A Look Back at Our Music Icons

bowie-largeFor every generation, particularly for the Baby Boomers forward, there is a tipping point. It is that moment when you realize that the music and other pop culture icons of your childhood are getting old and passing away. It seems to be in your 40s: about the time when rock stars you loved as a kid are hitting their 60s and 70s and the miles begin to take their toll.

glenn-freyThat has played itself over the last three months or so. There have been a lot of important losses in the music industry, and suddenly as a 40-something I am confronted with the realization that my legends are dying, and so are the legends of a lot of other people regardless of their musical tastes.

Just over the past couple of months, Lemmy Kilmister, Natalie Cole, David Bowie, Glenn Frey, and Maurice White all passed away, and each one leaves behind an enormous musical legacy and a hole in the fabric of our musical identities.

natalie-coleAll of their deaths meant something to me. Lemmy was an icon of metal, even though he hated the term. Natalie Cole’s music was a fixture on the pop radio stations I listened to as a drove to high school. Bowie was an onslaught of challenging personas built for the end of disco and the emergence of MTV, just as I became aware of music. Glenn Frey’s voice was the soundtrack at countless keg parties, and Maurice White was one of my guides into the world of R&B and funk.

Each of them holds a special place in the soundtrack that we all build in our minds as time passes. The right song can take us back in time, recreate a mood, or simply help us remember when we were younger and music was a dominant part of our lives— before the bills, the kids, and the jobs.

Each of them holds a special place in the soundtrack that we all build in our minds as time passes.

Social media has revolutionized the way we mourn the passing of these legends. Years ago, there might have been a 30 second story on the news, and couple of column inches in the paper, and maybe a one-day marathon of music on the radio.

Now it has changed. We can put their music our timelines, play our friends’ favorite songs, and remember the times we listened to them when we were young. Their deaths cut deeper, since the mourning period lasts longer. Rolling Stone and other music publications give us more perspective, and twitter allows us to truly see how the impact of a legend’s passing is rippling through the music community.

It usually takes about a week for the cyber-mourning and celebration process to play out. I am often left to wonder if these artists knew how their music still held sway on us, even now. I always wish that they could see the outpouring of emotion, and the renewed interest in their work. It is a shame they cannot.

So here is an idea. Maybe we should take a week for each of these artists now, while they are still with us. The 21st century has given us a way to say ‘Thank You’ for all of their work and the influence they have had on us. We owe it to them, and they have earned it. Here are some ideas for artists we should be thanking for all the amazing work they have given us over the decades.

Mick Jagger (72)

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jagger-smallFor more than a half century, Mick Jagger has been one of the transcendent stars of Rock and Roll. The voice, the stage presence, and the Rolling Stones all started back in 1950 when Mick met classmate and lifelong collaborator Keith Richards. Twelve years later, the Rolling Stones began their legendary assault on rock music, shaping the sound in a way that still can be heard today. His hypnotic, sexually charged performances became his signature, and it helped to place him as one of the most influential frontmen in rock history.

And that man comes on the radio
And he’s tellin’ me more and more
About some useless information

Diana Ross (71)

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ross-smallAs the lead singer of The Supremes, Diana Ross anchored Motown’s most successful act of the 1960s that over the years has become one of the world’s best-selling vocal groups of all time. “Baby Love,” “Come See About Me,” and “Someday We’ll be Together” have become timeless classics, keeping the group relevant even as Diana Ross enters her 70s. As a solo artist, Diana Ross excelled. Her 1981 cover of “Why Do Fools Fall in Love” reminded fans of her work with The Supremes, and “Missing You” was a stunning remembrance of her lifelong friend Marvin Gaye.

As I look around
I see things that remind me
Just to see you smile
Made my heart fill with joy

Steve Perry (67)

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perry-smallYears ago, Jon Bon Jovi simply described him as “The Voice,” and few monikers would be more fitting for Steve Perry. As the frontman for Journey, Perry’s voice became the vehicle for some of the most memorable power ballads and stadium rock anthems in music history. “Don’t Stop Believin’” remains a sing-it-out-loud classic, and “Open Arms” has taken its place as one of the most stunning ballads in the history of rock and roll, primarily on the power of Perry’s singular vocal talent. His 1984 solo album “Street Talk” hit paydirt with two top-twenty singles with “Oh Sherrie” and “Foolish Heart,” but it is the arena rock hits of his time with Journey that are etched forever in the memories of music fans.

We sailed on together
We drifted apart
And here you are, by my side

Tina Turner (76)

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turner-smallNutbush, Tennessee’s most famous product began her career in 1958 as Little Ann, but that Little Ann became one of the world’s biggest musical superstars. Tina Turner’s work with Ike Turner placed her on the map including “A Fool in Love” and “Proud Mary.” Her marriage to Ike was punctuated by horrifying domestic abuse, which led to her divorce from Ike in 1978. Live performances and a solo single “Let’s Stay Together” paved the way for her iconic album “Private Dancer.” The leadoff cut from the album, “What’s Love Got to Do with It,” captured three Grammys including Record of the Year. “What’s Love” was followed up by “Better be Good to Me” and “Private Dancer.” The “Queen of Rock and Roll” kept rocking, and she has won 11 Grammys and has sold more tickets than any performer in rock history.

It may seem to you that I’m acting confused
When you’re close to me
If I tend to look dazed I’ve read it someplace
I’ve got cause to be

Stevie Wonder (65)

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wonder-smallIn 1961, Stevie Wonder played an original composition called “Lonely Boy” for Ronnie White of the Miracles. That led to an audition with Barry Gordy, and the artist then known as “Little Stevie Wonder” was on his way. Now, 55 years later, Stevie Wonder can claim a beloved place among music fans across many musical genres. “Superstition,” “You Are the Sunshine of My Life,” and “I Just Called to Say I Love You” are musical landmarks on a career that has spanned a generation and that has also remained remarkably relevant even as his production has slowed.

No wedding Saturday within the month of June
But what it is, is something true
Made up of these three words that I must say to you

Carly Simon (70)

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simon-smallHer hits of the 1970s defined her, but Carly Simon continues to be an influential artist because of her captivating voice and her deft songwriting prowess. “That’s the Way I’ve Always Heard It Should Be” from her 1971 self-titled debut earned her a Grammy nod for Best New Artist. Over the course of the next decade, hits like “You’re So Vain,” “Mockingbird” (with James Taylor), and “Haven’t Got Time for the Pain” helped solidify her position as a superstar. The late 70s and early 80s marked a slowdown in her career, and then her 1986 album “Coming Around Again” showed that Simon still had the magic. The title cut along with “Give Me All Night,” “All I Want is You,” and “The Stuff that Dreams Are Made Of” all placed Carly back on the top-10 adult contemporary charts. Today, she continues to record and she has also become an accomplished author.

Then you break a window
Burn the soufflé
Scream the lullaby

Robert Plant 67

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plant-smallAs the lead singer of Led Zeppelin, Robert Plant’s acrobatic vocals have placed him among the truly great rock vocalists of all time. His stage presence defined the era of the “Rock God,” and his influence could be seen in the evolution of rock in the styles of Freddie Mercury and later Axl Rose. In 1968, Zeppelin guitarist Jimmy Page saw Plant cover Jefferson Starship’s “Somebody to Love,” and the rest is history. His lyrics combined with Page’s music were married to create some of the iconic works in rock history. A breakup and reunion punctuated the 1970s, and Zeppelin broke up just after the death of drummer John Bonham. The breakup of the band however did not mean the end of Plant’s musical genius. His 1983 album “The Principle of Moments” delivered top-20 hit “Big Log” and “I’m in the Mood.” Over the years Plant has continued to evolve, even touring with bluegrass star Alison Krauss.

My Shangri-La beneath the summer moon, I will return again
Sure as the dust that floats high in June, when movin’ through Kashmir.

Carole King (74)

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king-smallIn the 1960s, Carole King made a career writing hit songs for other artists. In 1971, she saw her own career as a singer explode with the release of her second album “Tapestry.” The record remains one of the top-selling works of all time, with more than 10 million units sold. The leadoff single from the album, “It’s Too Late”/“I Feel the Earth Move” sat atop the Billboard charts for five weeks. The album spent 15 weeks at #1 and continued to chart for another six years. She has continued as a prolific songwriter, and in the 45 years between 1955 and 1999, she wrote or co-wrote 118 Billboard Hot 100 hits. While her career as a vocalist is defined by “Tapestry,” her influence in rock and pop music has been one of the underpinnings of the industry for a half century.

One more song about moving along the highway
Can’t say much of anything that’s new
If I could only work this life out my way
I’d rather spend it being close to you

James Taylor (67)

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taylor-smallIn 1970, a distinctive voice hit the airwaves with a #3 single called “Fire and Rain.” Since then, James Taylor has become one of the best-selling artists of all time, selling more than 100 million records globally. The 1970s produced more hits, including “Don’t Let Me Be Lonely Tonight” and “Shower the People,” but more success awaited in the 1980s and 90s. His eleventh album, “That’s Why I’m Here” represented a resurgence that continued through the new millennium, with Platinum-certified “October Road” and his 2007 collaboration with Joni Mitchell and Paul McCartney titled “One Man Band.” His powerful lyrics and sultry voice influenced several powerhouse artists including Bruce Springsteen and Garth Brooks.

With a holy host of others standin’ around me
Still I’m on the dark side of the moon
And it seems like it goes on like this forever
You must forgive me, if I’m up and gone to
Carolina in my mind

Stevie Nicks (67)

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nicks-smallBetween her work with Fleetwood Mac and her solo career, Stevie Nicks’ career has produced more than 40 top-50 hits and moved 150 million albums. She was about 27 years old in 1975 when she joined Fleetwood Mac along with her boyfriend Lindsey Buckingham. Fleetwood Mac’s next record, “Rumours,” was 1977’s top-seller and is now considered one of the great records in rock history. Nicks juggled her time between the band and her solo projects starting in 1981 with her debut effort “Bella Donna.” The album delivered the hits “Stop Dragging My Heart Around” and “Edge of Seventeen.” The follow up effort, “The Wild Heart,” produced “Stand Back” and “If Anyone Falls.” In 2014, her “24 Karat Gold: Songs from the Vault” introduced fans to new versions of demos cut between 1969 and 1987.

So I walked on down away from you
Maybe your attention was more
Than you could do
One man did not call
He asked me for my love
And that was all

Lionel Richie (66)

In 1968, Lionel Richie began his career as a member of the Commodores, and combined with his solo work Richie is one of the best-selling artists of all time. With the Commodores, he voiced hits like “Easy,” Three Times a Lady,” “Still,” and “Sail On.” In 1982, he embarked on a wildly successful solo career with a self-titled debut effort that included “Truly,” “My Love,” and “You Are.” However, the follow-up effort dwarfed its predecessor. “Can’t Slow Down” won a Grammy for Album of the Year on the strength of cuts like “All Night Long,” “Penny Lover,” “Stuck on You,” and “Hello.” The hits continued, and his influence grew, as evidenced by his 2012 album “Tuskegee,” which reintroduced his hits as duets with blockbuster contemporary country acts like Jennifer Nettles, Tim McGraw, and Kenny Chesney as well as the legendary Jimmy Buffett.

I long to see the sunlight in your hair
And tell you time and time again how much I care
Sometimes I feel my heart will overflow
Hello, I’ve just got to let you know

Aretha Franklin (73)

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franklin-smallShe began singing gospel music in her father’s church, but Aretha Franklin’s force-of-nature voice would ultimately become a phenomenon. Over the course of her career, Aretha Franklin cut 112 charted Billboard singles, including 17 top-10s and twenty-one #1 singles. A career that began with “Won’t Be Long” from her debut secular album “Aretha: With the Ray Bryant Combo” ultimately reached and influenced genres and artists in ways that are still relevant today. Her career is often punctuated by her cover of Otis Redding’s “Respect” or the 1967 smash “(You Make Me Feel Like A) Natural Woman,” but even well into the 1980s Aretha will still charting hits with “Freeway of Love,” “Who’s Zoomin’ Who,” and her Grammy-winning duet with George Michael “I Knew You Were Waiting (For Me).” Aretha Franklin has earned R-E-S-P-E-C-T even far beyond the industry. She has received honorary degrees from Princeton, Harvard, Yale, and the Berklee College of Music.

With an endless desire
I kept on searching
Sure in time our eyes would meet
Like the bridge is on fire
The hurt is over,
One touch and you set me free

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