The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is a place that I find, as an institution, vexing. The actual, physical hall of fame – the pyramidal building on the lake in Cleveland – is pretty cool, but it is spoken and thought of often as an intangible – as a sort of arbitrating body on the worthiness of the body of rock musicians. My thought, for many years upon surveying lists 1 and the like was to think that they have about a fifty percent success rate for getting it anything like right.
But what if it doesn’t? Previously I listened to and considered each of the best-selling albums of all time, and learned that they were considerably more of a mixed bag than I had thought 2. So what if the inductees to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame are the same sort of deal?
And so it’s time to dive in and take a look at what the nominees and their enshrinement actually are.
The Beastie Boys
WHO THEY ARE: Just three Boys Entering Anarchic States Towards Inner Excellence”
WHY THEY’RE HERE: The RRHOF at this point has started admitting a token early-ish hip hop outfit into the HOF each year, and the Beastie Boys were probably inevitable. They were extremely popular before most rappers were and, to their credit, did a lot to expand the genre and the way in which it could be considered. It’s hard to argue with their influence, acclaim or accomplishments, and certainly they’re better than anyone else admitted this year. Technically, due to a historical quirk, they’re also the first former-hardcore band to be admitted to the HOF, although they operated under a different name and I’m certain it wasn’t taken into account.
AND…?: I don’t really listen to them for pleasure, but I get it, and I’m not mad about it.
RIGHTFULLY INDUCTED: Sure
WHO HE IS: The Hurdy-Gurdy Man himself! The Sunshine Superman himself! Mellow Yellow himself!
WHY HE’S HERE: It’s worth noting at this point that he got famous due to his early association with Paul McCartney. He was a vaguely almost-psychedelic hippieish British folk dude, which seems like it oughta be a shoo-in, but which population is not terribly represented 3. This is not a complaint so much as an expression of bewilderment. I suppose he made it in before Badfinger, that’s something. Anyway, it’s got to be the Paul McCartney thing because, while he was hugely popular, I can’t think of a time I’ve ever heard his influence present in anyone else’s music, and I have no idea if anyone still listens to him, since his music very does not pass any kind of test of time.
AND…?: I do not care for Donovan, and really have to question why this seemed like a good idea.
RIGHTFULLY INDUCTED: No
Guns n Roses
WHO THEY ARE: The last of the Sunset Strip rock bands of the eighties. To their credit, they at least had very little to do with glam metal. That’s just about the only thing I can say to their credit.
WHY THEY’RE HERE: Well, they sure did sell a lot of records. They also represent 4 a particular kind of success for the record-selling industry, whereby they were able to be force-marketed into their fame very quickly, which probably inclines some of the folks that make the HOF decisions (who would have gained economically from that situation) to include them. But then, I’m probably being needlessly cynical.
AND…?: Oh, it’s terrible music. Just terrible.
RIGHTFULLY INDUCTED: No
WHO SHE IS: A songwriter, predominantly, although she’s inducted here as a performer.
WHY SHE’S HERE: Well, she definitely created a sort of template for a wildly-eccentric performer-type. Her music has exactly nothing to do with Rock and Roll, but I suppose it’s the idiom through which she was associated, so that’s something. I dunno, actually. I cannot for the life of me figure out why she got here before, say, Randy Newman 5
AND…?: I haven’t spent much time with her work, and haven’t liked much of what I’ve heard, but she wrote “Eli’s Coming,” and thus, as a songwriter, features prominently in Sports Night, which is something.
RIGHTFULLY INDUCTED: Not really.
Red Hot Chili Peppers
WHO THEY ARE: They’re almost certainly the biggest-selling rock band that’s still a going concern in 2019, I suppose. Unless that’s U2. Who can say?
WHY THEY’RE HERE: Well, they’ve sold as many records as anyone could imagine, and really did a lot to bring funk and associated funk-type styles into rock music after the first wave of funk-influenced rock bands in the sixties. They helped usher in a bunch of styles of the last thirty years, and while almost all of those are regrettable, it’s hard to take that away from RCHP, or to blame them for their followers.
AND…?: I dunno. There’s stuff I don’t mind in there, certainly, but not a lot of it. They seem like they’re having a good time, though.
RIGHTFULLY INDUCTED: Sure, I guess
The Faces/The Small Faces
WHO THEY ARE: Well, they’re definitely the first band to be inducted under two different names.
WHY THEY’RE HERE: Uh……The Faces were a very good band, certainly, and had some hits. They’re largely overshadowed by their singer’s solo career and their guitar player’s contributions to the Rolling Stones, and it’s entirley possible that those two things spilled over and got them in here. They’re in about the same boat as Donovan, only they’re not as boring and there’s more of them.
AND….?: They’re fine. I had a real moment with The Faces a bunch of years ago, and sometimes dig them out as a result of that, for my part.
RIGHTFULLY INDUCTED: I dunno. Probably not really. 2012 is a year that I don’t have very many feelings about, I guess.
The Blue Caps/The Comets/The Crickets/The Famous Flames/The Midnighters/The Miracles
WHO THEY ARE: A bunch of backing bands who were associated with singers (Gene Vincent, Bill Hailley, Buddy Holly, Jamnes Brown, Hank Ballard and Smokey Robinson, respectively) that were already inducted.
WHY THEY’RE HERE: Because rock and roll is the sound of a band playing together, and the bands are important.
AND…?: I do sort of wonder why the Famous Flames are in and not the JBs, or rather, why they aren’t both here, but I guess I get having it be one per performer, and the Famous Flames had more “hits”.
RIGHTFULLY INDUCTED: Very much so. I’m a big fan of this decision.
WHO HE IS: A Chicago Blues guy.
WHY HE’S HERE: He had a bunch of hits in the sixties, some of which are notable for being very popular instrumentals, which happens only rarely, and almost never with blues songs. Good job, Freddie King.
AND…?: This just continues the streak of inductees that I have no strong feelings about. He was a good player, that’s for sure.
RIGHTFULLY INDUCTED: Sure, why not?
WHO HE IS: A guy with a Rock Concert
WHY HE’S HERE: He showed rock musicians on television, at a time when that was extremely rare.
AND…?: I think that’s generally a force for good in the world.
RIGHTFULLY INDUCTED: Yes
WHO HE IS: He was a record producer who got started in the forties.
WHY HE’S HERE: He recorded a bunch of early-R&B/proto-rock and roll songs, including “Tutti Frutti”.
AND…?: Sounds good to me.
RIGHTFULLY INDUCTED: Yes
WHO HE IS: He’s often credited as being the man who invented multi-track recording 6
WHY HE’S HERE: mostly the recording thing.
AND…?: The recording thing is certainly enough to convince me
RIGHTFULLY INDUCTED: Yeppers
WHO HE IS: He recorded a whole bunch of super-heavy hitters in the sixties and seventies.
WHY HE’S HERE: No, seriously, super-heavy hitters. Great big names.
AND…?: Hey, he recorded Who’s Next, Abbey Road, the best Faces album and the first Led Zeppelin album. No amount of The Eagles can take that away from him.
RIGHTFULLY INDUCTED: Yes
WHO THEY WERE: A lady rock band from Seattle
WHY THEY’RE HERE: They sold a bunch of records, and were rockin’ women, which paved the way for similarly rockin’ women down the way. One of them was a terrific rhythm guitarist.
AND…?: You know, outside of this writeup I think the last time I willingly called them up to listen to them specifically was when I wrote about them for their Who the Fuck Listens to This. So there’s that.
RIGHTFULLY INDUCTED: Yeah
WHO HE IS: The last of the Kings of the Blues (the other two are Freddie – see above – and BB – see previously) to be inducted into the RRHOF.
WHY HE’S HERE: It would be silly to not have him in here after inducting the other two, plus Born Under a Bad Sign is probably the best single moment of all of the electric Chicago blues, so he should’ve been in before the other two.
AND…?: Eh. If any of those dudes deserve to be here, and they probably due, if influence if not for any other reason, then it’s Albert King.
RIGHTFULLY INDUCTED: Yes
WHO HE IS: A songwriter who also performs his own songs.
WHY HE’S HERE: He had successes on his own (“Short People,” “I Love LA”) and as a songwriter of other people’s hits (“You Can Leave Your Hat On,” “Mama Told Me Not to Come”). He’s probably the funniest songwriter inducted into the HOF, and, in fact is something of a master of the funny/angry song. He also had a string of records in the seventies that were pretty much bulletproof.
AND…?: I have long been public about my deep and abiding love of Randy Newman
RIGHTFULLY INDUCTED: Yes
WHO THEY ARE: Probably the first of the obligatory RRHOF hip-hop inductees to have actually made great records 7
WHY THEY’RE HERE: Well, they were huge at the time, balancing enormous popularity and critical respect in equal measure. Their production team – the Bomb Squad – interestingly and innovatively recorded their music by all setting up in a room and triggering their samples manually, like a band would. I’m always surprised more people don’t do this, and I think they should. Anyway, even aside from that, they were groundbreaking rappers with incredible musical instincts. Plus, in addition ot being able to help you expand your mind and thoughts, one of them is even a cautionary tale! They just keep giving! What dudes they are.
AND…?: Super-great records, super-great band, super-into it. Still not rock and roll, but that bird has flown.
RIGHTFULLY INDUCTED: Yep
WHO THEY ARE: Canada’s premier prog rock band
WHY THEY’RE HERE: For all that they’re easy to make jokes about, they’ve been exactly the band they’ve wanted to be, regardless of their popularity (which, at times, has been enormous) or productivity (which comes and goes), and it’s hard not to want to honor that. A bunch of bands formed in their wake, they made a strain of prog rock that’s uniquely theirs, and they did so to a lot of success and a rabid fanbase for half a damn century.
AND…?: It’s not to my taste, but that seems rather beside the point.
RIGHTFULLY INDUCTED: Surely
WHO SHE IS: The queen of Disco or whatever
WHY SHE’S HERE: Disco is clearly also making its inroads, and has been for some time 7, and Donna Summer is emblematic of that sort of thing. She wasn’t a very good singer, but she had a bunch of hits.
AND…?: It should probably be Giorgio Moroder, I think?
RIGHTFULLY INDUCTED: Not really, but it’s nice to see a woman of color get the nod, so I’m not going to fight too strenuously against it.
WHO HE IS: Another record producer
WHY HE’S HERE: He produced a bunch of wildly popular, and also terrible, albums in the seventies.
AND…?: He made those Cheech and Chong records. I like those. And The Rocky Horror Picture Show. I like that, too.
RIGHTFULLY INDUCTED: Oh sure, fine, I just am not going to be very happy about it.
WHO HE IS: A record producer, label head and general all-around honcho-type.
WHY HE’S HERE: He is, quite possibly, the most famous record producer in the world, and has made a kind of above-the-title name for himself as such, which I suppose is its own kind of impressive. He co-produced Michael Jackson’s super-enormo-huge records in the eighties, in addition to scads of other things.
AND…?: I don’t like the way much of what he’s produced sounds, but I guess he did do it, so there’s that. At the moment, however, I’m disappointed that I can’t get the bat off my shoulder to make a proper Arrested Development joke.
RIGHTFULLY INDUCTED: I guess so, but kind of begrudgingly.
- also the centerpiece of the museum itself, for those that have never been there, is a very long video encapsulating each inducted class, with clips of performances by most of them and things like that, and is generally a pretty cool thing to behold. ↩
- although they did, as you can read here and going back from there, skew toward “pretty bad” ↩
- NB that the Fairport Convention (nor Richard Thompson himself) is not inducted, for example, nor is Nick Drake, either of which I’d rather see here than fucking Donovan. ↩
- in ways and for reasons I’m not going to go into here, but feel fre eto hit me up sometime and ask about them ↩
- who also, among other things, wrote one of Three Dog Night’s giant hits. ↩
- this is a complicated claim! But he probably has as much stake in that claim as anyone else. ↩
- There are about as many disco outfits, for example, than prog rock outfits, which is absurd ↩ ↩