Ranking the Nominees for the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame: It’s a BIG Tent…

After a year like we’ve never seen, the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame is trying to get back to business…somewhat. The COVID pandemic that wreaked havoc on last year’s system is beginning to subside, which allows the Rock Hall to move forward with its activities. Along with those changes, however, the Rock Hall is showing that they’re spreading a BIG tent to cover their activities.

First, those changes. In 2019, the Class of 2020 was named and they would have been inducted in ceremonies in April of that year. Because of the pandemic, however, their induction was delayed until November, when it became a virtual party held on HBO. The Rock Hall used this delay to finally get all activities for a given year under a “calendar year” setting – nominations in February, name the class in May, induct in November – that should help in the future.

The changes aren’t just in the timing of certain mileposts on the way to naming the Class of 2021, either. This will be the first year that John Sykes, the former founder of MTV and current executive at iHeart Radio, will serve as the chairman of the Rock Hall. The original chairman and founder of the Rock Hall, Jann Wenner of Rolling Stone fame, resigned from the lead of the organization in January of last year. So, it is now Sykes’ ship to sail and, if the list of nominees for 2021 is any indication, he’s already putting his mark on the building.

For 2021, there are 16 nominees under consideration by the 1000-member strong Voting Committee, made up of the living members of the Rock Hall and a contingent of knowledgeable music veterans – musicians, label executives, historians, journalists, DJs, managers and the Fan Vote, who adds in one vote with the Top Five vote getters from their polling. These votes will be tabulated and, in May, the Rock Hall will announce five or six of these artists as the Class of 2021. They will also probably add at least one more inductee from their non-voting wings of the Rock Hall – the Ahmet Ertegun Award for non-musical industry influencers, the Award for Musical Excellence (formerly the Sidemen category) and the Early Influencers. The AME hasn’t been awarded since 2017, so it is probably due for an inductee.

Without further ado, I present my ranking of the nominees for this year’s honors, but I do have a caveat. My personal feeling on the artist DOES NOT impact whether they will get in or not. In some cases, they will probably get in despite my personal thoughts!

Let’s begin, from the bottom to the top!

16. Dionne Warwick – For the life of me, I’ve been trying to figure out how and why Warwick merited nomination to the Rock Hall. Yes, she’s had an excellent career that dates to the 60s. Yes, she’s recorded a couple of nice songs. But NONE of what she did was what you might call “groundbreaking” or “innovative.” She has a pleasant but not outstanding voice…hell, she doesn’t even have the best voice in her family (that honor would go to her cousin, Whitney Houston). And her best work was in collaborations and rarely on her own talent. This just reeks of “industry insider” BS, and that is not a reason to put someone in the Rock Hall.

15. Fela Kuti – To be brutally honest, I actually said “Who?” when he was announced, then zipped over to Wikipedia to learn more about him. He is a truly amazing individual who took on human rights and political abuses in Nigeria and created his own style of music – Afrobeat. If he is inducted, he would be the first African inductee into the Rock Hall.

With this said, I don’t see it. He had some influence on Talking Heads and Peter Gabriel, among others, but to say he was a seminal part of rock history would be an incredible stretch. Once again, with this said, he is probably going to be inducted. The Roots’ ?uestlove, who is on the Nomination Committee, has long been an advocate for Fela to be honored. Someone with the power of ?uestlove does not use his power to get you nominated unless he is going to use that same power to get you inducted.

14. Mary J. Blige – Definitely one of the preeminent female vocalists in R&B, but I tried to think of one song that she did that just blew me away. I came up with blanks. If they had used this nomination on Queen Latifah, then it would be much higher on the list. Blige seems like a “OK, she got a nomination – that’s enough” selection.

13. Chaka Khan – There have been several attempts to get Khan in with the band she was a part of, Rufus, and those efforts to this point have failed. This is wrong because the band, including Khan, deserves induction. Taken by itself, Khan’s solo career isn’t filled with material that stops you in your tracks.

12. Devo – The Rock Hall has an exceedingly difficult time with several genres. Funk, hard rock/metal and singer/songwriters are a few, but another would be electronic music. To this day, Kraftwerk is still waiting for the call to join in the Rock Hall (outside of Rick Wakeman and maybe Keith Emerson, has anyone used keyboards better?), and I do not expect there to be more love for Devo’s approach. The recently retired Daft Punk is sitting in the shadows watching this one.

11. Carole King – I personally think this is a more sentimental choice by the Rock Hall than a quality one. King’s masterful work, Tapestry, is celebrating its 50th anniversary in 2021 and King is therefore getting more attention. But what did King do outside of Tapestry that made her a monumental figure in the history of rock? She’s already in the Rock Hall, a recipient of the Ahmet Ertegun Award with her songwriting partner Gerry Goffin, some would say that should be the extent of her recognition. Alas, don’t be surprised if she is voted in as a performer come May.

10. Tina Turner – If Turner wasn’t already in the Rock Hall with Ike, then I would be wholeheartedly behind this and it would be ranked much higher. But the tumultuous relationship between Ike and Tina is one that she would probably like to forget, and the Rock Hall would not be at all upset to get away from. Her 80s stylings were a complete departure from her previous heyday, so perhaps a second induction is appropriate for Turner.

9. LL Cool J – Someone who should have been in a lot sooner than this. The man known as James Smith has got another issue that he is going to have to deal with, however. There’s another rapper on the list who is all but a shoo-in to be inducted (more on that in a moment). But LL Cool J is being considered before a whole host of influential rappers that arguably should have been chosen first, including Eric B. & Rakim, Afrika Bambaataa, DJ Kool Herc and Coke La Rock. That’s going to hurt his chances too.

8. Todd Rundgren – There’s a reason that Rundgren is this low on the totem pole. In recent interviews, the multimedia wizard has basically given The Bird to the Rock Hall, stating that it meant nothing to him to be inducted. The Rock Hall has absolutely no problem in abiding by the wishes of those that it is looking to honor – several years ago, Chubby Checker put a full-page ad in many trade magazines, talking about how the Rock Hall “wouldn’t define him.” They’ve never nominated the originator of “The Twist” (although the song was one of the first included in the Singles category at the Rock Hall) and Rundgren faces the same fate if this is truly his sentiment.

7. Iron Maiden – Much like LL Cool J, Iron Maiden is getting the nom over a litany of people who should have already been inducted – Judas Priest, Thin Lizzy, and Motorhead, among others. They have also been quite loud in their distaste for the Rock Hall, so this may be a “one and done” nomination either way – either they’ll get in or they will be cast to the scrapheap because of their protestations. It’s too bad because they are more than deserving to be inducted.

6. Kate Bush – If the Rock Hall were in London, this would have been a no-brainer induction probably 15 years ago. Bush is arguably the most creative force in music from the 70s and 80s and has contributed heavily to the musical culture. Tori Amos, Fiona Apple and Jewel owe her a debt of gratitude for blazing the trail.

5. The Go-Go’s – Flat out, this is the easiest bio to argue of these nominees. The Go-Go’s were the first female band to write their music, play their instruments and go to #1 on the charts with their first album, Beauty and the Beat. They also served as a link between the punk rock of the late 70s to the more “pop” version that was found in The Bangles. A more solid inductee would be hard to find.

4. New York Dolls – Along with 2020 Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inductees Marc Bolan and T. Rex, the New York Dolls carried the banner for glam rock in the early 70s. They have been cited as influential in U. S. punk rock and its hard rock/metal movement. Guns N’ Roses owes a huge debt to the groundbreaking that the Dolls did on the scene.

3. Rage Against the Machine – Merging the worlds of rap, hard rock and political activism together, Rage Against the Machine did more in four albums than most bands do in a lifetime of work. They took the lead from bands like Mr. Bungle and Faith No More and put their political edge to work, bringing a great deal of attention to several causes. Their influence can also be seen in bands in the 21st century, including Papa Roach, Hollywood Undead, and Fever 333.

2. Jay-Z – If there is a reason that LL Cool J will not get inducted in 2021, it would be Mr. Shawn Carter. Jay-Z had an astronomical amount of success and influence in the rap world (my personal favorites are “99 Problems” and “Empire State of Mind” with Alicia Keys), but that wasn’t enough. He became a billionaire through his business acumen. Either one of those would be enough to get him inducted but, when you add in the factor of him performing at the Rock Hall Induction Ceremonies with special guest Beyonce (his wife), the Rock Hall is salivating at the possibilities.

1. Foo Fighters – If there has been any rock band that has carried the genre over the past 25 years, it would be Foo Fighters. Dave Grohl and Company have compiled a resume that hasn’t been equaled, although you can sometimes say that they play it way too safe. Grohl himself could have packed it in after Kurt Cobain’s death and Nirvana’s induction into the Rock Hall, but he chose to blaze his own path further into rock history. If he is inducted with Foos, Grohl would become the 24th person to earn double inductions (to this date, only Eric Clapton has been inducted three times, for his work with The Yardbirds, Cream and his solo career).

Who Is Going to Be Inducted?

The Rock Hall is looking to diversify their membership. That was something that Sykes stated when he took over the chairmanship of the Rock Hall last year. It isn’t an indictment of the Rock Hall’s previous work, but it is time that more women and more minorities were recognized for their contributions to rock history. That is going to be reflected by who is inducted this year.

If you listened to my show at Greater Manchester Rock Radio, I already laid out the list of who I believe will be inducted (and not my rankings above). Jay-Z and Foo Fighters are guaranteed inductees and, if there were two near-locks on the list, I would say that Carole King and Tina Turner will be joining the Rock Hall again. That leaves two more to consider (we will go with six inductees). The Go-Go’s will probably earn one of those two slots. Their history in the industry is just too influential to overlook – but that never stopped the Rock Hall from doing that! For the final slot, and just because I’d love to see what the band would do, I think that Iron Maiden will earn induction. But I wouldn’t at all be shocked if Fela Kuti wound up in somehow for the reasons I presented above.

Who will get in? If it is those artists who have trashed the Rock Hall previously, will they show up? Would it be another farce, such as Steve Miller’s induction in 2016? It would provide a spark to what is the 25th anniversary (the first induction ceremony was 1986) of inductions into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2021!

2016 Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Nominations: Who Gets In?

It seems that there is a “Hall of Fame” for virtually every aspect of human existence. If you are into clowns, there is the International Clown Hall of Fame in Milwaukee, WI, that is in actuality a serious look at a funny industry. On the lighter side, there is a Recreational Vehicle and Manufactured Housing Hall of Fame in Elkhart, IN, the “Pig Hill Hall of Fame” in East Elijay, GA and the International Hamburger Hall of Fame in Daytona Beach, FL (look these up, you’ll enjoy the laugh). Whereas some of these exist with their tongue firmly planted in cheek, there are those that have the gravitas deserving of a memorial to excellence.

Where the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, OH, lands is something that is debatable among Halls of Fame and music aficionados. In my opinion, it does honor, cherish and memorialize the greatest musicians and performers that have come through the genre. On the other hand you have my friend Mark, who believes that the Hall “is a totally lost cause and deserves to be burned to the ground…then the ground itself sewn with salt and dumped into Lake Erie.” As you can tell, just a little difference of opinion there.

Created in 1983 by a contingent of music biggest names (then-Atlantic Records founder and chairman Ahmet Ertegun, Rolling Stone founder Jann Wenner and several other prominent music executives), the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame didn’t get around to inducting members until 1986, when the inaugural class consisting of such luminaries as Chuck Berry, James Brown, Ray Charles, Fats Domino, The Everly Brothers, DJ Alan Freed, Buddy Holly, Jerry Lee Lewis and many others (here’s the list) were voted in as the inaugural class. Even after they started inducting members into the “Hall,” they lacked a physical location to properly acknowledge the inductees.

Although several cities with extensive ties to U. S. music history and the foundations of rock music, including Memphis, Detroit, Cincinnati and New York City were considered for the location, it was Cleveland that came up as the big winner in being named the home city of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1986 (Wenner was disappointed that New York didn’t get the Hall). Why did Cleveland, of all places, get the Hall? As it is with most things, it was money; Cleveland ponied up $65 million in public funding and more than 600,000 residents demonstrated their desire in signing a petition to bring the Hall to “America’s North Coast.”

Even with the money and the people in place, it would take another decade before the physical Rock & Roll Hall of Fame was built. In 1995, the I. M. Pei-designed building opened amid the fanfare of a huge concert that featured such rock luminaries as Bob Dylan, Aretha Franklin, Bruce Springsteen and Iggy Pop. Since then, it is estimated that more than 9 million visitors have made the trek to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame to pay their respects to the legends of the industry.

Now in its 33rd year of existence, the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame has caused its share of controversy as well as celebration. For every rock legend like a Buddy Holly or Chuck Berry ensconced in rock music’s Mount Olympus, there are those such as Dinah Washington (1993), Earth, Wind and Fire (2000), Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five (2007) and many others who aren’t exactly what you would think of when mentioning “rock music.” In particular, there is the Rock Hall’s recent moves toward recognizing “pop” music in its rolls (Madonna in 2008 and ABBA in 2010, to be precise) that seems to have angered rock “purists” beyond belief.

In my opinion, “rock music” is a wide encompassing umbrella. While some may not believe that the legendary bluesman Robert Johnson (an original inductee in 1986) had an influence on the genre, his exclusion from the Hall would be laughable for an organization looking to honor those who created “rock music.” Even such artists as Grandmaster Flash, one of the groundbreaking musicians in the rap genre, deserves induction into the Hall for his contributions to, yes, “rock music.” While I might have some personal preference issues with some of those in the Hall (especially Madonna), I’m more of the line that they are worthy of their inclusion in the institution due to their overall contributions to music in general and sometimes even rock music.

The list of nominees for induction in 2016 to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame once again reach across the decades and the genres. So who will have the best chance to get in this year? I’ve broken it down into three categories:  Shouldn’t Even Be Considered, Borderline Excellence and Sure Shot Legends.

Shouldn’t Even Be Considered

Chaka Khan – A long career in the industry best identified by her work with the seminal R&B group Rufus, but not exactly what I would call an indispensable musical artist. Without the ability to actually cite someone that she has had an extreme influence on – perhaps Nora Jones, maybe Alicia Keys? – Khan loses points on the “legend” scale. Add in the lack of longevity to her career and I’d have to say Khan shouldn’t be considered.

Chic – If this were a question as to voting in two of the members of the band – guitarist/producer Nile Rodgers and drummer Tony Thompson – then I’d be more than willing to welcome them into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. The problems are that Chic didn’t last all that long – they were one of the powerhouses of the Disco Era – but both Rodgers and Thompson’s greatest work came outside of their Chic days. Rodgers has been an outstanding producer across the entirety of the musical spectrum and Thompson laid down some of his best work with the rock super group Power Station. To put the entire band in when it was really Rodgers and Thompson who are deserving of the honor is a bit much.

Los Lobos – There is more than enough room in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame to look at how different cultures had an impact on the formation of the genre. For their part, Los Lobos is one of those artists or groups that would have to be considered. Unfortunately, they fall short on several aspects, including influence on later artists and general impact in the history of rock. Their only #1 song in the U. S. was a remake of “La Bamba,” for crying out loud. Los Lobos, unfortunately, shouldn’t have even made this list.

Steve Miller – The thing about ANY “Hall of Fame” is that it isn’t a “Hall of the Pretty Good.” That same “level” of excellence needs to be used here with Steve Miller. Although Fly Like an Eagle was a legendary album and certain songs he created are very memorable, I don’t hear any artist over the past 20 years or so admitting how much of an influence Miller was on their careers. I can’t put someone in the Hall that was simply good at doing their job, as Miller was, thus he falls into this category.

The Spinners – Once again, a case of pretty good but not legendary. The Spinners actually should be praising those legendary R&B groups before them (The Temptations, The Four Tops, etc.) as there aren’t many that note them as a seminal influence in their formation. Also not very long-lived as a group.

The Smiths – This is one of those that is on the border between getting out of this ranking and into the “Borderline Excellence” grouping. The group has had a huge influence on many other rock acts following it, but to say it had a huge degree of success might be stretching the term. Morrissey probably had more of an effect as a solo artist than the band did as a whole and longevity has to be called into question.

Borderline Excellence

Cheap Trick – As a longtime fan of the band – they were a constant on radio stations and at parties when I was growing up – I’d like to give Cheap Trick more love than I believe the Hall voters are going to give them. The band was a regional act – highly successful in the Midwest – but didn’t exactly have the staying power as the 80s closed. They are also hugely overrated by VH1, who put them in at #25 of the Greatest Artists of Hard Rock. In fact, Cheap Trick has the potential to go from this category down to the previous one.

The Cars – Another one of those “great, but not immortal” bands that came out of the 1980s. Unless you count singer Ric Ocasek’s ability to pick up a stunning bride (model Paulina Porizkova), The Cars weren’t outstanding in any area. They showed up, they did the job and they took home the supermodels. There are many other people who are more deserving of a seat in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame over this band.

Janet Jackson – This was a problematic one for me. Ask three different people where she should be, according to the rankings that we have here, and each of those three different people would probably put her in each category. She didn’t exactly blaze a trail – her brothers did that for her – and her music wasn’t exactly groundbreaking or influential. For a period there in the 80s, however, it was either her or Madonna reigning as the dominant female artist on the charts. For me, she falls into this category and perhaps one day might sway me to having her in the Hall.

Nine Inch Nails – Here we have another band that is thisclose to ticking over into the “Sure Shot Legends” group. Trent Reznor’s pet project for well over two decades, the band pushed the “industrial” rock movement forward and was the catalyst for a band such as Rammstein and much of the EDM movement today. Reznor is a talented musician who has won an Oscar for his score of the film The Social Network and is the recipient of other major awards; a couple more achievements like that and Nine Inch Nails will get in if not Reznor by himself.

Sure Shot Legends

Chicago – One of those bands that you say to yourself, “You mean they aren’t already in?” Chicago pioneered the jazz fusion rock that seemed to come out of the late 60s/early 70s, something that is still heard today in some of the music (Michael Buble or Adele comes to mind). For much of the 1970s and even the early 1980s, Chicago was a dominant force on the music scene. We’ll have to cut them some slack for the Peter Cetera Years, but it is high time that Chicago was a part of the biggest club in rock music.

Deep Purple – One of the most egregious errors ever committed by the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame has been the omission of this band from its rolls. The originators of “hard rock” or “heavy metal,” the band lasted from the late 60s into the 21st century, churning out bombastic rock all the way to the end. They also inspired many hard rock and metal bands that came out of the latter half of the 20th century. The only problem with putting Deep Purple in the Hall is which “Mark” do you put in? My vote goes to Deep Purple Mark II, which featured Ian Gillan, Jon Lord, Roger Glover, Ian Paice and Ritchie Blackmore as the members of the band and originators of such classics as “Smoke on the Water” and “Highway Star.”

The J.B.’s – If you’re going to have the singer for the group – legendary R&B performer James Brown – in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, you’ve got to have the band that backed him up. While Brown was renowned for the incendiary performances that he would leave on stage, somebody had to keep up with him on the musical side of the equation. The J.B.’s did exactly that, with saxophonist Maceo Parker and the Collins BrothersWilliam “Bootsy” and Phelps “Catfish” – eventually moving on to another landmark group, Parliament/Funkadelic in later years.

N.W.A. – This is probably my most controversial selection for election into the Hall. The originators of “gangsta rap,” N.W.A. still has their imprints on the music scene today. When they came out in the late 80s, their fist-to-the-face depiction of life in the inner city served as a reminder of what music can do when used as a tool for social change. It may be arguable whether “gangsta rap” effected that change at all, but it wasn’t for a lack of trying from N.W.A. and others. Add in the influence that the group had on other artists and N.W.A. should have been in the Hall long ago; they’ll probably get in this year on the steam generated from the film Straight Outta Compton.

Yes – Much like Chicago, “They aren’t in already?” The two bands are quite similar in that Yes was one of the first bands to push the “progressive rock” (or “prog rock”) sound that incorporated a great deal of keyboards and operatic flourishes. Yes was a “jam band” before jam bands were cool, often putting out individual songs that seemed as long as some artists’ albums. “I’ve Seen All Good People,” “Roundabout,” “Owner of a Lonely Heart” – the band was a critical and commercial success across the ages and, as such, deserves to be in the Hall.

The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame will allow for fans to vote on their website and that “fan vote” will be tabulated alongside ballots from other musical dignitaries to determine the final five or six who will walk through the doors in Cleveland to further rock immortality come April next year. Who will earn the honors? We’ll find out at the beginning of 2016.

Who should have been nominated? That, my friends, is a subject for another time…