Conventions & Awards

Rock Hall finally finds its groove with 2023 nominees [Fred Jacobs]

Fred Jacob discusses the annual controversy of whether or not the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame nominees belong in the category and how the Rock Hall has finally responded with a new mission statement in defense.

by Fred Jacobs of Jacobs Media

It seems like the perfect example of “cause and effect” or “stimulus and response.”

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland releases its annual list of nominees – and the response is often a weird mix of anger, indignation, and vitriol from the large – and yes, vocal – legions of rockers everywhere.

And truth be told, I’ve been one of them the past couple years.  I like to think of myself as one of the more rational-but-pissed-off voices in the musical wilderness.  Still, the historic choices made by the nominating committee in the conference room of the Rock Hall seem….well, political, odd, offensive, and irrational.

Last year was a case in point.  My blog post title said it all:

“My One-Word Reaction To The Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame’s List Of Nominees For 2022: AUGGGHHH!!!”

And the image at the top summed up my level of frustration once against last year:

My contention has been that while artists like Lionel Richie, Eminem, and Fela Kuti are amazing talents that have entertained millions with their music, they aren’t “rock and roll.”

Last year, the poster girl for the Rock Hall’s misguided choices was none other than Dolly Parton.  No argument – she’s an icon and a treasure – a singer, songwriter, and all-round amazing human being.  But in the Rock Hall?

Interestingly, Dolly initially turned down the honor for ostensibly the same reason until relenting months later.

The more vocal critics have historically pointed to key superstars in the rock n’ roll club who’ve been systematically snubbed by the Rock Hall – for years.  Among them, Boston, Bad Company, Emerson, Lake & Palmer, and Peter Frampton – all of whom have made demonstrable contributions to Rock as we know it today.

Last year, Beasley’s talented Senior Digital Content editor, Erica Banas, got in my grille, making the argument the Rock Hall’s nominating choices have historically been, well….eclectic.  And my off-brand argument about the Rock Hall is old, tired, and misses the point.

We agreed to disagree.

The fact the Rock Hall puts its nominees out there, and then sits back, and lets the fur fly is always part of the issue.  Award committees and shows are always controversial by their very nature.  In fact, they thrive on it.  But c’mon.

The nominees make for great morning show fodder, as well as segments on TMZ, E!, and so many others.  It’s this attention that keeps tourists trekking to Cleveland every year to visit the always interesting Rock N’ Roll Hall of Fame.

But none of that negates the frustration and palpable anger that always follows the list of nominees.  Many fans are just a click or two away from being fanatics.  Seeing a favorite performer dissed by an august group of “experts” riles them up.  They take it personally.

But this year was different.  The Rock Hall uncharacteristically did two smart things.

Their list of nominees was more rational this time around, generating much less WTFing from the masses.  Warren Zevon and Soundgarden made the cut.  As always, there were strange choices – Missy Eilliot and George Michael – among them.

Music savant, Matt Pinfield, gave the list two thumbs up;

Long-time Detroit music critic, Gary Graff, concurred, especially as it pertained to Grunge staples, Soundgarden:

Perhaps the improved response to this year’s list was because the powers that be at the Rock Hall threw rockers a bone.  Iron Maiden made the cut, along with Rage Against The Machine, giving the list some grit and attitude.

And then Willie Nelson.  Like Dolly last year, Willie is beloved, an American treasure.  A great fit for the Rock Hall?  Maybe not, but we’ll let that one go.

Not everybody, however, was mollified by the Rock Hall’s choices, especially metal master, Eddie Trunk.  He spoke for millions of head bangers everywhere with this tweet:

But the organization’s other move this year was to finally explain itself albeit at the 11th hour.  The day before the list of nominees dropped, the Rock Hall released something they should have crafted decades ago – a mission statement.

In essence, they explained their “why?” – their raison d’être, the purpose behind their choices.

Planet Rock, out of the UK, put it this way:

“The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame issues statement redefining their meaning of ‘rock and roll’

Finally.  A mission statement, an explainer that provides clarity to what the Rock Hall is doing and how they define greatness.  It came from the top – the organization’s president and CEO, Greg Harris:

True that.  You don’t have to accept it, like it, or agree with it.  But it is firm, clear, and gives the Rock Hall nominating folks a lot of wiggle room today, and down the road.  And given the overall state of today’s rock, this may turn out to be a highly sustainable move.

Trunk Nation and its black t-shirt clad acolytes won’t be happy.  But the Rock N’ Roll community has always worn a visible chip on its shoulder.  And the Rock Hall’s done little to sand it down.  And that’s OK.  When it comes to the music you love, a little attitude isn’t a bad thing.

I, for one, am moving on.

This experience, however, is an important reminder of something else:

Standing for SOMETHING.  Your WHY.

It’s true whether you’re a musician, a museum, an radio host, or even a consultant.  What do you believe in?  What defines you?  What makes you tick?  And why should people align with you.  The very best media outlets – and that includes great radio stations – have values and a purpose.

This quality is what has enabled both Christian and Public Radio to capture the loyalty of its respective and highly different audiences.

Back in the 80’s, consultants charged companies thousands to craft their “mission statements,” a piece of paper that often ended up framed in lobbies all over the world.  They may have been well-intentioned, but they were one-dimensional descriptions that often ran counter to the way organizations actually behaved.

True statements of purpose are embraced by all the players in the game – ownership, management, the employees, and the customers.

We’ll see in future years how the Rock ‘N’ Roll Hall of Fame lives up to its stated WHY.  Kudos to them for doing it.

President & Founder at Jacobs Media Fred Jacobs founded Jacobs Media in 1983, and quickly became known for the creation of the Classic Rock radio format. Jacobs Media has consistently walked the walk in the digital space, providing insights and guidance through its well-read national Techsurveys. In 2008, jacapps was launched – a mobile apps company that has designed and built more than 1,300 apps for both the Apple and Android platforms. In 2013, the DASH Conference was created – a mashup of radio and automotive, designed to foster better understanding of the “connected car” and its impact. Along with providing the creative and intellectual direction for the company, Fred consults many of Jacobs Media’s commercial and public radio clients, in addition to media brands looking to thrive in the rapidly changing tech environment. Fred was inducted into the Radio Hall of Fame in 2018.

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