Well, whadda ya know.
The list of 15 nominees for the 2013 class of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame has some old (repeatedly denied) friends and some new (long overdue) faces, although it continues to ignore the 800-pound gorilla in the room in kabuki makeup and spiked platform heels, wielding a Love Gun.
It should be quite clear to anyone still paying attention that members of the mysterious body of nominators and 600 voters of the Rock Hall Foundation have biases against certain bands and entire genres. Kiss, eligible since 1999, has once again been denied the “honor” of being nominated, and the band’s continued exclusion is starting to take on the feel of some kind of weird running gag.
It’s also clear that the Cleveland hall’s definition of “rock ’n’ roll” will continue to expand, as foundation CEO and president Joel Peresman reminds us every year. “The definition of ‘rock and roll’ means different things to different people, but as broad as the classifications may be, they all share a common love of the music,” Peresman said in his annual “we’re eclectic now, get used to it,” quote accompanying the announcement. “This year we again proudly put forth a fantastic array of groups and artists that span the entire genre that is ‘rock and roll.’ ”
OK, “rock” and “pop” have long been intertwined, but the hall’s definition also gives nominators/voters options that allow them to continue to skirt, skip and sidestep some artists that many rock fans consider obvious choices.
Interestingly, the rock hall is allowing fans to have a say on this year’s inductees. The top five artists voted on by fans at http://rockhall.com/vote will make up a “fans’ ballot” that will be tallied along with the 600 ballots from Rock Hall Foundation voters.
The returnees are Heart, Joan Jett and the Blackhearts, Randy Newman, Kraftwerk, Donna Summer and Chic. The first-timers are bluesman Albert King, the Paul Butterfield Blues Band, Public Enemy, N.W.A., the Marvelettes, the Meters, Deep Purple and Rush. The list of inductees is usually announced in December. The April 18 induction ceremony will be held in Los Angeles for the first time since 1993 and will be broadcast later on HBO.
Relative surprises on the list are the way overdue Deep Purple and Rush, two influential, still-popular bands that have been eligible and deserving since the ’90s (artists become eligible 25 years after their first release), but have been summarily ignored for no apparent reason other than some voter or pocket of voters simply doesn’t like them.
Smoke on the water
Deep Purple, one of the acknowledged progenitors of heavy metal, has been eligible since 1993. The classic lineup (guitarist Ritchie Blackmore, singer Ian Gillan, bassist Roger Glover, the late organist Jon Lord and drummer Ian Paice) recorded seminal and popular hard rock albums such as Machine Head and the live Made in Japan, influencing a generation of future metalheads and guitarists whose first-learned riff was Smoke on the Water.
While their run as hit makers was relatively brief, their influence is undeniable, and they are still working today — Gillan, Glover, Paice, ex-Dixie Dregs/Kansas guitarist Steve Morse and ex-Ozzy Osbourne/Whitesnake keyboardist Don Airey are currently recording an album.
For many rock fans (including some who don’t like their music), the exclusion of Canadian prog-rock trio Rush, eligible since 1999, is one of the obvious slights that lifts the curtain on the hall’s voting body to reveal the apparently bitter little person pulling the strings and levers.
Even during its early ’80s pop heyday, when rock listeners were memorizing uber-drummer Neil Peart’s syncopated machine-gun flams and fills on Tom Sawyer, it has been an outsider band. For much of its 40-plus-year career, Rush was maligned by the rock cognoscenti as musically fussy, lyrically unpoetic and just plain uncool. But in the past decade or so, the group seems to have earned respect and elder-statesmen status, while its legions of dedicated fans, who aren’t all 45-year-old, air-drum-playing dudes, still fill arenas.
But now that the hall has deigned to acknowledge both bands’ existences, importance and influence, if neither is inducted in the 2013 class, the foundation’s credibility with rock fans will continue to erode.
Handicapping who will actually get inducted is a tricky business, because logic doesn’t always seem to play its, um, logical part. Breaking the 15 nominees down by genre or gender (which probably matters more than it should), few rock fans would argue that Heart (eligible since 2000) should be welcomed before Joan Jett (eligible since 2005), or that Texas singer/guitarist Albert King (eligible since 1987) should have been inducted with one of those fantastic early classes that were filled with rock ’n’ roll pioneers, seminal blues and soul men and women, and the classic rockers they inspired.
As beloved as Randy Newman is within the industry and by other artists, he would seem to be perfect for the respected singer/songwriter spot that Tom Waits took in 2011, and is probably a lock for induction.
The chances of two hip-hop acts getting in the same year seem highly unlikely, and both N.W.A. and Public Enemy were popular, controversial and influential crossover artists. But since there can (probably) be only one, Chuck D has participated in past ceremonies and Public Enemy would likely be considered the more respectable choice.
Queen of disco
Donna Summer died in May at 63, which will likely help her sixth nomination become the charm, as it appeared to help Frank Zappa, who died in late 1993 and was inducted in 1995.
German electronica pioneers Kraftwerk would never be mistaken for traditional rock, but have been hugely influential on a variety of genres, including pop, the many strains of dance music, and hip-hop. The thumping electro grooves and Midi-driven blips and bleeps the group pioneered have become common in today’s mechanized pop music, even if Justin Bieber and his fans have never heard of the stoic, Teutonic quartet.
The Marvelettes have a good chance, because rock hall voters still have a special place in their collective hearts (and the hall) for the girl/guy groups from the ’50s and ’60s and the group had a good run of singles that include Please Mr. Postman, Beechwood 4-5789 and Don’t Mess With Bill. Besides, you can’t go wrong with Motown, can you?
Several of the other nominees, including the Paul Butterfield Blues Band (featuring the late and revered guitarist Mike Bloomfield), Procol Harum (known by most for the ballad Whiter Shade of Pale) and 1970s New Orleans R&B/funk kings the Meters, along with cosmopolitan R&B/disco group Chic, a seven-time nominee, would seem to be destined to become nomination list returnees, at least for a few more years.
And of course, there are always the cries of “what about Artist X?” That list doesn’t seem to be getting much shorter, and the scope widens as the eligible nominees move on into the late ’80s: The Moody Blues, Roxy Music, T-Rex, the Doobie Brothers, Captain Beefheart. Oh, and how about Iron Maiden, Hall and Oates, the MC5, Motorhead, the Carpenters, Judas Priest, Journey, Dire Straits. And hey, how about some punk and new wave, such as Black Flag, Devo, X, the Jam, the Cure …