“Some justice at last! Deep Purple in the Rock Hall!! But no Yes??? Are you kidding me??” - Geddy Lee, via Twitter, @Rushtheband
The class of 2016 Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inductees were announced on Thursday morning, and for perhaps the first time in the Hall’s 30-year existence, all five nominees – Cheap Trick, Deep Purple, Chicago, Steve Miller and N.W.A. – are deserving of the honor.
But Geddy Lee – who was inducted along with his bandmates in progressive rock legends Rush in 2013, after having been eligible for induction for 14 years – took the words right out of a legion of prog-rock fans’ mouths with his Tweet. No Yes? That is indeed absurd. The British progressive rock ensemble formed in 1968, so by the Rock Hall’s rules – artists are eligible 25 years after their first record release – Yes was eligible by 1993, but has never been nominated previous to this year. The band’s music was groundbreaking from the beginning, and its best work still sounds ahead of its time today. Even if we cast aside artistic criteria, Yes has sold 15 million albums in the United States alone, and in the area of 40 million albums worldwide.
The Hall’s firmly entrenched anti-prog rock bias showed signs of weakening when Rush was inducted, following years of fervent fan demand. But denying Yes entry this year suggests that the bias still remains.
Bemoaning the exclusion of Yes should not in any way be interpreted as suggesting that this year’s class does not comprise wholly deserving artists, however. It quite clearly is. And at least two of the inductees must be seen as dark horse contenders.
Deep Purple is one of the most enduring of the initial class of post-blues hard rockers to have emerged from England at the tail-end of the 1960s, but oddly, the mainstream establishment – and make no mistake, the Rock Hall is part of that establishment – has never really given the band the time of day. Perhaps Purple’s heady and heavy blend of jump-blues, hard rock, classical motifs, and both individual and ensemble virtuosity has been considered unhip and anathema to an organization that tends to favor sounds based predominantly in early rock ’n’ roll, R&B, blues, punk, and various other primal forms. (This is a nice way of suggesting that the Rock Hall is turned off by adventurous composition and instrumental virtuosity when it comes to rock ’n’ roll. The Hall’s snobbish “purist” attitude has never been tough to spot.) Purple’s induction is long overdue.
Cheap Trick is America’s pre-eminent power-pop band, and has been since its self-titled debut effort hit the streets in 1977. Taking pages from the Beatles, the Move, the Yardbirds, and John Lennon’s early solo work, and adding a dose of the fierce abandon associated with early punk, the band – Rick Nielsen, Robin Zander, Tom Petersson and Bun E. Carlos – was three albums into its existence before the fluke success of 1979’s “Cheap Trick at Budokan” made the band into superstars. “Budokan” almost didn’t come out – it was meant to be a keepsake for the band’s Japanese fans, a thank you to the only country where Cheap Trick was greeted with an enthusiasm nearing Beatlemania. But keen-eared American DJs spun the promo disc, and tunes like “I Want You to Want Me” and “Surrender” became huge hits.
Cheap Trick’s moment in the spotlight of massive commercial success was a fleeting one, and it would never quite match “Budokan’s” multi-platinum success again. But with the possible exception of a few dodgy productions in the late ’80s, the band’s recorded output has been consistently stellar, and its live shows remain as incendiary as ever. (Cheap Trick headlines clubs and theatres these days, but is often added as an opening act at arenas and sheds. The band tends to blow the headliners off the stage, or at the very least, give them a serious run for their money, as they did when opening for Aerosmith at Darien Lake in June of 2004.) That Green Day went into the Rock Hall before Cheap Trick is a travesty that, at last, will be addressed this year.
Although Chicago has not made truly great new music in decades, the strength of its ’70s output – let’s call it the “Terry Kath period,” in reference to the band’s late founder and guitarist – is more than enough to justify its induction. Chicago emerged in the late 1960s as an experimental rock band with a full horn section and, in Kath, a guitarist Jimi Hendrix once said was “better than me.” The band’s early hits – “25 or 6 to 4,” “Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?” “Saturday in the Park,” “Wishing You Were Here” among them – speak for themselves. A well-deserved honor.
Steve Miller started out as a serious psychedelic blues-man in late ’60s San Francisco, and then was able to parlay that early success into a dominance of '70s album-oriented-rock radio, with a string of intelligent progressive pop albums like “Fly Like and Eagle,” “The Joker” and “Book of Dreams”. There’s a Buffalo connection here, too – area native Gary Mallaber played drums on many of Miller’s biggest hits, and his performances on tunes like “Fly Like and Eagle” and “Take the Money and Run” are integral to the structure and groove of the songs. In a just world, Mallaber would be going into the Rock Hall alongside his former bandleader. Regardless, Miller deserves the nod.
The induction of seminal hardcore rap ensemble N.W.A. this year was a no-brainer – with the recent success of the biopic “Straight Outta Compton,” the legendary, if short-lived group has been thrust back in the spotlight. There will be arguments offered in some corners that a rap group has no place in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, but these arguments should be ignored. Rock 'n' Roll came from the blues. Rap is an offshoot of the blues. N.W.A. brought serious funk and deep grooves to bear on what started out as street poetry. The group’s influence runs deep. N.W.A. belongs in the Hall.
The 2016 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony will take place in April, with date and venue still to be determined. Once again, HBO will serve as broadcast partner for the event.