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Skynyrd, Sabbath inductions long overdue

This year’s roster brings old complaints about Rock Hall’s motives, methods
/ Source: contributor

So the Sex Pistols have told the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame what it can do with its belated thumbs-up. The punk instigators, anarchic even in paunchy middle age, turned down their invitation to the Hall’s March 13 induction ceremony in this, their fifth year of eligibility. They recently released a farcical, hand-scribbled statement that reads in part, “Your museum. Urine in wine. We’re not coming. We’re not your monkey.”

By rights, the members of Lynyrd Skynyrd and Black Sabbath, two more of this year’s designated performing monkeys, could be forgiven if they joined the boycott. The roughly 750 music industry insiders who vote for Hall of Fame induction took nine long years (seven nominations) to honor Skynyrd, the archetypal Southern rock band; the heavy metal Cro-Magnon men of Black Sabbath have been eligible since way back in 1995. Nominees can be considered 25 years after the release of their first recording.    

As for the rest of the Class of ’06 — new wave hitmakers Blondie and creative giant Miles Davis, who fused jazz, rock and funk during his “electric” period — OK, fine.           

But if the Sex Pistols have rather predictably snubbed the institution that once snubbed them, fellow genre pioneers Sabbath and Skynyrd have their own claims to indignation. In fact, Sabbath’s Ozzy Osbourne told the Rock Hall not to bother in 1999: “Save the ink,” he wrote. “Let’s face it, Black Sabbath has never been media darlings. We’re a people’s band and that suits us just fine.” The band has indicated it will attend the upcoming ceremony but won’t perform.

Skynyrd, with its flannels and frizz and epic, Bic-flicking encores, is nothing if not a “people’s” — as opposed to a critics’ — band. Its unapologetically deep-fried version of classic rock may not be the typical critic’s idea of “important” music, but there can be no denying the band’s place in pop history. As longtime comrade Charlie Daniels noted in an open letter to the Hall a year ago, the group can claim longevity, popularity, fan loyalty and tragedy (“the Skynyrd band is sadly overqualified in that category”). What’s more, he asked, “Is there a more classic rock song than ‘Free Bird’?”

Elitist conspiracy afoot?
Like it or not, there ain’t. So what gives? Is there some kind of elitist conspiracy afoot, in which genteel artists such as Bonnie Raitt and James Taylor (both Class of ’00) are favored over proud degenerates like Ozzy and the former Johnny Rotten? Have each of the new inductees’ caricature images — the Pistols’ bug-eyed leer, Sabbath’s snuff-film aura, Skynyrd’s Confederate army of guitars — worked against them all these years?

Or did the dissenting voters simply determine that one studio album (in the case of the short-lived Pistols) or many years chasing past glories (Sabbath and Skynyrd) undermines whatever influence and credibility the bands otherwise mustered? How many points do you get for starting a phenomenon?

This year’s roster brings the old complaints about the Rock Hall’s motives and methods front and center, but the quibbles are ongoing. Kiss diehards believe that band belongs. Has Patti Smith been unjustly excluded? Iggy Pop and the Stooges? How about two-time nominees (and losers) Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, who would be the hall’s first rap act?

Conversely, is ZZ Top (class of 2004) truly deserving? Gene Pitney (’02)? The Lovin’ Spoonful (’00)?

No such institution is immune to controversial decisions, or, as the case may be, non-decisions. Perennial All-Star Dominique Wilkins, the “Human Highlight Film,” was ignored last year in his first period of eligibility for the Basketball Hall of Fame. There’s the perennial Pete Rose debate. And MSNBC’S Keith Olbermann isn’t the only baseball fanatic incensed by Cooperstown’s recent failure to enshrine 94-year-old Negro Leagues ambassador Buck O’Neil in a special committee vote.

Richard Dent, the dominant Chicago Bears lineman and Super Bowl MVP who has thus far been robbed of his rightful induction to the Pro Football Hall of Fame, recently told a reporter that his legacy stands for itself.

“My hay is in the barn,” he said.

For the Johnny-come-latelies of this year’s Rock and Roll Hall of Fame class, the hay has long since been in the barn.

James Sullivan lives in Massachusetts and is a regular contributor to