Handicapping the 2016 Rock Hall Candidates

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The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s inductees and omissions never fail the water cooler test
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Will Steve Miller have the last laugh and be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame? We think so

The past two years have been banner ones for new additions to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Nirvana and Linda Ronstadt led a strong 2014 class that also included Daryl Hall and John Oates, Peter Gabriel, Cat Stevens, the E Street Band and Kiss. 2015 inductees featured Green Day, Lou Reed, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Joan Jett and Ringo Starr, among others. Hence the digital howls and groans on the Internet weren’t as loud as in previous years. You really couldn’t argue with any of them (even our editor, who loathes Kiss in no uncertain terms, accepted them as deserving… at least by whatever that Hall’s “standards” may be).

This year’s not such an easy crop to say “yep” or “nope” to most all of them being chosen for induction.

So with the announcement imminent for who made the Class of 2016, Best Classic Bands has examined the credentials of the 15 nominees and listened to lots of their music to analyze whether they’ll be voted in this year. They’re all worthy candidates though a few raise eyebrows – as many of their predecessors have done before. The nominees are listed alphabetically. We have identified a long shot and safe choice.

The CarsIf a candidacy hinged on any of the members’ WAGS, this would be no contest: the band’s Ric Ocasek has been married to still-stunning model Paulina Porizkova since 1989. The new wave band from Boston burst onto the scene in 1978 and made an instant impact with their self-titled debut and numerous follow-ups. However, they were essentially done by the mid-1980s. They achieved plenty of radio hits, but one might say The Cars were more influenced than particularly influential. Odds: Not a chance.

Cheap Trick – An American rock’n’roll group with a sense of humor, and popular and potent enough to sell-out arenas in their prime, Trick deserve props for all the years they spent as the heartland’s greatest club band. Initially breaking through in Japan, their live Cheap Trick At Budokan album subsequently paved the way for worldwide success. Singles “Surrender” and “I Want You To Want Me” remain classic rock anthems. Also major critical favorites; hey, too bad the Hall fired most of the critics on their committees. Cheap Trick’s hits still sound fresh and always will. Odds: Eventually, soon even. But not quite yet….

Chic – One of the biggest complaints from the Rock Hall’s critics is that the voting body strayed away from its rock’n’roll roots when it inducted contemporary soul music performers. No one has ever had an issue with historic soul musicians, as many helped define rock’n’roll in its early days. In fact, the first induction class in 1986 wisely focused solely on such pioneers as James Brown, Ray Charles and Fats Domino. Subsequent elections have voted in such later non-rock acts as The O’Jays, Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five and Donna Summer. This is Chic’s 10th nomination. They’ve certainly had hits, most notably “Le Freak” and “Good Times.” They’re influential. But are you voting for a riff? Odds: Welcome to the Hall!

Chicago – Strange as it may be to say, if the band’s original run, which started in 1969, had ended in the early ‘70s, they might have a better shot at the hall as this cool progressive act with that big jazzy rock sound so prominent on their debut (when they were known as Chicago Transit Authority) and its two-LP follow-up Chicago. Both were filled with some smart horn arrangements and great singles like “Beginnings,” “Make Me Smile” and “25 or 6 to 4.” But then Chicago had the nerve to morph into a a very efficient hitmaking machine whose work could be a bit soapy and cheesy. How dare they? Odds: Eventually but not yet.

Deep PurpleHuh?? They aren’t already members? Yeah, we know: Third nomination, and damn it, this time should be the charm for one of the founding acts of hard rock, hugely influential (Lord knows how many bands Purple’s ex-members alone  have started), so famed for “Smoke on the Water”… good God, just the freaking riff… then there’s all those important – yes, important – albums. And if the new fan votes mean anything at all, it’s now time they heard the words. Odds: Welcome to the Hall!

Janet Jackson – Huge sales? Check. Controversial event? The woman singlehandedly inspired the term “wardrobe malfunction.” Rocker? Er, no, but that didn’t prevent the Hall from welcoming Madonna into the club in 2008. And while their careers at first glance seem different, they’re eerily similar. Odds: Eventually but not yet.

The J.B.’s – WTF? They aren’t automatically members? This is one of those irksome aspects to how the hall strangely works. James Brown already earned his way in long ago due at least in part to the music made by his back-up band – some of the finest R&B and proto funk ever recorded. So they have to go back to the end of the line to get in? Sure, it’s not the same songs (read: not as good). But isn’t there a more efficient way to address these acts? Odds: See ya in a few years when we can fit you into the agenda.

Chaka KhanLong career? Check. Sales galore? Some 70 million. Awards? Ten Grammys. Crossover appeal? From the start. Household name? Your Mom probably digs her. And when it comes to influence, we can’t blame Chaka for all the over-singers who followed. Odds: Welcome to the Hall! (safe choice)

Los Lobos – Awwww. We all love The Wolves. They make music for music’s sake, and it’s wonderful stuff. They’re modest, nice men who make uniquely ambitious music. But will it take a hit all their own to open the gates to the hall? (They’re all hits to us Lobos lovers.) The nomination in the same year as their first bio let’s them know just how much we love ’em. Odds: To be continued.

Steve Miller – Are you joking? (Pun intended) This guy’s not already in the Hall? Just as unimaginable? This is his first nomination though he’s been eligible since 1993!! (One can’t help but wonder what he did to  There are a lot of Miller tracks that justifiably get plenty of classic rock airplay: “The Joker,” “Fly Like An Eagle,” Jet Airliner” and “Rock ‘N Me,” to name a few. And the man’s a terrific guitarist and is still touring, so there’s that. Odds: Going out on a limb here… Welcome to the Hall!

N.W.A. Gee, can the hall get them to play the younger-skewing induction TV concert show without inducting this ground-breaking hip-hop crew? No better sign that they have influence than a biopic and the fact that they wrote the soundtrack for “Black Lives Matter” some 40 years ago. But only two albums…. Odds: One of these day, but not this one.

Nine Inch Nails Original and influential? Hell yeah – all but invented industrial rock. Sales? Respectable 10 million in U.S. and 20 million worldwide. Influential? At least touched much of what has followed. Warm and lovable. Hardly. Powerful in vomc? Omigawd of course. Odds: Welcome to the Hall! (edgy choice).

The SmithsGet used to the idea. Sooner more than later you will read this line: “Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee Steven Morrissey.” It’s a role he’s been rehearsing for his entire life. Johnny Marr certainly grew into a guitar influence (or maybe better put, guitar re-influencer.) Their four albums affected millions and kinda mainstreamed chronic depression. For so many, The Smiths were the 1980s. Odds: All in due time but not this time.

The Spinners – As unjust as it may be, when evaluating the candidacy of non-rock artists for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, it’s logical to judge them by their peers. And in The Spinners’ case – a terrific R&B vocal group with a boatload of hit singles mostly from 1970 to ‘79, we need to look at the career of HoF members The O’Jays, another R&B vocal group who earned half as many hits during that same decade. Or should it come down to whether voters like the latter’s #1 hit “Love Train” more than The Spinners’ #1 “Then Came You”? (Or producers Gamble & Huff’s TSOP vs. later era Motown.) Odds: Eventually but not yet.

YesThe pioneering English prog-rock group’s first time up. One has to wonder if the Hall’s Godfather Jann Wenner has ever even heard a Yes album, hence why they probably only got a second nod now centuries after qualifying. We’d like to see them get inducted just to hear the old school critics carping and the young alt-rock mavens squealing, none of whom likely saw Yes at their Anderson/Squire/Wakeman/Howe/Bruford or White peak when their individual and ensemble playing could rip off the top of your head. So distinctive they weren’t as much an influence as inspiration. Fellow proggers Genesis and Gabriel were inducted on first noms. Yes won’t be so honored. Odds: See ya down the line, mates.

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Best Classic Bands Staff

7 Comments so far

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  1. Steve
    #1 Steve 11 December, 2015, 16:28

    Yes is the most deserving of any or these nominees. Firstly this is the second time YES is in nominations, not the first as in your critique above. Excluding the period affected by robot voting that HOF changed the voting rules midstream, YES was by far was the strongest choice in the public fan poll , over 18%. Even using the total voting YES is the #2choice of the 15 nominated and #3, 2 years ago, when they were also nominated. Deep Purple was also nominated that year and wasn’t inducted. Chris Squire who’s name was spelt wrong in your article passed away this year after 42 years continuous member of the band, is a giant in halls of bass guitar and rock music. This alone should be reason to recognise the band this year rather than some time down the line as you suggest. May I suggest you polish up your facts, listen to Yessongs, rethink your view on this supergroup, YES, and republish this article. This is the year or YES, don’t be left out.

    Reply this comment
    • Greg Brodsky
      Greg Brodsky 12 December, 2015, 10:28

      Thanks for taking the time to Comment, Steve. We’ve corrected the typo on the spelling of The Fish’s last name as well as your astutely pointing out that Yes were, indeed, nominated before. Thank you!

      However, you may have missed the point about the article… We’re handicapping how we think the HoF committee will vote. We even note: “We’d like to see them get inducted…” And for the record, we’re big Yes fans.

      Reply this comment
    • Tom D
      Tom D 12 December, 2015, 10:52

      I totally agree. I’ll go so far as to say that every time someone less deserving gets in, it rankles me. This is a game-changing band. Steve Howe came into prominence about the time of Jimi Hendrix’ death, and pretty much dusted all of the Brit R&B guys, at 21 years old. In my opinion , after Hendrix, only Terry Kath of Chicago was his equal. But Beck was great, etc. – it’s all a matter of taste. The point is that Yes should have been in the Hall 15-20 years ago.

      Reply this comment
    • StikeDC
      StikeDC 12 December, 2015, 13:31

      YES, thank you!

      Reply this comment
  2. dmg
    #2 dmg 12 December, 2015, 09:01

    Steve Miller only had one album as a solo artist – Born 2 B Blue in 1988. That means he’s only technically been eligible as a solo act since 2013.

    It irritates me when the Hall only nominates the frontman of a band. Voters should reject him on those grounds.

    Reply this comment
  3. Dreadnought
    #3 Dreadnought 12 December, 2015, 11:37

    Well-reasoned piece. However, I believe it understates the current strong influence of identity politics among the actual voters, and over-emphasizes the effect of the fan vote.

    Presently, it seems that there is at least a de facto apportionment of the inductee spots in this manner: one rock selection based on actual historic or commercial merit; two selections reflecting the diversity of the HOF (R&B, hip-hop, female, LGBT); a selection satisfying the top fan preference; and a selection pleasing to Mr. Wenner and his immediate circle.

    Therefore, I expect these 5 acts to be announced next Wednesday:
    – Yes or Deep Purple (55/45)
    – Janet Jackson
    – N.W.A.
    – Chicago
    – Nine Inch Nails

    These are not my own choices; I agree with the fan vote, but with Cheap Trick swapped with Steve Miller (sorry, Steve, but the lyrics to Take the Money and Run alone should disqualify you for at least 3 more years.) Intuition also tells me The Cars could knock off the Yes or Deep Purple spot.

    This year’s class will likely again seem democratically counter-intuitive, notwithstanding Chicago’s grudging admission, because the RRHOF ultimately remains Mr. Wenner’s bespoke marionette show.

    Reply this comment
  4. StikeDC
    #4 StikeDC 12 December, 2015, 13:29

    Chaka Khan & Nine Inch Nails over YES. If anything like this happens, YES fans (check the vote — they’re 2nd in RRHOF and Cleveland.com polls) are walking.

    Reply this comment

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