The Songwriters Hall of Fame does not get the buzz that the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame does for a number of reasons. The most prominent is that it does not have its own building as it’s given some space in LA’s Grammy Museum thanks to National Recording Arts & Sciences CEO and Bayside native Neil Portnow.
That may change according to Songwriters Hall of Fame president and legendary tunesmith Jimmy Webb who told the audience at last month’s induction ceremonies held at the Marriott Marquis that the new owner of the Midtown pop music landmark, the Brill Building, will let the Songwriters Hall of Fame have displays in its lobby.
Two rock legends, Elton John and Steve Tyler, made it very clear in their speeches that they considered induction into the Songwriters Hall of Fame a far bigger accomplishment than the Rock Hall. Tyler, and his Aerosmith songwriting partner, Joe Perry, performed a blistering version of “Walk This Way,” and gave credit to Hollis’s own RUN-DMC for introducing their tune to a whole new audience.
The Aerosmith duo weren’t the only classic rockers honored this year. Foreigner’s composing tandem of Mick Jones and Lou Gramm performed a pair of their hits, “Juke Box Heroes” and “I Want To Know What Love Is.” Billy Joel praised Foreigner and had fun with the fact that the band chose to emphasize the last word, “Is,” instead of “Love,” which is what he would have done had he written the group’s famous power ballad.
Holly Knight is not as well known as she should be considering all of the “rocker chick” anthems that she has written including “The Best,” “Love Is A Battlefield,” “Never,” and “The Warrior,” which were respective hits for Tina Turner, Pat Benatar, Heart, and Scandal.
Patty Smyth, who is married to tennis legend and Douglaston native John McEnroe, performed a rousing version of “The Warrior.” Her voice was as powerful as it was in the summer of 1984 when it was a hit record. There were some concessions to the passing years however. Smyth was having trouble catching her breath when she started reading her testimonial for Knight off the Teleprompter. She also admitted that it was hard to read the words on the screen without her glasses.
Another key difference between the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and the Songwriters Hall of Fame is that the latter is not limited to paying homage to one style of music. Tony Hatch was arguably Great Britain’s answer to Forest Hills High School alum Burt Bacharach in the 1960s. Among the hits that he and Jackie Trent, his lyricist and ex-wife, composed were “Call Me” that was sung by Chris Montez; “You’re The One” which charted by the Vogues; Bobby Rydell’s last big hit, “Forget Him,” and the Searchers’ “Sugar And Spice.”
Just as Burt Bacharach and Hal David utilized the talents of Dionne Warwick to produce many of their hits, so did Hatch and Trent rely on those of their countrywoman, Petula Clark. Among the memorable Petula Clark classics are “I Know A Place,” “I Couldn’t Live Without Your Love,” “My Love,” “Don’t Sleep In The Subway” (“the subway” incidentally refers to an underground pedestrian walkway and not a commuter train system), and the best known of them all, “Downtown.” Petula Clark, who rarely performs in the US, surprised the audience by coming on stage to perform that 1965 international smash, and she still looks and sounds fantastic at 80 years of age. Hatch claims that the inspiration for “Downtown” came from a trip he made to Times Square in 1964.
While their professional and personal partnership dissolved years ago, it was disappointing that Hatch did not acknowledge Jackie Trent in his acceptance speech. It was unclear as to why the Hall of Fame did not choose to honor Trent at the same time that they did Hatch.
The late Sam Cooke’s civil rights anthem, “A Change Is Gonna Come,” that was released a few months after his untimely death in December 1964, received the Towering Song honor. Jordin Sparks sung it beautifully on the ballroom stage.
It’s a shame that the evening ended on an uncomfortable note as the legendary Smokey Robinson made a very long and rambling speech honoring Motown Records founder Berry Gordy. The success that he had running the iconic label make it easy to forget that Gordy first garnered public attention as a songwriter. Smokey’s lengthy discourse created such a sense of antsiness in the crowd that the Teleprompter implored him in red to introduce Mr. Gordy with an exclamation mark numerous times. Either he couldn’t see the screen or willfully chose to ignore the not-so-subtle suggestion.
Berry Gordy won the audience back however when he thanked Robinson for his heartfelt and overly long speech. He wisely kept his remarks brief so that the cast of the Broadway show, “Motown,” could get on the ballroom stage before midnight.