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IF I HAD A BALLOT FOR THE 2013 ROCK AND ROLL HALL OF FAME NOMINATIONS

On October 4, 2012, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame announced the 15 nominees for the Class of 2013 prior to sending a ballot to more than 600 industry members. Boy, I wish I were one of those getting a ballot—and I bet you do too!

Actually, for the first time, fans can vote online through December 5 on a special parallel ballot (available at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and elsewhere), with the top five vote-getters being counted alongside the industry ballot. The Hall of Fame will announce the inductees some time in December.

But under the pretext of getting one of the official ballots, I have "done my homework" below preparatory to casting my votes yea or nay for each of the nominees. If you haven't heard, the 15 nominees for induction in 2013 are the Paul Butterfield Blues Band, Chic, Deep Purple, Heart, Joan Jett and the Blackhearts, Albert King, Kraftwerk, the Marvelettes, the Meters, Randy Newman, N.W.A., Procol Harum, Public Enemy, Rush, and Donna Summer.

I have outlined each nominee below in three areas: The nominee's background, whether I think the Hall of Fame voters will vote for the nominee's inclusion—keeping in mind that trying to anticipate the Hall's collective vote is a glorious crapshoot—and whether I personally would vote for the nominee were I a voting member of the Hall.

As I have done in my series of audits of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, I used the Defining Factors from that audit series to evaluate the 2013 nominees. These Defining Factors are outlined below:

  • Innovation. The artist has invented or refined one or more aspects of the music.
  • Influence. The artist has made a demonstrable impact on the music of either contemporaries or succeeding artists.
  • Popularity. The artist has achieved an appreciable measure of commercial or critical success.
  • Crossover appeal. The artist is recognized and appreciated outside the artist's primary arena.
  • Legacy. The artist's accomplishments have lasting impact and appeal.

What about you? Who are your picks for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame this year?

The Paul Butterfield Blues Band

Background: This home-grown outfit was among the first to explore American blues-rock but found itself overshadowed by the spate of British acts that leapt to prominence in the mid-1960s from the Rolling Stones on down. The irony is that the Paul Butterfield Blues Band learned at the feet of the Chicago masters and at times even featured members of Howlin' Wolf's bands. Led by singer and harmonica player Paul Butterfield, who picked up his instrumental cues from Little Walter, and highlighted by guitarists Mike Bloomfield—arguably the greatest white blues guitarist you've never heard of—and Elvin Bishop, the Paul Butterfield Blues Band released a debut album in 1965 that was a high-energy, if overly literal, distillation of Chicago blues—from "Born in Chicago" to "Mellow down Easy" to "Look over Yonder's Wall"—that spotlighted both Butterfield's and Bloomfield's impressive chops.

The next album, 1966's East-West, was even better as the band blended jazz and even East Indian influences into its blues-rock core, the former with a cover of Nat Adderley's "Work Song" and the latter with the lengthy title instrumental: "East-West" was a revolutionary track that stood at the forefront of the extended instrumental workouts soon to be found in psychedelia and in the next wave of blues-rock jamming—the seeds of the Allman Brothers' guitar interplay, for instance, can be found here in Bishop's and Bloomfield's fretwork. When Bloomfield departed, Butterfield regrouped with a horn-based approach (1967's The Resurrection of Pigboy Crabshaw) that anticipated the big-group jazz-R&B sound soon to be associated with Blood, Sweat and Tears and the Chicago Transit Authority as well as with Bloomfield's own short-lived Electric Flag. However, Butterfield's curse was being able to forecast trends but being unable to capitalize on them, either through inadequate songcraft or modest arrangements that, barring exceptions such as "East-West," didn't fully explore the implications he had uncovered.

Will the artist be voted into the Hall? No. The Hall has done a lot of backfilling of artists from the 1960s, from Southern soul to folk-rock to psychedelic-rock to straight pop, and although blues-rock is a vital tributary into 1970s hard rock and heavy metal, the Paul Butterfield Blues Band is much better known to aficionados than to casual fans. The band's inability to establish a commercial presence hurts their claim to be innovators—the British blues-rockers of the mid-1960s are better-known to general audiences.

Would I vote for the artist? No. Although it might be unfair that the British blues-rockers nabbed the spotlight from Butterfield and his band, it is not unjustified—they used the form as a springboard to more substantial developments. Butterfield did anticipate a number of musical trends but he couldn't translate them into commercial success or significant influence.

Chic

Background: Blending rock and R&B influences into its bouncy disco strategy, Chic offered a grittier, funkier take on dance music, and in the process provided inspiration for hip-hop and rock artists—the hit "Good Times," and particularly Bernard Edwards's rubbery bass line, provided the bedrock for, among others, the Sugarhill Gang's "Rapper's Delight" and for Queen's "Another One Bites the Dust." Edwards also provided another signature low-register classic for the risqué smash "Le Freak" as he and guitarist Nile Rodgers, both veteran session men, crafted the earthy foundation of Edwards's thick bottom and Rodgers's chicken-scratch guitar—funk elements dating back to James Brown's JBs—that supported the washes of strings and the airy voices of the female singers whose words carried an undertone of social unease even as the overt message was to "Dance Dance Dance," another key hit for the collective.

Chic offered a durable approach for disco, but the genre was getting buffeted by the 1980s, and the band had often been unfairly cast as relics of that period, exemplified by the seeming vacuity of tracks such as "I Want Your Love" and "Everybody Dance." Yet Chic developed a hybrid sound that proved accessible not only to dance styles—Chic's contemporary Sister Sledge bore a literal relationship to Chic's sound—but also to urban, hip-hop, and rock styles, while the rich yet lean production work of Edwards and Rodgers, the hallmark of Chic's success, quickly became in-demand, thus perpetuating Chic's influence. As any number of the anonymous disco bands from that period fade into nostalgia, the impact and influence of Chic becomes more salient.

Will the artist be voted into the Hall? No. Not this year, even though the band has been nominated six times previously dating back to 2003. With Donna Summer also on the ballot and having died this year, voters will choose her over Chic. Disco still carries a stigma for rock and roll diehards, and two disco artists elected in the same year is an unlikely scenario.

Would I vote for the artist? Yes. Chic transcends its primary genre, disco, while influencing various styles. Its impact on hip-hop pioneers Grandmaster Flash and the Sugarhill Gang alone is an indication of Chic's impact on the development of music of the Rock Era.

Deep Purple

Background: Formed in England around the same time as Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath, Deep Purple began with an eclecticism that seemed like a kid in a candy store, covering Neil Diamond ("Kentucky Woman") and essaying progressive-rock touches that highlighted the counterpoint between guitarist Ritchie Blackmore and keyboardist John Lord (the instrumental "Hard Road (Wring That Neck)") while, pretentiously, aiming even higher—Lord composed a Concerto for Group and Orchestra that was not exactly a classical gas. But when singer Ian Gillan and bassist Roger Glover signed aboard, Purple narrowed its concentration to hard rock and released a trio of early-1970s albums that exemplified the band's robust early metal. In Rock ("Speed King," "Child in Time") and Fireball ("Strange Kind of Woman," the title song) honed an approach that culminated with Machine Head, an essential hard-rock album that featured "Highway Star," "Never Before," the molten-metal "Space Truckin'," and the deathless anthem "Smoke in the Water." The terrific concert album Made in Japan managed to improve upon the studio versions; for instance, the extended version of "Space Truckin'," far from being indulgent showboating, still maintains an impressive cinematic air.

However, the glory period was short-lived, as Purple couldn't maintain the inspiration. Who Do We Think We Are? contained "Woman from Tokyo" and maybe one or two other memorable tracks ("Rat Bat Blue"), and then Gillan quit. His replacement David Coverdale (later of Whitesnake) gamely filled in for a few of albums before Blackmore departed; the live Made in Europe, featuring Blackmore and Coverdale, acutely demonstrated how the band did degenerate into onstage showboating. By the mid-1970s Deep Purple was done although the "Mark II" configuration, with Blackmore, Gillan, and Glover, did reform a decade later, to fans' delight but little else. At various times, high-powered American guitarists Tommy Bolin, Steve Morse, and Joe Satriani have stepped in (Satriani did not appear on any official recordings), lending the band a certain amount of cachet while suggesting Purple's stature, but except for Machine Head and Made in Japan, Deep Purple never delivered on the promise it suggested with demonstrable consistency, and it is hard not to see Purple as much more than a period relic.

Will the artist be voted into the Hall? No. Hall voters have been picky in their endorsements of hard-rock acts, and Deep Purple does not rise to the level of genre- or period-defining as have Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, Aerosmith, Metallica, or Guns 'N Roses. Although Purple is better technically than AC/DC, which Hall voters did elect, Purple never entertained the sustained levels of popularity that AC/DC has.

Would I vote for the artist? No. Deep Purple lacks sufficient quantities of the Defining Factors I have used to evaluate previously-elected artists to be worthy of the Hall itself. I say this as someone who as a teenage Deep Purple fanatic snapped up every Purple album he could—even the compilations that featured songs I already had. Listening to those albums later, though, I realized that the average Deep Purple album (excluding best-of packages) hit on all cylinders at best three or four times. That does not count Machine Head or Made in Japan, but two outstanding albums are not enough on which to hang a Hall of Fame legacy.

Heart

Background: Beginning in the Pacific Northwest in the mid-1970s, Heart actually enjoyed two careers, first as a hard-rock band through the early 1980s, then as a big-ballad act from the mid-1980s through the rest of the decade. The band's most distinctive feature is its being fronted by a pair of sisters, singer Ann Wilson and guitarist Nancy Wilson, which is innovation enough for the 1970s, a period in which hard rock was overwhelmingly male-dominated and a female presence was a novelty. But the Wilsons were hardly tokens—not only were they fully integrated musically with the rest of the band, they were the driving creative forces. However, Heart's folk-metal approach found the band tagged as "Jethro Zeppelin," with "Dreamboat Annie" and "Silver Wheels" taking the acoustic approach and "Crazy on You," "Barracuda," and the supple, muscular "Magic Man" turning up the volume. In truth, Heart did have a hard time transcending its derivations—the band's live version of Zeppelin's "Rock and Roll" is a too-faithful reproduction, while "Dream of the Archer" borrows conspicuously from Zep's "The Battle of Evermore." Nevertheless, rockers such as "Even It Up," "Kick It Out," and the droll "Bebe le Strange" had no problem mixing it up with other classic-rock staples.

But when '70s hard rock swooned by the 1980s, Heart discovered the power ballad, and helped by Ann's strong voice, it unleashed a string of hits starting with "What About Love" and moving through "These Dreams," "Alone," and a number of others, while songs like "Who Will You Run To" aimed for arena-rock grandeur. The band's polished production was similarly a departure from its previous lean attack. By the 1990s, women in rock were much more prevalent although the pioneering efforts of the Wilson sisters seemed to have been overlooked. Whether this is because commercial hard rock of the 1970s became the object of such derision by the next waves (at least initially—Smashing Pumpkins' Billy Corgan made no secret of his love for Foghat), or because Heart was right in the middle of the hard-rock pack with little to distinguish it apart from having been fronted by two women, is prime fodder for a barroom debate.

Will the artist be voted into the Hall? No. In recent years, Hall voters have been fairly diligent about recognizing the distaff influence on the Rock Era, for good (Brenda Lee, Patti Smith) and not-so-good (Darlene Love, Laura Nyro), but I don't think they will bite this time, and not just because of a hard-rock bias. If riot grrrls, to choose only one group of post-punk female musicians, had named the Wilson sisters as influences instead of Patti Smith, Heart would be in, but musically Heart was just not that innovative or influential.

Would I vote for the artist? No. Ann and Nancy Wilson might have been the first women to front a commercially successful hard-rock band, but although the Jethro Zeppelin characterization might sting, it is nevertheless appropriate—Heart never rose above the sum of its influences. If this were an all-male band under discussion, there wouldn't be a discussion; Foreigner, which went from pop-rock to power ballad, has a somewhat similar path as Heart, and not many beyond Foreigner's fan base are clamoring for its induction. Sometimes being first is not enough.

Joan Jett and the Blackhearts

Background: Singer and guitarist Joan Jett might have had a lurid start as a member of the punk-bait Runaways, but once she went solo in the late 1970s, she quickly established herself as a genuine hard-rocker informed by punk chops and attitude. The title song to Jet's debut Bad Reputation announced her defiant presence with a brash bash, as did the hit title-track declaration to her follow-up album, I Love Rock 'n' Roll, with the Blackhearts now fully in tow. That album featured another hit, an intriguing cover of "Crimson and Clover"—intriguing because Jett couldn't change the gender of the song's subject without changing the lyrics—but that also underscored the defining characteristic of Jett's career: She has been primarily a juke box, churning out a host of cover versions (including an entire album of them titled The Hit List) that showcases her taste and knowledge—with some, such as her take on Lesley Gore's pre-feminist anthem "You Don't Own Me," being downright inspired—but not necessarily her artistic ability.

Granted, Jett has recorded a number of her own compositions, and some of them have gained success, such as "I Hate Myself for Loving You" (albeit written with song doctor Desmond Child), although many of her own songs seem to scream "issues": "Let Me Go," "Don't Abuse Me," "Love Is Pain," "Victim of Circumstances," "You're Too Possessive," "Fake Friends," and "This Means War" among them. The psychological interpretations are best left to her therapist, and Jett is hardly alone in airing her grievances in song, but apart from "Let Me Go" and a couple of others, they don't make for memorable rock songs, certainly compared to the verve she brings to her renditions of "I Love Rock 'n' Roll," "Do You Wanna Touch Me," "You Don't Own Me," and "Everyday People." As an inspiration to riot grrrls and other female rockers, Jett comes on like Chrissie Hynde's kid sister, and that sums up Jett's problem: She has never stepped out from the shadows of others to establish herself as an artist in her own right.

Will the artist be voted into the Hall? Yes. This is the female rocker Hall voters are looking for in Heart—brash and post-punk but with a firm attachment to the classic-rock legacy through all those cover versions. Not that the voting won't be close, but compared to some of the nominees the Hall has elected, Joan Jett is not the worst.

Would I vote for the artist? No. Joan Jett doesn't rise to the level of a Hall of Famer in terms of Defining Factors. Her musical approach is derivative and hardly innovative, and it doesn't carry much insight or lasting appeal. As a hard rocker, she is generally enjoyable but ultimately non-essential.

Albert King

Background: He shares a surname with two other blueswailing, guitar-slinging (and unrelated) Kings already in the Hall of Fame, and although Albert was actually two years older than B.B., he didn't earn significant success until the Rock Era, as had the decade-younger Freddie. Indeed, with his signature Gibson Flying V guitar, left-handed playing, and flashy style, Albert King seemed more in sync with rock and soul than with blues. On his keynote Stax album Born under a Bad Sign he was backed by Booker T. and the MGs, and three standout songs soon gained currency among rock players: "Born under a Bad Sign" spawned versions by several artists from Cream to, er, Homer Simpson; Eric Clapton covered "Crosscut Saw"; and "The Hunter" became incorporated into Led Zeppelin's "How Many More Times."

But despite the flash and acclaim from the rock crowd, King seldom rose above the sum of influences, which ranged from Lonnie Johnson to T-Bone Walker to B.B. King; after hearing B.B.'s "Three O'Clock Blues," Albert King Nelson dropped the "Nelson" from his name and went with "Albert King" as his stage name. King's blues-playing could be fiery ("Killing Floor," "Why You So Mean to Me?") if derivative, but when he ventured into rock and pop, such as on a string of albums for the Tomato label (Albert, Truckload of Lovin'), King seemed out to sea, awash in the ornate arrangements—unlike B.B. King, who brought his stylistic flourishes firmly within the framework of the blues. Albert King might have been a favorite of rock players from Mick Taylor to Stevie Ray Vaughan to Joe Walsh, but like them, King was a high-powered guitar-slinger looking for something to say.

Will the artist be voted into the Hall? Yes—but he will go into the Hall as an "Early Influence," as did Freddie King in 2012. This is because Albert King is a "blues" player, albeit one with more cachet with rock audiences than blues audiences. This is also a haphazard decision because Freddie King, like Albert, had his success during the Rock Era, as did previous inductee Buddy Guy, who, like B.B. King, was inducted as a standard performer (and B.B.'s earliest recordings, which gave him his initial fame, predate the Rock Era).

Would I vote for the artist? No. Either as a standard performer or as an Early Influence, Albert King was a flashy but derivative player, and as much as a respected critic such as David McGee might hype King's abilities, I do not think they rise to the level of a Hall of Famer.

Kraftwerk

Background: Given that Germany, until the late 1960s, had no rock tradition but did have a technocratic one dating back much earlier than that, it is no surprise that it should spawn an initial wave of "krautrock" that emphasized electronic, synthesized sounds from bands such as Faust, Kraftwerk, and Tangerine Dream. (Can, also of that generation, pursued similar technological sounds only using more organic instrumentation.) With a penchant for simplicity and hypnotic repetition, along with occasional deadpan humor, Kraftwerk was the most accessible of the lot. That accessibility in turn translated to influence.

The lengthy title tracks to the 1970s albums Autobahn and Trans-Europe Express evoked impressions of a long car trip and railroad trip, respectively, while exemplifying the monotonous yet lulling rhythm of both modes of transportation, enlivened occasionally by a passing distraction; in that respect, Kraftwerk manifested into rock the influences of fellow German electronic pioneer Karlheinz Stockhausen as well as American composer Steve Reich. Kraftwerk also flashed a droll sense of humor ("Showroom Dummies," "The Model"), all the more salient for coming from "humorless German engineers" forecasting the age of robots and computers ("The Man-Machine," "Computer World"). Kraftwerk's minimalist approach got old fairly quickly—by the early 1980s the band was repeating itself to no benefit—but by offering a stark, shiny, hypnotic sound from the future, it provided a tangible influence on avant-garde, hip-hop, and New Wave while laying the foundation for electronica.

Will the artist be voted into the Hall? Yes. Hall voters seem to be coming to terms with modern rock and pop styles, and part of that acceptance is acknowledging the influences on those styles. Voters will also be defusing criticism that they are biased toward American and British artists by making Kraftwerk the first German artist elected to the Hall.

Would I vote for the artist? Yes. Albeit it is a reluctant yes, as I do not think that Kraftwerk's body of work beyond Autobahn and Trans-Europe Express is remarkable. However, much like Black Sabbath, Kraftwerk exerted an influence that transcended its own artistic limitations. It is that influence and legacy, though, that pushes these "transistorized pranksters" (to borrow David Fricke's expression) into the Hall.

The Marvelettes

Background: One of Motown's earliest hit-makers, notching their only Number One single "Please Mr. Postman" in 1961, the Marvelettes were also one of the most anonymous of the Motown ensembles. That relative facelessness resulted in the group being overlooked as the label's solo artists and high-profile members of other groups became known quantities, but although the Marvelettes delivered Motown's first Number One hit ("Please Mr. Postman"), they were soon eclipsed by these more talented artists.

The girl-group did reach the Top Forty through 1968 as "Playboy," "Beechwood 4-5789," "The Hunter Gets Captured by the Game," "My Baby Must Be a Magician," and especially the winsome "Don't Mess with Bill" all made at least Number 20 on Billboard's Hot 100 pop singles chart. But the Marvelettes never abandoned the ultimately limiting format of the anonymous girl-group ensemble—Wanda Rogers eventually emerged as the group's singing personality, although she paled in comparison to Diana Ross and even Martha Reeves—and despite Smokey Robinson's guidance (he provided them with "Don't Mess with Bill," sung by Rogers), Motown relegated the Marvelettes to background status, and after "My Baby Must Be a Magician," they did begin to fade like the smoke from a conjuring trick.

Will the artist be voted into the Hall? No. Hall voters have been overly zealous in backfilling earlier artists, particularly from the 1960s, but Motown, justly so, is well-represented in the Hall of Fame, and the Marvelettes do not rise to the level of their more illustrious label mates.

Would I vote for the artist? No. The Marvelettes provided a handful of engaging hits throughout the 1960s, and although they were able to adapt to a number of production styles, they lack strong Defining Factors to qualify them for the Hall.

The Meters

Background: Think of them as Cajun cousins of Booker T. and the MGs: The Meters concocted a bare-bones bayou blend of funk and R&B that served both as the backing for artists from Dr. John to Labelle and, like the MGs, as announcements for their own artistry; the Meters scored instrumental hits with "Cissy Strut" and "Sophisticated Cissy." Keyboardist Art Neville and guitarist Leo Nocentelli spearheaded the Meters' sound, anchored by the loose-limbed rhythm section of bassist George Porter, Jr., and drummer Zig Modeliste (Art's brother Cyril later joined as percussionist); together, they crafted compact instrumental exercises such as "Look-Ka Py Py," "Pungee," and "Live Wire," which bore a strong MGs influence.

From their New Orleans beginnings in the late 1960s, the Meters continued to cut records through the mid-1970s. They added vocal numbers to their repertoire, including "Cabbage Alley," "Hey Pocky A-Way," the percolating "Fire on the Bayou," and "Jungle Man," which suggested where Little Feat got its laid-back groove and attitude from. In fact, listening to the Meters is almost like playing Name That Tune, or at least Name That Artist, because the accents and arrangements are so familiar from the various acts the band has backed. It's no surprise that the Meters have been an influence on 1970s funk and on 1980s hip-hop, although the band struggled to break through commercially during its initial stretch, leading to shameless 1970s pandering such as "Disco Is the Thing Today."

Will the artist be voted into the Hall? No. At least voters won't elect the Meters as performers, although the Hall might consider them to be prime candidates for the Award for Musical Excellence (formerly the Sidemen category). A couple of modest instrumental hits and a strong professional reputation won't be enough to convince voters.

Would I vote for the artist? No. The Meters certainly pioneered a blend of funk that proved to be influential—the problem is that no one outside of industry professionals and knowledgeable fans knew about it. Maybe Booker T. and the MGs had better press, but at least they got recognized while the Meters never supplied that one moment of genuine glory.

Randy Newman

Background: With a career going on a half-century long, singer-songwriter Randy Newman is a musical institution. By the mid-1960s, he was already penning hits for artists such as Jerry Butler, the Fleetwoods, and Gene Pitney before he released his debut album in 1968. That early reputation as a writer pegged Newman as a singer-songwriter, one like Jackson Browne, Bob Dylan, and Joni Mitchell, whose compositions proved to be as successful for other artists as for themselves. In truth, Newman was poles apart from that openly confessional style. Hunched behind his piano instead of a guitar, Newman did not sing about himself, at least not directly, nor did he spill a lot of words. His terse, understated, but finely-drawn observations, overwhelmingly in the third person, concealed his droll irony until after the final note evaporated, leaving the listener to turn around to gape at the sly songster already halfway out the door.

Beginning with his 1968 debut, Newman released a series of albums through the early 1980s before concentrating on film scores; he came by that work honestly, as he comes from a family of cinematic composers, arrangers, and conductors (check Turner Classic Movies sometime to see how often a Newman crops up in the film credits). Both 12 Songs ("Suzanne," "Lucinda," "Mama Told Me Not to Come") and Sail Away (the title song, "You Can Leave Your Hat On," "Political Science") are essential rock albums, and many of the rest from this period are not too far behind although his biggest hits are the seemingly-trite "Short People" and "I Love L.A." Even in appearance Newman looks to be the antithesis of the rock musician—he looks more like the label executive—but his songs have been covered by acts from Three Dog Night to Joe Cocker to Linda Ronstadt to Bonnie Raitt to Harry Nilsson (who recorded an entire album of Newman's songs), with Newman himself providing the wryest commentary on the Rock Era than anyone else.

Will the artist be voted into the Hall? Yes. This is the year for Randy Newman. The Hall loves singer-songwriters, and all the significant ones from the classic-rock period—even Leonard Cohen, Laura Nyro, and Tom Waits—have been inducted already, so now it is Randy Newman's turn. And it is about damn time.

Would I vote for the artist? Yes. In a heartbeat, for reasons I have already detailed at great length in a previous column.

N.W.A.

Background: Sometimes the history of the Rock Era is punctuated by artists whose moment was brief but enduring, altering the course of the music irrevocably even though the artist's presence was fleeting. Bill Haley, the Sex Pistols, and Grandmaster Flash were such artists, and so was the hip-hop group N.W.A. Short for Niggaz wit Attitudes, N.W.A. wasn't the first gangsta-rap act—Schoolly D delivered the first truly graphic street-level vignettes (such as "PSK—What Does It Mean?), although Hall of Fame recognition for him is non-existent; first is not always lasting—but N.W.A. did deliver the definitive tract for the genre, Straight Outta Compton, N.W.A.'s second album which has influenced countless acts while spawning the solo careers of Dr. Dre, Eazy-E, and Ice Cube. "Straight Outta Compton" is a gripping statement of purpose while "Gangsta Gangsta" details inner-city life in ambiguous terms and the notorious "Fuck tha Police" is a landmark challenge to authority that eerily presaged the 1991 Rodney King beating in Los Angeles and the subsequent rioting following the acquittal of the four L.A. police officers charged with the beating.

And that was it for N.W.A. Its first album was a tepid exercise that could hardly predict the impact Compton would have, and its releases subsequent to that quickly became uninspired and parodic. Furthermore, internal disputes ensured that N.W.A. would not last long, with Dre and Ice Cube embarking on substantial careers while Eazy-E, who also went solo, died in 1995. By that time, gangsta rap had become the dominant hip-hop genre while exerting a fascination throughout contemporary music and pop culture in general. N.W.A. had ratcheted up the stark storytelling of Grandmaster Flash and Run-D.M.C. while echoing the bluntness of rock's hardcore underground, and pushed the Rock Era into a graphic, profane existence. Like it or lump it, you cannot ignore it.

Will the artist be voted into the Hall? No. Not this year. With Public Enemy making its debut on the ballot this year, I think voters are going to opt for the less controversial hip-hop act and give N.W.A. a pass this time. Hip-hop is still a contentious form for the "Rock and Roll" Hall of Fame, and I don't see voters extending such a wide embrace just yet.

Would I vote for the artist? Yes. Although N.W.A.'s legacy amounts to only one album, its impact is what matters, and the band redirected the course of hip-hop, with a corresponding ripple effect on other musical and cultural forms, as a result of it. N.W.A. is the hip-hop equivalent of the Sex Pistols, and it will be interesting to see, if it is elected, if the group regards its election as a "piss stain" as well.

Procol Harum

Background: The Beatles might have popularized classical flourishes in mainstream rock, but it took Procol Harum to realize the first genuine blending of rock and classical forms, and in the process it pioneered symphonic rock. Not content with merely underpinning a rock song with strings ("Eleanor Rigby"), which R&B and soul acts had been doing since the 1950s anyway, Procol Harum went for baroque on its smash 1967 single "A Whiter Shade of Pale," combining the Bach-inspired arrangements of pianist Gary Brooker and organist Matthew Fisher, the Southern soul pleading of singer Brooker—one of the most underrated singers in classic rock—and the psychedelic-Chaucer lyrics of Keith Reid, whose literary erudition only occasionally lapsed into pretense. Buttressing the band's cathedral-like sound were the supple time signatures of drummer B.J. Wilson and the bluesy but tasteful wailing of guitarist Robin Trower.

Arguably, the band showed its playing cards too soon because it never had a hit as big as "Whiter Shade" although it released a clutch of excellent albums through the early 1970s that culminated with A Salty Dog and its raft of standout tracks, including the title song, "Wreck of the Hesperus," "The Milk of Human Kindness," and "Boredom." Then Fisher left and Procol began to rock out more often (Reid collaborating both on Brooker's "Simple Sister" and Trower's "Whiskey Train," easily on par with any British blues-rock, and presaging his solo career), although a live album with the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra proved to be the band's highest-charting U.S. album, spawning a hit single with a reworked "Conquistador," originally from the debut. Soon Trower was gone, and Procol staggered on to the late 1970s, but it left behind a progressive-rock legacy that demonstrated how the grandeur and complexity of classical forms could be incorporated into a rock base without pomposity or excess.

Will the artist be voted into the Hall? No. "A Whiter Shade of Pale" is a landmark single, and Hall voters have elected artists whose mark on the popular consciousness was similarly as fleeting. However, Hall voters still seem to be enamored of the Noble Savage theory of rock, and bands that pushed beyond three-chord rock but couldn't sell it sufficiently, as is the case with Procol Harum, have gotten passed over on a regular basis.

Would I vote for the artist? Yes. Progressive rock could be awe-inspiring in its pretentiousness and overkill (Yes; Emerson, Lake, and Palmer), but Procol Harum at its best could fashion intricate arrangements with varied textures without swamping the listener in virtuosity, although it never abandoned its rock and soul underpinning. A key progressive-rock icon.

Public Enemy

Background: It is hard to overstate the importance of Public Enemy, not just as one of the greatest hip-hop bands but as one of the great bands of the Rock Era. Hip-hop had discovered its social and political consciousness by the time Public Enemy arrived on the scene in the late 1980s, but PE combined a social and sonic message that exploded from the speakers and refused to take no for an answer. Chuck D was one of the most commanding MCs to rock the mike, with Flavor Flav a canny comic foil, while DJ Terminator X supplied imaginative cuts and scratches in a rich, resonant production atmosphere generated by Hank Shocklee's peerless Bomb Squad.

Granted, PE's debut Yo! Bum Rush the Show, despite Vernon Reid's blistering guitar licks, seldom strayed from standard rap poses ("Sophisticated Bitch," "Miuzi Weighs a Ton") although "Rightstarter (Message to a Black Man)" and "Timebomb" pointed the way to It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back. An essential album not just of hip-hop but of the post-punk era, Nation of Millions bristles with brilliant manifestoes from "Don't Believe the Hype," "Bring the Noise," and "Prophets of Rage" to the tremendous "Rebel without a Pause" and "Party for Your Right to Fight." Fear of a Black Planet was even better, with even more intricate production and the white-hot tracks "Burn Hollywood Burn," "Who Stole the Soul," and "Welcome to the Terrordome," culminating with "Fight the Power," incisive commentaries all. The follow-up Apocalypse 91 . . . the Enemy Strikes Black kept the streak alive, particularly on "How to Kill a Radio Consultant"—continuing the media critique from Black Planet—and the pounding "By the Time I Get to Arizona," which poked sly fun at Isaac Hayes while lambasting then-Arizona Governor Evan Mecham's refusal to acknowledge the new Martin Luther King, Jr., national holiday. Subsequent albums found PE preaching to the converted, although the group kept its intelligence and integrity intact. By then, Public Enemy had already established itself as one of the premier social commentators of the Rock Era.

Will the artist be voted into the Hall? Yes. Public Enemy is the strongest nominee on the 2013 ballot. Voters would have to nurse a strong animus toward the group not to vote for it.

Would I vote for the artist? Yes. Public Enemy is an essential component of the Rock Era, the hip-hop equivalent of the Clash. Bring the noise.

Rush

Background: This Canadian power trio began as meat-and-potatoes sluggers, literally pounding home its blue-collar identity with "Working Man," but when Neal Peart replaced John Rutsey as drummer following the debut album, Rush not only enhanced its instrumental expertise, it began to put on its thinking cap. Peart soon showed an affinity for the philosophical and social ideas of Ayn Rand (currently the darling of the American political right), and indeed Rush began to evince a libertarian air, albeit one tinged initially with science-fiction concepts. The eponymous half of Rush's 2112 album focused on a future society in which music was banned and transgressors punished (beating Frank Zappa to the punch by a few years), signaling the band's growing lyrical and instrumental chops as guitarist Alex Lifeson and singer-bassist Geddy Lee also blossomed as players, although Lee's banshee vocals remain a Rush trademark, for better or for worse.

2112 opened the door for a string of albums that defined Rush's heyday from the late 1970s through the mid-1980s, each containing mounting evidence that the band was becoming more comfortable with its smug elitism and social engineering: "Closer to the Heart" (from A Farewell to Kings), "The Trees" (Hemispheres), "Freewill" (Permanent Waves), "Tom Sawyer" (Moving Pictures), "New World Man" and "Subdivisions" (both from Signals) all stipulated a social order that positioned the band on top while whining about it in the rock stars' plaint "Limelight." Listeners didn't seem to mind, perhaps because Rush's pounding dynamics wedded to its cool technical expertise became a progressive-metal touchstone, and because songs like the thoughtful "Red Barchetta," the compelling "Distant Early Warning," and the whirling "The Spirit of Radio," one of rock's great radio songs, exemplified both the band's brains and brawn. All of them garnered Rush a devoted fan base, and the band has continued to play to that base, updating its sound while maintaining its core approach, ever since.

Will the artist be voted into the Hall? Yes. Throughout its voting existence, the Hall has shown significant antipathy toward progressive rock unless the prog-rocker has proved to be a major commercial success (for example, Pink Floyd and Genesis). Not only has Rush been an album-oriented-rock staple for three decades, it is also considered to be as much a hard-rock/heavy metal band as a progressive one, and although the Hall's voting record for hard rock and metal is only marginally better, the factors seem to favor Rush this time out.

Would I vote for the artist? Yes. Rush for me is truly "on the bubble" as a Hall of Fame-worthy act: Its accomplishments are ultimately middlebrow but they are not insignificant, and with its long track record of consistent professionalism and popularity, Rush is better qualified than a number of acts already enshrined in the Hall.

Donna Summer

Background: Never a gifted singer, Donna Summer was nevertheless an effective one, and in her primary genre, disco, which thrived on faceless anonymity, Summer was a conspicuous—and pleasing—face to the music. Beginning as the singer for German producers Giorgio Moroder and Pete Bellotte, Summer nearly pigeonholed herself as a racy novelty with 1975's lengthy "Love to Love You Baby" that featured Summer's steamy moans and groans. Although a shortened version became a huge single, it took Summer a couple more years before she had a hit that big again, but when she did strike gold with the ahead-of-its-time "I Feel Love," the floodgates opened: The singles "Last Dance," "MacArthur Park," and "Heaven Knows" all made at least the Billboard Top Five, and Summer's 1979 album Bad Girls yielded a pair of outstanding chart-toppers, the sultry "Hot Stuff" and the bittersweet title track, along with the Number Two "Dim All the Lights." Summer's hot streak continued when her duet with Barbra Streisand, "No More Tears (Enough Is Enough)," also went to Number One, and she closed out the decade with another hit, the touching paean to the airwaves "On the Radio."

Although disco had cooled as the 1980s began, Summer proved to be adaptable. Indeed, Bad Girls had already incorporated strong rock and R&B elements into its disco core, and her 1980 album The Wanderer, another Moroder-Bellotte production, also saw her blend styles into a forward-looking sound, as the title song and "Cold Love" demonstrated. Summer subsequently scored another big hit with 1983's "She Works Hard for the Money," a gender and class anthem conspicuous for appearing—and becoming a hit—during the Reagan years, although her career cooled from that point on. But Summer had been a reliable workhorse for a decade, becoming the de facto "Queen of Disco" in the 1970s before delving into 1980s synth-pop, which her earlier collaborations with Moroder and Bellotte, notably "I Feel Love," had anticipated anyway, paving the way for electronica and subsequent dance-oriented styles. Summer rightly takes her place as one of the pop divas of the Rock Era.

Will the artist be voted into the Hall? Yes. It is unfortunate to say it, but Donna Summer's death this year might be the impetus to spur voters to elect her to the Hall of Fame. She has been on the ballot for four of the last five years, and the voters will have to settle for a posthumous election this year.

Would I vote for the artist? Yes. Donna Summer has been on my short list of legitimately, and unfairly, overlooked Hall of Fame artists for some time. Disco is an indelible period in the Rock Era, and not only did Summer epitomize that period, she forged a career after its heyday. Her contributions are worthy of the Hall of Fame.

Voting Summary

The table below summarizes the 15 nominees for 2013 by how I think the Hall voters will vote and by how I would vote were I eligible to do so.
 

2013 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Nominees

Nominee

Hall Vote

My Vote

Yes

No

Yes

No

The Paul Butterfield Blues Band

 

X

 

X

Chic

 

X

X

 

Deep Purple

 

X

 

X

Heart

 

X

 

X

Joan Jett and the Blackhearts

X

 

 

X

Albert King

X

 

 

X

Kraftwerk

X

 

X

 

The Marvelettes

 

X

 

X

The Meters

 

X

 

X

Randy Newman

X

 

X

 

N.W.A.

 

X

X

 

Procol Harum

 

X

X

 

Public Enemy

X

 

X

 

Rush

X

 

X

 

Donna Summer

X

 

X

 

Totals

7

8

8

7

 

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Shoutbox

DDT - 16:25

RIP Johnny Winter, dead at 70, cause not known at this time. Fine, pioneering guitarist who is in the Blues Hall of Fame, and deservedly so. "Rock and Roll, Hootchie Koo," Johnny.


DDT - 16:45

RIP: Tony Gwynn, dead from salivary-gland cancer at age 54. Cherish your memories of this great Hall of Famer.


bojanthebest - 23:31

Congrats to Oscar De La Hoya for getting into the Boxing Hall of Fame.


bojanthebest - 06:03

Congrats to Ronnie Milsap. Some reason I can't read the main articles.


Committee Chairman - 06:25

Saw this today....a must read IMO: http://www.grantland.com/story/_/id/10261642/mlb-hall-fame-voting-steroid-era


DDT - 02:01

Baseball's newest HoFers: Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, Frank Thomas. Craig Biggio is hurting: 74.78 percent! PEDs guys still being punished; bye-bye, Rafael Palmeiro. Not a travesty like last year.


bojanthebest - 01:58

Congrats to Maddux, Glavine and Thomas for making the Hall today. Biggio should have made it also.


Spheniscus - 07:12

Torre and Cox were taken on by Rick Reilly, as well as LaRussa. I am in the camp that they should all be in, as should Bonds, Clemens, and McGwire. But the double standard is interesting.


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