The Ramones, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, the Talking Heads, Isaac Hayes, Brenda Lee, Gene Pitney, Chet Atkins and Jim Stewart will be next year’s entrants into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. The Seventeenth Annual induction ceremony will take place March 18th in New York and air on VH1 on the 20th.
For the Ramones, Petty and the Talking Heads, the induction will come in their first year of eligibility — twenty-five years after the release of their debut album — an honor in itself.
The Ramones formed in New York City in 1974, and, through their three-chord, less-than-three-minute blasts and their cartoonish looks (leather jackets and mop tops), they were the prototypical American punk rock band. Over the years, their songs — most notably “Blitzkrieg Bop,” “I Wanna Be Sedated” and “Sheena Is a Punk Rocker” — made the unlikely leap from N.Y. dive club CBGB to major sports arenas. The Ramones’ leader, singer Joey Ramone, died in April of lymphatic cancer.
The Talking Heads were also born in CBGB in the mid-Seventies, but, in direct contrast to the Ramones’ peppiness, frontman David Byrne exuded nervousness and anguish. With their heady, edgy lyrics and unique blend of punk, funk, gospel and African rhythms, the band was a primal influence on the great alternative explosion of the early Nineties. The Heads would also score crossover pop hits in the Eighties with “Burning Down the House” and “Wild Wild Life.”
An early incarnation of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers formed in Gainesville, Florida, in the shadow of the Allman Brothers and Lynyrd Skynyrd, before moving to Los Angeles, where they would mix their southern roots with Byrdsy guitar textures and vocal harmonies, and eventually, on the strength of Petty’s hook-filled songwriting, create one of rock’s most enduring catalogs. Among the band’s biggest hits are “Don’t Do Me Like That,” “Refugee” and “The Waiting.” Petty scored solo smashes with “I Won’t Back Down,” “Free Fallin'” and “You Don’t Know How It Feels.”
A staff songwriter, producer and keyboard player for legendary soul label Stax Records in the Sixties, Isaac Hayes penned big hits for such artists as Sam and Dave (“Soul Man”) and Carla Thomas (“B-A-B-Y”). In 1967, he launched his own solo career, which included 1969’s Hot Buttered Soul, a record that helped soul become an album as well as a singles format, and the soul-funk classic “The Theme From Shaft.” Hayes is now known to a new generation as the voice of Chef on TV’s South Park.
In the early Sixties, the then-teenage Brenda Lee scored Number One hits with “I’m Sorry” and “I Just Want to Be Wanted.” But she is perhaps best-known for her seasonal classic, “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree.” In the Seventies, Lee crossed over to the country charts, and her March induction will make her the first female member of both the Country Music Hall of Fame and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Gene Pitney’s chart reign was also during the Sixties, scoring his biggest hits with “(The Man Who Shot) Liberty Valance” and “Only Love Can Break a Heart.” He also wrote the Crystals hit “He’s a Rebel” and, over his career, collaborated with the likes of Phil Spector, George Jones and the Rolling Stones.
In addition to his prolific career as a solo artist, legendary country/rock guitarist Chet Atkins played on recordings by Hank Williams, Elvis Presley, the Everly Brothers and Waylon Jennings. In June, Atkins died of cancer at age seventy-seven.
Along with is sister, Estelle Axton, Jim Stewart founded Stax Records in Memphis in 1959. In contrast to Berry Gordy’s Motown’s polished sound, Stax’s brand of soul was gritty and drew heavily upon its players’ gospel roots. Among the artists who recorded for the label were Otis Redding, the Staple Singers and Booker T. and the MG’s.