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Who'll Rock Into 21st-Century Hall of Fame?

January 17, 1988|ROBERT HILBURN

Everybody knows the 40 or so remaining names from the '60s who will be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as soon as they become eligible: the Rolling Stones, Jimi Hendrix, the Who, Stevie Wonder, Janis Joplin and. . . . Well, just fill in blanks.

It's easy to look back and see who were our most inspired and inspiring artists.

But what about the future?

Which of today's stars are likely to be chosen by the Hall of Fame judges in the 21st Century? And we are talking 21st Century in many cases.

Under the Hall of Fame guidelines, an artist doesn't become eligible for induction until 25 years after his/her recording debut. A band like R.E.M., which released its first single in 1981, won't be eligible until 2006. A group that makes its debut this year can't be inducted until 2013.

That's a long time in the fickle world of rock, but a look at how the Hall of Fame judges have chosen their first 30 inductees offers a clue to future selections.

In most cases, the judges (chiefly recording executives, musicians and critics) have favored critically admired artists rather than simply best sellers.

That's why rockabilly star Carl Perkins--who had only one Top 20 hit--and R & B singer Clyde McPhatter--who registered only four as a solo artist--have been voted into the Hall of Fame over '50s hit makers like Pat Boone and Paul Anka (with 26 and 21 Top 20 singles, respectively).

These examples aren't meant to be a self-serving salute to the power of critics. The point isn't even that the Hall of Fame judges follow critics closely, but that they--as serious students of rock--apply many of the same standards to recording artists. They prize artists with the originality and vision to shape music, not those who merely recycle what has already proven successful.

There was no rock criticism, for all practical purposes, in the '50s, but over the last two decades a critical consensus has grown up around '50s artists, and a similar consensus exists for artists of the '60s and '70s, and for some artists of the '80s.

The danger in forecasting what might happen two decades from now is that reputations can suddenly rise (the odds on John Cougar Mellencamp's getting into the Hall of Fame were around 2% before the "Scarecrow" album) or suddenly fall (Boy George's early projections, based on the impact of his first two LPs with Culture Club, may have been as high as 35%).

Yet it is clear that some artists, through originality of stance or simply expanse of talent, have had such a profound influence on pop music that they are virtually guaranteed a place in the Hall of Fame regardless of what happens later in their careers. Current examples: Michael Jackson and Prince.

The hardest part of evaluating the chances of contemporary artists is the matter of influence. Taking the Carl Perkins example again, it's easy to look back and see his influence. The Beatles recorded three of his songs, and various other Hall of Fame cinches, including John Fogerty and Eric Clapton, have cited his influence.

But how could you tell at the time that Perkins or another modest '50s seller like Eddie Cochran would inspire future generations of rockers? Once again, the matters of originality and vision come into play. Regardless of how their records sold, artists like Perkins, Cochran and Gene Vincent were widely admired by aspiring young musicians and the fledgling crop of rock 'n' roll producers.

In other words, Perkins and Cochran were leaders from the beginning in rock. Few who followed rock \o7 religiously\f7 in the '50s were surprised when these artists were voted into the Hall of Fame over the Boones, Ankas and Avalons.

This history suggests that today's most influential or respected artists will also be the ones who will stand the test of time.

Here's an estimate of the Hall of Fame chances of a cross-section of more than three dozen of today's pop heroes. On the never-say-never theory, the scale runs from 1% (you must be dreaming) to 99% (a virtual cinch). An asterisk is placed by the scores of certain new artists as a reminder that the score could go up or down 20 points depending on the quality of the next album.

The list centers on artists who have registered their main commercial and/or artistic impact in the '80s--a factor that rules out many contemporary stars who laid a strong case for Hall of Fame membership through their work in the '60s or '70s. Among the latter: David Bowie, Elton John, Van Morrison, Stevie Wonder, Fleetwood Mac, Al Green, Randy Newman and Tom Waits.

The Candidates:

Bryan Adams--Has a feather of support, but appears too much in the shadow of Springsteen, Mellencamp, Seger, et al. 12%

Bangles--The Go-Go's probably lost their chance for the Hall of Fame when the band broke up after just three albums. So that leaves the Bangles as the front-runners to fill the slot reserved for the first important female band. But the L.A. quartet still needs to show it deserves that spot. 15%*

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