August 29, 2019

Predictions: The 2020 Rock Hall Nominees

Who will be on this October's Rock & Roll Hall of Fame ballot? If the current conversations around the Hall portend anything, more women will be nominated, along with a genre-spanning mix of the overdue and newly eligible. 

Here are E-Rockracy's 15 predictions for the Class of 2020 ballot, in no particular order:

Oasis - Dear god, here we go. Major reunions of fractured, grudge-holding rock acts are a bit scarce at induction ceremonies (KISS refused to play with Ace and Peter, Axl didn't show up in 2012, etc.), so if the Hall can put Gallagher brothers Liam and Noel together, it deserves some type of peace prize. If it did happen, though, it would be monumental (one wonders if Liam and Noel are just waiting for this honor to kick off Oasis 2.0). The band was always a more significant concern in the U.K., but did make waves in the States with "Champagne Supernova" and the ubiquitous "Wonderwall," currently being howled at a karaoke bar near you. Further, "Don't Look Back in Anger" has become an anthem of resilience in Manchester, and for deeply tragic reasons: The song was performed by Noel at a benefit concert for the 22 victims of the terror attack at Ariana Grande's show in the city in 2017. To hear a stadium full of young people singing a song that existed before they did speaks to the triumph of both the human spirit and, yes, rock and roll. This would be a first-ballot induction, and not even Radiohead achieved that, but it's easy to imagine Oasis on the nominee list, at least. Do they get in? Another story, morning glory.

The Go-Go's - Belinda Carlisle, Jane Wiedlin, Charlotte Caffey, Gina Schock, and Kathy Valentine make up the only all-female group that wrote and played its own music to top the Billboard 200 chart. The band started out as punks, then went pop, taking over radio and MTV in the '80s with such hits as "Vacation," "Our Lips Are Sealed" and "We Got the Beat." Their legacy is secure, and their influence is far more wide-reaching than most people realize. They reportedly came up in the nominating committee meeting last year, and it's a safe bet they will again. One benefit of a Go-Go's induction that bears mentioning: It would result in five (living) women filling out ballots next year, and going forward. 

Duran Duran - The Rock Hall loves a fan vote winner, and is there any doubt that these punchy-sounding, magnetic MTV heroes would just crush that metric? (This fanbase's passion might exceed even Bon Jovi's.) It may seem a bit too neat and tidy that Roxy Music's induction speakers would find their band enshrined immediately the next year, but hysteria-generating headliners for the ceremony are always welcome. Duran Duran is still active and in demand; a recent high-profile gig was at Kennedy Space Center, where they performed their recent song "The Universe Alone" to help celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing. This October, look for the"Fab Five" (Simon Le Bon, Nick Rhodes, John Taylor, Andy Taylor, Roger Taylor) to land on the ballot.

Notorious B.I.G. - "Birthdays was the worst days/Now we drink champagne when we thirsty..." A more epitomizing couplet of the American success story (i.e., from drug dealer to rap king) of the late Notorious B.I.G. might not be found. While many hip-hop stars would gladly show up to perform for Biggie (Christopher Wallace), an additional idea might also reside in the all-star jam: Potential fellow inductees Duran Duran could lead a rendition of their galvanizing song "Notorious" (once actually sampled by Wallace) as a bonus nod to this rap icon. Considered possibly the best rapper of all time, Biggie's influence can be heard in disciples ranging from Eminem to Foxy Brown to Kendrick Lamar.

Judas Priest - In October last year, nominating committee member Alan Light disclosed on SiriusXM's "Feedback" show that these metal gods did "horrendously" in the final voting tallies in 2017 (for the Class of 2018), so that explains why they were missing entirely from this past ballot. If a metalhead can be wildly optimistic, though, it would be amazing to see Priest follow the Janet Jackson pattern, i.e., she was left off the nominee list for a year, and then nominated/inducted the next. There's no question this band needs to be in, it's just a matter of when (seriously, given guitarist Glenn Tipton's Parkinson's diagnosis, the sooner the better). A Priest induction opens the door for other worthy metal acts, including Iron Maiden, Ronnie James Dio, and Slayer.  

Cher - Is there a more fascinating American life than Cherilyn Sarkisian's? A woman that has seen and done it all, with a singing/TV/film career spanning decades, from Sonny & Cher to her solo work. So many hits from "The Goddess of Pop," so little time. Plus, she's a Tony Award away from an EGOT. Suffice to say, this is a justifiable honor for a tough, no-nonsense woman who asserted independence and control in an unforgiving industry. She could justifiably be carved on popular music's Mt. Rushmore. Imagine this induction performance.

Todd Rundgren - The ballot often features artists two years in a row; Todd Rundgren will be back again this year. He came in third in the Rock Hall Fan Vote in 2018, and that's a fact the Hall simply cannot ignore. Whether one is talking about his work in Nazz, Utopia or as a solo artist, here's a multifaceted musical virtuoso that's been in the conversation for years. His colossal recording and performing career encompasses singer-songwriter fare ("Hello It's Me," "I Saw the Light"), producing credits (Meat Loaf's Bat Out of Hell, Badfinger's Straight Up, XTC's Skylarking), and even playing in Ringo Starr's All-Starr Band. Futuristic, bravely experimental, and forever on the fringe, Rundgren would lend some artistic depth to the ceremony next April (and the fans love him). 

Sleater-Kinney - The Pacific Northwest has yielded a ridiculous number of superlative, meaningful bands. Olympia, Washington's Sleater-Kinney, purveyors of a dynamic, fierce brand of indie rock, can officially be counted among them. Critical and cult favorites, Corin Tucker, Carrie Brownstein and Janet Weiss shook listeners up with such persuasive landmark albums as Dig Me Out and All Hands on the Bad One. This feminist trio, currently in their first year of eligibility, is viewed by many as one of the best bands of the late 20th and early-21st century. Punk rock? Yep. Riot Grrrl? Sure. Hall worthy? All the credentials are here. There was some recent S-K controversy, as Weiss just left the group, but they are pressing forward in 2019 with The Center Won't Hold, an album produced by St. Vincent's Annie Clark.

The Doobie Brothers - Among the many surprises of last year's nominee list (John Prine! The Cure!) was the omission of the Doobie Brothers. The consensus among Rock Hall followers was that Doobies manager/music mogul Irving Azoff would grease the wheels for a nomination. (He also manages No Doubt, so stay tuned.) It feels unlikely the easy-grooving, harmony-loving Bay Area group misses this year's ballot. While Gen X is noticeably being accommodated more at the Hall of late (Nirvana! The Cure!), baby boomers are still very much at the table. The Doobies serve a demographic that the Hall is still invested in. And this ceremony performance would be so well-received by everyone, there's really no downside to inviting them to the party.

Kraftwerk - With five nominations (tying them with Joe Tex and the J. Geils Band), one has to think the Hall will fix this absurd Kraftwerk oversight once and for all. This act is a missing corner brick in the Rock Hall pyramid; for all intents and purposes, they pioneered electronic music. Honestly, putting otherwise deserving, synth-based acts like New Order and Nine Inch Nails in before them would be unseemly, and those acts would likely agree. It would be like putting Green Day in before the Buzzcocks or something. 

J. Geils Band - Always the bridesmaid... well, you know. Nominated a whopping five times to date, this high-spirited outfit is a favorite of Steven Van Zandt. If this prediction holds and he gets the J. Geils Band on the ballot for a sixth time this year, it would be a safe bet they get inducted, too. Helping their Rock Hall case is singer/former Boston radio DJ Peter Wolf, esteemed by the institution enough to be invited twice as an induction speaker (for Paul Butterfield Blues Band in 2015 and Jackie Wilson in 1987). The J. Geils Band is just one of those acts that checks all the boxes for the Hall. Looking back on their history, they were an exciting live unit, and distilled the finer points of blues, R&B, boogie and even new wave on hits like "Musta Got Lost," "Give It to Me," "Freeze Frame" and "Love Stinks." Unfortunately, and too frequently the case for unnecessarily delayed Rock Hall inductees, namesake guitarist J. Geils passed in 2017, but the rest of the band would certainly take the stage and perform in his honor. 

TLC - Few girl groups have sold more albums than TLC, who reigned supreme in the 1990s with an catchy fusion of pop, New Jack swing and take-no-mess R&B. CrazySexyCool was the key album, and the gargantuan hit singles were "Creep" and the inescapable "Waterfalls." This fearless trio set the table for so many that followed, from Destiny's Child to Britney Spears to Christina Aguilera. Tionne "T-Boz" Watkins, rapper Lisa "Left Eye" Lopes and Rozonda "Chilli" Thomas were three women with style and talents that coalesced into something extraordinary; their music really made the world stand up and take notice. Sadly, Lopes died in a car accident in 2002, but TLC's legend lives on, with Watkins and Thomas still releasing albums and touring in recent years.

Willie Nelson - A certified American treasure and a genuine Rock Hall snub, Nelson is associated with country and Americana, but he truly transcends genre. His songwriting, resilience and hard-touring ways set a blueprint for generations of musicians after him across the American musical spectrum. It may finally be Nelson's time, as country-affiliated inductees have been scarce of late; the last few examples include the country-adjacent Linda Ronstadt (2014) , rockabilly queen Wanda Jackson (2009), Bob Wills and his Texas Playboys (1999), and Nelson's friend and Highwaymen collaborator Johnny Cash (1992).

Depeche Mode - Brilliantly creative titans of synth-pop and reigning commercial and critical champions of the electronic music genre, Depeche Mode somehow feels way overdue for the Hall. The Cure's induction seems to clear the path for David Gahan, Martin Gore and Andy Fletcher (and ideally earlier members Vince Clarke and Alan Wilder) to go right in. (Next up, hopefully: Joy Division and/or New Order). And frankly, if there is a more relevant song in today's sociopolitical climate than "People Are People," someone point it out. Depeche Mode has all the qualifications — a widescreen, bracing sound, and sharp lyrics that boldly traverse the human experience, from lust to greed to transcendence. Nominating committee member/previous Seymour Stein colleague Sandy Alouete, who formerly worked with Depeche Mode at both Sire and Reprise records, is clearly their advocate in the room. 

The Spinners - This beloved R&B act, eligible now for 33 years, has had three previous nominations for the classes of 2012, 2015, and 2016, but no Rock Hall induction luck so far. It's well past time for that to change. The Spinners first emerged as a doo-wop group in the '50s, then blossomed into one of greatest soul outfits ever. They were initially signed to Motown, but it was their Atlantic Records tenure that made them stars in the '70s, with hit singles like "Could it Be I'm Falling in Love," "I'll Be Around" and "The Rubberband Man." Sadly, most of the Spinners have passed on, including Bobby Smith, C.P. Spencer, Billy Henderson, Pervis Jackson, George Dixon, Edgar "Chico" Edwards, and Philippé Wynne. Lone surviving member Henry Fambrough keeps the Spinners and their legendary music on the road to this day, and could very well do so in Cleveland next April.