Arts Desk

When Will the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Run Out Of Mainstream Acts to Induct?


This is the question Mike Conklin asks at L Magazine:

Right around the mid-80s, or 25 years ago, or the exact amount of time that needs to have passed since a band's debut in order for them to be eligible for induction, when hair-metal came along and ruined everything, it simply became cooler for rock bands to exist below the radar of the mainstream. With the exceptions of a period of a few years in the early 90s, with Pearl Jam and Nirvana, and then again a decade later with the White Stripes and Radiohead, all the best rock bands have been, for lack of a better term, indie rock bands.

Are the Replacements going to be inducted? Sonic Youth? Husker Du? Joy Division? The Go Betweens? Pavement? Guided By Voices? If they're not, it's bullshit: for people who actually still really, truly care about rock and roll, these are the bands that have carried on in the tradition the Hall of Fame has always held dear. But if they are inducted, the Hall of Fame will surely lose the massive cultural appeal it so obviously strives for, considering barely any of those bands have sold as many copies of all their records put together as most current inductees have of even their least successful record.

While a good question on its face, a little historical digging says we can prolong answering this one for a while yet.

Conklin points out that the induction nominees for next year include "LL Cool J, along with ABBA and Donna Summer," none of whom (perhaps excepting ABBA) fit even the broadest definition of Rock and Roll.

Besides the fact that we haven't run out of mainstream rock acts to induct (Black Sabbath and Lynyrd Skynyrd didn't make it in until 2006. Buddy Guy and Leonard Cohen? 2005 and 2008, respectively), the admission of non-rock and rollers is not new: Isaac Hayes and Chet Atkins were inducted in 2002; Curtis Mayfield in 1999; Gladys Knight and the Pips in 1996; Bob Marley in 1994; The Four Tops in 1990. Sam Cooke in 1986.

Per Conklin's observation, many of those bands existed as alternatives to rock and roll. But existing outside the system? That's rock and roll in nature, if not in expression.

Perhaps Jann Wenner could be convinced to go in for "The American Music Hall of Fame"; that would certainly preserve the institution's broad appeal and more accurately reflect its curatorial instincts. But really, it's been inducting whoever and whatever it wanted for as long as its been around. Why sweat it?

At this rate, we won't have to worry about Husker Du for another two decades, at least.

Elvis Presley: live at Madison Square Garden, taken on June 11, 1972.
Photo credit: Copyright George Kalinsky, taken from the exhibition Live From Madison Square Garden: From the Lens of George Kalinsky. Courtesy of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

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  • Michael J. West

    I'd like to ask a question too: Is there anything more antithetical to the "rock & roll tradition" than being enshrined in a fucking museum?

    Mike Conlin says that it's bullshit if the Replacements, Sonic Youth, Husker Du, etc. don't get inducted to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. But the REAL bullshit would be if any one of those bands consented to be inducted.

    If rock and roll is supposed to be counterculture, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is the culture it counters. A multimillion-dollar corporate entity whose sole purpose is to reduce the music to tourism and mass marketing.

    I'd think that "people who actually still really, truly care about rock and roll" would want to keep it as far away from this juggernaut as it can get.

  • curtrock

    Musical snobbery aside...bands like Sonic Youth and Husker Du belong...but so do the Abba's and Chet Atkins' ...whether our individual musical tastes like or dislike these acts is irrelevant ...they are all threads within the fabric of rock 'n roll...
    Exclaiming that rock 'n roll should stand as a cultural beacon and represent a collective snub against corporate capitalism is far-fetched. Artists innately want their 'art' to be recognized...why wouldn't they accept recognition from their peers and the masses? After all, musicians are human and most of us seek acceptance...

  • angela

    I don't think 'rock n roll' means what you think it means.

  • Michael J. West

    I'm just going through the door that Riggs opened with "existing outside the system? That’s rock and roll in nature, if not in expression." The implication is that rock and roll is as much about ethos - specifically, a rebellious ethos - as sound. And it's not an original idea. In fact we might call it a traditional definition of rock and roll.

    Given that, the Sex Pistols' response to their Hall of Fame induction is just the most obvious example of an artist who doesn't accept the recognition.

  • Dave

    How is it that the Doobie Brothers are not in the R&R HoF and Leonard Cohen is?

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  • HuskerDude

    Because Cohen is better...

    Husker Du belongs there pronto....

  • Forex

    Fantastic. This blog rocks!