This list was originally published before the 2018 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony. It has been updated and revised with continuing interviews in the years since. The 2022 induction ceremony took place at the Microsoft Theater in downtown L.A. on November 5 and will be broadcast on HBO and HBO Max on November 19. This year’s inductees — Pat Benatar, Duran Duran, Eminem, Eurythmics, Dolly Parton, Lionel Richie, and Carly Simon — have been added to the list.
This was the year that the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductions ran entirely off the rails. Leaving aside obvious or defensible candidates like Eminem and Dolly Parton, the lineup features the most motley and commercially craven group of inductees yet. It shows decisively that what you might call the hall’s originators’ era — marked by in-clubbiness, inconsistency, and haphazardness but done with some adherence to the hall’s founding principles — has now been definitively replaced.
Welcome to the Schlock and Roll Hall of Fame, where artistic lights like Lionel Richie and Pat Benatar rub elbows with Simon Le Bon and Richie Sambora.
Co-founder Jann Wenner, the longtime publisher of Rolling Stone magazine, left his chairmanship of the organization in 2020; he was replaced by one John Sykes, whose ascension was covered in the media with passing reference to his position of president of entertainment enterprises of iHeartRadio (as if that were a good thing). iHeartRadio is the dregs of what used to be called Clear Channel — the company that debauched the American radio industry and, in the process, damaged its brand to the point that it had to change its name. (If I may digress for a bit, this is all detailed in a series of award-winning stories by the late Eric Boehlert that I edited when I worked at Salon.) Bain Capital got involved in a leveraged buyout that left it billions in debt, and it went into bankruptcy in 2018.
The hall has been evolving in ways good and bad ever since. As we will see below, the commercialization of the nomination process — which is to say, the induction of commercially successful acts on that basis alone — has sped up. On the other hand, it seems that there are more women present in the nominating committee, which is a (very) long overdue reform.
This all could have been foreseen. 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 the hall has functioned. Has it done its job 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 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 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 or Mastodon @email@example.com. Remember that in the real world, the difference between No. 20 and No. 30, or between Nos. 87 and 96, isn’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 not just the nonpareil avatar of pure artistry with all its peevish, unadulterated glory — and missteps, stumbles, stubbornness, and exasperations — but also the ideal of the artist for whom those missteps, stumbles, stubbornness and exasperations are part of the point. 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 fusion of country, gospel, and the blues. Limited only by not having been a songwriter and, whatever his psychic presence, lacking something — something, perhaps, in his soul, but perhaps just the brains — to run his life, much less career, effectively.
5. James Brown (1986)
Coming from one of the music’s bleakest backgrounds, he was 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, and very rich. 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. (Robert Greenfield’s oral history on Ertegun’s life is titled The Last Sultan.) A certain rock-magazine publisher was looking on with interest.
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.” He died, shockingly, in 2016.
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 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 as 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 unexpectedly venturesome musical decade.
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 expansive, sometimes daring reporting. The magazine became a significant cultural force and one of a small handful of the most celebrated publications of the second half of the 20th century.
That’s what we saw on the outside. The inside, as Hagan tells it, was less pretty. Sticky Fingers, the Wenner bio, 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, Wenner was, after decades of peering in from the outside, finally able to definitively insinuate himself into the world of rock-star (and soon movie-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. Waters’s labelmates Howlin’ Wolf and Willie Dixon, a key songwriter and producer at Chess Records, are in the hall in an “Influencers” category. 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 debut 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 a 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.” He quit the business, and while there were many backslides and comebacks, he was never an artistic force again.
13. 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. (I had the Stones originally two steps lower, below Zeppelin and the Pistols, just to make the point that all three were radical and influential in their own way, but I think it’s fair to put them first.)
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 wherewithal to say no; this all happened in the third year of inductions, setting off an unfortunate precedent.
14. 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 techniques mastered rock, the blues, and psychedelia; he’s one of a small handful of the music’s most influential producers. 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.”
15. 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. 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.“)
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. The plan, originally, was to tear down everything that came before and build a better world. Then Mick Jones decided he was a rock star.
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 “Melle 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 and musical coups (courtesy of Flash) and a cyclone of verbiage (courtesy of Mel) 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 things,” 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.
The hall has always been very wary of the effete and glam side of rock. Being nominated in your first year of eligibility is a big deal with the hall, and we’ve recently seen acts like the Foo Fighters and Biggie swept right in. Bowie had to wait four years, and wasn’t even nominated (!) in two of those years. Other glammy artists like Roxy, T. Rex, and Todd Rundgren waited much longer, and acts like the New York Dolls and Mott the Hoople are still on the outside, while just about every hirsute assemblage of spandexed wankers from the interim decades have been ushered right in. It’s obvious that 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, nearly 20 years after his eligibility.) 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,” he replied. “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. His early death makes for 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. Why are Petty’s Heartbreakers in the hall but not Seger’s Silver Bullet Band? It makes no sense. The decision to include the players in Hendrix’s power trio is a puzzle too. Mitchell and Redding did their job well, but 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 remains one of the music’s most austere and uncompromising artistic presences. 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 and society 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 and sometimes tedious) 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, upending hip-hop by refocusing it’s world back to the street in its most quotidian meaning in both lyrics and fashion. The guitars on “Rock Box” were very tough, but in a weirdly Elton John–ish way, Run-DMC were ingratiating and not really threatening, yet 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. In the decades since he has grown increasingly ill-tempered. During the pandemic this evolved into a sad toxicity. His antivax rants and conspiracy theories have permanently damaged his reputation. (See also: Clapton, E.)
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 sonic schemas, courtesy of the production team known as the Bomb Squad, 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 has passed them by.
“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.” That’s not not-true, but it’s not entirely right either. Its view of the music is plainly superficial and leans to the pop-commercial side. I’m not sure why Eric B & Rakim, at the very least, weren’t brought in years ago; the hall falls all over itself to slide Biggie in on his first year of eligibility, while overlooking the early hip-hop artists who made him possible.
Hip-hop is of course not just rappers. There has also been far too little recognition of the folks who originally constructed its sonic force. Afrika Bambaataa — who I would argue stands with Lonnie Donegan (more on him later) as the most influential person in pop-music history not in the hall — was nominated back in 2008 but didn’t get past the voting committee. He has since been forgotten. (Hard to see this changing, though; Bambaataa’s reputation is now permanently tarnished after multiple sexual assault allegations from young men.)
And then there’s the issue of hip-hop producers. P.E.’s Bomb Squad is long overdue for induction just on artistic grounds. The hall side category dubbed the Ahmet Ertegun Award, which recognizes industry folks and producers, has been awarded only once to a figure from the rap world: Sylvia Robinson, of Sugarhill Records. Sad!
Robinson had a remarkable career, but that’s still pretty shabby handling of music that’s been around now for a half-century. Russell Simmons is the most obvious candidate; given the multiple rape and assault allegations against him as well this seems unlikely, but remember this is the organization that welcomed Phil Spector back to the nominating committee even after he’d shot a woman in the face, so stay tuned. DJ Premier, of Gang Starr, might be a good choice. It’s now been 30 years since the release of The Chronic, one of a handful of the most influential releases in rock history; in what universe are, say, the Foo Fighters more influential than Dr. Dre? The hall should really recognize some of the African-American producers who built the sound before inevitably turning its attention to Rick Rubin.
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 in both the positive and negative sense 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. Lewis, the last of the top-tier ‘50s rock-and-roll innovators, died this year.
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 generis-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 presence. 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 outside of it cared about. “Redemption Song” is as good a 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 guys (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 to seven vote-getters get inducted.
Traditionally, the nominating committee meets in a Rolling Stone conference room, generally in September. Over lunch, 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. This can be ten to twenty names. 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 implications 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 and attention to detail 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 all but a 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, highly moving even into the 21st century. His work since has been absurdly overrated by critics (he won the Pazz & Jop poll in 1988), but for decades more 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, produced (very big) hits from the early ‘50s, creating 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 their initial record 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. 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. This is a hall pattern. Contemporary stars who lend their luster to the hall early on get 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”). All that said, the highly prolific Ray has definitely thrown more inferior product out to fans than any of his contemporaries. And no band has had worse album covers, period. The Kinks’ story overall is not a happy one. Davies has a history of mental problems; his leadership was toxic, and various Kinks were known to have tried to kill one another (literally.) Besides all that, at a certain point Davies’s art became a bit, ah, broad, let’s say; but for the record through the 1970s (Misfits) and into the ‘80s (“Come Dancing”), the Kinks 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 highly emotional European chanteuserie (courtesy of leader Bryan Ferry) that, back in the day, could reduce impressionable teens to tears, though I’m not mentioning any names [coughmycollegeroommatedavecough]. Through this the band layered 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 clearly doesn’t have ears for this sort of stuff. It’s also evidence of how unquestionably Amer-centric the nominating committee is. 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, raconteur, and pretensioso. 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),” one of the most enjoyable singles of the era, and an album called Automatic for the People, a confounding masterpiece of ecstasy, heaven, and regret.
44. John Lennon (1994)
As the Beatles fractured he concocted some fiery singles (“Cold Turkey,” “Instant Karma”); Plastic Ono Band is in a class by itself; and “Imagine” is a song as pretty as “Yesterday.” Lennon grew as a man and a person in the 1970s, and grappled with that and everything else in public, not afraid to look ridiculous, and hoo boy he did that a lot. There are groovy songs on all of his solo albums save Some Time in New York City, but it must be said they are generally erratic, and not improved by the contributions of his wife. 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, at least one of them, Belle, exquisite. 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.
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 had the makings of a great man and could have become a major 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. The band went on a remunerative, much-ballyhooed farewell tour in 1989, and through the 30-plus years since Townshend and Daltrey have kept returning to the road with twists on the theme. 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. And his albums from Born to Run to Born in the U.S.A. are effectively produced.
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 consider retiring from recording rather than foisting mediocre and labored work on their fans year after year, late into their career. (It would also save Rolling Stone critics from having to figure out ways to tell us how artists like Springsteen and the Stones 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 insisted on, which strikes me as a bit ungenerous. The E Streeters, including Steve Van Zandt, were clumsily 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 personifies 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’ 1988 induction ceremony 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 resonate, bleakly and horrifically, today. And now he writes songs for Pixar movies.
54. Radiohead — Colin Greenwood, Jonny Greenwood, Ed O’Brien, Philip Selway, Thom Yorke (2019)
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 how to dampen a fame that threatened to overwhelm them. And they may go down in history as the last great rock band. Radiohead was voted in on its second year of eligibility, which is fine, and this despite the band’s public disparagement of the whole affair.
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. Hynde 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, elevated by a top-tier rhythm section. Leader Byrne’s post-Heads artistic excursions, largely tedious, are far too assiduously attended to by fans and compliant chroniclers.
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 haute 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.
Becker and Fagen 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 the far-past-their-prime Two Against Nature. They probably expected less from NARAS.
58. U2 — Bono, Adam Clayton, The Edge, and Larry Mullen Jr. (2005)
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, continue to play 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, generally at the service of riffs riffs riffs. Yes, I am aware the lead singer has become annoying. Embarrassing scene in Jared Kushner’s new memoir: The afternoon he and Ivanka and Rupert Murdoch, yachting on the French Riviera with Billy Joel in tow, motored to shore for lunch at Bono’s villa.
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. As I noted above, virtually everyone who bought a Presley or Beatles record was stepping into a new world. That’s different from what Jackson’s fans were doing. 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, Jackson’s legacy is compromised; 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. (The hall, however, says his two inductions will stay put).
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 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.
John is a remarkable person on his own, of course, but I think the hall could have included Taupin, who wrote the lyrics to John’s first decade or so of albums. (Note that the Grateful Dead’s induction included lyricist Robert Hunter.) So many inconsequential and latter-day figures have been piled in with so many mediocre bands that it seems nuts to leave out people like Taupin, who was unquestionably a key part of John’s art. The same is true of Dave Bartholomew with Fats Domino and of Public Enemy’s Bomb Squad. Their involvement transcends the normal artist-producer dynamic.
The hall has never figured out how to deal with the fact that a lot of rock acts are really something more than the folks in the PR photos. I don’t think the Monkees should be in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, for example, but if they were going to be, it would be insipid to include just the band members. They were actors, after all, hired to play a band on TV with a team of producers behind them (sometimes warring) who hired songwriters and called the day-to-day shots of the operation. A quaint fiction in the music industry remains that keeps attention focused on the public face. Back in 1990, there was a scandal when a disposable dance-pop duo with the atrocious name Milli Vanilli won a Best New Artist Grammy … after which it was revealed that the two guys hadn’t sung on the record, and the award was rescinded. Fine. But wasn’t this basically just a case of inaccurate musician credits? Shouldn’t the award have then gone to whoever did sing on the record? Weren’t they still the Best New Artist?
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 probably the second-biggest band of the ‘60s, after the Beatles. Ross herself is not in the hall as a solo artist, though her personal emergence into an iconic ‘70s and ‘80s solo career was a lot bigger than those of many other post-’60s-group inductees, and her well-known uber-Diva from Hell status makes her iconic and notable in an entirely different way.
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 performances, “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 edition featuring Lewis (whose name is somewhat forgotten) winning out, and McPhatter and King getting their own individual induction consideration. But I take the point it was a mess, however it was resolved.
64. The Everly Brothers — Don Everly and Phil Everly (1986)
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, like the rhythm guitar work, they were 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 rock and roll. 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.” Nothing she’s done in the 40-plus years since is comparable.
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. PR 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 tragically 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; a friendly, articulate guitarist; and beyond that a brilliant musician and networker. (He took Ike Turner to Sun Records.) 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 enclave 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 powerful rock-disco triumph.
Summer got in late (nearly a decade and a half after she was eligible), but she’s still a good example of how the hall has been pretty welcoming to women — at least when it comes to inductees. There are actually two important but separate issues when it comes to women and the hall. The one getting the most attention of late, led by the laudable work of critic and academic Evelyn McDonnell, is that a pathetically small percentage of the hall’s nominees are women. (You can read her full Longreads essay here.)
That’s an objectively true observation, but I respectfully disagree somewhat with McDonnell’s analysis. The hall has plainly treated women better than it has gay men, for example. The nominating committee has gone out of its way to bring in all the folks you’d expect, from Ruth Brown to the Pretenders, as well as slightly off-kilter figures like Laura Nyro and Nina Simone. There are several female artists who plainly shouldn’t be in the hall, Joan Jett and Pat Benatar among them, and, of course, Stevie Nicks’s solo-career induction is hall cronyism at its worst. But that’s a good thing. There are a lot of unqualified male artists in the hall, too, and it should be acknowledged that the powers that be have extended the same opportunity to some unqualified women.
To my mind, in recent years, the most glaring oversight involved major figures who were already in the hall but whose solo careers had not yet been recognized — like Carole King, Tina Turner, and Diana Ross. In the last few years, the first two of those were finally inducted, and with (presumably) Sykes kicking ass behind the scenes, we’ve seen the overdue induction of the Go-Go’s. There have, in fact, been seven female or female-led acts inducted in just the last two years. If you’re counting, that brings the total up to about 40 female or female-fronted acts or about one-sixth of the total. (If you count individual inductees, of course, the percentage is much worse — given the large percentage of rock bands with a lot of guys in them.) You could (and should) induct another half-dozen female artists tomorrow but, considering the nature of both the music and the hall, it wouldn’t move the percentages much. I think the glaring female absences as far as inductees go are Diana Ross, Mary J. Blige, and maybe the Carpenters. (The 2022 hall induction ceremony, on HBO November 19, will have a big all-star tribute to this year’s female inductees. Embarrassing development, though: Alanis Morissette bowed out at the last moment, posting, “I am at a time in my life where there is no need for me to spend time in an environment that reduces women,” but offering no specifics.)
The real scandal at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is the paucity of women on the nominating committee. The numbers fluctuate, but about 10 percent of committee members over the years have been women. If you wanted to, you could make the argument that there are fewer women than men inducted into the hall because there were more male rock artists than female. Fine — but it’s ludicrous to claim that there aren’t as many female fans as male fans or that there aren’t as many women qualified to nominate Rock and Roll Hall of Fame members. The exclusion of women from the nominating committee is disgraceful. If you want to target the hall’s sexism, focus on that.
73. 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,” from 1954, 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.
74. 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.
75. 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 and often thrilling jazz undertow that utterly transcended the genre. Duane Allman, who died in a motorcycle accident before he turned 25, was quite a guitarist (that’s him rolling with Clapton on “Layla”), and his brother Gregg is a good singer and wrote some great songs. The talented Betts stepped up big time after Duane’s death and the band rocked on credibly through the 1970s. At their best, which is to say on At Fillmore East and on a surprisingly large percentage of their classic-era studio cuts, heady as it got. And probably the only rock band that should have two drummers.
76. 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.
77. 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 hit-making machine and was probably the best-selling artist of the ‘70s. Band on the Run remains a strong album. 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. But, as with so many other things in McCartney’s life, it just doesn’t matter. 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.
78. 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. Hill died in 2021.
79. T. Rex (2020)
T. Rex is one of the hall’s most long-overdue inductions. The music’s the definitive manifestation of glam. Marc Bolan’s stop-and-start story through the latter half of the 1960s parallels Bowie’s with the admixture of an almost Spinal Tap–like odyssey of changing musical approaches, intermittent penury, and aesthetic belly flops — all of which should have centrifuged him out of the culture. But if Bolan was one thing, he was a star. Fey, intelligent, gritty, and seemingly without self-consciousness, he finally found himself, inserted that new persona into the rock landscape, and became a sensation — in England at least. After a few albums of outrageous folk rock under the name Tyrannosaurus Rex (one of the least appropriate rock names ever), he finally went electric, changed his band’s name to T. Rex, and ascended with a deranged rant called “Bang a Gong (Get It On).” That was basically it in the U.S., but in the U.K., he personified gender-bending outrageousness and silkily irresistible riffs and had lots of hits before a car accident killed him in 1977. Here he is in full, uh, flower.
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. Peresman said that ballots come in and are tabulated each day, and that Wenner, before he left the hall, had 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 lacked the Jagger-Richards songwriting juggernaut; their early hits were written by outsiders. But they still had an outsize influence on the music, first with lead guitarist Jeff Beck, who was followed by Eric Clapton, and their later sonic experiments (like “Shapes of Things,” which they did write), groovy to this day. But arguments over direction, authenticity, and commercialism marked the band’s devolution and ultimately led to a conflicted Clapton’s departure. The group’s last guitarist, Jimmy Page, reconstituted the operation as the New Yardbirds and then changed its name to Led Zeppelin.
83. Lou Reed (2015)
Highly erratic post-Velvets 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, some of them quite lovely, which took the music to places it had never been before, and to his personal life as well, including living with an on- and off-again trans girlfriend for several years during his ‘70s stardom. For all his faults, Reed’s solo career was striking and important; but 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 proto-rock tunes, notably “Work With Me Annie,” whose bland innuendos caught the imagination of a musical generation and 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 early 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 — forgive the sexist construct — you get all the girls, or boys. And yet there are always screeching partisans 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 under-appreciated, 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 that became difficult after the induction of ABBA. At this point, that particular cruise ship from hell has sailed, and Lionel Richie and Jon Bon Jovi are manning the piano bar in the first-class lounge. 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. 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 the band’s “musical excursions” could also be described as “noodling.” And while the Dead’s amen corner has ooh’ed over the fact the band had an “outside lyricist” in Hunter for decades, the fact remains Hunter is a terrible writer. But. With the Airplane, the Dead personified the San Francisco psychedelic scene, such as it was; over time came to embody a chaotic communal independence, however mismanaged due to Garcia’s disconnectedness; and in their latter days provided a comfy hippie vibe for stadia of slumming yuppies.
Note that the 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, who merely appeared live with the band a few years before Garcia died). Tamarkin 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, being Garcia, was supposedly on his way but never made it to the ceremony.
87. 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 goon-squad violence both with Knight and on his own, 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.”
88. Santana — José Chepito Areas, David Brown, Michael Carabello, Gregg Rolie, Carlos Santana, and Michael Shrieve (1998)
Santana himself was a guitarist’s guitarist, fluid and — unusual back then — distinctively tough from the start, as well as a stalwart of the San Francisco sound. Santana the band’s Latino-psychedelic fusion was distinctive. Unlike a lot of their hall cohort, all of their early albums are worth hearing today; they are immensely varied and persuasive without being chaotic or unfocused. Santana was a heavy band — and, not for nothing, they could lay claim to delivering one of the signal performances of the Woodstock movie.
89. Sam & Dave — Sam Moore and Dave Prater (1992)
No argument here. These guys are molten, as good as soul got in the 1960s.
91. Tom Waits (2011)
This out-where-the-trains-don’t-run singer-songwriter began as a mildly parodic storyteller at a Lynchian nightclub; 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. Eminem (2022)
This talented rapper, a mad white man-child, made his way in a Black business on his marked talents — including a spitting delivery, hair-trigger temper, and wowza technique that combines speed, lucidity, and, believe it or not, subtlety. His often blistering raps displayed a highly provoking combination of brattiness, humor, and satire. To demonstrate his street cred, I guess, these elements combined in his early years to produce so many shitty remarks that it’s hard in the end to forgive him, even though that’s what you have to do with men-children when they (finally) grow up. Again, he’s a rapper of the first rank, but it should be noted that many of his most delightful tracks are a bit solipsistic, which means they’re all about what a naughty boy he is and … yawn. Still, he remains off-and-on interesting to this day, even if his most lasting work may end up being the not solipsistic and positively rockist “Lose Yourself.” Again, I have to note that it feels off for the hall to be ushering in so outspoken a (white) disciple of someone like Rakim without having inducted Eric B. & Rakim themselves.
92. 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. The stories he told, from his first solo album on, painted a picture of this boy-man’s growth into wisdom. He delivered terrific work — Every Picture Tells a Story, Never a Dull Moment — and then some poorly produced stuff, 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.
93. 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 premiere British vocalists of her generation (and wrote lots o’ 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.
94. 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.) More than a decade later 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.
95. 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.)
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 somewhat less interesting, though his Womad tours occasionally captured the wild, pan-everything promise of his best work.
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. And their live shows make Motorhead, say, sound prissy by comparison.
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, 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. And it turned out that all three were fairly decent musicians. They flirted with the cheesy but then reasserted themselves with Synchronicity, a very well produced pop-rock masterwork. Upped a few notches for releasing but five albums, going out on top, and indulging in only one reunion tour. 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. The years since, as with so many of his cohort, have seen few significant songs.
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 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 include “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 for the plainspoken depth of singer lyricist Ronnie Van Zant. Leaving aside “Sweet Home Alabama,” not his finest moment, Van Zant’s 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 Zant and guitarist Steve Gaines perished in a 1977 plane crash.
107. Tina Turner (2021)
In 2019, Stevie Nicks became the first female artist to be inducted into the hall twice, having previously gotten in — deservedly so — with Fleetwood Mac. Her second induction, for a solo career of not much interest that began with a pair of minor albums in the early 1980s produced by hall insider Jimmy Iovine, is a sad comment on the hall’s cronyism. It’s a bit cheap to compare female artists to other female artists, but for the record, people like Carole King, Diana Ross, and Tina Turner found their solo voices and solo careers though much more difficult and dramatic processes. They took chances and made amazing, unpredictable, and timeless music — as opposed to running around in funny hats.
Turner, having spent years under the harsh tutelage of her husband Ike, a brutal abuser, eventually broke free and engineered a thrilling solo career that produced iconic hits and turned her into a luxe global icon. And if you think that’s easy, I’ve got a used CD of She’s the Boss I’d like to sell you.
108. 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.”
109. 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 acoustic faux-Dylan pretension a producer threw a rock backing track on — and basically experimented via Simon’s various songwriting 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.”
110. Albert King (2013)
A gigantic talent, in both senses of the word. King made everything he played look 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.
111. 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.
112. Todd Rundgren (2021)
If Rundgren were an industry glad-hander and hadn’t spent so much of his early years dressed like a wood nymph, he would have been in the hall decades earlier. (He was inducted 25 years after he was eligible.) He recorded an early garage-rock classic, “Open My Eyes,” with his band Nazz, at 19. Soon after, he was a house engineer at Bearsville, handling, among other things, the Band’s Stage Fright. He then essayed a solo career — sometimes dressed in women’s clothing, yes, but writing, arranging, performing, and producing his own (good) albums and producing a handful of charming pop hits you still hear today (“Hello It’s Me,” “I Saw the Light”). He had one moonlighting career as a space rocker, releasing a series of albums with a band he called Utopia … and another entirely separate one as a producer of a dizzying spectrum of classic (and classic-sounding) albums including Badfinger’s Straight Up, Grand Funk’s We’re an American Band, and The New York Dolls. All of that came before he was 25. Lots more fun stuff followed, and even more distinguished production work — Meat Loaf’s Bat Out of Hell, Patti Smith’s Wave, XTC’s Skylarking, the Psychedelic Furs’ Forever Now, and others I’m forgetting. But, you know, he’s no Lionel Richie. Rundgren has always scoffed at the hall and didn’t show up for the ceremony.
113. 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.
114. Cheap Trick — Bun E. Carlos, Rick Nielsen, Tom Petersson, and Robin Zander (2016)
Power rock from the American heartland. 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 but vacuous chart presence in the 1980s. Absolutely killer live, to this day.
115. LaVern Baker (1991)
A highly versatile and precise R&B queen from the ‘50s. How versatile? Check out the pristine “I Cried a Tear” — 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.
116. 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.
117. 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.
Reed’s an interesting case of an artist who had a minor recording career but a more lasting influence as a player. The hall’s early good intentions to recognize such work, like a lot of hall initiatives, ultimately went off the rails. Besides the main list, there’s the “early influencers” category, for pre-rock-and-roll folks, which is fine. Then we get to what is now called the Ahmet Ertegun Award designed for “non-performing industry professionals” and given to legendary super-weasels like Clive Davis, producers like George Martin, songwriters, and even some journalists. That makes sense too. The main hall is for performers, and the Ertegun Award for nonperformers. How could the hall fuck that up?
Have a seat. In 2000, the hall started inducting people under a new “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 came first, followed by James Burton (Elvis Presley’s guitarist), then the drummer for the Wrecking Crew, which seemed weird. (Why just him?) Then they gave one to Chet Atkins, who was one of the kings of modern country music, not a sideman for Chrissake. (He’s a good guitarist, but so is Roy Clark.) The “sideman” well dried up fast, and soon, the hall changed the name to something called the Award for Musical Excellence — defined indigestibly, repetitiously, and tautologically as meant to honor “artists, musicians, songwriters and producers whose originality and influence creating music have had a dramatic impact on music.”
The first of these awards went to not the Mar-Keys, say, or the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section, but rather, sigh, the E Street Band, who should have been brought in with Springsteen. The next one went to … Ringo Starr. (Of all the instrumentalists in all the rock bands in the world, he gets an award?) Sometimes it feels like these guys (and it is mostly guys, remember) just can’t sleep at night knowing that some possible award has not yet been bestowed on one of their little heroes. Things went increasingly haywire from there: The hall didn’t award it for a couple years, then gave it to Nile Rodgers (stiffing the memory of Rodgers’s longtime producing partner, the late Bernard Edwards) … then made a complete 180 and started using it as a consolation prize for folks the nominating committee couldn’t get past the voting committee: Gil Scott-Heron (interesting but a dubious hall of fame artist), Judas Priest (ditto), Kraftwerk, and early rapper turned pathetic industry tool LL Cool J among them. This is really wrong and should be fixed. A simple solution: Let the nominating committee induct one or two acts per year by fiat. That’s a defensible hedge against the infelicities the voting committee causes.
In the meantime, the Ertegun Award has been turned into a party favor given out to hall cronies — including Jimmy Iovine, attorney (!) Allen Grubman, Irving Azoff, and Jon Landau. It sure feels like the old guard has decided to just give each other awards before they check out for good. Indeed, the nomination of Grubman for induction is so far from the hall’s original conception of the awards that Wenner himself, now departed from running the organization, blasted the very idea of it in Billboard. In sum, after years of bureaucratic bungling, the side categories are being held together with a mix of spit, Scotch tape, petulance, and mutual masturbation.
118. 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.
119. 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 groundbreaking baroque folk rock eventually tinged with psychedelia (“Eight Miles High”) and other stuff, all grounded by Roger McGuinn’s fluty voice and plangent Rickenbacker. Their albums are mostly hodgepodges of covers and so-so originals. Fans point to Gene Clark’s songwriting — sure, I guess, but, jeez, we’re talking about a small handful of songs. Many bands find an internal balance in the artistic and public pressures of pop stardom and create a mutual support network; the Byrds were not one of these, thanks in some large part to the toxic behavior of Crosby, and suffered accordingly. I originally had them ranked much higher; but in the end they are a 1960s band whose icon status doesn’t quite square with their recorded legacy, which, besides a few of those plangent singles, is trivial next to some of the other artists of the time.
Here’s an example of the hall’s inconsistency: The induction of the Grateful Dead, as I noted, included a guy from the Tubes who never recorded with the band, 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.
120. 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 Rockin’,” “[Mama] He Treats Your Daughter Mean.”) Brown was also 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 systematic thieving of Ertegun and a lot of other unprincipled label-owners of the era. (Not much has changed, really, but that’s another story.)
This was at the dawn of the reissue age, when classic albums re-released as high-priced CDs were sluicing rivers of free money into the labels’ bottom lines. While under law the artists are 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 to pay 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.
121. 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, and not really my thing, 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. Again, a big consistency problem: Was Young really of less consequence in CSNY than Vince Welnick in the Dead?
122. The Go-Go’s (2021)
The Go-Go’s were an all-female quartet who wrote their own songs and played their own instruments — and ended up owning a good chunk of 1981 and ’82. You can imagine the indignities they endured — right down to being conned by Annie Leibovitz into posing for a Rolling Stone cover in their underwear. (The cover line: “Go-Go’s Put Out.”) They recorded two decent albums after the first, and lead singer Belinda Carlisle went on to a substantive solo career.
123. 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 and remaining a top-dollar touring act. (By my back-o’-the-envelope calculation, Diamond’s grossed half a billion dollars touring in the 2000s.) 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 into the 2000s. Hard to argue with a star in an evanescent business still standing 50-plus years later. He retired a few years ago due to Parkinson’s.
124. Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers — Tom Petty, Ron Blair, Mike Campbell, Howie Epstein, Stan Lynch, and Benmont Tench (2002)
Petty wrote “American Girl,” one of the greatest of all rock songs, in addition to his obvious commercial record and passel of decent albums and other tracks. Accident or not, it makes his stature plain after 40 years of reliable, ever-more-inessential rock.
125. 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 work with the Pips stretches back to the 1950s, and into Motown in the 1960s and early ‘70s, finally resolving satisfactorily post-Motown in a string of massive pop hits, giving her icon status in the years since.
126. Etta James (1993)
Classic Chicago blues from the purest blues voice on Chess Records.
127. 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 backwoods-y, and occasionally wrote something profound. And he had a voice.
128. 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 from disco onward 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. (“Blue Monday” is often said to be the best-selling dance 12” of all time, though I’ve never seen the source of that claim.) 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 induction of bands like the Cure, Depeche Mode, or Eurythmics is that as far as electronic acts of the era goes, they are less important than JD/NO. Of the three, the Cure are by far the most substantive outfit: They were around British punk when it was created, and quickly emerged as among the first post-punk bands. Leader Robert Smith essayed 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.” They provided MTV with a bunch of inventive videos, and the Cure 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 bloated mishmash of names above, you’ll note one particularly 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 since the 2010s, during which time the band has recorded [checks notes] zero albums.
129. Dusty Springfield (1999)
A visionary singer possessed of a 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.
130. 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” — then once they got in, the same folks started saying, “Curtis Mayfield! Curtis Mayfield! Curtis Mayfield!” until finally the others are worn down.
131. 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.
132. 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.
133. 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.”
134. 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.
135. Carole King (2021)
Carole King was inducted into the hall early in an offshoot category for songwriters with her first husband, Gerry Goffin. She wrote the melodies to so many great songs that it’s hard to count them all — from “Up on the Roof” to “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman,” “Will You Love Me Tomorrow,” and “The Loco-motion.” King freed herself from her marriage and went solo to find an organic and highly engaging timeless voice on her second album, Tapestry. It was probably the best-selling album of all time until the late 1970s — virtually every song on it imprinted onto the mind of a generation.
It seems obvious that her early induction into the hall as a songwriter allowed her nomination into the formal performer category to slip through the cracks. With the hall trying to clean up some of its messes in the Sykes era, this was long-overdue low-hanging fruit. For the record, while I (like everyone else) admire King a lot, and on general principle, she belongs in the hall proper, her solo career is a bit thin when taken on its own apart from her earlier songwriting.
136. 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 generic band with an odd penchant for wearing wristbands on stage somehow carried along by one instrumentalist. But let’s be fair: Leader Mark Knopfler is no ordinary instrumentalist. He is a guitarist 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?
The 2018 induction was a low point for the hall. After what was apparently a complete collapse of professionalism and competency behind the scenes, the hall had no one to induct the band, and Straits 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.
137. 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,” an enjoyable romp to this day, bounced around for more than a year before it became the first rock-and-roll No.1 hit. In 2012, the hall made up for 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 Midnighters, James Brown’s Famous Flames, and Smokey Robinson’s Miracles. It would have been a good time to include the Silver Bullet Band, the E Street Band, and several other overlooked ensembles.
138. 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.
139. Dolly Parton (2022)
Parton is a fascinating figure — someone who has displayed, now and again, a filigreed and poetic artistic sensibility that, at its best, stands comfortably beside the best work of the titans of her era. She’s an American figure who transcends petty genres like “country” or “rock” music. She began recording before Dylan, the Beatles, or the Stones. She has released nearly 200 singles and led a somewhat mysterious life — playing dumb as part of a country star duo with Porter Wagoner but slowly elevating her presence over many long decades. Her flair for drama, careful song construction, and, over the years, iconic presence make her a culture figure of some import, and for what it’s worth, she has been a lot more outspoken about support for gay issues than a lot of country stars. Parton declined the nomination when it was announced, but after a lot of hemming and hawing, she ended up appearing and performing at the induction ceremony.
140. Traffic — Jim Capaldi, Dave Mason, Steve Winwood, and Chris Wood (2004)
A progressive-rock group, I guess, but a relaxed and frenetic one, flecked with British folk and 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 cowrote and sang on a sensational top ten hit, “Gimme Some Lovin’,” before he turned twenty, and his 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 as a solo artist but not him?
141. 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.
142. Eric Clapton (2000)
An iconic figure, of course, though the one people have known for decades, 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, but one has to concede there’s an argument for this third iteration, given Layla (technically by Derek and the Dominos), Blind Faith (technically by Blind Faith), and the decade-plus of radio hits. Still, the last 40 years has been low-wattage, without a single album or track one could point to and say, This Was God. Recently, of course, Clapton’s anguish has returned, and he has joined with Van Morrison in some of the all-time crazy political rock-star activism, if you want to call it that, on the side of the anti-vaxxers and other nutty stuff, and calling to mind again a notorious racist rant he delivered onstage back in the 1970s.
143. 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 (bringing Joe Walsh onboard, and then Don Felder). In a way, they deserve a J.D. Power Award or something rather than a hall of fame induction. All that said, there are gorgeous songs in their repertoire, and “The Last Resort” and “Hotel California” (with music by Felder) at least hint at self-awareness. Around the early ‘80s, however, arrogance, complacency, and an aura of smug self-satisfaction took over, and it’s been a long slog since then, though honesty compels me to say that Henley has some killer songs as a solo artist.
144. 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 that 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 orchestrating the hall’s most Orwellian induction. The first time I saw Pearl Jam they were opening for the Jayhawks, and I saw them 10 or 12 times in the next three or four years, including watching a stadium show from the side of the stage, which was a little bit like standing on a wing of a 747 taking off. Anyway, because of all that I can testify with some authority that there was a guy named Dave Abbruzzese playing drums for them at every one of those shows during this seminal period … but his name wasn’t listed in the induction. One has to assume that it was under the orders of the band that he got stiffed. His firing, back in the day — because of tonal conflicts with overserious Eddie, who wanted to put his own drummer in — was of course PJ’s prerogative; but this ungenerous erasing of history is a bad look for this highly principled band, not to mention for the mopes running the hall.
145. 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.
146. 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, creative harmonies, and fairly sophisticated songwriting. After Graham Nash left, they did some tangential but hardy work in the 1970s (“Long Cool Woman,” “The Air That I Breathe”), with a lot of help from outside songwriters. Slightly indistinct but, as I said, hardy.
147. Carly Simon (2022)
Carly Simon comes from a wealthy family, and over the years, the fixation on this has been a bit sexist. (A lot more people know that Simon was the daughter of one of the founders of the Simon & Schuster publishing house than, say, know that Jim Morrison’s dad was a highly consequential admiral at the start of the Vietnam War.) But Simon left a strong and fairly sophisticated string of hits behind her in the 1970s, most of which she wrote at least the music for, as well as two strong pop-rock classics: one a James Bond song she didn’t write (“Nobody Does It Better”) and the other a sui generis roman à clef that she did (“You’re So Vain”). She was never comfortable onstage and did few live appearances. I feel like over time, her records lost some of their depth, but for the first half of the decade, she was a leading singer-songwriter of soft-rock songs with adult themes.
148. 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.
149. 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 of 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?
150. 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.
151. 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 equally exasperating works like Tales From Topographic Oceans, a record which in addition to its ridiculous title consisted of but four heavily parenthesized tracks each averaging more than 20 minutes in length. On the other hand, the records, courtesy of producer Eddie Offord, sound pretty great. And you can make the argument Yes got better; the sensational “Going for the One,” a paroxysm of delightful hyper-virtuosity from guitarist Howe, came pretty far into their career. Then a guy from the Buggles joined.
152. Heart — Michael DeRosier, Roger Fisher, Steve Fossen, Howard Leese, Ann Wilson, and Nancy Wilson (2013)
Crafters of melodramatic hard-rock hits with a unique, two-hard-rockin’-frontwomen setup. And they wrote those hits, too. Ann Wilson has quite a voice. They had a commercial comeback in the 1980s with the help of outside songwriters. (I feel like I’m writing that sentence a lot.)
153. Notorious B.I.G. (2020)
Under hall rules, you’re eligible for nomination 25 years after your first record. A nomination on your first year of eligibility means something — that your stature is such that you should be in the hall immediately. Did Biggie Smalls qualify?
I think his induction was premature — another of the hall’s bows to commerciality and desire to sell tickets to its big induction concert. A lot of people think Smalls is one of the best rappers ever. To me, he’s still a figure from a time when the music felt overwhelmingly focused on crudely articulated psychotic tropes about sex and violence. Of course, gangsta rap is a valid form and, of course, Smalls is a master, but he’s still a guy who wrote songs about getting blow jobs from “bitches.” Smalls’s albums, overseen by Puffy, sound fine and sold well, but Sean Combs was always a highly derivative, superficial producer who borrowed myriad ideas from better (often West Coast) people. The pair’s sampling was particularly artless: “Mo Money Mo Problems” is a great track, but that’s because it’s basically a cover of Diana Ross’s “I’m Coming Out.” There’s nothing decontextualized about the Rodgers and Edwards riff at all. And to those who say he’s a word machine, I say let’s get Rakim in first.
154. 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. After a bunch of by turns lachrymose and saccharine hits in the 1960s, the trio had become entirely irrelevant by 1975, but they smartly transitioned their sound with a canny and talented Atlantic producer, Arif Mardin, and Main Course started off a disco resurgence of their career no one saw coming; the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack became one of the best-selling records of all time. I guess a lot of it was disposable pop, but then there’s “Stayin’ Alive,” as good a rock song as any of Michael Jackson’s.
155. Joan Baez (2017)
We all love Baez. 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,” an emotional barnburner that can still still haise the hair on your arms. I hate to say it but, while she has a wonderful voice, she’s a sometimes unlistenable singer.
156. Lloyd Price (1998)
A big, expansive blues-rock presence; more hits than you would expect.
157. 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 what at the time seemed to be 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.”
158. 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 studio stylings 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.
159. 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 saying something.
160. 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 another example of how the hall makes deep, deep dives into some genres at the expense of others.
161. 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.
162. 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 we’re 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 current 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.
Joy Division/New Order
Eric B & Rakim
Ian Hunter/Mott the Hoople
KC & the Sunshine Band
Mary J. Blige
The New York Dolls
For the record, the original posting of this story advocated for induction of Roxy Music, Todd Rundgren, T. Rex, the Go-Go’s, Kraftwerk, and the Doobies, all of whom have since been brought in, Kraftwerk in a side category.
Now, that said, one conversation I had puts some of the philosophical constructs the hall is facing into perspective. I enjoyed talking to the late Jim Bessman, a longtime writer for Billboard and Variety, former member of the nominating committee, and then a voting committee member. I asked him whom he had voted for that year, which was 2019. “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 saw in his list are five footnotes to the history of rock and roll, not hall of fame inductees. I thought Bessman was 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.
163. Dion (1989)
Dion with and without 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 was 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, if dubious, 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”). Those are DiMucci solo hits; the Belmonts’ biggest hit as a group was “Teenager in Love.” It’s another one of those bits of random hall cheesiness that the Belmonts weren’t included in the induction.
164. 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.
165. 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.
166. 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?
167. 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, sung by the drummer, about losing one’s virginity just after the JFK assassination.
168. Jay-Z (2021)
Jay-Z is very rich, considered to be one of the best rappers of all time, and, of course, part of a high-power marriage for the ages. To me, he is the epitome of corporate hip-hop. His remarkable, lasting success and slick positions — from his art to his acts to his marriage — has made him a perennial superstar. And once in a while, he records a song with some force. But there is something bleak and empty about him. The subject matter of most of his songs is rote. Many of his productions are obvious and overdone. He collaborated with R. Kelly long after the latter was exposed as a predator and, besides one or two public statements, you haven’t heard this supposed tough guy say much about Donald Trump the last five or six years. But: For the last part of the ’90s and most of the 2000s, Jay-Z’s emptiness ruled, and he probably deserved to be in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame at some point. But his induction in his first year of eligibility is another depressing sign of the hall’s moves to make commercial success its de facto criterion for recognition.
169. 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 originally known as the Mar-Keys. They backed everyone from Otis Redding to Wilson Pickett and had a couple hits on their own, led by the pulsing organ of Jones, most notably “Time Is Tight”; in the years since they turn up at a lot of all-star industry functions. Their studio work, and the studied coolness of Jones, aside, it’s hard to see how their recording career qualifies as a quote-unquote regular rock artist, which is how they were inducted. Why these guys and not the Motown house band?
170. 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 (and rock and roll) 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 pabulum. Child, who contributed “Dude (Looks Like a Lady),” “Crazy,” and “Angel,” particularly, should have been inducted with the band. (cf. Bon Jovi.)
171. 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. History would be better served if they had been included in the new Hall of Fame Singles category.
172. Ritchie Valens (2001)
Valens was an early rocker, known for a few marvelously unbridled ‘50s rock hits — notably “La Bamba” — 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.
173. Nine Inch Nails (2020)
Trent Reznor broke through in 1989, pre-Nirvana, with the ferocious and bleak industrial attack of Pretty Hate Machine. His work wasn’t entirely non-facile, but it was quite extreme for the time, and his club shows were pretty assaultive. He soon showed that he had bigger things in mind, scaling up to producing oceans of punishing sound both on record and live.
Reznor was nominated a couple of times and, in response, went out of his way to say what a joke he felt the hall was. Radiohead, too, had been particularly unsparing, and one past nominating committee member I spoke to said that he had heard secondhand that this had dampened a movement for people 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 was duly inducted soon after. Reznor eventually showed up to induct the Cure at the 2019 ceremony, and that apparently brought the voting-committee members around.
174. 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. 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.
175. The Mamas & the Papas — Denny Doherty, Cass Elliot, John Phillips, and Michelle Phillips (1998)
A sweet-sounding quartet that evolved out of the early ‘60s schlock-pop scene in L.A. and was built around the uncertain talents of John Phillips and the strong voice of Doherty. Of course you love “California Dreaming” and “Monday, Monday,” but there’s nothing of interest here after the first album.
176. 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.
177. 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 popped up here and there in rock in the years since. 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.
178. 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, still sensational “Theme From Shaft.” Much of Hayes’ renown is as a songwriter; the hall should either induct him as that or put “Shaft” in the singles category.
179. 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. 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 there are others artists in that position, like Lesley Gore, who purveyed art that stretched the boundaries of pop a lot more.
180. 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.
181. 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.
182. 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 still be 50 years hence.
183. The Doobie Brothers — Jeff “Skunk” Baxter, John Hartman, Michael Hossack, Tom Johnston, Keith Knudsen, Michael McDonald, John McFee, Tiran Porter, and Patrick Simmons (2020)
These guys started out tough. Tom Johnston spit out the stories in songs like “Long Train Running” and “China Grove” in a gruff, pained way. It wasn’t clear why he was so exercised about “Miss Lucy,” but that’s the way things went back then. He was a dependable and facile riff-maker, and the other guitarist, Pat Simmons, played well too. All in all, the Doobies were a pretty decent band despite the dumb name and the fact that they had two drummers. Then gentle, smoky-voiced Michael McDonald, who’d had a small side career in the L.A. scene, joined. He was a little less tough. (An early signature song of his was “Taking It to the Streets.” Oooh — watch out, streets! Key lyric, and I’m not making this up: “We’ll discuss it further.”) Flash-forward five years: Johnston’s gone, McDonald is ascendant. Check out this video of an anodyne and spavined band rocking oh so carefully to McDonald’s “What a Fool Believes.” Jeff Baxter is sitting in a frickin’ chair. It’s a great rock and roll story, and it belongs in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
184. The O’Jays — Eddie Levert, Bobby Massey, William Powell, Sammy Strain, and Walter Williams (2005)
A reliable pre-disco soul outfit from the Gamble & Huff stable; several hot hits, not too much else. As I said above, the hall hasn’t quite captured the glories of ‘70s soul. You could make the argument that the O’Jays aren’t really at the level of a hall of fame act, and the same goes for Harold Melvin, the Stylistics, the Spinners, and on and on. But their absence, and that of disco acts like Chic, KC & the Sunshine Band, Diana Ross, and whoever else, leaves a big hole in rock history.
185. Van Halen — Michael Anthony, Sammy Hagar, David Lee Roth, Alex Van Halen, and Eddie Van Halen (2007)
Van Halen was a big band with an almost hysterical sound (courtesy of guitar hero Eddie Van Halen) attached to rock’s most notionless lead singer. Fair enough. But the idea of Hagar — who came in after the Van Halen brothers had had enough of Roth — having any connection to a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame beyond 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!
186. 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 he doesn’t need to be in the hall twice, and his solo career was relatively thin. But he was on Atlantic, and during the Ertegun years that was enough.
187. 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. Then they got really disorganized, and their behavior — on and off record and before, during and after their heyday — was repulsive. A real close call, both for the hall and prison. 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.
188. 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 basically a novelty act, and they didn’t write their big hit, “Walk — Don’t Run.”
189. 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.
190. 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. Back at their beginning, 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. A lot of ‘70s bands evolved: Fleetwood Mac, the Doobies, Roxy. After Gabriel left, Genesis devolved — into a trio of middle-aged frumps who mastered the art of playing fools for MTV kids in the 1980s. Imagine David Lynch leaving Twin Peaks and Aaron Spelling taking over as showrunner. Unfortunately, the hall couldn’t come up with a “Genesis until Wind & Wuthering” induction. Here’s how to do it: Docked ten notches for Abacab, ten more for Duke, and twenty more for the “I Can’t Dance” video.
191. Del Shannon (1999)
This guy was a minor artist, known for a big hit — “Runaway” — and not much else. At this point, it felt like the hall was just randomly feeding their nostalgia.
192. Steve Miller (2016)
Miller is an interesting figure; he basically grew up under the tutelage of Les Paul, and became a formidable guitarist in the early days of the San Francisco scene. By the mid-’70s, he 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 his fame rested on an ever-sillier slate of pop singles. 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?”
193. 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 amidst its peers for not being particularly repulsive on the subject of women. But all the malevolence and mayhem they wrote about was pretty toothless in the end, and they ended up suing fans who’d downloaded their music on Napster. These days they show up at all the industry events, swaggering around and trying to look 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.
194. 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.”
195. Depeche Mode — Vince Clarke, Andy Fletcher, Dave Gahan, Martin Gore, and Alan Wilder (2020)
This early if not seminal synth-pop outfit separated itself over time from a slew of Human League–style aggregations and was one of the first to show that you could rock without any guitars in the band. (This was an issue back then.) It had an odd structure too. After Vince Clarke left to form Erasure (now there’s a hall of fame band), Martin Gore wrote all the songs, Dave Gahan sang them, and the two other guys took care of production and management. Depeche Mode kept busy during the ’80s and, truth be told, got somewhat better, culminating in Music for the Masses and Violator (though I think its best song, “Everything Counts,” came early). England embraced the band fully. In the U.S., the relationship was a bit more uneasy — it went almost unnoticed when Depeche scaled up and played a stadium or two.
The case for hall inclusion is that Depeche Mode was a fairly popular synth-rock band in the ’80s and ’90s — a plain cut above the Thompson Twins and the like. The case against is that Gahan has a tedious, stentorian voice and Gore was nothing other than a serviceable songwriter. New Order’s work was dark and complex during this period. The Pet Shop Boys were creating remarkable works of impishly transgressive pop. Gore’s songs, by contrast, felt a bit sophomoric in the literal sense — like the product of a talented college sophomore who liked New Order but hadn’t yet mastered programming. Beyond that, the Pet Shop Boys have two or three great rock and roll albums. New Order has close to half a dozen timeless top-tier dance-rock classics. Depeche Mode doesn’t have one. The nomination feels like the product of an organization that doesn’t quite understand the music it thinks it’s honoring.
196. 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 kitsch 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 half-convincing early album and several more half-convincing hard-rock-pop hits, or about 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, the indigestibly punctuated Cooper’stown, a brightly lit sports bar … with a goth-rock overlay.
197. 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.
198. 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.
199. 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.”
200. 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.
201. 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.
202. 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 the talented Rod Argent, who went on to some moderate post-Zombies solo success. And that was 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 — and arguably the saddest example of the fading ‘60s-centric founders of the hall grimly tossing in one last boomer memory and stiffing literally dozens of more deserving acts.
203. Billy Joel (1999)
He had a string of big albums and some hits, and gets lumped in a lot with ‘70s stars like Elton John and McCartney and Wonder. In a weird way, Joel can actually do the same things they do, but about ten times worse. 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 glib, temporary stance, or opportunity for mimicry. 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.
204. John Mellencamp (2008)
This well-meaning, likable, 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 written literally a dozen songs better than anything Mellencamp has come up with, and rock would not be different if Mellencamp had never been born.
205. 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.
206. The Lovin’ Spoonful — Steve Boone, Joe Butler, John Sebastian, and Zal Yanovsky (2000)
The Lovin’ 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.
207. 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 (one’s a French tune, and the other is Weill/Brecht) — his only legacy.
208. 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. I could see Vaughan being inducted in the new “musical excellence” subcategory.
209. Buddy Guy (2005)
A great man, serious guitarist, adamantine presence. He’s a major dude and a solid practitioner 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.
210. 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 too hetero, too. 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, whose music and backstory are twice as interesting as those of Jett and the Zombies combined … and isn’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. (I can’t wait to see how the introductory film on him delves into his involvement with the Church of Scientology. Maybe the hall can get Tom Cruise to induct him!) But what major artist will come after him? 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 rock stars being inducted ten years from now.
211. 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 nostalgia pick inducted long before far more influential and interesting artists from the same era.
212. 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.
213. 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.
214. Foo Fighters — Dave Grohl, Taylor Hawkins, Rami Jaffee, Nate Mendel, Chris Shiflett, and Pat Smear (2021)
Dave Grohl & Co. have been sucking up to the hall for two decades, and most observers pegged their induction as a foregone conclusion. That it came to pass is a perfect illustration of the nominating committee’s insularity and growing craven commerciality. Only in that meeting room (which Grohl himself is now a part of) could this popular but critically unheralded band be considered a hall of fame act much less one that should be inducted in its first year of eligibility. I don’t sneer at the first album, which I’m sure was an exorcism of sorts for Grohl, and he then made something like a real not-bad album with a real band with The Color and the Shape. But the rest of the Foo Fighters’ work is a weird species of meaningless family-friendly thrash-pop — a bland, anodyne dead end to the challenging punk rock Dave Grohl’s former band, Nirvana, once epitomized. He and his bandmates deserve the big paychecks and the accoutrements thereof, like the glowing New York Times profile conveniently pegged to the hall of fame balloting that year. (The article, amusingly, while straining to find more nice things to say about Grohl, gave the band big credit for its industrious work ethic of releasing an album every three years and playing concerts that are sometimes — Mrs. Springsteen, my smelling salts! — more than two hours long.) The hall’s sprawling, overwhelmingly male voting membership went for these guys big time — and conveniently gave the hall a big draw for its induction concert later that year.
215. Gene Pitney (2002)
Putney was a suave guy; he could play a lot of instruments, sat in with the Stones, wrote a few notable songs (like “Hello Mary Lou” and “He’s a Rebel”) and crafted a career for himself with “24 Hours From Tulsa,” “Town Without Pity” and other bits of (really) overwrought fluff he didn’t write. His best track remains his first hit, “(I Wanna) Love My Life Away.” Neither his career in front of or behind the board warrants his inclusion in the hall before dozens of more influential people.
216. 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.
217. 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.
218. 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?
219. 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. It’s 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.
220. 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. He’s an amazing guitarist, but so is, I don’t know, John McLaughlin (who played with Miles and whose pursuit of a similarly frenetic fusion during the same era was a lot more seminal and full-bodied) and half a dozen other folks. I would gladly pay cash money to see Beck 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).
221. The Paul Butterfield Blues Band — Paul Butterfield, Mike Bloomfield, Elvin Bishop, Mark Naftalin, Jerome Arnold, Billy Davenport, and Sam Lay (2015)
Mike Bloomfield, who was the star in this band, is forgotten now but he was the white American blues guitarist of his day and the epitome of the racially sensitive explorer of the music. (Butterfield was a hardy harp player.) They were the American equivalent of the Stones and the Yardbirds, working it on out in a white blues idiom; unlike those Britons, 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?”) He died of an overdose in 1981. As I said, forgotten today and probably a good candidate for the musical excellence subcategory. The story as far as the hall goes is that Wenner, after years of championing Bloomfield & Co., finally got his way.
222. 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. It was never clear why a band like Deep Purple got in before, say, the Doobie Brothers, who, leaving aside their name, had a fierce guitar attack early on and quite a few strong singles. It seems obvious from this vantage point that “Smoke on the Water” should have been honored in the singles category to let the group, and Blackmore’s iconic riff, be recognized that way.
Now, by the mid 2010s the nominating group had formed an ad hoc subcommittee to sort out the hall’s inconsistent handling of ‘70s hard and progressive rock. Rolling Stone ridiculed the early Led Zeppelin releases (even the Zoso review, which was incidentally written by longtime nominating committee member Lenny Kaye, mentions “Stairway to Heaven” only in passing), and there was apparently a lingering disdain for such lumpen characters. This work, if it was successful, undoubtedly led to the induction of Yes, in 2017, but also might have gone a bit overboard, with Deep Purple and the Moodies. (I don’t want to get too much into the weeds here, but I feel like someone might have made the case for a much more influential band like Boston, whose leader Tom Scholz was one of the more iconoclastic figures of the era and whose [over]production in the band’s first two albums would lead to significant changes in the way hard rock was recorded.) These acts also put keisters in the seats for the annual induction ceremony.
The law of unintended consequences, however, I think has already come back to bite the hall in the ass. The voting membership — the group, totaling over 1,000 now, that votes on the nominating committee’s list each year, the final word on who actually gets in — includes among other industry folks every previous hall inductee. That’s great, you think — Joan Baez, say, or Paul McCartney, certainly deserves a vote, right? But what about all the members (and sometimes extended members) of all of those freaking bands brought in? These folks have been flooding the hall of late — scores in recent 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.”
223. Eurythmics — Annie Lennox and Dave Stewart (2022)
They were a striking pair in those storied synth-rock years — or rather, Lennox was a striking figure. Partner Dave Stewart wrote the songs, and together they came up with a few hits, though I always felt their energy was a little forced. Lennox is a character and went on to craft some very adult solo records. Stewart went on to become a busy and prolific in-club producer — but not a particularly notable one. Their induction, along with Duran Duran’s, is an example of the hall’s lurch to popular acts with strident fan bases. Again, it’s hard to see how you can dredge up forgotten ’80s acts like this when New Order has not yet been recognized. Culture Club, too, now that I think about it. (They were unusual and brought a blithe and unexpected bag of influences to their music — and, by the way, had a lot more hits than Eurythmics.) But, as we’ve established, the hall doesn’t like boys who dress up as girls and is much more focused on giving industry swells like Stewart new bits of foofaraw to add to the CV.
224. 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. You won’t hear this in the four(!)-hour Scorsese documentary, but his Dark Horse tour was a fiasco, his solo records were uniformly mediocre, and that 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 artist as a solo figure.
225. ABBA — Benny Andersson, Agnetha Fältskog, Anni-Frid Lyngstad, and Björn Ulvaeus (2010)
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 Pussycats? 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? In the U.S., we know Lonnie Donegan as a clean-cut British guy who did a denatured version of “Rock Island Line.” His name is forever tied as well to a novelty hit, “Does Your Chewing Gum Lose Its Flavor (On the Bedpost Overnight?).” But: That’s really not who Donegan was. He and his pal Chris Barber, serious musicologists, left an indelible mark on the U.K. in the 1950s with a musical style that came to be called skiffle, a blues-based music that amateurs could play with cheap instruments. Sound familiar? The pair became very famous in England in the late 1950s and skiffle was a central inspiration to virtually all of the players who would spur the British invasion — literally scores of people on this list. (John Lennon’s pre-Beatles band, the Quarrymen — the one he was playing in when he met McCartney — was a skiffle outfit.) Isn’t Donegan one of the most influential performers in rock history?
Here’s another example: K.C. & the Sunshine Band. Harry Casey and Richard Finch were production wunderkinds who co-wrote and co-produced “Rock Your Baby,” one of the biggest singles of all time, in their early 20s. Their group K.C. and the Sunshine Band, were disco and pop superstars a year later. The magnificent Donna Summer aside, the hall has never quite dealt with disco. Another: the Sugarhill Gang’s “Rapper’s Delight,” the “Does Your Chewing Gum Lose Its Flavor” of hip-hop.
226. 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 started sucking up to the Rock Establishment — and were successful at it. Wan bits of off-pitch poesy like “Under the Bridge” became their respectability calling cards. Their well-documented revolting behaviors during their heyday are forgotten; 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 long overdue for a #MeToo comeuppance. And with eight inductees! (The band’s manager, Cliff Burnstein, conspiracy theorists point out darkly, sits on the nominating committee.)
227. 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 notable song; but I also know that its genesis came when Dre and Eazy-E were caught 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. These guys are all real gems. N.W.A is more than a footnote in rock history, but there’s not much to the group beyond their first album.
228. Duran Duran — Warren Cuccurullo, Simon Le Bon, Nick Rhodes, Andy Taylor, John Taylor, Roger Taylor (2022)
Duran Duran were an inglorious litter of ’80s poseurs who espoused bland Thatcherisms and declaimed over atrocious backing tracks while scampering about in videos standing in boats or next to models. The band had a chip on its shoulder about all of this from the start. They seemed to suspect how cheeseball their attitudinizing was. Their unfocused defiance is best appreciated if read aloud in a David St. Hubbins voice: “I like parties. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that at all. And if people think that’s glamorous — fine. But if people think that’s something bad, I’d like some reasons for it.” That’s a quote from the group’s lead singer, the ineffably named Simon Le Bon (known backstage as “Lardo”).
229. 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 in the late 2010s was veering dangerously close to becoming the Classic Rock Hall of Fame. The Moodies were just another Boomer nostalgia band getting the hall tongue bath to help push tickets to the Cleveland facility. 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.
230. Whitney Houston (2020)
Should the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame draw lines? There’s space there for the most contentious artists in rap, country, and jazz. Richard Pryor should be in, on general principles. The Carpenters, too — they were a legitimate soft-rock band. But pop is something different. Historically, it’s based on a pretty narrow set of sentimental lyrical tropes, it’s ingratiating not challenging, and authenticity is typically not part of the mix, though it has evolved remarkably. Houston came out of soul and R&B traditions, but she’s a pop singer and not much else. There’s a huge difference between her work and the much more personal emotional journeys offered by, say, Mary J. Blige. There are a lot of acts from the ‘60s and ‘70s who were basically pop acts, but they were plainly countercultural at the time, part of a roiling network of creative people across the country experimenting with sound and taking the music in different directions. Houston was none of those things.
Like Streisand, Houston had a great voice, and she made a lot of money off of it; like Julio Iglesias, she became a pop icon, and made a lot of money off of that as well. The most strident fans of pop artists always want them to get all the awards as well. That’s what the Grammys are for … and the Billboard Awards, the People’s Choice Awards, the American Music Awards, the VMAs, and I could go on (and on). Houston was good at being a pop figure but brought nothing beyond that to what is or was at heart a counter-cultural force.
All that said, Houston’s decline was sad, and her personal story, in some sense, was very rock and roll — minus the personal art. One dubious achievement: Houston’s participation in the tawdriest reality-TV show of them all. (For some reason, her induction montage didn’t include the clip from Being Bobby Brown in which Brown, sitting on the toilet, reminisces with Houston about the time he extracted constipated feces out of her colon with his finger.)
Despite this, Houston’s name still has a sheen. Hall representatives, armed with talking points, went around the year of her nomination claiming that Houston was the largest-selling artist not in the hall. This Trumpian assertion is both beside the point and incorrect: Celine Dion and Mariah Carey have both sold more records than Houston, and Garth Brooks and even Barbra Streisand are in the same league. Houston was signed at 20 to Arista, run by Clive Davis, who was on the nominating committee for decades. This is another in-clubby nomination. With the rock era now plainly over and the ’60s generation in the process of going the way of all flesh (with the ’70s survivors right on its heels), the hall is laying plans for a more pop-based appeal to keep ticket sales going in Cleveland in the future.
231. Kiss — Peter Criss, Ace Frehley, Gene Simmons, and Paul Stanley (2014)
Another ‘70s-era outfit 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.
The year of the band’s induction, Simmons and Stanley tried to make the case that the nonentities they are playing with these days should go into the hall along with original members 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?
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 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.”
232. 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.
233. 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.
234. Journey — Jonathan Cain, Aynsley Dunbar, Steve Perry, Gregg Rolie, Neal Schon, Steve Smith, and Ross Valory (2017)
Journey is the ultimate guilty-pleasure band. I’m a Bay Area person, so “Lights” is a great song for me 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, a bunch of comically dressed nimrods who posed and preened while they shredded. In charge was Rolie, who had actually done credible work in Santana. Then big-voiced schlockmeister Steve Perry joined, bringing with him 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.”
235. 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 Kaye really making the case for these lunkheads, or even just nodding along in agreement as someone else makes the case?
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.”
236. Pat Benatar & Neil Giraldo (2022)
As noted above, the hall has not done a terrible job inducting women. It’s not perfect, but that’s because the hall isn’t particularly good at its job all the way around. There’s no evidence of a disinclination to recognize female performers, and there are actually female performers in the hall who shouldn’t be there. Case in point: The bizarre ascension of the cartoony and nonsubstantive Pat Benatar. She’s an utterly trivial figure with a small group of hits, none of which she wrote, and the plain offensiveness of one of which (“Hit Me With Your Best Shot”) I think adequately captures her artistic sophistication. (Fun fact: One of her later albums is called Gravity’s Rainbow.)
The branding for this year’s ceremony had Benatar inducted formally with Neil Giraldo, who has played in her band since the beginning and produced or co-produced a lot of her albums. As we’ve seen, the list of overlooked producers and behind-the-scenes figures that have been important parts of many inductees’ works is a long one. But hey — Pat Benatar’s husband’s in!
237. 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 Nuremberg 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 The Game, but they remained unaccountable super-duper-stars in the U.K. and over time re-emerged into the U.S. pop consciousness as well. They are now one of the handful of very biggest-selling bands of all time.
As we have seen with so many artists, the sliding scales of personal behavior and artistry are difficult to deal with. It’s a hard issue, with a simple solution. Critics and journalists, too many of whom are hagiographers these days and glide over or ignore anything that tarnishes the act’s image, need to spell it all out for readers so they can make up their own minds. So pull up a chair.
I’ve always found Queen to be on the wrong side of just about everything. It’s not just sucking up to American Idol, or how, in the wake of the success of Bohemian Rhapsody the remaining members of the band have accordingly been shoveling their back catalog into TV advertisements. (The latest: “We Will Rock You” in ads for Qatar Airways in conjunction with the upcoming World Cup to be played in this human-rights cesspool.) Those things aren’t surprising for a group that, back in the day, 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 white government in South Africa, which had architected a system that relegated the black majority to second-class citizenship, and wasn’t nice about it either. Sun City was a casino in Bophuthatswana, one of the blacks-only enclaves the apartheid government had set up to strip black citizens of their rights; Queen played there despite the boycott 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, 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 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 forced to spend their last days covered with lesions, wasting away to nothing, 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.
238. 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’s plain now that Bon Jovi’s 2018 induction, however comical it seemed at the time, was a watershed moment in the hall’s history, when it finally broke free of its creators’ prejudices, but also their protection, too. Foreigner, Huey Lewis & the News, Nickelback, Train, Matchbox 20, Mumford & Sons… — each generation’s shitty band will eventually get in. Hence Def Leppard a few years later.
239. Lionel Richie (2022)
Lionel Richie was a mainstay of the Commodores, a passable lite-funk ’70s outfit from Tennessee. He helped the band break fully into the mainstream with the classic lite-pop hit “Easy,” then went solo, subsequently churning out a big handful of oozy, gooey, saccharine hits that, back in the day, fueled the playlist of adult-contemporary radio stations. His best-selling album was Can’t Slow Down. The cover of this energetically titled opus features a dramatic picture of Richie … plopped backward in a chair in a big empty room. Astonishingly, he was rewarded with an Album of the Year Grammy in 1985. To be fair, the competition wasn’t too strong that year — with the exception of, um, Born in the U.S.A. and Purple Rain.
There are pop performers who bring some edge of complexity or multidimensionality to their work, but Richie’s not one of them. Former Rolling Stone editor Alan Light, the same hall guy who was delivering the (inaccurate and specious) line that Whitney Houston was the biggest-selling artist not in the hall, was duly dispatched with talking points to do PR cover for Richie. Appearing on a Sirius XM show, he said that Richie had gotten in because … he had headlined at Bonnaroo! “They had McCartney. They had Elton. They had Billy Joel … and Lionel Richie was that slot one year,” Light said on the show, which Future Rock Legends posted about. “And I think he may be the only one in that slot that isn’t in the Rock Hall.” Note how the tired festival practice of throwing in a big nostalgia act to sell tickets is now used, fun-house-mirror style, to justify a hall of fame induction by someone who is supposed to be a journalist. R. Kelly played Bonnaroo too — in 2013, many years after revelations of his inhuman behavior toward young girls came to light.
240. Stevie Nicks (2019)
Fleetwood Mac was inducted way back in 1998, so Nicks was already in the hall, which she deserved to be. Her solo career, which is what this induction is supposed to honor, includes not much else beyond one-and-a-half glossy hits (“Edge of Seventeen” and “Stand Back”) and a dulcet duet with Don Henley. You can even throw in the pre–Fleetwood 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. Nicks has always been close to hall insider Jimmy Iovine, which undoubtedly helped her become the first female two-time inductee, even though at the time there were several other female artists in the hall who had had much more consequential and venturesome solo careers than Nicks, most notably Tina Turner (who is finally being inducted as a solo act in 2022) and Diana Ross. I had originally had Nicks’ position higher in the list, but upon consideration it seems pretty objectively obvious to me that her oeuvre (again, her non–Fleetwood Mac solo work only) is the most inconsequential of all the acts thus far inducted.
This post has been updated throughout.