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"

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