Much has been said about the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame induction ceremony for the Class Of 2021, and I hope my thoughts won't be too redundant. My hope is to say things that haven't already been said; so if I blow right by one segment of the ceremony, it isn't that it wasn't enjoyable or edifying, it's just that I don't have any new observations. Also, I only got to watch the ceremony twice these past nine days. I really thought they would keep airing it across the various HBO channels throughout this week like they did with the special last year. They haven't been. Maybe I'll catch it again soon. Maybe I can bring it up On Demand. My memory may miss a step or two; bear with me.
Carole King: To me, this was the most disappointing, compared to what I would have hoped or wanted. Untapped potential. Taylor did a great job, as did Jennifer Hudson and Carole herself. For me, the problem was the overall handling of it. Carole King is one of the two most quintessential singer/songwriters of the 1970s that are responsible for the connotations we still have to this day of what it means to be a "singer/songwriter." But so much of her segment seemed to dwell on the latter part of that label. It was almost like they were recycling her 1990 Non-Performer induction merits and reusing them this time. The video package did a good job of showing the performing part of her legacy. Taylor's speech mentioned the singing and how it resonated with her, but there were several lines in the later part of her speech that were ambiguous and could just have easily been said at King's 1990 induction. The imbalance of her renown as a songwriter to her amazing voice and playing on her albums felt staggering. The performances reflected that too. Yes, all the songs that were performed were on Tapestry, but they were also all songs that her versions are not the big hits, best-known, or most revered. Heaven forbid that Taylor Swift kick things off with the energetic "I Feel The Earth Move," or that "So Far Away" find its way in there. Or "Nightingale" or "Jazzman" to remind us Carole King had so much amazing music after Tapestry. In the room itself, the only musical moment that felt distinctly about her solo career was when they played "I Feel The Earth Move" as Carole got up on stage to accept her induction. Obviously I don't know who decided on the setlist. Maybe it was Carole herself. But it really feels like the Hall inducting her as an artist was done in a very left-handed way, like they're saying, "Yeah okay, we'll acknowledge her as a recording artist... but really, naahhhhh." Still, I loved Carole's speech, and I'm really happy for her. Major injustice rectified, and kudos to Carole for gently but powerfully calling out the Hall for not giving a tribute to Aretha Franklin immediately. Maybe Jennifer Hudson's performance was selected to serve a dual purpose..
LL Cool J: My hypothesis is that the reason LL Cool J got so much real estate was as a mea culpa for not being able to get him in as a Performer, and to give the middle finger to all those who refused to vote for him. His set almost felt like watching a Superbowl halftime show, with the appearances of Eminem and Jennifer Lopez. It'll be interesting to see if Jennifer Lopez ever gets any love from the Hall.
Randy Rhoads: Good speech from Tom. The video package did a great job of showing his importance and influence. And I love that they got a clip of the man speaking. That makes it more meaningful, in my opinion. It's a shame they couldn't give any of his family a moment onstage to give a thank you speech. Also a shame he didn't get to work with more people or get his demos released.
Billy Preston: I know they had to keep it tight, but I wish this package was a little longer. I think Ringo did a good job with his speech, but I'm a bit of a stan for Ringo, so take that for what it's worth. I'm glad they showed how Billy did more than just the Let It Be sessions. Again, wish a living family member could have accepted for him and said a quick thank you. Just to show there are people there who care. If I'd been there, Billy is the male inductee I would have been cheering for the loudest.
Tina Turner: If it had been for anyone else, I'd have found Angela Bassett's delivery style overwrought. But this is Tina Turner. It fit perfectly. I'm glad the package featured Lizzo. If I could think of a current artist directly descended from Tina's solo career, it's Lizzo. Glad to see Cher too. I wanna see her as a double inductee, but so much time has passed, that getting Sonny And Cher in at all is a pipe dream at this point. Being the age I am and growing up when I did, one of the first things I learned about Tina, even before any of her songs, was for having/being "the best legs in the business." So, in a way, I'm glad that they had video footage showing how she got that accolade, but even more glad that nobody talked about it, because it must remain about the music. And unlike with Carole, you knew this was entirely about her solo career. Loved her simple yet heartfelt acceptance speech from her home. Gotta admit though, the performances didn't thrill me. They were good, but "It's Only Love" was one of the overplayed Adult Contemporary songs from my radio days, and "What's Love Got To Do With It" has never been among my favorite songs (but it's iconic, it's got to be there, and hey, H.E.R. and Mickey Guyton slayed their performances). Christina did a pretty good job with "River Deep - Mountain High," and I like how they were reclaiming that song back from her previous career. Still could've done without the flourishes at the end though.
Clarence Avant: Of the male inductees who were there, this is the one I would have been cheering for the loudest. I loved Lionel Richie's speech, too. Especially when he started by throwing some shade at the Wikipedia page for Clarence. If you read that page, you really don't get a sense of his importance at all. Having watched The Black Godfather, I just feel like he's someone I'd want to meet too. I want him to be made Postmaster General once DeJoy is gone. And of course, gotta love the wit and sincerity of Clarence's acceptance speech.
Todd Rundgren: Patti Smith was the perfect inductor for him. An artistic genius inducting another artistic genius. The video package was phenomenal, and I love how they closed it with his famous line against the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame. Still, I would have loved it if he had shown up, just played the morbid and offbeat "Flappie," and then wordlessly walked offstage. That'd have been the best compromise we could have gotten for the fans while still giving the middle finger to the institution. But then again, Todd in the video package said why he doesn't like to compromise.
Charley Patton: Hey, you work with what you got. Almost no photographs of the man, no video footage, few people alive who ever met him (if any), little footage about his influence from those who were influenced by him. Gary Clark, Jr. did well. Although, living near the Nooksack River, the song "High Water Everywhere" hits a little too close to home right now. I'm okay though, but many are not right now. Just a sidebar if you're looking for people to pray for or send positive thoughts and energy to.
Kraftwerk: I loved the video footage of them performing. I knew they were known as the robots, but I didn't realize that it really permeated, like watching Shields And Yarnell, or Arte Johnston and Judy Carne on "Laugh-In," but serious. And seeing the instruments they played on and the engineering equipment they used brought it home further. And then add the way Kraftwerk records influenced hip-hop. Just a shame that they couldn't have been voted in the regular way.
The Go-Go's: I said it in the second paragraph of my "Dryer And The Rock Hall" post, but this is the group that should have headlined. I loved Drew Barrymore's enthusiasm in her speech and while watching the Go-Go's' performance. I loved the video package, but maybe ran a little long. Mainly because the women were actually there. I think that's a good rule of thumb to follow. If the inductee is there, and especially if performing, go with a shorter video package. But I liked the moment when Jane Wiedlin said, "Yeah, sisters that stabbed each other in the back." Just another example of sexism in the industry. Women in groups have to behave like some preconceived notion of what sisterhood means. No one asks that of the guy bands, do they, if they're really all brothers together? I mean, some say they're like family, but it's hokey to ask if they're like siblings. Loved the speeches, and their performance kicked ass. One subtle moment I caught was at the start of their second song, when Jane walked right up to her monitor/amp to check her sound in it while they were playing. That's a true musician's move. Anyone who wants to downplay their credibility, that's just a simple thing that was subtly done, but it speaks volumes of their professionalism and dedication to putting on an amazing show. And if they'd been the headliner, you can bet we'd have gotten to the actual all-star jam.
Gil Scott-Heron: Common did a smooth job with the speech, and the video package showed how Gil's recordings are still important and relevant, which is both amazing and disheartening. Overall, I'm frustrated that the NomComm never even tried putting Gil Scott-Heron on the ballot (but he was Previously Considered, so somebody tried), and also frustrated that he probably would have still needed the "category treatment" if they had. If they had to do it with a hip-hop pioneer and a pioneer that got sampled in hip-hop, they'd have to do it with a political and vocal delivery progenitor of hip-hop too. I'll be looking forward to Joe Tex and the Last Poets getting inducted as Early Influences in the next few years (eyeroll).
In Memoriam: Not much else to be said that hasn't already. "Bye Bye Love" would have been too on the nose for the tribute performance, and "On The Wings Of A Nightingale" was too minor and late of a hit in the Everly Brothers' catalog to have worked. "All I Have To Do Is Dream" was the right choice.
Jay-Z: After the message from Barack Obsma, we got the tribute performance: others reciting the Jay-Z lyrics that were meaningful to them or important overall. I admittedly have no consciousness of the news right now, little time for social media, so I was unaware of Dave Chappelle's current situation. I thought his speech was great. It felt genuine and was defensive against the appropriation of African-American culture by the Caucasian community at large. Solid video package, and wonderful speech from the man himself, though admittedly a little redundant. I guess the moment just moved him to say it again.
Foo Fighters: It's a mixed bag. The video package was better than Paul McCartney's speech. I honestly would have rather had P!nk do the honors. I know Joe Kwaczala said it should have been Jack Black, but honestly, I'd be happy to never see or hear that professional manchild ever again (Jack, not Joe). The video package really did justice to the other members of the band, and Paul's speech was the patent reminder that we absolutely had to induct the Foo Fighters because... Dave Grohl.
But I'll say this now: I'm glad that Foo Fighters have been inducted. This was something I wanted to write about for awhile, but this induction gives me an opportunity to say it hopefully succinctly. Foo Fighters are a good inductee due to their popularity as hitmakers (albeit on the Mainstream and Modern Rock charts and less so the Hot 100), without being innovative or hugely influential. The Hall Of Fame is about recognizing those, both musicians and not, who contributed to the perpetuation and evolution of rock and roll music. Get that? Not just evolution, but also perpetuation. And even then, when you recall your high school biology classes, evolution requires adaptation to stimuli, that occurs over a pace of multiple generations. In other words, evolution also requires proliferation. A species that reproduces sexually can't evolve without some good old-fashioned "sticking two together" as Outkast would say. In terms of a cultural evolution, something has to remain popular to evolve, whether it's rock and roll, movie franchises, fast food menus, or Mario video games. Economic principles come into play here, but then again, they kind of do when it comes to human evolution too. The '60s are revered as the golden decade of rock and roll for a few reasons, but one of those was simply because of how popular it was. People sometimes say rock is dead today because it's not the most popular part of the contemporary hits radio format, and rock radio stations aren't as ubiquitious as Top 40 stations. Remaining popular is a valid piece of rock and roll's evolution, and it's okay to recognize and enshrine Foo Fighters for it. Just as it would be equally valid to induct Paul Revere And The Raiders for their string of hit rock and roll singles, or even Motley Crue for their number of hits and renewed popularity. Those acts won't rank high on my "Merits Ranks" listings (unless the ballot is weak that year), but they will get a passing grade from me if we simply use a "Pass/Fail" litmus test that I believe we should be using, which could ostensibly help create bigger classes and help clear the backlog without having to resort to surreptitious shenanigans that undermine an instituion that by its very mission, whether they realize it or not, purports itself to be a historical society. Okay, that was longer than intended, but shorter than the whole entry that it could have been.
Wrapping up, it's clear the video packages from last year's televised special worked so well because it was pretty much the best we could do. Now that we can assemble again, we don't have to use them as a crutch. They work well in a pinch, and if an inductee is dead or otherwise can't or won't show up (even with a recorded thank-you speech), it's okay to rely on them and have them go a little longer. But if an inductee is there, let them do more of the talking. Maybe the people making the packages should try coordinating with the presenters and find out what they plan to say. That way, they can trim down the packages to prevent unnecessary redundancies. Some redundancy is okay, when it's done for emphasis, but trim the fat where you can.
And for crying out loud, do the freggin' all-star jam. Even if you have to start with it and move it in post to the very end.