Well, it’s that time again: Time for the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame to announce another set of nominees for possible induction, and time for me to emerge from writing hibernation and comment on the worthiness of the choices. Maybe it doesn’t occur like clockwork, but it’s more predictable than not, if you check my previous work, or at least ask any people who’ve been witnesses to my ranting on the subject of the Hall through the years.
In any case, here I am, and what follows is a short commentary on each of the fourteen nominees for 2023. In most years, there’s five or six from the initial list which get picked for induction*, so I’m limiting my “Yes” votes to six** for the purpose of this article. I’m also including the rest of the nominees in one of two categories: Those who are not in my Top Six, but who I’d still like to see get in at some point are the “Not Now” acts. The remainders are a straight “No” from me: Elect them at your own peril of having me grind my teeth and shake my fist at the skies.
*Last year was an exception, as Dolly Parton placed seventh after first asking to be taking off the ballot, then rescinding her initial request; she was apparently close enough to sixth place in the final votes that she may have placed sixth or higher if not for the “is she on or off the ballot” back-and-forth, and thus she was brought in as a seventh inductee in the 2022 class.
**If I had a vote, that is. I don’t know who votes on the final list. No one really does. There has been a “Fan Vote” done through the Hall’s website since 2013, and all the winners got inducted the year they won….except 2020 when the Dave Matthews Band won–so the fan’s vote may not actually mean anything in the end. In case it does, though, please note that at the time I’m finishing writing this, Cyndi Lauper is barely in front of George Michael in the fan vote, with Warren Zevon in third place.
The Six “Yes” Acts: Who I’d Vote For if I Could
Kate Bush – Right off the bat this might be the easiest choice for induction on the list. Due to the Stranger Things effect, the modern mainstream listening public finally realized the importance of Bush decades after her original commercial peak on both sides of the Atlantic. Bush is simply a force in modern music: composer, producer, singer, dancer, etc. As eclectic as any artist, she’s still had multiple #1 songs in the UK, and multiple Top 40 hits in the US. Her songs have been covered by Hall of Fame members Dusty Springfield and Pat Benatar and this year’s co-nominee WIllie Nelson. And, she’s been listed as an influence, or her music spoken of in glowing terms, by previous inductees such as Elton John, Annie Lennox, Stevie Nicks, Johnny Rotten and Tupac Shakur. Bush has been passed over three times before after being nominated, but I think she’ll deservedly get in as part of the 2023 class after this fourth one.
Missy Elliott – Elliott is extremely important in the history of hip-hop as a recording artist, songwriter, and producer. Her first few full length albums are classics of the genre. In 2021 Rolling Stone ranked “Get Ur Freak On” as one of the ten best pop songs of ALL TIME. Being that high on the list may seem dubious to many traditionalists, but speaks to the importance of Elliott as a musical artist regardless, not just in hip-hop and rap but across all pop music. She would also be the first woman inducted from the rap/hip-hop genre, which is long past due.
Joy Division/New Order – While never a tremendous fan of either band, I recognize their importance in telling the story of music from the late-1970s onward. Both of Joy Division’s albums (Unknown Pleasures and Closer) have massive acclaim: Focal points in the early days of what would come to be labelled Alternative Rock. Not to put too fine a point on it, but groups such as Nirvana may not exist without Joy Division, New Order then continued on by putting together a series of the most important singles of the genre throughout the 1980s, collected together in the classic set Substance, helping expand the definition of alternative rock by incorporating more dance-oriented rhythms. I think combining the bands into a single inducted unit is the appropriate determination for the Hall to make, as New Order began as a reconstitution by Joy Division’s remaining members in the wake of frontman Ian Curtis’s death, and thus the story of the groups is a single, continuous tale of musical progress
Willie Nelson – I have argued for at least a few years that two country artists needed to be elected to the Rock Hall due to their crossover success, their influence across genres, their songwriting prowess and their ability to interpret other people’s songs regardless of the original format: Dolly Parton and WIllie Nelson. The Hall made the right move in inducting Dolly last year, and I’m glad they came to their senses and nominated Willie this year. You simply cannot tell the story of popular music in the second half of the 20th century without a chunk of it being about Willie Nelson. From way back in his early days when he wrote Patsy Cline’s “Crazy”, to being a pioneer of “outlaw country” and its connections to both folk rock and southern rock, to his crossover hits in the 1970s and 1980s, to co-founding Farm Aid. And on and on and on. I hope he gets in on this first nomination, as having just turned 90, I’m not sure how many chances he’ll have to make it to the induction ceremony.
The Spinners – I have been shocked every time I’m reminded that The Spinners not only are not already in the Hall, but that this is their first nomination since 2016 (their other previous nominations were 2012 & 2015). Eighteen top 40 hits, including seven Top 10, and six #1 songs on the R&B Charts. Their peak from 1972-77 is packed with songs you know the sound of just by reading their names: “I’ll Be Around”; “Could It Be I’m Falling in Love?”; “One of a Kind (Love Affair)”; “Then Came You”; “Games People Play”; “I Don’t Want to Lose You”; “Just as Long as We Have Love”; “The Rubberband Man”; plus the 1979/1980 top five medleys of “Working My Way Back to You” / “Forgive Me, GIrl” and “Cupid” / “I’ve Loved You for a Long Time”. They are the ultimate expression of the classic Philly Soul sound and need to be in the Hall, especially as only one original and classic lineup member (Henry Fambrough) is still alive while I’m writing this.
Warren Zevon – As, if not more, shocking as The Spinners not being in the Hall is that this is this first NOMINATION for Zevon. In the meantime, artists like Leonard Cohen, Tom Waits, Randy Newman, Cat Stevens, Donovan, Neil Diamond and Todd Rundgren have all been elected to the Hall. What gives? Has Zevon been tainted with the brush of being too much of an outsider? Was he cursed with the association that his most recognizable song was the novelty “Werewolves of London”? Did the Hall just not want to elect people who couldn’t show up for the induction, with Zevon passing away in 2003 at age 56 from cancer? Whatever the case, it took until 2023 for this to happen–six years even after David Letterman openly wished during his induction of Pearl Jam that he’s able to come back and induct his late friend Warren one day. And I hope he does next year: Zevon is devastatingly underrated as a songwriter and composer, being listed as a favorite songwriter of Hall of Famers Bob Dylan, Jackson Browne, Bruce Springsteen, Don Henley and Tom Petty, and other significant artists like Ry Cooder, Emmylou Harris, and Dwight Yoakam.
The Six “Not Now” Acts: But, I Wouldn’t Be Upset if They Got Elected.
Iron Maiden – None of the next six acts are ones I would vote for (if I could) this time around, but that doesn’t mean I don’t think they’re not deserving of eventual election. I just happen to think there’s a sufficient number of other nominees more worthy this year. That’s definitely the case with Iron Maiden. I respect and recognize their contributions. I know that Brice Dickinson has one of the all-time voices in heavy metal, and that heavy metal is sorely underrepresented in the Hall. I would just pick the six acts listed before Iron Maiden to go in first. (I could also argue a couple of metal acts may be more deserving to get in before them-such as Slayer or Motörhead-but that’s an argument for a different time.)
Cyndi Lauper – This nomination was more shocking to me for it occurring at all than any other artist this year. Not that Lauper is not deserving: She has one of the greatest female rock-pop voices in history; her massive debut solo album She’s So Unusual, is one of the greatest debuts of the decade; from 1983-1989, she tallied eight Top Ten hits, including six Top Fives and two #1s Compare that to last year’s inductee Pat Benatar, who had four Top Ten hits, with two Top Fives–both peaking at #5. Using that a a baseline, along with the overall quality of the work produced, Lauper should be a shoo-in. But, she has always seemed as more of an outsider, especially as her regular comparison wasn’t to Benatar, but to the megaforce that is Madonna, as their first albums debuted within three months of each other in 1983. With the Madonna comparison as a baseline instead, Lauper falls far short–but so does virtually everybody else. It’ll be interesting to see how the overall voting body reacts to this nomination, and if she (likely) doesn’t get in this year, if and when she’ll get nominated a second time.
George Michael – The Michael nomination may seem too “pop” for more rock purists, but the Hall itself has been more apt to recognize similar acts in more recent years, with Duran Duran, Carly Simon, and Lionel Richie gaining entry just last year. And to bring in a comparison just used, Michael was as big as Madonna for about a half-decade during his Wham! and solo career, while also writing, producing, and playing most of the instruments on his biggest recordings–much more Stevie Wonder than any of his pop contemporaries, to be honest. Again, this is a choice I would make if I wasn’t limiting myself to what the average induction class size is each year.
Soundgarden – For a number of acts associated with particular music genres on this list, I do believe there are more worthy artists not nominated this year, or in some cases have never been nominated, and I would greatly prefer to see these other acts get in before the ones in this section. This is the case with Soundgarden and the genre of Alternative Rock. It’s the second nomination for Soundgarden, having also made the initial cut in 2020. I do believe they should eventually get in—they had a quality catalog, and the late Chris Cornell, one of the great voices of 1990s American Rock, needs to be enshrined. However, should they get in before The Replacements (one nomination in 2014), Jane’s Addiction (one nomination in 2017) or The Pixies (NEVER nominated)? The Hall has a bad habit of giving too much weight to chart success in America compared to the influential importance of the act or even the quality of their catalog. Putting in Soundgarden before the three other earlier acts I listed would be a continuation of that trend.
A Tribe Called Quest – Did A Tribe Called Quest put out albums considered classics? Yes. Are they an important signpost in hip-hop history? Yes, especially in the areas of “conscious” rap and multi-MC groups. However, both Outkast and the Wu Tang Clan have been eligible for multiple years and have yet to get a single nomination, while A Tribe Called Quest has been nominated before and wasn’t elected. It’s not a stretch to say both Outkast and Wu Tang were more popular, more influential, and put out as many if not more great albums than A Tribe Called Quest. I’d really prefer both of them get in the Hall prior to Q-Tip, Phife Dawg, and company.
The White Stripes – Putting in the White Stripes in their first year of eligibility has the same argument attached to it that I gave Soundgarden. Only this is worse, because it’s bypassing an even greater number of worthy acts who directly influenced the White Stripes to put in the later act, perhaps to increase the ratings of the ceremony when it’s broadcast, and in the case of Jack and Meg White, the chance of a reunion at the induction ceremony. This is how we end up with industry and MTV-friendly acts like the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Green Day, and the Foo Fighters getting in within their first couple of years of eligibility, and bands like Alice In Chains, Big Star, and the Buzzcocks never nominated.
The Two “No” Acts for Me
Sheryl Crow – I have expected Crow would be nominated once she become eligible. She was popular for a good number of years. She’s paid her dues as a background singer, and been part of the music scene in some capacity for much of her adult life. But she has always struck me as bland, corporate, and unexceptional. The Hall has had a problem with the dearth of female acts enshrined. I even wrote about this specific problem here a few years back. They have tried to correct this in the years since, but half the time, they end up making head shaking choices instead of logical ones, putting in Carole King, Tina Turner and Stevie Nicks a second time each (as solo performers) instead of someone new for a first time; putting in more pop oriented acts like Whitney Houston and Carly Simon instead of more rock, soul, or R&B-oriented acts like Mary J. Blige, Chaka Kahn, Kate Bush, Björk, or even Emmylou Harris. Putting in Sheryl Crow only exposes the continued mishandling of this matter. A better comparable nominee/inductee would have been Sarah McLachlan, who was nearly as popular at her peak as Crow, but is a better singer, songwriter, and musician, and also happened to found the historic all-female music festival Lilith Fair.
Rage Against the Machine – I understand they’ve been labelled important and influential, but I have never liked them. They fall into the same category as The Doors, or The Grateful Dead, whose fans will defend them to the death, and most other people think are overrated at best, or simply a terrible band that a piece of the population has been fooled by. I think their politics (at least in their songs) are usually ham fisted, and at times betray (even in the band’s name) a substitution of anger for anything interesting or thought provoking. Whatever the group’s intent, their most recognized lyric is “Fuck you, I won’t do what you tell me!”, making them come off not as activists, but as spoiled brats. Also, Rage’s biggest influence is really not on modern hardcore or punk, but probably nu metal, arguably the worst rock genre in history. Simply put, that’s not something for which an act should be rewarded.