Criteria: 2008 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)
Edited By: Sampson
Last Updated: 2007-12-20
2008 Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame Inductees
On the surface to a casual observer the 2008 Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame class appears to be fairly strong and rather non-controversial. Three of the five artists being enshrined in the main performer category are very well deserving, including one of the most dominant artists in rock history. They also have seen fit to give overdue recognition to some long eligible figures in other categories and so on the whole this year's inductees are a solid group deserving of their honors.
Yet unfortunately upon closer inspection of the voting the Hall must once again answer to growing charges of racial elitism thanks to an all-white main performer class and more tellingly who was rejected in their favor. It does not seem coincidental that the four nominated artists who fell short of induction are either black (Chic, Donna Summer and Afrika Bambaataa) or are the rare white artists performing in a 99% black style (The Beastie Boys). If this was the first time such disparity in the vote occurred it might be less of an issue but with each year this trend continues, now approaching a decade of like-minded oversights, the Hall becomes less able to defend its actions and in the process sees their credibility rapidly eroding.
The Hall Of Fame has been deflecting widespread charges of stylistic and cultural bias from the beginning and the conspiracy theorists run rampant when artists from certain fields of rock that are less critically adored, such as prog, disco, funk and metal, seem perennially excluded from being seriously considered. The historical qualifications of the largely unidentified voting body are further called into question as rock's earliest years, before the music was integrated, remain woefully ignored, leading many to believe those involved in the selection process don't have the required knowledge of the era to make a proper assessment of artists from that time. Now the recent eligibility of the first generation of rap artists in rock's evolution and the voters subsequent failure to properly recognize their achievements in the balloting points to a serious generational disconnect on the other end of the spectrum as well. Added to this is the long held belief that certain key critics and industry sources have an undue influence over the nominees which combined with the lack of any universal criteria the voters are asked to use when making their selections lead many to allege outright corruption in the institution. The Hall has disdainfully refused to address any of these troubling claims, leading to a further lack of public trust and growing doubts regarding their integrity. But the most damning and continually accurate charge against The Rock 'n' Roll Hall Of Fame and their voting body remains their tendency towards representing an increasingly white perspective, something this year's election only reinforces.
Since 1997 there have been 72 artists inducted as main performers and 54 of them, a staggering 75%, are white or Hispanic. In that time two classes of main performers (2003 and now 2008) have been all-white. By comparison there has never been even one class with only black artists represented, even though rock 'n' roll itself is a black creation and over its sixty years of existence roughly half its artists have been black. This clearly demonstrates a voting propensity for rewarding white acts disproportionately. Even if one is to suggest that most or all of the white artists inducted over the years were worthy, it is plainly obvious that scores of black artists with equal and even more significant achievements have been systematically ignored over that same time and often the black artists who are elected are those who have stronger lasting appeal to white audiences, further altering the perception of rock 'n' roll history towards representing an exclusively Caucasian viewpoint.
The Hall Of Fame seems to be aware of the sociopolitical nature of these facts and so it's certainly not a coincidence that this year they've chosen to induct prominent black figures (Little Walter and Kenny Gamble & Leon Huff) in the non-voting categories to try and offset some of the criticism that is sure to come their way. While that effort may be laudable on the surface it's clearly a transparent reaction to the situation when comparing it to recent years in which there's been at least one black representative in the main performer categories. When that is the case they seem to feel the black quota has already been fulfilled and so instead they turn their focus to rewarding additional white sidemen and non-performers. It is telling that before this year there have been ZERO black inductees in any of the other categories since 2003, which not surprisingly was the last time they had an all-white main-performer class for which they needed to deflect attention away from to avoid racism charges that appear all too valid.
The Rock 'n' Roll Hall Of Fame claims to be an institution designed to reward the achievements of rock's greatest, most successful and influential artists from all eras and backgrounds and yet its current voting body has frequently fallen well short of achieving this goal. Sadly, while virtually all of the inductees to the 2008 class are worthy of their honors and should be celebrated for their achievements, it is the voters who once again become the bigger story.
THE MAIN PERFORMER INDUCTEES
The Dave Clark Five
Solid, if unspectacular, credentials get the Dave Clark Five in over four more qualified candidates on the 2008 ballot. They're not altogether undeserving of enshrinement though, as it was the DC5 along with the Beatles who led the first wave of the British Invasion in the winter of '64 and really established an English presence in the United States, signifying a large cultural shift in what had previously been purely American music. Over the next few years they were overshadowed by many of the later British imports but still scored 24 hits, fourteen of which broke the Top Twenty and eight that were Top Tens. They also made a well-received feature film, "Having A Wild Weekend", in 1965. However, unlike most of their contemporaries whose careers are thoroughly documented and whose biggest hits are still widely heard the Dave Clark Five have had their catalog only sporadically available in the CD era and perhaps as a result of this their place in the British Invasion hierarchy has diminished over the years in favor of the more blues-based groups that followed in their wake. While they weren't musically groundbreaking in any way they were consistently popular during a key transitional era of rock and though their place in the Hall Of Fame comes at the expense of more significant artists on the ballot this year, it is not without some justification that the Dave Clark Five should be inducted.
Hundreds of candidates still waiting for a look from the Hall have legitimate reasons to be angry at the selection of Cohen, who now becomes by far the least qualified Main Performer to be inducted in the Hall's 23 years of existence. It's not that Cohen was a bad artist by any means, he was actually very unique, bringing a poet's background to the music and in the process added greatly to rock 'n' roll's eclecticism, but his tangible achievements, upon which induction for all artists should always be based, are severely lacking. He had no commercial success whatsoever, never scoring a Top 50 album or any Top 100 singles in America, and those are reasonable accomplishments to expect in order to be housed with the immortals. Failing that, a large amount of direct influence would help to offset his lack of popularity, but while Cohen is often referred to as influential in spirit the fact remains that there are no mainstream acts in the four decades since his arrival who have copied his blueprint close enough to warrant Cohen receiving ample credit here either. Being appreciated by a small hardcore group of fans and lauded by predominantly literary minded critics is nice but it does not equate to the type of objective criteria-based achievements that a Hall Of Fame must require of its inductees to be taken seriously. Cohen's election over the four nominated artists this year who failed to get in despite far superior credentials is a sad testimony to the state of affairs with the voting body who apparently ignore tangible accomplishments in favor of personal taste and their own murky perception of what exactly constitutes historical impact. Cohen is certainly worth being remembered in the annals of rock, but not worthy of being inducted as a Hall Of Fame artist based on his rather negligible career achievements.
The most dominant female artist in rock since Aretha Franklin's heyday in the late 60's and early 70's, Madonna had more impact across the pop culture landscape than all but a handful of names, male or female, in rock history. From her arrival on the scene at the end of dance floor era in the early eighties through the turn of the century Madonna was the defining artist of her era, shaping the times like few others ever had. Nobody ever manipulated the media more than she did, in the process establishing the modern publicity machine that has all but taken over rock 'n' roll ever since. She mastered the video form early in its conception and used that visual medium to convey a calculated, frequently changing, image in ways that previously had been unthinkable. Countless imitators and musical offspring have followed in her wake, giving her influence to spare, but rarely did she remain fixed in the same musical approach for long and each of her many stylistic shifts proved successful. Along the way her outspokenness earned her nearly as many critics as fans, but that too is a rock 'n' roll hallmark dating back to the genre's very beginnings. Madonna's music, often overlooked by the controversies left in her wake and the media attention that swirled around her, has been of a remarkably consistent quality, maintaining her incredible popularity over multiple eras of listeners, as evidenced by her six #1 albums (and 15 that went Top Ten), and amazing 36 Top Ten singles, including twelve #1 hits, all of which places her among the most popular artists of all-time. Like her or loathe her, she is impossible to ignore and has been the most compelling figure in music for three decades and was a mandatory selection in her first year of eligibility.
After multiple nominations fell short Mellencamp earned a selection this year thanks to a steady and often under-appreciated career filled with consistent hits over three decades in a very straightforward style. During the 80's Mellencamp personified the back to basic approach that was dubbed "heartland rock" and was among the decade's most popular artists, though he never garnered the headlines of his more star-studded contemporaries, making him an almost overlooked superstar in a business that has few that fit that description. Despite being frequently taken for granted Mellencamp staked his claim as one of the era's most well-rounded artists with self-penned songs ranging from celebratory dance tracks to darker protest songs, yet always maintaining his own musical identity in the process. At the peak of his popularity his social conscious was brought to the forefront when he, along with Willie Nelson and Neil Young, founded Farm Aid, one of the many charity concert events that sprang up mid-decade and the only one that has remained a yearly staple ever since. Though not a musical innovator and thus without the kind of direct influence that would bring added acclaim to his work, Mellencamp was a benchmark of consistency over the years, as his seven Top Ten albums and seventeen Top Twenty singles (ten hitting the Top Ten) attest. Since his early days as John Cougar he has been a viable presence on the rock landscape and his election to the Hall Of Fame is fully justified.
After 23 years of eligibility without even a nomination, the most popular instrumental rock group in history was elected in the first year they were named on the ballot. Following one of rock 'n' roll's lowest points in the scandal-ridden year of 1959 as a host of bland teen idols ruled the airwaves, the Ventures turned the tide in 1960 when their smash single "Walk - Don't Run" ignited a wave of guitar based instrumental records, as well as planted the early seeds of surf-rock and helped to spawn the entire garage rock movement. Following their breakthrough at the peak of the singles-based era in the early 60's the Ventures were the first rockers to turn most of their attention to LP's with a series of concept albums that made them the fourth most popular rock artists in that field for the entire decade, behind only the Beatles, Elvis Presley and Ray Charles. Over a three year period alone, from 1961-1963, they had a remarkable twelve hit albums and showed that full length albums held greater possibilities in rock than previously believed, in the process starting the shift to LP-centered output that would define rock more and more as the years went on. In 1962 they were among the first to bring rock 'n' roll to the Far East where they were massively popular and thanks to many tours there they became icons in Japan for decades to follow. Influentially, in addition to their popularization of the concept album, the Ventures set the early template for two-guitar based bands and were among the first to experiment with feedback, fuzz tones and pedals in the studio. Their theme song to the long running television show "Hawaii 5-O" gave them a final Top Ten hit in 1969 and in all they scored 37 hit albums, by far the most ever by an instrumental rock group. Drummer Mel Taylor's recent death makes this yet another case of the Hall waiting too long for a well deserved induction.
Inexplicably inducted as a sideman, presumably since he backed Muddy Waters in the 1950's, despite Little Walter's own career as a solo artist being just as prolific on the charts as Waters (each having 15 hits in the decade), showing yet another example of the Hall's vague and undefined boundaries for the category qualifications that makes the induction process lack cohesiveness. Regardless of how he made it, Little Walter Jacobs was eminently deserving of induction considering the abundant number of bluesmen who have already gotten in. Of all of the pure blues acts to have been enshrined thus far Walter may be closest in style to the rockers of his day. His skill on the harmonica is widely considered unmatched in the history of recorded music as he elevated the instrument from a minor subordinate role to that of a featured soloist, ironically further removing it from the "sideman" designation. His first hit, the chart topping smash "Juke", has become known as the most indelible blues instrumental record ever cut and he soon proved to be equally adept at vocals, scoring most of his subsequent hits in that form. His violent death as the result of injuries sustained in a street fight only added to the blues dark lore and his influence to generations of bluesmen and rock artists alike is immense.
Kenny Gamble & Leon Huff
By far the most dominant writer-producers in rock during the late 60's and early to mid 70's, Gamble & Huff can lay claim to being more identifiable with an entire rock subgenre than virtually anyone in history. They were among the creators (as was rival producer Thom Bell, who's shamefully still not in himself) of the "Philly Soul" sound in the late 60's scoring huge hits with such artists as Jerry Butler and the Intruders. Their style applied lush strings and groove oriented rhythm tracks to the gritty soul vocal style that had reigned for years, usually adding vocal harmony behind the lead, and the combination proved irresistible to listeners and provided the perfect mainstream alternative for those who couldn't grasp the harsher funk that was fast becoming the primary avenue for of black rock as the decade closed. Philadelphia quickly became a recording mecca thanks to their work with the O'Jays, Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes, The Three Degrees, MSFB, Archie Bell & The Drells and scores of others who ruled the aiwaves under their direction. Nearly all of the songs they produced they wrote as well, which includes dozens of top ten hits and multiple #1 smashes on both the Pop and R&B Charts. Gamble and Huff were towering figures on the rock scene for decades and are a long overdue selection to the Hall Of Fame.