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Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction

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On March 10, 2003 the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inducted the new class: The Righteous Brothers, AC/DC, The Clash, The Police and Elvis Costello. The induction dinner is airing on VH1. Check their schedule for repeat viewings.

This was one of the more satisfying awards ceremonies I’ve seen. Partly this is because they are lifetime achievement awards, so rarely do any truly bad acts get into the list. I’m afraid there’ll be no spot here for Milli Vanilli.

This show had a much greater sense of intimacy than most awards shows. It was a few hundred people setting at dinner tables. It came off that people were speaking and performing for their immediate audience rather than posturing for the cameras. It seemed much more like we were dealing with human beings rather than some plasticized media spectacle.

The Righteous Brothers opened the show with “You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling.” Those guys can really sing. When they lay up the combination with the full orchestration, they really put it on us. I obviously need to listen to more Righteous Brothers.

Elvis Costello and the Attractions found themselves being inducted by Elton John with a speech that climaxes with a discussion of his tastes in homosexual pornography. It was a tasteful display of pure English class.

Elvis made a quick litany of favorite musicians, finishing up with “and especially Bob Dylan and Joni Mitchell.” Dylan is obvious, but citing Joni Mitchell as his co-favorite seems odd. The influence of Joni Mitchell on his music is not obvious to me. Nor do I recall ever hearing him mention her before. Nor do I recall him ever covering any of her songs live. Most curious.

He also had curious choices in song. Obviously he had to do “Peace, Love and Understanding.” OK, fair enough. No cheap shots at the microphone, but instead he made the point with an impassioned rendition of one of his classics. This is the right approach to a musician expressing political opinions: let your guitar do the talking. It’s what you do.

Also, though, he performed “Deep Dark Truthful Mirror” from Spike. Now this song IS a favorite of my baby brother’s, but not a single or one of his couple of dozen most obvious audience favorites. Yet even a relatively obscure album track from a dozen odd years ago absolutely KICKS ASS. The guy really could just randomly pick great forgotten classics from nearly any album in his catalog. Indeed, I’ll take Elvis’ catalog of songs and records over Bob Dylan’s. And damn VH1 for cutting his performance of “Pump It Up” from the broadcast.

The Clash were the only act not performing. Their lead charismatic figure Joe Strummer lived long enough to hear that the band was being inducted, but not long enough to actually come to the dinner.

The only really stupid cheap political statement in the broadcast show came, naturally enough, from the way least famous or accomplished individual on the stage, from Tom Morello of the late Rage Against the Machine. He came up with some crap about the spirit of the Clash being there whenever people took to the streets to protest an unjust war. Pause for applause. Yeah, yeah. You’ve never written a real song in your LIFE, but you’re against war, so you’re important too, just like the Clash. Shut up. Nobody would have ever given a rat’s ass about their ignorant political slogans if they weren’t just exceptional songwriters.

The Clash were a pretty hot band, and they made some outstanding records. But truly a lot of their stock gets grossly inflated because of cheap political considerations. Why, they named an album Sandinista! in honor of their revolutionary brothers. Yeah, yeah. Too bad there weren’t more memorable songs on this extremely self-indulgent three album set. Nonetheless, judging acts by their best work rather than their least, there’s no arguing against The Clash or the classic London Calling. Can’t argue against them.

AC/DC perhaps haven’t gotten the respect they deserve from music connoisseurs. Maybe if they stuck in some cheap crap about rising up against The Corporate Establishment they would be recognized as geniuses.

On the other hand, just on the basis of comparing lists of their best songs, AC/DC will go head to head with their more critically celebrated revolutionary Clash brethren. And their pure performing presence on the stage was dead on. Their skills have not diminished with age. “You Shook Me All Night Long” sounds even better than it did 20 years ago, if only by being played somewhat less than every five minutes now.

One of the benefits of this being a taped event was EDITING. Thus, while missing the induction for non-performing inductee Mo Ostin, we missed out on seeing Neil Young say, “One thing is on my mind before I get to Mo,” he said. “War sucks the big one, it just sucks. We’re having a good time tonight, but we’re gonna kill a lot of people next week. Let’s not forget about that. I didn’t want to ruin this, but it’s too real to not mention it. And music used to be about this, and it still is about this. This is a human thing, and these are human beings over there. And we’re making a huge mistake. I feel like I’m in a giant, gas-guzzling SUV and the driver’s drunk as a f***in’ skunk.”

The real stars of the evening definitely turned out to be the Police. For one thing, their tiny backstage snippets gave some of the best band of brothers vibes you could ask for, particularly for guys whose egos are famously too big to fit into the same stadium.

Mainly, though, they were just playin’ sons a bitches. They might be arty and jazzy, but they have a ferocious swing that is not to be denied. “Roxanne” was the top musical highlight of the whole evening, especially that nice extended instrumental break. Programmers at VH1 will have plenty of time in hell to contemplate why they cut “Message in a Bottle” from the broadcast

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  • Eric Olsen

    Excellent recap Al – I couldn’t bring myself to watch it becuase this was the first year they didn’t do a live simulcast in Cleveland and I was pissed. Now I’ll have to check it out – thanks a lot dude.

    The only I may disagreee with is the across-the-board greatness of Elvis, and sandanista, which, oddly, is my favorite Clash album. I didn’t say it’s their best, just my favorite. I love “Charlie Don’t Surf” and “Lose This Skin” to an unreasonable degree.

    Great job, once again!!

  • Mark Saleski

    dang, now i’ve gotta watch too. just loved The Police.

    say al, being the Elvis Costello lover that you are you may want to check out Griel Marcus’ In The Fascist Bathroom. it’s got a lot of his early writing…with lots of stuff about Elvis ‘back in the day’.

  • Garrett

    Vote for your favorite deserving but overlooked artists into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame here
    The top 20 vote-getters at this point are:
    1. Joan Jett
    2. Rush
    3. Van Halen
    4. Black Sabbath
    5. Doobie Brothers
    6. Lynyrd Skynyrd
    7. Dire Straits
    8. Def Leppard
    9. Yes
    10. Peter Gabriel (solo)
    11. Heart
    12. Chicago
    13. Genesis
    14. Deep Purple
    15. Journey
    16. Alice Cooper
    17. John Mellencamp
    18. Pete Townshend (solo)
    19. Duran Duran
    20. Pat Benatar

  • Al Barger

    Garrett, let’s make that a convenient hyperlink, shall we? CLICK HERE

    So many outstanding choices there, starting with the most exalted potentates of Lynyrd Skynyrd, but I just dropped in a humble vote for Captain Beefheart.