This is a bit belated. I expressed my concerns about this year’s ballot here and I guess there wasn’t much likelihood of this being one of the more sterling classes. Still, it needn’t have been such a hot mess. Putting Link Wray in would have made up for a lot.
Anyway, those inducted as performers were Bon Jovi, The Cars, Dire Straits, The Moody Blues and Nina Simone. Sister Rosetta Tharpe received a much deserved (and long overdue) induction as an Early Influence.
All well and good, except…
Nina Simone should have been inducted in the nonexistent Contemporary Influence category I’ve been calling for for years. There’s no reason she should take up a Performer slot when so many others who are more deserving in that category (Spinners, War, Dionne Warwick, the aforementioned Mr. Wray…one could go on) are left hanging. Like last year’s inductee Joan Baez, Simone’s influence and legacy were more political than musical. They deserve inclusion, just not in the Performer category, because very little of what they performed was Rock and Roll even in the broad definition I prefer.
In the best Purist tradition, her best-known songs were epic….and done better by others….
Bon Jovi continues a discouraging trend toward white boy bands (Journey, Chicago, Yes) who sold a hundred million records and left little trace on the culture. There aren’t that many left and I’m not averse to honoring them. But where’s the sense of priority that a self-anointed Hall of Fame owes History? They are also the first act ever inducted in the Performer category who never made a single record I love (yes, even the Grateful Dead and the Sex Pistols reached me a time or two). But that’s just a personal note. I’d feel a lot better about it if somebody could demonstrate just how Rock and Roll would have been the lest bit different if they never existed. They did do one record I almost liked…Sounds like Poison. Wish I knew if that was the point.
The Cars are worthy. They were the most popular Power Pop band and also one of the best. I have a preference for acts who either helped define a major genre or helped invent an important minor one. The Cars fall just short of either, but they’re close enough to doing both that I feel they are one of those bands who still carved out a worthy place all their own. That holds up on the radio, because of all the thousand times I’ve heard one of their many hits whilst driving around, I never once mistook them for anyone else. (They’re also the only act I voted for who actually made it in, so, the ballot being what it was, no complaints).
Dire Straits is an odd case. The band was faceless except for Mark Knopfler. I would have put Knopfler in the Musical Excellence category (which hasn’t been utilized enough anyway). That would have honored his band’s handful of epic sides and his stellar work as a session guitarist with an unmistakable touch, best heard here:
The Moody Blues are another white boy band (albeit one with a great name!) who the Nominating Committee flirted with for years before putting them on the ballot. They’re more deserving than Bon Jovi (or a few others already in), so at least they don’t lower any standards. And I was happy to see Denny Laine included in the Hall membership, because–even though I’m not even a little immune to the considerable charms of “Nights In White Satin” and “Tuesday Afternoon”–their initial hit single, on which Laine provided the lead guitar and vocal, was their greatest, and one of the best records of Rock and Roll’s greatest era. Besides, he got gypped when Wings weren’t inducted with Paul McCartney.
Sister Rosetta Tharpe. Even when the Hall gets it right, they often get it wrong. Sister Rosetta deserved induction long ago (for her impact on Elvis alone) and Early Influence is the proper category. But she was included on the ballot in this year’s Performer voting category, presumably pulling votes from others (Link Wray perhaps?) and, in any case, taking a place on the ballot from some other deserving performer when she was going to be put in by the Hall Nom Committee anyway (reminiscent of what they did with Wanda Jackson a few years back).
Well, if anyone could have appreciated the absurdity of it all, it would have been the woman who walked the line between the sacred and the profane straighter and truer than anyone….
Push, push, push and then the nice relaxing ride to town settles in with “Holiday,” the first major hit from the world’s most famous Catholic girl. I don’t remember hearing it on the radio at the time (1983 was one of my blackout years–actually it was my quintessential blackout year), so I don’t know if the hint of existential dread that would rise all the way to the surface with “Live to Tell” a few years later, and eventually manifest itself in Madonna becoming the first quintessential American to go the more-English-than-the-English route, was as easy to hear then as it is now.
What I do know is that “Only the Good Die Young,” Billy Joel’s come on to a repressed Catholic girl which came on next–and which actually sounded somewhat daring in its late-seventies’ moment, the last moment when repression still had something like its old puritanical shape (it has since learned new ones)–pretty much summed up every meat-headed bluff the Material Girl ever called, not to mention the difference between craft and art.
And after that, “Walk of Life”: Mark Knopfler’s eighties-era sideways ode to fifties’ rock and roll. (Sideways in that it’s not clear if the man he’s singing about, the man trying to make a living playing the oldies “down in the tunnels” is a hero or a hopeless chump–lonely troubadour keeping the old rebel spirit alive against what were already insurmountable odds or the pathetic embodiment of the inevitable sense of helplessness Madonna seemed bent on kicking to the curb)….Also, wonder of wonders, even catchier–and craftier–than Billy Joel.
Heavy competition today by the way. Most days “Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door”/“Take Me to the Pilot” would win hands down. And though “Mr. Fantasy”/“Chestnut Mare” felt like it came out of some happy dream–while also confirming that the computers (yes, I know, it could still be their programmers, but I’m betting the switch has already taken place and any announcements to this effect will remain permanently forthcoming) have become dangerously, seductively apt at calling forth such dreams–it still didn’t speak to the nervous present in anything like the same way.