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Songs That Shaped Rock and Roll: "Louie Louie"

Wednesday, December 14: 11 a.m.
Posted by Rock Hall
The Kingsmen's "Louie Louie" is one of the Songs That Shaped Rock and Roll

The most notorious song in rock and roll history has been recorded hundreds of times: by surfers (the Beach Boys, the Pyramids), punks (the Stooges, Black Flag), British rockers (the Kinks, the Troggs) and marching bands (U.S.C. Trojans, Rice University Marching Owls). During the first half of the 1960s, it was probably played at more live events than the National Anthem. R&B artist Richard Berry (who sang lead on The Coasters' "Riot In Cell Block No. 9") wrote and recorded "Louie Louie" in 1956.The record came out a year later, was a West Coast hit, and died a natural death. A few years later after the Tacoma, Washington-based Wailers recorded it, "Louie Louie" entered the set lists of various Northwest bands. One was Portland, Oregon's Kingsmen, who recorded the song in 1963. What the Kingsmen thought was a rehearsal run-through was the performance issued on 45. That might explain singer Jack Ely's garbled reading. People heard in the Kingsmen's "Louie Louie" what they wanted to hear – a song that just had to be dirty. Radio stations banned it, and sweaty- palmed juveniles made up their own lewd lyrics. Even the U.S. government ...


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Songs That Shaped Rock and Roll: "How Soon Is Now?"

Wednesday, December 21: 1 p.m.
Posted by Rock Hall
The Smiths' "How Soon Is Now?" is one of the Songs That Shaped Rock and Roll

The Smiths placed 10 singles in the U.K. Top 20 between 1983 and 1987, yet "How Soon Is Now?" was not among them. Only in the years following the group's breakup did this towering Morrissey-Johnny Marr composition become one of the group's best-loved and most familiar songs. Guitarist Marr kicks it off with shimmering Bo Diddley tremolo chords and builds layer upon layer of echoing six-string sound effects as Morrissey croons his defiance: You shut your mouth/How can you say/I go about things the wrong way/I am human and I need to be loved/Just like everybody else does. Sire Records president Seymour Stein called the nearly seven-minute-long song "the 'Stairway to Heaven' of the Eighties."

Listen to and learn the stories behind the Songs That Shaped Rock and Roll with the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame's unique app! This app features clips of more than 500 songs, each with cover art, and fascinating artist and recording notes. The searchable list of songs is also divided among decades and artists, so finding and hearing exactly what you want ...


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Songs That Shaped Rock and Roll: "I Heard It Through The Grapevine"

Wednesday, December 28: 12:30 p.m.
Posted by Rock Hall
Marvin Gaye's "I Heard It Through The Grapevine" is one of the Songs That Shaped Rock and Roll

On December 14, 1968, Marvin Gaye's "I Heard It Through The Grapevine" reached Number One on the Billboard charts and stayed there for seven consecutive weeks, carrying it into the new year. "I Heard It Through The Grapevine" is Gaye's essay on salvaging not just a love affair but also the human spirit. With its fretful, self-absorbed vocal, the song distills 400 years of anguish and talking-drum gossip into three minutes and 15 seconds of soul-searching. Producer Norman Whitfield's lovingly detailed music begins with an obsessively reiterated electric piano figure. A simple drum backbeat is followed by rattlesnake tambourine. Then comes chopping guitar and soaring strings. This version of "Grapevine" is memorable even before Gaye opens his mouth. (Gladys Knight and the Pips had an earlier success with the song, Creedence Clearwater Revival a later one.) Whitfield creates a tumult of voices horns, female choruses, echo, bass-drum breakdowns, string arpeggios that serves as a gossiping community, the singer isolated but engulfed within. Gaye protests, but he knows he's trapped.

Listen to and learn the stories behind the Songs That Shaped Rock and ...


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Songs That Shaped Rock and Roll: "The Sounds Of Silence"

Wednesday, January 4: 1 p.m.
Posted by Rock Hall
"The Sounds Of Silence" is one of the Songs That Shaped Rock and Roll.

On the week of January 1, 1966, Simon and Garfunkel started a weeklong run at Number One on the Billboard charts with "The Sounds Of Silence." They were knocked out of that spot on January 8 by the Beatles' "We Can Work It Out," but returned to the Number One slot for one more week on January 22. 

Simon and Garfunkel started as Tom and Jerry, Everly Brothers wannabees from Queens, New York. They had a minor 1957 hit with "Hey, Schoolgirl" (Number 49 on Billboard charts), and seemed destined for footnote status in the saga of rock and roll's golden age. After years apart, they resurfaced under their real names as topical folk singers. In the fall of 1964, Simon and Garfunkel released an acoustic album called Wednesday Morning 3 A.M., which included an arrangement of "The Sounds of Silence" that only included vocals and acoustic guitar.

With the folk revival all but over, the record was universally ignored and the duo again split. Folk rock hit a year later, and Wednesday Morning 3 A.M.'s producer Tom Wilson (concurrently helping Bob Dylan "go electric") overdubbed a rock backing track on "The Sounds of Silence ...


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Songs That Shaped Rock and Roll: "Prove It On Me Blues"

Thursday, January 12: 10 a.m.
Posted by Rock Hall
Ma Rainey's "Prove It On Me Blues" is one of the Songs That Shaped Rock and Roll

The so-called Mother of the Blues, Gertrude "Ma" Rainey was one of the form's most assertive female artists. She was a true pioneer who openly flouted convention and challenged mores on record and the road, performing at barrelhouses, juke joints, dance halls and speakeasies during the 1920s. If "Prove It On Me Blues" were released today, it may carry a parental advisory sticker for its racy content. Penned by Rainey and recorded with her Tub Jug Washboard Band for the Paramount label in 1928, the song recounts a lesbian love affair. Filled with explicit sexual references, it dares listeners to "find proof" of any immorality or illegality. "Prove It On Me Blues" was also deemed an attack on men, though Rainey was bi-sexual. In one verse she defiantly exclaims, "They must've been women, 'cause I don't like no men." Rainey wrote a number of provocative blues songs with frank, liberated lyrics that sang of her experiences  – and sexual liberation was a favored topic. "Prove It On Me Blues" lashed out prophetically against bigotry and male oppression. Rainey and other 1920s black female blues artists decried such hatred and inspired blues-loving rock singers like Janis Joplin to ...


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Songs That Shaped Rock and Roll: "In The City"

Wednesday, January 18: 2:30 a.m.
Posted by Rock Hall
The Jam's "In The City" is one of the Songs That Shaped Rock and Roll

The Jam rode to early popularity on the first wave of British punk. Yet the group, led by singer/songwriter/guitarist Paul Weller, consciously distanced itself from its safety-pinned compatriots and unashamedly looked back to the Sixties for inspiration from the Who, 2012 Hall of Fame Inductees the Small Faces and vintage American soul music. At a time when notions of youth rebellion were much in vogue, "In The City" stands out as a desperate plea for understanding between the generations: In the city, there's a thousand things I want to say to you/But whenever I approach you, you make me look a fool/I wanna say, I wanna tell you/About the young ideas/But you turn them into fears. The song was the title track of the group's 1977 debut, a landmark punk recording that showcased the group's bravado and musicianship. Weller's gift for hooks, insightful lyrics, slashing Rickenbacker guitar riffs and the equally urgent playing of bassist Bruce Foxton and drummer Rick Buckler propelled "In The City" to Number 40 in May 1977 and ignited the group's hot streak of 18 consecutive UK Top 40 hits.


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Songs That Shaped Rock and Roll: "The Message"

Wednesday, January 25: 2:30 p.m.
Posted by Rock Hall
Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five's "The Message" is one of the Songs That Shaped Rock and Roll

Grandmaster Flash (Joseph Saddler) didn't want to make "The Message." His emcees, the Furious Five, apart from Melle Mel (Melvin Glover), thought it was a bad idea. But when this grim slice of urban journalism hit in the summer of 1982, it was as inevitable as Woody Guthrie once had been: It was politics taken to the streets. Until "The Message," rap had been largely celebratory music, reflecting its block-party roots. When Sugar Hill Records eminence Sylvia Robinson pushed for "The Message" – ultimately a collaboration between Glover and studio percussionist Duke Bootee (Ed Fletcher) – the others balked: who wanted to take their problems to the dance floor? Still, the song took off, reaching an audience that had once dismissed rap as idle boasting, countering such notions with lead rapper Melle Mel's repeated, weary conclusion: It’s like a jungle sometimes, it makes me wonder how I keep from going under. For all its success, though, the song had its detractors. While many considered it the greatest rap statement of all time, others called it a sop for white people. However, like most groundbreaking records, "The Message" transcended the rhetoric. It cleared the way for a new kind ...


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Songs That Shaped Rock and Roll: "Head Like A Hole"

Wednesday, February 1: 12:26 p.m.
Posted by Rock Hall
"Head Like A Hole" is one of the Songs That Shaped Rock and Roll

The first act to rise from the industrial-rock underground to mass commercial success, Nine Inch Nails established Cleveland-area native Trent Reznor – NIN's founder, front man, producer and sole permanent member – as a different kind of rock star. The propulsive, abrasive sound of his music perfectly suited his images of pain, alienation, betrayal and existential torment; his broodingly charismatic stage persona captivated a readily receptive audience that found common ground in his seething lyrics and pummeling beats. Unlike most of his industrial-music contemporaries, Reznor possesses a gift for melody and song structure that's reflected in "Head Like a Hole." The opening track of Nine Inch Nails' 1989 debut album Pretty Hate Machine, the song is as catchy as it is harsh, with a raw, insistent chorus that's hard to shake. It's no wonder that "Head Like a Hole" would serve as Nine Inch Nails' set closer for many years.

Listen to and learn the stories behind the Songs That Shaped Rock and Roll with the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame's unique app. This app features clips of more than 500 ...


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