Well the moment finally arrived this morning. The question: who will be in the 2020 class of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame?
It was a question that took more than three months to debate, a little longer than usual. Traditionally, most inductions are decided by December, but this time, it was extended to January, mainly because the ceremony would take place on May 2nd at Cleveland’s Public Auditorium.
What few didn’t know is that the list had already been announced albeit prematurely by the Hall by accident. A blogger for the Rock Hall-esque site, Future Rock Legends, had done some detective work and discovered that six of the ten acts had “access denied” while the other ten had no pages. Of course, the Hall probably knew by hindsight that many caught on to this so they edited it to keep us guessing.
Finally at 8 a.m., the inductees were announced and needless to say, even with some of my predictions mapping out as planned, this is probably the most shocking class of inductees in years. If it had been up to me, I’d induct all the 16 that were nominated, but this is the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame we’re dealing with, not Baseball, so you take what you get.
That being said, here is the official list of inductees to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame:
THE DOOBIE BROTHERS
NINE INCH NAILS
THE NOTORIOUS B.I.G.
I still look at this list and am happily shocked that this is the list. Most of these acts were my personal picks. Replace the Doobies with Soundgarden and it’s perfect! I’ll break down my thoughts on each act getting in.
Formed: 1980 in Basildon, Essex, UK
First album: Speak & Spell (1981, Mute Records)
Biggest hits: “Just Can’t Get Enough” (1981), “People are People” (1984), “Strangelove” (1987), “Personal Jesus” (1989), “Enjoy the Silence” (1990) and “I Feel You” (1993)
The legendary synth pop/new wave band had been in my personal picks for the Hall for a long time. And this time, the Hall must’ve realized it because they’re now enshrined into the Hall and for this to happen on the 40th anniversary of their founding in Essex is perfect, much like when the Cure got inducted on their 40th anniversary. The Cure’s 2019 induction was not just beneficial to Depeche Mode (but we’ll get on that later). Depeche Mode had tried their hand at being inducted before, in 2017 and 2018 and for the 2019 nomination list, they were replaced by The Cure, who got in on the Hall’s most populated list of inductees in years. Their induction this year confirms that synth pop and new wave are now contenders into the Hall. You know what this also means? Kraftwerk could finally get in. Maybe.
THE DOOBIE BROTHERS
Formed: 1970 in San Jose, California, USA
First album: The Doobie Brothers (1971, Warner Bros. Records)
Biggest hits: “Listen to the Music” (1972), “Long Train Runnin'” (1973), “Black Water” (1974), “Take Me in Your Arms (Rock Me)” (1975), “Takin’ It to the Streets” (1976), “It Keeps You Runnin'” (1976), “What a Fool Believes” (1979), “Minute by Minute” (1979), “Real Love” (1980), “The Doctor” (1989)
This was not a personal pick. I’ll repeat – this was not a personal pick. Least of the 6-7 inductees I’d prefer (they would be replaced by Soundgarden in this regard) BUT I definitely didn’t argue that they shouldn’t be in. This band is where Michael McDonald first got known so on that purpose I’m excited about their induction, which was their first try despite being eligible back in 1996 – a good 24 years! But they meant more than that. This band, as I said before, had two incarnations. The first was as a blues-rock band with an emphasis of country, R&B and soul. A blue-eyed soul band with the exception that they actually had a black member (Tiran Porter, who left the band in 1992 after the Doobies reformed in the late 1980s). Following original frontman Tom Johnston’s exit, soul-influenced pianist Michael McDonald took the band further to a blue eyed soul route, reinventing themselves as a yacht rock favorite in the mid to late 1970s putting them alongside the Eagles as one of the most successful yacht rock bands of their time. In many ways, the Doobies defined the 1970s, maybe not to the extent of the Eagles but enough where an induction seemed to make sense. The fact it took them nearly a quarter century to get in is almost criminal but now that has finally been addressed. It pays to have someone like Irving Azoff in your corner. As said, their induction will be a good omen as they head out on an ambitious world tour. Not bad for a band that will celebrate 50 years of rock.
Born: August 9, 1963 in Newark, New Jersey, USA
Died: February 11, 2012 in Beverly Hills, Los Angeles, California, USA
First single: “Hold Me” (ft. Teddy Pendergrass, 1984, Arista Records)
First album: Whitney Houston (1985, Arista Records)
Biggest hits: “You Give Good Love” (1985), “Saving All My Love for You” (1985), “How Will I Know” (1985), “Greatest Love of All” (1986), “I Wanna Dance with Somebody (Who Loves Me)” (1987), “Didn’t We Almost Have It All” (1987), “So Emotional” (1988), “Where Do Broken Hearts Go” (1988), “Love Will Save the Day” (1988), “One Moment in Time” (1988), “I’m Your Baby Tonight” (1990), “All the Man That I Need” (1990), “Star-Spangled Banner” (1991), “I Will Always Love You” (1992), “I’m Every Woman” (1993), “I Have Nothing” (1993), “Exhale (Shoop Shoop)” (1995), “I Believe in You & Me” (1996), “Heartbreak Hotel” (1998), “It’s Not Right but It’s OK” (1999), “My Love Is Your Love” (1999), “I Look to You” (2009), “Million Dollar Bill” (2009), “Higher Love” (2019)
I was one of many who guessed this one right. Whitney’s nomination had been long overdue since 2009 when she became eligible, which occurred while she was still living and on the verge of an industry comeback with her final album, I Look to You. And it seemed the Hall’s voters agreed with me. Unlike her contemporaries Donna Summer and Janet Jackson, who got in on their third tries respectively, the Hall felt it necessary to vote her in. Mainly because she was the biggest name on the list and also one of its biggest snubs when you think of the other ’80s heavyweights of pop and rock music such as Michael Jackson, Bruce Springsteen, Madonna, Prince and Janet Jackson that got in, Whitney’s 2020 induction corrects a big wrong with the Hall, which has famously bypassed female African American artists in the past as well as women artists in general. In fact, Whitney’s induction makes her just the 70th woman to be enshrined into the Hall. Whitney’s induction comes around the 35th anniversary of the release of her landmark eponymous self-titled debut album, which became one of the defining albums of the 1980s and made Houston a trendsetter and trailblazer at the same time, bringing back the African American tradition of soul and R&B to the mainstream in a post-disco United States of America, not just on radio but also on MTV where she became the first consistent African American female artist to have her videos played on heavy rotation starting with “Saving All My Love for You” in the summer of 1985 (there’s a difference between first-ever and first consistent one for those who argue about Donna Summer, Tina Turner and the Pointer Sisters, all of whom were considered pop/rock acts unlike Whitney, least at first). This obviously continued with her second mega-selling album, 1987’s Whitney, where she confirmed her status as the Queen of Pop thanks to “I Wanna Dance with Somebody (Who Loves Me)”, a record Whitney arranged herself with Narada Michael Walden and added in the iconic “don’t you wanna dance, say you wanna dance” line at the end, which further helped MTV to embrace African American music and dance/pop/R&B music even more, and also by having Whitney be the only artist to score seven consecutive number one hit singles on the Hot 100, a feat that her predecessors Aretha Franklin, Diana Ross and Dionne Warwick never were able to accomplish. Along the way, Whitney became a pioneer and one of the founders of contemporary R&B in the post-Thriller era of black music. With so many iconic anthems, having her in the Hall was a no-brainer and thank God that has been recognized! We’ll always love you, Whitney.
NINE INCH NAILS
Formed: 1988 in Cleveland, Ohio
First album: Pretty Hate Machine (1989, TVT Records)
Biggest hits: “Head Like a Hole” (1989), “Happiness in Slavery” (1992), “Closer” (1994), “March of the Pigs” (1994), “Hurt” (1995), “The Perfect Drug” (1997), “The Day The World Went Away” (1999), “Starfuckers Inc.” (2000), “The Hand That Feeds” (2005)
I went back and forth on NIN finally getting in. They were one of my personal picks for the list. Thankfully, the Hall finally gave NIN, or I should say, Trent Reznor, what he deserved. NIN was more of a pet project than an actual group for the very creative Reznor, who basically formed NIN after noticing that one of his idols, Prince, performed every instrument on his albums. Probably NIN’s best album was their sophomore 1994 album, The Downward Spiral, which boasted “March of the Pigs”, “Closer” and “Hurt”, the latter song later inspired a solemn cover by country legend Johnny Cash just before his death. Without NIN (and Depeche Mode), a lot of what we call alternative rock wouldn’t have occurred, one could argue. Here is where The Cure comes in again. When that band was inducted in 2019, Trent Reznor was picked to induct them and Reznor’s induction of the Cure promptly changed the usually nonchalant and moody rock genius’ mind on the Hall, which had infamously nominated him in 2015 but failed to induct him. Suddenly, he saw some merit in being inducted to such a Hall. Now, Trent finally gets in and, again, thank God for that.
THE NOTORIOUS B.I.G.
Born: May 21, 1972 in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, New York, USA
Died: March 9, 1997 in Los Angeles, California, USA
First album: Ready to Die (1994, Bad Boy Records)
Biggest hits: “Juicy” (1994), “Big Poppa” (1994), “Warning” (1994), “One More Chance (Stay with Me Remix)” (1995), “Player’s Anthem” (1995), “Get Money” (1995), “Hypnotize” (1997), “Mo’ Money, Mo’ Problems” (1997), “Sky’s the Limit” (1997)
Okay, this is one induction I was pleasantly surprised about. Mainly because I felt he had some things stacked against him: the crowded list of mega talented artists, his name while huge wasn’t huge in comparison to the other biggest black name (and name, period) in Whitney Houston, and also the fact that the influence of 2Pac, who had up until then, been the last hip-hop artist to be inducted, Biggie’s arch-rival and nemesis, could’ve overwhelmed the legendary titan from Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn from getting in but the Hall thought otherwise, making him just the sixth hip-hop act (Grandmaster Flash & the Furious 5 (2007), Run-DMC (2009), Beastie Boys (2012), Public Enemy (2013) and 2Pac (2017) preceding him) and just the second rap solo act ever to be inducted. And regardless of how little input he released in his lifetime, he left such a huge impact on rap that he really wasn’t meant to be denied and for him to be a first-ballot inductee is a big plus on how his legacy has been enshrined since his untimely death in 1997 at the age of 24. As one of his songs exclaimed, “unbelievable!”
Formed: 1967 in London, England, UK
Members: Marc Bolan, Mickey Finn, Steve Currie and Bill Legend
First album: T. Rex (1970, Fly/Reprise Records)
Biggest hits: “Ride a White Swan” (1970), “Hot Love” (1971), “Get It On” (1971), “Jeepster” (1971), “Telegram Sam” (1972), “Metal Guru” (1972), “Children of the Revolution” (1972), “20th Century Boy” (1973), “The Groover” (1973), “Teenage Dream” (1974), “I Love to Boogie” (1976)
Another pleasant surprise, a personal pick and someone I also went back and forth about. I was so happy to see their name being enshrined into the Hall. Obviously two factors came into play for them: 2019 inductees Def Leppard (especially lead singer Joe Elliott, who is an unapologetic big fan of glam rock heroes) and Roxy Music’s own induction the same year. Plus they were pretty innovative and influential, starting glam rock and influencing punk rock, with Bolan’s fashion sense – feather boas, leopard print jackets, leather/spandex pants, and extensive use of makeup and glitter on his face and chest – later influencing the styles of most glam metal acts that emerged after him as well as other androgynous rockers such as Mick Jagger, Iggy Pop, David Bowie, Prince, Boy George, Pete Burns, Placebo’s Brian Molko and Lady Gaga – helping to reshape the image of men in music (as I said in my previous assessment of Bolan, Little Richard may have came first, but no one embodied glam and androgyny like Bolan). Well deserved posthumous (for the most part) induction for the “electric warriors”.
With those out of the way, here’s one thing that has shocked social media, especially if you’re a white male rock fan: the fan vote!
Unlike in previous years where fan votes seemed more than often to determine who got in and who didn’t, it’s quite telling that besides the Doobies, who landed at #3 on the list, the other four didn’t:
PAT BENATAR (#2 with almost 900,000 votes in the fan vote)
SOUNDGARDEN (#4 behind the Doobies)
JUDAS PRIEST (#5 as they were during the fan vote in 2018)
and finally… DAVE MATTHEWS BAND (#1 with over a million votes)
Of the four, probably the most shocking omission from the Hall’s 2020 class was Pat Benatar. Most Hall watchers – including yours truly – had assumed as soon as her name appeared that she was an immediate lock. So the first question is: “what happened?” Well maybe, Pat’s insistence that Neil Giraldo should be included in everything she did and accomplished may have went against many voters. Maybe women who looked up to Pat back in the glory days of rock-oriented MTV in the early ’80s felt slighted that Pat insisted on having Neil added on as an additional inductee. That probably played a part in Pat not being able to secure enough votes for entry into the Hall. Another possibility may have been that in comparison to Whitney Houston, she didn’t quite have the vocal chops like Houston nor Houston’s superstar “it” factor to get in. Another possibility may have been because Stevie Nicks got in as a solo inductee, many had suspected Tina Turner to get a solo nomination this year and were disappointed that Benatar got the nod instead of Turner. And then there lays the claim that there were just way too many hard rock acts and, with the exception of T. Rex, they all canceled each other out. Whatever the case, and it could be all of the above, Benatar’s omission is definitely a disappointment and one that no one saw coming.
Soundgarden was always a question mark despite the passing of Chris Cornell and the tribute given to Cornell shortly after his death in 2017. I had them as a personal pick but I understood that because of the heavy hard rock leaning nominees, I understood that it would result in a messy split that led to an exodus of hard rock being almost completely absent from the list, in case one doesn’t think T. Rex or the Doobies or Nine Inch Nails fit the stereotype of “hard rock”. I feel Soundgarden may have a strong chance getting in next year’s class, just in case Judas Priest doesn’t get another nod.
Speaking of, Judas Priest strikes again in missing induction despite a top 5 berth on the fan poll. After losing out in 2018, it was brought out that the main reason for their snub was due to them not getting a lot of votes. The same could probably be said of why they lost this time around as well. Heavy metal has had a harder time to get accepted into the Hall along with disco (Chic’s 11 failed attempts aside), grunge (so far only Nirvana and Pearl Jam have gotten in; Soundgarden’s failure and the lack of attempts to induct another legendary grunge act like Alice in Chains showcase the struggle) and progressive rock (many are still angry over the snub of Jethro Tull, Procol Harum and Emerson, Lake and Palmer) and Judas Priest is no Black Sabbath despite their huge success. Do we necessarily need to count them out? No, I think it’s best if Soundgarden misses out on 2021, their names would appear again but it depends on how many votes they came close to.
And now to the most controversial part of this recent fan vote: this year’s #1 act – the Dave Matthews Band – missed out on their induction this year, making it probably one of the most embarrassing episodes in music history. And by embarrassing, I don’t mean for the Hall, I mean for the DMB themselves and their cult fan base. It seemed most don’t look at DMB as a band worthy of an induction and if they don’t get tried for an induction again next year, it would probably speak volumes on how much this band lacks a lot of respect despite their credentials with some of rock music’s best. Now does their omission makes the fan vote rigged? No, it’s just ONE BALLOT added to 1,000 others. The fan vote was never meant to be taken as the only way to get inducted. But many take that to heart for some odd reason. I had stated back in 2012 when the fan vote was first introduced that it wasn’t meant to be taken seriously. It took 7 years for people to finally realize that that was true all along. The big question is: will people not take it too seriously? That remains to be seen.
Now with those out of the way, what lies in the future of those others who got left behind?
PAT BENATAR – they could try again with her but if she’s unwilling to enter without Neil, the Hall might go for her peers Tina Turner or Cyndi Lauper. Benatar’s run at the top (roughly 1980-85) was quite short, whereas Tina Turner became the reigning Queen of Rock and Roll around the time Pat’s career began to reach its peak and by then, Pat was already slowing down a little (her last big hit, the soft rock ballad “We Belong”, didn’t necessarily gain any more hard rock fans) and Cyndi Lauper also sold a bit more albums than her (least with 1983’s She’s So Unusual). It just all depends at the end of the day.
SOUNDGARDEN – I’m guessing you may see them again next year. But it depends on how strong the votes are. If they’re not too strong, who knows? But I bet they’ll give it another go in 2021. Besides, I feel they’re just biding their time enough to get in there. But grunge was such a short era in music that I’m not surprised their votes fell short. Plus with the field being too hard rock crowded, it’s not surprising they got shoved aside. A 2021 nomination class with a mixture of everyone and not too much of a focus on one genre can help them.
JUDAS PRIEST – they either could join the list of being “the bridesmaid but never the bride” like Chic, MC5, Chaka Khan and Kraftwerk or they may never get picked again due to horrible voting outside the fan vote. Maybe next year will bring them an opening or maybe not. Things are changing rapidly in the Hall and if they’re not clear, they may be left out of the lurch for a long time.
DAVE MATTHEWS BAND – IMHO, nominating the DMB’s was just an experiment on the Hall’s part. They had every intention on inducting B.I.G., they had no intention of inducting DMB. That was clear even before the fan vote made headlines with them leading. My prediction is they won’t get the nod ever again…and I do mean ever.
MOTORHEAD – Time will tell but again, hard rock is a very tough sell for the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. Of course, rock music and rock and roll are two different things. And no genre has had it harder than rock and all of its cousins. Once music lovers realize there’s a difference between ROCK and ROCK & ROLL, the better. I rather for them to go at it again than Dave Matthews, I tell you that much!
THIN LIZZY – Them and Motorhead were the picks of one Dave Grohl, who’s already in with Nirvana and could get a second induction with the Foo Fighters in the distant future. He almost scored with Motorhead but he probably bit off more than he can chew with Thin Lizzy. This act may be the favorite of many legendary rock bands already enshrined (Metallica being chief among them) but there wasn’t enough for them to get inducted on. Will they try it again? Doubt it. Judas Priest and Motorhead have way better chances.
KRAFTWERK – Though they got snubbed again, the Hall didn’t embarrass themselves to induct them as an “Early Influence” despite some rumblings. The techno act probably is the one act more out of step with rock and roll than Whitney and the Notorious B.I.G., both of whom have strong rock and roll credentials (Houston’s godmother Darlene Love and family friend Aretha Franklin are already inductees while B.I.G.’s ties to Tupac Shakur definitely helped his chances besides from his music). Kraftwerk is innovative and influential but are they what you call a Rock & Roll Hall of Fame act? I don’t know. I do think they should be inducted but think about it for a moment: do men who monotonously perform in front of you represent rock and roll? No. They should’ve nominated Devo.
TODD RUNDGREN – Some thought with him not being top 5 on the fan vote that he could sneak in. Most others thought he would get Musical Excellence. In the end, Rundgren didn’t get either. And I think his indifference played a big part in it. Rundgren, despite having credentials as a classic rocker, a prog rock frontman, a singer-songwriter, and record producer, is considered an oddball and outsider in rock and roll despite his genius talent. Now it’s possible for Rundgren to try again but I feel they may cast him aside for now. It’s just not his time yet.
RUFUS FEATURING CHAKA KHAN – What doomed Pat Benatar is what also doomed Chaka Khan: nominating them besides their lesser known backing partners and nominating them in front of someone with a big name that was inescapable as Whitney’s. Whitney had the upper hand from day one. There was no way Chaka would be inducted this year. But does that mean you should shrug about Khan? No. I predict a SOLO induction nod next year, just in case Tina Turner doesn’t get a nod. Chaka will get in there, but if she does, it won’t be with Rufus.
MC5 – For some reason, rock fans keep trying to push for them but they can never tell you what they did besides “Kick Out the Jams”. That’s not good for an act that had been credited with influencing punk rock. But then again, they weren’t the first band to do so, the Detroiters’ neighbors, the Stooges, got in and they were credited with doing the same thing. IMHO, The Sonics deserved more the induction nod than MC5 because many of the things MC5 did were already done by the Sonics. As John Sykes take over, don’t expect to see these guys again. Ever. It’s a wrap.
Overall, I was not disappointed at all with the class. It was well overdue. Congrats to all the six inductees to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame for 2020!
FUN FACT: In a case of deja vu, Whitney Houston and Pat Benatar faced each other for the first time since the 1986 Grammy Awards where they were both up against the Best Female Pop Vocal Performance. Whitney was nominated for “Saving All My Love for You” while Benatar had “We Belong”. Ironically fellow Hall of Fame inductees Tina Turner (“We Don’t Need Another Hero”), Madonna (“Crazy for You”) and Linda Ronstadt (“Lush Life”) were also up for the award. Whitney, the youngest of the five at just 22 years old, beat all of them. A coincidence? Maybe.