This is the season for Hall of Fame voting or nominations. Baseball announced its 2016 Hall of Fame Class last Wednesday, electing Ken Griffey, Jr. and Mike Piazza. Not to be outdone, the next day football named its 15 finalists for its Hall of Fame balloting, including Brett Favre, Kurt Warner, Terrell Owens, and Tony Dungy. Last month, basketball announced its list of people eligible for election. Tim Hardaway, Alan Iverson, Rebecca Lobo, and Sheryl Swoopes are among the players and coaches named.
The honor of being named or elected to a Hall of Fame should be limited to the best of the best, and should not be given lightly. By and large, I don’t have major issues with those who are elected to their respective professions’ Halls of Fame. But some who are elected are definite head-scratchers.
That’s the reason I’m nattering on about this. I heard again a few days ago about the newest members of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame: Cheap Trick, Chicago, Deep Purple, Steve Miller, and N.W.A. As I look at this list, I’m hard pressed to find fault with a few of the new members, namely Deep Purple, N.W.A., or Steve Miller. I’ve long loved their music, think they contributed greatly to rock and roll, and are truly deserving of induction. Deep Purple was one of the first and best heavy metal bands; Ritchie Blackmore, the band’s heart and soul lead guitarist, is more than deserving of being considered among the elite. N.W.A. was a ground breaking rap group; their Straight Outta Compton is one of the all-time classic discs in that genre. Steve Miller is an under-appreciated guitarist these days. Back in the day, though, his name was frequently mentioned with the greats including Jimi Hendrix and Eric Clapton. Chicago is a borderline case; when considering the factors voters are to look at, I might reluctantly concede them too (though I’m not a huge fan of Chicago’s music).
You don’t want one hit wonders or musical hacks to make it into the elite company of the Hall, so the factors considered by Rock Hall voters include “an artist’s musical influence on other artists, length and depth of career and the body of work, innovation and superiority in style and technique, but musical excellence shall be the essential qualification of induction.” But Cheap Trick? Really? Given some of the other 2016 nominees, I’m stunned that Chicago and Cheap Trick would be elected.
Look again at those factors. Did Cheap Trick have an influence on other artists, past or present? David Bowie just passed away this week, and we can point to a huge number of people who were influenced by him. Can we point to any groups that show a clear influence from Cheap Trick, as we can with David Bowie? How many groups name Cheap Trick as being their influence, or even one of their influences? How many guitarists, for example, say Rick Nielsen was their main guitar influence?
Furthermore, what innovations did Cheap Trick make? Think about it and tell me if their music is so good as to be among the all time best in rock and roll? Did they do anything with regard to advancing the music, whether how the instruments are played, helping create a new genre, or how groups are viewed, as in music videos? Is their “musical excellence” such that anyone can honestly say they outshone other groups of their era?
It’s hard to compare across musical genres, but did Cheap Trick contribute more to rock than the Cars, the Spinners, or Yes? In terms of innovation, the Spinners, the Cars and Yes outshone Cheap Trick by far. The Spinners advanced vocal groups. The Cars weren’t just a New Wave group, they helped create New Wave. Yes was one of the pioneers of Prog Rock.
And Cheap Trick was . . well, just another rock ‘n roll group.
In terms of musicality, again, the Cars and Yes were far superior to Cheap Trick. I’m not even a fan of The Cars (heard their songs too often when they came out and can’t listen to ’em anymore), but I can still see how they belong in the Hall. Moving on . . does anyone honestly think Rick Nielsen is a better guitarist than Steve Howe? I mean, anyone other than Nielsen’s mother? In light of the requisite listed factors I could also name some groups that are much, much better than Cheap Trick that weren’t nominated, like Dire Straits (listen to Mark Knopfler and tell me Rick Nielsen is as good a player or that Cheap Trick’s music is better or more memorable, lyrically or otherwise). Was Cheap Trick lyrically advanced or important like Bob Dylan, Paul Simon (or Simon & Garfunkel), or Bruce Springsteen?
Cheap Trick is now included with musicians and bands including the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Elvis, CSNY, Led Zeppelin, and Bruce Springsteen; that is mind boggling. By being elected to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the voters are basically saying that Cheap Trick are peers of those all-time greats. Can anyone realistically say that?
Save the Hall of Fame for those deserving of induction. Those whose contributions have been significant over time, whose music and innovations helped advance the music. Keep the hacks out.