Criteria: 2017 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: 2016-12-21
2017 Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame Inductees
Whether you feel the Class Of 2017 is a strong one or a weak one, or anywhere in between, (and all of those views have a reasonable case to be made depending on your focus), you'd probably agree that The Rock 'n' Roll Of Fame could've simply dispensed with the two month wait between announcing the nominees and revealing the inductees, saving both time and the cost of return postage for the ballots, because this year's results were entirely predictable.
Not awful. Not great either. But predictable.
It's predictable because every demographic based tendency The Rock 'n' Roll Hall Of Fame has saddled itself with shows up in the class of 2017. The 60's name with a connection to one of the triumvirate of their hallowed favorites from that decade? Check, that would be Joan Baez. The white artists from the 1970's to keep the aging readers of Rolling Stone magazine tuning in? Double check, Yes and Electric Light Orchestra. Their reluctant uneasy acknowledgement that music didn't end completely when the calendar turned to 1980 by offering up a middle-of-the-road act that didn't stray too far from what the main Hall constituency is most comfortable with... check, Journey your journey is over, welcome to Cleveland. And lastly the two more recent big name first time eligible headliners who they likely couldn't have kept out no matter how much some of them might want to bar the doors for any act too young to qualify for social security, in 2Pac and Pearl Jam.
Going down the checklist has simply become a reflexive exercise by now. Women? As usual, only one allowed per year, (in the 17 years of this century only 14 acts with female representation have made it in the Main Performer category). African-Americans? Again, just one (only 18 in the last 15 years, three of which are blues or jazz artists). Artists who debuted after the first George Bush became President? Two. Which - like all of those other areas - makes for an average of one a year, as it's just a total of four in those four years of eligibility. But artists who recorded in the 1970's? Try FOUR in this year alone!!! And in those last four elections, even after twenty-plus years of eligibility for those from the 1970's, how about FIFTEEN acts from the Me Decade? Apparently the Hall is honoring Prince's demise this past year by partying like it's 1999 by inducting a class that was mostly eligible in, and far more suited for, 1999 than 2017!
So none of this year's class is exactly surprising if you've followed the Hall's well-established tendencies. That this year they wound up inducting six names that have at least a legitimate claim to being deserving is better than many years, but when the second most deserving candidate on the ballot failed to make the cut yet again, which would've made for the strongest top half of a class since 1989 had Janet Jackson gotten in, there's going to be plenty of room for complaints. Since the Hall carefully ensures its voting body remains reflective of the specific era and styles the powers that be have the greatest affinity for themselves then there will be no surprises in what those complaints are, just as there'll surely be no surprises in the inductees at any point in the near future either.
Predictability - the hallmark of The Rock 'n' Roll Hall Of Fame... and as a result, the hallmark of this page's annual essays as well. They go hand in hand by now. Sorry 'bout that, I wish they didn't either.
THE MAIN PERFORMER INDUCTEES
You'd be hard pressed to say anything critical of Baez herself, who used her platform as an artist for social change at every turn, or of her music, which was sung with one of the purest most beautiful voices of the past half century with a commitment to the integrity of the material surpassed by no one. It's no stretch to say that she'll be the classiest inductee to the Hall in many a year. But how deserving she is in a strictly objective evaluation of her legacy within rock music is another thing entirely. The issue regarding her qualifications is that she was essentially a pure folk artist, defiantly so in fact when it would've been much more advisable from a commercial point of view to make the switch to rock in the mid-60's when her profile was the highest, as her former beau Bob Dylan did at that time (and for which he'll undoubtedly be lauded again for during HER induction - remember, the Hall never misses a chance to praise his Bobness). That she resisted such a change in style herself was admirable and in spite of that her inclusion in a broadly defined Rock Hall is certainly no less questionable than the many pure blues, country and jazz acts that have gotten in over the years. But her achievements nonetheless fall short of most on the ballot who failed to get in, and whose impact was more significant on rock's evolution, which is what The Hall was designed to do. In the end Baez got in because of her name, and while that name deserves to be revered in music circles overall, it also is reflective of the mentality of those casting votes, where what someone is being honored for, and whether they're technically deserving of that specific honor, is less important than WHO is being honored, and as always with the Hall, it says more about who is bestowing that honor than anything.
ELECTRIC LIGHT ORCHESTRA
One of the overriding issues with The Hall Of Fame over the past decade or two is the fact that with fewer "big names" becoming eligible each year a greater proportion of the inductees will be chosen from among artists with essentially interchangeable careers and roughly equal credentials. Thus over time patterns as to what type of artists are consistently chosen from that pool, and which are consistently left out, becomes more important to understand. ELO is emblematic of that. They had enough hits to put them among the six most popular acts of this year's ballot, but they can't claim that was enough for them when Janet Jackson was by far the most successful of everybody on the ballot and she didn't get in. In the other areas ELO falls short against even more candidates left out for both influence (five who missed the cut clearly beat them in this, as do multiple inductees) and impact, as ELO didn't really alter the course of rock despite their solid popularity. That doesn't make them undeserving, but it also doesn't make them more deserving of most of the artists who missed. You could easily swap them for Joe Tex or The Cars or Depeche Mode or Chaka Khan and make an equal or greater case for any of them using the same basic credentials, or give a little more weight to one aspect or another and still find ELO to edge them out just enough to slip in. What the deciding factor comes down to therefore is demographics and like with rock / paper / scissors in the Rock Hall 70's always beats 80's, white always beats black, male always beats female when it comes to the close calls. ELO may theoretically have gotten in because they were among the six most deserving candidates, but they DID get in because they were white males from the 70's. That's just the way it is.
Speaking of which... Journey's case is much the same as ELO. They had almost identical popularity, which puts them slightly above many of those who fell short of getting in, but then in turn Journey generally fell short of those same artists in the other two areas of influence and impact. So what was it that apparently set them apart? Though they were more from the 80's than the 70's, they also represent a more palatable form of 80's rock to the voting body if their past selections are any guide. They also have certain undeniable strong points in their column, doing quite well in lasting popularity, as their Greatest Hits collection has been cracking the album charts consistently over the past few years. One eternal radio friendly anthem helps in that regard as well, keeping them far more modernly recognizable than someone like Joe Tex, who had more total hits but no one song that remains a staple of catalog radio. But even at their peak, while they were a steady presence on the scene, they weren't significantly shaping the landscape in any way, nor defining any particular brand of rock or the era itself. For every argument you can make in their favor for getting in (and there are good arguments among them) you can make an equally valid argument for a half dozen others who didn't make it. Again, demographics play a huge factor. It doesn't guarantee entry, The Cars, J. Geils Band, even Kraftwerk share many of those demographic advantages and they missed out, but it's no shock that the ones who got in from the roughly equally qualified borderline candidates DID meet those unspoken "requirements", just as they did last year and the year before and virtually every year for the past two decades. After awhile, it's not a coincidence, it's a problem, especially when you then grasp how the most deserving name left out - Janet Jackson - destroys all of those candidates across the board in every category, then no other explanation holds much water.
If only every nominee's qualifications could be so clear-cut and overwhelming. Just as with their own career which Pearl Jam navigated with almost no drama or discourse, the same was true of their candidacy for the Hall. Their first ballot election was such a foregone conclusion that it didn't even spark much of a debate, everybody, whether a fan or not, just accepted it as a guarantee and moved on to a discussion on how the rest of the class would shake out. Unlike so many others candidates this year who do well in some areas and poorly in others, Pearl Jam has no such problems. They had plenty of hits and sold tons of albums. They were influential, including in ways that had an impact beyond simply how their latest record sounded, such as in their challenging long-held ideas in trying to make their concerts more accessible. Throughout it all they were unquestionably one of the handful of defining acts of their entire era and they remain a steady, but still vital, presence on the music landscape well after their peak. Pearl Jam's accomplishments seem all the more impressive when stacked against their peers - groups that broke up, fell apart, soared high and crashed quickly, or simply faded away after vying with them for status at the dawn of the 90's. By contrast Pearl Jam were steady, reliable and enduring. Yet they were also as big or bigger than any of their contemporaries at their peaks, and for a far longer time than any of them. Relevance probably isn't the most glamorous of words when describing rock stars, but considering how few artists remained relevant for quite this long in the seventy years since rock's birth their achievement in that realm alone makes them immortal.
The other road to immortality, one far more tragic, but unfortunately in rock far more appropriate as well, is what defines this year's headliner. Tupac Shakur was the short-lived shooting star who burned brightest while shaking up the rock world both musically and culturally, arguably more than any artist of the 90's. In that brief time he left a legacy that was immense. He scored the requisite big hits, doing so at a time when crossover success in rap was much more rare, even branching successfully into film which helped to establish it as a growing force across all of society, no longer restricted largely to the segregated environs from which it sprang fifteen years earlier. His music was trendsetting in the short term - giving him as much impact as anyone - as well as massively influential long-term, delving into more serious personalized topics that had long been avoided in rap, doing so with cinematic vignettes that transformed the entire style of rock. He accomplished all of this while his persona and off-stage notoriety grabbed ever bolder headlines and elevated hip-hop to a far more prominent platform in America, then ultimately by living out the more sensationalistic aspects of that image, he acted as a belated warning for the excesses of the lifestyle the music presented all too realistically. In the ensuing years the breadth of his posthumous catalog surpassed even that of Otis Redding, Jimi Hendrix and fellow 90's cautionary tale Kurt Cobain, and like them and others taken far too soon, his shadow continues to loom over much of what followed and he remains the iconic figure of his all too brief era.
For years one of The Hall's stylistic blind spots was progressive rock, with the only entrants among their ranks being those, like Pink Floyd, who were never considered fully representative of the prog-rock experience by many. Part of this neglect stemmed from the fact that unlike most forms of rock where artists are defined largely by singles, thus known to even casual listeners and non-fans of the specific style as a whole by virtue of just a few huge songs, prog was more of an album oriented subgenre. This meant unless you were hardcore fan who bought the albums and immersed yourself in them, the entire impact and importance of the style was more likely to pass you by entirely. The other reason it had trouble breaking through with voters was the lingering, and somewhat negative, stereotypes of prog fans that played up images of a more isolated, introspective listener that ran counter to the more respected social scenes other forms of rock celebrated. All of this, it should go without saying, was unfair, as styles need to be judged in context with adjustments made to account for their inherent differences. But recently the tide has started to turn as prog's otherwise strong demographic advantages beyond initial image - namely the era and background of the acts themselves in relation to the dominant voting member - started coming into play as the competition for that vote thinned considerably as more of their 70's contemporaries from other styles were ushered in. It took too long but Yes are finally getting credit for their achievements, though even here it's probably at least partly due to the ongoing lack of similar consideration for the achievements of those who still remain saddled with demographic disadvantages of their own. Such is The Hall.
MUSICAL EXCELLENCE AWARD
As always with the back door entrants there is Hall-generated conflict afoot. To start with, the group which Rodgers led, Chic, was on this year's ballot and for a record 11th year without getting the requisite votes for induction. The much maligned nominating committee kept offering them up because, for once, they knew what the voters seemed to ignore - that Chic was THE defining artist of one of rock's most popular, influential and important subgenres and that was absolutely deserving of recognition. Yet disco's image has been so trashed over the years that the voters - who had to practically be guilt-tripped into voting for the even more qualified Donna Summer after she died - refused to yield and so probably anticipating this result, which was bringing undue scrutiny to The Hall the longer it went on, something they strive to avoid, they apparently pre-emptively settled on a "solution" should the voters deny Chic again this year. Hence we have the lone surviving founding member, Rodgers, being inducted in a separate non-voting category that can also take into account his immense résumé as a songwriter, guitarist and producer for countless other major acts. But this certainly means that Chic, who are more deserving in purely objective terms than more than thirty artists who beat them out in head to head matchups on ballots over the years, including three, if not four, this year, won't ever be honored as a group. Therefore the best rhythm section in rock during the 70's and 80's, Bernard Edwards and Tony Thompson, won't ever be members of the Hall. It means Edwards, who along with Rodgers was the co-writer and co-producer of a ton of hits for rock artists in all types of styles, won't receive recognition for that either. It means that disco as a whole will again be the victim of stylistic bias that has no place in objective historical evaluation. Most distressingly it means The Hall Of Fame can brush aside its most glaring credibility issues rather than using this as a case study to examine voting patterns to determine if there's a correlation between voter demographics and the candidates those voters choose (and choose to ignore), and take very simple steps to correct that in the future by making sure that NO demographic, be it one based on age, background, race or gender, has even the slightest statistical advantage amongst the membership, which in turn would make for a much more fair process for all artists. So while it's certainly good that Nile Rodgers is in the Hall Of Fame, where he belonged back in 2003 when Chic first appeared on the ballot, the roundabout way he got in is the problem. He deserved better and The Hall owes it to all artists, eras and styles to ensure that pre-conditioned biases of their constituency have no role in the elective process.
You can take this year's class any way you want it. If you choose to focus on the positive, glass half full mentality, you can get away with it, provided you don't look too closely at the clouded liquid in that glass.
If this election came on the heels of a decade of unassailable inductees that position would be much more likely to be reflected here too, one obvious and indefensible exclusion of Janet Jackson aside. Even as it is I don't want to suggest any one who got in is entirely undeserving overall, even if they are LESS deserving than many who were left out. But because no year's inductions exist in a vacuum, each election's faults getting compounded when more inductees from a homogenous conveyor belt are added to the voting rolls and turn an already formidable advantage for one era and demographic into an ever larger one, thereby ensuring the same perspective dominates, then it has to be viewed as part of a bigger picture and in that regard the glass is not only half empty, but rapidly leaking water.
So here we are, another year's election with the same issues remaining unresolved. We start with the same old demographic problems which, while so easily correctable, aren't even seen as problems by those who make the rules, meaning they're never addressed and thus never fixed. We move seamlessly to the same unchanging mentality amongst most fans who view the elections simply as a means by which to validate their own tastes which invariably results in the same self-serving complaints being made when acknowledgement of those individual tastes aren't met all down the line, enabling the Hall to never take ANY complaint seriously because most are lacking the insistence of objective measuring sticks to compare artists credentials the way induction for Halls Of Fame were meant to be decided. Finally, because of all this, we come to the same decomposing credibility The Hall unnecessarily burdens itself with, so that all the clamor over what's wrong with this institution is seen as nothing more than flies around a dead carcass on the road in the noonday sun. The Hall steers clear of the wreckage, never even slowing down, and before long it's all comfortably behind them in the rearview mirror, with only the stench of it left in their wake.
But the people left standing on that roadside who take this whole concept of a Rock 'n' Roll Hall Of Fame seriously, who actually do have the objectivity to want to see those whose achievements make them worthy of induction rather than having it center entirely on their appeal to the most dominant voting faction, internet commentators and leather-lunged sideline critics, can only watch in frustration as the traffic zooms by them yet again.