I haven’t paid much attention to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland in the 33 years since its first class was inducted.
And now that I have paid attention I wish I hadn’t.
It’s not that I don’t like rock music — indeed, it’s by far my favorite genre.
But I’ve never given much credence to the notion that something as subjective as music ought to be treated like, say, baseball.
There is of course quite a lot of disagreement among baseball fans about which players should, or shouldn’t, be enshrined in that sport’s hall of fame. But at least baseball players’ careers can be compared based on wholly objective statistics (well, mostly objective; I’m not about to wade into such dilemmas as deadball vs. liveball eras, or the effects of performance-enhancing drugs). Baseball, and to a similar extent other professional sports, have multiple criteria that make possible straightforward comparisons — home runs and earned-run averages, touchdowns scored, rebounds grabbed, pucks netted or gloved.
Music is altogether different.
It will not do to say, for instance, that Eddie Van Halen is a “better” guitarist simply because he crams so many more notes into his solos than David Gilmour does, or that Aretha Franklin is a better singer because she has a greater range than Stevie Nicks.
I understand, though, the desire to have a hall of fame to honor an art form that started in America and that has had such a profound influence on our culture, and indeed the world’s, over the past 60 years or so.
We have something like an obsession with halls of fame in this country, anyway — there is, to name only one outstanding, and I submit surprising, example, an Insurance Hall of Fame.
One can scarcely imagine the debauchery that ensues during that place’s induction ceremonies.
(Actuarially sound debauchery, of course.)
If there’s anything surprising about the Rock & Roll Hall it’s that it didn’t get built sooner.
Recently one of my favorite music-related podcasts, All-Time Top 10, had an episode devoted to what the host and his guest deem the most egregious snubs in the rock hall’s history — bands or performers that deserve to be inducted but haven’t been.
I was surprised by what I heard.
Had I been asked beforehand whether I thought several of the artists discussed were in the hall of fame I would have answered yes.
And, in the case of Pat Benatar, Iron Maiden and Duran Duran, to name just three prominent examples, I would have been wrong.
This didn’t bother me, exactly.
My affinity for certain bands is in no way reduced because they lack the affirmation of the Rock Hall of Fame. Which, of course, is one of the more attractive things about music — you like whatever satisfies your unique tastes.
(Even if that means you sing along to The Carpenters and John Denver. By which I mean me — I sing along to both when I’m alone in the car, and to several other frequently maligned artists. I sing badly, but with a certain gusto.)
But the podcast did pique my curiosity. And for the first time I read the roster of Hall of Fame inductees.
I was shocked.
Seething with righteous anger.
Actually I wasn’t any of those things.
But I did, as I suspect any relatively serious music fan would, find some examples that surprised me, both among artists that have been enshrined, and among ones that haven’t been.
I found it passing strange that Bon Jovi, Green Day and the Red Hot Chili Peppers have all been inducted, but another trio, Iron Maiden, Judas Priest and the Scorpions, have not.
Each of the latter three has been a major commercial success and each has a loyal cadre of fans.
All three, I would argue, are at least as significant, if not more so, than those three groups that have been inducted — Bon Jovi, Green Day and the Red Hot Chili Peppers.
I wasn’t terribly surprised that several bands commonly belittled by self-righteous music critics as “corporate rock” have been left out. This cadre includes Boston, Foreigner, Styx and Kansas.
Their chief sin, it seems to me, is that they sold too many millions of albums. I certainly respect the notion that the best-selling bands don’t necessarily offer much in terms of musical creativity, but neither is sales volume always inversely proportional to quality.
That Bon Jovi has been inducted, a band I enjoyed when I was a teenager and still occasionally listen to but which is hardly notable except for its extreme popularity, suggests to me that the critical disdain for corporate rock bands is not consistently applied by the hall of fame.
But the more blatant omissions, I contend, involve women.
I think it’s valid that both Madonna and Brenda Lee have been inducted into the Hall.
But given their inclusion, I am perplexed that neither the late Whitney Houston, nor Pat Benatar, nor the Go-Go’s has been enshrined.
Madonna is a pop culture icon, to be sure.
But as a singer, to belabor the baseball analogy, she might barely make it to the minor leagues. Benatar and Houston — the latter in particular — are not merely major leaguers, but all-stars.
The Go-Go’s (unnecessary apostrophe aside) were the first all-female band to both write and perform the songs on an album that reached the top of the American charts.
The first and, almost 40 years after “Beauty and the Beat” was released, still the only such band.
If that doesn’t qualify the Go-Go’s for the Rock Hall, I clearly have no concept of the criteria.
Jayson Jacoby is editor
of the Baker City Herald.