How the 2023 Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Nominees’ Sales & Streams Stack Up
Commercial success alone doesn't decide whether an artist will get voted in — but it doesn't hurt.
The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame is filled with hundreds of artists that combine commercial success with cultural influence: The Beatles (class of 1988), U2 (class of 2005), Blondie (class of 2006), The Who (class of 1990), Stevie Wonder (class of 1989), Bob Dylan (class of 1988) and Whitney Houston (class of 2020) represent dozens of No. 1 records, platinum records and Grammy Awards (and one Nobel Prize in literature).
Sometimes, as with Parliament-Funkadelic (class of 1997), importance can also be measured by the number of times their songs were sampled in hit songs. In other instances, such as the Grateful Dead (class of 1994), inclusion of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame comes from an unmatched touring legacy more than a relatively modest sales history (In The Dark reached No. 6 on the Billboard 200 chart in 1987).
But influence alone might not be enough. In 2022, voters opted not to induct proto-punk groups New York Dolls and MC5, pioneering Afro-funk musician Fela Kuti and new wave group Devo (whose track “Whip It” reached No. 14 on the Hot 100 in 1980). They even passed on Beck, whose 180,000 album equivalents units far surpassed both Pat Benetar and The Eurythmics, although his airplay audience was far lower.
Influence can trump commercial success in determining who voters induct, however. The Ramones (class of 2002) and Velvet Underground (class of 1996) had little commercial success when active. Even as their fame grew over the decades, neither band’s catalog sales matched their significant cultural importance. The Hall has purposefully set aside space to recognize the genre’s foundational musicians. Blues greats such as Robert Johnson (class of 1986), Lead Belly (class of 1988), Howlin’ Wolf (class of 1991) and Elmore James (class of 1992) were inducted as “early influences” for their incalculable impact on rock music, not their album sales figures.
None of this year's nominees have 2022 consumption numbers nearly as low as MC5 (8,000), New York Dolls (7,000) and Kuti (37,000) had in 2021. Warren Zevon is the at the bottom of the group with 66,000 units. Last year, Carly Simon's 91,000 units was the lowest of the inductees.
Kate Bush, also passed over for induction in 2022, could have better odds this year after her 1985 recording "Running Up That Hill" re-entered the Hot 100 -- peaking at No. 3 -- thanks to the Netflix series Stranger Things. Last year, that renewed interest pushed Bush's album equivalent up 326% and her U.S. radio audience up more than 5,400%, according to Luminate.
Returning nominees Rage Against the Machine and A Tribe Called Quest have some of the highest consumption figures of this year's batch. Both groups had about the same number of equivalent units in 2021 and 2022. Soundgarden's 218,000 album equivalent units are in the middle of the pack but could be helped by its airplay audience that ranked second only to Bush.