Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Singled Out (Consolation Prizes)

Last year at the induction ceremony, Little Steven announced the new category for the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame, the Singles category.  It included six inductees: "Rocket '88'" by Jackie Brenston And His Delta Cats, "Rumble" by Link Wray, "The Twist" by Chubby Checker, "Louie Louie" by the Kingsmen, "Whiter Shade Of Pale" by Procol Harum, and "Born To Be Wild" by Steppenwolf.  At the time, Little Steven said this was for acts that have not yet been inducted into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame, but they weren't being given up on.  Last month, when the seven Performer inductees were announced for the Class Of 2019, CEO Joel Peresman said there were going to be Singles category inductions as well, but they were not being revealed at that time.

When the category was announced last year, a lot of critics, commentators, and hobbyists jumped to weigh in on it.  I did not.  And for most of the past year since the ceremony, I've kept those cards pretty close to the vest.  A time or two, I've hinted at my feelings on the subject matter, but have never actually stated my stance.  Part of that was because at the time of the ceremony, I was already several posts into my series of Songs Of Proof.  Knowing how much I had wanted to say at the time, I knew it was going to be a long post, even by my standards.  There is a lot to say, and taking the time to write that post would have derailed the project I was doing, and I really wanted to keep that running smoothly, so I held off.  But now it's time.  For those who want the "TL;DR" version, here's the point: I hate the whole category in its entirety.

Conceptually, it makes a lot of sense though, right?  There are certain songs that are absolutely pivotal.  "(We're Gonna) Rock Around The Clock," "Hound Dog," "I Want To Hold Your Hand," Rapper's Delight," "Smells Like Teen Spirit," just to name a handful, are all considered massively important songs in the history of rock and roll.  Honoring songs makes a lot of sense, on the surface.  And even some of the big names at the Hall have talked about doing something like this for a long time.  So, in theory, it would seem a sound idea.  But even the most sound theories can go awry in their application.

And there is just so much that is absolutely wrong with this.  Starting with the least irritating thing about it, the semantics.  It's not singles being inducted, it's songs.  These singles all had B-sides.  "Haunted Castle" was not inducted by virtue of being the B-side to "Louie Louie," nor were "Toot" or "Twistin' U.S.A." with "The Twist."  It's just the A-side hit songs.  It's a petty thing to be irked about, but given everything else that's wrong with this category, let's add that to the list, too.

Next is the way it just suddenly happened.  The tweet from Little Steven in the days leading up to the inductions suggested he had something special for the ceremony, and then he revealed it at the ceremony.  The whole implementation of it has had almost no accountability whatsoever.  That's actually nothing new for the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame, as the lack of transparency, the handling of everything completely in-house, and the way things have had to be handled when misspeaks were uttered, have all been pissing off fans, musicians, and hobbyists for years now.  But this... this had the veneer of even less accountability than normal.  The Nominating Committee is a group of thirty or so people.  They put together a ballot, and if someone tries to sneak in a name that wasn't agreed on, someone is going to speak up about it.  We don't know how many people counted the votes or how many times they were counted for accuracy's sake, but given the difficulty of particular pet projects not being able to get in over the years, I've always been willing to accept the vote totals as being relatively honest.  If Chic can fail eleven times despite Nile Rodgers being one of the initial founders of the Foundation itself, the classes themselves can't be completely arbitrary, no matter what the conspiracy theories about Jann S. Wenner say.  But this newest category, from all we've been able to find out, appears to be nothing more than Little Steven throwing a well-dressed hissyfit, because the names he keeps suggesting aren't getting in, and Peresman acquiescing to placate him.  Did anybody else have ANY say on which singles would be inducted?  I rather doubt it.

The sudden revelation of the category also was very disrespectful.  This was out of the blue with no respects paid to any of the artists who recorded these iconic songs.  As long as Chubby Checker has been waiting for his honors to be paid to him, this was sudden, seemingly designed to keep him from attending the ceremony, and if not for everything else that is slipshod about the category, I could actually believe that.  Link Wray's family has been taking to social media to get him in, and they weren't at the ceremony.  Same for the Kingsmen and the members of Steppenwolf and Procol Harum, or any surviving members of the Delta Cats or family members.  If you wanna pin it on the tail wagging the dog, to keep the ceremony from going longer, fine, but to not even give them any prior notice is extremely disrespectful.

Moving on from there is the fact that this is only for artists that have not yet been inducted.  That's explicitly what Little Steven said.  So, we're going to ignore landmark songs by acts who were inducted because they recorded those landmark songs?  Inductees usually have deeper catalogs, but to really have a proper songs category, there needs to be inclusion of "Why Do Fools Fall In Love," "Blue Suede Shoes," and "Summertime Blues."  The other side of that is the fact that of these six charter entrants, three of them had never even been nominated before.   It's one thing, but also still wrong, to cherry-pick Nile Rodgers when Chic fails eleven times, but to give up before it could even be tried?  Maybe there was some hemming and hawing about whether Jackie Brenston And His Delta Cats should have been an Early Influence or a Performer inductee, but the fact is, they were ushered in without having been on the ballot ever.  We honestly don't know how Chubby Checker or the Kingsmen would fare on the ballot.  They were never nominated!  And they gave up on Steppenwolf after one try?  Procol Harum and Link Wray with fewer than five nominations apiece?  What does that really say about the process when quitting becomes that easy, especially when other inductees have needed seven, eight, or ten nominations to get in?  This only further plays into the "hissyfit" component mentioned earlier.

And make no mistake, this is giving up and quitting.  Little Steven may have said, "But we're not giving up," but look for exactly that to happen.  Has Chic been nominated since Nile Rodgers got inducted?  Then don't expect proto-prog-rockers Procol Harum to show up again anytime soon, or ever.  I really, REALLY hope I'm wrong about this, but this is giving up, pure and simple.  It's a further slap in the face to the artists, realizing that this is as good as it's ever going to get for their Rock Hall hopes.

Further twisting the knife is the idea that these songs apparently say all that ever needs to be said about the artists.  I mean, I'll admit that "Louie Louie" is the best song by the Kingsmen, at least that I've heard, but they were more than that one song.  Steppenwolf had at least one other landmark song, "Magic Carpet Ride," along with a solid string of blues-rock jams.  To lay it all on the legacy of "Born To Be Wild" grossly misses the entire breadth of their catalog.  And don't even get me started on the lengthy string of hit singles by Chubby Checker.  Even if most of them were songs about doing specific dances, he was still a lot more than just "The Twist," and doing variations on a theme is not the same as being derivative.   He was more than one song.  "But wait," someone might say, "Isn't that what you essentially did with your whole 'Songs Of Proof' project?  Boil down the entirety of an inductee to a single song?"  No, that's not what I did.  My project celebrates the institution itself, by selecting a song for each inductee.  My project was never about claiming any inductee had only one song that ever mattered.  Furthermore, the project was inspired by a radio program that saluted as many inductees as possible in a four-hour time span by giving each inductee only one song.  I was using templates already in place when I created the project.

It's a slippery slope that gives license to remain ignorant, to not delve deeper into an artist's catalog.  Maybe you can accuse my project of the same thing, but my project was created after either having already been or making myself more familiar with the catalogs of most of the inductees, certainly familiar enough to never claim that "Jim Dandy" was the only song by LaVern Baker that mattered.  I even hinted as much when celebrating the Class Of 2016.  Stop and ask yourself: how would you have reacted if Deep Purple hadn't been inducted, but "Smoke On The Water" was inducted as a "Single"?  Really stop and think about it.  What if the Hall was saying that "Hush," "Highway Star," or any other song was insignificant?  Because that's what Dave Marsh said about Deep Purple for the longest time, blocking their nomination for several years.  But you know what?  He later actually took it upon himself to research their music further and had the guts to admit he was wrong and say that they do belong in.  Now apply that to other inductees.  It would not go over well to induct only "Smells Like Teen Spirit" and not Nirvana, or "Jeremy" and not Pearl Jam, or "Iron Man" and not Black Sabbath, or "Creep" and not Radiohead.  You get the idea.  As the saying goes, "It's the singer, not the song."  Or the guitarist, and not the instrumental.

Admittedly, it's an easy trap to fall into.  I've debated in the past about whether "Wipe Out" was big enough to warrant an induction for the Surfaris.  One of the most important drum solos in rock and roll history, charted more than once, covered multiple times, and added a term to our lexicon that has transcended its surfing origins.  In the past, I've stuck to my guns that no, it's not enough.  Maybe it's time for me to revisit that thinking, and it wouldn't hurt to spend time binge-listening to the Surfaris, for that matter.  Either way, I would not dare suggest to induct "Wipe Out" and call it good, and ask that we move on from there.  Nor would I do that with any other artist, unless they literally only ever recorded one song.  And even then I still might not advocate such an action.

And that has been one of the most appalling and frustrating things about this Singles category fiasco: the way most others of the hobbyist community have been okay, or even supportive of it, and have been suggesting other prospects.  Shortly after Little Steven inducted the six songs, came the comment about how this is what they should have done with Percy Sledge.  I'm not going to revisit the induction of Percy Sledge as a topic; I'm merely illustrating the reception to the new category.  People are running with this and posting lists of songs that they want to see shoehorned into this category, and move along, especially from folks who want to close the door on the first two decades of rock and roll, the 1950's and the 1960's.  It's particularly insulting when the claim of "Only one song that mattered" is the result of a mindset that is, perhaps unwittingly, rooted in a combination of industry-wide prejudice at the time, social norms in America at the time, the marketing models of radio formats that deal in nostalgia, and the allegedly revisionist bents of historians and critics.  Apparently, it's okay to look past the fact that the Velvet Underground didn't have any hit singles, but we can't be bothered to look contextually at the history of the Marvelettes.  We can just accuse them of never moving goalposts a second time (arguably not true), ask to induct "Please Mr. Postman," and go about pushing for other artists we're more adamant about.  And that's ultimately what all the enthusiasm from our hobbyist community about the Singles category is essentially saying: "We don't care about inducting other artists properly; just get to the ones that we prefer."  Well, it cuts both ways.  Just remember, the Hall can turn around and induct "(Don't Fear) The Reaper" and shuck Blue Oyster Cult, or "Rise Above" and raise the white flag on ever inducting Black Flag, or enshrine "Trans-Europe Express" and give up on Kraftwerk.  Are you okay with doing any of those things?  Then don't write off the Five Satins because "To The Aisle" couldn't properly duplicate the success of "In The Still Of The Night."  The Hall has inducted several artists that modern Oldies radio formatting generally revises the legacies of and calls them one-hit wonders; so if "I Fought The Law" was important enough, then dammit, just induct the Bobby Fuller Four.  Shame on us for applauding this atrocious practice.

The Hall could still theoretically salvage this category if they started inducting songs from Performer inductees, but given the origins and how it was executed this first go-round, I seriously doubt that will happen anytime soon.  I could be wrong, but even if I am, it will still reek of its bungled beginnings.

Ultimately, I loathe the Singles category because at its very core, it's a consolation prize.  It is the same reason we all hate these "back door" inductions that include Wanda Jackson, Nile Rodgers, and Ringo Starr; it's the same reason I oppose the idea of the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame ever having a Veterans Committee (Legends Committee, whatever you would call it).  And it's also the reason I am dismayed when Joel Peresman said that the possibility existed that the timeline for the Early Influence category could be moved to formally include early rock and roll artists that were influential to '80's and '90's artists.  Call a spade a spade: the Singles category is a consolation prize that also recommends self-fornication to the artists who recorded those songs.  It's why the Award For Musical Excellence induction of Nile Rodgers was unsatisfying.  It was a consolation prize, and will always be until Chic is inducted as a Performer, and Nile Rodgers is inducted a second time.  If the Hall had introduced this category back in the earlier years, as Seymour Stein, Andy Paley, and Bob Merlis said was strongly considered, and if they included songs from inductees and non-inductees alike, it might be different.  And I might possibly feel the same about a Veterans Committee, if they had done it sooner, though I doubt my feelings would have changed.  An induction into ANY hall of fame--whether it's rock and roll, baseball, television, or Michigan high school athletic coaches--is by its very nature a lifetime achievement award, even when said institution has a separate category called "Lifetime Achievement."  A "hall of fame" establishment should never engage in consolation prizes.  Never.

And for that reason, when I resume burning CDs for my "Songs Of Proof" project, I will not, repeat NOT, be including any Singles category inductees.  Induct the artists.  Do it right the first time, and you won't have to do it again.  My project salutes the people enshrined in an institution.  This category is poorly originated, has been poorly handled behind the scenes, was sloppily executed at this past ceremony, and cheapens the point of an induction into a hall of fame of any kind.  Dump it.  Now.  Induct the six artists insulted by this consolation prize, and speak not of reviving the concept in its current form ever again.

I still stand firm in my belief that making induction classes bigger is the simple answer to this.  When we don't unreasonably shorten the number of inductees a class can have, when more room is possible, when more inductions happen, things will happen more smoothly, more diverse classes can occur, and we can free ourselves from the notion that what matters most is having a marketable three-hour television broadcast.

And it starts with a conscious decision to do away with these consolation prize inductions.

Friday, December 21, 2018

"This Rock Hall class is too big!"--literally no one

I thought about snappier titles for this entry, but you know what?  If casual observers (or especially any powers-that-be in the Foundation) see nothing else, I want them to see that.  Just over a week ago, the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame announced their Class Of 2019.  And it's a glorious class for a few reasons.  I'll spare the recap, and just try to weave the names of the inductees into the commentary.

As everyone else has pointed out, this is the first time we've had this many Performer inductees since 2004 (not including the six groups that were included by the decision of a special committee in 2012).  That's the first reason this is so awesome.  A lot of people have had this or that to say about the inductees, whether each inductee is deserving of the honors or not, who missed out that deserves induction, what does it mean, and so forth.  But if you look up at the title of this post, that is the most common thing to take away.  Everyone is shocked that there are seven Performer inductees, but everyone is also happy about it.  Everyone is posting hopeful thoughts that this will start a trend to bigger classes, and hopefully facilitate changes in the voting process... maybe allow voters to vote for more than five?  That'd be cool to see.  Make the classes bigger and you can avoid a lot of controversial practices and decisions.  People are happy that it's this big and want the practice to continue.  The only people who might complain are the folks at HBO or the people at the Barclays Center not affiliated with the Hall who worry about the event running long.  But if they're good at their jobs, they can work with it.

The second reason this is so awesome is because of negligence being corrected.  The first big one I'll mention is The Cure getting inducted.  This is momentous because ever since the Cure's first nomination for the Class Of 2012, the Nominating Committee has been making the effort to represent alternative from the 1980's.  It actually goes back a little further than that, with U2 and R.E.M. getting in as newly eligible acts, but both of those had a tremendous amount of commercial success, mainstream airplay, and reliably semi-continuous chart presence for years.  The Cure are a slight step down from those two bands in that regard.  They had a strong string of charted singles, a couple of which still get airplay occasionally, but their numbers aren't quite in the same stratus as R.E.M., and certainly not U2.  The segment of rock and roll history that the Cure represent has been struggling to get proper accolades from the Hall, but now that this has finally happened, there's renewed hope for the Smiths and the Replacements, not to mention hope for Pixies, Joy Division, and Sonic Youth, just to name a few.  Next, the negligence of Radiohead getting passed over has been corrected.  The Hall always tries to recognize monumental acts in their first year of eligibility, and the fact that Radiohead had to miss once is a shame.  It also raises a little concern since Outkast and Beck, just to name a couple, had to miss out on nomination just to get Radiohead in this time.  It's still unknown what happened last year, but it's also moot at this point.  Another ignored segment is art-rock.  There hasn't been a whole lot of representation of this, outside of Talking Heads.  The commitment to it was doubly noted with the additional nomination of Devo, but the nomination of Roxy Music and their forthcoming induction next year really shines a light on it.  When people talk about the origins of art-rock, this is usually the first group that gets mentioned, and their induction will add a huge amount of credibility to the Hall's statement of recognizing the evolution of rock and roll.  The last segment that has been suffering neglect, but getting some love this year, is '80's R&B.  To be fair, there's been a little bit of it: primarily rap.  But even in stylings that aren't rap, we have Prince and Michael Jackson (and Daryl Hall And John Oates if you consider them R&B--I don't).  But it's Michael's sister, Janet Jackson, that is being honored and represented this time around.  And make no mistake, she is a major force of R&B.  The first success or two you can possibly pin on her family name.  But look at the whole of that family: Tito never had a solo hit on any chart, having to do that vicariously through his children, the members of 3T;  Rebbie, Jackie, Marlon, Randy, and LaToya all only had a hit or three each to their own names across the various Billboard charts (primarily the R&B charts); Jermaine actually had a sizable amount of hit singles, and though "Let's Get Serious" is still an awesome jam, even his career pales in comparison to Janet's.  The brotherly quintet didn't even have the same longevity and hit-making power that Janet did.  In fact, when people think and speak of the Jackson Five, it seldom gets beyond 1971.  It's mostly about "I Want You Back," "ABC," "The Love You Save," "I'll Be There," and maybe "Mama's Pearl," or their takes on a few Christmas staples during the holiday season.  The rest of their catalog tends to be forgotten.    Point being, the family name may have gotten her into the room, but it didn't keep her there.  And good production teams can help, but like bad source material, lack of talent can't be continually dressed up and remain successful for that long.  I know that opens up a can of worms regarding other forms of entertainment, but let's do our best to avoid that.  Janet's legit, she's getting her proper respects, and she brings some sorely needed recognition to the world of '80's R&B.

Switching gears, the parade of awesome comes through in the generations being represented.  Others have taken note of Radiohead, the Cure, and Roxy Music getting inducted in the same class when the immediate lines of influence are right there together in the same class.  Beyond that, you have a band that's only in its second year of eligibility getting in, and there's also some love and recognition for the old guard.  At long last, the Zombies are being inducted.  People are torn about how many acts from the '60's and '50's are still worthy of induction.  My number of acts from that period is significantly higher than most other hobbyists.  In fact, it's probably one of the highest among people who haven't served on the NomComm at some point.  But whatever the number a person may say, the Zombies have been a name that most have agreed probably should be inducted.  How pressing the need to induct them varies, but they're a name that few see and say, "Oh no, they should not go in ever."  The Zombies plant a foot firmly back in the '60's, and I'll be honest, I'm nowhere near ready to close that door.  I'm really hoping more that the Zombies open the door to get more recognition for this generation of artists.  But in terms of painting a picture or making a collage of rock and roll, the inclusion of the Zombies add an extra layer of depth that make the general feeling of this class feel less hollow and more sweet.

I'll add as an afterthought that I'm not nearly as chuffed as some other hobbyists at how many British acts are getting inducted in this class.  Part of me is excited that the recognition is happening, but it's a little weighed down as well.  First, Kraftwerk missed out.  Kraftwerk is the most deserving of the nominees that could have really steered the conversation away from an Americentric viewpoint.  Hopefully, the five British bands will help grease the axles to get Kraftwerk in soon.  The other component is the gender and racial imbalance in the Hall that has been a continually favorite criticism.  I'm unaware of any Black British inductees, and aside from Dusty Springfield and Christine McVie, I'm unaware of any British women who've been enshrined.  And this class doesn't add any more either.  So, in light of the pressure to get away from inducting more White men, that's exactly what's happened here.  So, it's great that we'll have more international points of view voting, but it doesn't quite signal the paradigm shift some have been looking for.

Fellow hobbyist Michelle Bourg commented with special ecstasy on the inclusion of Stevie Nicks as well, not so much for her actual solo career, though she also has no qualms about that so far as I'm aware.  What makes this class wonderful for her, and for me as well, is that there will be an induction of two female acts.  Not an act with at least two women in it, like Salt-N-Pepa or a girl group from the '60's, but two acts that included women.  This will be the first time since 2007 that two all-female acts are inducted in the Performer category, when the Ronettes and Patti Smith both broke through.  2010 saw two women from ABBA inducted, plus two songwriters from two husband-and-wife teams.  2012 saw Claudette Rogers Robinson get in via special committee to join Laura Nyro as a Performer inductee.  2013 saw the Wilson sisters inducted with male members of their band, as well as Donna Summer.  2018 had a second female nominee inducted, but in the Early Influence category.  It is with cautious optimism that I celebrate the induction of two female acts in the same class.  True, I would've preferred Chaka Khan to have been the other female inclusion, with her band Rufus instead of Nicks, but this is still great regardless.  I know I'd been a harsh critic of Stevie Nicks' nomination as a soloist, even dedicating an entire entry on women I'd rather see inducted twice than Stevie.  Hopefully, though, the explanations I gave for my opposition are understandable, even forgivable.  I'll address the one of my reasons a bit more fully momentarily, but as far as who should be or should've been the first, it's a moot point.  I'll just have to find a way to be okay with it, because it'll happen whether I do or not.  In the long run, it's okay.  I still don't know what makes her solo career worthy of induction and not Ringo Starr's.  I mention that again because people who vehemently opposed the idea to induct Ringo as a Performer for his solo efforts were strangely acquiescent about the thought about Stevie being enshrined a second time.  One argument has been that as a solo artist, she's a feminist icon.  I don't know that I believe that, but as a man, I also recognize that it isn't exactly my bailiwick, much less my purview, to say who's a feminist icon or not.  Either way, I don't think that's a good argument for induction into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame, but also either way, it's still good because it breaks down a decade-plus-long barrier and hopefully ends any manifest or latent mindset with the voting bloc that they can or should only vote for one female act.

One of the things that makes this class so awesome, though, is actually a little bittersweet, at least for me.  The induction of Def Leppard continues the ongoing trend of the top finisher in the fan vote getting ushered in.  And I have no problem with the band being inducted.  I do love their music.  But Stevie Nicks and Def Leppard were not only the two highest finishers in the fan vote, but also the two highest vote recipients in the museum's poll for who should be nominated.  The Hall is definitely increasing their efforts to include the general public in the process.  That's actually really cool.  The Hall has been frequently criticized in the past for intentional obliviousness to the desires of the public, eliciting such pejoratives as "private club."  It's great that the common man's demands are coming to fruition and that the barriers are crumbling down in relatively quick succession.  But take a step back and really consider it.  How far do we really want to take this?  Great, we've got Rush, Chicago, and KISS inducted because of public demand, but don't forget how narrow the general public's definition of "rock and roll" has been.  The fan vote is a constant reminder that the British Invasion's interpretation of what constitutes rock and roll is the prevailing opinion, if not the only definition worth enshrining, according to John Q. Public.  Not to mention that the reasons some people want certain acts inducted are due to personal memories.  Or just plain ignorance.  On the "Who Cares About The Rock Hall" podcast, Joe Kwaczala and Kristen Studard discussed Stevie Nicks' ascent to top spot in the poll at the museum, and how after voting for Nicks, museum patrons were afterwards heard to comment, "Oh, I didn't realize she was already in with Fleetwood Mac!"  That kind of ignorance to how the Hall operates and to the distinctions between Fleetwood Mac and Nicks' solo efforts only lends further credence to the saying, "The best argument against democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average voter."  It's why, at least on the surface, it makes sense to leave the nominations and voting to people who actually are highly knowledgeable: people who make their living out of knowing and learning these things, or are actively involved in the creation of the music.  Granted, vested interests have become a tremendous problem, but ideally, the diversity of knowledgeable people should work to correct that.  Theoretically, anyway.  The point is, though, the sway of public opinion should only go so far.  Interviews since the nominations announcement tell that nobody flinched at the mention of Def Leppard, and that the women of the committee banded together to push for Stevie Nicks over other female acts; however, we were never told who specifically nominated each of those acts.  Were they nominations officially submitted by the museum vote, or are they names that members of the Nominating Committee saw suggested and thought they were worth officially nominating?  I do dread the notion that finishing first and second at the museum automatically ensure slots on the ballot.  I like the idea of the top two finishers being the official fan submissions at the meeting itself, but there shouldn't be an automatic for the people at the Feast Of The Giant Hoagie.

Finally, I want to address something that was said when the inductees were announced.  When discussing rock and roll as a concept, Joel Peresman did kind of a verbal shuffle, not refuting claims that rap and R&B aren't part of rock and roll, but rather that rock and roll is more of an attitude or image.  No.  No it's not.  Rock and roll is a form of music.  And that should be especially paramount for the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame.  The Hall spent a lot of time, energy, and money to properly establish rock and roll as a musical diaspora, drawing from several sources, incorporating other genres, and birthing a multitude of sub-genres.  Peresman's comment is tantamount to backpedaling on all of that.  It's about the music, not the image (also why I don't accept Stevie Nicks' "feminist icon" status as sufficient justification).  Joan Jett's induction with the Blackhearts was initially celebrated for her "riot grrl" image that she brought to the table.  But now, when critics and commentators look back, her induction is regarded among the iffier selections by the institution.  And besides which, images change over time.  Coolio's iconic hairdo has succumbed to male pattern baldness, but the significance of "Gangsta's Paradise" hasn't budged an inch.  Madonna has undergone multiple image changes, but her music endures.  Bono no longer has the Irish mullet, nor does he dress up as his Mirrorball Man or Mr. McPhisto personae from the ZooTV tour, but the catalog of Boy through Achtung Baby still holds up and is still venerated.  And you know why?  Because it's ultimately the music that matters.  Not the image.  Celebrate that.  Keep it about the music.  Or as Chrissie Hynde said when she was inducted in 2005, "Boom boom.  Boom boom.  Never change.  Keep moving forward, but never change."

So, there's a lot to love about this class, and maybe a thing or two to be cautious of.  I'm a little saddened that no other categories are getting inductees, but there's still much to celebrate.  And speaking of celebrating, Merry Christmas to you and yours, and Happy New Year.  Celebrate responsibly.

As a bonus, here's a list of years and entrants where multiple female entities have been inducted.  Bold print shows a class where more than one female-containing act were inducted in the Performer category; normal print is for those years where the other categories had to be included. Italicized print indicates special committee involvement for the Performer category.  Let me know if I missed any, and I'll edit.

1990: Zola Taylor (of the Platters), Ma Rainey, Carole King (of Carole King And Gerry Goffin)
1991: LaVern Baker and Tina Turner (of Ike And Tina Turner)
1993: Ruth Brown, Etta James, Cynthia Robinson and Rosie Stone (of Sly And The Family Stone), Dinah Washington
1995: Janis Joplin, all inducted members of Martha And The Vandellas
1996: Gladys Knight (of Gladys Knight And The Pips), Grace Slick (of Jefferson Airplane), all inducted members of the Shirelles, Maureen Tucker (of the Velvet Underground)
1997: Mahalia Jackson, Joni Mitchell
1998: Christine McVie and Stevie Nicks (of Fleetwood Mac), Cass Elliott and Michelle Phillips (of The Mamas And The Papas)
1999: Dusty Springfield; Cleotha, Mavis, and Yvonne Staples (of the Staple Singers)
2000: Billie Holiday, Bonnie Raitt
2002: Brenda Lee, Tina Weymouth (of Talking Heads)
2007: all members of the Ronettes, Patti Smith
2010: Agnetha Faltskog and Anni-Frid Lyngstad (of ABBA), Ellie Greenwich (of Ellie Greenwich And Jeff Barry), and Cynthia Weil (of Barry Mann And Cynthia Weil)
2012: Laura Nyro, Claudette Rogers Robinson (of the Miracles)
2013: Ann and Nancy Wilson (of Heart), Donna Summer
2014: Patti Scialfa (of the E Street Band), Linda Ronstadt
2018: Nina Simone, Sister Rosetta Tharpe
2019: Janet Jackson, Stevie Nicks

Sunday, December 9, 2018

Women more deserving of double induction

By now, it's common knowledge that Stevie Nicks stands a red-hot chance to be the first female dual inductee into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame. The mostly-common consensus is that she'll make it. The slightly-less-but-still-relatively common consensus is also that she doesn't really deserve to be inducted a second time.  I know I've been touting that banner.  In all fairness, I know I'm particularly jaded against her by two things: one, her nomination came on the crest of a wave of support from the general public, ignorant of the fact that she's already in as a member of Fleetwood Mac; two, she's far from the figure I wanted to be the first female member of the Clyde McPhatter club, the unofficial name of the list of those inducted more than once, named after the first person inducted a second time.

That's not to say that I haven't at least tried to be open-minded.  After all, I know several members of the hobbyist community don't even think it should have been Clyde McPhatter to be the first person inducted twice. Personally, better him than Clapton.  I said it; deal with it.  Point being, if so many don't think it should have been McPhatter as the first, then it's kind of in line with how the Hall operates to make an unpopular choice the first female double-inductee.  Additionally, as someone who generally considers pecking orders as unimportant compared to the simple question, "Do they deserve induction or not?", it ultimately behooves me to really focus on the merits of Stevie Nicks without comparison or contrast to other female artists.  I've tried to do that, though some suggest I'm being a bit too harsh towards Nicks' candidacy, but again, at least I'm trying.

Nevertheless, the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame is a continual source of things to complain about.  Everyone has lists of snubs, bad calls, and other missteps, so it's perfectly congruous with this hobby for me to post a whiny list of what I wish would be.  Let's do that now.  Here are a baker's dozen women that I would rather see be the first female member of the Clyde McPhatter club than Stevie Nicks.

1. Carole King
First induction: as a songwriter in 1990.
Possible second induction: Her performing career.

Let's get the most popular pick stated right away.  Carole King was nominated once as a Performer for the Class of 1989, but didn't get the votes.  Ever since she was inducted as part of the songwriting duo with her former songwriting and marital partner Gerry Goffin, the word on her evaluation as a solo artist has been mum.  It's a shame, because singer/songwriters are a favorite mine for the Hall to excavate, and other than James Taylor, Carole King is perhaps the most iconic example of that movement of the '70's.  Some naysayers are saying take away Tapestry, and there's no reason to induct her.  Two words: Sex Pistols.  Induct this woman a second time already.


2. Tina Turner
First induction: Ike And Tina Turner in 1991
Possible second induction: Her solo efforts.

If Carole King isn't your top pick for first female double inductee, this woman almost certainly is.  Reputed for having the best legs in the business, those legs stand tall among female soloists not yet in.  Her solo career has something pretty much for everyone.  Whether it's "What's Love Got To Do With It" or "Private Dancer," the Rock Hall really needs to find a way to break away from the typical male attitude and induct this woman a second time.  They'd better be good to her.


3. Darlene Love
First induction: solo artist in 2011
Possible second induction: the Crystals

The induction of Darlene Love in the Performer category definitely ruffled some feathers.  Most think her induction, if any, should be with the Blossoms as recipients of the Award For Musical Excellence.  I'm glad she got in as a solo artist.  And I've posted in the past about the Crystals.  Most hobbyists who want a couple more girl groups enshrined are bigger on getting the Shangri-La's inducted, and that's fine.  They deserve it too.  But I'd really like to see the biggest nail in the coffin in which to bury Phil Spector's pride driven by inducting the Crystals.  And my preferred method to do it is by inducting all three eras: the Barbara Alston lineup, the Lala Brooks lineup, and of course, the Blossoms, who sang as the Crystals on two of their famous songs.  That of course, would naturally include the second induction of Darlene Love.  I say let's do it.


4. Chaka Khan
First induction: None yet
Possible inductions: both her solo efforts and with Rufus

This is one the Hall appears to agree with me on.  Over the past several years, they have nominated both Chaka as a soloist, and the group Rufus multiple times, including a group nomination on this latest ballot.  There's no questioning the value of the genre-crossing group at this point.  And even with what the group has in their favor, more people are bigger on inducting Chaka as a soloist.  Her iconic "I'm Every Woman" stands as a feminist anthem, and would be a great song for her induction set to conclude with if she could have been the first female inductee to be inducted twice.  Right now, getting that second induction has two obstacles: one, even getting that first induction, and two, Small Hall thinkers who believe inducting Rufus should suffice for both careers.  Let's fix that thinking.


5. Cher
First induction: None yet
Possible inductions: both in Sonny And Cher and her solo efforts.

I make no secret that I love the music of the '50's and '60's.  The 1960's were such a fertile time of artistry and imagination, and not just due to the Beatles, and I would dare say not because of the copious amounts of drugs taken.  Rock and roll was still a relatively young style, in its adolescence, and just as with human puberty, hitting the teenage years is when it went in several spiraling and unpredictable directions.  To that end, I'm much more in favor of inducting artists like the Grass Roots, the Buckinghams, Paul Revere And The Raiders, Jan And Dean, etc. than I am towards artists of the '80's, such as Tears For Fears, Thompson Twins, Heaven 17, etc.  So I would absolutely give the green light to the duo of Sonny And Cher for their catalog full of catchy melodies and imperfectly perfect harmonies, replete with lyrics that are whimsical, profound, and almost hopeful while remaining grounded in social realism.  And as for Cher as a soloist, I really don't think that needs much explanation.  The only real strike against her that would have any legs is her introducing the world to AutoTune with "Believe," but even then I'm inclined to forgive her because it was used as much as a special effect as it was a crutch for those parts where she struggled during the recording of it.  With not even a nomination to her name yet, the Dark Lady is a dark horse to ever be inducted once, let alone twice, but I would be cheering along with all her fans if she made it in for both of those things.


6. Carol Kaye
First induction: None yet
Possible inductions: as an individual Sideman and as a group induction of the Wrecking Crew

The trouble with inducting the entirety of the Wrecking Crew is twofold: one, the Hall has already inducted at least two members of it as individuals; two, the ensemble has supposedly never officially been known as that, being dubbed so retroactively by Hal Blaine.  Whether or not there's any truth to that, the band was the mortar for that famous Wall Of Sound,and are perhaps more deserving of being called the "true artist" than Phil Spector.  The way they challenged the limits and elevated rock and roll prior to the British Invasion and even in its early goings are something that should be truly honored and recognized with a group induction for this outfit.  Likewise, before and after the Phil Spector sessions, Carol was a very busy woman playing bass for artists across multiple genres.  For a part-time session musician, she's a double full-time contributor to rock and roll and should be honored twice.


7. Jody Watley
First induction: None yet
Possible inductions: both with Shalamar and solo

We're starting to get into the murkier territory, where the sells are going to get a bit harder.  This one is going to be particularly difficult because the cache for both Shalamar and Jody Watley are in the R&B and dance music realms, which the Hall has not been particularly kind to over the past decade.  Watley also stands in the shadow of Janet Jackson, and if Janet is struggling to get inducted, what hope does Jody have?  Still, if one just takes the time to just listen to the music of both entities, there's a catchy, danceable, grooving trove that awaits, and both presences across the various charts are more than enough to answer the question of whether or not they were big enough.  She may not be a dead giveaway at first glance, but if the Hall is lookin' for a new love to induct twice, they could do a lot worse than Jody Watley.


8. Patti Labelle
First induction: None yet
Possible inductions: Labelle and solo

Arguably, one could say that Patti Labelle should have three inductions: Patti Labelle And Her Blue-Belles, Labelle, and as a soloist.  However, I think the line between the former two is so straight and direct, it's almost more like a renaming of an existent group.  The hardship of this one of course, is very akin to the problem Devo faces on this current ballot.  Despite the somewhat long history of the group, they are ultimately regarded for having one big song.  They were of course much more than just "Lady Marmalade," but good luck getting that message through to certain sections of the voting body.  Her solo career is substantial, but a lot of the upbeat stuff has a very '80's synth sound to it, and includes a lot of softer stuff, which the Hall is rather disdainful of, especially softer R&B.


9. Diana Ross
First induction: the Supremes, in 1988
Possible second induction: solo

Personal bias comes into play here for me.  Diana Ross as a solo artist is actually a much easier sell than Jody Watley, or even Darlene Love as a Crystal, but this list ranks the order I'd like to see them inducted.  I'm not particularly a fan of Diana Ross.  At all.  I think the Supremes sounded better before after Jean Terrell replaced Diana Ross, and before "Baby Love," after which all the major songs showcase Diana's ego bursting through every note she sang.  As a soloist, I don't care for "Upside Down" or "Endless Love" or much else.  Fans of Motown like to blame the affair between her and Berry Gordy, Jr. as one of the leading causes for the decline of the label during the '70's, including the departure of the Temptations, Four Tops, and Gladys Knight And The Pips; not to mention the eventual folding of their "Mowest" subsidiary, which was an attempt to reach more White listeners, most famously popularized by Rare Earth and at one time included the Four Seasons.  Nevertheless, you cannot deny what a juggernaut she was throughout the '70's.  Her album The Boss is a dance music classic of its time, she's an undeniably influential diva, and her name still carries clout.  And hey, as I've repeatedly pointed out, good behavior and the Rock Hall aren't exactly the closest of friends.  I doubt they're even Facebook friends. 


10. Janis Joplin
First induction: solo artist in 1995
Possible second induction: Big Brother And The Holding Company

Getting back to the harder sells, the case for Big Brother And The Holding Company is a bit of a mixed bag.  Joplin by herself is a much more celebrated name, and because she died so young, the compilation of her legacy, in terms of marketed products, lumps the two efforts as a single entity.  Small Hall thinkers are happier with it being that way, too.  Was the band anything without Janis?  I say, does that really matter?  "Piece Of My Heart" is still an iconic song, Cheap Thrills is still considered a landmark of psychedelic rock, and their appearance at the Monterey Pop festival really should be the clincher.  The Hall has inducted artists with fewer credentials.  The group has been previously considered, but the odds of them even getting nominated gets slimmer by the year, as arena bands have dominated recently, and as critics want to see the Hall move forward in time.


11. Sylvia Robinson
First induction: None yet
Possible inductions: Mickey And Sylvia, Ahmet Ertegun Award

And now we're getting into the pipe dream territory, but I'd still consider these final three worthier of double induction than Stevie Nicks.  Similar to Carole King, Sylvia Robinson's better shot may in the Non-Performer category, now christened the Ahmet Ertegun Award.  As a record executive, she helped bring hip-hop to America as a whole.  Whereas hip-hop emerged out of block parties and the deejay scene, Robinson was one of the earliest figures who saw its potential as a marketable commodity, and more than that, an artistic form.  She's the reason we know "Rapper's Delight" and why it became the first hip-hop single to make the Top 40 pop charts.  Though her legacy in that regard peaks with the formative years of hip-hop, being involved with the formative efforts tends to be a huge asset with the Hall.  As for her recording legacy, it's an even tougher sell.  Mickey And Sylvia are really remembered for one song, and one song only.  "Love Is Strange" was the only song of theirs to make the Top 40; so despite their handful of other Hot 100 hits, it'll often come back to that one song.  But what a song.  It's been widely covered, including versions by the Everly Brothers and Peaches And Herb, but Mickey And Sylvia's original is still the one that people think of first, and is the version used most in movies, commercials, and even in animated shows that create six episodes but only get two aired.  Other hobbyists would probably prefer that "Love Is Strange" by Mickey And Sylvia simply be enshrined in the newly created Singles category.  Given the social background that Mickey "Guitar" Baker and Sylvia Robinson were up against when they released that landmark song, I think that even the fact they're both dead shouldn't be a detraction from inducting them in the Performer category at some point.


12. Tina Weymouth
First induction: Talking Heads in 2002
Possible second induction: Tom Tom Club

The big issue for Tom Tom Club is that it's treated as an afterthought of Talking Heads, very similar to the way New Order is treated in relation to Joy Division.  Comprised of half the members of Talking Heads, Tom Tom Club has always been in the shadow of Talking Heads, particularly because of the iconic voice and nature of David Byrne.  Tom Tom Club certainly weren't as big as Talking Heads either in a commercial or critical sense, but that doesn't mean this outfit was a slouch or an afterthought either.  And even when measuring with my I-Five system, this act might even come up a little shorter than Nicks, but I'd still rather give my vote for dual induction to Tina than Stevie.


13. Cass Elliott
First induction: The Mamas And The Papas, 1998
Possible second induction: solo

The Hail Mary of this list, the first member of this legendary quartet to pass away.  And that's the biggest hurdle for her to clear.  Much like Ritchie Valens, she died before she was able to fully realize a fruitful and euphonious career.  Additionally, her first and biggest hit included "Of The Mamas And The Papas" to the label credit.  So getting any recognition and respect for her as a solo artist will never happen.  Even so, I'd argue that "Dream A Little Dream Of Me" is iconic, and I'd even argue for the musical excellence of "Make Your Own Kind Of Music."  Still, I recognize the reality, and would be willing to agree to disagree with those who think I've just plain lost my marbles at this point, or that I'm being argumentative for its own sake.  It could even boil down to my belief that Cass Elliott was a better singer than Stevie Nicks.  Those would be valid critiques.  But again, I'm just spouting off women I'd rather see inducted twice before Stevie Nicks.


There are of course more possibilities.  A couple include Grace Slick and Gloria Estefan. Grace Slick could ostensibly be inducted for "Jefferson Starship" and "Starship."  I think some would be okay with Jefferson Starship getting its own recognition, but I think few, if any would like to see Starship get the nod.  It's a similar question that presented itself with Small Faces/Faces, and while the Hall answered that question, that answer, and especially the explanations and rationale, sat very unsatisfactorily with most of the Hall-watching community.  As for Gloria Estefan, outside of singer/songwriters of the '70's, the Hall hasn't really shown any love for soft-rock.  If that's the paradigm that the Hall wishes to operate under, then an induction for the Miami Sound Machine would be sufficient.  If you other hobbyists have other women for whom you'd care to make an argument for double induction, I welcome your comments below.

Thursday, December 6, 2018

Inductee prediction for 2019

This isn't the post I wanted to make next, but with my schedule hectic as all get out, if I don't do it now, it'll never get done.  So let's just get to what everyone cares most about, and hope that the rest will be able to follow, preferably before the inductees are announced.

Who's gonna get in?  Even as I type this, I'm still waffling a bit on it.  The problem for me is that there are two artists on this ballot that I really consider the x-factors.  They're really not "loose cannons" on this ballot, but how they will sit with the voters is just too iffy for me to say with any real amount of certainty.  I'm prepared to end up going only one-for-five this year, because I'm really torn in a couple different directions, as is reflected in my percentages assigned this year.  Editing as I go, let's plant some seeds.


1. DEF LEPPARD
Hard-rock band from England. First-time nominee.
Why they might make it:  The first and most apparent thing is that they're leading the fan poll.  It's not a guarantee so far as we know, but it's close enough to one at this point.  Whoever finishes first with the fans gets in.  Additionally, they're a name that everyone knows, and they fit the popular connotations of "rock and roll" rather easily.
Why they might not:  They are still associated with the hair-metal scene of the '80's, which the test of time has not been kind to.  Some may write them off as overproduced schlock masterminded by Mutt Lange.
Whom they'd pave the way for:  I actually like Poison, but there's no way an induction for Def Leppard will get them in.  In reality, Motley Crue will have the most to gain, and it will likely cause a look back and a rejuvenation to fight for Judas Priest.
Biggest threats:  Stevie Nicks is probably the closest thing to direct competition because their nominations both came from the same groundswell of support from the general public at the museum.  Other than that, the biggest threat to them is voters being fatigued with the classic rock inductions.
In the end:  "Fatigue with the classic rock inductions"?  Who are we kidding?  Odds of induction: 80%

2. THE ZOMBIES
‘60s British Invasion rock group that prominently featured keyboards.  Fourth time they've been nominated, seeded #8 in 2014, #14 for 2017, and #15 for 2018.
Why they might make it:  Not only does the Rock Hall love the British Invasion, but so does the general public.  This is an inductee they’d celebrate together.  Also, one of the more distinct of the British acts.  Their sound was very unique and hard to confuse for anyone else.  
Why they might not: They were pretty short-lived, and have only a handful of songs that people remember, even though they love them dearly. It might just not be enough.
Whom they’d pave the way for:  Assuming the Singles category isn't a death knell for Procol Harum, getting the Zombies in could help them.  It could also lead to future nominations for Manfred Mann, Herman’s Hermits, the Spencer Davis Group, and maybe a left-field pick like the Troggs.
Biggest threats:  The MC5 are really the only others from this era, but other than that, not a lot.
In the end:   Other hobbyists have concluded that the Zombies have little to divide the ballot against them, so this should be the express lane for them to get in.  I'm inclined to agree.  Odds of induction: 65%

3. TODD RUNDGREN
Musical utility-player.  First-time nominee.
Why he might make it:  Todd Rundgren has strong ties in the music industry.  His name is respected.  He can sing, play instruments, write, produce, engineer, innovate, and could probably manage, represent, distribute, promote, and publicize if he had the itch to.
Why he might not:  At least one journalist has stated that the difficulty comes when trying to make sure they're voting for his recording career if they do vote for him, and in that regard, they are tempted to err on the side of not voting for him.  Likewise, a lot of people have been murmuring that the Hall will just stick him in as an Award For Musical Excellence inductee, so why bother?  That kind of apathy could lead to him not getting votes.
Whom he'd pave the way for:  Good question.  Who is the next link when you get Todd in?  Maybe we look toward acts like Big Star next?
Biggest threats:  Roxy Music and John Prine both come from the same well of respect from deep within the industry.
In the end:  There's nothing that says that the respect from within the industry can only be shown to one nominee.  Voters get up to five votes, so Roxy and Prine could both get the votes too.  That said, there is at least some nominal effort to diversify the vote, so that is often how it'll end up playing out.  So, in that event, I think Todd has the edge.  Odds of induction: 60%

4. RADIOHEAD
Alternative rock act from England.  Second-time nominee, seeded #3 last year.
Why they might make it:  They're quasi-nicknamed "the last important rock band," and have been widely celebrated in pretty much all of their output.
Why they might not:  They're a polarizing act.  It seems you either love them or hate them, regardless of how much you respect their art.  Plus, after missing out last year when they seemed like a lock makes them a more shaky pick this year.
Whom they'd pave the way for:  The world of indie rock that is still known to the mainstream world somewhat could conceivably include Arctic Monkeys and Arcade Fire.
Biggest threats:  Rage Against The Machine is also from the same generation as them, while alternative acts like the Cure could inhibit their chances as well.
In the end:  They were a sure thing last year and missed out.  I'm already editing as I go, originally having put someone else in this spot first.  But, let's take a leap of faith and say missing out last year was a fluke, similar to Queen not getting in on their first nomination.  Odds of induction: 52%

5. STEVIE NICKS
Former member of Fleetwood Mac, nominated as a soloist.  First time nominated.
Why she might make it:  As a Fleetwood Mac member, her name has cache.  As a soloist, she's collaborated and otherwise worked with a lot of big names in the business.
Why she might not:  She's already inducted with Fleetwood Mac, and hopefully the entire voting body already knows that.  Her solo career just doesn't carry as much weight, and several believe it's not that remarkable.  Plus, with some of bigger songs being duets, it doesn't make her solo efforts come off that strong.
Whom she'd pave the way for:  The story is the women of the Nominating Committee really circled around Stevie Nicks as the one they'd push for, so if she got in, some of those other names they set aside, like Pat Benatar or the Go-Go's, could be next in line to be nominated.
Biggest threats:  Def Leppard is the other populist pick, and is beating her soundly in the fan vote.  Janet Jackson is another strong female soloist from the '80's.
In the end:  We're getting into really uncertain territory.  There are two scenarios I see happening, and they revolve seeds five through eight.  I think they are equally likely, but I'm splitting them up here, because it's the Rock Hall we're talking about.  Stevie is nowhere near the best choice to be the first female member of the Clyde McPhatter club.  I was hoping to make a separate entry on this topic before the inductees were announced, but sadly, I feel it will have to be titled "Who should the next female dual-inductee.  Odds of induction: 51%

6. JOHN PRINE
Folk singer/songwriter.  First-time nominee.
Why he might make it:  He's a musician's musician.  A songwriter's songwriter.  He has respect deep within the industry, and that could play huge, because industry people are a good chunk of the voting body.  In terms of gameplay, his album this year keeps his legacy fresh and vibrant with voters.
Why he might not:  He has almost no name recognition with the general public.  While ardent proponents of his induction say "Angel From Montgomery" is his iconic song, the problem with that statement is... it's not his version of it that is iconic (if that song is even iconic at all, which is also debatable).  This is about him as a recording artist, remember?  Members of the general public who do know his work (prior to his nomination), are usually people from metropolitan areas where radio formats are a bit more diverse and/or who make a point to seek out less mainstream artists.  Other than that, not many know his work.  Even members of the hobbyist community admit to have never having heard of him or never having heard a song by him before.  Additionally, as Joe Kwaczala put it, the Rock Hall is pretty inclusive of various genres and styles.. except for country.  And while Prine is considered a folk artist, a lot of his later works sound awfully country.
Whom he'd pave the way for:  There are other singer/songwriters who'd benefit, perhaps Gordon Lightfoot, or maybe he'd help some of the outlaw country artists, like Willie Nelson, get some consideration.
Biggest threats:  Todd Rundgren and Roxy Music are the other two acts with industry respect as deep as Prine, though Stevie Nicks does have a fair amount too.
In the end:  If there are only going to be five inductees, I think they'll cut it off at Stevie Nicks, and we'll have an entirely Caucasian class.  If there will be six, there are two scenarios I see possibly playing out.  That said, will there be five or six?   My prediction on that, and on John Prine's chances, are literally a coin flip.  Odds of induction: 50%

7. JANET JACKSON
R&B and dance music diva.  Third nomination, #3 seed in 2016, and seeded #16 for 2017.
Why she might make it:  She's the biggest singles' name on the ballot, and not just on the Hot 100 (the pop charts), but also on the dance, R&B, and Adult Contemporary charts.  This past year has also seen the revelation of how Les Moonves worked as a puppeteer to essentially kill her career for not meeting his level of satisfaction in apologizing for the infamous Superbowl incident.  Now that that's out, people are coming back to her side.
Why she might not: Ever since she was announced as a return nominee, people have been looking for reasons to keep her out.   Beyond that, there are still the two things might hinder her chances.  First, there's been a lot of speculation that all she has is because of her name and her brother's fame.  Some just think she'd be nothing if she weren't Michael's sister.  Second, naysayers say a lot of her records, particularly the earlier ones, have a very generic sound that is nothing special, even derivative, and that her producers make all the magic of her music.  This is augmented by the fact on a lot of her records, her voice doesn't come through very strongly, lost in the production effect.
Whom she'd pave the way for: The big hope is that getting Janet in will kick down the doors for Whitney Houston, and eventually Mariah Carey, TLC, Destiny's Child, and Beyonce.
Biggest threats:  The most direct competition comes from Rufus featuring Chaka Khan.  Stevie Nicks as a female soloist could draw votes away from her, and LL Cool J is another big name in the R&B world.
In the end:  I don't think the Hall will induct two women.  Some are saying there will be two, but I don't see it happening with this current voting bloc.  If there are six inductees, and Stevie Nicks is not one of them, then I think the other two after the first four seeds will be John Prine and Janet Jackson.  And it would be absolutely poetic, almost like a fairy tale, for karma to punish Les Moonves and exalt Janet Jackson with an induction into this institution.  Unfortunately, life isn't always rewarding.  There's hope, but it's a tough call.  Odds of induction: 49%

8. LL COOL J
One of hip-hop’s very first solo superstars.  This is his fifth nomination, seeded #8 both in 2010 and 2011, #4 in 2014, and #13 last year.
Why he might make it: Hip-hop was dominated in the early days by groups: the Sugarhill Gang, Grandmaster Flash And The Furious Five, Run-D.M.C., etc.  LL Cool J was one of the first solo superstars, especially in terms of crossing over to the pop charts and a wider audience.  Now, hip-hop is dominated by solo artists, because of rappers like him.  He also helped create the bridge that changed R&B into the more sultry style that it became in the ‘90s and still exists to this day.
Why he might not: He’s been the only hip-hop artist on a smaller ballot in the past, and he couldn’t get in then.  Also, his duet with Brad Paisley from years ago, "Accidental Racist” was eaten alive by critics, so the most recent flavor from him has been bitter to people’s ears.
Whom he’d pave the way for: Other rap solo artists loom on the horizon: Ice-T is already eligible, and soon enough we’ll see Jay-Z, Ja Rule, and Snoop Dogg getting looks.
Biggest threats: No other rap acts on the ballot, unless you count Rage Against The Machine, but Rufus featuring Chaka Khan could draw a lot of the R&B votes away from him, as could Janet Jackson.
In the end:  If the Hall inducts six nominees, and Stevie Nicks is one of them, then I think LL Cool J will be the sixth, to have an African-American artist, in addition to the female Stevie Nicks to keep the class from being either all White or all men.  Janet Jackson would kill two birds with one stone, so without Stevie, it's Janet and John, in my opinion.  If Stevie is one of six getting honored, I think this rap superstar goes in too.  This is one of his better shots, but it comes with strings attached.  Odds of induction: 48%

9. ROXY MUSIC
Art-rock pioneers.  First nomination.
Why they might make it:  They are an incredibly innovative and influential group, helping to create art-rock.  Former member Brian Eno is a very hallowed figure in that particular section of the industry, and without a prog-rock name on the ballot, Roxy Music is probably the most attractive alternative for voters who are keen on getting prog inducted.
Why they might not:  The name Brian Eno is hallowed, but he wasn't with the group very long, and when you extract his production legacy from the equation, whether or not Roxy Music has enough in their favor to swing it is a more difficult question to answer in the affirmative.  Only a modest amount of commercial success, and few memorable songs.
Whom they'd pave the way for:  The induction of Roxy Music could encourage the Hall to go back and work more on prog-rock like Jethro Tull, or to maybe give someone like Kate Bush another shot.
Biggest threats: Devo has the same kind of gestalt as this outfit, and John Prine and Todd Rundgren have similar cache deep in the music industry.  Don't forget the Cure, who also have a cache with those members of the public who love the underground and alternative scenes.
In the end:  I originally had Roxy Music seeded #4 instead of Radiohead.  And I still think they could sneak in.  But when it comes to respect and strong ties in the music industry, it's Todd Rungren to win, John Prine to place, and Roxy Music to show, and there just won't be enough ballot space for the bronze.  Odds of induction: 45%

10. KRAFTWERK
European progressive act that pioneered electronica. Fifth-time nominee, unseeded their first time, seeded #9 in 2013, #13 in 2015, and #10 for 2017.
Why they might make it:  Slowly but steadily, people are waking up and realizing just how big of a deal Kraftwerk really is, not just for dance music, but also hip-hop and the entirety of the rock 'n' roll diaspora.  At this point, we can probably say it's not a matter of "if" but "when."
Why they might not: While the Hall Of Fame doesn’t discriminate against acts from countries other than the US and UK, they do strongly favor acts that were very popular in the U.S.A., which Kraftwerk was not.  If a voting member isn’t too familiar with their stuff, and sees five other names they like, they won’t bother researching Kraftwerk further.
Whom they’d pave the way for: There’re a couple avenues to go here. Fatboy Slim, Daft Punk, and many more famous electronica acts are still a few years off.  The Art Of Noise are a left-field possibility, though possibly too much of a novelty act to get in.  But Kraftwerk’s induction may help more acts who were huge, just not in the States, get some recognition, such as Cliff Richard And The Shadows, Status Quo, Johnny Hallyday, Fela, or even Ricky Martin in the future.  Both paths are a bit of a stretch, but if the road really dead-ended with Kraftwerk, they probably wouldn’t be worth inducting anyway.
Biggest threats:  Dance music has Janet Jackson and Rufus featuring Chaka Khan.  European stylings show Roxy Music, and experimentation makes Devo a possibility to divert votes away from the Germans.
In the end:  Their cache grows, because with each nomination, more and more people discover this outfit and realize just how important they were.  Unfortunately, I think there are too many semi-direct competitors for them to punch through this time.  If the Hall really wants Kraftwerk in, they'd better start getting them on the ballot in consecutive years.  Odds of induction: 40%

11. RAGE AGAINST THE MACHINE
Politically charged nu metal band.  Second nomination, seeded #8 last year.
Why they might make it:  Tom Morello is on the Nominating Committee, which is going to carry weight with the voters.  Additionally, in the current political atmosphere, inducting a band that hates everything the current administration stands for would be considered the Hall's way of "sticking it to the man."
Why they might not:  The Hall has a gift for controversy, and this nomination reeks of "conflict of interest" and could even serve to make the band the new Chic.  Plus, nu metal may not be popular enough to get votes.
Whom they'd pave the way for:  It's hard to guess, but perhaps other acts like Slayer and Anthrax could get some attention in the wake of this band's induction.
Biggest threats:  Radiohead is their contemporary and most direct threat.  The MC5, whom Morello acknowledges their influence, could be more appealing to voters who think the Hall needs to be more chronologically correct with their inductions.  Don't overlook LL Cool J who raps much more solidly and consistently than Zac De La Rocha
In the end: This ballot isn't nearly as stacked with classic rock names as last year's, or the previous two before that, so it's a bit more of a mad scramble, and they could slip through.  But I'm betting against that from happening.  Odds of induction: 35%

12. THE CURE
New-wave band that really helped ignite and fuel the independent label and underground music scenes.  Second nomination, seeded #2 in 2012.
Why they might make it: They’re artistically revered, with songs like “Lovesong” and “Friday, I’m In Love,” and they had just enough commercial success to gain a nod of approval from the mainstream crowd.  They’re considered hugely influential, and pretty innovative, too.
Why they might not:  '80's alternative just cannot catch a break.  One would think that eventually one of them has got to punch through, but it hasn't happened yet.  Plus, not everyone is going to be a fan of the emo style they helped create.
Whom they’d pave the way for: The Smiths and Sonic Youth.  And Pixies, and possibly the Replacements too.  Plus, a number of influential indie scene rock acts.  Plus, possibly for more new-wave acts as well.
Biggest threats:  Roxy Music and Devo have similar legacy arcs, as does Kraftwerk.  Don't forget Radiohead and Rage Against The Machine as darlings of the alternative scene, too.
In the end:  The struggle will continue.  Maybe it will be the Cure one day who breaks through first.  But that day won't be today... this year, that is.  Odds of induction: 30%

13. RUFUS FEATURING CHAKA KHAN
Funk group from the '70s and early '80s. Third nomination as a group, seeded dead last (#15) for 2012, and #16 last year.
Why they might make it: They had an amazing run with styles that included roots music, funk, disco, and ballads. Plus, Chaka Khan is a well-known singer, so her name power could help.
Why they might not: R&B, particularly anything related to disco, has a difficult time getting recognized. Plus, some still worry that this would prevent a future induction for Chaka Khan as a solo artist.
Whom they'd pave the way for: Their varied history could be good news for acts like Delaney And Bonnie, as well as bands like Sade, but in reality, would probably only help other funk outfits, like the GAP Band, or the Average White Band.
Biggest threats: Janet Jackson is the most direct threat, and LL Cool J could snare votes away.
In the end: If they could be nominated as just "Rufus," it would quell ambiguity and rumors of a joint induction.  But even without ambiguity, they still are a longshot.  Odds of induction: 25%

14. THE MC5
Hard-rockin' proto-punk band.  Fourth time nominated, Unseeded the first time, seeded #12 for 2017 and #14 last year.
Why they might make it:  They're heavily respected for their innovation and influence.  Plus, who wouldn't want to see an MC5 tribute performance fronted by Fred "Sonic" Smith's wife Patti?  That could only be awesome.
Why they might not:  They were short-lived and didn't have much presence, and still don't have much name recognition with the general music-listening public.  Also, distortion as an effect is novel and artistic, but overall is a gimmick that doesn't break down walls for them.
Whom they'd pave the way for:  They could help pave the way for acts like Television and the previously nominated New York Dolls.
Biggest threats:  Strangely enough, the biggest competition is Rage Against The Machine, a band influenced in part by the MC5.  The Zombies are also a threat in their own right.
In the end:  It's nice to see them nominated again, looking forward to seeing their name appear again because this won't be their year.  Odds of induction: 20%

15. DEVO
Experimental art-rock band.  First-time nominee.
Why they might make it:  The Hall loves creative risk-takers, and Devo are certainly that.  While they have a definite signature to their music, their willingness to try new directions is the kind of thing that the Hall would really love to include.
Why they might not:  Despite having as many hits as they did across the dance, album rock, and even pop charts, they're still widely regarded as a one-hit wonder.  Such is the blessing and curse of the iconic status of "Whip It."  Also, with the outfits they're famed for wearing, they might just be a little hard for some to take seriously.
Whom they'd pave the way for:  It's hard to say.  Maybe Kate Bush.  Maybe avant-garde outfits like They Might Be Giants.   Maybe this is just an act you want in because there's no real equivalent band who will ever come up in discussion.  
Biggest threats:  Roxy Music is an art-rock powerhouse that stands in the way.  The Cure have that underground cache as well.
In the end:  I just think it'll take a few ballots for them to be seen as more than just the band that did "Whip It" and seen as true artists.  That level of recognition won't come this year.  Odds of induction: 15%

And with that, I have all the seeds in place.  Just to clarify:  I think the top four seeds are the ones to get in in any event.  The question then becomes what then if there are five or six.  If five, we'll have an all-White class, I would predict.  If 6, it really becomes a coin flip if I think the final two will be LL Cool J and Stevie Nicks or the combination of John Prine and Janet Jackson.  Just don't see two women getting inducted.  It'd be nice, but I don't see it.  I don't like hedging my bets like this, but I really can't make up my mind which scenario I think is most likely to occur, so I'm letting all of that influence my seeding and percentages.  Hope you enjoyed reading them.  As always the Comments section is open.  Otherwise, time to wait and see what comes to pass when the inductees are announced.

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Preferences of artists on the 2019 ballot

Now that we've taken a look at the merits of the 2019 nominees for the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame, we also have to look at the tacit piece of the puzzle, which is personal taste.  Whether we like to admit it or not, personal tastes affect how we vote.  Whether it's for the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame or congressional candidates, if we like what we hear from them, they're that much more likely to get our vote.  For the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame, personal preference for an artist's music is an influencing factor for whether or not they pass the bar for "unquestionable musical excellence."  So, now that I've tried to measure them objectively, let's lay that list aside momentarily and just look at how much I enjoy listening to each of the nominees.  Music apps for smartphones have been a major blessing in this regard, as they have allowed me to really grasp each nominee's catalog and overall gestalt a lot more.  So, if you notice inconsistency between the list this year and previous years' lists, it's a combination of getting to know discographies a lot more, plus the effects of time and life themselves upon this weary and frail frame.  I'll also include my favorite songs from each artist, and the averages of the two rankings' lists.

It's also worth mentioning, that like the merits' list, coming in near the bottom isn't nearly as insulting as it may appear.  It was a tough decision trying to figure out who should finish first, even.  Everyday, whichever nominee I was listening to, I was certain that that artist would top the list.  Then I'd listen to a different one the next day.  It's a tough but pleasant series of choices to make.  Besides, a list of fifteen versus the entirety of the musical world, well, that just requires proper perspective.  So don't be too heartbroken if your favorite act comes in a bit lower for me than it would for you.  Binge-listening to all these artists didn't really give me too many negative listening experiences overall.  Maybe that's why they're all nominees too.  Let's sort them out, shall we?


1. Janet Jackson
What made me ultimately choose the baby of nine as the top finisher here, was when I was trying to decide on a favorite song for her and discovering how much trouble this really was.  I realized I had way too many songs in contention for mentioning as the favorite.  That made me conclude that she had to be put at the top of this list.  Between "Black Cat," "Escapade," "So Excited," and so many other great songs, every time it's her turn to be binged on, I'm happy.
Favorite song: "Feedback"
Merit Rank: 4
Average of ranks: 2.5

2. The Zombies
Last year, they were ranked a few notches lower.  All but one of the acts higher than them on last year's list were inducted last year, and the one that wasn't, isn't nominated again this year.  Last year though, the music app service didn't include any of their reunited studio material, only live performances. When you include the newer studio albums, you realize that they've still got it and the music is just as fantastic.
Favorite song: "Imagine The Swan"
Merit Rank: 13
Average of ranks: 7.5

3. Def Leppard
I said previously that their music hasn't aged well, but growing up with Hysteria and Adrenalize, I still hear them with the ears of the pre-teen I was during their heyday.  I love their ability to harmonize and their overall sound.  The major downside though, is hearing some of their ballads, especially the live performances of them, made me wonder if I was listening to Def Leppard or Bryan Adams.
Favorite song: "Photograph"
Merit Rank: 10
Average of ranks: 6.5

4. LL Cool J
He jumps up a few places from last year's list, so maybe it's just a matter of his music growing on me, or being able to pay a little more attention to it.  Some people just don't like rap music.  To me, it's in the mix.  And if the mood's just right, I'm really into it.  Honorable mention to the amazing track "Time For War."
Favorite song: "The Do Wop"
Merit Rank: 1
Average of ranks: 2.5

5. John Prine
On paper, when using my I-Five at least, Prine's hardly the kind of artist that should even be considered, except maybe in the Influence category.  When you listen to his music, though, it becomes clear why he just might be able to pull it off.  Don't enjoy everything from him.  His debut album has been hailed as a masterpiece, but aside from one song, I really didn't dig it that much.  I'm not a huge country person, but his country-flavored stuff is quite good.
Favorite song: "Egg And Daughter Nite, Lincoln Nebraska, 1967 (Crazy Bone)"
Merit Rank: 14
Average of ranks: 9.5

6. Radiohead
Even after the shock of realizing how much I actually liked their stuff last year, it still kind of surprises me how much I like the songs I do like.  Some of them I still don't, but a lot of it just grew on me a little bit more this go-around.  The only song I really remember back when I was in college spinning their stuff on the campus station is "Idioteque," which I still really like, despite it not being the favorite.  But there really is just an ineffable loveliness to their music that it just draws you in, even if it leads you down some psychologically dark corridors.
Favorite song: "No Surprises"
Merit Rank: 7
Average of ranks: 6.5

7. Kraftwerk
Kraftwerk's place on this list really benefited from my getting a smartphone last year.  The problem with trying to binge-listen to them, though, is that most of what I find via music apps are the remastered versions of their works.  I feel that to properly evaluate them, I need to hear how their albums sounded the first time, the '70's and '80's releases, not the post-2000 reworkings.  I have to wonder if this is how Starwoids and general cinephiles felt when George Lucas "updated" the original Star Wars trilogy.  Nevertheless, getting to really dive into their stuff has proven very helpful.  Despite their innovations, the White Anglo-Saxon Protestant side of me is really drawn to the pastoral-sounding songs, like "Ohm Sweet Ohm," which kind of reminds me of the old hymn, "My Faith Looks Up To Thee," or that "Oh Maria" song you hear in the movie Sister Act.  Still, when you really listen and get an appreciation for how meticulous they were and how their methods were so effectively executed, I have to say that OCD has never sounded so beautiful before or after.
Favorite song: "Morgenspaziergang"
Merit Rank: 3
Average of ranks: 5

8. Todd Rundgren
This is one I didn't expect to fare this well.  Despite how much I love "Bang The Drum All Day," I really expected the majority of his work to be more reminiscent of "Hello It's Me" and "I Saw The Light," which I don't like all that much.  I underestimated the man's versatility, and while I'm not crazy about the songs that sound like he's trying to be blue-eyed soul, perhaps leading Daryl Hall And John Oates by example, I do enjoy the more sideways kinds of songs like "Zen Archer" and "Buy My T."
Favorite song: "Mountaintop"
Merit Rank: 8
Average of ranks: 8

9. Rufus Featuring Chaka Khan
Maybe I just got a little tired of listening to their brand of funk.  I'm not sure what caused both Radiohead and LL Cool J to jump them in relative rankings from last year, but I still enjoy this band quite a bit.  And with such versatility, it's hard to go wrong.  I think the problem this year is the app just kept ramming the same songs down my ear canals repeatedly, jumping between the studio and live versions.  I like "Hollywood," I just don't want to hear it for a few months now.
Favorite song: "Take It To The Top"
Merit Rank: 12
Average of ranks: 10.5

10. The MC5
Another act that just grew on me this year, though perhaps not enough to greatly affect their relative position on a ballot with only fifteen nominees, instead of nineteen.  All the same, listening to the roots and foundations of punk rock music is a good time, whether you're on the job or off.
Favorite song: "The American Ruse"
Merit Rank: 11
Average of ranks: 10.5

11. Devo
They're weird.  I like them.
Favorite song: "Are You Ready"
Merit Rank: 9
Average of ranks: 10

12. The Cure
For the 2012 ballot, they were ranked fifth of fifteen in personal tastes.  This time they're twelfth.  What a difference a smartphone makes.  That's not to say I won't listen to them again.  They have several songs that definitely make the Cut Here with me, but they also have several songs that I personally Never want to hear again.
Favorite song: "Friday I'm In Love"
Merit Rank: 2
Average of ranks: 7

13. Stevie Nicks
As I said in her merits write-up, her solo stuff is a lot more synth-driven than the work of Fleetwood Mac.  That's just the way of the '80's.  Still, most of her stuff works a lot better than others who used the synth as a crutch (I'm looking at you, A Flock Of Seagulls)
Favorite song: "Stand Back"
Merit Rank: 15
Average of ranks: 14

14. Roxy Music
As with Kraftwerk, they recorded a lot of pastoral-sounding songs that are quite lovely, such as "Psalm," a lot of odd stuff that's riveting, like "Pyjamarama," commercial stuff like "Love Is The Drug" and "Oh Yeah," that I dug as well.  Unfortunately, I just cannot rid my memory of the horror of the realization of what "In Every Dreamhome A Heartache" is about, or just how that song seemed to drag on.
Favorite song: "Flesh And Blood"
Merit Rank: 5
Average of ranks: 9.5

15. Rage Against The Machine
It's important to remember, that I don't dislike any of the nominees.  Despite some of the less-than-flattering things mentioned, I've loved delving into every artist on this ballot.  But with every artist, there'll be songs you like and some you don't.  As for Rage Against The Machine, it's just a matter of me enjoying euphony more than cacophony, and they wouldn't be able to justify the "Rage" part of their name if they didn't have rough edges to their sound.  I don't hate them; if someone wants to listen them badly enough, I can get into it.  Just not my first choice.
Favorite song: "People Of The Sun"
Merit Rank: 6
Average of ranks: 10.5

So ultimately, when you rank the nominees by the averages of their ranks, you theoretically should get a list of likelihood that I'd be voting for them for the fan ballot.  That list looks like:

1. Janet Jackson
1. LL Cool J
3. Kraftwerk
4. Def Leppard
4. Radiohead
6. The Cure
7. The Zombies
8. Todd Rundgren
9. John Prine
9. Roxy Music
11. Devo
12. The MC5
12. Roxy Music
12. Rufus Featuring Chaka Khan
15. Stevie Nicks

So, logically, my five daily votes should be going to Janet Jackson, LL Cool J, Kraftwerk, Def Leppard, and Radiohead.  And in fact, the first three of those five have been getting my vote every time.  Def Leppard was getting my vote for awhile, until they secured a comfortable lead over Stevie Nicks, then I switched.  My other two votes now have been going for Rufus Featuring Chaka Khan, because we really need to get that lady in twice, and my fellow Michiganders, the MC5.  Sadly, at the time of typing this, the bottom four in the fan ballot standings are LL Cool J, Kraftwerk, Rufus Featuring Chaka Khan, and the MC5, with Janet Jackson in a solid sixth, but probably too far behind to catch up and make the final and formal five for the fan vote.

So that's where I stand on what I like.  The nice thing about this list is because it's passion-driven, it's a quicker one to type up, and because it's completely subjective, anyone who tries to tell me my ranking is wrong is just being a pedantic ass.  Don't be a pedantic ass, but do feel free to post your favorite songs or lists of personal preferences in the Comments below.  And it may or may not be the next entry, but coming soon will be my seeds and predictions in the Performer category for the Class Of 2019.