You don’t have to look too hard to find objections to this year’s induction class to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. One of the more common complaints is that the likes of Donna Summer and Public Enemy will be enshrined even though neither one was a “rock and roll” act. From this point of view, it’s easy to go back and argue that the likes of James Brown don’t belong. James Brown is a funk icon who was a force on the US R&B charts, earning the nickname, “The Godfather of Soul”. He may have influenced some rock musicians, but on his own, James Brown wasn’t really rock and roll.
Nevertheless, I’m entirely in favor of inducting non-rock acts, for several reasons. First off, I hate drawing distinctions between genres. Where does the line fall to distinguish rock and roll from other genres? What do you do with genre-straddling acts who may or may not be “rock” enough? Secondly, and perhaps most importantly, I’ve always understood the name of the institution to refer to contemporary popular music in general as opposed to a particular genre. Rock music doesn’t have a default intrinsic place at the forefront of musical culture and 50 years from now, kids might see rock and roll as that stuff their grandparents listen to, the way we see the jazz, blues, classical and big band music that thrived in earlier times. It’s not an entirely new thought; people have been proclaiming the death of rock and roll for years now. With the rise of rap, R&B, country and electronic music, it only seems more plausible.
I don’t really put much stock in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. It’s a largely politically-driven institution whose main mission is to sell tickets and generate buzz for itself. I don’t think its stamp of approval validates a career or the lack thereof takes away from an artist’s achievements. Nevertheless, I can’t help but wonder if the only musicians who’ll be remembered 50 or 100 years from now will be the enshrined few. That would be a shame, but if that’s the case, it’s a good thing that the likes of James Brown and company are included.
The Payback – James Brown