Wednesday, 27 May 2009

The Rock Hall Backlog Part 8: Artists from largely unrepresented genres with consistent previous Nominating Committee votes but no ballot appearance

This eighth (eleventh if we include preliminaries) post in a series analysing the backlog of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame will deal with artists from genres that have few or no representatives in the present Hall. The most obvious such genres are:

1) progressive rock
2) heavy metal
3) jazz rock
4) new wave
5) synthesiser or electronic pop

I have also included rap in this list in order to create a better balance between the number of artists covered by this post and the previous one. However, it is very likely that in the future most new inductees will be hip hop artists. This is because they are the only artists debuting in most of the eighties acceptable to both critics and record company executives. Popular 1980s artists are rarely acceptable to professional critics because, as Joe S. Harrington taught me, they are almost completely derivative and dated, whereas innovative artists who had not the tiniest commercial success will be rejected by major record label executives who of course never could dream of signing them as they knew they would lose their label money.

The Moody Blues: Eligible since 1989/1990, they were the first progressive rock band to win significant public attention and had commercial success right up to the late 1980s with "Your Wildest Dreams" and "I Know You're Out There Somewhere" (which I recall disliking on Rage). Although some of their earliest work has had slight re-evaluation, it is hard to see criticial opposition subsiding enough to permit the Moody Blues a place in the Hall.

Alice Cooper: Although his Killer album was #18 in Joe S. Harrington's Top 100 Albums, Cooper is often ignored by critics because of his associations with heavy metal - though his acclaimed early work was really closer to punk and the influence of "I'm Eighteen" on that genre is well-documented via the Sex Pistols. There has been much criticism of his failure to get a chance on the ballot, but with the failure of the Stooges (again!) one doubts whether he will get a chance in the next few ballots.

Deep Purple: Eligible since 1993/1994, Deep Purple were long dismissed by critics but their reputation has improved, though not so much as Sabbath's. The shortness of their career at the top (three albums) and changes of lineup probabaly do not count against them so much as the bias of the aging Nominating Committee against metal. With Metallica already in, Deep Purple should certainly be considered a likely next "metal" ballot, especially as Slayer now look exceedingly unlikely and Lars Ulrich wants to see them get in.

Genesis: Eligible since 1993/1994, Genesis have the trouble of being famous only after most fans say they declined: when Steve Hackett left. Before that they never had a Top 40 hit on Billboard or a Top 50 entry in Australia, but their Hackett and pre-Hackett-era music is generally seen as a classic of the progressive rock era and still preserves a devoted following despite being seen as dated in the decade and a half after the "punk revolution". The fact that solo Peter Gabriel is seen as one of the very few remaining chances on the backlog should not exclude them, but their complicated history may work against them.

Chicago: Eligible since 1994/1995, they were originally a jazz/rock band who by my 1980s childhood were turning out mega-popular but truly dreadful power ballads like Hard to Say I'm Sorry. They were never popular with the critics but still have a devoted following for their early work today and are one of the most commercially successful groups in the Rock Hall backlog, but that alone is not likely to give them a serious chance.

Emerson, Lake & Palmer: Even more hated than Chicago, as recently as 2004 they were listed as the second worst artist in the history of rock music. ELP have not earned as much rehabilitation as Genesis or Yes or Tull, so that if those groups cannot make the ballot it is hard to see ELP as a chance.

Jethro Tull: Another progressive rock band whose critical reputation has recovered somewhat since the 1990s, Jethro Tull were mostly a vehicle for the somewhat eccentric Ian Anderson, but their albums up to Living in the Past are viewed as classic of the genre. It is not easy, though to think they will be the next band from this genre.

The Last Poets: Although not found on most major critics' lists, the Last Poets are still cited by people like Joe S. Harrington for their influence on Public Enemy. Their first album was actually quite successful commercially and reached the Billboard top 30, but their second missed the Top 100. As an unlikely candidate, hard to surpass, but likely only if the Nominating Committee are in the mood for surprises.

Yes: The most popular and acclaimed of the 1970s progressive rock acts so discredited by critics and the "punk revolution". Piero Scaruffi admits that their best music constitutes genuine classic recordings in a way he never does with other mass-selling prog bands, and among fans of such groups they always come out as the most popular. If any progressive rock band does get in it will probably be these guys.

KISS: Recently I heard that James Hetfield of new inductees Metallica stated plainly that he would lobby for the induction of KISS, a band whom many commentators have judged unfairly snubbed. For a long time critical opinion of KISS was very unfavourable, but some writers such as
David Keenan have questioned this viewpoint and regarded KISS as an essential part of the development of heavy metal. It will be interesting to see if more heavy metal bands do get inducted in the future, and if they do KISS will be a very likely candidate. The problem that makes me dubious, naturally, is the Nominating Committee's bias, which voters have also shown against Sabbath and the Stooges.

solo Peter Gabriel: Though his critical reputation like so much commercial music of the eighties has declined in modern times, some critics do see him as highly innovative in his fusion of world music into rock. He has been mentioned by many in the inner circle of the Rock Hall as the most likely of those newly eligible in the 2000s to get in, and with his strong commercial appeal even with songs that are not normal radio fare it would be hard not to see Gabriel as a likely candidate. This is particularly true when one consideres that during the 1980s Rolling Stone was very lavish in praising his 1980s albums. (In fact, I see it far from improbable that Gabriel will get in as a solo act without Genesis getting in at all).

The Cars: The most popular of the new wave bands, and one that eventually became accepted by MOR stations in the US. The Cars were never a big critical favourite but at the same time they were never hated in the way groups like Toto, Styx, Huey Lewis and the News, REO Speedwagon or Air Supply were. The Cars might be a reasonable "compromise choice" should the Nominating Committee run out of artists to try on its backlog, but on the whole they are by no means a likely backlog choice.

The Cure: A major new wave artist who are credited with popularising goth music, the Cure do retain more critical credibity than most commercial bands of the 1980s despite criticism by Joe Harrington in Sonic Cool. Despite not having a recognised "classic" album to cement their status, I have always though of the Cure as a good chance because they are widely acclaimed and generally conform with the tastes of Rolling Stone critics - unless as I suspect the Nominating Committee is not that serious about more recent artists on the backlog.

Devo: Like the Cure, renowned for taking an underground genre to the mainstream with hits like "Whip It" and "Here to Go". Devo never though achieved the same level of fame as the Cure, though their very earliest work - which did still dent the Top 100 on Billboard - has a significant cult following of its own, though cult followings alone are never enough to give even a chance for the Hall.

The B-52s: A major popular force for two distinct periods - in both of which they were most popular in my Australian homeland so my knowledge might make their chance look artificially good - the B-52s were as well known for the fashions as for their offbeat music. Their two periods of success were celebrated by a crisis during which they lost guitarist Ricky Wilson to AIDS, but they did not in spite of this have major personnel changes, so that there remains a unity that should help. Nonetheless, it is easy to see the B-52s as too "popular" for certain induction, but without doubt they remain one of the most likely chances from the new wave.

Def Leppard: The best-selling pop metal band from the 1980s and often respected for their ability to fight off twin tragedies of Rick Allen's arm loss and Steve Clarks alcohol-related death, the genre which Def Leppard are in is likely to be a great obstacle for their induction. The fact that the Nominating Committee completely ignored Bon Jovi during discussion of 2008/2009 nominees (whether through genre bias or feeling they should not discuss even remotely doubtful newly-eligibles) further lessens their hopes even though I expected they would have a good showing for 2008/2009 induction. If they have not been largely discarded by the Nominating Committee, Def Leppard would have to be the first pop metal band inducted, but questions over that genre's place make them very doubtful.

Iron Maiden: Often seen as an influence on Metallica, it will be interesting to see if any Metallica member campaigns for them as Hetfield did for KISS and non-backlog artists Judas Priest and Motörhead. Although Metallica probably does not "open the door" for Slayer, they may do so for Iron Maiden who they were played much more often on radio and MTV and are also cited by later metal innovators as an influence. Because of this, I would rate Iron Maiden one of the best chances among later backlog artists, though the question remains open as to whether any backlog artists not eligible before about 1999/2000 are taken seriously.

Simple Minds: This is, as I have said, a rather strange choice that I would think belonged in 50 Unlikely Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Candidates (and they were not in 125 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Candidates). I do not fully understand their consideration from the Nominating Committee on grounds of either commercial or critical appeal, but perhaps the power of inductees the Pretenders and U2 is important. Still feel that even that factor won't get them in.

The Sugarhill Gang: The first rap artist to have a hit, and eligible since 2004/2005, the Sugarhill Gang have great historical importance that is very likely to gain them entry, although they are not considered the most innovative of the "old school" rap artists. The questions I generally have about backlog artists who were neither eligible before about 1999/2000 nor have actually reached the ballot I do not think will apply to rappers: the only newly eligible artists discussed by the Nominating Committee in 2005/2006 and 2008/2009 were rappers and I do not think that will change before 2012/2013 at the earliest.

The Treacherous Three: Less well-known to the general public than the Sugarhill Gang, the Treacherous Three have still gained a good deal of attention for their innovation such as using guitars in a rap context, which paved the way for the many crossovers of rock and rap during the cultural watershed of the late 1980s rap revolution. They may be far from the first rap act to get inducted, but still not a bad bet.

Depeche Mode: The first band to bring all-electronic rock to the mainstream, eventually becoming a stadium band, I have long looked at their chances since before their eligibility in 2006/2007, even considering them a likely choice in 2008/2009. As mentioned several times before, I doubt their chances very much since I am not sure how many of the non-rap backlog artists eligible since 1999/2000 are still taken seriously. Nonetheless, with their strong fan base and considerable influence on the pop and gothic scenes, Depeche Mode would be rated as some possibility for future induction, though perhaps it may wait a little.

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