Monday, October 15, 2018

First thoughts on the 2019 ballot

It's been almost a week now since the nominees for the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame's Class Of 2019 were announced, and there's has been a lot for people to say.  That's nothing new, though, as the ballots always seem to generate some level of controversy, and certainly a modicum of discussion.  What does appear somewhat new though, is the lengths to which the Nominating Committee has gone to appeal to the younger crowd.  It almost appears that in addition to greater egalitarianism toward the public voice, the Hall is especially courting the younger demographic.  Due to the 25-year rule, it seems like that will always be a bit of a paradox to do so, and yet, it may work.  When I was in high school, my dial was fixed to the Oldies station, not the Top 40 station, and certainly not the country station.  Maybe today's youth are interested in the music of the '80's and '90's more than the current Top 40. 

Years ago, I remember another hobbyist saying there would be a turning point where the independent label and underground bands would be the only acts worth paying attention to and enshrining.  I don't think that day is quite coming anytime soon, but perhaps.  If nothing else though, that may speak a word or two as to the appearance of Devo on the ballot for the first time.  I'm proud to say that I knew more song by Devo than just "Whip It."  And yes, I did mean "song" in the singular.  Admittedly not very versed with their catalog at the time of nomination, the other song I'd heard before was "Are You Ready" from the soundtrack of the Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers movie from the 1990's.  The movie is a big steaming pile, but the soundtrack is actually one worth collecting.  In addition to Devo, you've got the version of "Higher Ground" by Red Hot Chili Peppers, a curious little rap gem called "Trouble" by Shampoo, and my all-time favorite song by They Might Be Giants, available on none of their albums that I know of, "Sensurround."  Back to Devo though, I did know the existence of the song "Jocko Homo," but hadn't actually heard it.  Since the announcement, I've been listening to the nominees, and have become a bit more familiar with their general oeuvre. 

And while Devo is arguably the pinnacle of curious credibility of an act with less-than-powerful pop presence, they're not the only act for whom that can be said.  Art-rock paragons Roxy Music also appear on the ballot.  The general public might only know them from "Love Is The Drug," but they're a name that music critics and historians like to mention when talking about great art found in the world of rock and roll, and the devoted fans like to constantly extol without hesitation or reservations.  If nothing else, they're a name you've heard of, even if you can't name a song by them.  In fact, former Music Geek from the TV show "Beat The Geeks," Andy Zax, once wrote a list of ten things one must have in order to call yourself a music geek, and on that list was "Eno."  He emphasized the importance of extensively collecting Roxy Music's discography, as well as as much of the side production work Brian did that one could find, as well as a deck of "Oblique Strategies" cards.  Zax is a member of the voting bloc too, last I knew, so I strongly suspect he'll be taking to Twitter to push for Roxy Music, if he hasn't already.

It's wrong to lump Roxy Music and Devo into the same bag, but in a way, I feel they're pretty similar.  And the same applies to the Cure, though I think of the Cure as more melody-driven than the other two.  The Cure are back for their second nomination, much to the delight of Joe Kwaczala, host of the "Who Cares About The Rock Hall" podcast.  I'm kind of stunned overall by the return, but not disappointed.  I'm really not sure what else to say at this point about them, but as someone not as thoroughly immersed in their style, I'm tempted to lump these three acts together as being in the same camp and thereby direct competition for each other for votes.  I also think that to some degree that return nominee Kraftwerk could steal votes away from these acts too.  I know, I know, not even close to the same, but yet there's a sense of commonality that I feel unites these acts together.  Maybe it's what they bring to the table that makes them seem similar.  It's a weird bent to look at it, but that's how I'm kind of seeing them right now.

In all fairness though, it might be more fitting to categorize Kraftwerk with Janet Jackson, both of which have huge legacies in the dance music community, though in very different ways.  The case with Janet Jackson is proving to be a positively fascinating and baffling one.  She seems to be a nominee with as much baggage as credentials.  And yet, when one considers the rogues' gallery that the Hall tends to be, does she really deserve that much flak?  Add to that the shame that has been revisited upon the name and legacy of Les Moonves, and you have to wonder if the pendulum of justice will benefit the youngest of nine children from Gary, Indiana. 

Also in the dance music category is Rufus featuring Chaka Khan, though as a band, they were a lot more diverse than just funky music you could dance to.  Last year, the first year I binge-listened to each nominee using Spotify, this was the act that I probably had the most fun discovering the depths of their talent and their sound.  With the whole issue of the band versus the soloist seemingly weighing them down, though, it's hard to ever predict them as making it.  Still, curious things happen, and there could be a shock awaiting us all.  And I'd welcome it.

The past three names were all ones I predicted (well, I figured Chaka solo, so... two and a half?), but they weren't the only ones.  I also predicted the returns of the MC5, the Zombies, Radiohead, and Rage Against The Machine.  Nothing much to say there.  They were all pretty widely expected by most of us.  It'll be most interesting to see how the MC5 and the Zombies fare, though.  Not only are they the most prominent examples of '60's rock on the ballot, but they're also two names that have been on the past two ballots and are now on their third consecutive nomination.  In the past, three in a row used to be a pretty strong indicator (other than Chic, that is) that induction was happening that time.  But with two of them at the same time?  Not so certain anymore.  With the Rock Hall, it seems that as soon as something appears to be becoming a trend, the winds shift and they go a different direction.  Perfect example: everyone was expecting another classic rock saturated ballot.  Not what we got this time.

However, the classic rock format is still seated at the table, primarily in the form of Def Leppard, whom I also predicted to be nominated.  They're already a polarizing figure.  I remember previous discussions where someone would put Def Leppard on the same plateau with Van Halen, in terms of longevity and innovation.  I'm not hearing people say that so much now, instead likening them more to Bon Jovi in terms of location, near the base of the cooper's creation.  Still, they're leading the fan vote as I type this, though that may not last forever.  Another classic rock name is Todd Rundgren, though calling him classic rock would be to adorn him with the accompanying connotations that really don't befit him.  I don't reserve any "backup nominations" when I make my ballot predictions, so you'll have to take my word (or not) that Rundgren was a tough cut to make to whittle my list down to nineteen names.  His status as a Swiss army knife of the music business precedes him, and it'll be curious to see how much the extraneous credits will bolster him to induction in the Performer category.  I have to admit though, I don't really see him being shoehorned in the Hall via the backdoor, as a recipient of either the Ahmet Ertegun Award or the Award For Musical Excellence.

Those kinds of speculation aren't unique to Todd Rundgren though, not even to this year.  Some have also been saying it about fellow nominee John Prine, easily the most obscure name on the ballot.  To say I've heard of John Prine before his nomination is only half-true.  I'd read his name before, in music discussion, but I've never heard it spoken aloud until he was discussed on the "Who Cares About The Rock Hall" podcast.  Seriously, I wasn't sure how his last name was pronounced.  It could have been "preen" or "prigh-nee" or something else.  Nope.  It's like the "pine" tree, but with a blend of "pr" at the front.  And like Rundgren, people who want to prevent the backlog from getting that much worse are clamoring for a potential Ahmet Ertegun Award induction for his status as a songwriter.  But like Laura Nyro and Tom Waits, he kept a lot of his compositions for himself and belongs potentially in the Performer category.  However, his minimal level of name recognition with John Q. Public is a concern for his chances.  So, it'll be interesting to see if he'll be more like Tom Waits, who got in on his first nomination, or more like Laura Nyro, who needed the three consecutive nominations to bust through.

My rap prediction for this year, OutKast, failed to make the cut.  There was some wondering about which newly eligible acts would get in, and in fact, none of them did, not even Beck.  But where there is no OutKast, there is LL Cool J.  Like Def Leppard, this is a name that as recently as a few years ago was being hailed a solid selection.  Now people are turning on him, putting him near the bottom of the pile.  Either the ballot is just that strong this year, or people are just more excited about the new names being nominated.  Either way, he was another tough cut, simply because I didn't expect there to be two rap nominees.  I was right about that much, just picked the wrong door.  Ah well, congrats to those who did predict his return.

Lastly, the nominee that us hobbyists almost dreaded.  Stevie Nicks is nominated as a solo artist, and that has caused a lot of discussion.  The general consensus among the hobbyist community has been that most folks don't realize she's already in with Fleetwood Mac.  I've already had a lot to say, so I'll stow any further thoughts for this entry.  But going back to what I said earlier, the Hall definitely seems to be trying to lure more visitors to the museum by making the public opinion a bigger part of the proceedings.  How will that unfold in the future?  We'll see.  A lot of it will depend on how Stevie Nicks and Def Leppard (the top two finishers at the museum's poll) fare on this ballot.

And that wraps up the initial impressions regarding the ballot.  Already, I'm immersing myself into the larger discographies of the nominees, learning more about their works, their style, their contributions.  Hopefully in the next two or three weeks, I'll be ready to rank them by merits, according to my Five I's.  This will be a little more difficult than other years, so hang on folks.


  1. Prine is an American treasure. Check out his entire first album, there's not a weak song on it. And then check out his later album The Missing Years which is the sort of "come back" album that pulled me in to exploring his entire catalog.

    You probably actually have heard Devo's "Girl U Want" before and just didn't know who it was by. Maybe even their faithful cover of "Working In A Coalmine".

    For Roxy Music I think a lot of people have also heard "Avalon" and "More Than This", but "Love Is The Drug" is the one most likely to be played on classic rock type radio. I every bit consider myself a music geek, but I'm not among the fans of Roxy Music - I just don't like Brian Ferry. I love Brian Eno, but he was only a member of the band for the first album and it's not particularly indicative of his later career as a performer or producer.

  2. Are you going to let us know when you have songs of proof for the new nominees?

    1. Thought about it. I like to post my favorite songs by the artists when I rank them by personal preference, so maybe I'll include potential Songs Of Proof with the merit rankings.