This Year’s Rock Hall of Fame Ballot Aims to Right Some Wrongs

After an interminable delay, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame has finally announced its ballot of possible inductees for next year’s ceremony, due to take place on April 18. While the Hall has garnered a reputation amongst the public for many questionable choices and egregious snubs during its history — especially over the last decade — this year’s ballot shows positive signs that the Nominating Committee has finally registered some of the more frequent criticisms, and is progressively improving in regards to atoning for long-standing slights.

If you haven’t heard which 15 artists made the grade this year yet (I take it you’re not a Rush fan?), the Hall unveiled them hours ago on its Facebook page and in this handy YouTube announcement:

That’s right, this year’s remarkably strong shortlist boasts first-time eligibles N.W.A. and Public Enemy, past contenders the Paul Butterfield Blues Band, Chic, Heart, Joan Jett and the Blackhearts, Kraftwerk, the Meters, Randy Newman, and Donna Summer, and first-time nominees Deep Purple, Albert King, the Marvelettes, Procol Harum, and Rush. While the absence of any alternative rock artists is a disappointment (especially since this was the first year that Jane’s Addiction and the Pixies qualified for candidacy), the 2013 Rock Hall ballot is nevertheless one that finally includes several more-than-deserving artists who’ve been excluded previously, alongside previous contenders who’ve missed out on induction before and two widely acclaimed and influential newly eligible acts who ideally should go straight in.

For many, the first-time nominations for Rush and Deep Purple are the most exciting revelations. If inducted, Deep Purple will finally join Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath to complete the founding triumvirate of heavy metal in the Hall’s roll call. Rush’s continuous lack of acknowledgement by the Hall has long been a persistent bane for progressive rock fans, Canadians, and above all else Rush’s deeply devoted and intensely vocal fanbase. Look up any web article about the Hall, and you’re almost certain to find one person in the comments section demanding to know why Geddy Lee, Alex Lifeson, and Neil Peart still haven’t been enshrined. Make no mistake, if Rush does not garner enough votes to make it into the Hall next year the outcry amongst rock fans on the Internet with be ginormous. But for right now, a Rush nomination at long last is vindication enough. And with Deep Purple, Heart, and Joan Jett also joining the trio on the ballot, it’s evident that the Hall accedes that hard rock is deserving of greater recognition than it has been afforded in the past (and I’d wager that the pointed comments previous inductees Metallica and Guns ‘N Roses made during their induction speeches and in interviews sufficiently shamed the Nominating Committee in that regard).

Part of the reason Deep Purple has to have finally registered on the Nominating Committee’s radar is the recent passing of former keyboardist Jon Lord. Death is also a factor that will most certainly result in induction for disco queen Donna Summer after four previous unsuccessful nominations. It’s deeply unfortunate that although both artists — who impacted music in the 1970s so profoundly and whose influence permeates the form to this day — have been eligible for over a decade, they will only get their due after they’ve forever lost the chance to enjoy it themselves. More than Rush, the long-delayed inductions of Purple and Summer are the true travesties that will hopefully be righted once and for all by Hall of Fame voters this year.

The makeup of this year’s ballot would be a pleasant enough surprise in of itself, but the Hall has done music fans one better. This year, the Hall has introduced an online fan poll, which allows the public to participate in the voting process for the very first time. It’s a small step, admittedly — the top five vote recipients will be cast as a single “fan’s ballot” amongst the 600-plus other ballots that will be submitted. But given the secretive and elitist manner in which the Hall has generally conducted the election procedure, this is an astonishing and much welcome inclusive gesture.

Though there’s plenty of good news from the Hall this week, there’s still potential for eventual disappointment. With so many worthy names up for consideration this year and only five induction spots available, several will inevitably have to wait for another shot at entering the Hall. Look at the similarly solid 2002 ballot, for instance: ABBA, Black Sabbath, the Dells, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Patti Smith, and the Sex Pistols had to be enshrined as part of future classes, while Chic, Kraftwerk, the MC5, and Steve Winwood have yet to be honored a decade later. And it’s not like the top vote-getters that filled out the Class of 2003 were lacking — in fact, that year’s inductee roster of AC/DC, the Clash, Elvis Costello, the Police, and the Righteous Brothers was one of the most impressive the Hall has honored in the new millennium. Vote-splitting amongst artists representative of particular styles can impact the results significantly — the Beastie Boys made it into the Hall on their third nomination only after they stopped sharing a ballot with fellow rapper LL Cool J (he’s still not in, by the way). For hard rock and hip-hop fans, the chance that merely one or none of the artists in those genres will make the final cut is a sobering possibility.

Then again, this year’s ceremony honored the Beastie Boys, Guns ‘N Roses, and the Red Hot Chili Peppers when past results suggested that Hall voters would abstain from honoring so many ’80s artists at once. Both the Rock Hall’s Nominating Committee and its voters have made important strides recently in regards to rectifying long-standing shortcomings. Here’s hoping the Hall’s refreshing series of improvements doesn’t abate.