Friday, November 4, 2016

Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Class of 2017

Last year, I went through the nominees for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Class of 2016, argued which ones were deserving, and offered my predictions on who would actually get in. How did I do? Well, this is what I predicted:
...I suspect the 2016 class will be as follows: Cheap Trick, Deep Purple, Janet Jackson, Steve Miller, Nine Inch Nails, N.W.A. The J.B.'s are just on the outside looking in, followed by The Cars and The Smiths.  
If I had my way, this would be the list of inductees: The Cars, Chicago, Deep Purple, Janet Jackson, Steve Miller, and The Spinners. Alas, I'm unlikely to have my way.
The actual inductees for the Class of 2016: Cheap Trick, Chicago, Deep Purple, N.W.A., and Steve Miller. Not bad. I wrongly assumed Janet Jackson would waltz in and apparently sanity prevailed with Chicago.

So what about this year? Here are the nominees for the class of 2017:
  • Bad Brains
  • Chaka Kahn
  • Chic
  • Depeche Mode
  • ELO
  • The J. Geils Band
  • Jane's Addiction
  • Janet Jackson
  • Joan Baez
  • Joe Tex
  • Journey
  • Kraftwerk
  • MC5
  • Pearl Jam
  • Steppenwolf
  • The Cars
  • The Zombies
  • Tupac Shakur
  • Yes

Not a bad list. Not a great list, but not a bad list. So let's look at the repeaters from last year, first.

What I said about Janet Jackson and Chaka Kahn still seems applicable:
I'm not a fan of [Jackson], but given how many fans she has and her commercial success, her induction seems to be almost a given. Whether or not she gets in this year is the only real question...Chaka Kahn represents something of a conundrum, I think. While her mainstream success was limited and mostly a function of Prince's efforts in penning I Feel For You for her, there is a bit of the "Velvet Underground effect" with her, too. A part of me really wants to say—to scream, really—"yes!" to her potential induction, but compared to the competition she faces in this class and will likely face in future ones, I can't really justify it.
Ditto for Chic and the Cars. Essentially, the first deserves the recognition of this nomination in my opinion, but does not deserve inclusion. Chic's wild popularity at the "apogee of the disco era" (to quote myself) is simply not enough. In contrast, the dominance of The Cars—from the charts, to FM radio, to MTV—can't be denied. It's only a matter of time for them. They should have gone in last year, really.

Now, on to  the rest...

Bad Brains? Look, I get it. Hardcore punk has a place in music history, even a place in the Hall of Fame. And Bad Brains is certainly one of the most important acts in this genre, and has had a real influence that extends beyond this genre. Honestly, I don't have a problem with Bad Brains getting in and I think it likely that they will. That said, Black Flag should go in first, when it comes to hardcore punk. Their legacy is primary here.

I'm no fan of Depeche Mode, but it's tough not to see their influence. The same is true for Kraftwerk. I'd rather listen to Kenny Rogers' Greatest Hits than any of the music produced by these two acts, though. In last year's piece, I talked about the "Velvet Underground effect," the lauding of some groups for their "legacy," even when their actual body or work is not all that impressive. This would be applicable to these two acts, but for the fact that their body of work—which I can't stand—actually is impressive. And unfortunately, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is not limited to just the music I like; Depeche Mode and Kraftwerk are legitimate choices for the honor of induction.

I happen to be a big fan of both Steppenwolf and The J. Geils Band. "Born to be Wild" will forever be a classic song, along with "Magic Carpet Ride" and "Rock Me." And classic rock stations still play "Centerfold," "Love Stinks," and (my personal fav) "Must of Got Lost." But there are a lot of bands who produced some good music and some classic hits. Blue Oyster Cult and Golden Earring come to mind. When it comes to the big picture, I honestly can't see how Steppenwolf and The J. Geils Band deserve to be in the Hall of Fame, given who else is not there.

As to Joe Tex and Joan Baez, what we have here are two somewhat legendary artists whose music is on the periphery of rock and roll. Both produced large bodies of work, both enjoyed success across the decades of their careers, both have legacies that influenced other acts. But frankly, I don't see how either one should be in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Sorry. Is there a R&B Hall of Fame? Put Joe Tex in there. Is there a Folk Music Hall of Fame? Put Joan Baez in there. Their influence in the genre of rock music is just not that meaningful, even of they dabbled in it from time to time.

With ELO and Journey, we have two huge bands, when it comes to legacy and hits. The downside for both is the general perception of their music as lacking in depth and originality. I don't know that this is fair, but it is what it is. I happen to like both of these bands very much. Jeff Lynne of ELO is particularly deserving of the honor here, given his work with The Move, ELO, and The Traveling Wilburys, plus his talent as a producer. I'd like to see both of these acts in the Hall of Fame, but I'm not sure that they'll get in, either now or later.

I have to be honest with regard to Jane's Addiction and MC5: I don't know what the hell these two acts are doing on this list. Well, that's not true. I know exactly what they are doing here. They both actually do represent the "Velvet Underground effect," mentioned above. It's hip to talk about them and their supposed influence on their respective genres, alt rock and proto-punk. Because of this, both might very well end up in the Hall of Fame.

Tupac Shakur was, as an artist, hugely talented and hugely influential. There is no doubt about that. His personal life and personal politics are inseparable from his work, making his legacy something special, something unique, and something that can be both lauded and criticized. I guess I can see why he was nominated to be in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, but honestly I can't see why he should be inducted.

That leaves three other acts: Pearl Jam, The Zombies, and Yes. Now, Yes is actually a repeat nominee from last year, but I waited till now to talk about them, because I wanted to do so in context with these others. Last year I wrote that there's no reason for Yes to be in the Hall if ELP is not in there; I still think that. And I know that Pearl Jam is a huge favorite to get in (and probably will). But you know, there's something to be said here for The Zombies, relative to both of these other acts. The Zombies aren't "hip" enough to get that "Velvet Underground effect" from the music snobs. Frankly, I'm surprised they're even nominated. It is hip to talk about the influence of The Yardbirds, of course. They're in the Hall of Fame. But again, not The Zombies.

The Zombies, original line-up
Yet, The Zombies forged a new path in Rock and Roll, with a cleaner, crisper sound then much of the other cutting edge music of the the period. Their brief existence mirrored that of The Yardbirds, yet they produced worldwide hits like "She's Not There" and "Time of the Season." One can, I think, see how their music influences the genres of prog rock, alt rock and of course standard hard rock. Yet, The Zombies seem almost an afterthought to many. I'm certainly not suggesting that their lack of inclusion is outrageous or comparable to the past snubbing of acts like Deep Purple, but from the standpoint of foundational acts with original sounds, there's a strong case to be made for The Zombies And I think that case is stronger than the one for Yes, if not quite so strong as the one for Pearl Jam.

Anyway, last year I offered up some odds for the various acts getting in. I'll do so again, just for fun:
Bad Brains—3 to 1
Chaka Kahn—10 to 1
Chic—8 to 1
Depeche Mode—2 to 1
ELO—10 to 1
The J. Geils Band—20 to 1
Jane's Addiction—3 to 1
Janet Jackson—3 to 2
Joan Baez—Stone Cold Lock
Joe Tex—3 to 1
Journey—4 to 1
Kraftwerk—Stone Cold Lock
MC5—5 to 4
Pearl Jam—Stone Cold Lock
Steppenwolf—8 to 1
The Cars—3 to 1
The Zombies —10 to 1
Tupac Shakur—2 to 1
Yes—7 to 1
Obviously, I think Baez, Kraftwerk, and Pearl Jam are going in. I suspect there will be three more inductees: MC5, Janet Jackson, and Depeche Mode.

If I had my way—given this list—I'd go with The Cars, Pearl Jam, ELO, The Zombies, Janet Jackson, and Journey. But once again, I'm unlikely to have my way...

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