Image: The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame museum in Cleveland, 1995. Credit: Brooks Kraft LLC/Sygma via Getty.
September 1 marks 25 years since I.M. Pei’s boldly designed Rock & Roll Hall of Fame museum was dedicated in Cleveland. By then, some 70 acts had already been inducted into an organization whose roots date back to 1986; more than 150 have been admitted in the years since. And with each and every class of inductees announced, the same thing happens: The minute the names of the new Hall honorees go public, fans and critics howl over whether they deserve the honor as well as who they think should have taken their place.
For extra grousing, some even question whether certain honorees qualify as “rock” artists at all, ignoring the fact that the Hall never clearly identified “Rock & Roll” as a distinct genre to begin with. Instead, it views rock as an attitude born of modernity, a mindset fired by daring and force. I call to the stand impeccable HOF artists from Miles Davis and Nina Simone to Joan Baez and Grandmaster Flash.
While some of the arguments against or for a given inductee may seem worthy, most boil down to the personal preferences of the arguer, not exactly the most objective of measures. That’s inevitable when you’re talking about an institution dedicated to the arts, as opposed to one devoted to, say, sports, where certain objective standards can be applied.
But what if there was a relatively objective way of gauging who’s most deserving of entry into rock’s hallowed hall? What if we looked beyond opinion-based factors like how much you happen to love a given act’s songs, or how many fans the artist has amassed, or how impressive you believe their technical skills to be?
You can’t call King Crimson the first progressive rock band. Acts like The Nice, the Moody Blues and Procol Harum beat them to it by drawing on classical and art-music influences starting in the mid-1960s. Around that same time, groups like Pink Floyd and Soft Machine set the controls for the heart of the sun with newly spacey sounds. Yet none of them anticipated the extreme approach of Crimson’s 1969 debut, In the Court of the Crimson King. This wasn’t just prog; it was shock theater in sound.
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