Paul Ackerman: And we begin with what is probably the most tenuous of all the Non-Performer inductees. Paul Ackerman was the music editor of Billboard magazine during the advent, the arrival, and the early domination of rock and roll music. But surely that doesn't make him worthy, does it? After all, the magazine just charted the trends and fads, the flows and ebbs of popularity, and just reported the facts. Well, consider the fact that Record World magazine, another charting methodology, is now defunct, and though Cashbox is still around, it's nowhere near the titan of the industry that Billboard is. Why is that? Because Ackerman didn't shy away from rock and roll's popularity. He was arguably the first journalist to take it seriously as an art form, and willingly editorialized about it in the magazine he served. Additionally, he streamlined the chart methodologies until he eventually brought us a single pop chart. There used to be a chart for airplay ("Jockeys chart"), for sales ("Best Sellers"), and public exhibition ("Juke Box"). Ackerman introduced those charts, as well as retired them, first bringing us a "Top 100" chart, and then eventually bringing us the "Hot 100," which is still the brass ring to this day in terms of singles' charts. And except for briefly discontinuing the R&B charts in the early-to-mid '60's, Billboard has been the sterling example because of Ackerman. There were two possible songs to use for Ackerman. Tommy Edwards' "It's All In The Game" was the first #1 song when the "Hot 100" became the sole pop singles' chart. But the one I actually used was the first #1 hit when the Hot 100 debuted, and it also topped the Best Sellers chart, which lasted for about two more months before being the last fragmented chart to be retired. I salute Paul Ackerman with "Poor Little Fool" by Ricky Nelson.
The Allman Brothers Band: If classic rock stations were the authors of the history books, this group would be remembered as a progenitor of Southern rock. And the fact that I'm using "Ramblin Man" to pay homage to them probably only serves to deepen that myth, but it's important to note that this band was a lot more versatile than that. They have roots in the blues as well, with such classics as "Whipping Post." Whether they were making the guitars sing with tracks like "Jessica," or laying it down real, the Allman Brothers Band is a band that is a lot more than the radio remembers them for.
Al Green: When we talk about '70's singer/songwriters, we're usually talking about subdued, folksy, and well...White solo guitarists whose music is right at home with the coffeehouse atmosphere. R&B singer/songwriters, like Al Green, we often forget to include in the conversation. He did do a few covers, but then again, so did James Taylor. But more than that, his amazingly calm brand of soul and his distinctive voice produced some of the most amazing soul ever, let alone that decade. In the wake of the failed radio programming project, I'm still using "Let's Stay Together," but he has a tremendous catalog that includes such greats as "Take Me To The River," "Tired Of Being Alone," and "I Tried To Tell Myself."
Janis Joplin: I'm just going to say it: I really do not like Janis Joplin's music. In the movie Across The Universe, which was basically a movie paying tribute to the Beatles, the character Sadie is supposed to symbolize Janis Joplin. The Sadie character, however, is a middle-aged woman. I'd say there's a reason for that: despite dying at the age of 27, Joplin's voice sounded like that of a 40-something year old waitress who damaged her larynx with booze and cigarettes. In reality, those were just the tip of the iceberg, but I've always thought she sounded like a hag trying to catch her big break late in life. But history has spoken, and ol' Pearl is a widely revered and influential female figure in music, and she absolutely deserved her induction. I'm using "Me And Bobby McGee" for her, and silently hoping that she won't be the first female Clyde McPhatter club member, since Big Brother And The Holding Company have been considered (though not nominated) before. My apologies to those of you who love Ms. Joplin's work. Can't like 'em all.
Led Zeppelin: Let's just address the elephant in the room first: I refused to use "Stairway To Heaven" for Led Zeppelin. This was for three reasons: one, they had enough charted hits that I felt I should use one of those; two, it's such a different song from the majority of their catalog, which largely has some intangible, but palpable quality to it that identifies the band; three, I've always felt the song really doesn't live up to the hype all that much. It just rates a meh with me. Getting to the band as whole, though, if the Beatles changed our perceptions and definitions of rock and roll, Led Zeppelin is the band that made sure those changes were permanent. A song like "Rock And Roll" paid tribute to the great music of yore, but was its own creature in a different tradition. My appreciation of this band continues to dwindle with the local classic rock station overdoing the airplay, and always referring to playing a song of theirs as "Swinging the Hammer Of The Gods!" I still enjoy "The Immigrant Song" enough to gladly use it in this set, though. And really, this is one of those bands that it is very difficult to overstate their importance.
Martha And The Vandellas: This isn't just my favorite group from this induction class, this is my favorite act from the entire Motown family. In fact, it kind of pisses me off that they were one of the very few powerhouse acts from Motown's golden era that never had a #1 hit on the pop charts. They were just so absolutely amazing. Despite using the same musicians as the rest of the powerhouse acts, they did not sound like any other Motown act. It was much more driving, forceful, and gritty. Their music didn't sound like it was produced by Phil Spector, but there was a power behind their songs that could almost be called a kind of "wall of sound." It's my suspicion that much like Darlene Love, the soulful voice of Martha Reeves was just so powerful, even when singing torch songs like "Love (Makes Me Do Foolish Things)" that the band behind them needed to step it up to support a sound that big. You can hear it on classics like "Nowhere To Run," "Heat Wave," and "Dancing In The Street," the last of which is the song used to represent them in this project (Vocal Group Hall Of Fame Song Of Proof: "Quicksand").
The Orioles: The role of vocal groups in rock and roll is being significantly downplayed by revisionists, so much that if they hadn't been inducted yet, then they would have no chance anymore. But when a group is bandied about as being the first vocal R&B group, that is serious. Emerging from the tradition and trend of jive music, which the Ink Spots and the Five Red Caps were well-known for, the Orioles brought a new emotionalism to their music and paved the way for the myriad of R&B acts that followed and helped force the acceptance of Black music by the White pop markets. They have been widely covered, their influence is tremendous, and it's with great honor that I use their debut single, "It's Too Soon To Know" to honor them (Vocal Group Hall Of Fame Song Of Proof: "Crying In The Chapel").
Neil Young: In keeping with the original aim of this project, I started and stuck with "Heart Of Gold" for Neil Young. It doesn't really speak overall to his general style, but then again, that's a pretty hard thing to nail down with Neil. Some of his songs are like that, and then again, some of his songs are much different, more like "Rockin' In The Free World." And some are different from that. He's a versatile artist with multiple efforts. His band, Crazy Horse, is also on that list of artists that have been considered, though never nominated. So even though he may have a "Heart Of Gold," the rest of his musical body is vast and diverse.
Frank Zappa: The more I learn about Frank Zappa, the more I admire and respect the man. He embraced music and artistic expression in almost everything, whether he was composing his own classical-style arrangements or playing a bicycle on national television. He was socially conscious, testifying before Congress against censorship, and he helped register people to vote at his concerts. But despite having bizarre album titles, like "Hot Rats" and "Freak Out!", he was very conservative in his personal lifestyle, refusing to do drugs, and even firing Dr. John from the Mothers Of Invention for using drugs. I think that if I had tried to become a rock musician myself, I'd want to emulate the professionalism, work ethic, and musical and artistic appreciation of Frank Zappa. Given my conservative, rural background, it probably wouldn't have worked out like that, but I'd like to think I'd at least try. And that's not even considering that my music would probably not be reminiscent of Zappa's in the least. I probably wouldn't call him a musical influence, just a professional one. That said, I like his music, at least what I know. "Valley Girl" and "Trouble Every Day" are just two amazing examples of the man's musical genius. Notably satirical, he took the time to mock disco with a song about a guy who couldn't dance but tried his best to own the floor. It stands in as the representation here; it's "Dancin' Fool."
And with that, we've reached our nine songs to complete this class. Upset about the choices? Let me know in the Comments below! What songs would you have chosen? Next will be the Class Of 1996. Are there any songs you hope and pray I'm NOT using for the inductees in that class? Weigh in! Recapping:
Paul Ackerman: "Poor Little Fool" by Ricky Nelson
the Allman Brothers Band: "Ramblin Man"
Al Green: "Let's Stay Together"
Janis Joplin: "Me And Bobby McGee"
Led Zeppelin: "The Immigrant Song"
Martha And The Vandellas: "Dancing In The Street"
the Orioles: "It's Too Soon To Know"
Neil Young: "Heart Of Gold"
Frank Zappa: "Dancin' Fool"