Metallica. Bobby Womack. Wanda Jackon … Run-D.M.C.?
What does this diverse group of artists all have in common? They’re all hall of famers (or they will be soon, at least).
Rock music is not a specific genre, but a melting pot of different musical styles, and this fact is often overlooked. Rock is not simply the Nickelback and Daughtry and all of the similar artists who monopolize airtime on the radio today. It is the product of a century of mixing styles, and nowhere is this rich heritage represented better than in the Rock and Roll of Fame.
This Wednesday, The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame foundation announced its 2009 inductees, who will be added to Hall of Fame during an April 4 ceremony in Cleveland, the museum’s hometown. This year’s performer inductees include Jeff Beck, Little Anthony & the Imperials, Metallica, Run-D.M.C., and Bobby Womack. Wanda Jackson is being inducted in the Early Influencer category, and the sidemen category inductees include Bill Black, D.J. Fontana and Spooner Oldham. Some of the picks are not surprising. Jeff Beck is a true guitar hero, considered among the ranks of Jimmy Page and Eric Clapton (and played with both of them with The Yardbirds in the 60s). Bill Black and D.J. Fontana were the bassist and drummer for Elvis Presley during the 50s (Elvis’ guitarist Scotty Moore was inducted in 2000). Most of the inductees make “sense.”
Most of their contributions to rock and roll are obvious (at least to those familiar with their music), but Run-D.M.C. seems an odd pick for the Hall of Fame. The hip-hop group — who pioneered the genre in the 80s — isn’t even a rock band. Formed in 1982 in the Hollis neighborhood of Queens, New York, Run-D.M.C. was a groundbreaking group. Rappers Joseph “Run” Simmons and Darryl “D.M.C.” McDaniels (along with Jason “Jam-Master Jay” Mizell as DJ) helped bring hip-hop out into the mainstream, becoming a staple in the early days of MTV. The group also helped unite rap and rock, most famously when they teamed up with Aerosmith to record their cover of “Walk This Way.”
“[They were] the illest three guys in the 80s,” Weinberg freshman Will Feinberg said of Run-D.M.C. “If it wasn’t for them, I wouldn’t wear Adidas.”
Feinberg said he felt that it was Run-D.M.C. that helped bridge the gap between suburban kids and the city, a necessary step for hip-hop to become the mainstream success it is today.
While some may think it odd to include a hip-hop act in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Run-D.M.C. is actually perfectly logical choice — and an indicator of how far rock music has come. Rock itself was formed as a fusion of soul, gospel, country, and R&B, among other genres. So hip-hop, itself a fusion of R&B, gospel, soul and funk, is merely a younger, slightly different rock and roll.
Both became voices of the youth at the time; just as rock became a voice for change and new ideas, so do did hip-hop, serving as the voice of the black urban poor. Both have become huge commercial businesses in modern times, and both come from humble roots (be it a kid with a guitar and piano or one with a turntable and microphone). When dissected a little, hip-hop is another rock and roll, and so a hip-hop group being inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame isn’t such a leap. In fact, it makes perfect sense. Rock and roll is much more than the “rock” music we’ve come to see it as — it’s made up of all sorts of subgenres, and really, is more a movement of young people expressing themselves than it is a specific musical category.
The other inductees hail from just about every corner of music. Wanda Jackson was a country and rockabilly singer in the 50s and 60s. Little Anthony & the Imperials were a doo-wop group in the 50s, a far cry from the loud, power chord-playing image we see “rock” as today. Bobby Womack was purely a soul act, singing back up for Sam Cooke as well as pursuing a successful solo career. Still, many of the inductees’ connections to rock and roll as a whole are further reaching than their individual performances. Womack also wrote and originally recorded “It’s All Over Now,” which became The Rolling Stones’ first hit in the U.K. when they recorded it in 1964. Spooner Oldham wrote soul and R&B songs for Aretha Franklin and Wilson Pickett.
So these groups and performers are just as much “rock” as Metallica, the heavy “thrash rock” band formed in the 80s, who still performs and even released an album in 2008 (a band is eligible for induction into the hall of fame if at least 25 years have passed since the release of their debut album—Metallica’s debut album will have dropped 26 years ago when they are inducted). This year’s Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees are proof of how broad rock and roll is as a genre, and how far it has come—from Wanda Jackson’s “My Big Iron Skillet,” to Run-D.M.C.’s “My Adidas,” to Metallica’s “Master of Puppets.”