Well, it’s a wrap for voting for the 2021 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Class of 2021. We’re just days away from the announcement. I have to admit that there’s a tiny feeling of disappointment that goes with it. And that’s actually a good thing — with a ballot this deep, leaving almost anyone off is going to bring a sense of regret. Good problem to have.
This is also a good time to stop and think on how the process has played out thus far. Listening to the last couple of episodes of “Who Cares About the Rock Hall?” have been especially instructive for this. A few random thoughts:
The voting period still, to paraphrase Ric Ocasek, drags on forever.
With the spate of British nominees over the past few years and that of Fela Kuti this year, it seems the Nominating Committee is interested in broadening the Hall’s reach beyond the U.S. Admittedly a small sample, but a couple of the voters Joe and Kristen spoke to brought up – one repeatedly – the success of particular acts in North America as a yardstick. The U.S. doesn’t have a monopoly on rock fandom or knowledge; adding some more international voters would be a positive development. Does anyone from the U.K. vote, let alone Canada, Australia, or the rest of Europe?
Again, a small sample, but while most of the voters on the podcast were extremely thoughtful about their ballots, a couple were extremely casual, and one couldn’t remember who he voted for. This isn’t brain surgery; no one’s life depends on it. But it is artists’ legacies. There are some considerable economic benefits at play too. You’re given a ballot in view of your knowledge of the topic. If you can’t even remember who you voted for, how important is it to you? Should you be voting?
So on to the voting: There’s overwhelming consensus for Tina Turner, Carole King, The Go-Go’s, Jay-Z, and Foo Fighters. I agree. For Tina and the Go-Go’s both, this is, quite simply, their moment.
Carole King isn’t quite a lock, but most voters will remember Tapestry, while many may not realize she’s in as a songwriter and get the distinction. It’s hard to say how that fact will play for her; you see people bring the fact up as a knock against both her and Tina. What seems to be OK for many male inductees, like oh, say, Eric Clapton, seem to be a negative when brought up in relation to women nominees. (One thing you’ll see brought up against the Go-go’s is that “they had one great album.” Like oh, say, Guns n Roses?) It may clip a few votes for Tina as well, but her career — and the fact that she’s linked in induction with her abuser — are undeniable.
I’m not the first to say any of this, but when the Foos are arguably the weakest link on a ballot, it’s a damn good ballot. Yes, they’re good, and the standard bearers for rock, and Dave Grohl is a mensch, but no, they don’t really deserve to march in in their first year of eligibility. And yes, it smacks more than a little of cronyism. They can wait. But they won’t. It won’t be the worst thing in the world.
Would be great to see LL Cool J, but sadly I think he’ll be lost in the shuffle again.
I didn’t decide on this next spot until a few days ago, but the “Who Cares…? episodes gave me a feeling that the New York Dolls may just sneak on in. They’re critical darlings, especially with the Boomer set, but some younger voters were high on them as well.
Rumors are rife that the Hall will go with seven slots this year, so I’ll do likewise. This was a hard one, but let’s go with Devo. It’s a Cleveland year, they did well with MTV, and they have appeal for punk and classic rock crowds.
So there’s my class: Tina Turner, The Go-Go’s, Carole King, Foo Fighters, Jay-Z, New York Dolls, Devo.
Who would I pick? Tina, The Go-Go’s, Todd Rundgren, LL Cool J, Dionne Warwick, Kate Bush, and Iron Maiden. New York Dolls edged out by a hair.
What about the rest? Kate Bush just doesn’t have that name recognition here (that U.S.-centrism at work); maybe adding women voters will move the needle but it’s going to a process. This is a tough ballot for Mary J. Blige to make her debut on, but she will be back, and she will get in. Dionne Warwick has a lot of respect with voters – I wouldn’t be beyond shocked to see her slip in there past Devo – but some voters may get hung up on her as a “pop” artist and feel that that box was checked last year with Whitney. I hate to say it, but Chaka Khan always seems to play bridesmaid to a another high-profile female name — Janet, Whitney — and this year shows no signs of being different.
With so much going on with this ballot, I think metal will lose out again. One day it’ll happen, but not this year. Much the same could be said for Rage Against the Machine – the buzz on them this year has been nil.
Todd Rundgren hasn’t gotten traction on less competitive ballots, and he hasn’t exactly worked to make friends either in the industry or the Rock Hall. (Since the passing of Jim Steinman, I’ve been reading up on the history of “Bat Out of Hell.” His stories about Todd’s behavior are pretty cringe-worthy. Apparently Meat Loaf didn’t take to it well, although Steinman just seemed amused and never lost his respect and admiration. If he was with us still and had a ballot, Todd would have his vote, but…uff da).
And what of Fela Kuti? It’s hard to say just how much name recognition he has with the voting body. It’s entirely possible that the Hall will do what they did for Sister Rosetta in 2018 and use the Musical Excellence category (something mentioned as a possibility for Rundgren as well), but I hope not: it makes that category into a consolation prize. But his nomination is a tremendous move by the Hall in itself. If there’s an Early Influence, here’s hoping for Big Mama Thornton.
So nothing left to do but wait for Wednesday. Here’s to possibility!
For the third straight year, the third straight that the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame ballot includes that well-known wizard and true star, Todd Rundgren. Not that he’s been too happy about it – the self-monikered individualist has always had a contrarian streak that runs to the curmudgeonly, and this year has seen him double down on professing his apathy for the whole endeavor. Attitude aside though, the guy deserves the honor, and you could argue he should’ve been in before now.
Most conversations about him in relation to the Hall revolve around his production skills. Not without merit: His production credits include fellow 2021 nominees the New York Dolls, Cheap Trick, Hall and Oates (look for Daryl Hall to do the honors whenever Todd does get in), XTC, Grand Funk Railroad, Badfinger, Shaun Cassidy, and more. Chances are good that when he does go in, it’ll be under the Musical Excellence umbrella.
If you weren’t keeping track (and why not?), this past Wednesday, Feb. 10 was Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Ballot Reveal Day (Not yet part of the Monday Holiday Bill but we’re hoping). This one had a supercharged air of expectation, coming a full 13 months after the last one.
At 8 a.m. the page loaded in all its glory and from the very first name I saw — Kate Bush — I knew things were different. Very different. It was a perfect clue to what followed: Out of 16 names, a full seven were female artists/bands, and seven of that 16 were Black artists. Ten of them are first-time nominees. We had hopes, but I’m not sure any of us who had campaigned for the Hall to #InductMoreWomen expected this.
But it’s more than just adding some female names. The Hall chose many women that those who’ve pressed them to #InductMoreWomen have championed, including Carole King as a performer, the Go-Go’s, Dionne Warwick, and maybe the most begged-for among them, Tina Turner. Mary J. Blige is a wonderful surprise, and they’re not leaving Chaka Khan behind, nominating her solo this time around. I honestly expected that Chaka and Pat would be back on the list, and maybe two more names, with Sheryl Crow being one, although I didn’t officially predict her. This is a thoughtful list, reaching across genres and decades to really give voters a snapshot of women in popular music over the past 50 years. Every one is more than deserving.
(And I can’t help but imagine that one of the people happiest about this is CEO Greg Harris, who didn’t have to face the press this year and talk about an “historic” three names).
The rest of this year’s ballot is made up of: Jay-Z, Foo Fighters, Rage Against the Machine, LL Cool J, Fela Kuti, Devo, Iron Maiden, Todd Rundgren, and the New York Dolls. I have to say my predictions mostly a miss this year (I had Jay-Z, Tina, the Go-Go’s, Chaka with Rufus, and Devo, so 4 1/2). And I’m thrilled.
There’s something for almost everyone on this list, although if you’re hoping for straight classic rock, you’ll have to cast your lot with Rundgren and arguably the Dolls and Iron Maiden. The domination of hip hop is making itself felt ever so subtly in that there are two hip hops names, although we’ve still yet to nominate a woman in that genre.
I feared that John Sykes’ background at MTV and iHeart Media would result in a strictly commercial video-ready crop, but in going with Fela Kuti and the Dolls they’ve chosen to highlight influence and the wider scope of popular music history. Again, happy to say I was wrong.
A few other random thoughts:
Surprise appearances: Todd Rundgren. It’s his third straight time, so he must be bubbling under in official voting. I’m a fan, I totally believe he deserves it and although the Musical Excellence tag fits, that he deserves it as a performer. (Even though I’m hella salty about this stupid geo-fenced virtual “tour” – don’t get me started). He’s being exceptionally curmudgeonly about it though, and it’ not a good look. People make a lot of artists’ attitudes hurting their chances and the stats don’t bear that out. But damn dude, no need to be such a…jerk.
Surprise absences: Pat Benatar, Dave Matthews Band. People were so shocked, Benatar’s name immediately trended on Twitter on Wednesday. The Hall seems to want to make it absolutely clear that the fan vote guarantees nothing, although we should all vote every day from now until April 30. I don’t see Klipsch’s name on it though, so they’re not promoting value to a sponsor.
Another surprise omission is that of Kraftwerk, especially in the wake of Florian Schneider’s passing last year. We’ll have to see if they’re holding them in reserve for next year (although a Cleveland year makes more sense), or if a Musical Excellence is in the cards
Not to slight Chaka Khan or LL Cool J, both deserve induction, but this strong ballot puts them at a disadvantage.
Is the British presence we’ve seen the past couple of years at an end? Only two British names and one Nigerian punctuate an overwhelmingly American list.
Foo Fighters aren’t a unanimous favorite to go in, but if they do, you can imagine them as headliners. If not, could that spot go to Jay Z? Personally, I’d like to Tina Turner get that honor, even though it will almost certainly be in absentia. She’s earned it. There’ll be no shortage of high-powered female artists lining up to pay tribute, assuming we have performances. Beyoncé just might be there, for starters.
With this ballot, only taking five names would be a crime, and six isn’t much better. Much could depend on whether or not there is a live ceremony this year; the Hall will need to get out in front on that decision. That could let them do eight names comfortably, with some combination of standard inductees and Musical Excellence names. Good problem to have, but the Hall needs to handle this right.
A couple of things about the process:
It’s kind of a tradition now that the site crashes in the first minutes of voting, but this year it blowed up real good. Hopefully that means everyone was so excited about voting for women that they couldn’t vote fast enough.
I’m not a social media manager, but I don’t think the tweet announcing the reveal date was pinned. Seems an odd choice.
Randomizing the ballot each visit to eliminate pattern bias is a good move.
Putting a link to artist bios on the page would be a good move too.
So who gets in? Right now I’m thinking Jay-Z, Foo Fighters, Tina Turner, Carole King, and Dionne Warwick. If there are six, the Go-Go’s, and if seven, Todd Rundgren with a push from the classic rock bloc.
Christmas is not long behind us, and with it that beloved “A Christmas Story” marathon. So much to love about that movie, but I have a special place in my heart for the parents. There’s such a wistful quality to them both, and their love – broken Major Award aside – grounds everything. I just read a piece by Dina Gachman called “Can We Talk About the Mom in ‘A Christmas Story?’” in which Gachman finds herself wondering what Melinda Dillon’s character got for Christmas. The Old Man got his blue bowling ball, Randy got a dirigible, and we all know what Ralphie got. But what about Mother? I realized that I didn’t know either, and had never even thought about it. I didn’t see what I hadn’t seen.
(Gachman contacted the owner of the Christmas Story House Museum in Cleveland, Brian Jones, about Mother’s gift (it turns out to be a flyswatter). His off-the-cuff reply? “Who cares what the mother gets for Christmas?” Just a joke, but still.
Back when I published my post about Gil Scott-Heron (is it six months already?), I got a message from Mary at Hall Watchers saying that she’d just been doing some research on artists with significant honors who’ve yet to score a Rock Hall nomination, and Scott-Heron was on that list.
She was kind enough to share her findings with me and invite me to expand on them in a post. So here it is: a baker’s dozen artists who’ve received significant honors not just from the music industry – Grammys, Songwriters Hall of Fame– but from the gatekeepers of American culture as a whole – the Kennedy Center Honors, the Smithsonian National Museum of American History, and others, and have no Rock Hall noms to date.
Looking at each artist in turn, it’s clear that the Rock Hall doesn’t own the market on inconsistencies: awards are a human institution and therefore often arbitrary. I was repeatedly struck by just how arbitrary. For example: Why do Gloria Estefan and Miami Sound Machine or Diana Ross solo have NO recordings in the Grammy HOF? Loretta Lynn’s “The Pill” has long been hailed as a groundbreaking track that both reflected and influenced the culture of its time, so why is “Coal Miner’s Daughter” the only one of her recordings included there or on the National Registry?
But the thing I’ve really taken away from this doesn’t even have to do with the Hall. It’s the realization that Dolly Parton, despite her success as a musician, actor, businesswoman, and especially as a humanitarian, has not been awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom. It’s not right, and it seriously pisses me off. Politics aren’t part of it: she deserves it.
It’s been a fascinating dive – thank you Mary and Eric for sharing this knowledge.
A few notes:
Genre purists will cry foul right off the bat and point out that these artists aren’t rock; a majority (three-fourths) come from country and jazz. Granted, but the Hall has generally taken the Ice Cube/Lester Bangs position that rock and roll is an attitude, and you can trace a link from probably every single rock artist already in the Hall – and others not so honored –and at least one of the artists listed here.
For the purposes of this post, with the exception of a random note here and there, I’m staying with this list of awards. I think Mary chose the most important ones, and there are so many out there that it’s easy to get overwhelmed.
But for the country artists, I added two additional honors that are highly exclusive and have the same if not greater – importance in that genre: membership in the Grand Ole Opry and induction to the Country Music Hall of Fame. That last one is a tough nut to crack: The Judds haven’t done it, Dwight Yoakam hasn’t done it, The Gatlin Brothers haven’t done it, and Hank Williams Jr. JUST did it with a career spanning six decades.
First, the background and general qualification for the awards:
Country Music HOF
“Election to the Country Music Hall of Fame is country music’s highest honor. The first members were inducted in 1961. Election to the Country Music Hall of Fame is solely the prerogative of the CMA. New members (are) elected annually by an anonymous panel of industry leaders chosen by the CMA.”
“The Library of Congress Gershwin Prize for Popular Song celebrates the work of an artist whose career reflects lifetime achievement in promoting song as a vehicle of musical expression and cultural understanding. The selection is made by the Librarian of Congress in consultation with a board that is both credible and broad enough in scope to represent the full spectrum of popular song. Board members may include but need not be limited to scholars, producers, performers, music critics, songwriters, and subject specialists within and outside the Library of Congress.”
“The GRAMMY Hall Of Fame was established by the Recording Academy’s National Trustees in 1973 to honor recordings (Note: These can be singles or albums. -MB) of lasting qualitative or historical significance that are at least 25 years old. Inductees are selected annually by a special member committee of eminent and knowledgeable professionals from all branches of the recording arts.”
The Hall contains 1,114 recordings and can be viewed at the Grammy Museum in Los Angeles.
“This Special Merit Award is presented by vote of the Recording Academy’s National Trustees to performers who, during their lifetimes, have made creative contributions of outstanding artistic significance to the field of recording. (*Through 1972, recipients included non-performers.)”
“The decision to increase the Opry’s ranks is…made exclusively by the show’s management. The people who’ve been entrusted with the Opry’s tradition and future direction take into account all the standards of success in country music—radio airplay, recorded music sales, touring success, industry recognition—when considering an act for membership. The Opry considers career accomplishment as well as the potential for continued success.”
“The Kennedy Center Honors provide recognition to living individuals who throughout their lifetimes have made significant contributions to American culture through the performing arts. The primary criterion is excellence, and artistic achievement in dance, music, theater, opera, motion pictures, and television is considered.”
“Established by President John F. Kennedy in 1963, this prestigious award is the Nation’s highest civilian honor. It is awarded by the President of the United States to individuals who have made exceptional contributions to the security or national interests of America, to world peace, or to cultural or other significant public or private endeavors.”
“(Each year since 2002) the National Recording Registry at the Library of Congress chooses 25 recordings showcasing the range and diversity of American recorded sound heritage in order to increase preservation awareness.”
“Established in 1969, the Songwriters Hall of Fame honors those whose work represents a spectrum of the most beloved songs from the world’s popular music songbook. A songwriter with a notable catalog of songs qualifies for induction 20 years after the first commercial release of a song. Out of the tens of thousands of songwriters of our era, there are approximately 400 inductees.”
(Statistics included here are taken from the respective websites of the awards. Any inaccuracy/discrepancy is from that information.)
The Wrecking Crew should be considered for membership as well, so Glen Campbell really should be a candidate for the “Clyde McPhatter Club” as a multiple inductee. But these recognitions should earn him a look from the Nom Com on his own.
As Allmusic.com puts it: “The most influential group in country music history, the Carter Family switched the emphasis from hillbilly instrumentals to vocals, made scores of their songs part of the standard country music canon, and made a style of guitar playing, “Carter picking,” the dominant technique for decades. (Among) the first country music stars… (their) pure, simple harmony…influenced folk, bluegrass, and rock musicians like Woody Guthrie, Bill Monroe, the Kingston Trio, Doc Watson, Bob Dylan, and Emmylou Harris, to mention just a few.”
Country Music Hall of Fame: 1970 (First group to be inducted)
Grammy Hall of Fame:
Can the Circle Be Unbroken (By and By) (single) (‘35/’98)
Artists as diverse as U2, Carlos Santana, Jimi Hendrix, Frank Zappa, Duane Allman, and Eric Clapton cite him as an influence. The Byrds declared in a 1967 press conference that their iconic “Eight Mile High” was an attempt to bring his approach to music to the world of electric guitar. Miles Davis paid tribute to him on stage for years. The late Ronald Bell of Kool and the Gang said, “My greatest influence was John Coltrane…I wanted to be like John Coltrane and the trumpet player wanted to be Miles Davis.”
Grammy Hall of Fame:
A Love Supreme (album) (‘65/’99)
Ballads (album) (‘62/’08)
Blue Train (album) (‘57/’99)
Giant Steps (album) (‘60/’01)
John Coltrane and Johnny Hartman (album) (’63/’13)
Lush Life (album) (‘61/’16)
Lush Life (single) (‘63/’00)
My Favorite Things (album) (‘61/’98)
Theolonius Monk and John Coltrane (album) (‘61/’07)
(In 2014, the exhibit “Smithsonian Celebrates 50th Anniversary of John Coltrane’s A Love Supreme” honored this milestone with lectures, rare photos, and Coltrane’s score of the album).
Also of note:
Pulitzer: Special citation 2007, for “his masterful improvisation, supreme musicianship and iconic centrality to the history of jazz.”
A former home, the John Coltrane House in Philadelphia, was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1999. His last home, the John Coltrane Home in the Dix Hills district of Huntington, New York, where he resided from 1964 until his death, was added to the National Register of Historic Places on June 29, 2007.
Her career has spanned five decades. In that time, she has brought Latin music into the public consciousness and gone on to transcend it and simply become one of the most successful, honored, and esteemed artists of her generation.
Gershwin Prize: 2019 (w/Emilio) (Along with Carole King, one of just two women honorees)
The term “cultural icon” may be a bit of a cliché, but in the case of Ella Fitzgerald, it doesn’t go far enough. It’s been said that anyone who wants to be a singer should know her, and artists like Mica Paris, K.T. Tunstall, Patti Austin, Lana del Rey, Adele, and Lady Gaga honor her as an inspiration.
Grammy Lifetime Achievement: 1967
Grammy Hall of Fame Recordings:
A-Tisket, A-Tasket (single) (‘38/’86)
Ella and Basie! (album) (‘63/’10)
Ella and Louis (album) (‘56/’00)
Ella Fitzgerald Sings the Cole Porter Song Book (album) (‘56/’00)
Ella Fitzgerald Sings the George and Ira Gershwin Song Book (album) (‘59/’19)
Ella Fitzgerald Sings the Rodgers & Hart Song Book (album) (‘56/’99)
Ella in Berlin: Mack the Knife (album) (‘60/’99)
Porgy & Bess (album) (‘58/’01)
Kennedy Center Honors: 1979
National Recording Registry:
Ella Fitzgerald Sings the Cole Porter Song Book (album) (‘56/’03)
Johnny Cash once said that Merle Haggard was “What they all think I am.” He was a true maverick and country in style but rock and roll in attitude. His tunes have been covered by the likes of the Grateful Dead, Keith Richards, the Byrds, John Fogerty, Jorma Kaukonen, Lynyrd Skynyrd, George Thorogood, the Flying Burrito Brothers, Country Joe McDonald, and Lemmy (with Throw Rag).
She’s in the Hall as an Ertegun Award recipient with her former husband, the late Gerry Goffin, but that leaves out the epic success of her solo album “Tapestry,” her solo songwriting and performing career, and her autobiographical Broadway musical, “Beautiful.”. Did you know she’s worked with Eric Clapton AND Slash? And her response to Aretha singing “Natural Woman” at the Kennedy Center Honors is the cutest thing ever.
Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award: 2013
Grammy Hall of Fame Recordings:
It’s Too Late (single) (‘71/’03)
Tapestry (album) (‘71/’98)
You’ve Got a Friend (single) (‘71/’02)
Kennedy Center Honors: 2015
Gershwin Prize: 2013 (The first woman so honored and one of only two, along with Gloria Estefan)
No award or accolade – she has scores more than those listed here – or capsule bio captures this woman’s importance. To say she broke ground and for female artists who came after her is an understatement. She is, still, the first lady of country music, and so much more.
The more iconic the performer, the more superfluous words become. And in a way, so do honors and titles. But I’ll say it again in all seriousness: that she’s not a Presidential Medal of Freedom recipient is a travesty that must change.
Of course inducted with the Supremes, she’s simply one of the most accomplished and yes, iconic female solo artists in history. Her career has netted more than 70 hit singles, 12 Grammy nominations, and a Golden Globe award and Academy Award nomination for her lead role in “Lady Sings the Blues.” All this led Billboard magazine to name her “Female Artist of the Century.” She is, truly, The Boss.
He merged poetry and music to offer biting commentary on his world and times. In the process did more than create lasting art, but also became – unwillingly – the honored grandfather of rap and hip hop. One can only imagine what he would say of the times we’re living in now.
Grammy Lifetime AchievementAward: 2012
Grammy Hall of Fame Recordings: The Revolution Will Not Be Televised (single) (‘71/’14)
National Recording Registry:
The Revolution Will Not Be Televised (album) (‘70/’05)
France’s most prestigious arts honor; only awarded to artists considered to have made notable contributions towards popular culture in France.
Guinness Book of World Records (1988-1997) Largest paying rock concert attendance for a solo artist (180,000), “Break Every Rule” World Tour, Rio de Janeiro
And on the topic of prophets without honor, I recently came across this: Jim Croce is a Songwriter’s Hall inductees. Incidentally, he’s also on the Alumni Wall of Fame of his high school alma mater, Upper Darby High School in Drexel Hill, Upper Darby, PA. It’s also the high school alma mater of Liz Lemon herself, Tina Fey. But I knew it instantly as the high school of one wizard and true star, Todd Rundgren. (What a concentration of talent!) While Croce and Fey are on the Wall, Mr. Rundgren, despite his honorary doctorates from Berklee College of Music and DePauw University, numerous gold records, and two Rock Hall noms, is not. I weep. Must be the unabashed advocacy of recreational drug use….
I don’t know how many books there are out there that chronicle the creation of a museum from scratch. I’d wager not many. But even if the shelves at Barnes and Noble were filled with them, the story of building the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is a singular one. “The House that Rock Built,” by noted DJ and author Norm N. Nite and former Plain Dealer journalist Tom Feran, tells that story from the inside: one of the first Clevelanders to get involved, Nite was there from the time the Hall was a twinkle in Cleveland’s eye right up through the opening extravaganza in September of 1995. (With a show that was scheduled for six hours and still ran long – some things never change).
Reading this book brings it home that many of the issues we see today in how the Hall operates aren’t new, but date back to the Hall’s genesis. And they didn’t necessarily happen for the reasons you might think.