20. Ace of Base
And now we enter the Top 20 and we start to the third most successful Swedish pop group. Founded in 1990 in the heart of heavy metal in Europe, Gothenburg, Sweden, Ace of Base was one of the most successful dance pop bands of all-time. For most of its existence, its lineup included three Berggren siblings, singers Malin (“Linn”) and Jenny and their brother Jonas (“Joker”) who was the main guitarist and wrote most of the bands biggest hits. After going through a few other members and names at the end of the 80s, Joker asked his friend Ulf “Buddha” Eckberg to join the band as keyboardist and co-writer. They then settled on the name Ace of Base after being inspired, of all things, by watching the 1980 music video for Motorhead’s “Ace of Spades”. I’d love to know what Lemmy thought of that. Music has such strange inspirations some times.
They originally started as a techno band, but a recording session next door to a reggae band led to a collaborative exchange of ideas. Their first song, “Wheel of Fortune” was remixed and rerecorded several times before finally charting in Denmark in 1992. Looking for further inspiration to launch their careers, they turned to Dennis PoP, the producer of Kayo Shekoni’s “Another Mother”, which charted in Sweden in 1992 and basically said they wanted to produce music exactly in that style. And reproduce Kayo’s sound they did. To international stardom. (Check out https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1I1FwPv1njE to see what I mean)
Their first album, called Happy Nation in Europe and The Sign in the U.S., was the first debut album to have three songs hit #1 on the Billboard Mainstream Top 40 Chart with “All that She Wants”, “Don’t Turn Around”, and “The Sign”. In fact, “The Sign” would go on to hold the #1 position for the longest time in the history of the chart with 14 straight weeks, a record it still holds today. Their follow up album, The Bridge, would give them two more top 20 hits in “Lucky Love” and “Beautiful Life”, which both charted in 1995. Their final charting hit was a cover of Bananarama’s “Cruel Summer” which hit #10 in the summer of 1998.
Shortly after that the grind began to get to the band and first Linn (in 2002) and then Jenny (in 2009) left to embark on their own solo careers. And while Joker and Buddha (I admit the start to this sentence sounds as if I am talking about Top Gun characters) have tried to rebuild the group, they are currently on indefinite hiatus.
But even though they are not currently active, their legacy in music lives on. Artists from Lady Gaga to Katy Perry to Tegan and Sarah and others have all admitted that Ace of Base was a major influence on them and their songwriting style. And influence is important when it comes to voting for the Hall. And one of those two more successful Swedish bands, ABBA, is in the Rock Hall.
The problem for their candidacy is that the second, Roxette, has been eligible for seven years hasn’t come close to approaching the Hall. And they kind of seem like pop fluff in a way. A cotton candy type of band, not a serious snack. That is incredibly unfair with how incredibly good they were, but the nominating committee has to take you seriously before they will consider you. And goofy videos like the one below for their biggest hit won’t help. That said, they are in the top half of bands first eligible this year. So while it may not be all that they want, at least they’ve had a beautiful life.
19. Tim McGraw
Tim McGraw is someone who would be significantly higher on this list if country music were really a consideration for the Rock Hall. I mean, the man has TWENTY-FIVE #1 country hits. But it is just too hard for a modern country star to get into the Rock Hall. It is not as though there are no country artists in the Hall, as there are several including Johnny Cash and Bonnie Raitt. But there are more legends of country that have not been elected including Willie Nelson, Dolly Parton, Reba McIntire, Hank Williams, and many more who are on the outside looking in to believe that McGraw has a legitimate shot.
Future major league pitcher Tug McGraw was pitching for the Jacksonville Suns, then the Triple A affiliate of the New York Mets. He lived upstairs from a pretty waitress named Betty Ann D’Agostino and the two began dating. Betty became pregnant and her family moved her home to Louisiana, where she would later give birth to Tim. She would marry a man named Horace Smith and Tim would be known by the name of Tim Smith until the age of 11 when he accidentally discovered his birth certificate and who his true father was. While Tim and Tug would have a warm relationship towards the end of Tug’s life, it took until Tim was 18 for Tug to acknowledge his paternity.
On the music side, McGraw moved to Nashville in 1989 and started circulating his own demo tapes in 1990. He signed with Curb records and released his first album the self-titled Tim McGraw in 1993 to mixed reviews. It would be his second album, 1994’s Not a Moment Too Soon that would show that he was a force to be reckoned with. The album would go 6x platinum based off of the strength of its two big crossover hits “Indian Outlaw” and “Don’t Take the Girl”, which would be his first #1 Country hit. This would be the first of eight consecutive albums, stretching from 1994 through 2007 that would go Platinum, seven of which would go at least 3x platinum. The man is a musical force.
He is also one of the artists who led the country pop crossover revival of the mid-90s. This included folks like Garth Brooks, Shania Twain, Trisha Yearwood, LeAnn Rimes, fellow first time eligible the Dixie Chicks, and his wife of 20 years Faith Hill. As I said, he has charted 25 #1 country hits, including “It’s Your Love”, “Just to See You Smile”, and “Live Like You Were Dying” which were the #1 overall country songs by airplay in 1997, 1998, and 2004 respectively. He has won three Grammy Awards and his Soul2Soul II tour with wife Faith Hill in 2006 is the highest grossing tour in the history of Country music.
And yet, he is much less likely to be enshrined in the Hall than many of the bands that are forthcoming solely because even though he is a pop country artist, neither pop nor country have the greatest track record of getting into the Hall. Both end up being mostly dismissed. If the Hall ever inducts a couple of the previously listed legends from above then McGraw will have a shot. Otherwise he may have to wait until the “Stars Go Blue”. Sorry, I couldn’t help myself. And while I am tempted to give you his 2003 collaboration with Nelly “Over and Over”, I’ll give you his greatest hit, the 2x platinum and southern wedding staple duet with his then brand new wife Hill, 1997’s “It’s Your Love”.
- The Wallflowers
They started playing the clubs around Los Angeles where they were signed to Virgin Records and began recording their self-titled debut album. The recording was stripped down with songs that were longer than are usually commercially successful and released in 1992. While it was very positively reviewed, they sold a whopping 40,000 copies. Despite opening for the Spin Doctors and 10,000 Maniacs on tour, with record sales that low, a split from Virgin was inevitable and The Wallflowers returned to the LA club circuit.
They spent the next year looking for a new label and completely churning their lineup. Maguire and Yanowitz would leave to back Natalie Merchant. Then just as they signed with Interscope Records and were looking to record their sophomore album, Miller quit. Only Dylan and Jaffee remained from the original lineup. They replaced Maguire on bass with Gary Reichling, another of Dylan’s high school classmates. And they started recording the album that would make them famous, Bringing Down the Horse, with session musicians on lead guitar and drums.
Bringing Down the Horse was released in late 1996 and would go 4x platinum. Much like their first album, sales started slow but the David Fincher directed video for their first single “6th Avenue Heartache” started to get airplay and sales began to pick up. The second track off the album, “One Headlight” would be the band’s biggest hit, hitting #1 on the mainstream rock, alternative, and hot 40 chart and #2 overall. It would also win two Grammys for best rock song and best rock performance in 1998. Two more charting hits “The Difference” and “Three Marlenas” would follow. The band was on the way to superstardom.
Although that never really happened. Their third album (Breach) was released in 2000 at the height of the Napster era and may have been downloaded over 25 million times through the site. And for a band that had trouble selling records at various parts in their career that was financially crushing. The album would go gold, but the highest charting single “Sleepwalker” would only hit #73 in 2000. That was the last Wallflowers single to chart. While they have continued to produce music, releasing three albums between 2003 and 2012, they have basically become a vehicle for Jakob Dylan with a rotating cast of supporting musicians at this point.
So a band with tons of turnover, one transcendent record, and no hits in almost 20 years. Why are they this high on the list? I mean compared to Tim McGraw, it’s not close. Well, when it comes to being nominated you need a reason to break through. Something that differentiates yourself from the rest of the crowd. In the case of the Wallflowers, the lead singer is a Dylan. While being the son of a music legend hasn’t helped Ziggy Marley or Julian Lennon or Dweezil Zappa or many others, Dylan’s heredity combined with a couple of Grammys does give the appearance of more gravitas than the band probably has. Do I think they will get in? No. Do I think there could be a nomination at some point in the future? That is a much more likely scenario. And that is why they end up here at #18 with the video that launched them.
While the founders of the band were Jay Kay, keyboardist Toby Smith, bassist Stuart Zender, drummer Nick Van Gelder, didgeridooist (is that a word?) Wallis Buchanan, and pipeauist (that definitely does not seem like a word) Alec Moran, for most of their existence, Jamiroquai has centered around three men, Jay Kay, percussionist Sola Akingbola, and drummer Derrick McKenzie, the latter two of which joined in 1994. But really Jay Kay is the focus of this band.
Their first single, “When You Gonna Learn” was released in 1992 on the London based Acid Jazz label. That track caught the ear of Sony Music who signed Jay Kay to an eight record deal. And while the band had success outside the U.S. with their first two albums, it was the third album, 1996’s appropriately titled Travelling without Moving, that got them picked up by American radio. The album is appropriately named because the biggest hit off of that album was 1996’s “Virtual Insanity”, which won four MTV music awards and is probably one of the five most recognizable music videos of the 1990s.
They followed that up with other 1990s dance charting songs “Cosmic Girl” (1996), “Alright” and “High Times” (both 1997), 1998’s “Deeper Underground”, and 1999’s “Supersonic” and “Canned Heat”. I should mention that looking back at their videos while writing up these summaries, I know I love this band, but it is a little eerie how it appears that most of my closet is stolen directly from the costume department of the “Canned Heat” video. Apparently I saw that video at an important time in my life and internalized it.
Regardless, Jamiroquai has remained incredibly relevant in the dance arena, having charted six more times since 2000, including two dance chart #1s in 2005’s “Feels Just Like It Should” and 2006’s “Runaway”. And although they have drifted a bit from their acid jazz roots, there is no doubt that while bands like Us3 and the Digable Planets are contenders, Jay Kay and Jamiroquai are the kings of the acid jazz movement.
I understand that is probably not that great a distinction for Rock Hall voters, (heck they STILL haven’t put Kraftwerk the creators of electronica in despite multiple nominations), since the genre is a small blip on the musical radar screen. But consistent continued excellence and relevance combined with being the kings of a genre makes them the first band on this list that I can legitimately see getting into the Rock Hall at some point. Now there would have to be several other bands that would have to get in first, including Herbie Hancock and the aforementioned Kraftwerk at least and maybe even the not yet eligible Daft Punk. But those bands getting in isn’t crazy. So while it would take a couple of steps, with some good fortune Jamiroquai very well could be a Rock Hall of Famer at some point. Even if that sounds and looks like Virtual Insanity in print.
- R. Kelly
So let’s begin with that talent. Robert Sylvester Kelly was born in 1967 in Chicago, Illinois. Interestingly, he was one of the first reality TV show winners to hit it big as he won the 1989 talent competition Big Break, hosted by Natalie Cole, winning the $100,000. He got some backup singers, called his group Public Announcement, and put out his first solo album under the R. Kelly/Public Announcement name in 1992. That album Born into the 90’s was the only record he recorded with Public Announcement and would produce two #1 hits on the R&B charts “Honey Love” and “Slow Dance (Hey Mr. DJ)”. These would be the first two of 10 #1 hits on the R&B chart.
The third of these hits would be his first and only #1 overall hit. 1994’s “Bump N Grind”, off of his first truly solo album 12 Play, absolutely launched Kelly’s career into the stratosphere. Kelly not only owned the charts as a performer, but became the man to go to for producing. Over the next few years in addition to his stellar solo work, he would produce albums for Changing Faces and (gulp) Aaliyah. He would also receive two Grammy nominations for writing and producing “You Are Not Alone”, Michael Jackson’s final #1 hit. Further success would follow with 1996’s “I Believe I Can Fly” from the Space Jam soundtrack and his fourth album, 1998’s R., which would go 8x platinum. During this time he would work with pretty much everyone who mattered in music in the 1990s from Biggie Smalls to Toni Braxton to Jay Z to Celine Dion (seriously, their duet “I’m Your Angel” went to #1 in 1998).
And while his career continued to fly high into the 2000s, there began to be some fraying at the edges. There were always whispers around Kelly. His secret marriage to a then 15 year old Aaliyah in 1994 (he was 27) was annulled at the request of her family. In 1996 he was convicted of battery for being involved in a fight that left one of the victims needing 110 facial stitches. In 1997, he was sued by a 20 year old woman who alleged that Kelly had sexual relations with her when she was 15 (he was 24). That settled out of court for $250k. Then came 2002. And the pee tape. Shortly before he was to perform at the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics, a tape of someone who was allegedly R. Kelly having sex with and urinating on a minor was sent to a news station in Chicago. A raid of his Florida home turned up 12 images of him having sexual relations with another underage girl. And while a Chicago jury would find him not guilty on all 14 counts, these data points have led to a view of Kelly as a sexual predator to underage girls. Heck just two months ago, three parents accused Kelly of holding their daughters in an abusive cult.
I could honestly write a book about everything Kelly has done in music and yet another one about all the things that he has done outside of it. But this is one piece in a large series. Needless to say Kelly is a silver voiced, immensely talented singer, remixer, producer, and writer of music who has more than his share of personal demons. And while these demons have slowed his career and shaped public perception of him, he continues to be R&B royalty. Where to put him was my greatest struggle on this list. I mean his first 11 albums went platinum! 11! He should be Top 5 on this list. But.
There is so much in those three little letters. The idea of R. Kelly entering the Rock Hall in this day and age is hard to see. Rock and roll likes controversial figures, but the idea of someone who is widely considered to be a sexual predator by many in the public arena puts him much further down the list than a lot of artists whose resumes simply do not compare to his. So here he ends up. Not sure what else can be said but that I don’t think he is ever going to get in without some sort of massive sea change in public opinion. Which is possible. But not likely in time for this year. So we go back to a simpler time in his career, when he first ruled the R&B world…