The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame has started its annual pop music conversation with the announcement of the 2016 nominees: The Cars, Chic, Chicago, Cheap Trick, Deep Purple, Janet Jackson, the J.B.'s, Chaka Khan, Los Lobos, Steve Miller, Nine Inch Nails, N.W.A, the Smiths, the Spinners and Yes. Generally, the hall inducts about five, so some of these artists will certainly see their names on the list in future years.
Chic, Deep Purple, N.W.A. Nine Inch Nails, the Smiths, the Spinners and Yes are all returnees to the nomination list, and there's a decent chance that a few of them will actually get in this time. There are still entirely too many classic-rock artists being nominated only to be ignored when induction time comes, though the addition of fan voting should help correct that situation.
For example, Deep Purple's continued exclusion appears to come from voter biases or perhaps the hall's desire to cast a wider net of pop music for potential inductees. Either way, it makes the voters look petty when a seminal hard rock band that inspired heavy metal (which the hall also doesn't seem to like much) and unleashed one of the classic-rock era's signature riffs (Smoke On the Water) has a difficult time getting inducted.
Steve Miller — a '70s FM radio staple with Fly Like An Eagle and The Joker, inventor of words such as “pompatus” — has one of the top 40 albums of all time with his 13 million-plus-selling Greatest Hits, which should make him a shoo-in, but surprisingly, Miller is a first-time nominee and as such he may have to wait.
Among the other classic rockers that will have some fans asking “What? He/she/they're not already in?” are two successful '70s-'80s bands: the melodic power pop of Cheap Trick and the new-wave rock of the Cars. While it's possible that they'll cancel each other out, both bands had good, hit-filled runs and were early pillars for then-nascent MTV.
Chicago began as a jazz-rock band with horn-heavy jams such as Street Player and 25 Or 6 To 4, becoming pop balladeers with songs such as If You Leave Me Now. The latter legacy of maudlin and popular synth-drenched fare such as Hard Habit To Break and Hard to Say I'm Sorry is likely working against them, or else the group, eligible since 1994, wouldn't have had to wait until 2015 for its first nomination.
Yes was first eligible in 1994, but it has taken nearly 20 years to get its second nomination. The long overdue and seemingly reluctant induction of Rush might be it for prog-rockers for a while, but perhaps the recent death of founding bassist Chris Squire may get the band over the voting hump (see Zappa, Frank). If not, the wait for nomination No. 3 could take a few more years.
Oscar winner Trent Reznor's Nine Inch Nails, which got its start in Cleveland, will also likely have to wait a few more years; there are simply too many older, influential bands (Sonic Youth, Pixies) ahead of them in the line.
Chic and N.W.A.
Speaking of waiting, Chic has been nominated 10 times, N.W.A. four times in a row. With N.W.A.'s new biopic Straight Outta Compton bringing the seminal “gangsta rap” group into the spotlight again, now would seem like an opportune time for the rock hall to bring the group in the fold, likely leaving Chic hoping the 11th time will be the charm.
First-timers Los Lobos might not have the cache of hits that other nominees can claim, but the proudly Latin L.A. rock band does have a couple of decades of dedicated fans and considerable critical acclaim, not to mention adding a bit of diversity to the inductee list.
Vocal powerhouse Chaka Khan, a hitmaker fronting Rufus and as a solo artist, garners her first nomination of what will probably be a few more (similar to Donna Summer) before getting inducted.
The surprise name for some will be Janet Jackson, who reigned over R&B and pop radio with a string of multiplatinum hit albums including Control, Rhythm Nation 1814 and janet. If there can be only one R&B female singer allowed in the class of 2016 — and something tells us that will be the case — Jackson will be the one, joining her brothers, the Jackson 5 (1997) and Michael Jackson (2001).
The Spinners were a fine vocal group with some great Thom Bell-produced hits in the '70s. They are certainly worthy of the R&B and Vocal Group halls of fame (they are in both) but much of their music today is relegated to middle-of-the-road “all your favorites from the '60s, '70s, '80s!” stations, making their impact less than some others.
The E Street Band made it in without Bruce Springsteen, so James Brown's backing group the JB's, one of the most sampled groups in pop music history, deserves a spot for Musical Excellence (formerly known as the Sidemen category).
Artists are eligible 25 years from the date of their first release, and a cynical music fan will notice that brings the year of eligibility up to 1990. So far, the voters seem to be doing their darndest to avoid the '80s hair/arena metal era that would necessitate including popular long-running bands such as Motley Crue and Def Leppard.
And, despite recent (late) capitulations such as Black Sabbath and the Sex Pistols, the voters also appear less than eager to fete the deeper, influential end of the heavy metal and punk pool (Judas Priest, The Misfits) that doesn't include platinum-selling artists crossover artists such as Metallica and Green Day.
But as the hall acknowledges seminal punk, alternative and college rock bands such the Clash and the Ramones, along with commercially huge descendants such as Green Day and Nirvana, this could be the year for the Smiths (who should already be in).
The final slate of inductees will likely be announced in mid-December; the induction ceremony will take place in New York at a date to be determined next year.
Malcolm X Abram can be reached at email@example.com or 330-996-3758. Read his blog, Sound Check Online, at www.ohio.com/blogs/sound-check, like him on Facebook at http://on.fb.me/1lNgxml and/or follow him on Twitter @malcolmabramABJ.