As we approach another Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony (the 33rd overall), we face another induction class noticeably absent of some of heavy metal’s greatest artists. The most obvious of these overlooked acts continues to be, of course, Iron Maiden and Judas Priest, two omissions which only get more glaring over time.
That said, smart money would also bet that, in time, both Maiden and Priest will make their way into the Hall, likely riding a wave of fan outrage and support that, like Deep Purple, Rush and Kiss before them, will become too loud to ignore. But one iconic heavy metal artist that I’m not so sure will manage to traverse those same waters — but certainly should — is Randy Rhoads. The hurdles are obvious: first off, Rhoads was primarily a heavy metal musician. And as history has shown, this fact alone is often enough of a disqualifier when it comes to getting into the Hall. Secondly, Rhoads was, in essence, a sideman; an incredible musician, to be sure (as well as one hell of a riff writer), but still a backing musician in Ozzy Osbourne’s band. Thirdly, his time with Ozzy amounted to roughly just two years, before he was tragically killed in a plane accident in 1982 at the incredibly young age of 25. (There is also, of course, Rhoads’ under-the-radar late Seventies work with a pre-fame Quiet Riot, some of which is spectacular, but which is obviously not going to do much to sway the hearts and minds of members of the nominating committee.)
So back to those two years with Ozzy. What, exactly, did Randy manage to accomplish? For starters, writing and recording one of the greatest and most durable guitar riffs in all of rock and metal (that would be, of course, the pedaling F#-minor salvo that powers “Crazy Train”).
He also brought metal guitar soloing kicking and screaming into the '80s, grafting the flash, melodicism and immediacy of one-time Sunset Strip peer Eddie Van Halen to the studious, classical-music-influenced approach pioneered by the likes of Richie Blackmore and Uli Jon Roth, in the process launching the neo-classical shred craze that would dominate the decade.
He helped to revive the career of one of heavy metal’s greatest frontmen and singers, Ozzy Osbourne. He was an essential component of two of the genre’s now-classic albums, Ozzy’s Blizzard of Ozz and Diary of a Madman.
He influenced some of rock’s biggest future stars, from Dimebag Darrell, who can be seen playing a whole bunch of Randy here, to Tom Morello and Zakk Wylde, both of whom actually have children named Rhoads.
He wrote solos like the ones heard in “Mr. Crowley,” “Flying High Again,” “Crazy Train,” “Over the Mountain,” “Goodbye to Romance” and “Revelation (Mother Earth),” among many others, that could blow your head off with dazzling speed and technique but also played like mini symphonies and concertos, full of high-wire twists and turns, head-spinning instrumental acrobatics and brilliant melodic and harmonic themes, and which scores of teenagers still sit on their beds and struggle to learn to this day (and once they do, they inevitably go out and start playing in bands of their own).
And he did it all, or at least most of it, in just a handful of months, and often with a guitar that was covered in polka dots. Now that’s badass.
All of which is to say that Randy’s legacy is intact, whether or not the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame ever chooses to acknowledge him. Which is a good thing, because it probably won’t. Rhoads’ best chance of getting in would be as a member of Ozzy’s solo band, but Ozzy’s already in the Hall of Fame with Black Sabbath. Now, a serious case could — and probably should — be made for Oz to be in as a solo artist as well (these days, “Crazy Train” is quite possibly as well known as “Paranoid”) but that’s a whole other argument and article.
But one thing’s for sure: Despite the slim body of work he left behind, Rhoads’ stature and influence is substantial and indisputable. As Tom Morello once put it, he is “the Robert Johnson of metal” — a statement that maybe isn’t as crazy as it sounds on first reading.
“It's such a small catalog of stuff that has been so incredibly influential,” Morello said. “He wasn't even at the height of his fame, he was still on the way up. So you're left with the question: Had he lived, what more would he have done?"
Unfortunately, we’ll never know. But one thing’s for sure: What Randy Rhoads did manage to do should be enough to forever enshrine him and his work in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.