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.

The '80s: 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)

March 31, 2017

Thinking Outside the Pyramid: 10 New Acts for the Rock Hall Conversation

In these sharply divided times, there is one thing we can all agree on: There are too many acts that are not in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. This problem is the foundation on which almost all Rock Hall chatter sits. Even a casual observer of the institution is familiar with the common, fill-in-the-blank questions asked like a broken record: "Why aren't ____ in the Rock Hall?!" or " ____ aren't in yet?!" Let's call this the Moody Blues Syndrome, or MBS. Talk to your doctor!

Yes, the outrage and indignation runneth over, and occasionally it's loud enough to make a difference; for every outcry of "Why aren't Jethro Tull in the Rock Hall?!" there is the B-side of, "At least they finally put in Rush! Why did those jerks wait 14 years?!"

In terms of who's missing from the Hall, most grievances have been aired quite sufficiently at this point. Sometimes, patience is rewarded (longtime snub Yes gets inducted on April 7), but at other times, not so much (the Moody Blues, indeed, are 28 years eligible, but have yet to see a single nomination).

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame 
Maybe you know all this. Maybe you don't. It's entirely possible you don't give a flying V. In any case, it's time to put the usual gripes on the back burner and, if you will, "think outside the pyramid" in Cleveland. On the fringes of this fraught discussion lies a vibrant population of artists that, generally, don't come up on the Rock Hall conversation radar. (The Northumbrian Countdown blog crafted an excellent list of 100 prospects in 2015, which included one of the choices below.) 

There's value in rounding up the wild cards—those Rock Hall long shots that don't cross people's minds as much. Remember, the Hall is prone to set the nominator to "stun"—did you really expect a Bad Brains nomination last October? Or Steppenwolf for that matter?

You might smack your forehead, or you might even agree that the artists listed below merit a nomination. Either way, here are 10 new acts for the Rock Hall conversation:

Missing Persons
Missing Persons - The more one watches the MTV videos and listens to the kinetic singles "Words," "Walking in L.A." and "Destination Unknown,"the more it becomes evident just how much peroxide-blonde Missing Persons frontwoman Dale Bozzio, with her boundary-pushing glam attire and squeaky vocals, is owed a huge debt by both Lady Gaga and No Doubt's Gwen Stefani. Influence? Look at the outfits, listen to the vocal tone and mannerisms. She could be their mother. Madonna's influence on inevitable Rock Hall inductee Gaga has been stated repeatedly; Bozzio's impact on her is also worthy of examination. This relatively forgotten new wave act truly deserves a critical reassessment, as everything that was intoxicatingly neon, synthed-up, and robotic about the genre is all right here. 

Peter Tosh
Peter Tosh - A founding member of the Wailers and iconic solo artist, the late Peter Tosh would be a welcome addition in Cleveland. His landmark, pro-cannabis 1976 solo album Legalize It found him stepping out of the shadow of Bob Marley, and established this Rastafarian as a monumental figure in reggae. His stature and success put him on tour with the Rolling Stones, and he even had a hit with "(You Gotta Walk ) Don't Look Back," a duet with Mick Jagger that the duo performed on Saturday Night Live. At 42 years old in 1987, Tosh was tragically killed at home during a robbery, but his impact resonates today, in modern reggae and genres beyond.
George Michael

George Michael - Sadly, there's nothing like death to put a spotlight on an artist's accomplishments. A shocking 2016 passing in a year full of them (on Christmas Day, no less), beloved pop genius George Michael departed way too soon. However, it's what he left behind—a sterling, globally embraced songbook—that matters now. Considering the mega-hits with Wham as well as his astonishing solo career (albums like the 1987 blockbuster Faith and Listen Without Prejudice, Vol. 1, songs like "Father Figure," "Freedom (90)," and "Fastlove"), his legacy is secure. It may still take some time for the Hall to come around for a pure pop artist like Michael (Janet Jackson is still struggling to achieve induction), but it's hard to think of a more deserving candidate among major pop stars. His influence can be heard and seen in everyone from Justin Timberlake to Sam Smith to Adele. Most recently, in the Key & Peele film Keanu, Michael's music even won over a car full of hardened gang members, to hysterical, legend-burnishing effect. Talk about cultural impact.

KRS-One
KRS-One - "If you don't know me by now/I doubt you'll ever know me/I never won a Grammy/I won't win a Tony," proclaims KRS-One on 1995's "MC's Act Like They Don't Know," a pure statement of his hardcore hip-hop intent. But let's move the needle back a track. Once the leader of revered hardcore hip-hop act Boogie Down Productions, Kris Parker eventually became the solo artist KRS-One, combining beats with social and political consciousness to mindset-shaking effect. This Bronx-hailing MC is a favorite of Public Enemy's Chuck D, and was even tapped by R.E.M. to guest rap on 1991's "Radio Song," which opens their mega-selling LP Out of Time. Perhaps that isn't anyone's favorite track, but KRS-One boasts a slamming, illuminating body of work, including the furious, intellectual Return of the Boom Bap and 2008's Maximum Strength, where this preacher-teacher delivers a hip-hop master class. While it's highly probable other names like LL Cool J, Snoop Dogg, and A Tribe Called Quest will get Rock Hall attention first, KRS-One is still a righteous candidate.

Bryan Adams
Bryan Adams - It's a tricky game, drawing conclusions based on precedent where the Rock Hall is concerned. However, presuming the populist embrace in Cleveland that has in recent years yielded the induction of "uncool," often critically loathed AOR acts (KISS, Chicago, especially Journey), Canadian hit machine Bryan Adams is now a prime target for a nomination. The sandpaper-voiced singer-songwriter, upon even a cursory glance, has a daunting stack of qualifications—100 million records sold globally, Juno Awards, a Grammy, and catchy rock songs that have been inescapable for four decades now. His 1984 Reckless tracks "Run to You" and "Summer of '69" alone could nudge him into serious contention, but there's plenty more Top 10 hits where that came from, and even a damn cool duet with no less than Tina Turner, "It's Only Love." With Journey members' names now being etched onto the signature wall at the Rock Hall museum, it's just denial to think that Bryan Adams' name won't be added there too, eventually. Call him a lightweight if you must, but his industry resume finds him punching well above his weight class.

INXS

INXS - Australia seems pretty under-represented at the Rock Hall. There are the Bee Gees and AC/DC, and that's about it. However, the simmering, anthemic rock of the late Michael Hutchence and company could lead to a nomination. From edgy, gestational early records like Shabooh Shoobah (including "Don't Change") to the fully-formed global smash Kick in 1987 ("Need You Tonight,"Never Tear Us Apart"), this Sydney out fit melded funk, horns and a punchy energy, selling 50 million records worldwide. Tragedy took the charismatic Hutchence away from the world in 1997, but a Rock Hall induction would be a nice bookend to the INXS story.

Grace Jones
Grace Jones - Perhaps the wildest of Rock Hall wild cards, this striking, Jamaica-born denizen of the hedonistic Studio 54 and all-around multi-hyphenate—model-actor-singer-disco queen—delivered some magnificent music that by no means should be ignored. After a brief era of mirror-ball-targeted efforts in the '70s, Jones switched gears, working with Sly & Robbie on exotic pop albums such as Warm Leatherette and Nightclubbing, which fused rock, reggae and Jones' aloof yet commanding vocal style. Hollywood came calling for this spectacular alien eventually, and she found herself starring in Conan the Destroyer, A View to a Kill, and Vamp, but it's easily Jones' musical exotica that stands the test of time. Nightclubbing's reissue in 2014 received a 9.0 review on Pitchfork, a development that invited a younger generation to experience Grace, as did her recent contribution to The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Pt. 1 soundtrack, "Original Beast." In 2008, she released her first new album in 19 years, Hurricane, which means the avant-garde Jones is by no means done with us yet. It would take one hell of an advocacy argument in a Nomination Committee meeting, but Jones was a groundbreaking, influential artist, and an eccentric genius. What a lovely surprise a nomination would be.

Billy Idol
Billy Idol - That lip snarl. That spiky hair. All those hits. Still, Billy Idol, who cut his teeth with U.K. punk band Generation X, then reinvented himself in America in the '80s with a string of classic, fist-pumping singles and videos, isn't even a blip on the Rock Hall radar. Does his career warrant a nomination? It feels more like a yes than a no, with his memorable look, catalog of Top 40 singles, and his inescapable presence to this day on the radio. Artists who broke through with the help of MTV have indeed had induction and nomination success, from Madonna to Joan Jett to Janet Jackson. Why not this Idol? The often stuffy, self-important institution could sure use a shot of unabashed fun, and Billy's just the guy to bring it. Crank up "White Wedding," "Rebel Yell," or "Eyes Without a Face," and see if you still want him removed from contention. Billy's the definition of rock and roll.

Sade
Sade - "There's a quiet storm/And it never felt like this before," confides Sade Adu on the international 1985 hit "The Sweetest Taboo," pulling the listener into her romantic, dreamy corner of the universe. But will a quiet storm ever gather on Lake Erie and hit the Rock Hall in the form of a Sade nomination? It's nice to think there's a whisper of a chance, as this reclusive yet legendary R&B/soul singer wields an outsized influence on modern R&B, impacting everyone from Janet Jackson to D'Angelo to Beyoncé. The London-raised, Nigeria-born icon's musical excellence can be heard across her discography, from 1984's Diamond Life to 2010's Soldier of Love. Few acts are their own genre; this is no ordinary artist. One interesting metric for Sade's reach is that one of her CDs is actually included in one all-inclusive beach resort's honeymoon vacation package. Is she responsible for more babies than Barry White? Discuss!

Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds
Nick Cave and the Bad SeedsThe black-clad transgressor and songwriter Nick Cave might be described as "dark." But that descriptor is far too facile, it does no justice to the shape-shifting, pysche-bashing storm he and his Bad Seeds have summoned on record and onstage throughout their career. This is Hall of Fame-caliber art. Cave is a sinister minister, a piano bar romantic, and at his concerts/post-punk tent revivals, a stalking, hot-blooded Quasimodo ringing bells that aren't rung enough in modern music. They just don't build them like this anymore. With the exception of the late Leonard Cohen, one is hard-pressed to identify another musical figure armed with such a varied, literary, and death-haunted repertoire. And the Bad Seeds? A murder of crows that emit atmosphere like a warm arterial spray. Whether it's "The Mercy Seat" (later covered by Johnny Cash) or Murder Ballads' bullet-ridden trauma "Stagger Lee" or the spare, devastating 2016 album Skeleton Tree, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds have far exceeded many of their peers. They've built a harrowing, influential, and often elegant body of work that's greater than their cult following would indicate. Nominating them would be a tasteful maneuver on the Rock Hall's part. 

March 13, 2017

Long Live Prog: 5 Prog Acts Due for the Rock Hall

"Long Live Rock" is the Rock Hall's shiny new slogan, but the panoramic picture that is rock and roll has not entirely come into focus in Cleveland. Many legitimate rock subgenres—key building blocks of the rock and roll pyramid, if you will—are not yet in place. Goth? Not yet... sad! Electronic music? Kraftwerk's been nominated four times to no avail. Industrial? Nine Inch Nails haven't been pounded in yet, despite two tries. And let's not get started on '80s hard rock/"hair metal" which effectively has zero representation in the Hall thus far, despite many possibilities. It appears these subsets are just too edgy for that pyramid on Lake Erie.

Still, there are reasons for hope despite the Hall's seemingly exclusionary policy. One beloved subgenre, progressive rock, or "prog," has seen its fortunes improve, especially of late. In 2013, Rush was finally welcomed into the Hall to the ovation of suburban geeks and Bass Player magazine subscribers everywhere, and next month at Brooklyn's Barclays Center, another long-snubbed prog favorite, Yes, will be inducted (sadly two years too late for their late bassist, Chris Squire, to have seen it happen).

As the Rock Hall no longer considers prog to be a four-letter word, here are five more progressive rock acts due for induction:

King Crimson
King Crimson - The prog mothership. Much as Kraftwerk created the boilerplate for electronic music, Robert Fripp and a huge, shape-shifting cast of instrumental wizards (Tony Levin, John Wetton, Ian McDonald, Adrian Belew, Bill Bruford, Greg Lake and many others) set the prog template. They're now 24 years overdue for the Hall.

The Moody Blues - Disregard singer-guitarist Justin Hayward's recent lament that "It's too late now" for the Moody Blues' Rock Hall nomination/induction; it's really not. The nearly three-decade snubbing of these orchestral English prog masters could easily come to an end, if the trend indicated with Rush and Yes continues. A nomination this October almost feels inevitable.

Procol Harum
Procol Harum - Nominated in 2013, and 25 years eligible, the soulful British prog troupe behind "Whiter Shade of Pale" could easily return to the ballot, especially if Nomination Committee member Steven Van Zandt has anything to do with it. They are a beloved progressive rock entity, in any case, and one of those overdue groups that seem to make perfect sense for the Rock Hall. 

Jethro Tull - Eligible for 24 years now, Jethro Tull is one of those bands casual observers of the Rock Hall express shock over when you tell them they're not in yet. With "Aqualung," "Locomotive Breath," and "Bungle in the Jungle" to the band's credit, not to mention a memorable Anchorman reference, it's getting tougher as the years pass to justify their absence from the Hall. Heaving sighs and eyerolls from critics certainly haven't prevented other acts from being inducted. Even with the flute often front and center, the Tull does rock pretty damn hard.

Emerson, Lake & Palmer
Emerson, Lake & Palmer - A progressive rock supergroup, London, England's ELP—keyboardist Keith Emerson, singer-bassist Greg Lake, and drummer Carl Palmer—enjoyed commercial success and radio's embrace, even though they had their critics ("A waste of time, talent and electricity," sniped DJ John Peel). Musically gifted as they were audacious, ELP notably brought orchestras on tour to recreate their complex, classical-influenced sound. The singles "Karn Evil 9" and "Lucky Man" were rotated endlessly on the FM rock dial in the '70s and beyond, and the trio built a dynamic, influential discography, including Brain Salad Surgery (featuring cover art by H.R. Giger). As is too often the case with being honored by the Rock Hall, any induction would be posthumous for two-thirds of the band, as both Emerson and Lake passed in 2016. They still very much belong in the conversation.

February 23, 2017

Induct Them Already: Considering the Rock Hall's Award for Musical Excellence

The voters don't always get it right. There's a hopeful expectation of essential knowledge, and informed voting, but that is a presumption of an ideal that too often fails to materialize.

In the face of this condition, how does an institution course correct? What recourse does an experiment in democracy have when the constituents' choices don't completely mesh with an aspirational vision of ... well, if not utopia, then a functioning entity that respects history and supports a more perfect union?

In Rock Hall terms, voters get a lot right, but also a lot wrong. Apparently, the remedy for a worthy act repeatedly not getting enough votes to achieve induction is the Award for Musical Excellence. As defined on the Rock Hall's official website:

"This award honors performers, songwriters and producers who have changed the course of music history. These artists have dedicated their lives to creating influential, important music infused with originality, and have achieved a level of timeless distinction."

That definition lends itself to a broad, every-individual-knows-best argument akin to the Rock Hall's parallel "Performer" induction process, which is the true, knock-down-drag-out main event, and one annually rife with cries of injustice, predictable fan votes and the perennial, exhausting "rap ain't ROCK" tirades on far too many online comment boards.

Nile Rodgers
Bestowing the Award for Musical Excellence is unilateral and problematic, despite its function of sometimes tying loose ends that probably needed to be tied (E Street Band in 2014, Leon Russell in 2011). It can signal elitist string-pulling (Ringo Starr's induction in 2015 was put in motion when Paul McCartney realized Starr had not yet been put in for his solo career), or in the case of this year's recipient Nile Rodgers, a bungled decision that omits Rodgers' 11-times-nominated funk/disco band Chic. What is one to do when a hot club you've been trying to get into finally lets you in, but your friends have to stay outside? In light of his newfound inductee status, Rodgers, in an interview with Rolling Stone last December, expressed confusion:

"It's sort of bittersweet. I'm a little perplexed because even though I'm quite flattered that they believed that I was worthy, my band Chic didn't win. They plucked me out of the band and said, 'You're better than Chic.' That's wacky to me."

Rodgers' situation is the inverse of the E Street's Band Musical Excellence recognition, and an outlier in Rock Hall history: Here's the mastermind of Chic, nominated a record 11 times with that band, yet never inducted. How do you solve that problem? Well, the Rock Hall simply grants Rodgers the Musical Excellence honor, ostensibly to give a music industry genius, pioneer, performer and producer his due. Despite all this, Chic could still technically be nominated in the Performer category again (!), however unlikely that may be at this juncture.

Leaving Chic out of it for a second, maybe there are some commonalities between Rodgers and previous Musical Excellence Award winners. In 2012, the Musical Excellence Award was granted to producers Tom Dowd, Glyn Johns, and Cosimo Matassa. Like Rodgers, they are legendary record producers, and deserving of the honor. Rodgers easily belongs in the Rock Hall for his production work alone (David Bowie, Madonna, Duran Duran, Daft Punk, etc.).

Chic
Still, it's impossible to ignore Chic, the elephant in the room. As Starr and Russell are both musicians that potentially could have entered the Hall as "Performers" through the established voting process, yet were ushered in through the Musical Excellence side door, it's not a stretch to think the committee could have just granted all of Chic the Musical Excellence distinction; it would have cleared them from the nomination pipeline, and furthermore, made Rodgers and his fans even happier. Why the Rock Hall brass decided to isolate Rodgers is confounding.

There are flaws in the Rock Hall inductee selection process, but at the same time there are options outside "Performer"—for instance, the "Early Influences" induction category that has granted a "Hall pass" to the "5" Royales, Pete Seeger, and Robert Johnson, among others. And as imperfect as it is, Musical Excellence will be used by the Rock Hall, for better or worse. If used appropriately, the category could really work in many artists' favor. As long as it's on the table to get overdue artists in, why not deploy the Musical Excellence honor for the greater good? There are many other snubbed acts of Chic's ilk that never seem to generate enough votes to get into that pyramid in Cleveland. The Rock Hall brass could use it to offset the more stagnant votership that repeatedly snubs deserving artists. Oftentimes, these artists appear on the ballot, disappear, and then appear yet again, to no avail. And with every passing year, their chances of being voted in as performers just seems to dwindle. Here is just a smattering of "multiple nominee, never inductee" acts that might fit this Musical Excellence approach:

  • Chuck Willis (6 nominations)
  • Joe Tex (5 nominations)
  • Kraftwerk (4 nominations)
  • War (3 nominations)
  • The Meters (3 nominations)
  • The Spinners (3 nominations)
  • Gram Parsons (3 nominations)
  • Johnny Ace (2 nominations)
  • Mary Wells (2 nominations)

There are many ways to slice and dice this argument, and other solid ideas, from establishing a veterans committee to increasing the number of annual inductees, have been broached. Any Rock Hall follower will tell you their own wish list, while others might point out some never-nominated artists that are especially egregious snubs: Johnny Burnette and the Rock 'n Roll Trio, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Big Mama Thornton, Connie Francis, Captain Beefheart, Harry Nilsson, the Monkees, Roxy Music... the sad song never ends, while the museum in Cleveland has become something of a glass-paneled wailing wall, quite contrary to architect I.M. Pei's original intentions.

If used wisely, the Musical Excellence award might be one progressive solution to gradually clear some of the snubbed artist backlog and right some overdue wrongs. Is the Rock Hall up to the task?

January 19, 2017

One and Done? Artists That Should Return to the Rock Hall Ballot

One is the loneliest number... especially if you're a musician with a single Rock Hall nomination, and still on the outside looking in.

While a growing multitude of worthy artists remain excluded from that famous pyramid on Lake Erie, it's intriguing to consider those in the "one nomination club." There are 21 acts with this distinction; below is a list of 10 that by all rights should return to the ballot.

New York Dolls
New York Dolls
Nominated for Class of 2001 
It's interesting that Aerosmith was also on this ballot, and got in, as Steven Tyler would be the first to tell you how influential the New York Dolls were on his band. Deeply impactful on everyone from the Smiths to Guns N' Roses, the shambolic glam godfathers—David Johansen, Johnny Thunders, Syl Sylvain, Arthur Kane, and Jerry Nolan—certainly deserve another shot at the Rock Hall.

Bon Jovi
Nominated for Class of 2011
Love'em or hate'em, even a brief survey of Bon Jovi's album sales, massive radio/MTV hits, and global popularity reveals that they're just too significant an act for the Hall to ignore permanently. The Jersey boys were nominated once, but they've been down on their luck with the institution since. Last October, Jon Bon Jovi had some rather candid, choice words about unspecified Rock Hall insiders, which could impact their chances, at least in the near future. Still, they are one of those groups that seem destined to get in. Before you moan and groan about it too much, imagine a Radiohead/Bon Jovi Rock Hall class... talk about balance.

The Cure
Nominated for Class of 2012 
Anyone that has followed "college/modern/alternative"-rock from the past 30 years would agree with the Cure's musical excellence and the shadow of their everlasting influence. They created a virtual social class of fans sporting their dark aesthetic, and remain a powerful live act.

Eric B. & Rakim
Eric B. & Rakim
Nominated for Class of 2013
A nomination in the next year or so could be nice timing for this Long Island hip-hop duo, as they are reuniting for a 2017 tour. They have deep respect in the hip-hop community thanks to Eric B.'s punchy, James Brown-sampling beats and Rakim's silken, poetic flow, and were held in high enough esteem to land a Rock Hall nomination. LL Cool J and A Tribe Called Quest could potentially be among the next hip-hop artists getting attention from the institution, but the influential Eric B. and Rakim deserve another appearance on the ballot.

Link Wray
Nominated for Class of 2014 
This six-string innovator basically pioneered the power chord and inspired the Who's Pete Townshend (and countless others) to pick up a guitar. A towering presence in rock and roll, Wray was featured recently in the documentary RUMBLE: The Indians who Rocked the World, which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival.

The Replacements
The Replacements
Nominated for Class of 2014 
Perpetually teetering on the edge of self-destruction makes for some stellar music. Minneapolis enfant terribles Paul Westerberg, Chris Mars, and siblings Bob and Tommy Stinson forged a memorable artistic identity: drunken chaos mixed with unexpectedly genius songwriting. They were cocky enough to call one album Let it Be and cheeky enough to cover KISS' "Black Diamond," but it's tough to argue against their musical achievements and influence on so many acts—everyone from Nirvana to Guided by Voices to Ryan Adams.

Los Lobos
Nominated for Class of 2016
"Just another band from East L.A.," maybe, but they flirted with Rock Hall enshrinement when their nomination was announced, to some surprise, in 2015. They didn't get inducted, but Los Lobos' roots-minded, dynamic, and unique sound is deserving of another nomination.

Bad Brains
Bad Brains
Nominated for Class of 2017
It will be interesting to see where Dave Grohl is going next with his Nomination Committee advocacy (Motörhead?). This year, he was pushing for these Washington, D.C. hardcore legends, a choice so out of left-field that anyone hoping for punk bands like Black Flag, Fugazi, or the Minutemen to infiltrate the nomination list now has hope. In any case, it would be tremendous overall to see Bad Brains receive additional nominations.

Jane's Addiction
Nominated for Class of 2017
As the virtual mothership from which '90s "alt-rock" was beamed, then fostered through the Lollapalooza fest, Jane's Addiction belongs in the Hall. Perry Farrell, Dave Navarro, Stephen Perkins and Eric Avery dropped two landmark albums in Nothing's Shocking and Ritual de lo Habitual, unleashing monolithic Zeppelin riffs, tribal drumming, freak-funk and ethereal psychedelia upon the world. Music hasn't been the same since.

Depeche Mode
Nominated for Class of 2017
Hit-making titans of synth-pop, Depeche Mode will get in eventually. That said, their nomination this past year was still a surprise, as it seemed like a nomination was still a few years off. Nine Inch Nails and the Smiths dropped out of contention on the last ballot, which seems to have made room for David Gahan, Martin Gore, Andy Fletcher and company. Their stack of hits and global prestige should rightfully land them on future ballots.

January 6, 2017

Forever Snubbed? 15 Artists Never Nominated for the Rock Hall

Hope springs eternal, but the Rock Hall can sure put that old saw to the test. If you're an eligible artist whose first release was 25-plus years ago, and you're still not in the Rock Hall, you're in good company (or... in Bad Company).

One can't help but marvel at just a random sampling of the noteworthy-to-genius artists that have never received a single nomination. In an increasingly variable Rock Hall ballot climate that has seen everyone from Bad Brains to Steppenwolf to the Replacements getting a nod, there would appear to be a huge swath of "never-nominateds" whose odds are as good as anyone's.

Here are 15 acts that, according to Future Rock Legends, have zero Rock Hall nominations to date (and yes, there are many, many more). Let your eyes go wide, or roll them, at your leisure:

Bad Company
Bad Company - 18 years eligible, with hits such as "Feel Like Makin' Love" and "Can't Get Enough," this British supergroup led by singer Paul Rodgers seems to fit right into the classic rock-friendly Rock Hall classes of late.

Pat Benatar - Benatar's merits were previously extolled in this space. Again, with the Hall tilting toward populist, FM radio-friendly rock, and the ongoing gender disparity within the institution, this overdue icon could rightfully get a nomination. Eligible since 2004.

Captain Beefheart
Captain Beefheart - The late, great Don Van Vliet has been eligible for 26 years, but so far no Rock Hall love for his avant-transgressive yet highly influential art-rock. A cohort and collaborator with Frank Zappa (check out the album Bongo Fury), Captain Beefheart is an outlier that the already-inducted Tom Waits (and unabashed fan PJ Harvey) would surely admit cribbing from a little. Could be an Early Influence candidate, and the musical performance at the ceremony could simply be a klezmer band falling down a stairwell.

Dick Dale Eligible for a whopping 30 years, "The King of the Surf Guitar" has yet to feel the Hall's gnarly wave of recognition crest over him. With his knack for reverb and distortion, not to mention his signature plucking style, his influence was especially great on hard rock and metal. Among many other accomplishments, Dale's "Misirlou" was used to striking effect in the movie Pulp Fiction.

The Guess Who
The Guess Who This past October, the Rock Hall nominated The Guess Who's fellow Canadians Steppenwolf, which was the second biggest surprise of the ballot after Bad Brains. It's difficult not to draw parallels; if they're willing to recognize the Great White North's John Kay and company, then it's not a stretch to think The Guess Who is just as worthy, with huge hits like "American Woman," "These Eyes," and "No Time." Their membership included Randy Bachman, who went on form Bachman-Turner Overdrive.

Jethro Tull There are some artists with uncanny, heavy-rotation songs that feel forever imprinted on rock fans' cerebellums; Jethro Tull, eligible for 24 years now, is one of these, with "Aqualung," "Locomotive Breath," and "Bungle in the Jungle" to their credit. Not critical favorites really, so that might speak to why their conceptual, flute-driven rock/folk/prog hybrid hasn't resonated with the Hall. But that certainly hasn't been a problem for other critically-loathed acts like KISS and Journey.

Joy Division
Joy Division Dark wave post-punk legends that set a navel-gazing template for so many artists that came after them, from the Smiths (nominated twice) to Nine Inch Nails (nominated twice) to Radiohead (a strong bet for 2018) and many others. They disintegrated upon singer Ian Curtis' death in 1980, then morphed into electronic-pop masters New Order. Many will tear this suggestion apart, but let's go radical here: A joint Joy Division/New Order induction (a  la the Small Faces/Faces maneuver in 2012) could spike the chances of either of these bands getting in anytime soon. 

King Crimson - Yes fans have to be thrilled they're finally getting inducted, and Rush got in in 2013, but all concerned would still bow down to King Crimson, the consensus titans of prog-rock. Much like Kraftwerk forged a standard for electronic music, KC's Robert Fripp and a gigantic cast of instrumental wizards (Adrian Belew, Ian McDonald, Tony Levin, the late Greg Lake and many others) set the prog blueprint. Eligible for 24 years.

The Moody Blues
The Moody Blues It's always darkest before the dawn; even though the Moody Blues' Justin Hayward recently said "It's too late now" for the Rock Hall nomination, this drought is likely coming to an end, possibly as early as next year. Every time a snubbed artist says they don't care, and "it's for the fans anyway," you can almost guarantee a nomination. Eligible for 28 years.

Harry Nilsson - A deeply respected '70s singer-songwriter with some truly genius songwriting and a notorious lust for life. His achievements include "One" (covered famously by Three Dog Night), "Without You" and "Everybody's Talkin'." Two years ago, the late Nilsson made Rolling Stone's list of "The 100 Greatest Songwriters of All Time" so there might be some real hope of a nomination.

Peter, Paul and Mary
Peter, Paul and Mary Folk icons of the 1960s who interpreted many Dylan songs ("Blowin' in the Wind," "The Times They Are-A Changin'"), performed at the 1963 March on Washington, and maybe just saw their Rock Hall fortunes increase with this April's induction of socially conscious peer Joan Baez. Eligible since 1987.

Roxy Music Eligible since 1997, Roxy music emerged out of London in 1971 and went on to deeply impact glam, new wave, and anything that might be described as art-rock. In a career trajectory that took them from the cutting-edge to a suave sophistication, Bryan Ferry, Brian Eno and company created legendary music with plenty of disciples. Influence and musical excellence? No question.

Thin Lizzy
Thin Lizzy - Whiskey in the jar, and Lizzy in the Hall? 21 years eligible, these Irish hard rockers with a dangerous two-guitar attack and the compelling, gritty lyrics of late singer-bassist Phil Lynott would be a welcome addition to any Rock Hall ballot. It's tough to see them getting much attention before the likes of Motörhead and Judas Priest, hard rock/heavy metal-wise, but let's face it: pecking order has never been a priority of this insitution, so Thin Lizzy has to remain a valid part of the conversation.

T. Rex During their glam-tastic ten-year run, T. Rex, led by singer-guitarist Marc Bolan, created such indelible monster hits as "Bang a Gong (Get it On)" and "20th Century Boy." The band influenced many a genre (punk, new wave/new romantic, metal), not to mention the New York Dolls, the Smiths, and Oasis, to name just a few. The flamboyance and glitter ended with Bolan's death in a 1977 car accident, but the music has definitely lived on. Eligible since 1993.

Warren Zevon
Warren Zevon 23 years eligible now, Los Angeles' late bard of debauched, razor-witted songcraft would fit right into the Rock Hall ballot's singer-songwriter slot (think 2013 inductee Randy Newman). Will it take "Lawyers, Guns and Money"? Well, it might only take Paul Shaffer, who jammed with Zevon many times on the Letterman show, and is a key advocate/Rock Hall insider. Inducting this guy could also yield a terrific induction ceremony performance: Imagine what former Zevon collaborator Bruce Springsteen or even artistic descendant Father John Misty could do with that material.