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"