Unlikely candidates are those you generally wouldn't think of as being potential nominees and whose credentials are not quite up to the standards we've set here, but nevertheless have something unique that might draw the attention of the voting body even over more deserving names. It could be underground reputation, perception of importance, or a key song or milestone that will keep their name coming up in the nominating committee, and in fact some have already been nominated. But while the credentials alone of these artists can't stack up against the higher competition in our Top 150 Candidates, they all might have a hole-card that at least gets them a look. If they do many people will be left scratching their heads and wondering why they were nominated. - Here's why:
50 Unlikely Candidates
If respect within the music community counts for anything Alexander will always have a shot at induction, despite few hits and little recognition in the general public. Where Alexander gets his due however is as a songwriter and he is the answer to the rather famous trivia question "Who is the only composer to have his songs covered by the Beatles, Stones and Dylan?". In addition to his writing skills Alexander as a singer was a major shaper in the Southern country-soul style of the early 60's.
The very definition of a legendary cult band. With the added appeal of a hugely admired lead singer in Alex Chilton and a handful of revered albums to go with it, their limited success and notoriety among the mass public might be overcome with a nomination. If any relative commercial failure has a chance, it's them.
Blood, Sweat & Tears
Deemed by most to be a creative failure in trying to introduce jazzy horns in white pop-rock, despite some legitimately big hits, there remains a chance that the Hall could put them in as a way to honor founding member Al Kooper, a la Michael Bloomfield or Steve Winwood. The fact he left that group acrimoniously may lessen that, but until Kooper is inducted as a Sideman or for the vague "Musical Excellence" category, where he'd be more deserving, BST can’t be completely counted out.
Here's an interesting case. As a white guitar group with an immortal single from the late 60's they'd appear to be all but guaranteed at least a nomination. But because their influence is as a precursor to metal, a style the Hall has been historically uneasy with crediting, their chances dim some. But if the favored nations status of the era itself win out over stylistic objections, they'll benefit.
Marc Bolan & T. Rex
The glitter/glam rock movement is not exactly widely praised these days, outside of David Bowie, but if someone was looking for an act to represent it in the Hall this is who they'd land on. More popular in Britain than America so the makeup of the voting body could play a part in their getting considered.
Johnny Burnette Rock 'n' Roll Trio
Considered the pre-eminent rockabilly band whose invention of feedback remains a groundbreaking moment. Among the wildest of the mid-50's white rockers who had no commercial success together to speak of, but both Johnny and brother Dorsey Burnette had big solo careers in a tamed down style and were writers of note for Ricky Nelson, while guitarist Paul Burlison went down in history for his contribution to guitar innovation.
Weird, brilliant and critically acclaimed with a connection to another legend, in this case Frank Zappa, can often add up to a movement behind you. Even if the mainstream isn't familiar with his work, his LP "Trout Mask Replica" remains a frequently cited landmark in rock history. His name is recognizable to many in the mainstream even if his music is not.
Very little in the way of commercial success, none of his singles even broke the Top 60, though they did do much better on the R&B Charts, but like similarly hit-starved inductees Velvet Underground, Frank Zappa and The Ramones, Carr is near legendary within music circles. His drawback is, unlike those three examples who have tons of influence, Carr was just a singer, not an innovator. But then some would say he was the single greatest southern soul singer ever, so if that matters he's got a chance.
Among the longest reigning of the 50's vocal groups, breaking through with their first hit in 1955 that helped cross the music over and were still scoring hits in the early 60's revival of the style. Since most vocal groups of that era had only a few chart hits to their name finding ones with sustained commercial success to justify a nomination is harder for the committee who might otherwise like to honor that style and thus gives them a possible leg up for an appearance on the ballot.
With Cocker's death in late 2014 there came a groundswell of support for his induction, with even nominating committee members clamoring for it. So chances are he’ll get his shot. But while he had some solid records he was never a top-teir star, nor influential, a solid journeyman even at his peak. Yet as always his era and style and their appeal to the Hall's constituancy means more than credentials.
Eclectic guitarist/producer whose work as a solo artist is somewhat unknown, though widely praised, but who made a name for himself as one of the best slide guitarists for hire, appearing on countless sessions for big name acts, but then surpassed that with countless film scoring projects and his work bringing various world music projects, most famously Cuba's Buena Vista Social Club, to the masses. The type of beloved all-around figure the Hall likes to honor.
Country Joe & The Fish
Very FAR left field candidates the Fish, led by Country Joe McDonald, were the most notorious political activists of the 60's San Francisco rock scene who caused a stir at Woodstock with their sing-along anti-war anthems. Though their work seems quaintly archaic today, Hall voters, many of whom undoubtedly agree with their politics, might find room on their ballots for self-proclaimed boat-rockers.
Utterly unique rock band that furthered the use of synthesizers and were very influential in new wave and post-punk styles. Their outlandish approach could be both a help in setting them apart and a detriment in having their potential candidacy taken seriously. Too far out to be considered a likely candidate but with just enough notoriety to be given a shot anyway.
Underground legend of the British folk-rock scene whose only three albums from the late 60's and early 70's before his 1974 death are revered in music circles. His reputation seems to grow with each succeeding generation and the canonization of tragic artists is a Hall trademark.
Dyke & The Blazers
Aside from James Brown's 60's band the Blazers are considered the first funk-outfit to make a dent in the music world and were viewed by James himself in the late 60's to be his fiercest rivals. In Arlester "Dyke" Christian they had a visionary leader and while their chart success was limited they still emerged with two immortal records, the original "Funky Broadway" and "We Got More Soul". Influence to spare.
J. Geils Band
In sports terms they're journeyman, always on a roster somewhere but rarely stars. Yet that still brings about enough recognition to be considered and not surprisingly they've been nominated before. Ubiquitous frontman Peter Wolf is friends with a lot of bigger name stars, frequently joining major acts on stage when they come through his Boston homebase on tour, which helps keep him visible. Their modest achievements won't be enough to get them in but rubbing shoulders with the right people long enough might pay off in the end.
The Guess Who
Steadily popular Canadian group in the late 60's to mid-70's who've got a few enduring songs to their credit, something that always helps. Founding member Randy Bachman left in 1970 to form Bachman-Turner-Overdrive and if you could combine the two groups achievements they might be better qualified for a nomination, but the Guess Who have the more substantial résumé on their own, so if one is looked at it'd be them.
Never underestimate the Hall's penchant for rewarding the blues, though usually it's names their 60's white guitar gods openly idolize. Guitar Slim straddled rock and blues, which makes him more qualified actually, but while massively influential for his flamboyant style and showmanship, and despite one massive hit "The Things I Used To Do", produced by Ray Charles no less in 1954, his enduring reputation has suffered as he hasn't been vocally championed by any notable icons. Still, he’s got a better chance than would first appear.
Though quite successful on the charts throughout the 60's, they were much more a cheeky pop group than anything and thus wouldn't be serious candidates based on their contributions to the evolution of rock. Yet due to the nominating committee's allegiance to that era, particularly the British Invasion, that will probably be overlooked and at some point they'll get a nod.
A tale of two careers. In Britain, where punk rock and its new wave offspring were always far bigger and more revered by critics than in America, The Jam were superstars with five #1 singles and six straight Top Ten albums in the late 70's and early 80's. In America they were all but unnoticed, never even cracking The Top 100 on the charts. When they split in 1982 it seemed they'd fade into the history books and eventually be forgotten. But in the years since then the British rock press has treated the group's work, and especially leader Paul Weller, with respect bordering on hero-worship and they certainly would push hard for an induction that most outside the U.K. would find perplexing. Though their success over there and their influence on the jangly guitar pop that followed a decade later wouldn't make a nomination completely out of line, it'd still need plenty of explaining for those who never heard of them in the U.S.
Very short lived, due to lead singer Ian Curtis' suicide right before their mainstream breakout in 1980, but very influential. The rest of the band reformed as New Order, which ironically may hurt either of their chances separately, or get them both in together, a la Parliament/Funkadelic. Due to Curtis's ongoing notoriety in some circles Joy Division might be the kind of lesser recognized post-punk heroes that gets a push.
Considered one of the best female vocalist of the rock era LaBelle has never really lived up to her talent though when it came to connecting with the mass public. A few small hits with the Blue Belles in the 60's followed by an enormous disco hit with "Lady Marmalade" in the mid-70's before finally having her most sustained success in the 80's. The track record is spotty for such a recognizable name but her talent is well known and that sometimes sways people.
The Last Poets
They've apparently been discussed by the nominating committee already, which is hard to fathom considering they had little recognition during their careers and because what they'd be recognized for is their status as forefathers of rap, a style of rock that the Hall Of Fame has been downright scared to properly acknowledge thus far. So how cult figures from the fringes of history would get in over the major stars their style spawned is indeed a mystery, but their credentials as a major influence in both the style and the political side of rap is worthy of some consideration.
Odd fitting artist, considered by many to be a bluesman first and foremost but Little Milton Campbell skirted soul in the 60's as much as he did the blues, straddling both worlds for big-time labels such as Sun, Chess and Stax. While most blues-based artists were fading from the Pop Charts by the mid-60's Milton was scoring heavily with his songs that blended his blistering guitar work, a horn section and tremendously soulful vocals. The Hall likes the blues.
This would be a somewhat cruel irony. Considering the Hall's utter lack of respect for black rock styles since the 70's, be it funk, disco, rap or contemporary R&B, the glaring absence of which brings unwelcome scrutiny to their annual selections, Living Colour, a black group that played in the dominant white-guitar rock style and was highly respected with some commercial success to boot, may serve as a convenient "out" for them.
Few groups to emerge in the 80's were as highly regarded by their peers as Los Lobos and they carved out a hardcore following with their brand of rootsy rock, but it took them recording the soundtrack for the Ritchie Valens bio movie to get them any manstream acclaim as well as their only big hits, and then it was with Valens covers not their original material. Actually, it was probably their renditions of Valens work which most likely propelled him into the Hall Of Fame by reviving interest in his otherwise minor and tragically shortlived career. Los Lobos themselves though still maintain a solid standing in the music community and the 80's in general have few candidates the Hall apparently wants to consider, since the voters don't seem to like what was actually popular during that decade (dance-rock, hip-hop, hair metal and the like) so their basic stylistic approach and lasting artistic credibility could work in their favor.
Considered one of the great rock guitarists of all-time, a seminal influence on Stevie Ray Vaughan for one. His only major hit was his 1963 instrumental cover of Chuck Berry's "Memphis", but his other material, including some of the most impassioned white soul vocals ever heard, give him lots of diversity and place him squarely among those whose impact far outreaches their accomplishments in the eyes of many.
White female funk singers are not exactly common and so one that was so successful, particularly within the black community, is something of an accomplishment. The problem is funk as a whole hasn't gotten the attention of the Hall it rightly deserves and so unless more prominent artists from that style get in first Teena Maria may have to wait for consideration. But her unique role within that sub genre could get her an unexpected nod.
Garnet Mimms & The Enchanters
An artist with one well-remembered hit which broke new ground in the mainstream are never out of contention and Mimms had both as "Cry Baby" was a huge hit that brought the full-fledged intensity from gospel into the Pop Top Ten in 1963 and solidified that brand of soul as commercially viable. Mimms soon broke with the Enchanters but in a short-period he'd scored numerous hits with some great records.
With a critically acclaimed debut album done-in by the most famously idiotic marketing scheme in music history (releasing 5 singles simultaneously) Moby Grape, led by the much respected but troubled Skip Spence, marked a return to simple but powerful rock in an era of mass experimentalism. A cult band to this day from a time that the Hall has shown a propensity for rewarding.
The vague criteria the Hall uses for induction bodes well for Aaron Neville, one of the most angelic voiced singers of all-time, whose frustrating lack of success has always bewildered critics. One indelible single, "Tell It Like It Is", and a long history with his family's group The Neville Brothers makes him far from unknown and his vocal talent alone may be enough to overcome his curiously limited run of hits.
The Psychedelic Furs
An intriguing possibility for consideration, which depends largely on the focus of various factors in attempting to round out a ballot. If looking for any of the following aspects to highlight: British, post-punk, influential and critical acclaim more than commercial, but still popular enough to be recognizable, then they could get in.
Quicksilver Messenger Service
Not much to show hit-wise but an enormous reputation as one of the premiere live bands to emerge out of San Francisco in the mid-60's, a time and place widely praised by many historians. They helped solidify the idea of a jam-band with their extended renditions and instrumental showcases, a style that gained prominence by the end of the decade. In the late John Cippolina they had one of the most admired guitarists of the decade, always something of a plus when it comes to consideration.
Among the most talented artists in rock history made a bigger name for himself in country during the 70's but began as the last of the rockabilly-styled stars to come out of legendary Sun Records in the 50's. A tremendous songwriter, pianist and vocalist who's probably too far outside the mainstream thought process, though Bob Dylan once called Rich his favorite artist, but you never know. Few artists were more talented in more ways than Charlie Rich.
Not altogether undeserving, for it was Richard who was the first homegrown British rock star, albeit largely in a restrained pop-leaning style, wracking up an astounding number of hits in the UK which for the most part failed to make the journey to the American charts. Yet with the growing number of British inductees who can now cast ballots and who looked to him as a hero his chances become far greater.
Art-rock is not usually well received by critics but Roxy Music were among those who made it popular. The fact that Brian Eno left fairly early, after which they headed in another direction under the sole leadership of Brian Ferry, could cause a split in perception among voters who might prefer a more seamless career.
His credentials are so spread out over multiple, and often completely separate roles - artist, songwriter, producer, etc., - that defining him for a place on the ballot is harder than deciding whether his multi-talented career deserves induction. If he can be classified as any one thing then he's got a chance.
Mitch Ryder & The Detroit Wheels
Popular mid-60's garage-band styled group, but with a little more skill, who faded fast when Ryder went in a different direction than the one which catapulted them to stardom. Unfortunately their niche of covering past hits in medley fashion rendered them somewhat repetitive and without much innovative musical impact, but the band itself (John Badanjek on drums and Jim McCarty on guitar in particular) were as good as it got in that decade.
Not just a left-field candidate but maybe out of the ballpark entirely, Scott-Heron was the most pointedly political artist of the early 70's and with his semi-spoken tracks was a vital precursor to rap. A nomination for him could be easily justified after another left-field candidate Leonard Cohen's induction a few years back, as both were renown for unique writing styles that found no mainstream success, so Scott-Heron's chances may be better than they'd seem on the surface. If he did it'd be nice to see him named with his musical cohort Brian Jackson who's credit for their work is often lacking.
The first Canadian rocker of any importance Scott began as the most palatable rockabilly-based artist for mainstream consumption, as evidenced by his nine Top 40 hits from 1957-1960, four of which went Top Ten and maybe the best of which, "Leroy", just missed when it stalled at #11. While the Hall bestowed credit on the more typical rockabilly acts long ago Scott had more success than most of them even if he eventually veered more towards a pop-country hybrid.
In England it was the Shadows, backing vocal star Cliff Richard, who were the first homegrown rock group of note that had an entire generation, which soon made up the British Invasion, following in their footsteps. Little acclaim in the U.S. keeps them off the radar but voters may look to credit oversea originators.
Sir Douglas Quintet
Though their track record is relatively skimpy (one Top Twenty hit and just four Top 100 hits in all), they've already managed to snag one nomination for the ballot in 2005 thanks in large part to leader Doug Sahm's reputation among his peers as a prime component in the Tex-Mex sound. That truthfully should be as far as they get since far better qualified candidates have yet to even be nominated, but as the Hall has shown in the past anything is possible.
The first true punk band started way back in the early to mid-60's and a huge influence on the 70's groups that brought that hell bent style to the mainstream. For a group with such limited mainstream success The Sonics reputation remains remarkably high in many knowledgeable circles so they have some chance at receiving some well-deserved credit for their pioneering work.
The first solo rapper of note and the father of the mack-rapping style that spawned generations of imitators. "Love Rap" was a vital record to rap's evolution, bringing the topic of romance, and the attempts to find, keep and exploit romance, into the game. As with many early artists in hip-hop the mainstream music recognition was low at the time but his ground breaking approach and influence makes him an ideal unexpected candidate.
The Sugarhill Gang
For virtually everyone outside the block parties where rap was being created the Sugarhill Gang was the first most people heard the style when their record "Rapper's Delight" became an unlikely hit in 1979. Though they launched the genre into the mainstream and had a number of crucial releases that followed they soon were overtaken by the second wave of rappers in popularity and impact. Yet for what they did at the start they are sure to be discussed by voters at some point.
In the mainstream their appeal was rather limited but their album "Marquee Moon" made a huge impact within the music community and their multi-guitar attack was considered influential in returning part of rock to that direct approach. Short lived career prevented them from building on their early acclaim and kept them in the realm of more cult legends but that type of reputation has the power to draw a nomination at times.
Voters are suckers for tragic stories and Terrell, who died of cancer at 24, three years after collapsing on stage into Marvin Gaye's arms, had a meteoric career starting as a teenager in James Brown's revue before going to Motown and recording a series of huge duets with Gaye. Her credentials may be lacking (she never had solo hit of note) but Terrell remains a recognizable name and a beloved figure who was taken too soon.
Charles Wright & The Watts 103rd Street Rhythm Band
One of the most skilled self-contained funk bands to emerge in the late 60's with the immortal "Express Yourself" serving as their calling card. Unique pedigree as Wright was mentored as a kid by the legendary Jesse Belvin, then the group was hired by comedian Bill Cosby in the mid-60's to serve as his backing band for a comedic-music album before they established themselves as one of the most diverse sounding groups of their era. With three Top Twenty Pop hits and a long afterlife thanks to sampling, plus an interesting history, they're not off the radar completely.
One of the best of the major punk groups came too late to get the attention foisted on their more legendary predecessors but their standing remains uniformly high, albeit in an area that the Hall seems to focus more on star wattage. Their lack of instantly recognizable fare to the mainstream hurts but they'd be a decent long shot bet if you like to gamble on such things.
The Hall's unhealthy obsession with late 60's white rock is well known and The Zombies have been nominated before and seem likely to get pushed through at some point. Though not without success, their reputation amongst other musicians is their real hole card. Not quite enough to be deserving of induction, especially with so many more qualified acts still waiting, but that hasn't stopped the Hall before.