LOS ANGELES — What is rock ‘n’ roll, one may ask upon seeing the names Hall & Oates, Linda Ronstadt, Cat Stevens and Peter Gabriel on this year’s list of finalists for induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Do any of them truly rock, let alone roll? Or is their music more likely to be filed in the “popular” section of your imaginary record shop?
That’s one reflexive thought that popped up after seeing the list of nominees for the 2014 induction ceremony. Sixteen acts that make / made music in subgenres including grunge, rap, funk, art pop, neo-soul, guitar rock, progressive rock, soft rock and blues rock, the list offers way more questions than it does answers.
For example: Why is Ronstadt the only woman on the list? Where are, for example, the Go-Gos or the Runaways? What about Janet Jackson? Or is she less “rock ‘n’ roll” than Stevens?
More questions: Does rock ‘n’ roll thrive on bloated tales from topographic oceans, as prog-rock band Yes would indulgently suggest? Does it live within the comic book glam rock band KISS’s songs about pulling triggers on love guns or doctors named Love who have the cure you’re thinking of? (Shouldn’t writing and recording the song “Lick It Up” automatically disqualify a band from inclusion?)
As with last year, fans have a vote. Specifically, fans can vote from Oct. 16 through 5 p.m. ET Dec. 10 at the websites of the Rock Hall, Rolling Stone and USA Today. The top five vote-getters will constitute the “fans’ ballot” that will be counted among the other 600 votes from members of the Rock Hall to be cast.
Below is an overview of the roster of nominees, along with their highly unscientific odds of making it into the hallowed halls when a final inductee list is announced, likely in December.
Nirvana: This is Nirvana’s first year of eligibility, and they’ll easily enter despite the fact that lead singer Kurt Cobain would likely hate the honorarium. The group shifted the direction of rock in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, even if during their formation a whole movement of underground rock acts were making music as vital and transformative as Nirvana. The most notable, of course, are the Pixies, who are not, and have never been, nominated.
Linda Ronstadt: Ronstadt’s a virtual shoe-in, even if her work hardly rocks. It’s already bad enough that she’s the only non-man in the bunch, so for political reasons, she’ll get in, even if Joan Jett inspired way more young musicians to pick up instruments and rock out than Ronstadt did. 4:1 odds
Yes: The induction of power trio Rush last year was a game changer. All of the sudden progressive rock, long the realm of finicky geeks, had a way in. Yes, after all, was one of the biggest rock bands of the 1970s, and in this, its first nomination, the group seems likely to bring their complicated time signatures and cinematic structures into the hall. 5:1
LL Cool J: A rapper who helped bring hip-hop into the mainstream (and, eventually, into candlelit bedrooms), LL Cool J has been nominated a few times before, which makes his chances tough to handicap. But if you consider that the Hall of Fame would look pretty bad if it didn’t induct a single rap artist this year, and it normally errs on the side of New York-based music (see N.W.A below), LL seems likely to finally pass the threshold. 7:1
The Zombies: The Zombies are a surprise on this year’s ballot, even if they shouldn’t be. Why now? Maybe as a way to appeal to a youth culture in the middle of a zombie (as in, undead human) zeitgeist? Cynically, perhaps. But the British Invasion band’s hits are stone-cold classics: “She’s Not There,” “Time of the Season” and “Tell Her No” being the best known. 8:1
On the fence
Peter Gabriel: Genesis is already in the Rock Hall, but that was as much a result of their success after lead singer Peter Gabriel left the band. His work in the late 1970s, three amazing self-titled solo albums, is beautiful, and after he broke into the mainstream with “Sledgehammer,” he achieved near-superstar status. Add in his early, innovative music video work and Gabriel seems likely to make the cut. 10:1
KISS: Big, dumb rock by men in high-heeled boots and silly comic-book makeup: That’s what KISS is, at times wonderfully so. Throw in fake blood and balls of fire and you’ve got a party. A band whose ridiculous concept helped deliver them a level of fame that bitter critics still can’t get over (at least if you listen to Gene Simmons), KISS was also nominated in 2010. They didn’t get in then (but ABBA did, which hopefully sticks in Simmons’ craw). I’d wager they’re in this year. 10:1
Cat Stevens: The soft-rock wordsmith was on the roster in 2006, but to no avail. His second appearance comes amid continued appreciation of and nods to his music, most prominently by songwriters such as Jack Johnson, Amos Lee and Jason Mraz. 13:1
Hall & Oates: The great blue-eyed soul group might be considered a bit too “lite” for the guitar lovers in the world, but Hall & Oates’ collection of smooth, powerful hit singles in the ‘70s and ‘80s can’t be denied. Their dance-pop influence continues to echo, as well, in the music of Chromeo, Daft Punk and Haim, among others. 14:1
N.W.A: N.W.A is way more culturally important than LL Cool J, but the Rock Hall’s passion for treacle, and fear of danger, may shun West Coast rap pioneers N.W.A again. Prove me wrong. 15:1
Deep Purple: Did Deep Purple matter? Yes: “Smoke on the Water” is a rite of passage for every budding bassist. Will the British proto-metal band gain induction? Odds are against it. Their popularity remains mired in the memories of an avid (mostly male) fanbase — though anyone who’s heard “Machinehead” understands their influence. 16:1
The Paul Butterfield Blues Band: Their second nomination in as many years, the important Chicago blues-rock band helped spawn harder acid-rock sounds after making a dent in San Francisco. So on paper, the Butterfield Band has certainly earned its place. The problem: few hits, and the harmonica isn’t the most sexy instrument. 18:1
Link Wray: This is the primal guitarist’s first nomination. Best known for his menacing instrumental “Rumble,” which some argue is the first punk-rock song, Wray’s way with guitar distortion and tone helped guide the instrument in wild new directions. Despite its lack of lyrics, the song was banned in some places due to the degenerate nature of its sound. That alone earns him induction, even if it’s unlikely to happen on his first try. 20:1
Chic: This is Chic’s eighth nomination since 2003, and if they can’t do it this year all bets are off. After all, co-founder / guitarist Nile Rodgers was propelled to prominence once again in 2013 through his work on Daft Punk’s “Random Access Memories.” Whether that cosign helps them sneak in this year is less certain. After all, it’s not like the Rock Hall has too much tolerance for either disco or electronic dance music. (Evidence: The seminal German group Kraftwerk, nominated last year but not inducted, fell off the ballot, and remain outside the gates.) 24:1
The Replacements: A band whose best work came out before they signed to a major label, the Replacements created great punk-rock songs and on some nights were the best rock band on the planet. But they never achieved fame similar to their critical acclaim, a truth that will hinder their chances. That said, their return to the limelight this year may positively affect their chances. Though a long shot, any band who built from scratch the songs “Androgynous,” “I Will Dare” and “Color Me Impressed” can’t be counted out. 25:1
The Meters: The tight New Orleans instrumental funk band has been nominated two other times. Alas, outside the serious soul and funk communities, where they’re rightfully considered one of the funkiest instrumental guitar bands, the group is less known. Ziggy Modeliste’s rhythms have been sampled to death, though, and the group’s highlights have certainly withstood the test of time. The band, though, remains unlikely to enter the imaginary room this year. 37:1
These oversights need to be rectified in order for the Rock Hall to be considered a legitimate curator: Slayer. Motorhead. X. Sonic Youth. DEVO. Black Flag. The Pixies. Boogie Down Productions. The Smiths. The Smiths. The Smiths.