The Commodores, still not nominated.
Photo: Aaron Rapoport/Corbis/Getty Images
The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is a bizarre institution that manages to simultaneously be one of the highest honors in music and also be extremely peripheral. Last year, when legendary singer Tina Turner died, just about every article covering the news mentioned her status as a two-time Rock and Roll Hall of Famer. Some even had it in the headline. It’s an immediately recognizable shorthand for significance. On the other hand, most people completely forget about the Hall’s existence, save for maybe one or two times a year. These moments usually coincide with its major announcements: who’s been nominated, who’s being inducted, what’s happening at the annual induction ceremony. And the typical response is often one of incredulity, if not outrage. “How is this artist not already in?!” “This artist sucks and doesn’t belong!” “Who cares about the Rock Hall?”
This weekend, the Hall announced its slate of nominees for induction in 2024. Like every year, the list includes the previously nominated (Jane’s Addiction, Mary J. Blige) as well as some first-time nominees (Foreigner, Sade). Over the next few months, there will be no scarcity of discussion (online at least) of these acts, and even more so for the handful that eventually get voted in for induction. But for now, let’s take a moment to formally acknowledge some of the artists most deserving of Rock Hall induction who somehow have never been nominated.
Some notes before we begin. Artists become eligible for induction 25 years after their first released recording. This could mean an album, EP, single, whatever. For the majority of the Hall’s existence, it was technically 26 years, as the nominating committee would choose artists at the end of the year for induction the following year. For example, Led Zeppelin’s first release was in 1969 (their debut album), so they became eligible in 1994, then were inducted in 1995. Further confusing things, the pandemic shifted the Hall’s entire calendar, both delaying the inductions and pushing the nomination process into the following year. In an attempt to clear up all this confusion, the Hall considered two new years of eligible artists last year for the 2023 ballot, definitively making 25 years the eligibility requirement. No amount of time passing renders an artist ineligible.
Also, the Rock Hall has a pretty loose definition of the term “rock and roll.” I get a lot of shit on my podcast, Who Cares About the Rock Hall?, for claiming the “roll” part of the term includes genres like R&B, soul, funk, and hip-hop. But I think I’m right, and it appears the Hall agrees: Acts like Chaka Khan, Lionel Richie, and Jay-Z have recently been inducted, to name a few. So cry as you might that they’re “not rock and roll,” but the point is moot. The ship has sailed, and there’s no coming back. And honestly, if it’s a ship that’s playing Whitney Houston (Class of 2020) and the Spinners (Class of 2023), then it’s a ship worth being on.
Note: This is a list that is updated every year when the new ballot is revealed. Artists that were once on the list but then removed after their first nomination: The Go-Go’s, Iron Maiden, A Tribe Called Quest, George Michael, and Joy Division/New Order, as well as 2024 nominees Cher, Kool & the Gang, and Mariah Carey.
Became eligible: 2004 ceremony
Case for induction: The B-52s kicked off their career in 1978 with the avant-garde party bop, “Rock Lobster,” a song so weird and great that it inspired John Lennon to start making music again. After four albums (including two undeniable classics, their eponymous debut and Wild Planet), the death of guitarist Ricky Wilson could have meant the end of their career. But they regrouped for an astonishing comeback with 1989’s Cosmic Thing, featuring two of their most iconic songs, “Roam” and “Love Shack.” And enough can’t be said for their influence as one of the earliest and most prominent queer bands in rock.
What’s the holdup: Hard to say because they’re so innovative and have had success both critically and commercially. A potential problem might be that the layman probably only knows four of their songs (the aforementioned three, plus “Private Idaho”). But anyone who’s dug into their catalog even a little bit knows there’s no scarcity of really great music.
Became eligible: 2013 ceremony
Case for induction: “I was basically trying to rip off the Pixies. I have to admit it.” This is Kurt Cobain, talking in a 1994 Rolling Stone interview about the creation of Nirvana’s opus, Nevermind. He’s referring to the signature noisy, soft-then-loud, punky-but-still-pop sound that Nirvana (inducted in 2014) may have popularized but the Pixies had previously perfected. In the late ’80s, the Pixies put out two pivotal alt-rock LPs, Surfer Rosa and Doolittle, that set the template for grunge. Although none of their songs were hits at the time of release, many are considered classics today: “Here Comes Your Man,” “Where Is My Mind?,” and “Monkey Gone to Heaven,” to name a few.
What’s the holdup: Traditionally, the Hall is not great at acknowledging music that was influential, despite not being massively popular. It took the Stooges eight ballots and 15 years before they were finally inducted in 2010. Eligible since 1992, MC5 have been on six ballots and still aren’t in. And these are groups from the ’60s, an era that the Hall voters tend to like! Worthy underground artists from later time periods (Sonic Youth, Black Flag, Hüsker Dü) are likely to struggle, given the lack of mainstream name recognition.
Became eligible: 2019 ceremony
Case for induction: There’s no official list of criteria for induction into the Rock Hall, but if there were, it would likely include things like critical acclaim, commercial success, innovation, and influence. OutKast overachieves in all these categories. The Atlanta-based hip-hop duo featuring Big Boi and André 3000 is among the most critically celebrated in the genre, with three appearances on Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Albums list and six Grammys. All of their studio albums have gone platinum, with 2003’s Speakerboxxx/The Love Below reaching diamond status, no doubt buoyed by its twin No. 1 hits: the quirky, inescapable “Hey Ya!” and the sultry banger “The Way You Move.” Never afraid to experiment or push sonic boundaries, OutKast certainly had “somethin’ to say,” and their influence can be heard in artists from Run the Jewels to Frank Ocean.
What’s the holdup: The Hall seems to have a methodical approach to hip-hop, which typically results in one newly eligible act from the genre getting in each year. Last year it was Missy Elliott, the year before that it was Eminem. They could have paved a similar path when OutKast first became eligible in 2019, but at that time the Hall was still trying to find a way in for rap pioneer LL Cool J (who was finally inducted three years ago through the catchall side category of Musical Excellence). For this year’s ballot, the Hall is reaching back to two previously nominated hip-hop artists that came before OutKast’s time: A Tribe Called Quest and Eric B. & Rakim.
Became eligible: 2015 ceremony
Case for induction: When Seattle was getting all the attention for the grunge explosion in the early ’90s, the Smashing Pumpkins came bursting out of Chicago with their massively successful second LP, 1993’s Siamese Dream. The album showcased frontman Billy Corgan’s hard-rocking bonafides (“Cherub Rock”) as well as his sensitive side (“Disarm”) and catapulted them from critical darlings to platinum-selling superstars. Their follow-up, 1995’s triple-album Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness, was even bigger, achieving diamond certification and earning them Record of the Year and Album of the Year Grammy nominations (rare for a rock band at that time). Many of their songs, including “Bullet With Butterfly Wings,” “1979,” and “Today,” continue to be alt-rock radio staples, proving the enduring appeal of their work.
What’s the holdup: Billy Corgan is not well-liked. His nasally, acquired-taste voice aside, it’s his bristly personality that has earned him a bad reputation over the years. Certainly not helping his case is his multiple appearances on right-wing conspiracy theorist Alex Jones’s talk show. Too bad for the other members of the group, who also exist, to Corgan’s occasional dismay.
Became eligible: 1997 ceremony
Case for induction: Under their original name, the Blue Belles, they were an East Coast doo-wop group putting out modestly successful music throughout the ’60s. Not long after original member Cindy Birdsong left to join the Supremes, the remaining trio of Patti LaBelle, Nona Hendryx, and Sarah Dash rebranded as simply Labelle in 1971. With that name change came an overhaul in image and sound. Decked out in outrageous, space-inspired costumes, they leaned into funk, rock, and soul. This new direction not only allowed lead singer Patti to better showcase her powerhouse voice but it also set up Nona to blossom into the group’s primary songwriter. The band’s peak came in 1974 with the smash-hit LP Nightbirds, buoyed by the No. 1 single “Lady Marmalade,” a sonic precursor to the disco revolution that would come years later. This success took them to the cover of Rolling Stone, becoming both the first girl group and the first black vocal group to do so.
What’s the holdup: Labelle may have been a groundbreaking group, but it’s really Patti by herself who has the name recognition and the consistent hits (“If Only You Knew,” “New Attitude,” “On My Own”). So do you nominate the critically acclaimed band or the more commercially successful solo artist? This was a similar conundrum that the Hall had with Chaka Khan, who was nominated three times as a solo artist and four times with her band, Rufus. After seven unsuccessful tries on the ballot, Chaka was eventually ushered in by herself as a “Musical Excellence” induction last year. Perhaps this will be the same fate for Ms. LaBelle, but the Hall should try her band on the ballot first.
Became eligible: 1999 ceremony
Case for induction: Does anybody sound like Barry White? That ultra-deep, smooth voice is unmistakably his, and you have to give it up when an artist owns their sound. Here’s another question: Is anybody’s music more synonymous with having sex? If a TV show or movie wants to signify a sexy moment, they play Barry White. That’s the power of this guy’s music. Not to mention, he’s got the catalog to back it up. He sold millions of albums throughout the ’70s, supported by seductive songs like “I’m Gonna Love You Just a Little More Baby,” “It’s Ecstasy When You Lay Down Next to Me,” and the iconic “Can’t Get Enough of Your Love, Babe.” But unlike many of his peers from that era, he was able to make a significant comeback two decades later with 1994’s multiplatinum LP, The Icon Is Love.
What’s the holdup: White passed away in 2003, and in recent years, it feels like the Hall’s priority has been to induct living artists. 2020’s class was a bit of an exception, as three of the six inductees were deceased: Whitney Houston, The Notorious B.I.G., and T. Rex. However, 2021 and 2022 swung back in the other direction, with all the performer inductees still living. Last year saw the posthumous inductions of George Michael and the majority of the Spinners, but the 2024 ballot features mostly living artists with the exceptions of Sinéad O’Connor and many key founding members of Kool & the Gang.
Became eligible: 2006 ceremony
Case for induction: Hailing from Australia, INXS were one of the most reliable hitmakers of the ’80s. At first, it began with minor successes like “The One Thing” and “Original Sin,” but by decade’s end, they were scoring Top 5 American hits like “What You Need,” “Need You Tonight,” “Devil Inside,” and “New Sensation.” These songs, among many others, exhibit the group’s signature blend of danceable rock hooks with front man Michael Hutchence’s sultry vocals. It’s this musical alchemy that not only shot them to the top of the charts but has also kept INXS as an enduring part of the New Wave canon. They continued putting out solid and popular work into the ’90s, but their run was cut short by the death of Hutchence, who committed suicide in 1997.
What’s the holdup: The Hall has been famously slow to induct acts of the ’80s, but that seems to have turned around recently. In the past three years, we’ve had inductees like the Go-Go’s, Duran Duran, Eurythmics, Pat Benatar, Lionel Richie, and George Michael — all artists who had to wait more than a decade each since their initial eligibility. This influx of ’80s artists might be attributable to a change in leadership; in 2020, Rolling Stone co-founder Jann Wenner resigned as chairman and handed over the keys to the Hall kingdom to MTV co-founder John Sykes. So with a more ’80s-friendly leader at the helm, maybe INXS’s day is around the corner.
Became eligible: 2000 ceremony
Case for induction: Formed while students at Tuskegee University and signed to Motown Records just out of college, the Commodores were one of the hottest funk bands of the ’70s. They had a knack for powerfully rhythmic songs that oozed sex, like “Brick House” and “Slippery When Wet,” but what took them to stratospheric heights of success was their co-lead-singer Lionel Richie’s preternatural skill as a balladeer. His songs like “Easy” and “Three Times a Lady” showcased the group’s softer side and garnered them huge sales and major Grammy nominations. Richie would split off for a solo career in the early ’80s, but the group soldiered on without him, scoring one more Top 5 hit with 1985’s “Nightshift.”
What’s the holdup: Lionel Richie is far and away the most recognizable member of the Commodores, and the Hall chose to induct him as a solo artist in 2022. That doesn’t necessarily exclude the Commodores from future consideration, but it certainly kicks them way down the priority list, unfortunately. They already got the famous guy to show up — are they just gonna induct him again immediately? So it might be a while for this one.
Comedian Joe Kwaczala is the co-host of the podcast Who Cares About the Rock Hall?, along with comedian Kristen Studard.