The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Derby

Paula Abdul, Milli Vanilli, Skid Row, Neneh Cherry, De La Soul, Clint Black, Texas and Soul II Soul had the kind of debuts in 1989 that fledgling record-makers dream about.

But, what about a quarter of a century from now? How will their impact on pop music be measured in 2015?

That's the year when any act that made its formal recording debut during the last 12 months becomes eligible for induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

It's humbling for the newcomers to imagine themselves eventually being measured against the long-term commercial and/or critical success of several of the artists who'll be inducted during the fifth annual Hall of Fame ceremonies Wednesday night in New York--a lineup that includes the Who, Simon & Garfunkel, the Kinks, the Four Tops and Bobby Darin. (See Don Waller's look at the 1990 Hall of Fame class on opposite page).

The contributions of the eight artists being inducted this week aren't equal, but even the weakest entries in this year's class helped define pop genres and accumulated a massive string of hits.

This year's induction class brings to 43 the number of artists or groups honored by the Hall of Fame--and the selections offer a guide to the standards set by the approximate 300 Hall of Fame voters (mostly recording executives, musicians and critics) who determine who will be saluted.

The discouraging thing about this year's crop is a slight decline in past standards. Where the voters continue in most cases to favor artistic merit over simply commercial credentials, the election this year of the Four Seasons and the Platters--ahead of the far more influential Bob Marley or Curtis Mayfield or Yardbirds--suggests a tendency to be swayed by the sheer number of hits.

For all his impact, both in and out of the reggae movement, Marley, for instance, never had a Top 40 single in the U.S., though two of his albums made the Top 20. By contrast, the Platters, the smoothly designed, but narrow Los Angeles R&B; vocal group, registered 20 Top 40 hits between 1955 and 1961. The Four Seasons, the vibrant, but also limited East Coast vocal outfit, generated 26 Top 40 hits between 1962 and 1968.

This slight shift toward the commercial rather than the significant suggests a boost to the future Hall of Fame chances of contemporary artists--such as Billy Joel and Phil Collins--who do little to stretch pop's artistic boundaries, but are gifted enough craftsmen to be consistent hitmakers.

In putting together this year's annual report on the chances of today's artists' eventually being inducted into the Hall of Fame, the emphasis is kept on significance rather than sales, in the hope that this year's slight break from that tradition was not the start of a trend. The chances are presented on a scale of 0% (hopeless) to 99.99% (congratulations)--along with an indication, where appropriate, on whether the status improved or diminished from last year.

Artists are listed in alphabetical order with new entries following the main list.

The Bangles--When the Go-Go's broke up after just three albums, the Los Angeles band left the door open for another group to challenge for the spot reserved in the Rock Hall of Fame to salute the first great all-woman group. The Bangles looked like they had a chance, but they too have called it quits before putting a lock on the claim. 5%. Down 5% from last year.

Bon Jovi--Nothing here on an artistic level, but the last album sold 5 million copies and sharp management is positioning them well. Note the headlining shows in Moscow. 12%. Up 5%.

Tracy Chapman--Because the race for the Hall of Fame certification is so long, even someone who makes as celebrated an arrival as this protest-minded singer did last year can only be given a 10% chance of eventual success. Strangely, Chapman's second album, "Crossroads," did little to clarify her standing. Her craft seemed intact, but her vision didn't expand. 10%. No change.

Elvis Costello--When a strong marketing push by Warner Bros., Costello's new label, and almost universally glowing reviews failed to push "Spike" into the Top 20, it's clear that Costello is never going to be able to depend on sales to earn his way into the Hall of Fame. Fortunately, he doesn't need to. His artistry should be enough. 95%. Up 5%.

Terence Trent D'Arby--Like Chapman, D'Arby was awarded a maximum 10% for his flashy 1988 debut. Even though his second album, "Neither Fish Nor Flesh," has bombed (so far), he exhibited enough artistry and ambition to earn a slight upgrade. 13%. Up 3%.

Eurythmics--Dave Stewart and Annie Lennox were once the essence of style in pop-rock, as reflected by their 40% rating in the 1988 edition of the Hall of Fame report. But the English duo seems to have run out of ideas, leaving it on a l-o-n-g downhill spiral. 10%. Down 15% for the second year in a row.

Guns N' Roses--Even without a new album in '89, this hard-rock band's standing increased dramatically, thanks in part to continued heavy rotation on MTV. Sharing the stage with the Stones also helped spread the word that this band isn't just another in the disheartening tradition of hollow, recycled '80s hard-rock acts. If the new album, due this fall, matches the best moments on "Appetite for Destruction," the band's standing next year could take an even bigger jump. 30%. Up 15%.

Billy Joel--Not a personal favorite, but the hits continue to come and there's every bit as much creative vision as the Four Seasons. So, it looks like he's going to make it. 77%. Up 12%.

Janet Jackson--Good year and now she's getting ready to tour. Question of depth, however. 12%. Up 2%.

Madonna--She has so much star power and cultural impact that she moved up 5 percentage points in 1988 without even releasing an album. Thanks to good sales and generally good reviews for "Like a Prayer," she moves up dramatically this time. 99%. Up 14%.

John Mellencamp--The absence of a tour this year made it a quiet year, but the best moments of the "Big Daddy" album demonstrated continued growth as an artist. 70%. Up 5%.

George Michael--Even more important than the 7 million-plus sales of "Faith" was the way that this former teen idol continued in 1989 to gain industry respect. There's already a buzz about his new album, due this summer. 35%. Up 5%.

Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers--Even though Petty showed with "Full Moon Fever" that he can operate quite nicely without the Heartbreakers, he made his reputation with the band and he will be on the Hall of Fame ballot with the band rather than a solo artist. Still, "Full Moon Fever," coming on the heels of the Traveling Wilburys success, gave him another boost. 92%. Up 10%.

R.E.M.--The leaders of the '80s' college/alternative rock may have lost some urgency in moving into the mainstream, but there's still enough of a history and time left to make them serious contenders. 70%. Up 5%.

Run-DMC--They've become suddenly passe, but their standing as the first superstars of rap may still be enough. 40%. Down 5%.

No Change

These artists, either through inactivity in 1989 or no dramatic moves, rate the same scores as given them last year: Anita Baker (12%), Peter Gabriel (90%), Whitney Houston (20%), Michael Jackson (99%), Pet Shop Boys (12%), Prince (99%), Duran Duran (5%), Replacements (35%), Bruce Springsteen (99%), U2 (95%).

New to the Competition

Paula Abdul--She's ideal for the video generation, but is there enough beneath the flash? 3%.

Aerosmith--Since returning to action in the '80s, this veteran hard-rock band's chances have improved markedly. There's more consistency on stage and greater range on record. 70%.

Clint Black--Lots of support in country circles, but country artists haven't done well with Hall of Fame voters. Even Johnny Cash--someone with a rock connection--has been passed over by Hall of Fame voters. 1%.

Bobby Brown--He's got great moves on stage and his records carry a sizzling contemporary heat, but his singing is limited and his vision is suspect. 8%.

Neneh Cherry--She has a chance. She seems intelligent, has ambition and style. One key will be how good she is live. 8%.

Phil Collins--A remarkable eight No. 1 singles during the '80s and a trickle of critical respect has to be taken seriously in light of the Four Seasons' and Platters' victories, but not that seriously. You see how his stock falls when you place his body of work alongside, say, Lou Reed or Neil Young. 20%.

De La Soul--Gifted new rap group, but the burn-off factor in rap is real h-i-g-h. 6%.

Fine Young Cannibals--The English trio was a disappointment live, but the album was one of the year's most acclaimed. 10%.

Living Colour--A breakthrough for black musicians in rock and an excellent leader, on stage and off, in Vernon Reid. 12%.

Richard Marx--Lots of sales, but little imagination. 3%.

Milli Vanilli--Even more sales and less imagination. 1%.

New Kids on the Block--Amazing success story so far, but can the Boston group move beyond its teen-idol base? Some people feel there is enough in the group's first two albums to suggest the group can break through, but it's going to be tough. 3%.

Public Enemy--The politically-minded New York rappers started off 1989 by winning the Village Voice critics' poll for album of the year, but ended it amid troubling questions of anti-Semitism. Can the group answer the questions satisfactorily and then regain its artistic momentum? It won't be easy. If they can, double their Hall of Fame chances. If they can't, so long. 12%.

Linda Ronstadt--Returning to the Top 10 with an Aaron Neville duet, Ronstadt may surprise us in the long run. She's always had a great voice, but there was always a question about how strong a vision she had, but her instincts seem increasingly daring. 60%.

Skid Row--Sebastian Bach seems to be a legitimate hard-rock hero, but the music needs more personality and punch. 3%.

Soul II Soul--"Keep on Movin' " was a sensational start and Jazzie B certainly has the determination, but it is a group project and it's not clear just where the real creative energy lies. 9%.

Texas--An exciting young band from Scotland that was especially appealing live, blending lonesome guitar strains and sharp, bluesy songs. 6%.

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