Why 2024’s Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame Inductees Disappoint

Why 2024’s Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame Inductees Disappoint

In 2021, the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Cooperstown, New York, had a list of three household names (and, admittedly, one nobody) on its list of potential inductees: Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Curt Schilling and, ehm, Scott Rolen. Their career stats were eye-popping by any baseball measure or era.

Bonds =.298 average, 762 home runs, 1996 RBIs, 2935 hits; Clemens = 354 wins, 4672 SO, 3.12 ERA; Schilling = 216 wins, 3116 SO, 3.46 ERA; and Rolen was pretty good.

No one got in.

Admittedly, 2021 was something of an anomaly. The two major names—Bonds and Clemens—were heroes/villains of the Baseball Steroids Era, with all the lingering toxicity that entails. But, it was not unprecedented. The Baseball Writers’ Association of America didn’t induct anyone in 2013, either, and, working backwards, did not do so in 1996, 1971, 1965, 1960, 1958, 1950, and 1945. Not even to celebrate the end of WWII! And failed to induct anyone isn’t the right designation—they chose not to is. Which brings us to rock’n’roll.

Every year, as regular as a Taylor Swift breakup song, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame reveals the list of artists for its annual induction ceremony (October 19, Cleveland). Per the Hall: “It’s a diverse list that stretches from R&B/rock pioneer Big Mama Thornton to pop superstars Cher and Dionne Warwick, and from ’70s-rooted rockers like Peter Frampton, Foreigner and Ozzy Osbourne to ’90s icons the Dave Matthews Band, Mary J. Blige and A Tribe Called Quest.”

Diverse is one way to put it. Deserving is another matter entirely. And while some annual traditions are welcomed and heralded no matter how automatically they recur (your own birthday never gets old, does it?), there is a plodding inevitability to the Hall induction list that peels away some of the gilt, glitter, and splendour.

Inaugural Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees Chuck Berry and Jerry Lee Lewis (photo source: Cleveland.com)

Those first inductees, in 1986? They would be Elvis Presley, James Brown, Little Richard, Fats Domino, Ray Charles, Chuck Berry, Sam Cooke, the Everly Brothers, Buddy Holly, and Jerry Lee Lewis—a bit like nominating the Big Bang to the Hall of Major Universal Events. The Beatles, Bob Dylan, the Beach Boys, the Supremes, and the Drifters were welcomed in 1988. The Rolling Stones didn’t even get in until 1989, and the Jimi Hendrix Experience had to wait until 1992, so heavy, so black-hole-dense was the list of early favourites. And things went crackingly. Until 2012.

In 2012, the list of inductees included the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Inducted? How about indicted?

Suddenly, we were confronted with a kind of popular music version of what, in data copying, is called “generation loss”.

Simply put, the further you get from that musical Big Bang, that atom-splitting, the less likely you are to have genuine greatness before you, or, rather, a lengthy list of it. Let’s not get crazy—in the wake of the trailblazing geniuses, the atom-splitters listed above, there have been, and certainly are, brilliant, even transformational artists. But the words “Red Hot Chili Peppers” do not belong in that sentence.

Dave Matthews Band (photo by Danny Clinch)

Nor do the words “Dave Matthews Band”. This is where the Rock Hall diverges from the others by virtue of its creative domain—it’s the only induction ceremony that is performative. Unlike the other Halls, these inductees actually do their jobs during the Gala. Wayne Gretzky didn’t stickhandle up to the induction podium when he was summoned into the NHL Hall of Fame. No, in this case, the bunting, balloons and canapés aren’t incidental, they’re the point. It is the performances—Chuck Berry, Keith Richards, Jerry Lee Lewis and Neil Young, Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen, Neil Young with Led Zeppelin and the Pretenders, Prince and everybody else on While My Guitar Gently Weeps… There has to be a party. Which is why the Hall prioritizes an annual self-aggrandizing bacchanalia, and why there have to be as many inductees crammed in as groupies at a Mötley Crüe orgy.  

This year, there is also the weasel-mode factor. While no one will cavil about the Musical Influence Award, in honour of foundational blues legends Big Mama Thornton, Alexis Korner, and John Mayall, what does it mean to induct Jimmy Buffett, Dionne Warwick, Norman Whitfield, and the MC5 under the Musical Excellence Award. What are the other artists inducted for? Their shoes?

At a certain point—and it is this very exact one—we are reaching the second- third- and even fourth-tier artists. Not untalented. Not unsuccessful. Not unfamous. But also not particularly innovative or essential.

If there is to be one enjoyable moment in the Gala, it will be connected to this quote: “You know what, I wouldn’t be in it now if they gave me a million dollars… I’m never going to change my mind. They can just go you-know-what themselves.”

Cher (photo by Swan Gallet for WWD)

That was Cher on “The Kelly Clarkson Show”, voicing her displeasure at not having been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, shortly before she was. And while we await her gagging-down on those words—and setting aside the artists who should have been inducted before this substandard crew—without further ado, here is a very personal verdict on this year’s inductees:

A Tribe Called Quest (yes, we’re long since beyond the “rock only” category); Mary J. Blige (not on first ballot); Cher (maybe); Peter Frampton (okay); Kool & The Gang (okay); Ozzy Osbourne (he’s already in, but sure), Foreigner (no), Dave Matthews Band (of course not, see “Peppers, Red Hot Chili”).

It all makes sense in the era of Fame-over-Content. In the semi-final analysis, surely a Hall of Fame is defined at least as much as by who you leave out. But, in the final analysis, there may be a reason they don’t call this thing the Hall of Merit.

2024 PMA Magazine. All rights reserved.

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