You can read the disgust beneath the mask of bemusement on Jann Wenner’s face as he stands at the podium to kick off the 2013 Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony. Wenner grins while the crowd erupts into a frenzy and cuts him off mid-sentence, just after he manages to get the words “a band from Canada” out of his mouth.
The Rush fans had taken over Wenner’s party. As co-founder and prominent mouthpiece for the Rock Hall, Wenner had helped to keep the immensely popular prog-rock band out of contention for induction, just as he kept them out of the pages of his Rolling Stone. The fans had spoken, though, and Wenner was no longer able to ignore them. He might be the guy at the podium, but he clearly held no mandate.
Therein lies the problem at the heart of the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame’s induction process. Sure, the museum itself is nice, and has helped Cleveland get back on its feet through the tourists it attracts. But the inductions themselves, and the nomination process which precedes them, are always a source of contention in the world of popular music. Many music lovers troll the nominee announcements on social media, react with disgust at the process, or ignore it altogether. This year’s to-do, which includes a list of 19 nominees that will ultimately be whittled down to 5 inductees, is no different than any other in recent memory. The list is more notable for who isn’t on it than for who is. And much of the griping is aimed Wenner’s way, rightly or otherwise.
A brief scan reveals the following.
There’s no heavy metal, meaning no Iron Maiden, no Judas Priest, no Motorhead, no Slayer, all deserving and consistently shunned acts. There’s no British music from the 80s, save Depeche Mode. (Um, no love for the Smiths? The Jam? Kate Bush? The Cure? Really?) No progressive rock beyond the fully deserving Yes. No Roxy Music. No Thin Lizzy. No King Crimson.
One could go on. But why bother? It is what it is. At least this year’s list is made up of artists whose potential induction isn’t a complete head-scratcher.
Here’s my ranking of the 19 nominees, from least- to most-deserving. This is not my own wish list, but rather, a ranking of merit based on what’s being offered by the Rock Hall. (You can do your own voting here.)
19) Janet Jackson
I’m ranking Janet last simply because her work, while influential, has been a bit inconsistent, and she hasn’t really released a great album since “Rhythm Nation 1814,” back in 1989.
18) Joan Baez
It’s hard to find something negative to say about Joan Baez. So I won’t bother to try. I’m ranking her low on this list simply because her induction doesn’t seem like a particularly pressing matter. It would be like honoring water for being wet.
“Born to be Wild,” “Magic Carpet Ride,” “The Pusher,” “Snowblind Friend” – these are classics. However, Steppenwolf hit its peak early, and has spent much of the time since living off the reputation duly earned by its initial string of killer rockers. More deserving artists from the same milieu should go in first.
The talent level in this band is incredible. Journey started life as a psychedelic rock/ fusion/jam band, born from the classic Santana lineup that featured co-founders Neal Schon and Gregg Rolie. When singer supreme Steve Perry came along, soul-pop was added to equation. After keyboardist/vocalist Rolie flew the coop in 1981, and was replaced by Jonathan Cain, the whole thing went pear-shaped, and much cheesiness ensued. Much respect for the first six albums, though.
15) Depeche Mode
The greatest British synth-pop band of them all is the inexplicably under-valued Japan. But Depeche Mode comes second. Game-changing, unquestionably.
Chic brought serious funk to the disco party. And even if some view them as a novelty act tied to the late 70s, it is beyond dispute that the band’s work – particularly the contributions of guitarist Nile Rodgers and the late bassist Bernard Edwards – is among the most influential dance-based music of its era.
13) The Cars
American New Wave bands came no cooler than the Cars. Sure, the late-'80s slick pop production was a bit much, but the first three Cars albums – “The Cars,” “Candy-O” and “Panorama” – are masterpieces.
Jeff Lynne is a genius. For “A New World Record” and “Out of the Blue” in the 70s, his work as a producer in the '80s and '90s, and his return to gorgeously orchestrated art-pop since 2000, Lynne and his Electric Light Orchestra have earned the Rock Hall’s attention. (Lynne’s pre-ELO band with Roy Wood, the Move, needs to be in the Hall, too.)
11) The Zombies
Yeah, this British band deserves the nod for “Odessey and Oracle” alone. Profoundly great stuff.
10) Joe Tex
One of the progenitors of Southern Soul. This is a no-brainer.
Kraftwerk all but invented synth-pop, art-techno, ambient music, and proto-minimalism in pop. Wholly deserving of the honor.
8) The J. Geils Band
Ramped-up soul, R&B, rock ‘n’ roll, and Boston-born blues. The J. Geils Band was one of the most exciting live acts of the later 70s, and in singer Peter Wolf, offered the American equivalent of Mick Jagger.
7) Chaka Khan
Even if she had been the front-woman for the indelibly funky Rufus and nothing else, Chaka Kahn would deserve induction. Add her often stellar solo work, and her impossible-to-miss cameos, and she should be a shoe-in.
Punk meets politics, raging guitars meet the revolutionary impulse, and good old rock ‘n’ roll gets a serious shot of adrenaline – this is what happens when you slap a slab of MC5 vinyl on your turntable, even 40-plus years after it first hit the streets. An overdue induction.
5) Tupac Shakur
The man who brought a significant literary and dramatic bent to Hip-Hop. Tupac is still considered one of, if not the very greatest, rappers ever. He was murdered 20 years ago last September. It’s high time he enters the Hall.
4) Jane’s Addiction
The band that bridged the gap between 80s alternative, metal and white funk. Still a ferocious in-concert presence. And in Perry Farrell and Dave Navarro, Jane’s offered a 90s version of the Robert Plant/Jimmy Page dialectic.
3) Bad Brains
Sadly, hardcore punk has come to be associated with white nationalism on occasion. This is ironic, since the high-speed virtuosic medium was indeed created – or at least, perfected - by a group of African Americans from Washington, D.C. Bad Brains deserves the nod.
2) Pearl Jam
A band that challenges itself and its audience consistently, displays growth, embraces experimentation, and makes music that captures the zeitgeist for a quarter century deserves to be honored. Also, Eddie Vedder is my hero.
This British band has been eligible for induction since 1994. Prog-rock is anathema to Wenner and his minions, it seems, but Yes is clearly the band that grabbed the baton from the Beatles’ later work and ran with it through the 70s – in and around the lake, where mountains come out of the sky and they stand there, and seamless 20 minute song-suites are embraced, rather than scorned. It’s about time.