For the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame, the Class Of 1994 marks something of a turning point. From this point on, the common connotations of rock and roll would slowly and surely begin to dominate the conversation. In recent years, the Hall has come under scrutiny for being dominated by White males, and this is the class that marked the beginning of that era. The Class Of 1988 had more White acts inducted than Black (5-4), but thanks to the number of past members of the Drifters who were inducted, the number of people inducted that year was a twelve-twelve split. 1993 probably started hinting at how the trend would start skewing (6-5 in favor of white entities inducted, so still quite close), but this is the first year that the White conceptions surrounding rock and roll would dominate the conversation. Only two Black inductees, to eight White entities, three of which are bands. Though 1998 would be a close call, it wouldn't be until 2000 when there would be another equal split of Black to White inductees. 2005 would be the last time that there were more Black acts inducted in the Performer category, though the number of members would make the number of people equal, until you include the two inductees outside of the Performer category, which tips both statistics toward the White side again. Of course, this being the first year that it becomes actually noticeable, not many actually notice it, and much like the other classes before it, the acts inducted are a pretty difficult bunch to argue against.
From the point of view of this project, this is also a class of firsts. This is the first class where there are no acts who would later be inducted into the Vocal Group Hall Of Fame. Two of the three bands inducted this particular year would also have made great additions to that establishment, and the third might have been feasible as well, but no one who actually was. This is also the first time that all of the Songs Of Proof are by the actual inductees themselves. Even the Non-Performer. This is something that only happens a handful of times, but it's fun when it does. And just what are those songs used?
The Animals: When you're lumped into the same category as the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, and the Who, it's easy to be overlooked. Additionally, not a group I personally care for a whole lot, or at least not their biggest hit. In addition to having been overdone on Oldies radio, "House Of The Rising Sun" is hard to understand when Eric Burdon sings it. However, the bluesy, almost swampy sound of the Animals that comes from the unmistakable lead guitar hearkens back to the Mississippi Delta where the blues can be said to originate. Additionally, they managed to unintentionally resonate with the counterculture movement with songs like "We Gotta Get Out Of This Place,"as well as rather intentionally with songs like "Monterey," "San Francisco Nights," "Sky Pilot," and the song that I've chosen to represent them on this set, which is both dripping with that bluesy guitar as well as an anthem of individualism whose title Bon Jovi would later co-opt for their own, different composition, "It's My Life."
The Band: The song I've chosen to represent them is "Up On Cripple Creek," which was a big enough hit to make it an easy sell for the radio program I originally envisioned this project becoming, and is a wonderful example of what is sometimes called "roots" music. It's a style that they would infuse into many of their songs. This is an act that will be called upon again to provide a song to honor another inductee, off in the distant future. In the meanwhile, I just want to say of the three bands inducted this year, this is the one that it's the biggest shame they weren't inducted into the Vocal Group Hall Of Fame. For a group whose name comes from the fact that they were originally just hired hands to play behind Bob Dylan, their musicianship and chemistry transcends their workaday nomenclature, and is most wonderfully pronounced in their ability to generate folksy, yet unmistakable harmonies in songs like the aforementioned choice, "The Weight" and "The Shape I'm In." A bit off-topic, go to YouTube and look up the Animaniacs cartoon about Slappy Squirrel in Woodstock, in 1969. Slappy and Skippy, via the show's writers and voice actors, adapt the classic Abbott And Costello routine, "Who's On First," using the Who and this band, the Band.
Willie Dixon: What I'm going to say right now is going to prove unpopular: this induction is one of the biggest blunders by the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame, in my opinion. Put away your torches and pitchforks though, because I fully believe that Willie Dixon was worthy of induction into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame. But NOT as an Early Influence. The man produced and wrote so many amazing blues records... but he seemingly recorded so comparatively few! Or if he recorded them all, those recordings have not been preserved. The Early Influence category is for those who as recording artists helped shape the sounds that would eventually evolve into what we now know as rock and roll. Willie Dixon definitely helped shape the sounds, but not so much in front of the microphone as behind the scenes. How many songs credited to Willie Dixon as the performing artist can you name off the top of your head? Myself, I can only think of four, and one of those was turned into an even bigger classic by Howlin' Wolf. Box sets and compilations on Willie Dixon almost all have more songs recorded by other artists than by the man himself. So why was he inducted as an Early Influence instead of as a Non-Performer?! I feel the same way about Willie Dixon as many others feel about Laura Nyro: should have been inducted as a Non-Performer. But since he was inducted as an Early Influence, we're honoring him with his recording "29 Ways."
Duane Eddy: When the discussion turns to Duane Eddy, I have to smile. So many want their favorite arena rock bands inducted, and part of the reason they do is because of the solos where the guitar is being played such that it is sometimes described as "singing." And yet, when it comes to Duane Eddy, he's not regarded as being all that worthy. Is it because he was big in the '50's, and not the '70's when these people were growing up? Whatever it was, it's laughable. Duane Eddy is arguably the first rock and roll guitarist to play it in such a way that it could be described as "singing." Pre-rock guitarists had been doing it before Eddy, but as a device of rock and roll, he was one of the first biggies. With songs like "Forty Miles Of Bad Road," his instrumental version of the movie theme "Because They're Young," and "Rebel-'Rouser," which I've chosen to use in this project, Duane Eddy's indelible mark was more than just being twangy, though there's that too.
The Grateful Dead: The last band inducted for this class, and one of the most famous inductions for its mini-controversies. After the insistence that every past and then-present member of the group be inducted, which was done for them (including the first White, female Performer inductee in Donna Godchaux), the induction was still mired by Jerry Garcia's refusal to attend. Just no pleasing some people. They would have made fine inductees into the Vocal Group Hall Of Fame, too, but of course that never happened. As a band that is legendary for their tireless touring, their legion of Deadheads that followed them on tour, and as an act that had more live albums than studio, it seems best-fitting to represent them with a song about being on the road, at least in part. So, as cliche as it may be considered, "Truckin'" is the optimal song to use here.
Elton John: And now to combat the all the guitar in the room, we have one of the biggest pianists in rock and roll. Of course, a lot of songs of his included great guitar lines, but the ivories are his second home and his first true love (not mocking his marriage, just that that relationship hasn't lasted as long as the one with the piano). The choice for "Crocodile Rock" to represent Elton John here is rooted primarily in the original radio program idea, but it's his first #1 hit, has a great keys line, as well as a catchy bass line and lyrics that hail the great rock and roll of yore, and so is a great choice any way you choose to view it.
John Lennon: He's often remembered more for his social conscience than his music, so I first wanted to use "Whatever Gets You Thru The Night" as a reminder that he created a lot of good rock and roll too. But among his songs, the ones that are best remembered are those that have something to say about the world we live in. But rather than default to "Imagine," which I suspect many of you would do, I chose to go for a song that is both a great rocker and includes his signature message about trying to love everyone. A top ten hit to boot, John Lennon is honored with "Instant Karma (We All Shine On)."
Bob Marley: Those who are upset at the inclusion of R&B and soul into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame must have just about flipped their wigs when Bob Marley was enshrined in 1994. Reggae? In the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame? As Jimmy Cliff said years later at his own induction though, reggae music is steeped very solidly in rock and roll, in the traditions of New Orleans artists, and includes the influences of musicians like Jimi Hendrix, as well as other indigenous influences. Bob Marley himself chose to drive the point home with the song that decades after his death, I would use to honor him in a homemade CD set. Not sure he'd be proud of that so much, but "Roots, Rock, Reggae" is mandatory listening for those who want to talk about the history of rock and roll music. And hopefully the Wailers will be inducted one day, too.
Johnny Otis: Few wore as many hats in rock and roll as Johnny Otis did. You name something that they induct someone for in the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame, and Johnny Otis did it, except for innovating instrument design and founding a magazine. He also could have been inducted as a Sideman, and as a bandleader, there's argument for him as either a Performer or Early Influence. The son of Greek immigrants, he latched onto and helped shape American culture before, at the dawn of, and throughout the progression and domination of rock and roll music. He's had a hand in a lot of the R&B that kids danced to, even if the only dance they could do was the hand jive. So, let's salute the man with his big crossover hit, "Willie And The Hand Jive."
Rod Stewart: A double-inductee who could have attended both of his inductions, but attended neither, and yet was on-hand to induct Percy Sledge, of all inductees. That's Rod all over: wild and unpredictable as his hair. What makes Rod's induction as a solo artist a curiosity, though, is that he was barely eligible at the time, and as a Performer, is generally regarded more worthy for his work with the Jeff Beck Group, or Faces. His solo efforts are often described as the less worthy efforts, and "Do Ya Think I'm Sexy?" is something of a punchline in the rockist circles. For myself, "Maggie Mae" is a boring and unnecessarily long song, with "Mine For Me" being derivative. I prefer his '80's stuff myself, and his solo career is pretty well linked to synthesizers while still having a catchy melody and good beats. And though it might be slightly cheesy, it is "Young Turks" that is being used in this particular playlist for his solo career.
And those ten entries round out the Class Of 1994. Arguably four decades of rock and roll solidly represented with acts whose first records came out in 1968 or earlier. Like the choices? Would you change any of the selections? If so, which ones? Post your own thoughts in the Comments below. Recapping:
the Animals: "It's My Life"
the Band: "Up On Cripple Creek"
Willie Dixon: "29 Ways"
Duane Eddy: "Rebel-'Rouser"
the Grateful Dead: "Truckin'"
Elton John: "Crocodile Rock"
John Lennon: "Instant Karma (We All Shine On)"
Bob Marley: "Roots, Rock, Reggae"
Johnny Otis: "Willie And The Hand Jive"
Rod Stewart: "Young Turks"