Top 7: Artists in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame that probably shouldn’t be

The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. It’s an institution that probably runs contrary to the ideals of rock and roll —  anti-elitism, living in the moment, having fun, etc. —  but exists nevertheless. Equal parts museum and celebratory musical party, the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame is something only dads seem to care about, and even then, only when the Hall lists potential nominees for induction. This year has been no exception. A whopping 16 artists are being considered for induction this year into this “prestigious” institution and people are already drawing up lines of conflict. 

“Who the hell is this person!?” “They’re not ROCK.” “Snubbed again I see!” Such comments no doubt litter the Facebook fan pages of many classic rock artists, and it’s quite easy to get sucked into these playground squabbles. But, rather than discuss the merits of each act being considered for induction or even postulating what artists might have been more deserving of such an “honor,” I’ve decided to look at those acts already in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and ask, “Do they really deserve to be in there?” Of course, who’s deserving and who isn’t deserving of being in this dinosaur institution is largely a subjective matter, but when considering the loose criteria the induction committee for the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame adheres to when nominating artists, I thought these seven choices were lacking in terms of influence and innovation, as well as a body of work that could generally be considered to last the test of time. Before you ask, no sales do not automatically equal influence, and yes, this is a subjective list based around a loose set of rules. For this reason, I will not be including any pop acts like Madonna or rap icons such as Public Enemy. I’m of the opinion that the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame should encompass more than just “rock” music. So, without further ado, here are the seven artists who probably ought not to be in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.

7. John Mellencamp – Inducted in 2008

John Mellencamp is a second-tier Bruce Springsteen at best who lacks any sort of influence that the Boss has had on the industry. And this is coming from someone who doesn’t care for Springsteen and his rough, husky drawl of a voice. I can concede that Springsteen is important to the development of not just rock but also pop music. Not only did he help improve the image of the singer-songwriter by steering it away from the stereotype of a shaggy 30-something mumbling nonsense philosophy, but he also added greatly to the classic rock songbook with his iconic tales of working-class people. Mellencamp, however, has maybe six songs that most people under the age of 35 are familiar with and has done little to push the art form of rock music like Springsteen has. All he did was play a rootsier variety of Springsteen’s brand of Americana. Seems like a nice guy though.

6. Journey – Inducted in 2017

Full disclosure, I like Journey. I wouldn’t call myself a fan, but you can bet I’ll be singing along to any of their singles if they come on the radio. Does this mean they deserve to be in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame? Goodness, no. Despite selling more records than most of their arena rock peers, 100 hundred million records worldwide, that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re an influential act. What they did was derivative of the groundwork laid down by Boston, who single-handedly birthed the genre of arena rock by mixing the hard-hitting riffage of Led Zeppelin with the layered guitar textures and pristine production values of Queen. Derivative doesn’t exactly mean inferior, but it does tend to indicate a lack of innovation, which is very true in the case of Journey. They never tried pushing the subgenre of rock music to which they belonged, which isn’t a bad thing, but it’s not something to be celebrated either. 

5. The Dave Clark Five – Inducted in 2008

Similar to John Mellencamp, The Dave Clark Five only have a couple of songs to their name and happen to live in the shadow of a notorious rock icon. For The Dave Clark Five, that icon happens to be The Beatles, and while there is some significance in The Dave Clark Five being early rivals to the Fab Four, they were always playing second fiddle to them and never evolved as artists — as far as I can gather anyway. It seems like all of their songs adhere to the same style of early 60s rock and roll and British beat music that lacked the vitality of the former genre’s pioneers such as Chuck Berry and Little Richard. Were it not for the fact that they played on the Ed Sullivan Show more times than any other British artist, were the first British Invasion band to take off after The Beatles and elevated the role of the drummer to that of a respectable profession, they probably wouldn’t be in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. 

4. Steve Miller – Inducted in 2016

For a guy whose nickname is Stevie “Guitar” Miller, there sure aren’t a whole lot of memorable guitar parts in his music. Nor does he seem to have any notable tunes besides “The Joker,” “Rock’n Me,” “Jet Airliner,” “Fly Like An Eagle” and “Abracadabra.” Like Journey, he’s got a greatest hits package to his name and that’s seemingly it. Unlike Journey, he didn’t even have a big cultural presence to back up his singles. He was just some guy who played bland, Eagles-esque radio rock but without any of the country influence present in that band. And unlike the Eagles, I doubt he ever inspired anyone to pick up the guitar.

3. Stevie Nicks – Inducted in 2019

No disrespect to Stevie Nicks, but her being the first female artist to be inducted into the Hall of Fame twice is a huge disservice to the likes of Kate Bush, Suzi Quatro, Pat Benatar and so many others who have had more influential and lucrative careers as solo artists. While Nicks should absolutely be applauded for her work with Fleetwood Mac, her own solo material is … well, does anyone know any of her songs other than “Edge of Seventeen” and “Leather and Lace”? Unless you’re a Nicks stan or someone over the age of 40, chances are you probably don’t. Considering this, I don’t think we need to ask whether her solo material pushed rock and roll towards evolving, nor do I think her influence as a solo artist is worth commemoration.

2. Bon Jovi – Inducted in 2018

Bon Jovi is a band that simply exists. There’s no reason you should particularly love them, nor is there any obvious reason to completely despise them. They’re serviceable arena rock vets who happen to have a pretty kick-ass chorus, and that’s it. “Livin’ On a Prayer” will no doubt last the test of time because of said chorus, but will the rest of their songs? Less than likely. The only reason Bon Jovi isn’t No. 1 on this list is because one could argue they helped break hair metal into the mainstream, but that ignores the fact that hair metal had already been a viable commercial force prior to 1986 and that Bon Jovi’s brand of hair metal was far less genuine than the already questionable glam acts shaking things up at the time. 

1. Def Leppard – Inducted in 2019

Def Leppard is overproduced garbage. I said it. They might have sold 100 million records worldwide, but that doesn’t excuse the fact that all they’ve remotely done for rock and roll is make it embarrassing. Yes, this is just my subjective opinion, but consider this: would the world be any different today without Def Leppard? Probably not. They didn’t invent hair metal — that would be Twisted Sister — nor can it be argued that they broke it into the mainstream like Bon Jovi. All they did was have producer John “Mutt” Lange polish and refine their heavy sound in the recording studio until it became sickeningly sterile. You could possibly insist that the glossy overproduction on their records would define rock music for the rest of the decade, and to some extent, this is true. Many rock acts began beefing up their sound because of the numbers that “Pyromania” sold, 10 million units in the United States for those wondering, but the polished, artificial production style that became more and more prevalent as the decade went on was already presenting itself in more mainstream pop albums before Def Leppard hit it big. If Def Leppard hadn’t existed, there’s still a solid chance that 80s rock music would be defined by gated reverb and slick, processed guitar tones. Used sparingly, these techniques can make for some great music. When used in abundance however, the music is more likely to suffer and become a product of its time. This was most certainly the case of what happened with only a handful of rock acts — such as the Cars — being able to pull off the sickly, sugar-coated gloss that came out of producers such as John “Mutt” Lange.

So back to Def Leppard. If we believe that they were the most prominent act to influence the sound of 1980s rock music, then it’s safe to say that they’re responsible for why so much of the music sounds dated and is hard to engage with. If we believe the more nuanced tale of them being one of many pop acts to ride the coattails of superstar producers and audio engineers during the 1980s, then their place in history is insignificant. Either way, they still don’t deserve to be in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.