Rock the Dinosaur
May 21, 1981: Bob Marley receives a state funeral in his native Jamaica, and is buried beside the house in which he was born.
May 21, 1976: The Rolling Stones begin a poorly received five-night stand in London that inspires British punk rockers to start calling them "dinosaurs"--and so the phrase "dinosaur rock" is born.
May 21, 1966: Several radio stations ban the Byrds' "Eight Miles High" because of its presumed drug references. It's actually about Gene Clark's fear of flying, written in the aftermath of the band's 1965 tour of England.
May 21, 1955: Chuck Berry records "Maybelline," which would become his first hit for Chess Records.
Leo Sayer is 58. Sayer started his career by appearing in clown makeup, and his first American hit was the supremely odd hobo tale "Long Tall Glasses." His breakthough album, Endless Flight, contained some superb pop songs (including "You Make Me Feel Like Dancing" and the sappy yet sublime "When I Need You"), but he was never able to come close to it again.
Tom Donahue, the San Francisco DJ considered the father of progressive radio, would be 78, had he not died in 1975. Tired of what he was hearing on the AM band, he convinced the owners of KMPX to switch to a 24-hour, free-form rock format. It was up to the DJs to pick the music and set the flow. For years afterward, doing free-form rock was the Holy Grail for a lot of DJs--although in my experience, many more people aspired to it than were actually capable of doing it well.
Number One Songs on This Date:
2000: "I Try"/Macy Gray. One of the few chart-toppers in 2000 not recorded by a teen idol--Jessica Simpson, Christina Aguilera, Britney, NSync, and Backstreet Boys all scored one or more Number-One hits that year--and as such, one of the few enduring artifacts of perhaps the most disposable year in pop history.
1999: "Livin la Vida Loca"/Ricky Martin. Day in and day out, enormous pop hits come and go and leave non-pop fans largely untouched. Now and then, certain hits become inescapable--you can't avoid them no matter what you do or who you are. This was one of them.
1992: "Bohemian Rhapsody"/Queen. Even bigger on its second, Wayne's World-powered, release than it had been in 1976, when it reached only Number 6. This is a record every new generation will inevitably rediscover, because there's never been and will never be anything quite like it.
1986: "The Greatest Love of All"/Whitney Houston. It sounded like a monster hit from the moment we first heard it, although it hasn't worn very well. What everyone forgets is that it was originally a Top 40 hit for George Benson in 1977, from the movie The Greatest, about Muhammad Ali.
1978: "With a Little Luck"/Paul McCartney and Wings. The Number One song in America on the day I graduated from high school. It seemed like a cosmic coincidence back then ("With a little luck we can help it out/we can make this whole damn thing work out"). It still does.
One More Thing: Our latest podcast is up, featuring some hit tunes from the month of May in bygone years. It runs about 18 minutes. Your feedback is encouraged, either in the comments here, or via private e-mail at the address on the right.