In the beginning we were sent a cassette containing tracks by the nominees and I still have mine from ’92: The Yardbirds, Velvet Underground, Sam & Dave, Gene Pitney, Frankie Lymon & The Teenagers, Etta James, The Isley Brothers, Jimi Hendrix Experience, Duane Eddy, Cream, Johnny Cash, Buffalo Springfield, David Bowie, Booker T & The MGs. Of those, only Bobby Blue Bland has failed to make it in eventually. I still have four of those cassettes but they were superseded in 1997 by CDs, of which I have seven, and thereafter a digital playlist has been created annually for voters to ‘refresh their memory’.
The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame began inducting artists in 1986 but not until 1988 were British performers nominated, and then only The Beatles. The following year saw The Rolling Stones so honoured and they were joined in 1990 by The Who and The Kinks. By this time there were 39 US acts to the UK’s four and while the balance has evened out a bit over the years, it seems to me that an American bias has contaminated the institution since its launch 32 years ago.
During that time 169 North American (ie, including Canadian) acts have been inducted against 40 from the UK (and I’m being generous here by including in that the Jim Hendrix Experience, who were formed in London, Anglo-US Fleetwood Mac, U2, from Dublin, and Van Morrison, though Belfast is in the UK of course). The only inductees from outside North America and the UK are Bob Marley, Abba and AC/DC. In addition to this there are now categories for Early Influences, Non-Performers, Musical Excellence and Sidemen which are not voted upon by folks like me but decided on in secret by committee. I assume this is because some of the names in these groups – but by no means all – might not be known to some voters and might therefore lose out, but I am familiar with about 99% of them.
So, to the 2018 Ballot paper on which, like 2017, there are 19 nominated acts from which I am required to select five nominees. In alphabetical order they are: Bon Jovi, Kate Bush, The Cars, Depeche Mode, Dire Straits, Eurythmics, J. Geils Band, Judas Priest, LL Cool J, MC5, The Meters, Moody Blues, Radiohead, Rage Against The Machine, Rufus Featuring Chaka Khan, Nina Simone, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Link Wray and The Zombies.
Interestingly, neither The Smiths nor Kraftwerk – two acts nominated more than once in the past but never inducted – appear in the list, presumably because the organisers fear Morrissey’s truculence might upset someone and the rather bitter feelings over Ralf Hütter’s annexation of Kraftwerk as his personal domain. Both deserve to be inducted, as does Richard Thompson, whose omission is a scandal I bang on about in overwhelming frustration year after year. If the mysterious ‘secret committee’ – believed to be headed by Rolling Stone founder and editor Jann Wenner – feels he lacks ‘voter’ appeal, then surely Thompson merits inclusion in the Musical Excellence category?
Who to vote for this year then? As before I’ll pick four and throw my fifth choice open to Just Backdated readers. Let’s eliminate a few before we go any further, and because we are reducing 19 to five we have to be pretty ruthless. Kate Bush is not rock and roll and not to my taste. Neither are Bon Jovi, Judas Priest, LL Cool J, Moody Blues and Rage Against The Machine. I salute Nina Simone’s voice and activism but believe that she, along with Sister Rosetta Tharpe and Link Wray, really belong in the Early Influences category, and The Meters in Musical Excellence.
That’s ruthlessly eliminated 10 nominees, so the nine remaining are The Cars, Depeche Mode, Dire Straits, Eurythmics, J Geils, MC5, Radiohead, Rufus and The Zombies. This is where personal preference trumps any other criteria so although all nine probably deserve to be inducted sooner or later, I’ll plump for Dire Straits, Eurythmics, J Geils and Radiohead.
The first time I heard Dire Straits, on a car radio in 1978, I thought for a moment it was Bob Dylan, but when I heard the words of ‘Sultans Of Swing’ I realised Dylan would never sing a song about a jazz band playing in a London pub. I like the way Mark Knopfler plays guitar, I like the way he’s managed his career and, like me, he used to be a newspaper reporter in Yorkshire – three good reasons for getting my vote.
A long time ago I was in a legal dispute with Annie Lennox in which I felt she overplayed her hand in order to secure an undeserved victory but I can forgive her for that now. ‘Love Is A Stranger’ is as good a pop song as any and at least a couple of Eurythmics LPs were constantly spinning in my little flat in Hammersmith back in the eighties. They sort of bridged the period between vinyl and CDs for me, as I bought Eurythmics records on both formats, and although that’s no reason to give them my vote I liked them a lot and saw them a couple of times too, once at Hammersmith and again at Wembley when my date was a girl I remember fondly who broke my heart.
I saw J. Geils two or three times, in London, LA and New York, and liked them a lot too, a very American mix of rock and R&B. I also had a memorable encounter with Faye Dunaway who at the time was the girlfriend of J. Geils singer Peter Wolf which I write about elsewhere on Just Backdated. So that’s vote number three.
Finally Radiohead are surely a shoe-in. I know they can be miserable old buggers and, if not restrained by the more level-headed among them, a tad on the pretentious side but their Glastonbury set this year was second only to Nile Rodgers & Chic, they’ve made some wonderful music over the years and OK Computer really was one of the best albums of the nineties. Furthermore I offer as evidence the photograph below, scanned from the booklet that accompanies the R&RHoF voting form. I mean to say – have you ever seen a more desperate looking bunch of cutthroats in your life? I rest my case, m’lud.
All that remains is to ask who gets my fifth vote?