Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Nominees: The Good, the Bad, the Puzzling

By Kevin Fallon
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Artists ranging from Alice Cooper to Chuck Willis are on the diverse list of 15 musical acts nominated for induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2011. A committee of rock and roll historians selects the nominees, which are then voted on by over 500 industry professionals. Artists who receive the most votes—and who are marked off on over 50 percent of the ballots—will be inducted into the Hall at a ceremony in March.

Last year was the Hall's 25th anniversary, celebrated with a splashy two-night concert at Madison Square Garden, starring the likes of Bruce Springsteen and Eric Clapton. Considering the spotlight that event brought to the ceremony, this year's 26th induction should have a higher-than-usual profile. What's good, what's bad, and what's puzzling about this year's nominees?

The Good:

Tom Waits is undeniably rock and roll, in the most understated and unconventional way. Even his Hall of Fame bio reveals the unique voice he brings to his music: "Chicago blues, parlor ballads, beat poetry, pulp fiction parlance and—when you least expected it—heart-breaking tenderness...elements of German cabaret, vaudeville and roadhouse rock." He's worked with everyone from Keith Richards to Robert Plant, and his songs have been covered by artists ranging from Johnny Cash to even Scarlett Johansson. Waits' inclusion on the list shows that a musician doesn't have to fill stadiums to influence rock and roll.

Speaking of stadiums, Neil Diamond and Bon Jovi appear on the ballot for the first time this year. While neither artist possesses the technical gifts of many inductees before them, they represent another, equally important aspect of rock and roll: the masses. The average rock fan may not appreciate the imagery of a Waits lyric, but they do belt their hearts out to "Sweet Caroline" at baseball games and link arms with their buddies to scream "Livin' on a Prayer" at the bar on Friday nights. Let's call Diamond and Jovi "The People's Nominees."

The Bad:

After several years of being snubbed, Kiss finally landed a nomination last year. In the end, they were passed over—for Abba. Kiss failed to receive a nomination again this year, a year in which their influence on the musical landscape is more evident than ever before (see: Lady Gaga). Sure, "I Want to Rock and Roll All Night" may not have pushed any of the genre's boundaries, but the group's theatricality certainly did. The outlandish costumes, commitment to staying in character, and production value pyrotechnics that they brought to their act have made an indelible mark not only on pop culture, but on the culture of music artists. Whether it's Adam Lambert wearing platform boots on American Idol or Lady Gaga wearing a meat dress to accept a Moonman: Kiss' influence is all over—if not rock and roll music, then rock and roll musicians.

The Puzzling:

According to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Foundation, one goal of the Hall is to "recognize the contributions of those who have had a significant impact on the evolution, development and perpetuation of rock and roll." And when you think of rock and roll, you think of LL Cool J. And Donna Summer. And Chic. (All appear on this year's ballot.) Whether or not "Mama Said Knock You Out" affected the evolution of rap music, or "Le Freak" perpetuated...disco, it's pretty evident that none of these artists embody even a loose definition of rock and roll music.

Sure, past inductees include Run-D.M.C. and Aretha Franklin, but their connections to rock music are far less tenuous than the aforementioned artists. Another name on the 2011 ballot, the Beastie Boys, arguably bridged the gap between hip-hop and hard rock music, which makes their nomination not only understandable, but wholly deserved. Which leads to the point...

What's Even More Puzzling:

Why keep calling it the "Rock and Roll" Hall of Fame? Some of the most influential artists of all time don't fall under the umbrella of the constraining genre—something the Hall itself is beginning to acknowledge with the diversity of artists it honors. And if not change the name (the Rock and Hall of Fame as an institution has become somewhat iconic, after all), why not alter the qualifying criteria? Rather than use the term "rock and roll" repeatedly in the guidelines for selection, perhaps it would serve the Hall better to just blanketly acknowledge that it recognizes achievement in, just, "music."

For the full list of nominees, and why they were selected, visit the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame's website.

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2010/09/rock-and-roll-hall-of-fame-nominees-the-good-the-bad-the-puzzling/63700/