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From the Vaults

Fine Introductions to Rock's New Hall of Famers

March 17, 2001|ROBERT HILBURN | TIMES POP MUSIC CRITIC

There are usually one or two names on the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame's annual list of inductees that cause some younger pop fans to draw a blank--and it's no different this year.

Even the most casual fan will recognize most of the artists who will be inducted at the hall of fame dinner Monday in New York: Aerosmith, Michael Jackson, Queen, Paul Simon, Steely Dan and Ritchie Valens.

But Solomon Burke? The Flamingos?

That's where some blanks may be drawn.

Where Aerosmith has generated almost two dozen Top 40 singles (from 1975's "Sweet Emotion" to 1998's "I Don't Want to Miss a Thing"), Burke and the Flamingos have only had seven between them.

Chart impact alone, however, is never a good measure of artistry. While fans can disagree about whether Burke or the Flamingos deserve to be in the hall of fame alongside the likes of Elvis Presley, James Brown and the Beatles, both gave us quality work.

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**** Solomon Burke, "Home in Your Heart," Rhino/Atlantic. "The Very Best of Solomon Burke," an excellent, single-disc salute to his classic '60s period, is also available on Rhino/Atlantic, but this two-disc, 41-track package is the best way to explore the singer's vintage work.

"Whether Solomon Burke is the first true soul artist may be a matter of dispute; that he is a pioneer of the form is unquestioned," Rolling Stone magazine once declared.

Like other soul greats, from Ray Charles to Al Green, Burke drew from R&B, country and gospel. He could focus entirely on a single strain at times--such as the pure country tone of "Just Out of Reach (Of My Two Empty Arms)" or the horn-driven, R&B sting of "Got to Get You Off My Mind."

Yet Burke, who is still active, is most captivating when he breaks down the boundaries of the individual fields, and weaves the influences together in ways that are bold and distinctive.

Until listening to this album a few years ago, I thought that two other members of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Little Richard and Carl Perkins, were the chief vocal influences on John Fogerty, one of the most compelling rock singers ever.

But it's just a short step from Burke's howling intensity on "Cry to Me" and the album's title track to Fogerty's tenacious sound on "Born on the Bayou," one of the signature tracks from his days with Creedence Clearwater Revival.

Burke, who was born in Philadelphia in 1936, sang and preached in church as a child. He started his recording career in the mid-'50s and in 1961 went to Atlantic Records, where he became part of a legendary roster that also included Aretha Franklin, the Drifters and Wilson Pickett.

Burke quickly broke into the national pop charts with "Just Out of Reach," a country-accented gem that may well have encouraged Ray Charles to make his even bolder move into country-soul territory the following year with such hits as "I Can't Stop Loving You" and "Born to Lose."

This album's first disc is devoted to Burke's early years on Atlantic, when he worked with such respected producers as Bert Berns and Jerry Wexler. The material is generally spectacular.

For rock fans, it's fascinating to listen to Burke move in a flash from restraint to unbridled passion. There's even a point in "Go Back to Him" where he seems to combine the two extremes in a single line.

The second disc lacks the consistent highs of the first, but Burke still surprises you in places with an urgency and drive that stamp him as one of the most dynamic vocalists of the modern pop era.

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*** The Flamingos, "The Best of the Flamingos," Rhino. One of the favorite devices of record companies during the '50s was having rock and R&B groups redo old pop tunes, partly on the theory that the familiarity of the songs would make radio programmers and parents more open to the new, youthful sound.

Among the vintage numbers revived during those early days of rock: "My Blue Heaven" (by Fats Domino), "Love Letters in the Sand" (Pat Boone) and "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes" (the Platters).

But few remakes proved as enduring as the Flamingos' version of "I Only Have Eyes for You," which was written in 1934 by Al Dubin and Harry Warren, and introduced by Dick Powell and Ruby Keeler in the film "Dames."

In redoing the tune in 1956, the Flamingos added a catchy, contemporary chant, "doo bop, she bop," to the dreamy tune. The single only went to No. 11 on the pop chart, but it stands today as one of the most popular ballad recordings of the era.

The idea to redo the song came from George Goldner, a New York recording executive whose other discoveries included Frankie Lymon & the Teenagers. The Flamingos, who were co-founded in Chicago by cousins Zeke and Jake Carey, had made a name for themselves in R&B circles by mixing some of the smooth vocal tendencies of the Mill Brothers (a favorite of Zeke's) and the more contemporary stylings of such groups as the Orioles.

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