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!

GASP! The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Gets It (Somewhat) Right!

 

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Normally this time of year has everyone in some state of aggravation. Mostly it comes from the holiday preparations (every year I’ve said I plan to start things earlier and instead it seems to be later), but it also comes from the yearly announcement of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inductees (OK, maybe not everyone). For a change, however, the Class of 2017 isn’t that bad, meaning that the voters, writers, and fans (yes, the fans get a vote)…GASP!…got it (somewhat) right this year.

After years of inducting some clearly questionable candidates (in 2016, the induction of N.W.A. drew the ire of rock fans; in 2015, it was Bill Withers; in 2014, Cat Stevens…you can go back each year and pick at least one), the bands and individuals that were voted in were either a solid lock for entry or a great argument to get in. For example, Pearl Jam was as close to a lock as you could get from the list of nominees as one of the originators of the “grunge” sound of the late 80s/early 90s rock scene. They were on the ballot for the first time and, yes, were worthy of that induction.

The 80s rock generation (and part of the 70s) was represented first by Journey. I wouldn’t have called this one – I believe it is the Rock & Roll Hall of FAME, not the Hall of PRETTY GOOD – but I also am not bent out of shape about their induction. If they are to be inducted, they must be inducted with singer Steve Perry; any other incarnation of the group would be an insult to the legend of the band.

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Joining Journey is straddling that 70s/80s line is another inductee for the 2017 class, Electric Light Orchestra (ELO). Why they hadn’t been inducted previously is anyone’s guess, so it is far overdue for the Rock Hall to recognize the greatness of the band. It is also arguable that Jeff Lynne, the mastermind behind the ELO sound (and producer of some other great artists like Tom Petty, George Harrison, Roy Orbison, and Brian Wilson), deserves an induction as a solo artist or contributor.

The band Yes…yes, they weren’t in the Hall yet…is a correction of one of the grossest errors of the Hall of Fame. Stretching from their early work in the late 60s to their powerful work in the 80s, Yes deserves the induction arguably more than even ELO did. The question is what lineup do you go with? If you go with the early 80s lineup, you’re leaving out Rick Wakeman, arguably one of the finest keyboardists of the rock era. If you go with the original lineup, then you leave out Trevor Horn and keyboardist Geoff Downes (AND Wakeman), who were key to helping in the creation of the 80s sound of the group that led to their resurrection. I don’t envy the job of the Rock Hall staff in determining which people will be honored with induction as a member of Yes.

The singer/songwriters weren’t ignored this year either. Joan Baez, who was a part of the Vietnam protest era of the 1960s and continued to have an outstanding career in the early to mid-70s, wasn’t probably some people’s choice for that genre, but you cannot ignore her impact on rock music having a social impact. Baez inspired such women as Judy Collins, Bonnie Raitt and Joni Mitchell to their activism and entrance into the rock arena.

Even one of the longest “problem” spots for the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame got covered this year. Nile Rodgers, the legendary producer and leader of the funk/disco group Chic, will enter the Hall for “Musical Excellence.” This should, in the future, remove the attempts to put Chic into the Hall as a performer because, in all honesty, it was Rodgers and the late drummer Tony Thompson who were basically Chic (they had a rotating roster of female vocalists, never a defined female lead). Thompson, in his own right, should be looked at for this award in the future.

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The ONLY question mark about this year’s inductees would be the inclusion of rapper Tupac Shakur on the roster. Shakur was a tremendously influential part of the “West Coast” sound of gangsta rap, even taking it to the point where the “East Coast/West Coast” rap wars began. Because of this standoff, Shakur was brutally shot to death on the streets of Las Vegas 20 years ago and probably brought about the death of ChristopherThe Notorious B.I.G.” (“Biggie Smalls”) Wallace six months later, possibly adding to the legend.

Tupac is a question mark because he didn’t have a wealth of material before his premature death. He’s released more albums since his passing than when he was alive and, to be honest, nobody is claiming that the posthumous work is the reason he’s being inducted. It also leaves the question open that, if you’re inducting Tupac, you’ve got to put Biggie in also (and Biggie’s repertoire is even less than Shakur’s). If you’re going strictly as an influence, I might be swayed on Tupac; if it is on his body of work, then I’m not as solidly behind his induction.

Even with these inductions, there’s still a wealth of artists out there that are more than deserving of entry. Out of the 2017 nominees, I’m slowly coming around to The Cars being inducted. As a purveyor of the synth sound of the 1980s (and their early work in the late 70s), I’ve always been a bit on the fence with the band. Now, I believe there is a place in the Hall for the group, just as there should be for another synthesizer-based band and 2017 nominee, Kraftwerk.

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I’ve also discussed ad nauseam about who deserves to get into the Hall. I’ve seen others believe in my choices of Pat Benatar, The Runaways and Judas Priest, and some have even given credence to Thin Lizzy, an outstanding choice if there is one. I’ve also been a longtime proponent of inducting Warren Zevon and Jimmy Buffett, but will now add Motörhead onto that list alongside a host of others.

Whatever the list of inductees is for this year, the concert that honors those inductees promises to be a bit calmer than the 2016 induction ceremonies. Bringing back the original Cheap Trick – with their estranged original drummer Bun E. Carlos – was tricky, but they pulled it off. 2016 inductee Steve Miller was perhaps the most vocal about his displeasure about the ceremonies AND the induction, points that he made long and loud both pre- and post-induction. If they can figure out the Yes conundrum, then they should be able to get through the awards ceremony without problems.

As to when that show will be, we’ll just have to wait and see. But for one magical year, it appears things are right with the world and the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame made the appropriate selections.

The Top Ten Underrated Hard Rock Songs, Part Two

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A couple of weeks ago, we discussed the first five songs that made up this list (and they are in no particular order other than awesome!). In that discussion, such bands as Faith No More, Body Count, Motörhead, Extreme, Faster Pussycat and Dangerous Toys, among others, and how certain songs performed by these bands just missed rocketing them to metal immortality. But there was something else that derailed these bands just as they were beginning to find their groove.

Hard rock and metal were staples of the late 80s/early 90s, but the times they were a changin’. Just as some of these bands began to work on their sophomore efforts (Dangerous Toys were particularly victim of this), the rumble out of the Northwest was heard. The “Seattle sound” – driven by its early popular practitioners such as Pearl Jam and Nirvana but also by such groups as early as Mudhoney and the Melvins and by such powerhouses as Soundgarden and Stone Temple Pilots – took over the ears of the disaffected youth and reflected their angst with life. The band Temple of the Dog was an amalgam of these groups, with members from Mother Love Bone, Green River, Bad Radio and Skin Yard joining with members of Soundgarden and Pearl Jam for one of the monster efforts of what came to be called the “grunge” era.

If grunge couldn’t do the job by itself, then the second punch of gangsta rap finished off the 80s-hard rock/metal scene. Technically coming out at the same time as the 80s-hard rock/metal took off, gangsta rap became more accepted on both radio and in the culture as the 90s rolled around. Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg, Ice Cube, Ice-T (he was also known for his metal work, making him one person who was going to win either way), Tupac Shakur, The Notorious B.I.G., Wu-Tang Clan, Nas…they all had a hand in the demise of hard rock as the 90s moved along. With the double blow of the emergence of both the gangsta rap and grunge genres – not only in popularity but also on radio and in the record stores – the “good times” were over for the 80s-hard rock/metal scene.

Alas, it probably couldn’t have been sustained much longer. By the early 90s, many of these bands were succumbing to the curse of the “rock and roll lifestyle” in the form of drug and alcohol addiction and becoming exactly what they had hated – the establishment (this was something that grunge carried on). Thus, even if these next five bands had found success with these underrated gems, they may not have been able to keep the fire burning for much longer.

Contraband, “All the Way to Memphis”

This was a group that should have been so much bigger than it was. Contraband was conceived as an outlet for members of several other groups to record while their “day jobs” (re: the band’s they were members of) were on hiatus. Members of Ratt, L. A. Guns, Vixen (one of the few all-female hard rock/metal bands), the Michael Schenker Group and Shark Island all contributed at least one member to the proceedings, which some might have thought would have been uncontrollable but came together quite well.

This particular song was a great choice. Originally done by Ian Hunter and Mott the Hoople (Hunter would prove to be a popular writer for hard rock bands; his “Once Bitten, Twice Shy” was a huge hit for Great White), it lent itself well to the canoodling guitar work from Schenker and Tracii Guns and the howling vocals of Richard Black. The rest of the record was, if you’re a fan of the hard rock/metal genre, an outstanding effort (especially “Loud Guitars, Fast Cars and Wild, Wild Livin’”).

Unfortunately, Contraband was eventually devoured by what we discussed above. It also didn’t help when their eponymous debut record was poorly received by the public. Eventually, the players all went back to their original teams and a second record was never recorded.

Saxon, “Dallas 1PM”

This is one of the older selections on our list as Saxon was at the forefront of the “New Wave of British Heavy Metal” (NWOBHM) scene of the late 70s/through the 1980s. The British act never did find the same acclaim as bands such as Def Leppard and Iron Maiden did, but they did not disappoint in driving out album after album for their rabid fans. Wheels of Steel and Solid Ball of Rock are two of their more notable efforts and, to this day, they still are on tour and in the studio.

This song comes from their 1980 effort Strong Arm of the Law and, if you don’t recognize the significance of the title, you probably didn’t pay much attention in history class. On November 22, 1963, President John F. Kennedy was assassinated by Lee Harvey Oswald as the President visited Dallas. At 1PM, doctors at the hospital declared Kennedy dead, hence the unlikely subject for a hard rock song.

There were a couple of problems that Saxon had with “Dallas 1PM.” First, citizens from the States of America hate having to think, especially about history. And second, citizens from the States of America hate having British people try to teach them history. The combination doomed what would have otherwise been an excellent chance to learn (and it is stunning how much you can learn if you listen to the lyrics of a hard rock/metal song…try it sometime).

Warrant, “Uncle Tom’s Cabin”

One of the original deviants of the “hair metal” genre, Warrant was all about the party. From their songs such as “Cherry Pie” and their hedonistic touring “pleasures,” Warrant was known more for their fun-and-games persona than their music. They were all excellent musicians, however, who wanted to be known for their music rather than their outside activities. Thus, when they issued “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” from the Cherry Pie album, people weren’t quite sure what to think.

The song was supposed to be the first song released off the album (the record company overruled and selected the title track) and it is arguable whether they would have found success with it. The opening acoustic guitar shows some nimble finger work and the story – of two men (an uncle and his nephew) witnessing the local sheriff and a deputy dumping two bodies they murdered into the local swamp – was more adult than anything else ever attempted by Warrant.

By trying to make their sound a bit more adult and include some seriousness to their compositions, Warrant signed their…well, death warrant. Their next album, the much more serious Dog Eat Dog, did not reach the level of success of earlier Warrant efforts and the band broke up. In a demonstration of the changing scene, the late Jani Lane (the vocalist for Warrant) said he knew “the proverbial writing was on the wall” when the band’s framed photo in the foyer of the Columbia Records (their record label) offices was replaced by the Seattle band Alice in Chains.

Cinderella, “Shelter Me”

Here’s another entry into that “consider us serious musicians” category that didn’t end up working well for the group. Cinderella was pretty much a blueprint for the “hair metal” bands of the 80s. Big hair? Check. Big guitars? Check. Raspy vocalist screaming loudly? Check. The band broke through with such rock anthems as “Save Me” and ballads like “Nobody’s Fool” but, by their third album, they were wanting to stretch their musical legs.

On the album Heartbreak Station, lead singer/guitarist Tom Keifer began to add in different touches that you normally don’t see in a hard rock effort. Dobros, saxophones and horns, female backing vocals and a boogie piano were put into this song, making it a bit of a departure from the earlier work by the band. Then there were the lyrics, pointing out the things that people will utilize to get relief from a maddening world. Overall it was more of a blues song than a traditional hard rock song and people didn’t know what the hell to do with it.

Perhaps that change in styles was the thing that sent the band into a downward spiral. The album didn’t reach the level of their earlier efforts (Night Songs and Long Cold Winter) and their swan song, Still Climbing, never got off the ground. Kiefer still performs today with a version of Cinderella, but they haven’t released a studio album since Still Climbing in 1994.

Junkyard, “Hollywood”

Junkyard was about five years too late to be the big success they should have been. Formed in 1987, they didn’t get their debut effort out on the scene until 1989. That eponymous debut record had many comparing them to Guns N’ Roses, but Junkyard was unique (in my mind, at least) in their full-on embrace of the biker culture. With this addition, there were also some sounds in mind that would give one pause to think they were a Southern rock band.

This tune captured the essence of both the Sunset Strip and Tinseltown in its attitude and its decadence. A raucous assault of guitars and moxie, Junkyard would never again reach this level. Their second album, Sixes, Sevens and Nines, failed miserably and their third record wasn’t released by their label, Geffen Records. They would disband in 1992 but are now back together, rocking crowds if not the charts.

So, there you have it (although I’d love to hear some other thoughts on the subject). Although the bands on this list might have had some success, just what could they have been if the fates had shifted differently? One will never know.