N.W.A, Chaka Khan and Janet in the Rock Hall of Fame? Why not?


Recently, Chaka Khan and Janet Jackson joined N.W.A. and 12 other recording artists as nominees for induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2016.  What’s noteworthy about this is that, while they are indeed music icons, Khan, Jackson and the legendary rap group, N.W.A. are hardly rock and roll musicians.  Neither are Chic or the Spinners, two other classic musical acts who are nominated this year and who happen to specialize in music other than rock and roll or its various offshoots.

The inclusion of artists such as these has often been a criticism of the R&R Hall of Fame by rock purists, but the news of this new crop’s nomination should not come as a surprise to anyone who follows the Rock Hall, or who are up on their rock and roll history, considering the amount of influence that artists like those, who also happen to be African-American, had on rock and roll music’s development some 60-plus years ago.  In fact, there are over 100 black musicians, many of whom specialize in genres other than rock and roll, including blues, jazz, R&B, soul, pop, dance, disco, reggae, gospel and even hip-hop, who are already inducted into the hallowed halls of the Cleveland museum.

What might come as more of a surprise to readers is that some of this year’s other nominees, like the progressive rock group Yes, or the pop/rock/jazz hybrid band Chicago, the latter of which got its start in the late 1960s and is one of the most successful bands in recorded music history, have yet to be inducted.  And both of those bands have been eligible for over twenty years.

Some of this year’s other nominees read like a who’s who in classic rock music, with groups like Cheap Trick, Deep Purple, Steve Miller Band and the Cars joining more modern acts like Nine Inch Nails (Trent Reznor) and the Smiths.  Rock acts like those are usually considered shoo-ins for being voted in by the Hall of Fame voting committee, which consists of about 500 “rock experts” who will take the ballots created in October by a handful of people and vote on them.  But that group of experts’ voting results are about as predictable as the 2016 Republican Party candidate polls.  It’s anybody’s guess who will get the nod.

But, as always, leave it to djrobblog to take a stab at it before the winners are announced next month.

Below, I provide an analysis of each of this year’s 15 nominees, along with my predictions for whether they’ll get in.  The past few years have seen six acts inducted each time, and I’ll assume for this article that six of the below artists will be joining the club in 2016.

Here are my predictions, with each nominee listed alphabetically:

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New wave pop/rock group The Cars are nominated for the first time in 2016.

The Cars.  This band from Boston has given us classics like “Just What I Needed” (below), “My Best Friend’s Girl,” and “Shake It Up.”  Quirky lead singer Ric Ocasek didn’t have much of a vocal range, but the group’s knack for catchy synth-pop melodies and driving, minimalist beats, with flourishes of electric guitar thrown in, made their brand a very popular one in the late 1970s and early 1980s.  Their biggest album was 1984’s Heartbeat City, which produced “You Might Think” and “Magic,” both #1 songs on the Billboard Rock Tracks chart, and “Drive,” which was their biggest Hot 100 single (#3 peak) and one of their top-40 hits not sung by Ocasek (“Drive” was sung by their late bassist, Benjamin Orr, who died in 2000).  This is their first HoF nomination.

Will the Cars get in?  Yes, even with their pop leanings, they’re contributions to new-wave pop-rock make them overdue.  It’ll be fun to watch them onstage again at the induction ceremony.

 

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Cheap Trick’s popularity in America exploded in 1979, thanks to a live recording of a tour in, of all places, Japan.

Cheap Trick.  I caught some flack for including this band in my list of the 25 Greatest Artists from Chicago earlier this year.  The band is actually from Rockford, IL, which is about an hour or so north and west of the Windy City.  But regardless of where this group is from, Cheap Trick probably owes its success to – of all places – Japan.  The band found most of its acceptance in the country known as the Land of the Rising Sun before it became an internationally successful act in 1979 with its Cheap Trick (live) at Budokan album.  That yielded the classic single, “I Want You To Want Me” (below) and its follow-up “Ain’t That A Shame,” both top-40 hits.  The band continued to have success with the next album, Dream Police, and its title single in 1979.  After a steady decline throughout the 1980s, they made a triumphant comeback in 1988 with the power-chord driven “The Flame,” which became their only #1 pop hit, and the follow-up remake of Elvis Presley’s “Don’t Be Cruel,” their last top-ten hit.  This is also their first HoF nomination.

Will they get in?  This one is a toss-up.  Cheap Trick is one of those group’s whose legacy seems to grow even when they haven’t done much since their heyday, but this year’s competition is heavier than most.  I’ll straddle the fence but lean toward the “no” side this year.

 

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From left to right, Bernard Edwards, Alfa Anderson, Tony Thompson, Luci Martin and Nile Rodgers – the classic lineup of CHIC, circa 1979.

Chic.  Quick, besides Nile Rodgers and Bernard Edwards, name the other core members of the disco/funk/R&B band Chic during its 1977 – 1980 heyday (without looking at the pic above).  I know, hard isn’t it?  After all, Edwards and Rodgers were the faces and the masterminds behind one of the most innovative and influential bands of all time, and their legacy continued to build long after the original Chic membership broke up in 1983.  In fact, I believe it was Nile and ‘Nard’s production work beyond the classic Chic years that helped make them (by way of their group) perennial R&R Hall Of Fame nominees for several of the past ten years.  And it’s Rodgers’ recent resurgence that has put all of his earlier accomplishments back in the spotlight and his signature group back on the nomination list.

So will Chic get in this time?  It pains me to say this because, as my closest friends and family know, I am the group’s biggest fan, but no they won’t.  Chic still has the stigma of being a short-lived disco group whose career died when disco did.  They’ve been nominated several times before (likely due to the iconic status of their hits “Good Times” (above) and “Le Freak” along with stuff they did for others like “We Are Family,” “He’s The Greatest Dancer” and “Upside Down”), but they’ve failed each time.  When Rodgers appears on a ballot by himself, and all the hits he did for others like Madonna, David Bowie, Duran Duran can be considered, then we can talk.  (By the way, the answer to the Chic classic lineup question is Alfa Anderson, Luci Martin and the late Tony Thompson, along with one-time member Norma Jean Wright).

 

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Chicago during the Peter Cetera years. Their best music included his vocals and the famous Chicago horn section – mostly during the 1970s.

Chicago.  There is only one reason this band, easily one of the most successful of all time, is not ALREADY in the R&R Hall of Fame: the 1980s.  This band’s output from 1969 – 1979 alone would have easily warranted their inclusion by the time they were eligible in the mid-1990s.  Instead, Chicago discovered its penchant for schmaltzy pop ballads – first with the #1 1976 hit, “If You Leave Me Now” (below), which alone could be forgiven.  But then they just kept pouring it on: “Baby, What A Big Surprise,” “Hard To Say I’m Sorry,” “”Hard Habit To Break,” “You’re The Inspiration,” “I Don’t Wanna Live Without Your Love,” and the be all to end all, “Look Away.”  Don’t get me wrong, all of those were huge chart hits, and a few of them were actually good songs (I’ll never include the last two in that group).  But all the schmaltz collectively helped remove some of the jazz-rock credibility this venerable group took a decade to build.  As a result, we’ve had to wait until now to see if they will be Rock and Roll Hall of Famers.

Will Chicago get in?  There is only room for about six artists on this ballot to make it in.  I’ll reluctantly add Chicago to the list of those that do.  My reluctance is not a knock on Chicago, I’m one of the biggest fans of their music, particularly their earlier stuff, but there’s no telling how the 500 deciders (who are reportedly younger than previous HoF committees) will vote given the power-ballad second phase of this band’s legendary career.  Then again, it may actually work in their favor now.

 

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The famous guitar riff that begins their “Smoke On The Water” is one of the most memorable of all time.

Deep Purple.  This British hard-rock group’s biggest success came in the early 1970s and they were often compared to the era’s other big British rock bands Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath, both already in the Hall.  Deep Purple, in fact, has been nominated three times in the past four years.  The band’s most memorable (and last) top-40 hit was the #4-peaking single “Smoke On The Water” (below), where they famously recounted the events of a recording session-gone-bad (it involved a fire).  Although not nearly as well-known as Zeppelin and Sabbath, when taken together, the three were often referred to as the “unholy trinity of British rock.”  Deep Purple has also reportedly sold over 100 million albums throughout its career (more than the Sabbath) and is still considered one of the pioneers of the hard-rock genre.

Will Deep Purple get in?  Its association with other Hall of Famers and those sales figures weren’t enough to do the trick the first two times.  I think the members of Deep Purple will have to wait at least one more year before their induction, given this year’s stiff competition.

 

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The JB’s may be better suited for the “Award for Musical Excellence” category, rather than the Performers category, in 2016.

JB’s.  The James Brown backing band that bears his initials are somewhat of an enigma in this field.  They’re an accomplished bunch of musicians with a couple of hall-of-fame caliber standout names, like the hugely talented saxophonist Maceo Parker (who’s also played with acts like Parliament/Funkadelic, Prince and others).  There’s also Fred Wesley whose name fronted the band when they scored their biggest hit single, the #1 R&B (and #22 pop) “Doin’ It To Death,” most commonly known as “Gonna Have a Funky Good Time.”  But without the James Brown association, would they be even be considered?  They’re not even his first backing band, having joined him in the 1970s after he famously fired his previous one.  And even their own biggest hit featured Brown vocally directing and narrating as the band played behind him, not unlike with his own singles.  Granted, they were the musical brawn behind some of his biggest and most memorable hits, like “The Payback,” “Make It Funky,” “My Thang” and many others.  And the Hall of Fame committee certainly recognized that with this nomination.

So will the JB’s get in?  As talented and prolific as some of its members are, I don’t think they are inducted this time, especially not in the Performers category.  They could, however, get in under the category of “Award For Musical Excellence.”  It’s the same one Ringo Starr was inducted in last year, essentially for being a good sideman to the more prolific other members of the Beatles.

 

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Janet Jackson recently added another #1 album to her long list of achievements. Will it be enough to get her into the Rock HoF in 2016. We’ll find out in December.

Janet Jackson.  This is an interesting one.  On the one hand, you have one of the most accomplished, most influential recording acts of all time who has cowritten most of her hits and whose career now includes #1 albums in four different decades.  On the other, you have an artist whose music was mostly dance-oriented R&B or pop – a formula that’s not usually favorably looked upon by rock purists like those involved in deciding who gets inducted.  Janet has alternately been dubbed the Queen of Pop along with Madonna, Mariah Carey and the late Whitney Houston.  The four of them were recently recognized as being among the ten most successful Hot 100 singles chart artists of all time, with Janet ranking 7th (even above her brother Michael at 8th).  He’s already in the Hall (twice).  So is Madonna.

So will Janet get in?  Not this time, especially not on her first ballot.  I think she will eventually, because she is truly deserving.  I’d say by decade’s end, she’ll make it.

 

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Chaka Khan is indeed every woman. We’ll soon see if the 500-plus HoF voting committee agrees.

Chaka Khan.  If Janet Jackson is – arguably – the Queen of Pop, then Chaka Khan is – undisputedly – the Queen of Funk.  No one else even comes close.  You might throw Lyn Collins or Millie Jackson in the mix, but even they would likely defer to Khan, whose music catalog (both with her band Rufus and without) reads like a chapter out of a funk-soul encyclopedia.  Consider songs like “You Got The Love,” “Tell Me Something Good,” “Once You Get Started,” “At Midnight (My Love Will Lift You Up),” “Do You Love What You Feel?,” “What ‘Cha Gonna Do For Me?,” “Clouds,” “Ain’t Nobody,” and her signature disco-funk smash, “I’m Every Woman” (below).  Then there are the classic ballads like “Sweet Thing” and “Through the Fire.”  It’s a shame that she wasn’t already inducted when she and the band Rufus were nominated before.

Will Chaka get in?  I have a feeling that now that she’s on a ballot all by herself, this will be her year.  If she makes it, who wants to join me in attending the induction ceremony next year?

 

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Los Lobos have been around a long time, but this is their first HoF nomination.

Los Lobos.  “Para bailar la bamba, para bailar la bamba se necessito una poca de gracia!”  Los Lobos weren’t the first to set those famous lines to music, but they were the American Latin-rock band who had the most success with the song, “La Bamba.”  They took the late Ritchie Valens’ hit (see below) to #1 in 1988 and stayed there for three straight weeks, making it one of the biggest singles of that year.  Unfortunately, that’s about the extent of this California band’s commercial success here in America.  But commercial success doesn’t always translate to an automatic ticket into the R&R HoF, and conversely, entry into the HoF doesn’t always require that an artist had to sell 100 million records to get there.  Los Lobos (translation: the wolves) have had a long, prolific career that spans over four decades and includes three Grammys, so they’re certainly a respected group of musicians, and they’ve had a pretty stable lineup since their beginnings – plus they’re still touring!

So will Los Lobos get in?  This is their first nomination, so my first guess is no, not this time.   But I’ve been wrong before (many times), and this could be one of those dark-horse sentimental winners.

 

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Steve Miller had a landmark 1976 studio album and three #1 pop hits. Will those accomplishments help get him into the HoF this year?

Steve Miller.  This veteran artist developed three distinct personas in the early part of his career during the early 1970s, and all three came to light in the lyrics to his first #1 single, “The Joker” in 1973/74.  Those personas were “The Gangster of Love,” “The Space Cowboy,” and “Maurice.”  It’ll all make sense if you delve deeper into his early catalog and then play the opening lines to that first #1 song.  Steve Miller and his band were hardly the critics’ darlings, though, with his commercial success from 1974 – 82 outweighing his critical accolades.  But the hits rolled on, with two other #1 singles “Rock’n Me” and “Abracadabra,” and the near-miss #2 “Fly Like An Eagle” (below), along with many other top-40 songs.  This is Miller’s first nomination.

Will Steve Miller get in?  I don’t think so, at least not yet.  He has been eligible since the 1990s (a running theme this year), and there are too many other strong first-time (and other) contenders for Miller to get the nod.

 

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N.W.A. has been nominated before. Could this be the year they join Public Enemy and Grandmaster Flash as the only rap groups in the R&R HoF?

N.W.A.  Okay, what do you get when you combine a rap group whose commercial output was limited to three albums in three years with a biopic about them (25 years later) that has become one of the biggest box-office stories of the year?  A return engagement on the list of R&R Hall nominees, that’s what.  The group featuring Dr. Dre, Ice Cube, MC Ren, Yella and the late Eazy-E, was thrust right back into the American consciousness with this summer’s box-office smash, Straight Outta Compton, which just this month became the first music-based film directed by an African-American to gross over $200M worldwide.  You may be asking, if they weren’t worthy before, what makes N.W.A. so worthy now when they haven’t released anything new or toured together since the 1990s?  Well, you see, that’s how these things work.  In America, we’re not only told by the media what to like or dislike, but when to like it.  There’s perhaps no better representation of that than the R&R Hall of Fame.  So this year, in the wake of all this attention, the selection committee put N.W.A. back on the ballot.

Will N.W.A. finally get in?  Hmmm…yes.  It’ll be too hard for the voters, many of whom likely saw the movie, to get past the sentiment likely to result from Straight Outta Compton’s upcoming Academy Award consideration as we enter the 2015/16 awards season.

 

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Trent Reznor’s brainchild is on the ballot for a second straight year, with last year being his first year of eligibility. That bodes well for a 2016 induction, in my opinion.

Nine Inch Nails (Trent Reznor).  Music innovation should always get special consideration when discussing potential entry into the Hall of Fame.  The question then becomes, is Trent Reznor a musical innovator?  His NIN certainly brought industrial rock to a new commercial high in the 1990s, particularly with the album The Downward Spiral and its most popular track “Closer” (he was dropping F-bombs on records long before it became vogue in the 2000s).  The album’s “Hurt” is also considered a classic.  But industrial rock and its metal offshoot were created by other artists long before Reznor  hit the scene.  It does stand to reason, however, that this one-man band has arguably done more for his genre of music than anyone else, including such artists as Marilyn Manson and the Chicago band Ministry.

So, will NIN get in?  This is their (or more accurately his) second consecutive nomination.  He was first eligible last year, which means there are people who thought he was immediately deserving.  And, as I mentioned before, I believe this year’s 500-member voting committee skews younger than in years past.  So my guess is yes.

 

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The Smith’s are the only 2016 nominee who never climbed higher than #50 on any of Billboard’s major U.S. albums or singles charts. Will that hurt their chances?

The Smiths.  Like NIN, this is The Smiths’ second consecutive nomination.  Led by iconic vocalist and lyricist Morrissey in an equal partnership with guitarist Johnny Marr, the two joined with bassist Andy Rourke and drummer Mike Joyce to become one of the most successful alternative bands in British music history.  Interestingly enough, the group has never had a Hot 100 single here in America, although Morrissey charted with one on his own (“The More You Ignore Me, The Closer I Get,” #46 in 1994).  You’ve likely heard the band’s “How Soon Is Now?” a thousand times, even if you don’t know it by its title.  Despite their lack of major chart success here, the band’s success in the U.K. has led to its recognition as one of the more important indie bands in rock and roll history.  Four of The Smiths’ albums are listed among Rolling Stone magazine’s 500 greatest albums of all time.

Will The Smiths get in?  I like Morrissey’s uniquely borderline baritone/falsetto vocal stylings.  And it’d be interesting to see the four members of this group on the same stage giving their induction speech, considering their contentious breakup decades ago.  I say yes, we’ll likely get that chance this year.

 

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The Spinners are one of the few groups who’ve had top ten hits with four different lead singers: Harvey Fuqua (not pictured), Bobby Smith (standing left), Philippe Wynne (sitting center) and John Edwards (who replaced Wynne and is not pictured).

The Spinners.  As I mentioned before, there are several R&B bands (including some fellow groups from the 1970s) that are already in the Rock Hall of Fame.  In my humble opinion, the Spinners are long overdue.  This was one of those resilient bands that was earlier associated with Motown Records but had even greater success after leaving that legendary label (similar to Gladys Knight & the Pips).  The Spinners’ post-Motown years with Atlantic Records saw them collect more than half a dozen #1 R&B singles, with several reaching the pop top ten and many of them selling a million copies.  Certainly the late lead singers Bobby Smith and Philippé Wynne had much to do with that success, as did the prolific songwriting/production team of Thom Bell and the late Linda Creed.  Songs like “Mighty Love” (below), “The Rubberband Man,” “One of a Kind (Love Affair)” and “Then Came You” (with Dionne Warwick) are among my favorites of all time.

So will The Spinners get in?   If I were judge and jury, they would be there already.  But I’m not, so I don’t think they will…at least not this year.

 

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Yes is one of the most important progressive rock groups of the rock era (since 1955). That may get them in the Rock HoF in 2016…or it may not.

Yes.  If “Owner Of A Lonely Heart” (below) is the extent of your knowledge of this progressive rock band’s output, then you’re understandably questioning why Yes is being considered for Rock Hall inclusion.  You’ve also likely not been listening to classic rock radio for the past few decades, where some of their earlier, more progressive songs have been featured most prominently.  There are classics like “I’ve Seen All Good People” and their first big hit, “Roundabout.”  Known for their ultra-lengthy songs and their experimentation with symphonic instrumentation, not to mention the uniquely high-pitched tenor vocals of former long-time lead-singer Jon Anderson, Yes is considered one of the most venerable prog-rock bands in music history.  The group’s career spans five decades and continues to this day.  Their most die-hard fans have notoriously launched campaigns for them to be nominated to the R&R HoF.

So will Yes get in (this time)?  They’re up against some tough competition this year.  My bets are on “no,” unless the Hall is letting in seven (or more) acts this year, in which case, my answer would be yes.

So there you have it, my predictions of which of this year’s nominees will actually be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame when they’re announced sometime in December.  The six acts I believe will be inducted into the Hall this year are The Cars, Chicago, Chaka Khan, N.W.A. Nine Inch Nails, and The Smiths, plus possibly Yes if the field is increased to seven and the JB’s in a non-performer category.

You may agree or disagree, but, hey isn’t that what makes this world (and music) so great?  Feel free to comment with your own predictions.  We will all find out by next March who came closest to the truth.

As always, thanks for all the love and support of djrobblog.

DJRob

 

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