Sunday, November 28, 2021

Thoughts on the 2021 induction ceremony

 Much has been said about the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame induction ceremony for the Class Of 2021, and I hope my thoughts won't be too redundant.  My hope is to say things that haven't already been said; so if I blow right by one segment of the ceremony, it isn't that it wasn't enjoyable or edifying, it's just that I don't have any new observations.  Also, I only got to watch the ceremony twice these past nine days.  I really thought they would keep airing it across the various HBO channels throughout this week like they did with the special last year.  They haven't been.  Maybe I'll catch it again soon.  Maybe I can bring it up On Demand.  My memory may miss a step or two; bear with me.


Carole King:  To me, this was the most disappointing, compared to what I would have hoped or wanted.  Untapped potential.  Taylor did a great job, as did Jennifer Hudson and Carole herself.  For me, the problem was the overall handling of it.  Carole King is one of the two most quintessential singer/songwriters of the 1970s that are responsible for the connotations we still have to this day of what it means to be a "singer/songwriter."  But so much of her segment seemed to dwell on the latter part of that label.  It was almost like they were recycling her 1990 Non-Performer induction merits and reusing them this time.  The video package did a good job of showing the performing part of her legacy.  Taylor's speech mentioned the singing and how it resonated with her, but there were several lines in the later part of her speech that were ambiguous and could just have easily been said at King's 1990 induction.  The imbalance of her renown as a songwriter to her amazing voice and playing on her albums felt staggering.  The performances reflected that too.  Yes, all the songs that were performed were on Tapestry, but they were also all songs that her versions are not the big hits, best-known, or most revered.  Heaven forbid that Taylor Swift kick things off with the energetic "I Feel The Earth Move," or that "So Far Away" find its way in there.  Or "Nightingale" or "Jazzman" to remind us Carole King had so much amazing music after Tapestry.  In the room itself, the only musical moment that felt distinctly about her solo career was when they played "I Feel The Earth Move" as Carole got up on stage to accept her induction.  Obviously I don't know who decided on the setlist.  Maybe it was Carole herself.  But it really feels like the Hall inducting her as an artist was done in a very left-handed way, like they're saying, "Yeah okay, we'll acknowledge her as a recording artist... but really, naahhhhh."  Still, I loved Carole's speech, and I'm really happy for her.  Major injustice rectified, and kudos to Carole for gently but powerfully calling out the Hall for not giving a tribute to Aretha Franklin immediately.  Maybe Jennifer Hudson's performance was selected to serve a dual purpose..


LL Cool J:  My hypothesis is that the reason LL Cool J got so much real estate was as a mea culpa for not being able to get him in as a Performer, and to give the middle finger to all those who refused to vote for him.  His set almost felt like watching a Superbowl halftime show, with the appearances of Eminem and Jennifer Lopez.  It'll be interesting to see if Jennifer Lopez ever gets any love from the Hall.  


Randy Rhoads:  Good speech from Tom.  The video package did a great job of showing his importance and influence.  And I love that they got a clip of the man speaking.  That makes it more meaningful, in my opinion.  It's a shame they couldn't give any of his family a moment onstage to give a thank you speech.  Also a shame he didn't get to work with more people or get his demos released.


Billy Preston:  I know they had to keep it tight, but I wish this package was a little longer.  I think Ringo did a good job with his speech, but I'm a bit of a stan for Ringo, so take that for what it's worth.  I'm glad they showed how Billy did more than just the Let It Be sessions.  Again, wish a living family member could have accepted for him and said a quick thank you.  Just to show there are people there who care.  If I'd been there, Billy is the male inductee I would have been cheering for the loudest.


Tina Turner:  If it had been for anyone else, I'd have found Angela Bassett's delivery style overwrought.  But this is Tina Turner.  It fit perfectly.  I'm glad the package featured Lizzo.  If I could think of a current artist directly descended from Tina's solo career, it's Lizzo.  Glad to see Cher too.  I wanna see her as a double inductee, but so much time has passed, that getting Sonny And Cher in at all is a pipe dream at this point.  Being the age I am and growing up when I did, one of the first things I learned about Tina, even before any of her songs, was for having/being "the best legs in the business."  So, in a way, I'm glad that they had video footage showing how she got that accolade, but even more glad that nobody talked about it, because it must remain about the music.  And unlike with Carole, you knew this was entirely about her solo career.  Loved her simple yet heartfelt acceptance speech from her home.  Gotta admit though, the performances didn't thrill me.  They were good, but "It's Only Love" was one of the overplayed Adult Contemporary songs from my radio days, and "What's Love Got To Do With It" has never been among my favorite songs (but it's iconic, it's got to be there, and hey, H.E.R. and Mickey Guyton slayed their performances).  Christina did a pretty good job with "River Deep - Mountain High," and I like how they were reclaiming that song back from her previous career.  Still could've done without the flourishes at the end though.


Clarence Avant:  Of the male inductees who were there, this is the one I would have been cheering for the loudest.  I loved Lionel Richie's speech, too.  Especially when he started by throwing some shade at the Wikipedia page for Clarence.  If you read that page, you really don't get a sense of his importance at all.  Having watched The Black Godfather, I just feel like he's someone I'd want to meet too.  I want him to be made Postmaster General once DeJoy is gone.  And of course, gotta love the wit and sincerity of Clarence's acceptance speech.


Todd Rundgren: Patti Smith was the perfect inductor for him.  An artistic genius inducting another artistic genius.  The video package was phenomenal, and I love how they closed it with his famous line against the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame.  Still, I would have loved it if he had shown up, just played the morbid and offbeat "Flappie," and then wordlessly walked offstage.  That'd have been the best compromise we could have gotten for the fans while still giving the middle finger to the institution.  But then again, Todd in the video package said why he doesn't like to compromise.


Charley Patton:  Hey, you work with what you got.  Almost no photographs of the man, no video footage, few people alive who ever met him (if any), little footage about his influence from those who were influenced by him.  Gary Clark, Jr. did well.  Although, living near the Nooksack River, the song "High Water Everywhere" hits a little too close to home right now.  I'm okay though, but many are not right now.  Just a sidebar if you're looking for people to pray for or send positive thoughts and energy to.


Kraftwerk:  I loved the video footage of them performing.  I knew they were known as the robots, but I didn't realize that it really permeated, like watching Shields And Yarnell, or Arte Johnston and Judy Carne on "Laugh-In," but serious.  And seeing the instruments they played on and the engineering equipment they used brought it home further.  And then add the way Kraftwerk records influenced hip-hop.  Just a shame that they couldn't have been voted in the regular way.


The Go-Go's:  I said it in the second paragraph of my "Dryer And The Rock Hall" post, but this is the group that should have headlined.  I loved Drew Barrymore's enthusiasm in her speech and while watching the Go-Go's' performance.  I loved the video package, but maybe ran a little long.  Mainly because the women were actually there.  I think that's a good rule of thumb to follow.  If the inductee is there, and especially if performing, go with a shorter video package.  But I liked the moment when Jane Wiedlin said, "Yeah, sisters that stabbed each other in the back."  Just another example of sexism in the industry.  Women in groups have to behave like some preconceived notion of what sisterhood means.  No one asks that of the guy bands, do they, if they're really all brothers together?  I mean, some say they're like family, but it's hokey to ask if they're like siblings.  Loved the speeches, and their performance kicked ass.  One subtle moment I caught was at the start of their second song, when Jane walked right up to her monitor/amp to check her sound in it while they were playing.  That's a true musician's move.  Anyone who wants to downplay their credibility, that's just a simple thing that was subtly done, but it speaks volumes of their professionalism and dedication to putting on an amazing show.  And if they'd been the headliner, you can bet we'd have gotten to the actual all-star jam.


Gil Scott-Heron: Common did a smooth job with the speech, and the video package showed how Gil's recordings are still important and relevant, which is both amazing and disheartening.  Overall, I'm frustrated that the NomComm never even tried putting Gil Scott-Heron on the ballot (but he was Previously Considered, so somebody tried), and also frustrated that he probably would have still needed the "category treatment" if they had.  If they had to do it with a hip-hop pioneer and a pioneer that got sampled in hip-hop, they'd have to do it with a political and vocal delivery progenitor of hip-hop too.  I'll be looking forward to Joe Tex and the Last Poets getting inducted as Early Influences in the next few years (eyeroll).


In Memoriam:  Not much else to be said that hasn't already.  "Bye Bye Love" would have been too on the nose for the tribute performance, and "On The Wings Of A Nightingale" was too minor and late of a hit in the Everly Brothers' catalog to have worked.  "All I Have To Do Is Dream" was the right choice.


Jay-Z:  After the message from Barack Obsma, we got the tribute performance: others reciting the Jay-Z lyrics that were meaningful to them or important overall.  I admittedly have no consciousness of the news right now, little time for social media, so I was unaware of Dave Chappelle's current situation.  I thought his speech was great.  It felt genuine and was defensive against the appropriation of African-American culture by the Caucasian community at large.  Solid video package, and wonderful speech from the man himself, though admittedly a little redundant.  I guess the moment just moved him to say it again.


Foo Fighters:  It's a mixed bag.  The video package was better than Paul McCartney's speech.  I honestly would have rather had P!nk do the honors.  I know Joe Kwaczala said it should have been Jack Black, but honestly, I'd be happy to never see or hear that professional manchild ever again (Jack, not Joe).  The video package really did justice to the other members of the band, and Paul's speech was the patent reminder that we absolutely had to induct the Foo Fighters because... Dave Grohl.  


But I'll say this now: I'm glad that Foo Fighters have been inducted.  This was something I wanted to write about for awhile, but this induction gives me an opportunity to say it hopefully succinctly.  Foo Fighters are a good inductee due to their popularity as hitmakers (albeit on the Mainstream and Modern Rock charts and less so the Hot 100), without being innovative or hugely influential.  The Hall Of Fame is about recognizing those, both musicians and not, who contributed to the perpetuation and evolution of rock and roll music.  Get that?  Not just evolution, but also perpetuation.  And even then, when you recall your high school biology classes, evolution requires adaptation to stimuli, that occurs over a pace of multiple generations.  In other words, evolution also requires proliferation.  A species that reproduces sexually can't evolve without some good old-fashioned "sticking two together" as Outkast would say.  In terms of a cultural evolution, something has to remain popular to evolve, whether it's rock and roll, movie franchises, fast food menus, or Mario video games.  Economic principles come into play here, but then again, they kind of do when it comes to human evolution too.  The '60s are revered as the golden decade of rock and roll for a few reasons, but one of those was simply because of how popular it was.  People sometimes say rock is dead today because it's not the most popular part of the contemporary hits radio format, and rock radio stations aren't as ubiquitious as Top 40 stations.  Remaining popular is a valid piece of rock and roll's evolution, and it's okay to recognize and enshrine Foo Fighters for it.  Just as it would be equally valid to induct Paul Revere And The Raiders for their string of hit rock and roll singles, or even Motley Crue for their number of hits and renewed popularity.  Those acts won't rank high on my "Merits Ranks" listings (unless the ballot is weak that year), but they will get a passing grade from me if we simply use a "Pass/Fail" litmus test that I believe we should be using, which could ostensibly help create bigger classes and help clear the backlog without having to resort to surreptitious shenanigans that undermine an instituion that by its very mission, whether they realize it or not, purports itself to be a historical society.  Okay, that was longer than intended, but shorter than the whole entry that it could have been.


Wrapping up, it's clear the video packages from last year's televised special worked so well because it was pretty much the best we could do.  Now that we can assemble again, we don't have to use them as a crutch.  They work well in a pinch, and if an inductee is dead or otherwise can't or won't show up (even with a recorded thank-you speech), it's okay to rely on them and have them go a little longer.  But if an inductee is there, let them do more of the talking.  Maybe the people making the packages should try coordinating with the presenters and find out what they plan to say.  That way, they can trim down the packages to prevent unnecessary redundancies.  Some redundancy is okay, when it's done for emphasis, but trim the fat where you can.  

And for crying out loud, do the freggin' all-star jam.  Even if you have to start with it and move it in post to the very end.  

Thursday, July 22, 2021

Songs Of Proof: The Class Of 2020

 It was the year that nobody wants to relive.  The death toll was insane.  Fashion included new facial wear.  Everyone became proficient in making sourdough bread.  Japan officially granted Godzilla citizenship.  Civil rights unrest so incindiary, it almost felt nuclear.  By the end of the year, the whole world knew it was a boy, there were fewer baby girls being named "Karen," and the murder hornets didn't even make the highlight reel.  It was a year so traumatic that it still feels like it's that year.  A year so bad, we've all but completely stopped saying, "Hindsight is 20/20."

But if you were looking at the Class Of 2020 for the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame when they were announced at the end of 2019, you might not have suspected it'd be so bad.  The downsides were the continuing trends of poor representation of women and people of color (especially living) and the claws of cronyism still firmly inserted in the Non-Performer category.  The upsides though, included electronic music finally gaining some ground, and the move to represent the '80s seeming to be succeeding.  Eight inductees, and there were a lot of high hopes for the ceremony, as new things were expected to be tried.  In all fairness, new things were tried too, just not what was hoped to be attempted.  In any event, it was a class of inductees that most people had some degree of excitement for, and in my little tradition of making a great playlist and program out of it, it is time to honor each of these inductees with a single song either by them, or that relates to them in some way.

Irving Azoff:  My choice for Big Shorty is a rather amusing one.  Indeed, when I read that he would be an inductee, I immediately took to looking up who some of the bigger name artists that he managed might be.  It didn't necessarily have to be a big name, but it would help.  Honestly, my choice of song for this man was pretty much set in stone early on.  My choice of artist is partially a protest, but it is also sincere in its own right.  There's an additional irony that the artist I chose was managed by Azoff at the time I did my research, which was after the announcement of Irving as an inductee, but who by the time the HBO broadcast aired, was on the way out the door, if not already out.  Regardless, I'm sticking with this song because it otherwise checks all the boxes.  This is an artist that Azoff managed for two decades, that he may have had to flex his business muscle to free out of an unfavorable contract situation, and was the manager of at the time this song was popular.  This artist was also chosen as a protest against the lack of female representation in the Hall.  Finding the right song was serendipitous.  Even in my own playlist, this is the third song by a female artist to represent a male inductee in this category (unless you count the Teddy Bears representing Phil Spector).  But the song chosen, primarily for the title, speaks to Azoff's clout in the industry.  This is a man who can get things done.  If you want an image change, Azoff will usually nurture it.  If there was a contract you wanted out of, he could break it for you.  And if you thought anyone could do it as quickly, efficiently, or as powerfully as Irving Azoff, well... "Ain't No Other Man."  Christina Aguilera debuts in this great passion project of mine.

Depeche Mode:  For the longest time, my choice of song for Depeche Mode was "Just Can't Get Enough," because it's so iconic and catchy.  What it is not, however, is representative of their sound.  I don't always do it that way, but after some consideration, I decided to change the Song Of Proof for this band.  As a truly innovative band that drew inspiration from the most bizarre places, always looked for ways to update their sound, and largely had a dark and brooding feel to many of their songs; it seemed like the best choice was something that at least attempted to reflect all those things.  In that vein, I thought "Strangelove" would be an appropriate choice for them, but not the original.  So often we prefer the original, but in this case, I chose the 1988 version, a slightly bigger hit on the pop charts, but the much lower charting version on the dance music charts..  Still, doing new mixes and updating their sound in new ways is part of how they've stayed cutting edge and is a better reflection on why they deserved their enshrinement into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame.  Side note: their acceptance speech Zoom conference was the highlight of the HBO special for me.

The Doobie Brothers:  It's not a Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame induction class without some semblance of classic rock, it seems.  This year, it was the Doobie Brothers.  And I'm actually glad they got in.  "Yacht rock" is a derogatory term of hindsight for what was, at that time, was a hodgpodge of singer/songwriter, blue-eyed soul, and an evolution from the hippie love-in style of the '60s.  The truth is a song like "Takin' It To The Streets" was soulful enough to have been covered by the O'Jays or the Spinners, in my opinion.  Same for "Minute By Minute."  Earlier songs like "Black Water" and "Long Train Running" maybe weren't quite as soulful, but they weren't cookie cutter, either.  It's okay to have a purely populist pick, and the Doobie Brothers were a good selection for that slot this time around.  My choice for this band is unchanged from what it was back when they were still only "Previously Considered."  "Jesus Is Just Alright" has a great rock and roll feel to it, with a hint of soul that comes through in the lyrics, harmonies, and doo-wop-like lines between chorus and verses.  It's nowhere near their biggest hit, but it's one people know and generally like.  Solid song from a solid band.

Whitney Houston:  An absolute powerhouse of talent and memorable songs, it's embarrassing that it took this long to get Whitney Houston inducted.  Maybe the powers-that-be thought her torch ballads were a little too saccharine or too prominent in her catalog,  Other than maybe "I Will Always Love You," I'd say that's a patently absurd argument, and even with that song, it's really more the inescapability of that song when it was topping the charts that made people sick of hearing it, similar to "All I Want For Christmas Is You" every December.  But when you just stop and think that this is someone who took a national anthem into the pop charts, that's just so implausible that the fact it happened speaks volumes about the quality of the performer.  That's not even getting into the danceable jams that made her a staple of R&B in the late '80s.  So grab your favorite being and flail around this strange planet, because the song for this legend is the fourth of her seven consecutive #1 hits, "I Wanna Dance Somebody (Who Loves Me)."  One of four songs that recharted after her death in 2012, it still cracked the Top 40, and despite its unquestionably 1980's production values, it's still as fun to play at your party, and maybe even attempt at karaoke night.  Not that I've ever tried that.  Seriously, I haven't, it's just fun and catchy enough that someone you know has attempted it at some point. 

Jon Landau:  As much as I wanted to use another female artist to protest the lack of representation, I also felt it would have been really disingenuous to use a Shania Twain or Natalie Merchant song for this man.  I thought that would have been corroborating or legitimizing the skewed storytelling that the Hall tried to feed us in the video package for him during the HBO special.  I've already expressed my disdain for the general idea of inducting critics into the Hall for their work as critics, and his production credits are too sporadic and minor to go that route.  It's about his work as a manager, and whereas it's legit to use a female artist for Azoff, because he's famous for representing a multitude of acts and talents, Landau, by contrast, is ultimately famous for managing one act, period.  That's without even getting sinister about his place in the Foundation organization, but we're here to pay tribute to Caesar, not bury him.  It has to be the Boss.  As was the case with Irving Azoff, the title of the chosen song just really lends itself naturally to honoring Landau.  And as a bonus, it's a song that Landau had a hand in producing.  Not that I'm throwing a bone to his defense, it just happened to work out that way.  A good manager takes care of their artists, covers them, one might say.  It's also one of my favorite songs by Springsteen and company; so crank it up for "Cover Me."

Nine Inch Nails:  This was actually the very last Song Of Proof for this class to be chosen.  Much of that had to do with the fact that what I wanted to believe archetypal industrial music sounded like and what a good chunk of Nine Inch Nails' music actually sounds like are two different things.  Basically, I wanted "Head Like A Hole," but faster and even more brash and cacophonous.  Needless to say, I needed to reprogram my understanding of this music.  I feel like I went a little bit cliche, but it's still a solid pick.  I can't really describe why this seems to be the best choice, given everything I was looking for, but the serendipity of this song being in a movie soundtrack was just icing on the cake.  It feels really experimental.  The perfect blend of pace and emotional feel, the perfect marriage of technical and technological wizardry, the perfect mental picture painted by the lyrics to describe Nine Inch Nails, the perfect song to use, really.... "The Perfect Drug."

The Notorious B.I.G.:  The choice for Biggie was "Big Poppa."  It might not be quite as famous as "Hypnotize" or "Juicy," but it was still a pretty big hit for him.  It really gives an overall feeling to the general gestalt of Mr. Wallace's music.  It has some real pop sensibilities, but it also still has a little bit of a street feel to it.  It projects an overall vibe of the man, demonstrates his flow rate, and firmly establishes his claim as one of the all-time greatest rappers.  The choice of sampling is impeccable, and it is a song that you can either relate to or just chill while listening to.  It's uniquely his, even to the point of being the only artist of credit on the song, but it feels like a song that's for everyone to some degree.  Great song overall.

T. Rex:  In terms of legacy, T. Rex is a rather odd band.  Marc Bolan was clearly at the helm, and yet, it definitely wasn't all about him.  Their music had very strong hints of bubblegum music from the '60s, but it was more than that.  There were sometimes hints of folk, psychedelia, and harder-edged rock.  They were also considered by many, especially in the United Kingdom, as pioneers of both glam and punk.  I personally don't hear the simplicity and rawness of punk in their songs, but if they were influential to punk and post-punk bands, then I certainly won't attempt to argue.  Calling T. Rex "bubblegum" is unfair, but not without merit.  I think of them more as Tootsie Pops.  There's the really sweet, fruit-flavored layer to it, but underneath lies the darker-flavored chocolate of their distortion and palpable bass.  Yet that part of it is also sweet, but a different kind of sweetness.  And while I was strongly considering "20th Century Boy" and "Metal Guru," I ultimately concluded that it isn't necessarily playing up to Americentric biases in the Hall's Foundation to keep "Bang A Gong (Get It On)" as the choice for this band.  It might be a little grittier than some of the other songs, especially "Ride A White Swan," but it still has the elements there of all that T. Rex was said to be influential upon.  So it stays. 

And with that, we have reached the end of the Class Of 2020.  Eight inductees, eight songs.  We'll never know what the live broadcast would have looked like, but the presentation we were given was pretty awesome.  As vaccinations are taking place, it's looking more and more like there might be an actual gathering for the Class Of 2021.  I don't think I'll be able to attend this year, unfortunately.  Having the ceremony in the fourth quarter of the year, which is the first quarter of my work calendar, certainly doesn't help, but I do hope to join all my fellow hobbyists at a ceremony one of these years.  Meanwhile, until then, I'm not officially committing to any song for any of those thirteen inductees.  As for 2020, do you have any thoughts on these eight selections?  Any songs you would have used instead?  Feel free to chime in; the Comments section awaits below.  And as a recap:

Irving Azoff: "Ain't No Other Man" by Christina Aguilera
Depeche Mode: "Strangelove" ('88)
the Doobie Borthers: "Jesus Is Just Alright"
Whitney Houston: "I Wanna Dance With Somebody (Who Loves Me)"
Jon Landau: "Cover Me" by Bruce Springsteen
Nine Inch Nails: "The Perfect Drug"
the Notorious B.I.G.: "Big Poppa"
T. Rex: "Bang A Gong (Get It On)"

Tuesday, May 18, 2021

The Dryer And The Rock Hall

 For some time, the dryer in the hosue where I live has been dying.  The only heat cycle that worked was the low heat, and even then only sometimes.  Then last Tuesday, I did a load of laundry, out of the washer by late morning and into the dryer. And there that load stayed until the next morning.  The final heat cycle had crapped out.  Despite telling my landlord about it, we couldn't get it taken care of that night, so I had to just keep running it on no heat.  The drum still spun, and I guess air was still blowing inside it, but the laundry would just not dry properly.  Said following morning, after nearly a full 24 hours in the dryer, I removed the load out of resignation.  It was finally dry enough to fold and put away, and my landlord said no problem then!  My clothes were dry, so I shouldn't be upset!  But I was upset.  I had another load to do that included towels and denim.  I was upset that we weren't going to have a working dryer in the house to take care of the rest of my laundry.  I was upset that what should have taken an hour took a day, and that he's going to flip out when he realizes that having to run the dryer so many times is going to wreak havoc on the electric bill this month.  I was upset that I had to do laundry for months with a dryer that wasn't working the way it was supposed to, and now is completely broken.  And I was getting upset that I was being told I shouldn't be upset about it because my clothes were finally dry.  I should be happy my clothes were dry, and forget about the fact that the dang dryer is broken.

On a relatively unrelated note, the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame announced their Class Of 2021 last Wednesday, the same day that first load was finally dry.  First off, a little bit of a cheer.  At the most petty level, boo-yah.  Six for six.  My seventh pick was a 50-50, might-or-might-not-happen scenario, but the top six... nailed it.  I feel pretty good about it, especially since I've had years where I only got two correct.  This was a much-needed win for my confidence.  Onto the inductees now, I'm absolutely stoked about Tina Turner and Carole King getting their second inductions.  They are both so absolutely deserving of the honors.  I currently am unable to access the old file I had of my list of 100 inductions I wanted to see, but I'm reasonably certain Carole King was on it.  I know Tina wasn't, because when I wrote the list back in 2004, I didn't realize her first release as a soloist was in the 1970s.  I thought her solo career hit the ground running with "What's Love Got To Do With It" and that she had a few more years to wait.  Not much to say about Foo Fighters getting in.  It's yet another reminder that the Hall's pecking order is not sorted chronologically, but we all know that already.  Congratulations to Dave Grohl becoming the first living double first-year-eligible inductee.  I'm extremely thrilled that the Go-Go's made it.  Not just because of their contribution in the battle for representation in the Hall, but because they just have an awesome energy to their music, even if I don't glomp on every track.  They really are a fantastic example of unquestionable musical excellence.  This band could be the headliner, not just because they rock, but their music embraces positivity in such an upbeat and peppy way that would bring down the house: something that the distortion pedals of Foo Fighters, the braggadochio of Jay-Z, the sass of Tina Turner, the offbeat quirk of Todd Rundgren, and the comparatively mellow style of Carole King all don't have.  Not that any of those acts wouldn't make great closers, but to be able to end the night with such cheerful and revelrous vibes would be epic.  I'm officially casting my vote that no one will care about; I want the Go-Go's as the headliners.  Of the six inductees, Todd Rundgren seems to be the one people are disappointed in.  Maybe it's because they didn't predict him; maybe it's because they know he won't show up for the ceremony.  Maybe it's because people wanted his work behind the scenes to be included in his induction in a little box with a bow and a tag that read "Award For Musical Excellence," but whatever the reason, watchers have been kind of grumbling about this one slightly.  I say give his records another listen.  And despite not having a huge string of hit singles, he had a good output of albums, and he genuinely deserves his induction as a Performer.  Again, I can't be sure, but he might have been on that list of 100 I had.  He might not have though.  Lastly, congrats to Jay-Z on also getting in. I'm a little surprised that my "deferred induction" thought generated any conversation on Twitter, but it was cool to at least discuss.  I will confess, I didn't really think it was going to happen, as evidenced by the fact I still predicted him to get in this year, but it was a fun little way to guess how the Hall was going to try to have it both ways.  And really, was it so hard to imagine?  Things seem like nonsense until the Rock Hall does them.  Then they seem like nonsense BECAUSE the Rock Hall does them.

Which brings us to the other categories.  Well, maybe not the Ahmet Ertegun Award category, other than the fact that it's still named after a notorious womanizer.  But there is certainly no controversy around the induction of Clarence Avant in this category.  As far as anyone can tell, there's no insider baseball kind of cronyism surrounding this induction.  Although I now wonder if maybe someone attached to the Hall is involved with the documentary.  Maybe it's best not to peek under that rock and just enjoy this induction as worthy of happening.  And absolutely no static from anyone about Charley Patton receiving an Early Influence induction.  This is the kind of education that the Hall does when it's doing its job right.  I plan to spend some time listening to his catalog soon and getting a feel for his importance.  Randy Rhoads is going to receive an Award For Musical Excellence induction, and that makes sense.  An incredible heavy metal guitarist who probably wouldn't be included in the Quiet Riot induction that is never going to happen anyway.  But his contributions to metal cannot be ignored, and thankfully, they won't be.  Getting a little muddier, I have mixed feelings about Billy Preston being given the Award For Musical Excellence induction.  True, he was a very important session musician, but he also had a substantial recording career, and the Hall has inducted Performer inductees that weren't as successful as Preston, and arguably not as influential either.  Still, I can respect the argument that his session work was more important.  Besides which, this harkens back to when they first renamed the Sideman category to Award For Musical Excellence to honor Leon Russell, another session man with a career as a featured artist that was worth at least peeking into.  So.... okay.  And I know for certain that Billy Preston was on that list of 100, so I get another year added onto the streak, that the Zombies and Doobie Brothers kept alive the past two years.

But of course, it's the other three that are causing the arching of eyebrows.  I won't rehash the entirety of what I've said on Twitter, but inducting Gil Scott-Heron and Kraftwerk in the Early Influence category when there were a few nominees for the Performer category who predate them is, to put it mildly. inconsistent.  And of course the Hall went ahead and redefined the parameters of the category.  And for all those who wanted the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame to have a Veterans Committee category, congratulations, you got it.  It's called "Early Influence," because the Hall had to take a simple task and find a way to screw it up.  I'm personally disgruntled because rock and roll is a style of music to me.  It is a style of music that is the product of a multitude of sources, and is constatnly evolving and incorporating other influences to keep making wonderful and varied subgenres, but it is still a style of music.  With their redefinition of the category, the Hall has pretty much conceded the definition of "rock and roll" as "the music of youth culture."  To be completely fair, I have gone on record to talk about how youth culture was a catalyst for the rise and domination of rock and roll.  But I also have opined at great length about how history has benchmarks that are immutable.  This is not something that I can lay entirely at the feet of John Sykes, as the idea has been getting batted about for some time now. But this is very much in keeping with John Sykes' promise to move the Hall forward to reach the younger generations.  I'm certainly all for that, but as I've stated before, it's hard for a pop cultural institution to reach a generation that is younger than the career of even the most newly eligible candidate for said institution.  That's not denying there are teenagers interested in music made before they were born (that was me, after all), but it's not the norm.  So unless the Rock Hall is officially changing the dictionary to define "youth culture" to mean "parents who aren't yet strenuously recommended to get annual mammograms or prostate exams," maybe they need to try a different approach.  In any event, calling something pre-rock when it isn't is wrong and calling something "pre-movement" or "pre-moment" is just.... ew.

And if that makes you feel icky, arguably worse than that is the induction of LL Cool J in the Award For Musical Excellence category.  As I stated above, this category was the phoenix that rose from the ashes of the murdered-young Sideman category.  Unlike most of the other inductees in this category, there's really nothing about LL's career in rap that wasn't Performer.  What's galling about this though, is I have a strong suspicion how the Hall is going to frame the video package.  Last year, the induction package for Jon Landau tried to frame him primarily as a producer, a critic second, and a manager third; while the truth is any real credentials beyond being on the Nominating Committee is from being Springsteen's maanger first and far away, and producer and critic so far behind that it doesn't matter which one ranks second and which third.  Same with Ringo Starr, whose video package dwelt heavily on how he revolutionized rock and roll drumming.  So with LL Cool J, look for the video package to focus on two things: one, the importance of Def Jam records, and thereby LL Cool J; two, his overall celebrity and how it elevates rap and the African-American community at large. Well, a Rock Hall induction isn't an NAACP Award, and the Rock Hall certainly doesn't have enough moral footing to extol the latter predicted focus.  And the entirety of his importance to Def Jam records was as a recording artist.

So why care?  As has been said, in six months, when someone asks, "Is Kraftwerk in the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame?", we'll be able to say, "Yes."  Well, you'll be able to say, "Yes."  I'll be sucking in air through my teeth and exhaling, "Technicallllyyyyyyyyy...." It's like the dryer.  Is my laundry dry?  Perhaps, but I still have the right to be mad that it took 12-16 hours of the drum turning to get it dry; that my situation is such that as long as one heating cycle is operating, my landlord is going to ignore all advisory that the darn thing is on its last leg; that at one point the plan was to transplant the plug off the old dryer and put it on the upstairs dryer so that it could run downstairs (which apparently is a thing, but just sounds sketchy and unsafe).  At the end of the day, I'm upset that I'm having to deal with that which is broken.  It shouldn't be this hard to get a load of laundry done at home.  It shouldn't be this hard to induct LL Cool J into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame as an artist of the rock and roll era whose music is part of the rock and roll diaspora.  Same with Kraftwerk.  Same with Chaka Khan, Devo, Queen Latifah, Iron Maiden, Wanda Jackson, Judas Priest, Fela Kuti, Jethro Tull, Lesley Gore, Tina Turner, Eurythmics, Soundgarden, Barry White, the Stylistics, Chubby Checker, the Shangri-La's, the Marvelettes, and a myriad of other artists. (And yes, the inclusion of Tina Turner was intentional, because when the discussion of Tina as a solo artist was mentioned on the "Who Cares About The Rock Hall?" podcast, the response of the three guests was surprising, to say the least.)  It's upsetting that the system is broken and the solution in place is patchwork and jury-rigging.  We want to be able to respect the process as well as the institution.  I said on Twitter that it must be true that fans always care more about canon than the institutions themselves, and that has proven true again (proof: futurerocklegends.com is a better resource for Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame information than the official website of the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame).  Part of the reason we didn't care as much before is the information wasn't as readily available as it is now.  

The Rock Hall did a great job with the Performer category this year, and though it would have been great to have more, these six by themselves ain't bad.  And to be fair, the majority of the inductees in the other categories are either spot on or reasonable.  And getting Early Influence or Award For Musical Excellence is a hell of a lot better than getting pigeonholed for one song in the Singles Category.  But I'm apprehensive about what it means down the road.  Calling Kraftwerk and Gil Scott-Heron "Early Influences" is explicitly calling them "Not rock and roll." Same with putting LL Cool J in the AME category.  It's saying what he brought to the table was important to rock and roll, and maybe a part of rock and roll culture, but it's not rock and roll music.  This is how the rockists win.  This is how the Performer category eventually kowtows to the narrow-minded who believe if it ain't an all-white, all-male guitar band, it ain't rock and roll.  This is how the Hall caters to those who will never (and maybe can never) visit the museum, and even if they do, they'll only go to the exhibits about their favorite bands because they have absoltuely no interest in the educational aspects of the institution, only that the music that fuels their BDE (or SPR more accurately) is validated.  And as far as I'm concerned, this is how the Hall codifies the stratification of artists of color or any gender other than male that should be Performers, but get told, "Well, not quite."  I don't like how asserting that LL's AME nod is not a consolation prize has eerie echoes of things I'm not even comfortable saying on this blog.  The Hall has never really acted with integrity, but if it really can do whatever it wants, what does it say that it wants to do it this way?

But can the Hall?  The longer this goes on, the more I see what I believe are the limits of the Foundation's power.  In the past, I've said that if induction by fiat really was a thing, Chic would be in.  But now, we know what induction by fiat really looks like.  It would appear the Hall is accountable to other interests when it comes to the main draw: the Performer category.  This in no way is meant as a mea culpa for the above paragraph either, make no mistake.  The Rock Hall should be able, and maybe used to be able, to tell exhibition outlets like HBO, "Here's what we're doing. Work around it."  It would appear that now, in an age where audio exhibition is dominated less by purchases than it is by ad revenue on streaming services, and where artists can no longer make it on album sales but have to have either a hugely successful tour and line of merchandise or endorsement deals to sustain themselves, the Hall has to rely on the HBO presentation of the ceremony as its major fundraiser (and the event itself), which gives HBO the leverage to call the shots.  And it appears they are trying to format the event like a television show, apparently right down to how much airtime an act is worth.  It seems like a living Performer inductee is worth as many minutes of airtime as two AME inductees and a Non-Performer.  I mean, maybe LL Cool J really did finish that low in the vote totals, but the Hall's lack of transparency would have been the perfect cover for calling him a seventh Performer inductee. No one would have known, and only those most upset about Iron Maiden missing out would have been upset at having two rapper Performer inductees.  Maybe the Hall really respects their voting process that much, it just seems like the less likely reason for this.  Future Rock Legends suggested giving the Nominating Committee their automatic inductee, (which I also suggested once, but in all fairness, my suggestion of it was a few sentences buried in a long paragraph in an extremely long post), and at this point, I'd welcome that.  HBO probably wouldn't approve, but no one would have to tell them that's what the Hall's doing either.  

The sad reality is, as long as television formatting for the ceremony dictates how the classes are shaped, we're never going to get bigger classes with more Performer inductees.  The only way to make that happen within some semblance of those parameters... is to do away with individual performances.  Bring it back to the old days where all the speeches and video packages are done, and have some instruments onstage aftwerards, and then whoever wants to jam together can make some musical magic together in a frenzied free-for-all of rock and roll energy.  You can edit the speeches down all you want, and limit who talks for how long, but the musical performances are where the time is going to be eaten up, between setting up, performing, and striking to transition.  More inductees will necessitate fewer performances, which nobody wants.  Even I don't want it, though growing up without MTV or any opportunity to see concerts--where if it wasn't played on commercial radio, it didn't exist--would at least make me more able to adjust to it.  There's also talk of multiple ceremonies, the logistics of which would be a mess, and other hybrid suggestions of these things.  I hope we can find a way to once again have nine or ten Performer inductees a year.  There is no perfect system because what the fans want and what it takes to make these things happen are seemingly at odds against the backdrop of the crony capitalistic dystopia that envelops the millennial lives and awaits to haunt the younger generations.  Such things are beyond the power of the Hall's powers-that-be.

However, these side categories are completely under the control of the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame.  That's why there are so many inductees in them this year, because their inductions will presumably take less time, and so the Hall can operate independently in deciding these categories. And this is where the failure truly does belong to the powers-that-be in the Foundation.  As both the "Who Cares About The Rock Hall?" and the "Hall Watchers" podcasts pointed out, as have multiple blog posts, there are literally no women in any of these other categories.  Not one.  This is the third year where there have been more inductees outside of the Performer category than in it (2000 and 2010 being the other years), and for all of that, they couldn't induct any women.  The only three women in Non-Performer category are songwriters who were inducted with their historic songwriting and marriage partners.  The only woman inducted in the Award For Musical Excellence category is a member of a large backing band that but for her is all men.  The Hall's extensive use of these categories this year suggests a unilateral control over inductions into these categories.  This is where we really can say that if they wanted to do it, they would.  And they didn't.  We still don't have Estelle Axton.  We still don't have Ella Fitzgerald.  We still don't have Carol Kaye.  We still don't have the Three Degrees.  We don't have all these women who should be in already.  The Hall just didn't do them, but instead chose to reword the categories' parameters.  If putting in LL Cool J in the Award For Musical Excellence category, thereby getting him off the ballot, is what it takes to finally get Salt-n-Pepa on the ballot, then at least some good will have come out of it.  But I have a pesky feeling that unless some personnel changes are made on these subcommittees, it's not gonna happen.  Last year's inductions of Irving Azoff and Jon Landau served as a reminder that the Hall, despite all the good it has done over the years, was originally an institution for the people in the room, where selections were made by the people in the room, to celebrate the people in the room for being the people in the room.  This year is a softening of that stance.  And maybe they meant it as a middle finger to HBO saying, "Only six Performers, well fine, but we're doing SEVEN in the other categories!"  But it still also serves as an enforcement of the patriarchy of the institution.  The Hall needs to induct more women, they need more women on the NomComm and in the voting body, and we men all need to listen to women more.  Last year, on "Who Cares About The Rock Hall?", when Evelyn McDonnell discussed her ballot, she mentioned how she felt torn because there were male acts she wanted to vote for, but felt it would be a betrayal of her cause if she did.  It shouldn't be like that.  We need to get to where a nomination and vote for Duran Duran (an all-male band whose nomination and induction I've seen advocated for by women on Twitter) won't be seen as betrayal, but rather the result of listening to women.  I'm guilty of it too, and spectacularly so (rereading things I'd previously written make me cringe at the carelessness of wording, for starters), but I'm trying to get better.  We can't give up though.  There was another analogy involoving chicken nuggets to make, but Kristen Studard said it right, where maybe we should just have a ballot without white men.  Amen.  And awomen to that, too.

Nelson Mandela said the wheels of government grind slowly, and that really applies to bureaucracy of any kind.  Maybe we're mad because the change isn't coming as immediate as our Amazon Prime packages.  Those of us who are upset are definitely upset because it didn't happen the way we feel it should have in a more utopian environment.  But there were some good surprises too.  This is an overall good class, and it's important to remember than of the thirteen inductees, nine or ten of them most of us have little quarrel with.  Progress was made, and it's important to treat that progress as a beginning rather than laurels to rest on.  Maybe we'll even learn to be more gentle and encouraging to the Hall.  Anything is possible.  This has been a good start, and we'll move on up a little higher next season.  But for now, I'm going to go bang the drum all day, forget about the ninety-nine problems, and the monkey wrench the Hall is using to try and fix them.  Maybe I'll go see a private dancer, because apparently, it's too late for me to do any better with my social life.  Or maybe I just need a vacation. 

And in case you're wondering, I got my other load of laundry done, thanks to friends from church who showed me grace.  Still don't have a dryer yet, so we'll see what happens this week. 

Monday, May 10, 2021

Prediction for the Class Of 2021

 Coming now to the main event, predicting who will be inducted.  We've examined the merits, as well as the pleasure, and now it's time to predict who makes the cut.  As many have said, it's a great ballot, and a shame that we have turn away the majority of them.  As a community, we have been saying it's almost impossible to have a bad class from this batch.  Honestly, that makes me reel a little, because we said the same thing about the ballot for the Class Of 2016.  We got a good class, but one that was a little too homogeneous, and a little socially tone deaf, to be honest.  The Hall almost made it mathetmatically impossible to duplicate that level of letdown, but as Eddie Trunk demonstrated when he filled out his ballot, it is still possible.  The fun thing about the predictions is that I can now work in the politics of the Hall, because that deals more with the "will" as opposed to the "should" of it all.  So it is with that sense of optimistic trepidation, I proceed to predict the inductees for the Class Of 2021 for the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame.


1. TINA TURNER

Rock and roll singer, previously inducted in the duo Ike And Tina Turner.  First-time nominee as a solo artist.

Why she might make it: She has an amazing legacy as a singer and an all-around entertainer.  Her comeback as a soloist in the 1980s made the world forget she had been in a duo, and she is well-connected in the industry.

Why she might not:  Her "imperial reign" as a solo singer was not terribly long, and the music from that time, except for a few songs, hasn't aged the greatest.  Some even say that her most important work was in the duo, not in the '80s.  

Whom she'd pave the way for:  Though stylistically different, an induction for Tina could indicate possibilities for someone like Tracy Chapman.  It will hopefully also get the Hall to look at more women who would make great dual inductees, like Diana Ross.

Biggest threats:  Carole King is the other woman vying for a second induction after being inducted with her ex-husband in the early '90s.  Chaka Khan and Mary J. Blige could also steal away some votes from her, as could Dionne Warwick.

In the end:  Between the documentary, the ceiling shattered by Stevie Nicks, the outcry for representation, and her connections in the industry (even in the Hall, she was at those early ceremonies, folks), it's happening.  A storybook coda, but maybe not quite epilogue for this legend.  Odds of induction: 95%


2. CAROLE KING

Iconic singer/songwriter, previously inducted as a Non-Performer for the songwriting duo of Gerry Goffin & Carole King.  Second nomination as a solo artist; her first nomination was befoore I'd even heard of the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame, so of course she's previously unseeded.

Why she might make it:  She is a legend, with just about every presitgious honor the music industry could bestow upon her.  Her songwriting skill is legendary, and her songs have stood the test of time.

Why she might not:  Some don't think her landmark album Tapestry is enough, and that album is the sum total of her credentials, despite how many other hit albums and songs she's had.  Additionally, there are those who still feel that dual inductions are redundant and overkill, despite the two dozen such occurrences there already are.  Plus, the Hall has a bad habit of digging its heels at times and doubling down when it shouldn't.

Whom she'd pave the way for:  A revisit to '70s singer/songwriters could probably get the Hall to finally nominate Carly Simon or Jim Croce, maybe even Don McLean or Anne Murray.  A little outside-the-box thinking could also show that Dolly Parton could follow behind her.  Even further away from the box, maybe inducting Carole in a second category could get another nomination for King Curtis, but this time include His Noble Knights in the nomination.

Biggest threats:  Tina Turner is the other woman vying for a second induction after being inducted with her ex-husband in the early '90s.  The Go-Go's are also well-reputed for writing their own music, and Dionne Warwick is another Oldies artist that could be enshrined this year.  And don't overlook Kate Bush or Todd Rundgren as competent singer/songwriters as well.

In the end:  In my opinion, Carole King should have been the first woman inducted twice into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame and the first person inducted in two categories (and Ringo should have been inducted as a Performer, but I've tilted at that windmill enough for now), and they both should have happened before Y2K.  If Tapestry is enough to get the producer of that album inducted--and sure he's done other stuff, but his induction package focused on that outing--then it is damn well sufficient to induct the artist who wrote and recorded it--and she had several more commercially respectably successful albums besides.  And it's gonna happen.  Odds of induction: 90%


3. THE GO-GO'S

All-female rock and roll band.  First-time nominee

Why they might make it:  They've been gaining momentum over the past couple years as the muscle of Rolling Stone has atrophied.  Their achievement of the first all-female rock band to have a #1 album is a massive accomplishment, and they are a trailblazing band, both in terms of breaking the glasss ceiling and in bringing post-punk sensibilities to the mainstream.

Why they might not: Because the height of their popularity was short-lived, they might be seen as not having done enough.  Plus, the old guard at the Hall still have a mild distaste for the decade of the '80s, to say nothing of the fact they don't get along with those still cozy with Jann S. Wenner.

Whom they'd pave the way for:  All-girl bands like Bikini Kill or the Bangles might be next in the queue.  You could also look to post-punk acts like Sonic Youth or X.

Biggest threats:  Sonically, Devo is the most similar to them and could nab a few votes that might otherwise go to the Go-Go's.  The New York Dolls are a punk act that could detract from a punkish sounding post-punk band.  Tina Turner is another solid figure of the '80s, and Carole King has a pretty strong reputation for the creation of her own music.

In the end:  The Go-Go's are one of the bands the Hall needs the most, especially in the context of what John Sykes says his vision for the future of the Hall looks like.  I think there will be enough voters who concur with that sentiment.  Odds of induction: 75%


4. FOO FIGHTERS

Hard-rock band.  Newly eligible, and thus first-time nominee.

Why they might make it:  They're a hard rock band in the tradition of post-British Invasion rock.  Additionally, who doesn't love Dave Grohl?

Why they might not:  Their candidacy is reminiscent of Green Day's back in 2015: a newly eligible solid rock band with steady output, hit songs, acclaim, and that has a good relationship with the Hall... but aren't really the most deserving act on the ballot.  They're seen as having helped with the continued perpetuation of rock and roll, but not so much in helping the evolution of the art.

Whom they'd pave the way for:  Most of the acts they'd open the door for aren't eligible yet: big name rock bands like the White Stripes, Franz Ferdinand, and Queens Of The Stone Age.

Biggest threats:  Rage Against The Machine is another '90s rock act with a member on the Hall's Nominating Committee.  Iron Maiden is another strong name for harder rock.

In the end:  It's who you know and who knows you.  The Hall will likely have three new members of the Clyde McPhatter club this year.  Still, it's not as strong a lock with these guys.  Odds of induction: 60%


5. TODD RUNDGREN

Musical utility-player and producer extraordinaire.  Second-time nominee, seeded #3 for 2019 and #13 for 2020.

Why he might make it:  Todd is well-connected in the industry, with strong ties that reach pretty far.  He sings, plays instruments, writes, produces, and even innovates listening opportunities.

Why he might not:  The Hall loves those who love them, and Todd does not love them.  Additionally, those who want the Hall to rectify the backlog want the Hall to induct Todd either as a Non-Performer for his production wizardry, or Award For Music Excellence as an umbrella for his production, musicianship, side projects, and all-around innovation--mostly just to get his name off the ballot.  By not voting for him, those voters are trying to force the Hall's hand on the matter.

Whom he'd pave the way for:  He doesn't open up too many tributaries, but maybe others that are well-loved within the industry have a shot, like Big Star, or a second nomination for John Prine down the line.

Biggest threats: Carole King is the bigger name for singer/songwriters.  Kate Bush and Devo are also well-known for sonic experimentation.

In the end:  Based on what was said about Judas Priest's past nominations, it can be extrapolated that Rundgren's third consecutive nomination is because each time he's come close.  Third time should be the charm.  Odds of induction: 55%


6. JAY-Z

Rapper, producer, all-around entrepreneur.  Newly eligible, first-time nominee.

Why he might make it:  Quite possibly the biggest name in the entertainment industry over the past twenty-five years not named Beyonce.  He is influential, creative, makes amazing music, and just carries an all-around cache to his name.  In short, too big to ignore.

Why he might not:  There are actually a few reasons.  His business and brand can be interpreted to symbolize the death of a music industry where musicians didn't have to have side hustles and endorsement deals to make a living, and the Hall might be resentful of that.  The ceremony's in Cleveland, and the Hall's schedule before the global pandemic was almost certainly tailored to induct Jay-Z in his hometown of New York City on his first year of eligibility.  Now that that's out the window, they may wish to induct him in the Big Apple rather than on his first year of eligibility.  Lastly, his "Hova" persona presents as being as detached and uncaring as the real Jehovah was thought to be by the Israelites while they wandered in the desert.  The Rock Hall is an institution that wants inductees who play ball with them.  Even when he has played ball, the result was one of the standards of bad induction speeches, until the 2016 induction of Steve Miller, at least.

Whom he'd pave the way for:  Eminem is newly eligible next year and was considered a gimme at one point.  It'll be interesting if the Hall goes back for the solo careers of rappers like Chuck D, Dr. Dre, or Ice Cube as well.

Biggest threats:  LL Cool J is another rapper on the ballot, and Mary J. Blige occupies a lot of the same space as Jay-Z, too.  Foo Fighters are the other newly eligible act, and Todd Rundgren is a musician and production wizard too.

In the end: Okay, this is where it gets convoluted.  Whether or not Jay-Z gets inducted this year, in my opinion, will depend on whether we can realistically expect herd immunity by the time of the ceremony.  The Hall won't want to do an event that isn't packed due to social distancing requirements.  They'd rather do another documentary induction like they did for 2020.  And the Hall has made it clear that the next live induction ceremony is going to be in Cleveland, regardless of how long it takes for that to happen.  But if they are able to have a live, packed ceremony in Cleveland this year, I think they will do something extremely unusual: they will announce Jay-Z as a top finisher, but will defer his induction to 2022 (possibly at his request), so they can do what they planned to all along, while also avoiding the backlash that not inducting Jay-Z immediately would otherwise likely have.  In other words, that's how they'll have their cake and eat it too.  However, if they cannot do a live ceremony, and have to do the documentary induction again, I think they'll just induct him this year, because they won't want to defer his induction more than one year.  The question is, taking into account all the work crews involved in making it happen, having a general admission section, and even having a week or so in Cleveland to hype up the event, thus having to figure in herd immunity in the state of Ohio--does the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame believe enough people will be vaccinated to have a safe, profitable event in Cleveland this year?  I think they'll err on the side of caution once more, do another documentary, and act so as not to have to worry about whether the Carters would deign to make appearances in Cavalier country.  Which means he'll be enshrined this year.  Odds of induction: 52%


7. DIONNE WARWICK

Female pop singer with a decades-spanning career.  First-time nominee.

Why she might make it:  She has a lengthy career, has worked with a lot of big names, and is having a huge resurgence in popularity due to Twitter.  The Hall does like to strike while the iron is hot.

Why she might not:  Most of her big hits were either hits on the Adult Contemporary charts, or could have been.  Songs she made popular could have fit very comfortably on The Lawrence Welk Show back in the '60s, which is to say some have trouble considering her all that "rock and roll."  For crying out loud, even Perry Como covered "That's What Friends Are For."

Whom she'd pave the way for:  An induction for Warwick would probably lead to the induction of the songwriting duo of Burt Bacharach & Hal David in the Non-Performer category.  Stylistically, she could help Roberta Flack or Sade get some notice.  Because of her collaboration, she could help the Spinners get nominated again, or maybe get nominations for other women of the earlier years, like Connie Francis.

Biggest threats:  Carole King's singer/songwriter catalog has a very soothing style not unlike Dionne's, making her direct competition.  Chaka Khan is also close, in terms of space occupied.

In the end:  It'll depend on how close the voting tallies go.  Between first nominations being the best chance in general, and the internet being a fickle culture that can't guarantee she'll still be the Queen Of Twitter next year, this is maybe her only real shot.  If there's a live event, you can bet Stevie, Elton, and Gladys would all show up to sing "That's What Friends Are For" onstage with her, as one of those moments that only the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame can make happen.  Will it?  Even if there isn't a live event, they may want to just usher her in.  It's a split decision.  Odds of induction: 50%


8. LL COOL J

One of hip-hop's first solo superstars. Sixth nomination, seeded #8 in 2010 and 2011 each, #4 for 2014, #13 for 2018, and #8 again for 2019.

Why he might make it:  He's a legend in rap music, paved the way for other rappers to make it big, while making it big himself.  He was the original mold for the male braggadochio show that rap was and still is, for better or worse.

Why he might not:  He just can't seem to clear the bar.  Rappers he helped make possible are in the Hall now and he's not.  It's like he passed the torch and got left out in the cold as a result.

Whom he'd pave the way for:  He could help clear the path for others like Ice-T and Snoop Doggy Dogg at some point.

Biggest threats:  Jay-Z is the clear and present competitor.  Mary J. Blige could also steal away a lot of votes from him too.

In the end:  Remember that scenario I posited earlier with Jay-Z?  If there is a live ceremony this year, and they defer Jay-Z's induction until 2022, the Hall won't want to keep falling behind on inducting rappers.  That's really the only way I see LL Cool J making it this year: at a live ceremony in Cleveland.  They could represent hip-hop with Blige as well, but LL has been waiting longer and has been let down harder more often.  But I'm betting he'll be let down again when they do another documetnary and let Jay-Z in this time, and not him.  Hard to say though.  Odds of induction: 48%


9. DEVO

Post-punk, art-rock band from Ohio.  Second nomination, seeded dead last at #15 for 2019.

Why they might make it:  The Hall loves to reward artistic creativity, and these guys had it.  Addtionally, if they can pull off a live ceremony in Cleveland this year, they'll want native Buckeye Staters there to make it more meaningful.

Why they might not:  They might be a little too far out there for some, and a one-trick pony to others.

Whom they'd pave the way for:  They might pave the way for an avant-garde act like They Might Be Giants to get inducted.  Their music is fun at parties too, so maybe acts like the B-52's or Violent Femmes.

Biggest threats:  The Go-Go's are the most sonically similar to Devo.  Kate Bush is also uniquely artistic, as is Todd Rundgren.

In the end:  Like LL Cool J, a live ceremony in Cleveland is the only scenario in which Devo gets in this year.  And I'm thinking nope.  Odds of induction: 45%


10. IRON MAIDEN

Heavy metal band most popular during the 1970s and '80s.  First-time nominee.

Why they might make it:  Heavy metal is a genre that many feel is in sore need of greater presence in the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame, and voters might rally to them.  And who doesn't want to see Eddie on the stage, right?

Why they might not:  The Hall just can't seem to stop doing metal dirty.  Two misses for Judas Priest, one for Motorhead, eight nominations for Black Sabbath before getting them in, and Iron Maiden only now nominated.  Metallica's waltzing right in is about the only real moment of ease for metal getting in.  Also, they're a band you've heard of, but most probably can't name more than a couple songs they did.

Whom they'd pave the way for:  The field of metal is pretty open.  An induction for Iron Maiden could ramp up momentum for Judas Priest again, or maybe open the door for Pantera or Megadeth, just to name two of the more obvoius examples.

Biggest threats:  Rage Against The Machine is the most metal of the other nominees.  Foo Fighters are hard rock, and the New York Dolls are driving punk.  All can make competition for this band.

In the end:  It's weird to see me seed them this low.  My prevailing theory was previously, "If you want to assure that a white rock band gets in, make them the only white rock band on the ballot."  Iron Maiden is not the only such act on the ballot, but there are few enough of them that the rockist contingent will have no trouble coalescing in unity behind the same five acts, for the most part.  That could spell trouble for those who are expecting this class to embrace the idea of representation mattering. Despite haunting echoes of the ballot for the Class Of 2016, the promise of thinking and moving forward from John Syke,s and the apparent listening by the Nominating Committee to the outcry from those of us who've been calling for wider representation in the Hall both have me thinking in won't be a repeat of 2016, and that metal will indeed be done dirty again.  We'll see though.  Odds of induction: 40%


11. CHAKA KHAN

R&B songstress, former lead singer of Rufus.  Third nomination as a solo artist.  Seeded #11 for 2016 and #17 for 2018.

Why she might make it:  She has a long career as a singer with many strong ties in the music industry.  Additionally, her preseence on The Masked Singer has sparked a strong amount of support for her.

Why she might not:  Her solo career might be a little too easy listening for some voters, and those who think a person should only be inducted once are more likely to withhold support in favor of voting in Rufus the next time they are nominated.  Still others just want her to be inducted in the Award For Musical Excellence category as a catchall for everything Chaka and call it done.

Whom she'd pave the way for:  She could help get more of the classic disco acts recognized, ranging from Gloria Gaynor to KC And The Sunshine Band, and she could also clear the path for Mariah Carey or Celine Dion.

Biggest threats:  Dionne Warwick is the most similar to Chaka in terms of sound, and Mary J. Blige owes a lot to Chaka but could steal votes from her.  As could Tina Turner.

In the end:  I genuinely hate the idea of giving Chaka Khan an Award For Musical Excellence induction.  Doing so would result in the same empty, hollow feeling that introducing the Singles category did in 2018.  And it will only make people angrier that it happened that way as time goes on.  I hope she gets inducted twice.  I would be thrilled if the first one happened this year, but I do not expect it.  Odds of induction: 35%


12. MARY J. BLIGE

Pioneer of hip-hop/soul.  First-time nominee.

Why she might make it:  Of all the nominees on this year's ballot, she might be the paragon of the promise of a forward-thinking Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame.  She was pretty much unexpected, represents a style of music that is largely, if not completely, unrepresented in the Hall, and was just an overall breath of fresh air when her name was announced as being on the ballot.

Why she might not:  The conglomeration of radio, the rise of autotune, and the domination of more electronophonic music may make hip-hop/soul look more like a fad than a part of the evolution of music.

Whom she'd pave the way for:  An induction for Blige would open the way for artists like Brandy, Ashanti, Aaliyah, Toni Braxton, and maybe even blow up the dam holding back female rap acts like Queen Latifah, MC Lyte, and Salt-n-Pepa, just to name a few.

Biggest threats:  Those who prefer a chronological approach to the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame may insist that Chaka Khan must go in before Mary J. Blige.  Rappers LL Cool J and Jay-Z could probably keep votes out of her column too.

In the end:  Between Tina Turner, Carole King, and the Go-Go's, and the story arcs that each of their inductions would be among the apices for, Mary J. Blige will simply get lost of the shuffle, because we need to make sure Foo Fighters and Jay-Z get in too.  Odds of induction: 33.3%


13. RAGE AGAINST THE MACINE

Politically charged nu metal band.  Seeded #8 for 2018 and #11 for 2019

Why they might make it:  The insider nature of the Hall bodes very well for this band, with guitarist Tom Morello being on the Nominating Committee.  Additionally, the Hall loves politically charged music, and they were that.  They were also innovative in their sound.

Why they might not:  They are a band you know the name of, and may even relate to the ethos of the name itself, but you might not know any of their actual songs.  

Whom they'd pave the way for:  With Morello's love of metal, bands like Slayer and Pantera could be reached back for and nominated.  

Biggest threats:  Foo Fighters are another hard rock band with a Nominating Committe member as a band member.  It also wouldn't surprise me to learn that Tom Morello pitched Iron Maiden before biting into the giant hoagie and that even he expects them to draw votes away from his band.

In the end:  I think the band members themselves would be glad to miss out on induction again if it was because the machine that is the Hall was being reprogrammed to have better and wider representation.  Either way, though, they're missing out again.  Odds of induction: 30%


14. FELA KUTI

Afrobeat pioneer.  First-time nominee.

Why he might make it:  One thing that a nomination for the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame will do, and that the Hall does right in this regard, is bring greater awareness to great artists that the general populace is unfamiliar with.  The curiosity of the name has sparked curiosity of the music, and the interest has been sparked in many.

Why he might not:  Aaaanndd there have been many others who have dug in their heels, doubled down on the willful ignorance, insisting being big in the U.S. is the bar to clear.  What percentage of those people are in the voting bloc may be higher than we wish to acknowledge.

Whom he'd pave the way for:  A whole continent of musical greatness awaits.  The most likely would probably be Yassou N'Dour, who has worked with a few names well-known to the English-speaking world, like Peter Gabriel.  King Sunny Ade and Sun Ra could get some recognition as well.

Biggest threats:  His own obscurity in the United States.  For the sake of what this heading is supposed to mean, let's say Mary J. Blige's hip-hop/soul is a funky enough style to draw votes away from Kuti.

In the end:  As Joe Kwaczala said, even Award For Musical Excellence seems to be a bad fit for Kuti.  They may have to create an International category to induct him.  I hate this idea because it would only empower those with a closed-minded definition of rock and roll, who are probably closed-minded in other regards.  But as long as the tail wags the dog, and the Hall keeps the classes unreasonably small, he's probably not getting in as a Performer.  But the chatter his nomination has created at least keeps him from being seeded last this time.  Odds of induction: 25%


15. THE NEW YORK DOLLS

Early punk-rock band.  Second nomination, previously unseeded.

Why they might make it:  They were a highly innovative and influential, both in terms of their music and their image, and the critics loved them.

Why they might not:  Outside a few of the big names, punk rock really isn't having an easy time getting into the Hall.  Additionally, they really never had major commercial success, and their circle of influence attentuates sharply the further you get from New York City.

Whom they'd pave the way for:  Maybe getting them in first will help get the MC5 in?  Beyond that, we could start looking at bands like the Dead Kennedys or Black Flag.

Biggest threats:  Iron Maiden and Todd Rundgren are the only other acts that could really fit in the "classic rock" box with any level of comfort and are thus the most direct.  Foo Fighters and Rage Against The Machine are also hard-edged bands.  And oh yeah, don't forget the clear punk influences in the Go-Go's' music.

In the end:  Like Carole King, the New York Dolls are returning to the ballot after a long absence.  Unlike Carole King, there hasn't been nearly the amount of outrage over their omission, nor have they raked in the number of accolades she has to bolster their case.  Odds of induction: 20%


16. KATE BUSH

Experimental Britih musician.  Second nomination, seeded #17 (but not dead last) for 2018.

Why she might make it:  The Hall loves the artistic, experimental musicians, and Kate is most definitely that and thensome.  Additionally, the inductions of Roxy Music and T. Rex show that the Americentric bias in the ranks of the voting bloc is starting to erode and crumble.  Lastly, remembering how the tail wags the dog with the Hall, if an induction documentary is how business will be handled again this year, this is the optimal chance to induct her and possibly get her to appear (for want of a better word) for her induction, via a pre-recorded acceptance from wherever she feels comfortable giving it.

Why she might not:  There's still a strong Americentric presence in the Hall, and artists who work on their own timeline with no deadlines have trouble staying in the spotlight.  Not that she coveted it, but we're discussing what helps and what hurts getting into the Hall.

Whom she'd pave the way for:  Tori Amos is the most direct descendant of Kate Bush, stylistically, and thus would benefit the most.  Bjork is another artist in that vein who could get some consideration.

Biggest threats:  Carole King is the singer/songwriter most directly in her way, followed by the Go-Go's.  For experimental, you've got Todd Rundgren, Devo, and even Mary J. Blige to contend with.  And when it comes to the gift of metaphors in the lyrics, Fela Kuti is no slouch either.

In the end:  Because the tail wags the dog so much with the Hall these years, the prospect of a second documentary induction is probably the biggest plus factor for her.  With Carole, Tina, and the Go-Go's all having narratives that seem to lead to this moment, the buzz for Kate Bush has been minimal in comparison, and with the seeming inevitability of Foo Fighters and Jay-Z, there just doesn't seem to be room for her in this class.  I'd love to see it happen, mainly to see if she does show up at a live ceremony, but it's just too unlikely.  Maybe John Sykes will use his power and just say, "Put them all in!"  Yeah...  Odds of induction: 15%


And with that, we conclude our predictions for the Class Of 2021 for the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame.  Like a few others, I think there is a strong possibility of there being an Early Influence inductee.  I have no idea who, but I'd love to see it be Ella Fitzgerald or the Carter Family, and would hate to see that category repurposed as a Veterans' Committee type of thing.  But if Dionne Warwick doesn't make it, maybe the Hall inducts Burt Bacharach & Hal David in lieu of her, possibly to try and build momentum for her return to the ballot next year.  My predictions look very similar to a lot of other people's, but hopefully there's some good conversation mixed in with the rationales.  Feel free to comment below and give your opinions of my opinions.

Saturday, May 8, 2021

My Musical Tastes Vs. The 2021 Nominees

 I'm gonna have to keep this short and sweet to try and get everything in under the deadline.  I already have my official predictions written up, just in case I don't get this one done in time first.  That list is more important, but trying to maintain the way I always have done things, I'm now going to quickly whisk through the rankings of the nominees for the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame's Class Of 2021, according to how much I personally enjoy listening to them.  As always, the main reason I do this is because it is honest to do so.  We've heard from actual members of the voting bloc that their own personal tastes come into play when it comes to sneaking that fifth vote in, or choosing to not mark a vote for someone.  As much as everyone has their own sense of metrics that they feel is at least an attempt to be objective, the truth is we don't always stick to those comparatively dispassionate ranks.  The heart wants what the heart wants, and that most certainly affects our votes sometimes.  So, for the sake of honesty, I'm ranking these artists by my personal taste, giving my favorite songs by each, and averaging out the ranks between this list and the merits' list, and seeing how things stack up.  On with the list!


1. Carole King

Like Janet Jackson two years ago, I knew this was my favorite of the nominees because there were too many songs vying to be named as my favorite.  If all Carole had was Tapestry, she'd rank a bit lower.  That's not meant as a slight to that landmark album either; it's just that she's expressed such a full range of emotion, experience, and humanity over her distinguished career that even Tapestry couldn't contain it all.  Check out her debut album Writer, or the amazing Wrap Around Joy, and even have some fun rocking out to her interpretations of her Brill Building songs on Pearls.  I swear it is impossible to remain unhappy while listening to her catalog.  She's like the Seekers that way for me.  Honorable mention to "Child Of Mine."

Favorite song: "Wasn't Born To Follow"

Merits rank: 3

Average of ranks: 2


2. Todd Rundgren

I think I can really credit his continued rise in this list to repeated listens. Sometimes when I jam out to random stuff on YouTube, I put on "Hodja," "Zen Archer," "I Think You Know," and the favorite listed below.  Also, if Todd gets inducted, I think it'd be hilarious if he showed up, got on stage; and instead of giving a speech, he just sat at the piano, played and sang "Flappie" without accompaniment, and walked off the stage without saying anything else.  That would be the most Todd Rundgren way to thank his fans while still giving the Hall as much respect as he thinks it deserves.  I don't think hoping for this scenario makes me a dark, twisted person--but I do think it's pretty indicative that I already was one.

Favorite song: "Mountaintop"

Merits rank: 9

Average of ranks: 5.5


3. Devo

As I said about them last nomination: they're weird; I like them.

Favorite song: "March On"

Merits rank: 15

Average of ranks: 9


4. Kate Bush

A friend of mine said she didn't think Kate Bush was rock and roll.  She said she didn't really know what she considered Kate to be other than "weird and boring."  I have to admit, it takes a certain mood for me to really enjoy her, and to really grasp the way she infused musical theater into her overall style, along with all her other influences.  Some songs it does take a few listens to appreciate, I'll grant you, but I do appreciate her more than I did before.

Favorite song: "Eat The Music"

Merit rank: 13

Average of ranks: 8.5


5. LL Cool J

New nominees have the better odds of getting inducted, but multiple nominations allow an artist to grow on me more continuously.  I didn't grow up with his brand of hip-hop, but there was some hip-hop in my ears growing up, so I'm able to enjoy a good groove and smooth flow.  Admittedly, listening this time to some of the lyrics made me cringe a little, but I can't deny how much I enjoy the jams.

Favorite song: "The Do Wop"

Merits rank: 1

Average of ranks: 3


6. Chaka Khan

Chaka jumps up a lot higher than she was in previous lists.  I think much of this has to do with when I listen to her.  Usually I listen to the nominees while working in the office, and Chaka's solo career isn't all that conducive to the daily grind.  Listening to her outside of work is much different, and much more pleasant.  I wish it didn't have to come down to this sometimes, but there are only so many hours in day.

Favorite song: "Love You All My Lifetime"

Merits rank: 14

Average of ranks 10


7. The New York Dolls

This one was admittedly a mixed bag.  If you binge-listen on Spotify, you are going to be inundated with the later albums, where David Johansen's voice sounds very damanged, and the style is much bluesier.  After I got over the shock though, I was able to appreciate it for what it was.

Favorite song: "Personality Crisis"

Merits rank: 12

Average of ranks: 9.5


8. Fela Kuti

Call it a cultural chasm.  I like jamming on Afrobeat, but I have an American attention span.  But there are some really great songs.  

Favorite song: "2000 Blacks Got To Be Free" (featuring Roy Ayers)

Merits rank: 2

Average of ranks: 5


9. Mary J. Blige

Some of her samples are truly amazing and serve as fantastic springboards to the songs that she created out of them.  "Everything," "You Bring Me Joy," "No More Drama," and more.  This is an artist that sneaked up on me.  

Favorite song: "Ooh!"

Merits rank: 5

Average of ranks: 7


10. Iron Maiden

The lead vocals don't always sit great with me, but overall, their sound is really solid.  I can see why this is a band people love with a fiery passion.

Favorite song: "Where Eagles Dare"

Merits rank: 4

Average of ranks: 7


11. Jay-Z

Doing my research, I was actually surprised to find out that for all his commercial success, he actually has relatively few Top Ten hits.  I also decided that not only should the favorite song be one where he is a lead artist, as opposed to a featured artist, it should also be a title that is okay for me to type out.  So if there was a song with Foxy Brown that I really liked, ain't no way I could tell you.  Fortunately, my actual favorite song is a different one.  I also decided the favorite song had to be one of his official songs, which is sad, because I really love the mash-up someone made of his "December 4th" and the Four Seasons' "December 1963 (Oh, What A Night)."  Seriously, go check out "December 4th, 1963 (Oh, What A Night)."  I would love to see Gerry Polci and Frankie Valli come out on stage with Jay-Z and pull that off with Paul Schaeffer's help.  It'd be one of those magical moments only the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame could make happen.  For this list, he suffers because of what earworms "Hard Knock Life" and "Empire State Of Mind" are.  Sorry.

Favorite song: "99 Problems"

Merits rank: 6

Average of ranks: 8.5


12. The Go-Go's

The hits were hits for a reason.  But the non-hits weren't hits for a reason too.  Their surf-influenced flavor really provided some good build-up, but without the very commercial hooks, I feel like there's not an emotional peak to a lot of their album cuts, and I love that cathartic release that comes with the peak of crescendo, be it in terms of decibels or passion of inflection.  That said, I also feel somewhat seen by the song, "Girl Of 100 Lists," for some reason.  Also, is it just me or does the piano intro on "Head Over Heels" feel more appropos to the energy and enthusiasm of "Vacation"?  Maybe I'm just overthinking again.

Favorite song: "We Got The Beat"

Merits rank: 11

Average of ranks: 11.5


13. Dionne Warwick

My favorite era of her music is the period that Joe Kwaczala called her "lost period," and even some of her later stuff is pretty good, especially her Heartbreaker album.  And to be fair, I don't hate all of the Bacharach And David stuff.  The songs with a "girl group" kind of sound are cool.  But the songs that sound like they could be (or sometimes were) played over the opening title sequence of a popcorn flick back then... ugh. 

Favorite song: "Once You Hit The Road"

Merits rank: 10

Average of ranks: 11.5


14. Tina Turner

I'm actually surprised she's this low too!  I really love the songs by her that I love.  But a lot of her solo songs have that distinctive '80s sound that hasn't aged all that great, and I wasn't big on to begin with.  She's still an icon though.

Favorite song: "Better Be Good To Me"

Merits rank: 7

Average of ranks: 10.5


15. Rage Against The Machine

I would say the repeated nominations have forced me to develop a greater familiarity with their music, given me a better appreciation, and helped get them off the bottom of the personal ranks list.  I don't hate them; I'd even say I don't dislike them at this point.  Will I ever love them?  That remains to be seen, I guess.

Favorite song: "Testify"

Merits rank: 8

Average of ranks: 11.5


16. Foo Fighters

This is probably a band I need to spend more time with.  Peeking behind the curtain, my time for listening has been very limited this season.  I've been training a new substitute (which is very much in violation of our labor contract, but that's a matter for another type of blog entirely), so I can't listen to music while working with them, and I absolutely do not listen to music while I'm out on the road during my workday.  That's the main reason I'm so late in getting these entries in.  That said, "Best Of You" kind of annoys me, and a few of their songs had a very "bro" feel to them, even to the point where I could see them being covered by Florida-Georgia Line.  Conversely, that may be what gives them an edge with the voting body this year.  They are this year's Doobie Brothers, Journey, Bon Jovi, etc.  They're the most "bro" act on the ballot, and the voting bloc, especially with the living inductees who vote, is still a very strongly "bro" body.

Favorite song: "Monkey Wrench"

Merits rank: 16

Average of ranks: 16


So looking at my averages of ranks, Carole King, LL Cool J, Fela Kuti, and Todd Rundgren should be the locks, with a split between Mary J. Blige and Iron Maiden for the final spot.  And that wouldn't be a bad ballot.  That's also been halfway accurate to how I've been voting.  I have been voting for Carole King and Tina Turner because they are freaking legends and absolutely deserve their second inductions.  They've been criminally overlooked for too long.  I've also been voting for Todd Rundgren and Chaka Khan because I don't want to see either of them getting the back door induction treatment.  And lastly, I've been voting for LL Cool J because he's just too important.  The Go-Go's were the last, painful cut to make that I would have gladly voted for if I could have gone for six.  I'm glad they're doing well with other voting members and made the official fan ballot.    Next up, the official predictions with seedings!




Wednesday, April 14, 2021

Merits Of The 2021 Nominees

 After an extended period of time, it is now time for me to attempt to rank the nominees on the ballot for the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame's Class Of 2021 by merits.  It is an attempt to be objective, although it can never be completely.  The values attached to those which we call merits are themselves subjective, let alone the weighted importance of criteria, or the choice to weigh them equally.  So why bother doing it at all?  The question itself has been raised, and truth be told, given that my litmus test is a basic pass/fail, and that I apparently have a much lower bar than several others in the hobbyist community, it seems almost ludicrous for me to try--and none of that even taking into account that few of these nominees are in any way within that which could be called my wheelhouse.  That almost gives me an advantage, as I have less emotional attachment, or decided detachment, regarding these artists.  But it also means that I have the most catching up to do; so it still seems odd for me of all people to try.  Nevertheless I do try for two reasons: one, because the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame makes a point to keep a narrow gate, it creates an artificial narrative demanding only the most deserving artists are inducted (though I'm happy if all inductees pass my standards); two, I have a compettive nature, conflictist at times, to use the term I learned in high school sociology.  Makling ranked lists is just part of my personality.  I even once ranked the twenty tracks of my Four Preps Greatest Hits CD in order of how I liked them. So ranking will commence.  


It's no small task this year either.  To use the jargon of Joe and Kristen, there are almost as many lanes as there are nominees.  They are so different this year, that saying any two occupy the same space borders on the ridiculous.  There are a couple places where it can possibly be said.  It almost requires a judgment call between the worth of subgenres, though I've tried to avoid that.  The other major reason it was so difficult for me this time is the nomination of Fela Kuti.  Whereas one can usually either extrapolate or ignore global significance of a nominee because their strongest sphere is either in the United States, the United Kingdom, or both; that is simply not the case with Kuti, and trying to account for the importance on a thoroughly different culture requires a lot of adjustment in the way we approach this task.  Hopefully I didn't louse it up too badly though.  


As always, I'm using my I-5 system: Innovation, Influence, Impact, Intangibles, and Issues.  Four positive categories, one negative.  Because of the stark differences between so many of the nominees, the Intangibles category has an increased importance this year.  Three last things to keep in mind, too.  First, just as in a dash race, the difference between first and last place can be one or two seconds, so to the difference between first and sixteenth can be razor thin.  Second, when I talk about the Innovation and Influence categories, I refer to direct musical innovation and influence.  "Changing the game" is not included in either of the categories, unless it's the music itself that changed the game.  Otherwise, I generally file those things under Intangibles.  The last important pre-game note is that most, if not all, of the reservations regarding nominations mentioned in the Issues category do not reflect my own personal feelings regarding the nominee's selection.  It's just a potential problem that someone either could raise or has already raised.  In fact, I already know my rebuttal to most of those reservations, but fleshing the issues themselves out in the written word gives a more well-rounded evaluation of an artist.  Let's begin.


1. LL COOL J

Innovation:  In addtion to obsolescing the DJ from rap music, he helped make it a solo braggodocio show, replacing rap outfits. Additionally, he's also widely recognized for making rap more accessible via shorter songs, which help increase radio airplay, and for creating the bridge of R&B stylings between rap and non-rap R&B.

Influence:  As an early successful solo emcee, he was a massive influence on rappers that followed. 

Impact:  He had a steady stream of hit R&B singles and several albums that sold quite well.  Additionally, his name recognition factor is quite high.

Intangibles:  It wasn't just his music that was influential, but also his image.

Issues:  The current social climate makes some of his older lyrics a little cringeworthy, if they weren't already.  Additionally, the longer he remains outside the Hall, the more his legacy looks like a torch that has already been passed.


2. FELA KUTI

Innovation:  His fusion of soul and funk with the music of his homeland Nigeria resulted in a musical and cultural explosion.

Influence:  Because he is credited with Afrobeat's creation, and its continued existence and relevance in the musical world, his influence is both massive and consequential.

Impact:  Though his sales in colonial cultures aren't nearly as impressive, his sales and name recognition in Nigeria and in fact all of Africa makes this a stronger category than some would expect.

Intangibles:  In addition to being a musical and political revolutionary, his songwriting displays a gift for words and analogies that would impress Emerson and Longfellow.  

Issues:  I wish I could sit here and tell you the chief objection to his nomination is that his band Africa 70 wasn't nominated with him.  I really wish I could tell you that.  Reggae was influenced by soul music, much like Afrobeat, and recognition of reggae as part of the rock and roll diaspora is an uphill battle.  How much more so a style that isn't well-known in the States.


3. CAROLE KING

Innovation:  She was a defining figure of the singer/songwriter movement in the 1970s, helping to define it as a musical movement all its own, with connotations that continue to this day.

Influence:  Arguably the most influential of the singer/songwriters from that era, she is also the reason there's a difference in the meanings are evoked when one says "singer/songwriter" versus "musician who writes their own songs."

Impact:  Her name recognition as a musician eclipses her legacy as a Brill building songwriter partnered with her then-husband.  Tapestry remains a landmark album, and she had several other albums in the Top Ten of the Billboard 200.

Intangibles:  She's been recognized for her lifetime of work with other presitigious awards and honors.

Issues:  Is Tapestry enough?  Critics of her nomination say her musical legacy is a one-trick pony, and though the Hall has inducted other artists for whom the same thing can be said, it's still a relevant question, provided one believes that her entire nomination and case for induction hinges on that album.


4. IRON MAIDEN

Innovation:  They didn't invent heavy metal, but they elevated it with political themes and really helped cement the imagery of heavy metal that is often remembered.

Influence:  Easily one of the most influential bands in heavy metal and hard rock.

Impact:  A band of mostly middling album sales and nearly non-existent singles recognition in the U.S, they were much bigger in the U.K.  Plus, their tours historically sold well, resulting in incredible name recognition.

Intangibles:  Though not really a band member, their mascot Eddie just seems to be an X-factor for them.  Additionally, they have something of an underdog legacy, overcoming a limited airplay handicap to still be considered a major player in the pantheons of rock, even in the U.S.

Issues:  They're a band many know the name of, but not a band casual listeners would instantly recognize if one of their songs came on the radio or streaming service.  You've heard of them and know something about them because somebody you can tolerate in small doses is emphatic about them.  


5. MARY J. BLIGE

Innovation:  She is a seminal figure in the creation of the hip-hop/soul merger, as a distinct and persistent style.

Influence:  She is cited as an influence by R&B and pop singers ranging from Beyonce to Taylor Swift, and beyond.

Impact:  She has at least a baker's dozen albums that made the Top Ten and a few dozen entries on the Pop charts, even more on the R&B charts.

Intangibles:  Royalty nicknames can be part of a marketing ploy, but when they endure, such as "Queen Of Hip-Hop/Soul," it's more than just marketing.  That's serious business.

Issues:  The endurance hip-hop/soul, as developed and defined by Blige, has been diminished by the rise of modern EDM, and the way rappers have jumped on that bandwagon.  Blige has adapted, but she no longer has home field advantage


6. JAY-Z

Innovation:  He helped redefine East coast rap, modernizing it.

Influence:  Easily one of the top three most influential rappers of the past twenty-five years, if not the most.

Impact:  The biggest commercial act on the ballot in terms of sales and chart presence, both in terms of singles and albums.  Overall name recognition is through the roof.

Intangibles:  As one-half of one the biggest power couples of the 21st century, plus his endorsement and side businesses, he is as much a brand as a musician.

Issues:  Being as much a brand as a musician has a tendency to be as much of a liability as it is an asset.  Plus, having dalliances bad enough to warrant an entire album from his wife, he has marred his own cache just a bit.


7. TINA TURNER

Innovation:  Her solo records didn't break much new sonic ground, unfrotunately, but it did allow her to modify and maybe even reinvent her style of singing into something different.

Influence:  Her style of rock singing has been extremely influential to rock singers, both male and female (and maybe singers of other genders too).

Impact: She has several instantly recognizable songs that were major hits, and hers is a household name.

Intangibles: Her comeback in the '80s is legendary, and her live stage presence was known for being electric.

Issues: The production values of her solo records are unmistakenly '80s and haven't aged well.  Also, if her induction as a solo artist is justifiable, then said justification requires that the merits of her solo career and records be completely separated from those of her career in the duo, rather than subsuming the latter under the former.  There is still an argument to be made, but it takes extra effort because of the extra work put in vis-a-vis the separation process.


8. RAGE AGAINST THE MACHINE

Innovation:  Among the pioneers of nu metal, combining punk, rap, metal, and even elements of reggae, and brought it as close to the mainstream as can reasonably be expected.

Influence:  Because their scene was more underground, it's a little harder to measure, but a lot of the nu metal bands took their lead from this band.

Impact:  A few charted songs on the Album and Modern Rock charts, and a couple charted albums.

Intangibles:  There is a sense of authenticity to them, and congruity with their name, their music, and their image offstage.

Issues:  Their lyrics are often incomprehensible, so you don't know what they're saying, only that they're angry.  Additionally, not big on longevity.


9. 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, which was heard on his records.  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.


10. DIONNE WARWICK

Innovation:  Some might call her '60s records a kind of prototype of the "Quiet Storm" style of music that Roberta Flack and Sade would later grow and popularize.

Influence:  In addition to being influential to her inducted cousin, a number of songs she first recorded were later covered by soul singers and groups.

Impact: The second biggest singles and albums act among this year's nominees, just a huge list of charting singles and albums, top ten hits in three consecutive decades.

Intangibles:  The songwriters Burt Bacharach and Hal David are heavily respected, despite not being inducted into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame either, and Dionne's legacy is strongly entwined with theirs.

Issues:  Those who defend rap's inclusion into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame by insisting that rock and roll is more of an attitude, a sense of rebellion, and a culture of youth might just find themselves backpedaling at breakneck speeds to justify the nomination of a singer whose music, both lyrically and stylistically, is much more mature, and not a "Rated X" kind of mature--more like a "meticulously scrutinizing the details of potential life insurance policies while ingesting your daily bowl of high fiber cereal, which reminds me, you've got a colonoscopy coming up next month" kind of mature.  Emotional maturity, I mean.  Her rise to stardom on Twitter is her strongest ever connection to the youth culture.


11. THE GO-GO'S

Innovation:  They weren't the first post-punk band, but they were early enough in its evolution to have played a sizeable part in its formation.

Influence:  As one of the first bands of their style to achieve major commercial success, they were able to influence other bands that came after them, including pop-punk acts like Green Day.

Impact:  Four big singles that have endured, and a few others, plus a landmark album to their credit.

Intangibles:  The Hall loves to honor the rebellious troublemakers and rule-breakers; so naturally, they're falling all over themselves for the chance to induct this glass-ceiling-shattering band, right?  Right?

Issues:  While the Hall has no qualms about inducting acts that were short-lived, longevity is a great asset to have in the arsenal, and this band simply doesn't, having burnt out too soon.


12. THE NEW YORK DOLLS

Innovation:  One of the foundational acts of punk rock, shaping its simplicity and catchiness.

Influence:  They influenced a lot of punk bands, especially in the New York scene.

Impact:  A few charted albums, but nothing in the upper half.  No charted singles.

Intangibles:  They were also influential in terms of image, and critics loved them.

Issues:  Those they influenced surpassed them in terms of influence, commercial success, legacy, and possibly even image.


13. KATE BUSH

Innovation:  Her sound is incredibly unique to her that it cannot be called anything but groundbreaking.  Her infusion of Celtic, Bohemian, and so many other influences is just staggering.

Influence:  Big Boi from Outkast is a noted fan who took songwriting cues from her, as do a lot of singers and songwriters, as well.  The most direct descendants of her sounds would be artists like Tori Amos, Dido, and Annie Lennox.

Impact:  She's much more commercially successful in her native United Kingdom, but even in the States, she had several charted albums and songs on the Mainstream Rock charts.

Intangibles:  Her performances pioneered the usage of headset microphones.  More importantly, her overall level of artistry, particularly by Western standards, is extremely high.

Issues:  Her self-imposed decisions regarding her output and public appearances in general, let alone touring, have diminished her ability to reach larger audiences and reach superstar level.


14. CHAKA KHAN

Innovation:  Her collaborative efforts with other artists featured infusions of various styles with hers.

Influence:  After Donna Summer, she was probably the most influential of the disco songstresses, influencing a lot of female singers who followed, including those who have been nominated for and inducted into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame.

Impact:  She has two very well-known songs, along with about a dozen other charted singles, along with some charted albums, and her name recognition is extremely high.

Intangibles:  She has worked with and rubbed elbows with a lot of people in the industry, plus the legacy she has as the front person in Rufus adds to her cache.

Issues:  The Hall's penchant for false dichotomy makes one believe that either her solo career or that of Rufus will be inducted, not both, and many would prefer it be Rufus.


15. DEVO

Innovation:  They were them.  They were around at the genesis of post-punk and constantly pushed the sonic envelope with a style that was still considered ahead of the times twenty years later.

Influence:  Not the most widely cited of the post-punk bands, but due in part to their innovation, they were always in the conversation of highly influential bands of that ilk.

Impact:  Folks might be shocked to discover that they actually had several hits across the various trade publications, included multiple entries on Billboard's dance music charts.  They also charrted several albums.

Intangibles:  They're a highly respected band among musicians for their artistry, both visual and sonic.

Issues:  "Oh yeah, they had that one song, didn't they?  Did they do other stuff too?"--the general public  


16. FOO FIGHTERS

Innovation:  They helped define harder and alternative rock in a post-grunge world.

Influence:  Presumably influential in the hard rock community.

Impact:  Steady major success on the Album and Mainstream Rock charts, with some decent crossover to the Hot 100, along with seven Top Ten albums.

Intangibles:  In addition to being called "the last great rock and roll band," Dave Grohl's general likeability has translated in a general positive perception of the band, translating into reach.

Issues:  Foo Fighters need to be inducted because... Dave Grohl?  That seems to be the crux of a lot of people's arguments, and it just doesn't sell.  Also, when you're called "the last great" anything, it suggests the tributary has run dry, and when you're up for honors from an institution that claims to be about recognizing and celebrating the perpetuation and evolution of something, it's not a ringing endorsement.



And with that, we conclue our look at the merits of the sixteen nominees for this year's class.  This was not an easy task by any means, and I'm still agonizing over it.  Nothing looks right or feels right, but any adjustments just make it worse.  In a simple "pass/fail" litmus test that I generally use, all sixteen of these get a pass from me, even those I may have balked at at one point.  When trying to write up these ranks, I also tried to separate their merits from the separate rankings list that AlexVoltaire has called "bottom line."  I tried to separate the idea of the Hall needing them, as he put it.  The Hall needs most if not all of these artists; whether it's representation of race, gender, geography, generations, or genre; the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame needs what each of these nominees bring to the table, the table with a giant hoagie on it.  So that's where this list leaves off.  Hopefully soon, it'll be a ranking of artists as I enjoy listening to them.