When the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame holds its annual induction ceremony April 4, there once again won’t be any progressive rock artists amongst its five honorees. The Rock Hall’s snubbing of the once-popular genre hasn’t gone unnoticed by its supporters.
In the past few years, fans of Yes and the Moody Blues have started online petitions to get those groups a nod. Blogs and Web sites question the Hall’s choices, as did Stephen Colbert when he interviewed Rush (who also have a campaign petition).
Decades ago, these groups packed thousands into stadiums and sold tons of vinyl by pushing the boundaries of rock. But evidence suggests their elaborate concept albums, impeccable musicianship and oblique lyrics might have pushed things too far for the Hall’s tastemakers.
The Hall began honoring performers in 1986, starting with pioneers like Chuck Berry, Little Richard and Elvis Presley. More recently, pop acts like Billy Joel, the Bee Gees and Madonna have made the cut, but Rush, Yes, the Moody Blues, Jethro Tull, the Electric Light Orchestra, Genesis, Emerson, Lake and Palmer and Soft Machine have not. Beyond Pink Floyd, the closest the Hall gets to prog is Queen (who flirted with the genre) and Police drummer Stuart Copeland, who played in Curved Air.
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Prog rock (as it’s colloquially known) will especially be conspicuous in its absence at this year’s induction. Jeff Beck was already inducted with the Yardbirds (the Rock Hall has honored over a dozen musicians twice), while Little Anthony and Bobby Womack are artists with limited influence. Metallica and Run-DMC have leapfrogged over the classic prog bands with their nominations, since members of both groups were still in school when progressive rock ruled.
The nomination situation
So who picked Run-DMC over Rush? Well, it’s a secret. Sort of.
According to Joel Peresman, president and CEO of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Foundation, Inc., the initial selections are made by a committee of 30 to 35 music business people — who Peresman won’t name (although Fox News purportedly revealed a few names in 2007).
Peresman does say, though, that the committee is made up of people from all different parts of the business: “There’s musicians, there’s writers, there’s critics, there’s people from the live end, (there’s) managers. (There’s) a wide selection of people who have all been selected because we feel that they have a good, solid connection to a wide variety of music. Everybody knows a lot about different things, which is what the idea is.”
When that committee gets together every September, all the members submit the names of three potential inductees. They then have to defend their choices, Peresman explains.
“It’s not really that this one sold this many albums or this many tickets,” explains Peresman. “It’s really ‘What’s the significance of that artist? And why should they be inducted?’”
After a lot of discussion, committee members take a vote and pick the top 20 favored artists. That list is then trimmed to nine — the names that get announced each year as nominees. From there the list gets sent out to a much larger group, which Peresman says is made up of “around 500 to 600 people,” including “past inductees and other people within the music business.” Their top five choices are the artists who are ultimately inducted.
Monster issues and critics
Rock critics, who comprise a portion of the nominating committee, have historically held prog rock in low regard, as Chicago Sun-Times music critic and author Jim DeRogatis noted in a 1998 Guitar World essay. Critics used to complain that prog’s grand-scale flourishes and European influences were too far removed from early rock ’n’ roll’s immediacy. But as DeRogatis presciently notes, prog is now ignored instead of insulted.
That seems to be what’s happening with the Rock Hall. Have they noticed?
Slideshow: Rock Hall 2009 class “That’s something that’s actually been addressed, especially at this past meeting,” Peresman admits. “We look at things and see where there are some areas that we feel were kind of blighted — things that should be addressed. Last year was the first year that they did something different. They actually created some subcommittees within the major committee to say ‘Come up with a recommendation of a progressive act. Come up with a recommendation of some of the older R&B groups.’
“Besides Pink Floyd, we really don’t have much (progressive rock) in the Hall of Fame,” Peresman continues. “We realize that. And we’re taking a look to try and address some of those holes that we have in our place. So we just have to take a look at are we doing something right, wrong or indifferent.”
The Rock Hall’s very first choices for inductees sent the message that they wanted to set the record straight about rock ’n’ roll; specifically, that it was a genre shaped and founded by African-American artists. But now the Hall is creating its own misconceptions about what rock evolved into, suggests Scott Rowley, the editor of the U.K.-based magazine Classic Rock.
“Rush and Yes and ELO are as good and as loved and as worthy as most of the acts in the Hall,” noted Rowley via e-mail. “I think it’s very damaging to the Hall of Fame’s credibility to continually ignore bands that they perceive to be on ‘the fringes,’ whether they’re prog, punk or metal acts. It makes you wonder if the selection committee is actually run by music fans.
“We’re at a weird place in rock history where things aren’t as compartmentalized as they used to be — where people used to define themselves as mods or rockers or punks or metalheads. Nowadays people have access to everything and pick what they like. The idea of ‘a canon of rock music’ — established and defined by a musical elite — seems more and more ridiculous and untenable.”
Tony Sclafani is a regular MSNBC contributor and would nominate ELO and founder Roy Wood to the Rock Hall, if asked.
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