Happy 4th of July weekend! We know that a large portion of this great country is in tune with pop culture in one way or another. And music is a large part of that culture. We also know that last week, the King of Pop died, which has brought things to somewhat of a halt, so to speak. It is safe to say that almost every person in America has contemplated the death of Michael Jackson over the last week. The reactions have been anywhere from grief to apathy to supposed suicide pacts between some of his hardcore fans. Undoubtedly, Jackson’s influence was huge, and speculation about what his life was really like into every nitty gritty sordid detail will surely unfold in the coming months. I heard someone say no one this influential in America, hell worldwide, has died since Elvis. And sure, it was too soon. Historically, there are hundreds of musicians that have died before their time, due to things like murder, eating disorders, suicide. So in paying homage to America and some of its ever honored musicians, I’ve made a mix of songs from artists who died young. Some whose deaths made just as much of an impact on us as their lives.
Patsy Cline, “Walkin’ After Midnight”- Patsy Cline is classic. Most of her songs are about heartbreak, a topic that fits so wonderfully with her sweet-but-bold voice. Patsy has been called the most influential woman in country music, which is incredible since her heyday was the late 1950s to early 1960s. She also successfully crossed over into the pop music arena, which was unheard of for country stars at the time, let alone a female country singer. She died in a plane crash at the height of her career. Loretta Lynn, k.d. lang and Linda Ronstadt mark her as influential on their music.
Janis Joplin, “Me and Bobby McGee”- In this time of fiscal turmoil, a more relevant Joplin song might have been “Mercedes Benz”, what with its social commentary on consumerism and status garnered because of how much one has, but “Me and Bobby McGee” is my favorite song of hers, even though it was a Kris Kristofferson cover. Janis is always lumped together with a few other musicians who died at 27; Jimi Hendrix, Kurt Cobain, Jim Morrison. Her death was likely due to a heroin overdose. She was so unique, in her musicianship and in general, and said, “I’m full of emotion and I want a release”. Stevie Nicks, Ann Wilson and Nancy Wilson mark her as influential on their music.
The Carpenters, “Superstar”- Karen Carpenter was the drummer/singer in The Carpenters, a band she formed with her brother Richard in the ’70s. Karen thrived as a drummer, but became a singer due to pressures from label execs. As her band got bigger, she developed anorexia, which eventually contributed to her death in 1983. Officially, it was heart failure due to anorexia, and Karen’s death undoubtedly brought attention to the gravity of that disease. She was well loved and had a beautiful voice, displayed here on “Superstar”, and though she was surely not the first to fall victim to pressures of thinness, at the time she was arguably the most visible. Sheryl Crow, Sonic Youth and The Cranberries mark her as influential on their music.
Billie Holiday, “Them There Eyes”- Billie Holiday’s story had its tawdry details, but her unmistakable talent is really all I remember her for. She died of heart and liver failure, perhaps due to drug use. Fiona Apple, Etta James and Robert Smith mark her as influential on their music.
Queen, “Killer Queen”- Queen were versatile, epic and big in sound and persona, and while they were not from America, they were a universally loved band. Their infamous frontman, Freddie Mercury, died in 1991 of bronchial pneumonia due to AIDS. Everyone from Iron Maiden to The Killers mark Queen as influential on their music.
TLC, “What About Your Friends”- TLC were so fly. Their day glo backwards hats and condom eye patches were the jam in the early ’90s. They were the first all-girl group to be awarded diamond certification for record sales of their best success, CrazySexyCool. In 2002, amidst inner-group feuding, Lisa “Left-Eye” Lopes died in a car accident in Honduras. In 2005, the remaining members of TLC, Tionne “T-Boz” Watkins and Rozanda “Chilli” Thomas stared in a reality show R U The girl searching for someone to replace Lopes in TLC. It was weird. Kelis and Destiny’s Chlid mark TLC as influential on their music.
Ritchie Valens, “La Bamba”- Ritchie Valens has been called “the first Hispanic rock star”. He died at age 17 in a plane crash along with Buddy Holly and The Big Bopper. I had to include this song because I knew who Ritchie Valens was before I knew about Elvis, because my grandmother, who was from Puerto Rico, listened to him. Also because her sister, my aunt, sings this song at karaoke, and probably would to this day.
Michael Jackson, “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’ ”- I can’t say anything that hasn’t already been said or will be said millions of times. This is one of my favorite MJ songs.