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.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

2013 Ballot - initial reactions

Now that the nominees have been announced, we’re all buzzing about who’s on the ballot, who’s not, who should get in, who will, and anything in between.  Now that I’ve got some time to actually lay down my thoughts in full, here are some reactions on my part.

-No Whitney?!  Whoa!
-Can’t believe Deep Purple and Rush got on.
-Boy they’re sure going back for previous one-and-done nominees.
-I suck at this prognosticating bit.
-No Clyde McPhatter Club potentials here.
-No love for soul this year either.

Expanding further on some of those thoughts… so yeah, no potential to join the Clyde McPhatter Club this year, though as has been pointed out, Dr. Dre could very easily do it if N.W.A. makes it this year, and then Dre solo down the line. 

Well, it was no surprise that Donna Summer, N.W.A., Chic, and Public Enemy all made the ballot this year.  What was surprising was that Whitney Houston didn’t get nominated.  Really a huge surprise.  Her death was a much higher profile deal than Donna Summer’s.  But then again, George Harrison died in late 2001, and he wasn’t nominated for the class of 2003 (the ballot for 2002 was already out when he died), so maybe that’s what will happen here as well.  Besides, with four previous nominations, it’s pretty evident that the Hall wants Donna in first, and doesn’t want another dead diva dividing the decisions against her.  So, if Donna does finally get inducted, look for Whitney to join Nirvana as first time nominees for the 2014 ballot.  Still, since disco has tended to divide against itself as well, it seems odd that Chic is back on the same ballot, having shared a ballot with Summer twice before.  While we all know of Nile Rodgers’ current conflict with cancer, it still stands as a possibility that they’ll divide against each other again.  Which may also happen with Public Enemy and N.W.A.  Last year was the first year that one rap act got in when there were two nominated, so it’s interesting that they’re taking this gamble again. Public Enemy and N.W.A. are both extremely high profile hip-hop outfits, and if there’s any chance for two rap acts to get in the same year, this is the year for it to happen.  And these four were the only four I correctly predicted, which forces the confession of how bad I’ve gotten at picking ‘em. 

As I said, soul doesn’t seem to have much love on this year’s ballot.  The closest approximations are also our two nominees filed under “M”: the Marvelettes are on the ballot, making them the first major Motown act to be on the ballot since some form of Michael Jackson’s musical career, and are also the second most commercially successful act on this ballot, in terms of the singles’ charts (second to Donna Summer); meanwhile, former one-and-done R&B nominee the Meters are back for their second bid.  Given that only recently the Neville Brothers were added to the Previously Considered list, and Art was an original member of the Meters (and if I’m not mistaken, Cyril was a later member), it seems like maybe the Meters’ stalling out in the past is also keeping the Neville Brothers from even getting to the ballot.  For those who participated in the Revisited and Projected projects on the Future Rock Legends site, the Meters were placed in the Sideman category, while the Marvelettes were one of those groups that I was proud of us for recognizing when the actual Rock Hall hadn’t.  But now that they’re on, I haven’t decided how I feel this will go.

Eerie echoes from last year’s ballot have already abounded, as Albert King appears on the ballot for the first time.  A bluesman who was around from the early sixties and had a pretty respectable career, and whose last name is also King.  A lot of murmurs indeed comparing Albert to last year’s nomination of Freddie King, and the eventual induction of Freddie as an Early Influence, despite not having a release until 1959.  People have good reason to worry and believe that the same thing will happen to Albert King this year.  If I actually thought the powers-that-be paid attention to what I said, I would strongly warn them that in addition to Freddie’s EI induction being a horrible call, there are two more reasons not to go that way this time:  one, Albert King isn’t even necessarily the earliest debuting artist on this ballot like Freddie King was last year, that honor arguably goes to the aforementioned Marvelettes; two, Albert isn’t the only blues act on the ballot this time, like Freddie was last year.  The Paul Butterfield Blues Band is also on the ballot, another former one-and-done getting a second look, and they debuted on the scene a short four years after Albert King.  There’s been speculation regarding what’s pre-rock and what’s not going back to the earliest classes, but with these two additional factors in place, it’s just not wise to backdoor Albert King as an Early Influence.

Rounding out the mysterious reappearances are European electronica pioneers Kraftwerk and singer/songwriter Randy Newman, nominated in 2003 and 2005 respectively.  Kraftwerk will be relying on their cache in the European theater, outside the limited recognition from Joe Q. U.S.A.  Randy Newman will be relying on his status as a bohemian singer/songwriter, which the Hall absolutely eats up, and his connections to other inductees like Billy Joel and John Cougar Mellencamp.  Along with the Meters and the Paul Butterfield Blues Band, these four reappearances are probably more shocking than the omission of Whitney Houston.

As predicted, the ‘60s British Invasion does indeed have presence once again.  Not as predicted though, was the act itself.  I had predicted the Spencer Davis Group, and some worried that Little Steven’s influence would culminate in a Herman’s Hermits nomination.  Both counts proved wrong as Procol Harum, another previously considered name, emerged as the front-runner among British acts this year.  It’s somewhat a surprise as prog is generally reviled, and they were pretty much proto-prog.  Parenthetically, to those who are glad that Little Steven didn’t get his way this time, let me ask… you don’t think the Marvelettes are an act that would be up his alley?  I can’t say for certain that they were one of his three, but I’m fairly sure he’d back this nomination heartily and vocally.

Back on track, another huge surprise, though much more pleasant, was the announcement of Deep Purple and Rush.  While this isn’t the runaway ballot of guitar gods that rock’n’rmetal purists pine and whine for every year, these are incredibly surprising and very good calls.  However, I’m going to say it right now: don’t get your hopes up.  We’re all too familiar with the critics’ distaste for these two acts.  And while there’s almost always a solid guitar-rock band or soloist in every class, don’t be surprised if both these bands miss out and your guitar rock band representative turns out to be either Heart or Joan Jett And The Blackhearts, two carryovers from last year that I passed over in favor of predicting the Spinners and War.  Critics still compose a good chunk of the voting bloc, and it’s very possible that our guitar god inductees this year will turn out to be guitar goddesses.  And if you try to argue that it’s not the same, or that neither one is anywhere near as deserving as Deep Purple or Rush, you’ll be labeled a sexist, even if you’re a woman yourself.

So those are our nominees.  I’m embarrassed to have only correctly predicted four, especially when a couple of the people who beat me read like enraged fanboys in their predictions (“OMFG!  How LONG are they gonna ignore this absolutely LANDMARK group?!?!”)  Maybe I’ll try it myself next year.  The push for the Tokens goes into overdrive in about 48 weeks.