The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame class of 2017 has been announced so let the haranguing begin.
The new inductees are Joan Baez, Journey, Pearl Jam, Tupac Shakur, Electric Light Orchestra, Yes and Nile Rodgers.
Many rock fans will likely wince at seeing Journey’s name. The pop-rockers were never critical favorites — actually critics tended to hate them — nor considered particularly cool, and the fact that it’s taken 16 years of eligibility just for Journey to get nominated suggests the voting body was not in a hurry.
But they sold a fleet of dump trucks’ worth of records, are still touring and had their pop culture profile raised when the anthemic hit “Don’t Stop Believin’ ” was featured in the closing scene of “The Sopranos” and on the television dramedy “Glee,” which introduced it to millions of millennials. It’s iTunes’ most-bought pre-digital era song, with nearly 7 billion downloads.
Aside from “Don’t Stop Believin’ ” (which I could easily go the rest of my life without hearing again), Journey simply had a great run. Each of its six studio albums from 1978’s “Infinity,” featuring “Wheel In The Sky” and “Lights,” through 1996’s “Trial By Fire” sold at least platinum, and four peaked in the Billboard Top 10. In 2008, “Revelation,” featuring then-new lead singer Arnel Pineda, stayed on the charts for 42 weeks.
That’s a difficult track record to deny, even if those patented Steve Perry high notes make your dog cry.
Electric Light Orchestra, another first-time nominee, has also historically been considered uncool, though the grandiose, orchestra-laced pop-rock collective didn’t quite catch the level of rancor directed at Journey.
ELO is still led by uber-producer Jeff Lynne, a devout acolyte of the Beatles and the Beach Boys who turned the “band” (mostly just Lynne, drummer Bev Bevan and a bunch of musicians) into a purveyor of huge pop tunes with elaborate orchestrations and vocal arrangements such as “Livin’ Thing,” “Evil Woman” and “Turn To Stone.”
As with Journey, ELO had a great run in the early 1970s through the early ’80s. And its “cool ratio” has risen as the group has been sampled by artists including Daft Punk, Snoop Dogg, the Hives, Wiz Khalifa and Paul Weller.
Yes plays prog-rock, a style not generally appreciated by the voters. Eligible since 1994 and on its third nomination, the band makes knotty, rhythmically and melodically complex music that still managed to cross over into the mainstream with staples such as “Roundabout” and “Seen All Good People.”
Then, after being pushed aside by punk and new wave, the band had an early-1980s renaissance with the addition of producer/guitarist/composer Trevor Rabin, who co-wrote and produced the band’s biggest album, the very ’80s-sounding “90125” featuring “Owner of a Lonely Heart.” Unfortunately, original bassist and fan favorite Chris Squire died last year.
Of this year’s 19 nominees, the obvious gimme was newly eligible Pearl Jam. The group came out of the Seattle grunge scene, building upon fellow Washingtonians Nirvana’s commercial explosion and the burgeoning “alternative” radio format.
The band’s drop-tuned, low-end, heavy chord progressions and Eddie Vedder’s dark lyrics and deathly serious tenor spawned hundreds of awful imitators (we’re looking at you, Candlebox) and its debut “Ten,” featuring “Jeremy,” “Alive” and “Even Flow,” outsold Nirvana’s “Nevermind.” Every one of Pearl Jam’s 10 albums has peaked in the Top Five, half of them hitting No. 1.
It has built a dedicated Phish-like following that still fills arenas. Pearl Jam inspired hundred of aspiring bands to down-tune their guitars and sing low and sad, and the band has been around long enough to pick up a younger generation of fans.
Joan Baez is the lone female in the class and her first-time nomination seems like a makeup call considering she’s been eligible since 1985. Baez’s influence runs decades deep, and her skills as an interpreter of others’ material, along with her own songwriting, were an inspiration not just to fellow female artists but to entire social movements as well as her peers in folk, rock ‘n’ roll and R&B.
With more than five decades of music and activism under her belt, induction has been a long time coming for the performer, who is still touring at 75.
We’ll skip the obligatory “hip-hop ain’t rock ‘n’ roll!” argument and say that Tupac Shakur, another first-time nominee, is one of hip-hop’s biggest icons. The actor and emcee was skilled at serving the streets with standard, if well-stated violent braggadocio and party tunes, then offering inspiring tunes such as “Dear Mama” and “Keep Ya Head Up,” and socially conscious songs such as “Trapped.” On and off stage, Shakur courted and fueled controversy, which many suspect got him killed in 1996, but his influence on hip-hop artists, music and culture is strong.
Last but not least, the rock hall solved its Chic problem by giving Nile Rodgers the award for musical excellence. Chic, led by super-producer and music industry titan Rodgers and the late bassist Bernard Edwards, has been nominated 11 times. The band known for funky, disco-era hits such as “Good Times” and “Le Freak” may never get into the hallowed halls, but Rodgers’ resume as a songwriter and producer is long and storied.
His resume includes many hits, which often turned established artists into pop stars, like Madonna’s “Like A Virgin,” Duran Duran’s “Reflex,” David Bowie’s “Let’s Dance” and the B-52s’ “Cosmic Thing,” and he was featured on Daft Punk’s massive 2013 hit “Random Access Memories.”
It’s a decent class, mixing commercial merit and pop music and culture stature. Hopefully, influential but not mainstream bands such as hardcore mavens Bad Brains (first-time nominees), proto-punks the MC5 (two-time nominees) and electronic music pioneers Kraftwerk will get the spot they’ve earned before equaling Chic’s 11-time losing streak.
The 32nd annual induction ceremony will be held in Brooklyn on April 7; excerpts will be broadcast later by HBO.