Month: October 2013

This Day in Rock — October 31, 1970

Fire_and_Rain_James_TaylorMental illness, addiction and suicide are subject matter for Fire and Rain, the introspective ballad by James Taylor that hits #3 on the Billboard Top 100 chart.

Over the years, differing versions of the origin of the song will make the rounds. The truth at the core of things seems to be rooted in a few biographical facts:

Young Taylor, who struggles with depression and addiction, has a close friend in New York named Suzanne Schnerr. He makes her acquaintance while he is performing with an ultimately unsuccessful group, The Flying Machine. “Sweet dreams and flying machines in pieces on the ground.”

Later, while he is in London recording his debut album for the Beatles’ Apple label, Suzanne takes her own life. “Suzanne the plans they made put an end to you.”

The haunting melody and Taylor’s extraordinary voice fuel the song’s popularity. Interesting, isn’t it, that mental illness, drug addiction and suicide are fairly acceptable fodder for song lyrics but not for honest engagement when they touch our own real lives? BTW, there is no one out there who has not been touched by one or more of these matters. If you think not, you’re not being honest with yourself. Think about that as you listen again:

This Day in Rock — October 30, 1939

J139104902Grace  Wing, who will become Grace Slick of Jefferson Airplane, is born in Chicago, Illinois. The family moves out to California and young Grace graduates in the mid 1950s from Castilleja High School, a private all-girls school in Palo Alto. She attends Finch College and Miami University in Coral Gables, Florida before marrying husband Jerry.

The drop-dead gorgeous Grace has a brief career as a model and has fun singing on the side when she realizes she could make a lot more money as a rock star. She and her husband form the band The Great Society in 1965 and by 1966 she is popular in the Bay area.

That autumn Jefferson Airplane’s singer Signe Toly Anderson leaves the band to start a family, and the Airplane asks Slick to join them. Soon we have White Rabbit and Somebody to Love. Slick becomes an icon of 60s rock and continues to perform into the mid-1990s. She is still with us, but she has retired from the stage.

Thank God we have video:

This Day in Rock — October 28, 1964

TAMI-Show-PosterT.A.M.I. begins an incredible two-day free concert shoot at Santa Monica, California’s Civic Auditorium. The acronym is used inconsistently — sometimes as Teen Age Music International and other times as Teenage Awards Music International. Best performances from both days are edited and become the feature film classic T.A.M.I. Show.

Director Steve Binder and his crew from The Steve Allen Show shoot the concert in “Electronovision,” a precursor to High Definition television invented by the self-taught “electronics whiz,” Bill Sargent. It is a seminal event in the pioneering of music films, and more importantly, the later concept of music videos.

On the bill are the Stones, Jan and Dean, Lesley Gore, James Brown and the Famous Flames, the Supremes, Chuck Berry, the Beach Boys, Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, to name a few.  In the audience are seventh-grade classmates David Landis (future filmmaker) and David Cassidy (future Partridge Family actor).  Among the go-go dancers in the background for the concert is future actress Teri Garr as well as Toni Basil, who will have a #1 hit with Mickey in 1981.

It is hard to single out any T.A.M.I. performance. So here is Lesley Gore with You Don’t Own Me, followed by a YouTube video of the entire film. Take some time to watch it again and have a great Halloween week:

This Day in Rock — October 27, 1973

Knight-Gladys-and-The-PipsEmpress of Soul Gladys Knight and the Pips hit #1 on the Billboard pop chart with Midnight Train to Georgia. It is their first #1 pop hit, although they already have four #1 hits on the R&B charts.

Midnight Train to Georgia is released under Knight’s new Buddah Records label. This after Gladys leaves Motown with hard feelings. Seems Barry Gordy didn’t want Gladys upstaging Diana Ross and the Supremes (as sometimes happened when the Pips toured as the opener for the Supremes).

Written by Jim Weatherly, and included on the Pips’ 1973 LP Imagination, Midnight Train to Georgia wins the 1974 Grammy Award for Best R&B Vocal Performance By A Duo, Group Or Chorus and becomes Knight’s signature song.

Drum shots, horns. And then, oh my God, Gladys begins to sing . . .

This Day in Rock — October 25, 1968

electric ladylandElectric Ladyland, the third and final album of new material by the Jimi Hendrix Experience, is released. It is the only Hendrix studio album professionally produced under his supervision, and will top the Billboard 200 album chart for two weeks in November.

This two-disc album is produced under difficult circumstances. Hendrix falls out with producer Bryan “Chas” Chandler and Noel Redding, who are unhappy with Hendrix’s lack of discipline.  Chandler complains about Hendrix’s drugged incoherence and quits in May 1968. This leaves Hendrix as sole producer on the project.

Electric Ladyland includes the psychedelic “Burning of the Midnight Lamp”, previously a U.K. single in the summer of 1967; the extended blues jam “Voodoo Chile“; the New Orleans-style R&B of Earl King‘s “Come On“; the epic studio production of “1983… (A Merman I Should Turn to Be)“; the social commentary of “House Burning Down”; and the Sixties-era Britpop of  Redding’s “Little Miss Strange”. The album also features an electric reworking of the Bob Dylan classic “All Along the Watchtower“, which is loved by critics and by Dylan himself. Here it is just for you:

This Day in Rock — October 23, 1964

the kinks

The Kinks, 1965. From left: Pete Quaife, Dave Davies, Ray Davies, Mick Avory.

The Kinks‘ third single is their breakthrough. You Really Got Me is an international hit, topping the charts in the United Kingdom, peaking at #7 in the U.S. on October 23, 1964.

Brothers Ray and Dave Davies are founders of the band, which takes shape in Muswell Hill, North London, earlier in 1964.  The Kinks are among the most prominent and talented of the British Invasion bands.

Between the mid-1960s and early 1970s, the group will release a string of singles and LPs most of which are critically successful but commercial failures, gaining a reputation for songs and concept albums reflecting English culture and lifestyle, fuelled by Ray Davies’ observational writing style. Albums such as Face to FaceSomething ElseThe Kinks Are the Village Green Preservation SocietyArthurLola Versus Powerman and the Moneygoround and Muswell Hillbillies, along with their accompanying singles, are considered among the most influential recordings of the period.

Here are The Kinks with a 1965 performance of You Really Got Me on “Shindig”:

This Day in Rock — October 23, 1965

 

ByrdsThe Byrds release their cover of a song based on a passage from the Bible. And it becomes a huge hit.

“Turn, Turn, Turn,” written by Pete Seeger in the late 1950s, has lyrics adapted almost entirely from the Old Testament Book of Ecclesiates. It is recorded by the Limelighters as well as Seeger in 1962. Among the Limelighters backing musicians is Roger McGuinn, who becomes frontman for the Byrds but not before working with Judy Collins, who covers “Turn, Turn, Turn” in 1963.

The Byrds version, featuring that classic opening riff with a hint of tambourine and McGuinn’s poignant phrasing, will claim the #1 spot on the Billboard Hot 100 chart by late 1965. Here is a live not-lip-synced performance:

And here are Collins and Seeger, together, making a thing of beauty: