In defense of the Rock Hall

Andrew Burnes, Editor

Another year, another round of Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees announced, and another tempest of complaints about how the selections are chosen and who should be inducted that isn’t. Individuals like Eddie Trunk, the infamous Rock critic, have been rallying against the Rock Hall for years. Even the legendary Robert Christgau, who has been one of the most respected critics in the world since he began in 1967, has called the voters for the Hall of Fame “pretty stupid.” Not to mention, the Hall has endured several Fox News-spun “controversies” over the years, most notably when they claimed that the Dick Clark Five actually received more votes than Grandmaster Flash and The Furious Five in 2007 while it was “The Message”-rapping pioneers that received the nod that year (the Hall denied the allegations and proceeded to induct the Dick Clark Five the year afterward).

Those are some pretty harsh criticisms for a Hall that is supposed to represent the highest honor a band can receive, a certain immortality to be revered in the Hall for decades to come. On the surface, the critics may have a point. The inductions take place based on the feelings of only a few individuals every year, many of whom are not musicians themselves. They make no bones about keeping the process very much behind closed doors, taking pride in containing the deliberation among themselves rather than out in the public.

Fans have been demanding that these “stuck up losers” induct their favorite bands, from Journey to Deep Purple, from the beginning, but a look into the actual inductees over the years helps put the arguments into perspective. Only about half of a dozen bands or individuals are inducted each year while the Hall’s lineage can only be traced back to 1986 (after all, Rock and Roll has only been around for about 60 years). The first group of inductees is certainly a who’s who: Chuck Berry, James Brown, Ray Charles, Sam Cooke, Fats Domino, The Everly Brothers, Buddy Holly, Jerry Lee Lewis and Elvis Presley were inducted that first year with “early influences” Jimmie Rogers, Jimmy Yancey and Robert Johnson. That’s one hell of a field. Since then, only the best of the best have gotten the nod each year, ensuring that the prestige for each induction remains intact.

If everyone the fans wanted in got in, there’s no doubt that it would take something away from the lineage of the institution. In fact, if there is any corruption in the process, it’s that bands like Rush, Heart and KISS have gotten in (after pressure from many in the industry in addition to millions of fans) before their time. Even so, the honor that The Paul Butterfield Blues Band, Green Day, Joan Jett and the Blackhearts, Stevie Ray Vauhgan and Double Trouble, Lou Reed and Bill Withers will receive this year are among the greatest of their careers. While the Rock Hall may be a “piss stain” to The Sex Pistols, it’s “incredible company” and “surreal” to Green Day’s Billie Joe Armstrong. Then again, at this point, the controversy is part of the appeal.