Category Archives: Music

Music: Wolfman Jack

His voice was known throughout America due to his work at a Mexican border station that broadcast in 250,000 watts. Uploaded by

Robert Smith. Let’s face it, if you’re Robert Smith and you want a career in radio, you’re going to change your name. You’re going to try “Daddy Jules,” in Newport News. You’ll see how “Big Smith” sounds in Shreveport. But you hear the legendary Alan Freed calling himself “Moon Dog,” and you like the singer Howlin’ Wolf, and one day it comes to you – “Wolfman Jack.”

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The Wolfman became a cult figure as a DJ on border stations in Mexico that broadcast in 250,000 watts – five times the legal limit in the U.S. The Wolfman’s trademark gravelly voice and howls could be heard all across the country. And because he wasn’t doing Saturday appearances at the local car dealership, his very absence helped create a shadowy presence – a disembodied voice of a man whom everyone knew, but seldom saw.

As his fame grew, Wolfman Jack became the voice (and sometime host) of the long-running Midnight Special music show. While his radio show was syndicated nationwide, he had his biggest moment playing himself in George Lucas’s wonderful American Graffiti. And appropriately, he’s in the National Radio and Broadcasting Halls of Fame. Here’s a great memory – the song “Clap for the Wolfman” as recorded by the Guess Who:


Music: Yo-Yo Ma

He's recorded dozens of albums, performed with the world's leading orchestras, written and performed film scores, and won a zillion Grammys. And he plays the cello. THE CELLO. Uploaded by

He’s a virtuoso on the cello. The cello. As if the violin isn’t geeky enough. But the thing is, Yo-Yo Ma somehow makes it cool. He brings out the beauty in an instrument that had always been second fiddle. Second fiddle – somebody stop me!

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When his friends see him, do they say, “Yo, Yo!” And does he say, “Don’t use my middle name.” Okay, I think I’m finished being silly. Probably. Ma was born in Paris to Chinese parents who moved to New York and taught him German music. He was the epitome of the concept of child prodigy. As Mark Salzman wrote on the liner notes for Classic Yo-Yo: At four, he learned his first Bach cello suite; at five, he gave his first concert in Paris; at six, he dazzled Isaac Stern; and at seven, he played in a televised concert hosted by Leonard Bernstein and attended by President and Mrs. Kennedy.”

Yo-Yo Ma has performed all over the world with the leading orchestras and musicians. He’s recorded dozens of albums, and shown how the cello adapts to a wide array of musical forms. And he’s a virtual Grammy machine, having won 16, mostly for Best Chamber Music Performance and Best Instrumental Soloist Performance. And this year (2011), he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Yo!

Music: Tommy Dorsey

Tommy Dorsey had an amazing 286 songs make the Billboard charts, and 17 went all the way to number one. Three of his recordings are in the Grammy Hall of Fame. Uploaded by

America has produced some great American pop and rock performers. I’ve paid tribute to some of them here: Tom Petty, The Rascals, Credence Clearwater Revival, Jack White (see more in the Singer category). But I believe the finest popular music America has ever produced came during the big band era, most notably from Glenn Miller and Tommy Dorsey.

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Tommy’s first success came with his brother Jimmy in the late 1920s, but they had different musical directions in mind, and split to form their own orchestras in 1935. One of Tommy Dorsey’s hallmarks was his ability to surround himself with great musicians. Among those who sang or played in his band were Frank Sinatra, Jo Stafford, Doc Severinsen, Buddy DeFranco, Buddy Rich, and Gene Krupa.

Tommy Dorsey and his smooth trombone placed a phenomenal 286 songs on the Billboard charts, with 17 making it to number one. Among his most memorable songs:

  • “Marie”
  • “Stardust”
  • “Little White Lies”
  • “I’ll Never Smile Again”
  • “I’m Gettin’ Sentimental Over You”
  • “Dolores”
  • “Opus One”
  • “Music, Maestro Please”
  • “Hawaiian War Chant”
  • “The Lady is a Tramp”

Dorsey’s recordings of “I’ll Never Smile Again,” “Marie,” and his theme song, “I’m Gettin’ Sentimental Over You,” have been inducted in the Grammy Hall of Fame. One side note…Tommy and Jimmy made up in the 1950s, and had a TV show called Stage Show. Its claim to fame is that it marked the first television appearance of a young Southerner named Elvis – before his famous Ed Sullivan Show gig.

Music: Sun Records

Sun Records had an impressive beginning by distributing such blues artists as Rufus Thomas. But they also rented the studio by the hour, and one day a truck driver named Presley stopped in during his lunch hour...Photo by Rick Kobylinski.

With today’s sophisticated software, almost anyone can record music and cut their own CD, or create a digital file that can be downloaded by listeners. But let’s go back to 1952, when recording equipment was a lot more expensive. And much more scarce. A fellow could create a record label, then charge people to record their music.

In 1953, a truck driver came into the Memphis studio of Sun Records on his lunch hour and paid four whole dollars to record two songs. He later said it was a gift for his mother, but he probably wanted to be discovered. Sam Phillips, the legendary owner of Sun Records, wasn’t there at the time, so his secretary managed the recording. She was sufficiently impressed to tell Phillips about this

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Elvis fellow, but it was still months later before Phillips got him back in the studio. This time, there was no missing his talent, and his first song (“That’s All Right, Mama”) came out in 1954. Elvis had only five singles on Sun Records before moving to RCA, but the partnership was the springboard to success for both artist and label.

Sun Records became the leading distributor of what came to be known as “rockabilly” records. Among the label’s stars were Jerry Lee Lewis (“Great Balls of Fire,” “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Going On”), Carl Perkins (“Blue Suede Shoes”), Johnny Cash (“I Walk the Line”), Charlie Rich (“Raunchy”), and Roy Orbison (“Ooby Dooby”). Unfortunately for Sun and Sam Phillips, his artists became so successful that he couldn’t afford to keep them. The Sun began to set after about a ten-year phenomenal run. But during that time, it had such a profound impact on both rock and country music that it holds a permanent place in American musical history.

Music: Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil

Their website says it well: "It would be impossible to imagine the last four decades of pop music without the melodies of Barry Man and the lyrics of Cynthia Weil. Mann and Weil have created a body of work so significant it has often been described as 'a soundtrack to our lives.'" Uploaded by

This husband and wife team were a part of the famous Brill Building songwriters (Great American Things, June 18, 2010), and they wrote some of the greatest and biggest hits of the second half of the twentieth century. Here’s a partial list of their hits, along with the artists with whom they’re most closely associated:

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  • “Don’t Know Much” (Aaron Neville and Linda Ronstadt)
  • “Here You Come Again” (Dolly Parton)
  • “Hungry” (Paul Revere and the Raiders)
  • “I Just Can’t Stop Believing” (B.J. Thomas)
  • “Just Once” (James Ingram)
  • “Make Your Own Kind of Music” (Mama Cass Elliott)
  • “On Broadway” (The Drifters)
  • “Only in America” (Jay and the Americans)
  • “Somewhere Out There” with James Horner (Linda Ronstadt and James Ingram)
  • “Uptown” (The Crystals)
  • “Walking in the Rain” (The Ronettes)
  • “We Gotta Get Out of this Place” (The Animals)
  • “(You’re My) Soul and Inspiration” (The Righteous Brothers)
  • “You’ve Lost that Lovin’ Feeling” with Phil Spector (The Righteous Brothers

That’s a very impressive list. Mann and Weil won an incredible 112 awards from BMI, and “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling” was determined to have been the most-played song in the entire twentieth century. “Somewhere Out There” won the Grammy for Song of the Year, and received an Oscar nomination. The couple are members of the Songwriters Hall of Fame, and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. They will receive the Johnny Mercer Award, the highest honor bestowed by the Songwriters Hall of Fame, at its annual awards next month.

Music: Billboard Milestones

The Billboard Top 100 chart goes back to 1958, which gives us more than half a century of history about our popular songs. Here are some firsts, mosts, bests. Uploaded by

No explanation needed here, except to say that these accomplishments relate to the Billboard Hot 100 chart, created in 1958, and the standard for popular success.

Most weeks at number one: 16 – Mariah Carey and Boys II Men, “One Sweet Day” (1995)

Most total weeks in the top ten: 32 – Leann Rimes, “How Do I Live” (1997-98)

Most weeks charted before reaching number one: 32 – Los del Rio, “Macarena” (1995-96)

Most top 40 hits: 104 – Elvis Presley

Most top 10 singles: 37 – Madonna

Most number one hits: 20 – The Beatles

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Most cumulative weeks at number one: 79 – Elvis Presley and Mariah Carey

Most consecutive number one hits: 7 – Whitney Houston

Most songs on top 100 at the same time: 14 – The Beatles (4.11.64)

Only female artist with four number one songs in one calendar year: 4 – Rihanna (2010)

Most top ten hits without reaching number one: 12 – Bruce Springsteen

Oldest artist to hit number one: 62 – Louis Armstrong, “Hello Dolly” (1964)

Youngest artist to hit number one: 13 – Stevie Wonder, “Fingertips (Part 2)” (1963)

Song with most versions on top 100: 9 –  “Unchained Melody”

Music: Doo-Wop

The 1950s was the golden age of Doo-Wop, when groups of guys would gather on the street corner and harmonize. Uploaded by

While some say the origin of doo-wop goes back as far as The Mills Brothers (Great American Things, December 13, 2009) and The Ink Spots, the form is generally associated with the 1950s. Picture a group of guys standing on a corner and harmonizing. Maybe they’re black, maybe they’re white, doesn’t matter. But the music they created was rhythmic and fun to sing along with.

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Here’s Robert Fontenot’s list of the top 10 doo-wop songs as published on

10. “Come Go with Me” by the Del Vikings

9. “There Goes My Baby” by the Drifters

8. “16 Candles” by the Crests

7. “Little Darlin'” by the Diamonds

6. “Stay” by Maurice Williams and the Zodiacs

5. “Little Star” by the Elegants

4. “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” by the Tokens

3. “Blue Moon” by the Marcels

2. “Duke of Earl” by Gene Chandler

1. “At the Hop” by Danny and the Juniors

Here are some other songs that could easily make a top 10: “Why Do Fools Fall in Love” … “The Book of Love” … “Get a Job” … and “Pretty Little Angel Eyes.” Kinda makes you want to watch American Graffiti or one of those PBS fundraising specials, doesn’t it?

Music: Zydeco

Zydeco is a product of Cajun and Creole music, and though born in Louisiana, now has made its presence felt in the national music scene. Uploaded by

It’s the ultimate feel-good music from Louisiana Cajun and Creole country. Using the accordion as its featured instrument, Zydeco bands usually have someone playing drums and wearing a washboard vest called a frottoir. After these essentials, just about any other instruments might join in – fiddle, horns, guitars. Whatever the mix, the music is likely to be fast and fun.

Buckwheat Zydeco. Uploaded by

Zydeco evolved from Creole music, played by blacks in rural Louisiana for generations. It’s become a mixture of several musical genres, including R&B, blues, jazz, and gospel. The term “Zydeco” became universally accepted as the name of this new style only in the 1950s, when the first recordings of the music were made. The style has grown slowly, and is still primarily a regional sound today.

The Grammy Awards have finally recognized the form’s popularity, and created a Best Zydeco or Cajun Music Album category in 2007. (And then, in the great purge of 2011, eliminated this and 30 other categories.) The leading artist in the genre is Buckwheat Zydeco. Here are a couple of his videos that represent the fun and energy of this great American music:

Music: The iPod


The iPod began a revolution in portable, cool music players. But it's now beyond music; you can store photos, watch videos, even play games on today's iPods. Uploaded by

Later this year, the iPod will celebrate its 10th birthday. Of all the products Apple has created that have changed our lives, none might be as revolutionary as this music player. It’s hard to imagine a world without a music player that will fit in your pocket, and yet until a decade ago you had to buy a CD and have the player with you. As it has done consistently, Apple changed everything.

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Of course, Apple has refined its breakthrough product, making it smaller and lighter while increasing its memory and usability. Now the iPod is a place to store photos, watch videos, even play games. And the technology has been incorporated into other Apple products, including the iPad and iPhone.

Another revolution the iPod helped create is the ability to build a music library a song at a time. Maybe you like one song on a CD, but don’t really care about the rest. Previously, you had to either buy the whole thing or do without. But now, you can buy just the songs you like, and customize your music library. I do, however, feel a little sorry for those who’ve grown up with this technology, taking it for granted. If you’ve lived, as I have, through the evolution of records to tapes to CDs, you have a much greater appreciation for the creative genius of Apple, and the wonder of the iPod.

Album: Hotel California


This was Joe Walsh's first album with the Eagles, and his rock influence was just enough to lift the band from being a good country-rock group to the rock pantheon. Uploaded by

The Eagles (Great American Things, June 20, 2010) made a very fine living creating music that leaned slightly more rock than country in the growing country/rock genre. Then they released Hotel California, and entered the pantheon of true rock royalty.

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The album was produced at a time of transition in the band’s personnel. It was the first album with Joe Walsh, the last with bass player Randy Meisner, and the first without founding member Bernie Leadon. It came out late in 1976, and went to the top of the Billboard album chart, where it reigned for eight weeks. The band released three of its songs as singles: “New Kid in Town” went to number one and so did the title track. “Life in the Fast Lane” reached number 11.

Here’s what Billboard magazine said in its 1977 review: “This long-awaited album of new Eagles material more than lives up to its highest expectations, as hundreds of thousands of concertgoers who heard the L.A. quintet in person this summer and fall performing songs from the upcoming LP can attest. The casually beautiful, quietly intense multileveled vocal harmonies and brilliant original songs that meld solid emotional words with lovely melody lines are all back in full force…”

Rolling Stone named Hotel California number 37 on its list of the 500 Greatest Albums of All Time.

Music: Miles Davis


Miles Davis played with the who's who of jazz musicians from the 1940s through the 1990s. Or, to be accurate, they played with him. Uploaded by

During the 20th century, if at any time you wanted to know what was currently the coolest, most innovative form of jazz, all you had to do is find out what Miles Davis was playing. He led the way from bebop to cool jazz to jazz fusion.

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Miles’ dad gave him a trumpet at age 13, and Miles was playing professionally in a band by the time he was 16. He went to New York to study at Julliard (Great American Things, Aug. 6, 2010), but dropped out to play in local clubs, often with the Charlie Parker Quintet. After Parker’s well-documented drug problems ended his band, Davis went on to play at different times with some of the best-known jazz musicians ever:  Coleman Hawkins, Dexter Gordon, Sonny Rollins, John Coltrane, Gerry Mulligan, Cannonball Adderley, Herbie Hancock, Chick Corea, and more.

Davis’ most famous and best-selling album is Kind of Blue (1959), which has now earned quadruple platinum status. Perhaps no other jazz musician has had quite as much influence on rock music as he had. The Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock & Roll said this about him: “Miles Davis played a crucial and inevitably controversial role in every major development in jazz since the mid-’40s, and no other jazz musician has had so profound an effect on rock.” He received eight Grammy Awards, the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award, and was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2006.

Album: Born To Run


When Born to Run was released in 1975, it was the perfect counterpoint to the disco craze that had overwhelmed the music world. Springsteen showed that great rock and roll still ruled the day. Uploaded by

Like a volcano, the early albums of Bruce Springsteen caused the earth to shake, and some impressive fire to pour out. But the entire rock and roll landscape was transformed when Born to Run erupted onto the scene. At the same time that pop music was experiencing the impact of disco, Springsteen reminded everyone of what great rock and roll was all about.

If you’ve ready anything about Springsteen, you know he’s a control freak in the recording studio. Like many great artists, he had a sound in his head that he was desperately trying to capture on tape. The band obliterated the budget allotted for recording, and kept going because it still wasn’t right.  Fourteen months went into the recording, six months alone on the song “Born to Run.” Springsteen told Dave Marsh, “The album became a monster. It just ate up everyone’s life.”

Clearly, though, they got it right. Both Time and Newsweek put Springsteen on their covers, and the album received critical raves. Though it peaked at number 3 on the album chart, no question lingered about whether Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band had the chops to handle success. Look at these amazing tracks:

Side 1: “Thunder Road” * “Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out” * “Night” * “Backstreets”

Side 2: “Born to Run” * “She’s the One” * “Meeting Across the River” * “Jungleland”

In the Rolling Stone list of the 500 Greatest Albums of All Time, Born to Run came in at number 18.

Album: Saturday Night Fever


The Bee Gees are on the cover of the album, and contributed the most songs. But some of the best tunes were done by the Trammps and KC and the Sunshine Band. Seriously. Uploaded by

It’s just the soundtrack of a period movie, remembered primarily for John Travolta walking down the street in the opening credits and for starting the disco craze which swept America. America couldn’t get enough of the soundtrack, though, and the Bee Gees went from being just another pop act to one of the best-selling bands in music history.

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This was a double album, with 17 songs in all. Four were new recordings by the Bee Gees, two were their older hits, and one they wrote was performed by someone else (“If I Can’t Have You” by Yvonne Elliman). But two of my favorite songs from the album didn’t come from the Gibb boys. “Disco Inferno” is one of the very best disco hits (though I don’t think we need all eleven minutes), and “Boogie Shoes” is the one song by KC and the Sunshine Band that I can still endure.

Here are some of the Saturday Night Fever’s main tracks:

  • “Stayin’ Alive” (Bee Gees)
  • “Night Fever” (Bee Gees)
  • “How Deep Is Your Love” (Bee Gees)
  • “More Than a Woman” (Bee Gees)
  • “If I Can’t Have You” (Yvonne Elliman)
  • “Jive Talkin'” (Bee Gees)
  • “Boogie Shoes” (KC and the Sunshine Band)
  • “Disco Inferno” (The Trammps)

Just how big was the SNF soundtrack? It sold over 15 million copies. It topped the album charts for 24 straight weeks. It won the Grammy Award for Album of the Year. And it’s ranked number 131 on Rolling Stone’s list of the 500 Greatest Albums of All Time.

Music: Rhapsody in Blue


Rhapsody in Blue is one of the most distinctive and recognizable American jazz/classical classical/jazz concertos ever. Uploaded by

If we take jazz to mean a free-form improvisation on a theme, then Rhapsody in Blue by George Gershwin (Great American Things, February 24, 2010) should be classified as a classical work. And it is definitely in the symphonic tradition. Yet this piece stretched the normal perception, and blended jazz rhythms and progressions to create a kind of music that surprised and excited Americans when it debuted in 1924, promoted as a “jazz concerto.”

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From its opening clarinet glissando through many changing sections, Rhapsody in Blue is totally American in its feel and motifs. (Perhaps that’s why United Airlines used parts of it in its advertising some years ago.) The website Classical.Net says this about Gershwin’s masterpiece:

With his first major piece, Gershwin invented a unique symphonic idiom, to this day still argued over. Gershwin, of course, was not the first to blend jazz and classical music. One could make cases for Debussy, Scott Joplin, or Milhaud as important pioneers and, even better, as creators of masterworks which used jazz. All of them, however, had exploited jazz’s “chamber” qualities. From the Rhapsody’s opening clarinet wail, Gershwin created not symphonic jazz, but the Gershwin idiom: an outdoor, urban, big-hearted, super-Romantic, and thoroughly assured poetry.

Hear it all here, performed by the New York Philharmonic:

Album: “Are You Experienced”

Everyone knows how spectacular Jimi Hendrix was. But Mitch Mitchell on drums and Noel Redding on bass helped make the album memorable, as did producer Chas Chandler. Uploaded by

You know that feeling you get when you hear unknown music and you think, Wow. This changes everything. That’s the reaction I had upon hearing Are You Experienced by the Jimi Hendrix Experience. Its release came only a couple of months after Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band by the Beatles, and the comfortable walls of singles-oriented rock had effectively been blown away.

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Are You Experienced contains several of Jimi Hendrix’s (Great American Things, June 15, 2009) best-known songs, including “Purple Haze,” “Hey Joe,” “The Wind Cries Mary,” and “Foxy Lady.” Everyone knows about Hendrix’s talent, of course, but the Experience was a three-person group. Mitch Mitchell on drums and Noel Redding on bass both contributed significantly to the album’s unique sound. As did the expert production by Chas Chandler, a British musician who made his name as the bass player for the British blues-rock band The Animals.

Rolling Stone named Are You Experienced the number 15 album in its list of the 500 Greatest Albums of All Time. And a poll in Guitar World magazine named it the greatest album of the millennium. (Must have been crushing to Greatest Gregorian Chants and The World of Madrigals.)

Album: “A Charlie Brown Christmas” Soundtrack

The execs at CBS didn't know what to make of A Charlie Brown Christmas. Commercialism? The Bible? JAZZ??? But Vince Guaraldi's score won the day, and became an instant classic. Uploaded by

Even today, it doesn’t seem like a natural fit for a jazz soundtrack to accompany an animated Christmas show. Certainly the executives at CBS in 1965 didn’t see how children would appreciate this very adult musical form. But Charles Schulz had vision, and Vince Guaraldi’s sparkling jazz balanced the sophisticated themes of commercialism and secularism that Schulz included in his story.

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In the book A Charlie Brown Christmas: The Making of a Tradition, executive producer Lee Mendelson discussed how he chose a jazz soundtrack for A Charlie Brown Christmas (Great American Things, December 14, 2009). “Once we completed filming I had to add some music. I had always been a great fan of jazz, and while driving back from Sparky’s (Charles Schulz, ed.) I heard a song called ‘Cast Your Fate to the Wind.’ The radio announcer said it had won a Grammy and had been written and performed by a San Franciscan named Vince Guaraldi…It turned out that Vince was a big fan of Peanuts, and he agreed to work on the music.”

Several of the tracks are classics, including “Christmas Time Is Here” and “Linus and Lucy,” in which the characters memorably danced on the stage as Schroeder played the song on his piano.

By the way, the children who sang the hauntingly beautiful “Christmas Time Is Here” weren’t professional musicians. They were members of a children’s choir at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in San Rafael, California. Was the best part getting to sing in a professional sound studio? Nope. It was getting to go out for ice cream afterward.

Music: Quincy Jones


An arranger, record producer, performer, film score composer, and television producer, Quincy Jones is one of the most influential musicians of the last century. Uploaded by

You could probably win a few bar bets with this question: What individual has the most Grammy Nominations? Yes, the answer is Quincy Jones – with a whopping 79 (and 27 wins, all as a record producer). “Q,” as he’s often called, is not only a record producer but also an arranger, a film composer, and a television producer.

Jones earned a scholarship to a music conservatory in Boston, but dropped out to travel with Lionel Hampton. That experience led to the opportunity to arrange songs for Tommy Dorsey, Gene Krupa, Sarah Vaughan, Count Basie, Duke Ellington, and Ray Charles. Not long after, director Sidney Lumet chose

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Jones to compose the music for his film The Pawnbroker. It was the first of 33 movies for which he wrote the score. Among his other films are In the Heat of the Night and The Color Purple.

As he turned his attention to record producing, he maintained his high standards. Among the records he produced are “We Are The World,” Michael Jackson’s Thriller, Frank Sinatra’s It Might As Well Be Spring, and Ella Fitzgerald/Count Basie’s Ella and Basie!

In 1995, Jones became the first African-American to win the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award presented at that year’s Academy Awards ceremony.

Album: “Frank Sinatra: The Capitol Years”

Frank Sinatra was at the top of his game between 1953 and 1961 when he recorded some of his most memorable songs on the Capitol label. Often backed by the terrific arrangements of Nelson Riddle. Uploaded by

It’s cheating in a way to have a “Best of” album honored here, but that’s not exactly what “The Capitol Years” is all about. This isn’t a greatest hits album, but a compilation of 75 of the finest Sinatra recordings during his years with Capitol Records (1953-1961).

This was the era when Sinatra was at his very best. He had matured beyond the pop idol status he held during the big band era, and hadn’t become the

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self-satisfied geezer that Saturday Night Live parodied. Here he was in full voice, with enough life experience to make his love songs credible, whether he sang about love gained or lost. And he had the benefit of amazing arrangements by the great Nelson Riddle and Billy May.

You can find the full 75-track listing elsewhere, but here are some of the notable highlights on the album:

“I’ve Got the World on a String” * “They Can’t Take That Away from Me” * “I Get a Kick out of You” * “Young at Heart” * “In the Wee, Small Hours of the Morning” * “Love and Marriage” * “(Love Is) The Tender Trap” * “I’ve Got You Under My Skin” * “The Lady is a Tramp” * “Night and Day” * “Witchcraft” * “Chicago (That Toddlin’ Town)” * “Autumn in New York” * “Come Fly with Me” * “Guess I’ll Hang My Tears Out to Dry” * “Saturday Night (Is the Loneliest Night of the Week)” * “High Hopes” * “Almost Like Being in Love”

Music: Johnny Mercer

As a businessman, he co-founded Capitol Records. As a singer, he had a number of hits. But his real strength was songwriting, particularly lyrics, at which he's one of the music industry's all-time best. Uploaded by

This Georgia boy brought a Southern sensibility to popular music in the 1930s-1960s, and became a noted singer as well. Primarily he was a lyricist, writing words for such composers as Hoagy Carmichael, Harold Arlen, Jerome Kern, Henry Mancini and, occasionally, himself.

Mercer first made his mark among the Tin Pan Alley songwriters of New York, but soon realized the future was writing music for films, causing him to move to Hollywood. His songs were recorded by Fred Astaire, Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra, and many other prominent singers of that era.

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A partial list of the songs Mercer contributed to the “Great American Songbook” include:

“Goody Goody” (1936) * “I’m an Old Cowhand from the Rio Grande” (1936) * “Hooray for Hollywood” (1937) * “Too Marvelous for Words” (1937) * “You Must Have Been a Beautiful Baby” (1938) * “Jeepers Creepers” (1938) * “And the Angels Sing” (1939) * “Fools Rush In” (1940) * “Blues in the Night” (1941) * “I Remember You” (1941) * “Tangerine” (1941) * “This Time the Dream’s On Me” (1941) * “That Old Black Magic” (1942) * “Skylark” (1942) * “One for My Baby (And One More for the Road)” (1943) * “Dream” (1943) * “Ac-cent-tchu-ate the Positive” (1944) * “Laura” (1945) * “Come Rain or Come Shine” (1946) * “On the Atchison, Topeka and the Santa Fe” (Academy Award, 1946) * “Autumn Leaves” (1947) * “In the Cool, Cool, Cool of the Evening” (Academy Award, 1951) * “Glow Worm” (1952) * “Something’s Gotta Give” (1954) * “Moon River” (Academy Award, 1964) * “Days of Wine and Roses” (Academy Award, 1964) * “I Wanna Be Around” (1964) * “Summer Wind” (1965)

As if songwriting weren’t enough, Mercer had a successful recording career, and sang with several big bands. And he was a co-founder of Capitol Records. He was nominated for 19 Academy Awards, and won four. He was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1971, and the organization presents an annual songwriting award in his name.

Album: “Pet Sounds”


Mojo magazine named Pet Sounds its number one album of all time. It's number two on Rolling Stone's list. Yet it had only three singles, none of which reached #1. Uploaded by

If you only need to know one thing about this, the 11th studio album released by the Beach Boys (Great American Things, May 16, 2009), it’s all in one statement made by George Martin, legendary producer of the Beatles. He said, “Without Pet Sounds, Sgt. Pepper wouldn’t have happened… Pepper was an attempt to equal Pet Sounds.” And yet, Brian Wilson was motivated to make this album because he was so impressed by The Beatles’ Rubber Soul.

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Mojo magazine named it the number one album of all time. Rolling Stone was a little more reserved – it made it number two. (Sergeant Pepper was number one, so it looks like George Martin did his job.) You’d think an album so universally praised would be chock full of hits. But there were only three singles released on the album: “Wouldn’t It Be Nice” (reached number 8), “Sloop John B” (number 3), and “God Only Knows” (number 39).

So many influential musicians have praised Pet Sounds so lavishly, their words should conclude this tribute. Elton John: “It is a timeless and amazing recording of incredible genius and beauty.” Paul McCartney: “It was Pet Sounds that blew me out of the water. I love the album so much. I figure no one is educated musically ’til they’ve heard that album.” Eric Clapton: I consider Pet Sounds to be one of the greatest pop LPs to ever be released. It encompasses everything that’s ever knocked me out and rolled it all into one.”