Monday, October 13, 2014

And they're off!

The names have been announced; the ballot for the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame’s Class of 2015 is official.  It’s time to start dissecting, analyzing, hypothesizing, and griping, not necessarily in that order.  We’ll begin with reactions to who’s on the ballot and who’s not.

First off, I’m a little ashamed because I only nailed six of the fifteen nominees, and all six of them were very safe predictions.  If you didn’t pick Green Day, Joan Jett And The Blackhearts, Lou Reed, the Paul Butterfield Blues Band, N.W.A., or Nine Inch Nails on your predicted ballot, you either weren’t paying attention or were taking some gutsy risks that they’d be omitted.  Of those six, Nine Inch Nails was probably the gutsiest call to make, being nowhere near as certain as Green Day or N.W.A.

Looking at the other repeat nominees, we see that the returning favorites dominate the ballot, unlike last year, which was a fifty-fifty split, whereas this year it’s sixty-forty in favor of the returning names.  In addition to the aforementioned who weren’t newly eligible, we see the return of pet NomCom cause Chic, whom most predicted, but I felt might be given a break this year.  Nope.  Kraftwerk returns once again, as many expected.  It’s hard to tell, especially since their nominations have not been in any consistent pattern that one can nail down.  Most who predicted their return are those who prefer both European to American and alternative to mainstream.  While it can be rightly stated that neither of those dichotomies describe me, my omission of them was really more based on a belief that their momentum had fizzled.  Both Chic and they were two of my mental backup predictions for my ballot, though I officially claimed no backups because it feels like a cop out to me.  No bet hedging in my book.  Speaking of artists that are sporadically nominated, War is back for their third nomination as well, another name several people guessed, but was by no means ubiquitous among predictions. Lastly, I have to admit my serendipity that both the Spinners and the Marvelettes return for their second nominations each, who respectively are the second and third names off my tongue when asked to comprise my dream class for the Hall, though now I worry about them canceling each other out. 

Which brings us to the other four first-time nominees.  The Spinners and the Marvelettes make numbers two and three on my list, but number one is firmly Stevie Ray Vaughan, though at present I’m a bit miffed that Double Trouble was not also named.  Indeed, a few fellow monitors are already likening the situation to nominating Jimi Hendrix without the Experience.  I have to agree.  Stevie may have been front and center, but do not neglect how synergistically the rest of the band worked behind him, both to create a coherent sound together in their own right, and to create the giant wave that allowed Vaughan’s guitar licks to ride high.  At this early stage of the game, Vaughan’s leading the fan ballot, which bodes well for him, but as people slowly get tuned in to what’s happening, it could change.  Still seeing him, the Spinners, and the Marvelettes on the ballot together is glee for me.  If these three get in this year, I don’t care who else gets the nod.  I didn’t pick any of these three because I just didn’t want to get my hopes up. 

I also expressed concern that the Spinners and Marvelettes could cancel each other out.  Well, now compound that feeling when you throw Bill Withers into the conversation, because his name’s on the ballot too.  Many correctly picked him, especially as some noted that Questlove himself was likely the driving force in getting him on the ballot.  It’s almost funny to me to hear Withers touted as this year’s singer/songwriter pick.  When you say “singer/songwriter,” I think “coffeehouse.”  Bill Withers by strict denotation is indeed a valid singer/songwriter, but he doesn’t fit neatly in the same box that oh-so-comfortably accommodates the likes of James Taylor, Leonard Cohen, Joni Mitchell, Randy Newman, Cat Stevens, and Tom Waits.  It’ll be a curious thing to watch and see how the voting bloc feels about Withers, and whether the label “singer/songwriter” comes into play at all.

Though some correctly predicted them, it’s still a bit of a shocker to see the Smiths on the ballot, mainly because everyone thought Sonic Youth was getting on this year instead.  Indeed, all indicators favored Sonic Youth, particularly Kim Gordon’s performance at the ceremonies this year as part of “Hervana,” and the conversation between NomCom members Tom Morello and Questlove about them both supporting Sonic Youth for this ballot.  What happened?  We’ll never know, though clearly not enough members agreed.  Still the Smiths are another one of those ‘80s alternative acts that many have been wanting to see get their due for some time, and perhaps Morrissey’s name alone being a big draw has much to do with why it’s them and not Sonic Youth this time.

Speaking of big name draws, we come now to Sting, whom nobody I know predicted and is a bit of a dome scratcher for me personally.  In some respects it shouldn’t be surprising: he’s been previously considered, the Police are widely venerated, and the Hall seems to love adding members to the multiple inductees club.  But we’ve already got Lou Reed on the ballot (and possibly Eric Burdon if he’s included with War), his solo career skews much more adult contemporary, and didn’t really break any new ground, instead sounding derivative of the Police, minus the reggae influences.  Still, for pure name recognition, Sting’s a no-brainer.

With many, the bigger story is who isn’t on the ballot.  Many are miffed that Deep Purple isn’t returning this year.  With Rush and KISS in, Deep Purple was the next logical step for many.  There were a lot of theories surrounding Yes not making it this past year.  Just goes to show you can’t put too much stock in fan theories, cruises and twenty votes included.  As mentioned already, all the indicators pointed toward Sonic Youth, and many feel plenty certain now that without LL Cool J or any other rap name on the ballot, N.W.A. will strut into the Hall.  No one’s really lamenting the absence of the Meters, though many had them pegged to return this year as well.  Many also had believed Link Wray would return, and there is some shock and disappointment about that.  The grassroots campaign to get Janet Jackson nomiated fell short of the goal, and despite the pleas of Daryl Hall, no Chubby Checker, though we did get Philly act the Spinners this year, so that’s a step.


Overall, I like this ballot; it’s got real potential to make a great class.  It’s also got potential to be disappointing.  We’ll have to see.  Let the games begin.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Taking A Stab At 2015's Ballot


September is now past the halfway mark, and for those of us who monitor the Rock Hall, that means it’s almost time for the Nominating Committee to congregate and deign to announce who is worthy enough to be on the ballot for the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame’s Class of 2015.

All snark aside, we really do enjoy this.  We enjoy guessing who’ll be on the ballot, reading other people’s predictions, critiquing their predictions, and cursing under our breath when we don’t even get half of the names right.  And we enjoy the list of nominees itself, I suppose.  Just about everyone else that is expected to comment has weighed in with his or her prediction.  I’ve been dragging my feet mainly because I’ve been busy trying to beef up my badge count on Sporcle, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t been paying attention.  So now, I’m giving my thoughts, comparing the list to my mid-season report, and selecting sixteen names, just like last year’s ballot.

 Kicking off with the newly eligible acts, I’m going to go ahead and pick both Green Day and Nine Inch Nails.  The list was only going to include Green Day originally, but FutureRockLegends pointed out NIN’s placement on the list of Immortals.  That’s a kind of honor that isn’t going to be ignored.  Nine Inch Nails may not be able to battle against Green Day’s popularity, and attempts to diversify the class will make it a competition between the two, but look for them to be named on the ballot as well.

Next up, we’re going to stalk the grim reaper.  Lou Reed passed away before the 2014 ceremonies, but his friends at the Foundation aren’t going to forget him.  He’ll be back for another nomination this year.  Similarly, and in keeping with their continued push for bluesy acts, I think blues-rock legend Johnny Winter is going to get the nod, a name whom Dave Marsh may be supporting.  Much as it chagrins me, I think this also means that Stevie Ray Vaughan is going to get overlooked again.  I’d love it if I was wrong, but I don’t think I am.  (Winter, by the way, the first of five names that are on my prediction now that weren’t on the mid-season report.)

Moving on, time to load up on the usual favorites in the form of returning nominees.  Starting with rappers N.W.A. because we know Toure is all about the rap now, and Questlove (and I think Tom Morello, too) have voiced support.  Also coming back for a third consecutive year will likely be Deep Purple, the current pet project for the hard rock crowd.  Last year they took back burner to the marketing prowess and impossible-to-ignore presence of KISS, but KISS had been touted as a snub for probably just as long, and certainly much louder than Deep Purple.  With that hurdle out of the way, the push for Purple proceeds prominently.  Looking to join them will most likely be fellow classic rock radio denizens Yes.  I don’t particularly subscribe to Alex Voltaire’s theory about the prog cruise.  Frankly, I think Yes would have probably cancelled if they got called to the Class of 2014.  However, prog has been the subgenre to support recently, and I think there will likely be a repeat nomination for them. 

After being the first singer for this year’s “Hervana” tribute at the ceremony, it will indeed probably be another nomination for Joan Jett And The Blackhearts, who were mysteriously absent from last year’s ballot.  This lapse in consecutive nominations may be a problem for Jett, lost momentum and whatnot, but that was probably the point of her attempting (and failing, imo) to sing “Smells Like Teen Spirit” at the ceremony.  Also performing at the ceremony, despite not being an inductee, was one of the members of the Meters, performing with Peter Gabriel.  This will probably be remembered again when the NomCom meets and this New Orleans group may get another nomination.  Another miss out from last year’s ballot would also be the Paul Butterfield Blues Band.  It may be a dangerous setup to put both Winter and Butterfield on the ballot, but things even more bizarre have happened.

Looking now to potential first-time nominees, we have a veritable plethora of options.  And it’ll be difficult to nail it down to only six more names (since we’re already up to ten).  NomCom member Tom Morello has been vocal about pushing for Sonic Youth now that KISS is in, and Kim Gordon’s rather interesting leadership on “Aneurysm” as part of Hervana can only help bolster that case.  Another female presence to keep in mind will be Janet Jackson (second of five), whose fanbase’s grassroots campaign to get her nominated has captured the attention of NomCom member Questlove.  Speaking of Questlove, remember last year when he wore a shirt honoring Daryl Hall And John Oates?  Remember which duo got inducted this past year?  Maybe, then, we shouldn’t ignore the fairly recent Questlove shirt with the logo of the Average White Band (third of five).  It may mean nothing, but maybe Questlove is showing his hand after all, by wearing his heart between his sleeves.

Three names left, and we haven’t even touched upon NomCom member Little Steven yet.  We can’t ignore him, as his nominations usually get inducted eventually.  He was the man behind getting Link Wray on the ballot last year, and probably will succeed again, but let’s hope they include the (W)Ray-Men with him too, this time.  Now back in the mid-season report, I noted that I loved Daryl Hall’s impassioned plea for more Philadelphia artists, but felt it would fall on deaf ears.  That was before Little Steven’s wife tweeted about Daryl Hall being absolutely right about Chubby Checker being a big snub (fourth of five).  I’ve thought so for years, but hadn’t dared to hope or predict.  But a little pillow talk with the Miami Man might just yield fruitful this time, so we’ll see if he agrees with his wife. 

Lastly, we go out to left field again.  Only not too deep, imo, though others would argue that I’m on the warning track with this one.  I’m going to go ahead and blindly guess that this year will see the nomination of “Weird Al” Yankovic (fifth of five).  Please bear in mind that if nominated, I don’t think he’d get inducted, unless he managed to take first place in the fans’ ballot.  But this has been a huge year for him: having the first comedy album in fifty years to top the Billboard Album charts, performing at the Emmys of all places, both “Tacky” and “Word Crimes” fairly well-received, more and more TV appearances… his stock has never been higher than it is now.  He’d probably be a one-and-done nominee, but it would still be a hell of a way to cap off this year, so I’m going to guess that the NomCom will decide that this is one tide not to fight.

So, a bit of everything… some obvious, some tried-and-true likely, some minor stretches, and at least one major stretch.  Eleven names from the mid-season report that I still think are going to show up, five changes (out with Todd Rundgren, Kraftwerk, Ringo Starr, Chic, and the prediction of only fifteen names).  Now to wait and see, and hopefully it won’t be too much longer.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Rock Hall Monitors Goes To The Movies


Grab the popcorn, candy, drinks, and your special someone.  We’re heading to the theater this weekend.   That’s not so unusual, I’ve seen two movies in the past two weekends, so why does this merit an entry on a blog about the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame?  Well, this weekend is the debut of a movie about an act that has been enshrined in the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame.  A band that has for far too long been denied the recognition of their contribution to rock and roll and music in general.  I am of course talking about the Four Seasons.  Also known as the 4 Seasons, or also as Frankie Valli And The 4 Seasons.

This movie isn’t completely unique, and perhaps that’s why it’s being released in summer, rather than the fall.  It’s nowhere near the first rock ‘n’ roll biopic: Great Balls Of Fire, The Buddy Holly Story, Why Do Fools Fall In Love?, etc.  And it’s not the first “jukebox musical” either… certainly you’ve heard of one Mamma Mia!  Still, as one of the first widely celebrated “jukebox musicals” turning into a movie, there’s a lot of promise here.

I have several reasons to be excited for this movie, starting with the director.  Clint Eastwood doesn’t have a completely spotless track record, but it’s incredibly solid, and in the interviews he's done regarding this project, he's talked about how this movie has taken time to get off the ground, waiting for someone who can deliver a credible biopic with both the entertainment the 4 Seasons provided, and the gravitas to appreciate their incredible story.  That gives me hope.  Second, the story is a proven success.  As a Broadway musical first, Jersey Boys won the Tony for Best Musical, as well as in three or four other categories.  Third, the casting is largely of actors who played the members of the 4 Seasons on Broadway, including John Lloyd Young as Frankie Valli himself.  These are actors who knew how to play the characters before the first day of shooting, who’ve actually spent time meeting Frankie Valli, Bob Gaudio, Tommy DeVito, and the surviving family members of the late Nick Massi.  Naturally, one would expect an actor to research and prepare for any role, but these are the ones who mostly got dibs on doing it, spent the hours doing the homework and fine-tuning it, and have been playing the roles in performances.  They were prepared for this.  Lastly, I’m a diehard fan of the 4 Seasons, and don’t live anywhere near New York City.  I want to see this movie.

That’s not to say I think this will shatter records.  It’d be nice, but it’s up against some tough competitors at the box office, plus, as I said, the 4 Seasons have almost never gotten the respect and accolades they deserve.  There’s wishful thinking, and then there’s hoping this will turn the 4 Seasons into acclaimed national treasures.  And, as noted earlier, this is a summer movie, not an October-or-later movie, when the arthouse films that get the major Oscar nominations generally come out.  Lastly, the television appearances on talk shows from Clint Eastwood and Christopher Walken have been less than focused on actually plugging the film itself.

All the same, the buzz surrounding the musical has been positive, and I’m hoping that this does very well, and more importantly, will introduce the music of the 4 Seasons to a whole new audience.  So far, a major common theme of many of the  “man on the street” reviews of the stage show has been that people are just now realizing that the 4 Seasons were responsible for a lot of the songs of the ‘60s that they loved, but didn’t know who performed them.  That's simultaneously awesome and sad, but hopefully the cinematic exposure will bring new interest in the music of both the group and the solo career of Frankie Valli, and even in the works of Bob Gaudio as a songwriter and Bob Crewe as a producer.

Coming back to the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame, can this movie cause any new ripples or waves?  Mamma Mia! came out before ABBA got inducted, and some believe that the combined success of the movie and the play helped the cause.  But the 4 Seasons have already been inducted.  Some of the diehard Seasonologists would love to see Frankie Valli get inducted a second time as a soloist, but I don’t think that’s a reasonable goal.  While his solo stuff would certainly qualify as “unquestionable musical excellence,” there are just a number of factors working against the case.  He’s reasonably influential in terms of people covering the songs he did as a soloist, but his overall style as a soloist is not widely cited by musicians that followed.  His disco performances are definitely among the more artistic variety of disco, but he didn’t have the clout of the Bee Gees, KC And The Sunshine Band, or any of the major disco queens, and didn't match the commercial success of many of them.  His ballads are terrific, but the Hall has been dragging its feet to recognize any “lite rock” giants.  Most harmful to the cause however, is that his solo career has never been regarded as being distinctive and separated from his work with the 4 Seasons.  Chronologically, definitely not.  In that regard, Phil Collins is about the only serious contender for maintaining group chops while embarking on a Hall Of Fame-worthy solo career.  But more importantly, when most anthologies include one or two of your solo hits with your group’s “greatest hits,” your solo career is not all that distanced from the group work.

So, I really don’t see a solo induction for Frankie Valli coming.  But all’s not lost.  Recently, in the Rock Hall Projected project on the FRL site, I’ve been championing Bob Crewe as a Non-Performer.  The project (and site) are of course not affiliated with the Hall in any capacity, but it never hurts to raise awareness on smaller level, and see if it can snowball.  Ultimately, I think Bob Crewe is quite deserving of induction.  He’s done a lot of stuff besides the 4 Seasons’ music, and he’s not the only inducted producer (or non-performer) to have done a lot of various work, but still have a bread and butter act.  I’d also hope for the songwriting team of Linzer-Randell to get some consideration, but there’s still a bullpen of songwriters more deserving than them still waiting as well.

So yes, I’d love to see this film help get Bob Crewe inducted.  I’d also like to see it garner an Oscar in some capacity.  Maybe for soundtrack.  Best Picture would be awesome, but hopes are not elevated.  Maybe it could spur HBO into making a mini-series or documentary about the 4 Seasons as well.  And if that were to win an Emmy, the legacy of the 4 Seasons, via the Jersey Boys phenomenon, would have an EGOT (Grammy for best cast recording).  No one person, of course, but still wouldn’t that be cool? 

Not bad for a group who never got a Grammy for their records—not even a Lifetime Achievement Grammy to date, a group heretofore anonymously responsible for so many of your favorite records from the ‘60’s, a group who pioneered both blue-eyed soul and working-class-appealing rock ‘n’ roll while also solidifying the East Coast sound, a group whose first industrial accolade not directly linked to sales was their 1990 induction into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame.  Not bad at all.

See you at the movies this weekend.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Better late than later: comments on the 2014 induction ceremony


Maybe I need a vacation, a hiatus of sorts. 

After watching the 2014 induction ceremony, I was left feeling very underwhelmed.  That in itself is really not so surprising, as a lot of people have commented on how lackluster this year’s ceremony was, but for me, it wasn’t just a matter of there being no KISS performance, or even due to the fact that I’m not really a huge fan of any of the inductees (indeed, two of them I have a strong dislike for).  No, what left me feeling ho-hum about it all was really more how it felt like the music was a veneer, and a tertiary item on the agenda for the night.

As I wrote in the blog about lessons we can learn from the KISS drama, I stated how social media makes everything worse.  And that may be hypocritical of me as having a blog, and using both Facebook and Twitter to promote it (with the kind help of Future Rock Legends), I’m not entirely off that grid myself.  Perhaps, it’s more accurate to say that social media is more like an amplifier.  I use it to amplify my attempts at rational, level-headed discourse, and because my entries are seldom inflammatory, coupled with the fact that I myself am pretty small potatoes, a nice tone is amplified and carried out to more people in a fairly non-disruptive and sometimes euphonic manner (if we’re to maintain the analogy).  On the other hand, you take the adamant, negative outcry of a major celebrity, such as Gene Simmons, and run that through the amplifier, and it creates a distorted, overbearing assault that makes you wonder where (as it’s hardly a question of if) something short-circuited.  Because of the drama with KISS, the lesser drama with Andrew Loog Oldham, and the inability for Linda Ronstadt to travel, expectations were remarkably low among the Rock Hall watching community for this year.  And if you weren’t at the actual ceremony in Brooklyn, chances are the broadcast version only confirmed it like a self-fulfilling prophecy.

As I said, part of this felt like because the music itself was treated with tertiary importance.  Watching the ceremony and following the coverage leading up to it, it seemed like rabble-rousing was of primary importance.  Except this was done very subtly at the actual event.  For all the acrimony Gene Simmons spat into the Twitterverse, KISS themselves were relatively well-behaved.  “Relatively” of course, because they still had to get the dig in about how it should be more everyman-oriented, including the very nomination process itself; and “relatively” because most of them left before it was even over, seemingly making a statement in their departure.  It wasn’t so much just KISS, though.  Tom Morello’s speech, while very passionate, also seemed to contain hints of anger that it took so long for it to happen.  Let’s not overlook the history with Daryl Hall slamming the Rock Hall either, which seemed barely contained in his and John Oates’ acceptance speeches (sidebar: I had no idea John Oates was so short.  If there’s a biopic, Peter Dinklage has got to play John Oates).  While there wasn’t so much anger from Ronstadt’s corner, since she wasn’t there, her paradoxically angry indifference to the idea in the past suggests she wouldn’t have been better company that night either. 

This rabble-rousing was intertwined with what seemed to be of secondary importance: shameless plugging.  Coldplay’s induction is certain, but hey, having Chris Martin on-hand to induct Peter Gabriel couldn’t hurt to assure the induction is more timely than not, though to be less cynical, I think Martin’s speech was the best of the night: witty, emotional, personal, music-focused, beautiful.  But there was also the unaired “Digging In The Dirt” performance which included a member of the now thrice-passed by Meters.  Linda Ronstadt’s tribute included two Hall-Of-Famers, but could Sheryl Crow’s appearance been as a plug for her legacy?  Or Emmylou Harris for that matter?  Sure, she’s country, but there’ve been murmurs for a couple country artists who’ve been so influential and impacting on rock and roll music, that maybe they ought to be inducted as well, Harris somewhere in the top five on that list for a lot of people.  Of course, Daryl Hall And John Oates channeling their rabble-rousing wrath to challenge the Hall to correct its omission of Philadelphia artists is a prime example, as well.  Something recent I read, and I think it was an article in the Future Rock Legends Twitter feed, was an interview with Hall that called attention to the perceived second-class status of Philadelphia to anything New York City, mainly by New Yorkers as perceived by Philadelphians (similar perhaps to how supposedly Canadians hate Americans because they think that Americans think of Canadians as "cute" in a second-rate way?), so maybe the combination of anger and shout-out is perfectly organic.  The worst offender though, had to be “Hervana”—the term, by the way, coined by Krist Novoselic in a positive light, so don’t come after me with accusations of misogyny.  Let’s not kid ourselves: Joan Jett And The Blackhearts have been nominated twice, and Sonic Youth has been touted as one of the biggest snubs of the ‘80s alternative scene.  With Jett and Kim Gordon there, that HAD to be a plug for their bands to get nominated.  It appears to have worked too, as ?uestlove himself said he’ll be focusing on Sonic Youth for the upcoming ballot.

As I said, maybe I need to make a point to just block out the newsfeed in the weeks leading up to the ceremonies, but between artists who are bitter about having had to wait so long to be inducted (or inductors expressing that anger for them a la Billie Joe for the Stooges), and performances by and mentions for acts in an attempt to get some conversation about them, it certainly is starting to wear weary and make the case that maybe the ceremonies shouldn’t be televised at all anymore.  I truly hope it doesn’t come to that.  I hope that between the Hall, the inductees, the inductors, the performing artists, and the editing team who puts it together for broadcast—that they can collectively stomp out the negativity from it and get back to celebrating the music and the people who make it possible.

In closing, I’ll now share my other random thoughts about the ceremonies that aren’t germane to the above paragraphs:

-I loved Chris Martin’s speech, but I do have to wonder if Gabriel rolled his eyes when helping John Cusack get his girlfriend back was listed as one of his “major achievements.”

-Great performance from Gabriel and N’Dour, though I still wouldn’t induct N’Dour.

-I like how Glenn Frey tap-danced a bit and found a nice way to spin Ronstadt’s history as a cover artist, focusing instead more on her legacy as a forefront artist for country-rock… though I did grimace a little, as I still feel that any mention of Parsons, Ronstadt, or the Eagles should include the line “carrying on the torch that the Big Bopper’s death passed off to them.”

-Solid tribute to Ronstadt.  Carrie Underwood was the strongest of the five easily, as she was the only one hitting some of those higher notes.

-As much as I respect the passion of Morello in his speech, it also reminded me too much of everything said by any and every KISS fanboy on the FRL site.  And it sounded just as indignant.  Try smiling while presenting your childhood favorite band, Tom.

-Roger Friedman (from Fox News) needs to shut the hell up.  In this specific case, I’m referring to his finding something to complain about in the form of Peter Asher’s speech for Brian Epstein and Andrew Loog Oldham.  From a television perspective, you’ve got two inductees for whom neither they nor anyone in their family is showing up to accept the honors, no tribute performance to either (unlike Gamble And Huff who had two solid tribute performances in 2008, courtesy of Patti LaBelle and Jerry Butler, both of whom need to be inducted), one presentation speech for both, right or wrong, for a category that has nowhere near the same draw as the majority of the Performers, in a year where almost all of the inductees are household names, many of whom have somebody showing up to accept, perform, or pay homage to.  Of course Asher’s speech was going to get heavily edited.  And really, from a television perspective, it was the right thing to do.  So stuff it, Friedman.

-That said, I feel sorry for the person who had to edit the E Street Band segment.  That couldn’t have been an easy task by any stretch of the imagination.  I’m sure most of the speeches were impassioned and riveting, and the performances themselves captivating, but on TV, I got kind of bored.  Tempted to change the channel even.

-No comment really on Cat Stevens.  Art Garfunkel’s speech was a little less than stellar in its praise, but I enjoyed Cat’s acceptance speech.  Not a fan of his music, so for what it was, and what it was for, it worked well.

-I think ?uestlove’s speech was second to Martin’s in quality.  ?uestlove was likewise full of passion, and a nice reminder that (my personal distaste aside) Daryl Hall And John Oates’ music is the best inducted example of how rock ‘n’ roll crosses social boundaries, both racial and generational, since probably 2010’s induction of ABBA.

-Right on Daryl.  Definitely need all those Philly artists you mentioned inducted… except solo Len Barry.  I’m a Cameo-Parkway fanatic, and even I’m only a “maybe” on the Dovells.

-No seriously, I had NO idea John Oates was that short.  Or maybe Daryl Hall is just that tall.

-Great speech from Stipe.

-Kudos to the editing people for getting most of the boos for Courtney Love edited out.  People who hate Courtney Love because Kurt Cobain committed suicide need to get stuffed right after Roger Friedman.  It wasn’t her fault.  They even exhumed the body recently to verify it.  Put it to bed with the other conspiracies.  Cobain killed himself, Elvis is dead, Oswald shot JFK, and 9/11 was not an inside job.  End of story.

-I mentioned this on Twitter, but it seems there’s a world of difference between seeing Joan Jett live and seeing her televised, because on HBO, she sucked.  It was worse than her tribute to the Dave Clark Five in ’08.  Maybe that’s why she’s not in the Hall yet.  I have no idea WTF to make of Gordon’s performance of “Aneurysm.”  Most realistic sonic reproduction since John Lennon’s truncated simulation of heroin withdrawal on “Cold Turkey,” perhaps?  You be the judge.  Good performances from Lorde and St. Vincent.

So those are my thoughts overall.  Add your own in the comments below.

As a P.S., my thanks to the vigilant folks at blogspot.  Recently I was notified of a new reply on an old topic that turned out to be a spambot, and they had deleted it before I could get logged in and delete it myself.  Thank-you.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Mid-Season Report, 2014 Edition


The ceremonies have been held, but not televised.  April is almost over.  I’m late, and I apologize.  But in all fairness, it works out for the better.  In less than six months, we’ll have the nominees for the Class Of 2015.  There’s still awhile to go, but that’s one of the reasons we do the mid-season report: to sort out how we feel now and see how those feelings change as the time for the ballot’s announcement looms semi-ominously on the near horizon, just on the other side of a patch of fog. 

The main reason it’s good that this year’s mid-season report is later than normal is because of what happened at the actual ceremony.  A lot of the people there, whether in speeches made by inductees or just by their mere presence, seemed to be trying to shape the upcoming ballot.  A lot of that is where we begin.

First off, the new NomCom members that got their big pushes in immediately: Questlove and Tom Morello.  On Future Rock Legends, I chuckled a comment about Tom Morello inducting KISS, and to be honest, that same amusement also applies to Questlove and his support of Daryl Hall And John Oates.  As the auto insurance commercial says, just another reason life is funny.  But between the two of them chatting it up afterwards, it became clear that they are simpatico in a lot of ways, musically.  I don’t know enough about the proceedings to say how powerful an alliance between only two people is, but it’s not something I would ignore either.  So it’s pretty safe to say at this point that N.W.A. will be back on the ballot.  We know Toure will continue pushing for rap acts, and these two new members are behind the rap group’s induction as well.  It also sounds like they’re agreed on trying to put Sonic Youth on the ballot.  I’m not as confident about Sonic Youth, though, since with the Cure and the Replacements recently failing, they may resurrect attempts to induct them, rather than creating a logjam of ‘80s alternative artists that are past nominees.  Nevertheless, with Kim Gordon as one of the women to lead Nirvana at the ceremonies, in what Krist Novoselic dubbed “Hervana”, her appearance could be seen as an appeal to the NomCom’s sensibilities.  The same could also be said on behalf of Joan Jett And The Blackhearts—who were surprisingly absent from this past ballot after being on the previous two—with Jett also one of the Hervana leaders.  Additionally, with one of the Meters reportedly being there behind Peter Gabriel on his set, it looks like there’s still plenty of push from within to get them in the Hall as well.

I don’t remember if the KISS members themselves said anything about acts they were championing, but KISS’s induction, much like Rush’s last year, points toward the popular pick being an inductee.  With KISS and Rush both inducted now, the attention of the classic rock devotees is actually pretty well-focused on getting Deep Purple inducted.  I think they may have even been name-dropped by Morello sometime after the ceremonies.  I don’t remember, and I don’t have the time to go re-wading through the marsh of the tweets from the event.  I think the same is true of Questlove mentioning Link Wray as well (hopefully to include the Ray-Men this time as well).  Maybe he said Dick Dale.  Don’t recall.  Unfortunately, what I do clearly remember is reading about Daryl Hall And John Oates bleeding their hearts for more Philadelphia acts.  “Unfortunately” because I see their pleas going unheeded.  So no Chubby Checker, Harold Melvin And The Blue Notes, Stylistics, etc.  It’s a shame, because it’s one of my favorite regional dialects of soul, but the Hall doesn’t give it too much love.  I’d be ecstatic if any of them appeared, especially Checker or Melvin & Co., but I’m just not holding out hope

While there were no direct pleas or ploys for Lou Reed, the passing of the legendary leader of the Velvet Underground could very easily be motivation to stick him on the ballot for 2015 as a soloist.  Lastly, while not directly dealing with the Hall itself, Daft Punk’s cleaning up at the past Grammy’s could help maintain the NomCom’s tenacity for Chic, while the televised specials celebrating the 50-year anniversary of the Beatles’ arrival in America, peaking with the onstage reunion of Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr, may have served to remind the powers-that-be that the sweep isn’t complete in that area, even with the induction of Brian Epstein this year.

Nine names already amassed just from the special events earlier this year.  The ballot of recent tends to list around fifteen or sixteen names, so we’re already over halfway there, and we haven’t even looked at the newly eligible artists yet.  A recent article, which quoted the main man behind Future Rock Legends itself, stated that of the newly eligible crop, the only likely names we’ll see on the autumnal agenda are Green Day and Nine Inch Nails.  Green Day is a lock, but Nine Inch Nails isn’t quite as certain for immediate induction, though fairly certain for eventual honors.

Looking to corral a few more feasible names, we look once more to the newest inducted class.  Cat Stevens’ induction leaves the door fairly wide open for the bohemian singer/songwriter slot.  I’m torn between two big names on this one.  Playing it safe, I’ll go with the previously considered name Todd Rundgren.  Lastly, the returns of a couple more miss-outs from the past couple years seem probable as well, so let’s add the Paul Butterfield Blues Band, Kraftwerk, and Yes.  That’s fifteen, and a good enough place to stop for now.  By September, some of these names will seem much more unlikely, while others will probably rise to prominence.  All I know is that if that this were the ballot, this would be extremely difficult to predict a class from.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

The drama with KISS and what we can learn from it.

I originally had no plan to comment on it.  Then I tweeted about it.  Now, it's a blog post.  And it seems to center mainly on one inductee of this year: KISS.  To summarize, KISS wanted every member, past and present, included in the group's induction; the Hall said only the original (classic) four; Paul and Gene have thrown Twitter tantrums (twantrums? tweetrums?) about it and said there'd be no KISS performance whatsoever in that case; and the Hall is now limiting all inductees to four minute-per-person speeches.  There's other pieces of it, including bits from Ace and the Carr family, but that's the A-story to this drama.

I originally didn't want to comment on it because I thought I already had: thrice even.  I first commented on missing members, then the glorious but still incomplete look at Front Man Fever, then at the similar hissyfit that Axl Rose threw two years ago, when he was unable to get current members of Guns N' Roses included with the induction.  But the story got so big that it can't be ignored, much as I kind of want to.  What makes this time different?  Primarily, the social media war.  Doing absolutely nothing to refute the naysayers that KISS is more brand than band, Paul and Gene have been using social media, primarily Twitter, to make their voices heard, and dammit, we were going to listen whether we wanted to or not.  Whereas Axl stayed home on the night of his induction, the inducted KISS members will be there (as far as we know), and presumably Paul and Gene are going to speak their minds.

What makes this different as well is how the people at the Hall are handling it, namely poorly.  The limiting of time an inductee may speak?  What is up with that?  There may be an innocuous explanation or three: keep it from getting boring, make editing much easier for those who've got to work on making the televised broadcast version of the ceremonies, and hey, maybe the good folks at Barclay's run a much tighter ship than the dog and pony show over at the Waldorf-Astoria.  All of that put together adds up to a resounding "lulzwut?" from the rest of the world.  For starters, we're looking at up to a third of the inductees not being there.  Cat Stevens has said he may not opt to tackle the bureaucratic hedge maze of getting him allowed to enter the U.S. and attend his own induction.  Linda Ronstadt's health seems day-to-day, making her a giant question mark, and Brian Epstein's kinda busy being dead right now.  Oh, each party may have someone there to say a few words on their behalf, but it's almost always much more truncated and terser than what we would get if the actual inductee were present collecting the kudos.  With all that, why not give the present members of inductees a little more time to talk to compensate?  It's pretty obvious that KISS has made it clear that when they come to town, hell's coming with them, and the Hall is trying to set the terms for this high noon showdown.  Because if there's one thing we can count on, it's that the members of KISS will act like gentlemen on stage and accede to others' wishes.

Speaking of bad behavior, the Hall also isn't exactly done firing shots either.  As fellow monitor Tom Lane posted on his blog, NomCom member Dave Marsh is still throwing punches.  Awhile back on his Facebook page, Marsh asked people to name five bands better than KISS that they'd like to see get in.  I actually managed to weigh in on the discussion before the Internet troll division of the KISS army joined the conversation and made "Keeping Up With The Kardashians" look cerebral by comparison.  Still, one can't feel too bad for Marsh.  Besides still being in his position of power on the NomCom, he did pretty much invoke the wrath that came at him.  And he's still at it.  I mean I could do the same thing about Cat Stevens, as I felt he was the least deserving and the least listenable of the nominees this ballot, but at this point, I've shrugged it off and said, "Eh, can't always get what you want."  The column (or piece thereof?) of Marsh's that Tom Lane posted does give some valuable perspective to the anti-KISS argument.  If it's about popularity, then why we're they clobbered at their own game by the likes of enduring names such as the Bee Gees and Fleetwood Mac?  How are they any more influential in causing young boys to pick up a guitar than the base teenage desire to impress chicks?  For what it's worth, Marsh's arguments have holes as well: if misogyny is a disqualifying offense, than why are Elvis Presley, the Rolling Stones, or Led Zeppelin in the Hall?  And do you really want to argue that Poison, widely considered one of the least talented of the hair metal acts, was better than KISS; or that Joan Jett And The Blackhearts' catalog of primarily cover songs added more to the rock and roll landscape than KISS's?  I wouldn't even try.  And for me personally, a lot of the arguments for and against KISS are the same ones I heard and made about Madonna in 2007 for the Class Of 2008.  So if I have to live with a Hall Of Fame that has Madonna in it, then you can tolerate a Hall that has KISS in it.

I should at this point remind everyone of where I stand/stood on this: after Nirvana, I felt KISS was the most deserving candidate for induction on this ballot, and from a personal taste standpoint, they were in the Top 5 among the nominees as well.  I did not predict them to make it this time because 1) I thought they would split the ballot with Deep Purple and thus fall short, and 2) I thought Marsh and like-minded voters would have enough sway to keep them out.  Just wanted to clear that up.

So with all that sorted out, what does this mini-soap opera have to teach us?  I don't know about you, but this is what I've gleaned from this episode:

1. It's an honor to be inducted, so stop saying it isn't.  Seriously, guys.  Black Sabbath asked to stop being nominated because they were pissed about missing out, but when they finally got inducted, they gladly accepted their awards.  Even fellow inductee Daryl Hall, who spouted off at the Hall in the past said, "Well, now we ARE a part of their agenda."  Translation: "Huh, go fig.  Cool."  But really, it's powerful people inside your own industry bestowing an honor on you.   Even shorter than that: it’s an award, an honor being bestowed upon you.  It matters.

2. Sorry fans, it’s not about you.  There were a lot of fans who were hoping that no matter what the Hall decided, Paul, Gene, Ace, and Peter would join together on stage and give the fans the show they wanted.  Or at the very least, there’d be some performance from KISS in some form.  Now there won’t be that, not even a tribute performance.  Because it’s all about the fans.  I’m not calling complete BS.  Metallica put aside any old hostilities for a few hours and dared to give a performance with TWO bassists.  And it was awesome.  Jason and Rob sharing a mic and playing opposite each other instead of fighting was the best possible outcome.  Granted, all those members were inducted members.  Would it have been different had Rob been neglected because he was too recent?  We’ll never know.  We can only go from performances from the likes of the Stooges and Patti Smith, and just say, “Maybe?”  Either way, in the instance of KISS, it’s ultimately the fans who lose, the fans that KISS claimed were the whole reason they would even accept induction in the first place.  Which brings us to…

3. The Hall’s gonna do what the Hall’s gonna do.  The Sex Pistols refused to show up.  Axl Rose asked not to be inducted.  Frankie Valli tried to get Joe Long inducted with the Four Seasons; Smokey Robinson tried to get the Miracles included in his 1987 induction.  The Hall powers-that-be for the most part just didn’t listen (yeah the Miracles were inducted in 2012, but they didn’t listen to Smokey for 25 years).  What makes KISS think they’re any different?  Because they’ve got the KISS army behind them?   The Hall all but takes pride in the fact that they don’t listen to what John Q. Public has to say, even if they’re John Q. KISS.  The show will go on no matter what Gene Simmons or Paul Stanley dictate.  If the Hall wants to induct KISS, they’ll induct KISS in the manner they wish to do it.

4. Social media makes everything worse.  Without Twitter or Facebook, how much publicity would either KISS or the Hall get out of this?  But while the axiom is “There’s no such thing as bad publicity, all this going on has actually made me look forward to the upcoming ceremonies less.  I’ll be more enthusiastic at seeing Peter Gabriel onstage than KISS. 

5. It’s only going to get worse.  Because the Hall limits how many acts they induct each year, the backlog of snubbed artists will grow in perpetuity.  Even the list of “50 Acts Better Than KISS” that capped the Dave Marsh column included names that Marsh said, “Not all will get into the Hall, nor should they.”  But the fact that there’s a list that handy and easy to make up shows that there are plenty more acts waiting to get in.  And time will not make them less bitter about being passed over.  If Chicago or Chubby Checker ever get inducted, you can bet there’ll be some harsh words said about “Finally” and “Screw ‘Rolling Stone’” or words along those lines.  As time goes on and more artists join the list of notable snubs than join the Hall, this will keep going on and on. 
 
That’s just what I’ve learned from all this.  Any other lessons?  Feel free to leave them in the comments below.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

2014 Through The Lens Of Trends

If you're one of those who emphasize the "fame" part of the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame name, then this was about as good a year as you could hope for.  All six of the Performer inductees, the Award For Musical Excellence inductee, and even one of the two Ahmet Ertegun Award inductees are all instantly recognizable names for anyone with even a cursory interest in music that was made before 1995.  So, overall, this is class that should bring in the attention (and hopefully therefore dollars) to the Foundation.  Kind of surprising considering how hard it was to predict this year's class.

The best of us only picked four of six (I correctly guessed three).  One of the reasons this was so difficult was because we had too many trends colliding.  Too many to make them all happen.  Almost a scenario where the irresistible force met the immovable object.  This time, forces gave.  For starters, the "automatic eight" has been fully disproved now.  We all know Solomon Burke needed ten nominations, but he'd been that rare instance, and considering the names that got in on number eight afterwards, it seemed like maybe it was something put in place to ensure ten never happened again.  Apparently not so.  Everyone thought Chic was getting in this year, and it turns out eight isn't automatic for them.  Chic will head into that territory where only one has gone before.  Another trend that gave out this year was a prog act on their first ballot.  Now, some may argue that Peter Gabriel was prog-like, but that was more of his Genesis days, for which he's already been enshrined.  It's pretty clear we're talking Yes here.  They were a fan favorite, and they missed out, much to the dismay of their legion of fans.  This is also the first time a rap act fails on the third nomination.  Grandmaster Flash And The Furious Five and the Beastie Boys seemed to be setting that bar for "no more than three for rap" and LL Cool J misses out, also missing out on the hometown-hero-inducted-in-his-own-stomping-grounds trend we saw for Randy Newman and Bobby Womack.  N.W.A. was only on their second, so they don't count.  The trend of guitar gods only came partially true... we got Cobain with Nirvana and to a lesser extent KISS fills that hole, but we missed out with Link Wray, as he is not in on his first ballot. 

That said, some trends still held up: the newly eligible shoo-in (like U2, Madonna, Guns N' Roses, Public Enemy)?  Nirvana, check.  The big-name draw that you wonder how they missed out on their first nomination (Aerosmith, AC/DC, Queen, the Red Hot Chili Peppers)?  KISS, check (although N.W.A. out so...?).  A singer/songwriter staple (Randy Newman, Laura Nyro, Leonard Cohen)?  Not a guarantee every year, but Cat Stevens, check.  The line-cutter for their second induction (Paul McCartney, Jeff Beck, Sammy Strain, Michael Jackson, Rod Stewart)?  Peter Gabriel, check.  The versatile performer that covered a lot of styles and genres (Paul Simon)? Linda Ronstadt, check. About the only anomaly really is Daryl Hall And John Oates, who being blue-eyed soul and a pop-hit machine, seemed to buck trends a little bit and get in on their first nomination.  Underground scene act failure to get in?  Replacements out,  check.

And of course there are trends that are hit and miss.  Those nominated before, but seemingly forgotten?  That's hit and miss, mainly because they've done so many of them lately.  Last year, they put four on the ballot, and only Randy Newman squeezed through.  The Meters and the Paul Butterfield Blues Band both were back, and both missed again.  The British Invasion?  Hard one to nail down... seemed there was a pattern emerging of multiple, first, multiple, first: Dave Clark Five needed three, Hollies on one, Donovan on two, (Small) Faces on one.  Procol Harum.... technically not a multiple because they haven't been back for number two yet, so the trend doesn't quite continue for the Zombies to be in on one.  Now both will become multiples the next time they make the ballot.  Metal?  Again, KISS in,  Deep Purple not.  But Metallica on one,  Black Sabbath on eight, so make of that what you will.

All this trend-spotting may seem a bit like ridiculous over-analysis, but it's also a large part of what we based our predictions on.  And we look for them to point to the future (again, I predicted Cat Stevens to get nominated in late September/early October when few others had).  And it's the future that we look to, to see what future trends might emerge out of what we've got now.  Does the induction of Daryl Hall And John Oates point to a renewal of hitmakers getting in on the first nomination?  That could spell good news for the likes of artists ranging from Huey Lewis And The News to Tommy James And The Shondells to maybe even Paul Anka.  Does Cat Stevens getting in mean there's still hope for Carly Simon, Jim Croce, Don McLean, Todd Rundgren, Warren Zevon?  Does the fact that the Replacements missed (and the Cure before them) mean a longer wait for the Smiths, Sonic Youth, the Pixies?  Will Linda Ronstadt pave the way for other acts that are better known for their covers of others' smash hits rather than their own material, or for those who attempt to have a diverse repertoire?  Some possible trends that may be looming on the horizon:

-Ensemble inductions to come.  The E Street Band are a curious case of Front Man Fever.  While many would point to them as a glaring example, the fact is they seldom received label credit with Springsteen.  So will we see the Funk Brothers get in for their work at Motown, or will the fact that already two members have been inducted as Sidemen mean they won't go for it?  And does it mean anything for the future of acts like Crazy Horse who were on-again, off-again label credited along with Neil Young?  What about the Jordanaires?  Or the Blossoms?  Will the Meters end up as an Award For Musical Excellence inductee now that ensembles are getting inducted in this category?

-Managers.  For a long time now, managers have been neglected as contributors to rock 'n' roll's evolution.  It's understandable to a degree, as they seemingly have little to do with the creative process.  At best, one can argue that in helping to shape their image, it will help shape their sound.  When there's a strong disconnect between a band's presence and their sound, it can be detrimental.  That's why it's appropriate for Lady Gaga to wear the flashy costumes, and not, for example And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead.  The music video also has a lot to do with this, as it helps give the first chance to connect image with sound in creating an identity, a brand.  And maybe that's what's so fitting about inducting Brian Epstein and Andrew Loog Oldham (the only relatively unknown name in this year's class) in the same year we induct KISS, a band that's been bashed by many for being more brand than band.  It might be cool to add the likes of Paul McGuinness to the Hall, but the induction of managers is a slippery slope for two reasons: one, many of them are power-that-be, even on the NomCom itself (such as Jon Landau and Cliff Burnstein) and may result in it becoming a glad-handing of their fellow committee members; two, almost no one wants to see Col. Tom Parker get inducted, and he may even have been the reason why managers couldn't get inducted before. He was detrimental to Elvis's image and sound, and may have even been blackmailing the King.  So what will the induction of these two managers mean for the future?

-Move to modernity. When Donovan was announced as a '12 inductee, Digital Dream Door said the odds of him getting in were almost 100% because the Rock Hall almost always inducts a '60s act.  Last year, Albert King was the only semi-solid connection to that decade, and this time around, it's Non-Perfomers Epstein and Oldham who tie in strongest to that decade, with Ronstadt's days as a Stone Poney being the strongest connection among the musicians.  Ronstadt and Stevens both have weak ties to the '60s but are more strongly affiliated with the '70s. KISS's presence is split fairly evenly between the '70s and '80s, Peter Gabriel and Daryl Hall And John Oates both started out in the '70s but are more strongly linked to the '80s, and Nirvana is clear '90s in terms of name recognition.  Are we slowly closing the door on the '60s after all?  This is the fondest wish of the indie/undie crowd who feel that the antiquity of the NomCom members, and their nostalgia for that decade have been the biggest deadweight towards inducting worthy (read: alternative-scene) acts.  I wouldn't pop the cork on the champagne just yet for those folks, since this newly announced induction class is clearly about the mainstream appeal.  Nevertheless, the shift in time seems to be slowly pulling in those pre-'70s acts who've yet to be enshrined, seemingly dooming them to never being inducted.  Bad news for fellow monitors Zach and Bill G., who respectively have asked to bring back the past so they can enjoy the present, and have been crusading tirelessly to fix the omissions of several key R&B and soul acts from the '60s and '70s.

-The Race Card.  I'm hesitant to bring this up, but I will.  Several have already noted that E Street Band member Clarence Clemons is the only African-American inductee, and aside from the Hispanic Linda Ronstadt, it's a Caucasian class.  One reason I didn't want to bring it up is because last year half the inductees were Black, so that really should've shut them all up.  But it won't, and nothing ever will.  Another reason is because rap's place is certain in the Hall.  N.W.A. and LL Cool J are each an eventual inevitability.  So are 2Pac, the Notorious B.I.G., Jay-Z, Kanye West, and Puff Daddy (whatever name they induct him under).  Nevertheless I bring it up because when the current inductees vote, they vote for the acts that they like best and influenced them.  Metallica put out a list of metal and prog acts that they champion for induction.  One member of Rush disclosed his vote of pretty much all the "classic rock" acts on the ballot.  And KISS frontman Gene Simmons once dissed the Hall in favor of a myopic, cult-of-the-guitar definition of rock 'n' roll.  These inductees are going to continue to vote for fellow hard-rock acts, which means more votes for "rock", and fewer votes for R&B acts.  The Hall may indeed get Whiter as we go, through no sinister Klan-like motives, but simply the free market forces of personal preference kicking in.  It's nobody's fault, except maybe the NomCom, who puts out the list to choose from each year. 

With that in mind, it's not a bad class overall.  I'll mostly look forward to the induction ceremonies and be ready for all this again in ten months.  In the meantime, Merry Christmas to all.