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)."
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On this day in 2005, two young musicians died well before their time.
After reportedly battling a bipolar disorder and drug addiction, SoCal Punk drummer Derrick Plourde — who had played with bands like The Ataris, Lagwagon (the band that gave him his start), The Mad Caddies and others — killed himself with a gun. He was 33.
Lagwagon's seventh studio album, Resolve, released later in 2005, was inspired by and dedicated to Plourde. The album became Lagwagon's first to break the Billboard 200, notching a peak position of 172. Here's the single (used on a Tony Hawk video game soundtrack … as Plourde would have wanted?), "Heartbreaking Music."
Also today in 2005, Hideaki Sekiguchi of the Japanese Garage Punk trio Guitar Wolf (known simply as Billy or Bass Wolf) had a fatal heart attack in Tokyo, just after completing a successful tour of America. Sekiguchi was 38 and left behind a wife and two kids. Guitar Wolf — which has put out albums on indie labels like Matador and Narnack in the States — carried on with a new bassist and has released three albums since Sekiguchi's death.
Here's Guitar Wolf's "UFO Romantics" from the band's album of the same name (Sekiguchi's last with the group):
Born This Day: Musical movers and shakers sharing a March 30 birthday include legendary Blues singer/harmonica player Sonny Boy Williamson (1914); drummer/poet/songwriter with The Moody Blues, Graeme Edge (1941); drummer for The Surfaris and Love, Ken Forssi (1943); revered Rock/Blues guitarist Eric Clapton (1945); singer/songwriter ("Fast Car") Tracy Chapman (1964); schmaltzy Canadian chanteuse Celine Dion (1968); singer/songwriter Norah Jones (1979) and onetime Rap star MC Hammer (1962).
While Hammer (born Stanley Burrell) did much to popularize Hip Hop, becoming one of its first superstars, he remains one of Pop music's greatest punching bags. Some might say it was his money issues; many had a hard time feeling sympathy as they saw or read about some of the gaudy "luxury items" Hammer had to give up. But, mostly, Hammer was a victim of his music (and videos) just not standing the test of time even slightly.
Spin magazine recently ran its list of The 30 Biggest Punching Bags in History and somehow, despite his running partner Vanilla Ice coming in at No. 6, Hammer was nowhere to be found (nor was, miraculously, fellow birthday celebrator Celine Dion). Click here to read Spin's rundown, here to read it without having to click to the next page 400 times or just look below for the straight-up list. I say take Duran Duran or Lawrence Welk (?!) off and put Hammer in. Justice for Hammer!
1 Milli Vanilli
2 Limp Bizkit
3 Kenny G
5 Insane Clown Posse
6 Vanilla Ice
7 Emerson, Lake & Palmer
8 Matchbox 20
9 Pat Boone
10 Yoko Ono
12 Michael Bolton
14 Billy Ray Cyrus
15 Puff Daddy
17 Barry Manilow
18 KC and the Sunshine Band
19 Lawrence Welk
20 The Osmonds
21 Duran Duran
22 Christopher Cross
23 Smash Mouth
24 Black Eyed Peas
25 Lana Del Rey
27 John Mayer
28 New Kids on the Block
29 Phil Collins
30 The Monkees
And here's the "full version" of one of Hammer's greatest hits (he had to drag down James Brown with him?). Happy 50th, Stanley! No gasface for you this year, you loveable ol' pants wrangler.
On this day in 1979, the saga of one of Rock & Roll's greatest "love triangles" continued as Eric Clapton married ’60s model Pattie Boyd. According to the U.K.'s Daily Mail, Boyd met George Harrison while The Beatles were filming A Hard Day's Night and they married in 1965. The marriage wasn't unusual for a couple of 20somethings; as Harrison got deeper into spirituality, the two drifted apart. The unhappy Boyd eventually hooked up with Clapton, a close friend of Harrison's. Clapton battled heroin and alcohol during this period, but that didn't stop Boyd and the guitarist from tying the knot.
Boyd became the subject of three Rock & Roll classics — The Beatles' "Something" (written by Harrison about Boyd) and Clapton's "Layla" (featuring Slow Hand pining for his forbidden lover with Derek and the Dominos) and "Wonderful Tonight," a more romantic ballad for Boyd. (Some believe other songs, such as Clapton's "She's Waiting" and The Beatles' "For You Blue," are also inspired by Boyd.)
But the love triangle was a bit more salacious than the songs made it appear, and even more salacious than most fans knew back then. In Clapton's autobiography, he wrote, "My relationship with Pattie was not the incredibly romantic affair it has been portrayed as … rather it was built on drunken forays into the unknown." He added that Boyd, "liked to do the cocaine without the alcohol, so this became our meeting place." For his part, Harrison was never really the sad, cast-off lover some fans might think. In the recent Living in the Material World documentary about Harrison, Clapton and others say Harrison was into the free love lifestyle and didn't seem too ate up about his best mate stealing his girl. In fact, Clapton said, he gave them his blessing.
Pattie, on the other hand, found the whole ordeal "hellish." Read more about her thoughts here.
Here are the three tunes Boyd inspired (and, yes, that's Boyd in the "Something" vid with Harrison):
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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.
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On this day in 1969, a reported 30,000 people showed up at the Orange Bowl in Miami for the "Rally for Decency," a response to singer Jim Morrison's alleged "indecent exposure " during a concert by classic rockers The Doors three weeks earlier. One of the more infamous arrests in the history of Rock & Roll, an apparently wasted Morrison was reportedly erratic throughout the Miami show; Morrison's people admitted as much, but the evidence that the Lizard King pulled Lil Jim out during the show was never ironclad. Despite tons of photographers in attendance, there wasn't one shot of Morrison whipping it out onstage. (Some in the audience insisted he exposed himself, but others said it appeared Morrison was doing that third grade trick where kids poke their index finger out of their zipper to create the illusion of a penis. Today, it's widely reported that Morrison merely simulated masturbating on stage, which Lady Gaga does every time she goes grocery shopping.)
The Rally for Decency was organized by local teens from an area church in response to the incident. Conservative politicians took great joy in the event; like the right wing "wedge issuing" of today, it was a great way to keep people afraid of scary popular music and rally them to their anti-counterculture side. Morrison's behavior was indicative of the threat Americans faced if the longhairs were not defeated in the culture wars of the time.
Just like when there's a big GOP rally today and you can be sure people like The Statler Brothers and Kid Rock are going to make an appearance, the "decency" rally drew a who's-who of squares — according to a report that ran in The New York Times, the guest list included Kate "God Bless America" Smith, white-bread vocal group The Lettermen, Mickey Mouse Club member Anita Bryant and actor/comedian Jackie Gleason, whose huge appetite for alcohol was not only well known, but celebrated (the famous quote, "I'm no alcoholic. I'm a drunkard. There's a difference. A drunkard doesn't like to go to meetings," is credited to the former Honeymooners star, who, of course, also made threatening your wife with violence a running gag on his hit show.)
At the rally, Gleason expressed some wishful thinking, reportedly saying, ""I believe this kind of movement will snowball across the United States and perhaps around the world." Tricky Dick Nixon (another wonderful example of impeccable morals) also expressed support, writing a letter to the teen who headed up the rally that read, in part, "This very positive approach which focused attention on a number of critical problems confronting society strengthens my belief that the younger generation is our greatest natural resource and therefore of tremendous hope for the future."
Eventual culture war veteran Pat Buchanan (then a Nixon aide) gave Nixon a note during his briefings the day after the rally that showed evidence that the administration's interest was politically motivated. It read, "The pollution of young minds … an extremely popular issue, one on which we can probably get a tremendous majority of Americans" (according to history.com).
The rally, of course, failed to get rid of the evil counterculture. And the world hasn't ended. (Yet.)
Morrison died in Paris in 1971 while his indecency case was being appealed (according to Rolling Stone, he was found guilty of indecent exposure and "open profanity" after his 1970 trial). In December of 2010, Florida's Clemency Board pardoned Morrison at the request of departing Florida governor Charlie Crist.
Here's an hour-long concert by The Doors at the Hollywood Bowl. So as to not cause society to crumble once it is viewed, we scoured the footage thoroughly for any intentional or inadvertent penis flashing. You should be safe.
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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.)
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On this day in 2003, the Iraq war quagmire began. Depending on where you stand and your perspective of "facts," the war was a) a huge mistake based on fabricated information, b) a nobly-intentioned-attack-turned-Bush-administration-blooper ("Whoops, sorry!"), or c) a perfectly reasonable military operation that spread democracy and made Toby Keith a billionaire.
It is estimated the war has killed well over 100,000 Iraqi civilians and displaced over 2 million. Our government claims that 4,422 Americans have died as a result of Operation Iraqi Freedom (and over 31,000 have been injured).
The South Carolina State Legislature marked the beginning of the war by attacking a Country music trio. State Rep. Catherine Ceips introduced a resolution that commanded the Dixie Chicks to apologize to President Bush for daring to say in front of an audience in London that they were embarrassed to be from the same state (Texas) as W.
Chick Natalie Maines DID apologize a week before, saying she should not have been disrespectful to the Prez. But it apparently didn't matter and the Chicks became another tool used to raise support for the war. In an interview with Tom Brokaw a month later, Bush said that the group members had a right to say what they wanted. But, "I don't really care what the Dixie Chicks said. I want to do what I think is right for the American people." Whoopsie.
Despite Bush being the one proved wrong, no one EVER apologized to the Dixie Chicks, who lost a substantial amount of money due to the ginned-up controversy.
On that same day, Bruce Springsteen played a concert in Australia and dedicated "Land of Hope and Dreams" to "innocent Iraqi civilians." He opened the show with his stunning acoustic version of "Born in the U.S.A.," followed by a cover of Edwin Starr's "War (What Is It Good For)."
Click on for Born This Day featuring Chester Bennington, Natacha Atlas, Jerry Reed and Lee "Scratch" Perry.
This date in music history is a sad one, marking the "gone too soon" deaths of several young musicians with a lot ahead of them.
• Guitarist Paul Kossoff was the cofounder of British Rock band Free with singer Paul Rodgers and bassist Andy Fraser. The band's 1970 Fire and Water album spawned the band's best-known song, "All Right Now," but the band split by the end of that year. They reformed in 1972 and put out two more albums before calling it quits for good. Kossoff did solo work, played with many other artists and formed a band called Back Street Crawler. The guitarist was in poor health in the years after Free, reportedly due to drug problems and frustration over the demise of his most successful musical project. Kossoff died on a flight from L.A. to New York in 1976 from heart problems. His father spent the rest of his life campaigning against the perils of drug abuse, even doing a touring one-man show about his son. Kossoff's headstone contains the epitaph, "All Right Now."
Kossoff was 25.
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