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From Paul McCartney to Sex Pistols: The artists who rejected Rock and Roll Hall of Fame


The annual Rock and Roll Hall of Fame landmark event is always a special day that sees the royalty of rock find themselves in the same building for one night. Since its inception in 1995, the event has seen its fair share of memorable moments. Whether this is supergroups jamming, reunions from some of the biggest bands of all time, the Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame has seen it all. However, the event’s corporate nature has seen some names say reject one of the most celebrated accolades an artist could ever receive.

The event has had some titanic moments on its stage since its incarnation in 1986. The institution remains a special place steeped in musical royalty; accolades don’t get much higher than being inducted in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. It’s a place reserved only for true greats, and with a new year comes a new batch of artists ready to stake their claim for legend status. But we thought we’d reflect on those who rejected the chance and, in a flash of irony, achieved their place in the pantheon of rock anyway.

Artists only become eligible for induction 25 years after releasing their debut record. To be inducted, an artist must be nominated by a committee that selects several candidates, the highest being 16 for the 2020 class. Ballots are sent to more than 1,000 “rock experts”, though nobody is quite sure who it is, who evaluate the candidates and vote on who should be inducted. The performers that receive the highest number of votes are inducted.

For many artists getting inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame is the very pinnacle of their illustrious career. It is recognition of a career at the top, and the exclusivity of the club makes it the place that most musicians would love to be, however, here we’re taking a look at figures in music who couldn’t care less about awards or accolades and turned the opportunity of a lifetime down.

The artists who rejected the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame:

Sex Pistols

The Sex Pistols refused their induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in the most public and abrupt manners back in 2006. The band were reunited at this stage, a decision which they openly admitted was primarily due to financial reasons. However, they thought this was just one-stop too far, and Lydon thought it was selling out.

On a note on the band’s website, they stated: “Next to the SEX-PISTOLS rock and roll and that hall of fame is a piss stain. Your museum. Urine in wine. Were not coming. Were not your monkey and so what? Fame at $25,000 if we paid for a table, or $15000 to squeak up in the gallery, goes to a non-profit organisation selling us a load of old famous.

“Congradulations. If you voted for us, hope you noted your reasons. Your anonymous as judges, but your still music industry people. Were not coming. Your not paying attention. Outside the shit-stem is a real SEX PISTOL.”

Rolling Stone and Rock Hall co-founder Jann Wenner even read the letter out in full during the ceremony, clearly beaming with his prize of a classic punk scalp.

Guns ‘N’ Roses’ Axl Rose

Axl Rose spoke on behalf of his band back in 2012 and slammed the award. The singer declared: “I strongly request that I not be inducted in absentia and please know that no one is authorised nor may anyone be permitted to accept any induction for me or speak on my behalf,” he wrote.

“Neither former members, label representatives nor the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame should imply whether directly, indirectly or by omission that I am included in any purported induction.”

The rest of the band decided to play the ceremony without their frontman and guitarist Izzy Stradlin, with Slash’s right-hand man Myles Kennedy stepping in on vocal duties in place of Rose.

Following the ceremony, Rose released another statement: “I still don’t exactly know or understand what the Hall is or how or why it makes money, where the money goes, who chooses the voters and why anyone or this board decides who, out of all the artists in the world that have contributed to this genre, officially ‘rock’ enough to be in the Hall?”

Paul McCartney

When The Beatles were inducted into the inaugural Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1988, not all the surviving members of the iconic band would attend the event. George Harrison and Ringo Starr would arrive at the show without Paul McCartney.

The singer boycotted the event as the result of ongoing business disputes. “After 20 years, the Beatles still have some business differences, which I had hoped would have been settled by now,” he said in a statement. “Unfortunately, they haven’t been, so I would feel like a complete hypocrite waving and smiling with them at a fake reunion.”

Macca would later have a change of heart when he attended the ceremony for his solo work in 1999, inducted John Lennon into the Rock Hall in 1994 and then Ringo Starr in 2015.

Pink Floyd’s Roger Waters

When Pink Floyd were inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1996, it arrived at a time when Roger Waters couldn’t stand being in the same room as David Gilmour.

When Waters initially withdrew from the group, he immediately locked horns with Gilmour in a bitter legal battle that would last years. To announce his departure, Waters issued a statement to EMI and CBS, invoking the ‘Leaving Member’ clause in his contract, and as the main creative force in the band, he didn’t believe Pink Floyd could continue in his absence. Therefore in October 1986, Waters started High Court proceedings to formally dissolve Pink Floyd, labelling the group a “spent force creatively”.

David Gilmour and Nick Mason opposed this, stating that Pink Floyd was going nowhere and that Waters couldn’t declare it was dead while the group were still trying to make music. Waters eventually agreed, which saw him resign after careful legal considerations in 1987. However, he did note: “If I hadn’t, the financial repercussions would have wiped me out completely.”

Ten years on from that lacklustre apology, he still wanted nothing to do with his former bandmates.

Neil Young

Neil Young is no stranger to the Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame. He was more than happy to be inducted for being a solo artist back in 1995.

On top of that, he’s inducted five other artists over the years into the club but, when Buffalo Springfield was inducted into the club in 1997, he refused to attend which he said was to do with the event televised.

“This presentation is in direct opposition to what I believe,” Young wrote. “Although I accept the honour, in the name of rock and roll, I decline to take part in this TV presentation and be trotted out like some cheap awards show. There are already too many of these.”

Jefferson Airplane’s Grace Slick

Jefferson Airplane were inducted into the illustrious pantheon of music back in 1996, but, their appearance at the ceremony was without their leader Grace Slick.

Before she turned 50 in 1989, Slick retired from music and, unlike most musicians who make this vow, she has stuck profusely to her words.

“I’m not comfortable being an old person on stage,” she told Forbes in 2015. “Rock is like sports. You have a certain run, then get out.” Slick had earlier claimed that 50 was the perfect retirement age for people in her business, stating: “all rock-and-rollers over the age of 50 look stupid and should retire.”

Ozzy Osbourne

When Black Sabbath were announced as inductees in 2006, Ozzy Osbourne made it clear he had no plans to attend. The singer brazenly declared: “Save the ink. Forget about us. The nomination is meaningless, because it’s not voted on by the fans,” he wrote at the time.

“It’s voted on by the supposed elite for the industry and the media, who’ve never bought an album or concert ticket in their lives, so their vote is irrelevant to me. Let’s face it, Black Sabbath has never been media darlings. We’re a people’s band and that suits us just fine.”

However, he reflected upon his words and dramatically changed his stance for one reason or another. Osbourne attended the ceremony with his bandmates and even issued an apology: “I realised I don’t have the right to speak for Black Sabbath. All I am is the singer,” he later said. “If we’d all sat around a table and talk about it, that would’ve been okay, but I didn’t have the right to say that, and I truly apologise.”