The long-awaited announcement from the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame revealing its class of 2017 happened this past Tuesday; the list of inductees includes Pearl Jam, Journey, ELO, Tupac Shakur, Joan Baez and Yes, with Nile Rodgers receiving the Award for Musical Excellence.
- Yes! Six inductees! The Hall claims this was due to closeness in voting, but the powers that be must have realized that just pulling five from this ballot was seriously anticlimactic. Whatever they say in the future, this weakens the argument that limiting class size is necessary for producing the awards ceremony and broadcast. Let’s hope a starting point of six remains the new five.
- It’s a good year for fresh names: all except Yes are first-time nominees, the most since 2009. This also means that the backlog of deserving names remains essentially untouched.
- It’s also good for populist choices, with the top four of five acts from the fan vote (Journey, ELO, Yes, and Pearl Jam, in order of final placement) taking their place in the big glass pyramid. This also means that obscure but influential acts remain that way.
- It’s a diverse class…sort of. Future Rock Legend’s tally is pretty stark: 25 white men, two Black men and one white woman, the majority of them senior citizens. Four out of the seven are staples on most classic rock stations.
- So even with a larger class, the Hall is making virtually no progress in including the alternative voices it claims to want to support. The Hall needs to address this to remain culturally and commercially viable, and sooner than most of us care to contemplate. A voting committee dominated by inductees is an honorable nod to tradition that softens the Hall’s image as a cabal of faceless industry suits. But it’s causing stagnation, and to resolve this the HOF may have to abandon that premise and aggressively work to dilute that vote with newer voices. We’ll see how this plays out fairly soon.
- In the “Rock Hall Gets it Almost Right” category, Nile Rodgers finally and deservedly makes it, but the Hall has essentially forever eliminated Chic and the memories of Bernard Edwards and Tony Thompson from contention. It’s a somewhat flat resolution: he’s a perfect candidate, but Rodgers had previously expressed reluctance to get in this way, and described the solo nod as “bittersweet.” They could have included the band, but instead qualified what should be a singular honor.
- Having seven honorees almost certainly means that the Early Influence category will go empty again this year. This category is NOT played out: There are still names to be honored, such as Big Mama Thornton and especially Sister Rosetta Tharpe, and their continued neglect is the Hall’s true travesty.
- Crossing genre boundaries might be a fresh way to pick inductors. I came across 2Pac’s “I will spark the brain” interview yesterday, and realized his spiritual kinship to someone like Joan Baez. If it’s authentic, why not continue the “it’s all branches from one big tree” principle and cross genre boundaries when pairing artists with inductors? Could it possibly inspire anyone?
- Somewhat strangely, the inductee I’m ambivalent about is Journey. The Hall has gone populist before. I’m squarely in that “Women Over 50 Named Tammy” demographic, and in a unique and powerful way, Journey just makes me happy. Girl can’t help it. But I’m not of the “lots of hits and still together” school, and have yet to see anyone frame their qualifications as anything else, including the Hall. Journey are stellar musicians and the best band of their type, but it’s hard to make the case that they’re game changers, and were I an official voter, I’d have struggled with ticking that box.
But especially if Perry shows next April, for three songs I’ll be back in Veterans Auditorium, standing on my seat screaming for joy while my overwhelmed little sister, the real fan in the family, cries at the opening bars of every song. The alternative press won’t buy it, but maybe, in the end, moments like that really are reason enough.