It might be difficult for an institution like the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame to please all fans. But when a class of inductees represents different eras and styles, their inclusion is significant. From Sister Rosetta Tharpe to Bon Jovi, there is a band and a style for almost every taste.
Sister Rosetta Tharpe
I think of Sister Rosetta Tharpe as Mahalia Jackson with a guitar. The pioneering gospel singer was known for her guitar-playing as well as her emotive voice. Born in 1915, Tharpe is an influence behind a number of influential male musicians, including Chuck Berry, Bob Dylan, and Elvis Presley.
According to rollingstone.com, The song that could be found in the hymnals of black American churches in practically every state ended up being her last. Tharpe recorded a version of “Precious Lord, Take My Hand” by popular hymn composer, Thomas Dorsey. Audiences in markets where “The Lawrence Welk Show” is still shown on PBS stations, might be able to catch Tharpe’s appearance on the bandleader’s program. Tharpe passed away in 1973. Tharpe will also receive the Early Influence Award.
From “Runaway” and “She Don’t Know” in 1984, to “Have a Nice Day” in 2005, and beyond, the span of songs in Bon Jovi’s catalog shows a timeliness and an increasing maturity. The hard rock band from New Jersey courted controversy with their 1986 album, “Slippery When Wet.” The cover had to be changed from depicting a woman’s anatomy to an asphalt-paved road.
With a combination of contemporary storytelling, lead singer Jon Bon Jovi’s emotive voice, songs like “Livin’ On a Prayer” and “Dead or Alive” became instant classics in both acoustic and electric versions. After the release of “Slippery When Wet,” Bon Jovi became a household name.
From the laidback cool of “Sultans of Swing” in the 1970s to the groundbreaking video to accompany 1984’s “Money for Nothing,” the longtime British band proved over and over that their evolving style appealed to audiences. The band’s work is characterized by observant storytelling, and lead singer and guitarist Mark Knopfler’s searing and nuanced guitar lines.
The subject of the documentary, “What Happened, Miss Simone?” black American singer Simone made a name for herself during the Civil Rights Movement when she used her combination of jazz and soul infused with classical music to call for equal rights. Simone’s career had actually begun in the late 1950s and essentially stopped in the 1970s. The singer and pianist passed away in 2003.
The Moody Blues
Another British band in this year’s group of inductees, The Moody Blues have a career that began in the mid-1960s. One of their most famous tunes is 1967’s “Nights in White Satin.” The melancholy ballad has the guts of a rock song, especially as the slower, plaintive verses build into the anthemic chorus. String accents underscore the lyrics and help make the song memorable. In the 1970s, the Moody Blues had another iconic hit with “I’m Just a Singer.” The group enjoyed a resurgence in the 1980s, and 1986’s ” Your Wildest Dreams” became another hit for them. While less popular, “The Other Side of Life” also from 1986, demonstrated the band’s knack for smart lyrics underscored by brooding rock chords.
Pioneers of American new wave, The Cars are both a surprise and an expected addition to the list of inductees. The Cars’ approach to their work always seems a bit unassuming, but because of their contribution to new wave and rock music overall, their inclusion is welcomed.
The late 1970s saw The Cars released two classic albums, their self-titled debut, and 1979’s sophomore effort, “Candy-O.” With a characteristic blend of guitars and keyboards and sometimes surrealistic lyrics, The Cars showed audiences what American new wave music sounded like. However, their releases in the 1970s and 1980s didn’t relegate them to college radio. The hard-driving guitar and keyboard mix also made The Cars’ music fit into regular rock radio formats, too.
This year’s inductees are interesting and distinct from each other. While perhaps not all of the fan favorites made it in for 2018, the diversity displayed in this group is laudable and an important step in acknowledging the contributions of various performers.