Although it doesn’t receive the public and media attention that the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame does (though that has waned considerably in recent years), the Songwriters Hall of Fame, which is located in a wing in the Grammy Museum in downtown Los Angeles, actually predates its Rock Hall cousin’s inductions by 17 years, as it has been honoring artists since 1969. The 45th induction ceremonies took place last month at the Marriott Marquis in Times Square.
2014 represents the 50th anniversary of the figurative British Invasion of the American pop charts that was led of course by The Beatles. Sir Paul McCartney and the late John Lennon and George Harrison have long been enshrined in the Songwriters Hall of Fame.
Following The Beatles across the Atlantic were The Rolling Stones, The Dave Clark Five, The Hollies, The Animals, The Zombies and The Kinks, among others. The Kinks were cutting edge for a band as they complained about taxes in “Sunny Afternoon”; talked about the conservative ruling class in England in “Well Respected Man”; and were among the first artists to sing about a transgendered individual, “Lola.” They could also write first-class rock hits such as “You Really Got Me,” “All Day and All of the Night” and “Till the End of the Day.”
Ray Davies was the Kinks’ chief composer and lead vocalist (though his brother Dave pitched in as well). He was part of the Songwriters Hall’s 2014 class but could not attend the ceremony because of the death of his sister. Jon Bon Jovi ably filled in, performing a medley of Kinks songs.
Davies’ fellow Londoner, Graham Gouldman, was part of the popular ’70s group 10 CC who had hits with his compositions “I’m Not in Love” and “The Things We Do for Love,” making him one of the few Jewish pop-rock stars to come from England. In the 1960s Gouldman had established himself as a go-to songwriter for up-and-coming British bands, writing “No Milk Today” for Herman’s Hermits; “Heart Full of Soul” and “For Your Love” for the Yardbirds; and for the Hollies, the delightful song about flirting with someone while waiting for mass transit to take you to work, “Bus Stop,” which he performed exquisitely before his acceptance speech.
Completing the British triumvirate of inductees was Donovan Leitch, who has often been compared to Bob Dylan primarily because his first hit, “Catch the Wind,” featured breathy nasal vocals, and simple guitar strumming. Subsequent hits such as “Sunshine Superman,” “Wear Your Love Like Heaven,” “Atlantis,” “Jennifer Juniper” and “Season of the Witch” helped him firmly establish his own identity.
It’s fitting that two southern songwriters who are not known to the masses, Jim Weatherly and Mark James, were part of the same Hall of Fame class.
Weatherly, who was a star quarterback at Ole Miss in the early 1960s, wrote three of Gladys Knight and the Pips’ biggest hits, “The Best Thing That Ever Happened to Me,” “Neither One of Us (Wants to Be the First to Say Goodbye)” and their signature song, “Midnight Train to Georgia.”
James’ best-known hit was Elvis Presley’s 1969 song about the anguish of marital infidelity, “Suspicious Minds.” Interestingly the tune was first performed by Mark James’ vocalist of choice, BJ Thomas, who had hits with his “Eyes of a New York Woman” and “Hooked on a Feeling,” which was later humorously recorded by Blue Swede. Another big James tune was “Always on My Mind,” which was initially recorded by Elvis but did not become a hit until Willie Nelson recorded it in 1982.
The legendary Philadelphia songwriting and production team of Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff were given the Hall’s highest honor, the Johnny Mercer Award.
Another famous Philadelphian, 72-year-old Chubby Checker, showed that he could still shake his hips and gyrate his knees as he performed “Let’s Twist Again,” one of the songs chosen to spotlight the 100th anniversary of ASCAP, the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers, which handles royalties for writers and publishers. Despite the passage of time, Checker’s baritone voice is as strong as ever and he looks remarkably unchanged from his American Bandstand heyday.
It was a nice gesture by the Songwriters Hall of Fame to give Chubby the spotlight since its governing body knows very well that the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame has never even nominated him for enshrinement in Cleveland. That is a travesty.