No matter the year, no matter the inductees, there's going to be pockets of fans who are still somehow interested in The Rock 'n' Roll Hall Of Fame complaining about the process, the candidates and ultimately the selections themselves.
Though those perspectives are bound to be in conflict with one another because people's inherent stylistic biases mean there's no consistency in those complaints, the mere "right" to complain is now as much a part of the annual announcement as the election itself.
Cognizant of this The Hall which at one point tried - and failed - to accurately define their own parameters, have essentially turned this into a wild free for all, one where logical arguments for or against selections are all but meaningless. Perhaps that was the final step of their plan when it came to finally figuring out how to put an end to the well-thought out, targeted criticisms of their regime's collective decision.
When you reduce everything to chaos and disorder then no intellectual debate will be taken seriously... a trend that is far too common in this day and age most everywhere you look.
|THE MAIN PERFORMER INDUCTEES
Once a rather remote longshot candidate for even being considered since she was primarily a UK star who had rarely made an impact on American shores, her stock has risen in recent years thanks to a stateside rediscovery of her work from the 1980's with one song from that era having been vaulted to the level of belated mass popularity recently. Her first appearance on the ballot in 2018 saw her positioned as a dark horse, but with each successive year the buzz of her candidacy gained momentum until this year, her fifth on the ballot, she seemed to be something of a sure thing.
The most confusing entrant this year is widely known and broadly respected, but curiously lacking in notable achievements to justify her election. A good singer and songwriter with a few Grammy Awards and a handful of hits but nothing that really defined an era or style. Even her stint as a critical darling upon emerging as a solo star in the 1990's after a long run as a backing vocalist for major stars didn't last into the new millennium and so it's hard to figure out where her support actually came from. A decent artist with a nice career that is historically non-essential.
The third female solo act in this year's class is a good sign for counteracting years of neglect in this area and it's especially heartening to see because Elliott is by far the most star-studded inductee of this year's class regardless of gender. With loads of enduring classics released during her three decade reign where she cemented her reputation as the definitive female MC of all-time and one of the most acclaimed songwriters of her generation, she would be the clear headliner in any year but even as hip hop has become the dominant form of rock 'n' roll over the past four decades the acceptance of it AS a subgenre of rock by many in the public has been met with fierce opposition which meant that her induction was far from a sure thing in spite of her towering achievements.
An artist who has seen his star rise and fall and rise again, for even as nobody ever seriously questioned his musical gifts, his image has periodically taken a beating, sometimes for artistic reasons such as some frothy hits with Wham! and at other times for personal reasons unrelated to his career. But after his 2016 death a more proper reassessment of his work took place and showed a singer and songwriter with a knack for catchy tunes laced with deeper meanings whose popularity - including ten #1 singles in the U.S. - can hardly be debated.
As soon as his name appeared on the ballot a spot in the Hall seemed assured for him, as who would possibly vote against an institution like Willie Nelson who just celebrated his 90th birthday with a star-studded two day concert which continues to show the scope of his diverse career. Yet the overwhelming bulk of that career was as a pure country act, although with Dolly Parton's induction last year the doors have been opened to outside genre stars and in that sense Nelson is as deserving a name as anyone from that field, especially since he experimented with many different approaches over the years, all of it defined by musical class to be envied.
RAGE AGAINST THE MACHINE
Regardless of their qualifications which are good but not great, the constant appearance on the ballot of RATM while their leader, Tom Morello, sat on the Nominating Committee was a conflict of interest that should never have been allowed. Considering the group themselves was the most progressive political band of the 1990's, this would seem to make Morello something of a hypocrite, akin to Supreme Court Justices getting giant cash windfalls from those who later benefit from their rulings on the bench. Though the group is not undeserving of the honor, their induction itself has an unfortunate stench to it that could've been easily avoided had Morello bowed out of the Committee before his band ever became eligible.
One of the Hall's biggest areas of omission has been 1970's black artists (and 1980's and 90's for that matter) even as white acts from that time came pouring through the doors every year. It's hardly a conspiracy to suggest that this might've been done to prevent a huge influx of black members which would have radically altered the homogenous white voting demographics they preferred and so The Chi-Lites, Delfonics, Stylistics, Kool & The Gang, Blue Notes, Whispers were systematically left off the ballot. The Spinners however were one group that did get some nominations yet it took over a decade since their first appearance to make it. They had tons of hits over three decades so their qualifications are beyond question, yet by now most of the group is deceased meaning they don't get to enjoy it and also not surprisingly aren't voting in future elections. The status quo therefore remains unchanged.
|MUSICAL EXCELLENCE AWARD
A category that would appear to be redundant - after all, aren't the main performers excellent at music? – but which was created as a way to get more artists in through back doors when the voting body neglects to check off their names.
Rather than expand the voting body to make it far more representative of the music being considered they resorted to this tactic instead and then made everyone from artists to songwriters and producers and sidemen eligible under this designation, resulting in more confusion as well as more inductees.
One of most egregious omissions in the Hall is only partly taken care of here, as Khan's solo induction guarantees that the band she was the front lady for, Rufus, won't ever make it despite having even better credentials. They did the same shameful thing when they inducted Nile Rodgers rather than Chic after that group had also faced massive resistance from the predominantly white voting body. Khan just happens to be one of the greatest female rock vocalists of all time and while her solo career was worthy enough on its own merits for a separate induction, her work with Rufus was her pinnacle and they get shafted again.
What's surprising here is not that Kooper got in the Hall, but that it took so long to do it. Maybe he's even the reason they came up with this category in the first place, as this musical jack-of-all-trades was better known for who he worked with over the years rather than for what he did on his own. While he's certainly got a diverse résumé, you can't help but think that his induction is just as much about the aging Rock Hall power brokers wanting another opportunity to wax poetic about those in Kooper's orbit from the 1960's than it is about celebrating him personally.
Here's a name that you'd have figured would've been in twenty years ago or more, as Taupin has long been one of the most famous and successful lyricists in rock. The sheer number of hits alone would make him an obvious choice and when coupled with his association with Elton John, a Hall member and a prominent voice of conscience for the institution, there seems no way that Taupin could've been overlooked all this time. Of course considering how The Hall drags its heels on inducting songwriters in general – Rudy Toombs, Ashford & Simpson, Norman Whitfield, Bell & Creed, Harris & Lewis all still on the outside looking in – maybe it's not so surprising at that.
|MUSICAL INFLUENCE AWARD
While this undoubtedly was created as a way to replace the Early Influence category once they'd inducted the recognizable pre-rock names they could think of – though ironically not the actual Early Influences on rock itself - this category has at least managed to give important artists without the commercial success necessary to be good bets for induction a way to be officially recognized.
DJ KOOL HERC
At last the Hall is filling one of their most glaring holes over the years as the widely recognized Godfather Of Hip-Hop had remained completely off their radar for far too long. Herc's mid-70's presence on the nascent rap scene spinning records at outdoor parties wherein he'd switch from playing one instrumental break to another to keep the groove going while adding verbal exhortations over them established the basic prototype for everything that followed. One of the few truly innovative pioneers in rock history who more or less invented the sonic landscape that exists today.
Though he'd been nominated before, his credentials as a Main Performer largely came down to one immortal record, "Rumble", an instrumental that faced radio bans for its threatening sound and which is widely credited as introducing power chords and acting as a launching pad for heavy metal. Though he had a deeper catalog than just that one hit, it never was realistically enough to get in, but recognition for that one hit was deemed important enough to never remove him from consideration and eventually got his ticket punched in a way that's far more fitting.
|AHMET ERTEGUN AWARD
This was conceived as yet another way to honor one of the Hall's patron saints who not surprisingly helped create the Hall largely to ensure his own legacy as a music executive would live on and be honored. At least this category forces them to acknowledge someone outside the usual areas of focus each year.
Finally an inspired choice... as the creator of TV's Soul Train, one of the longest running music themed shows on television, Cornelius was somebody who not only ensured there'd be tons of live footage of the best acts of the 1970's in their prime, but also that black music and artists would have mainstream exposure during an era they were still being denied that elsewhere. A name and a program that shouldn't be forgotten.
Though the selections this year include some artists whose objective contributions to rock and its many subgenres are questionable at best, maybe a better assessment of a potential tidal shift of the Hall can be found with who failed to make it in.
The biggest misfire in this regard was A Tribe Called Quest, the second most qualified artists on this year's ballot. It's hardly surprising when hip-hop acts get denied despite their overwhelming credentials so this does have potentially onerous reasons behind it, despite Missy Elliott's induction.
But it's other areas where the explanations are much harder to come by. The White Stripes, long heralded as white guitar rock saviors whose critical acclaim overwhelmed their chart placements, and Joy Division/New Order, who were always deemed among the most deserving for consideration of those who failed to get nominated, both were left out on their first ballot appearances despite those reputations, which suggests that maybe the mentality of the voters is slowly changing. Even Cyndi Lauper seemed to be more of a likely candidate for induction than Sheryl Crow for headline factors alone, marking another mild upset in the betting markets.
Of course Iron Maiden fans will once again deride the Hall for their neglect of heavy metal, a criticism that is not without its merits, and considering that just over half of the main inductees – and all of the side categories – are for careers that largely pre-date the 1990's, gives yet more evidence that the voters are too old to consider or properly acknowledge the careers of Soundgarden among the other post-90 nominees, so naturally controversies remain.
In the end this is far from a perfect class, but seeing as how it corrected some past injustices, whether through the vote or via more political means, and since they actually managed to get the single most deserving artist in, something which when it comes to hip-hop is never a sure thing, many of the complaints are mitigated.
They're still in need of a major demographic overhaul to the Nominating Committee and they have to take more drastic steps to stop disenfranchising voters of color in the main voting body, but if nothing else this year's class is one of the more interesting ones in recent vintage and provides enough talking points to shift the focus away from those areas they seem perpetually reluctant to address.