The first half of 2012 has seen the passing of a substantial number of well known musical artists from the 1960s and 1970s. These two decades produced musical trends that continue to be very influential to the sounds of today’s artists.
The music of the ’60s may well be best known for The Beatles, Bob Dylan and the psychedelic sounds of the later part of the decade.
A group that was created to cash in on the popularity of The Beatles and combine it with the huge potential audience of a television sitcom was The Monkees. Although they started out as a synthetic creation, they produced some high quality pop music that stands up well and is a good representation of a golden era of AM radio hits.
In February Davy Jones of The Monkees died suddenly of cardiac arrest. Jones, 66 was the lead voice on the hits ‘A Little Bit Me, A Little Bit You’, ‘I Wanna Be Free’, and ‘Daydream Believer’.
When Bob Dylan made the transition from acoustic folk singer to a more electrified rock act the group that he took on the road to back him eventually came to be known as The Band.
As The Band they went on to record a number of classic albums featuring ’60s Americana such as ‘The Weight’ and ‘The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down’, written by guitarist Robbie Robertson.
On April 19, Levon Helm 71, drummer and lead singer for The Band died after a long battle with cancer. Helm had become something of an institution in the years after The Band broke up, hosting and playing at his ‘Rambles’, presenting the best of old and new artists performing music in keeping with a 1960s esthetic.
In 1967 the first lp by The Bee Gees was released. The record’s first single ‘New York Mining Disaster 1941′, hit the airwaves just before The Beatles’ Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. As a promotional gimmick disc jockeys hinted that The Bee Gees tune might actually be a teaser from the forthcoming Beatles album released under a false name.
The Bee Gees didn’t need gimmicky promotion. On their own merit the group went on to achieve huge success in the ’60s, and in the ’70s even greater success after they reinvented themselves as an R&B dance music act and earned massive sales as well as scorn from anti-disco rock purists with the massive selling Saturday Night Fever soundtrack album among others.
On May 20, Robin Gibb, one of the two remaining Gibb brothers age 62, died from complications of cancer and intestinal surgery. Robin, Maurice, and Barry Gibb, as the Bee Gees had a totally unique harmony vocal quality and wrote pop songs in a variety of commercial melodic styles. Maurice Gibb (Robin’s twin) died in 2003 of a heart attack while awaiting surgery for a twisted intestine. Robin had the most individual sounding voice of the brothers. His lead vocal can be heard on the 1968 hit ‘I Started a Joke’ as well as many others.
One of the most successful bands of the ’70s Fleetwood Mac went through many incarnations during that decade. Starting out as a British blues band, they morphed into a light rock powerhouse with an Anglo/American roster of players.
In 1971 American Bob Welch joined Fleetwood Mac. This version of the group went on to release the album Bare Trees, which included the first recorded version of his song ‘Sentimental Lady’ which Welch recorded and had a hit with later as a solo artist. Welch’s ‘Hypnotized’ was a hit for Fleetwood Mac in the early ’70s. His work in the group along with Christine McVie laid the groundwork for the Stevie Nicks/ Lindsey Buckingham version of the band that would establish them as superstars later in the decade.
Bob Welch died June 7, at age 66 of a self inflicted gunshot wound. Welch was despondent after surgery failed to correct a spinal condition.
The ’70s are remembered musically for a number of styles such as glam, progressive, and punk rock, as well as the notoriously polarizing dance music known as disco. People tended to either love it or hate it.
The female vocalist with the biggest hits in this style during the disco era was Donna Summer. Her string of hits began in 1975 with ‘Love To Love You Baby’ and continued with other dance floor favorites like ‘Last Dance’, ‘Hot Stuff’, ‘Heaven Knows’ and even a disco reworking of Jimmy Webb’s ‘MacArthur Park’. Her early hits were produced by Giorgio Moroder. Their collaboration on ‘I Feel Love’ has been described by the producer as the real beginning of electronic dance music that continues to this day.
Summer passed away on May 17 at 63 after being diagnosed with lung cancer.
In addition to the artists themselves a number of seminal popular music presenters passed in the first half of 2012.
Soul Train, the long running R&B dance show was founded and hosted by Don Cornelius who died on February 1, at 75, an apparent suicide
Pioneering FM disc jockey Pete Fornatale 66, died suddenly on April 26 of cardiac arrest.
The man dubbed ‘the world’s oldest teenager’ Dick Clark whose American Bandstand launched the careers of hundreds of popular music stars in the ’60s and ’70s died on April 18, of a heart attack following a surgical procedure. Clark had suffered a stroke years earlier but still appeared on a limited basis.
It stands to reason that the artists whose heyday was 40 or more years ago would increasingly pass away as we get further into the 21st century, but the first half of 2012 seems to have brought a noticeably high number of these iconic music figures’ deaths.
All the more reason to stop and appreciate their contributions to music and popular culture.