There is so much wrong about what’s going on tonight in Brooklyn at the annual Rock and Roll Hall of Fame ceremony. It feels like a sweep-up year, like the committee has more or less conceded that they’re done with artists from the ‘50s and ‘60s, that anyone worthy from those decades, if they haven’t made it in so far they’re shit out of luck, so if you have any favorite garage bands or R&B groups or soul singers or pop acts from that era that you feel have been neglected, get over it. Goodbye Paul Revere and The Raiders and The Marvelettes, tough luck Jerry Butler, and you might as well write off Love, The Zombies and Moby Grape. And Mitch Ryder and The Detroit Wheels. But everyone I know who’s smart about popular music has a similar list (Brit Invasion fans lobbying for The Searchers as folk-rock pioneers, SF-scenesters wondering why Quicksilver Messenger Service have never been nominated, most people with good taste mentioning Doug Sahm and Gary U.S. Bonds), and the keepers of the Hall could not care less that every year their choices are met with a collective “huh?”. I stopped voting years ago, when it became obvious that any organization that enshrines Eagles (no “the,” I keep being reminded) and exiles Gram Parsons is not a place that welcomes my input.
So if Chicago, Deep Purple and Cheap Trick are your thing (named in ascending order of how much of my thing they are), have fun at Barclay, even though old wounds apparently have not healed enough for the individual members of Chicago and Deep Purple to share a stage. And N.W.A. have decided not to perform, so there goes a shot at a memorable moment. I suppose Deep Purple are being honored for the riff of “Smoke On The Water,” and I wouldn’t say they shouldn’t be, but no one who was involved in writing or playing “Louie Louie” is in the Hall, and which means more in the scheme of things? As for Chicago, defenders among my peers always point to that first double album on Columbia, when they were still Chicago Transit Authority, as enough of a reason to let them in, which puzzles the hell out of me, because that album is not nearly as good as Forever Changes, Odessey and Oracle or Moby Grape. And as a pop-singles machine, they’re way behind The Turtles, The Association and even Three Dog Night. Like, way behind. “Happy Together,” “Windy” or “Easy To Be Hard” vs “Colour My World,” “If You Leave Me Now” or “Hard To Say I’m Sorry”? This is madness.
I’m glad Bert Berns is getting one of the Hall’s nicely-done producer-writer prizes, because he earned it if he’d only done “Twist and Shout” and “Hang On Sloopy” and he did so much more. Steve Miller is kind of a mystery. I never thought he’d get in. He’s not even the most deserving Steve (Winwood is only in as a member of Traffic, which doesn’t seem fair because Stills is already in twice). The Steve Miller Band (the “Band,” you will note, is invisible to the HoF) made a few good albums (Sailor is more than good), and then from “Take The Money and Run” through the appalling “Abracadabra” the Band-less Mr. Miller churned out breezy pop-rock that was ok if you like that sort of thing, but if it’s Hall-worthy, what of The Doobie Brothers? What of America? Has Miller written a lyric as inspired as “Well I tried to make it Sunday, but I got so damn depressed/That I set my sights on Monday and I got myself undressed”? No, he has not. Steve Miller getting into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is like Clete Boyer getting into the one for baseball. I know that riffs like this are what the Rock Hall wants, that complaining about omissions in a weird way reinforces the joint’s legitimacy, and that all chatter is publicity. But ponder for a moment that Harry Nilsson and Warren Zevon are not getting into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. The guy who wrote “Abra-abracadabra/I want to reach out and grab ya” is.