Live: The Songwriters Hall Of Fame Awards Roll Back To The ’70s


43rd Annual Songwriters Hall Of Fame Awards
Marriott Marquis
Thursday, June 14

Better than: Disco roller derby.

If you closed your eyes and listened to the parade of songs and familiar voices emanating from the Marriott Marquis’ luminary-packed sixth-floor ballroom last night, you might have thought you had been transported back to another era when the nation was distressed about the economy and rising oil prices. (Apparently some things don’t change.)

Indeed, four of the five new inductees at the 43rd annual Songwriters Hall Of Fame Awards—Bob Seger, Gordon Lightfoot, Jim Steinman and Don Schlitz—arguably had their greatest success in that window between the resignation of Richard Nixon and the one-term presidency of Jimmy Carter.

Stevie Nicks and Steve Miller added to the theme, with Nicks performing a moving version of “The Rose,” made famous by Bette Midler. The Divine Miss M, who received the hall’s Sammy Cahn Lifetime Achievement Award, nearly stole the show with a hilarious and moving acceptance speech thanking all the people who have long suffered under her self-described “tyrannical behavior.”

To be sure, other musical eras were represented: Harvey Schmidt and Tom Jones, who wrote the long-running show The Fantasticks, one of Broadway’s longest running shows, were also inducted, and the classic 1961 standard “Stand By Me,” co-written by Ben E. King and the songwriting team of Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, received the hall’s Towering Song Award. King performed his signature song in a jazzy arrangement with the always-terrific Take 6.

Folk legend Woody Guthrie received the Hall’s first ever Pioneer Award; music publisher Lance Freed, son of disc jockey Alan Freed, who coined the term “rock and roll” was also honored; and R&B singer Ne-Yo, who’s penned songs for Beyoncé and Mary J. Blige as well as for himself, was given the Hal David Starlight Award after a smooth performance of “Let Me Love You,” which he wrote for the R&B singer Mario.

But the ’70s dominated.

There was Detroit rocker Bob Seger, composer of “Night Moves” (1977) and American pop-cultural markers like “Against the Wind” “Old Time Rock and Roll.” Valerie Simpson performed an achingly moving version of Seger’s “We’ve Got Tonight.”

Then came Gordon Lightfoot, Canada’s greatest singer-songwriter, from whose pen came “If You Could Read My Mind,” “Sundown,” and one of pop radio’s most unlikely hits: 1976’s “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald,” a haunting but accurate tale of a 1975 shipwreck on Lake Superior that killed 29 crew. Lightfoot told SOTC he was extremely pleased to receive the honor from the American songwriters after already being honored similarly by his home country: “It means a lot. It means I have touched a lot of people, communicated with people through my music. It’s super special to be recognized as a songwriter.”

Steinman, the songwriter who composed all the tunes for the monster rock album Bat Out of Hell, was compared to Samuel Beckett by his old partner Meat Loaf, who paired up with former Rock Of Ages star Constantine Maroulis for a rousing rendition of the 1977 album’s title track.

Critical bias: There should have been a second helping of Meat Loaf.

Overheard: Stevie Nicks discussing the plight of injured American military veterans returning from duty.

Random Notebook dump: Mike Stoller, co-writer (with the late Jerry Leiber) of “Hound Dog,” “Jailhouse Rock,” and hundreds of other iconic tracks, said that, after 60 years, he has finally composed a song all by himself, and that he hopes to release it soon.