The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame nominations and the subsequent class selections are easily the most popular debate topics in the rock world every year. Regardless of who actually is nominated and voted into the Rock Hall, the discussions around the whole process are passionate, lengthy and often fun. However, without fail, one take is always dragged out year after year by someone, and frankly, it must stop.
This take? “Why is it called ‘the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’ if they induct non-rock acts? It should be called ‘the Music Hall of Fame!'”
Seriously, just stop. Firstly, this take is old and tired, so please take a moment to come up with something that’s new and interesting. (If you’re reading this right now, you likely care way too much about the Rock Hall like me, and I more than believe you can do this.) Secondly, consider the concept of branding, as well as the history of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s induction classes.
As far as branding goes, I won’t bore you with some sort of marketing lesson because it comes down to this: The “Rock and Roll Hall of Fame” sounds cooler and sexier than the “Music Hall of Fame.” It’s that simple. In this instance, the term “Rock and Roll” is, in essence, being used as a catch-all term for “Music.” Of course, if you can’t get past naming semantics, I’m not sure how much I can really help you. However, what might help you is this absolute truth:
The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame has never been exclusively about rock music. Ever. Influence and impact have always been more important than genre.
This sentiment, believe it or not, isn’t very controversial (despite the above bold typeface) and can easily be proven by looking over the induction classes of the first five years of the Rock Hall’s existence, and they are:
1986: Chuck Berry, James Brown, Ray Charles, Sam Cooke, Fats Domino, The Everly Brothers, Buddy Holly, Jerry Lee Lewis, Elvis Presley, Little Richard, Jimmie Rodgers, Jimmy Yancey.
1987: The Coasters, Eddie Cochran, Bo Diddley, Aretha Franklin, Marvin Gaye, Bill Haley, Louis Jordan, B.B. King, Clyde McPhatter, Ricky Nelson, Roy Orbison, Carl Perkins, Smokey Robinson, Big Joe Turner, T-Bone Walker, Muddy Waters, Hank Williams, Jackie Wilson.
1988: The Beach Boys, The Beatles, Lead Belly, The Drifters, Bob Dylan, Woody Guthrie, Les Paul, The Supremes.
1989: Dion, The Ink Spots, Otis Redding, The Rolling Stones, Bessie Smith, The Soul Stirrers, The Temptations, Stevie Wonder.
1990: Louis Armstrong, Hank Ballard, Charlie Christian, Bobby Darin, The Four Seasons, The Four Tops, The Kinks, The Platters, Ma Rainey, Simon & Garfunkel, The Who.
While rock is amply represented in the first five induction classes, so is R&B, Soul, Pop, Blues, Country and Folk. Once again for those in the back: It’s never been about just rock and roll; it’s always been about influence and impact. Considering that, if you still have the nerve to argue that Aretha Franklin or Smokey Robinson or The Supremes or Otis Redding or The Four Seasons don’t belong in the Rock Hall, kindly bite me.
With this in mind, however, don’t think this means the Rock Hall is completely off the hook regarding all of their nomination/induction choices. This doesn’t excuse the Rock Hall for their extreme lack of heavy metal representation and their even more extreme lack of women artists, period, which currently account for just under eight percent of Rock Hall performer inductees.
Yes, you read that correctly. Just under eight percent! (For a further breakdown of this, check out Evelyn McDonnell’s exceptional piece “The Manhandling of Rock ‘N’ Roll History.”)
John Sykes, the Rock Hall’s new chairman after Rolling Stone/Rock Hall founder Jann Wenner stepped down as of January 1, 2020, said in countless interviews how the Rock Hall needs to evolve and diversify. It seems as though he’s keeping his word, as evident by this year’s nominees. Among the 16 acts nominated, seven are women (Mary J. Blige, Kate Bush, The Go-Go’s, Chaka Khan, Carole King, Tina Turner and Dionne Warwick.) Alongside those nominees are Devo, Foo Fighters, Iron Maiden, the New York Dolls and Rage Against the Machine, which shows off rock’s broad spectrum of sub-genres, including metal. Rounding out the remaining 2021 nominees are JAY-Z, Fela Kuti, LL Cool J and Todd Rundgren.
When it comes to arguments about the Rock Hall, just stick to whether an artist’s merits warrant them for induction, not their genre. When you do that, you sound about as out of touch as your parents did when they told you to turn that noise down. And as we all know, if it’s too loud, you’re too old.