The 2018 nominees for induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame were announced recently, and once again I’m scratching my head about what constitutes “fame” in this musical genre.
In case, dear reader, the proposed Class of 18 hasn’t impinged on your consciousness yet, the nominees are: Bon Jovi, Kate Bush, the Cars, Depeche Mode, Dire Straits, Eurythmics, J. Geils Band, Judas Priest, LL Cool J, MC5, the Meters, the Moody Blues, Radiohead, Rage Against the Machine, Rufus featuring Chaka Khan, Nina Simone, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Link Wray and the Zombies.
I blogged about the nomination process a year ago, and again I’m baffled about why some of these artists are even being nominated, and why some weren’t inducted long ago. Several are up for the second straight year, and I’m still dumbfounded that three of those — the Cars, J. Geils Band and the Zombies — didn’t make it.
Chief on my “Why nominated?” list are Kate Bush and Nina Simone. The former was, to me, a minor figure in the 1980s music video age, chiefly remembered in my mind for a duet with Peter Gabriel.
Simone is a different case, as a black woman performing back in the ’60s. But the RRHoF bio admits she’s most often considered to be a jazz singer, and that she thought of herself as a folk singer. “The High Priestess of Soul” — her nickname — apparently ranks much lower than Aretha’s Queen of Soul, at least in terms of memorable songs.
Almost put Sister Rosetta in that box, too, until I read her bio. Although she first achieved fame in the late 1930s, two decades before the rock era, and at that time was playing and singing gospel music, she was a pioneer in electric guitar, and inspired the likes of Johnny Cash, Elvis, Carl Perkins and Jerry Lee Lewis. That, and being the first person to put Little Richard (14 at the time) on stage, should get her a lot of consideration.
As for the others who I wouldn’t give a second thought, LL Cool J heads the list, if only on the basis of being substantially a rap artist. I think I remember one song by Rage Against the Machine, but their art seems to be as much about politics as music; these days, anyway, we need more of the latter and less of the former.
Bon Jovi sold boatloads of records, but I was hard-pressed to name one — until I read the bio, and said, “Oh, yeah, those.” FM radio boilerplate. Judas Priest was too much heavy metal.
Radiohead I have to take a pass on (and I hope the voters do, too) because I don’t know their music at all — at least, that I remember. Depeche Mode is back for another try at Fame, but to me, they’re still a not-particularly-distinguished ’80s act.
MC5 didn’t make the cut last year, with me or the Hall, and I still don’t think they’re that important. Rufus in a sense is also a repeat pretender, because frontwoman Chaka Khan was a nominee for 2017; the lady could rip it up, but I’m not sure she or the band are ready for this kind of prime time.
Like Depeche, the Eurythmics came to fame in the ’80s, but merit much more serious consideration. Dave Stewart had an unfailing pop sensibility, Annie Lennox was one of the great voices in rock at the time, and they managed to use synthesized, electronic music in a way that wasn’t as cloying as many of that decade’s acts.
Now we’re getting into the acts that do warrant consideration — mine, anyway. The Meters aren’t a household AM radio name, but included some some really talented people — Art and Cyril Neville, for starters — were main cogs in a New Orleans sound that was very influential in rock, and worked with music legends like Allen Toussaint and Dr. John.
Link Wray is one of those artists who I am surprised isn’t in the Hall. Not a household name either, he was nevertheless a very influential electric guitarist — some call him the Father of Heavy Metal — who was doing revolutionary stuff back in the late 1950s, and influenced guitar greats like Jeff Beck, Eric Clapton, Jimi Hendrix and Jimmy Page.
As for the Moody Blues, I’m not surprised that they’re not in the RRHoF, I’m dumbfounded; also that this is the first time they’ve been nominated. They were at the cutting edge of album rock in the late ’60s and early ’70s, had their own distinctive sound and approach, and filled arenas and sold lots of records.
Dire Straits is also surprisingly nominated for the first time, and I feel is a band that at some point should be in the Hall. They featured a major guitar talent in Mark Knopfler, their songs were lyrically interesting and they caught the wave of music video and digital recording, selling millions in both vinyl and CD.
As noted above, the Cars, J. Geils and the Zombies were on the ballot last year, and I think deserve consideration still, particularly the last of those; the Zombies’ album Odessey and Oracle is a minor classic, and I would almost rate the Car’s Heartbeat City in that category, too. But some of the new nominees this year could knock them down enough pegs to leave them waiting another year.
(Speaking of waiting another year or two, the RRHoF perhaps should institute a rule like the Baseball Hall of Fame has: If you’re on the ballot so many years and don’t get in, you’re no longer eligible. The Geils band has been nominated five times, LL Cool J and the Meters four times, and the Cars and the Zombies, three apiece.)
If I were to use my five votes, I would be inclined to pick J. Geils, Link Wray, the Moody Blues, Sister Rosetta and the Zombies. But I’d be tempted to give a nod to Dire Straits and the Meters, particularly the latter.