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.