What do The Go-Go’s, Tina Turner, Kraftwerk, A Tribe Called Quest, Sonic Youth and Iron Maiden have in common? Not much. Except none of them are in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
“It’s a closed system,” said one industry player. “It’s all about the tastes of the older guys who started it: [Rolling Stone founder] Jann Wenner, [late Atlantic Records founder] Ahmet Ertegun. It’s changing a bit now that Jann’s stepped down — but that’s basically why there’s a lack of diversity and women and edgier acts.”
The first year of inductees was 1986, with a simple criteria for eligibility. An artist’s first album has to have been out for at least 25 years, to prove they stand the test of time. But beyond that, it’s a matter of voters’ personal preferences.
“The artists that get in reflect the tastes of that year’s nominating committee, which fluctuates,” said journalist Roy Trakin, a former voting committee member. “For instance, heavy metal and hair-metal — Mötley Crüe, Ratt, Poison — never get much respect.”
Same with hip-hop, said Joe Kwaczala, co-host of the podcast Who Cares about The Rock Hall. “Tupac got in, but LL Cool J, A Tribe Called Quest and De La Soul are waiting in the wings.”
Wenner was the chairman of the Hall’s Foundation until this year, when John Sykes, President of Entertainment Enterprises for IHeartMedia, took his place. Jon Landau, Bruce Springsteen’s longtime manager, is head of the nominating committee.
According to Kwaczala, “The committee meets once a year and each bring up two names. Then they all vote. The top 15 comprise the ballot. Then it goes to the voters, about 1,100 [industry] people.”
Sykes said the nomination process is no great mystery. “[It] is an … objective system that involves, first, a diverse group of over 30 people. It’s not a backroom cartel who decides. The group evolves because music evolves … [Landau] says the mantra is: ‘Who created the sound of young America?’”
Depeche Mode, the Doobie Brothers, Whitney Houston, Nine Inch Nails, the Notorious B.I.G. and T. Rex all made the cut for this year’s ceremony, which airs Saturday on HBO. (The show was pre-taped as what Sykes calls as “documentary” and won’t feature the usual intra-band jam sessions.)
Among the more recent additions to the nominating committee are QuestLove and Dave Grohl. “QuestLove is an influential member. He was more or less responsible for getting Hall & Oates in [in 2014],” said Trakin.
Sources told The Post that bringing in Sykes should change things in the near future.
“The Go-Go’s, there’s no good reason they haven’t even been on the ballot. It wouldn’t shock me if they were on the ballot [for 2021], because of their Showtime documentary. Nina Simone was snubbed for years, but that Netflix doc on her really helped [her get in in 2018],” said Kwaczala.
He added: “The Hall is warming up to post-punk British bands: The Cure last year, Depeche Mode this year. The Smiths or Joy Division/New Order will be next.”
Some artists are perennially selected by the nominating committee, only to be rejected by voters.
“The committee put forth Kraftwerk six times. Chaka Khan and Rufus have been on the nominating ballot six times. LL Cool J, same. MC5 have been on at least five times,” Kwaczala explained.
Said Sykes, “Most artists don’t get in the first [nomination]. Biggie Smalls was an exception.”
Kwaczala predicts Jay-Z will get in next year, his first time for eligibility.
But does being in even matter?
“It matters for legacy,” said one longtime rock publicist. “Most artists, no matter what they say, really want to be inducted. When Eddie Van Halen just passed, one of the first lines in his obit was: ‘Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee.’”
Another publicist told The Post: “I’m told you have to get an old-time music business influencer to write you a letter. Some acts won’t do that. They feel like their music is enough.”
Sometimes even campaigning doesn’t work. “We made several overtures to the Hall of Fame,” recalled Len Fico, manager of Jethro Tull from 1990 to 2007. “In 2001, when [singer] Ian Anderson had his second solo record out, we set up a gig in Cleveland [at the Hall of Fame Museum]. Ian was interviewed by the curator and donated a flag, stage clothing and original master tapes of ‘Aqualung.’ But I was told [Wenner] didn’t like Jethro Tull and would never let them in … Now that he’s stepped down, maybe they have a chance.”