Classic Rock DJs Size up the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s Class of 2017

"Is Joan Baez's name among the first 200 that roll off your tongue when you're talking about rock and roll?"

By Brian Ives

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame: it seems that everyone’s got an opinion about it. So, on the day of this year’s induction ceremony – Pearl Jam, Yes, Tupac Shakur, Journey, Electric Light Orchestra, Joan Baez and Nile Rodgers will be honored – we decided to talk to some of our experts from the CBS Radio family.

Carter Alan is the Assistant Program Director and Music Director of Boston classic rock station WZLX, and has just published his fourth book, The Decibel Diaries. Michael Stanley is a DJ at Cleveland’s WNCX and has released a number of albums with the Michael Stanley Band. Spike is a longtime host at Seattle’s KZOK and watched the Seattle scene from a close distance in the late ’80s and early ’90s. 

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Pearl Jam is being inducted in their first year of eligibility, which only happens with the hugest artists, like Bruce Springsteen, Prince, Madonna and U2. And they’re leapfrogging over a number of older classic rock acts (and a few alternative artists as well). Why do you think they were voted in so quickly? 

Spike: I first met several of the guys when they were in Mother Love Bone… I have to admit that I am a bit surprised that they made it on the first ballot. I mean we always knew what we had in Pearl Jam, but I’m pleasantly shocked to find out the whole world got it!

Carter Alan: It has to do with the band’s important contribution to the evolution of rock; not just making money off it, but changing its course.

Michael Stanley: Pearl Jam has never been a personal favorite and my take has always been the same for them as it was for Guns N Roses; loved the band, didn’t dig the singer. But I am obviously in the minority.

What other Seattle bands should get in in the next few years? 

Spike: My absolute favorite Seattle band is Alice in Chains. But I don’t know if they’ll be voted in. That being said Soundgarden and Alice are both deserving, but I think both will struggle to get in.

Yes has been a staple of classic rock radio, and they’ve been eligible since the ’90s. Do you feel they deserve induction after all these years? 

CA: Yes were so important in the 70’s – they were the most successful progressive band out there. They took unbelievable risks — like the double album Tales from Topographic Oceans, which had just four songs — each one was one full side. Then they reinvented themselves in the MTV era with “Owner of a Lonely Heart” and 90125. That makes them worthy, even if people can’t feel the band’s presence as much in pop culture these days. This has been long overdue!

Ms: I always respected Yes more than liked them. We did a few shows with them over the years and they were a really good live band and those aren’t easy tunes to play.  They were definite trendsetters in progressive rock. Unfortunately for them, this was a genre that has never seemed to have much love shown it by the voting members. But as far as being influential is concerned they certainly were more meaningful than quite a few folks inducted over the past few years.

Spike: Prog Rock has never gotten it’s due. And even then, Yes should have been inducted long, long ago! It’s has never enjoyed mainstream success, and that is a driving force behind the Hall’s standard for inclusion.

What did you think when they put out 90125 in ’83?

CA: I loved it. I remember listening to the 12″ single and thought it sounded like the Police or something. Took it down the hall to [program director] Oedipus – who hated Yes, and he loved it! We started playing it immediately.

Do you think the two Yes factions — Yes (featuring Steve Howe and Alan White) and Anderson Rabin Wakeman — will get together to play, and will it lead to a reunion?

CA: I think doing that at the ceremony would be appropriate. I don’t know about a tour – remember “Union?” I saw both AWR and Yes this last time around and enjoyed both, although keyboardist Geoff Downes, as good as he is, pales next to Rick Wakeman.

Spike:  I definitely hope so! Life’s too short to hang on to hard feelings.

Journey was the prototypical example of a group that radio loves, and that music critics hate. And of course, Little Steven is on the nominating committee, and he famously had a huge fight to prevent “Don’t Stop Believin'” from being used in the last Sopranos scene.

CA: The audience adores them. We did a benefit auction over the weekend; people bid more for Journey tickets than Tom Petty! Journey has translated to a wide range of audience taste and demographics. It’s just difficult for older generations to accept, I think.

Critics can ignore a hugely successful commercial band’s worthiness because of the brightness of all that platinum. So, bands like Journey get the sales, but no critical love.

MS: Look, the essential folks were all voted in long ago and because now the whole process is driven by having to come up with a marketable show for HBO. Journey was a good band that knew how to write hit singles and back ’em up live. But do they belong in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame? No…but since the “standards” have become highly fluid they deserve induction as much as, and maybe more than, marginal acts such as the Pretenders, R.E.M., Percy Sledge, The Lovin’ Spoonful, Donovan, the Dells, Patti Smith, etc…I’m not saying those are bad acts (in fact I like a lot of them) but a Hall Of Fame should be made up of an elite roster. But that ship done sailed and we can’t be all that far from an REO Speedwagon induction.

Carter, which Journey era do you prefer: Gregg Rolie or Jonathan Cain? Cain’s arrival really seemed to change their sound in a big way.

CA: As a card-carrying Santana freak, I preferred the earlier days and Rolie’s big presence.

How do you feel about Electric Light Orchestra being inducted? 

MS: Once again, they need a TV show for HBO and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is far more important to us “boomers” than to anyone else. Love ’em or hate ’em (and I like them a lot) ELO took Jeff Lynne’s “Revolver”/”Strawberry Fields” fixation and turned it into a serious hit machine that made cool-sounding records…and they were another band who could back it up live!

Related: Why the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Now Embraces Classic Rock Favorites

It’s interesting that ELO got in as a band, but Nile Rodgers was pushed in under the “Award for Musical Excellence” thing, and Chic didn’t get in. Nile Rodgers and ELO’s Jeff Lynne both came from huge bands, and went on to produce even huger bands. But the “disco” thing still sticks to Chic (even though Donna Summer has been inducted)

CA: Chic is worthy of induction, I agree. ELO has had such a sugary ’70s dance sound and got in. Why? It has to be the many ELO hits plus Jeff Lynne’s enormous cred from being in the Traveling Wilburys and working with the Beatles.

Chic could have been inducted (they didn’t have as many hits as ELO, but their hits made a bigger impact) and Jeff Lynne inducted on his own – since working with the Beatles is obviously a huge deal. But what was ELO’s big contribution, how have they influenced music?

CA: They innovated that string sound into mainstream rock from their first album onward. It was a very different thing to be incorporating classical music instruments and sounds directly in the rock music, unlike Yes, which used classic music forms but still exercised as a five-piece rock band. Lynne brought that “big” sound into his production career as well.

Any thoughts on Joan Baez? It’s weird: she’s been eligible since the first year they’ve been doing inductions, and she’s never been on the ballot before.

MS: What took so long? Is Joan Baez’s name among the first two hundred (or 500) that roll off your tongue when rock and roll is the subject? I rather doubt it…but she was a pioneer in the folk/protest singer boom, had a beautiful voice, and was loaded with the rock and roll attitude of speaking truth to power. In my early folk singer days I was a huge fan but if she hadn’t have gotten in (or even have been on the nomination list) it wouldn’t have bothered or surprised me in the least…and I don’t think it would have bothered her either.

CA: I saw her once do a concert in the Boston Commons and she did “Amazing Grace” acapella – the sound of her voice bouncing off the downtown buildings is something I’ll never forget.

Spike:  I think the current political climate has refocused America on the value music has had of protest movements. That puts Joan’s body of work front and center.

So who should be inducted next year?

CA:  The J. Geils Band, the Cars, Soundgarden, Emerson Lake and Palmer.

MS: Once they have started to put Kraftwerk, the MC5, and Bad Brains on the ballot does it really matter?

I’m not one who believes that sales are needed to be voted in, nor should lack of sales necessarily keep someone out. I’d just like to see the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame voters be more selective and not cheapen entrance to the hall. Diversity is great but the Hall shouldn’t be run on a quota system, And who should be on the ballot next year? At the risk of being called a “homer,” how about The James Gang? They made some great records and were one of the original and seminal power trios. “Funk # 49” was far more influential to the rock world than “Autobahn” or “Kick Out The Jams”…just a thought!

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