As if including ABBA and Grandmaster Flash wasn’t enough, the already cluttered wall of signatures at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is set to grow again this week, when nine new inductees will bring the grand total up to 728.
Those tapped to receive the honor Thursday include Cat Stevens, Daryl Hall and John Oates, Nirvana, KISS, Linda Ronstadt, Peter Gabriel, Andrew Long Oldham, The E Street Band and Brian Epstein.
These people have helped shape the radio soundscape of the last half century, and of course, their impact on popular music is substantial.
Herein lies the problem: Honoring every pop music icon shouldn’t be the purpose of the hall.
Rock ‘n’ roll isn’t a genre. It was a movement. “Was” as in “It is no longer.” Rock ‘n’ roll is dead and I’m not the first to say it. Like ragtime and romanticism, it was a thing that happened, and it’s over now.
But what did happen was nuts and deserves a museum. It was a time when black and white music came together and kids ran out to the bars to see what the fuss was about.
It was loud. It was new.
Somebody threw a backbeat on some 12-bar blues and it blew people’s minds. Elvis gyrated his hips on television, and everybody’s parents lost it.
“What’s this horrible din?” shouted a million dads while looking at lawnmowers in their Sears-Roebuck catalogues.
Figuratively, it was the time when America had found its older brother’s “Playboy” and snuck into its parents’ liquor cabinet.
But the Hall of Fame is trying to have it both ways: Curating a bygone American movement while staying fresh. The former serves a purpose and the latter brings in a bunch of money.
But either way, it’s a terrible mistake to make pop music and rock ’n’ roll synonymous. No matter how much people like Cat Stevens’ songs, it doesn’t make since for him to share floorspace with Little Richard and Chuck Berry.
When the Hall began inductions in 1986, it served a purpose: To canonize what happened in the ‘50s and ‘60s, and to immortalize those who made it happen.
And ever since then, the Hall has moved further away from that purpose, instead choosing to add some big names in pop music each year so they can host a big ceremony and try to get a video to go viral of something like Grace Slick and Lindsey Buckingham jamming on “The Weight” with a John Mayer guitar solo.
C’mon, it’s over guys. There are other options. Just stop inducting people. It’s that easy.
If a museum of Picassos ran out of paintings to include, they wouldn’t freak out and start buying up Warhols. They would just say, “Well I guess there are no more Picassos that we can get.” And that’s OK.
So please, Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, have a little dignity. Somebody, somewhere will probably still come to look at Fats Domino’s shoes or whatever you have there. If not, just change your name to Popular Music Hall of Fame. I’m cool with that.