Analyzing the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Selection Process for 2019

Some people consider the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame a bit of an oxymoron, but I’m not one of them. I love rock music and it’s always good to see the musicians who created the soundtrack of your life get their just rewards decades after their initial success. Equally fun is lamenting the bands that got in who you believe are mediocre at best (sorry, but while Journey and Donovan had some good songs, they don’t belong in the same sentence, let alone Hall, as the Beatles or the Beastie Boys).

Whatever your view is on the need for/membership of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, next week marks the official induction ceremonies for the 2019 class. I thought that I’d take a quick look at the artists who were nominated and who got in and see if I can figure out why those who were honored got the call while their fellow nominees did not.

Why were these artist picked?

First, I’d like to look at the following scatter chart that shows:

1) The chart success of the artist (the value on the X-axis). Points were determined by the position of every song by the artist for every week on the Billboard charts given the formula of (101-Position), so having the #1 song for a week gave the artist 100 points while having the #100 song for the week gave you one point. Add all of these points up and you have the value.

2) The “quality” of the artist’s studio albums (the value on the Y-Axis). I pulled the reviews for every studio album for each select artist on allmusic.com and then determined the mean (average) value for each artist.

3) The productivity of the artist (the size of each circle). The bigger the circle, the more studio albums the artist has released.

4) Whether or not the nominee was chosen for induction (the color of the circle). Selected artists have been colored yellow while those who were not are in blue.

Looking at the diagram above, you can see that, roughly speaking, the more an artist is towards the top-right corner, the greater the likelihood that they got in. So, four of the top six artists on the Chart Success metric got in: Janet Jackson (#1), Def Leppard (#2), Stevie Nicks (#4), and the Cure (#6) got in, although LL Cool J (#3) and Rufus & Chaka Kan (#5) did not.

The quality of the artist’s studio albums also seemed to play a smaller role in the band’s induction. Five of the top eight artists got in – Roxy Music (#2), Radiohead (#6), The Zombies (#7), Def Leppard (#8), and Stevie Nicks (#9) all got in, but bands with equal/better quality didn’t get in – MC5 (#1), Rage Against the Machine (#4), and Kraftwerk (#5).

Comparing the two sets of artist, the big differentiation between those who got in and those who didn’t were the chart success of those artists. Ranking the Top Eight quality artists by Chart Success, we get the following list:

There’s a clear correlation with these eight “high-quality” bands. Every artist with more than 1,000 Total Points got in, while those with less than that value did not. Clearly, the Hall of Fame voters were trying to balance the artist’s quality with their marketability.

We can also tell by looking at the data that while productivity did play some factor (One reason why high-quality bands such as MC5 and Rage Against the Machine didn’t get enough Total Points was the small number of studio albums for each band – MC5 only had 3, while Rage only had 4), it wasn’t enough to qualify an artist. The two artists with the most number of albums, John Prine and Todd Rundgren, failed to make the cut. It would appear that while each of these artists had a period of high-quality albums, some of their other work bogged down their score.

The two artists who fell in the middle ground, Rufus & Chaka Khan and LL Cool J, did not achieve enough success or enough quality to earn induction. LL Cool J ranked 3rd for success and his quality score of 3.23 was the same as Janet Jackson’s but she had almost twice the success as the rapper, so that might explain why she got the nod and he did not. Likewise, Rufus & Chaka Khan were in the middle of both the quality and success metric which would explain why they did not get in. Finally, Devo ranked at the bottom of the quality metric (being experimental is great, but sometimes experiments fail) and were rather low on the success metric.

The next thing I’d like to take a look at is the output for each nominated artist. The below timeline shows when an artist released an album. I’ve also color-coded the chart so that artists who were nominated, but not selected, are in blue; while those who were nominated and selected are in yellow:

This is one case, where being too prolific or not prolific enough could hurt you. Four out of the top six most prolific artists and three out of the four least prolific were ultimately not selected. There appears to be a Goldilocks zone of 8-10 albums that would help you get enshrined. This factors more than the years when you released your albums.

The last thing I want to show is which eras were represented by this class. The Zombies were clearly an early/mid 1960s band, and Roxy Music made the mid/late 1970s. The rest of the artists were clearly dominant from roughly 1982 to 1996, with most of them falling off the charts by then (although Ms. Jackson had a reappearance in 2004 when Damita Jo came out and Radiohead a smaller one in 2008 with In Rainbows).

So, that’s a quick analysis of the Class of 2019. As I’m writing this, it seems that there is a lot more that can be done with who is in (and out) of the Hall. Let me think of which avenues I’ll want to investigate, and then I’ll share that data with you.

Written by Dave Curewitz

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