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!

My Choices for the Nominees for the 2021 Rock & Roll Hall of Fame

The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame is like no other Hall in existence. It is one of the few Halls that basically has only one criteria – that your first commercial release be done no later than 25 years prior (for 2021, that means artists whose first release was in 1996 or earlier are eligible). Most other Halls base their entry on the number of wins you’ve had (World Golf Hall of Fame), mystical statistical performance (any sports Hall) or that you were from a certain area (self-explanatory). Not the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame – if you’re good enough, if you had an impact on the shaping of popular culture and music over the last 70 years (or so) and you can get the votes, you get in.

This fact in itself makes the discussion over not only those elected to but also those who are nominated of great interest to many music fans. With the COVID-19 outbreak, it pretty much fucked up the entirety of the 2020 schedule for the Rock Hall, delaying and then canceling the 2020 Induction Ceremony for a very good list of artists (Whitney Houston, the Notorious B.I.G., The Doobie Brothers, Nine Inch Nails, Depeche Mode and T. Rex – Jon Landau and Irving Azoff were Ahmet Ertegun Award winners and named to the Rock Hall) before they were “virtually” inducted in November. Because of the late induction, the announcement of the 2021 Nominees is being pushed off as well, to probably February 2021.

You can lament this, but I think it is a great idea. It stretches the entirety of the process by the Rock Hall to cover a whole year instead of parts of two. With the naming of the nominees in February, that means the new Inductees won’t be announced until more than likely around May or June. Then they can induct them (hopefully in a live ceremony) in November. This works much better than announcing the Inductees in December and holding the Induction Ceremony in April or May (how it has worked in the past).

The delay also allows pundits, historians, fans, and critics to come up with their selections for who will be in the Nomination Class for the 2021 Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. I’ve studied over the last few years of nominations, who has gotten in, what kind of “buzz” is going around in the music world, and other intangibles to come up with a list of 15 artists and groups that should be nominated come February. Those in BOLD print are going to be the five choices I would make for entry and I’ve also tried to include some reasoning for the nomination.

Without further ado, here’s who I believe will earn nomination in 2021:

Jay-Z – Not only will Jay-Z earn a first year eligible (FYE) nomination, but he will also earn a FYE induction into the Rock Hall. It is a tough decision as to which part of the industry that Jay-Z has had more of an impact on – the rap world, where he has been a force for 25 years, or the recording industry itself through his ownership of Tidal and forays into label ownership and artist development. And, since the Rock Hall enjoys a great show, imagine Jay-Z trotting the boards with Beyonce? The Rock Hall is salivating at that thought.

Foo Fighters – If there’s been anyone to carry the banner for rock music in the past 25 years, it would be Foo Fighters. Dave Grohl could have easily packed up shop after the death of Kurt Cobain and Nirvana and just made guest appearances on records for the rest of his career. Instead, he forged on with his own sound and added to the legend of rock. Add in the factor that Grohl is a hell of a music historian himself and that he is on the Nomination Committee (he will have to abstain from voting for himself, likely), it would be odd if they aren’t a FYE nominee but also a FYE inductee.

Pat Benatar – Benatar has been snubbed by the Rock Hall for far too long. Her nomination last year was her first after 15 years of eligibility and it was considered that she was a “lock” for entry. Then they took the vote…Benatar was not only a choice by many but she was the runner-up in the Fan Vote from 2019 (hold on, we’ll get to that) and the Rock Hall has caught hell over bypassing her. With a chance to redeem themselves, I don’t expect the Rock Hall to get it wrong twice (then again, the Rock Hall does have a way to surprise you).

Dave Matthews Band – The top vote getter from the Fan Vote, which has been around for at least six years previous (I could be wrong), usually had been inducted by the Rock Hall. That included such entries as Bon Jovi, Rush and KISS, among others. DMB were the top vote-getters in 2019, but that and $1.50 got them a cup of coffee at McDonald’s – they were bypassed for entry into the Rock Hall, the first time that it had happened. I personally don’t see where DMB has earned entry – I’ve never been a jam band fan – but, since the Rock Hall caught shit for not inducting them with the 2020 class, I can’t see them keeping them out twice.

Judas Priest – This is one that the time is ticking on. The Priest has only been the driving force behind heavy metal for 50 years and, eligible since 1999, they’ve only received two nominations. I would hate to see them fall by the wayside like Kraftwerk (who, after being nominated six times, might have run out of chances), MC5 (nominated five times) or even Chic (nominated 11 TIMES), but it is a realistic possibility.

Rage Against the Machine – The practitioners of the hybrid rap/rock scene of the 90s, RATM combined their aggressive stylings with a socio-political bend that enraptured their fans. Or…maybe not so much. As they prepared for a since-postponed tour in 2020, some RATM fans became outraged at the political stances of guitarist Tom Morello and the band. In one of the funniest exchanges on Twitter, Morello, who holds a political science degree from Harvard, responded to an upset follower who said “I used to be a fan until your political opinions come (sic) out,” “What music of mine were you a fan of that DIDN’T contain “political BS”?” Gotta love that!

Kate Bush – Ah, to have more than five votes (then again, I might have used it on RATM)! Bush is one of the long-overlooked female vocalists from the 80s who should be recognized for her achievements. Her work with Peter Gabriel preceded an excellent solo career in the 80s, but she’s never gotten the acclaim that she deserves (Cyndi Lauper, Annie Lennox and others fall in this category). I’d love to give her a vote, but with some of the others that are on down the list, it makes it difficult.

Eurythmics – Falls into the same category as Bush. One of the many 80s acts that we should start inducting into the Rock Hall. In many cases, these artists have been eligible for 15 years and they’ve never even received a nomination, let alone induction. Time to start fixing this situation and quit bleeding the rock dry from the 1960s/70s.

The Go-Go’s – They came thisclose to getting one of my five picks. The first all-female band to have a #1 album on the Billboard charts, The Go-Go’s were groundbreakers for women in rock. Although they have a litany of women that they owe a huge amount of credit to (Fanny, The Runaways, Suzi Quatro), The Go-Go’s got there and inspired many others. Add in the recent documentary on Showtime and it is quite conceivable that The Go-Go’s earn an induction seat in 2021.

Duran Duran – Anyone who was alive during the 1980s was impacted by Duran Duran. They helped to shape the musical landscape of the 80s, not only with their music but also with their videos on MTV, and had a hand in fashion also, among other things. This is a band that has NEVER been nominated previously – that should be corrected this year and they should take a seat in the Rock Hall.

Alice in Chains – This is a group that may sneak into the Nominations because of recent buzz regarding the group. Seattle’s Museum of Pop Culture (MoPOP) inducted the band this fall into their rolls and, since there are only Nirvana and Pearl Jam currently carrying the banner for the Grunge Era of rock, a third would be nice (Soundgarden could fit in this category too). Unfortunately, grunge looks like it is going to get the same treatment that hard rock/metal has gotten over the years from the Rock Hall.

Todd Rundgren – Personally, I would love to see Rundgren get in. He’s more than deserving of it for his performing career, his usage of multimedia (witness his upcoming virtual concert tour) and his producing credits. Perhaps the only way to get this man in may be through the Award for Musical Excellence, which hasn’t been awarded since 2017 (to Chic’s Nile Rodgers).

The Smiths – Politics aside, The Smiths are more than worthy of nomination for their career’s labors. However, Morrissey’s tirades seem to have tarnished the potential induction of the band into the Rock Hall, and that’s unfortunate. They get on my list because they are one of the artists from the 2016 Nomination Class that hasn’t been inducted yet.

Beck – I’ve personally never been a huge Beck fan, but I can recognize his artistic creativity and the impact he’s had on other artists. The devotion from his fans are hard to ignore too. He was a FYE nominee, but he failed to go that extra step – he will get in, but will it be this year or in the future?

Daft Punk – A driver of the synth rock/electronic rock scene since the 90s, Daft Punk should be a slam dunk nominee/entry. But Kraftwerk…well, let’s just say that people would like to see them get in first rather than Daft Punk. It isn’t out of the question for the Rock Hall to commemorate those that have achieved great success over the originators, however – just look at how rap’s forefathers have languished behind some of those that have been inducted.

Alanis Morrissette – Another one who could sneak in and get a nomination, if not inducted. Morrissette’s been white hot of late, with a Broadway show (you know, when Broadway was actually performing) and a critically acclaimed album in 2020. She was first eligible in 2019 but was bypassed…the Rock Hall might want to correct that oversight.

Guess we’ll find out in 2021 just how close to right I am!