August 30, 2018

Predictions: The 2019 Rock Hall Nominees

To quote Bruce Springsteen, "Is there anybody alive out there?!

A valid question, as far as the Rock Hall is concerned. In recent years, the induction ceremony seems to have traded formality for an actual pulse. Electricity, danger and humor, the key elements of rock and roll (i.e., the stuff Iggy Pop is made of), have left the building for the most part.

There have of course been exceptions: Brittany Howard's rousing take on Sister Rosetta Tharpe's "That's All" this past April, and 2014 inductee Nirvana's lightning-in-a-bottle musical tributes, with Kim Gordon tearing into "Aneurysm" and Annie Clark (St. Vincent) performing "Lithium." The only hitch with high-watermark moments like these is the contrast they strike against the bummer portions of the inductions, like acceptance speeches, death reels, and artists who could have performed together standing onstage in a fragile detente (rhymes with "miss"). It's only rock and roll, guys.

And does anyone remember laughter? Alex Lifeson's legendary "blah blah blah" speech in 2013 suggests he does, Bill Withers amused in 2015, and the bawdy Howard Stern got laughs this year inducting Bon Jovi. The ceremony needn't be a riot, nor a stand-up routine, but overall, it needs to lighten up. 

It's time to shake up the induction paradigm. But what are the Rock Hall Foundation, Nominating Committee and ceremony producers to do? It's tough to forecast the prevailing mood, egos, or stage behavior in this annual gathering of rock stars and industry types. Further, there are deceased artists that are worthy of induction, and recently departed icons should be paid proper respect. Still, this thing shouldn't be a wake, it should be a party... and who gets invited to that party is hugely consequential. 

This is an annual guest list that needs pruning and restructuring. A certain stasis has set in, and culpability lies entirely with the graying, overwhelmingly male Rock Hall votership and its weak follow-through on nominee pools (along with whatever abject skulduggery that goes on in the "purposefully nontransparent" backrooms during inductee selection). But there is a solution: induct exciting acts and get them to show up. All too often, brilliant, fire-breathing (also: living) artists are put forth, and then passed over for induction. Oh, how things might have been: Imagine the 2018 ceremony with live sets by Judas Priest and/or Radiohead, 2017 with Janet Jackson, or 2016 with Nine Inch Nails. Inductees with an edge result in a show with edge, plain and simple; when Joan Jett exploded onto the stage in 2015 with "Bad Reputation," it felt like the roof of Cleveland's Public Hall had taken its talents to South Beach.

All of this is leads to E-Rockracy's nominee predictions for the Rock Hall Class of 2019. Below lies an alphabetical list of 19 artists, primarily chosen based on likelihood, eligibility and merit. But look closely, as there's a smattering of strategic picks — some electrons charged with fury, genius and satire — that just might shock that moribund induction ceremony back to life. 

Bad Company - 19 years eligible, with FM radio staples such as "Shooting Star" and "Can't Get Enough," this British supergroup led by gifted vocalist Paul Rodgers is a favorite of Rock Hall Nomination Committee member Steven Van Zandt. There's various indications that Van Zandt hasn't had much luck getting his pet project acts in lately, so that trend may reverse this year with Bad Company (and another pick below). Further, Bad Company, a classic rock institution, jives perfectly with the raise-your-lighters/"Are you ready to rock?" classes of late. 

Beck - When Beck Hansen attended the 2015 induction ceremony to pay tribute to Lou Reed with a faithful rendition of "Satellite of Love," it felt like his Rock Hall fate had been sealed. It's his first year of eligibility, and he's one of the few artists left on this planet you could credibly frame as a "no-brainer." (Even Taylor Swift's got to shout.) This Gen X icon is the restless architect of a songbook radiating ironic creativity, acoustic sensitivity and even pop instinct, given his slick 2017 album Colors. Always adventurous or emotionally direct, Beck has shuffled down a variety of sonic avenues, including fragmented, Dust Brothers-produced avant-rock ("Where It's At"), zeitgeist-capturing anthems ("Loser"), and lovelorn folk (the Sea Change and Morning Phase LPs). His lyrics are also a point of fascination, vacillating between bonkers and brilliant: "Silver foxes looking for romance/In the chain smoke Kansas flash dance ass pants" from Odelay's "Hotwax"; and "Down river bound/Where the lemon tea sky fell down/A plot against your will/Is furrowed into your brow" from Morning Phase's "Country Down." Beck is exceedingly qualified for the Hall, not to mention a loose-limbed live dynamo that would perk up the induction ceremony in a major way.

Pat Benatar - Eligible for induction 14 years now, Pat Benatar is conspicuous in her absence from the Hall. By way of contrast, she's been omnipresent for decades on the FM dial, concert stages, and MTV. Impassioned, confident and singing her heart out, she broke down the door in 1979 with "Heartbreaker," the lead track of her debut album In the Heat of the Night. It's quite the opening salvo ("Don't you mess around with me") and has endured as a heavy-rotation anthem. The exclusion of Benatar, quite simply, is surprising. The ostensible criteria for induction, musical excellence and influence, abound here. If the complaint is that her peak era was the '80s, that shouldn't be a strike against her; many artists already in the Hall were around for just a few years. Also, as the first female artist to appear on MTV ("You Better Run" was the second-ever clip to air on the fledgling network), she opened doors for the later video success of Cyndi Lauper and Madonna, among others. She didn't write enough of her songs? The Rock Hall is full of individuals that didn't author their own material, and in fact, Benatar co-wrote some of her most notable singles, including "Treat Me Right," "Promises in the Dark," and "Fire and Ice." She won Grammys four years in a row between 1980 and 1983, so there is a precedent of genuine industry respect. Benatar belongs, and if inducted, she should go in with her longtime musical and life partner, Neil Giraldo.

Black Flag - Formed in Hermosa Beach, California, and eligible since 2003, Black Flag were pioneers of hardcore punk. They blazed a screaming, reckless trail across America, serving up hot plates of rage in defiance of a nation that had severely alienated them. The group embraced the DIY ethic, self-releasing albums on their label SST and touring in a van under such inhuman conditions, they had to have wanted it. Their influence is all over the place, with Nirvana, Sonic Youth, Pantera, Ryan Adams and Green Day just a few names indebted to them. Black Flag, a paragon of American independent music, was founded by guitarist Greg Ginn, and the band's volatile membership included original singer Keith Morris (Circle Jerks) and eventually, frontman Henry Rollins. 

The Doobie Brothers - Will mighty artist manager/industry titan Irving Azoff (Bon Jovi, Eagles, Journey, etc.) push for his clients the Doobie Brothers to make the ballot this year? That seems to be the consensus. It does help, on a separate level, that the San Jose-hailing Doobies are due for enshrinement in Cleveland, with 22 years of eligibility. Tom Johnston, Patrick Simmons, John McFee, et al. are the epitome of an American rock band, with loyal baby boomer fans and a stack of sturdy FM radio hits ("Black Water," "Long Train Runnin', "Takin' it to the Streets"). The Doobies have sold 40 million records, and their touring fortunes have vastly improved due to Azoff's placing them on 2017's Classic East/Classic West stadium concerts with the Eagles, Fleetwood Mac, Steely Dan, Earth, Wind & Fire, and Journey. Hmm... who in that lineup is not inducted yet? Induction bonus: Former Doobie Brothers member/pop culture icon Michael McDonald gets onstage with his old bandmates again. Don't bootleg the show, Rerun!

EurythmicsAnnie Lennox and Dave Stewart were an enchanting duo, marrying haunting synthpop with bold, MTV-ready aesthetics. Eligible since 2006, Eurythmics graced the charts and MTV in the '80s starting with "Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)" and followed it with a pile of other hits, including the narcotic "Here Comes the Rain Again" and the hard-driving "Missionary Man." Alongside her guitar-playing foil Stewart, powerhouse vocalist Lennox summoned fire and ice in equal measure, and with ease. On a side note, there's a direct Aretha Franklin connection here with the Eurythmics/Franklin collaboration "Sisters Are Doin' It for Themselves," a hit that appeared on both artists' 1985 albums. (You know, an imaginative induction ceremony showrunner might do something with this song to honor Aretha at the top of the show, and involve lots of female inductees, but perhaps that's just too optimistic.)

The Go-Go'sBelinda Carlisle, Jane Wiedlin, Charlotte Caffey, Gina Schock, and Kathy Valentine comprise the only all-female group that wrote and played its own music to reach the top of the Billboard chart. It's reason enough for a Rock Hall nomination, and there are many more beyond that. The Go-Go's started on the L.A. punk scene, but turned into a pop machine, taking radio and MTV by storm with "We Got the Beat," "Vacation," and "Our Lips Are Sealed," among other hits. Currently, the Go-Go's music is the basis for "Head Over Heels" a new, 16th century-set musical currently on Broadway. Besides the Go-Go's meriting induction anyway, and at the risk of sounding cynical, the Rock Hall voting body sure could use an infusion of five (living) women filling out ballots next year.

Janet Jackson - Janet being left off last year's ballot might actually be a positive sign — a purposeful break so she could hit the ballot again, fresh, in 2018. What more can be said about Janet that isn't common knowledge, whether you're a fan or not? Tough yet vulnerable, and a magnificent singer-dancer, this global superstar was just handed the Icon Award at the 2018 Billboard Music Awards. Janet's having a banner year: She's finishing up the latest leg of her acclaimed State of the World Tour, and just released a new single, "Made for Now," with Daddy Yankee. Industry legend? Check. Multi-platinum albums and pop landscape-altering hits throughout her catalog? Check. Five Grammys? Check. Still at it? Check. A Rock Hall coronation seems inevitable, and this may finally be the year.

Jethro Tull - "They're not in yet?!" says just about everyone. They may have zero Rock Hall nominations thus far, but Jethro Tull's luck may be about to change. Their songs are permanently etched on the walls of rock history — "Aqualung," "Locomotive Breath," "Bungle in the Jungle" and "Living in the Past" have truly endured. Critics reviled the band in its heyday, failing to appreciate Tull and their their flute-driven, folk/rock/prog hybrid. However, there's no denying that Ian Anderson and his troupe carved out their own mystical, hard-rocking universe. The Tull catalog, worth revisiting, reveals a treasure trove of songs teeming with thunder and melody. There are startling achievements throughout, from lesser known efforts like Minstrel in the Gallery to Crest of a Knave, the 1987 LP that stole a Hard Rock/Metal Performance Grammy out from under Metallica. Interestingly, "We Used to Know," from Tull's 1969 album Stand Up, has a monumental Martin Barre wah-wah guitar solo that seems to prefigure Eddie Hazel's searing, psychedelic turn on the 1971 Funkadelic track "Maggot Brain." Presumably, Hazel never even heard "We Used to Know," but inspiration arrives in mysterious ways. In any case, Tull is on their 50th anniversary tour and is primed and ready to perform next April at Barclays Center. There's no question that the majority of Rock Hall voters would check a box for them. 

J. Geils Band - Apart from Bad Company, J. Geils Band is the other likely Van Zandt ballot submission this year. It's good to have friends in high places, and it also helps to be a friend of the Rock Hall — charismatic frontman/former DJ Peter Wolf is regarded by the institution well enough to be invited twice as an induction speaker (for Jackie Wilson and Paul Butterfield Blues Band), so J. Geils Band seems headed for their sixth (!) nomination. As for their music and chart success, credit where credit is due: J. Geils Band, a top-notch live act, injected a winning garage band energy into blues, boogie, R&B and even new wave on songs like "Give it to Me," "Musta Got Lost," "Freeze Frame" and "Love Stinks." Sadly, and is too often the case for belated Rock Hall inductees, namesake guitarist J. Geils died in 2017, but his surviving bandmates could certainly put on a show to honor both him and his legacy.

Judas Priest - When was the last time metal was part of a Rock Hall ceremony? Like, headbanging, devil-horns-in-the-air metal? You'd have to go back to Metallica's induction in 2009, and then to Black Sabbath's in 2006. The maligned genre is overdue for representation, and what better act than the leather-clad, vengeance-screamers/law-breakers Judas Priest. This induction would mean so much to many, but it would be especially great for founding guitarist Glenn Tipton, who had to step away from playing full shows due to a Parkinson's diagnosis last year (lately, he's been coming out with the band during encores to play a couple of songs). Priest's sterling qualifications for induction probably go without saying, but more on that here

George Michael - There's nothing like death to bring attention an artist's taken-for-granted accomplishments. A shocking 2016 passing in a year full of them (on Christmas Day, no less), pop genius George Michael died prematurely at age 53. However, it's what he left behind—an amazing, globally embraced songbook—that matters now. Based on his mega-hits with Wham! as well as his brilliant solo career (albums like the 1987 blockbuster Faith and Listen Without Prejudice, Vol. 1, and songs like "Father Figure," "Freedom (90)," and "Fastlove"), his legacy is secure. Among major pop stars, Michael is a deserving candidate for Cleveland. Adele, Sam Smith and Justin Timberlake are just a few of the artists he's deeply influenced. Michael's music has even impacted Hollywood — in the 2016 Jordan Peele/Keegan Michael-Key comedy Keanu, Michael's music wins over a car full of hardened gang members, to hysterical, legend-burnishing effect. 

Nine Inch Nails - Trent Reznor should be in the Rock Hall, if, for nothing else, successfully crash landing industrial rock onto the mainstream, like a modern rock Sully Sullenberger. A Cleveland-area prodigy with a gift for synthesizer hooks as well as songwriting and production savvy, Reznor and Nine Inch Nails have been revolutionizing music since the early '90s, after the breakout of Pretty Hate Machine and the watershed of The Downward Spiral. From his early festival days trashing a smoky, comically sunlit stage at Lollapalooza and the down-in-it mud ritual of Woodstock 1994, to album triumphs like The Downward Spiral and 2013's Hesitation Marks, this glaring necromancer has earned his Rock Hall immortalization. (His recent "Twin Peaks: The Return" appearance was extremely cool, too.) Nine Inch Nails have two prior nominations, and this would be the third. With any hypothetical induction performance, Reznor would throw more lightning than Zeus; who wouldn't love to see that?

Radiohead - A spot in Rolling Stone's 100 Greatest Artists of All Time seems to all but guarantee nominations for Thom Yorke and his mates. But despite being one of the most revered rock acts since Nirvana, there's a sense Radiohead doesn't care, and feel they don't particularly need this honor.  In turn, the Rock Hall officials, those bunglers of diplomacy, just don't know how to negotiate around that. This British crew does belong in the Hall, and would bring a welcome jolt of future shock to an induction gala, but they may cycle through 3-4 nominations before they make it. Look for them on this year's ballot, and if they don't get in, they'll probably disappear completely from it for awhile.

Roxy Music Eligible since 1997, Roxy music emerged out of London in 1971 and went on to profoundly impact glam, new wave, and anything under the rubric of "art-rock." In a career journey that took them from the cutting-edge to a suave sophistication, Bryan Ferry, Brian Eno and company created soaring, stylish music with plenty of disciples, from a young Steven Patrick Morrissey to Blondie to Duran Duran to INXS. 

Rufus Featuring Chaka Khan Eligible since 1999, perhaps it's finally time to party like that year and induct Rufus featuring Chaka Khan. Best known for introducing powerhouse vocalist Khan to the world, this Chicago funk outfit had it all in the '70s — commercial success and a series of massive hits that tore up the pop and R&B charts. Stevie Wonder wrote "Tell Me Something Good" for them, and "Ain't Nobody" and "Sweet Thing" were among their other smashes. Khan went solo in 1983, which has led to her appearing on the ballot with and without Rufus in recent years. The entire collective was nominated last year, and Questlove is likely to push for Chaka and company once again when the committee meets in mid-September. Khan is held in very high esteem, and in fact, she's performing at Aretha Franklin's funeral. 

Salt-N-Pepa - Rap with a side of feminism — that would be some needed rain on the poorly representative desert of the Rock Hall. Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, Run-D.M.C., Public Enemy and N.W.A. are all inducted, but there's nary a woman among them. Queens from Queens and among the most successful female hip-hop acts, Salt-N-Pepa and DJ Spinderella would be breaking the Rock Hall's glass ceiling. By any standard, they're worthy, with major, your-mom-even-likes-these-guys hits like "Push It," "Let's Talk About Sex," "Shoop," and "Whatta Man" (featuring En Vogue). This trio blazed a trail for assertive women in hip-hop, and TLC and Missy Elliott definitely took key inspiration from them. The first all-female rap group — Hall of Fame-caliber stuff, without question.

"Weird Al" Yankovic - The exact criteria for induction into the Rock Hall can be debated, but satirist "Weird Al" Yankovic rules a very specific corner of the music world unopposed, and no one else even compares. To be parodied by "Weird Al" is among the highest honors in music; eccentric, guarded individuals from Kurt Cobain to Michael Jackson basically bear-hugged the very idea of Yankovic doing one of their songs. And this is how humor could enliven and lighten the induction ceremony — by having the parodist appear in full, costumed regalia to perform a few of his gems from across the decades, from early MTV favorite "Eat It" to "Amish Paradise" to the astonishingly great, hottest-flow-since-lava banger "White and Nerdy" (parody of "Ridin" by Chamillionaire featuring Krayzie Bone). Yankovic was just honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, so the Rock Hall should follow suit and grant this beloved hero a richly deserved tip of the hat. Lonely Island guys, care to write a speech?

Warren Zevon - "Lawyers, Guns and Money"...but enough about American politics! Warren Zevon, Los Angeles' late purveyor of acerbic, libertine songcraft, is the ideal fit for 2019's singer-songwriter slot (think 2013 inductee Randy Newman). Paul Shaffer, who jammed with Zevon many times on the Letterman show, is a crucial Zevon evangelist and Nomination Committee member. By honoring Warren, the Hall could have a substantial induction ceremony performance on their hands: Imagine what prior Zevon collaborator Bruce Springsteen or even spiritual descendant Father John Misty could do with "Johnny Strikes Up the Band" or "Accidentally Like a Martyr" (the latter performed by Bob Dylan live after he learned Zevon was dying of cancer). If Bob sees fit to cover your song, you probably warrant entry into the Hall.