When Percy Sledge first tried to make a record in Muscle Shoals, Alabama, the white owner of the area’s first record label refused to work with him. Saying that he preferred to stick with white country and pop artists, the producer slammed the door in the young singer’s face. A few years later, Sledge was the area’s biggest star, with a Number One hit that defined “the Muscle Shoals sound” and helped launch one of the era’s most significant music scenes. Sledge’s spare, aching ballad – the still-iconic “When A Man Loves A Woman” – not only set a musical template for deep soul, but also reflected the unique musical alchemy that made Muscle Shoals and southern soul into an international symbol of cultural change.
Crucial to Sledge’s success, and that of Muscle Shoals soul, was his records’ mixture of black and white. He worked with a mostly-white group of young studio musicians, including producer Rick Hall and fellow Hall of Famer Spooner Oldham, who now embraced the chance to cut records with black artists. Additionally, Sledge was one of the great practitioners of the musical hybrid that became known, appropriately enough, as “country-soul.” Sledge’s ...
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 ...
As both a member of The Velvet Underground and a solo artist, 2015 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Inductee Lou Reed transformed music forever with his uncompromised and daring artistic vision that has influenced artists for decades, from David Bowie to U2 to Arcade Fire. Here are my picks for Lou Reed essential tracks.
“Walk on the Wild Side”
Off 1972's Transformer (produced by David Bowie and Mick Ronson), “Walk on the Wild Side” was Reed’s first hit after the Velvet Underground broke up and remains his most well know tune till this day. The lyrics of the song told the story of people Reed knew from the Andy Warhol/Factory days, while the iconic bass line has been sampled numerous times in everything from hip-hop to electronica.
“Satellite of Love”
This song was originally demoed by the Velvet Underground in 1970 as a possible track for the Loaded album but was eventually rejected. The lyrics are sung from the point of view of a man who is watching a space launch on TV and simultaneously reflecting on his unfaithful girlfriend. The end of the song features a fantastic vocal arrangement performed by Reed and David Bowie ...
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 ...
2015 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Inductee The Paul Butterfield Blues Band took the world by storm at the 1965 Newport Folk Festival, expertly combining American rock and roll and the blues with Butterfield’s inspired harmonica and Mike Bloomfield’s explosive lead guitar. Their self-titled album released in 1965 and its follow-up, East-West in 1966, kicked open a door that brought a defining new edge to rock and roll. Here are my picks for essential Paul Butterfield Blues Band listening.
“Born in Chicago”
This is the opening song on their first album and immediately establishes the group as a part of long history of electric Chicago blues (in the tracks of Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf). The song was written by friend and collaborator Nick Gravenites who would go on to pen many classic psychedelic blues tunes in the years to come.
“Our Love is Drifting”
A slow blues burner written by the band’s two guitarists Bloomfield and Bishop. While the solos are enough to knock your socks off don’t ignore the great melodic call and response between the vocal and the guitar in the verses.
While “Work Song” was originally written and recorded ...
“The soulful classics that Pastor Crouch created over the years have uplifted the hearts and minds of several generations and his timeless influence continues to be felt in not only gospel but a variety of music genres.” -President Barack Obama
When Pastor Andraé Crouch passed away in January 2015, the outpouring was remarkable. Artists, elected officials, community leaders and legions of fans flocked to pay tribute to the man known as the “father of modern gospel music.” The response was a testament to the impact of his music over the last 40 years. He created a body of work that drew on contemporary musical styles and sophisticated production to inspire his audience and spread the word of God.
Andraé Crouch and his twin sister Sandra were born in the Compton neighborhood of Los Angeles in 1942. Their parents, Benjamin and Catherine, were very active in the Church of God in Christ. In 1951, they moved to the San Fernando Valley, where Benjamin Crouch established Christ Memorial Church. Andraé began to play keyboards at age 11, which he attributed to his ...