A Considered Look at Every Inductee Into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Part 11

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.

Click the links for Part 1,Part 2,  Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7, Part 8, Part 9, and Part 10 of this series.

Class of 2004

Jackson Browne

WHO HE IS: An excellent sleep aid, at the very least. Probably at the very most, also.

WHY HE’S HERE: Because he played ball and was able to get a bunch of hit songs through, which I guess accounts for something. The world looked up and cried “we need a different, shittier John Denver” and Jackson Browne was there for them.

AND….?: Hey guys! I don’t like his music! Not one little bit!

RIGHTFULLY INDUCTED: No

The Dells

WHO THEY ARE: A fifties vocal group. They had a hit with “Oh What a Night”.

WHY THEY’RE HERE: Because the people inducting people to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame at this point would not rest until everyone who had ever been in a damn doo-wop group got their spot.

AND…?: “Oh What a Night” is a terrific song. They weren’t objectionable, just not special.

RIGHTFULLY INDUCTED: No.

George Harrison

WHO HE IS: The third Beatle (the quiet one!) inducted as a solo artist.

WHY HE’S HERE: Because he was a Beatle. There’s probably some ostensible reasons related to his willingness to bring in Indian music and stuff to his records, but it was probably an inevitability from the moment he joined the Beatles.

AND…?: I like George Harrison just fine.

RIGHTFULLY INDUCTED: Sure.

Prince

WHO HE IS: A teeny-tiny guitar player and pancake enthusiast.

WHY HE’S HERE: He made a string of incredible records in the eighties that sounded great and sold a jillion copies, and then he managed to follow his weird little muse wherever it took him, which was largely down an increasingly-complicated tunnel of paranoia and self-indulgence. Whether this is an admirable example of using your capital to do whatever you want or a cautionary tale about what happens if you don’t ever stop to think about how what you’re doing would be received 3 as he is often painted in jokes and such is up to the listener.

AND…?: I used to vacillate on how much I liked Prince, for reasons that I can’t really articulate. I’m pretty into most of it full-time now, although I concede that there’s too much of it for it to work as a totality.

RIGHTFULLY INDUCTED: Yes

Bob Seger

WHO HE IS:A long-running rock and roll nostalgiast. Nostaliga-ist? Nostaligitast. Something.

WHY HE’S HERE: Boatload of records. He also played seemingly every single city in the country, and was, by all accounts, a tremendous live performer 4. It’s hard to call what he did “innovative,” in that he was pretty well just doing what a bunch of other people had already done, but he did it honestly and for a long time, so that probably counts for something.

AND…?: I can’t fault him for existing, certainly. I don’t think that this sort of thing needs to be in a hall of anything, and he wasn’t a patch on Meat Loaf, who did almost all of the same stuff but made cooler records, and also is not in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

RIGHTFULLY INDUCTED: No

Traffic

WHO THEY ARE: Uh…they’re the foremost organ-dominated band of the late seventies?

WHY THEY’RE HERE: Because someone lost a bet? Because someone owes Steve Winwood money? Because someone made a Faustian bargain to get anyone else in? Because people wanted there to be a year of inductions that was clearly the worst year?

AND…?: Man, if you lab-engineered a band specifically to be “nothing-special middle-of-the-road nonsense” it would look an awful goddamn lot like Traffic.

RIGHTFULLY INDUCTED: No

ZZ Top

WHO THEY ARE: One of Texas’s finer power-trios.

WHY THEY’RE HERE: They were awesome in the seventies, and parlayed that into being mightily successful in the eighties. They did transition from just being an awesome band to being a band that traded fairly well on their image in the eighties without diluting their music too badly, which is a kind of admirable accomplishment such as it is.

AND…?: I like their first few records, certainly. I didn’t know that for a long time because I really hate anything they did after the advent of the music video, but those first few records are awfully good and buy a lot of forgiveness.

RIGHTFULLY INDUCTED: Yes

Jann Wenner

WHO HE IS: The founder of Rolling Stone magazine

WHY HE’S HERE: Because he founded Rolling Stone magazine, and also helped found the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame itself.

AND…?: He’s an idiot, but I like Rolling Stone magazine well enough. I wonder if he’s also a big Traffic fan, and that’s why they’re here.

RIGHTFULLY INDUCTED: It’s hard to say no, but jeez I kind of want to. But yeah, he should probably be in there. He probably should have been in there before now, honestly. Unfortunately.

Class of 2005

Buddy Guy

WHO HE IS: An extraordinary guitar player who was also the guitar player on a wheelbarrowful of old Stax records.

WHY HE’S HERE: He was an extraordinary guitar player, who was able to play in half a dozen styles well, and generally stuck to making up his own styles, especially in his prime. He was the sort of monolithic talent that it’s almost impossible to not respect the hell out of, even if he’s written of almost exclusively for his ability to play the electric blues. And even then, his ability to play the electric blues was pretty much unparalleled.

AND…?: Oh, I don’t like any of his music. I like a lot of the records he played on, and I think his oeuvre is impressive in its breadth and consistency, but none of it is my cup of tea. I admire that he did it and I respect his ability, and it all stops just short of me ever wanting to hear it.

RIGHTFULLY INDUCTED: Sure.

The O’Jays

WHO THEY ARE: The best doo-wop band ever to come from Canton, Ohio.

WHY THEY’RE HERE: So one of the things that’s happening as this goes on is that the stock of early performers is getting thinner and thinner. These are, as a result, getting harder to write about, because I don’t think there’s anything particularly special about the O’Jays, even in an objective, what-they-accomplished sense (see above w/r/t Buddy Guy for an example of this sort of thing). So they had some hits and I guess people wanted to get a vocal group in there every year, and here we are.

AND…?: I like the songs I know, which aren’t very numerous, and I don’t like them that much outside of “Love Train,” which is pretty good.

RIGHTFULLY INDUCTED: Not really.

The Pretenders

WHO THEY ARE: They were one of the first of the trickle of new-wave bands to get in there.

WHY THEY’RE HERE: Well, they’re easy to like and talk about on the strength of Chrissie Hynde, who is a fascinating and tremendously entertaining person. People liked their records a lot at the time, and I suspect that most of the induction-people are of the age that liked them. I do sort of wonder what someone hearing them for the first time in 2019 would think of them, which is not something I always wonder, but I’m not entirely sure that’s significant.

AND…?: I don’t have much use for their music, but I’m glad Chrissie Hynde is famous enough to give interviews and star in amusing anecdotes.

RIGHTFULLY INDUCTED: No

Percy Sledge

WHO HE IS: He has some feelings about what happens when a man loves a woman.

WHY HE’S HERE: He was an awfully good singer. Somebody clearly liked him. Did you know that part 12 is not going to be from this particular set of two years and that this won’t be nearly as hard going forward? Seriously, this is a dire couple of years of inductions.

AND…?: He’s a good singer, I grant. So was the aforementioned Chrissie Hynde, and the O’Jays, and Steve Winwood. None of them are transformative, and none of them used those voices to do anything but sing songs loudly. I’ll pass on all of them.

RIGHTFULLY INDUCTED: No

U2

WHO THEY ARE: Every attempt I’ve made at writing this line has dissolved into a bunch of incomprehensible podcast in-jokes 5, so: they’re a rock band from Ireland that are stupid huge.

WHY THEY’RE HERE: They successfully subsumed a lot of the UK post-punk/new-wave thing into an arena-sized sound, in the process making records that were extraordinarily popular, and also pretty great by just about any measure. They also did so with no lineup changes over the course of going-on four decades (three and change at the time of their induction), which is pretty incredible.

AND…?: Oh I like U2 a whole heck of a lot.

RIGHTFULLY INDUCTED: Yes

Frank Barsalona

WHO HE IS: A booking agent.

WHY HE’S HERE: Somebody probably said “we need a booking agent in here” and this is the guy who is most qualified among other booking agent. Did you know there’s a documentary about this booking agent? Did you know that the world we live in is completely insane, and full of completely insane people?

AND…?: How on Earth would I even go about forming an opinion about a fucking agent?

RIGHTFULLY INDUCTED: No.

Seymour Stein

WHO HE IS: The founder of Sire records, among other things.

WHY HE’S HERE: Sire was pretty awesome, and they’re clearly trying to make inroads into the post-punk bands that were, largely, on Sire.

AND…?: I have much less problem with a label dude being here than a goddamn agent, certainly.

RIGHTFULLY INDUCTED: Yes


  1.  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. 
  2.  although they did, as you can read here and going back from there, skew toward “pretty bad” 
  3. For the record, I think it’s the former, and don’t think the latter is a consideration. 
  4.  The only Bob Seger album I’ve ever played of my own volition was Live Bullets, and that was a long, long time ago. I liked it then, though. It’s probably still fine. 
  5.  specifically the excellent podcast U Talking U 2 2 Me 

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