The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s Unlucky 13

Snubbed again! Famed, acclaimed, legendary — and still no invitation.

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It’s that time of year again. Another Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony is approaching (March 29 — save the date!), and the Class of 2019 is my favorite one this decade. Congratulations to The Cure, Def Leppard, Janet Jackson, Radiohead, Roxy Music, Stevie Nicks, and The Zombies.

There’s not a dud in that bunch, but what would any annual induction be without some whining about the deserving legends who have yet to receive a key to the hallowed Hall?

The maestro of love was the first artist to put a face on disco. Along with Hall of Famers Donna Summer and Bee Gees, he also was one of the few artists propelled by the genre whose success and popularity transcended it. That such a bear of a man became a sex symbol in the process — and seemingly with so little effort — is a feat that puts Mick Jagger to shame. (Fun fact: White co-arranged Bob & Earl’s original 1963 version of “Harlem Shuffle,” which The Rolling Stones turned into a number-five hit in 1986.)

I get it. Lionel Richie’s solo work might be too soft and syrupy for recognition by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Perhaps they forgot that, in the beginning, he was so much more than a lovestruck balladeer? His starter band, The Commodores, were as essential to ’70s funk & soul as bands like Earth, Wind & Fire, The Isley Brothers, Kool and the Gang, and War, and regardless of how you feel about late-’70s schmaltz-fests like “Three Times a Lady” and “Still,” “Brick House” is as enduring as anything in Bohemian Rhapsody.

She may have compromised her legacy slightly with the reality TV stuff, but we’re talking about Dionne Warwick. Burt Bacharach and Hal David’s original muse is second only to Aretha Franklin among women with the most hits on Billboard’s Hot 100. (Unbelievably, Bacharach and David, who wrote Warwick’s biggest hits as well as classics by Herb Alpert, Carpenters, and B.J. Thomas, also have yet to make the inductee shortlist.) Her late contemporary Dusty Springfield, who spent her ’60s heyday singing similar and sometimes identical songs, made it into the Hall of Fame 20 years ago. Why are they still sleeping on pop’s first black female superstar?

She’s quite possibly the best-known artist ever to call herself “country.” Not merely a gifted singer, Parton, 73 and still active, is also a successful actress and an accomplished songwriter who crafted most of her own biggest hits, including “Jolene,” “Coat of Many Colors,” and “I Will Always Love You,” which she took to number one on the country charts twice before Whitney Houston made it 1994’s Grammy-winning Record of the Year. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s aversion to country should stop right here.

I prefer his contemporary, 2000 inductee Nat King Cole, but how could the Hall of Fame overlook the Chairman of the Board all these years? Many consider him to be the greatest vocalist who ever lived, and he scored big hits before and during the rock and roll era. Maybe his invitation got lost in the mail, somewhere in the great beyond.

Before Justin Timberlake extricated himself from NSYNC and went on to bigger hits and a more sophisticated sound, George Michael proved there could be life after a fluffy boy band. He helped redefine ’80s blue-eyed soul in the process. So what if he nailed pretty much every genre except rock and roll? It wouldn’t be the first time that a mega-mainstream pop act joined the Hall of Fame club (see his ’80s contemporary Madonna). That he’s still being mourned more than two years after his death underscores his immortality.

Too country? Have you listened to Van Lear Rose, Lynn’s Grammy-winning 2004 collaboration with Jack White? If her controversial self-penned country hits like “Rated X” and “The Pill” don’t qualify her for rock and roll cred, “Portland, Oregon” should. Nothing against the great Wanda Jackson, who was inducted as an “Early Influence” in 2009 and remains the only female country singer in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. (Brenda Lee’s pop era got her in.) Few queens of country have influenced more next-generation women than Honky Tonk Angels Parton, Tammy Wynette, and Lynn.

Mega-successful women who rock have been few and far between, so it’s no surprise that the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame has been a bit short on them (Bonnie Raitt, Deborah Harry, Grace Slick, Heart, Janis Joplin, Joan Jett, Maureen Tucker, and …) Now that Steve Nicks is about to be welcomed as a solo artist, it’s time for an invitation to be sent out to another of the premiere women in ’80s rock. If her uninterrupted string of gold and platinum albums between 1979 and 1988 or those four consecutive Grammys for Best Female Rock Vocal Performance (from 1981 to 1984) don’t earn her a spot, the sheer force of her talent should.

Sometimes death becomes a legacy. But even if Cline hadn’t died young (in a 1963 plane crash at age 30), her voice still would reign as the most remarkable one ever to caress a country song. She was the first female Nashville star to cross over to pop, and one can only imagine what she might have accomplished had she not been silenced so many decades too soon.

The multiracial Rufus were somewhat second-tier in the ’70s compared to Earth, Wind & Fire and The Isley Brothers, but Chaka Khan’s career-making stint as the R&B/funk band’s frontwoman might be her best shot at getting in. Though she’s never been recognized as a queen/empress/first lady of soul, Chaka Chaka Chaka Chaka Chaka Khan is right up there with past inductees Aretha Franklin, Gladys Knight, and Martha Reeves. She and her former band have been nominated and rejected twice. Maybe next year, her coronation finally will commence.

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame has done a respectable job recognizing brothers with voices, but they keep leaving these ones out. The Spinners were the top black vocal group of the seventies, and unlike so many other R&B artists who petered out around the halfway mark, their success spanned the entire decade. Philly Soul, a precursor of disco, has no presence in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and that needs to change. The Spinners were nominated once, in 2015, and the second time ought to be the charm.

If the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame isn’t swayed by War’s socially conscious rock & soul, the hitmaking outfit’s Hall of Fame connection should score them extra cred points: They launched in 1969 as the backing band of Eric Burdon, formerly of The Animals (the British invasion group that was inducted in 1994). “Spill the Wine,” their debut hit with Burdon, was but an appetizer. The main course that followed — “The Cisco Kid,” “Low Rider,” “Summer,” and other delectable confections — qualifies them as more than worthy.

Believe it or not, the iconic red-headed stranger and architect of outlaw country in the ’70s has never even been nominated. The Hall of Fame inducted his fellow Highwayman Johnny Cash in 1992 (the year I covered the ceremony as my first big People magazine assignment and got to meet the Man in Black, who was lovelier than lovely), and they’ve been pretending country music doesn’t exist ever since.

21 Dishonorable Omissions

Written by

Brother Son Husband Friend Loner Minimalist World Traveler. Author of “Is It True What They Say About Black Men?” and “Storms in Africa”

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