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Music Review: Various Artists – The Best of Rock & Roll Hall of Fame + Museum Live

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Now, how can you go wrong with a 3-CD collection of 50 performances recorded for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremonies? Beginning with the first of these in 1986, the Hall of Fame has reunited groups who hadn’t played together in years, and put together groups of all-stars to honor new inductees, not to mention that it let these bands jam out before delighted audiences who enjoyed once in a lifetime musical experiences.

True, the Hall of Fame has been releasing many of these performances for years in outstanding DVD collections. None has been more extensive than Time-Life’s new exhaustive 10-volume digital-only release of nearly 200 songs issued in conjunction with this smaller scale CD project. Whether you like the previous DVD packages or can afford the new big Kahuna, the experience is certainly more fulfilling when you can watch the legends at work. But there’s something to be said for simply listening to the songs themselves and enjoying the music and nothing but the music.

On most of the past DVDs, many of the performances were preceded by the speeches of new inductees and presenters, but they’ve been stripped away for the CD set. The concert kicks off, appropriately enough, with Bruce Springsteen backing Chuck Berry on “Johnny B. Goode.” Not only does disc one start with a Founding Father of rock, but Springsteen is a frequent player appearing with many other guests, including Wilson Pickett, Mick Jagger, U2, and his own E Street Band. In fact, to list all the players and singers who appear on this collection would result in a list of tags for this review as long as the review itself. Well, some serious name-dropping can’t be avoided.

For example, if these three CDs were all you had on a desert island, odds are you’d crown The Kinks as among the kings of kicking out the jams (“All Day And All Of The Night”). Likewise, Eric Burdon And Bon Jovi do a sizzling version of The Animals’ “It’s My Life” and the always electrifying James Brown showed he never lost his juice in “I Got You (I Feel Good).” Other British rockers and friends light up the stage in various incarnations such as Jeff Beck, Jimmy Page, Ron Wood, Joe Perry, Flea and Metallica jam on “The Train Kept A Rollin’.” Hot enough for you yet?

The Hall of Fame has always tried to create musical history of its own, shaping magical moments for each ceremony. In particular, a Hall of Fame staple is reunions of classic bands that have sometimes jelled, sometimes not. Sometimes the failures were as historic as the successes. For example, it’s sad to hear the then three surviving Mamas and Papas singing a fresh interpretation of “California Dreaming.” Those who heard the original broadcast will surely recall their bickering set of acceptance speeches beforehand and John Phillips placing Michelle as far away from him as possible on stage. And now, Mama Michelle is the only one left.

We hear John Fogerty and friends do some hot Creedence Clearwater Revival tunes without his original bandmates, a Fogerty choice that led to his old friends walking out. In some cases, groups performed with friends or substitutes simply because original members have long left us, as when The Doors played several songs with Eddie Vedder. Musical history indeed.

Speaking of Fogerty and The Doors, their appearances are among a number of artists whose songs aren’t grouped together and are instead scattered around several discs. It’s often puzzling to figure out the organization the editors of this collection had in mind. The performances aren’t chronological in terms of when the concerts were taped or in any historical order or grouped by types of music. Some artists get one song, some two, some three. Many, of course, get none.

Fans of pre-British Invasion music won’t hear much from the early days beyond The Ronettes and The Righteous Brothers. Likewise, the last 20 years or so aren’t especially well-represented beyond Kid Rock, Green Day, R.E.M., and U2. So, presumably, the folks who chose these selections were thinking of the “best” performances, not necessarily representative or as all-encompassing as they could have been. For that, I’m sure, you gotta try the 10-volume download.

Then again, what’s “best” is a judgment call and fans should have a field day debating such selections. For my money, many of the all-star ensembles were simply messing around on stage, enjoying being seen together but worrying little about the sound they made. For example, when the Dave Clark Five was finally inducted, the living members apparently didn’t want to pick up their old instruments. So “Glad All Over” was performed by Joan Jett, John Mellencamp, John Fogerty, and Billy Joel. If this group had any rehearsals, there’s little evidence this was a song that inspired them. When a batch of singers is on stage, it’s often a case of too many cooks in the kitchen, especially if Mick Jagger is prancing in the middle. Occasionally, we get some delicious jams, as when Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young trade guitar licks with Tom Petty on “For What It’s Worth.”

In short, by design, this very generous helping of rock and roll has more than its share of delights along with songs that are likely someone else’s cuppa tea. Hmm, that someone else could be friends and family this Christmas.

It’s very, very difficult to gauge many folks’ musical tastes—here, The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame has done the work for you, with the inclusion of the above mentioned, along with the likes of James Taylor, Cream, The Who, Jackson Browne, Queen, Al Green, and Traffic, among others.

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About Wesley Britton