Tonight will see a group of six new artists join the ranks of other music legends in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, with the 29th Annual Induction Ceremony being held at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York. This year’s inductees include Peter Gabriel, Hall and Oates, Kiss, Nirvana, Linda Ronstadt, and Cat Stevens – a diverse lineup that has seen no shortage of discussion in the music press.
The Hall of Fame’s selections have routinely been up for debate amongst music lovers, and for a deeper look into the 2014 ceremony we reached out to Music Business faculty Michael Conner (Course Director for History of Popular Music), Paul Harlyn (Course Director Music History II), and Matt Tote (Associate Course Director History of Popular Music I), who offered their thoughts on the six inductees and the organization as a whole.
FS: Do you think it’s important to have an organization like the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame that recognizes classic and influential artists?
Michael Conner: The Hall of Fame to me is a way to honor people’s work and recognize that they’ve been influential to a generation. Like in all arts, we establish some pillar in which we build upon – when you want to learn how to paint, you look at the masters. So if you want to learn how rock evolved or how people were influenced, we have these references that have been agreed upon within that guild.
Paul Harlyn: I feel music history in general empowers current lovers of music to look at things they might not have for inspiration. In my course I start in 1966 with [The Beach Boys’] Pet Sounds and [The Beatles’] Revolver – the beginning of the use of the recording studio as an instrument – and my students eat that up. The Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame keeps that in mind in terms of the future. Hopefully this museum will be around for a long time so 20 years from now so there’s always a reminder of these artists.
FS: Some of the criticism stems from certain inductees not being considered strict “rock” artists. Where do you fall on that debate?
MC: It’s subjective, there’s things that people won’t agree on – like how vast is rock n roll? Do we include hip-hop pioneers? Do we include blues artists? Would Robert Johnson or Charley Patton even want to be in the Hall? Overall I think the nominations are only getting more interesting, and that’s a good thing.
PH: Rock and roll is a genre, but it is also an attitude – it could be hip-hop or folk. The key question is what does the music embody?
Matt Tote: So many genres blend together, which makes it less of an issue. The first three hip-hop bands inducted intp the Hall of Fame had heavy hard rock influences – Public Enemy, Run-D.M.C., and Beastie Boys.
FS: There’s been a lot of talk in the media about Kiss’ inclusion this year, even amongst the members themselves. What makes the band important in terms of rock history?
PH: Kiss took rock as a spectacle to the next level, which is what stadium tours from the last 20 years have had to follow. They raised the ante. They also hit an emotional core with fans that would resonate, and made audience members feel like a big part of the ‘Kiss Army,’ and even larger than their current life situation.
MC: Absolutely. Bringing the fans in and embracing them like did – no band was really doing that back then. I also think with Kiss, they’re not just recognizing the music, but the accomplishments of them as a brand. They have transcended just a musical act and really created the modern marketing model.
FS: Which inductees are you personally excited about this year?
MT: Nirvana made a big enough impact in the brief period of time they were around to be inducted in their first year of eligibility. Rock carries this rebellious attitude throughout its history, and if you think about bands that made a huge shift in the sound of rock music, Nirvana really changed things. After Nirvana there became so many more different styles of metal and hard rock.
MC: I think Hall and Oates are great because they synthesized rock n’ roll with soul music in a way that had never been done before. They understood the history of who they were influenced by, and were constantly trying to pull that heritage into their music. You look at ‘She’s Gone,’ ‘Rich Girl,’ ‘Sara Smile’ – those are some damn good soul songs and very relevant to that genre. Also, Darryl Hall has become important again because of his show, which is constantly exposing a new generation to all these classic artists.
PH: Cat Stevens operated only from the 60s through the middle 70s, then disappeared for about 20 years. He disassociated himself from the music industry because he felt like it was artifice, and not connected to his spiritual feelings. But he had these great songs and a faithful following, and if you look at his lyrics, they really did have a spiritual bent. I believe he deserves to be in for his legacy.
Then Peter Gabriel went way beyond his work with Genesis once he went out on his own. When a Peter Gabriel song came on the radio it was so shockingly different. His songs like ‘Sledgehammer’ or ‘Big Time,’ and of course, ‘Biko,’ they stuck out. Then there were all his humanitarian efforts. You would not be hearing some of the world music that came after if it had not been for him.
FS: Which bands would you eventually like to see inducted into the Hall of Fame?
PH: The idea that Yes is not in there is a crime. Just thinking about their album Fragile from 1972, and how in your face some of that stuff is. I saw them live back in the 70s a couple of times and just to see the energy and love they put out from the stage. There was a magic chemistry in those classic five people and their early records.
MC: I could make a big point for Journey because of the band’s song craft and that voice. Steve Perry – of that generation of vocalists – he’s the guy who taught tenors how to sing in the 80s, and has become an influence for so many singers afterwards. If you look at Mariah Carey as the blueprint for female singers today, he is the blueprint for male pop singers.
MT: I think Iron Maiden would eventually have to be considered because of their music and longevity. They’re still selling out arenas, and influenced most every metal band in some way – the dual guitar leads, the operatic vocals. And then their mascot Eddie, if you want to talk about a brand – Eddie is on every single poster of theirs and is instantly recognizable.