Last night, in an eighth floor Marriott Marquis ballroom, several hit makers were inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame, complete with performances by the likes of Tom Jones, Clint Black, James Taylor, Jason Mraz, Jon Bon Jovi & Richie Sambora, Crosby, Stills & Nash, and
a surprising Rascals reunion featuring honorees Felix Cavaliere and Eddie Brigati with brother David Brigati supplying support. One of the presenters was Cousin Bruce Morrow who twice raised the question, "How come this awards show isn't televised?" and maybe that's not a bad
idea. The SHOF show always has its share of great talent, and it has one of the most interesting mission statements--to acknowledge certain songwriters whose works include some of our most memorable hits. And this year's bumper crop of inductees possibly was the most diverse yet: Eddie Brigati and Felix Cavaliere from The Rascals ("Groovin'," "How Can I Be Sure," "A Beautiful Morning," "Good Lovin'"), Crosby, Stills & Nash ("Teach Your Children," "Southern Cross," "Wooden Ships," "Suite Judy Blue Eyes,"), Jon Bon Jovi and Richie Sambora ("Living On A Prayer," "Wanted Dead Or Alive," "Blaze Of Glory,"), Roger Cook and Roger Greenaway ("Long Cool Woman In A Black Dress," "This Golden Ring," "Green Grass," "Here Comes That Rainy Day Feeling Again"), Stephen Schwartz ("Corner Of The Sky," "Day By Day," "Colors Of The Wind," "Defying Gravity"), and Galt MacDermot, James Rado, and the late Gerome Ragni ("Aquarius/Let The Sunshine In," "Hair," "Good Morning Starshine," and "Easy To Be Hard").
There were also special trophies distributed for unique achievements, such as The Towering Song Award for "Moon River" that featured a performance by composer Henry Mancini's daughter Monica and the song's original crooner, Andy Williams; the Hal David Starlight Award (for excellence by them younger folks) was presented by the first year's recipient, Rob Thomas, to his pal Jason Mraz, complete with some playful "I hate you"s by the Matchbox Twenty frontman for Mraz being too talented; the Abe Olman Publisher Award acknowledged Maxyne Lang's very long and distinguished music business career; the Howie Richmond Hitmaker Award went to Tom Jones who said in his acceptance speech that he never expected to win an award in this arena; and the Johnny Mercer award was presented by Berry Gordy to Motown's legendary songwriters/producers Brian Holland, Lamont Dozier, and Eddie Holland, Jr. for having penned so many enduring classics and leaving a mark on pop culture.
Not all of the show's highlights came in award presentations or performances. Some came from presenters' stories, like Cousin Brucie's anecdote on being phoned by these guys named Cavaliere and Brigati who wanted to arrange a meeting at "The Phone Booth." The audience also
was told that in the day, the Rascals' label resisted releasing "People Gotta Be Free" because they were afraid of the consequences of their artists getting too socially conscious. And it was a hoot to watch the admiration by most hosts of their particular act, like when Five For Fighting's John Ondrasik spoke like a fanboy about his winner, Broadway's Stephen Schwartz, before eventually singing their co-write, "Slice."
Later in the show, after being introduced by a pretty funny Paul Williams ("We've Only Just Begun," "Evergreen"), James Taylor couldn't say enough good things about Crosby, Stills & Nash. He also performed a medley of their signature songs "A Long Time," "Teach Your Children," and "Love The One You're With" as the perfect tribute to his friends and past vocal collaborators. And Chris Daughtry sang the impossibly high-pitched "I'll Be There For You" after which he razzed his buddies Bon Jovi and Sambora with, "Why did you guys have to put that key change in there!" Speaking of that pair, they had the longest but most heartfelt acceptance speeches of the evening, both paying tribute to each other's talents, loyalty and brotherhood, and it was touching to see just how much time they spent expressing such sentiments at an awards show. Jon Bon Jovi offered a great line about a youthful observation: "The difference between being boys playing in the barroom and the men I wanted to be (like) was they wrote songs." He also uttered the most profound line of the night when he claimed, "I believe the closest thing to immortality is songwriting," though what carried even more gravity was his declaration, "The business is changing around us, the one thing they can't take is the song."
But the performances were pretty special too. Clint Black played a riveting version of Cook and Greenaway's "Long Cool Woman In A Black Dress," after which he joked, "Of all the bands I ever played with, these guys are the most recent." Following CSN's performance of "Helplessly Hoping" came BeBe Winans who took the stage to deliver a mid-tempo version of "You Can't Hurry Love" before a giggly lovefest commenced between Berry Gordy and the reunited team of Holland-Dozier-Holland when they gathered at the podium. During their reminiscences, everyone had the kindest words about everyone else, and there were buckets of gratitude splashing about that contradicted years of tabloid exaggerations. The crowd got a glimpse of these former Motown relatives acting like the family that, after all these years, they still are. That was, of course, before they all grabbed the wrong awards which was a great, goofy moment to behold. Then came Tom Jones who shared a few good tales about his biggest hits. He told the room he had always loved rock 'n' roll and considered himself that kind of artist, then revealed that when Burt Bacharach approached him to record "What's New Pussycat?" the Brit honestly thought he was joking, that the composer's bouncy presentation was some sort of put-on. He also said that had he never heard Jerry Lee Lewis' unique version of "The Green, Green Grass Of Home," he would never have recorded it. And Sandi Shaw's rejection of a pitched demo of Jones singing "It's Not Unusual" led to his adopting it. After Jones' performance came a shoutout by Cousin Brucie to the show's musical guru, Phil Ramone, that forced a visit by the maestro to the stage. His night ran smoothly, and it concluded with the Broadway musical Hair's writers and heirs accepting awards at the podium, cueing-up former 5th Dimension members Marilyn McCoo & Billy Davis, Jr. and their big finale of "Aquarius/Let The Sunshine In." They then were joined by Hair's current cast members, and the overly-populated stage became a minor dance party. Come to think of it, maybe Bruce Morrow is right...how come this awards show isn't televised?