The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony is Saturday in Cleveland, and once again, the chosen ones—who this year include the Beastie Boys, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Tom Waits, The Famous Flames and Laura Nyro—illustrate what I’ve believed for years: the Hall of Fame is a joke! In fact, the Hall of Fame only got it right with one act this year: Guns N’ Roses—although it now appears that lead singer Axl Rose is declining to be inducted. But what I think about any of these artists is of no consequence, because we the people have no say in how Rock and Roll Hall of Famers are selected. Instead, the decision is left up to a secretive committee of more than 500 so-called “rock experts,” consisting largely of (hiss!) music critics.
Now, I’ll admit I’m biased. While I’m a journalist, I’m also a singer-songwriter-guitarist who’s recorded five albums and will never be considered for entry. And, yes, I’ve always had a problem with music critics who can’t sing or play a note but who pass judgment on others who can. These are the same dweebs who got picked last for the teams in gym class and simultaneously discovered an ability to write a clever, mean phrase about the music their classmates liked. And now they’re grown up and trying to prove who’s boss by denying rock deities like Peter Frampton, Hall & Oates, and Yes their due. But I digress.
The way I see it, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame voting committee is a cabal that too often honors performers who are edgy, brainy, pretentious, or sometimes not even “rock” at all. Petitions with tens of thousands of signatures and websites urging the RRHOF committee to consider this or that artist are routinely ignored. Just Google “rock and roll hall of fame sucks” and you’ll find petitions like this: “The Hall of Fame was founded to recognize outstanding achievements and contributions to the world of rock music. Inducting Rush will legitimize that claim by recognizing one band in particular that has contributed dramatically to the rock genre while continually preserving its integrity.” Take that, you Patti Smith-loving music critics. I will choose free will!
There’s something very wrong with a world in which Laura Nyro is enshrined, but KISS is once again overlooked. “The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame has become a joke,” KISS’s Gene Simmons recently told Rolling Stone magazine, whose editor/publisher Jann Wenner co-founded the RRHOF nearly 30 years ago. “We’ve been thinking about it and the answer is simply, ‘We’ll just buy it and fire everybody.’” To which Simmons’ bandmate Paul Stanley added, “With all due respect, when you get to Patti Smith you’re about two steps away from Pete Seeger.”
Gene and Paul, you guys rock. I couldn’t agree more: the criteria for induction into the Hall of Fame are fuzzy at best. Entire musical genres have been slighted—from progressive rock to metal to ‘60’s and ‘70s Top 40—while artists in several non-rock genres including rap, blues, disco, folk, jazz and country manage to find their way in. Huh? The only stated prerequisites are that the artist must have had some impact and released a record at least 25 years ago.
In reality, the choices seem to be largely just a reflection of the personal tastes of Wenner and his minions. Back in 2007, the Monkees’ Peter Tork told the New York Post that Wenner “doesn’t care what the rules are and just operates how he sees fit. It is an abuse of power. I don’t know whether The Monkees belong in the Hall of Fame, but it’s pretty clear that we’re not in there because of a personal whim.” Doesn’t it mean something that the Monkees really did sing their own songs, contrary to popular belief, and that, according to Billboard, they sold more records than the Rolling Stones and the Beatles combined in 1967? It does to me and to millions of their fans. But apparently not to the Hall of Fame voters.
If this were strictly a critical award, the collectively affected tribe of rock scribes would just vote in all their geeky faves and be done with it. But then they surprise you and vote in artists like the Bee Gees and the Eagles, who absolutely deserve to be in, even though neither has ever been a critical darling. Confusing, right?
Thankfully, most of the no-brainers are already in, from Elvis to the Beatles to Led Zeppelin to Aerosmith to U2. But let’s look at some of the other honorees of past years, shall we? Inductees include Leonard Cohen (zzzz), Miles Davis (rock?), Percy Sledge (one hit), and Dusty Springfield (eh). Are any of these artists really Rock and Roll Hall of Famers?
Then there are artists like Ritchie Valens, who had great potential before tragically dying young in a plane crash. With all due respect to Valens and his fans, there should be some level of quantity as well as quality for people to make it to this level. Could you imagine a baseball player making it to Cooperstown after playing one season in the Bigs?
The question isn’t so much who’s in the Hall but who isn’t. For example, if Valens is in, where is Jim Croce, who also sadly died in a plane crash, but had far more hits and an enormous fan base?
Arguably the most glaring omission of them all is Chicago, which besides the Beach Boys is the most popular and enduring American rock band of all time. Chicago, which is celebrating its 45th year and still selling records and concert tickets worldwide, was once considered progressive, innovative and musically subversive. In the beginning, they couldn’t even get AM airplay, only FM album stations would touch them. But the band, whose early integration of horns into rock music was certainly influential, is evidently being punished by the RRHOF overlords because the hard-driving R&B and jazz-rock of its early days was replaced to a large degree by a more polished, middle-of-the-road (some would say middle-aged) sound. They still knock your socks off in concert, by the way.
Meanwhile, while Chicago is left out, the Beastie Boys, a “band” comprised of three knuckleheads who started in hip-hop then dabbled in hardcore punk and funk, is in. Entertaining if in small doses, the Beasties have given us such obnoxious paeans to stupidity as “(You Gotta) Fight for Your Right (to Party).” OK, I partied to that song in college in the 80s, too. But are these guys really music Hall of Famers? Not in my book.
No, the way I see it, there’s a long line of rock immortals of all genres who should have been let in before the Beastie Boys. Here’s just a sampling of the un-inducted:
Deep Purple, Yes, Dire Straits, Linda Rondstadt, the Guess Who, Thin Lizzy, Peter Frampton, Three Dog Night, Poco, The Moody Blues, KISS, John Denver, Journey, The Fifth Dimension, Iron Maiden, Johnny Rivers, Rush, Dan Fogelberg, Mott the Hoople, Lionel Richie, Joe Cocker, Heart, Dionne Warwick, Gram Parsons, Chic, The Cure, Moby Grape, Barry White, Procol Harum, The Association, Boston, Charlie Daniels, Blood, Sweat & Tears, The Hollies, Megadeath, Cheap Trick, Little Feat, The Monkees, Grand Funk Railroad, The Doobie Brothers, Emerson, Lake & Palmer, Jethro Tull, Cat Stevens, Billy Idol, Steppenwolf, Bon Jovi, Gram Parsons, America, Donna Summer, Steve Miller, Edgar Winter, Fairport Convention, Foreigner, Peter, Paul and Mary, Bad Company, Spirit, Herman’s Hermits, Humble Pie, J. Geils Band, New Order, The Spinners, Jimmy Buffett, Joan Baez, REO Speedwagon, Tower of Power, Arlo Guthrie, Joe Jackson, John Mayall, The Buckinghams, The Turtles, The Cars, Johnny Winter, Kraftwerk, Kool & the Gang, Kenny Loggins, Loggins & Messina, Mitch Ryder & the Detroit Wheels, Judas Priest, Paul Revere & the Raiders, Chaka Khan, Spencer Davis Group, The Stylistics, Styx, Tommy James & the Shondells, Warren Zevon, Ted Nugent, Hall & Oates. And Jamie Reno.