For the first time in more than a decade, I’m looking at a list of nominees for induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and not a single artist is jumping out at me, screaming “I don’t belong here.”
The Rock Hall released a list of 19 nominees on Tuesday morning. Only five of them will make the final cut. I’m having trouble whittling the list down.
A lot of trouble.
The nominees are: Pearl Jam, Tupac Shakur, Depeche Mode, Electric Light Orchestra, Jane’s Addiction, Janet Jackson, Journey, the Cars, the Zombies, Yes, Bad Brains, Chaka Kahn, Chic, J. Geils Band, Joan Baez, Joe Tex, Kratfwerk, the MC5, Steppenwolf – all gave some, and some gave all.
The list spans multiple genres, and highlights the schism between Rock Hall traditionalists who insist that no one who doesn’t play an electric guitar deserves to enter the hallowed Hall and the more liberal view, one that accommodates Hip-Hop, soul, pop, folk, blues, and various permutations thereof. (Spoiler alert: I’m in the latter group, firmly. Yeah, it’s called the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, but by this point, that’s just a matter of semantics. It’s really a popular music hall of fame, so let’s just accept that and move on. No one wants to be that guy in the Lynyrd Skynyrd t-shirt at the family picnic insisting that “Hip-Hop isn’t even really music” in 2016. Right?)
Let’s start with the ladies. Chaka Khan has been eligible since 1998, and she’s absolutely got to go in there. I mean, even if she had fronted the fiercely funky Rufus throughout the 1970s, and then called it a day, she belongs in the room with the rest of the royalty. But the Queen of Funk never stopped, and even if those Rufus albums remain her most consistent offerings, that voice, that phrasing, that soulfulness – they’ve never wavered.
Jumping to the other side of musical genre divide, let’s help the Rock Hall fully abandon its anti-progressive rock bias, now that Rush (Class of 2013) has made the cut. Yes is the greatest prog-rock band of all time, in my view. That’s saying something, because the field of eligible proggers is a pretty crowded one, and includes the likes of King Crimson, Jethro Tull, ELP, Supertramp, Gentle Giant, and a few dozen more. But Yes towers above all of them. The band has made definitive artistic statements in three different decades, has successfully reinvented itself several times, and is responsible for marrying pop songcraft to classical harmony, jazz-like improvisation, a vocal blend that celebrates the Beatles, Simon & Garfunkel and Crosby Stills & Nash in equal measure, and many a 20-minute song-suite that pushes the envelope without losing the plot.
A few sub-genres feature multiple artists this year, but there’s only one Hip-Hop entry, and it’s clear that the late Tupac Shakur has made an indelible mark on the form, bringing a literary bent and an unerring ear for the marriage of rhythm and lyric to harsh stories of urban despair. Tupac is still considered one of Hip-Hop’s most important artists. Just ask Jay-Z and Kendrick. They’ll tell you. He belongs in the Hall during this, his first year of eligibility.
This is also the first year that Pearl Jam is eligible for induction, and as much as the Seattle-born ensemble deserves to be in the Hall – for my money, no band from that era has more successfully shed the unfortunate baggage associated with the “grunge” moniker (possibly the stupidest name for a musical movement ever coined by a marketing specialist). Pearl Jam has evolved into a band that belongs in the same class as its biggest influences - among them, the Who and the Ramones - and has navigated a career defined by integrity and a desire to exist on its own terms. The band belongs, but let them wait a year – after all, the MC5 isn’t even in the Hall yet, and neither is Jane’s Addiction. Both deserve the honor, and both pre-date Pearl Jam’s formation, so justice and fairness demand that they go in first.
And that’s it – I’m out of picks! This year, unlike so many in the past, the Hall could’ve reasonably expanded the class to 10 inductees and lost no credibility in the process. In fact, we could pick next year’s class right now, without adding a single nominee to this year's list. How about Pearl Jam, Electric Light Orchestra, the Zombies, Chic and Bad Brains for the Class of 2018? Now that’d be a super-jam finale worth seeing…
If you're interested in casting your own vote for this year's Rock Hall induction, head here and fill out a ballot.