Saturday night HBO aired this year’s induction ceremony for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and I watched it as I always do. It was a mix of bands and performers that I really like, some I don’t like as much but think should definitely be in the hall of fame and on or two that I don’t care much about at all.
The show started with the induction of Peter Gabriel. He’s already in the hall as a member of Genesis, but this was for his solo work, which is extraordinary. The album So may be the masterpiece album of the 80s. Forget Sledgehammer and its acid trip video that got all the attention, songs like Red Rain, Mercy Street and best of all In Your Eyes (the greatest love song in rock since Marvin Gaye) helped define an era — my era. Gabriel doesn’t have the voice he used to have but the performance of In Your Eyes, which reunited him with Youssou N’Dour, was still magical, driven by Manu Katche’s incredibly conceived drum part.
KISS was also inducted. KISS bores me. Always has. And Tom Morello’s unexpectedly passionate speech honoring them didn’t change my mind one bit. I’ve said many times that they should have been in the hall of fame a long, long time ago — not because their music is any good (it isn’t) but because you can’t tell the story of rock and roll without them. The influence and over 100 million albums sold clearly puts them in, but frankly I’m glad they didn’t perform because, well, they suck.
Hall and Oates is a band that I didn’t like much when they were topping the charts in the early-mid 80s, but they’ve grown on me over the years, especially the older stuff. Songs like She’s Gone and Sara Smile are classics of blue-eyed soul. This is the most successful due in music history and they absolutely deserve to be there. They also sounded pretty darn good when they performed. Hall may not be able to reach all the high notes, but they still harmonize beautifully.
Linda Ronstadt was inducted as well, which I just fast forwarded through (nothing against her, just was never a fan). And Cat Stevens was inducted, which prompts me to say only one thing: Fuck Cat Stevens. He may have made a couple of peace-loving songs in the 70s but I will not forgive him for his embrace of religious fascism in calling for the murder of Salman Rushdie after he converted to Islam. So fuck Cat Stevens.
Next up was Nirvana, a first ballot hall of fame band. This is the band that launched grunge and defined the music and attitude of an entire generation and, despite having only put out three albums, the hall of fame is right to put them in so soon. I’m not sure what they were thinking with their choices of people to sing their songs when they performed. The only one that was listenable was Joan Jett doing Smells Like Teen Spirit. Despite her very limited vocal range, she did a good job (and it’s about time she got into the hall of fame as well).
And finally, Bruce Springsteen inducted his own E Street Band into the hall of game, 15 years later than necessary. Springsteen gives great induction speeches and this was no exception. I like that they brought back everyone who had ever played in the E Street Band, including keyboardist David Sancious, who has played with Sting on and off for 25 years and who also played with Peter Gabriel during this show. This is another band that I mostly ignored when they were at their peak of popularity in my teenage years, but the older I get the more I like and appreciate them. The E Street Band is a force of nature. Their live shows are the stuff of legend, and deservedly so. And while they should have gone into the hall along with Springsteen in 1989 (he talked about his regret at not insisting that they go in with him the first time around), better late than never.
The big thing missing from the show was the jam session at the end. They always have a jam session of all the nominated bands and others and this year they didn’t. That sucked. That’s often when some magical moments happen, like Prince’s blistering guitar solo during While My Guitar Gently Weeps many years ago.