The Who artifacts in the Legends of Rock exhibit at the Rock Hall

Legends of Rock

Legends of Rock is a standing exhibit and survey of the ultimate rock icons, spotlighting James Brown, The Beatles, Guns n’ Roses and many more. If you can only see one exhibit at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, let it be this one.

History of Exhibit

Rock and roll is as much about the spectacle, the visual, as it as the sonic—we remember Bowie’s character Ziggy Stardust as much as we do the lyrics to “Rock ‘n’ Roll Suicide,” Michael Jackson’s moonwalk as much as the bassline of “Billie Jean.”

Conceived in tandem with the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Legends of Rock began as Rock Style, an exhibit on rock and roll’s trendsetting role in the fashion industry. The exhibit premiered at the Met on December 9, 1999 before moving to the Rock Hall and London’s Barbican Centre. There’s a reason it was chosen to close out the millennium—this exhibit captures the most iconic moments in rock history.

Many of the artifacts have since found a permanent residence at the Rock Hall in Legends of Rock, which expands on the original concept to include artifacts from artists’ lives, performances and songwriting processes: handwritten drafts of hit singles, instruments used in concert and strangely enough, more than one rocker’s personalized pinball machine.

A Survey of Rock n' Roll

Legends of Rock runs the gamut of rock and roll history, from Diana Ross and the Supremes to the Allman Brothers Band to Blondie. The exhibit is a mile wide, but it goes far more than an inch deep. Not only does Legends of Rock cover each era, but it also covers that era’s idols in depth. For example, the exhibit boasts the largest artifact-based Beatles collection in the world, spanning from John Lennon’s elementary school report cards to the drum kit Ringo played at their last official concert.

Whatever band you idolize, whatever genre you prefer, there is something for you.

See For Yourself

Imagine the climax of Springsteen’s “Born To Run:” the sax frantically building, the key ascending, the piano finally slamming down, down, down. You’re suspended in anticipation until Bruce counts himself in “1, 2, 3, 4” before wailing “The highway’s full of wild children with howls.”

Not what you were expecting? These words were the ones to appear in one of the earliest conceptions of the song. On display you can find the first draft of the anthem that launched the Boss to stardom, coming across the page in fits and starts.

Legends of Rock is more than a recording of rock history; it is a reimagining of it, a re-ordering of even the most devoted fans’ ideas about their heroes. Yes, it has everything you always wanted to see—Michael Jackson’s sequined glove, James Brown’s jumpsuit with “SEX” spelled out in rhinestones—but it also has everything you never knew you wanted to see. Jim Morrison’s cub scout uniform. Jimi Hendrix’s childhood drawing of his single father asleep on the couch. Slash’s pinball machine (which once held the title of Loudest Pinball Machine Ever). The list goes on.

Always Evolving

The exhibit may have opened more than fifteen years ago, but it is anything but stagnant. The summer of 2014 saw a loan from Beyoncé, including the one-sleeve leotard from her record-smashing “Single Ladies” music video. This July 12 original members of the Zombies will be present at the dedication of their new section in the exhibit. Come by to see the exhibit and meet these heroes and Rock Hall inductees!

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