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.)
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.
On this date in 2006, Taylor Hicks won that year's American Idol karaoke contest, laying waste to runner-up Katharine McPhee. Soul Patrol!!!
McPhee would bounce back and is currently starring in the hit network TV show Smash. Hicks, of course, went on to superstardom, scoring major hits with songs like … oh, wait. What ever did happen to that guy? Best guess: manager of a suburban Applebee's somewhere?
Post-Idol, Hicks did score a role in the traveling production of Grease and his self-titled album went platinum, but Hicks was dropped from his label in 2008 and hasn't been heard from much since.
Last night, a fella named Phillip Phillips (no lie! that's his name!) won this year's American Idol, beating a lady named Jessica Sanchez. I must confess I've not watch one second of American Idol this year (or the year before, or the year before, etc.), but reading The New York Times story on him from today, it appears Phillips actually can play guitar pretty well and covered songs by Damien Rice and The Box Tops when he was allowed to chose his own material to perform.
Will Philly Phillips be a star, post-Idol? These things are hard to predict (ask Taylor Hicks), but it seems — from my admittedly peripheral view — that Phillips is more David Gray or Dave Matthews than Clay Aiken or Adam Lambert.
Born This Day: Musical movers and shakers sharing a May 24 birthday include creative Jazz saxman Archie Shepp (1937); American music icon Robert Allen Zimmerman, better known as Bob Dylan (1941); big-voiced and bigger-haired R&B diva Ms. Patti LaBelle (1944); producer and guitarist (with Stevie Nicks, Linda Ronstadt, Warren Zevon and others) Waddy Wachtel (1947); singer/songwriter and eldest daughter of Johnny Cash's, Rosanne Cash (1955); frontman for Soul/Funk group Cameo ("Word Up"), Larry Blackmon (1956); former keyboardist for Beastie Boys pals Luscious Jackson, Vivian Trimble (1963); bassist for Redd Kross and current member of old-school Punk supergroup OFF!, Steve McDonald (1967); guitarist for rockers The Black Crowes, Rich Robinson (1969); and singer/songwriter and Country artist Mike Reid (1947).
Born in Altoona, Penn., Reid attended Penn State, where he excelled on the football field. The tackle finished fifth in Heisman Trophy voting his senior year (1969) and earned a Bachelor's degree in music.
In the 1970 NFL draft, Reid was the Cincinnati Bengals' top first-round selection (seventh overall). Known for his pass-rushing, Reid was a dominant defensive player selected All-Pro at his position in 1972 and 1973 (both years he made the Pro Bowl, as well). In ’74, an injured Reid posted lower numbers and retired at the end of the season as the Bengals all-time leader in sacks with 49. (Remember, the Bengals had only been a team since 1968.)
During the off-season, Reid played piano with orchestras in Utah and Dallas, as well as the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra. With some help from Larry Gatlin, he was ready to go into music full-time after retiring from professional football. Focused on songwriter, Reid won his first Grammy in 1984 for writing Ronnie Milsap's "Stranger in My House." We would go on to write several songs that hit No. 1 on the Country charts, including "Walk On Faith," the only No. 1 he also performed.
Reid's songs were recorded by the likes of Etta James, Conway Twitty, Willie Nelson, Alabama, George Jones, Wynonna, Lee Greenwood, Kenny Rogers, Shelby Lynne, Shania Twain, Oak Ridge Boys, Collin Raye, Alabama and Tim McGraw over the years. But his "time capsule" tune has to be his 1992 hit with Bonnie Raitt, "I Can't Make You Love Me," his biggest Pop chart success.
Reid is a member of the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame. In honor of his 65th birthday, here's Reid's biggest song sung by himself, followed by a pretty chilling more recent version by Justin Vernon of Bon Iver.
Today's a big one for synthesizer fans. You know partly what I'm talking about if you've visited Google today (see below). But today also marks the 30th anniversary of a drastic and controversial move by the UK Musicians' Union. The union proposed a ban on synthesizers and drum machines because, to quote South Park, "Thur takin' our jaabs!" This is 1982, mind you, when Synth Pop and New Wave were huge and Hip Hop was beginning to find its legs in the mainstream. Musician unions worldwide struggled to come to peace with the existence of electronic instruments, many proposing tax hikes on the instruments to discourage use (like the U.S. does with cigarettes now).
The UK union's support of a ban caused a splinter group to form — the Union of Sound Synthesists was created to protect Electronic musicians' rights (or anyone else who wanted to use a "non-traditional" electronic instrument).
The attacks on synthesizers and drum machines due to a fear that one day a computer will be able to make ENTIRE SONGS seems a little funny given today's electro-heavy musical landscape.
On this date in 1977, there was another attack on "electronic" (or perhaps more appropriately "electric") instruments. Jefferson Starship's planned concert at San Francisco's Golden Gate Park was cancelled by the city because it violated a ban on electric instruments being used in the public park. The greatest tragedy of the incident was that it partially inspired one of the worst songs ever made, Starship's "We Built This City" (the song was not written by the band, as many have cited; Elton John songwriting partner Bernie Taupin, J. Geils Band singer not-the-J.-Geils-Band's Peter Wolf, Martin Page and Dennis Lambert are to be credited/blamed for the tune).
Born This Day: Musical movers and shakers sharing a May 23 birthday include regional native and legendary vocalist Rosemary Clooney (1928); singer for ’80s Pop band Baltimora ("Tarzan Boy"), Jimmy McShane (1957); former MTV VJ Karen Duffy (1961); Radiohead drummer Phil Selway (1967); Maroon 5 drummer Matt Flynn (1970); modern Soul singer Maxwell (1973); singer/songwriter Jewel (1974); original blink-182 drummer Scott Raynor (1978); singer for Indie Pop girl group The Pipettes, Gwenno Saunders (1981); singer/songwriter Tristan Prettyman (1982); and Electronic music pioneer Robert Moog (1934).
First things first — it's pronounced "Mogue" (rhymes with "vogue"), not "Mooo-g."
After manufacturing theremins, Mr. Moog (who passed away in 2005) founded Moog Music and invented the Moog synth, one of the first widely used, commercially available synthesizers. Early Moog users like Wendy Carlos (who did the soundtrack to A Clockwork Orange with Moogs and helped Bob design the machines), Keith Emerson, John Cage and Rick Wakeman helped popularize the instruments.
The instrument can be heard on hundreds of thousands of popular tracks since Moog first showed off his concept in 1964 at the Audio Engineering Society's annual convention. Paste magazine picked its Top 10 "quintessential" Moog moments last year, which included tracks by Kraftwerk, Rush's "Closer to the Heart" and this one from the late Donna Summer.
Paste also made a cool list of the best of today's Moog boosters, including St. Vincent, Wilco and Mastodon.
Google today has one of its best "Google Doodles" yet. In honor of Bob Moog's 78th birthday, the search site features a fully playable Moog synth on its front page; you can even record your Moog squiggles!
Today Moog Music Inc. is donating 50 percent of all clothing and merchandise (though not instruments) sales proceeds to the Bob Moog Foundation. The online shop has some very cool new T-shirts and other goodies.
"Moog Music and our customers celebrate Bob’s pioneering legacy. In a time when science achievement is declining in this country, we are proud to support the Bob Moog Foundation in their efforts to bring science alive through electronic music. We invite all of our customers to make a purchase online on May 23rd and support the Foundation’s important work,” said Mike Adams, Moog Music President & CEO, in a press release.
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!
Since this date only occurs every four years, there are fewer birthdays and notable happenings in the history books. But things have indeed occurred on Feb. 29 throughout time — even a few related to music. Here's a quick roundup:
• Buddy Holly's famous glasses were found at the Mason City Sheriff's office in Iowa, buried in old files. They also found Big Bopper's watch. Both items were believed to have been worn by the pair when they died together in a plane crash in 1959. Holly's glasses are on display at the Buddy Holly Center in his hometown of Lubbock, Texas.
• The Beatles' Sgt. Peppers wins Album of the Year at the 1968 Grammys.
• In 1996, musician/songwriter Wes Farrell, who wrote and co-wrote songs performed by The Beatles and The Animals, many hits by The Partridge Family and Ohio State anthem "Hang on Sloopy," died on this day in 1996 from cancer.
• Don't feel so bad, Sammy Hagar. Eric Clapton can't drive 55, either! The guitar god's license was suspended on this day in 2000 after he was busted speeding.
• Guitarist for Punk pioneers Social Distortion, Dennis Danell, died at the age of 36 on this day in 2000, reportedly from a brain aneurysm (though Mike Ness claims it was a heart problem).
And here's your song for today: a slanted Jazz freakout called "Leap Year Day" by Chicago Lounge music revivalists (they called it "Garage Jazz") The Coctails, taken from the group's Popcorn retrospective box set.
Born This Day: A few psychopaths were born today — like Richard "Night Stalker" Ramirez, Aileen Wuornos (played by Charlize Theron in the film Monster) and Tony Robbins (OK, maybe the motivational-speaking superstar's just a little weird) — but there have been a few musical types born on Leap Day as well.
Big Band Jazz superstar Jimmy Dorsey was born Leap Day, 1904.
Rap star Ja Rule — who released a new album yesterday — turns 36 today and will celebrate in a New York state prison, where he's serving time for gun possession charges (TMZ reports he will party in jail with special meals throughout the day — corn flakes, Jamaican "patties" and "turkey stew").
Chris Conley of Emo favorites Saves the Day was born Leap Day 1980.
Mark Foster, frontman for breakout stars Foster the People (if you haven't heard their hit "Pumped Up Kicks," please tell us where your bunker is located), was born today in 1984.
And poet, activist, spoken word star and inventive recording artist Saul Williams was a Leap Newborn on this day in 1972. In honor of Saul's 40th b-day, here's a video for a track off of his amazing Trent Renzor-produced album The Inevitable Rise and Liberation of NiggyTardust!
Thirty five years ago today, the original Apple Computer — now called Apple I — was introduced. This week it was revealed that Apple's market value hit $600 billion. Only one other company — Microsoft — has ever reached that value level (it's now back down to a paltry $255 billion, according to the Associated Press).
Not even its creator could have known that the little box designed and hand-built by Steve Wozniak (with entrepreneurial spiritual guidance by Steve Jobs) would lead to multiple revolutions, including in the worlds of technology, telecommunications, media, music and likely hundreds of other fields.
Who knows where those fields would be today were it not for Apple. One thing that certainly would not exist today is the following song tribute to Jobs by New York City-based progressive House DJ/producer AzR featuring only sounds and tones from an Apple computer (aside from some Jobs quotes). Every time I hear that "chirp," I think my iPod connector cable is going haywire.
Born This Day: Musical movers and shakers sharing an April 11 birthday include early Jazz musician Nick LaRocca (1889); Pop and Jazz music's first African-American personal manager (and also a noted Jazz bassist) John Levy (1912); composer of Rock classic "Louie Louie," Richard Berry (1935); original member of The Specials (and singer in Special Beat with The English Beat's Ranking Roger) Neville Staple (1955); late singer/guitarist for one hit wonders Big Country ("In a Big Country") Stuart Adamson (1958); co-founder of Gin Blossoms (who later committed suicide after leaving the band) Doug Hopkins (1961); British Soul/Pop vocalist Joss Stone (1987); and singular actor/musician Vincent Gallo (1962).
Gallo is best known as an indie film actor with a public persona so over the top, many find him obnoxious. Though he's never had a mainstream breakthrough (in part thanks to his refusal to go the Nic Cage route and make shitty, big-budget craptaculars just for the paycheck), he remains one of America's great underrated actors. And his stellar feature Buffalo ’66 (in which he starred and directed and wrote) is one of the best twisted RomComs of all time, second perhaps only to Billy Wilder's The Apartment. Hopefully he'll make another masterpiece at some point. But his experimental streak seems pretty domineering.
Gallo has been as adventurous in his musical work as he has in celluloid. When Gallo moved to NYC in the ’70s, he played in a band with art legend Jean Michel Basquiat and later performed in other groups and as a solo artist. He continued to write music for his films (notably Brown Bunny and Buffalo) and has put out a few releases on U.K. electronic/experimental label, Warp Records.
Gallo has directed music videos (including John Frusciante's "Going Inside") and appeared in several clips as well, the most famous being Jay-Z's "99 Problems."
In 2005, Gallo curated a weekend of show at the All Tomorrow's Parties festival in the U.K., booking Yoko Ono, Frusciante (Gallo, coincidentally, toured in 2001 with a band that included Frusciante's Chili Peppers replacement, Josh Klinghoffer) and Yoko Ono (Gallo and Ono's son Sean Lennon also made an album around that time that has yet to be released).
Here's the first song on his 2001 solo album When, "I Wrote This Song For the Girl Paris Hilton" (for no clear reason).
I was a few months shy of 16
when I first heard the lucidly stark voice of Lou Reed stream over the
airwaves. I was just another suburban weirdo, looking for a justified rebellion
to call his own. I had spent those “formative years” sleeping around with any
album loud enough to drown out my inner white noise, moving through a steady
stream of Hardcore, Punk, Metal — if
they were screaming it, I was buying it. As it turns out, though, what I was
really looking for was a quieter sort of revolution, and at the helm was Mr.
Lou Reed, telling me with a frank honesty that there was freedom in the
composition. It was, like any great lesson, one I’d come to learn in time.
To say I enjoyed those first striking chords of “Heroin” would be an
understatement. It was on a snowy night in 2007, crammed in the back of a
friend's Yaris Liftback, when I first heard it. I can’t remember exactly where
we were previous to that moment, when that raw melody first came in. All I can
remember is how I suddenly became more aware of myself than ever before.
Everything I knew about music, about artistry, about writing — all of it would
change with that first overlap of beautiful melody. I was mesmerized, shaken
from a stupor of conditioned knowledge and thrown into a concoction of John
Cale’s haunting strings with Lou Reed’s candid crooning. By the time Maureen
Tucker’s drumming kicked in, sparse in its reverberation, my resolve would be
just as stripped, replaced by a wily knot that would take years to untie.
Though, right then, the song was just “fucking awesome.”
It would only be years later, waking up to a chilled October morning in 2013,
that this memory would even begin to matter. As the headlines would come to
read, “Lou Reed Dead at 71,” so, too, would the horizon appear most clearly.
I’ve always been a firm believer in the crossover of influences, the
collaboration of mediums in shaping any sort of artistry. As a writer, I can
proudly say that the recorded sound has had just as much influence on me as the
written word. And when I heard the Velvet Underground for the first time, it
became clear that they believed in a similar marriage, affirmed on the morning
of Oct. 27. With the news of the passing of a legend came an onslaught of
anecdotes from around the arts world, plastered against my computer screen. Amidst
the mass of legends, one story stood out in particular.
As according to
Rolling Stone, it was
1965, and the first few months of the Velvet Underground playing under their
iconic moniker. They had began a residency playing in New York’s Café Bizarre
and in the beginning stages of developing their distorted and chaotically
composed sound. Management was set on having performers play more contemporary
numbers, and warned the band not to play their original composition “Black
Angel Death Song.” They went on to perform the number anyway, fit with all the
chilling accidentals in its string arrangements, and were fired immediately.
Though they would emerge from that loss victorious (it led to their
introduction to Andy Warhol, the man who would come to produce their record and
put them on the map of the underground art scene of ‘60s New York), there was
something bigger about that moment, something more pressing in my association
Incidentally, “Black Angel Death Song” was the first thing I clicked on Sunday
morning when I heard the news of its writer’s passing. The strings were
suddenly more haunting, and the story seemed all the more important. It was yet
another quintessential moment in the life of Lou Reed, a man who sang with
unbridled frankness, who played with unencumbered passion, and who inspired me
with the tirelessness of his dedication to honest expression. It transported me
back, seven years and a lifetime ago, to that night in December 2007, when I
first pricked my ears with another of his songs, that found, all at once, both
comfort and chaos within itself. Though I’d spend the lapsed time between 2007
and 2013 finding appreciation for the 40-plus years of Reed’s prolific career —
from “Black Angel Death Song” and “All Tomorrow’s Parties,” through “Satellite
of Love” and “Pale Blue Eyes” and even up until his
Hudson River Wind Meditations — it would always be that
compositions that would stay, forever imprinted in my mind.
“Heroin” became, for me, a love song to the in between — it was everything I’d
been listening to up until that point and nothing I’d ever heard before; it was
the sentimentality of Indie Rock, the calm before the double bass in hardcore,
the simplistic, chord interplay of Punk and its cleaner cut cousin Pop. And, at
the same time, it was also the recklessness of avant-garde, the soundtrack to
the colors of an underground New York I’d only experience in preserved murals
and snapshots. It was everything I’d known, and everything I would come to know
about music, about art, about sound and about writing.
There are moments that comprise your past, songs that take you to a memory you
thought you’d left. And then there are moments that define your future, songs
that propel you forward into infinity.
Lou Reed, and what he accomplished before, with and after the Velvet
Underground, stood as a symbol for finding freedom in ones composition, and
pushing the statements made to work in a fashion of success.
It was a lesson I would learn time and time again in my own work, as I moved
through the progression of my writing and my own performance techniques. I
would come to face my own obstacles, fight my own battles against normative
expectations. And it would be in those times I fell the deepest, my resolve
threatening to falter, that this education would come back to me, mysterious in
its origins, all the while growing, like a backbone that stood rigid for honest
experimentation and freedom in the composition.
Even now, as this mystery’s been unearthed, its inductor put to rest, ahead of
me remains miles and miles of still shrouded possibility. But against that wall
of lessons I’ll stand, riveted, staring towards the looming unknown. And I’ll
try for a different kind of kingdom, if I can.
On this day in 1939, Adolf Hitler's 50th birthday was a national holiday in Germany. It was also the day Billie Holiday recorded her version of the stirring "Strange Fruit," which some consider the first Civil Rights protest song/anthem. Originally a poem written by Abel Meeropol, a Jewish high school teacher in New York (who later adopted the children of convicted spies Julius and Ethel Rosenberg), about the lynching of black people. Some believe he was inspired to action after seeing a photo of a 1930 lynching in Marion, Ind. The poem was published in a teacher's union magazine in 1936 and Meeropol later set it to music (despite claims that it was actually Holiday and some other musicians who made it a song).
Holiday recorded the tune, despite fears of being targeted by racists, and it became the dramatic finale in her set during which Holiday performed the song with the room totally dark, save a single spotlight on her face. Holiday's label, Columbia, wouldn't release the song due to its "controversial" nature, so the company allowed Holiday to record it for the Commodore label. Time magazine dubbed in the "Song of the Century" in 1999.
"Strange Fruit" has been covered by Nina Simone, Sting, Diana Ross, Siouxsie and the Banshees, Lou Rawls, Jeff Buckley, Cocteau Twins, Tori Amos and UB40, to name a few. It has also been recorded by a pair of bands with local ties — The Twilight Singers (the post Afghan Whigs band of Hamilton native Greg Dulli) and The Sundresses.
At 7, the young prodigy was given her first guitar by her uncle, Bill Owens, and by the time she was 11, she was a regular on a pair of Tennessee radio programs. Dolly's other uncle, Henry Owens, was acquainted with the owner of Goldband, leading to her first single being released.
It was an early example of Parton's underrated talents as a songwriter (she co-wrote the tune with her uncle Bill), though she would mature lyrically from such lines as, "Pullin' my pig tails makes me mad/When you kiss me, makes me glad/You turn to leave and make me sad/Still you're the sweetest sweetheart I've ever had." (Note: A more popular song called "Puppy Love," was a hit a year later for its writer, Paul Anka, and over a decade later again for a version by Donny Osmond. Dolly's version was included on the Dolly boxset in 2009.)
Here's Ms. Parton's adorable debut (where she's already showing off her impressive pipes):
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.