As the 2017 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony has passed, let’s take a look at this year’s inductees, current members, artists who have been snubbed, the nominating committee and process, and make a suggestion for the future. While the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame has four categories that may lead to induction (Performers, Ahmet Ertegun Award (formerly known as the non-performer category), Early Influences, and Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Award for Excellence), we’ll keep this discussion to performers.
First, let’s take a look at the eligibility requirements. From the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s website, rockhall.com: “Artists—a group encompassing performers, composers and/or musicians—become eligible for induction 25 years after the release of their first record. Besides demonstrating unquestionable musical excellence and talent, inductees will have had a significant impact on the development, evolution and preservation of rock & roll.”
The requirement of 25 years after the release of their first record is a set number and is easily applied. You’re not eligible at 5, 10, 15, 20, or even 24 years….you have to wait 25 years to be eligible. That’s a reasonable objective. However, “demonstrating unquestionable musical excellence and talent”, is very subjective. Who determines what unquestionable, excellence, and talent mean when it comes to music? Also, who decides what “a significant impact” is on the development, evolution and preservation of rock & roll? The nominating committee, that’s who.
Before we delve into the subjectivity that is the nominating process, let’s see what Webster has to say.
Merriam-Webster.com lists several definitions for unquestionable:
- Not questionable
- Not able to be questioned or doubted
Being beyond doubt
And for excellence:
- The quality of being excellent
- An excellent or valuable quality
- Extremely high quality
And also for talent:
- A characteristic feature, aptitude, or disposition of a person or animal
- The natural endowments of a person
- A special often athletic, creative, or artistic aptitude
A person of talent or a group of persons of talent in a field or activity
Using those definitions let’s rewrite that portion of the eligibility statement. How’s this sound: “demonstrates indisputable, high quality, artistic aptitude in music”? A statement like that may have had an influence on who is nominated and voted for induction. Undoubtedly, many of those artists who are in the hall would meet even this standard. But it is also likely that some would not have.
Let’s move on to “significant impact”.
Back to the dictionary.
- Having meaning
Having or likely to have influence or effect
- To have direct effect or impact on
The force of impression of one thing on another
Now, we could do another edit, but I’m not sure that the meaning would change much so we’ll stick with “significant impact”.
However, that impact has to be on the “development, evolution, or preservation” of rock & roll. Seems everything we’re going to discuss is subjective. So be it.
We’ll start with development. This should be easy. I believe we can agree, almost unanimously, that the development of rock and roll occurred in the 1950’s to the early 1960’s. That’s where the foundation was laid. That’s where its roots are. Bill Haley, Elvis Presley, Chuck Berry, Buddy Holly, The Coasters, The Platters, and Fats Domino, among others, were there at the beginning. They were followed closely by The Beatle’s, The Drifters, The Beach Boys, The Miracles, The Rolling Stones, The Supremes, Bob Dylan, and many more. The artists there in the infancy of rock and roll are very deserving of their induction into the hall of fame, even those with limited commercial success. Because they are the ones who took the chance early to follow their hearts and take music in directions that have spawned so many avenues and genres that we enjoy today.
Secondly, we will address evolution. From that first generation, the first 10-15 years of rock’s existence, we move to the second generation (the second 10-15 years) and the evolution of rock. Here is where we started seeing different genres. The following list is not all-inclusive (there are many sub-genres), but there are far too many to explore them all so we’ll go with this as a representative list and a few of the artists/bands that represent each genre:
Adult Alternative Rock
Elvis Costello Sheryl Crow Ryan Adams Goo Goo Dolls Lifehouse Norah Jones Coldplay Sarah McLachlan
Adele Rufus Wainwright Sinead O’Connor Avril Lavigne
American Traditional Rock
Kid Rock The Counting Crows The Black Crowes
Dave Matthews The Fray Train
Journey REO Speedwagon Boston
Foreigner Styx The Steve Miller Band
Kiss Heart Kansas
Janis Joplin Stevie Ray Vaughan The Allman Brothers
The Band Eric Clapton Bonnie Raitt
Jeff Beck Fleetwood Mac Jethro Tull
Queen David Bowie T-Rex
Slade Roxy Music
Motley Crue Def Leppard Poison
Bon Jovi Guns N Roses Whitesnake
Led Zeppelin Aerosmith AC/DC
Metallica Deep Purple Jimi Hendrix
Black Sabbath Judas Priest Motorhead
Ozzy Osborne Iron Maiden Slayer
Stevie Wonder The Jackson 5 Marvin Gaye
The Supremes Smokey Robinson The Commodores
Pink Floyd Yes Genesis
The Who Rush The Moody Blues
The Doors Frank Zappa The Grateful Dead
Cream Jefferson Airplane
The Band Creedence Clearwater Revival The Doobie Brothers
Bob Seger The Eagles
Lynyrd Skynyrd ZZ Top Molly Hatchet
Charlie Daniels 38 Special Pure Prairie League
Los Lobos Freddie Fender Rick Trevino
Johnny Hernandez Cesar Rosas Doug Sahm
Many of these bands are credited with starting these particular genres, some are in the rock hall of fame, some are not. Most of you can probably pick out many of the hall of fame inductees, but you’ll probably miss some that are in and believe others are in when they are not.
We’ll get to the “preservation” issue last. For now, let’s look at who’s been snubbed.
If you do a little web searching you’ll find many sites with lists of who they believe has been snubbed by the HoF. Sticking with our theme, these sites are also subjective. I’ve compiled a list that includes many of the artists/bands that these sites feel have been snubbed. Take a look:
Alice In Chains The B-52’s Bad Company Barry White
Bjork Bon Jovi Jimmy Buffett Captain Beefheart
The Carpenters The Cars Chic The Cure
Def Leppard Depeche Mode Devo Dire Straits
The Doobie Brothers Emerson, Lake, & Palmer Eurythmics Gram Parsons
The Guess Who Husker Du INXS Iron Maiden
Jan & Dean Janet Jackson Jethro Tull Jim Croce
Joy Division Judas Priest Kate Bush Kraftwerk
Link Wray LL Cool J Mariah Carey The Marvelettes
Mary Wells Megadeath The Monkees The Moody Blues
Motley Crue Motorhead New Order Nick Cave
Nine Inch Nails Ozzy Osborne Pantera Pat Benatar
Peter, Paul & Mary Pixies Procol Harum The Replacements
Roxy Music Slayer Smashing Pumpkins The Smiths
The Spinners Steppenwolf Styx Sugar Hill Gang
T. Rex Three Dog Night War Warren Zevon
“Weird Al” Yankovic Whitney Houston Willie Nelson The Zombies
Right now many of you have looked at this list, looked at the list of artists/bands already in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and you’re asking yourself how some of these bands are not in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame when some others are. And you should be asking that question. Now I’m going to make your head spin a little more – some of these artists/bands have never even been nominated. I can hear you now – WHAT? Who the hell is making the nominations? How can they leave (insert your choice here) off the ballot? What the hell are these people thinking?
I know those are some of the questions that went through my mind, and it’s why I’m writing this now. Some of these bands cross genre lines and, more importantly, generations.
At Jimmy Buffett concerts he always acknowledges the younger fans in the audience and thanks his fans for raising their children on his music.
When would the rap music genre have started if it hadn’t been for the Sugar Hill Gang leading the way.
Willie Nelson has written some of the most well-known songs for some of the best-known artists, besides being one of the most successful artists in any genre.
Whitney Houston had 8 consecutive number one songs. No one had ever done that before…and no one has done it since.
Styx had four consecutive multi-platinum albums, three of which were triple platinum. No one had ever done that before…and no one has done it since.
Not one artist/band in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame ever accomplished either of these feats.
This year’s inductees are:
Now, I believe it’s about damned time that ELO, Journey, and Yes were inducted into the HoF. If you look at the past 10-15 years and see who was inducted while these bands were not, I’m guessing many of you will be will be scratching your heads and the same questions from above will be repeated – WHAT?, Who the hell, etc.
Pearl Jam being inducted is reasonable also. While not one of my favorite bands their popularity and lasting success make them a good choice.
Likewise, the induction of Tupac Shakur is reasonable. He made a significant impact early in his life and had several years of success before his untimely death.
I’m not as enamored with Joan Baez. She has had a long career and is known for her humanitarianism and activism, and she is to be commended for those. However, can we point to her “unquestionable musical excellence and talent” or how she had a “significant impact on the development, evolution and preservation of rock & roll”? For anyone this would be a difficult task.
And not just Joan Baez. Those questions can be asked of several artists/bands previously inducted into the HoF.
Now we come to the meat of the issue: the nominating process. From rockhall.com:
“Each year, the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Foundation's nominating committee selects the group of artists nominated in the performer category.”
This is the main issue with the nominating process – the nominating committee decides who to put on the nomination ballot. Now, the HoF tries to make us believe that this is a fair and unbiased process by including the following:
“Ballots are then sent to more than 900 historians, members of the music industry and artists—including every living Rock Hall inductee—and the five performers receiving the most votes become that year's induction class.”
They go even farther by including:
“Beginning in 2012, fans were given the chance to vote for the nominees they'd like to see inducted into the Rock Hall. The top five vote-getters in the public poll form one ballot, which is weighted the same as the rest of the submitted ballots.”
The HoF is trying to sell us a story about how fair the nominating and induction processes are, but they fall short of having a convincing argument. They say “the five performers receiving the most votes become that year’s induction class”, but they don’t say how many nominees are considered to put on the ballot. There were 19 artists/bands on this year’s ballot, and the committee decides whose name goes on the ballots. But how many names were brought up by the committee members and debated that lead to the 19 on the ballot? 25? 50? 100?
There are probably tens of thousands of bands that are eligible for consideration to be inducted. With just a minimal amount of web searching I came up with lists of a couple hundred bands people think have been snubbed, and that number is a mere fraction of those eligible. I’m sure we could come up with several hundred more.
Since this all starts with the nominating committee, let’s take a look at its make up.
According to futurerocklegends.com, 28 persons made up the nominating committee in 2016. There were originally 13 in 1986, but the number of people on the committee has been as high as 78 (2001). Of the 28 member last year, 17 had been on the committee ten years or more, 6 had 20 or more years on the committee, and one has been on the committee every year of its existence (31).
We could have a lengthy discussion on what number is ideal for the nominating committee, but the number and makeup of the committee members does not solve the issue: subjectivity. Take the following paragraphs as evidence:
“Unlike the Baseball Hall of Fame, we are not dealing primarily with statistical criteria,” Jon Landau, chairman of the nominating committee, said in what he called his most detailed interview about its deliberations. “It’s not how many tickets or records you sold or Grammys you won. We realize we are into a very subjective area, that we are trying to recognize musical quality and excellence and that different people naturally have different ideas.” By Larry Rother, APRIL 9, 2014 New York Times
It’s telling that Mr. Landau, who is chairman of the nominating committee and been a member of the committee for 29 consecutive years, himself uses the term subjective. In saying “We are trying to recognize musical quality and excellence”, he restates the phrase from rockhall.com “unquestionable musical excellence and talent”. The biggest difference in his referencing the Baseball Hall of Fame is that the BHoF ballots have everyone who’s eligible listed on them while the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame only has who the nominating committee chooses to include. And one thing the Baseball Hall of Fame does, that the R&R HoF does not, is include every person eligible for their HoF on the ballot.
“There’s a very basic split to begin with between us and the voting membership, not to mention the public,” one member of the nominating committee said, speaking on condition of anonymity because of rules discouraging public discussion. “Maybe it’s self-serving, but I think we are more open-minded and avant-garde than the voting membership, which tends to be more conservative or at least mainstream” in its taste. By Larry Rother, April 9, 2014 New York Times
The nominating committee is “more open-minded” than the voting membership and the public? Evidence in the nominees submitted on ballots each year would seem to disagree with this person’s statement. Also, look at the list of snubbed bands above and how many of those have never been nominated for induction.
How about a statement from the co-founder of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the founder of Rolling Stone Magazine:
"It was easy enough in the beginning," says Jann Wenner, 69, chairman of the Rock Hall Foundation and founder, editor and publisher of Rolling Stone. "But at this point, all the clear, obvious people have been inducted, and it comes down to personal taste." Billboard Magazine 4/10/2015
He readily admits “it comes down to personal taste.” This, of course, is the crux of the issue. The nominating committee members have their own ‘personal tastes’ and they nominate artists/bands based on their own likes and dislikes, which may or may not align with the consuming public – the fans.
“VIPs make up the nominating committee. During meetings, each can nominate up to three acts. After much discussion, members vote by secret ballot for 10 favorites. The 15 acts with the most votes are placed on another ballot, which is sent to a larger panel of voters -- at last count, there were 810, including all Hall members. The ballots are returned and counted. The seven acts with the most votes are inducted, though the board of directors has the discretion to eliminate qualifiers with the least support.” Billboard Magazine 4/10/2015
“VIPs make up the nominating committee”? By whose standard are they considered a ‘very important person’?
Let’s see what the numbers look like. Using last year’s nominating committee members, this means that, at most, 54 artists/bands could have been nominated by the committee. The total is probably somewhat less, as there was undoubtedly artists/bands nominated by multiple members. That number was dwindled down to 15. And, the board of directors can “eliminate qualifiers” to reduce the ballot further.
"The nominating committee is a more educated, elite and sophisticated group of people," says Wenner. Billboard Magazine 4/10/2015
This statement says it all. What the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the nominating committee is saying, is that they know what good music is and we don’t.
They do, we don’t.
The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame board of directors and nominating committee “VIPs” know what good music is, and the fans don’t.
The fans. Those people who have purchased the music for decades, whether in LP, 45, 8-track, cassette, CD, or music downloads, don’t know what good music is.
They do, we don’t.
Fans, the people who have gone to the concerts and bought the music and posters and t-shirts and all the other merchandise don’t know what good music is.
That’s because we aren’t ‘very important persons’.
"The nominating committee is a more educated, elite and sophisticated group of people," says Wenner.
That’s the epitome of arrogance, and the real reason why the nominating process is critically flawed.
Now, what can we do about it? How do we reduce the subjectivity inherent in the nominating process?
While the most number of artists/bands inducted is 15 (1987) and the second most is 12 (2012), the HoF as of the 2016 inductee class has put a limit of 5 inductees per year. This is going to cause quite a backup in the coming years, particularly when you take into consideration that the HoF has expanded its definition of Rock and Roll.
Consider Ice Cube’s acceptance speech from the 2016 induction ceremony: “Now, the questions is, are we rock & roll? And I say you goddamn right we rock & roll. Rock & roll is a spirit. It’s a spirit. It’s been going since the blues, jazz, bebop, soul, R&B, rock & roll, heavy metal, punk rock, and yes, hip-hop. And what connects us all is that spirit. That’s what connects us all, that spirit. Rock & roll is not conforming to the people who came before you, but creating your own path in music and in life. That is rock & roll, and that is us.”
That may have been the best acceptance speech in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame’s history, and the best argument for the nominating committee to reject the subjectivity of the process and develop a new system for induction. Because the status quo will not suffice in the years to come.
Here’s something else to think about. I looked at several lists of top rock bands or classic rock bands. Six of these lists were top 100 lists and two were top 50 lists. Here’s how the Hall of Famers faired:
These 20 artists/bands made every list:
The Beatles The Rolling Stones The Who CCR
The Doors Led Zeppelin Jefferson Airplane Pink Floyd
The Eagles Fleetwood Mac Santana Aerosmith
Queen AC/DC ZZ Top Black Sabbath
Van Halen Kiss Deep Purple The Steve Miller Band
These bands made 7 of 8 lists:
The Kinks Cream The Grateful Dead The Allman Brothers
Crosby, Stills, Nash, & Young Lynyrd Skynyrd Genesis
Others made over half the lists, some less, some none.
Now let’s compare some of the bands that have been snubbed:
Bands that made every list:
Jethro Tull Styx Foreigner
Bands that made 7 of 8 lists:
The Moody Blues Boston Def Leppard
Bands on over half (5 or 6 lists):
Steppenwolf Grand Funk Railroad The Doobie Brothers Bad Company
Dire Straits The Cars Iron Maiden Bon Jovi
These 14 bands should be at the top of the nominating committee’s list for induction next year. All of them. I submit these bands as the Class of 2018.
Next, let’s talk about “preservation”. How is the HoF nominating committee going to ensure the preservation of the rock & roll spirit in future inductee nominations?
Consider the lyrics to the Twenty One Pilots song Blurryface:
“I wish I found some better sounds no one’s ever heard,
I wish I had a better voice that said some better works,
I wish I found some chords in an order that is new,
I wish I didn’t have to rhyme every time I sang”
This speaks to the problem that the HoF nominating committee is going to face as time advances into other generations: how do they determine who and how artists/bands are preserving rock & roll? What artists/bands are going to find “some better sounds no one’s ever heard” or “chords in an order that is new”?
It can’t be by the subjective nature of their current process. They are going to have to trust that the fans know what good music is and recognize that artists/bands have the commercial success they have specifically because they have “unquestionable musical excellence and talent”. This is the final piece to the puzzle that has eluded the HoF nominating committee and board of directors for far too long: their own “subjectivity” and “personal taste” have been the roadblocks to nominating and inducting deserving artists/bands that have “unquestionable musical excellence and talent”.
In conclusion, I propose a standard for future nominating committees to impose on artists/bands for the HoF. An artist/band must have a combined total of 30 or more albums and songs on Billboards charts lists, with a minimum of 10 of either albums or songs, or a minimum of 50 total combined Billboard chart hits regardless of category, to be inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. Many of the bands currently in the HoF would not meet this standard. Others would.
With this standard in mind, I submit the following bands for nomination and induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame starting in 2019 with 15 inductions (the maximum in any single year to date) per year until those eligible and meeting this standard have been inducted, starting with those artists/bands that have been eligible the longest. They are:
Frank Sinatra Pat Boone Patsy Cline
The Kingston Trio Willie Nelson Connie Francis
Chubby Checker Carole King Joe Cocker
The Spinners Steve Winwood Tom Jones
Carly Simon Dolly Parton Jimmy Buffett
Robert Plant Scorpions Tommy James/the Shondelles
REO Speedwagon Sammy Hagar Dan Fogelberg
Phil Collins The Carpenters War
Barry White Los Lobos Bjork
Gloria Estefan/Miami Sound Machine The Cure “Weird Al” Yankovic
Huey Lewis and the News Pat Benatar Celine Dion
INXS Ozzy Osborne Depeche Mode
Duran Duran Luis Miguel Motley Crue
New Order Janet Jackson LL Cool J
Whitney Houston Megadeath Soundgarden
De La Soul Phish Sarah McLachlan
The Offspring Nine Inch Nails Alice In Chains
Mariah Carey Smashing Pumpkins
This list is not all-inclusive as I have not researched every artist/band and their chart histories. Other bands may meet the standard I have suggested and I am open to, actually hoping for, others to check on their favorite bands and add them and their figures to those listed above.
Lastly, I encourage each of you to listen to the classic rock radio stations in your area, wherever you live. Listen for the artists/bands that the radio stations and DJs play. How many Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees do they play? How many are not played? And how many of the snubbed artists/bands to you hear regularly?
These are only one man’s thoughts and I welcome all discussion and debate, as well as other suggestions of artists/bands for induction and alternative processes for nominating them for induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Maybe by opening and expanding the dialog to persons other than the “VIPs” who make up the nominating committee we will come up with a process that reduces the inherent subjectivity and the HoF can start welcoming these very deserving artists.