Written by Eric Sperrazza
On the shores of the magnificent Lake Erie, downtown in the fair city of Cleveland, sits a museum storing the annals of rock and roll history. Dedicated in 1995, the building sits as a permanent home to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Foundation. Founded by Ahmet Ertegun, president of Capitol Records, and a team filled with record executives, attorneys, and even the publisher of Rolling Stone, Jann S, Wenner, the Foundation officially inducted its first class of honorees in 1986; almost a decade before the building in Cleveland was even a thought in anyone’s mind.
Today, the deciders who make the annual cut are not fans, peers of the musicians, or even album sale logistics. Rather, it is just John Sykes, President of Entertainment Enterprises for iHeartMedia, along with Suzan Evans and music journalist, Dave Marsh. Yes, three people decide the fate of each year’s potential nominees and release the final list of whom they decide will be honored and cast into their hallowed halls, for all eternity. Votes amongst a list of a dozen or so artists get voted down to 5 or 7 honorees, each year. And what qualifications do any of them have in determining the impact of a musician in Rock & Roll culture, deserving of such an honor? Nothing. None are musicians, themselves, and I doubt any of them are long-studied in music theory. A rough template of benchmarks and non-negotiables doesn’t even exist, sans the rule that an artist must be seasoned 25 years before eligibility. It is simply a who’s who of artists liked by a small handful of people, year after year.
Entire genres have gone overlooked in the past by the Hall. Petitions of fans go unnoticed for years by the Foundation. Take the rock band, KISS, for instance. Since 1999, KISS had been eligible for nomination. Whether you are a card-carrying member of the KISS Army Fan Club or not, no one can deny the impact the band had on Rock & Roll in pop culture, rock stage shows, and the power of great musician marketing. Yet, it took 15 more years and politicking by fans and even the likes of Tom Morello (Rage Against The Machine, Audioslave) to finally be inducted. Just in case anyone didn’t think it was a begrudging nomination before, they even set a rule in place that, despite many lineup changes over the years with some members like Tommy Thayer and Eric Singer being in the band for decades, only the original lineup of Paul Stanley, Gene Simmons, Peter Criss, and Ace Frehley, would be allowed to accept the honor. Livid, the band chose not to perform. Simmons was quoted as saying, “The Hall of Fame Award is important to the fans…it means nothing to me. It’s a political organization of, like, ten guys.”
Speaking of Gene Simmons, he recently went on to throw even more shade at the Rock Hall for still ignoring certain rock artists and genres but now inducting Hip Hop artists to the Hall. This is where the line gets gray for me; One could argue that Rap Music and Punk Rock were both birthed, in the same areas and at the same times, as an anti-establishment movement happening in music culture. In fact, the first Top 40 song to feature rap music was actually Blondie‘s 1980 hit, “Rapture.“
Heck, you could even delve deep into Rock & Roll history and uncover roots in gospel, country, rhythm, and blues. However, just this year, Dolly Parton turned down her nomination for the Hall, stating “I don’t think I’ve earned the right.” She went on to say that a nomination would mean she would have to get out and actually make a rock album. Keep in mind, this is the woman that wrote “I Will Always Love You” and “Jolene.” Even she thinks that actual rock acts, long overlooked, deserve a nod, first.
With cornerstones of rock & roll like The Shangri-Las, Tommy James & The Shondells, Chubby Checker, Warren Zevon, Roberta Flack, and Thin Lizzy or even metal bands that spend the last half-century selling out stadiums like Judas Priest and Iron Maiden still not adorning the walls of the coveted Cleveland Museum, it is hard to make the case that there is any rhyme or reason to the annual list of inductees.
Even the artists that made the mysterious cut to be honored had complaints about the Rock Hall. In 2006, Steve Miller of the Steve Miller Band addressed his issues with the Foundation during his acceptance speech citing that only 8.5% of all Inductees are women, that the Foundation does little-to-no supporting for music education for today’s youth, that artists are treated poorly during the Ceremony, itself and, most striking of all, the sheer cost charged to artists to allow families and peers to attend.
So why does the Hall still matter? The actual Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Museum in Cleveland brings tourist revenue into a struggling city, economically. Over 600,000 Ohio residents at the time petitioned to have the hall represented in Cleveland and the city, itself, even promised $65 million dollars in public money to fund the construction. There is a whole community that now rides on the success of the Hall. Even though artists like Johnny Rotten are quick to voice their opinion of the Rock Hall (Rotten once said the Rock Hall was ‘urine wine.’), being immortalized for future generations to discover is a tough thing to completely shrug off. Case in point: Johnny Rotten and The Sex Pistols have been inducted since 2006.
With any private entity backed by corporate sponsors and the like, it can feel impossible to move the proverbial needle of parity. But, continuing to be vocal is something that all of us can do to help turn the tide on, what could be, a joyous appreciation of the music that shaped our world. Settling on the notion that “it is what it is” yields nothing but the same opacity in process and some unbelievable artists feeling like they caught the short end of the stick, every 12 months. Simply put, if we want the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame to matter, we have to make it matter with our actions, our ratings, and the almighty dollars we spend on the Foundation.
This year, out of the potential nominees that included the likes of Kate Bush, The New York Dolls, The MC5, Judas Priest, A Tribe Called Quest, Pat Benatar, The Eurythmics, Carly Simon, Duran Duran, Lionel Richie, Eminem, Beck, Rage Against The Machine, Dionne Warwick, Dolly Parton, Fela Kuti, and Devo.
Only 5-7 of these names will actually be voted into the Class of 2022. With innovators in metal, glam, punk, hip hop, new wave, and R&B, this is a tough list to narrow down and no one knows, at the end of the day, how they will do it.
What we do know is that should Dolly Parton get voted in any way, she promised us a rip-roaring ruckus of a rock album to feel worthy… which may actually be the best thing to come from the Rock Hall this year.
For more information on the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, check out their website here.