It was fitting on so many levels that this year’s Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ended with an all-star jam on Fats Domino’s “Ain’t That a Shame.”
Before the song began, Rick Nielsen, guitarist from new inductee Cheap Trick, said he had hoped to perform with the newly inducted hip-hop crew N.W.A. “We could be like Aerosmith and Run-D.M.C.,” he said. “And we’d be famous.”
Well, like many things planned for the ceremony at Barclays Center in Brooklyn on Friday night, that didn’t happen. Instead, there was a rough-and-tumble version of a rock and roll classic that sounded fine, but where the optics were all wrong for 2016. It was a stage filled with white artists — including new inductees Chicago, Deep Purple and Steve Miller — doing a black artist’s song. Yes, Sheryl Crow and Grace Potter, who had done a lovely version of “New Kid in Town” earlier as a tribute to the late Glenn Frey, were also there, but their inclusion only made it more obvious that there were no women inducted into the Rock Hall this year at all.
To be fair, that’s not how Rock Hall organizers planned it. N.W.A. was expected to perform, making their first appearance together in 26 years, until negotiations broke down in recent weeks, with Ice Cube saying that the group didn’t feel “supported enough” by producers. The group’s exit upset a lot of balances in this year’s class. Though Cheap Trick, Chicago, Deep Purple and Miller all continue to tour today, only N.W.A.’s Ice Cube and Dr. Dre have had hits in the past two decades. (The night’s other inductee — songwriter/producer Bert Berns, best known for writing “Twist and Shout” and “Piece of My Heart” — died in 1967.)
However, depending so much on one act to balance an inductee class only gives more ammunition to critics of the Rock Hall who question how well it meets its mission to honor rock and roll, as well as the music that influenced it and was influenced by it.
It’s a question Ice Cube tackled in his acceptance speech. “The question is, are we rock and roll? You’re goddamn right we’re rock and roll!” he said. “Rock and roll is not an instrument, it’s not even a style of music, it’s a spirit. It’s been going since the blues, jazz, bebop, rock and roll, punk rock, heavy metal and yes, hip-hop. What connects us all is that spirit.”
And the mild-mannered Miller gave critics even more ammunition, calling on the Rock Hall “to become more inclusive of women” in his acceptance speech and then blasting the institution in a news conference for being “unpleasant.” “They need to respect the artists they say they’re honoring, which they don’t,” Miller said.
When a publicist tried to wrap up his comments in the press room, Miller said, “No, we’re not going to wrap this up — I’m going to wrap you up. You go sit down over there and learn something. Here’s what you need to know: This is how close this whole show came to not happening because of the way the artists are being treated right now.”
An edited version of this year’s Rock Hall ceremony will air on HBO on April 30.
SETLIST: David Byrne, The Roots and Kimbra — Fame // Deep Purple — Highway Star / Hush / Smoke on the Water // Steve Miller — Fly Like an Eagle / Rock’n Me / The Joker // Sheryl Crow and Grace Potter — New Kid in Town // Chicago — Saturday in the Park / Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is / 25 or 6 to 4 // Cheap Trick — I Want You to Want Me / Dream Police / Surrender // Cheap Trick, Chicago, Deep Purple, Steve Miller, Steve Van Zandt, Sheryl Crow, Grace Potter, Rob Thomas, Paul Shaffer — Ain’t That a Shame