Class of 2021 takes a bow at Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Induction Concert

Given the diminishing pool of worthy candidates, it might be a good idea to take a year or two off from the annual Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony. 

As the event has moved from an intimate, anything-goes party in a New York ballroom to a slick arena cable special, producers have succeeded in making it a pretty good annual celebration anyway, with thoughtful segments that really make the case for new inductees. With the public now allowed as final arbiters on who gets in, the sometimes questionable results have been offset by some well chosen “special” awards to pioneers and influencers who, in the case of Kraftwerk, for instance, should have been inducted long ago.

Saturday’s three hour program on HBO begins with Taylor Swift sauntering out slowly to sing. Immediately you think, oh no, she’s going to take 10 minutes here. She doesn’t, but her performance of Carole King’s “Will You Love Me Tomorrow” hints she doesn’t quite grasp its intent  (the line “I won’t ask again” is spat with girl power defiance that wasn’t in the original).

The dance of these induction shows is balancing the often elderly honorees with hot stars that will get a younger demographic tuned in, so Taylor Swift may have been the right person to pay tribute to King (and the fact Taylor has a new blockbuster album out may have helped her make the flight to Ohio). Certainly she was more suited to the material than Jennifer Hudson, whose salute came through her adaptation of Aretha Franklin’s “Natural Woman” which didn’t seem to channel the Queen of Soul all that much either. The insightful point about Carole King is that her own voice is so personal, warm and direct, it communicates the best. And so it was when King was allowed finally to sit at the piano and show everyone.

For something completely different, she was followed by LL Cool J. You might roll your eyes at the guy from NCIS: LA who used to host the Grammys because it was on the same network. But actually, not only is the case made for his influence and power, it’s about the best segment of the night, with a warm, chatty induction speech from Dr. Dre before LL’s “still got it” medley of his strongest songs, joined by such high wattage stars as Eminem and J-Lo (all while the honoree was dressed like a baked potato). Still, it was odd that such a solid segment came for a guy who was inducted not as a performer but for “musical excellence.” Others in that department (Randy Rhodes, Billy Preston) wouldn’t get as much attention.

Angela Bassett got to induct Tina Turner, the woman she portrayed in the movies (while making her own career). The singer’s top tunes were handled by an array of contemporary stars, from H.E.R. (with Keith Urban for some reason) to Mickey Guyton, but capped by a shrieking, leather-clad Christina Aguilera, doing her Phil Spector-produced epic “River Deep, Mountain High.” Turner herself didn’t even show up; saying her thanks on film from her European home. She was all ready to be inducted last year, when there was a bio film and a musical about her life on Broadway, but it didn’t happen.

Also not showing up—and living up to the promise he wouldn’t—was Todd Rundgren. Patti Smith popped up (also via film) to help introduce him and provide artistic credibility to a career that for Rock Hall purposes seemed focused on his solo pop performing success, ignoring his jazz forays, technological breakthroughs (he was the one who tried to explain what downloading music would be like), and especially his production wizardry for others (though Smith mentioned he produced her Wave in 1979). The Hall responded to his longtime criticism of the institution by having exactly nobody sing his songs.

That was the case with most the technical and special inductees as well. But Gary Clark Jr. had one of the best moments of the night by playing Charley Patton’s raw “High Water Everywhere.” Otherwise, Tom Morello only got to talk about guitarist Randy Rhoads; Common rhapsodized about the ever-relevant Gil-Scott Heron; an array of people sang the praises of Kraftwerk; and Ringo Starr inducted Billy Preston, The Beatles’ fifth bandmate during the “Get Back” sessions which audiences will soon see on three nights of Disney+ next weekend.

Nobody came up for acceptance speeches except for one guy whose role was never quite mentioned—a manager? Label executive? Whatever he was, Clarence Avant got respect from people from Bill Withers to Lionel Richie to Kamala Harris and Barack Obama. At 90, he seemed surprised to be honored, but his brief acceptance speech showed what a character he seemed to be.

Obama was also among dozens of big names saluting (on film) Jay-Z, the rapper who was treated like loyalty and got the in-person induction from Dave Chappelle. Jay-Z has been a successful businessman and many people knew his lyrics, but still the case wasn’t solidly made about why he’s singled out—longevity? Marrying Beyoncé (who didn’t make it to Cleveland)? But he spoke for a long time, and for those who have never heard him expound in such a manner, it was pretty interesting.

A little film tribute to Charlie Watts led to an extended “In Memoriam” segment that ended with a performance by Brandi Carlile joining two band mates for a version of the Everly Brothers’ “All I Have to Do is Dream.”

That all came after a bright moment of fun when the Go-Go’s reassembled and ran through their hits on stage. It was a documentary last year too that seemed to make the case for the fabulously successful female band and Jane Wiedlin paused to thank the filmmaker, though her name at first slipped her mind. Inducting them was Drew Barrymore, who was so excited it was almost embarrassing. At least she didn’t join them to sing.

There was never any doubt they were going to end the evening with Foo Fighters, who are just about the only contemporary rock band left that’s big enough to be booked at the Grammys or fill a stadium. Even so, they only feel like they’re in the middle of their career.

The band was glad to play the kind of medley you’d hear at any of their arena shows. In inducting them, Paul McCartney rightfully pointed out that Foo Fighters for Dave Grohl after Nirvana was like Wings for him after the Beatles. Worth noting, though: Wings aren’t in the Hall of Fame.

Grandchildren, I can tell you there was a time when these events used to close with wild jams with the biggest names of the night all taking part. Now everything is scripted and there was just one such collaboration for 2021—Grohl’s band backing Paul for a group I think we can call Foos on the Hill doing a song that served as a final cross-promotion, “Get Back.”

This entry was posted in The TVD Storefront. Bookmark the permalink. Trackbacks are closed, but you can post a comment.
  • SUPPORTING YOUR LOCAL INDIE SHOPS SINCE 2007


  • Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text
  • Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text