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 ...
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 ...
As part of the Rock Hall's Celebration Day, the Museum will screen the Bill Withers documentary, Still Bill, at 5pm ET. In this post, the film's co-director (along with Damani Baker) Alex Vlack, shares how he found Bill Withers, his hero, and transformed the experience into a movie.
Everyone who's ever turned on the radio, walked into a restaurant, been in a bar, lived in this country for more than a few days knows Bill Withers' biggest songs. But most people don't know his name, and most people don't know most of his music.
I didn't really discover it until college, when my friend Jon Fine turned me on to Still Bill, Withers' second record. We listened to it on cassette over and over and over. I'd grown up on blues and jazz and rock, and thought I was pretty well-versed – when you're 18 years old, you can think of yourself as a lot of things! – so how could an album like this have slipped past me? It was, simply, the best album I'd ever heard. Fine and I started a band, and one of the first things we did was ...
In 1970, Lou Reed quit the Velvet Underground at the end of a nine-week performance residency at the famous rock club Max’s Kansas City (in New York City), leaving the VU album Loaded recorded but unmixed; and leaving the VU to continue on with none of its original members.
Two years later, Reed released his self-titled, first solo album on RCA records. The album was mostly made up of songs he had written for – and in some cases even performed live with – the Velvet Underground. While the release generated a lot of buzz, it turned out to be a critical and commercial flop. There are some strong songs, but even listening to it today it feels… well, lost. It doesn’t have the bite of the early VU songs like “Heroin,” nor the pop sensibilities of songs like “Sweet Jane.” So with the album as disappointment to everyone including Reed, what to do next?
Reed, for his part, was enamored with ...