Forty-Eight years ago this month, the duo the Righteous Brothers Released a song that was brilliantly written and performed, depicting the unfortunate early passing of many great musical performers from the 1950-s – 1970’s. A few years later, they released a second version of Rock & Roll Heaven, with the same theme of more young performers who had left us. Roughly 3022 years ago, about 1000 BC, King David, an accomplished musician, and God’s beloved, took the thrown as King of Israel. Since those early days when King David serenaded God and his loved ones, we have been blessed with many absolutely incredible and ingenious musicians who have brought musical diversity and ingenuity to our ears to enjoy, contemplate meaning, and just escape and bask in the sounds.
As I study some music history, I was amazed at the number of brilliant musicians who did die young, as the Righteous Brothers reminded us. I know many of these people battled mental health issues and substance abuse, which ultimately caused their early demise, but there is no mistaking the quality of their work and the melodious tunes they have provided us for many many years of listening and remembrances.
Some of these peoples’ brilliance, have led to providing a lifetime of messages and memories to us all. Think of a memorable event in your life and there is likely a song from that time you remember. Visa-Versa, think of an incredibly moving or memorable song, and you’ll likely remember that period in your life, or a distinct event or memory of yours. My graduation song, a song our jazz band used to play, and the song I hear that reminds me of my marriage to a wonderful girl. These are just some of those songs that come to my mind. The contribution of these folks is immeasurable and the enjoyment, at least for music lovers, is everlasting.
Let’s look back at some of those great performers that may, or may not, have been captured in the Righteous Brothers songs. We’ll look at some, not all, of the artists who have left us before their 46th birthday. Starting with some of my very favorites. I’m calling this my Rock and Roll Heaven list and although they are not all rockers, they made my team (Hey if the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame can induct non-rock and rollers, then so I can 😊):
I’m going to cheat a bit to start off…I’m cheating because I’m going to mention one of my all-time favorites, but quite frankly he does not qualify due to his age. Glenn Frey, founder of the Eagles, left us January 18, 2016 at age 67. I absolutely love his music - Rest in peace my dear friend!!!
So, let’s officially start. First off, the day the music died, as Don McLean put it, and I just wrote about on April 25 (Goodbye to American Pie). On February 3, 1959 we lost Richie Valens at age 17, the youngest on out list, Buddy Holly at age 22, and J.P. “Big Bopper” Richardson at age 29.
Next my personal favorites, in no particular order, are:
Harry Chapin (38) Died in July of 1981
Jim Croce (30) Died September 1973
Karen Carpenter (32) Died February 1983
John Belushi (33) Died 1982
Terry Kath (31) Died January 1978
Bobby Darin (37) Died December 1973
Glenn Miller (40) Died December 1944
Tommy (30) and Tim Caldwell (25), Marshall Tucker band, both died in 1980
Ronnie Van Zant (29) and Steve Gaines (28), Lynyrd Skynyrd, both died in 1977
The most common month of some of my favorite musician’s death was December with 6 people leaving us and February was a close second with 5 passing.
In December we lost:
Sam Cooke (33 – 1964), Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (35 – 1791), John Lennon (40 – 1980), Rickie Nelson (45 – 1985), and Bobby Darin and Glenn Miller.
In February, we lost performers:
Bon Scott (33) of AC/DC in 1980, and the afore mentioned performers Karen Carpenter, Richie Valens, Buddy Holly, and JP Richardson aka “The Big Bopper.”
1959 was the biggest year, certainly aided by the plane crash that killed Valens, Holly, and Richardson. But we also lost the legendary voice of Billie Holliday who left us in July of that year at age 44.
Others that I would put in my Rock and Roll Heaven would be:
Freddie Mercury (45) who Died in 1991
Stevie Ray Vaughn (35) Died 1990
Marvin Gaye (44) Died 1984
Bob Marley (36) Died 1981
John Bonham (32) Died 1980
Keith Moon (32) Died 1978
Mama Cass Elliot (32) Died 1974
Patsy Cline (30) Died 1963
Elvis “The King” Presley (42) Died August 1977
Finally for the most common age when some of our performers passed away. Well, it’s kind of crazy but we lost eleven (11) musicians all at age 27. Names like Cobain, Zapata, Morrison, Joplin, Hendrix, and Jones, just to name a few. For a full list of these 27-year-olds who left us, see the picture at the end of this message.
Along with some incredible music, there are many many many wonderful memories. If these memories were fading, or life was becoming too hectic and crazy, sure enough one of the classic songs from these great performers would play on TV, or on my playlist, on some movie soundtrack, or from a passerby’s car radio. As soon as I would hear those songs, all the worlds’ troubles were gone and my relaxing peaceful and joyful memories took over.
That overall wonderful feeling of relaxation, incredible rhythms, creative lyrics, and perfect instrumentals, have a way to put you in your own little world, alone to enjoy. It’s no wonder God so loved King David playing his harp and writing his music.
I hope this message brought you some great memories of truly dedicated and exceptional performers. I hope reading the names of these musicians made you look back at appreciation for their work. But more important than anything, I hope this message helps us to remember to never take anything for granted. Life is so very very short and we need to embrace every day. Don’t let life slip away on you, embrace today, and every day thereafter.
They say that only the good die young and I don’t know if all that is true. But these artists all died young, but the music and memories they left us, were all soooo gooood!!!