Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Needs to Venture Outside of Mainstream to Stay Relevant

Paul Natkin/Wire Image
 Paul Westerberg, Bob Stinson, Tommy Stinson and Chris Mars of the The Replacements at their rehearsal space on Jan. 26, 1989 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. 

It's fitting that the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame revealed its Class of 2015 at midnight last night, because the list of new inductees is very sleepy.

Next year, Green Day, Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble, Bill Withers, the Paul Butterfield Blues Band, Joan Jett and the Blackhearts and Lou Reed will join the Rock Hall's hallowed ranks. Furthermore, Ringo Starr will be honored with the Award for Musical Excellence, and the "5" Royales will receive the Early Influence Award. Cue polite applause; pretend you care for 10 seconds. 

That's not to say these inductees don't deserve it. Joan Jett's inclusion is shamefully overdue, and it's too bad Lou Reed wasn't inducted while he was still alive (although it's a fair bet if he were living, they might've passed on him).

But the Class of 2015 is still a fairly snoozy bunch. With the exception of Jett (who was a gender pioneer in rock) and Reed (a sonic pioneer), all of these artists are footstep followers. That's not to malign the quality of their music, but Green Day, Stevie Ray, Bill Withers and the Paul Butterfield Blues Band all excelled at perfecting established genres -- making bank off music earlier, riskier artists had pioneered.

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And with the exception of Reed, whose Velvet Underground is the key alt-rock band, you can't point to any artist on this list and say they created a new type of rock. Did Green Day popularize pop-punk? Without a doubt. Did they create it? No. The Buzzcocks, who still aren't in the Rock Hall, can lay better claim to that. Similarly, Stevie Ray and Paul Butterfield were more about making blues-rock accessible -- and less about taking it to the next level.  

It's hard not to look at this year's class and feel an overwhelming sense of meh. And there's absolutely no reason for that when there's a sizable list of rock pioneers who still aren't in the Rock Hall. The reason? In most cases, they're just not mainstream enough.

Obvious examples abound. It's insane that Ringo Starr will join the Rock Hall twice while Big Star -- one of the most influential under-the-radar acts of the '70s -- isn't in once, despite its massive influence on the music of the last 25 years.

The '90s alt-rock/indie rock boom would be unthinkable without the Replacements, Pixies, The Smiths and R.E.M. But tellingly, R.E.M -- the best-selling (and dullest) band of that group -- is the only one in the Rock Hall.

That's the real problem with the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame -- its confounding disinterest in anything outside the mainstream.

Now I'm not saying they should induct Silver Apples, Can, Laurie Anderson, The Residents and Minor Threat all in the same year, but the Rock Hall could throw a bone to one left-field pioneer each year.

It's not that hard. Imagine how unexpected and refreshing it would have been to see noise rock/synth-pop pioneers Suicide and all-female post-punk outfit The Slits getting inducted alongside Withers and Jett (hell, even Springsteen is a fan of Suicide). Need bigger names? No problem. If the Rock Hall inducted late jazz poet Gil Scott-Heron, they could probably get a Kanye West performance out of it.

And while it would be lovely to see Nine Inch Nails in the fold, is someone with Rock Hall voting power advocating for industrial predecessors Throbbing Gristle and Cabaret Voltaire, too? Or are the Rock Hall voters too busy figuring out if Motley Crue should get in before Poison?

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With the eligibility of various '90s acts upon us -- and the Rock Hall's timid but proven interest in inducting artists who fall outside the proper rock genre -- it's entirely imaginable there will be campaigns for mainstream electronic artists well before Kraftwerk and Brian Eno get in, which would just be embarrassing.

Look, most of the artists I've cited aren't even obscure names at this point. Everyone knows Kraftwerk even if they don't get down to Trans-Europe Express, and the Pixies are probably on more playlists in 2014 than the Paul Butterfield Blues Band.

In short, I'm saying if the Rock Hall wants to maintain a veneer of relevance, Pat Smear should get inducted as one of the Germs before he does as one of the Foo Fighters.


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