The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame deserves credit for including all genres of popular music

Lovin Spoonful

Why fight about what it is?…it’s all music…it’s all magical

By Phill Marder

(As promised last time, this exciting episode explores the definition of Rock & Roll)

Like me, the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame is far from perfect.

I know, I know. Hard to believe.

For starters, it should have been and still should be designated the Rock Era Hall of Fame. That way, when Abba, Madonna, Bob Marley, Miles Davis and countless others were inducted, there could be no screaming, ” They’re not Rock & Roll,” as if anyone can provide the definitive definition of Rock & Roll in the first place.

Ironically, the variety of music provided by the Hall of Fame inductees is one of the nominating committee’s crowning achievements. For while I can’t tell you what Rock & Roll is anymore than anyone else, I can tell you it’s not as limited as some of you like to believe. Rock & roll is not just two guitars, bass and drums, though that may be the trunk of the Rock tree, and the Hall of Fame recognizes that. The trunk yes, but many branches have developed as the Rock Era years have gone by.

Buried deep below the surface are the roots, Country and Blues. The branches? Everything else. So don’t tell me The Moody Blues aren’t Rock & Roll. And the Commodores aren’t Rock & Roll. And Yes isn’t Rock & Roll. And Donna Summer isn’t Rock & Roll.

As John Sebastian sang in the Lovin’ Spoonful’s “Do You Believe In Magic?,” “don’t bother to choose, it’s jugband music or rhythm & blues.” You’re right, Eric, it’s all meat from the same bone.

It’s Buddy Holly doing “Rave On,” then turning around to do “True Love Ways” or “It Doesn’t Matter Anymore.” It’s Elvis snarling “Hound Dog,” then doing “It’s Now Or Never.” It’s Fats Domino pounding out “Blue Monday,” then weaving “Walkin’ To New Orleans” in and out of the string section. It’s Ricky Nelson releasing two-sided hits that paired opposites such as “Just A Little Too Much” and “Sweeter Than You.”

Did Roy Orbison become a rock & roll star singing “Ooby Dooby” or such symphonic mini-operas such as “Running Scared,” “Crying” and “In Dreams”? Who was the real Eddie Cochran, the one who gave us “Somethin’ Else” or “Sittin’ In The Balcony”? Who was the real Gene Vincent, he of “Dance To The Bop” or “Wear My Ring”?

Were the Everly Brothers those of “Bye Bye Love” or “Devoted To You”? Was James Brown not symphonic in “Try Me” or “It’s A Man’s World.”? How about Ray Charles? Have you ever listened to the album “Ingredients In A Recipe For Soul”? Was Sam Cooke’s “You Send Me” closer to Donovan’s “Lalena” or AC/DC’s “Back In Black”? Or Bobby Darin – “Queen of the Hop” or “Mack The Knife?”

How about Jackie Wilson belting out “All My Love” or “Night”? Was Jackie Wilson not rock & roll? The Skyliners “Since I Don’t Have You” and “This I Swear,” two of the greatest ballads in the history of rock & roll…not rock & roll? For that matter, I could name almost any ballad that has become a rock & roll standard, “At Last” by Etta James, “It’s Just A Matter Of Time” by Brook Benton, for instance. Not Rock & Roll?

How about anything by rock’s greatest ’50s vocal group, The Platters. Not rock & roll?

The PlattersThe Beatles
Two different looks of Rock & Roll from two of the greatest groups, The Platters, the masters of the ballad, & The Beatles, the masters…period

Consider this album: Side 1 – 1. Till There Was You; 2. And I Love Her; 3. She’s Leaving Home; 4. Continuing Story Of Bungalow Bill; 5. Eleanor Rigby; 6. Julia; 7. Martha My Dear.

Side 2 – 1. Fool On The Hill; 2. Honey Pie; 3. When I’m 64; 4. If I Fell; 5. Yesterday; 6. You Know My Name, Look Up The Number; 7. Good Night

If that had been the only album you ever heard by the greatest band of the Rock Era, would you have called them a Rock & Roll band? And I could have turned it into a full four-disc box set.

The Beatles are a four-piece band that played rock & roll. Because they were so versatile, they could change instrumentation, style, mood, whatever you want to call it, to give us an unbelievable variety of fantastic music. Was it all rock & roll? I think yes. Was “As Tears Go By” or “Backstreet Girl” not rock & roll? They were great cuts written and recorded by what many consider the “greatest rock & roll band of all.”

Brian Wilson gave us some of the most beautiful music ever written. Was he and his group not rock & roll?

Where some bands would emphasize their “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” side and sprinkle in the occasional “As Tears Go By,” some bands go the opposite route, emphasizing the “Nights In White Satin” style while sprinkling in “I’m Just A Singer In A Rock & Roll Band” or “Question.”

And I could go on and on, which most of you would say I usually do.

I can’t pretend to know the definition of Rock & Roll. But I was there from the beginning. Actually, I must admit, before the beginning. I had a collection of 78s which I played on an old wind-the-crank phonograph, so I was into Perry Como, Jo Stafford, Hank Williams etc. before the “big bang.” Then I got a paper route – actually two – for the prime purpose of having money to purchase the latest 45s, the first three of which were “All Shook Up,” “Blue Monday” and “Mama Look At Bubu.” And I ended up delivering the bad news on the doorstep.

Still, I was the Northern kid who said, “But I will” every time the record store stocked a new yellow Sun 45.

Take my first three 45s as an example of what I’m blabbing about. “Blue Monday,” a driving rocker by Fats Domino, was backed by “What’s The Reason I’m Not Pleasing You,” which also became a hit. “What’s The Reason” was originally a hit for Guy Lombardo in 1935 and Fats’ entire catalog is sprinkled with remakes of old standards. If Fats wasn’t Rock & Roll, who was? Elvis’ “All Shook Up” also was a two-sided hit, the flip being the quiet “That’s When Your Heartaches Begin,” written in 1937 and recorded by the Ink Spots in 1941. Elvis…”The King of Rock & Roll.”

Harry Belafonte
Harry Belafonte was one of the biggest superstars of the early Rock era

The third became a No. 11 record by the superstar Harry Belafonte whose genes were provided by his Jamaican mother and West Indian father. In the style of what was then known as calypso, many today would not classify it as rock & roll but the chalypso was one of early rock’s most popular dances and it fit “Mama Look At Bubu” perfectly. Belafonte also had other major hits, “Jamaica Farewell” and today’s ballpark favorite “Banana Boat,” more commonly known as “Day-O.”

Twenty years before Bob Marley and just as much a star, why isn’t Belafonte accorded the same rock & roll respect? Only because those alive at Rock’s outset, when Belafonte was cranking out hits, are few and far between today. If “Mama Look At Bubu” doesn’t fit your definition of Rock, then reggae shouldn’t either. But both, chalypso and reggae, are branches of the Rock Era tree. By the way, the flip, a soft ballad entitled “Don’t Ever Love Me,” also charted, then returned four years later as the Arthur Lyman instrumental, “Yellow Bird,” which rose all the way to No. 4.

Which brings us to the conclusion. Can I tell you what “Rock & Roll” is? No chance. The best I can come up with is “music released since 1955 that appeals to young people.” Some young people find Metallica appealing, some like Dionne Warwick. Some love Eminem, others Linda Ronstadt. Some like The Association, and some, yes, The Velvet Underground. Some love Bob Dylan acoustic, some love Bob Dylan electric.

And some, me for instance, love all of it … practically.

Having been there from the start, when the radio played Little Richard followed by Johnny Horton followed by Paul Anka followed by Jerry Lee, I was exposed to every form of what was simply known then as Rock & Roll and, fortunately for me, I kept my ears open as the years passed or else I would have missed a lot of great music no matter what name you wanted to give it.

Why listen to the Moody Blues or The Commodores and try to fit them into a category? The Moody Blues, Procol Harum and other progressive groups such as Yes, Emerson, Lake & Palmer, Pink Floyd, King Crimson, Gentle Giant, Rush…you get the picture…are simply bands expanding the boundaries of Rock as far as they are capable of doing. Groups such as The Commodores, Earth, Wind & Fire, Sly & The Family Stone and others simply follow the lead of Brown, Wilson, Cooke et al. They’re just different branches of the same tree.

Little Richard rocks…and so does Emerson, Lake & PalmerLittle RichardEmerson Lake & Palmer

It’s not Rock & Roll if you confine the definition to something that approaches “Keep A Knockin’,’ but it is rock & roll if your definition encompasses “Keep A Knockin'” as well as “My Special Angel,” “Dark Side Of The Moon” and “(You Gotta) Fight For Your Right (To Party).”

So applaud the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame this time. Their choices leave much room for debate – and, in case you haven’t noticed, no one has ranted more incessantly about them than yours truly – but give credit where credit is due. The Hall of Fame recognizes the great diversity making up what is known as Rock & Roll. It can be The Red Hot Chili Peppers. It can be Chaka Khan. It can be Eric B. & Rakim. It can be Heart.

Those who were there at the beginning will tell you the strict categorization came later. When it started, it all was just Rock & Roll. When the new 45 by Elvis or Connie Francis or The Drifters came out, only one question was asked…

Is it fast or slow?

7 thoughts on “The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame deserves credit for including all genres of popular music

  1. Phill,
    You make a fine arguement that artists who compose beautiful ballads can be regarded as rock and roll. Now I’ll put you on the spot. Since you were there at rock’s inception, when you heard “Love Letters In The Sand”, did you consider Pat Boone rock and roll? You’ve yet to tip your hand as to whether or not you think he deserves to be in the Rock Hall of Fame. Time to stop straddling the fence.

    Putting the pressure on, John. But this is what I remember.
    First off, Boone didn’t compose at all, so I can’t support him from that angle. But he was a massive record seller and one of the finest ballad singers I’ve ever heard. As a young kid, I developed the habit of purchasing only records I really loved and wanted to listen to as opposed to purchasing records for the purpose of collecting, mainly because I had a limited amount of money. I bought “Love Letters In The Sand” and “April Love,” both #1 records in 1957 and both records I still love today. I also purchased several other singles, stretching to 1961’s “Moody River,” another #1.
    But while Boone was making exquisite ballads, he also was making some recordings that us kids considered downright embarrassing. Yes, some will argue he made money for Fats Domino, Little Richard and other rockers with his cover versions of their songs, but his versions of “Ain’t That A Shame,” “Tutti’ Frutti” and “Long Tall Sally” made him seem to us as the ultimate square – or the ultimate anti-rocker. Later efforts, “Good Rockin’ Tonight” and “Speedy Gonzales,” for instance, did nothing to dispel that image.
    So, in summation, if the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame changed its name to the Rock Era Hall of Fame, Pat Boone, as one of the biggest stars of that time period, I would think would be one of the first inductees as would Perry Como, who also had several blockbuster hits at that time, but didn’t represent anyone’s picture of a Rocker.
    But Pat Boone in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame I can’t endorse.
    How’s that for tapdancing on the fence?

  2. Fair enough. I guess we’ll agree to disagree. I still feel that his contribution to rock and roll in whatever fashion, still deserves an induction. Can anyone honestly say that Del Shannon ,by virtue of his induction to the Hall, was a more important cog in the history of rock and roll than Boone? Was Johnny Cash really a “rocker”? From what I’ve read, Pat helped make rock and roll acceptable to adults who wanted to run Elvis out on a rail. Yes, Pat recorded milk toast versions of songs, but in doing so did introduce white teenagers to R&B. I believe he’s the 9th biggest singles seller of the rock era, so somebody was buying those lame records. Didn’t you make a case in past articles about mass popularity being a better indicator than supposed influence? Are you sure you’re not dancing on that fence in white bucks?

    Actually, I was more of a Converse guy (black or white lowbies), John. But I think that was Boone’s biggest drawback. Our parents liked him!

  3. It will be a victory when Deep Purple and Kansas (in fact, most any prog/art rock band) are inducted!

    Lou –

    See the Great Blogs Of Fire entries “Rock Hall of Fame Stop Saying ‘No’ To Yes” and “Rock Hall of Fame in a Haze Where Deep Purple is Concerned”

  4. Phil,

    I just read this and the last blog you wrote on the RRHOF and in essence, I am total agreement with you on many of the points you brought up so far; one of which (from your 14 Oct blog entitled: “For the Rock Hall Of Fame (“Rock Hall”): Supposed “Influence More Important Than Mass Popularity”) you suggest that the Rock Hall “offer some criteria that actually can be substantiated by fact, not just opinion”. And now from this blog, I really like the clever new name you had in renaming the current hall to the “Rock Era Hall Of Fame” because that really is the direction this Hall is going, like it or not. So, I guess if the Rock Hall would heed your suggestion, then music fans and part-time photojournalists like myself, could find something else better to do with my time, then to stop “ripping” the Hall every so often (and ever since the nomination of the 2012 Class came out) on my own FB page and now on twitter. Note: They are only remarks but a rip, just the same.

    With that said, what piqued my interest in wanting to respond to you today on this “Great Blogs Of Fire” page was a posted tweet by another online site, referring to the publication of Rush’s Neil Peart’s essay for regarding the band’s choice to film their Time Machine project – the very city which houses this “uniquely flawed” hall of fame.

    Peart’s comment: “I have stated before that personally the three of us are not too bothered about that snub. We have achieved plenty of success and professional respect without those self-appointed judges, thank you very much”.

    This statement has certainly given me reason to pause once again at how 1) many other artists (who are not in already obviously) have expressed the exact same sentiment, but more importantly, 2)just how we music fans who care about this, have in essence, with all due respect, become so obsessed at a this lack of a clear direction into the nomination and voting process; really the only ones we are doing a disservice to is ourselves.

    Honestly, you think Jan Wenner and his cronies, really care what you or I think? Their dues, they believe have been already paid by all those (ahem) articles they wrote or editorialized for their respective magazines and why should “Joe Blogger” have to tell them how they can or cannot do what they were hired to do.

    So the reality is, and this is my opinion now, is that Wenner and his cronies are just having nominating whomever they please, justifying their nomination, and laughing at the critics, simply because they are in a position of power and by God – “They are the music experts”.

    And the bloggers who defend them, label you as a ‘Nobody’.

    I guess you can’t win for trying, right Phill? But now consider this. Is having our artist in, whom ever it is, mean a total victory? In seeing the latter discussion about Smoky Robinson and the Imperials, I guess not.

    And then you have bands, like Deep Purple for example, who if they are inducted, which Mach, Mark, (whatever) goes in? If you say the MK II edition of Gillan, Glover, Blackmore, Paice, and Lord; then most fans around the world, including their management in the UK would say great! But then that leaves out others and in all honestly, quite unfair (but then again, life is unfair) as well in the history of the band in ITS entirety. And that includes the Rod Evans (v), Nick Simper (b),late Tommy Bolin (g), Joe Lynn Turner (v), Joe Satriani(g), and current members – Steve Morse (g) and Don Airey (k).

    A mess now isn’t it?

    I guess that is why when Metallica went in in 2009, I did applaud them, for the most part, for including both former bassists (Jason Newstead and the late Cliff Burton), as well as current bassist’s Robert Trujillo when they were inducted. Although I know, original guitarist, Dave Mustaine (Megadeth),and another former bassist (not included) Ron McGovney, would disagree.

    On the flip sing of the coin, the late Ronnie James Dio was left out of Black Sabbath’s eventual induction in 2006(even though for all intents and purposes showed up to the induction ceremony) because he wasn’t Ozzy and for the Rock Hall to reluctantly induct a Heavy Metal band into the ranks of the Rock Hall (run for the hills), I suppose someone had to be left out of the equation and now Dio is gone. Will he one day get perhaps the Veteran’s committee vote for his band DIO to be inducted into the Rock Hall someday.

    Oh yeah, I forgot, unimportant Black Sabbath member Ronnie James Dio, only resurrected the band from it’s being relegated to it’s “dinosaur” status here in the states like Deep Purple is today. Remember, Heaven And Hell?

    Oh wait? This is not The Baseball Hall of Fame (that inducts it’s members based on pure fact and lately, overall character; this is the ROCK AND ROLL HALL OF FAME, who has just one criteria (25-year after the first recording) and then the behind closed door fun begins when that magic word “INFLUENCE” and contribution to genre of rock and roll music is invoked in the meeting rooms of these voters.

    Forgive me. I am so glad rock and roll artists Madonna, Abba, and Jimmy Cliff’s induction into the Rock Hall in 2010 made me feel so much better as I write this diatribe.

    I digress.

    For now, I relish in the fact that at least one award ceremony did recognize Depp Purple at their seven annual award ceremony in London. On November 9th, three members -Ian Gillan, Roger Glover, and Ian Paice were in attendance to accept their “Innovator Award” from the classic rock magazine. Yes, it was a small victory, but unfortunately not a lasting one I suppose induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in the states would be. But going back to Neil Peart’s original statement, I really think they don’t care. But fans, including myself do.

    And even if one day, that time should arrive for Deep Purple or any other band to be inducted, then after that is done, the continual discussion of “who’s in” and “who’s not” will again commence.

    Perhaps one day, the voters will one day get it “right”. It’s just my opinion, whatever that means.

    Julie Barela Mills – Freelance photojournalist for many reviews, articles, and or interviews relating to members from the band Rainbow, for over four years, including vocalist Joe Lynn Turner; drummer (the late) Cozy Powell; bassist Craig Gruber; vocalist (the late) Ronnie James Dio; guitarist Jűrgen Blackmore(Ritchie’s son for the Rainbow tribute band Over The Rainbow);and one day Ritchie Blackmore.

  5. Well, if ABBA is in, Where is TOTO

    TOTO is not only one of the greatest rock bans of all time

    They helped make the artists now in the Rock hall great…

    All the great artsist used toto members to help make great records….

    I can’t take the rock hall serious as long as bands like toto aren’t in it….

  6. This is an excellent article and covers so much of what I feel. We need to remember that this is the organization that took 20 years to induct Neil Diamond. Now, they are slow to even acknowledge the talents of The Moody Blues. However, the biggest egg in their face remains to be Donna Summer. Most people assumed Ms. Summer was already in the Rock Hall upon her death. After four nominations, how could she be ignored? Many people forget she did receive a Grammy for Best Rock recording, and “She Works Hard for the Money” became an anthem for many women’s groups.

    As a Founding Member of the RRHOF I have been very disappointed at some recent inductions. I have asked friends to name a hit song by The Faces. Not one person knew the answer or had heard of the group. I am sure Donna Summer will be inducted next year. Too bad they didn’t give her this honor while she was alive.

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