Tuesday, March 16, 2010

The Controversial Rock 'n Roll Hall of Fame

Yesterday the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame held their annual induction ceremonies. This year ABBA, Genesis, The Hollies, Jimmy Cliff, and The Stooges were the honorees and, once again, disagreements have arisen over who is deserving of membership. As always, the only real eligibility requirements are that you can not be inducted until twenty-five years after you made your first record and (here is where the controversy begins) you must make a significant contribution to the art form.

There are artists in the hall who most definitely are not rock musicians but their influence on the music has been significant. That explains why Cliff was inducted. The Stooges were only marginally popular with the masses but were critical favorites. The opposite is true of ABBA. They were hated by the music snobs but were hugely popular worldwide. Genesis were lucky enough to receive both widespread popularity and artistic acceptance. My favorite among this year's rookies are The Hollies who, like Genesis, were both popular and critically acclaimed.

Many of us, me included, often curse Jann Wenner and his minions because of the musicians the museum chooses to honor. Yet I'd like to suggest that the people running the often maligned institution mostly get it right, especially when you consider the meaning of the term rock 'n roll. The All Music Guide believes that rock music had a clear definition only during its formative years. I agree. There have been so many colors broadening the genre's palette since "Rock Around The Clock" that its boundaries have become clouded and controversial. Doo wop, the teen idol era, the British Invasion, Southern Rock, Heavy Metal, most singer-songwriters, and more are all considered rock 'n roll. I believe its all-encompassing nature is a big reason why so many of us have problems with who is chosen for entry year after year. I don't believe the arguments will subside anytime soon.


  1. Glad to see the Hollies getting some respect. They were my second favourite act after the Beatles during the halcyon days of singles - the 1960s. Hearing any of their old hits takes me right back to those days of waiting for the next 3 monthly release. Bands were taked about then!

  2. The problem I have with the HOF is this: First, it tends to honor people for mere longevity rather than distinctive, influential contributions over a long period of time. Who, precisely, has been influenced by John Mellencamp or ZZ Top? It's as if the Baseball Hall of Fame put in everybody who played 15 years in the majors regardless of statistics.

    And because it honors longevity, it's prejudiced in favor of those who have most recently achieved the 25-year threshold, and if you don't get in during that first year of eligibility, you aren't getting in, because the Hall will have moved. If ZZ Top is in, for example, Heart and the Doobie Brothers should be in. What's the difference among them?

    Yes, Wenner and crew have expanded the rock-n-roll brand, and there's some justification for doing it. But I submit that any HOF that has room for both Chet Atkins and Miles Davis probably needs to focus a little.

    It's always amused me that Nat King Cole is in--he was no fan of rock and roll, and although he adopted a sort of R&B sound on a few hits in the 50s, he never embraced it fully. They might as well induct Frank Sinatra, too--he invented the concept of teen idol; said concept had more influence on rock than anything Cole did.

    Good post. Thanks a lot.

  3. I really enjoyed your take on this. Well said, mature, not a raging lunatic like I tend to be when on this topic :)

    I just wish they would take the words "rock n roll" out and call it music and take out the influential bit because, like JB said, some of their choices seem more like longevity criteria not influence.

  4. They got it right with Genesis. I'm glad they've finally recognized at least ONE progressive rock band. I always thought that if any prog-rock band got in it would be Yes-- I'm pleasantly surprised it was/is Genesis instead. I once read that Genesis were one of John Lennon's favorite bands in the early-mid seventies. Listening to Foxtrot or Selling England By the Pound it's easy to hear why. I'm really really hoping that the 1972-1975 incarnation of Genesis (Tony Banks, Mike Rutherford, Phil Collins, Steve Hackett, and Peter Gabriel) reunite for the induction ceremony.