ARETHA FRANKLIN. The essays on these singers, producers and musicians.
As a producer, I almost always addressed phrasing and enunciation with the singer, but in Aretha 's case, there was nothing I could tell her. I would only be getting in her way. Nowadays, singers who want to be extra soulful overdo melisma. Aretha only used it a touch and used it gloriously because her taste was impeccable. She never went to the wrong place.
RAY CHARLES. The essays on these singers, producers and musicians.
His music first hit me when I heard a live version of "What'd I Say" on American Forces Network in Germany, which I used to listen to late at night. Then I started buying his singles. His sound was stunning — it was the blues, it was R&B, it was gospel, it was swing — it was all the stuff I was listening to before that but rolled into one amazing, soulful thing.
BOB MARLEY. The essays on these singers, producers and musicians.
What separates Bob Marley from so many other great songwriters? They don't know what it's like for rain to seep into their house. They wouldn't know what to do without their microwaves and stoves — to make a fire with wood and cook their fish next to the ocean. Marley came from the poverty and injustice in Jamaica, and that manifested itself in his rebel sound.
THE BEACH BOYS. The essays on these singers, producers and musicians.
The Beach Boys showed the way, and not just to California. Sure, they may have sold the California Dream to a lot of people, but for me, it was Brian Wilson showing how far you might have to go in order to make your own musical dream come true.
BUDDY HOLLY. The essays on these singers, producers and musicians.
Buddy Holly was a complete and utter hillbilly. I'm very proud of that. So much of our musical heritage is from the country. People always ask me, "Why do you stay in Indiana?" Well, I have to. Just about every song, every sound that we emulate and listen to was created by a hillbilly, born out of the frustration of a small town where there ain't much to do in the evening. That's one thing that I loved about Buddy Holly.
LED ZEPPELIN. The essays on these singers, producers and musicians.
Heavy metal would not exist without Led Zeppelin , and if it did, it would suck. Led Zeppelin were more than just a band — they were the perfect combination of the most intense elements: passion and mystery and expertise. It always seemed like Led Zeppelin were searching for something. They weren't content being in one place, and they were always trying something new.
STEVIE WONDER. The essays on these singers, producers and musicians.
Let me put it this way: Wherever I go in the world, I always take a copy of Songs in the Key of Life. For me, it's the best album ever made, and I'm always left in awe after I listen to it. When people in decades and centuries to come talk about the history of music, they will talk about Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Ray Charles and Stevie Wonder . Stevie came out of the golden age of Motown, when they were putting out the best R&B records in the world from Detroit, and he evolved into an amazing songwriter and a genuine musical force of nature.
SAM COOKE. The essays on these singers, producers and musicians.
Sam Cooke was grounded in a very straightforward singing style: It was pure, beautiful and open-throated, extraordinarily direct and unapologetic. Let's say you're going to sing "I love you for sentimental reasons." How do you hit that "I"? Do you slur into it? Do you put in a little hidden "h"? The attack on that vowel sound is the tip-off to how bold a singer is. If you pour on the letter "i" from the back of your throat, the listener gets that there is no fudge in the first thousandth of a second. There's just confidence from the singer, that he knows the pitch, and here's the sound. That's what Sam was great at. He had guts as a singer.
MUDDY WATERS. The essays on these singers, producers and musicians.
Muddy and his band opened for ZZ Top on a tour in 1981. This was over 40 years after his first recordings, and that band could still play the blues, not just as seasoned pros but with the same enthusiasm Muddy had when he started out. When he sang that his mojo was working, you could tell his mojo had not slowed down at all. He was satisfied, composed, self-contained. If he had an opinion on a subject, he didn't allow a whole lot of latitude to be convinced otherwise.
MARVIN GAYE. The essays on these singers, producers and musicians.
At Motown, Marvin was one of the main characters in the greatest musical story ever told. Prior to that, nothing quite like Motown had ever existed — all those songwriters, singers, producers working and growing together, part family, part business — and I doubt seriously if it will ever happen like that again. And there's no question that Marvin will always be a huge part of the Motown legacy.
THE VELVET UNDERGROUND. The essays on these singers, producers and musicians.
When you listen to a classic-rock station today, why don't they play the Velvet Underground? Why is it always Boston and Led Zeppelin? And why are the Rolling Stones so much more popular than the Velvets? OK, I understand why the Stones are more popular. But there is also a part of me that has always felt that it should have been the other way around. The Velvet Underground were way ahead of their time. And their music was weird. But it also made so much sense to me. I couldn't believe this wasn't the most popular music ever made.
BO DIDDLEY. The essays on these singers, producers and musicians.
Bo Diddley 's music is enormous. It's deeply moving. It has the sultry, sexual power of Africa. There's all sorts of mystery in that sound. People listen to Bo Diddley recordings and think, "Oh, you can just gobonk-de-bonk-bonk, de-bonk-bonk, and you got a Bo Diddley beat." But it isn't that easy. He played really simple things but with incredible authority. I first heard him on a Rolling Stones album, on their cover of "Mona." It was such a great song; I looked at the credits and it said "Ellas McDaniel," and I thought, "Who the hell is that?"