Analyzing the 2016 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Nominees
Chris Walter, Getty Images / Epic / Mercury[/caption]
This year's list of nominees for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame has been announced, and it includes a number of worthy candidates who've waited far too long for their chance at induction — including Cheap Trick, Deep Purple, the Cars, Yes, Steve Miller and Chicago — as well as (comparatively) younger rock acts like Los Lobos and Nine Inch Nails. Here's the case for why some of this year's nominees should definitely make the cut.
The Cars were far from the only group to blend pop, punk and New Wave during the '70s and '80s, but they did it far more gracefully than most. When they were near the top of their game — and let's be honest, they usually were — they blended disparate elements into a seamless whole, fusing chilly synths with arena-ready guitars and topping the whole thing off with coolly dispassionate vocals that still managed to be somehow soulful. They rattled off a string of hit singles in the '80s, and gamed the MTV era with a series of memorable videos, but they were always more than "just" a Top 40 band — and they were a pretty solid live act too.
Power pop's great paradox is that, for a type of music that adheres rigorously to classic songwriting formula, it's deceptively tricky to pull off; fall too far on either side of the line, and you end up with a mess. For more than 40 years now, Cheap Trick have offered an ongoing master class in how to hit that balance — and even in the '80s, when their records tended to lean too heavily on the "pop" part of the equation, they still managed to rock on a fairly regular basis. Still gigging and recording, they're a veritable institution at this point, and their long-overdue nomination corrects one of the Rock Hall's biggest oversights.
Speaking of bands that have waited far too long to be nominated, here's Chicago. Eligible since 1994, the "rock 'n' roll band with horns" was one of the most reliable hitmakers of the '70s — and they did pretty well for themselves in the '80s too, streamlining their sound to suit the times and increasing their already-impressive sales total, which puts them second only to the Beach Boys among American bands. But sales aren't the only — or even the main — thing that gets an act nominated to the Rock Hall; critical acclaim also counts for a lot, and Chicago have never been critical favorites. Their nomination is arguably this year's biggest surprise, but if they make it in on this ballot, they've definitely earned the honor.
Chicago aren't the only long-snubbed rock acts with a shot at making the Hall with this class — we also have Deep Purple, who have actually been eligible slightly longer, and who have continued releasing new music more consistently than just about any of their peers. Sadly, in the States, they're widely seen as little more than the band that gave us "Smoke on the Water," which hasn't helped them gain traction with the Hall's largely American voter base. Whether or not they make it in on this ballot, their nomination is a long-overdue step in the right direction.
Covering Ritchie Valens classics for the La Bamba soundtrack in 1987 gave Los Lobos their biggest hit, but it also hampered the group in later years, forever pigeonholing them as a "Latin band" and marginalizing their body of original work, which nimbly draws from a well of influences across the musical spectrum. Inducting them wouldn't make up for mainstream audiences sleeping on some of the band's best records, but it could give Los Lobos an unlikely late-period comeback hit: Their most recent effort, Gates of Gold, arrived in September 2015.
A guitarist with the heart of a bluesman and the chops of a rock god, Steve Miller made scoring hits sound easy in the '70s, racking up a score of future AOR mainstays with singles like "The Joker," "Take The Money and Run," "Rock'n Me," "Fly Like an Eagle," "Swingtown" and "Jungle Love" — and when the hits dried up in the early '80s, instead of changing his sound, he focused on touring, expanding a fan base that's quietly become one of the steadiest turnouts on the classic rock live circuit.
Until Trent Reznor came along, "computer-driven rock 'n' roll" might as well have been an oxymoron. Although he was far from the first in the genre to use synths, loops and samples, he was groundbreaking in his efforts to prove that digital noise could be just as aggressive as analog sound — and in the way he blurred the artificially imposed genre boundaries between the two.
Long derided by critics as pompous and overblown, and dismissed by rock fans who might not have had the patience to sit through an 80-minute double album inspired by a footnote in Paramahansa Yogananda's Autobiography of a Yogi, Yes have survived for more than 40 years purely on their own terms, weaving a (still-expanding) body of work whose sound has always seemed to exist in its own musical world. Over the years, the band's seen so many members come and go that the Rock Hall might have to build a bigger stage for their induction; sadly, it'll come too late for lineup linchpin Chris Squire, who died earlier this year.