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Columns > Mike Gruenberg - In My Life

Published: 2014/04/29
by Mike Gruenberg

Getting Inducted Into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (Or Not)

In My Life

The Clash sung “Should I Stay or Should I Go” on their memorable and iconic song from 1982. In looking at this years’ inductees and recent ones over the past few years as well, to the Rock’n’Roll Hall of Fame, I thought the tune should be reworked to say “Who Should Get to Stay and Who Shouldn’t Go” as a postscript to describing the process of be inducted.

Rewarding and acknowledging excellence in any endeavor should be relatively easy. In sports, a football quarterback who has consistently thrown a significant amount of completed passes for touchdowns and has Super Bowl rings on some of his fingers is an easy candidate to acknowledge and probably enshrine. In baseball, considerably more wins by a pitcher, more home runs by a batter and fewer errors by a fielder than anyone else over a long career puts those people to the head of the class to be considered for high praise and acknowledgement.

Baseball, basketball, football, hockey, etc all have halls of fame. For the most part, the athletes chosen rightly deserve to get in, but every once in a while, a candidate gets selected much to the surprise and dismay to the fans of that sport. In checking the statistics of those inductees, we sometimes find that there are athletes whose career accomplishments rival those players that are already selected but for some unknown reason are unceremoniously excluded. It seems to me that it should be easy to know if a persons’ body of work is extraordinary or not. So, why does there always seem to be some inequities of choice (or non-choices) in the minds of the public when candidates for any hall of fame induction be it in sports or music are announced?

In baseball for example, the sports writers are the governing body that makes the final selections as to who gets in and who does not. Unfortunately, some candidates don’t get selected because a number of the sports writers seemingly have a personal dislike of the person who should get selected. In essence, some parts of the baseball hall of fame selection process come down to a personality question that overshadows the statistics earned on the field of play. Repeated calls to amend this popularity contest mentality selection process in baseball have gone largely unanswered over the years.

Of course, Babe Ruth, Willie Mays, Tom Seaver, etc. were no-brainers for the baseball hall of fame selection committee. But if you look at the current list of baseball hall of fame members, there are a number of guys enshrined whose statistics are border line, which indicates that they were just below great and yet they got in, while some guys with better or similar statistics are still waiting to get the call that they’ve been selected. They probably never will get in due to a whole host of reasons not related to their on-field performances. As an example, the ball player who has more hits than any other person past or present is Pete Rose. Whether you like him or not, his skills on the field are a beacon of accomplishment and even though he stands above his peers in that category, it doesn’t look like he’ll be getting inducted soon. Pete’s not very popular among the baseball hierarchy although a majority of the fans love him.

Pete Rose won’t get in because he was banned from baseball for betting on games, ostensibly ones while he managed the Cincinnati team. In rock’n’roll, there are no morality clauses that prevent an artist from being selected, so there really isn’t a comparable situation in rock music similar to Pete’s in baseball. What is similar is the quandary facing selectors of all hall of fame candidates which is how a fair yardstick of selection can be enacted so that an even-handed policy simply rewards a candidates’ achievement and honors that person who had a profound effect on their craft.

In sports, the most hits, the most championships, the most goals, the best batting average, etc are the only factors that should be considered. Joe Montana in football, Michael Jordan in basketball, Mickey Mantle in baseball, and in tennis John McEnroe are all easy selections.

In music, the equation of accomplishment is the only yardstick. The most #1 hits, number of sold-out performances over the artists’ career, the effect that artist had on the music of their era, the length of their careers, the number of gold and platinum sales awards, all should be part of a formula to determine the “in” or “out.”

In rock’nroll, no one can dispute the selection of artists like the Beatles, Rolling Stones, Eric Clapton, Little Richard, Beach Boys, Chuck Berry, etc. Those guys were incredibly successful, considered to be true music industry pioneers and collectively sold a lot of records

Gene Simmons, whose group KISS is a 2014 Hall of Fame inductee recently said that “If you don’t play guitar and you don’t write your own songs, you don’t belong there (Hall of Fame).” He was referring to dance music performers like Madonna and Donna Summer as not deserving entry since in his opinion; all they did was sing and dance. To underscore his premise, Gene clearly implied that not only was his group more worthy to be inducted than the singers and dancers, but wondered why it took so long to induct KISS into the hall.

To me, the essence of KISS was more costume and theatrics than music. Quite frankly, I have to think about why a theatrical act like KISS should even be in the hall. The songs they wrote and performed cannot be considered on par with the tunes written by Lennon/McCartney, Jagger/Richards, Paul Simon or even Cat Stevens, who was rightfully inducted in the hall this year as Yusuf Islam. Yet, KISS sold a lot of albums, performed to sell-out audiences around the world and always put on a hell of a show (so I am told).

KISS has been and still is a unique music and theatrical talent that has been successful over many decades. One can argue that they are not even close musically to the Beatles, Queen, The Eagles and Rolling Stones and yet, here they are standing proudly next to the others. Why, because for their time in the spotlight they were incredibly successful and deserve entry into the hallowed hall for their achievements. If it was that easy to put on similar outfits and perform, a lot of other groups would have dressed and performed accordingly. Theirs’ wasn’t the usual mode of dress for most musical acts of their time and KISS did it differently and they deserve all the accolades for doing so. Their formula of writing and performing clearly worked.

Today, many of the pop records being produced today contain manufactured sounds with unique synthesizers and all types of echo chambers that sound amazing and remarkably similar to the records of Ms. Summer. In reference to Gene Simmons quote, these singers are really not playing an instrument other than their voice. They are surrounded by a wealth of technology. Do we say, for example to Beyonce when she comes up for consideration to be inducted that even though she’s sold a millions of records and continues to perform for her adoring fans all over the world that that since she did not play a guitar that she is barred from entry? That would be unfair and inappropriate. The fact of the matter is that musical tastes change over the years and we must embrace that change and honor those at the forefront of those trends. Donna Summer and Madonna have just as much a rightful place in the hall as any other successful deserving music performing honoree.

The fact is that whatever the selections to any hall of fame, people will have disagreements over who should get in and who should not. The real question involves how the selection process works to ensure that there is a viable format to the process, that people are judged on their accomplishments, not whether they got along with the journalists of their time and that the organization tasked with selection keeps up with the times. According to a recent article in the New York Times, the nominating committee at the Rock hall has been instructed to take as wide a view as possible in the selection process so that candidates for induction are being considered from a wide variety of genres whose music is enjoyed by a great cross-section of the world. Because what was popular in music in 1964 has certainly changed in 2014 and the selectors need to understand that and acknowledge the artists that bring us the latest music while still revering and honoring the musical pioneers of the past, and at the same time looking to the future for next worthy artists to be considered for this honor. A lot to think about in getting it right so the appropriate artists are rightfully honored.

To the 2014 Rock’nRoll Hall of Fame, I salute you:

Cat Stevens/Yusuf Islam – Your music is remarkable. I have every one of your albums and the music still sounds great today after all these years. Their beauty and simplicity is remarkable.

Hall & Oates – I had the pleasure to see you guys in concert at Madison Square Garden a number of years ago. An extraordinary concert, even though the only seats we could get were in the upper sections behind the stage. Thanks for looking up at us once in a while during the concert and waving. I’ll always remember T-Bone Wolk from your band as one of the best bass players in the music business and an integral part of your duo.

Nirvana – As pioneers, I salute you. Your second album, “Nevermind” is a true classic and changed a generation of listeners.

KISS – What can I say that I haven’t said already? Congratulations! You deserve to be in.

Linda Ronstadt – From the first day I heard “Different Drum” I was a lifelong fan.

Peter Gabriel – Liked your work in Genesis, but I really loved your solo achievements. I was glad to be in the 7th row of one your concerts at Jones Beach. An evening that truly will never be forgotten.

Andrew Loog Oldham – Your work with the Stones is legendary. Your radio show on Sirius is a treat.

Brian Epstein – Thank you, Thank you, and Thank you! You are still very much missed.

E Street Band – An honor that is well deserved.

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