So, tonight is the grand induction ceremony for this year’s class of Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees. You’ll forgive us if we don’t get too excited, though, as the whole Hall of Fame experience these days is as notable for who isn’t included as it is for who is — and, specifically, for the ongoing lack of female inductees. There are plenty of worthy male artists and (predominantly) male bands whose continuing absence is inexplicable — Brian Eno, Nick Drake, Pixies, The Smiths, The Cure, Television — but the picture for women remains truly depressing. About this time two years ago, Salon ran a story pointing out that less than 14% of inductees were women, a picture that hasn’t exactly improved since — Heart and Donna Summer finally god the nod this year, meaning that a whole 25% of this year’s inductees are women! There are still loads of great female artists who remain on the outside looking in, though; here are some of the best.
It’s the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Rock. And. Roll. And yet there is still no Joan Jett, perhaps the greatest female rocker of them all. She was nominated last year, losing out out to such luminaries as The Midnighters and The Blue Caps, and again this year, to no avail. But hey, never lose hope: maybe she can be next year’s token woman, eh?
Still, at least Jett’s been nominated. No such luck for Siouxsie, who’s been eligible since 2003 and has never aroused the slightest whisper of interest from the Hall’s grand panjandrums, despite having had a significantly longer and more productive career than some of her contemporaries, and also basically inventing goth along the way.
Surely the most egregious hip hop-related omission (until next year, anyway, when Queen Latifah becomes eligible to be ignored). Whether hip hop should be in something called the “Rock and Roll Hall of Fame” is a whole different question, but on the assumption that the name really just means “popular contemporary music,” Salt-N-Pepa are at least as worthy of admission as, say, Run-DMC — they released four bona fide hit albums in a row between 1986 and 1993 (including the five-time platinum Very Necessary, the most successful album by a female hip hop act), and “Push It” would stir the loins of even the lamest Rolling Stone-reading white suburban baby boomer.
We have no realistic expectation that this will ever happen, but still, we’re going to lobby for it anyway: if there’s a place in the Hall of Fame for artists whose influence and general awesomeness outweighed their commercial success, then surely there’s a place for Betty Davis. Without her, there’s most likely no Madonna, no Salt-N-Pepa, no Missy Elliott, no Kelis, no Prince, no Rick James. Her flamboyance and overt sexuality were revolutionary — and also, anyone who starts a song with the lines, “He was a big freak/ I used to beat him with a turquoise chain” deserves to be in any and every conceivable Hall of Fame.
The Hall’s criteria are nebulous enough to mean that selection is entirely arbitrary, but still, it’s hard to see what more Kate Bush needs to do to satisfy these requirements: “Criteria include the influence and significance of the artists’ contributions to the development and perpetuation of rock and roll.” She’s been hugely influential, and while rock ‘n’ roll is probably quite happy perpetuating itself, she’s certainly contributed to its general health by selling a surprisingly large amount of records over the last 30 years. (Actually, this is an argument to be made in favor of more female inductees in general: surely an artform is more likely to “develop” and “perpetuate” if it’s accessible to people who don’t have penises?)
Sure, she’s not exactly rock ‘n’ roll — but then, neither is Billie Holiday, who was inducted in the “Early Influence” category in 2000. If Holiday’s in there, then surely Simone — the single most sublime female voice of her generation, if you ask us, and an artist who certainly didn’t mind dipping a toe or two into rock/jazz fusion — has to be worth a mention at some point.
There’s an argument to be made that Cher deserves to be banished to Jupiter for “Believe,” but although younger audiences might forever remember her as that woman with the Auto-Tune, it’s hard to believe (sorry) that a career that spans the best part of half a century doesn’t warrant the same recognition dished out to the likes of Donovan and The Dave Clark Five.
Evelyn McDonnell’s 2011 piece for Salon argued, “Rock girls don’t make it, pop girls always do.” The fact that Cyndi Lauper remains absent from the Hall perhaps suggests this axiom should be amended to “Rock girls don’t make it, pop girls always do — so long as they’re not too weird.” The establishment never really did know what to make of Lauper (she’s been nominated for a bunch of Grammys over the years, but only ever won once), and it clearly still doesn’t. She’s never even been nominated for the Hall, despite being a genuine global star during the ’80s and a highly respected performer to this day.
Hey, wanna guess how many female drummers there are in the Hall at the moment? Including the Carpenters would rectify that wrong, at the very least, and also provide recognition to one of music’s enduringly underrated songwriting talents.
Is Sinéad O’Connor too controversial for the Hall of Fame? Quite possibly — we suspect its voters prefer its controversies to be of the drugs-‘n’-groupies variety, rather than the tearing-up-pictures-of-the-Pope variety. But even so, O’Connor’s case is a difficult one to dismiss; she’s been one of the most visible and individual performers of any gender in rock ‘n’ roll over the last 25 years, and also one of its most unlikely commercial successes.