If the theory that complaining about the annual selections for the Rock 'n' Roll Hall Of Fame has become old hat and thus that frees the nominating committee and voters to throw sound reasoning to the wind, then this year's election makes perfect sense. It was a weak ballot to begin with, as the committee saw fit to name a horde of admitted personal favorites and then shamelessly campaign for them (most prominently at the Rock 'n' Roll Hall Of Fame's 25th Anniversary gala concert at Madison Square Garden over two nights in October) removing any and all personal detachment and objectivity from the equation. Then the 500+ anonymous voters promptly showed how out of touch with rock's evolution they've become as they chose no artist whose career began after the Nixon administration, despite the presence of two first time eligibles whose credentials should have made them automatic selections.
In a way the Hall Of Fame used this year's election to slither around some embarrassing oversights from the past. They thankfully managed to break the long draught on progressive rock with the election of Genesis, a compromise candidate in that regard because half of their career came after they'd abandoned all prog connections and became a hit machine in the 80's. They also were able to get a second reggae artist in with Jimmy Cliff, which proves that the style was more than just Bob Marley, but in doing so they'll pat themselves on the back and say that should be enough reggae acts for another fifteen years. Their next two choices say as much about the aging white Anglo-Saxon voting body as it does anything else, as the Hollies rode their uneven career to a spot in the Hall as a reward for whistful baby boomers, while the induction of mega-successful Sweedish pop stars ABBA gives them a late 70's alternative to funk, disco and the emerging rap scene which the electorate continues to largely be uncomfortable recognizing. Only the Stooges had both the credentials and the cache to make them a widely expected choice, but even that came after multiple failed nominations giving it an air of resignation.
Most shameful though is not who was let in, but rather who was left out. Despite four females acts on the ballot, none were elected, once again raising questions about the gender bias the Hall may have. Of the four Donna Summer's omission is the most glaring, as she was the dominant figure in one of rock's biggest (but most critically detested) subgenres, one which the Hall has yet to fully acknowledge, which makes another troubling issue they need to address, namely how they can continue to reward the relatively small punk style while dismissing the far larger and equally influential disco scene from the same time frame. In another case of critical distaste overwhelming objective analysis KISS's credentials are more than solid enough to get their ticket punched, but more people would rather punch Gene Simmons and the entire fanatical KISS Army than recognize that, and so they were voted down. Their appearance on the ballot however lets the Hall off the hook from charges that there was a conspiracy to keep the group from ever being considered and now with their official rejection by the voters they can resume ignoring them. More unexpected in their failure to make the cut were The Red Hot Chili Peppers who seemed to be locks for the Hall when looking at traditional voting patterns - a big name act with credibility throughout music who also have modern name recognition to draw in younger viewers to the televised ceremonies. Yet they too fell short and thus no artist whose best work appeared in the 90's has been inducted, even as we pass the mid-80's eligibility mark for artists debuts, something that shows just how far removed from modern music culture the voting body has become. The biggest injustice this year however is the denial of LL Cool J, the first solo rap superstar and one of the most influential and successful artists of his era. With rap being the dominant form of rock music, both commercially and influentially, over the past quarter century, it would stand to reason that the Hall of Fame would see an influx of hip-hop artists and producers start to get in as more and more reach their eligibility requirements with each ensuing year, but the voting body seems to be uneasy with this shift away from the rock styles of their youth and have once again turned back to their more favored eras to reassure themselves that the rock world they grew up with is still worth celebrating. It is, but only alongside the rock world it spawned and to do that the nominating committee needs a complete overhaul and the voting body needs to become far more diverse and open-minded than it has been over the past decade. The Class Of 2010 now takes the dubious honor of being by far the poorest class of inductees in the twenty-five year history of the Hall and should serve as the impetus for a major shake up of the electorate who is allowed to decide on granting immortality.
THE MAIN PERFORMER INDUCTEES
Their success is unquestioned as they're one of the biggest selling artists of all-time. Their skill is widely acknowledged, both as songwriters and studio practitioners, with their signature stacked vocals and production sheen standing out. Their influence is pointed to by many, with focus on their dance tracks. But just where in the rock pantheon do they fit? Rock's boundaries are broad, as they deservedly should be, and so there may be a place for them within the larger scope of things, but ABBA were appealing far more to a mainstream pop audience that disdained rock 'n' roll and were seen by many as the antithesis to rock when they were riding high. Considering the derth of disco artists from that era as well as the black vocal harmony groups that preceeded them, this is a bewildering choice, even if by virtue of the caucasion voting body it is also a predictable one.
The lone black figure elected (out of five candidates on the ballot), raising further questions regarding the Hall's voting body recent decade long aversion to black rock 'n' roll. Cliff is not undeserving, his iconic work in the late 60's and early 70's, including a seminal role in the film "The Harder They Come" which broke reggae into the American mainstream, was vital in giving rock 'n' roll a more global reach, with various other cultures contributing their own slant to it. The problem is, there are other reggae figures more deserving than Cliff, both artists and producers, and so while it is nice the Hall has seen fit to acknowledge this underrepresented form of rock, it is with questionable motives and with better choices out there still to be honored.
Usually when a Hall Of Fame class is announced the artist who was around longest, had the most hits and has the most recognizable figures among them is the obvious selection and the de facto headliner for the ceremonies. That can't be said this year with Genesis, who otherwise meet all of those requirements, indicating how split the perception of them has become. The reason for this starts with the fact that there are two drastically different incarnations of the group, the early Peter Gabriel-led prog group, and the Phil Collins led hit machine to follow, and fans of one version are rarely equally passionate about the other. Progressive rock fans in general will be glad that someone representing that style finally broke through, after fifteen years of waiting since the first prog artist become eligible. Mainstream music fans who know little of that era will wonder how the group made it despite their string of huge singles in the 80's, since those songs aren't well received historically. Yet while they are clearly deserving of induction, it's unlikely they made it solely because of their credentials, as this seems to be the classic case of a big name, with two respected individuals (Gabriel and Collins) in their midst, serving as the perfect compromise candidate for progressive rock, which allows the Hall to get that monkey off their back and ignore it for another fifteen years.
Payoff to nominating committee member Steve VanZandt who wouldn't rest until they were in. While they were a solid group boasting great harmonies they were also not among the elite acts to emerge from the British Invasion, being seen as far more lightweight compared to the harder edged groups that country produced. They had a fair number of hits but other comparable artists of that era had more, nor were they at all influential, as their pop-slanted productions seemed more throwbacks to earlier times, while their one notable foray into a more aggressive sound with "Long Cool Woman (In A Black Dress)" was simply a straight CCR imitation. That their most prominent member, Graham Nash, is already in the Hall Of Fame as a member of Crosby, Stills & Nash, makes this selection all the more questionable, for surely it is his presence among them that brought them much of their support. Too often the Hall is seen as trying to find an artist to invoke nostalgia from a certain segment of the audience, particularly the 60's, and this year the Hollies are the borderline act inducted to lend further creedence to that charge.
It's hard to imagine it took the Stooges multiple tries before finally getting in, and then benefitting greatly from a weak ballot, because it's even harder to imagine that they will not be the headliners of the ceremonies, as they have the requisite iconic frontman in Iggy Pop, ample noteriety and the potential for a visual spectacle that will make for an entertaining telecast. In short, they are everything people like to point to as what rock 'n' roll is all about. This was their seventh appearance on the ballot and the concerted effort by the nominating committee to see them elected having now paid off will at least open a spot on next year's ballot for someone else. For the record this makes four punk bands inducted, which considering the lack of mainstream popularity punk had at the time, shows that the heavy promotion of the style as rock's saving grace in the seventies has paid of historically. A deserved selection in a year that needed it.
THE NON-PERFORMER INDUCTEES
Jeff Barry & Ellie Greenwich
It's not surprising that this amazing songwriting duo gets recognition this year, as Ellie Greenwich passed away a few months back. The Hall's tendency to wait until an honor is posthumous has long been one of their most frustrating - and easily remedied - issues. The pair were cornerstones of the Brill Building takeover of rock's best songwriting in the early 60's as they churned out hits for countless artists from "Be My Baby" for the Ronettes to "The Leader Of The Pack" for the Shangri-Las and Ike & Tina Turner's epic "River Deep-Mountain High". Long overdue.
Finally one of the most successful songwriters of all-time, a man who wrote no less than four of the Top 50 Songs of the 1950's (Don't Be Cruel, All Shook Up, Fever and Great Balls Of Fire) as an independent unaffiliated writer, gets the nod & ten years after he died. Blackwell's career was as varied as they came, he began as an artist and recorded a number of strong records ("Daddy Rolling Stone", later covered memorably by Derek Martin and The Who among others) before he found there was more chance for success by penning songs for others. The demos of his compositions served as templates for Elvis Presley's interpretations enough so that Blackwell has been credited with being one of Presley's main vocal influences. Over a dozen different Rock 'n' Roll Hall Of Fame artists have recorded a Blackwell composition making him yet another long overdue selection.
It was only a question of how soon power broker Geffen got inducted, as the Hall has always looked out for those who control the checkbooks and few in music history has a bigger bank account than he does. But Geffen's got music credentials to spare, starting out as a manager of a number of big acts (Crosby, Stills & Nash) before forming Asylum Records, selling that to Warners and then creating Geffen Records which produced the likes of Guns n' Roses and Nirvana among others. Of the modern label owners he, along with the still to be inducted Russell Simmons, are the ones who began like the old independent labels and built them into major players faster than anyone since Berry Gordy.
Barry Mann & Cynthia Weil
Another of the husband-wife writing tandems that dominated the early 60's Brill Building rock scene, along with Barry and Greenwich as well as the already inducted Gerry Goffin and Carole King. Not wanting to be accused of ignoring the equally talented Mann & Weil, the Hall decided to send the two pairs in together which should clear the slate for awhile and allow them to focus on other areas. The duo's hits include the most played song in rock history, "You've Lost That Lovin' Feelin" along with countless others for everyone from the Drifters to the Animals that defined their era.
In 1992 Doc Pomus was elected to the Rock 'n' Roll Hall Of Fame for his songwriting accomplishments. Now, 18 years later, his co-writer for nearly all of those classic hits gets inducted as well. Why weren't they inducted together back then? Of the Hall's baffling decisions over the years this one stood out, as Pomus & Shuman were forever linked as partners for their string of indelible classics written for the likes of Dion & The Belmonts, The Drifters and Elvis Presley among many others. Pomus was the delightfully eccentric figure between them and beloved by all he came in contact with, but Shuman was indespensible to their success and his being left out for so long raised more needless questions regarding the Hall's lack of awareness of rock history. Finally that gets rectified.
The man of whom Atlantic Records founder and Rock 'n' Roll Hall Of Fame visionary Ahmet Ertegun once said "Jesse Stone is more responsible for the basic rock 'n' roll sound than anyone". Twenty-five years late Stone finally gets inducted into the shrine that, without him, might not exist for the music itself might not have existed as we know it. The fact that Stone died in his late 90's a few years back and thus didn't live to accept this honor in the flesh as was his right is deplorable. Why is Stone so important in rock history? The ex-bandleader from the 1930's was Atlantic's main musical arranger and he studied the sounds emerging in the late 40's and broke them down to their core essentials - the bluesy strains coming from the south, the vocal harmonies brought from from the cities, the passion taken from gospel, the emphasis on the backbeat - and honed them on a series of records by the Clovers, Ruth Brown, Ray Charles and the Drifters, and with it rock 'n' roll took definite shape. He didn't invent it, but he fine-tuned it and gave rock a basic blueprint to follow, which it has done ever since. A giant whose name should be known and revered by every rock fan.
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