The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame sucks; here’s how to fix it

The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame is a joke. I think we all know this, but if you’re new to the issue a quick illustration should suffice: Madonna is in it. Rush, Kiss, Cheap Trick, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Deep Purple, Big Star, The Cure, Devo, Dire Straits, ELO, Hüsker Dü, INXS, Jethro Tull, Judas Priest, The Moody Blues, Motorhead, My Bloody Valentine, New Order, Peter Gabriel, The Replacements, Warren Zevon, XTC, Yes and Graham Parker aren’t. I could go on. And on. And on and on and on. But, in the interest of brevity, I won’t.

This is frustrating for a lot of people. Many of the artists would probably like to be acknowledged, and their fans no doubt take the slight personally. And the critics, gods, imagine trying to think about this if you’re a serious professional covering music.

All of us have probably wondered, from time to time, how an idea as intuitively awesome as a rock and roll hall of freakin’ fame went so very, very bad. Part of the answer is obvious enough: money. We’re talking about an industry that attracts more soulless whores than a pimp convention and the world would surely be a better place had Jann Wenner been smothered in his crib. But one can’t escape the feeling that it’s even more complex than that. In short, for a project to get this fucked, you really need the involvement of true believers with no brains and a tractor-trailer full of righteous intentions.

Which brings me to this recent item, from Bob Lefsetz’s widely read newsletter. (For some reason, this particular mailbag item doesn’t seem to have been archived.)

From: Toure
Subject: Re: Handicapping The Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame

…Each year we are reminded that rock n roll is meant to be defined by the Hall as the broadest possible definition of that term so all the genres considered pop music are in our purview, definitely hiphop. Rakim, the heart and soul of the duo, is still considered by many rappers and critics as the best rapper of all time and a seminal figure in hiphop’s aesthetic development. In many ways nearly all modern rappers are descended from Rakim. You cannot tell the story of hiphop without telling the story of Eric B & Rakim so the story of hiphop that the Hall is telling is incomplete (it’s also missing LL Cool J). These are more than “memorable acts” they are the people who shaped a genre that is critical in the overall history of modern popular music which is how the Hall defines rock n roll.

And there you have it: “the broadest possible definition of that term.” Which is why so many legit rock & roll luminaries are out in the cold and the likes of Madonna and several hip-hop acts are in. But the problem is that the broadest possible definition of “rock & roll” doesn’t include hip-hop. Before you get worked up, I’m not here to dog rap. It’s a form with plenty of legitimacy in its own right. But – and let’s be very clear here – it is not rock & roll. Touré and the rest of the committee have, in the interests of pandering to as many corporate industry interests as possible, convinced themselves that rock is something it is not.

Here’s the thing. Rock & roll is a type of popular music. It is not another term for popular music. Popular music had been around a long, long time before Chuck Berry, Bill Haley, Little Richard, Buddy Holly and Elvis showed up. It was, in the mid-1950s, a new kind of popular music, one that challenged the establishment and paved the way for the greatest golden age of popular music in history.

Hip-hop is likewise a type of popular music, but it’s one that traces its lineage most directly back through funk, which was a derivation of R&B, which was a parallel development to rock & roll. To summarize, hip-hop is not a form of rock & roll. Both hip-hop and rock & roll are forms of popular music. Call me pedantic if you feel you must (and if you know what the word means, which if you think hip-hop is rock & roll you probably don’t), but history is history and facts are facts.

By way of analogy, let’s say we’re talking about dogs instead of music. And in the mid-1950s somebody developed this new breed that we’ll call the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Terrier (pictured, right). It was the greatest of all breeds. It looked good, didn’t shed, pointed birds, retrieved ducks, herded sheep, kept the barn free of rats, protected the house, sniffed out bombs and drugs at the airport, found survivors in earthquake ruins, played with the kids, walked itself, fetched the paper and whipped up a mean frittata for Sunday brunch. It was such an incredible breed that many years later it was decided to establish a Muscle Shoals Rhythm Terrier Hall of Fame.

All was well until the proprietors of the institution realized that they were limiting their revenue potential by restricting the place to actual Muscle Shoals Rhythm Terriers. So they began inducting a whole other breed, the fashionable and popular Brooklyn Retriever, which was in fact descended from a common ancestor (the common ice age porch wolf), but otherwise had little in common with the true MSRT. Purists were outraged. I mean, the Brooklyn Retriever was a fine dog, but see that sign over the entrance? It rather specifically promises visitors an exclusively Muscle Shoals Terrier experience.

That’s where we are. The Muscle Shoals Terrier Hall of Fame is, thanks to fuckwits like Wenner and Touré, rapidly filling up with Brooklyn Retrievers and Long-Legged Disco Hounds and all kinds of other dogs that are simply not Muscle Shoals Rhythm Terriers.

In the interests of promoting harmony in the dog world, some have suggested that, you know, a Brooklyn Retriever Hall of Fame wouldn’t be a bad thing. But the best answer is far, far simpler, and it applies to that abomination in Cleveland as well.

If you look closely at the argument that Touré makes in his letter to Lefsetz, it is clear that he’s trying to make a case for shoehorning all commercially viable forms of music into the only HoF available at present. And certainly, this approach represents a lot less financial risk than trying to build a whole new facility. So the marketing guy in me gets where he’s coming from completely. But you just can’t pretend that red is blue without smart people looking at you like the idiot you are.

So here’s the simplest solution in the world. And it makes even the hardass purists like me happy. Change the name of the damned place to the Popular Music Hall of Fame. Or even the Pop Hall of Fame. I might carp a little that rock and pop aren’t the same thing, but intellectually I get that rock is a form of popular music, which is where the term “pop” comes from. In other words, I can live with it. So Dear R&RHoF Committee: do it today and stop clowning yourselves.

Also, as much as I love Muscle Shoals Rhythm Terriers, I think we’d all be just fine with the Dog Hall of Fame.


  • Extremely clever.

    The R&R Hall of Fame is a joke, starting with Cleveland, and continuing on. A big part of the problem, though, is that you can’t pay the bills catering to the cognescenti (or however you spell it) like you. You have to cater to the hoi polloi, which means the lowest common denominator.

    Back in my youth (well, not really–I was 39) I was running a large consulting project for Booz with Esso (they did not change the name to Exxon there) in Australia. One of my client team members was this insipid woman who came to work one day and boasted she had Kenny G tickets. She asked me if I was envious. I said, “Not really, I don’t listen to Kenny G.” She could have left it at that, but she asked “Why?” And I told her the truth–that I didnt spend much time in elevators. To save a million dollar project, I had to stand up in front of 30 people and apologize for trashing Kenny G. I am still pissed about it, but I had a young family and needed my job. At any rate, the point here is that the people who go to RR HOF are likely people who go to Kenny G and Celine Dion concerts, not people who run Tournaments of Rock.

    • Otherwise: you think I don’t know this already?

      Still, I’d have paid to see you apologizing for dissing Kenny G. I don’t suppose there’s video of that I can get a look at, is there?

      • All I could think when I heard about the most recent inductees was “WTF – the Beastie Boys? With all the other groups or musicians you could have chosen from, you chose the Beastie Boys? Why not induct Twisted Sister, then?”

        And I feel just about the same about Guns & Roses. I’m OK with the Red Hot Chili Peppers, though you could certainly and fairly argue that they should have been left out until many/most/all on your list were inducted first.

  • A very entertaining read and SOOOO true. They really need to change the name of the joint.

  • Sorry, but you lost any sort of credibility when you wrote this line: “….which was a derivation of R&B, which was a parallel development to rock & roll.”

    R&B was NOT a “parallel development,” it was an ANTECEDENT. In the late 1940s, a very lively form of music came along commonly referred to as “jump blues.” This form was made most popular by a number of artists like Wynonie Harris, Louis Jordan (especially with the Tympany Five), Roy Brown, and Big Joe Turner. It was THIS that led to a white DJ in Cleveland–who was playing this and later R&B music–to “coin” the term “rock & roll” for not only the uptempo rhythm & blues music but also the more countrified version being performed by white artists.

    Then, of course, there was the fact that R&B itself was a hybridized term that meant to incorporate the two major types of secular music popular with Black audiences–uptempo, or “rhythmic,” swing and the mostly downtempo “blues” (and was far less demeaning than the name used by Billboard magazine for much of the 1940s–“race music”). When a little bit of gospel influence was thrown in, you then had the makings of “soul” music (a term which, by the late 1960s, was used as a generic term for all music performed by Black artists).

    Then, we add in the fact that James Brown (the man who basically invented “funk” as we know it and whose music was stolen by many of the pioneer rappers–with neither credit nor compensation) acknowledged Little Richard (a man recognized by the R&R Hall of Fame as a “genuine” rock artist) as being the first person to put the funk into rock’n’roll.

    Now, if you’re going to bitch about what does and what doesn’t constitute “rock’n’roll,” you’d better be ready to explain why doo-wop acts are CONSISTENTLY described as being “rock’n’roll” acts. Any mention of 50s rock is utterly incomplete without mentioning acts like Shep & the Limelighters or the Chords or the Penguins or Frankie Lymon & the Teenagers or the Del-Vikings or the Diamonds, etc. (Any similarities between these groups and “rock” acts like the Four Seasons and the Beach Boys, I’m sure, is purely a matter of coincidence.)

    Face it, buddy. “Rock’n’roll” is NOT some singular sound. Elvis and the Everly Brothers were essentially COUNTRY artists doing black music, plain and simple. But try to have “rock’n’roll” without mentioning them, and no one would pay you the least bit of attention. Just because YOU don’t like some acts that are in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame is of no fucking importance (and just because some acts that you like haven’t made it is equally unimportant). The Hall is large enough to accomodate as many different styles of “rock & roll” as there are. And when you get right down to it, what makes ANY act a REAL rock’n’roll act? The way your whining comes off, your Hall would be a pretty empty venue. (And for you to suggest that Cheap Trick and ELO are worthy of the Hall shows that your own selections don’t need to be innovators, merely pale imitations of better musicians.)

    • Thanks for offering up such a strident comment. It helps that you’re moderately informed, but it doesn’t help that so much rage is predicated on things the author never actually said.

  • I happened to drive by the Rock Hall this morning. Oddly (cough, cough), it had none of the beautiful pastel sky behind it and artful guitar sculptures out front as pictured above. It was just a slate-gray Cleveland morning, and the smokey glass of the pyramid looked almost black. Of course, that’s how it goes with the Hall: the idea of the place is much, much more fantastic than its execution.

  • Most of YOUR choices also SUCK! RUSH,ELO,Dire Straights ,Moody Blues,INXS,Judas fucking Priest ? ! Write about what you know,cause you don’t know anything about rock & roll

  • “Ice age porch wolf” smacks of racism there smart guy, and as argued by JoeW, your facts just don’t play – which only further makes me question your motivation for writing this piece, which in turn makes me question whether I shall be reading at this site any more.

    • I’m not sure whether to be impressed by your joke or depressed by your inability to read. “Ice age porch wolf” is about dogs, dude, not people.

    • Yeah, I have no clue in hell how that might be racist. I hope we can survive if he stops reading this site. (BTW, smart money says he never read it before and didn’t read more than two paragraphs of the article in question).

  • I would agree that rap/hip hop isn’t rock and roll,and not a genre I care for,except,arguably the first rap song,”The Breaks”-Kurtis Blow,1980.You kids…

  • Come on people, what do you expect out of an organization founded by Rolling Stone magazine? That publication lost relevance at the dawn of the 70’s.Anyone who looks at the list of inductees has to realize that the folks at RS don’t even know the definition of the term “Rock ‘n’ Roll”. Don’t hold your breath waiting for the New York Dolls, Graham Parker, or the MC5 to be inducted. I am not a Rush fan at all, but I do have to admit that given their accomplishments and longevity, they deserve to be inducted. Now in case anyone thinks I am biased (I am) I would also like to point out that while I own a copy of “Never Mind The Bollocks” by the Sex Pistols, I think that they do not deserve a spot on the basis of one album. Also, whoever put Jefferson Airplane in the Hall should be forced to listen to their entire catalog. The same goes for John Lennon as a solo artist. But don’t get me started…

  • Yup, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame sucks.

    1) It’s filled with Baby Boomers who haven’t got a clue about any rock music past 1975. You can tell that this is true because they don’t seem to be serious about inducting hugely influential bands such as Joy Division, Husker Du and Sonic Youth.

    2) Adding random music from other genres like rap is not only stupid, but incredibly condescending. Rap music is incredibly diverse on it’s own, it’s perfectly able to amass it’s own list rather than have random notables be selected as an extra to a rock list. Not to mention some of the most important rap stars- De La Soul, Jungle Brothers, Mobb Deep,0 will probably be ignored by them anyway.

    3) If you’re a band that plays Glam Rock, Post-punk, Prog, Metal or Shoegaze then you simply won’t be included (unless you’re SUPER popular)

    4) Americacentric

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