What I’ve Been Listening to: The Reverberations/Changes

If you read my previous Best of What’s New post all the way to the end and know me a little bit, it probably doesn’t come as a shocking surprise that the ’60s retro sound of The Reverberations proofed way too seductive to leave things at one clip. I’m still somewhat in disbelief this band from Portland, Ore. doesn’t do a better job to make it easier for music fans to find them. In my case, I have to thank Apple Music for including these guys in their most recent New Music Mix playlist.

The good news is in the meantime I uncovered some more background information, but I still feel it’s not nearly enough. According to Discogs, as of Changes, their second and most recent full album released in February 2019, the band’s members are Dave Berkham (lead guitar, vocals), John Jenne (rhythm guitar), Bob Fountain (keyboards), Cam Mazzia (bass) and Ian Bixby (drums, percussion). June Coryell and producer Pat Kearns are listed as guest backing vocalists.

According to Wikipedia, Kearns is a singer-songwriter for Blue Skies for Black Hearts, another Portland-based band, and has done production and engineering work for various other artists, such as The Exploding Hearts, Pat McDonald and Jerry Joseph. None of these names ring a bell, but that doesn’t mean much.

Among things that remain unclear is the origin of the band’s name. Given their psychedelic garage touch, I’m wondering whether it’s a nod to ’60s psychedelic garage rockers The 13th Floor Elevators and their song Reverberation (Doubt). Another clue is the album’s cover art, which was designed by Bixby and has features that are reminiscent of the Elevators’ debut The Psychedelic Sounds of the 13th Floor Elevators.

But, all of what I said in the preceding paragraph is speculation. It’s also not clear to me how long The Reverberations have been around. The oldest listing in Discogs is a self-released EP from 2015. What I do know is I really dig the band’s sound that heavily borrows from the ’60s, especially The Byrds and The Beatles. And, if you look at the image above, these guys kind of look like transplants from that era. Time for some music!

Here’s the excellent opener Footsteps. It appears all songs are credited to the entire band. Don’t get fooled by the track’s beginning, which sounds psychedelic but perhaps not so much like The Byrds. But wait until about 1:42 minutes into the song when that mighty jingle-jangle Rickenbacker gets going – can’t get enough of it!

Here’s Dream Catcher. Man, again, what a cool sound. And that harmony singing is just awesome!

The beginning of Left Behind has the same chord progression like Nights in White Satin by The Moody Blues, while the sitar-sounding instrument (I assume it’s sampled) reminds me of Paint It Black by The Rolling Stones. Not trying to be a smart ass here, but it’s obvious. Plus, the tune then takes off in its own direction. It’s all good!

Another great tune is Levitate Away. And, yes, the beginning sounds like Jimi Hendrix’s Purple Haze. But similarly to the previous track, the song then goes in a different direction. It’s quite catchy!

I’d like to call out one more track: What Can I Do? Coz, I dig these guys, what can I do? It’s another beautiful jingle-jangle guitar-driven tune.

Changes appeared on Beluga Music, which according to Discogs is an independent label based in Stockholm, Sweden, and has been around since 1994. On their website, they describe themselves as “The Home of Punk & Garage Records”. It does seem to be a bit odd for a U.S.-based band to have a Swedish label, but hey, what do I know? Plus, at the end of the day, it’s all about the music. And their music surely sounds sweet to me!

Sources: Wikipedia; Discogs; Beluga Music website; YouTube

The Hardware: The Mellotron

The electro-mechanical keyboards are known for amazing sound capabilities and quirks

Yesterday, when all my troubles seemed so far away, I came across this YouTube demo of the Mellotron. It reminded me what a cool musical instrument this type of keyboard is and that I hadn’t done a “hardware” post since this one about the Vox Continental from August 2018. Two great reasons for a new installment, don’t you agree? 🙂

I realize writing about musical gear can quickly get you into geeky territory. As a hobby musician, I can’t deny I get easily excited when it comes to instruments and their sounds and looks. I guess you could call that geeky. At the same time, I’m not exactly a tech wiz – in fact, far from it! As such, I mostly approach gear posts from the sound (and looks) side and keep the tech side relatively light.

Which brings me to the Mellotron. The first time I ever heard this marvelous keyboard in action, I didn’t realize I was listening to a Mellotron. Clever, huh? Well, it’s true. I suppose more frequent visitors of the blog may already have an idea where I’m going with this. I’ll give you a hint: Four lads from Liverpool…

Strawberry Fields Forever. Undoubtedly, my fellow Beatles fans already knew that! 🙂 This John Lennon gem from 1967, which was co-credited to him and Paul McCartney as usual, is perhaps the most famous example in pop rock of a Mellotron in action. I’m particularly referring to the beautiful flute sound intro, which was played by McCartney. According to The Beatles Bible, George Martin and Lennon also played two Mellotron parts, using the ‘swinging flutes’ and, towards the end of the song, ‘piano riff’ settings.

U.S. picture sleeve of “Strawberry Fields Forever”, released as a double A-side single with “Penny Lane” in February 1967

I could easily dedicate an entire post to Strawberry Fields Forever, which was one of the most complex tunes The Beatles ever recorded. Perhaps one day I will, but for now, let’s get back to the Mellotron and some history, as well as an attempt to explain how the mighty instrument works, based on my ingenious tech understanding. 🙂 And, of course, I’ll wrap things up with some examples that illustrate what Mellotron keyboards can do!

Let’s start with the technology. Fortunately, there’s Wikipedia! Basically, the Mellotron is what’s called a sampler, meaning it samples music instruments and other sounds, but instead of relying on digital sampling like the modern samplers do, it’s based on analogue samples recorded on audio tapes – essentially like an old-fashioned tape deck! When a player presses a key, a tape that’s connected to it gets pushed against a playback head, which in turn generates the sound. Once released, the tape moves back in its default position.

The tapes in a Mellotron include recordings of actual instruments, voices and other sounds, which is pretty neat when you think about it. Each tape recording lasts for about 8 seconds. This means a player cannot indefinitely hold down a key and get a sound – one of the instrument’s many quirks. There are others. As Sound on Sound explains, the Mellotron had 35 tape heads and other interconnected hardware, which made it quite challenging to maintain from a mechanical perspective.

Inside of a Mellotron M400. The tapes are underneath the brown-colored key extensions.

For example, if the springs that pull back the tapes to their start position malfunction, this could mean the sampled sound only starts in the middle of the tape, and a player would have even less than 8 seconds of sound; or I suppose no sound at all, if the spring gets stuck in a completely extended position. There are different Mellotron models, so I’m not sure they all have 35 tape heads. My point here is to illustrate the instrument’s delicacy!

As you’d expect, the Mellotron offers a variety of sounds. From Wikipedia: On earlier models, the instrument is split into “lead” and “rhythm” sections. There is a choice of six “stations” of rhythm sounds, each containing three rhythm tracks and three fill tracks. The fill tracks can also be mixed together.

Similarly, there is a choice of six lead stations, each containing three lead instruments which can be mixed. In the centre of the Mellotron, there is a tuning button that allows a variation in both pitch and tempo. Later models do not have the concept of stations and have a single knob to select a sound, along with the tuning control. However, the frame containing the tapes is designed to be removed, and replaced with one with different sounds.

Okay, I promised to keep it “light” on the technology, so the above shall be sufficient. Next, I’d like to touch on the Mellotron’s history. While tape samplers had been explored in research studios, it wasn’t until 1962 that the instrument’s commercial concept originated. And it took a little help not exactly from a friend, as would become clear later.

Bill Fransen, a sales agent for the California-based maker of the Chamberlin electro-mechanical keyboards, took two Chamberlin Musicmaster 600 instruments to England to find a suitable manufacturer that could make tape heads for future Chamberlin keyboards. He met Frank Bradley, Norman Bradley and Les Bradley of tape engineering company Bradmatic Ltd. in Birmingham. The Bradleys told him they could advance the original instrument design, and keyboard history started to change.

The Bradleys subsequently teamed up with BBC music conductor Eric Robinson, who not only agreed to arrange the recording of the necessary instruments and sounds for the tapes but also to help finance the effort. They also pulled in English magician and TV personality David Nixon and formed Mellotronics, a company to produce and market the Mellotron.

Bill Fransen with the first Mellotron off the production line, 1963. Photo credit: Sound on Sound

In 1963, Mellotronics started making the Mk I, the first commercially manufactured model of the Mellotron. The following year, the company introduced the Mk II, an updated version featuring the full set of sounds selectable by banks and stations. There are multiple other models that were developed thereafter, including the M400, which is pictured on top of this post and became a particular popular version.

There was only one hiccup. Fransen had never told the Bradleys that he wasn’t the original owner of the Chamberlin concept. Suffice to say the California company wasn’t exactly pleased that a British competitor essentially had copied their technology. After some back and forth, the two companies eventually agreed that each would be allowed to continue manufacture instruments independently.

In the ’70s, the Mellotron name was acquired by American company Sound Sales. After 1976, Bradmatic that had renamed themselves Streetly Electronics in 1970, manufactured and sold Mellotron type keyboards under the Novatron brand name. But eventually, the advent of modern electronic samplers caught up with both companies. As a result, they found themselves in dire financial straits by the mid ’80s. In 1986, Streetly folded altogether.

In 1989, Les Bradley’s son John Bradley and Martin Smith, who had built Mellotron keyboards for the Bradleys at the original factory in Birmingham, England, revived Streetly Electronics as a Mellotron support and refurbishment business. The company exists to this day. In 2007, they also developed a new model that became the M4000. It combined features of several previous models with the layout and chassis of the popular M400 but with a digital bank selector that emulated the mechanical original in the Mk II.

If you’re still with me, let’s now move on to the post’s final and actual fun section: Seeing and hearing Mellotron keyboards in action. And while many things in pop music start with The Beatles, the Mellotron is one of the exceptions that prove the rule! Apparently, in the mid ’60s, English multi-instrumentalist Graham Bond became the first rock artist to record with a Mellotron. He also was an early user of the legendary Hammond organ and Leslie speaker combination. Here’s Baby Can It Be True from The Graham Bond Organization’s 1965 sophomore album There’s a Bond Between Us. Per Wikipedia, the tune was the first hit song to feature a Mellotron Mk II.

Another early adopter of the Mellotron was Mike Pinder, who had worked as a tester at Streetly Electronics (then still called Bradmatic) for 18 months in the early 1960s and became the keyboarder and co-founder of The Moody Blues in 1964. Pinder started using the Mellotron extensively on each of the band’s albums from Days of Future Passed (1967) to Octave (1978). Here’s one of the former record’s absolute gems written by Justin Hayward: Tuesday Afternoon (Forever Afternoon). In addition to Mellotron, the album used plenty of actual orchestration.

And since it was Pinder who introduced The Beatles to the Mellotron, now it’s time to come back to Strawberry Fields Forever. Notably, George Martin was less than excited about the Mellotron, reportedly describing it “as if a Neanderthal piano had impregnated a primitive electronic keyboard” – ouch! Probably, he was referring to some of the instrument’s quirks I mentioned above! The Beatles still ended up using various Mellotron keyboards on their albums Magical Mystery Tour and The White Album.

Another well-known user of the Mellotron was Rick Wakeman. Before joining Yes in 1971, Wakeman was a full-time session musician. Among others, this included work with David Bowie on his second eponymous studio album and the mighty Space Oddity. As reported by Ultimate Classic Rock, the initial idea was for Wakeman to play a guide track with the Mellotron that would be replaced by an actual orchestra. But producer Tony Visconti decided to keep Wakeman’s Mellotron part.

Let’s do a few more Mellotron examples from the ’70s. These selections are taken from the previously noted Ultimate Classic Rock piece. First up: And You And I, a tune from Close to the Edge, the fifth studio album by Yes released in September 1972. The more than 10-minute track was co-written by Jon Anderson, Steve Howe (except the Eclipse section), Chris Squire and Bill Bruford. Wakeman used the Mellotron to capture stings, brass and flutes sounds, especially during the tune’s Eclipse section.

One month later, in October 1972, Genesis released their fourth studio album Foxtrot. Here’s the opener Watcher of the Skies, which like all of the record’s tracks was credited to all members of the band. Ultimate Classic Rock notes the sound of the Mellotron created by Tony Banks turned out to be so popular that the manufacturer introduced a “Watcher Mix” sound on the next version of the keyboard – pretty cool in my book!

Since all things must pass including epic gear blog posts, let’s wrap up things with one final – and I might add particularly mighty – example of Mellotron use: Kashmir, from Led Zeppelin’s sixth studio album Physical Graffiti, which came out in February 1975. Credited to Jimmy Page, Robert Plant and John Bonham, the closer of Side 2 of the double LP features plenty of orchestration arranged by John Paul Jones. This includes both Mellotron strings and an actual string and brass section. While this makes it tricky to distinguish between the Mellotron and “real instruments”, Ultimate Classic Rock notes, The consensus is that Jones’s fake strings are heard during the “All I see turns to brown…” bridge (starting around 3:25) and join up with the actual strings in the tune’s closing minutes, adding a weird and wonderful effect.

This post focused on the use of the Mellotron during its most popular period from the mid ’60s to the second half of the ’70s. One can also find occasional examples thereafter like Orchestral Maneuvers in the Dark and XTC on albums they released during the first half of the ’80s, as well as Oasis and Radiohead on recordings made during the second half of the ’90s. I think it’s safe to assume some keyboarders continue to use Mellotrons to this day, though with the modern digital samplers, it has to be a niche product.

Sources: Wikipedia; The Beatles Bible; Sound on Sound; Streetly Electronics website; Ultimate Classic Rock; YouTube

My Playlist: 10cc

The other day, Apple Music served up the eponymous debut album from 10cc as a suggestion, based on my listening habits. It’s actually a bit strange since I don’t recall having listened to similar music recently, as it’s generally not part of my core wheelhouse, at least nowadays. However, the British art pop rockers were on my radar screen for sometime during my teenage years in Germany when you couldn’t listen to the radio there without encountering I’m Not In Love and Dreadlock Holiday.

So I decided to listen to the above album and kind of liked it, even though I’d call tracks like Donna and Rubber Bullets “goof rock.” But they are brilliantly executed and undoubtedly catchy. I think Apple Music’s description perfectly captures this: “Above all else, 10cc valued fun. This band loved motion and color and humor. Even within the complexity of its arrangements and the elasticity of its vocals, the group radiates a giddiness rarely seen in rock music, especially during the cement-footed ’70s.”

After listening to 10cc’s debut album, I started sampling some of their other studio records, as well as a live album/DVD titled Clever Clogs. While doing this, I rediscovered a good number of their tunes and, voila, this triggered the idea to put together a playlist. But first some background on the band, which came into being in Stockport, England in 1972, when four musicians who had written and recorded songs together for a few years started to perform under that name: Graham Gouldman (bass, vocals guitar), Eric Stewart (guitar, keyboards, vocals), Kevin Godley (drums, vocals) and Lol Creme (guitar, keyboards, vocals).

10cc
Left to Right: Kevin Godley, Graham Gouldman, Lol Creme and Eric Stewart

By the time they became 10cc, the four artists had experienced some initial success. Gouldman had established himself as a hit songwriter with tunes like For Your Love, Bus Stop and No Milk Today he had penned for The Yardbirds, The Hollies and Herman’s Hermits, respectively. Godly and Creme had recorded some songs together and secured a contract with Marmalade Records. Stewart had scored two hits as a member of Wayne Fontana And The Mindbenders (later known simply as The Mindbenders) with The Game Of Love and A Groovy Kind Of Love.

In July 1968, Stewart became a partner in a recording studio in Stockport, which in October that year was moved to a bigger space and renamed Strawberry Studios. Gouldman, Godley and Creme also wound up at the studio, and by 1969, the four founding members of 10cc were working there together frequently. They wrote, performed (as session musicians) and produced a serious of singles, which were released under different names through a production partnership Gouldman had established with American bubblegum pop writers and producers Jerry Kasenetz and Jeff Katz of Super K Productions.

Strawberry Studios

After the production partnership had ended, Gouldman worked as a staff songwriter for Super K Productions in New York, while Stewart, Godley and Creme continued outside production work at Strawberry Studios. Following Gouldman’s return to Stockport, they co-produced and played on the Neil Sedaka studio album Solitaire. The record’s success prompted the four musicians to start recording their own material as a band. An initial tune, Waterfall, was rejected by Apple Records, the label that had been founded by The Beatles in 1968. Success came with Donna, which the band presented to producer Jonathan King, who signed them to his label UK Records in July 1972. It was also King who came up with the name 10cc.

Donna was released in September 1972 and climbed all the way to no. 2 on the UK Official Singles Chart. While the follow-up single Johnny Don’t Do It indeed didn’t do it, that is match the success of Donna, the band’s third single Rubber Bullets became their first no. 1 hit in the U.K. and also performed well internationally. 10cc’s eponymous debut album appeared in July 1973. The band has since released 10 additional studio albums, three live records and multiple compilations. Starting with Godley’s and Creme’s departure in 1976, 10cc has had different line-ups and was disbanded from 1983 to 1991 and 1995 to 1999. In 1999, Gouldman revived the band with a new line-up that he continues to lead to the present day. It doesn’t include any of the other three co-founding members. Time to get to the playlist!

I’d like to kick things off with the above mentioned Rubber Bullets from 10cc’s eponymous debut album. Co-written by Godley, Creme and Gouldman, the tune is a satirical take of a prison riot one could picture in an old movie. The music is reminiscent of The Beach BoysSongfacts quotes an excerpt from an interview Godley gave to Uncut: “We were big movie buffs in those days, me and Lol, so it was one of those kind of films… you know, with a prison riot, and there’s always a padre there, and a tough cop with a megaphone. It was caricaturing those movies.” The song created some controversy at the time, since the British Army was using rubber bullets to quell riots in Northern Ireland. As a result, some radio stations refused to play it.

The Wall Street Shuffle, one of the best known 10cc songs, appeared on the band’s sophomore album Sheet Music, which was released in May 1974. Featuring one of the most catchy rock guitar riffs of the ’70s, the tune was co-written by Stewart and Gouldman and became the best-performing of the album’s three singles. The lyrics were inspired by the hefty fall of the British pound against other currencies at the time.

In May 1975, 10cc released I’m Not In Love, the second single from their third studio album The Original Soundtrack, which had come out in March that year. Co-written by Stewart and Gouldman, the ballad became the band’s second no. 1 single in the U.K. and their breakthrough hit worldwide. Among others, it also topped the charts in Canada and Ireland and peaked at no. 2 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100. One of the song’s distinct features are the lush backing harmonies, which according to Songfacts encompass some 256 dubs of the band’s vocals. Largely fueled by the tune, the album was a major commercial success for 10cc.

Arts For Arts Sake was the lead single from 10cc’s fourth studio record How Dare You!, released in November 1975, two months prior to the album – the last featuring the band’s original line-up. The song was written by Stewart and Gouldman. According to Songfacts, the title referred to the values of the music business and was inspired by Gouldman’s father who used to say, “Boys, art for art’s sake. Money for God’s sake, okay!”

Following the release of How Dare You!, Godley and Creme left 10cc to form the duo Godley & Creme. Stewart and Gouldman decided to keep the band going and brought in Paul Burgess (drums, percussion). They recorded 10cc’s fifth studio album Deceptive Bends and released The Things We Do For Love as its lead single in December 1976. Co-written by Stewart and Gouldman, the catchy tune became another hit, reaching no. 1 in Canada, No. 2 in Ireland, No. 5 in the U.S. and no. 6 in the U.K.

By the time of their sixth studio album Bloody Tourists from September 1978, 10cc had become a six-piece band. The new members included Rick Fenn (guitar, backing vocals, saxophone, keyboards), Stuart Tosh (drums, percussion, backing vocals) and Duncan Mackay (keyboards, violin, percussion, backing vocals). The album’s lead single was Dreadlock Holiday, another Stewart-Gouldman co-write that appeared in July that year. It became the band’s last major hit, topping the charts in the U.K. and several other countries and pushing the album to no. 3 on the U.K. albums chart. According to Songfacts, the lyrics are inspired by actual events that happened to Stewart and Justin Hayward of The Moody Blues during a vacation in Barbados.

One-Two-Five is from 10cc’s seventh studio album Look Hear?, released in March 1980, and became the record’s lead single. It was co-written by Stewart and Gouldman. The album was significantly less successful than its predecessors, reaching no. 35 in the U.K. and no. 180 in the U.S.

In November 1981, 10cc released their eighth studio album Ten Out Of 10 in the U.K. The U.S. version, which only shared four tracks with the U.K. edition and included six different songs, appeared in 1982. The album didn’t chart in any of the countries. Here’s Don’t Ask, which was penned by Gouldman and the opener of both versions.

…Meanwhile from May 1992 was the band’s 10th studio album and the first following its recess that had started in 1983. It brought together the four co-founding members one last time. It also featured many guest musicians, who among others included David Paich and Jeff Porcaro of Toto, Dr. John and Paul McCartney. Here is Don’t Break The Promises, a Stewart-Gouldman-McCartney co-write. Stewart had a previous working relationship with McCartney and had appeared on the ex-Beatle’s solo albums Tug Of War (1982), Pipes Of Peace (1983) and Press To Play (1986), as well as the soundtrack Give My Regards To Broad Street (1984).

The last song I’d like to call out is from 10cc’s most recent studio album to date, Mirror Mirror, which appeared in June 1995 and was their first not to be released on a major label. Like predecessor …Meanwhile, it failed to chart and led to Stewart’s departure from 10cc and their second disbanding. Here’s Yvonne’s The One, another co-write by Stewart and McCartney, which appeared on the record’s European version. There are also U.S. and Japanese editions.

In 1999, Gouldman put together the current line-up of 10cc, which in addition to him features Fenn (guitar, vocals), Burgess (drums), Mike Stevens (keyboards, vocals) and Iain Hornal (guitar, vocals). As recently as this April, 10cc was touring. Currently, Gouldman is taking a break from the band. Last December, he announced he had accepted an invitation by Ringo Starr to join his All Starr Band for a summer 2018 European tour. Ringo and his All Star Band including Gouldman will also perform 20 dates in the U.S. in September.

Sources: Wikipedia, Apple Music, Songfacts, Graham Gouldman website, Ringo Starr website, YouTube

Memorable Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame Induction Performances

Last evening’s HBO broadcast of the 2018 Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame induction ceremony gave me the idea to take a look at previous inductions and highlight some of the performances there. I’m not getting into the nomination and selection process, the judges, which artists who currently aren’t in should be inducted, etc. – topics that undoubtedly will continue to be discussed. This post is about some of the great music that was performed at the induction festivities over the years.

I’d like to start with the 1999 induction ceremony that featured a great performance of In The Midnight Hour by Wilson Pickett and Bruce Springsteen, one of the inductees that year. They were backed by The E Street Band. Springsteen, a huge fan of Pickett, frequently performs some of the soul legend’s tunes during his shows. Recorded at Stax studios in Memphis, the song was initially released in June 1965 and became Pickett’s first hit for Atlantic Records. He co-wrote the tune with Stax session guitarist Steve Cropper.

In 1993, The Doors were inducted into the Hall. The band’s then-living original members Ray Manzarek (keyboards), Robbie Krieger (guitar) and John Densmore (drums) teamed up with Pearl Jam lead vocalist Eddie Vedder, who did a fine job singing the parts of the charismatic Jim Morrison. Here’s Light My Fire, one of my favorite Doors tunes that appeared on their eponymous debut album from January 1967. Like each of the original songs on the band’s first two records, the tune was credited to all members.

The 1993 inductees also included another legendary band: Cream. Jack Bruce (lead vocals, bass), Eric Clapton (guitar) and Ginger Baker (drums) reunited for the occasion. One of the songs they played was the terrific Sunshine Of Your Love from Cream’s second studio album Disraeli Gears, released in November 1967. The tune was co-written by Bruce, Clapton and Pete Brown. To this day I think Sunshine has one of the coolest guitar riffs in rock.

Among the 2018 inductees were The Moody Blues, a band whose second studio album Days Of Future Passed became one of the first successful concept albums and put them on the map as pioneers of progressive rock. They played the mighty Nights In White Satin from that record, but the first tune they performed was I’m Just A Singer (In A Rock & Roll Band). That song is from their seventh studio album Seventh Sojourn, which appeared in October 1972. It was written by John Lodge (vocals, bass, guitar), who together with Justin Hayward (lead vocals, guitar) and Graeme Edge (drums) is one of the remaining original members who performed at the induction.

Last but not least, here is a clip of what may be the best Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame performance to date: While My Guitar Gently Weeps, played during the induction of George Harrison as a solo artist in 2004. The performance featured Tom Petty, Jeff Lynne, Steve Winwood, Dhani Harrison and Prince, among others. It will forever be remembered for Prince’s incredible guitar solo. While My Guitar Gently Weeps appeared on the “White Album,” the ninth studio album by The Beatles from November 1968.

Source: Wikipedia, Legacy.com, YouTube

Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame Celebrates 2018 Inductees

Bon Jovi, The Cars, Dire Straits, The Moody Blues, Sister Rosetta Tharpe and Nina Simone Join Rock Hall

I know many of the folks who may see this post have strong opinions about the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. Discussions about inductees and who hasn’t been inducted but should be in there are sure to continue. The selection process certainly looks less than perfect. One could even question the name of the institution. After all, rock & roll certainly doesn’t come to mind when it comes to the amazing Nina Simone, one of the 2018 inductees. So should The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame be renamed to “The Music Hall of Fame?” But if that would be done, wouldn’t this imply such a broad scope that would make it an even more daunting task to identify nominees and select inductees?

While I acknowledge the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame is flawed, I still like the idea of celebrating rock & roll music. And let’s be honest, being in the company of the likes of Chuck Berry, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Bruce Springsteen and the Eagles, to name a few, is pretty cool. I think it’s safe to assume that many artists dream about joining such an exclusive club, whether they admit it or not.

Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Plaques

Following are highlights from last night’s induction ceremony in Cleveland, based on Rolling Stone’s reporting. Unfortunately, most of the current clips on YouTube sound distorted. I’m actually wondering whether this is done on purpose, so people don’t widely share the material. Also, keep in mind the HBO broadcast of the festivities is still ahead on May 5. Perhaps, better quality clips will become available thereafter I could use to replace some of the current footage. We shall see.

Interestingly, the night kicked off with Bon Jovi who were inducted by Howard Stern. It’s fair to say the Jersey boys, who by far won the fan vote, were the most anticipated artists of the night. One of the questions was whether former guitarist Richie Sambora would join his former band mates – he did, unlike Mark Knopfler who was a no-show. Since ultimately it’s the fans who have made these bands successful by purchasing their music and going to their shows, it’s unfortunate when artists cannot put aside their reservations at least for one night. Knopfler’s absence meant Dire Straits did not perform, which must have been a real bummer to many of their fans!

Anyway, here is Bon Jovi’s performance of Livin’ On A Prayer from their third studio album Slippery When Wet from 1986, which catapulted them to international super-stardom and more than 130 million albums sold to date.

Next it was the turn for Dire Straits. Three former members showed up, including bassist and co-founder John Illsley, initial keyboarder Alan Clark and the band’s second keyboarder Guy Fletcher. While Knopfler was absent, I still feel somebody should have inducted the band. Here is a clip of their acceptance speech.

One of the artists I was particularly pleased to see inducted is Sister Rosetta Tharpe, a true trailblazer of early rock & roll. She was inducted by Brittany Howard, the lead vocalist of Alabama Shakes. After her speech, Howard grabbed a guitar to perform That’s All, a Tharpe tune from 1938 – that’s 80 years ago! Howard was backed by a band that included Roots drummer Questlove and Paul Shaffer, among others.

Next up were the Cars, an American new wave, power pop rock band that had a string of hits between 1978 and 1988. They were inducted by Brandon Flowers, the lead singer and keyboarder of The Killers. “The Cars were the first band I fell in love with,” he noted. “And you never forget your first…They achieved greatness and left a comet trail behind them, writing and recording songs that have transcended into classics.” Here’s You Might Think, one of the band’s hits from their fifth studio album Heartbeat City, which was released in March 1984.

Nina Simone was inducted by Mary J. Blige. “Nina was bold, strong, feisty and fearless, and so vulnerable and transparent all at the same time,” she said. “Her voice was so distinctive and warm and powerful; I never heard anything like it. She knew who she was and she was confident in what she did and why she did it. But it was often the lack of confidence in herself that people could relate to. Nina sang for all her pain, her joy, her confusion, her happiness, her sickness, her fight. She fought through all the stereotypes. She fought for her identity. She fought for her life.”

Simone was honored with a two-part tribute. Part one was performed by the Roots and singer-songwriter Andra Day. For the second part, Lauryn Hill, formerly with the Fugees, took the stage. Here is Hill’s entire set, which consisted of Ne Me Quitte Pas, Black Is the Color of My True Love’s Hair and Feeling Good.

The last honoree of the night were The Moody Blues. They were inducted by Ann Wilson, formerly with Heart. Referring to the band’s iconic second studio album Days Of Future Past, she said, “In 1967, The Moody Blues made a record that changed the face of popular music and influenced an entire generation of progressive musicians, including Yes, Genesis, ELO and many, many others. For the first time, mellotron was introduced to the rock and roll mainstream and rock married classic orchestra. There was no progressive showboating or self-indulgent, mathematical noodling; just great, classy music that expanded your mind, sang to your heart, took you inward and lifted you higher.” Nicely said! Here’s a clip of the band’s best known song from that album: Nights In White Satin.

The evening also included tributes to Tom Petty and Chris Cornell of Soundgarden, performed by The Killers and Wilson and Jerry Cantrell, respectively. Here are The Killers playing  American Girl, throwing in some lyrics of Free Fallin’ at the end – too bad the clip’s sound sucks!

And here are Wilson and Cantrell with their rendition of Black Hole Sun, Soundgarden’s best known song. Written by Cornell, the tune appeared on the Seattle rock band’s fourth studio album Superunknown from March 1994.

Last but not least, Steve Van Zandt came on stage with a surprise announcement. “We all know the history of rock and roll can be changed with just one song, one record,” he noted. “This year, we are introducing a new category to the Rock Hall. We’re calling it The Rock and Roll Singles. It’s a recognition of the singles that shaped rock and roll, a kind of Rock Hall jukebox by artists that aren’t in the Rock Hall, which is not to say these artists won’t ever be in the Rock Hall. They just aren’t at this moment.”

The first six singles in this new category include Rocket 88 (Ike Turner’s King’s of Rhythm), Rumble (Link Wray), The Twist (Chubby Checker), Louie Louie (Kingsmen), A Whiter Shade of Pale (Procul Harum) and Born To Be Wild (Steppenwolf) – cool choices!

Sources: Wikipedia, Rolling Stone, YouTube

 

Rock & Roll Hall of Fame 2018 Inductees Are Worthy Additions

Class of 2018 represents diverse music genres, including blues, jazz, new wave and rock

On Monday, the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame made it official: Bon Jovi, The Cars, Dire Straits, The Moody Blues and Nina Simone are the 2018 inductees in the Performers category, while Sister Rosetta Tharpe will be inducted in the Early Influences category. Like every year there will be debate about the inductees and who didn’t make it in. One could also question whether an artist like Simone should be in something called the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. Regardless, I think the 2018 class represents fine artists. I was particularly pleased to see Sister Rosetta Tharpe among the inductees, an amazing and widely under-recognized early rock & roll pioneer.

Artists become eligible for induction 25 years after the release of their first commercial recording – for the 2018 class this means no later than by 1992. Each year, the Nominating Committee of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame selects the candidates for voting. Ballots are subsequently sent to more than 900 historians, members of the music industry and artists, including every living Rock Hall inductee. The top five performers getting the most votes become that year’s induction class. Since 2012, there is also a public vote for fans. Their top-five picks become a ballot that is weighted the same as the remainder of the submitted ballots. Following is a look at the 2018 inductees.

Rock & Roll Hall of Fame 2018 Inductees Collage.jpg

I know many rock purists cringe when it comes to Bon Jovi. Apart from admittedly having a weak spot for ’80s music, I think these guys are legit. Yes, their music has always had a commercial bent, but that doesn’t disqualify it. Tunes like Runaway, Livin’ On A Prayer and Born To Be My Baby illustrate that rock and catchy melodies aren’t mutually exclusive. Sure, Bon Jovi with their big hair in the ’80s looked pretty ridiculous, but frankly so did many other rock bands at the time. Ultimately, to me it’s about the music, so I can see beyond that.

What I will say rubbed me a bit the wrong way was what Jon Bon Jovi told The New York Times when asked about the induction. “Well. I mean … we’re very happy about it. And um, you know. It’s great [pause] “I really want to say it’s about time,” reportedly using a “colorful adjective” the article omitted. To me this smacks like a sense of entitlement.  Given there are so many great artists but only a limited number of inductee spots, none should feel they are entitled to induction.

Bon Jovi is a great live band. I saw them a few years ago, and it was a terrific show. Here’s a live clip of Wanted Dead Or Alive, captured at New York’s Madison Square Garden in 2012.

While I would have preferred the J. Geils Band, who just like last year were nominated but didn’t make it in, The Cars certainly look like a worthy addition. I’m caveating it a bit, since I really don’t know their music in great detail. They certainly have had a number of decent songs since their 1978 eponymous debut album. After taking a few breaks from the mid to late ’80s, The Cars dissolved in 1988 and reunited in 2010. In May 2011, they released a new album, Move Like This, which they supported with a tour. Since the tour’s conclusion later that year, they have been inactive.

Here is a clip of Sad Song from their last album, taken at a gig during the band’s 2011 tour.

Dire Straits is one my longtime favorite bands, so I was happy to see they made it in. Between their formation in London in 1977 and the final show in October 1992, the band went through various lineup changes. In addition to front man, lead guitarist and lead vocalist Mark Knopfler, the only other permanent member was bassist John Illsley. The other inductees include the band’s first drummer Pick Withers, Mark’s younger brother David Knopfler (rhythm guitar, backing vocals), Alan Clark (keyboards) and Guy Fletcher (keyboards, guitar, backing vocals).

Asked during a recent Rolling Stone interview, Illsley confirmed he will attend the induction ceremony but didn’t know whether the band will perform. “I think we’ll just have to see how that’s going to work. We’re talking about a long time. David left the band in 1980. That’s 37 years ago. Pick left in 1983. We’re talking 34 years ago…A lot of time has passed. That’s something Mark and I need to talk about and I’m not about to make any categorical [claims] right here.”

While I like Dire Straits pretty much throughout their recording career, I generally prefer their first three albums over their later records. One of my favorites remains Sultans Of Swing from the band’s eponymous 1978 debut. Here’s a clip from a February 1979 performance on German TV music show Rockpalast.

The Moody Blues is another band I’ve yet to explore. With a discography that includes 16 studio albums between their 1965 debut The Magnificent Moodies and their most recent album December from 2003, it looks like this going to be a bigger undertaking – maybe something for the Christmas break. It appears Graeme Edge (drums, percussion, vocals) remains the band’s only original member, though Justin Hayward (lead vocals, guitar) and John Lodge (bass, vocals) joined in 1966, a whooping 51 years ago!

Asked during a recent interview with Rolling Stone, Hayward said he’d be open to perform at the induction ceremony with former band members Ray Thomas (flute, vocals) and Mike Pinder (keyboards), who will be inducted together with him, Edge and Lodge. But he wasn’t sure whether they are going to come. “When you leave a group it’s because you don’t want to be in it. I miss them both, particularly Mike Pinder because he was the guy that brought me into the group.”

Here is a clip of Tuesday Afternoon, one of my favorite among the few tunes I know from this band.

Nina Simone is often considered a jazz singer, though her musical styles also included classical, blues, folk, R&B, gospel and pop. Between her 1958 debut Little Girl Blue and her final studio album A Single Woman in 1993, Simone recorded close to 50 records. She also was a social activist during the Civil Rights Movement and beyond.

A biography on the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame’s website notes Mary J. Blige told Rolling Stone that “Nina could sing anything, period,” when the magazine included her in its 100 Greatest Singers of All Time list. The same biography also quotes Bob Dylan: “She was an overwhelming artist, piano player, and singer…Very outspoken and dynamite to see perform…the kind of artist that I loved and admired.”

Here is a clip of My Baby Just Cares For Me, a tune I’ve always liked since I heard it for the first time in 1987 when it became a hit after it had been used in a perfume commercial. Originally, Simone had recorded this jazz standard in 1958.

And then there is Sister Rosetta Tharpe, who the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame calls “the first guitar heroine of rock & roll. An accompanying biography notes, “If she had not been there as a model and inspiration, Elvis Presley, Little Richard, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis and other rock originators would have had different careers. No one deserves more to be in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.”

Tharpe’s recording career started in 1938 when the gospel songs Rock Me, That’s All, My Man and The Lonesome Road became instant hits. Rock Me influenced many rock & roll singers like Chuck BerryElvis Presley and Jerry Lee Lewis. It was Tharpe who in 1947 first put 14-year-old Richard Wayne Penniman on a stage, who later would become known as Little Richard.

Here is a clip of Strange Things Happening Every Day, which Tharpe recorded in 1944. According to Wikipedia, the tune became the first gospel record to cross over into R&B, peaking at no. 2 on what was then called the Billboard “race” chart. The song’s groove and sound clearly represent an early version of classic rock & roll.

The 33rd Annual Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony will take place on Saturday, April 14, 2018 in Cleveland. The TV premiere of the event will again be on HBO. There also be a radio broadcast on SiriusXM. Broadcast details will be announced early next year.

Sources: Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, The New York Times, Rolling Stone, Wikipedia, YouTube