Today in Rock & Roll History: May 21st

1955: Chuck Berry recorded his first single, “Maybellene,” for Chess Records at Universal Recording Studios in Chicago, on the first day of sessions for his debut album, After School Session. “Maybellene” later reached #5 on the Billboard pop chart, #1 on the R&B chart, and was one of the few rock and roll songs that got any radio air play that year.

1963: Motown Records released Stevie Wonder’s first live album, Recorded Live: The 12 Year Old Genius. The LP had been recorded in June of 1962 at the Regal Theater in Chicago during a Motown concert tour known as the Motortown Revue. Later that summer, the album’s lead track “Fingertips” became Wonder’s first #1 single and the first live, non-studio recording to reach the top of the Billboard Hot 100 chart in the US since 1952. Written and composed by Wonder’s mentors, Clarence Paul and Henry Cosby, “Fingertips” was originally a jazz instrumental recorded for Wonder’s first studio album, The Jazz Soul of Little Stevie. Essentially an instrumental piece, “Fingertips” was meant to showcase Wonder’s talents on the bongos and harmonica.

1964: The Drifters recorded “Under the Boardwalk” at Atlantic Studios in New York City. Lead singer Rudy Lewis had died the night before, so the song’s lead was given to the group’s other lead vocalist Johnny Moore, who had returned to the group in April of 1963.

1965: The Who released their third single, “Anyway, Anyhow, Anywhere.” Composed by singer Roger Daltrey and guitarist Pete Townshend, it was the only time the two ever wrote together. In the UK, the song peaked at #10. It was released in the US in early June.

1965: “Set Me Free” by The Kinks was released in the UK. Five days later the single was issued in America.

1966: The debut album by The Mamas and the Papas, If You Can Believe Your Eyes and Ears, reached #1 on Billboard pop chart after its release in March on Dunhill Records.

1966: The first recording of “Hey Joe” by California band The Leaves debuted on both the Billboard and Cash Box singles charts. It peaked at #31 on the Billboard Hot 100 and #29 in Canada.

1966: Neil Diamond debuted on the Billboard Hot 100 with “Solitary Man.”

1970: Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young recorded “Ohio.” Written by Neil Young, the song had been inspired by the killing and wounding of students by National Guardsmen at Kent State University less than three weeks earlier at a student demonstration protesting the expansion of the Vietnam war into Cambodia.

1971: Marvin Gaye’s transformative concept album What’s Going On was released. A departure from his radio-friendly pop hits, Gaye was deeply troubled first by the death of his singing partner Tammi Terrell, and later by his brother’s account of the Vietnam War, and the growing civil unrest at home in the United States. Compelled to address the social issues of the day, Gaye petitioned Motown Records head Berry Gordy about doing a protest record, to which Gordy rejected the notion. Despite pushback, Gaye insisted, threatening to never record for the label again. Upon release, What’s Going On was met with immediate commercial and critical success, becoming Gaye’s highest charting album at the time, reaching #6 on the Billboard pop chart, and #1 on the R&B chart.

1971: UK rock group Free announced that they were splitting up due to differences between singer Paul Rodgers and bassist Andy Fraser, the drug problems of guitarist Paul Kossoff, and inconsistent record sales. To capitalize on the new of the breakup, Island Records rushed the release of the group’s Free Live! LP later in September. In early 1972, the band set aside their differences and reformed in an effort to save Kossoff from his growing drug addiction and released Free at Last in June that summer. The reunion was short-lived, with the band recording their final album Heartbreaker later that fall, before finally disbanding for good after a 1973 tour of the US. Rodgers and Simon Kirke went on to form Bad Company that same year. Fraser went on to form the band Sharks and later The Andy Fraser Band, and Kossoff formed the band Back Street Crawler.

1971: Paul and Linda McCartney’s Ram album was released in the UK four days after being issued in the US.

1977: Electric Light Orchestra released “Telephone Line,” the fourth and final single from the group’s sixth LP, A New World Record. The song reached #8 in the UK and #7 in the US.

1977: Rod Stewart was at #1 on the UK chart with the double A-sided single “I Don’t Want To Talk About It” backed with “First Cut Is The Deepest.”

1977: Stevie Wonder went to the top of the Billboard Hot 100 with his sixth #1 pop hit and #13 on the R&B chart, “Sir Duke.” Written as a tribute to jazz legend Duke Ellington, the song’s lyric’s also reference Count Basie, Glenn Miller, Louis Armstrong, and Ella Fitzgerald.

1983: David Bowie reached the top of the Billboard Hot 100 for the second time with “Let’s Dance.” Featuring blues guitarist Stevie Ray Vaughan, it was Bowie’s first single to reach #1 on both sides of the Atlantic.

1983: Michael Jackson topped the Billboard R&B chart with “Beat It.”

1985: Columbia released Dream of a Lifetime, the first posthumous album by Marvin Gaye.

1987: Five years after their break-up, The Doobie Brothers kicked off a mini-reunion tour at the Sports Arena in San Diego, California. The band’s reunion began when drummer Keith Knudsen persuaded several former members to join him at a benefit concert for veteran’s. Finding that tickets were in high demand, the single show quickly evolved into a 12-city tour and the success of the tour lead to the permanent reformation of the group.

1996: Bo Diddley’s final album A Man Amongst Men was released by Atlantic Records. The LP features guests that include guitarists Ron Wood, Keith Richards, and Jimmie Vaughan.

1996: The Wallflowers released their second album, Bringing Down the Horse.

2002: Former Grateful Dead bassist Phil Lesh released There and Back Again, his second album and first studio LP with his band Phil Lesh and Friends.

Birthdays Today

Fats Waller, jazz pianist, organist, composer, singer, and comedic entertainer, who laid the groundwork for modern jazz piano, was born Thomas Wright Waller in New York City in 1904.

Ronan O’Rahilly, was born in Irish businessman best known for the creation of British offshore pirate radio station Radio Caroline in 1940.

Tony Sheridan, singer-songwriter, guitarist, and early collaborator with the Beatles, was born in Norwich, Norfolk, England in 1940.

Ronald Isley, songwriter, record producer, singer, and founding member of the Isley Brothers, was born in Cincinnati, OH in 1941.

Martin Carthy, singer and guitarist, member of Steeleye Span, and influential figure in British folk music who inspired artists such as Bob Dylan, Paul Simon, and Richard Thompson, was born in Hatfield, Hertfordshire in 1941.

John Dalton, bassist for the Kinks, was born in Enfield, Middlesex, England in 1943.

Vincent Crane, keyboardist and organist for The Crazy World of Arthur Brown and Atomic Rooster, was born in Reading, Berkshire, England in 1943.

Hilton Valentine, original guitarist for the Animals, was born in North Shields, Northumberland, England in 1943.

Vincent Crane, keyboardist and original organist for The Crazy World of Arthur Brown and Atomic Rooster, was born Vincent Rodney Cheesman in Reading, Berkshire, England in 1943.

Bill Champlin, singer, songwriter, producer, guitarist, keyboardist, frontman and founder of the Sons of Champlin and member of Chicago from 1981-2009, was born in Oakland, CA in 1947.

Leo Sayer, singer-songwriter, was born Gerald High Sayer in Shoreham-by-Sea, Sussex, England in 1948.

Marc Ribot, songwriter and session guitarist who’s worked with artists including Tom Waits, Elvis Costello, T-Bone Burnett, Marianne Faithful, Allen Toussaint, Wilson Pickett, The Black Keys, Robert Plant, and Allison Kraus, was born in Newark, NJ in 1954.

Stan Lynch, songwriter, original drummer for Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, contributor to albums by artists that include Jackson Browne, T-Bone Burnett, The Byrds, Bob Dylan, the Eagles, Eurythmics, Aretha Franklin, John Mellencamp, and Warren Zevon, and producer for acts such as The Band, the Eagles, Don Henley, Scotty Moore, and Sister Hazel, was born in Cincinnati, OH in 1955.