On this day in 2003, the singer of one of the best known anti-war protest songs, "War," died from a heart attack at his home in England. Born in Nashville and raised in Cleveland, Edwin Starr (born Charles Hatcher) moved to Detroit in the ’60s and eventually started recording for Motown. In 1968, he had his first big hit, "Twenty-Five Miles," but two years later he'd release a song originally recorded by The Temptations (and written by genius songwriting team Norman Whitfield and Barrett Strong) that would become his signature.
Motown wasn't keen on letting The Temptations release "War" — a very obvious protest number ("War, what is it good for? Absolutely nothin' ") aimed at the Vietnam War — out of fear that it would alienate the group's fans, so Starr recorded it, giving it a more intense delivery, and it went to No. 1 upon its release in the summer of 1970, where it stayed for three weeks.
Starr embraced his role as outspoken anti-war critic and released the single "Stop the War Now" in 1971 (it was yet another song also recorded by The Temptations, who clearly had dibs on material).
Starr ultimately left Motown, tiring of the more formulaic material they were producing, and moved to the U.K. He recorded several songs with the British group, Utah Saints, including a new version of "War" in 2003, which became his final recorded output. Bruce Springsteen repopularized the song when he performed it towards the end of his Born in the U.S.A. tour. The Boss' version was released as a live single in 1986 and made it to No. 8 on the Billboard singles chart. (Oh, and also in the ’80s, Frankie Goes to Hollywood covered it, though I think just so Holly Johnson could reprise his "Hunnhhhh!" shout from "Relax.")
The Temptations did release a slightly less direct song with societal commentary in 1970 that made it to No. 3, the superb "Ball of Confusion (That's What the World Is Today)."
Click on for Born This Day featuring Serge Gainsbourg, Marvin Gaye, Dr. Demento and Zeebra.
Today marks the 60th anniversary of what is widely considered the first Rock & Roll concert, DJ Alan Freed's deliciously monikered "Moondog Coronation Ball." The concert (co-produced by local record store owner Leo Mintz) was another testament to the underrated importance of Ohio in the development of Rock & Roll, taking place in Cleveland at the Cleveland Arena, which hosted hockey and basketball games (it was demolished in 1977). Freed, of course, was the great Cleveland DJ (and "King of the Moondogers") who was crucial in the popularization of Rock & Roll, introducing both the genre's name and the music to the world through his radio program on AM station WJW.
In an era when segregation was very much prevalent in society, the Moondog Coronation Ball drew attention for its unsegregated bill, featuring both black and white performers, as well as welcoming both black and white fans to attend. (Freed's black fans were reportedly shocked to discover at the concert that the DJ was actually white.) The popularity of this new-fangled Rock & Roll music became apparent the evening of the show when wwaaaaayyy more people showed up for the concert than the arena could accommodate. The arena held just under 10,000 people, but 20,000 turned up, partly due to additional tickets being accidentally printed. Fans stormed the gates, overcrowding the arena and leading the media to call it a "riot" (adding to Rock & Roll's reputation for being "dangerous," which only made it more popular). The Moondog Coronation Ball is still held today, though the excitement level, of course, is a little more muted.
Read more about that historic concert from the BBC (which declares that the Moondog event "laid the foundations for every rock gig that followed, from Woodstock to Glastonbury") here. Here's a clip from a documentary about Freed (the concert is discussed at around the 4:30 mark) by fellow DJ Frank Allan. (Be sure to check out this excellent site maintained by Freed's family about the legendary music man.)
Click on for Born This Day featuring DJ Premier, Solomon Burke, Deryck Whibley and Son House.
On this day in 1995, Rap star Eazy-E died. The N.W.A. cofounder got sick in late February and went into the hospital from what he believed was an issue with asthma. He was told, instead, that he had AIDS. Less than a month later, he released a public statement announcing that he had been diagnosed with the disease. He died from pneumonia a month after being admitted to the hospital at the age of 31.
The coverage of Eazy's death wasn't like when most famous Hip Hop stars die too young, nor did it approach the level of coverage/impact Magic Johnson's AIDS announcement had a few years earlier. Perhaps it was Eazy's polarizing career, in which he managed to make many enemies, including his pals from N.W.A. Perhaps it was the tales of how he was merely the "money man" in N.W.A., allegedly providing a financial base from his drug/gang activities for the group (and Ruthless Records) as long as he could be a member and his "solo" album (essentially an N.W.A. album, with writing and production contributions from the whole crew) came out first? Maybe it was the back-and-forth beefs with Ice Cube, Dr. Dre and their collaborators, which led many to side with Eazy's foes?
Though he never addressed how he contracted the disease, many assume it was through unprotected sex (Eazy had seven kids with six different women, so his promiscuity and hetero-ness is hard to doubt). Did Eazy's death have a positive impact as a cautionary tale for fellow artists and fans? It's hard to gauge, but the suddenness and unexpectedness of Eazy's passing certainly scared the hell out of a lot of people, including fellow rappers who knew it could have easily been them in his place. There hasn't been another major Rap star who has (at least publicly) acknowledged they are HIV positive since Eazy's death.
Here is a nice homage to Eazy by his daughter E.B. Wright (an aspiring Pop/Rock artist) from XXL magazine's site.
Click on for Born This Day, featuring Diana Ross, Kenny Chesney, Steven Tyler and James Iha.
On this day in 1960, Rockabilly idol and Rock & Roll trailblazer Eddie Cochran died while on tour in the U.K. at the age of 21. On the night of April 16, Cochran was in a taxi when it blew a tire and crashed into a lamppost. Cochran was reportedly thrown from the vehicle when he dove on his girlfriend, songwriter Sharon Sheeley, to shield her and went out the car door that had been flung open. He died in the hospital the next afternoon. Also in the car was fellow rocker Gene Vincent, who survived the crash but suffered serious injuries.
It's hard to overstate how influential Cochran was in the development and increasing popularity of Rock & Roll. A member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Rockabilly Hall of Fame, Cochran is responsible for such indispensable Rock staples as "Summertime Blues" and "C'mon Everybody," and influenced and/or was covered by artists like The Who, The Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, Bruce Springsteen, T. Rex, Hendrix, Rush, The Sex Pistols … pretty much the entire first decade of Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees. Legend has it that Paul McCartney elbowed his way into John Lennon's The Quarrymen because his future bandmates were dazzled that he knew the chords and lyrics to Cochran's"Twenty Flight Rock."
It's rather stunning that someone who didn't live to see 22 could have such a profound effect on music. Here's a bit of Cochran featured in the 1956 film The Girl Can't Help It.
Click on for Born This Day featuring Redman, Maynard James Keenan, Liz Phair and Don Kirshner.
On this date in 1976, British Rock legends The Who performed a concert at the Charlton Athletic Football Ground in London that was one for the record books. The Guinness Book of World Records, in fact. The records-keepers deemed The Who's concert the loudest ever, with the sound measuring 126 dBs about 100 feet from the stage. Unprotected exposure to noise over 110 dBs for longer than a minute is said to increase risk of hearing loss immensely. (Click here for more dB danger talk.)
AC/DC cracked The Who's sound barrier in 1980, reportedly reaching 130 dBs during its Back in Black tour, though it was not recognized by Guinness. The Metal band Manowar received the Guinness record for a 1984 performance (129.5 dBs). Other acts that some have claimed broke the record include Motorhead (130 dBs), Electronica band Leftfield (137 dBs) and, in 2009, KISS (136 dBs). Manowar reportedly hit 139 dBs during a soundcheck in 2008.
What's the loudest concert you've ever attended?
Here's a recording of the first song from The Who's record-setting set in 1976.
Born This Day: Musical movers and shakers sharing a May 31 birthday include Ohio native and Country singer Donald Eugene Lytle, bka Johnny Paycheck (1938); Folk singer with Peter, Paul and Mary, Peter Yarrow (1938); the greatest Rock drummer of all time, Led Zeppelin's John Bonham (1948); member of German Electronic pioneers Kraftwerk, Karl Bartos (1952); Disco singer ("Turn the Beat Around") Vicki Sue Robinson (1954); masterful fingerstyle guitarist Tommy Emmanuel (1955); yet another later-period Kraftwerk member, Fritz Hilpert (1956); Canadian one-hit-wonder and noted wearer of sunglasses when the sun goes down, Corey Hart (1962); late schizophrenic cult music hero Wesley Willis (1963); Fall Out Boy drummer Andy Hurley (1980); hit-making rapper Juaquin Malphurs, who you know better by the ridiculous stage name Waka Flocka Flame (1986); and Hip Hop pioneer Darryl "D.M.C." McDaniels (1964).
D.M.C. was originally drawn to DJing, but after he and pal Joseph "Run" Simmons teamed up with DJ Jam-Master Jay, he decided to be an MC. (His "D.M.C." moniker was a play on his initials and nickname, Darryl Mac, and also stands for "Devastating Mic Controller.) Run-DMC released its first album in 1984. The trio, of course, went on to become one of the greatest acts in Hip Hop history.
In 2009, Run-DMC was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the second Rap group to be allowed into the hall (Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five were first; pals Beastie Boys were inducted this year, making three Hip Hop acts in the Hall.)
It was recently announced that the much anticipated Hip Hop Hall of Fame's museum will be opening in midtown Manhattan in 2014. The exact location has yet to be announced (it's expected to be revealed in July). The Hall will be similar to Rock's Hall, featuring memorabilia and exhibits related to the last 30 or so years of Hip Hop.
The museum has been in the works since 1992. Like the Rock Hall, the Hip Hop Hall began inducting members before they had a brick-and-mortar museum to put them in. The awards ceremonies had been broadcast on BET, but the program was halted in 1997, after Tupac and Biggie were murdered. The Hall of Fame Awards' induction ceremonies are set to return in November, to be broadcast from the Apollo on TV-One.
Run DMC is, of course, in the Hip Hop Hall of Fame. They were inducted in 1996:
All of this museum talk gives a whole new perspective on the trio's classic 1984 "King of Rock" music video.
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 day in 1984, arguably the greatest concert film ever made, Talking Heads' Stop Making Sense, premiered. The film was directed by Jonathan Demme (The Silence of the Lambs, Philadelphia, a trio of Neil Young documentaries) and shot during three concerts at Hollywood's Pantages Theater in December of 2003. Along with being a compelling piece of art in itself, the movie was also groundbreaking in that it was the first made with all digital audio.
The film was also noteworthy due to Demme and the band's avoidance of concert movie cliches. The audience was barely shown; no color lighting was used onstage; there were no fast edits, behind the scenes footage, interviews or close ups of intense guitar soloing; and crew members are shown shuffling set props and equipment on and off the stage (instead of the usual "It's all magic!" approach).
Here's a song from the flick, "This Must Be the Place (Naive Melody)," from the Speaking in Tongues album (which was the record the band was touring when the film was shot).
Born This Day: Musical movers and shakers sharing an April 24 birthday include: Jazz tenor saxophonist Joe Henderson (1937); singer/actress Barbra Streisand (1942); legendary producer (Bowie, T. Rex, Sparks, Thin Lizzy) Tony Visconti (1944); drummer for classic rockers CCR, Doug Clifford (1945); bassist for New Wave/Pop group Blondie, Nigel Harrison (1951); Punk trailblazer with The Damned, Raymond Burns, better known to the world as Captain Sensible (1954); singer/bassist for ’80s rockers Knight Ranger, Jack Blades (1954); drummer for The Cure (1984-1993), Boris Williams (1957); singer for underrated "really AltCountry" band Tarnation, Paula Frazer (1963); bassist for eclectic rockers Faith No More, Billy Gould (1963); Pop superstar (and American Idol's primary "success story" testimonial) Kelly Clarkson (1982); singer for Pop/Rock band All American Rejects, Tyson Ritter (1984) and Alt music pioneer with Bauhaus, Tones on Tail and Love and Rockets, David J (1957).
Born David John Haskins (his younger brother, Kevin Haskins, was also drummer in Bauhaus, Tones and L&R), J — like Peter Hook of New Order/Joy Division — had a very distinctive sound, which is rare for a bassist. Never one to rest on his laurels, J seems to be in a consistent state of creativity, releasing records and recording with numerous collaborators outside of the Bauhaus/L&R realm. Late last year, J released his latest solo album (the first for him in eight years), Not Long for This World, and staged the premiere of his avant-garde play, The Chanteuse and the Devil's Muse, based on The Black Dahlia murders.
J — who also wrote and sang several Love and Rockets songs (including the hit "No New Tale to Tell") — has benefited greatly from Kickstarter, the website that helps artists find funding for projects via fan contributions. Both the play and his latest solo album were funded with Kickstarter. (As if that wasn't plenty on his plate, around the same time, J also staged the one-woman show he wrote and directed, Silver for Gold: The Odyssey of Edie Sedgwick. Check out J's site for a look at/listen to more of his recent projects.)
Here's J's Kickstarter video for Not Long, as well as the track, "Spalding Gray Can’t Swim."
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.