History Lesson: Forever Autumn
October 14, 1977: Bing Crosby dies on a golf course in Spain. He was no longer a significant hitmaker by the time the rock era began, but his impact on recorded music was unmistakable. He was a creature of the microphone--his soft crooning couldn't reach the back of a hall without one, and when he burst on the scene in the late 1920s, he helped usher out the era of overpowering shouters like Al Jolson. Only Elvis Presley matched the multimedia dominance of Crosby, and on the record charts, everyone else eats Bing's dust. He had over 300 charted singles under his own name, and many more in combination with other artists.
October 14, 1972: A harmonic convergence of great R&B records--the Spinners' "I'll Be Around" goes to Number One on the R&B chart; "If You Don't Know Me By Now" by Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes makes its chart debut; "Papa Was a Rolling Stone" by the Temptations is released. I have said it for years--those who denigrate the 1970s as a pale, soulless, silly decade can only do so by ignoring the tremendous vitality of R&B music, at least during the first half of the decade. The era's best music was shaped by three great producers, each of whom did their best work with the three groups I've mentioned here: Thom Bell with the Spinners, Gamble and Huff with Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes, and Norman Whitfield with the Temptations.
October 14, 1964: Rolling Stones drummer Charlie Watts marries Shirley Arnold. In their heyday, the Stones led the world in debauchery and excess, but Watts was not known to have partaken in much of it. He shunned the willing groupies that his bandmates bedded by the hundreds, and is still married to Shirley today--which makes it the most amazing marriage rock and roll has ever seen.
Birthday Today: Justin Hayward of the Moody Blues is 58. Hayward's solo career never amounted to much, except for one glorious moment in 1978, with a song he recorded for an overblown musical version of War of the Worlds called "Forever Autumn." It missed the American charts altogether but was a substantial hit in England, and has since appeared in the States on the 1998 Moody Blues collection Anthology. It's beautiful, and perfect for the emotional subtext of this time of year, all about what it's like to try and hold onto something that's already gone.
Number Ones on This Date:
1994: "All I Wanna Do"/Sheryl Crow. A pretty weird record, really, and not representative of the rest of Sheryl Crow's work at all. I was out of radio by this time and not really listening to much AC or Top 40 at the time, but even I got sick of hearing this one.
1984: "I Just Called to Say I Love You"/Stevie Wonder. A fine record, although miles removed from his Motown classics. Best remembered now for being part of a hilarious scene in the movie High Fidelity, where record-store clerk Barry goes off on a customer who wants to buy it for his daughter: "God. Do you even know your daughter? There's no way she likes that song. Is she in a coma?"
1977: "Star Wars/Cantina Band"/Meco. Yes, it's a disco version of music from Star Wars, notable only because October 14, 1977, would be the last day until Christmas Eve 1977 that the Number One song on the Hot 100 would not be "You Light Up My Life."
1966: "Reach Out I'll Be There"/Four Tops. Turn on almost any oldies station and you'll hear this song, but it will be the tepid album mix Motown has propagated time and again through its own anthologies and the ones to which it licensed the song. But put on the original single version (found on Motown's Hitsville USA boxed set) and you will hear the fearsome thing Phil Spector called "black Dylan." Motown may have billed itself as "the Sound of Young America," but this was in no wise kids music.
1923: "Yes, We Have No Bananas"/Billy Jones. This phrase is imprinted in the DNA of people my age (at least I think it is), but almost nobody knows where it came from. It came from this song, and yes, the catchphrase swept the country in 1923.