Today in Rock & Roll History: May 12th

1951: “Rocket 88” by Jackie Brenston and his Delta Cats, believed many rock historians to be the first true rock ‘n’ roll record, was at #1 on the American R&B chart. While Brenston sang, played sax, and is credited as the song’s composer, his Delta Cats were actually Ike Turner and his Kings of Rhythm.

1958: Link Wray’s guitar instrumental “Rumble” entered the American top 40. Even though it has no lyrics whatsoever, the song’s release during a national panic over the perceived rise of gang violence caused it be banned by many US radio stations who feared its title would promote teen violence. The title “Rumble” came from a suggestion by Phil Everly of the Everly Brothers, who had told Wray that he thought the song sounded like a street fight. Despite the boycott, the song still managed to rise to #16 and sell over a million copies. Wray achieved the raw, distorted sound by punching holes in his amplifier cones. One of the first songs to employ the power chord, “Rumble” has since been a critical influence for generations of guitarists.

1958: Bobby Freeman’s debut single “Do You Want to Dance” entered the US top 40 on its way to becoming his first of two top five hit singles. The song has since been covered by dozens of artists, including Cliff Richard and the Shadows, the Beach Boys, The Four Seasons, Del Shannon, Sonny and Cher, The Mamas and the Papas, Johnny Rivers, John Lennon, T. Rex, the Ramones, Bruce Springsteen, Jan and Dean, and Neil Young.

1963: Shortly before the release of Bob Dylan’s second album The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan, Dylan was scheduled to appear on The Ed Sullivan Show on CBS. He had planned on playing “Talkin’ John Birch Paranoid Blues,” but despite Sullivan and his producer being delighted by the tune, a CBS executive insisted Dylan play a different song due to possible libel against John Birch Society members. Dylan refused and walked off the set. The incident drew national attention, and Sullivan and Dylan argued that if the network could poke fun at President John F. Kennedy, the John Birch Society shouldn’t be immune either. The controversy later spilled into CBS’s record division, Columbia, and when they learned the song was slated for Dylan’s new album, it was ordered to be removed.

1965: The Rolling Stones recorded “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” at RCA Studios in Hollywood. Guitarist Keith Richards had intended for his guitar riff to be replaced by horns and recorded the track with his newly-purchased Gibson Meastro fuzz box in order to mimic a brass sound. The band’s other members, as well as their producer and sound engineer, out-voted Richards and Jagger, preferring Richards’ guitar track as it was. The song went to the top of the Billboard Hot 100 for four straight weeks in July and led the UK charts for two weeks in September. The song’s success boosted sales of the Meastro fuzz box so much that the entire available stock sold out by the end of the year.

1965: Wilson Pickett recorded “In the Midnight Hour” at Stax Records’ studios in Memphis. Composed by Pickett and Stax house band guitarist Steve Cropper in the historic Lorraine Motel in Memphis, the record became Pickett’s first hit on the Atlantic Records label, and reached #1 on R&B charts and #21 on pop charts.

1967: Pink Floyd performed “Games For May”—later re-titled “See Emily Play”—at one of their first significant concert events, the “Games For May” concert held at Queen Elizabeth Hall in London. Described as a “Space age relaxation for the climax of spring, the concert featured some of the band’s early singles as well as material from their then unreleased debut album, “The Piper at the Gates of Dawn.” It was also the very first surround-sound rock concert thanks to the band’s homemade proto-quadraphonic device dubbed the “Azimuth Co-ordinator.”

1967: The debut album by The Jimi Hendrix Experience Are You Experienced was released by Track Records in the UK, where it quickly rose to #2. The album was issued in the US in late August by Reprise Records and reached #5 on the Billboard pop chart, where it remained for 106 weeks, 27 of those in the top 40. The US version of the album contains some of Hendrix’s best known songs, including the Experience’s first three singles—”Purple Haze”, “Hey Joe”, and “The Wind Cries Mary”—which were omitted from the UK release.

1968: Brian Jones made his final live appearance with the Rolling Stones at the New Musical Express Pollwinners’ concert at Empire Pool in Wembley, London, where the Stones received the award for Best R&B Group. The band had been keeping a low profile amid domestic disputes and internal creative conflicts, and some critics were already saying the Stones were washed up after failing to have a UK #1 since “Paint It Black” in 1966. The band had also strayed from their R&B roots with the release of albums that ventured into pop and psychedelia. That all changed at the NME show, where the Stones played a two-song set of “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” and the live debut of their new single, “Jumpin’ Jack Flash.” Released less than two weeks later in the UK, “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” soon after became their newest #1 single.

1971: Columbia Records released the self-titled debut studio album by jazz fusion band Weather Report.

1972: The Rolling Stones released their first double album and second on their own record label, Exile on Main Street. Primarily recorded at a rented villa in France while the band lived abroad to evade taxes, sessions included additional musicians such as pianist Nicky Hopkins, saxophonist Bobby Keys, drummer Jimmy Miller, and horn player Jim Price. The album later became the band’s sixth UK #1 and their third LP to top the charts in the US.

1973: Led Zeppelin started two weeks at #1 on the Billboard pop chart with their fifth studio LP, Houses Of The Holy.

1973: Detroit R&B group The Spinners had their first of three #1 albums on the US R&B chart with their self-titled third studio album and first with Atlantic Records after leaving Motown. The album reached #14 on the Billboard pop chart.

1978: The Stranglers released their third studio album, Black and White.

1979: King Crimson guitarist Robert Fripp released his debut solo album, Exposure. The album had grown out of Fripp’s previous collaborations with David Bowie, Peter Gabriel, and Daryl Hall, the latter two of whom appear on the album, and most of the LP’s lyrics were written by poet and lyricist Joanna Walton.

1992: Indigo Girls released their fourth studio album, Rites of Passage.

1994: “Can You Feel the Love Tonight,” composed by Elton John with lyrics by Tim Rice for the Disney film The Lion King, was released. The following year the song won the Academy Award for Best Original Song and Elton John won a Grammy for Best Male Pop Vocal Performance.

2003: Robert Palmer released his fourteenth and final solo studio album, Drive.

2009: Steve Earle released his thirteenth studio album, Townes. The album is a tribute to his friend and mentor Townes Van Zandt, and features covers of his songs.

2011: Davy Jones, Micky Dolenz, and Peter Tork of The Monkees kicked off a 46-date 45th Anniversary Reunion Tour at Echo Arena in Liverpool, England. It was the first time the three members had toured together in a decade and the last tour to involve Davy Jones. Michael Nesmith had not been asked to tour with them, but was kept apprised of the tour’s schedule. The following year, after Jones’ death, the surviving trio of Dolenz, Tork, and Nesmith announced a series of US shows.

2014: Blondie released the double album Blondie 4(0) Ever in celebration of the band’s fortieth anniversary.

Birthdays Today

Burt Bacharach, singer, songwriter, composer, pianist, and record producer who composed hundreds of pop songs from the late 1950s through the 1980s, was born in Kansas City, MO in 1928.

Steve Knight, keyboardist for Mountain, was born in New York City in 1935.

David Walker, rhythm guitarist for Gary Lewis and the Playboys, was born in Montgomery, AL in 1943.

James Purify, one half of R&B duo James & Bobby Purify with his cousin Robert Dickey, was born in Pensacola, FL in 1944.

Ian McLagan, keyboardist and vocalist for Small Faces and Faces, was born in Hounslow, Middlesex, England in 1945.

Steve Winwood, singer, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, solo artist, and a key member of The Spencer Davis Group, Traffic, Blind Faith, and Go, was born in Handsworth, Birmingham, England in 1948.

Billy Squier, singer and musician, was born William Haislip Squier in Wellesley, MA in 1950.

Greg Phillinganes, singer-songwriter and keyboardist who’s played on several albums by a wide array of artists and toured with such artists as Stevie Wonder, Eric Clapton, David Gilmour, and Toto, was born in Detroit, MI in 1956.