It is the official position of this website that the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is a wonderful museum, and that everybody should see it. And also: as a credible barometer of who is most important to the history of rock and roll, it has long since jumped the shark.
The criterion for induction to any hall of fame—rock and roll, baseball, recreational vehicles—should be fairly simple: if you are unable to accurately tell the story of this art form, this sport, this cultural innovation, without discussing this person, they belong in your hall. What did they do that no one had ever done before? How did they affect the trajectory of history? How do they continue to have an impact, either on those individuals who have followed them, or on their art form or sport itself? If there are not solid, precise answers to those questions, they don’t belong.
Allow me to bang on again about John Mellencamp. What did he do, creatively, that had never been done before? How, during his 80s and 90s heyday, did he affect the trajectory of history? Who did he influence? Does he continue to have an impact today? The answers are “nothing,” “not at all,” “nobody,” and “no.” He sold a lot of records. That’s it. But it’s not the Rock and Roll Hall of Sold a Lot of Records, even though for lots of inductees, that’s their main qualification. And the same is true for many of the 2022 nominees. For example, it’s a foregone conclusion that Lionel Richie will get in, if not this year, then soon. But you can ask those questions about him, and the answers are the same.
The RRHOF has always cast a very broad net, but that’s also its biggest problem. What started with an admirable desire to honor those who influenced rock without being rockers themselves has turned into a debacle. It’s hard to fathom, for example, what Nat King Cole is doing in there, and Nat himself would wonder. Also, over the years, the Hall has blurred genre categories to the point at which it can accommodate both ABBA and Jay-Z. And now, in 2022, Dolly Parton is one of the nominees. Everybody loves Dolly and recognizes her as a titan of American culture. But you can quite easily tell the story of rock and roll without mentioning Dolly Parton once. (Radio consultant Fred Jacobs suggests the nominations of Parton and Richie are emblematic of how “this institution is a living, breathing branding error.”)
Beyond that, so many people with dubious qualifications are in already that it becomes impossible to justify keeping anybody out. Over at Ultimate Classic Rock, one of the writers suggested it is time that Sammy Hagar, who is already in as a member of Van Halen, should get a nomination for his solo work. If that ever happens, Hell will be empty and all the devils here, so you might as well nominate me. There’s also the equivalence game, “if A, then B.” For example, if Carole King is in, doesn’t Carly Simon have to be in, too?
For a hall of fame to mean what it says on the front door, you should be eligible one time. If you are inarguably qualified, you’ll get in. (Eminem is a first-time nominee this year, and a good test for this thesis.) Create a Veterans Commitee if you want to give people a second chance after some more time has passed, but for the love of Elvis stop letting people in whose lesser accomplishments swamp those of the true giants and innovators. The Beatles and Bon Jovi do not belong in the same state, let alone the same building.
Our friend Tom Nawrocki has a RRHOF ballot, and I look forward to his annual series about who he is and isn’t voting for, and why. If I had a vote, I’d probably say yes to Eurythmics and Duran Duran, for pioneering not just the sound but the look of the MTV era, and Dionne Warwick, for bringing Black pop (as distinct from R&B or Motown) to the mainstream—even as I question their continuing influence. But that’s it. Apart from my longstanding disdain for Pat Benatar, I don’t have enough of an opinion about everybody else, not even Eminem. I expect him to get in on the first ballot, though. Duran Duran is overdue, probably. Kate Bush is getting in at some point, and Pat Benatar too, eventually.
If you would like to debate any of this, go nuts. I crave your comments.