The Rock N Roll Hall of Fame recently announced its list of inductees for 2023, and (not for the first time), there has been quite some noise in the heavy metal community that Iron Maiden have missed out yet again.
Should anyone care about this apparently outrageous oversight? Well, each to their own, but The Hawk figured that the subject at least warranted a blog post, so here we go.
What even is the Rock N Roll Hall of Fame anyway? Well, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Foundation is a non-profit organization first set up in 1983 by a group of music industry insiders including the publisher of Rolling Stone magazine (Jann Wenner) and a co-founder of Atlantic Records (Ahmet Ertegun). So you might infer that it’s a pretty mainstream, establishment type of organization, but one with the very worthwhile aim to celebrate rock n roll in all its forms, and honour those who have made significant contributions – mostly performers but also (e.g.) writers and producers.
It started inducting classes in 1986, and then in 1995, also threw open the doors on a physical museum – a massive glass palace on the shores of Lake Erie in Cleveland, Ohio. There, visitors can browse a substantial collection of rock paraphernalia like instruments, outfits, letters, posters and photos.
The foundation also runs education and community programs, encourages diversity, and manages a wider collection of artefacts in addition to the ones on display. So far, so good. At the time of writing, there are 365 inductees in total, and most years a handful get added, maybe 5 or 7 in the performers category.
Who decides on the inductees? Well, the foundation has a nominating committee made up of so-called ‘rock historians’, who come up with a long list of nominees. You have to have longevity to qualify – only performers who first released a record at least 25 years ago are eligible.
They are then voted on by an international body of about 500 ‘rock experts’. If you are in the top few finishers in the ballot, AND get 0ver 50% of votes, you’re in. Since 2013, there’s also been a fan vote, though that only has the same weight of 1 voting member. So in theory, a performer could smash the fan vote but still fail to be inducted (though in practise this has hardly ever happened.)
Needless to say, the rock experts don’t have to give reasons for how they cast their votes. (And The Hawk can’t help but wonder how one gets to be a rock expert anyway. It reminds me of the ‘love experts’ in Disney’s Frozen.
But anyway, that’s beside the point. Maybe they are influenced by commercial success? Or musical influence? Or something else? There’s been a fairly constant background noise of criticism that the committee is too mainstream, too aligned with establishment acts, and that its decisions don’t properly reflect the true diversity of rock n roll. As an organization that has very mainstream roots, that would hardly be surprising.
It should be said, though, that there is no sort of de-facto heavy metal ban in place. Indeed, quite a few performers already featured on The Hawk’s blog have been inducted – AC/DC, Aerosmith, Black Sabbath, Bon Jovi, Def Leppard, Guns N Roses, Judas Priest, KISS, Led Zeppelin, Metallica, Queen and Van Halen.
Let’s get back to the controversy. In 2023, Iron Maiden were on the list of nominees (14 in total this year), and were on their second nomination, having first been on the list in 2021. But sure enough, when the inductees were announced, there was no Iron Maiden. Kate Bush, Sheryl Crow, Missy Elliott, George Michael, Willie Nelson, Rage Against the Machine and The Spinners were the chosen ones, with Michael having also won the fans’ vote.
Cue social media outrage.
Let’s make a few relevant observations at this point. First, Iron Maiden themselves aren’t waiting by the phone to be inducted. Singer Bruce Dickinson has had a few choice comments on the matter over the years, such as this in 2018 in an interview with the Jerusalem Post.
‘I’m really happy we’re not there and I would never want to be there. If we’re ever inducted I will refuse – they won’t bloody be having my corpse in there. Rock & roll music does not belong in a mausoleum in Cleveland. It’s a living, breathing thing, and if you put it in a museum, then it’s dead. It’s worse than horrible, it’s vulgar.’Bruce Dickinson
Or this from bassist Steve Harris:
‘It’s very nice if people give you awards or accolades, but we didn’t get into the business for that sort of thing. … With what we do, whatever comes of it is great. Whatever doesn’t come of it is great, too.’Steve Harris
Does that kind of antipathy reduce your chances of making it in? Probably (though other metal acts like Black Sabbath and Guns N Roses are already there in spite of having made similarly disrespectful comments.)
High Profile Supporters
And Iron Maiden have plenty of supporters for induction apart from their fans. Judas Priest’s Rob Halford thinks they should be in:
‘ Iron Maiden’s nomination is absolutely overdue. I vote for them every day.’Rob Halford
Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley from KISS have also weighed in.
The CEO of Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Greg Harris has pleaded for patience on the matter:
‘ We love that people care; That they care if they’re in or out, and that their fans care. Now, the truth is, anybody that’s nominated, the odds are good that they’re eventually gonna get in. In fact, I think it may be as high as 90 per cent eventually go in.’Greg Harris
Credibility at Stake
As far as The Hawk is concerned, there is an issue of credibility for the Hall of Fame if it continues to exclude Maiden. They have that relatively rare combination of longevity, commercial success AND deep musical influence that should make then a shoe-in. On those first 2, the numbers speak for themselves. And if you want to focus more on the musical influence side of things, nobody can seriously question that Maiden’s influence is both wide and deep. So many other acts (Hall of Fame inductees included like Metallica’s Lars Ulrich) have cited them as influences. And over 40 years, they’ve shown a ton of musical progression, which is one reason why they remain so relevant and popular today.
Compare an early track with something more ‘middle aged’, and then with a more recent one. They all sound like Iron Maiden, but they all sound different. So (picking almost at random) in the ‘early’ category, we might look at ‘Wrathchild’, with its punky, raw sound:
Later on in the timeline, ‘Alexander the Great’ has its story telling vibe, guitar synths and majestic overall feel.
Moving on again, Dickinson-return favourite ‘The Wicker Man’ brings us the 3-guitar sound for the first time, with all that texture and melody.
Or most recently, how about ‘The Writing on the Wall’, with its haunting acoustic introduction, giving way to those great textured guitars supporting a biblical story of Belshazzar’s feast.
As said, all recognizably Maiden, but at the same time barely recognizable as comparable songs. The musical clout, grown over the years, is obvious.
Honestly, the Hall of Fame issue doesn’t keep The Hawk awake at night, just as it doesn’t the band themselves. I guess it depends a bit how much you’re into award ceremonies in general (spoiler alert: The Hawk is not). No more likely to go see a movie over here just because it picked up an Oscar nomination.
And those ceremonies – everyone hanging out pretending to like each other, telling their rivals ‘I hope you win’ and all that malarkey. And honestly, The Hawk can’t see himself ever making a special trip to Cleveland to visit the Rock N Roll Hall of Fame to wander round gazing reverentially at a load of guitars and shoes.
As Dickinson implied himself, it’s all about the living side of the music – and who wants to put that in a museum? Iron Maiden will be on tour again in a couple of weeks’ time – and that really will be worth the trip.
Are you outraged by Iron Maiden’s omission by the Hall of Fame? Or is it all a big ‘Meh!’ Should any of us really care if the band aren’t bothered? Share your thoughts in the comments.