By Brian Ives
This week, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame will reportedly release the ballot of artists eligible for their next induction class. Although the ceremony will take place next year, the inductees are technically the “Class of 2015.” To be eligible, an artist must have released something under their current name no later than 1990.
Of course, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is an institution that will never make everyone happy, and of course music is subjective. But we’re happy that they’ve opened the parameters of what’s considered “rock and roll” over the years by inducting reggae, disco, heavy metal, pop and progressive rock acts. So we spread our net pretty wide here: these are some of the artists who we think should be on the ballot. As a bonus, we’ve included who we hope will do the induction speeches.
A Tribe Called Quest — Debuting in 1990 with the groundbreaking People’s Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm, they (along with the other members of their Native Tongues crew, including De La Soul and Queen Latifah) reimagined hip-hop as a bit less macho and a bit more thoughtful, without losing the funk or the fun. Their followup, The Low End Theory, incorporated jazz into hip-hop via samples and live bass courtesy of Ron Carter. Q-Tip is one of the greatest MCs in hip-hop history, Phife Dawg is one of the most underrated and Ali Shaheed Muhammed is one of its most musical DJ/producers.
Who Should do the speech? On paper, Kanye West would be a good choice; Tribe opened for him on his Yeezus tour. But at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Inductions, no one really wants to listen to the kids, bro. So we’ll go with Pharrell, a guy who was clearly influenced by Q-Tip and co.
Moby — No matter your opinion of EDM, there’s no denying that it’s one of the most dominant strains of popular music in 2015. But back when electronic dance music was being made by mostly faceless DJs, Moby became one of its first stars, and introduced the genre to the MTV crowd and alternative rock fans, first with 1995’s Everything is Wrong, and four years later with the much more radio friendly Play, which incorporated samples from the building blocks of rock and roll music: early gospel and field hollers.
Who Should do the speech? David Bowie, but that’ll never happen. David Byrne would be a good next choice, though.
Emmylou Harris — These days, all country artists seem to have some rock and roll influence, but in the late ’60s and the early ’70s, the two genres mostly stayed in their own corners. Emmylou Harris was a big part of changing that. She’s also a wonderful example of an artist who only got better as the years go on; arguably her best album, 1995’s Wrecking Ball, came out a quarter century after her debut. And on the follow-up, 2000’s Red Dirt Girl, she came into her own as a songwriter (prior to that, she mainly covered material from other writers).
The Cure — One of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s huge oversights (its hugest, probably) is the post-punk era that took place after the 1970s punk rock explosion (represented in the hall by the Ramones, the Clash and the Sex Pistols, among others) but before the alternative rock era (the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Nirvana, Green Day). The Cure was one of the most iconic British bands of this era, a left-field group of gothy dudes that somehow sold out stadiums in America, but never seemed mainstream. Plus, they created the fashion template for kids who don’t fit in, and like to wear black.
Who Should do the speech? Surely TV on the Radio is a band who have been influenced by Robert Smith’s songs. Maynard James Keenan of Tool would be another good choice. Or Bono, who clearly nicked a bit off of Smith’s vocals.
The Smiths — Also part of the British post-punk era, they combined a non-nostalgic love of ’60s British Invasion bands with poetry and drama. In five short years, they released an insane amount of classic singles and albums, including “How Soon Is Now?,” which has been referred to as the “Stairway to Heaven” of British indie rock. The band has also been surprisingly influential, with punk rock bands (H2O, Down By Law), folkies (Badly Drawn Boy, Patty Griffin, Duncan Sheik), heavier bands (At The Drive-In, Anthrax, the Deftones, Quicksand), as well as the more expected sad-sacks like Death Cab for Cutie, Belle and Sebastian and the Decemberists covering their songs over the years.
Who Should do the speech? Well, no matter who shows up, Morrissey won’t be there. But a good choice might be Michael Stipe of R.E.M., who did a great speech for Nirvana a few years back, and whose band was played on many of the same college radio stations as the Smiths in their early years. Or, if you want a real left-field choice, Phil Anselmo of Pantera. Seriously—we did a full interview with the man where we just discussed the Smiths.
The Pixies — Representing America’s post-punk era, they pioneered the loud/quiet/loud sound that Nirvana later conquered the world with. And their 1989 album dolittle was the album on college radio stations in the late ’80s and early ’90s. It’s still mind boggling that this album didn’t sell millions and millions of copies.
Who Should do the speech? Krist Novoselic and Dave Grohl.
Bjork — “Modern Rock” used to be the term used to describe artists who got played on college radio, including Bjork (and also her former band, the Sugarcubes). But “Music of the Future” would have been a better way to describe what the Icelandic legend does. She’s always seemed a few decades ahead of her peers; in the ’90s when raging guitars dominated alternative music, she was using beats and samples. One of the most consistently surprising and challenging artists in popular music, she’s gone as old school as recording an entire album of a cappella voices (2004’s Medulla) and as futuristic as creating an app-based album (2011’s Biophilia). But her real game changers are 1993’s Debut and 1995’s Post.
Who Should do the speech? Her frequent collaborator, filmmaker Michael Gondry. Moby would be good, too.
LL Cool J — These days, LL is such a multi-media personality, starring in TV shows, hosting the GRAMMYs and Lip Sync Battle and writing workout books that it’s easy to forget how influential he was during hip-hop’s early era. 1985’s Radio was not only his debut, but the first LP released on Def Jam Records, and had two of the genre’s early classics “I Can’t Live Without My Radio” and “Rock The Bells.” 1987’s Bigger and Deffer saw him get romantic with “I Need Love” during an era where most MC’s never showed a soft side. And 1990’s Mama Said Knock You Out was regarded as hip-hop’s first “comeback,” despite L’s proclamation that it wasn’t that. This was the first example of a hip-hop artist successfully recalibrating for a new generation and laying the foundation for a decades-long career.
N.W.A. — We’ve already written an essay about how N.W.A. was last year’s “big miss” for the Rock Hall. Like them or not, their DNA is all over popular culture today from Beats headphones to Kendrick Lamar‘s universally lauded albums to the Barbershop film franchise. The reason why they were such game changers can be found on their explosive 1988 debut album Straight Outta Compton (which also was the name of their hit biopic) which exposed police brutality in the inner cities well before the internet and social media did, and a few years before Rodney King.
Who Should do the speech? Kendrick Lamar.
Chic — Can we all please agree that the whole “disco sucks” movement was an embarrassment to everyone involved? (Happily, Donna Summer’s induction in 2013 opened the Rock Hall’s doors to the dance music of the ’70s). Chic – the band and the production team – are responsible for some of the best songs of the ’70s and ’80s including “I Want Your Love” (which Lady Gaga has just covered), “Good Times,” “Le Freak,” “Upside Down” and “I’m Coming Out.” Their sound is the reason why David Bowie, Mick Jagger, Bob Dylan, Madonna, Duran Duran and the Vaughan Brothers (featuring the late Stevie Ray Vaughan) would hire guitarist/leader Nile Rodgers to produce sessions for them.
Who Should do the speech? Well, Daft Punk would be great, but we’re not sure how that would work. Madonna would be great if she would do it. But she probably wouldn’t. So we’ll go with Duran Duran, who have collaborated with Nile Rodgers so often over the years; also, their band’s original formula was “Chic meets the Sex Pistols.”
Jane’s Addiction — Of all the artists on this list, Jane’s is the most surprising omission from the Rock Hall. They were ground zero of the alternative rock explosion of the late ’80s and early ’90s and they were sort of the link between the goths, the punks and heavy metal. Seemingly equal parts Bauhaus, the Stooges, Led Zeppelin and the Doors, they created a new hybrid form of music that was aggressive, sexy, powerful but never stupid. Nothing’s Shocking came out in 1988, and seemed to plot the course for the ’90s, years before Nevermind. Also, frontman Perry Farrell founded the Lollapalooza tour, which became the template for all U.S. festivals.
Who Should do the speech? Anthony Kiedis and Flea from the Red Hot Chili Peppers, a fellow L.A. band of misfits who headlined Lollapalooza the year after Jane’s did, and who drafted Jane’s guitarist Dave Navarro into their band for a few years.
Soundgarden — It might be too easy to overlook Soundgarden, in between Nirvana (inducted in 2014) and Pearl Jam (sure to be inducted in 2016), but that would be a mistake. One of the first bands to release music on the seminal SubPop label (and, reportedly the reason Nirvana wanted to sign), they were one of the few underground bands who improved after signing to a major label, with a mind-blowing run of albums starting with 1989’s Louder Than Love, and continuing with 1991’s Badmotorfinger, 1994’s Superunknown and 1996’s Down on the Upside. During this time their sound evolved from abrasive sludge metal spiked with the Jesus Lizard to somewhat more mature music that addressed the heavier aspects of life as an adult (“Mailman,” “4th of July,” “Fell on Black Days“).
Who Should do the speech? Fellow Seattle-ites Stone Gossard, Jeff Ament, Eddie Vedder and Mike McCready of Pearl Jam, who opened for Soundgarden, and with whom they share their drummer Matt Cameron today.
Deep Purple — Reason #1 to induct Deep Purple: A little ditty called “Smoke on the Water.” Reason #2 to induct Deep Purple: YOU DON’T NEED ANY OTHER REASONS! But Deep Purple is one of the most seminal hard rock bands of the early ’60s and ’70s, charged by Ritchie Blackmore’s mind-blowing classically influenced lead guitar, and the late Jon Lord’s also classically inspired organ, not to mention Ian Gillian’s (and later, David Coverdale’s) wailing vocals, creating the template for heavy metal as we know it. 1972’s Machine Head should be in every heavy rock fan’s library.
The Cars — It’s almost too easy to overlook the Cars, especially as their frontman Ric Ocasek seemed to keep a low profile (especially as compared to peers like Debbie Harry of Blondie and David Byrne of Talking Heads, both of whom, by the way, are already in the Hall of Fame). But they were one of the most consistent hit making acts of the late ’70s and ’80s; linking post-punk new wave with the MTV era. Another way to think of them would be as the Creedence Clearwater Revival of their time, given the dizzying amount of radio hits they’ve logged. And by the way, not many bands debut with five consecutive classic albums.
Who Should do the speech? Billy Corgan of the Smashing Pumpkins, who has covered the Cars, and also co-produced Ocasek’s 1997 album Troublilizing, which also featured Cars keyboardist Greg Hawkes.
Yes — Happily, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame have shed their ridiculous prejudice towards progressive rock in recent years, inducting both Genesis and Rush. But prog rock’s story can never be complete without Yes, the proggiest of all prog bands. They are the masters of musically complex, lyrically strange sci-fi/fantasy sagas that can last as long as a side of vinyl would allow. Yet, when they wanted to knock out a killer classic rock track, they did it, and they did it over and over, from “Roundabout” off of 1971’s Fragile to “Owner of a Lonely Heart,” from their stunning comeback album, 1983’s 90125. Hopefully this will be the year that they finally get their due; it’s too bad that their bassist/leader Chris Squire, who passed away in June, won’t be there to see it.
Who Should do the speech? Geddy Lee and Alex Lifeson of Rush.
Nine Inch Nails — Few bands in the ’90s were as influential as Nine Inch Nails who were, in truth, not really a band but the brainchild of singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist/producer Trent Reznor. For years, rock bands balked at using computers and samples; Renzor had no such hangups, and his music blurred the lines between “live” and programmed instruments, and you often didn’t know what it was that you were hearing, just that it sounded amazing. He made it cool to use keyboards, samplers and loops. Because under all the technology, Reznor was, and is, a master songwriter and an artist with Pink Floyd-sized ambition. You always get the sense that he’s haunted by the artists who he loved and felt disappointed by; he may not always sell a ton of albums, but he’ll never sell himself out, and the fans love him for that.
Who Should do the speech? Again, David Bowie. Again, it would probably never happen. Moby would be a great alternate choice.
Judas Priest — Based on the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees, heavy metal starts with Black Sabbath and jumps right to Metallica. As with post-punk, the Rock Hall has so far ignored an important era, in this case the amazing heavy metal scene of the late ’70s and early ’80s (and we’re not talking about glam-metal here, by the way). There’s a lot of great bands from this time period, and we could have gone with Motorhead or Iron Maiden, but Judas Priest embody the metal of that era more than anyone.
Who Should do the speech? James Hetfield of Metallica and Scott Ian of Anthrax, two bands who were disciples of Priest’s dual guitar attack.
Loretta Lynn — A few years ago when Jack White partnered up with Loretta Lynn, some fans were confused. But listen to her classics like “Rated X,” “Fist City” and “The Pill,” and you’ll hear a true badass who didn’t back down from any subject, whether it’s infidelity, divorce or abortion, subjects that were not often addressed in popular music, much less country music, in the ’60s and ’70s.
Who Should do the speech? Miranda Lambert
THE AWARD FOR MUSICAL EXCELLENCE: Randy Rhoads — We could easily make an argument that Ozzy Osbourne should be inducted for a second time (he’s already in as a member of Black Sabbath), simply based on his first two albums,1980’s Blizzard of Ozz and 1981’s Diary of a Madman. But one of the main reasons that those albums are so incredible is the face-melting guitar playing of the gone-too-soon wunderkind, Randy Rhoads (who died in 1982). His influence in the ’80s is nearly equal to that of Edward Van Halen; Tom Morello actually named his son Rhoads. In recent years, the E Street Band and Ringo Starr have been inducted in this category; we say, this year, it’s time for Randy.
Who Should do the speech? If you saw Tom Morello’s KISS speech, you know he’s the man. Having Ozzy do it would probably be too emotional. Another good choice would be Ozzy’s later-era guitarist Zakk Wylde, who has spent a good amount of time playing Randy’s leads.