Skip to main content

The 10 Most Controversial Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Moments

In advance of this year's Rock and Roll Hall of Fame ceremony on April 10 at Brooklyn's Barclays Center, read on for the 10 biggest controversies in Rock and Roll Hall of Fame history.

With its lack of transparent voting and occasionally odd subjective induction criteria, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame has seen its fair share of controversy in its 31 years of existence. This year’s class features a good amount of drama, with Kiss and Nirvana bristling over the exclusion of some of their most valuable members. The face-painted theatrical rock trailblazers refused to perform when longtime bandmates such as current guitarist Tommy Thayer and drummer Eric Singer were refused entry. Meanwhile, Nirvana’s former drummer Chad Channing – who played on the group’s first album “Bleach,” live cuts and B-sides, and the “Nevermind” classic “Polly” – believed he would join the group only to find out he was denied when someone from the Hall sent the band’s manager a text message saying only Kurt Cobain, Krist Novoselic, and Dave Grohl would be honored.

Nirvana, Kiss, Linda Ronstadt Selected for Rock Hall of Fame Class of 2014

Joan Jett to Front Nirvana At Rock And Roll Hall of Fame?

On top of lineup issues, the Hall has previously had ceremonies marred by ongoing feuds, snubs, genre snobbery, vote-tampering accusations, and the refusal of big-name artists to take part in the pomp and circumstance. In advance of this year’s ceremony on April 10 at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center, read on for the 10 biggest controversies in Rock and Roll Hall of Fame history.

The Beatles’ Induction

The Beatles

he Fab Four were elected in the Hall’s third year, following two classes of earlier rock, blues, and soul pioneers, as the first non-American group to earn the honor. Fans and peers hoped for a reunion of the three surviving members, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, and Ringo Starr, but long-standing squabbles led to McCartney not even attending the event. The day of the induction, he released a statement, saying, “After 20 years, the Beatles still have some business differences, which I had hoped would have been settled by now. Unfortunately, they haven’t been, so I would feel like a complete hypocrite waving and smiling with them at a fake reunion.” Mick Jagger then inducted Harrison, Starr, and John Lennon’s widow Yoko Ono.

Johnny Ramone’s Bush Tribute

Less than a year after frontman Joey died of lymphoma, the innovative punk band was honored by the Hall. After thanking various people who helped the group, guitarist and songwriter Johnny used the moment for a conservative-ideal punk moment, finishing his speech with, “God bless President Bush, and God bless America.” This came after vocal Bush critic Eddie Vedder inducted the band. Say what you will about his politics, but Johnny certainly wouldn’t let public opinion change his views.  “I said that to counter those other speeches at the other awards,” Johnny said. “Republicans let this happen over and over, and there is never anyone to stick up for them,” he proclaimed in 2004.

Blondie’s Bitter Induction Speech

Debbie Harry

When Blondie’s Debbie Harry and Chris Stein reunited the group in 1996, ex-members Nigel Harrison and Frank Infante unsuccessfully sued their former bandmates when they were excluded from rejoining. Gary Valentine, the band’s founding bassist who was replaced by Harrison, attended the 2—6 induction alongside the other spurned Blondie members, who made an awkward plea to perform with Harry and Stein, and founding drummer Clem Burke, who was welcomed back into the fold, at the ceremony. “Debbie, is that allowed?” Infante asked, before adding a “pretty please.”  “Can’t you see my band is up there?” Harry retorted. “Your band? I thought Blondie was being inducted tonight. Sorry,” Infante snapped back. Getting the last word, Harrison said, “It’s messed up for us. We want to play, obviously. We were part of it. We’ve been led to believe we weren’t part of it. It sucks. And welcome to bingo night.”

Sex Pistols’ Insulting Letter

The Sex Pistols

The weirdness at the 2006 ceremony didn’t just end with Blondie’s spat. The Sex Pistols previously announced they wouldn’t attend the ceremony via a handwritten letter from frontman Johnny Rotten. The punk icon called the Hall “a piss stain” and “urine in wine,” criticizing the fact that the band would have to pay $25,000 to sit at one of the ceremony’s main tables. Rock Hall and Rolling Stone founder Jann Wenner read the letter onstage and said the Pistols could come and pick up their statues at the Hall’s Cleveland headquarters. “If they want to smash them into bits, they can do that, too,” he said.

Def Leppard’s Joe Elliott On the Rock And Roll Hall of Fame: ‘It’s Rubbish’

The Dave Clark Five Rumors

In 2007, Fox News’ Roger Friedman reported that, according to unnamed sources, British Invasion group the Dave Clark Five received the necessary votes to secure the fifth and final spot for that year’s class. However, Jann Wenner allegedly ignored votes that were received in time to make the deadline but weren’t initially counted, putting rap pioneers Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five in fifth. Rumors persist that Wenner wanted a hip-hop act to finally be inducted. Luckily, Dave Clark Five were inducted the following year.

Hip-Hop in the Hall

Run-D.M.C., inducted into the Rock and Roll HOF in 2009

The inclusion of rap acts in the Hall has been a rancorous topic among supporters and rock purists, with opponents of blues, jazz, and disco also registering their complaints. Though he has plenty of opinions about the inclusion requirements of his own bandmates, Kiss’ Gene Simmons isn’t a fan of other genres being recognized. “You’ve got Grandmaster Flash in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame? Run-D.M.C. in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame,” Simmons asked. “You’re killing me! That doesn’t mean those aren’t good artists. But they don’t play guitar. They sample, and they talk, not even sing … If you don’t play guitar and you don’t write your own songs, you don’t belong there.”

Axl Rose’s No-Show

Given the feud among the various Guns N’ Roses members, it wasn’t a surprise that the hard rock legends didn’t reunite for their 2012 induction. As with most things GNR, frontman Axl Rose was the culprit and declined to be inducted, as opposed to their past brouhahas, he made perfectly reasonable statements regarding his decision. Basically, Rose wasn’t changing his mind about performing with Slash ever again, and couldn’t resolve his mixed feelings about someone else deciding his place in musical history, apologizing to friends and fans, and saying, “I strongly request that I not be inducted in absentia.”

Odd Band Membership Requirements

Red Hot Chili Peppers’ Flea and Anthony Kiedis

On top of this year’s exclusion of the various Kiss members and Nirvana’s Chad Channing, there have been a host of questionable decisions about who does and doesn’t deserve induction. Despite playing on a number of the band’s hits, AC/DC’s early-era bassist Mark Evans wasn’t included, and Rush founding member John Rutsey was also left out. Then there’s the curious case of 2012 honorees Red Hot Chili Peppers. Core members Anthony Kiedis, Flea, John Frusciante, and Chad Smith naturally got in, and late guitarist Hillel Slovak is an expected choice, but former drummers Jack Irons and Cliff Martinez and current guitarist Josh Klinghoffer, who officially joined the group in 2009, were also included. This leaves out Dave Navarro who spent five years in the band, recording the album “One Hot Minute” and touring with them during their peak era.

The Absence of Backing Groups

Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band

The Rock Hall righted one of its wrongs in 2012 when it inducted a number of famed backing groups after their frontmen were previously honored. Smokey Robinson’s Miracles, Buddy Holly’s Crickets, James Brown’s Famous Flames, Bill Haley’s Comets, Gene Vincent’s Blue Caps, and Hank Ballard’s Midnighters finally made the cut after years of complaints by fans and peers alike. This year, another incredible backing group, the E Street Band, will gain entry 15 years after their leader Bruce Springsteen got in on his own. He’ll be the one to induct them.

The Ongoing Snubs

Janet Jackson

Among those nominated but yet to get in are Lou Reed (expect that to change next year, thanks to his October 2013 death), the Cure, Kraftwerk, MC5, Wings, the Wailers, Mary Wells, Steve Winwood, Joe Tex, War, Rufus and Chaka Khan, Gram Parsons, the New York Dolls, Afrika Bambaataa, and Eric B. and Rakim. Among those never nominated? The Smiths, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Dolly Parton, Barry White, Sonic Youth, Joy Division, Roxy Music, Sade, the Pixies, Peter, Paul and Mary, Duran Duran, Meatloaf, Kool and the Gang, Patsy Cline, the Carpenters, Kate Bush, Jethro Tull, Tommy James and the Shondells, Rick James, Janet Jackson, Iron Maiden, INXS, Eurythmics, Dire Straits, Dead Kennedys, Cheap Trick, Black Flag, and many more.