attention, especially because she had been a nominee for the Performer category on the ballot for that very class!  Those who monitor the Hall's doings were definitely abuzz following that, right on through the induction ceremony.  But the buzz died down.  Until 2011, when they did it again, this time with Freddie King, who, like Wanda Jackson, had been on the ballot for potential induction as a Performer for the Class Of 2012.  And then, as if seemingly like clockwork, the Hall kind of did it again, with the Class Of 2015, twice-ish, this time with the "5" Royales, who hadn't been on the ballot for several years but were now being ushered in as an Early Influence, and Ringo Starr, for Award For Musical Excellence, for reasons that are too stupid to fathom, regardless about how you feel about his solo career.  Nile Rodgers wasn't so much a "back door induction" as he was a "cherrypicking" instance, but some would consider him an example too.  Lastly, we have the issue of Sister Rosetta Tharpe, who despite being the most widely demanded omission from the Early Influence category, was nominated for the Performer category... only to end up inducted as an Early Influence in 2018.

So those are the propsective "back door inductions" that we are dealing with.  I'd argue for not including the cherrypicking of Nile Rodgers, since Chic was more than Nile Rodgers, and Nile's career included a lot more than just Chic, as Joe Kwaczala and Kristen Studard pointed out when they relegated their tale of seeing Chic in concert together.  I would probably also want to leave out King Curtis, since his session work was very worthy of induction, and since a Performer induction of King Curtis should also include His Noble Knights.  But I would definitely hammer on the Early Influence inductions of those previously nominated, since it's kind of squirrely, albeit not entirely implausible, to be both an Early Influence and a Performer inductee, given the parameters of the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame for defining those two categories.

So the first key step in overcoming the transgression of the back door inductions is to simply never do it again.  Just stop it.  But there are a few horses that are already out of the barn, and we need to find a way to get them back in, if indeed they belong back in.  My proposal is to put propositions on the ballot.  One for each such inductee to deal with.  I'll give you a sample of one such proposition to be placed on an official Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame Ballot.  Since Wanda Jackson would be the third such occurrence (if we used King Curtis as well), we'll make her Prop 3.

"Proposition 3.

To change the designation of 2009 inductee Wanda Jackson from "Early Influence" to "Performer."  Adoption of Proposition 3 will result in Wanda Jackson being listed as a Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame 2009 inductee in the Performer category.  Rejection of Proposition 3 will result in Wanda Jackson continuing to be listed as a Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame 2009 inductee in the Early Influence category.

Should Proposition 3 be adopted?

Yes _____        No_____  "

And there would be a tentative proposition for Elmore James, Freddie King, the "5" Royales, Ringo Starr, and Sister Rosetta Tharpe.  Possibly King Curtis too, but any proposition for Carole King would have to change the designation of "Goffin-King" to Performer. Same with Nile Rodgers.  Don't induct Chic this way.  It would only be for Nile Rodgers.

So why do it like this?  The Rock Hall could easily do it quietly by a decision in the boardroom.  After all, that's how they quietly inducted Kenny Laguna as a member of the Blackhearts, and Billy Davis as a member of the Midnighters.  This is just a little different though.  When a voter votes for a Performer inductee, they are essentially voting for the entire legacy of that artist, regardless of which members the Hall chooses to honor.  In the case of the Midnighters, it was the entire legacy that was involved with the election of Hank Ballard for the Class Of 1990, and the legacy that was supplemented with the induction of the Midnighters in 2012.  A vote for Hank Ballard was essentially a vote for Hank Ballard And The Midnighters.  Including members serves to more fully round an inductee's legacy (while conversely, removing members, perhaps an entire backing group, severely diminishes the legacy).  But we're now talking about acts that have already been inducted.  These are acts that the Hall has already enshrined in another capacity because they seemingly couldn't (or believedly wouldn't) get the votes to be inducted in the Performer category.  These were acts chosen by special committees, which are subsets of the Nominating Committee to do it this way for those acts, and it requires a correction.  Since the election of Performer inductees is through the voting bloc, it therefore makes sense to put it to the voting bloc whether or not the designations ought to be changed.

To use propositions on the ballot would also negate the possibility of their re-designation being a "consolation prize" induction, as I've referred to them in the past.  The reason I oppose the idea of a Veterans' Committee is that it's a special subcommittee exerting their will over the voting bloc, creating a second tier of Performer inductees (not to be confused with the stratification of inductees that hobbyists and critics alike enjoy creating, i.e. the pyramid).  Well, the Hall has already done that by taking these (mostly) past Performer nominees and putting them in the Hall by whatever means they felt they could get away with.  Putting these propositions on the ballot would correct that, because they would voted on by the voting bloc.  The decision to change their designation to Performer inductees would still have to come from a majority of the votes received from the voting bloc.  It still would be up to them to have these acts enshrined as Performers, or not.  And if it's a vote from the bloc, it's legitimate, or as legitimate as can be, given the Hall's lack of transparency.

The other upside to changing the designations of certain inductees would be to reestablish a relative sense of continuity with the timeline.  By which, I'm referring to the Early Influence category.  While rock and roll has been  evolving since the early '50's, and perhaps earlier, most still like to use 1955 as the magical fulcrum, since that's when "(We're Gonna) Rock Around The Clock" hit #1.  That said, most are generally agreed that Wanda Jackson should not have been an Early Influence inductee, as her early career was primarily rockabilly.  And if Wanda Jackson shouldn't have been an Early Influence, then Freddie King definitely should not have been, either, as his career didn't really begin until the late '50's.  There's some debate about whether Elmore James or the "5" Royales should have been inducted as Performers or Early Influences, but it would be an interesting litmus test to see where the voting bloc falls on these two acts.  But more importantly, the chance to put at least some of the "back door" Early Influence inductees in the Performer category where they might more properly belong is a good way to preemptively tell the NomComm's Early Influence subcommittee that it is wrong to move the timeline of rock and roll; this statement would hopefully prevent acts that are clearly rock and roll, such as the MC5, from being inducted as "Early Influences" because they were influential to more modern acts that came later.

It is also wrong to attempt to use this tool later on down the road.  For example, let's not go about inducting acts via the back door in the future, figuring we can just use a proposition later on to reassign them as Performers.  As stated earlier, first we need to resolve to stop back door inductions altogether.  Continuing to do back door inductions for the sake of correcting them later with propositions flies directly in the face of the spirit and intent of having these propositions.  It would further cheapen the proposition process because they'd be recklessly, improperly inducting artists in other categories with the full intent to rectify it later.  It would turn the propositional corrections into consolation prizes themselves, and the point of doing this on the ballots is so that it is from the voting bloc, and thus not a consolation prize.

We also cannot be doing this as a means to expel artists.  Sorry folks.  Percy Sledge is an inductee to stay.  And Laura Nyro.  And KISS.  And 2Pac.  Let's not turn this into a quasi-political mire as we replace NomComm members and voting bloc voters by essentially saying, "Well, the old guard may have felt they were worthy, but it's our say now, and that's going to change!"  Not how this is going to work, folks.  I also wouldn't use this to correct the Singles category debacle either.  First off, we're talking about entire legacies, not one record; second, with "Twist And Shout" on that list, unless you're going to try and induct the Top Notes this way, you've got another mess made; third, the Foundation members appear to be squabbling amongst themselves about what to make of this category, so let's wait until they've figured it out for themselves first; and fourth, using propositions for those artists would only be encouraging Little Steven to keep doing this.  No no no no no!  Take that "category" out to the Everglades, toss it over the edge of the boat somewhere, where no one will be able to find it, and never speak of it again.  And nominate those artists to the ballot properly, for another time, in some cases.

We could probably let the fans have a say on this one too, with the fan ballot being a single vote on each proposition, but given that this is about correcting actions done behind closed doors, I'd be okay with the fans not getting a say in these, especially since almost all of these are lesser known names (to the general public) who weren't "classic rockers."

So, that's my proposition for propositions.  For what it's worth, if the Hall decided to try this out and do this with all those artists, here's how my votes would go, if I got a ballot, or how I'd vote in the fan poll if they let us in on it.

Elmore James:  It'd be a coin flip.  I'd be okay either way.  His guitar style was innovative, but the overall feel of his records isn't quite what I'd call rock and roll.  However, between Howlin' Wolf being an Early Influence, and John Lee Hooker and Muddy Waters being Performers, that roughly 1954 debut of Elmore James can be a little tricky, and I wouldn't blame the voters either way.

King Curtis:  No.  His work as a session man is unimpeachable, and while he's pretty far down on the list of those I'd like to induct a second time, I'd really rather induct King Curtis And His Noble Knights as a Performer than erase the props for his session work, while falsely reasoning he can only be inducted once.

Wanda Jackson: Duh, Performer

Freddie King: Definitely a Performer.  Doesn't meet the "Early" part of "Early Influence," in my book.

The "5" Royales:  Another one that's a coin toss.  Where does jive music end and R&B begin?  I've blogged about this induction before, so I won't elaborate further.  It's a tough call either way, but I'd probably vote to move them to Performer.

Ringo Starr:  YES to the Performer category.  Most readers would probably want the proposition to be about removing his second induction outright, since the Award for Musical Excellence induction was nonsensical, and they don't want him in as a Performer.  As I said, this ain't going to be about removing names, just slotting them more properly.  List him as a Performer!

Sister Rosetta Tharpe:  To echo what was said then, why was she even on the ballot in the first place?  She always should have been considered for Early Influence and never for the Performer category.  This one was not a consolation prize, it was the subcommittee fixing the NomComm's mistake.  A big no on this one.

And of course, we need to get Carole King as a soloist and Chic on the ballot again.  Carole and Nile both deserve double induction, but the proposition process is not the way to do it.  Efforts have to be renewed to get those names on the ballot.

So there it is, another longshot idea for how to fix things with the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame.  Maybe it seems ridiculous, but as Eric and Mary say on the Hall Watchers podcast, we need to be about trying to find solutions rather than just sitting in our armchairs, griping and moaning.  Let's make it happen.

Sunday, June 30, 2019

Past nominees ranking: 2019 edition.

It's been seven years since I last ranked all of the past nominees for the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame.  In that time, eleven names have come off (including one inducted as an Early Influence), and twenty-one names have been added.  It's been a net gain of ten names over seven years.  That probably says a lot about the resolve of the Nominating Committee to continue on the offensive to push for their favorite artists.  It also says a lot about the repeat names that often continue to be bridesmaids while many first-time nominees head straight in.  But there has been enough change in the list to where it's worth taking another look at how one would rank these artists.

And if I thought thirty-five was difficult, forty-five is even harder.  It's hard to rank the nominees just on the yearly ballot, and that's never more than twenty anymore.  This list has a lot of diversity on it, ranging from acts at the dawn of rock and roll (or earlier, depending on your definition) to acts that are barely eligible for induction.  To be completely honest, I still don't like this order, but I like it better than any other modification to it.  Modifications that I have made though include changing comparative positions between acts that were on the 2012 list and/or comparative positions between acts on previous ballots' merits' ranks.  So with all that and a little help from my previous list and my co-writers, Cut and Paste, let's count down from forty-five back to one.

45. Conway Twitty (1):  He was a teen idol in his early days and a country superstar later on, neither of which tend to bode that well with getting an act inducted.  Additionally, not much influence.

44. Sting (1):  Sting's going solo reminds me of Phil Collins' solo career: lead singer of a major group that was a trio at the time of the solo career, with a distant-sounding vocal style.  Except Phil Collins is somehow more exciting to listen to.

43. Procol Harum (1):  I'm not convinced they broke any ground that the Moody Blues weren't breaking at about the same time, but they do have a few enduring songs.

42. Steve Winwood (1):  As a reminder, we’re only talking about his solo career, which has some cool breeze kinds of songs, but didn’t really break any new ground. 

41. Esther Phillips (2):  Her pre-‘60s (and arguably pre-rock era) hits were almost exclusively as the chanteuse for whatever name Johnny Otis’s band went by on any given record, and so inducting her as a soloist based on those is not entirely fitting.  Her ‘60s-and-later hits were sporadic and primarily covers, which doesn’t garner much accolades.

40. John Prine (1):  Almost the natural successor in the queue after Randy Newman.  A highbrow artist with well-crafted lyrics, without much recognition with the general public, but very strong ties to the industry, which makes him kinda-sorta influential.

39. Los Lobos (1):  Like John Prine, this band is an industry-insider's pick.  Artistry, maximum; any other metric, minimum.

38. Johnny Ace (2):  A promising career cut short by folly.  Still, he had some good accomplishments as an R&B singer leading up to that.

37. The J.B.'s (1):  It's important to remember that I'm actively separating their credited works from the works they recorded as hired hands behind James Brown.  Once you have that distinction recognized, their ranking at this point in the list makes a little bit more sense.

36. The Sir Douglas Quintet (1):  They were innovative and influential in helping to create a new sub-genre; however, Tex-Mex is still a pretty niche style of music, and not all that pertinent to represent in the Hall Of Fame.

35. Gram Parsons (3):  Another powerful one-two combo of innovation and influence; however, alt-country pioneering really merits induction into the Country Music Hall Of Fame, not the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame, however strongly alt-country and its pioneers are linked to the folk-rock and the ever-changing music scenes of the late-‘60’s. 

34. The Chantels (2):  Broke out at the same time as the Shirelles, but never reached the same heights.  Still, “Maybe” and “Look In My Eyes” are excellent records and foundational to the girl group sound.  And shunting "Maybe" into the Singles category should not be license to give up on them.

33. The J. Geils Band (5):  Solid blues-influenced rock ‘n’ roll band with a solid run of hits and classics, but not regarded as being all that influential or innovative, and some even claim cronyism for their five nominations to date.

32. The Replacements (1):  This is a hard one to accurately peg.  While they have the rebel spirit, as proven by the fights with their label, they're also a reminder that the music industry is still a business, and you have to be professional.  Their own greatest strength in establishing their legacy also was the greatest hindrance to their legacy's growth.

31. The Meters (4):  Moderately influential in the realms of funk and soul, but not a lot of name recognition, and the songs are only somewhat well known.

30. Rufus with Chaka Khan (3):  They had a solid string of R&B hits, dispersed intermittently with Chaka’s solo career, but as a group, the Pop crossover was not so immense, and they ended up standing in the shadows of bigger acts of the time.

29. Bad Brains (1):  A very influential band that if nothing else, occasionally combined or alternated hardcore punk with reggae stylings.  Very limited commercial success though.

28. Devo (1):  Art-rock that was sometimes hard to take seriously, and yet, they expanded our minds.

27. Steppenwolf (1):  Have one song that's anthemic, you can possibly write it off to good luck.  Do it twice, that's no coincidence.  Do it twice and have a solid run of blues-rock records, it's a Hall-worthy act.

26. Chaka Kkan (2):  Rufus had more originality.  Chaka as a soloist had greater commercial success, and I'd give the advantage to solo Khan in terms of influence, as a strong female solo presence.

25. Mary Wells (2):  Despite an enviable run of both R&B and Pop chart success, her chief accomplishment was really done by the Marvelettes first, even if it was on “Tamla” rather than the titular mother company “Motown.”  However, she also did help bring a Latin flavor to the R&B scene, which is something in itself, as many danceable rap songs nowadays are danceable because they’re infused with danceable Latin rhythmic schemes. 

24. Chuck Willis (6):  Another career cut way too short, his legacy as the “Stroll King” or “Sheik Of The Blues” culminates nicely to get him six nominations so far.  The man who helped bring dancing to rock ‘n’ roll music, he’d be undisputed royalty if he’d lived and recorded through the ‘50s.

23. Link Wray (2):  In my glossary, "merit" is not quite synonymous with "snub."  Link Wray is a huge snub, but that's more of an issue of the ridiculous amount of time it took to even get him nominated for the first time, compounded by the slap in the face of honoring just "Rumble" when unable to get him inducted.  That said, his innovation and influence are immense.

22. Kate Bush (1):  You gotta respect an artist whose only limits are the ones she imposes upon herself.  That said, said self-imposed limits understandably keep her from ranking any higher on this list.

21. Afrika Bambaataa (1):  Recognized as one of the founding fathers of hip-hop, but having never gotten big beyond the New York scene, and without the Soul Sonic Force as part of his nomination, he doesn’t merit any higher on the list.

20. Joe Tex (5):  An impressive string of R&B and Pop chart hits, and considered by some to help influence rap’s style of vocal delivery, but he wasn’t the only one doing that (see also: Johnnie Taylor), and a lot of his songs are variations on the same theme.

19. The New York Dolls (1):  Surprisingly influential in both the worlds of punk and of glam.  No real chart success, and arrived a few years after a couple of the other proto-punk acts.

18. The MC5 (1):  The proto-punk act that pioneered distortion as a musical gimmick, and helped influence a lot of bands, plus the title alone of their only hit, “Kick Out The Jams” seems to sum up the movement they helped create..

17. Jane's Addiction (1):  They might be a little better known for who was in the band rather than for their music, but for what they accomplished in their relatively short time, they weren't a bad nomination either.

16. War (3):  Funky Latin rock music.  They crossed a lot of barriers with memorable songs, despite not being very innovative.

15. Chic (11):  “Good Times” is an extremely important record, plus their musical proficiency and production wizardry.  Sadly, the cherry-picking induction of Nile Rodgers pretty much snuffed the last, smoldering hopes of getting them inducted.

14. Eric B. And Rakim (1):  Extremely well-crafted and flawlessly executed hip-hop music that took it to new levels, bridging two ages of hip-hop.

13. Ben E. King (3):  Another solo artist that had some trouble distinguishing himself from his former group, this man had more commercial success than some others who have been inducted, like Lou Reed, plus two songs that are absolute milestones of 60’s R&B, one of which contains the arguably most important and famous bass line in all of rock ‘n’ roll.

12. Eurythmics (1):  The two of them broke some serious ground together, and recorded some amazing songs, and that's not even considering Annie Lennox as an icon.  But no, I don't support jointly nominating and inducting her solo career with the duo.

11. Todd Rundgren (1):  He is as musically versatile and artistic as he is industrially versatile and innovative.

10. The Spinners (3):  Among the groups that facilitated the transition from smooth soul to disco and beyond, they were one of the best.  A long string of R&B and Pop hits make them an amazing choice that sadly has seen their chances dwindle over the past few years.

9. The Dominoes (1):  A full dozen Top 10 R&B hits in the formative days of rock ‘n’ roll, they managed to cross over twice to the mainstream audience (despite the for-the-time raunchy nature of “Sixty-Minute Man”) and helped knock down the racial barriers, proving to be a seminal group of the pre-Elvis rock ‘n’ roll years.

8. Depeche Mode (2):  They're basically one of those "something for everybody" outfits that really make you wonder why they're on the outside even after back-to-back nominations.

7. Judas Priest (1):  As Eric and Mary said on the Hall Watchers podcast, probably the second most important act in the genesis of heavy metal after Black Sabbath.  Extremely significant.

6. Rage Against The Machine (2):  If nothing else, they are truth in advertising.  They took the ethos of '60's and '70's protest songs, and put it on steroids.  Combining seemingly disparate musical styles, they broke new ground and influenced plenty.

5. The Marvelettes (2):  Probably the most important thing about the Motown legacy is that it was a marvelous marriage of Black culture and youth culture.  I can't help but believe the hit-the-ground-running success of the Marvelettes, success that continued well after "Please Mister Postman," helped set the empire on its enduring path.

4. Nine Inch Nails (2):  Something of a pioneer and a definite tour-de-force.  Some initial trouble being celebrated in a mainstream sense, but even then, time has been kind.

3. The Smiths (2):  Probably the most important band of the post-punk scene that didn't have any charted singles on the Billboard Hot 100.  Massively important.

2. LL Cool J (5):  One of rap’s first solo superstars, not only did he help rap transition from an outfit form to a solo MC’s game, he also helped segue R&B into its smoother form during the mid-‘90s.  Much of mainstream pop music today is still built somewhat upon plans he helped lay.

1. Kraftwerk (5):  It was a hard decision to switch LL Cool J and Kraftwerk around.  A Krautrock act that evolved greatly and is basically responsible for electronica music becoming what it is today.  But what tips the scales for Kraftwerk that I wasn't aware of before, is how important and influential they were to the immediate pop scene that followed in their wake, and the way their innovations have affected the industry as a whole, including the world of hip-hop that LL Cool J remodeled.

So there we are.  It was a tough hierarchy to make and one I still question heavily even as I continue to look over it.  I mostly tried to keep the merits of each nominee in line with my I-5 system, but with this many different acts, it's hard to completely fairly evaluate disparate sets of data.  Nevertheless, I hope you enjoyed reading my thoughts and care to weigh in in the Comments section below.

Monday, May 27, 2019

Something light-hearted: fun with a serious topic.

One of the things that elated so many people with this latest class of the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame was the second induction of Stevie Nicks.  Adding onto that was the induction of Janet Jackson, making this the first time in quite awhile that there were two living female acts inducted in the Performer category.  In their acceptance speeches, both Stevie Nicks and Janet Jackson made the plea for the Hall to induct more women.  Around the same time as the induction ceremony, an excellent piece on the pervasive atmosphere of misogyny surrounding the Hall was published, with the subheading insisting that the Class Of 2020 be absent of the Y-Chromosome.  Since then, there have been a lot of comments and speculations about what it could take to get an all-female class, and what it might look like.  I'm not big on jumping on bandwagons.  I'm not keen to make a list of greatest snubs, nor have I taken to ranking songs by inductees in terms of significance.  But this one I like.  People have enjoyed making lists of all-female acts or female-led groups that they'd like to see make the ballot.  So I thought I'd do this too.  What kind of ballot would I like to see if it was comprised of only female acts?  Well, those who know me know this list will skew very heavily toward the early years, but really, there are deserving women in every period.  This is just a list that reflects my personal bent.  I'd love to see your list in the Comments section.  Keeping civil tongues and having fun with this, in my opinion, is the best way to show just how easy it is to do this and how hard it would be to go wrong--even with the knowledge that a ballot of fifteen to nineteen nominees will yield a class of at most seven inductees.  So if I were the entire Nominating Committee, dedicated to the cause, this might be the ballot.

The Marvelettes:  While I've never made any attempt to make a ranked list of snubs, I can say that if I made such a list, the Marvelettes would be in the top three, definitely behind Chubby Checker, and level-peggy against Kraftwerk (the Germans have the edge in my "I-5", but the number of years the Marvlettes have been snubbed whittle that advantage down to a coin flip).  An absolute must for the Hall at some point.

The Go-Go's and The Bangles:  While I would love to give each entry their own paragraph, my reasons for both of these are the same, so I'm lumping them together.  Michelle Bourg of the Iconic Rock Talk Show pointed it out wonderfully: since inductees automatically become members of the voting bloc, to help give women a larger say, the most obvious way would be to induct more living women to become members of the Hall and said voting bloc.  These two groups would do that, and their musical accomplishments more than make them deserving candidates.

The Crystals:  The disparity of inducted men to inducted women is staggering, and no one act can make up the difference, but if they'd induct all the members of all three eras that were credited as "the Crystals," it'd probably be the single biggest move the Hall could make to close that gap.  If they're REALLY generous and want to include every woman who was a member of the Blossoms, whether or not they were on any records subsequently credited to "the Crystals," you could theoretically have a group of eighteen women inducted in one fell swoop, one of them a dual inductee.  Insisting that they have been on a Crystals' record, it'd maximally be about ten women, but that's still probably the biggest gain a single inductee could make.

The Chantels and The Shangri-Las:  Both of these girl groups got the ultimate shaft by having records of theirs "honored" in the Singles category this year.  Let's rectify that slight and simultaneously obsolesce that odious side project in the process by pushing for these two groups to get into the Hall.

Carole King, Tina Turner, and Diana Ross:  Admittedly, I'm not as enthusiastic about inducting Diana Ross solo as the other two, but with Stevie Nicks blazing the trail this past year, these three would all be fantastic candidates to stampede through in Nicks' wake.  It'd be awesome to have happen.

Cher and Chaka Khan:  Another two women I would enthusiastically cheer for being inducted twice.  Admittedly, inducting them as soloists would probably inhibit the efforts to induct their ensemble incarnations, whereas inducting the ensembles first would hopefully springboard the solo efforts to follow.  Still, two more powerhouse names that you wouldn't be wrong to put on the ballot.

Whitney Houston:  How is this woman not in already?  Even the most narrow-minded "rockist" lists of Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame snubs concede that Whitney Houston should be in.  I can't make it any plainer than that.

Pat Benatar:  I initially balked at including Pat Benatar on my list, simply for the fact that her candidacy caters to that aforementioned narrow-minded "rockist" crowd that can't see beyond a post-British Invasion definition of "rock."  However, her resume is too strong to ignore.

Salt-N-Pepa:  Let's not let the crusade to induct more women obscure the importance of recognizing hip-hop and rap as part of the rock and roll family.  This outfit were a formidable force of rap and strong femininity, and it'd be great to acknowledge that.

Patsy Cline:  Country artists have a tough time being seen as important to the rockscape, but Patsy Cline is one of the easier sells on this front.

Lesley Gore:  Despite arriving after Wanda Jackson and Brenda Lee, Lesley Gore is seen as the original "Teen Queen" for her powerful pop catalog that spoke so strongly to the teen market during the '60's.  So many great, catchy songs, so many hits.  It's just wrong to keep her out.

Connie Francis:  Like Brenda Lee, her career as a rock and roller is usually met with skepticism because it was also rife with softer ballads, not to mention she later went in a decidedly different direction by the early-to-mid '60's.  But it shouldn't negate those records or her importance.

Carly Simon:  Another act of prominence from the '70's with a solid catalog to warrant serious consideration.

Yoko Ono:  I can hear the hissing and obscenities flying right now.  But really stop and think about it: is there any performer you can think of who would more succinctly address multiple fronts of marginalization going on with the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame and within the music industry at large?  I don't think I can.  Vilified for breaking up the Beatles, despite every testimony by the Liverpool lads themselves to the contrary; her aural avant-garde art reviled because it was misunderstood; her music denounced because she isn't the greatest singer by Western conventional standards of music; albums that spoke for abused women everywhere; a political force with her art as well as her music; re-recordings and remixes of early material for the EDM scene (a musical scene heavily underrepresented in the Hall)--re-recordings and remixes that not only strongly aligned her with the (and I apologize if I'm forgetting initials) LGBTQ+ community, but further sought to politically charge the music of EDM from a passive subculture to an active counterculture--there are very few acts that both pushed the rock and roll envelope the way she has, and suffered so undeserved and unwelcome a reputation for doing so, especially to the extent that she has.  She might be the ultimate choice to represent the movement to have an all-female ballot, possibly part of the reason the musically and masculinely fragile loathe her.

That's just nineteen names thrown out, and I didn't even get to Mariah Carey, Bikini Kill, or reviving attempts to induct Mary Wells or Esther Phillips, and the last name to not make the cut was LaBelle.  Whichever five to seven Performer inductees you got from this hypothetical ballot, the inducted class should also include an inductee in the other three major categories:

Estelle Axton:  She really should have been inducted with Jim Stewart in 2002.  Let's rectify that oversight and induct her in the Non-Performer category (Ahmet Ertegun Award, if you prefer, but that's another can of worms).

Ella Fitzgerald:  There's some debate as to whether Big Mama Thornton should be inducted as a Performer or as an Early Influence.  While you're trying to make up your mind about that, let's induct this jazz icon in the Early Influence category.

Carol Kaye:  There are so many great session musicians from so many great house bands not inducted, that they really should pick up that crusade again.  And what better musician to resume that effort with than this ubiquitous bassist?

As I said, there are so many names that I didn't include, simply because nineteen's the largest ballot we've seen in recent years, including names that are probably on your lists.  So have fun and weigh in.  It most likely won't happen, but every name added just shows how important it is for the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame to heed the plea of Stevie Nicks and Janet Jackson and induct more women.

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Songs Of Proof: The Class Of 2019

The Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame's Class Of 2019 was an upswing from the past few classes.  The most notable aberration was that there were seven inductees in the Performer category.  This was something that had not happened since 2004.  It's a very welcome change, and one that we hope continues going forward.  This is also the most British class we've had, possibly ever.  Five bands from the United Kingdom, and the least American class we've had since 2010, when the Stooges were the only Performer representation from the United States.  The Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame still skews highly American, as noted in the nominees that were on the ballot.  The generational shift is notable, as classic rock is not quite so heavily represented.  We may never get away from classic rock completely, not as long as there's a fan ballot, it seems, but classic rock wasn't half the Performer inductees this time around, which is a big change from the past few years.  This is also the first time that we've had two female acts inducted in the Performer category in some time.  In fact, the biggest buzz surrounding this class was the breakthrough of the first woman to be inducted a second time into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame.  It's the biggest news of the class, and it was led with quite heavily in the public relations narrative set forth by the Hall.

The one thing that seems to have stayed the same though, is the limited racial diversity.  On paper, it looks like we should be looking at the scoreboard and saying all these positive changes versus one sad stagnation.  We have one African-American inductee and the rest are White.  It's not perfect, but regardless, we got a stellar class.  Unfortunately, there are no inductees in the other categories, and so, no songs that I haven't already mentioned, but hopefully a little more in-depth dissection and discussion of each of the seven songs chosen from these seven acts.

The Cure:  There's no denying that the Cure are one of the most quintessential bands of the entire 1980's despite being formed in the 1970's.  This band is one of the most influential bands of the alternative music scene, and yet, they had a surprisingly steady run of hits.  The voice of Robert Smith delivers some of the most profound lyrics of love, but his voice sounds like the emotionally detached British synth-pop bands.  But then again, the band has the guitar sound at times that is consistent with the post-punk scene.  And sometimes theirs was the music of inner crying of the soul.  It was this willingness to go all over the map and just do what they wanted to do that made them so influential.  The song chosen for them is "Friday I'm In Love," which kind of betrays their overall range of influence, partially because it's a later song, but having influenced the alternative scene in so many directions, that'd be a hard thing to capture using just one song.  This song has the sound and feel of music directed at the college crowd during this decade of history, but was still a sizable hit at the time and remains an enduring classic that one can use to introduce future generations to the music of the Cure.

Def Leppard:  As I said in the opening paragraph, as long as there's a fan ballot, there will probably always be some representation of the "classic rock" format in every induction class, unless the Nominating Committee makes a decision to have none of that on the ballot.  That said, it's not like Def Leppard's entirely undeserving either.  There will always be conflict and argument about the role of popularity and mainstream success in deciding an artist's merit, but it can't be denied that those are factors.  For Def Leppard, their brand of hard rock was good fun, and wasn't ever meant to not be.  There's something to be said about that.  With obvious exceptions, there's really nothing wrong with being good at what you want to do.  The structure of their songs was also something slightly different from what we were used to, as it kept building up and building up before getting to the main chorus.  The ability to lay catchy hooks is something that not every band is good at.  Arguably the most perfect example of this in the case of Def Leppard is "Photograph" and is one of their most enduring and beloved songs to boot.  Hence, it is the song of choice for this band.

Janet Jackson:  The lone representative of R&B music and off the African-American community in this class.  Janet is one of the all-time titans of the rock-era popular music scene.  If any act should have represented populism, it should have been Janet Jackson.  Unfortunately, given the primary demographic for the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame, and especially that of the broadcasts, it was Def Leppard.  Still, Janet Jackson's numbers don't lie.  Her legacy in pioneering New Jack Swing is an oft underplayed aspect of her legacy, but it's often so because her music is so much more than that.  The narrative surrounding her candidacy has been about getting out of the shadows of other members of her family, taking the reins of her professional and personal life, doing what she wanted, how she wanted, and when she wanted.  That's an amazing tale in and of itself to distinguish her from her family, but it ultimately means nothing if the music itself doesn't present a really strong case.  With Janet, it does this and more, as her own music's evolution is a narrative in and of itself.  So many catchy songs, but I ultimately dipped back to the legendary "Nasty" that was among the first to show her own strength of character and strength as a performer.  And it is a blueprint for New Jack Swing to boot.  It's far from my favorite song by her, but it is a succinct and prime example to use to show why her spot in this class is well-deserved.

Stevie Nicks:  And we reach the selling point for this year's induction class.  The most talked about of all the nominees and inductees, even by me.  What makes the induction of Stevie Nicks important isn't just the fact that she's the first woman to be inducted twice into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame, though again, the press coverage would tell you otherwise.  However "unquestionable musical excellence" is defined, I think it can be accurately said that there has to be an element of honesty to it.  I think that's something most music-focused people, and especially people who follow the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame, would agree is an ingredient of "unquestionable musical excellence."  It's why some only want acts that do pretty much everything with their music: write, play (no guest musicians ever), produce, promote, release, choreograph their shows, direct their own music videos, handle their own publicity and promotions, and even do their own stage makeup for their shows.  It's why some are okay with cover artists, as long as the interpretations have something different to them, an interpretation that is true to who the artist is.  It's why some want artists inducted who partied as much offstage as they did onstage.  It's why some object to those who sing about devil worship but are secretly Orthodox Jews.  With Stevie Nicks's solo career, it's about her no longer hiding her creativity, but baring it boldly in songs that she felt on some level.  It also a recognition of the validity of the simultaneous solo career, which we don't have a ton of in the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame.  And when Stevie broke solo, everyone had to "Stand Back" as she did her own thing, while staying with her band.  It's probably my favorite solo Stevie song, and I think it shows her own strength, despite ripping off "Little Red Corvette."  And I think it's a lot better than "Edge Of Seventeen," so I'm definitely going with that song instead.

Radiohead:  When this band missed out on induction last year, there was a lot of head-scratching, and even some murmurs about conspiracies centered on their relative apathy for the accolades.  The one thing everyone can agree on is that this band is extremely deserving of the honor, even if the band members themselves don't understand why it's considered an honor.  An artist is generally considered worthy of induction if it can be pointed to how they contributed to the evolution of rock and roll.  It becomes an easier sell when the evolution of the band itself is highly recognizable as being from one album to the next, or even from every other album to every other album.  Maybe it takes two albums to fully mine a particular vein, while also beginning to reveal the next vein you'll be excavating.  I feel that's how Radiohead tends to work; however, as someone who hasn't followed Radiohead since the beginning, this is speculation on my part.  Someone else could easily take me to school if I'm way off-base on that.  Anyway, that's the train of thought I was going for when I chose "Paranoid Android."  As the first single from OK Computer, it still has lingering hints of what the band accomplished from the days of Pablo Honey and The Bends, but it also contained a lot of elements that piqued the listeners' collective curiosity, making them ask (some maybe even aloud), "Where are they going with this?"  If nothing else, following the evolution of Radiohead's music is less like a trajectory that's easily calculable, and more like riding Space Mountain where you can't always see whether you're about to go left or right, up or down.  "Paranoid Android" is far from my favorite Radiohead song, but I figured either this one or "Fake Plastic Trees" would be the best example.  As a personal aside, I really only started listening to Radiohead when they were nominated last year, and I have to admit, I'm a little resentful of how much I relate to their music, because it's seldom for the better.  Despite the fact I prefer the music of the first two decades of rock and roll, I really don't feel any shame in being a millennial, so it doesn't so much bother me so much that my enjoyment of them is a reminder of what a millennial I am.  It's more a matter of what songs I relate to and why that makes me hate myself and love-hate their music by extension.

Roxy Music:  Despite not being such a huge band here in the United States, Roxy Music is a band you know of because your favorite bands of the '80's and '90's were fans of them.  You didn't even have to know more than "Love Is The Drug" to find them worthy of induction, because your favorite bands knew their songs.  Or maybe you just know what a musical dynamo Brian Eno is and that he's a Roxy Music alum.  Whatever the reason, you just know they're worthy of induction into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame before you even hear a second song from them.  And as Joe Kwaczala said, once you hear their music, you hear it in all those other bands.  That's influence, and there's no escaping it.  For their own catalog, the unconventional nature of their songs is the essential motif.  Despite songs like "Avalon" and "More Than This,"  they really had a way of being unconventional, whether it was subject matter, the way they created sounds, odd juxtapositions, or maybe all of the above.  "Love Is The Drug" certainly isn't so unconventional in the subject matter, and even the idea of being addicted to love isn't entirely new.  And yet, Roxy Music managed to write about it in a manner that almost makes it sound like an anthropological study.  And the sonic landscape that they fashioned around those words was definitely different, odd, and catchy.  True, while they languished in the "Previously Considered" category for years, I chose this song mainly as something recognizable to use, but the more I listen to them, this song really is the happy medium that kind of makes their body of a work a coherent collage, so we're going to catch that buzz after all.

The Zombies:  If the musical evolution of Radiohead's career is difficult to follow, try telling the story of the Zombies to someone unfamiliar with them.  Their biggest hit was after they broke up, their landmark album only grows in popularity and stature each year, there was an impostor group trying to capitalize on their newfound success at the time while the keyboardist was off doing his own thing with his new band... not to mention they started out as a British band covering American R&B, but became a keyboard driven, moody, quasi-jazzy, and almost Baroque-sounding band.  Oh, and the real band reunited a few times, and has put out some high quality, but more conventional, songs.  I'd make a comparison to Avengers: Endgame here, but that movie's still in theaters as I type this, and I really don't want to spoil anything for anyone.  Anyway, the music is still more fascinating than the story, which is what really matters.  I actually really like the pre-Odyssey And Oracle stuff and the new songs too.  It's not just about that one album for me.  Give me "I Love You" and "New York" as well as "Imagine The Swan."  And while I didn't want to be so obvious with every inductee this year, the song used for the Zombies is indeed "Time Of The Season," and that's still okay, because it's such an iconic song for not just the 1960's, but for rock and roll itself.  It needed to be that song.

And with that, we've kept the Songs Of Proof catalog current.  It's a further look at the songs that I mentioned back on the merits evaluation entry about six or seven months ago.  But like every other post like this one, feel free to weigh in using the Comments section below.  And of course, the recap:

the Cure: "Friday I'm In Love"
Def Leppard: "Photograph"
Janet Jackson: "Nasty"
Stevie Nicks: "Stand Back"
Radiohead: "Paranoid Android"
Roxy Music: "Love Is The Drug"
the Zombies: "Time Of The Season"