Artists That SHOULD Be in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame: The 1950s and Before

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The current crop of artists and bands vying for entry into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame is a very impressive list. Cutting across all genres, including rap, pop, rock, metal and alternative music (it is arguable that folk isn’t included, but that’s a rarity instead of the norm), the potential inductees in 2020 will have many more shots at the brass ring. But who from the past may be running out of chances at getting into the Rock Hall?

There are 221 artists and/or groups in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, and many might say that the truly immortal from the 1950s and before have already been enshrined. It is tough to nitpick this fact, but in this first part of a series of essays on this subject, I was able to come up with five artists who have yet to be inducted for their influences on the world of rock music. In one case, the artist has earned a nod for their “early influence,” but they really should be inducted as well for the priceless value of their performances.

“Big Mama” Thornton

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One of the groundbreaking blues singers, Willie Mae “Big Mama” Thornton, called that because…well, there’s no way to be kind about this…she tipped the scales at around 450 pounds, was a vocalist who owned the R&B charts in the early 1950s. For those that only remember Elvis Presley’s 1955 version of “Hound Dog,” it was Thornton who originally brought the song to the masses in 1952 with her powerful version of the song written by Leiber and Stoller. She was one of the groundbreakers for women in the industry as well, like another person that will appear on this list.

The possible downsides for Thornton getting in is that she didn’t have the longevity that many would like in their performers. By the early 1960s, Thornton’s star had faded and many had forgotten about the blues pioneer. Also, beyond “Hound Dog,” Thornton did not have a lengthy list of hits, although another song she wrote and performed, “Ball ‘n’ Chain,” was never released by her record company; it would eventually become a monster hit in the hands of Janis Joplin, who viewed Thornton as an influence.

Dick Dale

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While the Beach Boys get the credit for the creation of “surf music,” that credit should really go to the master of the surf guitar, Dick Dale. Dale was at the forefront of innovation with the electric guitar in the 1950s, creating the “surf music” sound by combining Middle Eastern influences, reverb and pure speed in bringing out his unique sound. Dale’s career wasn’t a lengthy one but, to the Beach Boys, Jan & Dean and a host of other musicians and bands, Dale was a god.

Dale also is one of those artists that the Rock Hall misses out on honoring before they are no longer with us. Dale played right up to the last days of his life, passing away earlier this year from heart failure. It is very much like the nominations of Thin Lizzy and Motörhead this year, nominations that should have come long ago before the members of the group had passed away and not received the recognition they deserve.

Neil Sedaka

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This was one that I initially didn’t agree with before I started my research. I always thought that Sedaka was just another nauseating “candy coated” pop music thief of black artists’ music. It was only after I really started looking at his career that I gradually began to shift my opinion.

Sedaka started out in 1957 and, since that point, has written over 500 songs that either he or other popular artists have recorded and charted. His own performance library includes the classics “Oh! Carol,” “Calendar Girl,” “Next Door to an Angel” and “Breaking Up is Hard to Do.” After a lull when the British Invasion hit the U. S., Sedaka would come back in the 1970s with songs like “Bad Blood” and “Laughter in the Rain.”

Sedaka would also pen songs for such artists as The Captain and Tennille, ABBA, Connie Francis and Jimmy Clanton. Although I still am not a huge fan of him as an artist, I’ve got to give him credit for his longevity, success and critical acclaim that he’s garnered for more than 60 years.

Patsy Cline

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Anyone who watched Ken Burns’ documentary Country Music cannot disavow what Patsy Cline did for the music industry, country or otherwise. She was performing while still in her teens and her first big song, “Walkin’ After Midnight,” came when she was a mere 21 years old. That song, which topped not only the country charts but also the pop charts, catapulted her into the realm of the immortals.

Her contemporaries Brenda Lee and Wanda Jackson are already in the Rock Hall (Lee as a performer in 2002, Jackson as an “early influence” in 2009), so it is highly illogical to keep Cline out because she’s “not rock enough.” If it weren’t for Cline, it’s arguable that there’s no Dolly, no Loretta, no Reba, no Shania and no Miranda. And, taking the other path of the evolution tree, possibly no Janis, no Suzi, no Joan, no Anne and Nancy…you get my point. Patsy Cline deserves a slot in the Rock Hall.

Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys

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This is another artist that got a great deal of attention from the Burns documentary and it was well deserved. Their musical legacy is undoubtable, but what set Wills and his backing group apart was their non-stop touring, one of the things that is ENTIRELY rock and roll! The group would sometimes play three or four towns IN A SINGLE DAY and six of seven days per week (Wills did, as a good church man would, saved Sunday for worship).

Wills and His Texas Playboys technically are already in the Rock Hall as an “early influence” (1999), but they really deserve to be inducted as a performer outright. Without them, do we even hear of Hank Williams and his progeny, Johnny Cash, the “Texas Outlaws” (Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings and Company) or a host of others who came out during the 1960s and 70s? Maybe we do, but Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys paved the way.

Speaking of the 1960s, there are some from that era who haven’t been inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame as of yet! In the next part of this series of essays, we’ll examine those that have been the biggest oversights and, as of yet, have not been inducted into the Rock Hall. Will these oversights be corrected? The longer that we as fans – and the voters for the Hall – are removed from their heydays, the less likely it is that they will earn induction.

Elton John & Bernie Taupin Tribute CDs “Revamp” & “Restoration” Evoke Different Responses

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Earlier this year, the legendary pianist, vocalist and performer Elton John announced that, after 50 years on the road as a musician, he would be retiring from the road. There’s plenty of reason to believe John when he says this – he’s never even mentioned the idea of quitting prior to 2018 and seems quite happy performing (his residency in Las Vegas was one of the hottest seats in town). The announcement of his retirement disappointed many of his longtime fans and made interest in his concert tour more special that simply being able to see the virtuoso.

Along with his farewell tour, John has also been feted with not one but two new CDs from artists paying tribute to the songwriting of John and his studio partner, Bernie Taupin. This isn’t the first time that the duo has gotten this treatment; back in 1991, they were the subject of a tribute album called Two Rooms: Celebrating the Songs of Elton John & Bernie Taupin (the title of the CD reflected the fact that John and Taupin often worked separately on songs, with John coming up with the music and Taupin writing the lyrics in…two rooms). The record featured artists as diverse as The Who, Kate Bush, Oleta Adams, The Beach Boys, Wilson Phillips and Bruce Hornsby (his version of “Madman Across the Water” is nearly as good as the original) and their take on some of the classic music from John & Taupin.

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With John calling an end to his touring days, it seems natural for another trip down memory lane and instead of one CD, fans get two. There’s a reason for this:  one CD, called Revamp, is filled with the top artists from the pop world and their renditions of popular John/Taupin tunes, and the other CD, called Restoration, features the best in current country music taking their shots at saluting John/Taupin. Surprisingly, it is the country side that wins out the “reimaging” (why not just “tribute”) battle between the two CDs.

Revamp kicks off with a snippet of John performing “Bennie and the Jets” before segueing into rapper Logic and P!nk joining forces for a rap/pop version of the tune. The twosome takes the classic song and make it their own, entertaining the listener and offering hopes that the remainder of the CD will be as adventurous. Unfortunately, that doesn’t come to be as pretty much every other song on the disc holds close to the original renditions.

Coldplay’s “We All Fall in Love Sometimes” falls flat, never even coming close to inspiring the listener, but Alessia Cara attempts to redeem that performance with a well-done version of “I Guess That’s Why They Call it the Blues.” Ed Sheeran turns “Candle in the Wind (2018)” into a folksy tune and Florence + the Machine hold serve with “Tiny Dancer.” Mumford & Sons (“Someone Saved My Life Tonight”) shows up for a so-so rendition before the top two performances take the CD.

Mary J. Blige demonstrates some very powerful vocals in tearing into “Sorry Seems to Be the Hardest Word” and really does make the song hers. By far the top song on the album is the collaboration between rapper Q-Tip and Demi Lovato, who take the classic tune John performed with Kiki Dee, “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart” and stand it on its head. Where the original tune was a piece of pop pablum, Q and Lovato turn it into a reggae/R&B mixed effort that comes off fabulously. Their approach wouldn’t have worked on any other song from the John/Taupin catalog, so it was outstanding that the right performers and song were matched up. Although Miley Cyrus (“Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me”) and Lady Gaga (“Your Song”) cover their respective tunes admirably, the Killers (“Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters”), Sam Smith (“Daniel”) and Queens of the Stone Age (“Goodbye Yellow Brick Road,” possibly the worst effort on the CD), come up short on their work.

Revamp is devoid of the artists taking their chances at recreating John/Taupin classics. For the most part, they stuck to the material and, while enjoyable, I’d rather see them stretch a bit and attempt something new. This doesn’t make Revamp bad, it’s just it pales in comparison to its companion disc.

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Surprisingly, it is the country artists that take part in the tribute on Restoration that take the most chances in their interpretations of John & Taupin’s songs. From the start of the CD, with Little Big Town delivering a daring rendition of “Rocket Man,” the country artists seem to be more comfortable with deviating from the originals. The country artists also delve deeper into the John/Taupin catalog than the pop artists did.

Although there is a repeated song – Maren Morris’ OK version of “Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters” – and a repeated artist – Miley Cyrus shows up again to give a so-so performance of “The Bitch is Back” – the other artists take some chances with some deep cuts from the John/Taupin catalog. The Brothers Osborne deliver a stunning rocking version of “Take Me to the Pilot” and country legend Willie Nelson contributes a well-done version of “Border Song,” but other artists stretch their legs.

This isn’t to say they all hit the mark. Don Henley and Vince Gill give up an uninspired version of “Sacrifice” and Lee Ann Womack’s start slow/finish strong version of “Honky Cat” are a bit of a disappointment, but they are more than made up in such choices as Miranda Lambert (“My Father’s Gun”), Chris Stapleton (“I Want Love”) and Kacey Musgraves (“Roy Rogers”). Two duets bear special mention because of their uniqueness, the Rhonda Vincent/Dolly Parton collaboration on “Please” and Roseanne Cash and Emmylou Harris’ stirring rendition of “This Train Don’t Stop There Anymore.”

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For its sheer daring and stylistic changes, Restoration comes out as the better CD than Revamp. It could have been for the fact that the pop singers weren’t as well versed in Elton John’s music or that they didn’t feel comfortable taking such songs and making them their “style.” It really seemed that the country artists understood John and Taupin’s works much better, displayed in the chances they took in song choices and the way they were performed. While you can’t go wrong with either one (nor the original Two Rooms…in fact, ownership of all three is well worth having in the catalog), it is clear to see that one is better than the other.