Six is the New Five: Thoughts on the RRHOF Class of 2017

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.

Random Thoughts:

  • 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.

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15 thoughts on “Six is the New Five: Thoughts on the RRHOF Class of 2017

  1. Great post, and I appreciate how you feel. When Chicago finally got inducted, it was almost as though I could finally understand the case against them being in the Hall, if that makes sense. Sounds like you experienced something similar with Journey.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks! I never really allowed myself to put Journey on my HOF wish list, but Chicago was always on it: There’s nothing in the world like vintage Chicago, and for my money “Make Me Smile” alone puts them in there. But yeah, the Cetera years are many and long…

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  2. I read the article you linked to by the HOF voter. On the one hand I totally get his disaffection with the boomer-led Hall. (Full disclosure: I’m a baby boomer.) On the other hand, he seems blind to his own agenda. Everybody’s got skin in this game, yes? He’s got his own set of bands he wants in and those pesky boomers are in the way.. Again!

    And while it may be true that Wenner wields an iron hand, it serves no one to pretend that the era from 1955 to, say, 1980 or so wasn’t one of the greatest eras of rock. And I think a lot of those bands deserve to be honored. And first. Why did Green Day get in (a band I like BTW) when bands like Yes and Geils languished? It doesn’t make any sense to me at all.

    As to the diversity thing, no question. The downside of rock is that it’s horribly overrepresented by white guys. So the HOF needs to expand its horizons.

    As to some of the early pioneers not being in there, I know it’ll never happen but it’d be really cool if they did a catch-up year. So, pick a year and induct, say, 20 artists. I mean, do the math. At 5, 6 per year, there’s logistically no way to get everybody who should be in there in there.

    Oh and for the record, I love Chicago, am indifferent to Journey. Neal Schon, IMHO, went downhill quality-wise after Santana. But there you go.

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  3. I’ve kind of been wondering if they went with 6 inductees in order to make sure to avoid some of the criticism they received last year for having no women inductees. Could Joan Baez have been the 6th place voter selection? Or even to reach down to get Tupac so they didn’t have a class without any people of color in it (of course they also grabbed Nile in through the committee category).

    Maybe I’m going all birther conspiracy on this. Even if the Hall did that, I think it was the right move, they should have done something similar last year, or at least used something like the Early Influence category to make sure to honor one of those two excellent women that you noted in your own comments above! They had a chance to fix those bad optics!

    Liked by 1 person

      1. You and me both. There’s no audit, so they can do whatever they want, and as Alex Voltaire noted, they were NOT going to have an all white, all male class again, however they had to achieve it. Heck, they could have put Chic in-as FRL said, the big dilute ballot meant a band could make top five with fewer votes.

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        1. Crap. You may not be able to read this without a subscription. Oh, well. At least you know it’s out there. Sometimes a day or two later they get less weird about their articles and you can find them.

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  4. My personal solution for the number of inductees is that they should have a minimum of six and add another inductee for every solo artist that is deceased or band that is mostly deceased. So, 2Pac for example should just get a speech and then a performance of ONE of his songs and then they could have a seventh inductee.

    It’s strange that they care so much about the runtime of the event, yet are constantly inducting bickering bands along with deceased and/or dying performers that won’t due any of their songs. These people (and their families) accept the award and then somebody else covers theirs songs. Nobody needs to hear Velvet Revolver due Van Halen songs or whatever. If the original artist obviously can’t perform for one reason or another, add another inductee to the ceremony.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes! Agree completely. A recorded performance if the estate gives permission. I don’t know if it’s been this way for a long time, but for the past couple of years there’s been a “sure thing” like Pearl Jam that means other acts are competing for maybe two or three spaces if the class is only five. Everyone knows the winner of the fan poll gets in-does the voting committee necessarily pick the same way? If not, take the fan vote winner and at least five of the voting committee’s picks.

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