HANK BALLARD & THE MIDNIGHTERS
The truly seminal rock trilogy ("Work With Me Annie," "Annie Had a Baby," "Sexy Ways")--laughably deracinated into "Dance With the Henry" for the pop market so that kids in the '50s would grow up to be Dan and Marilyn Quayle--is almost tuff enuff to merit Hank Ballard & the Midnighters' induction by its lonesome. The Midnighters themselves, recording (minus Ballard) as the Royals, first hit in '51 with "Every Beat of My Heart"--the same tune that launched Gladys Knight & the Pips' career a decade later.
'Bout that time, the Detroit homeboys cut three more wear-the-shine-off-the-dance-floor perennials: "Finger Poppin' Time," "Let's Go, Let's Go, Let's Go" and the original version of "The Twist." (Ballard has said he took "The Twist" from the Clyde McPhatter-era Drifters' "What'cha Gonna Do," which is credited to Atlantic Records honcho Ahmet Ertegun, which means the jam was probably at least as old as homemade sin.)
Ballard later fell into James Brown's camp and, in a case of the master imitating the pupil, made a series of soul/funk discs, including the deathless "How You Gonna Get Respect (If You Ain't Cut Your Process Yet)," that are now more highly regarded than ever on the international/collector's markets.
Some folks like to rationalize Darin's inclusion on the ground that rock 'n' roll owes a lot more to pre-rock pop, as personified by the man born Robert Walden Cassotto, than it likes to admit. Bit of a stretch, eh?
Inarguably more talented than his original teen-idol image suggested, Darin did bring such left-field writers as Bertolt Brecht & Kurt Weill and Tim Hardin into the mainstream via his performances of "Mack the Knife" and "If I Were a Carpenter," respectively.
The brash New Yorker also wrote songs for Buddy Holly, became an Academy Award-nominated actor ("Captain Newman, MD"), a semi-successful folk singer (the "Bob Darin" period) and, finally, a Vegas headliner before dying in 1973, following a history of heart problems. He was 37.
THE FOUR SEASONS
Lead singer Frankie Valli had a glass-shattering falsetto that combined with the shimmering pop production of Bob Crewe--who co-wrote the hits ("Sherry," "Big Girls Don't Cry," "Walk Like a Man") with group member Bob Gaudio--to create the penultimate white doo-wop group (previous inductees Dion & the Belmonts being the last word on the subject.)
Tommy DeVito and Nick Massi completed the hit machine, which not only wound up doing Dylan songs under the name the Wonder Who, but also hung in long enough to capitalize on the nostalgia craze (1975's "December 1963") before Valli stepped out on a solo career for good.
The Seasons didn't originate the stratospheric vocal style, but as unofficial spokesmen for their East Coast ethnic working-class audience, they were its most successful exponents. For further evidence, look no further than "The Deer Hunter" sequence where the guys get all maudlin singing along with "My Eyes Adored You" on the jukebox.
THE FOUR TOPS
The sixth Motown act inducted, the Four Tops are perhaps most remarkable for two things: the steel-belted vocal cords of Levi Stubbs and having never once changed personnel in 36 years-- all the more amazing, considering there's no family ties that bind 'em.
Stubbs, Renaldo (Obie) Benson, Abdul (Duke) Fakir and Lawrence Payton hung in hitless for years until they signed with Motown. There, working with writers/producers Holland-Dozier-Holland, they cut umpteen certifiable classics ("Reach Out, I'll Be There," "Baby I Need Your Loving") and two equally brilliant non-HDH tunes ("Ask the Lonely" and "Loving You Is Sweeter Than Ever"), splitting shortly after the producers upped 'n' quit the organization.
Although not the most versatile vocal group, these Detroiters didn't exactly lack talent--unlike most acts that exited Motown, they've had hits (1973's "Ain't No Woman Like the One I've Got" and 1981's "When She Was My Girl") since, and currently record for Arista Records.
Led by England's poet laureate of the mundane and the working class (same thing), singer/songwriter/guitarist Ray Davies, the Kinks have long been the wittiest ("Waterloo Sunset"), most sensitive ("Dead End Street"), most unconventional ("Village Green Preservation Society"), most raucous of rollers.
The proto-metallic riff slinging began with 1964's "You Really Got Me," but the original lineup of Ray and lead guitarist/little brother Dave Davies, bassist Pete Quaife and drummer Mick Avory swiftly set out on a roller-coastercareer course that spawned intermittent hits ("Lola," "Celluloid Heroes," "Come Dancing"), arguably the first "rock opera" (1969's "Arthur" LP), and continues as a battling brother act to this day.
Face to face, the Kinks are a book--they've been several--but as one of the rare rock-era songwriters who doesn't traffic almost exclusively in first-person, confessional material, Davies will probably have to die and get a Broadway play produced around his life 'n' work to get his true aesthetic dues. Until then, he'll have to settle for being enshrined in Cleveland.
This L.A.-based quintet is chiefly notable for being rock's first big R&B; crossover act, moving into the supper club circuit on the strength of such mellow-dramatic ballads as "Twilight Time," "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes" and "My Prayer" and the titanic tenor vocals of Tony Williams, which disguised that the rest of the group (Zola Taylor, Herb Reed, David Lynch, Paul Robi) was pretty much window dressing. Manager/producer/songwriter Buck Ram probably deserves much of the credit for the success, but then he probably got most of the money already.
After the hits tapered off, Williams went solo and the resulting personnel/personal problems relegated the group to a lounge act status that was interrupted only by a lesser string of sweet soul/"beach music" favorites ("With This Ring" being the best) in the mid-'60s. Since then it's all been low comedy, with the endless proliferation of acts working under the Platters' name giving rise to a grand, if ignoble rock 'n' roll tradition in its own right.
SIMON & GARFUNKEL
Back in '58 when these New Yorkers were known as Tom & Jerry, they rocked out in a sort of sub-Everly Brothers manner on "Hey Little School Girl." After solo efforts as Jerry Landis and Artie Garr didn't make it, they reunited as a serious folk duo.
Unsung hero/record producer Tom Wilson (the Animals, the Velvet Underground) added a folk-rock backing to an album track called "The Sounds of Silence," scored a smash and for five years the ultra-senstitive, overly wrought hits ("Hazy Shade of Winter," "Mrs. Robinson,") just kept on comin'.
The breakup came in 1970, shortly after their biggest hit ("Bridge Over Troubled Water"), though there have been two reunions since. Meanwhile, Simon's musical journey has mirrored that of his collegiate audience, recently winding up on the streets outside of "Graceland," where he introduced Ladysmith Black Mambazo to an unsuspecting world. In cold print, the relationship between these ersatz folkies and rock 'n' roll has never been more dubious.
With Pete Townshend's windmill guitar figures, Roger Daltrey's mike-tossing routines, John Entwistle's free bass-lines and a drummer (the late Keith Moon) who redefined traditional notions of rock timekeeping, the Who introduced a hyper-kinetic, smash 'em up stage act that was rivaled only by James Brown's R&B; passion plays. Toss in a bleeding handful of brilliant, alone-in-a-crowd Townshend compositions ("My Generation," "The Kids Are Alright," "I Can See for Miles") and you'll begin to understand just how far ahead of their contemporaries these London mods really were.
By the time they made it really big Stateside, they'd toned it down considerably. Townshend had written the rock opera "Tommy" and--with the exception of the rock-solid "Who's Next" LP--the weight of the themes essayed too often capsized the material's once-powerful pop elements.
The Who soldiered on, made a lot of money, documented everything on film, and were last sighted on the road, playing "Tommy" and all ye olde favorites as if punk--which their early records were a major influence upon--never happened.