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Has the Bar Moved Too Low for Induction Into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame?
May 5, 2018  | By Roger Catlin  | 4 comments

Though the first induction ceremonies of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame more than 30 years ago boasted the biggest guns and most wide ranging jam sessions, they were private affairs only filmed for posterity and never aired in full. 

By the time the Hall got an idea to televise the event after the fact, it had become a more planned event, with lesser artists participating in rote and rehearsed jams.

There’s no jam at all in the 2018 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony (HBO, 8 p.m. ET), and there’s so much cheese in the selections, only salutes to Nina Simone and Sister Rosetta Tharpe get some soul into the event.

In addition, Little Steven Van Zandt (right) came on stage to introduce a new feature — a shout out to five singles that were important to the development of rock ’n’ roll from groups that may or may not ever make it to the Hall themselves.

The mention of what some think is the first rock ’n’ roll record, Jackie Brenston and His Delta Cats’ “Rocket 88,” as well as indelible tracks like Link Wray’s “Rumble,” Chubby Checker’s “The Twist,” The Kingsmen’s “Louie Louie,” Procol Harum’s “A Whiter Shade of Pale” and Steppenwolf’s “Born to Be Wild” makes one wonder: Why wouldn’t they all be part of the Hall of Fame?

What was once a forum to honor the obvious masters and pioneers of the form — Chuck Berry, Elvis, Little Richard, Bo Diddley, The Beatles, The Stones, and Dylan — is now a place where mediocrities with loads of sales are allowed in.

That Bon Jovi is the climactic band inducted, and done so as if they have been long suffering victims of exclusion shows how low the ceremony has gone. Much mention is made of how many records they sold, but unlike the Baseball Hall of Fame, this shouldn’t be a game of numbers. “Fifty Shades of Grey” sold a lot of books but it won’t win a Pulitzer. 

Quality does matter. And when Howard Stern (whose connection to rock ’n’ roll seems to be having a bad attitude and bad taste) inducts Bon Jovi, he sings the overarching lyrics of the silly “Wanted: Dead or Alive” before exclaiming: “Eat sh*t, Bob Dylan! F*ck you! That’s music!”


Putting bands like Bon Jovi in the Hall of Fame isn’t just a lapse of taste, it tarnishes those who are already in, from Bruce Springsteen, who he so badly wants to emulate, let alone pillars like the Animals, Kinks, the Who, and Dylan.

A full half hour of the three-hour HBO event is given up to this middling Jersey band, gearing up for another stadium tour, just as the first half hour is given to The Cars, whose music is fine, but Hall of Fame? 

In his acceptance speech, Ric Ocasek thanks Kraftwerk and Devo, who helped create the kind of spiky, electronic rock they did and tellingly, neither are in the Hall. He also thanks, apropos of nothing, beat poets Lawrence Ferlinghetti, novelist Richard Brautigan and Bob Dylan too. 

Which is nicer than when Stern brought it up, but when he immediately goes into “Just What I Needed,” you think: What of these writers exactly inspired the couplet: “I don’t mind you coming’ here and wastin’ all my time time / ‘Cause when you’re standin’ oh so near, I kinda lose my mind.”  

If the Cars segment was lacking, so was the Moody Blues, which seemed fine in the filmed package, but when the elderly fellows got on stage to do “I’m Just a Singer (in a Rock and Roll Band),” the whole thing nudges closer to a PBS pledge-time doo wop nostalgia. (And the solemn reading of “Late Lament” into “Nights in White Satin” is a bit cringe-inducing).

Dire Straits became a big stadium band — and to be clear, that’s who will generally be inducted in coming years — on the basis of their MTV throwaway, “Money for Nothing.” Inducted into the hall, they seemed like they were half in. Mark Knopfler who was as much the symbol of that band as Bon Jovi is to his, didn’t show up at all. 

No big name came to induct them either; Dire Straits bassist John Illsey did it himself. And nobody played a note of a Dire Straits song at all.

What might have been an entirely appalling night was saved, though, by a heartfelt salute to the only two women (and people of color) getting into the hall: Simone and Tharpe.

Though Mary J. Blige inducted Simone movingly, she didn’t sing, leaving it to an astounding performance by Andra Day (right) with The Roots, making way for a comeback-quality performance by Lauryn Hill (top). 

Brittany Howard of Alabama Shakes was inspired interpreter of Tharpe, but also shining in a performance of “That’s All” and “Strange Things Happening Every Day” was the dynamite guitarist Felicia Collins of the old band of Paul Shaffer, who again served as music director.

Sadly, the memorial segment of the show will only play a larger role in years to come as legends die. But while Fats Domino’s death passed with just a clip, Chris Cornell was acquitted well with a performance of “Black Hole Sun” by Ann Wilson of Heart with Jerry Cantrell of Alice in Chains.

And to open the show anybody could have done a Tom Petty song, and it was the Killers who got to do so.

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Paul Schatz
Excellent piece. Rock and roll is a genre that, sadly, is no longer dominant in popular culture. So let's say that it's lifespan was from about 1950 to 2000. It seems to me that there is not an endless supply of rockers who were innovators and perhaps it is time to change the focus of the award system. Perhaps carefully parse the remaining pioneers who have not been honored and do it for one or two at each event. Perhaps expand the honoring of significant side men and women as well as producers and engineers. Honor significant breakthrough singles and albums. And definitely make the event look less like the MTV award shows.
May 10, 2018   |  Reply
I agree, and the only reason I watched was because I was the only one who didn't get the memo that Mark Knopfler didn't attend and Dire Straits' award was a non-event. I changed the station when Howard Stern started, what? -- I still have no idea what he was talking about. All I knew was I didn't want to listen and couldn't have cared less about Bon Jovi. BTW, it's Andra Day, not Audra.
May 8, 2018   |  Reply
Very nicely written, Roger. But as a longtime sap for The Moody Blues, I almost got palpitations listening to "Nights in White Satin." It helped to get me through the three years I spent in the Marines. So there's that. And while the PBS pledge drive comparison is apt, it doesn't negate the fact that the now geriatric Moodies showed up and dared to perform. There are far worse things in life. And unfortunately, Justin Hayward, John Lodge and Graeme Edge can't magically get any younger -- while both you and I grow older (and wiser?) as well.
May 7, 2018   |  Reply
Well stated David. I enjoyed The Cars in their day and still remember how the opening of "Just What I Needed" signaled the arrival of New Wave for me; but have a hard time reconciling how their music changed anything. The effects of DEVO, on the other hand (and Kraftwerk), on the music that followed are profound. I enjoyed The Moody Blues also, but the "read-in" to Nights in White Satin was kind of sad. Like Whiter Shade of Pale, I still am baffled and left to ask WTF does the song mean??? The moment begged for a surprise appearance by Spinal Tap and a dancing dwarf. (By the way Jann Wenner is running the HOF into the ground, Tap is likely to be inducted soon.) On the bright side, Brittany Howard blew the roof off and reminded me how important Sister Rosetta is. I do wonder: what does Nina Simone (who I respect and enjoy) have to do with R&R? Howard Stern slighting Leonard Cohen and Bob Dylan to boost Bon F-Jovi? That's reflective of our current state of affairs, isn't it?
May 7, 2018   |  Reply
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