Does the name Suzy Q sound more familiar to you than Cardi B?
When you hear the name Kendrick, do you picture Eddie Kendricks, an original member of the Temptations, instead of the rap star Kendrick Lamar?
Are you more likely to know the Beverly Hillbillies character Elly May Clampett than the British singer/songwriter Ella Mai?
If you answered yes to any or all of these questions, don’t worry about being lost when the 2019 Grammy Awards ceremony airs on CBS Sunday evening. Although today’s artists and their musical styles differ from the music Baby Boomers enjoyed a few decades ago, the sentiments conveyed in the songs nominated for Song of the Year and Record of the Year are similar to the messages contained in the lyrics of some classic rock standards.
For example, in Post Malones “Rockstar,” the singer says he feels like a rock star and then describes drinking, drugging, groupies and tossing a television out a window. Back in 1967, the Byrds painted a picture of life as rock star, albeit a less decadent one, in “So You Want to Be a Rock’n’Roll Star.”
Another common theme involves the fame and fortune that come with success in the music business. Cardi B, in her song “I Like It,” raps about the luxury cars, expensive jewelry and fancy clothes she enjoys as a popular entertainer. Likewise, Joe Walsh, in his 1978 song “Life’s Been Good,” sang about his Maserati, his mansion and his accountants who paid for it all.
On the softer side, the story behind Ella Mai’s hit “Boo’d Up” sounds much like the tale Jim Croce told in “I Have to Say I Love You in A Song” in 1973. Here is what Joelle James told Fader about the how she wrote “Boo’d Up”: “All I knew was that I was in a situation where I wanted to tell this boy how I felt about him and I really couldn’t. The only way I could was through music and a song.”
Also on the softer side is Brandi Carlile’s “The Joke,” a song about people who do not seem to meet society’s expectations. Lou Reed painted a similar picture in 1972’s “Walk on the Wild Side.”
In “In My Blood,” Shawn Mendes’ song about anxiety, he sings, “Laying on the bathroom floor, feeling nothing, I'm overwhelmed and insecure.” For Kris Kristofferson, the roots of the problem were different, but the desperation he describes in 1970’s “Sunday Morning Coming Down” was similar:
Well I woke up Sunday mornin', with no way to hold my head that didn't hurt
And the beer I had for breakfast wasn't bad, so I had one more, for dessert
Then I fumbled through my closet, for my clothes and found my cleanest dirty shirt
And I shaved my face and combed my hair and, stumbled down the stairs to meet the day
By and large, the 2019 nominees have counterparts in classic rock:
- Like songs about superheroes? Kendrick Lamar and SZA are nominated for "All The Stars" from the Black Panther soundtrack. David Bowie and Brian Eno wrote a pretty good song named “Heroes” in 1977.
- Interested in "God’s Plan” by Drake? Don’t forget that Billy Preston told us “That’s the Way God Planned It” in 1969.
- Find "The Middle" by Zedd, Maren Morris and Grey catchy? Then you’ll like 1973’s “Stuck in the Middle With You” by Steelers Wheel.
- Enjoy the conversation between Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga in “Shallow” from the “A Star Is Born” soundtrack? Try turning things up a notch with the back-and-forth between Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrill in ”Ain’t No Mountain Higher Enough”
And if you were one of the Baby Boomers who had “come to look for America” as Simon and Garfunkel sang in 1968, Childish Gambino may have an answer for you. His Grammy-nominated composition is titled "This Is America."