The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame has announced 16 nominees for its 2021 class of inductees, offering some satisfaction at last for fans who have long lobbied to see the Go-Go’s and Iron Maiden get on the ballot, while Foo Fighters and Jay-Z made it into contention in their very first year of eligibility.
Jay-Z and Foo Fighters both released debut albums in 1996, landing them in the eligibility zone that requires nominees have a catalog dating back at least 25 years. Nominees making their first appearance on the ballot despite being previously eligible include Fela Kuti and Dionne Warwick, in addition to Iron Maiden and the Go-Go’s.
Returning to contention after having been previously nominated: Mary J. Blige, Kate Bush, Devo, Chaka Khan, Carole King, LL Cool J, Rage Against the Machine, Todd Rundgren and Tina Turner.
The ultimate inductees for the 36th annual class will be announced in May, with honors set for the fall. The Hall is still hoping that the COVID situation will improve to allow for a live induction ceremony in the fall, after last year’s class had to settle for a taped HBO special.
Of the long-eligible veterans appearing on the ballot for the first time, the Go-Go’s are probably the artist whose previous omission has sparked the most consternation and controversy in the rock community. (Which is not to say that Iron Maiden devotees wouldn’t argue that they have the greatest right to grievance.) Especially within the last year, there was a renewed abundance of head-scratching over why the most successful all-female rock band of all time had never been counted sufficiently influential to get at least a nod for the Hall. That subject came up in the acclaimed 2020 Showtime documentary “The Go-Go’s,” the impact of which might have finally been felt by the Hall’s nominating committee.
Three of this year’s nominees are already in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in different capacities. Foo Fighters’ Dave Grohl already has his trophy as a member of Nirvana. Turner was previously honored as half of the duo Ike and Tina Turner. King was previously inducted along with former husband and collaborator as a songwriter, having been given the Ahmet Ertegun Award that goes to honorees outside the performance realm back in 1990.
For King, news of her nomination arrives on the 50th anniversary of the release of the singer-songwriter’s landmark 1971 album, “Tapestry” — presumably a coincidence. King, who turned 79 Tuesday, is the return nominee who has gone the longest since previously appearing on the ballot; she was last up for Hall of Fame induction as a performer back in 1989.
LL Cool J is the returning nominee who’s been thwarted the most times; this is his sixth time up at bat for the honor. For Khan, it’s her third time being nominated as a solo artist; she has also been separately nominated as a member of Rufus four times, without success. Rage Against the Machine and Rundgren both received their third nominations. It’s the second time up for Devo, Bush, the Dolls and King.
In an interview last year in Variety, members of the Go-Go’s revealed varying attitudes about the group’s curious exclusion from contention through 15 years of eligibility up to that point. Singer Belinda Carlisle seemed to have hardened her heart against the ongoing slight: “At this point, to be 150% honest with you, I could give a fuck,” she said a year ago. “I mean, it would be nice, but… I know what we accomplished, and I’m really, really proud of that, and I don’t need the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s validation for that.” But, said Kathy Valentine in the same story, “Some people in the band don’t care at all. I care. I’m a rock ‘n’ roll musician. I would love that. I think it’ll happen. It’s just a matter of time. Because it’s going to be weird to put in some other women from the ‘90s and beyond, without acknowledging us.” Valentine also lamented that ’70s rockers Suzi Quatro and the Runaways have never been nominated.
Said drummer Gina Schock in the 2020 interview, “I actually sit on the fence about it. Part of me is like, fuck you. How dare you? And there’s another part of me that feels like we really paid our dues, and if they can’t see that, if they don’t see what our contribution is, I don’t know what to say. They’re gonna have to figure it out, man. Anybody that you talk to could definitely tell you what we constantly contributed as a band, in the industry for women, number one, and just in great songwriting — come on! But it wouldn’t be in the typical fashion of the Go-Go’s that anything goes easily. It always has to be a struggle. But we get shit done.”
Now, the Hall of Fame has made at least some stride toward getting shit done for pioneering women rockers in return.
Members of Iron Maiden had also been vocal about never being put up by the nominating committee for consideration. At a 2018 press conference, Bruce Dickinson said the metal band “absolutely” deserved to be nominated. “I actually think the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame is an utter and complete load of bollocks, to be honest with you,” he was quoted as saying at the time. “It’s run by a bunch of sanctimonious bloody Americans who wouldn’t know rock ‘n’ roll if it hit them in the face. They need to stop taking Prozac and start drinking fucking beer.”
The artist that has gone the second-longest time between appearances on the ballot, after King, is the New York Dolls, who were last nominated in 2001.
Fans of the Dolls may take news that the band have another shot at it after 20 years as bittersweet. Guitarist Sylvain Sylvain died last month, on Jan. 13, at 69, leaving David Johansen as the only surviving original member of the 1970s group. (A virtual tribute show honoring Sylvain was just announced Tuesday for Feb. 14, with participants including Johansen, Debbie Harry, Thurston Moore, Lenny Kaye and Henry Rollins.)
If sentiment over Sylvain’s recent death was a factor at all in the Dolls’ nomination, that didn’t apply across the board. John Prine, who was nominated for the first time two years ago, might have been expected to contend again after his COVID-related death last spring, but he didn’t return to the ballot this year.
Rundgren is the one returnee who’s back on the ballot for a second consecutive year after having been passed over for the previous class. Technically, anyway; Khan was a nominee last year as part of the group Rufus featuring Chaka Khan, as the Hall often alternates nominating her as a solo artist and group member, with no luck yet on either front.
Among first-time nominees, Warwick and Kuti are the two who are getting put up for the honor after having been eligible for the longest time; they put out their first recordings in 1962 and 1970, respectively. However, since neither is primarily identified as a “rock n’ roll singer,” there had been minimal outcries over their omissions up to this point. (Warwick, of course, has returned to the limelight recently thanks to her jocular Twitter account.)
“This remarkable ballot reflects the diversity and depth of the artists and music the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame celebrates,” said John Sykes, chairman of Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Foundation, in a statement. “These Nominees have left an indelible impact on the sonic landscape of the world and influenced countless artists that have followed them.”
A voting bloc of about 1,000, described as including fellow artists and other participants in the music industry, will do the final voting on this crop, which was selected by a committee. There is also, of course, the famous “fan vote,” in which the general public can go online to make its selections, although that vote only caries the same weight as one of the 1,000-plus music industry votes. Fan voting will be open through April 30 at rockhall.com.
The complete rundown of this year’s nominees:
- Mary J. Blige
- Kate Bush
- Foo Fighters
- The Go-Go’s
- Iron Maiden
- Chaka Khan
- Carole King
- Fela Kuti
- LL Cool J
- New York Dolls
- Rage Against the Machine
- Todd Rundgren
- Tina Turner
- Dionne Warwick