Rock Hall Of Fame Running on Empty?

They're letting anyone into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame these days.

Mike Tomasky asks a question that occurs to me just about every year: “Is rock’n’roll running out of hall of famers?

This year’s class of inductees at the Rock’n’Roll Hall of Fame  include Neil Diamond, Alice Cooper, Tom Waits, Dr. John, Leon Russell and Darlene Love.  Tomasky correctly identifies Diamond as the only slam dunk on the list, although he ably defends Cooper’s legacy, too. (Click through, his thoughts are worth reading.)

That the Rock Hall has lax and bewildering standards for inclusion has been a running theme here. Way back in 2003, I pointed out that the enshrinement of George Harrison as a solo artist was a joke. In general, I noted, there are far too man “incredibly minor figures (e.g., Dusty Springfield) or artists who are in no way rockers (e.g., Curtis Mayfield, Isaac Hayes, Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys).”

Later that year, I suggested a couple dozen artists for removal, on the grounds of addition by subtraction.

In 2005, noting a recurring “pattern of alternating excellent classes with horrible ones,” I suggested “Maybe they should induct fewer people in each class? Or have fewer classes?”

Here’s the inaugural class from 1986:

Chuck Berry
James Brown
Ray Charles
Sam Cooke
Fats Domino
The Everly Brothers
Buddy Holly
Jerry Lee Lewis
Little Richard
Elvis Presley

All slam dunks. Sure, there’s some question as to whether Charles, Brown, or Cooke are R&B or rock but they were giants with huge crossover appeal in an era when the rock genre was being formed. Artists whose first album came out before 1965 were eligible, so it’s interesting that some of the great British Invasion bands weren’t in the class. But each of those inducted was an obvious choice.

The 1987 class was more controversial:

Eddie Cochran
Bo Diddley
Aretha Franklin
Marvin Gaye
Bill Haley
B.B. King
Clyde McPhatter
Ricky Nelson
Roy Orbison
Carl Perkins
Smokey Robinson
Big Joe Turner
Muddy Waters
Jackie Wilson

What a drop-off! Haley and Perkins are the only slam dunks in the group. Diddley, too, if you stretch the definition. But Franklin, Gaye, King, Robinson, Waters, and Wilson were R&B artists, not rockers. Is Orbison really of the stature of the greatest of the great? And, surely, Nelson isn’t. And who the hell is Clyde McPhatter? (It turns out, he was an enormously influential R&B performer and the original frontman for the Drifters. But, again, not a rocker.)

The 1988 class begins the “alternating years” theory:

The Beach Boys
The Beatles
The Drifters
Bob Dylan
The Supremes

The Beach Boys, Beatles, and Dylan are slam dunks. The Drifters and The Supremes are fantastic R&B bands. So, depending on one’s definitions, it’s either five-for-five or three-for-five.)

1989 swings back to the weak side:

Dion
Otis Redding
The Rolling Stones
The Temptations
Stevie Wonder

The Stones are a slam dunk; arguably the greatest rock band of all time. Wonder is widely touted as a genius, but not a rocker. Dion? Meh. The Temptations and Redding are R&B giants. And I’m skeptical of including Redding who, while acknowledged as “The King of Soul,” had a grand total of one great hit before his life tragically got cut short at 26.

I don’t have time to do this for the whole list. But let’s just say that, if Dr. John and Tom Waites are marginal candidates, the Hall ran out years ago.

FILED UNDER: General
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is a Security Studies professor at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Why is there a rock ‘n’ roll Hall of Fame to begin with? Jeez, rock ‘n’ roll is by definition anti-establishment (not pop, but definitely rock ‘n’ roll) and if anything screams establishment it is a hall of fame.

    Just another sad byproduct of the boomers’ obsession with themselves.

  2. But hey, Jackson Browne is in the RnRHOF. I assume that’s why you picked the title.

  3. James Joyner says:

    Charles: Yes, on the title. Although, to be clear, Browne is deserving.

  4. wr says:

    As are Kate Bush and Roxy Music, two of the biggest influences of the last forty years… and neither of whom is in the Hall…

  5. Jay Tea says:

    Weird Al Yankovic is now eligible (first album released in 1983), and there’s an active movement to get him inducted.

    The guy’s impact on rock is indisputable — he essentially created a genre that he as not only dominated, but monopolized. And many artists believe they’ve “made it” when he lampoons them.

    Mark Knopfler only gave him permission to parody “Money For Nothing” if Knopfler himself could play on the parody.

    His ability to lampoon many different styles demonstrates that he is an accomplished musician. And he’s also written quite a few completely original works.

    He’s performed the themes for four different movies.

    He’s been nominated for a Grammy eleven times, and won three times.

    Eleven gold records, seven platinum.

    Hey, they could do worse…

    J.

  6. TG Chicago says:

    I’d much rather see Tom Waits in the HOF than Jackson Browne.

  7. Neil Hudelson says:

    You know, for someone who is fairly young I consider myself pretty knowledgeable about rock music and its history. Two things struck me about this article:

    1. If they changed the name to “Top 40 Hall of Fame” it would be more appropriate.

    2. Who in hell is Dr. John?

  8. Neil Hudelson says:

    Jay,

    Pretty convincing argument for being, I’m sure, off the cuff. He belongs more than some of the second stringers that are in there now. That said, most of his music that I’ve heard (and I don’t celebrate his entire collection) seems to be more on the polka side of pop than anything approaching rock.

  9. wr says:

    Neil — http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NuRDMu87tl0

    I’m sure there are others here who can explain his importance, but this was his big hit. (And I’ll bet you’ve heard it…)

  10. wr says:

    I guess I shouldn’t be amazed that a man who thinks Sarah Palin should be in the White House also believes Weird Al belongs in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame…

  11. Jay Tea says:

    wr, I’ve never endorsed Palin for president. And while I’ve been a fan of Al’s for about 25 years, and just found mention of the HoF movement on his Wikipedia page the other day, so it was still fresh.

    Neil, you want a few highlights of his talents? Check out the following tracks: “White And Nerdy,” “Smells Like Nirvana,” “Jerry Springer,” “Couch Potato,” “King Of Suede,” “Dare To Be Stupid,” “I Want A New Duck,” “Money For Nothing/Beverly Hillbillies Theme” (the lawyers named THAT one on him), “Pretty Fly For A Rabbi,” and “Gump.” In turn, he perfectly captures the styles of such diverse acts as Chamillionaire, Nirvana, Bare Naked Ladies, Eminem, The Police, Devo, Huey Lewis & The News, Dire Straits, Offspring, The Presidents Of The United States. The man has serious chops.

    They could do worse, they have done worse, I’m sure they will do worse. But Al’s more than paid his dues and left his mark.

    J.

  12. Moosebreath says:

    Jay Tea,

    You’re leaving out Weird Al’s Michael Jackson parodies (“Eat It” and “Fat”), arguably his greatest hits.

  13. Jay Tea says:

    Moose, you’re right about them being his biggest hits, but I’d say they don’t reflect his versatility as well. Besides, I don’t quite enjoy them as much as others.

    J.

  14. John Burgess says:

    I think we hit Peak Rock somewhere around 1965. It’s been declining since, and no matter how much we pay for a tune, the global supply is just about gone.

  15. michael reynolds says:

    Peak Rock in 1965? Puh-leeze. Green Day, Nirvana, Weezer, Nine Inch Nails, Rancid, Joan Jett, Against Me, Titus Andronicus, White Stripes — there’a lot of good rock post-60’s, and a lot of it is musically and lyrically better than most of the 60’s.

    The Hall of Fame doesn’t like punk, apparently.

  16. michael reynolds says:

    By the way, Weird Al is a very sweet guy. I had to do a sort of stunt interview of him for some book thing. Much nicer than me.

  17. Spinal Tap is also ellgible for includsion (first album 1984), yet like Weird Al will probably never be included despite having a profound effect on the way rock and roll is seen in the broader culture. The rock and roll hall of fame takes itself way to seriously.

  18. Also on the subject of Weird Al, he doesn’t do just parodies. His original works, sadly, get far less notice but I personally think are some of his better songs. For those interested, try looking up “Hardware Store”, “Midnight Star”, “Frank’s 2000 Inch TV”, “Everything You Know is Wrong”, “Close but No Cigar”, “I’ll Be Mellow When I’m Dead”, “Your Horroscope for Today”, etc.

  19. matt says:

    Tool

  20. Jay Tea says:

    Stormy, how the hell could you forget “One More Minute?” That one is legendary, and his Elvis turn during his concerts is amazing.

    J.

    (“I’m stranded all alone in the gas station of love/And I have to use the self-service pumps!”)

  21. wr says:

    I’d vote for the Tubes long before Weird Al…

  22. John Burgess says:

    @Michael: Yeah, I hear you. All those names represent crap to my ears. But then, I think classical music hit its peak with JS Bach. I won’t belittle you for your flawed taste, though.

    How about that Kate Smith!?

  23. sam says:

    “Who in hell is Dr. John?”

    Dr. John, the Night Tripper

    Peak Rock in 1965? — I’d say around 1975. But, pace Michael, that doesn’t mean there haven’t been some good bands after that era, only that there were more good bands at one time in that era.

  24. sam says:

    And BTW, just to put all this in perspective — I’m old enough to remember when there was no Rock and Roll at all. None.

  25. MarkedMan says:

    Who the hell is Dr. John? Wow. I just don’t know what to say. I’ve actually seen him at Tipatina’s, and to all y’all who haven’t, my deepest condolences.

    And aren’t some of the categories for the RnRHOF explicitly non-rock influences? I think that’s why there are so many R&B and Soul singers in there. And something called “Roots”? Again, a non-rock and roll category.

    It’s great the Stones are in there, and the all the other slam dunks, but I like seeing the smaller names get recognition too. John Mayall, of Bluesbreakers fame, had a huge impact on people like Eric Clapton, Mick Fleetwood, and Jeff Beck, but I bet there isn’t anyone under forty who even knows his name. To me, that doesn’t prevent him from being a Hall of Famer.

  26. matt says:

    Seriously Tool is an example of excellent post 60s rock..

    I cannot believe it took Weird Al to get me to agree with Jay on something…

  27. DC Loser says:

    I agree on Weird Al. Genius! I have his oldie single “Another One Rides the Bus.”

    I agree with Michael on the lack of punk inductees. I haven’t checked, but I’d say the following have to be in the HoF to do justice – The New York Dolls, Ramones, Television, Sex Pistols, Clash.

  28. sam says:

    And aren’t some of the categories for the RnRHOF explicitly non-rock influences? I think that’s why there are so many R&B and Soul singers in there. And something called “Roots”? Again, a non-rock and roll category.

    In The Last Waltz, Scorsese asks Robbie Robertson about the musical influences growing up. I can’t recall the list in detail, but it seemed to me to encompass every genre of American music from country and western and bluegrass through blues, spirituals, sacred harp — on through the whole American catalog. Scorsese asked him, “What do you call that when you put it all together.” Robertson laughed and said, “Rock and Roll.”

    If you’ve never seen The Last Waltz, check the wiki page cited, especially the section, The Concert. That was one great sendoff.

  29. Jay Tea says:

    On another note: if you want influential and popular, how about Slade?

    J.

  30. DC Loser says:

    What is rock and roll without blues, R&B, or even some jazz? It’s all there. You can’t separate it out and still call it rock.

  31. Jay Tea says:

    OK, Slade is good, but I just spotted another glaring omission from the S’s.

    Jim Steinman!

    J.

  32. anjin-san says:

    > Peak Rock in 1965? — I’d say around 1975.

    Actually, that entire arc represents the peak. I don’t think you can point out any individual year as the zenith. You had ten years with a pretty much constant stream of great records. Even things from back then that were fairly disposable still sound pretty damn good. In the late 70s, the accountants seized power from the A&R folks, and it was downhill from there.

  33. wr says:

    Jay Tea — Slade is a good idea, but the American Hall has a huge blind spot towards British acts who were vastly more popular over there than here. I think the Sex Pistols are in, and I know the Clash made it (how could they not?), but the omission of The Jam and Paul Weller as a solo act are embarassments. (Not as bad as Kate Bush, Roxy Music and Bryan Ferry as a solo, but still…)

    And Jim Steinman — absolutely. One of the great rock songwriters.

  34. wr says:

    Anjin-san — I understand what you’re saying, but the 80s were one of the great periods in pop music. It’s easy to dismiss bands like Tears for Fears and ABC and Big Country because they all had funny hair and made silly videos, but there was a lot of great music coming out at that time.

  35. Neil Hudelson says:

    wr,

    Tears for Fears was before my time–I always associated and dismissed them in an all encompassing “80s” category.

    Over the last year or two I’ve started to listening to their full albums and, yeah, surprisingly good stuff.

    I hope my first statement really made a lot of people feel old.

  36. michael reynolds says:

    How about Rush? Not my personal cup of tea — (tea recipe: 2 guitars, bass and drums, and play them till people’s ears bleed) — but they were serious musicians.

  37. michael reynolds says:

    Neal:

    Does your mom know you hang out here?

  38. tom p says:

    The 1987 class was more controversial:

    Eddie Cochran
    Bo Diddley
    Aretha Franklin
    Marvin Gaye
    Bill Haley
    B.B. King
    Clyde McPhatter
    Ricky Nelson
    Roy Orbison
    Carl Perkins
    Smokey Robinson
    Big Joe Turner
    Muddy Waters
    Jackie Wilson

    What a drop-off! Haley and Perkins are the only slam dunks in the group. Diddley, too, if you stretch the definition.

    WHAT???? A DROP OFF???

    Let me see if you can name another group of musicians who can match musical chops with these guys:

    Eddie Cochran
    Bo Diddley
    Aretha Franklin (R.E.S.P.E.C.T!)
    Marvin Gaye (I can not believe you said that….)
    Bill Haley
    B.B. King (Say WHAT????)
    Clyde McPhatter
    Ricky Nelson
    Roy Orbison (HUHHHH?????
    Carl Perkins (HUH????)
    Smokey Robinson (double HUHHHH????)
    Big Joe Turner
    Muddy Waters (obviously, you never saw him)
    Jackie Wilson

    Ohhhh…. wait a minute, You meant Rock and Roll…. oooppps, just exactly WHERE does R&R come from? R&B??? James, your problem is you don’t know what R&R is (don’t worry neither do I) (I hate punk) But those guys were some kind of serious…. They MADE Rock and Roll what it became.

    Still, I find the R&R HOF an exercize in masturbation,,,,

  39. John Burgess says:

    @Tom P: Jeeze! We’re supposed to exercise for that now?

    But yes, Roy Orbison definitely belongs there.

  40. matt says:

    Rush is awesome too 😛

  41. Drew says:

    So many issues, so little time. Only one thing I can’t let pass – Eddie Cochran. Controversial? Please.

    And now, for something completely different:

    “I was butcher, cuttin’ up meat, my hands were bloody, I’m dyin’ on my feet……I was a sugeon, till I start to shake……………..Hey….Hey……You got me rockin’ now………

    Youngn’s……….watch and learn.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WDTbuoCd3ho

  42. Drew says:

    PS –

    Not alot of people know that one of the signature songs was originally done all on acoustic guitar, especially with all the later stadium tours and such.

    But here is a feel for how they tried to keep to that original theme for awhile. Real R&R peoples…..club stuff.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hxpfBWMOlOk&feature=related

  43. Jay Tea says:

    Slade is a good idea, but the American Hall has a huge blind spot towards British acts who were vastly more popular over there than here.

    Yeah, but how many of their songs got covered by others? Quiet Riot took several. Their style — both fashion and music — were major influences on KISS, Motley Crue, and Def Leppard. And they did have quite a few hits here.

    Well, OK, a couple, but “Run Runaway” was worth several hits all by itself.

    J.

  44. Murray says:

    The simple idea of a hall of fame for rock’n roll has always seemed very odd to me. Sounds like conformism of … anti-conformism.

  45. sam says:

    @AJ

    > Peak Rock in 1965? — I’d say around 1975.

    Actually, that entire arc represents the peak. I don’t think you can point out any individual year as the zenith. You had ten years with a pretty much constant stream of great records. Even things from back then that were fairly disposable still sound pretty damn good.

    Yeah, that’s a better characterization than mine.

  46. sam says:

    @wr

    “Anjin-san — I understand what you’re saying, but the 80s were one of the great periods in pop music.”

    I think the point is that from the mid-60s through the mid-70s, there was a greater density of first-rate rock music.

    Interesting factioid: John Adams, the contemporary composer (check out Harmonielehre Part I and Harmonielehre Part II ), was the rock critic at the Harvard Crimson (when he wasn’t conducting the Bach Society Orchestra or playing clarinet at the BSO). He’s cited what he called the great explosion of pop music beginning in the mid-60s as one strong influence on his work.

  47. Rob says:

    IF you can’t acknowledge Eddie Cochran as one of the pioneers of Rock’n’Roll, you need to reevaluate what it it you define as Rock’n’Roll.

    Think, write, then post.

    Othewise, it was a good article.

  48. john personna says:

    Maybe the Rock’n’Roll is supposed to have lower standards. I mean, who cares? I will note that if they wanted higher standards they should have been much slower with inductions in the first years.

    I also like the “anti-establishment” contradiction. Do you have to descend to “harmless” before induction?

  49. James Joyner says:

    @Tom P and @Rob

    I think of halls of fame as about sustained excellence. Yes, Eddie Cochran was a major influencer on later artists. But he only had a half dozen hits, and only one (“Summertime Blues”) that’s become a standard.

    Maybe the sports model isn’t right for a music hall of fame?

  50. john personna says:

    “Maybe the sports model isn’t right for a music hall of fame?”

    That’s what I’m sayin’

  51. george says:

    Agree that Weird Al has had a large influence – and so did Spinal Tap. Humour is often overlooked (or ignored) by organisations who take themselves too seriously.

  52. DC Loser says:

    @James – by that standard, Buddy Holly probably won’t make it either.

  53. James Joyner says:

    @DC Loser:

    I think you make exceptions for the super great talents cut short by death or injury. Sandy Koufax comes to mind, as does Gale Sayers.

    Holly died young. But he actually had numerous hit singles that became standards: “That’ll Be the Day,” “Peggy Sue,” “Oh Boy!”and “Maybe Baby” are the most obvious.

  54. pcbedamned says:

    I hope my first statement really made a lot of people feel old.

    Yes you did. Thanx for that by the way… 🙂

    Weird Al was a Gen X phenomenon. No matter what style of music you were into, you took the time to listen and laugh at whatever he produced. And as a Gen X’er in the 80’s, you always made sure to see the video. Personally at that time I was more into the Heavy Metal side of music, but never missed a Weird Al production {because that is the best way to characterize what Al did with his parodies}.

    What I find so amusing now is my Teen Terrors thinking they have ‘discovered’ Al due to their habitual YouTubeing. {and yes, that makes me feel old too…}

  55. What you think Rock ‘n’ Roll is and who merits inclusion in a RnRHOF seem to depend a lot on when you turned 17…

  56. michael reynolds says:

    Charles:

    Not me. I turned 17 in 1971. I’d much rather have Green Day, Eminem and Rancid than Herman’s Hermits, Tommy Roe and Rod Stewart. Zeppelin was just really coming on the scene at that point and punk was just being glimpsed. A lot of stuff we revere from that era is crap looking back: The Doors? Janis Joplin?

    I don’t do nostalgia. Although I do bitterly regret the loss of Hendrix.

  57. sam says:

    “A lot of stuff we revere from that era is crap looking back: The Doors? Janis Joplin?”

    You can’t be serious.

  58. PD Shaw says:

    Too late it appears for the most crucial thread of the last 24 hours, but the one thing I find odd about the Rock ‘n Roll Hall of Fame, is by my definition, there hasn’t been a lot of rock ‘n roll for thirty years. I think it was Keith Richards who said there has been a lot of pop and a lot rock, but no roll.

    Not too pick on any artist; I just don’t think Kate bush or Roxy Music are rock ‘n roll. I think they are pop and unfortunately the word has taken on the suggestion of disposability.

  59. PD Shaw says:

    Love Dr. John, or at least two of his albums, Gumbo and Goin Back to New Orleans. But a bit of a regional sound, like it used to be.

  60. michael reynolds says:

    No rock and roll? Sorry, not true. Punk is rock and roll. Keef may not like punk, but it’s absurd to deny that it is rock and roll. In fact punk rescued rock and roll. Rod Stewart and Elton Jon and their ilk hijacked it and the Ramones and Clash et al rescued it.

  61. PD Shaw says:

    Michael, it’s not a qualitative assessment, it’s just that a lot of music has become more about a driving beat (rock), and far less about having a swing or groove to it (roll). Most of it is simply Rock music. I think the Clash and the Romanes might be rock ‘n roll, but the heyday of their sound was over thirty years ago.

  62. PD Shaw says:

    There really should be a cover band called the Romanes.

  63. DC Loser says:

    Michael is right. Punk was the inevitable reaction to the overproduced music by musicians who were jetsetters, and the working class yobs couldn’t identify with these people. The Ramones three chord songs were the antithesis of the overproduced music of Pink Floyd.

  64. michael reynolds says:

    DC:

    Gabba gabba hey.

  65. Ronski says:

    It’s time that Tears for Fears got the recognition they deserve. To my thinking, they are the best of the 80s and still one of the best today. A tasty combination of pop and thinking man’s (woman’s) music. Check out Everybody Loves A Happy Ending, if you don’t believe me or Roland Orzabal’s stunning Tomcats Screaming Outside.