What is rock and roll? This is the question we ask every year when the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame + Museum announces the nominees for its next induction ceremony. Why are there rappers and country stars and jazz performers in the Rock Hall? Why disco? Why pop? I think these are ridiculous questions, but I do understand why they are asked.
Rock and roll is many things. Some people feel that if there are no guitars and drums that it shouldn’t be called rock. The roots of this music are firmly planted in rhythm and blues, with a hefty helping of country on the side. But there are jazz elements, too. The Moon Dog Coronation Ball, widely considered the first rock concert, was referred to as a hot-jazz show in a Cleveland newspaper in 1952. And let’s not forget that Charlie Watts learned to play drums by listening to jazz records, and Ginger Baker took drum lessons from a prominent British jazz musician. Even if the music they made once they hit the big time wasn’t necessarily jazz, the influence it had on their musicianship is unmistakable.
Miles Davis is in the Rock Hall. Public Enemy. Neil Diamond. Donna Summer. Jimmy Cliff. Madonna. Run D.M.C. Herb Alpert. Nat “King” Cole. Which one of these artists can you say with a straight face is a rock and roller?
Answer: They all are. Rock and roll is a term that started out as the designation for a particular trend of music that was supposed to fade away once teenagers got bored of it; instead, it evolved into a variety of sounds and attitudes of personal and cultural significance. This is what the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame honors, not a rigid definition created by self-professed rock purists. They’re full of shit.
Rock and roll was influenced by various genres, and has paid it forward by influencing new generations to create their own styles. Why are so many people uptight about that and unable to acknowledge the democracy of this music?
As far as the 2016 nominees, here’s why they should and shouldn’t be inducted right now:
Why they should: They’re one of the greatest examples of a band that blended rockabilly, punk, new wave, art rock, and power pop and still sold millions of records. Not only did they fulfill the typical guitar and drum requirements to be considered rock and roll, but they added synthesizers to insinuate themselves into the late 70s/early 80s fetish for a more electronic, space age sound. And they did win the very first MTV Music Award for Video of the Year for “You Might Think,” which was probably the first time I saw them and knew how fucking brilliant they were. Everyone from Nirvana to The Strokes has been influenced by The Cars.
Why they shouldn’t: It’s pretty obvious that some of the induction choices the Rock Hall makes are based on commercial reasons, and if they are hoping for The Cars to bring masses of people to their doors then I’m afraid it’s a mistake. People like myself who grew up in the MTV era and our older, cooler cousins will be all about it, but younger people and the first two generations of rock fans will probably be lost on the significance of Ric Ocasek and his men.
Will they or won’t they? I am expecting a swift induction for The Cars!
Why they should: Dancing was an important part of rock and roll in its first two decades, so there is a natural connection between rock music and disco. Disco is R&B, which, as we remember from my second paragraph, is whence rock was born. Chic are Platinum-selling artists and one of the most dominant forces in popular music in the 1970s. Their influence is undeniable. I cannot even count the number of songs that have sampled or been inspired by a few licks of a Chic song! Queen took the bass riff from “Good Times” when they composed “Another One Bites the Dust” (see my blog about that slice of genius here!), and The Sugarhill Gang, Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, and Blondie have also used “Good Times” in their own music. Even Duran Duran and The Smiths claim Chic as a muse. And we can all agree that Nile Rodgers is one talented motherfucker.
Why they shouldn’t: Some people still hate disco more than a herpes outbreak.
Will they or won’t they? They have been nominated more than a handful of times, so I think this is their year.
Why they should: They have sold over 100 million albums since 1969, and they are still recording. Another example of a band that has incorporated jazz elements such as trombones, flutes, and clarinets. Jimi Hendrix is said to have told Chicago saxophonist Walter Parazaider that “your horn players are like one set of lungs and your guitar player [Terry Kath] is better than me.” If that’s not a reason to induct Chicago, I don’t know what is!
Why they shouldn’t:
Will they or won’t they? They are definitely a favorite, so even though I’m not a big fan I think they’ll get in.
Why they should: One of the few bands on this list that is pure rock and roll with no additives or preservatives. It’s difficult to think of Cheap Trick as anything other than really fucking good rock and roll. Their live album, Cheap Trick at Budokan, went triple Platinum, they sold out stadium after stadium in their prime, and they continue to tour and record. Rick Nielsen is one of the most recognizable figures in rock and roll, and my interest certainly spiked when he started hanging out with Dave Grohl! Joey Ramone was Cheap Trick’s number one fan. Many grunge bands would not have existed without them. And they got a shout out in Fast Times at Ridgemont High, one of my favorite 80s movies!
Why they shouldn’t: I don’t understand.
Will they or won’t they? Fuck yes, and Dave Grohl and Taylor Hawkins will induct them!
Why they should: Their 1972 concert at the Rainbow Theatre in London convinced the Guinness Book of World Records that Deep Purple was the loudest band in the world. A member of the so-called unholy trinity of British hard rock and heavy metal (along with Zeppelin and Sabbath, natch), they’ve sold over 100 million albums and are a true touring band. Their sound is obviously blues-inspired, so they cling to the roots of rock with all their heavy metal might.
Why they shouldn’t: There’s no legitimate reason they should not be in the Rock Hall. One former juror dismissed them as one-hit wonders, but that’s fucked up.
Will they or won’t they? Deep Purple’s previous nominations have turned to ash and blown away, much to the chagrin of fans like Lars Ulrich, Geddy Lee, and Gene Simmons. It would be a shame and a surprise if they didn’t make it this time.
Why they should: Hmm. Well…um. She’s a Jackson, so there’s that. She’s sold a shitload of albums. She’s super hot. She can dance her ass off. Her songs are catchy, at least the early ones. She was on Good Times. And she don’t take no mess from nasty boys.
Why they shouldn’t: Here’s one of those really questionable ones. She’s not a musician at all, but she has been a powerful force in the music industry for decades. She’s influenced the likes of Britney and Miley and Nicki, so…
Will they or won’t they? I am a fan of Miss Jackson, but I don’t think she should get in just yet. But since she’s on tour right now, they’ll probably let her in because it will be good for business.
Why they should: Because they were James Brown’s band. What other reason do we need? Funky as fuck and keeping Soul Brother Number One dancing for more than a decade. They played on classics like “Super Bad,” “Sex Machine,” and “Soul Power.” And Bootsy was an original member!
Why they shouldn’t: <crickets>
Will they or won’t they? They’re well deserving of such an honor, but I’m not sure they’re a shoe-in.
Why they should: Jazz and R&B were early influences on her, thanks to her grandmother, but as an artist she has also performed gospel, disco, and funk, making her a true rock star. Stevie Wonder wrote “Tell Me Something Good” for Chaka when she was with Rufus, further solidifying her legit stature as a rock goddess. “I Feel for You” added rap and scratching as well as a harmonica solo from her friend Stevie. Miss Thang has sold over 70 million records, including three albums that went Platinum, and has won 10 Grammys.
Why they shouldn’t: She doesn’t sing “real” rock and roll.
Will they or won’t they? Not this time around, but she’ll get in in the next five years.
Why they should: Their blend of old school rock and roll, traditional Mexican music, and R&B is everything rock music should be: taking personal experiences and outside influences and creating something unique. They didn’t sound like anybody else on the charts in the 80s. They’re brilliant musicians who are still getting’ it done.
Why they shouldn’t: Most people only know them for their remake of “La Bamba,” and too many people think of them as Latin artists instead of plain old musicians.
Will they or won’t they? No, not for a while. They have proven themselves to be reliable performers, so they do have a future spot in the Rock Hall.
Why they should: His mother was a jazz singer, his father was a jazz fan and amateur recording engineer, and they were BFFs with Les Paul and Mary Ford. Steve taught classmate Boz Scaggs guitar so he could join his first band. Played with T-Bone Walker, Muddy Waters, and Howlin’ Wolf in his early days as a musician. And the most incredible thing to me? When he formed the Steve Miller Band, they backed my hero Chuck Berry on his Live at Fillmore Auditorium record in 1966. So he’s certainly got the pedigree and is tripping over all those names he drops. He’s a multi-Platinum selling superstar and the king of the laid back and funny rock song, “Gangster of Love” and “Abracadabra” being my favorites. “Fly Like an Eagle,” “Take the Money and Run,” and “Jet Airliner” are all classics that everyone of a certain age loves singing in their local dive bar.
Why they shouldn’t: Nobody can question his musicianship or rock star status, so this is ridiculous.
Will they or won’t they? If it doesn’t happen this year, it will happen the next time he’s nominated.
NINE INCH NAILS
Why they should: Trent is a motherfucking genius! He’s one of the most creative and provocative artists of my generation. He’s the only real member of Nine Inch Nails (he hires a band for tours), so he is 100% in control of his sound. Commonly referred to as industrial, Trent doesn’t categorize his music as such. Though there is a lot of electronic sound in what he does, it’s not used as a crutch—Dave Grohl points out that Trent uses everything as an instrument. He has been influenced by Skinny Puppy, Gary Numan, and Pink Floyd, which proves that having a wide range of interests is the key to producing exciting music and stage shows. David Bowie is a huge fan, and what else could you want?
Why they shouldn’t: It’s loud and he screams too much. Why so angry?
Will they or won’t they? As with Nirvana, I’m pretty sure NIИ will get in on their first nomination. But I think the committee would do well to wait a few more years, not because Trent doesn’t deserve it, but because I feel like there are more artists out there who should be in first.
Why they should: What’s more rock and roll than a bad attitude and a big fuck you to authority? I don’t know much about them, and I didn’t listen to gangsta rap back in the day. I can appreciate it now because I see how it connects to the larger picture of race relations, poverty, and crime in America, and these are topics that rock and roll has tackled over the years as well, albeit subtly in its formative years. N.W.A. was all about illustrating the reality of their daily lives through masterful rhymes and a beat. They were one of the most significant groups of the early 90s, and were as controversial as they were powerful. Without N.W.A., there would be no Eminem or 50 Cent (Dr. Dre signed them to his label) or countless others who heard something they needed in their lyrics.
Why they shouldn’t: They definitely don’t sound like rock and roll, even when they’re sampling. Rock and roll has to be about more than attitude, right?
Will they or won’t they? Given the critical acclaim and popularity of the N.W.A. biopic released this year, it seems like this nomination is trying to capitalize on it. I don’t think it’s going to happen in 2016.
Why they should: Everyone my age remembers the kids in high school who wore all black, had pale skin, and listened to The Smiths while writing sad poetry. They were freaks who thrived on their alienation. Hmm. Sounds very rock and roll to me. Most of us felt like outcasts in some way when we were kids, and that’s why we latch on to music to soothe our angsty teenage souls. It feeds us, it makes us feel like we have a friend. Morrissey spoke for a lot of those kids. He was at once depressed and wickedly funny, unusually literate and intelligent for a guy who wrote so much about misery. His influences include the fabulous New York Dolls, Dusty Springfield, and 60s girls groups. Johnny Marr was The Smiths’ amazing guitarist (and a major idol of Oasis’ Noel Gallagher), who grew up studying Roger McGuinn, Neil Young, and George Harrison. This varied group of musicians provided the basis for the unique sound that appealed to disaffected teens everywhere, and inspired bands like Oasis, The Stone Roses, and The Libertines. I’d love to see them get in just to read Morrissey’s Johnny Rotten-style rejection of the Rock Hall.
Why they shouldn’t: Oh, Morrissey. He’s probably out there somewhere right now complaining that he was nominated for such a mainstream, corporate pile of shit like the Rock Hall. And if they don’t get inducted, he’ll be complaining that he has been disrespected as an artist—but rejoicing that he’s not in a facility where they proudly serve burgers not made of tofu or black beans.
Will they or won’t they? Nah, not now. Give Morrissey some more time to feel grumpy about it.
Why they should: Smooth and lovely, exactly what you need sometimes. Beautiful harmonies, laid back rhythms, lyrics that float off the grooves in those records and into your waiting ears. They struggled for two decades before having a hit record with “I’ll Be Around” in 1972. A string of Gold records followed, and The Spinners are widely recognized as one of the greatest soul groups of the 70s.
Why they shouldn’t: Can we hear their influence on any contemporary artists? Sometimes that matters when deciding who gets in.
Will they or won’t they? A lot of (young) people don’t know who they are, so I think they may be overlooked this year.
Why they should: Prog rock is still rock and roll. It’s a bigger, often more complex sound, incorporating experimental elements like mystical lyrics, layered vocals, and elaborate stage sets. For many, these additions create another level of enjoyment, and they are happy to give in to the indulgences of their rock stars. Yes has sold over 13.5 million records since forming in 1968.
Why they shouldn’t: A lot of people still laugh at prog rock.
Will they or won’t they? They have been nominated before, and I think it’s about time for them to be honored with induction.