Oh, to be in the room where it happens. The nominating room for the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. Those debates must be fiery.
Should we recognize hard rockers Iron Maiden and Rage Against the Machine again and again? Is Willie Nelson really rock 'n' roll? We need more women candidates, whom do you recommend besides Kate Bush for the fourth time?
This year, the anonymous nominating committee* named 14 finalists, which were announced Wednesday morning. Last year, there were 17 candidates and typically 15 in most years.
Eight of the 14 nominees are first timers, with Missy Elliott and the White Stripes landing on the ballot in their first year of eligibility (which occurs 25 years after the release of their first record).
More than 1,000 people — Hall of Fame inductees, music executives, scholars and critics, including me — vote, for a maximum of five nominees. There are no write-ins. There is no longer ranked voting, a policy abandoned a few years back. The public can register its opinions at rockhall.com but the impact of their vote is limited.
This year's slate is full of solid contenders but few shoo-ins. At first blush, here are the chances of these candidates getting the call to the hall.
Kate Bush (fourth nomination). The surprise resurrection last year of 1985's "Running Up That Hill (A Deal with God)," thanks to Netflix's "Stranger Things," boosts her visibility but not her résumé. She is an entrancing, literate, atmospheric music-maker whose influence can be heard in Bjork, Prince and others. 70%
Sheryl Crow (first). She showed up prominently at last year's Rock Hall ceremonies, inducting Pat Benatar and performing a tribute to Dolly Parton. If that was a lobbying ploy, it worked — Crow finally got nominated, after being eligible five years ago. She writes, sings and plays multiple instruments with authority and style, and she scored plenty of praiseworthy, Grammy-winning hits and set an example for women musicians. 75%
Missy Elliott (first). She's been an absolute force in hip-hop and R&B as a performer, songwriter and producer, working with everyone from Aaliyah to Whitney. And her innovative videos raised the bar for fashion and technology. She belongs in the Rock Hall, but not sure enough voters will agree. 70%
Iron Maiden (second). Whether frontman Bruce Dickinson was in or out, these British metal bangers evolved and invariably connected in concert. However, if Judas Priest had to get into the seemingly metal-averse Rock Hall through the back door (an executive committee named them for "musical excellence"), it doesn't look good for Maiden. 50%
Joy Division/New Order (first). Their post-punk, pre-techno dance-rock made these Brits influential indie favorites. 60%
Cyndi Lauper (first). Her colorful personality, admirable activism and well-crafted music, whether serious or fun, give her convincing credentials. She gets extra points for composing the Broadway hit "Kinky Boots." 65%
George Michael (first). Sexy and soulful, the British heartthrob had two blockbuster albums and eight No. 1 singles (including duets with Aretha Franklin and Elton John). It's inexplicably taken too long for him to be nominated. 80%
Willie Nelson (first). Yes, he's a country-music legend but, as with Dolly Parton, his maverick spirit says rock 'n' roll. His credentials as a songwriter, singer, guitarist, recording artist, performer, icon, activist and cultural force rank as high (pun intended) as possible. 100%.
Rage Against the Machine (fifth). One of the most ferocious live bands ever, this L.A. posse blends punk, funk, hip-hop and social justice into an essential full metal racket. 60%.
Soundgarden (second). These Seattle rockers were the heaviest of the grunge bands, with a magnetic frontman in Chris Cornell. But can the Rock Hall welcome Soundgarden before Jane's Addiction? 55%
The Spinners (fourth). One of my favorite soul vocal groups of the 1970s with such hits as "Mighty Love" and "Rubberband Man," this enduring, (mostly non-Motown) Detroit ensemble is a Hall of Famer in my book. But they'll not have wide support. 40%
A Tribe Called Quest (second). Pioneers of alternative hip-hop in the '90s, this Queens crew was jazzy, artful and intelligent. One of hip-hop's most widely respected groups. 60%
The White Stripes (first). Jack White is one of rock's great DIY auteurs, whose career was launched by this blues-metal-garage-rock duo with drummer Meg White. Need we say more than "Seven Nation Army"? 85%
Warren Zevon (first). Like Randy Newman, Zevon was an underappreciated smart, quirky and often humorous singer-songwriter even though he recorded only a couple of modest hits under his own name. 50%
*The names of the 31 nominating committee members are eventually disclosed in the induction ceremonies program in the fall; last year, they included Dave Grohl, Questlove, Tom Morello, Stevie Van Zandt, Paul Shaffer, Linda Perry, a handful of music critics and industry executives but only nine women.