Why Do We Have a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame?

I’ve remained silent for too long. Or, more accurately, I’ve done no such thing. I’ve stated many times that something is clearly wrong with the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, that the whole institution is a complete joke, that the hypothetical construct of “The Hall” (heretofore referred to as “The Hall”) seems to be a popularity contest designed to placate people who don’t actually care about music. I’ve presented my feelings in the form of an unstructured rant before, but here I’d like to lay out my opposition with some degree of organization. I now present: Three Major Issues With the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. 

  1. Who Is This For?
    1. I’ve watched a lot of induction ceremonies for artists that both deserve accolades (Rush) and artists that conclusively don’t (Steve Miller), and my main observation is that the Hall has never told me anything I didn’t already know. There are no “under-the-radar” artists inducted into the Hall of Fame. You’re either a mainstay of classic rock radio, or you don’t exist. I have no inherent problem with a bunch of graying Baby Boomers heralding Steppenwolf or Chicago as “essential” bands (despite the fact that arguably, if they were so essential, they’d have been inducted during their first [or second, or fifth, or tenth] year of eligibility), but they’ve got to give me something other than “they’re old and therefore good.” There is a world of difference between a group that had a few good singles back in the day and an artist that deserves special inclusion in an institution like the Hall of Fame. Is it possible that the voting body of the Hall (with a median age that I’m absolutely sure is close to 75) keeps returning to the same well of mid-tier 60’s and 70’s artists simply because these are the artists that they know? This is where they feel comfortable, so this is where we’re staying, at least until every available artist from that time period has been thoroughly elevated and canonized. How many times can we keep picking over the same dead bones before we discover they there’s no more meat to be found? Aside from cursory nods to a few “safe” artists (The Clash/Blondie/Ramones/Talking Heads), the first wave of punk, new-wave, post-punk and hardcore have been completely ignored. It’s as if music took a hiatus between the years of 1979 and 1991 when Nirvana showed up and saved everyone. This is an airtight plan if the aim of the Hall is to insure that an entire generation of music is completely lost. It’s cool if Sonic Youth doesn’t get acknowledged (despite being eligible for several years now and massively influential), because we get to induct the Dave Clark Five.  I don’t hate the Dave Clark Five, but only because nobody does. In fact, nobody feels any way whatsoever about the Dave Clark Five. They were a band from the 60’s. To elevate them simply because they’re the requisite amount of years old is to put them on the same level as Hendrix and Dylan. This just can’t be the case. So, I reiterate, who is this for? Is this whole “institution” merely a way for Baby Boomers to continue to feel relevant, desperately milking the dried up tit of their youth for just one more sweet fix? If so, couldn’t they at least have the decency to call the “Hall of Fame” something else and do it in private? My interests are only represented in a low-level, patronizing way, and I suspect I’m not alone. Which kind of brings me to my next point…
  2.  Best v. Best-Selling
    1. Where is it written that every single artist inducted into the Hall has to be a record-moving machine? Of course, some artists are both critically adored and multi-platinum-selling, but isn’t the Hall of Fame supposed to be about honoring not only the extremely successful artists but also their perhaps-less-commercially successful influences? Was Journey really an incredible band, or are they just being recognized because they’re fucking everywhere? Is the criteria for being a Hall-of-Fame worthy band simply that your grandmother is aware of them? If so, then why not induct Hootie and the Blowfish? Cracked Rear View came out in 1994, meaning that the group is two short years away from being eligible. That album sold hundreds of millions of copies worldwide, and is therefore best, right? If the idea of inducting Hootie seems ridiculous to you, if recognizing an artist merely by albums sold seems like a shitty way to designate “essential” bands, then welcome to my world. Your feelings about Hootie are my feelings about Journey and Chicago and Steve Miller and KISS etc.  Nirvana’s Nevermind has sold 30 million copies to date. The 1989 Pixies album Doolittle has sold substantially less than that. Both are incredibly “important” albums, at least in terms of influence, critical adoration, etc. Am I supposed to believe that Nirvana’s presence is due to anything other than records sold and “household-name status?” Nothing against Nirvana, but I think it’s pretty clear that they’re the band that “broke,” and thus they’re the band that gets honored. Never mind the bands that came before them. They didn’t have an MTV video, so they don’t matter.
  3. Rock?
    1. I’ll make this one short: If we’re going to call this the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, then what are we doing inducting rap artists? Beastie Boys, NWA, Public Enemy and Tupac are all amazing artists who have no business being inducted into a “Rock” Hall of Fame. I understand the need to appear to be inclusive and change with the times, but if you look very closely, these artists don’t actually represent any sort of stretching on the part of the Hall voters. Rather, it all goes back to the “safe” choice. Who are the hip-hop artists that have high name recognition among our (extremely white) voting base? Who are the artists that, if we inducted them, would silence the folks saying that the Hall is biased against artists of color? Again, giving lip service to a few best-selling rap artists doesn’t really accomplish anything other than make the Hall voters feel as though they’re being inclusive. Effectively, these formerly subversive artists are rendered neutral and inoffensive, part of a ploy to increase viewership of the televised ceremony rather than representing the beginning of an actual dialogue about race and rock music.  I love hip-hop, but why do we have to lump it in with rock music to increase the credibility of the latter? If we’re honoring influential rap artists, then call me when Afrika Bambaataa or Eric B/Rakim or KRS-ONE or A Tribe Called Quest or Cypress Hill get inducted. Otherwise, the list is incomplete. Ether fill it in or leave rap alone. You can’t have it both ways.

Do I have any ideas for how to improve the Hall of Fame? Well, maybe we should make an artist’s first year of eligibility the only year they can be inducted. Sure we’d miss out on some valuable artists, but we’d be damn careful with our picks, wouldn’t we? Another idea is to give up this hideous charade for good. Either really works for me.

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Oh, and by the way: Here is a by-no-means-inclusive list of artists that have not yet been inducted into the HOF.

  1. Big Star
  2. Husker Du
  3. Sonic Youth
  4. Bad Brains
  5. Black Flag
  6. Television
  7. Pixies
  8. Devo
  9. Slayer
  10. Iron Maiden
  11. Joy Division/New Order
  12. Richard Hell
  13. The Smiths
  14. Brian Eno
  15. Pavement
  16. The Replacements
  17. The Buzzcocks
  18. My Bloody Valentine
  19. Minor Threat
  20. Jawbreaker

And many, many more!

Think I’m wrong? Think the Hall of Fame is great? Let me know below!

Photo credit: Michael Barera

3 comments to “Why Do We Have a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame?”
  1. There are a lot of great proformers left out of the hall…Johnny mistro and Connie Francis are the two most glaring omissions that must be corrected…

    • The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is a total joke. Still no Moody Blues yet loaded down with crap rap artists. I liken it to the Kennedy Center Honors. The finest American singer ever, Johnny Mathis ( over 350 million units sold) still gets no love from the Kennedy Center. The Moody Blues have a total sound of their own and their following world wide is legendary. But no Rock and Roll Hall of Fame….. A total joke…….

  2. Really good points across the board. I’ve been pondering lately if we actually need an Alternative Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. In addition to the bands you mentioned, just about every punk, post punk, industrial and new wave act from the 70-s through 90’s that will never get their due, or in Husker’s case, du.

    I think impact, influence and longevity should be the main criteria — this weeds out one hit wonders and fleeting flashes in the pan. Darius Rucker will be fine with the Grand Ole Opry.

    As with the Oscars, the voting base is the big problem. They need to broaden it dramatically. And why not induct more acts with shorter tributes. 15 minutes each should do it. Intro video package (90 sec), quick induction speech (90 sec), band speeches (5 min), performance (5 min) and 2-minute transition). 3 hours. 12 bands. Why not 2 x year? HBO can air/stream 30 minute documentary tributes for each band throughout the year.

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