Tuesday, July 05, 2005

History Lesson: Cultural Insignificance

July 5, 1978: At EMI Records' pressing plant, production of the new Rolling Stones album, Some Girls, is temporarily halted after complaints from some of the people pictured on the cover without their permission. What's inside the package will cause controversy, too, as some consider the lyrics of the title song offensive to blacks.

July 5, 1969: The Stones give a free concert in London's Hyde Park, paying tribute to the recently deceased Brian Jones and welcoming new guitarist Mick Taylor. The concert's success causes the Stones to start planning a similar event for the States later in the year--which turned out to be the disaster at Altamont.

July 5, 1954: Unknowns Elvis Presley, Scotty Moore, and Bill Black are jamming at Sun Records when Sam Phillips hears something he likes, and asks them to do it again while he gets it on tape. The result is "That's All Right," which would be Presley's first release on Sun.

Birthdays Today: Marc Cohn is 46. His eponymous debut album (the one with "Walking in Memphis" on it) is superb, and it won him the Best New Artist Grammy for 1991. He's continued to record, but the last time anybody noticed what he was doing was when he married ABC-TV newscaster Elizabeth Vargas.

Huey Lewis is 55. It's been 20 years since Huey Lewis and the News recorded the last great summer record, "The Power of Love." The Mrs. and I saw the group that summer--and this summer, they're on tour again, playing county fairs, hotels, and casinos. But they're still playing--and you always got the feeling with those guys that playing was what mattered. The hits were nice, but even without 'em, they'd always want to play.

Robbie Robertson of the Band is either 62 or 63, depending on which source you check. The Band is one of those groups I was not intellectually equipped to get when I was younger. Once you know a little about the tributaries that feed the stream of American popular music, the Band's place in history becomes a lot clearer.

Number One Songs on This Date:
2004: "The Reason"/Hoobastank.
If Hoobastank isn't the worst name any successful band ever had, I'm not sure what is.

1997: "Say You'll Be There"/Spice Girls.
Which had knocked "Mmm-Bop" by Hanson from the top spot a few weeks earlier. If there are any performers of recent vintage who have faded into deeper cultural insignificance than the Spice Girls and Hanson, I'm not sure who they'd be.

1985: "Heaven"/Bryan Adams.
The sort of raspy-voiced power ballad radio stations and their listeners were powerless to resist at that moment in history. Fit right in with the gazillion movie-soundtrack hits that made the charts that summer.

1972: "Song Sung Blue"/Neil Diamond.
Which had dethroned "The Candy Man" by Sammy Davis Jr. from the top spot a few days earlier. I love the music of the 1970s, but I can't always explain it.

1952: "Delicado"/Percy Faith.
I've been reading a fascinating book this week: Joseph Lanza's Elevator Music: A Surreal History of Muzak, Easy-Listening, and Other Moodsong. Lanza observes that before Percy Faith became the king of swelling strings in the 1960s, he'd been going in a far different direction, as indicated by this harpsichord-driven slice of Latin-tinged pop.


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