It’s nearly a year since the early passing of Michael Jackson, which has got me thinking of other musical talents that have left us early. Top of my list are Bob Marley (died aged 36 – 1981), Luther Vandross (54 – 2005) and especially Robert Palmer (54 – 2003).
No doubt some of your choices are missing here but remember this list is of those taken early when they had more to offer, who maybe had not reached their peak. Michael Jackson would have probably come back with another album, maybe more but would it have been Thriller, Off the Wall or even Bad or was that as good as it got? As important, he influenced a generation right across the spectrum, not just R&B artists but hip hop, rock, pop and so many more. He was also one of the first to embrace music videos for the spawning MTV generation.
Justifiably, you may feel John Lennon should be on the list and the fact that he was taken so cruelly fulfils the ‘taken early’ criteria but could he have done any more than been in the most influential, the first, the most successful pop band that ever was?
Elvis for sure had reached his peak, perhaps twice and I imagine he would have gone onto become a classic Sinatra style crooner adding some covers to the immense repertoire of songs he has made his own. I’d like to have seen him in the 1980’s working with other artists like the Pet Shop Boys did with Dusty Springfield or even with U2 with their collaboration with BB King. Nevertheless, just by influencing the likes of The Beatles, the ultimate accolade will always be his.
With all that Bob Marley, Robert Palmer and Luther Vandross had achieved there was undoubtedly more to come. Marley would have been a living legend – word use intended – working with today’s R&B and hip-hop stars. What would he have come up with working with Eminem or Alicia Keys?
Marley, ‘the first superstar from the third world’ released his first single with the Wailers in 1963 and was excruciatingly young having died of cancer at only 36 but his best selling album, the compilation ‘Legend’ came out 3 years later and sold 20 million copies.
Robert Palmer consistently came up with fantastic and innovative sounds whilst never straying far from his sweet soul music roots. From being in Vinegar Joe with Elkie Brooks in the 60s to working with the Power Station (with members of Duran Duran and Chic in the 80s, he was without fail classy an innovative.
Just look at what Tom Jones has done over the last 2 decades working with an amazing amount of diverse acts from Art of Noise to Cerys Mathews. I’d never liked anything that Tom Jones had done in his almost 50 year career although like Michael Jackson, I can appreciate his talent and appeal. And then he came out with a magnificent album in 2008 that went straight on to my Christmas List and firmly into my CD player. He was 68 years old! It produced the single of the year for me, ‘If He Should Ever Leave You’. Still love, love, love it.
And then there’s Luther, sweet, sweet Luther Vandross. Coming back strong and cut off in his prime. Born in the projects in New York, he received one of his first breaks singing backing vocals for David Bowie before becoming a successful session musician for many great artists including Chaka Khan and Barbara Streisand, releasing his own debut album in 1981. He never properly recovered from his stroke and although recorded, never went on to perform afterwards. He died a legend.