Is A Hall of Fame Really Rock & Roll?

I’m still up in the air on how to respond to the question of this post: should rock & roll, the spirit of change and youth and rebellion, honor bands in a Hall of Fame?

Now the current Rock Hall in Cleveland does many things. It has put together two of the most kick-ass all-star concerts: one at its opening and the other this past year for its 25th anniversary.

The Hall is also a museum. A museum of rock. But it’s not as sterile as that sounds. Music abounds, the over the top spectacles from concerts are represented and there are some intresting artifacts of, no doubt, your favorite band. My wife and I did go a couple of years after the Hall opened and spent the ENTIRE day listening and gaping. It’s worth the trip.

The organization also chooses the acts that will be inducted into the Hall. There is also an induction ceremony with speeches and music, folks getting up and jamming with the inductees. The induction ceremonies–usually held at the Waldorf-Astoria hotel in NYC–ARE rock & roll. Bitter feuds, no shows, people not speaking to each other, some amazing music and above all–the most interesting and off the wall speeches.

It doesn’t get more rock & roll than Chrissie Hynde’s remarks accepting the induction for her band Pretenders. Acknowledging all the part-time players in the band over twenty years, largely due to the untimely drug-related deaths of the original guitarist and bass player, Hynde stated:

I know that the Pretenders have looked like a tribute band for the last 20 years. … And we’re paying tribute to James Honeyman Scott and Pete Farndon, without whom we wouldn’t be here. And on the other hand, without us, they might have been here, but that’s the way it works in rock ‘n’ roll.

I think the actual selection process is what most people object to when they think about the Rock Hall. Who gets to pick, what are the qualifications and why the hell didn’t you pick my favorite band? As James Montgomery of MTV mentions in a recent post about the latest rock hall nominees:

After all, any Hall of Fame that does not include among its ranks the likes of Kiss, Rush, Cheap Trick or Def Leppard (or even Joy Division, the Replacements, Hüsker Dü, the Minutemen or Black Flag, for that matter) but does include Madonna is no Hall of mine.

These type of arguments will never be totally answered, nor should they. Setting up armchair rockers like myself to go back and forth about who is and isn’t in the Hall is half the fun of having a Hall of Fame. Montgomery acknowledges that in the same post where he criticizes the Hall by spending most of his time picking the bands most likely to be inducted over the next ten years.

Of course, I’ve spent this whole post dodging the main question: should Rock & Roll even have a Hall of Fame? It’s obvious where I stand that the ancillary benefits of the hall outweigh the cheesiness and the controversies. But I’ll leave you with two distinct contradictory opinions on this–from two Hall of Fame acts–both punks, too!

Patti Smith:

On the eve of this event I asked myself many questions. Should an artist working within the revolutionary landscape of rock accept laurels from an institution? Should laurels be offered? Am I a worthy recipient? I have wrestled with these questions and my conscience leads me back to Fred and those like him — the maverick souls who may never be afforded such honors. Thus in his name I will accept with gratitude. Fred Sonic Smith was of the people, and I am none but him: one who has loved rock ’n’ roll and crawled from the ranks to the stage, to salute history and plant seeds for the erratic magic landscape of the new guard.

Sex Pistols (in a letter to the nominating committee):

“Next to the Sex Pistols, rock and roll and that hall of fame is a piss stain. Your museum. Urine in wine. We’re not coming. We’re not your monkey.”


4 thoughts on “Is A Hall of Fame Really Rock & Roll?

Add yours

  1. I wrote this after the current nominations came out. All the cool kids are pulling for J. Geils, Beasties and Dr. John. Unfortunately, we’re threatened with Bon Jovi, LL Cool J, Donovan and Neil Diamond.

    In a just world, J. Geils would be a first-ballot mortal lock and still be touring and releasing albums. BLOW. YOUR. FACE. OUT.


  2. I tend to think that there should either be multiple halls of fame or there should be a hall of fame of music overall and then have different categories for it. A question asks does Neil Diamond belond in the Rock Hall of Fame? Well, you might be too young to know, but when he first started out he was considered an early rock musician and songwriter, pretty much until the mid 70’s when his music was considered more popish. Same with Bon Jovi, one of the truly class acts music has ever had. Most of the names James Montgomery mentioned… who’s ever heard of them? Halls of fame mean just that, “fame”.


    1. Mitch:
      didn’t see your post til now–you bring up some interesting questions.

      1) I think we’re both the same age-it rhymes w/ nifty (half a century!) I remember Neil Diamond being invited to The Band’s Last Waltz concert and wondering even then–why?

      2) I love the Rock hall for all the other things it does–exhibits, concerts, induction ceremonies–the Hall of Fame itself is just a loss leader that allows music junkies like myself to debate who is in and who is out.

      3) The rock hall likes to style itself iconoclastic–so induction isn’t solely on Fame (which could be measured by record sales alone) Impact on the music and our culture supposedly also ranks high on the list–although no one really knows for sure since balloting is quite haphazard.

      4) Bon Jovi is a class act–but does his music merit selection? First of the hair metal bands of the 80’s to go big–but other than a few radio hits, there’s not much there.

      5) I’ve heard of everyone that Montgomery mentions–but I’m a rock fanatic. Let’s run ’em down:

      Kiss–the music is pop metal, nothing special. The makeup, pyrotechnics and the creation of their rabid fan base (The Kiss Army) have all to certain degrees influenced other bands. TOSSUP

      Rush–the biggest selling cult band of all-time. Great drummer, power anthems, myriad theme albums, godawful vocals. I don’t know. The Hall definitely has a hard time with hard rock. PROBABLY NOT

      Cheap Trick–garage band/power pop amalgam. One huge album, since then–more respect than album sales. I love ’em for the Budakon album alone–plus Bun E. Carlos is a hell of a drummer and Rick Nielsen is a great songwriter/guitarist. I’m biased but I say: YES

      Def Leppard–maybe the most tolerable of the hair-metal 80’s bands–but so what? HELL NO.

      I’ll stop there or I’d go on forever. Suffice it to say, all the rest have their cult followings and in the cases of Husker Du and the Replacements and Joy Division, have all been inspirations for scores of bands that followed. Probably wouldn’t put any in HoF.


  3. And that’s the real issue with the Rock Hall of Fame. The criteria is all over the place. Personally, I’d have never put Otis Redding in the Hall; he didn’t really have a portfolio of music worthy. Blondie made it in but they only had, what, 3 albums of hits, one of them from a movie?

    Now, take a look at this particular post of mine, look at the pedigree of many of them, not necessarily their genre, then do a comparison and, well, I’m just sayin’…


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