On Monday, the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame made it official: Bon Jovi, The Cars, Dire Straits, The Moody Blues and Nina Simone are the 2018 inductees in the Performers category, while Sister Rosetta Tharpe will be inducted in the Early Influences category. Like every year there will be debate about the inductees and who didn’t make it in. One could also question whether an artist like Simone should be in something called the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. Regardless, I think the 2018 class represents fine artists. I was particularly pleased to see Sister Rosetta Tharpe among the inductees, an amazing and widely under-recognized early rock & roll pioneer.
Artists become eligible for induction 25 years after the release of their first commercial recording – for the 2018 class this means no later than by 1992. Each year, the Nominating Committee of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame selects the candidates for voting. Ballots are subsequently sent to more than 900 historians, members of the music industry and artists, including every living Rock Hall inductee. The top five performers getting the most votes become that year’s induction class. Since 2012, there is also a public vote for fans. Their top-five picks become a ballot that is weighted the same as the remainder of the submitted ballots. Following is a look at the 2018 inductees.
I know many rock purists cringe when it comes to Bon Jovi. Apart from admittedly having a weak spot for ’80s music, I think these guys are legit. Yes, their music has always had a commercial bent, but that doesn’t disqualify it. Tunes like Runaway, Livin’ On A Prayer and Born To Be My Baby illustrate that rock and catchy melodies aren’t mutually exclusive. Sure, Bon Jovi with their big hair in the ’80s looked pretty ridiculous, but frankly so did many other rock bands at the time. Ultimately, to me it’s about the music, so I can see beyond that.
What I will say rubbed me a bit the wrong way was what Jon Bon Jovi told The New York Times when asked about the induction. “Well. I mean … we’re very happy about it. And um, you know. It’s great [pause] “I really want to say it’s about time,” reportedly using a “colorful adjective” the article omitted. To me this smacks like a sense of entitlement. Given there are so many great artists but only a limited number of inductee spots, none should feel they are entitled to induction.
Bon Jovi is a great live band. I saw them a few years ago, and it was a terrific show. Here’s a live clip of Wanted Dead Or Alive, captured at New York’s Madison Square Garden in 2012.
While I would have preferred the J. Geils Band, who just like last year were nominated but didn’t make it in, The Cars certainly look like a worthy addition. I’m caveating it a bit, since I really don’t know their music in great detail. They certainly have had a number of decent songs since their 1978 eponymous debut album. After taking a few breaks from the mid to late ’80s, The Cars dissolved in 1988 and reunited in 2010. In May 2011, they released a new album, Move Like This, which they supported with a tour. Since the tour’s conclusion later that year, they have been inactive.
Here is a clip of Sad Song from their last album, taken at a gig during the band’s 2011 tour.
Dire Straits is one my longtime favorite bands, so I was happy to see they made it in. Between their formation in London in 1977 and the final show in October 1992, the band went through various lineup changes. In addition to front man, lead guitarist and lead vocalist Mark Knopfler, the only other permanent member was bassist John Illsley. The other inductees include the band’s first drummer Pick Withers, Mark’s younger brother David Knopfler (rhythm guitar, backing vocals), Alan Clark (keyboards) and Guy Fletcher (keyboards, guitar, backing vocals).
Asked during a recent Rolling Stone interview, Illsley confirmed he will attend the induction ceremony but didn’t know whether the band will perform. “I think we’ll just have to see how that’s going to work. We’re talking about a long time. David left the band in 1980. That’s 37 years ago. Pick left in 1983. We’re talking 34 years ago…A lot of time has passed. That’s something Mark and I need to talk about and I’m not about to make any categorical [claims] right here.”
While I like Dire Straits pretty much throughout their recording career, I generally prefer their first three albums over their later records. One of my favorites remains Sultans Of Swing from the band’s eponymous 1978 debut. Here’s a clip from a February 1979 performance on German TV music show Rockpalast.
The Moody Blues is another band I’ve yet to explore. With a discography that includes 16 studio albums between their 1965 debut The Magnificent Moodies and their most recent album December from 2003, it looks like this going to be a bigger undertaking – maybe something for the Christmas break. It appears Graeme Edge (drums, percussion, vocals) remains the band’s only original member, though Justin Hayward (lead vocals, guitar) and John Lodge (bass, vocals) joined in 1966, a whooping 51 years ago!
Asked during a recent interview with Rolling Stone, Hayward said he’d be open to perform at the induction ceremony with former band members Ray Thomas (flute, vocals) and Mike Pinder (keyboards), who will be inducted together with him, Edge and Lodge. But he wasn’t sure whether they are going to come. “When you leave a group it’s because you don’t want to be in it. I miss them both, particularly Mike Pinder because he was the guy that brought me into the group.”
Here is a clip of Tuesday Afternoon, one of my favorite among the few tunes I know from this band.
Nina Simone is often considered a jazz singer, though her musical styles also included classical, blues, folk, R&B, gospel and pop. Between her 1958 debut Little Girl Blue and her final studio album A Single Woman in 1993, Simone recorded close to 50 records. She also was a social activist during the Civil Rights Movement and beyond.
A biography on the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame’s website notes Mary J. Blige told Rolling Stone that “Nina could sing anything, period,” when the magazine included her in its 100 Greatest Singers of All Time list. The same biography also quotes Bob Dylan: “She was an overwhelming artist, piano player, and singer…Very outspoken and dynamite to see perform…the kind of artist that I loved and admired.”
Here is a clip of My Baby Just Cares For Me, a tune I’ve always liked since I heard it for the first time in 1987 when it became a hit after it had been used in a perfume commercial. Originally, Simone had recorded this jazz standard in 1958.
And then there is Sister Rosetta Tharpe, who the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame calls “the first guitar heroine of rock & roll. An accompanying biography notes, “If she had not been there as a model and inspiration, Elvis Presley, Little Richard, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis and other rock originators would have had different careers. No one deserves more to be in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.”
Tharpe’s recording career started in 1938 when the gospel songs Rock Me, That’s All, My Man and The Lonesome Road became instant hits. Rock Me influenced many rock & roll singers like Chuck Berry, Elvis Presley and Jerry Lee Lewis. It was Tharpe who in 1947 first put 14-year-old Richard Wayne Penniman on a stage, who later would become known as Little Richard.
Here is a clip of Strange Things Happening Every Day, which Tharpe recorded in 1944. According to Wikipedia, the tune became the first gospel record to cross over into R&B, peaking at no. 2 on what was then called the Billboard “race” chart. The song’s groove and sound clearly represent an early version of classic rock & roll.
The 33rd Annual Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony will take place on Saturday, April 14, 2018 in Cleveland. The TV premiere of the event will again be on HBO. There also be a radio broadcast on SiriusXM. Broadcast details will be announced early next year.
Sources: Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, The New York Times, Rolling Stone, Wikipedia, YouTube