Having just made a presentation at The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum in Cleveland, Ohio, I was hoping to come away with the inside scoop on who was going to be voted into the Rock Hall this year. The ballots have already been cast and the tabulation is under way (inductees will be announced Thursday, Dec. 17), but darn if I could get any sense of who was in and who wasn’t!
Appropriately, Rock Hall staffers spoke highly of all 15 of this year’s nominees and, frankly, I’d have to agree with them because this year’s list is one of the strongest in recent memory.
Nevertheless, as I approach my 70s, I’ve got my very own tastes and strong opinions.
And not that I have anything against them, but am I really so old that I’m stunned by the fact that The Smiths, N. W. A and Nine Inch Nails are on the ballot? Wasn’t I just talking to my kids about these and other “contemporary” artists?
But then, I double checked the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s eligibility criteria and sure enough, there it was spelled out: “To be eligible for induction as an artist (a performer, composer or musician) into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the artist must have released a record, in the generally accepted sense of that phrase, at least 25 years prior to the year of induction.”
Yep, I’m that old.
The eligibility criteria also emphasizes that “musical excellence shall be the essential qualification of induction.”
Of the following 15 nominees, only five will get in. I’ve made my bets. Who would you choose?
1. The Cars
The Boston-based new wave band, The Cars, recorded 13 Top 40 singles across six classic studio albums — including four straight instrumental — in taking punk rock out of the underground and into the American mainstream. And their visionary bravado is evident in the 1990s alternative-rock boom.
Classic song: Drive
Odds: 80-20. It’s hard to bet against them since their music was strong, popular and extremely influential.
Chic almost single-handedly rescued disco in 1977 with a combination of groove, soul and distinctly New York City studio smarts. Personally, I dislike disco, but I love Chic because of its sound and the fact that it was a real band. Chic’s music helped open the gates for hip-hop, and later in the ’80s, new jack swing. Over the years, artists such as Sugar Hill Gang and Diddy have turned to Chic for beats and samples. Classic song: LeFreak Odds: 25-75. It would be great to see them win, but there’s that strong, anti-disco ethos to overcome.
With 21 Top 10 singles, five consecutive No. 1 albums, 11 No. 1 hit singles, fans that stretch across the globe and a unique blend of rock, pop, and jazz, Chicago’s legacy is unquestionable. The band broke in as Chicago Transit Authority in 1969 with its self-titled double album, which included chants from the 1968 Chicago Democratic Convention. And a keen pop sensibility kept them at the top of the charts for years.
Classic song: Make Me Smile
Odds: 99-1. Just too many hits and too many years at the top of the charts for them to not get in.
4. Cheap Trick
Talk about consistency. These guys from Rockford, Ill., have sounded the same for nearly four decades. Cheap Trick has bridged the gap between the fierce clowning of early punk and the accidental-on-purpose humor of metal without ever sounding a bit like either. And the band’s first five albums — Cheap Trick, In Color, Heaven Tonight, Dream Police, All Shook Up — hold up beautifully all these years later! Classic song: I Want You to Want Me Odds: 20-80? With other hard-driving, “classic rock” bands on this year’s list, these guys will likely end up on the short end of the stick.
5. Deep Purple
There’s no denying Deep Purple’s excellence, or influence. The band, which has sold more than 100 million albums, helped create the genre of hard rock. And fans rightly point out that the guitar riff from Smoke on the Water inspired tens of millions of guitarists to pick up the instrument. Only Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony gives it a run for recognizability.
Classic Song: Smoke on the Water
Odds: 85-15? Deep Purple is among the Holy Trinity of hard rock and metal bands, and it’s time the band takes its place alongside Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath in the Rock Hall.
6. Janet Jackson
Michael Jackson’s little sister is a pop powerhouse in her own right who has sold more than 160 million records and holds the record for the most consecutive Top 10 hits on the Billboard Hot 100 by a female artist. The tally is 18. And influence? Just listen to Beyoncé, Britney Spears, Lady Gaga and Rihanna! Classic Song: What Have You Done for Me Lately? Odds: 50-50. I wish her chances were stronger, but women and R&B artists are consistently passed over. We need more women in the Rock Hall!
7. The J.B.’s
Quickly assembled when James Brown needed to put together a new backing band, the J.B.’s quickly became the “heaviest” funk ensemble, recording and touring behind the Hardest Working Man in Show Business as well as releasing material under their own name. Eventually, the J.B.’s became the backbone of George Clinton’s Parliament-Funkadelic and kept the funk flag flying for the next generation.
Classic Song: Doing It to Death
Odds: 10-90. Just too off the mainstream to attract enough votes. Which is too bad because these guys were more, much more, than just a James Brown house band. And there’s nothing else like them in the Rock Hall.
8. Chaka Kahn
Chicago’s former Yvette Stevens first came to prominence with the innovative funk/rock group Rufus in the 1970s. She broke out on her own in 1978 and since then has won 10 Grammys, sold an estimated 70 million records, recorded seven gold singles, seven gold albums and three platinum albums. She’s ranked in the Top 20 of VH1’s original list of the 100 Greatest Women of Rock & Roll. And what a voice! Classic Song: I’m Every Woman Odds: 50-50. Like Janet Jackson. Hopefully, one of these talented women gets in this year, but there’s a chance they’ll split the female vote leaving both of them on the outside looking in. And that’s a shame!
9. Los Lobos
East L.A. rockers Los Lobos (Spanish for “the wolves”) have brought a Latino sensibility to American rock and roll. Fusing classic American styles such as R&B, blues and rock, with cumbia, Tejano and Mexican norteña music, Los Lobos has recorded more than 20 albums, displaying their versatility and artistry for over three decades.
Classic Song: La Bamba
Odds: 25-75. They’re the only group like them on this year’s list and deserve to have their place in the Hall, but…
10. Steve Miller
A Wisconsin kid, Miller was born in Milwaukee and briefly attended UW-Madison — teaming there with Boz Skaggs and Ben Sidran no less. And, man, this cat can play! First he perfected a psychedelic blues sound that drew on American roots music; then in the 1970s, he crafted a brand of pure pop that was polished, exciting and irresistible — and dominated radio in a way that few artists have ever managed. Classic Song: Fly Like An Eagle Odds: 60-40. The scales are tipped in favor of this rock and roll mainstay!
11. Nine Inch Nails
Nine Inch Nails (NIN) began in Cleveland in the late 1980s as a studio project for Trent Reznor and eventually blossomed onstage — first with the Lollapalooza tour in 1991 and later at a mud-splattered, star-making performance at Woodstock ’94. Combining mechanized funk and the discordant noise of industrial rock with Reznor’s belief in melody and song structure, NIN has taken the sounds and sights of transgressive art (monkey messiahs, shiny boots of leather, serial killers) into the mainstream, transmuting alienation into community.
Classic Song: Closer
Odds: 50-50. NIN has a huge fan base, but their nonfans find them alienating.
Niggaz Wit Attitudes rose out of Compton, Calif. to become one of the most controversial and complicated voices of a generation, and the collective remains one of rock and roll’s most intriguing odysseys (their story became a blockbuster movie this year). Eazy-E, Dr. Dre, Ice Cube, MC Ren and DJ Yella have sold tens of millions of records, influenced multiple generations, and solidified the disparate elements of gangsta rap into a genre meaty enough to be quantified, imitated and monetized for generations to come. Classic Song: Straight Outta Compton Odds: 75-25. Even parents who lectured their kids about the propriety of N. W. A’s lyrics and message have come to appreciate how extensively they set the stage for hip-hop’s emergence as one of the most dominant musical genres.
13. The Smiths
Formed in Manchester, England, in 1982, these four working-class kids resisted the musical trends of their times to become one of the more influential bands ever to come out of the U.K. Led by guitarist Johnny Marr and lead singer Morrissey, the Smiths almost single-handedly defined a sound and a style that was both stripped-down, eloquent and powerfully expressive.
Classic Song: There Is a Light That Never Goes Out
Odds: 65-35. They broke up at the height of their popularity in 1987? Whatever the case, I’m reminded by today’s indie and hipster music lovers that The Smiths were “it” and their impact can be heard in the countless bands they helped shape.
14. The Spinners
“Why aren’t they already in?” The sweet-sounding, hitmaking R&B vocal group, The Spinners gave us nearly five decades of great music, culminating in an “explosion” at Atlantic Records in the early 1970s where they had 15 consecutive Top 10 R&B singles during their first five years including four No. 1 R&B hits in their first 18 months. And what a stage act! Classic Song: I’ll Be Around Odds: 60-40. The were instrumental in defining the Philadelphia Sound that dominated pop and urban radio and dance clubs in the ‘70s.
I was fresh out of Vietnam in late 1971 when a friend played an album by a new British band called Yes, and I was, in a word, smitten. Obviously I wasn’t alone, as Yes began to fill football stadiums across America and build a global fan base that couldn’t get enough of the band’s hard rock edge, progressive rock tendencies and cinematic soundscapes. And Yes even managed to change with the times, reemerging in the 1980s as an MTV-ready commercial force!
Classic Song: I’ve Seen All Good People
Odds: 35-65. The list is likely too strong for them to get in this year.