Friday, October 23, 2015

Rock the vote! Don't tip the vote over!

When the Rock Hall Revisited project started on the Future Rock Legends site, I began a push for Bernie Lowe to be inducted as a Non-Performer as soon as possible.  For those who haven't heard me from that particular soapbox, Bernie Lowe was the primary founder (along with co-founder Kal Mann) of the Cameo and Parkway record labels, the sister labels that made stars out of Chubby Checker, Bobby Rydell, Dee Dee Sharp, the Orlons, the Dovells, and the Tymes.  They were also early (American) homes for the Kinks, Bob Seger, and where key members of Grand Funk Railroad first started out as members of Terry Knight And The Pack; additionally, their national distribution muscle helped propel R&B acts such as the Five Stairsteps and the Delfonics.  Cameo and Parkway records were really among the first record labels that embraced rock and roll as the medium for youth culture, supplying a lot of the dance records for American Bandstand during the early 1960's, perhaps to the point of saturation and even self-parody (Don Covay's "Popeye Waddle" e.g.).  To date, Bernie Lowe has not been recognized by the actual Hall for his contribution to the evolution and perpetuation of rock and roll. So, when it began, I was adamant about getting him recognized by our unofficial revisited project.  On our fifth class, the Revisited Class Of 1990, Bernie Lowe managed to get recognized as one of our two Non-Performer inductees, and I was thrilled.  That thrill was short-lived, however, as it was soon revealed that one of the members of the project had been posting multiple votes under multiple user names and had indeed been largely responsible for the push that got Bernie Lowe through.  I was mostly upset because I was worried that in a truly fair vote, Bernie Lowe, and the legacy of the Cameo-Parkway family upon rock and roll would be ultimately dismissed, even among fellow hobbyists who actually gave consideration to my opinion and how I highlighted the importance of Lowe.  When we adopted the blind ballot twist on the procedures that involved emailing our votes anonymously, Bernie Lowe was part of the "Class Of 1995," so at least there's a happy ending for me there, but it still stung for awhile to consider that what I wanted couldn't happen honestly.

Well, if you've paid any attention to what's been happening the past two weeks since the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame announced the latest round of nominees, you know exactly where this is heading: the alleged tampering of the fan ballot on the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame's website that has given a runaway top five of Chicago, the Cars, Yes, Steve Miller, and Deep Purple.  In sixth place is Janet Jackson, roughly sixteen million votes behind the current fifth place holder, Deep Purple.  So disparate is this gap that people have cried foul, claiming that the ballot was hacked by "bots" that voted nonstop, around the clock until the IT people for the Rock Hall's website temporarily took down the ballot, and implemented a fifteen-vote-per-day limit per IP address.

But the damage has been done, and now people want the ballot thrown out and the whole fan ballot be started anew, blank slate.  The Hall has not done this as of yet, and is unlikely to do so.  For starters, it's not exactly like electoral honesty is the Hall Of Fame's most prominent feature.  From the noted lack of transparency (third-party affiliation, accountability, whatever you wish to call it); to the side door inductions of Performer nominees who don't get enough votes--oh and let's not forget the 2006 controversy involving Grandmaster Flash And The Furious Five and the Dave Clark Five--; if the Hall threw out the fan ballot as it is now on grounds of corruption, the "smack" of hypocrisy would be more of an "assault and battery."  But let's not ignore a general reality of businesses: they want their sites to get as many hits as possible.  To admit that traffic to their site was artificially inflated by bots is likely pretty embarrassing.  Every hit helps, but this concentrated flurry for an express purpose must cause some degree of embarrassment.  But I'm no authority, as this blog is the closest thing I've got to having a website.  (If the administrator of Future Rock Legends would care to weigh in on this in the comments section below, I'd be most grateful for the input.)  What must more certainly be embarrassing for a company, though, is for their process to essentially be hacked, period, nevermind the purpose of skewing public opinion to say what one person wants it to say.  Now, obviously not actually hacked, but for their IT integrity to be so lax that this possibility was allowed to occur would certainly egg the Foundation's collective face, especially given how they vaunted the number of votes at the beginning of this year's process.  So the Hall would likely rather pretend that every hit and vote was genuine, and not automated, and that no tampering occurred.  Additionally, as often goes with our ephemeral cyber-culture, the ballot is probably old news to most people who even cared in the first place, and they're probably done voting and have moved on to the newest thing that has captured their fascination.  So, if the Hall started all over, they probably couldn't get those numbers back anywhere close to where they were.

That's not even taking into consideration the fans that would be steamed at any resetting, and by fans, I mean "Chicago fans," because I'm not hearing one peep of denial of fraud from people who think Deep Purple is the biggest snub, or those who are overjoyed to see the Cars finally nominated, or those sighing breaths of relief that Yes has returned after being absent from last year's ballot.  Nope, it's the Chicago fans who are doing all the talking, primarily because Chicago is the clear front runner right now, and they have not been the least bit shy of claiming legitimacy to each and every single one of those votes, now totaling over thirty-seven million.  Well, I'm now going to take a few moments to address the Chicago fans and say, "You're wrong."  And before you take to the comments to berate me, please read everything after this sentence, because at the end, there is good news for you devoted fans of this band.

But first, let's address what we have in front of us.  The main problem with the Chicago fans who are in denial is their myopia has created a false sense of victimization.  The most important thing that must be said to those people is this: no one is claiming fraud simply because Chicago took over the lead.  For crying out loud, last year's fan ballot showed Stevie Ray Vaughn And Double Trouble surpassing Nine Inch Nails late in the game.  No one cried foul because the lead changed hands.  It requires the ability to see beyond merely who's in first place to truly understand what's going on.

Now, I'm going say that I live on the West Coast, and observe Pacific Time.  When I went to bed on October 8th, the first day of voting, the leader was Janet Jackson, with more than one million votes more than second place Chicago.  This was around 10 or 11 at night.  Having a sub-par night of sleep, I was up by around 6 or 7 the next morning, October 9th.  I went to the site to cast more votes for my acts of preference.  Literally overnight, Janet Jackson dropped from first to sixth.  That means not only had Chicago caught up and passed her by, so had four others.  I even joked about it on Twitter, saying Eddie Trunk had finally awoken his minions and got them to go out and do his bidding.  Now, being on the West Coast, and part of the last time zone of the contiguous 48 to arrive at dawn, I originally figured that maybe the Eastern and Central time zones were finally getting more active, but the disparity between fifth and sixth place at that time already seemed fishy, and it wasn't because of my proximity to the ocean.

And the gap only grew from there.  In leaps and bounds.  That day, and over the next several days.  Until we got where we are now.  I spent much of my voting time noticing how those top five acts' votes all went up in comparison to others.  Acts like the Spinners, Janet Jackson, N.W.A. and Cheap Trick all saw their votes increase in folds of fifty to one hundred, in between each click of mine to vote, which was somewhere between three to seven seconds.  Chicago, the Cars, Steve Miller, Deep Purple, and Yes all saw theirs go up over a thousand every three to seven seconds.

Now, is it possible for those acts to have that many fans devotedly casting ballots until they all get carpal tunnel syndrome?  Theoretically, and from the number of Chicago fans who have come forth to swear to the veracity of their voting, it might even be plausible, if not for certain other factors.  Going back to what I said earlier, Janet Jackson went from first to sixth, literally overnight.  My friends and even my fiance like to razz me for being a mild grammarian, so when I emphatically say, "literally," I literally mean "literally."  This means that five acts all overtook Janet Jackson in the course of seven hours, nine tops, during the time when the moon rules the sky over the United States for most of that time.  Most people are presumably sleeping, working graveyard shifts, or gaming.  That means in all likelihood, the vast majority of those votes in that time window would either have to come from the Eastern hemisphere (or relatively close to it), or from automated bots.  Now, one particularly tenacious fan has argued that Chicago has millions of fans from all over the world and would gladly jump on board to vote for them in the fan ballot.  Well, for a statement like that to be completely disproved would require more pollsters working more man-hours than could happen before the voting deadline.  However, we really don't need to do all that.  Extrapolating from the comments seen on the Future Rock Legends site from European and Canadian contributors, it would appear that a large number of non-Americans think of the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame as an American institution, and nothing more, and not just because it was founded, has a museum, and is largely run in the United States.  Just ask about any British person who they'd consider no-brainers, and it'd be shocking if Cliff Richard And The Shadows or Status Quo isn't mentioned.  But neither of them are in the Hall.  Canadians, in true stereotypical fashion, have suggested a minimum of one Canadian candidate per ballot, but that request goes unheeded.  When the Dave Clark Five were inducted in 2008, Dave Clark himself called it an honor to be inducted into the "American Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame."  The point is, the Rock Hall is largely considered an American institution, and there are a large number of people in Europe who simply won't partake in the fan vote because they consider the Hall to be an American institution, and thus don't care.

But even if they did care enough, would Chicago overwhelmingly receive the international votes (especially with an Ameri-centric name like "Chicago")?  Possibly, but stereotypes exist for a reason, and in Europe, that means EDM.  It's hard to imagine that given the ballot selection, European music lovers wouldn't vote for music that had more bearing or influence on the music that is ubiquitous to their part of the world.  I can't reasonably imagine a scenario where artists relevant to dance music such as Chic, Chaka Khan, and especially Janet Jackson don't benefit from the European vote.  That's not even getting into Africa, where Afrobeat music has a lot of similarities to the kind of funk that the J.B.s gave us; or Asia, Australia, New Zealand, or even Latin America, where it'd almost certainly cause an upswing for Los Lobos.  Even if the rest of the world were behind Chicago, it'd be ludicrous to state that Janet Jackson wouldn't also benefit from an international voting cattle drive.

Which brings us to the next, and perhaps most important part of the argument, and the biggest problem with the argument presented by Chicago supporters: this is not about JUST Chicago!  If it were just Chicago, no one would be saying anything, I promise you.  If it were even just a matter of Chicago versus Janet Jackson, it would be called an interesting fight to watch.  But it's not.  This gets lost in the melee for two reasons: one, Chicago is now in the lead, so it's assumed they'd suffer the worst if there were any credence to the accusations; two, Chicago fans in their own defense have continued to erect that strawman to the point of giving themselves a persecution complex.  But this is not about just Chicago or even Chicago and Janet Jackson.  You MUST include the other four benefactors of the automated attack for the discussion to make any sense.  It's perfectly reasonable to believe that Chicago would overcome the million vote deficit to take the lead.  But if Janet Jackson was ahead of Chicago by over a million votes that first night, how many more was Janet ahead of the likes of Deep Purple, Steve Miller, and Yes that night?  Is it really reasonable to think that ALL five would overcome their deficits of two million or more in that one night?  Have you really considered what that would take?  Especially when the votes for other acts like the Smiths, N.W.A., and Nine Inch Nails have remained at steadily low levels?  That means that an overwhelming majority of the votes for Chicago ALSO had to be cast for the Cars, Steve Miller, Deep Purple, and Yes.  Now let me ask this of the staunch Chicago supporters: every time you have cast your ballot, has it been always been, every time, for Chicago, Deep Purple, Yes, Steve Miller, and the Cars?  I don't doubt that there have been some voters who have voted thus each and every time they click to vote, but every Chicago fan?

In addition to the statistical near-impossibility of that happening, there's another solid reason that this is extremely unlikely: in two words, Cheap Trick.  When the ballot was first announced, fellow Monitors commented that this was a classic rock enthusiast's wet dream, with six acts that all get airplay on classic rock radio.  Those are the five poll leaders and Cheap Trick.  But Cheap Trick has not benefit from this, as they are still in seventh place, behind Janet Jackson.  Is it really reasonable to argue that no fan of Chicago also voted for Cheap Trick?  Wouldn't Cheap Trick be a more reasonable vote recipient than the Cars, whose new wave keyboard sound doesn't fall in line with "classic rock" as neatly as Cheap Trick's?  Now, in the past, every fan ballot has skewed heavily rockist, meaning the acts that are most played on classic rock radio, or likely to be played on classic rock radio in ten to twenty years, should the format and radio industry survive that long.  In fact, that's why some of us initially took no notice when Janet dropped from first to sixth, but the truth is, it just doesn't add up.  Is it really believable that the fans who have voted would be content to let Cheap Trick lag roughly seven million votes behind Janet Jackson?  Or to let the Smiths and Nine Inch Nails languish in thirteenth and fourteenth place?  Are you telling me that no fan of Chicago is also a fan of Janet Jackson?  Or the Spinners?  While I'm certain that Chicago fans jumped on the bandwagon after those five jumped well out ahead, deviating only to put Chicago back on top after the Cars temporarily took the lead, it simply could not have happened organically.  Not when five acts jump up over one thousand votes every three to seven seconds and the others a hundred or less in that same time period.  That's the third reason we're calling fraud.  That those five acts could go up in such large increments every three to seven seconds, and the others, not so much.  And so evenly, too.  With the lone exception of the Cars briefly taking the lead, positions among the five leaders never changed.  The intervals have remained relatively constant, too, as have the rate of votes throughout the days.  For that to happen would require either a collusion of 4chan proportions, or an automated program, a bot if you will, doing the voting rapidly and incessantly.  No amount of "vote early, vote often" can rationally explain it.  People have to work (even if around the home), eat, sleep, shower (hopefully), and tend to other obligations; not to mention the fact that people also like to watch TV, go to the movies, attend worship, go out with friends, spend time with their families, etc.  The math that allows for a truly honest result as such requires the elimination of pretty much all of those things, plus the ability to sit in front of a computer screen and stay focused on one web page for a concentrated period of time.  It's just not plausible.  As I've written this entry, I've risen to stretch, eat, shower, do laundry, and halfheartedly watch a rerun of Murder, She Wrote (don't judge me!).  I imagine that due to the length of this post, some of you have paused to visit another tab, possibly Facebook or check email (and if you haven't, thank you!).

Of course, without a confession, or a sudden revelation by the IT people working for the Hall, the bot voting cannot be completely proven, and for that, some Chicago fans are still in denial.  To which, I must quote my father who often said to all of us children as we were growing up, "Use your God-given gift of common sense!"  I have a friend who refused to believe that famous wrestler Chris Benoit killed his wife and kid, and then killed himself, because it couldn't be proven one hundred percent beyond any shadow of a doubt.  Chicago fans denying the automated voting bot are just like my friend, who love Chicago so much, they cannot accept the possibility that anything involving their band could be negative.  Well, even in the justice system, prosecutors don't have to prove beyond all doubt; they only have to prove beyond reasonable doubt, and it's just unreasonable to believe that there has been an uncoordinated, happenstance surge for those five, and only those five artists.  Even if the Chicago voters all wanted an all-classic rock class, Cheap Trick would have divided the ballot between the other four classic rock acts to where it'd be impossible for all four of them--the Cars, Yes, Steve Miller, and Deep Purple--to each have over twenty-five million votes.  That's not even considering that the Smiths and Nine Inch Nails would likely have eaten into those shares somewhat as well.  It's unreasonable to think this could have just happened, and as no Chicago fan is confessing to collusion, a bot is the only logical conclusion.  The vote was hacked, tipped over, capsized.

Nevertheless, I promised good news for the Chicago faithful: you won.  Chicago never needed the bot.  As I type this, Chicago has over thirty-seven million votes.  Second through fifth places all have between twenty-five and twenty-six million votes.  Chicago has over ten million votes MORE than the next closest candidate, which is more than the less than ten million that Janet Jackson, in sixth place has.  Even if every vote for fifth place was bot generated, that means Chicago has at least ten million votes that were not from the bot.  Ten million honest votes.  It wouldn't be a runaway, but they would still be in the lead.  You should be proud of that.  And if the bot hadn't deflated the hopes of the fans of Janet, and Cheap Trick, and all the others, I'm convinced that you wouldn't, and probably still won't, give up your tenacity in voting for Chicago to ensure that lead.

But wouldn't you rather win honestly?  Sure it's only vote out of eight hundred or so in the end, but don't you still want it honestly cast?  If your answer is "Who cares?" or "Whatever." or anything other than "Yes.", you have no grounds to question the integrity or the credibility of the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame, because you have no more than you accuse them of having.  For the sake of integrity, I hope the IT people at the Foundation are able to determine (possibly by IP traces) just how many votes came from the bot and are thrown out.  Barring that, and given the voting patterns with the rest of the ballot results, I think once the polls are closed, they should start by automatically subtracting twenty-two million votes from each of the top five (I suspect the actual number is closer to twenty-three and a half million, but I'll compromise) and determine the top five from there.  Chicago will still be in the lead, but we'll undoubtedly have a true reflection of how actual people are voting.

Let us now paraphrase the words of wisdom from the Hues Corportation.  Rock on with your bad self.  Rock the vote, baby.  But don't tip the vote over.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Alright already: the 2016 ballot

The 2016 ballot has been announced, and everyone's weighing in with their thoughts about it, so it's kind of expected that I do the same.

Except, everyone's already said everything I've wanted to say.  Or if they haven't, I've kind of already said most of my initial reactions on Future Rock Legends.  So, forgive me if I'm parroting a bit too much here.  Hopefully, there will be some original content too.

First off, I went 6 for 15 again.  I predicted I would.  I suppose this is what's muting the enthusiasm for me, somewhat: that I stink so badly at predicting the ballot.  While I wasn't the only one who got only six, I don't think anyone correctly guessed fewer than that.  Also, I suppose I'm kind of bummed that there are really only one or two acts that I absolutely love.  There are many on here that I like, but not love.  So that's something, I guess.

Second, a lot of people, including me, were correct in our prediction that the Nominating Committee downsizing would all but eliminate any acknowledgment of the '60's.  Some of the acts were recording in the '60's, but none of them peaked any sooner than the '70's.  That said, a lot of folks got their hopes up that the 80's would dominate this time around.  Nope.  Guess again.

As far as the actual artists themselves go, the first thing I thought was, "What the hell are the J.B.'s doing on the ballot?  They're just going to be inducted in the Award For Musical Excellence category anyway!"  Now, no one's saying the J.B.'s aren't an interesting and worthy call; however, I believe literally everybody who knows the rudimentary aspects of the Hall, and has any knowledge of its side door shenanigans has already predicted that they will be inducted in the Award For Musical Excellence category.  It used to be known as the Sideman category, and it's widely considered the more appropriate place to put them, acknowledging all reality, including that their name comes from the fact that they were the backing band for one famous singer with the initials "JB."  It's just too on the nose to think they'll be inducted in any other capacity.  That said, fans of the Godfather Of Soul can rest easy seeing their name on the ballot, knowing that they'll most likely be inducted next year.

I suppose the next artist I should comment on is Los Lobos, mainly to say this is a band I need to get more familiar with before I say too much more about.  What I will say for now, is that the general impression I get is they're a niche band.  As far as niche bands go, the top of that list appears to be Big Star, who appear to have a bigger fan base, just not in the powerful positions.  Los Lobos, on the other hand has a smaller fan base, which in a weird way, makes them even more niche.  So, I'll just let you all wrap your minds around that one.

No real thoughts on the returns of Nine Inch Nails, N.W.A. or Chic, other than to say, "Yup."

As for the return of the Spinners, I'm pretty happy.  The Spinners had some awesome jams and I love smooth Philly soul.  I do worry about their chances though.  They don't appear to be a major priority for any one voter who isn't a NomCom member, but they could sneak through.

As for the Smiths, I too was taken aback by the fact that the NomCom hadn't given up on them as they did the Cure and the Replacements in previous years.  Glad they're back, though.  Thoroughly enjoy their music too.

As for Chaka Khan, my first thought is, "Thanks for the tip ?uestlove!"  If he hadn't posted that, I probably would have predicted Janet Jackson, not knowing I'd be right either way.  I'd love to see both inducted, but I doubt that'll happen.  Janet's got the bigger name power, and the bigger potential to dominate.  Still, I feel pretty awesome that I was the only person I can think of offhand who predicted JUST Chaka Khan, and not Rufus as a whole.

So the running motif of my predictions was "pick the act you hate."  That paid off exactly once: Yes has returned to the ballot.  I'm not a prog fan, but if this is the act they want to put in now, then it's better to get that over with, too.  While I did predict Deep Purple, I don't hate them, though I'm not a big fan either.

But those eleven acts are not the reason people are so abuzz or happy, though the last two are a big hint as to the reason.  The nominations for the Cars, Cheap Trick, Chicago, and Steve Miller are what really have people stoked.  All four have been previously considered, and all four are considered longtime snubs by the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame.  First off, Chicago are juggernauts of the populist scene.  They are the biggest albums act on the ballot, and the second biggest singles act (second to Janet Jackson).  With a lengthy career that still has a thready pulse to this day, they're an act the Hall had long tried to ignore but could no longer.  The Cars on the surface don't seem like a huge snub, or at least, not uncharacteristic of the Hall: the Hall has long dragged their feet on 80's acts with at least as much underground cred as mainstream, acts that feature some heavy synth elements, and new wave in general.  Still, they are an act that is popular with the general populace, respected by critics, and influential to fellow artists.  So, overall, it does seem a bit odd that it's only now they're being nominated.  Conversely, the nomination of Cheap Trick really is more of a surprise that it happened, than it is that it's taken so long.  They really don't seem to be any more special or deserving than acts like Journey, Styx, Foreigner, etc.  So why them?  Well, why not?  If you're going to clear out the backlog of classic rock acts, and Cheap Trick is part of the backlog, then logically at some point, they'll have to be cleared out too.  Doesn't really matter when.  As for Steve Miller, the waters surrounding his nomination are already getting murky, mainly because the members of the Band behind him have been excluded.  There's also been some tittering about how while he's produced some amazing music, he's also created some of the most atrocious.  It's ultimately a matter of not knowing what to think.

However, put those four acts together, and you quickly understand the excitement.  With these four, and Deep Purple and Yes as well, you've got a real chance to turn this into the Classic Rock Hall Of Fame.  At least this year.  Which sets the stage for it to happen again.  And again.  I said it casually, and I'll say it again here: when the Hall finally inducts Chic against the voting bloc's will, they could very possibly be the last non-rap R&B act inducted into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame.  After that, guitars, guitars, guitars.  I really hope that doesn't happen, and to that end, even though I like all four of those newly nominated classic rock acts, I hope they don't all get through this time.  I'd like to see at least three of the R&B acts get in, just so I can have some reason to maintain some semblance of hope in the Hall.  (Then again, I'd also like to see a class of nine or ten Performer inductees, but we know that ain't happening either.)

So there are my early impressions of this ballot.  A lot of people are particularly stoked this time around.  As for me, "stoked" really only applies to the Hall of the early days.  I doubt I'll ever see a ballot of fifteen names that are both quite deserving and also in my collection because I love them.  This ballot, however, ain't too shabby, and that's good enough for me.