Criteria: 2016 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: 2016-10-11
2016 Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame Inductees
Do a simple Google search each year on The Rock 'n' Roll Hall Of Fame + your choice of the following keywords: complaints, beefs, objections, grievances, rants or holy tirades and you'll get many interesting returns, most written with the type of outraged fury that only a rock fan scorned can truly express.
This page was never meant to be one them. Honest.
Yet each year the tone of the DigitalDreamDoor Rock 'n' Roll Hall Of Fame essay has gotten more and more exasperated because of systematic flaws in their approach that seem so easy to correct yet never are. Over time the disdain for those responsible has gradually begun to overwhelm the rational analysis until the message behind the indignation has understandably gotten lost. Even the methods used to convey the problem have frequently been misread, with many readers taking literally that which clearly was designed as hyperbole to make a larger point. Obviously something needs to change and since the Hall itself is unlikely to change their procedures the burden falls back here. The 2016 Ballot and Voting Results are the perfect place to start as they encapsulate the myriad of problems the Hall has unnecessarily burdened itself with.
The Problems (In A Nutshell)
In the thirty years of the Hall's existence 241 different artists have been nominated and a staggering 204 of those (85%) have eventually gotten inducted. Thus, despite what they themselves would tell you, the true power over the Rock 'n' Roll Hall Of Fame resides with the nominating committee and since nobody with power ever wants to voluntarily give it up they view their roles as guardians of the Hall as lifetime appointments. But what they refuse to acknowledge is that those qualifications are not what they used to be when it comes to assessing the era in which the Hall should be focusing on in 2016.
Artists become eligible for induction twenty-five years after releasing their first recording which means acts who debuted in the 1990's are now starting to be considered. Yet the nominating committee, with an average age over sixty, was already a good fifteen to twenty years TOO OLD to care about those artists when they came along and that simple math is reeking havoc with the job they're being entrusted to carry out.
Ask yourself this – if you want insight into the most crucial cutting edge music of 2016 who are you most likely to get an accurate response from, a 17 year old or a 37 year old? Someone for whom the music of emerging artists is specifically aimed at, who are listening to it everyday in the kind of shared social environments that are unique to teenagers whose own self images are being shaped in some way by the music they align themselves with at that age and who are deeply invested in that music culturally in ways that they never will be again... or do you want the opinion of that kid's FATHER? You know, the one who tells that kid to "turn that crap down!". The Hall has chosen to value the opinion of the old man. Literally. And that's where the trouble starts. Twenty five years down the road the ones who were complaining about that "crap" when it came out are proving unable and unwilling to properly judge music they don't know, don't care about and don't respect and so they constantly reach further back to an era with which they're more comfortable.
Just a cursory look at the voting patterns over the past decade shows that the Hall is unquestionably stuck in the 1970's. This shouldn't be at all surprising as the average committee member was 17 themselves in 1973. Not surprisingly three fifths of this year's inductees (Deep Purple, Steve Miller and Chicago) were at their creative and commercial peaks around that time and all of those artists are both white and male, which also overwhelmingly reflects the nominating committee's membership. Do you see a pattern emerging? The fourth inductee, Cheap Trick, are also white males who first recorded in... you guessed it, 1973! Though at least it took them until 1978 to really break through, so I guess the "kids" on the committee (those only in their 50's!) must've championed their case. Only N.W.A who are black and first recorded in the mid-80's break up the monotony of the proceedings and their breakthrough with voters only came after a huge mainstream movie last summer that served to champion their legacy.
Toss out all of the conspiracy theories you've come across, all of the accusations that there must be a nefarious plot afoot to get certain acts in and to keep other acts out. Forget about who is or isn't pulling strings and orchestrating things behind the scenes, and ignore the rumors of any long-running feuds or vendettas involved that shape the proceedings. The problem is much simpler than that – demographics.
Pure and simple, WHO is voting is more important than anything else and always has been.
The lack of diversity in the nominating committee, generational and racial specifically, but also in regards to gender, backgrounds and stylistic preferences, combined with the lack of turnover in the committee means we're stuck with reliving the 1970's ad infinitum. The nominating committee, by continually reaching back for 1960's/70's acts each year rather than focusing more on more recently eligible names are giving the voters at large, who are comprised mostly of already-inducted artists, an easy out to vote for their contemporaries over more qualified artists from later years. With each additional older act that gets in this trend only grows more pronounced, as now the 328 some odd members of Chicago are going to be voting for the foreseeable future and it's hard to imagine any of them even being aware of Nine Inch Nails or Big Daddy Kane, let alone voting for them if they're on the ballot in coming elections. Thus the cycle continues.
Which brings us back where we began, the class of 2016. Some deserving names are among them for sure, but far more qualified candidates were left out at their expense and anyone studying the twisted machinations of the Hall can clearly see why.
THE MAIN PERFORMER INDUCTEES
It's hard to criticize a band that elevated themselves from a highly esteemed cult group to global stars with huge selling albums by the end of their first decade. Or a group that weathered a downturn in their fortunes soon after only to come roaring back with their biggest hits ever as their second decade came to a close. If anyone in rock can be seen as a symbol of perseverance it's these guys. Their work was sometimes maddeningly eclectic, as they continued to experiment with new directions, often at risk of costing them fans of their last stylistic venture, but that re-invention was also a sign of their commitment to not stand on their laurels. In Japan they became superstars of the highest order and it's fitting their live album At Budokahn is what broke them worldwide. But while they're a group much worth admiring their candidacy paled in comparison to most of those on this year's ballot who failed to get in. For such a long career Cheap Trick's creative peak was relatively short-lived while they themselves weren't even happy with a lot of their more successful releases that came later and kept them in the public eye. The simple fact is that while they had a notable career overall, they were no better than the 12th most qualified candidate on a 15 artist ballot and yet due to demographic appeal within the voting body they made it over much more deserving artists.
This year's paradox. On one hand the group is among the most commercially successful of all-time, charting sixty singles and scoring twenty gold or platinum albums, putting them near the top of all of the Hall's inductees in that regard. On the other hand they achieved that phenomenal long-term success by essentially moving away from rock early on and targeting an adult pop audience, allowing them to add to those totals by sidestepping the constant turnover in the primary youth-oriented rock audience that leaves even the best rock acts with a built-in expiration date. In other words, their biggest credentials for making the Rock Hall were gained by an intentional abandonment of rock itself, thus somewhat negating those credentials. Now that said, their work – whether rock or pop – was well-done, their singing and production values remained high for a very long time, and they still had to appeal to somebody long enough to keep racking up those sales. Certainly they are no different than the likes of other pop-oriented inductees such as Bobby Darin, Neil Diamond, Linda Ronstadt or ABBA, all of whom followed the same path that Chicago did, only Chicago arguably did it better than any of them. So once all of those acts got in it was hard to justify keeping these guys out. But there's also this: Even their staunchest supporters have to admit Chicago's biggest credentials were how successful they were, for despite those hits they had relatively little musical impact and influence. Yet Janet Jackson was even MORE successful while also being one of the most influential artists of the last thirty years and with much higher impact across all of music. Both were on the ballot and those who voted for Chicago and not Jackson have absolutely no leg to stand on if they try and defend those votes on objective grounds. It's fine if they think Chicago did enough to get in, that can be argued, but they obviously didn't all vote for Janet too and the reasons for that need to be examined.
For years one of the groups whose failure to get in – and until recently their failure to even be nominated – caused the most uproar was hard rock pioneers Deep Purple. They had decent success and certainly more than enough influence and impact to be obvious selections, yet they remained on the outside looking in for two decades. The reasons for this snub usually centered on one of two areas: The Hall's committee typically is not as interested harder-rock and metal, viewing it as less serious music than the lyric-oriented styles that make up their timeworn preferences. Secondly, Deep Purple's totally different lineups over the years actually made their long career something of a hindrance when considering their candidacy. Had they existed for a shorter time and then just broken up, all of that impact and influence would be concentrated on one easily identifiable set of performers from a distinct era, rather than having it bleed into other eras that serve to water down their image in the eyes of many. But the fact remains that those achievements DO have to be credited, regardless of how many others carried on the Deep Purple name without doing much to contribute to their legacy, and those achievements are substantial. The Mark II era of the early 70's were one of the most talented group of musicians ever assembled and their role in popularizing the harder, more intricate sounds of that style can't be undersold. That's the body of work that needs to be recognized and if it takes inducting the far different, but still pretty successful earlier and later incarnations to do this, then so be it. They belonged in long ago and it's actually pretty sad that the voters attachment to the 1970's on a ballot with lots of qualified artists from the 80's and 90's that they ignored is probably what allowed Deep Purple to finally overcome those same voters uneasiness with their style and get in at last.
Maybe the most emblematic artist of this year's inductees in terms of how all of the demographic-based considerations factor in to who makes the cut. One hand there can be no disputing that in terms of credentials Steve Miller was worthy of induction at some point, and in fact was one of the five most qualified candidates this year. He had a long career with a ton of hits that remain just as well known across the generations today as they did when he was churning them out ad naseum forty years ago. They were sonically and lyrically inventive, all well played and well sung by an artist with probably a deeper reverence for his predecessors dating back to the very beginning of rock in 1947 than any one not named Elvis Presley or The Rolling Stones. But he didn't get in for those reasons... not entirely anyway. Despite being eligible for more than two decades already he was never nominated before, even as his closest contemporary Bob Seger, who had virtually identical credentials, got in twelve years ago. Yet once Miller finally got nominated he breezed in because, as we've seen for years, the voters themselves have aligned themselves with white artists who recorded between 1965-1980 at the expense of every other era and style of rock. This year it simply happened to be Steve Miller's turn, but it's almost certain that were it The Doobie Brothers, Grand Funk Railroad or Edgar Winter for that matter who was on the ballot instead, they would've made it by virtue of support from the same era-focus that rewarded Miller. That's not Miller's fault, he's got nothing to apologize for finally getting his due, but this is simply further proof that what matters most is belonging to an era and style the voters are most familiar and comfortable with. Deserving? Yes, but in the end his election was as much about being a beneficiary of a voting body designed to get artists like him in the Hall in the first place as it was the legitimacy of those credentials.
What can you say? That their induction was overdue is obvious. That it may have be necessary to prevent a riot is equally obvious. That it's little more than a token offering to satiate the indignation of an entire demographic who for years have been treated as second class citizens of rock by the Hall is probably most obvious of all. To that point consider this: In the last 14 years there have been just 15 black acts from rock styles inducted compared to 56 white artists who've made it in that time. Yet in the period which makes up that era of eligibility it was hip-hop which was rock's most dominant commercial and cultural creative force, yet the voters continually look to induct any and everything BUT hip-hop. N.W.A's credentials are indisputable despite being together only a short, albeit explosive, time. They were arguably the single most revolutionary act of the last thirty years, creating gangsta rap which was responsible for shaping the musical and cultural tone of the times, from the confrontational attitude and inner-city perspective offered in their lyrics, to the look and the sound that best defined the post-80's musical landscape. They became the first non-pop rap act to top the album charts as well as launching the career of the greatest record producer of the past half-century in Dr. Dre, and they also need to be given credit for instigating the move in rap towards becoming multi-media moguls which has given unprecedented power to countless artists who've followed in their wake ever since. Few artists in rock history have changed the game as much as N.W.A did, yet they were forced to wait three years for induction while far less qualified acts got in on their first try due to insidious demographic-based advantages that never should've been allowed to flourish to begin with.
Well, at least Berns isn't from the 1970's. No, for this they went back to their old standby the 60's! Now to be fair, Berns should've been in long ago, as one of the most distinctive writer-producers of his era, bringing an Afro-Cuban style to the forefront while overseeing some of the best work done by a host of R&R HOFers and a plethora of others whose biggest hits came with him at the helm. A fascinating, somewhat shadowy figure, plagued by a heart ailment that gave his career a sense a foreboding doom and which ultimately took his life in 1967 at just 38 years old, he was the type of colorful character that would seem tailor made for the Hall's sense of theater. Yet the Hall feels that the lack of public awareness of non-performers negates their value to the proceedings that are still as much about ratings on HBO as anything, so as a result deserving names pile up and are used more for political chips when needed, either to offset a lack of diversity in a particular year or to pay off a particularly vocal big-name who they want to appease. In Berns case his candidacy was probably stymied by Jerry Wexler, who once thought of Bert like a son before a fallout ending their working relationship, and who would've surely vetoed any honor for someone who was widely viewed as son of a bitch. But in this case the SOB made good music and that's what matters in the end, so he gets in. With his induction the number of equally deserving non-performers now dwindles to only 78 eligible names.
The Hall Of Fame remains entombed by its own power brokers who've they've ceded full control over the proceedings to, thereby ensuring the same tastes, same perspectives, and same agendas are eternally championed. The solution remains as easy as ever - overhaul the nominating committee each year so that nobody serves more than once and to ensure the age of the participants is reflective of the era becoming eligible, and then diversify the voting body at large to bring far more disparate views into the equation. On top of that they could easily add a veteran's committee which looks at recent nominees and induction patterns to determine historically slighted areas to add one name to the ballot each year to off-set these tendencies.
Under the current Hall leadership the institution which is designed to celebrate the entire history of rock 'n' roll is essentially saying the music stopped being relevant at the start of the first Reagan administration. Until the Hall acknowledges the committee and voters themselves are out of touch with the era they're supposed to be focusing on now and take steps to replace them with a younger and more relevant constituency then the Hall's problems will continue... at least until they all die off, which based on actuarial tables will hopefully be any day now.