Let’s get this out of the way: Kid Rock inducting Cheap Trick into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is sadder than a sick child telling the Make-A-Wish foundation, “Oh, I don’t need anything. Soon I’ll get to meet the Von Erich family up in heaven.”
Now let’s move on.
Anytime you start ranting about the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, whose annual induction ceremony takes place this Friday, one risks engaging in deeply predictable hysteria, drizzled with a healthy dose of geek snobbery. But there’s what we wish the Hall was, and what it actually is. I’d like to frame my comments within that reality, as opposed to idealism shaped by my own taste and fanaticism. A little later on I’ll climb on a soapbox, but right now, cognizant of the character of the organization and the people who define it, I want to assess why many of the deserving acts that belong in the Hall will never get close.
The Hall is dysfunctionally U.S-centric. This means that acts like Roxy Music, Kate Bush, Thin Lizzy, New Order, T Rex, Madness, or the Smiths (to name just seven) haven’t been acknowledged, though any objective—heck, even cursory—examination of their place in the artistic and commercial history of rock would augur their inclusion (Madness may appear to be sticking out a bit there, but in the U.K. they have reached the level of national institution in a way very few acts have).
Kate Bush, one of the most respected and inventive female artists of the post-Beatles age, is a horrific omission that ought to be corrected; like, say, the Beatles or the Sex Pistols, she is a foundational artist, someone who both changed everything that came after and achieved high public visibility.
Thin Lizzy, a hugely popular band throughout the world who virtually invented the modern power ballad and were the template for many mainstream hard-pop acts, belong in the Hall by any reckoning.
And do you think anyone connected with the Hall has any concept how big Depeche Mode was?
Net Out: I think that New Order and the Smiths will find their way in one day, but both Thin Lizzy and Kate Bush are more deserving, and will probably be left on the sidelines.
The Hall is not interested in your college radio heroes, no matter how worthy. This is partially a function of the Hall’s Rolling Stone-centric perspective, their bias toward commercially successful acts, and their disinterest in British artists. Therefore, don’t look for Husker Du, dBs or Big Star (not to mention the Specials or the Jam) to be in the Hall anytime soon (or ever).
Net out: I suspect Sonic Youth and possibly the Cure will make it in one day. Dave Grohl will put his foot down about Sonic Youth, and they’ll throw the Cure a bone and anoint them as the sole representative of an entire era of British bands, in much the same way that Metallica are the sole representative of their large, important and under-recognized genre.
The Hall doesn’t seem to know Blimpie-shit about Heavy Metal. No organization claiming to be a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame should know so little (and have such obvious disdain) for a genre as culturally, financially and creatively important as heavy metal. Case(s) in point: Iron Maiden, Judas Priest and Slayer aren’t in the Hall.
You could make a very, very solid case that Iron Maiden are one of the biggest rock acts of the last 35 years. They’ve been massively successful, made records of real quality, and have had a high and positive media profile. Their omission from the Hall is a stupid oversight, period, and one of the worst. Likewise, Judas Priest is a popular, well-loved and enduring band that has become part of the cultural mainstream; by any estimation they belong in. Clearly, both omissions reflect a prejudice against hard(er) metal bands that didn’t have a high FM-radio profile.
Also, any history of rock is going to contain a fat paragraph or two about Slayer, one of the game-changing bands of our time; having Metallica in the Hall but not Slayer is like putting in the Ramones but not the Sex Pistols, and it’s a stupid, snobby oversight. I don’t think Slayer will ever get in because a) The Rolling Stone mindset of the Hall probably thinks they’ve put in one speed metal band, why look any further, and b) I reckon the band’s dabbling with Nazi imagery would get them scratched off the list.
Net Out: It wouldn’t surprise me if Motörhead, arguably the only band more influential to modern metal than Slayer, made their way in as a sentimental favorite. Heck, I’d bet a Blimpie on it.
The Hall retains many old-school Rolling Stone magazine prejudices. The Hall has consistently honored acts that blended massive commercial success with some element of creative invention and lasting influence: So why aren’t Boston, Three Dog Night, Journey, and Meatloaf in the Hall?
Someone in the Hall might be making a “one big album” argument about Meatloaf and Boston, but that overlooks the major sales of some of their other (non-debut) records, and the fact that those albums are still dearly loved and listened to today. The Hall’s willingness to induct (the very deserving) Steve Miller is an indication that they are not afraid of acts primarily known as Classic Rock Radio stalwarts, so why the hell aren’t Meatloaf and Boston, still hugely adored, in?
Net Out: Journey, the least interesting of all these acts, will probably be in one day, but I wouldn’t hold my breath for any of the others.
The Hall doesn’t like Punk Rock, unless it’s the super-commercialized Green Day/Foo Fighters variety. Once again, this is something influenced both by the Rolling Stone bias of the Hall and it’s Anglophobia; lest we forget, Rolling Stone hated punk rock back in the day, unquestionably despised the genre, and aside from a few bones thrown at the Sex Pistols and the Clash, virtually ignored its existence.
Although they were far from the best example of the punk genre, Black Flag virtually invented the modern indie-rock touring template and have maintained a very high profile cross-generationally; they totally effing belong in the Hall. But I don’t think they’re getting in anytime soon. And I think there’s literally zero chance of some of the truly timeless and well-known punk acts of our time—the Dead Kennedys, the Damned, the Stranglers, Stiff Little Fingers, even the legendary Bad Brains—getting in.
Net Out: If the Hall was remotely interested in giving a handout to the punk crowd and making a move that would be universally well received, they’d nominate the Bad Brains. I’m actually kind of surprised Grohl hasn’t lobbied for that.
The Hall needs to look under some more rocks. Mind you, in the Early Influences and Non-Performers categories, the Hall has consistently shown a good deal more insight then they have in the Performers category. Still, for the life of me I don’t know why Alvino Rey—who is as important to the development of the electric guitar as Les Paul—isn’t in the Hall, and the Hall’s near-complete ignorance of many Cajun and most folk artists is something that sorely needs to be corrected. (Amedé Ardoin, to name one, is one of the greatest blues singers in American history, and what about Phil Ochs, a consistently well regarded legend?)
Likewise, why the hell isn’t the Carter Family, one of the most influential musical acts of the last century, in the Hall? This is an error so obvious that it has to be a plain and simple oversight. And the fact that Alan Lomax, one of the most important men in the history of American music, isn’t inducted as a non-performer is one of the very worst omissions in the sad (if predictable) story of the Hall.
Net Out: With the glaring exception of Lomax, I’m (almost) willing to give this one a pass—inductees like Cosimo Matassa, Otis Blackwell, Alan Toussaint, Wanda Jackson, and Professor Longhair indicate that outside the Performer category, there’s some decent and unbiased thinking going on.
Some things just don’t make any sense. Above, I’ve offered some reasonable explanations about why the Hall’s character and modus operandi prevents some (very) Hall-worthy acts from being inducted. Yet, there are still some omissions that I can’t make any sense of at all, and therefore I have to wonder if there’s some form of personal bias at work. Can anyone at all tell me why Bjork, Harry Nilsson, Ozzy Osbourne, ELO, Bon Jovi, Bangles, T Rex, and Nine Inch Nails aren’t in the Hall?
Net Out: I don’t get it. I really don’t get it. Now get me a new Blimpie, this one has totally soaked through the paper and I’m not touching it.
Here’s Tim’s list of the Hall’s five biggest omissions (why five? Because these five are inarguable). Kraftwerk are the second most influential pop act of all time. Period. In addition to being massively successful artists of great longevity, they literally invented—not pioneered, but invented—the use of pulsing synths to replace the traditional rhythm section, something that changed the face of music as much as any development in the last 150 years. They have been, are, and probably will remain the most glaring Hall of Fame omission. The other four who fill out my top five list are (in this order) Alan Lomax, Kate Bush, Iron Maiden and Thin Lizzy. What the heck, here are six through 10 (in this order): The Carter Family, Joan Baez, the New York Dolls, the MC5 and Black Flag.
Now that I have been all logical, let me provide what I think is a decent example of how the whole premise of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is possibly more rotten than a Blimpie’s Best sub that’s been sitting for eight days in the center of the F train tracks on the 14th Street stop (uptown side). In other words, let’s talk about the MC5 (because while the MC5 may not be the worst Hall omission, there’s something about their exclusion that stinks).
I think it’s no secret that Bruce Springsteen, and more pertinently Springsteen manager/producer Jon Landau and Springsteen aide-de-camp/Boswell Dave Marsh, have a significant influence on the Hall’s nominee/inductee list. Springsteen and his posse are to the Hall what Tom Carvel was to Carvel—if he says “Fudgie,” everyone goes “Whale!” And Springsteen has earned that. After all, he is not only the face of American rock ’n roll, he has worked hard to get there, and has an honest love and respect for his fans that every act, from Crown Heights to Calabasas, needs to learn from. Landau is the head of the nominating committee (and Marsh is on the committee). Again, that’s not a problem; Marsh and Landau have put in the time and have the credibility. Good for them.
I also believe Landau and Marsh could pretty much push the button on anyone’s admittance (or, at the very least, nomination). For instance, if they were to say, “O.K., Nils Lofgren is getting nominated this year,” or “Let’s get Thom Panunzio, who engineered Born To Run, inducted into the Non-Performers wing,” it would happen. I mean, The E Street Band are in the Hall of Fame (in the Musical Excellence category), which is a little like inducting the 1972 Philadelphia Phillies in the baseball Hall of Fame because Steve Carlton was on the team.
Now, back in the day, Jon Landau (who we remind you is the head of the nominating committee) also managed and produced the MC5, one of the most credible and influential American rock bands of all time. So…If the MC5 can’t get into the Hall that their former manager and producer helps to run, boy, someone in the front office must really, really hate them. Which is all to say this: If I want to cite one giant example that there is some kind of weird politicking and grudge-holding at the Hall, I just need to say “MC5.”
Oh, did I mention that Ringo Starr was inducted under the Musical Excellence category?
But that’s O.K., because other musically remarkable members of Hall of Fame acts like John Entwistle, Peter Green, Dave Gilmour and Brian May have been inducted in the Musical Excellence category, correct? Uh…no. Ringo Starr is the only member of a Hall of Fame band also inducted in the Musical Excellence category. Please Effing Note: Of ALL the bands in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, bands that include Geddy Lee, Keith Richards, Keith Moon, Billy Gibbons, Walter Becker and on and on, the ONLY musician from ANY of those bands ESPECIALLY NOTED for HIS musical excellence is Ringo Starr.
What else could you possibly need to know about the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame?
And finally. Listen, our willingness to embrace the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame—and by “embrace,” I mean do anything aside from boycott it, attack it with urine-filled water bottles, and constantly, vocally and publicly mock and denigrate it—depends on how low our expectations are, and our willingness to settle for something telling the story of Rock while omitting many of the invigorating highs, most of the life-changing cheap-thrill lows, and a rather startling amount of the form’s actual artistic pioneers and revolutionaries.
And the Hall consistently makes so many truly enormous credibility-destroying mistakes—the omission of Kraftwerk (and Alan Lomax), deciding Ringo Starr is the only Hall of Fame band member worth noting for his musical excellence—that the whole operation’s superficiality and suspect judgment is part of the fabric of the organization itself. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame tells a version of the story of the music of our lives written by people who simply don’t know as much about the animal as they ought to know, a version significantly influenced by personal bias, geographical location and commercial success.
Make your own damn Hall.