August 30, 2018

Predictions: The 2019 Rock Hall Nominees

To quote Bruce Springsteen, "Is there anybody alive out there?!

A valid question, as far as the Rock Hall is concerned. In recent years, the induction ceremony seems to have traded formality for an actual pulse. Electricity, danger and humor, the key elements of rock and roll (i.e., the stuff Iggy Pop is made of) have left the building, for the most part.


There have of course been exceptions: Brittany Howard's rousing take on Sister Rosetta Tharpe's "That's All" this past April, and 2014 inductee Nirvana's lightning-in-a-bottle musical tributes, with Kim Gordon tearing into "Aneurysm" and Annie Clark (St. Vincent) performing "Lithium." The only hitch with high-watermark moments like these is the contrast they strike against the bummer portions of the inductions, like acceptance speeches, death reels, and artists who could have performed together standing onstage in a fragile detente (rhymes with "miss"). It's only rock and roll, guys.

And does anyone remember laughter? Alex Lifeson's legendary "blah blah blah" speech in 2013 suggests he does, Bill Withers amused in 2015, and the bawdy Howard Stern got laughs this year inducting Bon Jovi. The ceremony needn't be a riot, nor a stand-up routine, but overall, it needs to lighten up. 

It's time to shake up the induction paradigm. But what are the Rock Hall Foundation, Nominating Committee and ceremony producers to do? It's tough to forecast the prevailing mood, egos, or stage behavior in this annual gathering of rock stars and industry types. Further, there are deceased artists that are worthy of induction, and recently departed icons should be paid proper respect. Still, this thing shouldn't be a wake, it should be a party... and who gets invited to that party is hugely consequential. 

This is an annual guest list that needs pruning and restructuring. A certain stasis has set in, and culpability lies entirely with the graying, overwhelmingly male Rock Hall votership and its weak follow-through on nominee pools (along with whatever abject skulduggery that goes on in the "purposefully nontransparent" backrooms during inductee selection). But there is a solution: induct exciting acts and get them to show up. All too often, brilliant, fire-breathing (also: living) artists are put forth, and then passed over for induction. Oh, how things might have been: Imagine the 2018 ceremony with live sets by Judas Priest and/or Radiohead, 2017 with Janet Jackson, or 2016 with Nine Inch Nails. Inductees with an edge result in a show with edge, plain and simple; when Joan Jett exploded onto the stage in 2015 with "Bad Reputation," it felt like the roof of Cleveland's Public Hall had taken its talents to South Beach.

All of this is leads to E-Rockracy's nominee predictions for the Rock Hall Class of 2019. Below lies an alphabetical list of 19 artists, primarily chosen based on likelihood, eligibility and merit. But look closely, as there's a smattering of strategic picks — some electrons charged with fury, genius and satire — that just might shock that moribund induction ceremony back to life. 

Bad Company - 19 years eligible, with FM radio staples such as "Shooting Star" and "Can't Get Enough," this British supergroup led by gifted vocalist Paul Rodgers is a favorite of Rock Hall Nomination Committee member Steven Van Zandt. There's various indications that Van Zandt hasn't had much luck getting his pet project acts in lately, so that trend may reverse this year with Bad Company (and another pick below). Further, Bad Company, a classic rock institution, jives perfectly with the raise-your-lighters/"Are you ready to rock?" classes of late. 

Beck - When Beck Hansen attended the 2015 induction ceremony to pay tribute to Lou Reed with a faithful rendition of "Satellite of Love," it felt like his Rock Hall fate had been sealed. It's his first year of eligibility, and he's one of the few artists left on this planet you could credibly frame as a "no-brainer." (Even Taylor Swift's got to shout.) This Gen X icon is the restless architect of a songbook radiating ironic creativity, acoustic sensitivity and even pop instinct, given his slick 2017 album Colors. Always adventurous or emotionally direct, Beck has shuffled down a variety of sonic avenues, including fragmented, Dust Brothers-produced avant-rock ("Where It's At"), zeitgeist-capturing anthems ("Loser"), and lovelorn folk (the Sea Change and Morning Phase LPs). His lyrics are also a point of fascination, vacillating between bonkers and brilliant: "Silver foxes looking for romance/In the chain smoke Kansas flash dance ass pants" from Odelay's "Hotwax"; and "Down river bound/Where the lemon tea sky fell down/A plot against your will/Is furrowed into your brow" from Morning Phase's "Country Down." Beck is exceedingly qualified for the Hall, not to mention a loose-limbed live dynamo that would perk up the induction ceremony in a major way.

Pat Benatar - Eligible for induction 14 years now, Pat Benatar is conspicuous in her absence from the Hall. By way of contrast, she's been omnipresent for decades on the FM dial, concert stages, and MTV. Impassioned, confident and singing her heart out, she broke down the door in 1979 with "Heartbreaker," the lead track of her debut album In the Heat of the Night. It's quite the opening salvo ("Don't you mess around with me") and has endured as a heavy-rotation anthem. The exclusion of Benatar, quite simply, is surprising. The ostensible criteria for induction, musical excellence and influence, abound here. If the complaint is that her peak era was the '80s, that shouldn't be a strike against her; many artists already in the Hall were around for just a few years. Also, as the first female artist to appear on MTV ("You Better Run" was the second-ever clip to air on the fledgling network), she opened doors for the later video success of Cyndi Lauper and Madonna, among others. She didn't write enough of her songs? The Rock Hall is full of individuals that didn't author their own material, and in fact, Benatar co-wrote some of her most notable singles, including "Treat Me Right," "Promises in the Dark," and "Fire and Ice." She won Grammys four years in a row between 1980 and 1983, so there is a precedent of genuine industry respect. Benatar belongs, and if inducted, she should go in with her longtime musical and life partner, Neil Giraldo.

Black Flag - Formed in Hermosa Beach, California, and eligible since 2003, Black Flag were pioneers of hardcore punk. They blazed a screaming, reckless trail across America, serving up hot plates of rage in defiance of a nation that had severely alienated them. The group embraced the DIY ethic, self-releasing albums on their label SST and touring in a van under such inhuman conditions, they had to have wanted it. Their influence is all over the place, with Nirvana, Sonic Youth, Pantera, Ryan Adams and Green Day just a few names indebted to them. Black Flag, a paragon of American independent music, was founded by guitarist Greg Ginn, and the band's volatile membership included original singer Keith Morris (Circle Jerks) and eventually, frontman Henry Rollins. 

The Doobie Brothers - Will mighty artist manager/industry titan Irving Azoff (Bon Jovi, Eagles, Journey, etc.) push for his clients the Doobie Brothers to make the ballot this year? That seems to be the consensus. It does help, on a separate level, that the San Jose-hailing Doobies are due for enshrinement in Cleveland, with 22 years of eligibility. Tom Johnston, Patrick Simmons, John McFee, et al. are the epitome of an American rock band, with loyal baby boomer fans and a stack of sturdy FM radio hits ("Black Water," "Long Train Runnin', "Takin' it to the Streets"). The Doobies have sold 40 million records, and their touring fortunes have vastly improved due to Azoff's placing them on 2017's Classic East/Classic West stadium concerts with the Eagles, Fleetwood Mac, Steely Dan, Earth, Wind & Fire, and Journey. Hmm... who in that lineup is not inducted yet? Induction bonus: Former Doobie Brothers member/pop culture icon Michael McDonald gets onstage with his old bandmates again. Don't bootleg the show, Rerun!

EurythmicsAnnie Lennox and Dave Stewart were an enchanting duo, marrying haunting synthpop with bold, MTV-ready aesthetics. Eligible since 2006, Eurythmics graced the charts and MTV in the '80s starting with "Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)" and followed it with a pile of other hits, including the narcotic "Here Comes the Rain Again" and the hard-driving "Missionary Man." Alongside her guitar-playing foil Stewart, powerhouse vocalist Lennox summoned fire and ice in equal measure, and with ease. On a side note, there's a direct Aretha Franklin connection here with the Eurythmics/Franklin collaboration "Sisters Are Doin' It for Themselves," a hit that appeared on both artists' 1985 albums. (You know, an imaginative induction ceremony showrunner might do something with this song to honor Aretha at the top of the show, and involve lots of female inductees, but perhaps that's just too optimistic.)

The Go-Go'sBelinda Carlisle, Jane Wiedlin, Charlotte Caffey, Gina Schock, and Kathy Valentine comprise the only all-female group that wrote and played its own music to reach the top of the Billboard chart. It's reason enough for a Rock Hall nomination, and there are many more beyond that. The Go-Go's started on the L.A. punk scene, but turned into a pop machine, taking radio and MTV by storm with "We Got the Beat," "Vacation," and "Our Lips Are Sealed," among other hits. Currently, the Go-Go's music is the basis for "Head Over Heels" a new, 16th century-set musical currently on Broadway. Besides the Go-Go's meriting induction anyway, and at the risk of sounding cynical, the Rock Hall voting body sure could use an infusion of five (living) women filling out ballots next year.

Janet Jackson - Janet being left off last year's ballot might actually be a positive sign — a purposeful break so she could hit the ballot again, fresh, in 2018. What more can be said about Janet that isn't common knowledge, whether you're a fan or not? Tough yet vulnerable, and a magnificent singer-dancer, this global superstar was just handed the Icon Award at the 2018 Billboard Music Awards. Janet's having a banner year: She's finishing up the latest leg of her acclaimed State of the World Tour, and just released a new single, "Made for Now," with Daddy Yankee. Industry legend? Check. Multi-platinum albums and pop landscape-altering hits throughout her catalog? Check. Five Grammys? Check. Still at it? Check. A Rock Hall coronation seems inevitable, and this may finally be the year.

Jethro Tull - "They're not in yet?!" says just about everyone. They may have zero Rock Hall nominations thus far, but Jethro Tull's luck may be about to change. Their songs are permanently etched on the walls of rock history — "Aqualung," "Locomotive Breath," "Bungle in the Jungle" and "Living in the Past" have truly endured. Critics reviled the band in its heyday, failing to appreciate Tull and their their flute-driven, folk/rock/prog hybrid. However, there's no denying that Ian Anderson and his troupe carved out their own mystical, hard-rocking universe. The Tull catalog, worth revisiting, reveals a treasure trove of songs teeming with thunder and melody. There are startling achievements throughout, from lesser known efforts like Minstrel in the Gallery to Crest of a Knave, the 1987 LP that stole a Hard Rock/Metal Performance Grammy out from under Metallica. Interestingly, "We Used to Know," from Tull's 1969 album Stand Up, has a monumental Martin Barre wah-wah guitar solo that seems to prefigure Eddie Hazel's searing, psychedelic turn on the 1971 Funkadelic track "Maggot Brain." Presumably, Hazel never even heard "We Used to Know," but inspiration arrives in mysterious ways. In any case, Tull is on their 50th anniversary tour and is primed and ready to perform next April at Barclays Center. There's no question that the majority of Rock Hall voters would check a box for them. 

J. Geils Band - Apart from Bad Company, J. Geils Band is the other likely Van Zandt ballot submission this year. It's good to have friends in high places, and it also helps to be a friend of the Rock Hall — charismatic frontman/former DJ Peter Wolf is regarded by the institution well enough to be invited twice as an induction speaker (for Jackie Wilson and Paul Butterfield Blues Band), so J. Geils Band seems headed for their sixth (!) nomination. As for their music and chart success, credit where credit is due: J. Geils Band, a top-notch live act, injected a winning garage band energy into blues, boogie, R&B and even new wave on songs like "Give it to Me," "Musta Got Lost," "Freeze Frame" and "Love Stinks." Sadly, and is too often the case for belated Rock Hall inductees, namesake guitarist J. Geils died in 2017, but his surviving bandmates could certainly put on a show to honor both him and his legacy.

Judas Priest - When was the last time metal was part of a Rock Hall ceremony? Perhaps Deep Purple in 2016, but like, headbanging, devil-horns-in-the-air metal? You'd have to go back to Metallica's induction in 2009, and then to Black Sabbath's in 2006. The maligned genre is overdue for representation, and what better act than the leather-clad, vengeance-screamers/law-breakers Judas Priest. This induction would mean so much to many, but it would be especially great for founding guitarist Glenn Tipton, who had to step away from playing full shows due to a Parkinson's diagnosis last year (lately, he's been coming out with the band during encores to play a couple of songs). Priest's sterling qualifications for induction probably go without saying, but more on that here

George Michael - There's nothing like death to bring attention an artist's taken-for-granted accomplishments. A shocking 2016 passing in a year full of them (on Christmas Day, no less), pop genius George Michael died prematurely at age 53. However, it's what he left behind—an amazing, globally embraced songbook—that matters now. Based on his mega-hits with Wham! as well as his brilliant solo career (albums like the 1987 blockbuster Faith and Listen Without Prejudice, Vol. 1, and songs like "Father Figure," "Freedom (90)," and "Fastlove"), his legacy is secure. Among major pop stars, Michael is a deserving candidate for Cleveland. Adele, Sam Smith and Justin Timberlake are just a few of the artists he's deeply influenced. Michael's music has even impacted Hollywood — in the 2016 Jordan Peele/Keegan Michael-Key comedy Keanu, Michael's music wins over a car full of hardened gang members, to hysterical, legend-burnishing effect. 

Nine Inch Nails - Trent Reznor should be in the Rock Hall, if, for nothing else, successfully crash landing industrial rock onto the mainstream, like a modern rock Sully Sullenberger. A Cleveland-area prodigy with a gift for synthesizer hooks as well as songwriting and production savvy, Reznor and Nine Inch Nails have been revolutionizing music since the early '90s, after the breakout of Pretty Hate Machine and the watershed of The Downward Spiral. From his early festival days trashing a smoky, comically sunlit stage at Lollapalooza and the down-in-it mud ritual of Woodstock 1994, to album triumphs like The Downward Spiral and 2013's Hesitation Marks, this glaring necromancer has earned his Rock Hall immortalization. (His recent "Twin Peaks: The Return" appearance was extremely cool, too.) Nine Inch Nails have two prior nominations, and this would be the third. With any hypothetical induction performance, Reznor would throw more lightning than Zeus; who wouldn't love to see that?

Radiohead - A spot in Rolling Stone's 100 Greatest Artists of All Time seems to all but guarantee nominations for Thom Yorke and his mates. But despite being one of the most revered rock acts since Nirvana, there's a sense Radiohead doesn't care, and feel they don't particularly need this honor.  In turn, the Rock Hall officials, those bunglers of diplomacy, just don't know how to negotiate around that. This British crew does belong in the Hall, and would bring a welcome jolt of future shock to an induction gala, but they may cycle through 3-4 nominations before they make it. Look for them on this year's ballot, and if they don't get in, they'll probably disappear completely from it for awhile.

Roxy Music Eligible since 1997, Roxy music emerged out of London in 1971 and went on to profoundly impact glam, new wave, and anything under the rubric of "art-rock." In a career journey that took them from the cutting-edge to a suave sophistication, Bryan Ferry, Brian Eno and company created soaring, stylish music with plenty of disciples, from a young Steven Patrick Morrissey to Blondie to Duran Duran. 

Rufus Featuring Chaka Khan Eligible since 1999, perhaps it's finally time to party like that year and induct Rufus featuring Chaka Khan. Best known for introducing powerhouse vocalist Khan to the world, this Chicago funk outfit had it all in the '70s — commercial success and a series of massive hits that tore up the pop and R&B charts. Stevie Wonder wrote "Tell Me Something Good" for them, and "Ain't Nobody" and "Sweet Thing" were among their other smashes. Khan went solo in 1983, which has led to her appearing on the ballot with and without Rufus in recent years. The entire collective was nominated last year, and Questlove is likely to push for Chaka and company once again when the committee meets in mid-September. Khan is held in very high esteem, and in fact, she's performing at Aretha Franklin's funeral. 

Salt-N-Pepa - Rap with a side of feminism — that would be some needed rain on the poorly representative desert of the Rock Hall. Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, Run-D.M.C., Public Enemy and N.W.A. are all inducted, but there's nary a woman among them. Queens from Queens and among the most successful female hip-hop acts, Salt-N-Pepa and DJ Spinderella would be breaking the Rock Hall's glass ceiling. By any standard, they're worthy, with major, your-mom-even-likes-these-guys hits like "Push It," "Let's Talk About Sex," "Shoop," and "Whatta Man" (featuring En Vogue). This trio blazed a trail for assertive women in hip-hop, and TLC and Missy Elliott definitely took key inspiration from them. The first all-female rap group — Hall of Fame-caliber stuff, without question.

"Weird Al" Yankovic - The exact criteria for induction into the Rock Hall can be debated, but satirist "Weird Al" Yankovic rules a very specific corner of the music world unopposed, and no one else even compares. To be parodied by "Weird Al" is among the highest honors in music; eccentric, guarded individuals from Kurt Cobain to Michael Jackson basically bear-hugged the very idea of Yankovic doing one of their songs. And this is how humor could enliven and lighten the induction ceremony — by having the parodist appear in full, costumed regalia to perform a few of his gems from across the decades, from early MTV favorite "Eat It" to "Amish Paradise" to the astonishingly great, hottest-flow-since-lava banger "White and Nerdy" (parody of "Ridin" by Chamillionaire featuring Krayzie Bone). Yankovic was just honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, so the Rock Hall should follow suit and grant this beloved hero a richly deserved tip of the hat. Lonely Island guys, care to write a speech?

Warren Zevon - "Lawyers, Guns and Money"...but enough about American politics! Warren Zevon, Los Angeles' late purveyor of acerbic, libertine songcraft, is the ideal fit for 2019's singer-songwriter slot (think 2013 inductee Randy Newman). Paul Shaffer, who jammed with Zevon many times on the Letterman show, is a crucial Zevon evangelist and Nomination Committee member. By honoring Warren, the Hall could have a substantial induction ceremony performance on their hands: Imagine what prior Zevon collaborator Bruce Springsteen or even spiritual descendant Father John Misty could do with "Johnny Strikes Up the Band" or "Accidentally Like a Martyr" (the latter performed by Bob Dylan live after he learned Zevon was dying of cancer). If Bob sees fit to cover your song, you probably warrant entry into the Hall.

August 4, 2018

The Museum is Fine... But There are Cracks in the Foundation

The museum is great. 

A recent visit to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame museum in Cleveland reveals an institution in the midst of a renaissance. Behold the sparkling, gold-encrusted signature wall chronologically displaying the inductees. The interactive screens where visitors can vote for acts they'd like to see in the Hall. A busy slate of rock fan-friendly events, including concerts and live chats with such luminaries as the Moody Blues. It could practically be called the "Blossoming Music Center," evolving under the steady hand and metrics-focused stewardship of CEO Greg Harris, erstwhile VP of Development at Coopertown's National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum. Harris and his organizational structure, with a mission to "engage, teach and inspire," are executing as well as can be expected; the museum they oversee is about as impressive as the place will ever be. Huge financial donations have helped (most recently, $10 million from KeyBank, making museum admission free for all Cleveland residents for 10 years).

Another result of a sizable gift ($9 million from Sherwin-Williams executive Chris Connor), and the museum's crown jewel, is the recently added "Power of Rock Experience" in the Connor Theater. It's a potent, multi-sensory film experience, and notably, the final work of esteemed Stop Making Sense director Jonathan Demme. "Power of Rock" peaks at the end with the choicest of all Rock Hall induction moments: Prince's mesmerizing, immortal guitar solo during the George Harrison-honoring "While My Guitar Gently Weeps," played alongside Tom Petty in 2004. That both of these legends have passed in the last two years punctuates this film with a jolting emotional heft. In effect, it fulfills the promise of rock and roll — it moves you.

The Connor Theater's "Power of Rock Experience" 
The museum is really not the issue, then, when Rock Hall discussion comes up, as it does in regenerative fashion each year come "Rock Hall Season," i.e. the time of nominee and inductee announcements. (In some quarters, it's a year-long conversation... guilty as charged.) For perspective's sake, it must be called out  the general bulk of the population shrugs this Rock Hall thing off for the most part, save for noticing who gets nominated/got inducted, and then bitching about it.

Don't get it twisted: When anyone complains about their favorite artist not being in the Rock Hall, it's 100% not the Ohio museum they are attacking, whether they know it or not. The culpable entity, of course, would be the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Foundation, the New York City-based shark tank that, via its Nomination Committee, decides which acts are nominated and inducted. If it helps, think of the Foundation as the museum's "Upside Down" a la "Stranger Things"... except darker, oozier and with far more ruinous tentacles. 

The Foundation's myriad problems now directly feed into its most graphic advertisement, the annual, Klipsch Audio-sponsored, HBO-broadcast induction ceremony. The gala is now a stricken beast, lumbering along and basically functioning, but still struggling to accomplish the idealistic goals of its original mission  to honor artists that demonstrate excellence and influence in the realm of rock and roll. What started out as a private, Waldorf-Astoria-held pleasure cruise, with no-brainer artists and a physical media-driven business model that made everyone in the room disproportionately rich, is becoming far more treacherous as the 21st century unfolds. Technology, newer generations' fragmented tastes, and shorter careers for artists could very well torpedo this institution into utter irrelevance, foundation and museum alike.

The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Museum
The 2018 induction ceremony is a telling case study for the foundation's problems. Unquestionably, there are always some heartfelt moments and galvanizing musical performances at this event. And really, there's little to be gained debating whether or not the reunited Cars, in likely their last-ever performance, sounded good (they sounded pretty brilliant to these ears), or whether Lauryn Hill went on too long (she didn't, considering the significance of Nina Simone, the inductee she was performing for). Those kinds of qualitative gripes around performances distract from more salient issues like the institution's lack of diplomacy, common sense, and integrity cracks in the Rock Hall Foundation, effectively. 

First off, the topic of diplomacy: The 2018 Rock Hall class felt slight, and perhaps a few evenhanded, polite discussions would have prevented that. Radiohead was by most accounts a shoo-in, but failed to make the cut. The obvious counterargument here is that voters simply did not check enough boxes for them, but that assumes good intent on the part of the Hall when it comes to who gets in, and how. As no official vote counts are released, and the Hall has a checkered history of Jann Wenner "by fiat, buddy"-style maneuvers, well, then, how can anyone assume good intent? Presumably, Radiohead, who correctly feel they don't really need this honor, did not want to play ball, had shows scheduled, and the Rock Hall foundation shunned them as a result, rather than reaching out and finding a compromise that might have gotten the band — after Nirvana, the consensus critical favorite rock act of the last three decades — to Cleveland. 
Elsewhere, Judas Priest was nominated, but left on the outside looking in. This is a worthy metal band that left their touring schedule clear induction weekend in case they got in, but, no dice. Imagine the 2018 ceremony with Radiohead and/or Judas Priest added to the bill. A longer night, sure (who cares?), but a better and more balanced program. Priest vocalist Rob Halford has been nothing if not nice and diplomatic about all this; the Hall could learn a thing or two from him. 

On the topic of common sense, it's as if the Rock Hall movers and shakers just aren't paying attention to details. For instance, longtime Bon Jovi bassist Hugh McDonald had to find out from his wife, who found out from social media, that he would, after all, be inducted with the band after initially being excluded. There is also a lengthy record of fumbles and Scott Norwood-caliber wide-right kicks when it comes to which specific members of inducted acts get in (every drummer that was ever in the Red Hot Chili Peppers, but not Pearl Jam's Dave Abbruzzese?). In the Hall's latest affront to reason, Dire Straits ended up inducting themselves. A new low point, because I was in the room, and there were several Rock Hall Foundation players sitting at tables in front of the ceremony stage, looking bored. Get up there and say something for one of your honorees if no one else will, for god's sake. The Dire Straits induction speech decision was awful, no matter how it was arrived at.

Then there are smaller curatorial/showrunning details for this gala that boggle the mind, like finally getting Richie Sambora onstage to reunite with Bon Jovi, and then failing to convince them to perform their best, most consequential song ("Wanted Dead or Alive"). Perhaps that's nitpicking, but it still feels like a key, historical Rock Hall ceremony moment was missed there. Other examples abound, like skipping end-of-night all-star jams in 2014 and 2018 either due to avoidable ceremony running time inefficiencies or just a lack of creativity when it comes to assembling inductees for a finale. 

When it comes to integrity, and fragile rock star egos notwithstanding, the Foundation should simply release the final tally of votes to put to rest any suspicions of malfeasance. This would be a sea change, and a giant step toward transparency and credibility. They should also curb the "side door" inductions that can inadvertently disrespect an artist's legacy (most vividly seen with Nile Rodgers getting the Musical Excellence Award, vs. his band Chic being inducted) or come off as nepotism (McCartney greasing the wheels for Ringo's induction). Then there is a curious situation like 2015 inductee Paul Butterfield Blues Band, a "by fiat, buddy" inductee choice if there ever was one, their significant musical contribution notwithstanding. They got enough votes? Maybe they did, maybe they didn't.

Last but not least, a pivotal new development in the Rock Hall universe is the problematic-on-arrival Singles category, dropped in surprise fashion (akin to your parents telling you they're divorcing) at the 2018 ceremony. This category sort of works for certain acts ("Born to Be Wild" for Steppenwolf, "Louie Louie" for the Kingsmen), but it sure comes off like a "you're never getting in now" consolation prize for musical titans like Link Wray (honored for "Rumble") and early rock pioneer Chubby Checker (honored for "The Twist"). Ultimately, it's the TV game show parting gift of Turtle Wax. Better than nothing? Maybe, but when inherently worthy-of-induction artists start being detoured into the Singles category instead... say, the Zombies for "Time of the Season," MC5 for "Kick Out the Jams" or Kate Bush for "Running Up That Hill," people are going to be really upset and disappointed.

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Singles Category, sprung from good intentions, nonetheless feels like a puddle of water forming unexpectedly in the basement — a tributary confluence of poor diplomacy, a lack of common sense and questionable integrity, seeping through the cracks in the Foundation. 

The Rock Hall brass could address and start fixing these issues, but are they willing to? Do these powers that be have the humility, focus and motivation to remedy some glaringly obvious problems? The credibility and long-term health of this enterprise depends on it. 

March 30, 2018

Snubbed! 20 Acts Overdue for the Rock Hall

A decade is seemingly an eternity to wait for something. However, that time frame is just the beginning for many artists anticipating the Rock Hall's immortalizing welcome. 

Here are 20 acts that are especially overdue for induction; the standard is that their eligibility has stretched at least 10 years. Some have previous nominations, others do not. While not comprehensive, this list is a representative sample of names meant to highlight how far the Hall needs to go to complete that rock and roll puzzle it's assembling there in Cleveland.

The Smiths 
10 years eligible
The jangling, poetic expression of guitarist Johnny Marr and frontman Steven Patrick Morrissey lasted only five years officially, but still resonates today. Much like Bob Dylan famously "taught rock and roll to think" in the '60s, the Smiths taught it how to feel in the '80s, providing a thorny, highly literate soundtrack for the painfully alone. This is a songbook that launched a musical movement; acts such as Radiohead, the Cranberries, the Decemberists, and the National could not exist without the Smiths.

Ice-T 
10 years eligible
"6 in the morning, police at my door/Fresh Adidas squeak across the bathroom floor/Out my back window I make a escape/Don't even get a chance to grab my old school tape...Well before the then-nicknamed Snoop Doggy Dogg used "6 in the mornin'" as a braggadocious, lifestyle-revealing time stamp (as in, the ladies weren't leaving his place until then), the police were pounding at Ice-T's door at that hour. Arguably the originator of gangsta rap, Ice-T deserves a place in the Hall alongside inductees N.W.A., an act he set the table for. Of course, the provocative, thrash metal side project Body Count is an inextricable part of the Ice-T legacy due to the 1992 "Cop Killer" song controversy. Lightning rod, television actor, reality star... that fresh Adidas shoe fits. However, above all else, Tracy Marrow, introduced to the world with the single "The Coldest Rap" in 1983, is a legendary and genre-defining figure.

Janet Jackson 
11 years eligible
Consecutive nominations in 2015 and 2016, and the pop icon is still, remarkably, on the outside looking in. She wasn't nominated for the 2018 class, but she'll be back. A high-caliber performer—demonstrated most recently on her critically-lauded "State of the World" tour—Jackson would be the perfect headline attraction for any induction ceremony. It's a safe bet, too, that other legends (Beyoncé, Missy Elliot) would jump at the chance to induct her. That's a win-win for the Rock Hall, where star power is concerned.

The Replacements 
12 years eligible
Minneapolis delinquents Paul Westerberg, Chris Mars, and brothers Bob and Tommy Stinson created something from almost nothing: brilliant songs, fueled by boredom and copious amounts of cheap beer. Their stellar achievements include the LP Let it Be and such singles as "Alex Chilton" and "Bastards of Young." The Mats' rowdy, melodic blueprint has been followed by such acts as Guided by Voices, the Strokes, and Ryan Adams.

Mötley Crüe 
12 years eligible
Sitting at the intersection of glam, shock-rock and metal with a pile of thunderous hits and multi-platinum albums is Mötley Crüe, a squad of hellions the Hall is going to have to deal with eventually. Flaming up into the public eye amid the Satanic Panic of the early '80s was fortuitous timing, as every teenager pissed at their parents clutched their pentagram-branded copy of Shout at the Devil even tighter. It's a rarity in rock anymore, but these guys once seemed downright scary. Sure, the Crüe discography is a mixed bag, from the auspicious, punk-glam debut Too Fast for Love to the concussive, Bob Rock-produced smash Dr. Feelgood to throwaways like Generation Swine. However, Nikki Sixx, Mick Mars, Tommy Lee and Vince Neil blazed their own hedonistic trail, turning sex, drugs, and power chords into anthems that had broad appeal. In arenas around the world, guys banged their heads to "Wild Side," and girls wistfully sang along to "Home Sweet Home." And if all this previous mayhem wasn't enough, there's a major motion picture being filmed right now based on the Crüe's eyebrow-raising book The Dirt, with Cleveland's own Machine Gun Kelly portraying Lee.


The Go-Go's 
13 years eligible
The only all-female group that wrote and played its own music to reach the top of the Billboard chart is the Go-Go's. That's a pretty sturdy credential for Rock Hall consideration. In the early '80s, the band broke out of the Los Angeles punk scene and bounced into the pop orbit, taking the airwaves and MTV by storm with "Our Lips are Sealed," "We Got the Beat," and "Vacation," among other hits. Currently, the Go-Go's music is the foundation for Head Over Heels, a new, 16th century-set (!) Broadway musical opening this year.

Def Leppard 
14 years eligible
There are perhaps two Def Leppards that must be recognized. One is the gang of booze-swilling bad boys who churned out the New Wave of British Heavy Metal-era albums On Through the Night (1980) and the anthemic High 'n' Dry. The other is the more polished band that created digitized, multi-platinum LPs like Hysteria and Adrenalize, all the while retaining their inspirational drummer Rick Allen, missing one arm due to a car accident. Whichever version of Def Leppard you prefer, the blazing, two-guitar attack and powerful voice of Joe Elliott are undeniable. Also impossible to ignore is Bon Jovi's induction this year, which clears the way perfectly for this British pop-metal outfit.

Pat Benatar 
14 years eligible
Pat Benatar is a highly respected icon, and has been a fixture of FM radio, MTV and concert stages since 1979. She's more than paid her dues, and with a songbook spiked with classics like "Heartbreaker," "Hit Me With Your Best Shot," and "Love is a Battlefield," it's tough to argue against the Rock Hall qualifiers of musical excellence and influence. With every Rock Hall induction ceremony that transpires, this trailblazing, no-nonsense rock star's absence gets more conspicuous.

Rick James 
15 years eligible
As popular and audacious as he was in music, no discussion of Rick James is complete without referring to his infamous 2004 TV moment: the uproarious "Chappelle's Show" satire/nick-of-time interview with James, who passed away the same year.  This cat was a larger than life character without a doubt, but his musical legacy must also be acknowledged. This funk maestro and producer from Buffalo channeled his libertine lifestyle into unforgettable, rap and rock-influencing hit singles, from "Give It to Me Baby" to "Super Freak" to "Cold Blooded." His hometown is currently in talks to honor him, and Cleveland could be next. Household name? Check. "Habitual line stepper?" Check. Rock Hall-worthy? Most definitely.

Black Flag 
15 years eligible
Bursting out of Hermosa Beach, California, Black Flag were pioneers of hardcore punk. Their shifting membership, which included original singer Keith Morris and later frontman Henry Rollins (but always guitarist Greg Ginn), screamed and flailed across Reagan-era America with a never-say-die, DIY work ethic. In doing so, they jolted countless other bands into action. Their reckless, defiant punk influence can be seen in a variety of acts, from Nirvana to the Beastie Boys to Green Day.



Boston 
17 years eligible
The populist, FM radio-saturating Rock Hall classes of recent years would seem to set the stage for this band out of... well, you know. Boston has sold a remarkable 75 million records, with their 1976 debut Boston moving 17 million units. Tom Scholz, a guitar, songwriting and producing genius, created dynamic tunes that, when paired with the warm vocals of the late Brad Delp, went supernova. "More Than a Feeling," "Peace of Mind," and "Don't Look Back" are just a few of the Boston tracks you'll hear if you turn on your classic rock station right now, or if you did at any point in the last 42 years.

Judas Priest 
19 years eligible
The rejection letter metal gods Judas Priest received from the Hall last December—informing them they weren't being inducted despite their first nomination—revealed much about the induction process, which obviously needs an overhaul (don't feel bad, guys, Black Sabbath was nominated 8 times and got in!). Frontman Rob Halford and company have been gracious throughout, but it's still a shame—not just for metal fans who are marginalized to begin with, and for whom this induction would mean so much, but also for founding guitarist Glenn Tipton, who had to step away from touring due to a Parkinson's diagnosis. There was plenty of room in this year's fairly small class for another band, and Priest would have been a terrific candidate to round it out. They even left a gap in their April touring schedule for a potential induction. A band that wants to play ball should be put in the game.



Roxy Music 
21 years eligible
Roxy Music, sitting on the snub shelf since 1997, burst out of early-70s London and went on to spur glam, new wave, shoegaze, and anything that might fall under the "art rock" rubric. Forward-looking and effortlessly cool, Bryan Ferry, Brian Eno and company are responsible for a sophisticated, towering songbook that's lodged them in the Rock Hall conversation for years now.

Kraftwerk 
23 years eligible
Institutionally speaking, the Recording Academy apparently loves electronic music pioneers Kraftwerk, granting them a Lifetime Achievement Award in 2014, and even a 2018 Grammy for Best Dance/Electronica album for their live set 3-D The Catalogue. So what's the disconnect between the Rock Hall and this genre-creating act, nominated a whopping four times? The situation gets more confounding with each passing year, and suggests that ballot counts of the Rock Hall voting body perhaps shouldn't be the last word on who gets in. Without Kraftwerk, electronic music as we know it would not exist.


Jethro Tull 
25 years eligible
Prog, folk, thunderous riffs and, of course, flute converge in the musical forest of Jethro Tull, best known for their 1971 album Aqualung. If listeners are willing to delve into this catalog, though, they'll discover a treasure trove of ambition and melody. There are breathtaking achievements throughout, from lesser celebrated efforts like Minstrel in the Gallery to Crest of a Knave, the 1987 release that stole a Hard Rock/Metal Performance Grammy out from under Metallica. Past critical snobbery might explain their current omission from the Hall, but Tull's heavily-rotated, unorthodox songbook is a wildly convincing case for induction. Hey, Ron Burgundy gets it, why can't Rock Hall voters?

Harry Nilsson 
26 years eligible
The nomination count for the late Harry Nilsson stands at zero thus far, but there would seem to be hope for the lauded, wild-living musician, responsible for such classics as "One" (popularized by Three Dog Night) and "Without You," among others. The Hall is partial to singer-songwriters—recent inductees Laura Nyro and Randy Newman come to mind—and Nilsson is on Rolling Stone's list of "The 100 Greatest Songwriters of All Time." Additionally, his widely adored album Nilsson Schmilsson is a confessional-rock touchstone. And hey kids, even Harry Styles digs Harry (no, really).



The Spinners 
32 years eligible
Evolving from a doo-wop group in the '50s into one of finest soul outfits ever, the Spinners were signed first to Motown, but gained little recognition. It was their Atlantic Records era that yielded the greatest success in the '70s, with songs such as "I'll Be Around," "Could it Be I'm Falling in Love" and "The Rubberband Man." With three nominations, it's hard to understand why the Spinners are on the outside of the Hall, looking in. Sadly, and as these things go with the Hall, much of its membership has passed on, including Bobby Smith, C.P. Spencer, Billy Henderson, and Pervis Jackson. Still, lone surviving member Henry Fambrough keeps the Spinners and their beloved music on the road to this day.

Link Wray 
35 years eligible
A pair of nominations for guitar legend Link Wray haven't led to induction, and it's getting a tad ridiculous now. Wray's most recent nomination this past year seemed his best shot at getting in, especially given his increased visibility due to the documentary RUMBLE: The Indians who Rocked the World. Still, "Rumble" is an eternally cool track and the late power chord innovator continues to influence and inspire. Is merely getting nominated the new Rock and Roll Hall of Fame honor? You might have to think so, as 2018's smaller than usual class definitely had room for Wray.

Screamin' Jay Hawkins 
36 years eligible
Nearly four decades, and still no love for Cleveland's own Screamin' Jay Hawkins at the Rock Hall. The shock rock originator's story is rooted in drama: he began life as an orphan, and was later raised by a Blackfoot Indian family, learning piano as a child. He went on to become a boxer, and was once the middleweight boxing champion of Alaska. In performance, Hawkins would arrive on stages popping out of a coffin, and if that wasn't enough, he employed chattering teeth props, stage smoke, and flash powder to terrorize unsuspecting audiences. All in all, he injected a theatricality into rock and roll that's been co-opted by everyone from Alice Cooper to Tom Waits to KISS. Genuine synergy might have been achieved this year around the Hawkins-written song "I Put a Spell On You" (not to mention some ceremony running time efficiency?), as both inductee Nina Simone and Hawkins imbued that number with their own signature passion. This guy was once so intense and unhinged, frightened teenagers would run out of concert halls, legitimately freaked out. How rock and roll is that?

Patsy Cline 
36 years eligible
Among the most beloved country singers ever, Virginia Patterson Hensley perished in a 1963 plane crash at age 30. Her country and pop crossover legacy, however, lives on. Cline recorded several singles in the the '50s, one of them being no less than "Walkin' After Midnight." In the '60s, she released "I Fall to Pieces" and "Crazy" (written by Willie Nelson), magnificent songs that are still covered to this day by artists across genres. Cline was the first female solo artist to be inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame, but will the Rock Hall ever come calling? This legend's pop chart success and iconic, genre-transcending stature would seem to demand it. Everyone from Loretta Lynn to Linda Ronstadt (inducted) to k.d. lang owes a debt to her. 

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 (https://northumbriancountdown.wordpress.com):

Bon Jovi
The Cars
Eurythmics
The Moody Blues
Radiohead
Nina Simone

Charles Crossley (https://www.tapatalk.com/groups/ourrockandrollhalloffame71305/search.php?author_id=581060&sr=posts)

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 (futurerocklegends.com):

Bon Jovi
Dire Straits
Judas Priest
The Moody Blues

Radiohead
Nina Simone
Early Influences: Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Link Wray

Iconic Rock Talk Show (https://iconicrocktalkshow.wordpress.com):

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

Tom Lane (http://tomlanesblog.blogspot.com):

Bon Jovi

Dire Straits
Eurythmics

The Moody Blues
Radiohead
Nina Simone

Rock Hall Monitors (http://rockhallmonitors.blogspot.com):

Bon Jovi

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

Troy Smith (Cleveland Plain-Dealer / Cleveland.com): 

Bon Jovi
Dire Straits
Eurythmics
The Moody Blues
Radiohead
Nina Simone

E-Rockracy:

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.