Every year, the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame nominating committee releases a list of the latest crop of musical acts who might be selected for the next year’s induction into it’s hallowed, (or hollowed?) hall. Among the artists up for consideration in the 2015 ceremony is Green Day, Chic, The Marvelettes, Paul Butterfield Blues Band, Bill Withers, Kraftwerk, Nine Inch Nails, NWA, The Smiths, The Spinners, Joan Jett & The Blackhearts, Lou Reed, Stevie Ray Vaughn, War and Sting. As is often the case, within a microsecond of this announcement, and from just about every single one since the Hall’s inception in 1987, comes a litany of responses, largely of the disgusted variety. These responses typically come from those decrying that their cherished musical heroes have once again been screwed over by the committee and excluded and those that made the list suck far too much to be given the nod.
Disappointed fans looking for someone to blame for the voice of the people not being heard usually save the brunt of the scorn for Rolling Stone Magazine and the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame founder Jann Wenner. After all, he along with his money backers in the record industry, established the criteria of accomplishments an artist or act must meet in order to be inducted, and hand-selected the committee members chosen to vote in new inductees.
I’ve always found discussions about the requirements merited to be in the RRHOF to be a bit weird. Besides the twenty-five year requirement (an act cannot be eligible until 25 years after their first release), the other criteria seems a bit ambiguously defined, at least to me. For example, they speak of musical influence, and yet Kiss, the mega-omnipotent make-up wearing hard rock act who inspired thousands, maybe millions of young kids and teenagers in the 1970’s to pick up instruments and play, were left to hang out and dry for fifteen years before finally being inducted earlier this year. They sold loads of records, sold out concerts, influenced kids to play music and not least of which, added an unprecedented theatricality to rock music unlike anything seen of that magnitude before. Now one can argue the merits of their music, or for that matter any successful act’s music, but the numbers and cultural significance speak for themselves. Of note, Paul Stanley made some particularly derisive comments about the hall after Kiss was finally voted in. What took so long Jann?
It’s kind of hard to find reason in the hall’s nebulous criteria. There’s no doubt in mind that hard rock and heavy metal fans have a genuine beef especially with the still omitted but massively influential band Deep Purple who still aren’t Rock and Roll Hall Of Famers after twenty-one years of eligibility. Metallica was ushered right in 2009 but Deep Purple is still kicked to the curb? Similarly, highly influential heavy metal bands Iron Maiden and Judas Priest have been eligible for years but are still not considered significant enough to Wenner’s committee to be even considered for the short list. Yet Nine-In-Nails made the list right out of the gate after meeting the 25-year requirement. Progressive rock fans are not thrilled that Yes and Emerson Lake & Palmer haven’t made the cut either. Genesis made the grade as did Peter Gabriel twice, as a Genesis member and a solo artist but no King Crimson? And how does Joan Jett & The Blackhearts make the short-list for 2015, but her original trail-blazing 1970’s band, The Runaways still get completely ignored by the committee for their entire eligibility period? And for all of those who haven’t heard, Sweden’s greatest contribution to popular music, Abba, are Rock and Roll Hall Of Famers for a few years now.
There’s just something weird about all of this and its lack of clarity and it beats the heck out of me.
Then there is the discussion about the definition of what rock and roll music is and what constitutes a rock and roll act versus a dance or disco act. Like the zombie hordes who come out of nowhere to attack the fully sentient human life forms on The Walking Dead, the same old dead arguments from the 1970’s reappear and all of a sudden the “true” rock fans attack dance music acts allowed entry into the hall, deeming their musical contributions unworthy of being in a rock and roll museum apparently because dance music is not rock and roll. I’ve seen a great deal of internet chat group real estate dedicated to this idea, where those decrying the induction of Madonna, The Bee Gees, and Donna Summer into the hall and why their inclusion had to come at the expense of genuine rock and roll acts such as the aforementioned and deeply beloved bands Deep Purple, Judas Priest and Yes.
To this I just have to say didn’t rock and roll start out as dance music?
Rock and roll is a hybrid term for popular music from the 1950’s on and as such, encompasses the different types of styles that evolved to form rock and roll and then planting seeds for new styles which then would splinter off to breed other strains and entirely new directions. Rock and roll, unlike classical music, is a melting pot. The conundrum facing the elites of the music industry is how to take a populist and not very well-defined medium, one that came originally out of the impoverished southern US, from the sweaty clubs, the juke joints, bars, the garages of the 1960’s, 70’s and 80’s, and define it’s musicians’ hero statuses so that they fairly represent the public tastes?
Is Jann justified in pissing off the multitude of passionate Kiss fans for years just because he thought the band was unworthy of consideration until 2014?
The problem for the museum and its committee is at a fundamental level for how can a specially chosen committee truly speak for the multitudes who for over a half century, spent and continue to spend their money buying records, CD’s, digital downloads, concert tickets, t-shirts and other merchandise? Adding insult to injury, this select group of committee members consist of the upper echelon of the music industry, who likely have spent very little of their own money as adults on rock and roll, resulting from the entitlements of their jobs, and were granted unlimited access to promotional recordings and all sorts of record company free-bees, not to mention personal access to the stars themselves. And yet they’re the ones defining the most significant rock legends back to the public in the form of an institution they modeled supposedly on our behalf. Maybe Rob Halford or Ritchie Blackmore rubbed Jann Wenner the wrong way at a cocktail party? Is Jann justified in pissing off the multitude of passionate Kiss fans for years just because he thought the band was unworthy of consideration until 2014? At the very least, there’s the problem of perception among fans of musical acts denied consideration primarily due to those acts being contradictory to the precious tastes of the committee members. Kiss’ dismissal by the serious rock press, particularly Rolling Stone Magazine, since the outset of their success in 1975 is not lost on many rock fans, and believed by many of those fans to be one of the bigger reasons contributing to their long-term snubbing by the Hall.
What I think might be useful is that fans who are deeply committed to making the Hall a more representative institution of rock and roll legends, need to own up to their own rigidity and accept the idea that rock and roll doesn’t need to be so rigidly defined, and that it can encompass Judas Priest as well as Cheap Trick, Earth, Wind & Fire, Carole King, Tina Turner, Nirvana, The Hollies, Devo and yes, even Madonna. Is it really so sacrilegious that disco should be on the same platform as punk or progressive rock? So maybe, after establishing greater common ground with a more heterogeneous body of “rock” fans, as a bigger and more organized group can start vigilantly petitioning the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame committee members to get some of the omitted acts inducted into the Hall. Like, letting actual people whose tastes and fanatic passion make them buy music have a greater say in whom they deem legends. Maybe? But that would be too weird right? Right?