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Songs That Shaped Rock and Roll: "Jim Dandy"

Wednesday, February 8: 3 p.m.
Posted by Rock Hall
LaVern Baker's "Jim Dandy" is one of the Songs That Shaped Rock and Roll

Employing more aliases than a con artist, 1991 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Inductee LaVern Baker was born Delores Williams in 1929. The niece of blues great Memphis Minnie, she took the name of Little Miss Sharecropper for her first professional engagements in 1946. The early Fifties found her cutting tracks as Bea Baker; finally, joining the Todd Rhodes Orchestra in 1952, she began calling herself LaVern Baker. It wasn't until the next year, however, when she joined Atlantic Records, that this exuberant belter hit her stride. Working with master Atlantic producers Ahmet Ertegun and Jerry Wexler, and backed by killer players like saxophonists Sam Taylor and King Curtis, guitarists Mickey Baker and Bucky Pizzarelli, drummer Connie Kay and pianist Hank Jones, she reeled off a string of sexy, high-spirited hits: "Tweedle Dee," "Bop-Ting-a-Ling," "I Cried A Tear" and her signature song "Jim Dandy." The latter tale of a gentleman given to helping ladies in trouble was penned by Lincoln Chase and given an energetic R&B punch by Baker in 1956. Initially released as a single, the song also appeared on Baker's second LP, LaVern Baker (1957). "Jim Dandy" was given a Southern rock re-working ...


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Songs That Shaped Rock and Roll: "Let's Talk About Sex"

Wednesday, February 15: 3:30 p.m.
Posted by Rock Hall
Salt-n-Pepa's "Let's Talk About Sex" is one of the Songs That Shaped Rock and Roll

On February 15, DJ Spinderella of Salt-n-Pepa will participate in an interview and lead a DJ demonstration performance as part of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum's Ladies First: Celebrating African-American Women Who Rock  programming throughout Black History Month. The event starts at 7 pm, and will be viewable via live stream here.

Back in 1988, John McCready wrote in England's New Musical Express: "After Salt-n-Pepa, women in rap don't need to act like men in reverse. They have created a space of their own and the future is wide open." They were prophetic words as more than 25 years after their debut single, "The Show Stopper," Salt-n-Pepa rank among the most successful female groups in hip-hop history. Sandy "Salt" Denton, Cheryl "Pepa" James and DJ Spinderella (Dee Dee Roper) created an impressive string of best-sellers, capped by 1991's "Let's Talk About Sex" (Blacks' Magic) – an upbeat pop-rap song that expressed surprisingly frank and thoughtful opinions about the dangers of HIV/AIDS, media censorship of sexual imagery and the complex emotions bound up with the physical act (Let's tell it how it is, and how it could be / How it ...


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Songs That Shaped Rock and Roll: "Give Up The Funk (Tear The Roof Off The Sucker)"

Wednesday, February 22: 2:30 p.m.
Posted by Rock Hall
Parliament's "Give Up The Funk (Tear The Roof Off The Sucker)" is one of the Songs That Shaped Rock

1997 Hall of Fame inductee George Clinton, the mad genius of funk, launched his assault on music business-as-usual late in the 1960s with a short-lived but seminal R&B quintet called the Parliaments. As writer and producer, Clinton bent the group's post-Motown sound in a direction as smart as it was quirky. The Parliaments officially dissolved after one 1970 album and a major contractual problem; but Clinton, with an eye to the freak flags flown by Jimi Hendrix and Sly Stone, recreated the group as a band of outsiders complete with their own lingo, costumes, myths, and philosophy ("Free your mind… and your ass will follow"). Transforming himself into Dr. Funkenstein, Clinton cooked up a funk feast that spiked James Brown's gritty gumbo (much of it provided by original Brown musicians like Bootsy Collins, Fred Wesley, and Maceo Parker) with heavy doses of psychedelia, and a dash of rock and roll.  No one sounded like Parliament except Funkadelic, a virtually identical group Clinton signed to another label and encouraged to be even more eccentric. Touring "together" with up to 40 members as "A Parliafunkadelicment Thang," the bands became one of the most successful black concert acts of ...


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Songs That Shaped Rock and Roll: "Ball 'n' Chain"

Wednesday, February 29: 1:30 p.m.
Posted by Rock Hall
Big Mama Thornton's "Ball 'n' Chain" is one of the Songs That Shaped Rock and Roll

On March 1, 2012, Maureen Mahon, a cultural anthropologist who teaches in the ethnomusicology program in the Department of Music at New York University, will present a lecture entitled “Willie Mae ‘Big Mama’ Thornton’s Blues and the Sound of Rock and Roll” in the Museum's Foster Theater. The event is free and open to the public.

One of Janis Joplin's prime influences, Willie Mae "Big Mama" Thornton was one of the great female blues singers of post-war years. She descended directly from Bessie Smith, Ma Rainey, and other major vocalists of the classic blues period. Thornton's raw, belting vocal style made her self-composed "Ball 'n' Chain" a study in blues expression. Joplin remade "Ball 'n' Chain" with the same intensity Thornton gave the song. Joplin's dazzling performance of it was a highlight of the 1967 Monterey Pop Festival. Oddly enough, Thornton is far better known for being the first singer to record "Hound Dog" – the tune penned by the team of Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, and later recorded by Elvis Presley – than she is for biting blues numbers like "Ball 'n' Chain."


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Songs That Shaped Rock and Roll: "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down"

Wednesday, April 25: 1 p.m.
Posted by Rock Hall
The Band's "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down" is one of the Songs That Shaped Rock and Roll

The Band recognized that while the soul of a song lived in its performance, its style was found in the arrangement. "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down" is an exquisitely structured song:  acoustic guitar frames the verses, Levon Helm's drums roll into a moving chorus, and Garth Hudson adds faux harmonica with organ and a real trumpet. Recorded in 1969 and released on the Band's self-titled second album, the song's arrangement created a dramatic tableau for the poignant vocals. It's perhaps ironic that rock's most famous song about the Civil War was written by a Canadian, Robbie Roberston. It had to be sung, however, by the Band's only U.S. citizen: Arkansas native Helm. Helm is as vividly natural in this Southern role as when he played Loretta Lynn's father in the film Coal Miner's Daughter. The song's Virgil Caine meets his rebel's death, and he dies nobly. Joan Baez' cover of "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down," which appeared on her album Blessed Are…, reached Number Three on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1971. The Band were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame ...


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Songs That Shaped Rock and Roll: "Rock Around The Clock"

Wednesday, May 2: 9 a.m.
Posted by Rock Hall
Bill Haley and his Comets' "Rock Around The Clock" is one of the Songs That Shaped Rock and Roll

If this isn't the cornerstone of rock and roll, it's a big piece of the foundation. After a hit ("Crazy Man, Crazy") that year on the small Essex label, Bill Haley and his Comets signed to Decca and recorded "(We're Gonna) Rock Around the Clock" during the band's first Decca session (which had originally been recorded in 1952 by Sunny Dae and His Knights). Intended as a B-side, it made some noise but was not a smash – unlike Haley's following release, a version of "Shake, Rattle and Roll." To the rescue came Blackboard Jungle, a grim movie about classroom juvenile deliquency: "Rock Around the Clock" blared on the soundtrack during the film's opening credits and end title. When ambassador Clare Booth Luce used her clout to have Blackboard Jungle withdrawn as the U.S. entry to the 1955 Venice Film Festival, the movie's notoriety and Haley's success were assured. Hollywood's first use of rock and roll catapulted "Rock Around the Clock" to sales of one million. The song bears more than passing resemblance to "Rock the Joint," a 1952 Haley version of Jimmy Preston's 1949 side. Guitarist Danny Cedrone ...


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Songs That Shaped Rock and Roll: "Piano Man"

Wednesday, May 9: 12 p.m.
Posted by Rock Hall
Billy Joel's "Piano Man" is one of the Songs That Shaped Rock and Roll

Cold Spring HarborBilly Joel's debut solo album, failed to make a strong impression upon its release in 1971. Worse still, it was released with a curious mastering gaffe that sped up songs and altered the pitch of Joel's vocals. Frustrated and seeking a change in scenery, Long Island native Joel packed his bags for Los Angeles. There he took any and every gig he could find as a lounge singer/pianist (performing under the name Bill Martin). From these long L.A. nights of cigarette smoke and boozy requests, however, came the inspiration and images for "Piano Man" – the title track of Joel's 1973 album for Columbia Records and one of his signature songs. It stands as a classic of the Seventies singer/songwriter movement. Playing expressive piano, reaching into his upper vocal range, Joel rues his own failings while finding hope and even humor in his interactions with the bar's patrons and staff. An old man, a waitress, Paul the "real estate novelist," Davy "who's still in the Navy" – listeners can imagine them all joining in on the song's indelible chorus: Sing us a song, you're the piano man/Sing ...


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Songs That Shaped Rock and Roll: "Tipitina"

Wednesday, May 16: 12 p.m.
Posted by Rock Hall
Professor Longhair's "Tipitina" is one of The Songs That Shaped Rock and Roll

If New Orleans music is a gumbo, pianist Henry Roeland "Roy" Byrd – better known as Professor Longhair – is one of the chefs who filled the pot and lit the cooking fire. Variously hailed as “the Picasso of keyboard funk” and “the Bach of rock,” Byrd's syncopated music was as infectious as it was uncategorizable: his playing mixed blues, ragtime, zydeco, rhumba, mambo and calypso, while his hoarse singing voice cracked as it crept toward the high notes. A meandering recording career started in 1949 with two of his most popular songs, "Mardi Gras In New Orleans" and "She's Got No Hair," with the label crediting the tracks to "Longhair and his Shuffling Hungarians." A year later, under a different record company (Mercury) and using his real name (Roy Byrd & his Blues Jumpers), he rerecorded "She's Got No Hair" as "Bald Head," his first and only national R&B hit.

In 1953, while recording for Atlantic (his fourth label in five years ), Longhair cut yet another classic, "Tipitina." Pianists from Fats Domino and Huey "Piano" Smith to Allen Toussaint and Dr. John acknowledge Longhair's influence. The hum-along nonsense syllables and stutter stepping left-hand rhythm of "Tiptina ...


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