IntroductionIt is interesting to explore how Rock & Roll has evolved over the years, and how society itself interprets it in changing ways. In the early days of the genre, Rock was largely based on rebellion against traditional music and a sound that was fast, loud, and strong in guitar work and beats. What happened, then, is that the music, and from the 1950s on, became completely connected to American and British youth. Suddenly, there was a genre young people could call their own, just as the distress in created in parents only encouraged a greater need for Rock in their children. In following decades, the genre expanded and songs addressed real social and political issues, usually of liberal motivations.
Also developing was how folk, pop, blues, and even country styles became more infused within the expanding idea of Rock itself. Today, in fact, what is actually Rock is very subject to personal interpretation, as many popular artists crossover between pop and Rock. Underscoring all of this is the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame (RRHF), created in 1986 and later situated in Cleveland, Ohio. Since its beginning, the RRHF annually inducts new members. Exploring the website, the following allows for a better sense of just how many artists not necessarily in the Rock world are so honored, and why.
From its first year, the RRHF has selected inductees not commonly associated with Rock & Roll. To be sure, legends of Rock like Buddy Holly, Elvis Presley, and Jerry Lee Lewis were in this initial induction. At the same time, however, 1986 saw Sam Cooke, Ray Charles, and James Brown similarly honored, and these artists far more reflect rhythm and blues styles. Cooke, for example, was mainly known for his soul singing, inspired by his Gospel roots and often in softer, ballad form. Ray Charles was also a soul singer, and he himself identified his style as combining Gospel, rhythm and blues, some country, and even Big Band sounds (RRHF). While these artists undeniably has great success and impact, the reality remains that they are not actually Rock & Roll artists, and the important point is that they were among the first inductees. The following year, in fact, emphasizes even more how multiple genres of music are represented as, somehow, belonging to the Rock world. In that year, Aretha Franklin, the first female inductee, was honored, as were Motown legend Smokey Robinson and Ricky Nelson. When the nature of these artists is considered, then, a clear fact is seen: the Hall of Fame is in a real sense misnamed, and because so many inductees had and have careers based on styles removed from Rock & Roll. Arguably, it should be known as the Popular Music Hall of Fame, as Rock is definitely a form of popular music itself.
Investigating the brief artist biographies on the website only reinforces this strange choice of name of the Hall. For example, Nelson, a 1950s teen idol, mainly played and sang in rockabilly styles or had hits with ballads. The Hall presents him as a “true Rock & Roller” (RRHF), but it is doubtful that many fans of authentic Rock would see Nelson in this light. Similarly, and in no way minimizing his brilliance, Smokey Robinson’s legend is largely built on his soulful, soft ballads. Robinson and the miracles did have semi-Rock successes like, “Going to a Go-Go,” but even these Motown hits are more pop than Rock. Essentially, real Rock has a harder edge not heard in such work. This in turn leads to the Franklin induction, as the legendary singer has always been removed from anything resembling Rock & Roll. In fact, it seems that her place in the Hall is actually based upon how she introduced white American youth to soul in the 1960s, when these young people were exploring different genres themselves. She is then in the Rock world only by association.
These criticisms of the Hall of Fame aside, however, the reality remains that it offers the website or Hall visitor the opportunity to learn about artists not really known to them. For example, the enormous impact of the Kinks, part of the “British invasion” of the 1960s, is very well presented. It is widely felt that the Beatles appealed to the heart and that the Rolling Stones held to a style more raw and sexual, but the Kinks were defined by what can only be called wit. They had important Rock hits like, “You Really Got Me.” Then, 1970’s “Lola” was a huge hit, and likely the only one in history dealing with a transvestite (RRHF). In later years, the popularity of the Kinks declined but, as the site expresses, this enabled lead vocalist and songwriter Ray Davies the opportunity to create more insightful – and often humorous – material. Ultimately, the site then inspires the visitor to hear the music of this band and appreciate is unique and evolving styles. Reverting back to the strange mix of genres within the Hall, it is interesting that, in this year of 1990, Simon and Garfunkel, widely and long esteemed creators of folk-inspired ballads, were inducted beside Rockers the Who and the Kinks. The strategy of multiple genres continues to this day, with 2016 inductees ranging from Rock & Roll’s Deep Purple to the clearly pop style of Steve Miller.
Ultimately, the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame is a conundrum, and has been one since its beginnings. The name is basically a misnomer because so many artist representing so many other musical genres are honored within it. At the same time, however, the name is unimportant when the value of the Hall is seen. This cultural center and its website offer visitors a wealth of information about hundreds of important performers and songwriters, and, if many do not exactly
represent real Rock & Roll, the contribution remains extremely important.
- Rock & Roll Hall of Fame (RRHF). Inductees. 2016, Web. 23 Nov. 2016.