Monday, April 30, 2018

Songs Of Proof: The Class Of 2002

The Class Of 2002 marks the slow, downward move to smaller classes.  We have only eight inductees, two of them outside of the Performer category.  The Performer category this year has an interesting divide.  Three of the six are obvious choices who made it on their first year of eligibility.  The other three are acts that have been eligible for several years, and even though one of those three got in on his first nomination, they are three inductees that are rather hard sells.  One disappeared from the ballot for several years, and one finally broke through on the eighth nomination.  So, it's a divide in that regard.  Another fun juxtaposition is the induction of the first punk-rock act and an induction of one of the more commercially successful art-rock bands.  I don't know if there's any actual animosity between the fans of punk and the fans of art-rock, but according to the movie Twentieth Century Women, it's a bitter gang rivalry.  So, the fact that a major act from each of those movements got in together, and are almost next to each other alphabetically on this year's roster (only the Non-Performer inductee between them) is mildly amusing.  It's not too diverse in terms of years of peak popularity, but it is pretty stylistically diverse, and that's something to salute--with the following songs.

Chet Atkins:  Perhaps the early reluctance of the Rock Hall to induct Chet Atkins is because he was so much more influential in the world of country music, so much so he was elected to the Country And Western Music Hall Of Fame in 1973.  It's sad that once again it took the person's death to spur an induction into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame.  Playing on the records of such giants as Roy Orbison, Elvis Presley, and the Everly Brothers, Chet was also immensely influential on a plethora of guitar players ranging from Duane Eddy to George Harrison to Mark Knopfler.  In addition to session work, he recorded several albums and singles, and had a few hits.  I briefly considered using "Boo Boo Stick Beat," but instead reverted back to his version of the iconic Benny Hill music, which when Chet Atkins recorded it, was called "Yakety Axe."  This song really showcases his finger-pickin' style while also displaying great virtuosity on the instrument.

Isaac Hayes:  Hello there, children!  Sorry, couldn't resist just one tribute to good ol' Chef, though some of his best songs were part of the "South Park" show, movie, and various albums.  I still giggle at the duet with "James Taylor" about prostitutes.  Anyway, getting back to the real body of work that makes Isaac Hayes a worthy inductee for the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame, it's somewhat revealing to consider which '70's soul acts the Hall has inducted as opposed to the ones they have not.  Not that Hayes is unworthy by any stretch, just something of a marvel that there hasn't been a greater push for some of the other styles of soul, particularly from the '70's.  For the selection of his work, I did not go with the big smash, "Theme From 'Shaft'," for two reasons: it's almost as much an instrumental as it is a sung song, and because it's not all that indicative of Hayes' overall style.  Isaac's music is best described by the name of one his albums, Hot Buttered Soul.  The song I chose is definitely a great example of that.  It's got a hot beat, buttery singing from the man himself, and smooth soul all around.  His cover of "Don't Let Go" fits the bill perfectly.

Brenda Lee:  Iconic nicknames have often served as good indicators toward who will eventually get in.  It certainly proved true for Little Miss Dynamite here.  Still, her case is something of a hard sell.  Despite her explosive nickname, it's perhaps a moniker that may have been more fitting for Wanda Jackson, whose voice sounds quite similar to Brenda Lee, but whose rock and roll was more rollicking.  Brenda's most iconic songs have been torch ballads, like "Fool #1" and "I'm Sorry," or were named "Rockin' Around The Christmas Tree."  Even the more upbeat songs were bouncy, but soft, such as "Dum Dum" and "Sweet Nothin's."  With classic rock steadily wending its way more frequently into the classes, Brenda Lee almost doesn't seem to be considered all that "rock and roll."  The fact that she had a significant country career later on certainly didn't help matters either.  Even so, her induction definitely recognizes rock and roll as a broader concept and style of music with many nooks and crannies of sub-genres.  And just to prove she could rock just as well as the boys during the late '50's and early '60's, check out "That's All You Gotta Do," the B-side of "I'm Sorry," and the song I've chosen to represent her here.

Tom Petty And The Heartbreakers:  We come now to the first of the no-brainers for this year.  Who's gonna say no to Tom Petty And The Heartbreakers?  While they've never been one of my favorite acts, I do enjoy a number of their songs, such as "The Waiting," "Refugee," and especially the almost burlesque groove of "Breakdown."  Similarly, I somewhat enjoy the big hits from Petty's solo album Full Moon Fever, but would enjoy them a lot more if they weren't so overkill, especially "Free Fallin'."  The selection of "Don't Do Me Like That" may not be anyone's personal favorite, and may be a bit more organ-heavy instead of guitar-focused, but it's a solid song that is fun to throw on and nobody objects to.   It's an early hit with a beat that stays very true to the core of rock and roll, and I think it's a terrific selection to honor the band with, when you stop and think about it.

Gene Pitney:  The Prince Of Wails.  In this class, he's alphabetically the last of the hard sells, and perhaps the hardest of the hard sells, too.  A fantastic singer with tremendous range, but a very distinct voice that you either love or hate, with little chance of landing in the middle ground.  The fact that he didn't sling an axe onstage probably had a bit to do with why it took eight nominations to get him in.  Before breaking through as a singer, he was a songwriter, and yet, as a singer, he didn't really write too many of his own hits.  I'm somewhat led to believe that that was the paradigm of the music industry of the time.  A singer was a singer and a songwriter was a songwriter, and becoming a featured singer was almost a promotion, in a way, which meant you either didn't need to write songs anymore, or you were kept too busy recording multiple albums and singles, and relentlessly touring and making television and radio appearances to write your own songs anymore.  I personally don't hold that against any recording artist, even those that came after the Beatles, but boy, some sure do.  I love Gene Pitney's music, I bought compilations of his for pleasure rather than research, and I am thrilled that he finally got inducted.  Had I been a bit more objective, I might have gone for "She's A Heartbreaker," which is arguably the raunchiest song he had that was a big hit, or "It Hurts To Be In Love" which has a fun shakin'-and-shufflin' beat to it and was the most popular song of his on Oldies radio stations (at least where I lived growing up).  But in a minor departure from my rules, I chose a song that was a hit... but wasn't a Top 40 hit, at least not in the United States.  It went Top Ten in the U.K., but on this side of the pond, it stalled out at #49.  Too bad, because it's an epic masterpiece of pop, and also holds the distinction of being the first charted song in the U.S. that was written by Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, of the Rolling Stones.  If you've never heard "That Girl Belongs To Yesterday," stop what you're doing and check it out.  It's phenomenal.

Ramones:  A friend of mine once said that punk rock was just angry noise until Ramones came along and made it music.  That's both a scathing indictment of the movement and a great compliment to this band.  The first song I ever heard by this band was "I Wanna Be Sedated," and when I heard it, it never occurred to me that this was what punk rock was.  To me, it was just plain old, fun rock and roll without pretense.  I didn't really pay any attention to the lyrics, mind you, just loved the music.  And in the end, that's something that some could argue as being what it's all about.  To me, that's what Ramones represent: no frills rock and roll that reached a young generation.  That... that's probably missing the point by a loooooooooooooonnnnnnng shot, but I say all that because I didn't use "Blitzkrieg Bop," "The KKK Took My Baby Away," "Beat On The Brat," or "We're A Happy Family"... nothing that really had the punk message to it.  I simply went with "Rockaway Beach," a song I love with great guitar work, some harmonies to the vocals, and is really just music that gets you going.  Ramones were a punk band that even people who hated punk could enjoy, and my selection reflects that, I think.

Jim Stewart:  The legacy of Stax/Volt tends to get pushed aside in favor of the bigger stories, such as Motown, the British Invasion, and psychedelic rock.  I find that pretty tragic, because the grit and guts of these labels is what made Stax what some music historians call the ultimate R&B record label.  And even though some of their acts have been enshrined, the devotion towards honoring the R&B giants from this empire hasn't been all that stalwart.  Even sadder is the fact that co-founder Estelle Axton, the "Ax" in "Stax," has yet to be inducted, an oversight that will hopefully be rectified in the next few years.  Like Berry Gordy, Jr., I chose to honor Jim Stewart with a song that is a great party song, really depicts what the label was all about, and is by an artist unlikely to ever get any whiff of being honored by the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame.  It's a soulful and funky composition that is just as much fun to listen to when redone in the disco style by Amii Stewart (no relation to Jim).  The chosen selection is Eddie Floyd's original masterpiece, "Knock On Wood."

Talking Heads:  I don't care which Talking Heads' song you're talking about: David Byrne's singing voice is the absolute epitome of insanity and raging paranoia, like an old-timey mad scientist who is both delighted and terrified at his creation coming to life, or if Doctor Badvibes from the animated "C.O.P.S." TV show took up singing.  Whether asking, "What have I done?" in "Once In A Lifetime," or asserting that "There has got to be a way!" in "Burning Down The House," that melodically panicked tone shines through.  Sometimes it's dialed back, but it's always there.  Or maybe that's just me.  But in my opinion, there's no better example of the voice, and the excellent musicianship of the entire group, than "Life During Wartime (This Ain't No Party... This Ain't No Disco... This Ain't No Fooling Around)."  It's all about the freaking out.  The song has a definite structure, but listening to it gives me a mental music video of a freely scrolling screen where the pulsating rhythm of the keys and guitars cause the screen to scroll from right to left, and produces a neon poly-chromatic musical staff that oscillates somewhat irregularly in a quasi-sinusoidal fashion against a pitch black background.  At least, that's the image I get.  In any event, that's the song that I feel best exemplifies Talking Heads, and best serves as the song to give them their proper tribute.

And with that, the salute to the Class Of 2002 is completed.  With half the Performer inductees being newly eligible, it seems that we're focusing on moving forward.  It's not entirely hollow foreshadowing either, mind you.  The next class will also have three newly eligible artists getting inducted.  But that's for next week.  In the meanwhile, what songs would you use?  Any thoughts on my selections?  Share your thoughts in the Comments below.  To recap:

Chet Atkins: "Yakety Axe"
Isaac Hayes: "Don't Let Go"
Brenda Lee: "That's All You Gotta Do"
Tom Petty And The Heartbreakers: "Don't Do Me Like That"
Gene Pitney: "That Girl Belongs To Yesterday"
Ramones: "Rockaway Beach"
Jim Stewart: "Knock On Wood" by Eddie Floyd
Talking Heads: "Life During Wartime (This Ain't No Party... This Ain't No Disco... This Ain't No Fooling Around)"

And for those interested, the Vocal Group Hall Of Fame Class Of 2002 playlist:

ABBA: "Take A Chance On Me"
the Chantels: "Look In My Eyes"
the Clovers: "Your Cash Ain't Nothin' But Trash"
the Fifth Dimension: "Sweet Blindness"
the Five Keys: "Close Your Eyes"
the Four Knights: "I Get So Lonely (When I Dream About You)"
the Harptones: "Life Is But A Dream"
Jay And The Americans: "Let's Lock The Door (And Throw Away the Key)"
the Marcels: "Blue Moon"
the Shirelles: "Soldier Boy"
the Skyliners: "Since I Don't Have You"
the Swan Silvertones: "Blessed Assurance"

Monday, April 23, 2018

Songs Of Proof: The Class Of 2001

Making our way to 2001, and this one is almost the size of the previous one.  Eleven inductees this time, whereas there were fourteen the year before.  Eight of the eleven are in the Performer category, which is always the main draw, but what's especially interesting to note is that of the eight Performer inductees, six of them were on the ballot for 2000.  When we hop from ballot to ballot, year by year, we often see a lot of common names between the two years, regardless of which two consecutive ballots you're looking at.  But seldom do we see so many carryovers and repeat nominees get in together.  Typically, the first time nominees dominate the inductees.  But in a sense, there are no first time nominees on this ballot.  The two inductees for this year who were NOT on 2000's ballot are Clyde McPhatter Club members, so they HAD been nominated--and inducted--before, as part of another effort.  Sadly, also the last time that eight names from the same ballot would be inducted.  2004 would have seven, and 2012 would have a dozen, but would include six that were selected by special committee.  But eight was a great number to have in a single year, and might be worth trying for a few more decades.

From a personal standpoint, this is the first class whose induction I saw on television.  I grew up without cable television, and these ceremonies, at least for a couple years, had been broadcast on VH1 in a format that was way more condensed than would normally be called "edited."  I was particularly thrilled, because the lead singer from my all-time favorite group was one of the presenters.  So that made me very happy, but the overall experience was really cool, seeing it for the first time.  And who did I see in that ceremony?

Aerosmith:  It's somewhat odd that Aerosmith didn't make it the previous year.  As an act that was firmly established in the blues and even covered a few '60's tunes, you'd figure they'd have checked all the boxes for immediate induction.  Add to that, their image exuded sexuality, encouraged the sexuality of women, and overall was very much of bad boys; their lead singer had a personality that made an indelible impression, a steady lineup, instead of a revolving door, and oh yeah, a strong catalog of venerated songs that are still loved.  How did they miss in 2000?  Whatever it was, it only built up their momentum as they cleared the bar the next year.  "Sweet Emotion" is the song chosen here, as it exemplifies all the aforementioned traits that made Aerosmith an irresistible draw for so many years.

Chris Blackwell:  Having lived most of his formative years in Jamaica, it's only natural his label would be called "Island Records."  In addition to being the label that led the way in introducing the world to reggae music, Island was also home to a handful of major prog rock bands.  Naturally, I went in neither direction.  From a personal standpoint, I appreciate Island Records as the first and formative home for U2, and despite my general rule about using hits as much as possible, I decided that since he also introduced the world to one of my favorite bands, I'd use the introductory track from the debut album.  And with that, Chris Blackwell is honored with "I Will Follow."

Solomon Burke:  Currently the inductee with the most nominations before getting in.  If Chic is ever inducted, they will surpass Solomon's record of ten, as they currently have eleven, but still haven't gotten in.  As for this man, it's a shame that it took so long.  He was nicknamed the "Bishop Of Soul" and the "King Of Rock 'n' Soul."  And you can hear that blending of styles in the relentless rhythms of his songs.  Even if his singing takes pauses, the beat never lets up.  It just keeps inviting you to keep listening and dancing along.  Also really cool is that he considered some of his biggest influences to have been country musicians, as evidenced by his covering "Just Out Of Reach (Of My Two Empty Arms)."  The song I've chosen for him, though, is "Got To Get You Off Of My Mind," a song that features that relentless rhythm, as well as the country-influenced lyrics with soulful delivery.

James Burton:  The Sideman category saw two inductees this year, inducted simultaneously by the same man, both from the formative years of rock and roll, but continued on through the years.  In the case of James Burton, I suppose I really have to thank him for being a part of what made me such a Johnny Horton fan.  One of my earliest memories of enjoying music was listening to the Greatest Hits LP of Johnny Horton that belonged to my mother.  But this is about rock and roll, and not country, though James Burton's guitar playing was huge to both, and especially the sub-genre of rockabilly.  Playing with the like of Elvis, Ricky, Phil and Don, he helped deliver a lot of the sounds that crossed over between the Pop and the Country & Western charts.  Among the songs that simply would not have been the same without his chicken pickin' is the staple "Susie-Q" first made huge by Dale Hawkins.  Songs like this, you'd figure the major guitar work came from the credited artist, and that's how he got signed in the first place, but in this case you'd be wrong.  And it'd be wrong not to use that song to honor this man, since it's extremely unlikely that Dale Hawkins will even be considered, let alone nominated, let alone inducted.

The Flamingos:  This is one of those few times that I use a song that I loathe.  "I Only Have Eyes For You" is probably my least favorite song by the Flamingos.  The harmonies on the "da-bop-cha-bops" in the background have always sounded a little off to me, and a little shrill.  In fact, I originally was using "Your Other Love," which is an absolutely outstanding song, has a great Latin-infused rhythm backing it, and should have been a #1 hit, instead of landing in the latter half of the Hot 100, and not even making the R&B charts at all.  But I finally caved in to conventional wisdom and went with the landmark cover of this ballad, a record that helped chip away at the walls that said Black music was not worth honoring.  And over time, I've come to hate the song a little bit less.  Like the Moonglows from the previous year, they were repeatedly rejected on past ballots, but finally inducted the year after the Vocal Group Hall Of Fame saw fit to enshrine them.  And they had the best presenter of all, Frankie Valli, lead singer of the Four Seasons.  Member Johnny Carter would be inducted a second time a few years later, as part of the Dells, but he doesn't join the Clyde McPhatter club this year.  (Vocal Group Hall Of Fame Song Of Proof: "Nobody Loves Me Like You")

Michael Jackson:  One of the two people to join the Clyde McPhatter Club this year, he was inducted with his brothers back in '97, but was nominated for the first time as a soloist for this ballot, and got in immediately.  And why wouldn't he?  Even the most hardhearted and thick-headed rockists would be hard-pressed to deny this man entrance for his solo career, even with the scandals that were plaguing him already by this point, and would until his tragic death.  The self-proclaimed "King Of Pop" moved mountains just with the album Thriller, an album that in its entirety, as a single entity, held the #1 spot on Billboard's Disco chart for eleven weeks, tying "Bad Luck" by Harold Melvin And the Blue Notes for the most weeks at #1 on that chart.  (The methodology for the Disco chart at the time was vastly different, unlike any other chart put out by the magazine.)  And that was just one album, in the middle of his career.  Between his other albums, his earlier works on Motown, his videos, there's just no excuse to keep him out.  And "Beat It," the song that I'm using to honor him, became a huge hit on the "Album Tracks" chart, which is the chart that evolved into the "Album Rock" charts, as it was originally used to measure the popularity of album tracks, both those that were released as singles, and those that weren't.  Unquestionably essential, he was sadly recovering from a broken leg the night he was inducted and couldn't reprise the signature moves that changed the world of dance as we knew it, but as a former child star whose downward spiral was slower and more painful than most others, we can still be grateful for all the good he gave us and hope he has found peace in the hereafter.

Johnnie Johnson:  The first pianist inducted in the Sideman category, Johnnie Johnson backed up Muddy Waters and Chuck Berry during the '50's.  And I really shouldn't have to say any more than that.  And even though "Johnny B. Goode" is largely considered autobiographical of Chuck Berry, Chuck himself acknowledged Johnson as the primary inspiration for the song, especially the title.  Highly revered by no less than Eric Clapton, John Sebastian, and his presenter Keith Richards, he thankfully started receiving some major recognition during the latter part of his career, especially in the form of his induction.  Since I don't use the same composition twice, fans of Electric Light Orchestra can cross "Roll Over Beethoven" off the list of songs I might have used for them for their induction in 2017, because I'm using Chuck Berry's version to honor this key player of the keys.

Queen:  If Aerosmith not getting in on their first year of eligibility the year before was astounding, then the fact that Queen also missed out on their first nomination for the Class Of 2000 is incomprehensible and dumbfounding.  But it's true.  One of the most artistically highbrow of the entire classic rock pantheon, Queen is just another one of those acts that you'd swear it was impossible to hate.  Their choices of subject matter for their songs was limited only to their collective imagination.  You wouldn't have put it past them to make a concept album of reading the phone book.  To prove the point, "Weird Al" Yankovic recorded "Ringtone," an original song that he calls a "style-parody," as it was done in the general style of Queen.  Typically, when "Weird Al" records a style-parody, he does it with lyrics that would be out of place for that artist; the Beach Boys would never record a song about the thrill of irresponsible firearm ownership like "Trigger Happy," nor would Crosby, Stills, And Nash record a song about chock full of corporate buzzwords and jingoism, such as "Mission Statement."  And yet with "Ringtone," it genuinely sounds like a song that Queen would have recorded had Freddie Mercury lived to see the digital age.  That's how open to unusual topics they were.  As for actually honoring Queen, we have finally come to one of the exceptions to the rule of one.  "We Will Rock You/We Are The Champions" was originally recorded as two separate songs, but even when they were first released, disc jockeys were playing them together as a medley, and the medley itself later charted in the '90's (well, a medley of a live version of "We Will Rock You" and the original studio version of "We Are The Champions.")  In today's world of radio, it's generally considered one song now, so I chose not to break it up.  I've toyed with the idea of changing it to "Bicycle Race" or "Fat-Bottomed Girls," but I keep coming back to the medley, and I just realize that it's a much better choice to use.  And so it stays.  (Vocal Group Hall Of Fame Song Of Proof: "Bohemian Rhapsody")

Paul Simon:  My third-favorite songwriter, after Ray Davies of the Kinks and Bono of U2, Paul Simon has a wonderful way with words and an interesting perspective of the world.  Whether in the duo or solo, his lyrics are always something to absorb slowly and feel the wisdom.  Even into the new millennium, his wisdom continues in songs like "Old."  In addition to his lyrics, he found a way to incorporate many styles of world music, blending them with his own brand of rock and roll.  The song I've chosen is one of his earliest solo records, "Kodachrome," and isn't too big on the inclusion of world music, but it does contain some of those lyrics that has that sideways tilted view of the world, as well as his signature sound that would wend its way through his music during the '70's and serve as a template for his works in the '80's and beyond.

Steely Dan:  When you read the comments on the Future Rock Legends site about this band, you see that this is one of those bands that even the rockists aren't completely unified behind.  Even I have to admit that overall, I find their work to be... lackluster, unexciting.  Nevertheless, there is something commendable about this band, such as the way they incorporated the breadth of the American musical heritage and traditions in songs like "Bodhisattva," "East St. Louis Toodle-Oo," and "My Old School."  With vocal harmonies akin to those of Crosby, Stills, And Nash, and lead guitar work patterned very much after Santana (when I first heard "Do It Again," I thought it WAS a Santana song), it might even be argued that Steely Dan has the quintessential sound of the "classic rock" format, combining most of its easily identifiable elements.  My decision to use "Reeling In The Years" is really another one of those songs that was held over from the original "special program playlist" concept but also serves as an example of those traits that I described.

Ritchie Valens:  A lot of people tutted at this one, but I'm all in with Ritchie's induction.  He was a real pioneer in Latin-rock, and though cut down in the prime of his life, his music still holds up.  The rhythm of "Come On, Let's Go" had hips swiveling and shaking before Chubby Checker showed us how to twist.  "Donna" is a lovely teen ballad that still holds up better than most of the teen idol pop of the early '60's.  "Framed" is a song that may have been a bit ahead of its time.  Tragi-comical in its delivery, the basic ideas in the song have profound implications even today, perhaps even more so today.  As I said in the opening, the induction ceremony for this class was the first one I had seen on television, and when it was on VH1, it opened up thunderously with Ricky Martin's tribute to and induction speech for Valens, calling him the "original Latin sensation," or maybe it was "revolution."  Either way, what he said and how he said it were riveting, and it led me to choose and stick with "La Bamba" as the song to salute the late, great Ritchie Valens.

Ritchie Valens may have opened up the 2001 induction ceremony, but he closes out our look at the Class Of 2001, a class built primarily with the leftovers from 2000's ballot, and yet, I probably like this class, both in terms of merits and personal taste, more than the Class Of 2000.  How about you?   What songs would you use for this Class?  Would you still use a medley for Queen?  Would you use a prog song for Chris Blackwell?  Let me know in the Comments below.  As a recap for this class:

Aerosmith: "Sweet Emotion"
Chris Blackwell: "I Will Follow" by U2
Solomon Burke: "Got To Get You Off Of My Mind"
James Burton: "Susie-Q" by Dale Hawkins
the Flamingos: "I Only Have Eyes For You"
Michael Jackson: "Beat It"
Johnnie Johnson: "Roll Over Beethoven" by Chuck Berry
Queen: "We Will Rock You/We Are The Champions"
Paul Simon: "Kodachrome"
Steely Dan: "Reeling In The Years"
Ritchie Valens: "La Bamba"

And for those who love harmonies, the Class Of 2001 for the Vocal Group Hall Of Fame is saluted thus:

the Bee Gees: "New York Mining Disaster 1941 (Have You Seen My Wife Mr. Jones)"
the Chordettes: "Mr. Sandman"
the Eagles: "Peaceful Easy Feeling"
the Four Aces: "Love Is A Many-Splendored Thing"
the Four Freshmen: "Graduation Day"
Gladys Knight And The Pips: "You're The Best Thing That Ever Happened To Me"
the Lennon Sisters: "Sad Movies (Make Me Cry)"
the Lettermen: "Come Back, Silly Girl"
the McGuire Sisters: "Sugartime"
the Miracles: "Ooh Baby Baby"
the Oak Ridge Boys: "Elvira"
the Pied Pipers: "My Happiness"
the Vogues: "Turn Around, Look At Me"
the Weavers: "Goodnight Irene"

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"