While it’s easy to hold contempt and disdain towards the corporate exclusivity that is so antithetical to what rock 'n' roll is all about, it's difficult not to be envious seeing the roster of guests who perform at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Induction ceremonies. Over the years, some of the events have been broadcast, and now Time Life allows you to bring the party home with this fantastic three-DVD set you'll play over and over.
Disc 1 opens in 1988 with Mick Jagger inducting the Beatles. Only Ringo Starr and George Harrison are in attendance. John Lennon isn't there for obvious reasons, but there's no explanation given for Paul McCartney's absence. After doing some research, it turns out the Beatles were involved in a lawsuit with each other and McCartney released a statement:
"After 20 years, the Beatles still have some business differences which I had hoped would have been settled by now. Unfortunately, they haven’t been, so I would feel like a complete hypocrite waving and smiling with them at a fake reunion."
Following the Fab Duo's acceptance, Jagger, Bruce Springsteen, and The Rock Hall Jam Band perform "I Saw Her Standing There." The attribution on the video is puzzling because also on stage are Billy Joel (the first person to sing), Bob Dylan, Ben E. King, Brian Wilson, Little Steven, Clarence Clemons, Jeff Beck, Peter Wolfe, Neal Schon, and Arlo Guthrie to name a few. Not to mention George and Ringo, so it's odd that Jagger and the Boss get mentioned.
McCartney appears twice later on the set when he inducts John Lennon as a solo artist in 1994 and giving his own acceptance in 1999. He comes off even pettier by bringing on stage his daughter Stella who is wearing a t-shirt reading “About Fucking Time.” Still, how his absence at the Beatles induction didn’t make it into the set, even if told in a special feature or the liner notes, is absolutely stunning because it is an important historical footnote.
Band feuds are as prolific in the history of rock as guitar solos, evidenced a few chapters later when, after Creedence Clearwater Revival makes their acceptance speech, John Fogarty plays "Green River" without former bandmates Stu Cook and Doug Clifford. Instead, Springsteen, Robbie Robertson, and Don Was accompany him. Where was Neil Young when Buffalo Springfield got inducted? Even more curious, when Crosby, Stills & Nash and Tom Petty sing "For What It's Worth," why do they shut out an unidentified BS band member from singing along? Did Stills not like him?
Each of these nights should be a time for celebration and commemoration not a continuation of long-held animosity. In 1993 when Cream makes their acceptance, Eric Clapton states he was against the idea of respectability being paired with rock 'n' roll, but changed his mind after he talked with Robertson. It's palpable that he's so glad (so glad, so glad, so glad) to have reunited with his dear old friends and it's wonderful they can still create magic together after a 25-year hiatus.
This same joy can be seen in the reunions of Bruce Springsteen in 1999, when he calls up the E Street Band during his acceptance and their first performance together in a decade; Jason Newsted back with Metallica for one night, particularly when they played "Master of Puppets," made even heavier with two basses; and drummer Bill Berry back on the kit for R.E.M in 2007.
Rock music has seen its fair share of death, usually at too early an age, but it led to compelling match-ups. In 1992, Neil Young led the Jimi Hendrix Experience and is joined by guitarists Jimmy Page, Keith Richards, Fogerty, Carlos Santana, and The Edge for "All Along the Watchtower." In 1993, Eddie Vedder filled in for Jim Morrison on The Doors' "Light My Fire," which sounds slightly different here with the addition of Was on bass. In 2001 Foo Fighters and Queen rocked the house with "Tie Your Mother Down." In 2004 George Harrison was inducted as a solo artist, yet the viewer doesn’t get any of his solo material. Jeff Lynne and Petty play The Traveling Wilburys' "Handle Me With Care" and then the Beatles' "While My Guitar Gently Weeps." However "Weeps" had to be included because it contains the single greatest performance of the entire set as Prince delivers a scorching guitar solo.
Springsteen inducts Roy Orbison in 1987, the second year of the ceremony. The group rendition of "Pretty Woman" sounds off, but there's a charm to it, bringing to mind kids playing in their garages. Although the video quality looks its age, Orbison is the earliest inductee shown to be honored, which is truly mind-boggling. Where's B.B King and Aretha Franklin from that same year? Omissions like this are the set's greatest flaw.
Obviously you can't include everyone from over two decades on just three DVDs and it will likely sell more units including U2 and Metallica, but representatives from the first class deserve their due. Ray Charles shows up to induct Billy Joel, and Little Richard can be seen on stage during some end-of-the-night jams, but they certainly deserve to be featured for their influence more than Jackson Browne and The Righteous Brothers.
Hell, every disc contains a portion of The Rolling Stones induction and they perform three songs. Surely, Richards would have given up one spot to Chuck Berry. James Hetfield makes a very classy move when he cites bands like Deep Purple, Motorhead, and Iron Maiden that were influences on Metallica and are deserving of induction, and it's cool to see Peter Green show up for induction with Fleetwood Mac.
Each disc offers bonus material with complete induction segments as well as backstage and rehearsal footage. Pete Townshend roasts the Stones, even mentioning black artists they were inspired by (ripped off); Jann Werner reads the Sex Pistols scathing response to their induction; and Billy Joel is stand-up comic funny in his tribute to John Mellencamp.
Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Live is not just entertainment but an education of popular music of the latter half of the twentieth century. Any fan of the many subgenres of rock 'n' roll will find it money and time well spent. Hopefully, this is Volume 1 in a series.