Commentary By Music Writer Thom Jennings
The latest slot of Rock And Roll Hall of Fame inductees raised the ire of Todd Rundgren fans-like me. While I’ll be the first to admit I drank the Rock Hall Kool-Aid after TR came in third place in the “fan” voting, the Rock Hall has been transparent when it comes to the fact that the fan ballot amounts to one vote out of around 1,000. In other words, it may feel good to vote for your favorite artists, but the main purpose of the fan ballot is to collect email addresses, not influence the outcome.
That naturally leads to the real question, who are the people that ultimately decide who gets in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame? Even though we know who some of them are, is a final vote tally ever made public? Did Todd come in eighth? Who audits the “real” vote? Does the “real” vote even determine the inductees? It’s mostly a mystery.
Even the demographic of the voting board may have an impact on the selection.The group seems to favor artists that are not recording new material on a regular basis-at least artists that got there. A quick look at this year’s class, and you can see the output of new studio albums since 2000. The Cure had two new albums, Def Leppard has four, Janet Jackson, four, Stevie Nicks (solo) three, Radiohead, five, Roxy Music’s last album of new material was in 1982, and The Zombies have had three.
Over the same period, Todd Rundgren has released nine studio albums, seven of them were of original material. So maybe the optimistic way of looking at the Rock Hall’s Rundgren snub, is that Todd isn’t a heritage act yet. If he was inducted a whole new slew of “fans” would come to shows expecting to see a sanitized heritage show-and that has become the expectation of the fans of bands whose first recording was 25 years ago. Since 2000 Todd has performed hundreds of different songs ranging from complete album shows from his Bearsville catalog, to quirky and unpredictable cover songs and shows filled with new material.
The 1970’s era rockers that have gone in the last few years fall in the same non-prolific category. Since 2000, Yes has released three albums, Cheap Trick has six (they had four in the twenty years before their induction), Journey had four, Joan Jett has three, Rush had three. The only recently inducted rock artist that has approached Todd in terms of output of new music since the turn of the century is Bon Jovi, who have released seven albums since 2000, keep in mind though that they formed in 1983, 15 years after Todd released his first album with Nazz.
Todd may wind up on a few rock cruises and show up at some casinos, but he has not fallen into the trap of having to completely forego new material in concert. That might have an impact on some of the voters whose expectations are more in line with older concertgoers. That’s not meant to be a criticism for bands that perform the hits-they should do what appeals to their fan base. Todd’s fans have come to expect him to do the unexpected.
Let’s also not forget that Todd’s induction would be a problem for the Rock Hall because of the fallout from “Tin Foil Hat,” a politically charged song that brought out a slew of criticism from trolls who want old rockers to “shut up and play yer hits…” and don’t have time to process political expression in musical form. The Rock Hall creates enough controversy, especially when they don’t give Steve Miller free tables for his band mates.
My attitude has always been, for the most part, “it is what it is,” and while it would be fun to say “my” guy is in the Rock Hall, there are far worse snubs and head scratchers than Todd, especially this year with the induction of Stevie Nicks as the first female who is in with a band and as a solo artist.
I am not questioning the merits of Nicks’ induction, but does she really outrank Diana Ross and Tina Turner as female solo artists? Frankly, having Tina only in with her abusive former husband and not as a solo artist is a travesty. How have they not righted that wrong? There were 21 male performers inducted twice before they picked one female, if anything they should have a special committee to include multiple female inductees to catch up on the years they have been ignored-much like they did when they added backing bands back in 2012. Maybe then Tina Turner and Diana Ross will get in as solo performers.
The Rock Hall has tried to create an air of inclusion by adding hip-hop and pop artists, but their record of inducting female artists is fairly abysmal. With Janet Jackson and Stevie Nicks going in the same year, it’s one of the very few times two female artists have been inducted in the same year. They had no female performers in the first group of inductees, it wasn’t until the second group that Aretha Franklin got in.
As for Rundgren, he has always been an outsider. He’s almost too special to be in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, an organization that exists to promote itself, and artists that, for the most part, play nice.
Don’t get me wrong, it would be an honor if he made the cut, but until the voting process becomes somewhat transparent, it’s still a weird honor. If the criteria is supposed to allow for “influential” artists, then why wouldn’t the voting be limited to musicians? If it’s supposed to be a popularity contest then it should be determined by fans and sales. Most importantly, we should know who the voters are and we should have voting tallies.
And if you really want to stop having people like me write negative things about the Rock Hall’s induction process, then just elect Todd Rundgren next year, and all will be forgiven.