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Songs That Shaped Rock and Roll: "Suzanne"

Thursday, September 20: 10 a.m.
Posted by Rock Hall
Leonard Cohen's "Suzanne" is one of the Songs That Shaped Rock and Roll

When he set his 1966 poem "Suzanne Takes You Down" to music for his 1967 debut album, The Songs of Leonard Cohen, the Canadian author-musician found a linchpin between the worlds of pop music and literature and empowered the emerging singer-songwriter sub-genre in the process. First recorded and popularized by urban folk performer Judy Collins, "Suzanne" drew melodically from cabaret and European art song, while its lyrics – inspired by a real woman (Suzanne Vidal), a real city (Montreal) and an imaginary love affair (Cohen's visionary genius) – transformed the everyday details of life into a hallucinatory religious experience. A gently arpeggiated guitar figure rolls like the cosmos around the singer as he murmurs a litany of observations – some crazy, some profound, all of them Suzanne. A contemplation of love and consciousness awash in an acoustic dreamscape, "Suzanne" stood apart from both the psychedelic hard rock and the protest songs of the late Sixties and endures, in hundreds of cover versions, as one of the most compelling songs Cohen has ever written. Cohen was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2008. Click here to watch Lou Reed induct Leonard Cohen, Cohen's singularly poetic Hall of ...


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Rock and Roll vs. Censorship

Thursday, August 23: 9 a.m.

Given the recent fervor over Russian feminist punk rock collective Pussy Riot's arrest and subsequent sentencing and incarceration after staging a performance art protest in a Russian Orthodox cathedral, the Rock Hall started thinking about how censorship has always been a hot button issue in rock and roll. What’s happening in Russia now is not terribly far removed from repressive reactions to the emergence of rock and roll in the 1950s, and reactions to various other manifestations of the artform throughout its history.

Pussy Riot member Yekaterina Samutsevich said this in her closing statement at the group’s trial: “On the one hand, we expect a guilty verdict. Compared to the judicial machine, we are nobodies, and we have lost. On the other hand, we have won. The whole world now sees that the criminal case against us has been fabricated. The system cannot conceal the repressive nature of this trial.”

The National Coalition Against Censorship (with thanks to Eric Nuzum) notes these milestones in the infamous history of music censorship. Many of these milestones are covered in the Museum’s Don’t Knock the Rock exhibit, a video-driven exhibit about the protests against rock and roll ...


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Summer in the City: Interview with Sharon Van Etten

Tuesday, August 21: 9:33 a.m.
Posted by Rock Hall
Sharon Van Etten performs live at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum in Cleveland, Ohio

With her 2009 debut album, Because I Was in Love, New Jersey–native Sharon Van Etten captured the attention of audiences, critics and musicians, who were drawn to her intimate musical portraits etched with introspective lyrics and varied arrangements. Since Van Etten's acclaimed 2010 release Epic, she's played the Pitchfork Music Festival, performed at the Hollywood Bowl with Neko Case, appeared live on the BBC and was recently named a "must-see act" by Rolling Stone. Her latest album, 2012's Tramp, was recorded during a 14-month period of scattered sessions, where the only constant was the garage studio and input of producer Aaron Dessner of the National. Here, the Rock Hall catches up with the singer/songwriter, who shares insights about life on the road, why she loves playing in New York City and what people can expect of her live performances. Sharon Van Etten will headline a free concert at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum in Cleveland, Ohio, on August 22, 2012, part of the Summer in the City concert series. 

Rock Hall: How would you describe your music to somebody who has never heard it before?

Sharon Van Etten: My style ...


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Rare Performances: Johnny Cash Live in 1992

Thursday, July 5: 3 p.m.
Johnny Cash led an all-star performance of "Big River" at the 1992 Hall of Fame induction ceremony

Late Show with David Letterman band leader Paul Shaffer, moonlighting in his annual turn helming the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony band, calls out the tune: ”This is a song called ‘Big River,’ and it’s in E!” It’s the 1992 induction ceremony, and one of that year’s inductees, Johnny Cash, recorded “Big River” for the Sun label in 1958. The band for which Paul Shaffer called the tune is remarkable in its sheer star power –some fellow 1992 inductees back up Cash, including Booker T. and Steve Cropper of Booker T. and the M.G.’s, Ronald and Marvin Isley of the Isley Brothers and Sam Moore of Sam and Dave. Past and future inductees also round out the band, including John Fogerty of Creedence Clearwater Revival (inducted in 1993), Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones (1989), the Edge of U2 (2005), Little Richard (1986), Carlos Santana (1998) and Isaac Hayes (2002). Edgar Winter backs Cash on sax and Aaron Neville of the Neville Brothers makes an appearance on vocals and percussion. Even with so many stars, Johnny Cash and his song outshine the pantheon onstage. “Big River” was the B-side of a ...


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Songs That Shaped Rock and Roll: "Mr. Tambourine Man"

Wednesday, June 20: 11 a.m.
Posted by Rock Hall
The Byrds' "Mr. Tambourine Man" is one of the Songs That Shaped Rock and Roll

Folk rock didn't necessarily begin here. Four months before the Byrds recorded "Mr. Tambourine Man," the Animals were topping the pop charts with "The House of the Rising Sun." But this combination of song and performance epitomized the genre, with the happy effect of giving Bob Dylan – as songwriter, at least – a Number One hit, peaking on Billboard's Hot 100 on the week of June 26, 1965. The Byrds' debut gave them a powerful lift-off. The only Byrd playing on it, though, was electric 12-string guitarist Jim (later Roger) McGuinn. Producer Terry Melcher, doubtful of the new band's abilities, hired top session musicians (including Leon Russell) to back up the vocals of McGuinn, David Crosby and Gene Clark. Perhaps Melcher had heard the group's originally private 1964 recording of the tune, which sounds like an arrangement for a music box. The Byrds recorded and released "Mr. Tambourine Man" neck and neck with Dylan's own (album-only) acoustic version. "We didn't really like [the song] or even understand it at the time," bassist Chris Hillman later admitted; their manager had pushed it on them. Drenched in the 12-string jangle of McGuinn's Rickenbacker guitar and ...


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Songs That Shaped Rock and Roll: "Uncle John's Band"

Wednesday, May 30: 12:42 p.m.
Posted by Rock Hall
Grateful Dead's "Uncle John's Band" is one of the Songs That Shaped Rock and Roll

The Grateful Dead capped the Sixties with Live/Dead, a double-album that confirmed them as masters of acid-improv. But the spring of 1970 found the group's sound radically redirected on Workingman's Dead. Breezy harmonies and beer-soaked ballads replaced the previous blend of liquid noodling and lysergic lyrics, and no song illustrated the change more succinctly than the opening track, "Uncle John's Band." Jerry Garcia and lyricist Robert Hunter recalled the song's origins in a 1991 interview with Grateful Dead historian Blair Jackson. According to Garcia, "At that time I was listening to records of the Bulgarian Women's Choir and also this Greek-Macedonian music, and on one of those records there was a... little turn of melody that was so lovely...  I thought, 'Gee, if I could get this into a song it would be so great.' So, I stole it." Eventually, Hunter received a tape of the band's finished arrangement. "I played it over and over [and] kept hearing the words 'God damn, Uncle John's mad'... and it  took a while for that to turn into 'Come hear Uncle John's Band,' and that's one of those little things where the ...


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Album Notes: the Mamas and the Papas' "If You Can Believe Your Eyes and Ears"

Friday, May 25: 12 p.m.
Posted by Rock Hall
The Mamas and the Papas censored cover for If You Can Believe Your Eyes and Ears

For the week of May 21, 1966, the Mamas and the Papas debut album, If You Can Believe Your Eyes and Ears, peaked at Number One on the Billboard 200. The group of New York folk vagabonds whose post-beatnik image and soaring harmonies bridged folk rock and imminent psychedelia had emerged from the "New Folk" movement of the late Fifties and early Sixties, delivering a seminal debut album with an unexpectedly controversial cover. 

John Phillips had been a member of the Journeymen, a folk trio that also included Dick Weissmann and Scott McKenzie. (McKenzie would go on record a song of Phillips’, “San Francisco (Be Sure to Wear Flowers in Your Hair),” that became a hit during the summer of 1967.) In a similar vein, Cass Elliot had been in the Big Three, while Denny Doherty belonged to the Halifax Three. Both Elliot and Doherty came together in the Mugwumps, which also included John Sebastian and Zal Yanovsky, later of the Lovin’ Spoonful. Michelle Phillips was an aspiring model (born Holly Michelle Gilliam) and the wife of John Phillips.

the mamas and the papas california dreaminJohn, Michelle and Doherty performed in the New Journeymen, a temporary group put together to fulfill contractual obligations after the ...


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The Story of "Ohio"

Thursday, May 17: 11 a.m.
Posted by Rock Hall
The single for Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young's "Ohio"/"Find The Cost Of Freedom"

In May 1970, Neil Young came to his bandmates David Crosby, Graham Nash and Stephen Stills with a powerful new song: "Ohio." After three days of agitated student-led protests of the invasion of Cambodia, the already incendiary situation at Kent State University exploded on the afternoon of May 4, 1970, when 28 National Guardsmen fired as many as 67 shots into a crowd of people. The 13-second barrage killed four students – Jeffrey Miller, Allison Krause, William Schroeder and Sandra Scheuer – and injured nine more. In the wake of the tragedy, President Richard Nixon's military orders in Southeast Asia came under increasingly fervent scrutiny, while John Paul Filo's Pulitzer prize–winning photograph of Mary Ann Vecchio screaming beside the lifeless body of Jeffrey Miller was forever ingrained into the American social consciousness as a poignant reminder of the domestic turmoil during the Vietnam Era. Other images from the shooting appeared as part of the May 15,1970 Life magazine cover story, an issue that reportedly found its way to Neil Young via David Crosby.

In the liner notes of his 1977 anthology, Decade, Young wrote: "It's still hard to believe I had to write this song. It's ...


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