Reporting Brian Ives
Tonight, the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame inducts the class of 2013. Among music fans, this is the event that inspires more spirited debate than any other. Who should be inducted? Who shouldn’t? Why isn’t KISS in? And most of all, what is “rock and roll” anyway?
“You have to have accepted a long time ago that the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame isn’t literal,” Entertainment Weekly Senior Editor Leah Greenblatt explains to Radio.com. “For years, they’ve inducted artists from other genres.”
Indeed, the Hall Of Fame has interpreted rock and roll as an inclusive umbrella, wide enough to encompass pop (Madonna), reggae (Bob Marley and Jimmy Cliff), jazz (Miles Davis), country (Johnny Cash) and singer-songwriters who wouldn’t generally be classified as “rock” (Leonard Cohen, Laura Nyro and even Neil Diamond). There have also been artists inducted as “early influences,” including Hank Williams, Mahalia Jackson, Pete Seeger and Louis Armstrong.
That makes sense: rock and roll, in its early years, was a cross-cultural gumbo that included blues, country, jazz and gospel. And while radio formats, magazines and concert promoters are among the gatekeepers who have increasingly categorized music into different genres over the decades, the nominating committee of the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame seems to avoid being constrained by those formats when considering artists for induction.
This year’s honorees include an interesting cross-section: hip-hop powerhouse Public Enemy, classic rock mainstays Rush and Heart, disco icon Donna Summer, singer-songwriter Randy Newman and blues legend Albert King.
“What I like about this list is it really represents a range of what popular music is, and what rock and roll is,” Rolling Stone contributing editor and author Anthony DeCurtis tells Radio.com. “I’m on the nominating committee; we fight about this all the time. But that list is a pretty good representation. Anybody who wants to, can quibble about any of those choices. And they do! But I feel good about almost everybody who we have put in there over the years.”
Watch our recent Radio.com Inside Out episode on 2013’s Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame induction class, below.
Being inducted into the Hall Of Fame is a big honor for any artist, and relatively few are voted in when they are first eligible (25 years after their first release). Bruce Springsteen, Prince, The Clash and U2 have all been voted in as soon as they hit the quarter century mark. This year, Public Enemy is the only newly eligible act to be voted in. That has been the source for at least some grumbling from the rock fans who don’t consider hip-hop as part of rock and roll. But Public Enemy isn’t the first hip-hop act to be inducted; in fact, they’re the fourth, after Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five, Run-D.M.C. and the Beastie Boys.
Alan Light, an author and music journalist who previously served as the editor-in-chief of both hip-hop magazine Vibe and alternative rock magazine Spin, tells Radio.com that Public Enemy’s induction “is an acknowledgement that these guys really changed the playing field.”
“Whether you personally like this artist or not, they clearly had a major impact on music,” Light continues. “I don’t think that there’s any argument that sonically and creatively, but also in terms of approach and politics, Public Enemy rewrote the rulebook. For the years that they were at the peak of their game, there was no band in any genre that made the impact that they made.”
Public Enemy had a real credibility with rock fans. They toured with U2, the Sisters Of Mercy and thrash metal band Anthrax (whom they collaborated with on the genre smashing “Bring The Noise ’91”). Anthrax’s guitarist and leader Scott Ian tells Radio.com that “they changed music.” “[Their 1987 album] It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back, I compare that album to the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band or Guns ‘N Roses’ Appetite For Destruction or Led Zeppelin’s IV,” Ian says. “It you make a list of albums that changed the world, that changed the way we hear music, that album has to be on that list.”