The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony for the class of 2017 was held a few days ago, and as always, I have something to say about it. Lots to say in fact. Rock and roll seems to have reached a critical condition where it struggles for relevance in this century even as the Hall struggles to be taken seriously. Right now, both seem to be losing their respective battles. I mean, the keepers of the Hall inducted a corporate rock band that was a leading cause of rock's decline in favor of rap, and at the same time, they induct another rapper! Go figure.
So what do I think of the new class of inductees overall? Well, I'm glad you asked, because I was going to tell you anyway. So here it goes:
the Electric Light Orchestra. Jeff Lynne's classical pop-rock band did for strings what Chicago did for brass instruments - that is, they turned their sound into such a cliché that it got really tiresome really fast. But I'm glad ELO got inducted. Why? Because a lot of their seventies hits were very good in spite of their overuse of strings. Notable examples include "Do Ya," a remake of Lynne's old song from his time with the Move, as well as "Strange Magic" and "Showdown," and I always loved the humor of "Don't Bring Me Down" - including the fact that Lynne occasionally sings the song's misheard bridge lyric, "Don't bring me down, Bruce!" instead of the correct lyric, "Don't being me down, Gruß" ( a German-language term of endearment), in live performances. But there's another reason Lynne deserves to be honored. As a member of George Harrison's Traveling Wilburys, he injected life into his fellow Wilburys' recordings. He co-produced Roy Orbison's last album and Tom Petty's Full Moon Fever LP, and he helped the three surviving Beatles turn two demos of unreleased John Lennon songs into actual Beatles songs, the last two new Beatles songs ever released, for the group's Anthology series. Heck, Lynne should be in the Hall for that last achievement alone.
Joan Baez. Joan Baez should definitely be the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, even though she herself doesn't consider herself a rock and roller. Because she did record songs from her buddy Bob Dylan with great care and feeling, she inspired Dylan on more than one occasion, and she helped infuse rock with political awareness. Just forget her awful cover of the Band's "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down." Never mind that.
Journey. Journey's induction is proof that the inmates are running the asylum - or, at least, the fans are running the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (fans can vote now). What was so bad about Journey? Well, for one thing, Steve Perry (who showed up at the induction ceremonies but did not perform with the group) has a voice with all the charm of a methane fire, the group's founders - guitarist Neal Schon and keyboardist Gregg Rolie - never showed the same spark they had when they were in Carlos Santana's band and Carlos was calling the shots, and Journey's music was always coldly programmed to fit into an AOR radio format - a radio format that has fallen on hard times since Journey's eighties glory days. Stop believing, already. As I said back in December, the banality of Journey and other corporate rock bands of their ilk made rock so boring and predictable that kids turned to rap for excitement, relegating rock and roll to a long and steady decline. Quite an achievement, eh? And certainly a big reason for why we have to suffer the insufferable induction of . . .
Tupac Shakur. No, no, no. Rap is not rock, and it's not even music. Next!
Yes. Just say no. Despite a few clever progressive rock tracks like "Roundabout" and "Long Distance Runaround," most of Yes's music was meaningless twaddle, and Tales From Topographic Oceans wasn't even good enough to be twaddle. Their reputation is based on a few choice cuts from their early-seventies albums Fragile and Close To the Edge and their 1983 hit single "Owner of a Lonely Heart," but if classic rock radio were forced to dig deeper into their catalog and play more of their work, Yes would have never even made it on the ballot. And when was the last time you heard any edits from Tales From Topographic Oceans on the radio? Good grief, even Jethro Tull's Thick as a Brick is held in higher esteem, and that was supposed to be a joke!
Pearl Jam. Absolutely, unequivocally and definitely a must for induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Their music, part of the Seattle grunge scene of the early nineties, gave voice to a generation - mine - of frustrated slackers done in by Reaganomics before we even got into the workforce, and frontman Eddie Vedder is still singing and speaking for us all these years later. Rock on!
And the recipient of the Award for Musical Excellence. . .
Nile Rodgers. I begrudgingly acknowledge Rodgers' honor, which would be easier to do if he hadn't worked with Madonna and Duran Duran. But he did produce David Bowie and was likely an inspiration for Prince, so sure, why not? And some of those Chic records he was a part of were okay. Just don't get me to try to dance to any of them at a party. No air guitar in them. ;-)
As always, I have my complaints. The aforementioned Jethro Tull are still shut out again, while Family - more progressive on one album than Yes were over the course of ten albums - apparently remains ineligible for simply never having broken through commercially in America. (Thanks for nothing, Bill Graham.) And while hope springs eternal for 2018, I'm not holding my breath. And if the Hall wants to honor another corporate rock act, at least induct Foreigner - Lou Gramm is a great singer, and they belong in there for "Long, Long Way From Home" alone!
The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame was originally established to honor rock and roll performers but has since gone on to include performers representing a variety of pop styles. Or so I've been told.