For years, I have taken shots at the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall Of Fame. I have criticized the voters for who they have inducted and who they have ignored. I have ranted indignantly about snubs and unworthy inclusions. I have cracked countless jokes about the institution’s relevance. I have even questioned whether the Rock Hall should exist at all.
But I’m not going to do that this year. I can’t. Because for the first time, I am one of those voters.
For all of the misgivings I have publicly expressed in the past about the Rock Hall, I still believe that if there is going to be a museum chronicling the history of modern popular music, I want to have some say in the matter. Now the time has come (finally!) for me to put my money where my big fat mouth is.
But more than that, I think I am obliged to be completely transparent about how I’m voting. Again, I have yapped about the Rock Hall for years. It’s only fair that I now put myself on the hot seat, and open myself up to the same scrutiny that I have subjected to others. Therefore, I have decided to share my ballot — the deadline for turning them in is next week — and explain why I voted the way I did.
Let me just say this before we wade in: Being a voter for the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall Of Fame is hard! Or maybe this was just an especially difficult year. The class of 2021 is stacked. Out of the 16 nominees, I don’t think there is a single “WTF?” choice in the bunch. I could have voted for anyone (or everyone) and been justified. But I can’t vote for everyone. You get five choices. That’s it.
There are no wrong answers here. But there is also no way to not snub a lot of wonderful artists. So, I am sorry in advance!
With my first (and certainly not my last) apology out of the way, let’s look at my Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall Of Fame ballot.
WHO I DIDN’T VOTE FOR
Mary J. Blige
Rage Against The Machine
I’m grouping these artists together because they all originated in the 1990s. As a Gen-Xer, I am essentially a generational traitor because I didn’t vote for any of these artists. They’re supposed to be my people! What gives?
Certainly, you can make a solid case for any of them. Mary J. Blige is the queen of hip-hop soul. Foo Fighters are possibly the highest-profile rock band of the last 25 years. Jay-Z is one of the most successful and culturally impactful rappers ever. Rage Against The Machine pioneered the melding of metal and hip-hop.
All of them are important! So why didn’t they get my vote? In situations like this, I have a bias — if this can be called a bias — in favor of older artists whose influence and reach extends deeper from the past. Put another way: If you were great in the ’60s, ’70s, and ’80s, and you laid the groundwork for the artists who came after you, and you’re not already in the Rock Hall, AND I have the chance to vote for you, I will likely think you’re more deserving than younger artists who haven’t had to wait around as long to get recognized.
I have no doubt that all of these people will get in the Rock Hall eventually. So, in my mind, they can wait a bit.
LL Cool J
Remember that thing I said about honoring artists from the ’60s, ’70s, and ’80s who laid the groundwork for future generations? All of these artists are exactly that, and yet I didn’t vote for them. What in the hell is wrong with me?
Like I said before, voting for this thing is hard. Is it always going to be this hard? Why couldn’t I have been a voter the year Bon Jovi was inducted, so I could at least say I didn’t vote for Bon Jovi? Instead, I have to justify not voting for LL Cool J, one of the earliest rap superstars whose career spans decades. Then there’s Chaka Khan, the queen of funk, the vocal wizard who led Rufus in the 1970s and then proceeded to have a killer solo career. And Carole King — damn, I’m not voting for Carole King?! — one of the greatest songwriters of the rock era whose 1971 album Tapestry is a timeless classic. And of course Dionne Warwick, who I can’t believe is not already in the Rock ‘n’ Hall Of Fame, along with the Twitter Hall Of Fame.
Is anyone else sweating profusely? I’m going to open a window.
New York Dolls
And now I’m going to jump out the window.
These were the most painful non-votes for me. At some point I had each in my “vote” pile, and then decided against it. Why? Because I’m a moron.
I love Devo because they are Midwestern post-punk freaks whose best three or four albums sound like they came out last week. I love the Go-Go’s because they made some of the catchiest and most enduring pop-punk of the ’80s, including “Our Lips Are Sealed,” which is an absolutely perfect song. I love the New York Dolls — I mean, I l-u-v the New York Dolls — because practically every great rock ‘n’ roll band who came after them stole from the Dolls in some small (or huge) way.
Again, how are all of these bands not already in?? And how is it possible that I went from being part of the solution to part of the problem in, like. 1.6 seconds?
All of these artists are worthy. The problem when you get into a ballot situation is that you can’t judge individuals on their own merits. It’s all about relative merits compared to others that, for whatever reason, you feel like are slightly more qualified in this context. Whether someone gets in is determined as much by the merits of the other nominees as their own.
It’s brutal! I hate it! If you see Jane Wiedlin, please tell her that in spite of everything I will always love her.
WHO I DID VOTE FOR
So, if I didn’t vote for any of these aforementioned geniuses and world-changers, who did I vote for? Let’s take it one by one.
Perhaps more than any of this year’s nominees, Kate Bush feels like an artist whose legacy continues to grow with each successive generation. In the ’70s and ’80s, she was often regarded as a quirky curiosity, a cult artist whose highest mainstream profile often came from doing cameos on blockbuster albums by male superstars, like Peter Gabriel’s So. But in the past decade or so, Bush really seems like one of the most influential and adored artists of the alternative era. It’s hard to imagine 2010s era indie, for one, without her art-pop blueprint. Just put on 1985’s Hounds Of Love and notice how much it sounds like Lorde, Billie Eilish, and countless other contemporary acts. Putting her in this year is a rare opportunity for the Rock Hall to actually seem kind of cool.
He’s only one of the most significant musicians and sociopolitical figures to come out of Africa in the past century. He’s also credited with basically inventing Afrobeat, and if you are credited with inventing a genre, I think you probably belong in the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall Of Fame. Like Kate Bush, Fela Kuti’s influence only seems to grow with each passing year, and I don’t imagine his music will become less relevant any time soon. (This despite his death in 1997.) But beyond all of these blue-chip “cultural importance” resumé credentials, Kuti has just put out an insane number of funky, joyous, and incredibly danceable records with profoundly heavy grooves. (He’s put out about 50 of them, though that doesn’t include various live albums and compilations.) I don’t know if any other nominee’s music is as fun as Kuti’s, while at the same time being highly politically charged and inspiring to millions.
There are plenty of metal-adjacent hard rock groups in the Rock Hall: AC/DC, Guns N’ Roses, Van Halen, Kiss, Deep Purple, Rush. But in terms of pure metal, you have Metallica, you have Black Sabbath, and that’s it. Iron Maiden deserves to be the next one to cross the rubicon. Their ’80s work is loaded with wall-to-wall classics like The Number Of The Beast and Powerslave that are foundational albums of the genre. But Maiden’s later work is also remarkably consistent, and they’ve been a reliable arena-rock attraction for nearly 40 years. In terms of metal history, they are as important as any band when it comes to defining what exactly this kind of music should sound and look like. There are other metal bands who need to be in the Rock Hall, but Iron Maiden must be included.
My sentimental choice. I have to vote for Todd Rundgren because I suspect that most people won’t. He isn’t as hip as Kate Bush and he didn’t invent a genre like Fela Kuti and he was never the figurehead of a musical movement like Iron Maiden. Todd Rundgren is just an extremely smart and talented weirdo who’s had one of the most fascinating careers in rock history. Just as a producer and recording engineer, his credits are bonkers and all over the place — The Band, Grand Funk Railroad, fellow nominees the New York Dolls, Meat Loaf, Hall & Oates, XTC. And then there’s his solo career, which includes one pop-rock masterpiece, 1972’s Something/Anything, in which he managed to write songs that sounded just like another fellow nominee, Carole King. After that he lost his mind and made his drugged-out pop-rock masterpiece, 1973’s A Wizard, A True Star. And then he formed a prog-rock group, Utopia, and made a concept album about the sun. I could go on but if you’re on board I don’t need to. And if you’re not on board you’re probably mad that I voted for a guy who started a band called Utopia.
The no-brainer. There is no way Tina Turner isn’t making it into the Rock Hall this year, because there is no good reason why she’s not already in the Rock Hall as a solo artist. (She was inducted with ex-husband Ike Turner in 1991.) She’s an iconic performer who has influenced scores of other iconic performers, from Mick Jagger to Beyoncé. And she’s still super famous and beloved! I suspect this is an idiot test and that anyone not voting for Tina Turner will probably have their ballot (rightly) revoked with extreme prejudice. Either way, I’m voting for her.
Some artists covered here are Warner Music artists. Uproxx is an independent subsidiary of Warner Music Group.