Most sports Hall of Fames are lucky enough to have semi-arbitrary statistical benchmarks which if a player achieves throughout their career, they’re likely shoo-ins for induction. 3,000 hits and you’re good as in. 20,000 points and you’re good as in. Ten Pro Bowl appearances and you’re good as in. Unfortunately for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, music has no such obvious numerical equivalents—Celine Dion has sold 200 million records worldwide but will face an uphill battle to ever even be nominated, while the half-dozen #1 hits each for Paula Abdul and Paul Anka probably aren’t getting either much closer to consideration. Rather, RnRHoF induction is based on a combination of vague metrics gauging the artist’s popularity, importance and enduring influence—a status not backed by numbers, but rather by simple music history.
Earlier today, the short list of nominees were announced for the upcoming Rock n Roll Hall of Fame class, including such returning favorites as Red Hot Chili Peppers, the Beastie Boys and Donna Summer, but also with a bunch of new names being considered for the very first time—from classic rock acts to influential hip-hop acts to goth forefathers. But do any of these first-timers have the ambiguous qualifications necessary for induction, or even serious consideration? Let’s examine the evidence and see if we can’t separate the first-balloters from the outside-looking-ins.
GUNS N ROSES
Case For: Guns n Roses were arguably simultaneously the biggest and best rock band of the late ’80s and very early ’90s, selling over 100 million records worldwide, including 18 million-plus in the U.S. alone of their classic debut album, Appetite for Destruction. Emerging from a West Coast hard rock scene that produced a lot of glammier, poppier groups that were critically reviled, GnR’s music was good enough (and their image iron-clad enough) that everyone had to take them seriously, including the press. Their run was relatively brief—only four years separated Appetite from Use Your Illusions, the double-double album set that marked the last LPs of original material the band’s classic lineup would release—but long enough for plenty songs that still survive as classic rock favorites today (“Welcome to the Jungle,” “Patience,” “November Rain,” “Paradise City,” “Sweet Child O Mine”), not to mention a greatest hits set that went 5x platinum on its own.
Case Against: Not a particularly strong one, since GnR hit the rare trifecta of being commercially successful, critically acclaimed and historically important. You could argue that they didn’t stick around long enough, but then again, neither did Cream, The Velvet Underground or The Sex Pistols, and that didn’t seem to cause much hesitation for the Hall when inducting those guys.
Likelihood of Induction: Close to 100%, and likely in their first time nominated. Of remaining rock bands still not in the Hall, perhaps only Nirvana is more of a lock for induction than Guns n Roses.
Case For: The Cure have become one of the most stealthily important bands of the last 30 years in rock, both for the goth-and-punk-influenced material of their early years and the dreamier, poppier fare that helped them cross over to the mainstream in the late ’80s and early ’90s. Bands ranging from the Smashing Pumpkins to the Deftones to Blink-182 have all cited The Cure as influences, and over their three-decade career, the band has sold close to 30 million copies worldwide. For a group that started out as a cult act, The Cure have also contributed a number of songs that have ended up as part of the general pop lexicon, including “Lovesong,” “Boys Don’t Cry,” “Friday I’m in Love” and “Just Like Heaven.”
Case Against: Though critics may have more respect for their classic-era fare now than they did back in the ’80s, The Cure’s reputation is still far from unassailable, as a lot of more traditional rock critics still few the band as silly and frivolous—understandable for a band whose lead singer liked to wear badly smeared lipstick and mascara and sing about spidermen and lovecats and whatnot.
Likelihood of Induction: Probably decent, but maybe not for another few years still. Some more time and distance from their peak years, and the enduring influence of their music should stand out enough from their image and reputation to continue to keep them out.
Case For: As both a solo act and a member of the Runaways, Joan Jett emerged as one of the earliest female punk-rock icons, and as the ’80s progressed, she also became one of the most commercially successful artists to ever have been associated with the genre. Hits like “I Love Rock and Roll,” “Bad Reputation” and “Do You Wanna Touch Me” have been used in countless different media over the year to represent female rebellion and/or sexual empowerment, and Jett was cited as a godmother of the Riot Grrrrl movement of the mid-’90s. She remains a pop culture fixture to this day, touring with Green Day, appearing with Miley Cyrus on Oprah, and even seeing a chunk of her life story brought to the silver screen with Floria Sigismondi’s Runaways biopic.
Case Against: Though Jett had a number of pop hits, it never resulted in incredible record sales, as only two of her albums ever even went platinum in the states. In addition, Jett’s reputation is hurt some by the fact that a high percentage of her biggest and best hits (“I Love Rock and Roll,” “Do You Wanna Touch Me,” “Crimson and Clover,” “Everyday People”) were covers, and that none of her albums ever garnered much critical acclaim—of the all-time 3000 topped-ranked albums on critical aggregate site Acclaimed Music, Jett ranks only one, Joan Jett/Bad Reputation, which comes in at #2723.
Likelihood of Induction: Strong, primarily because of her historical importance as one of the first (and most visible) women in punk rock, a factor that tends to be a trump card over all others when evaluating HoF resumes. Due to the many detracting factors, however, it might take several years for her to get her due.
ERIC B. AND RAKIM
Case For: Possibly the most respected MC and DJ duo in hip-hop history, Eric B. and Rakim were one of the key acts of the genre’s so-called “Golden Age,” helping to usher in a more thoughtful, more intricately produced era in rap’s evolution. Rakim still ranks high in Greatest MCs of All-Time lists, as his slow-and-low, understated-but-authoritative delivery was a huge leap forward from the days of rappers screaming for attention, and Eric B.’s adaptations of Bobby Byrd and Dennis Edwards funk cuts into hip-hop jams created some of the bedrock beats of the genre (“I Know You Got Soul,” “Paid in Full,” “Microphone Fiend”). First two LPs Paid in Full and Follow the Leader were among the most acclaimed rap LPs of the ’80s, and rappers from 50 Cent to Kanye West continue to shout them out into the 21st century.
Case Against: Despite their somewhat untouchable reputation in hip-hop, they never did all that much crossing over—Paid in Full was their only platinum album, and “Know the Ledge” (the last single they released as a duo) was their only Hot 100 hit, peaking at #96. Many rock critics with only a casual interest in rap might not even know who they are, much less be willing to select them to be a part of rock’s inner circle.
Likelihood of Induction: Not great in their first year, though it wouldn’t be impossible to see them get the distinction aways down the road. It’s just as likely that they’ll become the first true snub for hip-hop heads to get behind a campaign against, frequently coming close but never getting over the hump to selection.
SMALL FACES / FACES
Case For: The oddly-grouped-together Small Faces and Faces (who shared members, but were different enough in sound and construction to merit separate Wikipedia pages) were both influential in their own right, the former as an acclaimed mod group (along the lines of the more commercially successful The Who and The Kinks) and the latter as a sleazier blues-rock outfit, closer in sound and spirit to the Rolling Stones. Both frequently mentioned among the most historically overlooked bands of their era (“It’s about bloody time,” quipped Ian McLagan, keyboardist for both bands, about their 20-years-late nomination), the groups did manage a couple enduring pop hits between them, including the Small Faces’ “Itchycoo Park” and the Faces’ “Stay With Me,” and helpled further the careers of two members already in the Hall of Fame separately—Ronnie Wood, eventual Stones guitarist, and Rod Stewart, solo legend.
Case Against: Who outside of the rock critic community remembers who either the Small Faces or the Faces were, exactly? Despite the semi-fluky crossover hits, neither act ever sold tremendously in the States, and despite the critical acclaim, neither act has any LPs that have really survived as canonical, must-hear works of their respective eras.
Likelihood of Induction: Hard to gauge, since like all major artistic voting bodies, the Hall voters love an underdog story, and old-school rock critics may reward the (Small) Faces for being one of the last notable bands of rock’s golden age still on the outs. By conventional qualifications, though—if such a thing even exists for the Rock Hall—it seems like the band’s (bands’?) resume is pretty thin.
ALSO NOMINATED, BUT GOOD LUCK:
Rufus & Chaka Khan