Saturday, October 27, 2012

A possible pecking order for 2013

Now that the initial wave of wonderment has passed, and even before that wave passed, fellow monitors have been evaluating the candidates from personal tastes, seemingly objective merits, trends in the Hall’s actions of late…any kind of metric really.  Recently, Digital Dream Door posted their evaluations of the nominees, which Terry Stewart called something along the lines of “subjective bullshit” (perhaps it had something to do with Randy Newman being rated a two on a scale of one to ten).  Well, Mr. Stewart, given that “unquestionable musical excellence” is supposedly the only factor, other than the 25-year rule, it seems like it’s all subjective: I myself absolutely love U2, but I wouldn’t watch Madonna in concert if it meant peace on Earth, enough money in my bank account to retire and live lavishly, and front table tickets to every Rock Hall induction ceremony from now until I croak; but both got in without much effort.

So those of us who are not on the same wavelength with the voting bloc of the Rock Hall are left to try and measure the merits of candidates are more measurable, though still somewhat intangible criteria.  The most common ones are innovation, influence, and impact (including but not limited to commercial success).  As I said last year when I did the same thing, I know myself well enough to know that I wouldn’t vote strictly on attempted objectivity, nor on my personal tastes.  Still, it helps to flesh out them both just to see how a potential vote from me would look like (in this case, a real vote on the Rock Hall’s website).  Since personal taste is easier to determine, let’s start with the harder path.  How do they rank in terms of merit?   I’ve also included the numerical ranks as given by my fiancé, because why not?  Here’s my attempt. .NOTE: This is NOT an actual prediction.  Just examining the candidates further.

Influence: Tremendous.  One of the most frequently cited rap acts as influences upon other rappers. 
Impact: Six gold or better albums (two of them going top ten on the Top 200, three on Rolling Stone’s top 500 albums list), thirteen hits on the R&B charts, plenty of critical acclaim.  As one writer put it, Public Enemy may not have been the first to do what they did, but they felt the most important.
Innovation: Not the first to incorporate social, political themes in rap, but perhaps one of the first to be overwhelmingly so.  Also, a specifically designated hype-man was seldom heard of before or since Public Enemy.
Intangibles: Three of the four core members had hit albums and singles, most notably that of Chuck D.  The fourth had a hit reality TV show.  Will the Bomb Squad be included if voted in?  I hope so.
The fiancé’s rank: 6, just because it’s hard to sort out the really high ranks.  The distance between first and sixth can be a foot at most, but it still falls in that order.

Influence: Extremely influential.  One of the most influential groups in heavy metal and hard-rock bands to come after.  I’ve also heard them referred to as being influential to prog, but I’m not sure how true that is.
Impact: Not hugely successful in terms of singles, but they were a part of the rock scene that focused on albums as single entities.  On the albums front, the chart entries are so-so at best, but five gold, three platinum, and one double platinum perhaps speaks to their standing the test of time where the chart numbers don’t seem to match.
Innovation: Can’t speak to it much, but there’s probably some of it in there.
Intangibles: The other projects that members of Deep Purple have been involved with speak to the further and more direct influence of the band.  Blackmore’s name is one of the most revered among rock guitarists, and the riff from “Smoke On The Water” is considered to be one of the rites of passage for guitar playing.
The fiancé’s rank: 2, one of two times we agree exactly, though we’re very close many other times.

3. N.W.A.
Influence: Gangsta rap is what it is because of these guys.  In fact much of the stereotype of what being a rapper means, or at least what it supposedly meant when Tupac and Biggie got shot, is based on the image projected by N.W.A.
Innovation: I’m loathe to put lyrical innovation on the same plateau with rhythmic and instrumental innovation, but this is one of the few times when it’s deserved.  Ice-T may be the O.G., but Ice Cube and company really put it on the map.
Impact: Minimal on the singles charts.  For albums, three platinum (one doubly so) studio albums (one that hit #1 on the Billboard 200), and one gold greatest hits compilation.  But that’s also about all they had.  No cache of lesser known/celebrated material behind that.
Intangibles: With notable and big solo careers of some of their members, they might be called the first rap supergroup.
The fiancé’s rank: 5, just eking out Public Enemy because gangsta became synonymous with rap for so long.

Innovation: As a prog group, they pioneered what is now known as electronica.
Influence: Again, electronica artists that have come since all tip their hat to Kraftwerk, particularly those from the European scene.
Impact: I don’t know how big they or their particular heyday were in Europe.  In North America, their heyday was strongest in the disco/dance music scene, as odd as that may seem, given what the rest of that scene during that time were putting out.
Intangibles: Only in the recent years has electronica music been getting taken seriously as an art form, at least in terms of coverage from the trade publications.
The fiancé’s rank: 11, because she hadn’t really ever heard of them before I made her listen to the full almost-23-minute version of “Autobahn”.

Impact: An incredible string of catchy and memorable disco classics.  Tremendous crossover between the Hot 100 and the R&B charts.  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.  Singles-wise, the most successful nominee on the ballot.  Albums charts, second place.
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.
The fiancé’s rank: 3.  Can’t disagree too heavily.

Impact: Not impressive in terms of singles’ charts, but the biggest nominee from an albums chart perspective.  Their first twenty-two charted albums all went either gold or platinum.
Influence: Insanely influential in Canada, they probably didn’t even need the 35% programming rule to help them.  Even outside the Great White North, many bands cite Rush’s influence.
Innovation: Not too shabby either, despite being relative latecomers to the prog-rock scene, their experimentation with sound opened new sonic doors.
Intangibles: A cultish following that rivals the Grateful Dead’s speaks to the band’s lasting power, which is an important message to spread about the power of rock ‘n’ roll.
The fiancé’s rank: 8, and she’s Canadian!

Impact: “Please Mr. Postman” being the first #1 single for the Motown empire is just the icing on the cake.  In terms of the singles’ charts, the Marvelettes are the third biggest act on the ballot.  Albums chart-wise, dead last, but that’s because they were a singles group from a time when the singles were the standard. 
Influence: Being the first Motown group to grab the brass ring doesn’t come without influence.  They served as the template for Martha And The Vandellas and the Supremes to follow.  In fact, either “Where Did Our Love Go” or “Baby Love” was written with the Marvelettes in mind.
Innovation: None really.
Intangibles: The only nominee whose prime predates the British invasion, they’re considered by many as one of the most overdue candidates.  In fact, they’d probably be near the top of most people’s lists for “most deserving acts that aren’t guitar bands.”  Also two eras definable by styles: the more upbeat era with songs like “Please Mr. Postman” and “Playboy”, and the smoother later work like “Don’t Mess With Bill” and “The Hunter Gets Captured By The Game”, both eras respected.
The fiancé’s rank: 1, because she was feeding off my excitement when I heard they’d finally gotten nominated.

Influence: There’s a reason he, Freddie, and B.B. are known as the triumvirate of blues Kings, and it’s not just the same last (stage) name.  He’s also not the only nominee to use King as a stage name despite being born a Nelson, by the way.  But many blues guitarists and blues musicians in general have followed in his footsteps, including Stevie Ray Vaughan. 
Impact: A decent share of hits on the R&B charts, and a few on the Hot 100, plus a nice number on the album charts.  Beyond that, not a whole lot of name recognition outside the blues world.
Innovation: Presumably some. Best known for bringing (or resurrecting, maybe?) a  kind of perfectionism to blues music.
Intangibles: In addition to his stage name as a King, there’s always the impending possible horror of sequestering him as an Early Influence.
The fiancé’s rank: 13, just not as much name recognition power.

Impact: The impact of “Good Times” upon hip-hop is huge.  Also, respectable runs of hits in the disco, R&B, and pop charts, plus a good run of charted albums.
Influence: Again, on the world of hip-hop, having a heavily sampled record does say a lot.  Plus, the influence on funk and dance music is sizeable.
Innovation: Not entirely devoid here, as the technique of Nile Rodgers and Bernard Edwards have proven different and difficult to duplicate.
Intangibles: By now, Chic may just be wearing down resistance of the voters.  A seventh nomination?  The Nominating Committee must be seeing something that not everyone is.
The fiancé’s rank: 9, the second and last time we agree.  Just a tough field for Chic this year.

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.
The fiance’s rank: 4, because she’s a sucker for power ballads, and because they’re big name draws.

Influence: They helped carry on the New Orleans sound, and bring it into the ‘70s and beyond.
Impact: A couple handfuls of hits in the singles charts, and they had a few hit albums too.
Innovation: A little bit, alongside Sly And The Family Stone and the JB’s, helping shape and update the sound of funk.
Intangibles: Two of the members of the Meters were named Neville… as in the Neville Brothers, who have also been looked at as potential candidates.  Perhaps the Hall wants this group in first, then have two more members of the Clyde McPhatter Club.
The fiance’s rank: 12, not too far off from mine.

Innovation: Their baroque-rock sound helped shape what would be known as prog, combining the music of pre-recording era into the rock scape.
Influence: As progenitors of prog, they’re right alongside the Moody Blues in terms of influence on prog bands.  Big.
Impact: Maybe five singles across the different singles charts, their albums are a bit better, and a couple of them are pretty well-acclaimed, even if only in hindsight.
Intangibles: Being British invasion always adds a certain amount of Hall cred, even if you’re an act with no chance of ever getting in, like the Unit Four Plus Two.  For Procol Harum, this gives them a leg up they wouldn’t have if they were an American act, counterintuitively.
The fiance’s rank: 10, and I almost had them there too.  Went back and forth between them, Heart, and the Meters.

Influence: Brought straight-out blues music to a new audience, and helped pave the way for future blues players.
Impact: A good handful or so of hit albums that are well-respected, no hit singles, but they have tracks that are still considered absolutely classic.
Innovation: Perhaps added a new dynamic to the blues-style, but beyond that, I don’t think there’s much.
Intangibles: The band behind Butterfield has a few recognizable names that perhaps add to their credibility.
The fiance’s rank: 14, again, close to mine.

Influence: Some.  I think all singer/songwriters kind of influence each other.  I see ways he might have influenced the likes of Tom Waits, Cat Stevens, and others, as well as how they might have influenced him.
Impact: The original Toy Story movie introduced him to a new audience, but his catalog before that includes some well-selling and highly respected albums.  A couple hit singles, but that was never his forte anyway.
Innovation: Nope, but singer/songwriters aren’t exactly known for that anyway.
Intangibles: His works are considered pretty high art by music critics.  That’s been both his greatest asset and his greatest liability.
The fiance’s rank: 15, perhaps it’s his singing voice that makes it hard to take him seriously, perhaps it’s the way they lampooned him in an SNL sketch several years back that just seemed to peg him a little too well.

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: Seriously… no one else thinks she looks like the rebellious twin of Joyce DeWitt from Three’s Company?  Not germane, but kinda awesome.
The fiance’s rank: 7, because she’s heard of them, knows why they’re being nominated, and who doesn’t love good time rock ‘n’ roll?

So that’s trying to rank the nominees by relatively objective merits.  Keep in mind, that I purposely refuse to do “tied for (such-and-such a spot)”.  No ties here by design.  The distance between one spot and maybe six spots down or up can be razor-thin, but they’re ranked.  Personal tastes next time.


  1. Overall, nicely done. A few places to nitpick...

    On Rush, I would mention that all three members are considered masters and innovators on their respective instruments (well, two of the three anyway). So as far as influence on other musicians, it is pretty huge.

    I think you downplay Albert King's influence as a guitar player.

    I would quibble with your statement that Butterfield Blues Band had no innovation. Listen to the epic song "East-West" and then look at the date on it. Way ahead of its time.

    The only one that I think you are way off base on is Randy Newman. Personally, I think he is the finest singer-songwriter outside of Dylan. But beyond that, his innovation was in his lyrics and songwriting technique. There is a reason that critics flip over his 70's work. It is just outstanding, and nobody was able to speak through other characters in his songs like Newman. Nobody else also was able to harness such blatant cynicism, irony and sarcasm. Whereas the knock on so many singer-songwriters from the 70's is that they were too saccharine and heart-on-sleave, Newman was exactly the opposite.

  2. I did call Rush's influence quite big, as I also did with Albert King, I just didn't feel like hauling out the launrdy lists.

    East-West... I dunno. Doesn't sound that far ahead of its time to me. Perhaps agree to disagree?

    Newman... what you say is what I put in the intangibles. As I said with NWA, I don't like placing "lyrical innovation" in the "innovation" category. This is an instance where I think NWA qualifies in that regard, but Newman doesn't. I said he's considered high art, and the reasons you call him innovative are why he is so, but I still feel it belongs more under "intangibles" or maybe "impact" than actual "innovation."

  3. I generally agree with your assessment, but I do take exception to some of your observations about Donna Summer. First, her breakthrough hit, Love to Love You Baby, was released in 1975. Not sure how that can be considered a late arrival to the dance scene given that Record World and Billboard did not start tracking dance/disco tracks until very late in 1974. While she did not have another Top 40 hit until 1977, she released two albums in 1976 that topped the dance chart.

    Also, while it is arguable that Giorgio Moroder and/or Neil Bogart of Casablanca Records had more to do with her 'innovations' than the singer herself, there were indeed innovations that were copied ad nauseum in the late 70's and beyond. For example, the galloping bassline in "I Feel Love"; the release of an album that contained both live recordings as well as new studio material; the blatant disregard for the R&B tradition of singing about sex using metaphor (think "60 Minute Man" vs. "Love to Love You Baby); albums that contained tracks that were mixed together vs. the usual standalone configuration; the use of completely synthesized suites that became the blueprint for the early hits of New Order and Human League; the release of dance songs that initially begin as ballads; and the portrayal of women as sexually on the prowl, a point of view not heard on radio before she came on the scene. While tame by today's standards, many of her Casablanca-era songs were banned.

    Here's hoping she makes it in the Hall this time.

  4. Good points about bassline and such. I think the dropping of metaphor in R&B has really been more of a natural evolution, and can even be traced back to Wilson Pickett's "In The Midnight Hour" from '65. But that aside, it's still the majority instance where I don't call "lyrical innovation" as part of the "innovation" category. And by latecomer, I was really referring to by the time she hit her stride and became a superstar, perhaps erroneously on my part. Nonetheless, she's still ranked top 5 for this ballot. Thanks for the input!

  5. Love your blog! Given that the Rock Hall is basically a manifestation of what Rolling Stone's aging readership likes, we can assume that Public Enemy, Donna Summer and, probably, the Marvellettes are all locks. I think Albert King is fairly likely as well and Chic may squeeze in. The Hall traditionally has a bias against non-American acts, especially prog and new wave acts, so at most there will be one of Rush, Deep Purple, Procul Harem or Kraftwerk. I have an odd feeling it'll be Kraftwerk, maybe Deep Purple. I have a horrible feeling Randy Newman rounds out the inductees. ... Paul Paquet

  6. Randy Newman should round out the inductees!

    Philip, just curious, but why not consider lyric writing within the purview of "innovation." I'm a casual musician myself, so I generally also gravitate towards the music first and lyrics second, but lyrics are still a pretty important component of popular songwriting, no? I don't see why it wouldn't be considered. Honestly, if you were not going to consider lyrics and topics as part of innovation, would Bob Dylan not be "innovative" in your book?

    On "East-West" from the All-Music Guide: "...paving the way for experimentation that is still being explored today. This came in the form of an extended blues-rock solo-a real fusion of jazz and blues inspired by the Indian raga. This ground-breaking instrumental was the first of its kind and marks the root from which the acid rock tradition emerged." This was 1966, remember.


  7. When people generally talk about "innovation", they mean the instrumentation, sounds, technique. Who created new sounds kind of thing. Lyrics just really don't fall into that purview so neatly. Does anyone consider the Orlons' "South Street" as innovative for being the (I think) first pop record to even use the word "hippies", thus tapping into a subculture that had been largely ignored by the industry? Not particularly. If lyrics are going to be considered innovative, that consideration's gotta be monumental, like in the creations of gangsta rap, Christian rock, folk-rock (which was also instrumental innovation as well), etc. Bob Dylan was pretty innovative without the lyrics, but he would most likely qualify as an exception as well.