It’s that annual time again for either Cause Celebre or teeth-gritting derision depending on one’s taste, as the latest roster of inductees into Cleveland’s Rock and Roll Hall of Fame has been announced. And as par for its course, the list spans the semantics and even transcends it, of the rock and roll idiom. For 2015, the inductees include Joan Jett, Green Day, Lou Reed, and Ringo Starr, amongst others.
The true backbeat to The Beatles, with his nasal-inflected voice, puckish charm, and one of the most underrated drummers of all time, Ringo Starr leads the pack of the Class of 2015 with the Award For Musical Excellence. Having drummed on the entire Beatles catalog (save for a few tracks where Paul McCartney took the drum seat) and sporting a solo career that was varied at best, but chock full of top ten and even number one hits during the early 1970s (“Photograph,” “You’re Sixteen,” “It Don’t Come Easy,” etc.), Starr, who still feverishly tours and keeps active well into his 70s, rounds out the last of the solo Beatles to be inducted, and while some may cry default that he got in as a solo artist just because of his prior pedigree, there’s no way one Richard Starkey (his real name) could have been left out, standing near the cold harbor outside the hall. Favoritism seems to be the order of the day in terms of the Hall’s voting committee and their strangely stringent tenets of what garners inclusion to its walls of fame, Ringo Starr notwithstanding.
Joan Jett, who carved a niche not only for hard rock, but for women within that genre, first with the band The Runaways and then her own solo career, also has gotten in this year. With her whip smart snarl and moxie, the take-no-shit or prisoners approach Jett manifests has kept a medium cool career percolating for about 40 years now. Securing a number one back in the early 1980s with her cover of “I Love Rock and Roll” with her backing band The Blackhearts, her induction is a coup for female musicians everywhere, something which is too scant within the RnR Hall of Fame’s architecturally tricky triangular walls.
Wannabe punk legends Green Day gets the nod this year. The band, who has had massive success mainly via a generation who missed out on the first wave of the genre back in the mid 1970s when it was flourishing on both coasts of the country and over in Europe as well, has nonetheless has benchmarked a career for themselves while deftly able to wear their influences firmly affixed to their sleeve. Green Day, which has sold records into the multi-millions (a money amount not usually associated with punk music), is revered by fans to this day with a fever pitch fan base.
The late punk legend Lou Reed makes it in posthumously as a solo artist this year. He had been inducted prior with his seminal and highly influential to this day art rock band on quaaludes Velvet Underground, but now he’s in for his solo career, which has snaked down a musical road as eclectic as would be expected from the late wizard of odds, which found music that centered on life’s low roads and minions who tread them, filled with attitude and excitement. Lou Reed’s work was like visual paintings in different styles: Watercolor, Rococo, Impressionistic, it ran the gamut musically, and even found him rubbing elbows with the likes of contemporaries like David Bowie, Laurie Anderson, and even a not all too successful stint with Metallica.
Bluesmen Paul Butterfield, and Stevie Ray Vaughn, both to be inducted posthumously, stand as some of the greats of their respective era. Butterfield was a major part of the burgeoning American blues rock scene that crystallized itself in the mid to late 1960s, and he, like Janis Joplin and her Big Brother and the Holding Company, Mike Bloomfield, Moby Grape, Spirit, and others, were at the forefront of it all. Underrated and pretty much forgotten about in today’s spectrum, it’s a rare testament of respect to see the Hall put this extremely creative and talented individual among some of the greats. Vaughn, of course, was a guitarist extraordinaire who channeled some of the electric instruments’ best players, and then carved his own slot in musical cement for his own immortal embodiment for all time.
Bill Withers, who applied a sort of folksy style to an uninhibited kind of light soul and R&B parade, is another well-deserved induction. With emotionally uplifting songs like the gospel-tinged “Ain’t No Sunshine,” the at-the-bottom-of-one’s rope inspirations of “Lean on Me,” and plenty of other hits that ran like a string of Christmas lights during the 1970s, Withers represents a kind of singer-songwriter who was all too rare in music and thus the reason for his unbridled success.
And rounding out the list is another R&B, gospel styled group, The 5 Royales, who during the 1950s had its greatest success, and then went on to influence scores of artists afterwards, with songs like “Think” (covered by James Brown and Mick Jagger in ensuing decades to come) and “Dedicated to the One I Love,” (a hit for The Shirelles and Darlene Love later on). Also, the band’s guitarist, Lowman “Pete” Pauling, has gotten the inspirational nod from artists such as Eric Clapton and Stax records stalwart Steve Cropper.
So there before you are, the Class of 2015. Again, another round of names and bands to surely ruffle the opinion feathers of most musical fanatics, die hards, and zealots. And as is my annual wont, I can’t write this without (yet again) mentioning and lamenting the yet umpteenth exclusion of T-Rex and Deep Purple. They are fast becoming the “Pete Rose” of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Nominees who didn’t make the cut this year include Nine Inch Nails, N.W.A, The Smiths, War, and Sting. (Artists become eligible for induction 25 years after their first album/single release.)
The induction ceremony will take place at Cleveland’s Public Hall on April 18, 2015.