Earlier this month, the nominees were announced for the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame’s Class Of 2015. The initial waves of shock, approval, and disgruntlement have all subsided, and the focus of the discussion has fractured into foci. There’s debate on who are most deserving of induction, who are likely to be inducted, and whom it’d be awesome to see inducted even if they’re not the most deserving. Subsequent entries will focus on the latter two subjects. Currently, the subject of merit is on the table. In this entry, the nominees will be ranked by merit. This annual attempt to be objective when ranking the nominees utilizes four key parameters: innovation, influence, impact, and intangibles. Innovation is fairly self-explanatory: what new sonic trails did this nominee help pioneer? Likewise, influence is mostly self-explanatory: do other artists cite them as an influence? Impact is slightly murkier: chart presence and sales are a big part of this category, but “impact” might be more synonymous with “name recognition” than merely “hits.” Intangibles, by the word’s very definition, is the hardest category to define: any extraneous factors that make a difference? These categories often do, as they perhaps should, bleed into each other. Sometimes innovation is just so huge that it becomes a form of influence. Impact, through sheer chart presence, can cause ripples of influence and even some intangible pieces, like unique fanbases (e.g. Deadheads, Juggalos). Sometimes influence causes a resurgence of an artist’s name recognition, thus increasing their impact. With all that explicated, time now to attempt to objectively rank this year’s nominees by merits.
1. STEVIE RAY VAUGHAN AND DOUBLE TROUBLE
Influence: Easily one of the most influential bands (particularly the main man) of the past thirty years. Revived the popularity of the blues as well as influencing many harder rock guitarists.
Impact: As far as Billboard goes, several albums in the Top 200, including compilations charting as recent as 2000. On the Album Rock Charts, about a dozen and a half charted tracks, though the only pop crossover was Stevie with his brother (“Tick Tock”). Name recognition factor? Practically a household name, plus a key act in making Austin City Limits the prestigious venue it’s now known as.
Innovation: A lot of cover versions, but with a unique mark. New licks and all.
Intangibles: Possibly falling under innovation as well, but Stevie’s style of playing helped advance the evolution of guitar design too, new designs needing to be made for him in order to do the daredevil sonic work he wanted to do.
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: Generally, lyrical innovation is not credible on the same plateau as 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.
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: How big they were in Europe has not been fully measured yet. 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.
4. THE SMITHS
Influence: One of the giants of ‘80’s alternative, along with the Cure and the Pixies. Influenced a lot of independent-label acts in their wake.
Impact: Recording very few albums, they charted few albums, and no single hits, but plenty of name recognition, for themselves and for lead singer Morrissey.
Innovation: Along with the Replacements and the Cure, they really helped define the sound of post-punk.
Intangibles: The name power of Morrissey alone brings a certain seriousness to the Smiths overall.
5. NINE INCH NAILS
Innovation: Industrial is a bit of the child between Kraftwerk-style electronica and heavy metal. But it’s still pretty innovative to bring the two together, and Nine Inch Nails did exactly that.
Influence: As one of the earlier examples of industrial, Nine Inch Nails is a name widely cited in modern industrial, and it wouldn’t be surprising if electronica and metal acts cite this name as well.
Impact: Nine Inch Nails’ crossover success was originally limited, but has over time increased, enjoying the biggest hits in just the past decade or so.
Intangibles: The Rock Hall seems to really love and merit those bands who do it all: write, arrange, play, produce, promote, distribute, and so forth their own music. Though employing the skills of other musicians on a frequent basis, Nine Inch Nails is the tour-de-force band boiled down even further: one man, Trent Reznor. One man who can pretty much do it all.
6. THE MARVELETTES
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 one of the bigger acts on the ballot. Albums chart-wise, practically 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, but the right vocalists can help cement a house band’s signature sound, and the Marvelettes can be considered responsible for helping the Funk Brothers finding their sound that helped fuel the label during the early ‘60s.
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.
7. BILL WITHERS
Impact: An impressive run of hits, both on the R&B charts, and pop charts. Not as successful as an albums artist, but respectable nonetheless.
Influence: Singer/songwriters all pretty much tend to influence one another, and Bill Withers certainly had an effect on some of his contemporaries, and it’s no secret of his influence on Questlove himself, who most likely is responsible for getting Withers on the ballot.
Innovation: Not a whole lot here.
Intangibles: Idealists will describe rock and roll music as a musical genre that at its finest, breaks down borders, shatters barriers, bridges the widest chasms, and unifies people on a fundamental level that is indisputably and universally human. If “Lean On Me” doesn’t fit the bill here, what song does? In this regard, “Lean On Me” belongs in the same discussion as “Blowin’ In The Wind” and “All You Need Is Love.” More than any nominee on this ballot, Bill Withers reached this ideal with at least one of his songs.
8. GREEN DAY
Influence: Green Day’s brand of pop-punk has been an inspiration for a legion of guitar rock acts that have come since, both mainstream and underground.
Impact: The biggest act in the Mainstream and Modern Rock chart scenes, and possibly the biggest selling album act on this ballot. From a singles perspective, though relegated originally to the Airplay charts only, like Nine Inch Nails, their crossover to steady mainstream acceptance has been both inevitable, and sizeable.
Innovation: Not widely innovative, though breathing new life into the punk scene probably means something in its own right.
Intangibles: Along with Nirvana and Pearl Jam, Green Day is of the triumvirate that shattered the glass ceiling for the underground and sparked its overflow into the mainstream scene. Being one of the big three names for that is pretty big.
9. THE SPINNERS
Impact: The biggest singles-selling act on this year’s ballot, for both the Hot 100 and the R&B charts, with an impressive string of infectious and memorable Philly soul classics.
Influence: The genre of soul greatly shifted as the Spinners were at the top of their heyday, nonetheless, there is some influence upon the likes of Hall And Oates, as well as subsequent soul musicians
Innovation: Despite not really inventing Philly soul, their style was more rhythmically driven than that of their contemporaries (perhaps due to their usage of doo-wop style background vocals), making it something unique they brought to the table.
Intangibles: They’re a solid representation of Philly soul, which there isn’t much of in the Hall right now. They’re also a quasi-representation of Motown, having put in a brief stint at that legendary label.
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. Nile Rodgers’ producer credit of the Grammy winning Daft Punk jam “Get Lucky” is also a factor here.
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 ninth nomination? The Nominating Committee must be seeing something that not everyone is.
Impact: As of 2006, they were the biggest commercially successful albums act on this ballot (though by now Green Day has almost certainly surpassed them, and maybe Nine Inch Nails too.) Plus, “Low Rider” and “Why Can’t We Be Friends” are both songs that continue to transcend generations, as do to a lesser extent “Spill The Wine” and “The Cisco Kid.” A respectable string of commercial success, they’re considered a “cool” band that’s always a good call.
Innovation: Early Latin-funk band.
Influence: Hard to gauge, danceable Latin rhythms often appeared in a lot of disco, as did funk, but they weren’t the only funk outfit around at the time, nor the only name in Latin-rock.
Intangibles: Rock ‘n’ roll is hailed for its accomplishments in crossing social borders. War being an interracial outfit, this may be a point of relevance. It makes for interesting debate at least.
12. LOU REED
Influence: As a songwriter, his influence is big. As a recording artist, his “Walk On The Wild Side” has been sampled, and a few of his songs have been covered.
Impact: Definitely more name recognition than singles success, though his albums have had a middling to successful amount of albums chart success. Again, some of his songs have been covered and sampled, too, including U2’s version of “Satellite Of Love” and the gaming commercial that used “Perfect Day.”
Innovation: Hard to peg this one, but if his famous feedback album proves anything, it’s that he was not afraid to push the envelope and try new sounds.
Intangibles: Being nicknamed the “Godfather Of Punk” doesn’t hurt his credibility.
13. THE PAUL BUTTERFIELD BLUES BAND
Influence: Brought straight-out blues music to a new audience, and helped pave the way for future blues players, including the also-nominated Stevie Ray Vaughan And Double Trouble.
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, not too much.
Intangibles: The band behind Butterfield has a few recognizable names that perhaps add to their credibility.
14. JOAN JETT AND THE BLACKHEARTS
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. In fact, with “I Love Rock ‘N’ Roll”, they have the single biggest hit of any act on this ballot.
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: Those who saw her live performance with “Hervana” will laud her as an amazing live act, which is important towards an artist’s merit. (And yes, there still appears to be some resemblance between Joan Jett and Joyce DeWitt from Three’s Company.)
Impact: He’s had several hit singles as a soloist, as well as hit albums, easily the biggest name with the adult contemporary crowd. Probably the biggest name-recognition factor of any act on this ballot.
Influence: His style of singing is definitely present in acts that came after him, somewhat notably Gotye, who sounds quite a bit like Sting.
Innovation: Not too much.
Intangibles: His move toward the socially conscious always resonates with the rock crowd, particularly the aforementioned idealists who believe rock and roll is capable of great accomplishments.
This ranking of the nominees is attempted to be objective, without personal bias. Of course, it can be argued that potentially putting Impact on equal footing with Innovation is horrible bias in and of itself. Of course, the reverse could also be argued. Other evaluations of nominees by merit are welcome in the comments section. In upcoming entries, personal taste, other people’s opinions, considerations, and finally, Rock Hall Monitors’ official prediction for the Class Of 2015.