Monday, November 21, 2016

Music To My Ears: The Ballot For 2017

We've looked at the (hopefully) objective measure of merits for each of the nominees.  But that's really only half the story.  Most voters tend to let their personal tastes influence how they vote.  Right or wrong, it's a matter of fact, and considering that "Unquestionable musical excellence" was long the official metric that the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame itself used to determine the worth of a candidate, it's a fair practice to be self-aware of one's own personal biases.  Well, I can't speak for anyone but myself, so I guess it's time to ramble on the narcissistic side and talk about whether or not I enjoy listening to the music of this year's candidates.  Spoiler alert: some yes, some no; last year, one nominee was both of those!  We'll average them out with my merit ranks too, and see how things measure up.

1. Electric Light Orchestra
I had never heard of them until I was in my teens and working in a restaurant, and the cooks there exposed me to them.  Not a band I've taken to collecting though, but I love their overall general sound.
Favorite song: "Hold On Tight"
Merit rank: 6
Average of ranks: 3.5

2. Steppenwolf
They're a great blues-rock outfit with a lot of songs that are really good.  The homogenization of radio ownership and the digitization of music for radio station libraries (so that CDs and vinyl are not kept handy to spin) have a lot to do with why nobody knows them beyond two songs though.  And with apologies to AlexVoltaire at the Northumbian Countdown, I'm not gonna bother with his album challenge.  I think of musicians in terms of their songs, not their albums.  I love a lot of the acts that focused on releasing singles and not on albums.  I think his challenge to name a good album is founded on a false presupposition.
Favorite song: "Straight Shootin' Woman"
Merit rank: 14
Average of ranks: 8

3. Joan Baez
Joan Baez just has the quintessential folk songstress voice.  Judy Collins, Mary Travers, Judith Durham... all sing so much like her.  It peals through clearly and magnificently.  Great arrangements on her songs make her a pleasure to listen to.
Favorite song: "Blue Sky"
Merit rank: 8
Average of ranks: 5.5

4. Journey
Shut up!  I hate myself too, but catchy harmonies and good hooks on their good songs make up for their schmaltzy junk later on.
Favorite song: "Separate Ways (Worlds Apart)"
Merit rank: 16
Average of ranks: 10

5. 2Pac
The man had some good samples and lyrics that flowed well, which makes it only logical that I'd like the Vulcan rapper T'Pac.
Favorite song: "Unconditional Love"
Merit rank: 2
Average of ranks: 3.5

6. The Cars
They had something for most everybody, and that includes me.
Favorite song: "Tonight She Comes"
Merit rank: 4
Average of ranks: 5

7. The Zombies
They set an ominous table with their organ-driven sound, but it was something to latch onto and listen to several times.
Favorite song: "Tell Her No"
Merit rank: 18
Average of ranks: 12.5

8. Janet Jackson
For my money, there are more entertaining R&B artists from the '80s, but I still enjoy a number of her songs.
Favorite song: "Black Cat"
Merit rank: 5
Average of ranks: 6.5

9. Chaka Khan
This is about her solo career.  I prefer her Rufus work, but there's still plenty of excellent material in her solo catalog.
Favorite song: "I'm Every Woman"
Merit rank: 10
Average of ranks: 9.5

10. Chic
Some funky grooves, though lyrically not the most impressive out there.  Overall fun.
Favorite song: "I Want Your Love"
Merit rank: 11
Average of ranks: 10.5

11. Joe Tex
Like a lot of soul singers not yet in, his '70's stuff is stronger than his '60's songs, even though I hate his two biggest hits from the '70's.
Favorite song: "Hold On To What You've Got"
Merit rank: 12
Average of ranks: 11.5

12. Depeche Mode
Heavy-synth music is the part of the '80's music scene that I loathe most, but Depeche Mode was one of the better acts of that style.
Favorite song: "Just Can't Get Enough"
Merit rank: 7
Average of ranks: 9.5

13. The J. Geils Band
I actually enjoy most of their songs, but they don't really grab me the way that some of the other artists on the ballot do.  Maybe they really do put on a great show, but if the records don't grab me, there's really no reason to go to the show, right?
Favorite song: "Flamethrower"
Merit rank: 19
Average of ranks: 16

14. Kraftwerk
Last time they appeared on the ballot, they also ranked fourteenth in personal preference.  This time however, slot number fourteen isn't second-last.  I appreciate their art, and can enjoy it to a degree for that reason, but it's not as easy as a listener to immerse myself in it.  I like music with emotions, and much of Kraftwerk's Modus Operandi eschewed that idea.
Favorite song: "Neonlichten"
Merit rank: 1
Average of ranks: 7.5

15. Yes
Last time they appeared on the ballot, they also ranked fifteenth in personal preference.  This time however, fifteenth is not dead last.  Don't care for prog.  I like classical, and I like rock and roll, but prog-rock was and is a combination of the two that doesn't work for me.  Songs like "Classical Gas" by Mason Williams and revamped versions of classical melodies such as "Joy" by Apollo 100 and several arrangements from B. Bumble And The Stingers do it better for me.  Still, Yes shows great originality in what they do, I'll admit that.
Favorite song: "Your Move (I've Seen All Good People)"
Merit rank: 9
Average of ranks: 12

16. Bad Brains
Not a fan of cacophony, and their vocals sound like caterwauling on their slower numbers, but at least they're short and punchy, true to punk.
Favorite song: "I Against I"
Merit rank: 17
Average of ranks: 16.5

17. The MC5
I'm all about honoring my fellow Michiganders, but as innovative as the use of distortion was for the records, sometimes it overshadowed the melody and even the rhythm, so it makes audiating their songs all the more difficult.
Favorite song: "Kick Out The Jams"
Merit rank: 15
Average of ranks: 16.

18. Pearl Jam
Hello, Mr. Vedder?  Got someone I'd like you to meet, a military sort of person, I think.  Goes by "Major Tonality."  Okay, I know, that kind of undermines the whole ethos of grunge, but I cannot buy into their agony like this all the time.  Their dispassion ruined "Last Kiss" for me, and I wasn't a big fan of the original by J. Frank Wilson And The Cavaliers, either.
Favorite song: "Even Flow"
Merit rank: 3
Average of ranks: 10.5

19. Jane's Addiction
Pretty much everything I wrote about Pearl Jam, but add a nasally high lead singer's voice, and I'm done.  The fact that my favorite song from them is a semi-faithful cover of the Grateful Dead should say all that needs to be said for me.
Favorite song: "Ripple"
Merit rank: 13
Average of ranks: 16

Looking at the combination of taste and merits, it would stand to reason that my vote on the fan ballot would be the five highest averages.  In this case, my vote should theoretically be for Electric Light Orchestra, Joan Baez, 2Pac, the Cars, and Janet Jackson.  The reality of it is, though, that this list of five with the best averages is only sixty percent accurate for how I've been voting.  Electric Light Orchestra, Janet Jackson, and the Cars have all been getting my vote.  However, instead of Joan Baez and 2Pac, I've been voting for Steppenwolf and Chic.  None of this however is indicative of whom I believe will be enshrined next year.  That prediction though, will be coming soon.

Saturday, November 5, 2016

Merit evaluation 2016-2017

With some time elapsed since the announcement of the nominees, the time has come to look at the nominees from the perspective of their merits.  Already there have been plenty of murmurings of who belongs and who doesn't.  Some have said that Janet Jackson doesn't deserve induction, at least one opinion lists Steppenwolf as unworthy, and still others have said that Journey or Joe Tex don't belong.  Everyone has their metrics by which they measure a nominee's worth for enshrinement.  

For Rock Hall Monitors, the metric is fourfold: Innovation, Influence, Impact, and Intangibles. Where did they break new ground, who followed their lead, how much and how hard did they resonate with the listening public, and what else is there that completes the picture?  An attempt is made to give conceptually equal weight to all four categories--that is, the effort is made to view all four categories as potentially capable of tipping the scales in favor of an artist. Once again, as a reminder, please remember the bigger picture: the last act on this list of nineteen is most likely still among the top one hundred or two hundred deserving acts for the Hall out of all the eligible acts out there.  There isn't an act on this ballot that would be an outrage if they were inducted.  With that in mind, what are the merits for this year's slate and in what order?

Innovation: As a prog group, they pioneered what is now known as electronica.
Influence: Again, electronica artists that have come since all tip their hat to Kraftwerk, particularly those from the European scene.
Impact: How big they were in Europe has not been fully measured yet.  In North America, their heyday was strongest in the disco/dance music scene, as odd as that may seem, given what the artists of that scene during that time were putting out.  Overall, they have two songs that are quasi-known by the general public: "Autobahn" and "Trans-Europe Express."
Intangibles: Only in the recent years has electronica music been getting taken seriously as an art form, at least in terms of coverage from the trade publications, and most point to Kraftwerk as a major point of genesis.

2. 2PAC
Influence: He's a widely cited rapper; many artists in the rap community are claiming him as an influence.
Impact: One of the first solo rap superstars, particularly gangsta rap, that broke the glass ceiling of the Pop community and charts, racking up several hits both before and after his death.
Innovation: Rap as an art form had much of its DNA solidly in place by the time 2Pac came around, so not too much here.
Intangibles: His murder both brought the territorial war in the rap community to the forefront of public consciousness, and along with the death of the Notorious B.I.G., helped put an end to it.  Having died a martyr of and for his art is considered huge.  Or maybe he didn't really die, and went back home to Vulcan to continue his life as T'Pac?  Yes folks, that's gonna permeate this season's posts here.  Deal with it.

Impact: Having carried the torch after the death of Kurt Cobain, they have become the preeminent and best selling grunge act of the past thirty years.  As of 2006, they ranked third among this year's nominees in Joel Whitburn's rankings of artists in the Top 200 Album Chart's history, but in the past ten years, they could easily have moved up to first or second.
Influence: As one of the biggest names of grunge, they have proven extremely influential to myriads of rock bands that have come along in the past fifteen to twenty-five years.
Innovation: While they were not the first grunge act, they are considered one of the major three bands that helped solidify its sound as the public knows it today.
Intangibles: They are regarded, along with Nirvana and Green Day, as part of the triumvirate that helped pushed alternative to the forefront and shapes what's now marketed as "alternative" today.

Innovation: One of the front runners of new wave music, they helped define an entire movement in the music world.
Influence: Again, one of the front runners of new wave.  They influenced a lot of the new wave and even synth-pop and synth-rock acts of the '80's.
Impact: A very commercially successful group with a string of Top 40 hits, and a respectable run of charted albums.
Intangibles: This was a band that seemed to have something for everyone, including critics, who also had a lot of good things to say about them.

Impact: The biggest singles artists on the ballot, and one of the biggest of the whole rock era.  Still going strong with a recently released album.
Influence: One of the most influential female singers of the past 30 years, paving the way for a lot of starlets of R&B and dance music.
Innovation: Not her strongest suit, admittedly, though between her and her producers, her sound became something of a template for 80's and early 90's dance-R&B.
Intangibles: It really does say something to her talent, ethic, and overall credit that in a family of nine kids, all of whom vied for success as solo artists, she's only one of two that can rightfully claim the label of "superstar."  Additionally, had a bigger hand in the creation of her music than she is often remembered for.

Impact: Impressive run of hits through the '70s and early '80s, many of which are still well-known and loved, plus a string of hit albums.  Big enough that when one says, "ELO," there's no ambiguity as to whom it refers, and (hopefully) no confusion that it's a acronym used in text messages and online discussion.
Innovation: An act where they may not have pioneered any one particular element of their sound, but the proportions and overall finesse, not unlike a culinary recipe, is as unique and instantly identifiable as Colonel Sanders'.
Influence: Between the popularity of Electric Light Orchestra and the continuation and success of Jeff Lynne as a producer, it's not a huge stretch to say they had some influence over a lot of acts that came after and on latter-day efforts of established artists.
Intangibles: It can be nothing but an asset to their merit to remember that John Lennon himself said that had the Beatles not broken up, they probably would have sounded like Electric Light Orchestra.  Additionally, Jeff Lynne's extraneous work as a producer, and possibly even as a member of the Traveling Wilburys, adds to the overall weight of ELO's worth and presence on the ballot.

Influence: As one of biggest names of that synth-driven style that could be known by any number of names, they fit in as an influence to many acts that came after in the decade or two that followed.
Impact: A noticeable string of charted hits and songs non-charted classics, as well as hit albums to note.  They were big in both the Album and Modern Rock Tracks charts, as well as the Dance charts.
Innovation: Not super innovative, but the fact that they were all-synthesized may speak a word or two in this category.
Intangibles: This is a group that even the most hardcore of rockists wouldn't complain too much about if they got inducted, which is not inconsequential.

Influence: After Bob Dylan, there's no solid conclusion for who was the most influential folk/folk-rock artist.  That said, Bob Dylan is one of many, many artists who claim to influenced by Baez at some point in their career.
Impact: Though she had less than a dozen hit singles, she's ranked (again, as of 2006) as the highest-ranking Albums Charts artist among this year's group of nominees, just edging out Journey.
Innovation: Come on, folk is one of the most simplistic forms of music we know of and that is still widely recorded today.  Even political infusion is nothing novel.  Sorry Joan.
Intangibles: Her continued political activity and the way it permeates her music to this day is part of what makes her so influential, but in a way, it's kind of its own point of which to take note.

9. YES
Influence: One of the most respected names in the entire sub-genre of prog-rock.  A lot of prog bands took cues from this group.
Innovation: Among the first to really successfully and continuously infuse classical elements into the world of rock music.
Impact: One of the very few prog bands to also have a #1 hit on the Hot 100.  They’re much bigger in the album charts than the singles, but even their singles chart history is pretty respectable, especially compared to many other names on this ballot.
Intangibles: Semi-noteworthy solo careers of some of its members give them some additional credibility as it allows for closer inspection of the individual pieces of their machine, and the sense of synergy as a whole. 

Influence: After Donna Summer, possibly the biggest diva to emerge from the '70's, and influenced a lot of women who followed.
Impact: A modest amount of commercial success as a solo artist, including two very well known songs: "I Feel For You," and "I'm Every Woman."
Innovation: Not a whole lot, but her work with a wide variety of artists has helped bring about some different fused sounds.
Intangibles: Has rubbed elbows with some big names in the music industry, plus her legacy as the front lady of Rufus bolsters her credibility a little too.

11. CHIC
Impact: The impact of “Good Times” upon hip-hop is huge.  Also, respectable runs of hits in the disco, R&B, and pop charts, plus a good run of charted albums.  Nile Rodgers’ producer credit of the Grammy winning Daft Punk jam “Get Lucky” is also a factor here.
Influence: Again, on the world of hip-hop, having a heavily sampled record does say a lot.  Plus, the influence on funk and dance music is sizeable.
Innovation: Not entirely devoid here, as the techniques of Nile Rodgers and Bernard Edwards have proven different and difficult to duplicate.
Intangibles: Having a crackerjack production team in-house is always a plus factor.

Impact: For a male soul artist in the mid-to-late '60s and through the '70s whose name wasn't "James Brown" and who didn't record for Motown or Stax/Volt, Joe Tex actually held his own quite respectably with many R&B hits that crossed over reasonably well to Pop audiences.
Innovation: NomComm member Dave Marsh cites Joe Tex as one of the artists whose rhythmically-driven recitative style of vocal delivery really gave shape to what became known as the emcee's style of rapping.
Influence: Again, his name wasn't "James Brown" and he wasn't on Motown, so that probably limits, though doesn't entirely eliminate, his status as an influential soul artist.
Intangibles: One of the trademark characteristics of many Joe Tex songs was that he was equal opportunity, simultaneously critiquing and challenging both men and women about their parts and roles in a well-functioning society. 

Influence: Theirs is a name that will regularly appear in conversations about the most influential alternative and hard-rock bands of the past twenty-five to thirty years.
Innovation: Hard to gauge, but they were inventive in their own sound to some degree.
Impact: They have a visible presence in the history of the Modern Rock Tracks charts, and even a modicum of crossing over to the mainstream awareness.  A couple hit albums as well.  Most of all, despite comparatively limited chart presence, they're a band that people have at least heard of.
Intangibles: The names of Perry Farrell and Dave Navarro are well-regarded.  Additionally, if rock'n'roll really is more of an "attitude" than a "musical style," this might be the act on the ballot that most handily exemplifies that attitude of being "rock'n'roll" on and offstage.  The fact that no one with two or more functioning brain cells would say their music is not rock also helps.  Lastly, the efforts of members post-Jane's Addiction keeps their name and legacy enduring.

Impact: Most artists would be grateful to have just one song be considered an anthem.  Steppenwolf had two, which is pretty impressive.  Sure, it took inclusion in a movie to help elevate "Born To Be Wild" to that status, but the same thing is true of "(We're Gonna) Rock Around The Clock," which flopped when it was first released.  On top of that, they have a dozen or so additional hit singles and several charted albums.
Innovation: Their blues-infused hard rock has been argued by some to be proto-metal.  
Influence: Unknown, but it would be unsurprising to learn theirs was anywhere from "practically nil" to "fairly so."
Intangibles: If not Jane's Addiction, this is the act that would most readily symbolize rock'n'roll as being as much an attitude as a style of music.  Again, that may be because of Easy Rider, but it's still am image that bears out through their music and performance.

15. THE MC5
Innovation: Possibly the first to intentionally and regularly use distortion as a key component of their sound, they are also credited as one of the pioneers of punk rock.
Influence: Tremendously so, again, especially in the worlds of punk and hard rock.
Impact: One hit single, two charted albums, both of which at one point were on Rolling Stone's list of most important albums of all time.
Intangibles: If they had been more popular and maybe lasted a bit longer, they'd be a strong contender for that "Example Of Attitude" title discussed in the above two artists.  On top of that, given the breadth of artists, including Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame Inductees that have come out of the Great Lake State, simply the fact that they came from Michigan, especially from Detroit, almost kind of adds an extra layer of credibility to them, much as being British in the '60s might also be considered a bonus.

Impact: This is simply too large to rank them any lower in merits.  Anyone who lists them lower than this likely considers popularity and hit making as liabilities, rather than assets.  That aside, they are the third highest-ranking among this year's nominees in Pop singles charts presence, and either second or third in Albums Charts presence, literally just behind Joan Baez, so between the two, they are most popular overall.  Many hit singles and hit albums.  On top of which, their resurgence in popularity in the past decade or so has created almost a kind of mythos around them that finally penetrated the inner circles of the Nominating Committee.
Influence: Hard to say if they were leaders or followers, but most of the arena-rock bands of this era most likely fed off each other, so there's probably some there.
Innovation: Um...
Intangibles: Whether they were leaders or followers, or a little of both, Journey was, for the better part of a ten-year run, a solid barometric index for where rock'n'roll was in general.  Never fringe, not cutting edge, but a solid benchmark to use.  Additionally, because of their resurgence in popularity, particularly that of "Don't Stop Believin'," they've kind of become the act to name as that which epitomizes Americana as a concept for the past few decades.  Whether that's good or bad, it's significant.

Influence: Widely influential.  Folks ranging from Dave Grohl and Tom Morello to the Beastie Boys have cited Bad Brains as an influence.
Innovation: Not the first hardcore punk act, as many have moaned that they got nominated instead of Dead Kennedys or Black Flag, among others, but there is some uniqueness to their sound that is worth noting.
Impact: They're nominated, so... someone knows who they are!
Intangibles: Because they're so little known, it's hard to think of much here.  Perhaps the fact that they were Black and playing hard guitar music is something to consider.

Impact: Despite only having seven hits on the pop charts (including the Bubbling Under), their big three are really well remembered, and so powerfully symbolic of the ‘60s that it overshadows the short-lived life of the group.  Also, with an album in Rolling Stone’s upper fifth of Top 500 albums of all-time, it’s a critical respect thing, too.
Innovation: When you first hear them, it’s almost indescribable.  It’s moody and haunting, but not really blues, or even jazz, though there may be elements of those styles in there.  But it’s unique, and infectious.
Influence: Somewhat limited, perhaps due to their short-lived run as a group, but every now and then, some hint of their style creeps up, the most well-known of which might be the Guess Who’s “Undun.”
Intangibles: Being a 60’s British Invasion group always means something, not just because of the way the British Invasion collectively shook up the musical landscape, but also because of the music itself of each outfit.  The Zombies have a high general populace approval overall.

Impact: A noticeable run of both hit albums and hit singles.
Influence: Not a whole lot of citation, but their style of blues-rock likely created some ripples.
Innovation: Not much here either, though perhaps a uniqueness and diversity of sound could be argued.
Intangibles: An electrifying live act.  Considering how many acts sound great on record but are duds on tour, or those whose tours are the true and sole reason to be excited about an act, the fact that they're a band that has great stage presence and that most people like at least one studio recording by them is not something to overlook entirely.

This completes the attempted objective analysis of this year's nominees by merits.  There is always some disagreement, and likely even more factual errors than hoped for.  Nevertheless, it's a good exercise for discussing why an artist belongs in the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame.  Feel free to keep exercising in the Comments section below.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Initial Reactions: The Ballot For 2017

On October 18, the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame announced their nominees for the Class of 2017.  And what a ballot it is.  Nineteen nominees, and a seemingly diverse group we have this time.  Then again, last year's ballot looked pretty diverse and we got a relatively homogeneous class out of it.  A lot of question swirl around this year's ballot, both internal factors and external factors.  To put it mildly, 2016 has been a bizarre year, and it isn't over yet.  Will the political climate cause a backlash by the artistic community and this be a year where voters select any act that isn't both white and male?  Will the cult of the guitar and the "white man's definition" of rock and roll prevail predominantly again this year?  Will the political climate in the United States Of America have absolutely no bearing on the mindset of voters?  Will the string of celebrity deaths, especially in the world of music, have any bearing on the opinions of voters, or are all these questions entirely academic, looking for a smoking gun where none has been fired?  It makes for good discussion, but it doesn't focus on what is of paramount importance: looking at the ballot itself and discussing the nominees.  So let's roll through them one by one.

Bad Brains:  This is an act I honestly thought would never be nominated.  I figured them to languish on the list of "Previously Considered But Never Nominated" list in perpetuity.  Not an act I care for simply because much of their sound is too cacophonous for me.  That said, this will be an interesting one to watch: if Bad Brains makes the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame this year, they will be the first inductee ever that NEVER had an entry on ANY of Billboard's singles charts (such as R&B, Hot 100, Album Rock, Dance) NOR the Billboard Top 200 Albums charts.  I've gone through all my reference books by Joel Whitburn, and Bad Brains do not have a single entry anywhere.  I don't know about charts in other countries, but they have literally no chart presence in the U.S.A. that I am aware of.  They don't (yet) even have any songs listed as "Non-charted classics" in Whitburn's later editions of Top Pop Singles.  An induction of Bad Brains would be the biggest middle finger to the populist movement that helped propel Rush, Chicago, and other classic rock acts to induction.  Currently, I think they have no chance, not until more members of acts they influenced get inducted first.  That opinion could change by the time I make my final prediction.

Joan Baez: After I posted my predictions for the nominees, I posed a question on the Future Rock Legends forum, which asked if anyone suspected there would be a highly politically charged act on the ballot to rebut the alt-right movement in this country, since the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame's leadership are largely left-leaning.  Response to that question was lukewarm, some saying that Rage Against The Machine would be the act to fill that spot.  Of course, they turned out to be ruled ineligible until next year, but it looks like I got the answer to my question.  Joan Baez is an artist that one might have thought would have been nominated and inducted fairly swiftly on the heels of Joni Mitchell, but twenty years after Ms. Mitchell got her honors, Baez appears on the ballot.  I'm glad to see her name on the list, although I honestly would have preferred to see Living Colour on the ballot as a response to the political climate of this year.  If "Open Letter To A Landlord" isn't specifically about the Republican candidate, it sure is one lulu of a coincidence.  But Joan Baez is a good choice too.

The Cars: One of the acts that I predicted to make the ballot, and I'm glad they're back.  With a solid mix of critical acclaim and popular appeal, it's actually a bit of a mystery that they got lost in the shuffle last year.  But then again, Queen, AC/DC, and Aerosmith all needed more than one try to get in, so why not the Cars?  With the other guitar bands joining them this year, it'll be interesting to see if they can rise above this time.

Chic: The most interesting comment I've seen about them this year is when Eddie Trunk said they should have been in long ago.  When Eddie Trunk says that about an R&B act, even he's worn down.  This could very well be their year.  One of my own friends has gone from saying, "Nile Rodgers deserves an award for being a great producer.  But Chic?  They ain't worth shit." to "It's long overdue and getting ridiculous.  They deserve this honor."  I'm just plain sick of seeing their name on the ballot, and maybe that's the ploy at play here.  After so many tries, it seems like they couldn't finish in the top five from a four-name ballot.  Either way, I predicted them to make the ballot, so we'll see what the future holds.

Depeche Mode: Not too many people have commented about Depeche Mode unless they were commenting on all the inductees in a format such as this.  Though I like some of their songs, I'm not a huge fan, but wouldn't be averse to seeing them get in.  An attitude like that, however, may serve to stall their chances.  Either way, an act not many saw coming because we were all waiting for the Smiths or the Cure to return.

Electric Light Orchestra: If I had been hedging my bets to accommodate up to nineteen nominees, then Electric Light Orchestra would have been on my list.  One of the top contenders for my favorite act on the ballot.  This is one of the acts that out of the gate has the strongest chance, but things always have a way of taking an unexpected turn.  Still, I'm liking their chances.

The J. Geils Band:  Anytime their name crops up in circles of Rock Hall discussion, the word "cronyism" always looms near.  A pet cause for foundation head Jann S. Wenner and Nominating Commitee member Little Steven, the J. Geils Band also happened to make some pretty good music that didn't all sound alike.  Still, being so highly pined for by people like Wenner can sometimes be enough to turn off some voters from ever voting for them.  They're caught in a pickle to be sure.  But if Chic is any indicator, another seven nominations and people will be saying, "Just induct them already."

Janet Jackson: Another one of the six that I predicted.  The #InductJanet campaign appears to have not lost any steam.  While no one will argue that last year was the optimal year to induct her, the fact that she's returning speaks well of her chances.  Of course, it also doesn't hurt that she was the biggest victim of the fan ballot shenanigans of last year, and that may also have played a factor.  One online journalist has already ranked her as the most deserving name on the ballot, which is no small potatoes given that 2Pac and Pearl Jam are also listed.  There are a lot of questions regarding induction chances looming over this one.

Jane's Addiction: At present, a band that no one's thinking has too serious of a chance, given the ballot around it.  They're a name people know of, so that helps.  But people are going to have to research their songs a bit more thoroughly before casting a vote for them, and that is a hindrance.  However, the name recognition of Dave Navarro also stands to help them out.

Journey: Forget Rush.  Forget Chicago.  Forget KISS.  If you want an act whose nomination is proof of the strength of the populist push in the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame, Journey is probably the act you need look no further than.  This is an act that will rely entirely on their hit-making for their chances.  They really don't have much else, and that still may be enough.  One journalist already called it out: "Don't Stop Believin'" is about all you need to know of Journey to weigh their chances and their merit.  They had many other hits of course, but this is the one that stands out as their best known.  I personally think it's a haphazardly written song, but it's effing everywhere.  Also, the only nominee on this ballot that was also an inductee of the Vocal Group Hall Of Fame.

Chaka Khan: Another one I would have predicted as a back-up pick if I engaged in that practice.  A solid singer, well connected to people in the industry.  The only real question is, why are they pitting her against Janet Jackson again?  And Chic for that matter?  It also doesn't help that there's some difficulty in parsing her solo career from her Rufus work.  I'd like to see her inducted twice, to recognize both efforts.  She seems like fat that could have been trimmed to keep the list at fifteen, but no one's really complaining about her nomination either.  

Kraftwerk: Another of the six I predicted.  It's kind of hard to say anything either way that hasn't been said before.  They suffer from being neither American nor British, but they are a huge benchmark in the world of electronica.  Will this be their year?  It's anybody's guess.

The MC5: One of the few former one-and-done nominees, they have returned to the ballot.  I really didn't see them coming (back) at all.  Maybe an act that could sneak through.

Pearl Jam: Duh.  If you didn't predict them, leave now.  Do not pass "Go."  Do not collect two hundred dollars.

Steppenwolf: This year's serendipity for me.  I love Steppenwolf's blues-rock sound.  So much more than just "Born To Be Wild" and "Magic Carpet Ride," but still might be deserving for just those two songs.  I don't think anyone predicted them, and like Joan Baez, they had never even been on the "Previously Considered" list.  But they are indeed a welcome nominee, though they do add to the classic rock pool that threatens to choke out almost all variety, much as what happened last year.

Joe Tex: Another surprise return.  Currently, I believe, the third-most nominated act that has yet to be inducted (behind Chic and Chuck Willis).  After having been gone for a few years, most Monitors had figured that his support had fizzled out.  Apparently not.  The truest representative of soul music on this year's ballot, it's a bit unusual to see him after all this time.  But since he's already dead, he's someone you could induct without taking up too much time during the induction ceremony.  Wouldn't be a bad idea, but also not the best reason to do it.  Time will tell.

2Pac: If he had been Vulcan, would he have been called "T'Pac"?  Sorry guys, I had to tell that joke again.  Anyway, see "Pearl Jam" above, except this time you can at least pass "Go," though you still don't get to collect any money.  Some thought they might go back in time for LL Cool J or Eric B. And Rakim, before going for him, but most everyone had this one dead to rights.

Yes: Another I'd have picked as a back-up, had I been hedging my bets.  Prog returns, so anyone who's upset that the ballot isn't loaded up with prog-rock or prog-adjacent acts to make them happy can stick it where the sun doesn't shine.  Anyway, the fact that they're appearing on consecutive ballots is a new and interesting twist.  Then again, they were one of the acts that the fan vote hack put in the top five last year, so maybe they're back to see where they truly lie.  

The Zombies: It was kind of surprising when they made the ballot the last time they did, and kind of surprising they've returned.  They have a defining sound, but is it iconic?  That may be the difference between getting votes and not getting votes.  They're a strange case either way, and perhaps that adds to the mythos that accompanies their haunting sound and spooky name.  

With all the nominees addressed, there is one last issue at hand to discuss: this year's fan ballot.  It looks like the Rock Hall has stepped up the security of it to prevent another hack like last year.  However, the early goings of the fan vote now show grumblings about not seeing the results in real time as the votes accumulate.  Some are suspicious, saying this is another mark of the lack of transparency that has come to be part of the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame's modus operandi.  And that is possible.  Maybe the Hall will lie and say the fan vote saw the top five being Chic, 2Pac, Janet Jackson, Chaka Khan, and Joe Tex, just to suit their own wishes.  I'm not saying it couldn't happen that way, just that statistically speaking... it couldn't happen that way.  However, I'm choosing to give the Hall the benefit of the doubt at present.  I'm going to speculate that the reason they are not showing the results as each vote is added to the collective tally is because they don't want people to give up and be discouraged when they see that certain acts they vote for are near the bottom of the official results.  Vote early, vote often, but who's going to keep voting if they know they've lost beyond any hope of resurgence?  Or who's going to keep voting if they know their five acts are so far out and ahead that any catching up would be impossible?  So, even if just to play devil's advocate, I'm going to say the Hall's keeping the fan ballot on the QT for now to keep encouraging people, baiting them even, to keep them coming back and keep them voting, to keep their  site's traffic up.  Hopefully, though, they will make public the result of the fan ballot, because I do believe that the fans have a right to know the results of the ballot that they directly participated in determining.  

So those are my initial thoughts regarding this year's crop of nominees.  A lot of shrugs and some surprises.  Jumbled thoughts, which will become more organized over the next month or so to culminate in a final prediction for the Class of 2017.

Monday, September 12, 2016

2017 Nominees' Predictions

For some people, it's Christmas.  For others, it's pumpkin spice flavoring.  Everyone has something they don't want to get into too early.  For me, I don't like getting my predictions up too early for the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame's ballot, neither the predictions of the nominees, nor the predictions for the inductees.  Sometimes, I just need to go over things in my mind.  Sometimes, I'm waiting for some event to occur that will play a factor at the last moment, like a death.  Since the announcement of the ballot seems to be getting later each year, I procrastinate on posting predictions.

But it's time to get them done.  Otherwise they'll never get done.  Much like my taxes, it's time to just knuckle down and get right to it.  Who will be on the ballot for 2017?  Here are my thoughts.

First, let's nail the newly eligibles.  To think that there will be more than two is taking a pretty big gamble in itself, and one I'm just not prepared to go for.  So, we'll keep it to the obvious two: Pearl Jam is going on the ballot and into the Hall in due course.  It's just happening.  The other one will be rap icon 2Pac.  The latter is not as assured, as there are other rap icons to get ushered in, but for extra charisma points at the ceremony, I think this is a safe bet.  I don't think Rage Against The Machine gets on the ballot this time, simply because their first release was a demo, which really should not count, and I think Tom Morello is a little more ethical than that.  Maybe not.  But most of all, the odds of getting both Pearl Jam and Rage Against The Machine inducted the same year just isn't that good, and the former is of more pressing importance.

From there, let's try to predict some returning names.  Chic is probably gonna be back again for this perennial game of "How hard can we dash Nile Rodgers' hopes this year?    It's gotta end sometime, but they have to be nominated for that to happen.  They'll be sharing the dance music slots on the ballot with Janet Jackson, in my opinion.  Not only has the #InductJanet campaign given her great momentum, but there's also the shenanigans from last year's fan ballot.  While Chicago did rightly run away with the fan ballot even without the hack, Ms. Jackson would have most likely finished a solid second, and the monkeyshines that went on courtesy of a slacking IT team will probably cause her to reappear as an attempt to save face.  A couple other names from last year's ballot to return should also be Los Lobos, the Cars, and hopefully also the Spinners.  Los Lobos is the clear darling of the critics on the NomCom, the Cars just got lost among too many classic rock acts, and the Spinners are just too awesome to ignore forever.  So hopefully all three will return as well.  While the reliability of arithmetic trends where the Hall is concerned is dubious, let's also just play the odds and predict that Kraftwerk will be back this year and Yes will not.  Maybe they're the same band... you never see them on the same ballot, after all!  Hmm, is there a phone booth nearby?

Looking beyond that, last year was a clear signal that guitar bands are what the voters want.  It's sad, but clear.  Maybe the NomCom will lash back and keep it to just the Cars and Kraftwerk, but there's probably a strong possibility that there will be some on the ballot.  A favorite to predict this year has been Judas Priest, a band regarded as heavily important to the world of heavy metal music.  Meanwhile, the critique of the utter lack of women in last year's inducted class, combined with the love of classic rock may finally culminate in the nomination of Pat Benatar, to give a female candidate to those voters who are incapable of thinking outside the Trunk.

Another theme that has been noticed by some monitors is the slow inclusion of artists that had been seemingly blackballed from the Hall.  Rush, KISS, Deep Purple, Chicago... those acts all got in.  And this is why, along with the new album, many are speculating that the Monkees will finally get some love from the Hall in the form of a nomination.  In a similar vein, it may finally be determined that the Moody Blues will be deemed to important to ignore, and they'll be nominated too.

In trying to keep the Hall more modern, we need a little more representation from the '80s, and post-punk has been represented well in past years.  So, to hedge our bets, I'll predict two: the Smiths and the Cure to return to the ballot.  Normally, I would have a left-field pick, but so much of this feels left-field already, that what's another safe pick?  Let's choose Nine Inch Nails to return again.

Looking at this ballot, it's pretty unimaginative.  No real stretches, but only a couple that seem safe.  I didn't have too many that didn't were close misses.  I don't think Duran Duran is going to receive any consideration until the Cure or the Smiths get in, despite their stylistic differences.  PJ Harvey is just a little too out there, and a little too indie to get nominated as a newly eligible artist.  The Go-Go's would be nice, but I don't see it.  Devo, I think, is just gonna fall short.  I strongly considered Electric Light Orchestra, but they just missed cut.  I just didn't see the NomCom putting Chaka Khan on again, though it's not entirely impossible.  War just missed the cut, too.  I'd like to see Warren Zevon or Carly Simon on the ballot, but don't see those as happening either.  Then again, I haven't done too well at predicting the nominees the past couple years either.  This prediction is really just a hedge-better's delight, and may end up biting me in the rear for my troubles.  We'll see soon.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

The Simple--maybe too simple--And Obvious--maybe too obvious--Solution

The old saw states that every cloud has a silver lining  When terrible things happen, the natural thing to do is to seek out the possible good that can be gained from it.  The depressing rains bring life to the earth below, a bitter break-up can lead a person to finding their soulmate, filing taxes leads to refunds, etc.

When it comes to the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame, the struggle has been made to find an upside to this year's class.  For what it's worth, though, the cloud hasn't been too terrible overall.  As many have mentioned, this class knocks out at least two acts whose omissions many rock devotees have called criminal, plus a rap act that shouldn't have needed more than two nominations to get in (not getting in the first time is understandable, as Public Enemy was also on the ballot that year).  However, the recurring opinion is that while this year's class is good, it fell incredibly short of its potential.  So people have been looking for a silver lining to this year's class.  One sentiment has been that at least a huge dent has been made in the classic rock backlog, a nice sentiment but ultimately false.  When the list of classic rock acts that are considered criminally snubbed is tallied, these four are but drops in the bucket.  Significant drops, maybe even splashes, but it is a mere morsel of meat to placate the rockist crowd.

The bigger silver lining to the cloud of this class's limited diversity is the conversation that it has sparked in the wake of its announcement.  Not just a sparked conversation, it has been something that seems to have lit fires under the derrieres of people who follow the Rock Hall.  The conversation has been about how to go about ensuring greater diversity in the Rock Hall's classes.  The biggest point of contention was that there were no women inducted, not even in the other three categories.  However, this is not the only time the Rock Hall has done this.  The Classes of 1986, 1992, 2001, 2003, and 2004 have all been bereft of people with two X-Chromosomes.  It's infrequent, though three occurrences during the last decade could be viewed as alarming, and it's the first time it's happened in over a decade, so people who are crying misogyny seem to have some credence to their complaint.  However, as has been pointed out, there is also a lack of diversity, though not as stunning, in race, musical styles, and even decades of prominence, N.W.A. being essentially the only inductee that represents diversity in any of those three categories.  This year's class has been the epicenter for this perfect storm of missing diversity, that came from a fairly diverse ballot, and removed from that context, is actually a pretty decent class.

Of course, "pretty decent" is only an acceptable standard for university cafeterias.  What is expected from Halls Of Fame is a lot greater than that.  Therefore, the issue now becomes how to improve from merely "pretty decent."  What can be done to assure diversity in future classes of the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame?  To answer that question, another question must be answered first: is diversity actually a desired goal?  The word and idea of "diversity" has been elevated in our modern Western societies to a level that is tantamount to "Sacred Cow."  The mere thought of challenging the need for diversity can trigger any number of kneejerk reactions from any number of people, but sometimes it's necessary to ask that question, even if for no other reason than to have the answer when it is asked.  Such is the case here.  With the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame, the answer is unequivocally yes, diversity is absolutely warranted with their classes because rock and roll itself is a diaspora of a musical style, from its roots in various musical styles to its evolution which has branched out in a multitude of sub-genres.

With the need for diversity and variety confirmed, the next step is to find where the attempt to achieve diversity breaks down.  While the Nominating Committee are certainly responsible for putting those four classic rock acts on the ballot, as well as two more for a total of six, they also put nine very commendable names on the ballot that dealt with sub-genres ranging from disco, to industrial, to post-punk, dance music, roots music, and so on.  So while they could have restricted the number of classic rock acts nominated, the fault really doesn't lie too deeply with the NomCom.  Does it lie with the voting bloc?  Possibly, but this too is too easy a scapegoat.  While heads have been scratched as to why people like Baba Booey get a vote, or why they kowtowed to Eddie Trunk, who is now without a platform since as a member of the bloc, he pretty much forfeits his right to gripe about it--the fact is that there are somewhere in the neighborhood of seven hundred voting members, all with an individual voice, and there are probably enough permutations to select five names from fifteen and theoretically get seven hundred unique votes.  The voting bloc may be a part of it, but the odds and laws of chance are such that it wouldn't stick very well.

As cliche as it may sound, perhaps the blame lies mainly with the system itself, because again, the class that emerged out of the ballot is still a pretty decent class.  Perhaps the real tragedy was more the fact that voters could only vote for five artists, and that the Foundation was resolved to have only five Performer inductees this year.  Perhaps the best way to ensure diversity in future classes would be to have bigger classes.  More than five inductees.  This is a conclusion that more and more Rock Hall enthusiasts are coming to, and while there is not unanimity how to alter procedures to make this a reality, there is a general consensus that this may be the best approach toward having a stronger Hall and representing the rock and roll diaspora better.  Even NomCom members are starting to see it that way, or at least one of them is.  In an interview during this last voting cycle, member Dave Marsh talked about the correlation between the small classes and the annual televised broadcast of the ceremonies, stating that "that tail wags the dog every year."  As an insider, Marsh seems to confirm the suspicion that the small classes are primarily because of the impetus to have a program whose broadcast is marketable, which includes not having an excessive broadcast running time.  Even so, the restlessness grows with the frustration of these small classes.

But even while the consensus grows that classes should be larger, how to make classes larger isn't so agreed upon.  Some would prefer using a veterans' committee, akin to the practice of the Baseball Hall Of Fame, which would essentially create different strata of Performer inductees.  The Hall has already given the public a taste of what that might be like--in 2012, when they inducted the six groups that should've been inducted with their front men in 1986, 1987, 1990, and 1998.  Admittedly, the overall opinion was congratulatory on fixing those particular glaring oversights, but there has nevertheless been a feeling of an asterisk next to those six groups' names because they were chosen by special committee, possibly because special committees are how inductees in the other categories, that is inductees that are NOT Performer inductees, are selected.  So, maybe the idea of a veterans' committee isn't the best, but if it works for Cooperstown, maybe it's something keep on the back burner.

Another possibility is the quota system.  Divide the nominees into categories or sections, and instruct voters to vote for no more than a certain number of choices from each category.  In this case, maybe separate them into guitar-rock bands, R&B acts, female acts, or by whatever categorization is desired.  This was the model that was employed by the Vocal Group Hall Of Fame: they broke down their nominees list by decades of prominence, and limited the number of votes that could be cast for nominees in each decade.  Unfortunately, this is really only feasible in the short term.  By 2005, the quality of inductees slipped pretty steeply, and in that Hall's last three years, acts like the Brooklyn Bridge, the Capris, and the Duprees got in while much more noteworthy and popular acts like the Crew Cuts, the Dramatics, and Sonny And Cher never got in.  The Vocal Group Hall Of Fame is now defunct, and while its voting system is far down on the list of things that caused its downfall, following the model of a failed system is probably also not the strongest idea.

A simpler and more obvious solution is to simply allow voters to vote for more nominees and to promise a minimum of more inductees.  The Nominating Committee has been pretty reliable in delivering diversity on their ballots, though possibly they could draft up bigger and broader ballots as well, but that's a bridge to cross after more inductees start pouring through each year.  Simply allowing voters to vote for more nominees not only promises greater diversity in their classes, but also slowly helps clear up the logjam of worthy candidates that gets ever bigger every year, all without creating strata, different tiers of Performer inductees.

This idea is not without its roadblocks of course.  The biggest one is that there are many people who want to keep the Hall small.  These are people who like to tout "This ain't the Hall Of Pretty Good," and some such people are well-connected to the powers-that-be.  Some of them used to be among them, most famously Robert Hilburn.  Hilburn has tweeted over the past several years that he seldom even sees five names on the ballot worth voting for.  When attitudes like that are attached to voices that potentially powerful, it can persuade others who also wield voting power.  However, attitudes like this are exactly what caused the logjam in the first place.  Additionally, the main criterion, that is beyond the twenty-five year rule, is "unquestionable musical excellence."  That is indeed a lofty goal, but it is an intangible one, one that is not defined easily, and is highly subjective.  Pick any act; it's a safe bet that there is a loyal fan base that firmly believes that act easily clears the hurdle of "unquestionable musical excellence."  On top of that, a "Small Hall" viewpoint practically saws at a couple legs that the Foundation stands on.  Not only does a Small Hall almost by definition work against the push for greater diversity, it also dissuades the public from visiting the museum as certain acts remain not enshrined.  Keeping the Hall small torpedoes its own vision.

The other major obstacle is what Dave Marsh referred to when he said the tail wags the dog every year.  The ceremony that's held every year is a bit of an obstacle, but only because the Foundation makes it one.  The choice of venue, the starting time, the impetus to have a product that can be televised, and all the other factors that go into making the induction ceremony happen all currently work against having bigger classes.  However, a lot of this is quite easily remedied.  For starters, get a venue that is a bit more accommodating.  Obviously, all facilities that specialize in special events want to turn a profit, and thus want to run a tight ship, which means keeping the leash on booked events tight, but the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame, with all the money behind it from folks like Jann S. Wenner, can most likely afford to be a bit choosier, and can hold out for places that will let them have the time they need, and if even that fails, hold the ceremony on their own property in Cleveland.  Meanwhile, it would also well-behoove the Foundation to learn to run a tighter ship themselves in the operation of their ceremonies.  In his review of this year's event Jimmy Pardo noted that the gala began a half hour later than indicated.  Also, the event was supposed to start at 7 P.M.  Why not 5?  Furthermore, Joel Peresman, in his rebuttal to Steve Miller's recent, viral comments said nobody would want to be there for six hours.  Given how much mingling there was before and the after-party following the ceremonies, it's a safe bet that there are quite a few people who would probably call Joel Pereseman a liar to his own face.

It probably also doesn't help that the inductees themselves are playing a hand in making the ceremonies a shambles in one capacity or another.  Between Danny Seraphine of Chicago, Steve Miller, and the Black Keys, turning this year's event into a marketable program for HBO is bound to keep the crew at Tenth Planet occupied and antacid manufacturers in the black.  Of course, the Hall seems to thrive on controversy, but half-booked venues with tickets going for fifteen dollars up until showtime indicates that they won't be able to subsist on that kind of controversy for too much longer.

With all that in mind, what could be possibly gained from actually expanding the classes to a larger size?  The first two benefits have already been mentioned, but should be fleshed out further.

1. Greater diversity.  First and foremost, diversity will be gained.  The Nominating Committee has been giving no worse than okay ballots to vote from over the past several years.  They could keep the ballots the same size, but induct more artists from those ballots and get more well-rounded classes.  It would be diverse on multiple fronts:

     a. Racial diversity.  Every year, it's mathematically possible to have an all-White class, and with six acts that still get love and airplay on classic rock stations in the U.S., it was a chilling possibility that might have become reality this year, if not for the momentum that the Straight Outta Compton movie gave N.W.A.  Simply put, a bigger class that eliminates that mathematical possibility would be a boon for racial diversity.

     b. Greater strides toward gender equality.  True gender equality will probably never be achieved in the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame, partially because the histories of the music industry and the invisible hand of the marketplace have both skewed favorably toward men, but bigger class sizes in general will help diminish the disparity without having to resort to a quota system that would probably see the Pixies Three get enshrined before Emerson, Lake, And Palmer.

     c. Stylistic diversity.  To their own credit, there's usually a good balance of stylistic diversity in each class, but lately, to find that diversity, sub-genres have had to be split into smaller sub-sub-genres.  The fact that this year's Performer inductees were eighty percent identifiable as "classic rock" has really been the wake up call in the musical community, even though most people still agree that this was a pretty good class.

     d. Geographical diversity.  A growing  complaint against the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame has been that it has been too "Americentric," meaning that an act could have worldwide acclaim, but if they weren't also a big deal in the United States Of America, they have no chance of ever being enshrined.  The Hall certainly puts no such requirement in place, as acts like AC/DC, ABBA, Bob Marley, and Jimmy Cliff have all made it in, but with the possible quasi-exception of Jimmy Cliff, all of those examples were also at one point in time a big deal in the U.S.A.  It certainly doesn't help that "national diversity" in the Foundation's ranks means having Paul Schaeffer among the powers-that-be.  As of late, every few years or so, the Nominating Committee tries to use Kraftwerk as a battering ram against that brick wall, and simply having bigger classes could help make that breakthrough a reality, and lead the way for other deserving acts such as Fela Kuti, Status Quo, and Cliff Richard.

     e. Chronological diversity.  There are those who say it's time to shut the door on the '50's, and some of them even want to close the door on the '60's as well.  Larger classes would mean the ability to keep open doors to the first two decades while not ignoring modern acts.

     f. Musical excellence diversity.  "Unquestionable musical excellence."  The elephant in the room: just how is it defined and who gets to shape that definition?  Another common complaint levied at the Rock Hall is that it's a "private club," with other modifiers for "club" including "exclusive," "members only," "country," and "gentlemen's," all of which evoke images of the bourgeois class sitting together and dining on crab bisque that is seasoned with the saline tears of the downtrodden who have finally accepted their lowly lot in the natural order of things.  These accusations are no doubt fueled when someone like Dave Marsh says that while the ballot goes out to roughly seven hundred people, there are not seven hundred people on the face of the earth who truly know the history of rock and roll music.  What fuels it even more however, is when the ballots and classes feature artists whose primary qualifications are that they were a critics' darling, while scores of artists deemed excellent by the music-buying public continue to be omitted, even perhaps for the very reason that the public liked them despite critical scorn.  Luckily, there is a certain awareness of this perception, especially of late with more populist acts finally breaking their way through.  The Hall is trying to find that balance, and bigger class sizes would make it much easier to recognize and even celebrate the differences in definitions of "unquestionable musical excellence."

     g. Political diversity.  No, not actual politics.  But for want of a better term, "political" is the term used to describe a situation that is "all about connections" or "who you know and who knows you."  This tends to go hand-in-hand with the previous point, as critics associate with the bands they like and thus know them better.  But familiarity no doubt helps committee members choose names when the annual ballots are drafted.  And sometimes, actual politics can help an act rise to the top of the queue, or land another act in the "Stygian snowflakes sightings" stack.  Bigger classes will help with this too, partially because all these types of diversity have various levels and layers of overlap, to where a larger class will make a cut into each of these layers.

2. Break up the logjam.  Chic has been nominated ten times and is not in.  It took the Paul Butterfield Blues Band four tries to get in.  Black Sabbath, eight.  Electric Light Orchestra, never nominated.  Chicago, eligible for twenty-five years before they finally got nominated.  The list of eligible artists grows every year, and by sheer swing-a-dead-cat reality, so does the number of worthy artists.  With small classes, so does the number of snubbed artists every year.  By many metrics, Mariah Carey should have been a no-brainer, at least for nomination this past year, but anyone with even an ounce of savvy or familiarity with how the Rock Hall operates knew there was no chance of her nomination this time around.  The list of past nominees who have still not been inducted is now at forty (even higher if you include those who were inducted in other categories).  With the bottleneck this bad, it'll take years to properly rectify this problem, but the longer the Hall waits, the worse it'll become.

3. Beat the Death Fairy.  Neil Diamond said it's much more fun to be inducted while you're still alive.  Chubby Checker has said he wants his flowers while he's still alive.  Dave Marsh attempted to justify the joint nomination of the Small Faces and the Faces as actually one band by asking that if nominated separately, what were the odds that either act would get in while members were still alive.  There is indeed some sense of necessity to enshrine artists while they're still alive.  Some of it may be to have a better program to televise, but part of it is also a sense of waste when an induction needlessly winds up being posthumous.  By simply inducting more acts per year, the Hall can celebrate more artists while they're still around to vote on the next ballot.

4. Further defeat the Death Fairy.  The thing about an artist's death is that if they're already eligible for induction when they die, their odds of induction are best the following year or two.  After that, the chances drop significantly.  Ben E. King, Lesley Gore, Joe Cocker, and Johnny Winter may all have one more year where their odds are decent.  After that, their chances will sink to nearly zero.  Bigger classes simply improves the chances of those deceased artists, and as has been written about before, loading up on deceased artists would be a pretty shrewd move for the Nominating Committee, as acceptance speeches from loved ones are always shorter than if they came from the inductees themselves, and tribute performances would be more luxury and less necessary, since a tribute performance is almost never as good as having the genuine article around.  The downside to this, however, is that the NomCom may simply wish to wait until an artist is dead before enshrining them for one reason or another, to become the Death Fairy, so to speak.  In the case of Chubby Checker, for instance, they may wait until he's dead simply so they don't have to listen to an acceptance speech where he goes off on the Hall for overlooking him for so long.

5. Better ceremonies.  "Bigger classes" can also refer to inducting more members of a band, and this year's shenanigans have accentuated that point quite heavily.  Simply put, be more inclusive, get less drama.  Where drama refuses to go away, edit that much more of it down and use more of the harmonious segments.  Ultimately, it's better to have too much usable footage than to have too little, because there was too much pettiness at the party.  Having bigger classes means having more footage to potentially use.

6. End of side-door inductions.  Wanda Jackson, Freddie King, the "5" Royales, and Ringo Starr could all have been inducted in the Performer category where they would have more rightfully belonged.  Having bigger classes eliminates any excuses for this kind of systemic abuse.

7. Restored credibility.  The intentional limitation of inductees per year has caused many to cry foul, and has only served as additional character witness in the case of lack of transparency with the Foundation.  Because bigger class sizes will accomplish the other six things, it will eventually translate to better credibility that the Foundation means what it says when it claims to be about honoring rock and roll music.

8. More money for the Museum.  As the Righteous Brothers sang, "If you give it to the people like the people want it, they'll give it, they'll give it, they'll give it right back to you."  While speculation already abounds that this is the key motivation to the induction of more populist acts, a good reputation and having something for everybody will naturally attract more visitors to Cleveland.

The best thing about this whole concept of making the induction classes bigger is that it really requires minimal effort.  In his lambasting speech after his induction, Steve Miller said the whole process needs to be overhauled, from the top to the bottom.  As an inductee who went through the rigmarole of the induction process, he may have additional insights; however, to simply make classes bigger, to make them more inclusive really doesn't require a huge overhaul.  Adding more diversity to Nominating Committee could help, but as the Committee already puts out a consistent quality of ballots, it isn't necessary.  The only people it may be necessary to remove are the Small Hall thinkers who would dig their heels and fight against that progress.  Maybe those people are peppered throughout the levels of power in the Foundation and that's why Miller calls for the overhaul, but it could actually be accomplished pretty quietly.  Ultimately though, there are some things that Steve Miller has said since his induction that are debatable, but the foundation of his outrage is unquestionably solid: it shouldn't be this difficult.

Monday, January 25, 2016

French vanilla ice cream: the Class of 2016

The Performer inductees are announced.

The disappointed side of me feels that's the end of the good news.  It really isn't, if I'm being honest.  But I'm still disappointed.

Let's focus on the positives, because we kind of have to.  First off, Chicago continues the correlation that the winner in the fan poll will end up inducted.  And I really should be happy they're in.  They ranked first in merits on my list, and fourth in personal taste: one of only two acts to finish in the top five of both.  Deep Purple also made the cut, ending the howl about them being snubbed.  And I should be happy, as they finished second in merits, and while they were lower on tastes, they did finish in the Top 5 averages of merit and taste.  N.W.A. finally pushes through. The first rap inductee since Public Enemy.  And I should be happy because they finished third in merits, so they really are deserving.  Cheap Trick makes the cut, and they finished in the Top 5 in personal taste, so I should be happy about that.  And Steve Miller makes the cut, who just missed the Top 5 for personal taste and just made the Top 10 for merits, so a good middle of the pack candidate... nothing too sour.

But I feel like a teacher that just had a to give an A student a B- on their paper.  It's enough to keep them on the honor roll, sure, but you feel they really could have done a lot better.  For starters, the induction of Steve Miller.  The Hall has drawn a hard line in the sand that it's Steve Miller, and not the Steve Miller Band.  Well screw you, Rock Hall.  It's the Steve Miller Band, regardless of what you say.  This isn't like Patti Smith who continued a respectable pace and output after the group was disbanded.  Steve Miller had one album as a solo name, and none of the songs on it are among his highlights as a Performer.  Do it right, or don't do it at all.  The Steve Miller Band is inducted, in spirit, if not in members or name.  If Steely Dan has only two members worth inducting, then we're going to count the Steve Miller Band as inducted, even if only with one inducted member.  Seriously, all they have to do is add the word "Band" to the official program, website, and award, and I'm good with that.  Okay, maybe we just chalk this up as another egregious example of Front Man Fever.

Second, and the elephant in the room, almost no diversity.  Now, if you're into micro-dissection, you're probably saying, "What do you mean?  We've got blues-rock, jazz-rock, heavy metal that dabbled in prog, hard but fun rock, and for crying out loud, we even got rap!  Could it be any more diverse than that?!"  To which, I say, "Shut up, Gene Simmons."  The fact is, there could have been a good sampling of soul, dance music, industrial, post-punk... and instead, the classic rock playlist dominated this year.  In retrospect, it's almost a miracle that N.W.A. is the fifth inductee instead of Yes or the Cars.  Really, it's near stupefying that we need to explain to so many people, some of them actual inductees, that soul, dance, disco, fusion, industrial, etc. are all part of the rock and roll spectrum, the umbrella, the family.

This leads to the next problem unfortunately: the future of the Rock Hall.  If this is any kind of indicator, then Bill Withers was the last non-rap R&B artist inducted into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame that we'll ever see.  In the past, members of Metallica, Rush, and KISS have been transparent about how their votes went, and it was largely for (fellow) classic rock acts.  Inductees then in turn get a vote, so of course, a band yields more new members to the voting bloc than a solo artist.  And those guitar bands with several inducted members all become voters who will most likely vote primarily, if not exclusively, for more guitar bands.

"But surely they'll run out and they'll get some more variety in the mix, right?"  First off, don't call me Shirley.  More to the point, though, the answer is no.  If you've followed the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame long enough, you'll have come across people posting their lists of snubs or acts in general that they'd like to see in.  I've seen lists go to five hundred names, with fewer than ten names that aren't guitar bands.  That well ain't ever drying.  Even if they feel they have enough classic rock, they'll move on to '80s or '90s, which is good for those who want more modern acts, and probably would bode quite well for post-punk if you're willing to wait that long, but it'd take so long to get to that point that the problem of little diversity would still remain.  And always remain.  I've already read comments from people who think Golden Earring is a major snub.  Golden Earring, folks.  There will be, if there aren't already, people who think that the family ties between Santana and one-hit wonder Malo should get Malo into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame.

So what do we do?  What should we expect?  Do we just accept the inevitable and sit by as the white males continue to be inducted until the Hall looks like Congress or the Academy Award voting body?  It's hard to say.  Some suggest mandating a minimum number of acts on the ballot and in each class to literally force diversity upon the voters and the Hall as a whole.  I, for one, do not support the idea of quotas.  I don't want to see a ballot that separates nominees into categories and instructions that say, "Pick 2 of the following 6", and "Pick 2 of the following 5" with "Pick 1 of the following 4" at the end.  I oppose that for the same reason I oppose the veterans' committee idea: it creates strata.  There should be only one stratum in the Performer category: Performer.  Is there a middle ground?  Probably.  The answer may lie in the mini-institution we've reviled and ridiculed in the past: the Nominating Committee.  The NomCom makes the ballot, and if they feel there's a need to add greater diversity to the Hall, they can ensure it by nominating fewer than five white, male, guitar bands.  The downside is that it's a move that comes off as playing politics rather than nominating the most truly deserving artists.  Nevertheless, shy of actually having voters being open-minded and not just voting for acts they like (and if members of inducted guitar bands are any indicator, HAHAHAHAHAHA!!!!), the NomCom indeed holds the greatest potential for ensuring a proper, well-rounded perspective on the world and perhaps the very definition of rock 'n' roll music..

So this is actually a decent class, but it could have been better, and while we're still waiting to see if there will be inductees in other categories, we're not optimistic, feeling this is pretty much it for this year.  It's a pretty vanilla class.  With N.W.A., it's a little more than that... it's french vanilla.  French vanilla ice cream.  Still pretty good, and some days, it's exactly what you want, but usually, no.

So I'm gonna wrap up by posting a link to a great editorial piece that makes the case about the need to acknowledge Black women in the Rock Hall, but in some ways, some of the points made here could possibly also be said about Black men, white women, and maybe even the upper echelons of teen idols.  Read it.  Link here.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Official Inductee Prediction: 2016

When fellow monitors predict the nominees for the upcoming ballot for any given year, many often prefer to make "backup predictions" in an attempt to hedge their bets.  This particular practice is one I generally frown upon.  Go big or go home, right?  Well, except this is the one time when I do hedge my bets just a bit.  I should point out, however, that this did not start out as an attempt to hedge my bets.  It was merely an attempt to rank the inductees by the likelihood of induction, as I saw them.  It was only after the Rock Hall started to add an extra inductee, back in 2012, that the rankings became a way to account for whatever curve ball the Hall may throw at us.  With the whims of the Rock Hall being fickler than fate, the only thing that's really left to do, and let the seeds just go down the line as predictions for every inductee they do include this year.  Sound fair?  Too bad, that's kind of how it's done here.  But enough preamble; time to plant some seeds.

1. N.W.A.
Pioneer gangsta rap group.  Fourth time nominee, seeded #5 for 2013, #9 for 2014, and #3 for 2015.
Why they might make it:  On top of everything else they have in the way of merits, the biopic Straight Outta Compton was absolutely timely in getting their legacy further expounded and planted firmly in the minds of voters, or at least those who go to the movies. Beyond all that of course, they’re pioneers. Straight Outta Compton is a landmark rap album, and their subsequent albums, though few, were also hugely successful.  They were pioneers of gangsta rap, which almost completely obsolesced the older style hip-hop of the original hip-hop pioneers, as gangsta became synonymous with rap for a good portion of the ‘90s.  Also, as the launching point for the solo careers of Dr. Dre, Ice Cube, Eazy-E, and even MC Ren, and Yella, they could be considered rap’s first supergroup, or at the very least, the rap equivalent of the Yardbirds.
Why they might not:  Quick, ask someone who hates rap (or at least did in the ‘90s) why they hate(d) rap.  That laundry list that is their answer? Most of that traces clearly back to N.W.A.  Even if they didn’t pioneer some of those aspects themselves, they did combine it all into a blend that is the main exhibit for hatred of rap: self-gratifying, gratuitous and prolific profanity; incredibly subversive lyrics that went beyond mere wake-up calls of socially conscious folk and rock, eschewing civil disobedience, opting instead for and glorifying bloody violence; self-aggrandizement that made “cockiness” look like “self-confidence”; plus the usual stock answers of how rap isn’t even music since what they’re doing doesn’t constitute singing. And you don’t even have to be a stereotypical stuffy, White, conservative Christian to find that combination disturbing, or at the very least, inartistic.
Whom they’d pave the way for: The big ones are 2Pac and the Notorious B.I.G., the martyrs and symbols of rap-gang warfare, but also rappers like Ice-T and Snoop Doggy Dogg, plus the solo careers of most of the members of N.W.A. themselves.
Biggest threats: There’s no other rap group on the ballot this time, so no direct threats, but Janet Jackson, Chaka Khan, Chic and the Spinners could snare away votes, especially in the face of the glut of classic rock names this year that the general public has been clamoring for.
In the end:  The hype brought about from the movie this year could have been extinguished by the controversy of the tampering with the fan ballot on the Rock Hall's website, but the voters who are focused should be able to maintain the resolve and vote them in this year.  Odds of induction: 85%

2. Chicago
Rock outfit that infused horns into their sound.  First time nominee.  
Why they might make it: Over the past few years, the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame has gone to fairly strenuous lengths to nominate names that the general public has been clamoring for.  Whether it's been Rush, Stevie Ray Vaughan And Double Trouble, or acts that still haven't gotten in, like Deep Purple, there have been more names beloved by the public.  This year, Chicago is one of two names that are really huge household names, and Chicago has been eligible longer.  They're dominating the fan vote, and while that isn't a guarantee, it's interesting to take note of.
Why they might not: Critics do not like Chicago, and after living inductees, critics likely compose the biggest group of voters.  Also, there's a chance of some ballot division.  Also, the legacy of the band includes the continual descent that some would say started with "If You Leave Me Now," includes "Baby, What A Big Surprise," "Stay The Night," and "You're The Inspiration," plus songs from the current lineup that is probably bereft of any personnel who were there pre-1976.
Whom they'd pave the way for: While their sound was drastically different, Chicago has been compared in some ways to Electric Light Orchestra, so their induction could be good for finally getting Otis Wilbury finally enshrined.  Meanwhile, the downsizing of the NomCom probably won't ever be good news for earlier horn rock acts like Blood, Sweat, And Tears or the Buckinghams, but Chicago's induction can't be bad news for them either.
Biggest threats: The glut of classic rock acts is probably the biggest hindrance for the Windy City band, so Deep Purple, Steve Miller, the Cars, Cheap Trick, and Yes could all possibly steal votes from Chicago.
In the end: Chicago's been deemed a huge snub not just by the public, but from many industry people who aren't part of the voting bloc.  So, much to my chagrin, the Illuminati Conspiracy will probably come true.  Next year, the Cubs win the World Series.  Odds of induction: 80%

3. Janet Jackson
R&B and dance music diva.  First time nominee.
Why she might make it: Along with Chicago, she's the biggest name on the ballot.  There has also been an online campaign to get Janet Jackson inducted into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame.  This has been their baby, and it looks like it may just happen.  With a lot of big hits and her new album getting some positive spin, this could all culminate in an induction.
Why she might not: Two things might hinder her chances.  First, there's been a lot of speculation that all she has is because of her name and her brother's fame.  Some just think she'd be nothing if she weren't Michael's sister.  Second, naysayers say a lot of her records, particularly the earlier ones, have a very generic sound that is nothing special, even derivative, and that her producers make all the magic of her music.  This is augmented by the fact on a lot of her records, her voice doesn't come through very strongly, lost in the production effect.
Whom she'd pave the way for: The big hope is that getting Janet in will kick down the doors for Whitney Houston, the newly eligible, but not nominated this year Mariah Carey, and in the future, TLC, Destiny's Child, and Beyonce. 
Biggest threats: Chaka Khan is the other major diva on the ballot, Chic could steal the dance music votes, too.  And don't count out the Spinners either.
In the end: The popular acts have really started to come pouring through.  Why have one headliner when you can have two?  Why have only Rush when you can have Rush AND Heart?  Or just KISS when you can have KISS AND Nirvana?  Odds of induction: 65%

4. Yes
Long-lasting progressive rock band with numerous personnel changes.  Second time nominee.  Seeded #6 for 2014
Why they might make it: Yes, so far, is the only prog act to not get in on their first nomination, so that's a bit of an anomaly.  Prog does well.  Additionally, the death of only consistent member Chris Squire makes them the "Death Fairy" favorite.
Why they might not:  Critics still compose a significant chunk of the voting bloc, and critics have never been big on prog.  Plus, despite an impressive showing as an albums band, their singles recognition factor is fairly low.
Whom they’d pave the way for: Prog has a fairly long queue that rockists want to see inducted: King Crimson, Jethro Tull, and Emerson, Lake, And Palmer to name but three.
Biggest threats: Again, this year's ballot is almost the classic rock lover's dream, so look for some division from Cheap Trick, the Cars, Chicago, Deep Purple, and Steve Miller.
In the end: In 2014, I said that Yes could be the first prog band to need a second nomination, and it appears I was right.  With the death of Chris Squire, among other factors, I don't think they'll need a third.  Odds of induction: 60%

5. The Cars
New-wave rock band.  First time nominee.
Why they might make it: There aren't too many bands that can be innovative, widely acclaimed by critics, and popular with the listening public.  The Cars pulled it off and made it look effortless.
Why they might not: New-wave and synth-rock are pretty minimally represented in the Hall, and it's not a widely loved style by the powers-that-be therein.
Whom they'd pave the way for: An induction for the Cars probably won't bode too well for acts whose popularity was not in America, so don't expect a door to open for Gary Numan or Tubeway Army, but the strong synth lines could help connect the dots towards Duran Duran somewhere down the line.
Biggest threats: Classic rock bands be a pack of hungry dogs fighting for votes.  Cheap Trick, Chicago, Deep Purple, Steve Miller, and Yes could all keep the Cars idling for awhile.
In the end: That one-two punch of both acclaim and commercial success is too alluring to not select.  They could sneak through.  Odds of induction: 55%

6. Chic
R&B/disco group fronted by a crackerjack production team.  This is their tenth appearance on the ballot, not seeded their first two times, seeded dead last (#9) in 2007, #7 in 2008, #5 in 2010, #10 in 2011, #12 in 2013, #2 in 2014, and #7 in 2015.
Why they might make it: Nile Rodgers has gone back to doing it the way other past inductees have done it: a new album and new tour with surviving members of Chic, showing that Chic can still rock the house.
Why they might not: They've failed nine times before.  If he were still alive, Albert Einstein would point to this and call it insanity.  Additionally, with more classic rock bands getting in, those bands' members vote for other classic rock acts, meaning Chic isn't gaining ground.  Additionally, there’s still the Chic Syndrome: solid instrumentation soured by laughable lyrics. Lastly, as has been the case in the past, disco isn’t popular with the voting bloc, or so it seems.
Whom they’d pave the way for: The love for Nile Rodgers won’t readily translate to love for disco.  The biggest likelihood is that the next two artists in the queue for those with most nominations but not in will probably be revisited, which means Joe Tex, and maybe even Chuck Willis.
Biggest threats: The Spinners as an R&B group have more popularity, but don't ignore the solo powerhouses of Janet Jackson and Chaka Khan.
In the end: The NomCom wants Nile in, and will get them in at some point.   And with ten nominations, I'm expecting the Foundation's head honchos to say, "They're in because we fucking say so!"  At least behind closed doors.  The announcement will say the ballot ran so close, they're inducting six.  Odds of induction: 50%

(6.5: The J.B.'s)
(Funk outfit that backed James Brown on many of his records)
(Why they might make it: With the E Street Band inducted, the Hall has shown they're willing to induct entire ensembles in the Award For Musical Excellence category, and backing James Brown regularly garners serious credibility.)
(Why they might not: The J.B.'s didn't play on the biggest and best known records of the Godfather--"I Got You (I Feel Good)," "Papa's Got A Brand New Bag," and "Cold Sweat," mainly--and as such didn't pioneer the funky sound that would be one of Brown's signatures.  They simply elevated the existing template.)
(Whom they'd pave the way for: This might pave the way for more ensemble acts, like the Jordanaires, the Wrecking Crew, and the Funk Brothers.)
(Biggest threats: Their own nomination as Performers could deflect their chances of being considered in this category.)
(In the end: Side door inductions are becoming more and more the Hall's modus operandi.  Regardless, it's a toss-up.  Odds of Award For Musical Excellence induction: 50%)

7. Los Lobos:
Latin-rock/roots music band.  First time nominee.
Why they might make it: The Hall's voting bloc is comprised of industry people, inside people.  Los Lobos' target audience is comprised of such people.  Critics adore the stuffing out of them, fellow musicians respect them, and anyone else not in either of those camps respects this group.
Why they might not: If these people take a step back, they'll realize that they're the only ones who've heard of Los Lobos, or know they're not a studio group thrown together for that La Bamba movie.
Whom they'd pave the way for: For roots music, Delaney And Bonnie have also been previously considered and could get a look from this.  For Latin rock, it could mean good news for Gloria Estefan And The Miami Sound Machine.
Biggest threats: Non-mainstream act the Smiths are the closest thing Los Lobos has to a direct threat.
In the end: Acts whose biggest liability is their own relative anonymity to John Q. Public generally require a few nominations to get in.  All the same, they were a tough cut, and they still have a strong chance.  So strong, they're the upset special this year.  Odds of induction: 49%

8. The Spinners
Superstar Philly-soul vocal group from Detroit, Michigan.  Third time nominee, seeded #3 in 2012 and #10 in 2015.
Why they might make it: The Hall has been strongly populist in the past couple years, and the Hall loves the '70's as well.  The Spinners are the group that has been around the longest.
Why they might not: Soul music, soul groups especially, have been very sporadic in their induction in the past decade.  It’s a disturbing trend that will hopefully be reversed soon, but for now, it’s bad news.
Whom they’d pave the way for: Classic soul is getting thinner and thinner, so maybe they’ll go for the few-hit, but highly-respected soul outfit Harold Melvin And The Bluenotes, or just lead singer Teddy Pendergrass. Lou Rawls is another possibility.  Or they may go back to New Orleans and go for the Neville Brothers..  Though still a couple years away, a Spinners induction could point to the possibility of Boyz II Men getting in eventually, as well.  And let’s add Billy Preston.
Biggest threats: Chic's tenth nomination will probably shut the door on the Spinners this year, but so could Janet Jackson and Chaka Khan as well.
In the end:  I'd like to think they could fluke through, but it's hard to think it could seriously happen.  Dare to dream, but think realistically.  Odds of induction: 45%

9. Cheap Trick
70's rock band.  First time nominee
Why they might make it: Counter-intuitively, this is a band that is highly respected for not taking itself too seriously.  Critics actually love them for this, and the people just plain love their fun rock songs.
Why they might not: Despite creating fun, memorable music, they didn't do much else that would otherwise gain them serious respect and consideration.  Not much innovation, and they were influential to the same degree that a lot of other similar bands were influential, meaning they don't stand out in that regard.
Whom they'd pave the way for: Other bands in the "classic rock" pantheon could come through the door behind Cheap Trick, such as Journey, Foreigner, Styx, and Boston.
Biggest threats: The Cars are probably the most direct of threats, but Chicago, Deep Purple, Steve Miller, and Yes could all leach votes away.
In the end: They're a band you'd love to have in, but it's only gonna happen when there's a conscious effort to vote for them, rather than choosing the most deserving.  Probably not this time.  Odds of induction: 40%

10. Nine Inch Nails
Industrial one-man group.  Second time nominee, seeded #9 last year.
Why he/they might make it: Nine Inch Nails is the act that really helped bring industrial music to a wider audience, which means a lot with the Hall.  In fact, the act made Rolling Stone magazine’s list of Immortals, which practically guarantees eventual induction. 
Why he/they might not:  Industrial may have been brought to the mainstream, but it has never been fully embraced, not to the degree that grunge, rap, and alternative have been.  Its intentional cacophony makes it a difficult style to want to honor and enshrine.  This may be a problem.
Whom he/they would pave the way for: I’m not very knowledgeable of industrial, so I have no clue.  Ministry?  Throbbing Gristle?  I don't think they really have any chance, but we'll see.
Biggest threats: Deep Purple is probably the hardest act after Nine Inch Nails, so they are the most direct competition.  N.W.A. and Janet Jackson could steal the modern acts' votes.
In the end: With all the classic rock on the ballot, the Induct Janet campaign, and the highest chances for N.W.A. yet, I'm just thinking Nine Inch Nails gets lost in the shuffle.  Odds of induction: 35%

11. Chaka Khan
R&B diva, former lead singer of Rufus.  First time nominee?  First and a half?  Rufus with Chaka Khan was seeded #15 for 2012.
Why she might make it: She's a big name draw with a slew of chart hits of her own, plus she's worked with a lot of important names in the rock community.
Why she might not: This is presumably about her solo career, and won't include her work with Rufus.  Her solo stuff includes a lot easier listening ballads, though not exclusively.
Whom she'd pave the way for:  There are a few other disco divas who might be worth taking a look at.  Grace Jones tops that list.
Biggest threats: Janet Jackson is the clearest present danger to Chaka's chances.  Chic is also an issue, as might also be the Spinners.
In the end: If it wasn't for Janet's momentum, Chaka might be a lock.  As it is, the ballot division is gonna make her 0 for 2-- 0 for 1.5?  Oh, whatever. Odds of induction: 33%

12. Deep Purple
Highly influential hard rock band.  Third time nominee, seeded #8 for 2013, #10 for 2014.
Why they might make it: This is a band that has been heavily demanded to get inducted, right up there with KISS and Rush, and nowhere more heavily than on Eddie Trunk’s “That Metal Show”, but even without Trunk, they’re a band that has been loudly touted as among the biggest omissions because of their huge range of influence.  Additionally, famous past naysayer and NomCom member Dave Marsh has done an about face on Deep Purple, which could help swing huge support.
Why they might not: The reason they’ve been omitted for so long is simply because the powers-that-be don’t hold them in very high esteem, and those people have sway with the voting bloc.  Whether it’s because they just don’t care for their style, or think of them as a one-trick pony for “Smoke On The Water”, getting them recognized this much has been a major struggle.
Whom they’d pave the way for: Other hard and classic rock acts like Motorhead, Thin Lizzy, and Ted Nugent could all benefit from Deep Purple finally getting in.
Biggest threats: Chicago, the Cars, Yes, Steve Miller, Cheap Trick, and also Nine Inch Nails all threaten this band this year.
In the end: At one point, I said, "Purple is the new Black," meaning it's going to be a long journey to the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame for Deep Purple, just as it was for Black Sabbath.  Odds of induction: 30%

13. Steve Miller
Blues rocker who fronted an eponymous band.  First time nominee.
Why he might make it: The Hall loves blues rockers, and most of the time, they don't take many nominations to get in.  He's played with a lot of the old guard, too.
Why he might not: Two reasons.  One, his songwriting's extremely hit or miss.  It's either really good or really bad, seldom in between.  Such inconsistency won't bode well.  Two, Miller's been nominated as a solo act, but he only had one solo album.  Since the nominees were announced, there's been a lot of tittering about how it should include the band in some capacity, and to include some past members of his outfit.
Whom he'd pave the way for: Everyone has been surprised that Johnny Winter got overlooked for nomination, so maybe an induction for Miller would help.  Also, blues greats like Junior Wells or Slim Harpo could get some looks.
Biggest threats: Last time here... Chicago's jazz rock could block the blues rock, and don't forget Yes, the Cars, Deep Purple, or Cheap Trick.
In the end: With everything else going on, the fact that it's just the man and not the band nominated could be the straw that breaks a lot of voters' backs.  Odds of induction: 25%

14. The Smiths
‘80s alternative rock group.  Second time nominee, seeded dead last (#15) last year.
Why they might make it: The Smiths (and lead singer Morissey) are a highly recognized and influential name in alternative music, ‘80s music, and ‘80s alternative music.  Additionally, as a soloist, Morrissey has a certain cache in a rather niche market of Southwestern U.S. Latino teens. 
Why they might not: ‘80s alternative just can’t catch a break.  The Cure couldn’t get in, the Replacements couldn’t get in; Sonic Youth can't get on the ballot yet.
Whom they’d pave the way for: Maybe Sonic Youth will show up next year, maybe it’ll be Pixies, or maybe they’ll retry the Cure or the Replacements.  Plus, Morrissey as a soloist has a shot in the future.
Biggest threats: Los Lobos also appeals to the alternative market and could divide things against the Smiths.
In the end: Until proven wrong, I’m just going to keep assuming ‘80s alternative has little to no chance of getting in.  I don’t know what would have to change to turn that around, but I’m not holding my breath this time either.  Odds of induction: 20%

15: The J.B.'s
Funk outfit famous for backing James Brown on many of his records.
Why they might make it: They made a lot of solid funk and have been sampled on a lot of rap records.
Why they might not: They're the most anonymous band on the ballot.  The most common comment about their nomination has been "I had to look them up to even know who they are!"  Not good.  Also, they're tied intricately to James Brown.  Even their very name is because of him, so distinguishing themselves as a separate entity worthy of induction on its own merits is gonna be a tough sell.
Whom they'd pave the way for: Other funk acts or acts that have been widely sampled could benefit.  Perhaps Chuck Brown And The Soul Searchers, or Charles Wright And The Watts 103rd Street Rhythm Band.
Biggest threats: Chic could also steal votes from those who want to see some funk inducted.  The Spinners are a fellow rhythmically driven act that could mess things up as well.
In the end: Everyone's expecting the J.B.'s to be inducted as Award For Musical Excellence, and thus few voters could be motivated to support them as a Performer.  Odds of induction: 10%

So that's how I'm seeding them.  Luckily, I've procrastinated so long that we'll only have a couple days to wait until we find out for certain.  Good luck with your predictions, and see you on the other side of the announcement.