A Broad Net

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(Pictured: Eurythmics.)

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.

13 thoughts on “A Broad Net

  1. Connor McGrath

    I think John Mellencamp does have a decent amount of influence except it’s not in rock n roll or pop music but in modern pop country. I know Keith Urban specifically cites him as his main influence. Thing is country has its own separate Hall of Fame and if you induct Mellencamp into that, it’s another can of worms.

    Next 10-20 years are going to be interesting to see who Jann Wenner and RS cronies hold their nose for to add in. I have no idea what the hell the Rock N Roll Hall of Fame will look like in 2040. I tell ya though…they would have saved themselves from a lot of headaches and hand wringing from Boomers and Xers if they had just named it the Modern Music Hall of Fame instead of the Rock N Roll Hall of Fame. In retrospect, even when it was founded in 1983, you could have probably told that rock n roll as a genre had already peaked!

  2. Brian Rostron

    It’s always been the English-Language Popular Music in the Rock n Roll Era Hall of Fame. Dolly is a bit of a stretch, but they could induct her in the Influences category, which is mainly people from other genres that people like and respect. People get in through some combination of popular success, critical acclaim, and coolness. Mellencamp sold lots of records and had a lot of hits over an extended period of time and also contributed to Farm Aid. I think most of the nominees should eventually get in and am glad that the Boomer influence is abating. I’m astounded that Duran Duran had never been nominated before, let alone inducted.

  3. Brian Rostron

    Oh, and the delay in inducting Richie is as bizarre as the delays in inducting Whitney Houston and Janet Jackson. They all should have been in on the first ballot, and the Commodores should be in too.

  4. Alvaro Leos

    The real question is “does it matter”? The Rock Hall has never fulfilled its intended role as a tastemaker; the inductions of acts like the Dave Clark Five or Traffic did nothing to stop their slide into obscurity. And if you hear a Rock Hall inductee on a tour commercial, it almost never gets mentioned. Now if you want to talk about a once important Hall that’s faded into irrelevance, talk about the Baseball Hall of Fame…

  5. porky

    I would say a shark was jumped when James Taylor was put in.

    Now that Don Wilson has passed, I’m grateful the Ventures got in when they did. If you watch the documentary on them you’ll see the full sweep of their influence.

    To a particular age group of musicians Paul Revere and the Raiders’ influence is about as big as the Ventures, but I think the DC5* will be the last “matching suits” group to get in (thanks to lobbying by Tom Hanks if I recall).

    John Cougar is the kind of guy who decides to record at Sun Studios (in 2009) just so people will take him seriously as a rocker.

    *Poor Dave Clark’s slide into obscurity was self-inflicted. He kept his band’s music out of print for years, was the last mid-60’s hit maker of note to release some of his catalog on CD. Talk about a polarizing figure, take a dive into a forum about Dave sometime.

    1. Brian Rostron

      I love the Dave Clark 5 “documentary” produced by Dave Clark that my PBS station sometimes airs. Almost everyone was employed by him at some point and sings his praises, especially as a businessman, although even he acknowledges that he wasn’t much of a musician. The lone exception is Paul McCartney who when asked if the Beatles and DC5 were rivals replies, “Not at all. Oh, you know, some of the fan magazines tried to promote that for a while, but, no, we never viewed them as our rivals.”

  6. I’m enjoying the proposed other names in the responses here. What I hear a lot of/see a lot of online is “but they’re not rock and roll.” The problem is that invariably, the person writing it has a very narrow definition of what rock and roll means, and it’s usually “classic rock radio circa 1989” to the exclusion of all others.

    Every year when I see the Baseball HoF ballot, I’m reminded of the Hall of Pretty Good. Players who had admirable careers, but by JB’s measures shouldn’t be enshrined in a place where people don’t talk above a whisper as they read names. It’s almost as if the RRHoF needs an equivalent wing to shift the various million-sellers-of-pap so that fans still want to plunk down the admission fee and keep the doors open, but there remains a sort of inner sanctum to satisfy the purists. Perhaps then the fans of the Guess Who on my Facebook feed will take a break.

  7. All on point. Without goring anyone’s ox, any “Hall of Fame” with 351 inductees has probably 251 too many and should stop adding on.

    The term “rock and roll” should mean something. And if there’s money to be made, a “Pop Music Hall of Fame” could be built in…I dunno…L.A.?…for the Dionne Warwicks, the ABBAs and the Nat “King” Coles.

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  9. TN

    Thank you for the recognition – it really means a lot to me. I’m intrigued by your notion of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame being a branding error, which is something I grapple with every year. I saw some people on Twitter this week saying things like “I can’t BELIEVE Dolly Parton isn’t in the R&R Hall of Fame yet!” Parton is a tremendously influential and talented artist, but I don’t know if I’m going to vote for her, because she’s a country singer. On the other hand, they put Joan Baez in a few years ago, and Dolly is by any measure the greater artist and even has a closer connection to Rock & Roll, what with having actual Top Forty hits. It’s a real problem.

  10. A few points:

    – Once the Hall inducted Bon Jovi and Journey, two acts that stand for lowest common denominator crass commercialism, the bar for induction became so low that pretty much anyone who has recorded during the rock era should be admitted.

    – One other major flaw of the Hall is how U.S.-centric it is. The Fall will never be a nominee. Or, for a more popular example, Madness, one of the most successful British bands of the post-punk era, will never get nominated. And so on.

    – The Rock Hall itself is a B- museum. It has some interesting exhibits, but fails as a Hall of Fame. In order to accommodate its distinct architecture, the actual Hall is just the names of the acts in a large room with video playing. No plaques, no nothing to tell you definitively who these honorees are/were and why they are there.

    – The Country Music Hall of Fame >>>>> Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

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