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.
WHO THEY ARE: Pioneers, if not outright inventors, of heavy metal.
WHY THEY’RE HERE: I’ve written previously about the RRHOF’s tricky relationship with several of rock’s subgenres, and Black Sabbath is indicative of the thing that they really don’t want to develop an institutional affinity for. Who the hell doesn’t like Black Sabbath? I mean, at least a little bit. They sold a bajillion records despite being inarticulate, semi-literate weirdos from a deeply unfashionable part of Great Britain because they were that good, and they inspired tens of thousands of bands to sound at least a little bit like them.
AND…?: I maintain that it is true that whatever your favorite flavor of heavy music might be, Black Sabbath probably wrote a song in that mode, and it probably directly inspired your favorite heavy band. For all that they’re beloved, they’re also probably under-rated.
RIGHTFULLY INDUCTED: Yes.
WHO THEY WERE: Punk’s premier disco band.
WHY THEY’RE HERE: Because Debbie Harry caused a lot of boners in the seventies? Because there are a bunch of these people that secretly wanted to love disco but needed it dressed in different clothes? They’re were very popular, and I suppose in the sense that they showed how to be completely and utterly mercenary about your music and what is done with it by labels, etc., they were also influential.
AND…?: Fuck ‘em.
RIGHTFULLY INDUCTED: No
WHO HE IS: Inhumanly talented and innovated jazz trumpeter
WHY HE’S HERE: Because it’s been a few years since the genre-blob that ate all things decided to subsume someone who wasn’t a part of rock and roll, I guess. He did sort of invent Jazz Fusion with Bitches Brew and A Tribute to Jack Johnson and that, but blaming him for Weather Report seems a little unfair to him.
AND…?: There’s some all-time great music in there. None of it is actually rock and roll, and you’d think I’d be done being surprised at this point, but hey! I guess I’m not!
RIGHTFULLY INDUCTED: If he were in the influences category, maybe. I mean, under the rules of the RRHOF he’s probably fine to be in there, but this is one is particularly rankling, not only because it’s a non-rock-and-roll performer, but because if you were always going to induct Miles Davis anyway, why did you wait so goddamned long?
WHO THEY WERE: America’s foremost southern rock band
WHY THEY’RE HERE: In addition to the usual “sold a bunch of records” reasons, they gave the world one of the most annoying and omnipresent jokes that ran all the way to the mid-aughts where people yelled “Freebird!” at anyone holding a guitar.
AND…?: Eh. I don’t like them enough to feel they belong, but they’re better than the Allman Brothers, who were inducted ten years earlier. That seems dumb.
RIGHTFULLY INDUCTED: Not really
WHO THEY ARE: The Ramones of British punk
WHY THEY’RE HERE: Despite decades of their former-manager doing everything in his power to muddy and/or negate their formidable legacy, and several decades of their former frontman being a world-class cock 3, the Sex Pistols are pretty undeniable in terms of having been a great, influential, powerful (to the people to whom they were powerful) rock band, and the fact that that has stood up to years of the aforementioned meddling and an association (by way of name-checking) with some of the worst music ever made is a better argument for them as a band than just about anything one could write about them.
AND…?: Their music pretty much entirely fails to move me, but I get it, and I’m not sad to see them here or to go to bat for them.
RIGHTFULLY INDUCTED: Yes
Herb Alpert and Jerry Moss
WHO THEY ARE: They’re the founders of A&M (Alpert & Moss) records and, as of the time of this typing, the last inductees in the “lifetime achievement” category.
WHY THEY’RE HERE: A&M Records was a big ol’ label with a bunch of big ol’ bands on it, and label dudes get inducted regularly.
AND…?: A perusal of A&M’s signees reveals almost nothing that I would rather have in the world than not, which is some kind of crazy-low batting average. That said, a bunch of it was super-popular, so clearly there’s business forces at work here.
RIGHTFULLY INDUCTED: Not really, no.
Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five
WHO THEY ARE: An early rap group that had early rap hits.
WHY THEY’RE HERE: The RRHOF has, as of this point, started dipping their toes into recognizing hip-hop, and this is a pretty tough choice to argue with. They were popular, but their hits weren’t novelty hits, as were so many of the rap hits prior to Grandmaster Flash. They were influential in the way that any early performer in an idiom is influential, even if most of what was going on there would quickly be done better by other folks.
AND…?: The idea to sample “Cavern” is not one that I would have thought of, and while “White Lines” isn’t as good as “Cavern”, I still like it every time I hear it. That’s about it, as far as my personal opinion of Grandmaster Flash is concerned.
RIGHTFULLY INDUCTED: Sure. I can’t put up fences about rap, given how much stuff is in here that has nothing to do with Rock and Roll on the other end (see above w/r/t Miles Davis, and also much previously written in previous installments).
WHO THEY ARE: Athens, Georgia’s longest-running rock band, a perennially unlikely candidate for a group of rock stars, and probably the best-known power-pop band ever.
WHY THEY’RE HERE: Without changing anything about their approach, sound, or selves, they became as famous as anyone could be. This is the sort of thing that I can’t help but applaud, even divorced of the music.
AND…?: I’m trying to keep this brief and devoid of hyperbole, because I love REM almost as much as I love any band that has ever existed, and in their original four-guys-and-their-instruments incarnation, they had a basically perfect run and accomplished things in terms of artistry and, somehow, wild success that I can still only barely fathom, even though much of this accomplishment was before I was aware of them at all.
RIGHTFULLY INDUCTED: Yes.
WHO THEY ARE: A girl group who was somehow not inducted before now.
WHY THEY’RE HERE: Well, they were very popular and were pretty indicative of the Phil Spector sound. The real question isn’t why they’re here – they’re pretty much catnip for the RRHOF induction folks – but rather why did it take them until 2007? For that latter question, I have basically no answer.
AND…?: They were a lot better than a lot of vocal groups who got in before them, that’s for sure.
RIGHTFULLY INDUCTED: Yes
WHO SHE IS: An early woman of punk, among other things.
WHY SHE’S HERE: Her first three records are basically perfect, and she continued to follow her creative muse off in all sorts of directions, regardless of what people wanted or expected from her. Still does, in fact. It’s hard not to enshrine that kind of thing, as previously mentioned many times. She was never as popular as several of the folks here, and she really should have been inducted earlier on her influence alone 4.
AND…?: Oh, I love the Patti Smith that I love and don’t begrudge her the rest of it. She also makes a fantastic character in Please Kill Me.
RIGHTFULLY INDUCTED: Yes
WHO THEY ARE: You know how sometimes you’re on the hook to come up with a brief, preferably-funny or at least non-intrusive way to describe a band for a blog post and the only thing you can actually think to say is “I hate this band so much”? Yeah, I hate this band so much.
WHY THEY’RE HERE: They created a sort of fusion of heavy-metal sound with absolutely zero aggression and a lot of circus-style stage-tricks in the form of their coked-out bouncy ball of a frontman. They brought a high degree of technical skill to the art of not-actually rocking, and generally laid every single brick of ground on the way to the way of a conceptualization of “rock star” and “rock band” that is terrible, and that persists to this day.
AND…?: All of that aside, I will admit that they did what they did genuinely, and they worked hard at it, and I don’t actually find it difficult to imagine why people find it compelling, which puts them light-years ahead of bands that are in their league quality-wise. And Alex Van Halen is a pretty good drummer.
RIGHTFULLY INDUCTED: I’m not going to argue that they aren’t, but I would argue that rock music would be better on the whole if they weren’t the sort of band that seemed sensible to induct, you know what I mean?
Anyway, 2007 is one of those years where it’s only performers that are inducted, and not early influences, non-performers or sidemen, so that wraps it up for this one.
- 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” ↩
- although it must also be stated that John Lydon – the world-class cock in question – was also in a band that beats the Sex Pistols at a walk in terms of quality and wildly inventive awesomeness in the form of Public Image, Ltd. ↩
- She was inducted, for example, the same year as REM, and she was REM’s singer’s favorite singer. That alone, you know? ↩