Weighing In On The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame
Originally published in Goldmine magazine, 2012 Todd Baptista
For 25 years, fans and critics have lobbied, celebrated, and lamented the nomination and induction- or lack thereof- of many worthy and deserving artists into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Like everyone else, I have questioned some, applauded others, and been frustrated by what many of us believe has become a political process controlled by an elite few- the 1%. While I have read each and every letter published within these pages over the past quarter-century on the subject, I have never weighed in on the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame myself. Why not? Perhaps I have seen it as an exercise in futility. In any event, the recent online poll at the Goldmine website which offered readers a chance to vote for their own choices got me wanting to offer my own perspective.
It is not my intent to speak out against any previous nominee or inductee. While I personally may know very little about, say Leonard Cohen, there are others who scratched their heads when the Orioles were honored by the Rock Hall. Were the Orioles deserving? You bet, and those who have studied the impact of the pioneering artists of the ‘40s and early ‘50s would unanimously concur. My point here is- are there enough qualified individuals in power who are surveying the music of rock’n’roll’s earliest generation? Remember the Sex Pistols’ scathing 2006 letter to the Hall regarding their enshrinement? “You’re anonymous as judges, but you’re still music industry people. We're not coming.”
Let’s take a look at some of the artists who remain on the outside looking in after 25 years of inductions. One of the factions with the loudest organized voice has been the send “Neil Sedaka to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame” group. Checking out their online petition, over 13,200 individuals have added their name to the cause- including me. The Brooklyn-born Sedaka began studying classical piano as a child and was writing and recording by his mid-teens. In total, Neil scored 30 Hot 100 entries and nine charted albums between 1958 and 1980 including nine top 10 discs and the #1 hits, “Breaking Up Is Hard To Do” and “Bad Blood” which came more than a decade apart.
Back in the days when “Calendar Girl”, “Oh! Carol” “Happy Birthday, Sweet Sixteen”, and “Next Door To An Angel” were blasting from transistor radios, Sedaka and his music were fixtures on American Bandstand and the multitude of rock’n’roll package tours that crisscrossed the United States. When- and who- decided that “I Go Ape”. “Little Devil” and “Amarillo” were pop – and to the degree that they should no longer classified as rock’n’roll? Personally, I don’t see it.
If Alan Freed were alive today, I have no doubt that he’d be ashamed that the Hall of Fame has yet to recognize the contribution of the Clovers. While Atlantic Records has frequently been dubbed “The House That Ruth Built”, referring to Miss Rhythm, Ruth Brown, who enjoyed 24 Rhythm and Blues chart hits from 1949-1960, accolades for the label’s early success could similarly be heaped upon LaVern Baker, Big Joe Turner, and Clyde McPhatter and the Drifters, all of whom have been enshrined.