Rock & Roll Hall of Fame: Our music critic casts his ballot and asks readers: Who would you vote for? (2024)

Getting inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame seems simple enough — the five nominees who garner the most votes each year make the cut.

But deciding who to vote for is anything but simple, especially since there are usually three times as many nominees vying for those five induction spots.

More often than not, some of those nominees hail from distinctly different parts of the musical universe. Their impact and influence — two key criteria — can differ nearly as much.

Accordingly, this year’s ballot poses some intriguing and confounding choices. Here are five:

Kate Bush or Sheryl Crow?

Willie Nelson or Rage Against The Machine?

Soundgarden or White Stripes?

A Tribe Called Quest or George Michael?

Warren Zevon or The Spinners?

These are just some of this year’s potential match-ups facing the hall’s voting members, whose ranks have included me since the 1990s. Deciding who to cast your ballot for raises several vexing factors.

Is it better to vote with you heart, or with your mind? To let musical passions dictate your choices, or to use logic and careful consideration?

To further complicate matters, the calculus I use to determine a vote for any one artist may not apply to another. And when my instincts tell me a first-time nominee is a shoo-in for induction, I tend to not cast my ballot for them so that I can instead vote for a worthy underdog candidate.

That is why I have voted for Rage Against The Machine each of the previous four times they have been nominated (and will again this year). Ditto for Kate Bush, for each of the previous three times she has been nominated (and again this year).

It’s also why I have voted — albeit also without success — for “cosmic American music” visionary Gram Parsons, disco pioneers Chic and the incendiary Detroit band MC5 each time their respective names have appeared on the ballot (which in Parsons’ case last occurred in 2005).

To those who argue that Parsons and Chic are not “rock” artists, per se, I agree. But their influence is broad enough — and their contributions vital and enduring enough — that they deserve to be in the hall of fame, especially one that that in previous years has inducted Abba, Donna Summer, Journey and Bon Jovi.

Eight of this year’s contenders are first time nominees: Nelson, Crow, Michael, Zevon, White Stripes, Missy Elliott, Cyndi Lauper and Joy Division/New Order. Artists become eligible 25 years after the release of their first recording.

Several of the artists who are debuting on the 2023 ballot are very likely to be inducted, including Crow, Michael and the White Stripes, none of whom need (or will get) my vote.

Fans can cast their ballots online until April 28 at voterockhall.com/en/ — and millions have done so already. But be forewarned. All of the fan votes are tallied and submitted on a single ballot, alongside the other 1,000-plus ballots that are cast. Consequently, the millions of fan votes together will constitute about 0.1 percent of the total.

But enough about percentages! Here are the five 2023 nominees I plan to vote for.

Kate Bush — This one-of-a-kind English singer, songwriter and musical conceptualist counted the late Prince among her high-profile admirers. She has been a key influence on such varied artists as Tori Amos, Enya, Billie Eilish, Imogen Heap, Boy George and OutKast co-founder Big Boi, among others, and easily held her own duetting with Peter Gabriel on their 1986 gem “Don’t Give Up.”

The fact that Bush has not performed since 2014 — and has not toured since 1979 — only adds to the enigmatic allure of her singular music. What will probably cinch her induction this year is that her classic 1985 song, “Running Up That Hill (A Deal with God),” topped the charts worldwide in 2022, after being featured in a key scene in the TV series “Stranger Things.” That visibility should sway voters who were less familiar with her in the past.

Willie Nelson — Still touring and recording at 89, this maverick American-music giant has more attitude in his little finger than many rock and hip-hop stars. By almost single-handedly creating the outlaw country movement in the early 1970s, he irrevocably changed the staid Nashville music machine, while giving it the middle finger at the same time.

Nelson has written and recorded more classic songs than any currently active solo artist not named Bob Dylan. In 1985, he co-founded FarmAid with Neil Young and John Mellencamp. Over the years, his collaborators have ranged from fellow 2023 Rock Hall nominee Sheryl Crow to Keith Richards and Snoop Dogg, who — like Nelson — launched a line of marijuana products in 2015. He’ll celebrate his 90th birthday with a pair of all-star Hollywood Bowl concerts April 29 and 30.

Rage Against The Machine — This explosive Los Angeles-bred quartet set an enduring standard for rap-metal and musical ferocity more than 30 years ago. It also set a new standard for socially and politically charged songs with snarling, take-no-prisoners lyrics that vividly expressed youthful anger and frustration.

Rage disbanded in 2000, then reunited in 2007 for four years, before disbanding again. Its return to the stage last year drew sold-out audiences and earned rave reviews, even after lead vocalist Zack de la Rocha sustained an on-stage leg injury that required him to perform seated for the remainder of the tour. A key influence on numerous bands — including Deftones, Against Me! and System of a Down — Rage continues to live up to its name.

A Tribe Called Quest — A major force in New York’s Afrocenteric Native Tongues movement of the late 1980s and beyond, A Tribe Called Quest has been enormously influential in the decades since then. Its ingenious blend of hip-hop, jazz, funk, alternative-rock and more created an enduring template.

Artists who cite this three-man group as a pivotal inspiration include Roots leader Questlove, Pharrell Williams, Kanye West, Nas and Dr. Dre, among others. Just how far-reaching this musical Tribe’s reach extends was underscored in the 2011 film documentary “Beats, Rhymes & Life: The Travels of A Tribe Called Quest.” It was directed by actor Michael Rappaport, a longtime fan.

Warren Zevon — A long shot, or a shoo-in? This Chicago-born, Los Angeles-based singer, songwriter and band leader died from cancer in 2003. He scored only one Top 40 hit, 1978’s “Werewolves of London,” and remained a cult artist throughout his career.

But Zevon, who cut his teeth playing in the band of the Everly Brothers, made 15 albums and several are classics. He could be wry and acerbic, tender and poignant, the life of the party of the death of it. And he wrote a slew of outstanding songs that were covered by everyone from Linda Ronstadt (“Poor Poor Pitiful Me,” “Carmelita,” “Hasten Down the Wind”), Bob Dylan and Jerry Garcia (“Accidentally Like a Martyr”) and The Pretenders and Stevie Nicks (“Reconsider Me”) to Madeleine Peyroux (“Keep Me in Your Heart”), Meat Loaf and Hank Williams Jr. (“Lawyers, Guns and Money”) and Bruce Springsteen (the elegiac “My Ride’s Here”).

Who would you vote for?

Below are this year’s 14 nominees for the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. Which one current nominee do you feel most deserves to be inducted, and why? Email your answers to George Varga at george.varga@sduniontribune.com, and and we will publish the best responses. Please include your name and where you live (not your address, but the city, town or neighborhood).

Kate Bush

Sheryl Crow

Missy Elliott

Iron Maiden

Joy Division/New Order

Cyndi Lauper

George Michael

Willie Nelson

Rage Against The Machine

Soundgarden

The Spinners

A Tribe Called Quest

The White Stripes

Warren Zevon

george.varga@sduniontribune.com

Rock & Roll Hall of Fame: Our music critic casts his ballot and asks readers: Who would you vote for? (2024)

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