A modest proposal for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame
Watching Faith Hill sing ABBA’s “The Winner Takes It All” during Monday night’s Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony in New York brought to mind two words that hall officials should seriously consider before next year’s show:
There was nothing technically wrong with Hill’s performance — she even had ABBA member Benny Andersson accompanying her at the piano, and it was endearing to see this guy who was part of a group that sold 10 kazillion records in the '70s shaking nervously upon getting onstage in front of an audience of music-biz heavyweights.
But ABBA’s music wasn’t designed to be the kind of spare pop ballad that Hill delivered. Without the scintillating four-part harmonies and shimmering production of the group's records, it was just another drippy breakup tune.
The problem was, only AB showed up: Anni-Frid (Frida) Lyngstad and Benny. BA was back home in Sweden: Björn Ulvaeus “had a big family thing,” Andersson told a reporter recently, and Agnetha Fältskog simply refuses to travel by air any more.
So what to do when you’re being admitted into the halls of pop music history and only half your group is there?
Tribute bands! It’s one of the few corners of the otherwise flailing music business showing growth. Just check the entertainment guide for Las Vegas: They’re everywhere.
In fact, Jerry Greenberg, the former Atlantic Records executive who originally signed ABBA to the label and helped steer its success in the U.S., is now managing Abbacadabra, which plays note perfect renditions of ABBA’s stable of hits in casinos and aboard cruise ships throughout the Western Hemisphere. Surely they’d have been able to pencil in a Monday night in New York.
In fact, Greenberg oversees a full series of tribute acts at the Las Vegas Hilton called “Bringing Back the Music”: there’s Queen Nation, the Wholigans, Aeromyth and Bogfire (AC/DC).
As my colleague Ann Powers noted when this year’s slate of Hall of Fame inductee performers -- also including Iggy Pop and the Stooges and Jimmy Cliff -- was announced, “Lovers of rock's noise and mayhem can rejoice that the band that unleashed Iggy Pop on the world is finally getting its due after several years of being snubbed. Others, who've wished that the cults of purism and authenticity that long determined what many thought was ‘important’ pop music would dissolve, will join in a celebratory chorus of 'Dancing Queen.' "
The music world is turning, “authenticity” is a quaint notion of a rapidly vanishing cultural past, and it’s time the honchos at the Hall of Fame got on board. Don't forget: Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.
Fortunately, for every band ever born, it now seems there’s somebody out there willing to replicate it, which is handy, because ABBA wasn’t the only honoree this year that couldn’t muster a full complement of original members.
Genesis let Phish play a couple of its hits of yore in part because Peter Gabriel couldn’t make it -- fellow Genesite Mike Rutherford gave him a pass from the lectern, explaining he’s rehearsing with an orchestra for an impending tour.
No biggie: Hire the Musical Box, a group I saw in Hollywood several years ago playing Genesis’ masterwork concept album “The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway” in all its theatrical glory, complete with sets on loan from the Genesis camp. Magnificent -- and much closer to the actual sound of the music that got Genesis into the hall than what Trey Anastasio and his mates turned in, for all his breathless praise for a band that wrote and charted a song with a 13/4 time signature.
And two of the original members of the Hollies, still active with their latest incarnation of that group, had played a gig in England the previous night and couldn’t make the transatlantic crossing in time for Monday’s bash.
The surviving Hollies performed without original drummer Bobby Elliott and guitarist Tony Hicks. But even with the key voices of Allan Clarke and Graham Nash in place, they sounded a bit too much like Taylor Swift on Grammy night.
Those pristine harmonies aren’t easy to pull off, and their legacy might have been better honored by the Berries, or the Hollywood Bees, a couple of U.K.-based Hollies tribute acts.
Believe me, in a couple of years, whoever's in charge of talent for the Hall of Fame induction dinners will save themselves untold heartache by simply hiring Appetite for Destruction: The Ultimate Tribute to Guns N' Roses, rather than trying to sweet talk Axl Rose and Slash into sharing the same stage one more time.
Not the real deal? Hey, it’s close enough for rock ‘n’ roll.
-- Randy Lewis
Photo of Faith Hill at the 25th Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony in New York. Credit: Michael Loccisano/Getty Images