Criteria: 2015 Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame Nominees. Names are in alphabetical order.
(Note: DDD is not affiliated with the Rock And Roll Hall of Fame)
Written By: Sampson
Last Updated: 2014-12-21
QUALIFICATIONS (on a scale of 1-10)
10 - The Immortals
9 - Deserves To Be A First Ballot Lock
8 - Should Be Guaranteed An Induction
7 - An Eventual Induction Is Likely
6 - Should Be Nominated At Some Point
5 - Worthy Of At Least A Debate For A Nomination
4 - Not Insignificant, But Shouldn't Be Nominated
3 - No Business Being Debated By Committee
2 - No Business Being Even Mentioned
1 - No Business Visiting The Hall Of Fame Without a Ticket
2015 Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame Nominees
Milton Baines: "How could you have seen it? It's brand new."
Marty McFly: "Yeah, well, I saw it on a re-run..."
Milton Baines: "What's a re-run?"
Marty McFly: "You'll find out"
That scene in Back To The Future took place in November 1955, before television programs had conceived of re-runs to show older episodes a second, third and eight hundred and thirty-seventh time. So the 12 year old year brother of Marty McFly's future mother, Lorraine, had no concept of such a word. Rock 'n' roll, only eight years old itself when Marty landed in Hill Valley, was just in the process of crossing into the mainstream of American society at the time and the idea that an institution to honor its performers at an internationally televised gala black tie dinner couldn't have possibly been envisioned by anyone listening to a teenaged Etta James in a café that served as a teenage hangout that fall.
But a lot happened in the thirty years between that moment and when the film that scene appeared in was released in 1985, a year before The Rock 'n' Roll Hall Of Fame was inaugurated, by which time re-runs were a reality in everyday life, thereby ensuring that the Hall members were well-versed from the very start in the phenomenon that is the modern day "re-run".
So to answer your question, Milton, THIS is a re-run: The ballot for the 2015 Rock 'n' Roll Hall Of Fame class. Like a TV show you've seen before, there might be a few different commercials and promos appearing during the time slot, but the program itself has already been seen. The same script, same jokes, and the same viewers with declining interest. Welcome to the growing irrelevancy of the Hall Of Fame. Feel free to change the channel at any time.
Fifteen acts make the ballot this year, but just two newly eligible (Green Day and Nine Inch Nails), while nine of the remaining thirteen names are familiar sights. In fact, this is almost the 2013 ballot redux, as six of this year's acts were on that year's ballot, three of which were also nominated last year. So much for turnover. Two others hadn't made the cut since – gasp – 2012! The longest wait for a return to the ballot is Lou Reed, who was nominated last in 2001, but of course he died this past year, so that makes it mandatory for him to be given another chance or something in the Hall's view. All of which leaves us with just four artists who were previously eligible but had yet to see a ballot. The good news for them is, once you make a ballot, even if you fail to get inducted, you'll surely be recycled for future ballots year after year.
All of which says that the stagnant Nominating Committee, who, like the United States Supreme Court appears to have lifetime appointments, simply have a few personal favorites that they want to see inducted, come hell or high water, and will corrupt the entire process to better guarantee their wishes are fulfilled. This is where, as we are forced to do every year, we try to inject a bit of logic into the proceedings to offer a simple alternative to the current practices in an effort to bring more variety to the yearly ballots. We call it pissing up a flagpole, but what the hell, let's get wet. If the Hall simply let the top two or three vote getters who fell short the year before get automatic nominations the next year, then placed all of the others who failed to get elected on a mandatory hiatus of three to five years where they were ineligible to be nominated again, you'd wind up with far more artists being considered over time, which would result in much more buzz about each year's ballot, and much less charges of conspiracy that damages the Hall's reputation (not that they care, obviously).
Oh well... The Rock 'n' Roll Hall Of Fame is no place for sound reasoning, logic and common sense. I should know better. So now back to our previously scheduled re-run, already in progress.
PAUL BUTTERFIELD BLUES BAND
We start off right out of the gate with a favorite of somebody on the committee fitting the description of a gray haired white guy who came of age in the mid-60's and became aware of Butterfield and company when they backed Bob Dylan at Newport (I know, I know, that basically defines 95% of the committee). That gig will no doubt eventually get PBBB into the Hall, now or in the future, which is a lot of cache for a single show in which they were barely publicized themselves. That's not to say the group wasn't talented, but they were talented blues musicians who dabbled in rock (and some jazzy experimentalism besides). While it's true that certain areas of rock in that era celebrated the blues more openly, Butterfield and company were purists who kind of looked down on the rock scene, at least to the degree that they didn't openly court it, which would've brought them more sales, hits and a more credible resume for the Rock 'n' Roll Hall Of Fame down the road. Since the committee wants to eventually get every act that recorded in the 60's into the Hall Butterfield's band is all but assured of showing up on the ballot each year until they do.
Now for the most frequently nominated act to fail to get in – this is their ninth appearance on the ballot – Chic also happens to be one of the most deserving. It bears repeating that disco was rock's biggest subgenre for the latter half of the seventies with musical influence that is still omnipresent today (EDM in particular). Its rival style of the time, punk, had nowhere near the popularity, musical impact or influence of disco, yet has five acts from the 70's in, most of whom made it on the first or second ballot, while 2013's induction of Donna Summer (after five tries) brought the grand total to just two for disco as a whole. It doesn't take much study of the subject to see the cultural bias at play here. So for the record, in case anyone continues to doubt their credentials, Chic was disco's greatest self-contained band, its leaders Nile Rodgers and Bernard Edwards were among the greatest songwriters-producers (not to mention guitarist and bassist) ever, while drummer Tony Thompson was among the elite behind the kit, making them among the handful of truly legendary trios in rock history - that's all 67 years worth in case you were counting. Yet they remain on the outside looking in because the larger voting body (as well as the most vocal public commentators on the Hall) remain alarmingly discophobic. Way to be objective!
Finally a new name to talk about, but not for long, as they are probably assured of waltzing in on their initial appearance on the ballot. Rightly so too. The ambitious refugees from alternative rock of the nineties expanded their template into the next century and came away with definitive albums for both the 90's and 00's, released a full decade apart, showing their longevity and ongoing creative impulses. Their resume is stacked, eight Top Ten albums, a clutch of mainstream hit singles, and far more that were huge within smaller subgenre realms, and multiple Grammy wins give them more than enough in the way of achievement to make this a no-brainer. The band remains headliners worldwide and as such will surely be the headliners of the 2015 induction ceremony. True, other equally qualified candidates over the past few years had similar resumes with the same name recognition and should've been the automatic first ballot inductees when they became eligible, but oddly didn't get in (one of whom is on the ballot again this year in fact). But Green Day faces little risk of that happening, and the fact that they're considered such sure bets only goes to show how culturally slanted the Hall is towards certain demographics. It shouldn't detract from their induction in any way, after all they had nothing to do with the politics involved behind the scenes, but the double standard should at least be noted.
JOAN JETT & THE BLACKHEARTS
Switching the channel back to re-runs, we're offered another episode of a delightful cartoon to waste a half hour(or paragraph) of our time. That might be a little harsh, and it should also be pointed out that the description of Jett as essentially a cartoon character within rock isn't a bad thing, a lot of cartoonish things are great and she played that role very well. She was always entertaining and delivered some enjoyable songs along the way, albeit mostly songs done by others first. Taking a hit in the originality department isn't cause unto itself to not be considered, but in order to overcome that she'd have to make up for it with massive success (nope), influence (little), or impact (sorry). What's left is a woman who truly believed in what she was doing, had lots of fun doing it, and was a recognizable figure on the rock scene for a long time. But the Hall Of Fame is, or should be, for the all-time greats and she simply wasn't. Her achievements don't meet the standards the Hall should have and lowering the bar to honor someone who's well-respected but who doesn't have the objective merits to make it only cheapens the honor. If it's one thing the Rock 'n' Roll Hall Of Fame doesn't need it's to be weakened any further, since similar missteps in the past have already eroded much of its credibility. The first nomination for her was a well-earned recognition for a career in the trenches, and that's where it should've ended. But this ongoing push to get her in is baffling and in need of cancellation.
As just mentioned, when an artist is lacking massive success, as Kraftwerk is, you need other areas of your resume to stand out to even be considered. Among those are influence and originality, both of which Kraftwerk has in spades. Their electronica forays in the 70's were seen as cutting edge and led to an increased reliance in all forms of rock on programmed computerized sounds. Ironically while Kraftwerk gets another nomination for that influence, the artists who took that and actually made it... you know, POPULAR… remain largely unable to get any credit whatsoever from the Hall. The 80's synthesizer driven dance rock that dominated the decade has had few of its most successful artists getting a nod by the committee, and rap artists, while getting a few more nominations, are continually being told by voters they aren't cutting it once they're on the ballot. So why then are we revisiting the group that set a good deal of the sonic foundation for all of that, but who have nowhere near the commercial success as those who followed? Kraftwerk's influence is undeniable, but it's not universal, as those who borrowed something from them did so more peripherally than imitating their entire sound, which was detached to the point of irony. The larger problem with their candidacy is that even giving them enormous influence points they're lacking everywhere else, having just one legitimate hit (single or album) come from it. That's not insurmountable, after all, influencing the future sounds of a wide spectrum of rock is very important and impressive, but it does render their case a little one-sided.
The Hall's sudden moratorium on the artists from Motown Records that happened in the mid-90's is one the body's most inexplicable, and indefensible, acts of self-mutilation to their credibility. Up to that time the most successful independent label of all-time had been amply rewarded by the Hall with nine Motown acts (ten if you count the Isley Brothers, who spent a little time there) inducted through 1997. Since then however only Michael Jackson, who actually had his biggest solo success for Epic and who had already gotten in the Hall with his brothers AS a Motown artist, has been inducted with any connection to the iconic label. Nothing since and it's not for lack of qualified candidates either, as Mary Wells hasn't even gotten a nomination since 1987, while Junior Walker & The All-Stars have never even been offered up once. Considering how many fifth tier white 60's acts have made it during the past fifteen years this becomes all the more glaring and shameful. The Marvelettes have at least made a ballot, but are long overdue for induction, as they were the group that put Motown on the map for good in 1961 with their chart topping debut, "Please Mr. Postman". They remained one of the most consistently strong artists on the label for a full decade with a string of classics featuring two unique and celebrated lead vocalists sharing the glory together. Their commercial success is far greater than thirteen of the last fourteen acts who were inducted primarily for their 60's output and among those they have the most long-lasting familiarity of their records, all of which should've made them shoo-ins years ago. When Motown starts having trouble getting recognized by the Hall, something is seriously screwed up.
NINE INCH NAILS
The other newly eligible name on the 2015 ballot belongs to Trent Reznor, whose "group" Nine Inch Nails was simply Reznor himself, plus hired guns to flush out his unique visions on stage. In a way, NIN make for the most interesting case study on this year's ballot. While it's great to see an artist get the nod as soon as they become eligible, they're by no means an automatic selection. In recent years there haven't been many first time eligible inductees, with even such deserving groups as Red Hot Chili Peppers being forced to wait. It's hard to imagine the Hall giving two 90's acts their ticket at once, but if they do then the real interest will be which artists get passed over in the process and is that reflective of their well-documented ongoing uneasiness with certain styles? But that's speculation for us observers and has nothing to do with Nine Inch Nails credentials themselves, which are very solid. The industrial rock output of Reznor fit in with the alt-rock boom of the nineties, and for awhile he was a ubiquitous presence in music, not only with huge albums and tours but also assembling the soundtrack for the film Natural Born Killers (Lost Highway as well, for those who'd point it out if it wasn't mentioned) and producing the breakthrough album for Marilyn Manson. He couldn't keep up the blistering pace much longer after that, and while he remained a very creative, ambitious and risk-taking artist in later years, the buzz he enjoyed early died down. But overall NIN's full body of work is highly original, influential and deserving of recognition... at some point anyway.
The Hall's myriad of problems can be boiled down essentially to this one prominent example: N.W.A was among the most impactful and influential groups in the most far-reaching and consistently popular style of rock of the past four decades and despite that they have yet to be elected after two years on the ballot. Now for those howling in outrage, remembering the interminable wait for such influential acts such as Black Sabbath, thank you for just confirming my point. The Hall has never come to grips with the importance of, or in some ways the inclusion of, certain styles that fall outside their own collective personal tastes. Yet just as heavy metal was a major style of rock deserving of recognition by the Hall, so too is rap (even more so, as it has more mainstream acceptance and far more influence, not to mention a longer period of dominance), and in both cases the most influential artists who shaped the entire sound and spearheaded the popularity of those styles were forced to wait because of voter ignorance and musical prejudice. For a body supposed to celebrate rock 'n' roll history, the Hall has too often tried erasing that history instead. Yet it's impossible to conceive where rock music as a whole would be today without N.W.A, which broke the album market for hip-hop wide open, ushered in gangsta rap, in the process grabbing mainstream headlines for music that was still being shunned by the media, and radically reinvented the sound, look and approach of what soon became the dominant style of the 90's. In their ranks they housed the greatest producer of the past fifty years (Dr. Dre), one of the most influential MC's (Ice Cube) and a visionary founder (Eazy-E) who changed the entire landscape of rap by introducing a first person ground eye level look into a culture that most people had pretended didn't exist. A mandatory first year inductee now is left to hope the third time's a charm.
What a surprise to see you here! Well, not really, as the Hall Of Fame has, for the bulk of its history, felt that a recent death somehow make an artist more deserving of consideration than they'd been for that same exact career while they still walked among us. Donna Summer, George Harrison, Zeke and Jake Carey of the Flamingos, and Dusty Springfield all were inducted shortly after their passing (while Curtis Mayfield and the Beastie Boys Adam "MCA" Yauch were too sick to attend the ceremonies, dying soon after) despite all being eligible, worthy, and in some cases long overdue for recognition, while still alive. Lou Reed will likely become the next name to make that unfortunate list, though he might be the least affected (since he'd gotten in already as part of the Velvet Underground) and perhaps least deserving of that posthumous roll call should he make it. Not completely undeserving, as Reed continued his sonic experiments long after going solo and while, for the most part, they were no more commercial than what he'd been doing with VU, they did have far reaching effects on rock in terms of influence. Objectively speaking however that's not quite enough, especially since his most influential period has already been honored, and also because there's far more qualified names on the ballot who should get greater consideration (particularly while above ground, it should go without saying). But Reed's stature overall, that widespread name recognition that the Hall always falls prey to, combined with the sentiment to honor him following his recent demise, is what probably will give him his best shot at induction.
Critical favorites, particularly in the U.K., where their success was much more prevalent, especially in terms of albums, than in the United States where they've long been just a cult item. As a result of that dichotomy their candidacy is almost schizophrenic, as their headlining controversies, over everything from lyrics to interviews to political stances, made them, in particular frontman and lyricist Morrissey, first rate British cause célèbre. But that notoriety didn't cross the Atlantic and their failure to achieve stardom in America weakens their recognition, if nothing else, as well as their overall impact within rock. Their musical output, despite being a relatively short-lived group, was very influential (though again, mostly in England), and remains highly regarded even today, including multiple albums considered among the best to emerge in that decade. Their mixing of 60's-era soundscapes and 80's lyrical topics kick started a trend that would come to fruition late in the decade through the work of others, though even with that it was largely relegated to British acts. So the question becomes how much of their history has been absorbed by voters of all regions? The answer will likely determine their chances as much as their actual output will, but in the field of "rock music to be taken seriously", they've always been seen as first rate stars and if voters are as conscious of the ceremonies garnering headlines as they often seem to be, that could put them over the top.
One historically neglected style of rock by the Hall has been the 70's orchestrated soul, or Philly Soul based on the area its most popular records came from. Though The Spinners had their start well before that (their first hit coming in 1961) and were from Detroit, where they recorded (largely without success, at least comparatively) for Motown, when the 70's dawned as the transition to more lush group sounds was underway The Spinners were right at home with that style. Their career promptly took off and for a full decade were as popular as anybody in the field. Seven Top Ten hits on the Pop Charts, with five #1's among their 19 Top Ten hits on the R&B chart, give them far more success in the singles market than any artist nominated this year, while all of their albums with their classic lineup were huge sellers as well. In Philippe Wynn they had one of the most distinctive lead vocalists of the times and together with producer Thom Bell they helped define the most lastingly popular black style of rock in the seventies. So why the wait? Go figure. Maybe it was because 70's soul was group oriented, so it had fewer "name" stars, and with fragmented FM radio causing entire swaths of rock to be segregated from one another, on the airwaves as well as within the music media which was more geared to white interests, the Spinners and their ilk became almost invisible to the types who, years later, make up the Hall Of Fame's nominating committee and voting body. Fair? Of course not! Philly soul had enormous popularity and influence and absolutely needs more than just one group in the Hall Of Fame, starting with these guys.
A first time nominee, but unfortunately it's another big name who already made it in with his earlier group (The Police) and thus is not in need of a second induction, making his appearance here something of a waste. Apparently the Hall feels that honoring somebody they admire once is nice, but celebrating them a second time is better, even if it's not deserved. So brace yourselves for another needless re-run when there's still so much original programming that should be getting the ratings instead. It's important though to differentiate the facets of his overall career to make sure there's no misunderstanding as to his overall stature, which is very high. The fact is however, Sting's solo work pales in comparison to his earlier output with The Police, no surprise there since they were so distinctive, but when nominated again as an individual he's being judged solely on the impact on the rock scene he had after leaving the group and he's simply lacking in that regard. While he sold albums well and had some hits, he became much more jazz oriented, then ventured to Broadway and world music and finally, like so many others (Rod Stewart, Elton John, even Eric Clapton at times) settled into essentially bland Adult Contemporary music. Now as a human being seeking something different rather than recycling their past for more glory, yes that's all well and good and should be commended. But for a Rock 'n' Roll Hall Of Fame to honor someone for consciously moving away (far away) from rock 'n' roll, especially after already inducting him for his pure rock work with his previous group, that's just idiotic and pointless. They're basically putting Sting on the ballot because they're more comfortable with him as a person and would rather see his safe familiar face on stage than the litany of deserving 80's/90's acts from rock styles the committee are too old and decrepit to have embraced. All of which means he'll probably get in.
STEVIE RAY VAUGHAN & DOUBLE TROUBLE
What took them? Not that Vaughan is so eminently worthy that he should've been on the ballot years ago, but rather, how is it the Hall, which constantly focuses on guitar-playing icons with name recognition and widespread respect throughout the industry, especially those who died young, no matter how ill-fitting they were in rock, somehow didn't get around to nominating Vaughan until now, almost a decade after he was first eligible? That is stunning. As for his credentials for actually getting in... musically he was almost without peer on his instrument, a guitar virtuoso of the highest order who not only brought new devotees into the fold, but also constantly impressed the grizzled veteran musicians he idolized. Yet Vaughan would've proudly told you himself that he was a bluesman, not a rocker, even if guitar rock fans of the 80's, who felt alienated by the post-disco synth dance rock and the growing vitality of rap, gravitated towards him as a refuge. While one of Vaughan's biggest heroes was rock guitar icon, Lonnie Mack, SRV chose to stick closer to the blues output that was in danger of being obsolete before he came along, even though the rock field provided a much clearer route to stardom. Yet even within blues it was just as much Robert Cray as Vaughan who gave the blues a commercial jolt in the arm in the 80's. There's nothing bad that can be said about Stevie Ray Vaughan the musician, but this is another case where the interests of the Hall will probably result in a candidate from outside the rock world getting inducted, like the many blues gods who came before him who made it while so many authentic rock styles got shut out. Not surprising. The only surprise was that it hadn't happened earlier.
Speaking of which... one of those styles that continually gets the short end of the stick when it comes to inductions is funk. The most innovative brand of rock to come along in the 60's became increasing popular by the turn of the next decade, with War being one of the major beneficiaries of that growing acceptance. A multi-cultural group, both in personnel as well as stylistically, War combined the hard funk backing of their peers with a laid back Latino groove and a social lyrical outlook that was still more common at the time in AOR circles, all of which combined to make them among the most interesting bands of their time. Their musical chops and cohesiveness as a unit was almost unparalleled and they have the requisite hits, big LP's and hip following to give them plenty of credentials. They even have the unique connection to an earlier star in Eric Burdon, who used them as his backing group after leaving the Animals, to give their resume the needed diversity for induction. So they should be pretty good bets, right? Ahh, think again. They've been on the ballot twice before without getting the call, despite being among the most qualified candidates both times. They attract little support in the online community, their greatest lasting appeal is to a demographic that has little or no representation in the Hall's voting body, and there are few modern critics who acknowledge their importance, maybe fewer still who are even cognizant of it, sad to say, or to champion their cause, so their ultimate fate seems doubtful to change.
Another new name that's welcome simply because he hasn't been discussed in these circumstances before. Whether he earned the spot on the ballot is another question, but clearly he did as much as the other previously eligible first timers this year. On first glance the unknowing will inevitably think Withers is basically being nominated for one classic single, "Lean on Me", a song that has been at times bordering on mawkish and overexposed, since every do-gooder cause seeking contributions could use it effectively for their charitable endeavors. But Withers catalog runs much deeper than that, with such gems as "Grandma's Hands", "Use Me" and his best work, "Ain't No Sunshine". He also won a Grammy on a top 2 hit with Grover Washington in the early 80's, so his credentials are more than just one song. Yet they're not quite enough to give him a spot with the immortals, especially since there are artists from the same field with much deeper resumes, far more hits and more lasting influence who have yet to get in. It's frankly a little strange they turned to Withers to try and break that cold snap, but maybe whoever championed his cause in the committee felt that his one lasting hit that everybody knows would turn the trick after all. Sometimes it's smarter to count on the ignorance of voters on the deeper cases and rely on their tendency to grasp the instantly identifiable when casting their ballots.
There's a few mandatory selections, of which only one is probably assured to make it based on the Hall's disgraceful past voting habits, and eight candidates overall to choose from who rightly belong in the Hall at some point. What are the chances that only artists from those deserving names will be called? Slim and none. Each year there are substandard inductees and each year they seem to come from the same overpopulated pool of similar faces and styles, why would this year be any different?
Just as the re-run mentality of the Hall assures us of storylines with little variation, we're forced to respond to those same shortcomings with re-runs of our own, detailing the many simple ways in which all of this could be remedied, starting with having an entirely new nominating committee each year and actively courting far more diversity within the voting body to ensure that different cultural viewpoints are reflected in the classes. This year the Hall will bow to public pressure (as well as attempt to renew the interest of that public, which has dismissed the Hall as an irrelevant political machine) by giving an expanded public "ballot" (with the voting done online) to count towards the final tally. Not surprisingly even this move will ensure that the same white middle-aged male constituency that already dominates both the nominating committee and voting body will have an even greater say in the outcome, as if the predictability of the injustices couldn't get any more apparent. Compounding their oversights is the fact they've altered or corrupted the other categories in the recent past, eliminating individual Sidemen honors, ignoring the huge backlog of true Early Influences while using that designation to slip in failed main performer candidates through a backdoor, and choosing to reward the label owners who cheated their artists rather than inducting the brilliant songwriters, producers, arrangers who made the music, or the dee jays who spread the gospel of rock 'n' roll. But when the committee is granted almost unlimited power with no checks and balances it can never be surprising when they stack the deck even further to get what they want. Sadly, what few people left seem to want is a Hall Of Fame where all of rock history is treated with equal respect and reverence and induction is based, not on tastes or personal familiarity, but on an objective analysis of the artists achievements.
The 2015 ballot, while far from distinguished still provides an outside chance to usher in a fully qualified class. But the voters haven't come close to doing so in twenty years, so the chances that they turn things around now, with the same people making the decisions, is highly unlikely. After all, the annual arrival of the Rock 'n' Roll Hall Of Fame's ballot can only mean it's re-run season yet again.
Please, change the channel, or better yet, turn off your sets altogether. That concludes the programming for today.