My Choices for the Nominees for the 2021 Rock & Roll Hall of Fame

The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame is like no other Hall in existence. It is one of the few Halls that basically has only one criteria – that your first commercial release be done no later than 25 years prior (for 2021, that means artists whose first release was in 1996 or earlier are eligible). Most other Halls base their entry on the number of wins you’ve had (World Golf Hall of Fame), mystical statistical performance (any sports Hall) or that you were from a certain area (self-explanatory). Not the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame – if you’re good enough, if you had an impact on the shaping of popular culture and music over the last 70 years (or so) and you can get the votes, you get in.

This fact in itself makes the discussion over not only those elected to but also those who are nominated of great interest to many music fans. With the COVID-19 outbreak, it pretty much fucked up the entirety of the 2020 schedule for the Rock Hall, delaying and then canceling the 2020 Induction Ceremony for a very good list of artists (Whitney Houston, the Notorious B.I.G., The Doobie Brothers, Nine Inch Nails, Depeche Mode and T. Rex – Jon Landau and Irving Azoff were Ahmet Ertegun Award winners and named to the Rock Hall) before they were “virtually” inducted in November. Because of the late induction, the announcement of the 2021 Nominees is being pushed off as well, to probably February 2021.

You can lament this, but I think it is a great idea. It stretches the entirety of the process by the Rock Hall to cover a whole year instead of parts of two. With the naming of the nominees in February, that means the new Inductees won’t be announced until more than likely around May or June. Then they can induct them (hopefully in a live ceremony) in November. This works much better than announcing the Inductees in December and holding the Induction Ceremony in April or May (how it has worked in the past).

The delay also allows pundits, historians, fans, and critics to come up with their selections for who will be in the Nomination Class for the 2021 Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. I’ve studied over the last few years of nominations, who has gotten in, what kind of “buzz” is going around in the music world, and other intangibles to come up with a list of 15 artists and groups that should be nominated come February. Those in BOLD print are going to be the five choices I would make for entry and I’ve also tried to include some reasoning for the nomination.

Without further ado, here’s who I believe will earn nomination in 2021:

Jay-Z – Not only will Jay-Z earn a first year eligible (FYE) nomination, but he will also earn a FYE induction into the Rock Hall. It is a tough decision as to which part of the industry that Jay-Z has had more of an impact on – the rap world, where he has been a force for 25 years, or the recording industry itself through his ownership of Tidal and forays into label ownership and artist development. And, since the Rock Hall enjoys a great show, imagine Jay-Z trotting the boards with Beyonce? The Rock Hall is salivating at that thought.

Foo Fighters – If there’s been anyone to carry the banner for rock music in the past 25 years, it would be Foo Fighters. Dave Grohl could have easily packed up shop after the death of Kurt Cobain and Nirvana and just made guest appearances on records for the rest of his career. Instead, he forged on with his own sound and added to the legend of rock. Add in the factor that Grohl is a hell of a music historian himself and that he is on the Nomination Committee (he will have to abstain from voting for himself, likely), it would be odd if they aren’t a FYE nominee but also a FYE inductee.

Pat Benatar – Benatar has been snubbed by the Rock Hall for far too long. Her nomination last year was her first after 15 years of eligibility and it was considered that she was a “lock” for entry. Then they took the vote…Benatar was not only a choice by many but she was the runner-up in the Fan Vote from 2019 (hold on, we’ll get to that) and the Rock Hall has caught hell over bypassing her. With a chance to redeem themselves, I don’t expect the Rock Hall to get it wrong twice (then again, the Rock Hall does have a way to surprise you).

Dave Matthews Band – The top vote getter from the Fan Vote, which has been around for at least six years previous (I could be wrong), usually had been inducted by the Rock Hall. That included such entries as Bon Jovi, Rush and KISS, among others. DMB were the top vote-getters in 2019, but that and $1.50 got them a cup of coffee at McDonald’s – they were bypassed for entry into the Rock Hall, the first time that it had happened. I personally don’t see where DMB has earned entry – I’ve never been a jam band fan – but, since the Rock Hall caught shit for not inducting them with the 2020 class, I can’t see them keeping them out twice.

Judas Priest – This is one that the time is ticking on. The Priest has only been the driving force behind heavy metal for 50 years and, eligible since 1999, they’ve only received two nominations. I would hate to see them fall by the wayside like Kraftwerk (who, after being nominated six times, might have run out of chances), MC5 (nominated five times) or even Chic (nominated 11 TIMES), but it is a realistic possibility.

Rage Against the Machine – The practitioners of the hybrid rap/rock scene of the 90s, RATM combined their aggressive stylings with a socio-political bend that enraptured their fans. Or…maybe not so much. As they prepared for a since-postponed tour in 2020, some RATM fans became outraged at the political stances of guitarist Tom Morello and the band. In one of the funniest exchanges on Twitter, Morello, who holds a political science degree from Harvard, responded to an upset follower who said “I used to be a fan until your political opinions come (sic) out,” “What music of mine were you a fan of that DIDN’T contain “political BS”?” Gotta love that!

Kate Bush – Ah, to have more than five votes (then again, I might have used it on RATM)! Bush is one of the long-overlooked female vocalists from the 80s who should be recognized for her achievements. Her work with Peter Gabriel preceded an excellent solo career in the 80s, but she’s never gotten the acclaim that she deserves (Cyndi Lauper, Annie Lennox and others fall in this category). I’d love to give her a vote, but with some of the others that are on down the list, it makes it difficult.

Eurythmics – Falls into the same category as Bush. One of the many 80s acts that we should start inducting into the Rock Hall. In many cases, these artists have been eligible for 15 years and they’ve never even received a nomination, let alone induction. Time to start fixing this situation and quit bleeding the rock dry from the 1960s/70s.

The Go-Go’s – They came thisclose to getting one of my five picks. The first all-female band to have a #1 album on the Billboard charts, The Go-Go’s were groundbreakers for women in rock. Although they have a litany of women that they owe a huge amount of credit to (Fanny, The Runaways, Suzi Quatro), The Go-Go’s got there and inspired many others. Add in the recent documentary on Showtime and it is quite conceivable that The Go-Go’s earn an induction seat in 2021.

Duran Duran – Anyone who was alive during the 1980s was impacted by Duran Duran. They helped to shape the musical landscape of the 80s, not only with their music but also with their videos on MTV, and had a hand in fashion also, among other things. This is a band that has NEVER been nominated previously – that should be corrected this year and they should take a seat in the Rock Hall.

Alice in Chains – This is a group that may sneak into the Nominations because of recent buzz regarding the group. Seattle’s Museum of Pop Culture (MoPOP) inducted the band this fall into their rolls and, since there are only Nirvana and Pearl Jam currently carrying the banner for the Grunge Era of rock, a third would be nice (Soundgarden could fit in this category too). Unfortunately, grunge looks like it is going to get the same treatment that hard rock/metal has gotten over the years from the Rock Hall.

Todd Rundgren – Personally, I would love to see Rundgren get in. He’s more than deserving of it for his performing career, his usage of multimedia (witness his upcoming virtual concert tour) and his producing credits. Perhaps the only way to get this man in may be through the Award for Musical Excellence, which hasn’t been awarded since 2017 (to Chic’s Nile Rodgers).

The Smiths – Politics aside, The Smiths are more than worthy of nomination for their career’s labors. However, Morrissey’s tirades seem to have tarnished the potential induction of the band into the Rock Hall, and that’s unfortunate. They get on my list because they are one of the artists from the 2016 Nomination Class that hasn’t been inducted yet.

Beck – I’ve personally never been a huge Beck fan, but I can recognize his artistic creativity and the impact he’s had on other artists. The devotion from his fans are hard to ignore too. He was a FYE nominee, but he failed to go that extra step – he will get in, but will it be this year or in the future?

Daft Punk – A driver of the synth rock/electronic rock scene since the 90s, Daft Punk should be a slam dunk nominee/entry. But Kraftwerk…well, let’s just say that people would like to see them get in first rather than Daft Punk. It isn’t out of the question for the Rock Hall to commemorate those that have achieved great success over the originators, however – just look at how rap’s forefathers have languished behind some of those that have been inducted.

Alanis Morrissette – Another one who could sneak in and get a nomination, if not inducted. Morrissette’s been white hot of late, with a Broadway show (you know, when Broadway was actually performing) and a critically acclaimed album in 2020. She was first eligible in 2019 but was bypassed…the Rock Hall might want to correct that oversight.

Guess we’ll find out in 2021 just how close to right I am!

Halestorm’s “ReAniMate 3.0,” Letters from the Fire’s “Worth the Pain” Two Worthy Hard Rock Efforts

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I’ve long been a music aficionado, especially the hard rock/metal genre. Sure, I’ll enjoy a Billy Joel concert (as I did most recently in Orlando) or even the newer pop music out there (my lovely wife and I went to the 2016 Jingle Ball, featuring Pitbull, Fifth Harmony, Martin Garrix, Chainsmokers and many other artists residing in the Top 40 today), but I always come back to my home. Perhaps it is the power of the guitars or the political nature of many of the lyrics (yes, they are saying something with their words and commentary – take the time to read the liner notes if you miss them the first time around), but hard rock/metal speaks to me more than many other genres in the industry.

Honestly, today’s hard rock/metal scene isn’t your granddaddy’s brand. The blues rock that such groups as Led Zeppelin, Cream, the Who and the Rolling Stones (yes, I am going to toss them in the hard rock genre – for their time, they were the “punks” of their era) bear little resemblance to the power drivers such as Metallica, Disturbed or even more pop-driven hard rock/metal bands like Breaking Benjamin or Shinedown. But they’re still hard rock/metal and still damned entertaining in their own right.

There’s a great deal of hard rock/metal out there right now, but these are two efforts that have caught my ear of late. If you’re looking for some great music, you might want to look these up.

Halestorm, ReAniMate 3.0

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Halestorm is one of the preeminent bands in the hard rock/metal genre today. Powered by the blistering vocals of Lzzy Hale (who happens to throw in badass guitar work also), the nimble and crushing lead guitars of Joe Hottinger and the guttural tempo setters in bassist Josh Smith and drummer AreJay Hale (Lzzy’s brother), Halestorm is one of the most popular acts in the business. That perch has allowed them to take on some pet projects, including the continuation of this series of cover EPs.

ReAniMate 3.0: The CoVeRs eP is the third in a series of “cover Eps” that Halestorm has issued over their career. The first, naturally called ReAniMate: The CoVeRs eP and released in 2011, brought a diverse selection of songs such as Lady Gaga’s “Bad Romance” (one of the best covers of all-time in this writer’s opinion), the Beatles’ “I Want You (She’s So Heavy)” and Skid Row’s “Slave to the Grind” under one artist. In each case, Halestorm took the songs and added their own touches to them, basically creating their own versions of songs people thought they knew (the exact challenge facing anyone who takes on a previously released tune).

That highly successful EP (how successful? A recent eBay auction for a signed copy of the CD went for $175) begged for a follow up and, after releasing a CD of their own material, Halestorm obliged their fans. ReAniMate 2.0: The CoVeRs eP was released in 2103 and followed in the same format as the first. This time around, Hale & Company took on Judas Priest (“Dissident Aggressor”), Daft Punk (“Get Lucky”), Pat Benatar (a natural in “Hell is for Children”) and Fleetwood Mac (“Gold Dust Woman”). It also seemed to leave the audience wanting more and, earlier this month, Halestorm would deliver again.

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ReAniMate 3.0: The CoVeRs eP rockets out of the gate with arguably the best song on the disc. The remake of Whitesnake’s “Still of the Night” gets the unmistakable treatment from Hale and her mates, hedging close enough to the original that it is familiar but applying their own touch. Hale’s voice gives Whitesnake lead man David Coverdale a run for his money and the rest of the band is more than able to power out the song.

The second-best song on 3.0 is Halestorm’s take on the Joan Jett and the Blackhearts classic “I Hate Myself for Loving You.” On the first two discs, Hale and her group did not touch any Jett tunes, either solo or from her days in the Runaways. It seems as if it would be a perfect match and, in this case, it was, as Halestorm takes the Jett standard to new heights.

There was one clunker on the disc, however. I never was a fan of Sophie B. Hawkins and perhaps that is why I didn’t really care for the Halestorm remake of “Damn, I Wish I Was Your Lover.” While Hale can pull off the poppy tunes like this (and she’s already put some country artists to shame who dared try to match her on stage), it didn’t work for the remainder of the band, in my thought. This is the only down point of the record, however, as the rest of ReAniMate 3.0: The CoVeRs more than makes up for it. These cover Eps are nice, but it really whets the appetite for original Halestorm material that is supposed to come later this year.

Letters from the Fire, Worth the Pain

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Trying to reach the rarefied air that Halestorm exists in, the band Letters from the Fire have had a jaded history. Originally formed in 2007 as Park Lane, guitarist Mike Keller and high school friend Grayson Hurd found bassist Clayton Wages and singer Eliot Weber and mucked around the San Francisco area, eventually changing their name to Letters from the Fire in 2012. Following their debut release Rebirth, there was apparently another overhaul of the band, with Cameron Stuckey coming on as rhythm guitarist and, perhaps most importantly, shifting from Weber’s male voice to the female voice of Alexa Kabazie (with Hurd and Weber departing).

The changes have made a great deal of difference for Letters from the Fire. Their latest full-length album, Worth the Pain, is a magnum opus of their career. From start to finish, Keller, Kabazie and Company have put their entire heart and soul into the record. For that effort, they have created a 13-track crusher of an album.

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Where to start with the best songs of Worth the Pain? It comes out of the gate with “Perfect Life,” featuring Keller’s excellent lead guitar efforts and Kabazie’s emotional and powerful vocals. “Mother Misery” continues the high level of excellence out of the band and “Give in to Me” is simply outstanding. The title track is a powerful tune…it is angry, aggressive, and appropriate. “My Angel” has excellent tempo and mood changes throughout the song and “Holy Ghost” starts quietly but turns into a raging storm by the end.

If there were one qualm to have with this record from Letters from the Fire, it would be that the lyrical content could reach out a bit more. Most of the songs are of the “fuck you, you broke my heart” sentiment; there are indicators, though, that the band could stretch beyond this with some deeper lyrics. As this is the first effort from this lineup, it really raises some expectations for the follow up.

Letters from the Fire’s Worth the Pain is reminiscent of Amy Lee and Evanescence, but to lop them in with that band would be doing them a disservice. They’ve got the chops to stand on their own and they’ve got the experience. Now it is just a matter of driving to the end and the success that they seem destined for…and Letters from the Fire seem to have the spirit to do just that.