Criteria: 2011 Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame Inductees. Names are in alphabetical order.
(Note: DDD is not affiliated with the Rock And Roll Hall of Fame)
Written By: Sampson
Last Updated: 2010-12-20
2011 Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame Inductees
Another year, another misstep that points to the Hall's growing irrelevance as they stubbornly cling to the belief that Rock 'n' Roll's cultural domain is a bygone era made for and celebrated exclusively by a white male demographic. While the ballot itself this year was thankfully diverse and held promise that the inductees might finally reflect rock's long varied history, the final selections were shamefully one-sided and all too predictable when studying recent voting history. It grows tiresome to write, and certainly repetitive to read year after year, but a Hall Of Fame celebrating a black invention that almost completely ignores black artists and styles of rock, notably disco and rap, can not be said to reflect an accurate portrayal of the genre's history. This year's two most deserving candidates in objective terms, LL Cool J and The Beastie Boys, who helped to popularize and shape rap, the most successful and culturally impactful form of rock music over the past thirty years, were again denied entry and the number of rap performers inducted after nearly a decade of eligibility remain at just two. In their place is offered an icon to aging women whose career rested largely in the adult contemporary pop field, which would be the equivilant in 1986 of leaving out Little Richard and Fats Domino so that Perry Como could get inducted. Harsh maybe, but closer to the truth than the Hall would like you to believe.
One of the ongoing issues that demands attention is why the Hall continues to show its age with its reluctance to look beyond the mid-70's, even though artists who've debuted in the mid 80's are now eligible. Of the five Main Performer Inductees all were recording before Richard Nixon resigned from the fallout over the Watergate scandal in 1974. While the Hall's role is to acknowledge history, they've remained stuck in a time frame that not coincidentally is the era the majority of their voters most closely identify with. As a result in the last decade the Hall's selections have been little more than referendum on their own stylistic preferences and personal favorites. Their ongoing rejection of disco, a style that defined an entire era, brought dancing back into rock after a long absence from the spotlight, and was massively influential on production of all types of rock 'n' roll in subsequent years, exemplifies this bias, as both Chic and Donna Summer failed to gain entry yet again, despite credentials that should make both near automatic selections. The voting body seems oblivious to anything that falls outside their own cultural experience and thus they're in the process of making themselves and the institution irrelevent by ignoring the revolutionary changes of the rock scene since their own coming of age. By dismissing dance-themed music, scoffing at synthesizers and beat-boxes, cringing at hair metal excess and disregarding sampling and rapping, the Hall's voters are effectively trying to wipe out entire chapters of rock history based on their own personal preferences which clearly ran counter to the dominant rock market that existed during this period.
Even when focusing on rock's distant past they almost always miss out on the most deserving and overlooked nominees from long ago, as this year they had the chance to rectify past injustices by inducting legendary 50's singer/songwriter Chuck Willis, and 60's soul star Joe Tex and whiffed on both. All of these omissions once again regrettably bring up the racial issue as virtually of those artists are black, and the Beastie Boys performed in an overwhelmingly black cultural style, and thus are seemingly not on the radar of the predominantly white voting body, something the Hall is reluctant to address, but which becomes all the more alarming with each passing year. Perhaps equally distressing is the growing attention paid to artists with rather thin objective credentials, as evidenced by three fifths of this year's class having almost no commercial success and in some cases only moderate influence, which speaks volumes about the electorate's egotism regarding their subjective evaluation of an artist's merits. It's admirable that there is more than one route into the Hall Of Fame and that artists with less quantifiable achievements are being considered, so the likes of Dr. John, Darlene Love and Tom Waits have a legitimate chance, yet when the objective measurements of other nominees far surpass those more vague credentials and are still left out year after year, then to quote Buffalo Springfield - "There's something happening here, what it is ain't exactly clear".
The Hall Of Fame needs to make it clear. It is obvious that the Hall's nominating committee and voting body have become stagnant and is in desperate need of major overhauling. The same small group of figures can not be responsible for putting forth the names each year for official consideration without it becoming simply a role call of their own tastes, and the larger voting body itself entrusted to elect those candidates must equally represent the full scope of rock history from a cultural and demographic perspective. Diversity is essential, as are younger voters, but most important is simply having knowledgeable and unbiased members who can objectively look at each prospective candidate and vote for those with the best credentials, regardless of their own interest or appreciation of their music. When it becomes far too easy to guess who is going to make it based not on the artists achievements, but rather their era, style, gender and skin color, then the Hall ceases to be the legitimate institution it craves to be.
The 2011 Rock 'n' Roll Hall Of Fame class contains some excellent choices along with some that are downright curious, but when the means in which they are selected becomes the bigger story and overwhelms the focus put on the inductees, then the Hall has once again failed in properly celebrating the artists, musicians and executives careers of those enshrined, and that is probably the greatest sin of all.
THE MAIN PERFORMER INDUCTEES
Of all of this year's inductees, Alice Cooper represents the most obvious choice of an otherwise varied group of names. The group's combination of huge mainstream success, notable influence on the theatrical performance aspect of rock, and an iconic image that makes Cooper himself recognizable across all demographics, seems to touch all of the possible bases for considering an artist's qualifications. Despite this résumé it took Alice Cooper more than a decade and a half after becoming eligible to even be nominated, yet once they were he and the group breezed in on their first time on the ballot. Cooper defined the shock rock style that grew exponentially in the 1970's, yet underneath the elaborate stage show and mascara lay a serious songwriter who tackled tender ballads with equal effectiveness as the boastful anthems that put he and the group on the map. For many it was probably hard to take seriously a makeup wearing artist whose stage histrionics included killing fake babies and beheading himself on a nightly basis, and that image, as recognizable as it became, probably kept many from considering the body of work Cooper built over the years. But at one point Bob Dylan called Cooper his favorite songwriter of the time and Cooper's own devotion to the sounds of his youth, from the immaculate Beach Boys harmonies to the harder rock sounds of the Yardbirds and Who to the bizarre approach of his original mentor Frank Zappa, ensured that Cooper was building off the already solid foundation rock was constructed on. Often their conceptual albums rarely got credit for their concepts and the antics overshadowed the music, but in the end, ironically considering that may be what kept them from being considered before, Cooper's presence guarantees the Hall a flamboyant headliner to grab attention.
While most of the other inductees for the Hall Of Fame in 2011 have had trouble capturing the market commercially, Diamond never faced such a problem. Fifty-six hits, 13 Top Ten, more than the other four inductees combined, and three chart toppers makes Diamond unquestionably the most successful artist of this year's class. But in what field? Early in his career Diamond played a folksy-brand of rock, having a few big hits without being fully accepted into the rock 'n' roll revolution that was taking place around him. He was well-respected within the industry for his talents, successful as both an artist and a songwriter, but maybe it was that success penning songs for the Monkees which turned the fledgling rock media against him, and by decade's end it became clear that he was not ever going to be a member of the rock fraternity and so he took on the role of a swaggering lothario who wrote consciously sensitive material along with the easily parodied lingering strut of his earlier work. Throughout the 70's and early 80's he was enormously popular as every lonely housewife's dream man, and his rock credentials, which had once seemed very promising, were now not only non-existent but openly mocked. So it's ironic and somewhat bewildering to consider what possibly may have changed that perception which allowed Diamond, whose Adult Contemporary reign made him the polar opposite of rock 'n' roll during his heyday, to make the cut. As a songwriter, live performer and recording artist his credentials in popular music overall are unquestioned, but as a rocker his moment in the spotlight was short-lived at best. A strange choice and one that speaks to the Hall's voters growing discomfort with modern styles of rock that have long since passed them by.
Few artists in rock history have worn as many hats as Dr. John, from sessionist in the 50's and early 60's and producer for others to an unlikely star as an artist who only stepped into the spotlight as a fluke when the chosen vocalist for a wildly ambitious project of his failed to show. Thus was born Dr. John The Night Tripper, rock's most respected alter-ego, a man who almost single-handedly kept alive the New Orleans gumbo of musical influences throughout the last four decades. His commercial success was brief, yet despite the lack of big hits he remains known to one and all, making him among the first and the most lasting of rock 'n' roll's true underground stars. His musical forays have run the gamut from funk to jazz to blues to most famously the voodoo rock of his classic debut album Gris Gris from 1968, a landmark recording that stretched the conceptual limits of rock's aesthetics. Considering the sheer over-the-top persona created for that project which virtually guaranteed him no mainstream exposure, the fact that he succeeded with it down the road when the musical culture caught up to him, but then refused to rely on it to sustain his career and was able to move so far into other fields of rock and popular music as a whole and become a respected figure who was able to bring attention to bygone styles and artists once far more famous than he ever was, is an incredible tale of perseverance and abiding talent. Dr. John today is as widely admired by fellow artists as anyone and considering his steady presence over five decades in music, his larger than life persona and his diverse catalog, it is amazing it took so long for him to be inducted.
When discussing the most talented female vocalists in rock history few names loom larger than Darlene Love. However, as an artist, Love never had much of a chance to become widely known to the public. The majority of her work came anonymously, whether substituting for the Crystals on the #1 hit "He's A Rebel", or singing in the ridiculously named Bob B. Soxx & The Blue Jeans on such classics as "Why Do Lovers Break Each Others Hearts", or most often as the leader of the Blossoms, the most in-demand backing vocalists of the 60's for such artists as Duane Eddy, Bobby Darin and Elvis Presley, among many others. Even her most recognizable record, the immortal "Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)", never charted and is heard just one month of the year. Had Love, or the Blossoms, just been given a real opportunity to release quality records under their own name chances are they'd be considered among the greatest girl groups ever and their induction as a group would've been a forgone conclusion. But producer Phil Spector at times seemed intimidated by her power and saddled her with themes that took the edge off her, or kept her incognito, and so it was left to rock 'n' roll sleuths over the years to put together their own discography of Love's greatest performances. Not surprisingly those historians include many members of the Rock 'n' Roll Hall Of Fame's nominating committee who have pushed her candidacy for years. In a way her induction is refreshing, a singularly talented individual whose own career was subjected by others finally gets rewarded for her ability. Yet in another more technical way it is troubling because her measurable achievements, at least as a stand-alone performer for which she is being credited by the Hall, are somewhat lacking. The sideman category would've been a more suitable fit for her, not because she ever took a backseat to anyone she recorded with, but merely because more often than not that was the role in which she so ably filled and that's by no means a disgrace to be honored for.
In many ways the 2011 class is a triumph of the unknown, as three of the candidates had little commercial success in the singles market, with Waits having absolutely none. Even his albums, which were lauded for their eclectic nature, creative songwriting and atmosphere, only began to sell widely in recent years, decades after he began his career, and for all of his acclaim as a songwriter, none of his compositions have become major hits for others. Yet among music figures of the past thirty years there aren't many who are as respected by fellow musicians, or critics, as Waits. His stature is so far removed from the general public indifference that it's hard to imagine he's not the star of this year's class. But while it's obvious he's being inducted for the perception of his work among the voting body, his résumé itself is totally unfamiliar to most who listen to music. Ironically, this is probably how Waits wants it. Never adhering to mainstream convention, Waits wrote songs and crafted albums with an almost cinematic touch, creating characters on the outskirts of society with a sharp eye and scathing wit, not something that is meant for hit-oriented radio, so in that sense he achieved his goals. Yet that also makes judging his career objectively almost impossible, as he is without much success and has little influence on the larger rock market. For many his work is seen as the pinnacle of creative individualism and thus deserves recognition for sticking to his vision, so his induction seems long overdue, but for Waits, who almost appeared to want to avoid recognition with his artistic choices through the years, the honor might be the most un-Waits like moment of his career.
One of the most justified criticisms against the Hall Of Fame's nomination and induction process has long been the influence of prominent figures in getting their friends, personal favorites and associates on the ballot and through the door. Of the Main Performers Darlene Love got a huge boost from nominating committee members Dave Marsh and Steve VanZandt, both of whom had lobbied for her induction for years. Joining her in that regard this year seems to be Leon Russell, who ironically worked behind the scenes with Love on Phil Spector's sessions in the 60's where he made his name as a soft-spoken talented pianist who could, and did, play almost any other instrument handed him. His work on those records, as well as on sessions by the Beach Boys, Byrds, Joe Cocker and other 60's rock luminaries, gives him more than enough credentials to be considered on his own. Add to it his songwriting talents, which includes the huge #2 smash for the Carpenters, "Superstar", along with his own solo career starting in the 70's which resulted in nearly a dozen hits, and there's no questioning his legitimacy as an inductee. Yet a recent duet album with Elton John has left many to feel that it was John who pushed hardest for Russell's induction, something that while totally understandable on John's part since Russell is eminently qualified to make it, is nonetheless troubling because it raises more needless questions as to just what benefits artists get from having certain key figures push for their induction. Since Leon Russell is deserving of the honor it will likely be quickly forgotten as to who helped his cause, but it would've been nicer if there was no need for another legendary inductee to make the case for Russell because had the Hall looked at his candidacy from the start he'd have already been inducted years ago.
Each year it seems that the Hall Of Fame never fails to induct a record label owner, president or money broker in the Non-Performer category while too often eschewing the dozens of qualified songwriters, dee-jays, producers, arrangers, engineers eligible for that same honor who rarely have the same hefty bankroll as the record company honcho they choose. But in Jac Holtzman's case he might be just as upset by this ongoing oversight as others, for his record label, Elektra, was one of the most innovative and unique companies in America for decades, releasing a wide range of music, particularly in styles that were not deemed commercially promising by the larger labels, such as folk and acoustic blues, flamenco music and even sound effects albums. The company's rock credibility was based largely on the Doors, who put them on the commercial map with a string of Top Ten albums and singles. But they were also home to Love, one of the most acclaimed bands to never make a huge dent in the public's consciousness at the same time, and then they became the ground zero point for the burgeoning punk movement, with the MC5 and Stooges, as well as releasing Nuggets, the acclaimed set of 60's garage rock that showed punk's starting point along with helping to further establish a market for rock obscurities. By the time they signed Queen and saw them become global superstars, Elektra's reputation had already long been made. Holtzman was not just the figurehead of the company, doling out dollars it took to keep it afloat, but was vital in establishing the recording techniques, was among the first in the industry to place an importance on visually artistic covers and more than anyone else embodied the restless musical spirit that defined the label.
In the Hall Of Fame's first decade or so most of the heads of the independent labels that helped build rock 'n' roll in the 1950's were inducted. Two exceptions stood out, especially when in the years since label-owners with a far smaller role in rock's evolution were put in. Those exceptions were Lew Chudd of Imperial Records, who virtually opened up the New Orleans vein of rock, and Art Rupe of Specialty Records, who oversaw some of the most dynamic rockers of all-time, most famously with the incomparable Little Richard, but also including Larry Williams, Don & Dewey, Jimmy Liggins, Sam Cooke with the Soul Stirrers, Roy Milton, Jesse Belvin and countless others who made huge marks on rock history. Despite this impressive track record somehow Rupe never got in until now. Considering his improbable story, which began with him renting a cigar box on a desk in another's office for two dollars a month to receive orders, to standing in line at night to be the first to secure a pressing plant to manufacture a new record, and in his most celebrated tale using a stop watch to analyze hit records in an attempt to find similarities between them and then incorporate those structures into his own songs, Rupe had perhaps the most ingenuity of all of the independent operators. He also had stubbornness, initially not wanting the 19 year old untested Cooke as the new lead singer of the Soul Stirrers, and then years after Cooke proved even more popular than his legendary predecessor R.H. Harris he didn't want Cooke to leave gospel for rock 'n' roll and promptly let him go to another label. He similarly let Lloyd Price walk after Price came up with a more urbane arrangement than his previous big sellers. The new style Price had found was the perfect fit for the tamed down, more heavily scrutinized, rock field of the late 50's and resulted in huge hits that Rupe missed out on. Yet despite his reluctance to change his approach once it had become successful, it was Rupe who really helped to establish that original successful formula, the one in which rock 'n' roll itself was born in and for that he should've been in long ago.