Here we go again. Yesterday’s mail brought my ballot form for nominating five from a list of 14 singers and/or groups whom I would like to see inducted in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. As I have noted in the past, this task becomes trickier for me each year because I become less familiar with the work of some of those on the list while more and more names on it seem to me to be less deserving of the honour. This is a result of the R&RHoF’s insistence on inducting a minimum of five acts every year, year in year out, in order to perpetuate interest in the institution.
In the early years many more than five were inducted, and to date there are 345 of them, ranging from Elvis Presley, who was among the first batch to be inducted when the institution was launched in 1986, to Pat Benatar, inducted in 2022, but far be it for me to suggest that Ms Benatar is less worthy than Elvis.
This year’s list features Kate Bush, Sheryl Crow, Missy Elliott, Iron Maiden, Joy Division/New Order, Cyndi Lauper, George Michael, Willie Nelson, Rage Against The Machine, Soundgarden, The Spinners, A Tribe Called Quest, The White Stripes and Warren Zevon. I believe this is the third time Kate Bush has been nominated but others on the list have all been nominated before at least once too.
Furthermore, since artists cannot be inducted until 25 years after their first record was released, it is immediately apparent that the majority of the names on this list have been eligible for induction for many years. The Spinners, aka The Detroit Spinners, have been eligible for induction since 1986 and Willie Nelson since 1987. Warren Zevon was fist eligible in 2001, Soundgarden in 2003. Of the Brits, George Michael was first eligible since 2002, JD/NO since 2003, ditto Kate Bush, and Iron Maiden since 2004. Indeed, only Missy Elliott, whose first record was released in 1997, is being nominated at the earliest opportunity. Also, unless I’m mistaken, the nominating committee have jumped the gun with The White Stripes whose debut LP came out in 1999 and who, of course, didn’t become popular until 2003 after the release of Elephant. By my reckoning, this means they’re not really eligible until 2024.
Lots of acts have jumped the queue in the meantime, of course, but the list does suggest the committee are playing catch-up by nominating acts they either missed or deemed unworthy in previous years, not to mention the paucity of newcomers and an increasing need to fall back on those who’ve been nominated but not inducted before. This suggests that to keep the ball running it is necessary to add less worthy nominees to the list; an inevitable lowering of standards.
For those unfamiliar with the R&RHoF protocol, a somewhat secretive committee of experts selects those who will join the list, and this is circulated to about 500 lesser experts around the world, of which I have been one since the early nineties. Justifiable criticism has been levelled at the nominating committee for a dearth of women and artists of colour, and a bias towards US acts. In this regard, it’s instructive to note that the standard bearers of Britpop, Oasis, Blur and Pulp, have not been inducted into the R&RHoF. I can’t recall whether they’ve even been nominated. Similarly, I have long advocated for the nomination of Richard Thompson and Slade, and Nicky Hopkins in the ‘sideman’ category.
So, who to vote for this year? In the past I have eliminated nominees because they were not what I would deem to be rock’n’roll acts but I’m inclined to waive this stipulation this time around so as to vote for Willie Nelson, a grand old dope smoker whose heart has always been in the rock’n’roll camp, even if most of his music is country or MoR. I’ll vote for White Stripes because I was an early convert and think Jack White’s a sound guy. Ditto Warren Zevon, a great songwriter who somehow escaped the stardom to which he was entitled.
I’m going to vote for Joy Division/New Order because in their music and attitudes they somehow represent an antidote to the philosophy of the R&RHoF, and I’m all for rocking the boat, and because it’ll be interesting to see if avowed enemies Bernard Sumner and Peter Hook will share a stage at the awards ceremony. They probably won’t get that far anyway because, aware of the bad blood, the powers that be will no doubt somehow proscribe their induction.
Cheryl Crow gets my final vote because she played bass for Elvis on that wondrous spoof Radio 2 advert, alongside Moonie on drums, Jimmy and Noel on guitars, Marvin on back-up vocals and Stevie on keyboards. Her and Noel are the only ones in that sensational line up not to be in the R&RHoF and both deserve to be.