Misunderstanding The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame

About twice a month or so I write an article on the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame pointing out why such and such a musician or band or artist has a solid case for induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.  While these particular posts make up a fairly small overall percentage of my posts (considering that I write more than 100 posts a month, usually in the 120-130 range), they are among the most popular of the posts I write and the ones that tend to resonate the best with my readers in providing for a variety of conversations with other music lovers.  From time to time, as is the case today, I find myself thinking about issues that are only tangentially related to the main purpose of my writing in discussing individual musical acts, but which are rather connected to overall views and philosophies and aspects of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame that may apply to other endeavors as well that I have an interest in [1].  Today, I would like to examine some of the persistent misunderstandings people have of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and why these misunderstandings are likely to persist.

Frequently in my comments about a given act, I will receive some sort of comment like the following:  “As a 60 plus rocker, f*** the RRHOF. You dumb f***s inducted ABBA? Somehow when I was listening to Foghat and Alvin Lee, I never dreamed that someday, a legend like Jethro Tull would take backseat to some of the non rockers, u have inducted, f*** u.”  This is one of the fiercer examples of the comments I get but which captures the general flavor of many of the replies I get to these posts.  These people seem to think that the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame is supposed to only induct those acts who perform rock & roll music, while they themselves claim as worthy inductees those who have a career of at least twenty-five years in the rock & roll era.  To be sure, this includes a great deal of worthy rock & roll acts that I have written about and a great many that I have yet to write about and hope to get to in the future, unless they are inducted first as happens sometimes.  It also includes a great many acts from other genres, for example, from European pop acts like the aforementioned ABBA (an act I happen to greatly enjoy myself [2]) to R&B artists like Janet Jackson (who has at least one notable rock song in “Black Cat”) to acts as decidedly not rock as Barbra Streisand and “Weird Al” Yankovic.

Why does this misunderstanding persist?  I do not think the blame rests on rockers like my profane commentator above, who is vehement about the induction of acts that are not rock & roll musicians, as tempting as that might be.  After all, the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame calls itself the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, not the Hall of Fame for the Music of the Rock & Roll Era, which would be more accurate but also a good deal less cool.  And it is that coolness factor that the RRHOF wishes to maintain that is sometimes contrary to the interests of justice or honesty.  The people who are on the nominating committee are clearly members of the musical cognoscenti, and feel the need to induct acts that demonstrate their own awareness of less popular but massively influential musical acts and providing them with the proper respect and regard (see, for example, Laura Nyro).  On the other hand, the hall of fame needs a certain degree of popular support and this means that populist acts that are not necessarily critically praised but have massive popularity are inducted.

This tends to result both in some predictable tensions and in some clear gaps in the sort of acts that should be inducted but are not.  Among the tensions are those between rock purists who fume that acts like ABBA and Madonna are inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and those who are fans of frequently neglected and overlooked genres like Southern rock or Christian music or progressive rock who wonder why the massively popular and influential bands that they support are not inducted.  The obvious roads to induction for an act are either to have influential support among critics and tastemakers or to have enough popular appeal to mount an effective social media campaign (like ELO’s campaign on Facebook or Janet Jackson’s on twitter) or to mobilize the fans (like popular arena acts Journey and Bon Jovi, among others).  If one does not have either massive popular support on some easily mobilized platform or enough influential supporters to smooth one’s way, one falls between the cracks.  One of the reasons I write this series is to shine a light and pay some attention to those who are neglected or overlooked and to encourage their fans to speak out and mobilize on behalf of an act whose historical importance I recognize but whose music I may or may not be particularly fond of.  For I am only one voice myself crying out in the digital wilderness, and not a particularly influential one at that.

[1] See, for example:

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2015/12/31/the-rock-roll-hall-of-fame-a-case-study-in-the-difficulty-of-signaling/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2014/06/10/each-and-every-one/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2010/12/15/the-hall-of-fame-game/

[2] See, for example:

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2016/08/03/abbaesque/

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
This entry was posted in History, Music History, Musings and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Misunderstanding The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame

  1. Catharine Martin says:

    Understanding the role and purpose of the Rock and Role Hall of Fame helps one to gain a greater perspective of why certain groups or persons are inducted. It still rubs against the grain why others have yet to be recognized, but hope springs eternal…

    Your post brought clarity to this subject and I thank you, for it was sorely needed, in my opinion.

    • You’re welcome. I’m glad it’s something you appreciate. I find it moderately puzzling that some people have such strong opinions against ABBA in their desires to promote other rock acts, but as someone who spends perhaps too much time pondering the behavior of the RRHOF nominating committee and voters, I figured it was worth sharing some of these thoughts with others.

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