I’m a diehard rock music fan from Cleveland, so I’m proud that the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is located there, standing prominently like a huge record player on the shores of Lake Erie.
But I gotta tell you, I’ve been very frustrated with the nominating and voting process the Hall of Fame uses to select and induct its honored members. And I’m certainly not alone.
A new gang was installed a couple weeks ago. Good to see Yes among them, and Electric Light Orchestra too. And even Journey, who I never much cared for. At least they’re once again recognizing some of the big deals from the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s, after being passed over for a while there…
Since its first group of icons was enshrined in 1987, the Rock Hall has generated controversy, disagreement and a whole lot of outrage about the way it goes about choosing who is worthy to be among the elite in the R&R Hall of Fame.
Here’s a brief rundown on how it works:
First, a band/artist isn’t eligible until 25 years have passed since the release of their debut recording. This is a good rule; it assures that an artist’s work (whether fleeting or voluminous) has had time to ferment like a fine wine, giving us perspective and at least a hint of objectivity about the music’s (and the artist’s) quality, impact and durability.
Second, the Hall inducts only a handful of Performing Artists — as few as five and as many as 12 — each year (although there are also inductees in lesser categories for “Early Influences” and “Musical Excellence”). That means out of a field of perhaps 2,500 rock bands/artists who are (or will become) eligible for consideration, less than 1% will get the nod.
The trouble starts with the Nominating Committee. This is a small, select, elite group of about 25 people — most notably Rolling Stone editor/founder Jann Wenner, who openly carries a serious grudge against certain bands and genres — and their job is to choose a field of 25-30 artists from which a Voting Committee will select the 5-10 inductees. This handful of people wields enormous power to blackball worthy artists they don’t like, or railroad through unworthy artists they might be unfairly lobbying for. Their deliberations happen behind closed doors, so there’s no way of knowing for sure what kind of conspiratorial conversations occur, but it’s basically crass politics, folks, pure and simple, and it ain’t pretty.
At least the Voting Committee, consisting of a fairly broad group of about 250 industry people (artists, producers, record executives), is far more inclusive and representative. Even the public at large gets to have a say here (although their input is combined to represent only ONE vote in the tallying process).
It’s a very subjective thing, this selection process, so we mustn’t get our panties in a twist about it. It’s just a silly museum, after all. But still, there are serious omissions that have yet to be satisfactorily explained. Here, then, are my nominees for a half-dozen artists who should have been Hall of Fame inductees long ago:
The Moody Blues
This is a no-brainer. The godfathers of progressive rock have been around since their early inception as British mod rockers in early 1965 when they hit the Top Ten in the UK and the US with Denny Laine singing “Go Now.” That turned out to be an anomaly, though, because in 1967, with singer-songwriter Justin Hayward at the helm, they teamed up with the London Symphony Orchestra to break all kinds of barriers with their landmark “Days of Future Passed” LP. Using classical instruments, sweeping string passages and a structured song cycle, the Moodies practically invented the concept album, and then went on from there with a half-dozen albums in the 1968-1973 period that established the quality precedent for all prog rock bands that followed. Hayward was the de facto leader, coming up with melodic rock tunes like “Tuesday Afternoon,” “Nights in White Satin,” “Lovely to See You,” “Gypsy,” “Question,” “It’s Up to You,” “Story in Your Eyes” and “You and Me,” and bassist John Lodge contributed strong entries like “Ride My Seesaw” and “I’m Just a Singer in a Rock and Roll Band.”
Furthermore, keyboardist Mike Pinder was the very first guy to make use of the newfangled Mellotron to concoct groundbreaking sounds in the studio. (He loaned it out to John Lennon for use on “Strawberry Fields Forever.”) After a mid-’70s hiatus to try various solo projects, The Moody Blues reunited in 1981 for a second life, topping the charts with their “Long Distance Voyager” LP and more Top Ten singles (“The Voice,” “Gemini Dream,” “Your Wildest Dreams,” “I Know You’re Out There Somewhere”). And they’re still out there in 2017, performing to sold-out venues everywhere. Without The Moodies paving the way, there would be no Genesis, no Rush, perhaps no Pink Floyd nor David Bowie. These guys have been eligible since 1990. There’s absolutely no excuse for their omission from the R&R Hall of Fame. Period. End of discussion.
Dire Straits/Mark Knopfler
In the midst of disco and New Wave, Dire Straits burst forth from England in 1978 with a wonderfully retro beat-music sound, highlighted by Mark Knopfler’s spare, lean guitar stylings. “Sultans of Swing” dominated radio in the UK and the US in early 1979, as did the debut LP, and they then went on to release six more Top 20 studio albums over the next dozen years, chock full of beautiful melodies (“Romeo and Juliet,” “Your Latest Trick,” “On Every Street”) and more commercial hits (“Tunnel of Love,” “Industrial Disease,” “Money for Nothing,” “Walk of Life”). In concert, they offered a shimmering, high-quality sound rarely heard in arena-sized venues, captured on two live LPs, “Alchemy” and “On the Night.” Since the band’s breakup in 1995, Knopfler, the band’s singer-songwriter, has gone on to release eight solo albums mostly as satisfying as the Dire Straits catalog (especially 2000’s “Sailing to Philadelphia” and 2007’s “Kill to Get Crimson”), including a delightful collaboration with Emmylou Harris (“All the Roadrunning”). He is a gifted songwriter and guitarist who certainly deserves a place in the Rock Hall, as a solo artist or with his former band.
He was only 19 when he debuted with the garage rock band Nazz, then went solo at 22, knocking the industry on its ear with his third effort, the astounding double LP “Something/Anything?” and its two hits, “Hello It’s Me” and “I Saw the Light.” But Rundgren was just getting started. The multi-instrumentalist and singer-songwriter has released nearly two dozen solo albums over the past 40 years, plus another nine LPs as a member of Utopia during the ’70s and ’80s. He has offered up a wildly eclectic palette of styles, from baroque pop with intricate vocal harmonies to dense hard rock and experimental projects. On top of that, he has been a pioneer in exploring new recording technologies, and has produced hugely successful albums for other major artists (Meat Loaf’s “Bat Out of Hell,” The Band’s “Stage Fright,” Hall and Oates’ “War Babies” and Grand Funk’s “We’re an American Band”). Todd is praised by all kinds of musical heroes, from Brian Wilson to Lenny Kravitz, and his omission from the Rock Hall is puzzling, to say the least.
The Doobie Brothers
Classic rock radio playlists would have a huge void if not for the work of this venerable band out of San Jose, California. The Doobies turned heads immediately upon the release of their amazing second LP, “Toulouse Street,” in 1972, with durable heartland rock tracks like “Listen to the Music,” “Rockin’ Down the Highway” and “Jesus is Just Alright.” Lead singer-songwriter Tom Johnston spearheaded their rise on the next three LPs before succumbing to ulcer problems, but the band regrouped with soulful singer-songwriter Michael McDonald, who launched their reimagining as a more R&B-flavored outfit with lush tracks like “What a Fool Believes,” “Takin’ It to the Streets,” “Minute by Minute” and “Real Love.” Through both phases of the group, second guitarist/singer Patrick Simmons contributed some of the band’s best songs, including “Toulouse Street,” “South City Midnight Lady,” “Black Water” and “Echoes of Love.” Against all odds, The Doobies are still a mainstay on the concert circuit today — without McDonald but with Johnston back in the groove — delighting audiences from coast to coast. Surely they belong in the Rock Hall.
There are plenty of people (my sister, for instance) who don’t care for this impressive British band of prog-rock practitioners, with its revolving-door membership and musical approach that swings like a pendulum from densely hard rock to gentle madrigals. But Ian Anderson, the group’s feisty singer/songwriter/flautist/leader throughout its 40+ years, is an indisputable musical genius whose work on Jethro Tull’s 20 albums (plus a half-dozen solo projects) has sold nearly 100 million units worldwide. Consider the mind-boggling “Thick as a Brick” — one 45-minute song covering both sides of an album — the most unusual LP ever to reach #1 on the US charts. Anderson and Tull are best known for classic rock tracks like “Aqualung,” “Locomotive Breath,” “Living in the Past” and their treatment of Bach’s “Bouree,” but the band’s catalog offers far more, an extraordinary range of sophisticated rock, jazz, folk and even R&B genres that simply can’t be denied. In my view, Jethro Tull clearly belongs in the Rock Hall.
Northeast Ohio’s biggest rock hero was only 22 when his sweetly powerful electric guitar, irresistible rock songs (“Funk #49,” “Walk Away,” “Take a Look Around”) and unique vocals took The James Gang up the charts in 1969-1971. He made his mark as a solo artist with 1973’s brilliant game-changing LP “The Smoker You Drink, the Player You Get” and his signature song, “Rocky Mountain Way,” which featured a talking box well before Peter Frampton turned it into a cliche. His professional stature and financial success were forever secured when he was invited to join The Eagles in 1976, with whom he contributed rock mainstays like “Life in the Fast Lane,” “In the City” and “Pretty Maids All in a Row.” Somehow he simultaneously maintained his solo career well into the 1980s, even after The Eagles’ stormy breakup, with solid albums and whimsical hit singles like “Life’s Been Good,” “A Life of Illusion” and “Ordinary Average Guy.” He earned a reputation as one of rock’s most outrageous bad boys, destroying hotel rooms and behaving badly well into the 1990s. He’s a sober elder statesman these days, an Eagle once again since their reunion. Although he’s already been inducted as a member of that hugely successful group, Walsh deserves to be included as a solo artist as well.
There is no shortage of artists who deserve to be inducted, or at least under consideration, for career recognition in the Rock Hall. Beginning this year, any band whose first LP was released in 1992 or beyond is eligible. Here’s my list of bands and artists from the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s I think are more than worthy for the honor:
Roxy Music (really?! Roxy Music is not in already?)
Joe Cocker (??!!)
The Guess Who
J. Geils Band
Three Dog Night
Alan Parsons Project