GASP! The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Gets It (Somewhat) Right!

 

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Normally this time of year has everyone in some state of aggravation. Mostly it comes from the holiday preparations (every year I’ve said I plan to start things earlier and instead it seems to be later), but it also comes from the yearly announcement of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inductees (OK, maybe not everyone). For a change, however, the Class of 2017 isn’t that bad, meaning that the voters, writers, and fans (yes, the fans get a vote)…GASP!…got it (somewhat) right this year.

After years of inducting some clearly questionable candidates (in 2016, the induction of N.W.A. drew the ire of rock fans; in 2015, it was Bill Withers; in 2014, Cat Stevens…you can go back each year and pick at least one), the bands and individuals that were voted in were either a solid lock for entry or a great argument to get in. For example, Pearl Jam was as close to a lock as you could get from the list of nominees as one of the originators of the “grunge” sound of the late 80s/early 90s rock scene. They were on the ballot for the first time and, yes, were worthy of that induction.

The 80s rock generation (and part of the 70s) was represented first by Journey. I wouldn’t have called this one – I believe it is the Rock & Roll Hall of FAME, not the Hall of PRETTY GOOD – but I also am not bent out of shape about their induction. If they are to be inducted, they must be inducted with singer Steve Perry; any other incarnation of the group would be an insult to the legend of the band.

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Joining Journey is straddling that 70s/80s line is another inductee for the 2017 class, Electric Light Orchestra (ELO). Why they hadn’t been inducted previously is anyone’s guess, so it is far overdue for the Rock Hall to recognize the greatness of the band. It is also arguable that Jeff Lynne, the mastermind behind the ELO sound (and producer of some other great artists like Tom Petty, George Harrison, Roy Orbison, and Brian Wilson), deserves an induction as a solo artist or contributor.

The band Yes…yes, they weren’t in the Hall yet…is a correction of one of the grossest errors of the Hall of Fame. Stretching from their early work in the late 60s to their powerful work in the 80s, Yes deserves the induction arguably more than even ELO did. The question is what lineup do you go with? If you go with the early 80s lineup, you’re leaving out Rick Wakeman, arguably one of the finest keyboardists of the rock era. If you go with the original lineup, then you leave out Trevor Horn and keyboardist Geoff Downes (AND Wakeman), who were key to helping in the creation of the 80s sound of the group that led to their resurrection. I don’t envy the job of the Rock Hall staff in determining which people will be honored with induction as a member of Yes.

The singer/songwriters weren’t ignored this year either. Joan Baez, who was a part of the Vietnam protest era of the 1960s and continued to have an outstanding career in the early to mid-70s, wasn’t probably some people’s choice for that genre, but you cannot ignore her impact on rock music having a social impact. Baez inspired such women as Judy Collins, Bonnie Raitt and Joni Mitchell to their activism and entrance into the rock arena.

Even one of the longest “problem” spots for the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame got covered this year. Nile Rodgers, the legendary producer and leader of the funk/disco group Chic, will enter the Hall for “Musical Excellence.” This should, in the future, remove the attempts to put Chic into the Hall as a performer because, in all honesty, it was Rodgers and the late drummer Tony Thompson who were basically Chic (they had a rotating roster of female vocalists, never a defined female lead). Thompson, in his own right, should be looked at for this award in the future.

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The ONLY question mark about this year’s inductees would be the inclusion of rapper Tupac Shakur on the roster. Shakur was a tremendously influential part of the “West Coast” sound of gangsta rap, even taking it to the point where the “East Coast/West Coast” rap wars began. Because of this standoff, Shakur was brutally shot to death on the streets of Las Vegas 20 years ago and probably brought about the death of ChristopherThe Notorious B.I.G.” (“Biggie Smalls”) Wallace six months later, possibly adding to the legend.

Tupac is a question mark because he didn’t have a wealth of material before his premature death. He’s released more albums since his passing than when he was alive and, to be honest, nobody is claiming that the posthumous work is the reason he’s being inducted. It also leaves the question open that, if you’re inducting Tupac, you’ve got to put Biggie in also (and Biggie’s repertoire is even less than Shakur’s). If you’re going strictly as an influence, I might be swayed on Tupac; if it is on his body of work, then I’m not as solidly behind his induction.

Even with these inductions, there’s still a wealth of artists out there that are more than deserving of entry. Out of the 2017 nominees, I’m slowly coming around to The Cars being inducted. As a purveyor of the synth sound of the 1980s (and their early work in the late 70s), I’ve always been a bit on the fence with the band. Now, I believe there is a place in the Hall for the group, just as there should be for another synthesizer-based band and 2017 nominee, Kraftwerk.

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I’ve also discussed ad nauseam about who deserves to get into the Hall. I’ve seen others believe in my choices of Pat Benatar, The Runaways and Judas Priest, and some have even given credence to Thin Lizzy, an outstanding choice if there is one. I’ve also been a longtime proponent of inducting Warren Zevon and Jimmy Buffett, but will now add Motörhead onto that list alongside a host of others.

Whatever the list of inductees is for this year, the concert that honors those inductees promises to be a bit calmer than the 2016 induction ceremonies. Bringing back the original Cheap Trick – with their estranged original drummer Bun E. Carlos – was tricky, but they pulled it off. 2016 inductee Steve Miller was perhaps the most vocal about his displeasure about the ceremonies AND the induction, points that he made long and loud both pre- and post-induction. If they can figure out the Yes conundrum, then they should be able to get through the awards ceremony without problems.

As to when that show will be, we’ll just have to wait and see. But for one magical year, it appears things are right with the world and the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame made the appropriate selections.

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If I Were the President of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame…

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Next weekend, the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame will open up the doors of its enclave for the 31st time to induct new members into its midst. Holding their ceremonies at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, NY, this Friday (April 8), this year’s inductees are quite eclectic, with some of them well deserved and overdue – such as Chicago and Deep Purple – some riding a wave of popularity due to recent attention – the gangsta rap pioneers N.W.A. – and two choices that were a bit surprising – Cheap Trick and Steve Miller. As with many of the ceremonies past, there is a bit of drama as to the festivities.

When it comes to Deep Purple, which incarnation of the band will be inducted? Much of the attention has been given to the late 1960s/early 1970s incarnations – the Mark 1 through Mark 3 versions of the band that featured musicians such as Jon Lord on keyboards, Ian Gillian on vocals, Ritchie Blackmore on guitar, Roger Glover on bass and Ian Paice on drums. Not so much attention has been given to the later renditions of the band that featured future Whitesnake vocalist David Coverdale, so we can pretty much count on the factor that the group of men who gave us milestone classics like “Space Truckin’,” “Smoke on the Water” and “Highway Star” are the ones that the Hall will be inducting.

The second story is will the entirety of Cheap Trick reunite for the show? In 2010, drummer Bun E. Carlos had a rather acrimonious split with singer Robin Zander, guitarist Rick Nielsen and bassist Tom Petersson, one that actually ended up in a courtroom (apparently the three men tried to cut Carlos out of his rightful piece of royalties from the band’s work…the trio lost the case). Since then, the men haven’t spoken, but they will apparently put aside the animosity and play for one night only. According to Nielsen, Carlos “is going to play the inductions because they’re inducting the people who made the records…he deserves it.”

I always get a little reflective when the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame ceremonies come up, mostly because I think there are several people there that shouldn’t be inside the walls without a ticket. Over the 31 years that the voters have put people into this hallowed sanctum, they have besmirched the walls with some who haven’t earned the right to be there. If, for one day, I were the President of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, I would remove these five members forever, correcting the wrongs of the past:

The Beach Boys (1988)

Probably one of the most overrated acts ever in the annals of U. S. music history, all the Beach Boys were is a doo-wop group who moved off the street corner and onto the beach. Their sound had already been created (unless you forgot Dick Dale, another erroneous non-entry into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame) and they very rarely deviated from a set pattern:  beach, surf, multiple girls (you might throw a car in there on a rare occasion). Lather, rinse, repeat. There was nothing that was groundbreaking about them at all; even their supposed masterpiece, Pet Sounds, was Brian Wilson looking to duplicate what producer Phil Spector had done with his “Wall of Sound.”

Madonna (2008)

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By far the most egregious error in the voting annals of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame committee. That Madonna got in the Hall before such people as Alice Cooper, Dr. John, The Crickets (Buddy Holly’s backing band), Heart, Rush and Albert King (just to name a few) is a miscarriage of justice beyond measure. Furthermore, there is no way that you can tell me with a straight face that Madonna had ANY impact on the development of rock music – if the category was POP music, then yes, Madonna’s fingerprints are all over it (hello there, Lady Gaga!). But this is the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and, last I checked, nobody is naming her as a significant influence.

Donovan (2012), Bill Withers (2015) and Steve Miller (2016)

Unfortunately, all of these men fall into the same category:  they all are pretty good at what they did. The problem is we are not electing people into the “Hall of Pretty Good.” This is the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, people!

I know this might sound sacrilegious, but while Withers’ works were memorable (“Ain’t No Sunshine,” “Lean on Me” and “Just the Two of Us” are all outstanding songs), he just didn’t have enough of them. This also could be said for Donovan; name me another song he did outside of “Sunshine Superman” and “Mellow Yellow?” You might be able to sway my thoughts on Miller, but I believe that he’s getting more of a vote on his pedigree (studying at the feet of the legendary Les Paul and Mary Ford as a child will get you those types of votes) than on any outstanding works he wrote or performed. These three men just don’t meet the criteria for what I would call “Hall of Fame material.”

Now that five places in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame have opened up, who should be inducted into those slots? I’m glad you asked. As the President of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, these five artists/bands will be the ones who will take over their rightful places. I’m completely blown away that they aren’t there already, to be honest:

The Runaways

Although Joan Jett is in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame along with her band The Blackhearts, they needed to go back a bit further to actually encapsulate the first band that broke Jett onto the rock scene. The Runaways were the first female hard rock band to enter the scene, led by vocalist Cherie Currie and the dual guitar attack of Lita Ford and Jett (little known fact is that Mikki Steele, who was a member of The Bangles, was originally the bassist for the group). Svengali Kim Fowley pushed the group as a “teenage jailbait” band, but their music was actually pretty damn good. Most known for their hit “Cherry Bomb,” The Runaways were huge stars in Japan and did pretty well in Europe. In the United States, they were before their time, but their members would go on to bigger success as solo artists.

Pat Benatar

Are you fucking kidding me? One of the most successful female rock artists of all-time, definitely one of the Top 50 artists of the 1980s, isn’t in the Hall of Fame yet?

Pat Benatar (who, to the best of my knowledge, has NEVER EVEN BEEN NOMINATED) followed up on the heels of The Runaways, carrying the banner for women in rock with an unapologetic, no-nonsense approach to the genre. Where Benatar took it a step further was she was the one in charge of her career – she didn’t bow to the dictates of a manager and she definitely didn’t kowtow to the record companies. On her VH1Behind the Music,” the story is famously told about the record executives that Benatar famously took down because they tried to sexualize her style early in her career. Perhaps that is why she hasn’t gotten the kudos she’s due…the record industry is still holding a grudge against her. And name me another hard rock singer who has a four-octave range and is classically trained?

Warren Zevon and Jimmy Buffett

You might be saying, “What makes these two guys different than those three you threw out above?” There’s plenty that makes them different!

In the case of Buffett, he literally created a genre of music that didn’t exist before he came along – tropical rock, or “trop rock,” a fusion of so many musical stylings that it is literally impossible to list them all (if you haven’t listened to a Buffett album or been to a Buffett concert and heard at least six musical styles, you must expand your musical knowledge) – and still is at the top of his game more than 40 years after hitting the road. He has a catalog of music that has inspired a host of entertainers today, such as Kenny Chesney, the Zac Brown Band and others from the U. S. and around the world. Finally, he’s a shrewd businessman, turning his biggest song – “Margaritaville” – into a mega-empire that includes restaurants, casinos, a clothing line and a Sirius XM radio station. That “empire” is now a private company that is thought to make hundreds of millions of dollars per year – that’s a nice nest egg to sit back on!

Zevon, who unfortunately passed away in 2003, probably did more for others’ careers than he did his own. He wrote songs that were hits for Linda Ronstadt and worked closely with Jackson Browne and The Eagles before finding some acclaim on his own. Always more of a critical darling, Zevon’s album Excitable Boy (his most commercial effort) brought Zevon’s biggest hit, “Werewolves of London,” while the remainder of his works on the album (including “Roland the Headless Thompson Gunner” and “Lawyers, Guns and Money”) showed his eclectic side. The remainder of his catalog presented an extremely diverse and talented artist who entertained and challenged his audience. Overall, he is highly respected in the music industry for his artistry, his passion and his individuality, things that the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame is supposed to honor.

Judas Priest

With both Chicago and Deep Purple going in this year and with KISS entering in 2014, you might think that there wouldn’t be any more “fan outrage” over artists not being in the Hall. That would be inaccurate, however, until the omission of Judas Priest is corrected.

Judas Priest has, for almost 40 years, been at the forefront of the hard rock/heavy metal genre, carrying the baton from the Led Zeppelin/Deep Purple/Jimi Hendrix/Black Sabbath early days of the game. With singer Rob Halford (or without, as the days of Tim “Ripper” Owens didn’t slow them down any) and the dual guitar attack of Glenn Tipton and K. K. Downing, the definitive style of Judas Priest is recognizable anywhere. They also have been heavily influential in the genre, with such bands as Pantera, Metallica and the New Wave of British Heavy Metal (NWBHM) of the 80s citing them as heroes.

There’s a whole litany of artists and groups I could get into that deserve a place in the pantheon of rock, but my day as President of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame is done. I’ll be watching the induction ceremonies on Friday night (or whenever the hell they’ll be on – thanks HBO!) and celebrating the music of the inductees for 2016. Then it will be time to consider who will be inducted for 2017 and the madness will begin again.