Ask a fan of classic hits radio about the name Eddie Money, and odds are good that you will hear about only two or possibly three songs. But in reality, Eddie Money had quite a good run, with almost a dozen top 40 singles and four platinum albums.
Any history of rock and roll music has to include Chuck Berry. One of the true pioneers of rock and roll, Mr. Berry started hitting the charts in 1955, right at the start of the rock era, and he achieved a level of fame that few people could reach. Whether it was his being the only rock artist to have a song (“Johnny B. Goode”) on Voyager 1’s Golden Record* or having a very tongue-in-cheek origin story told in Back to the Future, Chuck Berry is one of those few rock stars who will likely never be forgotten.
By far the biggest name to come out of the huge upswing in dance music in the late 1980s and early 1990s was Paula Abdul. To give the reader a sense of how pervasive Ms. Abdul’s music was in that era, it should be noted that her debut album, Forever Your Girl, is, as of this writing and per Ms. Abdul’s website, the third longest charting album on the Billboard Hot 100.*
Yet another artist taken from us in April 2017 was Brenda Jones, one of the three sisters who made up The Jones Girls. Unfortunately, Ms. Jones was struck and killed by an automobile while crossing the street on April 3 or 4 (depending on the source), while she had been in Wilmington, Delaware, visiting her daughter.
With the advent of April 2017 came yet another classic hits artist taken from us, as John “J.” Geils was found dead in his home at age 71 of what has been reported to be natural causes. J. Geils, of course, was the namesake of what was called the J. Geils Blues Band before simply becoming the J. Geils Band in 1969. (I suppose it was a catchier name for a band than its original name, Snoopy and the Sopwith Camels.)
On March 10, we lost yet another pop singer, as Joni Sledge, the second oldest Sledge sister, passed away at the age of 60 from causes that are, as of two weeks ago, unknown. While it was youngest sister Kathy who sang lead on most of the Sister Sledge songs that people remember, Joni sang lead on a few as well.
One of the lesser-publicized deaths of 2016 was that of Jean-Baptiste Frédéric Isidore “Toots” Thielemans, who passed away at the age of 94. (In fact, his death was so little publicized that it was at least a month afterward before I ever heard of it.) Though he had been well-known for his harmonica skills, I found myself unsure of where I had heard them until recently. As it turns out, I had heard what is probably his most often heard piece a lot during my life.
2016 took far too many of our favorite artists from us. 2017 continued that trend, unfortunately, with the death of Al Jarreau last month at the age of 76. The Washington Post’s obituary fondly remembered him as the “acrobat of scat”, a man who had a wide following but who never quite made it in the way so many of his contemporaries did.
2016 has not been a good year, if you judge years based on how many pop superstars died. The last week of December brought the news that George Michael died on Christmas Day. Though it has been a while since Mr. Michael hit the charts, his music still gets a fair amount of airplay, continuing to introduce him to a whole new generation and thereby making it that much more of a shock for so many when they heard of his death.
Three weeks after Prince’s death, the news cycle is still abuzz with stories about it. (Aside: 2016 has been really bad for music legends, and we’re still only about one-third through the year.) Even though his impact lessened quite a bit in recent years from its peak, there’s not denying that he was a major influence in popular music.