Our 5 Picks for the Rock Hall Class of 2014

[14 November 2013]

By AJ Ramirez

Sound Affects Editor

It’s that time of year again. Almost a month ago, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame unveiled the ballot for its 2014 induction class to the public. The 16-strong list of names is admittedly impressive, boasting one marquee-level no-brainer (Nirvana, whose nomination in its first year of eligibility officially forces the Hall to acknowledge the 1990s), several deserving re-nominations (Chic, Deep Purple, N.W.A, LL Cool J, Kiss), and some unexpected yet wondrous first-time surprises (Yes! Peter Gabriel! Link Wray! The Replacements!). Along with the reappearance of a fan ballot on its website, the Hall’s selections this year are laudable steps in its continued efforts to add a populist slant to an institution long slated for its myopic ‘60s rock critic view of popular music.

With ballots due not long from now, Sound Affects takes the time to sort through the nominees and share with you its five fantasy votes. Like last year, we are going to list the reasons why these five artists deserve to be enshrined in the Hall, paired with pragmatic assessments of their actual chances for induction. Once again, do note that the Hall adheres to a broad definition of what constitutes “rock and roll”, which in its assessment essentially boils down to all popular music post-Elvis Presley. Keeping that in mind, we’ve weighted disco, blues, pop, and hip-hop acts alongside prog, metal, and alternative rock outfits, and given them equal consideration. Whatever grievances you may have against the Hall’s overly flexible mission statement or egregious past slights (in an ideal world, both Black Sabbath and the Stooges would have never had to wait more than a year to garner enough votes to merit induction after becoming eligible), rest assured that all five of the artists listed below are more than worthy of concentrated veneration and remembrance, whether or not they are accompanied by a lavish ceremony and celebrity speechmakers.

 
1. Nirvana

Why they should be inducted

Definitive band of the ‘90s, grunge icon, leader of the alt-rock revolution, voice of a generation—even the Cliff Notes version of Nirvana’s story is enough to prompt any rock historian to start yabbering about capital-I Importance in relation to the band. No, Nirvana’s music wasn’t necessarily innovative if you had been listening to college radio during the ‘80s—but then again, most people weren’t, and that’s why Nirvana was pivotal. It was unlikely stars Kurt Cobain, Krist Novoselic, and Dave Grohl—not Dinosaur Jr. or the Pixies or the Replacements—that finally convinced the punters that buzzing guitars, flannel shirts, and PC politics were salvation from ‘80s music’s excesses, and though rock’s bad habits have steadily resurfaced during the 20 years since the trio released its last album (see: Coldplay’s stadium-ready pablum and anything to do with Nickelback), the group’s legacy continues to shadow any indie act that has to decide whether or not to sign the corporate dotted line. For the baby boomers that dominate the Hall’s voting body, Nirvana is one of the undeniable worthy few to have emerged after the death of the hippie dream. To those who acknowledge that great music continued to be made post-1970, Nirvana’s small yet potent catalog—the song “Smells Like Teen Spirit” alone would have been reason enough to merit a glance from the nominating committee—is as concise proof of that fact as any outfit you can find.

Will they get in?

Is the Pope Catholic? Nirvana is such a clear consensus pick for the Hall that for the band not to score induction in its first year of eligibility something will need to have gone horribly awry with the entire voting process. This is going to happen, end of story.

 
2. LL Cool J

Why they should be inducted

Being hip-hop’s first solo superstar is enough to earn LL Cool J a place in the history books. But does that make him Hall-worthy? Not necessarily, but then you factor in his body of work (see “I Need Love”, “Going Back to Cali”, “I’m Bad”, and arguably the greatest comeback single of all time, “Mama Said Knock You Out”), his longevity, and his images as the embodiment of ‘80s b-boy bravado, and the absence of LL and his trademark Kangol hat is all the more conspicuous.

Will they get in?

The last two times he made the ballot, he and fellow Def Jam labelmates the Beastie Boys cancelled each other out, with the Beasties only making it into the Hall in a year when they were not pitted against LL. History threatens to repeat itself this years as he and another major rap act, N.W.A, threaten to split the hip-hop voting bloc. N.W.A’s incendiary reputation probably makes it a more “relevant” choice than another East Coast Def Jam act, but LL’s got the heftier body of work and plenty of respect, so don’t count him out yet.

 
3. Deep Purple

Why they should be inducted

As we stated last year, Deep Purple was one of the founding fathers of that burly musical beast known as heavy metal, with Richie Blackmore’s injection of classical scales and motifs into his guitar-playing proving to be especial influential. Though casual listeners are likely only familiar with “Smoke on the Water” and its immortal riff, the whole slate of early ‘70s Purple records are worthy of investigation if one wants an informed picture of the origins of modern rock music.

Will they get in?

After Rush’s induction last year, we would have said that Deep Purple would soon follow. However, this year’s reemergence of Kiss on the ballot makes the battle for the populist hard rock vote even tougher. While Purple is arguably more important in the grander scheme of things, Kiss has the better name value. In Purple’s favor: conspicuous name-checks by past inductees Metallica, Guns ‘N Roses, and Alice Cooper when the topic of egregious Hall snubs has been brought up.

 
4. Chic

Why they should be inducted

Despite the readiness to declare disco dead at the start of the ‘80s, the genre has proved amazingly resilient, and counts a myriad of dance music descendants as its progeny three decades later. Chic is somewhat of anomaly in a style commonly accepted as producer-driven, being a proper band guided by guitarist and prolific producer Nile Rodgers. While many disco artists were indeed interchangeable and quickly forgotten, Chic made a career out of itself around funk-based dancefloor movers like “Le Freak” and “Good Times”, the latter of which attained musical immortality when its break was reappropriated for the first rap record ever, Sugarhill Gang’s “Rapper’s Delight”.

Will they get in?

The Hall’s prejudice against certain genres has subsided in the last few years, disco among them. After years of pretending that disco was irrelevant, irredeemable pap, it’s enlightening to note that the Hall has as of 2013 now selected Chic for the ballot for the eighth time. Donna Summer’s induction last year was a long-deserved honor that came too late for the recently-deceased singer, and given Nile Rodgers’ battle with cancer it’s likely the Hall voters don’t want to risk making the same mistake again.

 
5. Yes

Why they should be inducted

Simply put, Yes is one of the—if not the—definitive progressive rock bands. While Pink Floyd sold gazillions more records and Genesis is more easily recognized, Yes’ instrumental virtuosity and conceptual excesses are the prefect embodiment of an oft-derided and frequently misunderstood genre. Certainly, Rick Wakeman’s keyboard playing could be seen as overly florid and gargantuan packages like the three-LP concert album Yessongs demand a special kind of devotion to get through, but for entire strains of progressive and avant-garde music those traits are essential building blocks for a four-decade legacy. Yes’ stature isn’t restricted to prog circles either, as artists as diverse as PiL guitarist Keith Levine and Iron Maiden’s Steve Harris have cited the band as a major influence on their music.

Will they get in?

Like with disco, the Hall’s resistance to prog has noticeably crumbled with recent induction classes. Genesis and Rush have finally joined ranks alongside Pink Floyd after incessant lobbying by fans, and Yes is the next logical prog act to make the cut. And if Yes makes it in, the cases for King Crimson, Jethro Tull, and even the Moody Blues become harder to contest. Does the Hall want to fully break down the floodgates for one of rock’s most unfairly maligned styles? The institution appears willing to do so. Unfortunately, Yes might have to wait a little longer, as a good crop of hard-to-contest names are also vying for attention on the latest ballot. And like LL Cool J, Yes faces direct competition from an act in its same genre—in this case, it’s Peter Gabriel, a man already inducted as a member of Genesis, but whom possesses better name value and a handsome critical reputation that has never required retrospective rehabilitation.

Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/post/176358-our-5-picks-for-the-rock-hall-class-of-2014/