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?

1. KRAFTWERK
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.

3. PEARL JAM
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.

4. THE CARS
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.

5. JANET JACKSON
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.

6. ELECTRIC LIGHT ORCHESTRA
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.

7. DEPECHE MODE
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.

8. JOAN BAEZ
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. 

10. CHAKA KHAN
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.

12. JOE TEX
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. 

13. JANE'S ADDICTION
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.

14. STEPPENWOLF
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.

16. JOURNEY
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.

17. BAD BRAINS
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.

18. THE ZOMBIES
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.

19. THE J. GEILS BAND
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.

5 comments:

  1. Although they're going to be a first-ballot inductee regardless, I think the big intangible for Pearl Jam is Jeff Ament and Stone Gossard's past history. The first grunge band is usually cited to be Green River, and Ament and Gossard were members from day one, so even if Pearl Jam itself did not innovate grunge, one can argue their members did. Green River split into dueling factions Mudhoney (who did not want a major label deal, considering it "selling out") and Mother Love Bone (who did), and MLB became Pearl Jam after their singer's drug overdose. Of course Kurt Cobain preferred the Mudhoney faction and sneered at Pearl Jam even though they were a direct descendant of an original grunge band and Nirvana were kind of outsiders to that scene...

    I'd have to argue Janet Jackson did innovate (or her producers, but since their primary successes were with each other, same difference.) Isn't her Control album considered basically the start of and major influence on the New Jack Swing movement, where even her brother Michael followed HER lead on his Dangerous album? New Jack Swing was certainly one of the dominant strains of pop in the late '80s-early '90s, resulting in Paula Abdul and lots of similarly styled junk acts, but still...I think she's objectively #4 (although I think you got the top three correct in the correct order.)

    How on earth is Whitburn measuring album chart practice? Reading Baez and Journey as the top two album chart acts seemed wrong to me, because I knew Jackson, 2Pac, and Pearl Jam had numerous (a LOT) of #1 albums and Journey only had one and Baez's peak album was a #7 (even Kraftwerk's peak album charted higher than Baez's.) It sounds like Whitburn must be using 200 points for a #1 album down to 1 point for a #200 album so people who have released a lot of semi-popular albums end up being ranked over people who have released several massive albums, because even a #25 album or something wouldn't be seen as that much less popular than a #1 (in terms of the number of points it scores), when I think objectively that doesn't make sense. That scale shouldn't be linear, and Pearl Jam, 2Pac, and Jackson should all be considered bigger album acts given their numerous massive hits when Baez was quite frankly a cult figure. #1 albums should be ranked substantially higher than #2s, with #3s somewhat less substantially lower than #2s, etc... A ranking where the difference between #1 and #2 and the difference between #199 and #200 are the same points-wise (which it looks like it must be based on these results) doesn't seem to have much value. If you're going to use sales as a factor, I think it should be overall sales or number of top X albums or singles rather than Whitburn's formula which seems rather bizarre and simplistic to me. Baez as the most popular album act just does not pass the sniff test, and a Whitburn formula based more on longevity would penalize more recent acts when few people release anything more quickly than every 3 or 4 years these days...

    When it comes to ELO, I also think about the Elo chess ratings (which Jeff Sagarin also uses for his sports rankings) pretty quickly. Snort, snort. (Pushes glasses up nose)

    Wow, I was truly surprised Steppenwolf had that many hits. I truly thought they were a two-hit wonder just like the Zombies were a three-hit wonder. I wonder why classic rock stations never, ever play any of the other tracks. Probably because it's the most stodgy radio format out there where even the one hit wonders that are played are practically the same nationwide, while every Led Zeppelin track ever recorded is worthy for the format (even though some of them are certainly bad...) Sigh. Only the Beatles would probably deserve that kind of airplay, yet they seem to be falling out of the classic rock format for some reason...

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    1. I think I meant to say album chart 'presence', not practice.

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    2. Sean, thanks for the reply. To try and answer all your questions: Jackson's style was pretty innovative and influential, but new-wave as subgenre had more originality, imo, and is more historically important than New Jack Swing. It was a tough call to make, but I had to give the edge to the Cars.

      As for Steppenwolf, homogenization of radio ownership, and thus radio formatting is a lot of why that is. For oldies stations, you also gotta balance in soul music, '50s music, British invasion, plus '60s pop. With classic rock, especially of late, they try to shy away more from the '60s and favor the '70s more heavily. Even the Beatles aren't as important to classic rock stations' programming as Led Zeppelin.

      As for Whitburn's methodology, it's not perfect, but no system ever is. But the quick rundown is that #1 albums get 200 points for the first week and #1, and 20 points for each additional week at #1, 190 points for the first week at #2 and ten points for each additional week at #2; #3 gets 180 for the first week and 5 points for each additional week at #3. If it peaked at 4 or 5, 170 points. Peaked at the rest of the top ten, 160. 11-15 gets 155 points, 16-20 = 150. Then five points fewer for each group of ten places on down the line, ending with 10 points if it peaked between #191-200. Total weeks charted are added in as well. And yes, it does favor artists with many charted albums, which honestly is how it should be. There's nothing wrong with rewarding longevity, as it is something that every artist to some degree strives for. For an artist to consistently chart in the higher reaches of the charts is pretty significant. Baez had 25 charted albums (plus one on the Christmas charts). She's only nine points ahead of Journey in my book, so if you removed the Christmas album that is listed, Journey would probably be ahead. Janet did have a handful of #1 albums, but only nine charted albums total. Also remember, my source is ten years old, so Pearl Jam has probably passed both Journey and Joan Baez. A quick glance at wikipedia confirms this.

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    3. I certainly agree new wave is more important than new jack swing, but Janet Jackson is arguably the #1 artist in that genre while the Cars are not as important as Police, Talking Heads, Elvis Costello, Blondie, and probably others, but yeah, it's close. I think I'd have Yes first from classic rock anyway, since I think they are closer to top of prog than Cars is to top of new wave, although admittedly, new wave was also a more important and influential genre than prog.

      Yeah, I too lament the Telecommunications Act of 1996, sold to the public as a tool for media censorship with the unlimited media ownership sneaked in, that basically helped destroy radio, television, newspapers, and most of the media, helping lead to the intensified polarization that results in the current candidates we have. Oh well. Nothing will change on that front.

      I just don't think number of albums is a fair comparison when current artists are releasing albums much less frequently than artists of the past, and maybe it would make more sense to take an average of album scores to reflect the entire career. I truly do think that overrates Baez's commercial performance, not that THAT should matter, but it does.

      Basically, the Rock Hall seems to be decided most years by commercial success + critical acclaim (where innovation and influence aren't looked at nearly as much as they claim they are, although usually those artists will be critically acclaimed), so you could really just go to RIAA certifications and acclaimedmusic.net artist rankings and predict from there...

      I have to figure most of the artists that are considered to be long-term snubs are those that WERE innovative and/or influential but weren't critical favorites (that must be why Stevie Ray Vaughan wasn't close to first ballot...I was shocked when he was like 800th on the AcclaimedMusic rankings behind even the likes of Bon Jovi, Garth Brooks, and Britney Spears, but maybe that's changed...)

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    4. But again, being foremost in new jack swing isn't as important being third or fourth along for new wave, because the pond of new wave is bigger than that of new jack. And given that the Moody Blues and Pink Floyd, and I believe King Crimson were all before Yes, it's not a great comparison to bring them in either.

      Re albums: You gotta remember though, not every album charts. And if it's a new album by a veteran artist, odds are it charts in the low reaches of the charts it doesn't garner many points. Baez had almost as many top twenty hit albums as Jackson had hit albums period. It balances out in that sense. But again, albums charts has to be weighed against singles success, which brought Baez down a bit, and chart success isn't entirely the definition of Impact either, though it's a good metric of it, imo.

      Commercial success + critical acclaim do seem to be the winning formula these years, but that doesn't mean I have to let my criteria be defined entirely by that either.

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