Friday, December 30, 2016

So close, and yet so wrong.

For those who don't know by now, I'm a native Michigander.  As a proud son of the Great Lake State, when it comes to sports, I follow the home teams.  In spirit, I'm at the Palace when it's hoops season.  When it's time to hit the ice, I'm imagining myself there, throwing octopi onto the ice of the Joe.  You can bet I root, root, root for the Tigers.  The downside is that every year I say next year is the year the Lions will go to the Superbowl.  True to the bitter end, I still root for the Lions.  And it's heartbreaking.  We even have a phrase to use when the Lions blow a lead to add to their ever-growing loss column.  We say that they're "snatching defeat from the jaws of victory."  No matter how well things seem to be going, they are often expected to find a way to screw up and lose again.  And only we can say it.  People who hate the Lions aren't allowed to use that phrase to rub it in our faces.  That belongs to us alone.

Which brings us to the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame's Class Of 2017.  And much like last year, it's not a bad class.  It's not terribly diverse, but it's more so than last year, even if just because of a sixth Performer inductee.  Other than Journey, all the inductees were in the upper half of my merits' ranks, and four of the top five of my personal preferences made it.  And predictions-wise, I did pretty darn well.  5 of my top 6 seeds, plus the main man from my #7 seed is inducted as well.  So, in a way, I went 5.5 for 7.  Well, maybe not quite 5.5, but maybe 5.1 for 7  Still, it's about on par with how most other monitors did, so  it was pretty respectable overall on my end.  And at this moment, I wish to congratulate the Performer inductees.  Congratulations to Joan Baez, Electric Light Orchestra, Journey, Pearl Jam, Yes, and 2Pac.

But if there's anything we've learned from the past few years, it's that either the Hall loves to generate needless controversy, or like my Detroit Lions, they simply can't help but find a way to screw things up.  In 2009, they inducted Wanda Jackson as an Early Influence after nominating her as a Performer.  In 2011, they sort of created a new category without really explaining what it really meant (Award For Musical Excellence).  In 2012, they inducted Freddie King as an Early Influence despite nominating him for the Performer category.  2013 wasn't so much controversial as it was a big tsk tsk for not inducting Donna Summer while she was still alive.  2014 of course was the year where the controversy was in the ceremony with KISS.  2015 was the year that the "5" Royales were inducted as Early Influences despite having been nominated as a Performer twice in the past, and Ringo Starr was inducted as an "Award For Musical Excellence" recipient, furthering the murkiness of the category itself.  Last year, the Hall caught flak for inducting no women, only Steve Miller instead of the entire Steve Miller Band, and Bert Berns without Jerry Ragovoy with a cloud of suspicion involving conflict of interest in that regard.  So this year, they simply couldn't stand to have a controversy-free induction, because what is rock and roll without controversy?

Enter the induction of Nile Rodgers.  Chic holds the record for most nominations without getting inducted, at a staggering eleven.  It's been a long and ridiculous journey for the group, that has now gotten even more ridiculous.  They didn't get enough votes to be inducted as a Performer, but that wasn't stopping the Hall this time. So instead of even inducting he entire group as "Award For Musical Excellence," which would have been fishy enough by itself, they inducted just the esteemed guitarist, Nile Rodgers, as "Award For Musical Excellence."  It's like Life Of Pi, except everyone's still alive with land in sight, and then a giant Kraken emerges and eats all the creatures on the boat except for the kid.  As a side note, Joel Peresman, the CEO of the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame has given a decent explanation.  There is a great deal of truth to the statement that as a producer and session man, Nile's body of work is staggeringly impressive that giving him an induction for such is entirely justifiable.  And if anyone believed for two seconds that that's the reason they're inducting him in this capacity, it would be a great thing.

But of course, no one believes this.  Not at all.  This is happening because Chic failed for an eleventh time to get enough votes to warrant induction.  This is happening because the powers-that-be want to induct their friend and founding member of their Nominating Committee, and it couldn't happen in the preferred way.  And even more dumbfounding, this is happening because the Committee (or fragments of it) decided that inducting Nile Rodgers in this capacity showed more integrity than simply calling Chic a seventh Performer inductee claiming that the votes between... say... fourth and seventh were so close that inducting seven just made sense.  They already said that the votes were so close that they just decided to go for six.  Why not extend that to seven?  But no, that would have been crazy.  It's MUCH more sane to do this.  Forget the integrity issue.  Clearly, inducting Chic when they fell short shows no more integrity than inducting Nile as an individual because they can't get Chic inducted.  They're both wrong to do.  But if you're dead set on doing something dishonest here, why the hell go with the one that is more transparent in its shadiness?  That kind of contradicts the very purpose of calling dishonesty "shady" after all.  And you know what?  No one would have objected if Chic was named a seventh Performer inductee.  Nobody.  Even the "accidental racist" rockists are saying Chic needs to be inducted.  Even they, through constantly having Chic shoved in their faces, are realizing the musical prowess on their beloved guitar that Nile Rodgers demonstrated and have come to love and respect the group as a live act with their recent tour.  Even people who think Led Zeppelin invented rock and roll would have been fine with Chic being named a seventh Performer inductee, even if for no other reason than to get their name off the ballot.  Fellow monitors are more and more realizing the virtues of simply having a bigger induction class.  We would have applauded this and would not have (at least out loud) asked where Chic actually finished in the vote count.  Quite frankly, at this point, with the correlation that the top finisher in the fan vote has always gotten inducted being this solid, it'd probably be a good idea to have another inductee being the NomComm's pick.  The top pick of the people's choice, and the top act that the NomComm decides is going in no matter what, plus the results of the voting bloc... that would be a good balance to have.  I think we could all live well with that compromise.  We, along with the rest of the world that cares about this, would also have celebrated the stylistic diversity that having Chic as an inductee means.  Instead of a Performer class that is still at least fifty percent classic rock (and it's just a matter of time before Pearl Jam's "Jeremy" creeps onto classic rock playlists once in awhile, too), we could have had something that still gives the rockists most of the names they wanted most, while also having some real diversity and would recognize R&B in a capacity besides rap.  Nobody outside of the bean counters would ever have known, and nobody would have had an issue with Chic just being named a seventh Performer inductee.

It's an even bigger disgrace because it further hacks away at the institution's integrity, and not just once, but twice.  First off, it's a big slap in the face to the rest of the band, Chic, as they are left outside.  It also kind of slaps the whole of the Nominating Committee in its collective face, spiting them for all the effort they put in perennially nominating Chic.  Sure it was a subset of this body that chose to do this, but it really should offend the whole of the group.  But even deeper than that, this is a gigantic insult to the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame itself.  The Hall has long stated its mission of honoring the acts that gave us the great works of rock and roll music, as well as the music itself.  As stated earlier, Nile Rodgers was there at the inception of the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame, a charter member of the NomComm, and even though it is true that his body of work as a producer and a session man merits an AME induction, doing so before inducting him first with Chic only proves that the annual nomination of Chic was always only about him.  It was never about the music of Chic.  It was never about work of Bernard Edwards and Tony Thompson alongside of Rodgers. It was never about the sultry voices of the various female singers over the years.  It was never about the funky grooves, or even the fact that "Good Times" is a landmark record in the evolution of rock and roll music for the sheer ubiquity of it in formative hip-hop.  It was never about any of that.  It was always supposed to be an inside congratulatory glad-handing for Nile Rodgers, the elite honoring their fellow elite because they had a feasible excuse to do so.  That's what it was always about, celebrating not Chic, but Nile Rodgers.  And even if it's absolutely true that his work outside of Chic merits an AME induction; this time, truth is not a defense, because it deflects away from a bigger truth.  It was always meant as an inner circle's celebration.  They decided they were going to have it one way or the other this year, and it further erodes the institution's credibility and integrity.  Fellow monitor AlexVoltaire at the Northumbrian Countdown said that he himself had long been a proponent of inducting Nile Rodgers with an Award For Musical Excellence just to get Chic off the ballot, but now that it's finally happening, he realizes it isn't as rewarding as he thought it would be.  Well AlexVoltaire, that's the reason why it's not satisfying: because when you look at why it's being done and what it ultimately means that it's being done this way, you realize that in the grand scheme of things, it's the wrong decision, and even if it's convenient and shuffles off the dead weight from the nominating process, it still is wrong.

If the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame cares anything about their integrity as an institution, Chic must return to the ballot next year.  And just as the scandal in 2007 involving the Dave Clark Five probably helped propel them to be inductees in 2008, this scandal would hopefully ensure Chic gets enough votes for the Class Of 2018.  The right course of action is to give Nile Rodgers a second induction, the second one being with his band, Chic, no matter how many nominations it takes.  Then and only then will the Hall not be snatching controversy from the jaws of respectability.  Then and only then will Joel Peresman's explanation this time around be believable.  And until that happens, all the Hall is doing is reinforcing the message that Steve Miller had following his induction this past year: that the whole thing needs an overhaul from the top down... and of course as he also said, "It shouldn't be this hard."

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Predictions for the Class of 2017

It's that time now, to make the final predictions for the Class of 2017.  It's been a huge ballot with wonderful discussion regarding it, but if the powers-that-be have their way, it'll only be five inductees, despite some enormous potential to have a great, diverse class that clears up some major clogs in the flow of certain aspects of rock and roll.  A lot of great nominees, some guilty pleasures, some serendipities, and some head-scratchers.  But it comes down to this, picking the winners.

And I don't like it.  As we have lived through 2016, it would appear that what we remember most is that this has been the year that our favorite celebrities snuffed it.  From Prince, to Florence Henderson, to John Glenn, to the guy who concocted General Tso' chicken, this would appear to be the year that the apocalyptic horseman Death galloped gleefully to smite our collective childhood.  However, not only can this be explained as celebrity status being easier than ever to achieve now and thus we have more celebrities, so more of them are going to die--not only all that, but much of this will be more easily forgotten.  What history may be more likely to remember about 2016 is not the ride of the Death horsemen, but perhaps more the ride of Pestilence.  Not as we traditionally think of it, no, but more as the ride of the Pestilence of Overt White Pride.  It began at the end of last year as the inductees for the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame were announced as almost entirely white classic rock acts.  It continued in our entertainment culture with the #OscarsBeSoWhite affair where the AMPAS announced its nominees for the Academy Awards, and pretty much every nominee was Caucasian, which sparked outrage.  It accelerated onwards through the American primaries, which saw a rise through the Republican ranks of a candidate who was openly endorsed by the Ku Klux Klan and the American Nazi Party, and seems to have come to its zenith with the election of that candidate, Donald Trump, to be the next President of the United States Of America, a statement I thought I would never have to type, and want to weep as I do so now.  It continues on as the President-Elect announces his Cabinet and high-level staff picks, which one friend of mine described as being more fitting to a deck of Cards Against Humanity.  Now, the Rock Hall is its own institution with its own rules and ways of doing things, but nothing happens entirely in a bubble.  As has been noted by myself and others, where the Rock Hall is concerned, when many guitar bands, with many members over the years, are inducted, those living, inducted members all get a vote; and they generally tend to vote for the acts that they toured with or those that influenced them, which as Alex Liefson of Rush has confirmed, tend not to be Black soul and disco musicians.  Eventually, what you get is a perpetuation of a limited vision of what constitutes Rock And Roll, almost as limited as what Trump thinks is what makes America great.  The Rock Hall has had some foreknowledge of this, and has taken a step or two to rectify it, such as adding more critics who appreciate music of the African-American tradition, but I wonder if it'll be enough.  Maybe I'm overreacting.  I don't deny that everything that has happened has jaded me heavily, though maybe at this point, I should say "ivoried me" instead.  But I don't see a damn thing changing this year, and my predictions will largely reflect that.

As a heads-up, my computer has been having some problems, so I may be offline for awhile, and may miss the announcement, and won't be able to post reactions for awhile.  That said, let's get to the seeds and our final picks.

Grunge rock act.  Newly eligible, first-time nominee.
Why they might make it:  Pearl Jam is the third leg of the triumvirate that helped alternative rock break through the mainstream in the '90s.  They are hugely influential, and Eddie Vedder has inducted a few acts into the Hall himself, so they're well-connected.
Why they might not:  When the NomComm met to decide the ballot for the Class of 2015, it wasn't until the final round of suggestions that someone realized that no one had mentioned Green Day yet.  Everyone else was figuring someone else was going to nominate Green Day, and they almost ended up not being on the ballot.  That's the same situation here.  If enough people think everyone else is voting for Pearl Jam, so they can throw a vote to someone less likely, it could add up to keep Pearl Jam out.
Whom they'd pave the way for:  More alt-rock acts that both followed and predated Pearl Jam stand to come through the door, including Alice In Chains, Radiohead, Rage Against The Machine, and the Foo Fighters.
Biggest threats:  Jane's Addiction is the most direct threat, but the classic rock acts on the ballot could form a wall, Red-Rover-Red-Rover style, to keep them out.
In the end:  Oh please.  They're going in.  Odds of induction: 98%

Arena rock band formed in the mid '70s.  First-time nominee.
Why they might make it:  They are currently leading the fan vote, and while that's not a certainty, it's been a lockstep correlation so far, ever since the fan ballot was introduced.  Additionally, this is a band with heavy popular appeal, and those within the Foundation who want to get more visitors to the museum will be all behind getting this band in.  In the past, even I have called them the epitome of Americana in rock'n'roll music.
Why they might not:  In the past, the Hall has always aimed more to honor artists that were innovative, proved influential, and elevated rock 'n' roll as an art form.  Journey's resume has all but three of those things: they aren't innovative, their influence is minimal, and no critic not on a bad hallucinogenic trip has ever referred to their music as "art."  Journey may very well be the schlockiest act ever to be nominated to date that didn't also have one of those three things.  The only possible rival for that honor would be ABBA, and I'd still give it to Journey, because ABBA was unique with a sound that has never really been duplicated, whereas Journey is from the same mold as bands like Foreigner, Kansas, Boston, and Styx.
Whom they'd pave the way for:  Foreigner, Kansas, Boston, and Styx.  And honestly, just about any act, especially those in the classic rock format.
Biggest threats:  If there's any attempt to diversify the ballot, Electric Light Orchestra, the Cars, Yes, the J. Geils Band, and Steppenwolf are all possible vote thieves from Journey.
In the end:  It will really be interesting to see what becomes of the Hall in the next few years once these guys are in.  And it's a pretty safe bet they're in.  Odds of induction: 80%

Orchestral rock group.  First-time nominee
Why they might make it:  Frontman Jeff Lynne is very well connected in the industry, they received very high praise from John Lennon himself, they have a sizeable catalog of hit albums and songs that are still revered, and have a couple signature songs to boot.  On paper, they should be a lock.
Why they might not:  Because the Hall can be pretty unpredictable sometimes.  It took them this long to get nominated.  Additionally, some naysayers say they're only nominated so they can get the last Wilbury in the Hall.
Whom they'd pave the way for:  This one's hard to call.  Probably some other British rockers from the '70s.  Or just some more classic rockers like Peter Frampton among others.
Biggest threats:  Journey is keeping them out of the top spot in the fan vote.  Plus the Cars, Yes, the J. Geils Band, and Steppenwolf could run interference.
In the end:  I had the same mix of confidence and uneasiness last year about Chicago.  I think that's a good sign.  Odds of induction: 75%

Folk chanteuse with a very long career.  First-time nominee.
Why she might make it:  She's extremely influential, including having influenced Bob Dylan.  She's very politically active, which the voters for the Hall love.  They also love singer-songwriters, which she fills.  She's just one of those nominees, along with some others on this ballot that people thought was inducted long ago.
Why she might not:  She herself has never associated herself as being "rock 'n' roll" or even "folk-rock."  She's just "folk."  That might not go over well with voters.  Also, since 2016 has been a good year for horrible people, the fact that she's a woman is a liability as well.
Whom she'd pave the way for:  Judy Collins is another songstress who's been considered before.  A Baez induction should give her an increased chance.  It could also bode well for strictly folk artists who were still influential on the world of rock 'n' roll like the Kingston Trio and Peter, Paul, And Mary.
Biggest threats:  Chaka Khan and Janet Jackson are fellow ladies vying for a vote.  The Zombies and Steppenwolf are fellow '60s acts that stand in the way as well.
In the end:  She may not identify as rock 'n' roll, but songs like "Blue Sky" and "In The Quiet Morning" show how folk is part of the DNA of rock 'n' roll music.  She's also connected to one of the deities of rock 'n' roll music.  Just having that on her side should overcome all stylistic and biological handicaps against her induction.  She'll be the token "diversity" inductee this year, like N.W.A. was last year.  Odds of induction: 65%

Blues-based rock group.  Fourth-time nominee, unseeded the first two times,  Seeded #3 in 2011.
Why they might make it:  They've got Jann S. Wenner and Little Steven in their corner, which is big.  Little Steven has a pretty good track record of getting his nominees in, and every couple years or so, a pet act of Wenner's gets in, such as the Paul Butterfield Blues Band in 2015.  Additionally, they're a great live act with an electrifying frontman who has been on hand for the Hall's ceremonies a time or two.
Why they might not:  Despite all the people in their corner, they're a tough sell.  On paper, they just don't stack up as being very worthy.  They're an act that is easy to forget in the shuffle of everything, and that could hurt.
Whom they'd pave the way for:  Since they were originally rooted in the blues, maybe getting them in will get the Hall to look at blues artists again and go for Johnny Winter, Otis Rush, Junior Wells, or Albert Collins.  It could even open a door for Southside Johnny And The Asbury Jukes.
Biggest threats:  Steppenwolf is bluesier and is the most direct threat.  Also Journey, Electric Light Orchestra, the Cars, and Yes are all scrambling for votes too.
In the end:  I originally couldn't decide whether to pick the Cars or Yes for the fifth slot, and then I remember the words of Father Mulcahey in an episode of M*A*S*H: when the money is divided between the favorites, bet on the longshot.  And among the classic rock acts nominated this year, I think that's this band.  Odds of induction: 52%

6. 2PAC
Vulcan rapper born T'Pac, son of Sh'Kur, did reconnaissance work prior to first contact as an American rapper.  Newly eligible, and thus first time nominated.
Why he might make it:  He's a heavily influential rapper, and one who died in his prime, which the Hall always loves and respects.  A lot of hit tracks and albums crammed into a relatively short time period, too.
Why he might not:  Rap has been struggling to get recognized by the Hall in recent years.  N.W.A. finally got in after four nominations.  2Pac may not be the sure thing everyone initially thought.
Whom he'd pave the way for:  The Notorious B.I.G. will be eligible very shortly, plus Snoop Doggy Dogg and Ice Cube as a soloist could be nominated in the next few years.
Biggest threats:  There are no other rappers, but Pearl Jam is the other newly eligible act on the ballot and Chic, Chaka Khan, and Janet Jackson are all representing R&B solidly.
In the end:  If they do decide to induct six acts in 2017, it'll bump up 2Pac's chances.  Otherwise, I'm gonna buck trend here and say he misses out.  Odds of induction: 50%

R&B/disco group fronted by a crackerjack production team.  This is their eleventh appearance on the ballot, not seeded their first two times, seeded dead last (#9) in 2007, #7 in 2008, #5 in 2010, #10 in 2011, #12 in 2013, #2 in 2014, #7 in 2015 and #6 in 2016.
Why they might make it:  Everyone is sick of seeing their name on the ballot, and collectively wondering why they aren't just in already.  Even Eddie Trunk, the Donald Trump of Rock Hall discussion, says Chic needs to be inducted already.  Their records' craftsmanship was simply impeccable, and resistance is wearing down.
Why they might not:  Despite saying they need to be in already, Eddie Trunk still couldn't be bothered to vote for them.  And there are probably at least a hundred official voters who think and act the same way.
Whom they'd pave the way for:  Chic's gotta get in before we can even have the slightest glimmer of hope for the Gap Band or Barry White to get nominated, or for the Spinners to break through and not have the vote split against them in the future.
Biggest threats:  Their own legacy as the "Susan Lucci" of the Rock Hall.  Aside from that, Chaka Khan and Janet Jackson are the most direct competition, and Bad Brains could steal some votes away from them as well.
In the end:  My open message to voters and monitors alike--There will be NO "Award For Musical Excellence" for just Nile Rodgers or Chic.  The Hall has made its position crystal clear: they are going in the Hall as Performers.  And there will be no grandfathering them in via a Veterans' Committee or any such falderal.  They're going in this way.  Eventually.  Accept it, suck it up, and vote them in next year.  This year, still not happening unless they expand the class to seven inductees.  Odds of induction: 45%

New-wave rock band.  Second time nominee, seeded #5 last year.
Why they might make it: There aren't too many bands that can be innovative, widely acclaimed by critics, and popular with the listening public.  The Cars pulled it off and made it look effortless.
Why they might not: New-wave and synth-rock are pretty minimally represented in the Hall, and it's not a widely loved style by the powers-that-be therein.
Whom they'd pave the way for: An induction for the Cars probably won't bode too well for acts whose popularity was not in America, so don't expect a door to open for Gary Numan or Tubeway Army, but the strong synth lines could help connect the dots towards Duran Duran somewhere down the line.
Biggest threats:  Journey and Electric Light Orchestra are the biggest threats, along with Yes, the J. Geils Band and Steppenwolf.
In the end:  The Cars could end up being one of those rare good calls that strangely need a second nomination to get in, like Queen or Aerosmith, or they could be on their way to need seven or eight nominations like Lynyrd Skynyrd or Black Sabbath.  All things considered, I balk at their odds, but won't be too surprised if they do get in.  Odds of induction: 40%

9. YES
Long-lasting progressive rock band with numerous personnel changes.  Third time nominee.  Seeded #6 for 2014, and #4 for 2016.
Why they might make it: Yes, so far, is the only prog act to not get in on their first nomination, so that's a bit of an anomaly.  Prog does well.  Plus they're a fairly influential AND popular prog act, another anomaly.  
Why they might not:  Critics still compose a significant chunk of the voting bloc, and critics have never been big on prog.  Plus, despite an impressive showing as an albums band, their singles recognition factor is fairly low.
Whom they’d pave the way for: Prog has a fairly long queue that rockists want to see inducted: King Crimson, Jethro Tull, and Emerson, Lake, And Palmer to name but three.
Biggest threats: Once again, this year's ballot is almost the classic rock lover's dream, so look for some division from the Cars, Steppenwolf, Journey, Electric Light Orcestra, and the J. Geils Band.
In the end: In 2014, I said that Yes could be the first prog band to need a second nomination, and it appears I was right.  Right now, they're in that limbo of being hard to guess just how many they'll need though.   They'll need a thinner classic rock selection, I think to finally break through.  Odds of induction: 37.5%

European progressive act that pioneered electronica. Fourth-time nominee, unseeded their first time, seeded #9 in 2013, and #13 in 2015.
Why they might make it:  Slowly but steadily, people are waking up and realizing just how big of a deal Kraftwerk really is, not just for dance music, but also hip-hop and the entirety of the rock 'n' roll diaspora.  At this point, we can probably say it's not a matter of "if" but "when."
Why they might not: While the Hall Of Fame doesn’t discriminate against acts from countries other than the US and UK, they do strongly favor acts that were very popular in the U.S.A., which Kraftwerk was not.  If a voting member isn’t too familiar with their stuff, and sees five other names they like, they won’t bother researching Kraftwerk further.
Whom they’d pave the way for: There’re a couple avenues to go here. Fatboy Slim, Daft Punk, and many more famous electronica acts are still a few years off.  The Art Of Noise are a left-field possibility, though possibly too much of a novelty act to get in.  But Kraftwerk’s induction may help more acts who were huge, just not in the States, get some recognition, such as Cliff Richard And The Shadows, Status Quo, Johnny Hallyday, Fela, or even Ricky Martin in the future.  Both paths are a bit of a stretch, but if the road really dead-ended with Kraftwerk, they probably wouldn’t be worth inducting anyway.
Biggest threats:  Dance music has Janet Jackson, Chaka Khan, and Chic all here.  European stylings show Depeche Mode as a possibly likelier choice.
In the end: Kraftwerk will probably need seven or eight nominations before getting their proper recognition, much like the Stooges or Black Sabbath.  It's just going to take more time before enough people wake up to them.  Odds of induction: 35%

Synth-rock outfit from England.  First-time nominee.
Why they might make it:  Depeche Mode represent something pretty innovative and signature of the '80s, and despite never really grabbing the brass ring at any one time, they're recognized as one of the biggest names in their field for the entirety of their career and catalog.
Why they might not:  Their style is ultimately not that well loved, especially by critics in the voting bloc.  Plus, with the Smiths, the Replacements, and the Cure all failing to get inducted in the past, it just seems like so much of the '80s is going to be kept out for awhile. 
Whom they'd pave the way for:  Simple Minds have been considered before, and an induction of Depeche Mode might give them a shot, as well as Duran Duran, and even the Thompson Twins and Tears For Fears.
Biggest threats:  Kraftwerk is the clearest direct competition.  Bad Brains and Janet Jackson also represent the '80s and could steal votes.
In the end:  In a weird way, Depeche Mode can be described as "big fish in a small pond," particularly when discussing their subgenre's representation in the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame.  That's not saying they're small potatoes, just that what they bring to the Hall's table isn't getting asked to be passed around all that much.  And with a ballot this large and a small class promised, they'll drop through the cracks.  A lot of people like them, but can't find room for them this time around.  Odds of induction: 33.3%

12. THE MC5
Hard-rockin' proto-punk band.  Second time nominated, previously unseeded.
Why they might make it:  They're heavily respected for their innovation and influence.  Plus, who wouldn't want to see an MC5 tribute performance fronted by Fred "Sonic" Smith's wife Patti?  That could only be awesome.
Why they might not:  They were short lived and didn't have much presence, and still don't have much name recognition with the general music listening public.  Also, distortion as an effect is novel and artistic, but overall is a gimmick that doesn't break down walls for them.
Whom they'd pave the way for:  They could help pave the way for acts like Television and the also-once-nominated New York Dolls.
Biggest threats:  Steppenwolf is probably their biggest competition for hard-rocking late '60s/early '70s bands.  The Zombies are also a threat in their own right.
In the end:  It's nice to see them nominated again, looking forward to seeing their name appear again because this won't be their year.  Odds of induction: 30%

Hard blues-rock band.  First-time nominee.
Why they might make it:  "Born To Be Wild" is a rallying anthem for the rock and roll world, and "Magic Carpet Ride" is a great, albeit possibly unintentional, anthem for the psychedelic '60s.  Plus the Hall loves blues rockers.
Why they might not:  Despite making some great music, their nomination is not widely popular.  Thought of as a two-trick pony, they are regarded as simply falling short of the mark.  Plus, lead singer John Kay is an East German-born Canadian, and that won't stand here in 'Murica!
Whom they'd pave the way for:  Being considered proto-metal, they could help give an extra boost for Judas Priest and Motorhead.  They could also open the door for good-time rock from the '60s again, and maybe Paul Revere And The Raiders could get some recognition.  
Biggest threats:  Electric Light Orchestra, Journey, the Cars, and Yes all stand in their way on the classic rock front.  The Zombies, Joe Tex, and the MC5 are other representatives of the '60s.
In the end:  I'm probably the only person in my immediate musical community that thinks Steppenwolf is worthy of enshrinement.  That said, even I didn't list them in the upper half of deserving acts in this year's ballot.  Another year perhaps.  Odds of induction: 25%

‘60s British Invasion rock group that prominently featured keyboards.  Second time they've been nominated, seeded #8 in 2014.
Why they might make it:  Not only does the Rock Hall love the British Invasion, but so does the general public.  This is an inductee they’d celebrate together.  Also, one of the more distinct of the British acts.  Their sound was very unique and hard to confuse for anyone else.  
Why they might not: They were pretty short lived, and have only a handful of songs that people remember, even though they love them dearly. It might just not be enough.
Whom they’d pave the way for: With Procol Harum missing out this year, an induction for the Zombies might rejuvenate that charge.  It could also lead to future nominations for Manfred Mann, Herman’s Hermits, the Spencer Davis Group, and maybe a left field pick like the Troggs.
Biggest threats:  Those nostalgic for the '60s also have Steppenwolf, Joe Tex, and the MC5 to consider.
In the end:  In some ways, this could be the upset special this year.  I see them sneaking through, but it'll be a hard thing to make happen.  A little too unlikely this time around.  Odds of induction: 20%

Alternative rock group.  First-time nominee.
Why they might make it:  They've got the image, and they've got some semblance of influence that works to their advantage.  Plus, they're a white, male, guitar band.
Why they might not:  As a unit, their output was not exactly large.  They're almost as well-known for their members' later projects as they are for their own.
Whom they'd pave the way for:  Other rock acts from the same era to follow could include the Stone Roses, Stone Temple Pilots, and Smashing Pumpkins.
Biggest threats:  Pearl Jam is the biggie.  Bad Brains are also a below-the-radar threat that could take votes away from them.
In the end:  With Pearl Jam as the sure thing, this band could've been left off the ballot and no one would have missed them.  They don't represent anything Pearl Jam doesn't.  Nice to see them nominated, but no chance.  Odds of induction: 16.6%

R&B and dance music diva.  Second nomination, #3 seed last year.
Why she might make it:  She's the biggest singles' name on the ballot.  There has also been an online campaign to get Janet Jackson inducted into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame.  This has been their baby, and it looks like it could happen one day. 
Why she might not: Ever since she was announced as a return nominee, people have been looking for reasons to keep her out.  Currently, they're using her due date as a reason why she'd miss the ceremonies, and thus, why bother voting for her?  Beyond that, there are still the two things might hinder her chances.  First, there's been a lot of speculation that all she has is because of her name and her brother's fame.  Some just think she'd be nothing if she weren't Michael's sister.  Second, naysayers say a lot of her records, particularly the earlier ones, have a very generic sound that is nothing special, even derivative, and that her producers make all the magic of her music.  This is augmented by the fact on a lot of her records, her voice doesn't come through very strongly, lost in the production effect.
Whom she'd pave the way for: The big hope is that getting Janet in will kick down the doors for Whitney Houston, and eventually Mariah Carey, TLC, Destiny's Child, and Beyonce. 
Biggest threats: Chaka Khan is the other major diva on the ballot, Chic could steal the dance music votes, too.  And don't count out Kraftwerk either.
In the end:  The Hall added a bunch of critics to counter the increasing voice of the classic rock band members, but the fact that she's a not a guitar-slinging, white, male rocker is going to be what keeps her out for a few years more.  Odds of induction: 15%

R&B diva, former lead singer of Rufus.  Second time nominee?  Second and a half?  Rufus with Chaka Khan was seeded #15 for 2012, and her solo efforts were seeded #11 last year.
Why she might make it: She's a big name draw with a slew of chart hits of her own, plus she's worked with a lot of important names in the rock community.
Why she might not: This is presumably about her solo career, and won't include her work with Rufus.  Her solo stuff includes a lot easier listening ballads, though not exclusively.
Whom she'd pave the way for:  There are a few other disco divas who might be worth taking a look at.  Grace Jones tops that list.
Biggest threats:  Janet Jackson is the obvious competition, but so are Chic, and Joe Tex.
In the end:  Everything said about Janet Jackson's chances pretty much applies here.  She's Black, female, and not played on classic rock stations.  Game over.  Enter initials.  Odds of induction: 12.5%

Reggae-flavored hardcore punk rock group.  First-time nominee.
Why they might make it: Industry insiders love Bad Brains, recognize their innovation and influence, and would love to see them get in.  Voters are almost all industry insiders to some degree.  Also, remember what was said about Pearl Jam above; Bad Brains is exactly the kind of act someone who figures everyone else is voting for Pearl Jam would throw a bone to.
Why they might not: Even those who love and revere Bad Brains admit they're a tough sell, especially in a ballot like this.  Beyond that, they have absolutely no public resonance.  Literally no hit albums or singles on any Billboard chart.  None.  Also, they're Black.
Whom they'd pave the way for: Hardcore punk has yet to break through, so Dead Kennedys and Black Flag are the two biggest possibilities to come through the door behind Bad Brains.
Biggest threats: Pearl Jam and Jane's Addiction are already representing the non-mainstream side of things, and the guitar wizardry of Nile Rodgers means Chic's something of a direct competitor as well.
In the end: It would be a wonderful coup if Bad Brains got in instead of Pearl Jam.  It would be interesting how political scientists would view the decision and outcome in terms of cooperation and defection.  Would it be considered akin to the chicken scenario, the stag hunt, the prisoners' dilemma, or something else?   It's all academic, because it'll take one hell of a Hail Mary collusion to make it happen.  Odds of induction: 10%

Soul singer.  Fifth time nominated, unseeded the first two times, seeded #6 for 2007, #12 for 2011.
Why he might make it: The Hall does love soul, and Tex has a strong catalog and history as a soul singer.  He's also recognized as a pioneer of the rap vocal style delivery.  Additionally, because he's dead, he's one more inductee the Hall could throw in, have a short inductor's speech, a relatively short acceptance speech from a loved one, and no tribute performance except maybe to do one of his songs as the all-star jam.  They could induct him and add maybe five extra minutes to the induction ceremony for those who don't see that scenario as the tail wagging the dog.
Why he might not: Did I say "The Hall does love soul"?  Correction: the Hall DID love soul.  Aside from an ex-sex induction of Bill Withers in 2015, the Hall pretty much broke up with soul... via changing its Facebook relationship status to "Single" without soul knowing it, after sneaking Bobby Womack in in 2009 (or arguably Jimmy Cliff in 2010, or Darlene Love in 2011).  Furthermore, this is someone that had something of a feud with James Brown, a sacred cow for the Hall.  That spells trouble right there.  Also, he wasn't just Black, but also Muslim, and that's just unAmerican!
Whom he'd pave the way for: I'd love to see "Soul Philosopher" Johnnie Taylor get in after Tex, and hopefully clearing out Tex would finally bring serious discussion for Brook Benton or solo inductions for Jerry Butler and Ben E. King.
Biggest threats: From the R&B camp, Chic, Janet Jackson, Chaka Khan, as well as Steppenwolf, the Zombies, and Joan Baez from the '60's.
In the end:  It would take a manifest decision on the part of the Hall to execute that "five extra minutes" scenario that I described above to get Joe Tex in this year.  The Death Fairy has been especially busy this year, so much so that being dead won't even help him.  Fat chance.  Not. Gonna. Happen.  Odds of induction: 5%

There you have it.  My predictions.  I'm not too happy about it, but it's what I see happening.  As much as I love Electric Light Orchestra, Journey, the Zombies, and Steppenwolf, I would be happiest with a class that consisted of Janet Jackson, Bad Brains, Joe Tex, Chaka Khan, Chic, 2Pac, and Joan Baez--just any act that is not both White and male.  But that's not reality.  So I'll see you all on the other side of the announcements.  

Monday, November 21, 2016

Music To My Ears: The Ballot For 2017

We've looked at the (hopefully) objective measure of merits for each of the nominees.  But that's really only half the story.  Most voters tend to let their personal tastes influence how they vote.  Right or wrong, it's a matter of fact, and considering that "Unquestionable musical excellence" was long the official metric that the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame itself used to determine the worth of a candidate, it's a fair practice to be self-aware of one's own personal biases.  Well, I can't speak for anyone but myself, so I guess it's time to ramble on the narcissistic side and talk about whether or not I enjoy listening to the music of this year's candidates.  Spoiler alert: some yes, some no; last year, one nominee was both of those!  We'll average them out with my merit ranks too, and see how things measure up.

1. Electric Light Orchestra
I had never heard of them until I was in my teens and working in a restaurant, and the cooks there exposed me to them.  Not a band I've taken to collecting though, but I love their overall general sound.
Favorite song: "Hold On Tight"
Merit rank: 6
Average of ranks: 3.5

2. Steppenwolf
They're a great blues-rock outfit with a lot of songs that are really good.  The homogenization of radio ownership and the digitization of music for radio station libraries (so that CDs and vinyl are not kept handy to spin) have a lot to do with why nobody knows them beyond two songs though.  And with apologies to AlexVoltaire at the Northumbian Countdown, I'm not gonna bother with his album challenge.  I think of musicians in terms of their songs, not their albums.  I love a lot of the acts that focused on releasing singles and not on albums.  I think his challenge to name a good album is founded on a false presupposition.
Favorite song: "Straight Shootin' Woman"
Merit rank: 14
Average of ranks: 8

3. Joan Baez
Joan Baez just has the quintessential folk songstress voice.  Judy Collins, Mary Travers, Judith Durham... all sing so much like her.  It peals through clearly and magnificently.  Great arrangements on her songs make her a pleasure to listen to.
Favorite song: "Blue Sky"
Merit rank: 8
Average of ranks: 5.5

4. Journey
Shut up!  I hate myself too, but catchy harmonies and good hooks on their good songs make up for their schmaltzy junk later on.
Favorite song: "Separate Ways (Worlds Apart)"
Merit rank: 16
Average of ranks: 10

5. 2Pac
The man had some good samples and lyrics that flowed well, which makes it only logical that I'd like the Vulcan rapper T'Pac.
Favorite song: "Unconditional Love"
Merit rank: 2
Average of ranks: 3.5

6. The Cars
They had something for most everybody, and that includes me.
Favorite song: "Tonight She Comes"
Merit rank: 4
Average of ranks: 5

7. The Zombies
They set an ominous table with their organ-driven sound, but it was something to latch onto and listen to several times.
Favorite song: "Tell Her No"
Merit rank: 18
Average of ranks: 12.5

8. Janet Jackson
For my money, there are more entertaining R&B artists from the '80s, but I still enjoy a number of her songs.
Favorite song: "Black Cat"
Merit rank: 5
Average of ranks: 6.5

9. Chaka Khan
This is about her solo career.  I prefer her Rufus work, but there's still plenty of excellent material in her solo catalog.
Favorite song: "I'm Every Woman"
Merit rank: 10
Average of ranks: 9.5

10. Chic
Some funky grooves, though lyrically not the most impressive out there.  Overall fun.
Favorite song: "I Want Your Love"
Merit rank: 11
Average of ranks: 10.5

11. Joe Tex
Like a lot of soul singers not yet in, his '70's stuff is stronger than his '60's songs, even though I hate his two biggest hits from the '70's.
Favorite song: "Hold On To What You've Got"
Merit rank: 12
Average of ranks: 11.5

12. Depeche Mode
Heavy-synth music is the part of the '80's music scene that I loathe most, but Depeche Mode was one of the better acts of that style.
Favorite song: "Just Can't Get Enough"
Merit rank: 7
Average of ranks: 9.5

13. The J. Geils Band
I actually enjoy most of their songs, but they don't really grab me the way that some of the other artists on the ballot do.  Maybe they really do put on a great show, but if the records don't grab me, there's really no reason to go to the show, right?
Favorite song: "Flamethrower"
Merit rank: 19
Average of ranks: 16

14. Kraftwerk
Last time they appeared on the ballot, they also ranked fourteenth in personal preference.  This time however, slot number fourteen isn't second-last.  I appreciate their art, and can enjoy it to a degree for that reason, but it's not as easy as a listener to immerse myself in it.  I like music with emotions, and much of Kraftwerk's Modus Operandi eschewed that idea.
Favorite song: "Neonlichten"
Merit rank: 1
Average of ranks: 7.5

15. Yes
Last time they appeared on the ballot, they also ranked fifteenth in personal preference.  This time however, fifteenth is not dead last.  Don't care for prog.  I like classical, and I like rock and roll, but prog-rock was and is a combination of the two that doesn't work for me.  Songs like "Classical Gas" by Mason Williams and revamped versions of classical melodies such as "Joy" by Apollo 100 and several arrangements from B. Bumble And The Stingers do it better for me.  Still, Yes shows great originality in what they do, I'll admit that.
Favorite song: "Your Move (I've Seen All Good People)"
Merit rank: 9
Average of ranks: 12

16. Bad Brains
Not a fan of cacophony, and their vocals sound like caterwauling on their slower numbers, but at least they're short and punchy, true to punk.
Favorite song: "I Against I"
Merit rank: 17
Average of ranks: 16.5

17. The MC5
I'm all about honoring my fellow Michiganders, but as innovative as the use of distortion was for the records, sometimes it overshadowed the melody and even the rhythm, so it makes audiating their songs all the more difficult.
Favorite song: "Kick Out The Jams"
Merit rank: 15
Average of ranks: 16.

18. Pearl Jam
Hello, Mr. Vedder?  Got someone I'd like you to meet, a military sort of person, I think.  Goes by "Major Tonality."  Okay, I know, that kind of undermines the whole ethos of grunge, but I cannot buy into their agony like this all the time.  Their dispassion ruined "Last Kiss" for me, and I wasn't a big fan of the original by J. Frank Wilson And The Cavaliers, either.
Favorite song: "Even Flow"
Merit rank: 3
Average of ranks: 10.5

19. Jane's Addiction
Pretty much everything I wrote about Pearl Jam, but add a nasally high lead singer's voice, and I'm done.  The fact that my favorite song from them is a semi-faithful cover of the Grateful Dead should say all that needs to be said for me.
Favorite song: "Ripple"
Merit rank: 13
Average of ranks: 16

Looking at the combination of taste and merits, it would stand to reason that my vote on the fan ballot would be the five highest averages.  In this case, my vote should theoretically be for Electric Light Orchestra, Joan Baez, 2Pac, the Cars, and Janet Jackson.  The reality of it is, though, that this list of five with the best averages is only sixty percent accurate for how I've been voting.  Electric Light Orchestra, Janet Jackson, and the Cars have all been getting my vote.  However, instead of Joan Baez and 2Pac, I've been voting for Steppenwolf and Chic.  None of this however is indicative of whom I believe will be enshrined next year.  That prediction though, will be coming soon.

Saturday, November 5, 2016

Merit evaluation 2016-2017

With some time elapsed since the announcement of the nominees, the time has come to look at the nominees from the perspective of their merits.  Already there have been plenty of murmurings of who belongs and who doesn't.  Some have said that Janet Jackson doesn't deserve induction, at least one opinion lists Steppenwolf as unworthy, and still others have said that Journey or Joe Tex don't belong.  Everyone has their metrics by which they measure a nominee's worth for enshrinement.  

For Rock Hall Monitors, the metric is fourfold: Innovation, Influence, Impact, and Intangibles. Where did they break new ground, who followed their lead, how much and how hard did they resonate with the listening public, and what else is there that completes the picture?  An attempt is made to give conceptually equal weight to all four categories--that is, the effort is made to view all four categories as potentially capable of tipping the scales in favor of an artist. Once again, as a reminder, please remember the bigger picture: the last act on this list of nineteen is most likely still among the top one hundred or two hundred deserving acts for the Hall out of all the eligible acts out there.  There isn't an act on this ballot that would be an outrage if they were inducted.  With that in mind, what are the merits for this year's slate and in what order?

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 artists of that scene during that time were putting out.  Overall, they have two songs that are quasi-known by the general public: "Autobahn" and "Trans-Europe Express."
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, and most point to Kraftwerk as a major point of genesis.

2. 2PAC
Influence: He's a widely cited rapper; many artists in the rap community are claiming him as an influence.
Impact: One of the first solo rap superstars, particularly gangsta rap, that broke the glass ceiling of the Pop community and charts, racking up several hits both before and after his death.
Innovation: Rap as an art form had much of its DNA solidly in place by the time 2Pac came around, so not too much here.
Intangibles: His murder both brought the territorial war in the rap community to the forefront of public consciousness, and along with the death of the Notorious B.I.G., helped put an end to it.  Having died a martyr of and for his art is considered huge.  Or maybe he didn't really die, and went back home to Vulcan to continue his life as T'Pac?  Yes folks, that's gonna permeate this season's posts here.  Deal with it.

Impact: Having carried the torch after the death of Kurt Cobain, they have become the preeminent and best selling grunge act of the past thirty years.  As of 2006, they ranked third among this year's nominees in Joel Whitburn's rankings of artists in the Top 200 Album Chart's history, but in the past ten years, they could easily have moved up to first or second.
Influence: As one of the biggest names of grunge, they have proven extremely influential to myriads of rock bands that have come along in the past fifteen to twenty-five years.
Innovation: While they were not the first grunge act, they are considered one of the major three bands that helped solidify its sound as the public knows it today.
Intangibles: They are regarded, along with Nirvana and Green Day, as part of the triumvirate that helped pushed alternative to the forefront and shapes what's now marketed as "alternative" today.

Innovation: One of the front runners of new wave music, they helped define an entire movement in the music world.
Influence: Again, one of the front runners of new wave.  They influenced a lot of the new wave and even synth-pop and synth-rock acts of the '80's.
Impact: A very commercially successful group with a string of Top 40 hits, and a respectable run of charted albums.
Intangibles: This was a band that seemed to have something for everyone, including critics, who also had a lot of good things to say about them.

Impact: The biggest singles artists on the ballot, and one of the biggest of the whole rock era.  Still going strong with a recently released album.
Influence: One of the most influential female singers of the past 30 years, paving the way for a lot of starlets of R&B and dance music.
Innovation: Not her strongest suit, admittedly, though between her and her producers, her sound became something of a template for 80's and early 90's dance-R&B.
Intangibles: It really does say something to her talent, ethic, and overall credit that in a family of nine kids, all of whom vied for success as solo artists, she's only one of two that can rightfully claim the label of "superstar."  Additionally, had a bigger hand in the creation of her music than she is often remembered for.

Impact: Impressive run of hits through the '70s and early '80s, many of which are still well-known and loved, plus a string of hit albums.  Big enough that when one says, "ELO," there's no ambiguity as to whom it refers, and (hopefully) no confusion that it's a acronym used in text messages and online discussion.
Innovation: An act where they may not have pioneered any one particular element of their sound, but the proportions and overall finesse, not unlike a culinary recipe, is as unique and instantly identifiable as Colonel Sanders'.
Influence: Between the popularity of Electric Light Orchestra and the continuation and success of Jeff Lynne as a producer, it's not a huge stretch to say they had some influence over a lot of acts that came after and on latter-day efforts of established artists.
Intangibles: It can be nothing but an asset to their merit to remember that John Lennon himself said that had the Beatles not broken up, they probably would have sounded like Electric Light Orchestra.  Additionally, Jeff Lynne's extraneous work as a producer, and possibly even as a member of the Traveling Wilburys, adds to the overall weight of ELO's worth and presence on the ballot.

Influence: As one of biggest names of that synth-driven style that could be known by any number of names, they fit in as an influence to many acts that came after in the decade or two that followed.
Impact: A noticeable string of charted hits and songs non-charted classics, as well as hit albums to note.  They were big in both the Album and Modern Rock Tracks charts, as well as the Dance charts.
Innovation: Not super innovative, but the fact that they were all-synthesized may speak a word or two in this category.
Intangibles: This is a group that even the most hardcore of rockists wouldn't complain too much about if they got inducted, which is not inconsequential.

Influence: After Bob Dylan, there's no solid conclusion for who was the most influential folk/folk-rock artist.  That said, Bob Dylan is one of many, many artists who claim to influenced by Baez at some point in their career.
Impact: Though she had less than a dozen hit singles, she's ranked (again, as of 2006) as the highest-ranking Albums Charts artist among this year's group of nominees, just edging out Journey.
Innovation: Come on, folk is one of the most simplistic forms of music we know of and that is still widely recorded today.  Even political infusion is nothing novel.  Sorry Joan.
Intangibles: Her continued political activity and the way it permeates her music to this day is part of what makes her so influential, but in a way, it's kind of its own point of which to take note.

9. 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. 

Influence: After Donna Summer, possibly the biggest diva to emerge from the '70's, and influenced a lot of women who followed.
Impact: A modest amount of commercial success as a solo artist, including two very well known songs: "I Feel For You," and "I'm Every Woman."
Innovation: Not a whole lot, but her work with a wide variety of artists has helped bring about some different fused sounds.
Intangibles: Has rubbed elbows with some big names in the music industry, plus her legacy as the front lady of Rufus bolsters her credibility a little too.

11. CHIC
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 techniques of Nile Rodgers and Bernard Edwards have proven different and difficult to duplicate.
Intangibles: Having a crackerjack production team in-house is always a plus factor.

Impact: For a male soul artist in the mid-to-late '60s and through the '70s whose name wasn't "James Brown" and who didn't record for Motown or Stax/Volt, Joe Tex actually held his own quite respectably with many R&B hits that crossed over reasonably well to Pop audiences.
Innovation: NomComm member Dave Marsh cites Joe Tex as one of the artists whose rhythmically-driven recitative style of vocal delivery really gave shape to what became known as the emcee's style of rapping.
Influence: Again, his name wasn't "James Brown" and he wasn't on Motown, so that probably limits, though doesn't entirely eliminate, his status as an influential soul artist.
Intangibles: One of the trademark characteristics of many Joe Tex songs was that he was equal opportunity, simultaneously critiquing and challenging both men and women about their parts and roles in a well-functioning society. 

Influence: Theirs is a name that will regularly appear in conversations about the most influential alternative and hard-rock bands of the past twenty-five to thirty years.
Innovation: Hard to gauge, but they were inventive in their own sound to some degree.
Impact: They have a visible presence in the history of the Modern Rock Tracks charts, and even a modicum of crossing over to the mainstream awareness.  A couple hit albums as well.  Most of all, despite comparatively limited chart presence, they're a band that people have at least heard of.
Intangibles: The names of Perry Farrell and Dave Navarro are well-regarded.  Additionally, if rock'n'roll really is more of an "attitude" than a "musical style," this might be the act on the ballot that most handily exemplifies that attitude of being "rock'n'roll" on and offstage.  The fact that no one with two or more functioning brain cells would say their music is not rock also helps.  Lastly, the efforts of members post-Jane's Addiction keeps their name and legacy enduring.

Impact: Most artists would be grateful to have just one song be considered an anthem.  Steppenwolf had two, which is pretty impressive.  Sure, it took inclusion in a movie to help elevate "Born To Be Wild" to that status, but the same thing is true of "(We're Gonna) Rock Around The Clock," which flopped when it was first released.  On top of that, they have a dozen or so additional hit singles and several charted albums.
Innovation: Their blues-infused hard rock has been argued by some to be proto-metal.  
Influence: Unknown, but it would be unsurprising to learn theirs was anywhere from "practically nil" to "fairly so."
Intangibles: If not Jane's Addiction, this is the act that would most readily symbolize rock'n'roll as being as much an attitude as a style of music.  Again, that may be because of Easy Rider, but it's still am image that bears out through their music and performance.

15. THE MC5
Innovation: Possibly the first to intentionally and regularly use distortion as a key component of their sound, they are also credited as one of the pioneers of punk rock.
Influence: Tremendously so, again, especially in the worlds of punk and hard rock.
Impact: One hit single, two charted albums, both of which at one point were on Rolling Stone's list of most important albums of all time.
Intangibles: If they had been more popular and maybe lasted a bit longer, they'd be a strong contender for that "Example Of Attitude" title discussed in the above two artists.  On top of that, given the breadth of artists, including Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame Inductees that have come out of the Great Lake State, simply the fact that they came from Michigan, especially from Detroit, almost kind of adds an extra layer of credibility to them, much as being British in the '60s might also be considered a bonus.

Impact: This is simply too large to rank them any lower in merits.  Anyone who lists them lower than this likely considers popularity and hit making as liabilities, rather than assets.  That aside, they are the third highest-ranking among this year's nominees in Pop singles charts presence, and either second or third in Albums Charts presence, literally just behind Joan Baez, so between the two, they are most popular overall.  Many hit singles and hit albums.  On top of which, their resurgence in popularity in the past decade or so has created almost a kind of mythos around them that finally penetrated the inner circles of the Nominating Committee.
Influence: Hard to say if they were leaders or followers, but most of the arena-rock bands of this era most likely fed off each other, so there's probably some there.
Innovation: Um...
Intangibles: Whether they were leaders or followers, or a little of both, Journey was, for the better part of a ten-year run, a solid barometric index for where rock'n'roll was in general.  Never fringe, not cutting edge, but a solid benchmark to use.  Additionally, because of their resurgence in popularity, particularly that of "Don't Stop Believin'," they've kind of become the act to name as that which epitomizes Americana as a concept for the past few decades.  Whether that's good or bad, it's significant.

Influence: Widely influential.  Folks ranging from Dave Grohl and Tom Morello to the Beastie Boys have cited Bad Brains as an influence.
Innovation: Not the first hardcore punk act, as many have moaned that they got nominated instead of Dead Kennedys or Black Flag, among others, but there is some uniqueness to their sound that is worth noting.
Impact: They're nominated, so... someone knows who they are!
Intangibles: Because they're so little known, it's hard to think of much here.  Perhaps the fact that they were Black and playing hard guitar music is something to consider.

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.

Impact: A noticeable run of both hit albums and hit singles.
Influence: Not a whole lot of citation, but their style of blues-rock likely created some ripples.
Innovation: Not much here either, though perhaps a uniqueness and diversity of sound could be argued.
Intangibles: An electrifying live act.  Considering how many acts sound great on record but are duds on tour, or those whose tours are the true and sole reason to be excited about an act, the fact that they're a band that has great stage presence and that most people like at least one studio recording by them is not something to overlook entirely.

This completes the attempted objective analysis of this year's nominees by merits.  There is always some disagreement, and likely even more factual errors than hoped for.  Nevertheless, it's a good exercise for discussing why an artist belongs in the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame.  Feel free to keep exercising in the Comments section below.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Initial Reactions: The Ballot For 2017

On October 18, the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame announced their nominees for the Class of 2017.  And what a ballot it is.  Nineteen nominees, and a seemingly diverse group we have this time.  Then again, last year's ballot looked pretty diverse and we got a relatively homogeneous class out of it.  A lot of question swirl around this year's ballot, both internal factors and external factors.  To put it mildly, 2016 has been a bizarre year, and it isn't over yet.  Will the political climate cause a backlash by the artistic community and this be a year where voters select any act that isn't both white and male?  Will the cult of the guitar and the "white man's definition" of rock and roll prevail predominantly again this year?  Will the political climate in the United States Of America have absolutely no bearing on the mindset of voters?  Will the string of celebrity deaths, especially in the world of music, have any bearing on the opinions of voters, or are all these questions entirely academic, looking for a smoking gun where none has been fired?  It makes for good discussion, but it doesn't focus on what is of paramount importance: looking at the ballot itself and discussing the nominees.  So let's roll through them one by one.

Bad Brains:  This is an act I honestly thought would never be nominated.  I figured them to languish on the list of "Previously Considered But Never Nominated" list in perpetuity.  Not an act I care for simply because much of their sound is too cacophonous for me.  That said, this will be an interesting one to watch: if Bad Brains makes the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame this year, they will be the first inductee ever that NEVER had an entry on ANY of Billboard's singles charts (such as R&B, Hot 100, Album Rock, Dance) NOR the Billboard Top 200 Albums charts.  I've gone through all my reference books by Joel Whitburn, and Bad Brains do not have a single entry anywhere.  I don't know about charts in other countries, but they have literally no chart presence in the U.S.A. that I am aware of.  They don't (yet) even have any songs listed as "Non-charted classics" in Whitburn's later editions of Top Pop Singles.  An induction of Bad Brains would be the biggest middle finger to the populist movement that helped propel Rush, Chicago, and other classic rock acts to induction.  Currently, I think they have no chance, not until more members of acts they influenced get inducted first.  That opinion could change by the time I make my final prediction.

Joan Baez: After I posted my predictions for the nominees, I posed a question on the Future Rock Legends forum, which asked if anyone suspected there would be a highly politically charged act on the ballot to rebut the alt-right movement in this country, since the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame's leadership are largely left-leaning.  Response to that question was lukewarm, some saying that Rage Against The Machine would be the act to fill that spot.  Of course, they turned out to be ruled ineligible until next year, but it looks like I got the answer to my question.  Joan Baez is an artist that one might have thought would have been nominated and inducted fairly swiftly on the heels of Joni Mitchell, but twenty years after Ms. Mitchell got her honors, Baez appears on the ballot.  I'm glad to see her name on the list, although I honestly would have preferred to see Living Colour on the ballot as a response to the political climate of this year.  If "Open Letter To A Landlord" isn't specifically about the Republican candidate, it sure is one lulu of a coincidence.  But Joan Baez is a good choice too.

The Cars: One of the acts that I predicted to make the ballot, and I'm glad they're back.  With a solid mix of critical acclaim and popular appeal, it's actually a bit of a mystery that they got lost in the shuffle last year.  But then again, Queen, AC/DC, and Aerosmith all needed more than one try to get in, so why not the Cars?  With the other guitar bands joining them this year, it'll be interesting to see if they can rise above this time.

Chic: The most interesting comment I've seen about them this year is when Eddie Trunk said they should have been in long ago.  When Eddie Trunk says that about an R&B act, even he's worn down.  This could very well be their year.  One of my own friends has gone from saying, "Nile Rodgers deserves an award for being a great producer.  But Chic?  They ain't worth shit." to "It's long overdue and getting ridiculous.  They deserve this honor."  I'm just plain sick of seeing their name on the ballot, and maybe that's the ploy at play here.  After so many tries, it seems like they couldn't finish in the top five from a four-name ballot.  Either way, I predicted them to make the ballot, so we'll see what the future holds.

Depeche Mode: Not too many people have commented about Depeche Mode unless they were commenting on all the inductees in a format such as this.  Though I like some of their songs, I'm not a huge fan, but wouldn't be averse to seeing them get in.  An attitude like that, however, may serve to stall their chances.  Either way, an act not many saw coming because we were all waiting for the Smiths or the Cure to return.

Electric Light Orchestra: If I had been hedging my bets to accommodate up to nineteen nominees, then Electric Light Orchestra would have been on my list.  One of the top contenders for my favorite act on the ballot.  This is one of the acts that out of the gate has the strongest chance, but things always have a way of taking an unexpected turn.  Still, I'm liking their chances.

The J. Geils Band:  Anytime their name crops up in circles of Rock Hall discussion, the word "cronyism" always looms near.  A pet cause for foundation head Jann S. Wenner and Nominating Commitee member Little Steven, the J. Geils Band also happened to make some pretty good music that didn't all sound alike.  Still, being so highly pined for by people like Wenner can sometimes be enough to turn off some voters from ever voting for them.  They're caught in a pickle to be sure.  But if Chic is any indicator, another seven nominations and people will be saying, "Just induct them already."

Janet Jackson: Another one of the six that I predicted.  The #InductJanet campaign appears to have not lost any steam.  While no one will argue that last year was the optimal year to induct her, the fact that she's returning speaks well of her chances.  Of course, it also doesn't hurt that she was the biggest victim of the fan ballot shenanigans of last year, and that may also have played a factor.  One online journalist has already ranked her as the most deserving name on the ballot, which is no small potatoes given that 2Pac and Pearl Jam are also listed.  There are a lot of questions regarding induction chances looming over this one.

Jane's Addiction: At present, a band that no one's thinking has too serious of a chance, given the ballot around it.  They're a name people know of, so that helps.  But people are going to have to research their songs a bit more thoroughly before casting a vote for them, and that is a hindrance.  However, the name recognition of Dave Navarro also stands to help them out.

Journey: Forget Rush.  Forget Chicago.  Forget KISS.  If you want an act whose nomination is proof of the strength of the populist push in the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame, Journey is probably the act you need look no further than.  This is an act that will rely entirely on their hit-making for their chances.  They really don't have much else, and that still may be enough.  One journalist already called it out: "Don't Stop Believin'" is about all you need to know of Journey to weigh their chances and their merit.  They had many other hits of course, but this is the one that stands out as their best known.  I personally think it's a haphazardly written song, but it's effing everywhere.  Also, the only nominee on this ballot that was also an inductee of the Vocal Group Hall Of Fame.

Chaka Khan: Another one I would have predicted as a back-up pick if I engaged in that practice.  A solid singer, well connected to people in the industry.  The only real question is, why are they pitting her against Janet Jackson again?  And Chic for that matter?  It also doesn't help that there's some difficulty in parsing her solo career from her Rufus work.  I'd like to see her inducted twice, to recognize both efforts.  She seems like fat that could have been trimmed to keep the list at fifteen, but no one's really complaining about her nomination either.  

Kraftwerk: Another of the six I predicted.  It's kind of hard to say anything either way that hasn't been said before.  They suffer from being neither American nor British, but they are a huge benchmark in the world of electronica.  Will this be their year?  It's anybody's guess.

The MC5: One of the few former one-and-done nominees, they have returned to the ballot.  I really didn't see them coming (back) at all.  Maybe an act that could sneak through.

Pearl Jam: Duh.  If you didn't predict them, leave now.  Do not pass "Go."  Do not collect two hundred dollars.

Steppenwolf: This year's serendipity for me.  I love Steppenwolf's blues-rock sound.  So much more than just "Born To Be Wild" and "Magic Carpet Ride," but still might be deserving for just those two songs.  I don't think anyone predicted them, and like Joan Baez, they had never even been on the "Previously Considered" list.  But they are indeed a welcome nominee, though they do add to the classic rock pool that threatens to choke out almost all variety, much as what happened last year.

Joe Tex: Another surprise return.  Currently, I believe, the third-most nominated act that has yet to be inducted (behind Chic and Chuck Willis).  After having been gone for a few years, most Monitors had figured that his support had fizzled out.  Apparently not.  The truest representative of soul music on this year's ballot, it's a bit unusual to see him after all this time.  But since he's already dead, he's someone you could induct without taking up too much time during the induction ceremony.  Wouldn't be a bad idea, but also not the best reason to do it.  Time will tell.

2Pac: If he had been Vulcan, would he have been called "T'Pac"?  Sorry guys, I had to tell that joke again.  Anyway, see "Pearl Jam" above, except this time you can at least pass "Go," though you still don't get to collect any money.  Some thought they might go back in time for LL Cool J or Eric B. And Rakim, before going for him, but most everyone had this one dead to rights.

Yes: Another I'd have picked as a back-up, had I been hedging my bets.  Prog returns, so anyone who's upset that the ballot isn't loaded up with prog-rock or prog-adjacent acts to make them happy can stick it where the sun doesn't shine.  Anyway, the fact that they're appearing on consecutive ballots is a new and interesting twist.  Then again, they were one of the acts that the fan vote hack put in the top five last year, so maybe they're back to see where they truly lie.  

The Zombies: It was kind of surprising when they made the ballot the last time they did, and kind of surprising they've returned.  They have a defining sound, but is it iconic?  That may be the difference between getting votes and not getting votes.  They're a strange case either way, and perhaps that adds to the mythos that accompanies their haunting sound and spooky name.  

With all the nominees addressed, there is one last issue at hand to discuss: this year's fan ballot.  It looks like the Rock Hall has stepped up the security of it to prevent another hack like last year.  However, the early goings of the fan vote now show grumblings about not seeing the results in real time as the votes accumulate.  Some are suspicious, saying this is another mark of the lack of transparency that has come to be part of the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame's modus operandi.  And that is possible.  Maybe the Hall will lie and say the fan vote saw the top five being Chic, 2Pac, Janet Jackson, Chaka Khan, and Joe Tex, just to suit their own wishes.  I'm not saying it couldn't happen that way, just that statistically speaking... it couldn't happen that way.  However, I'm choosing to give the Hall the benefit of the doubt at present.  I'm going to speculate that the reason they are not showing the results as each vote is added to the collective tally is because they don't want people to give up and be discouraged when they see that certain acts they vote for are near the bottom of the official results.  Vote early, vote often, but who's going to keep voting if they know they've lost beyond any hope of resurgence?  Or who's going to keep voting if they know their five acts are so far out and ahead that any catching up would be impossible?  So, even if just to play devil's advocate, I'm going to say the Hall's keeping the fan ballot on the QT for now to keep encouraging people, baiting them even, to keep them coming back and keep them voting, to keep their  site's traffic up.  Hopefully, though, they will make public the result of the fan ballot, because I do believe that the fans have a right to know the results of the ballot that they directly participated in determining.  

So those are my initial thoughts regarding this year's crop of nominees.  A lot of shrugs and some surprises.  Jumbled thoughts, which will become more organized over the next month or so to culminate in a final prediction for the Class of 2017.