Wednesday, December 08, 2004

History Lesson: Whispering

December 8, 1980: The first Associated Press bulletin is four words long: "John Lennon shot dead." My radio station, at college, is off the air due to transmitter trouble. In addition to keeping me from programming a Lennon tribute, it also keeps me from doing a 24-hour radio stunt I had intended to do in conjunction with a charity telethon run by the campus TV station.

December 8, 1975: Bob Dylan holds a benefit for imprisoned boxer Ruben "Hurricane" Carter in New York. Carter manages to call Madison Square Garden from jail while the concert is going on. Dylan's song "Hurricane" sits at Number 69 on the Billboard chart; it will squeak into the Top 40 early in January.

December 8, 1943: Jim Morrison is born. I don't share the opinion of some fans that Morrison is a gifted poet who was the equal of some literary figures who flamed out early, such as the poets Shelley and Rimbaud. Neither do I believe that the Doors are one of rock's great capital-A artists. What they were is one hell of a singles band--but as long as there are adolescent boys, "The End" will always be popular.

Other Birthdays Today: Sinead O'Connor is 38. "Nothing Compares 2 U" collected an astounding number of awards when it hit in 1990 (and still does, in various historical rankings of popular songs). Nevertheless, it was the moment I realized that pop music had passed me by. I didn't hear the hook. Neil Innes is 60. Innes was part of the Bonzo Dog Band in the 60s (Paul McCartney produced their lone chart hit, "I'm the Urban Spaceman.") In the 70s, he collaborated with the Monty Python team, writing songs and appearing in TV episodes and movies.

Number One Songs on This Date:
1974: "Kung Fu Fighting"/Carl Douglas.
It was the 70s. We couldn't help ourselves.

1969: "Na Na Hey Hey (Kiss Him Goodbye)"/Steam. Recorded as a joke, intended to be a B-side so bad that no DJ would mistake it for the A-side. Apparently, the reason Steam didn't have a better career is that they were lousy judges of their own material.

1963: "Dominique"/The Singing Nun. More evidence why the British Invasion had to happen.

1957: "You Send Me"/Sam Cooke. The first secular hit for an accomplished gospel singer. Cooke was one of the earliest performers to realize that the real money in the music biz is in controlling your own copyrights. He formed his own publishing company and record label, but his career was cut short when he was murdered under mysterious circumstances in 1964.

1920: "Whispering"/Paul Whiteman. The first record to sell a million copies and as such, one of the most important recordings of all time. Whiteman, a white bandleader, billed himself as "the King of Jazz"--although he wasn't, not really. He did help popularize the form, and a 20th-century pop-music pattern was established: white performers adopting black styles and feeding them back to the white audience, thus making the market "safe" for the black performers who innovated the form in the first place.


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