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

This is the fourth installment in a row of my recently introduced feature that highlights six random songs I like. I’m becoming cautiously optimistic I can keep up the pace and make this a weekly recurring series.

Clannad/Caisleán Õir

Irish folk group Clannad was formed in 1970 in the parish of Gweedore located on the Atlantic coast in northwest Ireland by siblings Ciarán Brennan, Pól Brennan and Moya Brennan, together with their twin uncles Pádraig Duggan and Noel Duggan. Initially known as Clann as Dobhar and since 1973 as Clannad, according to Wikipedia, the group has adopted various musical styles over the decades. This includes folk, folk rock, as well as traditional Irish, Celtic and new-age music, often incorporating elements of smooth jazz and Gregorian chant. Clannad’s eponymous debut album came out in 1973. They have since released 15 additional studio albums, the most recent of which, Nádúr, appeared in September 2013. The group remains active to this day, with Ciarán, Moya, Pól and Noel still being part of the line-up. Pádraig passed away in August 2016. Caisleán Õir is the breathtaking opener of Macalla, their eighth studio album from 1985. It became one of their most successful records, partially because of a collaboration between U2’s Bono and Clannad vocalist Moya Brennan on the tune In a Lifetime. Macalla brought Clannad on my radar screen in the mid-’80s. The vocals on Caisleán Õir, co-written by Ciarán Brennan and Máire Brennan, still make my neck hair stick up. I recommend using headphones for that tune!

Fretland/Could Have Loved You

Fretland are an Americana band from Snohomish, Wa., which I featured last May in a Best of What’s New installment. Unfortunately, it appears the situation hasn’t changed, and publicly available information on this band continues to be very limited. Fretland were founded by singer-songwriter Hillary Grace Fretland  (vocals, guitar). The line-up also includes Luke Francis (guitar), Jake Haber (bass) and Kenny Bates (drums). Could Have Loved You is the opener and title track of the band’s upcoming sophomore album scheduled for March 26. Here’s the official video of the pretty tune, which was written by Hillary Grace Fretland. Her voice reminds me a bit of Sarah McLachlan.

 John Mellencamp & Carlene Carter/Indigo Sunset

Heartland rock and Americana singer-songwriter John Mellencamp, one of my long-time favorite artists, needs no introduction. To country music fans, the same is probably true for Carlene Carter, the daughter of June Carter Cash and her first husband Carl Smith, who just like June was a country singer. June’s third husband, of course, was the man in black, Johnny Cash. With so much country in the gene pool, it’s perhaps not surprising Carlene became a country artist as well – and a pretty talented one I should add! During Mellencamp’s 2015–2016 Plain Spoken Tour, where Carter opened each show for him, the two artists started writing songs together. Eventually, this resulted in Sad Clowns & Hillbillies, Mellencamp’s 23rd and most recent studio album of original material, which was released in April 2017. Here’s one of the tunes Mellencamp and Carter wrote and performed together, the beautiful Indigo Sunset. I absolutely love this song. Check out the incredibly warm sound. I also think Mellencamp’s and Carter’s voices go perfectly with each other, even though they couldn’t be more different.

Simply Red/If You Don’t Know Me By Now

British pop and soul band Simply Red were formed in Manchester in 1985. They came very strongly right out of the gate with their studio debut Picture Book from October 1985. The album, which spawned various popular singles including Money’s Too Tight (to Mention) and Holding Back the Years, brought the group around smooth lead vocalist and singer-songwriter Mick Hucknall on my radar screen. After a four-year break between 2011 and 2015, they remain active to this day and have released 12 albums as of November 2019. Their amazing cover of If You Don’t Know Me By Now was included on their third album A New Flame that appeared in February 1989. It became hugely successful, topping the charts in the UK, Switzerland and New Zealand, and placing within the top ten in various other countries, except the U.S. where it stalled at no. 22. If You Don’t Know Me By Now was co-written by songwriting and production duo Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff, who are credited for developing the so-called Philly sound. The tune was first recorded and released in 1972 by Philly soul group Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes. Man, Hucknall’s got soul – so good!

America/Ventura Highway

Formed in London in 1970, folk and pop rock group America was one of the bands my sister unknowingly introduced me to as a 7 or 8-year-old. She had their first greatest hits compilation History: America’s Greatest Hits, a fantastic introduction to the group. I realize the trio that originally consisted of Dewey Bunnell (vocals, guitar), Dan Peek (vocals, guitar) and Gerry Beckley (vocals, bass) sometimes is dismissed as a copy of Crosby, Stills & Nash. Even if you think that’s true, I’d consider it to be a compliment; because that comparison largely stems from America’s harmony singing. How many bands can you name that sing in as perfect harmony as CSN? Or America, for that matter? Anyway, Ventura Highway, written by Dewey Bunnell, is the opener of America’s sophomore album Homecoming from November 1972. Every time I hear that song, I picture myself driving in some convertible on the California coastal Highway 1, with the free wind blowin’ through my hair. BTW, America exist to this day, with Bunnell and Beckley still being around. Peek, who left the group in 1977 and became a born again Christian, passed away in July 2011 at the age of 60.

Cream/Strange Brew

You didn’t really think I could do a Sunday Six without at least one ’60s tune, did ya? Of course, you didn’t! I trust you’ve heard about British rock trio of ingenious bassist and vocalist Jack Bruce, guitar god Eric Clapton and drummer extraordinaire Ginger Baker. Co-written by Clapton, producer Felix Pappalardi and Gail Collins, Strange Brew is the opener of Cream’s second studio album Disraeli Gears that came out in November 1967. If you had asked me, I would have bet Sunshine of Your Love was the highest-charting song from the album. Not so, at least not in the U.K. – turns out Strange Brew climbed to no. 17 there, while Sunshine of Your Love peaked at no. 25. In the U.S. it was different. Sunshine surged all the way to no. 5 on the Billboard Hot 100, while Brew didn’t chart at all. Funny how these things can go – perhaps it was too strange for American taste!

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube