Doubling Down: Thoughts on the Rock Hall Class of 2020

Wednesday morning, three months to the day after announcing the ballot, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame revealed the inductees for its class of 2020: Depeche Mode, the Doobie Brothers, Whitney Houston, Nine Inch Nails, Notorious B.I.G., and T. Rex.

It’s been an odd year, with a ballot that somehow was so much less than the some of its parts. So it wasn’t to be expected that the class could improve on that. And it didn’t.

But it did pack a few, if not surprises, interesting points. First up, of course, the fan vote. We saw the omission of not just the Dave Matthews Band, who’ve now secured a place in rock history as the first winner to be shut out, but ALL BUT ONE of the top five. The top two didn’t make it. Take that, fans.

I was actually willing to double down on my prediction that DMB’s victory would get them over. A big part of that was forgetting what I learned from the Who Cares About the Rock Hall podcast about Depeche Mode’s ability to sell tickets.

Lord knows I’m not a fan of the swing to populism, but I’d accepted that induction for all the previous winners was the Hall’s way to dodge charges of elitism. Places 2-5 didn’t matter, but the winner was the token. It got bands in like Journey and Kiss who’d never gotten critical love. It was a bit of a deal with the devil, but when fans and performers alike complained that the public had no say, the Hall could point to that without ever stating outright that it was policy. Just ambiguous enough, and not dependent on votes. People kept saying DMB didn’t have the votes and I wondered why they thought that mattered. The Hall probably has more fiats than a Milanese car dealership.

The Hall wants eyeballs on its site to keep Klipsch happy, a sense of drama for the media outlets to pick up on (good or bad, doesn’t matter) and fan involvement, likely in that order, and it was a neat way to accomplish it all.

Even if the Hall doesn’t care much for good will, I didn’t think it would stomp all over what it got from the vote, what with turnstiles to keep turning at the Museum. Nope, they stomped. Stomped it real good. Clearly they’re doubling down on their core principle: they have the game ball, so we’ll all fall in line. All the DMB fans who are confused and angry now will be back next time. We’ll all forgive and forget, because we all want to root for something, to see our heroes honored and bask in the reflected glory. Don’t forget, three of the fan vote’s top seven made it.

So now the cat’s out of the proverbial bag. The winning act has racked up 1 million votes for nothing, and it’ll be fascinating to see what the vote totals look like next time around…if indeed there’s a fan vote as we know it.

In the biggest instance of doubling down, the ballot had all of three women, one of whom is deceased. This in spite of being taken to task in the media for the second straight season and called out from the stage earlier this year by their own inductee. I wish I could say it was a surprise. And of those three, only one makes it, and she can’t vote. You think back to 2018 and you just have to shake your head. Pat Benatar, who came in second place in the fan vote, led it for the first two weeks, and was thought to be a lock by most Hall watchers, didn’t make the cut. A huge and unpleasant surprise.

But is it really? There was noticeable apathy – and in some cases antipathy- to Benatar from the voters that Joe and Kristin spoke to on “Who Cares..,”, including Amy Linden and Edna Gunderson. I never saw ecstatic endorsements in the media leading up to the announcement, either. Whether we think it’s accurate or not (I don’t), maybe Steve Erlewine summed up how she’s perceived in the industry: “A workaday rocker who had a good moment.” Now, the Doobie Brothers, hey, they’re innovators who moved the needle on rock and pop as we know it today.

The Hall is trying to tell us that having three women — the same number as last year — is some kind of breakthrough. It wants us to believe that the process is based solely on merit, and the fact that women make up only 7.7% of the inductee rolls is an accurate representation of the quality of their contributions to modern popular music. Breathtaking.

This ish isn’t going to stop. It’s not going to because as things currently stand, there’s no incentive for it to. There’s no penalty, no consequence for it, and that’s what a meaningful change is going to take. Right now there’s nothing to impact the bottom line and grab the old boys by the…attention span.

The Hall knows this. Again, game ball. It calls the shots, and it knows we, the general public, have no real power. There isn’t a sponsor structure that we can lean on. We aren’t a cohesive unit who’ll get on board with any sort of boycott of either the ceremony or the museum. Steve Miller said something about it in 2016 but by that point he’d cemented his “crazy grandpa” status and helped make his own induction a sideshow. Other nominees (or potential ones) haven’t made it a talking point, including Benatar and Khan that I’m aware of.

Inductees can’t be expected to boycott their big night, but could they make a statement? Could a campaign convince them to? Not likely. Would it have any effect if artists refused to make appearances at the museum? To not do book signings, jam in The Garage or take the tours and do the grip-and-grins that the Hall loves to post on social media? Would an “open letter to the Board” statement from living inductees have an effect? Not much. What about the bands that play the Plaza for the summer concert series? Even if it meant anything, is it fair to ask them to forego a check and the exposure? No.

A neat and easy way for the Hall to make even symbolic amends would be to use its power to award one of its discretionary awards — the Ahmet Ertegun Award for Musical Excellence or the Early Influence or Musical Excellence categories to a deserving woman or women. Like the Performer Category, there’s no shortage. Instead, it doubles down and presents two old white men from its own board of directors (Jon Landau and Irving Azoff, manager of the aforementioned Doobie Brothers) with the Ertegun award. Again, just breathtaking.

Maybe this is the old boys’ last hurrah before the new guy comes in and makes them be all like, inclusive and stuff, but how many changes can we realistically expect, and how long will they take? And even though he’s a guy, how much pushback will he get?

(And off topic, but did y’all notice in the statement the Grammys made about the outster of CEO Deborah Dugan that she’d been put on leave because “a formal allegation of misconduct [was made against her] by a senior female [staff] member?” (Italics mine). Nope, we’re not saying anything because we’re dudes; see, we found a woman to do it. The Academy says she’s a bully; she says she found corporate misconduct. But wonder of wonders, she has gotten advertiser support).

And as predicted by just about everybody, the hard rock/heavy metal acts canceled each other out and come up empty again. It’s hard to disagree with Eric and Mary of the Hall Watchers podcast that this was on purpose. The Hall views the nomination as the award. Next year belongs to the Foos, and the Hall could very well go with Iron Maiden if they opt to try this again, so unfortunately Judas Priest may be on the shelf for a while. A crime, as are the omissions, again, of Kraftwerk and in my eyes, Todd Rundgren.

So now we await the announcement of who the presenters and tribute performers will be. And beyond that, the direction the Hall takes as the new era begins. The Hall promises changes to this year’s ceremony, and those may give us some clues to its priorities going forward. One thing’s for sure: Change is needed on a massive scale; the system is beyond broken. John Sykes has a big job ahead.

RRHOF Predictions 2020…Yay

Actual Rock Hall ballot response

Happy New Year, one and all! I was all ready to open with “So it’s been busy lately” and then saw that it’s been nearly three months since my last post. Meanwhile, people have been posting all kinds of insightful Rock Hall commentary, and Eric and Mary at the Hall Watchers podcast have posted brilliant episodes even as they travel to Europe and get ready to move. So yeah…I’m lame.

But since the fan vote is almost sort of about to start getting ready to think about winding down after what, six months now? it’s time to go on record with my predictions for the class of 2020.

It’s been noted how this year’s ballot was met with more or less a collective yawn despite containing some worthy names, and it doesn’t look like excitement has grown since then. However the class shakes out, what’ll be really interesting what the Hall throws out there to create a buzz-worthy induction ceremony.

It looks like this year is a placeholder before the Hall takes its first tentative steps into the Sykes era. In that vein, I’m not predicting any big surprises. Here goes:

  1. Pat Benatar: She’s deserved it for a long time, and it looks like the stars have aligned to make this her year. For the Hall, she represents a way to add a woman to the ranks, appeal to Boomers/Gen Xers and women and maintain a little rock cred at all the same time. It took a long time for her camp to acknowledge the nomination, so I’m not positive her attendance is a given, but she’ll probably be there, which is something this show is desperately going to need.
  2. The Doobie Brothers: Again, big appeal for the Boomer crowd and they tick the “rock” box for adventure-phobic voting committee members. And as noted, they’ve got Irving Azoff going to bat for them and they’re gearing up for a 50th-anniversary tour. As Future Rock Legends said, it’s hard not to feel a little cynicism about the neatness of all this as a marketing opportunity — for the band and the Hall both — but they do still sound good together and they’ll be fun at the ceremony. (If they played “Take Me In Your Arms (Rock Me)” I’d be chuffed, but it’s not likely).
  3. Dave Matthews Band: Listening to the “Who Cares About the Rock Hall” podcast actually made me a little more open to their induction, but Joe Kwaczala is right: this isn’t the time. By most people’s standards, but this is the Rock Hall. There’s conjecture that this is the year that the Fan Vote winner doesn’t go all the way, but I don’t see it happening. The Hall blithely ignores specific criticism, but they’re highly sensitive to factors that affect the bottom line. They won’t completely alienate such a big fan base, backward-ball-cap-wearing frat boys or not. (Like obnoxious fan bases have ever stopped them). They ignored the input from the kiosks this year, so the grab for ratings will be slightly less blatant, but this band made a significant charge to claim the top spot by a huge margin. There’s a noticeable percentage of deceased artists on the ballot and it’s likely more than one will be inducted. The powers that be might have privately thought that inducting Journey was “brutal” but they’ve kept going down the populist road, following them up with Bon Jovi and Def Leppard. The Hall’s more openly impressed with sales numbers now, and this is where it looks like they’re headed. I wouldn’t mind being wrong, but I think the ants will march on in.
  4. Notorious B.I.G.: It’s been a couple of years since a hip-hop act went in, and he’ll succeed where LL Cool J hasn’t yet been able to.
  5. Whitney Houston: Given a different ballot, she may not be a sure thing. But she’s undeniably an icon. Clive Davis is no doubt in her corner and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him do the honors for her on the big night.

Besides these Performer inductees, I’m going to take Perelsman up on his hint and say that they’ll redefine “Early Influence” on the fly and put Kraftwerk in under that banner. Is this the right way to do it? It’s the Hall, remember?

It’s less likely, but again because of the number of departed potential inductees, we just may get a Musical Excellence pick in Todd Rundgren. He’s signaled that he won’t bother to show, and that could help him here. Hopefully his fan base woiuld rally to convince him otherwise, but his 10th place showing in the fan poll points to them adopting his curmudgeonly attitude.

Eddie Trunk loved the ballot as predicted, but also as predicted, the hard rock acts will likely cancel each other out. If Judas Priest showed so badly just a couple of years ago, why would this try be different?

It’s not ideal, but we’re never going to get ideal. This year, we’re treading water — the real drama starts this summer.

The Mostly New, Hard Rocking, Not at All Gratuitous 2020 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Ballot

The long-awaited day has arrived: The 2020 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame ballot is upon us. And well…it’s not like socks for Christmas, but it ain’t the official Red Ryder carbine action air rifle either.

It does have a good mix of old (previously nommed Todd Rundgren, Rufus w/Chaka Khan, Depeche Mode, Kraftwerk, MC5, NIN, and Judas Priest) and new names (Whitney Houston, Pat Benatar, Dave Matthews Band, Doobie Brothers, Notorious B.I.G.). There’s something for almost everyone, and some longtime snubs are represented at long last (Soundgarden, Motorhead, Thin Lizzy, T. Rex). But that crackle in the air doesn’t seem to be there — I just don’t get the feeling that anyone’s truly jazzed about it when all is said and done.

A few random thoughts:

  • The kiosks didn’t come into play – thank Heaven.
  • It’s less Brit-centric than the past couple of years, with a total of five UK acts.
  • There’s a definite hard rock slant at work. (Won’t stop the rawkist complaining). I know Motorhead, by their own definition, isn’t metal, but I was taken aback to see them on the same ballot as Priest. I was a little surprised to see Priest, to be honest — but damn happy about it.
  • The 70s aren’t dead, but we’re down to one 60s flagbearer in MC5. It’s looking even more dire for acts like Link Wray, Dick Dale, the Shangri-La’s and a host of others.
  • Paul Shaffer’s attempt to get Willie Nelson on the ballot didn’t come to pass this time, and you have to wonder when country will show up again.
  • One interesting thing as I scroll through the tweets I missed earlier today: as noted in Stereogum via FRL, “We’re looking at a Hall of Fame induction class that could potentially honor almost exclusively dead artists and bands with dead frontmen: Notorious B.I.G., Soundgarden, Whitney Houston, T. Rex, Thin Lizzy, Motörhead. ” Now that puts the lie into a truism among Hall watchers: that not being on the mortal coil can be a boon for your career, but a real crimp in your Hall chances. Now, all these acts won’t get in this year, but…hmmm.
  • No singer-songwriter rep this year.
  • The Google voting interface is pathetic. No results in real time? The cynic in me is on alert. Remember the Journey incident?

And one other small thing…

Can you guess what it is?

Wait for it….

WHERE IN THE HELL ARE THE WOMEN??????

Now, I didn’t expect a real uptick for them this year; the Hall’s got a track record of ignoring popular criticism, which I imagine they think makes them look steady and unshaken by trends, but it really reflects a truly remarkable pigheadedness. Unless the protest affects the bottom line, or the makeup of the committee and voting body change, they’re not going to deign to answer. It’s that “might is right; we’ve got the football” mentality. Will the John Sykes era bring change? If so, when? Those answers will be a while in coming.

But a total of three female acts (one in conjunction with a male band) is appalling. We had five in 2018. It’s the same as last year but is a smaller percentage. And what do we get instead? The Dave Matthews Band? Go read the bio – even the Hall can’t come with anything compelling about them. Who pushed this through? Non-scientific poll: Everyone I’ve talked to has said “Why?” “WTF?” or “Eww” when I read their name. But glad to know we’re not being gratuitous or anything.

Allegedly there are discussions about inducting older performers on a separate night (as my cubicle mate said, “the senior PGA tour”). Also hearing that Kraftwerk could get in as an “early influence.” Honestly, it just makes me tired. They didn’t think the system through when they started, they’ve effed things up and now have a massive backlog, with no system for fixing it. This isn’t thinking outside the box, it’s just spit and duct tape.

An artist-by-artist rundown doesn’t seem necessary; almost everyone on the ballot has bona fides and is someone I’d either love or would appreciate to see in. At this moment, I think Notorious B.I.G. (everyone’s bingo “free space” this year), Pat Benatar (stridency notwithstanding), the Doobies, T. Rex and Todd are the frontrunners, but Soundgarden could slide in there too. I hate this “either/or” mentality with women nominees, but I think Whitney’s presence on the ballot could make Chaka a bridesmaid yet again.

So what do you think? Is the Wenner era ending with a bang or a whimper?

Caught Between the Scylla and Charybdis: This Week at the Rock Hall

Usually this time is the relative calm before the storm with regard to the Rock Hall: Predictions made, we’re just eagerly waiting for the ballot announcement.

But this week, things got lively early with the announcement that Jann Wenner is stepping down from his position as chairman of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s board of directors effective January 1, 2020. He’ll be replaced by John Sykes, a current board member and president of Entertainment Enterprises at iHeartMedia. Sykes’ long resume includes slots as label president at Chrysalis Records, Chairman and CEO at Entercom (formerly Infinity Broadcasting), and president of new network development at MTV (which he co-founded), now Viacom Media, among others.

Change is on the horizon. One of the first things Sykes said he’s planning is to recast the board to include more women and people of color. He’s also mentioned the need for the museum to grow physically, something that’s already underway with a $35 million, 50,000-square-foot expansion that will include indoor event facilities. (He didn’t take the usual care to draw the line between museum and Foundation; proof how faint it really is).

Both of these steps are immensely positive and long overdue.

But I’m wary. Sykes is essentially a marketing guy. And when marketing takes control, the tail wags the dog. It takes a view from 30,000 feet before getting into the weeds to pick the low hanging fruit and reach out to leverage partnerships to maximize the brand for the target market segment. The brand, the brand, the brand.

He’s talked a lot about the Hall needing to evolve to stay relevant, and not being about any one genre, but instead a reflection of “a spirit that connects with young people.” All of this is true. And on the face, positive. We’ll see more women, more artists of color, more genres, if for no other reason than the optics.

But between the lines, what does it mean? The Hall definitely needs to connect with young people. But how are we defining young? The Hall’s already essentially signaled that it’s done with the 60s, and now the nail is in the coffin for the chances of artists like the Clovers, the Shangri-Las, Connie Francis, Link Wray, Dick Dale, and others still overlooked. Classic rock from the 70s will likely have a gasp or two still left, because Boomers (Disclaimer: my demo) have padded wallets and a strong sense of nostalgia. They’ll want to see Boston, Foreigner, and the Doobies. Will there be a rush to gloss over much of the 80s for even newer acts? We’ll have to see.

The induction ceremony and HBO broadcast of same has driven many of these decisions for a while. But with the announcement that it’ll now be broadcast live, that’ll be written in stone. The goal will be an “optimized viewer experience.” Future Rock Legends has already touched on this, but if the show can’t be cleaned up on the back end, it’ll be cleaned up on the front, with a controlled, scripted show that manageable as possible. Time is money people; classes will be five…or less! And you’ll know all the acts. You probably saw them on MTV. The Replacements, Bad Brains, Big Star, the Meters, John Prine? And non-performers? Oh, a temporary exhibit can take care of those.

Sykes also wants to do more in L.A, so shows may return there. It does have a choice of big venues and more predictable weather at the time of year the Hall wants to do this. Sorry, Cleveland. On the plus side, this probably really does mean the end of the singles category.

It’ll be interesting to see just how the NomCom responds to all of this, and how and why its makeup may change in the near future. It seems even more likely now that it’ll be sharing its role with the kiosks at the museum. Will acts like Prine and the Meters still even make it to the ballot?

This is a gut reaction. I know a lot of people won’t like it and will think it’s too pessimistic. I truly hope I’m wrong–God knows I don’t have the inside story. If I am, no one will be happier than I am. Sykes deserves a shot. It’ll take some time to know how everything will shake out, and there are those who’ll think it’s about time things happened this way. Time will tell.

***

Against this backdrop, the “Who Cares About the Rock Hall?” podcast dropped its latest episode, featuring Seymour Stein, Bob Merlis, and Andy Paley. I was psyched – had the earbuds on as soon as I woke up Friday.

Boomer that I am, I was all “Right on!” when they were talking about not giving up on older artists. And then, at 33:40 in, the topic turned to inducting more women. Their immediate response was “Well, more women who really deserve it…let’s not be gratuitous about it.” Really. Well, of course we don’t want to be gratuitous about it. But you know damn well that the word is only used if you don’t believe the subject of the discussion is on an equal footing, if the consideration is some kind of charity. People complain about KISS and Bon Jovi and country and pop, but that’s the word used for women and music by artists of color. And it’s bullshit. Working with women or advocating for one or two here and there notwithstanding.

Interestingly Jann “Lame Duck” Wenner was quoted in the press this week – for the first time in forever – as saying “I don’t think that’s a real issue…musical achievements have got to be race-neutral and gender-neutral in terms of judging them.” Yes, absolutely. I personally haven’t been on board with the idea of an all-female ballot because I believe that too. But when less than 8 percent of your inductees are female and when people just accept it as SOP that multiple women or people of color (let alone multiple women of color) can’t get on the same ballot, there’s a problem. White and male is the default, and everyone else is a “special class” and including them is “gratuitous.”

The guys’ take on Pat Benatar was nonsensical and not worth going into, and Stein’s knee-jerk dismissal of Cyndi Lauper an unpleasant surprise, given that he’s worked with her, but I guess her resume doesn’t get her out of the “gratuitous” category. But their view of Tina Turner as nothing but Ike’s little sidekick was nothing short of stunning. Poor Kristen Studard did her best to push back with respect, but I think she was as shook as most of the rest of us.

I’ve been reminded that the discussion did turn to some names of women they did feel should get in, so yes, it wasn’t a blanket dismissal. But I stand by my take on the implications of automatically responding with the g-word to the proposal.

So here we are at the turning point. The past with its knowledge and its dismissal of anything unlike itself, and the future, with forward thinking as a marketing strategy. What a choice.

Reading the Tea Leaves: Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Ballot Predictions 2019

Well now that the NomCom is actually meeting, time to stop pondering and get going!

This year’s list is an actual prediction (guess) list, although it never gets any easier. It’s easy to get paralyzed by the possibilities, so I find it’s easier to just go on feel rather than try to analyze the proclivities of who we know to be on the Committee. Looking at the lists published so far, there are some clear trends that have been bubbling under since last year, and more than one shows up here.

Critics like to jab at the number of inductees, but when you try to make any kind of list and keep it under 20 names, you realize how constricting it is. I think most of us still operate under the idea that there are limits for women, artists of color and genres outside the boundaries of classic rock, which just shouldn’t be. I went without an R&B, singer-songwriter, or alternative entry this time around, regretfully.

A few random thoughts: cynical as it may be, I don’t think the Hall is going to make significant concessions to the calls for more women on the ballot. I think that unless it affects attendance at the Museum, they’ll stay on the present course. I had four but cut Kate Bush at the 11th hour and am down to three. I’ve been an advocate for Pat Benatar the past two years but I have to admit I think she’ll wait another year – maybe my dream of a duet with Kate Bush on at least a few bars of “Wuthering Heights” can stay alive.

That brings me to the subject of Cher. Which brings me to the topic of the kiosks. Gosh knows, I adore her. Have since I was 9 years old, which makes it…a really long time. She’s a goddess. If she’s nominated, I’ll send some votes her way. And I’d love to be there to witness her speech before the HBO standards and practices crew gets to. She’ll sell tickets, would likely show up and perform, and draw a big-name inductor. But on musical merit, so many artists deserve it more. This could be the litmus test for the role the kiosk vote will play in ballots going forward. Either way, there’ll be a discussion that deserves its own post.

Without further ado:

  1. Todd Rundgren: He has a vociferous fan base (if you’ve seen him live, you know just how much) that buoyed him up in the fan vote last year, although it’s not clear how he did with his peers after an often-fractious career. He IS the individualist. But his recent tour underscored the breadth and depth of his body of work as well as his performing ability at age 71. His run-ins with his peers are more of an impediment than any grumpiness about the Hall, but hopefully that fan base can persuade him to play if inducted.
  2. Nine Inch Nails: Trent Reznor hit all the right notes with his induction speech for the Cure this year, he’s an Ohioan, and the NomCom clearly wants him.  
  3. Doobie Brothers: Can the Azoff lightning strike over two consecutive years? The Doobies are still active and sound good, and they’re clear favorites of the still-powerful Boomer demo.
  4. Duran Duran: Yes, they were inductors just last year, but the Hall’s been on a Brit-centric tear, the band has a huge and enthusiastic fan base, and the band they inducted – Roxy – opened the door for them.
  5. The Go-Go’s: They were my last-minute cut last year, but the buzz about them hasn’t diminished.
  6. Chaka Khan: Janet’s in now. Questlove will beat the metaphorical drum; just hard to say if they’ll try again with Rufus or go with her as a solo. Either way, it’s time.
  7. Motley Crue: I’ve been expecting them to show up on a ballot for a few years now, and now that Bon Jovi and Def Leppard are in, they’re a logical choice. They had the hits, and their crude behavior towards then-Elektra Records head Sylvia Rhone won’t hurt them, although it should. In this instance, the kiosk vote is gravy.
  8. Kraftwerk: One of the Hall’s most egregious snubs, and the NomCom’s been trying to rectify it. They’ve had an every-other-year pattern, but they may just try to push it through this year.
  9. Devo: Like NIN, native Ohioans, which could bode well for them.
  10. T. Rex: Again, the Hall’s been on a run of British artists, and many of those who’ve gone in — as well as their American counterparts — have been upfront about their debt to this band. In their short career, they left a lasting mark and are one of the Hall’s top five –maybe top three – snubs. If they’re on, they’re in.
  11. Cyndi Lauper: Her body of work more than stands up, and Seymour Stein was the executive producer for her 2016 country album, Detour. If the committee really does opt to focus on women, he could throw his influence behind her. I’ve been pushing for Pat Benatar for the past two years, but I think she’ll be a bridesmaid this year with a good shot at next year. Just as an aside, she featured prominently in the “Stay Tuned: Rock on TV” exhibit that just wrapped at the Museum and was on the cover of the visitor guide last year for the period covering Member Appreciation Day.
  12. Rage Against the Machine: Third time will be the charm. Maybe as an inductee/NomCom member, Morello can advocate for Judas Priest, Iron Maiden and Motorhead.
  13. Depeche Mode: Chart hits, sales, longevity, and undeniable influence. It’s time. I’m probably overstressing the Hall’s recent Anglophile streak, but if it’s still in effect, it certainly can’t hurt. They may just have five additional votes on the committee in the members of Def Leppard, fans who’ve covered “Personal Jesus” andused the song as pre-show warmup. Is it realistic to think that Kraftwerk, NIN, and Depeche could all be on the same ballot, let alone class? Think of the all-star jam. That’s still a thing, right?
  14. Notorious B.I.G.: An FYE, as they say on “Who Cares About the Rock Hall? You have to wonder though if LL Cool J’s moment is over. And when will it be ATCQ’s turn? Or Queen Latifah, Salt n’ Pepa, and MC Lyte?We shouldn’t have to feel that only one hip hop artist will make the ballot in a year, but it still feels like it’s a truism.
  15. J. Geils Band: Let’s just get it over with already. They’ve got friends in high places and it just seems like this could be the year. They’re NOT without merit, and they’ll kick the ceremony into another gear, but it just seems like there are so many other artists that deserve to go in ahead of them.

If we do get a couple more names:

  1. Bad Company: They score on the longevity, sales and chart hits fronts. But in truth, it would be a nod for Paul Rodgers’ career in toto, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. And again, Boomers.
  2. Lionel Richie: I’ve had him on my long list for the past three years now, and really think he’ll show up at some point. While the Commodores scored their first Grammy without him, he has four of his own, is in the Songwriters Hall of Fame and is a Kennedy Center honoree. Not sure who’d go to bat for him on the Committee but he’d be well received at the ceremony.

There it is. On the core 15, eight returnees and seven newbies (eight and nine counting the extras). Who might make it from this list? Crue, Biggie, Duran2, Chaka, and the Doobies, with Cyndi and NIN in there if we get a bumper class.

Here’s to a a great ballot!

Rocking the Distaff: More Female Artists Worthy of a Rock Hall Nomination

Ever heard of the female side of a family tree referred to as “the distaff?”

“The distaff and the spindle were used to spin flax or wool fibers before the invention of the spinning wheel in 1533. The flax was wound around a short staff known as the distaff, which was fastened at the woman’s waist by her girdle or tucked under her arm. The flax would be fed from the distaff through the woman’s fingers to the spindle, which twisted it into yarn or thread. When women visited each other, they often carried their distaff and spindle with them to occupy them as they chatted. Sometimes the distaff was called the “rock” from the German rocken,which described the spinning apparatus. When women gathered together to spin, it was often referred to as ‘rocking.’” 

– The Free Dictionary

All of this is a long way of saying: “Women. Rocking since the 16th century.”

Carly Simon 

Photo: Heidi Wild, courtesy Flatiron Books

Carly Simon’s name doesn’t come up much in discussions of the Rock Hall. I actually predicted her a couple of years ago as a wild card, and although it’s likely a long shot, there are compelling reasons that she could be a surprise candidate, and the more I researched her, the more I became an advocate. 

If the Hall genuinely does set itself the goal of including more women, her name will doubtless resonate with the Boomer contingent on the NomCom and the voting body. Intelligent, independent and yes, sexy, she was an archetype of 70s feminism, and her keen self-awareness and unapologetic outlook predated Madonna by a good 10 years plus.  

The Hall likes to put in singer/songwriters, the bulk of which have been men, but Simon matches them with her mature, intelligent songs (it’s hard to believe “That’s The Way I Always Heard It Should Be” was written by someone in their mid-20s), delivered in a rich, unmistakable alto capable of delivering delicate ballads, rock and show tunes. 

Her compositions go well beyond “You’re So Vain”; besides the aforementioned “That’s the Way…” there was “Anticipation,” “Coming Around Again,” “Haven’t Got Time for the Pain,” and “Attitude Dancing.” And of course, “Let the River Run,” for which she became the first artist to receive an Oscar, Grammy and Golden Globe for a single composition, an honor shared only by Springsteen. She’s in the Songwriters Hall of Fame and the Grammy Hall of Fame, with 15 nominations and two wins. 

And yes, she had hits: Five platinum albums, including a multi-platinum greatest hits collection, and three gold albums, all but three making Billboard’s Top 200, 12 in the top 40 and five in the top 10. In addition, she put 24 singles on Billboard’s Hot 100 with 13 Top 40 hits and 28 in the A/C Top 40. 

She’s been covered by artists ranging from Fred Astaire to Mandy Moore to Foo Fighters to Radiohead to Morrissey to Anita Baker and Bobby Brown with Whitney. She’s also been sampled by Trey Songz, QOTSA and Janet Jackson for “Son of a Gun (Bet You Think this Song is About You”). 

She’s been cited as an influence by Taylor Swift (with whom she’s performed), Tori Amos, Carly Ray Jepsen and Natalie Maines, and you have to think by artists like Brandi Carlile and Sara Bereilles. Given her well-known reluctance to perform, a tribute by even a few of these women would make for a retweet-worthy induction ceremony highlight. 

Her career in popular music now in its sixth decade, Simon is an opera composer, a published author about to publish the second volume of her memoirs, and a member and advocate of the LGBTQ community. She’s also the only person I know of to put the word “gavotte” into a hit song. 

Cyndi Lauper 

She slid sideways into our lives in 1983 with that zingy synth glissando and what Rolling Stone called a “wild, wonderful skyrocket of a voice.” Almost 36 years later, Cyndi Lauper is a cultural icon: a singer, musician, songwriter, actor, and LGBTQ and women’s advocate. 

Her debut solo album, “She’s so Unusual,” was on the Billboard Top 200 for 77 weeks (peaking at No. 4), and was in the Top 40 for 65 of them. It went six times platinum in the United States alone, and has sold more than 16 million copies worldwide. It’s the first album by a female artist to produce four straight top 5 hits. 

The album garnered six Grammy nominations, winning Best Album Package with Lauper winning Best New Artist (one of the few times the Grammys got it right). It received 10 MTV Award nominations, winning in 1984 for the first Best Female Video for “Girls.” The following year, the clip for “She Bop” was nominated –you have to admit that it is pretty unusual to feature your mom in a video about female masturbation that references a gay porn magazine. It’s currently No. 487 on Rolling Stone’s list of the 500 Greatest Albums of All Time, No. 75 on its list for the 80s and No. 41 on its “Women Who Rock” list. 

An album like that’s a tough act to follow.  Her 10 subsequent studio albums haven’t always sold in huge numbers or won critical acclaim, although her second, “True Colors” produced two more Top 5 hits and a classic song in the title track. But Lauper’s never worked to a formula, always treading new ground stylistically and in the concerns addressed in her lyrics: spousal abuse, LGBTQ rights, racism, consumerism. 

Her 2003 “At Last” album wedded her amazing voice to American pop standards and her version of the title track comes tantalizingly close to Etta James’ and is superior to Christina Aguilera’s more lionized one. “Memphis Blues” was the most successful blues album of 2010, hitting the top spot on Billboard’s blues album chart, where it stayed for some time, and breaking into the pop Top 30. Her most recent, 2016’s “Detour,” produced by Tony Brown and executive produced by Seymour Stein, takes in iconic songs by country legends and features duets with Vince Gill and Willie Nelson.  

She’s appeared on Broadway in “The Threepenny Opera, “ and in Berlin as part of Roger Waters’ 1990 production of “The Wall.” She’s worked with artists including Hugh Masekela, Tony Bennett, Mary Chapin Carpenter and more. Artists appearing on her albums include Charlie Musselwhite, Eric Clapton, and Bootsy Collins. Along the way, numerous artists have covered her songs—“Time After Time” by more than 100 artists alone, and she was inducted into the Songwriter’s Hall of Fame in 2015. Last year, she received Billboard’s Icon Award at its Women in Music ceremony. In 2011 she was included in the Rock Hall’s “Women Who Rock” exhibit.  The year before, in one of the universe’s perfect moments, she was honored with a Barbie doll in her likeness. 

She’s made a mark as an actor, earning an Emmy for a recurring role on Mad About You” and a nomination for voiceover work on Henry & Me. Her score for the 2012 musical adaptation of Kinky Boots made her the first woman to win a Tony for the category on her own and also earned her an Olivier nomination. The Tony made her three-fourths of an EGOT, with a Grammy, Emmy and Tony—one of only four women with this combination. 

From the beginning, Lauper has had an uncompromising vision for every aspect of her work, from the music and lyrics to the themes of her albums to representation of women in her videos. Artists like Katy Perry, Lady Gaga, and Gwen Stefani owe Lauper a debt. It’s hard to think of someone more deserving of inclusion in the Rock Hall. 

Fanny

“One of the finest fucking rock bands of their time.” –David Bowie 

They made four albums, with a cover of Cream’s “Badge” on their first one and hit the top 40 with two singles. They toured with the likes of Deep Purple, the Kinks, Jethro Tull and Humble Pie and recorded with Richard Perry and Todd Rundgren as producers. They were the session band for Streisand’s “Stoney End” album. They won praise from Rolling Stone as well as David Bowie, who went on to say of them, “They were extraordinary. The wrote everything, they played like motherfuckers, they were just colossal and wonderful…”

But they could never get to that elusive top rung of the ladder, and 40 years on from their heyday, as Bowie noted sadly, “Nobody’s ever mentioned them.”  They were Fanny, the first all-female band to release an album on a major label. (Goldie and the Gingerbreads were signed to Atlantic by Ahmet Urtegun in 1965 but their release was a single). 

Formed in Sacramento in the late 60s as the Svelts with June Millington and Addie Lee on guitar, June’s sister Jean on bass, Nickey Barclay on keys and Brie Berry on drums. The daughters of a Filapina mother and a U.S. navy commander father, the Millingtons came to California in the early 60s. Music became their way of fitting into an often-hostile culture in the States. 

Sexism was always a fact of life; Berry left the band after her new husband demanded she quit, a turn of events that labels had long used as an excuse for not female acts before and after them. When her replacement, Alice de Buhr, and Lee formed a new band called Wild Honey, the Millingtons came along and the group moved to L.A. But “yeah, pretty good for chicks” got old, and the band was on fumes when they played an open mic night at the Troubadour that initially gave them all of a five-minute slot until their reception by the crowd changed minds. In that crowd was the secretary of producer Richard Perry (Nilsson, Streisand, Carly Simon), who was looking for a female band to produce. Upon hearing them, he convinced Warner Bros. to sign them. 

There was one problem to resolve before releasing their first album: the name, as another “Wild Honey” already existed. Stories that “Fanny” was suggested by George Harrison are false; according to June Millington, it was pulled from a list of 60 options and chosen because a woman’s name and the double entendre appealed to them. 

In their initial run, Fanny released four albums. The second, “Charity Ball,” yielded their first top 40 hit with the title track, and the third, “Fanny Hill,” with covers of “Hey Bulldog” and “Ain’t That Peculiar,” got a favorable review from Rolling Stone. But by the fourth album, “Mother’s Pride,” the constant sexism and pressure from the label to conform to an image got to June. She left the band, which recorded a last album without her, “Rock and Roll Survivors,” which produced their second Top 40 single in “Butter Boy,” before splitting in 1975. 

All of the band members stayed in music after the breakup, and in 2002 Rhino released the retrospective “First Time in a Long Time.” Individual reissues followed, and the Millingtons and Brie Berry (now Brie Howard-Darling) record and occasionally perform as Fanny Walked the Earth. Bands like the Go-Go’s and the Runaways have acknowledged Fanny as pioneers, and while a Rock Hall nom seems unlikely, they definitely deserve some recognition.

The King of Skiffle: Lonnie Donegan and the History of British Rock

“He was the first person we had heard of from Britain to get to the coveted No. 1 in the charts, and we studied his records avidly. We all bought guitars to be in a skiffle group. He was the man.” – Paul McCartney

“He really was at the very cornerstone of English blues and rock.” – Brian May

“I wanted to be Elvis Presley when I grew up, I knew that. But the man who really made me feel like I could actually go out and do it was a chap by the name of Lonnie Donegan.” – Roger Daltrey

“Remember, Lonnie Donegan started it for you.” – Jack White

“Rock Island Line” has long been called a “traditional” tune or folk song. But in reality, the singer who made it famous – or whom it made famous — was only two years younger. Anthony James Donegan was born April 29, 1931 in Glasgow and moved to London with his family at the age of two. He grew up listening to blues, folk, jazz and American country music, and picked up his first guitar at 14. By 18 he was playing guitar around London and was a regular at the city’s jazz clubs. 

He joined his first band despite a bit of a blunder: One night while on the train, he was approached by man who said he’d heard that Donegan was a good banjo player, and asked him to audition for his band. That man was Chris Barber, who’d been making a name for himself as an aspiring jazz trombonist and was putting his first group together (Still active, Barber has had a successful career in the UK. He also arranged the first UK tours of such artists as Big Bill Broonzy and Muddy Waters, catching the imaginations of young British musicians like Eric Clapton and the Rolling Stones).

Donegan had never played banjo in his life, but he bought one, taught himself what he could in a hurry and tried to bluff his way through. His playing didn’t get him into the band, but he hit it off with the band and found himself in. Eventually, the Chris Barber band joined forces with Ken Colyer’s Jazzmen and developed a name for themselves as they gigged around London. In between their Dixieland sets, Donegan would stage mini-sets with two other players to play his versions of blues, country and folk standards on acoustic guitar or banjo, backed by upright bass and drums. The band took to calling these “skiffle” sets on their posters, and they caught on. 

In 1949, he was drafted into the British army and spent a year in Vienna, where he discovered the broadcasts of American Forces Radio Network and its broadcasts of American music. He also got to meet met U.S. servicemen, from whom he got records. When he got back to London in 1951, he found another source for blues and jazz records at the American Embassy library. 

In 1952 he formed his own band, the Tony Donegan Jazz Band, and scored a spot opening at Festival Hall for pianist Ralph Sutton and Lonnie Johnson. The announcer mixed his first name up with Johnson’s that night, and the new moniker stuck. 

After Colyer quite the band and Barber reassumed leadership in 1954, they recorded an album for Decca based on songs from their live set, including the skiffle numbers. Among these five tunes was “Rock Island Line.” 

The album was a bigger hit than anyone expected, selling 60,000 copies, so Decca decided to release some singles. “Line” had a 22-week UK chart run, peaking at Number 8, and surprisingly, cracked the Top 20 in the U.S, where it sold 3 million copies. 

British teens loved it: it was catchy, had American appeal and was a style they could easily play themselves with just a guitar or banjo, tea-chest bass and a washboard and thimble. Skiffle became the rage. 

Donegan hadn’t been paid more than a few pounds for the sessions, and didn’t get royalties, but he was rapidly becoming a star. That his next single, “Diggin’ My Potatoes,” (written by blues legend Memphis Minnie) was banned by the BBC for suggestive lyrics only added to his allure with the younger crowd. He left Baker’s band and went to EMI/Columbia Records, achieving enough success to win appearances on the Perry Como and Paul Winchell TV shoes. He played on bills with Chuck Berry as well, but his missed his family and soon headed home.

He continued to create hits: “Does Your Chewing Gum Lose Its Flavor?” went Top 5 in the U.S. and skiffle solidified its place as a national craze, inspiring the likes of Cliff Richard, Tommy Steele, and in Liverpool, a fledgling group known as the Quarrymen. 

But skiffle’s shelf life was short. By 1958 it was on the wane, although Donegan would continue to chart until 1962. But the early 60s saw the young rockers he inspired take over the charts, knocking skiffle aside, and Donegan with it. He continued to play, record and tour, but aside from a nostalgic craze in Germany in the 70s, his days as a top draw were done. He worked as a producer and songwriter, crafting a hit for Tom Jones entitled “I’ll Never Fall in Love Again,” which was also recorded by Elvis. As head of his company, Tyler Music, he had production and publishing rights to the songs of a young musician named Justin Heyward, including one called “Nights in White Satin.”  

It’s a natural rhythm in popular music, but Donegan was embittered by it, and remained so for the rest of his life. He resented the “long-haired, pot-smoking pop musicians,” saying “The Beatles’ first records were archaic rock and roll, and I was resentful at the way they stopped my cash flow.” He complained constantly about his lack of remuneration for the “Line” sessions, conveniently forgetting to mention that he’d profited tidily from arranger credits for quite a few folk songs, as well as the royalty deals he’d aggressively pursued. Even his daughter described him as a whiner. By all accounts, he wasn’t a pleasant person, despite his cheery, folksy stage image. Perhaps this contributed to his poor health: He suffered from several heart attacks beginning in the 1970s. 

With thanks to Charles Crossley (@cvcjr13) for the link, an example of Donegan’s pettiness, again with regard to Justin Heyward: http://www.justinhayward.com/justin-great-yarmouth/

But his temperament didn’t detract from the affection of the many performers he’d inspired. In 1978 Rory Gallagher, Brian May, Ringo Starr, Ron Wood, Elton John and Peter Banks joined him for the album “Puttin’ On the Style,” featuring new versions of his classic hits. Macca wrote the liner notes for his last album, “Muleskinner Blues,” and Mark Knopfler paid tribute to him upon his passing with the song “Donegan’s Gone.” Peter Humphries’ 2012 biography, “Lonnie Donegan and the Birth of British Rock and Roll,” featured contributions from Van Morrison, Knopfler, Macca, Bill Wyman, Brian May and Richard Thompson. Daltrey, Townshend and Page have given credit to Donegan and skiffle for their beginnings. 

More recently, “Downton Abbey” actor Jim Carter made a documentary about his hero that included footage of a 16-year-old John Lennon playing Donegan tunes with the Quarrymen. 

In the late 90s, a few compilation albums were released, and Donegan still toured on the nostalgia circuit. It was on one such tour that he suffered his final heart attack and died on November 3, 2002 near Cambridge, England. 

Over the course of his career, Donegan notched up 31 Top 30 UK hits, 24 of them successive, including three Number 1s. He was the first British performer to have two songs in the U.S. Top 10 simultaneously. He received the Ivor Novello Lifetime Achievement award and was made an MBE in 2000. In his own estimation, his greatest achievement was making folk music popular again. The year of his death, he told the Newcastle Journal “In England, we were separated from our folk music tradition centuries ago and were imbued with the idea that music was for the upper classes. You had to be very clever to play music. When I came along with the old three chords, people began to think that if I could do it, so could they. It was the reintroduction of the folk music bridge which did that.”

(An interesting side note: Donegan’s son Peter is himself a musician who appeared in early 2019 on the UK version of “The Voice.” One judge turned around for him: an excited Tom Jones, who performed “I’ll Never Fall in Love” with him). 

George Harrison said of him, “If there were no Lead Belly there would have been no Lonnie Donegan; no Lonnie Donegan, no Beatles. Therefore, no Lead Belly, no Beatles.’” In inspiring untold numbers of British musicians who themselves remade rock and pop music history, Donegan changed the face of popular music.

At one time, his induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame might’ve drawn a Who’s Who of British classic rock and made for a show to remember. Who knows—maybe if Mark Knopfler took part or was even given the opportunity, he’d have fonder feelings about the Hall and the debacle of 2018 would’ve never happened. Jack White would have made for a compelling link to newer music. Now, an all-star jam like that isn’t in the Hall’s desired demographics. But all that doesn’t matter: any way you look at it, the King of Skiffle should be enshrined.