Monday, April 20, 2020

Day Is Done

As I type this, we are still in a state of quarantine, as the pandemic of COVID19 continues to be the dominant force on this planet.  The number of lives already lost to this disease is mind-boggling, and among the lives lost was a man nominated for the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame's Class Of 2019, but was not inducted.  I am of course referring to John Prine. 

While Prine didn't make it in that year, and is still not in, his nomination certainly did raise an awareness for his music that wasn't previously there.  When the nominees were announced in mid-to-late 2018 for the Class Of 2019, I remember one member of the Hall-watching community said something along the lines of, "I remember the first time I heard a John Prine song.  It was five minutes after he was announced as a nominee."  And I have to admit, I was pretty much in the same boat.  But I was willing to listen, to delve into his catalog, and see if I could understand his nomination.  And even though I ranked him way down on the Merits' ranking list, I understood the nomination.  His songwriting genius is undeniable.  His melodies are pleasant and unpretentious, the wit of his lyrics is sharp yet gentle when he wanted, or in your face if he wanted it that way, and the overall experience is refreshing and edifying.

It's just amazing how many of his songs I've found myself humming and thinking of in response to what was going on around me.  The political sphere of this country frequently has me thinking of "Your Flag Decal Won't Get You Into Heaven Anymore."  The day-to-day ridiculous in the immediate world around us will sometimes remind me "Egg & Daughter Nite, Lincoln, Nebraska 1967 (Crazy Bone)."  As someone with extremely low self-esteem, I find "Day Is Done" to have a sweet sadness that lets me know it's okay to feel down for a little bit, but not too long.  His duets are wonderful and at times profound.

John Prine died before he could be voted in to become inducted into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame, but his nomination helped his music gain wider exposure.  This is something that the Hall does right.  I remember once reading an article about how being announced as a nominee helped increase an artist's sales for a short burst of time.  Same with being announced as an inductee.  And the actual ceremony.  The Hall increases exposure for the artists it nominates, which is necessary when the sole criterion is the passage of at least twenty-five years since an artist's debut release.  For those of us who follow the Hall as a hobby, "left field" picks like Prine will often give us a chance to check out artists we may not have known, or think we knew, or knew of, but didn't really know.  In the case of John Prine, I found an artist I really liked.  I also learned that I'm really not into grunge, not even a legendary act like Soundgarden.  I've gotten to know the music of T. Rex much more deeply, to delve deeper into R&B acts like Little Willie John, and even to buy music again, artists ranging from Ruth Brown and LaVern Baker to N.W.A. and 2Pac. 

It's easy to criticize the Hall, and we all do it from time to time.  But with the passing of John Prine, rather than be upset that he didn't get inducted while alive, I'm choosing to remember that the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame is how I first learned of the music of John Prine.  The Hall's mission is to enshrine and perpetuate incredible music that is part of the rock and roll diaspora, and when they introduce a great artist to people's ears for the first time, they are doing their job correctly.  This is why we care about the Hall, because they do things like this that are fantastic, and it's why we try to hold them accountable as much as we can, because when they get off track, it can be pretty egregious.  We care about the music itself, we ultimately believe in the Hall, and thus it galls us to find out about their surreptitious shenanigans.  But for tonight, it's about what they've done right.  In this case, introducing John Prine's brilliance to a new audience.

Thank you, Rock Hall.  Rest In Peace John Prine.

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

Delayed reactions. The Class Of 2020

I'd held off on commenting about the Class Of 2020 for the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame for some time because, well, everyone else was saying what I was thinking.  It didn't really seem necessary.  Nevertheless, as a blogger of this hobby, it's expected that I say a few words about this class, what's missing, etc.

So first off, I did terrible in my predictions.  Everyone said this was a tough ballot to predict from, but I don't think anyone did worse than me.  I do take a little consolation in the fact that my 7 and 8 seeds, two acts that were tough calls to eliminate, got in.  I nearly got four.  I don't feel bad about missing on Depeche Mode.  If Kraftwerk can't get in, why should I believe Depeche Mode would?  Okay, they had more hits in America, that's why.  And Nine Inch Nails... I mean, there wasn't going to be more than one "rock" band from the '90's, and the Dave Matthews Band were leading the fan poll.  Ah well, the world is still turning, and these are all deserving Performers being inducted.  All the same, I think this was my worst year of predicting, ever.

I'm actually thrilled that Whitney's getting in.  It continues the trend of first place finishers in my personal taste list getting in.  You have to go back to 2014 and the Spinners for the last time an act that topped my personal preferences list but didn't get in.  And she finished second in merits, so it's pretty awesome overall.  T. Rex making it isn't a bad thing either.  They're a little saccharine for me to binge-listen to all that often, but they're fun, a good choice when you need a little cheering up.  More importantly, it's important to induct more acts that were massively popular on a more global perspective, even if not in America.    Biggie and the Doobies?  Called them.  Yay, I got two.

The fact I only got two though also shows some big changes.  As has been noted, this was the first year in quite a long time that rock and roll, vis-a-vis the Hall's inductions, is not being primarily defined as guitar music.  We still have that perspective with T. Rex and the Doobie Brothers as inductees, but the rest?  Hip-hop, industrial, pop/soul, and synth dance music.  It's truly something to behold.  Is this something that's going to continue?  A lot of that will depend on who the Nominating Committee puts on the ballot of course.  For now, though, it's a phenomenon to take notice of.

However, perhaps one of the reasons that this class shaped up the way it did is divisions in the ballot.  Did Motorhead, Judas Priest, and Thin Lizzy divide the ballot against each other?  How did Soundgarden and the MC5 factor in?  Did Kraftwerk get drowned out by Depeche Mode alone, or was it a one-two combo with Nine Inch Nails?  Whitney Houston was clearly strong enough to stop Rufus with Chaka Khan.  Is Trent Reznor enough of a production wizard to have detracted votes away from Todd Rundgren?

Of course, the biggest question seems to be, how the hell did Pat Benatar miss?  Collectively, the hobbyist community figured her as big a shoo-in as the Doobie Brothers, maybe even bigger.  Her missing out is as perplexing as Todd Rundgren's last year, Radiohead's the year before, as well as other inexplicable anomalies like Queen and AC/DC missing out their first times on the ballot.  I really hope she's back next year.  It's impossible to tell at this point, but it'll be great if she is.

Which brings us to the case of the Dave Matthews Band.  For the record, I never had an issue with their nomination.  Back in 2006, shortly before I made my observations on the 2007 ballot on a robotic combat forum, I started a thread about upcoming acts that the Hall was going to have to deal with at some point, and the Dave Matthews Band were on that list, for exactly the reasons I said, elevating the live tour back to an artform, while still being immensely popular.  I never had a problem with the band's nomination.  It was the arrogance of the fan base on Twitter that was irritating, treating their loyalty and online presence as a clinching factor, especially after they pushed the band over one million votes in the fan poll, demanding that they be glorified for their efforts as well as the Dave Matthews Band themselves.  That was annoying, but as annoyed as I was with the fans, it did not bring me any joy when the Dave Matthews Band did not get named as an inductee for 2020.  In the days before the announcement, I was coming up with some jokes to post on Twitter about DMB not getting the nod, should they miss out.  They weren't meant to be hurtful, just some good-natured ribbing meant in the style and manner of the Comedy Central Roasts.  However, when I saw the dismay and outrage of the fans on Twitter following the disappointing announcements, I just didn't have the heart to make those jokes.  I knew they wouldn't be taken in the manner I would have intended them.  Best to just let them have their outrage, lick their wounds, and let them be upset for a time.

Well, Dave Matthews Band fans, welcome to the world of the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame.  One of the long-time criticisms of the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame is that it's a private boys' club.  They don't have a whole lot of concern over what the general public cares about or thinks is important.  And it isn't just demonstrated with the Dave Matthews Band, though this is the first time that the first-place finisher in the fan vote has not ended up inducted as part of that class.  Only one of the five acts on the official fan ballot ended up getting inducted.  In all fairness, the Hall always made it clear that the fan poll would constitute one and only one official ballot (until the latest comments saying the fan vote counts as two), that the millions of fan votes on the fan ballot were only as meaningful as the combined votes from the surviving Ronettes.  It's one of the few times the Hall has ever been transparent.  There's a high amount of disconnect from the general public with this class, after a string of years that showed relative synchronization of thoughts, but it's just a further reminder that it's still their house, and they'll do as they please.  They never actually promised anything but as HallWatchers said on Twitter: "Whether we agree if the band belongs is besides the point. If they're going to lather people up about the kiosk/fan vote, only to yank their chains about bands they love and mean something to them, it's going to cause confusion and anger no matter how you slice it."  And later, HallWatchers also said, "And the thing is, I don't hate it as an idea. Have them in the museum as a fun, interactive thing to do. But when you start promoting it every time someone complains about a band not getting in, you're implying that kiosk is a solution to their complaint."  So maybe the Hall implied things they didn't mean to.  Those of us who follow the Hall knew this wasn't going to be meaningful, but the average person doesn't know that.  So yeah, it's disenchanting for them.  Still, I think their anger will be transient enough because in a year's time they'll no longer remember or care, unless DMB gets nominated again next year.  And even then, the anger will be subside if they make it next time.  I don't think the anger will last.  Will there be any further fallout?  It's hard to say; the Hall has so much shadiness surrounding them, you can pretty much take your pick on what will be remembered as their most grievous offense, and it won't be any one thing, but everything, and yet still the one thing.  Does that make sense?  I don't know, but it makes sense in my head.

But speaking of shady things surrounding the Hall, let's also get into the Ahmet Ertegun Award recipients for Non-Performers.  This year, we're honoring Irving Azoff and Jon Landau, two men with very high positions in the Foundation itself.  Landau chairs the Nominating Committee, while Azoff is on the board for the entire Foundation.  Once you know that, it already makes their inductions feel icky and self-congratulatory.  It gets worse when you recall that the last Non-Performer inductee was Bert Berns, in 2016, which happened right about the time that Little Steven was producing a play about Bert Berns.  The whole thing is too openly cronyistic to even be called "shady" anymore; it's right out there in broad daylight.

The cronyism of it all just derails the whole conversation to the point where we don't even ask "Do they deserve it?"  And I have to profess, it's not the best the Hall could've done.  I'm not opposed to inducting managers outright, mind you.  But this category is supposed to honor those who in their own non-performing ways helped perpetuate and evolve rock and roll music.  The Hall has only inducted two other managers: Andrew Loog Oldham and Brian Epstein, both in 2014.  These are two managers that played a very hands-on role in grooming their landmark acts, the Rolling Stones and the Beatles.  Epstein managed the Beatles and made them clean up their act, meaning their stage antics and their look.  He groomed them into a band that was palatable enough to appear on the Ed Sullivan Show, and in a sense, made Beatlemania happen.  Oldham intentionally marketed the Rolling Stones as a rougher band, an alternative to the Beatles.  He helped solidify their "bad boy" image, which in turn helped their stylistic direction.  Compare those two men to Azoff and Landau.  Azoff's most famous acts are Eagles and Steely Dan.  Now, Azoff's empire has gone on to manage and represent a multitude of acts, many big ones, such as Fleetwood Mac, the Doobie Brothers, Bon Jovi, just to name a few.  But did his management really do anything to shape or form the sound of any one particular artist?  I suppose it's a situation where you have to acknowledge that art never truly happens in a vacuum and that the music business is still a business.  Perhaps by handling all the tedious legalese and fine print, Irving Azoff frees up artists to be more creative without the stress of red tape weighing heavily on them, but it's really more of an indirect contribution to the creative process.  He doesn't so much inspire artists as he does clear obstacles that would stifle inspiration and creativity.  Should that be enough?  Well, with enough major artists under his wing and a large enough empire, maybe the testimony is deafeningly whispered and hiding in plain sight.

With Jon Landau, though, I'm having a harder time.  Irving Azoff has at least the quantity of artists whose careers he's bolstered, some quite significantly.  Landau really only has one: Bruce Springsteen.  If you're going to be Hall-worthy for managing one artist, that artist had better be in the rafters of the absolute top tier.  I'm talking Aretha Franklin, James Brown, Elvis Presley, the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, and maybe a handful of others.  I love Bruce Springsteen's music, but if we're being honest, he isn't on the same plateau as those names in terms of importance to the story and history of rock and roll music.  He falls just a wee bit shy of that mark.  And even if Springsteen is that important, Landau didn't shape, mold, and groom the man we now know as "the Boss" the way that Epstein did the Beatles or Oldham, the Stones.  Even with Azoff, a management empire that big, the probabilities support the likelihood that there are at least a couple artists that Azoff personally had a hand in shaping their image, and thereby their musical direction.  With Landau, though, he's the diver who found a great pearl and gave up everything he had to have that pearl.  He claimed he saw the future of music, and it was named Bruce Springsteen.  Bruce pretty much already had his style and image in place by the time Landau came on board.  And yes, Landau produced several albums by the Boss and his band, but again, unless that artist is on the same level as Chuck Berry, you need more than one artist on your resume.  Yes, he produced an MC5 album, but the MC5 are having serious trouble getting their own due recognition.  He's also done some stuff for Shania Twain, but the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame currently has a tepid relationship with the world of country music.  Relatively modern mainstream country, the kind of country my friends refer to as "Nashville pop," is not esteemed by this institution we all find so riveting.  But wait, wasn't he also a critic at Rolling Stone?  Yes, but here's the thing: I don't think music critics should be inducted into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame, not when it's their primary or sole contribution to the industry.  Paul Ackerman is an exception, because he broke ground by breaking through the pretentious and possibly racist blithe dismissal of an entirely new style of music.  But those journalists are few and far between.  Music critics in general, don't add much to the perpetuation and evolution of rock and roll, and if they do, it's in an opposition kind of way--that is, if a particular critic hates it, you know that you'll love it.  In the long run, music critics have been wrong so many times so often about musical works that history has smiled favorably upon (or raved about works that have been all but forgotten), they make weather forecasters feel like veteran bookies in Las Vegas.  I may be in the minority here, but I have yet to be convinced that music critics are worthy of the Ahmet Ertegun Award for their work as critics.  So, any and all merits that bolster the argument for Jon Landau as an inductee hinge entirely on his work with Bruce Springsteen And The E Street Band, and I don't think it's enough.  That's just me personally, and it won't change a thing.  Landau will be inducted, and he will get a Song Of Proof to represent him in The Great Playlist.  However, there are far too many candidates who are much worthier of enshrinement in this category, so many that there is no excuse for pulling these kinds of shenanigans.

So, that's the wrap-up on my long overdue thoughts about this class.  Late to the party, probably too late to even get a party favor or even half a glass of punch, but my thoughts nevertheless.  Still not ready to start thinking about 2021, though, at least not seriously.  Like everyone else, I'm looking forward to what this ceremony will be like when it's live on HBO, and I'll be sure to weigh in on that too, hopefully not as late though.


Thursday, January 2, 2020

Predicting the inductees for 2020

After much procrastination, and a boatload of work hours, I'm starting to type up this post on Christmas Eve.  Time to finally put together a final prediction for the 2020 Class for the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame.  It's been a tough one.  Hard to nail down the final predictions, as everyone has said, so here's my stab at predicting the Class.  No telling how many times I'll change my mind before I publish.  Enjoy.  P.S. Merry Christmas, Happy Hannukkah, and Happy New Year.



1. PAT BENATAR
Rock and roll solo performer, though nominated with her husband and lead guitarist, Neil Giraldo.  First-time nominee.
Why she might make it:  She appeals to those who want more women in the Hall, as well as those with a myopic definition of rock and roll that follows the traditions of acts like the Beatles and Led Zeppelin.
Why she might not:  Those with the aforementioned myopic definition sometimes want to limit it to full band units, i.e. those with at least a drummer and bassist, too.  Solo performers need not apply, in their opinion.
Whom she'd pave the way for:  All-female bands such as the Go-Go's and the Bangles could follow her lead.  It's also a bit of a stretch, but it could also lead to Suzi Quatro.
Biggest threats:  Honestly, I don't see her so much in the "female lane."  To me, it's more that this is a hard- and classic rock lovers' ballot; so Motorhead, Judas Priest, T. Rex, Thin Lizzy, the Doobie Brothers, and even Todd Rundgren could block her.
In the end:  I think she's the best bet from keeping this class from being a total sausage fest.  Odds of induction: 80%

2. THIN LIZZY
Hard-rock band from Ireland.  First-time nominee.
Why they might make it:  For some reason, having dual lead guitars is seen as the most important innovation in rock and roll since Lennon-McCartney filled an entire album with their own compositions, and Thin Lizzy is the band people point to for that.  Since the announcement of the nominees, most every guest on "Who Cares About The Rock Hall?" has said this is a band they'd vote for, including an actual member of the voting bloc.  They've got potential.
Why they might not:  They had a limited impact here in the United States, and the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame still remains a "rather American" institution.  Perception shaping reality, they may not be viewed by enough voters as important enough.
Whom they'd pave the way for:  Thin Lizzy could open the door wider for acts from the British Isles that didn't quite cross the pond so successfully, such as Humble Pie and Mott The Hoople.
Biggest threats:  Judas Priest and T. Rex are the most direct competition, but even the hard rock of Soundgarden could be a threat, as well as Pat Benatar.
In the end:  After the announcement of the nominees, I said that if the trend of the lowest common denominator act winning the fan ballot continued, Thin Lizzy would be a lock.  And while they aren't winning the fan ballot, they appear to be catnip to the people whom the Hall would like to give a ballot.  Odds of induction: 75%

3. THE NOTORIOUS B.I.G.
East coast rapper.  Newly eligible.
Why he might make it:  Even from the grave, he's a highly influential rapper, regarded by some as the greatest rapper ever.
Why he might not:  With a fairly limited catalog, his nomination has also drawn criticism of chronology from within the rap community
Whom he'd pave the way for:  Jay-Z is on deck, Puff Daddy has got to be on the way as well.
Biggest threats:  There are no other rap acts, but Rufus featuring Chaka Khan and Whitney Houston could steal R&B votes, not to mention Soundgarden, Nine Inch Nails, and the Dave Matthews Band are competition for the votes for '90's acts.
In the end:  Eric from "Hall Watchers" talked about 'induction by fiat," particularly in the case of the Paul Butterfield Blues Band.  But if "induction by fiat" was that certain of a possibility, why was Chic never inducted this way?  Still, the legacies of 2Pac and the Notorious B.I.G. are forever intertwined, and if 2Pac got in right away, I have to believe Mr. Wallace will follow suit.  Odds of induction: 70%

4. THE DOOBIE BROTHERS
Rock and roll group often considered "blue-eyed soul."  First-time nominee.
Why they might make it:  They are responsible for a long train running of well-known rock and roll songs during the '70's.  They had two successful eras of different lead singers.  From a "playing the game" perspective, the hiring of Irving Azoff is considered a smart move toward getting in the Hall.  Lastly, the forthcoming tour seems to be designed to kick off in Cleveland at the induction ceremony.
Why tbey might not:  A tour that kicks off with a Hall Of Fame induction in 2020, could just as well conclude with a Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame induction in 2021.  Plus, the moniker of "yacht rock" isn't necessarily meant as a pejorative, but it does almost gaslight their legacy as being a band that one only likes "ironically."  The Hall doesn't appear to appreciate irony.  Acts that should have been bigger than they were, yes; irony, not so much.  Plus, on a ballot full of hard rock favorites, the Doobies may not be regarded as high a priority.
Whom they'd pave the way for:  If the Doobie Brothers are the current classic rock staple that the Hall has their collective mind on, it'll have to be them before we get to Foreigner, Styx, or Jimmy Buffett.  On the other hand, having the members of this band as future voters could help renew the push for the J. Geils Band.
Biggest threats:  Pat Benatar is about the biggest hitmaker of the classic rock format after the Doobie Brothers and could split the vote with them.  Let's also not ignore the metal of Motorhead or Judas Priest, or the likes of Thin Lizzy or even Todd Rundgren.
In the end:  The Hall still favors "dad rock" pretty heavily, and with the possible exception of Judas Priest, no act on the ballot stands for dad rock better than this outfit.  Odds of induction: 60%

5. JUDAS PRIEST
Heavy metal band.  Second-time nominee.  Seeded #5 for 2018.
Why they might make it:  They're one of the most important heavy metal acts of all time, let alone those not yet in the Hall.  Innovative, influential in both sound and image, they've got the resume for induction.
Why they might not:  The Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame has been less than on the ball when it comes to inducting heavy metal acts.  Additionally, on a cursory, Americentric level, this band is usually considered a one-trick pony.
Whom they'd pave the way for:  With Motorhead also on the ballot, other possibilities to follow include UFO and Uriah Heep.
Biggest threats:  Motorhead and Thin Lizzy are the most direct competition, but Pat Benatar, Soundgarden, Nine Inch Nails, and T. Rex could split the vote.
In the end:  Since the charter class, the Hall has had only one class where all Performer inductees were first-time nominees, and even then, the Early Influence inductee was a repeat nominee for the Performer category... even on that year's ballot.  History indicates that there will be at least one repeat nominee inducted.  Of the repeat nominees, this is the one I think that has the best chance.. at least in the Performer category.  Odds of induction: 55%

6. THE DAVE MATTHEWS BAND
Jam band most popular during the '90's.  First-time nominee.
Why they might make it:  They are currently leading the fan vote, and the history has always favored the top-finisher of the fan vote.  Additionally, they were, and still are, a massively popular act in terms of album sales.
Why they might not:  Leading the fan poll is really the only major thing going for them as far as "the game" goes.  They don't seem to be garnering a lot of appreciation from the voting bloc, that we can tell.  And while the first-place finishers in the fan vote have all gotten in to date, this is the first time where the first-place winner in the fan vote WON'T be an artist with some regularity in "classic rock" programming.  The Dave Matthews Band are too modern for classic rock stations, and that may be the distinguishing factor that has always coincided with past first-place finishers.
Whom they'd pave the way for:  Members of the Foundation have already called the Dave Matthews Band the litmus test for Phish in the future.  They'll probably also be the gate for other '90's rock acts ranging from Beck to No Doubt.
Biggest threats:  Soundgarden and Nine Inch Nails seem to be likely competition, as well as the Notorious B.I.G. when it comes to '90's acts.
In the end:  Litmus test indeed.  Literally only predicting them to make it if they go with six.  If they weren't leading the fan vote, they be seeded #12 or so.  Right now, going with the correlative trend for its own sake.  Odds of induction: 50%

7. T. REX
Glam rock band from the United Kingdom.  First-time nominee
Why they might make it:  They're recognized as pioneers of glam rock and also very influential to British punk and post-punk bands.  They're expected to be a huge draw for British members of the voting bloc.
Why they might not:  The Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame still has a largely American bias, and even though that started to turn around last year, there's no guarantee for how long that kind of run will last.
Whom they'd pave the way for:  Glam rock doesn't have a whole lot of promising acts that could follow suit.  Maybe the Sweet could follow through.  Or maybe some British post-punk act like the Smiths could get another look once this band is in.
Biggest threats:  British rockers Judas Priest and Motorhead, not to mention Irish rock band Thin Lizzy, are pretty immediate threats.  There's also some threat from classic rockers like the Doobie Brothers, Pat Benatar, and Todd Rundgren.  And if it's influential to punk you want, don't ignore the MC5, either.
In the end:  They were originally going to make the final cut.  With my mind constantly changing and things getting moved around, it's a solid enough reason to make them the upset special.  Odds of induction: 49%

8. WHITNEY HOUSTON
R&B diva.  First-time nominee
Why she might make it:  She's a commercial juggernaut, one of the biggest-selling acts of the entire twentieth century, let alone not in the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame yet.  She's got the respect of members of the hard-rock community too, depiste being a R&B and adult contemporary diva.
Why she might not:  In addition to being deceased, dance music doesn't usually get into the Hall Of Fame very easily, nor does adult contemporary ballads, both of which were in Whitney's wheelhouse.
Whom she'd pave the way for: Um ... Bobby Brown?   Ow!  Ow!  Stop hitting me!  Ow!  I was kidding!  I meant Mariah Carey!  Or Gloria Estefan And The Miami Sound Machine!  Ow!
Biggest threats:  Rufus featuring Chaka Khan are the immediate competition.  Kraftwerk and Depeche Mode also have claims on the dance music, while the Notorious B.I.G. has serious R&B credibility to steal votes away from Whitney.
In the end:  I really want to believe that Whitney Houston will get in this year; I also really want to believe that eating a five-cheese pizza every weekend is good for your heart.  This ballot's just too crowded for me to think she'll squeeze in over most of those seeded above her.  But it could happen.  Odds of induction: 45%

9. SOUNDGARDEN
Grunge band, rose to prominence in the '90's.  First-time nominee.
Why they might make it:  They've already given Chris Cornell a tribute at an induction ceremony.  This is someone the Hall clearly loves, and they don't want to wait on getting this band inducted.
Why they might not:  While grunge has a pretty steady track record so far, the Hall hasn't really tried going outside the obvious names.  Soundgarden isn't obscure, but they're not the first name one thinks of when grunge is mentioned.
Whom they'd pave the way for:  Alice In Chains is the next name in grunge if Soundgarden gets in this year.  Other '90's rock acts that have been nominated could be nominated again, such as Jane's Addiction.
Biggest threats:  Nine Inch Nails and the Dave Matthews Band are the most direct threats, while metal acts Judas Priest and Motorhead also could draw votes away.
In the end:  The classic rock contingency just has too strong a grip on the voting bloc to think that the younger acts are going to dominate the class.  Odds of induction: 40%

10. NINE INCH NAILS
Industrial rock act that is essentially one man, Trent Reznor.  Third-time nominee.  Seeded #9 for 2015 and #10 for 2016.
Why he/they might make it:  Nine Inch Nails is the act that really helped make industrial mainstream, bringing it to a wider audience.  This act even made Rolling Stone's list of immortals, which could very strongly signal eventual induction.  Additionally, with 2020's induction ceremony being in Cleveland, they'd love to have a relatively close "hometown hero" to have as an inductee.
Why he/they might not:  Industrial is still a pretty niche genre, and may not have a wide enough circulation to resonate with enough of the voting bloc.
Whom he'd/they'd pave the way for:  Despite being influential, Nine Inch Nails doesn't really open any obvious tributaries.  Maybe Ministry?
Biggest threats:  Soundgarden and the Dave Matthews Band are the other '90's "rock" acts that stand most directly in the way.  Hard rock like Judas Priest, Motorhead, and Thin Lizzy could also divert some votes away.
In the end:  There are really strong arguments for all three '90's "rock" acts to make it in this year, but in order for that to happen, at least two of the following three things have to happen: one, Biggie doesn't get in; two, no women are inducted; three, the classic rock contingency gets "Okay, Boomer"ed--hard.  Maybe one of those three can happen, but not two, and certainly not all three, and I think Nine Inch Nails will fall the shortest of those three acts.  Odds of induction: 37.5%

11. MOTORHEAD
British heavy metal group.  First-time nominee.
Why they might make it:  Frontman Lemmy Kilmister is among the upper echelons of well-known, charismatic rock frontmen who embody the rock and roll lifestyle.
Why they might not:  The mythos of Motorhead travels further than the actual musical legacy.  For their respectable run of charted albums, people really don't know too many of their songs, especially outside of "Ace Of Spades."
Whom they'd pave the way for:  The big heavy metal acts of the '80's that aren't in yet, such as Pantera, Anthrax, and Megadeth could get some attention.
Biggest threats: Judas Priest, Thin Lizzy, Soundgarden, T. Rex, and Pat Benatar could all be viable alternatives to voting for Motorhead.
In the end:  It's just too crowded a ballot for them this time around.  But it's good to see them get nominated.  It's a step in the right direction.  Better luck next time.  Odds of induction: 35%

12. DEPECHE MODE
Synth-rock outfit from England.  Third time nominated.  Seeded #11 for 2017 and #12 for 2018.
Why they might make it:  They're recognized as one of the biggest outfits in their particular sub-genre of the rock and roll diaspora, proving both innovative and influential.
Why they might not:  They represent a piece of the rock and roll diaspora that just doesn't get a lot of respect, particularly from the Hall itself.
Whom they'd pave the way for:  Even though their biggest successes came in the late '80's and '90's, they'd probably open the door backwards for synth-pop groups of the '80's like Simple Minds, Tears For Fears, and the Thompson Twins.
Biggest threats:  Kraftwerk, Rufus featuring Chaka Khan, and Whitney Houston are all part of the dance music scene and could stand in the way.
In the end:  They deserve to be in, but the classic rock fatigue is nowhere close to setting in.  Not this year.  Odds of induction: 33.3%

13. TODD RUNDGREN
Musical utility-player and producer extraordinaire.  Second-time nominee, seeded #3 last year.
Why he might make it:  Todd is well connected in the industry, with strong ties that reach pretty far.  He sings, plays instruments, writes, produces, and even innovates listening opportunities.
Why he might not:  Voters might try to divest Todd's production and writing credits from his records where he's the primary, or even sole artist.  That mental compartmentalization may keep him from being seen as worthy.
Whom he'd pave the way for:  He doesn't open up too many tributaries, but maybe others that are well-loved within the industry have a shot, like Big Star, or a second nomination for John Prine down the line.
Biggest threats:  The entire classic rock pantheon on this ballot, including Pat Benatar, the Doobie Brothers, T. Rex, Thin Lizzy, and even Judas Priest, and Motorhead.
In the end:  He was in the top five of the fan vote last year, but is not this year, simply beause there's more classic rock to choose from.  That'll carry over to the voting bloc, too, most likely.  Odds of induction: 30%

14. KRAFTWERK
Pioneering electronica act.  This is their sixth nomination: their first nomination for the Class of 2003 predates my seeding system, seeded #9 in 2013, #13 in 2015, #10 in both 2017 and 2019.
Why they might make it:  Anyone with even a hair more music knowledge than John Q. Public says this act belongs in the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame.
Why they might not:  With limited success and name recognition in the United States, it really will depend on the voting body becoming more and more British before continental European acts can become a bigger presence in the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame.  Additionally, some of the powers-that-be have hinted that an act like Kraftwerk might soon be inducted as an "Early Influence" inductee, promoting a possible "sliding scale" of historical impact and importance.
Whom they'd pave the way for:  If Kraftwerk can get in, that could clear the lane for a second nomination of Devo.  It could also help dance music acts like Daft Punk or Moby get a look.  Also, European acts like Can, Cliff Richard And The Shadows, and Johnny Hallyday might finally break onto the ballot.
Biggest threats:  Depeche Mode is probably the most direct competition, but don't neglect Whitney Houston or Rufus featuring Chaka Khan.  They could steal votes from the Germans as well.
In the end:  When the powers-that-be tip their hand like that, it almost spells certain doom for proper induction in the Performer category.  I won't weigh in on their odds of being inducted as an Early Influence, mainly because I find the idea itself to be reprehensible with a pungent stench.  I'll just say that this time won't see them as a Performer inductee.  Odds of induction: 25%

15. THE MC5
Hard-rockin' proto-punk band from Michigan.  Fifth nomination.  Their first nomination for 2003 predates my seeding system, seeded #12 in 2017, and #14 for both 2018 and 2019.
Why they might make it:  They're an extremely innovative and influential band, helping to give rise to punk rock as a sub-genre of rock and roll.  With the induction ceremony in Cleveland this year, it'd be great to have the nearby neighbor of Detroit included in the festivities.
Why they might not:  They just don't have the name recognition.  They're not well-known enough to stand out above some of the other names.  Also, if Kraftwerk is being seen as a viable Early Influence inductee, how much more so the MC5, who are the earliest act on this ballot.
Whom they'd pave the way for:  They could help get the New York Dolls nominated a second time.  Getting the MC5 in could also clear up the logjam hindering Rage Against The Machine getting in as well.
Biggest threats:  T. Rex, Judas Priest, Motorhead, Thin Lizzy, Pat Benatar, and even Soundgarden could be seen as alternatives.
In the end:  The whole science of taxonomy, and much of science itself, is predicated on the idea that one key way we demonstrate an understanding of a subject matter is by naming and categorizing it.  And while this is more about art than science, much of that principle carries over.  Inducting Todd Rundgren as a Non-Performer would be forgivable, as he certainly has the credibility there, while an Award For Musical Excellence induction would be a little less forgivable, but still understandable.  However, the Hall violating their own established parameters and just being willy-nilly about the way they induct artists as a means to address the backlog might appease an artist and their fans because said artist is now a "Hall Of Fame inductee," but the Foundation's obligation to historial veracity is compromised every time they do it, and demonstrates either a critical lack of understanding of the subject matter, or lackidaisical commitment to the same.  As for the MC5, maybe one year they'll pull a Stooges and get in over a huge name guitar band (the Stooges beat out both KISS and Red Hot Chili Peppers in 2010), but it's never a smart bet.  Odds of induction: 20%

16. RUFUS FEATURING CHAKA KHAN
Funk-rock group from the '70's and early '80's.  As a group, this is their fourth nomination, seeded #15 for 2012, #16 for 2018, #13 for 2019.
Why they might make it:  They were stylistically diverse, dabbling in funk, roots, disco, ballads and more.  Additionally, Chaka Khan is a name that is known.
Why they might not:  R&B is struggling to get in the Hall right now.  Especially if it's related to disco in any way.  Additionally, Small Hall thinkers want to induct Chaka Khan as a soloist and shuck the rest of the group.
Whom they'd pave the way for:  The Pointer Sisters would benefit greatly by Rufus's induction.  So would Sade, and funk groups like the GAP Band.
Biggest threats:  Whitney Houston is the diva that could be a Chaka-blocker.  Kraftwerk and Depeche Mode also have connections to the dance music scene that could hinder the group as well.  The Notorious B.I.G. is also a big name in R&B to prevent this outfit from getting enshrined.
In the end:  There's no talk of inducting this group in any other category, though the possibility of Chaka getting an Award For Musical Excellence induction for both her group and solo efforts is a scary thought that Small Hallers would gleefully rub their palms for.  Suck rocks, Small Hallers.  Not a chance for this group this year, though.  Odds of induction: 15%


My seeds are planted in their appropriate rows, as I see them.  This is a very difficult ballot to predict a class from, given that the Hall will induct fewer than half of them.  It'd be great to just see the entire ballot inducted.  THAT'S how you address and clear the backlog: just induct more artists.  Seeing as how the Hall just digs their heels in deeper and harder every time someone raises a critique like this, there's no way any real changes are coming this year.  So that's how I'm calling it this year.  We'll find out soon.  It's New Year's Day as I wrap up my prediction post.  We'll know this month who's getting in.  Happy New Year.

Wednesday, December 4, 2019

Personal preferences: 2020 Nominees

Unquestionable musical excellence: it's a little more than just personal preferences of musical acts, but that's still a big part of the equation.  There's no denying it.  So when we talk about the nominees for the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame and the statement regarding unquestionable musical excellence, mentioning whether a particular nominee makes us want to turn it up or stab our eardrums with a pickax is a completely valid commentary.  And because all forms of art, including music, are partially subjective, though there is also a general consensus among the knowledgeable about what's "great" and what's not, it is therefore worth examining these nominees from a point of view of pure listening pleasure.  Since I devised one attempt at objectivity, time now for the more fun part, that is, the subjective list.  And even then it's not necessarily easier.  A lot of artists ran neck and neck, even though they are quite different.  Sometimes it depends on what I'm in the mood for that day.  Since I do my binge-listening while I'm at work, the workload and how much sleep I had the night before both play a huge factor in how much I want to sing along with what the music streaming service is feeding me.  Luckily, I've taken it upon myself to listen to each nominee again since the release of my objectivity list, to try and be a bit more fair, and also to see if a musician is as much fun to listen to the second time around, because how much you want to keep listening to something matters in a list like this.  Per usual, I will be listing my favorite songs by each artist, since those are not always the Songs Of Proof I end up using.  And I'll average out the ranks on both lists to give a composite score, and we can see what the average list ultimately looks like.  And this time, ties will be broken by number of years eligible when I make the composite ranking.  Another fun thing with this list is that relative positions aren't going to be the same as from previous lists.  Some years, an artist grows on me, or I get sick of an artist, or whatever, and the rankings can fluctuate wildly.  It keeps us guessing, myself included.  So, let's look at where the artists on this ballot stack up against each other, whether I want to stream them more often, or disembowel myself with spears thirty seconds in.


1. Whitney Houston
I didn't originally have Whitney in the top spot, but her songs are just so powerfully amazing.  I gotta admit, "I Will Always Love You" is an overwrought gigantic red mark against her, but it wasn't enough to bring her rank down, not with her catchy dance songs and amazing duets.  "Same Script, Different Cast," "How Will I Know," and even "The Greatest Love Of All."
Favorite song: "One Moment In Time."
Merit rank: 2
Average of ranks: 1.5

2. Kraftwerk
This group probably could have come in first... if I could have actually found more of their music in its original form.  I mean hearing every album after Autobahn as they sounded BEFORE 2009.  Having heard Autobahn in both the original and remastered versions, the 2009 remasters of their albums sound noticeably different, and it genuinely robs the listeners of an education of the musical importance of Kraftwerk's craft work (though my cat enjoys having his fuzzy face and ears rhythmically skritched to the pacing of the 2009 remaster of Tour De France). On YouTube, I could only find the first four albums in original sounding form (Ralf And Florian is incredibly underrated, by the way), and Spotify ONLY plays 2009 remasters.  I'd really like to not have to drop such serious coin to hear the remaining six studio albums in their original glories, and so, Kraftwerk is penalized a spot in the personal tastes' rankings.  They're still fun to listen to, but... it's more fun to compute.  Sorrynotsorry.
Favorite song: "Kometenmelodie 2"
Merit rank: 1
Average of ranks: 1.5

3. Todd Rundgren
Overall, this man is a quality musician.  Diverse too, and an amazing duet partner.  Also, when I first expressed a half-hearted reaction to the ballot, it was mostly because of how heavy it is with classic rock and soon-to-be classic rock acts.  Reason #2: this man has jumped up five ranks in personal taste without really putting out any new material.
Favorite song: "Mountaintop"
Merit rank: 6
Average of ranks: 4.5

4. Pat Benatar
I have to admit, I didn't think she'd finish quite this high on the list.  I assumed that the greater part of her catalog consisted of the more dramatic songs like "Love Is A Battlefield" or "We Belong," which I'm not big on.  Instead, I was surprised to find out that more of her songs were driving, such as "Heartbreaker" and "Hit Me With Your Best Shot."  I also find it interesting to note that my favorite songs by Pat are the ones that sound like they could've been Blondie songs, whether it was "We Live For Love" or...
Favorite song: "Treat Me Right"
Merit rank: 8
Average of ranks: 6

5. The Doobie Brothers
Like Pat Benatar, ranking this group was a little difficult because I really like a lot of their songs, and really wanted to skip past more than a few.  All the same, listening to them multiple times just reaffirmed that this is a band I like and am glad that they're nominated.  Non-sequitur: I meant to include this under their Impact or Intangibles when ranking their merits, but they deserve props for having what I believe is the only charted hit for the "Sesame Street" record label , "Wynken, Blynken And Nod." ("Rubber Duckie" and "Rainbow Connection" were on Columbia and Atlantic, respectively.)
Favorite song: "The Doctor"
Merit rank: 12
Average of ranks: 8.5

6. T. Rex
Public service announcement: listen to this band on YouTube, not Spotify.  Spotify's remastered songs in the T. Rex playlist really make this group sound awful.  I can't explain it, just trust me.  Listening to this band's later stuff, I really can't get why Marc Bolan sometimes gets called "The Father Of Punk."  Maybe I just didn't hear the right songs, but the connection from T. Rex to the Clash or Ramones isn't very present, outside of the song "Celebrate Summer."  That's not say I didn't enjoy listening to T. Rex; they're definitely aural candy for me.  So much so, I would say they're even more "bubblegum" than the Sweet, but not as much as Ohio Express.  I'm gonna piss off people by saying this--and it's not meant as a pejorative either--but I would describe T. Rex as "ABBA for rockists."  But hey, I love ABBA too.
Favorite song: "Baby Boomerang"
Merit rank: 11
Average of ranks: 8.5

7. Rufus featuring Chaka Khan
I'll level with you: Chaka's voice does not always sit well with me.  Sometimes I really enjoy her voice, and when I'm sleep deprived, I do not. Fortunately, the entire band is always groovin'.  A great band to groove along to, with or without Chaka.
Favorite song: "Take It To The Top"
Merit rank: 14
Average of ranks: 10.5

8. The MC5
A band with a short enough discography that the second listen-through consisted of YouTubing their studio albums and any other essential singles.  Had a lot of fun with this group.  Still not a huge fan of the intentional cacophony, but they grow on me, and the messages weren't lost.  Plus, their imperfect ballads like "Let Me Try" are incredibly underrated as works of music.
Favorite song: "American Ruse"
Merit rank: 13
Average of ranks: 10.5

9. Judas Priest
This one was a hard one to place for me.  I really liked some songs.  Really didn't like others.  Although, I will also say that listening to them in greater depth also helps me better to explain why I'm cool with guitar solos, but not a fan of self-indulgent ones that call attention to themselves instead of working with and within their songs to elevate them both.  Just my opinion, but that's the impression I got from them.  Didn't hate them, just that some specific things didn't resonate with me.
Favorite song: "United"
Merit rank: 4
Average of ranks: 6.5

10. Depeche Mode
They're growing on me.  The robotic British vocals don't turn me off the way they used to, but they still don't enthrall me.  But you can definitely spot the high-caliber musicianship in their arrangements, and even in some of the live renditions.  That still matters to me.
Favorite song: "Just Can't Get Enough"
Merit rank: 5
Average of ranks: 7.5

11. Motorhead

I gotta admit, the day I did the second listen to this band was less than great, but not because of work.  I won't get into the details, but I'm pretty sure that Lemmy, in all of his embodiment of the "rock and roll lifestyle" wouldn't have put up with that shit, and would have done some speed before dishing out retribution, but that's neither here nor there.  Of the metal acts on this ballot, I think of Motorhead's songs as being the best written, the most intelligent. and the most philosophical.  I couldn't understand everything he sang, and I didn't agree with some of the things he sang either, but overall, it was a positive experience for me.  In this current social and political climate, I gotta admit, "Eat The Rich" ran a close second for favorite song.
Favorite song: "1916"
Merit rank: 9
Average of ranks: 10

12. The Notorious B.I.G.
In choosing where to place this man on the personal taste list, I'm deciding to include everything that's thrown at me, whether he's the primary artist or not.  To choose a personal favorite, I'm adding the stipulation that it needs to be a song where he is indeed the primary artist, whereas the Song Of Proof will need to be a song where he's the sole artist of credit.  That aside, there were a lot of good songs where he wasn't the primary artist, like "Victory," and "Party On The West Coast."  However, most of the serious contenders were ones where I was enjoying them before I knew he was either the primary or sole artist, like "Gimme The Loot," and "Ten Crack Commandments."  And as much as I love Herb Alpert's "Rise," I couldn't give the brass ring to "Hypnotize."  But as for a lot of the non-charted stuff... well, they weren't promoted as singles for a reason.
Favorite song: "Warning"
Merit rank: 7
Average of ranks: 9.5

13. Thin Lizzy
This is an act that actually benefits more from listening to them while at work.  While I'm busy with some of the duties, I don't always notice how bad the lyrics can be, and can enjoy the melodious harmonies of the dual lead guitars.  Unfortunately, some duties allow me to basically run on autopilot, and I can actually pay attention to the lyrics, and that hurts them.
Favorite song: "Running Back"
Merit rank: 16
Average of ranks: 14.5

14. Nine Inch Nails
No surprise that industrial ain't exactly my breve latte with sugar-free hazelnut and almond flavor shots, but Nine Inch Nails is still better than making a strawberry smoothie dirty.  That.. that was a terrible idea on my part.  The barista even tried to talk me out of it, but nooooOOOOoooooo.....
Favorite song: "Discipline"
Merit rank: 3
Average of ranks: 8.5

15. The Dave Matthews Band
This is why it's important to listen to an artist a second time.  These are the thoughts I was having the first time I listened to them:

--Wow, now I know why pot is such a big part of the jam band concert experience.  You'd have to be stoned to enjoy being bored to death by this.

--There's no prog nominated, but this might be the most prog-adjacent band on the ballot.  Their songs are needlessly long and excruciatingly boring... just like prog!

--For crying out loud, make it stop, MAKE IT STOP!!!

My thoughts on them the second listen:

--Okay, maybe I was a little harsh on them last time.  Or maybe it was the songs I got last time?  I dunno.

--My radio days' instincts are still accurate though.  They'd be better if their songs were two minutes shorter.

So, clearly this is not an act I will listen to very much.  You just have to catch me in the right mood for it... and be ready for me to skip to the next track two-thirds of the way through any given song.
Favorite song: "American Baby"
Merit rank: 15
Average of ranks: 15

16. Soundgarden
Nirvana aside, grunge is really proving not to be my thing.  I ranked Pearl Jam second to last for personal taste on the ballot for 2017, just ahead of Jane's Addiction.  This band, you can really hear the evolution through the years.  I really understand why Ultramega OK never made the album charts and why Louder Than Love only fared so-so.  My favorite song from the former was "One Minute Of Silence."  Thankfully, their sound evolved and matured, and there were a few songs that I could enjoy, but overall, not especially.
Favorite song: "Superunknown"
Merit rank: 10
Average of ranks: 13


So, with the averages figured out, and tie-breaker rules in place, here is the aggregate list of how I theoretically should be voting in the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame's online Fan Ballot:

1. Kraftwerk
2. Whitney Houston
3. Todd Rundgren
4. Pat Benatar
5. Judas Priest

6. Depeche Mode
7. T. Rex
8. The Doobie Brothers
9. Nine Inch Nails
10. The Notorious B.I.G.
11. Motorhead
12. The MC5
13. Rufus featuring Chaka Khan
14. Soundgarden
15. Thin Lizzy
16. The Dave Matthews Band

So theoretically, my vote everyday should be for Kraftwerk, Whitney Houston, Todd Rundgren, Pat Benatar, and Judas Priest.  However, that has not been the reality.  The reality is that this year has seen the loudest clamoring against the huge imbalance in the numbers of inducted people in the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame, by race and gender.  By and large, this hobbyist community has been trying to hold the Hall's feet to the fire, trying, if nothing else, to get the Hall out of the "classic rock" rut it's in; unfortunately, this ballot is almost entirely comprised of either acts that are considered classic rock, or will be in another five to ten years.  This ballot makes it  look like the Hall is just spinning their tires in the mud and getting in even deeper.  Trying, seemingly in vain, to combat that, my daily votes have been going to Whitney Houston, Pat Benatar, The Notorious B.I.G., Rufus featuring Chaka Khan, and ... the MC5, because I'm still a native Michigander.  Nonetheless, if those top five average scores were the inductees for the Class Of 2020, that'd be a pretty awesome class.  Is that what I think will happen though?  Even I'm not sure yet.  But I'll be laying down a final prediction soon.  Meanwhile, feel free to weigh in with your thoughts.

Monday, November 11, 2019

Merits Of The 2020 Nominees

As is my custom with every ballot for the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame, we began with the initial reaction, which I sandwiched in my previous post along with my issues regarding leaks and peeks.  But we're past all that now.  The shock and whining are over... at least about those things.  Onto the nuts and bolts of our nominees.  As Joe Kwaczala says on the "Who Cares About The Rock Hall?" podcast, music is subjective, but it helps to have categories, and if a candidate does well enough in them, they might have a good shot.  In both of our cases, doing well in these categories also helps us decide whether or not we think a candidate is worthy.  Joe has his categories, and I have my I-5.

If I may further proffer the olive branch to Joe K. and Kristen Studard, I'd like to also compare the similarities of our categories. His are Critical Acclaim, Classic Albums, Iconic And Recognizable Songs, Commercial Success, Innovation And Influence, and Does My Mom Know Who They Are?.  My categories are Innovation, Influence, Impact, Intangibles, and Issues, the last of which is the one category an artist does NOT want to score big in.  To compare our categories, here's how they kind of correlate to each other:

Innovation: Innovation And Influence, obviously.
Influence: Innovation And Influence, duh.
Impact: Classic Albums, Iconic And Recognizable Songs, Commercial Success, Does My Mom Know Who They Are?
Intangibles: Critical Acclaim, and sometimes Classic Albums and Iconic And Recognizable Songs can have a hand in this category, plus other things that aren't necessarily covered in their categories.
Issues: a lack of strong showing in those categories?  Plus, anything extraneous and negative that Joe or Kristen sometimes bring up when discussing why they might not vote for an artist.

The separation of Innovation and Influence into separate categories, plus the herding of two-thirds of their categories under the umbrella of Impact will cause us to come to very different conclusions about where to rank things, but that's totally awesome.  Different perspectives rock.  Two more things to note about this edition.  One, I've retyped out everything.  Some things were transcribed verbatim, but absolutely nothing is copied and pasted.  So, if you want to read a little deeper to see if maybe I worded things better this time around, enjoy.  Two, after including them last year, I've decided not to include potential Songs Of Proof this time.  One or two acts I still haven't decided on; most of the nominees have been at least Previously Considered, so if you go back to those two posts about Past Nominees and the Previously Considered, then you already know what those songs probably are; and if I write them up now, and they have no inductees in any other category in the Class Of 2020, then it's just redundant to write up the official Songs Of Proof post in the future.  So, we're scrapping that this year.

So, now we'll try to objectively measure the sixteen nominees using my meter stick.  The five fingers of the hand, the six w's compressed into five items, the I-5.  Let's rank some nominees!


1. KRAFTWERK
Innovation:  As a group, they pioneered what is now known as electronica.
Influence:  Cannot be overstated.  Electronica artists that have come and gone all tip their hats to Kraftwerk.  Additionally, their influence is strongly present in much of the pop music throughout the 1980's and early 1990's.
Impact:  Here in the States, we don't have a full grasp on how big they are or were in Europe, but on this side, their strongest presence has been in the disco/dance music scenes, which is unusual, given they didn't sound like any of their contemporaries on the charts at that time.  Some hit songs and charted albums, and songs that have been sampled quite a bit.
Intangibles:  The concepts that are played out in many of their albums demonstrate an impressive commitment to artistry, somewhat akin to the concrete poetry in the world of the written word.
Issues:  Rock and roll is generally defined as drawing from the traditions of blues and country music.  Even with the teutonic, danceable beats, the connection from those traditions to Kraftwerk isn't exactly a straight line, and some would say non-existent.

2. WHITNEY HOUSTON
Innovation:  Her powerful voice set against the musical trends of the time were a great marriage, helping the adult contemporary format to become more contemporary.  She may not have reinvented the wheel, but she did vulcanize the rubber on the tires.
Influence:  One of the most influential divas ever, especially of the last thirty-five years.
Impact:  The most commercially successful artist on this ballot from both a singles point-of-view, and depending on your preferred methodology, either the highest or second highest from an albums perspective.  Either way, she was a commercial juggernaut, between the danceable pop songs and the torch tunes.
Intangibles:  She's got the respect of assumed detractors too.  There are rock "purists" who will concede that she belongs in the Hall.
Issues:  Whitney was an artist that moms listened to.  If rock and roll is primarily an attitude, is there anything more "un-rock" than your mom liking an artist that's supposed to appeal to your generation, especially if she likes them even more than you do?

3. NINE INCH NAILS
Innovation:  Though not the first industrial act, the creation of industrial as a blending of metal and electronica was innovative, even by the time Nine Inch Nails appeared on the scene.
Influence:  As one of the earlier industrial acts, Nine Inch Nails was a gateway act, and thus one of the more widely cited acts as being influential on other industrial outfits.
Impact:  Limited crossover success initially, but it has increased over time, partially due to Trent Reznor's involvement in movie scores, and also in the form of samples in such songs as "Old Town Road."
Intangibles:  The Hall respects people who can "do it all," and Trent Reznor is a tour-de-force, with Nine Inch Nails being essentially a one-man band.  When it comes to creating the sounds, he does it all.
Issues:  Industrial is still pretty niche.  People have at least heard of Nine Inch Nails, but that might be considered an example of being a big fish in a small pond.

4. JUDAS PRIEST
Innovation:  They weren't the first metal act, but they were from its formative years, and thus, they played a key part in shaping its sound and textures.
Influence:  They weren't Black Sabbath, but they were extremely influential in the field of metal, including a few inductees and nominees.
Impact:  Only one charted single, but a dozen or so charted albums and a back catalog that holds high esteem in the pantheons of heavy metal.
Intangibles:  While critics weren't kind to metal initially, they've revised their stances on formative acts like Judas Priest.  And for lovers of hard rock and heavy metal, this is one of the biggest names missing from the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame.
Issues:  With limited commercial success in the singles category, plus the general uphill battle metal has had to get respected, they are sometimes held in lower esteem overall.

5. DEPECHE MODE
Innovation:  While they weren't the most innovative act, they were certainly unique in their being all-synth, eschewing tradition and letting their artistic senses, and their audience's collective aural senses, be taken on new journeys.
Influence:  Their synth-driven style was massively influential to the different directions that electronic dance music dared to go, influencing the artists that went in all of those different directions.
Impact:  Despite being all-synth, they have respectable chart histories in the Album Rock and the Modern Rock charts, along with a sizable showing in the Dance Music charts, and noticeable crossover presence in the pop charts as well.
Intangibles:  Despite not being guitar-driven, rock purists don't have too much of a beef with this act, which is not inconsequential.
Issues:  While most have a song or two by this act they like, their overall sound and style as a whole won't be so widely embraced.

6. TODD RUNDGREN
Innovation:  Due to his experience in the control booth, he has found new ways to create unique sounds and make them his own.  He's one of the most experimental artists on this ballot.
Influence:  Because he's worked with a lot of artists who respect him, his influence has been able to circulate widely, even if not necessarily terribly strongly.
Impact:  His name recognition factor is very high, due to both his critical respect and his work with others.  As a musician, he's had several charted singles and a respectable amount of album sales.
Intangibles:  Not only one of the most experimental artists on the ballot, he's also one of the most versatile.  He can do multiple styles and sing in multiple ways.  That's not always a strong selling point for the Hall, but it is a tasty cherry on top.
Issues:  This nomination is for his work as a solo artist, a musician.  It's not always so simple to parse out his musicianship from his other credits, which may blur the ability to evaluate his actual output fairly.

7. THE NOTORIOUS B.I.G.
Innovation:  Nope.  It's even difficult to say he elevated gangsta rap by making it more real.
Influence:  So much.  Between being heavily sampled and other rappers citing him as an influence, he's proven to be an insanely influential rapper.
Impact:  Strong.  A powerful track record on the R&B charts, with a fair amount of pop crossover, and a sizable posthumous legacy.
Intangibles:  Despite a short run, some have called him the greatest rapper ever.  Who knows how much more he could have done if he had lived?
Issues:  For some reason, we're still having the "rap ain't rock" discussion.  Also, because he had such a short run, the solidarity of the rap community for Biggie's nomination isn't fully there, especially in lieu of artists like LL Cool J.

8. PAT BENATAR
Innovation:  Not so much, though hers are some of the earlier "power ballads."
Influence:  As a successful rock star who wrote most of her own songs, she proved influential for other rocking women to follow in her wake.
Impact:  Several charted albums, and a solid string of hit singles from the late '70's, including two in the top 5 of the Hot 100.
Intangibles:  She's an icon as a "rocking" woman who plays the boys' game as well as they do, almost to the point of tokenism.
Issues:  There aren't any really glaring issues with her, except maybe the softer stuff being a bit on the schmaltzy side.  Perhaps her lacking in the Innovation category hurts her.

9. MOTORHEAD
Innovation:  After a rough start, they found the right formula for the fusion of punk and metal, which makes them progenitors of thrash.
Influence:  Massive influence.  Possibly the most influential guitar band on this ballot.
Impact:  No charted singles in America, though "Ace Of Spades" does carry an iconic status.  They did have several charted albums.  Beyond that, they have major name recognition.
Intangibles:  Frontman Lemmy Kilmister has virtually become a demigod in the world of rock and roll, especially in metal.
Issues:  It cuts both ways though.  As Kristen Studard noted, Lemmy's mythos overshadows the actual musical legacy and contribution of the band Motorhead.

10. SOUNDGARDEN
Innovation:  Despite spending more years paying their dues, they were one of the first on the scene to help define the sound of grunge.
Influence:  While not as big as a few of the major grunge bands, they were an incredibly influential band, due in part to their being among the first grunge acts.
Impact:  They had a serious string of hits on the Album/Mainstream Rock and Modern/Alternative Rock charts.
Intangibles:  As another band with a mythos surrounding their lead singer, it helps elevate their legacy.
Issues:  They're not Nirvana.  Or Pearl Jam.  They will always pale in comparison to those two, and maybe even next to Alice In Chains, and that will make them look less worthy, perhaps unfairly.

11. T. REX
Innovation:  In the British music scene, they are considered massively innovative, as their reinventions are considered to have pioneered both glam and punk, as the inability of acts like the MC5 and the New York Dolls to break big in their homeland of the United States kept those acts from being recognized as pioneers on the other side of the pond.
Influence:  Again, massively influential... in the British music scene.  The members of Def Leppard have been the most adamant in stating their influence.
Impact:  In the United Kingdom, pretty substantial.  Their album sales in the U.S. were not too shabby either.  Only one big hit single, and a couple other minor ones.
Intangibles:  Building off their Innovation, the Hall does have some appreciation for artists that evolve from album to album, and this band did that.
Issues:  Limited commercial success in the U.S. will hurt with this particularly American institution, plus the fact that Marc Bolan's premature death cut short a promising future.  A case of unrealized potential, if you will.

12. THE DOOBIE BROTHERS
Innovation:  They didn't invent blue-eyed soul, but they did modernize it for the '70's, and into the '80's, which is mildly innovative.
Influence:  Not a whole lot of acts cite them as an influence.
Impact:  A whole slew of instantly recognizable songs, even if you don't always know it was by them, including two #1 hits.
Intangibles:  With major success with two different lead singers, they're a band of notable eras.
Issues:  Despite being played on classic rock radio, they weren't as hard as a lot of other bands, and they weren't as album-driven as a lot of the bands called their contemporaries.  Also, that softer, blue-eyed soul sound has been re-classified as "yacht rock," which is as much a pejorative as an ironic badge of honor.

13. THE MC5
Innovation:  Arguably the first to intentionally and regularly use distortion as an identifying part of their sound.  Also widely credited as one of the first punk rock acts, or at least a progenitor of punk rock.
Influence:  The entire world of punk rock recognizes the MC5 and claims them as an influence, as do other artists from bands that punk evolved into, including acts like Rage Against The Machine, and fellow nominee Motorhead.
Impact:  One charted single, two charted albums, both of which were once on Rolling Stone's list of most important albums of all time.
Intangibles:  Those who argue that rock and roll is more of an attitude than a musical format can point to this band's tireless live performance at the Democratic National Convention as proof of what rock and roll should seek to accomplish.  Their origins in Detroit may give them additional credibility as rockers.
Issues:  Limited name recognition outside the world of music, plus occasionally indecipherable lyrics due to the distortion, they might not clear everyone's threshold for "Unquestionable musical excellence."

14. RUFUS FEATURING CHAKA KHAN
Innovation:  The sounds they made with their rhythm section were seldom, if ever, heard before, and their insistence on vocal harmonies with funk in a way that even Sly And The Family Stone didn't do as consistently makes their sound something somewhat new and creative.  Original, even.
Influence:  They really helped bring the funk to the disco scene, which was also carried on by the likes of Chic and the GAP Band.
Impact:  In their own right, Rufus struck big a few times with great and funky R&B songs, like "Ain't Nobody" and "Tell Me Something Good," and "Once You Get Started."
Intangibles:  A lot more versatile than people give them credit for, performing roots music, ballads, funk, and disco.
Issues:  Because their biggest successes were in the disco scene, they are often pigeonholed as a disco outfit.  Additionally, the parsing of Rufus as a group from Chaka Khan's solo career makes judging them as a group that much more difficult.

15. THE DAVE MATTHEWS BAND
Innovation:  Not a whole lot that one can glean on the surface, but given that Matthews himself is originally from South Africa, he probably infuses a unique musical heritage into his band's sound, a sound that is distinctly theirs.
Influence:  Not a lot that I can recall, but they probably did encourage some jam bands in their wake.
Impact:  Their album sales are immense, with several hitting #1 on the Billboard album charts.  If you goes by number of charted albums, and the weeks and positions charted, as opposed to pure total number of units sold, this group is the biggest albums act on the ballot.  A steady presence in the rock songs' charts too, they are at the threshold of being a household name.
Intangibles:  They were the most popular act among the "jam band" revival of the '90's, that still exists at some level to this day, with a level of dedication from their fans on par with the likes of the Grateful Dead and Rush.
Issues:  They were not a critics' darling, and the current bent of music historians is less than favorably disposed toward them.  Their own level of success also contributed to them becoming something of a punchline in some corners of pop culture.

16. THIN LIZZY
Innovation:  They weren't the first to use two lead guitars on a song, but they were among the first to make it a regular thing in their sound, even harmonizing the guitars on the same track, instead of having to overlay on a second track of recording.
Influence:  This band has been said to have a hand in shaping the sound of hard rock, even being influential to some metal bands.
Impact:  A couple well-known songs in America, a half-dozen or so charted studio albums on the Billboard charts, probably more success in their native continent of Europe.
Intangibles:  They helped put Ireland on the rock and roll map, opening the door for other Irish acts.  Some would call that as part of Influence.  I choose to categorize that here.
Issues:  Terrible songwriting.  One of their songs is a celebration of a get-together of grown men who haven't grown up.  Another is basically the same thing as that, only with the metaphor of being escaped convicts.  A third song is about describes doing things that #MeToo moments are made of, but the girl turns out to be cool with it, because the narrator is a rock musician.  The most notable exception is a song they didn't write: it's considered a traditional song in Ireland.


And that's the pecking order of this year's nominees for the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame when I try to be objective.  For those of you who aren't necessarily part of the Hall-watching community, but stumbled across this entry because one of your favorite acts is a nominee, it's important to remember a couple things.  First, no favoritism is shown to any sub-genre of the rock and roll diaspora.  Judas Priest isn't ranked higher than the Notorious B.I.G. because they're metal and he's rap, and the same is true of Biggie ranking above Motorhead.  That's just not how it's done here.  Second, no favoritism is (intentionally) shown to any particular category.  It's not a weighted average situation, where Innovation is 35 % of the score, Influence is 30%, Impact is 20%, Intangibles is 10%, and having minimal Issues is the final 5%.  It's not like that either.  Third, just because an artist ranks low on this list doesn't mean that artist isn't worthy, or that I even think they're not worthy.  Finishing low on this list still ranks them really high compared to the thousands of eligible acts who haven't and never will be nominated.  This is the list, and someone's got to come in sixteenth.  I don't do ties either, though some were really close to what would ostensibly be ties if my methods were a little more numerically driven.  Of course, if an act excels in one category in particular, that part of the equation will be bigger.  It's like having five separate accounts, and one of them is bills: whichever account has the most money in it will help your total wealth the most, as long as it isn't Issues.  I hope that makes sense.

I spent the past few weeks since the announcement of the nominees binge-listening to each of the sixteen nominees, and I hope I've gotten a solid enough grasp of each act's merits.  Feel free to weigh in, in the Comments section below if you think I'm right or wrong.  The next entry will be devoid of all that objectivity as I rank them by how much I enjoy listening to them.  The gloves come off then.  Until then, happy commentary, everybody!

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(five second musical break)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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