Music Icons Who Found Success at an Early Age
An Article by Johnny Cole
Recently, I attended a youth songwriters showcase at The Mississippi Songwriters Festival that featured a number of talented young performers including several around the ages of 19, 20 or 21.
It’s easy to forget that some of the biggest names in music history came into the public’s eye at a similar age. The following list of Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inductees first achieved success between the ages 18 and 23 (or earlier).
● Jim Morrison was 23 when The Doors released “Light My Fire” in 1967. The Doors formed two years earlier.
● Mick Jagger and Keith Richards were only 20 when the Rolling Stones released their cover of “Not Fade Away” (the Stones’ first U S. single).
● The Beatles’ youngest member, George Harrison, was 20 when the band released “I Want To Hold Your Hand” in the U.S.
● A 20 year old Bob Dylan released his debut album in 1962; the following year, he released “Blowin’ in the Wind”.
● Bruce Springsteen was 23 when he released his debut album Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J in 1973. During his teens and early 20s, Springsteen was member of several bands (Earth, Steel Mill, Dr. Zoom & the Sonic Boom, the Sundance Blues Band and the Bruce Springsteen Band).
● Linda Ronstadt was 21 when she released the hit single “Different Drum” with The Stone Poneys in 1967.
● Robert Plant was 20 years old when Led Zeppelin released their debut album in 1969.
● Elvis Presley was only 19 when he released “That’s All Right” in 1954 on the Sun label.
● When The Who released “I Can’t Explain” in January of 1965, Keith Moon was only 18, Pete Townshend was 19, John Entwistle had recently turned 20 and Roger Daltrey was a couple months shy of 21. Later in 1965, The Who released “My Generation”.
● Glenn Frey was 23 when the Eagles released their first single “Take It Easy” in 1972; so was its co-writer, Jackson Browne. One of Frey’s earliest bands landed a recording contract with a label formed by Bob Seger’s management team. In 1968, a 19 year old Frey performed on Seger’s “Ramblin’ Gamblin’ Man”. Prior to co-founding the Eagles, he and fellow members backed Linda Ronstadt.
● Whitney Houston was 21 when she released her debut album in early 1985, which included such hits as “You Give Good Love”, “Saving All My Love for You”, “How Will I Know” and “Greatest Love of All”.
● Carole King (with then-husband Gerry Goffin) wrote her first number one hit “Will You Love Me Tomorrow” at the tender age of 17. The Shirelles took it to #1 in 1960, a first for a black all-girl group on the U.S. charts. King is the most successful female songwriter of the latter half of the 20th century in the U.S., having written or co-written nearly 120 pop hits on the Billboard Hot 100 chart.
● Aretha Franklin was only 18 when she signed with Columbia Records in 1960.
● Buddy Holly (with The Three Tunes) originally released “Love Me” on Decca Records in 1956 at the age of 19. Those early recordings also featured “That’ll Be The Day”, which was later re-recorded with The Crickets in 1957 on Brunswick Records.
● Ritchie Valens released “Come On Let’s Go”, “Donna” & its flipside “LaBamba” in 1958 when he was only 17. He died in a plane crash on February 3, 1959 alongside Buddy Holly, J.P. Richardson aka “The Big Bopper” and pilot Roger Peterson. The event was later immortalized in Don McLean’s #1 hit “American Pie” as “The Day the Music Died”.
● Eddie Van Halen had just turned 23 when Van Halen released their debut album in 1978. During the mid-70s, Van Halen had become popular among the L.A. live music scene, performing at places like the legendary Whisky a Go Go. Warner Records offered them a deal in 1977.
● Kurt Cobain was 22 when Nirvana released their debut album Bleach in 1989; Nirvana had recorded its first demos in January 1988 when Cobain was 20. When Nirvana released 1991’s Nevermind, their new drummer Dave Grohl was 22.
● Bono was 20 years old when U2 released their debut album Boy in 1980; a year earlier, U2 released an EP when Bono was still 19. The band formed at Mount Temple Comprehensive School in Dublin, Ireland following an ad placed on a notice board by a young 14 year old Larry Mullen, Jr. (future drummer for U2) and the rest is history.
● Duane Allman was a couple weeks shy of 23 when the Allman Brothers Band released its debut album in 1969 (Gregg was 21). A 23 year old Duane Allman would later join Eric Clapton (on 11 of the 14 tracks) on Derek & Dominoes’ Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs in 1970.
● Jon Bon Jovi was 21 when Bon Jovi released their self-titled debut album that featured the single “Runaway” in January of 1984.
● Michelle Phillips was 21 when The Mamas & The Papas released “California Dreamin'” (a song she co-wrote her then-husband Papa John Phillips).
● Tina Turner was 20 years old when Ike & Tina Turner’s “A Fool in Love” was released in the summer of 1960. She met Ike when she was only 17.
● Ray Charles was 22 when he released the classic “Mess Around” in 1953; a year later, he topped the R&B charts with “I’ve Got a Woman”.
● Prince released his debut album in 1978 at age 19. His breakthrough single “I Wanna Be Your Lover” was released a couple months after he turned 21.
● Steve (Stevie) Winwood was still a schoolboy when he backed such blues legends as Muddy Waters, B.B. King and Howlin’ Wolf on their tours of England. He was only 14 when joining the Spencer Davis Group, eventually performing lead vocals on such hits as “Gimme Some Lovin'” and “I’m a Man”. When forming Traffic with Jim Capaldi, Chris Wood and Dave Mason (which was inducted into The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2004), he was 19. Winwood later joined Eric Clapton, Ginger Baker and Ric Grech to form Blind Faith when he was still 21.
● Eric Clapton was only 19 when he, with The Yardbirds, released their album Five Live Yardbirds in 1964 (not officially released in the U.S., but 4 tracks would eventually appear on an album in 1965).
● Jeff Beck was 21 when he, with The Yardbirds, released Having a Rave Up with The Yardbirds in 1965.
● Slash was just two days shy of turning 22 when Guns N’ Roses released their album Appetite for Destruction in 1987.
● Elton John was days away from turning 21, when he released his first single “I’ve Been Loving You” in 1968.
● Billy Joel was 22 when he released his debut album Cold Spring Harbor in 1971. Joel had previously performed in the bands The Hassles and Attila, before signing a solo record deal.
● Joan Jett (inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame with her band the Blackhearts in 2015) was only 18 when her previous band, The Runaways, released their 1976 debut album, which featured the single “Cherry Bomb”. Jett’s Runaway band mates who performed on the debut album: Cherie Currie (17), Lita Ford (18) and Sandy West (17).
● Eric Burdon was 23 when The Animals released “The House of the Rising Sun” in 1964. The Animals formed a couple years earlier with its original line-up (Burdon, Alan Price, Chas Chandler, Hilton Valentine and John Steel).
● Both Allan Clarke and Graham Nash were 21 when The Hollies released their debut album in 1964.
● Alice Cooper (Vincent Furnier) was 21 when he and the band released Pretties For You in 1969.
● Carl Wilson, the youngest member of The Beach Boys, was only 14 when the band released their debut single “Surfin” in November of 1961. Mike Love was 20, Brian Wilson (19), Al Jardine was (18) Dennis Wilson (16).
● The Bee Gees were only in their teens when they released their debut single “The Battle of the Blue and the Grey” in 1963. Barry Gibb was 16 and his younger twin brothers Maurice and Robin were 13. Their debut album was released in 1965, yet their first international hit “New York Mining Disaster 1941” arrived in 1967 when the brothers were then 20 and 17.
● The Sex Pistols’ Johnny Rotten (John Lydon) was 20 when the band released “Anarchy in the UK”. When they released the album Never Mind the Bollocks, Here’s the Sex Pistols Lydon was 21.
● Robert Smith had just turned 20 when The Cure released their debut album Three Imaginary Boys in 1979.
● Ricky Nelson was 17 when he released his debut album in 1957.
● Michael Stipe was 22 when R.E.M. released their debut EP Chronic Town in 1982.
There are many such examples in every genre of music. I could have continued to list names and interesting facts “all night” (e.g., a 13 year-old Little Stevie Wonder hit the big time in 1963 with the chart-topping “Fingertips, Part 2”; Michael Jackson was only 11 when the Jackson 5 scored their first #1 hit “I Want You Back”; nearly ten years later, a soon to be 21 year old Michael Jackson released his 1979 classic Off The Wall, which included the hits “Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough”, “Rock with You” and it’s title track. Three years later Thriller arrived). As you can see, the above list of Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Inductees proves that you can’t count someone out just for being young.
Page Designed & Edited by Johnny Cole
Additional Editing by Brenda Germany
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