This piece was originally posted in 2022 but has since been updated.
On Wednesday, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame announced nominees for the class of 2023, a list of acts highlighted by Rage Against the Machine (for the fifth time,) Soundgarden, A Tribe Called Quest, The White Stripes, Willie Nelson, Missy Elliot, Joy Division/New Order, Warren Zevon, Sheryl Crow and more. If seeing Willie on there made you raise an eyebrow, stand down, kid. Nelson was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1993. That makes sense, but Nelson just being inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame now is a little weird. It’s not as if he’s spent that past decade or so releasing rock records.
The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, like most Hall of Fames (and awards in general) doesn’t really make a lot of sense.
Now, for the most part, the general consensus is that this crew of nominees is both solid and deserving. First-time nominees like The White Stripes, Missy Elliot, Joy Division/New Order, and Warren Zevon can all make a good case for why they should be inducted into the hall. Rage Against the Machine feels like a first-time nominee, but they’ve actually been nominated five times already, striking out each time. You have to think that this is the year, right? Right? Hold on…RIGHT???
Oh and Soundgarden. That one is a no-brainer. The same goes for A Tribe Called Quest, who did not make the cut last year because again, halls of fame don’t make a lot of sense.
Even though everyone seems okay with the nominees, there’s obviously going to be some grumbling from the back of the room about who didn’t get nominated. WHAT ELSE DOES TOAD THE WET SPROCKET HAVE TO DO, YOU BASTARDS? They wrote, “Fall Down” for crying out loud. Cure COVID? Get George Santos to resign? Make a low calorie beer that actually tastes good?
Whatever. This is not the Toad the Wet Sprocket discussion. That obviously deserves more time. This is the Phish discussion. More specifically, it’s the should Phish be in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame discussion.
Should Phish be in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame?
No, I’m serious. Should they?
I’m serious too. Who cares?
Okay, well, Phish fans do?
So they tend to think the band does deserve to be in the hall.
I’m sure they do. And I don’t know, maybe Phish does deserve to be in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame but at the same time, who gives a shit. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is weird and the band already kind of is in the Hall of Fame because their famous hot dog is there. That’s pretty sweet and you could argue that it means more than the band actually being inducted.
Does it though?
Probably not. But whatever. It’s an award and awards are dumb. Doesn’t Phish seem like the kind of band that could care less about awards?
Yeah, kind of.
So why should fans then?
Okay, fine. But in some sense, getting nominated into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is validation, recognition that what an artist has done means something in the grand scheme of things. I think with that in mind, Phish definitely deserves to be there. As someone pointed out on Twitter in 2022, “they are routinely on the highest-grossing tour list, they’re masters of industry/musical innovation, they pioneered online downloads AND the modern festival.” And when they appeared on the cover of Rolling Stone in 1998, they called the band “the most important band of the ’90s.” The 90s! So much happened in music during that decade that to call them the most important band of the decade is in the words of Andy Samberg playing Nic Cage, “high praise.”
You can make a case for them getting in based on their influence on the live music side of the ledger, but I think where the argument hits a wall is when you look at their albums.
Of their fifteen studio albums, only six have managed to go Gold. Three of them have cracked the top ten with Billy Breathes and Fuego reaching number seven and The Story of the Ghost reaching number eight. They’ve done a little better with songs. Both “Heavy Things” and “The Connection” reached number two on Billboard’s Adult Alternative Airplay chart. However, the last song they had to make any noise on that chart was “Breath and Burning,” which made it to 23 in 2016. They’re not exactly tearing up the charts and truth be told, it might not even be a song that the majority of Phish fans like.
So what’s your point?
It’s kind of a one-lane highway with Phish. They don’t have tiers of success. Yes, they are touring juggernauts, and that matters. But on the flip side, they don’t have much of a legacy when it comes to success commercially with sales and charts, which is something the hall factors in when nominating acts.
Wait, how does the Hall decide who gets nominated?
From a press release that came out in 2022: “To be eligible for nomination, an individual artist or band must have released its first commercial recording at least 25 years prior to the year of nomination. Factors such as an artist’s musical influence on other artists, length, and depth of career and the body of work, innovation, and superiority in style and technique are taken into consideration.”
Okay, helpful. Thank you. But breaking that down into bullet points, doesn’t Phish have a case? They released their first album well over 25 years ago, their influence is undeniable, the length & depth of their career can be summed up by the fact that they tore shit up in the summer of 2021 with the fire of a thousand splendid suns, innovation is their bread and butter and no one can question their chops.
Yes, I think their influence is undeniable but I also think their influence is mainly undeniable as a live band, which goes along with my point of them only operating on one side of the ledger.
What about the length and depth of their career?
Yeah. Great. They’ve been around forever. But that’s just one thing to consider.
Fine. What about the Grateful Dead? They’re a close historical comp and they were inducted in 1994. If they can get in, why can’t Phish?
I defer to Steven Hyden on this one.
“Phish is genuinely unique for being an arena-rock band that has had virtually no impact on the pop world. Even the Grateful Dead had hit songs — there is no equivalent in Phish’s catalogue to a Top 40 smash like “Touch of Grey,” or even the Dead’s FM radio warhorses like “Truckin’” and “Casey Jones.” Phish has exactly zero songs that anyone who doesn’t listen to them obsessively knows.”
Classic rock radio stations probably play a Dead song once a day. Who plays Phish? Maybe the local college station? Kind of not the same thing (and that’s no disrespect to college radio stations. My favorite local station is one and yes, every once in a while I hear a Phish song, but even with them, I hear the Dead more.)
But what about something like Big Cypress or the Bakers Dozen run?
Notches on that side of the ledger. But I think when it comes to the hall, everything needs to be considered, and Phish’s near-complete absence from whatever you want to consider the mainstream matters. If something like Billy Breathes was bigger and/or maybe “Down With Disease” was more of a radio hit, it would be a different story.
Well, nothing. I think that’s that and there’s not much that can be done about it. AND THAT’S FINE. Who the hell cares about Phish getting into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Phish is Phish. It’s a community and a family. Who cares about outside approval? Phish fans love Phish and that should be all that matters, especially at this stage of the game. I get the desire to want the band to be recognized for their achievements by folks outside the tent and I think at some point that will happen, but that’s not now and probably won’t be anytime soon. Direct your concerns elsewhere, Phish fans. At some point, the Hall will come calling but until then…
Rage, Soundgarden, and Tribe should get in though, right?
Oh yeah. Hundred percent.
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