The 2023 Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Induction was held on November 3, 2023, in Brooklyn, NY. This was the 11th ceremony we have attended. It’s the 5th we’ve attended in Brooklyn (2014, 2016, 2017, 2019, 2023) in addition to 2 in LA (2013, 2022) and 4 in Cleveland (2012, 2015, 2018, 2022). we have now seen 108 bands/performers/people inducted into the Hall of Fame. I have to say, in my opinion, this was the weakest class to date. It wasn’t the best induction or the worst, but it was definitely a little low on energy.
For the first time, the induction was streamed live on Disney+ and is still available to watch, so most of you have already seen the induction and formed opinions on it (and seen much better pics than I could grab with a cell phone). What you did not see on the broadcast was Chair of the Induction Committee John Sykes opening the night with the traditional welcome remarks. From the beginning, Sykes was sure to remind all of us once again that “rock and roll is an attitude”, a phrase that has become the mantra for the Hall and their reason for including all genres of music. At this point, it feels a bit heavy-handed and patronizing, like the Committee is reminding you that they know what Rock and Roll is more than you do (more on this later).
The actual show began with music, Sheryl Crow joined by Olivia Rodrigo for “If It Makes You Happy”. This was the second year in a row that the Hall has brought out Rodrigo for the induction (she performed “You’re So Vain” for Carly Simon last year). Considering Rodrigo is only 20 years old with just 2 records out, it is a little surprising that she has made two appearances at Hall inductions. She didn’t add very much to the song and it served as a pretty tame opening compared to other ceremonies.
The opening song was followed by Laura Dern inducting Crowe. If you’ve seen the Sheryl Crow documentary, you know how close Dern and Crow are. The speech was okay, Dern did read a statement from Brandi Carlile who was rumored to be there but was not in attendance. Crow’s induction video followed. This year, across the board, the videos all felt a little long and could have been trimmed a bit. The music continued after the video with Stevie Nicks joining Crow for “Strong Enough”. As much as I love Stevie, I didn’t think their voices blended very well together for this track. Crow brought out guitar legend Peter Frampton to join her and Nicks on “Everyday Is A Winding Road”. Sound was a bit of an issue throughout the night, Frampton’s guitar was amazing but a little loud compared to the rest of the band. Crow’s acceptance speech was very well done. She mentioned the impact Nicks and Frampton had on her career and the respect she has for fellow inductee Willie Nelson.
The first of the “special” awards was up next. Hall of Famer LL Cool J came out to present DJ Kool Herc with the Musical Influence award. As always, LL gave a great speech, detailing the history of hip-hop and how Kool Herc ignited the movement 50 years ago at a party thrown by his sister. Herc himself took the stage for his acceptance looking extremely frail and accompanied by his sister. The emotion took over as the award brought Herc to tears.
After an endless series of failed nominations, the Hall decided to present Chaka Kahn with a Musical Excellence award as a way to get her into the Hall without a vote. The induction speech was given by Jazzmine Sullivan, who was largely unknown by most of the Barclay Center crowd. Sullivan did detail the relationship she and her mother had with Chaka. After the video, Chaka came out with Common for “I Feel For You”, and from the beginning, it just felt off. The timing was off, Kahn’s vocal was off, and it didn’t work. She opted for a type of medley rather than full songs. She was joined by H.E.R. for “Ain’t Nobody” and “Sweet Thing”. At times it seemed like Kahn didn’t know the words or couldn’t hear where she was in the song. The low-speed trainwreck continued with Sia, in an absurd costume that kept her from being able to find her mic for “I’m Every Woman”.
Her acceptance speech wasn’t much better as she rambled a bit at first. In a very nice gesture, she thanked her former band Rufus, and brought up guitarist Tony Maiden to the stage. After all the years that the Hall tried to get Chaka Kahn inducted, her induction fell pretty flat.
Wham! bandmate Andrew Ridgely came to the podium to induct George Michael. Ridgely referred to Michael as the best friend he ever had and his ongoing affection for George came through in his comments. After the video, Miguel performed “Careless Whisper” with E Street Band member Jake Clemons on sax. It was a good version of the song that led into Adam Levine’s version of “Faith”. Levine didn’t add much to the song in a rather straight-ahead version. The tribute ended with Carrie Underwood giving a stirring rendition of “One More Try”. All three performances were good but didn’t really get the crowd up and dancing the way a tribute to George Michael should have.
In an unusual move, there was no induction speech for The Spinners, just their video. Even though some of the surviving members were in attendance, their acceptance speeches were also done via video. New Edition came out for a tribute, starting with “I’ll be Around” into “Could It Be I’m Falling In Love”. In another unusual move, the third song, “The Rubberband Man” also served as a tribute to Soul Train and its founder Don Cornelius, the recipient of this year’s Ahmet Ertegun Award. New Edition was fantastic and finally got the crowd moving.
As for Don Cornelius, I have mixed feelings about his induction. Yes, his contribution to music is huge, but he also had issues with domestic abuse (he pled “no contest”) and has been named in an alleged sexual assault. Not exactly the type of person who should be receiving such a high award that is not voted on by Hall members.
The unusual vibe continued when Big Boi, half of the hip-hop duo Outkast, came out to induct Kate Bush. While it seemed like an unusual choice, you soon learned of the immense respect and friendship the two share. Big Boi even reminisced about riding his bike as a kid listening to Kate Bush like the kid from Stranger Things. Of course, Kate was not going to show up in person to accept her award, so, after her video, St. Vincent took the stage for “Running Up That Hill (A Deal With God)”. It was a very disappointing performance that seemed to go nowhere. There are so many great versions of that song, this was not one of them.
The video presenting Al Kooper with the Musical Excellence Award was next, followed by Kooper’s pre-recorded video acceptance. Unlike Chaka Kahn who received the same award, there was no musical tribute to the genius of Al Kooper.
The program returned to music as Dave Matthews performed an acoustic version of “Funny How Time Slips Away” for Willie Nelson. While a beautiful song and a good version, once again, it was a slow song that didn’t give the crowd any reason to get up and move. Matthews’ speech was probably the best of the night, he was funny, he was genuine, and he said some things that probably made a few people uncomfortable, which is everything you want in an induction speech.
Following his video, Willie gave his thanks while seated with his band. He encouraged the Hall to induct his fellow Highwaymen Waylon Jennings and Kris Kristofferson. Flanked by Chris Stapleton and his sons Lukas and Micah Nelson, Nelson started with “Whiskey River”. Sheryl Crow came back out for a duet of “Crazy”, and he ended with Stapleton, Crow, and Matthews all joining in for “On The Road Again”.
Inexplicably, a random video about the Hall was shown next. It seemed to serve no purpose other than to remind us all, once again, that rock & roll is an attitude (in case you forgot).
The highlight of the night, and one of the highlights of any induction, was next. It began as just a video presenting pioneering guitarist Link Wray with his Musical Influence Award. It was followed by a video of Led Zeppelin guitar god Jimmy Page inducting Wray. Then, as the stage was dark, you saw a lanky figure with THAT double neck Gibson. Yes, Jimmy Page made a surprise appearance to play Wray’s classic “Rumble”. It was Page’s first time on a stage in nearly a decade and was the surprise and jolt of energy the event needed.
As the crowd tried to collect its breath from Jimmy Page, fellow legend Elton John. John was there to induct long-time collaborator and best friend Bernie Taupen. Elton spoke from the heart giving Taupin all the credit he deserves for the amazing songs they created together. After the video, Taupin began his remarks by lamenting that he had to follow Jimmy Page. Taupin spoke eloquently touching on his musical and literary influences. In one of the best moments of the night, Taupin took a swipe at former Hall boss Jan Wenner and pointed out all the “articulate women artists” and all the “articulate black artists” on the bill. John took to the piano for a gorgeous solo version of “Tiny Dancer”.
At this point, it was becoming clear that the event was running behind schedule. Just as Elton was about to start another song, the sound stopped, the stage went black, and the In Memoriam video started. Did they really just cut off Elton John?? The In Memoriam was well done, the only exclusion I spotted was the recent passing of LA Guns and WASP drummer Steve Reilly.
Each year, the Hall picks one person from the In Memoriam for a tribute, this year Robbie Robertson was chosen. Elton, who remained at his piano during the video, was joined by Chris Stapleton, Sheryl Crow once again, and Brittany Howard for a stirring version of “The Weight”.
Ice T took his place on stage to induct Rage Against The Machine. Ice clearly has a strong relationship with the band, but his speech was a little rambling. Following the video, guitarist, and Rock Hall Induction Committee Board Member, Tom Morello took the stage to accept the award by himself. He noted that he and his bandmates have differing views on being inducted. Notably, in his comments he did say that “Rage is no longer here”, which makes sense as their reunion tour fell apart last year.
Rage joins the club, with Kiss and Dire Straits, of bands who couldn’t get it together for their induction. Considering Morello’s position within the Hall, this induction came off as the Hall trying to reward him for his service. Not only did his band not show up, but there was no musical tribute to them at all. Just like those other two bands, their induction just came and went.
It was now past midnight, the time the show was supposed to end, and they were just getting around to Missy Elliott. I was popping into different sections of the arena around this time, and it was half empty. Queen Latifah came out to induct her friend and gave a very good speech framing Elliott’s career. Elliott took the stage after her video in a sensory-exploding performance consisting of a medley of hits “Get Ur Freak On / The Rain (Supa Dupa Fly) / Work It / Pass That Dutch / Lose Control”. While the production was eye-popping, many felt the entire performance was synched to tracks and not sung live. Four and half hours after it started, the night came to an end with Missy Elliott accepting her award as the first female rap artist inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.
With my 11th ceremony now in the past, I can’t help but think the Hall is losing the plot. I have been a very big supporter of the Hall, I am a Charter Member, I have a brick in front of the museum, and have been to every induction that has been open to the public. The constant bombardment of the “rock & roll is an attitude” message is wearing thin. If that is truly the case, why did it take 25 years for DJ Kool Herc to be inducted? The man created hip-hop, why wasn’t he in under a special award years ago? Didn’t he have “rock & roll attitude” back then? Willie Nelson was eligible for induction since the first Hall class, why did he wait 38 years to go in? Didn’t he have a “rock & roll attitude” then or did he only get it when he hit 90 years old?
I mentioned at the beginning that I felt this was a weak class. The induction was fun, better than I expected, but pales to the great years like 2012, 2015, and 2019. Rock Hall Induction night is always a great night, regardless of the class. It was a good night of music, but not a great induction. The “special” guests – Stapleton, Underwood, Rodrigo, LL, Crow (sitting in with Nelson and the Robertson tribute) have all been on the last few inductions. It’s hardly “special” when it’s the same guests every year. But I have to ask, where was the “rock & roll attitude” we were promised? Did Sheryl Crow and Olivia Rodrigo strumming “If It Makes You Happy” have attitude? Did Adam Levine giving a karaoke version of “Faith” have the attitude we were promised? Or New Edition performing Spinners covers? The only rock & roll attitude (outside of Jimmy Page), came from the most unlikely place, Dave Matthews in his speech. At least he shook things up with his comments on politics and drugs and as did Taupin’s shot at Wenner. You could say the same about Morello, but I feel that his induction (and yes, I said his, not Rage’s) felt self-serving, part of the machine they used to rage against.
As the night went on, the crowd began to thin and the upper areas of the arena were fairly sparse by Missy Elliott. This never used to happen at the Rock Hall Induction, you came and stayed in your seat until the end. Now, people mill about all night and leave after the act they want to see. Maybe it’s time to back to smaller venues and make it more of an event, not just another awards show.