That’s Rock and Roll?

Chicagoland Radio and Media featured a lengthy post/rant this weekend by site proprietor Larz, critical of the choices for induction made by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame over its history. I agree with much of it—everything but its central premise. Here’s Larz on inductees who don’t belong:

Dozens of performers, who could not be considered Rock and Roll artists by any stretch of the genre, have been inducted or have been nominated by [Jann] Wenner’s committee in an attempt to get them inducted. Last year’s big winner, ABBA has never been considered a rock act, yet they were inducted. ABBA’s Benny Andersson was even shocked and has said that he didn’t understand it “because we were a pop band, not a rock band.” The year before that, a soul singer who has never had a rock hit or recorded a rock song, Bobby Womack, was inducted. The year prior to that, international pop/dance princess Madonna was inducted.

Here is just a small sampling of the non-rock acts, and rock acts that have little or no impact on rock music or modern culture, yet have all already been inducted as “Performers” into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame:

And here Larz goes on to list almost all of the R&B performers who have been inducted into the Hall, including pioneer acts such as the Platters, the Flamingos, and Frankie Lymon, Motown stars the Four Tops, Jackson Five, Supremes, Temptations, and Smokey Robinson, and others such as Al Green, Isaac Hayes, Curtis Mayfield, and Jackie Wilson. He observes that such performers belong in the Soul Hall of Fame, or the Doo-Wop Hall of Fame, but “when thinking about top Rock and Roll acts, how many of the above names pop into your mind? Any at all? Of course not. They are not rock acts — never have been.” Larz goes on to point out that Michael Jordan, great as he was, is not a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame even though he played a sport with a ball and was good as it. That’s true as far as it goes, but it’s irrelevant, because by the time Larz gets around to this point, his argument has already fallen apart.

You can tell the story of football without Michael Jordan. You can’t tell the story of rock without talking about its blues and R&B predecessors (although to Larz, this story apparently begins and ends with Chuck Berry and Little Richard). Without the street-corner singers of the early 50s, R&B probably doesn’t gain critical mass to catch the attention of white kids, and it remains apart from the rest of 1950s musical culture at the moment when the alchemy that begets rock and roll is about to happen. As a result, the music develops in a vastly different way. As for the Motown acts of the 1960s and groups such as the Dells and the Impressions, in their time they were not segregated from rock acts, at least not until progressive or album-oriented rock radio was born in the late 60s, and even those stations would frequently play the most adventuresome work by Stevie Wonder or Marvin Gaye—and Isaac Hayes and Al Green. Larz’s argument comes down to segregating the Hall as if it were a radio format, making stylistic distinctions that would not have mattered as much as they do today for listeners in the 1960s, distinctions that doesn’t exist for historians of the music today.

True, Mahalia Jackson’s  induction is a stretch, and maybe the single biggest one the Hall has ever made. (If she’s meant to stand for all influential gospel singers, the Hall might have done better to induct Sister Rosetta Tharpe or Georgia Tom Dorsey.) I’ve pointed out previously that the induction of Nat King Cole would baffle and amuse Nat himself, just as Benny Andersson was baffled by the induction of ABBA.  But we know that beginning with artists to emerge in the 1970s, the Hall is more concerned with record sales and longevity than it is with artistic influence, and if that’s the true criterion, no way in hell is ABBA being kept out.

Larz’s list of those omitted is exhaustive, and his argument in favor of the likes of KISS and Cheap Trick over Bon Jovi is extremely well-taken. But by the time I reached the end of the piece, I was exhausted by it. That the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is a deeply flawed institution is not really news to anybody who follows the inductions year by year. And Larz’s list of wrongly omitted rockers is just as big an argument-starter as his list of the wrongly admitted.

The entire post is well worth your time. Read it, and in the comments, tell the whole class what you think.

11 thoughts on “That’s Rock and Roll?

  1. I have almost no use for the RnR Hall of Fame, and Larz is spot on about the flawed selection process (Wenner has always displayed awful taste) but most of the bands on his “rock” list, no matter their hits have hardly had enough influence (some of them, like Chicago, offshoots of other movements) to be enshrined in a Hall of Fame.

  2. I have no problem with the major black artists of the 50s, 60s and 70s being in the R&R Hall of Fame. It’s the blatant exclusion of those groups that should be there. Really, no Chicago? When asked his favorite guitar player, Jimi Hendrix wasted no time in saying Terry Kath. While the Chicago post “if You Leave Me Know” bears little resemblance with the “I’m A Man” Chicago, for them not to be in, is criminal. Same for The Moody Blues, Doobie Brothers, Yes, etc. Run-DMC is more rock and roll than Three Dog Night? LL Cool J is more rock and roll than Rush? Really?
    Not in my book. It’s a sham and a travetsy. made for the elitist crowd.

  3. Miles

    To me, rock and roll encompasses many things. It’s like a family with Rock and Roll as the parents and its children are Pop, Soft Rock, Hard Rock, Classic Rock and any other kind of rock. Those that consider acts like the O’Jays, Temptations, Aretha Franklin, The Jacksons, etc. part of the Soul or Rhythm and Blues family may have a point, but to me, they have always been Pop and Rock acts. I also draw the line at Hip-Hop and Rap. I would no more consider those genres to be included in the Rock and Roll family than I would Tex Ritter, Benny Goodman or Mozart.

    One last point. A Hall of Fame should be the best of the best. It’s not the Hall of Good or the Hall of OK, it’s the Hall of Fame. While I have no problem with ABBA being in the RRHOF (they are definitely at the top of the POP category), I don’t see groups like J. Geils, Foreigner or Joan Jett being HOF material. They were good, but not HOF great, imo. The HOF should represent the truly great acts and not just any two or three hit acts. I guess in the end, it’s all what Rock and Roll means to each individual. Clearly, Jann Wenner hasn’t the slightest clue. jmo

  4. Bluejay Young

    As far as I’m concerned, the Rock Hall jumped the shark when they went commercial and started having their awards ceremony staged and televised by VH1. I have very little to add to what Neil Young had to say on this subject.

    Thursday May 8th, 1997

    “To the Rock N Roll Hall of Fame:

    “I am very proud to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a member of Buffalo Springfield. The music we made, the times we had, will always be an important part of my life. I always felt that we were doing something meaningful, that our band and audience had a unique bond.

    “Times were simpler then. Music was a small business by today’s standards. Money was small, record sales were just beginning to take hold in a major way. Those were innocent days.

    “When the Hall of Fame became an organized event some years ago and the ‘originals’ were inducted, I was proud and honoured to induct Woodie Guthrie, the Everly Brothers, and the Jimi Hendrix Experience.

    “During those days, the Hall was for musicians and record people, producers and writers of the music that changed my life. It was great to hear Phil Spector talk for half an hour about the music he made, Mike Love put down the Beatles, and Bob Dylan’s eloquent acceptance speech among many other free moments shared by our special group of people. The comraderie (sic) was real. We all knew why we were there. We came to celebrate and be celebrated, free to mingle with out own and to say what we pleased.

    “That was the real Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. It could not be contained by any building.

    “Today it is a VH1 TV show, edited for television and the adult contemporary market served by VH1. Cheapened forever. Not anything like it once was. This should be a special private moment for those who are on the inside, reported on but not seen or heard outside the Hall itself.

    “The VH1 Hall of Fame presentation has nothing to do with the spirit of Rock and Roll. It has everything to do with making money. Inductees are severely limited in the amount of guests they can bring. They are forced to be on a TV show, for which they are not paid, and whatever comments they would like to make, dirty laundry they would like to air, thanks they would like to give, are all subject to the VH1 editor. Someone who has absolutely no right to interfere.

    “At over a thousand dollars a seat, many of the inductees can not even afford to bring the family members they would like to accompany them to see the event.

    “For these reasons I regretfully will not be present to accept the honors along with my brothers in the Buffalo Springfield.

    “I wish all the inductees well and congratulate you all. This is only my own opinion, and I realize it may be a selfish one.

    “This presentation is in direct opposition to what I believe. 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 those.

    “The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is bigger than that. It lives in the Heart of World music. It is a personal thing.”

  5. DougB

    The RRHOF is also quite flawed as a museum. The presentation is underwhelming and the history of music not well presented, I much prefer the Experience Music Project in Seattle.

    That said, I think there’s a lot of elitism shown by detractors. As stated here, rejecting R&B after a certain early point is inane. Among other things, how many people would have any interest in the place if you excluded Motown and much of the British Invasion, for example? The intent of the Hall — albeit quite flawed in execution — is clearly to be the Post-1955 or So Popular Music Hall of Fame Plus Influences Thereof, With Quirky Picks Included, Plus Nods To Inclusiveness, which is too big a mouthful to use. As pointed out here, popular music was unsegregated in the 60s, and far, far less segregated in the 70s and 80s, than it is today courtesy largely of radio format narrowing. Do we really want to celebrate a genre defined by people who think Rock & Roll is so exclusionary?

    Under this definition, of course, as with any, the lines must have an outer limit somewhere. Does Sinatra or Dean Martin (massive stars who shared the top of the charts and pop radio with the Beatles and Motown) belong here? Probably not, as they fit most clearly in another genre, that of the generation prior to late 50s pop music. On the other hand, what about the huge stars of the 70s who were the lightest of pop — the Carpenters come to mind. Can one say they belong anywhere else but as pop music superstars? (If they do, then one can certainly argue that the sweetest voice of the 70s must be honored.) And if you exclude the Carpenters from consideration, how can you include the Four Seasons or James Taylor?

    ABBA has a substantial and ongoing influence in popular culture — like them or not — and under the definition asserted, clearly qualifies, in spades, for induction. In my Hall of Fame, Neil Diamond and Laura Nyro would be shoo-ins, the former from the standpoint of massive popularity with notable influence on other acts and the latter from an influence far beyond the charts ranging across genres. Neither would be considered “rock & roll” by the narrowcasters.

  6. I’m not going to be able to come close to the eloquence expressed by the commenters above, especially Miles – great comment! I think that any HOF is flawed and abused – baseball is my love and just look at who they’ve inducted into the Baseball HOF.

    My only suggestion is that they try to include those that made Rock and Roll a statement, and defined Rock and Roll as a way of life – Steppenwolf, Deep Purple, Heart, ELO, Three Dog Night during the 70’s and Paul Revere [include many others here]. The list goes on.

    My other suggestion is to make sure that the inductees represent the institution of, well, Rock and Roll. Doesn’t anyone that has a vote of inclusion remember how violently rock and rollers revolted against disco music? How prominent were the t-shirts that displayed ‘Disco Sucks’? And yet, Donna Summers is being inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame?

  7. I write three blogs regularly.

    Two of them are related to the baseball card hobby, and the Hall of Fame gets mentioned whenever an inductee is featured. Despite recent efforts to revamp the process to somehow fix old issues, the players are still among the best to ever play the sport.

    As for the blog where I review 1970s singles, I don’t even bother mentioning the R&R Hall of Fame, nor do I even look to see who’s in there anymore. I also opted to skip a trip to the building the last time I was in Cleveland, opting instead to drive to Canton and see the Pro Football HOF instead.

  8. I read an article a few years back when former Atlantic Records exec. Ahmet Ertegun passed away that lamented his passing and remarked that without Ertegun to keep Jann Wenner in check, the selections for the RRHOF would become increasingly more embarrassing and just plain awful. They were bad even before Ertegun’s passing but they’ve gone from the sublime to the ridiculous to the sublimely ridiculous.

    Why not just rename it what it is and be done with it– It’s the Jann Wenner Hall of Fame as its a reflection of his personal musical tastes more than anything else.

  9. WestBerkeleyFlats

    First, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is clearly designed to celebrate pop music during what Casey Kasem would call “the rock and roll era.” That’s why r&b, soul, pop, and dance performers are inducted. Easy listening performers generally are not. There’s actually some consistency there given that easy listening/adult contemporary has traditionally had its own Top 40 chart. Second, Mahalia Jackson was inducted as an “early influence.” Does anyone really believe that gospel hasn’t influenced rock and roll? Tell that to Sam Cooke. Or Elvis. Other early influence inductees include Woody Guthrie, the Soul Stirrers, Pete Seeger, and Louis Armstrong, The category is basically for the most important American folk/blues/jazz musicians through 1960, and has largely been discontinued (only new inductee, rockabilly’s Wanda Jackson, has been inducted in the last 10 years).

  10. WestBerkeleyFlats

    Wow, I actually read the Chicagoland post and it’s colossally inept, if not unintentionally borderline racist. The author apparently objects to the inclusion of Mahalia Jackson, Billie Holiday, and the Orioles as early influences, even though they were clearly influential and their peak periods of commercial and critical success predated the rock and roll era. He doesn’t seem to object to the induction of Pete Seeger or Woody Guthrie, both of whom would seem to have less to do with rock and roll than many of the people on his list. I can kind of understand his indignation at Jann Wenner’s success in placing doo-wop and girl groups of the 1950s and 1960s in the hall, but his notion that there should be more corporate and prog rock in the hall is a rather weak argument. Isn’t rock and roll supposed to be at least somewhat cool? His enthusiastic endorsement of the Monkees is his strangest argument.

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