October 25, 2016

Zombies, Brains, and Addiction: Considering the 2017 Rock and Roll Hall Fame Nominees

So... 19 nominees. 19! This startling move on the part of the Rock Hall might best be described as "public outreach," i.e., "See, we nominated someone you like!" Whether you're into hardcore (Bad Brains), synth-pop (Depeche Mode), anthemic Top 40 pop-rock (Journey), rap (Tupac Shakur), or folk (Joan Baez), there was something for you on this ballot. At the same time, there are naturally a lot of frustrated Moody Blues, Harry Nilsson, Monkees, Nine Inch Nails, and Judas Priest fans out there. (Nothing like a Rock Hall nominee list to spotlight the artists that are not getting their due.)

In any case, here are E-Rockracy's (relatively) quick takes on the 19 Rock Hall nominees:

Bad Brains - The ballot's forehead-slapping surprise, and maybe a turning point. This tremendous nomination just gave hope to any fan of fringe/cult acts no one had any reason to imagine would ever be nominated. Alien Sex Fiend, 2018 is your year! Or maybe it'll be Black Flag's.

The Cars - Most predicted a return to the ballot this year, and here they are. A worthy act that should get in eventually.

Chaka Khan - Back again this year, and fresh from honoring Prince at a tribute concert in Minneapolis. Does she get enough of the 800+ votes, though?

Chic - What comes after 10 nominations? An 11th. Hopefully not a 12th. Inductee predictions will come later, but Chic has just got to be inducted at some point. Their inclusion here yet again makes one think that that the Rock Hall went with a whopping 19 nominations because Chic was taking up one of the spots yet again. Good times.

Depeche Mode - To see them on the same ballot as Kraftwerk is encouraging on one hand, but disjointed on another.  The Mode is deserving, this is a welcome nom, and they'll be inducted eventually, but no follower of electronic-based music would argue they should go in before Kraftwerk. This nomination seems to have simultaneously subtracted Nine Inch Nails and the Smiths from the ballot.

Electric Light Orchestra - Jeff Lynne finally gets his due. ELO is one of those acts people automatically assume was in years ago. There seems to be big momentum with them already.

Jane's Addiction Here we go... with a few nominations in the coming years. Apparently Dave Grohl had a hand in this nomination. However it happened, they belong in the conversation. Their recognition will open the door for other acts of the Lollapalooza/"alt-nation" era that have been snubbed thus far. The Pixies come to mind.

Janet Jackson - Truly a stunner that she didn't get in last year. With this overstuffed ballot, though, there's reluctance to to say Janet is a 100% lock for the next class. 

J. Geils Band Their fourth nomination. Picturing them among the final five is difficult, but if the Hall pulls a December surprise and inducts six or seven acts, they could easily be included.

Joan Baez - "She's not in yet?!" - nearly anyone I've mentioned Baez to, in discussing the nominees this year.  An overdue nomination.

Joe Tex - This fifth nomination for the widely respected, late soul/R&B performer was unexpected, as he'd not been put on the ballot since 2011. His first nomination was way back in 1998. So this year's nod may primarily be a gesture of respect, as few would predict he makes the induction cut.

Journey - Rock Hall CEO Joel Peresman did an interview earlier this year saying he was surprised Journey wasn't in yet. Interesting! Spoiler alert: He also mentioned Bon Jovi. We're halfway there!

Kraftwerk - A fourth nomination. It just doesn't seem like the wider voting body is checking the box for them. They might end up being the Robot Chic, as the years go on.

MC5 - The committee recognizes MC5's influence on punk rock with this nomination, which is great. Do they get lost in this huge ballot? Hopefully not, but probably.

Pearl Jam - If the Cubs win the World Series this month, Eddie Vedder's life will have peaked. This Rock Hall thing though, will be pretty nifty too! As others have noted, Neil Young is an ideal induction speaker, but I'm actually pulling for Vedder's spiritual godfather Pete Townshend. The Who album Quadrophenia maybe has a larger footprint on Pearl Jam's music than any one Neil album, though Young's fierce independence is unquestionably a lighthouse for these sure-thing inductees as well. (The induction speaker gig, though, might be Chris Cornell's to lose.)

Steppenwolf - Refreshing on one level to see a name almost no one has really been talking about for the Hall; this is a truly out of the blue nod. But many would have preferred "heavy metal thunder" by way of Judas Priest, not to compare them in any way, shape or form. Steppenwolf, like others on this ballot, are most likely earning the "we were nominated" distinction (still enviable by any standard). 

Tupac Shakur - As many predicted, on the nomination list the first year this rap icon was eligible. Does he get in this year? It might be 50-50.

Yes - Eligible for 22 years, and this is their third nomination. It's feeling like it may be their year finally. Telling that the Rock Hall listed the members that would be inducted.

The Zombies - This British Invasion group, who created some truly artful and impeccably crafted '60s rock, do feel conspicuous in their absence from the Hall. This is their second nomination, and they're bound to garner a competitive amount of votes when the ballots are distributed. Still, and nothing against them at all, there's a lingering sense that they got the spot that might have went to the Moody Blues or the Monkees. 

October 11, 2016

Candidates for the Rock Hall's Ahmet Ertegun Award

There is always someone behind the scenes. It's the unsung heroes, the inconspicuous figures that have a hand in holding everything together and creating magic.

This very concept is formalized and honored by the Rock Hall in the form of the Ahmet Ertegun Award (previously called "Non-Performer"). The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame's website defines it as an honor for "songwriters, producers, disc jockeys, record executives, journalists and other industry professionals who have had a major influence on rock & roll.Previous recipients of this award (granted under either "Non-Performer" or the later label, "Ahmet Ertegun") include Alan Freed, Jerry Wexler, Bill Graham, Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff, Clive Davis, Quincy Jones, and, last year, Bert Berns.

While it's unclear if the Hall will give the Ahmet Ertegun Award out during the ceremony next April, it's been a regular feature, and reasonably likely. Time to shine a light on two deserving icons—one a record label founder, artist mentor, and producer extraordinaire, the other a unique studio wizard with a vibrant discography of his own.

LL Cool J with Rick Rubin
Rick Rubin
A more significant figure in the American recording industry in the last 30-plus years is tough to think of. Co-founder of Def Jam Records with Russell Simmons in 1984 out of his NYU dorm room, Frederick Jay "Rick" Rubin's early activity involved releasing LL Cool J's first single "I Need a Beat," and signing Public Enemy and the Beastie Boys (both acts now Rock and Roll Hall of Famers). The label head and producer was present at one of the major convergences of rap and rock, 1986's "Walk this Way," where Aerosmith and Run-D.M.C. were forever joined in record-scratch matrimony. If that wasn't enough, he produced Slayer's Reign in Blood the same year. 

With an ear for hip-hop, metal, rock, folk, country, and whatever it is the Mars Volta does, Rubin proceeded to form American Recordings and serve as co-head of Columbia Records. But ultimately, it's the astounding list of musicians that he's manned the boards for that makes him such an airtight case for the Ahmet Ertegun award—such varied, multi-platinum artists as Red Hot Chili Peppers, Johnny Cash, Tom Petty, Jay-Z, AC/DC, Dixie Chicks, Adele, and scores of others. Rubin has been a major force in popular music and something of an expert at artist reinvention and revitalization; from the Beastie Boys' Licensed to Ill, to Aerosmith's reboot, to the Chili Peppers, to Cash's priceless late-career triumphs, the producer has overseen it all. A ubiquitous icon of the industry, Rubin is very much due for Rock Hall recognition.

Daniel Lanois

Daniel Lanois
Given his decades-long string of shimmering, atmospheric albums, there's certainly an argument for the gifted, Quebec-born songwriter-guitarist-arranger Daniel Lanois to enter the Rock Hall as a performer. But wow... does that seem like a long shot, or what? Not as remote a possibility, however, is his receiving the Ahmet Ertegun Award for his sterling, otherworldly production work. Here's a multi-hyphenate that has earned his spot in the Hall.

It was a slow start for Lanois; after a few years in the early '80s working alongside his brother Robert offering buzz-worthy production services in Hamilton, Ontario, Lanois began a collaborative relationship with none other than Brian Eno, and he and Eno went on to co-produce U2's The Unforgettable Fire. After the Fire, Peter Gabriel came calling, and Lanois produced the blockbuster album So, as well as U2's 1987 soaring masterpiece The Joshua Tree. Other highlights include his career-boosting work for Bob Dylan (Oh Mercy, Time Out of Mind) and his production of Emmylou Harris' Wrecking Ball. Along the way, Lanois' genius was also poured into his own records; he's forged his own highly-regarded discography, from his debut Acadie to the harrowing score for the movie Sling Blade to 2016's Goodbye to Language. History, and the Rock Hall, may yet end up canonizing him for his high-profile production work, and that's not at all a bad thing. This sonic conjurer would be a totally worthy Rock Hall honoree, however it happens.