Monday, April 16, 2018

Songs Of Proof: The Class Of 2000

The induction ceremony was this past weekend, and while there is plenty of drama to discuss, pick apart, and use as a basis for future conjecture, I've decided to stay the course for now and continue on with the salutes for the inductees of yore.  For starters, I didn't join a simulcast party, I still haven't downloaded Periscope to my phone, and I was nowhere near Cleveland.  In fact, being on the Pacific Coast, I didn't even finish work on Saturday before the festivities kicked off.  All I have to go on so far are the Twitter feeds of those I follow who were there, which while illuminating, don't constitute a complete enough picture to warrant comment.  For now, I'll have to wait to see the HBO broadcast at a later date, though even then, I'll still choose to finish this undertaking before saying much about it.  At least that's the plan for now.

And why stop?  We've reached 2000, a year that, much like this one, included the creation of a new category.  The marked difference, of course, is that this category works to enshrine key players (some of them players of the keys, no less) that didn't have a proper place until the new millennium.  The Sideman category was an extremely welcome addition to the Hall's canon, and one that many would like to see revived, as it has egregiously slacked off since the first few years of its implementation.  This is also the first, and to date only, occurrence of a person being inducted a third time into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame.  This is also the first time the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame took a lead from the Vocal Group Hall Of Fame to induct a group.  We also see the beginning of what was for a long time, a very reliable trend when predicting inductees, in the form of the '70's singer/songwriters.   Sadly, though we don't know it at this time, this is also the last year so far that the Early Influence category has been used without controversy.  It's also almost as big a story who didn't make it this year, but we'll address that next week.  For now, the Sideman category is pretty much the lead story, as there were almost as many of those inductees as there were Performer inductees.  From my standpoint, this is where reserving some of the more obvious choices comes in handy, because when a Sideman played on a landmark record, it's usually a pretty good choice to use a more obvious record than an obscure ingot of musical gold.  You'll see it a few more times in the upcoming years.  It's also a good opportunity to use songs by artists that still haven't been enshrined, just as I have done a few times with the Non-Performer category, including this year.  It's the largest class we'd see until 2010, and it goes a little something like this:

Hal Blaine:  When you talk about worthy Sideman candidates, this is almost certainly the first name on everyone's lips, at least everyone who knows something about the history of rock and roll.  The man's name is practically synonymous with American rock and roll during the 1960's.  From Elvis Presley to the Mamas And The Papas, this man had been the go-to session drummer for an entire decade and beyond.  Dick Clark once made Hal Blaine the subject of the special artist profile on an episode of Rock, Roll, And Remember and almost literally filled the entire four-hour program with songs that Hal Blaine played drums on, including a lot of the "wall of sound" records Phil Spector famously produced.  According to Blaine himself, when Phil Spector was in the control room and giving cues, notes, and direction to every other musician in the studio, including the singers, he would eventually turn to Hal and simply say, "You know what to do."  If that doesn't say something about the man's instincts and skill, I don't know what does: even Phil Spector didn't think he had to micromanage Hal Blaine.  Just let him do his thing at it will sound superb.  To salute his work, I've chosen "He's A Rebel" by the Crystals, in name only.  It's a song that really isn't fair to use to salute the Crystals if they ever get in, nor should be used for Darlene Love, but it is perfect to salute any of the session players of Phil Spector's bullpen, especially Hal Blaine.

Eric Clapton: So far, the only person inducted three times in the Hall.  And maybe more to come.  Blind Faith has been considered, and some would even want to induct Derek And The Dominoes as well.  I personally don't wish to go that far, nor did I use "Layla" for Eric Clapton, not even the acoustic version that is in fact credited to him.  There were a lot of songs that could have been used, really, but going back to the original intent for this playlist, I started with and stuck with "After Midnight," which is a fine example of roots music, and really rocks out in a fun way.

Nat "King" Cole:  Like Charles Brown, this Early Influence is largely remembered for one Christmas classic.  But the man was a jazz legend, with his old King Cole Trio.  He was a hit maker throughout the '40's and '50's with many beautiful standards, such as "Answer Me, My Love," "Mona Lisa," "Ramblin' Rose," and even took a stab at identifying with the youth culture in "Those Lazy-Hazy-Crazy Days Of Summer."  The choice to salute him comes from his King Cole Trio days, as it probably should have been that entity inducted.  It's a song I actually first heard when covered by children's artist Norman Foote, and is an excellent example of how Cole's brand of jazz influenced the likes of Ruth Brown and even Ricky Nelson.  The song is none other than "Straighten Up And Fly Right."

Clive Davis:  Though he founded Arista Records, a record label that was home to some of rock and roll's best, he also did quite a lot in his work prior to that at Columbia Records, where he was instrumental in bringing the likes of Billy Joel, Aerosmith, Bruce Springsteen, etc. into that fold.  Among those artists are some that still have not been inducted, and may never be at this point.  One such act is Blood, Sweat, And Tears, whose style was unique and influential, and their "And When I Die" has just the right style to be worthwhile as an homage for Clive Davis.

Earth, Wind, And Fire:  Funk, disco, soul.. what couldn't they do?  The White brothers, Philip Bailey.. the whole lineup to dominate both with albums and singles and to continue on into the '80's.  Team up with Kenny G to cover an Outkast song?  They did that.  Many memorable songs, including "Boogie Wonderland," "September," and the song that has been selected to represent them here, the song that topped both the pop and the R&B charts, "Shining Star.."  (Vocal Group Hall Of Fame Song Of Proof: "Serpentine Fire")

Billie Holiday:  To share something kind of weird here, I know that Billie Holiday was described as a woman whose appearance and whose voice oozed with beauty and sex.  I have to admit, I don't find her voice to be that sexy.  However!, there is a very specific reason for this.  Her voice when she sings is very reminiscent of my maternal grandmother's voice when she talked.  Not exactly alike, mind you, but the tone colors between the two are eerily similar.  My grandmother, like Lady Day, is long since deceased, but when I first heard Billie singing "God Bless The Child," which is the song I've chosen to represent her, I was struck by the similarity to Grandma's voice in how it sounded.  "God Bless The Child" is one of Billie Holiday's most famous compositions, and it serves very well here.  And to answer your question, I could not bring myself to use "Strange Fruit."  That song is just haunting.  Not hauntingly beautiful, but terrifying in an "I'm afraid to go to bed after hearing that song, because when I close my eyes, I'll have nightmares" kind of haunting.  That's how you know it's great art, but for a CD set that probably I'm only ever going to listen to... nope.

James Jamerson:  Ah, the bass.  It's sometimes hard to appreciate, because no matter what style it is, as a rhythm instrument, it's one you don't always notice what it does, because it can get lost under the higher pitched instruments, be it the voice, saxophone, lead guitar, organ, horns, or harmonica.  And yet, you notice when a song is lacking in it.  It's almost something you can feel more than hear, sometimes.  And that's what made James Jamerson such a key player in the Motown family.  With his smooth bass work, he helped make Motown records feel great to listen to.  The song chosen for him is one such example, "I Was Made To Love Her" by Stevie Wonder, which while much of the credit goes to Stevie's stellar musicianship, Jamerson's bass playing gives it a really good flow to complement Stevie's harmonica playing and singing.

King Curtis:  It's something of a tragedy that King Curtis couldn't get inducted as a Performer in the six attempts made to do so.  The first six ballots, his name was on, never making the cut.  The foremost rock and roll saxophone player, especially if you wanted your song to have an R&B flavor to it.  Whether it was tricky intonation and tonguing, fast fingers, or just filling the record with an extra layer of sound, he could and did do it.  Even though he was inducted as a Sideman, I still wanted to and did use his own signature record, "Soul Twist" to represent him.  If Adolphe Sax were ever to be inducted, this is the song most of you would want to use, but I think the smooth beauty of it belongs as the tribute to King Curtis.

The Lovin' Spoonful:  I'll admit, when it comes to good time rock and roll bands from the '60's, this is not one of my first picks.  I do enjoy the Lovin' Spoonful quite a bit, but I would have chosen the Grass Roots, Paul Revere And The Raiders, Tommy James And The Shondells, and several other groups still not in before these guys.  But they do have a certain cache to them, with their jug band roots, their connections with other bands already in, and don't forget the melodies.  Between "Rain On The Roof" and "You Didn't Have To Be So Nice," it's easy to see how they clear the bar for "unquestionable musical excellence."  My choice to salute them, though, is simply their big breakout hit, which has all their influences coming together in a euphonious creation to sing about love of music and romantic love, and even a love of life, all while simply asking the question, "Do You Believe In Magic." (Vocal Group Hall Of Fame Song Of Proof: "Nashville Cats")

The Moonglows:  Before there was Nile Rodgers, there was Harvey Fuqua.  By that, I'm referring to how big the main man behind the group can be so much of why they were considered worthy of nomination.  At a time when the recording industry seemed hellbent on robbing their African-American talents, Harvey Fuqua was a man who held his own, as a songwriter, producer, talent scout, and oh yeah, lead singer for this amazing group.  Naysayers against this legendary R&B group could probably call it a political move, finding a way to honor Harvey Fuqua (this being before the Award For Musical Excellence came about), but if you actually listen to the music of the Moonglows, you will be so surprised.  Everyone knows "Sincerely," which should have been enough, and since I used it to honor Alan Freed, it is not used again.  They also had an amazing Christmas song called "Hey, Santa Clause"--yes, spelled with the E at the end, and gave us so many amazing but sadly forgotten gems, such as the original version of "The Ten Commandments Of Love."  The Vocal Group Hall Of Fame inducted these guys before the Rock Hall did, so I'm hoping that the earlier induction maybe shamed the Rock Hall into finally giving them proper credit.  Choosing a more upbeat, rocking song, I went with the catchy and fun to sing along with "See Saw" to pay tribute to this amazing R&B group that was a foundation group for rock and roll.  (Vocal Group Hall Of Fame Song Of Proof: "Please Send Me Someone To Love")

Scotty Moore:  The guitarist for so many early Elvis Presley records.  Whether it was slow and melodic on "I Want You, I Need You, I Love You," bouncy on songs like "Paralyzed," or all out on songs like "Hound Dog," Moore's licks are unmistakable and were hugely influential on future guitar players.  Perhaps the crowning masterpiece that so wonderfully featured Scotty's guitar was the title track from Elvis's third movie, and one of his most famous.  A huge hit to boot, spending seven weeks at #1, it's none other than "Jailhouse Rock."

Earl Palmer:  Hal Blaine of course wasn't the only major rock and roll drummer.  In fact, before Blaine, there was Earl Palmer.  Much like Hal, Earl has played on thousand of records, and for some of the biggest names.  It was Little Richard who called Earl Palmer the greatest session drummer ever.  That's pretty high praise from one of the true architects of rock and roll.  Though steeped in jazz, his backbeat is heard on so many rock and roll records, even by some artists who haven't made the Hall, yet.  Such was my decision here, as his work on the skins is tight, undeniable, and excellent on the Monkees' "Pleasant Valley Sunday."

Bonnie Raitt:  The bluesy mama.  Acclaimed for her activism almost as much as her music.  You can really hear her roots in the blues in her cover of Del Shannon's "Runaway," and for a time, I was using that song for her.  However, I felt that didn't give enough respect to her songwriting abilities.  But I didn't really want to use "Something To Talk About" either.  The choice for her ended up being the title track from her breakthrough album after she signed with Columbia records, an album which garnered her a handful of Grammys, and features a title track that was a modest hit.  "Nick Of Time" is the chosen selection for this set.

James Taylor:  This class concludes with Sweet Baby James.  An amazing tale of his stardom at odds with his personal life and mental health.  That alone is worthy of a biopic, more so than some of the ones we've been getting lately.  And that's not even considering that I'm only a moderate fan of him.  I don't hate his songs by any stretch, but I don't relate to them quite as much as some people.  I enjoy both takes of "Carolina In My Mind," his cover of "How Sweet It Is," and his album with the Flying Machine, but overall, his music doesn't resonate quite as deeply as other artists' works do.  That said, I have a ton of respect for the impact and influence he's had.  Reminiscent of folk singers, but not a folk musician, but still somehow evolving that sound into the style of singer/songwriters that we identify so strongly with the 1970's and still carries on in coffeehouses today.  Eschewing the obvious selection for now, I chose to go with "Your Smiling Face" to show an upbeat, rocking side with good guitar, good rhythm, and beautiful vocals.

And that puts the bow on the Class Of 2000.  Any thoughts or choices you would have made instead?  Feel free to let me know.  Recapping:

Hal Blaine: "He's A Rebel" by the Crystals
Eric Clapton: "After Midnight"
Nat "King" Cole: "Straighten Up And Fly Right"
Clive Davis: "And When I Die" by Blood, Sweat, And Tears
Earth, Wind, And Fire: "Shining Star"
Billie Holiday: "God Bless The Child"
James Jamerson: "I Was Made To Love Her" by Stevie Wonder
King Curtis: "Soul Twist"
the Lovin' Spoonful: "Do You Believe In Magic"
the Moonglows: "See Saw"
Scotty Moore: "Jailhouse Rock" by Elvis Presley
Earl Palmer: "Pleasant Valley Sunday" by the Monkees
Bonnie Raitt: "Nick Of Time"
James Taylor: "Your Smiling Face"

And for those interested, the playlist from the Vocal Group Hall Of Fame, Class Of 2000

the Bangles: "Eternal Flame"
Dion And The Belmonts: "I Wonder Why"
the Dixie Hummingbirds: "Bedside Of A Neighbor"
the Drifters (Five Crowns): "Please Stay"
the Flamingos: "Nobody Loves Me Like You"
the Kingston Trio: "A Worried Man"
Frankie Lymon And The Teenagers: "Goody Goody"
the Mamas And The Papas: "Twelve-Thirty (Young Girls Are Coming To The Canyon)"
the Soul Stirrers: "The Last Mile Of The Way"
the Skylarks: "I Had The Craziest Dream"
Three Dog Night: "Celebrate"

Monday, April 9, 2018

Songs Of Proof: The Class Of 1999

As we come to the final year of this decade, if you think of the years as going from 0-9 instead of 1-10, there's a lot of excitement in the world at the time.  The threat of Y2K looms over our heads, the Clinton era is at the beginning of its end, as Republican candidates are vying for attention, and the direction of rock music itself is something of a question, as alternative stations grow in popularity, but rap is beginning to dominate the Top 40 format.  From a personal standpoint, this is a huge year for me as well.  This is the year that I graduated from high school, and as I was looking to my future, I was originally planning on being a mathematics major in college.  But my love of rock and roll music, listening to it as I worked on my homework throughout high school, called out to me, and I switched majors to telecommunication, hoping to have a career as a radio air talent, a dream that did come true for me for a time, which I still look back upon and smile.  Furthermore, as I said in the introductory post for this series, this is the class that was awaiting induction when I discovered the existence of the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame.  And this class is a pretty significant one at that.  The Beatles, in some capacity, are represented twice in this class.  Two fantastic soul acts are inducted, two Early Influences who serve as the alphabetical bookends to this class, two whose surnames begin with "Spring," and in fact, seven of the ten are filed under the letters "M" or "S."  That's not so much significant, but it is rare when it's that condensed like that.  But a lot of great music happens in just those two letters, as well as the entirety of this class.  For example:

Charles Brown:  A blues genius who made a lot of great music in the blues style that was popular at the time, as well as some smoother tunes.  "Get Yourself Another Fool" is a mind-blowing record that is as smooth as the finest French burgundy.  "Black Night" is equally magnificent.  Sadly, his memory is largely relegated to the original version of "Please Come Home For Christmas."  The song I've actually chosen, though, is "Trouble Blues," which is more in line with the style of the time, but has some great blues guitar work in it, as well as vocals that really sound heartfelt, knowing what the blues are all about.

Billy Joel:  First off, I'm just gonna say it: I don't care what you think, I love "We Didn't Start The Fire" and "River Of Dreams."  They're two fantastic songs for two different reasons, I love both of them, and they draw way more flak than they deserve.  Billy Joel is a fantastic musician and songwriter, powerfully playing piano, representing the ivories strongly in a guitar-saturated mentality.  A New Yorker through and through, the East Coast flows powerfully in his melodies, a distinct sound first heard in the records of the Tokens and the Four Seasons, the latter of whom Joel cites as one of his biggest influences of all.  As a huge fan of the Four Seasons myself, I respect that quite a bit, and love the way he pays homage to them and his then-girlfriend Christie Brinkley in "Uptown Girl," which is indeed the song that I use to salute his induction into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame.

George Martin:  Okay okay, this man did a heck of a lot more than just the Beatles.  He was a big producer for several other acts of the British Invasion of the 1960's.  With that in mind, ohmygoodness, ohmygoodness, ohmygoodness, THE BEATLES!!!!  It's a fine line to walk, to recognize the importance of this man in the control booth without slighting the creative genius of all four members of the Beatles (yes, all four).  Like a director who executes the original author's visual imagery when the book is adapted into a screenplay, so too George Martin took what the Beatles strove for and made it tangible.  And he could turn the compositions and manipulate them differently, as evidenced by the way he took Lennon/McCartney tunes and adapted them into ambiance for the Beatles' first two movies.  Listen to the jazzy interpretation of "A Hard Day's Night," the rendition of "I Should Have Known Better" that does sound like the end credits' scroll music but also sounds like it's tinged with influences of African highlife music, and the song chosen to represent him, his orchestra's instrumental "Ringo's Theme (This Boy)," which is a wonderful wandering interpretation, as it is indeed used in the film "A Hard Day's Night."

Curtis Mayfield:  Whenever I'm about to quote the lyrics of the Impressions, I'm tempted to preface it with "As the prophet Curtis Mayfield said,".  There's no doubt about it, whether it was in a trio or going solo, Curtis Mayfield always had a message.  Even when rooted in seemingly meaningless pop songs like "Gypsy Woman," he was at least expertly narrating an interesting tale.  His solo career is most strongly linked to the movie "Superfly," which is something of a shame, because it doesn't do his full work justice.  And yet it does.  "Freddie's Dead (Theme From 'Superfly')" is a fantastic example of gritty funk, in addition to being a well-crafted story which simultaneously addresses drug culture, hints at racial injustice, and puts reality right up in America's face without glorifying its ugliness as misunderstood beauty.  So, while it might not be separating him from the movie, maybe that's because Mayfield made a point to pull no punches in a song that would hit you in the theaters as well as on the radio.  It's used here.

Paul McCartney:  And here is where I break one of my rules in a big way.  Completely solo, Paul was certainly eligible, as his debut post-Beatles effort, "Another Day" was in fact credited to only him, but when you honestly assess his induction, it primarily revolves around the work with Wings throughout the '70's, and less about his solo '80's work, though Tug Of War and Flowers In The Dirt are both fine albums in their own right.  Even Denny Laine, when asked about possibly being inducted a second time, denied its plausibility, saying Wings was basically just hired hands behind Paul.  I don't agree with Denny entirely, personally.  Jimmy McCulloch wrote and sang on some of my favorite Wings' songs, including "Medicine Jar" and "Spirits Of Ancient Egypt."  And I also love some of the songs Linda sang lead on, such as the poppy "Seaside Woman," recorded under the pseudonym "Suzie And The Red Stripes," and the irresistibly catchy "Cook Of The House."  Still, when it came to what the public could hear for free on the radio, it was very much about Macca himself.  So despite the credit rule, I'm using a Wings song for McCartney solo, and I hope that Wings can at least get an Award For Musical Excellence induction someday, like the E Street Band.  Meanwhile, enjoy the simplistic, but ultimately fun "Helen Wheels" as Paul McCartney's representation in this set.

Del Shannon:  Other Rock Hall hobbyists tend to downplay, and sometimes outright demean, the music of the man born Charles Westover of Coopersville, Michigan.  Some say he only got in because he first charted a Lennon/McCartney composition in the States, his cover of "From Me To You."  Some like to refer to him as a vanguard of rock and roll during the early '60's.  I just think of him as fantastic rock and roll, and I am glad he finally got inducted, though saddened that he took his own life, not living to see his induction.  "Runaway" isn't my favorite song from him, but it certainly is an important one.  I prefer a lot of the songs that came afterward, such as "Hats Off To Larry," "So Long, Baby," and "That's The Way Love Is," the last of which barely charted (#133) but is a tremendous song of its own beauty, and powerfully displays the importance of the Ben E. King classic "Stand By Me."  On his Rock, Roll, And Remember program, the late Dick Clark commented that paranoia was a recurring theme with Del Shannon's songs, whether it was the aforementioned "Runaway," "Keep Searchin' (We'll Follow The Sun)," and the song that I've chosen, quite possibly the most paranoid song of all, as well as a great rocker, called "Stranger In Town."

Dusty Springfield:  The other Performer inductee who powerfully represents the '60's, Dusty Springfield was one of the first British acts to cross over to success in the U.S.A. after the Beatles kicked down the door.  Interestingly enough though, she predates the Beatles' arrival, as the Springfields, a trio she was in, made the Top 40 with "Silver Threads And Golden Needles," which depending on where you draw the lines between folk and country, could arguably be considered the first folk-rock record.  As a solo singer, she's considered another act that is sometimes credited as being blue-eyed soul.  Dusty's voice was a powerful instrument that could knock you flat on your back in songs like "Stay Awhile," be sultry while pleading in "You Don't Have To Say You Love Me," bring a story to life in "Son Of A Preacher Man," and even make Bachrach & David sound soulful with the job she did on "Wishin' And Hopin'."  For her song, though, I went all out power with the pop-rock song with a fantastic horn section and no ambiguity to the message.  Even when sung in Spanish in a "Rancho Caliente" segment of the dancing show, Caliente, it's powerfully rocking, and we know it as "I Only Want To Be With You."

Bruce Springsteen:  The Boss.  What else do I or anyone else really need to say?  I feel compelled to at least give a few lines to talk about this man's contributions to rock and roll, but anything I could say would be superfluous.  He and his E Street Band are ubiquitous to American culture.  His music relates to his home on the East Coast, but reaches the West and doesn't pass over the heartland, either, as some musicians' works seem to do.  And not just this country, even though we tout him so proudly as a native son.  In an attempt to make the whole playlist a radio program, I went as early as possible, going with "Born To Run," which still stands to this day, but really, what couldn't I have used?  My personal favorite is "Cover Me," but "Hungry Heart" is one everyone loves to sing along with, as are "Glory Days," "Born In The U.S.A." and even "I'm On Fire."  Pretty much impossible to go wrong with this man.

The Staple Singers:  There are no Vocal Group Hall Of Fame inductees in this class, but the Staple Singers had been nominated, even up to the point when that institution went defunct.  They would have made a fine addition to that institution, as they do here.  A father being involved in the life of the group is usually a bad thing.  From Murray Wilson to Joe Jackson, it tends to not end well.  This group is the exception as Pops was a fine singer and brought the ax to the proceedings.  The choice to use "I'll Take You There" is a bit on the obvious side, but it showcases Mavis, the harmonies, and even a perfunctory but solid guitar solo, and just overall works perfectly.  Not a group that many would have thought of including, hence over a decade of eligibility before they got nominated, but they got in immediately when they finally were.

Bob Wills And His Texas Playboys:  We began with the bluesy side of the rock and roll influences, and we finish now with the country side of things.  There have been a few vocal groups in this category that included strumming a guitar and maybe plucking a bass, but with the Front Man Fever in the Early Influence category that has left the Drifting Cowboys, the Tympany Five, the Red Hot Peppers, the Blue Grass Boys, etc. out of the Hall, the inclusion of the Texas Playboys is actually pretty significant (though the Hall's website now only lists Wills).  This is the only full band, as we generally understand the concept, inducted in the Early Influence category.  This is primarily because this was one of the first country music acts to have a drummer.  Doesn't sound like much, but country music with a backbeat helped lead to the creation of rock and roll, and especially the sub-genre of rockabilly.  Among many of their enduring records, "New Spanish Two Step" was the biggest hit, has a noticeable drum presence, showcases Wills' pleasant singing with a simple but well-told story, and includes some solo work of guitar and violin.  And that is why I use it here.

This concludes the Class Of 1999.  The induction class that introduced me to the whole institution that we all simultaneously love and love to hate sometimes.  Do you agree with the songs selected?  What would you have chosen?  Underneath the recap, the playlist for the Vocal Group Hall Of Fame's Class Of 1999 is included.  Underneath that, the Comments section awaits your input.

Charles Brown: "Trouble Blues"
Billy Joel: "Uptown Girl"
George Martin: "Ringo's Theme (This Boy)"
Curtis Mayfield: "Freddie's Dead (Theme From 'Superfly')"
Paul McCartney: "Helen Wheels"
Del Shannon: "Stranger In Town"
Dusty Springfield: "I Only Want To Be With You"
Bruce Springsteen: "Born To Run"
the Staple Singers: "I'll Take You There"
Bob Wills And His Texas Playboys: "New Spanish Two Step"

And the Vocal Group Hall Of Fame's Class Of 1999 playlist:

Hank Ballard And The Midnighters: "Let's Go, Let's Go, Let's Go"
the Coasters: "Poison Ivy"
the Delta Rhythm Boys: "Just A-Sittin' And A-Rockin'"
the Four Seasons: "I've Got You Under My Skin"
the Four Tops: "Walk Away, Renee"
the Ink Spots: "Don't Get Around Much Anymore"
the Jackson Five: "I'll Be There"
Little Anthony And The Imperials: "Tears On My Pillow"
the Modernaires: "To Each His Own"
the Moonglows: "Please Send Me Someone To Love"
Peter, Paul, And Mary: "Don't Think Twice, It's All Right"
the Revelers: "Dinah"
the Spinners: "It's A Shame"
the Temptations: "I Wish It Would Rain"

Monday, April 2, 2018

Songs Of Proof: The Class Of 1998

We've arrived at the Class Of 1998 now.  Whereas the Class Of 1997 was a bit focused on the '70's, this one seems to be a little bit all over the map chronologically.  The Performers have two from the '50's, three that were most prominent during the '70's, and only one with greatest relevance during the '60's.  And while it seems to be a bit less focused, classes like this one also end up with a fair amount of respect for their diversity.  Speaking of diversity, we have one of the first Hispanic inductees this year too.  On top of all that, the Vocal Group Hall Of Fame kicks off their inaugural class in 1998.  For this entry and the next nine that follow, I'll be sharing two playlists.  One that honors the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame, the other for the Vocal Group Hall Of Fame.  No need to worry though.  I won't expend nearly the same amount of energy explaining my choices for the Vocal Group Hall Of Fame inductees.  Those selections mostly follow the same rule: a sizable hit (where applicable, which was not always) that included fantastic vocal harmonies.  Oh, and for the second time now, we have a Rock Hall class where all the songs of proof come from the inductees themselves.  No tributes, as one might say, except for this entire series, of course.  On the downside, as I look over the songs that I've used this year, there are no real surprises.  Some of them probably aren't the first choice you might select, but if you were going to predict the songs, based on what you know about me and about the inductees, you'd probably guess each inductee's song within five guesses for each artist.  Even so, there's a reason why some of these songs are obvious, because they just exemplify the contributions of each artist.  For example:

The Eagles:  While many music historians will be quick to point out the role that Linda Ronstadt had to play in the formation of Southern rock, purists who want only bands inducted will more loudly tout the accomplishments of the Eagles.  There's no doubt that the Eagles were a huge part of the equation too, most of the members having honed their craft backing up Ronstadt.  Their breakout song, "Take It Easy," really set the tone for what people could expect from this band, and they remained pretty consistent, all the way through their 2007 song, "How Long," which sounds like the child of "Take It Easy."  The more avid of their fans would probably demand something from Hotel California to represent them, maybe even the title track, but even after the Oldies program fell through, "Take It Easy" just always seemed to best exemplify the best elements of what made the Eagles worthy inductees, and so it still stands to this day.  (Vocal Group Hall Of Fame Song Of Proof: "Peaceful Easy Feeling")

Fleetwood Mac:  It was something of a sad day for me when I turned on an Oldies station out in Seattle, and heard Fleetwood Mac playing.  The Oldies stations back home never played Fleetwood Mac. They were "out of format," belonging more to "Classic Rock" than Oldies.  It meant that the format was changing, and in some ways dying.  I don't hold it against this band however.  Just that as we, and the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame progress, the great Oldies acts will be heard from less and less.  As for Fleetwood Mac themselves, what can be said that hasn't been said already?  They stand in rare company with the Beatles, the Temptations, and even Three Dog Night in that they had multiple capable lead singers at any given time in the lineup.  That gave them the versatility to be more diverse in their sounds and songs they recorded.  If it didn't work for Stevie, maybe Christine could take it.  If not Mick, maybe Lindsay.  In a musical style where instrumentation is held in superior regard, the ability to share lead vocals so deftly is a true gift that should never be held as irrelevant or with contempt.  As for why I chose "Go Your Own Way" for the song to honor them, it has absolutely nothing to do with the fact that it's from the legendary album Rumours, and everything to do with the fact that it's my favorite song by this band.  (Vocal Group Hall Of Fame Song Of Proof: "Say You Love Me")

The Mamas And The Papas:  When you talk about the psychedelia of the '60's, it might be a little easy to forget about this co-ed quartet, as they weren't terribly bluesy, and certainly not acidic, but rather dulcet, and exquisite in their vocal harmonies.  And yet, this was a group that in their general ethos, epitomize the hippie movement of the '60's better than just about any other inductee, whether it was the spiritual, if not physical, pilgrimage to the Golden State in "California Dreamin'" or the fact that they openly and shamelessly used drugs during their recording sessions.  Still, anytime the conversation oscillates back towards the "unquestionable musical excellence" criterion that the Hall claims is paramount, one would be hard-pressed to say no to them.  "Creeque Alley" is the song chosen for them, partly because it's autobiographical, but I also really like how the song pulls back the curtain and shows what it's like to pay one's dues, and also expose a bit of the ugliness that the business half of the phrase "music business" comes with.  (Vocal Group Hall Of Fame Song Of Proof: "Twelve-Thirty (Young Girls Are Coming To The Canyon)")

Jelly Roll Morton:  When people are outraged at the hooligans who get inducted instead of the classy, scandal-free acts, I rather have to shake my head.  If I could name three inductees to definitively prove that the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame is more of a rogues' gallery than a roster of upright citizenry, those three would be Leadbelly, Phil Spector, and this man.  His first work was as a piano player in a brothel, and by some accounts, he also supported his music career as a pimp and drug dealer, though I'm not certain of the veracity of those accounts.  When it comes to his music, it's somewhat amazing that he was so innovative and influential, given that he believed himself an inferior musician and that his innovative departures from the norm were out of a sense of not wanting to try and play the game the same way as his contemporaries.  And in doing so, he blazed new trails.  He and his Red Hot Peppers, that is.  Of all the Front Man Fever cases in the Early Influence category, the omission of the Red Hot Peppers is the second-biggest travesty, after the Weavers.  But you still can't deny the incredible talent of the main man either.  So much so, it's his self-titled "Original Jelly Roll Blues" that is used to pay tribute to his legacy.

Lloyd Price:  It frequently surprises me how little appreciation Lloyd Price gets in the pantheon of R&B, let alone the overall scheme of rock and roll music.  From time to time, one even finds people who think he got inducted on the strength and controversy of "Stagger Lee" alone.  Well, even though "Stagger Lee" is the song I've chosen to represent him, consider the fact that Price was also the presenter for Art Rupe, the man behind Specialty Records.  Specialty Records was Lloyd's original home, when he cut loose the original "Lawdy Miss Clawdy," one of the quintessential pillars of R&B music during the 1950's.  Lloyd's voice was much rawer back in 1952 when he cut that record, and honestly, I'm not a huge fan of those early years.  After his stint in the army, his voice matured to the smoothness we know and remember, and his signing to the ABC-Paramount family helped rocket him to success with songs like "Just Because," which John Lennon covered, "Personality," and my personal favorite, "Where Were You (On Our Wedding Day?)."

Santana:  The Hispanic part of the rock and roll equation is one that is not often discussed, and when it is, it is not discussed much beyond the namesake man playing guitar in this band.  The way rock and roll has been infused with various styles of world music is something that the Hall is behind in, among other sub-genres.  I've heard Santana denigrated as being boring and tedious, but truthfully, the only song of theirs I'm even sick of hearing is "Everybody's Everything."  With a cool, mysterious sound, Santana was more than just a guitar band.  They worked the subtleties of their rhythm section and traded duties between guitar and organ better than just about any other band not named Booker T. And The M.G.'s.  Since "Oye Como Va" was used for Bill Graham, we have to turn elsewhere.  That aforementioned synergy of their instrumentation is probably best exemplified with their moody, didactic classic, "Evil Ways," which is what is used here.

Allen Toussaint:  Few Non-Performer inductees have quite the discography they themselves actually recorded that Allen Toussaint does.  As a songwriter, producer, arranger, and more, he was instrumental in shaping the sound of New Orleans from behind the scenes.  But more than just the New Orleans sound, between the classic "I Like It Like That" by Chris Kenner, and various records by Lee Dorsey, Toussaint helped shape the sound of soul in the early '60's.  As stated though, he also had a lengthy career as a recording artist, although he never charted on the Billboard charts, singles or albums.  But that didn't stop me from using "Goin' Down" to represent him, a song that has elements of early '60's soul blended with the funky New Orleans sound that he had a big part in.  It represents him beautifully.

Gene Vincent:  I was originally using a different song, just so that I could break away from the obvious.  However, when the Blue Caps were inducted in 2012, I felt that particular song worked better for them.  So, I reverted back to the obvious selection of "Be-Bop-A-Lula."  Now, it's true that Vincent had a few hits and a lot of classics that didn't chart so it didn't have to be that.  But the guitar solo work on that gem, plus the style in which he sings, and the lyrics about a young girl, make it a seminal classic and a wonderful choice.  He wasn't trying to sound like Elvis, he was just fueled by a fire on the inside that came out in the form of some fantastic rockabilly.  Kind of a shame it took so long to induct him.

And so we come to the end of a the shortest class this decade.  This list is short, but the talent is not.  A lot of obvious and semi-obvious selections this time around.  Hope you don't mind too much.  And if you do, let me know in the Comments below.  Recapping:

the Eagles: "Take It Easy"
Fleetwood Mac: "Go Your Own Way"
the Mamas And the Papas: "Creeque Alley"
Jelly Roll Morton: "Original Jelly Roll Blues"
Lloyd Price: "Stagger Lee"
Santana: "Evil Ways"
Allen Toussaint: "Goin' Down"
Gene Vincent: "Be-Bop-A-Lula"

And as a bonus, I'll add my Vocal Group Hall Of Fame playlist for their Class Of 1998.

the Ames Brothers: "Rag Mop"
the Andrews Sisters: "Bei Mir Bist Du Schoen (Means That You're Grand)"
the Beach Boys: "Wendy"
the Boswell Sisters: "Roll On, Mississippi, Roll On"
Crosby, Stills, Nash, And Young: "Teach Your Children"
the Drifters (original): "Honey Love"
the Five Blind Boys Of Mississippi: "Our Father (Which Art In Heaven)"
the Golden Gate Quartet: "Glory Hallelujah"
the Manhattan Transfer: "The Boy From New York City"
the Mills Brothers: "Tiger Rag"
the Orioles: "Crying In The Chapel"
the Platters: "Twilight Time"
the Ravens: "Ol' Man River"
the Supremes: "When The Lovelight Starts Shining Through His Eyes"

Monday, March 26, 2018

Songs Of Proof: The Class Of 1997

The Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame inducted ten entities in 1997, and among the Performer inductees, the clearest theme is that we're definitely tunneling headlong into the '70's.  Most of the Performers inducted hit their stride and found their greatest commercial success during the '70's, and though there have been a few superstars of that decade already inducted, we're firmly in territory where acts that debuted in the '70's are now eligible for induction.  Gauging from this class alone, it looks like the Hall isn't shying away from those years.  Of course, this is speaking strictly at the time. Ironic, because all of these inductees were eligible for a few years at least, too.  Also, for the first time in five years, we have two Early Influence inductees too, and very different ones at that.  Our Non-Performer selection is a bit more obscure, but that's why the selection is done by a subcommittee.  Another interesting bit of trivia, until the Paul Butterfield Blues Band was inducted in 2015, all acts that got inducted on their fourth nomination were from this class.  Some needed more, some needed fewer, but until 2015, if it was the fourth nomination, it was this class.  (And then a year after Butterfield and company, N.W.A. got in on their fourth nomination, as well.)  As for musical selections for these artists, I suppose it plays out a little bit like this:

The Bee Gees:  There's a great distance between what they're best known for, and how they started out.  Their brand of vocal pop is primarily what landed them in the Vocal Group Hall Of Fame in 2001, but they are of course best known for being the kings of disco.  Nine #1 hits, and all but one of them from their reign over the domain of the discotheque.  You couldn't really describe their contribution without choosing a song from that era.  And every once in awhile, I do go for the cliche.  Though I love "You Should Be Dancing" and "Tragedy," it's really "Stayin' Alive" that capitalizes their contributions.  So much so, that even though it was only #1 for four weeks, while "Night Fever" was #1 for eight weeks, "Stayin' Alive" is still credited as the trio's biggest hit of all, which is saying something, since most methodologies go by weeks at #1.  (Vocal Group Hall Of Fame Song Of Proof: "New York Mining Disaster 1941 (Have You Seen My Wife Mr. Jones)")

The Buffalo Springfield:  It's widely agreed that Percy Sledge is the least deserving inductee into the Hall ever.  But who is the second-least deserving?  For my money, it's this group right here.  This is a group that's really known more for the talent that was launched from this group, than for their music itself.  Maybe that's why they needed four nominations.  They did have a few hits and some classics, but like Percy Sledge, they're ultimately remember for one tremendous anthem of a song.  "For What It's Worth (Stop, Hey What's That Sound)" is a song that is identified with the '60's, but really stands the test of time, as it is sadly always applicable to some segment of some society, somewhere, sometime.

Crosby, Stills, And Nash:  To start things off, since it was the trio that was inducted, the song chosen had to be sans Neil Young.  Sorry Neil, but you already got your second induction with the Buffalo Springfield.  This is the second one for David Crosby, and the first, but not the last for Graham Nash.  It's also the second for Stephen Stills, which is interesting because he was also inducted in the aforementioned Buffalo Springfield, making him the first, and so far only, person to be inducted into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame twice in the same year.  Will it happen again?  No one knows, though it seems unlikely at this point.  Most of the viable candidates for multiple inductions have already been inducted once.  But because Neil wasn't included in this one, "Ohio" and "Woodstock" and the like are automatically disqualified.  Though, it is as a quartet that they were inducted into the Vocal Group Hall Of Fame.  Either way, the group is known for their lush harmonies and melodies to match.  So, it's a bit of a deviation that I use "Marrakesh Express" to represent them here.  I felt it was a decent choice, given that it's one of their more upbeat songs, to keep with the "rocking" idea.  Plus, while trying to pitch the radio program, that was the song that the station already had in its library, and it just stuck.  (Vocal Group Hall Of Fame Song Of Proof for Crosby, Stills, Nash, And Young: "Teach Your Children")

Mahalia Jackson:  The woman who claimed that rock and roll was stolen right out of the sanctified church.  While others were calling rock and roll "the devil's music," Jackson heard the influences of what she was doing in early rock and roll pioneers.  Her spiritual message and gospel styling was also loved much by the likes of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., no less.  Widely influential, a gospel legend, she is saluted with "Move On Up A Little Higher."

The Jackson Five:  First off, anyone who needs to have it explained why I chose their Vocal Group Hall Of Fame Song Of Proof needs to be smacked with a mackerel.  This group was the fresh blood that Motown needed to continue to remain competitive in an industry that thrived on youth culture.  And lead singer Michael was certainly a youngster!  With four consecutive #1 hits out of the gate, it's hard to go wrong with much of anything they put out.  Everyone's pretty hip to "ABC" or maybe "I Want You Back," but it's actually their third #1, "The Love You Save," that I especially love to jam to and have selected to represent them in this project.  (Vocal Group Hall Of Fame Song Of Proof: "I'll Be There")

Joni Mitchell:  Not the first Canadian inductee, but a very well-loved one, even if she only got famous after moving to Detroit.  A woman of incredible conscience, surpassed only by her artistry.  She delivered many messages, and ran the gamut in doing so.  She raised the profile of women in music as well as multiple causes.  Among them was environmentalism, and despite the clowning around with the low voice at the end of "Big Yellow Taxi," it speaks well to her message about loving and respecting nature.  It stands in for her here.

Bill Monroe:  The Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame is sometimes critiqued for not honoring the country side of things enough.  However, they did remember to induct the Father of Bluegrass.  Modest about his accomplishments, Monroe had a lot of influence upon rock and roll as well, notably the musicians known for their affiliation with Sun Records.  His Blue Grass Boys should probably be included at some point.  Meanwhile, the most famous contribution of his to rock and roll is probably his original version of "Blue Moon Of Kentucky" which Elvis Presley later covered.  It's a fantastic song, and it serves as his homage.

Syd Nathan:  As with a lot of Non-Performer inductees who aren't songwriters or producers, Syd Nathan's name is a little bit on the obscure side.  He founded King Records, and had several labels in that family.  His empire was a harbor for R&B artists.  His biggest diamond was none other than James Brown, who made King his home during the '60's.  The biggest years of Brown's career, James himself credited Syd Nathan for his success.  So, it seems fitting to use a classic James Brown record from the '60's to honor this man, and with that, let's spin "Papa's Got A Brand New Bag."

Parliament/Funkadelic:  Since they were essentially the same group that hopped between labels, it never occurred to me to try and choose a song to stand for that sentiment.  If I had, I definitely would have gone with "One Nation Under A Groove."  As it is, I simply went with "Flashlight" because it's a fantastic jam with a great feel and really sums up the kind of funk they were laying down.  Great effects, simplistic and fun all around.

The (Young) Rascals:  I'll level with you on two things here.  I never include the "Young" part when I discuss them.  They're just the Rascals to me.  Secondly, I've never considered them "blue-eyed soul."  The term "blue-eyed soul" generally means people thought they were Black upon first listen.  Maybe the fact that they called themselves the Young Rascals at first tipped their hand, but I never imagined an R&B singer belting out "It's A Beautiful Morning."  The only group in my experience that that applies to is the Soul Survivors, with their big hit, "Expressway To Your Heart."  The lead singer sounds like Dave Prater of Sam And Dave.  Getting back to the Rascals, though... to me, they were always just plain old rock and roll.  Whether it was their cover of "Good Lovin'," or "People Got To Be Free," or "I've Been Lonely Too Long," the Rascals were just great rock and roll.  So glad that they got inducted.  Since this is a group I really like, I went a bit more obscure for the song to salute them.  One of their lesser known Top 40 hits is "Carry Me Back," which has a really fun sound that's hard to describe.  It has a little bit of gospel influence, some country, and some old-tyme saloon-type honky-tonk, plus a great horn line as well.  Really great to listen to. (Vocal Group Hall Of Fame Song Of Proof: "A Girl Like You")

Ten up, ten down, the Class Of 1997 is complete.  What are your thoughts?  What songs would you have chosen?  The Comments section is always open.  And to recap this class:

the Bee Gees: "Stayin' Alive"
the Buffalo Springfield: "For What It's Worth (Stop, Hey What's That Sound)"
Crosby, Stills, And Nash: "Marrakesh Express"
Mahalia Jackson: "Move On Up A Little Higher"
the Jackson Five: "The Love You Save"
Joni Mitchell: "Big Yellow Taxi"
Bill Monroe: "Blue Moon Of Kentucky"
Syd Nathan: "Papa's Got A Brand New Bag" by James Brown
Parliament/Funkadelic: "Flashlight"
the (Young) Rascals: "Carry Me Back"

Monday, March 19, 2018

Songs Of Proof: The Class Of 1996

We've made it to the year 1996 now.  The eleventh year of inductions, and we slowly start to see a shift away from the mainstream, away from the singles.  This year we have our very first inductee that never had a charted single in the U.S.  (Muddy Waters never charted on the Pop charts, but he did have several on the R&B charts.)  We have a man whose most celebrated music is also his most noncommercial.  The psychedelic counterculture as well its prog child find induction, as well as a man who intentionally broke away from the mainstream scene, and even a man who was once questioned by the House Unamerican Activities committee for being subversive.  In fact, the most mainstream of the inductees this year are probably the three R&B inductees, and one of them died in prison!  "Normal" is not a word one would use to describe rock and roll as a rule, but this class really is not normal for the abnormal.  But it's still a solid class, and they all have a song to pay tribute to their accomplishments.

David Bowie:  Hardcore David Bowie fans are going to be absolutely piiiiiiiiiiiiisssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssed to find out that I've selected "Modern Love" to kick off this class's celebration.  That which is arguably the most conventional song of his to pay tribute to Ziggy Stardust?  What is arguably the most commercial song of all of his to salute the Thin White Duke?  Surely, the man jests.  Well, the man is serious, and don't call him "Shirley."  As I said in my initial post about this whole project, sometimes I just picked a song because it's my favorite one by the artist, and such is the case here.  As you will later see as well, I tend to prefer a lot of songs by second, third, and later generations of rockers that stylistically imitate or pay tribute to the great rock and roll of the early years.  That can certainly be said about "Modern Love" here, and I make absolutely no apologies.  Besides which, the story goes that the whole album from which this song comes was intentionally made to be as commercial as possible, for Bowie was using its pop appeal to give a big middle finger to his previous record label who wanted more hits from him, rather than experimental stuff.  So this song still represents a little bit of David Bowie's rebellious fire.

Tom Donahue:  Tom Donahue has a lot to do with why the majority of radio stations today are on the FM dial instead of the AM.  And you might think that's grounds enough to use "FM (No Static At All)" by Steely Dan, but I did not do that.  Besides which, the engineering aspects of it really had little to do with it for Donahue.  His decision to go to FM had everything to do with blazing new trails and doing what he wanted to do when he darn well felt like it.  Pioneering freeform radio during the late '60's and into the '70's until his death, his new take on musical exhibition provided a home for more experimental music.  Entire album sides (and albums) could be played in one sitting.  Songs with long musical bridges were welcome.  And it could even be argued that without Tom Donahue, the proliferation of prog-rock might have been severely stunted, as it would have been left without a free-for-the-consumer medium to emanate from, reach out, and influence.  Without Donahue, we might not know who Neil Peart is!  Additionally, live stuff, bootlegs, controversial records, all welcome to a degree, and pop songs were probably included just because they're fun sometimes, but not because of set playlists.  It would be because the deejays liked playing them.  To salute this man in this set is really left up to the compiler of the playlist.  When I first had the idea of a radio program, I was considering the full-length play of "Light My Fire" or the entirety of "American Pie," or something in that vein.  But ultimately, it's whatever you like.  You want to play the entire suite of "In The Court Of The Crimson King"?  Go for it!  Want to play an entire side of Hotel California?  Cool.  Want to play "Little Boxes" by the Womenfolk, the shortest song to ever chart on the Hot 100 to rebel against the rebellion?  Genius!  Myself, I chose to go with a single song, but it is a song with a long musical bridge that at one point is so frenetic, it's like the song almost completely runs away from the band.  It clocks in at just under eight minutes in its entirety, is from a live album, and is a song that I fell in love with the first time I heard it.  Just a different kind of thing, which is right in line with how Donahue would have it.  From their Live At The Fillmore West album, Hot Tuna does the honors of honoring Tom with "Keep Your Lamps Trimmed And Burning."

Jefferson Airplane:  If you're going to talk about psychedelic rock that wasn't quite so bluesy and acidic, at least not to the degree that the Jimi Hendrix Experience was, then this is a group that is going to mentioned pretty early in the conversation.  There's also a bit of a question regarding whether or not this induction also included the Jefferson Starship and the Starship eras.  It's certainly an interesting thought.  Only the original members of the Airplane are inducted, but then again, the core of the other two eras were members from Airplane as well.  On the other hand, the inducted entity was pretty short-lived with a limited catalog.  This is all part of the fun stuff with the Hall's lack of transparency.  I personally feel that only the Airplane part is inducted, as evidenced by the corporate induction of Parliament/Funkadelic the next year, as well as the joint induction of Small Faces/Faces in 2012.  So the question is, is there any hope for Jefferson Starship or Starship?  I personally would be fine with inducting Grace Slick three times to recognize all three eras.  I doubt it will happen though.  In any event, the choice for Jefferson Airplane is "Somebody To Love," which may be their least controversial record, but is one that musically speaking really gives an otherwise firm handle on what this group brought to the evolution and perpetuation of rock and roll music. Some would prefer "White Rabbit," and that would do just fine too, but I went with "Somebody To Love" as psychedelia is as much, if not more, tied to the idea of needing and spreading love as it is to the pastime of tripping balls.

Little Willie John:  Inductions like this one actually kind of make me glad that the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame is not that big on transparency, and that the proceedings are kept mostly away from John Q. Public.  This is a man whose contribution is immense, but would not be able to get inducted in today's Rock Hall atmosphere.  Just couldn't happen.  When giants like James Brown and Stevie Wonder herald you as a major influence, then someone should perk up and take notice of your work.  Among the tragedies of his life, which included dying behind bars, is that his big hit "Fever" is now more tied to jazz chanteuse Peggy Lee than to him.  His original, though, is a fantastic piece of R&B, and stands in for him here, to give proper credit to his legacy.

Gladys Knight And The Pips:  They were a powerhouse act of Motown, who didn't have a #1 hit until after they left the Motown family.  Nevertheless, they are more remembered as a Motown act.  An outfit that paid their dues for years, the smooth voice of Gladys Knight enthralled listeners, and the Pips are considered a gold standard for great vocal work and superb work in backing up the lead.  I sometimes wonder if they would have even been considered though, if they had never been on Motown.  My choice to use their version of "I Heard It Through The Grapevine" speaks to that question, but either way, they're a deserving act who had to be nominated several times before they got their due.  But at least they made it in.  (Vocal Group Hall Of Fame Song Of Proof: "You're The Best Thing That Ever Happened To Me")

Pink Floyd:  The first prog-rock band to be inducted, and for fourteen years, the only one.  One of the few prog bands I like, as well.  Though some of their songs lose my interest, overall, I find them neither boring nor annoying.  Amazing stuff, it's no wonder they were inducted pretty quickly.  My introduction to them was in the late '80's, when the demand for the destruction of the Berlin Wall, and its eventual demolition, were laid to the soundtrack of "Another Brick In The Wall," and really the whole album of The Wall.  However, their epic achievement which speaks to the band's longevity, is the nearly fifteen-year run of Dark Side Of The Moon on Billboard's Top 200 albums chart.  And the best-known song from that album, "Money," is used to represent Pink Floyd here.

Pete Seeger:  The most glaring case of Front Man Fever in the Early Influence category, in my opinion.  It's a bit of a paradox though.  Pete Seeger's solo career was significant in terms of its influence, but it really doesn't much qualify as "early."  His work as the leader of the Weavers led the whole group to be investigated, and as a group, they gave us some well-known versions of standards, and are really a pinnacle of folk music in their own right.  Yet, they weren't nearly as influential as Seeger solo.  It is a fond hope of mine that the Weavers will be inducted as an Early Influence outfit someday as well.  Meanwhile, the search for an appropriate song for Seeger as a soloist led me a little bit away from the "early" part, and I selected his version of "Putting On The Style," which has a very pre-rock feel to it, and gives a good sense of what subsequent folk singers and folk-rockers learned from him. (Vocal Group Hall Of Fame Song Of Proof for the Weavers: "Goodnight Irene")

The Shirelles:  The Shirelles are a group that I include among those "amazingly good calls" by the Hall.  This girl group was not associated with Motown, Stax/Volt, Chess, or Atlantic, and yet they still got inducted.  One of my favorite girl groups of all time, their amazing catalog gave us so many euphoric, euphonious melodies.  Rather than going with the more obvious choices, I originally wanted to use "Boys" for its great rhythm.  However, I discovered that it was not a hit at all, primarily because it was a B-Side.  It's one of their most remembered songs, possibly because the Beatles covered it, but never a hit on any singles chart.  And even though it'd probably be justifiable to use that one for the Shirelles, they had way too many crossover successes to not use one of those.  And when I heard how well "Boys" and the next inductee's song sounded when played back to back, I made sure to use a song with a similar beat to replicate the experience as best as I could.  For that, we turn to their take on the standard "Everybody Loves A Lover," which made the Top Twenty, but has been forgotten over time.  It's still a great song though.  (Vocal Group Hall Of Fame Song Of Proof: "Soldier Boy")

The Velvet Underground:  They never had a hit single in the U.S. (though they did have one or two in Europe), and yet they were insanely influential.  It's been said that everyone who bought their first album when it was first released, went on to form a band.  A bit of hyperbole, but it gives you a real sense of how influential Andy Warhol's house band was.  I'm so proud of my selection of "Rock And Roll" as their Song Of Proof for so many reasons, that I don't care how badly you may disparage it in the Comments below, for not choosing a song more typical of their overall style.  It's a song about rock and roll itself, so the reflexive angle is a good thing to have once in awhile.  As I said above, if you listen to the Shirelles' "Boys" (or "Everybody Loves A Lover") back-to-back with the Velvet Underground's "Rock And Roll," you get a real feeling for the ubiquitous rhythmic structure that is supposed to define rock and roll from a musicological perspective.  Additionally, as I mentioned, this whole project (except for the most recent years) has been burned onto CD-R's that I still pull out and listen to occasionally.  The Classes of 1995 and 1996 together fit on a single disc, and "Rock And Roll" is for some reason I can't completely pinpoint, just the perfect song to have as the closing track of the entire CD.  It just feels natural, organic even, to end with that song.  It's just so good that way.  Lastly, as a member of a wider hobbyist community, this is a song that I feel speaks to all of us and our collective elan regarding the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame, and rock and roll music itself.  In a very real way, whether it's just figurative or perhaps literal, we can all say that our lives have been saved by rock and roll.  So despite all the computations, you know you should just get up and dance to the rock and roll station that will play this song, because baby, it is alright (It is alright!).

And as I said, that song closes out the CD it's on, and that must mean it closes out the look at the Class Of 1996.  It's a class marked by decided shifting, and yet it all fits.  What songs would you have chosen?  I'm especially curious to hear what you would all choose for Tom Donahue, since it's entirely about what you want there.  Discuss it in the Comments below.  Recapping:

David Bowie: "Modern Love"
Tom Donahue: "Keep Your Lamps Trimmed And Burning" by Hot Tuna
Jefferson Airplane: "Somebody To Love"
Little Willie John: "Fever"
Gladys Knight And The Pips: "I Heard It Through The Grapevine"
Pink Floyd: "Money"
Pete Seeger: "Putting On The Style"
the Shirelles: "Everybody Loves A Lover"
the Velvet Underground: "Rock And Roll"

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"