POP MUSIC : More Than Just a Group Effort? : With Lennon in and McCartney eligible in '96, others may merit entry into rock's Hall of Fame as band members and soloists

Robert Hilburn is The Times' pop music critic.

By electing John Lennon into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame even though he had already been inducted as a member of the Beatles, the organization's voters acted wisely.

The late Lennon's post-Beatles work, from the raw urgency of 1970's "Plastic Ono Band" album to the graceful idealism of his 1971 "Imagine" single, ranks among the most distinguished ever in rock.

For that work alone, he deserves to be inducted during the hall's dinner ceremony on Wednesday in New York, where he will be admitted along with the Animals, the Band, Duane Eddy, the Grateful Dead, Elton John, Bob Marley and Rod Stewart. (Willie Dixon and Johnny Otis will also be inducted in special categories.)

The question raised by Lennon's double membership in the Hall of Fame is which other artists deserve to be saluted both as members of a group and as solo artists?

What about the other Beatles, especially Paul McCartney?

Or Eric Clapton and John Fogerty, who were inducted last year as members of Cream and Creedence Clearwater Revival, respectively?

Or Peter Gabriel, Don Henley and Sting, who will become eligible soon as members of their old bands and a few years later as solo artists?

Theoretically, voters should consider the artist's group and solo work separately, but it is often hard to draw a strict line, as an examination of the Hall of Fame merits of these and other double-membership candidates suggests:

* Paul McCartney--Artists aren't eligible for Hall of Fame consideration until 25 years after the release of their first record, which is why McCartney wasn't eligible to join Lennon in this year's induction class--Lennon's first solo album was released in 1968, two years before McCartney's.

So, should we expect to see McCartney inducted at 1996's Hall of Fame ceremony?

Absolutely.

The answer is obvious once you get past two factors that have caused McCartney's work to be underrated: His solo work doesn't measure up to Lennon's post-Beatles music in terms of social urgency or personal revelation, and he has been guilty of releasing too much mediocre product.

For every album of quality, such as 1973's "Band on the Run" or 1989's "Flowers in the Dirt," you find two or three albums so marginal that you can't imagine anyone with an ounce of artistic self-respect putting them out.

Yet McCartney--like Lennon--brought a winning blend of intimacy and craft to rock 'n' roll that gave him an influence and presence that transcended the Beatles.

His '60s work with John, George and Ringo may have been more influential and inventive than anything that followed, but there was a consistency of vision that continued into the '70s and '80s in the key albums and hit singles like "Live and Let Die" and "Maybe I'm Amazed."

As such, his contribution to rock 'n' roll is too broad and enduring to be summarized simply by saying he was a member of the Beatles. By contrast, George Harrison and Ringo Starr do not assert a presence that stretches meaningfully beyond the Beatles.

* Eric Clapton--Without downgrading the importance of the Yardbirds and Cream, both of which made an immense contribution to rock in the mid-'60s by demonstrating the liberating qualities of sheer instrumental power, Clapton has had an even more distinguished career since he left those groups, both of which have been voted into the Hall of Fame.

While his subsequent career--as leader of Derek & the Dominoes and as a solo artist--has been decidedly uneven, the singer-guitarist has been for almost 30 years a standard of integrity and grace. He too deserves to be voted in as a solo artist when he becomes eligible next year.

* John Fogerty and Pete Townshend--As with McCartney and Clapton, there is more to the sum of Townshend's and Fogerty's musical contributions than can be comfortably or accurately summarized simply by declaring that they were members of the Who and Creedence Clearwater Revival, respectively.

As songwriters, both artists injected rock 'n' roll with music that was original and purposeful, music that has served as inspiration for hundreds of bands, from punk to hard rock. In addition, their solo work--from Townshend's late-'70s "Rough Mix" to Fogerty's mid-'80s "Centerfield"--demonstrated that they could work at a high level outside the framework of their old bands. Townshend becomes eligible in 1997, Fogerty in '98.

* Don Henley--The Eagles are a cinch to be voted into the Hall of Fame when the group becomes eligible, based on the durability of songs, including "Hotel California," that frequently defined the sociological currents of an era. Despite those high standards, Henley has done even more distinguished work on his own in songs like "The Boys of Summer" and "The End of the Innocence." He'll become eligible to be inducted with the Eagles in 1997 and on his own in, gulp, 2006.

* Peter Gabriel and Sting--Though they'll be eligible as members of Genesis and the Police, respectively, neither group's body of work is substantial enough to guarantee them a place in the Hall of Fame. But both performers, who honed their artistic visions as solo artists, are odds-on favorites to be inducted when they become eligible in 2002 and 2010, respectively.

* Keith Richards and Mick Jagger--As rock's larger-than-life renegades (and master songwriter-performers), Jagger and Richards are as irreplaceable a part of rock history as Lennon and McCartney. But their contributions to pop culture seem almost totally confined to their work together in the Rolling Stones. Jagger has made movies and both have made solo records, but none of it adds up to the magic of a single great Stones track. Eligibility years: 1995 for Jagger, 2013 for Richards.

* Lou Reed--Here's someone who may deserve double hall membership, but he may have to settle for induction as a solo artist, because the Velvet Underground--his landmark band from the late '60s--continues to be passed over by the judges. Reed, one of rock's greatest poets and most liberating figures, is eligible in 1997.

* Neil Young--Here may be our second three-time inductee--as a member of Buffalo Springfield, a member of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young and as a solo artist. Though short-lived, both groups brought a freshness of attitude and sound to rock that remains endearing. And Young's solo work--from "Harvest" to "Harvest Moon"--is among the most distinguished ever in rock. Eligibility: Springfield, now (already passed over); CSNY and solo, 1995.

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But what about 1993?

Which contemporary artists' chances of eventual Hall of Fame induction improved or decreased during the year?

Here are some whose outlook brightened:

* Ice Cube--The most gifted of all the West Coast rappers expanded his audience and his artistic range with "It Was a Good Day," a fantasy about a day in the 'hood when everything goes right. It was not only the year's most memorable single, but also a Top 20 pop hit. If this summer's planned pairing with producer Dr. Dre lives up to expectations, we could see another major jump in his Hall of Fame chances. As it is, his chances move up, from 30% last year to 40%.

* Janet Jackson--The hurdle here is that she's not really rock 'n' roll--but neither were the Supremes, who joined the hall in 1988, and she's making records as seamless as the products of the great Motown machinery. From the lilt of "That's the Way Love Goes" to the romantic sheen of "Always," Jackson demonstrated in the "janet." album a sense of pop determination and craft that suggests she'll be around for the long haul. Up from 10% to 25%.

* Metallica--You saw a measure of the fans' loyalty to this band late last year when its holiday gift box sold more than 350,000 copies--despite an $89.99 price tag. The breakthrough to the mainstream with 1991's "Metallica" album didn't hurt credibility with the old fans, and it won the group an army of new ones. Up from 45% to 60%.

* Nirvana--There were so many expectations and tensions surrounding the band after "Nevermind," the group's landmark 1991 album, it's a minor miracle that the group delivered an album of even rawer power in last year's "In Utero." Who knows how long the band will be able to maintain the pace, but it already has changed the face of modern rock. Up from 10% to 40%.

* Pearl Jam--Though it's still behind Nirvana musically, the group also silenced a lot of skeptics with its second album--and won a place on the cover of Time magazine as the symbol of rock's angry young '90s brigade. Reluctant or not, Eddie Vedder is a star. Up from 4% to 20%.

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Acts that are being judged for the first time in the Hall of Fame handicap:

* Alice in Chains--Bad sign that they got upstaged at "Lollapalooza" by Rage Against the Machine. Hall of Fame chances: 1%

* Blind Melon--Thanks to Nirvana and pals, there may be a new vitality in rock these days, but it doesn't mean every band is good--or that every fan knows the difference. Big seller. Questionable talent. 1%.

* Cranberries--Nice sound. Nice start. But still lots to prove. 3%.

* Digable Planets--Its mix of hip-hop and jazz is seductive and cerebral. 5%

* Dr. Dre--The raps themselves may be offensive or dumb, but Dre's production work is a marvel to behold. Still, it's hard to give any newcomer more than a 10% chance of ever making it into the hall. 10%.

* Polly Jean Harvey--In 1992's "Dry" and 1993's "Rid of Me," Harvey has given us some of the most blistering chronicles of sexual politics since Leonard Cohen's "Death of a Ladies' Man." 10%.

* Hole--Get your bets down early. The major-label debut isn't due for weeks, but the recent show at the Palace confirmed that leader Courtney Love isn't all talk. 3%

* Meat Loaf--Interesting comeback. Less interesting music. 1%.

* Natalie Merchant--For all that she achieved with 10,000 Maniacs, the guess here is that she, like Gabriel and Sting, is going on to even better things on her own. 15%

* Shaquille O'Neal--His size won't help him here. 0.5%

* Liz Phair--Witty, combative, melodic. No wonder the music hits on a variety of levels, all of which are difficult to shake. 6%.

* Rage Against the Machine--Great at "Lollapalooza." Great at the benefit in November at the Palladium. Great album. 6%

* Smashing Pumpkins--Except for "In Utero," the Pumpkins delivered the most commanding album of the year, which is a lot to say in a year that gave us U2's "Zooropa," Harvey's "Rid of Me" and Phair's "Exile in Guyville." A brilliant blend of Hendrix-level guitar intensity and melodic beauty reminiscent of Brian Wilson. 10%.

* Snoop Doggy Dogg--It's hard to tell where his talent picks up and Dr. Dre's leaves off. Another album should tell. 3%

* Stone Temple Pilots--See Blind Melon. 1%

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Here are the other contemporary artists whose chances have been rated at 75% or better in past handicaps--and whose induction is also considered virtually certain, like 'em or not:

* Ninety percent or more: David Bowie, Elvis Costello, Michael Jackson, Madonna, Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, Prince, Bruce Springsteen, Talking Heads and U2.

* Seventy-five percent or more: Aerosmith, Guns 'N Roses, Billy Joel, Pretenders, Public Enemy, Bonnie Raitt, R.E.M., Linda Ronstadt, Bob Seger, Van Halen.

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