Without a doubt, Sam Cooke was one of the most influential performers in the history of American popular music. His work cut across the genres of gospel, R&B and pop, and Cooke is credited as being one of soul music’s primary architects.
Cooke was born in Clarksdale, Mississippi, in 1931, and his family moved to Chicago when Cooke was a toddler. He started singing in the church, and joined the most popular gospel group in the country, the Soul Stirrers, when he was still a teenager. His career with the Soul Stirrers was enough to secure his place in the annals of music history, but his ambition and talent would take him much further.
With the release of “You Send Me” in 1957, Cooke embarked upon a career in secular music that transcended the boundaries of R&B and pop. He was a pioneering figure in African-American entrepreneurship, gaining remarkable artistic control of his music and the business surrounding it. Recognizing the importance of owning publishing rights to music, he founded his own record label, SAR, with J.W. Alexander and Roy Crain in 1961, despite being courted aggressively by the leading record labels of the day. He ...
I was just an elementary school kid when I first heard “Dance to the Music,” Sly and the Family Stone’s first hit single, in spring 1968. The song was on the radio all the time. If it wasn’t on the Top 40/pop stations WIXY or CKLW, you just had to dial up to WJMO or WABQ, the R&B/ soul stations, to hear Cynthia Robinson’s cheeky introductory demand: “Get up and dance to the music! Get on up and dance to the funky music!”
Cynthia Robinson was one half of the horn section of the Family Stone and the de facto MC – that’s MC in the early days of hip-hop sense – the “mic controller” who would punctuate dance tracks with enjoinders to “get up” or “get down” to the music to keep dancers engaged and moving on their feet. Cynthia was doing it 10 years before the Sugarhill Gang or Grandmaster Flash dropped their first beat.
That’s just one more way that Cynthia was ahead of her time, a pioneer, showing the rest of us the way. She was a strong female presence in a band – not a vocalist, as was the usual position ...
In a recording career that lasted only 15 years, but left a lasting legacy, 2015 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Inductee Bill Withers mastered the vocabularies of the acoustic singer-songwriter, R&B, disco and even mainstream jazz, while maintaining a distinctive personality as a composer and vocalist. Here are my picks for essential Bill Withers songs.
“Ain’t No Sunshine”
A breakthrough hit from Just As I Am (produced by Hall of Fame Inductee Booker T. Jones), “Ain’t No Sunshine” set the framework for the Bill Withers sound with its sparse arrangement, direct, no-frills lyric and in the pocket groove. It was also a bona fide hit, reaching Number Three on the Billboard 100 in 1971.
“I was one of those kids who was smaller than all the girls. I stuttered. I had asthma. So I had some issues," recalled Bill Withers. "My grandmother was that one person who would always say that I was going to be OK. … When you're a weaker kid, whoever champions you becomes very important to you." This song is a tribute to those healing hands.
“Who Is He (and What is He to You?)”
Just the right undertone ...
2015 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Inductee Joan Jett and the Blackhearts created a potent mix of hard rock, glam, punk, metal and garage rock that sounds fresh and relevant in any era. The group's biggest hit, “I Love Rock ‘N’ Roll” (Number One in 1982) is a rock classic – a pure and simple a statement about the music’s power. The honesty and power of their records make you believe that rock and roll can change the world. Here are my picks for essential songs that do just that.
“Do You Wanna Touch Me (Oh Yeah)”
This song is a cover of glam rocker Gary Glitter’s 1973 hit, delivered with the authoritative punch as only Joan Jett and the Blackhearts can.
“I Love Rock ‘N Roll”
Joan Jett's version of this Arrows song was ranked Number 89 in the "100 Greatest Guitar Songs" by Rolling Stone magazine, and was Joan Jett and the Blackhearts first Number One.
“Crimson and Clover”
This reworking of the Tommy James and the Shondells classic reached Number Seven, wonderfully capturing the Jett and company's ability to do tender and tough will equal aplomb.
“I Love You Love Me Love ...
Building on the trail blazed by the Clash, the Sex Pistols and the Ramones, 2015 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Inductees Green Day are the perennial punk adolescents, true to the ethos of every basement and garage-rock band that preceded them. Here are my picks for essential Green Day listening.
Pitchfork said of this early Green Day outing: “It's raw stuff, but even at this point Green Day's records were at least halfway decently recorded, unlike most of their peers' tin-can-and-twine set-ups.” This 1990 recording – although technically rough around the edges – showcases the group's knack for revved-up melodies.
“2000 Light Years Away”
“2000 Light Years Away” kicks off the 1992 album Kerplunk, Green Day’s last album on the indie Lookout! Records and the group’s first with drummer Tré Cool. The explosive blast of punk energy comes with a fantastic sing-along chorus and lyrics about genuine adolescent longing.
“Longview” was Green Day’s breakout hit, the first single released from their 1994 major label debut Dookie. PopMatters said: "This song didn’t become an instant classic of its genre merely because Armstrong said the word "masturbation" on the radio — it's all ...
2015 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Inductee Ringo Starr is one of the greatest and most creative drummers in rock and roll history. Throughout the Beatles’ career he sang on many lighthearted and funny songs (“Yellow Submarine,” “Octopus’s Garden”), providing sly humor and clever turns of phrase that helped cultivate the group’s image and persona. Starr was the first Beatle to have significant solo hits in the 1970s. “Back Off Boogaloo,” “It Don’t Come Easy,” “Photograph,” “Oh My My” and “The No No Song” dominated the U.S. and U.K. charts. Here are my picks for essential Ringo Starr listening.
“It Don’t Come Easy”
George Harrison produced Ringo Starr’s first solo single, joined by Klaus Voorman on bass, Stephen Stills on piano and members of Badfinger on guitar and backing vocals. The buoyant melody flows freely on this infections track.
“Back Off Boogaloo”
This track clearly shows the influence of glam rock on Ringo Starr and features stinging slide guitar work from producer George Harrison.
Ringo Starr co-wrote his first Number One solo hit with George Harrison. “Photograph” has a “Wall of Sound” feel with lush, layered instruments, orchestrations and vocal tracks ...
Starting this week, visitors to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum in Cleveland, Ohio, will be able to see a new addition to the Rock Hall's Michael Jackson collection: an outfit worn by the King of Pop early in his Jackson 5 days.
I clearly remember the first time I saw this newest addition to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum’s collection. I got an extreme close-up look at Michael’s orange, yellow and red ensemble, with my nose inches from the television screen. I was watching the Jackson 5’s second television special, which aired on November 5, 1972. Michael and his brothers wore a succession of colorful, fashionable, individualized yet coordinated outfits on the television special.
The warm, saturated colors, double-knit fabric, turtleneck and bellbottom design of this particular outfit were the apogee of early 1970s hip fashion, seen on fashion runways from couturiers like Halston and Yves St. Laurent, accessible and readily adaptable for the ready-to-wear market.
The stylish turtleneck top of the outfit with the heart-embellished “J5” logo is actually a body suit – clearly a necessity to accommodate Michael’s athletic dancing. Michael was growing up fast, but ...
Mark Fisher, the talented and prolific creator of environments that helped take the experience of rock concerts to a new and more spectacular level, passed away on June 26, 2013. He was 66. Fisher was responsible for the stage design of iconic and groundbreaking concert environments for such Hall of Fame Inductees as the Rolling Stones, Pink Floyd and U2, among others.
With news of his passing, the Rolling Stones issued the following statement, quoted in the Daily Mail newspaper: “We are all extremely saddened to hear of the death of dear friend Mark Fisher. The remarkable sets he designed for us over last two decades played a major part in the success of all those tours. His passion, dedication and professionalism was infectious. We all loved his dry sense of humor and unflappable demeanor ... a quietly soft spoken genius.”
Among his credits, Fisher designed the set for the Rolling Stones’ 1989 Steel Wheels tour and ex-Pink Floyd member Roger Waters' The Wall extravaganza in 1990, when he performed the 1979 album The Wall at Potsdamer Platz, the site of the Berlin Wall. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum is proud to display examples of Fisher’s ...