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)"


  1. I agree with most of your choices. But I have three changes.

    Otis Redding - Sittin' On The Dock of the Bay

    I know, I know. But this song has been his biggest success and it has an important backstory. Another alternative would be "I've Been Loving You Too Long".

    The Rolling Stones - (I Can't Get No) Satisfaction
    There are many strong contenders so I chose the obvious one. Tumbling Dice just isn't one of my favorites.

    I'm not sure about Stevie Wonder. I love his 70s output, but Uptight is indeed a great, fun single. And his 60s output deserves more recognition.

    1. The only countercomment I'll make is that sometimes not using the dead-obvious ones can be very useful later on...