Sunday, November 28, 2021
Nov. 28, 2021

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Rock Hall of Fame: Your turn to vote

This year’s ballot includes 16 names

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Tina Turner (Joshua Dalsimer)
Tina Turner (Joshua Dalsimer) Photo Gallery

Do Tina Turner, Carole King and Todd Rundgren deserve to be voted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame more than Rage Against the Machine, Iron Maiden or Foo Fighters?

Are Mary J. Blige and Devo more worthy contenders than Jay-Z or The Go-Go’s?

Is the musical legacy of legendary Nigerian Afrobeat pioneer Fela Kuti greater than that of Dionne Warwick or Chaka Khan?

In an era when hip-hop has been the dominant commercial and cultural force for years, what exactly does rock ‘n’ roll — a hybrid music that began by fusing elements of blues, boogie, R&B, gospel, country, jazz and more — mean today?

According to the hall’s criteria, “besides demonstrating unquestionable musical excellence and talent, inductees will have had a significant impact on the development, evolution and preservation of rock & roll.”

While 16 artists are on the ballot this year, Rock Hall voters can only vote for five of them. (The three other 2021 nominees are Kate Bush and the New York Dolls, both on the ballot for the second time, and LL Cool J, with his sixth nomination.)

Tina Turner doesn’t need my vote

As a voting member of the hall since the 1990s, I am no stranger to the challenges presented each year when it comes time to cast my ballot.

Ballots are cast by an international voting body of more than 1,000 artists — including previous inductees — historians, music industry members and critics. Factors considered by voters consider include “an artist’s musical influence on other artists, length and depth of career and the body of work, innovation and superiority in style and technique,” according to a statement issued by the hall.

Accordingly, I take my voting seriously, even if some of my past votes may seem counter-intuitive at first glance.

For example, while I am a longtime fan of David Bowie, Pearl Jam and Radiohead, I did not vote for any of them because I knew each would earn ample votes for induction the first time their names appeared on the ballot.

And that is why, this year, I won’t be voting for Tina Turner, who is a first-time nominee this year, albeit very belatedly.

Her debut solo album was released in 1974, which means she could have been nominated back in 1999. (Artists become eligible 25 years after the release of their first recording under their own name; Turner was inducted in 1991 with her former husband and musical partner, Ike.)

Altogether, there are a record seven female nominees this year, including Turner, King, Blige, Khan, Warwick, Bush and The Go-Go’s. I’d be happy to cast a vote for any of them except The Go-Go’s, for reasons I’ll explain in a moment.

The nominees I will vote for:

Kate Bush

Her minimal success in the U.S. notwithstanding, art-pop icon Bush’s global impact has been formidable. So has her influence on performers as varied as Tori Amos, Bjork, Maxwell, Fiona Apple, Imogen Heap, Lady Gaga, Sia, St. Vincent, Perfume Genius and the members of San Diego tribute group Baby Bushka. Her collaborators have included such admirers as Prince, Elton John, Peter Gabriel and Pink Floyd’s David Gilmour, her early creative mentor. A shape-shifting singer-songwriter, Bush was 18 when her haunting “Wuthering Heights” made her the first female artist to top the U.K. charts with a self-written song. She’s rarely looked back since.

Fela Kuti

The mastermind of Afrobeat, Kuti fused funk, jazz and various African music styles into a propulsive, dance-happy whole with deadly serious messages. Equally charismatic as a saxophonist, singer and band leader, he repeatedly used his lyrics to criticize the authoritarian government in his native Nigeria. Kuti’s outspoken dissent led to his being beaten and imprisoned. He died in 1997 at the age of 58. He later inspired the hit 2008 Broadway musical, “Fela!”

Rage Against the Machine

Formed in 1991, this combustible Los Angeles quartet was one of the first bands anywhere to fuse rap and heavy metal. Its charged, take-no-prisoners music and socially and politically charged lyrics made for a potent combination that sounds as forceful today as it did 30 years ago. I voted for Rage the first two times it was on the ballot and will do so again this year.

Todd Rundgren

A musical polymath, Todd Rundgren could rightly be inducted as a band leader (Nazz and Utopia, the latter a key influence on the teenaged Prince). Or he could be inducted as a constantly daring solo artist of 40 years standing, who in March completed the world’s first geo-targeted virtual concert tour. Or he could be inducted as the producer of standout albums by The Band, Badfinger, Meat Loaf, New York Dolls, Patti Smith, XTC and more. A triple-threat and then some, Rundgren is now nominated for the third time.

Dionne Warwick

No, she’s not a “rock” singer and has never claimed to be. But Warwick is a gifted vocal artist who is now on the rise yet again at the age of 80. She scored her breakthrough hit with 1962’s “Don’t Make Me Over,” the first of many classic songs she recorded that was written by Burt Bacharach and Hal David. Steeped in gospel music, Warwick brought a sophisticated sense of cool to “Walk On By,” “I Say a Little Prayer” and an array of other impeccably crafted gems that inspired a generation or two of singers who came after her.

The nominees I won’t vote for:

Mary J. Blige

A first-time nominee and an inspirational, real-life survivor, soulful vocal dynamo Blige stands a good chance of being inducted within the next few years, and deservedly so. But R&B divas are few and far between in the hall — even Aretha Franklin needed two times on the ballot before being inducted — which makes Blige a long shot this year.

Devo

This Ohio-bred band’s 1978 wonderfully herky-jerky reconstruction of the Rolling Stones’ “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” was inspired. But its synth-driven brand of New Wave and “de-evolution” aesthetic — “Are we not men?” — while diverting, lacked sufficient depth, then and now.

Foo Fighters

Being inoffensive is rarely desirable in music, least of all rock, but it has become Foo Fighters’ calling card. Led by singer, guitarist and former Nirvana drummer Dave Grohl, the Fighters’ increasingly slick, risk-free music sounds like the very thing Nirvana once railed against and sought to overthrow.

The Go-Go’s

The Go-Go’s landmark 1981 debut — the first and, to date, only album to top the charts by an all-woman band whose members played their own instruments and wrote and sang their own songs — was followed by a rapid artistic decline. Does that one album merit their induction? I say no-go.

Iron Maiden

You can count the number of heavy metal and hard rock bands voted into the hall on your hands and still have enough fingers left to make the devil horns sign. English New Wave of Heavy Metal mainstays Iron Maiden are a first-time contender this year. The band has less to recommend it than the much superior Judas Priest, a two-time nominee, or Motorhead, which was nominated last year but failed to win.

Jay-Z

As an elder statesman of hip-hop, former street hustler-turned-corporate-chieftain Jay-Z long ago attained the fame and wealth he once dreamed and rapped about attaining. But his biggest achievements have been as an wildly successful entrepreneur, not a long-term artist.

Chaka Khan

The odds are not in favor of this galvanizing vocal veteran. Khan has been on the ballot six times in the past as a member of the funk-fueled band Rufus, and twice before on her own. As an intermittently active solo artist, she seems unlikely to be voted in now.

Carole King

Inducted as a songwriter with former partner Gerry Goffin in 1990, the singularly gifted King is nominated this year as a solo artist. She’s a shoo-in, and deservedly so, with or (in this case) without my vote.

LL Cool J

Like first-time nominee Jay-Z, LL Cool J is a New York native. But this is his sixth nomination and, rather than knock out his biggest competition on this year’s ballot — namely, Jay-Z — he’ll probably split the vote.

New York Dolls

Like the Go-Go’s (only eight years earlier), the short-lived New York Dolls released a classic debut album that the band never came close to matching again. Will the Dolls’ second consecutive year on the ballot end in victory? Unlikely.

Tina Turner

A living legend to a degree no on else on this year’s ballot can match, Tina Turner retired from performing in 2009 and is still vibrant at 81. Expect her to own this year’s induction ceremony like no one else who will be honored.

You can vote online once a day between now and May 7 by casting a “fan’s ballot” at vote.rockhall.com.

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