Wednesday, November 17, 2004

History Lesson: Built on Rock and Roll

November 17, 1987: U2's Bono pulls a fan up onstage to help sing "People Get Ready." The fan hands Bono a demo tape, thus proving yet again that everyone's a whore.

November 17, 1970: Elton John plays New York City; the concert is broadcast on progressive FM station WPLJ and becomes the album 11-17-70. 'PLJ is one of the legendary sets of call letters in radio history--the former WABC-FM went progressive to compete with format pioneer WNEW-FM. (Recommended reading on the progressive, free-form radio era: FM: The Rise and Fall of Rock Radio, by Richard Neer, one of the golden-era WNEW jocks, who still works in New York radio.)

Birthdays Today: Gene Clark of the Byrds is 63. He was also part of the group with the most euphonious name this side of Hamilton, Joe Frank, and Reynolds: McGuinn, Clark, and Hillman. McGC&H had a single Top 40 hit--1979's "Don't You Write Her Off." Gordon Lightfoot is 66, which hardly seems possible.

Number One Songs on This Date:
1985: "We Built This City"/Starship.
Recently named the worst single of all time, it was, nevertheless, a smash. Countless radio stations (including the one I was programming at the time) turned it into an image line: "Damn straight, we built this city on rock and roll."

1980: "Lady"/Kenny Rogers. There are maybe two dozen pop and country songs from 1979 and 1980 that are vivid reminders of my early radio days, back when I used to do the 6-to-midnight shift every Saturday and Sunday. The biggest hits got played every two hours, so that meant you'd play "Lady" three times in a shift. Whether you wanted to or not.

1962: "Big Girls Don't Cry"/Four Seasons. This was their biggest hit, doing five weeks at Number One.

1960: "Georgia on My Mind"/Ray Charles. I had the opportunity to see Brother Ray sing this live a couple of years ago. I'd put it up with McCartney singing "Yesterday" on my list of Great Musical Moments. (Steve Winwood doing "Gimme Some Lovin'" is up there, too.)

1904: "Sweet Adeline"/Haydn Quartet. This was the most popular song of 1904, which was in turn a big year for what we now call barbershop harmony. The song was (and remains) so popular in barbershop circles that the worldwide association of female barbershop singers is called Sweet Adelines International. (The Mrs. is a member.)


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