The names have been announced; the ballot for the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame’s Class of 2015 is official. It’s time to start dissecting, analyzing, hypothesizing, and griping, not necessarily in that order. We’ll begin with reactions to who’s on the ballot and who’s not.
First off, I’m a little ashamed because I only nailed six of the fifteen nominees, and all six of them were very safe predictions. If you didn’t pick Green Day, Joan Jett And The Blackhearts, Lou Reed, the Paul Butterfield Blues Band, N.W.A., or Nine Inch Nails on your predicted ballot, you either weren’t paying attention or were taking some gutsy risks that they’d be omitted. Of those six, Nine Inch Nails was probably the gutsiest call to make, being nowhere near as certain as Green Day or N.W.A.
Looking at the other repeat nominees, we see that the returning favorites dominate the ballot, unlike last year, which was a fifty-fifty split, whereas this year it’s sixty-forty in favor of the returning names. In addition to the aforementioned who weren’t newly eligible, we see the return of pet NomCom cause Chic, whom most predicted, but I felt might be given a break this year. Nope. Kraftwerk returns once again, as many expected. It’s hard to tell, especially since their nominations have not been in any consistent pattern that one can nail down. Most who predicted their return are those who prefer both European to American and alternative to mainstream. While it can be rightly stated that neither of those dichotomies describe me, my omission of them was really more based on a belief that their momentum had fizzled. Both Chic and they were two of my mental backup predictions for my ballot, though I officially claimed no backups because it feels like a cop out to me. No bet hedging in my book. Speaking of artists that are sporadically nominated, War is back for their third nomination as well, another name several people guessed, but was by no means ubiquitous among predictions. Lastly, I have to admit my serendipity that both the Spinners and the Marvelettes return for their second nominations each, who respectively are the second and third names off my tongue when asked to comprise my dream class for the Hall, though now I worry about them canceling each other out.
Which brings us to the other four first-time nominees. The Spinners and the Marvelettes make numbers two and three on my list, but number one is firmly Stevie Ray Vaughan, though at present I’m a bit miffed that Double Trouble was not also named. Indeed, a few fellow monitors are already likening the situation to nominating Jimi Hendrix without the Experience. I have to agree. Stevie may have been front and center, but do not neglect how synergistically the rest of the band worked behind him, both to create a coherent sound together in their own right, and to create the giant wave that allowed Vaughan’s guitar licks to ride high. At this early stage of the game, Vaughan’s leading the fan ballot, which bodes well for him, but as people slowly get tuned in to what’s happening, it could change. Still seeing him, the Spinners, and the Marvelettes on the ballot together is glee for me. If these three get in this year, I don’t care who else gets the nod. I didn’t pick any of these three because I just didn’t want to get my hopes up.
I also expressed concern that the Spinners and Marvelettes could cancel each other out. Well, now compound that feeling when you throw Bill Withers into the conversation, because his name’s on the ballot too. Many correctly picked him, especially as some noted that Questlove himself was likely the driving force in getting him on the ballot. It’s almost funny to me to hear Withers touted as this year’s singer/songwriter pick. When you say “singer/songwriter,” I think “coffeehouse.” Bill Withers by strict denotation is indeed a valid singer/songwriter, but he doesn’t fit neatly in the same box that oh-so-comfortably accommodates the likes of James Taylor, Leonard Cohen, Joni Mitchell, Randy Newman, Cat Stevens, and Tom Waits. It’ll be a curious thing to watch and see how the voting bloc feels about Withers, and whether the label “singer/songwriter” comes into play at all.
Though some correctly predicted them, it’s still a bit of a shocker to see the Smiths on the ballot, mainly because everyone thought Sonic Youth was getting on this year instead. Indeed, all indicators favored Sonic Youth, particularly Kim Gordon’s performance at the ceremonies this year as part of “Hervana,” and the conversation between NomCom members Tom Morello and Questlove about them both supporting Sonic Youth for this ballot. What happened? We’ll never know, though clearly not enough members agreed. Still the Smiths are another one of those ‘80s alternative acts that many have been wanting to see get their due for some time, and perhaps Morrissey’s name alone being a big draw has much to do with why it’s them and not Sonic Youth this time.
Speaking of big name draws, we come now to Sting, whom nobody I know predicted and is a bit of a dome scratcher for me personally. In some respects it shouldn’t be surprising: he’s been previously considered, the Police are widely venerated, and the Hall seems to love adding members to the multiple inductees club. But we’ve already got Lou Reed on the ballot (and possibly Eric Burdon if he’s included with War), his solo career skews much more adult contemporary, and didn’t really break any new ground, instead sounding derivative of the Police, minus the reggae influences. Still, for pure name recognition, Sting’s a no-brainer.
With many, the bigger story is who isn’t on the ballot. Many are miffed that Deep Purple isn’t returning this year. With Rush and KISS in, Deep Purple was the next logical step for many. There were a lot of theories surrounding Yes not making it this past year. Just goes to show you can’t put too much stock in fan theories, cruises and twenty votes included. As mentioned already, all the indicators pointed toward Sonic Youth, and many feel plenty certain now that without LL Cool J or any other rap name on the ballot, N.W.A. will strut into the Hall. No one’s really lamenting the absence of the Meters, though many had them pegged to return this year as well. Many also had believed Link Wray would return, and there is some shock and disappointment about that. The grassroots campaign to get Janet Jackson nomiated fell short of the goal, and despite the pleas of Daryl Hall, no Chubby Checker, though we did get Philly act the Spinners this year, so that’s a step.
Overall, I like this ballot; it’s got real potential to make a great class. It’s also got potential to be disappointing. We’ll have to see. Let the games begin.