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New York Daily News: These Bands Are Rock's New Royalty
03.09.2008 -


Sunday, March 9th 2008, 4:00 AM

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame honors the class of 2008 Monday night at the Waldorf-Astoria. Here's a look at the other inductees not named Madonna:

JOHN MELLENCAMP

It's almost serendipity that Billy Joel will induct John Mellencamp into the Hall of Fame Monday, because beyond a stack of hit records they also share a little Rodney Dangerfield.

Joel wasn't voted into the Hall until his second year of eligibility and Mellencamp had to wait four - underscoring the Hall's long-standing, if unspoken, policy that it's better to have been considered hip and musically innovative like the Velvet Underground or the Sex Pistols than to have been merely popular like Joel (15 platinum albums, 13 Top- 10 singles) or Mellencamp (11 platinum albums, 10 Top- 10 singles).

This may be one factor in the ongoing attendance problem at the Rock Hall in Cleveland, but that's another discussion.

Mellencamp worked hard for years to shed the "Johnny Cougar" image he picked up from his first hit, the teen-angst melodrama "Jack and Diane" in 1982. He's never had Bob Dylan's subtlety as a lyricist, but then, no one else has either, and Mellencamp's "heartland rock" has produced some strong and durable records.

"Scarecrow" evokes life in the middle of the country as well as any rock 'n' roll record, and equally important, Mellencamp has never just sat back and churned out safe hits.

He was swirling country and acoustic folk into rock 'n' roll years before Bruce Springsteen's great "Seeger Sessions" CD, and if you want a foretaste of what Springsteen would do, check out Mellencamp's stunning "Do Re Mi" on the 1989 Woody Guthrie tribute video.

One of the knocks on Mellencamp over the years is that he's been too earnest. But that's led him to help raise millions of dollars through Farm Aid and salute musical predecessors like Sis Cunningham of the Almanac Singers.

Heck, if you fight Authority long enough, sometimes Authority doesn't always win.

LEONARD COHEN

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame has taken a defiant, at times almost perverse pride in inducting musicians whose work falls only on the very outer fringes of what's generally considered rock 'n' roll.

For Leonard Cohen, you need an umbrella the size of Montana to tuck him inside. But here he is, a man who never had a tTop- 100 single or a tTop- 50 album. He hasn't cut a charted record since 1973, and one strongly imagines he isn't the least bit bothered by any of that.

If you find a rock 'n' roll fan old enough, he or she can probably identify one Cohen song: "Suzanne," a lovely, dense, moody ballad of a girl who has "touched your perfect body with her mind."

Jesus gets involved, too, and oranges from China, and there are "heroes in the seaweed and children in the morning."

It's not "The Thong Song," is what we're saying.

The Montreal-born Cohen, who turned 73 last year, started as a poet who put some of his verses to music. He's also a novelist and documentary filmmaker whose witty, sometimes droll, sometimes melancholy vision is reflected in works like "Beautiful Losers."

His songs have been recorded by artists like Judy Collins, Tim Hardin and Jennifer Warnes. His "hip" quotient in the folk and rock worlds long ago zipped right off the top of the chart and has remained there, a stature reflected in the fact that Lou Reed of the Velvet Underground will induct him into the Hall Monday night.

One imagines Mr. Cohen must find it all rather amusing, albeit not unflattering.

DAVE CLARK FIVE

Many people who love the results of the British Invasion, but weren't around for the actual landing, assume it was always the Stones vs. the Beatles. The scruffy bad boys vs. the clean-cut kids.

It wasn't. Back in the giddy early months of 1964, it was the Beatles and the Dave Clark Five.

Clean-cut kids vs. more clean-cut kids.

The DC5 never reached the heights of the Beatles, but they did score seven Top-10 hits. They even scored a No. 1, late in 1965, with "Over and Over."

Soon after, they were eclipsed by harder-rocking bands like the Stones, the Kinks and the Who, and never really got back into the game.

But the band was more important than its chart numbers - because in those first months it was their presence, in the same sentence with the Beatles, that helped turn a pop fad into an Invasion.

Other bands like Gerry and the Pacemakers and Billy J. Kramer and the Dakotas made first-class pop singles. The Beatles and the DC5 were the bands that seemed to dig in.

Looking back, we see the DC5 as a pop band, somewhere in the second tier of the Invasion. Dave Clark didn't help the band's standing by refusing to reissue their songs during the golden '60s wave a few years back, but fans know what they did.

Whatever their legacy, their induction will be made poignant by the death Feb. 28 of their lead singer Mike Smith, who had been partly paralyzed since a 2003 fall. It's a black-humor joke that the Hall inducts artists right after they die, but Smith at least knew the honor had been bestowed.

When Tom Hanks inducts the band, he will no doubt say that sometimes pure pop fun is enough.

After some years thinking it over, the Hall agreed. Nobody - not Motown, not Atlantic, not anybody - made smoother soul music than Kenny Gamble & Leon Huff, who built the Philadelphia sound of the 1970s.

When people start trashing the popular music of the 1970s as insipid and lame, it's amazing how fast they add "Well, I mean except forů. . . ." when you mention "The Love I Lost" by the Bluenotes or "Back Stabbers" by the O'Jays or Teddy Pendergrass' lead vocal on "If You Don't Know Me By Now," which is capable of ripping the heart from the body.

Gamble & Huff got together in the early '60s and started scoring a few hits like "The 81" by Candy and Her Kisses and "Cowboys to Girls" by the Intruders. They got their own label in 1971 and created The Sound of Philadelphia, or "TSOP," on the record better known as the "Soul Train" theme.

Like other great soul labels, they rooted their music in three elements: a house band that created and knew their sound, artists who could execute the sound, and striking songs, most of which they wrote.

That sound was smooth - more orchestral than Motown, not nearly as raw as Stax. Some of the songs were stories, like Billy Paul's "Me and Mrs. Jones," while others like the O'Jays' "Love Train" slipped the social themes of the day into its popular music.

They will be inducted Monday night by Jerry Butler, who hadn't had a hit in a while when Gamble & Huff cut him doing "Only the Strong Survive" in 1969. Officially, they are being inducted in the "Non-Performer" category. Just don't think that means they didn't make music.

THE VENTURES

It's been a good 45 years since instrumental music fell out of Top- 40 favor, but its importance in the great chain of rock 'n' roll cannot and should not be erased.

The Ventures made clean guitar music, to oversimplify somewhat, and from 1960 to 1972 they put 38 albums on the charts. Their signature has always remained their first hit, "Walk Don't Run" from 1960.

You may not know the title, but you know the record. It's been in movies and on the radio around the world.

And by the way, if you have a clean 45-rpm copy of "Walk Don't Run" on the first label that released it, Blue Horizon, you can get up to $2,000 for it.

When the Ventures arrived on the scene, instrumentalists like Duane Eddy regularly put records on the charts. Orchestral bands like Acker Bilk's and Bert Kaempfert's had No. 1 hits, and it's been argued semi-jokingly that the first No. 1 hit from the British invasion was "Telstar" by the Tornados.

But the Ventures came out of the rock style. Their music was urgent, not reflective, and that's confirmed by their influence on the surf bands that sprung up in the early '60s and helped spawn groups like the Beach Boys.

The great rock guitarists of the '60s almost all had bands like the Ventures in their DNA, a truth that will be confirmed tomorrow night by the man inducting them, John Fogerty.

To the kid with a transistor radio, the Ventures were infectious. To the kid with a guitar, they were instructive. They allowed a pure focus on the music, the guitar, and how it sounded.

They're still playing today - and if you see one of their shows, don't be surprised to even hear a couple of vocals.

LITTLE WALTER

The Rock Hall has pulled a few odd tricks with inductees over the years, like inducting Hank Ballard without the Midnighters and inducting Carole King only as part of a songwriting team with ex-husband Gerry Goffin. So the woman with one of the most popular albums in history is enshrined as a "non-performer."

But even that doesn't quite match inducting "Little Walter" Jacobs as a "sideman," which is how he'll enter the Hall Monday.

It's not that he wasn't a great sideman. He was. He played harmonica in arguably the finest Chicago blues band of all time, the Muddy Waters group of the 1950s with Jimmy Rogers on guitar.

But in May of 1952 Walter took a tune that Waters' band used as its set-closer and recorded it as a solo. "Juke," he called it, and it went to No. 1 for two months, becoming one of the biggest R&B records of the '50s.

He formed his own band, called "The Jukes" of course, and over the next three years rolled off another dozen tTop- 10 hits. "My Babe" was No. 1 for five weeks in 1955.

All that need be said is that blues harp players still study those records today. Little Walter is a gold standard, some say the best ever.

Unfortunately, that didn't help him much in the end. He became bitter when rock 'n' roll pushed the blues off the radio and the sales charts, and he dove deeply into drugs and drinking.

He was a bad drunk, prone to starting fights. He started the wrong one on a cold night in the winter of '68, and on Feb. 15 he died from his injuries. He was 37.

He was a sideman, yes. His plaque at the Hall will note that he was also more.
Read the New York Daily News article online.


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