Pop… not Top

What kind of rock institution twice inducts David Crosby, but has no room for the Sex Pistols?

In an early '90s interview with Musician magazine, Neil Young argued that the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame should shut down for a few years. As Young saw it, the Hall had run out of worthy contenders for induction, and rather than admit a pack of lame-ass journeyman, it should close its doors until some real heavyweights became eligible.

As if to prove Young's point, the Hall of Fame subsequently inducted his old buddy, David Crosby - one of pop's great pompous asses and a guy who has written maybe three decent songs in his lifetime - not once, but twice.

The Hall selection committee's inability to distinguish between tenacity (James Taylor) and true greatness (Bob Dylan) has never been more apparent than this year. Two weeks ago, the Hall announced its 2004 class of inductees, and the results were not pretty. Aside from Prince - a first-ballot no-brainer - and underappreciated soul pioneers the Dells, the selections showed little understanding of the music it was meant to celebrate: ZZ Top, Jackson Browne, Bob Seger, Traffic, and George Harrison.

Let's break this down a bit: ZZ Top might have personified Texas boogie, but isn't that a little bit like personifying athlete's foot fungus? Sure, they were sharp-dressed men; of course, they were bad, they were nationwide. But they never, ever amounted to anything more than mediocre redneck rock. While they're at it, the Hall should induct the Marshall Tucker Band and Molly Hatchet.

ZZ Top might have personified Texas boogie, but isn't that a little bit like personifying athlete's foot fungus?
For all his literary aspirations, Jackson Browne was/is a tight-assed corduroy whiner whose closest brush with rock 'n' roll came when his song "Somebody's Baby" played over Jennifer Jason Leigh's makeout scene with a college dude in Fast Times at Ridgemont High. Bob Seger is a Midwestern hack who salvaged a dead-end career by jumping on the mid-'70s Springsteen bandwagon. He eventually found his true calling as a shill for Chevy trucks. Traffic created a few classics (e.g. "The Low Spark of High Heeled Boys"), but disbanded before it could build a substantial catalog. As for George Harrison, his importance as a Beatle is beyond dispute, but his solo work doesn't merit induction. If he hadn't passed away in 2001, he wouldn't be seriously considered for the Hall.

All these dubious choices wouldn't be so bothersome if not for the fact that tons of exceptional, groundbreaking artists eligible for inclusion have been shut out by Hall voters. This list includes: Iggy Pop and the Stooges, the Sex Pistols, Roxy Music, Black Sabbath, Alex Chilton, Patti Smith, the New York Dolls, the MC5, T. Rex, Gram Parsons, Randy Newman, Television, and Graham Parker.

The Hall's selection oversights indicate that its voters are a deeply conservative lot troubled by almost every musical development post-Woodstock. They obviously despise punk, proto-punk, and heavy metal, which explains why they have rejected monumental figures like the Sex Pistols, Iggy Pop, Black Sabbath, and most of the crucial artists in New York's CBGB's scene. The Ramones only slipped in on a sympathy vote after Joey Ramone's death, and the Velvet Underground endured three straight years of snubs, before winning inclusion in 1996 after guitarist Sterling Morrison died.

Is ZZ Top more Hall-worthy than Iggy Pop?

Roxy Music and T. Rex represent the glam movement that revived British rock in the early '70s, and the spirit of that music is too subversive for Hall monitors like Rolling Stone's Jann Wenner (a man who reportedly stopped listening to new music by 1975).

The problem is not with the Hall's nominating committee. They have put the Pistols, Black Sabbath and most of the other deserving candidates on the ballot for several years. But the Hall's actual voters - a group of about 1,000 self-described "rock experts" - repeatedly drop the ball, choosing sentimental paragons of Baby Boomer youth such as Gene Pitney, or agreeable industry team players like Taylor, Santana, and the Mamas & the Papas.

It's easy to understand why the Hall's voters were smitten with Seger. Like them, he is a nostalgic reactionary who treasures that "Old Time Rock 'n' Roll." Remember, this is a guy who sang "today's music ain't got the same soul" way back in 1978! I don't guess he's listening much to Outkast.

Seger once sang, as a message of reassurance to his heroes, that "rock 'n' roll never forgets." Maybe so, but the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame sure does. •