Last week, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame announced the nineteen finalists for induction in 2017. We get to vote for five of them.
I love this. This is one of my favorite exercises every year, especially when I call my sons and we spend hours talking about who should be in, who should be out, how to vote. This, despite the fact that I have essentially no respect for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and won’t until they give prog rock its due and nominate Jethro Tull, King Crimson and Gentle Giant.
Anyway, let’s start. I’ll list the nominees, offer some thoughts, and tell you my vote. Love to hear what you think!
Bad Brains: Really interesting band. Started off as a jazz fusion ensemble, then shifted to a driving punk sound, then added reggae beats. Rythmically complex, with proto-rap lyrics. Black Rastafarians doing punk music; really fascinating. I’m going to vote NO, because their discography is pretty thin; only 8 albums, really, and a history of breaking up and reforming. But glad to see them recognized.
Chaka Khan: One of the great, smooth R&B voices, and a track record of great songs. She keeps getting nominated, and she still hasn’t been inducted. Not this year either; too many other great nominees. A reluctant NO.
Chic: A great disco innovator. Le Freak is one of the great songs, with that terrific guitar riff. Ten time nominees for the R%R HOF. They’ve got to get in sometime. Two problems; first, disco is not exactly underrepresented in the HOF, and second, Nile Rodgers, their great guitarist and songwriter and producer should probably get in before the rest of the band does. NO.
Depeche Mode: I don’t like Depeche Mode. I never have liked their music; I just can’t help but regard that 80’s electronic sound as an unfortunate sidestep in the history of rock and roll. Even their best song, Personal Jesus, was better when other people covered it. Still, they’re massively influential, and a genuinely important band. YES.
Electric Light Orchestra: It’s just hard to take them all that seriously. They did the music for Xanadu, for heaven’s sake. Sure, Eldorado is a good album, and Time. Honestly, it’s the same as with Chic; if they inducted Jeff Lynne, I’d be all for it; great songwriter, great producer, in addition to his work with ELO. I would just remind you of the chorus of ‘Don’t Bring me Down.’ “Don’t bring me down. Groos.” NO.
The J. Geils Band: Their biggest hit is a novelty song called Centerfold. Their second biggest hit was a novelty song: Love Stinks. They were a good, solid rock and roll band, of which the HOF has many. NO.
Janes Addiction: Really important alternative rock band, for about four years in the late ’80s. Founded Lollapalooza. Still. Just too thin a resume. NO.
Janet Jackson: She’s sold millions of records. She’s an important performer. Her candidacy bores me to tears. She’s getting in eventually; not this year. NO.
Joan Baez: Important sixties singer/songwriter/activist. Is it rock and roll? The HOF kind of gave up on that criterion when they inducted Joni Mitchell and Judy Collins. Gorgeous voice, of course. I’m voting YES.
Joe Tex: Great nominee. An innovator, an early rapper, a southern rock pioneer, a guy who influenced everyone from James Brown to Little Richard. An electric performer, who never really had the one breakthrough hit that would have made him a legend. This is exactly the kind of performer the HOF should honor, really, to fulfill their role as a museum, telling folks about great musicians they may not have heard of. Problem is, the ballot is loaded this year. Exceedingly reluctant NO.
Journey: They’re getting in, along with Janet Jackson, and everyone knows it. And I’ll sing along with Don’t Stop Believin’ every time it’s played at a ballgame. Still, they’re just not good enough. NO.
Kraftwerk: My older son has finally talked me around on these guys. They were immensely influential, and not the Germanic joke band I’d always thought them to be. Not this year, though. NO.
MC5: Terrific live performers, with a roots-rock and roll sound that shaded into hardcore punk. But they really were only important for three years. NO.
Pearl Jam: You pretty much have to put Pearl Jam in the HOF, especially now that Nirvana’s in. The one slight reservation I have has to do with influence; isn’t Pearl Jam the progenitor to bands like Creed? Still, they’re getting in. So, bowing to peer pressure: YES.
Steppenwolf: Really important big name late sixties rock band, with maybe three big hits, including Magic Carpet Ride and Born to be Wild. But they were a big deal from 1968-72, and didn’t do much else. NO.
The Cars: Same thing; didn’t make that big a difference, didn’t survive all that long. NO.
The Zombies: One of the original British invasion bands. Basically, the same thing you could say about Steppenwolf could be said about the Zombies, only their few hits lasted longer, and seem more significant. NO, but a harder call.
Tupac Shakur: Is rap a subset of rock and roll? That’s really the only question. Because Tupac is incredibly good and incredibly important, almost as much as a political figure than as a rapper. I vote YES.
Yes: The easiest call of the year. Of course, you have to vote YES for Yes. One of the greatest prog bands of all time. Long discography, with many huge hits over decades of amazing work. You question the induction of Yes? Listen to the opening guitar riff for Roundabout. Or the opening bass line in Close to the Edge. Or Bill Bruford’s drumming. Or Rick Wakeman on keyboards. Or Jon Anderson’s exquisite falsetto. YES, YES, a thousand times YES.
So that’s my five. Depeche Mode, Joan Baez, Pearl Jam, Tupac Shakur and Yes. Love to hear your responses!