On this day in 1968, one of Rock & Roll's Shakespearean tragedies came to an end as singer Frankie Lymon, a Pop superstar in the mid-’50s with Rock & Roll/R&B vocal group The Teenagers, died from a heroin overdose at the age of 25.
Actually, if you've ever seen the 1998 film Why Do Fools Fall in Love
(named for Lymon and the Teenagers' biggest hit), you know that the
singer's death was a trick ending. The story of Lymon's sad legacy
(blockbuster hit leads to lead singer ego explosion; quits group; can't
find solo success; finds drugs; gets drafted; quits drugs; mounts
comeback; celebrates with drugs; dies) took an unusual turn in the ’80s.
Three different women came forward claiming to be Lymon's widow and
entitled to his estate. Turns out, they were all
telling the truth — Lymon had married all three but never divorced any
of them. Ultimately, the singer's estate was awarded to his third wife;
if that conclusion was reached on a coin-flip, could you really blame
Here's archival footage of Lymon's last TV appearance, a 1965 slot on the program Hollywood A Go-Go where the 22-year-old singer lip-synched to the original version of "Why Do Fools Fall in Love" — recorded when he was 13.
Born This Day: Musical movers and shakers sharing a Feb. 27 birthday include Jazz legend Dexter Gordon (1923); ex-WKRP in Cincinnati DJ, Dr. Johnny Fever, aka Howard Hesseman (1940); Journey guitarist and MILF pilfer Neal Schon (1954); guitarist/songwriter with Metal giants Iron Maiden, Adrian Smith (1957); Sex Pistols hanger-on Nancy Spungen (1958); singer with R&B/Hip Hop/Pop trio TLC, Rozonda "Chilli" Thomas (1971); and Classical/Pop vocalist Josh Groban (1981).
Groban is the kind of singer who would be really easy to make fun of if he didn't have such a good sense of humor about himself already. One of those Classical/Opera crossover Pop stars (like Charlotte Church or Il Divo) who approaches Pop and Rock material with the same overly careful enunciation and melodrama, Groban has parodied himself on various comedy programs, including Tim & Eric Awesome Show, Great Job! and this bit from Jimmy Kimmel Live, where the singer used his talents to make Kanye West's nutty tweets sound even nuttier.
There have been several Grammy Awards held on this date. Here are a few highlights from three random Feb. 24 ceremonies:
1982's 24th Grammy Awards were big for Kim Carnes' one-hit-wonderful "Bette Davis Eyes," which won the Record and Song of the Year trophies. John Lennon won Album of the Year posthumously for Double Fantasy. Fun ones: Orson Welles won the Grammy for Best Spoken Word, Documentary or Drama Recording (?) for the radio version of Curt Siodmak's novel, Donovan's Brain; Sheena Easton was Best New Artist; and former knit-capped member of The Monkees, Michael Nesmith, won Video of the Year for Michael Nesmith in Elephant Parts, a collection of music videos and comedy sketches that helped further set the table for the creation of MTV. Watch Nesmith put his madcap Monkee skills to work all those years later:
Click the jump for "Born This Day" featuring George Harrison's new iPad app.
On this day in 1940, American music icon Woody Guthrie wrote his most famous song and one that has become embedded into the DNA of American life, "This Land is You Land." The Folk music legend and notorious fighter for the social causes of the poor and working class is said to have written the song after hearing (a few too many times) Irving Berlin's "God Bless America," which he felt was too hyperbolic. Just like Roxanne Shante's "The Real Roxanne" was written as a response to U.T.F.O.'s "Roxanne Roxanne" (OK, maybe not JUST like), "This Land" was Guthrie's "answer song." Guthrie recorded the future standard five years later, but it wasn't until the ’60s Folk revival that the song really took flight, as everyone from Bob Dylan to The Kingston Trio covered the tune. Though "God Bless America" may be the song still sung at baseball games, "This Land is You Land" has endured as one of the greatest pieces of American art, a reflection of what many of us believe our country is all about — "We're all in this together and lucky to be on this wonderful little chunk of dirt, so shut up and quit being so selfish, jerk-ass!" Or something along those lines (maybe I read too much into it).
The song is still common at protests and used in political contexts. Bruce Springsteen closed his acoustic concerts in support of Barrack Obama in 2008 with a version ("Yes We Can" chants added), while Rage Against the Machine guitarist Tom Morello serenaded the mass of humanity at the Occupy Wall Street protest in NYC with the song (lost verses and all) this past October.
Here is one of the great "contemporary" versions — a rendition by Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings, who give the song a sweet vintage Soul makeover:
Click the jump for "Born This Day" featuring Aziz Ansari, the Mark Twain of Kanye West jokes.
On this day in 1967, The Beatles continued work on arguably their best song, "A Day in the Life." After a debate over how to end the track following the huge orchestral build-up (sustained choral vocals were considered, but scrapped), the group decided to simultaneously strike a massive E chord on three pianos and sustain the notes for as long as possible. Adding overdubs (and a contribution from producer George Martin on harmonium), the final resonating notes hang in the air for over 40 seconds on the recording. As the held chords faded on the pianos in the studio, the engineer had to crank the recording level, which picked up some incidental sounds (like a creaking chair and, certainly, something about Paul being dead) from the studio.
That E-major chord that closes the song — and the whole Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band album, considered one of the best ever — is widely considered one of the most famous chords in Rock/Pop history. Which means that The Beatles are responsible for the most popular opening chord in modern music — the mysterious G7sus4-ish that kicks off "A Hard Day's Night" — and the most notable final chord with the "A Day in the Life" finale.
Below is audio of BTO guitarist Randy Bachman explaining the "Hard Day's" chord mystery (frustrated guitarists should feel better about their inability to figure it out), followed by today's biggest Pop superstar performing that famed final note from Sgt. Peppers.
Click the jump for "Born This Day" featuring live footage from one of the final Sublime concerts with Bradley Nowell.