Frank Sinatra: 100 Very Good Years on Record

Frank Sinatra would have turned 100 on Dec. 12 of this year, but even if you played three of his recordings every day from now till then, you wouldn’t come close to exhausting his songbook: The best estimates suggest the Chairman of the Board recorded about 1,000 different songs in the studio. Those of us who still love to “put on Sinatra and start to cry” (in the words of Steven Bishop) are laughing through our tears at the prospect …

Civil Rights Songs in the Key of Freedom Still Resonate

“Precious Lord, take my hand. Lead me on, let me stand. I am tired. I am weak. I’m worn. Through the storm, through the night, lead me on to the light. Take my hand precious Lord, lead me on.” In the movie Selma, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. calls Mahalia Jackson, the “Queen of Gospel,” at a moment when he is most discouraged. Over the phone, she sings “Precious Lord” to comfort him. For me, this was one of the …

Bobby Womack: Soul Man

Even if you didn’t know Bobby Womack by name, you probably dug some of his songs that helped make other performers into stars. Womack, who died on June 27 at age 70, was one of the pioneers of the soul sound – a singer, guitarist and songwriter who helped create the fusion of gospel, R&B and jazz that moved a generation to get out and groove to the music. Womack’s own roots stretched back to the great Sam Cooke, who gave …

‘Stairway to Heaven’ and 5 Other Alleged Song Ripoffs

For boomers who grew up playing air guitar to Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven,” it’s mind-blowing to think that the 1971 classic rock standard might actually have been copied from another song. Lawyers for the estate of the late Spirit guitarist Randy California reportedly are planning to file a suit claiming that the opening riff in “Stairway” was ripped off from Spirit’s considerably less famous 1968 song “Taurus.” Thanks to a helpful YouTuber, you can listen to a comparison between …

Thanksgiving: the Music of Memory

We sang with a muscled verve never to be denied. It thumped through the small Oakland house like the drums of an anthem-and in a way it was. The song was “The Three Caballeros,” and we were three indeed, a soldier and two Marines, and we were brothers. We sang it on Thanksgiving Day. >> Sign up for the AARP Leisure Newsletter That first rendition was offered on the holiday Thursday sometime in the late 1950s. Eddie, who had been …

J.J. Cale: Rock Stars Made His Songs Into Hits

Somehow, J.J. Cale never became a rock superstar, even though the great Eric Clapton once confessed that he looked up to the Tulsa-born guitarist and songwriter as a role model and Neil Young ranked his 1972 rock classic “Crazy Mama” as the one song that most shaped his own songwriting. That superstardom bypassed Cale, who died on July 26 at age 74 in La Jolla, Calif., undoubtedly had something to do with fate but probably more to do with principles. …