Why the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Isn’t a Joke
|“Aural Fixation” is a music-themed column I wrote for PopMatters.com from 2011-2013. They are no longer online there, but I have reformatted them here at the DMDB blog with additional videos, photos, and links, such as where to buy referenced albums. I have also used the title “Aural Fixation” for any essays I have written outside of PopMatters.com as well. To see the essays, check out the Dave’s Music Database Aural Fixation page. You can also purchase the essays in book format here.
This post is a response to a question posted on Quora: “What is your opinion on the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame? Do you think it is a joke, or does it really matter who is inducted into it?”
To address this question, I’m posing the common arguments made that the Hall is a joke. Then I offer a rebuttal.
The Argument: They induct non-rock and roll acts.
The Rebuttal:Rock and roll is not a pure genre without the influence of other genres. It is generally considered an amalgamation of R&B, country, jazz, folk, blues, and more. As such, the Hall has - since its beginning - acknowledged artists which some might not consider rock and roll because of the influence they’ve had in shaping rock and roll. The very first class saw inductees which people would call blues (Robert Johnson), country (Jimmie Rodgers), and R&B (James Brown, Ray Charles).
The Argument: Rap isn’t rock and doesn’t belong in the Hall.
The Rebuttal:This is a variation on the first argument but I separate it here because rap is a genre which has emerged since rock and roll. The Hall has acknowledged its wide definition of rock in that it sees it more as the music that is an expression of youth culture. The development and growth of rap has followed a similar trajectory as rock. It is also a genre which has shaped the continued development of rock and roll. Inductees like the Red Hot Chili Peppers, nominees like Rage Against the Machine, and potential future inductees like Linkin Park all are generally defined as rock bands but show the influence of rap. Side note: for all those complaining about rap like it has taken over the Hall, there are - as of the 2022 class - less than 10 inductees which can probably be strictly defined as rap out of 365 inductees.
The Argument: Why not just call it the Music Hall of Fame?
The Rebuttal:As much as some detractors would have you believe that any and all music can get in the Hall, that isn’t the case. The focus is on music which tends to be an expression of youth culture, specifically popular music which has emerged in generally English-speaking countries, primarily the United States, since the 1950s (as well as some early influencers). As such, as huge as names like Frank Sinatra and Bing Crosby are, they aren’t likely to get in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, but they’d be shoo-ins for a Music Hall of Fame (not to mention classical giants like Beethoven, Mozart, Bach, etc.)
The Argument: Jann Wenner calls the shots. If he likes the act, they’re in. If he doesn’t, they’re doomed.
The Rebuttal:As the founder of the Hall, Wenner certainly has held significant influence and there are plenty of rumors about who couldn’t get in because of him. However, he hasn’t been on the nominating committee since 2006 and stepped down as the chair in 2019. I’m sure his voice still holds sway, but there have been acts like Kiss who got in despite Wenner’s stance against them. It’s also important to understand the process. The nominating committee selects the list of possible inductees each year, but they don’t vote on them. That decision is made by the 1000+ past inductees and other members of the music industry.
The Argument: The Hall sucks because (insert name of favorite band here) isn’t in.
The Rebuttal:We all have our favorites. We may even have good arguments for why they belong in the Hall. However, people often fail to recognize that their individual opinions do not necessarily reflect a larger opinion shared by the masses. Also, with 365 inductees already, it’s hard to argue that any first-tier acts haven’t been inducted. Check out any social media post complaining about who isn’t in and it is a slew of possible names, many of which might get the reader thinking, “yeah, they oughta be in.” However, there isn’t one name that comes up over and over universally from every person who comments.
The Argument: The Hall just inducts high-profile names that will draw audiences (i.e. money) to the annual induction ceremony.
The Rebuttal:Let’s be clear. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is technically a non-profit organization. Still, they do need to make money to stay afloat. Here's the thing about attacking the Hall for trying to be financially viable - it's hypocritical. The people lobbying these accusations then turn around and whine that their favorite act isn't in - an act which has been a part of the music industry and, more likely than not, isn't some obscure act that has never made any money. They're likely to be high-profile acts who've been around for decades and made plenty of money BECAUSE of the music industry.
Conclusion:I realize this was an incredibly long answer. I absolutely think the Hall has its flaws, but ultimately it remains a relevant way of recognizing some of music’s greatest contributors. It most assuredly is not a joke.
For more essays, check out the Dave’s Music Database Aural Fixation page.
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First posted 2/10/2023; last updated 10/27/2023.