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Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Rock Hall Welcomes The Class Of 2011

A few weeks ago, the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame announced its class of 2011 and, outside of Alice Cooper and Neil Diamond, some casual music fans were left asking “who are these people?”

Tom Waits, Darlene Love, and Dr. John round out the field of five, and while most music experts agree that all of this year’s inductees are deserving of the honour, these musicians aren’t exactly household names. Bigger names such as Bon Jovi, the Beastie Boys, and Kiss will have to wait at least another year to see if they make the cut.

With all due respect to this year’s class, I was not initially convinced that some of the inductees should really be in over a band that, 25 years after their first release, is still the biggest touring act in the country (Bon Jovi), a rap group that helped define the genre (the Beasties), or the band that turned rock music into a marketable commodity—for better or for worse (Kiss).

With this thought burning in my mind, I decided to research exactly what it is that the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame (or the “Rock Hall,” as it has come to be known) voters are looking for when they place their votes. I did not have to look far—the qualifications are addressed right on the Rock Hall website:

To be eligible for induction as an artist (as a performer, composer, or musician) into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the artist must have released a record, in the generally accepted sense of that phrase, at least 25 years prior to the year of induction; and have demonstrated unquestionable musical excellence.

We shall consider factors such as an artist's musical influence on other artists, length and depth of career and the body of work, innovation and superiority in style and technique, but musical excellence shall be the essential qualification of induction.

So how exactly have Mr. Waits, Ms. Love, and Dr. John met these criteria?

Tom Waits is a highly regarded influence in the music community—while a grossly underrated talent outside of it. The gravel-voiced crooner’s career was born in the early ‘70s, and his ability to paint stark images with his words is matched by few.

Darlene Love’s impact was mainly felt during the ‘50s and ‘60s through her work with Phil Spector and his “Wall of Sound” production. As a backing vocalist, the list of artists that she worked with during this time is a virtual who’s who of the rock & roll and R&B scenes including Elvis Presley, the Beach Boys, and Sam Cooke.

In a career that has spanned nearly 60 years, Dr. John—whose musical styling ranges from jazz and blues to rock and pop—embodies the New Orleans music scene. His longevity and innovation are what landed him his spot in the Hall.

The one trait that all three of these talented musicians share is that their contributions and influences are well-documented within the music community (Waits’ emotional vocals have impacted artists ranging from Chris Cornell to Nick Cave; Love’s legacy can be heard in the work of Luther Vandross and Patti LaBelle; Dr. John’s unique sound has influenced the likes of Harry Connick Jr. and G. Love), but in a wider sense, are largely unrecognized.

The criticism of the Rock Hall has long been that popular “big name” artists are often inducted ahead of more talented individuals, and while I take nothing away from this year’s class (they all deserve the accolade), I’m not sure I agree that this is even a problem.

Hasn’t rock & roll always been about the fans? What makes a successful rock band is an intangible quality that many simply refer to as “it.” “It” is what allows the act to connect with its fans, regardless of factors such as technical ability or technique—either an act has “it” or it doesn’t.

A rock act’s musical talent should not be the sole barometer of success, and I’m not sure that the criteria listed above exhibits that philosophy. Rock musicians that challenge us intellectually deserve their due, but let’s not forget the acts that we worshiped when we were growing up—which is why we fell in love with rock in the first place.

For a collection of work from the Class of 2011, click the banner below:

Did the Rock Hall get it right with the class of 2011? Who got snubbed? Who would you have voted in? Let us know in the comments below!

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