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Rock & Roll Hall of Fame finally gets it (mostly) right

On Tuesday, the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame announced the seven artists, whittled down from a field of 19 nominees, to be inducted into the Class of 2017. Canadian prog-rock legends and 2013 Rock Hall inductees Rush summed up the feelings of many with an early morning Tweet: “YES... the Rock Hall finally got it right! Big congrats to @yesofficial and @PearlJam on their entry into the RRHOF!”

The full class also includes Electric Light Orchestra, Joan Baez, Tupac Shakur, Journey and Award for Musical Excellence recipient Nile Rodgers, but it is certainly Yes and Pearl Jam that provide the biggest news. Both inductees received substantial fan support during the nomination process.

The induction of Yes is the biggest deal here. Unlike Pearl Jam – nominated and (deservedly) inducted in its first year of eligibility 25 years after the release of its debut album – the British progressive collective has been snubbed for nomination consistently since becoming eligible in 1994. This defies logic, but is in keeping with the hall’s tendency to look down its nose at progressive rock music in general and British proponents thereof in particular.

The hall’s stance seemed to soften with the 2013 induction of Rush, and now that fans are allowed to vote we’re likely to see a diminishment of the “decisions made in secret in an ivory tower among a bunch of white male baby boomers” effect. (Since 2012, members of the public can choose from the predetermined list of nominees, and the Top 5 vote-getters form one ballot.)

Foundation President Jan Wenner and his Rolling Stone magazine have long been the gatekeepers of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. The snobbery directed toward prog-rock heavy metal, and much of the more interesting British alternative music of the 1980s (a la Public Image LTD, Depeche Mode, Echo & the Bunnymen and the Cure) that seemed to be an editorial standard at the magazine was reflected in the list of mostly American, roots music-based inductee many dead by the time they were inducted, and all of whom qualified as “no brainers” for induction. Now that so many of the obvious choices have been inducted, things are getting a bit trickier for many of the aging members of the Rock Hall Foundation. For them, the induction of Yes, much like the earlier induction of Rush, is a capitulation to fan demand, one quite likely conducted with fingers firmly squeezing nostrils.

Regardless of the thinking behind it, the induction of Yes is a victory for anyone who refutes the idea that rock ‘n’ roll should  only include roots-y, primitive, three-chord, blues-based sounds made by people who look down their noses at advanced harmonic structures – a sort of reverse elitism that claims as its modus operandi an implied ownership of the concept of “authenticity.” Yes is responsible for some of the most ambitiously conceived and gloriously executed music to ever fall beneath the rock umbrella. It’s a shame that founding member, bassist and harmony vocalist Chris Squire, who died in 2015, will not be there to share the honor with his bandmates.

As for the rest of the list inductees, it’s an admittedly enjoyable one to scan. For once, every artist slated to go in  deserves the honor.

Sure, Joan Baez is a dyed-in-the-wool folkie, but as she said in a statement regarding her induction, “I never considered myself to be a rock ‘n’ roll artist… but as part of the folk music boom which contributed to and influenced the rock revolution of the Sixties, I am proud that some of the songs I sang made their way into the rock lexicon.” (Indeed – Judas Priest covered Baez’ “Diamonds & Rust,” and its version of the tune is one of the first songs I ever learned to play on guitar.)

Journey has made some horribly cheesy music, but on balance, the good far outweighs the bad, and the musicianship and singing have never been anything less than exemplary. (Journey guitarist Neal Schon is an absolute beast of a player, too.)

Electric Light Orchestra? That’s kind of a “Duh!” moment, so rich is the catalog of mastermind Jeff Lynne.

It’s a shame that Award for Musical Excellence recipient Nile Rodgers isn’t going in with his bandmates in Chic, who were nominated this year but didn’t make the cut. “I am flattered and I think it’s cool, but I feel like somebody put me in the lifeboat and told my family they can’t get in,” Rodgers said to Rolling Stone shortly after the induction announcement.

Nile Rodgers will receive the Award for Musical Excellence at the 2017 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony.

That leaves the iconic late hip-hop artist Tupac Shakur, whose induction will likely reawaken the tired, absurd and at least mildly racist argument that rappers don’t belong in a rock 'n’ roll museum. It’s well past time to abandon such nonsense. Let’s let Ice Cube, speaking as he was inducted as a member of N.W.A. in 2016, have the final word on the topic.

“Rock & roll is not an instrument; rock & roll is not even a style of music. Rock & roll is a spirit," Ice Cube said. "It's been going since the blues, jazz, bebop, soul, R&B, rock & roll, heavy metal, punk rock and, yes, hip-hop. And what connects us all is that spirit. …Rock & roll is not conforming to the people who came before you, but creating your own path in music and in life.”

Yes. It is.


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