These days, America runs on outrage. Who among us doesn’t love a good grievance? Whether someone is messing with M&M’s, our gas stoves, or, you know, our rights, we all have a bone to pick.
Which is why we love awards season, when we can grouse to our black hearts’ content about all the deserving content creators who got robbed. Long before the dedication of the physical building in 1995, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame has been a pyramid-shaped magnet for complaint. Fans of Rush and KISS, for instance, spent years bellyaching about conspiracy theories.
To be considered, acts become eligible when their debut album is at least 25 years old. (They also must be “influential,” whatever that means.) Each year a notoriously mysterious nominating committee gathers in the room where it happens to propose a short list of 15 or so artists or bands. Fans are then invited to vote on their favorites, but the ultimate decision comes down to another panel of judges. In an age of transparency, the Rock Hall remains stubbornly committed to secrecy.
Naturally, there will be some notable snubs again this year. Here are eight acts we think should have been inducted by now. In each case, you could say we’re outraged.
The J. Geils Band
This band promised to “Blow Your Face Out,” and then they delivered. If that’s not as good a gauge as any for induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, then we need a better definition of “rock and roll.”
Few bands have better understood the concept of showing an audience a good time than the J. Geils Band. Peter Wolf’s rabid street jive and the band’s whammer-jammer propulsion made for a live show that sometimes found them outlasting the crowd. When they reunited in 2013 to play the all-star Boston Strong benefit concert at the TD Garden, they turned the joint into their own personal house party.
Originally formed in Worcester as a Chicago-style blues band, the Geils Band was great at identifying chestnuts that were ripe for reimagination. The kinds of songs that sound like perfection on a jukebox: “Looking for a Love,” “Where Did Our Love Go,” the rousing trashcan doo-wop of “I Do.” And when Wolf and keyboardist Seth Justman hit their groove writing songs together, they cranked out one crowd-pleaser after another: “Give It to Me,” “Must of Got Lost,” “Detroit Breakdown.” (That last one was a nod to the band’s home-away-from-home, in the gritty Motor City.)
The J. Geils Band has been nominated for the Hall multiple times, most recently in 2018, the year after their founder and namesake died at age 71. The live albums (such as the aforementioned “Blow Your Face Out”) tell the story: Do you want to dance? Move and groove and slip and slide? Well, yes, don’t mind if we do.
If the nominating committee thinks the J. Geils Band wasn’t “influential” enough, let’s ask Adam Sandler if he still thinks “Love Stinks.” And if they have a problem with the band’s MTV/“Centerfold” heyday, which would turn out to be its last hurrah, all we can say to that is “na-na, na-na-na-na.”
The Wu-Tang Clan
Now that the core OGs and cultural icons of rap music are in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, it’s time for one of rap’s greatest groups, the Wu-Tang Clan, to receive their well-earned place. It’s impossible to properly assess the band’s influence on rap music and culture since their seminal 1993 debut, “Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers),” because the Wu sound and mythology have become integral forces in a wide variety of international music, film, and fashion.
While the Wu legacy has many tentacles, it begins with the powerful music that shaped the course of rap. The Staten Island supergroup contains four of the best MCs — Ghostface Killah, GZA, Chef Raekwon, and Method Man — to ever pick up a microphone. Its other members, U-God, Inspectah Deck, Masta Killa, Cappadonna, the late Ol’ Dirty Bastard, and mastermind and original producer RZA, have earned their places among the elite rappers.
Collectively, they have created music of undeniable force and intelligence over six official albums. The group’s densely woven and intricate rhyme schemes (often geometric in structure), creative allusions, street smarts, and philosophical insights make the A-B/A-B/beat/punchline rhymes of so many contemporary MCs sound like child play.
Each member, especially Ghostface, Raekwon, and GZA, has carved out a highly lauded solo career, and RZA’s production, featuring dank but soulful cut-and-paste collages of found street sounds, Kung-fu B-movie snippets, and effects places him next to Dr. Dre and DJ Premier in the holy trinity of influential rap producers.
While the quality of the band’s music has declined (their last official album, 2011′s “A Better Tomorrow,” was a pale shade of their peak sound), they remain an essential live act and rap royalty.
Open the Hall’s doors and enter the Wu-Tang Clan.
The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is nonsense. We can all agree that Jimi Hendrix, Joni Mitchell, and the Beatles belong, but in what world are Heart or Chicago or the Red Hot Chili Peppers also worthy? That doesn’t strain the RRHOF’s credibility, it shatters it.
But if anything goes — and it must if Bon Jovi is in — Hüsker Dü should be a slam dunk. The misfit trio from Minneapolis didn’t have a ton of hits — OK, they didn’t have any — but their uncommon cacophony influenced generations of rockers, not least of all the Pixies, My Bloody Valentine, Green Day, and especially Foo Fighters, who’ve made a fortune ripping off — er, paying tribute to — Hüsker Dü.
Unfamiliar? Don’t start with the early stuff. Guitarist Bob Mould, drummer Grant Hart, and bassist Greg Norton began in the early ‘80s as a hardcore band, and it’s tough sledding if sweetness is your thing. Before long, though, Mould and Hart, the band’s principal songwriters, were writing dynamite songs that combined melody and muscle — and a lot of them. Between July 1984 and September 1985, the band released three extraordinary albums: “Zen Arcade,” “New Day Rising,” and “Flip Your Wig,” which included the college radio favorite “Makes No Sense at All.”
Inevitably, major record labels came calling and Hüsker Dü signed with Warners Bros., releasing two good-but-not-great albums — “Candy Apple Grey” and “Warehouse” — before breaking up. Today, sadly, the band is famous to too few, but their status as the unquestioned godfathers of grunge is secure, as should be their place in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
On March 5, 1963, a plane crash just outside of Nashville took the lives of three country music artists who were on their way back to Music City. Today, two of them are likely familiar only to aficionados of vintage honky-tonk, but the third, Patsy Cline, might well be better known now than she was 60 years ago. That crash cut short a career that had barely begun (her first record, “A Church, A Courtroom and Then Goodbye,” was released in 1955) but yielded a procession of hits and other recordings that have become standards: Cline’s breakout hit, “Walkin’ After Midnight” in 1957, followed by “Crazy,” “I Fall to Pieces,” “Three Cigarettes in an Ashtray,” “Seven Lonely Days,” “She’s Got You,” “Leavin’ On Your Mind,” “Sweet Dreams (of You),” to name a few of them.
Working in tandem with producer Owen Bradley, her melding of country and pop established her as the exemplar of what came to be known as “the Nashville Sound.” Her recordings, animated by the husky, blue sound and the delicious ache of her magnificent singing voice and swaddled in slip-note piano, tremulous guitar, and sighing strings, brought an entirely different, sophisticated tenor to country music. Sixty years after her death, her influence and popularity has hardly waned. And if you ask why this country singer belongs in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, well, an institution with an understanding of “rock and roll” capacious enough to include the likes of Joni Mitchell, Nina Simone, and Dolly Parton can surely find room for a monumental trailblazer such as Patsy Cline.
While the rap industry was obsessively distracted by a bicoastal beef that boiled over at the 1995 Source awards, OutKast threw themselves in the middle of the commotion to deliver a message that still resonates almost 30 years later. “The South got something to say.” Andre 3000 was caught in a moment, but speaking the future into existence.
The music coming out of a basement dubbed the Dungeon was alien to the hip-hop landscape, but it became undeniable. OutKast’s run — grounding itself in funk-steeped street raps on their debut “Southernplayalisticcadillacmuzik,” finding an identity beyond glamour on its 1996 follow-up “ATLiens,” stretching the limits of soul and songwriting in rap on 1998′s “Aquemini,” conquering pop charts with 2001′s “Stankonia,” and reaching the commercial summit with 2003′s “Speakerboxx/The Love Below.” OutKast spoke for a region but left a mark on an entire genre.
Kate Bush expanded the aural palette of art-pop, brought a literary sensibility to rock music, and explored womanhood unflinchingly. Also, there’s one song where she turns into a donkey mid-vocal. The ridiculousness of the latter doesn’t detract from the case for Bush; it enhances it. Even as a teenager, Bush projected unapologetic boldness, drawing on books, theater, film, and history as source material and, as a result, typically constructing her songs as character studies rather than confessionals. From nearly the start, she was embodying personas outside her own age, nationality, or gender. (Note that one of her greatest, most empathetic songs, 1989′s “This Woman’s Work,” is sung from the perspective of a terrified, pleading father-to-be.) And she was one of a small number of artists capable of getting past the notorious difficulty of the groundbreaking Fairlight CMI synthesizer to create sonic worlds unimaginable when she debuted as a piano-playing singer/songwriter.
There’s a word for that: visionary. And Bush has been wildly influential over the decades, with Peter Gabriel treating her as a peer and her musical descendants including the obvious (Sarah McLachlan, Tori Amos, Florence + The Machine) and the rather less so (OutKast). Bush has been nominated for the Hall three times already, and there’s an argument to be made that if the “Running Up That Hill”-reviving fourth season of “Stranger Things” had come out three months earlier, she would have finally made it over the hump last year. No matter. We waited 37 years for Bush to have the top 5 hit she deserved. What’s one more year for the induction she’s earned?
If you seek influence and impact, look no further. Big Star’s reputation as your favorite band’s favorite band may have started to solidify the day the band broke up. Peter Buck of R.E.M. famously mentioned “Third” as an all-time great album in the same breath as “Revolver.” Their music has been covered by the Bangles, Garbage, Placebo, and the Monkees, to name just a few.
This Memphis-based pop quartet formed in 1971, coalescing around the songwriting duo of Alex Chilton and Chris Bell, who imported his trio’s bassist and drummer. Their debut, the ironically titled “#1 Record,” is a treasure trove of gold including the band’s most recognizable song “In the Street” (hello Wisconsin!), and “Thirteen,” in which Chilton, then 21, captured a gossamer adolescent innocence that can only be appreciated by those who have outgrown it. “Radio City” and “Third” are rougher but still diamonds; they were recorded after Bell departed to pursue a solo career, which never had time to take off before he died in a car accident at age 27.
Until Chilton’s death in 2010, he spun through several projects: reuniting Big Star here, collaborating there. He produced the first studio album by the Cramps (also not in the Hall of Fame and should be), whose fusion of rockabilly, punk, and horror B-movies continues to influence generations of weirdos. In a namesake song, the Replacements (also not in the Hall of Fame and should be) fantasized about a world where “children by the millions wait for Alex Chilton.”
Indeed, being hip to Big Star has been synonymous with music-nerd credentials for so long that people are getting wise. In a 2018 interview, Phoebe Bridgers confessed that “so many people tried to make [her] like” the band that she just couldn’t get into them, until “Stranger in the Alps” producer Tony Berg played her “Third” album cut “Nightime” and the wall came down. Put one more in the win column. I’m in love, what’s that song?
Patti LaBelle’s thunderous career started in the 1960s with her charismatic girl group, Patti LaBelle and the Blue Belles. Though their sequined dresses and polished bouffants spoke to the times, their music boldly combined rock and roll with potent gospel harmonies and political lyricism. The Blue Belles had several hits during that decade, including 1962′s “I Sold My Heart to the Junkman,” a top 15 hit.
By the ‘70s, Patti had morphed from girl group leader to future-forward frontwoman of LaBelle. She embodied Black girl glam rock, with her trio donning metallic spacesuits and feathered frocks to ramp up their image. They became the first Black group to play New York’s Metropolitan Opera House. Their biggest single, 1975′s “Lady Marmalade,” caused a stir — it unabashedly detailed the life of a Creole sex worker.
Patti LaBelle would go on to release her eponymous debut solo album just two years later. She had morphed yet again, but this time into a classic singer. Her duet with Michael McDonald, “On My Own,” became a smash hit as it effortlessly proved her prowess as a pop songstress. Another one of her biggest hits, “If You Asked Me To,” would be covered by Celine Dion. In a career that has paved the way for other Black women in the music industry, LaBelle has recorded nearly 20 albums. She’s been inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame, the Apollo Theater’s Hall of Fame, and the Grammy Hall of Fame. Now it’s time for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame to step up. Her ability to inspire audiences for more than half a century needs to be celebrated while Ms. Patti is still here.