If you're one of those who emphasize the "fame" part of the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame name, then this was about as good a year as you could hope for. All six of the Performer inductees, the Award For Musical Excellence inductee, and even one of the two Ahmet Ertegun Award inductees are all instantly recognizable names for anyone with even a cursory interest in music that was made before 1995. So, overall, this is class that should bring in the attention (and hopefully therefore dollars) to the Foundation. Kind of surprising considering how hard it was to predict this year's class.
The best of us only picked four of six (I correctly guessed three). One of the reasons this was so difficult was because we had too many trends colliding. Too many to make them all happen. Almost a scenario where the irresistible force met the immovable object. This time, forces gave. For starters, the "automatic eight" has been fully disproved now. We all know Solomon Burke needed ten nominations, but he'd been that rare instance, and considering the names that got in on number eight afterwards, it seemed like maybe it was something put in place to ensure ten never happened again. Apparently not so. Everyone thought Chic was getting in this year, and it turns out eight isn't automatic for them. Chic will head into that territory where only one has gone before. Another trend that gave out this year was a prog act on their first ballot. Now, some may argue that Peter Gabriel was prog-like, but that was more of his Genesis days, for which he's already been enshrined. It's pretty clear we're talking Yes here. They were a fan favorite, and they missed out, much to the dismay of their legion of fans. This is also the first time a rap act fails on the third nomination. Grandmaster Flash And The Furious Five and the Beastie Boys seemed to be setting that bar for "no more than three for rap" and LL Cool J misses out, also missing out on the hometown-hero-inducted-in-his-own-stomping-grounds trend we saw for Randy Newman and Bobby Womack. N.W.A. was only on their second, so they don't count. The trend of guitar gods only came partially true... we got Cobain with Nirvana and to a lesser extent KISS fills that hole, but we missed out with Link Wray, as he is not in on his first ballot.
That said, some trends still held up: the newly eligible shoo-in (like U2, Madonna, Guns N' Roses, Public Enemy)? Nirvana, check. The big-name draw that you wonder how they missed out on their first nomination (Aerosmith, AC/DC, Queen, the Red Hot Chili Peppers)? KISS, check (although N.W.A. out so...?). A singer/songwriter staple (Randy Newman, Laura Nyro, Leonard Cohen)? Not a guarantee every year, but Cat Stevens, check. The line-cutter for their second induction (Paul McCartney, Jeff Beck, Sammy Strain, Michael Jackson, Rod Stewart)? Peter Gabriel, check. The versatile performer that covered a lot of styles and genres (Paul Simon)? Linda Ronstadt, check. About the only anomaly really is Daryl Hall And John Oates, who being blue-eyed soul and a pop-hit machine, seemed to buck trends a little bit and get in on their first nomination. Underground scene act failure to get in? Replacements out, check.
And of course there are trends that are hit and miss. Those nominated before, but seemingly forgotten? That's hit and miss, mainly because they've done so many of them lately. Last year, they put four on the ballot, and only Randy Newman squeezed through. The Meters and the Paul Butterfield Blues Band both were back, and both missed again. The British Invasion? Hard one to nail down... seemed there was a pattern emerging of multiple, first, multiple, first: Dave Clark Five needed three, Hollies on one, Donovan on two, (Small) Faces on one. Procol Harum.... technically not a multiple because they haven't been back for number two yet, so the trend doesn't quite continue for the Zombies to be in on one. Now both will become multiples the next time they make the ballot. Metal? Again, KISS in, Deep Purple not. But Metallica on one, Black Sabbath on eight, so make of that what you will.
All this trend-spotting may seem a bit like ridiculous over-analysis, but it's also a large part of what we based our predictions on. And we look for them to point to the future (again, I predicted Cat Stevens to get nominated in late September/early October when few others had). And it's the future that we look to, to see what future trends might emerge out of what we've got now. Does the induction of Daryl Hall And John Oates point to a renewal of hitmakers getting in on the first nomination? That could spell good news for the likes of artists ranging from Huey Lewis And The News to Tommy James And The Shondells to maybe even Paul Anka. Does Cat Stevens getting in mean there's still hope for Carly Simon, Jim Croce, Don McLean, Todd Rundgren, Warren Zevon? Does the fact that the Replacements missed (and the Cure before them) mean a longer wait for the Smiths, Sonic Youth, the Pixies? Will Linda Ronstadt pave the way for other acts that are better known for their covers of others' smash hits rather than their own material, or for those who attempt to have a diverse repertoire? Some possible trends that may be looming on the horizon:
-Ensemble inductions to come. The E Street Band are a curious case of Front Man Fever. While many would point to them as a glaring example, the fact is they seldom received label credit with Springsteen. So will we see the Funk Brothers get in for their work at Motown, or will the fact that already two members have been inducted as Sidemen mean they won't go for it? And does it mean anything for the future of acts like Crazy Horse who were on-again, off-again label credited along with Neil Young? What about the Jordanaires? Or the Blossoms? Will the Meters end up as an Award For Musical Excellence inductee now that ensembles are getting inducted in this category?
-Managers. For a long time now, managers have been neglected as contributors to rock 'n' roll's evolution. It's understandable to a degree, as they seemingly have little to do with the creative process. At best, one can argue that in helping to shape their image, it will help shape their sound. When there's a strong disconnect between a band's presence and their sound, it can be detrimental. That's why it's appropriate for Lady Gaga to wear the flashy costumes, and not, for example And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead. The music video also has a lot to do with this, as it helps give the first chance to connect image with sound in creating an identity, a brand. And maybe that's what's so fitting about inducting Brian Epstein and Andrew Loog Oldham (the only relatively unknown name in this year's class) in the same year we induct KISS, a band that's been bashed by many for being more brand than band. It might be cool to add the likes of Paul McGuinness to the Hall, but the induction of managers is a slippery slope for two reasons: one, many of them are power-that-be, even on the NomCom itself (such as Jon Landau and Cliff Burnstein) and may result in it becoming a glad-handing of their fellow committee members; two, almost no one wants to see Col. Tom Parker get inducted, and he may even have been the reason why managers couldn't get inducted before. He was detrimental to Elvis's image and sound, and may have even been blackmailing the King. So what will the induction of these two managers mean for the future?
-Move to modernity. When Donovan was announced as a '12 inductee, Digital Dream Door said the odds of him getting in were almost 100% because the Rock Hall almost always inducts a '60s act. Last year, Albert King was the only semi-solid connection to that decade, and this time around, it's Non-Perfomers Epstein and Oldham who tie in strongest to that decade, with Ronstadt's days as a Stone Poney being the strongest connection among the musicians. Ronstadt and Stevens both have weak ties to the '60s but are more strongly affiliated with the '70s. KISS's presence is split fairly evenly between the '70s and '80s, Peter Gabriel and Daryl Hall And John Oates both started out in the '70s but are more strongly linked to the '80s, and Nirvana is clear '90s in terms of name recognition. Are we slowly closing the door on the '60s after all? This is the fondest wish of the indie/undie crowd who feel that the antiquity of the NomCom members, and their nostalgia for that decade have been the biggest deadweight towards inducting worthy (read: alternative-scene) acts. I wouldn't pop the cork on the champagne just yet for those folks, since this newly announced induction class is clearly about the mainstream appeal. Nevertheless, the shift in time seems to be slowly pulling in those pre-'70s acts who've yet to be enshrined, seemingly dooming them to never being inducted. Bad news for fellow monitors Zach and Bill G., who respectively have asked to bring back the past so they can enjoy the present, and have been crusading tirelessly to fix the omissions of several key R&B and soul acts from the '60s and '70s.
-The Race Card. I'm hesitant to bring this up, but I will. Several have already noted that E Street Band member Clarence Clemons is the only African-American inductee, and aside from the Hispanic Linda Ronstadt, it's a Caucasian class. One reason I didn't want to bring it up is because last year half the inductees were Black, so that really should've shut them all up. But it won't, and nothing ever will. Another reason is because rap's place is certain in the Hall. N.W.A. and LL Cool J are each an eventual inevitability. So are 2Pac, the Notorious B.I.G., Jay-Z, Kanye West, and Puff Daddy (whatever name they induct him under). Nevertheless I bring it up because when the current inductees vote, they vote for the acts that they like best and influenced them. Metallica put out a list of metal and prog acts that they champion for induction. One member of Rush disclosed his vote of pretty much all the "classic rock" acts on the ballot. And KISS frontman Gene Simmons once dissed the Hall in favor of a myopic, cult-of-the-guitar definition of rock 'n' roll. These inductees are going to continue to vote for fellow hard-rock acts, which means more votes for "rock", and fewer votes for R&B acts. The Hall may indeed get Whiter as we go, through no sinister Klan-like motives, but simply the free market forces of personal preference kicking in. It's nobody's fault, except maybe the NomCom, who puts out the list to choose from each year.
With that in mind, it's not a bad class overall. I'll mostly look forward to the induction ceremonies and be ready for all this again in ten months. In the meantime, Merry Christmas to all.