Rock the Vote

Who should -- and shouldn't -- be in the Rock Hall? We pick a fight.

Ask any Clevelander about the Rock Hall, and be prepared for an onslaught of moaning.

The museum part isn't the problem, they'll say. What's not awesome about gawking at Bowie's glittery unitard, Muddy Waters' axe, or Lennon's journals?

It's the actual Hall of Fame that brings out the bitching.

Many begin with the obligatory gripes about the induction ceremonies being held in New York. "If rich baseball players can go to Cooperstown and football players to Canton, then certainly rock stars can come to Cleveland," says Mike Jordan, former music director at WCSB.

Others contend that five-star banquets at the Waldorf-Astoria run afoul of rock's image as rebel music. "A hall of fame with a black-tie induction ceremony is pretty much the antithesis of what I think about when I listen to someone like the Clash," says Dave Rich, guitarist for Akron pop darlings Houseguest.

And then there is the legion of haters -- those who claim the Hall is a joke, that it ignores invention for commercial success, that it's not much different from a Cape Cod T-shirt shop -- a place for tourists to be relieved of their money. "What does it have to do with me?" asks Gabe Fulvimar, a bartender at the Matinee, who prefers Modest Mouse to Van Halen. "They'll never induct any bands I give a shit about."

But here's the kicker: No matter how intensely music aficionados detest the Hall, no matter how vigorously they denounce it as just another industry gimmick, they don't hesitate to argue about who truly deserves induction. They'll make a federal case for Sonic Youth. They'll bewail the injustice of Kiss' continued omission. And they swear they'll never go downtown again if Bon Jovi is included. Think of it as the musical version of junior high, where you're happy to talk shit about the popular kids, but secretly wish they'd invite you to sit at their lunch table. We all crave validation -- even the rock and roll rebel.

Till now, the 500-member induction committee, an anonymous cadre of critics, historians, and industry types, has had it easy. Inductees have largely been no-brainers culled from the big sellers who revolutionized rock (Elvis, the Beatles, Zeppelin) and the icons of blues, country, and soul that shaped the music's future: Muddy Waters, Hank Williams, Booker T. & the MG's.

But as the pool of eligible artists now reaches into the '70s and '80s, the terrain becomes increasingly more difficult to navigate and the arguments more heated. This was the era when the definition of rock became as clear as mud.

Pop artists like Michael Jackson and Madonna replaced Jimi Hendrix and Santana on the Billboard charts. Rock, in its purest guitar/bass/drums configuration, was largely pushed to the fringes, where it regularly reinvented itself: punk, hardcore, metal, glam, alt-rock, grunge. Even Rolling Stone, the Woodstock generation's authority on rock, was now covering everything from hip-hop to synth-pop. People began asking themselves whether rock was really a sound or simply what sits atop the pop charts. No one could agree.

This all makes the Rock Hall's future as sketchy as a Detroit Avenue hooker on meth. The Hall's website claims that one of its goals is "to recognize the contributions of those who have had a significant impact on the evolution, development, and perpetuation of rock and roll." But how will it measure that? By record sales? Innovation? Will there be quotas for gender and race, as well as genres like hip-hop and techno? Or is it just one big popularity contest?

Scene called and asked, but Rock Hall spokeswoman Margaret Thresher didn't have a response. "Good question," she said.

The answer is that without a concrete definition of rock, there is no science to make the induction process flawless. Outside of Nirvana, the next decade doesn't boast many safe picks. Even Madonna will be a controversial inductee, seeing as the pop diva never released a rock record in her entire career.

Then there are the guys who sold out arenas, only to end up on the cheesy VH1 rock docs -- the Poisons and New Kids on the Blocks of the world. No one would claim they were innovative or had any staying power (NKOTB didn't even rawk!). But they defined musical eras and sold gobs 'n' gobs of records (even though they now make up 90 percent of the stock at the Record Exchange).

How will this shadowy induction committee weigh those guys against, say, the Replacements and Dinosaur Jr. -- artists that aren't household names and never graced the cover of Rolling Stone, but created whole new genres and birthed hundreds of new bands?

It's the sorta fight we like to jump into. So here are 10 artists who we think embody the Rock Hall's future induction dilemmas and why.

How did we assemble this noble list, you ask? Well, we figured since the Hall has no guidelines, we didn't need any either. Enjoy!

Judas Priest
Before Judas Priest, there was no such thing as heavy metal. Sure, there was the bombast of Zeppelin and the dark sludge of Sabbath, but the Priest wrote the book on modern metal. In addition to establishing the dress code of leather and studs, the Priest set the standard for guitar virtuosity with its dueling twin leads. Their mechanized onslaught and classical grandeur also severed gritty hard rock from its blues roots, contorting it into something white and very European.

Aside from the innovation, Judas Priest has sold over 38 million albums worldwide. Still, the chances of singer Rob Halford driving his motorcycle into the Rock Hall are as slim as his chaps. Though heavy metal is one of the most popular genres in the world, people other than metalheads see bands like the Priest in only one of two ways. Either they're terrifying devil worshipers, or they're Spinal Tap.

Neither of these images seemingly sits well with the Rock Hall. If it inducts a bunch of guys dressed up as gay strippers, singing in falsetto, the institution may become a mockery -- a slap in the face of the earnest sensibilities of classic rock.

On the other hand, the Priest is pretty scary -- so scary that the band was sued in 1990 for inducing suicide among teens. That footnote in the band's history might not be too good for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum's attendance either. It is a family destination, after all . . . Right, Tipper?

Look at Sabbath. It took the band 12 years and eight failed nominations to finally get inducted. Judas Priest has been eligible since 2001, and despite several fan petitions, they've received not even a nod from the committee.

The likeliest metal band to get inducted next will be Metallica, who become eligible in 2008. Unlike Judas Priest, Metallica had the sort of crossover success that made girls named "Tammy" think they were great. With "the Black Album," Metallica reconnected metal with melody as well as its bluesy roots.

When James Hetfield does make his acceptance speech at the induction ceremony next year, hopefully he'll remind the crowd that if it weren't for the Priest, Metallica would never have existed.

Guns N' Roses
Everyone from Ozzy to Q Magazine has named GN'R one of the greatest rock bands of all time. Many consider the band an instant lock for the Hall in 2012, its first year of eligibility.

After all, 1989's Appetite for Destruction was the highest-selling debut of all time as well as a critical success. Even though Axl and company looked as hokey as Mötley Crüe, their music and lyrics were seen as a direct link to classics like Zeppelin and the Stones (for whom GN'R opened in 1989).

The band went on to sell over 90 million records. But by 1993's The Spaghetti Incident?, GN'R was already shitting the bed. Just four years after Appetite, the band's sleaze rock was replaced by grunge and alt-rock: Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Smashing Pumpkins.

Thanks to infighting and highly unstable personalities, GN'R wasn't capable of building a lasting career like Metallica. They will forever be associated with bad perms and pegged pants. No one listens to "Welcome to the Jungle" because it's a classic. We listen to GN'R because it's funny and nostalgic.

You also don't hear GN'R's influence on any bands after 1993 -- unless that band is the Darkness, which is little more than an arena-rock parody.

For anyone who believes that great rock should be timeless, GN'R is probably the wrong pick for the Rock Hall.

Captain Beefheart and the Magic Band
What Stephen Hawking is to physics, Captain Beefheart is to rock.

Since his 1967 debut, Safe as Milk, the man reinvented music with each subsequent release -- until his last in 1982, after which he retired. He went from quirky reinterpretations of blues-rock in the Howlin' Wolf tradition to full-blown avant garde weirdness.

His influence has also been enormous. Along with the Velvet Underground, he's cited as an ancestor of new wave and punk. He's name-checked by everyone from our very own Pere Ubu to the White Stripes (though admittedly, no one sounds a thing like him).

But the problem with Beefheart reaching Hall status is that he's always been too out-there for mass acceptance. His influence, however significant, was left on few commercially successful bands, aside from cult figure Tom Waits. Utter the strange word "Beefheart," and most rock fans will think you're talking about cow organs. Play 1969's Trout Mask Replica for the casual music listener, and they'll tell you to turn that crap off. Hell, most rock snobs will probably admit that they never listen to the guy, either. He's that strange.

Aside from a handful of true freaks, no one really cares if Beefheart is inducted or not. His appearance at the induction ceremony certainly wouldn't hike up VH1's ratings or buy the museum more season passes.

Still, if one of the Rock Hall's main objectives is to celebrate innovation, Beefheart is the party to end all parties.

Sting's schmaltzy adult-oriented rock is such an embarrassment to the Police, he should be barred from further collaborations with smooth-jazz artists. One could argue that he hasn't really rocked in years. His music is now the equivalent of a spiritual self-help book.

But keep this in mind: He's the guy that wrote the bass line for "Roxanne." He's the one who so passionately crooned, "You don't have to put on the red light." After that, he could've crapped on a piece of notebook paper, and we'd all have called it art. And that's exactly what we did.

Sting's solo career went on to win him plenty of critical acclaim, Grammys, a spot in the Songwriting Hall of Fame, and a collaboration with Puff Daddy. He can still pack Blossom and get penniless mothers to donate to Greenpeace. Sting is exactly the kind of inductee the Rock Hall loves -- a repeat offender with a dwindling solo career.

Take Eric Clapton, for instance. He's been inducted three times already, including with Cream, the Yardbirds, and as a solo performer. Though no one would challenge the might of his ensemble work, including Derek & the Dominoes, his solo stuff was little more than flaccid soft-pop and riffs fit for a Chili's ribs commercial. Still, he's Clapton. If he shat on notebook paper, we'd call it art too.

Since Clapton went in as a solo artist seven years after the Hall inducted Cream, it's almost a sure bet that Sting goes in 2010 -- seven years after the Police got their props. But that's only if the Hall doesn't induct that assortment of mummies known as the Traveling Wilburys instead.

Black Flag
No band logo has been as frequently tattooed onto human flesh as Black Flag's triple-bar insignia. That fact alone says worlds about the outfit's influence.

Started by guitarist Greg Ginn in 1976, Los Angeles' Black Flag gave birth to American hardcore. While punks were still firmly rooted in the pop-rock sensibilities of the Ramones, Black Flag ventured into the worlds of metal and even free jazz. They sounded more pissed than any rock outfit before, hence the term "hardcore."

The band has also been cited as the pioneer of the D.I.Y. (do-it-yourself) movement, where bands forsook major labels, opting to manufacture and distribute their music themselves. In fact, Ginn's SST Records remains one of the most iconic indie labels of all time, having put out records by everyone from Sonic Youth and Hüsker Dü to the Minutemen and the Descendents.

Though the band split in 1986, its influence is now more prevalent than ever. Thanks to Black Flag, basements and garages across America are flooded with hardcore bands. The SoCal skate punk of the Warped Tour also owes its existence to the group.

While Black Flag became eligible for induction last year, it's unlikely the band will find many advocates among the induction committee's critics or industry bigwigs. The band's beefy, angry-white-guy image never sat well with the liberal, lofty types at the major music rags. They probably couldn't tell Henry Rollins from a skinhead. What's more, the outfit's music is so aggressive and atonal that if your idea of the perfect rock band is the Beatles, Black Flag will sound like horrible noise. It also doesn't help that the band dove into a protracted legal dispute with industry powerhouse MCA Records in the mid-'80s.

But it's probably better for the Rock Hall to leave Black Flag alone. After all, it already got cussed out by Johnny Rotten when it inducted the Sex Pistols this year. Black Flag would likely offer the Hall the same verbal beatdown.

Alanis Morissette
When Jagged Little Pill came out in 1995, it created a pop-music monster.

The album spent 12 consecutive weeks at No. 1 on the Billboard and was one of only three records, including Thriller, to ever spend a year in the top 10. It was also a critical success, deemed by Rolling Stone to be one of the 500 best records of all time.

Since then, major labels have been chasing the dragon that is Morissette -- a female solo artist with just enough edge to make her seem cool, but not so much that she'll scare off the housewives and their tween daughters. The masses want sass, not PJ Harvey. And that's what the industry gave them, churning out acts like Avril Lavigne, Kelly Clarkson, and Ashlee Simpson. Even Pink abandoned her R&B roots, realizing there was more money in singing pseudo-angsty pop numbers.

Arguably, Morissette has had more influence on the music industry than any other artist in the past 10 years, making her a shoo-in for the Rock Hall.

Then again, Morissette's mid-'90s success made mainstream female artists indistinguishable. Like Morissette, none of her followers write their own music (which is fine if you've got the skills of Tina Turner). They all have the same kooky hair dye and reissued Stones T's. And though they flaunt a fierce independence and intellect, their songs never go beyond cheating boyfriends.

Still, the Rock Hall needs its female inductees and needs them bad, lest they be dismissed as a sexist institution. Last year, all they had was Patti Smith -- a homely poet with bad record sales. At least in 2020, they'll have a powerhouse like Miss Morissette.

Dr. Dre
Dr. Dre has the greatest stamina of anyone in popular music history. Since 1987, Dre has been pumping out solid work as a rapper, musician, and producer.

As a founding member of N.W.A., he dirtied up a once benign art form with gritty rhymes about drugs, guns, and cop-killing. On his 1992 solo, The Chronic, he established the West Coast G-funk sound, with his creeping keyboard work and heavy beats. But Dre didn't make a name just for himself. Snoop Dogg, Eminem, Eve, the Game, and 50 Cent all owe their millions to his production skills and signature sound. His dense layers of funk and soul samples also revolutionized sampling -- not just for hip-hop, but all of pop music.

In 2004, Jann Wenner and his cronies ranked Dre No. 54 in its list of the "100 Greatest Artists of All Time." But it's unlikely the Hall will offer the Doctor a seat at their table anytime soon.

Take a look at soul music: Due to inducting artists at the pace of roughly one a year, the Hall's plumbing is so clogged with eligible artists that '60s icons like Percy Sledge and the Ronettes are getting in only now.

The same will likely hold true for hip-hop, yet another musical form created by black people and only tangentially related to rock music. In a purist's mind, rap isn't rock, which is why Dr. Dre will have to take a back seat to groups like Nirvana and Metallica.

If Dre does get in, it will likely be with N.W.A. -- a more efficient choice for the Rock Hall, seeing as they can induct him, Eazy-E, and Ice Cube all at once. But even N.W.A. seems a controversial pick for an institution as politically correct as the Rock Hall. These were the guys rhyming about killing bitches and selling crack to 10-year-olds, after all.

With limited space for black folk, the committee will probably just go with a respectable group like Public Enemy and call it a day, even if N.W.A. and Dre have been as influential as any hip-hop legend out there.

John Mayer
Mayer is to Hendrix what Bolton was to Otis.

Anyone who has heard "Your Body Is a Wonderland" knows that this guy is a total hack -- a sterile cum stain on the legacy of rock music. His lyrics are little more than calculated come-ons. His guitar work is better tagged "easy listening" than "rock." I wouldn't even compare the creep to Christopher "Sailing" Cross. The dude even has an on-and-off-again relationship with Jessica Simpson, which makes her look like the idiot.

Still, this shaggy-haired frat boy has managed to fool critics into believing that he's brilliant. In February, Rolling Stone crowned Mayer the new "guitar god," proving that poor Jann is so painfully out of touch, he probably couldn't tell rock and roll from his own asshole.

Then, last month, Time named Mayer one of the "Most Influential People of 2007." Esquire didn't even bother to write an article on Mayer -- they just handed him a spot as a guest columnist.

Hopefully, by 2027 -- when Mayer's eligible for enshrinement -- people will come to their senses. But it's doubtful. Everyone compares Mayer to Eric Clapton. David Fricke, RS's most famous resident idiot, nicknamed him "Slowhand Jr."

At first, the reference is puzzling. Clapton's work for the Yardbirds was sturdy, his legacy with Cream astounding. But then you're reminded of "Tears in Heaven" and Babyface collaborations, and it all makes sense. Mayer is the watered-down version of watered-down Clapton. He's a MOR fan's dirtiest wet dream.

In fact, Mayer is probably the perfect pick for the Rock Hall in 2027. He's got all the skills of a rock god's waning solo career (see: Sting), and he's just getting started.

From booty-shakers and B-boys to hipsters and ravers, electronic dance music is inarguably the most popular musical form on the face of the Earth; rock and roll doesn't hold a candle. The halter-top hoochies down on 6th Street can thank Kraftwerk for that.

When the German band came along in 1970, it completely revolutionized the way music was made. Bridging the gap between rock and dance music, Kraftwerk was the first band to record using entirely electronic instruments, from drums and keyboards down to their computer-generated vocals.

The electro quartet is largely responsible for every genre from synth-pop and techno to house and industrial music. Even hip-hop was born when Afrika Bambaataa mixed two of their songs on 1982's "Planet Rock." Without Kraftwerk, there would be no Dre, Depeche Mode, Daft Punk, or Nine Inch Nails. Hell, there'd be no Britney or Xtina. Not even Madonna.

So it's a great surprise that the band has been entirely ignored by the Rock Hall. It's been eligible for induction since 1995, but has yet to receive a single nomination.

Is it because of the outfit's Germanic roots? Or that it popularized the vocoder?

The Hall probably hasn't decided how to handle club music yet. And it probably never will. Rock purists have always been hostile to dance music -- just look at disco. In 1979, 90,000 people participated in Chicago's Disco Demolition, where they gleefully torched Donna Summer records in Nazi-like bonfires.

What Kraftwerk is to pop-rock and dance music, Babyface is to R&B and soul.

Since 1989, the man has been churning out smooth, synthesized jams at the same rate that Irish Catholics give birth. The list of artists for whom he's written music and produced reads like the who's who of Top 40: Michael Jackson, Aretha Franklin, Phil Collins, Madonna, Mary J., Whitney Houston, En Vogue, Janet Jackson, Clapton, Mariah, Toni Braxton, TLC, and Boys II Men, among others.

Babyface is, without a doubt, a strong contender for the Hall's non-performer category, reserved for producers and songwriters. Not only is he perfect to represent contemporary R&B, but he's the 1990s' Phil Spector (without all the allegedly murderous tendencies, of course). Babyface single-handedly set the tone for how all radio hits would sound for decades to come.

But the dude put a lot of guys out of work too. His cost-cutting ability to produce a song with little more than a Kurzweil keyboard and a drum machine lost a lot of session musicians their jobs. Why pay a whole band when a guy and his computer can do the same work for less? Babyface is like the automation that displaced a million American manufacturing jobs. He's the multi-tiered Motown process, condensed into a single man.

Though his influence is mind-boggling, Babyface's digitization of music will be a contentious issue for the Rock Hall. Rock purists don't like their music made with the push of a button, because that's sooooo inauthentic, right?

In fact, digitization will likely be the biggest issue in the future of the Hall. That's when people will finally stop arguing about what rock is and start arguing about whether music made by computers is still rock. Sting Guns N Roses Alanis Morissette Dr. Dre