Whatever illuminati votes on inductees for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is undergoing its deliberations for the class of 2014. The process apparently includes much backstage lobbying, as induction can lead to a real spike in sales of back catalogues and “Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee” looks good on the obituaries some of these people are no doubt expecting to be written soon. But the fact is, entry into the Rock Hall is the most worthless music honor this side of a Grammy Award. Luckily, there’s a way to fix that.
The Rock Hall is a nice enough as a tourist destination. If you are a certain kind of person, it’s hard not to get a nerd boner in the presence of a real Beatles drumhead or the remains of the bass smashed on the cover photo of London Calling. Particularly affecting is the Hall’s chronologically ordered wall of Jim Morrison artifacts, starting with a birth certificate, ending with a death certificate and including in between a Cub Scout uniform, a few arrest warrants and a letter from his dad telling him to get a job. The Rock and Hall of Fame is pretty cool as a physical place in the world. And what else is there to do if you’re visiting family in Cleveland?
Yet, as an honorific, Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee has been watered down. It’s way too easy to get in, especially for a certain kind of act. Over the years, 295 artists have been inducted. The first class included Elvis, James Brown, Chuck Berry, Ray Charles and Sam Cooke. This year, the Hall’s voting body is considering Deep Purple, Hall and Oates, The Zombies, LL Cool J and Chic. Those are all respectable artists, but the Hall used to be for legends among legends.
As with most things in life, the fault lies with baby boomers, the most nostalgic generation ever. In the Rock Hall’s first decade or so, of course most inductees came from the boomers’ prime record-buying years. The marquee names of the ’50s, ’60s and early ’70s were the only ones who met the edibility requirement of 25 years since an artist’s first release. But more recently, it seems like two or three unavoidable acts that debuted in the ’80s get in shortly after they become eligible (this year, it will be Nirvana and maybe The Replacements) and then the no-doubt middle-aged music industry insiders who make up the Hall’s voting body throw in a bunch of semi-forgotten leftovers from their own wonder years. Case in point: The non-backing band performers of 2012 were the Beastie Boys, Guns ‘N Roses, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Donovan, the Small Faces and Laura Nyro.
There are now a glut of second-tier doo-wop acts, soul singers, British invasion bands and folkies in the Hall. Really, all it takes is one song oldies stations love. How else do you think Percy Sledge got in? And the Hall even passes up hugely influential people from the ’60s and ’70s that are more popular today with 20-something hipsters than they are with 60-something twice-divorced winos. The Hall has ignored Nick Drake, Roxy Music, Big Star, The New York Dolls and Lou Reed (as a solo artist) for acts that lack their lasting appeal and multi-generation influence–like The Dells and The Young Rascals–but who made it into baby boomers’ prom memories.
To rectify this, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame should not even have an induction ceremony this year. Instead, it should have a de-induction ceremony, at which a few dozen artists are taken out. Let’s start with The Moonglows, The Ventures, Darlene Love, Little Anthony and the Imperials, The Dells, The Hollies, Donovan, Bobby Womack, Percy Sledge, Sam and Dave, The Young Rascals, The Shirelles, Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers, the Small Faces, ZZ Top, Laura Nyro, Heart, and Billy Joel. Everyone still alive in that list should all be called to Cleveland and told, “We love that one thing you did, but sorry we made a mistake. You do not deserve to be on a list that also includes Dylan and the Beatles, obviously.” Also, in this fantasy scenario, slimy soft-rock baron Clive Davis, inducted in 2000 as a “non-performer,” would not only be delisted but also publicly flogged.
And to prevent a future build-up of nostalgia acts, the Hall should institute a new rule: Just as a performer is eligible 25 years after their first release, they are ineligible if not inducted 10 years after that. This year’s nominees include Yes, Linda Ronstadt and Cat Stevens, all of whom first became eligible in the early ’90s. The fact the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame has been dithering about these people for two decades might be a sign they should only be allowed to enter as paying customers.