Music

Our 5 Picks for the Rock Hall Class of 2013

Last week, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame announced the 15 contenders vying to be inducted as part of its Class of 2013. By adhering to the Hall's broad definition of rock 'n' roll and by trying to objectively apply its induction criteria, Sound Affects has narrowed down the choices to five artists it would vote for if it could.

Last week, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame made its annual announcement of which 15 names are up for consideration to be voted into the institution. Of the many artists nominated this year, tradition dictates that only five will be honored at the induction ceremony scheduled to take place in April 2013. This year, voters will be spoiled for worthy choices, making the competition to enter the Hall unfortunately fierce for several acts that have been waiting an obscenely long time to be enshrined.

The Hall states that its only criteria for induction is “the influence and significance of the artists’ contributions to the development and perpetuation of rock and roll”. By that logic, the Stooges, Black Sabbath, the Sex Pistols, and numerous others should’ve been honored at the soonest possible opportunity. Instead, Black Sabbath had to wait 10 years after becoming eligible; the Stooges, 15. Furthermore, the Hall follows a very broad definition of what “rock and roll” is supposed to be, essentially defining it as all popular music that followed the advent of Elvis Presley. Such an interpretation is needlessly broad (it posits rock as little more than an attitude or an idea, rather than a definable genre that can be described using musical theory or historical analysis, which it totally can be) and grossly single-minded (it presumes that rock is the center of the pop universe). But the Hall has operated under this approach for so long there’s no point in arguing against it when examining each year’s ballot, and though a more accurate name for the institution would surely be “The Modern Popular Music Hall of Fame”, don’t expect a name change to ever happen (on a purely pragmatic level, there’s no chance the Hall would ever willingly discard its registered trademarks).

Accordingly, when selecting who from this year’s ballot is most deserving of induction, Sound Affects had to think beyond the realm of rock, and consider what innovators and inspiration non-rock figures belong alongside the other important movers and shakers that have already been honored. Which is not to say that rock itself has been overlooked by us, for there’s certainly plenty of guitar-based riffage available worth casting a vote for. So by trying to objectively follow the Hall’s induction criteria as much as possible (something which its voters and Nominating Committee have often failed to do, it must be said), Sound Affects has examined all the 2012 nominees and arrived at the following fantasy ballot...

 

1. Public Enemy

Why they should be inducted

At the height of its impressive powers, Public Enemy was strident, ball-fisted outrage, the articulate “black CNN” that broadcasted radical Afro-centric politics via the Bomb Squad’s dense and inventive productions and Chuck D’s booming, authoritative declarations. Public Enemy’s militant air was cleverly balanced out by Flavor Flav, whose kooky hypeman shtick gave the ensemble much-needed levity, and still stands as an exemplar of how such a role in a rap ensemble should be utilized. With seminal records It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back (1988) and Fear of a Black Planet (1990), Public Enemy helped lead hip-hop through its late ‘80s golden age, and challenged the entire genre to up its game.

Will they get in?

Critically renowned (It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back is the most acclaimed hip-hop album in history), a crucial influence during what was arguably its form’s most exciting era of evolution, and emblazoned with the “importance” tag that so enraptures the Hall, it’s very likely that Public Enemy will join the ranks of Madonna, R.E.M., and Run-D.M.C. as one of the few ‘80s artists who were inducted in their first year of eligibility (compare that to the 1960s, a decade which produced a staggering 91 first-year inductees). The one variable is the presence of the equally venerated gangsta rap act N.W.A on the ballot, which could split the hip-hop vote as the simultaneous nominations of Beastie Boys and LL Cool J were suspected of doing two years in a row. Then again, Public Enemy and N.W.A represent two distinct (and in a sense oppositional) strains of rap, and when the former’s robust catalog of first-rate albums is compared with the latter’s patchy LPs, PE claims the edge.

 

2. Donna Summer

Why they should be inducted

There’s very little I can add to the compelling arguments my colleague Christian John Wikane made last year when he listed ten reasons why Summer belongs in the Hall. At the utmost basic, she was the Queen of Disco, whose groundbreaking work with her producer Giorgio Moroder not only was the apex of its style but ended up heralding various post-disco dance directions to come, all while having a sideways impact on the post-punk and New Wave movements. Indeed, for many British youngsters galvanized by punk, it was Summer/Moroder tracks like “I Feel Love” they strove to emulate, not the three-chord guitar racket of the Ramones or the Sex Pistols.

Will they get in?

Over the course of 2012, Summer has supplanted long-time favorite Public Enemy as this year’s surest bet for induction. Her death in May was a shameful reminder of all the missed opportunities the voting body had to induct the disco diva when she was still alive. Not long after Summer’s passing, Elton John rightfully called her exclusion from the Hall “a total disgrace”, and Nominating Committee chairman Jon Landau publicly admitted Summer deserved to be enshrined, and placed the blame for the failure to induct her squarely on the voters. No question, she’ll be entering the Hall -- but a year too late.

 

3. Deep Purple

Why they should be inducted

Deep Purple was one of the first proper heavy metal bands. Like contemporaries Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin, Purple took rock music into the ‘70 by hammering blues-rock idioms into humongous overdriven riffs and pummeling rhythms. Purple’s main contribution to metal was the influx of classical influences, courtesy of witch hat-sporting guitar hero Ritchie Blackmore. But for some, the immortal riff to “Smoke on the Water” is reason enough to induct the group -- and that’s a pretty damn good reason.

Will they get in?

The addition of recent inductees like Alice Cooper, Metallica, and Guns ‘N Roses to the Hall’s roster has created a vocal voting block that has made a point about emphasizing Deep Purple’s conspicuous absence. The pull of the Hall’s ever-increasing hard rock and metal contingent (so long kept to as miniscule a number as the prejudices of certain influential members would allow) was most certainly what convinced the Nominating Committee to put Purple on the ballot for the first time this year. Even though the belated recognition of the band’s impact on music by the Nominating Committee is reason enough to celebrate, Purple still faces stiff competition from the healthy selection of other hard rockers vying for a place in the Class of 2013. When pitted against Heart and Joan Jett, Purple’s importance to rock has them beat. The presence of fellow first-time nominee Rush (whose induction has been similarly highly demanded) might end up in only one of the two making the cut. In Deep Purple’s favor is Rush’s association with prog, which might turn off some of the sniffier voters, and the fact that there are several folks (James Hetfield immediately springs to mine) who will surely set aside spots on their ballots for both groups.

 

4. Kraftwerk

Why they should be inducted

If we wholly adhere the Hall’s unstated remit that it represents all post-1950 popular music, then Kraftwerk is currently its induction roster’s most glaring omission. Massively influential (like the Velvet Underground before it, everyone who had the chance to hear Kraftwerk in the 1970s seemed to instantly set about forming their own band), the German ensemble pioneered the then-mind-blowing concept of a pop group that played exclusively synthesized music. Electro, techno, house, jungle, dubstep -- electronic music as we know it can all be traced back to Kraftwerk. If that wasn’t enough, the band’s music was sampled in several pivotal early hip-hop tracks, most notably Afrika Bambaataa’s “Planet Rock”.

Will they get in?

Unlikely. For all its impact, Kraftwerk’s very nature makes it victim to some of the Hall’s most common blind spots -- namely, it’s from a non-English speaking country, its music eschews traditional instrumentation for synthesizers (still an abhorrence to hard-line rockists in the voting pool), and it never sold many records. In a ballot filled with acts with more populist appeal, it looks like the fathers of electronic music will have to wait at least another year to before they get to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with equally innovative figures such as the Beatles, James Brown, and Miles Davis.

 

5. N.W.A

Why they should be inducted

Settling on who would occupy the fifth spot on this fantasy ballot was difficult, as several nominees have much to regard them yet none of them scream as brazenly for immediate induction as the four artists listed above (sorry, Rush fans). Ultimately the choice came down to the Yardbirds of Compton, a group that counts among its members at least two rappers (Dr. Dre and Ice Cube) who will warrant induction for their solo careers in a few years. Though its body of work is not as consistently laudable as Public Enemy’s, N.W.A’s importance to hip-hop is just as profound. N.W.A popularized -- and notorized -- gangsta rap, and between Dr. Dre’s production and the intimidating yet magnetic personas of Cube and Eazy-E, it solidified a new public image for hip-hop that for good or ill continues to inform the genre and culture to this day.

Will they get in?

Its uneven discography aside (“Straight Outta Compton” and “Fuck tha Police” alone more than make up for the imbalance), N.W.A has to contend with the nomination of the (to Hall voters) more palatable Public Enemy. There’s a good chance that the more rebelliously-inclined voters and the hip-hop lovers will be enough to counter the large number of ‘60s-loving baby boomers also casting their ballots, but don’t be surprised if Dre, Cube, and the rest miss out this year.

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