As is my custom with every ballot for the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame, we began with the initial reaction, which I sandwiched in my previous post along with my issues regarding leaks and peeks. But we're past all that now. The shock and whining are over... at least about those things. Onto the nuts and bolts of our nominees. As Joe Kwaczala says on the "Who Cares About The Rock Hall?" podcast, music is subjective, but it helps to have categories, and if a candidate does well enough in them, they might have a good shot. In both of our cases, doing well in these categories also helps us decide whether or not we think a candidate is worthy. Joe has his categories, and I have my I-5.
If I may further proffer the olive branch to Joe K. and Kristen Studard, I'd like to also compare the similarities of our categories. His are Critical Acclaim, Classic Albums, Iconic And Recognizable Songs, Commercial Success, Innovation And Influence, and Does My Mom Know Who They Are?. My categories are Innovation, Influence, Impact, Intangibles, and Issues, the last of which is the one category an artist does NOT want to score big in. To compare our categories, here's how they kind of correlate to each other:
Innovation: Innovation And Influence, obviously.
Influence: Innovation And Influence, duh.
Impact: Classic Albums, Iconic And Recognizable Songs, Commercial Success, Does My Mom Know Who They Are?
Intangibles: Critical Acclaim, and sometimes Classic Albums and Iconic And Recognizable Songs can have a hand in this category, plus other things that aren't necessarily covered in their categories.
Issues: a lack of strong showing in those categories? Plus, anything extraneous and negative that Joe or Kristen sometimes bring up when discussing why they might not vote for an artist.
The separation of Innovation and Influence into separate categories, plus the herding of two-thirds of their categories under the umbrella of Impact will cause us to come to very different conclusions about where to rank things, but that's totally awesome. Different perspectives rock. Two more things to note about this edition. One, I've retyped out everything. Some things were transcribed verbatim, but absolutely nothing is copied and pasted. So, if you want to read a little deeper to see if maybe I worded things better this time around, enjoy. Two, after including them last year, I've decided not to include potential Songs Of Proof this time. One or two acts I still haven't decided on; most of the nominees have been at least Previously Considered, so if you go back to those two posts about Past Nominees and the Previously Considered, then you already know what those songs probably are; and if I write them up now, and they have no inductees in any other category in the Class Of 2020, then it's just redundant to write up the official Songs Of Proof post in the future. So, we're scrapping that this year.
So, now we'll try to objectively measure the sixteen nominees using my meter stick. The five fingers of the hand, the six w's compressed into five items, the I-5. Let's rank some nominees!
Innovation: As a group, they pioneered what is now known as electronica.
Influence: Cannot be overstated. Electronica artists that have come and gone all tip their hats to Kraftwerk. Additionally, their influence is strongly present in much of the pop music throughout the 1980's and early 1990's.
Impact: Here in the States, we don't have a full grasp on how big they are or were in Europe, but on this side, their strongest presence has been in the disco/dance music scenes, which is unusual, given they didn't sound like any of their contemporaries on the charts at that time. Some hit songs and charted albums, and songs that have been sampled quite a bit.
Intangibles: The concepts that are played out in many of their albums demonstrate an impressive commitment to artistry, somewhat akin to the concrete poetry in the world of the written word.
Issues: Rock and roll is generally defined as drawing from the traditions of blues and country music. Even with the teutonic, danceable beats, the connection from those traditions to Kraftwerk isn't exactly a straight line, and some would say non-existent.
2. WHITNEY HOUSTON
Innovation: Her powerful voice set against the musical trends of the time were a great marriage, helping the adult contemporary format to become more contemporary. She may not have reinvented the wheel, but she did vulcanize the rubber on the tires.
Influence: One of the most influential divas ever, especially of the last thirty-five years.
Impact: The most commercially successful artist on this ballot from both a singles point-of-view, and depending on your preferred methodology, either the highest or second highest from an albums perspective. Either way, she was a commercial juggernaut, between the danceable pop songs and the torch tunes.
Intangibles: She's got the respect of assumed detractors too. There are rock "purists" who will concede that she belongs in the Hall.
Issues: Whitney was an artist that moms listened to. If rock and roll is primarily an attitude, is there anything more "un-rock" than your mom liking an artist that's supposed to appeal to your generation, especially if she likes them even more than you do?
3. NINE INCH NAILS
Innovation: Though not the first industrial act, the creation of industrial as a blending of metal and electronica was innovative, even by the time Nine Inch Nails appeared on the scene.
Influence: As one of the earlier industrial acts, Nine Inch Nails was a gateway act, and thus one of the more widely cited acts as being influential on other industrial outfits.
Impact: Limited crossover success initially, but it has increased over time, partially due to Trent Reznor's involvement in movie scores, and also in the form of samples in such songs as "Old Town Road."
Intangibles: The Hall respects people who can "do it all," and Trent Reznor is a tour-de-force, with Nine Inch Nails being essentially a one-man band. When it comes to creating the sounds, he does it all.
Issues: Industrial is still pretty niche. People have at least heard of Nine Inch Nails, but that might be considered an example of being a big fish in a small pond.
4. JUDAS PRIEST
Innovation: They weren't the first metal act, but they were from its formative years, and thus, they played a key part in shaping its sound and textures.
Influence: They weren't Black Sabbath, but they were extremely influential in the field of metal, including a few inductees and nominees.
Impact: Only one charted single, but a dozen or so charted albums and a back catalog that holds high esteem in the pantheons of heavy metal.
Intangibles: While critics weren't kind to metal initially, they've revised their stances on formative acts like Judas Priest. And for lovers of hard rock and heavy metal, this is one of the biggest names missing from the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame.
Issues: With limited commercial success in the singles category, plus the general uphill battle metal has had to get respected, they are sometimes held in lower esteem overall.
5. DEPECHE MODE
Innovation: While they weren't the most innovative act, they were certainly unique in their being all-synth, eschewing tradition and letting their artistic senses, and their audience's collective aural senses, be taken on new journeys.
Influence: Their synth-driven style was massively influential to the different directions that electronic dance music dared to go, influencing the artists that went in all of those different directions.
Impact: Despite being all-synth, they have respectable chart histories in the Album Rock and the Modern Rock charts, along with a sizable showing in the Dance Music charts, and noticeable crossover presence in the pop charts as well.
Intangibles: Despite not being guitar-driven, rock purists don't have too much of a beef with this act, which is not inconsequential.
Issues: While most have a song or two by this act they like, their overall sound and style as a whole won't be so widely embraced.
6. TODD RUNDGREN
Innovation: Due to his experience in the control booth, he has found new ways to create unique sounds and make them his own. He's one of the most experimental artists on this ballot.
Influence: Because he's worked with a lot of artists who respect him, his influence has been able to circulate widely, even if not necessarily terribly strongly.
Impact: His name recognition factor is very high, due to both his critical respect and his work with others. As a musician, he's had several charted singles and a respectable amount of album sales.
Intangibles: Not only one of the most experimental artists on the ballot, he's also one of the most versatile. He can do multiple styles and sing in multiple ways. That's not always a strong selling point for the Hall, but it is a tasty cherry on top.
Issues: This nomination is for his work as a solo artist, a musician. It's not always so simple to parse out his musicianship from his other credits, which may blur the ability to evaluate his actual output fairly.
7. THE NOTORIOUS B.I.G.
Innovation: Nope. It's even difficult to say he elevated gangsta rap by making it more real.
Influence: So much. Between being heavily sampled and other rappers citing him as an influence, he's proven to be an insanely influential rapper.
Impact: Strong. A powerful track record on the R&B charts, with a fair amount of pop crossover, and a sizable posthumous legacy.
Intangibles: Despite a short run, some have called him the greatest rapper ever. Who knows how much more he could have done if he had lived?
Issues: For some reason, we're still having the "rap ain't rock" discussion. Also, because he had such a short run, the solidarity of the rap community for Biggie's nomination isn't fully there, especially in lieu of artists like LL Cool J.
8. PAT BENATAR
Innovation: Not so much, though hers are some of the earlier "power ballads."
Influence: As a successful rock star who wrote most of her own songs, she proved influential for other rocking women to follow in her wake.
Impact: Several charted albums, and a solid string of hit singles from the late '70's, including two in the top 5 of the Hot 100.
Intangibles: She's an icon as a "rocking" woman who plays the boys' game as well as they do, almost to the point of tokenism.
Issues: There aren't any really glaring issues with her, except maybe the softer stuff being a bit on the schmaltzy side. Perhaps her lacking in the Innovation category hurts her.
Innovation: After a rough start, they found the right formula for the fusion of punk and metal, which makes them progenitors of thrash.
Influence: Massive influence. Possibly the most influential guitar band on this ballot.
Impact: No charted singles in America, though "Ace Of Spades" does carry an iconic status. They did have several charted albums. Beyond that, they have major name recognition.
Intangibles: Frontman Lemmy Kilmister has virtually become a demigod in the world of rock and roll, especially in metal.
Issues: It cuts both ways though. As Kristen Studard noted, Lemmy's mythos overshadows the actual musical legacy and contribution of the band Motorhead.
Innovation: Despite spending more years paying their dues, they were one of the first on the scene to help define the sound of grunge.
Influence: While not as big as a few of the major grunge bands, they were an incredibly influential band, due in part to their being among the first grunge acts.
Impact: They had a serious string of hits on the Album/Mainstream Rock and Modern/Alternative Rock charts.
Intangibles: As another band with a mythos surrounding their lead singer, it helps elevate their legacy.
Issues: They're not Nirvana. Or Pearl Jam. They will always pale in comparison to those two, and maybe even next to Alice In Chains, and that will make them look less worthy, perhaps unfairly.
11. T. REX
Innovation: In the British music scene, they are considered massively innovative, as their reinventions are considered to have pioneered both glam and punk, as the inability of acts like the MC5 and the New York Dolls to break big in their homeland of the United States kept those acts from being recognized as pioneers on the other side of the pond.
Influence: Again, massively influential... in the British music scene. The members of Def Leppard have been the most adamant in stating their influence.
Impact: In the United Kingdom, pretty substantial. Their album sales in the U.S. were not too shabby either. Only one big hit single, and a couple other minor ones.
Intangibles: Building off their Innovation, the Hall does have some appreciation for artists that evolve from album to album, and this band did that.
Issues: Limited commercial success in the U.S. will hurt with this particularly American institution, plus the fact that Marc Bolan's premature death cut short a promising future. A case of unrealized potential, if you will.
12. THE DOOBIE BROTHERS
Innovation: They didn't invent blue-eyed soul, but they did modernize it for the '70's, and into the '80's, which is mildly innovative.
Influence: Not a whole lot of acts cite them as an influence.
Impact: A whole slew of instantly recognizable songs, even if you don't always know it was by them, including two #1 hits.
Intangibles: With major success with two different lead singers, they're a band of notable eras.
Issues: Despite being played on classic rock radio, they weren't as hard as a lot of other bands, and they weren't as album-driven as a lot of the bands called their contemporaries. Also, that softer, blue-eyed soul sound has been re-classified as "yacht rock," which is as much a pejorative as an ironic badge of honor.
13. THE MC5
Innovation: Arguably the first to intentionally and regularly use distortion as an identifying part of their sound. Also widely credited as one of the first punk rock acts, or at least a progenitor of punk rock.
Influence: The entire world of punk rock recognizes the MC5 and claims them as an influence, as do other artists from bands that punk evolved into, including acts like Rage Against The Machine, and fellow nominee Motorhead.
Impact: One charted single, two charted albums, both of which were once on Rolling Stone's list of most important albums of all time.
Intangibles: Those who argue that rock and roll is more of an attitude than a musical format can point to this band's tireless live performance at the Democratic National Convention as proof of what rock and roll should seek to accomplish. Their origins in Detroit may give them additional credibility as rockers.
Issues: Limited name recognition outside the world of music, plus occasionally indecipherable lyrics due to the distortion, they might not clear everyone's threshold for "Unquestionable musical excellence."
14. RUFUS FEATURING CHAKA KHAN
Innovation: The sounds they made with their rhythm section were seldom, if ever, heard before, and their insistence on vocal harmonies with funk in a way that even Sly And The Family Stone didn't do as consistently makes their sound something somewhat new and creative. Original, even.
Influence: They really helped bring the funk to the disco scene, which was also carried on by the likes of Chic and the GAP Band.
Impact: In their own right, Rufus struck big a few times with great and funky R&B songs, like "Ain't Nobody" and "Tell Me Something Good," and "Once You Get Started."
Intangibles: A lot more versatile than people give them credit for, performing roots music, ballads, funk, and disco.
Issues: Because their biggest successes were in the disco scene, they are often pigeonholed as a disco outfit. Additionally, the parsing of Rufus as a group from Chaka Khan's solo career makes judging them as a group that much more difficult.
15. THE DAVE MATTHEWS BAND
Innovation: Not a whole lot that one can glean on the surface, but given that Matthews himself is originally from South Africa, he probably infuses a unique musical heritage into his band's sound, a sound that is distinctly theirs.
Influence: Not a lot that I can recall, but they probably did encourage some jam bands in their wake.
Impact: Their album sales are immense, with several hitting #1 on the Billboard album charts. If you goes by number of charted albums, and the weeks and positions charted, as opposed to pure total number of units sold, this group is the biggest albums act on the ballot. A steady presence in the rock songs' charts too, they are at the threshold of being a household name.
Intangibles: They were the most popular act among the "jam band" revival of the '90's, that still exists at some level to this day, with a level of dedication from their fans on par with the likes of the Grateful Dead and Rush.
Issues: They were not a critics' darling, and the current bent of music historians is less than favorably disposed toward them. Their own level of success also contributed to them becoming something of a punchline in some corners of pop culture.
16. THIN LIZZY
Innovation: They weren't the first to use two lead guitars on a song, but they were among the first to make it a regular thing in their sound, even harmonizing the guitars on the same track, instead of having to overlay on a second track of recording.
Influence: This band has been said to have a hand in shaping the sound of hard rock, even being influential to some metal bands.
Impact: A couple well-known songs in America, a half-dozen or so charted studio albums on the Billboard charts, probably more success in their native continent of Europe.
Intangibles: They helped put Ireland on the rock and roll map, opening the door for other Irish acts. Some would call that as part of Influence. I choose to categorize that here.
Issues: Terrible songwriting. One of their songs is a celebration of a get-together of grown men who haven't grown up. Another is basically the same thing as that, only with the metaphor of being escaped convicts. A third song is about describes doing things that #MeToo moments are made of, but the girl turns out to be cool with it, because the narrator is a rock musician. The most notable exception is a song they didn't write: it's considered a traditional song in Ireland.
And that's the pecking order of this year's nominees for the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame when I try to be objective. For those of you who aren't necessarily part of the Hall-watching community, but stumbled across this entry because one of your favorite acts is a nominee, it's important to remember a couple things. First, no favoritism is shown to any sub-genre of the rock and roll diaspora. Judas Priest isn't ranked higher than the Notorious B.I.G. because they're metal and he's rap, and the same is true of Biggie ranking above Motorhead. That's just not how it's done here. Second, no favoritism is (intentionally) shown to any particular category. It's not a weighted average situation, where Innovation is 35 % of the score, Influence is 30%, Impact is 20%, Intangibles is 10%, and having minimal Issues is the final 5%. It's not like that either. Third, just because an artist ranks low on this list doesn't mean that artist isn't worthy, or that I even think they're not worthy. Finishing low on this list still ranks them really high compared to the thousands of eligible acts who haven't and never will be nominated. This is the list, and someone's got to come in sixteenth. I don't do ties either, though some were really close to what would ostensibly be ties if my methods were a little more numerically driven. Of course, if an act excels in one category in particular, that part of the equation will be bigger. It's like having five separate accounts, and one of them is bills: whichever account has the most money in it will help your total wealth the most, as long as it isn't Issues. I hope that makes sense.
I spent the past few weeks since the announcement of the nominees binge-listening to each of the sixteen nominees, and I hope I've gotten a solid enough grasp of each act's merits. Feel free to weigh in, in the Comments section below if you think I'm right or wrong. The next entry will be devoid of all that objectivity as I rank them by how much I enjoy listening to them. The gloves come off then. Until then, happy commentary, everybody!