Not everyone adores the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame but few can deny that within their building’s walls are some rather cool exhibits and some very great musicians honored. Or that at times, they’ve put on great shows. Such was the case on this day in 2017 when they had their annual induction ceremony at the Barclay Center in New York City. Among the acts they honored that night were Journey, Yes, ELO, Pearl Jam and Joan Baez. Quite a panorama of the “rock” world that, from the folk rock scene of the ’60s with Joan through the ’70s Prog Rock of Yes and melodic pop of Jeff Lynne’s ELO through the ’80s classic rock of Journey into ’90s grunge with Pearl Jam.
Many felt it was a case of “better late than never.” While Pearl Jam, grunge’s most enduring major band by far were in their first year of eligibility – the Hall requires a 25 year minimum timespan between an artist’s first album and induction – the others had shone for decades before 2017. Baez of course jumped to international fame with her performance at Woodstock. Yes made their debut that same year, 1969 (Geddy Lee of Rush who inducted them joked “we thought we had to wait a long time”) and ELO not long after that, nor Journey, always a fan favorite but not always awarded the same respect from critics despite their 11 platinum albums in the U.S., including their Greatest Hits which has sold beyond 15 million copies.
Of Journey, the hall says “call the style what you will – arena rock, stadium rock, concert rock – Journey dominated in the ’70s and ’80s”. It was a treat for fans to see Steve Perry, the voice that elevated them to superstar status, back with them, although ironically when it came time to perform, new singer Arnel Pineda (not one of the seven members listed as such by the hall) took the mic, Perry graciously saying Pineda “sings his heart out every night.”
Pearl Jam were going to have their friend and significant influence, Neil Young induct them but Neil pulled out at the last minute, leaving David Letterman to fill in. The talk show host joked about Neil (“poor guy just can’t stay up this late anymore”) and endeared himself to the band by calling Ticketmaster “blood-thirsty weasels.” Many may remember the group’s outspoken criticism of that agency and taking the unusual stance of not having their concerts distributed by them at times.
Alex Lifeson of Rush called Yes his “gateway band”, the one which he listened to endlessly as a teen which really got him wanting to play music himself. Not surprising perhaps because in their early years, Rush were a prog rock act not that different than Yes, who as the Hall put it “pushed the boundaries of rock…they created complex, progressive and virtuosic rock suites.” Geddy joined them onstage in their performance.
Another boundary-pusher were ELO, which the Hall suggest started by “picking up where the Beatles left off…expanded the concept of great melodies, epic song structure and great orchestrations.” Something which must make Lynne proud, given his fondness for the Beatles, being asked to work with them in the ’90s remastering some of their early works and his work with George Harrison in the Traveling Wilburys. Fittingly, George’s son Dhani inducted the band.
Those in attendance got to see the acts each perform and Lenny Kravitz do a tribute to Prince, who’d died the previous year to boot. For a finale, even though Neil Young wasn’t there, one of his songs was. Pearl Jam, along with members of Yes, Neal and Geddy of Rush and Neal Schon jammed together on “Rockin’ in the Free World” as a finale. A good time was had by all, one which perhaps will begin being replicated soon … now that David Letterman’s words that night seem strangely prophetic and wise – “never take the opportunity for live music for granted.”
This year’s ceremony is slated to take place in Cleveland, near the museum itself, on October 30. Ironically, tickets are available through Ticketmaster.