rock hall

The Worst Snubs in Rock and Roll Hall of Fame History (So Far)

Cher, still not nominated. Photo: Martina Raddatz/Redferns

This week, the Hall announced its slate of nominees for induction in 2023. Like every year, the list includes the previously nominated (Kate Bush, Rage Against the Machine) as well as some first-time nominees (Cyndi Lauper, the White Stripes). Over the next few months, there will be no scarcity of discussion (online at least) of these acts, and even more so for the handful that eventually get voted in for induction. But for now, let’s take a moment to formally acknowledge some of the artists most deserving of Rock Hall inclusion who somehow have never been nominated.

Some notes before we begin. Artists become eligible 25 years after their first released recording. This could mean an album, EP, single, whatever. Technically, it’s more like 26 years, as the nominating committee would choose artists at the end of the year for induction the following year. For example, Led Zeppelin’s first release was in 1969 (their debut album), so they were first eligible in 1994, then were inducted in 1995. Further confusing things, the pandemic shifted the Hall’s entire calendar, both delaying the inductions and pushing the nomination process into the following year. In an attempt to clear things up, the Hall considered two new years of eligible artists for the 2023 ballot, definitively making 25 years the eligibility requirement. No amount of time passing renders an artist ineligible.

Also, the Rock Hall has a pretty loose definition of the term “rock and roll.” I get a lot of shit on my podcast, Who Cares About the Rock Hall?, for claiming the “roll” part of the term includes genres like R&B, soul, funk, and hip-hop. But I think I’m right, and it appears the Hall agrees: Acts like Whitney Houston, Lionel Richie, and Jay-Z have recently been inducted, to name a few. So cry as you might that they’re “not rock and roll,” but the point is moot. The ship has sailed, and there’s no coming back. And honestly, if it’s a ship that’s playing LL Cool J (class of 2021) and Nina Simone (class of 2018), then it’s a ship worth being on.

The B-52s

Became eligible: 2004 ceremony
Case for induction: The B-52s kicked off their career in 1978 with the avant-garde party bop, “Rock Lobster,” a song so weird and great that it inspired John Lennon to start making music again. After four albums (including two undeniable classics, their eponymous debut and Wild Planet), the death of guitarist Ricky Wilson could have meant the end of their career. But they regrouped for an astonishing comeback with 1989’s Cosmic Thing, featuring two of their most iconic songs, “Roam” and “Love Shack.” And enough can’t be said for their influence as one of the earliest and most prominent queer bands in rock.
What’s the holdup: Hard to say because they’re so innovative and have had success both critically and commercially. A potential problem might be that the layman probably only knows four of their songs (the aforementioned three, plus “Private Idaho”). But anyone who’s dug into their catalog even a little bit knows there’s no scarcity of really great music.

Kool & the Gang

Became eligible: 1995 ceremony
Case for induction: Not only does Kool & the Gang have huge songs that everybody knows, but they released them over a surprisingly long career. The funk staple “Jungle Boogie” came out in 1973, while the stone-cold groove “Ladies’ Night” was 1979. In the ’80s alone, they had eight Top 10 singles, including timeless classics like “Celebration” and “Get Down on It.” But perhaps the most enduring influence is the frequency with which they’re sampled in hip-hop. The horn intro to “Hollywood Swinging” provides the beginning for two rap classics: “Let Me Clear My Throat” by DJ Kool and “Feel So Good” by Mase. (WhoSampled lists the group as having been sampled a whopping 1,896 times.)
What’s the holdup: When it comes to funk or soul groups on recent ballots, the Hall has gone with bands like Rufus, the Meters, and the Spinners (who are on the ballot for the fourth time this year.) All three of these (also very worthy) groups have been nominated multiple times without induction, so maybe the priority is getting them in first.


Became eligible: 2013 ceremony
Case for induction: “I was basically trying to rip off the Pixies. I have to admit it.” This is Kurt Cobain, talking in a 1994 Rolling Stone interview about the creation of Nirvana’s opus, Nevermind. He’s referring to the signature noisy, soft-then-loud, punky-but-still-pop sound that Nirvana (inducted in 2014) may have popularized but the Pixies had previously perfected. In the late ’80s, the Pixies put out two pivotal alt-rock LPs, Surfer Rosa and Doolittle, that set the template for grunge. Although none of their songs were hits at the time of release, many are considered classics today: “Here Comes Your Man,” “Where Is My Mind?,” and “Monkey Gone to Heaven,” to name a few.
What’s the holdup: Traditionally, the Hall is not great at acknowledging music that was influential, despite not being massively popular. It took the Stooges eight ballots and 15 years before they were finally inducted in 2010. Eligible since 1992, MC5 have been on six ballots and still aren’t in. And these are groups from the ’60s, an era that the Hall voters tend to like! Worthy underground artists from later time periods (Sonic Youth, Black Flag, Hüsker Dü) are likely to struggle, given the lack of mainstream name recognition.


Became eligible: 2019 ceremony
Case for induction: There’s no official list of criteria for induction into the Rock Hall, but if there were, it would likely include things like critical acclaim, commercial success, innovation, and influence. OutKast overachieves in all these categories. The Atlanta-based hip-hop duo featuring Big Boi and André 3000 is among the most critically celebrated in the genre, with three appearances on Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Albums list and six Grammys. All of their studio albums have gone platinum, with 2003’s Speakerboxxx/The Love Below reaching diamond status, no doubt buoyed by its twin No. 1 hits: the quirky, inescapable “Hey Ya!” and the sultry banger “The Way You Move.” Never afraid to experiment or push sonic boundaries, OutKast certainly had “somethin’ to say,” and their influence can be heard in artists from Run the Jewels to Frank Ocean.
What’s the holdup: The Hall seems to have a methodical approach to hip-hop, which typically results in one newly eligible act from the genre getting in each year. Last year it was Eminem, the year before that it was Jay-Z. This year it’s clearly Missy Elliott. They could have paved a similar path when OutKast first became eligible in 2019, but at that time the Hall was still trying to find a way in for rap pioneer LL Cool J (who was finally inducted two years ago through the catchall side category of Musical Excellence).

Smashing Pumpkins

Became eligible: 2015 ceremony
Case for induction: When Seattle was getting all the attention for the grunge explosion in the early ’90s, the Smashing Pumpkins came bursting out of Chicago with their massively successful second LP, 1993’s Siamese Dream. The album showcased frontman Billy Corgan’s hard-rocking bonafides (“Cherub Rock”) as well as his sensitive side (“Disarm”) and catapulted them from critical darlings to platinum-selling superstars. Their follow-up, 1995’s triple-album Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness, was even bigger, achieving diamond certification and earning them Record of the Year and Album of the Year Grammy nominations (rare for a rock band at that time). Many of their songs, including “Bullet With Butterfly Wings,” “1979,” and “Today,” continue to be alt-rock radio staples, proving the enduring appeal of their work.
What’s the holdup: Billy Corgan is not well-liked. His nasally, acquired-taste voice aside, it’s his bristly personality that has earned him a bad reputation over the years. Certainly not helping his case is his multiple appearances on right-wing conspiracy theorist Alex Jones’s talk show. Too bad for the other members of the group, who also exist, to Corgan’s occasional dismay.

Barry White

Became eligible: 1999 ceremony
Case for induction: Does anybody sound like Barry White? That ultra-deep, smooth voice is unmistakably his, and you have to give it up when an artist owns their sound. Here’s another question: Is anybody’s music more synonymous with having sex? If a TV show or movie wants to signify a sexy moment, they play Barry White. That’s the power of this guy’s music. Not to mention, he’s got the catalog to back it up. He sold millions of albums throughout the ’70s, supported by seductive songs like “I’m Gonna Love You Just a Little More Baby,” “It’s Ecstasy When You Lay Down Next to Me,” and the iconic “Can’t Get Enough of Your Love, Babe.” But unlike many of his peers from that era, he was able to make a significant comeback two decades later with 1994’s multiplatinum LP, The Icon Is Love.
What’s the holdup: White passed away in 2003, and in recent years, it feels like the Hall’s priority has been to induct living artists. 2020’s class was a bit of an exception, as three of the six inductees were deceased: Whitney Houston, The Notorious B.I.G., and T. Rex. However, 2021 swung back in the other direction, with all the performer inductees still living. This year’s ballot features a mix of posthumous nominations (Warren Zevon, George Michael) and artists who are still with us.

Mariah Carey

Became eligible: 2016 ceremony
Case for induction: If you’re advocating for someone’s induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame, it’s pretty easy because you only have to show the statistics. The same rules don’t apply to something subjective like music, but when it comes to Mariah Carey, maybe they can? Two hundred million records sold. Nineteen No. 1 singles, the most of anyone. No. 1 singles in four separate decades, also the most of anyone. Ninety weeks at No. 1, which, you guessed it, is the most of anyone. I could keep going, but the point is Carey has made quite an impact. That impact is felt both through her own songs, which are still all over the radio, and through the many pop stars who have modeled themselves after her, from Christina Aguilera to Ariana Grande.
What’s the holdup: With the Hall, you sometimes get the feeling that there’s a “wait your turn” mentality. She was certainly not going to jump the line ahead of Janet Jackson or Whitney Houston, who were only inducted as recently as 2019 and 2020, respectively. In 2021, the Hall reached back even further to finally induct Tina Turner as a solo artist. So maybe Mariah has to wait until the “pop diva” lane is clear for her to ease on through, but sadly this year’s ballot has zero artists from this category.


Became eligible: 1991 ceremony
Case for induction: Cher has been part of the popular-music landscape for seemingly forever (but really since about the mid-’60s). Although she initially made a name for herself as part of a duo with her husband, Sonny Bono, the plan was always to break Cher as a solo artist. And the plan definitely worked! She had three No. 1 solo singles in the ’70s with “Gypsys, Tramps, & Thieves,” “Half-Breed,” and “Dark Lady,” followed by a few more respectably charting hits over the next dozen years or so. However, it wasn’t until 1989 — and well after her separation from Bono — that things really kicked into high gear with the multi-platinum Heart of Stone album and the monster single “If I Could Turn Back Time.” It’d be considered one of the great music comeback stories except that she would go on to top that by retreating into the background again, only to re-emerge with what would become the No. 1 single of 1999, “Believe.”
What’s the holdup: Cher’s image and post-’70s musical output might be a little too “polished pop” for the rock purists out there. If that’s the case, I’d encourage those naysayers to remember Cher’s serious rock-and-roll credibility. Most notably, she cut her teeth providing backup vocals for some of producer Phil Spector’s most iconic compositions, including “Be My Baby” by the Ronettes (class of 2007) and “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’” by the Righteous Brothers (class of 2003). If anything, it’s impressive that she managed to adapt her sound to appeal to new audiences in the ’80s and ’90s.

Comedian Joe Kwaczala is the co-host of the podcast Who Cares About the Rock Hall?, along with comedian Kristen Studard.

CORRECTION: A previous version of this story didn’t update an old photo caption, from Mariah Carey to Cher. The error has been corrected.

The Worst Snubs in Rock and Roll Hall of Fame History