History Lesson: Stuck in Your Head
August 25, 1986: Paul Simon's album Graceland is released. Few albums have sparked the sort of critical acclaim this album did, and here's the proof. In 1986, it won the Grammy for Album of the Year. The next year, the single release of the title song won the Grammy for Record of the Year. But does anybody listen to it anymore? Essential track: "Graceland."
August 25, 1976: Boston's debut album is released. There's a plausible argument that in terms of radio play, this is one of the most popular albums of all time. Every single cut got significant airplay--Led Zeppelin's Four Symbols (the one with "Stairway to Heaven") is the only other album I can think of on which radio programmers went all the way. Essential track: I used to be a radio programmer, so I gotta say "all of them."
Birthdays today: Elvis Costello is 50, and Gene Simmons of Kiss is 55. I've had little use for both of these guys over the years. Costello's nasal atonality turned me off from the moment I first heard it, although I'm told his music is a lot better than it sounds. Simmons, meanwhile, has made more money with less talent and charm than nearly anyone you could name.
Number One Songs on This Date:
1996: "The Macarena" by Los Del Rio. Just into its third week at the top, it would be dethroned the next week by Donna Lewis' "I Love You Always Forever." Has there ever been more potent a pair of get-stuck-in-your-head tunes atop the charts at the same time?
1979: "My Sharona" by the Knack. Remember how it felt when a crunchy-loud rock song ascended to Number One after a full year of disco thumpers and adult-contemporary weepers? Not since "Miss You" by the Stones a year before had something remotely rockin' topped the charts--and "Miss You" itself broke a 14-month drought for rock at the top stretching back to Fleetwood Mac's "Dreams" and "Hotel California" in the early summer of '77.
1973: "Brother Louie" by Stories. Speaking of crunchy-loud rock songs--this is one of the most ferocious singles to top the charts in the 1970s, featuring Ian Lloyd's strangled screech of a vocal, a relentless beat, and a chill-inducing call-and-response between the lead guitar and the strings toward the end. For maximum sonic power, listen on an AM radio.
1969: "Honky Tonk Women" by the Rolling Stones. In which the World's Greatest Rock and Roll Band is.
1950: "Goodnight Irene" by Gordon Jenkins and the Weavers. Possibly the first instance in which a record by a black performer (the folk/blues singer Lead Belly) was covered by white artists. The folk boom of the late 50s and early 60s, parodied by Christopher Guest and company in the 2003 movie A Mighty Wind, began with the Weavers, who were blacklisted in the early 50s for alleged Communist ties, but resurfaced in 1955. Pete Seeger was the most famous Weaver, although Woody Guthrie was briefly a member of the group's immediate predecessor, the Almanac Singers, during the 40s.