The unveiling of the latest list of nominees for the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame brought the usual outrage (“Willie Nelson is not rock and roll!”), confusion (“Is George Michael rock and roll?”) and disdain (“Sheryl Crow? Really?”, though I might’ve been the only one saying this). There’s definitely some weirdness in play. Is Cyndi Lauper’s brief but glorious run in the 1980s really Hall-worthy over, say, Beck, who isn’t even nominated this year? Joy Division and New Order are, despite the personnel overlap, two very different bands, yet they are nominated as a pairing. How is it that Warren Zevon was never nominated before?
But Beck, and his exclusion from this year’s list, is what I’m most interested in. He was a nominee last year – did he get worse somehow in a year in which he didn’t release any new music? Or what about Mary J. Blige, a first-time nominee in 2021 who didn’t make the cut in 2022, released her first new album in five years to good reviews (and an Album of the Year Grammy nomination), then was left out again this year. Then there is the Susan Lucci of the Hall, Chic, repeatedly left off the list since their 11th nomination in 2017. Finally, New York Dolls, who were nominated in 2001, disappeared until 2021, hung around in 2022, and are now off the ballot again. No shame in that, though: they’ve done better than Fela Kuti, who finally got to share the ballot with them the last two years and is now in purgatory again.
This isn’t like the Baseball Hall of Fame, where getting onto the ballot means 10 tries to get in, unless (1) you actually get elected or (2) your vote total falls below a certain defined threshold. The Hall’s yearly ballot is put together by a committee, and the shifting interests and loyalties in such a process guarantees flux. The committee is a pretty impressive roster of music industry luminaries: Steven Van Zandt has been on it since time immemorial, and Questlove, Dave Grohl and Tom Morello (and, in the recent past, Robbie Robertson) have multiple years of service, plus there are some excellent music journalists like Amanda Petrusich. These people know music: just some years (2012, for example), it appears, they love, say, Eric B. & Rakim, and other years (every year but 2012), they don’t.
In any event, fans can vote, even if our collective total equals but one measly ballot). George Michael and Joy Division/New Order were no-brainers for me. I love Cyndi Lauder but am uncertain whether she should be immortalised, and definitely not before (in addition to some of those mentioned above) the likes of Gram Parsons and The Smiths, let alone acts like Barry White, Television, The B-52s, Kool & the Gang, Diana Ross, The Commodores, The Guess Who, The Pet Shop Boys, INXS and Nick Drake who, collectively, have a grand total of zero nominations among them. (How is this even possible?) Most of the others I either don’t know well enough, or have never been much impressed with. That left me with The Spinners (tons of underrated hits and serious longevity), Warren Zevon (“Werewolves of London” should be enough, damn it) and Kate Bush (a reward for a 40-year commitment to her own idiosyncratic vision). Here’s the link for you to get some skin in the game.
January was a crappy month for me, and if that hadn’t been obvious from how I was feeling (I ended it by getting COVID – ugh), my lack of interest in listening to new music and retreat to familiar aural comforts was further evidence. There’s nothing wrong with that – I could play old Elvis Costello albums all day and still hear things I’d never noticed before. But nothing beats the joy of hearing something fresh that makes you take notice. The volume was thin this month, but there were still plenty of gems that caught my attention.
- Leon Russell – Carney (1972)
- David Bowie – Young Americans (1975) (Bowie’s disco album, I don’t understand why this wasn’t met with the acclaim of its predecessors and immediate successors, although perhaps the phrase “Bowie’s disco album” offers a clue.)
- Dire Straits – Communiqué (1979)
- Fun Boy Three – Waiting (1983)
- Lloyd Cole and the Commotions – Rattlesnakes (1984) (Shoutout to my friend Robert Barrie for putting this on my radar.)
- Brian Wilson – I Just Wasn’t Made for These Times (1995) (Stripped down reimaginings of some classic Beach Boys tunes.)
- The Vines – Wicked Nature (2014)
- Leisure – Leisure (2016)
- The Longshot – Love Is for Losers (2018) (I don’t find a heck of a lot of difference between Green Day and Billie Joe Armstrong’s side projects, but since I really like Green Day, that isn’t exactly a problem.)
- Grace Ives – 2nd (2019)
- Anyway Gang – Anyway Gang (2019) (The notion of a Canadian supergroup seems pretty un-Canadian to me, but the result is a delight.)
- Vacation Manor – Vacation Manor (2021)
- Tegan and Sara – Crybaby (2022)
- Death Cab for Cutie – Asphalt Meadows (2022)
- Why Bonnie – 90 in November (2022)
- Yeah Yeah Yeahs – Cool it Down (2022)
- Charles Stepney – Step on Step (2022) (A fascinating collection of home recordings from a long gone master, curated by his family.)
- Father John Misty – Chloë and the Next 20th Century (2022)
- Blackstarkids – Cyberkiss* (2022) (Just nutty fun.)
- July Talk – Remember Never Before (2023)