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