Monday, November 25, 1974

Nick Drake died: November 25, 1974

Originally posted November 25, 2012.

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Nick Drake was an English folk singer/songwriter born in Rangoon, Burma, on June 19, 1948. Only three albums were released during his lifetime and each sold less than 5000 copies upon initial release. However, after his death he emerged as a doomed romantic hero. In the mid-‘80s, musicians such as The Cure’s Robert Smith and R.E.M.’s Peter Buck cited him as an influence. The Dream Academy’s 1985 single “Life in a Northern Town” was about Drake.

Drake’s parents were musically inclined, even composing music. At an early age, Nick wrote songs and recorded them on reel-to-reel. He played piano in the school orchestra and learned clarinet and saxophone. In 1967, he won a scholarship to study English literature at Cambridge. He was a bright student who didn’t apply himself. He was more interested in playing and listening to music while smoking marijuana.

He discovered the folk scene via performers like Bob Dylan and Phil Ochs and began performing in clubs and coffee houses around London. With the help of college friend Robert Kirby and American producer Joe Boyd, Drake recorded Five Leaves Left in 1968.

In the autumn of 1969, Drake moved to London to concentrate on music. 1970’s Bryter Layter sported a more upbeat and jazzier sound and featured John Cale and members of Fairport Convention. In October 1971, Drake recorded songs over two nights for what would become 1972’s Pink Moon. Thinking that the sound of Bryter Layter was too elaborate, Drake opted for a stark collection of bleak songs in which his singing was accompanied solely by his own guitar with one piano overdub on the title track.

He visited a psychiatrist in 1971 and was prescribed antidepressants. He also suffered from insomnia and his friend Kirby worried at one point that Drake was showing early signs of psychosis. In 1972, Drake had a nervous breakdown and was hospitalized for five weeks. He returned home to live with his parents. Musician John Martyn, who wrote the title song of his 1973 album Solid Air about Drake, described him as the most withdrawn person he’d ever met. Nick died at age 26 on November 25, 1974, of an overdose of amitriptyline, a prescribed antidepressant. The death has largely been assumed to be a suicide although some have considered it an accidental overdose.

A Skin Too Few (documentary about Nick Drake)

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Friday, August 16, 1974

The Ramones’ first gig at CBGB: August 16, 1974

Originally posted August 16, 2011.

When Hilly Krystal launched his New York club, the intended focus was country, bluegrass, and blues (CBGB). However, the dive bar became perhaps the world’s best-known venue for launching punk rock. Among some of the best loved bands to get at least CBGB assists in their careers are the Ramones, Blondie, Patti Smith, the Talking Heads, and Television.

August 16, 1974 marked the day when Queens, New Yorkers took the stage in jeans, black leather jackets, and Converse high-tops. It was their debut public performance. With a rapid-fire intro of “One! Two! Three! Four!”, the Ramones kicked their career – and the punk revolution into gear. As Legs McNeil, founder of Punk magazine said, “These guys were not hippies. This was something completely new.” TDH

The Ramones at CBGB

The Ramones were “a bracing antidote to the tamed and bloated corporate rock and roll of the mid-1970s.” TDH They went back to the basics with quick, loud blasts of stripped-down rock consisting just of vocals, guitar, bass, and drums. Their shows were showcases for their philosophy of “no makeup, no egos, no lights shows, no nonsense.” RH The group provided the template for future punk bands like the Sex Pistols and the Clash.

The Ramones are a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee and Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award recipient. According to Dave’s Music Database, the group’s 1976 debut is one of the top 100 albums of all time and their 1978 song “I Wanna Be Sedated” is in the top 1000 songs of the 20th century list.

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Wednesday, May 22, 1974

Jon Landau wrote about Bruce Springsteen: May 22, 1974

Originally posted May 22, 2012.

Jon Landau and Bruce Springsteen,
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38 years ago, then-writer Jon Landau wrote one of the more famous lines of rock and roll journalism: “I saw rock and roll future and its name is Bruce Springsteen.” The line referenced a concert he’d seen the Thursday before at the Harvard Square theatre where Springsteen opened for Bonnie Raitt. He also said of the two-hour set, “Can anyone really be this good; can anyone say this much to me; can rock ‘n’ roll still speak with this kind of power and glory?” He answers with a resounding “yes” saying, “Springsteen does it all” and later “there is no one I would rather watch on stage today.”

It’s Hard to Be a Saint in the City, live on 3-3-1974

Interestingly, Springsteen isn’t really the focus of the article. Springsteen’s name doesn’t show up until after the halfway point. At the grizzled age of 27, he reminisced about jamming with friends and listening to records as a freshman in college. He noted classics like Dionne Warwick’s “Walk on By,” the Drifters’ “Up on the Roof,” Wilson Pickett’s “In the Midnight Hour,” and Otis Redding’s “Respect.” He said, “Others enjoyed drugs, school, travel, adventure. I just liked music: listening to it, playing it, talking about it.”

I can relate. Other than my family (and they might complain they rank second) nothing consumes my time and attention more than music. When it comes to favorites, I cite Marillion as my favorite band and Kevin Gilbert as my favorite singer. They both have that proper “who’s that?” quality that makes me appear more in touch with music than the average person. However, when it comes to mainstream music, no one gets me as enthused as Springsteen. I became a fan in high school when Born in the U.S.A. was taking over the world. I’ve eagerly awaited every album he’s done since, lapping them up as soon as they’re released, absorbing them, and then walking away with a couple new favorites to add to The Boss’ already-ripe canon.

Kitty’s Back, live on 1-19-1974

When Landau wrote his “Growing Young with Rock and Roll” article, Springsteen had two going-nowhere albums under his belt with Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J. and The Wild, the Innocent, & the E Street Shuffle. Columbia Records had already lost $150,000 on those records and while Springsteen had a devoted local following, there seemed to be little chance he’d become a star. However, Columbia trumpeted Landau’s endorsement in full-page ads. While the original article appeared in The Real Paper, a weekly Boston newspaper which ran from 1972 to 1981, Landau had established a significant readership, having written for Rolling Stone, lending his craft to their very first issue in 1967.

More importantly, Landau joined Springsteen’s management team before year’s end. He co-produced Springsteen’s career-making album, 1975’s Born to Run and stayed on board with Springsteen ever since. Landau currently heads the nominating committee for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

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Saturday, March 2, 1974

Roberta Flack wins Grammys for Song and Record of the Year

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Roberta Flack “Killing Me Softly with His Song”

Writer(s): Charles Fox, Norman Gimbel (see lyrics here)

First charted: 1/20/1973

Peak: 15 US, 2 AC, RB 2, 6 UK (Click for codes to singles charts.)

Sales (in millions): 1.0 US, -- UK, 1.0 world (includes US and UK)

Radio Airplay (in millions): 5.0 Video Airplay (in millions): 8.3

Review: At the 16th Grammy Awards on March 2, 1974, Roberta Flack took home the prizes for Song and Record of the Year. She owes this monster hit to Don McLean – and airline headsets.

Folk singer Lori Lieberman was at a Don McLean show at the Troubadour in Los Angeles when she was inspired to write a poem RS500 – but not by “American Pie” or McLean’s other big hit, “Vincent.” No, she heard album track “Empty Chairs,” and thought, “Whoa! This person knows me!” CR-387-8 Unsure how to put the poem into lyric form, CR-388 she showed it to two men she was working with at the time: Gimbel and Fox of Happy Days fame. RS500

She recorded the song and released it as a single, but it didn’t take off – well, that is, until it was literally lifted off the ground in its inclusion on a tape of music for airline headsets. SJ-164 Roberta Flack’s curiosity was peaked when she saw the song title in an in-flight magazine while on a flight from L.A. to New York. SJ-164 She says she “absolutely freaked” RS500 and knew she had to cover the song. CR-388

She and producer Quincy Jones spent three months polishing the track in the studio RS500 to create the “lushy romantic and forlorn atmosphere.” CR-388 The result was her second chart-topper, three Grammy wins, the biggest song of 1973, WHC-100 and, according to Blender magazine, is the eleventh most performed song ever. CR-388

More than 20 years later, the Fugees revived the song with the intention “to bring musicality back to hip-hop.” HL-70 Their version became a big radio hit in 1996 and even lifted a remix of Flack’s original into the dance club play charts.

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Note: Footnotes (raised letter codes) refer to sources frequently cited on the blog. Numbers following the letter code indicate page numbers. If the raised letter code is a link, it will go directly to the correct page instead of the home page of a website. You can find the sources and corresponding footnotes on the “Lists” page in the “Song Resources” section.


Saturday, February 2, 1974

Barbra Streisand hit #1 with “The Way We Were”: February 2, 1974

Originally posted February 2, 2012.

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“The Way We Were” “capped a rare entertainment grand slam” AMG in that the song, album, and movie all hit #1. AMG Streisand was no stranger to the Billboard pop charts, having racked up 20 hits since “People,” taken from the musical Funny Girl, charted in 1964. However, “The Way We Were” was her first chart-topper – she would accomplish the feat four more times – and her second of eight to the adult contemporary charts.

Barbra conveys “the lyric with great passion and style, without resorting to overly sentimental histrionics.” AMG The result was the biggest song of 1974 WHC and one of her “finest performances.” AMG The song is “ingrained into the memory of anyone who was listening to radio in the mid-’70s.” AMG

The movie “starred Streisand and Robert Redford as a pair of opposites who fall in love. They are followed “from college to marriage to divorce and beyond.” BR1 The use of the word “memories” throughout the song perfectly captures the essence of the film’s focus on “emotions of long-term (and long-lost) love.” AMG

The original movie version of the song was recorded with an orchestral backing which was scrapped in favor of a more pop arrangement for the single and Barbra’s subsequent album of the same name. BB100

When awards season hit, the track took home prizes for Best Song at the Golden Globes and Academy Awards. The song was also ranked #8 on the American Film Institute’s list of top 100 film songs of all time. WK


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