Sunday, June 30, 2019

Past nominees ranking: 2019 edition.

It's been seven years since I last ranked all of the past nominees for the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame.  In that time, eleven names have come off (including one inducted as an Early Influence), and twenty-one names have been added.  It's been a net gain of ten names over seven years.  That probably says a lot about the resolve of the Nominating Committee to continue on the offensive to push for their favorite artists.  It also says a lot about the repeat names that often continue to be bridesmaids while many first-time nominees head straight in.  But there has been enough change in the list to where it's worth taking another look at how one would rank these artists.

And if I thought thirty-five was difficult, forty-five is even harder.  It's hard to rank the nominees just on the yearly ballot, and that's never more than twenty anymore.  This list has a lot of diversity on it, ranging from acts at the dawn of rock and roll (or earlier, depending on your definition) to acts that are barely eligible for induction.  To be completely honest, I still don't like this order, but I like it better than any other modification to it.  Modifications that I have made though include changing comparative positions between acts that were on the 2012 list and/or comparative positions between acts on previous ballots' merits' ranks.  So with all that and a little help from my previous list and my co-writers, Cut and Paste, let's count down from forty-five back to one.

45. Conway Twitty (1):  He was a teen idol in his early days and a country superstar later on, neither of which tend to bode that well with getting an act inducted.  Additionally, not much influence.

44. Sting (1):  Sting's going solo reminds me of Phil Collins' solo career: lead singer of a major group that was a trio at the time of the solo career, with a distant-sounding vocal style.  Except Phil Collins is somehow more exciting to listen to.

43. Procol Harum (1):  I'm not convinced they broke any ground that the Moody Blues weren't breaking at about the same time, but they do have a few enduring songs.

42. Steve Winwood (1):  As a reminder, we’re only talking about his solo career, which has some cool breeze kinds of songs, but didn’t really break any new ground. 

41. Esther Phillips (2):  Her pre-‘60s (and arguably pre-rock era) hits were almost exclusively as the chanteuse for whatever name Johnny Otis’s band went by on any given record, and so inducting her as a soloist based on those is not entirely fitting.  Her ‘60s-and-later hits were sporadic and primarily covers, which doesn’t garner much accolades.

40. John Prine (1):  Almost the natural successor in the queue after Randy Newman.  A highbrow artist with well-crafted lyrics, without much recognition with the general public, but very strong ties to the industry, which makes him kinda-sorta influential.

39. Los Lobos (1):  Like John Prine, this band is an industry-insider's pick.  Artistry, maximum; any other metric, minimum.

38. Johnny Ace (2):  A promising career cut short by folly.  Still, he had some good accomplishments as an R&B singer leading up to that.

37. The J.B.'s (1):  It's important to remember that I'm actively separating their credited works from the works they recorded as hired hands behind James Brown.  Once you have that distinction recognized, their ranking at this point in the list makes a little bit more sense.

36. The Sir Douglas Quintet (1):  They were innovative and influential in helping to create a new sub-genre; however, Tex-Mex is still a pretty niche style of music, and not all that pertinent to represent in the Hall Of Fame.

35. Gram Parsons (3):  Another powerful one-two combo of innovation and influence; however, alt-country pioneering really merits induction into the Country Music Hall Of Fame, not the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame, however strongly alt-country and its pioneers are linked to the folk-rock and the ever-changing music scenes of the late-‘60’s. 

34. The Chantels (2):  Broke out at the same time as the Shirelles, but never reached the same heights.  Still, “Maybe” and “Look In My Eyes” are excellent records and foundational to the girl group sound.  And shunting "Maybe" into the Singles category should not be license to give up on them.

33. The J. Geils Band (5):  Solid blues-influenced rock ‘n’ roll band with a solid run of hits and classics, but not regarded as being all that influential or innovative, and some even claim cronyism for their five nominations to date.

32. The Replacements (1):  This is a hard one to accurately peg.  While they have the rebel spirit, as proven by the fights with their label, they're also a reminder that the music industry is still a business, and you have to be professional.  Their own greatest strength in establishing their legacy also was the greatest hindrance to their legacy's growth.

31. The Meters (4):  Moderately influential in the realms of funk and soul, but not a lot of name recognition, and the songs are only somewhat well known.

30. Rufus with Chaka Khan (3):  They had a solid string of R&B hits, dispersed intermittently with Chaka’s solo career, but as a group, the Pop crossover was not so immense, and they ended up standing in the shadows of bigger acts of the time.

29. Bad Brains (1):  A very influential band that if nothing else, occasionally combined or alternated hardcore punk with reggae stylings.  Very limited commercial success though.

28. Devo (1):  Art-rock that was sometimes hard to take seriously, and yet, they expanded our minds.

27. Steppenwolf (1):  Have one song that's anthemic, you can possibly write it off to good luck.  Do it twice, that's no coincidence.  Do it twice and have a solid run of blues-rock records, it's a Hall-worthy act.

26. Chaka Kkan (2):  Rufus had more originality.  Chaka as a soloist had greater commercial success, and I'd give the advantage to solo Khan in terms of influence, as a strong female solo presence.

25. Mary Wells (2):  Despite an enviable run of both R&B and Pop chart success, her chief accomplishment was really done by the Marvelettes first, even if it was on “Tamla” rather than the titular mother company “Motown.”  However, she also did help bring a Latin flavor to the R&B scene, which is something in itself, as many danceable rap songs nowadays are danceable because they’re infused with danceable Latin rhythmic schemes. 

24. Chuck Willis (6):  Another career cut way too short, his legacy as the “Stroll King” or “Sheik Of The Blues” culminates nicely to get him six nominations so far.  The man who helped bring dancing to rock ‘n’ roll music, he’d be undisputed royalty if he’d lived and recorded through the ‘50s.

23. Link Wray (2):  In my glossary, "merit" is not quite synonymous with "snub."  Link Wray is a huge snub, but that's more of an issue of the ridiculous amount of time it took to even get him nominated for the first time, compounded by the slap in the face of honoring just "Rumble" when unable to get him inducted.  That said, his innovation and influence are immense.

22. Kate Bush (1):  You gotta respect an artist whose only limits are the ones she imposes upon herself.  That said, said self-imposed limits understandably keep her from ranking any higher on this list.

21. Afrika Bambaataa (1):  Recognized as one of the founding fathers of hip-hop, but having never gotten big beyond the New York scene, and without the Soul Sonic Force as part of his nomination, he doesn’t merit any higher on the list.

20. Joe Tex (5):  An impressive string of R&B and Pop chart hits, and considered by some to help influence rap’s style of vocal delivery, but he wasn’t the only one doing that (see also: Johnnie Taylor), and a lot of his songs are variations on the same theme.

19. The New York Dolls (1):  Surprisingly influential in both the worlds of punk and of glam.  No real chart success, and arrived a few years after a couple of the other proto-punk acts.

18. The MC5 (1):  The proto-punk act that pioneered distortion as a musical gimmick, and helped influence a lot of bands, plus the title alone of their only hit, “Kick Out The Jams” seems to sum up the movement they helped create..

17. Jane's Addiction (1):  They might be a little better known for who was in the band rather than for their music, but for what they accomplished in their relatively short time, they weren't a bad nomination either.

16. War (3):  Funky Latin rock music.  They crossed a lot of barriers with memorable songs, despite not being very innovative.

15. Chic (11):  “Good Times” is an extremely important record, plus their musical proficiency and production wizardry.  Sadly, the cherry-picking induction of Nile Rodgers pretty much snuffed the last, smoldering hopes of getting them inducted.

14. Eric B. And Rakim (1):  Extremely well-crafted and flawlessly executed hip-hop music that took it to new levels, bridging two ages of hip-hop.

13. Ben E. King (3):  Another solo artist that had some trouble distinguishing himself from his former group, this man had more commercial success than some others who have been inducted, like Lou Reed, plus two songs that are absolute milestones of 60’s R&B, one of which contains the arguably most important and famous bass line in all of rock ‘n’ roll.

12. Eurythmics (1):  The two of them broke some serious ground together, and recorded some amazing songs, and that's not even considering Annie Lennox as an icon.  But no, I don't support jointly nominating and inducting her solo career with the duo.

11. Todd Rundgren (1):  He is as musically versatile and artistic as he is industrially versatile and innovative.

10. The Spinners (3):  Among the groups that facilitated the transition from smooth soul to disco and beyond, they were one of the best.  A long string of R&B and Pop hits make them an amazing choice that sadly has seen their chances dwindle over the past few years.

9. The Dominoes (1):  A full dozen Top 10 R&B hits in the formative days of rock ‘n’ roll, they managed to cross over twice to the mainstream audience (despite the for-the-time raunchy nature of “Sixty-Minute Man”) and helped knock down the racial barriers, proving to be a seminal group of the pre-Elvis rock ‘n’ roll years.

8. Depeche Mode (2):  They're basically one of those "something for everybody" outfits that really make you wonder why they're on the outside even after back-to-back nominations.

7. Judas Priest (1):  As Eric and Mary said on the Hall Watchers podcast, probably the second most important act in the genesis of heavy metal after Black Sabbath.  Extremely significant.

6. Rage Against The Machine (2):  If nothing else, they are truth in advertising.  They took the ethos of '60's and '70's protest songs, and put it on steroids.  Combining seemingly disparate musical styles, they broke new ground and influenced plenty.

5. The Marvelettes (2):  Probably the most important thing about the Motown legacy is that it was a marvelous marriage of Black culture and youth culture.  I can't help but believe the hit-the-ground-running success of the Marvelettes, success that continued well after "Please Mister Postman," helped set the empire on its enduring path.

4. Nine Inch Nails (2):  Something of a pioneer and a definite tour-de-force.  Some initial trouble being celebrated in a mainstream sense, but even then, time has been kind.

3. The Smiths (2):  Probably the most important band of the post-punk scene that didn't have any charted singles on the Billboard Hot 100.  Massively important.

2. LL Cool J (5):  One of rap’s first solo superstars, not only did he help rap transition from an outfit form to a solo MC’s game, he also helped segue R&B into its smoother form during the mid-‘90s.  Much of mainstream pop music today is still built somewhat upon plans he helped lay.

1. Kraftwerk (5):  It was a hard decision to switch LL Cool J and Kraftwerk around.  A Krautrock act that evolved greatly and is basically responsible for electronica music becoming what it is today.  But what tips the scales for Kraftwerk that I wasn't aware of before, is how important and influential they were to the immediate pop scene that followed in their wake, and the way their innovations have affected the industry as a whole, including the world of hip-hop that LL Cool J remodeled.

So there we are.  It was a tough hierarchy to make and one I still question heavily even as I continue to look over it.  I mostly tried to keep the merits of each nominee in line with my I-5 system, but with this many different acts, it's hard to completely fairly evaluate disparate sets of data.  Nevertheless, I hope you enjoyed reading my thoughts and care to weigh in in the Comments section below.