The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inducted its Class of 2019 the weekend before last — an occasion for celebration for some, but an inspiration for head-scratching for me.
Sort-of-immortalized in the museum-cum-theme park in Cleveland — during ceremonies held in New York City, but go figure — were the Cure, Def Leppard, Janet Jackson, Stevie Nicks, Radiohead, and Roxy Music. Two of the acts going into a hall of fame are so famous that I — a fan of rock and roll for nearly six decades — cannot name one song they’ve done.
(When I blogged about the RRHF nominees last fall, after they were announced, I included Cure amongst those whose songs were a blank to me. Since then, I heard a cut on Sat Rad that I remembered, and liked, and was done by that band.)
As for one other of the inductees, Def Leppard, I can name one song, “Photograph.” It’s actually in my iTunes library — but only because I was asked to do a playlist for my sister-in-law’s class reunion (Class of 1985), and it’s just kind of hung around for the last decade and a half.
I’d like to think that’s a semi-explanation for why the Hard of Hearing Felines won the fan vote, with half a million “yeahs” and change. That’s 120,000 more than the runner-up, Stevie “Mumbles Her Greatest Hits” Nicks. (Tip of the hat to the parody ad that was on FM classic rock stations 20 years ago or so.)
Todd Rundgren was third, the Zombies placed fourth and the Cure, fifth. The top five in the fan vote go on a final ballot that goes before “Industry” voters — more than 1,000 previous RRHOF inductees, artists, music industry professionals and music historians.
Janet Jackson was the only other nominee with more than 200,000 votes. The rest of the “standings” were Devo, Roxy Music, Rage Against the Machine, Radiohead, John Prine, LL Cool J, Rufus (featuring Chaka Khan), Kraftwerk and the MC5.
Since the fan vote was instituted six years ago, the No. 1 vote-getter in that category has always been inducted, so the English head-bangers were pretty much a shoo-in. The other fan favorites went three-for-four, with the Wizard and True Star the only top-fiver to not make the cut.
The Industry Voters elevated Jackson, Radiohead and Roxy Music over acts that got, in one case, about two and a half times as many fan votes. I’m OK with Roxy Music, who made a significant impact on The Music 40 years ago; Ms. Apparel Malfunction did much more than just show some skin at a Super Bowl halftime show.
But Radiohead? OK, six of the eight albums they’ve done (since 1993!), were U.S. Top Five LPs; impressive. Uncle Wiki says their first single was “an international hit,” and it was a Top 10 in five countries, including a No. 2 on the Billboard Alternative chart.
But Radiohead has had that kind of success in that niche market just a couple times since then, and only two of their singles made the Top 40 in the Billboard Hot 100. So, really, what constitutes “fame”? (Plus, most of the members didn’t even show up for the induction ceremony.)
If the criteria is going to be artistic, rather than commercial, success, and/or influence, what about some of the artists that the Industry Voters left behind? Rundgren was a member of two important bands, proto-garage rockers the Nazz and his Utopia, released some classic solo albums and is acknowledged as a studio genius as producer and engineer.
Prine has a nearly half-century career as one of the great songwriters, and a compelling performer. MC5 was Rage Against the Machine before RAM was RAM, an influence on punk and politically-conscious rock. Even Rufus probably impinged on more consciousness than Radiohead — plus, Chaka could just rip it up.
I’m glad that the Zombies — authors of two great ’60s singles and a minor-classic album — got the nod. Roxy, as noted above, is worthy — although perhaps not as much as Prine or Rundgren.
Stevie, although she does indeed kind of mush-mouth the vocals, moved a lot of records, between her duo with Lindsay Buckingham, her time with Fleetwood Mac and her solo work. And I heard a commentary on the radio the other day about the difference in a Mac concert between when Nicks was on stage, and when she wasn’t — night and day, according to that observer.
Those opinions, as I recall, were reflected in how I multi-voted last fall. (Fans get to vote for five nominees at a time, but can vote repeatedly.). I blogged at the time that my votes would likely go to the MC5, Nicks, Prine, Rundgren and the Zombies, but not sure that’s what I did every time I clicked the mouse.