We all know that 2016 has been among the worst of years especially as it relates to the talents the art world has lost. I’m not going to go much deeper than that.
I … just … can’t…
But when my editor, Steven Stone, suggested I write a tribute article, I thought perhaps I’d put together not only recommendations of some favorite recordings by the artists who passed, but also a playlist of sorts for you to listen to while reading this and perhaps contemplating life, love, music and everything else which makes our human experience unique.
You can find the playlist by clicking on the link here. The order presented here is based entirely on the sequencing of my playlist.
Also, if you click on the name of each artist mentioned here in the mini reviews below, you will find links to Amazon where you can find the music on line should you decide to pursue more of their music.
Please note that I have not included everyone because, well, there are so many…. And there are some artists who passed whom I am not familiar with, so there is no disrespect intended. Actually, it really is out of respect that I focused on those who are on my radar versus writing something hollow about someone I didn’t know much about. That said, there are more than enough of them here — sadly, way too many for one year. We’re not only touching on some of the bigger names here, but also some who were behind the scenes or who played a crucial part of the sound of a group or artist or a project. There are so many, and this list is far from complete. That said, on this playlist, we look back on 27 artists, singers, musicians, artists and producers performing across 26 songs. Many lifetimes of melody and memories…
Ok, lets go…
David Bowie — I open and close my playlist with two versions of a classic song by David Bowie, one of my favorites from his Hunky Dory album, which remains my favorite. First up however is a beautiful tribute interpretation of “Life On Mars” which Yes keyboardist and acclaimed session man Rick Wakeman issued shortly after Mr. Bowie’s passing. Mr. Wakeman played piano on Bowie’s original version, so this is a stirring tribute to his friend as well as a heartfelt opener to my set.
Leon Russell — While Carney is Leon Russell’s classic album with its hits like “Tightrope” and “This Masquerade,” it is his eponymous first solo album from 1970 which deliver the gorgeous “A Song For You” which is almost an alternative to Elton John’s “Your Song.” Seriously, its that good. And for those of you who don’t really know the significance of Leon Russell to modern pop music, he was one of the original Wrecking Crew members working on recordings by no less than Phil Spector and many others. He later went on to form the core group behind Joe Cocker’s legendary Mad Dogs & Englishmen tour after co-producing his debut and penning the smash hit “Delta Lady.” Eric Clapton as well as Beatles George Harrison and Ringo Starr play on this first solo album. ‘Nuff said…
Leonard Cohen — Everyone these days knows him for “Hallelujah” thanks to John Cale’s poignant 1992 re-imagining (and Jeff Buckley’s subsequent interpretation) of the song. But for me, the memory of Leonard Cohen will always start with his first album Songs of Leonard Cohen and the song “So Long, Marianne” which blends folk, gospel tones and rock in a way I’d not really heard before that or since. Do check out the whole album. There are some classics here such as “Suzanne,” “Sisters of Mercy” and “Hey, That’s No Way To Say Goodbye.”
Alan Vega — This one is another hard pill to swallow as I was just about to start explore the music of his band Suicide, one of a number of groups I overlooked back in the day. It was Bruce Springsteen’s recent cover of their song “Dream Baby Dream” that really caught my ear so I included that on my playlist thinking it might catch your imagination as well. It is a simple song, but the message is pure and it grows and grows quite powerfully. And while I know that Suicide’s sound was very different than Bruce’s interpretation, good songwriting will always shine through and I suspect there are many other riches like this to be discovered as I dig into their catalog.
Merle Haggard — Lately I have been spinning a bunch of Merle’s records on vinyl that I’ve been picking up and I was hoping to get to see him someday. (sigh) That didn’t happen. But I do love his music. For the playlist, however, I put in my first exposure to Merle’s music, from The Grateful Dead’s 1971 live collection (the one known among fans as Skull & Roses) where they do a sterling cover of his “Mama Tried,” sung by Bob Weir.
Paul Kantner — For the founder of the Jefferson Airplane and Starship, I included not one of the obvious big hits, but a song from his wonderful and wild first solo album (of sorts) called Blows Against the Empire. “A Child Is Coming” is a song in which he and his wife and band mate Grace Slick sing quite joyously about the baby they would soon have. It felt right to include a song about the birth of his child alongside a memory of his passing.
Sandy Pearlman — Perhaps its a bit much to include this much over played FM radio staple “Don’t Fear The Reaper” in tribute to its co-producer Sandy Pearlman, but it felt right — if a bit ironic coming right after a song about birth. It is perhaps appropriate given it was Blue Oyster Cult’s biggest hit and an entry point for many people to their (and, effectively his) work. Mr. Pearlman also produced early recordings by The Clash and was an original writer / music critic at Crawdaddy Magazine back in the day alongside others such as Jon Landau (who went on to discover, manage and produce Bruce Springsteen). Another time and place…
Caroline Crawley — I’ll be honest, I had to look up who Caroline Crawley was when I first read of her passing. But I certainly was familiar with her voice on the legendary 4AD Records Ivo Watts-Russell led collective known as This Mortal Coil. She sang on some tunes on the album Blood and this one, “Mr. Somewhere,” remains haunting and beautiful.
]]>Lonnie Mack — Another artist I’ve been exploring over the past five years, Lonnie seems to have been somewhat under appreciated but no doubt a great influence on many players (including Stevie Ray Vaughan!). The track I chose for the playlist is from one of his mid 80s albums on Alligator Records which simply smokes! His early albums on Elektra Records are real good. Actually, I’ve yet to hear a bad recording from this fine fine artist.
Billy Paul — Everyone remembers Billy from his sexy early 70s soul ballad about a love affair called “Me & Mrs. Jones.” But that is not the song I’ve chosen for a remembrance moment. Instead, I’ve included his surprising 1976 take on Paul McCartney’s “Let ‘Em In” which I discovered a couple of years ago when I picked up the album of the same name. I like how he expands on the theme with additional memories of legends past than Macca sang about. It felt only appropriate to include this. Maybe someone will soon perform a new version including Billy on the list.
Prince — Wow. Prince. What more is there to say? Gone way way way too soon. While I was almost inclined to put in a track from his seminal album Sign of the Times — arguably his finest album overall — I included a fave tune from another favorite recording of his which, oddly enough, many people seem to overlook, Around The World In A Day. “Pop Life” is such a great tune and totally what was not expected from Prince at the time it came out. I even saw Elvis Costello perform this song once. Maybe Elvis will finally get around to recording this song now (Prince wouldn’t allow it back in the day).
Greg Lake and Keith Emerson — Perhaps its unfair to include one song for both artists but in many ways they were so artistically entwined this entry made some sense… especially when I found this lovely live version of their early song “Take A Pebble” from a live concert in Switzerland circa 1970! It showcases the artistry of Lake as a singer and guitarist as well as the gorgeous grandeur and interplay of Emerson’s majestic piano playing.
George Martin — Beatles producer George Martin really needs no introduction, but it is good to call out the fact that his artistry was delivered not only through his productions, but also via his compositions and arrangements. Just check out the gorgeous string arrangements he wrote for The Beatles / Cirque Du Soleil Love soundtrack, which was added to a demo by George Harrison for his classic “While My Guitar Gently Weeps.” The result: a tear jerker for the ages.
Pete Zorn — I don’t know a lot about Pete Zorn’s own music but anyone who played bass on Richard & Linda Thompson’s landmark album Shoot Out The Lights — and toured for many years in Thompson’s live band — has to have had something very special going on. Zorn also had played with Gerry Rafferty, Steeleye Span, Albion Band and others. No doubt, he will be missed.
Watch for part two of this fond look back on some of the artists we lost in 2016.