Saturday, October 26, 2013

Evaluations of the 2014 nominees, sans personal taste

This year’s ballot is pretty tough, no doubt.  Even rockists who are flooding both the FRL vote and the official Rock Hall Fan Ballot with Nirvana, KISS, Deep Purple, and Yes, are pretty torn on a fifth.  Everyone has their favorites, and everyone has their own scales of merit.  So, time to stuff mine down your throats.  Here’s looking at our sixteen nominees, ranked by attempted objective merits.  I’ll once again be including my fiance’s ranks of the merits because I enjoy a perspective that’s vastly different from mine, as she focused mainly, if not solely on influence and creativity.  I’ll be using the four I’s as we evaluate the candidates: Innovation, Influence, Impact, and Intangibles.  I’d explain each one, but really, demonstration is the best explanation, so without further ado, to quote Olivia Lee from “Battle Of The Bods” (yeah, I’m ashamed of myself, too), let’s get ranking!

Influence: This band is almost single-handedly the entire reason why rock music is the way it is today: angry/frustrated sounding chords, surreal to dystopian lyrics, and why joyful rock songs like “Party Hard,” “Girlfriend,” and “This Afternoon” are not only few and far between, but often most subject to ridicule.  Nirvana is how and why alternative scene music has broken through the walls that held it back in the ‘80s, and is more widely considered the better brand of rock music.
Innovation: The Experience Music Project in Seattle’s City Center definitely acknowledges Nirvana’s influences as progenitors of grunge music, but Nirvana is ultimately the band to find the right chemistry for it.
Impact: Just because they were alternative scene doesn’t mean they didn’t have plenty of impact on the pop charts, let alone the album and modern rock charts.  And when your song is considered the quintessential song of a decade, despite not even making the top five on the Hot 100, that’s incredibly huge.
Intangibles: Because of Kurt Cobain’s suicide, Nirvana burned out quickly rather than slowly faded.  Because we never saw Cobain mellow out in his later years or adopt a new approach to life, his image is forever set in stone, and thereby Nirvana’s.  And it’s the image that the music world eats up.
The fiance’s rank: Solidly #1 here too.

Influence: Before Nirvana, this was arguably the most influential band at the time.  Hair metal was in all its glory and multitudes of youngsters were picking up guitars to learn to play like KISS.
Impact: In addition to being the biggest album-selling nominee on this year’s ballot, they have a huge run of hit singles.  Additionally, they’re household names.  When you say “KISS army”, no one thinks you mean stopping wars with the powers of love and affection.
Innovation:  Probably the weakest leg of their table.  Not a hugely innovative band, except for maybe stage shows.  They probably also get some credit as pioneers of glam metal.
Intangibles: Theirs has been a marketing prowess that is among rare company.  As I said in a previous blog entry, KISS hasn’t just transcended their genre, which they have absolutely done, they’ve transcended their industry. 
The fiance’s rank: 6, because they’re not the most creative outfit out there.

Influence: Hip-hop music grew out of block parties and was largely borne of DJ culture.  LL Cool J is a seminal figure for what made it an emcee’s game.
Impact: The man’s had a steady stream of hit singles in both the R&B and pop scenes, a crossover success only possibly rivaled on this ballot by Daryl Hall And John Oates.  A respectable album chart showing, too.  Plus, with his acting career, he also has a substantial name recognition factor.
Innovation: His innovation and influence pretty much complement each other to the point of blurring the lines.  In addition to virtually obsolescing the DJ from rap music, he helped make it a solo bragadocchio show, replacing rap outfits.  Additionally, he’s recognized for both making rap more accessible in smaller bites (shorter songs, meaning more likely radio play) and for creating the bridge of R&B stylings that we still see today in non-rap R&B music.
Intangibles: “Accidental Racist” has become a liability for him, but has it slowed down his momentum? 
The fiance’s rank: 7

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: 4.

5. 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: 2 from her, not surprising, since she ranked N.W.A. ahead of Public Enemy last year too.

6. YES
Influence: One of the most respected names in the entire sub-genre of prog-rock.  A lot of prog bands took cues from this group.
Innovation: Among the first to really successfully and continuously infuse classical elements into the world of rock music.
Impact: One of the very few prog bands to also have a #1 hit on the Hot 100.  They’re much bigger in the album charts than the singles, but even their singles chart history is pretty respectable, especially compared to many other names on this ballot.
Intangibles: Semi-noteworthy solo careers of some of its members give them some additional credibility as it allows for closer inspection of the individual pieces of their machine, and the sense of synergy as a whole. 
The fiance’s rank: 10

Impact: Huge name recognition.  From a commercial success standpoint, probably the best well-rounded candidate on the ballot, placing second in both hit singles and hit albums.  Somewhat notable crossover success in the country world, too, though from a Rock Hall perspective, that’s almost a liability.
Influence: I’m loathe to differentiate between genders in terms of influence: I think influence is influence, and a man can be influenced by female musicians as much as a woman can, and a woman can be influenced by male musicians as much as a man can.  But this is still far from a perfect world, and gender divisions do occur in terms of choosing role models.  And for that, Linda Ronstadt is among the stellar in terms of female rocker influences.
Innovation: Her weakest leg by far, this is probably what’s kept her off the ballot for so many years.  Nevertheless, it is an asset that although a latecomer to country-rock, she did make it bolder and more brazen, giving even the Eagles and Lynyrd Skynyrd a run for their money in this regard.
Intangibles: Of all the singers on the ballot, Ronstadt might very well me the best vocalist.  In terms of pitch range, dynamic range, and stylistic range, she is a top flight talent, and that does demand respect.  Versatility is something that the Hall respects though it sometimes takes time to show it.  Lastly, she’s highly recognized by her peers, most noteworthy Don Henley of the Eagles.  Peer respect does mean a lot.
The fiance’s rank: 14.  She really thinks less of Linda for all the covers.

Influence: His brand of influence really is best described as a lingering incorporation one may not be initially aware of, but will recognize and acknowledge later on.  His ethereal brand has carried over to many rockers.
Impact: Like U2 or “Weird Al” Yankovic, Gabriel’s output isn’t rushed, but is done in his own time as he feels ready.  That said, a decent run of hit albums and a modest but notable string of hit singles, as well as other non-charted classics, make Gabriel’s name lasting.
Innovation: His most innovative work was as the frontman of Genesis, but it’s a creativity that he carried into his own solo work, and is distinctive.
Intangibles: Of the sixteen nominees, Peter Gabriel’s music is arguably the most bohemian, and that matters because the Hall Of Fame is about honoring not only those who helped perpetuate and evolve rock ‘n’ roll as a driving cultural force, but also those who elevate it as an art form.
The fiance’s rank: She ranks him number 3, especially for his creativity

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.  An eighth nomination?  The Nominating Committee must be seeing something that not everyone is.
The fiancé’s rank: 11

Influence: Pretty much the entire reason this man is on the ballot.  Though many would write him off as a one-trick pony, that one trick of “Rumble” is a major move.  His style of playing on that record and the subsequent ones has influenced myriads of guitarists.
Innovation: Not the premiere rock and roll guitarist, but his style did help shape the sub-genre of surf rock, which is significant.
Impact: “Rumble” is about on par with Les Paul’s “Nola” among cornerstones of guitar music.  From the charts, not much of a showing: one album and four singles.
Intangibles: In 2012, the Hall inducted six groups that they had previously only inducted the frontman.  In the event of a Link Wray induction, the Ray Men really should be included, but you’d be hard pressed to find anyone who thinks it’s a major oversight either.
The fiance’s rank: 9, surprisingly, she ranked him higher than I did.

Impact: The biggest singles artist on this ballot from a pop perspective, and a strong crossover factor between the pop and R&B scenes possibly topped only by LL Cool J.  Again from a pop perspective, the biggest non-solo act from the ‘80s, and regarded as the biggest duo of the entire rock era. 
Influence: Presumably some.  Hard to be that big without having some influence, but hard to gauge, since they’re a polarizing act--one of those acts that it’s just as cool to hate as it is to love.
Innovation: Not really.
Intangibles: Hall has the studio musician cred having been a member of the studio group the Electric Indian, which had the bizarre instrumental hit from 1969, “Keem-O-Sabe”.  Oates has the iconic mustache that represents the ‘80s.
The fiance’s rank: 13

Impact: Despite only having seven hits on the pop charts (including the Bubbling Under), their big three are really well remembered, and so powerfully symbolic of the ‘60s that it overshadows the short-lived life of the group.  Also, with an album in Rolling Stone’s upper fifth of Top 500 albums of all-time, it’s a critical respect thing, too.
Innovation: When you first hear them, it’s almost indescribable.  It’s moody and haunting, but not really blues, or even jazz, though there may be elements of those styles in there.  But it’s unique, and infectious.
Influence: Somewhat limited, perhaps due to their short-lived run as a group, but every now and then, some hint of their style creeps up, the most well-known of which might be the Guess Who’s “Undun.”
Intangibles: Being a 60’s British Invasion group always means something, not just because of the way the British Invasion collectively shook up the musical landscape, but also because of the music itself of each outfit.  The Zombies have a high general populace approval overall.
The fiance’s rank: 8, and if my personal taste were included in the merits here, I’d probably rank them at least that high, too.

Influence: One of the earliest American alternative music bands, their style pushed ahead to many in the alternative scene.
Innovation: Not the very cutting edge at most of what they did, but always early enough that they helped give a significant push to whatever style they were behind.
Impact: Fairly small, although they do have a total of seven hit tracks on the Modern Rock charts.
Intangibles: Paul Westerberg has had a striking solo career that still continues on college radio, and Chris Mars also had a brief peak as a solo performer as well.  Also and apropos of nothing, I find it amusing that their first hit on the Modern Rock charts is a cover of the Disney classic “Cruella De Ville”
The fiance's rank: 16, and that's after researching them a bit.

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

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:  15, that’s a match.

Impact: A short but fairly bright run of hits singles and albums through the ‘70s.
Influence: I think the singer/songwriters of the ‘70s all fed and fed off of each other.  Also, his songs have been somewhat widely covered.
Innovation: Nope.
Intangibles: Others’ renditions of his compositions are fairly complimentary of his lyrical skills.  And while I don’t hold his conversion to Islam against him as a person, it did deal a negative blow to his career as a musician, similar to Little Richard’s hiatus from rock ‘n’ roll in the early ‘60s to pursue ministry after making a bargain with God in a time of crisis.
The fiance’s rank: 5.  Clearly she thinks he’s more creative than he really is, or she just really likes “The First Cut Is The Deepest.”

So there’s my impression of the merits of the nominees.  Looking at the rankings from other Monitors on the FRL site, I see some stark differences.  Nonetheless, I always look forward to critique and comments below.  Next time, purely about musical taste, for both me and my gal.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Looking at 2014's ballot

This past week, the ballot of the Performer category nominees for the 2014 Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame class were announced with sixteen nominees listed.  When announced, my initial thoughts:

7 nominees predicted.  Either I'm getting better or they're getting easier to predict.  I suspect the latter since many people did as well or better than me.

R&B and soul really got buried this year.  No real representation here.

"Populism" is the word that keeps popping up every time I look at the names here.  About 3/4ths of the names here are names that I've seen a lot of fan outcry for on blogs, op-ed pieces, and the Future Rock Legends site.

Thinking of who will actually be inducted, the only two that are locks, in my opinion are Nirvana and Chic.  The former is far and away the leader in innovation and influence of all the names on the ballot and is pretty much the one act on here everyone agrees on.  The latter is on nomination number eight, which has all but once proven the magic number.  Plus Nile Rodgers has been having too monstrous a year to not get in.  It's happening.

The only two that I've ruled out as having much of any chance are the Replacements and the Meters.  The Replacements are a solid pick, but even among the '80s alt crowd, they're not at the top of the wish list.  The Meters are a dome-scratcher altogether.  They could have been omitted from the ballot, and not much would be missing in terms of variety that isn't already missing.

That leaves ten names and three or four slots remaining open for induction.  And it's my opinion that all ten are serious contenders.  This is a strong field, and here's a quick run down on why none of these can be dismissed out of hand:

The Paul Butterfield Blues Band: John Q. Public has given this outfit as much support as they have the Meters, but they've been name-dropped by none other than Jann S. Wenner himself and that is huge.

Deep Purple: Populism here.  A major guitar act that many have wanted to see inducted for several years now.

Peter Gabriel: The only nominee on the ballot who would be a Clyde McPhatter Club member (inducted more than once), and that's something that's always a bit of a draw.

Daryl Hall And John Oates: This seems to be an act you either love or hate, but their hit-making status, as well as major appeal with the R&B scene (as noted by their R&B chart crossover history) gives them a certain cache pretty much no other White act on the ballot has.

KISS: In terms of influence, they were probably the template band until Nirvana came along.

LL Cool J: Rap is here to stay, and while I don't believe in numerology, no rap act (or girl group, but there's none here) has needed more than three nominations to get in, so far.  This is #3 for him.

N.W.A.: The supergroup of rap.  The more popular of the two rap choices, especially since "Accidental Racist."

Linda Ronstadt: Strong female (and aside from Chic's singers, the ONLY female) presence.  Plus, the Parkinson's announcement will get her a lot of sympathy swing.

Cat Stevens: '70s singer/songwriters almost always fare well.

Link Wray: Innovative guitarists, especially early ones, always seem to find a way in.  Do wish they'd included the Ray Men as part of the nomination though.

Yes: Prog takes awhile to get on the ballot, but it always moves into the Hall once nominated pretty expeditiously.

the Zombies: Lotsa love for the 60's British Invasion from both the powers-that-be, and the general public.

That's the immediate impression.  More analysis to come.