On Saturday night, HBO televised its coverage of the 2019 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony, which took place this past March 29 at the Barclays Center in New York. And while hardcore music geeks pine for the time when the event was televised live and uncut, this slightly-over 3-hour edit of the much longer ceremony will have to suffice.
Those who know me both personally and on social media know that I have a lot of opinions about the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. A lot. Mostly centered on the subjects of who should be in there that isn’t, and who is in there that shouldn’t be. But for the purposes of this piece, I’ll leave those prejudices at the stage door.
I will say that I believe greatly in the institution, its educational purpose, and its goals. And my visit a few years ago to the great glass pyramid on the shores of Lake Erie in Cleveland, Ohio was one of the highlights of my life that I will surely repeat. Here’s a rundown of what made the HBO broadcast, along with some thoughts.
While a total of 22 men have been inducted into the Hall of Fame twice under the guises of various bands or a solo career, Nicks is the first woman to be so honored (Fleetwood Mac entered the Hall in 1998). To this day, she remains a vital and influential artist who can easily spin her various shawls between solo efforts and time with the Mac.
She brought some raw vocal power to show opener “Stand Back” and welcomed former boyfriend and original duet partner Don Henley for a deeply-felt “Leather and Lace.”
She then threw a curveball with Harry Styles (“standing in for Tom Petty” as Nicks said) for a somewhat tepid take on “Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around,” closing with “Edge of Seventeen.”
In the video montage, Nicks talked about how having “three songs on an album every few years” with the Mac wasn’t going to cut it for all the music she wanted to and did create, and how the role of “songwriter” meant more to her than “singer.” Styles – who has become a personal friend - returned to induct her with a few humorous asides (“On Halloween, one in seven people dress as Stevie Nicks. She is both an adjective and a verb.”).
A video montage introduced the band, showing how they were originally envisioned as a pop punk trio. They became - according to leader/singer/guitarist Robert Smith’s voice over - “a very difficult group” and “intense and depressing.” He also mentioned how he had no qualms making pop or dance songs, even if it did damage to “their status as Goth icons.”
Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails inducted the band, mentioning that finding college radio made his “head exploded with limitless possibilities” and also introduced to the music of Cure. Their music reflected Reznor's own darkness of emotions, and created a world for “those who dreamed of escape.”
A gaggle of current and former Cure members took the stage - at least some of whom, controversially, were inducted despite being fairly recent additions. Only Smith spoke – somewhat awkwardly (even asking for a “wrap it up” signal!).
The current lineup then performed a bombastic (and deeper cut!) “Shake Dog Shake” and then “Lovesong” and “Just Like Heaven.” The latter two were delivered more urgently and striking than the familiar record, with Smith in great vocal shape. They closed with emo anthem “Boys Don’t Cry.”
It was fun watching all the various “Janets” over the years in the video montage (including a clip as a small child with brother Michael). But it also reminded people of just how many great dance jams she has in her catalog. And what a statement that the Control & Rhythm Nation 1814 records were – especially for her, and how she developed as a writer.
Singer Janelle Monae had strong and warm words while inducting the “Queen of Black Girl Magic,” clearly a fan in awe (though at times…a bit overwrought). Jackson herself in her speech gave credit to her father and brothers, and how their success drove her to make it on her own.
She also recognized producers Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis in the audience, calling them “my two dads…and wise teachers.” Unfortunately, Jackson chose not to perform, and there was no other musical tribute.
An unseen interviewer tells a young singer Brian Ferry in an old TV interview clip that Roxy Music is “A mixture of fine art and the sweat and sex of rock and roll.” That’s a pretty succinct summation of Roxy Music.
And though the average U.S. listener might be able to spit out the song titles “Love is the Drug” and maybe “More Than This,” their impact was far bigger in their home country of England.
Duran Duran’s Simon Le Bon and John Taylor – lifelong fans (and who were clearly influenced) – inducted the group, Le Bon praising them for their “pulp science fiction.” Taylor told a funny story about his teen self chasing the band and recording their concert on his cassette player, sending him on path to become a musician.
Four members – including Ferry – made it to the podium (synth player Brian Eno and drummer Paul Thompson were absent), looking like a distinguished English village council. Ferry, saxophonist Andy Mackay, guitarist Phil Manzanera, and violinist/keyboardist Eddie Jobson took part in the live performance with added musicians for elegant turns on “Out of the Blue,” “Avalon,” and a wild “Editions of You.”
The big news here, of course, is that leader/singer/guitarist Thom Yorke decided not to show up to the ceremony – his reasoning (?) that he had to be in Paris for a concert…a week later. And I’ll readily admit I know the least about them and their music of all the inductees.
An effusive David Byrne did the induction honors (after all, Radiohead was named after the Talking Heads tune “Radio Head”), and Byrne praised their innovation in music – something he knows a bit about. Guitarist Ed O’Brien and drummer Phil Selway were on hand to accept the award (bassist Colin Greenwood and guitarist Jonny Greenwood were also no-shows).
Selway called it a “awkward…but challenging band” to be in, but that was part of the glue. And O’Brien thanked his band mates for their “integrity, authenticity, their commitment. None of these things you should take for granted.” He also called the honor “a big fucking deal.” There was no musical performance or tribute.
Among the departed: Charles Neville. Clarence Fountain. Nipsey Hussle. Hal Blaine. Avicii. Pete Shelley. Peter Tork. Keith Flint. Vinnie Paul. Roy Hargrove. Ed King. Mac Miller. James Ingram. Dick Dale. Ray Sawyer. Marty Balin. And – of course – Aretha. No last name needed.
I will cop that this one meant the most to me personally as a fan and a journalist. They’re also the last of the British Invasion bands who deserve induction to get in.
Of course, by the time they had a career-saving hit in the United States with “Time of the Season” (a year and a half after they recorded it)…the band had already broken up.
Zombies superfan singer/guitarist Susannah Hoffs of the Bangles inducted the band – noting that the average age of the group members was 18 when they had their first hit in America with “She’s Not There.”
Singer Colin Blunstone, keyboardist Rod Argent, bassist/singer Chris White, and drummer Hugh Grundy took the stage (guitarist Paul Atkinson died in 2004). Argent noted that the band made it into the Hall on their fourth ballot appearance He also mentioned his rock and roll journey started with hearing an “alien super being from a distant universe” – Elvis. The four originals then played “Time of the Season” with members of the current Argent/Blunstone-led group that segued into “Tell Her No,” and an energetic “She’s Not There.”
Singer Joe Elliot talked about “having” to get out of their dank factory hometown of Sheffield, England, and music was the way for it to happen. And trying to develop a “new style” that melded hard rock with a more pop-friendly sensibility.
Elliott, guitarists Phil Collen and Vivian Campbell, bassist Rick Savage, drummer Rick Allen, and former member Pete Willis (not in attendance) were inducted, along with late guitarist Steve Clark.
Queen guitarist Brian May inducted the band and talked about his personal history with the group, and nearly getting burned to death by a pyrotechnic effect while playing with the band (before being pulled away in the nick of time by Elliott). He also noted that the first phone call he received after Queen singer Freddie Mercury died was from Elliott, as May had previously done the same for Elliott when Clark passed.
Elliott gave a great speech laced with thanks and humor. And he paid tribute to Allen – who famously lost an arm in a car accident, but learned to play drums with one arm and the help of electronics, and came back. A teary-eyed Allen got a standing ovation.
As to the change in public tastes when hair metal and pop metal bands began to cede public taste to grunge, he quipped “If alcoholism, car crashes, and cancer couldn’t kill us, the ‘90s had no fucking chance."
Unfortunately, his voice didn’t have a chance when the band launched into “Rock of Ages” and “Photograph.” He couldn’t hit the high notes, and his attempted falsetto was weak, scratchy, and nervous sounding. You could tell he was frustrated, and your heart just had to go out to him in this big moment. He did recover by switching to a lower register for a frenetic “Pour Some Sugar On Me.”
For many years – going back to when it wasn’t televised or shown to the public – the Rock Hall ceremony would end in a loose jam of presenters, inductees, and performers onstage and in various states of inebriation. That morphed into an all-star jam, but with a more structured set list of tunes and participants.
We now get a single song at the end of the night with man of the evening’s participants onstage, but this was a good one. Mott the Hoople’s Ian Hunter – with guest Brian May on guitar – led the assemblage in a rendition of “All the Young Dudes,” one of the greatest rock songs about rock. You’re not alone if you also take away some subtle commentary about 2019 being a shift year in terms of the ages of inductees, and a passing of the torch.
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WHAT HAPPENED TO…
Last year, the Rock Hall began inducting (or recognizing? There seems to be some confusion…) influential singles. In other words, while Chubby Checker, the Kingsmen, and Steppenwolf likely wouldn’t make it into the Hall on their own, nobody can deny the impact of “The Twist,” “Louie, Louie,” and “Born to the Wild” on rock history.
Spearheaded by musician and music historian Little Steven Van Zandt, this year’s inductees/honorees included “Twist and Shout” (the Isley Brothers), “Tequila” (the Champs), and “Leader of the Pack” (the Shangri-Las)…but you would never know that from watching this broadcast.
There was no mention of the honors at all, which is shameful and could have been taken care of in just a few minutes of airtime. Van Zandt's segment (which the audience at the actual event saw) was completely absent from this telecast. And it seems they didn’t have anyone in the previous categories of Early Influences, Sidemen, and Non-Performers.
AND FINALLY, YOU DIDN’T ASK, BUT I’LL ANSWER….WHO IS NOT IN THE ROCK AND ROLL HALL OF FAME THAT SHOULD BE?
In no particular order: The Doobie Brothers, Peter Frampton, Bad Company, Pat Benatar, Jethro Tull, Styx, Foreigner, War, Warren Zevon, Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, Thin Lizzy, Little Feat, Depeche Mode, and Tina Turner (as a solo artist).