December 9, 2017

It's Tough, So Tough: Rock Hall Watchers Predict the Class of 2018

Who goes into the Rock Hall April 14? In a key development, Radiohead is inadvertently telegraphing a Bon Jovi lyric: "It doesn't make a difference if we make it or not." So they booked a gig in Argentina that night, and per a representative are officially skipping the ceremony.

Before and after this news, Rock Hall watchers made various predictions for this year's class. Compared to last year, the consensus level is lower; pruning a handful of acts from this pool of 19 nominees is a difficult task, indeed. Additionally, the Hall's Radiohead dilemma could lead to a different or extra artist sneaking in. 

The Rock Hall Fan Vote closed December 5 with Bon Jovi as the winner, and the Moody Blues in second place. The official Class of 2018 inductees announcement will be made on SiriusXM's VOLUME channel December 13 at 7 a.m. Until then, here are some of the predictions out there:

Alex Voltaire (

Bon Jovi
The Cars
The Moody Blues
Nina Simone

Charles Crossley (

Bon Jovi
Dire Straits Eurythmics
The Moody Blues
Nina Simone Link Wray Award for Musical Excellence: The Meters
Early Influences: Sister Rosetta Tharpe

Future Rock Legends (

Bon Jovi
Dire Straits
Judas Priest
The Moody Blues

Nina Simone
Early Influences: Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Link Wray

Iconic Rock Talk Show (

Bon Jovi
The Cars
Judas Priest
The Moody Blues
Nina Simone
Link Wray
The Zombies
Early Influences: Sister Rosetta Tharpe

Tom Lane (

Bon Jovi

Dire Straits

The Moody Blues
Nina Simone

Rock Hall Monitors (

Bon Jovi

J. Geils Band
Judas Priest
The Moody Blues
Nina Simone
Sister Rosetta Tharpe (50-50 chance of Early Influences induction, 10% chance of Performer induction)

Troy Smith (Cleveland Plain-Dealer / 

Bon Jovi
Dire Straits
The Moody Blues
Nina Simone


Bon Jovi

The Cars
Judas Priest
Link Wray
Moody Blues
Rage Against the Machine
Award for Musical Excellence: Nina Simone
Early Influences: Sister Rosetta Tharpe

November 3, 2017

Predictions: The 2018 Rock Hall Inductees

Who will make up the Rock Hall Class of 2018? The latest slate of 19 nominees raises myriad questions: Why is Janet not on the ballot? Is this Link Wray's year? Do the overdue Meters have a chance? Is Radiohead truly getting in on their first ballot? Another interesting query, though, might be this:

Do Rock Hall voters want their MTV?

On the once-relevant video music channel, half of the latest nominees either found fame outright (Eurythmics) or perpetuated it to some degree (LL Cool J, the Cars, Judas Priest, J. Geils Band, Depeche Mode, Kate Bush, Radiohead's 1993 cringe theater at the MTV Beach House). And then there's one of the more meta moments between artist and video clip, Dire Straits' inescapable, guitar-and-Sprechesang-driven hit "Money for Nothing," featuring the official slogan "I want my MTV" woven throughout, sung in a mantra by Sting. That's the way you do it.

Bon Jovi, Eurythmics, the Cars, Dire Straits, J. Geils Band — their first exposure to many eyes undeniably came via MTV. So in the larger scope of this ballot, MTV is a clear and present factor. The degree to which music video rotation resonates with Rock Hall voters can be debated, but as more Generation X individuals join the inductee ranks (members of Pearl Jam, Green Day, Beastie Boys, Guns N' Roses, Red Hot Chili Peppers, etc.), MTV memories could serve as an additional twinge of warm nostalgia that nudges one nominee box to be checked over another. 

MTV icons such as Duran Duran, Cyndi Lauper, and George Michael are coming up in the Rock Hall conversation, and could easily become nominees going forward. As a promotional tool, MTV launched certain artists into a state of ubiquity, and that impact will be evident in the coming years as these acts wend their way to the Rock Hall ballot. This year, it is perhaps seen most explicitly with Eurythmics and Bon Jovi.

On the flip side of this argument, there are obviously current nominees that were established entities by the time they appeared on MTV (the Moody Blues, despite their clip for "Your Wildest Dreams"), never really needed it (the Meters, Rufus Featuring Chaka Khan) or quite simply never graced the channel (Sister Rosetta Tharpe). MC5's original incarnation was over in 1972, so it's not like it was even an option for them. 

Still, the FM radio/AOR-leaning classes of recent years might slowly give way to a parallel phenomenon: an MTV-centric rock hall class (imagine an inductee list that includes Duran Duran, Salt-N-Pepa, and "Weird Al" Yankovic — not entirely inconceivable, despite your hyperventilating one way or the other). We're not there yet; in a surprise development, Janet Jackson, one of the channel's true icons, and the youngest person to ever win its prestigious Video Vanguard Award in 1990, was left out of this year's Rock Hall pool entirely after two consecutive nods. Still, the power of music video — the entertainment value, the discovery that others feel as you do, the liberating, slash-and-burn reveal of life paths otherwise hidden to disaffected youth who often went on to create great art — will continue to manifest at the Rock Hall. 

But back to the matter at hand — who will be immortalized in Cleveland on April 14? In line with 2015's six-performer, two side-award class, eight artists are predicted below, as this is just too rich a ballot to cut down to just five. (Don't expect the Hall to stick to five, either.)

Bon Jovi - The projected fan vote winner, and every such winner has been inducted. There's an outside chance of a shocking exclusion here, an unprecedented door slam on these guys, but probably not. Whatever his involvement at this point or historically, Jann Wenner's loosening grip on power over his empire may best be exemplified by a Bon Jovi induction, which he has reportedly opposed for years. Further, Bon Jovi is the clear headliner and marquee attraction for the HBO telecast. You can almost hear the screaming, for various reasons. Estranged guitarist Richie Sambora has already said he'd rejoin his New Jersey brothers, so there's reunion heat on this induction, to boot.

The Cars - There's not a single passionate rock fan that doesn't think these guys need to be in. They appear early in the (seemingly problematic) alphabetical order of the ballot and are probably one of the first checks made. The Cars are deserving New Wave legends with percolating, hit-packed albums and eye-popping videos to their credit. 

Judas Priest - When was the last time metal was part of a Rock Hall ceremony? One might point to Deep Purple in 2016, perhaps, but like, "metal" metal? One has to go back to Metallica's induction in 2009, and then to Black Sabbath's in 2006. The genre is due for representation again at the hall, and what better act than the mighty, leather-clad vengeance-screamers/law-breakers/after-midnight-livers Judas Priest. And why should they be enshrined on Lake Erie? Read here

Link Wray - This year might be the best shot for Wray, with his prominent presence in the recent documentary "Rumble: The Indians Who Rocked the World" and social media cheerleading from Jon Landau associate and music legend Steven Van Zandt. Let's get ready to... well, you know.

Moody Blues - The surprising number of call-in votes for the Moodies on hard rock/heavy metal champion Eddie Trunk's SiriusXM Volume show on November 2 was telling. It underscored the general consensus that these British prog/art-rock masters are wildly overdue, and further, that this is understood by an audience demographic galaxies away from the Moody Blues' orbit. Expect the Rock Hall votership to feel the same.

Rage Against the Machine - It seems strange, but a certain subset of voting might be between these guys and Radiohead. Thom Yorke and company are blasé about the Rock Hall, while Rage guitar wizard Tom Morello is quite invested in the institution, being a nomination committee member. Morello would enthusiastically kick out the revolutionary jams, ideally with RATM frontman Zack de la Rocha — a reunion that would light up Public Hall with thunderous rebellion well-suited for today's political climate. (It's admittedly risky to leave Radiohead out of these predictions, but there's a prevailing sense they don't care that much, and neither should voters, at least this year. They'll get in eventually.)

Early Influences: Sister Rosetta Tharpe - This category was crafted precisely for someone like Sister Rosetta, an early gospel and guitar-playing pioneer that lit the pathway to R&B and rock. It's perplexing why she is listed among more modern performers on the ballot, as she shouldn't have to compete with artists that would not exist without her.

Award for Musical Excellence: Nina SimonePoet, pianist, vocalist, social justice warrior... these words only begin to describe the iconic Nina Simone. With her incalculable level of influence, exalted recordings, and legendary performances, this titan of song needs to be included at the Rock Hall. It might just take some category maneuvering, and the Award for Musical Excellence will do just fine. 

October 5, 2017

Sister Rosetta Tharpe, 2018 Rock Hall Nominee

Standing at the crossroads of gospel and rock—armed with an electric guitar—is Sister Rosetta Tharpe (Rosetta Nubin), often referred to as "the godmother of rock and roll."

At one point before rock and roll came along, gospel music had no bigger star, and Tharpe's charisma, resonant voice, and instrumental chops contributed to her being heard both on the radio and eventually by white audiences. With her hits "This Train" and "Rock Me" in the 1930s, this spirited, well-dressed talent lit the pathway to both R&B and rock and roll.

Sister Rosetta Tharpe: 2018 Rock Hall Nominee
No surprise, but Tharpe stirred controversy by playing both spiritual and secular material; her stages included both churches and nightclubs. However, her sacred/"profane" artistry, which spanned gospel, jazz, blues R&B might best be seen now as bridge-building and eschewing labels — the unifying notion that, despite our differences, we're all on this train together. In 1944, Tharpe recorded  "Down by the Riverside," which was selected for the National Recording Registry of the U.S. Library of Congress in 2004. Also, her 1944 collaboration with boogie-woogie piano man Sammy Price yielded what is considered as a clear antecedent of rock and roll, "Strange Things Happening Every Day" (a Decca Records single). 

Sister Rosetta Tharpe, a brand new nominee to the Rock Hall for the Class of 2018, is a great example of an artist that might be put into the Rock Hall under the Early Influence category, but the "godmother of rock and roll" is certainly the perfect candidate to enter those hallowed halls on Lake Erie.

September 8, 2017

Predictions: The 2018 Rock Hall Nominees

Who will be on the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame ballot this October? Expect new faces, returning champions, and at least a couple of shockers. From the official pool, the institution's Class of 2018 will be selected, then inducted April 14 in Cleveland.

Predicting the ballot is an inexact science; not only which acts, but how many, now figure into the process. Last October, a whopping 19 nominees were announced, in a departure from the usual 15 or so. 

Given the sheer number of newer prospects and longtime snubs, it seems sensible to follow last year's template and predict 19, with the caveat that these are in order of likelihood. Past the first 15, the odds probably get a bit steeper.

Without further ado, here are E-Rockracy's nominee predictions for the Rock Hall's Class of 2018:

Radiohead - These newly eligible art-rock immortals have it all: critical acclaim, commercial success, and a spot in Rolling Stone's 100 Greatest Artists of All Time. The phrases "no brainer" and "shoo in" are fitting when it comes to Radiohead and the Rock Hall this year. 

Link Wray - Recently, a funny thing happened at the L.A. Forum: Miley Cyrus' VMAs performance of her new song "Younger Now" featured a segment of Link Wray's "Rumble." It's called influence, cascading down on several generations. This was yet another spotlight on Wray, the late guitar hero widely credited with pioneering the power chord and inspiring everyone from Pete Townshend to psychobilly transgressors like the Cramps, the Meteors, and Reverend Horton Heat. Figure in Rock Hall Nomination Committee member Steven Van Zandt's Link-championing tweets, as well as the acclaimed, Wray-featuring documentary "Rumble: The Indians Who Rocked the World," and this might be the most likely nomination after Radiohead. 

Rage Against the Machine - "Born with insight and a raised fist," declares Zack de la Rocha on "Know Your Enemy," one in an arsenal of Molotov cocktails from Rage Against the Machine's 1992 debut, the release making the Los Angeles group eligible for a nomination this year. "Action must be taken/We don't need the key, we'll break in!" he then warns, a resolute warrior with a rebel yell. Here's a band stacked with persuasive gifts, from Tom Morello's squealing, record scratch-mimicking guitar to the eruptive rhythm section of bassist Tim Commerford and drummer Brad Wilk. But overall, it's Rage's lyrics, aflame and insurrectionary, that hit hardest. For instance, "Mass graves for the pump and the price is set, and the price is set" from "Testify," and "Set the groove, then stick and move like I was Cassius/Rep the 'Stutter Step' then bomb a left upon the fascists" from "Wake Up." (Damn.) Rage is a unique Rock Hall case on many fronts, but mostly because Morello is on the Nomination Committee, so there will be some form of recusal on his part. Other nominators in the room would still have to acknowledge they deserve a look; this band's mix of dissident poetry, hard rock/metal, and hip-hop sets them apart from many of their far lesser stylistic progeny. Rage is technically inactive right now (Morello is currently in Prophets of Rage with Chuck D and Cypress Hill's B-Real), but if they were inducted, there would be massive reunion excitement if de la Rocha decides to rejoin his old crew for one night. 

Janet Jackson - Twice nominated, and most likely heading toward a third nomination this October, Janet's place in the pantheon of popular music is already cemented. A Rock Hall canonization is inevitable, and it helps that she's on tour right now; a Janet performance would be a crucial part of next year's ceremony (and effective Radiohead counterprogramming, too). Fierce yet vulnerable, and a brilliant singer-dancer, this radio and MTV-conquering pop icon would transform Cleveland's Public Hall into Rhythm Nation. And star power could be huge around a Janet induction — Beyoncé, care to write a speech?

Nine Inch Nails - A clicking, grinding, and pulverizing mechanism first assembled in Cleveland in 1988, Nine Inch Nails is modern rock's equivalent of the shape-shifting T-1000 Terminator — appealingly sinister, and always ready to destroy. Trent Reznor deserves all the credit in the world for his band's success; it's no easy feat, pushing industrial rock into the mainstream. A songwriting genius with a knack for synthesizer hooks and Prince-like instrumental and production gifts, Reznor casts a long shadow on modern rock. From his early festival days trashing a smoky, comically sunlit stage at Lollapalooza and engaging in a violent mud baptism at Woodstock 1994, to career-best LP triumphs like The Downward Spiral and 2013's Hesitation Marks, this baleful visionary has earned his Rock Hall coronation. NIN fell off the ballot last year, but they're due to return. 2018 would be a hometown ceremony, suggesting the act might have been withheld to give Reznor a shot at this thing in Cleveland.

The Moody Blues - Pay no mind to singer-guitarist Justin Hayward's recent statement that "It's too late now" for the Moody Blues to get into the Rock Hall; their quite vocal legions of supporters would beg to differ. The nearly three-decade exclusion of these orchestral English prog masters is about to end. Whenever a long-snubbed artist says they don't really care, and "it's for the fans anyway," you can almost visualize their name magically materializing on a ballot. 

The Cars - Another artist heading for a third nomination, this synth-driven New Wave crew led by Ric Ocasek is a logical fit for the Rock Hall. They've inspired bands from Weezer to Guided by Voices to the Strokes, and their singles, in heavy rotation to this day, range from fun ("Shake it Up") to edgy ("Moving in Stereo") to dreamily sensitive (the ballad "Drive," sung by the late Benjamin Orr). Someone on the Nomination Committee is pushing these guys, and there's no reason to think that advocate is taking their foot off the pedal.

Foreigner"Feels Like the First Time," "Double Vision," "Hot Blooded" and the 1984 mega-hit "I Want to Know What Love Is" distinguish Foreigner, another band that has both saturated FM airwaves for decades and sold 80 million records globally. "Cold as Ice?" Think again. Foreigner's chances of nomination have skyrocketed with the recent reunion of their classic lineup to mark their 40th anniversary, not to mention the induction of many of their AOR peers. Also boosting Foreigner's chances is their Atlantic Records recording history, and subsequent association with the late Rock Hall co-founder/Atlantic co-founder Ahmet Ertegun. 

LL Cool J - While considering the Rock Hall case of Ladies Love Cool James/James Todd Smith, there's a suspicion the Hall might avoid copying the Kennedy Center and Smith's upcoming honor there, and delay his induction for a year or two. However, the newly eligible Wu-Tang Clan may not appear on a ballot for a few years, while Eric B. & Rakim and A Tribe Called Quest, sterling prospects both, might struggle to get enough votes for induction. LL Cool J, on the other hand, is Bigger and Deffer: A CBS television star, longtime Grammy host, and a legitimate hip-hop legend. This household name is making most Rock Hall nominee prediction lists at this point, which may bode well. (And how fortuitous would it be if key LL Cool J producer/associate/industry legend Rick Rubin was given the Ahmet Ertegun Award in the same ceremony?)

Carole King - Yes, she was already inducted in 1990 for songwriting/as a "non-performer" alongside her late partner Gerry Goffin, but Carole King's solo career is overdue for Rock Hall recognition. Her masterpiece 1971 album Tapestry is a magnificent touchstone with an incalculable amount of influence on any singer-songwriter that heard its songs — "It's Too Late," "You've Got a Friend," and "I Feel the Earth Move" among them. Significantly, King is a friend of the Rock Hall, appearing most recently at ceremonies in 2012 (inducting Don Kirshner) and 2013 (singing "So Far Away" for Ahmet Ertegun Award recipient Lou Adler). King as a solo artist is a topic that's been in the Rock Hall conversation for awhile now; there's a clear sense of unfinished business here. 

The Smiths - Would Steven Patrick Morrissey even show up? Between the Smiths frontman and guitarist Johnny Marr, it's Marr that is more likely to participate in any Rock Hall gala. It must be noted, too, that the crooning Oscar Wilde of Manchester has flat-out refused all Smiths reunion offers to date. In the end, it matters less who shows up than why this band should get its due — the Smiths' literate, defiant-introvert stamp is on scores of acts that followed their extraordinary 1982-1987 tenure. Their absence from the Rock Hall is really getting conspicuous. No one should be shocked at this, though, as so many artists that spurred the Smiths themselves still languish in the snub club: Roxy Music, New York Dolls, T. Rex... oh, just hang the blessed DJ already. 

Jane's Addiction - Perry Farrell, Dave Navarro, Stephen Perkins and Eric Avery created a pair of classic albums in Nothing's Shocking and Ritual de lo Habitual, unleashing thunderous riffs, tribal rhythms, and feral funk upon the world. With Farrell founding Lollapalooza, Jane's Addiction effectively had a "Big Bang" effect on '90s modern rock, or what became known, for better or worse, as "alternative." Jane's Addiction accomplished much, and influenced scores of bands that emerged in their wake. New Nomination Committee member Dave Grohl pushed Jane's last year, and it's a decent bet he'll do so again, and the same goes for the next prediction...

Motörhead - The late Lemmy Kilmister was averse to labels, insisting Motörhead weren't heavy metal, but simply a "rock and roll band." Hear, hear. There's an elemental beauty in that statement, and a whiplash thunder in this band's live-fast, die young locomotive assault. Metallica has collectively bent the knee to King Lemmy, with James Hetfield specifically identifying them as an act that should be in the Hall when Metallica was inducted in 2009. As for Grohl, he was a personal friend of Lemmy, and spoke at his memorial service; it's likely the Foo Fighters leader would like to see additional respect paid in the form of a Rock Hall induction. A star-studded performance of "Ace of Spades" (imagine Grohl on drums, Hetfield on vocals) would blow the roof off of Public Hall, too. 

Warren Zevon - David Letterman wants him in, and Paul Shaffer wants him in. Zevon appeared on the Letterman show in 2002 while suffering from terminal cancer, displaying an uncommon grace and bravery ("Enjoy every sandwich," he advised). Late night television star support aside, Zevon was an acerbically brilliant singer-songwriter, and seems destined to make it into the Hall. He's beloved by fans and luminaries alike: "Lawyers, Guns and Money" was a favorite of writer Hunter S. Thompson, and Bob Dylan added Zevon's "Accidentally Like a Martyr" to his setlists after Zevon's diagnosis. The casual listener knows the inescapable hit "Werewolves of London," but so many gems dot the Zevon catalog, including "Poor Poor Pitiful Me," "Splendid Isolation" and the emotional farewell from his final album The Wind, "Keep Me in Your Heart." Bruce Springsteen recorded "Disorder in the House" with Zevon on that last record; a speech or performance by the Boss for his pal Warren next April would be a memorable moment.

Joe Tex - The Nomination Committee pushes certain artists repeatedly, for years (i.e., Chic, Kraftwerk, Chuck Willis, J. Geils Band), so a sixth nomination for the late Joe Tex, once a James Brown rival, is totally possible. Questlove is an outspoken advocate for the deeply respected, Texas-born Southern soul/R&B/funk singer. Tex's million-selling smash hits from the '60s and '70s include "I Gotcha," "Ain't Gonna Bump No More (With No Big Fat Woman)" and "Hold What You've Got."

Todd Rundgren - A multi-hyphenate that's floated around the Rock Hall conversation for years, this singer-songwriter ("Hello It's Me," "Bang on the Drum All Day"), esteemed producer (Badfinger's Straight Up, Meat Loaf's juggernaut Bat Out of Hell), and Ringo Starr All-Starr Band member is indisputably qualified for canonization in Cleveland. The future-leaning, artistically progressive Rundgren plays multiple instruments and is widely hailed as a studio genius, further strengthening the argument. This seems like a nomination that's been on the verge of happening for years; a recent Rock Hall Facebook post of Rundgren hanging out with Rock Hall Museum CEO Greg Harris during the recent "Yestival" is another hint it could happen. If he does make the ballot, the smart money has his nomination mutating into a Musical Excellence honor. 

Alanis Morissette - Raise an eyebrow if you must, but Alanis could surprise skeptics this year with a nomination. The confessional '90s pop star owned a huge swath of that decade with her titanic hit machine Jagged Little Pill, which is not just RIAA Diamond-certified (10 million copies sold), but now an astonishing 16 times Platinum. The Canadian Morissette, now in her second year of eligibility, is an empowered inspiration to many generations of female singer-songwriters that have followed. It's relatively early in her eligibility, but '90s artists are definitely gaining traction at the Hall.

Procol Harum - Previously on the ballot in 2013, and now 25 years eligible, the soulful British prog group behind "Whiter Shade of Pale" could make the list this October, especially if Nomination Committee member Steven Van Zandt has anything to do with it. Procol Harum is a dark horse, but they are a highly respected outfit with a rich songbook 
— one of those long-excluded outfits that would fit right in at the Rock Hall.  

X - A Los Angeles punk act formed in 1977 that struck a local nerve, then went on to wider popularity and critical respect in the early '80s, the illustrious X stands apart. The band burst onto the scene with uncommonly sharp songwriting and an atypical punk sound, merging careening rockabilly (guitarist Billy Zoom once played behind Gene Vincent) with roots and country. The Doors' Ray Manzarek was a key producer, DJ Bonebrake was on drums, and out front stood a mighty duo: John Doe and Exene Cervenka, whose vocals interweaved like a double helix and then barreled over listeners with abandon. Last year, punk acts MC5 and Bad Brains received nominations; perhaps the genre will see representation this year with X, currently celebrating their 40th anniversary. Still active, they were recently celebrated at Dodger Stadium (Doe sung the National Anthem), and are the subject of a new Grammy Museum exhibit.

Finally, some additional reading on candidates for the Ahmet Ertegun Award:

Rick Rubin, Daniel Lanois

Bob Geldof, Casey Kasem

July 14, 2017

Why Judas Priest Belongs in the Rock Hall

Can millions of metal fans be wrong?

Formed in 1969 in hardscrabble Birmingham, England in the wake of their local brethren Black Sabbath, Judas Priest is an iconic heavy metal act overdue for a Rock Hall nomination. With the 2016 induction of Deep Purple—up to that point, a glaring omission in Cleveland—the Hall's stage now would appear to be primed for singer Rob Halford to roar in on his famous Harley.

Ian Hill, Glenn Tipton, Rob Halford, K.K. Downing, Dave Holland
Eligible since 1999, the metal gods have been overlooked by the institution for nearly two decades now. They're far from alone, yet another entry in a "snub club" that includes fellow high-profile New Wave of British Heavy Metal stalwarts as Iron Maiden, Motörhead, and Def Leppard. However, Judas Priest seems to have earned a special spot slightly north of these other acts—a stratosphere where a screaming metal eagle descends, and the "Electric Eye" sees everything you do.

Are they Rock Hall-worthy? Judas Priest appears to nail the requirements, and then some. The criteria for "Performer" induction into the Rock Hall, besides having a record out 25 years prior, is effectively two-pronged: musical excellence and influence. Even a non-metalhead would agree that Judas Priest meets and exceeds those standards. This is a household-name band with a powerful body of work and legions of stylistic progeny, including Maiden, Metallica, Mötley Crüe, Soundgarden, and Avenged Sevenfold. Priest's two-guitar assault and leather-and-spikes aesthetic has copied by so many other acts, the whole thing is almost taken for granted.

Hell Bent for Leather
What makes Judas Priest a cut above? Well, there's that voice. Yeah, that voice. The Halford shriek, perhaps the utmost wail in the raging hellscape of heavy metal. But it goes beyond that banshee cry; Halford's pipes are remarkably versatile. His sturdy voice drives the bluesy, groove-oriented tune "Rocka Rolla" from Priest's 1974 debut, channels pain and regret on Sad Wings of Destiny's "Dreamer Deceiver" (Metallica's "Nothing Else Matters" simply could not exist without this song's influence, whether Lars Ulrich and James Hetfield realize it or not), and is the revving engine of the 1982 hit single "You've Got Another Thing Comin'," Priest's defiant 1982 hit single. The latter is a crossover smash, yet belongs to Priest fans first—it's the "Born to Run" of metal ("it's a case of do or die...") and a battle hymn of the oppressed, sung with devil horns raised. And maybe while sporting a zebra-striped t-shirt.

Further elevating Priest's status as a Rock Hall-worthy act is their impressive body of work—17 studio LPs and six live releases, with 45 million albums sold. In any career of this length, there will be ups and downs, naturally. There are superb high points (Stained Class, British Steel, Screaming for Vengeance), slight misfires (Turbo, with its synthesizers, the concept record Nostradamus), and outings with a replacement singer (Jugulator, with Tim "Ripper" Owens). There's more chrome than rust, though—this is a catalog boiling over with jagged, fist-pumping anthems that infiltrated arenas, radio, and MTV to a genre-perpetuating degree. And the legendary Priest (currently Halford, bassist Ian Hill, guitarists Glenn Tipton and Richie Faulkner, and longtime drummer Scott Travis) are at it to this day, with the 2014 release of the well-reviewed Redeemer of Souls. They remain globe-trotting metal ambassadors, delivering favorites like "Breakin' the Law," "Living After Midnight," and "Hell Bent for Leather" on stages night after night.

2014's Redeemer of Souls
Priest has forged an impactful collection of songs over their 43 years. At the deep cut level, even the most seasoned Priest fan can rummage through this discography and rediscover dozens of gems that have lost nothing with time, and actually sound even better than they remember. Among these, the free-falling, shuddering "Tyrant" from Sad Wings of Destiny; 1977's "Dissident Aggressor," where Halford's skyward falsetto and grinding guitars combine to create a dark undertow; Stained Class' rocking, cosmic "Better By You, Better Than Me" (a Spooky Tooth cover); "The Sentinel," a chilling Defenders of the Faith track flecked by cathedral bells and boasting one of Halford's best vocal performances; and "Painkiller," a 1990 pulverizer where any doubts about Priest's thrash/speed metal credibility were laid to waste.

Judas Priest's sterling credentials for nomination and induction into the Rock Hall are self-evident at this point. Just ask their fans. Unquestionable musical excellence and significant influence? It's all here... wrapped in leather, and screaming for vengeance.

June 13, 2017

'Left of the Dial' Acts Left Behind by Rock Hall

In 2004, Rhino Records released Left of the Dial: Dispatches from the 80s Underground, a four-CD compendium of artists featured on 1980s college radio. "College rock" is the label often slapped on this music, but that's just a rubric floating above such genres as punk, post-punk, goth, synth-pop, folk-rock, and whatever it is the Hoodoo Gurus do.

Rhino Records' Left of the Dial
Left of the Dial was an ambitious if slightly imperfect collection, but it almost had to be flawed; this was music forged by fringe types, for fringe types. Still, it's a useful reference point to weigh against the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame's degree of recognition (or lack thereof) where these important artists and genres are concerned. Here are some telling numbers regarding this box set:

82 acts
3 inducted (R.E.M., The Pretenders, Red Hot Chili Peppers)
6 nominated (The Cure, the Replacements, Depeche Mode, the Smiths, Bad Brains, Jane's Addiction)

That leaves a whopping 73 acts in the lurch, many with decent odds of a Rock Hall nomination (Pixies, Kate Bush, Joy Division, the Pogues), others longer shots (Dinosaur Jr., Bauhaus, Minor Threat) and others, well, don't hold your breath (Ultravox, Throbbing Gristle, or Lyres, anyone?). But that's not a qualitative judgment, as the majority of the artists on Left of the Dial are, at minimum, notable, and at maximum, iconic. And every last one could trigger an acute nostalgia response for Gen Xers that tuned in to a college radio station in the Reagan era.

Siouxsie and the Banshees
To contemplate the presumably tumultuous groupthink that occurred at Rhino when piecing together this 4-disc package is to see a parallel in the Rock Hall Nomination Committee meetings that come up with 15 or 19 nominees annually. So many options, so little clarity. (Ever try to order a pizza with more than 3 people? It's like that.) 

It's unsurprising that 73 out of 82 acts on a box set meant to highlight groundbreaking, generationally-significant musical artists have been completely snubbed by the Rock Hall. To be sure, not all of them belong in that museum on Lake Erie, but there's little question that some of them do. So what's the matter here?

It may be as simple as this: The freaks and geeks making a racket on Left of the Dial represent the outsiders, and the Rock Hall, at this point, has no time for the edgy, the cultish, the Lux Interiors, the rabid underdogs that should be thrown a bone. They might nominate the Smiths, the Replacements, and Bad Brains, but inducting them is quite another story. These acts, as influential and musically excellent as they may be, represent risk. And the Rock Hall, like any growing business, is intentionally risk-averse as its aggressive monetization agenda plods on, from its "Long Live Rock" sloganeering to its museum's structural improvements (a new cafe! a new theater!) to its annual, Klipsch-sponsored HBO telecasts of induction ceremonies. Indeed, with its run of populist-leaning inductees in recent years (Steve Miller, Journey, etc.) the Rock Hall nomination/induction dynamic feels akin to a jock stuffing the kid wearing an Echo & the Bunnymen t-shirt into a locker.

The Smiths
The Rock Hall brass might counter this argument by saying "Hey, we've inducted R.E.M." or "We just nominated Depeche Mode and Bad Brains!" Those are facts, but the perpetual exclusion of massively impactful "college rock" acts from actual induction such as Kraftwerk, the Smiths, and even the nearly-mainstream group the Cure points to a calcified, baby boomer-centric voting body, not to mention a tacit refusal to occasionally call the "screw it, get them in this year" audibles that you just know get called behind closed doors when it's time to choose the inductees. 

In essence, the Rock Hall is doing a disservice to a wide swath of Generation X—adults whose formative years would have been unbearable without that Smiths, Hüsker Dü, Cramps, or Siouxsie and the Banshees cassette in their Walkman. Isn't that what music is all about? And where is the harm in honoring that in Cleveland, at least some of the time? It could even be considered as outreach to a targeted demographic.

Will all these Left of the Dial musical heroes continue to be left behind? For many, "...It says nothing to me about my life" is a Smiths lyric that undoubtedly applies to the Rock Hall.

April 5, 2017

The Top 10 Rock Hall Induction Ceremony Quotes

You need the right speakers. With the 32nd annual Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony happening this Friday at Brooklyn's Barclays Center—and with the surprise development of David Letterman now inducting Pearl Jam, subbing for a sick Neil Young—it's time to recall standout induction speaker/inductee comments from ceremonies past. 

Heartfelt, cutting, and often hilarious—and in the spirit of the old Letterman show—here are the Top 10 quotes in Rock Hall induction history:

Hurry it up: Paul McCartney and  Ringo Starr
10.  "After the things I've sat through tonight!" - A clearly exasperated Ringo Starr, reacting to Paul McCartney pointing at his watch to move Starr's speech along. It was over five hours into the ceremony. (2015)

9. "Blah, blah, blah..." (with varying inflection, for three comically sustained, performance art-like minutes) - Alex Lifeson at Rush's induction (2013)

8.  "He's taught us a lot as a band, about dignity and commitment, and playing in the moment. And when I hear the speeches, inducting Janis Joplin and Frank Zappa... I'm just really glad he's still here." - Eddie Vedder, inducting Neil Young (1995)

7. "We have a love/hate relationship—he loves me and I hate him." - Jeff Beck, inducting Rod Stewart (1994)

6. “They say that I have no hits, and that I'm difficult to work with. And they say that like it's a bad thing.” - Tom Waits (2011)

Jay-Z inducting Grandmaster Flash
5.  "What Chuck Berry did for the electric guitar, Flash did for the turntable." - Jay-Z, inducting Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five (2007)

4.  "Tonight we're all on our best behavior... and we're being rewarded for 25 years of bad behavior." - Mick Jagger at the Rolling Stones' induction (1989)

3.  "Now, the question is, are we rock and roll? And I say you goddamn right we rock and roll. Rock and roll is not an instrument, rock and roll is not even a style of music. Rock and roll is a spirit... Rock and roll is not conforming to the people who came before you, but creating your own path in music and in life. That is rock and roll, and that is us." - Ice Cube at N.W.A.'s induction (2016)

Mike Love at the podium in 1988
2.  "We did about 180 performances last year...I'd like to see the Mop Tops match that! I'd like to see Mick Jagger get out on this stage and do 'I Get Around' versus 'Jumpin' Jack Flash,' any day now... And I'd like to see some people kick out the jams, and I challenge the Boss to get up on stage and jam... I wanna see Billy Joel, see if he can still tickle ivories. I know Mick Jagger won't be here tonight, he's gonna have to stay in England. But I'd like to see us in the Coliseum and he at Wembley Stadium because he's always been chickenshit to get on stage with the Beach Boys." - Mike Love at the Beach Boys' induction (1988)

1. "I wanna thank Mike Love for not mentioning me..." - Bob Dylan (1988)