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Critic's Notebook: Rock Hall's dark horses

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The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductions are all about musical history, but the producers of March's fete at the Waldorf Astoria might want to consider playing a current hit to greet the latest batch of inductees. “Raise your glass if you are wrong in all the right ways — all my underdogs,” Pink sings in the titular chorus of her No.1 song.

The rabble-rousing diva had no way of knowing that her trash anthem would apply so perfectly to those being honored by the Cleveland-based canonizing institution. But the strongest quality shared by 2011's chosen ones is that they're five dark horses, forming a winners' circle that looks different than any the Rock Hall has ever had.

That's not to say that Neil Diamond isn't a towering figure in genre-spanning postwar pop or that Darlene Love doesn't possess one of the signature voices of the girl-group era or that Tom Waits hasn't produced one of the most enduring recorded legacies of the rock era. I would never underestimate Alice Cooper's influence on several generations of theatrical rockers or marginalize New Orleans piano man Dr. John, who has turned on millions to the magic of the Crescent City under that name and as “Mac” Rebennack.

Add to this group one more significant performer, Leon Russell, whose reception of the Musical Excellence Award completes the comeback he's made with the graceful assistance of Elton John, and you have a selection that will mostly please pop aficionados but may also puzzle many. (Two worthy inductees in the nonperformer category were also announced: Elektra Records founder Jac Holzman and Specialty Records head honcho Art Rupe.)

Each 2011 Hall of Famer deserves a spot. What's unusual is that they're all arriving together, minus any of the central figures who've defined rock's classic chronology. Each stands tall in a different spot: Diamond on rock's poppiest plateau and Waits at its artiest edge, Love emerging from behind better-known girl group stars such as Diana Ross and Ronnie Spector, Cooper from within heavy metal, a genre he helped invent, and Dr. John, willingly bound to his particular locale, New Orleans.

Obviously, the greatest figures from rock's early and classic years have been in the Hall for a while. Yet by taking a year out to honor mostly older, overlooked figures (Waits, at 61, is the youngest), the Rock Hall's voting constituency is giving the institution a breather from its task of figuring out how to tell pop music's tale after the classic rock period.

With a few exceptions (such as noble hippie Donovan), the nominees snubbed for the Class of 2011 were artists who would have helped the Rock Hall define its next steps.

Chic and Donna Summer would have widened its appreciation of disco, a move already begun by this year's ABBA induction. The Beastie Boys and LL Cool J are key future inductees as the Hall wrestles with the hip-hop era. And Bon Jovi, whose fans may be the most outraged by a snub, must eventually be included as a way of acknowledging that commercial rock during the 1980s mattered even when it wasn't critically admired.

This class, however, isn't about advancing pop's big story as much as it is acknowledging previously overlooked chapters within it. The individual triumphs of each inductee do connect to larger themes, just not the usual ones the Rock Hall has tackled. 

Diamond's inclusion is especially important in regards to this: He represents the many artists who've engaged with rock and thrived alongside it without being considered fully part of the scene and whose success undermines the notion that the music-driven counterculture changed everything. 
It will be interesting to see whether Diamond's success bodes well for others, such as Barbra Streisand, Burt Bacharach and Harry Belafonte, down the line.

Such weighty questions don't really suit the mood at the Rock Hall this time, however. It's probably wiser to just enjoy the variety this class offers and to anticipate the final jam during that induction party.

Imagine the chaos that could ensue if Waits, Love and Cooper were to sing background on Diamond's “Brother Love's Travelling Salvation Show” while Dr. John pounded the keys. It might not be classic, but it would definitely rock. 

-- Ann Powers

RELATED:

Tom Waits, Neil Diamond, Alice Cooper among 2011 Rock Hall inductees

Images: Darlene Love and Tom Waits. Credit: Getty Images

 
Comments () | Archives (8)

No Rush, Heart, Beastie Boys, Kraftwerk, Iron Maiden and Jethro Tull make the "RRHOF" a complete joke (considering Madonna got in years ago).

Singer-Songwriter and Pianist Elton John and his songwriting partner, Lyricist Bernie Taupin, were both inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1992, but only Elton John was inducted into the Rock And Roll Hall of Fame in 1994. This does not make any sense whatsoever. If there had not been a Bernie Taupin, there would not have been an Elton John and vice versa. Their music was a collaborative effort. Bernie Taupin should have been inducted into the Rock And Roll Hall of Fame back in 1994 as a Lyricist in the Non-Performers category, the same year that Elton John was inducted in the performers category.

Bernie Taupin didn’t just write lyrics exclusively for Elton John. Bernie Taupin also wrote the lyrics for songs recorded by Ringo Starr, Rod Stewart, Kiki Dee, Cher, Alice Cooper, Robert Palmer, Melissa Manchester, Rick Derringer, The Hudson Brothers, Olivia Newton John, The Motels, Starship, Heart, Animotion, Stray Cats, John Waite, Martin Page, Peter Cetera, Bryan Ferry, Tammy Wynette, Little Richard, Marianne Faithful, Courtney Love, John Anderson, Willie Nelson, Teddy Thompson, Emmylou Harris, Lee Ann Womack, Toby Keith, Brian Wilson, and Leon Russell, as well as for his own singing career, both as a solo artist and as a member of his own late-1990s Country-Western band, The Farm Dogs.

Bernie Taupin's biggest success outside from his work with Elton John was the 1978 album, From the Inside by Alice Cooper, which included ten songs with lyrics by Bernie Taupin and music by Alice Cooper, Dick Wagner, Steve Lukather, Bruce Roberts and David Foster. From the Inside spawned the Top 20 hit, How You Gonna See Me Now. In 1985, Bernie Taupin wrote the lyrics to two songs that would go on to hit number one on the Billboard 100 Singles Chart: We Built This City by Starship, and These Dreams by Heart, both with music written by Martin Page. Earlier on in 1974, Ringo Starr scored a Top 5 hit with Snookeroo, a song written for him by Bernie Taupin and Elton John.

Bernie Taupin and Elton John comprise one of the longest running and most successful songwriting teams of all time. Bernie Taupin’s 40 years of collaborative work with Elton John alone should qualify him for the Rock And Roll Hall of Fame. Please induct Lyricist Bernie Taupin into the Rock And Roll Hall of Fame in the Non-Performers category. His induction is long overdue.

THE TOP 5 CHARTING ROCK AND ROLL BANDS OF ALL TIME ON THE BILLBOARD 200 ALBUMS CHART

01. The Beatles
02. The Rolling Stones
03. The Beach Boys
04. Chicago
05. The Bee Gees

THE TOP 5 CHARTING ROCK AND ROLL BANDS OF ALL TIME ON THE BILLBOARD 100 SINGLES CHART

01. The Beatles
02. The Rolling Stones
03. The Beach Boys
04. Chicago
05. The Bee Gees

INDUCT CHICAGO NOW!!!

To me the ideal next hall class, (though I can understand the argument that none of them are out and out rock and roll musicians)would be jethro tull,(who if this were defined,as sport is, by quality and consistent excellence regardless of misguided flavor of the year critical opinion would have been in 18 years ago, yes they were and are that good)fairport convention, richard thompson, steeleye span, captain beefheart,and king crimson.Probably too many for one year so make it two. High freaking time and instant HOF credibility if precisely this move was made. Gil Scott Heron deserves in as well. The Beastie Boys, though moderately amusing, can bloody well wait.

A perfect complement to the group of outsiders would have been Warren Zevon. Why no consideration for him?

Barbra Streisand? In the RRHOF? Much as I like her, you've got to be kidding. "Stoney End" does not a career make.

I think this years inductees are a worthy lot. Neil Diamond should have been inducted when he was first eligible some 20 years ago. Same goes for Darlene Love. And Alice Cooper? Obviously. Let's face it. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is a politically run organization that chooses to ignore so many worthy rock and roll musicians. How groups like the Monkees and the Moody Blues are continuously ignored is a crime but it is indicative of the preferences of the powers that be. No secret there. Donna Summer should not be inducted. She is a wonderful performer but literally has nothing to do with rock. Period. If she and her disco ilk are going to be up for induction then it's time to rename the organization to "The Rock and Roll and Everything Else That Has Music and/or Singing In It Hall of Fame". This is the only way to allow it to broaden its horizons to include music of all genres, without becoming a laughing stock. Sadly, just about everything the Hall has done since its inception has been fraught with poor decision making, from its locating the museum in Cleveland to who it considers for induction. Whether the powers that be at the Hall realize it or not there isn't much respect for them by the rock 'n' roll community. Perhaps it's time to do an image make-over.

People like Donna Summer and Neil Diamond belong in the Popular Music Hall of Fame, not the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame.

Simple reason: They aren't rock 'n' roll.


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