October 10, 2020

Quiet Storm: Why Sade Belongs in the Rock Hall

On Episode 44 of Hall Watchers, Eric and Mary made a case for Sade to be in the Rock Hall. Here is an edited and updated version of the argument.

Take shelter from the Quiet Storm
, because the next artist to be championed for Rock Hall induction is Sade, eligible since 2009, but never nominated.

Sade is the band; Helen Folasade Adu is the lead singer. Sade is a perfect candidate for the Hall – if one considers recent Rock Hall history, such icons as Janet Jackson and Whitney Houston have earned induction, and Chaka Khan has received several nominations, so Sade should also have a seat at the Rock hall table. Rock and roll can be a loud, uncivilized and brash listening experience, to be sure (and thank god), but hey, Cleveland, try a little tenderness.

Over the course of her career, Sade Adu has become this timeless icon, setting the template for pop stars and rappers alike. It's a good bit of fun to view her as the female James Bond – an aspirational figure that will always be so much cooler than we’ll ever be. (Agent Adu, you are hereby licensed to "chill").

How exactly did this happen how did this diamond form? One wonders how Sade Adu came to be. This Nigerian-British sophisticate's identity was formed from her past lives as a model, fashion designer, backup singer, and stylist to acts like dapper New Romantic crew Spandau Ballet. She paid her dues doing gigs on the London club scene at venues like Heaven alongside creative partner Stuart Matthewman. It all materialized, with international gigs and the Sade debut Diamond Life dropping in 1984. The rest is history.

Adu's philosophical approach, life experiences and long-gestating "thing," if you will being "Sade" has been a graceful, slow-burn process. These things don't happen overnight, and the best things never do. It's precisely why she and her namesake group stand alone – Sade is effectively its own musical genre. Indeed, there’s a singular strength to Sade and her musical expression. She demonstrates that you can be heartbroken but still maintain your game face through it all. She’s been hurt, but she’s a survivor.

Another reason Sade is exactly the type of artist the Hall should recognize: She’s always played by her own rules (a totally rock and roll attitude), creating and releasing her compelling music on her terms. In fact, she’s turned away from fame, letting it all come to her. She shuns the promotional process, doing very few interviews, demonstrating a wise self-preservation. It's basically non-existent in the social media era, but there's something to be said for mystery in popular music. Adu has maintained that mystery in a digital age where we know way too much about every public figure. There’s an absolute dignity and grace there that sets her part.

Sade’s suave and sophisticated music is a beautiful thing worthy of praise and contemplation. Bonafide musical excellence can be heard across the Sade discography, from 1984's Diamond Life to 2010's Soldier of Love. Both ice and fire are found in this musical realm — a silky, assured blend of R&B, soul and jazz that has aged like fine wine, and well-exemplified on “Smooth Operator,” “Is It a Crime,” and “No Ordinary Love." A relaxed, romantic sentiment is woven into this music's braids, of course, but there's so much more. Listen again to the percolating escapade of “Paradise” and the striking “Soldier of Love,” which marked an evolution in her sound that nodded at industrial sonic textures, and featured these lyrics: "I'm at the borderline of my faith/I'm at the hinterland of my devotion/In the front line of this battle of mine/But I'm still alive." A torch song, if there ever was one, and verses that encapsulate the entire Sade mission statement. 

Sade wields an outsized influence on modern R&B, and she’s influenced everyone from Janet Jackson to D'Angelo to Beyoncé. In fact, Drake loves Sade so much, he literally got a tattoo of her face. (It's now abundantly clear who should induct her...)

There is also remarkable influence into the 21st century. Sade’s breathy, whispery vocal style prefigured, and was ASMR before ASMR was a common term. Thus, a direct connection must be made from Sade to ASMR icon Billie Eilish – if you listen to such Eilish tracks as “When the Party’s Over” and “Everything I Wanted” you can hear that influence, clear as day.

In closing, Sade has been a shining example to so many after her. She is a North Star to a legion of other artists. That she influenced Gen-Z hero Billie Eilish (whether or not Billie realizes it) is no-brainer criteria for Rock Hall consideration. It’s time for the Nomination Committee to put Sade on the ballot. The qualifications of influence and musical excellence are very much in evidence here, combined with a host of intangible qualities that transcend verbal articulation.

Put Sade in the Rock Hall.

October 9, 2020

Electric Warrior: Remembering Eddie Van Halen

There's a great moment during the song "Could This Be Magic," a calm acoustic island on the otherwise electrified, turbulent listen that is the 1980 Van Halen album Women and Children First:

David Lee Roth: "Edward? 

Eddie Van Halen wordlessly launches into a carefree, plucked solo.

Roth: "Thank you."

This little flash of friendship and cooperation is priceless. For a moment, Roth needs Eddie, and they're getting along, having fun, mixing it up. Personality-wise, Roth, a walking exclamation point, is somehow working with Eddie's parentheses. Given the legendarily fraught dynamic between these two rock stars, the whole thing also feels akin to fighting parents getting along on Christmas Day... you know, for the sake of the kids. There's tension underneath the surface, but despite competing temperaments, harmony wins out. 

Later, on the 1988 record OU812, singer Sammy Hagar tellingly belts these words out on "A.F.U. (Naturally Wired)," which was the detonative opening salvo of the band's sets on the "Monsters of Rock" tour:

Ninety days on the road is what I need/When my axe cuts me deep, I let it bleed/On the stage, off my strings, down my face/And all over me

Excessive, perhaps. But to Hagar, being in Van Halen was high-stakes stuff. It meant something. There was an imperative to going onstage and leaving it all on the table; how could he not feel that way, with one of history's most important and innovative guitarists on his left? At "Monsters of Rock," when Eddie ran out on stage, took his firing position, and started tapping out the fiery introductory notes of "A.F.U.," it put both Hagar and entire stadiums on notice. 

And so Eddie Van Halen was the great motivator, collaborator, and awe-inspirer. A composer, a virtuoso, a six-string maestro, naturally wired with God-given talent. In the end, a man who steadfastly fought and lost his long battle with cancer. 

What a gift this electric warrior was. An inspirational figure to a global legion of guitar players that bent the knee at his pyrotechnic altar, and surely an intimidating cat to be in a band with. Roth, Hagar and Gary Cherone were each seated at some point in the high-performance car that was Van Halen, but it's clear who was driving. (Roth reached down between his legs, and eased the passenger seat back.) Diamond Dave's brilliance was a shining star indeed, and his own achievements in this discography are staggering, but... when you're standing next to the sun, you go crazy from the heat. 

The genius of Eddie Van Halen needs no further embellishment or explanation; it's settled science (listen to "Eruption" or "Light up the Sky" if you somehow still need proof). Still, the musical/lyrical dualism of Van Halen's music is a fascinating thing. The Hagar era had some positive themes ("Right Now"), and touched on romance ("Love Walks In"), lust ("Poundcake") and life enjoyment ("Cabo Wabo"). By way of comparison, the Roth era feels like one endless bacchanalia, with few exceptions. As for Eddie's involvement, here's a Mozart-level musician spinning sonic gold out of guitar and keyboards... but in the service of songs of beer-soaked, adolescent debauchery, with lyrics like these:

Well, I'm a bum in the sun and I'm having fun/And I know you know I got no special plan - "Beautiful Girls"

I've been sitting here 'bout half the night/Oh, mama, fill my cup up/Said I came to waste some time/I think I'm gonna jump up - "Bottoms Up"

Everybody wants some/I want some too  - "Everybody Wants Some"

Drop dead legs, pretty smile/Hurts my head, gets me wild  - "Drop Dead Legs"

It's all quite a combination. Eddie's guitar fireworks conveyed a thrilling amount of feeling and attitude alongside words of fluctuating quality and sophistication, some of that due to Roth's tendency to put pen to paper at the very last minute (per ex-manager Noel Monk's 2017 book "Runnin' With the Devil"). Still, when it worked, and it worked more often than it did not, it was a ridiculous, exhilarating thrill. The hyperactive speed and overspilling confidence of "I'm the One" remains jaw-dropping, a joyride where these Pasadena boys mischievously work in a gleeful "Bop-ba-da, shooby-doo-wah" vocal interlude before the instruments rapidly fall back in and clobber your psyche once again. This was sharpshooting of the highest order; you can almost visualize cowboy Ed blowing smoke away from his gun barrels. Every up-and-coming hard rock band that heard this in February 1978 must have went home and cried. 

Van Halen was top-shelf party music, no doubt, but sensitivity and commentary did seep in at times, as evidenced on "Jamie's Cryin'"(Now Jamie's been in love before/And she knows what love is for/It should mean, a little, a little more/Than one-night stands); "Push Comes to Shove" (And then one night in sunny victory/She decides and you agree, she's leaving/Will you ever be the same?); and "Mean Street" (See, a gun is real easy/ In this desperate part of town/Turns you from hunted into hunter/You go an' hunt somebody down). Meanwhile, teenage rebellion was rarely more in-your-face than on these verses of "Romeo Delight": Wanna see my ID?/Try to clip my wings/Don't have to show you proof of anything/I know the law, friend. Given Van Halen's history of playing Southern California backyard parties and diving headlong into all manner of underage revelry, these guys often wrote what they knew, but in other cases they demonstrated a (gasp!) maturity beyond their years. 

Van Halen was one of the most popular and beloved rock acts of all time — and for better or worse, it was a group effort. If life teaches us anything, nobody reaches lofty heights alone. Eddie seemed superhuman, but alas, he was all too human, like the rest of us. For all his incandescent abilities, he needed Roth, Hagar and Cherone to fulfill his vision. He needed his drummer brother Alex, and his bassist Michael Anthony. He needed his wife Janie Liszewski, his ex-wife Valerie Bertinelli, and his son Wolfgang, who eventually went on to play bass in his dad's band. He needed all these people. And rock fans, we needed Eddie too, and felt reassured, despite the VH camp's radio silence of the past five years, that he was still out there somewhere, plotting another tour. In his greatness and vulnerability, we saw the potential in ourselves, and also our own humanity. He wasn't just a guitar player; he was a living rock god on the level of Jimi Hendrix that revolutionized the possibilities of his instrument.

No one here gets out alive, but losing Eddie Van Halen at the relatively young age of 65 on the heels of losing Neil Peart at age 67, Tom Petty at age 66, Prince at age 57, and David Bowie at age 69 is just a lot for a rock fan to bear. Guitarists much older than Eddie are mourning his loss, from Pete Townshend to Jimmy Page. It all seems backwards and wrong. 

Eddie Van Halen's legacy was effectively cemented with Van Halen's debut, and that's a hell of a thing, to be so talented upon arrival. The pressure must have been on, and he made good on impossible expectations, giving the world so much more as time went on. He toured the world, made albums, put up with Roth (good lord), installed two more singers, and battled illness. His ever-present smile, worn while summoning the most incredible sounds out a guitar, is a detail worth remembering forever.

Edward? Thank you. 

September 21, 2020

Why Jethro Tull Belongs in the Rock Hall

On Hall Watchers' Episode 46, released September 21, Eric made a case for Jethro Tull's induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. He received a key assist from his friend Steve, a deeply knowledgeable Tull superfan who sent in a wildly persuasive argument of his own.

What follows is a transcript of Eric and Steve's arguments; let's call it "Two for Tull." It seems these mystical purveyors of flute and guitar-driven prog rock need an inductee plaque on Level Three of The Rock Hall museum... in other words, these minstrels deserve a place in the gallery.


Jethro Tull has been eligible for the Rock Hall since 1993.

Why this band from the seaside resort town Blackpool, England? First of all, they feel like a major omission from the Hall; whenever you tell someone Jethro Tull is not in the Hall, they are shocked. Being eligible for 27 years and not getting in will have that effect. They’ve waited so long, founding bassist Glenn Cornick passed away in 2014, as is often the case with delayed Rock Hall recognition.

Jethro Tull, led by mesmerizing singer and flute maestro Ian Anderson, is a one-of-a-kind band – and precisely the sort of distinctive act that the Rock Hall should ideally value and want to honor.  Many "classic rock" acts have been granted entry into the hall in recent years, but I’d argue few of them are quite as unique as Jethro Tull. There’s ambition, experimentation, mysticism and, courtesy of guitarist Martin Barre, some serious hard rock thunder here. 

This band essentially exists in their own universe, a universe where the flute and the guitar are equally important. Sometimes they transport the listener to the middle of a mystical forest where elves run free, and sometimes they put the listener on a runaway train. And sure, Fairport Convention and the band Traffic had flute playing in their music, but I’d argue no one rocked the flute harder and with more impact than Jethro Tull. It’s a central feature of their music 
– one of those special qualities that should be figured in when a band’s Rock Hall qualifications are being considered.

It’s no secret that Jethro Tull were never critical favorites or really deemed “cool.” In fact, the legendary rock critic Lester Bangs hated Tull, but he still had to give them “some” credit after seeing them live, going on to admit how hard they worked in his 1973 write-up for Creem magazine:

“Make no mistake: in terms of sheer professionalism, Jethro Tull are without peer. They stand out by never failing to deliver a fullscale show, complete with everything they know any kid would gladly pay his money to see: music, volume, costumes, theatrics, flashy solos, long sets, two encores. Jethro Tull are slick and disciplined; they work hard and they deliver.”

Bangs also had this other fantastic quote about them: 

“Jethro Tull are so far off the wall they ain't even in the room.”

Rock critic jeers aside, Jethro Tull is globally popular, and is one of those rock acts that is pretty much a household name. Of course, everyone knows “Aqualung” – even Ron Burgundy in the movie “Anchorman” quoted it. Having said that, I’m going to put the name recognition, however important, on the back burner, and talk about Jethro Tull’s musical excellence.

If you survey their ambitious and expansive body of work, it’s full of towering achievements – rock, folk, blues and prog all breathe freely under the Jethro Tull umbrella. They can summon both thunder and calm in equal measure. There are major landmark albums like Aqualung, Thick as a Brick and Songs from the Wood, but with Tull, it behooves the listener to dig deeper; lesser celebrated efforts like Stand Up and Minstrel in the Gallery are just excellent. 

Of course, we have to talk, too, about Crest of a Knave, the 1987 release that, hilariously, stole a Hard Rock/Metal Performance Grammy out from under Metallica, who was nominated in the same category for their Album ...And Justice for All. (Some extra trivia - Jane’s Addiction’s landmark album Nothing’s Shocking was also up for the award in this category). Jethro Tull didn’t even attend the Grammys, as they were sure they would lose! But...they won. And it bears noting that this controversy of Jethro Tull winning over Metallica in 1989 led to the Grammys creating separate Hard Rock and Heavy Metal categories going forward. 

It’s easy to take Jethro Tull for granted. Heavy rotation on rock radio airwaves has had the unfortunate effect of sometimes reducing their impact. In fact, I flipped on the radio recently, and heard one of their songs, and instead of being like, “oh, god, Jethro Tull again,” I was just freshly knocked back yet again by the still-amazing “Locomotive Breath.” This music has not gone away, and in my eyes, the gigantic songbook of Jethro Tull is not the least bit diminished for having been played a lot. 

So yes, Jethro Tull is a bit overplayed on FM radio, but another way of looking at it is, their music is just permanently etched on the walls of rock history — songs like "Bungle in the Jungle", "Living in the Past," “Teacher,” “Skating Away (On the Thin Ice of a New Day)," and of course “Locomotive Breath” and “Aqualung” have truly endured.  And they’ve fared well commercially, too, as they have 5 platinum albums and 11 gold albums.
So that covers "Musical Excellence," now it's time to talk about "Influence." As one of the giants of prog rock, Jethro Tull has influenced artists across the spectrum, and some acts that have taken cues from Tull’s fantastical ambitions and complex music include Marillion, Iron Maiden, Dio, Kansas, Porcupine Tree, and even the Swedish prog metal band Opeth.

Past critical snobbery and the absence of a champion in the NomCom room might explain Jethro Tull’s omssion from the Hall, but this band’s unorthodox yet outstanding body of work is a wildly convincing case for induction. They have absolutely cemented their place in the pantheon of popular music. 

Jethro Tull belongs in the Rock Hall. 


A kid from Memphis discovered that by stealing liberally from gospel churches and old blues men, he could convey to the largest number of girls possible just how horny he was. Surely it came as a surprise to subsequent rock and rollers when they realized the medium's versatility. A guy from Hibbing infused it with profundity; some dudes from Hawthorne soaked it in sunshine; longhaired Londoners drove it with the top down, leering at ladies on streetcorners, while four wiseacres from Liverpool, after learning about drugs from the profundity guy, got under the hood and souped up its engine with psychedelia.
Jethro Tull, meanwhile, once did a tour where the entire stage was a pirate ship. It bankrupted them. That alone is so quintessentially rock and roll, it should earn them a place of honor in the Hall.
These guys from Blackpool did everything those other guys did, and if they didn't do it better  and no, they didn't do it better  still they did it all, and they did it determinedly, and extremely well, and without ever losing their sense of humor about the whole thing. They started out as a pretty impressive blues band, the oddball instrumentation notwithstanding – check out "Nothing Is Easy" or "Someday The Sun Won't Shine For You"  and then, too smart for their own good, they went gleefully leapfrogging over records about their flautist frontman's harrowing schooldays, "Wind-Up" and "My God" the examples par excellence. Not to worry — there was plenty of Elvis-worthy horniness in there too: "Cross-Eyed Mary" has to be the catchiest song imaginable about a homeless man ogling schoolgirls in a public park. 

"They were hilarious, but they were not kidding around; they never took it seriously even as they were deadly serious."

Over time they morphed into something like prog, producing what is surely the only forty-three-minute-and-forty-six second song to both mention sperm prominently in its lyric and also become a classic-rock radio staple. "Thick As A Brick" opened new doors: Jethro Tull stumbled, concept album by concept album, into music that couldn't be more British: at its best it sounded like Monty Python playing proto-heavy metal. At its worst it was caterwauling and dreary, but who among their peers never produced a dreary, midperiod LP? It's almost de rigeur, for Hall inductees especially. 

Jethro Tull's frontman Ian Anderson may have had a penchant for codpieces, but he also wrote one of the greatest songs of all time  and no, I don't mean "Aqualung"; I mean "Skating Away On the Thin Ice of a New Day," a song so good John Lennon himself might have written it if he'd ever thought to. Their guitarist, Martin Barre, has the panache of Jimmy Page and the chops of John Mayall check out "Minstrel In The Gallery," and tell me he's not up there with the best. They wrote pastorals; they wrote songs about agriculture; they did their Viking album long after it was fashionable; they won a Grammy for best hard rock/metal album for maybe their least metallic record ever, beating Nothing's Shocking and ...And Justice For All  another Spinal Tappy bit of rock and roll nonsense, by the way, that should earn them a fast track to a Hall nomination. 

Uncomfortably far into middle age they recorded songs unashamedly comparing the playing of a flute to fellatio, and they had an album called J-Tull Dot Com embarrassingly early in the Internet era. They were hilarious, but they were not kidding around; they never took it seriously even as they were deadly serious. To a kid learning about this music by piling up vinyl at a used record store in suburban Philadelphia in the late eighties, Jethro Tull was the happiest discovery of his life. They were the best band he'd ever heard  at least until he came across Talking Heads.
What is the Rock Hall if not a celebration of the many different things you can do with rock and roll? Who else did, with rock and roll, what Jethro Tull did? How utterly mind-blowing are future generations, exploring rock and roll, going to find records like Stand Up and War Child and Broadsword and the Beast? It's long past time we recognized these guys for their titanic achievements, and give our blessing to Jethro Tull's undeniable place in the canon of great rock and roll.

A very special thanks to Steve Hanna (Twitter: @ecsongbysong) for his contributions. 

March 25, 2020

Rock Hall News: Museum CEO Greg Harris Guests on "Debatable"

The show must go on. It was announced this week that the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony will now be held on Saturday, November 7 at Public Auditorium in Cleveland (fingers crossed). Prior to that, as with the vast majority of "non-essential" public places, the Hall's museum temporarily closed its doors starting March 14 due to concerns over the current COVID-19 pandemic. (The current reopening date per the Rock Hall site is March 27, but that seems likely to change.) 

In times of crisis and uncertainty, it can be helpful to hear from the people in charge. On that note, Rock and Roll Hall of Fame museum CEO Greg Harris was a call-in guest on SiriusXM's "Debatable" show today, chatting about all the recent Rock Hall upheaval with hosts Mark Goodman and Alan Light. Here are some of the highlights of what Harris had to say, transcribed for those who missed it:

On the induction ceremony postponement: "It was the right thing to do as Coachella was postponed, as [SXSW] was being cancelled, as the NBA was looking to pause their season... it's one of those decisions that as soon as it was made, you knew it was the right decision."

On the Rock Hall museum's closure: "It was a Friday, and we were thinking, do we keep the museum open for the weekend, because there are already tickets out, people may have traveled, and all those things. And our Governor came out with this message. We knew we were closing, the question was, were we going to close on Friday or were we going to close on Monday, and after getting a lot of information, quite frankly from the CDC and others, we made the move to close at the end of [Friday]."

On the museum's mission going forward in our current era: "Our museum's mission is to engage, teach and inspire through the power of rock and roll... does that hold up in a changed world? And the mission actually holds up because it isn't dependent on physical space. Looking at how do we make the items in our vast collection available, how we do a lot of live concerts at the museum...[we] use the induction as an example - there's going to be 5000, 6000 people in the room for the ceremony, but there's going to be millions, and tens of millions that watch it online and through HBO's broadcast and through Sirius' broadcast. That's still very relevant and very important, and that's an opportunity to continue to expand and reach and connect."

On the challenges of rescheduling the induction ceremony: "Balancing the time when HBO could handle the broadcast, when [SiriusXM] could handle the broadcast, when the artists could travel, when our city had the spaces available. We take up a ton of hotel rooms, and getting all that together was a real Tetris puzzle... locally, we needed to get the hotel rooms, we needed to get the venues. There was a group called Union Home Mortgage that was holding an event for 1,200 friends and clients on the exact day we needed. They generously took on the task of moving that to another weekend, having to rebook all their hotel rooms... it got as granular as that."

On the scope of putting on the induction ceremonies: "It's an event that's on par with hosting the Final Four, or on par with major conventions. It's a citywide thing, it'll be the biggest event in Cleveland of that quarter. And quite frankly, if this [COVID-19] crisis continues, this could be the big party when we're all in the clear and ready to come back out again and celebrate rock and roll and how important it is to us."

November 27, 2019

Predictions: The Rock Hall Class of 2020

An eventful year and decade comes to a close, and still, this question lingers: What names will be read this January by museum CEO Greg Harris as he announces the Rock Hall Class of 2020? Judging by the Fan Vote stats, and to quote "Everything Counts" by Depeche Mode, "It's a competitive world." (And if you read Evelyn McDonnell's brilliant, mic-drop of a piece in Billboard this past November 15, another lyric from that song holds true, as well: "The graph on the wall/Tells the story of it all"). 

But back to the lecture at hand. It's time to be bold. It's time to be pragmatic. So, bombs away: This will be the first year where the Rock Hall Fan Vote Winner (presumably Dave Matthews Band) does not get into the Hall. Let's be clear — this prediction has nothing to do with Dave Matthews Band's arguable merits or Hall-worthiness, so DMB fans need not take offense; if any other act from the ballot was at the top of the Fan Vote, this (admittedly wild) prediction would still have been made.

Yes, it's true that Rush, KISS, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Chicago, Journey, Bon Jovi, and Def Leppard each triumphed in the Fan Vote, and were subsequently inducted. The prognostication here is that this will be the first year that will not happen. Look, at some point, this streak has to end. Otherwise, the pattern of the Fan Vote winner automatically being swept into the Hall every year starts looking, well, a bit suspect. And does the Hall really want to throw even more fuel on the fire of what many observers view as a broken, exclusionary induction process in need of radical change? 

While the Hall's fan engagement initiatives are here to stay, there's no denying that the world, and its institutions, are places where electoral processes don't always favor the candidate with the most votes (but enough about the Dave Clark Five). Please view Exhibit A when it comes to artists at the top of fan-voted Rock Hall mechanisms: The museum kiosk vote found Mötley Crüe and Blink-182 in the top two slots right before last month's ballot announcement. Both of those bands failed to make the nominee pool (unlike Def Leppard and Stevie Nicks a year prior, both inducted). If the Hall is willing to disregard/leapfrog acts the public votes for at the museum, it's reasonable to speculate that this year's Fan Vote winner might just have to enter the race anew another year.

Here are E-Rockracy's predictions for the Rock Hall Class of 2020:

Pat Benatar 
Depeche Mode
The Doobie Brothers 
Whitney Houston
Judas Priest
The Notorious B.I.G.
Early Influences: Kraftwerk

So let's unpack this. This year's ballot, for all its faults and redundancies, is nonetheless genre-diverse. This predicted class keeps that eclecticism in mind. There's the untouchably cool rock icon Pat Benatar; representation of synth-pop/alternative with Depeche Mode; the FM radio-beloved, boomer-friendly American rock of the Doobie Brothers; a pop superstar in Whitney; an overdue nod to heavy metal with Judas Priest; and hip-hop achievement with Biggie.

By any standard, six performers, plus the Early Influences category, is a class that could certainly happen, and function tidily for a live HBO telecast. This may appear to be a hefty ballot with seven artists, but the Class of 2019 had that many, and it bears noting that two of these artists, Whitney and Biggie, are no longer with us. Right or wrong, deceased solo artists’ ceremony time is often shorter than time allotted to living nominees.

Regarding Early Influences and the prediction that Kraftwerk earns this honor, reference needs to be made to SiriusXM’s “Volume” show when the ballot dropped last month (thanks to Future Rock Legends for compiling and transcribing this on the FRL site)For context, this is regarding a possible redefinition of the Early Influences category, which, per the Rock Hall site is “Awarded to influential artists whose music predates rock and roll."

On  SiriusXM October 15, nomination committee member Alan Light and Rock Hall Foundation CEO Joel Pereman said the following:

Alan Light: "We've said this before, there's also some of these who at a certain point should you look at them as Early Influences? Should Kraftwerk be not in the general ballot, but moved to go in a different way because of everything in that whole universe tracing back to this one band. That's another thing that we would look at.

Joel Peresman: "Absolutely. As we get older and move on, when you think about Early Influences it's not the 50s and 60s anymore. The Early Influence can be 70s and 80s depending on the certain genre of music.

So there it is. The prediction here is that the Hall does exactly that, and gives Early Influences to the overdue electronic music pioneers of Kraftwerk. And why not? In the end, and for all the widely reported dysfunction in this institution — the sound, the fury, the easily avoidable, Jesus-wept outrages — the Hall, its executives, and its committees can do whatever they want. And so, in the spirit of optimism on the cusp of a new decade and a new era with chairman John Sykes, hopefully that intrinsic latitude can lead to to more just, inclusive, and contemplated Hall going forward. It's time for changes. Rock Hall, there are more eyes on you than ever. Watching. Waiting.

September 27, 2019

Hall Watchers Episode 15 Companion Guide: Rock Hall-Worthy Women Behind the Music

On a recent Hall Watchers podcast, Mary put a spotlight on 19 Rock Hall-worthy women behind the scenes in the music industry. What follows below is a companion guide to that podcast, showcasing the amazing women that were discussed.

For additional context on the Rock Hall and its need to induct more women, here's a bit of info about the Non-Performer category from the Rock Hall website (in 2008, the category's name changed to the Ahmet Ertegun Award):

"This award honors songwriters, producers, disc jockeys, record executives, journalists and other industry professionals who have had a major influence on rock & roll."

Fact: There are only 3 women inducted into the Rock Hall as non-performer/Ahmet Ertegun out of 47 people, and they are inducted with their partners:
1990 - Gerry Goffin and Carole King 2010 - Jeff Barry and Ellie Greenwich 2010 - Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil

There is not a single female non-performer in on her own. Let's change that. Here are the candidates discussed on Hall Watchers, Episode 15:

Ruth Polsky, Booker and Concert Promoter

What she is notable for: She was crucial in breaking UK bands such as Simple Minds, Echo and the Bunnymen, the Smiths, the Psychedelic Furs, the Birthday Party, Jesus & Mary Chain and many more. She also booked the Joy Division USA tour in May 1980, which was canceled after Ian Curtis' death. 

Susan Rogers, Record Producer, Engineer, Mixer, and Audio Electronics Technician

What she is notable for: Worked alongside Prince from 1983 to 1988 as the sound engineer for his albums Purple Rain, Around the World in a Day, Parade, Sign o' the Times, and The Black Album. Also worked with artists such as David Byrne, Barenaked Ladies, Tricky, the Violent Femmes, the Jacksons and Toad the Wet Sprocket. just to name a few.

Sylvia Robinson, Record Label Executive and Producer

What she is notable for: Mother of hip-hop, best known for her work as founder and CEO of the Sugar Hill Records hip-hop label. She is credited for being the force behind the two hip-hop singles, “Rapper’s Delight” by the Sugar Hill Gang released in 1980 and “The Message” by Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five in 1982.

Lillian McMurry, Record Producer, Owner of Trumpet Records

What she is notable for: Influential in the development of blues music particularly through her recordings of Sonny Boy Williamson II and discovery of guitarist Elmore James.

Sylvia Massy, Record Producer, Mixer and Engineer

What she is notable for: Her big break came in producing comedy-rockers Green Jello’s debut album featuring the radio hit “Three Little Pigs.” She is perhaps best known for her work on 1993's Undertow, the double platinum-selling debut for Los Angeles metal band Tool.

Helen Oakley Dance, Jazz Critic

What she is notable for: Pioneering female jazz critic in the 1930's as well as a record producer, music publisher and personal assistant to musicians like Duke Ellington, Red Norvo, Chick Webb, Johnny Hodges, Bob Crosby and Earl Hines.  She helped organize one of the first sit down jazz concerts that featured an interracial band. Wrote "Stormy Monday: The T-Bone Walker Story" which is considered the definitive book on T-Bone Walker.

Marion Keisker, Assistant at Sun Records

What she is notable for: Was the first person to record Elvis, and encouraged Sam Phillips to take a chance on him. Her detailed logs of the activities at Sun Records provided music historians with ample and interesting information about the label's history.

Gwendolyn Quinn, Public Relations

What she is notable for: Organized media campaigns for artists such as Aretha Franklin, Whitney Houston, P. Diddy, Notorious B.I.G. and Faith Evans.

Sharon Osbourne, Manager

What she is notable for: Managed her husband Ozzy Osbourne to a successful solo career, which then resulted in her beginning her own management agency that managed the careers of artists such as Lita Ford and Smashing Pumpkins.  In 1996, she created Ozzfest, which featured both new and established metal bands.

Lenise Bent, Audio Engineer

What she is notable for: One of the earliest women working on sound in the 70’s, she was assistant engineer on Aja by Steely Dan; Breakfast in America by Supertramp and Tusk by Fleetwood Mac. But one of her biggest accomplishments is that she engineered AutoAmerican by Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inductees Blondie; her work on that album resulted in her being the first woman to receive an RIAA Platinum album.

Donna Halper, Deejay and Music Director

What she is notable for: Donna is credited with discovering the rock band Rush when she was working as the Music Director at radio station WMMS in Cleveland in 1974. After a Canadian record producer gave her the then-unknown band's album, she played a track called “Working Man” on the air. Listeners started requesting more Rush tracks, which resulted in other radio stations beginning to give Rush more airplay. By late summer of 1974, the band got a U.S. recording contract.

Polly Anthony, Record Label President

What she is notable for: She was one of the first women to head a major record label, she was the president of Epic Records from 1997 until 2003, then she became president of DreamWorks and after a corporate reorganization she was named co-president of Geffen Records.  She worked with artists like Korn, Macy Gray, Celine Dion, Michael Jackson, Pearl Jam, and Rage Against the Machine. She allocated hundreds of thousands of dollars to the “Korn Kampaign,” which led to the band going multi-platinum.

Ann Powers, Writer and Music Critic

What she is notable for: She was the senior curator at the Experience Music Project (EMP) in Seattle, which later became Museum of Pop Culture (MoPOP). Powers and her husband Eric Weisbard have helped organize the annual EMP Pop Conference (now MoPOP Conference) since its inception. She currently is a music critic for NPR and a contributor at the Los Angeles Times, where she was previously chief pop critic.
Angelica Cob-Baehler, Music Executive

What she is notable for: Angelica moved to Virgin Records as an SVP in 2005 where she launched an ultimately successful campaign to bring Katy Perry to the label after she had been rejected by Columbia Records. She played a large role in the creative direction of the singer's 2008 breakthrough album One of the Boys as well as the follow-up, Teenage Dream.

Carla Sacks, Publicist

What she is notable for: Founder of Sacks and Co., a PR company with offices in Seattle, New York and Nashville.

Ellen Willis, Rock Critic

What she is notable for: She was the first pop-music critic for the New Yorker, and was a regular contributor at Rolling Stone, The Village Voice and many other publications. She wrote 56 pieces for The New Yorker's “Rock, Etc.” column over seven years, including famous pieces on Bob Dylan, Janis Joplin and The Sex Pistols.

Vicki Wickham, Manager, Entertainment Producer, and Songwriter

What she is notable for: She is most known for producing the 1960s British television show "Ready Steady Go!" and managing the pop/soul acts Labelle and Dusty Springfield. She cowrote the English lyrics to Dusty Springfield's only British #1 hit "You Don't Have to Say You Love Me" and also co-wrote Dusty's biography Dancing with Demons.

Vicky Hamilton, Record Executive, Personal Manager and Promoter

What she is notable for: Famous for managing the early careers of Guns N' Roses, Poison and Faster Pussycat, as well as working as a management consultant for Mötley Crüe and Stryper. Began her own record label, Small Hairy Dog, after being outraged no one wanted to work with June Carter Cash.  This ultimately resulted in June recording the album Press On, which won a Grammy Award for Best Traditional Folk Album in 2000.

Jane Scott, Rock Critic for the Cleveland Plain Dealer

What she is notable for: She was world-famous for being the oldest rock critic, retiring in 2002 at the age of 82.  Over her career, she covered over 10,000 shows with stars ranging from Bruce Springsteen, Beastie Boys, the Who, the Rolling Stones, the Doors, Led Zepplin, the Beach Boys, and more.  Many, including former Rock Hall CEO Terry Stewart, consider her the reason the Rock Hall museum in in Cleveland.