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).  

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Do they deserve it? Looking at 2015's nominees' merits.

Earlier this month, the nominees were announced for the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame’s Class Of 2015.  The initial waves of shock, approval, and disgruntlement have all subsided, and the focus of the discussion has fractured into foci.  There’s debate on who are most deserving of induction, who are likely to be inducted, and whom it’d be awesome to see inducted even if they’re not the most deserving.  Subsequent entries will focus on the latter two subjects.  Currently, the subject of merit is on the table.  In this entry, the nominees will be ranked by merit.  This annual attempt to be objective when ranking the nominees utilizes four key parameters: innovation, influence, impact, and intangibles.  Innovation is fairly self-explanatory: what new sonic trails did this nominee help pioneer?  Likewise, influence is mostly self-explanatory: do other artists cite them as an influence?  Impact is slightly murkier: chart presence and sales are a big part of this category, but “impact” might be more synonymous with “name recognition” than merely “hits.”  Intangibles, by the word’s very definition, is the hardest category to define: any extraneous factors that make a difference?  These categories often do, as they perhaps should, bleed into each other.  Sometimes innovation is just so huge that it becomes a form of influence.  Impact, through sheer chart presence, can cause ripples of influence and even some intangible pieces, like unique fanbases (e.g. Deadheads,  Juggalos).  Sometimes influence causes a resurgence of an artist’s name recognition, thus increasing their impact.  With all that explicated, time now to attempt to objectively rank this year’s nominees by merits.

1. STEVIE RAY VAUGHAN AND DOUBLE TROUBLE
Influence: Easily one of the most influential bands (particularly the main man) of the past thirty years.  Revived the popularity of the blues as well as influencing many harder rock guitarists.
Impact: As far as Billboard goes, several albums in the Top 200, including compilations charting as recent as 2000.  On the Album Rock Charts, about a dozen and a half charted tracks, though the only pop crossover was Stevie with his brother (“Tick Tock”).  Name recognition factor?  Practically a household name, plus a key act in making Austin City Limits the prestigious venue it’s now known as. 
Innovation: A lot of cover versions, but with a unique mark.  New licks and all.
Intangibles: Possibly falling under innovation as well, but Stevie’s style of playing helped advance the evolution of guitar design too, new designs needing to be made for him in order to do the daredevil sonic work he wanted to do.

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

3. KRAFTWERK
Innovation: As a prog group, they pioneered what is now known as electronica.
Influence: Again, electronica artists that have come since all tip their hat to Kraftwerk, particularly those from the European scene.
Impact: How big they were in Europe has not been fully measured yet.  In North America, their heyday was strongest in the disco/dance music scene, as odd as that may seem, given what the rest of that scene during that time were putting out.
Intangibles: Only in the recent years has electronica music been getting taken seriously as an art form, at least in terms of coverage from the trade publications.

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

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

6. THE MARVELETTES
Impact: “Please Mr. Postman” being the first #1 single for the Motown empire is just the icing on the cake.  In terms of the singles’ charts, the Marvelettes are one of the bigger acts on the ballot.  Albums chart-wise, practically dead last, but that’s because they were a singles group from a time when the singles were the standard. 
Influence: Being the first Motown group to grab the brass ring doesn’t come without influence.  They served as the template for Martha And The Vandellas and the Supremes to follow.  In fact, either “Where Did Our Love Go” or “Baby Love” was written with the Marvelettes in mind.
Innovation: None really, but the right vocalists can help cement a house band’s signature sound, and the Marvelettes can be considered responsible for helping the Funk Brothers finding their sound that helped fuel the label during the early ‘60s.
Intangibles: The only nominee whose prime predates the British invasion, they’re considered by many as one of the most overdue candidates.  In fact, they’d probably be near the top of most people’s lists for “most deserving acts that aren’t guitar bands.”  Also two eras definable by styles: the more upbeat era with songs like “Please Mr. Postman” and “Playboy”, and the smoother later work like “Don’t Mess With Bill” and “The Hunter Gets Captured By The Game”, both eras respected.

7. BILL WITHERS
Impact: An impressive run of hits, both on the R&B charts, and pop charts.  Not as successful as an albums artist, but respectable nonetheless.
Influence: Singer/songwriters all pretty much tend to influence one another, and Bill Withers certainly had an effect on some of his contemporaries, and it’s no secret of his influence on Questlove himself, who most likely is responsible for getting Withers on the ballot.
Innovation: Not a whole lot here.
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.

8. GREEN DAY
Influence: Green Day’s brand of pop-punk has been an inspiration for a legion of guitar rock acts that have come since, both mainstream and underground.
Impact: The biggest act in the Mainstream and Modern Rock chart scenes, and possibly the biggest selling album act on this ballot.  From a singles perspective, though relegated originally to the Airplay charts only, like Nine Inch Nails, their crossover to steady mainstream acceptance has been both inevitable, and sizeable.
Innovation: Not widely innovative, though breathing new life into the punk scene probably means something in its own right.
Intangibles: Along with Nirvana and Pearl Jam, Green Day is of the triumvirate that shattered the glass ceiling for the underground and sparked its overflow into the mainstream scene.  Being one of the big three names for that is pretty big.

9. THE SPINNERS
Impact: The biggest singles-selling act on this year’s ballot, for both the Hot 100 and the R&B charts, with an impressive string of infectious and memorable Philly soul classics. 
Influence: The genre of soul greatly shifted as the Spinners were at the top of their heyday, nonetheless, there is some influence upon the likes of Hall And Oates, as well as subsequent soul musicians
Innovation: Despite not really inventing Philly soul, their style was more rhythmically driven than that of their contemporaries (perhaps due to their usage of doo-wop style background vocals), making it something unique they brought to the table. 
Intangibles: They’re a solid representation of Philly soul, which there isn’t much of in the Hall right now.  They’re also a quasi-representation of Motown, having put in a brief stint at that legendary label. 

10. CHIC
Impact: The impact of “Good Times” upon hip-hop is huge.  Also, respectable runs of hits in the disco, R&B, and pop charts, plus a good run of charted albums.  Nile Rodgers’ producer credit of the Grammy winning Daft Punk jam “Get Lucky” is also a factor here.
Influence: Again, on the world of hip-hop, having a heavily sampled record does say a lot.  Plus, the influence on funk and dance music is sizeable.
Innovation: Not entirely devoid here, as the technique of Nile Rodgers and Bernard Edwards have proven different and difficult to duplicate.
Intangibles: By now, Chic may just be wearing down resistance of the voters.  A ninth nomination?  The Nominating Committee must be seeing something that not everyone is.

11. WAR
Impact: As of 2006, they were the biggest commercially successful albums act on this ballot (though by now Green Day has almost certainly surpassed them, and maybe Nine Inch Nails too.)  Plus, “Low Rider” and “Why Can’t We Be Friends” are both songs that continue to transcend generations, as do to a lesser extent “Spill The Wine” and “The Cisco Kid.”  A respectable string of commercial success, they’re considered a “cool” band that’s always a good call.
Innovation: Early Latin-funk band.
Influence: Hard to gauge, danceable Latin rhythms often appeared in a lot of disco, as did funk, but they weren’t the only funk outfit around at the time, nor the only name in Latin-rock.
Intangibles: Rock ‘n’ roll is hailed for its accomplishments in crossing social borders.  War being an interracial outfit, this may be a point of relevance.  It makes for interesting debate at least.

12. LOU REED
Influence: As a songwriter, his influence is big.  As a recording artist, his “Walk On The Wild Side” has been sampled, and a few of his songs have been covered. 
Impact: Definitely more name recognition than singles success, though his albums have had a middling to successful amount of albums chart success.  Again, some of his songs have been covered and sampled, too, including U2’s version of “Satellite Of Love” and the gaming commercial that used “Perfect Day.”
Innovation: Hard to peg this one, but if his famous feedback album proves anything, it’s that he was not afraid to push the envelope and try new sounds.
Intangibles: Being nicknamed the “Godfather Of Punk” doesn’t hurt his credibility.

13. THE PAUL BUTTERFIELD BLUES BAND
Influence: Brought straight-out blues music to a new audience, and helped pave the way for future blues players, including the also-nominated Stevie Ray Vaughan And Double Trouble.
Impact: A good handful or so of hit albums that are well-respected, no hit singles, but they have tracks that are still considered absolutely classic.
Innovation: Perhaps added a new dynamic to the blues-style, but beyond that, not too much.
Intangibles: The band behind Butterfield has a few recognizable names that perhaps add to their credibility.

14. JOAN JETT AND THE BLACKHEARTS
Impact: With “I Love Rock ‘N’ Roll” being the huge smash it was (#1 song of the entire year 1982), and it still being anthemic, subsequent songs including “I Hate Myself For Loving You” help make Joan Jett arguably the woman you first think of as proof that women could rock just as hard as the boys.  In fact, with “I Love Rock ‘N’ Roll”, they have the single biggest hit of any act on this ballot.
Influence: Again, the anthemic nature of “I Love Rock ‘N’ Roll” was so impacting, it evolved somewhat into some influence in the female rockscape.
Innovation: Minimal, if any.
Intangibles: Those who saw her live performance with “Hervana” will laud her as an amazing live act, which is important towards an artist’s merit.  (And yes, there still appears to be some resemblance between Joan Jett and Joyce DeWitt from Three’s Company.)

15. STING
Impact: He’s had several hit singles as a soloist, as well as hit albums, easily the biggest name with the adult contemporary crowd.  Probably the biggest name-recognition factor of any act on this ballot.
Influence: His style of singing is definitely present in acts that came after him, somewhat notably Gotye, who sounds quite a bit like Sting.
Innovation: Not too much.
Intangibles: His move toward the socially conscious always resonates with the rock crowd, particularly the aforementioned idealists who believe rock and roll is capable of great accomplishments.


This ranking of the nominees is attempted to be objective, without personal bias.  Of course, it can be argued that potentially putting Impact on equal footing with Innovation is horrible bias in and of itself.  Of course, the reverse could also be argued.  Other evaluations of nominees by merit are welcome in the comments section.  In upcoming entries, personal taste, other people’s opinions, considerations, and finally, Rock Hall Monitors’ official prediction for the Class Of 2015.

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.