Why Isn’t Warren Zevon In The Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame?

It’s the age old question: why isn’t (enter your favorite band) in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame? OK, in terms of it being an “age old question”, I guess it’s only really been coming up for the past 15 or 20 years. But that’s ancient in rock and roll terms, and many of those bands that used to qualify for that question are now full fledge, inducted members of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. For other bands, they simply haven’t met the qualifications yet. They’re pretty steep. From the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame web site:

To be eligible for induction as an artist (as a performer, composer, or musician) into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the artist must have released a record, in the generally accepted sense of that phrase, at least 25 years prior to the year of induction; and have demonstrated unquestionable musical excellence.

We shall consider factors such as an artist’s musical influence on other artists, length and depth of career and the body of work, innovation and superiority in style and technique, but musical excellence shall be the essential qualification of induction.

You’ve got to be a rock and roller for a long time before you can get into the Hall of Fame – 25 years! No slouches here.

But here’s the thing. Warren Zevon has been eligible since at least 2001. He meets all the criteria, in spades, and he hasn’t made it in yet. In addition to having a full body of work from 25 years of recording, Zevon demonstrated unquestionable musical excellence in his recordings and his time on the road. Here’s an incredible example from 2000. Zevon was doing a solo acoustic tour. When he played “Play It All Night Long”, he looped guitar riff after guitar riff as the song progressed, each part weaving together into a seamless whole. Check it out, courtesy of Live Music Archive and Zevon’s generous son:

The layers and layers of guitar loops is stunningly engaging to a guitar freak like me. Zevon also doesn’t get enough credit for his musicianship. He’s a skilled piano and guitar player.

“Play It All Night Long”, “Werewolves Of London”, and “Lawyers, Guns And Money” are classic songs from early in his career. They stand the test of time, and their influence on other artists is undeniable. Just ask some of them.

And Zevon continued to write funny, biting, and poignant songs all the way through his last album, when he was fighting a losing battle with cancer. Songs like “My Shit’s Fucked Up”, “Boom Boom Mancini”, and “Genius” are songs that can stand toe to toe with his earlier work. “Prison Grove” is a great song, with Bruce Springsteen doing back up vocals, that came from his last album. And if “Keep Me In Your Heart” doesn’t give you a lump in your throat by the time you’re done listening to it, you’re as cold as ice.

This is why Bob Dylan considers Zevon one of his top five American songwriters. A consistent track record of great songs with insightful and biting commentary on himself, love, decadence, and the search for the American dream. And if Bob Dylan thinks he’s that great…

Now they may be planning to honor him and induct him in the next few years. That may be on their roadmap. But I think it’s a crying shame that Warren Zevon hasn’t been given that honor already. His work justifies it, his legacy and influence loom large on the modern singer songwriter, so what gives? If musical excellence is the number one criteria, Zevon should have been inducted years ago.

Exhibit A: “Werewolves Of London”

Exhibit B: “Keep Me In Your Heart”