(To commemorate the GRAMMY Hall Of Fame's 40th Anniversary in 2013, GRAMMY.com has launched GRAMMY Hall Of Fame Inspirations. The ongoing series will feature conversations with various individuals who will identify GRAMMY Hall Of Fame recordings that have influenced them and helped shape their careers.)
Music fans not old enough to remember when the Rascals — featuring Eddie Brigati alongside Felix Cavaliere, Gene Cornish and Dino Danelli — ruled the airwaves with such hits as "Good Lovin'," "A Beautiful Morning" and "Groovin'," may remember Steven Van Zandt's indelible speech when he inducted the band into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1997.
"Some people may not realize it, but the Rascals were the first rock band in the world," said Van Zandt. "[When] 'I Ain't Gonna Eat Out My Heart Anymore' [came] on the radio … that was when New Jersey soul was born."
Though the Rascals disbanded in 1972, in less than a decade they managed to release several albums to chart on the Billboard 200, including 1967's Groovin', which was released under the band's former name, the Young Rascals, and climbed to No. 5. The album's title track was a No. 1 hit and earned induction into the GRAMMY Hall Of Fame in 1999.
Fortunately for music fans that wasn't the last they would hear of Brigati or the Rascals. In 2012 Van Zandt brought the original band back together for the first time for "Once Upon A Dream" (taken from the title of the band's 1968 album) — a nostalgic Beatlemania-like production Van Zandt wrote, co-produced and co-directed. The show premiered at the Capitol Theatre in Port Chester, N.Y., in 2012 and sold out consistently during its April 2013 Broadway run.
Coincidentally, Van Zandt may indirectly owe his acting career to the Rascals. According to Brigati, "Sopranos" creator David Chase discovered Van Zandt (who played Silvio Dante on the show from 1999–2007) after watching him induct the Rascals into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Brigati says that while he is often asked about the rifts that broke the band apart years ago, he chooses to focus on the now.
"The music goes beyond all the negativity that happened," he says. "All that stuff was fertilizer. I know you're talking about half a century later, but believe it: The music keeps getting better. It's better than ever."
Below, Brigati details the five GRAMMY Hall Of Fame recordings that have continued to provide inspiration throughout his storied career.
West Side Story
Original Broadway Cast (Carol Lawrence, Larry Kert)
"I was in school when 'West Side Story' came out. I came out of there and I was practically leaping over cars in the parking lot. Then I went to New York. I was going to be in the movies, I was going to be a dancer, I was going to do everything. I went to see a man by the name of Phil Black. He was the premier dance instructor on Broadway then. He talked to me, he interviewed me, and he said, 'OK, you come back and take this ballet class.' At the beginning I loved it. I was the only guy there. But I didn't realize I was going to Marine camp. I thought I was just going to jump over cars. I didn't know how hard it is to be a dancer. It's a whole life, not a hobby.
"'West Side Story' was important musically because of the story of the whole thing, too. Songs that tell you stories [are] what we [wrote] in the Rascals, and 'West Side Story' did it first. It had songs that tell you something. You want to listen to the story to hear about dreams, ambitions, hobbies, goals. I took that with me."
What's Going On
"Marvin Gaye was a beautiful singer, and he was in some wonderful groups. My brother and I are singers, and the main musical food we had in our house growing up was R&B — black harmony singers. We listened to the Flamingos, the Doves, all these people that came in the '50s and '60s who were blending and harmonizing. … They were blessing your ears. It was something they anointed you with. That's the germ of our history.
"Marvin Gaye was a singer who took it a step further, because he also dealt with political issues. He was talking about social interests, topical stories. He was talking about what's important to him. Again, he told a story, and the story stays with you. It's like with Stevie Wonder — he wrapped his songs in candy, like a sweet pill. You dance to the songs but you also swallow the pill. The message behind the song stays with you."
"What The World Needs Now Is Love"
"I got out of high school in '63. I had done a tour with Joey Dee And The Starliters, and the Rascals began a year later. The song 'What The World Needs Now…' reflected the surrounding temperature of the times. It was the food around us, the information we were receiving. You have to remember the whole background was the Vietnam War. That song captured a countercultural feeling. It had liftoff in the culture. In the Rascals there was social commentary too, but we kept it down, we kept it to the side. It's in there, though."
The Beach Boys
"I know the Beach Boys' Pet Sounds influenced me because I still sing songs from it every day. I sing them, I whisper them, whatever. It left a mark on me as much if not more so than the Beatles, although it's hard to deny the Beatles. I'll sing 'Caroline, No.' Or I'll sing 'Wouldn't It Be Nice' around the house, and then I sing the part about 'wouldn't it be nice if we were older,' and then I'm thinking, the joke is, if we get any older I won't be able to sing anymore. But Pet Sounds has love stories, it has everything. It's all in there."
"Johnny Mathis was the singer's singer. The arrangements, the love songs … still today, his songs are indelible. 'Chances Are' has a beautiful perspective. It's not about violence or aggression, it's about real love — vulnerability, being smitten, two people in awe of each other. That's why it holds up today, and that's why the Rascals' stuff holds up today. The reason is love, the purity of love. The influence may be missing in the American culture now, but it reached me."
(Eddie Brigati served as one of the primary vocalists/composers of the Rascals, along with Felix Cavaliere. The No. 1 hit "Groovin'," which he co-wrote with Cavaliere, has been recorded by artists including Aretha Franklin, Ringo Starr and Booker T. & The MG's, among others.)
(Tammy La Gorce is a freelance writer whose work appears regularly in The New York Times.)
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