Ranking the Nominees for the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame: It’s a BIG Tent…

After a year like we’ve never seen, the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame is trying to get back to business…somewhat. The COVID pandemic that wreaked havoc on last year’s system is beginning to subside, which allows the Rock Hall to move forward with its activities. Along with those changes, however, the Rock Hall is showing that they’re spreading a BIG tent to cover their activities.

First, those changes. In 2019, the Class of 2020 was named and they would have been inducted in ceremonies in April of that year. Because of the pandemic, however, their induction was delayed until November, when it became a virtual party held on HBO. The Rock Hall used this delay to finally get all activities for a given year under a “calendar year” setting – nominations in February, name the class in May, induct in November – that should help in the future.

The changes aren’t just in the timing of certain mileposts on the way to naming the Class of 2021, either. This will be the first year that John Sykes, the former founder of MTV and current executive at iHeart Radio, will serve as the chairman of the Rock Hall. The original chairman and founder of the Rock Hall, Jann Wenner of Rolling Stone fame, resigned from the lead of the organization in January of last year. So, it is now Sykes’ ship to sail and, if the list of nominees for 2021 is any indication, he’s already putting his mark on the building.

For 2021, there are 16 nominees under consideration by the 1000-member strong Voting Committee, made up of the living members of the Rock Hall and a contingent of knowledgeable music veterans – musicians, label executives, historians, journalists, DJs, managers and the Fan Vote, who adds in one vote with the Top Five vote getters from their polling. These votes will be tabulated and, in May, the Rock Hall will announce five or six of these artists as the Class of 2021. They will also probably add at least one more inductee from their non-voting wings of the Rock Hall – the Ahmet Ertegun Award for non-musical industry influencers, the Award for Musical Excellence (formerly the Sidemen category) and the Early Influencers. The AME hasn’t been awarded since 2017, so it is probably due for an inductee.

Without further ado, I present my ranking of the nominees for this year’s honors, but I do have a caveat. My personal feeling on the artist DOES NOT impact whether they will get in or not. In some cases, they will probably get in despite my personal thoughts!

Let’s begin, from the bottom to the top!

16. Dionne Warwick – For the life of me, I’ve been trying to figure out how and why Warwick merited nomination to the Rock Hall. Yes, she’s had an excellent career that dates to the 60s. Yes, she’s recorded a couple of nice songs. But NONE of what she did was what you might call “groundbreaking” or “innovative.” She has a pleasant but not outstanding voice…hell, she doesn’t even have the best voice in her family (that honor would go to her cousin, Whitney Houston). And her best work was in collaborations and rarely on her own talent. This just reeks of “industry insider” BS, and that is not a reason to put someone in the Rock Hall.

15. Fela Kuti – To be brutally honest, I actually said “Who?” when he was announced, then zipped over to Wikipedia to learn more about him. He is a truly amazing individual who took on human rights and political abuses in Nigeria and created his own style of music – Afrobeat. If he is inducted, he would be the first African inductee into the Rock Hall.

With this said, I don’t see it. He had some influence on Talking Heads and Peter Gabriel, among others, but to say he was a seminal part of rock history would be an incredible stretch. Once again, with this said, he is probably going to be inducted. The Roots’ ?uestlove, who is on the Nomination Committee, has long been an advocate for Fela to be honored. Someone with the power of ?uestlove does not use his power to get you nominated unless he is going to use that same power to get you inducted.

14. Mary J. Blige – Definitely one of the preeminent female vocalists in R&B, but I tried to think of one song that she did that just blew me away. I came up with blanks. If they had used this nomination on Queen Latifah, then it would be much higher on the list. Blige seems like a “OK, she got a nomination – that’s enough” selection.

13. Chaka Khan – There have been several attempts to get Khan in with the band she was a part of, Rufus, and those efforts to this point have failed. This is wrong because the band, including Khan, deserves induction. Taken by itself, Khan’s solo career isn’t filled with material that stops you in your tracks.

12. Devo – The Rock Hall has an exceedingly difficult time with several genres. Funk, hard rock/metal and singer/songwriters are a few, but another would be electronic music. To this day, Kraftwerk is still waiting for the call to join in the Rock Hall (outside of Rick Wakeman and maybe Keith Emerson, has anyone used keyboards better?), and I do not expect there to be more love for Devo’s approach. The recently retired Daft Punk is sitting in the shadows watching this one.

11. Carole King – I personally think this is a more sentimental choice by the Rock Hall than a quality one. King’s masterful work, Tapestry, is celebrating its 50th anniversary in 2021 and King is therefore getting more attention. But what did King do outside of Tapestry that made her a monumental figure in the history of rock? She’s already in the Rock Hall, a recipient of the Ahmet Ertegun Award with her songwriting partner Gerry Goffin, some would say that should be the extent of her recognition. Alas, don’t be surprised if she is voted in as a performer come May.

10. Tina Turner – If Turner wasn’t already in the Rock Hall with Ike, then I would be wholeheartedly behind this and it would be ranked much higher. But the tumultuous relationship between Ike and Tina is one that she would probably like to forget, and the Rock Hall would not be at all upset to get away from. Her 80s stylings were a complete departure from her previous heyday, so perhaps a second induction is appropriate for Turner.

9. LL Cool J – Someone who should have been in a lot sooner than this. The man known as James Smith has got another issue that he is going to have to deal with, however. There’s another rapper on the list who is all but a shoo-in to be inducted (more on that in a moment). But LL Cool J is being considered before a whole host of influential rappers that arguably should have been chosen first, including Eric B. & Rakim, Afrika Bambaataa, DJ Kool Herc and Coke La Rock. That’s going to hurt his chances too.

8. Todd Rundgren – There’s a reason that Rundgren is this low on the totem pole. In recent interviews, the multimedia wizard has basically given The Bird to the Rock Hall, stating that it meant nothing to him to be inducted. The Rock Hall has absolutely no problem in abiding by the wishes of those that it is looking to honor – several years ago, Chubby Checker put a full-page ad in many trade magazines, talking about how the Rock Hall “wouldn’t define him.” They’ve never nominated the originator of “The Twist” (although the song was one of the first included in the Singles category at the Rock Hall) and Rundgren faces the same fate if this is truly his sentiment.

7. Iron Maiden – Much like LL Cool J, Iron Maiden is getting the nom over a litany of people who should have already been inducted – Judas Priest, Thin Lizzy, and Motorhead, among others. They have also been quite loud in their distaste for the Rock Hall, so this may be a “one and done” nomination either way – either they’ll get in or they will be cast to the scrapheap because of their protestations. It’s too bad because they are more than deserving to be inducted.

6. Kate Bush – If the Rock Hall were in London, this would have been a no-brainer induction probably 15 years ago. Bush is arguably the most creative force in music from the 70s and 80s and has contributed heavily to the musical culture. Tori Amos, Fiona Apple and Jewel owe her a debt of gratitude for blazing the trail.

5. The Go-Go’s – Flat out, this is the easiest bio to argue of these nominees. The Go-Go’s were the first female band to write their music, play their instruments and go to #1 on the charts with their first album, Beauty and the Beat. They also served as a link between the punk rock of the late 70s to the more “pop” version that was found in The Bangles. A more solid inductee would be hard to find.

4. New York Dolls – Along with 2020 Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inductees Marc Bolan and T. Rex, the New York Dolls carried the banner for glam rock in the early 70s. They have been cited as influential in U. S. punk rock and its hard rock/metal movement. Guns N’ Roses owes a huge debt to the groundbreaking that the Dolls did on the scene.

3. Rage Against the Machine – Merging the worlds of rap, hard rock and political activism together, Rage Against the Machine did more in four albums than most bands do in a lifetime of work. They took the lead from bands like Mr. Bungle and Faith No More and put their political edge to work, bringing a great deal of attention to several causes. Their influence can also be seen in bands in the 21st century, including Papa Roach, Hollywood Undead, and Fever 333.

2. Jay-Z – If there is a reason that LL Cool J will not get inducted in 2021, it would be Mr. Shawn Carter. Jay-Z had an astronomical amount of success and influence in the rap world (my personal favorites are “99 Problems” and “Empire State of Mind” with Alicia Keys), but that wasn’t enough. He became a billionaire through his business acumen. Either one of those would be enough to get him inducted but, when you add in the factor of him performing at the Rock Hall Induction Ceremonies with special guest Beyonce (his wife), the Rock Hall is salivating at the possibilities.

1. Foo Fighters – If there has been any rock band that has carried the genre over the past 25 years, it would be Foo Fighters. Dave Grohl and Company have compiled a resume that hasn’t been equaled, although you can sometimes say that they play it way too safe. Grohl himself could have packed it in after Kurt Cobain’s death and Nirvana’s induction into the Rock Hall, but he chose to blaze his own path further into rock history. If he is inducted with Foos, Grohl would become the 24th person to earn double inductions (to this date, only Eric Clapton has been inducted three times, for his work with The Yardbirds, Cream and his solo career).

Who Is Going to Be Inducted?

The Rock Hall is looking to diversify their membership. That was something that Sykes stated when he took over the chairmanship of the Rock Hall last year. It isn’t an indictment of the Rock Hall’s previous work, but it is time that more women and more minorities were recognized for their contributions to rock history. That is going to be reflected by who is inducted this year.

If you listened to my show at Greater Manchester Rock Radio, I already laid out the list of who I believe will be inducted (and not my rankings above). Jay-Z and Foo Fighters are guaranteed inductees and, if there were two near-locks on the list, I would say that Carole King and Tina Turner will be joining the Rock Hall again. That leaves two more to consider (we will go with six inductees). The Go-Go’s will probably earn one of those two slots. Their history in the industry is just too influential to overlook – but that never stopped the Rock Hall from doing that! For the final slot, and just because I’d love to see what the band would do, I think that Iron Maiden will earn induction. But I wouldn’t at all be shocked if Fela Kuti wound up in somehow for the reasons I presented above.

Who will get in? If it is those artists who have trashed the Rock Hall previously, will they show up? Would it be another farce, such as Steve Miller’s induction in 2016? It would provide a spark to what is the 25th anniversary (the first induction ceremony was 1986) of inductions into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2021!

Let’s Put It This Way…Fuck 2016

For anyone who has been around a good length of time, there are years that are remembered more fondly than others. For myself, there’s 2006, when I met my lovely wife; 2008, when we were married, and 20xx when we had our son. Then there are those years that are better left unsaid (mine was 1988 and let’s not get into why except to say that I came out of it a better person). With all of this said, there’s only one way to put the latest ‘trip around the sun’ and that is…fuck 2016.

There were two main areas that were ravaged over the past 365 days (and we’ve yet to actually reach New Year’s Eve, for fuck’s sake). One was the entertainment industry and, in particular, the music industry. When the year kicked off with the death of David Bowie (January 10) from liver cancer, it caught everyone by surprise simply because the very private Bowie had not informed the world he was in failing health.

A little more than a week later, another stunning death occurred. The Eagles’ Glenn Frey would pass away on January 18 following intestinal surgery and, by the end of the month, a band’s history was decimated by the death of two former members. Oddly enough on the same day – January 28 – Signe Toly Anderson, the original vocalist for Jefferson Airplane, and the former lead guitarist for the band, Paul Kantner, both passed away at the age of 74.

Arguably the most surprising death of the calendar year was the passing of Prince in April. “The Purple One” was found unresponsive in the elevator of his Paisley Park home on April 21, ending a charade that had been going on apparently for years. Bedeviled by pain from his strenuous and acrobatic performances over the last 30-plus years, Prince was found to have been using the painkiller fentanyl and overdosed on the powerful drug.

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The sheer number of deaths of legendary figures of the music world continued to mount throughout the entire year. Maurice White of Earth, Wind and Fire (February 4); Merle Haggard (April 6); Leonard Cohen (November 7); Sharon Jones, a fiery soul singer often called the “female James Brown” (November 18); two members of one band in Keith Emerson (March 11) and Greg Lake (December 7)…the legends that left had many music aficionados stunned into silence. To administer the coup de grace for the year, former Wham! front man and solo sensation George Michael passed on Christmas Day.

Add these in with the deaths of such acting icons as Alan Rickman (January 14), Abe Vigoda (January 26), Garry Shandling (March 24), Patty Duke (March 29), Gene Wilder (August 28), Florence Henderson (November 24) and Alan Thicke (December 13), sports legends like Muhammad Ali (June 3), Gordie Howe (June 10), Arnold Palmer (September 25) and former Tennessee women’s basketball coach Pat Summitt (June 28) and political figures such as Nancy Reagan (March 6), Elie Wiesel (July 2), Fidel Castro (November 25) and John Glenn (December 8), and even the hardest of souls would have to say that this has been a pretty devastating year (and we’ve barely scratched the surface of those who passed in 2016 – the awards shows this spring are going to be pretty somber affairs when it comes to the “In Memoriam” segment).

It is often asked why people get emotional over the death of entertainment figures, sports heroes or even politicians. It is because it is usually a link to our youth that has been snatched away from us by the talons of the Grim Reaper. Along with that past link, there is also the wealth of work that we will never hear or see those people perform again. In some cases, yes, the person has lived a full life…it still doesn’t make it easier on those who consider themselves fans of the person or their achievements in life to recognize the passing of the body but not the soul.

The other area that was particularly screwed up in 2016 was the world of politics (sorry if you were looking for something else). At the start of the year, it seemed that there were legitimate candidates on both sides of the aisle that would provide for a good choice for the citizens of the States of America. Then a narcissistic, xenophobic racist fascist stepped to the fore.

The man who would eventually become the GOP nominee was not challenged by his own party, partly because they thought he was a joke (and he is) but also because they thought that he had no chance to win. They also didn’t want to offend the “base” that flocked to him like lemmings off a cliff because that “base” was something they had taken a long time to create through their actions of the past 16 years. By pushing them away too hard, they would threaten their own chances when the GOP nominee fell out of favor.

The only problem with that was he never did. Instead of falling from favor, more members of the Ignorati came along for the ride. And because they could not coalesce behind an alternative member – one wasn’t conservative enough, another was too conservative, another’s family had been there before, another was too young, etc. – they allowed a travesty to take over their party. In fact, many of those stayed on the sidelines EVEN WHEN THEY NOMINATED HIM and thought that the Democratic nominee for President, Hillary Clinton, would be the one to take him down.

Through the mechanizations of many parts, Election Day instead resembled “The Purge” as the Ignorati worked such an unlikelihood that no one considered it possible. To win, the GOP nominee had to sweep at least four states – some combination of Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Virginia, North Carolina, and Florida – to be able to win the presidency. The GOP nominee took six of the seven, with Virginia the only holdout. The margin of victory in those states amounted to around 100,000 votes and the GOP nominee would actually lose the popular vote to Clinton.

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Now we enter a world that, with Twitler in charge, is a much darker place. He continues to threaten different agencies, looking for the names of those scientists who have done research on climate change or women who have worked to advance women’s rights in foreign countries. He continues to harp on developing a registry for Muslims, threatening to enrage a religion that is the second largest in the world with 1.6 BILLION devotees. He also threatens to take us back to the era where a simple error – lost contact with command and control, a “broken arrow” of a stolen or misplaced nuke or a simple regime change in a country – could bring us to the brink of thermonuclear disaster.

The only way to stop such a despot is to fight on every corner, for every fiber and inch of earth that is possible. It will be more difficult in 2017 as the GOP has complete command of the government, but they now also have no fucking excuses when (and it will be when) things go FUBAR. There may be those who say wait for a couple of years to change the narrative, but the time is now to stop any forward momentum that the GOP nominee may think he has (which he is highly mistaken – there is no “mandate” as many members of the Ignorati have been claiming).

These were just the two jewels of the crappy crown that topped the Year 2016. With hope, we can put this year behind us and find better things going on in the New Year. Let’s blow the horns, rev up the noisemakers and tip the bottle of champagne…fuck 2016! It’s done! And let’s hope that 2017 brings us better circumstances than the previous 365 days has.