On This Day In Rock & Roll History: July 24

While one can argue it’s a bit arbitrary to look back at what happened on a specific date in rock history, oftentimes, I find it interesting what comes up. Plus, I haven’t written about July 24. As in previous installments, this post isn’t meant to be a catch-all. Instead, it’s a selection of events involving artists I like. Here we go:

1964: The Rolling Stones were playing the Empress Ballroom in Blackpool, England. At some point, a group of folks in the crowed started spitting at the band. After Keith Richards had spotted one of the perpetrators in front of the stage and that guy had ignored his warning to cut it out, he lost it and kicked him in the mouth. Things got out of hand quickly, and angry fans trashed the place. The Blackpool city council didn’t like the riot and banned the Stones from playing at the venue. The ban lasted a remarkable 44 years. Then, in March 2008, as reported by The Independent, Blackpool’s council leader at the time Peter Callow declared, “It’s time to bury the hatchet and extend the hand of friendship. I want to say: ‘Come back, Mick. All is forgiven.'”

Rolling Stones Blackpool Riot 1964.jpg

1965: The Byrds topped the UK Official Singles Chart with Mr. Tambourine Man, their first and only no. 1 single in the UK. Written by Bob Dylan, the tune was the title track of their studio debut that appeared in June that year. Three months earlier, Dylan had initially released the song as part of his fifth studio album Bringing It All Back Home. The Byrd’s cover is a beautiful example of Roger McGuinn’s signature jingle-jangle Rickenbacker, a guitar sound I never get tired of.

1967: British national daily The Times ran a full-page advertisement declaring “the law against marijuana is immoral in principle and unworkable in practice.” According to The Beatles Bible, it was “signed by 64 of the most prominent members of British society, which called for the legalisation of marijuana.” The signatories included all four members of The Beatles and their manager Brian Epstein.

Times Marijuana Advertisement July 1967

1972: Get It On by T. Rex is at no. 1 on the UK Official Singles Chart, the first of four successive weeks. The British glam rockers recorded the tune for their second studio album Electric Warrior that came out in September 1971. Like all tracks on the album, Get It On was written by guitarist and lead vocalist Marc Bolan. It became the second no. 1 for T. Rex in the UK after Hot Love, a standalone single from February 1971. Retitled Bang A Gong (Get It On) in the U.S., the song peaked at no. 10 on the Billboard Hot 100, marking the band’s most successful chart performance here.

Sources: Wikipedia, This Day In Music, This Day In Rock, The Independent, UK Official Singles Charts, YouTube

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Clips & Pix: Bob Dylan & The Band/I Shall Be Released

Yesterday (April 7) was the 40th anniversary of the release of The Last Waltz, the triple LP album by The Band and soundtrack to the 1978 concert film directed by Martin Scorsese. The album and picture document the group’s official farewell concert at the Winterland Ballroom in San Francisco on Thanksgiving Day in 1976.

The Bob Dylan tune I Shall Be Released was the closing number of the official show. In addition to Dylan and The Band, it featured other high caliber guests, who had performed earlier during the show, including Van Morrison, Neil Young, Joni Mitchell, Eric Clapton, Ringo Starr, Ronnie Wood, Ronnie Hawkins and Neil Diamond.

Many critics have called the film one of the best rock concert movies; however, not everybody agreed. Notably, The Band’s Levon Helm charged the film portrays The Band as sidemen of Robbie Robertson. He also called it “the biggest fuckin’ rip-off that ever happened to the Band,” adding he and the other group members Rick Danko, Garth Hudson and Richard Manuel didn’t earn a dime from the film and the soundtrack album.

Sources: Wikipedia, YouTube

On This Day In Rock & Roll History: December 27

You’d think the time between the Christmas holiday and New Year would be dead when it comes to music. At least I didn’t expect to find much when I checked my usual sources for this feature. Well, it turns out that at least for December 27, the above notion is not exactly true.

1963: In a story titled What Songs The Beatles Sang William Mann, music critic of the UK newspaper The Times wrote, “The outstanding English composers of 1963 must seem to have been John Lennon and Paul McCartney, the talented young musicians from Liverpool whose songs have been sweeping the country since last Christmas, whether performed by their own group, the Beatles, or by the numerous other teams of English troubadours that they also supply with songs.” Only two days thereafter, Sunday Times music critic Richard Buckle kicked it up a few notches, proclaiming Lennon and McCartney were “the greatest composers since Beethoven.” Even as a die-hard fan of The Beatles, I have to say that Buckle may have had a few too many eggnogs before the wrote this!

Backstage At Beatles Christmas Show

1967: Bob Dylan released his eighth studio record, John Wesley Harding. After three electric rock-focused albums – Bringing It All Back Home (March 1965), Highway 61 Revisited (August 1965) and Blonde On Blonde (May 1966) – Dylan returned to acoustic and roots music on this album, which was recorded in Nashville. John Wesley Harding was liked by critics and fans alike. It hit no. 1 on the UK Albums Chart and no. 2 on the Billboard 200. Only less than three months after it had appeared, the album was certified Gold by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA). Among others, John Wesley Harding includes All Along The Watchtower, which Jimi Hendrix widely popularized with his recording the following year. Here’s a clip of a Dylan live performance, which apparently was captured during a show in Italy in 1984.

1969: Led Zeppelin II, the English rock band’s second studio album, hit no. 1 on the U.S. Billboard 200. Released on October 22 that year, it was Led Zeppelin’s first record to top the charts in the U.S. and the UK. The album also became a big seller. On November 15, 1999, it was certified 12 times Platinum by RIAA. This album includes gems, such as Whole Lotta Love, The Lemon Song, Heartbreaker, Ramble On, Moby Dick and Thank You, one of my favorite acoustic Zep tunes.

1975: The Faces, one of the great British rock bands of the late ’60s and early ’70s officially called it quits. Lead vocalist Rod Stewart, who already had released six albums under his name and scored a big international hit with Sailing a few months earlier, decided to entirely focus on his solo career. Guitarist Ronnie Wood already had started recording and touring with The Rolling Stones and became an official member in February 1976. Bassist Ronnie Lane went on to form his own band, Slim Chance, while drummer Kenney Jones eventually joined The Who in November 1978, following the death of Keith Moon. Here’s a cool clip of a live performance of Stay With Me. If you ever doubted that Stewart once was a kick-ass rock & roll singer, check it out.

1980: Double Fantasy, the album credited to John Lennon and his wife Yoko Ono, reached no. 1 on the U.S. Billboard 200, where it would stay for eight weeks, while the record’s lead single Just Like Starting Over started a five-week run as no. 1 on the singles chart. Undoubtedly, the remarkable chart performance was driven by Lennon’s tragic death on December 8 that year, when he was shot at the entrance to his Manhattan apartment building by Mark David Chapman, an apparently mentally deranged former Beatles fan. Initially, Double Fantasy had been poorly received. While I’m not particularly fond of Ono’s songs, I’ve always thought the album includes some of Lennon’s greatest tunes of his solo period. Here’s a clip of one of my favorites, Watching The Wheels.

Sources: The Beatles Bible, This Day in Music.com, Songfacts Music History Calendar, Wikipedia, YouTube

On This Day in Rock & Roll History: July 1

It’s hard to believe today is July 1st and here we are in the thicket of summer – a good occasion to pause and take a look back at what happened on that day in rock & roll history.

1956: Elvis Presley appeared on NBC’s Steven Allen Show to perform Hound Dog, one of the countless great classic rock & roll tunes written by Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller. Initially recorded by Willie Mea “Big Mama” Thornton and released in 1953, Presley came out with his version in 1956, turning it into his best-selling song. But what’s memorable about his above show appearance isn’t the tune but the fact that he sang it to a visibly excited dog. While no animals were harmed during the infamous performance, Elvis’ appearance drew mixed reactions. I recall reading somewhere that he himself thought the whole thing was pretty stupid – I couldn’t agree more! Well, I suppose the good ole’ days weren’t always as good after all, whether in TV or elsewhere!

1963: Of course, no look-back on rock history would be complete without The Beatles! On that day in 1963, John, Paul, George and Ringo were at Abbey Road’s studio 2 to record She Loves You and I’ll Get You, the two sides of their fourth UK single. As usually credited to Lennon-McCartney, She Loves You went on to become their best-selling single and is ranked no. 64 on Rolling Stone’s April 2011 500 Greatest Songs of All Time. According to The Beatles Bible, producer Sir George Martin recalled:

“I was sitting in my usual place on a high stool in studio two when John and Paul first ran through the song on their acoustic guitars, George joining in on the choruses. I thought it was great but was intrigued by the final chord, an odd sort of major sixth, with George doing the sixth and John and Paul the third and fifths, like a Glenn Miller arrangement. They were saying, ‘It’s a great chord! Nobody’s ever heard it before!’ Of course I knew that wasn’t quite true!”

The Beatles_She Loves You_Single

1968: The Band released their debut studio record Music From Big Pink. The album’s recording followed The Band’s backing of Bob Dylan on his 1966 tour as The Hawks. The album’s cover artwork is a painting by the maestro himself. Among others, the record includes The Weight, a gem written by Robbie Robertson, and Dylan’s I Shall Be Released. While the record didn’t sell well, initial reception from the music critics was positive, which doesn’t necessarily say much; oftentimes, I feel these guys don’t get it right, but they did in this case! The album is ranked no. 34 on Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Albums of All Time from 2012.

The Band_Music From Big Pink

1975: 10cc hit no. on the UK Singles Chart with I’m Not in Love, which is perhaps one of the most epic 70s ballads. Written by band members Eric Stewart (local vocals, electric piana) and Graham Gouldman (electic guitar, bass, backing vocals), the tune was the second single from the band’s third studio record The Original Soundtrack. It was the second of the band’s three no. 1 UK singles and their international breakthrough hit. I still do vaguely recall hearing it on the radio in Germany all the time, where it peaked at no. 8 on the charts. In the U.S., it climbed all the way to no. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100.

 

Sources: Wikipedia, This Day in Music, The Beatles Bible, Rolling Stone, YouTube

What I’ve Been Listening to: Highway 61 Revisited

With Dylan’s Nobel prize in literature, it’s perhaps not surprising that I’ve been listening more to his music recently, including the 1965 album “Highway 61 Revisited.”

I don’t have a strong opinion whether a singer-songwriter like Bob Dylan should receive a Nobel prize in literature. I lean toward ‘no.’ It’s not because I question his genius or because of his apparent reluctance to acknowledge the honor. My argument is he is already so well established that he doesn’t need it. On the other hand, the prize could put a relatively less known writer on the map beyond the literary world.

But the ongoing debate about whether or not Dylan should accept the award definitely made me pay closer attention to his music. Combined with my new quest to listen more to entire albums rather than just an artist’s greatest hits, this led me to Highway 61 Revisited, which is No. 4 on Rolling Stone’s “500 Greatest Albums of All Time.”

I’ve always liked what you could consider obvious Dylan gems, such as Blowin’ in the Wind, Like a Rolling Stone, Lay Lady Lay, Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door and Hurricane, to name a few. But I will admit that it was not until recently that I started listening to some of his albums in their entirety. 

In fact, a previous attempt in the early 199os to get more deeply into Dylan’s music ended with disappointment. Inspired by a good friend and big Dylan fan, I decided to see a Dylan show. Leading up it to get into the mood, I listened to Before the Flood, Dylan’s excellent 1974 live album with The Band, which essentially is a greatest hits compilation. But the only song I recognized during the concert was Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door. Strangely, it also was the opener of the show. All other tunes were unknown, at least to me.

But on to the main topic of this post, Highway 61 Revisited, Dylan’s sixth studio album, which was released in 1965. The album continued his transition to “electric.” While Dylan had introduced electric instruments on his previous album Bringing It All Back Home, featuring an electric and an acoustic side, Highway 61 Revisited was all-electric, except for Desolation Row, the album’s last song. 

Columbia Records didn’t understand and initially resisted the album’s title. In his 2004 memoir, Chronicles: Volume One, Dylan discussed the deep connection he felt to Highway 61, which explains the title: “Highway 61, the main thoroughfare of the country blues, begins about where I began (a reference to his birthplace of Duluth, Minnesota). I always felt like I’d started on it, always had been on it and could go anywhere, even down to the deep Delta country…It was my place in the universe, always felt like it was in my blood.”

Highway 61 Revisited features some of Dylan’s classic tunes, including the opener Like a Rolling Stone, Ballad of a Thin Man and the title song. With a running time of more than 6 minutes, Like a Rolling Stone broke the mold of the then-typical 3-minute song. Initially, radio stations were reluctant to play such a long tune but relented when the song became popular. It reached No. 2 on the Billboard charts and also became an international hit.

A number of the album’s other songs – Tombstone Blues; It Takes a Lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry; From a Buick 6; and Highway 61 – are heavily blues-influenced tunes. Many of them have been covered by other formidable artists, especially the second song, including The Allman Brothers Band, The Grateful Dead, Little Feat, Taj Mahal and Toto

While it’s fun to listen to the blues tunes, I think the album’s standout is Ballad of a Thin Man with its rather creepy music and lyrics. Based on comments Dylan has made over the years, the song expresses his disgust for certain reporters, who would ask him endless questions. In 1975, a journalist called Jeffrey Jones told Rolling Stone he attempted to interview Dylan at the infamous 1965 Newport Folk Festival and claimed the song was about him. But Dylan refused to give him the credit, saying there were “many Mr. Joneses” at the time.

One my other favorite tunes on the album is Queen Jane Approximately. It’s a little reminiscent of Like a Rolling Stone, both in terms of the sound and the lyrics. 

My thoughts about Highway 61 Revisited wouldn’t be complete without acknowledging the excellent musicians who backed Dylan: Mike Bloomfield (electric guitar), Charlie McCoy (electric guitar), Paul Griffin (piano, organ), Al Kooper (piano, organ), Frank Owens (piano), Harvey Brooks (bass guitar), Russ Savakus (bass guitar), Joe Macho, Jr. (bass guitar), Bobby Gregg (drums) and Sam Lay (drums).

Some of these guys were or would be associated with other well-known artists. For example, Mike Bloomfield was a member of the Paul Butterfly Blues Band while Al Kooper was a founding member of Blood, Sweat & Tears and the band’s initial leader. Paul Griffin also worked with Steely Dan, Don McLean, the Isley Brothers and Van Morrison, among others, and played on Blonde on Blonde, another iconic Dylan album.