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.


  1. Journey also play and sing really well, on top of the hit making.

    1. There are some objective merits of being able to sing and play well; however, it's mostly subjective. On top of which, their ability to sing and play well is more or less the cause of their hitmaking, and not an entirely separate function or merit.