The 16 nominations for the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame’s Class of 2020 were announced Tuesday, and a whopping nine of them — most notably two of the only three female artists on the ballot, Whitney Houston and Pat Benatar — are first-time nominees.
It’s shocking that Houston — the most awarded female artist ever by Guinness World Records, one of music’s best-selling artists, a six-time Grammy-winner, and one of the greatest singers of all time — has never been up for the Hall before, and that she wasn’t inducted during her lifetime. (She became eligible in 2010, two years before her death.) It is possible that her lack of previous recognition was due to a lack of songwriting credits, or because her music was not “rock.” But considering that powerhouse soul divas like Aretha Franklin and Donna Summer and Houston’s ‘80s pop contemporaries Madonna and Janet Jackson are in the Hall, Houston’s nomination is well-deserved and long overdue.
The fact that Benatar — another one of the most successful female artists of the 1980s, and most definitely a rock artist — has never been nominated before has been a subject of yearly Hall protest, so she will likely do well in the fan vote. The other first-time nominees this year are the Notorious B.I.G., the Dave Matthews Band, the Doobie Brothers, Motörhead, Soundgarden, T. Rex, and Thin Lizzy.
Below is a breakdown of the all of the nominated artists and their chances.
Pat Benatar — Benatar undoubtedly set the template for female hard rock singers, at a time when hardly female hard rock singers even existed on the charts or at rock radio. A former Julliard student and the daughter of a trained opera singer, Benatar is a stupendous vocalist on the same level as Ann Wilson of 2013 Hall inductees Heart.
Dave Matthews Band — The genre-blending funk/folk/fusion jam band has sold more than 100 million concert tickets and 31 million records, making them one of the top 100 highest-selling music acts of all time. DMB have a diehard, Deadhead-like following, so they too have a strong chance of clinching this year’s fan vote.
Depeche Mode — These three-time nominees defined the new wave synthpop sound more than any other band of the 1980s’ Second British Invasion; Q magazine included them on its list of the "50 Bands That Changed the World.” English new wave acts have been largely overlooked by the Hall in the past, but the Cure’s 2019 induction may have finally helped open the door for bands like Depeche.
The Doobie Brothers — The hugely successful California soft-/boogie-rockers are known for their musicianship and intricate vocal harmonies. They were inducted into the Vocal Group Hall of Fame in 2004.
Whitney Houston — The pop/soul diva is widely considered to be one of the best singers of all time, not to mention one of the most successful. A true crossover phenomenon, she is the only artist to ever land seven consecutive No. 1 singles on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, and she has sold 200 million records worldwide.
Judas Priest — This is the second nomination for the British steel titans, whose operatic frontman Rob Halford is an LGBTQ icon and one of metal’s finest vocalists. The hugely influential band has survived lawsuits, lineup changes, and controversy, and continues to record and tour today.
Kraftwerk — It could be argued that all electronic music — the synthpop bands and sampledelic hip-hop turntablists of the ’80s, the electronica explosion of the ’90s, the superstar DJs of today’s festival circuit and Vegas megaclubs — can be traced back in some way to these German techno pioneers. Their influence simply cannot be overstated. Incredibly (and downright criminally), this is their sixth nomination.
MC5 — The Detroit punk forefathers and radical political activists sound as relevant and ferocious as ever, and surviving member Wayne Kramer, at age 71, is currently playing the band’s landmark Kick Out the Jams album in its entirety, touring with an all-star “MC50” lineup. The MC5 are definitely an outlier here, but their inclusion during a politically dark era would be noteworthy, and this is their fifth nomination, so it seems like the right time.
Motörhead — Motörhead, like Judas Priest, defined the sound of loud and fast heavy metal in the ‘70s and ‘80s. Late frontman and lone constant member Lemmy Kilmister, one of several posthumously nominated artists on the ballot, toured practically right up until his death, and while he never changed his style, Motörhead’s records still sound contemporary even today. Unfortunately, it’s possible that Motörhead and Priest will cancel each other out on the ballot.
Nine Inch Nails — This is the third nomination for Trent Reznor’s highly influential alt-rock/industrial band, one of the most important acts of the ‘90s. The eloquent induction speech Reznor delivered at the 2019 ceremony for his heroes the Cure may have helped him win over Hall voters.
The Notorious B.I.G. — Biggie Smalls, who was killed in 1997, is the only rap artist on this year’s ballot, and he holds the honor of being the only artist nominated in a first year of eligibility. If inducted, he would join six other esteemed hip-hop artists in the Hall: Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, Run-D.M.C., Public Enemy, the Beastie Boys, N.W.A, and Tupac Shakur,
Rufus featuring Chaka Khan — This is the fourth nomination for the Chicago funk/soul collective that famously launched the career of one of the greatest R&B divas of all time.
Todd Rundgren —The uncategorizable Todd the God’s storied career, both solo and with bands like the Nazz and the recently reunited Utopia, has run the gamut from pure powerpop to bizarro prog-rock. And that’s not even counting his groundbreaking production for everyone from Meat Loaf to the New York Dolls to XTC, his visionary early music videos, or the fact that he was the first musician to present and market his work solely on the internet, way back in the ’90s. This is Rundgren’s second nomination, and his Class of 2019 snub was the one most protested by fans.
Soundgarden — The Seattle heroes ushered in the ‘90s grunge revolution, alongside Nirvana and Pearl Jam (both of whom have already been inducted). The outpouring of love and respect for the band since the tragic 2017 death of lead singer Chris Cornell seems to make them a likely 2020 inductee.
T. Rex — Although the glam band only had one bona fide U.S. hit, “Get It On,” their influence on Britain’s metal and new wave artists cannot be overemphasized. At one time, band leader Marc Bolan, who died in a 1977 car accident, was as massive a pop star in the U.K. as his peer David Bowie, or even bigger. The 2019 induction of Roxy Music may have paved the glittering way for this first-time nominee.
Thin Lizzy — Charismatic working-class poet Phil Lynott was the Dylan or Springsteen of Ireland, and his death in 1986 was a major loss. Thin Lizzy are somewhat of a cult band compared to some other artists on this shortlist, but they have been cited as an influence by everyone from Metallica and Def Leppard to the Smashing Pumpkins and Henry Rollins.
The next batch of Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inductees will be announced in January after more than 1,000 members cast their votes; fans also can vote on the Rock Hall’s website. The 2020 induction ceremony will take place May 2 in Cleveland, where the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and Museum is located.
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