Let There Be Rock (and Roll)?

For your consideration. It’s the time of year when both the Grammy nominations and those for the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame are due. For the moment, I’ll leave the annual Grammy debacle—the nominations come out on Dec. 6—for a later rant.

Visiting Cleveland? Stop by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, i.e. the Rock Hall, not only because the I.M. Pei structure itself is impressive but because inside is a wonderland of artifacts sure to entrance even the most casual rock music fan.

That having been said, and pretending for a moment that it still means anything and anyone still cares, the Rock Hall’s idiotic induction process, which took a beating last year for being “too '70s,” has sunk to a new low. The 2017 nominees are a disgrace. Perhaps a new crop of voters needs to be brought board to flush out the folks who voted for Jane’s Addiction, Perry Farrell’s flash-in-the-pan, two-album, faux meaningful band that stayed together for three whole years, and Depeche Mode, who admittedly stayed together longer and put out a couple decent records (1990’s Violater) but who’s generally bloodless synth-based electropop, a clear EDM antecedent, has nothing in common with rock music of any kind.

And Janet Jackson? Journey, Joan Baez and Steppenwolf also made the cut. That scraping noise you hear is coming from the bottom of the barrel. The only bright spot, and one that is completely and utterly deserving–and in the original spirit of the Hall–is Bad Brains who are quite possibly the baddest-assed rock band to ever bend an electric guitar note.

It was clear when hip hop acts began appearing on ballots that the Rock Hall had ambitions to become the Great American Museum of Popular Music and if that’s now the true aim, that’s fine. Rock and Roll was too narrow a definition anyway for a museum that wanted to grow into the self-perpetuating marketing machine it has become. But how to keep those nominations coming? Especially now, when rock music has fallen on hard times and in many ways is disappearing?

The overriding problem is that they nominated too many candidates too quickly and are now left casting about for suitable choices. Every genre of popular music is now clearly in play. Americana has yet to really happen. Can Jazz be next? And how long till the focus turns from strictly Anglo-American music? What about the African electric blues players like Omara “Bombino” Moctar? Or Norwegian Black Metal? And while Country Music has its own Hall of Fame, Hank Williams and Bob Wills are already in the Rock Hall so how long before more country music stars–George Jones, for example, sang rockabilly when he was young–are inducted?

Too be unmarketable and pathetically naïve for just a moment, is it too ridiculous to suggest that perhaps there are quite a few folks who actually created rock and roll that have yet to honored before we move on to B or C or F team choices like Depeche Mode and Jane’s Addiction, both of whom will undoubtedly sell tickets to the museum, foster a healthy home audience for the annual awards telecast and buy lost of stuff on rockhall.com? In a few minutes I came up with a list that while esoteric in spots, is actually about the music the museum once purported to be about.

How in the world are blues players like Son House, Guitar Slim, Skip James and Charlie Patton, the players and songwriters whose recordings were ultimately responsible for what came to be called rock‘n’roll, not in the Rock Hall? Or what about the guys responsible for remaking R&B into rock‘n’roll like Tiny Bradshaw, Smiley Lewis, Roy Milton, Wynonie Harris and Roy Brown? The there’s the strange case of one of the great early rock hits “Rocket 88.” Neither Ike Turner who wrote it nor Jackie Brenston who sung it/recorded it are in. How on earth is there something called the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame that does not pay homage to Sister Rosetta Tharpe!!! Call me a purist but couldn't there at least have been one nomination of someone who actually deserves the honor? Who actually had something to do with rock'n'roll as opposed to peripheral acts who's biggest qualification is selling tickets and Depeche Mode coffee mugs or Jane's Addiction T-shirts along the lakefront?

Venere's picture

Uh, yeah....so Jane's and DM clearly wouldn't make your inductee list if you were voting, and both are excoriated in your article, but the genius how wrote "I like my baby's puddin'" is your poster-boy for a deserving inductee? You're right, neither Jane's nor DM ever wrote a song with quite that level of emotion, musical sophistication, or social relevance. I guess there's just no accounting for taste....the Rock Hall voters, or yours.

craigh's picture

Joan Baez should have been inducted years ago.

misterc59's picture

Perhaps some people are having a problem with music that may not fit their personal definition of "Rock and Roll". Solo artists and groups whose music should or may not qualify notwithstanding.
Obviously there are songs that do not neatly fit into a particular category, even by a mostly rock and roll band. Bruce Springsteen comes to mind. Maybe it would generate a bit less animosity to rename a hall of fame "Rock and Roll and sort of" or "Jazz and sort of" to make people happy. Again, individuals or groups who may be inducted by stretching the description of deserving an award, notwithstanding. However, if the bulk of someone's music doesn't fit neatly into one's perception of a particular musical category, do they go through their musical career ignored?
I admit there are certainly questionable methods of inducting someone that can vary from year to year and then some, and even though I may not like a particular group, type of music, etc., does not make them unworthy of recognition.
Talent is all around us, as well as, "questionable talent".
We form our opinions, someone else votes. Happens all the time, be it music, sports, the culinary arts, we have a WINNER!

My 2 cents (2.5 cents US), thanks for reading,


rschryer's picture

I agree, in spirit, with what you've written, but I think it's natural for each of us to have a preconceived notion of what category a given piece of music falls into, and I don't think that's necessarily a problem. For me, the real problem comes when a musical act deserving of recognition for its contribution to a particular style of music is passed over that recognition for another act that never made, or even aspired to make, that style of music. One example: Jethro Tull receiving the 1989 Grammy Award for Best Hard Rock/Metal Performance Vocal or Instrumental. Jethro Tull's album Crest of a Knave might be really good, but that doesn't make it metal.

dalethorn's picture

For me, to name one example of people who sometimes played together, but who should and should not be in the R&R Hall of Fame: Jerry Lee Lewis and Carl Perkins should be, but Johnny Cash should not be. Not that anyone would understand. But hindsight is easier for older music, harder for the more recent stuff. Some less-well-known bands like Le Tigre and Belly should be there if not already, but their smaller audiences might not provoke enough votes.

2_channel_ears's picture

More of that puddin'.

bonbon's picture

I think this article and discussion should be more constructive and serious really - frankly I am not sure I like the evolving music awards and recognitions which do seem to ignore valid talent and history at times - its not up to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame to determine the best? or most influential - we hear, buy, and enjoy the music of many artists - I like Dean Martin, Bruno Mars, and Jethro Tull -- As I understand the R&R HoF does not have a right, but simply a commercial interest in pursuit of a bottom line - if they cared, they would look a bit deeper into the many who brought a music form that has dominated the air waves and enthusiasm for more than half a century - to quote C. Berry "long live rock and roll"

monetschemist's picture

after all he was covered by Wendy / Juan Carlos Williams.

MrMuse's picture

Pure Rock and Roll. Early blues musicians. Jerry Lee Lewis, Elvis, Chuck Berry, Holly, and Zepplin. Maybe.I think it's a popularity contest and a "I'm a cool person vote". Four of the biggest bands of all time took Rock and raised it to an even greater level. YES, Genesis, Moody Blues, and Emerson, Lake, and Palmer. And has anyone ever heard of Steven Wilson and what he's done in the last 10 years?
It's all relative. So much is missed by so many convinced. That's my two cents.