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.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Yeah, but do I like them? 2016 Edition

When the nominees on each year's ballot for the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame are announced, there is always an instinctive reaction to each of the names.  Sometimes, it's surprise; others, a nodding of expectation.  Sometimes, delight; sometimes, disdain.  Those last two reactions are often driven by whether or not the person reacting to the news actually likes those acts.  Sometimes it's a matter of thinking an act is truly deserving or undeserving, but personal taste often drives the emotional reactions.  To some degree, it makes sense.  While we want the Hall to salute the true game changers, there's also a feeling of relief when an act that someone is passionate about on personal grounds is voted in.  At the Foundation itself, the powers-that-be describe "Unquestionable musical excellence" as the key determining factor for who even gets nominated.  But what does that mean?  Is it truly a matter of being innovative and influential?  When forced to be honest, those people would probably say no.  Nevertheless, this year's ballot has a lot of people chirping positively about how it's difficult to go wrong, no matter what.  And last year, many people felt, and Dave Marsh even expressed this sentiment, that the best possible class emerged from a relatively weak ballot.  So when you've got a ballot full of deserving names, it's fairly obvious that personal taste is going to play a factor.

Which is why I unabashedly rank the nominees by how much I personally like their music, after I rank them as objectively as I can manage.  Personal taste undoubtedly comes into play with actual voters, and going through the hassle of actually ranking them by personal favor allows one to be more openly aware of their bias in the process.  So, I believe it 's a good thing to do, to take the opportunity to list them by how much I like their music.  It gives context to how I discuss them as being fit for the Hall, and probably affects both how I seed them and how I rate them on merits, even though I try to remove personal bias from those two equations.  Once again, I'll average them out against the merits ranks to get an average, include the fiance's thoughts, and as a new feature this year, I'm going to include what song of theirs is my personal favorite, as well as the fiance's favorite jam.  So, here's how this year's ballot stacks up.

1. The Spinners
Every year they've made the ballot, I've been hesitant to predict them.  They consistently rank high on my personal tastes' scale, and this year they top the list, which is good because they keep slipping in the merits' list, this time at #10.  Philly soul is just one of the best subgenres in the whole rock and roll spectrum for me.  I don't dance, but I feel the boogie of their bass in my blood.
Favorite song: "One Of A Kind (Love Affair)"
Average of my two ranks: 5.5
Fiance's favorite song: "I'll Be Around"
Fiance's taste: 5
Average of her two ranks: 7

2. The Smiths
On paper, the Smiths are a band I just shouldn't like.  Not big on post-punk, don't care a lot for Pixies, Sonic Youth, or even the Cure that much.  Yet, there's something undeniably catchy in Johnny Marr's melodic guitar playing and Morrissey's vocals.  Mesmerizing, almost.  6th in merits.
Favorite song: "Sheila, Take A Bow"
Average of my two ranks: 4
Fiance's favorite song: "How Soon Is Now"
Fiance's taste: 15
Average of her two ranks: 10

3. Cheap Trick
Those who talk to me about music, especially on the Future Rock Legends site, know that I really respect acts who don no pretentious airs, and Cheap Trick fits that bill, which is good, because being 13th in merits, chances are they'll have to rely on actual voters sharing my opinion to get votes.
Favorite song: "Dream Police"
Average of my two ranks: 8
Fiance's favorite song: "The Flame"
Fiance's taste: 3
Average of her two ranks: 7.5

4. Chicago
I'll just say it right now: I don't actually hate the ballads as much as some others.  I do think there's some untapped potential in a couple of them. I think if an act like Boyz II Men covered "You're The Inspiration," and gave it their special Motownphilly touch, the resulting cover could have been an absolute soul classic.  At the top spot for merits, their esteem with me rides pretty high.
Favorite song: "Make Me Smile"
Average of my two ranks: 2.5
Fiance's favorite song: "You're The Inspiration"
Fiance's taste: 8
Average of her two ranks: 5.5

5. The Cars
Another group I really shouldn't like, on paper.  But they know how to be innovative and catchy at the same time, which is pretty awesome, when you think of it.  One notch higher in merits.
Favorite song: "Tonight She Comes"
Average of my two ranks: 4.5
Fiance's favorite song: "Drive"
Fiance's taste: 2
Average of her two ranks: 5

6. Steve Miller
Well, the Steve Miller Band, technically, and maybe they'll do justice to the group should this name make the grade for induction.  But between some bad lyrics, good grooves, and smooth feel, the high to middle of the pack is a personal taste rank that I bet others share with me.  9th for merits.
Favorite song: "Serenade"
Average of my two ranks: 7.5
Fiance's favorite song: "The Joker"
Fiance's taste: 4
Average of her two ranks: 4

7. Deep Purple
I'm not a metal fan, or a prog fan, and I don't like too many songs by Deep Purple, either.  Fortunately, I also don't hate too many songs from Deep Purple, either.  So by finishing runner-up in merits, this looks pretty promising for them.
Favorite song: "Highway Star"
Average of my two ranks: 4.5
Fiance's favorite song: "Smoke On The Water"
Fiance's taste: 9
Average of her two ranks: 7.5

8. The J.B.'s
Kind of a shocker, that I ranked them this high: I don't particularly like James Brown.  But listening to them while researching them, I was boogieing (my spellchecker didn't flag that, so I'm keeping it like that) in my chair with them.  A lot of the songs sound similar at this point, which really only means I need to spend more time listening to them.  Unfortunately, they scored low on the merits list.  Second last.
Favorite song: "Doing It To Death"
Average of my two ranks: 11
Fiance's favorite song: "I Got Ants In My Pants" (she only know James Brown songs)
Fiance's taste: 7
Average of her two ranks: 10.5

9. Janet Jackson
Going over her catalog over the years, I kind of get the naysayers' complaints: a lot of her early stuff does sound like cookie-cutter '80's R&B, like some of Bobby Brown's more upbeat stuff.  Fortunately, I have a high tolerance for that, and enjoy her later stuff too.  She rounded out the top five for merits.
Favorite song: "Black Cat"
Average of my two ranks: 7
Fiance's favorite song: "If"
Fiance's taste: 1
Average of her ranks: 1.5

10. Los Lobos
In a way, I really want to hate roots music, just because people have the audacity to call it that.  You want to listen to "roots" music of rock and roll, then start filling your head with doo-wop.  Nor am I that big on Tex-Mex music, and the days I've spent in processing plants, forced to listen to Latin American music, it's actually saying something that they're this high.  Especially when they were dead last in merits.
Favorite song: "Jenny's Got A Pony"
Average of my two ranks: 12.5
Fiance's favorite song: "La Bamba"
Fiance's taste: 6
Average of her two ranks: 10.5

11. Chaka Khan
Her solo stuff isn't as good as the Rufus stuff.  Her love songs are pretty good, but not as good as the funkier stuff.  Same rank as merits.
Favorite song: "I'm Every Woman"
Average of my two ranks: 11
Fiance's favorite song: "I'm Every Woman"
Fiance's taste: 12
Average of her two ranks: 11.5

12. Chic
I really harbor no "disco sucks" sentiment.  Maybe it's just ear fatigue, that I got sick of hearing them.  That's as good an explanation as any really.  No real hate, just no real love.  Also 12th for merits.
Favorite song: "I Want Your Love"
Average of my two ranks: 12
Fiance's favorite song: "Good Times"
Fiance's taste: 11
Average of her two ranks: 9

13. N.W.A.
I'm not a real big fan of gangsta rap, so N.W.A. isn't ranking really high, but there's some fun stuff in there as well.  3rd in merits.
Favorite song: "A Bitch Iz A Bitch"
Average of my two ranks: 8
Fiance's favorite song: "Fuck Tha Police"
Fiance's taste: 10
Average of her two ranks: 5.5

14. Nine Inch Nails
Industrial... not my thing.  Don't hate every song, but will change the station when it comes on, usually.  In the midst of things at 7 for merits.
Favorite song: "We're In This Together"
Average of my two ranks: 10.5
Fiance's favorite song: "Closer"
Fiance's taste: 13
Average of her two ranks: 13

15. Yes
8th in merits, though.
Favorite song: "Your Move (I've Seen All Good People)"
Average of my two ranks: 11.5
Fiance's favorite song: "Owner Of A Lonely Heart"
Fiance's taste: 14
Average of her two ranks: 12

So when we try balance out merits versus taste, we get some conflict between the two, and it seems like it ends up in a jumbled heap, but from this, we see how theoretically I should vote on the fan ballot.  The top five averages are:

1. Chicago
2. The Cars
3. The Smiths
4. Deep Purple
5. The Spinners

And for my fiance, her top five averages are:

1. Janet Jackson
2. Steve Miller
3. The Cars
4. Chicago
5. N.W.A.

So, the end result shows that while I'd like to think I'd be diverse in my voting, the only R&B I'd have would be the Spinners.  However, in the face of the corrupted fan ballot, my vote has actually been going to Janet Jackson, Chaka Khan, N.W.A., the Spinners, and.... the Smiths.  Because I just couldn't bring myself to vote for Chic, and the J.B.'s are probably gonna get the Award For Musical Excellence induction.  Sorry, Nile.  Anyway, the next installment, HOPEFULLY before the inductees are actually announced, my official pecking order, from which we can derive the official prediction.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

The Merits of the 2016 Nominees

More than a month has passed since the nominees were announced, and it is now time to evaluate them by their merits.  Between the corrupted ballot, and the interview with Dave Marsh, there's been a lot to keep Monitors busy, perhaps distracted from actually focusing on the nominees themselves.  Well, time to rank them by merits.  While no method is entirely objective when it comes to evaluating art, we do try to give some quantification, because ultimately, those who vote do not have the option of checking off every box.  Eliminations must be made, and there presumably must be reasons for those eliminations.  Some acts presumably must be deemed less than worthy, by whatever metric is used.  For Rock Hall Monitors, the metric is fourfold: Innovation, Influence, Impact, and Intangibles.  What new ground did they break, 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?  So, here's a ranking of our nominees.  As an alternative viewpoint, I'm once again including my fiance's ranking of the nominees as well, though she isn't nearly as invested in it as I am.

And before anyone takes offense, please remember the bigger picture: the last act on this list of fifteen is most likely still among the top fifty or one hundred deserving acts for the Hall out of all the eligible acts out there.  So let's rank 'em.

Impact: Far and away the biggest success on the albums chart, long string of hits on the singles charts, too.  Still has an incarnation going to this day.
Influence: While they weren't heavily cited by some the bigger names in jazz fusion, their commercial success as a jazz rock outfit did help clear the way for jazz fusion acts to break through into the mainstream.
Innovation: They tinkered with the formula first hit upon by acts such as the Buckinghams and Blood, Sweat, And Tears, and managed to make it last into a long-term style.
Intangibles: They're an act you've heard of even if you only listen to current pop and dance or mainstream country.  Pretty much a household name.
The fiance's rank: Still in the top 5.... number 3.

Influence: Extremely influential.  One of the most influential groups in heavy metal and hard-rock bands.  I’ve also heard them referred to as being influential to prog, but I’m not sure how true that is.
Impact: Not hugely successful in terms of singles, but they were a part of the rock scene that focused on albums as single entities.  On the albums front, the chart entries are so-so at best, but five gold, three platinum, and one double platinum perhaps speaks to their standing the test of time where the chart numbers don’t seem to match.
Innovation: Can’t speak to it much, but there’s probably some of it in there.
Intangibles: The other projects that members of Deep Purple have been involved with speak to the further and more direct influence of the band.  Blackmore’s name is one of the most revered among rock guitarists, and the riff from “Smoke On The Water” is considered to be one of the rites of passage for guitar playing.
The fiancé’s rank: 6

3. N.W.A.
Influence: Gangsta rap is what it is because of these guys.  In fact much of the stereotype of what being a rapper means, or at least what it supposedly meant when Tupac and Biggie got shot, is based on the image projected by N.W.A.
Innovation: I’m loathe to put lyrical innovation on the same plateau with rhythmic and instrumental innovation, but this is one of the few times when it’s deserved.  Ice-T may be the O.G., but Ice Cube and company really put it on the map.
Impact: Minimal on the singles charts.  For albums, three platinum (one doubly so) studio albums (one that hit #1 on the Billboard 200), and one gold greatest hits compilation.  But that’s also about all they had.  No cache of lesser known/celebrated material behind that.
Intangibles: With notable and big solo careers of some of their members, they might be called the first rap supergroup.
The fiancé’s rank: 1

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.
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.
The fiance's rank: 8

Impact: The biggest singles artists on the ballot, and one of the biggest of the whole rock era.  Still going strong with a new album released this year.
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.
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.
The fiance's rank: A solid 2

Influence: One of the giants of ‘80’s alternative, along with the Cure and the Pixies.  Influenced a lot of independent-label acts in their wake.
Impact: Recording very few albums, they charted few albums, and no single hits, but plenty of name recognition, for themselves and for lead singer Morrissey.
Innovation: Along with the Replacements and the Cure, they really helped define the sound of post-punk.
Intangibles: The name power of Morrissey alone brings a certain seriousness to the Smiths overall.
The fiance's rank: 5

Innovation: Industrial is a bit of the child between Kraftwerk-style electronica and heavy metal.  But it’s still pretty innovative to bring the two together, and Nine Inch Nails did exactly that.
Influence: As one of the earlier examples of industrial, Nine Inch Nails is a name widely cited in modern industrial, and it wouldn’t be surprising if electronica and metal acts cite this name as well.
Impact: Nine Inch Nails’ crossover success was originally limited, but has over time increased, enjoying the biggest hits in just the past decade or so.
Intangibles: The Rock Hall seems to really love and merit those bands who do it all: write, arrange, play, produce, promote, distribute, and so forth their own music.  Though employing the skills of other musicians on a frequent basis, Nine Inch Nails is the tour-de-force band boiled down even further: one man, Trent Reznor.  One man who can pretty much do it all.
The fiance's rank: Way down yonder at number 13

8. 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. 
The fiance’s rank: 10

Impact: The band had several hit albums and singles, and a few classics that did not chart.
Influence: They were an important blues-rock outfit during the '70's, and as such, had some influence on the blues-rock acts that followed.
Innovation: Not a whole lot, but they did help refine the way blues-rock was interpreted.
Intangibles: Raised in Texas, teeth cut in Chicago, the man is steeped in blues and has worked and known some of the big names.
The fiance's rank:

Impact: A string of minor hits throughout the '60's, then major hits for most of the '70's, and even sneaking into the '80's a bit.
Influence: The genre of soul greatly shifted as the Spinners were at the top of their heyday, nonetheless, there is some influence upon the likes of Hall And Oates, as well as subsequent soul musicians
Innovation: Despite not really inventing Philly soul, their style was more rhythmically driven than that of their contemporaries (perhaps due to their usage of doo-wop style background vocals), making it something unique they brought to the table. 
Intangibles: They’re a solid representation of Philly soul, which there isn’t much of in the Hall right now.  They’re also a quasi-representation of Motown, having put in a brief stint at that legendary label. 
The fiance's rank: 9

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 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.
The fiancé's rank: Once again, a match at 11.

12. 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 technique of Nile Rodgers and Bernard Edwards have proven different and difficult to duplicate.
Intangibles: By now, Chic may just be wearing down resistance of the voters.  A tenth nomination?  The Nominating Committee must be seeing something that not everyone is.
The fiance's rank: Up at 7

Impact: A handful of hits, but very beloved ones.
Influence: A lot of guitar rock bands from the 80's onward have cited Cheap Trick among their influences.
Innovation: They didn't reinvent the wheel, but they made it roll.
Intangibles: Their lack of pretentiousness, inability to take themselves too seriously, makes them something different.
The fiance's rank: 12

14. THE J.B.'S
Influence: They are a widely sampled band.  Their brand of funk influenced their contemporaries and many funk and R&B acts to come.
Innovation: Not the first funk act, but they did put it together in an awesome way.
Impact: A few hits under their own name on the Pop charts, a few more on the R&B charts.
Intangibles: And they had a few more as the backing band for James Brown.  A lot of weight behind that name.
The fiance's rank: Agreement at 14

Innovation: Not the first in roots music, or in Tex-Mex, or Latin rock, but they were a novel fusion of various styles.
Influence: They've stirred a lot of ripples in the non-mainstream scenes, and have had worked with a lot of the old guard, helping them create new sounds.
Impact: Very minimal singles sales.  Modest album sales.
Intangibles: The critics' darling of the entire ballot.  They are an inside band.
The fiance's rank: Also at 15

So that's how I view their merits.  It may not be perfect, but it tries to be as close to it as it can.  Soon, we'll go subjective and observe general listenable value of each inductee on the two of us.