Rock & Roll Hall of Fame only got it half right this year
Last night, the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame announced its class of 2014: Peter Gabriel, Hall & Oates, Kiss, Nirvana, Linda Ronstadt, and Cat Stevens.
There are a number of things right with this picture. And a number of things wrong.
First off, before any discussion of the Rock Hall and its induction process can begin, let’s first agree that such conversations are always subjective. Plus, it helps to remember that the majority of the 600 voters are white, middle-aged men, many of them rock critics, who, especially in the early years of the Hall, tried to compensate for the way white rockers appropriated black music in the ‘50s and ‘60s as the building blocks of rock and roll by making sure that a number of unappreciated black acts got their just due by being inducted. For example, in 1986, six of the 10 inaugural inductees were black. This time, there are none.
Secondly, throw away any notion that Rock & Roll means anything other than pop music. The Hall never limited itself only to true “rockers,” but every time someone like Madonna gets inducted, as she did in 2008, people work themselves up into apoplectic states about how she’s not “Rock.” Well, neither are about 50%, if not more, of the inductees.
So with that out of the way, I’d say that without question, the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame voters, of which I used to be one, got it right this year with Peter Gabriel, Kiss and Nirvana. All three acts are pioneers at what they do/did.
Both as a member of Genesis and as a solo act, Peter Gabriel elevated rock to an experimental art form, blending in other genres and fearlessly pushing boundaries. Kiss, who has been eligible for more than a decade and whose fans have done everything but storm the Rock Hall’s castle in protest, took metal in a cartoonish yet innovative way to the masses. Nirvana, one of the few acts to get in the first year it was eligible, ushered in the grunge movement and has continued to influence the next generation of rockers.
After that, it gets a little sketchy. The other acts on the 2014 ballot were Yes, LL Cool J, The Replacements, Paul Butterfield Blues Band, Chic, Deep Purple, NWA, The Meters, Link Wray and the Zombies.
I would have picked Chic before Ronstadt, H&O, or Cat Stevens. Yes, they were a disco band, which automatically makes them second class to many voters, but they were so much more. They brought in R&B and a certain loose-limbed aesthetic to their music that proved to have great legs long after disco died. It seemed like Nile Rodgers work with Daft Punk would have helped bring him and the band to the fore this year, but they’ll have to come back again... for a ninth time.
I would have also gone with Link Wray this year. Best known for “Rumble” and “The ‘Batman’ Theme,” Wray invented a whole new language on the electric guitar that thousands of musicians have adopted from rock to punk and country.
Thirdly, I would have picked NWA. Yes, they were long shots, and some of the more conservative voters may have objections to their politics or feel like Public Enemy’s inclusion this year gives them a pass on hard core rap for a little while, but their music represents the rebellion and social protest that the absolute best music represents. Albums like “Straight Outta Compton” and “Niggaz4Life” are time capsules of the racial tensions brewing on the West Coast in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s.
I'll go a step further, I absolutely believe that Hall & Oates should be in, though I would have waited a few more year, but I'm not so sure that, as much as I love both Ronstadt and Stevens, that either one of them should be included. At some point does it just become popular names?
Of course, there are still a number of acts who weren’t on the ballot this year that deserve inclusion, among them Cheap Trick and Todd Rundgren.
Do you think the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame voters got it right this year?