If last year’s formidable induction class was any indication, the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame is entering its Gen-X era. Frankly, how could it not at this point? With the institution approaching four decades of genre worship and an ever-expanding list of potential nominees, there are only so many acts that can cater to its boomer constituency. It’s time to move on, man.
“They’re definitely running out of geezers,” one voter tells us. “You can’t do so many more years of, ‘Oh yeah, this guy who had three hits in 1972.’ Now what’s interesting is the nominating committee is going to have to reckon with the ’80s and the ’90s, which they haven’t.” Women, too, are starting to have a greater presence in the Rock Hall, despite being historically underrepresented as inductees. “It’s long been embarrassing how few women are in,” another voter explains. “You’re seeing the nominating committee gradually trying to right that ship, which means putting more women on the ballot and clearing a lane for them.”
With the shortlist of the 2023 class likely to be announced in February, Vulture once again convened two anonymous voters to get their unbridled opinions about the Rock Hall. While last time we discussed the worthiest inductees, we’re now focusing on who deserves to make the ballot in the first place. Voter 1 has been an active voter for seven years and Voter 2 sits at “five to six years.” Their varied tastes — and varied allegiances — point to how the idea of rock and roll continues to challenge its definition.
Voter 1: The nominating committee would be out of their damn minds if they didn’t put Kate Bush back on the ballot. There’s never been a better moment. Mind you, that may not work. Chic never got in — including the year Nile Rodgers had a massive hit with “Get Lucky.” I was grinding my teeth last year that season four of Stranger Things appeared two months after the voting period ended. If Stranger Things had been on television earlier, I think she would’ve stood a really, really good chance. Now I think she stands the best chance ever. A better analogy might be with N.W.A. It took Straight Outta Compton being a major film blockbuster for everybody to realize they deserved to be in. I’m hoping the Stranger Things moment makes Kate Bush a slam dunk, but I’ve learned the hard way that anyone short of a bunch of white dudes with guitars is never a slam dunk. Kate is my No. 1 priority before anyone else.
My argument for Kate Bush is that there are whole swaths of popular music over the last 30 years that wouldn’t exist if it wasn’t for her. Think of the women at Lilith Fair or hitting the charts in the ’90s. Picture everyone from Tori Amos to Fiona Apple. And it’s not just women. Big Boi of OutKast has spoken rapturously about her influence on his music. Maxwell turned “This Woman’s Work” into a chart-topping R&B hit because of his love for Kate Bush. She was a titan. I would call her the female Peter Gabriel — they’re both eccentric, quirky, catchy when they want to be catchy, but weird when they want to be weird. She brought a strange sensibility to rock by writing these sturdy and beautiful songs. The whole reason the Rock Hall exists is to accord some stature to people who had an impact on other artists in the history of rock and roll. Kate Bush is the easiest pick.
Voter 2: They’ve let in Yes, they’ve let in Rush, they’ve let in Genesis. They have to let in King Crimson. It’s like throwing a grenade, though — can you imagine how hilarious it’ll be when it comes to deciding which members count? They have, like, 60 people in the band. To me, you’ve got to include everybody that was on the debut album and everybody that was a member from 1972 to 1974, when they were at their absolute best. Beyond that, it’s anybody’s guess. Whoever Robert Fripp is talking to this week is potentially eligible. It’s a free-for-all and I don’t really give a fuck. I hate Adrian Belew, but I’ll give him this because he did do three albums that were important to a lot of fans. But yeah, King Crimson’s got to be in there, and they’ve got a decent shot. There’s a big documentary about them. They just celebrated their 50th anniversary. They’re kind of over, but Fripp is still alive and doing a lot of interviews and stuff, so there you go.
I like prog and don’t think it’s had fair representation. I think Emerson, Lake & Palmer should be in there. They’re really good. There’s room for more acknowledgement of prog. The museum could even do exhibits about the movement and treat it less of a cartoon than it’s currently being treated by historians. The legacy lingers on. I mean, without prog rock, there would be no Mars Volta, to pick just one example. It filters into the culture. It’s important.
OutKast and Missy Elliott
Voter 1: It’s high time for both of them to be on the ballot. Talk about a great recorded legacy that’s influential and vital to the development of hip-hop. If you believe that hip-hop is the successor to rock and roll — which I firmly do — in terms of attitude and creativity and cultural impact, I feel that both of them are absolute titans. I’m not as offended about how the nominating committee has handled the genre as others are. It’s sometimes a little paltry for only one or two hip-hop acts to wind up on the ballot every year. It’s game theory by the nominating committee. They’re trying to clear a lane to ensure that, say, Jay-Z gets in on his first ballot. We’ve reached a point where we had Eminem and A Tribe Called Quest on the ballot last year and only Eminem was inducted. OutKast and Missy, just like Eminem, are probably easier to sell, given their hitmaking stature. Tribe never had crossover hits, per se. There’s a great podcast called Who Cares About the Rock Hall? and one of the hallmarks of their criteria is, “does my mom know who they are?” Missy and OutKast absolutely pass that test.
Voter 1: I really hope they keep trying with her. You know what I think she’s most underrated for? Her vocal technique. It’s singular and influential. She’s the best soloist in “We Are the World.” If you listen to how she sings at the beginning of that song, she’s doing things with her vocals that nobody else is capable of doing. Because she’s subtle; she’s underrated. The Burt Bacharach and Hal David era of the ’60s and ’70s is considered cocktail lounge-y pop, but that type of music wouldn’t have landed the way it did without Dionne’s voice. She belongs in the lineage of rock and roll. I don’t think you need to play your own instruments or write your own music to be eligible for the Rock Hall. Also, I hate to say it, but: The woman is still alive. Let’s give her flowers while she’s here.
Voter 2: They’ve belonged for a long time. I know Lemmy is dead, but the two members of the final lineup … the guitarist was in the band since 1983 and the drummer was in since 1992. It’s more than a 25-year span with those members. Plus, if you induct Motörhead, it’s a guaranteed Dave Grohl induction speech. That’s good for traffic and it’s good for ratings. Lemmy Kilmister was the spirit animal of rock and roll for so many decades. This is important to note: Lemmy had this reputation for loads of groupies, blah, blah, blah. But there was never, in his entire life, a Me Too story about the dude. He was always someone who was surrounded by women because he genuinely liked women and supported a ton of female artists. He wrote songs with them and he performed with them. He did his best to boost a lot of female artists, like Lita Ford, Girlschool, and Jill Janus, to name a few. He had tremendous respect for female rock and rollers. I feel like that’s an argument in his favor as well, in a weird way.
Voter 2: They let Judas Priest in, albeit through the side door. So now they’ve got to let Iron Maiden in. They totally deserve it. They’re the best live act in metal and one of the best live acts in music, period. They’re huge. They’re still huge. They’re playing arenas worldwide. They slumped for a little while 20 years ago, but then they came back. They have the greatest mascot slash symbol in rock history. Everybody knows who Eddie is, and they have a bunch of genuinely great songs. Can you imagine hearing “The Number of the Beast” at the induction ceremony? I’ve seen Maiden live five times. They do an unbelievable show. The Hall just has to acknowledge some metal. I accept that Slayer is never going to make it in, as amazing as they were. But yeah, Maiden, come on. They’re cultural icons.
Voter 1: This was a name spoken by Taylor Hawkins during his Rock Hall acceptance speech. It blew my mind, and I was so happy. I believe we’re at a point where George Michael can get the rock-and-roller respect he deserves. He’s a great vocalist and a Phil Spector–level talent in the studio. Go back and listen to Faith. The guy wrote and almost single-handedly recorded and produced that album entirely by himself. It’s packed with hits and indelible songs, as are his other albums. He proved that he could do anything by himself.
Both ABBA — the ultimate pop group — and Madonna got in with their first ballots. Pop-centric acts of the ’70s, ’80s, and ’90s are starting to get in, so it’s plausible for George Michael to not only be on the ballot but to get inducted. In terms of the whole “what is the definition of rock” or “who deserves to be in the Rock Hall” question, I often use the Supremes as my benchmark for this. The Supremes didn’t write their own material. They didn’t play instruments. They were kind of Svengalied. Yet they got into the Rock Hall on their first ballot and deservedly so. If you think the Supremes deserve to be there, it shouldn’t wreck your brain to picture ABBA, Madonna, or George Michael to also be in. It’s not rocket science.
Voter 2: The best live band on the planet from 1985 to 1992. Life-changing onstage. They made at least two amazing albums: Truth and Soul and The Reality of My Surroundings. They’re a secret influence on Black rock artists and plenty of R&B acts and rappers. They’re one of those bands that are not nearly as acknowledged as they should have been. They came up at the same time as Red Hot Chili Peppers, but somehow didn’t cross over to the same degree. They were hard to pin down because their music jumped a lot of genres in a way that wasn’t accepted then, but is now. They’re a band that’s ripe for discovery in the post-Spotify era, because their songs were part ska, part punk, part funk, noise, metal, everything thrown together, and soul. It was completely head-spinning to listen to their stuff. Angelo Moore was one of the greatest front men to ever hit a stage. I saw a show in New York where he dove off the stage and swam to the back of the crowd. They then lifted him up into the balcony, he backflipped out of the balcony back into the crowd, and he swam back to the stage in the course of one song.
Voter 1: I’m a little ashamed of not voting for Devo in the past. I think they’re influential and important. I feel bad that they’re not in. Devo is perceived as an MTV act even though they well predate the network. They’re perceived as synth-poppers even though they’re fundamentally a guitar-rock act. The way their guitars sound like synthesizers. When you listen to their cover of “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction,” it’s pure rock played at such a tempo that it sounds like synth-pop. But it’s highly caffeinated guitar-rock. People think they’re one-hit wonders. Technically speaking, they are. “Whip It” is the only time they cracked the Top 40, but their catalog is much deeper than that.
There are some hangups about the cultural footprint of Devo and what they stand for. Because they wear flower pots on their heads, people think they’re gimmicky. If you listen to the albums, whether Freedom of Choice or Q. Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo!, there’s deep thought there. Boomers should be advocating for them more, because they were formed out of the ashes of Kent State. The backstory of Devo was that they were a hippie-protest act, effectively, without being hippies. Their whole idea of devolution is a form of late-’70s punk-era protest, no less than what Buffalo Springfield was singing about in the ’60s. If you value protest, Devo deserves it.
Voter 2: This is somewhat controversial for a couple of reasons. They are a key but overlooked band from the dawn of the alternative-rock era, when things shifted away from college rock. Perry Farrell pretty much invented alternative rock when he invented Lollapalooza, which was a genuine culture-shifting phenomenon. The first Lollapalooza tour, which I went to, was one of those moments when all the weirdos from your town or from your state showed up on a lawn one day and went, “Wow, there’s more of us than we thought.” That really was the feeling. Before that, you were going to little clubs to see bands that held maybe a thousand people, and you would be like, “This band is awesome, but nobody else in my high school listens to them.” Then all of a sudden, one Saturday afternoon in the summer of 1992, you’re out at a giant outdoor arena and you’re like, “Fuck, man, there’s like 40,000 people here to see all these bands that everybody thought were weird and crazy.” Jane’s Addiction brought all those people together under one umbrella. The other good thing about it is that all four key members are still alive and could play together at the ceremony.
But there’s something that must be reckoned with. If you dig a little below the surface, Perry Farrell is a creeper. There’s a dark side to Jane’s Addiction beyond the rock-critic clichés of drugs and hedonism. That’s a dark motherfucker. But the cultural impact is undeniable. Plus, their first two studio albums, which are the only ones that I acknowledge, are fucking brilliant. So you take the good and the bad. There would be no “alternative nation” without them.
Voter 1: I’ll support whatever permutation the Rock Hall puts her on the ballot, as long as she gets in. She’s been previously nominated as a solo artist and with Rufus, and I suppose she has more rock “credentials” with the Rufus pairing. I’d call her a quintessential rock-era vocalist. There’s a reason why everyone from Quincy Jones to Steve Winwood has worked with her and brought her in to sing on their records. She has a singular voice — there’s no one who sings like Chaka Khan, quite literally, because of her tone and timbre. It kills me that she’s been on the ballot so many times with no success.
Voter 2: I think Ice-T belongs there. Body Count is a legit metal band and they’re great. He’s a rock dude. He’s recorded with Black Sabbath, he’s recorded with Slayer, and he’s had a huge cultural impact — not only as a musician, but as an actor and a performer in all sorts of arenas. Ice-T has demonstrated a way to age gracefully that would not have occurred to a lot of people. If you follow him on Twitter, he’s fucking hilarious. He offers profane wisdom, let’s say, but it’s heartfelt and serious. If you follow his career advice, you might actually not be steered wrong. He’s not out there trying to sell people crypto. He’s offering people advice on how to be a better person in the world.
What’s interesting is that he hasn’t really softened his image in any way. Okay, in the last year he has, because now he’s doing Cheerios commercials. But I recently heard an interview with him and it was enlightening — he was talking about how the reason he’s doing these things is because people who are Gen X are now running the advertising agencies. They’re like, “I love Ice-T. I want him to be in this ad.” It’s not a question of him reaching out; it’s the culture that has come to him. I can respect that. If the culture comes to you, say yes.