Cleveland’s Rock and Roll Hall of Fame has announced its newest crop of inductees. The class of 2015 includes: Green Day, Joan Jett and the Blackhearts, Stevie Ray Vaughn and Double Trouble, Lou Reed, Bill Withers and the Paul Butterfield Blues Band. Ringo Starr garnered a Musical Excellence nod and the 5 Royales get in as an early influence.
The news was announced and discussed in the music press (Rolling Stone, for example) and mainstream media (NPR and many others).
Artists, groups, and solo performers are eligible for this Hall of Fame 25 years after their initial recording releases. This particular group of performers focuses heavily on guitar-based rock ‘n roll.
Every year the list of inductees faces criticism, both for who is chosen and who is denied entry into this exclusive club. This year’s group has just one female-headed act (Joan Jett) and no other women are even side players in this set. Every performer except for Ringo Starr is an American.
So who was not given the nod this year but was on the short list? They are a rather illustrious group. Kraftwerk was one of those and it is surprising that they were not voted in. They are one of the most important synthesizer groups and have been highly influential in musical genres such as techno, ambient and even disco. The Spinners were one of the most popular soul groups of the 1970s and early 1980s; their songs reflected romantic themes (“I’ll Be Around”, “Games People Play” and others) as well as social issues (“Ghetto Child”). Chic were one of the first major disco-funk bands, a half-guy, half-gal unit (“Le Freak”, “Good Times” and others) and their songs have been sampled extensively by other acts. The Smiths were a jangly, oft-sarcastic rock quartet from England that featured singer Morrissey and guitarist Johnny Marr (“How Soon is Now” and others). War combined rock, funk, jazz, Latin music and more to make several 1970s hits (“Why Can’t We Be Friends?” “The Cisco Kid,” “Low Rider” and more). And NWA, the controversial California rap group, featured top-name rappers such as Ice Cue and Dr. Dre.
Why didn’t these groups make it? All these groups were on the Fan voting page. They have been influential, certainly.
And what about other acts that were not even on the short list, but have been around for at least 25 years, and are also considered touchstones of sound? You could make an argument for voting in each of these acts: Black Flag (hard core punk), Bad Brains (punk-reggae), Yes (the progressive rock mainstay), the Cars (rock-pop), the Replacements (indie rock) and others.
Music fans will debate the merits of this and that act (my personal Facebook page was full of rock ‘n roll rancor this morning, with friends weighing on those who did and did not get into the “HoF”). In my opinion, this year’s crop of inductees is underwhelming. The Paul Butterfield Blues Band, over Chic, the Spinners, War, and Kraftwerk? Why? To me they are a “footnote” band, barely known today. Bill Withers had a string of good folk-rock-pop songs such as “Lean On Me”, but is he highly influential?
Rock on and argue on, fans. The Hall of Fame voters (music writers and others) have spoken.
Ellen Levitt is the author of The Lost Synagogues of Brooklyn (2009), The Lost Synagogues of the Bronx and Queens (2011) and The Lost Synagogues of Manhattan (2013). (And hopefully a book about NJ one day, if her publisher gives the green light.)