It was during those later Evanston St. Nick’s years that my music accumulation addiction truly took off. I eagerly awaited the days when the nuns would pass out those Scholastic Book Club flyers offering all manner of middle school literature and the occasional 45. I can’t for the life of me remember the first single I bought, but Badfinger’s ‘Straight Up’ containing ‘Baby Blue’ and ‘Day After Day’ was my very first LP.
Badfinger was supposed to be the next incarnation of Beatles at the time.
As my vinyl collection and the associated listening time steadily increased, one day, my mother approached me to say that, while the music wasn’t bad, she feared my brothers and I would grow up without having musical standards or enjoying iconic artists.
Considering she grew up listening to legends like Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby, Judy Garland and Glenn Miller, her inquiry was a more-than-fascinating proposition. If you consider Bill Haley’s ‘Rock Around the Clock’ to be the opening salvo, Rock and Roll was a mere 16-year-old in 1971, so it was far too early to make that call.
The Beatles were, indeed, more popular than God, but they’d just broken up and their too-short tenure threatened to relegate them to oblivion. Bob Dylan seemed destined for icon-ness, but he was still taking crap from a boatload of folk folks for going electric.
Jimi Hendrix broke and then changed all the rules, but he died after releasing just three studio albums. The Stones were certainly relevant, but they always seemed destined to explode, The Who had yet to release their masterpieces, and though Led Zeppelin was on a tear, releasing three stellar albums between 1969 and 1970, hard rock, as it was called back then, was still in it’s infancy.
So, after thinking about it for a couple of days, the only Rock and Roll icon I managed to come up with to counter my mother was Chuck Berry.
So, why am I deliberating over this philosophical conundrum now you ask? Because fast forwarding to this weekend, my wife pulled out ‘The 25th Anniversary Rock & Roll Hall of Fame’ 2009 concerts Blu-ray and every last one of those amazing artists performed what can only be called rock standards.
Crosby, Stills and Nash sang ‘Woodstock’ and ‘Almost Cut My Hair.’ Steve wonder did duets with John Legend, Smokie Robinson, B.B. King, Sting, and Jeff Beck.” The Queen of Soul performed ‘Chain of Fools’ with Annie Lennox, and I got serious goosebumps watching Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel nail ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water’ despite breaking up 38 long years before.
Then there was Bruce Springsteen, John Fogerty, Sam Moore, Buddy Guy, Billy Gibbons, U2, Patti Smith and Mick Jagger. I wanted to say, “See ma! You were right when you told me to be a writer (I think!), but you were wrong about this one!”
But despite her unfounded fear, I find myself wanting to ask my 21-year-old son the very same question.
Before you accuse me of being just another curmudgeonly “that’s not music” old fogey, I dutifully come downstairs to listen to Sirius XM’s Alt Nation every morning! And while I like alternative artists like Weezer, The Strokes, Of Monsters and Men, Mumford & Sons, The Killers, Modest Mouse, Bastille, Post Malone and The Lumineers, with perhaps the exception of Mr. Malone, none of them seem destined for greatness.
I don’t see a burgeoning Bruce Springsteen, Rolling Stones, Fleetwood Mac, or U2 among the bunch, and while I still buy some vinyl, those purchases primarily consist of classic rock reissues.
Pop music will always have its superstars like Lady Gaga, Beyoncé, Taylor Swift, Ed Sheeran, Drake and Katy Perry, but pop music, by definition, is neither groundbreaking nor socially inspiring. My wife laughs at my enduring love for The Partridge Family, but I’d hardly put them in the category of the artists we watched this weekend.
My mother may have gotten it wrong in 1971, but in my theoretical defense, there was no Internet back then. We’ve all seen what the Web’s done to record companies and drastically shifting music buying habits.
Can you say “streaming services?” I knew you could! I don’t think my son has ever purchased a CD, LP, or even an individual MP3.
During her brief Hall of Fame set, Aretha Franklin gave a shout-out to the late Ahmet Ertegun, the legendary co-founder of Atlantic Records who wrote ‘Chain of Fools.’ Ertegun and Atlantic championed so may rock and soul acts that went onto become the icons who sang the standards.
The Net has done an amazing job of opening up the music and other industries, but with record companies being mere shadows of their former selves, it’s up to the acts themselves to break out now. For example, Lady Gaga regularly recounts how she got her early gigs by calling venues and pretending to be her own British manager.
My wife thinks my theory will turn out to be equally as inaccurate as my mother’s, and I hope she’s right. But even though my Alternative Summer 2020 playlist consists of 68 songs by 54 artists, when my son sits down to watch the 50th Anniversary Rock and Roll Hall of Fame festivities in 2034, aside from Keith Richard, I truly wonder who the performers will be.