Monday, March 12, 2018

Songs Of Proof: The Class Of 1995

It's the tenth induction for the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame.  It's a major milestone, and not to be taken lightly.  The Vocal Group Hall Of Fame had ten inductions, but folded after that, despite having a prospective ballot for its eleventh class.  Of course, that hasn't happened yet.  The Vocal Group Hall Of Fame starts up in 1998, and we're in 1995, where some of the big names of classic rock are getting inducted.  There are artists who have only a few hit singles, but are long-loved for their albums.  We have a couple strong artists in the R&B slots, but the numbers aren't what they once were.  Still, plenty of good stuff to go around, but it's a relatively small class, though by today's standards, it's supersized.  Let's look at some of these no-brainers who are receiving their just due.

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" 

Monday, March 5, 2018

Songs Of Proof: The Class Of 1994

For the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame, the Class Of 1994 marks something of a turning point.  From this point on, the common connotations of rock and roll would slowly and surely begin to dominate the conversation.  In recent years, the Hall has come under scrutiny for being dominated by White males, and this is the class that marked the beginning of that era.  The Class Of 1988 had more White acts inducted than Black (5-4), but thanks to the number of past members of the Drifters who were inducted, the number of people inducted that year was a twelve-twelve split.  1993 probably started hinting at how the trend would start skewing (6-5 in favor of white entities inducted, so still quite close), but this is the first year that the White conceptions surrounding rock and roll would dominate the conversation.  Only two Black inductees, to eight White entities, three of which are bands.  Though 1998 would be a close call, it wouldn't be until 2000 when there would be another equal split of Black to White inductees.  2005 would be the last time that there were more Black acts inducted in the Performer category, though the number of members would make the number of people equal, until you include the two inductees outside of the Performer category, which tips both statistics toward the White side again.  Of course, this being the first year that it becomes actually noticeable, not many actually notice it, and much like the other classes before it, the acts inducted are a pretty difficult bunch to argue against.

From the point of view of this project, this is also a class of firsts.  This is the first class where there are no acts who would later be inducted into the Vocal Group Hall Of Fame.  Two of the three bands inducted this particular year would also have made great additions to that establishment, and the third might have been feasible as well, but no one who actually was.  This is also the first time that all of the Songs Of Proof are by the actual inductees themselves.  Even the Non-Performer.  This is something that only happens a handful of times, but it's fun when it does.  And just what are those songs used?

The Animals:  When you're lumped into the same category as the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, and the Who, it's easy to be overlooked.  Additionally, not a group I personally care for a whole lot, or at least not their biggest hit.  In addition to having been overdone on Oldies radio, "House Of The Rising Sun" is hard to understand when Eric Burdon sings it.  However, the bluesy, almost swampy sound of the Animals that comes from the unmistakable lead guitar hearkens back to the Mississippi Delta where the blues can be said to originate.  Additionally, they managed to unintentionally resonate with the counterculture movement with songs like "We Gotta Get Out Of This Place,"as well as rather intentionally with songs like "Monterey," "San Francisco Nights," "Sky Pilot," and the song that I've chosen to represent them on this set, which is both dripping with that bluesy guitar as well as an anthem of individualism whose title Bon Jovi would later co-opt for their own, different composition, "It's My Life."

The Band:  The song I've chosen to represent them is "Up On Cripple Creek," which was a big enough hit to make it an easy sell for the radio program I originally envisioned this project becoming, and is a wonderful example of what is sometimes called "roots" music.  It's a style that they would infuse into many of their songs.  This is an act that will be called upon again to provide a song to honor another inductee, off in the distant future.  In the meanwhile, I just want to say of the three bands inducted this year, this is the one that it's the biggest shame they weren't inducted into the Vocal Group Hall Of Fame.  For a group whose name comes from the fact that they were originally just hired hands to play behind Bob Dylan, their musicianship and chemistry transcends their workaday nomenclature, and is most wonderfully pronounced in their ability to generate folksy, yet unmistakable harmonies in songs like the aforementioned choice, "The Weight" and "The Shape I'm In."  A bit off-topic, go to YouTube and look up the Animaniacs cartoon about Slappy Squirrel in Woodstock, in 1969.  Slappy and Skippy, via the show's writers and voice actors, adapt the classic Abbott And Costello routine, "Who's On First," using the Who and this band, the Band.

Willie Dixon:  What I'm going to say right now is going to prove unpopular: this induction is one of the biggest blunders by the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame, in my opinion.  Put away your torches and pitchforks though, because I fully believe that Willie Dixon was worthy of induction into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame.  But NOT as an Early Influence.  The man produced and wrote so many amazing blues records... but he seemingly recorded so comparatively few!  Or if he recorded them all, those recordings have not been preserved.  The Early Influence category is for those who as recording artists helped shape the sounds that would eventually evolve into what we now know as rock and roll.  Willie Dixon definitely helped shape the sounds, but not so much in front of the microphone as behind the scenes.  How many songs credited to Willie Dixon as the performing artist can you name off the top of your head?  Myself, I can only think of four, and one of those was turned into an even bigger classic by Howlin' Wolf.  Box sets and compilations on Willie Dixon almost all have more songs recorded by other artists than by the man himself.  So why was he inducted as an Early Influence instead of as a Non-Performer?!  I feel the same way about Willie Dixon as many others feel about Laura Nyro: should have been inducted as a Non-Performer.  But since he was inducted as an Early Influence, we're honoring him with his recording "29 Ways."

Duane Eddy:  When the discussion turns to Duane Eddy, I have to smile.  So many want their favorite arena rock bands inducted, and part of the reason they do is because of the solos where the guitar is being played such that it is sometimes described as "singing."  And yet, when it comes to Duane Eddy, he's not regarded as being all that worthy.  Is it because he was big in the '50's, and not the '70's when these people were growing up?  Whatever it was, it's laughable.  Duane Eddy is arguably the first rock and roll guitarist to play it in such a way that it could be described as "singing."  Pre-rock guitarists had been doing it before Eddy, but as a device of rock and roll, he was one of the first biggies.  With songs like "Forty Miles Of Bad Road," his instrumental version of the movie theme "Because They're Young," and "Rebel-'Rouser," which I've chosen to use in this project, Duane Eddy's indelible  mark was more than just being twangy, though there's that too.

The Grateful Dead:  The last band inducted for this class, and one of the most famous inductions for its mini-controversies.  After the insistence that every past and then-present member of the group be inducted, which was done for them (including the first White, female Performer inductee in Donna Godchaux), the induction was still mired by Jerry Garcia's refusal to attend.  Just no pleasing some people.  They would have made fine inductees into the Vocal Group Hall Of Fame, too, but of course that never happened.  As a band that is legendary for their tireless touring, their legion of Deadheads that followed them on tour, and as an act that had more live albums than studio, it seems best-fitting to represent them with a song about being on the road, at least in part.  So, as cliche as it may be considered, "Truckin'" is the optimal song to use here.

Elton John:  And now to combat the all the guitar in the room, we have one of the biggest pianists in rock and roll.  Of course, a lot of songs of his included great guitar lines, but the ivories are his second home and his first true love (not mocking his marriage, just that that relationship hasn't lasted as long as the one with the piano).  The choice for "Crocodile Rock" to represent Elton John here is rooted primarily in the original radio program idea, but it's his first #1 hit, has a great keys line, as well as a catchy bass line and lyrics that hail the great rock and roll of yore, and so is a great choice any way you choose to view it.

John Lennon:  He's often remembered more for his social conscience than his music, so I first wanted to use "Whatever Gets You Thru The Night" as a reminder that he created a lot of good rock and roll too.  But among his songs, the ones that are best remembered are those that have something to say about the world we live in.  But rather than default to "Imagine," which I suspect many of you would do, I chose to go for a song that is both a great rocker and includes his signature message about trying to love everyone.  A top ten hit to boot, John Lennon is honored with "Instant Karma (We All Shine On)."

Bob Marley:  Those who are upset at the inclusion of R&B and soul into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame must have just about flipped their wigs when Bob Marley was enshrined in 1994.  Reggae?  In the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame?  As Jimmy Cliff said years later at his own induction though, reggae music is steeped very solidly in rock and roll, in the traditions of New Orleans artists, and includes the influences of musicians like Jimi Hendrix, as well as other indigenous influences.  Bob Marley himself chose to drive the point home with the song that decades after his death, I would use to honor him in a homemade CD set.  Not sure he'd be proud of that so much, but "Roots, Rock, Reggae" is mandatory listening for those who want to talk about the history of rock and roll music.  And hopefully the Wailers will be inducted one day, too.

Johnny Otis:  Few wore as many hats in rock and roll as Johnny Otis did.  You name something that they induct someone for in the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame, and Johnny Otis did it, except for innovating instrument design and founding a magazine.  He also could have been inducted as a Sideman, and as a bandleader, there's argument for him as either a Performer or Early Influence.  The son of Greek immigrants, he latched onto and helped shape American culture before, at the dawn of, and throughout the progression and domination of rock and roll music.  He's had a hand in a lot of the R&B that kids danced to, even if the only dance they could do was the hand jive.  So, let's salute the man with his big crossover hit, "Willie And The Hand Jive."

Rod Stewart:  A double-inductee who could have attended both of his inductions, but attended neither, and yet was on-hand to induct Percy Sledge, of all inductees.  That's Rod all over: wild and unpredictable as his hair.  What makes Rod's induction as a solo artist a curiosity, though, is that he was barely eligible at the time, and as a Performer, is generally regarded more worthy for his work with the Jeff Beck Group, or Faces.  His solo efforts are often described as the less worthy efforts, and "Do Ya Think I'm Sexy?" is something of a punchline in the rockist circles.  For myself, "Maggie Mae" is a boring and unnecessarily long song, with "Mine For Me" being derivative.  I prefer his '80's stuff myself, and his solo career is pretty well linked to synthesizers while still having a catchy melody and good beats.  And though it might be slightly cheesy, it is "Young Turks" that is being used in this particular playlist for his solo career.

And those ten entries round out the Class Of 1994.  Arguably four decades of rock and roll solidly represented with acts whose first records came out in 1968 or earlier.  Like the choices?  Would you change any of the selections?  If so, which ones?  Post your own thoughts in the Comments below.  Recapping:

the Animals: "It's My Life"
the Band: "Up On Cripple Creek"
Willie Dixon: "29 Ways"
Duane Eddy: "Rebel-'Rouser"
the Grateful Dead: "Truckin'"
Elton John: "Crocodile Rock"
John Lennon: "Instant Karma (We All Shine On)"
Bob Marley: "Roots, Rock, Reggae"
Johnny Otis: "Willie And The Hand Jive"
Rod Stewart: "Young Turks"

Monday, February 26, 2018

Songs Of Proof: The Class Of 1993

1993 is the year that the Rock And Roll Hall of Fame inducted its eighth class.  That might not seem like it's of any consequence; however, for a long time, the Hall had a mythology of the "automatic eight," meaning that once an inductee has been nominated seven times, they automatically go in after their eighth.  The theory is that this was never a formal thing... until Solomon Burke needed ten to get in, where it was decided that eight was automatic after that.  The theory was fully disproved though after Chic failed to get in on their eighth nomination, and their ninth, and their tenth, and their eleventh, when they just decided to induct Nile Rodgers.  It matters because this year we have our first eight-time nominee finally being inducted.  This is also the year that we get our second Clyde McPhatter Club member, who would eventually be inducted a third time.  Arguably the biggest name in Non-Performers is inducted this year, as well as an interracial funk act.  This is a pretty diverse class, and they are saluted with the following, and hopefully fitting songs:

Ruth Brown:  We start off with an inductee who could have been inducted as a Performer or as an Early Influence.  As a singer, she goes back to 1949, and throughout the '50's, she was known as "Miss Rhythm."  Since she was inducted in the Performer category, I chose a song from the late '50's with a great bouncing feel to it.  It's a song that was written by Bobby Darin, and is a great testament to how you could rock and roll and still be a responsible person at the same time.  "This Little Girl's Gone Rockin'" is a fantastic number to represent this leading lady.

Dick Clark:  A professional hero of mine, a man who was always the epitome of class, even when hosting a show about bloopers and practical jokes.  There's a terrific story for the song I first used, but later switched out.  In addition to "American Bandstand" and "Where The Action Is," Dick Clark promoted rock and roll with his Caravan Of Stars tours.  One year, that tour included Paul And Paula, who had a huge smash with "Hey Paula."  However, the singers, whose real names were Ray and Jill, absolutely loathed each other.  They could not stand being around each other, and in the middle of the tour they were on, Ray up and quit and went home.  The consummate professional who knew the show must go on, Dick stepped up to the mic and sang the duet with Jill for the duration of the tour.  So, I was using "Hey Paula" to salute his professionalism.  The problem is, I hate that song.  Like, REALLY hate that song.  And besides which, the Caravan Of Stars tours, his New Year's Eve specials, and much of everything that came his way was built upon the amazing job he did as the host of "American Bandstand," and years later when he hosted the syndicated radio show, "Rock, Roll, And Remember," he frequently used his old TV theme coming out of the commercial break, at the start of a new segment.  He'll forever be identified by "Bandstand Boogie," which was performed by Les Elgart And His Orchestra, and I bring it back here to salute this gentleman.

Cream:  On the level, not an act I would have chosen.  Often regarded as but another stepping stone toward's Clapton's lustrous solo career.  Sure, they recorded much more than just the two songs; that said, the legacy is usually reduced to the two songs.  But after Hendrix, when it comes to psychedelic blues rock from the '60's, this is probably the act you think of most, which is not inconsequential.  And without turning it into a tribute to Hendrix, I chose "Sunshine Of Your Love" to represent this trio.

Creedence Clearwater Revival:  The great thing about CCR is that if you ask a hundred different people to name their three favorite songs from this band, you'll get a hundred different three-song combinations, and nobody will have anything bad to say about anyone else's choices.  Only once have I ever heard someone say they didn't like Creedence Clearwater Revival, and that was only because he was sick of hearing the same songs on the radio eight times a day, which is another issue entirely, really.  That's how universal their music is.  I once described their music as causing the well water that courses through my veins to reverberate.  Ceasing the poetic waxing, I'll just say that my favorite three are in no order "Wrote A Song For Everyone," "It Came Out Of The Sky," and the song I'm using here.  It's a song that technically is a Billboard hit... as a tagalong B-side, what with how Billboard changed their methodology in '69 and stopped letting popular B-sides chart independently for awhile.  How high it would have charted on its own is anyone's guess, except to say it would not have hit #1.  I once played this song on repeat at work to see how long it would be before anyone would notice.  It took twemty minutes before anyone noticed that we were listening to "Hey Tonight" on a continuous loop.

The Doors:  The Lizard King and company.  Though they are not my favorite group by any stretch, the only song of theirs I don't care for, that I can think of offhand, is "L.A. Woman," and that's just because I'm sick of hearing it.  A lot of really good songs, and while Morrison was no Walt Whitman, he certainly had the soul of a poet.  The song I chose has the added bonus of being overtly sexual, much like Jim Morrison, while also having some psychedelia to it, but was chosen mainly because the keyboard riff that opens the song and runs throughout it is based on the opening guitar riff from the Four Seasons' "C'mon Marianne."  Sometimes I'm just a little less than objective.  But "Touch Me" is still a solid choice to use.

Milt Gabler:  The lesser known of the Non-Performer inductees from this class, but no less deserving, Milt Gabler was a producer.  He was more than a producer though, also a songwriter and even record label executive.  He's the reason we know Billie Holiday's "Strange Fruit," and why Louis Jordan became such a humongous figure.  He produced a lot of Early Influence inductees at some point, including this year's inductee, Sister Rosetta Tharpe.  He wrote Brenda Lee's touching "I'm Sorry" and helped shape the sound of early rock and roll.  Fun point of trivia, he's an uncle to Billy Crystal.  But if you still don't get why this man was inducted into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame, I'll spell it out for you: "R-O-C-K" by Bill Haley And His Comets.

Etta James:  Though she's most famous for the ballad "At Last," that song alone simply could not have propelled her into the Hall.  Her legacy as an R&B singer goes way back to the raunchy "Roll With Me Henry" back at the dawn of rock and roll, and she released a lot of R&B records, both ballads and otherwise.  The song I chose is "Tell Mama," a song I fell in love with the first time I heard it on the syndicated "Super Gold" program back in the '90's.  It's still a great jam, and I highly urge you to listen to it, even if you know it forwards and backwards.  Listen to it again.  Do it now.  This blog will still be waiting for you when you get back from YouTube.

Frankie Lymon And The Teenagers:  This was the very first act that needed eight nominations to get inducted.  They were nominated every year until they finally broke through.  They were so much more than just the one hit.  Listen to some of the other songs they had success with.  They combated the notion of rock 'n' roll corrupting the youth with "I'm Not A Juvenile Delinquent," as well as gave us the rock and roll version of "'A' You're Adorable" with the incredibly catchy "The ABC's Of Love."  So, their legacy is so much more than "Why Do Fools Fall In Love;" however, that song in particular is one of the absolute pillars of '50's rock and roll, and so I relented and did in fact use the obvious choice.  (Vocal Group Hall Of Fame Song Of Proof: "Goody Goody")

Van Morrison:  The quirky inductee from this class.  It might be a stretch to call him an individualist, but he is certainly a singular figure that there is really none other like.  He just does what he does as he does it, and it covers a large area of the map.  From "Wild Night" to "Tupelo Honey," from "Brown Eyed Girl" to "Domino," from "Moondance" to "Jackie Wilson Said (I'm In Heaven When You Smile)," his style is completely unique, as further evidenced by my choice for Song Of Proof, which is none of the ones already mentioned.  A lesser known hit for the man, but very unique, much like him, the song is "Blue Money."

Sly And The Family Stone:  Pioneers of funk, and an interracial band to boot.  I think one of the things I like about this group so much is that with songs like "Dance To The Music" and "I Want To Take You Higher," they showed that funk music doesn't always have to be gritty, though it certainly can be.  It can also be bright and cheery.  Or socially conscious, or just plain expressive.  As a group that sort of embodied a "family of man" ethos, I felt it best fitting to honor them with "Family Affair," a song that as well as being a solid jam, also marked a turn of style for them, as they led on through the '70's.  (Vocal Group Hall Of Fame Song Of Proof: "Hot Fun In The Summertime")

Dinah Washington: Alphabetically, this class began with a Black woman singer who was active from the late '40's through the early '60's, and we end with another one here.  A beacon for femininity in her own right, she sadly met with a tragic end trying to maintain an industry-conforming image behind the scenes.  Still, the songs from this year's sole Early Influence inductee last on and shine forth.  A personal favorite of mine is "Joy Juice," which probably wouldn't go over so well in today's social and political climate.  A song of hers, however, that absolutely would, and the song I've chosen here, is "Baby, Get Lost," which speaks about a woman not letting a man run her life, realizing her own worth, and shows that even if what she wants is to be a domestic goddess, she'll do it on her own terms and not his.  Fantastic record that is sadly but beautifully still relevant today.

And with that, we have completed our profile look at the Class Of 1993.  I hope you've enjoyed reading it and have been given some food for thought.  If you have any thoughts that you'd care to share, including songs you'd use, the Comments section waits below.  Have fun, and to give you the recap:

Ruth Brown: "This Little Girl's Gone Rockin'"
Dick Clark: "Bandstand Boogie" by Les Elgart And His Orchestra
Cream: "Sunshine Of Your Love"
Creedence Clearwater Revival: "Hey Tonight"
The Doors: "Touch Me"
Milt Gabler: "R-O-C-K" by Bill Haley And His Comets
Etta James: "Tell Mama"
Frankie Lymon And The Teenagers: "Why Do Fools Fall In Love"
Van Morrison: "Blue Money"
Sly And The Family Stone: "Family Affair"
Dinah Washington: "Baby, Get Lost"

Monday, February 19, 2018

Songs Of Proof: The Class Of 1992

Continuing headlong in the project now, we come to the Class Of 1992.  It's a class with a dozen solid inductees, including some slightly less than obvious choices.  A couple big ones, and the second instance of inducting an artist in a different category after failing to get them inducted as a Performer.  Sadly, not the last time we would see it happen, but as often happens, there is something of an argument to be made for what they did.  Classic rock is represented, but in no way does it dominate the story here.  There's blues, country, acid, soul, and more.  With all that said, what songs would you choose to honor the inductees?

Bobby "Blue" Bland:  Bobby "Blue" Bland is one of those surprisingly good calls by the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame.  A name that many probably wouldn't think of right away, which may have something to do with why it took so many nominations to get him in.  But despite being such a blues artist, beginning with his Beale Streeter days, he also cut a lot of great commercially friendly R&B.  He's in a league among some other great artists like Solomon Burke.  His is a catalog that people need to spend more time getting to know, myself included.  Meanwhile, some great songs like "Ain't Nothing You Can Do," and the song I chose for him, "Turn On Your Love Light," are fantastic introductions to his work.

Booker T. And The M.G.'s:  When the Future Rock Legends community started their "Revisited/Projected" project, they inducted this outfit in the Sideman category for their work as the house band for the Stax/Volt family.  That's a valid argument right there, but their catalog of their own material is pretty incredible too.  Their "In The Christmas Spirit" album is mandatory listening for me every December.  "Soul Limbo" is one of the most fantastically festive songs ever.  And of course, their signature song, which introduced them in their own right to the music listening public, and really helped shape a lot of their songs to come afterwards, "Green Onions," is a quintessential song to understanding rock and roll in the '60's, which is why it is the chosen song for this interracial band.

Johnny Cash:  It's been said that Johnny Cash is absolutely universal.  Nobody doesn't like Johnny Cash.  There are people who hate Elvis, others who hate the Beatles, and amazingly, even some who don't like Nickelback.  But nobody doesn't like Johnny Cash.  At least, so I've heard.  I have yet to meet anyone who doesn't like the Man In Black, at least.  So, it's no surprise that even though he's more of a country legend, that his early recordings which skew toward rockabilly, as well as his overall influence, would vault him into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame after only three nominations.  I didn't choose one of his early rockabilly songs though.  As proof that he was important no matter what he did, I stuck with one of his all-time classics, "Ring Of Fire," to salute the man and his legacy.

Leo Fender:  There is an ongoing battle in rock and roll.  The Hall itself sends a mixed message regarding rock and roll with respect to the guitar.  No one would say that Jerry Lee Lewis, Elton John, Billy Joel, and Ray Charles aren't rock and rollers in their own right, and yet from their logo, to the design of their museum, they seem to be saying that the guitar is the end-all, be-all for what defines rock and roll.  Another log in that fire is that Leo Fender is the only instrument pioneer inducted, and not, for example, Dr. Robert Moog or Adolphe Sax.  That said, no one would deny the importance of Fender guitars and the players who electrified audiences with them.  I love my choice for this one too, because in terms of eligibility, I chose a song from an artist who wouldn't become eligible for induction for another sixteen years, and even then, not inducted for another seven years beyond that.  It's such a disconnect, but that's how far reaching the influence of Fender's designs are.  To honor Leo Fender, we have "Crossfire" by Stevie Ray Vaughan And Double Trouble.

Bill Graham:  Like Leo Fender above, Bill Graham died in 1991 and was inducted in 1992.  It's inductions like this that give rise and popularity to the "Death Fairy" mythos.  As a concert promoter, he was big enough a name to give credence to events by putting his name on them.  He also managed a few bands too.  He is best remembered for promoting events at the Fillmore, and I chose the studio version of a song from a band who did indeed have a live album from the Fillmore.  The song, however, wasn't recorded until two years after that album.  Still, overall, I feel it's a good choice to pay tribute to Bill Graham.  "Oye Como Va" by Santana fits the bill here.

The Jimi Hendrix Experience:  If you know anyone who doesn't consider anything pre-Beatles to be "truly rock and roll," who have a very limited definition of what rock and roll is, then Jimi Hendrix is probably the only African-American they can name that they think belongs in the Hall.  It's sad, but there are people like that out there.  When originally trying to promote this idea for a radio broadcast, I was all but forced to select "All Along The Watchtower" for this band; however, having a little more freedom now, I quite comfortably made the switch to the more venerated and quintessential "Purple Haze."  As a P.S., kudos to the Hall for inducting all three members of this group and not letting this one fall victim to Front Man Fever.

The Isley Brothers:  Another act that doesn't always roll off the tongue right away when discussing the big names, the Isley Brothers are a more than deserving group for their versatility as much as the messages in their music.  They've been in the Billboard Hot 100 for six consecutive decades (in some form), and have a diverse catalog that includes jumping '50's R&B, Motown, funk, protest, and beyond.  They've been all over, and doing it all well.  That's just their thing.  And that's why "It's Your Thing" too.  (Vocal Group Hall Of Fame Song Of Proof: "Twist And Shout")

Elmore James:  Nominated for the Performer category the previous year, he was inducted as an Early Influence after that failed attempt.  It's one of those thorny gray areas.  He broke through in the early 1950's, and had a posthumous Bubbling Under The Hot 100 hit in 1965, with one of his many recorded renditions of "It Hurts Me Too."  It's actually interesting though, that he was inducted as "Elmore James" rather than "Elmo James" which is how he was billed on his early records... you know, the ones that get him credited as an Early Influence inductee.  In any event, the King Of The Slide Guitar certainly had more than enough influence from that breakout record, "Dust My Broom," that he maybe could have even gotten in for that song alone.  Maybe not.  Either way, it's in the playlist for him.

Doc Pomus:  And now for the reason why the songwriting teams and production teams are broken up when it comes to the Non-Performer category.  Doc Pomus was inducted in 1992, possibly because, like the other two Non-Performers from this year, he also died the year before he was inducted.  It wouldn't be for another twenty years that his partner, Mort Shuman, would be properly and also posthumously recognized as well.  Meanwhile, to give this half his due, I chose a song with a special story attached to it.  Doc Pomus was a wheelchair-bound man (or on crutches), due to polio as a child.  His wife, however, loved to go out dancing.  He wrote this song as a love song for his wife, reminding her that he still loved her very much, despite being unable to be her dancing partner, and pleaded with her, even if only metaphorically, to "Save The Last Dance For Me," which the Drifters made a pure gold classic, giving voice and emotions to the words Pomus wrote and the love in his heart for his wife.  Truly no better song to use for the man.

Professor Longhair:  Jazz and blues come together with this man's music.  He's one of the musicians who helped influence and define the sound of New Orleans as we know it today, whether it was with songs like "Tipitina," or fun bits of raunchiness like "Bald Head," or with the eponymous song that I chose to use for him, wherein he sings about himself a bit.  I gotta admit, I'm a bit hit-or-miss on how much I like listening to his music, but songs like "Professor Longhair Blues" are great records to throw on every once in awhile.

Sam And Dave:  Another great Stax/Volt act.  Of all the acts from this year's class, this one is probably my favorite.  The story of how they came together to be an amazing soul duo is kind of a funny one though.  But their music is no joke.  This is a case where fate proved to be a better decider than me.  I wanted to use "Hold On, I'm Comin'" because it is such an awesome song.  But at the time, I couldn't download a decent copy of it.  Going to Plan B, I went with the song they are best known for, and sadly one that has been co-opted by the semi-fictitious Blues Brothers.  It really is an amazing song that crosses the social gap, just not the one I originally wanted.  Ultimately, it probably is best that I use "Soul Man" to prove the merits of Sam And Dave.  (Vocal Group Hall Of Fame Song Of Proof: "When Something Is Wrong With My Baby")

The Yardbirds:  Well, we can't ignore the British Invasion outright, now can we?  The Yardbirds are something of a strange case, though.  They're ultimately better remembered for the guitarists that cut their teeth in that band than for the music that they recorded as a band.  And yet, when you listen to those records, there's more than enough musical excellence and experimentation to give them the green light here.  For their Song Of Proof, I chose a song that is somewhat psychedelic in its guitar-work, but also beautifully expresses the anguish of the lyrics that Keith Relf conveys so well.  Yes indeed, we go from "Soul Man" above to "Heart Full Of Soul" here.

And I'm afraid that's gonna put a bow on it for this installment.  I hope you've enjoyed reading about my selections for each of these inductees and why I've chosen them.  It's never too late to get in on the fun.  Even if you've never commented on my blog ever, you're more than welcome to weigh in on these inductees, and tell me what songs you'd use to honor them.  The Comments section below awaits you.  Recapping:

Bobby "Blue" Bland:  "Turn On Your Love Light"
Booker T. And The M.G.'s:  "Green Onions"
Johnny Cash:  "Ring Of Fire"
Leo Fender:  "Crossfire" by Stevie Ray Vaughan And Double Trouble
Bill Graham:  "Oye Como Va" by Santana
the Jimi Hendrix Experience:  "Purple Haze"
the Isley Brothers:  "It's Your Thing"
Elmore James:  "Dust My Broom"
Doc Pomus:  "Save The Last Dance For Me" by the Drifters
Professor Longhair:  "Professor Longhair Blues"
Sam And Dave:  "Soul Man"
the Yardbirds:  "Heart Full Of Soul"

Monday, February 12, 2018

Songs Of Proof: The Class Of 1991

We now plunge headlong into the '90's for the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame.  The previous year saw the biggest class we would see for another full decade.  The sizes of the classes would hold pretty steady for the next decade, holding steadily near the double digit threshold.  Some a titch higher, some a mite lower, some dead on the ten-mark itself.  But class size isn't the only thing that's been consistent.  The quality of the classes themselves maintained a certain level.  A good, high level.  While the classic rock backlog is still a few years from becoming a problem, it's also nothing anybody is worrying about.  In fact, right now, the focus is on unclogging the backlog of great '50's artists, something we'll see almost every year of induction classes this coming decade.  But the Rock Hall is humming along pretty smoothly right now, and we're gonna honor this class with some great songs of theirs.

LaVern Baker:  We start with "Little Miss Sharecropper."  Like many hit-churning R&B acts from this era, she is sadly relegated to a couple of songs that she's remembered for.  And while the omission of the Gliders (also known as the Cues) isn't the biggest omission, they were behind her on her biggest hits, in consistent lineup, so at some point, they probably should be honored for the energy their rhythmic vocals provided.  If you want a hilarious example of musicians having fun, check out the "X-Rated" version of "Think Twice," her duet with Jackie Wilson where you hear F-bombs, C-words, and both of them laughing by the end of the record.  Keeping in line with the aim of this project though, "Jim Dandy" is a landmark standard of rock and roll, and is a terrific salute to this leading lady of rock and roll.

Dave Bartholomew:  Inducted as a Non-Performer, primarily as the songwriting partner of Fats Domino, Dave Bartholomew both proves that many great Non-Performers are respectable musicians in their own right and gives credence to those outraged at the continued omission of Bernie Taupin.  Of course, the oldest living inductee did more than just write songs with the Fat Man, he worked with a lot of R&B and teen idol stars.  But as I mentioned, he also was a musician, and to give you an idea of his sound, and why it clicked so well with what would become Fats Domino's trademark sound, give a listen to his sole hit on the R&B charts, "Country Boy."

Ralph Bass:  The Class Of 1991 marks the turn in the Non-Performer category toward names that aren't as well-known in their own right.  In the entire first five classes of the Rock Hall, John Hammond and Ahmet Ertegun were the only two I hadn't heard of before finding out about the existence of the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame.  Getting into this decade though, the names aren't as well-known.  Dick Clark, whom we'll honor in a couple years' time, is of course a household name, and I knew who George Martin and Johnny Otis were, and had even heard the name Allen Toussaint, and could infer from the surname Fender who Leo was.  Point being though, these aren't as big of names, but they are no less deserving.  In the case of Ralph Bass, based on the career timeline of John Hammond, it's something of a wonder he wasn't also inducted as a Lifetime Achievement inductee.  Working with some of the big names that are considered pre-rock, it's also quite noteworthy that he worked with some of the biggest names in '50's R&B to bring them to a wider audience.  Among those whose careers he helped launch was James Brown And The Famous Flames, and with that, I've honored Ralph Bass with "Please, Please, Please."

The Byrds:  Folk-rock.  The signature sound of the 12-string guitar.  Those impeccable harmonies.  They're the only act on this list that a rockist would approve of.  Originally, going with as many songs about rock and roll as I could, I intended to salute the Byrds with "So You Want To Be A Rock 'N' Roll Star," but it just couldn't stand up to my own scrutiny.  I had to go with a song that really captures their whole brand of folk-rock, and maybe all of folk-rock.  Based on the first eleven verses of the third chapter from the Book Of Ecclesiastes, it's "Turn! Turn! Turn! (To Everything There Is A Season)."  (Vocal Group Hall Of Fame Song Of Proof:  "My Back Pages")

Nesuhi Ertegun:  This one has been a frustrating case.  I'll tell you that right now.  All the research regarding him highly touts him as a jazz producer.  So how did he end up inducted into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame, let alone a Lifetime Achievement inductee?  Occam's Razor would tell you nepotism.  Fortunately, having worked with Ruth Brown, Ray Charles, and Bobby Darin, there's just enough rock and roll material there as well to justify an induction of his own.  Keep in mind that I first undertook this project back when "Google" wasn't a verb yet.  Whatever search engine you used, you still weren't guaranteed to get any satisfying results, and trying to find records that Nesuhi produced or had SOMETHING to do with was not easy, and still isn't easy as neither his nor his Wikipedia page by themselves actually list landmark songs or albums that he produced.  Simply put, this is one I have to change next time I get around to burning the CDs again.  Knowing that he came to Atlantic in the '50's, and worked with Ray Charles, I chose to honor him with "I Got A Woman" for want of better information.  And that's what I've still got.  As I look over his actual credits now, I will probably swap it out for Bobby Darin's "Beyond The Sea."  Sometimes we all hit a bump in the road.

John Lee Hooker:  Because there is no cut and dry start date for rock and roll music, the confusion between the categories of Performer and Early Influence is a problem that occasionally has to be wrestled with.  The Class Of 1991 is of particular interest to that debacle because they inducted this prolific bluesman, with a career going back to the early '40's, whose early records were much more primitive to the point of not even being able to be called "proto-rock-and-roll," as a Performer.  I suspect this mainly has to do with his later collaborations with musicians who would eventually become some of the higher muckety-mucks of the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame Foundation.  So, in keeping with some sense of consistency, I chose a great bluesy record that was his only hit on the pop charts during the "rock era" as it is traditionally regarded.  It's a fun song, give "Boom Boom" a listen, and then go back to his early catalog to ponder this conundrum.

Howlin' Wolf:  On the other side of the coin from the previous entry, we find an Early Influence inductee whose first release was in 1952, in that epoch that some argue should be considered part of the rock era, and whose biggest contribution was the song "Smokestack Lightning," from 1956.  Mysterious are the ways of the Rock Hall sometimes, especially when one of the Performer nominees from this ballot ended up being inducted the next year as an Early Influence.  Anyway, since this is an Early Influence inductee, I went back as far as I could, and found a song that may have even served to give the man his stage name.  Like a howling wolf, "Moanin' At Midnight" sets the tone for the man's career.

The Impressions:  If the seeming switcheroo of the previous two inductees weren't enough, we have an instance here of the Hall going bigger to keep it smaller.  Despite departing after the first big hit, Jerry Butler was inducted as a member of the Impressions, presumably so there wouldn't be a need to induct him a second time, as a soloist.  This is especially hilarious and tragic when you remember Chad Channing's omission from Nirvana's induction, and Denny Laine's near omission from the Moody Blues' induction later this year, just to name a couple.  Sadly, it seems to have worked.  Jerry Butler's name has seemingly never even been officially considered at Nominating Committee meetings since.  Still, I'll keep "Only The Strong Survive" saved up just in case they decide to do the right thing and make him a double inductee.  As for the Impressions, their unique brand of soul, with a breezy feel and tight harmonies, is extremely well exemplified in "It's All Right."  (Vocal Group Hall Of Fame Song Of Proof:  "People Get Ready")

Wilson Pickett:  The Wicked Pickett.  Or Wicked Wilson.  It works either way.  A great R&B singer with so many good records.  I was a little less than objective on this one.  I didn't really want to use some of the more obvious choices that you most easily recognize, and had I been a little more objective while still refusing to be obvious, I probably would've used "She's Looking Good."  However, I chose a great soul record with an amazing feel to it that is still fun listening to.  Think there are better choices to use than this one?  Well.... "Don't Let The Green Grass Fool You."

Jimmy Reed:  One of those blues players that's easy to take for granted because he got inducted relatively early in the Rock Hall's history.  Several blues classics that have been covered by the likes of Elvis Presley and Bob Dylan, just to name two.  As much as I love his big hit, the bluesy ballad, "Honest I Do," the best song to honor him is his classic, "Big Boss Man."

Ike And Tina Turner:  Admittedly, this is an act I haven't spent nearly as much time researching as I should have.  I love Phil Spector's productions, I love soul music, this is one I feel like would be one of my favorites if I could find a decent compilation on all their work, both together and apart.  Although, I am a little more familiar with Tina Turner's solo work.  Honestly, if not Carole King, I want Tina Turner to be the first female member of the Clyde McPhatter Club.  As for this effort, it didn't take much effort to find their version of "Proud Mary," which has some great horn work, frenetic vocals from Tina, and I understand even some rare vocals from Ike.  It's a big yes all the way around, just means I can't use CCR's version for them when they come up in two years.

And that will do it for this year.  The inductees aren't always gonna be so obvious from here on out, though they will contain several no-brainers.  Hope you've been stimulated by this list.  Now's your turn to do the same for me and share your thoughts in the Comments below.  Recapping:

LaVern Baker: "Jim Dandy"
Dave Bartholomew:  "Country Boy"
Ralph Bass:  "Please, Please, Please" by James Brown And The Famous Flames
the Byrds:  "Turn! Turn! Turn! (To Everything There Is A Season)"
Nesuhi Ertegun:  "I Got A Woman" by Ray Charles  (but will be changed to "Beyond The Sea" by Bobby Darin in due time)
John Lee Hooker:  "Boom Boom"
Howlin' Wolf:  "Moanin' At Midnight"
the Impressions:  "It's All Right"
Wilson Pickett:  "Don't Let The Green Grass Fool You"
Jimmy Reed:  "Big Boss Man"
Ike And Tina Turner:  "Proud Mary"

Monday, February 5, 2018

Songs Of Proof: The Class Of 1990

Welcome to the nineties.  Or the last year of the eighties.  Yeah, I know, but there are those who think of decades from 1-0 or 10, rather than 0-9.  Either way, we're coming to one of the biggest induction classes for the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame.  This is the year that the British Invasion acts that took America by storm really started to become eligible, and we see that twice here.  Groups with vocal harmonies are big this year too, as three groups (four if you count duos) and the front man from another are all inducted, along with a perceived teen idol who turned out to have more musical chops and savvy than people gave him credit for.  Two songwriting teams were our Non-Performers, and as I enforce the Mort Shuman rule here, what probably should only amount to two songs here becomes five, as Gerry Goffin And Carole King each get their own song, as do each of three men of Holland-Dozier-Holland.  Speaking of songwriters, my two all-time favorite songwriters are in the class too (in the Performer category, that is).  The Early Influences show a massive legend, a blues pioneer, and the weirdest case of Front Man Fever to date.  This is a fantastic class, rife with acts I both love and respect.  So, how do we honor them?  With these songs:

Louis Armstrong:  The great Satchmo.  Arguably the biggest jazz legend of all time.  His Hot Five/Seven were not included with him, but that's the way it goes sometimes.  He was an Early Influence inductee, so it wouldn't be proper to select "Hello, Dolly" or "What A Wonderful World," even if the former has the distinct honor of being the first non-Beatles song to knock the Beatles out of the #1 spot on the Billboard Hot 100.  No, the proper thing to do is to actually research his legendary work prior to rock and roll.  Armstrong's rise to fame predates Jackie Robinson's breaking the color barrier in baseball, Jesse Owens' run to Berlin, and the vast majority of inductees in this Hall, though not all.  For him to be popular with his style of music is no small feat and carried no small amount of influence.  For this set, he is honored with his smash hit version of "All Of Me."

Hank Ballard:  After Smokey Robinson, this is the biggest case of Front Man Fever in the Performer category.  While Ballard did have a separate solo career, it didn't happen soon enough for him to be eligible as a soloist for the Hall by the time he was inducted, and even on his two solo hit records, there was a backup group credited with him.  So, I assume with that, there's no dispute about me using a song credited to "Hank Ballard And The Midnighters," and I chose "Finger-Poppin' Time," which while not the most revered record from this outfit, did go a long way in introducing the wider audience to his style of R&B, which Ballard himself always insisted was tinged with country influences too.

Charlie Christian:  In the past two decades, the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame has almost seemed to make a point of being controversial and otherwise weird about their inductions.  For my money, however, this is the most bizarre of all.  Charlie Christian wasn't the leader of a band, he was a hired hand.  He was a guitarist with the Benny Goodman Orchestra for a couple years before he died.  He probably could have gone on to a fabulous solo career or leader of his own combo.  We'll never know, and so, we have to work with what we have.  There are two songs that Christian is featured on that are most heralded as influential and impacting.  "Seven Come Eleven" is a fine song, but Charlie's guitar work is pretty heavily mixed with the aerophonic back and forth between Goodman and other players.  No, it is truly "Solo Flight" that really features Charlie Christian in a starring role, and thus is rightly used as the song for him here.

Bobby Darin:  Probably the most maligned of the inductees in this class.  The songs most clearly identified as rock and roll are written off as teen idol pop pap, and the more mature and finely crafted songs are dismissed as not being rock and roll.  It's all Bobby Darin's fault, really.  If he hadn't lived such a clean-cut life, trying to get the most out of his life because he knew he didn't have long to live with his heart condition, and had just been more of a horrible person, he would be regarded as a rocker through and through.  I mean, according to Dick Clark, Bobby even taught the other stars on the Caravan Of Stars tours how to do their own taxes!  The nerve of the guy!  Being serious now, those who put down the music of this man are those who simply either have a terrible working definition of what constitutes of rock and roll, or simply haven't taken the time to listen to his body of music at large.  It's excellent stuff, and one tune which is still a fun rocker, though a bit lyrically dated, is the solidly rolling rocker "Queen Of The Hop."

Lamont Dozier:  And this is where we start breaking up the songwriting teams.  It's actually pretty hilarious that for the three songs for the members for this songwriting trio, only one of them is actually a Motown song.  The truth is, when I first compiled this list, I was trying to use hit songs by Non-Performer inductees as much as possible.  And when I got to the Invictus stuff released by Holland-Dozier, and Lamont Dozier's work on ABC, I knew I wasn't going to use the Motown songs that made them such famous songwriters.  Maybe I did that wrong.  But they wrote the stuff they themselves recorded for the most part, and once you hear Lamont's "Tryin' To Hold Onto My Woman," you might not judge my choices too sharply.

The Four Seasons:  This one was pure executive privilege, through and through.  Not even gonna apologize for it.  They may have had three of their five #1 hits in the early goings, but in terms of quality, the Vee-Jay years are vastly inferior to their opuses on the Phillips label.  So, no, I did not use "Sherry," "Big Girls Don't Cry," or "Walk Like A Man."  And I seriously hope none of you do either.  Their music got amazing beginning with "Dawn (Go Away)," and 1964 was an amazing year for them with such incredible songs like "Ronnie," "Rag Doll," and "Save It For Me."  But in fact, the song I chose for them is my favorite song.  It's a lesser-known song, but cracked the Top Ten, is a rarity for this group, in that it's the guy telling the girl that she's the one who's no good instead of him being worthless, and has an amazing arrangement.  When I first heard it, I thought the instrument simulating a thunderclap was a cello!  Turns out it was actually a keyboard, but wow, what a great song.  I'm not backing down.  I won't change it to a better known or bigger hit song.  "Tell It To The Rain" it is.  (Vocal Group Hall Of Fame Song Of Proof: "I've Got You Under My Skin")

The Four Tops:  Truth be told, I've never liked the Four Tops all that much, at least not their Motown stuff.  Part of it is Levi Stubbs' voice, which I always thought sounded a little syrupy and saccharine, especially on "I Can't Help Myself (Sugar Pie Honey Bunch)," which is even weirder because I do like "It's The Same Old Song."  I guess the arrangement is just different enough, and Levi's vocals aren't as sugary sweet.  That said, I chose a song that was their other number one hit, my favorite song overall by them, and just a great song with a straightforward message and fantastic arrangement that evokes a mental image of actually trying to reach out and find a way out of the darkness.  "Reach Out (I'll Be There)" is for the Four Tops.  (Vocal Group Hall Of Fame Song Of Proof: "Walk Away Renee")

Gerry Goffin:  The "Oh yeah, them too" half of the songwriting duo.  Together they wrote some amazing songs covered by a myriad of artists.  So many great songs, writing a lot for the girl groups of the early sixties, I nevertheless deviated and went with a song that when you pay attention to the lyrics, probably could have been a girl group song with a little tweaking, but is not.  Since we're honoring the male half of the duo, let's go with a song sung by dudes.  The Animals, to be specific, and the life they brought to "Don't Bring Me Down." 

Brian Holland:  I'm not entirely sure what special thing each member of the trio brought to their songwriting, but considering they literally punched the clock and sat down together to write, it's a pretty safe bet all three of them coded every word and every initial piece of instrumentation to their arrangements.  This of course, continued when the left Motown and started the Invictus/Hot Wax family.  And Brian's vocals are beautifully heard on Holland-Dozier's "Don't Leave Me Starvin' For Your Love."

Eddie Holland:  Part of what made the trio such great songwriters is that each of them were very musically inclined singers in their own right.  Before the trio became a household name, Eddie himself had a few solo hit records on the Motown label.  He probably could have been a much bigger R&B singer if he didn't sound so much like Jackie Wilson, or been trying to copy Jackie Wilson.  That said, when you hear "Jamie," you get an idea of the songwriting style that Holland-Dozier-Holland would become legendary for.

Carole King:  The first woman inducted in the Non-Performer category, and the only one for twenty years.  It wasn't until Ellie Greenwich and Cynthia Weil joined her in 2010 that there was another woman inducted in this category, and the only one before the category was renamed the Ahmet Ertegun Award.  And the first White woman inducted period, the only one until Donna Godchaux was inducted as a member of the Grateful Dead in 1994.  But those statistics don't matter.  What matters is that she is an amazing songwriter who wrote and co-wrote many great songs.  I still hold out hope for her to be inducted as a Performer for her fantastic work.  In the meanwhile, I salute her with one of her own records, "I Feel The Earth Move."

The Kinks:  Among the big snubs, I'm pretty upset at how the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame has ignored the Cameo-Parkway legacy, both ignoring founders Bernie Lowe and Kal Mann, and also at the very least Chubby Checker, with possibilities of Bobby Rydell, Dee Dee Sharp, and the Orlons in the distant future.  So far, the Hall has only inducted two artists that were ever affiliated with Cameo Records.  One of them is the Kinks.  The Kinks had their first distribution deals in the States with Cameo Records, including such huge smashes as "You Do Something To Me," "You Still Want Me," and their cover of "Long Tall Sally."  Yeah...  Anyway, onto the music that they're actually famous for.  I'm both proud and embarrassed about this selection.  Ray Davies is my all-time favorite songwriter.  I love his wit, his keen observations of humanity, and his turn of phrase.  UK Jive is an absolutely fantastic album, brilliant.  The song I've used, however, is utterly lyrically simplistic, both in subject matter, and in its total void of anything resembling a rhyme scheme.  But I'm also proud to use this song because it's so raunchy in its instrumentation.  Not just Dave Davies' roaring guitars, but the drums, and even the unbridled drive in Ray's voice as he sings.  This was a song that announced to the United States that the British were coming, and things weren't going to be the same.  So, to honor the Kinks, I selected "You Really Got Me."

The Platters:  When I checked out a doo-wop box set from the local library a few years ago, and perused the liner notes, I read a comment about how when people think of doo-wop music, the Platters never spring to mind for anyone.  I think part of it is because they were so big, that they kind of rise above being classified with other groups, but perhaps also because doo-wop is usually thought of as an upbeat style, and the Platters made their money primarily in slow ballads.  This may mean that "doo-wop" is a misnomer, and that sticking with the original categorization, "vocal R&B" is more accurate.  That said, the Platters did have some great upbeat songs, from "I Wanna;" "Bark, Battle, And Ball," which is a female response song to "Shake, Rattle, And Roll," featuring Zola Taylor singing lead; to "With This Ring," their comeback hit in the late '60s with the snubbed Sonny Turner out front.  The song I've chosen to honor the Platters is a lesser known Top 40 hit, that showcases Tony Williams' amazing voice in all its gymnastic excellence and artistic panache, while also having a slight backbeat to it, to solidly identify it as R&B.  "It Isn't Right" is the right choice for me here.  (Vocal Group Hall Of Fame Song Of Proof: "Twilight Time")

Ma Rainey:  A very old-time blues legend, so old-time, we're not even entirely certain where or when she was born, because American racism in the first decade after Reconstruction included makeshift torches instead of tiki torches from Home Depot and Lowe's.  As one of the first Black women to be recorded, she quickly built up a catalog that included a lot of songs that are now standards, including "See See Rider Blues," which I've used here.

Simon And Garfunkel:  One of the all-time greats that sometimes gets overlooked because they only put out five albums in just five or so years, Simon And Garfunkel is a name that's easy to overlook, but thankfully has not been.  I love all five of their studio albums, their hit in the mid-'70's, "My Little Town," and their reunion concert.  I even enjoy their album they recorded as "Tom And Jerry."  I have to admit, I briefly considered using "A Hazy Shade Of Winter," but decided to use something slightly more well-known, but not overtly obvious.  "I Am A Rock" is a solid piece of folk-rock with great lyrics and metaphor from Paul Simon, my second-favorite songwriter of all-time.  (Vocal Group Hall Of Fame Song Of Proof: "Scarborough Fair/Canticle")

The Who:  If the early years of the Rock Hall were governed primarily by Oldies stations' playlists, the Who probably wouldn't have been inducted in their first year of eligibility  However, there is no denying the importance of the Who to rock and roll music overall.  And you'll be pissed to know I did not use "Who Are You," "Behind Blue Eyes," "Baba O'Riley," or even "Pinball Wizard."  No!  Again, going back to the special programming origins of this whole project, we are saluting the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame, which is essentially also honoring rock and roll music itself at large.  "Long Live Rock" ... be it dead or alive!

And that draws this year to a close.  The next time we'll encounter a class this large will be 2000, when the Sideman category is introduced.  Start thinking about your selections for 1991, while you're sharing your 1990 playlists in the Comments below.  Recapping this year:

Louis Armstrong:  "All Of Me"
Hank Ballard:  "Finger-Poppin' Time"
Charlie Christian:  "Solo Flight" by the Benny Goodman Orchestra
Bobby Darin:  "Queen Of The Hop"
Lamont Dozier:  "Tryin' To Hold Onto My Woman"
the Four Seasons:  "Tell It To The Rain"
the Four Tops:  "Reach Out (I'll Be There)"
Gerry Goffin:  "Don't Bring Me Down" by the Animals
Brian Holland:  "Don't Leave Me Starvin' For Your Love" by Holland-Dozier featuring Brian Holland
Eddie Holland:  "Jamie"
Carole King:  "I Feel The Earth Move"
the Kinks:  "You Really Got Me"
the Platters:  "It Isn't Right"
Ma Rainey:  "See See Rider Blues"
Simon And Garfunkel:  "I Am A Rock"
the Who:  "Long Live Rock"

Monday, January 29, 2018

Songs Of Proof: The Class Of 1989

Another week, another year.  We come now to the Class Of 1989.  We're still a year away from the British Invasion from becoming eligible en masse, but yes, it's already poking through.  The Beatles were inducted the year before, and now w e have the act most widely considered their rival.  Some even call them, "The World's Greatest Rock And Roll Band."  Besides these British bad boys, we've got a double dose of Motown, some solid Southern soul, a Bronx boy, and we even run up against a tremendous wall.  We're still in that strong era where these are no-brainers... but maybe not so obvious to some of the sectors of John Q. Public.  Still, even the Early Influences are legendary names that pretty much everyone has heard of.  It's another quick round of nine, so let's run through them and honor these legends of rock and roll music.

Dion:  Dion is one of the more unique cases of Front Man Fever.  Unlike many of the others, Dion was absolutely eligible as a solo artist when he was first nominated, and his solo career was bigger, more commercially successful, and arguably more worthy of induction into the Hall Of Fame.  That said, I absolutely still want to see the Belmonts inducted; however, I don't want another Special Committee selection for them.  Dion's solo career was worthy of induction, and he should be inducted a second time as a member of Dion And The Belmonts.  And while many thought the Del Satins were the Belmonts on his biggest hit, it is indeed a solo record.  Addtionally, "Runaround Sue" may employ the quintessential rock and roll melody.  Its earliest form was as "A Night With Daddy G" by the Church Street Five, and is also heard in variations on Gary "U.S." Bonds' "Quarter To Three," Chubby Checker's "Dancing Party," and Ernie Maresca's "Shout! Shout!" to name a few.  But the best known rendition, the most enduring version is Dion's, and so it is used here for him.  (Vocal Group Hall Of Fame Song Of Proof for Dion And The Belmonts: "I Wonder Why")

The Ink Spots:  They are one of those acts that their influence is tied very much to their commercial success.  That might not sound like much, but considering they were a Black vocal group in the United States during the 1940's, the fact that they appeared and performed in the movies that they did, (TWO numbers in Abbott And Costello's Pardon My Sarong... HUGE!) is an amazing accomplishment.  They not only influenced, but emboldened many of the vocal R&B groups that made the formative sub-genre of rock and roll now known as doo-wop.  Though "The Gypsy" was a huge record for them, one of their best known songs is their version of "We Three (My Echo, My Shadow, And Me)," and that is what is used here.  (Vocal Group Hall Of Fame Song Of Proof: "Don't Get Around Much Anymore")

Otis Redding:  I implore participants in this endeavor to be respectful of others' opinions on these lists.  That said, anyone who uses "(Sittin' On) The Dock Of The Bay" for Otis Redding, I would have to assume simply hasn't done their homework on the man.  His songs were the blueprint for the sound of Muscle Shoals, as far as I'm concerned.  A song much more representative of his overall style, is the original, pre-Aretha masterpiece "Respect."  Aretha's is the more famous version, but I love this one so much more.  Immaculate horn work, solid percussion and bass line, and soulful pleas delivering the lyrics.  Has to be this one.

The Rolling Stones:  The bad boys of rock and roll, as they were known.  Directly marketed to be different from the Beatles, their songs have been the soundtrack for those who wanted to be known as bad boys themselves.  The song I've chosen isn't one of the more obvious choices, but it's a solidly great song, with a bluesy guitar feel, incomprehensible singing from Mick, and lyrics that from what you could discern, are about vice as a metaphor for sex and/or love.  Just to shake things up (you'll get the pun in a second), I went with "Tumbling Dice."

Bessie Smith:  Probably the most overall famous Early Influence not inducted in 2000, because she transcends the blues and her influence on rock and roll, and shoots straight through into the discussion of Americana as a whole concept.  Despite how early in the recording industry her career was, her songbook is pretty well preserved.  When I first made the CD set, I found a couple decent quality copies of "Downhearted Blues" from her.  That's how important her records are: recorded in 1923, you can make out more of the lyrics than the aforementioned song for the Stones, recorded almost 50 years later.  A legendary song from a legendary singer.  

The Soul Stirrers:  This is one I still kind of want to change.  Sam Cooke was not inducted a second time as a member of this gospel outfit, so I really want to find something from their years on Aladdin Records, before Sam joined, and not some great song that still has Sam singing lead at some point, like "I'm So Glad (Trouble Don't Last Always)".  Sadly, any worthwhile compilation of those songs is prohibitively expensive.  In lieu of that, I chose a song that Sam isn't lead singer on, though you can distinctly hear him in the backing vocals.  It's still a great song that shows their influence towards the styles of soul and secular R&B.  "Wade In The Water" is a fantastic song that you need to check out right now.  (Vocal Group Hall Of Fame Song Of Proof: "The Last Mile Of The Way")

Phil Spector:  It's funny, when you consider all the illegal acts committed by Rock And Roll Hall Of Famers, it's almost ridiculous that Phil Spector stands out as the worst of them all.  That's not turning a blind eye to his heinous deeds; it's just addressing the kneejerk objections to honoring him in this CD set.  His character aside, the music he produced is absolutely phenomenal.  So many fantastic songs, from the girl groups, the Righteous Brothers, working with John Lennon and George Harrison in solo efforts, Ramones, and as a bonus, I encourage you to give another listen to Sonny Charles And The Checkmates' "Black Pearl."  For years, Phil Spector worked to keep acts he produced out of the Hall, arguing he was the real artist.  And he was a musician, too.  He played guitar on the Drifters' "On Broadway" and the Rolling Stones' "Play With Fire," and began his musical career as a member of a doo-wop group.  This is one of those songs that is a holdover from my efforts to turn this into a daylong program on an Oldies station.  Since he was a member of the Teddy Bears, and since he learned much from the producer of the Teddy Bears' records, I chose to honor him with "To Know Him Is To Love Him."

The Temptations:  The Emperors Of Soul, as they were sometimes known.  So many great records in their early days, where they recorded polished soul masterpieces, they went on to a longer, very successful albeit slightly less revered era of funky songs, many of which had lyrics of social conscience, or at least conscientiousness.  I kind of combined the two.  A love song that's funky!  Apologies to omitting David Ruffin, who was gone by the time this was recorded, but let's honor this mammoth of Motown with "I Can't Get Next To You."  (Vocal Group Hall Of Fame Song Of Proof: "I Wish It Would Rain")

Stevie Wonder:  The Boy Genius Of Motown.  I suspect many of you would go for his '70s jams, whether it's "Superstition," "Higher Ground," "I Wish," "Sir Duke," or "Living For The City."  Naturally, I ignored all those choices and went with an earlier record.  Again, Oldies station program.  Still, there's nothing wrong with using "Uptight (Everything's Alright)" as it's a great early song from Stevie, with the signature Motown accentuation of every beat.  Fun stuff.

And with that, we've finished our salute to the Class Of 1989.  Start thinking about 1990.  It's a big year.  But also think about 1989 here and now.  What would you do differently?  Where do you agree?  I'm all ears.  Comments section at the bottom; recap immediately below.

Dion: "Runaround Sue"
the Ink Spots: "We Three (My Echo, My Shadow, And Me)"
Otis Redding: "Respect"
the Rolling Stones: "Tumbling Dice"
Bessie Smith: "Downhearted Blues"
the Soul Stirrers: "Wade In The Water"
Phil Spector: "To Know Him Is To Love Him" by the Teddy Bears
the Temptations: "I Can't Get Next To You"
Stevie Wonder: "Uptight (Everything's Alright)"