Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Janis Joplin Charts with Cheap Thrills and “Piece of My Heart”: August 31, 1968

In her Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee bio, Janis Joplin is described as “the greatest white urban blues and soul singer of her generation.” In 1968, she was still forging that voice, having come off a triumphant performance at the Monterey Pop Festival the summer before. Her San Francisco-based group, Big Brother & the Holding Company, charted soon after with their self-titled debut, but it stalled at #60. Their second album, Cheap Thrills, fared better, spending a whopping eight weeks atop the charts. Rolling Stone magazine named it one of the 500 greatest albums of all time.

The same week the album launched its chart run, Janis & Co. hit the Billboard Hot 100 with their maiden entry, “Piece of My Heart”. The song peaked at #12, but reached iconic status. It has been inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame and is featured on the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s list of “The Songs That Shaped Rock and Roll”.

The song was written by Jerry Ragovoy and Bert Berns. Erma Franklin, the sister of Rock Hall inductee Aretha Franklin, recorded the song in 1967 and took it to the top ten in the R&B charts. Big Brother & the Holding Company’s rendition a year later has become the definitive version, but it has been notably covered by others, including Dusty Springfield, Sammy Hagar, Faith Hill, and as a duet between Melissa Etheridge and Joss Stone.

Joplin embarked on a solo journey after Cheap Thrills, but her days were numbered. A heroin overdose cut her life short at 27 years old on October 4, 1970. 1971’s Pearl and “Me and Bobby McGee” were posthumous #1 hits.

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Thursday, August 25, 2011

Rock 'n' Roll 101: How to Handle a Dead Star

Originally published in my "Aural Fixation" column on on Aug. 25, 2011. See original post here.

image from

April 10, 1994 was my 27th birthday. That same week my generation’s greatest musical icon – Nirvana’s Kurt Cobain – ended his life with the same number of candles on his recent birthday cake. The music press went into high gear reporting the shock of Cobain’s tragic ending while simultaneously reflecting on its inevitability. After all, he was a troubled soul with a history of substance abuse, failed rehab stints, overdoses, and suicide attempts.

It didn’t take long before finger pointing began. In their grief, family, friends, and fans were reluctant to accept that their loved one died by his own hand. It was easier to blame someone else. Cobain’s marriage to Courtney Love was less than idyllic and she was loathed by many in the Nirvana community. This made her an obvious scapegoat. Eventually, conspiracy theorists floated the idea that Cobain’s death wasn’t a suicide at all, but that Love had him murdered.

While the music community mourned the loss of one of its giants, the spin moved on to Cobain’s legacy. He’d only lived long enough to spearhead three proper studio albums with Nirvana, but in the process was hailed as a revolutionary who’d birthed a new genre of music. Should he be immortalized alongside other musical icons who died at age 27? Was it fair to utter his name in the same breath as Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison, Brian Jones, and Robert Johnson?

These are all plays straight out of the Rock ‘n’ Roll 101 handbook, specifically the chapter on how to handle a rock star who checks out in his or her prime. It goes like this. First, express shock over Young Rock Star’s death and report on the outpouring of love and respect from the musical community. While that reality is still sinking in, switch gears completely and report on the inevitability of said Rock Star’s demise. After all, in light of his or her habits and lifestyle, who didn’t see this coming?

Next, the public wants answers. Not only should they be offered gory and gruesome details as if this were an episode of CSI or some other crime investigation show, but supplied with detailed exploits of the Young Rock Star’s last days.

The fans also need a target upon whom to vent their anger. Why wasn’t the record company babysitting its star more? Shouldn’t the family have done more to intervene? How about that destructive relationship? Sure the Young Rock Star may have exhibited every sign of a death wish, but can’t we ultimately blame someone else for this?

With Young (now Dead) Rock Star barely in the grave, it’s time to focus on his or her legacy. After all, our beloved hero has been dead for days! It’s about time we move on and figure out our idol’s place in the whole of musical history. How should this Dead Young Rock Star be remembered? Also, to generate controversy, plenty of press should be afforded to detractors who callously lambast Young Rock Star as overrated.

The final matter is two-fold: 1) how can Dead Young Rock Star be immortalized with such a slim discography and; 2) how can record companies shamelessly profit on Dead Young Rock Star’s death by raiding the vaults for unreleased material?

Amy Winehouse’s recent death required anyone associated with the recording industry or music journalism to dust off their Rock ‘n’ Roll 101 manuals. A quick overview shows her story to be eerily reminiscent of Cobain’s. Tabloids salivated over her exploits with substance abuse, failed rehab attempts, and a not quite two-car-garage-and-picket-fence marriage to Blake Fielder-Civil. It didn’t take long before Winehouse’s father publicly blamed his daughter’s death on the ex-husband because he had introduced Amy to drugs.

Conflicting accounts emerged regarding events in the days leading up to her death. Had she gone on a drug-buying spree just the night before? Had a physician just proclaimed her to be in good health? Did she die because she was fighting so hard to overcome her demons that her body collapsed from alcohol withdrawl? Posing these questions naturally draws out anyone who ever partied with Winehouse, sat in on a recording session, or hung out with her in a seedy bar. All of them weigh in with their takes on what she was really like.

Even with the public still grieving, talk turned to Winehouse’s status in Rock ‘n’ Roll Heaven. Does she deserve enshrinement alongside other musicians who passed on to that great gig in the sky, with only 27 years on planet Earth?

The matter of her slim two-album discography led detractors to say no. The jazzy Frank (2003) was critically hailed, but certainly not considered a game changer. The 2006 follow-up, Back to Black, was hailed as a landmark of both retro-soul and neo-soul. No, I’m not sure how it can be both, either. Whatever it is genre-wise, is Back to Black truly deserving of the “classic album” tag?

Whatever title was latched to her sound, it became the consensus that Winehouse launched a wave of white, British, female R&B/pop singers like Adele, Duffy, and Florence & the Machine.

Finally, there’s the “What will the record companies do next?” route. Winehouse hadn’t been dead a week before stories flooded the Internet about what was or wasn’t in the vaults that might see the light of day. Depending on the account, there’s the “let’s respect the family’s wishes” angle or the idea that if there’s a tape of Winehouse farting, let’s release it to the public – you know, because we deserve to hear it all.

Are there three albums worth of material? Is it just a handful of demos? When someone recently broke into her house, how much music did they steal? Will something be released before the end of the year? I think of the song “Paint a Vulgar Picture” by the Smiths: “At the record company meeting/ On their hands a dead star/ And oh, the plans they weave/ And oh, the sickening greed.”

What gets overlooked amidst the sensationalism are detailed expositions on what led to the tragedy. Why does our entertainment culture salivate over both the construction and destruction of its stars? Is the same quality that drives attention seekers to the spotlight what also causes them to self-destruct?

History is littered with artistic geniuses who could barely run their personal lives even as the world worshiped them. The urge to create is often a double-edged sword saddled with a propensity to destroy. Our greatest musical legends are often troubled souls who likely would have had difficult lives in or out of the limelight.

Through it all, however, we should never lose sight of some basics. The Rock ‘n’ Roll 101 Handbook doesn’t acknowledge that its Dead Young Rock Stars had parents, siblings, spouses, children, and friends. They had their problems but were adored by millions. They made music which touched people’s souls and changed people’s lives. The Kurt Cobains, Amy Winehouses, and other musical geniuses who walked this planet for far too short a time deserve to be embraced. They were flawed, but they were also beloved.

R.I.P., Dead Young Rock Stars.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Bobby Darin Charts with "Mack the Knife": August 24, 1959

This content is taken from the The Top 100 Songs of the Rock Era, 1954-1999, available at as a standard book or ebook!

“Mack the Knife” originated in 1928 as “Moritat,” which translates to “murder deed.” RCG Bertlot Brecht and Kurt Weill wrote the original German song about “a bloodthirsty Berlin gangster” RS500 on the prowl for the musical The Three Penny Opera. Despite the song’s gruesome subject matter, the irresistible melody made the song hit-worthy. KL Instead of translating the lyrics literally, Marc Blitzstein was assigned to give the song a rewrite. SJ

The song had become a standard before Darin ever recorded it. “Mack” charted six times in 1956; the Dick Hyman Trio’s #8 instrumental version being the most successful. However, Darin’s version trumped them all.

A year earlier, at age twenty-two, Darin first hit with the “Splish Splash”, followed by three more hits which cemented his appeal to the teen market. However, Darin wanted the kind of longevity enjoyed by Frank Sinatra. At the time he even told Billboard, “In night clubs I learn to other things. I even do ‘Mack the Knife.’” BB100

For his standards album That’s All, Darin recorded the song, but he never saw it being a single. SJ His record company thought otherwise and the song transformed Darin’s image into that of “a finger-snapping sophisticate at home in the cocktail lounge.” RS500

Mack the Knife


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Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Nickolas Ashford: 1942-2011

Check the Dave’s Music Database Facebook page for daily music-related posts. Also check out books by Dave Whitaker, including the collection of past blog entries, No One Needs 21 Versions of “Purple Haze”…And Other Essays from a Musical Obsessive.

Nickolas Ashford and Valerie Simpson

August 22, 2011: Songwriter, producer, and performer Nickolas Ashford died of complications from throat cancer at age 70. He was born in Fairfield, South Carolina, on May 4, 1942. He met Valerie Simpson in 1963 and they began working together as writers and performers. They married in 1974.

In the mid-‘60s, the pair composed hits for Aretha Franklin, the Fifth Dimension, Ronnie Milsap, Maxine Brown, the Shirelles, and Chuck Jackson. In 1966, they scored a major break when Ray Charles took his cover of the Coasters’ “Let’s Go Get Stoned” (written by Ashford & Simpson) to #1 on the R&B charts.

Their work with Charles brought them to the attention of Motown’s Berry Gordy. The team then joined Motown where they became the primary writers for the duets between Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell, including “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” (#19 pop, #3 R&B), “Your Precious Love” (#5 pop, #2 R&B), “Ain’t Nothing Like the Real Thing” (#8 pop, #1 R&B), and “You’re All I Need to Get By” (#7 pop, #1 R&B).

At Motown, they also worked with Gladys Knight & The Pips, Smokey Robinson & The Miracles, The Marvelettes, and The Supremes. The pair also wrote and produced hits for Diana Ross, including three 1970 hits – “Reach Out and Touch Somebody’s Hand” (#20 pop, #7 R&B), a cover of “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” (#1 pop, #1 R&B), and “Remember Me” (#16 pop, #10 R&B).

They left Motown in 1973 but still found success, most notably with Chaka Khan’s 1978 hit “I’m Every Woman” (#21 pop, #1 R&B). Whitney Houston covered the song in 1993 with even greater success (#3 pop, #1 R&B). During their post-Motown years, Ashford & Simpson also found their greatest success as performers with 1984’s “Solid” (#12 pop, #1 R&B).

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Jerry Leiber, 1933-2011

l to r: Mike Stoller, Elvis Presley, and Jerry Leiber; image from

August 22, 2011: Jerry Leiber, one of the most important songwriters in rock history, died of cardiopulmonary failure at age 78. He generally wrote lyrics while Mike Stoller, his songwriting partner for 60 years, typically handled the music. Among the artists for whom the pair penned songs were Elvis Presley, the Coasters, and the Drifters.

Leiber was born in 1933 to Jewish immigrants from Poland and grew up on the edge of the black ghetto in Baltimore. Leiber was a high school senior when he met Stoller, a Queens-born New Yorker who shared Leiber’s love of boogie-woogie and the blues. Before they were even 20, they’d penned “Hound Dog”, which became a #1 R&B hit for Big Mama Thornton in 1953. Three years later, Elvis Presley’s cover of the song would become one of the biggest songs in rock and roll history. Elvis recorded more than twenty Leiber/Stoller compositions, including the #1’s “Jailhouse Rock” and “Don’t”.

They were also noted for most of the hits for the Coasters, which the Songwriters Hall of Fame called “the court jesters of rock and roll kingdom”. Leiber & Stoller wrote “Searchin’”, “Young Blood”, “Yakety Yak”, “Charlie Brown”, “Along Came Jones”, “Poison Ivy”, and “Smokey Joe’s Café”. As Stoller told Rolling Stone in 1990, “we were writing to amuse ourselves…We got very lucky in the sense that at some point what we wrote also amused a lot of other people.” RS

They also were successful as producers. After a successful run with Atlantic Records in the late ‘50s and early ‘60s, they launched their own label, Red Bird Records, in 1964. They helped shape the girl-group sound with classics like the Dixie Cups’ “Chapel of Love” and the Shangri-La’s “Leader of the Pack”. Their last major hit as a producing team came with Stealers Wheel’s “Stuck in the Middle with You” in 1972.

Other artists to record songs by the famous writing team include The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Beach Boys, James Brown, Little Richard, Jerry Lee Lewis, Buddy Holly, Fats Domino, The Everly Brothers, Bill Haley and the Comets, Barbra Streisand, Jimi Hendrix, Muddy Waters, Johnny Mathis, Joe Williams, Count Basie, John Mellen-camp. Lou Rawls, Tom Jones, Edith Piaf, Bobby Darin, Chet Atkins, Aretha Franklin, Luther Vandross, B.B. King, and Otis Redding. SH

Elvis Presley’s “Hound Dog” and “Jailhouse Rock” and Ben E. King’s “Stand by Me” are all featured in the DMDB book The Top 100 Songs of the Rock Era, 1954-1999. They are DMDB top 1000 songs along with Wilbert Harrison’s “Kansas City”, the Coasters’ “Searchin’”, and the Drifers’ “On Broadway” and “There Goes My Baby”.

Dave’s Music Database rates Leiber as one of the top 1000 music makers of all time and one of
the top 100 songwriters of all time. He has been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the Songwriter Hall of Fame.

According to the DMDB, these are the top 20 songs with Jerry Leiber writing credits:

1. Elvis Presley “Hound Dog” (1956)
2. Ben E. King “Stand by Me” (1961)
3. Elvis Presley “Jailhouse Rock” (1957)
4. Wilbert Harrison “Kansas City” (1959)

5. The Drifters “On Broadway” (1963)
6. The Drifters “There Goes My Baby” (1959)

7. The Coasters “Searchin’” (1957)
8. Big Mama Thornton “Hound Dog” (1953)
9. The Coasters “Yakety Yak” (1958)
10. George Benson “On Broadway” (1978)

11. Ben E. King “Spanish Harlem” (1960)
12. Aretha Franklin “Spanish Harlem” (1971)

13. The Coasters “Young Blood” (1957)
14. Elvis Presley “Don’t” (1958)
15. Peggy Lee “Is That All There Is?” (1969)

16. The Coasters “Charlie Brown” (1959)
17. Sean Kingston “Beautiful Girls” (2007)
18. The Coasters “Poison Ivy” (1959)
19. The Clovers “Love Potion No. 9” (1959)
20. Mickey Gilley “Stand by Me” (1980)

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Monday, August 22, 2011

Martha & the Vandellas Chart with “Dancing in the Street”: August 22, 1964

This content is taken from the The Top 100 Songs of the Rock Era, 1954-1999, available at as a standard book or ebook!

Martha Reeves was a secretary at Motown when she got the opportunity of a lifetime – she was given the chance to record a demo. RS500 The song, “Dancing in the Street,” was originally offered to Kim Weston, who would later marry William Stevenson, RS500 one of the writers, but she turned it down. NRR As Stevenson says, though, “When Martha got into the song…that was the end of the conversation!” RS500

Stevenson says the inspiration for the song came from riding through Detroit during the summer with Marvin Gaye, another of the song’s writers. To let the kids cool off, the city would open up the fire hydrants to release the water into the streets. Stevenson says, “They appeared to be dancing in the water.” SF

Of all the dance songs ever written, none come as close as this one to “conveying not only the physical experience but the emotional tenor of what it means to dance publicly.” MA The song’s “primal rhythms [are]…so simple anyone can groove to it and so infectious everyone does.” AMG As “the quintessential hymn of revolution, riot, and rapture” it makes everyone want to join the party. WI


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Sunday, August 21, 2011

Patsy Cline Records "Crazy": August 21, 1961

Check the Dave’s Music Database Facebook page for daily music-related posts. Also check out books by Dave Whitaker, including the collection of past blog entries, No One Needs 21 Versions of “Purple Haze”…And Other Essays from a Musical Obsessive.

According to Dave’s Music Database, Patsy Cline ranks as one of the top 100 country acts of all time, top 100 singers of all time, and makes the top 1000 music makers of all time list. She is a Country Hall of Fame inductee and recipient of the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award.

What’s astonishing about Cline’s place in country music history is how little impact she had from a chart standpoint. At the time of her tragic death by a plane crash in 1963, she had charted a mere nine songs on the Billboard country charts. She had another ten posthumous hits, but her total of nineteen chart doesn’t even rank her in the top 200 country artists of all time according to the Billboard charts!

However, with several classics to her name, the respect shown to Cline is well deserved. Even if her most cherished song, “Crazy”, were the only thing she’d ever done, it would earn her an acclaimed spot in country music history. Dave’s Music Database ranks it as the #2 country song of all time, behind only Tammy Wynette’s “Stand by Your Man”. It is also featured in the DMDB book The Top 100 Songs of the Rock Era, 1954-1999. The song also gets best-of nods from the Grammy Hall of Fame, the Library of Congress’ National Recording Registry, and NPR’s list of The Most Important American Musical Works of the 20th Century.

The song was written by Willie Nelson before he became one of country music’s most celebrated singers. She needed a follow-up to another one of her classics – “I Fall to Pieces” – and was interested in Nelson’s song “Funny How Time Slips Away”. Unfortunately, Nelson had already given it to his long-time friend Billy Walker. Walker suggested “Crazy”, but Cline was not impressed with it. She didn’t want a slow, torch song, but something more up-tempo. However, her producer Owen Bradley convinced her to give it a shot. The result was her only top ten pop hit and what Willie Nelson called “the favorite of anything I ever wrote.” CL

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Saturday, August 20, 2011

The Top 100 Classic Rock Albums of All Time

Check the Dave’s Music Database Facebook page for daily music-related posts. Also check out books by Dave Whitaker, including the collection of past blog entries, No One Needs 21 Versions of “Purple Haze”…And Other Essays from a Musical Obsessive.

August 20 marks the birth of one of the greatest classic rockers of all-time – Led Zeppelin’s Robert Plant (1948). The day before saw the birthdays of three others – Cream drummer Ginger Baker (1939), Deep Purple singer Ian Gillan (1945), and Queen bassist John Deacon (1951). What better way to celebrate than with a list of the best classic rock albums of all-time, a list on which each of the aforementioned groups appears at least once?

This list was determined by an aggregate of 13 best-of lists focused on classic rock. It is very apparent how much classic rock is an album format when comparing this list to the best-albums-of-all-time list. 49 of the albums on this list also make the top 100 albums of all time list. Another 46 titles make the DMDB list of the top 1000 albums of all time.

Note: This list was originally posted on Facebook on May 2, 2011. Also, most of the album titles (and all of the album photos) below link to more detailed pages about that album.

1. Led Zeppelin: Led Zeppelin IV (1971)
2. Eagles: Hotel California (1976)
3. Pink Floyd: Dark Side of the Moon (1973)
4. The Doors: The Doors (1967)
5. The Beatles: Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band (1967)
6. Pink Floyd: The Wall (1979)
7. Fleetwood Mac: Rumours (1977)
8. The Jimi Hendrix Experience: Are You Experienced? (1967)
9. The Who: Who’s Next (1971)
10. Pink Floyd: Wish You Were Here (1975)

11. The Jimi Hendrix Experience: Electric Ladyland (1968)
12. Boston: Boston (1976)
13. Bruce Springsteen: Born to Run (1975)
14. AC/DC: Back in Black (1980)
15. The Who: Tommy (1969)
16. Led Zeppelin: Led Zeppelin II (1969)
17. Crosby, Stills, Nash, & Young: Déjà Vu (1970)
18. The Rolling Stones: Sticky Fingers (1971)
19. The Beatles: The Beatles (aka “The White Album”) (1968)
20. The Beatles: Abbey Road (1969)

21. Jethro Tull: Aqualung (1971)
22. Aerosmith: Toys in the Attic (1975)
23. Led Zeppelin: Physical Graffiti (1975)
24. Neil Young: Harvest (1972)
25. U2: The Joshua Tree (1987)
26. The Rolling Stones: Exile on Main Street (1972)
27. Peter Frampton: Frampton Comes Alive! (1976)
28. Led Zeppelin: Led Zeppelin I (1969)
29. Queen: A Night at the Opera (1975)
30. Deep Purple: Machine Head (1972)

31. AC/DC: Highway to Hell (1979)
32. Van Halen: 1984 (1984)
33. Van Morrison: Moondance (1970)
34. The Beatles: Revolver (1966)
35. Van Halen: Van Halen (1978)
36. Supertramp: Breakfast in America (1979)
37. Elton John: Goodbye Yellow Brick Road (1973)
38. The Beach Boys: Pet Sounds (1966)
39. Lynyrd Skynyrd: Pronounced Leh-Nerd Skin-Nerd (1973)
40. Cream: Disraeli Gears (1967)

41. The Doors: L.A. Woman (1971)
42. The Rolling Stones: Let It Bleed (1969)
43. Bruce Springsteen: Born in the U.S.A. (1984)
44. The Police: Synchronicity (1983)
45. Eric Clapton: Slowhand (1977)
46. Bad Company: Bad Company (1974)
47. The Who: Quadrophenia (1973)
48. Meat Loaf: Bat Out of Hell (1977)
49. John Lennon: Imagine (1971)
50. Yes: Fragile (1971)

51. Santana: Abraxas (1970)
52. Lynyrd Skynyrd: Street Survivors (1977)
53. Bob Dylan: Blonde on Blonde (1966)
54. The Rolling Stones: Some Girls (1978)
55. Slippery When Wet: Bon Jovi (1986)
56. Rush: Moving Pictures (1981)
57. REO Speedwagon: Hi Infidelity (1980)
58. Black Sabbath: Paranoid (1970)
59. Styx: The Grand Illusion (1977)
60. Eric Clapton: 461 Ocean Boulevard (1974)

61. Bob Dylan: Blood on the Tracks (1975)
62. Rush: Permanent Waves (1980)
63. The Rolling Stones: Beggars Banquet (1968)
64. ZZ Top: Tres Hombres (1973)
65. Guns N’ Roses: Appetite for Destruction (1987)
66. Bob Seger & the Silver Bullet Band: Night Moves (1976)
67. David Bowie: The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars (1972)
68. Bob Seger & the Silver Bullet Band: Live Bullet (1976)
69. ZZ Top: Eliminator (1983)
70. Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers: Damn the Torpedoes (1979)

71. Kansas: Leftoverture (1976)
72. Steve Miller Band: Fly Like an Eagle (1976)
73. The Beatles: Rubber Soul (1965)
74. Derek and the Dominos: Layla & Other Assorted Love Songs (1970)
75. Journey: Escape (1981)
76. The Cars: The Cars (1978)
77. Led Zeppelin: Houses of the Holy (1973)
78. The Beatles: Let It Be (1970)
79. Eagles: The Long Run (1979)
80. Foreigner: Foreigner (1977)

81. The Jimi Hendrix Experience: Axis – Bold As Love (1967)
82. Van Morrison: Astral Weeks (1968)
83. Tom Petty: Full Moon Fever (1989)
84. Janis Joplin: Pearl (1971)
85. Styx: Pieces of Eight (1978)
86. The Allman Brothers Band: Eat a Peach (1972)
87. Steely Dan: Aja (1977)
88. Grateful Dead: American Beauty (1970)
89. Kansas: Point of Know Return (1977)
90. Neil Young: After the Gold Rush (1970)

91. John Lennon: Plastic Ono Band (1970)
92. John Cougar (Mellencamp): American Fool (1982)
93. Styx: Paradise Theater (1981)
94. Heart: Dreamboat Annie (1976)
95. Dire Straits: Brothers in Arms (1985)
96. Def Leppard: Pyromania (1983)
97. Aerosmith: Permanent Vacation (1987)
98. Queen: The Game (1980)
99. Jackson Browne: Running on Empty (1977)
100. King Crimson: In the Court of the Crimson King (1969)

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Thursday, August 18, 2011

Garth Brooks Hits the Charts with “Friends in Low Places”: August 18, 1990

Check the Dave’s Music Database Facebook page for daily music-related posts. Also check out books by Dave Whitaker, including the collection of past blog entries, No One Needs 21 Versions of “Purple Haze”…And Other Essays from a Musical Obsessive.

Garth Brooks’ 1989 self-titled debut sported four top ten country singles, two of which hit #1. His second album, 1990’s No Fences, made him the biggest superstar country music had ever known. The album 17 million in U.S. sales alone ranks it in the top 100 best-selling albums of all-time.

The album’s lead single, “Friends in Low Places”, was the first of four #1 country songs off Brooks’ sophomore effort – and the biggest hit of his career. He found the song through writers Bud Lee and DeWayne Blackwell. Brooks was working as a shoe salesman in Nashville and looking for his big break when the songwriting team came in to buy boots. They agreed to let Brooks record some demos for them. CL The last one, “Friends in Low Places”, came after Brooks had landed a deal with Capitol Records and was about to release his debut album. Brooks was taken enough with the song to record it a year later when he was readying his second album.

In the meantime, Mark Chesnutt recorded the song for his Too Cold at Home album, but it wasn’t released as a single. Once Brooks laid down his version, though, it became one of the top 100 country songs of all-time according to Dave’s Music Database. The DMDB also ranks it as one of the top 1000 songs of the 20th century. “Friends” also took home Single of the Year honors from both the Academy of Country Music (ACM) and the Country Music Association (CMA).

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Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Billy Murray, the biggest selling sensation of the pioneer era, dies: August 17, 1954

Check the Dave’s Music Database Facebook page for daily music-related posts. Also check out books by Dave Whitaker, including the collection of past blog entries, No One Needs 21 Versions of “Purple Haze”…And Other Essays from a Musical Obsessive.

He was born in Philadelphia, Pennysylvania on May 25, 1877 and raised in Denver, Colorado. His death on August 17, 1954, marked a last hurrah for the pre-1920s pioneer era of music. He has been called the most sensational record seller of that time. At a time before radio ruled the waves and recording technology remained primitive, Billy Murray’s success gave the fledgling recording industry the credibility to develop into a popular form of entertainment. “In an era dominated by the operatically-influenced singing style, he helped to popularize a more natural approach. He was an incredibly versatile artist” JL whose “records serve as excellent representatives of the music and events of American culture.” DN The recording careers of other 20th century musical giants such as Bing Crosby, Elvis Presley, Frank Sinatra, and the Beatles pale in comparison.

He charted more than 200 hits and 30 number ones are songs as a solo artist and as lead with the Haydn Quartet, the American Quartet, the Columbia Comedy Trio, and the Heidelberg Quintet. He also recorded numerous duets with Ada Jones. Among those songs are a number of classics which make the Dave’s Music Database list of the top 1000 songs of the 20th century. These include “Meet Me in St. Louis, Louis” (1904), “In My Merry Oldsmobile” (1905), “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” (with the Haydn Quartet, 1908), “By the Light of the Silvery Moon” (with the Haydn Quartet, 1910), “Casey Jones” (with the American Quartet, 1910), “Come, Josephine, in My Flying Machine” (with the American Quartet & Ada Jones, 1911), “Oh, You Beautiful Doll” (with the American Quartet, 1911), and “K-K-K-Katy (The Stammering Song)” (1918).

He recorded many of the definitive versions of songs from famed songwriter George M. Cohan. Among them are five which make the Dave’s Music Database list of the top 1000 songs of the 20th century. Those are “Yankee Doodle Boy” (1905), “Give My Regards to Broadway” (1905), “You’re a Grand Old Flag” (1906), “Harrigan” (1907), and “Over There” (with the American Quartet, 1917). The first two are also in the Grammy Hall of Fame while “Flag” is also in the Library of Congress’ National Recording Registry.

Murray’s highest-ranked song according to the DMDB

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Monday, August 15, 2011

The Woodstock Festival begins: August 15, 1969

Check the Dave’s Music Database Facebook page for daily music-related posts. Also check out books by Dave Whitaker, including the collection of past blog entries, No One Needs 21 Versions of “Purple Haze”…And Other Essays from a Musical Obsessive.

In keeping with the daily-dose-of-musical-history format which I adopted in June 2011, my initial intent was to work up a 300-500 word piece capturing a snapshot of the famous Woodstock music festival from August 15-18, 1969. In the end, however, the endeavor failed. A proper vision of Woodstock throws objectivity out the window, so I opted instead to rewind to an essay I wrote two years ago in celebration of Woodstock’s 40th anniversary. I’ve infused that original piece with images and video. Anyway, check out the link below. Peace.

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Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Hank Williams Charts for the First Time: August 9, 1947

Check the Dave’s Music Database Facebook page for daily music-related posts. Also check out books by Dave Whitaker, including the collection of past blog entries, No One Needs 21 Versions of “Purple Haze”…And Other Essays from a Musical Obsessive.

Hank Williams isn’t just one of country music’s most celebrated performers, but one of the most important music makers of any genre of music. He can boast to induction in the Country Music Hall of Fame, the Rock and Roll Music Hall of Fame, and the Songwriters Hall of Fame. He is also a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award. Dave’s Music Database ranks him as one of the Top 100 Acts of All Time and one of the top 10 country acts of all time.

His first chart hit came in 1947 with “Move It on Over”. Some of the significant hits which followed include five songs in the Grammy Hall of Fame. Those five songs – “Lovesick Blues” (1949), “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry” (1949), “Hey, Good Lookin’” (1951), “Jambalaya (On the Bayou)” (1952), and “Your Cheatin’ Heart” (1953) – also rank in the top 1000 songs of the 20th century, as does 1951’s “Cold, Cold Heart”. All six of those songs, as well as 1953’s “Kaw-Liga”, also make the DMDB’s list of the top 100 country songs of all time.

“Move It on Over” – audio only

Williams’ short life makes his accomplishments even more extraordinary. He was only 29 when alcohol and drug abuse did him in, but he had already charted 33 hits on the country charts. Eerily, the song on the charts when he died was “I’ll Never Get Out of This World Alive”. It would be his eighth #1 country song, topping the chart just a few weeks after his death. His next three posthumous releases also hit the pinnacle.

As proof of his long-lasting impact, Williams hit the top ten four more times after his death – the last was in 1989 (“There’s a Tear in My Beer”) in a duet with his son Hank Williams, Jr. It won the Academy of Country Music award for Video of the Year.

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Sunday, August 7, 2011

The Crew-Cuts Hit #1 with “Sh-Boom”: August 7, 1954

Check the Dave’s Music Database Facebook page for daily music-related posts. Also check out books by Dave Whitaker, including the collection of past blog entries, No One Needs 21 Versions of “Purple Haze”…And Other Essays from a Musical Obsessive.

In 1954, R&B music was gaining a foothold for white teen audiences. Nervous record companies weren’t comfortable promoting the original R&B songs, opting in many cases to record “sanitized” versions by white cover groups. One of the most successful examples was with The Crew-Cuts’ take on “Sh-Boom”, a song which has been called “the first rock and roll number 1 hit.” JA They topped the charts for 9 weeks.

However, in what was considered an “unprecedented achievement,” SJ the Chords’ original still went top 5 on the pop charts. They also went to #2 on the R&B charts and racked up one million airplays. Meanwhile, the Crew-Cuts went to #12 on the UK charts and sold one million copies.

Both songs make the cut in Dave’s Music Database’s list of the top 20 doo-wop songs of all time. The Chords, however, win out when it comes to which song has more acclaim, making the DMDB list of the top 1000 songs of the 20th century and getting inducted in the Grammy Hall of Fame.

Resources and Related Links:
  • DMDB page for “Sh-Boom”
  • JA David A. Jasen. (2002). A Century of American Popular Music: 2000 Best-Loved and Rememberd Songs (1899-1999). Routledge: Taylor & Francis, Inc. Page 171.
  • MA Dave Marsh. (1989). The Heart of Rock and Soul: The 1001 Greatest Singles Ever Made. New York, NY; New American Library. Pages 374-5.
  • SJ Bob Shannon/John Javna. (1986). Behind the Hits: Inside Stories of Classic Pop and Rock and Roll. New York, NY; Warner Brothers, Inc. Page 170.
  • TY Don Tyler (1985). Hit Parade 1920-1955. New York, NY: Quill. Page 160.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Pink Floyd Releases Piper at the Gates of Dawn: August 5, 1967

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Also check the Dave’s Music Database Facebook page for daily music-related posts.

The original Pink Floyd: left to right – Roger Waters, Nick Mason, Syd Barrett, and Richard Wright

Note: This post revised on January 6, 2012, in honor of the birthday of Syd Barrett (January 6, 1946).

Pink Floyd’s debut album, Piper at the Gates of Dawn, tops the Dave’s Music Database list of the best psychedelic rock albums of all time. Critics are generally in agreement. The album has become known as “one of the seminal psychedelic rock albums.” WK Rolling Stone called it “the golden achievement of Syd Barrett,” WK the band’s leader at the time. Q magazine described it as “indispensible” and All Music Guide’s Steve Huey “ranks it as one of the best psychedelic albums of all time.” SH

Click photo for more about the album.

The Piper at the Gates of Dawn successfully captures both sides of psychedelic experimentation – the pleasures of expanding one’s mind and perception, and an underlying threat of mental disorder and even lunacy.” SH “This duality makes Piper all the more compelling in light of Barrett’s subsequent breakdown.” SH Before “psychedelic drugs got the best of him, and he abandoned the band to bassist Roger Waters and new guitarist David Gilmour,” BA Barrett piloted “the band through unprecedented sonic excursions.” BA “The lyrical imagery of The Piper at the Gates of Dawn is…full of colorful, childlike, distinctly British whimsy, albeit filtered through the perceptive lens of LSD.” SH His “catchy, melodic acid pop songs are balanced with longer, more experimental pieces showcasing the group’s instrumental freak-outs, often using themes of space travel as metaphors for hallucinogenic experiences” SH such as in Astronomy Domine and Interstellar Overdrive.

Pink Floyd would soldier on without Barrett, creating some of the premiere rock albums of the 1970s with gems like Dark Side of the Moon and The Wall. However, it was the band’s first time out when they made this psychedelic masterpiece.


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Thursday, August 4, 2011

The Billboard Hot 100 Is Introduced: August 4, 1958

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Also check the Dave’s Music Database Facebook page for daily music-related posts.

When a song is cited as reaching #1, chances are good that the chart in question is the Billboard Hot 100. While Billboard has competitors, no one has dominated as an industry standard quite like them.

The Hot 100 grew out of several other charts from the 1940s and ‘50s. A “Best Sellers in Stores” chart ranked 20 to 50 songs based on national surveys of what sold at retail. The “Most Played by Jocks” list, 20-25 spots, keyed in on what radio stations and their DJ’s across the country reported they were playing. The “Most Played in Jukeboxes” list (20 spots) ranked the most-played songs in jukeboxes throughout the United States. WK1

Ricky Nelson’s “Poor Little Fool” – the first #1 on the Billboard Hot 100

Between 1957 and 1958, all three charts were phased out in favor of the Hot 100. The latter chart consolidated information from the others. Initially, more weight was given to sales, but as the album became the more dominant format, airplay gained more emphasis. In its present incarnation, Nielsen BDS handles the task of compiling more precise measurements for the Billboard charts.

Roughly 1000 stations of multiple formats are “digitally monitored twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. Charts are ranked by number of gross audience impressions, computed by cross-referencing exact times of radio airplay with Arbitron listener data.” WK1

The top-selling singles ranking is “compiled from a national sample of retail store, mass merchant and internet sales reports collected, compiled, and provided by Nielsen SoundScan.” WK1 “Digital sales are tracked by Nielsen SoundScan and are included as part of a title’s sales points.” WK2

LMFAO’s “Party Rock Anthem” – the #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 for the week ending July 30, 2011

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Monday, August 1, 2011

The American Federation of Musicians’ Strike: August 1, 1942

Check the Dave’s Music Database Facebook page for daily music-related posts. Also check out books by Dave Whitaker, including the collection of past blog entries, No One Needs 21 Versions of “Purple Haze”…And Other Essays from a Musical Obsessive.

On August 1, 1942, the American Federation of Musicians went on strike against the major American recording companies over disagreements regarding royalty payments. This meant no union musician could record for any record company, WK but it did not prohibit performances on live radio shows or in concert. WK While the move was seen as advantageous for musicians who wanted payment each time their songs were played in jukeboxes or on radio, PBS FCC chair James Fly suggested the 60% of the country’s radio stations could go out of business. DB

As the ban approached, numerous artists rushed to get in last-minute recordings in July 1942. Among them were Count Basie, Bing Crosby, Jimmy Dorsey, Tommy Dorsey, Duke Ellington, Judy Garland, Benny Goodman, Guy Lombardo, and Glenn Miller. WK

When this stockpile was exhausted, record companies turned to older recordings – some as far back as the dawn of the recording era in the mid-1920s. One of the most successful releases was Harry James’ “All Or Nothing at All”, which featured Frank Sinatra before he became famous. WK

After October 27, 1943, special recordings known as V-Discs were exempt as they were intended for the armed forces and not the general public. WK In addition, some record companies, including Decca and Capitol, caved that 1943 while Victor and Columbia, the two largest companies, held out until November 11, 1944. WK

One unintended consequence of the strike was the hastening of the swing era’s decline and the rise of the “sing era” as the music industry shifted from a focus on big bands to singers. WK The ban only applied to musicians; singers were not union members. Therefore, they could still record a cappella songs consisting of vocal quartets or soloists backed by choruses. PBS As historian Peter Soderbergh put it, “Until the war most singers were props. After the war they became the stars and the role of the bands was gradually subordinated.” WK

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