All posts by Old Rocker

Themed Albums

Themed albums, sometimes called concept albums, have a special place in rock history. Most albums are simply a collection of songs by an artist or group. A themed album has an additional story to tell and is based around a central concept or story.

Albums with a theme weren’t new with rock music, but rock brought them to a new level. Maybe it was the advanced capabilities of the recording equipment that made it possible or maybe it was that music production had progressed. It was probably a combination of both, coupled with a few extremely talented musical geniuses, that made themed albums some of the tops of the 60s.

A few of the musical greats recorded successful concept albums before the rock era. Woody Guthrie was probably first with his Dust Bowl Ballads about life in the 30s. Frank Sinatra recorded several, most notably In the Wee Small Hours about loneliness and heartache, and Come Fly with Me about world travel. Going off subject a bit, but I can’t help thinking what a fantastic rock star Frank Sinatra would be if he was at his prime during the golden age of rock.

Jazz great Nat King Cole recorded a few notable themed albums with After Midnight and Penthouse Serenade. And Country legend Johnny Cash built his reputation with Songs of Our Soil, a gospel inspired theme about death and mortality.

Then came rock and themed albums ruled

The Ventures, an instrumental group of highly skilled but low visibility studio musicians launched a series of themed albums in the early 60s. Their albums themed with surf music, country, outer space, television themes, and psychedelic music sold by the ton.

The Beach Boys Pet Sounds themed album
The Beach Boys Pet Sounds Album

Brian Wilson’s Pet Sounds album with The Beach Boys highlighted his musical genius. Even now, 50 years later, the musical world still talks about the Pet Sounds album as a single composition. Many of the individual songs were hits but the genius is in the assembled package. Paul McCartney credits Pet Sounds as being a major inspiration.

And they just got bigger from here…

Inspired by some of their predecessors, The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band raised the bar. Many will say that the Sgt. Pepper bar is so high that it won’t be topped but there are many that come close.

The Moody Blues Days of Future Past put a psychedelic spin on everyday life. The psychedelic spin came from the London Festival Orchestra twisted to the band’s R&B rock style.

We’ve mentioned some of the finest examples, but space doesn’t allow, and I’m not enough of an expert, to list all of the golden age of rock theme albums. There’s two more that we need to mention though.

Cover from Tommy, a themed album from The Who.
Tommy Album Cover

All of the examples so far have been musical themes, where the song or emotion style tied the album together. In 1969, just a few months before Woodstock, The Who released their rock opera Tommy. In addition to the musical theme, Who guitarist Pete Townshend wrote a storyline into Tommy that turned it into a rock opera. It tells the story of a deaf mute boy and how he gets along with family and his life and the relationship with his family.

I hate to mention this last one. Musical purists hate it, but we’re all guilty of listening to them. It’s the themed compilation. Titles like The Greatest Love Songs or The World’s 20 best Cha Chas. I’ll admit, that I own quite a few of them (I’m not a music purist), and they’re the only way to go for holiday songs.

 

The Day The Music Died

The golden age of  rock suffered a tremendous loss on February 3, 1959.  Rock was still in its infancy when 3 of it’s biggest and most promising new stars were lost in a plane crash.  The day has been immortalized as The Day the Music Died.  Rock lost Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and J. P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson.

Buddy Holly was the star of the show.  He already had 3 hit albums out.  His Peggy Sue and Oh Boy had made the top 10 and That’ll Be The Day was a #1 hit.

Ritchie Valens was a newcomer to rock recording.  He released his first album barely 8 months before.  Ritchie had a few hits including La Bamba.

J. P.” Richardson, known best as “The Big Bopper” was a DJ and songwriter.  J. P. wrote several songs that became #1 country hits for George Jones and Johnny Preston.

Winter Dance Party

The Winter Dance Party tour was planned to visit 24 midwest cities in only 3 weeks.  Just about every night was a concert and every day was travel.  It was winter in the midwest, the weather stank, and the tour bus had heater problems.  Some of the band members caught the Flu and drummer Carl Bunch had to be hospitalized for frostbite on January 31st.  It was a long way from the way that we pamper rock stars today.

The Winter Dance Party tour poster that led to the day the music died
Poster for the Winter Dance Party tour that led to the day the music died

Their next date was February 1st in Green Bay, Wisconsin with Dion and the Belmont’s Carlo Mastrangelo filling in on drums for everyone.  Richie Valens and Buddy Holly filled in on drums when Carlo was singing with the Belmonts.

February 2nd brought them to the Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake, Iowa.  Their next concert was in Moorhead, Minnesota, almost 400 miles away.  Buddy Holly wanted to avoid the long trip on the unheated bus and arranged for a small charter plane.

The Day the Music Died

As the story goes, the plane had room for the pilot and only 3 others.  Buddy Holly and J. P. Richardson claimed the first 2 sets, Dion DiMucci decided that the $36 share of the charter was too much and didn’t go, and that left Waylon Jennings and Ritchie Valens to fight over the remaining seat.  They flipped a coin and Ritchie Valens got the seat.   I can’t really say that he won because the plane crashed shortly after take off and all aboard were killed.

The fateful day was given its historical name “The Day The Music Died” by Don McLean in his 1971 opus American Pie.

Dick Clark’s American Bandstand

American Bandstand was the most popular of the live music shows. It started as a local program in Philadelphia where it was formerly called Bob Horn’s Bandstand from 1952 until July 1956.  Bob Horn was the host until he was fired after a drunk driving conviction and Dick Clark took over.

The ABC network picked up the show in August 1957, changed the name to American Bandstand, and broadcast it nationally. At first, it was broadcast daily.  Then, starting in 1963, it was aired weekly until 1989. During its 32-year run, American Bandstand was Rock music’s showcase of good behavior. The dancers were always clean and well dressed, there was no profanity, and performers were on their best behavior.

Dancing on Dick Clark's American Bandstand
Dancing on Dick Clark’s American Bandstand

Shows typically featured the latest hit music, a performance by a popular musician or group, and ratings of songs from the audience.  The biggest attraction was usually the dancers. Each program featured a studio full of teens doing the latest dances. These were all local kids and were unpaid, but they knew all of the latest dances and may have even invented a few on their own. American Bandstand is also noted as being probably the first of it’s kind to show blacks and whites on the same stage, and have mixed seating in the audience.

American Bandstand Introduces New Dances

Dance style was changing quickly during the early days of Bandstand.  Chubby Checker’s hit “The Twist” introduced the concept of “dancing apart to the beat”, which led to scores of new dances.  American Bandstand is where the teen world learned how to do the new steps.

Depending on time zone, the show aired late afternoon and before the prime time news and family shows began.  The audience was mostly teen girls. Some watched for the fashions, gossip, or hairstyles, but it was the dances that made the next day’s gossip.  Of course, it wasn’t all girls watching.  Despite the semi-formal clothing, the  program was as sexy as TV allowed at the time.

American Bandstand made Dick Clark a national star, but his ties to the music publishing business almost got him in trouble with the US Senate subcommittee investigating payola. A play on American Bandstand could give a new song an immediate boost, and it was noticed that songs from local companies which Clark had investments in were played more often than others. In the end, the Senate didn’t find any illegal activity from Dick Clark, but ABC forced him to sell his outside investments in music publishing.

Elvis

Elvis
Elvis

It was about five months ago when I was sitting in a small basement somewhere. I was surrounded by people of all ages and up on stage was an Elvis Presley impersonator. The crazy thing was, every single person in that cramped little basement, even the five and ten-year-old people, were singing along with the great man on stage. This is despite the fact that the real Elvis Presley passed away up to twenty years before these people were even a twinkle in their parent’s eye. This in my opinion of a great example of how a single musician has been able to completely change the landscape of the rock music industry.

As we all know, Elvis Presley is one of the best-selling solo musicians, even today. Perhaps the reason for this is the man had an ability to cover almost every single genre with relative ease. One hit may have been a rock and roll song, another may have been gospel and another may have had blues elements thrown into the mix. As a result of the versatility of his music and voice he was able to pull people in with relative ease, in fact, I am willing to bet that there are very few people out there in the Western World who do not have a favourite ‘Elvis Presley’ song.

Perhaps one of the greatest contributions Elvis Presley made at the time was being credited with the invention of ‘rockabilly’ music, although to be fair he was only a major player in its development. This was a genre that had been around for a while but had yet to hit the mainstream. However, it was in 1954 that he launched a song which really helped to define the genre, and things really exploded from there. Over the next few years, certainly up until he began his movie career and paused a little for a military service, he started to blend various genres into one song. A practice which still exists today but started with Elvis. Perhaps one of the more notable of his songs in this regarded is ‘That’s All Right’ which was a careful blend of boogie, country and blues. Take a listen sometime, you will be surprised.

Sometime after he launched his successful ‘comeback special’, he started to head down a much harder rock approach. Sure, this isn’t anything like what we know has hard rock at this time, but it was certainly something crazy back them. Although later on he started to tone it down to a more ‘pop music’ approach, although to be fair it was nothing like the pop music that we know and love today. Instead back then it was all about the ballads. Take a list to ‘Are You Lonesome Tonight’ for an excellent example of this.

Now, it is worth noting that despite being credited with the invention of the ‘Rock N’ Roll’ genre, Elvis didn’t. He merely brought it to the public’s attention. Perhaps the man reason for this was the fact he starred in a number of movies around that time, although they were for the most part critically panned. What people need to realize is that the music in the 1950s was completely different from the 1960s. Children around the globe sought to differentiate themselves from their parents, and this came in the form of listening to different music and dressing in different ways. Elvis Presley was who they looked to for influence as they could both see him and hear his music. In my opinion, this was one of the first times in which musical tastes and dress sense actually crossed in such a way. This is obviously a practice which continues to this very day.

Of course, this is just a brief mention of how Elvis Presley contributed to the music of the 1960s and beyond. There are so many more things that you can look into, for example, the fact that he was constantly able to craft his sound to keep up with changing interests in his target audience. It doesn’t matter how you look at it though, this was a gentleman which is still listened to nowadays, still influencing major artists, and still selling a lot of records. The 60’s truly was a fantastic time for music.

Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons

4 Seasons album
4 Seasons album

It’s late December 2012 as I update this page, and Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons are still performing to sold-out shows around the world. Their unique Italian influenced doo-wop sound with Franki’s strong falsetto have a big part in rock history.

Their many honors include induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1990, the Vocal Group Hall of Fame in 1999, and a hit musical “Jersey Boys” based on their careers. As a group, they are amongst the best-selling music groups of all time having sold over 175 million records worldwide.

The powerhouse combination of Franki Valli singing and Bob Gaudio’s writing produced hit after hit and 27 Top 40 singles. Their music was strong enough that they not only survived survive the British Invasion in 1964, but they also had their strongest year ever, matching The Beach Boys as the only white American bands that didn’t get crushed.

The musical “Jersey Boys” musical opened on Broadway in 2005, documenting the rise and eventual break up of the original members of the Four Seasons. It was a hit, won a bunch of awards, and is still touring worldwide.

Their top hits (with year and position) include:

1962: “Sherry”, peaked at #1 on Billboard Hot 100
1962: “Big Girls Don’t Cry”, #1
1963: “Walk Like a Man, #1
1963: “Ain’t That a Shame”, #22
1963: “Candy Girl”, #3/”Marlena”, #36
1964: “Dawn (Go Away)”, #3
1964: “Stay”, #16
1964: “Ronnie”, #6
1964: “Alone”, #28
1964: “Rag Doll”, #1
1964: “Save It for Me”, #10
1964: “Big Man in Town”, #20
1965: “Bye, Bye, Baby (Baby Goodbye)”, #12 (“Bye Bye Baby” on initial release)
1965: “Girl Come Running”, #30
1965: “Let’s Hang On!”, #3
1965: “Don’t Think Twice”, #12
1966: “Working My Way Back to You”, #9
1966: “Opus 17 (Don’t You Worry ’bout Me)”, #13
1966: “I’ve Got You Under My Skin”, #9
1966: “Tell It to the Rain”, #10
1967: “Beggin'”, #16
1967: “C’mon Marianne”, #9
1967: “Watch the Flowers Grow”, #30
1968: “Will You Love Me Tomorrow”, #24
1975: “Who Loves You”, #3
1975: “December, 1963 (Oh, What a Night)”, #1
1994: “December, 1963 (Oh, What a Night)”, #14 (remixed dance version)

 

4 Seasons album Big Girls Don't Cry
4 Seasons album Big Girls Don’t Cry

Franki Valli’s name (born Francesco Stephen Castelluccio) is permafixed to the Four Seasons, but also had a strong solo career with hits like “Can’t Take My Eyes Off Of You” and “Grease”. He also made several appearances in the HBO series The Sopranos as mobster Rusty Millio.

Bob Gaudio was Franki’s partner in The Four Seasons and wrote many of the band’s songs and went on to writing and producing hit songs and soundtracks for many other big names. He’s a member of the Songwriters Hall of Fame.

Four Season’s producer Bob Crewe has also written or produced a host of hit tunes for other artists and is also a member of the Songwriters Hall of Fame.

Rock’s Influences

Rock family influences
Rock family influences

Chuck Berry, one of the founding fathers of Rock and Roll, had a great quote about Rock’s influences:
“The Blues had a baby.  They call it Rock and Roll”. Fats Domino said just about the same “”What they call Rock and Roll I’ve been playing in New Orleans for years.”

It’s clear that Rhythm and Blues is Rock’s closest relative, but as it grew, influences from many different genres found their way in.  Here’s a few of rock’s early influences:

Country Music

Some of Rock’s most influential ancestors fall in the space somewhere in between Country Music and Rhythm and Blues. Music historians list several sub-genre in here, including Western Swing, Hillbilly Blues, Honky Tonk, and Bluegrass.

Rockabilly

Early in the history of Rock, the country / blues combination was combined with early Rock. The result was Rockabilly, and it brought the first major wave of popularity to the Rock craze. Elvis’ 1954 recording of “That’s Alright Mama” started it off, and Bill Haley’s “Rock Around The Clock” spread Rock’s musical influence around the world.

Gospel

Over the years, Rock has borrowed heavily from Gospel, most notable in the harmonies. Many of the early stars credit their church and Gospel music for their musical training.

Teen Idols

“Sex sells” is the old advertising slogan and it proved itself in the early history of Rock. Elvis, of course, started it off with his “Elvis the Pelvis” stage appearance, but after Rock’s initial burst of popularity, the buzz faded. All of a sudden, there were no stars. Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and the Big Bopper (J.P. Richardson) were killed in a plane crash, Elvis was in the army, Chuck Berry was in jail, Jerry Lee Lewis had shocked even the liberal rockers by marrying his underaged cousin, and Alan Freed had been convicted in the Payola scandal.

When the Winter Dance Party Tour (Buddy Holly’s tour with Richie Valens and The Big Bopper) resumed, it included three clean cut, all american teenage heartthrobs. Jimmy Clanton, Frankie Avalon, and Robert Velline (Bobby Vee) sang soft rock love songs and rocketed to stardom. They were followed by Neil Sedaka, Bobby Vinton, and the California beach singers like the Beach Boys and Jan & Dean.

 

The Monterey Pop Festival

Monterey Pop Festival Poster
Monterey Pop Festival Poster

The Monterey Pop Festival, officially known as the Monterey International Pop Music Festival, ran from June 16 to June 18, 1967. It was the first major rock festival in the world and became the model for future festivals.

The Monterey Pop Festival was held at the Monterey County Fairgrounds in Monterey on June 16 to June 18, 1967.  It was the kickoff to the summer season of the Summer of Love.  Big pop festivals were new and each was an unpredictable adventure.  This one turned out great.

The festival was planned by producer Lou Adler, John Phillips of The Mamas & the Papas, producer Alan Pariser, and publicist Derek Taylor. The festival board also included members of The Beatles and The Beach Boys.

With the exception of Ravi Shankar, the artists all performed for free, and all revenue is donated to charity (live recordings are still generating royalties). Attendance was over 200,000 and Monterey Pop is generally regarded as the model used for planning Woodstock 2 years later.

The Monterey Pop Festival included several groundbreaking performances. It was the first US appearances for Jimi Hendrix who was booked on the insistence of board member Paul McCartney, and The Who, and was the first major public performance for Janis Joplin and Otis Redding.

Monterey Pop Festival Performers

The schedule of performers included most of the top acts of the time, but there were 2 big acts that were noticeably absent. Even though they were among the organizers, The Beach Boys had to cancel because of problems with Brian Wilson’s draft status, and Donovan couldn’t get a visa due to drug problems.

 

Friday Saturday Sunday
The Association
The Paupers
Lou Rawls
Beverly
Johnny Rivers
The Animals
Simon and Garfunkel
Canned Heat
Big Brother & The Holding Company
Country Joe and The Fish
Al Kooper
The Butterfield Blues Band
Quicksilver Messenger Service
Steve Miller Band
The Electric Flag
Moby Grape
Hugh Masekela
The Byrds
Laura Nyro
Jefferson Airplane
Booker T and The MG’s
Otis Redding
Ravi Shankar
The Blues Project
Big Brother & The Holding Co
The Group With No Name
Buffalo Springfield
The Who
Grateful Dead
The Jimi Hendrix Experience
Scott McKenzie
The Mamas & The Papas

 

The Altamont Festival

The Rolling Stones Altamont Festival CD
The Rolling Stones Altamont Festival CD

If the Woodstock Concert in August of 69 was the height of the concert scene, then the Altamont Festival in December of 69 was the bottom.

The Altamont Festival was planned as the final stop of the Rolling Stones Tour of America, although only Santana, the Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane, Crosby Stills Nash and Young, and the Flying Buritto Brothers were advertised. The Stones appearance was supposed to be kept secret to prevent unmanageable crowds. Originally scheduled for Golden Gate Park, they were unable to obtain the necessary permits, and the event was moved to Sears Point Raceway. Then, after a breakdown in contract negotiations and just a day before it’s start, the festival was moved to the Altamont Raceway.

Rolling Stones Gimme Shelter poster with scenes from the Altamont Festival.
Stones Gimme Shelter poster with scenes from the Altamont Festival.

In the meantime, Mick Jagger announced at a press conference that the Rolling Stones would make a surprise appearance. It is speculated that this was done to increase attendance for the filming of a documentary, and it did just that. An estimated 300,000 attended the free concert and a bunch of problems arose. There weren’t enough bathrooms or medical help, the sound system wasn’t sufficient, and the stage wasn’t high enough for security or for anyone to see.

Hell’s Angels Security

On top of all, the Rolling Stones manager had hired the Hell’s Angels for security. The result was predictable, fights broke out right from the start. The Angels became more violent as the day went on, probably because they were consuming as much beer and drugs as the rest of the crowd. One of the Angels motorcycles was knocked over, and they became even more belligerent,

The fighting resulted in Marty Balin of Jefferson Airplane being knocked unconscious (reportedly by one of the security guard Angels), and The Grateful Dead refused to play and left the area. This resulted in a span of several hours without entertainment until the Rolling Stones could start, which didn’t make the crowd any friendlier.

As the Stones were playing, a concert goer, Meredith Hunter scuffled with the security Hells Angels and reportedly drew a gun. His death was recorded by several film crews as he was stabbed and kicked to death. One person was arrested, but was eventually acquitted when a court ruled that it was in self defense. The Stones, unaware that Hunter’s beating was fatal, and maybe also in fear of what would happen if they left early, kept on playing. Three others also died at the Altamont concert. Two people were run over in their sleeping bags, and one person drowned.

The Altamont Festival turned out to be one of the most violent times in Rock History, The Grateful Dead went on to write half a dozen songs about it, and several documentaries were released.

Elvis on the Ed Sullivan Show

Ed Sullivan
Ed Sullivan

On September 9th, 1956, Elvis Presley appeared on the Ed Sullivan show with 60 million people watching, an amazing 82.6% of the audience and a record that hasn’t been beat to this day. Elvis performed 4 songs: Don’t be Cruel, Hound Dog, Reddy Teddy, and Love Me Tender, and was shown on the screen with the now famous “waist up” crop. It was a historic TV event and marks the unofficial start of The Golden Age of Rock.

Much has been written about the way Ed Sullivan controlled performers on his show. As a family variety show, his standards were conservative, even for the 50s. The idea of having an act that was already nicknamed “Elvis the Pelvis” led him to initially turn down Elvis’ offer to do the show for $5,000. By this time, though, Elvis had already scored 3 #1 hits, and eventually the deal was signed for $50,000 for 3 shows, an enormous amount for the time.

During the first segment, Elvis was photographed from the waist up only, avoiding shots of his hips and what was labeled as “suggestive movements”. Of course, this form of censorship only increased Elvis’ appeal and the reaction of the studio audience gave the home viewers a hint of what they were missing. It wasn’t until later that we saw Elvis on screen from head to toe.

Ed Sullivan and Elvis
Ed Sullivan and Elvis

As luck would have it, neither Ed Sullivan or Elvis were actually in the studio for the famous first appearance. Ed Sullivan was recuperating from an automobile accident and Charles Laughton filled in for him. Elvis was in Hollywood, filming his first movie, and performed from the CBS studio there. Even so, this event was so big, that it was included in the History Channel special “10 Days that Unexpectedly Changed America”.

Ed Sullivan and The Beatles

The Beatles on the Ed Sullivan Stage
The Beatles on the Ed Sullivan Stage

Ed Sullivan and The Beatles all started in October 1963 when Ed Sullivan and his wife were in London where they were delayed at Heathrow Airport by the crowds greeting them on their return from Sweden. As the story goes, Sullivan took note of the interest that they drew, and later, met with Brian Epstein, their manager. The Ed Sullivan show was the top-rated variety show on US television and was known for presenting first looks at up-and-coming acts.

The rest is television history. Fifty thousand ticket requests came in for the 728 available seats, and on February 9, 1964 Nielsen estimated the audience at 73+ million viewers, something like 45% of the country. Everything stood still while America watched the Ed Sullivan and The Beatles.

Ed Sullivan and The Beatles Song List

Ed Sullivan and The Beatles
Ed Sullivan with The Beatles

The Beatles sang 5 songs: All My Loving, Till There Was You, She Loves You, I Saw Her Standing There, and I Want To Hold Your Hand. From the very first note, girls in the audience were screaming while a closeup of John Lennon had carried a message “sorry girls, he’s married”. Although the Beatles appeared on the show 8 more times, this was the only performance that was live in the studio.
The Beatles were on again for the next 2 weeks. For February 16, 1964, they broadcast a live performance from their hotel in Miami Beach, Florida. The Beatles played to a live audience during the afternoon at the hotel, then at 8 p.m., broadcast a live performance on The Ed Sullivan Show by satellite. The Beatles sang six songs; She Loves You, This Boy, All My Loving, I Saw Her Standing There, From Me To You, and I Want To Hold Your Hand. On the following week, the performance was by a tape that was recorded when they were in the studio on the 9th. They played three songs, Twist and Shout, Please Please Me, and I Want To Hold Your Hand. During the performance, Ed Sullivan thanked The Beatles for “being four of the nicest youngsters”.