Elation and Consternation: Thoughts on the 2018 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Ballot

OK, here we go: the nominees for the Class of 2018 have been announced. This being the Hall, it didn’t go off without a hitch, with the ballot leaking about eight hours before the scheduled time and apparently scuttling a planned Sirius XM announcement event. It’s not on an Equifax level or anything, but jeez, guys. Good thing I have a bad habit of waking in the night and checking my phone.

Anyway, we have ourselves a ballot, and an excellent but odd one it is, with lots of cause for elation and consternation. As my partner would tell you, this was the case for me, with maybe even an emphasis on the latter.

Continue reading “Elation and Consternation: Thoughts on the 2018 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Ballot”

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Let the Games Begin: Rock Hall Nominations, Class of 2018

Wow, time flies: Here it is September with RRHOF nomination season upon us and predictions rolling in all around. Haven’t done a Hall-related post in ages; feels good to slap that photo up top. Let the games begin!

I tend to have good beginner’s luck, but derp on the followup, and that’ll likely be the case here. I’ve done (am still doing) a lot of second-guessing on this list, which I actually started putting together right before the induction ceremony in April. But I keep coming back to it and it makes up the first 13 slots in no particular order.

I’m not trying to drag politics into this, but nothing happens in a vacuum, and I’m curious to see how the committee responds–or doesn’t–to the times in which we find ourselves. The Hall has been accused of liberal bias (most recently see Nugent, Ted), and there’s an element of truth to it; Joan Baez’ induction was in part due to her civil rights activism. It’ll be interesting to see if the ballot and voting will be open to legitimate interpretation as any kind of statement.

It’s hard to narrow down the ridiculously long list of deserving female names, although for the purposes of the performer ballot I opted to be genre-centric and concentrate on artists directly identifiable as rock and pop. Someone, I think it was Inspirer magazine, reported receiving a salty response from the Hall about nominating women solo who’ve already been inducted as part of a band or duo. Of course this is absolute double-standard bullshit if true, but as it’s been borne out in practice thus far, I’ve stayed with non-inductees this time.

So without further ado:

  1. Radiohead: Free spot on the bingo card; I’ll take it.
  2. The Moody Blues: Let’s please just get it over with already.
  3. Warren Zevon: David Letterman’s request for his nomination as part of his induction speech for Pearl Jam shone a bright light on Zevon’s bizarre omission, and with support from heavyweights like Shaffer, Springsteen, Jackson Browne, Tom Petty and Springsteen, a ballot appearance at some point is inevitable. And as Tom Lane says: once he’s on, he’s in.
  4. Link Wray: Having new or relatively new material of some kind that puts an artist into the media conversation can be a marker for a Hall nod, but not always (helped Heart, but for the Monkees last year, not so much). But the release of the documentary “Rumble: The Indians Who Rocked the World,” with Wray as a focal point, will only add to the awareness of and longstanding support for one of the Hall’s most egregious snubs. Steve Van Zandt has been quite open about his for some time.
  5. Soundgarden: Even before what happened last May, they were seen as just waiting in the wings after Pearl Jam. It’s possible the Hall waits to make it clear that a nomination isn’t a knee-jerk response, but the influence of Grohl and Morello, although probably a little overstated right now, will be felt.
  6. The Cars: They’ve been basking in media love lately as a result of some well-timed releases (deluxe editions of “Candy-O” and “Panorama” dropped at the end of July,  and a successful Record Store Day release of their 1978 Cleveland Agora show showed that yes, they could rip it up live), and fan support for them last year was arguably stronger than during their first go-around. They’re perennials on critic and fan wish lists, but seem to end up thus far as the sixth choice out of five, similar to their showing on FRL. I think the Hall wants them in and will try again, but if it doesn’t happen this year, yes, the field will be left fallow for a year or two.
  7. Janet Jackson: As a Cars fan, I’ve come to think of Janet as our teammate of sorts over the past two years. (And I appreciate the shoutouts from the Induct Janet family; Hey, back atcha!). Janet’s baby is here and her tour will up her visibility; I think that like the Cars, this third time could be the charm. If not, next year we’ll see different names for a year or two: maybe a return by Chaka Khan, who I don’t see on the ballot this year, or perhaps at last, Whitney Houston. The Hall will not let anything close to another Chic situation develop.
  8. Judas Priest: Like prog, metal is drastically underrepresented in the Hall, but again the Morello/Grohl factor looms large. I’ll go out on a limb and say that I see its three remaining touchstones–Priest, Motorhead and Iron Maiden–going in over the next five years. I had Motorhead on my long list originally and wouldn’t be surprised if the slot does in fact go to them this year, but Priest did much to draft metal’s blueprint, went on to transcend it, they’ve had tons of hits and they’re still breaking the law after more than 40 years.
  9. Nine Inch Nails: That they’re not in yet is bizarre, but the ceremony is in Cleveland this year; they’ll return to the ballot.
  10. LL Cool J: Hall of Famer Chuck D has been adamant for some time that no solo rapper should go in before Cool J. Since his first nomination in 2009, James Todd Smith has received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and become the first rapper to be named a Kennedy Center honoree. His nomination is the next logical order of business. Assuming the pattern of one rap act per year holds, next year, the ladies might get their turn.
  11. Pat Benatar: A trailblazer for women in music for going on 40 years who’s also incidentally respected by men, owner of multiple hits and multiplatinum records, and still performing a vital body of work. This is the time. (My partner and I were discussing the nominations on a road trip recently; like most people he was shocked to learn she’s never even been nominated and has been fired up about it ever since. A lot of fans feel this way and it just may work its way up. (It’s improbable, but wouldn’t it be wonderful if Kate Bush was also nominated, actually showed up and the two of them performed “Wuthering Heights” together? I can dream, can’t I?)
  12. Joe Cocker: Everyone thinks their favorite artist’s omission is inexcusable, but this one really is. The weakness of the rationale that his signature songs were covers is glaringly obvious. I’ve added and subtracted him from my lists for the past couple of years but this might be the year.
  13. Carly Simon: Long a feminist icon, she doubtless has name recognition among the Boomers on the NomCom and voting body, who’ll remember her solid body of work and possibly that she was the first artist who’ve won an Oscar, Grammy and Golden Globe for a single composition, an honor shared only by Springsteen. (The song, “Let the River Run,” is part of a reissue of the “Coming Around Again” album due in October, although that’s a little late for our purposes). Also, the little girls understand: the current queen of revenge songwriting (minus the intellectual heft and subtlety), Taylor Swift, paid tribute by bringing Simon onstage a few years ago and it’s easy to see the Hall inviting her to do the induction honors.
  14. The Smiths: High on everyone’s list of egregious snubs, but definitely on the Committee’s radar and due for a return to the ballot after last year’s absence.
  15. Los Lobos: Plenty of critical support, especially by Dave Marsh, may put them back on the ballot.
  16. The Commodores: Motown’s biggest stars of the 70s and 80s, they wrote their own numerous hits and were a lot funkier than many realize, although it’s Lionel Richie’s recent high profile (another Kennedy Center honoree, with glowing press for his recent tour and newfound favor with critics) that may raise their fortunes with the Committee. It’s also highly possible that the deserving Spinners will get another shot, and it will be nice to see Henry Fambrough able to enjoy the honor if that’s the case.
  17. The Marvelettes: The Hall may have closed the door on this era, but someone on the committee may still remember that they were beloved by the Beatles and are enshrined in the R&B and Vocal Group HOFs in addition to several other honors and Best Of lists, arguably giving them a boost over the edgier Shangri-Las.
  18. Big Star: My “off the wall” pick last year, ultimately replaced by the safer Journey. People complain that the Committee writes passes for their pets, but Chilton’s biographer, Holly George-Warren, has seen years go by with no nomination despite homage from nominees/inductees  that Big Star inspired like R.E.M. and the Replacements.  It may take more of these bands getting in before it happens though.
  19. Black Flag: After last year’s ballot announcement, “Who are the Bad Brains?” ricocheted around the internet for days. But even those who don’t know squat about hardcore have heard of Black Flag, if only through Henry Rollins. But they were more than just Rollins; they largely created hardcore, built its homemade, low-res culture and then flipped it off. For what it’s worth, “Damaged” made Rolling Stones’ 500 Greatest Albums of All Time list and Rollins has worked with (here it comes) Morello.

However the ballot shakes out, here’s hoping that we again see at least 18 acts, with at least six inducted, plus a pick for Early Influence and/or Musical Excellence. Like
I said, we can dream.

 

The Playlist That Never Was, or Back to the Vault, Part 3

More songs…

It’s a moment I’ll never forget: 12 years old, hanging upside down off the end of the bed with my orange and white Panasonic transistor radio, while for six minutes the world stood still.

 

There are just some perfect records in the world.

 

Found a near-mint original copy of this album at Psychotronic Records in Augusta this past spring. Damn, I wish I’d picked it up.

 

Letterman knows good music, and he put a lot on his show–something that’s lost with the cult of personality shows made up of Twitter-post bits that make up late night TV now.

 

What else can you say but “beautiful?”

A Trip through Music and Pop Culture at MoPop

Through a ridiculously kind gift by my partner’s parents, he and I recently went on an actual trip, out of the house and everything. Along the way, we checked out Seattle and the Museum of Pop Culture (MoPop), originally known as the Experience Music Project. The place is huge, with 140,000 square feet of space housing exhibits on music, sci-fi and fantasy, horror, video games, and since it’s Paul Allen’s place, the Seattle Seahawks. I’m not deeply into sci-fi, but any place that has a Hall of Fame honoring writers, I’m in favor of.

Continue reading “A Trip through Music and Pop Culture at MoPop”

Canadian Content

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In 1994, I traveled north of the border on my second trip to Canada and what would be the first of many to Toronto. I fell in love with the city. And through the friend who worked in the music industry with whom I was staying, I fell in love with Canadian music. It’s been years now and it’s a very different city, but I hope it’s still as magical to those who visit.

So to mark Canada Day, here are some of the songs that made up the soundtrack of my 90s, from the albums that came home in my suitcase from that trip.

Bonne fête, Canada.

Spirit of the West 

Maybe a predictable choice; Faithlift is the bestselling album for the Vancouver-based Celtic/folk/rock band; one of their most straightforward rock efforts, it spawned their biggest hit single, “And If Venice is Sinking.”

 

Barenaked Ladies

It’s easy for casual listeners to peg BNL as lightweight comedians (something the cover art for the first album doesn’t discourage, although it’s not clear how the later switch to something like a Pepsi logo did much to add gravitas). But to do that is not to hear the darkness that has always lurked beneath the bubbly arrangements and cheery delivery–the numb despair of “Pinch Me,” the matter-of-factness of a deranged stalker in “Straw Hat and Old Dirty Hank.” The domestic violence and stalking in “The Old Apartment” is just plain disturbing; it’s a variation on a recurring theme they explored on this track, wrapped in Kingston Trio harmonies: the thinness of the line between love and hate.

 

Rheostatics 

Listening to Rheostatics’ music proves to be quite a unique aural experience….To the uninitiated ear, the music may sound like a loosely organized cacophony of sound. Some assert that initial listenings are the musical equivalent of the hearing a foreign language. Before long, however, the listener has a moment of revelation, when he/she sees the brilliance and genius of the music, the cleverness and uniqueness of the arrangements. –MapleMusic.com

Well, that’s about as game an attempt as I’ve ever seen at describing them.

 

Tragically Hip 

Downie’s band, the Tragically Hip, is one of those enormous entities that cannot be understood outside its homeland. In Canada, we just call them the Hip, and Downie is simply Gord. And I am betraying something sacred by attempting to explain what he means to us. Gord is the country’s spirit animal in the only way a 52-year-old white man might legitimately be classified as a “spirit animal.” – Chris Koentjes, Slate Magazine, 2016

By any measure, this band should be on an RRHOF ballot.

 

 

 

 

 

“Just Around Midnight: Rock and Roll and the Racial Imagination”: Rock, Race and What We Take for Granted

Just Around Midnight: Rock and Roll and the Racial Imagination
Jack Hamilton
2016 – Harvard University Press

 

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It happened fast. In 1952, Alan Freed popularized the term “rock and roll” for what had been known as “race records.” In 1955 Chuck Berry scored his first hit with “Maybellene,” about which Rolling Stone would later say, “rock and roll guitar starts here.” In 1965, Diana Ross and the Supremes were on the cover of TIME magazine for the feature “Rock and Roll: Everybody’s Turned On.” Just five years later, an obit for Jimi Hendrix referred to him as an “a black man in the alien world of rock.” In less than 20 years, rock and roll grew up, entered the mainstream and turned white.

In “Just Around Midnight: Rock and Roll and the Racial Imagination”, Jack Hamilton, pop critic for Slate and an assistant professor of American studies and media studies at the University of Virginia, looks at how rock music became the genre of “white men with guitars” while shedding light on some common truisms about music to which we’re usually oblivious. The book goes beyond chalking things up just to appropriation and examines the concept of musical authenticity and how the term has been co-opted and defined by whites. As any student of history and politics knows, those who successfully define the terms have the upper hand in the battle.

Continue reading ““Just Around Midnight: Rock and Roll and the Racial Imagination”: Rock, Race and What We Take for Granted”

The Playlist That Never Was, or Back to the Vault Pt. 2

More songs from the playlist I would have played on the Deep River Music Vault.

6. Adrian Belew and David Bowie, “Pretty Pink Rose” (Young Lions, 1990)

The followup to 1989’s “Mr. Music Head,” “Lions” continued to present a more accessible, single-friendly Belew and included covers of tracks by King Crimson (“Heartbeat”) and Traveling Wilburys (“Not Alone Anyore”). This track is one of two Bowie collaborations on the album, the other being “Gunman.”

7. Chicago, “Make Me Smile” (Chicago II, 1970)

The minimally edited version. Simply brilliant.

8. Gil Scott Heron, “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised” (Small Talk at 125th and Lenox, 1970)

I was 20 years old, living in Iowa and working in a chain record store in a mall. Suffice it to say my tastes and experience were limited. My boss put on “The Best of Gil Scott-Heron” and I still can’t find words to talk about it.

9. Steely Dan, “Daddy Don’t Live in that New York City No More” (Katy Lied, 1975)

Just cooler than shit.

10. The Cars, “Take What You Want” (Live at the Agora, Cleveland 1978)

The best live version of this track I’ve heard. A double vinyl release of this show was a 2017 Record Store Day release; maybe it will spread the word that in the early days, the Cars really were loose and edgy live. Check out Elliot Easton’s solo – fans will recognize a few bars that later found their way into “Dangerous Type.”