This morning the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame unveiled its list of names for its voting body to consider for induction as part of the institution’s 2015 class. The ballot includes first-year eligibles Green Day and Nine Inch Nails (who per the nomination criteria released their debut records in 1989), first-time nominees the Smiths, Sting, Stevie Ray Vaughan, and Bill Withers, and returning names the Paul Butterfield Blues Band, Chic, Joan Jett and the Blackhearts, Kraftwerk, the Marvelettes, N.W.A, Lou Reed, the Spinners, and War. While the organization has garnered a lot of (justified) heat for its seemingly elitist and out-of-touch view of which artists are worthy of being canonized as part of a body that honors excellent and influential rock ‘n’ roll artists (Exhibits A and B: the shocking number of times Black Sabbath and the Stooges had to be nominated before getting the nod), recent strides like an online ballot that the public can vote for and a progressively more enlightened selection of nominees (with particular consideration given to previously underrepresented genres like heavy metal and prog) have been respectable efforts to correct those shortcomings.
With every Rock and Roll Hall of Fame ballot there are some obvious choices, some pleasant surprises, and some genuine head-scratchers to be found. After skimming the list of names on offer, here’s what I took away from it.
1. The Ballot Is One Short
Recent ballots have offered up 16 nominees. Why is this year’s roster one slot shorter, especially since the number of inductions has crept up as well from a long-held standard of five to six? My guess is this was done to mitigate vote-splitting and create more movement amongst the Hall’s backlog of deserving artists still awaiting induction. Consider: the by-all-metrics worthy Beastie Boys struck out twice until they were put up in a year when they didn’t have to compete for the hip-hop vote with Def Jam labelmate LL Cool J, and the massive groundswell of support for Kiss last year probably drew votes away from fellow hard rock nominee Deep Purple. With a few less names, voting can be a little more focused and in turn the ballot might cut down a smidge on the recurrance of certain names who have spent year after year awaiting their shot.
However, it’s fair to point out that that if the Hall hadn’t taken a razor to the bottom of the ballot, another name could have easily been plucked from a hat to take the missing spot. Why not Roxy Music, or Janet Jackson, or their peers amongst the increasing number of seemingly obvious acts would have amazingly never been nominated? Not to mention some recent nominees who are strangely absent this time around, namely the much-lobbied-for Deep Purple and Yes.
2. The ’90s Have Officially Attained “Classic” Status
Or to put it another way, “If you grew up in the ’90s, you are now officially old”. Nirvana’s nomination last year and subsequent induction this past April was the first breach for the Lollapalooza generation, and Green Day and Nine Inch Nails now arrive to bust open the floodgates, with Pearl Jam, Radiohead, Tupac Shakur, Beck, and Rage Against the Machine just some of the more obvious inductees to come in the near-future.
It may be hard to remember post-American Idiot and With Teeth, but there was a time not far back when, unlike the almost-immediately beatified Nirvana, it did not look like Green Day and NIN would be near the front of the queue when it came to dole out immortal status to the ’90s generation. What a difference a pair of roaring career comebacks makes; now, it’s hard to argue that they don’t deserve their first-opportunity spots on the ballot.
3. The ’80s Are Still Fighting for Respect
Gangsta rap’s definitive act (indeed, the most important hip-hop name of the last 25 years) N.W.A is back for a third straight shot at induction, and LL Cool J once again sits out the ballot completely. Eighties hip-hop has at least faired better than ’80s alternative rock (only R.E.M., the Red Hot Chili Peppers, and Nirvana — who for all intents and purposes counts as a ’90s group — are enshrined) and ’80s metal (Metallica and Guns N’ Roses are the lone representatives) when it comes to actually making it in the Hall. But even rap’s roster of current inductees — Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, Run DMC, Beastie Boys, and Public Enemy — could stand to be expanded. Some surprise headway in regards to recognizing ’80s music has been made in the form of the Smiths’ first nomination, an event which also goes a small way towards rectifying the Hall’s odd tendancy to virtually ignore British music after the punk/New Wave era (Sting too is up for the vote this year, but bear in mind he’s already inducted as a member of New Wave juggernaut the Police).
4. Lou Reed Is This Year’s Donna Summer
Lou Reed’s passing last year unfortunately seems to be what it takes for the Velvet Underground mastermind to have his solo career gain another shot at the ballot. Like Donna Summer (finally inducted posthumously last year), Reed has been eligible for ages as a solo artist, yet induction eludes him — he has only been nominated twice before nearly 15 years back, and obviously that didn’t pan out for him. You could at least explain away Summer’s situation as an ingrained disco bias; Reed’s ongoing lack of enshrinement is plain odd given how many fans he has in both the nominating and voting pools. Even if he makes the cut for the 2015 class, his absence means it can only be a bittersweet triumph.
5. A Lot of Names Will Have to Wait Another Year
This year’s ballot now marks Chic’s ninth nomination, which now breaks the record previously held by both Black Sabbath and the Stooges. If no new names beyond Green Day and Nine Inch Nails had been added to the mix, I would have pegged 2015 as the year Chic would finally make it in the Hall. Instead, I see the 2015 class turning out like this year’s, when Nirvana was joined by not by recurring recent nominees finally afforded their opportunity, but previously-considered names half-forgotten by the Hall (or in the case of Kiss, actively campaigned against by some vocal dissenters) put back on the table and a few long-time eligibles who surprisingly never made the shortlist before. Given the makeup of the Hall’s voting body, the debuts of Sting and Stevie Ray Vaughan as well as the return of Lou Reed throw a wrench into expectations. Given the situation, I wouldn’t be surprised if this time next year the new Rock Hall ballot had Chic, Joan Jett, Kraftwerk, and even N.W.A once again awaiting their honors. But as always, in spite of the Hall’s intention to dictate and curate the canon of modern popular music, its oversights do nothing to diminish the artistry, influence, and impact of the musicians it continues to overlook.