Finally. For many years now, it has appeared that the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame was hellbent on ignoring certain major bands and musicians in its yearly inductions. One was either in the clique, or most decidedly not.
Fans of progressive rock and hip-hop may be the ones who felt the slight most deeply. For them, the fact that Madonna is in the hall while a hugely influential band like Yes or Public Enemy was not, made the whole thing feel like a bad joke.
Last week, when the hall announced its list of final nominees for the class of 2013, I, for one, felt immensely encouraged. The whole list is comprised of worthy contenders for induction. Even more important, the choices can be read as an attempt by the Rock Hall (and its panel of more than 600 industry members who do the voting) to strike some sort of balance.
Leading the list is a band with one of the most vocal fan-bases extant. Rush, to paraphrase revered radio personality Jim Ladd, has never been a darling of the critical establishment. Yet the Canadian trio has met and surpassed every implied credential for induction, from record sales to longevity. More significantly, Rush remains an artistically vital and commercially successful proposition some 40 years into the game. (The band's concert scheduled for next Friday at First Niagara Center is on the brink of selling out.)
Public Enemy is, for this writer's money, the most important and influential hip-hop act this side of Run DMC, the latter being one of a mere three hip-hop acts already in the hall. (The Beastie Boys and Grandmaster Flash & the Furious Five are the other two.) By combining forward-looking production values, inimitable (though many continue to try) beats and astute social commentary and criticism from leader Chuck D, Public Enemy has forged one of the most convincing and enduring “brands” in the genre's history.
Hard-core gangsta collective N.W.A. is also on the induction block this year. Both of these artists represent cutting edge music, still.
Nevertheless, there are those who have criticized the hall for inducting even this meager number of hip-hop artists, crying foul that a rock and roll institution would “stoop” to include rap within its hallowed halls. This is absurd. If the hall of fame was going to limit itself to specifically rock 'n' roll music, then it should not have inducted any artist whose best work came, say, after the Beatles released “Revolver” and launched the rock era. By such a standard, the Rock Hall would include Chuck Berry and the Rolling Stones, but certainly not Marvin Gaye or the Who. Hip-hop is as valid a medium as the blues. If blues artists, soul artists, R&B artists, disco artists (Donna Summer is nominated this year, too), heavy metal artists, or any permutations thereof, can be considered for induction, then hip-hop can as well.
Who else is on this year's list? Surprisingly, considering the hall's previous snobbery toward hard rock bands from the '70s, the mighty Deep Purple made it to the final nomination process. Casual listeners might know this band solely as the group behind the iconic “Smoke on the Water,” but those who paid closer attention know that Purple has always been so much more than that. Its virtuosic heavy rock – sometimes falsely written off as plain old heavy metal – melded blues, classical music, psychedelia and aspects of Blue Note-era organ trios into a unique and powerful hybrid.
The band has had several distinct phases but most prominent is the Mark II lineup, fronted by Purple's finest singer, Ian Gillan, and including guitarist Ritchie Blackmore, organist Jon Lord – who succumbed to cancer in July – drummer Ian Paice and bassist Roger Glover. The also excellent Mark III lineup substituted David Coverdale for Gillan and Glen Hughes for Glover, and later, Tommy Bolin for Blackmore.
This group added funk and soul to the equation, made two fantastic albums and one very good one. In the '90s, after Gillan and Glover had returned, Blackmore split (again) and Steve Morse took over guitar duties. All of the above-mentioned musicians should share the podium at the induction ceremony should Deep Purple make the final cut.
Randy Newman, the Paul Butterfield Blues Band, Heart, Joan Jett & the Blackhearts, Albert King, Kraftwerk, the Marvelettes, the Meters and Procol Harum – for the first time in the hall's history, I can't find one artist among these nominees who doesn't belong in the hall.
So we're on the right track. But here's a list of only a few of the artists the hall still hasn't dealt with, and needs to, soon: Yes; the Jam; Cheap Trick; Afrika Bambaataa (nominated, but not inducted); Peter Gabriel (solo); Kiss; Kate Bush; Jethro Tull; Roxy Music; Brian Eno; Daniel Lanois; Thin Lizzy; Dire Straits; David Byrne (solo); Todd Rundgren; T. Rex; and King Crimson.
I'm sure you've got your own list. Please share.