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?
As with last year, fans have a vote through 5 p.m. 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. A final inductee list will likely be announced 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 shoo-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.
Yes: The induction of power trio Rush last year was a game changer. Suddenly 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The long shots include The Paul Butterfield Blues Band; guitarist Link Wray; disco pioneers Chic; rockers The Replacements; and New Orleans instrumental funk band The Meters.