As we reach the dawning of the year 2000, compiling “best-of” lists has become a national obsession. Whether it’s the greatest fast food joints of the century or the 100 best plants, there’s no end to these surveys. While many such lists focusing on the arts have been sadly predictable (most notably Entertainment Weekly’s abysmal “Entertainers of the Century”), the latest Vibe magazine contains the most diverse and inclusive music survey done by any publication on this side of the Atlantic.
The publication’s “100 Best Albums of the Century” includes LPs from not only hip-hop and R&B performers, but also avant-garde jazz musicians, reggae vocalists, punk bands, and country singers. Johnny Cash and Patsy Cline made the list, alongside Ornette Coleman and John Coltrane, The Clash and Nirvana, The Beatles and Bob Dylan. Few rock magazines find space for Marvin Gaye, Billie Holiday, Louis Armstrong, and Elvis Presley when they’re considering the greatest recordings of any time frame; even fewer would mix Duke Ellington with The Replacements, or Led Zeppelin with A Tribe Called Quest and B.B. King.
If anything, Vibe, stereotyped by many observers as a rap publication covering only the trendiest African American music, ignored some seminal black releases. There’s little Motown and even less golden age gospel, Delta blues, doo-wop, vintage R&B, or jazz prior to bebop. The writers also omitted several seminal ’70s R&B recordings like Isaac Hayes’ Hot Buttered Soul, Smokey Robinson’s A Quiet Storm, and Curtis Mayfield’s debut solo release Curtis.
Still, here’s one survey that covers the body of American popular music with far more scope and care than numerous other publications getting lots more attention.
A Southern tale
With the possible exception of the Allman Brothers, Lynyrd Skynyrd was Southern rock’s most aggressive, most exciting band. But while the Allmans favored vintage Willie McTell and Elmore James tunes, Skynyrd preferred its own compositions, melding pile-driver riffs, raucous lyrics, rampaging vocals, and arrangements they’d devised from studying first-generation British Invasion bands.
As is often the case, the image many fans have of Lynyrd Skynyrd doesn’t mesh with the reality. “Sweet Home Alabama,” the group’s theme song, was widely viewed as an anthem celebrating everything wrong with the South, especially racial hatred. Yet Ronnie Van Zandt was an outspoken opponent of segregation and spent numerous hours singing in a black church in Jacksonville. This and many other contradictions are exposed in a new book, Lynyrd Skynyrd: An Oral History (Spike), compiled by Rock & Rap Confidential West Coast editor Lee Ballinger.
Ballinger’s book includes reflections, remembrances, anecdotes, and perspectives culled from more than 40 people. They include Nashville producer/musician/writer Rick Clark, who penned an authoritative piece on the group for Goldmine magazine in 1992. Also quoted are Jon Hornyak, head of Memphis’ chapter of the National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences (NARAS), who co-owned the company that did sound for the group’s earliest tours; famed recording engineer Tom Dowd; legendary musician Charlie Daniels; and surviving group and family members.
There’s also an extensive discography, plus listings of related books, articles, and radio interviews. Not only does Ballinger’s book provide everything you’d ever want to know about Lynyrd Skynyrd, it also offers savvy insights into Southern politics, culture, and history.
The gospel truth
Anyone who enjoys classic or contemporary African American gospel can find a surplus of riches on the local airwaves. If you enjoy golden age (1940s-70s) gospel, there’s a superb new show on WRVU-91.1 FM: “The Gospel Sound,” hosted by Sam Brown, airs Sundays from 6 a.m. to 8 a.m. and blends songs from quartets, male and female vocalists, choirs, even singing preachers. Brown, who’s also a cohost of 91 Rock’s “Soulsville,” crams a ton of music into his two-hour spot.
Unfortunately, WQQK-92.1 FM presents “Gospel Tracks,” hosted by Walt “Baby” Love, at the same time on the same day. This show scans the contemporary scene and intersperses interviews and informative nuggets about performers throughout its two-hour slot, along with the latest releases from premier modern gospel stars.
In addition, WFSK-88.1 FM and WMDB-880 AM are also programming large blocks of gospel, while WSOG-1240 AM offers 24-hour programming seven days a week. Right now, it’s a great time to be a gospel fan in Nashvilleand who knows? Maybe with all the exposure, the music will find some converts.
Elliptical dispatches: The world’s ending on Jan. 1. Good thing Jen Cohen, local chanteuse and Existo extra, is releasing her new album in December. The album, Far Enough Away, features songs by Steve Earle, Beth Nielsen Chapman, Walter Hyatt, Michael Reynolds, Joy Lynn White, and more. Cohen has logged nearly 10,000 miles on her current U.S. tour; recent stops included Minneapolis and New York, where she steamrolled her first heckler.
I was all like "how do you get the phone number for TMZ?!?!" you can't…
I think it's weird when speculation is wedged into an otherwise straightforward biography. I love…
I always read your column BEFORE I watch the show anymore. It's better that way.
What's the other review you read?
This was the worse review I've ever read. Maybe you should quit this career path…