In our younger years I suppose it is common to develop heroes in sports and entertainment. Most of them will be real people, some will be fictitious characters, but they will come to mean a lot in our lives. We follow their careers. We cheer them on in the theater and at the movies. We listen to them on the radio, CDs or streaming apps on our mobile devices. We watch them at concerts and on television. We grow attached to our heroes as if they were personal friends or members of the family. After all, many of them enrich our lives. Of all these, I think our musical favorites affect us the most to us.
Perhaps you have heard the phrase “the soundtrack of our lives.” Radio stations love to use it, especially oldies stations. When they say they are playing our “soundtrack,” what do they mean? Do our lives have a soundtrack? I believe they do and they contain many heroes and icons.
From a young age up to the early 30s, I think we develop a “soundtrack.” It is the music we listen to the most. It is the records, CDs and digital downloads we buy. How many of us bought an album in our late teens or early 20s and then listened to it many times in the decades that followed? While some continue to embrace new artists throughout their lives, many cling to the stars of their youth. For example, I saw Chicago the band in college in the 1970s and more times than I can count in the following years. I saw Brian Wilson, Al Jardine and Blondie Chaplin (Beach Boys) in 2016. I saw the Rolling Stones a few years ago in Chicago. It is a joy to listen and reminisce.
Chicago in Chicago, August 2014
When the artists who played the music we grew up listening to pass away, we are understandably sad. If they pass away from old age or sickness, we not only grieve for them but for ourselves as well. Their passing is a reminder of our own mortality. We do, however, have their great music to help ease the pain of loss.
In 2016 it seems we lost some iconic figures who played on the soundtrack of my life. Maybe they played on yours too. It was a year that stunned many in the music industry. My mother would have known Kay Starr (94) and Julius La Rosa (86), who performed until recent years. Fans of folk music would mourn the loss of Glenn Yarbrough (Limeliters) at 86. Country and Western fans lost a huge star in Merle Haggard (79).
Elton John lost a hero and musical favorite in Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Leon Russell (74). It was Russell who helped John to become a rock star, and John returned the favor in recent years by touring with Russell and recording an album with him (The Union).
Fans of the 1970s Grammy winning rock band Emerson, Lake and Palmer saw the passing of both Keith Emerson (74) and Greg Lake (69). ELP won the Grammy for Best New Artists in 1972 and Best Rock Instrumental Performance in 1981. The progressive rock group sold an estimated 48 million albums.
Of my favorites I will give an honorable mention to Rick Parfitt (68) of the British rock group Status Quo. The biggest hit I can remember was “Pictures of Matchstick Men” from 1968. I loved the “psychedelic sound.” They had a few more hits over the years. Parfitt is on the left at this 2014 festival performance, proving old guys rock:
One of the first singers I remember was Bobby Vee (73). He was already a rock star when I became aware of Rock and Roll. He had quite a string of hits in the 1960s and of course, appeared on American Bandstand with Dick Clark.
Glenn Frey (67), was a musician, songwriter, founding member of the Eagles and a lead singer on many of their hits, as well as an occasional actor on television and in films. The Eagles Greatest Hits was the best-selling album in the US in the 20th Century and second all time behind Michael Jackson’s Thriller. The track listing of the Eagles iconic album is the finest collection of rock and roll of the 1970s.
Prince Rogers Nelson, or just Prince to you and me, was another multifaceted artist. He picked up 7 Grammys in his career as well as an Academy Award (Purple Rain). With numerous hits to his credit, Prince was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2004. At the time of his death he was seeking professional help for constant pain. He was only 57. Prince performed Purple Rain live in a rain storm at the Super Bowl:
One of the most iconic rock stars of our era was David Bowie (69). He was a constant innovator, often reinventing his musical style and his personal image at the same time. Bowie was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1996. In addition to his musical career, he appeared in many theatrical productions and films.
Perhaps the biggest shock in the Rock and Roll world was the sudden death of Grammy winning artist George Michael (53), reportedly of heart failure. Michael burst on the music scene as one half of Wham! Their good looks, high energy and lively tunes brought them huge success. When Michael went on to a solo career, he tried to concentrate on more adult themes in his music. Careless Whisper was one of those songs and a big hit: