Neil Diamond, one of our top hitmakers, may finally get his due
By Phill Marder
The 2011 nominees for the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame were announced last week and, lo and behold, four on my list of “should be inducteds” are included. So I’m going to jump around here a bit and give you my four picks this week instead of the normal singular choice in hopes that those responsible for voting will read this blog and vote for these.
But first, a brief comment on those nominated that I wouldn’t vote for – at least not this year.
Last year Kiss, who I would vote for, finally received a nomination. They didn’t make it and, evidently, committed some sin this past year because they’re off the list again. But instead, we have Alice Cooper. Now if Alice doesn’t make it, maybe they should join, sort of like when Neil Young joined Crosby, Stills & Nash. Then next year, they could pool their votes and get in.
To me, talking takes no musical talent, so the term rap music is an oxymoron. Of course, I’ve been called a moron of all sorts on many occasions so what do I know? And rap has outlasted all our expectations, showing all of us old timers what we don’t know. The Beastie Boys certainly are well-known enough, and they did have one record – “(You Gotta) Fight For Your Right (To Party!)” – I actually bought (and still love). LL Cool J’s track record certainly is worthy of consideration. I can’t complain if either gets in. Just don’t ask me to vote for him – or them.
Now for this year’s crop from Ahmet Ertegun’s Atlantic Records. Even the Hall of Fame has to admit, the pickings are getting pretty slim since almost every Atlantic artist already has been inducted. This is the sixth time Chic has been nominated. The question is “why?” For a 20-month period between 1977 and 1979 they had four top 10 singles, including two that hit No. 1. But there are a slew of groups more deserving. Of course, Chic recorded for Atlantic Records so draw your own conclusions.
The J. Geils Band maintained a fairly regular chart presence from 1971 until 1984. But their success and relevance pales next to more groups than I could name – even some on their label – dare I say it? Atlantic Records!!!
Dr. John, a busy sideman, had one hit record and one hit album and Joe Tex and Chuck Willis each had a few solid records. But again, there are so many vocalists more deserving it’s almost embarrassing. However, each recorded for Atlantic.
That makes five Atlantic Records artists out of the 15 nominated this year. That would look odd even if the five were the biggest superstars on the planet. But seriously folks – Chic and the J. Geils Band over The Guess Who, The Moody Blues, Chicago, Kiss etc.? Dr. John, Joe Tex and Chuck Willis over Chubby Checker, Jerry Butler, Neil Sedaka, Johnny Rivers etc.?
Now how transparent does this bias have to be?
Laura Nyro wrote a few great songs, but ahead of Burt Bacharach and Hal David or Bob Crewe and Bob Gaudio? C’mon.
Tom Waits is a personal favorite, but should he be in the Hall of Fame? As much as I love him, I’d have to say “no.” Darlene Love has more of a claim having sung lead on hits by the Blossoms, the Crystals and Bob B. Soxx and the Blue Jeans. The Blossoms also were regulars on the TV show “Shindig.”
So there you have my take on those who should remain also-rans. Since five survive the final cut and four are on my list, I get to choose one from Column A above (preferably with egg roll). That choice will be Alice Cooper and we’ll get to Kiss another week. Darlene Love is the stronger candidate to make it this year, though.
Now the four of this year’s nominations who should make the grade. Warning – only one of the four – Donna Summer – recorded for Atlantic Records and that was a brief and not very successful stay. So the odds are stacked against them:
NEIL DIAMOND – On my original list of 25, 10 years ago, this marks the first time Neil Diamond has been nominated. Either the HOF nominating committee members are very slow readers or they never listened to the radio.
From his breakout in the mid ’60s until current day, Neil Diamond has been one of the biggest sellers and most popular concert draws in the world. I remember one obviously in-tune scribe writing, “He’s had more hits than Ty Cobb.” Oh, that was me 10 years ago? Sorry.
His early works clearly were Rock & Roll, and, while his later recordings were on the softer side, certainly soft rock is as much a part of rock as power pop, punk rock, disco, heavy metal, folk rock, reggae, grunge etc.
In the late ’60s, FM underground, progressive radio stations included Neil Diamond on their playlists. Many recording giants covered his compositions, including Elvis, Chris Isaak, the Music Machine, Deep Purple, UB40, Mark Lindsay, Glen Campbell, Jay & the Americans and the Monkees, and I’m sure there’s plenty I’ve forgotten or don’t know about. Robbie Robertson certainly appreciated Diamond, inviting him to appear in The Band’s movie “The Last Waltz” after producing his “Beautiful Noise” LP.
At the same time, Diamond did justice to the writings of Joni Mitchell, Buffy Sainte-Marie, Tom Paxton, Leonard Cohen, Roger Miller and Randy Newman and, again, that’s just a sampling.
In a 20-year span starting in 1966, he pushed 13 singles into the Top 10 and three just missed, stalling at No. 11. Three hit No. 1.
On the LP charts, Diamond still is sparkling, this note coming from the August 19, 2010 Billboard:
“The second-highest Billboard 200 debut of the week comes from Neil Diamond, who arrives at No. 2 with his Wal-Mart and Sam’s Club exclusive live CD/DVD set “Hot August Night/NYC” (57,000). It’s Diamond’s third straight top five set, following 2005’s “12 Songs” (No. 4) and “Home Before Dark” (No. 1), and his 16th top 10 album on the Billboard 200.”
While chart success should not be the last word in qualifying for Hall of Fame status, it should not be held against an artist, either. While he may not be everyone’s cup of meat, the public is not always wrong and the public certainly has announced its support for Diamond throughout the years. Even his movie, “The Jazz Singer,” was popular despite the critics not being sold.
Today, Diamond is honored by tribute bands thriving throughout the country. His music continues to resonate, showing the staying power that will have people singing along as the year’s go by. He’s pushing 70 now, so it’d be real nice to see him get his just due while he’s still young enough to savor it.
Simply put, he writes great songs and makes great records. He is a bona fide superstar and superstars belong in the Hall of Fame.
Bon Jovi back for another run at Rock Hall of Fame
BON JOVI – Speaking of superstars, do they get much bigger than this band?
The Hall of Fame should be for the famous. Either that, or change the name to The Hall of Obscurity or the Hall of Musical Insider Favorites.
Bon Jovi has been one of the world’s most successful and recognizable groups since their first hit single, “Runaway,” which broke into the top 40 in 1984. Between 1986 and 1990, the group produced five No. 1 singles and two No. 1 albums and, to this day, have accounted for numerous other hits.
In addition, the band became one of the biggest live draws in the business, doing sellout business around the globe. This may help explain why a band from New Jersey was inducted into the UK Music Hall of Fame in 2006. Of course, it doesn’t explain how a group from New Jersey gets inducted into the UK Music Hall of Fame in 2006 and still hasn’t gained entrance to the United States-based Rock & Roll Hall of Fame?
They might not be the world’s best band, but they’ve written great songs and made great records … or CDs … or downloads…or whatever the form for musical consumption is this week.
Leader Jon Bon Jovi also has made several impressive movie appearances and makes light of the lack of critical success confronting his band, much of which probably stems from his heartthrob status. Can a guy this good looking sell this many records, sell out concerts and still be talented enough to make the Hall of Fame?
In the United Kingdom he can … Even if he is from – (cuing New York Governor David Paterson, please) – “New Jersey.”
Donovan gets first nomination from Rock Hall
DONOVAN – Ten years ago I listed this Scottish bard as a long shot to make the Hall. Now I’m not so sure. Since that time, he has experienced somewhat of a resurgence, his compositions popping up in movie soundtracks and commercials, DVDs and boxed sets, while he pops up in concert appearances.
And suddenly, perhaps amazingly, this year he pops up on the list of nominees for the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame for the first time. Not one to laud praise on this organization’s nomination committee, this time I gladly tip my cap.
Of all the artists who made it big in the ’60s, perhaps none represents the “flower power” age better than Donovan. A folkie considered a European clone of Bob Dylan at first, Donovan quickly discarded his guitar/harmonica approach and branched into other areas much as Dylan did by going electric. But the music Donovan created was much more diversified than his American counterpart as far as style and instrumentation was concerned. And while his music was all over the map, his voice proved an anchor. As soon as you heard it, you knew it was Donovan, from his ominous breathing/hum countdown at the start of “Hurdy Gurdy Man” to the “Elec Trickle Banana” of “Mellow Yellow.” From his “Ah, when I look outa my window” vocal start of “Season of the Witch” to his ” “Superman or Green Lantern ain’t got a-nothin’ on me” from “Sunshine Superman,” Donovan made an unmistakable mark on the musical landscape.
No one before or since sounded like Donovan and his recordings, particularly the “Sunshine Superman” and “Mellow Yellow” albums, stand up to any recordings made even today. They remain as distinctive now as they were back then.
Donovan was close to the Beatles, contributing lyric help on several key tracks through the years. In addition, “Hurdy Gurdy Man,” supposedly marked the first occasion the instrumental portion of Led Zeppelin worked together. Jimmy Page, who had played earlier on “Sunshine Superman,” is rumored to have contributed guitar work and John Bonham claimed to have contributed some of the track’s distinctive drum work, but John Paul Jones, who played bass and arranged the track said Clem Cattini drummed and Alan Parker played guitar and that was it. Given the results of the session – I consider “Hurdy Gurdy Man” one of the 10 best single recordings in Rock & Roll history (I’ll get to that list as soon as I have time) – I sure wish Led Zeppelin had recorded an LP or more with Donovan writing and singing lead.
Later Donovan’s lead vocal led the Jeff Beck Group on its biggest single hit, “Goo Goo Barabajagal (Love Is Hot).” Only fitting from the man who gave us such memorable phrases as:
“Color sky havana lake
color sky rose carmethene
And he made that a hit!
A major staple of the British Invasion, Donovan placed 17 singles on the Hot 100, a dozen reaching the top 40 with three climbing to the top five – “Sunshine Superman” (No. 1), “Mellow Yellow” (No. 2) and “Hurdy Gurdy Man” (No. 5). Ten LPs cracked the top 30 between 1965 and 1973, including the two-record set “A Gift From A Flower To A Garden.” His compositions were also covered, The Animals recording of “Hey Gyp” being one of their strongest efforts and “Museum” proving a hit for Herman’s Hermits.
Ten years ago, Donovan was one of my 25 artists who should be in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. He’s still on my list and finally has received a nomination. Maybe he’s not such a darkhorse to make it after all.
Could this be the year for “The Queen of Disco”?
DONNA SUMMER – She has been nominated a couple times to no avail, but “The Queen Of Disco” eventually will make it. She not only dominated the disco era, she also carried her huge success through the ’80s. Fourteen top 10 singles, including four No. 1s.
Donna Summer is proof that the disco era did produce some fabulous music, though her first success “Love To Love You Baby,” which hit No. 2 in 1975, is best forgotten. It took Summer almost two years to recover from the stigma of that sex tape, but talent won out and she returned to the Top 10 in 1977 with “I Feel Love.”
The next year her “Last Dance” from the movie “Thank God It’s Friday” became a classic, climbing to No. 3, and the floodgates opened. She followed with an unlikely disco version of “MacArthur Park” and it reached the top of the Hot 100 and remained there for three weeks. While the follow-up “Heaven Knows” stalled at No. 4, Summer wasn’t through with dominating the radio.
In 1979, “Hot Stuff” and “Bad Girls,” both more hard rock than disco, were back-to-back chart toppers and while “Dim All The Lights” just missed at No. 2, “No More Tears (Enough Is Enough),” a collaboration with the always hard-rocking Barbra Streisand, gave Summer another No. 1.
During a 14-year domination of the charts, she also posted 12 top 40 albums, closing the 70s with three straight No. 1s.
Still recording and making personal appearances, Summer continues to please her many fans around the (disco) globe. She may not be a bad girl, but she’s still hot stuff and she’s still working hard for her money.
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