If I were in charge, The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame would have capped membership years ago. There’d be a small and select field of fifty entrants, limiting it to household names like Elvis Presley, James Brown, and The Beatles. But it’s soldiered on, with 351 inductees to date. This makes it tough, as nominators and voters need a broad knowledge of genres as disparate as hip hop and metal. While they’ve often made good decisions, I was disappointed enough by the last class to put forward my own list of Hall of Fame snubs. I’ve largely ignored the 1990s with my selections since artists from that decade haven’t been eligible for as long.
Another grievance is how deserving acts like Chic, Kraftwerk, LL Cool J, and Judas Priest have been sidelined into weird categories like Musical Excellence or Early Influences, rather than receive full recognition. I’m also mystified as to why Jimmy Webb hasn’t been inducted as a songwriter.
These ten underappreciated artists are presented in alphabetical order:
The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is based in America and has a significant US bias. Kate Bush enjoyed massive success in the UK, and her track record of commercial success, critical acclaim, innovation, and influence should make her a no-brainer inclusion. It’s hard to write about an arty female singer-songwriter without comparing them to Bush. She was the first female artist to top the UK chart with a self-written song, achieving the feat while she was still a teenager with ‘Wuthering Heights’. Bush also has an impressive string of classic albums, including The Dreaming, Hounds of Love, and Aerial. Other female art-rockers deserving induction include Björk and Tori Amos.
De La Soul
The Hall of Fame has slowly added hip hop acts, but there are still plenty of worthy artists languishing on the outside. Long Island trio De La Soul emerged in the golden age of hip hop in the late 1980s, charming with their breezy platinum-selling debut 3 Feet High and Rising. They sampled Steely Dan, the Turtles, and Johnny Cash, and introduced jazzy textures to hip hop. They’ve continued to enjoy critical acclaim and impressive chart placement – Macy Gray referred to them as The Beatles of hip hop. Other worthy hip hop acts deserving induction include The Wu-Tang Clan, A Tribe Called Quest, and OutKast.
Heavy metal is underrepresented in the Hall. Black Sabbath, Metallica, and Judas Priest are the genre’s only inductees; the latter were only inducted via the weird Musical Excellence subcategory. Despite their long and ambitious material, Iron Maiden have been wildly successful, recording albums in six different decades, most of which have reached the UK top ten. There are more metal bands that deserve induction, most notably Motorhead.
In a career that has spanned seven decades, Robert Fripp and King Crimson have never stood still, constantly innovating. The term progressive rock has become shorthand for symphonic influences in rock music, but King Crimson have continued to seek progress. 1969’s In The Court of the Crimson King defined the progressive rock genre. 1974’s Red is a powerful record that was beloved by Kurt Cobain, and the group dipped into new wave textures with 1981’s impressive Discipline. Notable Crimson alumni include Greg Lake, Adrian Belew, Bill Bruford, John Wetton, and Boz Burrell. Along with Crimson, fellow proggers Jethro Tull and Emerson, Lake & Palmer are also well overdue for a spot.
Fela Kuti was a titan of African music. He pioneered Afrobeat, adding African textures to James Brown’s lengthy funk jams. These rhythms found their way into Western popular music in the 1980s via acts like Talking Heads and Peter Gabriel. Paul McCartney recalled catching a Kuti gig in Lagos in the early 1970s: “The music was so incredible that I wept. Hearing that was one of the greatest music moments of my life.” Kuti’s colourful life has inspired an off-Broadway musical.
The 1960s have been picked over thoroughly by the Hall of Fame, but The Monkees are a notable exception. Reportedly, Hall founder Jann Wenner has blocked their inclusion, while they’re sometimes derided for using session musicians on their early work. But their catalogue should rise above such concerns – a string of effervescent hits like ‘Daydream Believer’, ‘Pleasant Valley Sunday’, and ‘Porpoise Song’. Their TV show also remains a fun watch.
New Order and Joy Division
You get two for the price of one here since the two bands share three out of four members. Joy Division were a leading post-punk band with gloomy songs like ‘Love Will Tear Us Apart’ and ‘She’s Lost Control’. New Order blended synths and dance beats into their rock music, scoring international hits like ‘Bizarre Love Triangle’, ‘Blue Monday’, and ‘Regret’. They also released strong albums like Power, Corruption & Lies and Technique. Other worthy and unrecognised UK bands from the era include The Jam, The Smiths, and Echo & the Bunnymen.
Procol Harum delivered one of the most iconic hits of the 1960s – ‘A Whiter Shade of Pale’ combined Bach-inspired music with dreamily impressionistic lyrics. The British band continued to prosper throughout the late 1960s and early 1970s, enjoying success with albums like Shine on Brightly and Grand Hotel. They also spawned the career of guitar hero Robin Trower. From the same era, Fairport Convention made a great string of folk-rock albums and launched the careers of Sandy Denny and Richard Thompson.
It’s understandable why The Replacements aren’t in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. They never enjoyed a hit single and they’re not a household name. The Replacements epitomised rock and roll, providing a bridge between the punk of the late 1970s and the alternative rock bands like Pearl Jam and Nirvana that hit the mainstream in the early 1990s. Paul Westerberg was a great songwriter. The fertile 1980s American alternative scene is almost ignored by the Hall of Fame, with only R.E.M. inducted. There are a bunch of other American alternative bands from the era that should also be considered, like Sonic Youth, the Pixies, and Husker Du.
Yellow Magic Orchestra
Along with Kraftwerk, Tokyo’s Yellow Magic Orchestra were early electronic pioneers. Ryuichi Sakamoto, Yukihiro Takahashi, and Haruomi Hosono became Japan’s most popular group in the late 1970s and early 1980s, while ‘Computer Game’ was a worldwide hit in 1978. Where Kraftwerk were austere, Yellow Magic Orchestra were fun – their music was influential on early video games.
Who do you think is the most egregious omission from the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame?