The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame

Considering how much I love guitar solos, it should be no surprise that I have thoughts, here. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is an interesting, and perhaps polarizing, institution in music.

On April 20, 1983, the late Ahmet Ertegun, co-founder and president of Atlantic Records, put together a team that included attorney Suzan Evans, Rolling Stone magazine editor and publisher Jann S. Wenner, attorney Allen Grubman, and record executives Seymour Stein, Bob Krasnow, and Noreen Woods, and founded the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Foundation. They started inducting artists in 1986, but they still had no home for the museum. So they put together a search committee, and ultimately chose shores of Lake Erie in Cleveland, Ohio.

The very first performing artist inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1986 was, of course, Chuck Berry, considered by many who think they know to be the founder of Rock and Roll (I, personally, disagree, but I’ll get to that). Others inducted that same year included Elvis Presley, Buddy Holly, the Everly Brothers, Fats Domino, James Brown, Little Richard, Ray Charles, Sam Cooke, and Jerry Lee Lewis. They all fit the original criteria of the foundation:

Artists—a group encompassing performers, composers and/or musicians—become eligible for induction 25 years after the release of their first record. Besides demonstrating unquestionable musical excellence and talent, inductees will have had a significant impact on the development, evolution and preservation of rock & roll.

The way artists are chosen has been the subject of controversy for some time. According to their own site…

Each year, the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Foundation’s nominating committee selects the group of artists nominated in the performer category.

Ballots are then sent to more than 900 historians, members of the music industry and artists—including every living Rock Hall inductee—and the five performers receiving the most votes become that year’s induction class. Beginning in 2012, fans were given the chance to vote for the nominees they’d like to see inducted into the Rock Hall. The top five vote-getters in the public poll form one ballot, which is weighted the same as the rest of the submitted ballots.

However, according to many sources, it’s quite a bit more… well… back-room, shady, and complicated than that…

(I’m just going to apologize here for the Fox News sources… a lot of the information I’m sourcing comes from them, sadly…)

One former member of the nominations board said, back in 2001 (scroll past the misogynistic attack on Madonna… fucking Fox News)…

“I saw how artists were sometimes chosen for nomination because of their affiliations with the directors of the Hall and others were shot down without so much as a moment of consideration simply because some people in that room didn’t like them personally or because an artist had bad blood with someone calling the shots.

“At one point Suzan Evans lamented the choices being made because there weren’t enough big names that would sell tickets to the dinner. That was quickly remedied by dropping one of the doo-wop groups being considered in favor of a ‘name’ artist.

“During my second year on the committee, I received a petition signed by 5000 fans of the Moody Blues requesting that the group be considered for nomination. Personally I am not much of a fan, and neither, apparently, was anyone else on the committee (at least no one who would admit it). Still, I felt they were a legitimate contender for the nomination and that it was my duty to present the petition since so many people had taken a lot of time to put it together. I plunked it down on the conference table to a great roar of laughter from the assembled bigshots.

Jon Landau, Springsteen‘s manager, asked me if I personally was a fan of theirs. ‘Not really,’ I said. ‘End of discussion,’ he said.

“On the other hand, I saw how Atlantic Records artists were routinely placed into nomination with no discussion at all, due to the large concentration of Atlantic executives on the committee. I saw how so-called critical favorites were placed into nomination while artists that were massively popular in their time were brushed off. I saw how certain pioneering artists of the 50s and early 60s were shunned because there needed to be more name power on the list, resulting in 70s superstars getting in before the people who made it possible for them. Some of those pioneers still aren’t in today — but Queen is.

“I was finally kicked off the committee after writing a guest editorial for Billboard in which I criticized the Hall for its insider ways.

“Almost ten years later nothing has changed.”

It would be very interesting if Adam Conover covered the R&R Hall of Fame in “Adam Ruins Everything”, but he did ruin award shows already, and that seems pretty accurate to every one, including the R&R Hall of Fame.

Another one of the controversies was the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame opening up to Rap and Hip Hop in 2007… far too late, and to only one artist, Grand Master Flash and the Furious Five. This ignited a controversy when Fox News (of course), complained that the vote was “fixed” to include a rap group. Far too few Rap and Hip Hop artists have been inducted since, but include Run-D.M.C., the Beastie Boys, Public Enemy, N.W.A. (for their song Straight Outta Compton), and the most recent inductee (inducted in the most recent ceremony this year), Tupac Shakur. N.W.A.’s 2016 induction sparked controversy thanks to noted KISS frontman and racist asshole Gene Simmons, who said this on Twitter

(Disrespectfully… fuck you, Gene Simmons. You’re why KISS sucks. And don’t you dare use Jimi Hendrix to cover your racism, dipshit. Have you ever considered that the reason there’s a Hip Hop Hall of Fame in the first place is because Rap and Hip Hop were ignored by the mainstream for fucking decades, so they created their own hall of fame to make up for that?)

The controversy that has dogged the RnR Hall of Fame from the beginning, though, is who hasn’t been included. And yes, I have my own ideas. I’ll highlight just two here…

First, and foremost, is the Godmother of Rock and Roll, and the woman I strongly believe truly birthed the genre, Sister Rosetta Tharpe. I’ve written about her already in my Great Guitar Solo series, and I’m not the only one who thinks she deserves the recognition. Where I disagree with most, however, is that I don’t think she should be noted as an “Early Influence”. I want her to get the full recognition she deserves, as one of the first true performers of Rock and Roll. Even Chuck Berry noted her as an influence. She deserves it, and the longer she’s ignored, the longer the RnR Hall of Fame committee is committing a crime against music.

The second group I want to highlight as deserving of inclusion is Emerson, Lake, and Palmer. The 2017 ceremony inducted Yes, Electric Light Orchestra, and Journey. But the simple reality is that no one brought classical music to the fore, changing the entire landscape of Rock in a brand new direction, like ELP did. Although they all came out at around the same time, I’d argue that ELP were the pioneers of Symphonic Rock. Now that Progressive and Symphonic Rock have made the inroads to the Hall of Fame that they deserve, it’s time for ELP to get the recognition they deserve, as inductees into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, as well.

That’s only two. There are many other artists, in multiple genres and styles, who I strongly believe deserve recognition. But what about you? How do you feel about the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame? Who do you think has been snubbed time and time again, and deserves recognition?

Let me know in the comments.


  1. Kengi says

    How do I feel about the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame? It’s a awesome museum. If you haven’t visited, try to make it sometime. Check the schedule to see if someone will be playing live outside the evening you are there for even more fun. I’ve been there several times. It makes for a nice stop when driving from Chicago to New York, though I haven’t been there for several years now. Each visit I saw different things, so they seem to keep refreshing the exhibits.

    The “Hall of Fame” part? There will always the the same issues as with any such hall of fame. Regardless of how anyone feels about the picks, it keeps the museum in the news each year and, I imagine, is a good fundraiser. I try not to fuss over it each year and just enjoy the induction performances, which are usually great.

    ELP. Yeah, they certainly deserve it. Of course, so did ELO. I suppose they can’t all be inducted at the same time, so it’s really a matter of prioritization. With Jeff Lynne being so connected and still active with so many big names in the industry it’s not surprising ELO was prioritized. Or maybe it was supposed to be ELP and there was a typo. Only one letter off on the keyboard, and in the alphabet…

  2. rgmani says

    With respect to hip hop, I think the question really is -- where do you draw the line? Can we count hip hop as ‘rock’ or not? In the case of country, the answer was clearly no. Johnny Cash was considered ‘rock’ enough to be inducted but pretty much no one else is -- except as an early influence. Perhaps the delay in inducting hip hop artists had something to do with this question. Once Grandmaster Flash was inducted, there has been a hip hop artist inducted every other year or so. So, I think that in the long run, most of the key hip hop artists will get in.

    I’m more concerned about the less favored sub-genres of rock. The hall has had a long standing bias against progressive rock and hard rock/metal -- to name just two. The way I see it, the induction process should involve an objective assessment of how significant an impact the artist has had on the world of rock as a whole. The personal likes and dislikes of the committee members should be of secondary importance. Unfortunately that is what the selection process has to a large extent become.

    That being said, here are my list of artists who are overdue for induction in the two sub-genres listed above.

    Art/Progressive Rock:
    The Moody Blues, King Crimson and ELP.

    Hard Rock/Heavy Metal:
    Judas Priest, Iron Maiden, Bon Jovi and Ronnie James Dio.

    Experimental/Electronic Rock:
    Kraftwerk, Brian Eno

    There has been som progress of late in getting prog and metal acts inducted. Deep Purple finally made it in last year and Yes and ELO got in this year. However, there is still a long way to go.

    -- RM

Leave a Reply