Recently, the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame announced their inductees for the Class Of 2022. In what is becoming a tradition of seeing a ballot and saying, "There're really no bad names on here," we now follow that up by seeing the class and saying, "Well that's... fine." And that's what tends to happen when most of us can accurately predict most of the inductees. Instead of feeling awesome about nailing it almost exactly and precisely, it feels a little disappointing. Actually, that's not completely true. We do feel a little awesome about our prognostication skills, but we maybe don't exactly love what we predicted to happen. Previously, I admitted that I would be happier to be proven wrong. And I'm calling it as going 7.5/8 in my predictions. Basically, my top eight seeds are all getting inducted, and all but one of them in the Performer category. So... pretty much got them all.
But what also soils the celebration is when we look at the inductees and attempt to decode what each of their inductions means for the Hall, and the overall theme with these Performer inductees is "asses in the seats." Except for Pat Benatar (who extends my streak, thank you Pat), every one of them has had a #1 hit on the pop charts, and the act with the fewest Hot 100 hits is Eurythmics with 15. When 2016's class proved to be a rout for classic rock, we called it a "populist" class, because the Hall appeared to be kowtowing to the masses, or at least the loudest, whitest, malest masses. But we still called it a pretty good class. Now in 2022, we want to call it "populist" because it's comprised of acts with no less than 15 Hot 100 hits. It has been commented that this is the Rock And Roll Hall Of FAME after all, right? Heck, even I've said that in online discussion as a response to people who seemed to believe that Billboard was the SI unit for measuring selling out (when "selling out" and "cashing in" were considered derogatory). This year, the voters clearly went for the familiar names. Call it lethargy, call it nostalgia, or call it following the money. Maybe a factor of all three. Whatever you call it, what we don't have is a pleasant mixture that includes subversive innovation so ahead of its time that commercial success eluded it. In fact, the only nominee who missed out who also enjoyed massive commercial success in the American pop singles charts on par with the inductees is Dionne Warwick. If she'd made it, it'd really be a clean sweep as far as hit singles went.
And really, if it had been Warwick and Kate Bush getting in instead of Eminem and Lionel Richie, this would have been a banner year for the ladies. Carly Simon is the singer/songwriter inductee of the classic connotation, even though, pretty much all of the inductees were thoroughly involved with the writing of their music. Pat Benatar and Annie Lennox of Eurythmics are of course included. And of course Dolly Parton is the queen whose procession to induction will likely involve the waving of palm branches and will hopefully include being chauffeured by Rob Halford on a borrowed motorcycle that has never been driven before. And even though Duran Duran is a band of all men, they are a band that women have been outspoken on social media about needing to be inducted. They have presumably been heard, and Duran Duran are on their way in.
Additionally, it's really a big year for the icons of the '80s. And that's probably the biggest hallmark for the Hall this year. This is a big execution of John Sykes' vision, moving the Hall forward, even if incrementally. And if we're being honest, we shouldn't be surprised that the big sellers are the ones that are getting in. It's a simple arithmetic, when you consider what Nick Bambach, Michelle Bourg, and Eric and Mary of "Hall Watchers" have mentioned. We have a "safe" class with the only "dangerous" act getting in as an Award For Musical Excellence inductee because the Hall is adding more voters from a younger generation... a generation whose icons are not yet eligible for the Hall, and when it comes to those who are eligible, they're going for the names their parents taught them, aka the hitmakers, which will give us a good product for television and a good fundraiser for the foundation. Maybe the math is off, but that's one way to interpret the data.
The fingerprints of the MTV era are also present in a few of the other inductees, too. With producer Jimmy Iovine and production duo of Jimmy Jam And Terry Lewis being inducted, a lot of the sounds and styles of MTV are represented here as well. Admittedly, it's a little weird that both are primarily regarded as producers, but one is inducted as a Non-Performer and the other as Award For Musical Excellence. I would genuinely question the logic, as I'm inclined to lay aside the time that Jimmy and Terry were in the Time with Morris Day. However, that bridge has been incinerated, even in 2012 with the induction of the sound engineers in Award For Musical Excellence.
Speaking of Award For Music Excellence, congratulations to Judas Priest getting in, and sorry that the voting bloc sucks so bad when it comes to metal. Nick Bambach and I had the exact same top eight seeds, in slightly different permutations. He says he went 8/8 while I say 7.5/8. The difference is he considers it the same honor, and I don't. To me, being elected adds an extra level of validation, while this category means getting chosen again by the same folks who chose you for the ballot in the first place. That said, I really don't wish to rehash this argument. Michelle Bourg said it beautifully on her blog. What I do hope for though, is a simple middle ground. Whether you agree with the way the categories are used now or not, I do want to suggest this as a middle ground, a place where we can meet and agree. Can we at least agree that using the categories like this gives the Foundation, Board Of Directors, Nominating Committee, and whoever else--that doing it this way gives them no incentive to actually amend the process in any meaningful way that relieves the backlog while still inducting worthy artists? Can we at least agree that the use of the categories like this gives the powers-that-be no real motivation to change things for the better in the short and long term? Because if they have to keep inducting acts that would otherwise be considered Performers as Early Influences or in Award For Musical Excellence, the chance that they'll get around to pre-rock artists and session musicians that younger generations may not know the names of decreases. So if we can at least agree on that, we have something.
Which brings us to our two Early Influence inductees. First off is Elizabeth Cotten, a wonderful folk singer who both does and doesn't predate rock and roll music. Songs written before World War I, but she was never recorded until the mid-'50s. That's probably splitting hairs, though. Despite network and superstation radio, and even network television by this time, pop culture permeation still wasn't all that instantaneous, and certainly not like it is now. But her style is definitely reminiscent and in the vein of late-40's and early-'50s folk. So, no quibbles on this allocation, and her induction is what I describe as "out of the blue, out of the park." Fantastic job, Rock Hall.
The other Early Influence inductee is slightly more amusing and questionable. I actually have mixed feelings about the induction of Harry Belafonte as an Early Influence, but I also freely admit not knowing nearly enough. Harry, interestingly, did record in the early '50s, doing folk and pop songs, but he is of course best known for his calypso contributions. I do know he also delved into world music, but his calypso records are of course his legacy. I am curious about the influence calypso has had on the evolution of rock and roll. If calypso is part of the recipe for reggae, then okay; however, the reason my feelings are mixed about this induction is because I once heard that in the late '50s, so-called experts of the entertainment industry predicted that rock and roll was just a fad, would die out, and be replaced by a calypso fad, possibly on the popularity of Belafonte's records. Since calypso was being juxtaposed as adversarial, or possibly even promoted as the victor over rock and roll, it feels a little odd to enshrine its biggest name. But then again, the story may not be true, and even if it were, maybe Harry didn't agree with those experts and respected the music. Certainly enough to induct Public Enemy in 2013. I'm eager to learn more though. I want to know more about how his music has influenced rock and roll musicians. What I sincerely hope is NOT the case, however, is that he is being inducted as an Early Influence because of his political activism, and that he just happened to also be a musician. If he's being inducted for hobnobbing with rock and rollers at events and rallies for political activism, then no, he shouldn't be getting inducted. Rock and roll is first and foremost a form of music, and while Sykes wants to redefine it as the music of youth culture, or music with an attitude, to borrow from Chuck D, it's still music foremost. It's not a political agenda that uses a musical milieu. There are plenty of inducted rock acts that weren't political in their music, and plenty of small-time acts that make political music that are not worthy of enshrinement. If Belafonte's induction is primarily about his political music, fine. If it's about his political activism, not fine. Then you may as well induct Matt Taibbi as a Non-Performer for all his left-wing articles that just happened to be published in a magazine somewhat focused on rock and roll, and rock and roll culture. And the day THAT happens is the day I stop giving every inductee a Song Of Proof.
Speaking of Non-Performer inductees who may not deserve a Song Of Proof, lawyer Alan Grubman is getting inducted because he is Bruce Springsteen's lawyer. I mean, I thought the justifications for Landau, Azoff, and maybe also Avant were stretching it somewhat, but this one.... uffda. I even read some of the blurb on him on the Rock Hall website. They used the buzzwords in all the wrong ways. When I read that he liked to be "creative" and "innovative" when creating contracts for his clients, I made that face that says, "I would laugh if not for the abject horror of what I just witnessed." This is clearly about his work in founding this institution that is our collective hobby. But an induction? No no no no no. This is not someone you induct into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame; at best, you induct him into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame Hall Of Fame. Redundancy intended and necessary. In other words, give him a plaque at the ceremony thanking him for all his work in the Foundation, just like they did for Paul Shaffer years ago, without actually inducting him. The ceremony is put on by the Foundation, so if they want to take a moment to pull back the curtain and acknowledge the people who make the evening possible, that's all well and good. But as so many have said, rock and roll doesn't need a hall of fame to be valid, so inducting him for his work in the foundation is invalid. And unless he's clearing samples, or pioneering contract boilerplates that help artists retain their rights, he's not contributing to the perpetuation and evolution of rock and roll. Get that bum out of here. They'll really need to sell me with his video package at the ceremony.
But let's end our inductee review on a happy note. Hurray for Sylvia Robinson getting in! Finally a woman inducted as a Non-Performer without being part of a duo with a one-time husband. And first woman of color inducted in this category. This is huge for representation, but also huge for hip-hop. She's the first Non-Performer inductee whose most notable achievements were in the advancement of hip-hop and rap. Yes, there have been label executives who signed hip-hop acts, but the first label to have major success with the style, and founded to promote and elevate hip-hop? That is monumental. And the first inducted Non-Performer whose contributions to hip-hop headline their resume is (will be) Sylvia Robinson. Not Rick Rubin, though hopefully he'll be in too. Nor is it Dr. Dre, another good selection. It's Sylvia Robinson. A huge moment for the Hall watching community that has been pushing for her. You did well, and hopefully more will follow.
So, a mostly cool class, no? Yes. The inductees are worth celebrating, but it worries me where their tributaries lead. There's some cognitive dissonance, because the voting bloc seems to act independently and almost counter to the will of the NomComm, and yet we still say "the Hall" appears to be acting a certain way. To a degree, it doesn't feel like these inductees were chosen for their musical contributions. Some feel like the NomComm said, "Okay, who's trending right now that is also eligible?" That seems to be how we got Dolly Parton and Dionne Warwick on the ballot, and right now, seems to bode well for Kate Bush to return. It seems to also explain Fela Kuti's return this year. It's about the names who will sell tickets. It's about what's cool to think, like, and believe. It's about who also makes them look good, as well as who their friends are. But as much as we--and they--love the music, that doesn't seem to be what it's about. I'm sure that feeling will pass by the time the ceremony comes though, and certainly by the time the next ballot rolls around. But I'm nowhere near ready to start predicting that ballot, so don't ask. Time to just enjoy the Class Of 2022 for now. Happy inductions everyone.