The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame is famous for its perennial snubs. Yes, almost all the indisputably great figures from the true rock canon have been given their proper due by now, but accusations of institutional biases against women and people of color persist. Some gigantic lapses in judgment remain. How can it possibly be that Willie Nelson, The Smiths, Dead Kennedys, Whitney Houston, A Tribe Called Quest, and Dolly Parton aren’t recognized for their contributions to the pop-rock landscape?
Don’t police the boundaries of “rock,” either, since Grandmaster Flash, The Mamas & the Papas, Brenda Lee, and Billy Joel have all been inducted. Yes, the Hall of Fame is basically a Museum of Dad Rock Aficionados, considering that they let in outrageous mediocrities like Steve Miller and Neil Diamond, but even if that’s the main criterion, how weird is it that they won’t give the nod to Phish, who — love them or hate them — have held undeniable cultural sway for 30 years.
And how in hell can Kraftwerk have been overlooked yet again, for the umpteenth year in a row?
This year, the Museum did something worse than simply leave out good people in favor of middlebrow shit-hawkers. They inducted Def Leppard alongside Janet Jackson, Radiohead, Stevie Nicks, Roxy Music, The Zombies, and The Cure. All of those other acts are some shade of incredible, and all of them should have been inducted the instant they became eligible — which for the Zombies, was probably 30 years ago. Even Radiohead didn’t make it on the first try, which was last year.
Def Leppard, though, is awful. Listen to a song like “Bringin’ on the Heartbreak” and be dazzled by the limitations of their range and expressiveness. They’re not as bad as pompatus-of-love Steve Miller, for sure, but Def Leppard is arena metal at its Jock Jammiest. They always disavowed any association with glam, and the thing about them that’s truly a mortal sin is that they aren’t actually subversive at all. They exude neither sex nor danger. I’m sure everyone who voted them in to the Hall of Fame remembers the parental disapproval over playing Pyromania in their bedroom, but it’s no coincidence “Rock of Ages” became the title track of a jukebox musical, because Def Leppard is for people who think rock is for invoking “rock!”-ness in every verse and chorus.
And look at the rest of their this year. They’re such an outlier in a sea of otherwise excellent choices. It’s as if the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame simply has to mess things up just a little. Stevie Nicks is, somehow, the first woman to have been inducted twice — correcting an outrage that Diana Ross should have remedied decades ago. There has never been anyone quite like Roxy Music, and Radiohead in their 1997-2002 heyday brought a level of artistry and musicianship to rock that never really came back. And why isn’t Brian Eno, who once invented music, not also in the Hall of Fame as a solo artist?
Def Leppard aren’t one-hit wonders, it is true. But they are a one-trick pony. Even Everclear songs sound more easily distinguishable from one another. “Armageddon It” and “Pour Some Sugar on Me” were the embodiment of the gaseous bloat for which Nirvana was the necessary corrective. And doesn’t “Hello America” sound as though a marketing exec tapped the band on the shoulder and said, “You should try to appeal to the States, mate.” Note to festival bookers looking for legacy acts for 2019 and beyond: Please don’t even think about it.
Let’s talk about the video for “Promises,” Def Leppard’s last No. 1 song in the U.S., which is almost appallingly hideous. It’s cruelly unfair to kick vapid lyrics when they’re down, so we’ll let those go unremarked-upon, but the weak kaleidoscopic effects and theater in 3D glasses very calmly rocking out to their favorite British heavy-middle act are most uninspired. Who was the warm-up comic for that crowd, Bob Newhart?
To be fair, “Lets Get Rocked,” a derivative quasi-anthem whose title is a non-phrase no one has ever used in real life, has a cool-for-its-time video with animation that looks like it’s from The Lawnmower Man. And Joe Elliott is at least rocking out a little, clad in Lord of the Admiralty garb like Adam Ant might wear, and swinging his mic stand around the stage. But the song is still terrible, drowning in inane chord progressions plus a key change after the bridge, because of course — and that bridge that desperately wants to be “We Will Rock You.” Truly, “Let’s Get Rocked” is the embodiment of clapping-on-the-one-and-three while sitting on the hood of a Ford Taurus.
Yeah, Def Leppard have sold a shit-ton of records, but so have The Eagles, Linkin Park, and Maroon 5 — the latter of whom is a shoo-in at some future date. Sales are no measure of aesthetic quality, and neither is keeping your catalogue off streaming services specifically to remind people that you still exist. And again, the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame just made these guys the equivalent of Thom Yorke, Robert Smith, and Brian Eno.
We look forward to congratulating 2020 inductees Grand Funk Railroad, Ratt, Goo Goo Dolls, Warrant, and Winger.