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

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

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

October 5, 2017

Sister Rosetta Tharpe, 2018 Rock Hall Nominee

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

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

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

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

September 8, 2017

Predictions: The 2018 Rock Hall Nominees

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

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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


Rick Rubin, Daniel Lanois

Bob Geldof, Casey Kasem

July 14, 2017

Why Judas Priest Belongs in the Rock Hall

Can millions of metal fans be wrong?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

June 13, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

April 5, 2017

The Top 10 Rock Hall Induction Ceremony Quotes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.