Today is the 15th anniversary of the murder of celebrated rapper Christopher Wallace, aka the Notorious B.I.G. (aka Biggie Smalls, aka Big Poppa, etc., etc.). Since his death, Wallace's status has risen considerably and he's widely considered one of the best MCs to ever hold a mic, for both his smooth, laid-back flow and lyrical prowess.
Caught in the middle of the East Coast/West Coast feuding of the time, Wallace (a NYC native) was killed while in California promoting his soon to be released sophomore album, eerily titled (in hindsight, as was his debut's title, Ready to Die) Life After Death. On March 9, Smalls attended the Soul Train awards show in L.A., where he presented Toni Braxton with one of two awards she would win that night (and was booed by the West-leaning coastal feuders in the audience). Wallace left an afterparty at 12:30 a.m. later that night and, about 50 yards from the party entrance, a black Chevy Impala reportedly pulled up next to the vehicle the MC was in and someone in the Impala shot Wallace four times in the chest. He was rushed to the hospital and pronounced dead March 9 at 1:15 a.m.
Despite various theories, confessions and extensive investigations, the case, like that of West Coast star rapper Tupac Shakur (killed about six months prior in similar fashion), remains unsolved.
Life After Death came out 15 days after Wallace's murder. It went to No. 1 on Billboard's album chart instantly. Two more posthumous B.I.G. records were cobbled together — 1999's Born Again, featuring tracks culled from unfinished ones on which Wallace had been working, and the similar Duets: The Final Chapter from 2005, which was widely criticized due to the posthumous pairings with artists many felt Wallace would never have worked with in his lifetime. The album's guests included Eminem, Twista, The Game, Nas, Nelly, Scarface, Missy Elliott, R. Kelly, Bob Marley (?!), Korn (?!?!) and West Coast MCs Snoop Dogg and 2Pac. Amazingly, unlike the posthumously prolific 2Pac, the album really was "The Final Chapter"; the only other Biggie releases to come out after that were a 2007 greatest hits collection and the 2009 soundtrack to the film Notorious, based on Wallace's life and death.
Time magazine's website posted a music video playlist tribute today here. And below is "Living In Pain" from the Duets release, which featured Big and Pac, plus still-alive performers Nas and singer Mary J. Blige:
Click on for Born This Day, featuring Bow Wow, John Cale and Ornette Coleman.
On this day in 1993, two blissfully ignorant adolescents named Beavis and Butt-Head became instant superstars when their Mike Judge-created TV series began its run on MTV. The episodes "Door to Door" and "Give Blood" were the first to air as a series (the notorious "Frog Baseball" and "Peace, Love and Understanding" shorts debuted on MTV's Liquid Television animation showcase).
Some might argue that Beavis and Butt-Head helped shift the direction of society towards the futuristic Dumpocalypse imagined in Judge's underrated live action flick, Idiocracy. I wouldn't go that far, but it certainly helped along the evolution of "snark," the prevailing attitude in so much modern internet journalism and commentary. Coming in at the dawn of the slackerly, often apathetic Alternative music "revolution," B&B echoed the "Whatever, butt-munch" attitude that thrives to this day. Snark is the language of the internet and we can thank Beavis and Butt-Head's dismissive "critiques" of artists, songs and music videos, at least partially, for helping to sink public discourse to that level.
That said, I love those dudes (as much as one can love fictional cartoon characters). The revival run on MTV, featuring new episodes, picked up right where the old series left off. Perhaps like all those old bands that reunite to capitalize on their growing posthumous fame, the freaky, geeky duo returned to the small screen to capitalize on their notoriety as kings of "Whatever."
Here's a short clip from the most recent season, as the boys stumble upon an abortion protest and get psyched to meet some of the "whores" that apparently hang out at abortion clinics. Rush Limbaugh would approve. Hey, maybe he can join their show when he gets cancelled? Beavis, Rush and Butt-Head has a nice ring to it. (Or would it just be Beavis and Two Butt-Heads?)
On this day in 1987, the Beastie Boys' debut LP Licensed to Ill became the first Rap/Hip Hop album to reach No. 1 on the Billboard album charts. Though the band members today seem embarrassed by some of the ridiculousness evident all over the album (including, no doubt, the Wiffle Ball Bat-assisted sexual assault references), it could have been worse for the now-enlightened MCs, who originally wanted to title the record, Don't Be a Faggot. Columbia refused to release anything by that name so the group was eventually convinced to go with something a little less … dumb.
In 1999, Beastie Adam Horovitz wrote a letter to Time Out New York apologizing for their youthful indiscretions on that first album, saying he wanted to "formally apologize to the entire gay and lesbian community for the shitty and ignorant things we said on our first record. There are no excuses. But time has healed our stupidity. … We hope that you’ll accept this long overdue apology."
The Boys' still perform bits of Ill, but with some careful self-editing. Here they are doing "Brass Monkey" at Madison Square Garden a few years back.
But what we really wanna know is … when does Tom Carvel get his even-longer overdue apology?
Born This Day: Musical movers and shakers sharing a March 7 birthday include celebrated French composer Maurice Ravel (1875); legendary Jazz sideman and producer, late drummer Lee Young (1917); one of the greatest frontmen in Rock & Roll history, J. Geils Band's Peter Wolf (1946); the man who played one of the most recognizable organ solos in Rock on "Whiter Shade of Pale," Procol Harum's Matthew Fischer (1946); Pop/Dance music performer Taylor Dane (1962); singer/songwriter for Louisville based Hard Rock crew Tantric, Hugo Ferreira (1974); and multi-instrumentalist with Funk/R&B/Rock & Roll legends The Isley Brothers, Ernie Eisley (1952).
Ernie Eisley was born in Cincinnati 60 years ago and he joined his brothers' group when he was old enough, playing bass on the band's "comeback" hit, the funky "It's Your Thing," in 1969. His bros — led by Ronald Isley — were already hugely successful, selling a million copies of their 1959 single "Shout," not to mention "This Old Heart of Mine" and "Twist and Shout," which, of course, became one of the group's biggest songs thanks to a cover version by a little British band called The Beatles.
When Ernie teamed up with his brothers, they became more of a "band" than a "vocal group," and enjoyed a long string of hits for which Ernie was crucial (either as songwriter or player), including "Fight the Power," "Between the Sheets" and a reworked version of their older tune "That Lady," this time featuring an amazing Rock guitar lead from Ernie.
The group split in the ’80s — Ernie found success with Isley-Jasper-Isley, the group formed with brother Marvin and his brother-in-law — and joined forces again in 1991; littlest bro Marvin retired in 1997 (and passed away two years ago), leaving only Ernie and Ronald. In 2001, the Isleys hit the charts with "Contagious," which made them the only group to have a Top 100 hit in six decades in a row (from the ’50s-’00s). The Isleys were inducted in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame — a no-brainer, really — in 1992. While Ronald embraced being embraced by contemporary R&B and Hip Hop artists from R. Kelly to Tupac Shakur (and spent some time in the jail for tax evasion in more recent years), Ernie retreated from the spotlight somewhat, working with community groups and schools in St. Louis, where he now lives. But he still hits the road from time to time with Ronald and has continued to work as a solo artist.
Ernie has also participated in the "Experience Hendrix" tribute tours of the past few years. It's fitting — Hendrix played guitar with the Isleys when Ernie was 11 years old, even living with the Isley family in New Jersey for a couple of years before becoming hugely successful on his own.
Here's a fantastic archival video from Soul Train featuring The Isleys performing "That Lady."
On this day in 1970, a Cincinnati native (whose "celebrity" we do not celebrate locally, Nick Lachey-style) released one of the few albums we will gladly tell you to seek out and download illegally, should you need to hear it. Lie: The Love and Terror Cult, the "debut album" from singer/songwriter/cult leader/convicted murderer Charles Manson, was recorded on Sept. 11, 1967, and released just months before the murder trial of Manson and his "family." A year after the album was released, four Manson Family members (including Manson) were sentenced to death (in 1972, the sentences were reduced to life in prison after California abolished the death penalty in that state).
The album's original pressing reportedly only sold 300 copies, but subsequent reissues (proceeds from which were given to the families of Manson's victims) kept the notorious cult leader's weirdly experimental, psychedelic Folk Rock songs alive for future generations of musicians to cover. Guns N' Roses were the biggest band to ever cover one of Manson's songs. The convicted killer was an aspiring Rock Star who had schmoozed his way into the SoCal music scene of the late ’60s, most notoriously befriending Beach Boys drummer Dennis Wilson (The Boys' reworked one of Manson's compositions on the 1969 album 20/20).
Other artists covering Manson over the years include Marilyn Manson (no relation) and wacky actor Crispin Glover.
Here's the song GNR recorded for its 1993 covers album The Spaghetti Incident?, "Look at Your Game, Girl."
Click on for Born This Day featuring Pink Floyd's David Gilmour and more …
On this day in 1982, comedian John Belushi died from an overdose of cocaine and heroin. Belushi came to prominence as an original "Not Ready For Prime Time Player" on Saturday Night Live, where he debuted his tribute to classic American Rock & Soul with cast mate Dan Aykroyd, The Blues Brothers, and later pushed for the show to feature representatives from the burgeoning Punk Rock scene.
In 1981, after he'd left the show, SNL asked if Belushi would make a cameo. Belushi agreed, but only if L.A. Punk act Fear could be musical guests that week. The band's performance on the show that Halloween was a wild introduction to Punk for many Americans, as the band blazed through the songs "Beef Bologna" and "New York's Alright If You Like Saxophones" in front of a stunned studio audience (who booed when the band announced it was "great to be in New Jersey") and a group of Punk Rock dancers brought in to mosh (Belushi joined the dance team, which also included Punk luminaries Ian MacKaye, Tesco Vee and members of Negative Approach and the Cro-mags). The show cut to a commercial as Fear revved up "Let's Have a War," and the band and dancers reportedly caused $20,000 in damages to the studio (Fear singer Lee Ving later bragged it was more like $500,000). The damage wasn't enough to keep Ving off of TV — a bit actor, Ving appeared on shows like Fame, Three's a Crowd and Who's the Boss in the ’80s.
Clearly, Belushi was a music die-hard. His tombstone reads: "I may be gone, but Rock and Roll lives on."
Here's John Joseph of the Cro-Mags talking about being on the set that fateful night, followed by footage of the performance. And you can check out Ian MacKaye's recollection of events here.
Click on for Born This Day featuring Scotland's greatest hits, including two from The Proclaimers.
On this day in 2003, proto-Rock & Roll singer/songwriter Hank Ballard died after a battle with throat cancer. One of the under-heralded heroes of the development of Rock & Roll, Ballard's career is inexorably tied to Cincinnati, where he recorded for locally-based King Records (as well as the related Federal imprint). Ballard was a member of early ’50s Doo-wop grope The Royals, which had an R&B hit with the Federal single "Get It" in 1953 (despite it's alleged "sexually-suggestive" lyrical content).
The group became The Midnighters and landed a No. 1 R&B hit with Ballard's "Work With Me, Annie," another risque tune that was banned by the FCC from radio play. In 1959, the group became "Hank Ballard and the Midnighters" and moved to the King label proper. A 1959 B-side written by Ballard was covered by Chubby Checker and became a No. 1 smash on the Pop charts in 1960 and again in 1962. The song and accompanying dance (said to have also been developed by Ballard) became an international craze. The book Behind The Hits: Inside Stories of Classic Pop and Rock and Roll called the song's success "a major turning point for adult acceptance of rock and roll music."
Despite having one of their songs co-opted and turned into a cultural phenomenon, the early ’60s did bring Ballard and the Midnighters several Pop chart hits, including "Let's Go, Let's Go, Let's Go" and the Grammy-nominated "Finger Poppin' Time." Ballard began a solo career in the late ’60s (despite support from James Brown, it never fully took off) and performed with a version of The Midnighters off and on until the year before he died. In 1990, Ballard was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (without his Midnighters).
The footage is a little rough, but here's a cool clip of Ballard from 1989 performing "Work With Me, Annie" on one of my favorite live-music TV shows ever, David Sanborn's Night Music.
Click on for Born This Day, featuring Lou Reed, Chris Martin and … Dr. Seuss?
Were it not for the Grim Reaper, two celebrated musical couples would be celebrating wedding anniversaries today. Country music superstars Johnny Cash and June Carter (soon-to-be Carter Cash) tied the knot on this date in 1968 in a Franklin, Ky., church. The bride wore light blue; the groom wore (duh!) black. Their relationship was the basis for the celebrated biopic Walk the Line, which showed the couple's rocky patches in all their glory, as well as their dedication to each other. The couple had just one child together, John Carter Cash (born in 1970). The couple managed to put their problems behind them and remained married until June's death in May of 2003. Cash passed away five months later.
June co-wrote (with Merle Kilgore) one of Johnny's biggest songs, 1963's "Ring of Fire," which is said to have been inspired by her conflicted feelings for Johnny.
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!
On this day in 1984, Michael Jackson swept the 26th annual Grammy Awards, winning eight trophies, for everything from Record and Album of the Year ("Beat It" and Thriller) to Best Recording for Children (timeless children's classic, the E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial soundtrack). No doubt because of Jackson's presence, the telecast remains the most watched in history; Whitney Houston's death this year almost helped the Grammys break that record, but it still came up about four million viewers short of the 43.8 million who watched in 1984.
But there were other winners that night. Rounding out the "Big 4" categories: Sting won "Song of the Year" for writing The Police's "Every Breath You Take" and the coveted Best New Artist award went to Culture Club (which had scored three Top 10 singles off of its debut album in the U.S., the first band since The Beatles to do so).
Elsewhere, former Cincinnati Bengals defensive lineman Mike Reid won Best Country Song for writing "Stranger in My House" for Ronnie Milsap and the crappy movie Flashdance was all the rage, winning Irene Cara "Best Vocal Performance, Female" for "Flashdance (What A Feeling)" and Giorgio Moroder "Best Instrumental Composition" for "Love Theme from Flashdance", while the soundtrack won the awkwardly titled "Best Album of Original Score Written for a Motion Picture or a Television Special."
Best R&B Instrumental Performance went to Jazz legend Herbie Hancock's "Rockit," the first popular single to feature DJ scratching (by pioneering turntablist, GrandMixer D. St.) and the first time "Hip Hop" was accepted by the Grammy committee. It would be five years before the awards added a "Rap" category, though that year (1989), most nominees (including winners DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince) boycotted the ceremony because it was one of the awards not given out during the telecast.
Here's Hancock, his band and D. St. doing "Rockit" live:
Click the jump for Born This Day featuring Rolling Stones co-founder Brian Jones.
On this day in 1968, one of Rock & Roll's Shakespearean tragedies came to an end as singer Frankie Lymon, a Pop superstar in the mid-’50s with Rock & Roll/R&B vocal group The Teenagers, died from a heroin overdose at the age of 25.
Actually, if you've ever seen the 1998 film Why Do Fools Fall in Love
(named for Lymon and the Teenagers' biggest hit), you know that the
singer's death was a trick ending. The story of Lymon's sad legacy
(blockbuster hit leads to lead singer ego explosion; quits group; can't
find solo success; finds drugs; gets drafted; quits drugs; mounts
comeback; celebrates with drugs; dies) took an unusual turn in the ’80s.
Three different women came forward claiming to be Lymon's widow and
entitled to his estate. Turns out, they were all
telling the truth — Lymon had married all three but never divorced any
of them. Ultimately, the singer's estate was awarded to his third wife;
if that conclusion was reached on a coin-flip, could you really blame
Here's archival footage of Lymon's last TV appearance, a 1965 slot on the program Hollywood A Go-Go where the 22-year-old singer lip-synched to the original version of "Why Do Fools Fall in Love" — recorded when he was 13.
Born This Day: Musical movers and shakers sharing a Feb. 27 birthday include Jazz legend Dexter Gordon (1923); ex-WKRP in Cincinnati DJ, Dr. Johnny Fever, aka Howard Hesseman (1940); Journey guitarist and MILF pilfer Neal Schon (1954); guitarist/songwriter with Metal giants Iron Maiden, Adrian Smith (1957); Sex Pistols hanger-on Nancy Spungen (1958); singer with R&B/Hip Hop/Pop trio TLC, Rozonda "Chilli" Thomas (1971); and Classical/Pop vocalist Josh Groban (1981).
Groban is the kind of singer who would be really easy to make fun of if he didn't have such a good sense of humor about himself already. One of those Classical/Opera crossover Pop stars (like Charlotte Church or Il Divo) who approaches Pop and Rock material with the same overly careful enunciation and melodrama, Groban has parodied himself on various comedy programs, including Tim & Eric Awesome Show, Great Job! and this bit from Jimmy Kimmel Live, where the singer used his talents to make Kanye West's nutty tweets sound even nuttier.