Wednesday, August 11, 2004

History Lesson: More Popular Than Jesus

August 11, 1962: Booker T and the MGs release "Green Onions," one of the greatest grooves in soul history. The more you listen to the MGs, either on their own records or backing other musicians at Stax Records in Memphis, the more amazing it is how economical they were. They never wasted a note or a lick, proving that oftentimes what you don't say speaks as loudly as what you do say.

August 11, 1966: John Lennon apologizes on TV for saying that the Beatles were more popular than Jesus. With Bible Belt cities canceling concerts and the record company's stock falling, Lennon has no choice. This does not change the fact that he was right, and still is.

August 11, 1973: Following up their Number One hit from the spring, "Frankenstein," the Edgar Winter Group releases "Free Ride." Turn on an oldies station and you'll hear the tepid album versions of Three Dog Night's "Joy to the World" or the Four Tops' "Reach Out I'll Be There," when you should be hearing the remixed, kicked-up 45 versions that were the actual radio hits. If you have a choice, you definitely want the 45 version of "Free Ride," which makes the album version sound like a pale copy.

Birthday today: Joe Jackson is 50. His debut single, "Is She Really Going Out With Him?" was one of the signature tunes from the summer of '79. At a moment in time when anyone new and English was considered a punk rocker, Jackson seemed to fit the mold--not with safety pins through his nose or anything, but definitely young, loud, and snotty. But he'd grown up a jazz fan and had a substantial musical education, and after his first two punkish albums, he immediately started moving into other forms of music. He made headlines in the mid 80s by announcing he wouldn't make videos anymore, and in recent years has scored movies and released semi-classical albums. Essential track: "Steppin' Out," from 1982's Night and Day.

Number One Songs on August 11:
10 years ago: "Stay" by Lisa Loeb and Nine Stories (More memorable as a video than as a record, because Lisa Loeb was to unattractive black-rimmed eyeglasses what Madonna was to bustiers.)
25 years ago: "Bad Girls" by Donna Summer (In which the joys of prostitution are proclaimed to all. There are no words for how much I hated this record in 1979.)
50 years ago: "Sh-Boom" by the Crew Cuts (The safe-for-white-people version of the R&B original by the Chords, which is one of the foundations of early rock and roll.)
75 years ago: "Singin' in the Rain" by Ukulele Ike (This guy, real name Cliff Edwards, was responsible for a nationwide craze for ukulele music during the 1920s. Only slightly less offensive than hip-hop.)
114 years ago: "Semper Fidelis" by the U.S. Marine Band (The first record to be considered Number One, written by John Philip Sousa especially for then-president Chester Arthur; Sousa conducted the U.S. Marine band on this recording, making him the first American recording star.)


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