On This Day in Rock & Roll History: December 16

It’s been a while since the last installment of this irregularly recurring feature. While picking a random date is an arbitrary way to look at music history, I think it’s always interesting to see what comes up. As usual, the picks reflect my music taste and are not supposed to be a complete list.

1965: The double A-side non-album single Day Tripper/We Can Work It Out by The Beatles hit no. 1 in the UK on the Official Singles Chart, becoming their ninth chart-topper there. Primarily written by John Lennon, the tune was credited to him and Paul McCartney, as usual. According to Songfacts, the lyrics were the first reference to LSD in a Beatles song. Day Tripper and We Can Work It Out were also included on Yesterday and Today, a U.S. album from June 1966 that caused an uproar over its original “butcher cover,” showing The Beatles in white coats, covered with decapitated baby dolls and pieces of raw meat. Frankly, I much prefer Day Tripper – always loved that cool guitar riff!

1966: The Jimi Hendrix Experience released their first UK single Hey Joe, backed by Stone Free. Different recordings of the song were credited to different writers, including Billy Roberts and Dino Valenti. Some recordings have indicated it as a traditional song. The first commercial recording was made by Los Angeles garage band The Leaves in late 1965. Hendrix’s rendition is the best-known version of the song and became one of his biggest hits in the UK, reaching no. 6 on the Official Singles Chart.

1970: Credence Clearwater Revival received Gold certification in the U.S. for their singles Down on the Corner, Lookin’ Out My Back Door, Travelin’ Band, Bad Moon Rising and Up Around the Bend. All songs were written by John Fogerty. CCR’s first five albums Credence Clearwater Revival (May 1968), Bayou Country (January 1969), Green River (August 1969), Willy and the Poor Boys (November 1969) and Cosmo’s Factory (July 1970) were also certified Gold. Here’s Travelin’ Band, the lead single from Cosmo’s Factory, which appeared in January 1970, backed by Who’ll Stop the Rain. Love that tune!

1972: Me And Mrs. Jones, the biggest hit for American soul singer Billy Paul, reached no. 1 in the U.S. on the Billboard Hot 100. The song was included on Paul’s 1972 album 360 Degrees of Billy Paul. The tune about marital infidelity was co-written by prominent Philly soul songwriting team Kenny Gamble, Leon Hoff and Cary Gilbert. Songfacts notes Me And Mrs. Jones knocked I’m the Woman out of the top spot, a female-empowerment anthem by Helen Reddy.

1989: Billy Joel’s 11th studio album Storm Front, which had come out in October of the same year, reached no. 1 on the Billboard 200. The piano man’s second-to-final pop record to date was also pretty successful internationally. Among others, it topped the charts in Australia, climbed to no. 4 in Canada, and reached no. 5 in the UK and Germany. Here’s the lead single We Didn’t Start the Fire, which like the album turned out to be a big hit for Joel. The fast-paced recitation of 118 significant political, cultural, scientific and sporting events that occurred between Joel’s birth year 1949 and 1989 became one of his signature songs.

1993: Nirvana’s MTV Unplugged in New York concert aired for the first time on MTV. Unlike other MTV Unplugged shows Nirvana chose to perform predominantly lesser-known material including various covers. Moreover, in contrast to previous performances in the series, which were entirely acoustic, Nirvana used electric amplification and guitar effects during their set. The concert was taped on November 18, 1993, at Sony Studios in New York City, less than five months prior to lead vocalist Kurt Cobain’s suicide on April 8, 1994. Here’s Nirvana’s haunting cover of David Bowie’s The Man Who Sold the World.

Sources: Wikipedia; This Day in Music; Songfacts; Songfacts Music History Calendar; YouTube

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The Sunday Six

Celebrating music with six random songs at a time

I hope everyone is enjoying their weekend. It’s time again for The Sunday Six and another set of tunes from different genres and different decades. This installment touches the 1950s, ’60s, ’70s, 90s and 2021, and features jazz, psychedelic blues rock, alternative pop rock, rock and bluesy R&B.

Lou Donaldson/Blues Walk

Starting us off is beautiful saxophone jazz by American jazz alto saxophonist Lou Donaldson. Donaldson, who is 94 years old and only retired in 2016, had a 64-year career as an active performer. That’s just mind-boggling! Here’s an excerpt from the bio on his website: Jazz critics agree that “Sweet Poppa Lou” Donaldson is one of the greatest alto saxophonists of all time. He began his career as a bandleader with Blue Note Records in 1952 and, already at age 25, had found his sound, though it would continue to sweeten over the years — earning him his famed nickname –“Sweet Poppa Lou.” He made a series of classic records for Blue Note Records in the 50’s and takes pride in having showcased many musicians who made their first records as sidemen for him: Clifford Brown, Grant Green, Blue Mitchell, Donald Byrd, Ray Barretto, Horace Parlan, John Patton, Charles Earland, Al Harewood, Herman Foster, Peck Morrison, Dave Bailey, Leon Spencer, Idris Muhammad, and others.  After also making some excellent recordings for Cadet and Argo Records in the early 60s, Lou’s return to Blue Note in 1967 was marked by one of his most famous recordings, Alligator Bogaloo. I’ve decided to highlight one of his earlier recordings: Blues Walk, the title track of his 1958 album, which according to Wikipedia “has been considered Donaldson’s undisputed masterpiece.” I’m not a jazz expert but I know is this: I love the saxophone, and Donaldson surely sounds sweet. Also, check out Herman Foster on piano!

The Doors/Riders on the Storm

Now let’s turn to a classic psychedelic tune with a great jazz and blues vibe by The Doors, who I trust need no further introduction. Riders on the Storm is the magnificent closer of their sixth studio album L.A. Woman from April 1971 – yet another great record that has turned 50 this year! It was the final to be released during the lifetime of lead vocalist Jim Morrison who passed away three months later in Paris, France at the age of 27. While the official cause of death was listed as heart failure, several people who maintained they were eyewitnesses said Morrison died from an accidental heroin overdose. Of course, we know all too well the history of rock is littered with so many talented artists who became casualties to drugs! Riders on the Storm was credited to all members of The Doors, who in addition to Morrison included Ray Manzarek (keyboards), Robby Krieger (lead guitar) and John Densmore (drums). It’s such a cool tune that still gives me goosebumps the moment that thunderstorm sound in comes on in the beginning.

Noods/Starting Over Again

For this next tune, let’s jump 50 years to the present and a recent discovery: Starting Over Again by Noods. Unfortunately, there is very little public information about the group. This short profile on Oh My Rockness describes them as a “fuzzy jangle pop band from from NY” and lists the following members: Trish Dieudonne (vocals, guitars), Nick Seip (vocals, guitars, synths, piano), Shane Danaher (drums, synths) and Mandy Romano (bass, vocals). According to this preview piece on Stereogum, the band released their debut EP Noods Please in 2017. The first full-length album is titled Blush. It has since appeared on April 16 this year. Here’s Starting Over Again, a pleasant song co-written by Dieudonne and Seip. I like the jingle-jangle guitar sound and the laidback vibe.

Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers/Something in the Air

When it comes to Tom Petty, one of my long-time favorite artists, there are so many great original tunes I could have picked. And yet I chose to highlight a cover. Why? Coz I absolutely love this tune and Petty’s rendition, which he recorded with The Heartbreakers for their November 1993 Greatest Hits compilation. That album is best known for the single Mary Jane’s Last Dance, which climbed to no. 14 on the Billboard Hot 100, marking Petty’s first top 20 hit of the ’90s in the U.S. mainstream chart. The band’s cover of Something in the Air also appeared as a single but missed the Billboard Hot 100. It did make Billboard’s Main Stream Rock chart, reaching no. 19. Written by singer-songwriter Speedy Keen, the tune was first recorded by short-lived British band Thunderclap Newman and became a no. 1 hit in the UK in mid-1969. Before joining Thunderclap Newman, Keen was the driver of none other than Pete Townshend and shared an apartment with him in London. Keen also wrote Armenia in the Sky, a tune The Who included on their third studio album The Who Sell Out from December 1967. Townshend was the catalyst behind the formation of Thunderclap Newman and also produced Something in the Air and the band’s only album Hollywood Dream released in September 1970.

Credence Clearwater Revival/Have You Ever Seen the Rain

This brings me to another band and song I’ve dug for many years: Creedence Clearwater Revival and Have You Ever Seen the Rain. In my book, it’s a great timeless tune that holds up well, even though I literally must have listened to it more than 100 times. In fact, it’s running in the background as I’m writing this! 🙂 Like most CCR songs, Have You Ever Seen the Rain was penned by the great John Fogerty. CCR were on a roll when this came out. The tune was included on their sixth studio album Pendulum released in December 1970, only five months after predecessor Cosmo’s Factory. It’s perhaps my favorite CCR song, together with Hey Tonight, Proud Mary and Born on the Bayou.

The Animals/I’m Crying

Am I already again at the point to wrap up this post, just when I’m having so much fun? I guess this means it’s time to shed some tears! 🙂 But, don’t worry, since I started The Sunday Six this January, it’s become my favorite recurring feature, so there will be more. The final tune for this installment shall belong to The Animals. When I first learned about them as a teenager, essentially, I only knew The House of the Rising Sun, their signature song and biggest hit that topped the charts in the U.S., UK and Canada in 1964. While it’s a great tune, there’s much more to the British rock band that was fronted by one of the best white blues vocalists, Eric Burdon, who turned 80 just a few days ago. Which brings me to I’m Crying, a gem that first appeared as a single in September 1964. Co-written by Burdon and the band’s first keyboarder Alan Price, the tune was also included on The Animals’ second studio album The Animals on Tour from February 1965 – a somewhat misleading title for a record that didn’t include any live tracks. I always liked the band’s raw bluesy guitar sound combined with Price’s organ and Burdon’s distinct, deep vocals.

Sources: Wikipedia; Lou Donaldson website; Oh My Rockness; Stereogum; YouTube