Monday, February 12, 2018

Songs Of Proof: The Class Of 1991

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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