My (Non-Anonymous) Ballot For The 2023 Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame

Bring up the Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame to a typical music fan, and you will immediately receive two contradictory responses in the same breath. First, this person will say, “A museum for music is lame, and being inducted has no bearing on the actual artistic merit of a musician’s work.” This is correct. And then this person will say, “I can’t believe the Rock Hall doesn’t include [an encyclopedic list of overlooked geniuses that have been meticulously and angrily catalogued over the course of many years]!” This is also correct.

The Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame doesn’t matter. We all know this.

But the Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame also matters a lot. We all know this, too.

By the way, I am also this typical music fan. The difference is that I am also a Rock Hall voter. But before I was a voter, I routinely ripped the institution as irrelevant, Boomer-obsessed, artistically suspect, and idiotic. I also was very interested in becoming a person with a (very small) role in choosing who gets inducted. After all, if this thing was going to exist anyway, I wanted to have a say.

But with (very minor) power comes (medium) responsibility. I decided that if I’m going to be a voter, I must be transparent, even if it means opening myself to online abuse from opinionated loud-mouths exactly like me.

Therefore, I am going to walk through my process of voting for the 2023 Rock Hall class. Along the way, I’ll try to explain my reasoning, as well as my frustrations with the process. (Even though I’m a voter, I am still complaining about the Rock Hall. Old habits die hard.)

But before we get to that, let me explain five things:

1) There are 14 nominees this year. I did not pick the nominees. The nominating committee picked them. I know nothing about the nominating committee. I imagine they are like the shadowy cabal that Tom Cruise discovers in Eyes Wide Shut. (Except with less orgies.)

2) You are allowed to vote for five acts. There are no write-ins. (I am speaking to you, guy on Twitter who is about to tweet at me, “No love for Phish?”) Ballots are due at the end of April, and the inductees will be announced (I think) in early May.

3) This is an extremely qualified class. It’s not true every year that all of the candidates are worthy of induction. It is true this year, though. If I could, I would vote for all of them. But I can’t. So I didn’t.

4) If I didn’t vote for an artist, it is not intended as a sign of disrespect. As I said, I like (or love) the nine acts I didn’t vote for. In some cases, the only reason I didn’t vote for a particular act is because I felt like they would make it without my support. In those instances, I put priority on artists who might need my vote over those who don’t.

5) Voting for the Rock Hall requires a lot of this sort of reactive, strategic thinking. (At least it does for me — other people might throw darts at their ballots for all I know.) I think my strategies makes sense. But you might disagree. And if you disagree, I might mute you.

Okay, let’s parse this.

Kate Bush

One strategy — as I just said — is not voting for artists/bands that I’m confident already have enough votes to get in. I considered this approach for Kate Bush. Coming off her Stranger Things bump — which occurred in the midst of a long-running critical love fest for her work among modern music writers — I assumed that Kate Bush of all people was a slam dunk. But then I remembered that I voted for her in 2021, and I thought she was a slam dunk then, and she’s somehow still not in. And … I really think Kate Bush is extremely overdue at this point? In terms of influence, every arty, left-of-center indie pop artist in 2023 owes something to her. And yet somehow her music also doesn’t seem overexposed. She’s foundational and fresh at the same time, a very rare combination.

My vote: Yes.

Sheryl Crow

I like Sheryl Crow. I really like her first three albums, which established her as one of the most reliable creators of pop-rock radio candy in the ’90s. Her best song from this era, “If It Makes You Happy,” has been covered by approximately 7,000 indie bands and yet if another one covered it tomorrow I would quickly smash the play button. You can make a case that the most popular singer-songwriters to emerge in the last five years — everyone from Phoebe Bridgers to Lucy Dacus to Soccer Mommy – owe Crow a sizable debt. As it is, I expect to hear and enjoy her indestructible songs at CVS until the day I keel over at a CVS.

Now the nitpicky part: Did she invent an archetype? I think Kate Bush clearly did. Sheryl Crow refined the heartland rocker sound for a new decade, which is admirable. But is she inventive? I don’t know about that. Does that mean “Strong Enough” isn’t a great song? Of course not. Unfortunately, we’re already in Sophie’s Choice territory here.

My vote: No.

Missy Elliott

Is she inventive? Absolutely? Is she one of the important rappers of her generation? Uh-huh. Did I recently put her on a list of the best debut albums ever? I did! Did I vote for her? Um … let me explain.

There are people on this list who are deserving that have been waiting for years and even decades to get inducted. Some of these artists waited so long that they died before they could be recognized. This is pretty much the case every year. Therefore, I try to prioritize artists who have been stuck for an eternity in the waiting room over those who have just entered the conversation. Kate Bush, for instance, has been eligible since 2004. That’s longer than the core viewership of Stranger Things has been alive. So, that’s another reason why I’m voting for her.

This is Missy Elliott’s first year of eligibility. If she doesn’t make it this year — I actually think she will have a lot of support — she will get in at some point. If that’s the case, I look forward to eventually casting my vote for her.

My vote: No.

Iron Maiden

The thing that people who get upset about the Rock Hall don’t understand is that voters aren’t able vote based on the merits of a particular artist. You are voting based on the merits of a particular artist relative to the other artists who are on the ballot. You are forced to compare apples with oranges and ’90s rappers with ’80s metal bands. It frankly is the single most frustrating aspect of voting for this thing.

As I pondered my ballot this year, I wondered if we would be better off as voters if there were categories. What if artists were separated by decade? You get to vote for one artist from the ’70s, the ’80s, etc. (Actually, that doesn’t seem totally workable). Maybe it should be genre? One pop singer, one alt-rock band, one rapper, etc. (Hmm … that also seems flawed.)

Back to Maiden. I love this band. Their ’80s work is iconic, but they have also put out quality late-period work. As an arena attraction, they’re an all-time live act. Basically, you can’t write the history of metal without them. And metal in general is woefully under-represented in the Rock Hall. I also suspect that they will need every vote that they can get, as many voters (it seems) shrug their shoulders at bands like this.

My vote: Yes.

Joy Division/New Order

I have mixed feelings about packaging these two pioneering post-punk bands together. On one hand, I get it: New Order very naturally extended from Joy Division in the wake of Ian Curtis’ death. Also, thinking of them as one entity probably makes each band seem more important in the minds of an electorate that has been slow to induct alt-rock legends.

On the other hand … these are two different bands! And it’s kind of corny that Rock Hall voters can’t just decide that Joy Division and New Order deserve their own sets of flowers. Besides, I would love to see Bernard Sumner and Peter Hook awkwardly stand next to each other on stage on two separate occasions, rather than just one.

Here’s the thing: I gambled on this one. I am 95 percent sure that Joy Division/New Order is going to make it. I originally had them on my ballot, but then I thought, “Do they really need my support?” If I’m wrong, I will feel as bad as I do whenever I put on Closer.

My vote: No.

Cyndi Lauper

Here’s another artist I am confident will make it with or without my help. She was among the highest vote-getters for the online fan vote, which historically has been a good indicator of who gets inducted. And she has the sort of cross-generational support among industry people that bodes well for her chances. So: While I love “Time After Time,” I must put my support elsewhere.

My vote: No.

George Michael

George and Cyndi have a similar career arc, in that they both put out unassailable ’80s pop classics as their debuts — 1983’s She’s So Unusual and 1987’s Faith, respectively — that were so massive that they overshadow the rest of their work. In the case of George Michael, he only put out three more albums of original material after Faith. If I’m picking nits, that works against him.

Then again, I really, really love Faith. It really is one of the best pop albums of all time. I am also inclined, as I mentioned, to honor artists who passed away before they could be honored. But there are, sadly, a lot of artists to posthumously honor this year.

I hate this.

My vote: No.

Willie Nelson

Is he the greatest and most consequential artist on this list? I would say yes. He is so great and consequential that he seems way bigger than the Rock Hall. The honor almost diminishes him. It’s like the federal government giving Abraham Lincoln an “Employee Of The Month” award.

Does Willie Nelson really need this?

My vote: No.

Rage Against The Machine

I am inclined to vote for ’90s alt-rock bands. As I have complained many, many times, the Rock Hall seems to be pivoting away from nominating rock acts because there’s a mistaken belief that all of the great rock acts are already in. And that’s not true! It’s the opposite of true! Google your favorite alt or indie or metal band from the ’80s and ’90s, and there’s a very good chance they are not yet in, and a decent chance that they haven’t even been nominated!

Rage has already been on the ballot several times, and yet here we are. Clearly, there are voters who will always blame these guys for popularizing nü-metal. I wonder if the Rock Hall will eventually go the Joy Division/New Order route and package Rage Against The Machine with Soundgarden and Audioslave for a three-banger of bombastic riffage. That bill would be undeniable.

As for me, there is another band from this era I am voting for instead.

I’m sorry, Tom Morello.

My vote: No.

Soundgarden

While they didn’t start having hits until the ’90s, Soundgarden actually originated in the ’80s, which means they preceded all of their grunge peers and set the blueprint for that music. (This is their 11th year of eligibility.) Nevertheless, they have been on the outside looking in as Nirvana and Pearl Jam were swiftly escorted into the hall. (Incredibly, Matt Cameron made it as a member of Pearl Jam before the band he started out in.)

I think they deserve to make it, and I fear that both Boomers and Millennials in the voting pool are inclined to overlook one of the best Gen X hard rock outfits ever. So I am doubly inclined to lend my support. I just wish Chris Cornell was still around to appreciate it.

My vote: Yes.

The Spinners

To revive a gripe from earlier: It’s really dumb to be put in a position where I’m forced to compare this sublime ’70s vocal group to Soundgarden and Kate Bush. These artists are brilliant in completely different ways! The current system encourages the worst sort of tribalism among voters, where people lazily fall back on picking artists who mattered to them between the ages of 17 and 24. (Or against artists associated with whichever older or younger generation the voter happens to personally resent.)

When it comes to Philly Soul — which simply is some of the most purely enjoyable music ever made — you can’t go wrong with The Spinners. If I were voting for the Backyard BBQ Music Hall Of Fame, the group responsible for “I’ll Be Around” and “Could It Be I’m Falling In Love” would be at the top of my ballot. Please give them the “Musical Excellence” Award!

My vote: No.

A Tribe Called Quest

Are they one of the top five groups in their genre? Check.

Have they put out beloved albums in multiple decades? Check.

Is it impossible to write the history of hip-hop without them? Check.

Do their best albums still sound incredible? Check.

Is The Low End Theory as good as any LP put out by any artist on this list? Check.

Have they already waited too long? Check. (This is their eighth year of eligibility.)

Do I hope that Q-Tip sees this and invites me to hang out sometime? Check.

My vote: Yes.

The White Stripes

If they make it, will Meg White show up? I’m tempted to vote yes just to find out. (In addition to The White Stripes being, you know, one of the best and most popular rock bands of the last 25 years.)

However, I have to fall back on my “don’t vote for an act on their first year of eligibility if there are worthy artists who already have been waiting a long time” rule. I think The White Stripes will make it regardless, but if it’s not this year, it will definitely be next year.

My vote: No.

Warren Zevon

He’s the least famous person here. He has (I’m guessing) sold the fewest records. He has the most checkered past, and (again, I’m guessing) he has personally alienated the most voters. (He has been dead for 20 years, but he had a huge lead in the “alienated industry people” department.)

Warren Zevon is also the artist I am most personally invested in making it. I love his music more than anyone else here, and I also feel that making the Rock Hall would help his legacy the most. He’s the opposite of Willie Nelson in that regard — a Rock Hall induction would have a tangible impact on encouraging people who might otherwise have no reason to put on “Splendid Isolation” to give the guy a chance. And his music deserves that chance.

The Rock Hall doesn’t matter. We all know this. But the Rock Hall also matters a lot. We all know this, too. And it would matter the most to WZ.

My vote: Hell yes.

Some artists covered here are Warner Music artists. Uproxx is an independent subsidiary of Warner Music Group.

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