Is the Hall of Fame Staging a New British Invasion?
It’s difficult to avoid the conclusion that the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame thinks any publicity is good publicity. Which, to be fair, is a pretty rock ’n’ roll attitude. Year after year the organization generates negative reaction, not only for who they decide to induct, but who they suggest for induction, and who they avoid even mentioning.
“Besides demonstrating unquestionable musical excellence and talent, inductees will have had a significant impact on the development, evolution and preservation of rock & roll,” reads the induction definition in part. The problem is, unlike a sports hall of fame, where career statistics are more or less everything, the Rock Hall’s requirements are open to interpretation. We know the process involves a developing a list of nominees which is then voted on by “historians, members of the music industry and artists – including every living Rock Hall inductee,” but that’s all they to tell us. “No comment” is only a rock ’n’ roll attitude when it’s used sparingly.
This year, however, the results seem to suggest the Rock Hall have been thinking about one of the more regular annual criticisms: that of ignoring the U.K.’s contribution to the “development, evolution and preservation of rock & roll.” The class of 2019 is Def Leppard, Roxy Music, Radiohead, the Zombies, the Cure, Stevie Nicks and Janet Jackson. Five of the seven inductees are British. That means, as April 2019, 48 of the 330 inductees since 1986 will be British – one in every seven. Only eight inductees come from outside the U.S. and U.K., and that’s another story; but is it really arguable that the Yanks’ contribution to rock ’n’ roll is six times as valuable as the Brits’?
“It’s a very American institution,” Def Leppard frontman Joe Elliott told Rolling Stone this week. “The influence that British music has had on American artists over time – especially in the ’60s and ‘70s with bands like the Rolling Stones, the Who, Led Zeppelin, the Beatles and Black Sabbath – was massive. But there are bands that weren’t as popular as them and didn’t necessarily take off the States, but were extremely influential on people. I’m ecstatic that Roxy Music are in. Many Americans probably didn’t know much about Roxy Music until [1982’s] Avalon, but the truth is in 1972 when they put out “Virginia Plain,” between them and David Bowie they instantly, overnight changed the face of pop music.”
He added, “there’s a million artists that count Roxy Music as a major influence. For the more bricklayer rock, if you like, there’s Queen and Slade and artists like T. Rex and Mott the Hoople. It is a little sad that they don’t get the recognition. I imagine that’s because most people on the committee are American East Coast and they go, ‘Well, they didn’t really make any impact.’ Well, yes they did. Not on your shores, but they did in the U.K. and that shouldn’t be ignored.”
Elliott suggested “a sub-ceremony for the British Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in London.” Maybe a completely separate body is a great rock ’n’ roll idea: Take something that someone else created, add your own spin on it, move in a different direction and build a new genre. If the original Rock Hall isn’t going to do it, why doesn’t someone else?
The thing is, they might actually be doing it, only they’re not telling us. In the usual round of What’s Wrong With the Rock Hall articles, you’ll find several intriguing suggestions about how to fix it.
One is to deal with the near-impossibility of including everyone by putting a closing date on induction: Artists already have to be 25 years beyond the release of their first album, but what if they’re only eligible for a 15-year period after that? It might address the problem of having so many people to honor that they’re still somewhere in the late ‘70s or early ‘80s after 32 years in the game. Another regular suggestion is that, each year, the committee should have a theme element. They could, for example, concentrate on heavy metal – a genre they’re often accused of ignoring. With their British focus this year, maybe a theme policy has already been engaged. Only, of course, they won’t comment on that.
Even if they are, they’re doing it their way, which is not necessarily anyone else’s. The Rock Hall’s version of a British Invasion still doesn’t include Iron Maiden or Motorhead, and has barely brushed against Judas Priest. Who can deny those artists’ “impact on the development, evolution and preservation of rock & roll”? Who can argue that their impact isn’t as least as notable, and maybe more so, that Radiohead’s or the Cure’s?
It’s sometimes suggested that the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame won’t induct anyone who’s been critical of them, or who won’t play for publicity, or who will refuse to attend the induction ceremony. Yet Radiohead have said they may not be there – and, in 2006, Rock Hall boss Jann Wenner read out an absence note in which the Sex Pistols called the establishment a “piss stain.” (Any publicity is good publicity, right?) Maiden and Motorhead have at times voiced negative views: Bruce Dickinson recently called the hall “vulgar” and Lemmy slammed it in 2012 after a loaned jacket was lost. Yet Judas Priest have been nothing but friendly in their comments. So, while it may not be that, it may be the oft-repeated accusation that they're ignoring metal, except when they just can’t – such as mainstream crossover giants Metallica.
If change is afoot, they’re not going to tell us. If change is afoot, perhaps it has to be glacial in its pace, simply because of the massive role the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame took on (although they took it on themselves).
Def Leppard were a shoo-in. Even though their shows are festooned with British flags, the band has never shied away of being massively American – or at least international – in their approach. That appears to have given the committee the opportunity to squeeze in Radiohead and Roxy Music, whose approach is undeniably British even though their influence is undeniably global. With Joe Elliott, one of most undeniably enthusiastic fans of rock music in all its genres, soon to be inside the hall, with a new level of influence of his own, maybe that opens the doors to finally recognizing some notable British absentees – and then American ones, and then ones from around the world.
Or maybe not. The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame does what it wants, when it wants – which is pretty rock ’n’ roll, really.