It's 2019, and you wouldn't know it from the amount of politics that has already been in the news that this is not an election year. In all fariness, some lower level municipal, county, and maybe even state elections happen on the odd-numbered years specifically so that they aren't drowned out by the national stage theatrics. But even if it's not for an office that will be elected this year, campaigns for those offices are already happening, and not just in the Democratic Party candidates' races. I know, because I work for the post office and have been delivering a bit of political mail already.
What does this have to do with the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame? Superficially, not much, but as it is now early August, we are getting to that point where very soon, the names in our little community will be posting their official, engraven predictions for who will be on the ballot, in preparation for the Nominating Committee's meeting in New York City, and eventual press release of the ballot. As notorious as I am at being one of the later predictions and commentaries to be up with each passing year, wouldn't it be a fun twist if I got the early jump and beat almost everybody to the punch? Well, you'd be jumping the gun in assuming that. That's not what this post is about. Neener neener.
Nor is this going to be about transparency, which the Hall has a notorious lack of, but this post is going to be about the ballots. When it comes to elections in America, many voters who don't just vote straight-ticket often only vote for the big enchilada races, primarily presidential, maybe gubernatorial, and maybe enough people care enough about the national congressional races. But they'll ignore positions such as county drain commissioners, or university boards of trustees, and the like. Even more than that, if someone votes for all the races, there's another side to it they might ignore, particularly if they vote straight-ticket. A political ballot is usually comprised of more than just names of people for a position; there are also propositions.
Obvious, right? I'm pretty sure every election cycle, there's a "Proposition 2." It wouldn't be a political season without ads telling us to vote "No on Prop 2." But because the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame is nowhere near as democratic as our national and state infrastructures, there's never been a call for there to be propositions on the annual ballots. Well, I'm going to suggest that it happen. Like everything else in life, there's potential for abuse, but my idea regarding propositions for this ballot are to correct the instances of "abuse of power" that have already occurred with the inductions of the Hall.
By which, of course, I mean the "back door inductions." Depending on your narrative, you might call the first "back door induction" to be that of Carole King, with her songwriting parter Gerry Goffin, after a singular attempt to induct her as a Performer. But despite my not having included her in my reranking of Past Nominees, the songwriting team of Goffin-King is a notable and distinct effort and enterprise from Carole King's career as a singer. So, not counting her, the most acceptable first instance of a back door induction would probably be that of Elmore James as an Early Influence in 1992, after failing to receive enough votes for the Class Of 1991. At that time, the Hall didn't have quite the public presence that it does now, and most probably thought little about it. Most probably also didn't give too much thought about King Curtis being inducted as a Sideman in 2000, after being on the first six ballots for the Performer category, with a nine year absence following that. The back door inductions really began to catch notice in 2008, when the Hall announced Wanda Jackson as an Early Influence inductee for 2009. That caught people's attention, especially because she had been a nominee for the Performer category on the ballot for that very class! Those who monitor the Hall's doings were definitely abuzz following that, right on through the induction ceremony. But the buzz died down. Until 2011, when they did it again, this time with Freddie King, who, like Wanda Jackson, had been on the ballot for potential induction as a Performer for the Class Of 2012. And then, as if seemingly like clockwork, the Hall kind of did it again, with the Class Of 2015, twice-ish, this time with the "5" Royales, who hadn't been on the ballot for several years but were now being ushered in as an Early Influence, and Ringo Starr, for Award For Musical Excellence, for reasons that are too stupid to fathom, regardless about how you feel about his solo career. Nile Rodgers wasn't so much a "back door induction" as he was a "cherrypicking" instance, but some would consider him an example too. Lastly, we have the issue of Sister Rosetta Tharpe, who despite being the most widely demanded omission from the Early Influence category, was nominated for the Performer category... only to end up inducted as an Early Influence in 2018.
So those are the propsective "back door inductions" that we are dealing with. I'd argue for not including the cherrypicking of Nile Rodgers, since Chic was more than Nile Rodgers, and Nile's career included a lot more than just Chic, as Joe Kwaczala and Kristen Studard pointed out when they relegated their tale of seeing Chic in concert together. I would probably also want to leave out King Curtis, since his session work was very worthy of induction, and since a Performer induction of King Curtis should also include His Noble Knights. But I would definitely hammer on the Early Influence inductions of those previously nominated, since it's kind of squirrely, albeit not entirely implausible, to be both an Early Influence and a Performer inductee, given the parameters of the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame for defining those two categories.
So the first key step in overcoming the transgression of the back door inductions is to simply never do it again. Just stop it. But there are a few horses that are already out of the barn, and we need to find a way to get them back in, if indeed they belong back in. My proposal is to put propositions on the ballot. One for each such inductee to deal with. I'll give you a sample of one such proposition to be placed on an official Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame Ballot. Since Wanda Jackson would be the third such occurrence (if we used King Curtis as well), we'll make her Prop 3.
To change the designation of 2009 inductee Wanda Jackson from "Early Influence" to "Performer." Adoption of Proposition 3 will result in Wanda Jackson being listed as a Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame 2009 inductee in the Performer category. Rejection of Proposition 3 will result in Wanda Jackson continuing to be listed as a Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame 2009 inductee in the Early Influence category.
Should Proposition 3 be adopted?
Yes _____ No_____ "
And there would be a tentative proposition for Elmore James, Freddie King, the "5" Royales, Ringo Starr, and Sister Rosetta Tharpe. Possibly King Curtis too, but any proposition for Carole King would have to change the designation of "Goffin-King" to Performer. Same with Nile Rodgers. Don't induct Chic this way. It would only be for Nile Rodgers.
So why do it like this? The Rock Hall could easily do it quietly by a decision in the boardroom. After all, that's how they quietly inducted Kenny Laguna as a member of the Blackhearts, and Billy Davis as a member of the Midnighters. This is just a little different though. When a voter votes for a Performer inductee, they are essentially voting for the entire legacy of that artist, regardless of which members the Hall chooses to honor. In the case of the Midnighters, it was the entire legacy that was involved with the election of Hank Ballard for the Class Of 1990, and the legacy that was supplemented with the induction of the Midnighters in 2012. A vote for Hank Ballard was essentially a vote for Hank Ballard And The Midnighters. Including members serves to more fully round an inductee's legacy (while conversely, removing members, perhaps an entire backing group, severely diminishes the legacy). But we're now talking about acts that have already been inducted. These are acts that the Hall has already enshrined in another capacity because they seemingly couldn't (or believedly wouldn't) get the votes to be inducted in the Performer category. These were acts chosen by special committees, which are subsets of the Nominating Committee to do it this way for those acts, and it requires a correction. Since the election of Performer inductees is through the voting bloc, it therefore makes sense to put it to the voting bloc whether or not the designations ought to be changed.
To use propositions on the ballot would also negate the possibility of their re-designation being a "consolation prize" induction, as I've referred to them in the past. The reason I oppose the idea of a Veterans' Committee is that it's a special subcommittee exerting their will over the voting bloc, creating a second tier of Performer inductees (not to be confused with the stratification of inductees that hobbyists and critics alike enjoy creating, i.e. the pyramid). Well, the Hall has already done that by taking these (mostly) past Performer nominees and putting them in the Hall by whatever means they felt they could get away with. Putting these propositions on the ballot would correct that, because they would voted on by the voting bloc. The decision to change their designation to Performer inductees would still have to come from a majority of the votes received from the voting bloc. It still would be up to them to have these acts enshrined as Performers, or not. And if it's a vote from the bloc, it's legitimate, or as legitimate as can be, given the Hall's lack of transparency.
The other upside to changing the designations of certain inductees would be to reestablish a relative sense of continuity with the timeline. By which, I'm referring to the Early Influence category. While rock and roll has been evolving since the early '50's, and perhaps earlier, most still like to use 1955 as the magical fulcrum, since that's when "(We're Gonna) Rock Around The Clock" hit #1. That said, most are generally agreed that Wanda Jackson should not have been an Early Influence inductee, as her early career was primarily rockabilly. And if Wanda Jackson shouldn't have been an Early Influence, then Freddie King definitely should not have been, either, as his career didn't really begin until the late '50's. There's some debate about whether Elmore James or the "5" Royales should have been inducted as Performers or Early Influences, but it would be an interesting litmus test to see where the voting bloc falls on these two acts. But more importantly, the chance to put at least some of the "back door" Early Influence inductees in the Performer category where they might more properly belong is a good way to preemptively tell the NomComm's Early Influence subcommittee that it is wrong to move the timeline of rock and roll; this statement would hopefully prevent acts that are clearly rock and roll, such as the MC5, from being inducted as "Early Influences" because they were influential to more modern acts that came later.
It is also wrong to attempt to use this tool later on down the road. For example, let's not go about inducting acts via the back door in the future, figuring we can just use a proposition later on to reassign them as Performers. As stated earlier, first we need to resolve to stop back door inductions altogether. Continuing to do back door inductions for the sake of correcting them later with propositions flies directly in the face of the spirit and intent of having these propositions. It would further cheapen the proposition process because they'd be recklessly, improperly inducting artists in other categories with the full intent to rectify it later. It would turn the propositional corrections into consolation prizes themselves, and the point of doing this on the ballots is so that it is from the voting bloc, and thus not a consolation prize.
We also cannot be doing this as a means to expel artists. Sorry folks. Percy Sledge is an inductee to stay. And Laura Nyro. And KISS. And 2Pac. Let's not turn this into a quasi-political mire as we replace NomComm members and voting bloc voters by essentially saying, "Well, the old guard may have felt they were worthy, but it's our say now, and that's going to change!" Not how this is going to work, folks. I also wouldn't use this to correct the Singles category debacle either. First off, we're talking about entire legacies, not one record; second, with "Twist And Shout" on that list, unless you're going to try and induct the Top Notes this way, you've got another mess made; third, the Foundation members appear to be squabbling amongst themselves about what to make of this category, so let's wait until they've figured it out for themselves first; and fourth, using propositions for those artists would only be encouraging Little Steven to keep doing this. No no no no no! Take that "category" out to the Everglades, toss it over the edge of the boat somewhere, where no one will be able to find it, and never speak of it again. And nominate those artists to the ballot properly, for another time, in some cases.
We could probably let the fans have a say on this one too, with the fan ballot being a single vote on each proposition, but given that this is about correcting actions done behind closed doors, I'd be okay with the fans not getting a say in these, especially since almost all of these are lesser known names (to the general public) who weren't "classic rockers."
So, that's my proposition for propositions. For what it's worth, if the Hall decided to try this out and do this with all those artists, here's how my votes would go, if I got a ballot, or how I'd vote in the fan poll if they let us in on it.
Elmore James: It'd be a coin flip. I'd be okay either way. His guitar style was innovative, but the overall feel of his records isn't quite what I'd call rock and roll. However, between Howlin' Wolf being an Early Influence, and John Lee Hooker and Muddy Waters being Performers, that roughly 1954 debut of Elmore James can be a little tricky, and I wouldn't blame the voters either way.
King Curtis: No. His work as a session man is unimpeachable, and while he's pretty far down on the list of those I'd like to induct a second time, I'd really rather induct King Curtis And His Noble Knights as a Performer than erase the props for his session work, while falsely reasoning he can only be inducted once.
Wanda Jackson: Duh, Performer
Freddie King: Definitely a Performer. Doesn't meet the "Early" part of "Early Influence," in my book.
The "5" Royales: Another one that's a coin toss. Where does jive music end and R&B begin? I've blogged about this induction before, so I won't elaborate further. It's a tough call either way, but I'd probably vote to move them to Performer.
Ringo Starr: YES to the Performer category. Most readers would probably want the proposition to be about removing his second induction outright, since the Award for Musical Excellence induction was nonsensical, and they don't want him in as a Performer. As I said, this ain't going to be about removing names, just slotting them more properly. List him as a Performer!
Sister Rosetta Tharpe: To echo what was said then, why was she even on the ballot in the first place? She always should have been considered for Early Influence and never for the Performer category. This one was not a consolation prize, it was the subcommittee fixing the NomComm's mistake. A big no on this one.
And of course, we need to get Carole King as a soloist and Chic on the ballot again. Carole and Nile both deserve double induction, but the proposition process is not the way to do it. Efforts have to be renewed to get those names on the ballot.
So there it is, another longshot idea for how to fix things with the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame. Maybe it seems ridiculous, but as Eric and Mary say on the Hall Watchers podcast, we need to be about trying to find solutions rather than just sitting in our armchairs, griping and moaning. Let's make it happen.