Todd Rundgren and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame

In this article, Billboard reports that Todd Rundgren does not care if he is inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, which is a pretty “rock and roll” thing to say. Todd reasons that the Rock Hall is an industry invention, that halls of fame should be reserved for retirees and dead people, and that it is full of artists who are not “rock and roll.”

I am certainly a Todd Rundgren fan and have been for many years. I own most of his classic ’70s and ’80s albums along with a couple Nazz albums, and I have at least listened to many of his more recent albums. I am also a big fan of XTC’s Skylarking and Badfinger’s Straight Up, both of which he produced. I admit I haven’t explored Utopia in much depth, but I did finally see Todd in concert a few years ago, and he was excellent.

I also agree with Todd’s first point – that the Rock Hall is an industry invention. The Hall of Fame is definitely part of the corporate music machine, and it is debatable whether or not rock and roll should even have a hall of fame. Major league baseball is governed by one institution, and baseball by nature is full of “stats.” Music, on the other hand, can’t be objectively measured by statistics in any meaningful way. Stats can tell you how many records someone has sold. Stats can also tell you how many beats per minute a guitarist or drummer can play, which isn’t particularly important to me or most listeners. Stats can’t measure how influential or “good” an artist is. People are always going to disagree about who deserves and does not deserve to be in the Hall.

But then Todd goes on to say that, while he is a big Dionne Warwick fan, Dionne Warwick has never released a “rock” song and that Mary J. Blige and others aren’t “rock.”

Jimmy Cliff, Miles Davis, Run DMC, and Parliament Funkadelic have also been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, along with plenty of other artists who might be considered reggae, jazz, funk, soul, hip hop or some other label.

Notice anything that separates these artists from AC/DC, Blondie, and the Rolling Stones?

Yeah, me too. Rock and roll originated in the black community. Rock and roll changed, as music does, and when things change they get new labels.

White rock artists have deviated from the classic rock and roll formula for decades. The new musical forms were given names like “surf rock,” “garage rock,” “hard rock,” “soft rock,” “prog rock,” “punk rock,” “grunge rock,” “math rock,” and “modern rock.”

As music changed, as it does, black artists created new music that also embodied the rebellious rock and roll spirit. These types of music were given names like “R&B,” “ska,” “reggae,” “funk,” “disco,” “hip hop,” and “house.”

Is there a reason why Parliament Funkadelic is any less “rock and roll” than Emerson, Lake, and Palmer or the Carpenters? Are shoegaze, doom, and screamo bands playing the same style of music as Chuck Berry and Bill Haley?

I present to you . . . Ice Cube.

Accepting NWA’s Rock and Roll Hall of Fame acceptance speech, after five and a half minutes of customary graditude, honoring the late Eazy E and others, Ice Cube answers the question on everyone’s mind. “Are we rock and roll?”

Although the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is absolutely an industry invention, I agree with the Hall of Fame’s broad, inclusive definition of what rock and roll is. And with Ice Cube.

Like Cube, I don’t think “rock and roll” necessarily means “loud guitar music.” Is Depeche Mode not rock and roll because of the synthetic instrumentation? Are Billy Joel and Elton John not rock and roll because they sit behind the ivories rather than strapping a piece of wood with strings around their necks? Should the Red Hot Chili Peppers also not be in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame because Anthony Kiedis sometimes raps? For that matter, how about “rock and roller” Todd Rundgren himself?

Although “hard rock guitar shreddery” is one of the many tools in Todd Rundgren’s toolbox, most of his music isn’t exactly straight-up rock and roll. Most of my favorite Todd Rundgren songs could be described as Carole King-style pop, R&B, experimental, or electronic music. Todd incorporated computers into his music-making before it was fashionable. He used be in Macintosh ads. He even made an a capella album, titled A Ca Pella, with no instruments. And that broad musical vision is a lot of the reason I enjoy and respect Todd Rundgren’s music so much.

I think penning a perfect not-very-rocking pop song based on sweet harmonies and latin-inspired rhythms like “I Saw the Light” or bringing a Macintosh on stage before everyone else is doing it is pretty rock and roll.

But if Todd Rundgren deserves to be in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, so does Public Enemy. So does Bob Marley. So does Mary J. Blige. So does Miles Davis. I’m with Cube on this one.

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