Given the ongoing and divisive debates about elections, it's good to know there's one voting process coming up that should involve minimal bloodletting.
The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame has announced the final 15 entries for this year's ballot. And because Madonna has been in the hall for 10 years and Donna Summer has been in for five, that removes most of the objections for rock 'n' roll purists, right?
Not so fast.
The definition of what rock 'n' roll is in terms of consideration for the hall fluctuates depending on each person's preference. There are people who thought Summer was a disco performer and had no business being enshrined in Cleveland. Madonna, others argued, isn't rock 'n' roll.
The hall did itself no favors by regularly shuffling certain styles. Country and bluegrass pioneers find themselves in the hall. That's fine. There's a direct line, for example, from Hank Williams to the Everly Brothers to The Beatles. But if someone demands an explanation of why the king of country music is in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, the best reason might be how Williams exemplified the reckless lifestyle that defined some tragic rockers. Williams died at 29, just missing being the pioneer to rock music's 27 list.
This year's list of nominees to the Rock Hall is sure to give aging baby boomers plenty of reason for angst, if they decide they have any angst left. Only a handful of the nominees had established careers by the year John Lennon was murdered. But aging baby boomers rarely pause to realize than John Lennon, who died just after his 40th birthday, is two years away from being dead for as long as he was alive.
So we've reached the point where every nominee could have a staunch defender saying they played a key role in some specific area of music. But they're not necessarily names that ring true with everyone from classic rock lovers to MTV-age aficionados to digital devotees.
Maybe the best known named on the list are Def Leppard and Janet Jackson, both of whom dominated when video was the prime delivery source of new music, although there may not be many observers who could name five songs by each.
Repeat nominees from the 1960s are MC5 and The Zombies. Kraftwerk, Devo, Rufus featuring Chaka Khan, John Prine and Roxy Music represent the 1970s. The 1980s nominees are LL Cool J, Stevie Nicks and The Cure. Radiohead and Rage Against the Machine are nominees from the 1990s, and final nominee Todd Rundgren has been recording longer than some of the members of Radiohead have been alive.
The fantastic thing about this list of nominees is all of them could have solid arguments made for and against them. This may be the most fragmented nominee list in the hall's history, and it couldn't better reflect the fragmentation of music.
A rap act could rise in the 1980s to the complete ignorance of a large number of music consumers. MTV created and enhanced pop stars at the same time. If you look at the quintet of 1970s acts represented, there's specialization. Even fanatics about specific artists knows that the people who might look to the hall for a framework of what's recognized as the genre's best wouldn't be able to name many songs by any of them.
The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame has reached the point where even those who would really like to have their favorite artists inducted know that we've reached a level beneath, even if it's just a little bit, below the cream of the crop.
That said, nothing prevents me the fun of for yet another year making an imaginary ballot with my imaginary selections and my very real reasoning. My votes would go to:
Kraftwerk and Devo – They're similar bands who worked on separate continents. An entire musical movement follows in Kraftwerk's wake. Devo is also vital for its concepts of imaging and packaging.
Todd Rundgren – Had he desired, Rundgren could have been a huge star in any number of rock genres. Instead, he followed his muse endlessly and fascinatingly, and had a hand in producing some vital albums.
Radiohead and Rufus – Both acts might be the kind where casual followers aren't able to name five songs from either, and almost certainly not both. But they both also influenced many, and the appreciation for them within their genre is high.
The hall is acting inclusionary with its “fan vote,” an exercise that will count as just a fraction of the final voting. But you can vote once a day if you wish at rockhall.com/vote. You need to use Amazon or Facebook as an access to voting, or give up your email address. Def Leppard and Stevie Nicks are running away with the balloting, which concludes Dec. 9.
Contact Tim Cain at (217) 421-6908. Follow him on Twitter: @timcainhr