It's kind of hard to put together some thoughts in a coherent form for a blog entry on this year's Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame induction ceremony. Part of that is because I'm watching it for the fourth time as I type this. "Shake Dog Shake" is being performed right now. But this is the fourth viewing for me, so obviously I have had time to assemble a few thoughts. I was originally going to to dissect it by segments: video packages, acceptance speeches, presentation speeches, performances. Changing directions, I'm going by program flow.
Stevie Nicks: I've had a lot of negative things to say about Stevie Nicks's solo nomination and induction. I still maintain the validity of my complaint that the push at the museum was borne out of the ignorance of John Q. Public; however, I've since come to realize how silly it's been of me to be upset that it's her first and not Carole or Tina. Que sera, sera. And this is the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame, after all, and as Gregg Geller said on the "Who Cares About The Rock Hall?" podcast, they are consistently inconsistent. Speaking of the podcast, I want to thank Joe Kwaczala for his comparison of Stevie Nicks's solo induction to that of Jeff Beck's. I really did not think of it in that light. Ultimately, I still prefer comparing Stevie Nicks's solo career with Ringo Starr's. And I believe that if the museum poll had been around in 2014, Ringo would have been inducted as a Performer in 2015 instead of his consolation prize Award For Musical Excellence induction (which still counts as a second induction). Anyway, having said a lot of negative things about her solo nomination and induction, it's time to give her credit. Her performance was one of the best of all for the entire night. She knocked it out of the park. I actually dislike "Leather And Lace," and I knew what was going to happen from reading livestream tweets, and I still cheered when Don Henley walked out on stage. Great performance. Her acceptance speech was the best of everyone's too. She laid it out, in more than one way, explaining her debut outing as a soloist really was supposed to be an outlet, almost like a creative catharsis for things that just couldn't properly coalesce in the Fleetwood Mac canon, similar to the solo projects by all four members of the Who, while maintaining an active band. She also addressed the way the music industry worked back then, with the gentle strength of a velvet brick, against the backdrop of the current social climate, letting the audience infer and decide for themselves what should and should not have been acceptable, even back then. Lastly, I applaud her promise to use her legacy and clout to illuminate the twists, turns, and pitfalls for others to follow to pursue their dreams. Fantastic. Her video package was notable too, in that it featured her narrating it, telling the story from her perspective. Previously, video packages were semi-chronological video clips of performances, interviews, and other amusing one-off moments. But having this voiceover narration caught my attention because of something that Joe K. and Kristen Studard pointed out on the "Who Cares About The Rock Hall?" podcast. A lot of the acceptance speeches include the inductee giving their recollection of what happened. By having this narration in the packages, they're getting that out of the way, and helping keep the speeches shorter. It's a practice that wasn't in all of the video packages for the night, but one I hope becomes more common in the future. I even enjoyed Harry Styles' speech, mostly, though I think he could have stopped before he got to how the name Stevie Nicks is both a verb and an adjective. By that point it was dragging, but overall still entertaining. I had previously joked that Stevie Nicks would probably be inducted first to get Harry home by his bedtime. And sure enough, Stevie went first, and we don't see Harry any other time in the broadcast.
The induction of Stevie Nicks also might prove a useful barometer for rap acts in the future. Much of the criticism against her solo career (by people other than me), is that about half her memorable songs are duets. And the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame, as a collective body, decided that didn't matter. We're getting to rap artists of the '90's and later and approaching a sub-culture that deems it necessary to give label credit in the form of "and," "featuring," "with," or "introducing" to every person whose voice or instrument is heard on the song. We kind of have that with 2Pac already, but it will get even more prominent as time goes on to the point where its inescapable. Maybe as with Stevie Nicks and 2Pac, we'd all better get used to shrugging our shoulders and saying "Cool beans."
The Cure: Though they were inducted later in the evening than shown here, I suspect the Cure were shown second on the broadcast because of Robert Smith's joke before launching into "Boys Don't Cry." It was obvious he was joking about cursing Stevie Nicks, but he still walked it back with an "I'm joking" that can somehow best be described as "coquettish." That, and after they finished, he said, "Enjoy the rest of the night," implying it was still early on, which it wasn't by the time they got to the Cure during the actual evening of the ceremony. Their video package also had that seemingly narrative voiceover compiled from previous interviews that told the history of the band. I have to admit to giggling when I saw the video excerpt from "Love Cats." Kind of disappointed that we didn't see a clip of Stan Marsh and Kyle Brovlofski thanking Robert Smith for his help and saying Disintegration is the greatest album ever. Trent Reznor gave one of the best speeches of the night. I pointed out on Twitter that it seemed like Trent Reznor was rebutting Howard Stern's speech for Bon Jovi last year. Stern spent a lot of his speech equivocating quantity with quality, with regards to Bon Jovi's 150,000,000 records sold, and Trent Reznor seemed to be responding to that when he said that the Cure sold the greater part of "who-gives-a-shit-how-many million records." Nicely done. Don't know how many picked up on that, but I loved it. The Cure gave the best performance of the night, though I did notice that Robert Smith could seemingly only sing in a higher register, even on "Lovesong" and "Just Like Heaven." That may just be part of getting older, along with looking like a cross between Courtney Love and Bette Midler's character in Hocus Pocus.
The Cure was also the first group (during the broadcast, that is) to have one person speaking for the group. I have to admit to having some mixed feelings about that. It's true that it keeps things tighter, and it prevents that odd moment when some lesser-known band member decides to kick off his stand-up comedy career that night. But at the same time, the Cure is more than just Robert Smith (which didn't help that he was the only person Trent Reznor mentioned by name), Roxy Music is more than just Bryan Ferry, and Def Leppard is more than Joe Elliott (and Rick Allen). This is probably the one chance that some of the other band members are gonna have to really be heard in their own words, where people who aren't die-hard fans of the band want to listen to these other members, and it's a shame to step on their opinions for the sake of keeping it short for HBO's convenience, for a tail that shakes shakes shakes shakes shakes shakes shakes shakes shakes the dog, shakes it, I tell ya! (Sorry, not sorry.)
Janet Jackson: Another great video package with a biographical narrative overlaid atop the action in the clips. It really works well. Again, I chuckled when I saw her performing "The Beat Goes On" at a very young age. Janelle Monae had the best presentation speech of the night, in my opinion, highlighting Janet's music as well the emotional impact, just as well as Trent Reznor did for the Cure. But Janelle gave it just a little more oomph, talking about her credentials at large, as well as her social impact. I also caught what seemed to be another rebuttal to Howard Stern's speech last year, as Janelle casually dropped the number 180,000,000, beating Bon Jovi's 150,000,000, but didn't dwell on it, opting to move on instead. I admit, I cringed a little at the tortured pun of "womanifesto," but I somehow suspect that will not be the last time I hear that word. Better get used to it. Janet's speech was very touching as well, as she was humble and quick to acknowledge the people who had a big part in guiding her career. And as did Stevie Nicks, the impassioned plea to induct more women. No argument there. Just too bad there was no performance.
Roxy Music: This segment was right in the middle, and for me, it was one of my less favorite inductions of the night. There was nothing wrong with it, though. I still enjoyed it. Like when the lowest grade on a test was a 93%. That's still really good. The video package went back to the usual interview clips that aren't quite chronological, and don't have that narrative guidance atop it all. In this case, though, we did get to see interview clips with multiple members of the group, and I really appreciated that, especially when Bryan Ferry turned out to be the only one to speak for the band. Simon Le Bon and John Taylor did a wonderful job presenting them, too. Simon touched on the virtuosity of each player via their instruments, though he didn't name them all. John's personal anecdote was amusing and pointed in how the influence was primarily in the United Kingdom. That's particularly important, given the accusations of the Hall having an Americentric bias. Bryan Ferry did a great job speaking for the band, and the songs that were broadcast were really well done, with a lot of help from the borrowed personnel, especially the lady singing the soprano solo on "Avalon."
Radiohead: Far and away, Radiohead's video package was the best. Stevie Nicks promised to show the way in her future interviews. This video package sort of did that. It wasn't a thorough step-by-step, but I loved how pragmatic yet philosophical the interview clips were, talking about the roller coaster of fame, the stages of finding a sound together, learning how to make an album, to deal with fame, to grow, to evolve, and to endure. Just a fabulous package. David Byrne's speech was short, and as someone who influenced them, rather than as someone who was influenced by them, it sadly didn't have as much personal connection to the music as it otherwise would have. However, their innovation was a big part of why they deserve to be in, and David nailed that terrifically. Ed and Phil gave great acceptance speeches, and they probably said all that Thom, Johnny, and Colin could have added. No performance, sadly. Since David was really converted, as he said, by Kid A, maybe they should have had him sing "Idioteque," backed up by Ed and Phil, as well as a few other musicians on hand. Oh well. that's the way it goes.
The In Memoriam segment was lovely. The first time I saw an induction ceremony in its entirety, and saw the In Memoriam segment, it just blew me away about all the people they included: producers, engineers, agents, label founders, as well as musicians. I was touched by its depth, and that continued through this year's segment. I was floored that they even included the girl who inspired the Buddy Holly classic "Peggy Sue," and the "Ticket Queen." I doff my hat to the Hall's thoroughness in this regard. But there should have been a tribute performance to Aretha Franklin.
The Singles segment featuring Little Steven got scrapped entirely from the broadcast. Having lowered the boom on this category in my previous blog entry, some of you may be wondering what my thoughts are on the choice to omit that segment, and that would be a fair question for you to ask.
The Zombies: Despite not being quite narrative, the video package definitely had a biographical chronology feel to it, similar to the packages for Stevie Nicks and the Cure. It was great to hear about the evolution of a band that felt moody and jazzy, to find out they started in R&B. Kudos to Susanna Hoffs giving a great speech about her personal connection to the music of the Zombies. A lot of fuss has been made about Susanna being 60 and still looking like she does. I really have no take on that. I've been taught that it's rude to say someone looks amazing "for their age," and not knowing Susanna personally, it wouldn't even be appropriate for me to say she looked good, period. It's clear she takes great care of her health, but her age shouldn't be too surprising, given it's been almost thirty years since the height of the Bangles' success. Either way, it's beside the point. Her speech was great not just for the personal touch, but also how she focused on more than just one member. I rolled my eyes slightly when she went for the low-hanging fruit to say, "This will be your year; it took a long time to come," but I have to admit, I probably would have done the same darn thing. Each member taking a turn to speak was actually quite appreciated. It was edited well, and I hope it wasn't too long a deal at the actual event. I saw some on Twitter saying that the Zombies were the weak link, performance-wise. I disagree. While binge-listening to their music to properly assess them in my merits and personal enjoyment ranks, I came to appreciate the latter day material, and they sounded just as good that night as on those later-era songs. I also noticed that during "She's Not There," they sneaked in the keyboard and rhythm section riffs from "Gimme Some Lovin'," possibly to suggest their advocacy for the Spencer Davis Group. Maybe not, but possibly.
The Zombies' induction is a bittersweet moment for me as well, though. Last year, when I revealed my Songs Of Proof playlist, I mentioned that in 2004, I created a list of one hundred entities that I wanted to see inducted, and why. Every year, starting with 2005, at least one name has come off the list. This year it was the Zombies. However, this class also shows a decided turn by both the Nominating Committee and the voting bloc to start moving to more modern acts. The list was created in 2004, and skewed very populist, though it didn't include the plethora of classic rock acts you might suspect. But as the Hall tries to face forward, I'm having to face the reality that the Zombies will be the last name to be crossed off my list. It was a good run though.
Def Leppard: As much as I loved Def Leppard growing up, this induction was a bit underwhelming. Still the video package was good, explaining the ethos of the band, and even a little chronology, starting with the T. Rex influences. Brian May's speech, though, didn't do it for me. I enjoy a good story told well, but I wasn't feeling this one. And I felt like he really didn't talk about the music nearly as much as he should have, though I did like his sharing the further advice on remaining successful that he received back from Joe Elliott. The speech from Joe Elliott was terrific too, for the most part. I especially like how he said, "the '90's had no fucking chance." Although, I almost wish that Joe Elliott hadn't mentioned Rick Allen's loss of his arm. It happened, and it definitely speaks to the band's credit that he adapted and persevered, but at the same time, I don't think of Def Leppard as the band with the one-armed drummer. I think of them as the band that rocked my childhood with Hysteria, Pyromania, and even Adrenalize. And ultimately, I think the music is what they'd like to be remembered for foremost, and not for being "the band with the one-armed drummer." Again, not downplaying the commitment and fraternity of the the band's members, and it served as a set up for the punchline about the '90's, but that particular bit got just a little more time than it should have, in my opinion. As they performed, Joe Elliott seemed to be struggling a little bit with the high notes, but he was still rocking the house, as was the rest of the band. Overall, a very solid performance from the winners of the fan ballot.
Very little in the way of low points for me personally, but I wasn't thrilled with the final jam on "All The Young Dudes." It was great to see a nice cross-section of the ceremony onstage together, but I really wasn't thrilled with the way the all-star jam was used to stump for Mott The Hoople. No, I'm not kidding or deluding myself. Using the ceremony as the opportunity to push for other artists is practically a formulaic constant. We saw it this year in the package for Def Leppard, when T. Rex was cited as an influence. We saw it in the presentation speech by David Byrne, when he mentioned Can as an influence on Radiohead. Maybe it was just an observation, but it could be construed as a plea to represent krautrock. It often happens in the acceptance speeches, such as U2 in 2005, Metallica in 2009, and Daryl Hall And John Oates in 2014. This year, we didn't get that so much, except when both Stevie Nicks and Janet Jackson asked the Hall to induct more women, though neither mentioned any specific women they'd like to see inducted. We've even seen it in attire, noticeably Jeff Ament's shirt when he was inducted with the rest of Pearl Jam in 2017. We've also seen it in the performances, like when Madonna asked the Stooges to perform in her place in 2008, and this year, when the Zombies were jamming towards the end of "She's Not There,"where they sneaked in the bit from "Gimme Some Lovin'." But the all-star jam? It's supposed to be a jam with those who are in, and possibly their presenters. I really didn't care for using the closing scene, the final call for fraternity, to push for another act. Should Mott The Hoople be inducted? Maybe, but that should be for a different time and place. That said, "All The Young Dudes" is still a great rock 'n' roll torch song to bring the house down, so at least we got that out of it.
So that wraps up my fourth viewing (now fifth, as I've restructured this entry while watching the entire ceremony again) and my observations on this year's induction ceremony. Great production job, good editing, great speeches and performances... great television in other words. I really loved it. I'm still not thinking about 2020 yet, but I'm about ready to put a cap on this year's class. Think of it as putting the bookmark on the last page of this chapter, but not yet turning the page to the next one. What were your thoughts about the ceremony? How many times did/will you watch it? To close out, while there was really not much to dislike, I'm still gonna rank what I saw and how much I liked them, even though I genuinely enjoyed each segment, even the all-star jam.
2. Janet Jackson
3. The Cure
4. In Memoriam
5. The Zombies
6. Stevie Nicks
7. Roxy Music
8. Def Leppard
1. Janelle Monae
2. Trent Reznor
3. Simon Le Bon And John Taylor
4. Susanna Hoffs
5. David Byrne
6. Brian May
7. Harry Styles
1. Stevie Nicks
2. Janet Jackson
3. The Zombies
4. The Cure
6. Def Leppard
7. Roxy Music
1. The Cure
2. Stevie Nicks
3. The Zombies
4. Def Leppard
5. Roxy Music
6. All-star jam