Selecting Rock Hall Inductees: This Year Queen, Next Year ... Sex Pistols?

Nominating committee has task of reflecting sprawling cultural experience called rock and roll — and its picks have critics every year.

Even as Aerosmith, Queen, Paul Simon, Michael Jackson, Steely Dan, Solomon Burke, the Flamingos and Ritchie Valens are being inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame on Monday, music-industry figures and fans are likely to have complaints about the absences in the class of 2001.

The bellyaching begins each year around December, when inductees are typically announced. "Where are the Stooges and Black Sabbath?" some say. "Aerosmith, but no New York Dolls?" say others. Still others may bemoan the absence of Can or Serge Gainsbourg. A select — some might posit deranged — few might even protest the absence of Napoleon XIV, the lunatic engineer behind the 1966 novelty hit "They're Coming to Take Me Away, Ha-Haaa!"

The necessarily mongrel, sprawling cultural experience known as rock and roll invites a multitude of opinions as to what constitutes the music's canon. But for induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, it's the opinions of the hall's nominating committee that count.

Every spring, the nominating committee, a sort of star chamber of influential music industry professionals — record executives, lawyers including veteran industry attorney Allen Grubman, managers such as Bruce Springsteen's Jon Landau, journalists including longtime scribe Dave Marsh and musicians such as the Patti Smith Group's Lenny Kaye — convene to evaluate potential nominees, who must have released their first record 25 years before the year of induction. Their choices form the ballot, which then goes to a larger group of 1,000 voters.

"The nominating committee is now about 60 people; it started off as 20 people, and it's grown," said Seymour Stein, chairman of London-Sire Records, who has been president of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame since its 1986 inception and is currently the co-chairman of the nominating committee. "Rock and roll is an ever-changing, hybrid music, and the more viewpoints, the better. As many people as want to or can attend the meeting, and the others are e-mailed and we vote.

"By process of elimination, we try to narrow the ballot down to about 15 artists. No one can be inducted without getting at least 50 percent of the vote," Stein said. "Generally, between five and seven inductees [are selected]."

Stein, an avowed "doo-wop fanatic" who identifies heavily with the music of his youth, feels like there's "quite a bit of catch-up to do." He cites the Hollies, Brenda Lee, Conway Twitty, Gene Pitney, Percy Sledge, Chuck Willis and panoply of doo-wop acts such as the Five Satins ("In the Still of the Night") and the Penguins ("Earth Angel") as acts that should be full-fledged inductees.

"I don't want to forget artists from the '50 and '60s, but not at the expense of worthwhile artists from the '70s," he said. "I don't want to sound like George Bush, but I don't want to see anyone left behind. But I really mean it, hence the difference."

Stein does not predict that any artist, whether in 2001 or in future years, will ever sail into the hall the first year they are eligible, the way, say, the Beatles did in 1988, or Bruce Springsteen did in 1999. He cited a random selection of artists, from James Taylor to Earth, Wind & Fire to Gene Vincent to Parliament-Funkadelic to Joni Mitchell to the Bee Gees to the Velvet Underground, who waited a few, or many, years for induction.

Monday night's inductees, Stein noted, are uniformly ones that took a few years to pass. "Aerosmith had been eligible for two years, Queen had been eligible for three years. Three of the acts getting in this year were eligible the first year [of the Hall's existence]: Ritchie Valens, Solomon Burke and the Flamingos." Queen's surviving members, incidentally, are mulling a reunion in the wake of the rock hall honor (see "Surviving Queen Members Mulling Reunion, Guitarist May Says").

For Aerosmith, their past eligibility — if not the induction itself — isn't weighing too heavily on their minds.

"I'm not really thinking about that," singer Steven Tyler said. "When we heard we were up for it [two years ago], it was very surprising to begin with."

"Do I even think that we should get in there now?" guitarist Joe Perry wondered aloud. "I don't know. It's not up to us.

"It just kinda feels weird, because there's a museum, and 'museum' sounds so stable and staid," he continued. "Everybody tries to pigeonhole everything. But I guess it's a good thing. A lot of people think it's a good thing, so we're happy to be there."

As for disco and punk acts (like the Sex Pistols) that made their mark in 1976, Stein adopts a wait-and-see attitude on whether they'll make it to next year's ballot: "We're going to know in three or four months, so hold your horses."

Stein does suggest, given that some voters perceive the uninducted likes of Darlene Love and the Crystals as mere instruments in the hands of producers, that some similarly perceived disco artists may meet a similar fate.

Robert Christgau, senior editor of the Village Voice, attended 1995's Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony and wrote an essay for the program regarding Al Green. He has never voted in the poll, but is charitable as to how the tastes of the nominating committee, the overwhelming majority of whom are veterans of the music business, influence induction.

"This is an election," he said. "And the people who vote, including everyone who has been inducted, are obviously going to understand their own aesthetic better than they understand succeeding aesthetics. Therefore, people who embrace aesthetics that are already canonized will have an advantage over those who don't. That's just a process, and maybe it should be corrected for, but there's nothing inherently immoral or unfair about having, for instance, all the surviving members of the Orioles voting for who should be in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame."

So in light of how the list of worthy inductees into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame seems to be backed up, it might be a few years after 2004 — 25 years after the release of the first hip-hop record, the Sugar Hill Gang's "Rapper's Delight" — that we see any old-school rappers taking their place alongside the giants of rock and roll.

DMC, one-third of Run-DMC, told MTV News you won't see him at any induction dinners until the hall recognizes early hip-hop. "You have a whole period of rap and a whole history before us that's definitely gotta be in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame before I get there.

"Grandmaster Flash, Melle Mel?" he continued. "No, I'm not coming to the ceremony until you put Melle Mel in there, 'cause he did 'The Message' and he did 'Super Rappin'.' They gotta put them in before us and Public Enemy, and everybody's gotta get their props."