On This Day In Rock & Roll History: July 22

1967: The Pink Floyd, as they called themselves then, played The Beach Ballroom in Aberdeen, Scotland. At the time, the band was still led by Syd Barrett (lead guitar, vocals). The other members included Roger Waters (bass, vocals), Richard Wright (keyboards) and Nick Mason (drums). Famous for its dance floors, The Beach Ballroom also attracted other famous acts, such as The Beatles, Cream and The Who. While I was able to confirm the date of the performance, I could not find the set list. But given the concert happened only a few months after the band had recorded their studio debut The Piper At the Gates of the Dawn, it’s safe to assume tunes like Astronomy Domine, Interstellar Overdrive, Bike and Arnold Lane were part of the set. Here is a clip of Astronomy Domine, apparently captured in May 1967 on the BBC’s broadcast Look of the Week – the closest I could find.

1969: During a studio session for The Beatles’ Abbey Road, John Lennon recorded his lead vocals for Come Together. Paul McCartney did an overdub of the electric piano. Electric guitar and maracas were also overdubbed. In addition, McCartney made his next to last attempt to record the lead vocals for Oh! Darling. The final take was captured during the next day’s session, the culmination of a week-long effort. McCartney wanted his voice to sound as if he had performed the song on stage all week.

1973: David Bowie released Life On Mars as a single, backed by The Man Who Sold the World. Both tunes were written by Bowie. Life On Mars initially appeared on his fourth studio album Honky Dory, which was released in Dec 1971. The Man Who Sold the World was the title song of Bowie’s third studio release in November 1970. Life On Mars became one of his biggest hits, climbing to no. 3 on the U.K. Singles Chart and charting for 13 weeks. It was one of many songs that reflected Bowie’s fascination with space. Examples of other space tunes he wrote include Space Oddity, Moonage Daydream, Starman, Hallo Spaceboy and Dancing Out In Space.

1977: My Aim Is True, the debut album from English singer-songwriter Elvis Costello, was released in the U.K. According to the liner notes, “My Aim Is True was recorded at Pathway Studios, Islington in a total of Twenty four hours studio time and at a cost of 2000 pounds. As I still had my “day-job” these sessions had to take place on “sick days” and holidays during late 1976 and early 1977. The musicians were members of the Marin county band Clover, who could not be credited at the time due to contractual reasons.” My Aim Is True was the first of five Costello albums in a row that were produced by Nick Lowe. The record received many accolades. In 1997, Rolling Stone named it as one of the best albums of the year and in 2004 also ranked it at no. 168 in its 500 Greatest Albums Of All Time list. Pitchfork ranked Costello’s debut at no. 37 of the Top 100 Albums of the 1970s. In 2007, the album was also inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame. Here’s a clip of the record’s fourth single Watching the Detectives.

Sources: This Day in Music.com; Setlist.fm; Wikipedia; Billboard; http://www.elviscostello.info: My Aim Is True (1993) Liner Notes; Rolling Stone; Pitchfork; YouTube

 

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On This Day in Rock & Roll History: July 6

1957: John Lennon and Paul McCartney met for the first time. Lennon’s skiffle band The Quarrymen performed at a garden party at St. Peter’s Church in Woolton, Liverpool. While the band was setting up for their gig, Ivan Vaughan, who occasionally played with them on tea-chest bass, introduced his school classmate 15-year-old McCartney to Lennon (16 years). They hit it off right away. McCartney showed Lennon how to tune a guitar and sang a few songs, including Eddie Cochran’s Twenty Flight Rock, Gene Vincent’s Be-Bop-A-Lula and a medley of Little Richard songs. A few weeks later McCartney joined The Quarrymen and the rest is history.

The Quarrymen

1963: Live at the Apollo by James Brown and The Flames peaked at no. 2 on the Billboard Albums chart. Altogether, the amazing live album remained in the chart for 66 weeks. After the record company’s had refused to fund the recording, Brown paid for it himself. In 2012, the record was ranked no. 25 in Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Albums of All Time. The accompanying write-up called it “Perhaps the greatest live album ever recorded.”

1967: Pink Floyd appeared for the first time on the BBC music show Top of the Pops. They performed See Emily Play, their second single. Written by Syd Barrett, the song was also included in the band’s U.S. edition of their debut album The Piper at the Gates of Dawn. See Emily Play climbed to no. 6 in the U.K. Singles Chart. The tune is also included in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame’s 500 Songs that Shaped Rock. It’s one of three Pink Floyd songs in the list, which includes artists alphabetically and does not rank songs. The other two are Another Brick in the Wall, Part 2 and Money.

1972: In another appearance on Top of the Pops, David Bowie presented his new single Starman. Written by Bowie, the song reached no. 10 on the U.K. Singles Chart. It was also included on his fifth studio album, The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars.

Sources: The Beatles Bible; This Day in Music.com; Rock & Roll Hall of Fame: 500 Songs that Shaped Rock; Wikipedia; YouTube

The Venues: The Old Grey Whistle Test

The British television music show featured an impressive array of artists

This post and the related new category I’m introducing to the blog was inspired by a dear friend from Germany, who earlier today suggested searching YouTube for “Old Grey Whistle Test,” just for fun! Since he shares my passion for music and always gives me great tips, I checked it out right away and instantly liked the clips that came up. This triggered the idea to start writing about places where rock & roll has been performed throughout the decades.

At this time, I envisage The Venues to include famous concert halls and TV shows. Many come to mind: The Fillmore, The Beacon Theater, The Apollo, The Hollywood Bowl, Candlestick Park, Winterland BallroomThe Ed Sullivan Sow, Rockpalast – the list goes on and on! Given it was my dear friend who inspired me, it feels right to start with The Old Grey Whistle Test.

The Old Whiste Test Logo

I admit that until earlier today, I had never heard about The Old Grey Whistle Test. According to Wikipedia, the British television show aired on the BBC between September 1971 and January 1988. The late night rock show was commissioned by British veteran broadcaster Sir David Attenborough and conceived by BBC TV producer Rowan Ayers.

The show aimed to emphasize “serious” rock music, less whether it was chart-topping or not – a deliberate contrast to Top of the Pops, another BBC show that was chart-driven, as the name suggests. Based on the YouTube clips I’ve seen, apparently, this was more the case in the show’s early days than in the 80s when the music seems to have become more commercial. Unlike other TV music shows, the sets on The Old Grey Whistle lacked showbiz glitter – again, probably more true for the 70s than the 80s period.

During the show’s early years, performing bands oftentimes recorded the instrumental tracks the day before the show aired. The vocals were performed live most of the time. After 1973, the show changed to an all-live format. In 1983, the title was abridged to Whistle Test. The last episode was a live 1987/88 New Year’s Eve special, including a 1977 live performance of Hotel California by The Eagles and Meat Loaf’s Bat Out of Hell.

So what kind of music did the show feature? Let’s take a look at some of these YouTube clips.

Neil Young/Heart of Gold (1971)

Steppenwolf/Born to Be Wild (1972)

David Bowie/Oh, You Pretty Things (1972; not broadcast until 1982)

Rory Gallagher/Hands Off (1973)

Joni Mitchell/Big Yellow Taxi (1974)

John Lennon/Slippin’ & Slidin’ (1975)

Bonnie Raitt/Angel From Montgomery (1976)

Emmylou Harris/Ooh Las Vegas (1977)

Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers/American Girl (1978)

Joe Jackson/Sunday Papers (1979)

Ramones/Rock & Roll High School & Rock ‘N Roll Radio (1980)

Los Lobos/Don’t Worry Baby (1984)

Simply Red/Holding Back the Years & I Won’t Feel Bad (1985)

U2/In God’s County (1987)

 

Sources: Wikipedia, YouTube

Celebrating Music Giants Lost in 2016

Following are my favorite memories of five exceptional music personalities we lost in 2016.

Other than briefly acknowledging some of the big music personalities who passed away in this year, I had not planned to further cover this rather sad subject. Yesterday’s news about the untimely death of George Michael at age 53 made me change my mind. But instead of writing a traditional obituary type of post, I’d like to celebrate each personality’s life by recalling my favorite memories of them.

Glenn Frey

The Eagles are among my all-time favorite 70s rock band. Not only was Glenn Frey one of the founding members, but he also wrote, co-wrote and sang lead on many of their tunes. One such gem is Already Gone, the opener to the Eagles’ 1974 album On the Border. Written by Jack Tempchin and Robb Strandlund, this rocker features Frey on lead vocals and sharing lead guitar responsibilities with Don Felder. I had the great fortune to see the Eagles as part of their History tour in Atlantic City in July 2015, six months prior to Frey’s death. Here is a nice clip of Already Gone from a Sep 2014 concert at New York’s Madison Square Garden, which brings back memories of that unforgettable show in Atlantic City.

Prince

While I immediately liked Purple Rain when I listened to it for the first time, other Prince songs were more of an acquired taste. But one thing that impressed me from the very beginning about Prince is that he was a multi-instrumentalist. In fact, I read he played almost all instruments on his first five studio albums, including an incredible 27 instruments on his debut! Undoubtedly, his signature instrument was the guitar, and nothing illustrates his mastery better than the killer solo he played on While My Guitar Gently Weeps during his 2004 induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. Here is a clip of this unbelievable performance, together with a pretty cool band that includes Tom Petty, Jeff Lynne, Steve Winwood and Dhani Harrison, among others.

David Bowie

The first David Bowie song I ever heard on the radio was Space Oddity, and it continues to be one of my favorite songs. The tune is the opener of his 1969 album David Bowie, which was his second studio album. I always thought one of the song’s cool features is how Bowie is harmonizing with himself. Another aspect that immediately attracted me is the acoustic guitar part – I guess in part because I was learning to play the guitar myself at the time. Here is a clip of the song’s official video from 1972.

Maurice White

The founder of Earth, Wind & Fire was instrumental for the band’s success, especially between 1970 and his official retirement in 1994 due to Parkinson’s disease. He was the band’s main song writer and producer, and sang co-lead with Philip Bailey. In addition to their amazing voices, the thing I’ve always loved about Earth, Wind & Fire is that their music makes you want to dance. The band has recorded so many great songs, but if I would have to name one in particular, it would be September. Co-written by White, Al McKay and Allee Willis and produced by White, the tune was initially released as a single in Sep 1978. It was also included on the band’s The Best of Earth, Wind & Fire, Vol. 1, which appeared in Nov that year. Here is an audio clip.

George Martin

While he was not a performing artist, what would The Beatles have been without their great producer, Sir George Henry Martin?  There is a reason why he was called the “Fifth Beatle,” including by Paul McCartney. Martin had extensive involvement in all of The Beatles 12 original albums. His musical expertise proved particularly valuable for orchestral arrangements on the band’s later albums. In addition to The Beatles, Martin produced recordings for many other artists, such as America, Jeff Beck, Cheap Trick, Elton John and Little River Band. In my opinion, one of his greatest accomplishments with The Beatles was the stings arrangement for Eleanor Rigby. Here is a clip of this gem from the 1969 album Yellow Submarine.