2021 Rock Hall Inductees Roundtable: Our Writers Answer Five Important Questions About This Year’s Class
The inductees have been announced. Todd Rundgren, Foo Fighters, Tina Turner, the Go-Go’s, Carole King and Jay-Z will be enshrined in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. We asked our writers to weigh in on the eclectic 2021 class.
Below, our UCR contributors discuss the surprises, exclusions, head-scratching choices and overarching reaction to the Hall’s newest honorees. The 2021 Rock & Roll Hall of Fame class will officially be inducted during a ceremony held on Oct. 30 at the Rocket Mortgage Field House in Cleveland.
1) Who is the most surprising inductee?
Michael Gallucci: None of this year's inductees really comes as a surprise to me. In a way, all of their inductions were sorta expected. Todd Rundgren may be the biggest surprise, though - mostly because he's been overlooked as a nominee before, and he's made it clear he's not a fan of the Hall of Fame. Still, as an artist, he's among the most deserving of this year's group.
Nick DeRiso: I assumed the Foo Fighters would be inducted. Still, when I got to their name on the list of 2021 honorees, I found myself returning to a segment often hosted by Susan Robinson on the original Sesame Street program. She’d display four items while a compulsively hummable tune called "One of These Things” played, in hopes of helping preschoolers develop critical-thinking skills by identifying what did not belong. "One of these things is not like the others,” they’d sing. "One of these things just doesn't belong / Can you tell which thing is not like the others / By the time I finish my song?” If he’s being honest, even Dave Grohl could.
Matt Wardlaw: I'm happily surprised to see Todd Rundgren on the list of inductees. Even if he doesn't care, he's built an incredible legacy both solo and with Utopia and as a producer. It seemed like a pretty safe bet that he was going to get skipped over again, so it's nice to see him get the recognition.
Matthew Wilkening: I predicted the other five correctly, so I guess by default Todd Rundgren? But it’s a well-deserved and pleasant surprise. It’s also good that they honored him even though he was openly critical of their nomination process earlier this year. That shouldn’t and obviously didn’t affect the voting process.
Corey Irwin: I’m surprised to see Carole King on the list. She’s certainly deserving, but since she was already inducted in 1990 for her songwriting achievements, I assumed voters would pass her over in favor of supporting other, not-yet-recognized artists. Pleasantly surprised to be wrong on that prediction.
2) Who is the most surprising exclusion?
Gallucci: While it's not totally surprising, I was kinda hoping Devo would get this year's oddball induction. They've been eligible and nominated in the past, and there was a pretty active fan campaign behind them this year. This year's inductees are all pretty safe and expected - Devo would have given a little jolt of excitement to the proceedings.
DeRiso: Really, there wasn’t one. It looked, at one point, like Afrobeat pioneer Fela Kuti was a shoo-in, if fan votes were any indication. There were probably those who hoped the Hall of Fame would offer an olive branch to the metal genre. But, to be honest, I didn’t expect either of those things to happen. When the nominees were announced, I figured Foo Fighters, Jay-Z, Tina Turner, Carole King and (hoping against hope) the Go-Go’s would get in – and they did.
Wardlaw: Two words: Iron Maiden. In the category of turning wrongs into rights, I thought it was a no-brainer that we'd see Maiden get their induction stripes.
Wilkening: Iron Maiden - good grief. It’s great that the Hall of Fame is broadening their horizons into other genres, but they’re still way behind in the heavy metal category. Iron Maiden aren’t quite as pioneering as last year’s egregious metal snub, Judas Priest. But both are hugely influential and should have been voted in decades ago. Also Fela Kuti was just behind Tina Turner in the fan voting - maybe that should count for more than it currently does.
Irwin: I know Iron Maiden deserve to be there, but I wasn’t surprised to see them left out. You can’t throw a theoretical middle finger at the institution and expect it to welcome you with open arms. Instead, my most surprising exclusion is Rage Against the Machine. Their resume is incredibly strong, Tom Morello is a strong presence within Hall voting circles and I genuinely believed their time had come. What more do these guys have to prove?
3) Who are you glad to see get in?
Gallucci: I'm happy to see Carole King being inducted for her solo work. She was previously, and deservedly, inducted for her songwriting contributions along with former husband Gerry Goffin. But that earlier honor really didn't take in her recordings after those '60s triumphs - particularly her 1971 album Tapestry, a hugely influential record on generations of singer-songwriters.
DeRiso: Specifically, Todd Rundgren. I actually didn’t dare include him in my inductee predictions, for fear of jinxing the whole thing. More generally, however, I love the idea that the Rock Hall is adding a clutch of important, long-overdue female contributors. Keep going.
Wardlaw: I'm absolutely thrilled that the Go-Go's are being inducted. This is one that the casual music fans might scoff at, but dig into their overall story (or just watch the recent documentary) and they deserve this. It's another great moment of validation for the group, who have long deserved to get more credit than what they have received.
Wilkening: Pretty much everybody, but the Go-Go's in particular deserve all the awards and accolades anybody can send their way. Their contribution to rock history - both their immediate impact and their lasting legacy - is frequently and wrongly overlooked. The special “Musical Excellence Award" for Randy Rhoads is a very nice move, even if it doesn’t make up for the Maiden snub.
Irwin: Todd Rundgren has been a Rock Hall bridesmaid several times now, so it’s refreshing to see him finally get his due. His impact on rock as both an artist and producer deserves this recognition. He may not care, he may not show. But at least his name is firmly where it belongs.
4) Who shouldn't have made the inductees list?
Gallucci: I'm not surprised Foo Fighters made it in their first year of eligibility. Dave Grohl is one of the busiest and most likable team players around, and the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame needed at least one traditional rock 'n' roll band at the ceremony this year. But many of the other nominees really should have gotten the nod this year instead of Foo Fighters. Kate Bush, New York Dolls and Rage Against the Machine have all made way better albums and have had more influential careers than the bland Foo Fighters.
DeRiso: See No. 1.
Wardlaw: I love the Foo Fighters, but I think even Dave Grohl would have argued to put Iron Maiden in first. But seriously (okay, I'm serious about that first point), I think there are others, both from the current list of nominees (Devo, Kate Bush, Chaka Khan) and artists who aren't already in (Warren Zevon, J. Geils Band) that should be inducted first.
Wilkening: It’s great that Foo Fighters have become the new ambassadors for rock as a whole, covering AC/DC and Queen at their concerts and generously sharing their spotlight with a wide array of fellow musicians. But it just doesn’t seem like they have enough great songs or classic albums to deserve this honor based strictly on their own work.
Irwin: Jay-Z. This has nothing to do with the long-exhausted argument of rap artists being included in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (let’s all move past that, okay?). No, my reasoning here is that Jay-Z 100 percent deserves induction - but not until after some of hip-hop’s other forefathers get enshrined. A Tribe Called Quest, Eric B. and Rakim, Wu-Tang Clan and LL Cool J are some of the rap artists I’d have preferred to take this spot (though LL is getting honored with a “music excellence” award this year).
5) What are your overall thoughts on the 2021 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame class?
Gallucci: It's a diverse lineup this year - three women artists, one hip-hop legend and, um, Foo Fighters - and really one that should keep most music fans happy. But the real significance is in the "Early Influence" inductees. Kraftwerk, Charley Patton and Gil Scott-Heron are legends within their genres; their branches of influence reached some of popular music's greatest artists. Kraftwerk especially are a great addition, because they've been overlooked in the past as nominees. This consolation prize recognizes their legacy.
DeRiso: People love to hate the Hall of Fame – in particular metal fans, after Judas Priest stormed to a top five finish in fan voting last time only to get passed over. I don’t expect that to change this year since Iron Maiden got notably snubbed, but it should. After all, there appears to be some good news in the fine print for 2021: The award for musical excellence given to Randy Rhoads, who did seminal work with Quiet Riot before bursting to wider fame with the then-newly solo Ozzy Osbourne, feels like the door is finally cracking open a bit.
Wardlaw: Even with the omissions, it's a pretty solid class. People are going to argue and debate each year no matter who goes in. Some folks think that the extra categories water things down, but I'm glad that it presents additional opportunities to honor certain artists who might get otherwise snubbed permanently due to the ongoing passage of time. Realizing that it gets harder and harder each year as more artists become eligible, I think they're doing a good job of honoring a diverse spread of artists with each class. I'm happy to see LL Cool J on the list for "Musical Excellence" alongside Billy Preston and Randy Rhoads. It's great to see Kraftwerk in the conversation as well. Does that mean they will perform? Hope so. Thumbs up also for Charley Patton and Gil Scott-Heron.
Wilkening: No alarms and no surprises, basically. The continued trend of diverse induction classes is a good thing. The ongoing exclusion of metal is laughable but expected. It’s also very cool that all six of the performer inductees are alive to receive the honor, and could theoretically participate in the ceremony if they wanted to.
Irwin: It might be time to reconfigure the fan vote. Two artists - Fela Kuti and Iron Maiden - were elected by the public to the top five, yet when the class of inductees was announced, both were absent. Last year, it was worse. Four of the five artists chosen for the fan ballot were left out, including top vote-getter, Dave Matthews Band. I know the Hall isn’t a popularity contest, and I certainly wouldn’t want it to become that. But the public’s voice should carry more weight. Currently, the fan ballot is only one among the thousands counted for the Hall. Should it count for 10 votes? Twenty? I don’t know, but if the fans’ opinion isn’t properly respected, interest in the Hall will wane.