Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (November 3, 2009)
As I write this, the Rock Hall of Fame is in the midst of concerts to celebrate its 25th anniversary. To commemorate that occasion, a nine-DVD set called Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Live looks at performances from its induction ceremonies. These come from the very first party in 1986 and continue through the most recent one from 2009.
Each of the first eight discs adopts a title from a famous song. These titles offer some indication of the content included, but don’t expect tremendous consistency. The programming on the discs isn’t random, but it’s not tight, either. I’ll list all the specific content on the discs.
(Nit-picky quibble before I continue: on what grounds is the HOF celebrating its 25th anniversary? The HOF Foundation was formed in 1983, and the first class of inductees was announced in 1985. As I mentioned, no inductions occurred until 1986, and the actual Hall building in Cleveland wasn’t built until the 1990s. If someone can tell me what makes 1984 such a special year for the HOF, let me know – I don’t get it!)
Light My Fire (1:35:34): Mick Jagger inducts the Beatles (1988); “I Saw Her Standing There”, Mick Jagger, Bruce Springsteen and the Rock Hall Jam Band (1988); Cream acceptance speech (1993); “Sunshine of Your Love”, Cream (1993); Bruce Springsteen inducts Roy Orbison (1987); “Oh, Pretty Woman”, Roy Orbison with Bruce Springsteen and the Rock Hall Jam Band (1987); Creedence Clearwater Revival acceptance speech (1993); “Green River”, John Fogerty and Friends (1993), Eddie Vedder inducts the Doors (1993), “Light My Fire”, the Doors with Eddie Vedder (1993); Tom Petty inducts Buffalo Springfield (1997); “For What It’s Worth”, Crosby, Stills and Nash with Tom Petty (1997); Phil Lesh and Mickey Hart induct Jefferson Airplane (1996); “Volunteers”, Jefferson Airplane (1996); Santana acceptance speech (1998); “Black Magic Woman”, Santana with Peter Green (1998); Crosby, Stills and Nash acceptance speech (1997); “Teach Your Children”, Crosby, Stills and Nash with James Taylor and Emmylou Harris (1997); Jackson Browne acceptance speech (2004); “Running on Empty”, Jackson Browne (2004); Eric Clapton inducts the Band (1994); “The Weight”, the Band with Eric Clapton (1994); Bruce Springsteen acceptance speech (1999); “The Promised Land”, Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band (1999); Olivia and Dhani Harrison accept for George Harrison (2004); “Handle With Care”, Tom Petty, Jeff Lynne, Steve Winwood and Dhani Harrison, “While My Guitar Gently Weeps”, “While My Guitar Gently Weeps”, Tom Petty, Jeff Lynne, Steve Winwood, Dhani Harrison, and Prince (2004); Paul McCartney acceptance speech (1999); “Let It Be”, Paul McCartney and the Rock Hall Jam Band (1999).
It seems appropriate that this set should begin with a tribute to the biggest rock band ever: the Beatles. Unfortunately, McCartney doesn’t appear; some legal wrangling led him to stay home. At least that circumstance leads to a wry, funny remark from George Harrison.
At least the rave-up version of “I Saw Her Standing There” provides a real who’s who of rockers. In addition to Harrison and Ringo Starr, we see Jagger, Springsteen, Billy Joel, Bob Dylan, and a slew of other heavyweights. The performance itself is nothing special – and it seems odd that they chose a Beatles tune with a Macca lead vocal – but damn, it’s just awfully cool to see. Where else can you find Springsteen and Jagger sharing the same microphone?
After that big opener, we go to a perfectly serviceable rendition of “Sunshine of Your Love” from Cream. It’s a great song, and as they showed during their 2005 reunion, the guys can still bring the heat. However, they don’t look particularly comfortable here, and the performance seems average.
“Average” would’ve been a big compliment for the ramshackle all-star turn on “Pretty Woman”, though. The massive band starts out on the wrong foot and matters don’t really improve. You’ll hear plenty of bum notes and flubbed cues. Even the legendary Orbison voice falters, though I think that’s mostly because the song never finds the right key. What a mess!
Why does Fogerty perform with “friends” – a group that includes Robbie Robertson and one B. Springsteen – instead of CCR? Because Fogerty friggin’ hates his old band. It’s too bad they couldn’t bury the hatchet for one night – heck, Cream did it the same year – but I can’t complain about the musical merits of this band’s take on “Green River”. I’m not a big CCR person, but this rendition sounds pretty darned good.
What to do? I love Pearl Jam but hate the Doors. How do I deal with the sight of Vedder with the dreaded Doors? Focus on the fact Eddie looks like he’s about 12 here, I guess. Man, does it make me feel old to see how young Vedder appears. It’s funny to think that he was the hot new thing back in 1993, while now PJ are “old lions”, as it were.
Anyway, “Fire” is probably the most listenable song in the Doors catalog – not that it has much competition for that title. This is a pretty dull version, however. Vedder can’t inject any life into it, and that rambling keyboard solo still seems never-ending. We get a dull take on the tune here.
Matters pick up a bit with Buffalo Springfield. Tom Petty fills in for Neil Young, and they throw out a somewhat ramshackle but occasionally spirited take on “For What It’s Worth”. The guitar solos fly the highest, while low notes come from Stephen Stills’ rambling and the befuddling appearance on stage of a fat guy in a dashiki. Maybe he’s a member of the band I don’t recognize, but he doesn’t play an instrument or sing, so it’s unclear why he’s there.
While I prefer them to the Doors, I’ve never been wild about the Airplane – heck, I admit I hate all of the 60s San Francisco bands. To my surprise, “Volunteers” actually doesn’t sound too band. Some sizzling guitar work gives it bite and makes it better than expected. It’s one of the rare HOF performances that benefits from its sloppiness.
Add Santana to the list of notable acts I never much liked; I wouldn’t say I ever actively disliked Carlos and his never-ending roster of band mates, but their loose jazzy sound doesn’t do much for me. Still, I can’t deny the man knows how to play guitar, and his skills help give “Woman” a little bite.
Eventually we’ll get to some inductees that I like, but that won’t happen with CSN. I’ve never quite understood their appeal, and the sickly-sweet “Teach Your Children” does nothing to demonstrate their charms to me. Even with James Taylor and Emmylou Harris as guests, this rendition is a flop. It sounds like CSN barely remember how to play a song they’ve done thousands of times over the decades.
Time for more light rock with Jackson Browne! Heck, after the blandness that preceded it, “Running on Empty” actually sounds pretty good. I’m no Browne fan, but at least he plays a tight version of the song, and that’s a relief after the messy CSN turn.
One nice aspect of the HOF ceremonies stems from the way they often bring long-defunct acts back together for a night. While the Band continued to work over the three decades since The Last Waltz, they did so without leading light Robbie Robertson. He plays with them here, so that gives this take on “The Weight” a little more… weight. It’s not a great performance, but it’s nice to see.
Hey – we finally come to an act I really like! And by “really like”, I mean “top five ever”. Granted, I could easily go the rest of my life without hearing Bruce play “The Promised Land” again – after 87 concerts, I’ve gotten more than a little sick of it – but the song sounds fine here. The performance comes right on the eve of the big 1999 E Street reunion, so we find a band happy to be together.
Light My Fire progresses with two tunes from another favorite – or two songs written by a favorite, as George Harrison passed a few years prior to his induction. “Handle With Care” finds the band in the position of compensating for two deceased singers, as Wilburys Harrison and Roy Orbison were gone by the time of the ceremony. Fellow Wilburys Tom Petty and Jeff Lynne take on the vocals and do just fine with them in this satisfying performance.
I’d guess that the next clip represents the most often Youtubed HOF rendition ever, largely due to the talents of guest guitarist Prince. Petty handles the “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” vocals and does okay. The rest of the band proves perfectly acceptable as well, but the track doesn’t really take off until Prince blasts into the closing guitar solo. Prince doesn’t get a ton of credit for his guitar skills, but he’s one of the best ever, and he reminds us of that in this remarkable performance.
Is it just me, or does it seem odd that Harrison’s induction as a solo artist includes two songs done with bands? The same is true for fellow Fabs John Lennon – represented later in the set – and Paul McCartney. Rather than play a solo tune, Macca does “Let It Be”. Is it just me, or are the majority of these “jam band” performances something of a mess? Too many cooks and whatnot, I guess, though part of the problem here may stem from Macca’s tardiness; he’s off-stage at the start, so Billy Joel starts the vocals in what appears to be an impromptu attempt to cover for the missing Beatle.
I get the feeling Paul may’ve been a little soused this evening; from his late arrival on stage to his – ahem - loose acceptance speech, Macca seems under the influence of something. When he walks out during the song, he has this “I’m supposed to sing?” look on his face. Not that I expect the “jam band” version of “Let It Be” would’ve been less of a flop anyway. It’s a lot better than that God-awful “Pretty Woman”, but it’s still pretty ragged, and not in a good way.
Sweet Emotion (1:24:45): “Wake Up, Little Susie”, Jackson Browne and Melissa Etheridge (1995); Rolling Stones acceptance speech (1989); “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction”, Mick Jagger, Bruce Springsteen and the Rock Hall Jam Band (1989); “Honky Tonk Women”, Mick Jagger, Tina Turner and the Rock Hall Jam Band (1989); “Woodstock”, James Taylor (1997); James Taylor inducts Crosby, Stills and Nash (1997); “Wooden Ships”, Crosby, Stills and Nash (1997); REM acceptance speech (2007); “Man on the Moon”, REM with Eddie Vedder (2007); Kid Rock inducts Aerosmith (2001); “Sweet Emotion”, Aerosmith with Kid Rock (2001); Keith Richards inducts ZZ Top (2004); “La Grange” and “Tush”, ZZ Top (2004); AC/DC acceptance speech (2003); “Highway to Hell”, AC/DC (2003); Flea inducts Metallica (2009); “Master of Puppets”, Metallica (2009); Bono inducts Bruce Springsteen (1999); “Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out”, Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band (1999); Bruce Springsteen inducts U2 (2005); “Pride (In the Name Of Love)”, U2 (2005); Neil Young inducts the Jimi Hendrix Experience (1992); “All Along the Watchtower”, the Rock Hall Jam Band (1992).
We open with a subdued number here, as Browne and Etheridge go acoustic for “Little Susie”. It’s a perfectly decent rendition but nothing I’d call memorable. Matters get livelier – but sloppier – with the “Jam Band” version of “Satisfaction”. I must admit it’s cool to see Jagger and Springsteen – two of my all-time faves – sing together, but these “Jam Band” numbers are always a bit of a mess. “Satisfaction” is a little tighter than usual; it’s a simple song that everyone knows, and Jagger does most of the singing, so there’s less room for goofs. Still, the idea of the performance is more interesting than the actual version of the song.
Compared to the train wreck rendition of “Honky Tonk Women”, though, that “Jam Band” “Satisfaction” is a classic. “Women” starts poorly and never gets much better. Jagger does his best to wrangle the proceedings, and his pairing with Tina Turner adds some zest, but the performance is such a mess that it flops.
We go all quiet ‘n’ gentle with Taylor’s take on “Woodstock”. It’s not especially clear why Taylor does the CSN song, but he offers a predictably mellow version. Taylor’s so laidback that he makes CSN look like AC/DC.
CSN themselves crop up next with “Wooden Ships”. I must admit I’ve never liked CSN, and “Ships” doesn’t really change my mind. I guess they sound pretty good, though, and after that wimpy version of “Woodstock”, “Ships” comes across as pretty lively. CSN never rocked, but they feel like headbangers after Taylor.
A band I always thought I should like but never did, REM provide a competent take on a competent song via “Man in the Moon”. I often felt REM suffered from “Tries Too Hard Syndrome”, and that feeling comes through with their homage to Andy Kaufman. They sound fine, but they do nothing to endear themselves.
On the other hand, I do like Aerosmith; they’re a lower tier band in my estimation, maybe in my top 50 but not high on my list. Though they’ve played “Sweet Emotion” a billion times over the last few decades, the tune never quite gels here, partially due to the unnecessary presence of Kid Rock, and partially because Steven Tyler seems off-key and unenthused. The band play fine, but the vocalists zap this one of its necessary energy.
Aerosmith’s 2009 tourmates – well, briefly, at least – ZZ Top also toss off songs they’ve been playing for endless decades. Unlike Aerosmith, ZZ Top rarely do anything to embarrass themselves, so you’ll get perfectly competent performances here. However, I think they’ve been on cruise control for a while, so nothing inspired occurs. They sound good but not great.
Colin trivia note: AC/DC was the very first band I ever saw play live when they opened for KISS back in 1977. Of course, I wasn’t there for AC/DC – at the age of 10, I’d never heard of them – and I didn’t see this edition of the band; I witnessed AC/DC with Bon Scott still in the lead. They’re one of the few bands that’s thrived after the death/departure of their singer, a fact that gives them some kind of credibility.
But it doesn’t mean I much like them. Oh, I don’t dislike AC/DC, as it’s hard for me to hate a band that favors good old kick-butt rock. They just never did much for me, and their ordinary version of “Highway to Hell” does nothing to convert me to the cause.
I’d lump Metallica in the same category: don’t like ‘em, don’t hate ‘em, don’t really care. At least they give us a slightly left-field song choice. Most of the acts pick the obvious tunes, but “Master of Puppets” isn’t one I’d expect. They actually sound pretty good here, and it’s nice that they let departed bassist Jason Newsted play as well.
Finally – we get back to another of my faves with Springsteen. “Tenth Avenue” counts as another unusual choice, and it works well for the most part. The horns aren’t quite all there, but the band’s tight, and Bruce seems into it. It’s a little odd to see the band on the verge of the reunion; an E Street performance was a big deal in the spring of 1999, and no one knew that they’d play roughly 8302 shows over the next decade.
Another all-time fave shows up via U2. Also then on the verge of a tour, they pick a predictable song and don’t sound terribly good. In particular, Bono offers a fairly terrible vocal. U2’s 2009 shows have been a breath of fresh air; while the 2001 and 2005 tours were good, Bono’s voice came and went, whereas he’s been consistently solid in 2009. The HOF induction caught Bono on a night when the voice wasn’t there, unfortunately.
This DVD ends with a tribute to Hendrix. Alas, it’s another “Jam Band” performance, so don’t expect it to be anything better than disjointed. At least they have Neil Young do the vocal; no one handles sloppy better than Neil, so with him at the mic, it almost sounds intentionally messy. Almost, but not quite; it’s not one of the worst “Jam Band” performances, but it’s still not impressive.
Start Me Up (1:20:41): “Won’t Get Fooled Again”, the Who and the Rock Hall Jam Band (1990); Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers acceptance speech (2002); “American Girl”, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers (2002); Kid Rock inducts Lynyrd Skynyrd (2006); “Sweet Home Alabama”, Lynyrd Skynyrd (2006); Righteous Brothers acceptance speech (2003); “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’”, Righteous Brothers (2003); Byrds acceptance speech (1991); “Turn! Turn! Turn! (To Everything There Is a Season)”, the Byrds (1991); Mamas & Papas acceptance speech (1998); “California Dreamin’”, Mamas and Papas (1998); “Born Under a Bad Sign”, Cream (1993); Traffic acceptance speech (2004); “Dear Mr. Fantasy”, Traffic (2004); “Landslide”, Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham (1998); Fleetwood Mac acceptance speech (1998); “Say You Love Me”, Fleetwood Mac (1998); Dave Grohl and Taylor Hawkins induct Queen (2001); “Tie Your Mother Down”, Queen with Dave Grohl and Taylor Hawkins (2001); Ray Charles inducts Billy Joel (1998); “Only the Good Die Young”, Billy Joel (1998); Rolling Stones acceptance speech (1989); “Start Me Up”, Mick Jagger and the Rock Hall Jam Band (1989); Billy Joel inducts John Mellencamp (2008); “Pink Houses”, John Mellencamp (2008); U2 acceptance speech (2005); “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For”, U2 with Bruce Springsteen.
This platter launches with another “Jam Band” track – and I have no idea why. Why not just let the Who play “Won’t Get Fooled Again” on their own? This rendition seems tighter than many of the “Jam Band” performances – not that it takes much to outdo the others – but the Who don’t need 400 people on stage to sound big, so the presence of the extras musicians becomes a distraction. It doesn’t help that we find a severely truncated version of the song, and who’s stupid idea was it to add a trumpet solo?
Matters improve when Petty plays an old warhorse. “American Girl” is TP’s oldest popular song, but it still works. Despite eight jillion performances over the years, TP and the HBs continue to give it verve.
I’d be curious to know what diehard Skynyrd fans think of the version of the band that’s toured for decades. The Skynyrd that earned them their popularity and legacy ended in 1978 when a few prominent members died in a plane crash, so some might view the subsequent editions as a Sham Skynyrd. Then again, many see the Half Who as a sham, so I won’t judge. I will say that I’m sick of seeing Kid Rock duet with acts, and that the rendition of “Alabama” heard here seems pretty uninspired, though.
It’s no surprise that many of the HOF inductees are well past their musical primes, but not many embarrass themselves. Unfortunately, I’d have to state that the Righteous Brothers put on a sad display. Maybe Bill Medley was just having an off night ala Bono during “Pride”, or maybe his voice was totally shot by 2003, but boy does he sound terrible. Even orchestral accompaniment can’t save this ragged performance.
The Byrds’ performance doesn’t embarrass them, but it doesn’t encourage any calls for a reunion. Don Henley and Jackson Browne add an assist, but “Turn!” sounds stiff and under-rehearsed. It must’ve been nice for fans to see the Byrds back together after many moons, but this is a pretty forgettable take on the tune.
Like many of the HOF bands, the Mamas and the Papas lack a main member; Mama Cass died decades earlier, so we get three-fourths of the singers. They actually sound fairly good, though. I was never a fan, but I can’t say anything negative about this version of “Dreamin’”.
Then one of the HOF’s most notable reunions, Cream pick a moderate obscurity with “Bad Sign”. Clapton throws off a fiery solo and helps elevate this number. It’s not a great song, but the performance works.
Clapton’s occasional musical collaborator Steve Winwood shows up in the next segment with one of his many bands. I can’t say Traffic ever did a ton for me, but “Dear Mr. Fantasy” is a decent tune, and the band plays it fairly well. Winwood remained in good voice – heck, he still sounds fine – so this is a more than competent performance.
For “Landslide”, we get partial Mac. Stevie Nicks’ voice may be the ultimate acquired taste, and I still can’t decide what I think of her. I used to loathe her, but I’ve come to like the Mac over the years; that means I have to at least tolerate her vocal style. She and Buckingham do justice to “Landslide” in a rare understated HOF moment; usually we’re stuck with BIG BIG BIG HOF bits, so it’s nice to get something so simple.
The whole Mac – with now-departed Christine McVie – shows up for “Say You Love Me”. Even though I’ve developed an affection for the Mac, I can’t bring myself to see them live; it just doesn’t seem right without Christine there, as she did too many of the band’s big numbers. This version of “Love Me” is a bit shaky, but it’s still nice to see the most popular edition of the Mac together on stage.
I will always be shocked that so many people have accepted a version of Queen without Freddie Mercury. Granted, other huge acts have lost signature frontmen – Van Halen comes to mind – and prospered, but the fact that Mercury died and didn’t just quit always made the 21st century Queen seem distasteful to me.
The HOF Queen doesn’t foist Paul Rodgers on us. Instead, main Foo and former Nirvana drummer Dave Grohl takes the lead vocal duties. He sounds nothing like Mercury, but he has charisma and energy to spare, she he helps carry the band through this tune. It helps that “Mother” is one of the harder rocking songs to grace the HOF stage; I’m glad they picked a more obscure number, and this version packs a real punch.
Billy Joel is another one of those performers I neither like nor hate. Truthfully, I think he’s pretty mediocre and doesn’t deserve his popularity, but I can enjoy some of his tunes. “Only the Good Die Young” is a decent song, and it gets a lively rendition here. I’ve heard Joel puts on good live shows, and that comes across during this forceful version of “Young”.
Matters deteriorate with another of those awful “Jam Band” performances. How can they mess up such simple songs? “Start Me Up” doesn’t turn into another disaster ala “Honky Tonk Women”, but it’s not good either.
Some would argue that John Mellencamp shouldn’t be in the HOF because he never was much of an innovator. And they’re right, as he failed to pioneer anything in particular, and he also was never a superstar either. However, there’s something to be said about the career .300 hitter who never quite excels but who puts up good numbers every year, and that’s how I view Mellencamp.
He demonstrates that general effectiveness with a perfectly acceptable version of “Pink Houses”. I get the feeling Mellencamp’s pretty sick of that tune after more than 25 years, but he still gives it a good go. This isn’t one of the best HOF performances, but it works well.
We finish the disc with more U2 – and more Bruce, as he guests on “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For”. Perhaps because the song allows Bono to take a lighter touch, he sounds better here than on “Pride”, though he still just ain’t there. Nonetheless, it’s a decent rendition, and it’s fun to hear Springsteen belt out a few lines, though someone should’ve unplugged his guitar, as his playing is off.
Feelin’ Alright (1:22:12): Bill Graham, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame First Induction Ceremony (1986); “Roll Over Beethoven”, Jerry Lee Lewis, Chuck Berry and the Rock Hall Jam Band (1986); “Tutti Frutti”, Little Richard (1995); Bo Diddley acceptance speech (1987); “Bo Diddley”, Bo Diddley with Robbie Robertson and Eric Clapton (2005); Eric Clapton acceptance speech (2000); “Further On Up the Road”, Eric Clapton with Robbie Robertson (2000); Little Richard inducts Otis Redding (1989); “(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay”, Little Richard (1989); Tina Turner inducts Phil Spector (1989); “River Deep, Mountain High”, Tina Turner and the Rock Hall Jam Band (1989); Etta James acceptance speech (1993); “At Last”, Etta James (1993); “Shout”, the Isley Brothers and the Rock Hall Jam Band (1992); “The Twist”, Chubby Checker and the Rock Hall Jam Band (1986); Keith Richards inducts the Ronettes (2007); “Be My Baby”, the Ronettes (2007); “I Can’t Turn You Loose”, Little Richard, Mick Jagger and the Rock Hall Jam Band (1989); Tom Hanks inducts the Dave Clark Five (2008); “Glad All Over”, Joan Jett, John Mellencamp, John Fogerty and Billy Joel (2008); Little Steven Van Zandt inducts the Rascals (1997); “People Got to Be Free”, the Rascals (1997); Traffic acceptance speech (2004); “Feelin’ Alright”, Dave Mason and the Rock Hall Jam Band (2004); “How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You)”, James Taylor and the Rock Hall Jam Band (2000); “Beck’s Bolero”, Jeff Beck with Jimmy Page (2009); “Sweet Little Rock and Roller”, Kid Rock with the Rock Hall Jam Band (2004); “Johnny B. Goode”, Chuck Berry with Bruce Springsteen and the Rock Hall Jam Band (1995).
At the start of this disc, we go back to the very first “Jam Band” appearance. Were they any better that opening year? Nope. Sometimes it sounds like everyone’s playing a different song all at the same time. Everyone knows Chuck Berry – how can one of his tunes flop so badly?
Although there’s a disc devoted to the 1995 Cleveland HOF concert, we get one of its numbers here. I don’t know why. Little Richard looks scary as hell, but he sounds pretty good. The voice lacks the effortless highs of its youth, of course, but Richard holds up fine.
Rather than give us something from his induction year, Bo Diddley shows up in 2005. I’d have preferred something from the earlier years, as this isn’t an inspiring take on “Bo Diddley”. Even with Clapton, Robertson and others, Diddley can’t get it done very well. He was obviously on a severe decline; God bless him for giving it a go, but the performance is a bit sad to see.
I think Clapton’s been inducted via 293 acts, but he got in on his own in 2000. He and the ubiquitous Robertson play a competent version of “Road”. Clapton rarely demonstrates much fire these days, so don’t expect anything vibrant here, but the song sounds fine.
Though Little Richard sang pretty well at the 1995 concert, he fared less well in 1989 when he did Otis Redding’s “Dock of the Bay”. Granted, his voice doesn’t really suit that song – drop the incessant “woos”! - and I’m not sure why he croons at the podium. I suspect this was an impromptu performance, and it’s not memorable.
Since the “Jam Band” can’t handle Chuck Berry songs, is there any chance they’ll acquit themselves well with something as complex as “River Deep”? Nope, though they come closer than expected. It probably helps that Paul Shaffer’s band played it often on Letterman, so they had enough experience with it to carry the day. Tina’s the one who carries it, though; even with shaky backing, she makes it work.
Etta James’ music is pretty far from my wheelhouse, so it becomes tougher for me to critique her performance. The song just does nothing for me, and her rendition doesn’t give it much luster. James tries to shout her way through it, but she sounds rough and can’t stay on key. It’s not a good take.
Back to the “Jam Band” and another song famous and basic enough that they shouldn’t be able to screw it up. And they don’t, though the presence of so many people on stage continues to be more of a distraction than a positive. “The Twist” is more of a mess, as no one seems to be on the same page. At least we get some unintentional amusement as Jerry Lee Lewis desperately tries to find out what key the song’s in.
I guess we get two-thirds of the Ronettes for their induction; I don’t know who the chick on stage right is, but she’s clearly a few decades too young to be an original Ronette. Ronnie’s there, though, and I suspect that’s all that really matters. She lacks the same range she had in the Sixties – who doesn’t? – and speak-sings a little, but this is a perfectly pleasing performance. I think the HOF folks should’ve forced her to recreate her original 60s her, though.
If I die and someone does a tribute to me, I hope they sound better than the band’s homage to Otis Redding. As usual, the “Jam Band” makes a mess of a song, so “I Can’t Turn You Loose” becomes a shambling wreck. It improves a bit as it progresses – especially when Jagger takes over on vocals - but not enough to make it good.
Eventually every 60s band who had a top 20 hit in 1965 will be inducted into the HOF. Many will disagree with me, but I feel that DC5 should only be allowed in the HOF if they buy a ticket. They’re a generally forgotten Brit Invasion Also-Ran, not an act worthy of a Hall of Fame. Hearing Fogerty, Mellencamp, Joel and Joan Jett slop their way through “Glad All Over” does nothing to make me embrace the DC5’s “legacy”.
And the Rascals? There’s another band I don’t think merit HOF induction, though I suppose they boast a better argument than the DC5. Not that you’d agree after a listen to their sloppy version of “People Got to Be Free”. I can’t even blame the “Jam Band” for once; this is just a bad performance.
Traffic returns – along with “Jam Band” guests – for “Feelin’ Alright”. I’ve never cared for the song – “Dear Mr. Fantasy” is much superior – but we do get one of the tighter “Jam Band” performances here. After 20 years or so, I guess they decided they should rehearse those songs. Anyway, it’s a solid take on an average tune.
When we rewind four years, we see that the “Jam Band” hadn’t learned to rehearse as of 2000. Granted, nothing could save Taylor’s insipid “How Sweet It Is”, but the overall feebleness of the performance makes it even less enjoyable than usual.
We get a rare instrumental via “Beck’s Bolero”. A rock interpretation of a classical number was pretentious 40 years ago and it hasn’t aged well. Matters do improve when Jimmy Page comes out; he and Beck do a lively instrumental version of “Kashmir”.
From there we go to two of my least recurring HOF players: Kid Rock and the “Jam Band”. Though the DVD bills this as Rock with the “Jam Band”, Kid only takes lead at the start; from there, we get vocals from Tom Petty, Jackson Browne, and Steve Winwood. Again, the “Jam Band” were better rehearsed by 2004, so this is a competent rendition.
The disc ends with the originator – Chuck Berry – and gives us another glimpse of the 1995 Rock Hall concert. Chuck always plays with pickup bands when he tours, but here the E Street Band backs him. Chuck’s notoriously inconsistent, but he seems to dig the fact he’s in front of many thousands of people – not the small crowds he usually sees – and “Johnny” gets some kick. It’s not a great performance, but at least it finishes the disc on a relatively high note.
Whole Lotta Shakin’ (1:07:53): Quincy Jones inducts Ray Charles (1986); “What’d I Say”, Billy Joel and the Rock Hall Jam Band (1999); Johnny Cash acceptance speech (1992); “Big River”, Johnny Cash and the Rock Hall Jam Band (1992); “Stand By Me”, Ben E. King and the Rock Hall Jam Band (1988); Hank Williams, Jr., inducts Jerry Lee Lewis (1986); “Whole Lot of Shakin’ Going On”, Jerry Lee Lewis (2005); Bonnie Raitt inducts Ruth Brown (1993); “Mama He Treats Your Daughter Mean”, Ruth Brown with Bonnie Raitt (1993); John Lee Hooker acceptance speech (1991); “I’m In the Mood”, John Lee Hooker with Bonnie Raitt (1991); Buddy Guy acceptance speech (2005); “Let Me Love You, Baby”, Buddy Guy with BB King and Eric Clapton (2005); “Runaway”, Billy Joel with Bonnie Raitt (1999); Sam Phillips inducts Carl Perkins (1987); “Blue Suede Shoes”, Paul McCartney and the Rock Hall Jam Band (1999); Bruce Springsteen indicts Creedence Clearwater Revival (1993); “Born on the Bayou”, John Fogerty and Friends (1993); Doors acceptance speech (1993); “Break on Through”, Doors with Eddie Vedder (1993); “Backstreets”, Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band (1999); Jimmy Page inducts Jeff Beck (2009); “The Train Kept A-Rollin’”, Jeff Beck, Jimmy Page, Ron Wood, Joe Perry, Flea and Metallica (2009).
Once again, we hit a snag with another “Jam Band” performance. This is a less negative downturn, though, as “What’d I Say” comes across better prepared than usual. Or maybe I just like it because McCartney sounds really good. I admit I’m not sure why we get a Ray Charles tune 13 years after his induction but years before his death.
When the HOF inducted Johnny Cash in 1992, I thought it didn’t make sense; while Cash had some connection to the rock world, he was a country act. Even with all the lionizing heaped on Cash since then, I still don’t think his induction makes much sense, though with tunes like “Big River”, one could argue for his HOF spot due to a rockabilly vibe. Ehh – I don’t buy it, but this is a decent performance nonetheless. If nothing else, it’s cool to see John Fogerty and the Edge picking along with the MIB.
Another ramshackle “Jam Band” appearance comes with “Stand By Me”. Even with the sight of Brian Wilson’s awkward attempts to clap in time, this isn’t a trainwreck, but it’s another “all-star” performance that disappoints way more than it excites. It’s something of mess, though once King’s voice gets warmed up, the song improves.
As with the Ray Charles tribute, I don’t know why 1986 inductee Jerry Lee Lewis played in 2005 – maybe it was a 20th anniversary thing? Anyway, I do know this: even at his advanced age, Lewis still rocks, and he could still kick my ass. This isn’t the most fiery take of “Shakin’”, but Lewis is a force of nature. He’s one of the few 1950s rockers who doesn’t embarrass himself in the 21st century.
Despite the fact that she looked a lot like Tracy Morgan in drag, Ruth Brown could still sing in the early 1990s. She pairs well with Raitt, and they create a reasonably feisty take on “Mean”. Raitt also helps give John Lee Hooker a little kick; he probably didn’t need it, but she turns into a useful compatriot.
With BB King and Eric Clapton, Buddy Guy throws out a pretty good turn. King doesn’t show the greatest chops, but Guy is lively, and Clapton seems to enjoy his time with his blues forefathers. It’s a nice clip.
We head to another 1999 tribute from Billy Joel – and another appearance from Raitt. Joel’s voice isn’t really right for “Runaway”, and the song suffers. McCartney embraces one of his heroes with more satisfying results via “Blue Suede Shoes”. Macca continues to be in fine voice, and Robbie Robertson pitches in with a nice solo to make this a terrific track.
We head back to Fogerty sans CCR with “Born on the Bayou”. I still think it’s shameful they couldn’t kiss and makeup for one night, but the song rocks pretty well. I also still can’t stand seeing Eddie Vedder front the much loathed Doors, though. I hate having to listen to him warble through another tuneless Doors dirge.
Back to more Springsteen. The sound of “Backstreets” acts as a tonic after the bad taste of the Doors. Like “Promised Land” and “Tenth Avenue”, this one’s a little “left field” for the HOF; none of those are obscure songs, but they’re certainly not the Big Hits one expects from an HOF show. In particular, the introspective “Backstreets” is an unusual choice, but it works.
It’s official: after 40 years, Jeff Beck and Ron Wood have morphed into the same person. Or maybe they just share the same wig-maker. In any case, “Train” plops a zillion of rock’s most notable guitarists on stage together to rock out to the old Yardbirds number, and it actually lives up to expectations. Essentially we hear Metallica Plus Guests, so expect a metal flavor. A bunch of nice solos emerge, and this becomes a hard-rocking end to the disc.
I’ll Take You There (1:25:13): Rod Stewart inducts Percy Sledge (2005); “When a Man Loves a Woman”, Percy Sledge (2005); Justin Timberlake inducts the O’Jays (2005); “Love Train”, the O’Jays (2005); Gamble and Huff acceptance speech (2008); “Only the Strong Survive”, Jerry Butler (2008); Mary J. Blige inducts Solomon Burke (2001); “Cry to Me”, Solomon Burke (2001); Fred Schneider and Kate Pierson induct Martha and the Vandellas (1995); “Dancing in the Street”, Martha and the Vandellas (1995); Stevie Wonder inducts the Four Tops (1990); “I Can’t Help Myself”, the Four Tops and the Rock Hall Jam Band (1990); Booker T and the MG’s acceptance speech (1992); “Green Onions”, Booker T and the MG’s and the Rock Hall Jam Band (1992); Isaac Hayes acceptance speech (2002); “Theme from Shaft”, Isaac Hayes (2002); Staple Singers acceptance speech (1999); “I’ll Take You There”, Staple Singers (1999); Ahmet Ertegun acceptance speech (1987); “Don’t Play That Song”, Aretha Franklin (2007); “I Never Loved a Man (The Way I Love You)”, Aretha Franklin (2007); Al Green acceptance speech (1995); “Take Me to the River”, Al Green (1995); Prince inducts Parliament-Funkadelic (1997); “Tear the Roof Off the Sucker (Give Up the Funk)”, Parliament-Funkadelic (1997); “In the Midnight Hour”, Wilson Pickett with Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band (1999).
Many view Percy Sledge as one of the most controversial HOF inductees, mainly because he didn’t have a particularly long track record of hit tunes: after “When A Man Loves a Woman”, what’s left to say? Not much, and I’d agree that Sledge shouldn’t be in the HOF. “Woman” is undeniably a great song, though you shouldn’t expect much from Sledge’s performance here. He doesn’t have much of a voice left, so expect a weak rendition.
At least the O’Jays fare better with their iconic hit “Love Train”. Yeah, their voices show some age as well, but not much. They remain pretty vibrant, so this tune sounds good.
We don’t see much of the Hall’s non-performing inductees, so it’s nice that Gamble and Huff got a little time in the spotlight. Butler plays “Only the Strong Survive” to honor them, and he does reasonable justice to the song. This never becomes a great rendition, but it’s enjoyable.
He might be big as a house, but Burke brings some verve to the proceedings. He remains in good voice, and he’s surprisingly lively on the stage. This turns into one of the disc’s better performances.
“Dancing in the Street” is one of the best tunes found on this disc, but the version found here isn’t memorable. Martha Reeves sings it with a genuinely annoying warble; was she trying to sound like Katharine Hepburn? Add the presence of the perpetually irritating B-52s on stage and this lamentable take is better left forgotten.
Agh – time for more “Jam Band”! This makes “I Can’t Help Myself” another trainwreck. As usual, most of the musicians fail to be on the same page, so it’s a mess, and a rinky-dink sounding one at that; the track lacks the sweep it deserves and sounds like it’s being played by a bar mitzvah band. (Albeit a bar mitzvah band with a great lead vocalist.)
We don’t have to worry about aging vocal cords with “Green Onions”. However, we do have to deal with the sloppiness that haunts the “Jam Band”. It’s a step up after the poor Tops tune, but it’s still a misstep.
If nothing else, “Shaft” gets the award for the Longest Intro of any song found in this set. Not that this is a bad thing, as it builds well. Hayes doesn’t sound particularly great, but he has enough stage presence to make the track enjoyable.
I think “I’ll Take You There” is a decent tune, but the performance here comes across as too mannered. We get a lot of semi-annoying vocal affectations, and those make it less than pleasurable. Speaking of annoying vocals, I must admit I’ve never been an Aretha fan; I largely blame her for the oversinging Whitneys and Mariahs who followed. Aretha undeniably has a great voice, and she still brings the vocal chops; I just don’t like her. I can’t find anything objectively problematic with her performance here, though.
Though probably better known via the Talking Heads’ cover, Al Green reclaims “Take Me to the River” with a lively performance here. His voice falters, but Reverend Al remains enough of a showman to carry the day. Of course, you have to expect serious showmanship from P-Funk, as everyday’s Halloween for George Clinton and company. Their performance is more interesting visually than musically, though, as they don’t sound especially good.
The ubiquitous Springsteen returns to play “Midnight Hour” with the wicked, wicked Wilson Pickett. This is something of an unusual choice to put here; it comes from Bruce’s induction, not Pickett’s. Still, the E Street Band are a good backing group, and it’s fun to hear Bruce and Pickett swap lines.
Come Together (1:02:48): Eddie Vedder inducts the Ramones (2002); “Blitzkrieg Bop”, Green Day (2002); Blondie acceptance speech (2006); “Call Me”, Blondie (2006); Elvis Costello and the Attractions acceptance speech (2003); “(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding”, Elvis Costello and the Attractions (2003); Paul McCartney inducts John Lennon (1994); “Come Together”, Bruce Springsteen and Axl Rose (1994); “Roadhouse Blues”, the Doors with Eddie Vedder (1993); Bruce Springsteen inducts Creedence Clearwater Revival (1993); “Who’ll Stop the Rain”, John Fogerty and Friends (1993); Cream acceptance speech (1993); “Crossroads”, Cream (1993); Bruce Springsteen inducts Jackson Browne (2004); “The Pretender”, Jackson Browne (2004); Patti Smith acceptance speech (2007); “Because the Night” and “People Have the Power”, Patti Smith Group (2007); “Be-Bop-A-Lula”, Jonny Lang and Jeff Beck (1999); Jeff Beck inducts Rod Stewart (1994); “People Get Ready”, Jeff Beck (1994).
Green Day gives us a spirited imitation of punk with their cover of “Blitzkrieg Bop”. While nothing special, it looks brilliant compared to the genuinely atrocious “Call Me”. Except for drummer Clem Burke, the band’s a mess, and Debbie Harry provides a shockingly bad vocal turn. I’d thought about seeing Blondie live over the last few years, but this excerpt makes me very happy I didn’t.
The Costello sequence is somewhat fascinating to see due to the animosity between Elvis and estranged Attractions bassist Bruce Thomas. The latter stands against the wall and looks like he wants nothing to do with his former employer, even when Costello attempts to extend a minor olive branch.
Note that we don’t get an appearance from the Attractions on the performance of “Peace”. Instead, Elvis plays with the Imposters, the almost-the-Attractions band with whom he’s worked for the last few years; it includes Attractions Pete Thomas and Steve Nieve but replaces Bruce Thomas with bassist Davey Faragher. Which is fine, as it means we get a good rendition of the tune – though after that awful Blondie number, a couple of four-year-olds with banjos would sound terrific.
On paper, the Springsteen/Rose “Come Together” sounds cool, but in reality… well, it’s still kinda cool, but it’s not especially good. Bruce and Axl just don’t mesh well, and the backing band fails to give the song its proper dense vibe. It’s fun to see but not a memorable rendition.
I still don’t like the image of Vedder with the Doors – worlds colliding! – but I will admit “Roadhouse” sounds decent… for a while. Like many of the Doors’ awful songs, it rambles far too long and goes nowhere.
The same could be said for some Cream material, but at least that band boasts musicians with real talent. Not that you’ll find great evidence of that from “Crossroads”. I get the feeling Cream didn’t rehearse much, as the performance is a bit of a mess. At least it gets better as it goes.
One challenge that comes with this review: how to attempt an objective assessment of performances from artists I don’t much like. I don’t actually dislike Jackson Browne, but I find myself thoroughly disinterested in his music. His take on “The Pretender” doesn’t change my mind, but I can say it’s one of the more competent takes found here. Perhaps inevitably, a lot of HOF performances are under-rehearsed messes, so Browne’s well-played rendition is a pleasant surprise.
On the other hand, I’m not quite sure I want Smith to sound too smooth; unlike Browne’s easy-going music, she needs some edge. Springsteen’s “Because the Night” blows away Smith’s, but that song and “People” work fine here. It’s too bad Bruce doesn’t guest on “Night”, though; he was at the ceremony, and he wrote the song.
Whatever happened to Jonny Lang? He seemed to be a hot new thing about 10 years ago, though he shows little reason for us to dig him based on his awful version of “Be Bop A Lula”. His vocal warbles so much that it sounds like his voice is changing on about 10 occasions. Beck’s guitar solo can’t add any life to this problematic rendition.
Since Rod Stewart didn’t attend his ceremony, Beck does an instrumental version of “People Get Ready”. That cover was arguably the sole highlight of Beck’s 1985 album Flash, and it sounds okay here. It’d work better with vocals, however.
Message of Love (1:09:54): Bono inducts the Who (1990); “Substitute” and “Pinball Wizard”, the Who and the Rock Hall Jam Band (1990); Melissa Etheridge inducts Janis Joplin (1995); “Piece of My Heart”, Melissa Etheridge (1995); Paul McCartney inducts James Taylor (2000); “Fire and Rain”, James Taylor (2000); Bee Gees acceptance speech (1997); “Massachusetts” and “You Should Be Dancing”, Bee Gees (1997); John Mellencamp acceptance speech (2008); “Small Town”, John Mellencamp (2008); Bonnie Raitt acceptance speech (2000); “Thing Called Love”, Bonnie Raitt with Melissa Etheridge and Bruce Hornsby (2000); Neil Young inducts the Pretenders (2005); “Message of Love”, “My City Was Gone” and “Precious” (2005); Black Sabbath acceptance speech (2006); “Iron Man”, Metallica (2005); Lynyrd Skynyrd acceptance speech (2006); “Free Bird”, Lynyrd Skynyrd (2006).
As much as I usually dislike the “Jam Band” numbers, I have no problems with “Substitute”; it won’t make anyone forget the Who circa 1970, but it sounds fine. “Wizard” works less well, though, as the additional instruments rob it of its power and make it somewhat anemic.
I can’t say the same for Etheridge’s passionate take on Joplin’s “Piece of My Heart”. I admit I’ve never understood the Joplin cult, but Etheride brings power to the tune. It’s a good rendition of a so-so song.
“Powerful” is not a word one attaches to the ever-mellow James Taylor. Does he do what he does well? Yes, and he sounds just fine here. However, just typing the name “James Taylor” makes me sleepy; I don’t know how people stay awake at his concerts.
The Bee Gees give us a rare medley – rare for the HOF ceremonies, that is. Honestly, I only like disco/R&B Bee Gees, so I’m happy they quickly abandon the twee “Massachusetts”. The medley format isn’t particularly effective, though.
Though it’s one of his more anthemic songs, Mellencamp goes the solo acoustic route for “Small Town”. It’s an interesting move, but not an especially winning one. “Pink Houses” probably would’ve worked better in that setting; without the rock trappings, “Small Town” seems less effective.
In a rare moment of humility from a rock star, Bonnie Raitt recently indicated that she thought she only got into the HOF because she was a woman. And she’s probably right, but that shouldn’t be seen as a slight on a long, productive career. (In truth, her late-80s comeback was what got her into the HOF; it made her a household name at 40.) Raitt isn’t a particular fave, but she’s a definite talent, as she sings and plays guitar well. She’s a class act too, and she acquits herself nicely here.
It’s a surprise that we find three consecutive songs from the Pretenders. Other acts like Springsteen and the Who get three-plus tracks across the 10 DVDs, but none of them come back to back to back like this. Like Raitt, the Pretenders are in the HOF mainly because of a gender; they made a handful of good albums but don’t really deserve to be in the HOF.
I do like the Pretenders, though, and they sound fine here. We get a guest appearance from Neil Young for “City”. He’s as delightfully shambling as usual; I’m not sure he’d ever heard the song before he came on stage, but he still rocks. The Pretenders aren’t what they were 25 years earlier, but Chrissie still has a great voice, and they rock more than most of the HOF inductees.
Perhaps as a reaction to being snubbed for induction over many years, we don’t hear Black Sabbath. Given what a rambling mess Ozzy is, however, that’s probably not a bad thing. Metallica provide a perfectly serviceable version of “Iron Man”, though it lacks the dark stomp of the original.
I already commented on my impressions of post-70s Skynyrd, so I won’t rehash that here. Their version of “Free Bird” sounds fine, I suppose, though they do remind me more of a Skynyrd cover band than the real thing.
The Concert for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (52:14): “ROCK in the USA”, John Mellencamp; “It’s My Life”, Eric Burdon and Bon Jovi; “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman”, Aretha Franklin; “Sweet Jane”, Lou Reed and Soul Asylum; “Midnight Rider”, Allman Brothers Band with Sheryl Crow; “All Day and All of the Night”, the Kinks; “The Battle of Evermore”, Ann and Nancy Wilson; “Fortunate Son”, John Fogerty with Booker T and the MG’s; “I Got You (I Feel Good), James Brown; “Tired of Being Alone” and “A Change Is Gonna Come”, Al Green. (All performances come from a 1995 concert in Cleveland.)
I already discussed a couple of performances from this concert earlier in the review. I’m still not sure why they appeared on other discs when they could’ve been here, but what’re ya gonna do?
Mellencamp sounds fine. “ROCK” was always a cheesy attempt at an anthem, but it’s enjoyable for what it is. When I saw “It’s My Life” from Bon Jovi, I assumed it would be their song of that title – before I realized that tune didn’t exist in 1995. This is a good thing, as I’d rather hear the Animals track. I don’t care for Bon Jovi, but they pair well with Burdon and make this a good performance.
Earlier I reflected that I don’t much care for Aretha Franklin. I’ve not changed my mind about her since then, so don’t expect plaudits for her 1995 performance. That spangly, low-cut dress doesn’t work for her, though.
We find our only nod to the Velvet Underground via Reed’s “Sweet Jane”. I remember in the 80s when Reed abruptly changed his singing style, but I’m still not used to it; his lower vocals still sound weird to me. Otherwise, this is a competent performance with 90s has-beens Soul Asylum.
Given her status as the world’s most ubiquitous rock event guest star, I’m surprised we’ve not seen more of Crow before now. She fails to become intrusive during a perfectly ordinary Allman performance.
It’s too bad we got no Kinks on the other discs. They’ve always been the Forgotten British Invasion band, so they deserve more credit. This concert finds them very close to the end of their existence as a band, and they’re on moderate cruise control as they play “All Day” for the eight jillionth time. Still, mediocre Kinks is better than most of the other acts found here.
Heart always sounded like a female-fronted version of Led Zeppelin, so it’s appropriate that the Wilson sisters handle “Evermore”. And they handle it well, as they can do Plant’s vocals better than he can. This is one of the package’s better performances.
Backed by Booker T and the MGS, Fogerty’s “Fortunate Son” doesn’t get the smoothest performance ever. However, he sings well, and the track has enough kick to succeed.
Back in 2001, I saw James Brown as part of a pre-Christmas package concert. Talk about a severe disappointment! Even with only about half an hour at his disposal, Brown barely performed. He left most of the show to his backup singers; I doubt he actually did anything for more than five minutes.
I don’t know if Brown’s full HOF performance was better than that, but at least this clip pares it down to its essence. Brown didn’t really sing anymore by 1995, but he still had enough energy to entertain. He didn’t need the female dancers or other distractions.
Reverend Al returns to finish up the proceedings. He didn’t sound too good earlier in the year at his induction, but he does a lot better here. Green ends the package well.