The Rock Hall Starts Honoring Great Singles. Here Are 20 More to Consider.
The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame does several things that cause me to mutter aloud, like inducting too many artists whose only distinction is having no distinction.
But at this year’s induction ceremony, which will be telecast May 5 at 8 p.m. on HBO, it did something very right. It had Steve Van Zandt announce a new Hall of Fame honoree category: Rock Singles.
Finally, a way to recognize great records for themselves, as God intended when She created the three-minute song.
The first six inductees are “Rocket 88” by Jackie Brenston and his Delta Cats (better known as Ike Turner’s band), “The Twist” by Chubby Checker, “Born to Be Wild” by Steppenwolf, “Rumble” by Link Wray, “Louie Louie” by the Kingsmen and “A White Shade of Pale” by Procol Harum.
All wonderful, influential songs. Mainly, they’re all great radio records, which in many ways is the truest definition of a good single. It comes on the car radio, you turn it up or sing along or both.
Even having Van Zandt introduce the category was a perfect move, because unlike some other folks associated with the Hall and the music history game, he understands that rock ’n’ roll didn’t start with Led Zeppelin and Rolling Stone magazine. Its roots run deep, into black and white music, into profane pleasure palaces and sacred churches. It goes way back, and the subgenres it spawned along the way weren’t just historical curiosities. They mattered.
But that’s a rant for another day. More immediately, let’s give the Rock Hall some credit and, okay, start suggesting future honorees.
There don’t seem to be precise written guidelines for eligibility in this category. Let’s assume a record has to be important and be good. Also, it has to have been recorded by an artist who is not already in the Hall. “If the song was recorded by the Beatles or Pearl Jam or any other inductee, then the song itself is already here,” says Hall CEO Joel Peresman.
So there’s no need to lobby for “Hey Jude” or “Little Red Corvette” or “Johnny B. Goode.” They’re in the house.
That said, a lot of essential rock ’n’ roll was created by artists who, even by the Hall of Fame’s sometimes flimsy standards, will never be inducted as artists. They’re not short on stature, just breadth.
In any case, one of the beauties of lists is that we all can make them, and I personally have spent way too many happy moments compiling my first.
Which will be obsolete five minutes after I finish writing it, when I remember another magnificent record I forgot.
This list skews to early rock ’n’ roll for a couple of reasons, starting with the fact that’s my growing-up era. I’m sure there are parallel lists from the ’80s or ’90s, which someone who grew up 10, 20 or 40 years later than I is better equipped to compile.
There’s also another reason: The early songs and artists need advocates, because the Hall itself has been paying less attention to the pioneers as time goes by. Without the early stuff, it’s worth gently reminding the young folks, the rest might not exist.
Anyhow, the next time the Hall starts picking Rock Singles, here are some tunes I’d humbly suggest someone go out and play on a car radio.
1. “Sh-Boom,” the Chords. One of the first records that sent the Good Music world into a psychotic frenzy.
2. “Goodnight Sweetheart Goodnight,” the Spaniels. It’s a crime the Spaniels have never been inducted into the Hall Acknowledging this is the least we can do.
3. “Maybe,” the Chantels. Another group that needs induction, for reasons that include this song, wherein Arlene Smith delivers one of the most powerful teenage vocals ever.
4. “Silhouettes,” The Rays. Still not sure how you forget which block your girl lives on, but just for the hypnotic melody this one lives on.
5. “Do You Love Me,” the Contours. One of the great dance songs. Ridiculously infectious.
6. “Da Do Ron Ron,” Crystals. “I met him on a Monday and my heart stood still” is the best opening line this side of “I Saw Her Standing There.”
7. “Leader of the Pack,” the Shangri-Las. Epic melodrama in two minutes, 49 seconds. Bonus: the dawn of rock ’n’ roll’s tough-girl era.
8. “Wipe Out,” Surfaris. For years, every bar band in America had to know this one or face the consequences.
9. “Earth Angel,” Penguins. R&B vocal group harmony ballads, a huge part of the ’50s, started here for a lot of America.
10. “Double Shot,” Swinging Medallions. A pioneer in what would one day become “beach music.” Fun fact: The word “wine” was deemed too provocative for the radio version, so it was chopped out.
11. “Train Kept A-Rollin’,” Johnny Burnette. Rockabilly mattered a lot in the early days, and it didn’t get more frenzied than this 1956 remake of a Tiny Bradshaw tune.
12 & 13. “Gloria,” The Cadillacs and Them. Two different Glorias, two different universes. Every vocal group in the ’50s had to know the Cadillacs’ ballad and every rock artist from the ’60s on reveres the classic by Van Morrison’s first recording band.
14. “It Will Stand,” the Showmen. The earliest best song ever written about rock ’n’ roll. “Some folks don’t understand it / That’s why they don’t demand it.”
15. “Black Pearl,” Sonny Charles and the Checkmates. Dave Marsh argued that this may be Phil Spector’s wall of sound masterpiece. He’s got a point.
16. “Kansas City,” Wilbert Harrison. I’m not sure “a bottle of Kansas City wine” would delight the palate, but the song sure does.
17. “Sixteen Candles,” the Crests. Teenage love has been a tentpole of rock ’n’ roll. Is there a better teenage love ballad? The Hall could also get this one by inducting the Crests, which it should do.
18. “Gee,” the Crows. One of the first and most important moments when the dreaded rhythm and blues broke into mainstream American living rooms.
19. “Pledging My Love,” Johnny Ace. The first and not the last to die young and leave a final great song.
20. “Wild Thing,” the Troggs. Keeping this one out of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame would be like keeping Twinkies out of the Junk Food Hall of Fame.