by Ryan O’Malley
Right around the beginning of Spring every year, big wigs in the music industry gather to celebrate some of the artists they feel left their mark in the industry. Along with celebrating their music, it also marks that artists’ induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame – a hall that is sometimes laughed at, but nonetheless serves as a museum of some of the artists who helped rock and roll get to where it is today.
While the induction ceremony was always a private event held for artists, producers, CEOs and other business tycoons, the Hall of Fame has opened the ceremony up to the public over the last decade. This past Friday, the 34th annual induction ceremony took place at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn which saw the Hall honor everyone from 1980’s stadium rockers to the first ever multi-time female inductee.
Rather than the traditional welcoming speech by Jann Wenner, Little Steven, or another prominent member of the Rock Hall’s board, a simple announcement of “ladies and gentleman, please welcome Stevie Nicks,” was the catalyst for the evening, which brought about thunderous applause as Nicks took the stage in her trademark black dress. Nicks’ induction was monumental for the Hall as she became the first female to be inducted twice, with her first honor coming as part of Fleetwood Mac. Leaving the Mac catalogue at home, Nicks’ induction was for her solo work, and the Gold Dust Woman wasted little time in delivering a hits-filled set which started with her 1980’s pop track, “Stand Back.”
Nicks’ voice – arguably one of the most recognizable in the history of rock and roll – was in perfect form for her performance, which was augmented by surprise guest Don Henley who emerged to help Nicks with their 80’s ballad, “Leather and Lace.” One of the biggest surprises of the night followed when Nicks told the story of how she and the late Tom Petty came to the conclusion that their legendary duet “Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around” should be included on her debut album, “Bella Donna.” Rather than use a backing track of Petty, Nicks chose to bring out One Direction member Harry Styles (who also inducted her) to help deliver the rock staple. While the duet didn’t pack the punch like any of the performances that Nicks and Petty gave throughout the years, it did serve as a nice way to tie to the old to the new as 70 year old Nicks and 25 year old Styles fed off each others’ energy. Wrapping up her four song mini set, Nicks told a story about how while writing songs for “Bella Donna,” she didn’t know she would write a song that would forever be “the song that would end every show I do for the rest of my life” which led to a standard run through her chart topper, “Edge of Seventeen.”
The induction ceremonies of the past tend to serve as a time for musicians to put the past behind and reunite to celebrate the music they created. Such was the case for famed 70’s experimental outfit Roxy Music who had a partial reunion on Friday. Before their performance, Duran Duran members Simon Le Bon and John Taylor gave speeches praising the British outfit for their genre-defining art and seemed genuinely thrilled to be inducting their colleagues. Principal songwriter and keyboard player Bryan Ferry spoke on behalf of his band mates, and called the inclusion “a surprise” before thanking a long list of people who helped the band over their 40 plus year career.
Legendary producer Brain Eno was not at the ceremony as he is vowing to not fly for one year due to environmental concerns, and drummer Paul Thompson has arthritis that prevented him from attending. However, other longtime Roxy Music members guitarist Phil Manzanera, saxophonist Andy Mackay, and keyboardist Eddie Jobson joined Ferry and a slew of other musicians for a six song set that included their U.S. hit “Love Is the Drug,” a brief version of “More Than This,” and the title song to their platinum selling album “Avalon.” Ferry’s baritone voice is showing age, but other than that, the performance was adored by the audience, many of whom were seeing the band for the first time. While the performance may be the last time we see Roxy Music as a (partial) group, Ferry has a summer tour planned where he will be performing the “Avalon” album on each date.
In the most awkward moment of the night, Radiohead was shown on the screens as a brief video outlined the bands creative history. As one of the most unique acts to emerge in the last thirty years, Radiohead deserves their place in the Hall of Fame and no one was able to see that more than David Byrne, the eccentric genius behind the Talking Heads. Byrne came out to induct Radiohead and, in perfect David Byrne fashion, looked frazzled on stage and spoke in almost fragments as he frantically kept darting his eyes from side to side. Citing their penchant for releasing albums as apps, and releasing an album where the band asked consumers to “pay what you want” (2007’s “In Rainbows”), Byrne showed admiration for the band taking risks and forever changing the ways albums are released. Byrne cited that along with constantly evolving music as the reason the band should be inducted. After his speech, Byrne welcomed guitarist Ed O’Brien and drummer Philip Selway to the stage to accept their honor. As only two out of the bands five members, Selway and O’Brien thanked the Rock Hall and the bands legions of fans for helping bestow the honor. Although all the band members are alive and still playing together, brothers Jonny and Colin Greenwood and front man Thom Yorke were absent from the festivities. As awkward as it is for a touring band to not perform or even show up at their induction, the move fell right in line with what fans would expect from Radiohead. It wasn’t as much of a “fuck you” to the Rock Hall as it was a sign of “we’ll take the honor, but it’s not something we’ll gush over.”
Rock and Roll Hall of Fame member Little Steven Van Zandt emerged for what could be considered an intermission in the show as he named six songs that were to be highlighted and included in a special display on the third floor of the Hall of Fame. It’s a weird process they use to select the songs – they choose the most iconic versions of songs, not original versions. Such was the case for “Gloria” – a raucous garage rocker that was written by Van Morrison. Rather than use the version by Them, the hall chose to use the version by The Shadows of Night, who were widely considered to be the first punk band. Other songs highlighted included “Tequila” by The Champs, “Maybe” by The Chantels, “Money (That’s What I Want)” by Barrett Strong, “Twist and Shout” by the Isley Brothers, and “Leader of the Pack” by the Shangri-Las.
Jumping back into the inductions, Nine Inch Nails Trent Reznor, a long opponent of the Rock Hall, emerged to induct Goth/emo rock forefathers The Cure. Citing his own desire to fit in growing up, Reznor praised the seminal outfit for giving hope to those who didn’t know how to belong to a certain group of people. “I’ve struggled my whole life feeling like I don’t fit in or belong anywhere. Hearing this, suddenly I felt connected,” Reznor said. Following his speech, Cure front man Robert Smith walked up to the podium in his signature pale face, black eyeliner and red lipstick to thank the bands loyal fans, the rock hall and all the musicians who’ve played with The Cure throughout its career.
After his brief speech, The Cure put on what many felt was the standout performance of the night, as the current incarnation of the band kicked off their brief set with a passionate performance of the driving “Shake Dog Shake” and a solid “A Forest.” At 59, Smith’s voice is near flawless and his guitar playing was in top form. A triad of hits wrapped up their set in the form of the melodramatic “Lovesong,” a sing along version of “Just Like Heaven,” and the upbeat “Boys Don’t Cry.” At the conclusion, The Cure received a standing ovation from the crowd who couldn’t help but appreciate the powerhouse set.
Over the last few years, the Rock Hall has broadened its horizons and started including artists from hip hop and other realms, which has garnered both positive and negative feedback from the public. Such was the case for the next inductee, Janet Jackson. Everyone knows the long history of her famous siblings, but it always seemed like Janet was in the shadows of the other Jacksons. Until Friday. Janelle Monae raved about Jackson’s impact in music as a singer, dancer, songwriter, and actress. With Jackson selling millions of records since the 80’s and leaving a permanent mark on the face of popular music, it was easy for Monae to call her an “icon.”
When it came time for her acceptance speech, Jackson talked about her life from childhood to today, and made it a point to thank her family for their support and influence on her career.
“As the youngest in the family, I was determined to make it on my own,” she said. “But never in a million years, did I expect to follow in their footsteps. Tonight, your baby sister has made it.”
At the end of her speech, Jackson called for the hall to induct more women starting next year, a motion that was met with thunderous applause. Surprisingly, Jackson did not perform at the ceremony, instead choosing to be led off the stage while stage lights came on. No one really knows why, but speculation included everything from her upcoming Las Vegas residency to the ceremony being broadcast on HBO, the same channel that aired the documentary “Leaving Neverland,” an unflattering documentary surrounding her late brother, Michael.
Easily the earliest influence of the night, legendary 60’s outfit The Zombies, were up next with Susanna Hoffs of The Bangles bestowing the honors. Before getting to The Zombies, something has to be said about Hoffs – she looks incredible for being 60 years old. When it came time for the hit makers to approach the podium, all four members of the legendary lineup – singer Colin Blunstone, keyboardist/songwriter Rod Argent, bassist Chris White and drummer Hugh Grundy – gave speeches, marking the only act of the night where all members gave speeches. The band took to the stage, augmented with another drummer and guitarist from the bands current touring incarnation, and kicked off their set with the trippy “Time of the Season” from their 1968 masterpiece “Odessey and Oracle.” It was an appropriate start as the song reached number one on the U.S. charts exactly 50 years prior on March 29, 1969.
At age 73, Blunstone’s voice sounded superb for someone who’s been a rock and roll singer for more than 50 years. Argent, a consummate musician who was the bands principle leader, is a keyboard master and added some psychedelic notes to the appropriate timed “This Will Be Our Year,” and “Tell Her No.” Wrapping up their set, Argent told the story of how the next song hit number one in the states when the band was still in high school and set them out on a whirlwind career. The year was 1964 and the song was the catchy “She’s Not There,” and on Friday, The Zombies delivered a fantastic version complete with an extended keyboard solo and, once again, Blunstone’s voice sounding perfect on the 55 year old cut.
The final act to be inducted was legendary 80’s stadium rockers Def Leppard. Giving their induction speech, Brian May of Queen spoke glowingly of the band as he has always been a fan and has formed a deep friendship with singer Joe Elliott. May told a story of finding out the news that Def Leppard guitarist Steve Clark died in early 1991 and calling Elliott only to find out that he was the first person to call the singer. In an ironic twist, May said that when Queen front man Freddie Mercury died later that year, Elliott was the first person to contact him to offer condolences. May said he was happy to do the honors, and admitted “I wouldn’t let them pick anyone else.”
Speaking on behalf of the band, Elliott started off his speech thanking Pete Willis. Willis was a guitarist who co-wrote a slew of songs on the bands first three albums, before being replaced by current co-lead guitarist Phil Collin. Elliott said that without the Willis the band wouldn’t be where they are and his contributions should never be overlooked. Ironically, Willis was inducted with the band and invited to join them at the ceremony, but chose not to. When Elliott mentioned about the tribulations the band has went through including death and cancer, he then turned to drummer Rick Allen, who famously lost an arm as the result of an accident. Elliott mentioned how Allen survived and “came back even stronger” which garnered a prolonged standing ovation for the drummer who eventually had tears in his eyes as he waved to the crowd in appreciation. It was a sincere moment that saw the other band members going over to hug Allen.
When it came time for their performance, the band had a plethora of hits to choose from, but only a certain amount of time so they selected their biggest hits beginning with the softer “Hysteria.” As touring road warriors Def Leppard didn’t need to fine tune themselves for the night, instead just opting to do what they’ve been doing since 1977 – deliver the goods. Allen hit the electronic part to his kit which kicked off the beginning to their anthem “Rock of Ages” which had the crowd singing along with the chorus. Easily their two biggest hits – “Photograph” and “Pour Some Sugar On Me” brought their energetic set to a close.
After a brief break, the band re-emerged with May on guitar, Argent on keys, Blunstone on vocals, Hoffs on vocals, Van Zandt on vocals, and surprise special guest 79 year old Ian Hunter on acoustic guitar and lead vocals for a standout performance of the Mott the Hoople classic “All the Young Dudes.” It was a performance that had everyone standing and singing along and marked the end of a memorable night.
In its 34 years, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame has opened its doors to everyone from Little Richard, Chuck Berry and The Beatles, to the Beastie Boys, Run DMC and now Janet Jackson. Not only the Hall of Fame, but also the induction ceremonies, showcase the broad spectrum of what rock and roll has become. Who knows what next years’ class will bring.