Last month, a diverse group of performers were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, Ohio: Tina Turner, The Foo Fighters, Jay Z, Carole King, Todd Rundgren and The Go-Go’s.
These names may or may not mean anything to you. I recognize them all, and while I nostalgically take a passing interest in those inducted, I don’t get emotionally invested.
What I find more interesting than the inductions are the reactions, and I think they reflect bigger things.
It seems each year there is a sizable crowd not happy with those inducted. Some are unhappy because their favorite band was snubbed, but to me, the more disturbing argument people make each year at induction is “that isn’t rock!”
These people often pronounce the word as if it were spelled “rawk,” as in “That band really knows how to rawk!”
When I was a kid listening to the radio, everything that wasn’t country and western or classical was rock and roll. If it annoyed your parents, it was most likely rock and roll, and everything I liked annoyed my parents.
I am just old enough to remember when FM radio was a novelty. You typically got your music through the AM radio in the car or a small transistor radio. WRKO out of Boston was the cool station. There wasn’t a great deal of choice.
Because of this, WRKO played just about everything young people liked. Within half an hour of listening, you might hear a Motown song followed by Deep Purple’s “Smoke on the Water” (a “rawk” classic with one of the most famous guitar riffs of all time) followed by Cher’s latest hit. They’d also mix in Elton John, Elvis Presley, Led Zeppelin and the Allman Brothers.
It was all rock and roll to us.
When it came to buying records and going to concerts, people would be far more discriminating. You obviously would buy the albums produced by the bands you enjoyed, and the 45 RPM single allowed you to purchase hit records if an artist had one good song.
Then, in the mid-’70s, things changed. FM radio became more popular, and suddenly music became more segmented.
Some radio stations began playing what people called “oldies,” songs from the 1950s and early 1960s because people of a certain age considered the current music to be “noise.” Other stations began playing “classic rock,” mostly harder-edged music by acts known for filling arenas.
Classic rock stations did not play songs they called “pop,” generally smoother sounding love and dance songs. Disco and dance music had its own niche. Eventually rap came along, followed by heavy metal, hair bands and later grunge, each with their own radio station.
Of all these, it was disco that accelerated the fragmentation. I’m sure everyone has heard the expression “disco sucks,” a term considered more vulgar in the ‘70s than it is now. When I was in high school, it became cool among the “rawk” crowd to openly bash disco music.
This opened the floodgates.
People soon began identifying themselves by the music they most preferred. You could be a “rocker,” but for some people that wasn’t hard and fast enough. They were “metalheads and headbangers.”
Outside the rock and pop world, people “went country,” dropping the western part of “country and western music.” Michael Jackson came along and became the “King of Pop,” and he was soon joined by people like Madonna.
You could be “punk” or “funk,” but you couldn’t be both. Once we were segmented by our music, it was easy to negatively label things played on the radio stations we did not listen to.
“That’s not rock!”
“That’s not country!”
This leads me back to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. I’ve read countless complaints that Tina Turner and Carole King “are pop, not “rawk.” The Go-Go’s are too soft. Jay Z isn’t rock and roll.
Does this sound like other realms of life?
He’s not a true liberal. She’s a Republican in name only. I’m a Cubs fan, I hate the White Sox. The Bears suck! Red States, blue states. Liberal media. Hate radio. Coke vs. Pepsi. Tastes great, less filling.
I’m not sure why it is so easy to completely reject things that are outside our bubbles, whether we’re talking music, sports, politics or just about anything. It seems a recipe for missing out on good experiences and the chance to be a well-rounded person.
I’ve been to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and as a museum I found it kind of underwhelming. There are some cool things to look at, but on the whole it was kind of bland. Nothing there knocked your socks off like a good rock and roll song should.
But I did appreciate the musicians honored there. Whether I listened to their music or not. To quote Billy Joel, “hot funk, cool punk, even if it’s old junk, it’s still rock and roll to me.”