Though today he is known as one of the strangest characters on "celebreality" TV, Gary Busey was once thought to have the potential to be one of the greatest actors of his generation. On this date in 1978, The Buddy Holly Story — featuring Busey in the title role — premiered. The film covered Rock legend Buddy Holly's all-too-short life, up through when he died in a plane crash in 1959 at the age of 22. Busey was 34 when the film came out, but his portrayal was very strong. In fact, it earned him an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor.
Busey never quite had that kind of critical reception again, going on to appear in such films as D.C. Cab, Predator 2, Point Break and the upcoming Piranha 3DD. Busey is known to younger generations as the "out there" guy from Celebrity Rehab, Celebrity Fit Club and Celebrity Apprentice. Is there a Celebrity Mental Institution yet?
There is allegedly a "Buddy Holly Curse" that may explain Busey's jagged career path since starring as the singer. This site details some "proof" of the curse, including the deaths of many artists who had some connection with Holly (Eddie Cochran, Gene Vincent, Ronnie Smith, Cowboy Copas, David Box, Joe Meek and many others.)
Busey was involved in a serious, near-fatal motorcycle accident after he completed filming on the Buddy Holly movie. The film's screenwriter Robert Gittler committed suicide just prior to the movie's release. (The Who's Keith Moon made his last public appearance at a preview screening of The Buddy Holly Story; he was found dead the next day.)
Luckily, only Busey's career has suffered since the film and his close-call wreck. Here he is in his greatest role doing "Oh, Boy!" Busey was praised for singing his own parts instead of lip-syncing over Holly's originals. I have to agree with that praise. Maybe Gary needs to make a Rock & Roll album?
Born This Day: Musical movers and shakers sharing a May 18 birthday include one of the men most responsible for Rock & Roll ("Shake, Rattle and Roll"), Blues shouter Big Joe Turner (1911); founding guitarist with Art Punk greats Wire, Bruce Gilbert (1946); singer/songwriter/producer and pops of The Strokes' guitarist, Albert Hammond (1944); keyboard wizard for Prog kings Yes, Rick Wakeman (1949); cofounder of New Wave renegades Devo, Mark Mothersbaugh (1950); Country legend George Strait (1952); Power Pop/New Wave rocker "(I'd Go the) Whole Wide World") Wreckless Eric Goulden (1954); singer with Christian Rock band dc Talk, Michael Tait (1966); Hip Hop artist ("It Takes Two") Rob Base (1967); and two Easy Listening giants of two very different eras — Perry Como (1912) and Jack Johnson (1975).
Como and Johnson both had/have a very easy-going way about themselves, musically and personally. That opened them up for a pair of pretty funny parodies on television.
In 1981, the brilliant late-night sketch comedy show SCTV ran the skit "Perry Como: Still Alive," which presented the way laid-back host making a Disco comeback. Eugene Levy — known today as "the dad from American Pie" — does a brilliant borderline comatose Como.
Former surfer (because what else could he be?) and smooth Pop singer/songwriter Jack Johnson has gotten the business from another late-night NBC program. (Cargo shorts) Saturday Night Live's (soon to be gone?) Andy Samberg has played the super-mellow Johnson in a few sketches, notably as the host of his own talk-fest The Mellow Show. (Flip flops.) Here, "Jack" interviews fellow mellow yellows Dave Matthews and Jason Mraz, as well as Ozzy Obsourne (played pretty well by Mr. Matthews himself). (Vegan cookies.)
Australian Pop/Rock band Men At Work hit me — and many other music fans around the world — at just the right time. I was 12 when the single “Who Can It Be Now?” exploded onto the charts. I was intrigued by the group’s quirkiness, but it was singer/guitarist Colin Hay’s voice that initially drew me in. As a huge fan of The Police, I found Hay’s effortlessly high-pitched vocals highly appealing.
In the summer of 1983, Men at Work’s Cargo came out and instantly became my favorite album. I got to see the band perform live on that tour — at Kings Island’s Timberwolf Amphitheater with a new, unknown Australian band called INXS opening — and I spent that summer in France as an exchange student with Cargo (and The Police’s Synchronicity) at my side.
Though I didn’t fully yet understand the emotions being expressed on Cargo’s first single, “Overkill,” they still hit me like a ton of bricks and the song was played on my Walkman (for younger readers, that was akin to a wooden MP3 player with various levers and pulleys) more than any other that summer. Just the sound of it (as well as the visuals in the accompanying video) matched up perfectly with my bouts of homesickness.
To this day, when I hear “Overkill” — no matter if it’s the original, a great cover version (the band that did the theme song to the TV show Scrubs, Lazlo Bane, did a fantastic version with Hay and Dashboard Confessional’s version was also pretty strong) or Hay singing it solo acoustic — it sends shivers, particularly when it hits the intense release of the last verse. I remember that ancient sense of loneliness and isolation, but also various heartbreaks I’ve suffered — as a young adult, I finally got the “ghosts appear and fade away” bit and it made the song resonate within me even more.
“Down Under” might be Men At Work’s most known song, but “Overkill” is the tune that will stand the test of time for eternity.
Hay is far removed from his Men at Work days now. The band broke up in 1986 (though they reunited for concerts in the late ’90s) and Hay has managed to have a modestly successful solo career, still touring the world and releasing strong solo efforts, including his most recent (and 11th overall), Gathering Mercury, perhaps Hay’s finest solo moment yet.
Hay's songwriting still has emotional weight and substance (as well as great hooks) and if you catch his local show tonight at the 20th Century Theater in Oakley, he’ll definitely play some old favorites, will surely says some words about his recently deceased fellow Man At Work, Greg Ham, and undoubtedly charm the pants off the whole crowd with his legendary sharp wit.
Here's my video playlist tribute to Hay and one of his greatest songwriting achievements.
Today is the 46th anniversary of one of the most memorable "heckles" in entertainment history. And the response was pretty classic, too.
In July of 1965, Bob Dylan shocked the audience at the Newport Folk Festival (where he was virtually a god after performing the previous two years) by performing "electric" and with his full band. Those who wanted to hear solo, acoustic Dylan booed as the group launched into "Maggie's Farm," though some in the audience cheered the bold move. He finished the set with a solo, acoustic encore. Lore has it that the boos were from those upset Dylan was playing electric, though his organist Al Kooper said it was because the sound sucked.
Still, Dylan would deal with such polarized reactions for the next year or so as he continued to rock electrically (the sound couldn't have been bad everywhere, right?) for part of his sets. On May 17, 1966, Dylan played the Free Trade Hall in Manchester, England. As documented on bootlegs, film and the official release, The Bootleg Series Vol. 4: Bob Dylan Live 1966, The "Royal Albert Hall" Concert, which came out in 1998 (the "Royal Albert Hall" referring to the common misconception that the notorious show was in London), one disapproving fan shouted "Judas!" Dylan responded to the reference to the New Testament tale of Jesus betrayer Judas Iscariot by saying, "I don't believe you, you're a liar." The strange yet perfect response may have been a come-back to the "Judas" yelp, but some believe he was responding to another less audible heckle: "I'm never listening to you again, ever!" Which makes more sense. Sorta.
The young man who shouted the heckle broke his silence after three decades and did a few interviews, calling the moment "embarrassing" for himself. The man, Keith Butler, was also interviewed right after the concert, footage of which popped up in the Eat the Document documentary. The then 21-year-old told an interviewer, "Any pop group could produce better rubbish than that! It was a bloody disgrace! He's a traitor!"
Video of the "Judas" moment was discovered and featured in the biographical documentary film, No Direction Home. Go to the 56-second mark of the clip to hear it.
Born This Day: Musical movers and shakers sharing a May 17 birthday include original bass singer for The Spinners, Pervis Jackson (1938); eclectic Blues legend Taj Mahal (1942); drummer for Prog heroes King Crimson and Yes, Bill Bruford (1949); Irish New Age goddess Enya (1961); keyboardist/songwriter for Phish, Page McConnell (1963); hunky New Kids of the Block star Jordan Knight (1970); former Stoner Rock pioneer with Kyuss turned Hard Rock star with Queens of the Stone Age, Josh Homme (1973); original vocalist for Florida Metalcore band Underoath and current frontman for "Southern Metal" crew Maylene and the Sons of Disaster, Dallas Taylor (1980); and Nine Inch Nails founder Trent Reznor (1965).
Reznor — an Ohio native — was awarded the ASCAP Golden Note Award last month for his work in music over the past 25 years. Presumably not including his time with the early ’80s Cleveland Synth Pop acts Exotic Birds (which opened for Culture Club!) and Slam Bamboo, which sounds nearly identical to Howard Jones.
Pretty fun stuff, actually. The haircuts … not so much.
Today in history was not kind to some major Pop Culture icons. Today we lost the Master of Muppets, Jim Henson (in 1990), Andy Kaufman (1984) and lead "Untouchable" Eliot Ness (1957). On the musical tip, we lost masterful, hugely influential Hot Jazz guitarist Django Reinhardt (1953), Rat Pack singer/performer/actor Sammy Davis, Jr. (1990) and, just two years ago, Metal superstar Ronnie James Dio.
Fun fact: Tony Iommi of Black Sabbath, which featured Dio on the mic after Ozzy left, was hugely inspired by Django; both had finger injuries that forced them to adapt — and redefine — their playing styles. Things didn't turn out too badly for either.
Rest in peace, all!
On this date in 1993, Elvis Presley died. For real this time. This according to the tabloid Weekly World News, which has given the world such groundbreaking stories as the trials and tribulations of Bat Boy (half-boy, half-bat, of course), the capture of various mer-people (mermen and mermaids) and the secret romantic relationship between Saddam Hussein (former gay porn star … ALLEGEDLY) and Osama bin Laden.
Presley died from diabetes, according to WWN's exclusive report.
Alas, the King didn't stay dead long in the pages of the tabloid. In 2005, everything in the universe was back in its right place as the Weekly World News published the cover feature "Elvis IS Alive." Not only was he still alive, but he was going to run for President. I don't recall that actually happening, but they wouldn't print it if it wasn't true, right? Either the lame-stream media just ignored Elvis' campaign or the King was just gearing up for a 2012 run. I hear the Republicans need a viable candidate.
What's Elvis been up to lately? Last summer, WWN reported he was hanging out on Barack Obama's tour bus. As for Obama, the President's foes are apparently way off base with the whole "secret Muslim" thing. Among other things, WWN has reported that Obama is a — duh! — alien from outer space. Oh, and he won the "Who is a bigger enemy of dogs?" war handily by kidnapping "Republican campaign dog, Huckabee." Holding him hostage? Nope. According to WWN, the President "had a Huckabee burger.” (Actually, WWN seems almost reasonable compared to the "birther" movement. Now THAT'S scary.)
Until the next time Elvis dies, just remember the words of Mojo Nixon, poet and prophet:
Born This Day: Musical movers and shakers sharing a May 14 birthday include ’50s/’60s Pop star ("Mack the Knife," "Beyond the Sea") Bobby Darin (1936); one of Rock's greatest bassists, Cream's Jack Bruce (1943); original drummer for legendary Canadian Rock trio Rush, John Rutsey (1952); frontman for British rockers The Cult, Ian Astbury (1962); guitarist for glammy Hair Metal heroes Poison, CC DeVille (1962); bassist for Alice in Chains, Mike Inez (1966); the still-alive half of Milli Vanilli, Fabrice Morvan (1966); one of the less-celebrated New Kids on the Block members, Danny Wood (1969); bassist for Modern Rock band AFI, Hunter Burgan (1976); half of the killer Hip Hop duo Clipse, Terrence Thornton, known professionally as Pusha T (1977); Disney actress/Pop princess Miranda Cosgrove (1993); and Soul/R&B singer/songwriter/musician/producer Raphael Saadiq (1966).
Saadiq's career began in the early ’80s when he got a job as bassist for Sheila E and toured the world with Prince. He returned to his native Oakland after the tour and formed the R&B/Pop trio Tony! Toni! Tone! with his brother and cousin. The band scored several hits, notably the upbeat "Feels Good," their only Top 10 hit on the Billboard singles charts. In 1997, Saadiq formed Lucy Pearl, a supergroup of sorts, featuring members of A Tribe Called Quest and En Vogue.
Saadiq has worked behind the scenes with several popular artists. He collaborated with D'Angelo for "Untitled (How Does It Feel," which won D'Angelo a Grammy, and also worked with Whitney Houston, Macy Gray, Jill Scott, John Legend, Joss Stone and many other star performers. In 2002, he put out his first solo effort, Instant Vintage, a brilliant throwback/old-school R&B album that scored Saadiq five Grammy nominations. He has since released a string of strong solo works, including 2011's great Stone Rollin' and 2008's even better The Way I See It.
Recently, Saadiq was one of a small handful of musicians named one of Time magazine's "100 Most Influential People In the World," joining Rihanna, Adele and others. Elton John wrote the blurb about Saadiq for Time, writing "Immaculately dressed (a Saadiq trademark) and moving like the soul stars of old, (Saadiq) confirmed that great black music is alive and well and not just a string of hip-hop monotony."
Happy 46th birthday to Mr. Saadiq. Here's a clip for the title track from his most recent solo album.
On this date last year, somebody paid $10,000 for a T-shirt. An Australian man purchased a 1979 Led Zeppelin concert T-shirt on eBay for that amount, making it the most expensive concert T-shirt ever sold. (Though I bet The Eagles got close on their various, outrageously-priced reunion tours in recent years.) The shirt appears to be a "back stage pass" from the concert.
After the sale, Denver weekly Westword posted a story on its blog counting down the next 10 most costly shirts purchased. From their research, they deemed a James Brown shirt with a bad caricature of the Godfather of Soul and the words "I'm Black and I'm Proud," an early Nirvana shirt featuring a parody of John Lennon's Two Virgin's album cover and a "Metal Up Your Ass" Metallica shirt as the next most rare, each going for $1,000.
Currently, the most costly concert shirts available on eBay are a 1976 Stones shirt (yours for $7,900), a 1973 Who concert "staff" shirt ($4,691.82), a different Zep shirt (from, I believe, the same concert as the one that cost 10 grand; $3,949.21) and a Johnny Thunders shirt from 1984 ($3,909.72).
Here are a couple of Ohio tunes written in honor of those crucial concert souvenirs. Early Hamilton, Ohio, Punk band ChemDyne and Columbus' Watershed both had songs called "Black Concert T-Shirt."
Born This Day: Musical movers and shakers sharing a May 11 birthday include legendary songwriter ("God Bless America," "White Christmas") Irving Berlin (1888); one of the greatest white Soul vocalists ever with The Animals, Eric Burdon (1941); drummer and founding member of The Allman Brothers Band, Butch Trucks (1947); producer and founding member of avant-garde Pop group the Art of Noise, Gary Langan (1956); original MTV VJ Martha Quinn (1959); and frontman for one of Cincinnati's all-time greatest Rock bands, The Afghan Whigs, Greg Dulli (1965).
Dulli — born and raised in Hamilton, Ohio — is currently gearing up to begin performing once again with his Whigsmates John Curley (still living, working and playing music in Cincinnati) and Rick McCollum (now living in Minneapolis). Tickets for the group's first show in 13 years — May 23 at the Bowery Ballroom in New York City — go on sale today at noon. According to the band's website, the fan pre-sale sold out and there are "a very limited number of tickets" left. The band will warm up for the show on May 22 with a performance on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon.
Will the Whigs merely do a reunion victory lap then go their separate ways again? It's unclear so far, but in interviews with Dulli, he seems very inspired playing with his old pals again. In terms of a possible new Whigs album, he told the website www.thisisfakediy.co.uk, "I am going to keep the book open and keep the possibility, all possibilities available. We're going to see what happens, and react to what happens, but right now it's wide open. Yes, maybe, maybe not, we'll see. I hate to be ambiguous, but in this particular case, I think it's best." (He also said re-issues of the band's back catalog are "definitely going to happen.")
Raise a glass and wish Mr. Dulli a happy 47th birthday. Here are a few clips of Dulli's extracurricular activities during his days with the Whigs to help you celebrate:
• In 1994, Dulli sang John Lennon's parts on the soundtrack to Backbeat, a film about early Beatles bassist Stuart Sutcliffe. On the soundtrack he was part of a band that included Thurston Moore (Sonic Youth), Mike Mills (R.E.M.), Dave Pirner (Soul Asylum) and Foo Fighter/ex-Nirvana drummer Dave Grohl. Here they are doing a song originally made a hit by Cincinnati-born music icons The Isley Brothers.
• Dulli teamed with Grohl again in 1995, playing guitar on his debut album, Foo Fighters. Grohl played all of the instruments on the album except for a guitar part on "X-Static," which Dulli provided.
In 1999, Dulli recorded a cover of "Dixie Peach Promenade (Yin for Yang)," a tribute to late Moby Grape member Skip Spence and his cult classic album, Oar.
On this date in 1963, right after signing their deal with Decca Records, The Rolling Stones entered London’s Olympic Sound Studios to track its first single, a cover of Chuck Berry's "Come On." The single came out in the U.K. on June 7 and went to No. 21 on the U.K. charts, allowing them to begin playing shows outside of London. The band's singles steadily performed better in the U.K. — the second one, "I Wanna Be Your Man" (a Beatles cover) made it to No. 12 and their cover of Buddy Holly's "Not Fade Away" went to No. 3 (it was their first U.S. chart single, as well, reaching No. 48). In early 1964, the band had its first No. 1 single (in the U.K.) with another cover, Bobby and Shirley Womack's "It's All Over Now."
The first original song by the Stones to make it to No. 1 didn't come until 1965's "The Last Time." Later in ’65 the Stones released the following tune, which signaled the coming of a legendary, enduring band — it reached No. 1 in countries across the globe. Over 50 years after forming, the Stones are still rocking. They ended up doing pretty OK for themselves.
A 50th anniversary tour is currently said to be in the works; reports are that the band has been rehearsing in New York and New Jersey for … something (details have not yet been publicly released). Keith Richards told Rolling Stone their aiming to hit the road next year.
Mick Jagger is hosting Saturday Night Live on May 19 for the show's season finale. He'll also be the musical guest. But with whom will he perform? Maybe those New York-area rehearsals will result in a full Stones performance on SNL? All four members of the Stones were present (along with Don Was on bass). They reportedly rehearsed just a few songs, including "Miss You" and "Jumping Jack Flash."
But Jagger's most recent release was with the "supergroup" SuperHeavy, featuring Joss Stone, Dave Stewart, A. R. Rahman and Damian Marley. Perhaps that's who will play?
My money's on either a solo performance backed by SNL's band or the full Stones. Though if The Rolling Stones are performing on Saturday Night Live, you'd think NBC would be very, very eager to promote that. We'll see.
One thing of which I'm fairly certain — wanna bet Jimmy Fallon makes another cameo on SNL May 19?
Click on for Born This Day featuring Donovan, Bono, Craig Mack and Sid Vicious.
On this date in 1980, the British awards program honoring songwriters, The Ivor Novello Awards, bestowed the awards for best Pop song and best lyrics to The Boomtown Rats, the Irish Punk band featuring Live Aid founder Bob Geldof. The song that won the honors was the band's biggest, "I Don't Like Mondays," a tune written by Geldof after reading about the news of a 16-year-old high school student who started a shooting spree on a playground in San Diego in early 1979.
The young girl killed two adults and injured eight kids and one cop. With a rifle given to her by her father as a gift, she began shooting from her house across the street from the elementary school playground. When she was asked by a reporter why she did it, she said, "I don't like Mondays. This livens up the day." She also told police during a six-hour standoff that "there was no reason for it, and it was a lot of fun." She was sentenced to 25 years to life and has been denied parole multiple times. During parole hearings, the woman has made various excuses, from claiming that it was the cops who fired the shots that killed and hurt people to insisting she was sexually abused by her father to proclaiming she was on alcohol and hallucinogenic drugs at the time.
She is not eligible for parole again until 2019.
The Boomtown Rats released "I Don't Like Mondays" that summer. The song gave the Rats their second No. 1 in the U.K. (it only made it to No. 79 in the States) and became the tune for which they're best known. The tune wasn't a celebration of the girl, nor was it a tribute to the victims. Rather, it was a clever, emotional look at mental illness and how it can effect anyone, even those you'd least suspect.
Russell Brand referred to the song when he hosted the NME Awards in 2006. When the often curmudgeonly Geldof won the "Best DVD" award for the Live 8 disc (ooh, what an honor!), he began his speech by saying, "Russell Brand … what a cunt." Brand shot back and won the diss battle instantly, saying "It's no wonder Bob Geldof knows so much about famine — he's been dining out on 'I Don't Like Mondays' for 30 years."
Here's a clip of Geldof and Rats pianist Johnny Fingers performing my favorite version of the song, at the 1982 Secret Policeman's Ball benefit concerts for Amnesty International.
Click below for Born This Day featuring Andrew W.K., Billy Joel, Richie Furay and Ghostface Killah.
On this date in 1990, singer/songwriter Tom Waits won a lawsuit against Frito-Lay. Waits sued the company claiming they approached him about using one of his songs in a commercial; when he declined, they found a soundalike to sing a tune very similar to Waits' "Step Right Up." He was awarded almost $2.5 million and was one of the first artists to successfully sue a company for using a soundalike.
It was not the last time Waits would battle the advertising world. In 1993, he sued Levi's after they used a cover of his song "Heartattack and Vine" by Screamin' Jay Hawkins. Levi's pulled the commercial and ran a full page apology in Billboard. In 2006, he won a suit against Volkswagen-Audi, which, like Frito-Lay, originally approached Waits about using his version of "Innocent When You Dream" for a Spanish commercial. He — as always — declined and the company tried to run a cover version instead. Waits received an undisclosed settlement. In 2007, Waits also settled a suit with Adam Opel AG, a German car company, on similar "soundalike" charges.
Hey advertising world — yes, he has a beautiful singing voice (?!) but maybe it's time to look for artists who won't sue your pants off to use in your adverts? Just a thought …
Waits is steadfast in his refusal to have his music co-opted to sell product (he famously said, "If Michael Jackson wants to work for Pepsi, why doesn't he just get himself a suit and an office in their headquarters and be done with it"), but did do voice-over work for a dog food company once in the early ’80s.
Here's Waits on the ’70s talk show parody Fernwood Tonight singing "The Piano Has Been Drinking." Hey, that'd make a great commercial for Steinway Pale Ale. (If it existed …)
Born This Day: Musical movers and shakers sharing a May 8 birthday include the most legendary of legendary Blues musicians, Robert Johnson (1911); TV-turned-Pop-turned-Folk-Rock star Ricky Nelson (1940); the co-captain of cheesy ’70s Pop act Captain & Tennille ("Love Will Keep Us Together"), Toni Tennille (1940); former Glam Rock star ("Rock and Roll, Parts One and Two") Gary Glitter (1944); Jazz pianist Keith Jarrett (1945); singer with Funk kings Earth, Wind & Fire, Philip Bailey (1951); Talking Heads/Tom Tom Club drummer Chris Frantz (1951); Van Halen drummer Alex Van Halen (1953); Blur drummer Dave Rowntree (1964); Canadian singer/songwriter Martha Wainwright (1976); Blues Rock guitar phenom Joe Bonamassa (1977); and the man responsible for remarkable music videos for The White Stripes, Radiohead and The Chemical Brothers, French filmmaker Michel Gondry (1963).
Gondry won an Academy Award for co-writing the screenplay for Jim Carrey's second best movie (behind Mr. Popper's Penguins), Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (which he also directed). Gondry has also directed flicks like The Green Hornet, Dave Chappelle's Block Party and Be Kind Rewind, but Gondry is the rare filmmaker whose shorter works seem to be equally (if not more) acclaimed.
Gondry has done extensive work in TV commercials — his "Drugstore" clip for Levi's is the most awarded commercial in history according to the Guinness World Records folks (though it never aired in the U.S. because the plot revolved around buying condoms. God forbid!).
But it's the field of music video that first brought Gondry to the film world's attention. In 2003, along with directors like Spike Jonze and Mark Romanek, he was part of a DVD series consisting of different volumes featuring one specific director's music video work. Here's a partial look at the "tracklisting," to get a sense of his rich music-videography: "The Hardest Button to Button," "Dead Leaves & the Dirty Ground" and "Fell in Love with a Girl" by The White Stripes; "Let Forever Be" and "Star Guitar" by The Chemical Brothers; "Army of Me," "Hyperballad," "Human Behavior" and "Bachelorette" by Bjork, "Deadweight" by Beck, "Around the World" by Daft Punk and "Everlong" by Foo Fighters.
Gondry's work features heavily in the current Contemporary Arts Center exhibit, Spectacle: The Music Video, a retrospective of the history and artistry of musical film clips. It's safe to say that, in the world of music video, he's like Scorsese (crossed with David Lynch and Salvador Dali).
Click below for a trio of lesser known clips from the director.
On this date in 1967, Floridian Psychedelic Folk band Pearls Before Swine (a precursor to contemporary so-called "Freak Folk") began the three-day sessions for its debut album, One Nation Underground. The album would become a moderate success, selling nearly a quarter of a million copies.
One of the album's tracks, "(Oh Dear) Miss Morse," was the source of some controversy. The subversive chorus of the weird little song (essentially a banjo riff with some organ blips) consists of vocalist/songwriter Tom Rapp (and that organ) "singing" in Morse code the letters "F," "U," "C" and "K" (Dit Dit Dah Dit/Dit Dit Dah/Dah Dit Dah Dit/Dah Dit Dah).
And they would have gotten away with it, too, if it weren't for some meddling kids! Famous New York DJ Murray the K was busted after playing the song on the air when a few smarty-pants Boy Scouts reportedly recognized the code and called in to complain about the veiled obscenity (or maybe brag that they figured it out).
It's not the only song to feature secret Morse code messaging. Mike Oldfield's album Amarok (featuring, essentially, one hour-long track) came towards the end of his contract with Virgin Records in 1990. Oldfield sent a little note to his boss on the album; towards the end, there's a Morse code message that spells out "Fuck Off RB," referring to Virgin label chief Richard Branson.
The Rush song "YYZ" from the 1981 album Moving Pictures also features Morse coding, in a pretty ingenious manner. Drummer Neil Pert's rhythm on the song is based on Morse for "YYZ." The letters weren't especially controversial, though — they were simply the code for Toronto's airport (Rush is from the area).
Other instances of Morse code in popular music: Roger Waters' album Radio KAOS features several Morse messages; Kraftwerk used it throughout their 1975 track "Radioactivity" (it simply spells out the title); and The Clash's "London Calling" has choppy guitar feedback at the end of the song that spells out "S.O.S."
Here's the Pearls Before Swing tune. NSFW (if you work for a former Boy Scout or telegraph expert).
Born This Day: Musical movers and shakers sharing a May 7 birthday include late drummer for influential Rock bands New York Dolls and Johnny Thunders and the Heartbreakers, Jerry Nolan (1946); Disco diva ("Don't Leave Me This Way"), singer/songwriter and actress Thelma Houston (1946); masterful German Boogie Woogie pianist Axel Zwingenberger (1955); Motorhead guitarist Phil Campbell (1961); Swedish one-hit-wonder, son of Jazz legend Don Cherry and half-brother to Neneh Cherry, Eagle-Eye Cherry (1971); drummer for British Pop/Rock stars Arctic Monkeys, Matt Helders (1986); and British singer Martina Topley-Bird (1975).
Topley-Bird is probably best known as a crucial part of Trip Hop pioneer Tricky's early (and biggest) success as vocalist on his classic album, 1995's Maxinquaye. The album made Tricky a Pop star, something that he admittedly was not prepared for and which drove him a little nuts. He recently told U.K.'s The Guardian that, going into the album's release, "I thought I'd be an underground artist. I had no idea it was going to do that and I was not ready for it." He says he spent much of the rest of his career trying to become more of a cult artist than a superstar. And he succeeded.
Topley-Bird parted ways with Tricky in 1998 and has made a trio of solo album (and worked with Gorillaz and Massive Attack). But late last month, she rejoined Tricky in England to perform Maxinquaye in its entirety. Well, that was the plan, anyway. Tricky reportedly disappeared during parts of the performances, which didn't exactly live up the "play the full album" billing. In a review of the performance in Manchester, ClashMusic.com wrote that the Tricky concert ultimately became "the Martina Topley-Bird show, with the singer providing the only reliable musical seam throughout, in contrast to an erratic and seemingly disengaged Tricky."
Here's Martina Topley-Bird's "Anything" from her acclaimed debut solo album, Quixotic.