Well, it’s a wrap for voting for the 2021 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Class of 2021, and the announcement is just days away. I have to admit that there’s a tiny feeling of disappointment along with it. That’s actually a good thing — with a ballot this deep, leaving almost anyone off is going to bring a sense of regret. Good problem to have.
So How Did We Get Here?
This is also a good time to stop and think on how the process has played out thus far.
- The voting period still, to paraphrase Ric Ocasek, drags on forever.
- With the spate of British nominees over the past few years and that of Fela Kuti this year, it seems the Nominating Committee is interested in broadening the Hall’s reach beyond the U.S. Admittedly a small sample, but a couple of the voters I’ve come across seem fixed on the success of particular acts in North America. The U.S. doesn’t have a monopoly on rock fandom or knowledge; adding some more international voters would be a positive development. Does anyone from the U.K. vote, let alone Canada, Australia, or the rest of Europe?
- Again, a small sample, but while most of the voters on the podcast were extremely thoughtful about their ballots, a couple were extremely casual, and one couldn’t remember who he voted for. This isn’t brain surgery; no one’s life depends on it. But it is artists’ legacies. There are some considerable economic benefits at play too. You’re given a ballot in view of your knowledge of the topic. If you can’t even remember who you voted for, how important is it to you? Should you be voting?
So on to the voting: There’s overwhelming consensus for Tina Turner, Carole King, The Go-Go’s, Jay-Z, and Foo Fighters. I agree. For Tina and the Go-Go’s both, this is, quite simply, their moment.
Carole King isn’t quite a lock, but most voters will remember Tapestry, while many may not realize she’s in as a songwriter and get the distinction. It’s hard to say how that fact will play for her; you see people bring the fact up as a knock against both her and Tina. What seems to be OK for many male inductees, like oh, say, Eric Clapton, seem to be a negative when brought up in relation to women nominees. (One thing you’ll see brought up against the Go-go’s is that “they had one great album.” Like oh, say, Guns n Roses?) It may clip a few votes for Tina as well, but her career — and the fact that she’s linked in induction with her abuser — are undeniable.
The Middle of the Pack
I’m not the first to say any of this, but when the Foos are arguably the weakest link on a ballot, it’s a damn good ballot. Yes, they’re good, and the standard bearers for rock, and Dave Grohl is a mensch, but no, they don’t really deserve to march in in their first year of eligibility. And yes, it smacks more than a little of cronyism. They can wait. But they won’t. It won’t be the worst thing in the world.
Would be great to see LL Cool J, but sadly I think he’ll be lost in the shuffle again.
I didn’t decide on this next spot until a few days ago, but the “Who Cares…? episodes gave me a feeling that the New York Dolls may just sneak on in. They’re critical darlings, especially with the Boomer set, but some younger voters were high on them as well.
Rumors are rife that the Hall will go with seven slots this year, so I’ll do likewise. This was a hard one, but let’s go with Devo. It’s a Cleveland year, they did well with MTV, and they have appeal for punk and classic rock crowds.
So Who’s Getting In?
So there’s my class: Tina Turner, The Go-Go’s, Carole King, Foo Fighters, Jay-Z, New York Dolls, Devo.
Who would I pick? Tina, The Go-Go’s, Todd Rundgren, LL Cool J, Dionne Warwick, Kate Bush, and Iron Maiden. New York Dolls edged out by a hair.
What about the rest? Kate Bush just doesn’t have that name recognition here (that U.S.-centrism at work); maybe adding women voters will move the needle but it’s going to a process. This is a tough ballot for Mary J. Blige to make her debut on, but she will be back, and she will get in. Dionne Warwick has a lot of respect with voters – I wouldn’t be beyond shocked to see her slip in there past Devo – but some voters may get hung up on her as a “pop” artist and feel they checked that box last year with Whitney. I hate to say it, but Chaka Khan always seems to play bridesmaid to a another high-profile female name — Janet, Whitney — and this year shows no signs of being different.
With so much going on with this ballot, I think metal will lose out again. One day it’ll happen, but not this year. Much the same could be said for Rage Against the Machine – the buzz on them this year has been nil.
Todd Rundgren hasn’t gotten traction on less competitive ballots, and he hasn’t exactly worked to make friends either in the industry or the Rock Hall. (Since the passing of Jim Steinman, I’ve been reading up on the history of “Bat Out of Hell.” His stories about Todd’s behavior are pretty cringe-worthy. Apparently Meat Loaf didn’t take to it well, although Steinman just seemed amused and never lost his respect and admiration. If he was with us still and had a ballot, Todd would have his vote, but…uff da).
And what of Fela Kuti? It’s hard to say just how much name recognition he has with the voting body. It’s entirely possible that the Hall will do what they did for Sister Rosetta in 2018 and use the Musical Excellence category (something mentioned as a possibility for Rundgren as well), but I hope not: it makes that category into a consolation prize. But his nomination is a tremendous move by the Hall in itself. If there’s an Early Influence, here’s hoping for Big Mama Thornton.
So nothing left to do but wait for Wednesday. If you want to tune in for the announcement, log onto rockhall.com at 8 a.m. EST on Wednesday, May 12. We’ll talk about the results on the ESO podcast the week of May 17.
Here’s to possibility!