2023 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Inductees Roundtable
The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame has announced its 2023 inductees: Kate Bush, Sheryl Crow, Missy Elliott, George Michael, Willie Nelson, Rage Against the Machine and the Spinners.
Additionally, DJ Kool Herc and Link Wray will receive the Musical Influence Award, and Chaka Khan, Bernie Taupin and Al Kooper have earned the Musical Excellence Award. Plus, Don Cornelius will posthumously receive the Ahmet Ertegun Award.
This year's ceremony will take place on Nov. 3 at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York. Our writers tackled some of the tough questions - surprising inclusions, snubs and more - which you can read below.
1) Who is the most surprising inductee?
Corey Irwin: Sheryl Crow. Don't get me wrong, she has a fantastic resume and would probably be deserving of induction at some point. But her getting a first-ballot entry before artists who have been waiting for years — like Soundgarden, A Tribe Called Quest and Iron Maiden — honestly shocks me.
Matt Wardlaw: The Spinners. As the years pass, it has often seemed like the early influencers were getting passed over in favor of more recent artists. This is a good opportunity to acknowledge an important group that laid crucial groundwork for future generations of musicians.
Gary Graff: The Spinners. Yes, the Rock Hall has inducted R&B vocal groups before, including some of their Motown mates. But after three previous nominations, it felt like they were going to become another one of those Nile Rodgers/Chaka Khan/Susan Lucci figures — good enough to get on the ballot but not to actually get in. Good things come to those who wait, I suppose, and if anyone thinks they don't belong I'll be happy to make a pretty convincing mixtape of hits from 1972-80.
Allison Rapp: The Spinners. I'm glad for it, certainly, but they'd been nominated a few times and I wasn't totally sure this year would be any different, particularly given the big names they were up against. It's good to see, though — the more foundational artists inducted, the better.
Bryan Rolli: I'm most surprised to see the Spinners on this year's list of inductees — not because they're undeserving, but because the Hall has passed them over for more than 35 years now. I'd have assumed nobody was thinking about them in 2023. They're not as trendy as Willie Nelson or Missy Elliott, and they're not currently raking in millions from a Netflix song placement like Kate Bush.
2) Who is the most surprising exclusion?
Irwin: I expected Iron Maiden, Soundgarden and the White Stripes to all get in this year. Of those three, I'd say Maiden is the most surprising exclusion. We know they don't care about the Hall — Bruce Dickinson has made that emphatically clear — but after Judas Priest was inducted last year, it just seemed like 2023 was lining up for another metal legend to accept the honor.
Wardlaw: Cyndi Lauper seemed like a lock to join her peers the Go-Go's, Pat Benatar and others. It's also extremely disappointing that Warren Zevon continues to be passed over.
Graff: I kinda felt like it was finally going to be Soundgarden and/or Iron Maiden's year, but I'm particularly surprised that the White Stripes didn't make it. Given its hip cache and enormous credibility, and Jack White's continuing credible success, that's one group that seemed like a prototypical first-ballot inductee.
Rapp: I really did think this might finally be Warren Zevon's year. There was more conversation about him online than I'd ever seen before and plenty of people — including Billy Joel! — advocating for his inclusion. I also frankly thought the White Stripes were a pretty safe bet, even as first-time nominees.
Rolli: I'm astounded the White Stripes didn’t make it this year. You'd be hard-pressed to find a bigger rock establishment darling than Jack White, and they seemed poised to waltz right into the Hall in their first year of eligibility just like Foo Fighters.
3) Who are you most glad to see get in?
Irwin: Rage Against the Machine. I get it, some people don't like highly politicized rock. Others still scoff at groups from the '90s getting in ahead of older acts. Regardless, these guys have been waiting for their turn, and I'm so glad it's finally arrived. Tom Morello is a guitar wizard, Zack de la Rocha is an incendiary frontman and frankly Rage's inclusion was necessary to avoid making this entire class dull. Now we get to ponder what they'll do during the ceremony because you know it'll be something worth talking about.
Wardlaw: For those of us who grew up with the benefit of smart music fans who were also tastemakers on radio and television, people like Don Cornelius were valued guides who opened the door to many musical adventures. Similarly, it's also heartwarming to see Willie Nelson get a spot. His numerous collaborations continue to expose gateways to many artists who are not to be missed.
Graff: Al Kooper. Long deserving. Long overlooked. An incredible array of accomplishments genuinely pushed the standards of rock as an art form. Hell, he should be in for just the organ hook on "Like a Rolling Stone." And this is one time where the Musical Excellence Award isn't a consolation prize; it's the exact way he should be honored by the Rock Hall.
Rapp: Missy Elliott! Talk about a groundbreaking artist. I think there's a tendency to chalk Elliott up to nothing more than a successful rapper, which, to be fair, is already an impressive feat. But she's a lot more than that, and there are countless contemporary artists whose influence can be traced back to her. I can't wait to hear "Get Ur Freak On" live. I'm also really glad Willie Nelson made it in - it doesn't get much more legendary than him.
Rolli: I'm happy to see Rage Against the Machine finally get their due. They're the most conventional, obvious inductee of this year's class, and they've been nominated so many times in the past six years that it's become a cruel joke. I'm also thrilled to see Willie Nelson join Dolly Parton among the Rock Hall's ranks — and just days after his 90th birthday, no less.
4) Only two of this year's seven inductees play primarily guitar-based rock. What precedent does this set for future inductee classes?
Irwin: Not so much precedent as overcompensating. The Hall has welcomed hip-hop artists, country and pop over recent years. It's worked well, relatively speaking, because there has been a balance. But this year's class has skewed too far away from the traditional rock base. I personally believe that Missy Elliott, Willie Nelson, Sheryl Crow and (to a lesser extent) George Michael all deserve a Hall of Fame spot. But bringing them all in as part of the same class at the expense of legacy rock acts is a mistake.
Wardlaw: I think it represents the continued and necessary shift of music as an art form in general. Based on the Rock Hall's updated mission statement, this year's selected class helps to demonstrate and define those revised goals, while extending some evangelism that we've already seen with some of the more recent past inductees.
Graff: The precedent has really been set by the last few classes and by the change in the mission statement earlier this year. The Hall has, for a while, had a much broader view of what rock is, which makes for some great arguments and a lot of head-banging "Where's the rock?" frustration in some quarters. Most everything seems like a fair game now — fair enough, but it's a legitimate concern that a lot of genuine and deserving rock acts will be hip-checked out of consideration by this move toward inclusivity.
Rapp: I personally abandoned the notion that guitar-based rock needs to remain the central focus of the Hall of Fame a long time ago. There is room for everyone in the Rock Hall, and denying other acts because of their instrumentation or background feels very un-rock 'n' roll to me. The Hall, in its defense, made it clear with its recently updated mission statement that the goal is to expand horizons, not limit them. I'd prefer the Hall not to swing the pendulum too far in any one direction, but as Bob Dylan, 1988 Rock Hall inductee, once said, "the times they are a-changin.'"
Rolli: The Rock Hall seems to already be making good on its new mission statement, which acknowledged the "inclusive and ever-changing" nature of rock 'n' roll. We should expect to see a lot more genre-agnostic inductee classes in the future. Consequently, we should also expect the snubbing of long-overdue, proper rock artists — and the griping from their fans and Rock Hall haters — to continue.
5) What are your overall thoughts on the 2023 class?
Irwin: It's a missed opportunity. Last year's induction ceremony was a triumph. The Hall could have continued riding that momentum with another strong class. Plus, there's a domino effect. The longer it takes Soundgarden to get inducted, the longer the Smashing Pumpkins and Alice in Chains have to wait for a nomination. Iron Maiden's continued wait pushes back a possible nomination for Motorhead or Slayer. I had high hopes for this class; Rage Against the Machine, Kate Bush and Willie Nelson are exciting additions to the Hall. Still, I can't help but feel disappointed.
Wardlaw: It's a class that acknowledges some important cornerstones of music history — Chaka Khan, Bernie Taupin and Link Wray, to name three. The number of women being inducted shouldn't be a notable statistic, but it's great to see that also. I think that it ultimately shows that it is a difficult process that requires a good amount of sacrifice to arrive at a diverse list that still has many positives.
Graff: One of the more curious and provocative ones, to be sure. As noted in the previous questions, just two guitar-slinging rockers (although Willie Nelson slings ol' Trigger pretty well) in the mix make it feel soft. A case can be made for everybody here, individually, but when positioned against the other body of other nominees it still feels like the likes of Maiden and Soundgarden have more merit and rock cred than some of those who are getting in. It's nice to see Kooper get a long-overdue nod, though, and Link Wray, too. The "undercard" categories are likely to be where the neglected rockers finally get some semblance of due.
Rapp: Assuming everyone performs, the show in November is going to be one of the most eclectic lineups the Hall has ever seen. Willie Nelson and Missy Elliott on the same bill? Sounds like a fever dream. The reality is that nobody is ever going to be 100% happy with the Rock Hall results, but overall I'm glad to see a number of truly deserved people earn their spot.
Rolli: Taken at face value, the 2023 class has plenty of merits. But at what cost? As always, the Rock Hall is taking one step forward and two steps back, inducting decidedly non-rock artists at the expense of long-overdue rock titans like Warren Zevon, Soundgarden and Iron Maiden. If country, pop and hip-hop artists are all fair game now, the bottleneck of egregious rock exclusions will only get worse every year unless the Rock Hall increases its annual class size. I'm all for welcoming artists of other genres into the Hall, but maybe the museum should finish its original job first.