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Hall of Famers or just a bunch of Pretenders?

Questionable calls, and omissions, among this year’s class of inductees. By Ree Hines and Helen A.S. Popkin
/ Source: msnbc.com contributor

For two decades, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame has paid tribute to some of rock’s greatest acts. On March 14, the Rock Hall recognizes the contributions of a new batch of inductees. U2, the Pretenders, the O’Jays, Percy Sledge and Buddy Guy will all receive the much-coveted record-toting statuette denoting their contribution to the aural landscape. And as with every year since 1986, those chosen for this honor remind music fans everywhere of the other artists they believe more deserving. Inductees become eligible 25 years after their first release, which means there are a whole lot of artists out there still waiting to be enshrined. Just what goes on in the heads of those “rock historians” who choose the nominees? And how deserving is this year’s selection? Helen and Ree discuss.

Helen: Here’s how I’m ranking them in order of importance: The Pretenders, the O’Jays, Percy Sledge, U2 — and while he’s a mean guitar player, Buddy Guy is a blues musician, so he’s number five.

Ree: Wow. U2 is mighty far down on your list. Bono and the boys are infinitely more relevant than the Pretenders. U2’s early ’80s releases, “Boy,” “October,” “War” and “The Unforgettable Fire” showed the band at its most angry and poetic — rock’s perfect combo — and inspired a gaggle of wannabes. Of course, that was before Bono’s enormous ego took over the world and he was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize, and that whole World Bank thing. He was always a preachy know-it-all, but there’s something charming about the idealistic pleas of a young Dubliner full of moral outrage that doesn’t work for a fancy-pants multimillionaire permanently decked in designer shades. Nonetheless, U2 belongs in the Hall of Fame — though I would’ve made the band wait a year as punishment for that “Vertigo” iPod commercial.

Helen: Feh. U2 may be the only Irish stadium band on the planet, but they’re responsible for some really bad records over the years. Not all of which were their own. (Coldplay, Travis, I’m waving at you.)

Ree: As for your first pick, the Pretenders, I give them props for helping usher in modern rock and providing a pretty decent soundtrack for my youth. But, honestly, Blondie did a better job of both.

Helen: If the Pretenders never did anything past their first album, the band would still belong. The self-titled debut includes an obscure Kinks song, “Stop your Sobbing,” produced by Nick Lowe. Plus, Chrissie Hynde is hot, loudmouthed and opinionated. And two of the original members are dead. Guitarist James Honeyman-Scott died of a heroin overdose in 1982 — two days after they kicked bassist Pete Farndon out of the group for doing drugs. Then Farndon died of an overdose the next year. You don’t get more rock and roll than that.

Ree: I’d like to nominate Chrissie Hynde to the Eyeliner Hall of Fame. She continues to inspire my Saturday night makeup. And while I got no such cosmetic tips from Percy Sledge, he’s certainly overdue for the Rock Hall honor. As impressive as his past releases are, Sledge is still making great records. Last year’s “Shining Through the Rain” shows the man hasn’t lost a thing over the years. But he could have made the inductee list based on “When a Man Loves a Woman” alone. There will never be a better love song than that. Never.

Helen: “When a Man Loves a Woman” is possibly the most poorly produced record in music history. Both the singing and the horn section are way off key — and yet it’s such an affecting record. So really, the production is great, if you follow me. When you think about it, Percy Sledge is the godfather of punk rock. He totally predates Sonic Youth atonality. Percy Sledge is way more influential than U2. And we haven’t even mentioned his fabulous hair.

Ree: If you want to talk about fabulous, let’s talk about the O’Jays’ suits. Nobody puts in that kind of effort anymore. The O’Jays’ matching ensembles and synchronized dance moves made as much of an impression as their Philadelphia soul. I always think of them as a ’60s act, but they dominated the ’70s when they released “Back Stabbers” and “Love Train.” Despite being nominated three times, these guys never got a Grammy. How is that even possible?

Helen: Undeserving. The O’Jays always seemed like the hired hands of producers/songwriters Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff. Can anyone name even one O’Jay? They sang okay, their songs were okay, but they’re no Hall-of-Famers. Same goes for Buddy Guy. He definitely belongs in the Blues Hall of Fame. But Rock ‘n’ Roll? I’m so not sure.

Ree: Dude. Eric Clapton and Jimi Hendrix both named him as a major influence. But you’re right. He may be a Chicago electric-blues legend, but he isn’t a rock legend. The same can be said for Etta James and Bob Marley, both inducted years ago. The Rock Hall’s oversights of genuine rock acts are unforgivable. Say what you will about them musically, the Sex Pistols’ influence is massive, and excluding them makes no sense. Or the Stooges. And how is that AC/DC made it in but not Black Sabbath?

Helen: Yeah, and what about Patti Smith, Linda Ronstadt or ELO? Did they forget all about the MC5? And while rock snobs may think Kiss is a joke, they can’t laugh at their contributions to the theatre of rock. Pyrotechnics, anyone?

Ree: All of these acts have been eligible for years. Where’s the Moody Blues. I mean, come on! The Moody Blues!

Helen: Ugh. It’s not the Prog Rock Hall of Fame.

Ree: Oh, but I would totally go to that museum. I imagine the Prog Rock Hall of Fame would be very colorful, and they’d have five tour guides doing the job of one. And just when you think the tour’s over, it goes on for another 10 minutes!

Helen: Maybe some day, Ree. Maybe some day.

The highlights from The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame 2005 induction ceremony will air on VH1 March 19.