By Tampa Earl Burton, Rock At Night Columnist
On Wednesday, the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame announced the nominees for its 2023 class. It was a smaller class than in previous years – only fourteen this time around, with two bands being considered as a solo entry (which hasn’t happened since The Small Faces/Faces were inducted). But it was a very eclectic list…and there wasn’t a weak spot in any phase of the exercise.
To start, let’s make this known. The Seventies are over folks. There are probably not going to be any more bands or artists inducted from the Seventies ever again (unless they get in through one of the three non-voting methods). Save for a couple of nominees this year, the entirety of those nominated come from the Eighties and Nineties – an era that has been LONG overlooked.
Second, get used to the fact that the nominees list isn’t going to be all “rock” bands. “Rock” is a subset of “rock and roll,” just like blues, gospel, country, folk, or some of the other sounds that help to create “rock and roll.” You’re going to see country artists nominated, or R&B or soul acts, or even pop hitmakers. It is ALL “rock and roll,” folks, and the sooner people can wrap their minds around this, the better.
Finally, I don’t care how many albums a band has sold or how many asses were put in seats. The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame wants to see how you CHANGED “rock and roll.” What impact did you have on the course of the history of “rock and roll.” If the only criteria was based on ticket and album sales, then Boxcar Willie and Hootie and the Blowfish would be first-year eligible inductees.
OK, now that is settled, let’s get on with an examination of the nominees! This is one of those few years when you can make a case for every nominee. The difficult part will be for a voter to settle on five choices, the maximum that can be voted on by an elector.
Here we go!
Kate Bush – Joel Peresman, the Chief Executive Officer of the Rock Hall, said himself that if the Hall were located in London, Bush would be a first-year eligible inductee (something I have contended for years). Bush’s early work with David Gilmour of Pink Floyd and Peter Gabriel stretched the boundaries of rock. Her solo work has continued that mission and, especially with her ability to introduce literary classics to her work, makes her art special. I expect that Bush will get in this year, however, not on these things – but because one of her songs was a big hit on the show Stranger Things. Think it was John Lennon who once said “Whatever gets you through the night”…we’ll paraphrase that here to “Whatever gets you in the Hall.” VOTE: IN
Sheryl Crow – as a personal favorite of mine, I would LOVE to see Crow get inducted. She was one of the formidable forces in the women in rock movement in the Nineties, working alongside Sarah McLachlan at the Lilith Fair. Her first-ever nomination, I think she will not be getting in – this time. Look for Crow to return in 2024. VOTE: OUT (Sadly)
Missy Elliott – I personally would have gone Queen Latifah here, but Missy is not a bad selection either. Rap IS a part of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and, to date, there hasn’t been a female rapper who has earned induction. The Rock Hall should do something about that and, whether it is Elliott or Latifah, I do not mind. The problem in 2023 is that Elliott and another nominee, A Tribe Called Quest, will probably split votes. This could keep both of them from earning enough votes to make it into the Hall. It is for that reason that I have to put them in the category of VOTE: OUT.
Iron Maiden – This is a situation that should have been handled YEARS ago. Iron Maiden and Judas Priest were the purveyors of the NWOBHM sound, yet both of them had to wait for the Rock Hall to get over their prejudice against hard rock/metal. Priest got in last year (as an Award for Musical Excellence recipient, but…John Lennon), so it is time for Maiden to get the same accolades. Once again, however, we have a potential for split votes – Maiden may split votes with Rage Against the Machine and Soundgarden, two other more than-deserving entries. None of the three may be elected – but all three get in through the non-voting methods. Let’s put Maiden down as VOTE: OUT.
Joy Division/New Order – I don’t think I’ve seen fans of alternative, “gothic” rock more excited than when this nominee was named. And they are deserving of their place in the pantheon of rock. Joy Division was one of the first originators of the gothic rock sound and, after the passing of their vocalist Ian Curtis by suicide, the band decided to go on as New Order. If you’re going to have bands like The Cure, Depeche Mode, and several others in, then the combo Joy Division/New Order induction is in line. I see this one as a VOTE: IN.
Cyndi Lauper and George Michael – We’re going to combine these two because they were major pop hitmakers in the Eighties. Lauper had one of the biggest records creatively and sales-wise in She’s So Unusual, but she was eventually overshadowed by Madonna. Michael was a consummate vocalist, songwriter, and producer who had an ear for a song. Alas, that will not be enough for either of these performers to crack through the wall and earn induction. VOTE: OUT
Willie Nelson – This is a coattail situation after the induction of Dolly Parton in 2022. If you’re going to have Dolly, you HAVE to have Willie. And there’s a great reason to induct Nelson. Legitimately one of the greatest songwriters of all time, stretches over from typical country to the “outlaw” brand he helped found, to even tinkering with Spanish rhythms (listen to he and Ray Charles’ duet on “Seven Spanish Angels” – if you’re not moved by that, check for a heartbeat). This is a no-brainer…VOTE: IN
Rage Against the Machine and Soundgarden – see Iron Maiden, although I could see both getting in through non-voting means in 2023. VOTE: OUT
The Spinners – This is a question mark for me. Did the Hall not want to put up Rufus and Chaka Khan again? Did they overlook bands like the Ohio Players, Kool & The Gang, and The Commodores just to pluck The Spinners for a shot? This isn’t saying they aren’t worthy of being here – it’s just that there are (and this is an argument you can make across the board) other, more qualified entries that should be considered. VOTE: OUT
A Tribe Called Quest – To be honest, I would not have been a promoter of Tribe in the past. But I have been taking a listen to the catalog of their work and can see where they not only introduced several elements of jazz and alternative into their work, but they also pointed the klieg light of their music directly at issues of the day (some of which are relevant today). I now believe that they should be inducted, but I don’t think they’ll be voted in. They will probably have to go the route that LL Cool J took and get the AME. VOTE: OUT
The White Stripes – The kitschy-cool nature of the work of Jack and Meg White brought a garage rock sensibility back into rock music at the start of the 21st century. They created truly inventive material, with “Seven Nation Army” garnering them the most attention. They are an FYE nominee (first-year eligible) and I do believe that they will garner enough votes to earn induction in 2023. VOTE: IN
Warren Zevon – I am not going to exhaust you with my beliefs that the genius of Warren Zevon has been overlooked for far too long. Penning songs for such artists as Linda Ronstadt, Jackson Browne, Bruce Springsteen, and a multitude of other Seventies superstars, Zevon’s quirky lyrics, iconoclastic musical stylings, and deadpan delivery were all things that set him apart from those who went on to bigger things. The Hall is going to correct a HUGE wrong if they do the right thing and induct Warren Zevon in 2023. VOTE: IN
That gives us a ballot of:
Joy Division/New Order
The White Stripes
As I stated previously, I could see ALL of these artists going in this year. I’m not sure how we would break down the Award for Musical Excellence and the Early Influence categories (the Ahmet Ertegun Award is for non-musician entities in the industry), but I am sure the minds at the Rock Hall could figure it out. Within three years, I think all of these players will be inducted in one manner or another – it’s just which ones go in for 2023.