It's Still Rotten Joel to Me

Hall of Fame's recent induction of Billy Joel makes a bad idea seem that much worse

You may be right. I may be crazy for even getting upset about the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, like the guy who bolts out of his easy chair to protest the implausibility of a MacGiver episode.

It's a dumb idea to begin with, turning rock 'n' roll into a mausoleum, a Shriner's convention and a tourist trap all at the same time. Rock's defining moments of greatness are purely subjective, based on something as recondite as a jolt of sound, a glint in an eye, an ache in a voice. And no matter how boring or safe rock 'n' roll gets, it's never gonna be baseball, whereby you can look at a batting average or a pitching record and determine greatness. If there is some hidden stats game that determines R&R Hall of Fame eligibility (i.e., most No. 1s, most Top 40 entries), they might as well tally up "most hotel rooms trashed" and "most smack consumed in one sitting," to maintain some sense of inappropriate trad-rock behavior.

Once you accept the basic tenets of this uneasy institution, that rock 'n' roll has (yikes!) standards, you'll find serious lapses of judgment everywhere you look. Currently the Hall of Fame is hosting an exhibit on folk legend Phil Ochs, but it has passed over his name every year since its inception. The Lovin' Spoonful, who wrote "Do You Believe in Magic," arguably the anthem that best defines rock's abstruse mysteries, are continually overlooked. Is it because they're too folk as well?

The Mamas and the Papas are in, and they never rocked harder than "Summer in the City." But then again, John Sebastian never choked on a ham sandwich. This year, Dusty Springfield deservedly got honored, but it's kind of hard to reconcile that she's rock 'n' roll and Dionne Warwick isn't. Or Burt Bacharach.

This year's inductions are especially unnerving when you consider all the names that have been passed over several times already, like Alice Cooper and Iggy and the Stooges, while two inductees, Paul McCartney and Curtis Mayfield, are being let in a second time to honor their solo works. Worse, the people making the induction speeches seem unaware that the award they are giving isn't for the artists' entire body of work. At the end of last month's induction telecast, it was "People Get Ready" and "Let It Be" that got the quagmire all-star jam treatment, not "Superfly" and "Jet." Neil Young, inducting Macca, seemed unaware of any events in Paul's post-Beatle career after the McCartney album, itself recorded while he was technically still a Fab!

Currently there are eight double honorees, with ol' Neil and Eric Clapton coming dangerously close to getting pinned a third time. Slowhand, honored both for his work in Cream and the Yardbirds, will probably be honored for his solo stuff some other unimaginative year. Young, inducted for his solo work and the Buffalo Springfield, was shut out when Crosby, Stills and Nash got in without him. What am I missing? Didn't they do their really good stuff with him? And biggest-grossing tours? Will the Hall of Fame nominate CSN & sometimes Y on another such unimaginative year?

With all the glitter revivals going on over the past year, it's perplexing that Alice, T. Rex, Roxy Music, the New York Dolls, the Stooges, Queen, Aerosmith, Kiss or anything else remotely connected with glitter (with the exception of no-show Bowie) aren't getting honored. This year was the first year many of the above names were eligible for nomination. Sure, T. Rex was a one-hit act in the States, and the Dolls may have sold six records fewer than the Velvet Underground, but can you argue that either wasn't highly influential? Even Gary Glitter and his one football-stadium chant is more influential than the man we're about to hurl brickbats at right now: Mr. Billy Joel.

The Piano Man started his career as a bad Harry Chapin with a tip jar, but with staunch stick-to-itiveness, he steadily amassed a string of 33 Top 40 hits over 25 years. Yet for all that, Joel hasn't been responsible for one discernible musical innovation or trend, unless you count tearing up your bad reviews onstage for cheap applause. About the best thing Rolling Stone's History of Rock and Roll could say about Joel after dismissing the first half of his career as either "poor man's Springsteen" (52nd Street) or disastrous "New Waver-come lately" (Glass Houses) is that he ultimately became a better mimic. Is that what he's being honored for? The Hall of Fame's got a Little Richard. It doesn't need Rich Little!

The real question about Joel is: Better mimic or better friend to Rolling Stone publisher (and Museum co-vice chairman) Jann Wenner? Rolling Stone once used to rip Billy a new semicolon with every new release. Joel must've noticed how being an F.O.J. (Friend of Jann) secured Art Garfunkel respectful reviews for his dull solo albums. What else but Wenner intervention could explain "Uptown Girl" winding up number 95 in Rolling Stone's dubious "100 Greatest Singles of All Time," ahead of whatever Four Seasons single they conveniently forgot?

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