Tuesday, August 16, 2005

History Lesson: Smoke 'Em if You Got 'Em

August 16, 1977: Elvis Presley dies at Graceland. Probably the most significant pop-culture death since Rudolph Valentino in the 1920s, Presley's demise sets a template for future celebrity deaths that still holds today. (On this day, I am a surly 17-year-old who has been dragged against his will on his last family vacation, and we are somewhere in the Dakotas listening to a baseball game on the radio when the announcers report the news.)

August 16, 1969: The Jackson Five opens for the Supremes at the Los Angeles Forum. The group's first hit, "I Want You Back," is still about three months away. Michael, age 10, is not yet weird.

August 16, 1962: The Beatles replace Pete Best with Ringo Starr. In 1965, Best sued for libel after Ringo implied in a magazine interiew that Best had been fired for using drugs. The suit was settled out of court.

August 16, 1938: Robert Johnson, king of the Delta blues singers, dies in Greenwood, Mississippi. Legend has it that was poisoned by the jealous husband of a lover and died as a result. He was poisoned, but he died of pneumonia shortly after recovering. Johnson recorded only 29 songs in two sessions (November 1936 and June 1937), but their influence continues to be felt in blues and rock today.

Birthday Today:
Madonna is 47. When she appeared on American Bandstand in 1984, Dick Clark asked what her goals were. "To rule the world," she said. For about 10 years, she came pretty close. Essential tracks: "Borderline," "Like a Virgin," "Express Yourself," "True Blue."

Number One Songs on This Date:
1996: "The Macarena"/Los Del Rio.
Now that you've finally gotten it out of your head, here I am putting it in again.

1992: "End of the Road"/Boyz II Men.
During its chart run, this broke Elvis' 36-year old mark for consecutive weeks at Number One, staying atop the charts for 13 weeks. The new record was broken not long after, when Whitney Houston's godawful yodeling on "I Will Always Love You" stayed Number One for 14 weeks. Boyz II Men reclaimed the record in 1996, when "One Sweet Day" (with Mariah Carey) was Number One for 16 weeks.

1966: "Summer in the City"/Lovin' Spoonful.
Starting with this, 1966 saw a run of nine straight Number One songs that have all endured as oldies radio staples: "Sunshine Superman," "You Can't Hurry Love," "Cherish," "Reach Out I'll Be There," "96 Tears," "Last Train to Clarksville," "Poor Side of Town," and "You Keep Me Hangin' On." Giants in the earth.

1963: "Fingertips (Part 2)"/Little Stevie Wonder.
Yes, it's the record that launched one of the most storied careers in popular music. And yes, it's awful--a sloppy live recording that wouldn't be notable at all if it hadn't launched one of the most storied careers in popular music.

1947: "Smoke! Smoke! Smoke! (That Cigarette)"/Tex Williams and his Western Caravan.
A fine example of western swing, and an anti-smoking song recorded by a guy who, as the song says, "smoked 'em all my life." Williams died at age 68 in 1985. Of lung cancer.


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