COMMENTARY: The Guess Who deserve a spot in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame

The Guess Who, circa 1970. Wikipedia

Full disclosure: I have many problems with the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and how it conducts its business. But I’m not beyond wrapping myself in the flag when there’s an opportunity to straighten things out a little bit.

Since the Hall began honouring musical pioneers 35 years ago, about 230 artists have been inducted, the vast majority of which are American. Approximately 35 are British, although The Beatles account for five of those inductions (the group plus each individual member) and Rod Stewart for two (with The Small Faces and as a solo artist). Two are from Ireland (U2 and Van Morrison), two from Jamaica (Bob Marley and Jimmy Cliff), and one from Sweden (ABBA).

How many Canadians? Five: The Band, Joni Mitchell, Neil Young (twice, once as a solo artist and as a member of the Buffalo Springfield), Leonard Cohen, and Rush. That’s barely two per cent of the total, something that seems very wrong for a country that has exported so much music to the rest of the world.

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The first four on that list are all artists who decamped Canada for the U.S. to further their careers. The Band tagged along with Bob Dylan before striking out on their own. Joni and Neil found their way to California while Leonard Cohen moved to New York City before also heading out west.

Only Rush maintained a Canadian base of operations for their entire career — and they had a heckuva time being recognized. It took 15 years of fan pressure to get them on the ballot before they were finally voted in back in 2013. The Red Hot Chili Peppers and Madonna, acts whose careers were launched in the ’80s, were both given nods ahead of Rush.

Clearly, there’s a hoser deficit that needs to be rectified. I hereby submit for their consideration The Guess Who.

Click to play video: 'No time like now for the Guess Who to get into the Rock Hall'
No time like now for the Guess Who to get into the Rock Hall

Led primarily by Burton Cummings and Randy Bachman, the group had a string of international hits in the late ’60s and early ’70s that are still staples of oldies and the upper end of classic rock radio worldwise. And let’s not forget that in 1970, The Guess Who outsold The Beatles, thanks to songs like American Woman, which reached number one on the Billboard singles chart.

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Even after Bachman left in May 1970, the hits kept coming, resulting in two gold albums in the U.S. They even brought in the legendary Wolfman Jack to perform on Clap for the Wolfman.

A solid resume, then. So what’s the problem? There are a couple of issues.

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First, The Guess Who’s heyday was 50 years ago. Many of the 900 or so members of the Hall induction committee have no memory of the band and no idea of their importance to rock. Second, there’s that myopia that seems to prevent the Hall from seeing much beyond America’s borders. And third, the induction committee is a pretty closed group and seems to be susceptible to internal arm-twisting and politics that see certain individuals do what they must to achieve their goals.

Seriously, how else can you explain Whitney Houston’s induction in 2020? She’s definitely an important American artist but is about as far from rock’n’roll as my perogy-making Ukrainian grandmother. How did Houston get inducted on the first try while Judas Priest, one of metal’s legendary bands, has repeatedly been rejected on the grounds of … what?

Click to play video: '50 years of The Guess Who’s ‘American Woman’'
50 years of The Guess Who’s ‘American Woman’

Time for a little schooling.

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A grassroots campaign out of Winnipeg has launched The Guess Who for the Hall, a petition for which they hope to gather one million signatures from across Canada and around the world in support of getting the band on the ballot for 2021. Hopefully, that will wake up the selection committee and get them to start talking about the band. That’s step one.

Step two (providing the Hall is persuaded to get the band on the ballot) is to create more noise when it comes to fan voting. Once all nominees are announced, fans are encouraged to vote for their favourites. The Hall always makes a big deal out of fan voting because it draws so much attention to itself. Chatter and debate are good publicity. This in turn drives viewership to the big televised induction ceremony, which is the Hall’s biggest money-maker. It would be great to see The Guess Who at the top of that voter table.

That, however, does not guarantee a place in the Hall. Despite the fact that millions upon millions of fans participate, their collective vote counts for exactly ONE vote among the 900+ members of the committee. Not really a fair fight, you know?

Still, we have to start somewhere. Sign the petition and forward the link to other fans.

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Let’s see if we can boost the Canadian content of the Hall at least a little bit. And once we’ve accomplished that, we can turn our attention to Gordon Lightfoot, Bryan Adams, and Alanis Morissette.

Alan Cross is a broadcaster with Q107 and 102.1 the Edge and a commentator for Global News.

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