The Rock Hall's inductee history is riddled with inconsistency and hints of genre bias. How else to explain the institution's forever indifference to prog rock (Rush have sold some 40 million albums worldwide, yet Geddy Lee can't get in without a ticket) or its late embrace of metal (it took until 2006 to induct Black Sabbath)? Is Jackson Browne truly deserving? It's as contentious as comparing ballplayers from different eras, and it's not about to go away.
Artists on Rock Hall co-founder Ahmet Ertegun's Atlantic Records label have long appeared to receive preferential treatment over artists who toiled for other labels. It happened again this year with Early Influence guitarist Freddie King, who didn't release his first album until 1961 and never received much ballot support — but did, incidentally, record for Atlantic.
Part of the problem is one of mission. How do you define rock? The genre's rather loose boundaries are complicated by the limited number of artists granted access each year and a nominating committee populated by people whose rock associations tilt toward the past. (More than half of the 35-person nominating committee is over 60; just six are still in their forties, and nobody's any younger than that.) The relatively small slate — some have argued for more inductees each year — ensures disagreement, especially given how much the music business has changed over the years.
For one thing, it rings odd that an institution honoring the world's most populist form of art would not open up its induction vote at least in part to the people who made stars of the candidates. While the recent uptick in inductions for sidemen and non-performers is appreciated, the main-ballot inductions remain a source of contention. Then again, maybe that's for the best: Nothing stokes barroom conversation like the relative merits of ABBA vs. John Mellencamp.
To fuel those conversations, we've broken down many deserving artists into a half-dozen under-represented genres and weighed them against their peers on the inside. Who's right and who is wrong? Let the debate rage on.PROG ROCK
ON THE INSIDE: Pink Floyd (class of '96), Queen ('01), Genesis ('10)
OUTSIDE LOOKING IN: Rush, King Crimson, Yes, Moody Blues, Jethro Tull, Emerson Lake & Palmer
WHAT'S THE DEAL: No genre has been as underappreciated as art rock, given its massive popularity. Yes and the Moody Blues were important early progenitors of the style; the latter had great commercial success in the early '70s. ELP were sorta important for a moment, but receded rather quickly. Tull released several classics (including Aqualung), while the knotty structures and awe-inspiring playing of King Crimson guitarists Robert Fripp and Adrian Belew have been immensely influential. But no act blends the commercial success and critical plaudits Rush have earned while remaining creatively viable nearly four decades after their birth. Induction in Cleveland would be justice, since we've long been their biggest supporters in the U.S.
NEXT ONE IN: Rush, in a tight race with the Moody Blues.
ON THE INSIDE:
AC/DC ('03), Black Sabbath ('06), Metallica ('09), Alice Cooper ('11)
OUTSIDE LOOKING IN: Judas Priest, Slayer, Kiss, Iron Maiden, Motörhead
WHAT'S THE DEAL: Metal hasn't received much more respect than prog — and only recently have headbangers been inducted at all. British metal pioneers Judas Priest made twin guitars and studded leather fashionable. Iron Maiden have been nearly as influential. It's hard to imagine Metallica in the Rock Hall and not Slayer (who may not have had the commercial success — who has? — but have been more consistent). And it's hard to conceive of either band without the foundational sound of Motörhead. But Kiss is as close as it gets to a no-brainer. Though they're critically reviled, it's hard to imagine metal without their theatricality and mass cultural penetration.
NEXT ONE IN: Kiss, in a squeaker over Priest.
RAP'S GOLDEN AGE
ON THE INSIDE:
Grandmaster Flash ('07), Run-D.M.C. ('09), the Beastie Boys ('12)
OUTSIDE LOOKING IN: LL Cool J, Eric B & Rakim, Boogie Down Productions (KRS-One), Public Enemy, N.W.A
WHAT'S THE DEAL: Rap is still relatively new, so the snub hasn't become a big problem ... yet. But Grandmaster Flash's tainted inclusion — he allegedly finished with fewer votes than the Dave Clark Five garnered, but won out over them in 2007 anyway — doesn't help, and we're at the quarter-century mark for rap's golden age. They're going to need to make some room. LL Cool J's debut album was Def Jam's first full-length and hip-hop's first platinum record. Rakim remains one of the genre's most skilled MCs. In 1987 alone, four of these five artists released their debut albums. Any of them is worthy of induction, but the impact of N.W.A's Dr. Dre, Ice Cube, and crew on hip-hop — even beyond their role in creating gangsta rap — is inestimable.
NEXT ONE IN: N.W.A, in a crowded photo finish.