The 2021 Rock & Roll Hall of Fame nominees

After a 2020 that was devastating to music lovers around the world, perhaps it’s time to look forward a little bit. 2020 saw live music come to a screeching halt. We lost rock legends like Neil Peart and Eddie Van Halen. I don’t think anybody knows with any certainty what will happen when it comes to live music; but some gigs are being scheduled and the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame has released it’s annual list of nominees. These will ultimately be cut down to a group of five or so for induction.

If diversity is what you’re looking for, we’ve got quite the list of nominees to choose from this year. My lack of faith in the powers that be at the R&RHOF is no secret. For crying out loud, Ted Nugent is not in there. Styx is not in there. And I could go on and on. For the sake, however, of this list; let’s assume that “rock & roll” does in fact encompass all genres of popular music and that all genres matter. Who should make the cut? Who should not? Outside of my favorite band, Iron Maiden, finally getting a nomination; this list is not real awe inspiring. It’s also not really a list that is friendly to what can traditionally be defined as rock music for an institution that is supposed to cater to rock music. After having a few weeks to ponder on the nominees; these are my thoughts.

Iron Maiden performing Aces High in Japan

The no-brainer is the aforementioned Iron Maiden. The metal legends have been eligible since 2004 and are just now being nominated for the first time. Getting Metallica and Black Sabbath in as the only metal bands inducted thus far has to help. However, the recent failure of the deserving Judas Priest twice in the past five years also gives reason to not trust the Hall to do the right thing. Iron Maiden is one of the pioneering bands of the “New Wave of British Heavy Metal” from the early 80’s that helped pave the way for bands like Saxon and were a direct influence on classic metal bands like Metallica, Megadeth and Iced Earth as well as more modern ones like Sabaton and Amon Amarth. Outside of KISS, there is probably no other band that is as marketable as Iron Maiden. Their live shows are a spectacle to behold and the 85 million albums they’ve sold with little to no radio or TV support make them the grassroots heavy metal champions of all time. This band is bigger now than they were in their 80’s heyday. Do the right thing R&RHOF. I know you haven’t been historically kind to including metal bands but this one should not even be up for debate. Although, with their denial of Judas Priest recently, I won’t hold my breath.

Iron Maiden performing Phantom of the Opera in England

Tina Turner comes in next. She’s already in the Hall of Fame for earlier work, while this nomination focuses on her as a solo artist. She has had a hit song in seven different decades. Few artists, past or present, have the stage presence that she does as a performer as well. Her solo music is kind of all over the place, but her roots are in rock & roll, rhythm & blues and at the end of the day she has sold over 100 million records. She once held a record for the largest paying audience for a solo artist at over 180,000 fans. She should join Stevie Nicks as the next woman to be inducted a second time.

Tina Turner covering The Who

The Foo Fighters are an intriguing candidate for induction. Front man Dave Grohl is like the biggest rock nerd in rock history, even bigger than myself. Even with his outspoken politics aside he seems like one of the most down to earth guys as well. A common man’s rock star perhaps. Is his band groundbreaking? Probably not. Can you definitively say they have changed rock music? No, not really. However, over the scope of their careers, they have maintained their status as one of the biggest rock bands in the world. There hasn’t really been a dip in their popularity. They still fill stadiums to this day. Their live performances are phenomenal. The ability to replicate what you are selling live should matter and they absolutely are a better live band than they are a radio band. The album sales are there. The live show is there. The staying power is there. I would include Foo Fighters and Dave gets in for the second time after previously being inducted with Nirvana.

Up next is Fela Kuti. While his music is not rock & roll, per se, he was a pioneer of the Afrobeats genre; blending jazz, funk, psychedelic and traditional Nigerian music to create his sound. His legacy to this music is second to none on this list of nominees. For that alone, he should be on the shortlist to be inducted.

Carole King has written 118 songs that have made the Billboard Charts. But, she is already in the Hall of Fame as a songwriter. Should she get in, this time, as a performer? That’s where the debate comes in. She is considered a soft rock artist and she’s got the career to back it up. It may not be my cup of tea, but you’ll get no argument here if she is inducted.

Dionne Warwick isn’t really a rock singer either, but the woman has charted 56 Hot 100 pop singles on the Billboard Charts.But her very early music contains a lot of the same elements that became rock music later on. She meets that credential as well as her staying power. If being exclusive to rock is not a prerequisite for inclusion, it’d be hard to argue against her.

Rage Against the Machine are another tricky candidate. They are relatively newer for induction. Their blending of metal and elements of rap and hip hop would pave the way for the future genre that became nu-metal and featured bands like Limp Bizkit and Korn. This is the third time they’ve been nominated, but their outspoken politics that carry weight in the music community could finally carry them over the threshold this year. I’m not convinced that the music does that for them. While they made some impact, they were a band for a relatively short period of time and their album sales aren’t overly impressive. I’d be fine with them getting in and completely indifferent if they don’t. Artists like Ted Nugent and even Kid Rock have been much more impactful for a longer stretch of time and won’t be nominated, simply because they have the wrong politics. Bands like Korn and Limp Bizkit were bigger than Rage but will likely not ever be nominated either. My beef isn’t really with RATM, it’s with the fact that they are largely only being force fed as a nominee due to their “message”.

Since the precedent has been set with rap artists being inducted into the Hall of Fame with the two kings of rap 2-Pac and The Notorious B.I.G. both recently being inducted, I’m inclined to hear arguments for Jay-Z. While, nowadays, he’s more well known for riding the coattails of his wife and kissing Barack Obama’s butt, Jay-Z was one of the next wave of rappers that ushered in the post-Biggie and Pac era of rap. His album The Life and Times of Shawn Carter: Volume 2 was a huge success and spawned several hit tracks. He has sold nearly 40 million records, which puts him higher than most of the people on this list. I’m a staunch anti-rap in the R&RHOF guy, but since we’re already doing it, this is one that makes sense.

The Go-Go’s were a new wave rock band formed in the late 1970’s. They were the first all-female band to top the Billboard charts. Rare and groundbreaking, check. Outside of a few years of popularity, though, they miss the mark as far as staying power and their album sales aren’t huge. I won’t protest their induction, unless it comes at the expense of Iron Maiden, but they would be a borderline inductee for me.

Todd Rundgren has also been nominated twice before. His biggest influence has been as a music producer. His solo career has been very long and experimental, but not necessarily groundbreaking. Thankfully, he’s not bothered by the Hall of Fame, because I’m not sure that the third time for induction is a charm for him either.

The New York Dolls were an early underground band that were heavily influential on early glam bands like Twisted Sister. One of the first punk bands on the scene, their time was fairly short lived and really achieved no success commercially. Their biggest impact is more likely to have come from the bands that they influenced. I won’t complain if they get in, but also won’t cry if they don’t.

Rapper LL Cool J gets nominated, seemingly, every year. Every year he doesn’t get in. While he was cool when I was a kid, and I actually prefer him as an actor, I don’t think he makes it. I’m still not convinced that rap should be included in this Hall of Fame and if it does he doesn’t quite make my very short list of those who should.

R&B artist Mary J. Blige has been nominated as well. Dubbed the Queen of Hip-Hop Soul with her ability to blend rap and R&B, you’d be hard pressed to find another female artist that has been as instrumental to modern day rap music than Blige. Ultimately, I don’t believe she should be inducted into the rock hall of fame, but an R&B one without hesitation.

Akron, Ohio’s Devo were another new wave type rock band that had some radio success but are a fringe candidate for induction. They’ve been around since 1973 but are largely known for one song. I do not anticipate them making the cut.

Oh, Chaka Khan. I feel like she’s been nominated like eight times and never gotten in. While she may be the Queen of Funk, and funk is much more related to rock than some of the other stuff in the Hall of Fame, there aren’t many artists that I could be more indifferent to. She doesn’t move the meter for me. Maybe she’ll get a lifetime achievement award or something.

Pop star Kate Bush rounds out the group of this year’s nominees. She’s a pretty big deal on the other side of the pond in England, her home country, with many charting songs but isn’t necessarily a household name here. That doesn’t disqualify her, necessarily, as it isn’t the American Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. With that said, however, I do not anticipate her being inducted. To each their own, but, no.

Sound off in the comments! Let me know what you do or don’t agree with. Who’s too high? Who’s too low?

Iron Maiden performing in Cincinnati, 2019. Photo by Chad J. Hobbs