Who’s famouser, Carole King or Jay-Z? Has Kate Bush really done enough to be worthy of the respect of her peers? Have Foo Fighters paid their dues yet? Is it still far too soon to recognise the brilliance of Dionne Warwick or New York Dolls?
Such are the frankly ludicrous questions being asked of the 1,000 ‘rock experts’ expected to vote on the 2021 shortlist of aforementioned inductees – which also includes Mary J Blige and LL Cool J, among others – to the Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame (checks post, suspects I’ve been overlooked in favour of Peter Crouch again). Whether the ballot includes a box marked ‘all of the above’ is not revealed, but it needs one. Twitter’s response to the 16-strong list, of which around six or seven will make the cut, was one of shock that Tina Turner wasn’t already inducted (in fact she was, as half of Ike & Tina Turner, in 1991; this is her solo nomination).
But frankly, the whole list made me wonder what the hell the Hall Of Fame has been doing all these years, getting a bowling alley fitted? I mean, Iron Maiden? Chaka Khan? Todd Rundgren? Fela Kuti? All still in the queue? What is this, The Great Escape for pop legends?
The only correct response, of course, is to let them all in, as quickly as possible, and plenty of newer acts too, in a last-ditch attempt to stop the whole creaking edifice rusting into some sad, pointless anachronism. By limiting their inductees to acts with a 25-year career behind them, and to just a handful each year, they imagine they’re creating a gold standard of A-list acclaim, a musical knighthood. Instead, it’s kept them so far behind the pace of modern music that initiation has become a toe-tag on your way into the rock morgue.
T. Rex were only inducted last year. 2018’s entries included Dire Straits, The Moody Blues and Nina Simone. Lou Reed was two years dead before they let him in in 2015. Those still waiting their include Chic, Procol Harum and solo nods for Sting, Ben E. King and Steve Winwood. The appeal of induction has long since ceased to be the associated honour and standing; these days you only really want to be in there because it’s probably decked itself out as a five-star bunker for the high-risk to shield from COVID.
It might, from here, just seem like a harmless bit of fun for the dads, but by plodding clod-footedly along so far behind popular culture, the Hall Of Fame is playing a pivotal role in turning rock music into a museum piece. Each year it hobbles in waving daguerreotypes of some archaic, amber-encased 20th Century golden age of music, a world as deeply dislocated and decades removed from contemporary culture as Jacob Rees-Mogg’s LinkedIn.
It’s like your stream of Young Thug cutting suddenly to an advert for a George Formby gig, and each year it gives the impression that rock music ground to a shuddering halt around 1986. Having already given pop culture a quarter-century head start, it just lags further and further behind until it seems like it’s going backwards, like Tenet with more Doobie Brothers.
Since they’ve still failed to recognise The Smiths almost 40 years on and are only now getting around to their own Blur v Oasis, the planet itself will be a smouldering hunk of ash before they get around to Arcade Fire, The National or Perfume Genius. It’s baffling that the Hall Of Fame doesn’t just draw a line, induct everyone who’s ever been nominated to date, save us any more manufactured intrigue over the worthiness of Thin Lizzy vs Kraftwerk and get on with celebrating the artists that could do with the acclaim. Because otherwise it’s just making successful rock’n’roll look like a thing of the increasingly distant past.