Today in Rock & Roll History: November 20th

1955: RCA Victor bought Elvis Presley’s contract from Sun Records for $40,000. The deal was inked at New York’s Warwick Hotel and gave Presley $13,500 for signing.

1955: Bo Diddley made his debut television appearance on CBS’ The Ed Sullivan Show. Hours before going on the air, Ed Sullivan heard Bo Diddley performing Tennessee Ernie Ford’s “Sixteen Tons” backstage and asked him to perform that song for the show. Diddley agreed, but when he looked at the set list, he saw “Bo Diddley. Sixteen Tons.” He didn’t realize that “Bo Diddley” was referring to him and not his eponymous hit single, so he took that to mean that he was supposed to play both songs back to back. Bo Diddley was cut off following his performance of the first song and Sullivan banned the musician from the show for not following his directions.

1959: New York radio station WABC fired disc jockey Alan Freed after he had accepted payola, a highly controversial practice that was under investigation by the US Congress. Freed, whose broadcasts featured an assortment of music by both black and white artists that he referred to as “rock and roll,” effectively had his career ended and lost his position as a person of influence in the recording business. Payola, the practice of paying someone to play a song on the radio to promote it, did not become illegal until a year later, but commercial bribery was, and Congressional hearings sparked by allegations that television quiz show Twenty-One was rigged triggered outcry to also clean up radio. Some contend the real cause of the scandal came from a resistance to rock and roll and its supposedly negative effects on teenagers, while others claim big record labels didn’t like smaller labels using bribes to get airplay. Additional high profile figures caught up in the scandal included Dick Clark, Les Paul, and Bobby Darin, but Freed became the face of payola and was blacklisted from broadcasting.

1961: Bob Dylan started recording his self-titled debut album at Columbia Studio A in New York City with the first of three short afternoon sessions over a three-day period. Seventeen songs were recorded and five of the album’s chosen tracks were cut in single takes. During sessions, Dylan refused requests to do second takes, saying “I can’t see myself singing the same song twice in a row. That’s terrible.”

1964: The Miracles followed-up their 1963 hit single “Mickey’s Monkey” with the release of the instructional dance song “Come On Do the Jerk.”

1965: “I Hear a Symphony” by The Supremes became their sixth #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart.

1968: Stevie Wonder released his ninth studio album, an instrumental album titled Eivets Rednow—“Stevie Wonder” spelled backwards. Original releases did not feature Wonder’s name anywhere on the cover.

1970: The Kinks released “Apeman” as the second single from their fourth studio album, Lola Versus Powerman and the Moneygoround, Part One. Lead singer and songwriter Ray Davies had to fly back to London to re-record a section of his vocals after objections that the line “…the air pollution is a-foggin’ up my eyes…” was too easily misheard. The re-recording delayed the release of the single in the US, though the original recording remained on the album.

1971: Stax Records songwriter, musician, and producer Isaac Hayes scored his only #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 pop chart with “Theme from Shaft.” The record was also his highest charting single on the R&B chart, where it reached #2, as well as his first of two songs to enter the UK chart.

1971: Sly and the Family Stone released their fifth studio album, There’s a Riot Goin’ On. The album’s planned title was Africa Talks to You, but it was re-titled in response to Marvin Gaye’s album What’s Going On, released six months before.

1971: The Chi-Lites achieved their first of two #1 hits on Billboard’s R&B chart with “Have You Seen Her.”

1972: “Crocodile Rock,” the lead single from Elton John’s sixth studio album, Don’t Shoot Me I’m Only the Piano Player, was released in US after its initial UK release in late October. The song became his first #1 single in the US in early February the following year and was certified gold two days later. John had been inspired by his discovery of leading Australian band Daddy Cool and their hit single, “Eagle Rock,” the most successful Australian single of the early 1970s which he had first heard during his 1972 Australian tour.

1975: The Who kicked off a month-long American tour at the Summit Arena in Houston for a crowd of 18,000. The video recording of the show was later released in 2012 as The Who: Live in Texas ’75.

1976: Manfred Mann’s Earth Band’s cover of Bruce Springsteen’s “Blinded by the Light” entered the Billboard Hot 100. A month later, it became the group’s first top 40 hit and in February the next year, it became their first and only #1 record.

1976: Seven months after Saturday Night Live producer Lorne Michaels publicly offered the Beatles $3,000 to reunite on his show, the episode’s musical guest, George Harrison, attempted to take Michaels up on the offer in the program’s opening sketch. Later in the show, Harrison joined host Paul Simon to duet on “Homeward Bound” and “Here Comes The Sun.”

1980: The Police released “De Do Do Do, “De Da Da Da,” the second single from the group’s third studio album, Zenyatta Mondatta.

1981: The Clash released the single This Is Radio Clash in the UK.

1987: Prince’s concert film, Sign o’ the Times, featuring music from his most recent album of the same name, opened in US theaters.

1991: The Rolling Stones signed a $45 million contract with Virgin Records, covering three albums starting in 1993, as well as the group’s back catalog of seventeen albums.

1993: Phil Collins had his fourth #1 on the UK chart with his fifth solo LP, Both Sides. In the US, the album was Collins’ first to not enter the top 10 on the Billboard pop chart, peaking at #13.

1995: Apple Records released Anthology 1, the first in a trilogy of compilation albums featuring rarities, outtakes, and live performances by the Beatles. Included on the album was “Free as a Bird,” billed as the first new Beatles song in 25 years, which combined new studio recordings from the group’s three remaining members with a home demo recorded by John Lennon in 1977. The release of the album coincided with the broadcast of The Beatles Anthology documentary television series on the band’s career.

2004: U2 topped the UK chart with “Vertigo,” the lead single from the band’s eleventh studio album, How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb. In the US, the song peaked at #31.

Birthdays Today

Curly Putman Jr., Nashville-based songwriter known for his biggest success, “Green, Green Grass of Home,” was born in Princeton, AL in 1930.

Dr. John, singer, songwriter, actor, pianist, guitarist, and session musician, was born Malcolm John Rebennack in New Orleans, LA in 1940.

Jim Horn, saxophonist, woodwind player, session musician, a member of Los Angeles’ Wrecking Crew, a touring musician with Duane Eddy and John Denver, and one of the most in-demand horn players in the 1970s and 1980s, playing on solo albums by members of the Beatles, as well as on recordings by Canned Heat, the Beach Boys, the Rolling Stones, José Feliciano, Jeff Lynne, Little Richard, Tom Petty, and many more, was born in Los Angeles, CA in 1940.

Norman Greenbaum, singer-songwriter best known for his 1970 hit single “Spirit In The Sky,” was born in Malden, MA in 1942.

Mike Vernon, music executive, studio owner, and founder of blues record label Blue Horizon who produced albums by British artists such as the Bluesbreakers, John Mayall, Fleetwood Mac, Peter Green, Danny Kirwan, Christine McVie, Savoy Brown, Chicken Shack, Eric Clapton, David Bowie, and Ten Years After, was born in Harrow, Middlesex, England in 1944.

Paul Griggs, British musician and member of Octopus and Guys ‘n’ Dolls, was born in St. Albans, Hertfordshire, England in 1944.

Danny McBride, singer-songwriter and lead guitarist for Sha Na Na, was born in Somerville, MA in 1945.

Duane Allman, session musician, lead guitarist and co-founder of the Allman Brothers Band, and member of Derek and the Dominoes, was born Howard Duane Allman in Nashville, TN in 1946.

J. Blackfoot, soul singer, member of The Soul Children, and a solo artist, was born John Colbert in Greenville, MS in 1946.

Joe Walsh, singer, songwriter, solo artist, and guitarist for the James Gang and Eagles, was born Joseph Fidler in Wichita, KS in 1947.

George Grantham, drummer, vocalist, and founding member of Poco, was born in Cordell, OK in 1947.

Gary Green, guitarist for Gentle Giant, was born in Stroud Green, North London, England in 1950.

Jimmy Brown, drummer for UB40, was born in Birmingham, England in 1957.

Gail Ann Dorsey, session musician and bass guitarist best known as a member of David Bowie’s band since 1995, who has also recorded and performed with Tears for Fears, The National, Lenny Kravitz, Bryan Ferry, Boy George, the Indigo Girls, Jane Siberry, The The, Charlie Watts, Seal, Ani DiFranco, Dar Williams, and others, was born in Philadelphia, PA in 1962.

Todd Nance, drummer for Widespread Panic, was born in Chattanooga, TN in 1962.