Not even Nirvana's most ardent early advocates could've predicted the near-immediate – much less lasting – impact Nevermind had following its September 1991 release. By the following January, it was already topping charts and the "Smells Like Teen Spirit" music video was part of MTV's regular rotation. Yet less than a month after their major label debut, the band members – most adamantly frontman Kurt Cobain – were struggling to adapt to attention and adulation.
Meeting a hungover and young group in a New York City hotel on September 29, 1991, journalist Susan Rees interviewed Cobain, Krist Novoselic and Dave Grohl in what became Nirvana's first national magazine cover feature, for the Jan/Feb 1992 issue of Alternative Press magazine.
"Just getting through this interview proved too much for the press-weary band," wrote Rees. "Spread out about as far as three people can spread out in one small New York City hotel room, they tried to be responsive, but Sunday afternoon weighed heavily on them. Novoselic, who did offer a Beck's and some Pepperidge Farm cookies, showed more interest in watching television, drummer David Grohl was polite but didn't have much to say and vocalist/guitarist/songwriter Kurt ...
Photo: Glenn Frey, ca. 1994, photographer unknown. From the Jeff Gold Collection at the Rock Hall's Library & Archives.
It's been a rough start to 2016 for rock fans mourning the loss of two Hall of Fame Inductees: David Bowie and Glenn Frey. Tributes have poured in from around the globe, a testament to the lasting impact and widespread influence of the music each created. Last week, we looked back on some of the David Bowie songs that shaped rock and roll, and this week it's only fitting we rewind to one of the Eagles' most enduring hits: "Take It Easy."
Guitarist Glenn Frey was a rocker from Detroit who headed to Los Angeles, where he befriended fellow musicians Jackson Browne and John David Souther. Drummer Don Henley and Frey met while backing Linda Ronstadt. Guitarist Bernie Leadon had previously done time with Gram Parsons and Chris Hillman in the Flying Burrito Brothers; bassist Randy Meisner was a founding member of Poco with Richie Furay and had played in Rick Nelson's Stone Canyon Band. And they had all played together on Ronstadt's Silk Purse. No wonder they sounded accomplished from the get-go.
Decades later, in 2014 ...
To say the news of Allen Toussaint’s death came as a shock is an understatement. Ever dapperly dressed and forever modest, he appeared to be the picture of health for a 77-year-old, still performing regularly until felled by a heart attack after a well-received show in Spain. Known more as a producer, songwriter, arranger, and pianist than a singer, Toussaint was born in Gert Town, New Orleans, on January 18, 1938, and died in a Madrid hotel on November 10, 2015.
I first met him in 1973 when I was conducting interviews for my book, Walking to New Orleans, republished in the U.S. as Rhythm and Blues in New Orleans. With partner Marshall Sehorn, Toussaint was in the process of opening the Sea-Saint Recording Studio at Clematis Avenue in the Gentilly area of New Orleans. He was never outward-going and it’s fair to say that if it hadn’t been for Sehorn, with his promotional acumen, I would never have landed the interview. To my patent surprise, even shock, Toussaint seemed to shrug aside his past, being mainly interested in the present and future. Subsequent events proved him right because for all his early success there were ...
John Lennon called "In My Life" his "first real major piece of work."
The song started as a long poem about the bus ride from his Aunt Mimi's house in suburban Liverpool, where he grew up, to the dockside area of the Mersey River. The poem listed Lennon's beloved childhood haunts, including one locale familiar to Beatles fans: Penny Lane.
"The words were almost irrelevant. 'In My Life' started out as a bus journey from my house at 250 Menlove Avenue to town, mentioning every place I could remember," said Lennon in a 1980 interview. "I wrote it all down and it was ridiculous... it was the most boring sort of 'What I Did On My Holiday's Bus Trip' song, and it wasn't working at all. But then I laid back and these lyrics started coming to me about the places I remember. Paul helped with the middle-eight."
And though Lennon variously referred to "In My Life" as his, the elegiac reverie on life and love, a poignant reflection on what matters most, the essential fragile translucence of things caught in a Beatle melody was so beautiful that neither John nor Paul would ever agree on ...
Brian Wilson has long been an inspiration to his contemporaries and hopeful songwriters around the globe. Much of the popular music that has followed in his creative wake owes a debt to the much-mythologized (and biopic friendly) frontman.
“Brian Wilson is a genius,” says two-time Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Inductee Graham Nash in a video featured in the Rock Hall's Touching the Flame exhibit. “Pet Sounds was a journey from start to finish, and I think that was recognized by John (Lennon) and Paul (McCartney) when they started Sgt. Pepper's… The idea of turning a long-playing record into an actual mental journey was brilliant. Brian Wilson started it, and John and Paul really finished it off.”
But decades later, how would that translate live? Was Brian Wilson a charismatic live performer able to carry the interest of a crowd or better suited to his own devices in the studio? Would any former Beach Boys bandmates reunite with Wilson? I had questions, and on Saturday, November 14, Brian Wilson brought his “No Pier Pressure” tour to the Taft Theatre in Cincinnati, Ohio, giving me answers.
The setlist mostly featured Beach Boys songs penned by the eldest Wilson ...
Allen Toussaint was one of New Orleans' great musical giants. “He was a great and tremendously versatile musician, a real gentleman and one of the nicest people I’ve ever known,” said Hall of Fame Inductee Randy Newman.
He was a gifted arranger, deft producer, engaging performer and masterful record executive. But perhaps most remarkably, he was among the rare songwriters whose musical vocabulary – though singularly recognizable – translated to myriad styles and elevated the artistry of musicians around the world.
"New Orleans and the world has lost a true musical genius," wrote Trombone Shorty on his Facebook wall. "Allen will always be one of the founding fathers of what New Orleans sounds like; he was a tremendous friend and mentor to me and other musicians in New Orleans. Everything I do is influenced by my musical upbringing in New Orleans – and Allen was a huge part of that. I thank him so much for it, and for all that he did."
His piano on Fats Domino records inspired the likes of Elton John. He produced records for Bonnie Raitt. He toured with Little Feat. He arranged the memorable horns for the Band's Last Waltz. He worked with Otis Redding ...
What songs define the career of Smokey Robinson? What are Smokey Robinson's most important tracks? From one of Smokey Robinson's first songwriting collaborations with Motown impresario Berry Gordy in 1959 to the Number Two 1981 pop hit "Being With You," this illustrated history and timeline of key musical moments in Smokey Robinson's career showcases the enduring impact of his music.
As part of its Digital Classroom, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame's education department provides an introduction to rock history as told through the songs that shaped rock and roll. Students and teachers can explore and find tools, strategies and resources including lesson plans, listening guides and exclusive multimedia content, including infographics like the one featured above.
Motown was like the soundtrack of my household. That's pretty much all we played, so I was enormously familiar with Smokey Robinson, Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, as well as all the Motown stuff that Smokey wrote.
He was my first example of a songwriter. Period. Not only was he an artist that wrote for himself, but he wrote for all these other artists. And there were all these hits, and it was like, man, this guy is like really working towards the betterment of music, and the betterment of like lyrics.
So as I grew and got into poetry, got into music, I was very much a student of Smokey Robinson, very much a big fan of a lot of his songs that he created, and just all the things he was doing.
It really helped me when I got into the industry and became a songwriter and was pretty well-known and was trying to become an artist as well, most of the labels ...