June 1972: Elvis performs at Madison Square Garden.
June 1972: Elvis performs at Madison Square Garden.

This is the question Mike Conklin asks at L Magazine:

Right around the mid-80s, or 25 years ago, or the exact amount of time that needs to have passed since a band’s debut in order for them to be eligible for induction, when hair-metal came along and ruined everything, it simply became cooler for rock bands to exist below the radar of the mainstream. With the exceptions of a period of a few years in the early 90s, with Pearl Jam and Nirvana, and then again a decade later with the White Stripes and Radiohead, all the best rock bands have been, for lack of a better term, indie rock bands.

Are the Replacements going to be inducted? Sonic Youth? Husker Du? Joy Division? The Go Betweens? Pavement? Guided By Voices? If they’re not, it’s bullshit: for people who actually still really, truly care about rock and roll, these are the bands that have carried on in the tradition the Hall of Fame has always held dear. But if they are inducted, the Hall of Fame will surely lose the massive cultural appeal it so obviously strives for, considering barely any of those bands have sold as many copies of all their records put together as most current inductees have of even their least successful record.

While a good question on its face, a little historical digging says we can prolong answering this one for a while yet.

Conklin points out that the induction nominees for next year include “LL Cool J, along with ABBA and Donna Summer,” none of whom (perhaps excepting ABBA) fit even the broadest definition of Rock and Roll.

Besides the fact that we haven’t run out of mainstream rock acts to induct (Black Sabbath and Lynyrd Skynyrd didn’t make it in until 2006. Buddy Guy and Leonard Cohen? 2005 and 2008, respectively), the admission of non-rock and rollers is not new: Isaac Hayes and Chet Atkins were inducted in 2002; Curtis Mayfield in 1999; Gladys Knight and the Pips in 1996; Bob Marley in 1994; The Four Tops in 1990. Sam Cooke in 1986.

Per Conklin’s observation, many of those bands existed as alternatives to rock and roll. But existing outside the system? That’s rock and roll in nature, if not in expression.

Perhaps Jann Wenner could be convinced to go in for “The American Music Hall of Fame”; that would certainly preserve the institution’s broad appeal and more accurately reflect its curatorial instincts. But really, it’s been inducting whoever and whatever it wanted for as long as its been around. Why sweat it?

At this rate, we won’t have to worry about Husker Du for another two decades, at least.

Elvis Presley: live at Madison Square Garden, taken on June 11, 1972.
Photo credit: Copyright George Kalinsky, taken from the exhibition Live From Madison Square Garden: From the Lens of George Kalinsky. Courtesy of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.