This list was originally published before the 2018 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony. It’s been updated (with new interviews with nominating committee members) and revised for this year’s ceremony, which takes place this week at the Barclays Center on March 29. This year’s inductees — the Zombies, Janet Jackson, Radiohead, Roxy Music, the Cure, Def Leppard, and Stevie Nicks — have been added to the list.
There shouldn’t be a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. The idea of a bunch of self-satisfied music-industry fat cats in tuxedos having rock stars assemble for a command performance once a year is precisely the sort of thing rock was created to be the antidote to. There is nothing less rock and roll than a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
That said, it does exist. The question is, how well has the hall functioned? Has it done its job well, within its ridiculous premise? What follows is a list of all of the regular inductees into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, listed in order from best to worst. Along the way we’ll look at the hall’s origins and how it has evolved, with comments from members of the selection committees past and present.
The rankings below are made on the basis of the appropriateness of each artist’s induction, not their baseline quality or my personal fondness for the artists in question. In other words, was the act influential? Were they the first? Are they simply brilliant at whatever it is they do? Those to me are considerations that make for a hall of fame band. (There are a few bands I personally like a lot on the bottom half of the list.) I have one further criterion, too: Was their career worthy of being in a hall of fame? There are some acts, a few fairly influential, whom I’ve downgraded, basically for being dinks. You may disagree, but it’s my list.
And, yeah, I know there aren’t enough women — the hall nominating committee is overwhelmingly men and always has been. That said, for the most part they’ve reached out to find worthy female acts; more on that anon.
The hall’s own stated standard goes like this: “Besides demonstrating unquestionable musical excellence and talent, inductees will have had a significant impact on the development, evolution and preservation of rock & roll.” I see what they are getting at, but I don’t think there’s much “musical excellence” in the Ramones, and I don’t think “preservation” should be a consideration at all. Isn’t that like gathering moss?
Individual inductees with previous careers in bands (Lou Reed, Paul McCartney, etc.) are ranked on the basis of their solo work alone. That’s why Stevie Nicks, for example, is ranked where she is; her solo career — i.e., aside from her work in Fleetwood Mac, which was great and for which she’s already in the Hall — is marginal, nowhere near worthy of inclusion. There are also some hall of fame side categories, for important country or blues progenitors, or for people like Dick Clark; I have not included those in this list. Let me know of any mistakes or grievous errors of opinion in the comments or on Twitter @hitsville. Also, remember that, in the real world, the difference between No. 20 and No. 30, or between Nos. 87 and 96, aren’t really significant.
Finally, let’s acknowledge that the nominating committee does have a difficult task. The hall execs I spoke to all made this point: Every music fan has his or her opinion when it comes to what makes a great or important artist. It’s all based on several sliding scales of relative worth or interest. Perhaps you weren’t the best at something … but you were the first. Maybe you weren’t about songs, per se, but a sound. Some bands sold no records and were highly influential; others sell so many — and play the PR game in general and suck up to hall folks in particular so well — that they get inducted even though they are highly derivative and blandly attitudinal, don’t write their own songs, base their act almost entirely on the lead singer’s hair, and have not a thing to say.
But enough about Bon Jovi. Let’s go to the inductees!
1. Chuck Berry (1986)
He is one of the three or four people who laid out one of the original pieces of the rock puzzle. He decisively introduced real lyric writing to pop music. And he first articulated rock’s sense of itself, creating a foundation for the music — tied to a better world and the promise of America — that even rock and roll’s bleakest moments tacitly acknowledge. As a person, he was less than ideal. But still: One of the most consequential American cultural figures of the 20th century.
As we go through the list, I’ll fill you in one some of the details of the hall’s founding and how it works. In the beginning, long before the plans for an actual rock museum in Cleveland were hatched, a group headed by Rolling Stone’s Jann Wenner and Atlantic Records’ Ahmet Ertegun started off the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame with two induction ceremonies-cum-concerts, in 1986 and 1987, bringing in a total of 25 blues-and-rock groundbreakers primarily from the ‘50s, including Berry, Little Richard, Elvis Presley, and so forth.
2. The Beatles — George Harrison, John Lennon, Paul McCartney, and Ringo Starr (1988)
A joyous sound that turned ever inward, leading the way for just about everyone who followed — and, with Elvis, the epitome of pop stardom.
The third hall of fame induction numbered only five acts and included ‘60s stars like the Beatles, Dylan, the Beach Boys, the Supremes, and the Drifters. (The Stones didn’t get in until the following year.)
3. Bob Dylan (1988)
Dylan took rock lyrics to places they hadn’t been before and haven’t been since. He remains the nonpareil avatar of pure artistry with all its peevish, unadulterated glory — and missteps, stumbles, and exasperations. Blood on the Tracks is the best rock album ever made. Not even the Beatles can compete with the sheer quantity of his essential songs
4. Elvis Presley (1986)
He is rock’s greatest presence, shaking a country with a single-handed nuclear reaction of country, gospel, and the blues. Limited only by not having been a songwriter and, whatever his psychic presence, lacking something — perhaps just the brains — to run his life, much less career, effectively.
5. James Brown (1986)
A coiled figure of impenetrable gravity. He invented funk, and performed with a blistering focus that had never been seen before and never would again.
Back to our story: But Wenner and Ertegun weren’t the ones who came up with the idea for the hall originally. In Sticky Fingers, his recent delectably dirt-filled biography of Wenner, Joe Hagan says the hall of fame was first conceived by a cable entrepreneur, Bruce Brandwen, who outlined the basic structure of the hall, proposed an annual TV show, and enlisted Ertegun. Ertegun, if you don’t know, at his romanticized best was the epitome of rock cool. Beginning in the 1940s, his label, Atlantic, recorded Ray Charles, the Coasters, the Drifters, Joe Turner, and Ruth Brown; and in the ‘60s everyone from Aretha to Cream. Ertegun later signed the Stones, Led Zeppelin, and CSN, and in the ‘80s Atlantic still had hits with everyone from AC/DC to INXS to Debbie Gibson. Ertegun moved through these decades like the son of the Turkish diplomat he was; he lived, as Hagan notes in his book, at a sex-and-drugs-and-rock-and-roll-drenched apogee of suavity, wealth, and power that a certain rock-magazine publisher yearned to be a part of.
6. Prince (2004)
Prince has to come after Brown, but it should be noticed that he could do virtually everything Brown did — and also wrote cosmic songs, and also played guitar just about as well as anyone on this list, and also sang like both an angel and devil, and also was a venturesome and sure-footed rock, pop, and soul producer and songwriter. Prince kidnapped rock’s pretensions to perversion, skinned them and fashioned them into a frock coat he pulled out on special occasions or just because. “Mick Jagger,” Robert Christgau once wrote, “should just fold up his penis and go home.” At the induction, Prince said, soberly, “Too much freedom can lead to the soul’s decay.”
7. Ramones — Dee Dee Ramone, Joey Ramone, Johnny Ramone, Marky Ramone, and Tommy Ramone (2002)
Among other things, these guys were rock critics — meaning that they thought the rock of the day sucked. They thought a good song should be fast, ironic, witty, ideally evocative of the girl-group sound, and have the vocals mixed way up high. And one more thing: You didn’t know have to know how to play your instrument to be in a rock-and-roll band. The Ramones showed us that every once in a while rock needed to be rebuilt from scratch. And — not passing judgment either way, just making the observation — they pretty much removed the blues from a strain of rock. Johnny gave George Bush a shout-out at the induction. Now that’s punk-rock.
8. Nirvana — Kurt Cobain, Dave Grohl, and Krist Novoselic (2014)
With the Sex Pistols the most influential and consequential band since the 1960s; with Public Enemy the most powerful and uncompromising ditto. Leader Kurt Cobain is an iconic a figure as rock has produced, painfully and tragically seeking honesty and authenticity — and, to hear him tell it, fruitlessly. Finally convincing himself that he didn’t have a future, he committed suicide in 1994. The psychological honesty of Cobain’s songs were groundbreaking; sonically, they blew a hole in the radio and wrenched the entire recording industry sideways, roiling radio playlists, MTV and, as a consequence, the sales charts, making the 1990s a colorful and unexpected musical decade indeed.
9. Buddy Holly (1986)
A gentle soul who died far too soon. His lyrics were nowhere near Berry’s, but there was a power and logic undergirding his songs that everyone from the Beatles to Springsteen recognized and would build on. Look at film of his band and you notice something else that is elemental, at this point nearly archetypal: four figures — two guitars, bass, and drums — playing the singer’s songs, a picture of a rock band that would stand for half a century. And his evolving growth makes his heartbreakingly early death (at 21!) hard to think about. (He, Otis Redding, Sam Cooke, and Cobain are rock’s greatest tragedies.)
Some people these days don’t know much about Jann Wenner. He started Rolling Stone in 1967; within a few years, it had placed itself at the center of the counterculture. Much to Wenner’s credit, in fits and starts he gave critics a lot of freedom and he paid writers to do extraordinary reporting. That’s what we saw on the outside. The inside, as Hagan tells it, was less pretty. His book is a damning tale of a striver of almost infantile ambition who, while he did encourage (and pay for) reams of honest journalism, had so many moral screws loose that he left decades of wounded and bitter friends, employees, and artists in his wake. For example: Rolling Stone has so heavily identified itself with John Lennon over the years it’s surprising to read that Lennon was so pissed off by an early Wenner betrayal that he never spoke to him again after a 1970 interview; after Lennon’s death, Yoko Ono somewhat cynically let the grudge slide to keep Lennon’s Rolling Stone stock high. And stories abound of Wenner letting his rock- and movie-star buddies vet their profiles. The magazine went through several financial crises in the 1970s, but during the booms of the ‘80s and ‘90s started making Wenner annual profits in the seven and eight figures. With that money and the mechanisms of his magazine’s PR power, he was able to insinuate himself into the world of rock-star hyperprivilege.
10. Muddy Waters (1987)
Waters is probably the greatest of the Chess Records stable, and indeed, all urban blues artists, and was an avatar for early rockers like Chuck Berry. His authorship of a song called “Rollin’ Stone,” stinging guitar work, and molten presence looms over all of rock. The hall, incidentally, has a few ancillary induction tiers, which for the record make no sense. But for what it’s worth, Waters’s labelmates Howlin’ Wolf and Willie Dixon, a key songwriter and producer at Chess Records, are in the hall as “Influencers.” Sister Rosetta Tharpe, a sensational performer, was inducted in 2018 in this category.
11. Otis Redding (1989)
Rock’s greatest balladeer and one of its greatest rockers; the first four seconds of his first commercial recording, “These Arms of Mine,” are among the most beautiful things ever produced by man. His emotional dynamic range is unmatched. One of his albums is entitled Complete and Unbelievable: The Otis Redding Dictionary of Soul MY-MY-MY, which pretty much sums it all up. He died in a plane crash in 1967.
12. Little Richard (1986)
Squeals of lust and desire, a recklessly extravagant piano attack, and a devilish energy were what Richard brought to rock and roll. He was one of the chief architects of the music. He was capable of more routine blues, and even calm songs. But at his best, he was personification of priapism and kink on a scale that made all who came after, even Prince, mere pretenders. (His band, Richard would recall fondly, had an orgy after every show.) But in 1959, saying he’d made a million dollars on the devil’s music, he said he was going to “make peace with Jesus” and quit the business.
13. Led Zeppelin — John Bonham, John Paul Jones, Jimmy Page, and Robert Plant (1995)
Zeppelin were a decisive turning point in rock, in which the blues were beaten into submission by a larger-than-life guitarist and his sidekick singer, a Viking. They unapologetically purveyed the heaviest of heavy metal. They eschewed the single, forcing fans to buy their albums or see them live. Producer Page’s venturesome production techniques mastered rock, the blues, and psychedelia. Nothing too profound in the songs, but on balance they probably have the least embarrassing lyrics of any hard-rock band.
Back to our story: In Hagan’s reporting, Ertegun and Wenner conspired together to wait out the five-year contract Brandwen had, and then took the organization over. Wenner later dismissed Brandwen as part of “a bunch of hucksters.” The inevitable lawsuit was settled out of court. Bruce Conforth, the hall’s first curator, told me that an early benefit concert featuring the Who and billed as a benefit for the hall actually raised money to pay off that settlement. I asked Jann Wenner if that was the case. “No, we didn’t allocate that money to that purpose. The funds went to our general account. The money that went to [Brandwen & Co.] wasn’t from any source. It would be incorrect to say it was used directly for that settlement.” How much was the settlement? “Honestly, I don’t remember,” Wenner replied. “It was not big. My guess would be in the one or two hundred thousand range.”
14. Sex Pistols — Paul Cook, Steve Jones, Glen Matlock, John Lydon, and Sid Vicious (2006)
The band released one studio album and played a total of eight American shows in a single disaster of a tour. And yet even today, 40 years later, their record feels as harsh and uncompromising as it did originally. (Note that even Ramones songs are fodder for commercials and movie soundtracks these days.) Their punk derision could easily accept the money-minting reunion tour, but not even Johnny Rotten’s boundless cynicism would let the band appear before the ruling poltroons of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Upped five notches because they remain the one band that has refused to dignify their induction with anything more than a raspberry. Must read: Rotten’s fax to the hall, so contemptuous as to not even include punctuation. (“Were not coming.“)
15. The Rolling Stones — Mick Jagger, Brian Jones, Keith Richards, Ian Stewart, Mick Taylor, Charlie Watts, Ronnie Wood, and Bill Wyman (1989)
With the Yardbirds, the most deliberately blues-based early rockers, who in their classic period (until 1972) never went too far from the blues’ recognizable core. And yet the dense maelstrom slabbed beneath the rhythms of their best late-’60s material were experiments in sound, but always grounded by a strong rhythm section, quite a rhythm guitarist, and a singer who was both a hedonist and an intellectual. Their Beggar’s to Exile run is probably unmatched by any other band.
Over the years, there have been any number of peculiarities in the hall’s inductions. Notice anything odd about the Stones’ lineup listed above? Ian Stewart was the group’s original keyboardist, but was removed from the official lineup because his image didn’t fit with the rest of the Stones’. He played on their records and became their road manager. It’s a good example of an issue that has bedeviled the hall from the start: What members of a long-running band should be included? I’m as big a Stones fan as anyone (and no relation to the bassist), and I like the idea of the hall including folks from behind the scenes. But it’s hard for me to discern where keyboards were anything other than an incidental part of the band’s sound in the 1960s — and in the 1970s, the best keyboard parts (“Time Waits for No One,” “Memory Motel”) were played by others. Many other nonofficial band members much more important to a particular artist’s sound or success — Bernie Taupin, say, to Elton John, or the Bomb Squad to Public Enemy — have gone unnoticed by the hall. It’s why the hall has been accused of bowing to outside pressures. I don’t think anyone on the nominating committee was saying, “Well, we simply have to include Ian Stewart!” It seems obvious to me that the Stones insisted on it and the hall didn’t have the balls to say no.
16. Ike & Tina Turner (1991)
Tina Turner was called “the female Mick Jagger” until someone got it right: Jagger was the male Tina Turner. She is the preeminent blues-rock singer. Most people have heard about Ike Turner because of his monstrous treatment of his wife and others. Rock scholars argue that his “Rocket 88,” recorded at Sun Studios and released on Chess in 1951, may be the first true rock-and-roll record. Turner was 20 at the time. And with James Brown and the Stones, they may be the music’s greatest live act. All you need to know about this outfit is right here.
17. The Clash — Terry Chimes, Topper Headon, Mick Jones, Paul Simonon, and Joe Strummer (2003)
They stood up, as Whitman did, for the stupid and crazy. Building on the promise of the Ramones and the ferocity of the Pistols, the Clash brought a high intelligence, a rigid but for the most part warmhearted politics, and songs songs songs (to be specific: as many great songs as the Rolling Stones) in a tumultuous, too-short career. They wanted to tear down everything that came before and build a better world, and destroyed themselves trying.
18. Bo Diddley (1987)
Diddley was a big man with a gigantic sound — tribal, insistent, but somehow always good-natured — in some ways unequaled to this day. He was a comedian, too (“Say Man,” “Say Man, Back Again”) and pulled off all manner of other songs as well. I put Diddley above people like Jerry Lee, because without his crazy breadth and humor married to his primal, juggernaut of a beat, rock would not be what it is today.
19. Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five — Melvin “Mele Mel” Glover, Nathaniel “The Kidd Creole” Glover Jr., Eddie “Scorpio” Morris, Joseph “Grandmaster Flash” Saddler, Robert Keith “Keef Cowboy” Wiggins, and Guy Todd “Rahiem” Williams (2007)
Amid groundbreaking production coups and a cyclone of verbiage these guys helped create something new under the sun, as iconoclastic as Bo Diddley, as engaging as Fats Domino, and yet darker than the Stones or Marvin Gaye at his most political, laying down elements that, like the Beatles, opened doors of possibility that would influence decades of innovators to come and, like the Ramones, finding a new primal bottom for the music to build on once again.
Over the years, there have been many rumors about behind-the-scenes fiddling with votes at the hall. One oft-repeated tale involving Grandmaster Flash was originally reported by Roger Friedman, at the time a fairly well-sourced Hollywood online columnist for Fox News. He said that Wenner had disregarded some late-arriving votes for the Dave Clark Five in order to insure that the hall finally inducted a hip-hop artist. I asked Joel Peresman, who as CEO of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Foundation is the organization’s top exec, whether it was true. “What Roger Friedman says and what the truth is are genuinely two different thing,” Peresman said sharply. I asked Wenner about it as well. “Bullshit,” he said. “That’s the last thing I would do.” I recently spoke to a longtime industry insider who flatly said he saw one bit of chicanery: He was there as the nominating committee concluded its discussions and read out that year’s nominees — but when the actual nominations list was sent out, it included an extra name of a multiplatinum band, which then was duly voted into the hall.
20. Aretha Franklin (1987)
A singer whose artistry transcends the music. The voice she was born with could pierce glass, and her own technique embellished everything she recorded. A lot of her work isn’t that interesting, but when Ertegun and Atlantic super-producer Jerry Wexler put her together with the right musicians and songs, magic resulted.
21. David Bowie (1996)
Rock’s high priest of archness and the polymophously perverse, our first great art-rock star, creating pop (“Changes”) and rock (“Ziggy Stardust”) ineffability from a highly detached but ever-curious perch.
Note that, besides the undeniable Bowie and cuddly Elton John, the hall has been very wary of the effete and glam side of rock — no Todd Rundgren, no Dolls, no Mott, no Roxy Music (until this year), no Pet Shop Boys, no Marc Bolan, and stretching all the way to the Smiths and Joy Division — while just about every hirsute assemblage of spandexed wankers from that era and every one since have been ushered right in. It’s obvious that the hall has “issues.” Indeed, Conforth said that Bowie was under consideration a few years earlier, the same year Cream was. Wenner, displeased that Bowie had made a public crack about the “phantom hall of fame,” pronounced: “Well, David is just going to have to wait a year.” If the story is true, Bowie had to wait three years, or about five years after he was first eligible, itself something of a snub on such an influential artist. To me it’s plain the hall has a tacit discomfort with stars who don’t inhabit traditional male rock-star roles — and male stars who sleep with men, too. (Lou Reed didn’t get into the hall until 2015.) I didn’t go deep into this with Wenner. (After years of relationships with both sexes, Wenner came out in middle age.) But I did ask him if there was discomfort with this side of rock on the part of the hall. “I don’t believe so. It’s never occurred to me.”
22. The Jimi Hendrix Experience — Jimi Hendrix, Mitch Mitchell, and Noel Redding (1992)
Hendrix’s guitar excursions were of course never matched. He has one of rock’s saddest stories, and was probably the single coolest person in the history of the music. Forgive me a short digression on exactly how collected Hendrix was. In an unforgettable scene from ’Scuse Me While I Kiss the Sky, David Henderson’s intimate Hendrix bio, we find Hendrix with Marianne Faithfull, then Mick Jagger’s girlfriend, at a club. Hendrix is carefully explaining to her why she shouldn’t be going out with Jagger — he was, as Hendrix put it, “a cunt” — while Jagger was sitting at the table with them.
Note that the inductee here is not Hendrix but his band. Another hall pressure point is what to do with stars like Janis Joplin, Hendrix, Tom Petty, or Bob Seger, who did some or all of their most important work with a particular backing band. This decision by the hall is another much-debated one. I don’t have a ferret in this fight, but I’d note that while Mitchell and Redding did their job well, that job was just to provide a showcase for Hendrix’s work and … neither did anything of note after the Experience.
23. Joni Mitchell (1997)
She made her career with a pop song prettier (and probably more meaningful) than “Blowin’ in the Wind” — “Both Sides Now” — and then through the 1970s created album after album of wrenchingly rigorous lyrics and music. The 1980s were awkward, after which she headed out into a jazz odyssey understood only to her. She backed out of the ceremony, apparently at the last minute, after being newly reunited with a daughter she had given up for adoption before she’d become a star.
24. Elvis Costello & the Attractions — Elvis Costello, Steve Nieve, Bruce Thomas, and Pete Thomas (2003)
You have to remember he was originally the angriest of angry young men, his name a pointed deflation of a sacred rock icon. Under the anger were exceptional melodies and rhythms, and a lyricist who was a lover of words with some scores to settle, sometimes with the mass media and the military-industrial complex but more often with women. He had huge ambition and ways of looking at love rock hadn’t seen before. At a time when punk had roiled the music’s reigning intelligentsia — could these bands really be as good as the Stones?!?! — he was plainly, as has been said ad nauseam and yet still irrefutably, the music’s best songwriter since Dylan. He is now a rock elder, not exactly pompous but a little overeager to share his (intelligent but numerous) thoughts about anything. His critical corner is so polite it doesn’t mention he hasn’t recorded a great song since 1986 or so.
25. Marvin Gaye (1987)
He was a solid Motown star in the 1960s, offering hit after hit with Tammi Terrell and others and delivering a worldwide smash with his version of “Heard It Through the Grapevine.” Pained and unleashed, he began to soar, finding Brian Wilson–level beauty in his funereal political songs and ever-more-carnal excursions. His angelic whispers and distracted murmurs are now indelible parts of the music; the somewhat overlooked Here My Dear is one of the great pop-soul breakup albums. He was shot by his father in a family fight in 1984.
26. Run-DMC — Darryl “D.M.C.” McDaniels, Jason “Jam Master Jay” Mizell, and Joseph “Rev Run” Simmons (2009)
This was a transformative band. The guitars on “Rock Box” were very tough, but in a weirdly Elton John–ish way, they were ingratiating and not really threatening, but never so craven as to undermine the integrity of their art. And so, serious and not serious, they defined an early, genial hip-hop that broke barriers cultural and racial and musical in America and around the world. And while I didn’t need the Adidas commercial, I did need “King of Rock,” a preposterous boast on paper that, on record, remains one of the most thrilling moments of recognition in rock-and-roll history. It was a different time, back in the 1980s: People forget that Newsweek put the harmless pothead Tone Loc on its cover under the headline “RAP RAGE.” In fact, rappers weren’t angry. Yet.
27. Sly and the Family Stone — Greg Errico, Larry Graham, Jerry Martini, Cynthia Robinson, Freddie Stone, Rose Stone, and Sly Stone (1993)
An utterly sensational rock-pop-funk ensemble under the visionary, spangled leadership of Stone. Perhaps too attuned to the times, the rhythms and music got darker, culminating in the flattened funk of There’s a Riot Goin’ On, a groundbreaking hypnotic meditation on the American (not just African-American) condition.
28. Stevie Wonder (1989)
His simplest songs still resonate; his productions and arrangements radiate a kaleidoscope of sounds yet somehow make up a consistent picture of an artist, befitting one of the first people to write, perform, and produce his own records. He’s not a philosopher. But his songs in some way blanket the 1970s, more varied and more sophisticated in their expansive humanism and tasteful musicality than anyone else’s.
29. Van Morrison (1993)
A mystic and unsatisfied explorer with a voice capable of great power and nuance. Before he was 25 he had given us one of the era’s most primal rock excursions (“Gloria”) and one of pop radio’s blithest and most indelible songs (“Brown Eyed Girl”). He then created an immortal song cycle of elusive dreamscapes (Astral Weeks) and then a definitive piece of rock-pop-jazz (Moondance). And yet he was still unhappy and by every indication remains unhappy today. His wild sound and unapologetic mysticism would heavily influence folks like Springsteen and Patti Smith. Like Neil Young and Stevie Wonder, he had a very good ‘70s and since then has followed a by turns romantic and dyspeptic muse — and refused to show up for the induction.
30. Public Enemy — Flavor Flav, Professor Griff, Terminator X, and Chuck D (2013)
One time at a PE concert I heard Flavor Flav say this: “I stand behind Chuck D. 100 percent. The brother be right a lot of the time.” Nothing captures this group better. The most visionary hip-hop band of all time married groundbreaking collagist production schemas with the words of Chuck D, who could ultimately have been the music’s greatest lyricist after Dylan. But negotiating the thresher of stardom is difficult, and he couldn’t handle the controversy over anti-Semitic remarks by the idiot Griff, which threw the band into a tailspin and undermined Chuck’s moral authority. Which he then compounded by ruining what could have been his greatest song, “Welcome to the Terrordome,” by including some tendentious attacks of his own at Jews. (Uh, Chuck, it wasn’t just the “so-called Chosen” who were “frozen” at Griff’s remarks.) Note the words “could have been,” again. Anyway, I love PE but I think the music and history passed them by. The group’s production team, the Bomb Squad, should have been inducted with them; neither group was as good on its own. Still, “the hall’s notion of rock is very expansive,” one voter told me. “They’ve been very receptive to being open to hip-hop acts even during their first years of eligibility.”
31. Jerry Lee Lewis (1986)
Hellfire was the title of Nick Tosches’s Lewis biography, and hellfire seemed always to be burning at his feet. Demonic piano boogie and declaimed words (“whole lotta shakin’ goin’ on” etc. etc.) created a carnal maelstrom. Lewis was precocious even by the standards of rock’s early geniuses. Consider that he was thrown out of church as a teen for turning spirituals into boogie woogie — and that, when it came out that, at the age of 21, he’d married his 13-year-old cousin, he was on his third wife.
32. Parliament-Funkadelic — Jerome “Bigfoot” Brailey, George Clinton, William “Bootsy” Collins, Raymond Davis, Tiki Fullwood, Glenn Lamont Goins, Michael “Kidd Funkadelic” Hampton, Clarence “Fuzzy” Haskins, Eddie Hazel, Walter “Junie” Morrison, Cardell Mosson, William “Billy Bass” Nelson, Garry M. Shider, Calvin “Thang” Simon, Gene Grady Thomas, and Bernie Worrell (1997)
In a genre of music that was created and often defined by sui generis oddballs, this group was led by the sui generic-est oddball of them all, astral traveler and funk paragon George Clinton; the result was James Brown crossed with Frank Zappa crossed with a three-ring circus, disguising some pretty heavy themes down below. Clinton was an underrated producer — his tracks teem with sonic inventiveness, humor, and hooks. For the record, he didn’t create that many actual great songs; and his star would be brighter today if he hadn’t ruined his rep by becoming a highly unreliable live performer. But a great man. At the band’s induction, incidentally, the P-Funk crew, more than any other outfit, took the time to give kind shout-outs to their many other fellow players over the years.
33. Bob Marley (1994)
He lived a life unrecognizable to most rockers, and got shot by real criminals, not millionaire Scarface wannabes sending out posses. His music changed the world, and brought international recognition to a poor little island no one cared about. “Redemption Song” is as good as composition as “Imagine”; he is one of the music’s greatest singers and most visionary bandleaders; and just about every track he recorded in his classic period is worth hearing. Marley died of cancer in 1981.
I’ve mentioned the nominating committee a couple of times. How does the hall’s voting process work? As the hall was set up, Wenner and Ertegun and a bunch of other record-industry men (they were virtually all men) got together once a year to vote on a slate of nominees. (Artists become eligible 25 years after their first record release; it’s a hall “thing” that the perceived value of the nomination goes down as the years pass.) Anyway, these nominees would then be sent out to a larger pool of voters — the “voting committee” — who would vote on their favorites. The top five or so vote-getters get inducted. (This year, there are seven.)
The nominating committee meet in a Rolling Stone conference room over lunch, generally in September. Then each nominating member gets to make the case for two potential inductees. Joel Peresman was a longtime industry veteran who spent many years running Madison Square Garden’s concerts arm before joining the Hall of Fame Foundation ten years ago. He spent some time on the phone with me to describe the process, and not without enthusiasm: “They need to be an advocate,” he said. “They need to create a story to sell to the others in the room.” The group votes, and a short list is created. It used to be ten or a dozen names, but now it’s close to 20. This is sent out to the much-larger voting committee, a somewhat amorphous group of journalists and industry weasels along with all of the previous hall of fame inductees up to that point. (More on the implication of that later.)
This group gets a ballot in the mail, complete with a self-addressed, stamped envelope, to put his or her five proposed inductees. These are sent back to the hall. Peresman says the foundation will call voters who filled their ballots out incorrectly, and make some calls to bring in late ballots, too. There’s no official formal published list of the nominating committee by the hall, incidentally; my source for a lot of the factual details in this story is a website called futurerocklegends.com, a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame–obsessed website, overseen with scrupulous fairness by Neil Walls. A lot of the data on the hall in this article I have taken from him, either from the site or a recent phone chat we had.
34. Pink Floyd — Syd Barrett, David Gilmour, Nick Mason, Roger Waters, and Richard Wright (1996)
Inventing progressive rock was a dumb idea, but it was their dumb idea. Their improbable journey included penny-loafer cut-rate psychedelia to the sonic ‘70s landmarks that fuel their legend to this day, and talent so irrepressible they had some of the most unusual hit singles of the era.
35. Neil Young (1995)
A rock-and-roll seeker dogged by mental demons — and a goofy avatar of rock authenticity. He created organic psychedelia out of country rock with his first big band (“Broken Arrow”) and then went off on his own, probably crafting more great albums in the 1970s than anyone else save perhaps Marley, and then oscillating freely, wildly, sometimes erratically, in the (many) years since. He mastered the high art of creating rock songs that, while often slightly impenetrable on paper, often conveyed deep meanings on records (“After the Gold Rush,” “Cinnamon Girl”); unlike very few artists, he created his best work more than ten years into his career, with a trio of uniquely powerful albums — Tonight’s the Night, On the Beach, Zuma — and then, after a break and just to make his magisterial command of the music clear, Rust Never Sleeps; at which point he stood as the greatest, most defiant, and unbowed of all the 1960s survivors. No one can gainsay Young’s erratic muse, his guitar playing (as primal as a Clyfford Still painting), his keening voice. His work since has been highly overrated by critics (he won the Pazz & Jop poll in 1988), but for decades he has stomped like a stallion on stages around the world, and his inherent distrust of cant, fakeness, and inauthenticity remains a force in some parts of the music world, as with, for example, Jack White. Long may he run.
36. Fats Domino (1986)
Another of the disparate folks who invented rock and roll in different ways, with different styles, and in different places; Domino, in partnership with songwriter and producer Dave Bartholomew, created a magnanimous, inoffensive, and hugely enjoyable form of rolling, expansive pop; deeply ethnic, but so open-hearted as to include the world in its infectiousness and enthusiasm. The world liked it back; of the great ‘50s rock stars, only Elvis Presley did better on the pop charts.
37. The Velvet Underground — John Cale, Sterling Morrison, Lou Reed, and Maureen Tucker (1996)
The idea, the legend, of the Velvets is probably better than their actual output. They were pretentious and quite often unlistenable. But the force of Lou Reed’s deep, deep songs and Cale’s environment of sound and cacophony were something not yet dreamt of in rock’s philosophy. Nor was the band’s studied disregard for popularity, at least initially.
38. The Band — Rick Danko, Levon Helm, Garth Hudson, Richard Manuel, and Robbie Robertson (1994)
A group of instrumental misfits, all but one from Canada, who came together as the Hawks under Ronnie Hawkins and then were propelled to an unexpected fame due to the songwriting beauty of Robbie Robertson and then a stint as the backing band for one … [shuffles papers] B. Dylan. Robertson got some bad press after he went Hollywood after The Last Waltz, but let’s remember those songs, from the hardy mysticism of “The Weight” to “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down,” a sympathetic tale told from the wrong side of the Civil War. He was an unflappable performer, able to hold his own onstage with Dylan or Clapton — and did I mention he wrote “The Weight”? The Band don’t have all that great of a recorded career after the first album or two, but the first album provided the rock establishment with almost a reverse shock of recognition: “Oh yeah: This is what the music, at least partly, is about.” Stories abound of folks like Clapton and Van Morrison making pilgrimages to Woodstock just to play with these guys. At the induction ceremony, Hudson’s thank-you speech, which went on for nearly ten minutes, consisted of little more than him reciting the names of an almost unending string of people he apparently felt the need to thank.
39. Smokey Robinson (1987)
A lovely voice, a striking songwriter, and an indelible influence on pop, rock, and soul. Motown’s secret weapon; his good taste and stylistic elegance reverberates in pop music to this day. Bob Dylan said he was America’s greatest poet. If you’ve never watched a hall induction ceremony, each new member is “inducted” by some famous person. Robinson was inducted by Hall & Oates, artistically slight but big stars at the time. There’s a pattern of contemporary stars who lend their luster to the hall early on, getting inducted a bit too easily themselves years later.
40. The Kinks — Mick Avory, Dave Davies, Ray Davies, and Pete Quaife (1990)
A highly creditable British Invasion band which, among other things, can lay claim to establishing the power chord (“All Day and All of the Night,” “You Really Got Me”), taken into the pantheon by the both acidic and whimsical writerly fancies of Ray Davies (“Waterloo Sunset,” “The Village Green Preservation Society”). At a certain point, Davies’s art became a bit, ah, broad, let’s say; but for the record, like few of their contemporaries through the 1970s (Misfits) and into the ‘80s (“Come Dancing”), they produced at least occasionally substantive records — and hits.
41. Roxy Music — Brian Eno, Bryan Ferry, John Gustafson, Eddie Jobson, Andy Mackay, Phil Manzanera, Graham Simpson, Paul Thompson (2019)
Given that they’d been eligible for 20 years plus, this was the most glaring omission in the hall’s history. Roxy was one of the most challenging bands of its time, mixing glam, art rock, and some species of European chanteuserie (courtesy of leader Bryan Ferry) layered with postmodern rock imagery, a decayed, regretful sexuality, and venturesome soundscapes (courtesy of founding member Brian Eno). Brassy early releases gave way to several art-rock classics (Country Life, Stranded) and then shifted around the time of Manifesto into haute global pop, in Flesh and Blood and Avalon, that arguably has never been equaled. You can hear Roxy’s influence throughout punk, New Wave, post-punk, the New Romantic Era, and beyond.
Roxy is on a pedestal with Bowie in the U.K.; the hall is unquestionably Amer-centric. (Publicist Bob Merlis, who was on the nominating committee for many years, argued for Johnny Hallyday, a rock star whose popularity in France has really no equivalent in the Western world.)
42. The Stooges — Dave Alexander, Ron Asheton, Scott Asheton, Iggy Pop, and James Williamson (2010)
The Stooges are Ur–almost everything noisy and confrontational that came after them, dumb metal to punk. Iggy is an unnerving icon and true seeker, from the gutter to Dinah to his later life as a leathery-thin showman and something like a raconteur. These guys don’t speak to me, but they did whatever it was they did with a fervor — deaf, literally and figuratively, to the pleas of anyone who told them to do something different.
43. R.E.M. — Bill Berry, Peter Buck, Mike Mills, and Michael Stipe (2007)
These guys epitomized a style of American rock-and-roll postmodernism that carefully replaced the music’s macho verities with deliberate and evocative art. They produced album after album of highly melodic, rhythmically serious, lyrically mystifying Smart Songs for all the best rock girls and boys. (I was one.) It culminated in “It’s the End of the World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine),” possibly the most enjoyable single of the era, and an album called Automatic for the People, a confounding masterpiece of ecstasy, heaven, and regret.
44. John Lennon (1994)
Plastic Ono Band is in a class by itself, and “Imagine” is a song as pretty as “Yesterday.” He grew as a man and a person after he left the Beatles, and grappled with that and everything else in public, not afraid to look ridiculous. There are groovy songs on most if not all of the rest of his solo albums, but it must be said they are generally erratic. He came back at the end of the ‘70s with a new hello, Double Fantasy, and you know what happened after that.
45. Al Green (1995)
With the production partner of Memphis’s Willie Mitchell, Green produced a seemingly unending string of blithe on-the-three-beat soul singles. His distinctive singing style rarely fell into the mannered; he was reservedly carnal, cautiously joyous. Green also produced respectable soul long-players, one of them, Belle, an exquisite masterpiece. I wish he’d remained a proud pop star, but personal demons and tragedies put him into gospel, where his talents don’t shine as brightly. Seventies pop radio would have been much less textured without him.
Now, while the hall of fame proceeded apace in New York, bigger pans were being hatched, for an actual physical rock and roll museum. While a hall pushed a big PR campaign about competition between potential hosting cities, Conforth, the hall’s first curator, says that in reality a group of Cleveland businesspeople were the sole contenders, primarily because they were the only ones bringing actual funds to the table. Originally the hall was envisioned as part of a downtown Cleveland development, and was budgeted at $45 million, but that was before a move to the waterfront, and Ertegun’s decision to have I.M. Pei to design the place. Pei, who neither knew nor cared about rock and roll, obligingly supplied the hall with a knockoff of his Louvre pyramid, with something like a toilet apparatus attached to the back; this agglutination was given an overly kind review by the Times’ Herbert Muschamp. Plans for the building were drawn up, Conforth says, without consultation with the organization’s curator — i.e., he himself — and in the original plans, there was little space for actual exhibits. “That’s weird,” I said, when I talked to Conforth recently; “generally a good architect wants to know what the building is going to be used for.” “No shit,” Conforth replied. (Exhibit space was eventually placed underground.)
46. Johnny Cash (1992)
The greatest country rocker of them all, if you’re using the term to mean country stars who came to rock and roll. A gracious albeit haunted presence to the end.
47. Miles Davis (2006)
Davis was the most badass of the badass jazz men of the 1940s and ‘50s, rising over time to craft a tough jazz-rock fusion; like Waters in blues and Cash in country, he’s a titanic enough figure to be an honorary rock star. (The hall should consider inducting Richard Pryor on the same grounds — but not Steve Martin, for chrissakes.) He’s about as iconoclastic as Dylan, with the added edge of having had a career much different from that of a middle-class Jewish kid who was famous and rich by the time he was 22 — like the time Davis was beaten up by a group of NYC cops for the crime of smoking a cigarette outside of Birdland, where he was headlining.
48. Ray Charles (1986)
A graceful, elegant presence over decades. Reinvented soul, and came close to reinventing country, too.
49. Sam Cooke (1986)
If Redding’s voice accepted darkness, Cooke’s almost never did; its magnanimous flutiness embodied his songs, which seemed happy even when they were sad. His breadth as a pop-blues-soul songwriter was almost unequalled, from “Another Saturday Night” to “Twisting the Night Away” to “You Send Me” to “A Change Is Gonna Come.” He was a great man and could have become a great figure in the Civil Rights Era, but was killed in a bizarre shooting in 1964, leaving behind one of rock’s most unfulfilled careers.
50. The Who — Roger Daltrey, John Entwistle, Keith Moon, and Pete Townshend (1990)
Led by the deep songwriting of Townshend, with lyrics more twisted, revealing, and coherent than Jagger’s, this band has always been a bit chaotic — until Tommy they didn’t really put out regular albums like most of their coevals, and their hits were all off-kilter, particularly to American ears. (Fun fact: The band had only one top-ten hit in the U.S. over its entire career, “I Can See for Miles,” which went to No. 9.) But anyone can hear now the melodic and lyrical sensitivity of “The Kids Are All Right,” the obsession in “I Can See for Miles,” the maturity and self-loathing in “Who Are You.” And Tommy, well Tommy only grows over the years; the unrelenting musicality and Townshend’s critique of both rock and religion — two different and yet similar systems of belief — deserves all props. With Who’s Next and Live at Leeds they showed precisely how heavy rock on this side of Zeppelin could be, with the added brilliance of Townshend’s pioneering work with keyboard programming, which for pure sonic rockist force has not been equaled to this day. These days Townshend spends his time figuring out how to create a new twist on the “This could be our last tour!” branding for the Who’s next live outings, which has been going on now for almost 30 years. Watch it, guys — one of these days we’re all going to get wise.
51. Bruce Springsteen (1999)
Jersey guy, nice wife. (He met her at work.) More than any other great star, he is a recombinant concoction of his forebears: Van Morrison, Dion, Presley, Spector, just about everything else he listened to growing up. It is a tribute to his vision, work ethic, and perfectionism that he looks good in their presence.
One thing you hear hall folks talk about when considering acts for inclusion is props like, “… and they are still out there playing!” This is exactly the wrong approach. Bands should be given more credit for quitting early, and keeping their percentage of top-quality work high. In theory, this could encourage great artists to considering retiring from recording rather than foisting mediocre and labored work on their fans late into their career. (It would also save Rolling Stone critics from having to figure out ways to tell us how artists like Springsteen are back in top rock-and-roll form and have, amazingly, released yet another five-star album.) In Springsteen’s case, the debate could go, “Hey, he wrote ‘Born in the U.S.A.’” And in response someone could say, “I got two words for you: ‘Outlaw Pete.’”
Note that Springsteen was inducted without the E Street Band. His manager, Jon Landau, is a major figure at the hall, and of course Springsteen himself has lent his name to it for years. Hard to believe that his solo induction wasn’t what he and Landau wanted. The E Streeters, including Steve Van Zandt, were brought in in a subcategory a few years ago.
52. The Beach Boys — Al Jardine, Mike Love, Brian Wilson, Carl Wilson, and Dennis Wilson (1988)
The rest of the band didn’t do much, save for Mike Love’s lyrics in the earliest of the band’s hits, which were monomaniacal in their focus and in a way held Brian Wilson’s vision back. (Compare Love’s “Little Deuce Coupe” with “Don’t Worry Baby,” which had an outside lyricist.) Still, to virtually everyone they were the biggest American “band” of the 1960s, first denizens of a nearby faraway place of love, sand, and sun, and then voyagers to heavenly places with “Good Vibrations” and Pet Sounds. And Wilson’s singular vision — his pursuit of “teenage symphonies to God” — to this day personify the troubled genius. The Beach Boys had many later members; Bruce Johnston played from ‘65 or ‘66 on, and that’s Blondie Chaplin, for example, singing “Sail On, Sailor,” but they, unlike later, useless members of the Grateful Dead, weren’t inducted into the hall. The Beach Boys’ induction featured one of the first and greatest public inductee meltdowns, this one from Mike Love, who is one wound-up old Republican.
53. Randy Newman (2013)
Rock’s bleakest-funniest singer songwriter, iconoclastic even by an iconoclast’s standards; his best album has a bouncy song about a dancing bear and a winsome song about the slave trade; his second-best album is a song cycle about the South with chorus after chorus that still resonate today. And now he writes songs for Pixar movies.
54. Radiohead — Colin Greenwood, Jonny Greenwood, Ed O’Brien, Philip Selway, Thom Yorke (2019)
The debate about Radiohead is whether they are a transformative, pantheonic band worthy of immediate entry to the hall, or just a really great one. I think they are at least as great as, say, R.E.M., which got in on its first year. Radiohead is voted in this year, in its second year of eligibility, which is fine, and this despite the band’s public disparagement of the whole affair. For the record, the band’s leap forward with OK Computer was a wild ride indeed; “Paranoid Android” was one of the great rock freak-outs since the 1960s, scaling up to a guitar attack to end all guitar attacks. They haven’t looked back, grappling both with artistic evolution and the dampening of a fame that threatened to overwhelm them. And they may go down in history as the last great rock band.
55. The Pretenders — Martin Chambers, Pete Farndon, James Honeyman-Scott, and Chrissie Hynde (2005)
“Talk of the Town,” “Back on the Chain Gang,” “Brass in Pocket, “2000 Miles” … they are all as sophisticated as rock gets, and they pass as pop songs, too. She is also one of our most precise and meaningful vocalists, from that pure emotional vibrato to those dark whispers.
56. Talking Heads — David Byrne, Chris Frantz, Jerry Harrison, and Tina Weymouth (2002)
Along with Jonathan Richman, they showed early on that punk was a thing not a sound; austere and questioning at first, then with a darkened postmodern paranoia, and then on to an ecstatic, highly mental funk. I think leader Byrne’s post-Heads artistic inquisitions are far too assiduously attended to by his fans, but what a rhythm section.
57. Steely Dan — Walter Becker and Donald Fagen (2001)
They merged New York hipster intellectualism to Southern California anomie, and first flecked it with and then immersed it all into a persuasive jazz sheen. In later albums the sheen took over, but the stuff up to and including Gaucho remains some of rock’s most substantively suave work. The band engaged in some high-level trolling of the hall of fame for a year before their induction, posting various demands on their website and mocking the hall in various ways. (My favorite: They started a ballot of what musicians should be inducted into the hall as part of Steely Dan, including the names “Juliana Hatfield” and “Illinois Elohainu.”) At the ceremony, Becker delivered this kiss-off: “We’re persuaded it’s a great honor to be here tonight.” In 2001, on the other hand, the pair lapped up their ridiculous win of the Record of the Year Grammy for Two Against Nature. They probably expected less from NARAS.
58. U2 — Bono, Adam Clayton, The Edge, and Larry Mullen Jr. (2005)
In their own way, they were inevitable stars as much as anyone on this list, though it probably didn’t seem that way to them at the time. Even more than Pearl Jam, they are good at being rock stars: They behave intelligently and responsibly and deliver the goods live. U2 put out pretty great albums (like Achtung Baby) long after it was expected and, once the great albums stopped coming, playing the PR game so well people don’t really notice. Their presence is so large now, we forget they were kids from one of the most fucked-up cities in the Western world who liked the Ramones. Not a bad rhythm section, and you have to give the Edge credit for expanding the sound of rock guitar, always at the service of riffs riffs riffs. Yes, I am aware the lead singer has become annoying.
59. Little Willie John (1996)
This is what the hall of fame is useful for: Those who know of John know that he recorded the original version of “Fever”; he was also a wunderkind who played with Count Basie when he was 15, recorded lots of seminal R&B-slash-rock tracks and was an inspiration to a generation of Motown singers. He was convicted of manslaughter and died in prison at the age of 30.
60. Michael Jackson (2001)
Jackson’s strident fans insist he is a pop phenomenon on par with the Beatles or Elvis. His mid-1980s stardom was phenomenal, and he spurred it on with various tactics, some clever, some Trumpian, and of course many self-destructive. All that said, let’s put it into context. In 1983, the year of Thriller, Jackson had been a presence in American life for nearly 15 years; he had just come off a multiplatinum album and was offering nothing but impeccable pop music. In other words, he was a big known star who suddenly got very big. Elvis and the Beatles by contrast offered confrontational, controversial music — music of the world to come, not the world they were in. In a very real sense, virtually everyone who bought a Presley or Beatles record was doing something they’d never done before. That’s different from what Jackson did. That said, as a pop artist Jackson was certainly innovative, and set new standards. And as a Presley-like pop archetype of failed potential, very rock and roll. Right now, though, his legacy looks compromised (the hall, however, says his two inductions will stay put); it’s hard for me to imagine anyone who’s watched the Leaving Neverland movie being able to view Jackson the person the same way again.
Back to the museum in Cleveland: From the start, Conforth says, said, his work was hampered by a division between the Cleveland folks, who’d put up the money and had the best interests of Cleveland and the hall’s success in mind, and the New York people, most of whom didn’t want the hall in Cleveland in the first place. “The people from New York thought their shit didn’t stink,” Conforth says. “They were rich New York elite artsy-fartsy hip people who knew what was going on. They figured the Cleveland people were a bunch of rubes who couldn’t tell the time of day. The Cleveland people hated the New York people because they didn’t give the Cleveland people any respect and were always telling Cleveland people what to do, even though the Cleveland folks came up with all the money. The two boards really, really hated each other.”
61. Elton John (1994)
John unquestionably is a pop-rocker not a rocker. He was flamboyant, but he was also someone you could take home to mother. But there has always been an unmistakable integrity to both his music and persona; with an erratic but prolific lyricist in Bernie Taupin, he ruled ‘70s rock and put out more good-to-great albums during this period than Paul McCartney and Billy Joel combined, though not Stevie Wonder. He fairly bravely came out in the mid-1970s. He also has something Joel doesn’t have and that is somehow irrelevant to McCartney, which is good taste. His melodrama never goes overboard and his pop instincts were always natural and flowing.
62. The Supremes — Florence Ballard, Diana Ross, and Mary Wilson (1988)
Diana Ross has now been a star for nearly 60 years, floating on a magical (projected) personality and a dulcet voice. (I know the other Supremes had spectacular voices as well, but the rules are different for a superstar, which is what Ross is.) The trio (with a lot of help from Berry Gordy, the stable of songwriters and the Motown production teams) radiated a sophistication and a glamour that never clashed with the urgent emotions and happy stories they sang out. For the record, they were the second-biggest band of the ‘60s, after the Beatles. Ross herself is not in the hall as a solo artist, though her respectable solo career was a lot bigger than those of many other post-’60s-group inductees. [coughEricClaptoncough]
63. The Drifters — Ben E. King, Rudy Lewis, Clyde McPhatter, Johnny Moore, Bill Pinkney, Charlie Thomas, and Gerhart Thrasher (1988)
Don’t shoot me if I don’t have this precisely right, but the history of the Drifters is long, extending basically through three entirely different operations recording under the name; McPhatter sang on the hit “Money Honey”; King on “Save the Last Dance for Me”; and Lewis on the aggregation’s most timeless songs, “Up on the Roof” and “On Broadway.” This artistic trichotomy obviously creates issues for the hall; they went with the easiest way out and threw everyone in together, but you could make the argument that the groups were so different they should have been in essence considered separately, with the Lewis edition winning out, and McPhatter and (more importantly) King getting their own individual induction consideration. But I take the point it’s a messy decision.
64. The Everly Brothers — Don Everly and Phil Everly (1986)
(Very) early exemplars of the potent emotional beauty the music was capable of conveying, spurred by the cosmic fraternal mix of their voices. Among other things, the perfect showcase for the songs of Boudleaux and Felice Bryant. The Everlys’ delivery of “I’m young, I know / But even so” in Boudleaux’s “Love Hurts” is a master class on how rock was learning to flood oceans of meaning into the slightest of words.
65. Patti Smith (2007)
Smith is an interesting figure, a bit too hippieish and too accepting of shamanism and religiosity for my taste. She’s also one of the most pretentious artists in the history of the music. But albums one and three — Horses, Easter — were sprawling and daring, more daring than anything else at the time. She also reinjected Van Morrisonian levels of exaltation and ecstasy to the music, which then lived on in the work of R.E.M. among others. And on the more mature Wave there are timeless songs like “Frederick” and (speaking of ecstasy) “Dancing Barefoot.” But the great songs in the 35-plus years since have been few.
Meanwhile, back at the hall: I asked Conforth for an example of how the Cleveland–New York division manifested itself. He said that one day shortly after he started work he was abruptly summoned to meet with Wenner, so he dutifully boarded a plane to New York. “It was an official audience,” Conforth says drily. “It was at the new Rolling Stone’s offices [on Sixth Avenue]. Jann’s office was in the corner; it has glass windows on two sides; quite large, but sparsely decorated, with a huge desk in the corner. I was allowed to enter the inner sanctum. There’s Jann, barefoot. He sits down behind this huge desk, puts his bare feet up on the desk, looks at me, pulls out a cigarette, lights it, and says, ‘Now do you see where the real power lies?’”
66. The Coasters — Carl Gardner, Cornell Gunter, Billy Guy, and Will “Dub” Jones (1987)
These guys, with their blaring, irresistible novelty numbers, were an important transitional act between R&B and rock. Most of the songs were written by Leiber and Stoller, who took the group with them to Ertegun’s Atlantic Records. I don’t care that much about novelty songs, much less novelty acts, but the Coasters’ hits are much more complex and nuanced than they had to be.
67. Eddie Cochran (1987)
There is something irresistible about Eddie Cochran. Presley always seemed a bit Olympian; Cochran was rough and ready, but never distant. He looked like a biker with a heart of gold, and he had the good humor and self-awareness to pull off something like “20 Flight Rock,” the talent to provide the surprising melodies and lilts in hits like “Something Else.” He could play a lot of instruments and sometimes recorded tracks by himself. In Cochran songs, the rhythms just don’t stop. But this is another tragic rock story: Cochran was killed at 21 in a car crash while on tour in the U.K.
68. Beastie Boys — Michael “Mike D” Diamond, Adam “Ad-Rock” Horovitz, and Adam “MCA” Yauch (2012)
With lots of help from producer Rick Rubin, they made their mark with extreme brattiness married to highly artful and meaningful samples. There are authenticity issues here — they’re all Manhattan rich kids acting like Bowery Boys and exploiting an ethnic music from a much-more-attenuated socioeconomic plane to boot, but they evolved quickly enough into sonic extremes to make it clear their intents were loftier, and managed to take an audience along with them. Smart enough, too, to formally distance themselves from early anti-women behavior.
69. Janis Joplin (1995)
A viscerally exciting performer with a mighty voice and a magnanimous and supple mind. She was the first female rock star; among nonblack artists, you could argue that she had been the most persecuted, and endured the most humiliations for her art, having grown up creative, gay, and odd in Texas. She got driven out twice before finding her voice in an unexpected stardom; besides an ongoing ménage à trois with Peggy Caserta and Kris Kristofferson (to hear Caserta tell it), however, Joplin’s life wasn’t happy, or pretty, and she died, just three years into her recording career, in 1970.
70. B.B. King (1987)
I have to bow to the blues experts on this. He is a lovable character and a friendly, articulate guitarist; he is considered by all to be a, if not the, quintessential bluesman but to me lacks something. His signature song, “The Thrill Is Gone,” came late in his career. But over the years his name has become so iconic you can’t really argue about it.
71. Roy Orbison (1987)
Another of the music’s true oddballs, with a heavenly voice, a reverberating psyche, and lots of hits.
72. Donna Summer (2013)
She fought hard to emerge from a Eurodisco ghetto and became, for a time, a glamorous pop-disco superstar whose thick and luscious gatefold albums penetrated deep into the consciousness of suburban America, culminating in Bad Girls, a rock-disco triumph of no little power.
73. Grateful Dead — Tom Constanten, Jerry Garcia, Donna Jean Godchaux, Keith Godchaux, Mickey Hart, Robert Hunter, Bill Kreutzmann, Phil Lesh, Ron McKernan, Brent Mydland, Bob Weir, and Vince Welnick (1994)
Some people like them, of course. The disinterested can see they have recorded only a handful of good songs (“Uncle John’s Band,” “Touch of Grey,” maybe one or two others) and that too many of its “musical excursions” could also be described as “noodling.” And while the band’s amen corner has ooh’ed over outside lyricist Hunter for decades, the fact remains Hunter is a terrible writer. But. With the Airplane, the Dead defined the San Francisco psychedelic sound, such as it was, and over time came to embody a chaotic independence, in their latter days providing a comfy hippie vibe for stadia of slumming yuppies.
Note that he lineup of the band inducted into the hall includes several highly inessential members, ranging from the dubious (Constanten, Mydland) to the risible (Welnick, formerly of [checks notes] the Tubes). Jeff Tamarkin, the former editor of Goldmine and a one-time nominating committee member, says he contacted the band for the hall — and that the Dead gave the hall an “all or none” ultimatum, and the hall caved. Garcia was supposedly on his way but never made it to the ceremony.
I asked Wenner who decides such things. “An ad hoc group from the nominating committee and from the executive committee,” he said. “Four or five people, trying to adjudicate what the proper way to go about it is.” Who’s on the executive committee? “Me, [CEO] Joel [Peresman], three or four other people, I’m not sure who.”
74. Big Joe Turner (1987)
Turner had an unmistakable and infectious voice and used it, irresistibly, to turn blithe not-quite-blues, not-quite-rock songs into highly enjoyable romps. One of them, “Shake, Rattle and Roll,” is one of the most undeniable early proto-rock tracks. Recorded by Atlantic’s Ahmet Ertegun — and also ripped off by him, Turner was one of many Atlantic artists who did not receive royalties or royalty statements, for decades. (More about this under Ruth Brown, below.) Ertegun paid for Turner’s funeral, but could certainly have done more for Turner when he wasn’t, you know, dead.
75. The Byrds — Gene Clark, Michael Clarke, David Crosby, Chris Hillman, and Roger McGuinn (1991)
The Byrds used Dylan covers as an intro to a career of baroque folk rock tinged with psychedelia (“Eight Miles High”), all grounded by Roger McGuinn’s fluty voice and plangent Rickenbacker. Here’s an example of the hall’s inconsistency: The induction of the Grateful Dead included a guy from the Tubes, Vince Welnick, who played with the Dead for a few years in the 1990s, long after the group was aesthetically moribund, and yet here the hall leaves out Gram Parsons, whose contributions to the Byrds’ sixth release, Sweetheart of the Rodeo, made it arguably the Ur-country-rock album, and the band’s best. This makes no sense.
76. Jackie Wilson (1987)
An early R&B pioneer with a heavenly voice; a fearless and dynamic showman. A little frenetic for my taste but connoisseurs say he’s one of the greats. Famously had a heart attack onstage while singing the words, “My heart is crying!” which ended his career.
77. The Shirelles — Shirley Alston Reeves, Addie Harris, Doris Kenner-Jackson, and Beverly Lee (1996)
They were the thinking-person’s girl group, not overseen by Phil Spector. Deservedly, the first of the girl groups to be inducted.
78. Paul McCartney (1999)
Free of the Beatles, McCartney’s first solo album was a dandelion wisp of nothingness; in its own way it was sort of a punk-rock thing to do. He then became an awesome ’70s hit-making machine. I find McCartney refreshingly one-dimensional and dependable, save for this one thing: He is both industrious and lazy. There are great songs strewn throughout his albums from this period, and slighter, highly enjoyable ones, too, but way too many throwaways. One day when he had nothing better to do he recorded a single called “Mull of Kintyre,” which became the biggest-selling single ever in Britain to that point. That’s the way his life goes. You don’t have to like him. He still likes you.
79. ZZ Top — Frank Beard, Billy Gibbons, and Dusty Hill (2004)
Rock’s purest power trio and arguably its most iconoclastic practitioners of whatever variant of the blues it is exactly they work in. In the 1970s, this band, along with maybe AC/DC, in effect kept mainstream pre-punk rock honest, eschewing Zeppelin-like flamboyance for a heady, steady, implacable guitar attack. In their own way, subtle. Then they became MTV stars. I don’t find that ‘80s shit interesting, but it’s pretty clear no one’s ever told them what to do. Mnemonic device: The guy who doesn’t have a beard is named Beard.
80. The Jackson 5 — Jackie, Jermaine, Marlon, Michael, and Tito Jackson (1997)
They came late in Motown’s classic period, and their initial celebrity was short, but they sold a lot of records, and with “I Want You Back” were the voices on arguably Motown’s purest pop concoction. And the youngest had a lot of potential. Later recorded as the Jacksons.
Is the hall of fame voting process rigged? No one I spoke to said it definitely was, but no one jumped to the hall’s defense to say it couldn’t be, either. Particularly in the early years, no one I spoke to could particularly recall how the votes of the nominating committee were taken down; nor did any one know how the votes from nominating committee members who weren’t there in person were brought into the mix. And no one had any idea how the votes from the voters at large were tabulated. The story about Wenner clinging to a penultimate vote count to sneak Grandmaster Flash into the hall in front of the Dave Clark Five surprised me in this way: Having read Sticky Fingers I had no expectations at all that any sort of count was kept in the first place. In the words of one industry vet who watched the process for years: “I am sure Jann puts his finger on the scale whenever he can. He’s Jann Wenner: he does whatever he wants.” Is the hall his “personal fiefdom,” as Hagan said it was? “That’s wrong and it’s certainly not the case in terms of who gets in or out,” Wenner said. For the record, Peresman says that, today, ballots come in and are tabulated each day, and that Wenner has nothing to do with the counting.
81. The Temptations — Melvin Franklin, Eddie Kendricks, David Ruffin, Otis Williams, Paul Williams, Dennis Edwards (1989)
One of the signature Motown acts and one of the best-selling groups of the 1960s; they expanded their brand in the ‘70s (“Ball of Confusion”), culminating in possibly the most daring and unusual track Motown ever recorded, “Papa Was a Rollin’ Stone.”
82. The Yardbirds — Jeff Beck, Eric Clapton, Chris Dreja, Jim McCarty, Jimmy Page, Keith Relf, and Paul Samwell-Smith (1992)
This manic white-blues outfit, with the Stones, were the commercial face of the move from white-bluesmen wannabes to rock stars. The Yardbirds, while lacking the Jagger-Richards songwriting juggernaut, still had an outsize influence on the music, first with lead guitarist Jeff Beck, followed by Eric Clapton and then those groovy early singles like “For Your Love.” From the start, arguments over direction, authenticity, and commercialism marked its devolution and ultimately led to a conflicted Clapton’s departure. The group’s last guitarist, Jimmy Page, put together the New Yardbirds and then changed its name to Led Zeppelin.
83. Lou Reed (2015)
Highly erratic as a solo artist, with four or five classic albums (two of them live) standing out among utter insanity (Metal Machine Music) and lots of odd, inconsistent, embarrassing stuff — and that’s during his heyday! But at his best, he expanded the idea and potential of rock with everything from his waspish personality to his perversion-laden demimonde to his best songs, which took the music to places it had never been before, and his personal life as well, including living with an on- and off-again trans girlfriend for several years during his ‘70s stardom.. He wasn’t inducted until two years after his death, some nearly 20 years after his eligibility, another example of the hall’s discomfort with stars who don’t play by traditional gender rules.
84. Hank Ballard (1990)
Ballard & his Midnighters are the greatest rock band you’ve never heard of. Ballard co-wrote and performed some early proto-rock tunes, notably “Work With Me Annie,” which for some reason caught the imagination of a musical generation and, among other things, inspired a raft of response songs. They have lots better work than that. It’s interesting to listen to the Midnighters’ stuff — it’s a great intro to proto-rock, with sax as the lead instrument, and they have oodles of great songs.
85. Madonna (2008)
Her controversies, from “Papa Don’t Preach” onward, have always been more than a bit épater le bourgeois, her proclamations of control manifestations of insecurity. Look closely and you see that she’s never written a number one hit on her own; and as her career has gone on she seems more and more ridiculous. But that’s not the critical consensus, which says she was a game changer, a master at pop marketing, a postmodern superstar. Whatever.
One of the difficulties the hall has grappled with is how it should take into account popularity; Madonna was, after all, one of the very biggest pop stars of all time. The hall’s original charter made little mention of popularity — and most of the hall’s principals over the years have said that excellence is the key criterion. There is an argument for excellence that gets overlooked in all sorts of artistic endeavors, so let me make it clear: Being popular gets you a lot of things. You get all the money; you get all the freedom; and, particularly in the rock world — and while this is something of a sexist concept, it’s basically true so I’ll say it — you get all the girls. And yet there’s always some segment of that highly fortunate group that demands they get all the awards for excellence as well, just because they are popular. They don’t! Fuck off!
At the same time, there is a strata of rock bands that you wouldn’t say are defined by their popularity but over some significant professional career have been somewhat underappreciated, let’s say, by critics. The Moody Blues are a great example. They pioneered a sort of orchestrated, lush, and it must be said ambitious rock but have never quite been taken seriously.
What to do? The hall has been schizophrenic. Early on in the hall’s history, Tamarkin, the Goldmine editor, was on the hall nominating committee. He brought in a petition that had been signed by 5,000 people asking for the Moodys’ induction. Tamarkin recalls he was asked if he was an enthusiastic supporter of the band. He said he wasn’t — but thought the petitions mattered. The meeting moved on. Around the same time, he recalls, one label head was promoting the Moonglows, the doo-wop group; Tamarkin said another exec said, “They aren’t going to sell a single ticket to the dinner,” and that idea was dropped. (The Moonglows got in, eventually, in 2000; the Moodys in 2018.)
In fairness, the long delay in inducting some of these bands, like the Moodies and Chicago, to some extent points to their second-tier status. Still, I think the hall should push back on this point, and insist on the primacy of artistic value, but it will be difficult after the induction of bands like ABBA. As for Tamarkin, he said his stay on the nominating committee came to an end after he published an editorial in Billboard criticizing the hall. “I had the honor of being taken to task by Phil Spector in front of the entire nominating committee,” he said. He wasn’t asked back. He’s now the editor of a lively website, Bestclassicbands.com.
86. Tupac Shakur (2017)
Unlike a lot of people on this list, he was a true star. Definitely a tragic figure (shot to death in 1996), a sometimes-principled lyricist, and fluid, not-too-show-offy rapper who tried to expand the music even as he kept one foot in its least estimable parts. I wish this smart man had been smart enough not to run with Suge Knight. Since he wasn’t — it’s incontrovertible that he participated in Knight’s goon-squad violence, and of course was duly convicted of rape — it’s hard to figure what his legacy would have been had he lived, and harder still to imagine him breaking free of his hypocritical sentimentality. Could he have become the man his biggest fans say he could have been? I’m skeptical but also sorry we’re not going to find out. By the way, it was a little unseemly for Snoop Dogg, in his introduction of Shakur, to talk about he and Shakur had “targets on [their] backs.” I mean, Snoop’s the guy who was driving the car in 1993 when his bodyguard shot a guy in the back.
Again, back to Cleveland. Conforth, the curator, is a highly entertaining interview. He was a scholar who’d done his dissertation at Indiana on the San Francisco scene. He turned out not to be a good fit for the hall. One mistake he made, he allows, is requesting to work in Cleveland, which he thought made sense at the time but led to many of his decisions being overruled from New York. Even two decades later he remains amused at his tenure. It was plain from the start, he says, what the hall of fame’s mission was: “Here’s another way we get to masturbate in public and show the world how great we are.” The difficulties he had working for Wenner & Co. were such an open secret by the time he left that he received a call from the producers of the Oprah Winfrey Show. They wanted him to appear for a segment on “When Dream Jobs Become a Nightmare.”
87. Santana — José Chepito Areas, David Brown, Michael Carabello, Gregg Rolie, Carlos Santana, and Michael Shrieve (1998)
Santana was a guitarist’s guitarist, fluid and — unusual back then — distinctively tough from the start, and a stalwart of the San Francisco sound. Their Latino-psychedelic fusion was distinctive. All of their early albums are worth hearing today; they are immensely varied and persuasive without being chaotic or unfocused. They were a heavy band — and, not for nothing, they could lay claim to delivering one of the signal performances of the Woodstock movie.
88. Sam & Dave — Sam Moore and Dave Prater (1992)
No argument here. These guys are molten, as good as soul got in the 1960s.
89. The Allman Brothers Band — Duane Allman, Gregg Allman, Dickey Betts, Jai Johanny Johanson, Berry Oakley, and Butch Trucks (1995)
The epitome of southern rock, with an unexpected rolling jazz undertow. Duane Allman, who died in a motorcycle accident before he turned 25, was quite a guitarist (that’s him playing with Clapton on “Layla”), and his brother Gregg is a good singer. At their best, which is to say on At Fillmore East and on some of their studio cuts, heady as it got. And probably the only rock band that should have two drummers.
90. Tom Waits (2011)
This out-where-the-trains-don’t-run singer-songwriter began as a mildly parodic storyteller at the piano bar from hell; he was almost rock for a few years, and then became highly respectable in the avant music world, with sharply diminishing payback for casual listeners. Looking back, it’s plain he’s actually a species of art rocker à la Bowie, only coming out of a different demimonde. Also like Bowie, wrote lots of good songs, like “Jersey Girl,” “Time,” and “That Feel.”
91. Rod Stewart (1994)
You look at Rod Stewart and think, “How could this seemingly clueless jock accomplish such things?” But there is something there, way down deep inside Stewart — a cozy, almost kittenish, relaxation in his early work with the Faces, and then growing self-actualization and perspective. Every story he told from his first album on painted a picture of this boy-man’s growth into wisdom. He made great albums — Every Picture Tells a Story, Never a Dull Moment — and then some poorly produced ones, but even as he got goofier throughout the rest of the 1970s, he crafted memorable performances, both excavating old chestnuts (“It’s Not the Spotlight,” “This Old Heart of Mine”) and writing his own classics, too (“I Was Only Joking,” “The Killing of Georgie”). He’s been unafraid to be a fool in the years since, resting on solid commercial instincts, and somehow retains a princely charm to this day.
92. Fleetwood Mac — Lindsey Buckingham, Mick Fleetwood, Peter Green, Danny Kirwan, Christine McVie, John McVie, Stevie Nicks, and Jeremy Spencer (1998)
Even in its first ten years, this band’s resilience was remarkable, genre after genre, front man after front man, finally accepting the admixture of a pair of Bay Area hippies in 1975 and concocting some of the biggest albums of the era. Stevie Nicks has her fan base of course, and is a strong songwriter, yet still she’s the slightest of the most celebrated version of the band’s principals; Christine McVie is one of the greatest British vocalists of her generation (and wrote hits as well), and as for Lindsey Buckingham, well, he evolved to become a subtle orchestrator of pop ineffability, perhaps the most efficient and iconoclastic since Brian Wilson. Rumours deserved all its sales, and Tusk is a masterwork. The omission of Bob Welch, a significant member of the band in the early 1970s, is another of the hall’s inconsistent exclusions.
93. Bob Seger (2004)
There are a lot of ‘70s leftover acts in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame that don’t belong there. Is Seger different? I’d point to “2+2=?,” as potent a Vietnam protest song as the genre produced, and this was back in 1965. (If you haven’t heard it, you have a treat coming.) Long into his career he edged into the popular consciousness with the terrific (and terrific-sounding) Night Moves, its title song heartland rock’s greatest moment, and then was a reliable purveyor of deeper-than-they-needed-to-be tunes (“Feel Like a Number”). As late as “Against the Wind” he delivered pathos and power; and wrote good songs almost to the ‘90s. He plays to this day in the same T-shirt and jeans he always did. All respect.
94. Ricky Nelson (1987)
Nelson was part of the first two years of inductions into the hall, which I find bizarre. He played the son on his father’s (huge) ‘50s TV show The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet, and used that to become a very bland teen idol. (To be fair, he was a very big star in his heyday.) Some of his early hits have become timeless, like “Hello Mary Lou,” and there were a lot of them, none of which he wrote. But he was hardly an influence and faded out of view save for a ‘70s hit, “Garden Party,” which he did write. It was, ironically enough, a somewhat petulant response to fans uninterested in his new sounds. The life of a teen idol is a real bitch. He died in a 1984 plane crash, which might have had the original hall of fame nominators in a nostalgic mood. (I originally ranked him much lower, but after thinking about it, had to admit that he’s certainly among the 100 most important rock artists.)
95. LaVern Baker (1991)
A highly versatile and precise R&B queen from the ‘50s. How versatile? Check out the pristine “I Cried a Tear” — and then this raunchy duet with Jackie Wilson, “Think Twice.” She had an interesting life — she started out singing as “Little Miss Sharecropper,” and later spent 20 years living in the Philippines.
96. Peter Gabriel (2014)
For years in the 1980s, post-Genesis, he was in his own way as radical as Reed or Bowie; his unexpected albums — all titled Peter Gabriel, weird in itself — matched disturbing soundscapes over sometimes disturbing subject matter. And yet, almost by force of will, he seemed to crawl out of his psychic pit toward a warmer and brighter humanism: “Solsbury Hill” and “Biko,” sure, but also “In Your Eyes,” which became in its live incarnation everything pop and rock could be. He later went multiplatinum and became less interesting, though his Womad tours occasionally captured the wild, pan-everything promise of “In Your Eyes.”
97. AC/DC — Brian Johnson, Phil Rudd, Bon Scott, Cliff Williams, Angus Young, and Malcolm Young (2003)
Like ZZ Top, possessors of a signature guitar sound that goes beyond the primal. Very dumb, very limited, they came out of a grimy ‘70s pockmarked with just a few unbelievably killer tracks (like “It’s a Long Way to the Top [If You Wanna Rock ’n’ Roll]”) before, out of some entirely mystifying burst of creativity, creating a pair of albums, Highway to Hell and Back in Black, whose production and song quality rocketed upward. They pursued a unique sound at a time when no one could have been expected to like it, and kept fucking doing it.
A perennial criticism of the hall is that it started out, and basically remains, a boys’ club, and an older boys’ club at that. The hall has no interest, of course, in excluding women from the inductees, and hasn’t done a terrible job at it. The real problem is with the nominating committee. Over the years, it has tended to grow large and then go through a sudden purge; those purged speak darkly about the removal of older people from the group. This is perhaps true but only in the sense that, since virtually everyone on the committee is a while male over 50 — and, in most cases, far past even that — there’s really no one to jettison except older guys. This happened in 2007 and again in 2016. As far as I can see, there has been virtually no effort made to rectify the committee’s gender imbalance. Some 40 years into the hall’s existence, there are typically four or five women on a roughly 30-person nominating committee. It’s really fucking outrageous.
Besides that, the committee is heavily New York centric. The critics on the committee lean heavily to the Rolling Stone crowd, a group whose critical discrimination atrophied years ago, and in any case over the years have, of course, learned to be highly aware of the wants of their boss.
98. The Cars — Elliot Easton, Greg Hawkes, David Robinson, Ric Ocasek, and Benjamin Orr (2018)
One of the first big New Wave acts; hard to hear now, but in the Doobies ‘n’ Supertramp era their angular compositions, odd shifts in tone, and semi-postmodern musical touches were somewhat foreign sounding, and welcome. Then the world shifted a bit and they became cuddly ‘80s MTV reliables.
99. The Police — Stewart Copeland, Sting, and Andy Summers (2003)
These were New Wave poseurs hiding a conventional bent, but it turned out they had an even more unconventional one: a spare, skittery, reggae sensibility. They flirted with the cheesy but then reasserted themselves with Synchronicity, a very well produced pop-rock masterwork. Leader Sting has since become a real menace.
100. Carl Perkins (1987)
A pleasant rockabilly innovator, writer of the original “Blue Suede Shoes” and a handful of other classics.
101. The Impressions — Curtis Mayfield, Sam Gooden, Fred Cash, Arthur Brooks, Richard Brooks, and Jerry Butler (1991)
High-end, highly intelligent soul: Butler’s “For Your Precious Love” and Mayfield’s “People Get Ready” are just for starters.
102. Paul Simon (2001)
An austere artist, to be sure. Cranky and undisclosive, in latter day Simon and Garfunkel tours he has been the squat, grumpy cat sitting next to Garfunkel’s happy, manic Lab. But his early solo albums, while not as consistent as they might be, are at their best precise and open-hearted, more mature than S&G, and once in a great while (“American Tune,” “Mother and Child Reunion”) transcendent. He has always played with world music, with intermittent success; Graceland we can argue about but few will deny the rock moment it created. And his albums from the classic period (up to Rhythm of the Saints) sound sensational without being overproduced.
103. The Ronettes — Estelle Bennett, Ronnie Spector, and Nedra Talley (2007)
Ronnie Spector has a voice for the ages, and she found the heartrending setting for the words and music she was given by her future husband Phil Spector; the result — five words, Be my / Be my baby — ring across the decades. Her band’s life was short and, while she remains a pop icon, her solo work has never found the proper setting for her talents. Still, in 1960, here was the voice of the greatest song of that or perhaps any year, “Be My Baby.”
One of the odd events in the 2018 ceremony was an appearance by Springsteen guitarist Miami Steve Van Zandt, who announced a new subcategory: “Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Singles,” for important songs by artists who are not already in the hall. The first five are “The Twist,” by Chubby Checker; “Born to Be Wild,” by Steppenwolf; “A Whiter Shade of Pale,” by Procol Harum; “Rumble” by Link Wray; and “Rocket 88,” by Jackie Brenston and his Delta Cats. Neil Walls, on the Future Rock Legends site, writes, “This appears to be a new backdoor into the Rock Hall for artists who can’t get over the hump with the voters. … [I]t sure feels like the Rock Hall is trying to clear out some names from their growing backlog of candidates.” I think it’s a great idea, though I’d think it a shame if “Love Will Tear Us Apart” ends up there. Note that “Jackie Brenston and his Delta Cats” is actually Ike Turner, who is already in the hall. (For the record, I like “Let’s Twist Again” better than the original. Checker once took out a full-page ad in Billboard, complaining about his lack of recognition by the hall, and also the Nobel Prize committee. One nominating committee member I spoke to believes to this day that Checker was shafted and deserves a proper induction into the hall: “He single-handedly made it possible for dorks to dance with girls,” he says.)
This year, the hall is supposedly going to nominate another half-dozen or so songs; I like Nick Bambach’s predictions, which includes “American Pie,” “Rapper’s Delight,” and the Troggs’ Wild Thing.” I can also see “Louie Louie” getting in at some point.
104. Jackson Browne (2004)
Like James Taylor, Browne never apologized for his straightforward, confessional songwriting. His first few albums have numerous emotional high points (“Late for the Sky,” “Jamaica Say You Will”). He then marshaled up his art for two very strong song cycles, The Pretender and Running on Empty. After which things went quickly to hell.
105. Bobby Womack (2009)
Heavy soul hitter in the 1970s — a lot of his songs display writing, singing, and production chops of the first order.
106. Lynyrd Skynyrd — Bob Burns, Allen Collins, Steve Gaines, Ed King, Billy Powell, Artimus Pyle, Gary Rossington, Ronnie Van Zant, and Leon Wilkeson (2006)
The greatest Southern boogie band of all is remembered for “Freebird,” a thrilling construction from the group’s first record, but also the plainspoken depth of singer lyricist Ronnie Van Zant. His portraits of not-so-loveable losers (“Gimme Three Steps”) and dark passages (“That Smell”) elevated the genre to places even the Allmans couldn’t reach. They were getting better, too — until Van Zandt and guitarist Steve Gaines perished in a 1977 plane crash.
107. The Platters — David Lynch, Herb Reed, Paul Robi, Zola Taylor, and Tony Williams (1990)
A dulcet doo-wop combo, as big as any pop group could be in the late 1950s, with highly emotional, irreproachably tasteful tracks like “The Great Pretender” and “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes.”
108. Simon & Garfunkel — Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel (1990)
Preternaturally proficient folkies — they were together as teens with a released single and a record contract. The pair eventually floated into the pop consciousness in 1966 with “The Sound of Silence” — a meaningless bit of faux-Dylan pretension — and basically experimented with various postures, with intermittent artistic success (“America”) and finally earned their position with Bridge Over Troubled Water, a beautiful album featuring the momentous title track, a true pop hymn more profound and musically thrilling than “Hey Jude.”
109. Albert King (2013)
A gigantic talent, in both senses of the word. King made everything he played looks easy, and was a staple at the innovative cross-genre shows at the heyday of the Fillmore. Here’s a video of him, his giant hands dwarfing his backwards Flying V, playing his signature “Born Under a Bad Sign” with SRV.
110. Janet Jackson (2019)
Some will say she’s only a pop artist, which in a way she is, but she is also a great R&B star. Besides that, she has a story — marshaling the talent to break out of the rut of her early albums (and, more importantly, away from her benighted family) and finding the collaborators she needed in Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis. Besides the statement of independence that was Control, she scaled things up for Rhythm Nation 1814, which rocks substantively and confidently to this day. She ultimately made a few years of the era her own, against some significant competition, including Prince, Springsteen, Madonna, and — who am I forgetting? — her brother.
111. Cheap Trick — Bun E. Carlos, Rick Nielsen, Tom Petersson, and Robin Zander (2016)
Power rock from the American heartland — probably the most effective power trio since the Who. (I know there are four of them; I just mean that at the band’s core there’s just guitar, bass and drums.) Leader and songwriter Nielsen does crazy things on the guitar and makes it all look easy. The antics and optics — this is the band with two pretty boys and two dorky-looking guys — sometimes obscure the songs, which at their best touch the serviceably great (“He’s a Whore”) and the pantheonically great (“Surrender”). Nielsen couldn’t keep it up and the band suffered a sharp decline in quality; outside songwriters provided a revivified chart presence in the 1980s. Absolutely killer live, to this day.
112. Frank Zappa (1995)
Zappa did a lot of things no one really cared about. He was as prolific as anyone on this list, endured a lot of craziness in his life even his outlandish work couldn’t reflect, and died too soon. He also personified some weird griffin of rock: He was unquestionably the world’s greatest doo-wop hairy-hippie stand-up-comic free-jazz new-music rock star. For the record, his humor was sophomoric (and not arch-sophomoric, genuinely sophomoric), and most of his recordings are unlistenable, though of course I’m glad they exist for his fans.
113. Wilson Pickett (1991)
A great soul showman and song interpreter, truly wild, whose best hits — “Land of a 1000 Dances,” say — radiate a groovy funk-soul-rock authority.
114. Jimmy Reed (1991)
An early electric blues guitarist and top-flight melodist and innovator much favored by the likes of Keith Richards and other white bluesheads in the 1960s. Author of “Bright Lights, Big City,” “Baby What Do You Want Me to Do,” “Big Boss Man,” etc.
115. Booker T. & the M.G.’s — Booker T. Jones, Steve Cropper, Donald “Duck” Dunn, Al Jackson Jr., and Lewie Steinberg (1992)
Elemental groovy soul with a very tough bottom, built on the Stax/Volt session players. They backed everyone from Otis Redding to Wilson Pickett and had a couple hits on their own, led by the pulsing organ of Jones. I’m not sure if their recording career qualifies as a quote-unquote regular rock artist, which is how they were inducted.
Starting in 2000, the hall started inducting people under the “Sidemen” category. (Note the unfortunate name, which among other things made it clear we were indeed talking about a boys’ club.) Motown session bassist James Jamerson was inducted in the subcategory that year. But it did bring in some behind-the-scenes folk — Elvis’s guitarist, the drummer for the Wrecking Crew, etc. This was recently changed to something called the “Award for Musical Excellence,” which promptly turned into an award for top producers and people like Ringo Starr. (Of all the instrumentalists in rock, he gets an award?)
116. Leonard Cohen (2008)
A Canadian folk poet whose stature has grown immensely over the years. His early stentorian songs (all of his songs are stentorian, actually) can sometimes cut to the bone, and even at their most flighty capture a mood. These remain an indelible part, for example, of McCabe & Mrs. Miller. His latter-day concerts were wild, mysterious affairs. I find his mature work a bit formulaic even at its most enjoyable, but there’s no denying how certain of his compositions have becomes a definitive part of our world, “Hallelujah” being the best example.
117. Ruth Brown (1993)
A ‘40s and ‘50s R&B star for Atlantic records who ultimately crossed over to pop at the dawn of rock and roll. She had a sound and a voice and was probably the sassiest of the early female rockers. (“This Little Girl’s Gone Rocking,” “[Mama] He Treats Your Daughter Mean.”) Brown was the catalyst for an important change in the way the industry did business in the mid-1980s — which is a polite way to say that she helped expose the criminal activities of Ertegun and many other labels during that time. This was at the dawn of the CD age, where classic reissues were just beginning to send money pouring into the labels’ bottom lines. While under law, the artists were entitled both to royalties and to royalty statements, most of course hadn’t gotten any of either for decades. (Labels either claimed they were still recouping production costs or were just keeping the money.) Brown one day looked askance at an album a fan asked her to sign, noting that she hadn’t gotten royalties from it. The fan turned out to be a canny lawyer. The pair went on a PR offensive, which in turn started a movement that resulted in most of the major labels wiping their books clean on many seminal rock and R&B musicians and starting paying royalties again. Such was Ertegun’s stature in the industry even then that this was all done a little sotto voce, so as not to broadcast any implication that the great man himself had participated in such nefarious goings-on. As the story is told in Robert Greenfield’s Ertegun bio, The Last Sultan, Ertegun was a real dick through the whole process.
118. Crosby, Stills & Nash — David Crosby, Graham Nash, and Stephen Stills (1997)
A weird group on paper. A kid from a military family who wanted to be in the Monkees, a clown from the Byrds, and an effete English guy. But their voices melded so nicely — from “Marrakesh Express” to “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes,” from “Our House” to (Joni Mitchell’s) “Woodstock” — that they came to embody one branch of the California sound almost literally overnight. (Their performance at Woodstock, remember, was their second live appearance.) Light, sure, but a huge percentage of their early work sounds great, and still gets played on the radio. And Stills is not a bad guitarist. Note how Neil Young, an important, almost definitive, presence on the group’s second album and an on-again, off-again part of the ensemble for decades, was not included in the induction. It’s possible, but not very likely, that the nominating committee somehow felt Young was not an important part of the group; more likely, behind-the-scenes machinations — possibly a demurral from Young himself — kept him off.
119. Neil Diamond (2011)
Diamond was a solid Brill Building songwriter (he wrote “I’m a Believer, “Red Red Wine,” etc.) and then turned into a pleasant, not-quite-soft-rock ‘70s pop icon before going pure schmaltz from the 1980s on. You can’t really dismiss him; he’s had too many hits (literally dozens of Top 40 hits). And on his own terms has maintained a baritone integrity; he was releasing not-terrible studio albums until a decade or so ago, and remained a high-dollar arena act until his announced retirement this year due to Parkinson’s. Hard to argue with a star in an evanescent business still standing 50-plus years later.
120. Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers — Tom Petty, Ron Blair, Mike Campbell, Howie Epstein, Stan Lynch, and Benmont Tench (2002)
Petty has One Great Song in “American Girl,” in addition to his obvious commercial record and passel of decent albums and other songs. Accident or not, it makes his stature plain after 40 years of reliable, ever-more-inessential rock.
121. Gladys Knight & the Pips—William Guest, Gladys Knight, Merald “Bubba” Knight, and Edward Patten (1996)
Gladys Knight has a voice of enormous warmth and emotion; her career stretches back to the early 1960s, finally resolving satisfactorily in a strong of massive pop hits in the 1970s, giving her icon status in the years since.
122. Etta James (1993)
Classic Chicago blues from the purest blues voice on Chess Records.
123. Creedence Clearwater Revival — Doug Clifford, Stu Cook, John Fogerty, and Tom Fogerty (1993)
Rock and roll could also encompass the songs of an East Bay kid who pretended he was from down on the bayou. John Fogerty took elemental chords and a ringing guitar and fashioned something that at least sounded backwoodsy, and occasionally wrote something profound. And he had a voice.
124. The Cure (2019) — Perry Bamonte, Jason Cooper, Michael Dempsey, Reeves Gabrels, Simon Gallup, Roger O’Donnell, Robert Smith, Porl Thompson, Lol Tolhurst, and Boris Williams
The omission of Joy Division and New Order looms over the hall; I don’t know whether it’s the shortage of women in the nominating and voting process or just the clubby nature of the nominating committee, but the lack of respect for dance music feels highly exclusionary. “Love Will Tear Us Apart” is one of the greatest rock singles of all time, and New Order’s ’80s works, timelessly orchestrated and produced, were formidable underground dance-music presences in the 1980s. They kept at it and the world came to them and they ended up global superstars. The band’s lyrics sometimes come across as dorky, I take the point; but you also have to agree that at least three of their actual albums — Power, Corruption and Lies, Low-Life, and Brotherhood — are substantive works peppered with good songs.
Anyway, I go into such detail to note that the one good argument against the Cure is that as far as electronic acts of the era goes, they are less important than JD/NO. In their favor: They were around British punk when it was created, and quickly emerged as among the first post-punk bands. Leader Robert Smith essays both brainy compositions (an early song was based on Camus’s The Stranger, and titled, uncompromisingly, “Killing an Arab”) and killer hooks (like the ones in “Boys Don’t Cry”). Their albums got better and better (not the typical rock dynamic) and Smith kept coming up with great songs, like “Just Like Heaven.” The Cure eventually scaled up to big sales, and the band eventually played a few stadiums. And at a time when a lot of traditional rock bands were still putting on old-school shows, Cure concerts were sonic and visual extravaganzas.
Among the mishmash of names above, you’ll note one odd inductee: Reeves Gabrels. He was in Bowie’s Tin Machine back in the day, and it turns out he’s been playing with the Cure in the 2010s … during which time the band has recorded [checks notes] zero albums.
125. Dusty Springfield (1999)
A visionary singer possessed of dulcet voice and a sparkling persona. A British woman, she went to America to record a breathtakingly emotional album, Dusty in Memphis. That’s her on the Pet Shop Boys’ “What Have I Done to Deserve This.” An early gay performer, too, and it can’t have been easy.
126. Curtis Mayfield (1999)
He eventually became the heart of the Impressions, who were inducted eight years earlier. (Mayfield wrote “People Get Ready,” as good a song soul ever produced, but not “For Your Precious Love.”) His work in the 1970s as a solo artist was up and down, the best of course being the impeccably conceived and produced Superfly album, groovy and high end. The Impressions were a cool group and had Jerry Butler, but for the record, Mayfield’s two inductions into the hall are excessive. With the hall sometimes you get the feeling some cadre on the nomination committee is in there saying incessantly, “The Impressions! The Impressions! The Impressions” — and then once they got in, the same folks started saying, “Curtis Mayfield! Curtis Mayfield! Curtis Mayfield!” until finally the others are worn down.
127. The Staple Singers — Cleotha Staples, Mavis Staples, Pervis Staples, Pops Staples, and Yvonne Staples (1999)
A really interesting band. They were deep soul, definitely, but with rockist pretentions — and yet they produced several of the blithest pop singles of the era, songs that still crackle when they come on the radio today. In their lives and art they embody the promise of the music as much as anyone on this list.
128. Duane Eddy (1994)
An early guitar experimentalist, artisan of a primal guitar sound, note by individual note. The year Eddy got in, one of the nominating committee members invited a ringer to the group’s annual session: John Fogerty. He came in and delivered a stirring plea, which the nominating committee duly acquiesced to.
129. Blondie — Clem Burke, Jimmy Destri, Nigel Harrison, Debbie Harry, Frank Infante, Chris Stein, and Gary Valentine (2006)
They were New Wave from New York, which is to say, plainspoken and more than a bit arch, with a pretty formidable lead presence in Harry. Lots of good songs, too. As they matured they melded New Wave with disco (with the help of a British pop super-producer) and the genial side of hip-hop and even reggae, all of that resulting in some big pop fun. Docked ten notches because Harry and Stein, irritated by litigation from older members of the band, kept them from playing at the ceremony, causing Infante to deliver an outburst from the podium. Raised back ten for Harry’s purred response: “It’s so nice to see everyone outside of the courtroom.”
130. Laura Nyro (2012)
Nyro’s a great rock-jazz-classic-pop oddball, crafter of some big-hearted garrulous offshoots of the Great American Songbook. Since my name is Bill, I love “Wedding Bell Blues” more than most people, perhaps, and I’m glad the hall is open to oddballs like her. But Bill the Grumpy Critic notes that again this is a second-tier person with an amen corner among the Boomers on the nominating committee while more important and influential bands are ignored.
131. Cream — Ginger Baker, Jack Bruce, and Eric Clapton (1993)
The first rock “supergroup,” with the three principals all considered virtuosos on their instruments. The cacophony still somehow made sense. (Some of the time, anyway.) Baker was a highly committed drummer. The result was some stalwart classic-rock hits. Historically, this is the start of the Clapton cult and the door to the guitarist’s odd road to alternating isolation and fame.
132. Dire Straits — Alan Clark, Guy Fletcher, John Illsley, David Knopfler, Mark Knopfler and Pick Withers (2018)
Dire Straits was a massive band in the 1980s; Brother in Arms is one of the top-ten best-selling albums of all time worldwide. You want to dismiss them as a merely semi-tough band carried along by one instrumentalist, but let’s be fair: Leader Mark Knopfler is no ordinary instrumentalist. He is rarely not worth listening to. On the other hand, his words are seldom profound and the band is often boring. But: They got better and better live over the years, have lots of hits, and you can’t say they released a lot of bad albums. How many artists on this list can you say that about?
Last year’s inductions featured a low point for the hall: For apparently the first time, the hall didn’t have anyone to induct the band, and bassist John Illsley had to go up to do it himself! Knopfler and his brother David were nowhere to be seen. I could hear Wenner audibly shrug when I asked him about it. “A couple of the members didn’t get along with each other and didn’t want to appear with each other. Which has happened before.” Why was there no one to induct them? “There was someone ready to induct them, but very few people of note would want to induct without Mark Knopfler present.” The result was embarrassing.
133. Bill Haley (1987)
Haley looked like a dork, with a spit curl pasted over his 30-something moonface. But his band’s crisp attack, surprising drums, and utter control is one of the purest, if highly unthreatening and by definition denatured, melds of country and blues. “Rock Around the Clock” bounced around for more than a year before it became the first rock-and-roll No.1 hit. In 2012, the hall made up a host of early omissions and inducted a number of backing bands left out in the original inductions, including Haley’s Comets, Gene Vincent’s Blue Caps, Buddy Holly’s Crickets, Hank Ballard’s Midnight’s, James Brown’s Famous Flames, and Smokey Robinson’s Miracles.
134. James Taylor (2000)
He’s no Jackson Browne, but his calm and comforting idiosyncratic emotional ballads in the early 1970s marked out a sphere of personal (some would say moony) songwriting rock hadn’t seen before. But Taylor is not slight. He grew up fairly privileged but dealt with things (institutionalization and heroin addiction, for starters) that no teenager should have to. He was in a credible early band (the Flying Machine), recorded an album for Apple records, and was cool enough to be in a signal piece of underground cinema, Two Lane Blacktop. This gave his early art a slightly darkened cast, and lingering credibility as he grew older and ever more lighter. Still writes a good song every once in a while.
135. Traffic — Jim Capaldi, Dave Mason, Steve Winwood, and Chris Wood (2004)
A progressive-rock group flecked with jazz, boasting the immense talents of Winwood, and Mason, too. I always liked how organic the band’s early albums sounded, odd for the genre. Winwood’s post-Traffic career, in Blind Faith and then arcing up to credible stardom in the 1980s, is exceptional. Why is, say, Jeff Beck in the hall but not him?
136. Eric Clapton (2000)
An iconic figure, of course, though the one people know now, post his emetic easy-listening version of “Layla,” is avuncular and unperturbed, so different from the troubled and anguished soul who originally created the song. His solos back then seemed fiery, almost unbridled; when he began to grow inward, moments of roiling beauty became his calling card. He is in the hall three times (for the Yardbirds, Cream, and as a solo artist), which seems excessive. If I had to make the argument against one of them, it would be this one. His solo career, aside from Layla (technically by Derek and the Dominos) and Blind Faith, has a few early radio hits and is then consistent only in its low wattage, without a single album in the last 40 years one could point to and say, This Was God.
137. Eagles — Don Felder, Glenn Frey, Don Henley, Bernie Leadon, Randy Meisner, Timothy B. Schmit, and Joe Walsh (1998)
A lot of people used to think these guys were tools: Rolling Stone had a long-running feud with the band; Frey, who died in 2016, seemed to have no soul; and Henley, let’s face it, is a screechy hypocrite. And too many of even their nice-sounding songs seem to turn on evil women. But look at the Eagles for what they were — a rock corporation — and you see that Henley and Frey were highly competent co-CEOs. They kept product in the pipeline, maintained quality, invested where they needed to (like bringing Joe Walsh onboard). In a way, they deserve a J.D. Power Award or something rather than a hall of fame induction. All that said, there are a lot of gorgeous songs in their repertoire, and “The Last Resort” and “Hotel California” at least hint at self-awareness. Around the early ‘80s, however, arrogance, complacency, and self-satisfaction took over, and it’s been a long slog since then, though honesty compels me to say that Henley has some great songs as a solo artist.
138. Pearl Jam — Jeff Ament, Matt Cameron, Stone Gossard, Dave Krusen, Mike McCready, and Eddie Vedder (2017)
They are better at being rock stars, perhaps, than being a great rock band, but they are so good at the former than it’s not that much of an insult. They were hard to take entirely seriously, at first, given that they were a band from Seattle who put out their first album the same time as Nevermind. But they of course turned into a serious operation with a fine live attack and a fearless if overserious lead singer. In time the group got its act together and produced some good songs amid the self-importance. (“Corduroy,” “Better Man.”) They actually became too famous, and worked hard to temper themselves down to an acceptable level of fame, which brings us back to how good they are at being rock stars. Docked ten notches for being the hall’s most Orwellian induction. One has to assume that it was under the orders of the band that drummer Dave Abbruzzese, who joined just as Ten was released and backed the band up well during the ensuing three years of hyperfame, including the albums Vs. and Vitalogy, was left out. His firing — because of tonal conflicts with overserious Eddie, who wanted to put his own drummer in — was of course PJ’s prerogative; but erasing history is a bad look for this highly principled band, not to mention for the mopes running the hall.
139. Four Tops — Renaldo “Obie” Benson, Abdul “Duke” Fakir, Lawrence Payton, and Levi Stubbs (1990)
Lead singer Stubbs had a titanic voice. “I’ll Be There” may be Motown’s most emotional track.
140. The Hollies — Bernie Calvert, Allan Clarke, Bobby Elliott, Eric Haydock, Tony Hicks, Graham Nash, and Terry Sylvester (2010)
They were very popular in the 1960s with a highly melodic proto-power-pop groove and pleasant harmonies; after Graham Nash left, they did some tangential but hardy work in the 1970s (“Long Cool Woman,” “The Air That I Breathe”). Slightly indistinct but, as I said, hardy.
141. Heart — Michael DeRosier, Roger Fisher, Steve Fossen, Howard Leese, Ann Wilson, and Nancy Wilson (2013)
Crafters of slightly melodramatic hard-rock hits with a unique, two hard-rockin’ front women setup, and they wrote the hits, too. Ann Wilson has quite a voice. A pair of members from the ‘80s later sued the hall, saying that the hall used pictures of them to promote the event but nonetheless excluded them from the induction.
142. Jefferson Airplane — Marty Balin, Jack Casady, Spencer Dryden, Paul Kantner, Jorma Kaukonen, and Grace Slick (1996)
These guys didn’t put out great albums. They barely put out listenable albums. But they were there when the counterculture created itself and at the center of one of the most vibrant and influential scenes of the day, and provided, for good and ill, an appropriate soundtrack for the time, which the band saw up close and personal. (Singer Balin was punched by a Hell’s Angel at Altamont.) Slick refused to come to the ceremony.
143. The Animals — Eric Burdon, Chas Chandler, Alan Price, John Steel, and Hilton Valentine (1994)
A ferocious act at the time, with big-voiced Eric Burdon bellowing anthems of independence. Burdon ran the group’s name into the ground with some novelty singles in the 1970s, but later Springsteen revivified their reputation by covering “It’s My Life” in concert and drawing a straight connection between the workingman’s life across the decades and the Atlantic. Burdon, incidentally, in one of his fits of ambition post-Animals, formed the group War, with whom he had a weird hit, “Spill the Wine.” That band evolved after his departure into a pioneering Latino rock-pop outfit with lots o’ hits — as many as, for example, the Mamas & the Papas. The World Is a Ghetto was the best-selling album of 1971. Why are the nimrods of Journey in the hall and not those guys?
144. The (Young) Rascals — Eddie Brigati, Felix Cavaliere, Gene Cornish, and Dino Danelli (1997)
A lot of bright hits, a groovy sound, much favored by folks like Steve Van Zandt. I think they have no depth.
145. Yes — Jon Anderson, Bill Bruford, Steve Howe, Tony Kaye, Trevor Rabin, Chris Squire, Rick Wakeman, and Alan White (2017)
Some of what this band did was inexcusable, but they created enough highly pleasurable wonderstruck songs not to be entirely dismissed; in the end, against not much competition they were probably the least silly of all the ‘70s prog-rock bands after Floyd, at least on the pop end of the spectrum, and this despite an exasperating lead singer and Tales From Topographic Oceans, a record with a ridiculous title and four heavily parenthesized tracks averaging more than 20 minutes in length. On the other hand, you can make the argument they got better; the sensational “Going for the One” came pretty far into their career, a paroxysm of delightful hypervirtuosity from guitarist Howe. Then a guy from the Buggles joined.
146. Bee Gees — Barry Gibb, Maurice Gibb, and Robin Gibb (1997)
Certain people you can’t argue with. Barry Gibb was a fairly big star in the 1960s, one of the biggest of the 1970s, and a successful songwriter and occasional hitmaker for a decade or two after. As with Neil Diamond, it’s hard to argue with 50 years of credible stardom. Robin’s voice is what it is, and I don’t know what Maurice did. The group had become entirely irrelevant by 1975, but Main Course started off a disco resurgence no one saw coming. I guess a lot of it was disposable pop, but no one can argue with “Stayin’ Alive,” as good a rock song as any of Michael Jackson’s.
147. Joan Baez (2017)
We all love Joanie. She was the first folk superstar and had some nice hits. Her legend has been overshadowed by you know who — who on top of everything else was the inspiration for her greatest song, “Diamonds and Rust.” And I hate to say it but, while she has a wonderful voice, she’s a sometimes unlistenable singer. Still, we all love Joanie.
148. Lloyd Price (1998)
A big, expansive blues-rock presence; more hits than you would expect.
149. Black Sabbath — Geezer Butler, Tony Iommi, Ozzy Osbourne, and Bill Ward (2006)
Sabbath’s reputation and lingering image always transcended their actual work, albums, or presence in the actual 1970s. The argument for them is that they were responsible for the devolved (!) side of heavy metal — one chord, delivered with pulverizing speed — which would arise again and again among folks for whom Zeppelin was too darn flowery. The argument against was articulated by Lars Ulrich as he inducted them: “If there was no Black Sabbath, I could possibly still be a morning newspaper delivery boy.”
150. Linda Ronstadt (2014)
Leaving aside the undeniable voice, I don’t know how well the beloved Ronstadt’s work has aged; after an organic beginning she hooked up with producer Peter Asher, whose highly effective pop sheen sold a lot of records and, along with the similarly antiseptic work of producers on the Eagles, the Doobies, Supertramp and others, helped to systematically denature a good chunk of the music (and pop radio) during this time. She was an able song interpreter on some obvious covers and once in a while did something unexpected.
151. Martha and the Vandellas — Rosalind Ashford, Annette Beard, Betty Kelly, Lois Reeves, and Martha Reeves (1995)
A sturdy Motown act, which is saying something. Produced two of the label’s most reverberating hits (“Heat Wave,” “Dancing in the Street”), which is also saying something.
152. The Isley Brothers—Ernie Isley, Marvin Isley, O’Kelly Isley Jr., Ronald Isley, Rudolph Isley, and Chris Jasper (1992)
These guys had a cool history — proto-rock-soul progenitors (“Shout,” “Twist and Shout”) turned ‘70s hitmakers (“That Lady”). They are fine, but also but another example of how the hall makes deep, deep dives into some genres at the expense of others.
153. Nina Simone (2018)
Simone was a distinctive talent who dealt with difficulties her entire life, some of them brought on by herself. For the record, she’s something like a jazz-pop artist, not a rock artist.
154. Gene Vincent (1998)
I find Vincent a bit too fresh-faced and … maybe immature is the word, even on a classic like “Be-Bop-a-Lula.” Not too much of a career besides that song. Vincent was injured in the same car crash that killed Eddie Cochran in 1960. The rest of his career ranged from the uneven to the sad, and he died at 36.
I’d like to take a break here and note this. As I look over the list to come, I think here is the point where were getting into the realm of acts that, while not entirely being undeserving of being in the hall for whatever reason, are markedly inferior to any number of others that haven’t yet been inducted. Here’s my list, in rough order, of the acts that should be in the hall but aren’t, all based on those sliding matrices of influence, importance, and quality.
KC & the Sunshine Band
Joy Division/New Order
Ian Hunter/Mott the Hoople
The New York Dolls
The Doobie Brothers
Now, that said, one conversation I had puts some of the philosophical constructs the hall is facing into perspective. I enjoyed talking to Jim Bessman, a longtime writer for Billboard and Variety, former member of the nominating committee, and current voting committee member. I asked him whom he had voted for that year. “None of the ones I’d voted for got in,” he said. “I voted for five. There’s the Zombies, Link Wray, and MC5 — and those to me are indisputable. The next two are disputable, I voted for Kate Bush, whom I love and I think is extremely important, and Judas Priest. That to me is as rock and roll as you get.” Bessman also told me he spent his years on the nominating committee arguing, fruitlessly, for Lesley Gore.
My point: Gore is arguable, but all I see in his list are five footnotes to the history of rock and roll, not hall of fame inductees. I think Bessman’s out of his mind. It reminded me that every critic of the hall has his or her own slate of artists, and that Bessman probably would think my list of oversights is a mess as well. Both Peresman and Wenner said this over and over again: “It’s a matter of taste,” Wenner said at one point. In time I felt they had a point. They were speaking after experiencing years, even decades, of an endless stream of people keening at them about the perceived oversights of the hall.
For the record, there have also been artists the hall has threatened to induct, but hasn’t yet, which would further undermine its credibility. Here are my top three must-avoids, in ascending order of horror. (3) Depeche Mode: A second-tier ‘80s synth band; Joy Division/New Order, the Cure, and the Smiths are the major artists from this era. (2) The J. Geils Band. A somewhat under-the-radar, not-terrible ‘70s blues-rockers turned cartoony ‘80s hitmakers. Leader Peter Wolf is a longtime friend of Wenner’s and there has always been talk that the RS publisher would strong-arm Geils in, but it seems now as if it will not happen. (1) LL Cool J. “Mama Said Knock You Out” is almost his One Great Song. But I don’t believe a word he says in any other track he’s ever recorded. I was surprised to read that he had actually made the short list several times. The guy on the Grammys wearing the funny hat and nattering on about “Grammy moment” this and “Grammy moment” that — that complete industry tool in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame?
One final thing. Once in a while, an artist disses the hall publicly. Radiohead had been particularly unsparing, and one past nominating committee member I spoke to said that he had heard secondhand that this had tamped a movement for them on the nominating committee. Does sniping at the hall affect nominations? I asked Wenner. “No,” he said. “You get in whether you sneer or not, you get in whether you show up or not.” Radiohead, of course, will be duly inducted this month.
155. Dion (1989)
Dion and the Belmonts had a lot of hits, and DiMucci himself has a winning personality. Some of his stuff is schmaltzy and a lot of it is somewhat deracinated covers of better black renditions. I realize a lot of ‘60s guys (when it comes to the hall, remember, we’re talking mostly ‘60s guys) grew up with him, and his songs are in their psyche the way the Smashing Pumpkins, say, live in the psyches of kids born in the ‘80s. For me, the case for Dion comes down to his one unquestionable contribution to the music: He is the definitive articulator of the rock-and-roll truism that the boys get to celebrate their own tomcatting (“The Wanderer”) and yet still brand any woman who tries to do the same as a slut (“Runaround Sue”).
156. Jimmy Cliff (2010)
He embodied reggae for Americans even before Marley; wrote some of the most enduring reggae songs of the era (“Many Rivers to Cross,” “The Harder They Come”); and as the star of The Harder They Come was an outlaw icon for a generation. He’s released a slew of albums over the years; none of the ones I’ve heard are as good as the Harder They Come soundtrack.
157. John Lee Hooker (1991)
A sui generis blues boogie stomper, often slowed down to barbiturate levels. I like Hooker, but why is his oddball shtick lauded while those of so many others ignored?
158. Earth, Wind & Fire — Philip Bailey, Larry Dunn, Johnny Graham, Ralph Johnson, Al McKay, Fred White, Maurice White, Verdine White, and Andrew Woolfolk (2000)
The greatest purveyor of space pop-soul; every place it could go in the 1970s EWF went, led by White. The band’s more fun songs are wild, high-end, hard-edged; at their best they are in Stevie Wonder territory.
159. The Four Seasons — Tom DeVito, Bob Gaudio, Nick Massi, and Frankie Valli (1990)
These guys were phenomenally successful for a few years, but the hits fell off pretty quick after the Beatles showed up. Like the Dave Clark Five, the result is enjoyable stompy pop, nothing more. Very little societally challenging about them at all — at least until you get to the latter-day hit about losing one’s virginity just after the JFK assassination.
160. Aerosmith — Tom Hamilton, Joey Kramer, Joe Perry, Steven Tyler, and Brad Whitford (2001)
A banal refutation of Fitzgerald’s dictum that there are no second acts in American lives. Having been fairly big stars in the 1970s as Stateside Stones manqués with a series of tough and spare Amer-rock albums, they fucked everything up and found themselves just this side of the flophouse. A great American story! But then Geffen, which saw a valuable brand lying moribund, cleaned them up and, most importantly, hooked them up with outside songwriters. With Desmond Child and Diane Warren (!) feeding them incredibly shitty fake rock songs, they were stars again; they sobered up and adopted the Alice Cooper model of showing up for all the metaphorical celebrity tournaments. Their legacy are some touchstone ‘70s epics (“Dream On,” “Sweet Emotion”), one cool and bruising hard rock–rap fusion (“Walk This Way” with Run-D.M.C.), and a lot of generic Diane Warren and Desmond Child songs. Child, who contributed “Dude (Looks Like a Lady),” “Crazy,” and “Angel,” particularly, should have been inducted with the band. (cf. Bon Jovi.)
161. The Flamingos — Jake Carey, Zeke Carey, Johnny Carter, Tommy Hunt, Terry “Buzzy” Johnson, Sollie McElroy, Nate Nelson, and Paul Wilson (2001)
Very high-end doo-wop, marked by the heavenly voice of whoever it is singing on the spectacular “I Only Have Eyes for You,” a chestnut even in the ‘50s. They might have been better served by the new Hall of Fame Single category.
162. Ritchie Valens (2001)
Valens was an early rocker, known for a few marvelously unbridled ‘50s rock hits — notably “La Bamba” — and then being part of the same devastating plane crash that took the lives of Buddy Holly and the Big Bopper. One of the first Hispanic rockers, too. He lived not-that-fast, died young, and left behind a decent greatest-hits album.
163. Electric Light Orchestra—Bev Bevan, Jeff Lynne, Richard Tandy, and Roy Wood (2017)
These guys were weirdly bombastic and leader Jeff Lynne is an uncertain talent. But boy there’s some force in “10538 Overture,” beauty in “Can’t Get It Out of My Head,” something ineffable in “Telephone Line.” None of it’s subtle, though, and there is enough nonsense from the late ‘70s on (Xanadu and “Mr. Blue Sky,” for starters) to undermine Lynne’s claim to substance, even before he went on to become a noted, and obtrusive, producer to so many household names that induction became a foregone conclusion.
164. The Mamas & the Papas — Denny Doherty, Cass Elliot, John Phillips, and Michelle Phillips (1998)
A sweet-sounding quartet with an old soul in Mama Cass, soi disant royalty in John Phillips, and a secret weapon in Denny Doherty. Of course you love “California Dreaming” and “Monday, Monday.” And then there’s … not too much else. Music probably wouldn’t sound any different today had they never existed, but their singles are pleasant enough. More sentimental Boomer memories.
165. Frankie Lymon & the Teenagers — Herman Santiago, Jimmy Merchant, Sherman Garnes, Frankie Lymon, and Joe Negroni (1993)
The hall is confusing a great rock-and-roll story — Lymon singing “Why Do Fools Fall in Love?” but winding up dead of a heroin overdose by 25 — with a great rock-and-roll group, which Lymon and the teenagers are not. Another Rock and Roll Single candidate.
166. Small Faces/Faces — Kenney Jones, Ronnie Lane, Ian McLagan, Steve Marriott, Rod Stewart, and Ronnie Wood (2012)
The Small Faces were Steve Marriott and Ronnie Lane, and did sweet songs like “Itchycoo Park” and “Lazy Sunday”; they should have been too twee for words, but Marriott’s amazing voice and formidable rock center and Lane’s wistful presence have coursed through rock in the years since. (Sometimes in unexpected places; you can find a Lane cover on the first Golden Smog album.) Marriott went off to rock very hard in Humble Pie. Rod Stewart joined and the band went on as the Faces. (Both bands technically lack the “the” in their names, but this has rarely been observed in the States.) Then Stewart got distracted by his solo career. The second iteration’s recorded legacy is pretty lame; Stewart and Wood would eventually get it together and do amazing things together on Stewart’s solo albums. But it’s hard to not like the Faces’ shambling, dissolute charm.
167. Isaac Hayes (2002)
A key part of the Stax/Volt brain trust. Co-writer of “Soul Man,” the Sam & Dave classic; Carla Thomas’s “B-A-B-Y”; and a few other R&B hits. Then he became a crafter of some tasty molten soul in the ‘70s, ultimately becoming just this side of a parody of himself. His One Great Song: the Oscar-winning “Theme From Shaft.”
168. Brenda Lee (2002)
Brenda Lee was a pretty big star in the 1960s, but I’m not sure why she’s in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Unquestionably talented and possessed of a sprightly voice, she was really a country-pop star who history has largely forgotten 48 weeks of the year. In the last four, her version of “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree,” is on heavy rotation throughout the land. She’s not a rock artist, and if you’re concerned about female inclusion in the hall there are a lot of pop-rock artists who better deserve to be inducted. Carole King is in with her songwriter husband, Gerry Goffin, but not as a solo artist — even though she recorded what was for a time probably the biggest-selling record of all time, Tapestry.
The hall has never figured out what to do about what you might call “soft rock.” The Carpenters were a real band, with a female drummer with one of the most distinctive voices of the era. Carly Simon deserves to be considered. The B-52s aren’t in the hall, and Janet Jackson, the Go-Go’s, and Lucinda Williams I think will be eventually. The argument for Lee’s inclusion is that the realities of the music industry kept women in subordinate and safe roles, and that these should be recognized as well. Fine. But this is another example of the hall looking around for things to honor and avoiding bigger and more important questions, and closing off other sections of the tent in the process.
169. Bobby “Blue” Bland (1992)
He’s fine. Again, the hall is digging down into the second tier of one genre while leaving out top-tier people in others.
170. Darlene Love (2011)
Love’s voice is an indelible part of the girl-group sounds of the early 1960s, though you heard it under different names, including the Crystals (“He’s a Rebel”) and Bob B. Soxx and the Blue Jeans (“Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah”). She was herself credited on the titanic “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)”; all of these were under the aegis of Phil Spector.
171. The Righteous Brothers — Bobby Hatfield and Bill Medley (2003)
Their big hit is by some measures really big — the biggest pop hit of all time — and their voices weren’t small either. With help from Phil Spector’s productions their singles are part of the ether 50-something years on, and will probably 50 years hence.
172. The Zombies (2019)
A semi-distinctive British invasion outfit, delivering an early semi-psychedelic hit, “She’s Not There” (which predated the Yardbirds’ semi-similar “For Your Love”), and a later one called “Time of the Season.” Fans natter on about the second album Odessey and Oracle, but as can be seen, the group couldn’t even get it together to spell the title correctly, and truth be told this is a highly twee work that’s hard to listen to, outside of a decent song or two by Rod Argent, who went on to some moderate solo success. And that’s the band’s career! Compare that to the Hollies, who recorded 15 or 20 albums and had hits for more than a decade. This is a minor band.
173. The O’Jays — Eddie Levert, Bobby Massey, William Powell, Sammy Strain, and Walter Williams (2005)
Reliable soul hitmakers out of the Gamble & Huff stable; several hot hits, not too much else.
174. Van Halen — Michael Anthony, Sammy Hagar, David Lee Roth, Alex Van Halen, and Eddie Van Halen (2007)
Van Halen was a big band with a very big, almost hysterical sound (courtesy of guitar hero Eddie Van Halen) attached to nothing much more than a cartoon of a lead singer. Fair enough. But the idea of Hagar — who came in after the Van Halen brothers had had enough of Roth — having anything to do with a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame outside of sweeping the parking lot is comical in an entirely different way. Because of various drug problems and infighting, bassist Anthony and Hagar were the only two members who made it to the ceremony. Nicely done, boys!
175. Clyde McPhatter (1987)
I think this was an early hall screw-up: They wanted to get a doo-wop artist in as a sign of the hall’s intents the first year, and went with McPhatter; the next year they inducted the Drifters, of which he’d been a lead singer as well. He was a remarkable guy with a remarkable voice, but doesn’t need to be in the hall twice, and his solo career was relatively thin. But he was on Atlantic.
176. Guns N’ Roses — Steven Adler, Duff McKagan, Dizzy Reed, Axl Rose, Slash, Matt Sorum, and Izzy Stradlin (2012)
At their best they were too good to ignore, but for the record they should also be in the bozo hall of fame. Let’s remember that, after the Gunners’ debut, it took them four years to come up with a legit follow-up — which encompassed four(!) full albums’ worth of material, in which you could find about one-and-a-half albums of decent material (which, admittedly, is not nothing). Then they got disorganized. A real close call. Note that Steven Adler, who played only on the first Gunners album, is in the hall, whereas the guy from Pearl Jam, who played on Vs. and Vitalogy, isn’t. No one will be surprised to hear that Rose, after much drama, opted out of the ceremony via a pompously written legalese-filled billet-doux.
177. The Ventures — Bob Bogle, Nokie Edwards, Gerry McGee, Mel Taylor, and Don Wilson (2008)
These guys sold a lot of records in the 1960s — the ultimate surf-rock band, marked by the killer guitar runs of Bob Bogle. They were huge and undoubtedly influential, but note that they didn’t write their big hit “Walk — Don’t Run.”
178. The Doors — John Densmore, Robby Krieger, Ray Manzarek, and Jim Morrison (1993)
This dreary band has been reflexively treated with respect for half a century. Why? A marginal percentage of its recorded work is listenable; even the good-sounding songs — like, say, “Riders on the Storm” — are ruined when you realize what you’re singing along to. (“Like a dog without a bone / An actor out on loan.”) And Morrison’s unsubtle declaiming quickly became laughable, as on “Touch Me.” Once the band became famous he almost immediately went to seed all the while blathering an excess of pomposity some actually claimed was poetry.
179. Genesis — Tony Banks, Phil Collins, Peter Gabriel, Steve Hackett, and Mike Rutherford (2010)
The hall should have a formula that deducts credit when a reputable band becomes a refutation of its former self. A lot of ‘70s bands evolved: Fleetwood Mac, the Doobies, Roxy. Genesis devolved — into a trio of middle-aged frumps who mastered the art of playing fools for MTV kids in the 1980s. In the 1970s, led by Peter Gabriel, there was a weird grandeur to their art-rock stylings, and something remains of the band’s power to this day in The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway and the epic “Supper’s Ready,” not to mention the disturbing iconography Gabriel concocted. Unfortunately, the hall couldn’t come up with a “Genesis until Wind & Wuthering” induction.
180. Del Shannon (1999)
This guy was a minor artist, known for a big hit — “Runaway” — and [checking notes] not much else. At this point, it felt like the hall was just randomly feeding their nostalgia.
181. Steve Miller (2016)
Miller was a formidable guitarist in the early days of the San Francisco scene, and by the mid-’70s had established a rep with some groovy songs (“Living in the USA”) and one classic slice o’ sonic pop-psychedelia (“Fly Like an Eagle,” and some of its accompanying album). But his albums are otherwise, one and all, unholy messes, and after Eagle he became a consistent pop hitmaker with an ever-sillier slate of pop singles. Steve Miller songs, a friend of mine says, “literally sound like he’s making the lyrics up as he goes along.” Miller, who has lived pretty comfortably for the last 50 years, for some reason has a chip on his shoulder and made headlines by ranting against the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame to the press backstage after his induction. I think it’s stupid too. My question for Steve is, “So why were you there?”
182. Metallica — Cliff Burton, Kirk Hammett, James Hetfield, Jason Newsted, Robert Trujillo, and Lars Ulrich (2009)
These guys are knuckleheads, particularly the drummer, but they were a pioneering speed-metal outfit, for whatever that illustrious music’s worth. I’ve always thought the band deserved a little more credit for not being particularly repulsive on the subject of women. All the malevolence and mayhem they wrote about was pretty toothless in the end. Ended up suing fans who’d downloaded their music on Napster. These days they show up at all the industry events, swaggering around and looking tough. Like I said: Knuckleheads. And don’t get me started on the drummer.
Note the name Robert Trujillo above. He joined the band 10 or 15 years ago, long after any Metallica album worth remembering. I can understand the politics involved when a big act you want to induct (and to bring paying fans to your big annual induction ceremony) insists on including some unimportant latter-day member. But that just means that the hall should have been doubly careful to achieve consistency in other acts, like by including Gram Parsons with the Byrds.
183. Buffalo Springfield — Richie Furay, Dewey Martin, Bruce Palmer, Stephen Stills, and Neil Young (1997)
I like the Springfield but were they really a major band? Sure, Stills and Young were in it — but quick: Name a Buffalo Springfield song beside “For What’s It’s Worth.” Still, a country-rock innovator, and with help from Young, some ventures into an organic psychedelia with tracks like “Broken Arrow” and “Expecting to Fly.”
184. Alice Cooper — Alice Cooper, Michael Owen Bruce, Glen Buxton, Dennis Dunaway, and Neal Smith (2011)
You can look at Cooper as a glam progenitor or a shtick progenitor; possessed of nothing close to Bowie’s smarts (or art) he was nonetheless canny enough to keep falling into success once he decided to act all scary and all. He had one convincing early album and several more convincing hard-rock-pop hits, or at least as convincing as a hard-rock-pop hit can be. He then even more convincingly played the part of a genial showman, disguising an infantile set of interests and an aesthetic incoherence exemplified both by his enthusiastic appearances on The Hollywood Squares and his longtime Phoenix restaurant, Cooperstown, a brightly lit sports bar … with a goth-rock overlay.
185. The Moonglows — Prentiss Barnes, Harvey Fuqua, Peter Graves, Billy Johnson, and Bobby Lester (2000)
Very cool R&B/doo-wop ensemble, lead by Harvey Fuqua, a definite presence. (“Ten Commandments of Love.”) Still, a minor outfit.
186. Solomon Burke (2001)
A happy warrior and another openhearted soul singer. But there are literally dozens of more important artists who are not yet in the hall.
187. The Dave Clark Five — Dave Clark, Lenny Davidson, Rick Huxley, Denis Payton, and Mike Smith (2008)
There’s a critical coterie that liked these guys, remembered now just for “Glad All Over,” which is not half the song the coterie thinks it is. The rest — a big handful of hits in little more than an 18-month heyday — are all overly clompy, simple songs made up almost entirely of monosyllables, as if the Beatles had never progressed beyond “Love Me Do.”
188. Bonnie Raitt (2000)
Like most people in the world, I love Bonnie Raitt, but she’s another performer who exposes the hall’s nostalgia. She did a series of nice, indifferently produced albums in the 1970s, and like many other ‘70s holdovers, had a commercial reemergence in the 1990s, with a more commercial production but much less — what’s the word? — authenticity. Yeah, I know she can play guitar, but again, rock and roll would not sound any different had she never recorded.
189. The Dells — Verne Allison, Chuck Barksdale, Johnny Carter, Johnny Funches, Marvin Junior, and Michael McGill (2004)
These guys are fine. Doo-wop, a touch of blues, recorded for decades. But boy, there are only one or two better-than-okay songs in their kit bag and the lead singer is kind of anonymous.
190. Billy Joel (1999)
He had a string of big albums and some hits, and gets lumped in a lot with people like Elton John and McCartney and Wonder, but is by far the least of them. He’s really just another Lionel Richie. Joel dabbles in rock the way he dabbles in R&B or doo-wop; it’s just another temporary stance. He has nothing to say, and “We Didn’t Start the Fire” could be the stupidest rock song of all time. Worse, some of his most glaring postures have been with songs you can’t get out of your head (“Uptown Girl”). Dumb enough to have lost all his money by not keeping his eye on his manager, and smart enough to keep giving fans the hits in big-ticket tours.
191. John Mellencamp (2008)
This well-meaning, likeable, and in his own way humble artist is a perfect example of the double standard of the hall. You can just about hear the pompous pronouncements from someone in the nominating room: “John Mellencamp certainly deserves to be in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame!” And why not? He’s earnest, writes some decent songs, and is properly respectful of his elders. But still: How rock and roll is that? And again, I like him. (“They made me change my name!” he sang, endearingly, in one of his early songs — remember that he first recorded as Johnny Cougar.) But, boy, you can see the point of those who think he’s a chowderhead, which I half agree with, and those who note that virtually everything in his workingman’s playbook is Springsteen Lite, which I wholly agree with. And in any case, is “decent” the standard? Bob Seger has literally written a dozen songs better than anything Mellencamp has come up with, and rock would not be different if Mellencamp had never been born.
Let’s compare Mellencamp to Todd Rundgren, who is not in the hall. Rundgren was a proto-garage rocker, with the early seminal track “Open My Eyes,” with the Nazz. He’s a brilliant tunesmith (“Hello It’s Me,” “I Saw the Light,” “We Gotta Get You a Woman,” “Can We Still Be Friends,” etc.), was one of rock’s earliest glam dressers, and yet arguably the most unpretentious star of his time, even when going off into his space-rock excursions with Utopia. Besides that, he was one of those guys (like Prince and Stevie Wonder) who wrote, performed, and produced his own albums. And most people don’t know he’s also one of the most successful rock producers of all time: The New York Dolls, We’re an American Band, Bat Out of Hell, Patti Smith’s Wave, the Psychedelic Furs’ Forever Now, XTC’s Skylarking, and on and on. He was a video innovator, too. But he’s not an industry glad-hander, and if he had been he would have been in the hall years ago.
192. Donovan (2012)
Donovan was a facile profferer of some sort of folk-poesy-psychedelia, generally but not always on the right side of utter risibility, and hoo-boy when he wasn’t. (“Lalena / Can’t blame ya.”) And then there’s all the stuff that sounds like low-grade Dylan.
193. The Lovin’ Spoonful — Steve Boone, Joe Butler, John Sebastian, and Zal Yanovsky (2000)
The Lovin’ Spoonful — their name a hippie-dippie tip o’ the hat to Howlin’ Wolf’s “Spoonful” — were the hippie-dippiest of the decent ‘60s bands; even their semi-tough “Summer in the City” is only half believable. Still, they gave us “Do You Believe in Magic,” the greatest hippie-dippie song of all time. Leader John Sebastian would later become — how to put this? — excessively whimsical.
194. Bobby Darin (1990)
Darin’s early death due to heart problems has made him a somewhat tragic figure. That said, his career was one of high schlock, with a fluke classic (“Beyond the Sea”) and a fluke novelty hit (“Mack the Knife”) — both, obviously, written by others — his only legacy.
195. Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble — Stevie Ray Vaughan, Chris Layton, Tommy Shannon, and Reese Wynans (2015)
Vaughan was an electric guitarist in both senses of the word and a major badass. He died too early, in a helicopter crash in 1990. Complaining that he’s a showoff is beside the point, though for weird white Texas blues guitarists I prefer Johnny Winter, who next to Vaughan is pretty austere.
SRV’s certainly a major guitarist, but note how this is another masculine, retro non-innovator inducted while major and influential artists before him are ignored. Would the music be any different today if Stevie Ray had never lived? I think another of the hall’s motivations is to induct folks who will attract paying customers to the facility in Cleveland.
196. Buddy Guy (2005)
A great man, serious guitarist, adamantine presence. He’s a major dude and I’ve spent enjoyable nights in his club watching him play. But I don’t know if he has a recorded legacy, and is another example of the hall reaching deep into one genre, perhaps out of sentimental reasons and substantial friends behind the scenes, and keeping others out.
197. Cat Stevens (2014)
He was British but also Greek, and just iconoclastic and talented enough to create a strong niche during the 1970s, when the hits just kept on coming for him. This is another highly sentimental and nonthreatening Boomer inductee; Todd Rundgren, the New York Dolls, and Roxy Music, all of whom wrote better songs and were far more influential, were recording at the same time.
198. Green Day (2015)
They were inducted by Fall Out Boy, an honor in itself. (My Chemical Romance apparently had a conflict.) These guys were originally fartsy, not artsy, in the post-Nevermind brat-punk explosion. Then they grew up, respecting their elders and devising ever-more ambitious, if slightly boring, opuses. They are so mainstream now they have a hit Broadway show, and I think history is going to forget them.
199. Bill Withers (2015)
Answerable to nobody, as rectitudinous an artist as soft rock has produced. Still, while there are a few nice songs in his oeuvre (besides the hits he’s known for) he is not a person of particular substance.
200. Gene Pitney (2002)
Putney was a suave guy; he could play a lot of instruments, sat in with the Stones, and crafted a career for himself with bits of melodramatic fluff like “24 Hours From Tulsa.” His best track remains his first, “(I Wanna) Love My Life Away.” He didn’t write “Tulsa” or his other big hit, “Town Without Pity,” but wrote hits for others, notably Ricky Nelson’s “Hello Mary Lou,” but neither his career in front of or behind the board warrants his inclusion in the hall before dozens of more influential people.
201. Little Anthony and the Imperials — Clarence Collins, Anthony Gourdine, Tracy Lord, Sammy Strain, and Ernest Wright Jr. (2009)
These guys were doo-wop stars in the 1950s off of Gourdine’s high falsetto. They retooled themselves in the 1960s with pop hypermelodramas like “Going Out of My Head” and “Hurts So Bad.” Hall folks like Jon Landau are students of the music and I guess I respect their judgment that the group was actually important. But this is another example of how the hall has been on the hunt for every last decent practitioner of some genres but not others. Why these guys’ melodramas and not, say, Lesley Gore’s? Is there music today that has been influenced by this act and not Joy Division and New Order? I don’t think so. Still, there is drama and heartbreak here.
202. Dr. John (2011)
He’s a genuine New Orleans offbeat genius, a relic from an earlier time, and had a couple of hits, but another example of how the in-crowd (he played at the Band’s Last Waltz) gets the nods before outsiders.
203. Percy Sledge (2005)
Not much beyond his classic wail on “When a Man Loves a Woman.” I just listened to his greatest-hits album and there’s not another song on it you’d play to impress someone of Sledge’s talents. This guy’s more important in the history of rock and roll than Kraftwerk?
204. Hall & Oates — Daryl Hall and John Oates (2014)
All you can do is throw up your hands. How is this a hall of fame act? “Sara Smile” and “She’s Gone” are wonderful singles; Hall’s a decent promulgator of blue-eyed soul; and Oates is no Andrew Ridgeley. But they quickly turned into herky-jerky pop hitmakers. To me it looks like another instance of a mediocre act with some celebrity lending its name to early hall ceremonies, to be later rewarded while other more important acts were left aside.
205. Jeff Beck (2009)
Beck’s another guy who shows up for all the big all-star nights; with his sleeveless T-shirts and inimitable, highly controlled wowza playing style, he cuts quite a figure. Still, Beck was inducted as part of the Yardbirds; his work solo (most notably Wired and Blow by Blow in the 1970s) and in other ensembles in the years since hasn’t made him anything other than a minor respected figure. I would gladly pay cash money to see him live tomorrow night, but that doesn’t mean he’s not a highly in-clubby inductee and another example of how the hall reflexively absorbs the practitioners of accepted rock-and-roll postures (here, the sexy but not homoerotic guy with a guitar) but remains tone-deaf to innovators in other styles. Except for, you know, ABBA.
206. The Paul Butterfield Blues Band — Paul Butterfield, Mike Bloomfield, Elvin Bishop, Mark Naftalin, Jerome Arnold, Billy Davenport, and Sam Lay (2015)
Mike Bloomfield is forgotten now but he was the white American blues guitarist of his day; Butterfield was a hardy harp player. They were the American equivalent of the Stones and the Yardbirds, working a white blues on out; unlike them, however, the band never amounted to anything because they never recorded any great songs. Still, back in the day Bloomfield was considered to be something of a tastemaker. (In old Rolling Stone record sections, you can find reviewers pondering, “What would Mike Bloomfield think about this?”) And, as I said, forgotten today. The story as far as the hall goes is that Wenner, after years of championing Bloomfield & Co., finally got his way.
207. Deep Purple — Ritchie Blackmore, David Coverdale, Rod Evans, Ian Gillan, Roger Glover, Glenn Hughes, Jon Lord, and Ian Paice (2016)
More ‘70s lumpen rock. Deep Purple had two, maybe two-and-a-half, good songs. Their reputation today rests on just one (“Smoke on the Water”). (Without it, what are they? Uriah Heep?) And the band immediately lost all its interest after the departure of Blackmore. Even among ‘70s warhorses, I don’t quite get why a band like Deep Purple are in before, say, the Doobie Brothers, who, leaving aside their name, had a fierce guitar attack early on and quite a few strong singles before almost accidentally falling up into superstardom as Michael McDonald’s pop instincts came to the fore.
The mystery is why all of a sudden the hall seemed to be inducting these ‘70s bands. The obvious theory is that it’s all about putting keisters in the seats for the annual induction ceremony. Laura Nyro, N.W.A, and Cat Stevens weren’t going to do it — but Kiss and Journey sure could. Also, there had been a persistent criticism that the hall had been unkind to progressive rock, and members of the nominating committee are said to have formed a subcommittee to work on getting the genre more representation. This work, if it was successful, undoubtedly culminated in the induction of Yes, in 2017, and seems to have gone a bit overboard the last two years, with Purple and the Moodies.
That said, here’s another theory, one that doesn’t involve corruption. The voting membership — the group, totaling just over 1,000 now, that votes on the nominating committee’s list each year, deciding the actual new members — includes among other people every previous hall inductee. That’s great, you think — Joan Baez, say, or Paul McCartney, certainly deserves a vote, right? But what about the all the members of Deep Purple, Dire Straits, and the Moody Blues? These folks have been flooding the hall of late — more than 50 new members, only a handful of them anything like a household name, just in the past two years! What could possibly go wrong? Consider: Right now a not-insignificant percentage of the voting membership of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is former drummers in the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Guns N’ Roses. Says Wenner: “[Inductees like] the fifth drummer from Guns N’ Roses don’t vote. They don’t turn in their ballot.”
208. George Harrison (2004)
This induction is sort of a joke. After Bangladesh and All Things Must Pass — that is to say, after 1971 — Harrison’s solo career was a steady downward slide. His Dark Horse solo tour was a disaster, and his solo records were mediocre. His big late-career hit (“Got My Mind Set on You”) was a cover. Harrison was a fabulous part of the fabulous Beatles and he’s deservedly well-loved. The Concert for Bangladesh film is highly enjoyable to this day. But he’s not an important solo figure.
209. ABBA — Benny Andersson, Agnetha Fältskog, Anni-Frid Lyngstad, and Björn Ulvaeus (2010)
“What did ABBA ever do besides make Clive Davis a billion dollars?” asks one former nominating committee member. This might be the first wholly cynical inductee. Pop of course has a place in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, but not pop cartoons. And if you are going to have cartoons, why not the Monkees? Josie and the Pussy Cats? Mӧtley Crüe? The real motivation here was giving the hall something to market to the Mamma Mia! set. In the event, only two members showed up to the ceremony. ABBA’s a punch line, and a remunerative one, but not a band that left much of a mark on history.
Here’s a corollary question. What should the hall do about important punch lines? Skiffle star Lonnie Donegan was a clean-cut British guy who became very famous in England in the late 1950s doing goofy, denatured novelty versions of folk-blues songs (like “Rock Island Line”) and adding in his own ephemeral classics like “Does Your Chewing Gum Lose Its Flavor (On the Bedpost Overnight?).” It’s all very silly stuff — and yet skiffle was a central inspiration to virtually all of the players who would spur the British invasion — scores of people on this list. Isn’t he one of the most influential performers in rock history? Here’s another: K.C. and the Sunshine Band. Harry Casey was a production wunderkind who co-wrote and co-produced “Rock Your Baby,” one of the biggest singles of all time, at the age of 23. K.C. and the Sunshine Band were disco superstars a year later. The hall has ignored disco, save for inducting Nile Rodgers in a side category and a few nominations for his band Chic.
210. Red Hot Chili Peppers—Flea, John Frusciante, Jack Irons, Anthony Kiedis, Josh Klinghoffer, Cliff Martinez, Hillel Slovak, and Chad Smith (2012)
Few things in rock irritate me more than how these critically unacclaimed frat-boy funksters with a palpable contempt for women cleaned up their image and started sucking up to the rock Establishment. Wan bits of off-pitch poesy like “Under the Bridge” became their respectability calling cards; today they are supposed to be naughty and street, but they’re safe enough to show up at a Super Bowl halftime, and probably lip-syncing, too. I know they can play their instruments; still a dink band. And with eight inductees! (The band’s manager, Cliff Burnstein, conspiracy theorists point out darkly, sits on the nominating committee.)
211. Joan Jett & the Blackhearts — Joan Jett, Gary Ryan, Lee Crystal, and Ricky Byrd (2015)
Of course one applauds the inclusiveness of this selection in an outfit that is too macho. And who doesn’t like her? But seriously: Jett never recorded a better-than-not-unlistenable album, much less a great one; her hits were covers; and live the Blackhearts were what? Decent? Jett’s another performer who has unquestionably benefitted from showing up to hall events in the past. (Irony alert: One of her covers was “Crimson and Clover,” a hit by Tommy James and the Shondells, who were yuge … and aren’t in the hall.)
One of the issues looking forward is that we will soon be upon 25 years since the dawn of the death of rock. It’s hard to think of a major traditional rock band that has come after Radiohead. Beck I’m sure will get in at some point; he became eligible this year. (I can’t wait to see how the introductory film on him delves into his involvement with the Church of Scientology!) But what major artist will come after him? We will see some major pop–hip-hop acts: Eminem, certainly. The Kanye West crowd, and Kanye himself, will not stop screeching until he is in. Wilco, yes … White Stripes, perhaps. But look at this list of future eligibles and tell me who will be the big stars being inducted ten years from now.
212. N.W.A — DJ Yella, Ice Cube, MC Ren, Eazy-E, and Dr. Dre (2016)
I know Ice Cube is a formidable performer; he’s also the author of the dulcet couplet, “You let a Jew / Break up our crew” and an adherent of other anti-Semitic nonsense I don’t recall him ever disassociating himself from, much less apologizing for. I know that Dre is one of music’s most important producers; he’s also a guy who beats up women. And I know “Fuck Tha Police” is a great song; but I also know that its genesis came when Dre and Eazy-E were driving around Compton with a paint gun, shooting at people at bus stops — that is to say, ruining the clothes of working folks going to a crap-paying job to feed their lame kids. N.W.A is more than a footnote in rock history, but there’s not much to the group beyond their first album.
213. The Moody Blues — Graeme Edge, Justin Hayward, Denny Laine, John Lodge, Mike Pinder, and Ray Thomas (2018)
The Moody Blues were fine for what they were, and had quite a few hits above and beyond their ponderous, slow, numerous, and forgotten albums. The operation should just change its name to the Classic Rock Hall of Fame. Another Boomer nostalgia band getting the hall tongue bath to help push tickets to the Cleveland facility. Why the Moody Blues and not the Replacements or T. Rex? The Jam or Kraftwerk? Gang of Four? Ian Hunter or Lucinda Williams? Laine, incidentally, whom most people know from his time in Wings, sang on the band’s first hit, “Go Now,” a cover. He was left out of the hall’s original announcement, but later added back in.
214. Stevie Nicks (2019)
Fleetwood Mac was inducted way back in 1998, so Nicks is already in the hall, which she deserves to be. Her solo career includes one-and-a-half decent hits (“Edge of Seventeen” and “Stand Back”) and a couple of duets, which are fine but full of ’80s production gassiness. You can even throw in the pre–Fleetwod Mac Buckingham Nicks album, which I still have on LP (it was never released on CD), to which she contributes a few markedly awesome songs, like “Long Distance Winner”; but there’s nothing remotely in Nicks’s solo career that warrants induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a solo artist. And if you think she deserves to be in because the hall hasn’t inducted enough women, let’s start with the Shangri-Las, the B-52s, and the Go-Gos and move on to the Carpenters, Carole King (in as a songwriter, not a performer), Lucinda Williams, Dolly Parton, and P.J. Harvey. And that’s not to mention Diana Ross, whose (un-inducted) solo career post-Supremes is far more impressive than Nicks’s post–Fleetwood Mac, and that goes double for Tina Turner’s post–Ike and Tina.
215. Kiss — Peter Criss, Ace Frehley, Gene Simmons, and Paul Stanley (2014)
Another band with two-and-a-half decent songs and many decades of pointless recording and touring. Today, they are not a rock band anymore, just a screechy PR operation in front and some guys who go through the motions of recording once in a while before going out on the road, which is where the money is. I suppose there’s some argument to be made that cartoons are a fine rock tradition, maybe starting with Screamin’ Jay Hawkins and proceeding to Alice Cooper, Kiss, and then — who? Marilyn Manson? But, is that the argument, that Marilyn Manson should be in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame? Gene Simmons is so low rent his reality show makes Keeping Up With the Kardashians look like The Wire.
At the induction, Simmons and Stanley tried to make the argument that the nonentities they were playing with should go into the hall along with Frehley and Criss. They were turned down, but much as I hate to say it, they were right; if Pearl Jam and the Dead can call the shots about who gets in, why not Kiss? I suppose the real argument for Kiss is that they are a rock band for the forlorn and slightly confused, those for whom Black Sabbath was a little too scary, Judas Priest a little too complex. These are the people Paul Westerberg was singing for in his cover of “Black Diamond.”
Now, to be fair, here’s an alternative view, from onetime hall of fame nominating-committee member Bill Adler: “By the time I got there, Kiss was already a scandale. It was an ongoing campaign. [The argument was] they were so big, but the snobby nominating committee wouldn’t give them the time of day: Fuck Kiss. I never cared, but every year you could also depend on representatives from the hall of fame in Cleveland, the guys on the ground, to come in and say, ‘There’s not a day that goes by that someone from Cleveland doesn’t get in my face: Why isn’t Kiss in the hall of fame?’ And at a certain point, I thought, You know, fuck me. This is a popular art form. Vox populi. I voted for them.”
216. Rush — Geddy Lee, Alex Lifeson, and Neil Peart (2013)
I take the point that both Peresman and Wenner made that the nominators work in good faith and the voting committee makes its decisions on its own. Still, it’s hard not to see this as the hall’s “We Need a Big Name to Sell Tickets for Our Annual Show in the Barclay’s Center Award.” (As far as I can tell from the hall’s tax filings, the concert brings in about $3 million each year.) Rush are unique among galumphy prog-rock bands in that they lack a single song (you know, like “Roundabout,” “Court of the Crimson King,” “Freebird,” “The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway”) you could play for someone to try to convince them of the band’s import. These guys were inducted, incidentally, by Dave Grohl of Foo Fighters and his drummer, Taylor Hawkins, who performed similar duties for Queen; don’t be surprised if Foo Fighters are unexpectedly early inductees after they become eligible, in 2020.
217. Chicago — Peter Cetera, Terry Kath, Robert Lamm, Lee Loughnane, James Pankow, Walter Parazaider, and Danny Seraphine (2016)
So appropriate the band was inducted by Rob Thomas. Chicago was a self-indulgent, lite-rock ensemble known first for bringing horn charts into the mix, right around the same time as the Electric Flag and Blood, Sweat and Tears, and second, for a seemingly unending string of two- and even four-record sets in the ‘70s. You can’t argue with their hits — some quite sweet (“Wishing You Were Here,” “[I’ve Been] Searching So Long”), but most of them much more shlocky than they had to be. (Like “Saturday in the Park” [guess what that one was about!] and, get this, “Harry Truman” [guess what that one was about].) This is probably why, though they were by far the biggest American band of the 1970s, they never made the cover of Rolling Stone.
218. Journey — Jonathan Cain, Aynsley Dunbar, Steve Perry, Gregg Rolie, Neal Schon, Steve Smith, and Ross Valory (2017)
Journey is the ultimate guilty-pleasure band. “Lights” is a great song every once in a while, and I don’t mind admitting it: I like “Don’t Stop Believin’,” too. But a guilty pleasure by definition is when you like a song by a bad rock band. Journey were a third-generation prog-rock outfit–cum–not-so-supergroup, Pointless Division, populated by a bunch of comically dressed nimrods and sorta led by Gregg Rolie, who had actually done credible work in Santana. Then tiny, big-voiced Steve Perry joined, contributing an admixture of cloying sentimentality; it had nothing to do with what the band was about, but they took it and ran with it. They were inducted by… Pat Monahan, the lead singer from Train. Chad Kroeger had a previous engagement.
Now, what about Blue Öyster Cult? “Don’t Fear the Reaper” is better than any Journey song. They were one of the first “meta” bands, seen as heavy metal from one angle, something like an art-rock project (courtesy of impresario Sandy Pearlman and lyricist R. Meltzer) from another. Here’s an R. Meltzer lyric: “With a purposeful grimace and a terrible sound / He pulls the spitting high tension wires down.” Here’s a Steve Perry lyric: “Lovin’, touchin’, squeezin’ / Each other.”
219. Def Leppard (2019)
Def Leppard were an overproduced, oddly anonymous lite-metal aggregation that had a couple of massive-selling albums in the mid-1980s. I don’t have a problem with dumb rock bands being in the hall — where’s Grand Funk Railroad, for example? — but if these guys had suddenly disappeared, the only people who would have noticed besides their immediate families would have been Mercury Records’ accountants.
Both Wenner and Peresman flatly denied any messing around with voting procedures. We have to take them at their word. But here’s a reservation I have: When I look over the current nominating-committee membership — the Rolling Stone critics; major dudes like Landau and Lenny Kaye and Steve Van Zandt; industry vets like Seymour Stein and Bill Flanagan; artists like Robbie Robertson, Questlove, and Tom Morello; a few people I know slightly or have met over the years — I think, who among these people would advocate for an unheralded, critically ignored band like Def Leppard? There are about 30 members of the nominating committee right now, and if, as I’ve been told, each member gets to advocate for two acts, that’s 60 total in the mix for each year’s nominations. Are Little Steven, or Paul Shaffer, or the Kaye really making the case for these lunkheads, or even just nodding along in agreement as someone else makes the case? (“They need to be an advocate,” Peresman told me of the nominators. “They need to tell a story to sell to the others in the room.”)
Could dark forces at the hall insert a fan-friendly but crappy band to sell tickets to the annual show, and drive audiences to the Hall of Fame Museum in Cleveland? I spoke to one nominating committee member recently, who claims that wasn’t that case: “No. There’s a lot of support for Def Leppard in the group. No one went [gagging sound]. There are some nominations where I think, ‘You have got to be kidding me.’ I didn’t notice anybody cringing.”
220. Queen — John Deacon, Brian May, Freddie Mercury, and Roger Taylor (2001)
When popularity is factored in, Queen is the most overrated band in the history of pop music. This preposterous aggregation looked and sounded awful from the beginning, their music a pastiche of pastiches of things no one in the band were inclined to understand, all of it culminating in “We Will Rock You.” Queen haters love to say the song is appropriate for a Nuremburg rally, but you can also sort of see Leni Riefenstahl giving it a listen, cocking her head and saying, “Nein. A little too much.” Their popularity in the U.S. went down quickly after their heyday, but they remained unaccountable super-duper-stars in the U.K. and in time became the rock equivalent to the beloved ugly toy you had when you grew up.
As we have seen with so many artists, the sliding scales of personal behavior and artistry are difficult to deal with. Having said that, I’ve always found Queen to be on the wrong side of just about everything. Right now the band is back in the news in the wake of the success of Bohemian Rhapsody and they’ve accordingly been shoveling their back catalog into TV advertisements. That’s not surprising for a group that played Sun City in defiance of the U.N. boycott of the apartheid regime in South Africa. Let me explain this to people too young to know about it: In the early ‘80s the U.N., in conjunction with civil-rights groups around the world, declared a cultural boycott of the fascistic and racist government in South Africa. All you had to do was refuse to perform in the fake homelands the regime had set up. Sun City was a casino in Bophuthatswana; Queen played there anyway and was duly and justifiably blacklisted by the U.N. “We enjoy going to new places,” said Deacon.
The band is being docked 30 notches, however, because of this: After the band’s closeted lead singer, Freddie Mercury, died of AIDS, the entire rock universe held a televised tribute show, broadcast on MTV, during which mentions of homosexuality and AIDS were kept closely under wraps. The band (and everyone else at the show) let a new generation of vulnerable kids — and thousands of the unloved, dying alone on the streets — know that, yes, they should be ashamed of who they are.
When this story was originally published last year, a lot of people said I was being too harsh on Queen and MTV; given the tenor of the times in the early 1990s, I was reminded, AIDS and homosexuality were sensitive subjects. Here’s the thing: Being in a rock band is fun. As I said above, there’s oodles of money and oodles of sex, money, and privilege that most of us don’t know about. The only downside is that if your lead singer happens to be gay and dies as part of an epidemic that is scourging a group that was already dealing with centuries of persecution, you should stand up and talk about it to make life a little bit better for the people who aren’t rock stars spending their last days covered with lesions and shunned by their families and society generally. Thirty years earlier, the Lovin’ Spoonful, in one of the best songs about rock and roll, captured it this way: “Believe in the magic that can set you free.” By that wholly credible standard, Queen aren’t rock and roll at all and don’t belong in the hall of fame.
221. Bon Jovi — David Bryan, Jon Bon Jovi, Richie Sambora, Alec John Such, Hugh McDonald, and Tico Torres (2018)
The guys in Bon Jovi aren’t in a rock band. Bon Jovi are the guys in the movie about the rock band. All the members are good at their job; but however effectively they have postured toothless outlawry (“Wanted Dead or Alive,” as if), pouty naughtiness, and dangerous hairstyles, they have produced only one passable chorus in a 30-year-plus history, and that’s with songwriting help from Desmond Child. (If you like “Living on a Prayer,” “You Give Love a Bad Name,” or “Bad Medicine,” you like Child, not Bon Jovi. As with Aerosmith, Child should be being inducted into the hall with the band.) The outside songwriting help frees up the band to concentrate on things like hairdos, and marketing. Leader Jon Bon Jovi spent a decade trying to make himself a film star; the irony is that he was much better acting in the part he already had. Of late he’s been testing the waters in Nashville, following in the footsteps of Darius Rucker. In ten years he’s going to be purveying annuities on Fox News commercials. “Hi — I’m Jon Bon Jovi. And I want to tell you about an exciting new opportunity ….”
Bon Jovi was never a favorite of Rolling Stone-style critics; in Sticky Fingers, Hagan writes:
[Wenner] especially disliked Jon Bon Jovi, who Wenner said campaigned unsuccessfully to get himself inducted into the Hall of Fame by enlisting billionaire investor Ron Perelman for muscle. “I don’t think he’s that important,” said Wenner. “What does Bon Jovi mean in the history of music? Nothing.”
Who can disagree with that? When I asked Wenner about those words, he made an interesting point: “I don’t think Bon Jovi is an unimportant band. It’s not my taste, I don’t think they are very influential or highly original, which are my criteria for the hall of fame, but I think over the years now, the generations are changing, and commercial success seems to be a more relevant element to some people.” It could be that Bon Jovi’s induction, however comical, will go down as a watershed moment in the hall’s history, when it finally broke free of its creators’ prejudices, but also their protection, too. Foreigner, Nickelback, Matchbox 20 — each generation’s crappy band will eventually get in. Hence Def Leppard this year.
Last year we saw that, more than ten years after Ertegun’s death, Wenner’s perch at the top of the rock-and-roll Establishment is precarious. Sticky Fingers is a punishing portrait of a spoiled boy-man who for decades puts his fingers into whatever he wanted. (Hence the more-than-slightly-unappetizing title.) The many, many stars who talked to Hagan speak of Wenner with thinly veiled contempt, and a lot of the time dispense with the veil altogether. A series of disastrous business decisions basically eliminated Wenner’s media empire, and in 2018, 50 years after he helped create it, he lost control of Rolling Stone. Health reasons, he told me, prevented his attendance at the induction ceremony that year.
This post has been updated throughout.