It's time for the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame to clean up its act
The Grammys are trying to do it. The Golden Globes are talking about doing it. And the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame should do it.
It's time for the Rock Hall to clean up its act about how artists get chosen for induction.
This week, the hall announced six inductees — including Tina Turner, Jay-Z and Foo Fighters — who were elected by 1,200 voters (including me).
The hall also announced seven other inductees — including two who had been on the ballot for multiple years — chosen by some anonymous executive committees.
How does the Rock Hall process work? No idea. The music world needs transparency.
Thanks to recently announced changes to the Grammys procedures (eliminating blue-ribbon nominating panels), we know how the oft-maligned awards will work next year. We have long known how the Baseball Hall of Fame voting operates, and the actual totals are reported. Some years no one garners enough votes for enshrinement.
The only thing that's clear about the Rock Hall is that an artist is eligible 25 years after releasing their first recording. That's it.
There is a nominating committee that chooses who goes on the ballot. Who are the nominators? Don't know. The select members are never disclosed, though over the years we've heard that Questlove and Tom Morello have been added.
The late producer Phil Spector used to be on board. I knew a couple of industry executives and a critic or two who participated for a bit. We hear that Jon Landau, Bruce Springsteen's longtime manager and producer, chairs the panel of about 30 members.
I've heard that each member gets to make a nomination. In 2013, Questlove spoke up for his hometown Philly favorites Daryl Hall & John Oates, and they got on the ballot — and elected the first time they faced voters.
I have voted for the Rock Hall for more than three decades. Some years, we voters — including previous inductees, critics and industry workers — ranked our top five choices (if we opted for that many). Now we just check up to five picks; this year there were 16 nominees. There has never been a write-in opportunity on the ballot.
Why did it take so long for such deserving names as Tina Turner and Neil Diamond to get on the ballot?
Diamond has never been hip, and the late Atlantic Records chief Ahmet Ertegun, co-founder of the Rock Hall who controlled it for years, apparently had an old business beef with him. Mr. Sweet Caroline waited 19 years to land on the ballot — and got elected on his first try.
How could the Hall overlook Ms. What's Love Got to Do with It, rock's ultimate comeback story? She had been eligible as a solo artist since 1999 (she was inducted with Ike & Tina Turner in '91) but this was her solo debut on the ballot.
Rolling Stone founder Jann Wenner has been a Rock Hall kingmaker for 35 years. Cross him for whatever reason, and apparently harm your chances of being nominated. Thankfully, he stepped down as hall chairman a couple of years ago.
Now longtime industry exec John Sykes, a co-founder of MTV now at iHeartMedia, leads the board. He's trying to make some changes in the hall's nominating and voting procedures.
In an interview with Billboard.com, Sykes explained that the Rock Hall is "constantly refreshing" the ballot with "young voters," citing that as a "balance of power" with the nominating committee.
How's that? If artists — younger or older — aren't even on the ballot, there is no way to balance the power of the omnipotent nominating panel.
Sykes explained that this year there were three special boards (with seven members each) who chose inductees for "early influence," "musical excellence" and Ahmet Ertegun Award for a nonperformer.
Gil Scott-Heron and Kraftwerk, both of whom I voted for when they were on the ballot in previous years, were chosen this year as early influences. LL Cool J, who was on the ballot this year for the sixth time and rejected by voters once again, was tapped for "musical excellence."
When asked if this induction by executive fiat felt like a consolation prize for the rapper/actor, Sykes said "not at all." He pointed out that Hall of Famer Darryl McDaniel of Run-D. M. C. advocated for LL Cool J.
Well, one voice outweighs the votes of 1,200. Did the judge overrule the jury? Did one autocrat overturn the will of the people?
Of course, some people question why the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inducts hip-hop artists, pop stars and country singers. Because, as Sykes wisely pointed out, rock 'n' roll is an attitude, it's about youth culture (Youth Culture Hall of Fame? Nope) and various forms of popular music (Popular Music Hall of Fame? Nah, too bland).
This all boils down to a question of integrity because being inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame should be one of the pinnacles in the music world. In an industry once plagued by payola and still poisoned by cronyism, there needs to be transparency about the Rock Hall process to insure credibility.
But, let's be honest: ultimately the Rock Hall of Fame is more concerned about two things — attracting fans to its fabulous facility in Cleveland and creating a widely watched TV show for the annual induction ceremony. The hall pooh-bahs know that Tina Turner isn't going to perform at the Oct. 30 event, but LL Cool J certainly will.