This week, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (RRHOF) announced its list of inductees for 2012. To be eligible, performers must have recorded their first album 25 years ago, and exhibit criteria that demonstrate “influence and significance of the artists’ contributions to the development and perpetuation of rock and roll.” There are categories for sidemen, non-performers, and early influences, but the category of prestige is performer and that’s where this rambling is focused.
The 2012 performer inductees include Guns ‘n Roses, The Beastie Boys, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Donovan, The Faces/Small Faces, and Laura Nyro. If you found yourself asking “who?” to Laura Nyro, don’t be ashamed. Nyro is known more as a songwriter than a performer, and since her tragic passing from ovarian cancer in 1997, a steadfast group of fans and friends have pushed her inclusion in the RRHOF.
This post is not meant to disparage Ms. Nyro, but her inclusion is questionable, and one could argue the same for Donovan and The Faces. The latter two were ‘also rans’ in a period that is well represented in the RRHOF. There is a disturbing pattern of inducting marginal acts from the sixties and early seventies, the era where most Baby Boomers came of age, while ignoring artists who made a mark on Gen-Xers and influenced the current music of Millennials.
This time of year lends itself to lists, and there’s always a top ten or twenty list that’s floating around somewhere. Below is a list of 10 performers that belong in the RRHOF. Included in parentheses is each performer’s year of eligibility.
1. Rush (1999)
2. The Smiths (2009)
3. The Cure (2004)
4. Public Enemy (2012)
5. Sonic Youth (2007)
6. The Pixies (2012)
7. The Replacements (2006)
8. Peter Gabriel (2002)
9. Afrika Bambaataa (2008)
10. The Cars (2003)
Each act on this list has a clear argument for inclusion and questionable bases for exclusion. Consider:
- Despite a thirty-five year history with critical and commercial success, Rush is dismissed as a prog rock band that catered to nerdy boys and, later, nerdy men. Over their long career, Rush developed an incredible international following, and demonstrated an ability to adapt and grow artistically over time.
- The entire 80s college radio/alternative/indie scene is ignored. The Smiths, The Cure, Sonic Youth, The Replacements and The Pixies were as influential on today’s indie rock scene as any performer who exists in the RRHOF. Yet, these artists remain absent. Too indie, too weird, too far out on the fringe? Who knows… but as someone who came of age in 1980s it’s hard for me to fathom why some of the era’s best and most innovative rock bands remain missing in action. I blame the recording industry and those who favor mainstream music from big labels.
- Public Enemy was the first BIG conscientious Hip Hop act, speaking to the masses about marginalization, racism, and continued oppression in an era supposedly protected by civil rights legislation. Preaching knowledge, self-awareness, racial identity and empowerment, critics focused on the antics of secondary MC, Flavor Flav, and Public Enemy’s connection to Louis Farrakhan.
- Peter Gabriel, who is in the RRHOF as part of Genesis, may not see the light of day as a solo artist. That would put him in the rarified air that contains John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison (questionable as a solo artist), Paul Simon, Michael Jackson, Eric Clapton… you get it. Vaulting him into the RRHOF would be placing him with immortals. Before his success with So and Us, Gabriel released four critically acclaimed, self-titled albums that inspired an era of alternative music.
- Afrika Bambaataa was renowned for combining Hip Hop with funk and electronic music. His admission into the RRHOF would be recognition of his status as an innovator and pioneer of Hip Hop. Unfortunately, he was relatively obscure when compared to Run DMC and Grandmaster Flash, currently the only Hip Hop acts in the RRHOF.
- The Cars are the most curious omission from the RRHOF. They fit the bill perfectly. Pop success, millions of records sold, and darlings of Rolling Stone magazine. Yet they are absent. The adolescent boy in me thinks that they should be in the hall for their contribution to the Fast Times at Ridgemont High soundtrack, but we can ignore my fourteen year old self and focus on the music.
Other notable performers to consider for induction include: Eric B & Rakim (eligible 2011), Yes (eligible 1994), Roxy Music (1997), and The Jesus and Mary Chain (eligible in 2010). Brian Eno could be inducted along with Roxy Music, as a solo performer (eligible 1998), or most fittingly, as a producer (eligible 2000). And as much as people snicker, a case could be made for the band, KISS (eligible 1999).
The inclusion of Nyro, Donovan and the Faces in this year’s RRHOF class, is a disturbing trend by the RRHOF voters. Since 1997, inductees include: Alice Cooper, Buffalo Springfield, Gene Vincent, Dr. John, The Hollies, The Dave Clark Five, Traffic, Isaac Hayes, Brenda Lee and Gene Pitney. A nice list of performers for sure, but there’s not a Babe Ruth or Lou Gehrig among them.
The RRHOF and its voters need to come to grips with an era and artists that don’t fit the Rolling Stone/MTV mold of cool. Baby Boomers need to get off the train. You’ve had your chance, and recent selections demonstrate that who is popular gets more attention than who is relevant.
Guns ‘n Roses had one good album, and one good EP. They were derivative and products of bands like the Rolling Stones and Aerosmith. They sold a ton of albums. However, they weren’t first ballot worthy. They were not influential.
Despite what some Baby Boomers think, the RRHOF got it right with the induction of The Beastie Boys and Red Hot Chili Peppers.
The Beastie Boys were not first ballot RRHOFers, but were inducted in their second year of eligibility. They were hugely influential, and blossomed into a full-fledged band in the 1990s. They set the standard in sampling, and turned an industry on its ear when they refused to maintain the party boy image that Columbia and Def Jam Records try to shove down their throats. Paul’s Boutique is one of the top five Hip Hop albums of all time.
Red Hot Chili Peppers released their first album in 1984. Had they stopped making music in the 1980s, we would have forgotten them entirely. However, they changed rock by infusing Hip Hop and Funk, and were among the vanguard of the alternative radio wave of the 1990s. Nirvana and the grunge rockers of that era might have been bigger, but the Peppers were the Led Zeppelin of their era, delivering explosive performances and recording some of the most memorable rock and roll of that decade.
It will be interesting to see what unfolds for the RRHOF in the next ten years. There are lots of obvious choices. Will voters get it right and examine those who aren’t so obvious? The RRHOF could get it right by getting younger, and getting votes from people who were actually young twenty-five years ago. The 1960s are over, and the rock and roll loving public have had it with enshrining marginal performers from four decades ago.
While reflecting and researching this, I stumbled upon a couple of other lists, most notably the site, Not in the Hall of Fame, which is a bit too inclusive for my tastes.
Who gets into the RRHOF and when seems to be at issue. Maybe they can take a lesson from the sports halls of fame. Baseball seems to be the most conservative, but one has a sense that induction into that hall means true greatness. We can’t say that about the RRHOF.
NY Daily News columnist, David Hinckley, thinks the RRHOF’s doors swing too wide.
RRHOF whiffs again writes Salon’s Stephen Deusner
Soundtrack for the Omitted
Rush – Tom Sawyer
The Smiths – How Soon Is Now
The Cure – Fascination Street
Public Enemy – Fight the Power
Sonic Youth – Starpower
The Pixies – Where Is My Mind?
The Replacements – I Will Dare
Peter Gabriel – Games Without Frontiers
Afrikaa Bambaataa – Renegades of Funk
The Cars – Moving In Stereo