November 3, 2017

Predictions: The 2018 Rock Hall Inductees

Who will make up the Rock Hall Class of 2018? The latest slate of 19 nominees raises myriad questions: Why is Janet not on the ballot? Is this Link Wray's year? Do the overdue Meters have a chance? Is Radiohead truly getting in on their first ballot? Another interesting query, though, might be this:

Do Rock Hall voters want their MTV?

On the once-relevant video music channel, half of the latest nominees either found fame outright (Eurythmics) or perpetuated it to some degree (LL Cool J, the Cars, Judas Priest, J. Geils Band, Depeche Mode, Kate Bush, Radiohead's 1993 cringe theater at the MTV Beach House). And then there's one of the more meta moments between artist and video clip, Dire Straits' inescapable, guitar-and-Sprechesang-driven hit "Money for Nothing," featuring the official slogan "I want my MTV" woven throughout, sung in a mantra by Sting. That's the way you do it.

Bon Jovi, Eurythmics, the Cars, Dire Straits, J. Geils Band — their first exposure to many eyes undeniably came via MTV. So in the larger scope of this ballot, MTV is a clear and present factor. The degree to which music video rotation resonates with Rock Hall voters can be debated, but as more Generation X individuals join the inductee ranks (members of Pearl Jam, Green Day, Beastie Boys, Guns N' Roses, Red Hot Chili Peppers, etc.), MTV memories could serve as an additional twinge of warm nostalgia that nudges one nominee box to be checked over another. 

MTV icons such as Duran Duran, Cyndi Lauper, and George Michael are coming up in the Rock Hall conversation, and could easily become nominees going forward. As a promotional tool, MTV launched certain artists into a state of ubiquity, and that impact will be evident in the coming years as these acts wend their way to the Rock Hall ballot. This year, it is perhaps seen most explicitly with Eurythmics and Bon Jovi.

On the flip side of this argument, there are obviously current nominees that were established entities by the time they appeared on MTV (the Moody Blues, despite their clip for "Your Wildest Dreams"), never really needed it (the Meters, Rufus Featuring Chaka Khan) or quite simply never graced the channel (Sister Rosetta Tharpe). MC5's original incarnation was over in 1972, so it's not like it was even an option for them. 

Still, the FM radio/AOR-leaning classes of recent years might slowly give way to a parallel phenomenon: an MTV-centric rock hall class (imagine an inductee list that includes Duran Duran, Salt-N-Pepa, and "Weird Al" Yankovic — not entirely inconceivable, despite your hyperventilating one way or the other). We're not there yet; in a surprise development, Janet Jackson, one of the channel's true icons, and the youngest person to ever win its prestigious Video Vanguard Award in 1990, was left out of this year's Rock Hall pool entirely after two consecutive nods. Still, the power of music video — the entertainment value, the discovery that others feel as you do, the liberating, slash-and-burn reveal of life paths otherwise hidden to disaffected youth who often went on to create great art — will continue to manifest at the Rock Hall. 

But back to the matter at hand — who will be immortalized in Cleveland on April 14? In line with 2015's six-performer, two side-award class, eight artists are predicted below, as this is just too rich a ballot to cut down to just five. (Don't expect the Hall to stick to five, either.)

Bon Jovi - The projected fan vote winner, and every such winner has been inducted. There's an outside chance of a shocking exclusion here, an unprecedented door slam on these guys, but probably not. Whatever his involvement at this point or historically, Jann Wenner's loosening grip on power over his empire may best be exemplified by a Bon Jovi induction, which he has reportedly opposed for years. Further, Bon Jovi is the clear headliner and marquee attraction for the HBO telecast. You can almost hear the screaming, for various reasons. Estranged guitarist Richie Sambora has already said he'd rejoin his New Jersey brothers, so there's reunion heat on this induction, to boot.

The Cars - There's not a single passionate rock fan that doesn't think these guys need to be in. They appear early in the (seemingly problematic) alphabetical order of the ballot and are probably one of the first checks made. The Cars are deserving New Wave legends with percolating, hit-packed albums and eye-popping videos to their credit. 

Judas Priest - When was the last time metal was part of a Rock Hall ceremony? One might point to Deep Purple in 2016, perhaps, but like, "metal" metal? One has to go back to Metallica's induction in 2009, and then to Black Sabbath's in 2006. The genre is due for representation again at the hall, and what better act than the mighty, leather-clad vengeance-screamers/law-breakers/after-midnight-livers Judas Priest. And why should they be enshrined on Lake Erie? Read here

Link Wray - This year might be the best shot for Wray, with his prominent presence in the recent documentary "Rumble: The Indians Who Rocked the World" and social media cheerleading from Jon Landau associate and music legend Steven Van Zandt. Let's get ready to... well, you know.

Moody Blues - The surprising number of call-in votes for the Moodies on hard rock/heavy metal champion Eddie Trunk's SiriusXM Volume show on November 2 was telling. It underscored the general consensus that these British prog/art-rock masters are wildly overdue, and further, that this is understood by an audience demographic galaxies away from the Moody Blues' orbit. Expect the Rock Hall votership to feel the same.

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

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

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