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Bob Dylan's Latest Box Set Proves He Remained Stellar In The '80s. These '60s Classic Rock Artists Did, Too.

Bob Dylan

Photo: Deborah Feingold | Courtesy of Sony Music Entertainment

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Bob Dylan's Latest Box Set Proves He Remained Stellar In The '80s. These '60s Classic Rock Artists Did, Too.

A revelatory new box set, 'Springtime In New York,' proves that Bob Dylan was still a force of nature in the '80s. It's worth reexamining other classic rock artists' output during the rocky decade.

GRAMMYs/Dec 9, 2021 - 10:10 pm

What do you think of when you consider 1960s artists in the '80s? Washed up, adrift, lost in a sea of emerging technology? You're not alone — Bob Dylan considered himself as such in his 2004 memoir, Chronicles.

"I hadn't actually disappeared from the scene, but the road had narrowed," he wrote. "There was a missing person inside of myself and I needed to find him." (He also calls himself "whitewashed and wasted out professionally" and "in the bottomless pit of cultural oblivion.")

This is coming from the guy who gave us "Every Grain of Sand," "Jokerman" and "Blind Willie McTell" during that decade, went full wild-eyed Christian-preacher mode in concert, and destroyed the universe on "Late Night With David Letterman" backed by fiery punk band the Plugz. Whatever his internal state at the time, he was selling his creative output short.

Read More: Here's What Went Down At Bob Dylan's Mysterious "Shadow Kingdom" Livestream Concert​

This suspicion — or conviction — that true Dylan heads have always had is now Gospel truth. Springtime in New York, a five-disc smorgasbord that arrived in September, strips away the sometimes-overbearing production of albums like Empire Burlesque, revealing their core components: Dylan in the midst of a spiritual awakening, backed by killer accompanists like the Dire Straits' Mark Knopfler.

So, Dylan has been handed a liferaft from the '80s, a decade thought too often as a sinking ship for him and his contemporaries. Sure, some '60s artists hit creative snags in big ways, and admit as much. Paul McCartney's film and soundtrack Give My Regards to Broad Street didn't quite make it out of the era; the now-prolific David Crosby only released one album, Oh Yes I Can; so on and so forth.

But does this hold true for George Harrison, who rejoined the music industry with a blazing smile on Cloud Nine? What about the Kinks, who handled the curves of the arena-rock and punk eras then hit a grand slam with State of Confusion? Or Jethro Tull, whose Crest of a Knave earned them their first GRAMMY (to the chagrin of Metallica fans)?

Clearly, there's a larger disconnect at play. So let's examine 10 excellent albums by artists most associated with the '60s who put out great work in the '80s.

John Lennon & Yoko Ono — Double Fantasy (1980)

Believe it or not, Lennon's final album — the one that gave us jewels like "(Just Like) Starting Over," "Beautiful Boy (Darling Boy)" and "Watching the Wheels" — earned scathing reviews upon its release.

NME, in particular, wished Lennon had "kept his big happy trap shut until he had something to say that was even vaguely relevant to those of us not married to Yoko Ono." The critics changed their tune after Lennon's slaying mere weeks after its release. But even if he were still with us (and how sweet would that be?), Double Fantasy would remain a milestone.

Picture this: After four chaotic decades in which Lennon lost his mother young and made (and unmade) the most significant rock band of all time, he had a transformative experience on a yacht from Rhode Island to Bermuda, in which a severe tempest forced him to take the wheel alone for several hours. He whooped sea shanties and took it as a baptism.

"I was so centred after the experience at sea that I was tuned in to the cosmos – and all these songs came!" he later said. They were unlike any others he'd written.

The Rolling Stones — Tattoo You (1981)

It's fascinating to watch the "Beatles or Stones?" debate percolating in the media again, because we get to be reminded of how it's a false dichotomy.

"The Rolling Stones [are] a big concert band in other decades and other areas when the Beatles never even did an arena tour or Madison Square Garden with a decent sound system," Mick Jagger said recently. "They broke up before that business started — the touring business for real."

As the Stones' ultimate stadium-rock monument, Tattoo You has always been well-regarded in their discography. But now that a new 40th Anniversary Edition — released in October via Polydor/Interscope/UMe — offers us a fresh remaster, we can remember that the true integrity of the album is in the songs.

"Start Me Up" has taken on new life in a variety of advertisements, from Windows 95 to the Summer Olympics, and that's because its hook and riff are unforgettable. And "Waiting on a Friend" remains one of their most heart-tugging and elusive tunes — one that only 20-something skirt-chasers could write after deepening and wizening with age.

Joni Mitchell — Wild Things Run Fast (1982)

Coming off her imperial run of albums in the '70s, Mitchell was a bit muted in the '80s.

Synth-pop production and era-specific politicking had a freezing effect on 1985's Dog Eat Dog; 1988's Chalk Mark in a Rain Storm leaned heavily on duets with Peter Gabriel, Willie Nelson, Don Henley, and other superstars. (Still, don't write off that last one — Courtney Barnett's a vocal fan!)

That said, her first album of the decade, Wild Things Run Fast, is an imperfect yet deeply satisfying album with distinguished collaborators, like saxophonist Wayne Shorter, guitarist Steve Lukather and bassist (and then-husband) Larry Klein.

"Chinese Café" is one of her most underrated, luminous album openers ever, segueing gracefully into the romantic standard "Unchained Melody." And the gems keep coming, from the exquisite "Moon at the Window" to the percolating "Be Cool."

Overall, if you skip the squealing guitars on "(You're So Square) Baby, I Don't Care" and "You Dream Flat Tires" on Side 2, Wild Things Run Fast fits snugly with her '70s fusion-era masterworks.

Read More: For The Record: Joni Mitchell's Emotive 1971 Masterpiece, Blue

The Kinks — State of Confusion (1983)

As only brothers in an all-time-classic rock band could experience, Ray and Dave Davies have had a fractious relationship for decades, both creatively and personally.

Not only was their band, the Kinks, banned from American stages at the height of their fame, but their fraternal tensions led to bizarre incidents like when Ray stamped on Dave's 50th birthday cake.

Today, they're getting along famously and working on new music. But through all the noise in the press, it's worth remembering that the Kinks weathered fundamental shifts in the music industry better than many of their peers. Dave's 1984 tune for the band, "Living on a Thin Line," is a perfect example — it was even featured three times in a classic Sopranos episode.

Also worth celebrating from their '80s period: State of Confusion, a gleaming pop album with hints of punk and new wave. "Long Distance" and "Come Dancing" are the obvious classics of the bunch — Rolling Stone called the former "astonishingly Dylanesque," and the latter, a memory-lane ode to their late sister, Rene, was their biggest hit in more than a decade.

But throw on the whole program and then spelunk deeper into the Kinks' '80s output. You won't be disappointed.

Yes — 90125 (1983)

Breathe a sigh of relief: Many of the greatest prog bands are still with us in the 21st century. Jethro Tull have their first album in decades out soon; Genesis are currently circling the globe on a thrilling reunion tour; the indefatigable Yes just released The Quest.

The latter band has experienced uncommon longevity, having weathered the deaths of key members Chris Squire and Peter Banks and only taking relatively brief hiatuses during their 53-year run. And like King Crimson, Yes only seemed to grow teeth as the '80s dawned.

The new-wavey album marked the return of the honeyed singer Jon Anderson, who had left in 1980. And "Owner of a Lonely Heart," especially, was a thrilling costume change that helped prove Yes could easily retrofit their elaborate jams into danceable pop.

The Beach Boys — The Beach Boys (1985)

Becoming a Beach Boys diehard is a three-pronged process: you get into the experimental '60s material, you realize the early pop hits and '70s albums rule as well, and then their entire history unveils itself as one gorgeous, flawed continuum.

This love story between you and America's Band also means getting to know their central angel: Carl Wilson. When their resident innovator, Brian Wilson, began to fade into the background in the late '60s, his brother stepped in as the band's lionhearted musical director until his 1998 death.

Granted, the Beach Boys' '80s period isn't the first era you should check out, per se. But it doesn't deserve outright dismissal by any means. Their self-titled record, the first since drummer (and middle Wilson brother) Dennis' drowning, carries hard-won poignancy that makes it an essential listen.

Three tunes especially deserve your attention: "Getcha Back," a driving co-write between Mike Love and Terry Melcher; "She Believes in Love Again," a heartfelt Bruce Johnston ballad with a charming yacht-rock veneer; and the elliptical "Where I Belong," which Carl never believed he truly finished.

Read More: Brian Wilson Is A Once-In-A-Lifetime Creative Genius. But The Beach Boys Are More Than Just Him.

Jethro Tull — Crest of a Knave (1987)

By now, Crest of a Knave is saddled with the reputation of besting Metallica's …And Justice For All in a GRAMMY category some believed they shouldn't have been in: Best Hard Rock/Metal Performance Vocal or Instrumental. (Tull leader Ian Anderson cheekily responded by taking out a Billboard ad reading "The flute is a heavy, metal instrument.")

This is a shame for multiple reasons. Not only is Crest one of Tull's heaviest albums — especially the skyscraping opener "Steel Monkey" — but it contains stone-cold Tull classics throughout. Here, the '80s textures are a feature, not a bug; the sequencers and programming underpin Anderson's songs, which are often set against urban sprawl.

In "Steel Monkey," a knuckleheaded high-rise worker touts his sexual prowess; in "Farm on the Freeway," a profitable farmer loses his generational land to steel and asphalt; in the exquisite "Said She Was a Dancer," an aging Western rock star (Anderson himself?) unsuccessfully hits on an emotionally distant Muscovite.

Read More: Jethro Tull's Aqualung At 50: Ian Anderson On How Whimsy, Inquiry & Religious Skepticism Forged The Progressive Rock Classic

George Harrison — Cloud Nine (1987)

Harrison was more solid in the '80s than you might think: the Traveling Wilburys and Somewhere in England's "Life Itself" are alone worth the price of admission.

But any discussion of his output during the decade must begin with Cloud Nine, conceived and marketed as his comeback. Make fun of the album cover all you want — it radiates positive vibes and perfectly advertises the colorful, Jeff-Lynne-produced music therein.

"That's What It Takes" is an elevating ode to resilience; "Fish on the Sand" makes one wish he did a chunky Byrds thing more often; the jubilant "Got My Mind Set on You" (including its video) is a psychological tonic for anyone going through it.

Cloud Nine would be the final album Harrison would release during his lifetime; his posthumous 2002 album Brainwashed is equally, if not more radiant. What a treat for Harrison fans, that after a few half-engaged '70s albums borne of frustration with the music industry, he reminded the world he had what it took.

Neil Young — Bluenote Café (2015, r. 1987-88)

This idiosyncratic Canerican's '80s period is mostly full of pranks and left-turns, but there's more "there" there than just making David Geffen mad.

1981's Re·ac·tor and 1982's Trans have aged fabulously, touching on electronic music and krautrock while tenderly addressing Young's communication breakdown with his nonverbal son, Ben. Then, there's 1988's This Note's For You, his swinging, bluesy takedown of corporate sponsorship.

He made that album with the Bluenotes, an assortment of old affiliates outfitted with a brass and reeds section. While it's a worthy curiosity today, Bluenote Café, an archival live album containing selections from Young's tours with the Bluenotes, is thrilling in a whole new way.

Throughout, the horns aren't just a pastiche — they legitimately rock. After 23 mighty, blaring songs, including his Freedom classic "Crime in the City" and underrated epic "Ordinary People," you might feel pleasantly exhausted.

That said, if you're not right there with the audience member shrieking "Woooo!" during "Welcome to the Big Room," you might be made of stone. If you're seeking out selections from Young's ever-growing Archives series, miss this one at your peril.

Lou Reed — New York (1989)

The adjective most often pinned on Lou Reed is "streetwise," but New York takes that tag and defines it literally. The rudimentary chord progressions, learnable after three guitar lessons, seem etched in chalk; the dense torrents of lyrics illustrate Reagan-era America.

"Those downtown hoods are no damn good/ Those Italians need a lesson to be taught/ This cop who died in Harlem/ You think they'd get the warnin'," the Velvet Underground leader intones in "Romeo Had Juliette," and the details spill out from there like that unfortunate law officer's blood.

Really, New York feels less like a rock record than a work of dense, engrossing journalism; no matter where or when you commune with it, there you are — right amid the social unrest and urban decay he's describing.

"Outside the city shrieking, screaming, whispering/ The mysteries of life," goes "Xmas in February" — as good a summation of Reed's boots-on-the-ground, head-in-the-ether art as any.

Daniel Lanois On Why A 1,000-Year-Old Tree Informed His New Album, Heavy Sun & Working With Bob Dylan, U2

John Lennon, Sting, Alicia Keys: 7 Songs For Starting Over In 2018

John Lennon

Photo: Ron Howard/Redferns

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John Lennon, Sting, Alicia Keys: 7 Songs For Starting Over In 2018

With hits from Leonard Cohen, the Byrds, Nina Simone, and more, find the motivation for a brand-new you this New Year

GRAMMYs/Jan 4, 2018 - 11:12 pm

Each New Year offers the opportunity for a fresh new start, whether you're looking to wash away the sins of the previous year or reinvent a better future that follows your ultimate dreams. Starting over isn't an easy task, but we have one recommendation that will help motivate you: music.

Don't be a fuddy duddy. Kick-start 2018 with this playlist of seven songs all about starting over, including hits from John Lennon, the Byrds, Sting, and Alicia Keys, among others.

1. The Byrds, "Turn! Turn! Turn!"

Starting with its lyrics, "To everything (turn, turn, turn)/There is a season," this GRAMMY Hall Of Fame classic is a great reminder that everything is always changing anyway, so now is as good a time as any to give something new a chance. The composition was written by Pete Seeger in the late 1950s, but the lyrics come almost verbatim from the Book of Ecclesiastes in the Bible. The song didn't hit it big until the Byrds got their turn at it in 1965. Reportedly, it took Roger McGuinn & Co. 78 takes to perfect their folk-rock arrangement.

2. Leonard Cohen, "Anthem"

GRAMMY winner Leonard Cohen had a knack for poetry powerful enough to move mountains, and his "Anthem" is one such gem. This 1992 tune about embracing imperfection and marching forward in the face of adversity contains one of Cohen's most-quoted lines: "Ring the bells that still can ring/Forget your perfect offering/There is a crack, a crack in everything/That's how the light gets in." And we'll leave you with one final line from the master that encapsulates starting over: "The birds they sing, at the break of day/Start again, I heard them say/Don't dwell on what has passed away/Or what is yet to be."

3. Gil Scott-Heron, "I'm New Here"

Taken from his 2010 album of the same name, "I'm New Here" came near the end of Gil Scott-Heron's storied life. The album saw Scott-Heron, according to Drowned In Sound's Robert Ferguson, "pick over the bones of his life, acknowledging the hard times and his own mistakes, but standing proud of all they have led him to become." Embodying this sentiment accompanied only by an acoustic guitar, Scott-Heron's bluesy, semi-spoken "I'm New Here" brings out the poignancy of change. Its key lyric, "No matter how far wrong you've gone/You can always turn around," is something to keep in mind year-round, let alone January.

4. Alicia Keys, "Brand New Me"

Alicia Keys went full bore on the empowering messages of her 2012 album, Girl On Fire —  the Best R&B Album winner at the 56th GRAMMY Awards — including the track, "Brand New Me." Co-written with singer/songwriter Emeli Sandé, the soft pop/R&B ballad describes growing as a person and becoming a brand-new version of yourself. "Brand new me is about the journey it takes to get to a place where you are proud to be a new you," Keys wrote on her website at the time of the song's release.

5. John Lennon, "(Just Like) Starting Over"

A quintessential start-anew song, former Beatle John Lennon included "(Just Like) Starting Over" on his GRAMMY-winning 1980 album, Double Fantasy. "(Just Like) Starting Over" was the album's first single because Lennon felt it best represented his return following a five-year hiatus from music. It's also a love song, but the theme of starting over has a universal resonance "It's time to spread our wings and fly/Don't let another day go by my love/It'll be just like starting over." It became Lennon's second chart-topping single in the U.S., reaching No. 1 after his death on Dec. 8, 1980.

6. Nina Simone, "Feeling Good"

"It's a new dawn/It's a new day/It's a new life for me/I'm feelin' good." Could you ask for better lyrics for embarking on a new journey? Nina Simone recorded her version of "Feeling Good," which was originally written for the musical "The Roar Of The Greasepaint — The Smell Of The Crowd," on her 1965 album I Put A Spell On You. While artists such as Michael Bublé, John Coltrane, George Michael, and Muse subsequently covered it, no alternative is quite as powerful — or soulful — as Simone's.

7. Sting, "Brand New Day"

Sting's "Brand New Day" has a lesson for inspiring motivation to start the New Year with fresh eyes: "Turn the clock to zero, buddy/Don't wanna be no fuddy-duddy/We started up a brand new day." The bright, catchy pop tune and its namesake 1999 album resonated with fans, landing it at No. 9 on the Billboard 200. The track (and album) earned Sting GRAMMYs — Best Male Pop Vocal Performance and Best Pop Album — at the 42nd GRAMMY Awards.

What's Your New Year's Music Resolution?

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We Will, We Will Shock You

A collection of shocking album covers that might make you look twice (or look away)

GRAMMYs/Dec 3, 2014 - 05:06 am

As the baby boomer-fueled market moved from singles to albums in the '60s and '70s, artists began using LP covers as a means to create bold visual statements, occasionally using nudity, sexual imagery or striking graphics. Sometimes the purpose was to create art for the ages, while other times it was to push boundaries. Either way, the most controversial covers were often banned or altered by record companies for fear of public or retail outrage. One of the most famous cases of censorship was one of the first — the Beatles' "butcher" cover for 1966's Yesterday And Today, which featured a grinning Fab Four covered in raw meat and plastic baby doll parts. (The cover was reportedly an anti-Vietnam war commentary by the group.) Capitol Records issued a new cover with a less-shocking photo after the original caused an uproar. In the '70s and '80s, German rock band the Scorpions made a series of albums with disturbing sexual imagery, including 1976's notorious (and quickly banned) Virgin Killer featuring a nude young girl. The cover was replaced by a conventional band portrait.

While shocking album covers do still exist, they have occurred with less frequency since the '90s as CDs, which de-emphasized cover art, replaced LPs and pop culture grew more permissive. Now, as album sales shift from physical to digital, the age of shock album covers is starting to seem like a bygone era. Here are a few other album covers that shocked us, and might shock you too.

Moby Grape
Moby Grape, 1967
Shocking fact: Drummer Don Stevenson's (center) middle finger was airbrushed out on later pressings.

The Jimi Hendrix Experience
Electric Ladyland, 1968
Shocking fact: The British release featured a bevy of naked women on the cover.

John Lennon & Yoko Ono
Unfinished Music No. 1: Two Virgins, 1968
Shocking fact: Distributors covered the explicit content — nude front and back portraits of Lennon and Ono — in brown paper. Even today, full frontal nudity remains objectionable for many.

The Rolling Stones
Beggars Banquet, 1968
Shocking fact: The band's U.S. and UK labels originally rejected the cover featuring a toilet and graffiti-covered bathroom wall. Today, the cover seems remarkably tame.

Blind Faith
Blind Faith, 1969
Shocking fact: The original cover featured a young nude girl holding a small plane. The replacement cover featured a shot of the band.

David Bowie
Diamond Dogs, 1974
Shocking fact: The cover illustration of Bowie as a (noticeably male) dog had the offending organs edited out.

Ohio Players
Honey, 1975
Shocking fact: The sexually suggestive cover features Playboy Playmate Ester Cordet swallowing honey from a spoon.

Jane's Addiction
Nothing's Shocking, 1988
Shocking fact: An ironic twist to the list. This artsy cover depicts a realistic sculpture, created by frontman Perry Farrell, featuring nude conjoined twins with hair afire.

Millie Jackson
Back To The S*!, 1989
Shocking fact: The take-no-prisoners soul singer poses on a toilet seat with one shoe off while grimacing. Often called the worst album cover ever.

The Black Crowes
Amorica, 1994
Shocking fact: Original cover featured an American flag-printed G-string showing pubic hair.
 

 

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Jackson Tops Dead Earners List

GRAMMYs/Dec 3, 2014 - 04:22 am

Jackson Tops Dead Earners List
GRAMMY winner and Recording Academy Lifetime Achievement Award recipient Michael Jackson topped Forbes' annual list of top-earning dead celebrities with $275 million, earning more than the combined total of the other 12 celebrities on the list. Elvis Presley ranked second with $60 million, John Lennon placed fifth with $17 million and Jimi Hendrix tied for 11th place with $6 million. Forbes compiled the list based on gross earnings between October 2009 and October 2010. (10/26)

UK Arts Council Announces Budget Cut Plans
Following a previous report, Arts Council England has revealed plans to implement the 30 percent cut to the UK's arts funding budget. The cuts will include a 7 percent cash cut for UK arts organizations in 2011–2012, a 15 percent cut for the regular funding of arts organizations by 2014–2015 and a 50 percent reduction to the council's operating costs. (10/26)

GRAMMY Winners To Perform At World Series
GRAMMY winners Kelly Clarkson, Lady Antebellum and John Legend are scheduled to perform "The Star-Spangled Banner" during Major League Baseball's 2010 World Series between the San Francisco Giants and Texas Rangers. Legend and Lady Antebellum will perform at games one and two in San Francisco on Oct. 27 and Oct. 28, respectively, and Clarkson will perform at game three on Oct. 30 in Arlington, Texas. (10/26)

 

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Stars Align On Capitol Hill

Music at presidential inaugurations provides entertainment and unifying moments of patriotism

GRAMMYs/Dec 3, 2014 - 05:06 am

(On Jan. 21 President Barack Obama will be inaugurated into his second term as president of the United States with a celebration in Washington, D.C., featuring performances by GRAMMY winners Beyoncé, Alicia Keys, Kelly Clarkson, Brad Paisley, Usher, and Stevie Wonder, among others. This feature is taken from the fall 2012 issue of GRAMMY magazine and offers a brief history of notable musical performances at past presidential inaugurations.) 

Being elected the leader of the free world is a pretty good reason to strike up the band. Ever since George Washington first danced a celebratory minuet after his inauguration in 1789, music has played an ever-increasing role in the gala events surrounding presidential inaugurations.

In 1801 Thomas Jefferson had the U.S. Marines band play him along as he made his way from the Capitol to the White House after taking the oath of office. James and Dolley Madison threw the first official inaugural ball in 1809. Jumping to the 20th century, in 1977 Jimmy Carter invited such music luminaries as John Lennon and Yoko Ono to his inaugural ball and allowed rock and roll — or at least the Southern rock variety — to become a part of his inauguration backdrop when he invited the Marshall Tucker Band and the Charlie Daniels Band to share a concert bill with Guy Lombardo And His Royal Canadians. (Lombardo's group was something of an inauguration ball house band, having played for seven presidents.) 

Today, inaugurations are presented as both massive public live events and televised productions, complete with a concert featuring a roster of star talent. The musical performances at inaugurations not only provide entertainment, they also help set the tone for a new presidency and bring the country together in a unifying moment of patriotism over partisanship.

"It wasn't about one side or the other. We just had this overwhelming feeling of being proud to be American," recalls Ronnie Dunn, formerly of the GRAMMY-winning duo Brooks & Dunn. He and then-partner Kix Brooks performed their hit "Only In America" at a concert as part of George W. Bush's first inauguration in 2001.

"Right away you could feel it was an emotionally charged crowd, and when you're standing on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial looking across to the Washington Monument, you can't help but tear up a little," says Brooks. "I remember there was this chaos during the big encore when all the musicians and all the presidential VIPs were onstage together. I turned around and there's Colin Powell shaking my hand. It turned into one of the wildest photo ops ever because all the music people and all the political people were pulling their cameras out to take pictures of each other."

One of the most memorable unions of political and musical star power at an inaugural gala occurred in 1993, when a reunited Fleetwood Mac performed "Don't Stop," a hit from their GRAMMY-winning album Rumours, for President-elect Bill Clinton. Clinton had used "Don't Stop" as the theme song to his presidential campaign, but the payoff live performance almost didn't happen.

"At that point we were as broken up as we'd ever been," says Stevie Nicks. "When our management received the request for us to play, they said, 'No.' I heard about that and thought to myself, 'I don't want to be 90, looking back and trying to remember why my group couldn't play the president's favorite song for him.' I told management to let me handle it." 

Nicks successfully coaxed her bandmates into a one-night, one-song reunion, a performance she remembers as truly exceptional.

"For one thing we'd never seen security like that," she says. "The Secret Service makes rock and roll security feel like a bunch of grade school hall monitors. But the performance felt really important. It felt like we were a part of history, and that the song itself was becoming a piece of American history. It was a fantastic night in all of our lives, and I'm really glad the band was able to come together for that one."

The Beach Boys played Ronald Reagan's second inauguration after a somewhat confused relationship with the White House. The band had headlined a series of Fourth of July concerts at the National Mall until 1983, when U.S. Secretary of the Interior James Watt accused the group of attracting "the wrong element" and booked Wayne Newton in their place. Watt later apologized, and the Beach Boys were reinstated and invited to play Reagan's inaugural gala in 1985.

"What I remember most about that night is that I got to meet Elizabeth Taylor," says Jerry Schilling, the band's then-manager. "But I also remember being extremely proud of the group. Things had been hard for Brian [Wilson], and the group wasn't always getting along. But they stood there together in front of the president and sang perfect five-part a capella harmony on 'Their Hearts Were Full Of Spring.' It was a big moment — we all felt that. It wasn't just another gig. The guys were truly honored to be there and they brought it when it mattered."

A new musical standard for inaugural events may have been established in 2009 when Barack Obama's presidency was kicked off with the "We Are One" concert. The patriotic spectacular featured a who's who of performers ranging from Pete Seeger, Bruce Springsteen and U2 to Usher, Sheryl Crow and will.i.am. An all-star lineup usually adds an all-star production element, but this particular concert was unique.

"Dealing with top artists, there's usually a lot of negotiating," says Don Mischer, one of the concert's producers, whose list of credits also includes Super Bowl halftime shows and Olympics ceremonies. "Who needs a private jet? How much does their 'glam squad' cost? What kind of security do they need? Putting together 'We Are One,' we said to every artist, 'This is a historical moment we'd love for you to be a part of, but you have to pay your own way and take care of your own security.' Right away, people like Beyoncé and Bono and Springsteen and Stevie Wonder all said, 'Yes.' They wanted to be there. There was a true camaraderie right from the start, and it turned out to be one of the greatest experiences any of us have ever had."

While Washington's minuet may have simply been a matter of dancing, Mischer says music has become as powerful a symbol of America as any other part of Inauguration Day.

"When you bring the music and the significance of an event like this together, it really reflects the strength of our cultural diversity and the strength of our country," he says. "In fact, at times when we seem to be going through confrontational political campaigns, I wish we would listen to the music a little more."

(Chuck Crisafulli is an L.A.-based journalist and author whose most recent works include Go To Hell: A Heated History Of The Underworld, Me And A Guy Named Elvis and Elvis: My Best Man.)