Sunday, December 16, 2007

It's Only Rock & Roll

The annual list of Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inductee's came out recently. Topping this years list is Madonna. Every year the list of nominee's sparks great debate and I'm sure this year will be no exception.

When I first heard Madonna was getting inducted I must admit I was shocked. I made a face like I had just unsuspectingly drank from a carton of spoiled milk. Like someone had just stuck a pen in my heart. Horrible flashbacks of synthesized 80's pop music invaded my head. Don't get me wrong, I like Madonna. I've been a closet Madonna fan since Lucky Star. But the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame? Madonna is not rock & roll. Zeppelin is rock & roll. The Stones are rock & roll. You don't get much more rock & roll than Keith Richards.

The American Heritage dictionary defines Rock & Roll as "a form of popular music arising from and incorporating a variety of musical styles, especially rhythm and blues, country music, and gospel. Originating in the United States in the 1950s, it is characterized by electronically amplified instrumentation, a heavily accented beat, and relatively simple phrase structure".

Disk Jockey Alan Freed is widely credited with coining the term rock and roll to describe the uptempo, black, rhythm and blues records he played in the early 1950's on Cleveland radio station WJW. In July of 1951 Freed started a late night show on WJW he called "The Moondog Rock and Roll House Party". He promoted dances and concerts that featured the R&B music of the mostly black artists he was playing on the radio. On March 21st 1952 he organized a five act show called "The Moondog Coronation Ball" at the Cleveland Arena. The arena had a capacity of 10,000 but nearly 20,000 fans crashed the gates causing what was the first ever rock concert to be cancelled.

So by definition and according to the man who named it, rock and roll is really music based on R&B created by mostly black musicians. Most of the greatest "rock and rollers" were influenced by black artists. Classic rock music is always blues based. Led Zeppelin, arguably one of the greatest rock bands of all time is a blues band. Listening to the Stones it's hard not to hear the influence of 50's R&B in almost everything they do. Give their 1978 classic Some Girls a spin. Is it just my imagination or do I hear the Temptations?

Why then is it so shocking to put Madonna in the Hall of Fame? Truth be told, it only makes sense. Her music, heavily based on and influenced by black R&B artists is exactly what Alan Freed said Rock and roll is. If Alan were around today I guarantee he would be playing the shit out of Madonna. So congratulations Madonna. It's only rock and roll but I like it.

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