Having had about a week or so to let the news sink in regarding the nominees for the Class of 2012 for the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame, I believe I have most of my predictions mapped out. Nonetheless, my analyses don’t stop at whom I believe will be enshrined. Admittedly, I’m not sure how I’d even vote if I were lucky enough to be a member of the voting bloc. I’m honest enough with myself to know I probably wouldn’t necessarily vote for the top five most deserving, but I know I wouldn’t vote for my personal favorite five acts on the ballot, either. Probably some mixture of the two. With that, I’ll start with the harder part of the equation: trying to objectively determine the order of merit. I’m combining factors of Innovation, Influence, Impact, and any other Intangibles I think may factor in determining an act’s rank on this list; unpopular as the decision may be, I also try to give equal weight to each of the first three items, so a boatload of Impact can make up for a lesser amount of Innovation or Influence. Keep in mind, as many others have said, there’s really no bad name on the ballot. Coming in fourteenth or fifteenth on this list is still pretty good when you consider the list of sixteen through umpteen that didn’t get nominated. That said, let’s give you something to hate me for.
1. THE RED HOT CHILI PEPPERS
Impact: They’re still staples of alternative rock radio, regularly making both the Rock charts and the Hot 100. Still getting rave reviews for their albums, with a new one out currently making waves.
Innovation: They didn’t invent funk or alternative, but they do it with a style that can only be really described as unique, which is somewhat innovative in and of itself.
Influence: I’m not familiar with the list of artists that claim them as influence, but their style is heard in subsequent rock bands, so it’s gotta be there.
Intangibles: With an image that’s gimmicky, but subtly so, as well as covers of R&B classics, they’re a band that seems to keep it true to what it means to be rock and roll, whatever that means.
2. THE CURE
Innovation: They may not have been inventors of new wave per se, but they’ve been around since its genesis, and its exodus to the U.S airwaves. Like RHCP above, they’re a band whose sound is unique.
Influence: A unique sound but one that others still attempt to duplicate. Their influence expands even beyond the new wave genre, to all facets and subgenres of the non-mainstream music scene. You might say they’re the Leviticus AND the Deuteronomy of indie-label rock. The numbers don’t lie, and it shouldn’t come as much of a revelation. Ok, enough Bible puns, before I get the Acts… er, ax.
Impact: They’re a name you know no matter what you listen to. And for being indie gods (no pun intended I swear), they actually had a respectable run of mainstream success.
Intangibles: Ever since Robert Smith took down Mecha-Streisand on South Park, the coolness perception of the Cure has only gone up, and really hasn’t come back down…and that’s considering it was already pretty high up to begin with. Also, they stand for a segment of the rock world that seems to be in pretty sore need of recognition.
3. GUNS N’ ROSES
Impact: The impact and quality of their anthemic songs like “Sweet Child O’ Mine”, “November Rain”, and “Welcome To The Jungle” more than make up for the fact that they were latecomers to the game of their own sub-genre of rock.
Influence: The axemanship of Slash has never fully waned, and even Axl’s eccentricity hasn’t fully diminished the influence of his songwriting or his impressive vocal range.
Innovation: Not too much, as they were latecomers to the game, but they did take the “crazy party” aspect of hair metal and placed more emphasis on that former word. The sanity never fully returned.
Intangibles: When the rumor started flying that the 25-year rule might be reduced to 20, this is the band that sprang to mind as the first answer to the question why.
4. THE BEASTIE BOYS
Innovation: Punk-rap. Hadn’t been done before. They also brought a sense of novelty to the genre of hip-hop as well.
Impact: They brought rap to the suburbs, gave it a whole new audience, which surpasses the almost self-imposed lack of commercial success.
Influence: It’s hard to say, as rap groups pretty much died out by the mid-90’s, but many a rapper acknowledges their credibility.
Intangibles: They’re the group, almost as much as the already inducted Run-D.M.C. that capitalizes the point that rap is a legitimate part of rock and roll.
5. DONNA SUMMER
Impact: An incredible string of catchy and memorable disco classics. Tremendous crossover between the Hot 100 and the R&B charts. Like GNR, it more than makes up for the fact that she was a little bit of a latecomer (at least when it came to hitting her stride) to her particular scene.
Influence: Only almost the whole dance music scene of the ‘80s and beyond, as well as upon her contemporaries of the time.
Innovation: Not much. Again, latecomer to the disco scene, but she’s responsible for helping give it a much more sizzling pace and flavor.
Intangibles: She’s royalty: the Queen of Disco. That’s the kind of nickname that really should mean something. Plus disco’s representation in the Hall has been pretty paltry.
6. THE SPINNERS
Impact: An also-impressive string of infectious and memorable Philly soul classics. Regular crossover between the Hot 100 and R&B charts.
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.
7. ERIC B. AND RAKIM
Influence: In spades. You can hear their influence in so many forms of hip-hop from the rappers of today to Christian rappers from the late 80’s like D-Boy and DC Talk.
Innovation: Not hugely innovative on the surface, but they did evolve the art form to use faster rhythms
Impact: Their biggest hit was as guest credit on a Jody Watley record. Even on the R&B charts, they weren’t ever top of the heap, but they stayed a name with a continuous album output.
Intangibles: Unique combo of a master mixer and a consummate rhyme-buster.
Impact: Plenty. A good span of chart success, songs that are still memes due to commercial usage, we even remember the names of the female members.
Influence: Somewhat niche, but there with the likes of their contemporaries such as Pat Benatar and fellow nominee Joan Jett And The Blackhearts.
Innovation: Not much to speak of.
Intangibles: Their part in the rise of power ballads is unquestionable, even if the value of power ballads themselves is. Also, songs like “Dog And Butterfly” and “Dreamboat Annie” well display their versatility and keen musicianship.
9. FREDDIE KING
Influence: The man’s got a lot, including those who were around when he was, and those who followed, such as Stevie Ray Vaughan.
Innovation: Since I’m not a player or student of guitar myself, I can’t speak heavily to how he was innovative in the blues. Presumably some.
Impact: Marginal. A handful of Top Ten R&B chart hits, and only one charted album on the Hot 200..
Intangibles: Due partially to the fact that he’s the earliest name on the ballot, his bluesy style is the most true to original style rock ‘n’ roll of any name on here, seconded by the Spinners’ soul.
Impact: A good cache of songs that we still remember and love to this day.
Innovation: Not a whole lot, since he was something of a latecomer to both folk-rock and the British invasion, but he’s perhaps the premiere psychedelic-folk artist.
Influence: Psychedelic-folk didn’t last too long, but like most of the psychedelic scene, it was largely absorbed and hinted at in trippier songs in the prog-rock catalog.
Intangibles: Also a good, respected songwriter.
Impact: “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. LAURA NYRO
Influence: Highly respected and cited as a singer/songwriter. Songs widely covered, as well, much like Leonard Cohen.
Innovation: Perhaps the first to give blue-eyed soul a Southern style to it, with songs like “Wedding Bell Blues” and “Sexy Mama.”
Impact: Criminally minimal chart success, her biggest hit ironically a cover of the Drifters’ “Up On The Roof”, and she’s more remembered as a songwriter than a singer/songwriter, due to the fact that others liked her songs so much, they covered them and had success with them.
Intangibles: Possibly the artiest singer/songwriter on the ballot.
13. 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.
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: Does anyone else think she looks like the rebellious twin of Joyce DeWitt from Three’s Company? Not really sure what that has to do with anything, but I thought I’d bring that up.
Before we get to the last two, I intentionally placed them in the bottom two spots. The debacle and debate surrounding their bundled nominations and questions raised because of them, in my opinion, actually hinder their merits, since I think it should be clear from the outset why we’re celebrating their nominations and possible inductions. Plus it also makes it seem like they weren’t good or worthy enough to give each effort individual recognition.
14. RUFUS WITH CHAKA KHAN
Impact: In its own right Rufus struck big a few times with great and funky R&B songs like “Ain’t Nobody”, “Once You Get Started”, and of course, “Tell Me Something Good.” As a soloist, Chaka Khan was the second biggest disco queen, after fellow nominee Donna Summer. And in a perfect world, “I’m Every Woman” would be a more prominent feminist anthem than “I Will Survive.”
Innovation: The sounds they made with their rhythm section were seldom, if ever, heard before, and their insistence on vocal harmonies with funk in a way that even Sly And The Family Stone didn’t do as consistently makes their sound something somewhat new and creative.
Influence: Really helped bring funk to the disco scene, which was later carried on by the GAP Band and Chic.
Intangibles: In his Top Pop Singles books, Joel Whitburn lists Rufus under the letter K as part of Chaka Khan. However, in his R&B singles, Disco/Dance tracks, and Hot Albums books, Whitburn lists Rufus as a separate entity from solo Chaka Khan. That, and the fact that many of the singles from the group did in fact credit “Rufus And Chaka Khan”, inducting them under this identity actually still leaves the door open for a separate, second, and solo induction for Chaka Khan. And that might not be a bad idea.
15. THE SMALL FACES/FACES
Influence: The Small Faces are credited as influences for the mod revival scene of the ‘80s, cited by the Jam’s Paul Weller, as well as by later bands like Oasis. Faces were an influence on the blues-rock scene in the ‘70s.
Innovation: The Small Faces were more experimental with their sound. Faces built further upon the sound started partially by the likes of Cream and the Paul Butterfield Blues Band.
Impact: Faces had more of it, though “Itchycoo Park” is the biggest hit of the entire combined history. Faces is more remembered, and a good part of the reason why we remember Rod Stewart as ever having been a rocker.
Intangibles: Both of them have albums that are considered semi-classics. Which again, might not be a bad idea to give them separate inductions. Even though I’ve gone on record as saying combining them together was the right move, I’d almost be willing to capitulate to the contrary position simply for the sake of keeping the peace. If they get inducted like this, it will be the most controversial induction since Wanda Jackson got stuffed into the Early Influence category
So there you have it. An attempt to objectively weigh the merits of each nominee. And if you’ve read the whole thing, you’re no doubt raring to tell me where and how miserably I’ve failed. At least I tried. Next time, I go the opposite direction and get completely subjective: ranking the nominees strictly on my musical tastes. You’ll really hate me then.