Wednesday, December 4, 2019

Personal preferences: 2020 Nominees

Unquestionable musical excellence: it's a little more than just personal preferences of musical acts, but that's still a big part of the equation.  There's no denying it.  So when we talk about the nominees for the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame and the statement regarding unquestionable musical excellence, mentioning whether a particular nominee makes us want to turn it up or stab our eardrums with a pickax is a completely valid commentary.  And because all forms of art, including music, are partially subjective, though there is also a general consensus among the knowledgeable about what's "great" and what's not, it is therefore worth examining these nominees from a point of view of pure listening pleasure.  Since I devised one attempt at objectivity, time now for the more fun part, that is, the subjective list.  And even then it's not necessarily easier.  A lot of artists ran neck and neck, even though they are quite different.  Sometimes it depends on what I'm in the mood for that day.  Since I do my binge-listening while I'm at work, the workload and how much sleep I had the night before both play a huge factor in how much I want to sing along with what the music streaming service is feeding me.  Luckily, I've taken it upon myself to listen to each nominee again since the release of my objectivity list, to try and be a bit more fair, and also to see if a musician is as much fun to listen to the second time around, because how much you want to keep listening to something matters in a list like this.  Per usual, I will be listing my favorite songs by each artist, since those are not always the Songs Of Proof I end up using.  And I'll average out the ranks on both lists to give a composite score, and we can see what the average list ultimately looks like.  And this time, ties will be broken by number of years eligible when I make the composite ranking.  Another fun thing with this list is that relative positions aren't going to be the same as from previous lists.  Some years, an artist grows on me, or I get sick of an artist, or whatever, and the rankings can fluctuate wildly.  It keeps us guessing, myself included.  So, let's look at where the artists on this ballot stack up against each other, whether I want to stream them more often, or disembowel myself with spears thirty seconds in.

1. Whitney Houston
I didn't originally have Whitney in the top spot, but her songs are just so powerfully amazing.  I gotta admit, "I Will Always Love You" is an overwrought gigantic red mark against her, but it wasn't enough to bring her rank down, not with her catchy dance songs and amazing duets.  "Same Script, Different Cast," "How Will I Know," and even "The Greatest Love Of All."
Favorite song: "One Moment In Time."
Merit rank: 2
Average of ranks: 1.5

2. Kraftwerk
This group probably could have come in first... if I could have actually found more of their music in its original form.  I mean hearing every album after Autobahn as they sounded BEFORE 2009.  Having heard Autobahn in both the original and remastered versions, the 2009 remasters of their albums sound noticeably different, and it genuinely robs the listeners of an education of the musical importance of Kraftwerk's craft work (though my cat enjoys having his fuzzy face and ears rhythmically skritched to the pacing of the 2009 remaster of Tour De France). On YouTube, I could only find the first four albums in original sounding form (Ralf And Florian is incredibly underrated, by the way), and Spotify ONLY plays 2009 remasters.  I'd really like to not have to drop such serious coin to hear the remaining six studio albums in their original glories, and so, Kraftwerk is penalized a spot in the personal tastes' rankings.  They're still fun to listen to, but... it's more fun to compute.  Sorrynotsorry.
Favorite song: "Kometenmelodie 2"
Merit rank: 1
Average of ranks: 1.5

3. Todd Rundgren
Overall, this man is a quality musician.  Diverse too, and an amazing duet partner.  Also, when I first expressed a half-hearted reaction to the ballot, it was mostly because of how heavy it is with classic rock and soon-to-be classic rock acts.  Reason #2: this man has jumped up five ranks in personal taste without really putting out any new material.
Favorite song: "Mountaintop"
Merit rank: 6
Average of ranks: 4.5

4. Pat Benatar
I have to admit, I didn't think she'd finish quite this high on the list.  I assumed that the greater part of her catalog consisted of the more dramatic songs like "Love Is A Battlefield" or "We Belong," which I'm not big on.  Instead, I was surprised to find out that more of her songs were driving, such as "Heartbreaker" and "Hit Me With Your Best Shot."  I also find it interesting to note that my favorite songs by Pat are the ones that sound like they could've been Blondie songs, whether it was "We Live For Love" or...
Favorite song: "Treat Me Right"
Merit rank: 8
Average of ranks: 6

5. The Doobie Brothers
Like Pat Benatar, ranking this group was a little difficult because I really like a lot of their songs, and really wanted to skip past more than a few.  All the same, listening to them multiple times just reaffirmed that this is a band I like and am glad that they're nominated.  Non-sequitur: I meant to include this under their Impact or Intangibles when ranking their merits, but they deserve props for having what I believe is the only charted hit for the "Sesame Street" record label , "Wynken, Blynken And Nod." ("Rubber Duckie" and "Rainbow Connection" were on Columbia and Atlantic, respectively.)
Favorite song: "The Doctor"
Merit rank: 12
Average of ranks: 8.5

6. T. Rex
Public service announcement: listen to this band on YouTube, not Spotify.  Spotify's remastered songs in the T. Rex playlist really make this group sound awful.  I can't explain it, just trust me.  Listening to this band's later stuff, I really can't get why Marc Bolan sometimes gets called "The Father Of Punk."  Maybe I just didn't hear the right songs, but the connection from T. Rex to the Clash or Ramones isn't very present, outside of the song "Celebrate Summer."  That's not say I didn't enjoy listening to T. Rex; they're definitely aural candy for me.  So much so, I would say they're even more "bubblegum" than the Sweet, but not as much as Ohio Express.  I'm gonna piss off people by saying this--and it's not meant as a pejorative either--but I would describe T. Rex as "ABBA for rockists."  But hey, I love ABBA too.
Favorite song: "Baby Boomerang"
Merit rank: 11
Average of ranks: 8.5

7. Rufus featuring Chaka Khan
I'll level with you: Chaka's voice does not always sit well with me.  Sometimes I really enjoy her voice, and when I'm sleep deprived, I do not. Fortunately, the entire band is always groovin'.  A great band to groove along to, with or without Chaka.
Favorite song: "Take It To The Top"
Merit rank: 14
Average of ranks: 10.5

8. The MC5
A band with a short enough discography that the second listen-through consisted of YouTubing their studio albums and any other essential singles.  Had a lot of fun with this group.  Still not a huge fan of the intentional cacophony, but they grow on me, and the messages weren't lost.  Plus, their imperfect ballads like "Let Me Try" are incredibly underrated as works of music.
Favorite song: "American Ruse"
Merit rank: 13
Average of ranks: 10.5

9. Judas Priest
This one was a hard one to place for me.  I really liked some songs.  Really didn't like others.  Although, I will also say that listening to them in greater depth also helps me better to explain why I'm cool with guitar solos, but not a fan of self-indulgent ones that call attention to themselves instead of working with and within their songs to elevate them both.  Just my opinion, but that's the impression I got from them.  Didn't hate them, just that some specific things didn't resonate with me.
Favorite song: "United"
Merit rank: 4
Average of ranks: 6.5

10. Depeche Mode
They're growing on me.  The robotic British vocals don't turn me off the way they used to, but they still don't enthrall me.  But you can definitely spot the high-caliber musicianship in their arrangements, and even in some of the live renditions.  That still matters to me.
Favorite song: "Just Can't Get Enough"
Merit rank: 5
Average of ranks: 7.5

11. Motorhead

I gotta admit, the day I did the second listen to this band was less than great, but not because of work.  I won't get into the details, but I'm pretty sure that Lemmy, in all of his embodiment of the "rock and roll lifestyle" wouldn't have put up with that shit, and would have done some speed before dishing out retribution, but that's neither here nor there.  Of the metal acts on this ballot, I think of Motorhead's songs as being the best written, the most intelligent. and the most philosophical.  I couldn't understand everything he sang, and I didn't agree with some of the things he sang either, but overall, it was a positive experience for me.  In this current social and political climate, I gotta admit, "Eat The Rich" ran a close second for favorite song.
Favorite song: "1916"
Merit rank: 9
Average of ranks: 10

12. The Notorious B.I.G.
In choosing where to place this man on the personal taste list, I'm deciding to include everything that's thrown at me, whether he's the primary artist or not.  To choose a personal favorite, I'm adding the stipulation that it needs to be a song where he is indeed the primary artist, whereas the Song Of Proof will need to be a song where he's the sole artist of credit.  That aside, there were a lot of good songs where he wasn't the primary artist, like "Victory," and "Party On The West Coast."  However, most of the serious contenders were ones where I was enjoying them before I knew he was either the primary or sole artist, like "Gimme The Loot," and "Ten Crack Commandments."  And as much as I love Herb Alpert's "Rise," I couldn't give the brass ring to "Hypnotize."  But as for a lot of the non-charted stuff... well, they weren't promoted as singles for a reason.
Favorite song: "Warning"
Merit rank: 7
Average of ranks: 9.5

13. Thin Lizzy
This is an act that actually benefits more from listening to them while at work.  While I'm busy with some of the duties, I don't always notice how bad the lyrics can be, and can enjoy the melodious harmonies of the dual lead guitars.  Unfortunately, some duties allow me to basically run on autopilot, and I can actually pay attention to the lyrics, and that hurts them.
Favorite song: "Running Back"
Merit rank: 16
Average of ranks: 14.5

14. Nine Inch Nails
No surprise that industrial ain't exactly my breve latte with sugar-free hazelnut and almond flavor shots, but Nine Inch Nails is still better than making a strawberry smoothie dirty.  That.. that was a terrible idea on my part.  The barista even tried to talk me out of it, but nooooOOOOoooooo.....
Favorite song: "Discipline"
Merit rank: 3
Average of ranks: 8.5

15. The Dave Matthews Band
This is why it's important to listen to an artist a second time.  These are the thoughts I was having the first time I listened to them:

--Wow, now I know why pot is such a big part of the jam band concert experience.  You'd have to be stoned to enjoy being bored to death by this.

--There's no prog nominated, but this might be the most prog-adjacent band on the ballot.  Their songs are needlessly long and excruciatingly boring... just like prog!

--For crying out loud, make it stop, MAKE IT STOP!!!

My thoughts on them the second listen:

--Okay, maybe I was a little harsh on them last time.  Or maybe it was the songs I got last time?  I dunno.

--My radio days' instincts are still accurate though.  They'd be better if their songs were two minutes shorter.

So, clearly this is not an act I will listen to very much.  You just have to catch me in the right mood for it... and be ready for me to skip to the next track two-thirds of the way through any given song.
Favorite song: "American Baby"
Merit rank: 15
Average of ranks: 15

16. Soundgarden
Nirvana aside, grunge is really proving not to be my thing.  I ranked Pearl Jam second to last for personal taste on the ballot for 2017, just ahead of Jane's Addiction.  This band, you can really hear the evolution through the years.  I really understand why Ultramega OK never made the album charts and why Louder Than Love only fared so-so.  My favorite song from the former was "One Minute Of Silence."  Thankfully, their sound evolved and matured, and there were a few songs that I could enjoy, but overall, not especially.
Favorite song: "Superunknown"
Merit rank: 10
Average of ranks: 13

So, with the averages figured out, and tie-breaker rules in place, here is the aggregate list of how I theoretically should be voting in the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame's online Fan Ballot:

1. Kraftwerk
2. Whitney Houston
3. Todd Rundgren
4. Pat Benatar
5. Judas Priest

6. Depeche Mode
7. T. Rex
8. The Doobie Brothers
9. Nine Inch Nails
10. The Notorious B.I.G.
11. Motorhead
12. The MC5
13. Rufus featuring Chaka Khan
14. Soundgarden
15. Thin Lizzy
16. The Dave Matthews Band

So theoretically, my vote everyday should be for Kraftwerk, Whitney Houston, Todd Rundgren, Pat Benatar, and Judas Priest.  However, that has not been the reality.  The reality is that this year has seen the loudest clamoring against the huge imbalance in the numbers of inducted people in the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame, by race and gender.  By and large, this hobbyist community has been trying to hold the Hall's feet to the fire, trying, if nothing else, to get the Hall out of the "classic rock" rut it's in; unfortunately, this ballot is almost entirely comprised of either acts that are considered classic rock, or will be in another five to ten years.  This ballot makes it  look like the Hall is just spinning their tires in the mud and getting in even deeper.  Trying, seemingly in vain, to combat that, my daily votes have been going to Whitney Houston, Pat Benatar, The Notorious B.I.G., Rufus featuring Chaka Khan, and ... the MC5, because I'm still a native Michigander.  Nonetheless, if those top five average scores were the inductees for the Class Of 2020, that'd be a pretty awesome class.  Is that what I think will happen though?  Even I'm not sure yet.  But I'll be laying down a final prediction soon.  Meanwhile, feel free to weigh in with your thoughts.