The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame on Thursday unveiled its nominees for the 2018 induction class — 19 acts that cover a range of musical bases and tastes with an emphasis on British stars.
Billboard examines the field… and sets odds.
The nominees for the 2018 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction class were announced on Wednesday. As usual, the list of artists nominated made for a fascinating mix of new names to the game (Radiohead and Rage Against the Machine, both nominated in their first year of eligibility), artists dropping off the bill unexpectedly (Janet Jackson and Kraftwerk, both nowhere to be found), a handful of “why now?” selections (Dire Straits, The Moodly Blues) and a couple “about time” ones as well (Nina Simone, Kate Bush).
Before we look forward to which artists from this year are likely to get in, it’s worth looking back on the lessons we learned from last year’s voting. The takeways from the Class of 2017? Classic rock still reigns supreme: Bands like Yes and Electric Light Orchestra made it in over artists with equally (or more) impressive resumes but less obvious rock cred — Janet Jackson, Chic, Kraftwerk. The Rock Hall wasn’t totally ready to embrace new wave, either, as we saw from the snubs of Depeche Mode and The Cars, in favor of the more traditional rock heroics of a newer band like Pearl Jam. And the introduction of fan voting to the Rock Hall’s formula helped in part to make the induction of a band like Journey — whose populist rock never endeared them to contemporary critics — finally possible.
However, two very different artists who did make the cut fell outside the traditional rock realm: folk singer/songwriter Joan Baez and rapper Tupac Shakur. Both artists were likely helped in making the leap to the Rock Hall by their connection to rock mythology — Baez via her ’60s associations with rock all-timer Bob Dylan and the legendary Woodstock music festival, and Shakur due to his encapsulation of both the anti-authoritarian attitude and the live-fast, die-young lifestyle that became inextricable from rock during the genre’s golden years.
A legendary New Orleans funk outfit had success on their own with instrumental crossover singles like “Cissy Strut” and “Look-ka Py Py,” backed artists ranging from Labelle to Paul McCartney, and were sampled more often throughout hip-hop’s first few decades than all but a handful of artists in history. Still, as an outfit they remain somewhat publicly anonymous, unfamiliar to casual voters and lacking in the major hits and widely acknowledged classic LPs that typically mark a RRHOF act.
Odds: 15 to 1
SISTER ROSETTA THARPE
The oft-dubbed “Godmother of Rock and Roll” will have an interesting case for induction if the voters bother to do their homework in researching the gospel pioneer’s place in genre history. That may be too much of an ask, however, for a singer largely unfamiliar to most concerned, considering her career as a successful recording artist was mostly relegated to the ’40s — too long ago even for some of the crustier voters at this point. She’ll likely have a better chance as getting in to the Rock Hall under the “Early Influences” banner than as a performer.
Odds: 15 to 1
J. GEILS BAND
They were nominated but passed over last year, and it’s not like the group — an acclaimed soul-rock touring act in the ’70s and an MTV fixture in the ’80s — is looking like a more logical inductee with each passing year. However, they may end up a sentimental pick for some: Geils, the band’s titular guitarist and leader, died earlier this year at age 71.
Odds: 12 to 1
RUFUS FEATURING CHAKA KHAN
Poor Chaka Khan — the Rock Hall nominating committee can’t seem to decide whether they want to focus on her as a solo artist (as she was nominated for the last two years) or as part of Rufus (as she was nominated for 2012, and now again for 2018). Pretty tough for an artist to split votes with herself, but it seems unlikely that Chaka will make it into the Hall with her somewhat lesser-remembered backing band, when she now stands as much more of a solo icon — and has had a hard-enough time making it in as such.
Odds: 12 to 1
An early guitar hero, and one who proved extremely influential on future perversions of the instrument within the rock genre. Still, he’s been nominated before (in 2014), and how many voters are all that familiar with his music beyond “Rumble” and “Raw Hide”?
Odds: 12 to 1
Orchestral prog of the ’60s and ’70s that gave way to watery synth-rock in the ’80s — let’s just say that if The Moody Blues were inducted in 2018, it wouldn’t exactly say a ton for the Rock Hall’s efforts to stay contemporary. Not impossible, though: You can never totally count out the Boomer bands, and the Moody Blues have a sizeable fanbase that remains active a half-century later.
Odds: 10 to 1
Well, they fit the “classic rock” mold, no doubt about that: Despite their success pushing well into the new wave era, Dire Straits are repertory FM through and through: “Sultans of Swing,” “Money for Nothing” and “Walk of Life” are unkillable standards of the radio format. The band’s general lack of critical acclaim might not be a dealbreaker; Steve Miller Band and Chicago didn’t need it when they were inducted in 2016. But while neither of those bands produced a blockbuster LP on the level of the Straits’ Brothers in Arms, they also had a much more undeniable run of contemporary rock/pop domination; Dire Straits only ever had one hot 100 top 40 hit outside of Brothers.
Odds: 10 to 1
A little too abstract for rock traditionalists, to be sure; there’s probably a wide swath of voters who still haven’t made their mind up on Annie Lennox’s genre- and gender-bending. The fact that they’re being considered at all shows the Rock Hall may finally be dipping its entire foot into the new-wave era, but the first acts from the era to be inducted will probably still be a little more conventional than Annie and Dave.
Odds: 10 to 1
The Rock Hall has been historically inhospitable to metal bands — even Black Sabbath, the most important band in genre history, took eight nominations before acceptance — and before this year, neither Judas Priest nor their New Wave of British Heavy Metal peers Iron Maiden had ever been recognized. That makes it unlikely Priest gets in as a first-timer, but increased acceptance of metal’s place in rock history and general reverence for the band as trailblazers at least gives ’em a shot, and makes it likely that if snubbed, they’ll return screaming for vengeance soon enough.
Odds: 10 to 1
Similarly alien to Rock Hall standards as the Eurythmics, but a little closer to the preferred artist mold, as a do-it-all writer/producer/singer who still gets routinely cited by newer artists from a stunning range of genres as a formative influence. Nonetheless, a lack of traditional U.S. success hurts: Bush only ever had Hot 100 top 40 hit and one RIAA-certified Gold album, which combined with her lack of clear genre definition may prove untenable for induction as a first-timer.
Odds: 8 to 1
RAGE AGAINST THE MACHINE
They rock, certainly. In many ways, Rage Against the Machine are RRHOF poster boys: Influential, self-important, massively successful. But the bands they were mostly influential on aren’t exactly Rock Hall types, and their thin back catalog — just three albums of originals before splitting around the turn of the century — might be too slight to hang a first-year induction on. The lingering ghost of Prophets of Rage isn’t exactly helping matters either.
Odds: 6 to 1
The good news for Depeche Mode in their second-straight year of nomination is that even more idiosyncratic contemporaries of theirs are now being considered, and they’re the ones from the bunch who are still selling out arenas worldwide, with a set list that sounds less and less removed from classic rock the further the rest of popular music gets from the genre. They’ll almost certainly get in someday, but 2018 may remain a couple years premature.
Odds: 5 to 1
Longtime cult favorites for their surprisingly enduring psych-pop, with the benefit of a handful of hits (“Time of the Season,” “She’s Not There,” “Tell Her No”) that anyone even casually familiar with ’60s rock is well acquainted with. Their relatively limited catalog — just two albums during their original ’60s run — and lack of classic-rock muscle will keep them from ever being a shoo-in, but they were previously nominated in 2014 and 2017, and their cult just continues to grow.
Odds: 4 to 1
They went 14 years between their first two nominations (2003 and 2017), but now it’s two years in a row for The MC5 — probably a good sign. Every year, the pool of cult rock groups with a widely recognizable name, image and ethos gets shallower, and you gotta figure eventually MC5 will stick out enough for them to get plucked from induction. Whether or not it’s this year depends on how passionate voters feel about some of the artists still to come on this ranking.
Odds: 4 to 1
If you’re looking for a safe artist to provide a jumping-off point for the Rock Hall finally submerging in the new-wave era, it gets no family-friendlier than The Cars. Though their pop sheen and lack of acerbic edge may make them a minor stretch for Rock Hall voters who tend to prefer Elvis Costello, c’mon — their first album alone earns them permanent real estate on classic rock radio, and their Greatest Hits can go 10 rounds with Steve Miller Band or Chicago any day. Andy Warhol directed one of their best videos. Put ’em in already.
Odds: 3 to 1
LL COOL J
A three-time nominee, though sorta puzzling that LL Cool J hasn’t been on the ballot since 2014. If you want a rapper who scans as a rock star, you’re not gonna do much better than James Todd Smith, who came up rocking the bells with Rick Rubin, made the hip-hop heartthrob a legitimate thing, and was responsible for one of the all-time great MTV Unplugged episodes. He’s beyond iconic for his genre and for American pop culture, and his scene-stealing set at Meadows Fest in September even proves he’s still That Type of Guy. No excuse for his exclusion, though his 0-fer so far is discouraging.
Odds: 3 to 1
With Simone, you have to just kind of hope that the fact that she wasn’t nominated until this point actually portends well for her 2018 induction — that as with Joan Baez, voters were just waiting for her to be approved as rock enough for consideration, and now will do the obvious thing and push her through. No point in recounting Simone’s singular artistry here; suffice to say, she remains as relevant and as vital an artist as is currently eligible for the Rock Hall without already being enshrined inside its walls. But it’d be naive to not acknowledge that when comes to artists of Miss Simone’s race, gender and genre, Rock Hall inclusion is rarely as simple as it should be.
Odds: 5 to 2
Yes, times have changed. Just a couple years ago, Bon Jovi would’ve still been considered long shots for the Rock Hall, as paragons of one of the least-respected eras in rock history. But the people have spoken, and with Journey seeing induction in their first year nominated, it seems only logical that their successors in arena-rock (and karaoke-night) supremacy should follow them in next year. Long-simmering prejudices against their brand of white-teethed crowd-pleasing may remain a temporary obstacle, but 100,000,000 Bon Jovi fans won’t be denied for long.
Odds: 2 to 1
Perhaps the only truly safe bet in the bunch. Radiohead don’t quite have the commercial success you’d traditionally associate with an RRHOF no-doubter, but their respect level among critics and peers for their 25-year catalog of shape-shifting art rock is so overwhelming that it’s hard to see a way they get denied even in their first year of eligibility. A quarter-century later, they remain without peer in terms of contemporary acclaim — so much so that 20-year-old bonus cuts off their 2017 OK Computer reissue generated more buzz this year than 95% of modern bands’ new material. It may be fair to say that no band yet to be inducted stands as good a chance as being a first-ballot Hall-of-Famer than Radiohead.
Odds: Even money, maybe off the board altogether