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Who Should Be In The Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame?

Donna Summer, a possible Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee, poses for a portrait circa 1976.
Michael Ochs Archives
Getty Images
Donna Summer, a possible Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee, poses for a portrait circa 1976.

Cleveland's Blue Arrow Records is a refuge for lovers of vintage vinyl. And among the music fans flipping through the bins, you'll find no lack of opinions about performers missing from the city's Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. For Lance Kaull, it's one of the original boy bands. " The Monkees," he says. "What they did for rock 'n' roll — they should absolutely be in there."

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame's new class of inductees for 2013 will be announced later Tuesday at a news conference in Los Angeles. While the event generally prompts high-fives among fans of the winners, the list also provokes an annual debate over who gets in and why.

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Foundation oversees the nomination process. Its head, Joel Peresman, chafes at the frequent suggestion that the inductees are picked by a handful of guys in a smoke-filled room. "That's just not true," Peresman says. "It's truly a committee of people that are smart; it's truly a committee of people who care. These people know what they're talking about."

There are approximately 35 members on the nominating committee, including a mix of music journalists, scholars, performers and business people. But there's still a problem with that group, according to Neil Walls. He runs the website Future Rock Legends, which is devoted to the minutiae of the nominating process.

"Most of them were born in the late '40s, mid-'50s, and so they had their adolescence and their teenage years in the '60s, when rock 'n' roll was really exploding," Walls says. "When you look at the inductees, there have been more inductees that had their first record in the 1960s than all the other decades combined."

The committee creates a list of about 15 Hall of Fame nominees, who are voted on by a group of about 600 past inductees and others in the music industry. According to published Rock Hall guidelines, inductees are picked based on their influence and the significance of their contributions. Performers are only eligible for the honor 25 years after the release of their first recording. Musician and journalist Greg Tate says there's even a problem with that.

"It's still a conversation among fans about music that really transformed their life, but it might be a little too early to talk about how that music made a lasting contribution to American culture," says Tate. "I think if you're talking about a 50-year mark, you're more in an acceptable zone of measuring impact and significance [of music on culture, not the influence of music on a particular generation of consumers]."

But rock is music for the young, and waits for no one. NPR Music critic Ann Powers agrees that the committee was once a bastion of middle-aged white guys, but she says there have been efforts to bring in a younger, more diverse membership, which is reflected in recent hip-hop nominees and, this year, even Chic and the late Donna Summer.

"Disco is really influential among a lot of young artists today — both in urban music and hip-hop, and even in indie rock," says Powers. "Young artists really like disco music. That was not true of earlier generations."

Despite the new mix of artists, one of the biggest criticisms of the nominating process is its secrecy. Rock Hall watchdog Walls suggests following the example set by the Baseball Hall of Fame, which publishes the results of its nominating process each year. "The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame could do itself a big favor, I think, by being a lot more open about its process," he says. "It's just a very closed system that would benefit from opening it up a bit."

But, the Rock Hall's Peresman argues that it's disrespectful to start parsing the relative popularity of the nominees. "The ones that get in — they're in," he says. "It doesn't matter whether they came in first or sixth. They're into the Hall of Fame, and we never felt it was necessary to say, 'Oh, this one was the most popular than the other one.' "

For the time being, journalist Greg Tate doesn't see any end to the back and forth between the Hall of Fame and its critics. "It's not like it's going to be resolved to anyone's satisfaction," Tate says.

But back at Blue Arrow Records, clerk Tom DeChristofaro proves that you don't even have to be a fan to join the party: "I don't like Kiss at all — I hate that band — but, it's, like, ridiculous that they're not in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. They're, like, one of the biggest bands of all time." But that's just one man's opinion.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

David Barnett
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