Joe Cocker and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame

22 Dec

Rock and Roll Hall of Fame logo

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame class of 2015 was announced recently, and the carping began immediately thereafter.

Here are the inductees, according to category:

  • “Former Upstarts Who Became Mainstream Stars”: Green Day
  • “We’re Embarrassed that Brian Epstein was Inducted Before Him”: Ringo Starr
  • “It’s About Damn Time”: Lou Reed
  • “Wait, He’s Not Already In?”: Stevie Ray Vaughan
  • “Any Other White Blues Guys We Missed?”: Paul Butterfield
  • “Great Voice, but, uh, Why?”: Bill Withers
  • “We Have to Induct a Girl with a Guitar – Who’s Left?”: Joan Jett
  • “Uh, Who?”: The “5” Royales
Kiss Action Figures

Perhaps you’re more likely to get into the Hall of Fame if you have your own action figures

As usual, there were seminal acts on the ballot much worthier than the winners, and even more weren’t even considered who should have been ensconced in Cleveland years ago. You gotta wonder how the induction committee determines who gets in and who doesn’t. Beyond having recording at least 25 years prior to consideration, the criteria is purposely vague:

We shall consider factors such as an artist’s musical influence on other artists, length and depth of career and the body of work, innovation and superiority in style and technique, but musical excellence shall be the essential qualification of induction.

For my money, the key phrases here are,”musical influence” and “musical excellence.” Anyone who gets in should have moved the medium forward … which ought to excuse Ms. Jett from consideration in the first place. This would also justify 2014 inductee Kiss, which – despite critics’ deep distaste – inspired numerous (male) musicians at a formative age, ranging from ?uestlove to Rivers Cuomo (as a snippet of tape from his middle school days attests).

Joe CockerWhich brings me to Joe Cocker, who died Dec. 22.

Cocker is not in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. Perhaps he isn’t because he was influenced more than he influences. By his own admission in a documentary I saw a few years ago (was it Across From Midnight?), he idolized Ray Charles so much, he imitated him down to rocking back and forth as if he was playing Ray’s piano. He was also a singer who didn’t play an instrument and rarely sang his own compositions.

But man oh man, how he sang: that’s the definition of “musical excellence” right there.

As much as his appearance at Woodstock cemented his place in rock history, the magnificent Mad Dogs & Englishmen exemplifies his power as a vocalist and musician. Backed by a phenomenal band led by Leon Russell (featuring 20 Feet from Stardom star Claudia Lennear, and saxophonist Bobby Keys, who also died recently), Cocker rolled through tunes by the Beatles, the Stones, Bob Dylan and a crushing “Blue Medley,” with the fervor of a revival preacher. Here’s a sample from the documentary of the tour:

 

Cocker had scattered hits later in his career, including the Oscar-winning “Up Where We Belong,” but it’s that sweaty, scorching, full-body singing in the late 1960s/early 1970s that was his gift to rock and roll, and to us.

Rest in peace, Joe, and may you be the first name on the 2016 Rock & Roll Hall of Fame ballot.

See you on the flip side … and Happy Holidays!

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9 Responses to “Joe Cocker and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame”

  1. andrew riggsby December 22, 2014 at 5:27 pm #

    A slightly serious question, largely based on ignorance.

    “Kiss, which – despite critics’ deep distaste – inspired numerous (male) musicians at a formative age.”

    Was their influence “musical” or just the desire for a certain kind of celebrity?

    • lpon45 December 22, 2014 at 8:19 pm #

      That is a very astute question, Andrew. Kiss seems to embody the exuberant awesomeness that many kids want to grab hold of and own.
      The music used to fuel the image back when they started; now it’s the other way around (if their music even matters at all).

  2. stephen1001 January 10, 2015 at 11:26 am #

    I like the categories! Hard to believe Lou Reed & Stevie Ray Vaughan weren’t in there already, I haven’t followed too closely I would have assumed they’d be first-ballot choices

    • lpon45 January 10, 2015 at 11:31 am #

      There are any number of acts that haven’t been tapped yet for reasons that escape me. At least they aren’t in the position of the Kennedy Center honors. They seem to have run out of American artists over 60 to recognize, so they’ve tapped British rock stars (everyone from the Who to Sting) to celebrate instead.

  3. lpon45 January 20, 2015 at 10:56 pm #

    Thanks for sharing my post, folks!

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