The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame: Does it Matter?
By Robert Porter and John Parks
It was twenty-seven years ago that the first inductees into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame were made official. The first class that made it into the Hall of Fame included a plethora of talent who helped to shape the music industry. Some of the first people to attain the distinction of being in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame were Elvis Presley, Buddy Holly, Ray Charles, Jerry Lee Lewis and the iconic Chuck Berry. In the years to come the institution of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame would honor many great bands and musical artists. Unfortunately, they’re known just as much for snubbing deserving rock bands as they are for honoring the ones that they do decide to include.
The criterion for being in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is fairly widely known. In order to be considered eligible for induction a band/musical artist’s first album must have been released at least 25 years ago. The nominating committee then takes into account the impact that the artist has had on rock and roll in general. Those eligible for nomination are discussed and if the nominating committee deems them worthy they are sent on to the voting round. If the cultural impact of a band or solo artist’s musical career was great enough, they are supposed to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Indeed many great and deserving bands have been entered into the hallowed halls over the years. Aside from those that were mentioned as being inducted in the initial Hall of Fame class, bands like the Beatles, Black Sabbath, Cream, Johnny Cash, the Rolling Stones and Led Zeppelin are all counted among the honored. Inarguably these bands have been important to pop culture and also greatly influenced musical artists in the generations to come.
As great as it is that so many bands have been honored, there are also many bands that have had a great impact on culture as a whole who have been constantly snubbed by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. It’s understandable that not every band is going to be honored, but the exclusion of certain bands almost makes it seem like members of the nominating committee might have a vendetta. One of the most famously snubbed bands when it comes to this is KISS.
KISS is definitely a polarizing band to talk about. They are beloved by their legions of fans and to this day remain popular in merchandizing. Even now, they still sell out venues across the globe with their amazing live shows. As a band they captivated a generation of rock and roll fans not only with the substance of their music but also with their finely-crafted personas. KISS wasn’t just a band that wrote songs that people got behind. Their fans felt like they were part of a larger whole. KISS fans were part of the KISS Army, and they were initiates in something that not everyone understood. Parental groups and churches loathed the band and thought their music sinful. A large segment of American youth related to KISS’ music and over the top nature, and all of the negative press that the band got from church groups and angry parents only served to make them seem cooler to the teenagers of the world.
When you think of bands that are part of the pop culture lexicon, KISS certainly comes to mind. They’ve written many fantastic records and have proven themselves as musicians with staying power. Even if some smarmy critics pan the band as a gimmick act that lacks substance, the KISS Army ignores such criticism and keeps on rolling.
Another excellent band that has been snubbed for far too long by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is Judas Priest. If you speak to most metal fans about who they think the Godfathers of heavy metal are, chances are the name Judas Priest will come up in the conversation. The amazing, booming voice of Rob Halford combined with the overall heavy sound of the band inspired so many that would come. When you look at an iconic album like Screaming for Vengeance, it’s clear that Judas Priest was an absolutely special band. They innovated when it came to experimenting with what a rock album could be and with finding their heavy sound. Their catalog of stellar releases speaks for itself as they have not just one, but several seminal heavy metal classics attributed to them. For thirteen years the band has been eligible for nomination into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and they have not been nominated once.
Judas Priest isn’t the only British heavy metal band that has been snubbed by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Iron Maiden is another band that has been eligible for induction into the Hall of Fame for a long while. Eight years they have been eligible and a nomination has not come their way. Nobody can deny the importance of Iron Maiden’s powerful guitar work. They took the world by storm with releases such as The Number of the Beast and Powerslave. On a personal note, I remember the first time I ever heard “the Trooper” and being blown away by the overall feel of the song and the guitar work. Maiden is another band that, not unlike KISS, still has a very loyal following. At almost any rock concert that you could think to go to, you will be likely to see someone sporting an Iron Maiden shirt. As great as their albums were, their live shows are really a thing of legend. There’s nothing quite like seeing a gigantic Evil Eddie, Iron Maiden’s mascot of sorts, parading around the stage. Bruce Dickinson sprints around a gigantic stage bellowing out songs with his powerful voice as he waves the Union Jack. It’s always a great time and Iron Maiden has had a huge effect on pop culture.
What rubs salt in the wound for many fans is seeing artists go into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame that just make you shake your head. This year Randy Newman is receiving an induction into the hall. Who is Randy Newman some of you may be asking? Well, most everyone knows of him even if he doesn’t ring a bell at first glance. Newman is most famous for writing the song “Short People” and was also famous for scoring the Disney/Pixar film Toy Story. Yes, you’ve got a friend in me and all that jazz. Obviously some of Newman’s body of work has some significance to culture and is well-known, but to see an artist such as Newman go in over some of the legendary rock bands of history seems very peculiar.
There is some solace to be found for fans of classic rock though, as Rush is also receiving their induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame this year. They are a band that was snubbed for a very long time and finally got the induction after fan outcry and people rallying for the band to be included. Heart is another band that is being honored this year to the delight of their fans. It’s always good to see bands get the nod that so many can universally accept and understand why they are going in. With Rush, when they found out that they were finally getting inducted they didn’t show an abundance of emotion. Geddy Lee did go on record saying that he thought it was a very good gesture to the fans because it is important to them.
So the question remains after noting that there have been so many snubs and a few questionable nominations: does the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame really matter? The answer is probably a mixture of yes and no. Many of our favorite rock bands will never see an induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. For the bands that have had legendary careers spanning decades, it seems a fitting honor to bestow upon them. A lifelong musician dedicates their life to the music and to entertaining all who would connect with that music. For the fans of that musician it is important to see that they get the honors that they deserve for a brilliant career. It wouldn’t make sense for Karl Malone to not go in the NBA Hall of Fame, so it does seem baffling that a band like Judas Priest or KISS would be excluded from the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. At the same time, Gene Simmons is not sitting up at night losing any sleep over not being honored. What matters the most, more than any sort of award ceremony, is that we as the fans of rock music support the bands that are special to us. In this way there are several different bands that are first round inductions into our own personal Halls of Fame. – Robert Porter
It’s hard for me to go on record talking about the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame without considering the point of view of some of the bands that I interview for LRI. Personally, without sounding too much like Eddie Trunk, I think it is just another cash grab, politics-driven ego-fest similar to so many other institutions. Much has been made of the inner workings of the Hall and manipulations of the process by people like Jann Wenner of Rolling Stone and other bigshots in the media and music biz. I can tell you that the bands will lie, lie, lie and say they don’t care about the honor when it’s obvious that many of them (even KISS) clearly do, even if it’s just for the cheap publicity. I can also tell you that everyone I have interviewed who has made it into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, guys like Neal Smith and Dennis Dunaway of Alice Cooper, DMC of Run-DMC and Steven Adler of Guns N Roses have all admitted that they did enjoy the weekend and it was a great honor for them and more importantly, their fans. To answer the original question of this piece, when it came their time to be inducted, it mattered. They would all also tell you that the process isn’t exactly simple or easy to understand and probably communicate a number of people they think should probably be in the Hall right along with them.
Sometimes it sends me to a bizarre state of confusion when I interview someone like Jon Anderson of YES and realize he is not in the Hall of Fame. Cheap Trick is not in the club, nor Deep Purple, nor The Scorpions, nor countless others who are honestly more musical and more critically “worthy “ than my favorite band KISS. I actually GET why KISS isn’t in. They really piss off most music people with half a brain when they admit they use fake crowd noise on “ALIVE “or let outside musicians play on albums uncredited, when they dress up members as past members (a.k.a “characters”), when they sell every product under the sun….etc, etc. I say this while admitting they are my favorite band but the fact is, while their induction may be a ways off (I’m guessing when Gene dies) it is inevitable. So is Motley Crue’s! The bottom line is the same as always, money. What artists shape the landscape of America’s musical landscape? The ones who put asses in seats. Eventually Ace Frehley and Tommy Lee will be in the hall next to others who sold out stadiums like Springsteen and the Grateful Dead. The parallels between the RRHOF and the Grammys are uncanny to me if you stop and think about it. It’s a show driven for ratings and trying to appeal to the biggest crowd possible. Just like the Grammys, they want housewives who love Madonna and Neil Diamond to watch just as much as more rock music freaks who love Metallica or Guns N Roses.
The problem, in my opinion, is that they go by the name of Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and that evokes certain meanings to certain people. In other words, my definition of rock is different than yours. I do agree wholeheartedly that Public Enemy, Blondie and Johnny Cash rock and belong there while others may choose to disagree. To me, rock and roll is an attitude more than an outright “sound”; that’s the rationale I started Legendary “Rock” Interviews on and I would hope that’s where the RRHOF’s thinking lies. I feel that rap and outlaw country are more rebellious than say Jackson Browne (oh wait he got inducted). I will also admit to raising an eyebrow at the induction of some of the more pop or folk acts, ABBA and Donna Summer might have some catchy-ass songs but I don’t really think they pushed the envelope or “rocked” tremendously. It makes me wonder if other good songwriters of the pop realm like Air Supply are getting jealous. To sum it up,get mad, get worked up about your favorites not getting in, just remember it’s all a show. I tuned in to the HBO broadcast for a few minutes to see GNR get inducted just like I watched the Grammys when Metallica played or the Home Run Derby when one of the Brewers gets a nod at all-star weekend. And then I change the channel to something that rocks.—John Parks