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Columns > Mike Gruenberg - In My Life

Published: 2009/09/30
by Mike Gruenberg

Rock and Roll Hall of Fame

In My Life

When it was first announced that the music industry had decided to establish the Rock ‘n’Roll Hall of Fame in 1983, I immediately decided to sign up to become a dues paying member of this organization. What better way to honor the many performers who gave me so many hours of listening pleasure? I continue to proudly pay my yearly dues to support this organization.

The city of Cleveland was chosen as the location of the building to house the Hall and in 1995, the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame was opened to the public. It is a magnificent building designed by world renowned architect I.M. Pei located in downtown Cleveland. As soon as I could, I visited the Hall and have been back there more than once. It’s a great structure that houses some incredible music related collections.

Choosing inductees every year in the early years of the Hall was not that difficult given the talent pool the nominating committee had to work with. When you start with nothing, the only way to go is up. The process for nominating performers to the RRHOF is quite simple. According to the Hall website, “…. Hall of Fame performer inductees were chosen by the 600 voters of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Foundation. Artists are eligible for inclusion in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame twenty-five years after their first recording is released.”

This works much like the Baseball Hall of Fame. In baseball, Hall of Fame recipients are chosen by the baseball writers and are eligible five years after their playing days have come to an end. The logic here is that the writers were the ones who followed the exploits of the players both on the field (and off) through their playing years and are best qualified to judge the talent of the athletes when deciding whom to choose for the hallowed walls of the Baseball Hall of Fame which is located in Cooperstown, NY.

The concept of who makes the choices in baseball for induction seemingly makes sense on the surface until you realize that there are some basic flaws in the system. There is no set of written rules that guarantees that a player will be chosen for the Hall. It would seem to me that if a “rule of numbers” were established, then the process would make a bit more sense. For example, if it was said that any ball player who hit 500 or more home runs or made less than 100 errors over a 20+ year career would automatically get in, then that would make sense for me. In other words, establish a set of criteria to determine induction. Instead in baseball, the numbers are intertwined with the personalities of the players. Therefore, if a star baseball player was surly or frequently unavailable for comment after a game to the writers, that player stands a good chance, no matter how good they were on the field of play of having their induction at the very least being delayed or even denied. When personal opinions in addition to established numbers are taken into account, then logical choices will undoubtedly suffer. To me, in baseball performance on the field is the only criteria. Yes, Pete Rose should be inducted in spite of himself.

Being as much a fan of baseball as well as rock ‘n’ roll, I am astounded that certain baseball players have not been inducted in to that organizations’ Hall of Fame in spite of their on field successes, especially, when I see players of lesser success be chosen instead. In my opinion, that situation develops when a select group of insiders controls the selection process and allows their personal opinions too much weight in the process.

The baseball analogy became more vivid for me when I read about the 12 people who were being considered for entry into to the Rock Hall for the class of 2010. Much like in baseball, Rock Hall possible inductees are voted upon by a select group of industry insiders that numbers approximately by 500+ people. As in baseball, the public has no say in the selection process. Furthermore, when Rock Hall festivities honoring the chosen few are staged, the public is excluded from the event. In baseball, at least the fans can get to attend the public festivities.

But let’s take a look at the Rock Hall’s nominations for the Class of 2010. The official ceremony, closed to the public will take place next March in New York City at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel.

The 12 possible inductees for 2010 are: KISS, ABBA, Darlene Love, Genesis, Jimmy Cliff, Laura Nyro, LL Cool J, Red Hot Chili Peppers, The Chantels, The Hollies, Donna Summer and The Stooges.

OK, I understand that KISS, ABBA and Genesis sold a lot of records. But to me, KISS was more theatrical than musical. Genesis was part of a great Progressive Rock movement that had many more deserving bands who were more creative and since I don’t have any ABBA records in my collection., I disqualify myself on commenting on them and can only imagine that since they have to date sold close to 400 million albums worldwide that this fact alone qualifies them as bona fide for induction.

I admire Darlene Love’s work as a Sideman for Phil Spector and happy she survived that mercurial producer. However, if Darlene is nominated, where is Paul Schaffer, the ultimate sideman?

I also am also in awe of the writings of Laura Nyro and feel blessed to have seen her in concert. Donna Summer was a great disco diva. And although The Stooges did not sell a lot of records, they paved the way for many of the punk acts that are currently in The Hall.

But really, considering the induction of the Hollies? If they get in, can Herman’s Hermits be far behind? To me, neither act, while successful in their time, should be seriously considered. If KISS gets in, where is Alice Cooper? I loved the Chantels, but on the basis of records sold, how are they even considered?

Much the same flaws that exist in the selection process in sports Hall of Fames are present in the Rock Hall process. I therefore suggest the following selection categories:
1. Records Sold
2. Sideman
3. Genre Pioneer
4. Songwriter Number of Hits Individually and By Others

Records Sold category is easy. Who sold the most records, is the winner. Sideman is self-explanatory, since so the many musicians who often “make” the record should be honored and there are a lot of them out there. Genre Pioneer would take into account the effect a person/group has had on a particular style of performance. This means that you can induct KISS on the number of records sold, but also induct Alice Cooper in the same year since both acts took makeup to new heights. And song writer category is easy because you total up the number of hits by the writer and also sung by others. In Laura Nyro’s case, the interpretation of her songs by Blood, Sweat & Tears and the Fifth Dimension makes a strong case for her induction.

I understand why the twelve acts are being considered for induction and I wish them well and have profound respect for their work. However, to me the process for consideration needs to be reviewed. I think that there has to be more of public influence in the selection and an understanding that any music Hall of Fame that has Elvis, The Stones, The Beatles, etc., or any baseball Hall of Fame that has Babe Ruth, Henry Aaron and Willie Mays, etc., needs to adhere to a clearly defined system of standards that future inductees need to be judged by the strictest set of criteria and not personality contests or a need to get more acts into the Hall. Let’s fill the Hall of Fame with acts that can stand side by side with the great performers of any era.

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