Thursday, May 7, 2015

Mid-season 2015

Falling behind more and more, but this is just a quick little mid-season check.

Honestly, I think they should just take the remnants of this ballot, and call it a nine-act ballot, and let's induct at least another six.  You'd get a solid class out of that, even if Sting was one of those six.  I don't like Kraftwerk, or Nine Inch Nails, and not a huge fan of N.W.A., but they all deserve induction.  Chic is a dead weight that we need to jettison, and induction's the only way that's gonna happen.  And I both like and believe in the merits of the Marvelettes, the Spinners, the Smiths, and War,  Any six of those nine, and you've got another decent class.

Regardless, that doesn't mean any of them are going to make the ballot later this year.  It's a pretty good guess that both N.W.A. and Chic will be back.  I'm gonna stretch a hair and say that both Kraftwerk and the Marvelettes will return as well.

The upcoming crop of newly eligible acts has some people clamoring, but I really don't know if any of them will appear.  Everyone is calling Alice In Chains and Smashing Pumpkins locks to be nominated.  I'm not sold on either one.  And if Janet and Whitney are still not in, then Mariah Carey's not gonna be nominated anytime soon either.  So all that, in my opinion, gives Nine Inch Nails another nod, and I doubt they miss twice.

The Death Fairy's been busy recently, and while Joe Cocker is a favorite among fellow Monitors and some members of the powers-that-be, I think he'll get passed by.  Lesley Gore is certainly high profile, but my faith in her ever getting the induction she deserves has diminished.  Still, I think a recent, high profile death will yield a nominee, and at present, it looks to be Ben E. King.  The Hall enjoys adding members to the Clyde McPhatter Club, and Ben E. would be a great addition, even if he hasn't been nominated in almost 30 years.

Six names picked and they're all repeats.  Any new names?  Yes, I think the NomCom will repeat the habit of scrapping an '80s alternative act when they fail to get in and replacing it with another one.  This time around, instead of the Smiths, we'll probably get Sonic Youth.  Also, Despite not being on the ballot last year, I'm still going by ?uestlove Gomez's shirts and say at some point we will see the Average White Band nominated.  And on the rap front, we may see Toure sneak a second act on the ballot, possibly De La Soul.  With Stevie Ray Vaughan And Double Trouble inducted at last, and with the queue cleared by getting the Paul Butterfield Blues Band in, the blues and blues-rock field is wide open.  Pretty good chances that Johnny Winter is next in line there.  With David Letterman retiring soon, he made his plea, particularly to bandleader Paul Shaffer, to try and get Warren Zevon into the Hall at last, so maybe his request will be honored.  There is certainly no shortage of people who agree with David on that one.  And while the Marvelettes and also Chic represent the female gender, perhaps they'll try to add another member of the feminine persuasion to the ballot.  Perhaps with Joan Jett in, it's time for Pat Benatar to get her due.

Let's throw three more repeats in to top it off.  Deep Purple, Yes, and the J. Geils Band to all return, to placate the classic rock crowd.

Off the top, off the cuff.  Something to do while waiting for the ceremonies to air.

Monday, April 20, 2015

I hate these blurred lines.

There are several reasons why I'm slow to start a new post: busy work schedule, difficult to get started, jumbled thoughts that I'm having trouble organizing, general laziness.  In this case, all of the above, with two new stitches: desktop computer gone kaput, and medical issues.  All that to say, sorry I didn't get this one up sooner.

In the previous entry, I lamented the pigeonholing of Ringo Starr in the Award For Musical Excellence category.  You may have also missed that I similarly lamented the induction of the "5" Royales in the Early Influence category.  However, the "5" Royales are only the most recent, and not even the most blatantly wrong example, of an act that should have been inducted in the Performer category, only to get the side door induction of the Early Influence category.  Other fairly recent and more unpopular inductees in this category have been Wanda Jackson (in 2009) and Freddie King (in 2012).

In all fairness, while also perhaps most damning, the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame has always had a little bit of a problem with the line between the Performer and Early Influence categories.  On the Rock Hall website, before they changed the layout, the timeline for 1986 Early Influence inductee Jimmie Rodgers included the charting of songs "Honeycomb" and "Kisses Sweeter Than Wine."  Not good.  And the next year, the induction of Big Joe Turner was in the Performer category, but the Top Pop Singles books from Joel Whitburn always include a special notation of "Blues pioneer" next to his induction as a Performer.  Next, look at the 1990 class on the Rock Hall's website right now.  Click on the link for Charlie Christian.  A guitarist for the Benny Goodman orchestra until his death in 1942, he's listed on the Rock Hall's website as a "Performer" inductee, which is just plain factually inaccurate.  However, as bad as those examples are, and as bad as the side door inductees of Wanda Jackson and Freddie King were, perhaps no class decries the lack of clarity more so than the Class Of 1991.  Indeed, fellow monitors, as I have also done, have scratched their heads wondering how John Lee Hooker, a blues musician whose career began in the '40s, who recorded most of his discography in the '40s, including his most innovative and influential recordings, gets inducted as a Performer; while Howlin' Wolf, a bluesman whose first recordings were in the early '50s, whose signature songs were in the mid-to-late '50s, gets inducted as an Early Influence.  To add further confusion to that mound, nominated for that same class as a Performer, but didn't make it, was blues guitarist Elmore James, whom you might recognize as an inductee in 1992, in the Early Influence category!  Why Performer one year and Early Influence the next is a baffling question that only came to a head when people started asking why Wanda Jackson was nominated as a Performer but inducted as an Early Influence.  Add to that Pete Seeger's illustrious solo career, despite beginning in 1954, meriting Early Influence status, though there it's much more obvious that this is simply the worst, yet-to-be-corrected case of Front Man Fever.

So the Hall has a clear and established record of fudging with this category.  Why only in the past ten years have people started calling attention to it?  I suspect a good deal has to do with the Internet making things easier to track and discuss, but part of it also may be the confusion in drawing lines of distinction in what's rock and roll and what isn't, and that it wasn't until the induction of Wanda Jackson as an Early Influence in a class where she'd been nominated as a Performer that people perked up and noticed those very circumstances and started to cry foul.  It certainly has been no help that the Hall had been mired in murmurs in previous years: Miles Davis inducted as a Performer in 2006, even though the man himself denied being anything other than jazz--not even jazz fusion (and that his career as a billed artist began in the '40s); the accusations of ballot tampering in 2007 leading to Grandmaster Flash And The Furious Five getting in instead of the Dave Clark Five (or both together); and the coincidental induction of the Dave Clark Five the next year.

But what I suspect made Wanda's situation different was that not only was she unquestionably rockabilly in the beginning, only to go full country later on, but that she was initially under the wing of none other than Elvis Presley himself.  Practically being the protege of the King should most likely result in disqualification from being called "Early Influence."  Take that however you wish, it's really intended more as a timeline than anything else.  Needless to say this only made things more confusing with Freddie King's induction in 2012, especially given that Freddie's first release wasn't until the late '50s, and that fellow bluesman Buddy Guy was a Performer in 2005, while another fellow bluesman Albert King was inducted as a Performer a year after Freddie got the side door treatment.  While Freddie was more blues than blues rock, he was no less rock than Buddy or Albert, and it still seemed bad form to shoehorn him in as an Early Influence when he also had been on the ballot for Performer.

Which brings us to the "5" Royales.  What to do?  In all fairness, there's a solid argument to be made for Early Influence.  Steady releases beginning in 1952, which most music historians call "pre-rock", certainly helps; however, perhaps most favorable for the Hall is the fact that if you listen to their records, their sound is much more primitive or "proto" as an R&B styling than it is the well-known version we got from Performer inductees like the Flamingos, the Moonglows, the Platters, and even the first incarnation of the Drifters.   It's a fair evaluation to say their sound was rawer than the sounds that really reached out across racial barriers, from acts less likely to be inducted such as the Five Satins, the Harptones, and even the Five Keys.

However, there is also sufficient cause to say they should have been a Performer inductee, namely that they were nominated twice for that honor in the past.  As with Elmore James, we are left asking why they were Performer then and an Early Influence now.  Even worse, vocal R&B, aka doo-wop, is that territory that most music historians would also recognize as rock and roll at its most basic and earliest.  So now you're breaking up a stone that is critical to the foundation of rock and roll.  Is it really smart to go down that road?  How will they handle this in the future?  It's all but certain that if the Clovers are ever inducted, it will also be as an Early Influence.  But what about acts like the aforementioned Five Keys, Five Satins, and Harptones?  Some would argue that I'm putting the cart way before the horse, as it is unlikely those acts will ever be nominated, let alone inducted; however, not only have all three been Previously Considered, it's an important question to ask because the slope is already getting a little slippery to keep credibility intact (and even then some would say that ship has sailed).  They've already hammered at other stones, like rockabilly with Wanda Jackson.  What if they decide they owe something to lesser-known-but-still-important '50s guitar hero and rock outfit Buddy Knox And The Rhythm Orchids?  What if they want to induct Chubby Checker as an Early Influence because he was an early precursor to EDM?  Or Lesley Gore for being an original standout figure that paved the way for "riot grrls" like Joan Jett?

This is why I oppose fellow monitors who suggest the "movable timeline," that Early Influence is best applied to those who predate, but helped laid the groundwork for major patches of musical mini-epochs.  By that logic, the MC5 are a prime candidate for Early Influence induction for predating, but heavily influencing punk.  It's ridiculous: rock 'n' roll music is constantly evolving, and everything that is current is potentially significant in its pre-dating of something to come.  That doesn't make what we have now, "not rock."  And that's the latent effect you're ultimately having when you call a musician or group "Early Influence" instead of "Performer."  You are decidedly declaring it as "not rock 'n' roll."  I've already dealt with people in real life who think that REAL rock 'n' roll didn't exist until the Beatles came along or until Bob Dylan plugged in, or think that if it ain't hard or metal, it ain't rock.  And every once in awhile some chucklehead will spew ignorance stating that soul, reggae, and rap have nothing to do with rock 'n' roll.

This is why I can only be marginally happy for the "5" Royales when they get inducted as an Early Influence, instead of Performer.  Or Wanda Jackson.  Or Freddie King.  (Or Ringo Starr as AME, but that was last entry.)  When you get an award, it's supposed to mean something.  But when you play the game the way the Hall is doing it now, it becomes less meaningful.  Its integrity is compromised.  It's why I'm infuriated when the inductees or surviving family members (and fellow non-affiliated fans and even fellow Monitors) are so gracious about induction.  It pains me to know that they're not getting their full or proper due.  I'm told I should just be thankful that they ARE getting official recognition in some capacity.  But I'm not.  I can't be.  Earning the award you're given within its proper parameters is rewarding.  This is a pity induction, and it shouldn't happen this way.  Do it right, or don't do it at all.

I won't go so far as to say the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame Foundation owes it to us to get it right.  No, but they DO owe it to the inductees, the inductees' surviving families and loved ones, history itself, and even to themselves, for their own credibility's sake.  Having rabid fans howl about their favorite acts getting snubbed is one matter.  They're like the fans at a football stadium cheering their favorite teams.  By claiming to have guidelines and categorizations for inductees, the Foundation sets themselves up as refs, so to speak.  And I won't even go into the mess you get when, by that analogy, Jann S. Wenner is posturing himself as rock 'n' roll's Roger Goodell.  Nope, not gonna go there.  I'll let Tom Lane do that.  The point is, we as fans hate bad calls, and that the Foundation owes it to the players (of instruments, including voice) to make the correct calls, for the good of the game (music history).  When they can't do that right, the whole league suffers, especially when a quick peek at Future Rock Legends' Revisited & Projected project shows a plethora of worthy candidates for Early Influences still not inducted into the actual Hall, including but not limited to Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Ella Fitzgerald, the Mills Brothers, the Carter Family, Blind Lemon Jefferson, and the Four Freshmen.

So let's make a point to be more consistent, shall we?  Maybe a rule that says once they've been nominated for Performer, they can never be inducted as an Early Influence?  That sounds like a pretty reasonable idea to me.  As is, the Rock Hall loses esteem for every year they continue to make the distinctions even blurrier.

And to quote Robin Thicke, I hate these blurred lines.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Anything worth doing is worth doing ri--oh, nevermind


After a hectic holiday season, I now finally have time to sit down and post more fully my thoughts on our Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame Class Of 2015.  I fleshed out a few comments on the Future Rock Legends site, and I will be quoting my entries there.  Also, while I’m not prone to ranting, it is accurate to say that this is one dissatisfied customer.

First, the Performer inductees.  Let’s face it, everyone knew and predicted Green Day to make it.  Hardly the most deserving, but hardly the least either.  So, we can just shrug our shoulders and say, “No surprises there.”  Pretty much the same deal with Lou Reed, whose death cemented his spot in the Hall for the second time.  Things are bit happier with Stevie Ray Vaughan And Double Trouble both in the fact that Stevie’s FINALLY getting his just due, and that they are indeed including his band with him.  I’m thrilled about this one.  This band has been the biggest omission from the Hall, in my opinion, ever since they became eligible.  Bill Withers is a name that kind of sneaked up on me.  When his name was first bandied about, I was rather surprised.  I don’t dislike his music, but I’m not a huge fan either.  That’s still my feeling on his music.  However, ever since his name first appeared on the nominees list, there was a murmuring within that he would make the cut.  So I predicted him, as well.  Four for six on my predictions.  Originally, I was planning on predicting Joan Jett And The Blackhearts due to Jett’s appearance in last year’s ceremonies, but thought Sting would be much more likely.  She and her band are pretty low in my opinion (and several others’ as well) as far as deserving the honors, but I love “School Days”, “You Drive Me Wild”, “Fake Friends”, “Androgynous”, and of course, “I Love Rock N’ Roll” and “I Hate Myself For Loving You”.  But I have to point out, how deserving is someone if they do a cover of “Love Is All Around”?  And just to clarify, I don’t mean the proto-monster ballad from the Troggs, I mean the theme song from The Mary Tyler Moore Show.  That’s right.  Well, Joan, you’re going to make it after all… into the Hall.  Congratulations.  Lastly, The Paul Butterfield Blues Band, a band we knew was going to keep being nominated until they made it, had Jann S. Wenner’s support, but no one thought was anywhere near the most deserving, and few listed them among their favorites.  Well, there’s often one of those.  Not always, but often enough to the point where it’s fruitless to be sour about it.

But it’s not the Performers that made everyone sit up and take notice.  It was the other two inductees in this year’s class.  The less discussed of the two is the selection of The “5” Royales as Early Influence inductees.  Fellow Monitor Tom Lane posted his enthusiasm and willingly accepts this inductee.  But I must resoundingly disagree.  For reasons I hope to get into in another entry, I’m going to call this one a bad call.

But the bulk of the ire centers on the induction of Ringo Starr in the “Award For Musical Excellence” category.  The question everyone is asking, but for different reasons, is “Why?”  For some, it’s “Why even bother?”, for others, it’s “Why in this category and not nominated as a Performer down the road?”  This is the camp I fall squarely in.  I still feel very strongly that Ringo Starr is (note the present tense) worthy of induction as a Performer.  Another commenter on the FRL site, fellow Monitor Dezmond, essentially said that if Ringo were never in the Beatles, no one would be clamoring for his induction.  It’s an interesting hypothetical to postulate; however, it’s still one that I must disagree with.  Partially because I also still support the induction for artists like Gary U.S. Bonds, Freddy Cannon, Bobby Rydell, Tommy James And The Shondells, and the Turtles, to name a few.  But also because Ringo’s music just makes the grade.  At this point, I’d like to copy and paste two posts of mine from FRL that further expound my feelings about Ringo’s music.

“I do think Ringo deserves solo induction as a Performer. His 70's output were some of the most joyful, ebullient, rocking, rollicking, fun, and human records from that entire decade. Did it always push the envelope? No, but sometimes I think that doing so is overrated. He is just plain good rock'n'roll, and that should be honored for what it is. And with Joan Jett getting in this year, the ‘fun but safe’ slot would have been wide open for him. But hey, congrats on him being the first person inducted in two different categories. Maybe this will lead to a solo Carole King induction now.”

And…

“Ringo Starr's solo career is still very much worthy. I stand by everything I said about his music in my previous post. In fact, the only detriment to the argument is that more artists haven't followed his lead. His solo music is generally the kind of joyful and life-affirming that the music world is dying of thirst for, amidst a salt-water ocean of lyrics of angst and abstract, and angry distortion pedals and intentional cacophony. We get that fresh water in small doses of fun like "Party Hard," "Girlfriend," and even the lesser "This Afternoon."

Ringo's music is real to me. More real than Green Day, supposedly the voice of my generation. The medicinal effect of music as expressed through ‘Oh My My’ and ‘A Dose Of Rock And Roll’, the yearning for a stranger in ‘Devil Woman’, the fatigue expressed in ‘You And Me’, the empathy regarding bad days in ‘Hopeless,’ the eagerness for Christmas day in ‘Come On Christmas,’ etc. In fact, one of the greatest quotes about the futility of regret, imo, comes from the Ringo Starr song, ‘Weight Of The World’: It all comes down to who you crucify/You either kiss the future or the past goodbye. It's a kind of realism that is excellent because it is common love and common sense and reaches everyone.

Ringo's music as a solo artist is very deserving.”

Regarding the last sentence of the previous full paragraph, I would also remind the reader of what I said in my merits’ rankings of the nominees, in favor of Bill Withers under Intangibles:

“Idealists will describe rock and roll music as a musical genre that at its finest, breaks down borders, shatters barriers, bridges the widest chasms, and unifies people on a fundamental level that is indisputably and universally human.  If ‘Lean On Me’ doesn’t fit the bill here, what song does?  In this regard, ‘Lean On Me’ belongs in the same discussion as ‘Blowin’ In The Wind’ and ‘All You Need Is Love.’  More than any nominee on this ballot, Bill Withers reached this ideal with at least one of his songs.”

While no single song by Ringo Starr as a soloist attained this goal quite the way “Lean On Me” does, this is the very essence of what Ringo Starr’s solo music is about: singing about the places where we’ve all been.  The late Dick Clark listed this as one of the things that made Ray Charles such a genius.  It’s part of why we venerate Smokey Robinson as a songwriter, and it’s why Ringo’s music is unquestionably excellent.  And quite honestly, we could use a few more artists whose credentials are simply that, fuck the holy twins of innovation of influence.

But hey, the category is called “Award For Musical Excellence”, right?  Shouldn’t I be jubilant about it then?  And the answer is still no.  It’s still no because we still haven’t gotten any real good explanation about this category.  There are still those who imagine this category as a simple renaming of the Sideman category, much as the Non-Performer category was re-dubbed the “Ahmet  Ertegun Award”.  Well, Ringo did do some session work in the ‘70s, mainly for his friends, but honestly, a sideman?  No.  Just no.  Besides which, what about the three engineers from 2012, or the E Street Band who weren’t studio musicians for hire, but a coherent unit that worked and traveled together with Bruce Springsteen?  It’s a haze that is very uncomfortable on its own, but with Ringo Starr this year, it’s even more so. 

How about a renaming of “Lifetime Achievement”?  Okay…but again, really?  “Lifetime Achievement” inductees, pre-2004 at least, were used to mark a higher esteem for those inductees than would normally befit an inductee for that category, which in this case was entirely Non-Performers.  Does the E Street Band deserve higher esteem than the Boss?  And as much as I love Ringo’s work as a soloist, he isn’t as deserving as Lennon, McCartney, or Harrison as soloists, or the Beatles as a whole, though still more deserving than maybe a third of the names we had on this year’s ballot.  So that answer doesn’t satisfy either.

The galling alternative conclusion is that the “Award For Musical Excellence” category is (becoming) the “Because we fucking say so, that’s why, dammit!” category.  And if that’s the case, then why have categories, or even a ballot at all?  It is also not a good answer, but it’s much more probable than the other two.  And in hindsight, it may even appear that Sting was the guinea pig this year.  If they couldn’t get Sting in this year as a Performer, then the outcome wouldn’t have been good for Ringo Starr either.

Back in 2011, when the Small Faces/Faces joint nomination got everyone tittering, I emailed one of the NomCom members for some explanation as to why they were nominated jointly and not separately.  This member replied saying two things about it.  The second thing said was this: “I always think of the Faces as two bands with a continuous history somehow--that is, I always think of the Faces as Mac, Ronnie, and Kenney working with...whomever they work with.”  A reply, no doubt to send into a tizzy those who feel Steve Marriott was the end-all be-all of British music.  But even more telling was what this member said first about it: “What do you figure the odds are that, having chosen one group or the other, we would succeed in getting both in within the lifetime of the currently living band members. I know my estimation of that likelihood.”  Don’t get me wrong, I’ll take my honors while living over posthumously any day, but when I read that then, I wanted to immediately reply, “Let me ask you in return, which is important: inducting them while they are still alive, or inducting them correctly?”  Keep in mind, that at that time, I still believed that the joint nomination was justifiable.  (To some degree, I still do, but not the way the Hall went about doing it and justifying it.)  Clearly, the NomCom knew which they felt was more important, and still seems to believe, apparently. 

And unfortunately, this is the angle people by and large will take anyway.  In his Twitter feed, Ringo Starr himself has said nothing negative about his being inducted in this manner, only that he’s grateful it happened.  The kin of the members the “5” Royales don’t care that the Foundation is playing fast and loose with historical benchmarks and definitions.  They’re just glad their loved ones’ legacies are honored in some capacity.  Ringo and the loved ones of the "5" Royales are happy, so in the eyes of all the higher-ups at the Foundation, people like me who are not directly affected by this but are still upset are in the same league as comic book devotees who throw a tantrum over having a black Nick Fury in Marvel’s The Avengers, minus the accusations of racism.

To which, I say, “Up yours.”  In the various jobs I’ve had over the years, I’ve repeatedly encountered corporate buzz talk designed to motivate workers to follow procedures to the letter, no matter how ridiculous.  Among those, one currently stands out as a sentiment I wish to impress upon the people at the Foundation—if you don’t have time to do it right, when will you find time to do it over/again?  The seeming string of inconsistencies may be partly due to the change in memberships in power positions, but the duty to be consistent is mandatory, no matter the entity.  Change can, will, and should happen, but core concepts should remain immutable. 

In my opinion, this class has eight outstanding Performer inductees, and no inductees in any other category (side note: shame on you for passing on Bob Crewe again).  But that’s not gonna change anything.  All I can say is, if getting them in while alive if possible is of that paramount importance, why are the classes so small?  This is the first year in a long time that we actually have fewer past nominees still not inducted—but ONLY because they chose to call the “5” Royales “Early Influences”.  Otherwise, we’d still have the same number, and most years, that list keeps growing, but not as rapidly as the list of worthy candidates that haven’t even been nominated.  I’m not a politician, and we’re not talking about education here.  Bigger class sizes are a good thing; they will go a long way in solving these problems.  Don’t worry about the television special when you’re in that room setting confines.  You can cross that bridge when you get to it.  For now, just focus on doing it right.  This is not doing it right. 

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Official Predictions For 2015


After much procrastinating, it is now time to post predictions, seed the nominees, and prepare to be drastically wrong.  Without further ado, my predictions for the Class Of 2015.

1. Green Day
Pop-punk band largely popular in the 1990s and early 2000s.  Newly eligible.
Why they might make it: They were one of the three major names that helped alternative break through the glass ceiling, all while also enjoying a run of commercial success.  Additionally, they are well-connected with the powers-that-be at the Foundation, and pretty much everyone agrees they are going to get in.
Why they might not: Despite the general consensus that they’re going to get in, there isn’t nearly the same consensus that they’re among the most deserving acts on the ballot.  If this feeling is widespread to enough members of the voting bloc, they might not make it.  Also, detractors of their music feel they can sum up Green Day’s entire ethos with the opening line from “Basket Case”: “Do you have the time to listen to me whine?”  For naysayers, Green Day is the music of spoiled, privileged millenials who don’t know what real hardships are.
Whom they’d pave the way for: Pearl Jam is on deck next year, and they’re just as assured of getting in as Green Day seems to be at first glance. 
Biggest threats: Nine Inch Nails is a huge threat to their chances, as is guitar driven blues outfit Stevie Ray Vaughan And Double Trouble, with the Smiths in the mix as well.
In the end: Trust the connections.  Green Day has been there for the Hall a time or two, now the Hall’s going to be there for them.  Induction chances: 80%

2. Stevie Ray Vaughan And Double Trouble
Blues-rock outfit from the 80’s.  First time nominee.
Why they might make it: Stevie Ray Vaughan And Double Trouble has been one of the biggest names touted as criminal omissions from the Hall ever since they became eligible for the Class Of 2008.  Music lovers have been chomping at the bit to see these guys nominated.  At present, they rule the roost on the fan ballot, and as fellow monitor Donnie and others (including myself) have noted, ever since the implementation of the fan ballot, whoever tops the fan ballot has gotten inducted.  Not necessarily causation, but it really is eyebrow-raising correlation at present.
Why they might not: Initially, it was just Vaughan nominated, and Double Trouble was added later.  There might still be some confusion on this matter, and that could hurt.  Also, a hefty part of their catalog consisted of covers.
Whom they’d pave the way for: There are still a few blues-rock pioneers and blues greats still waiting in the wings.  Anyone ranging from Johnny Winter to Junior Wells could pass through the gate that Vaughan and company could open up.
Biggest threats: The Paul Butterfield Blues Band are the most direct competition, but modern guitar acts like Green Day and Nine Inch Nails might also be a factor.
In the end: As Chuck D reminded us, the blues gave birth to rock and roll, but rock and roll, and especially acts like Stevie Ray Vaughan And Double Trouble is why the world gave a damn about the blues again.  This should prove impossible to ignore.  Induction chances: 75%

3. N.W.A.
Pioneer gangsta rap group.  Third time nominee, seeded #5 for 2013 and #9 for 2014.
Why they might make it:  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 the funk of War might take away from them.
In the end:  N.W.A. has been flying under the radar of most of the discussion this year.  Part of that has been due to omissions from the ballot, some of that has been arguing about ballot divisions.  But a lot of that has been people figuring without another rap act on the ballot, their chances are pretty good.  I’m inclined to agree.  Induction chances: 70%

4. Bill Withers
Soul singer/songwriter.  First-time nominee.
Why he might make it: The Hall loves singer/songwriters, and Withers fits the bill.  He’s clearly the pick of Nominating Committee member ?uestlove, and new members tend to get names in during their first couple years.  Lastly, Withers’ songs “Lean On Me” and “Ain’t No Sunshine” are two songs that have the stood the test of time the best out of possibly the collective catalog of the entire ballot (save, possibly, for the heavily sampled “Good Times” by Chic).
Why he might not: As mentioned in the initial reaction to the ballot, Withers isn't the kind of performer one immediately thinks of when the term "singer/songwriter" is bandied about.  Coupled with the fact that the Rock Hall has been rocky in its history of inducting soul music over the past decade, this adds an additional hurdle for Withers to clear.  To top it all off, Withers himself hasn't appeared to be all that excited about the prospect being inducted, and the Rock Hall generally prefers to induct those who want to be inducted.
Whom he’d pave the way for: Four-time flop Joe Tex may get another reconsideration if Withers can get in.  It may also help other soul greats like Billy Preston, Barry White, or Johnnie Taylor finally get recognized as well.
Biggest threats: War is every bit as funky as Withers and more beloved by the classic rock crowd.  Chic is the R&B pet project for the NomCom, and for soul, the Spinners are another, more commercially successful contender.
In the end: Admittedly, I was not on board with the bandwagon that thought Withers would get nominated.  Bill Withers hasn’t always gotten my vote on the fan ballot, but he may be able to quietly sneak through.  Induction chances: 60%

5. Lou Reed
Singer/songwriter, former lead singer of the Velvet Underground.  Third nomination, previously unseeded.
Why he might make it: Lou Reed is a figure that is widely respected as an artist and innovator.  His songs have been covered in a variety of venues, he’s been called the “godfather of punk,” the reverence for the Velvet Underground could be a factor, and the fact he died this past year could all serve to finally push him through.
Why he might not: How many solo Lou Reed songs can you name, not including his work with the Velvet Underground or live solo performances of same?  His legacy rather outshines his actual solo discography, and that’s a problem for an institution about unquestionable musical excellence.
Whom he’d pave the way for: This one’s almost a complete zilch, as Lou Reed was such a singular performer, that there’re few who could be called his ilk, and of those who’ve not yet been inducted, Warren Zevon may be the most likely candidate.
Biggest threats: Sting is his biggest threat, as he would also be a double inductee, and there might not be two of those.  For singer/songwriters, Bill Withers is the biggest obstacle.
In the end: The death fairy can indeed be kind to those whom the Hall loves.  In this case, I think the love will be there for Lou’s posthumous solo inclusion.  Induction chances: 55%

6. Sting
80’s solo artist, former leader of the Police.  First time nominee.
Why he might make it: Some of the power players at the Foundation are almost more interested in landing the big names to draw visitors to the museum in Cleveland than they are about the music, and Sting’s the biggest single name on this ballot.  His commercial success track record is pretty solid to boot.
Why he might not: There’s a pretty wide consensus among those who follow the Hall that Sting is nowhere near the most deserving…. In fact, he ranks dead last with a few people, including me.  Additionally, he may have had a lot of hits, but his biggest success has been in the Adult Contemporary charts, which is borderline anathema to the Hall.
Whom he’d pave the way for: A former band member with strong name recognition to be inducted for a solo career that many don’t feel is worthy?  As much as I feel he’s worthy, Ringo Starr seems to be the obvious punchline for that one. 
Biggest threats: Lou Reed is a strong threat for the doubly-inducted honor this year.  Green Day is the other candidate that lists very strongly for both hit singles and albums.
In the end: I originally wrote him off, and I really still want to, but in my previous blog about trends, Sting rated highly in the three currently prominent trends of being latter day, commercially successful, and serious name recognition.  That makes it very likely that he can overcome his weaknesses of being a solo soft rocker.  Well, maybe not so much “very likely” as “equally likely.”  Induction chances: 50%

7. Chic
R&B/disco group fronted by a crackerjack production team.  This is their ninth 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, and #2 in 2014.
Why they might make it: After last year’s disappointment, Nile Rodgers has been working hard to press the flesh and work the social media to get his case for his group more widely known.  Musically, their records were sampled far and wide back in the early days of hip-hop, so the influence factor is definitely in their favor.  From a musical standpoint, their bass and guitar lines are considered very tough to imitate or duplicate. The men in the group were all production geniuses.  Also, Nile Rodgers was on the Nominating Committee back when the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame was first founded, so politically, this an attempt to repay the favor to him. .
Why they might not: As Chandler Bing might say, could the stars have aligned any harder for Chic than they did last year?  Last year was the most golden opportunity, the highest tide for Chic’s hopes for induction.  Daft Punk cleaned up at the Grammys thanks to Nile Rodgers handiwork on “Get Lucky.”  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: Chic has unexpectedly high competition on the ballot this year.  The Spinners as an R&B group have more popularity, as do fellow funksters War and Bill Withers.
In the end: The NomCom wants Nile in, and will get them in at some point.   Their direct competition is the stiffest that it’s been in awhile.  But with so many nominations, it’s a matter of time, making them this year’s upset special.  Induction chances: 49%

8. Joan Jett And The Blackhearts
Harder-rock-but-not-quite-metal band from the ‘80s.  Third-time nominee, seeded #13 in 2012 and dead last (#15) in 2013.
Why they might make it:  The biggest reason is probably Jett’s leading the tribute to Nirvana at this past year’s ceremonies (“Hervana”, as Krist Novoselic called it), singing lead on “Smells Like Teen Spirit.”  Plus, they’re good time, fun rock and roll, and who doesn’t appreciate that?  And when an artist has an anthemic rock and roll song, the artist has a tendency to get recognized, and if they have a few hits aside of that, so much the better. 
Why they might not:  They made very little waves besides their one major hit, “I Love Rock ‘N Roll”, and what they did have was largely covers (including said major hit).  The Hall Of Fame usually prefers to honor originality.  Also, if you didn’t see Hervana live, but saw it on YouTube or HBO, Jett’s performance looked and sounded awful, even worse than her tribute to the Dave Clark Five in 2008.
Whom they’d pave the way for:  As well as the obvious Pat Benatar, they might also clear the path for more classic rock acts with just a few, but well-remembered songs.  Maybe Thin Lizzy or Blue Oyster Cult?  And it’s way too soon, but Jett may quite be the precedent for a future induction of P!nk.  Or even Jett’s previous band, the Runaways.
Their biggest threats: Green Day, Stevie Ray Vaughan And Double Trouble, and Nine Inch Nails are all powerful rock acts that could split the ballot against Jett & Co.
In the end:  When, like last year, the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame fails to induct a Black artist, accusations of institutional racism fly.  This year, we’re gonna hear all about the misogyny.  Induction chances: 45%

9. Nine Inch Nails
One-man, industrial rock group.  Newly eligible.
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 my industrial, so I have no clue.  If the members of Filter aren’t included with Trent Reznor, maybe the doors would be opened for them.
Biggest threats: Fellow newly eligible Green Day is their biggest roadblock, while Stevie Ray Vaughan and Joan Jett And The Blackhearts are also threats against Nine Inch Nails.
In the end: People are watching curiously to see if they pull off the upset and keep Green Day out, but I’m just not seeing it.  They’ll have to wait until 2017, because the Hall will be too busy inducting Pearl Jam for 2016.  Induction chances: 40%

10. The Spinners
Superstar Philly-soul vocal group from Detroit, Michigan.  Second-time nominee, seeded #3 in 2012.
Why they might make it: The Hall has been strongly populist in the past couple years, and the Spinners are the biggest singles act on this ballot.
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: Bill Withers is favored for soul, Chic is a wild card among ‘70s groups, War is another ‘70s group that may hamper things, and for classic vocal groups, the Marvlettes may also detract from the Spinners.
In the end:  I refused to get my hopes up on their nomination, but they made it onto the ballot.  This time, however, my refusal to hope is pretty well founded, I think.  Induction chances: 35%

11. The Marvlettes
R&B girl group that gave the Motown empire its first number one hit single on the Hot 100.  Second-time nominee, seeded #6 in 2013.
Why they might make it: Anything Motown has a serious shot.  The Hall loves Motown, and really helping make Motown a household name is strong credibility.  Plus, in the history of the Hall, only two years were without a strong presence of the ‘60s.  The Marvelettes would be the best candidate for this slot.
Why they might not: The Hall loves Motown, but they sure can take their sweet time showing it: Marvin Gaye, Smokey Robinson, and the Four Tops all needed two nominations to get in, the Supremes and Martha And The Vandellas both needed three, the Jackson Five came up four times before getting in, Gladys Knight And The Pips took five, the Miracles needed a special subcommittee to convene and break precedent to get them in, not to mention twice nominated but still not inducted Mary Wells!  Only the Temptations and Stevie Wonder got in on their first nominations, both in 1989.  (Also the Isley Brothers and solo Michael Jackson, but both of whom are much better known for their post-Motown work)  Plus girl groups also generally need a few nominations to get in, 2005 inductees the Ronettes the lone exception.  Lastly, despite having a solid string of hits in the Top 40, they tend to be summed up with their major hit, “Please Mr. Postman”.
Whom they’d pave the way for: Getting the Marvelettes in might get the NomCom looking at Motown again, where we have Junior Walker And The All-Stars and Mary Wells as the last two major ‘60s acts for the family, plus a peek into the ‘70s shows the Commodores, solo Lionel Richie, and possibly even solo Diana Ross.  They also might lead the way for other girl groups like the Chantels, Crystals, Shangri-Las, even the Chiffons to get some consideration.
Biggest threats: The Spinners are the biggest direct threat, and the Paul Butterfield Blues Band are a fellow ‘60s act that stand in the way.
In the end: I’d love a class with Stevie Ray Vaughan And Double Trouble, the Spinners, and the Marvelettes in it, but it’s too lofty a goal to ever happen.  We’ll be lucky if we get one of those three, and the Marvlettes are the least likely of the three.  Induction chances: 33.3%

12. War
Latin-funk band from the ‘70s.  Third-time nominee, seeded #7 in 2009 and #12 in 2012.
Why they might make it: Cool funk. Memorable classics like "Low Rider," "The Cisco Kid," and "Why Can't We Be Friends" are all pleasers that make them likely candidates.  Also, Eric Burdon would be a multiple inductee, and the Hall loves to have multiple inductees.
Why they might not: Santana's already in. Can another Latin group make it? Also, innovation and influence are considered somewhat questionable. Plus, in comparison to other artists, and the politics of the Hall, they may just get lost in the shuffle.
Whom they’d pave the way for:  The only Latin act that might garner some attention following the induction of War would be Gloria Estefan/the Miami Sound Machine, who are now eligible as well.  Classic rock acts with that indescribable, yet identifiable intangible quality of coolness might benefit as well, and I’m thinking mainly Steppenwolf.
Biggest threats: Chic and Bill Withers are the most direct threats, and the Spinners are a possible problem for War as well.
In the end: War is a band that a lot of people would love to see get in, but it seems like for now, there’ll always be five or six names that people will feel are more deserving or just prefer more, with War getting lost in the shuffle.  Seems like it’ll be the case again this year.  We’ll see them on the ballot in three years again.  Induction chances: 30%

13. Kraftwerk
European progressive act that pioneered electronica. Third time nominee, unseeded their first time, seeded #9 in 2013.
Why they might make it: A truly innovative group, they are partially responsible for a lot of electronica music today.  Especially in the European club scene.
Why they might not: While the Hall Of Fame doesn’t discriminate against acts from countries other than the US and UK, they do strongly favor acts that were very popular in the U.S.A., which Kraftwerk was not.  If a voting member isn’t too familiar with their stuff, and sees five other names they like, they won’t bother researching Kraftwerk further.
Whom they’d pave the way for: There’re a couple avenues to go here.  Fatboy Slim, Daft Punk, and many more famous electronica acts are still a few years off.  The Art Of Noise are a left-field possibility, though possibly too much of a novelty act to get in.  But Kraftwerk’s induction may help more acts who were huge, just not in the States, get some recognition, such as Cliff Richard And The Shadows, Status Quo, Johnny Hallyday, or Fela.  Both paths are a bit of a stretch, but if the road really dead-ended with Kraftwerk, they probably wouldn’t be worth inducting anyway.
Biggest threats: As far as experimental goes, Lou Reed is a bigger draw.  For dance music, it’s Chic. 
In the end: Kraftwerk will probably need seven or eight nominations before getting their proper recognition, much like the Stooges or Black Sabbath.  This is only number three for them.  Induction chances: 25%

14. The Paul Butterfield Blues Band
Blues-rock band from the mid-‘60s.  Fourth-time nominee, Unseeded the first time, seeded #14 each of the past two years.
Why they might make it: They’re a formative blues-rock act.  Their sound is considered to be a pioneer sound.  A few of its past members have some amount of fame to their own names.  Also, they were name dropped by none other than Jann S. Wenner as an act he’d like to see get in.  If you don’t think that means something, you don’t know the Hall. 
Why they might not: They’re arguably the most obscure name on this ballot, having no hit singles and no album making the top quarter of the Billboard 200.
Whom they’d pave the way for:  Like Stevie Ray Vaughan And Double Trouble, this group could pave the way for blues acts to get in, like Junior Wells, Slim Harpo, or even Albert Collins, if you want to go left field.
Biggest threats: Stevie Ray Vaughan And Double Trouble are the obvious threat, and the Marvelettes are a more likely choice from the ‘60s.
In the end: As much clout as Jann S. Wenner has, I think he’ll have to continue to call this group an act he still wants to see in, because it ain’t happening this time.  Induction chances: 20%

15. The Smiths
‘80s alternative rock group.  First time nominee.
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; despite Kim Gordon taking part in Hervana, Sonic Youth couldn’t get on the ballot this time around. 
Whom they’d pave the way for: Maybe Sonic Youth will show up next year, maybe it’ll be the Pixies, or maybe they’ll retry the Cure or the Replacements.  Plus, Morrissey as a soloist has a shot in the future.
Biggest threats: Green Day is the more likely alternative rock act, Joan Jett And The Blackhearts are another ‘80s rock act that could draw away votes, as well.
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.  Induction chances: 10%

A bit later this year, but there you have it—my official predictions for this year.  It took a bit of time to solidify them, but I think this is a solid guess.  Not my ideal class, of course, but what I feel is most likely.  Hopefully we’ll know in less than a month.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

What to look for in the 2015 nominees


When this past year’s inductees were announced, I did an analysis about it overall, explaining why it was so hard to make good picks.  There were so many trends in voting and it was impossible to satisfy all of them without a class of at least nine Performer inductees, which of course did not happen.  We face the same conundrum again this year.  A lot of factors one would expect to coalesce a certain way can’t all coalesce together.  In short, it’s time to explain why it’s difficult for some of us to solidify our final predictions for this year.

The first big trend is that of the newly eligible shoo-in.  This year that definitely seems to be Green Day… at first glance.  The truth is, what made Guns N’ Roses, Public Enemy, and Nirvana shoo-ins were that they all finished strongly as highly deserving artists, especially compared with the rest of their respective ballots.  That surprisingly has not been the case this year with Green Day.  Everyone seems to agree that Green Day is most likely going to get in this year, yet most people don’t even rank Green Day among the top five deserving artists, though some do.  Most folks place Green Day somewhere in the middle, or exactly in the middle as I did.  Meanwhile, the also-newly-eligible underdog that most feel has no chance of getting in this time has captured the fan vote and is generally considered more deserving.  Could Nine Inch Nails pull off the upset?  Or could the unthinkable happen and both make it?  Unlikely, but that’s one trend we’re dealing with.

Another one is that of recent death.  This favors Lou Reed, as does the Hall’s general enjoyment of having multiple-time inductees, which in addition to Lou Reed also favors Sting, and maybe even War, depending on where they’ll fall on the Eric Burdon issue.  The blues influence supports both the Paul Butterfield Blues Band and Stevie Ray Vaughan And Double Trouble.  The guitar god trend supports Stevie Ray Vaughan And Double Trouble even more, but also to a lesser extent Green Day, Nine Inch Nails, the Smiths, and Joan Jett And The Blackhearts.  We also see that since Grandmaster Flash And The Furious Five got inducted, the Hall doesn’t let a dry spell happen of three years without a rap inductee.  That bodes well for N.W.A., as does the fact they’re the only rap act on the ballot.  And let’s not forget the love of singer/songwriters, which is good news for Bill Withers, or Lou Reed or Sting to a lesser extent.  As the Digital Dream Door site noted, the Hall also almost never goes a year without a ‘60s act, which most strongly favors the Marvelettes, but also the Paul Butterfield Blues Band and partially the Spinners (though they were more prominent in the ‘70s).

So those are some trends that favor induction, but what about those that don’t?  For starters, it has become increasingly difficult for any form of R&B that isn’t guitar-driven to get in the Hall lately.  This is a problem for Bill Withers, the Marvelettes, the Spinners, N.W.A., and most of all, Chic.  Also bad news for Chic is the struggle for any kind of dance or disco music to get recognition, which also negatively affects Kraftwerk.  80’s alternative has been snubbed in the past with the Cure and the Replacements getting shut out.  The Smiths’ chances don’t look as good when you consider that. 

Probably the most important trends to look at, though, are three that we’re seeing in the most recent years: the move to modern music, the populist push, and the need for names.  The move to modern music most notably acknowledges the move away from the ‘50s and ‘60s in recent years.  The ‘70s, however, are still pretty en vogue with the Hall, though more so for 70’s acts that stayed strong in the ‘80s.  The biggest benefactors of this trend would be Green Day, Nine Inch Nails, N.W.A., the Smiths, Joan Jett And The Blackhearts, Stevie Ray Vaughan And Double Trouble, and Sting.

The populist push, most closely tied to commercial success and chart presence, was perhaps most prominent last year with Daryl Hall And John Oates, KISS, and Linda Ronstadt all making the grade, those three names being the top three names in commercial success for both singles and albums, though the orders differed.  The year before that saw singles juggernaut Donna Summer, albums ultraheavyweight Rush, and perfect mix between the two Heart all get in.  If this trend continues, the smart money will be on the Spinners for singles, War for albums, and possibly both Sting and Green Day as acts who ride high in both columns.

Lastly, the need for names.  This one’s closely tied to the populist push, but doesn’t necessitate sales.  The Hall wants their museum packed with tourists and their broadcasts to get big ratings, so big names are needed.  Sting is the clear frontrunner on this one, Green Day, Lou Reed, and maybe also the Smiths trailing not too far behind.  Stevie Ray Vaughan And Double Trouble will also have some clout in this category as well.

Those three trends seem to have been the biggest driving forces in the Rock Hall’s selection processes the past few years.  If they continue to dominate, the strongest possibilities will be Sting, Green Day, Stevie Ray Vaughan And Double Trouble, the Spinners, War, and possibly the Smiths as a sixth.  Is that an official prediction on my part?  It could be, but not yet.  Heck, even I don’t know yet.  As I said in the first paragraph, this entry is partially an explanation as to why I haven’t made up my freggin’ mind and cast an official prediction yet.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Why we vote how we vote.

After having devised the pecking orders for the 2015 nominees, it stands to reason that we could accurately peg how one (in this case I) would vote if given a ballot, or in their (my) contribution to the fan ballot on the Rock Hall website.

On paper, it seems fairly simple: some hybrid of the merits and tastes.  And for the most part, it does indeed work that way.  Looking at my lists of both merits and personal taste, I see that both the Smiths and Stevie Ray Vaughan And Double Trouble make the top five in both categories.  Naturally, both of those go on my ballot.  The Marvelettes just missed the Top 5 on one and just made the Top 5 on the other, so they’d probably get my vote as well.  Despite being in the bottom half of merit, they ran second in taste, so the Spinners have an average that’s tied with the Marvelettes, and would get the vote from me as well.  The fifth highest average of merit and preference is N.W.A, who despite being in the bottom five for personal enjoyment, are a solid second in terms of deserving induction.  So, reasonably, I should be casting my ballot for Stevie Ray Vaughan And Double Trouble, the Smiths, the Marvelettes, the Spinners, and N.W.A.

Pretty simple, right?  And if that were the class that was inducted, I’d be pretty happy.  I’d also shit bricks because there’s no way this class is happening, but that’s for another entry.  Just like probably everyone else who reads this, I’ve submitted a fan ballot several times on the Rock Hall’s website, and every time, four of those five names have indeed been checked off.  However, instead of N.W.A. getting the fifth, I’ve been waffling mostly between Bill Withers and War.  Sometimes Bill Withers who finished sixth in averages, and sometimes War, who despite being tied for ninth in averages, was seventh in personal taste.  Sometimes I did vote for N.W.A., too, though.  In short, it seems that if I were a member of the voting bloc, it’s clear where four of my votes would go, while the fifth would take some time to figure out.  And I gotta say that’s pretty accurate.  For me.

But I’m giving equal weight to personal preferences as to merits.  Others have a different weight scale.  Like my fiancĂ© for example, who admittedly is only doing this because I hamper her about it.  Sorry honey.  Anyway, if she applied my logic and went with the averages of her taste and how she feels they stack up objectively, her ballot would be cast for Stevie Ray Vaughan And Double Trouble, Bill Withers, Green Day, the Marvelettes, and Sting.  Sixth place, by the way, went to Joan Jett And The Blackhearts.  Yet, she’s not as attached to the artists on this ballot for personal enjoyment, Green Day being the only one she really loves, with the top five being filled out with Bill Withers, Sting, Joan Jett And The Blackhearts, and Stevie Ray Vaughan And Double Trouble (sixth place: the Marvelettes).  However, she’s admitted that when it comes to actually casting a ballot, she’d stick strictly to her merits ranking.  Her top five by her definitions of merits sees it going Stevie Ray Vaughan And Double Trouble, the Smiths, the Marvelettes, N.W.A., and Bill Withers, with Sting being the sixth optional (don’t ask me, it’s her merits).

Similarly, consider the opinion of PopeCharming/AlexVoltaire, whose Northumbrian blog was kind enough to plug mine a few times, and for which, thank you.  His top six for merits were Kraftwerk, N.W.A., Green Day, Stevie Ray Vaughan And Double Trouble, Nine Inch Nails, and Bill Withers.  His personal preferences saw the top six ranked as Bill Withers, the Spinners, Stevie Ray Vaughan And Double Trouble, Sting, War, and Green Day.  When you take both ranks of all fifteen nominees, his top five are Stevie Ray Vaughan And Double Trouble, Bill Withers, Kraftwerk, Green Day, and the Spinners, with a near miss by War in sixth place.  At the end of that entry, where he said for whom he’d cast his vote, he did indeed choose the first four, but instead of the Spinners for number five, he selected N.W.A., stating that if he had a sixth and seventh choice, then he’d cast for the Spinners and War (N.W.A. tied for seventh on his averages, tied with Chic).

Another perspective comes from Tom Lane, who didn’t rank them by merits or taste per se, but simply put the nominees in a pecking order by likelihood to vote for them.  However, reading his rationale behind each pecking point, it’s fairly clear that he was swayed much more by personal taste than by whom he felt deserved the honors more.    His top five were the Spinners, Chic, Stevie Ray Vaughan And Double Trouble, the Smiths, and War.

These are all important because as much as they might try to deny it, members of the voting bloc are also humans and likewise afflicted by the need to reconcile personal tastes with how seminal an artist really is.  And with some of them, artists especially, personal relationships with the nominees are a factor too.  It’s generally accepted by those of us on the outside that the only reason Chic has ever been nominated is because of the ties between Nile Rodgers and current NomCom members.  Cronyism seems to be a big factor.  Cronyism is also what is usually referred to when nay-sayers claim that “it’s all political,” but what about literal politics?  Political activism that resonates with the political beliefs of voters probably played a factor in the decision to vote in people like Bonnie Raitt and Jackson Browne so quickly, while differing politics may have been a factor in what kept an act like Alice Cooper off the ballot for so long, and continues to keep others like Ted Nugent or Pat Boone eternally out of the Hall.  Even if not on the politically opposite end of the spectrum, being a neutral can be enough to rub them the wrong way, i.e. whoever’s not with us is against us.  It could even be a factor in determining why Tom Morello from Rage Against The Machine is a NomCom member and not Alice Cooper, nee Vincent Furnier, or Lars Ulrich.  In all fairness, we laypeople aren’t entirely immune from the influence of politics either, but we are less inclined to consider it seriously as a factor when deciding who deserves enshrinement and who doesn’t, possibly because we don’t get to anyway.

But for now we still have the fan ballot, and as infinitesimal as our individual, repeatedly cast vote is to the total ballot and the entire vote overall, it’s still something that we owe it to ourselves to be conscientious of why we choose those that we do.  It’ll also give our future gripes with the Hall more credence among each other, but that’s just a fringe benefit.  With the growth of the impact of grassroots campaigns to get artists inducted, knowing ourselves first will help us more effectively reach out to them.

In closing, I’m going to include the full list of my fiancĂ©’s lists, both merits and personal taste, since I put her through this every year, it’s not fair to her to not publish her lists.  Enjoy.

Her Merit Rank

  1. Stevie Ray Vaughan And Double Trouble
  2. The Smiths
  3. The Marvelettes
  4. N.W.A.
  5. Bill Withers
  6. Sting
  7. Green Day
  8. Chic
  9. Nine Inch Nails
  10. Lou Reed
  11. Joan Jett And The Blackhearts
  12. The Spinners
  13. War
  14. Kraftwerk
  15. The Paul Butterfield Blues Band

Her Personal Taste Rank

  1. Green Day
  2. Bill Withers
  3. Sting
  4. Joan Jett And The Blackhearts
  5. Stevie Ray Vaughan And Double Trouble
  6. The Marvelettes
  7. The Spinners
  8. The Paul Butterfield Blues Band
  9. Nine Inch Nails
  10. Lou Reed
  11. War
  12. Chic
  13. N.W.A.
  14. Kraftwerk
  15. The Smiths

 

Sunday, November 9, 2014

To iPod or not to iPod: the 2015 nominees

In the last entry, the fifteen nominees for this year’s class were ranked by hopefully objective merits.  All attempts were made to remove personal bias from the entry, even to the point of removing as many personal pronouns as possible.  Now, however, the other side of the coin is revealed: personal tastes.  As stated in the past, considering personal tastes is not entirely unfair.  For starters, the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame states “unquestionable musical excellence” as pretty much the only criterion outside of the twenty-five year rule.  However, there has never really been any clear cut guidelines on what constitutes “unquestionable musical excellence,” yet the discussion of music between people on an everyday level sees the word “excellent” thrown about almost solely in the context of personal taste (unless someone is begrudgingly acknowledging the musical proficiency of an act he or she doesn’t personally care for).  So, it is not unreasonable to infer that when the people behind the Hall employ the phrase “unquestionable musical excellence,” that those people are likewise influenced by their personal tastes.  So including a pecking order of preference is perfectly appropriate to a discussion that forces one to choose five out of fifteen.  Additionally, as I’ve said in years past, I’m honest enough with myself to know that I wouldn’t vote solely on objective merit.  What I like is going to come into play, but it doesn’t rule all either.  There are acts I love that I wouldn’t vote for simply because I don’t feel they’re worthy (some on this ballot).  So for the sake of honesty, it’s time for me to disclose how much I personally like or dislike this year’s nominees.

1. Stevie Ray Vaughan And Double Trouble: I won’t lie: I didn’t dare to hope that they would be nominated, and I was so ecstatic when I found out that Stevie was, and even more so when they tacked on the rest of the band.  Nip that problem in the bud.  Well done.  I love their exhilarating brand of blues-rock.  Fantastic, life-affirming, raw.  To recap, I called them the most deserving candidate too.
Average of the two ranks: 1

2. The Spinners: Another act I just didn’t dare hope would be nominated.  I love Philly soul, and I’m so happy they’re back.  I really hope they make it, not just because I love them, but because the Hall needs some soul acts again, and soon.  But they only ranked ninth in merits.
Average of the two ranks: 5.5

3. The Smiths: Those who know me are probably very surprised to see the Smiths ranked this high.  To a degree it is surprising, but I can’t deny it.  Between Johnny Marr’s magical guitar playing and Morrissey’s almost hypnotic vocals, the Smiths are just wonderful music all around.  They ranked fourth in the merits.
Average of the two ranks: 3.5

4. Joan Jett And The Blackhearts: As I said two years ago, the reason they have a chance of getting in any given year is because of their fun-time rock and roll, with party jams like “I Love Rock ‘N’ Roll” and “I Hate Myself For Loving You,” that most people can and do enjoy.  Unfortunately for them, most people understand and many even agree with the rank of fourteenth in merits.
Average of the two ranks: 9
5. The Marvelettes: As I also said two years ago when the Marvelettes were last nominated, I’m not a huge fan.  But their stuff has grown on me a bit more recently, and I do enjoy the fun of early Motown.  Sixth for merit, as a reminder.
Average of the two ranks: 5.5

6. Lou Reed: Much like Morrissey of the Smiths, there’s a calming quality to the man’s voice that is unsettling in songs like “Walk On The Wild Side,” but hopeful in “Perfect Day,” and some mix of the two in songs like “Satellite Of Love.”  Recapping, he placed twelfth for merits.
Average of the two ranks: 9

7. War: Cool songs like “Low Rider,” the fun of “Why Can’t We Be Friends,” the funk of “The World Is A Ghetto,” “The Cisco Kid,” and much else of their catalog all serve to place them squarely near the middle of the candidates, but they ranked eleventh in merits.
Average of the two ranks: 9

8. Bill Withers: Makes sense for funk to be on the heels of funk, right?  Alright then.  He’s best known for his smoother songs like “Lean On Me” and “Ain’t No Sunshine,” and actually if those were more typical of his style, he’d rank higher.  “Grandma’s Hands,” “Use Me,” “Make Love To Your Mind,” “Heartbreak Road,” etc. are also fine songs, I just like the atypical stuff better.  Very close to his merit rank, which was seventh.
Average of the two ranks: 7.5

9. Green Day: Not a huge fan of modern alternative, but they are rather fun.  “Minority” is probably my favorite song, though I also enjoy “Warning” and “Basket Case,” and yes, as a teen of the mid-to-late ‘90’s, my high school’s class song that year was indeed “Good Riddance (Time Of Your Life).”  Like Bill Withers just above, they fall one lower in taste than their merit rank, this time eighth.
Average of the two ranks: 8.5

10. Chic: ”Good Times” and “I Want Your Love” were the only two songs I actually kind of liked the first times I heard them.  “Le Freak” had to grow on me, though it hasn’t fully.  I still don’t like “Dance, Dance, Dance (Yowzah, Yowzah, Yowzah).”  Unlike the two artists above, they landed exactly the same spot as they did on merits.
Average of the two ranks: 10

11. The Paul Butterfield Blues Band: As much as I love Stevie Ray Vaughan And Double Trouble, you’d think I’d love the Paul Butterfield Blues Band almost as much, but strangely not so, though I like “East-West” and their version of “Walkin’ Blues” (though I like Hot Tuna’s better).  Dwindling dangerously near the bottom this year both times, they were thirteenth in merit.
Average of the two ranks: 12

12. N.W.A.: They have a few songs I love, a few I think are okay, and several that are kind of monotonous in their profanity and themes.  And with the limited catalog they have, not much room for that.  Fortunately, they’re second in merits.
Average of the two ranks: 7

13. Nine Inch Nails: I have some bad memories of my college radio days, and Nine Inch Nails kind of reminds me of them.  Still, attempting to distance myself from the memories, it wasn’t too bad.  Unsurprisingly, I like the later, more commercial stuff better.  Also unsurprisingly, not an act one should research when encumbered with a splitting headache.  They ranked fifth in merits.
Average of the two ranks: 9

14. Kraftwerk: Three of the top five deserving acts rank in the bottom five for taste.  I should either be applauded for being able to at least recognize the worth of acts I don’t care for, or chastised that I can’t align the two universes better.  Still, I like much of the music that followed in their wake.  And I do like a few songs, such as “Neonlichten,” an English-language cover of which is done by U2, as well as the later remix of “Autobahn.”  Third in merits.
Average of the two ranks: 8.5

15. Sting: I fell asleep the first time I tried to immerse myself in his solo efforts more.  His music bores me.  I’m not a big fan of the Police either, which alienates me from my eldest brother.  I did worry that my personal taste was influencing the merits rank too much, but the circulating opinions on Future Rock Legends makes me feel comfortable that ranking him dead last that time as well was indeed the right call.
Average of the two ranks: 15


So there’s an honest confession about which artists would make my iPod and which ones wouldn’t.  Coming soon, a look at how these ranks would influence my vote (and how others feel about the nominees as well).