The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame? Upstairs, First Door On the Left
I will not rant. I will not rant. I will not rant.
Okay, maybe a little.
The 2015 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees have been announced, an annual event that rings in the Complaining About the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame season. Don't think I haven't done my share of whining. I have more blood on my hands here than Lady Macbeth, who I believe was one of the Ronettes.
I'm still scratching my head over Donna Summer.
The problem is that they make it so easy to complain. Sports halls of fame reserve their slots for people who changed the game in some way -- the innovators and the record setters. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame does a fairly good job at that, but then they make some calls that leave music fans wondering what the heck is going on. I'm still scratching my head over Donna Summer.
So how did they do this year? Let's look at the honorees.
Ringo Starr will receive the Award For Musical Excellence. Ringo may be fun to joke about, but the truth is that Richard Starkey is a great rock and roll drummer. To quote the Beatles quoting Chuck Berry, if it's got a back beat you can't lose it, and Ringo was always just a little behind the beat. His use of the hi-hat and toms were the template for a generation of drummers, and his style still influences drummers today.
Final call: Without question, Ringo passes the "records and innovations" test.
The "5" Royales will receive the Early Influence Award. This is what halls of fame are all about. If the only thing the "5" Royales ever did was give James Brown a template for his first band, their contribution to rock history would be essential. These guys predate Elvis, so they truly are an early influence.
Final call: A great call by the Hall.
The Paul Butterfield Blues Band. The classic narrative is that Americans had forgotten about the blues until it was exported to the U.K., run through the British invasion, and imported back to us. There's a lot of truth to that, but young Americans like Paul Butterfield were keeping the blues alive for a new generation.
Here's how writer -- and I hope I'm spelling this right -- James Stafford describes the great blues harp player: "Paul Butterfield was no blue-eyed blues wannabee. Raised in Chicago, Butterfield had access to the likes of Muddy Waters, Little Walter, and Howlin’ Wolf. Along with his buddy, Elvin Bishop, Butterfield learned Chicago Blues at the feet of giants."
The Paul Butterfield Blues Band played killer sets at both Monterey and Woodstock, too. Innovators? Not really. Record setters? Nope. An important link between Chicago blues and rock and roll? Yep.
Final call: I'm on the fence on this one, but it's not a terrible induction.
Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble, man what a band. Those guys were tight, and Stevie Ray was as good as any guitar god you care to name and better than most of them. I have nothing but respect for SRV and Double Trouble.
But I have huge respect for a lot of artists -- does that make them RRHoF worthy? They were the best blues and rock band of their generation, but they didn't move the ball forward, so to speak.
Final call: They were great, but this is just a sentimental induction.
Bill Withers. Sweet lovely day, how I love Bill Withers. 'Ain't No Sunshine,' 'Lean On Me,' the aforementioned 'Lovely Day' -- come on! I can listen to him all day.
I'm trying to come up with a reason that Withers belongs in the RRHoF, but I'm coming up blank. He's great, but he passes neither the "innovator" nor "record setter" tests.
Final call: I love you, Bill, but the Hall got this one wrong.
Lou Reed is already in the Hall as a member of the Velvet Underground, a band with unquestionable "innovator" credentials. But Reed the solo artist? Yeah, definitely. Reed pushed the envelope harder than most artists. His work ranges from pop confections (albeit slightly twisted ones) to pure feedback ('Metal Machine Music') to a late career collaboration with Metallica.
His work was often a challenge, sometimes difficult, but always influential.
Final call: The Hall got this one totally right.
Joan Jett and the Blackhearts were the business when I was in junior high school. There was no "she rocks for a girl" talk -- they just rocked. 'Bad Reputation' is a perfect post-punk song.
Jett wasn't the first woman to be accepted by rock fans -- Janis Joplin, Fanny, Heart, even Jett's previous band the Runaways got there first. But Jett has remained both role model and ambassador for women in rock for close to 40 years.
Final call: I'm on the fence, but I think the Hall made a good call.
And that brings us to Green Day. Yes, they're popular. Yes, they've sold a lot of records, but come on: If that's all it takes, Bing Crosby's half billion record sales should make him the king of the Hall.
There are dozens of first and second wave punk bands that deserve recognition before we stick Green Day on a pedestal: X, Bad Brains, Minor Threat, Dead Kennedys, Fear, the Ruts, Black Flag ... I could go on and on.
Final call: This one is like swooning over a photo of the Mona Lisa while you're standing in front of the Mona Lisa.
Rock and roll doesn't belong pinned to a board like a dead butterfly.
Every year I come to the same conclusion: The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is meaningless, because rock and roll doesn't belong pinned to a board like a dead butterfly. Joe Montana will never play football again, but Ritchie Blackmore's 'Smoke On the Water' riff gets played thousands of times every day in bedrooms by new generations of rockers who keep the music alive. That's the home of the real rock and roll hall of fame -- upstairs, first door on the left, just past the bathroom.