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Wednesday, March 16, 2011

The Infamous Rock and Roll Hall of Fame...

Alice Cooper, Neil Diamond, Dr. John, Darlene Love, Tom Waits...
...and Leon Russell.

"This is supposed to be a hall of fame...if they renamed the place 'Rock and Roll 
Hall of Artists You Should Have Liked More Than the Ones You Actually Did',
I would not begrudge them these exclusions."    ~    Roger Wade

Each year I am surprised to learn of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame's newest inductees.  Usually my reaction is "What - they aren't in already?", but often it is "WTF?"  The former was pretty much my reaction to this year's inductees - Alice Cooper, Neil Diamond, Dr. John, Darlene Love, and Tom Waits.  Leon Russell was inducted as the recipient of the first Musical Excellence Award, in the "Sidemen" category (he did play as a sideman with Joe Cocker, George Harrison, the Byrds, and others).  But there is a lot of contention with the Hall of Fame.

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland by Lake Erie.

First of all, the board is made up of non-musicians.  Fans have no input.  Groups associated with certain companies or labels are said to have been nominated without discussion.  A past board member lamented that none of the choices were big enough names to sell tickets to the award dinner, so a doo-wop group was removed in favor of a big name artist.  Some artists have been inducted before or to the exclusion of the artists who so clearly influenced them.

The process and numbers are never revealed, so anything could go on.  In 2007 there was a rumor that the Dave Clark Five should have been selected, as they had more votes than two of the inductees.  The Hall of Fame denied fixing the vote, stating that some of the votes were not received in time.  The next year, however, the DC5 was inducted.

Some voters have not submitted ballots because they didn't feel any of the candidates were worthy.  What does this say about the process?  The Sex Pistols were inductees for 2006, however they refused the honor.  The following letter was sent by them to the Hall of Fame:

Sent by the surviving members of the group, 2/24/06.
Image courtesy of Wikipedia.

To be considered, an artist or group must wait twenty-five years after the release of their first record.  The nominees should have demonstrable influence on and be significant in the history of rock and roll.  There are four categories:  performers; non-performers, aka The Ahmet Ertegun Award (for music industry people such as producers, djs, concert promoters and journalists); early influence (early artists of genres which influenced rock and roll, i.e., Hank Williams, Howlin' Wolf, Louis Armstrong, Billie Holiday); and sidemen (session and concert players).

That the Hall of Fame is big business is reflected in the annual music competition for amateur company-sponsored bands in the U.S., Europe, and Australia.  Created in 2001, the Fortune Battle of the Corporate Bands is a contest whose proceeds benefit the Rock and Rock Hall of Fame Museum.  Sponsored by Fortune magazine, Gibson Guitar Corporation, Continental Airlines, among others, it has been called the "celebration of musicians with day jobs".  Entrants must be amateur and 50% of the group must work for the same corporation.

The winner of this competition is hailed as "the best corporate band in America", and receive an all-expense paid trip to the annual NAMM show where they are a featured performer.  Their name and photo is displayed at the Hall of Fame for a year as part of a permanent exhibit honoring the contest.  It is meant to boost the museum's profile in the business community, and increase exposure for the corporations through the media attention and recaps in Fortune magazine.

I should know better, but all of this is disappointing.  Rock and roll is supposed to be about being outside the box, being a rebel, an original, anything but a corporate tool.  If it wasn't controlled by business people, or at least included musicians and fans, it might have more credibility.  But it seems one can't escape politics.  I'm off to put my headphones on and listen to my own hall of fame......

All images, unless otherwise stated, courtesy of the Hall of Fame.

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