When the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame back in early October produced the shortlist for this year’s inductees, the list was worth investigating for its technological orientation. Rock in recent years has developed a complicated relationship with technology, as I outlined in an article last week on the website of The Atlantic, a consideration of the forthcoming documentary film directed by Dave Grohl about a defunct recording studio, Sound City. Rock has slowly had to come to grips with losing its most-favored-genre status. It now sits alongside country, hip-hop, dance, pop, and other genres, and is increasingly the provenance of musicians who see it primarily as an antiquated, if venerated, form, not as a crucible for artistic progress.
In turn the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame has broadened its sense of what “rock and roll” means. When the Hall of Fame announced its shortlist, I broke it into four categories. There were the electronically sympathetic (N.W.A, Public Enemy, Donna Summer, Chic), the fellow travelers known as prog rock (Rush, Deep Purple, Procol Harum), a group whose contemporary fame can be traced in large part to a revival thanks to widespread sampling of their work (the Meters), and six acts for whom any electronic affiliation would be tough to trace (the Paul Butterfield Blues Band, Heart, Joan Jett and the Blackhearts, Albert King, the Marvelletes, and Randy Newman). Of the final six inductees announced this morning, a full half come from that list of acts unburdened by strong electronic sensibility (Heart, Albert King, Randy Newman), Rush was selected to represent prog rock, and two acts were chosen from the “electronically sympathetic” crew: Public Enemy and Donna Summer.
The two producers due for awards this year are Lou Adler (The Rocky Horror Picture Show, Carole King’s Tapestry) and Quincy Jones (who’s produced everyone from Ray Charles to Michael Jackson), both of whom turn 80 in 2013. At this rate, it will be another 15 years before Brian Eno is voted in.
All in all, it’s a less-rock-heavy list than I might have imagined, commendably so. It’s a list one might have had a hard time foreseeing in the hall’s early years. Of course, the Hall of Fame’s first inductees were named way back in 1986. The institution has had more than a quarter of a century to catch up with the early years. Now it must wrestle with the recent past — and, by extension, the present.
More on this year’s and past inductees at rockhall.com/inductees.