It’s been 30 years since Aretha Franklin was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, becoming the first (and then only) female artist among the 25 acts enshrined in the Cleveland museum. Three decades later, women have become a more regular presence within the Hall of Fame, but not by much: In the last five classes, only five female or female-fronted acts have been inducted, and not since 2013 has more than one of them been recognized in the same ceremony.
The lack of gender balance was conspicuous enough that upon being inducted in 2016, Steve Miller — one of the five all-male acts being honored — openly called out the museum’s governing body for the disparity, pointedly encouraging them to “keep expanding your vision, to be more inclusive of women.” The returns for 2017 have hardly been overwhelming: Folk legend Joan Baez will be inducted this Friday (Apr. 6), but Janet Jackson and Chaka Khan — both having been nominated for the second time — will not be.
Who are the perennially passed-over women most deserving of Rock Hall induction? Let’s take a look at ten eligible female or female-fronted acts who’ve already done more than enough to be worthy of induction, and then peer into the future to see which soon-to-be eligible female artists may have a shot at induction over the years to come.
SHOULD BE IN BY NOW:
1. Carole King. It seems near-impossible that Carole King, one of the most influential recording artists of the ’70s and the woman behind Tapestry, one of the decade’s most critically and commercially undeniable blockbuster LPs, could have escaped induction by now. But while the iconic singer-songwriter has been honored for the “songwriter” half of her double-billing, having been inducted along with her Brill Building teammate Gerry Goffin back in 1990, her performing career has gone unrecognized. Yes, Tapestry towers over the rest of her catalogue, but it’s not like most post-Baby Boomers could name a James Taylor album not called Sweet Baby James either, and that guy got in 17 years ago.
2. Bjork. “But didn’t Debut come out in 1993?” you might wonder. True, but despite that breakthrough album’s title, Bjork’s proper debut came back in 1977, when she released a self-titled album in Iceland as an 11-year-old — making her Hall-eligible for well over a decade already. Though Bjork’s artistic achievements have never resulted in world-beating sales, and her symphonic pop compositions are not easily classifiable as rock (or as anything else), her singular artistry, universal acclaim and enduring influence on the ensuing generation’s best and brightest musicians should certainly have earned her a nomination by now.
3. Nina Simone. Another musician without true peer or parallel, Nina Simone has seemed to exist on her own separate musical timeline; perhaps that’s why she’s escaped the Rock Hall’s notice for the duration of its existence. Nonetheless, she remains a permanent presence on the rock and pop landscape, whether being covered by Muse, sampled by Kanye West, or invoked by Lauryn Hill. Just look at the sea of linked names under the “Legacy and Influence” section of her Wikipedia page and try to come up with a logical explanation why she should continue to be shut out from Cleveland.
4. Kate Bush. Like Bjork, Kate Bush is an inspirational art-pop maestro for whom the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame feels almost too small to contain, but who nonetheless would almost certainly have been inducted by now if we shipped the Rock Hall across the pond. Her U.S. presence never quite approached her chart-topping impact oversees — “Running Up That Hill” remains her only top 40 hit on the Billboard Hot 100 — but her stateside influence was still considerable; even the late 2Pac, one of this year’s inductees, was an avowed listener.
5. Kim Gordon / Sonic Youth. One of the most important and consistently brilliant alternative rock bands of the ’80s and ’90s — albeit one that never maintained a regular radio presence — Sonic Youth seem destined to receive Rock Hall recognition only well after scores of more popular bands that they influenced get in. While singer/guitarist Thurston Moore will likely go down as the band’s primary sonic architect, there’s no question that the group’s greatest cultural thumbprint belongs to bassist Kim Gordon — who wrote and sang lead on several of the band’s greatest songs, who proved an icon in the art and fashion worlds, and whose tribulations in the industry inspired her Girl in a Band memoir, which Billboard named one of the 100 greatest music books of all time.
6. Whitney Houston. Un-“rock” enough that discussion of her Hall of Fame candidacy invariably inspires all sorts of debate about what the museum’s name even means in the first place. But as definitions shift and the Hall invariably comes to represent the Rock Era more than straight-up Rock Music (or risks becoming fossilized in the decades to come) Whitney Houston will undoubtedly receive posthumous consideration, as one of the greatest pop and R&B stars — and very possibly the greatest singer — of her generation. If you’re unconvinced, just ask Aretha what she thinks.
7. Dolly Parton. And as long as we’re opening the doors for Whitney, we may as well say hello to Dolly, too. The lack of Rock Hall attention given to Dolly Parton has been extended to any number of the great ladies of country — Patsy Cline, Loretta Lynn, Emmylou Harris — and a number of the men, too. But as a presence so pervasive in all corners of musical and popular culture for a full half-century now, it seems especially egregious that Parton should continue being snubbed; maybe she just needs to do an entire album of Zeppelin covers.
8. Courtney Love / Hole. This one should be a virtual no-brainer, as Hole frontwoman Courtney Love fits all the best and worst parts of the rock star archetype that the Hall of Fame so often seems to treasure. But decades of being saddled with artistically unfair and explicitly sexist narratives have weighed down Hole’s oft-transcendent ’90s work, and Love’s distaste for politicking within the industry may leave her outside the voting body’s good graces for some time to come. Some will likely point to the group’s scant overall discography as excuse for their exclusion, but Mr. Love’s band hardly left behind an entire Columbia Record Club’s worth of titles either.
9. The Go-Go’s. Arguably worthy of inclusion strictly on historical merit, as their 1981 Beauty and the Beat debut album made them the first all-female group to top the Billboard 200 albums chart while writing and performing all their own music. But just as importantly, that album friggin’ rips — The Go-Go’s were responsible for a handful of the absolute best pop/rock songs that the ’80s had to offer, as well as some of the music videos that helped define MTV in its formative years. That the group spun successful solo careers off for leaders Belinda Carlisle and Jane Wiedlin is just a bonus.
10. Janet Jackson. Ms. Jackson’s even been close enough to get nominated twice, but still was pushed aside in favor of several acts with just a fraction of her commercial and artistic success, or her cultural influence or resonance. Hell, you can’t even really use the genre qualifier against Janet, since “If” and “Black Cat” rock much harder than many songs you’ll hear performed at an average induction ceremony. She’ll get in eventually. (And for the record, Chaka should be in here, too.)
COULD GET IN NEXT:
1. Sheryl Crow (Eligible 2018). Sheryl Crow‘s musical influence would hardly rate as seismic, but she’s universally liked, she has an impressive back catalog of hit albums and singles, and she generally fits the model: writing her own songs, playing a bunch of her own instruments, paying fealty to her predecessors and coming off like a star no matter how many copies her records sell. As the number of big names that fit that description begin to dwindle, Sheryl seems like a safe bet to get in sooner or later — safer than more critically renowned but less household-recognizable alt-rock solo artists like Liz Phair or PJ Harvey, even.
2. Lauryn Hill / The Fugees (Eligible 2019). The Fugees will be an interesting test case for just how much the Rock Hall wants to embrace hip-hop as the years progress — no rap album was safer for high-minded rock fans to wrap their arms around in the mid-’90s than the trio’s multi-platinum The Score, but considering the group never followed it up, they might not be able to ensure entry collectively. If not, Lauryn Hill will have to wait four years until her solo eligibility comes up with the rapturously acclaimed Miseducation of Lauryn Hill album — though given her inability to follow that album, she may be stuck in solo/group Rock Hall limbo. Maybe just induct her solo in two years along with The Fugees and be done with it.
3. Fiona Apple (Eligible 2021). One of the most critically admired artists of the last two decades, and one with enough commercial clout (largely thanks to her MTV-conquering 1996 debut Tidal) for name recognition not to be an issue. Fiona Apple‘s lack of media gladhanding and general reticence to near the spotlight in recent years may hurt her with older voters less enraptured with her eccentricities, but as a voting generation that grew up with her brilliance unquestioned comes of age, you have to think she’ll see induction in time. Looking forward to the acceptance speech already.
4. Missy Elliott (Eligible 2022). A rock star in hip-hop clothing; Missy Elliott was as bad as they came around the turn of the millennium, a distinctly right-brained musical genius who became a superstar in oversized garbage bags and Motorhead t-shirts. She was as otherworldly as Bjork, but somehow remained recognizable enough to take over American airwaves. She’d seem absurdly out of place at a Rock Hall induction, but we loved her because she never seemed to fit in anywhere but her own music videos.
5. Destiny’s Child (Eligible 2023). Fifteen years ago, the idea of Destiny’s Child as a Rock Hall contender would’ve seemed preposterous — but not nearly as much so as lead singer Beyonce becoming the most critically acclaimed artist of her generation. The latter has almost certainly happened, and it wouldn’t be surprising if the former did as well: Destiny’s Child are rivaled only by TLC as the most beloved girl group of the past quarter-century, and as Beyonce’s esteem only continues to grow, so does her original group’s stature. It’s already been a decade since the last girl group (The Ronettes) was welcomed to the Hall; it seems right that DC should be the first modern group to extend the tradition.
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