Artists That SHOULD Be in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame: The 1980s

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We’re only a few days from the announcement of the latest artists and groups that will be named to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame for 2020. For those that don’t make it in this year, they might be soothed by the idea that they should have many more shots at the brass ring. But who from the past may be running out of chances at getting into the Rock Hall?

Many might say that the truly immortal have already been enshrined and it is tough to nitpick this fact. Over the span of several essays, however, beginning with the 1950s and continuing in examining the 1960s and the 1970s, I’ve pointed out some artists and groups that have been overlooked for the honor of being inducted into the Rock Hall. In this, the final segment of our journey (we’d go on into the 90s, but only artists from 1990-1995 are currently eligible, so we don’t have a full decade to choose from), we’re going to take on a time when the music industry arguably made its biggest changes – the 1980s.

With the death of disco, the rise of New Wave, the “New Wave of British Heavy Metal,” the “popification” of country music and a little thing called Music Television (or MTV), the 80s would arguably be the most artistic time in the history of music (sorry, 70s fans). This decade also challenges what exactly is “rock & roll.” In the past, it could be said that it was defined as a hard guitar and three chords; with the advent of the 1980s, there were so many mashups of genres and different sounds being employed that the lines between genres began to blur. It is part of the reason that there are potentially so many candidates from the decade – and perhaps so many disappointments for fans.

I literally put together a list of artists and groups that, while great, I couldn’t decide whether they should be inducted or not. What do you do with Culture Club? How about X or Siouxsie and The Banshees? Living Colour? The Smithereens? I once again make the statement – this by NO means is a comprehensive list of those who have at the minimum an argument for being inducted. And this doesn’t consider those that have been nominated this year for induction, such as Nine Inch Nails and Depeche Mode. This is a look at arguably the most notable oversights by the Rock Hall to date – and they’ve got some time to change it, but not much.

Duran Duran

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Any list of 1980s artists or groups that should be inducted into the Rock Hall that doesn’t have Duran Duran somewhere near the top should be immediately ignored. The band exemplified the “New Wave” sound that echoed across the ocean from Europe, incorporating the dancier, synthesized “rock” that was becoming very popular at the start of the 80s. Along with other groups like Depeche Mode (nominated the last two years for induction), they were the backbone of the playlist on the burgeoning MTV through the 80s.

They would suffer a bit of a lull as the Grunge Era took over in the early 90s, but Duran Duran – named after a character from the Jane Fonda sci-fi film Barbarella – would reinvent themselves and come back better than ever. A career resurgence in the 90s and early Aughts saw them return as balladeers, with such songs as “Ordinary World” and “Come Undone” showing that the group was willing to change their sound with the times.

While they have been a darling of the fans over the years, the critics have been the shortcoming that possibly keeps Duran Duran out of the Rock Hall. 100 million albums sold in a career should say something, not to mention 21 Billboard Hot 100 hits over a 40-year timespan. But, perhaps showing the power that critical acclaim holds, the group has NEVER been nominated for the Rock Hall – perhaps it is time that fact was changed.

Iron Maiden

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For all the acclaim that Judas Priest has gotten as one of the members of the “New Wave of British Heavy Metal,” and for all the clamor to induct Def Leppard (who weren’t even the BEST example of the NWOBHM roster) last year, there is another band that has been greatly ignored from the discussion. Iron Maiden has arguably been just as influential (if not more so) than Def Leppard and right on the heels of the Priest (who were lumped in with the NWOBHM despite coming out a decade before the term existed) as to the power of their influence. Despite this fact, Iron Maiden has never even sniffed the nomination list for the Rock Hall, and that’s a travesty.

Prior to 1980, hard rock/metal was stuck in a sludge-like monotony and bands like Metallica (inducted LONG ago) and Iron Maiden took a decidedly different direction from their predecessors. Instead of miring in the muck, Iron Maiden picked up the speed and added a virtuosity that wasn’t always evident in hard rock/metal music. With their mascot “Eddie” dominating their album covers and, usually, their stage performances, the Maiden have dominated hard rock/metal for nearly 40 years.

In addition to that touring, Maiden has also shown their power with their fandom. Sixteen studio albums and twelve live albums have sold more than 100 million albums and critics have adored the band, especially most of their early work. The potential downside is that Iron Maiden has never been very “radio friendly” and, thusly, hasn’t achieved a great deal of chart success. This isn’t indicative of how great the band is and why it should be in and arguably should have been inducted long ago.

(On a final note here, this is the time when there is a true test of whether the Rock Hall is going to ever give hard rock/heavy metal its due. Judas Priest and Motörhead have been nominated in 2020 and are fighting to get in. Only ONE of the “Big Four” of the 80s metal scene – Metallica, Megadeth, Anthrax and Slayer – is inducted into the Rock Hall and the odds of the other three getting in are slim and none, with slim heading for the door. Could inductions of some of these artists indicate that the Rock Hall still cares about “rock?”)

The Smiths

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This was one that I had to debate for quite some time. I’ve never been a huge fan of the mopey, “goth” sound, simply because it is so morose, depressing and utterly void of an emotion outside “woe is me.” While I can understand where such writing comes from, that doesn’t necessarily mean that I want to wallow around in it. Thus, I really had to give The Smiths a hard look, especially since there are many others who swear by their work.

They’ve always been a critical darling and, for many fans, The Smiths’ spoke to something inside of them. That is one of the things that rock music is supposed to do – reach in and touch something inside of you. In the case of fans of The Smiths, it helped them through difficult times, told them that someone was experiencing the same issues that they were, and helped them avoid worse outcomes than if they hadn’t heard the band’s music. And honestly, in what universe does The Cure exist in the Rock Hall without their brethren in The Smiths?

Now, Morrissey may not have helped the band’s case with some of the statements he’s made in the past. And it is quite true that someone’s political and personal beliefs and/or actions have kept some nominees out (hi there, Ted Nugent!) or held up their nomination or election. In a perfect world, we’d separate those things away from the artistic side of the equation. In the case of The Smiths, it would be necessary to do to see them get the honor that they do deserve – even though I still don’t care for their music!

Kate Bush

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Before there was Lady Gaga, before there was Sarah McLachlan, before there was Tori Amos or Enya and even before an ingenue by the name of Madonna was making some noise, there was the ethereal voice of Kate Bush. Beginning in the mid-70s, Bush would provide voice work for Peter Gabriel before striking out on her own. Bush would break through with the angelic “Running Up That Hill” and “Wuthering Heights,” one of the rare instances of classic literature influencing someone’s rock musical stylings (a theme throughout Bush’s catalog). But Bush would also prove to be a groundbreaker in other areas, including synthesizer usage and, well, her being a female voice in a very male dominated business (it could be argued that she is the British equivalent of Pat Benatar, an artist who refused to let the record industry “sex up” her image to sell records).

Highly praised critically, Bush languished on the charts in the States, however. Other than the two songs mentioned previously, Bush had a hard time cracking the Billboard rankings. Still, Bush had huge success in Britain and Europe and continues to be a successful artist to this day. She was nominated for the Rock Hall in 2018 but, as with several other artists that earned only one nomination before being ignored, it seems that the membership of the Rock Hall are more interested in moving on to other more “accessible” artists and groups rather than honor eclectic and creative work from the past in Bush and other artists and groups.

The Go-Go’s/The Bangles

Let’s get beyond the fact that The Runaways should have been inducted and get right to the 80s, shall we?

Women were coming to the fore in the 80s, taking control of their own careers and playing the instruments instead of allowing the men to have all the fun (Ann and Nancy Wilson of Heart have to be added in that category, too, but I digress). And there were two acts that definitely rate getting into the Rock Hall. But if you could have only one of them, which one would it be?

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In my opinion, that would have to be the no-brainer induction of The Go-Go’s. Although their career was relatively short (only five years) and their catalog relatively limited (only four records, three of which were actually impactful), The Go-Go’s were groundbreakers in putting all-female bands into the musical discussion. They were very good musicians, especially guitarist Charlotte Caffey and drummer Gina Schock (what a drummer name!) and, powered by the force of nature that was vocalist Belinda Carlisle, the group was destined for greatness. If they would have stayed together longer (they already had the creative, influential and critical boxes check marked), they arguably would have already been inducted into the Rock Hall.

If you don’t like The Go-Go’s, there’s always The Bangles. From out of the gate with their initial releases of “Hero Takes A Fall” and “Going Down to Liverpool” in 1981, the melodic harmonies and tight musicianship masked a creative and critically successful group of women who were self-assured and didn’t rely on their sexuality to get across. Having said that, they did have singer/guitarist Susanna Hoffs on the mic, which didn’t hurt in getting them attention either. If you were going to have a downside for the group, it would be that they didn’t write their biggest hit “Manic Monday” (a song penned by the then-named “Christopher,” who turned out to be huge Bangles fan Prince).

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Looking back at the first three decades (roughly) of the history of rock and those still wrongly on the outside looking in, it is obvious that the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame has gotten it right more often than not. But, as more artists from the 90s and, in only five years, the Aughts start coming eligible, it is going to be tougher and tougher for those in the pre-50s to 80s eras to earn their seat in the Rock Hall. Furthermore, it is going to be tougher and tougher to discern just what is “rock & roll” as the genre lines blur even further. Then again, there is that argument that it is the Hall of FAME and not the Hall of PRETTY GOOD…and perhaps those from those earlier eras fall into the category of “pretty good” rather than the truly immortal.

100 Essential Albums of All Time – Queensrÿche, Operation: Mindcrime (1988)

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One of the greatest purposes of music is its ability to tell a story. Even if you go back to the times of Beethoven or Mozart, the purpose for their creations was to entertain an audience with a tale through musical composition. There is a modern-day equivalent to the masters of yore and their symphonies: the concept album.

Concept albums have been a part of the music landscape since the 1940s, believe it or not. The idea behind such creations is that the whole of the songs together on an album tell a larger story, rather than the individual songs themselves standing alone with different tales. It is thought that the first “concept album” was the 1940 release Dust Bowl Ballads from folk legend Woody Guthrie and crooner Frank Sinatra’s works through the 40s and 50s had elements of a concept album in their creation. To be honest, however, the concept album has been best done by the world of rock music.

There are several legendary rock groups that can potentially lay claim to the creative idea regarding the concept album. The Beach Boys (Pet Sounds), the Beatles (Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band) and The Who (Tommy) are some of the groups that are credited with bringing the concept album to rock music, with the term “rock opera” being bandied about, in the 1960s. As the 70s came, Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon and The Wall, Frank Zappa’s Joe’s Garage and Genesis’ The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway carried the torch.

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By the 1980s, however, the “rock opera” seemed to be a dying art. With the advent of Music Television (MTV), though, it became a prime opportunity for the concept album to make a return. Duran Duran did it well with an unofficial concept album in Rio (the songs weren’t necessarily telling a story, but the videos supporting the album were all filmed in Sri Lanka and Antigua, giving them an exotic feel and a common thread).

The concept album would make its biggest return in the world of hard rock/metal in the mid to late 1980s. Foremost practitioners of the concept album was the Seattle band Queensrÿche. Building a growing following with their early releases, the band was searching for a story that they could bring to their stage performances. They would come up with one of the classic albums in the history of heavy metal and a definitive entry into the concept album/rock opera Hall of Fame with the record Qperation: Mindcrime.

Operation: Mindcrime is the story of Nikki, a recovering addict who hates the corrupt, totalitarian society that he lives in. As Nikki lies in a near amnesiac state, memories slowly come flooding back to him. As a result of his dislike of the current socioeconomic state, Nikki joins a group that is thought to be “revolutionary” but, in reality, is a team of political assassins. Nikki is used by the leader of the group, the mysterious Dr. X., who looks to use certain members of the group for his own nefarious purposes. Dr. X uses Nikki’s heroin addiction to get him to submit to brainwashing techniques that, upon Dr. X uttering the word “mindcrime,” puts Nikki in a submissive state. This is what enables Dr. X to use him for whatever purpose he desires, in particular using Nikki to kill on command.

Nikki’s humanity begins to creep through, however. A corrupt priest who works for Dr. X gives the services of a prostitute-turned-nun named Sister Mary to Nikki. It is this relationship with Sister Mary that Nikki begins to question why he is doing the evil that Dr. X orders him to do. As his love for Mary grows, Nikki begins to assert himself, first killing the priest and then telling Dr. X that he no longer wants to work for him. Dr. X threatens to withhold his daily fix of heroin from Nikki to keep him in the fold, but Nikki refuses.

As Nikki returns to the church to tell Mary what has occurred, he comes upon her lifeless body. Not knowing whether he killed her or not due to his blackouts from his addiction, he slowly begins to go insane. The story ends with Nikki in a mental hospital under suspicion of killing Mary, now fully recovered from his amnesia but not knowing how he became the person he is today.

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Pretty intense stuff, huh?

When it was released in 1988, it WAS pretty intense stuff, especially for what some considered a “hair metal” band. But it was also hailed as one of the greatest concept albums ever done, put up beside The Who’s Quadrophenia and Floyd’s The Wall. The album made Queensrÿche superstars in the music world, spawning a sequel in Operation: Mindcrime II in 2006 (in which we learn that Sister Mary actually committed suicide after Dr. X threatened to kill Nikki to keep them apart) and sparking a musical career for the band that still exists today (albeit not with the same lineup; Tate left the group after Mindcrime II and Queensrÿche continues as a band without him).

What makes the album incredible is the story that is told. Sometimes you have to stretch to be able to grasp what an artist is trying to do with their work. With Operation: Mindcrime, however, there is absolutely no question of right or wrong in the story; it is entirely the case that Dr. X, with his evil organization, is attempting to use Nikki and, by extension, Mary, for his criminal ways. Another great thing is that, with Queensrÿche and Operation: Mindcrime, you can pick up at any point in the album and immediately know where you are in the story. The album also captures your attention, from Geoff Tate’s outstanding soaring vocals to the dual guitar attack from Chris DeGarmo and Michael Wilton, with the combination forming an all-out sonic assault that seems fitting for the story that is being told.

Operation: Mindcrime is not going to be for everyone’s taste. Some people won’t like the raw edge of the hard rock sound of Queensrÿche. But if that’s the only reason that people have for not hearing one of the most outstanding rock operas/concept albums of all time, then it is their fault for closing their minds.

Previous entries in the 100 Essential Albums of All-Time

Johnny Cash, Johnny Cash at Folsom Prison (1968)
The BusBoys, Minimum Wage Rock & Roll (1980)
Rockpile, Seconds of Pleasure (1980)
Metallica, …And Justice for All (1988)
Rick Wakeman, Journey to the Centre of the Earth (1974)