April 10 – Paul Put Stop Sign On Long & Winding Road

The ’60s were over, and perhaps nothing signaled that more than this day back in 1970. It is as good a day as any to pick as the End of The Beatles.

It was that day that Paul McCartney released an enigmatic press release, ostensibly for promoting his forthcoming solo album, McCartney, which hit stores one week later. Parts of the release were Paul interviewing Paul, if you will and while he didn’t officially say “the Beatles are finished”, it was hard to miss the underlying message. For instance, when he asked himself “is this album a rest away from the Beatles or the start of a solo career?” he replied “time will tell…it’s both” and that he wanted away from the other three because of “personal differences, business differences, musical differences…I have a better time with my family.” Of course, much like John included Yoko on his solo works, Paul got his wife Linda involved with his own records. The one thing that he was definite about was “do you foresee a time when Lennon-McCartney become an active songwriting partnership again?” to which he simply said an emphatic “NO!”.

Of course, none of this was surprising to insiders. As History put it, by then “little more than a tangled set of business relationships (were) keeping this group together.” Paul had a solo record ready to ship, Ringo had released his oft-overlooked debut, Sentimental Journey the previous month, George had previously done two experimental ones and was hard at work on his epic All Things Must Pass and John…well John was busy with his new Plastic Ono Band. McC’s statement irked him no small amount. He told Rolling Stone a few weeks later, “he can’t have his own way, so he’s causing chaos. I put out four (that actually seems like a bit of a mis-statement from him, it would seem more like three in about a year and a half) last year and I didn’t say a… thing about quitting!” The British press jumped on McCartney’s statements with headlines like “McCartney Breaks Off With The Beatles.” Legal confirmation came later in the year with a disolvement of the legal entity that was the business side of the decade’s greatest creative force.

Ironically, four weeks to the day after McCartney’s news release, the Beatles put out their final album, Let It Be. Some speculated it was Paul’s displeasure over Phil Spector’s heavy production of his song “The Long & Winding Road” that spurred on the breakup, but in reality, if that was anything at all, it was merely the final straw. the only surprise to those close to them was that they managed to hold it together long enough to finish that album and Abbey Road.

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April 10 – Suede Was Height Of ’90s Fashion

While close to 30 years ago the grunge movement was really picking up steam and starting to dominate rock radio over here, “across the pond” a different musical sound that would define the decade was taking shape: Britpop. To whit, one of the first “Britpop” albums entered the UK charts at #1 on this day in 1993. Perhaps it’s little surprise Suede‘s self-titled debut would do so; the year before Melody Maker had already dubbed them the Best New Band in Britain and they were riding a wave of hype seldom not seen since The Smiths there.

The band began at the tail-end of the ’80s in London, with singer Brett Anderson and Justine Frichman (who later went on to have success in the band Elastica) forming a band that initially played largely covers of David Bowie and Smiths songs. They soon added in guitarist Bernard Butler, who is arguably the most famous member of the band despite being with them for only their first record. Frichman didn’t make it that far along. She was booted out for dating Damon Albarn, of rival band Blur. Anderson says “if Justine hadn’t left the band, I don’t think we’d have got anywhere.” Maybe, maybe not. But get somewhere they did.

Their self-titled debut album had all the components of most ’90s Britpop – upbeat, catchy short melodies with references aplenty to drugs and sex. Says bassist Mat Osman, “the album became about us being placed in this city of sex, drugs and poverty” after growing up in middle class suburbs. Typical of that was the biggest of four singles from it, “Animal Nitrate”. The top 10 single (in UK) “artfully combined Bernard Butler’s glam guitars with Brett Anderson’s cocky celebration of amyl nitrate and gay sex,” according to Peter Watts of Uncut. Songs like that and “Sleeping Pills”, an homage to valium, earned the album its share of controversy, as did the cover. That was a photo of a nude, androgynous couple kissing. Apparently the couple were both ladies but many thought it was two gay men. Either way, all that helped build the publicity for the record whose only real problem might have been a feeling of too much media hype in Britain.

Critics tended to like the album nonetheless. The NME gave it a 7/10 (and later on would rank it the 30th greatest British album of all-time): The Independent said of it, “it would be a shame if the eagerness to get the backlash underway stopped this album getting the respect it deserves.” North American critics sat up and took notice as well. Rolling Stone reviewed it, giving it 4-stars while even mainstream Entertainment Weekly covered it, grading it “B+”. They thought Suede “plunder the styles of their pop-fop forebears (Bolan, Bowie, Morrissey) and rock your last nerve like a fabulously inappropriate prom date.” For all that, record-buyers here yawned and said “Never mind”… it got to only #73 in Canada and failed to even make the charts in the U.S. In Britain, it was a different story, with the album being the first of three #1s they’d have and getting them a gold record. They never quite had a #1 single but came close a couple of times, most notably with ’96’s “Trash” which hit #3 at home and got a few spins on North American radio.

Suede broke up in 2003, but reunited in 2010 and have put out two albums this decade. Butler went on to have quite a good career as a producer, most notably working closely with Duffy on her smash debut album.

April 9 – Fleetwood Pulled Off A 2-For-1 With Lineup 19

Fleetwood and “Mac” remained, but Fleetwood Mac took on a different look this day in 2018 when they fired long-time guitarist Lindsey Buckingham and brought in two talents to replace him – Neil Finn (best known for being the leader of Crowded House) and Mike Campbell (guitarist for Tom Petty’s Heartbreakers and renowned songwriter.)

Ostensibly they brought in Finn for his vocal abilities and Campbell to replace Lindsey’s guitar prowess although both men have done a bit more than just that so far.

It came as rather a surprise to fans, although perhaps it shouldn’t have. The 2017 lineup that had been used for a few years was, from what we can tell, the 18th different lineup in Fleetwood Mac over their 50 year history. What’s one more change? Still, one couldn’t help but be a bit surprised. Buckingham had been added into the group soon after they moved to the U.S., around the end of 1974. He replaced guitarist Bob Welch who went solo. Besides about a decade’s absence in the late-’80s to mid-’90s, he’d been an integral part of their sound and songwriting all the way. Those who know the story of their mammoth ’77 album Rumours – in which the band were all at each other’s throats, taking far too much cocaine, and Lindsey himself was breaking up with bandmate Stevie Nicks – would assume that if they could get through that, they could get through anything. Apparently not.

The band were planning a major tour for late-’18 and onwards, and did a show at the MusicCares benefit. Apparently Stevie and Lindsey still hadn’t kissed and made up after all those years. They had an argument, Lindsey hated that they played “Rhiannon’, a Stevie signature song, in their short set then apparently was seen “smirking” while Stevie was talking to the crowd. She wanted him gone.

There was a bit more to it than that, not surprisingly. Mick Fleetwood, the constant center of the band, they and Buckingham “hit a brick wall, a huge impasse” over plans for the tour. Among the main disputes was that the guitarist wanted them to play a lot of lesser-known songs, album cuts and b-sides etc., while all the rest wanted to deliver what the fans wanted, a set of non-stop hits from their best records. The drummer noted that when it came to Lindsey’s departure, “well we don’t use the word (fired) because I think it’s ugly…Lindsey has huge amounts of respect.” Apparently that wasn’t satisfying for him, because he sued the band for breach of contract among other things. The two sides reached an out-of-court agreement.

Still, that left them with a hole to fill. Buckingham was a great guitarist who featured into many of their hits and sang lead on a handful of songs (“Go Your Own Way” and “Second Hand News” for example) and did harmonies on most of the others. Enter Campbell and Finn.

Not a great deal has been written about why Campbell was chosen, but he was a great pick given his guitar talents and unemployed status since Tom Petty passed away (thereby ending The Heartbreakers) . Finn also was an obvious choice. He and Mick had been close friends for years, and Fleetwood had sat in on drums for Crowded House during a 2018 benefit concert in Hawaii – his adopted home. At the time of the announcement, Finn said “two weeks ago, I received a wonderful invitation to be part of a truly great band. A few days later, I was standing in a room playing music with Fleetwood Mac. It was a natural fit. I can’t wait to play.”

And play they did. They toured quite extensively before the pandemic shut down most live music, usually including his “Don’t Dream It’s Over” in the set list. That was, according to the Boston Globe (who reviewed one of the first shows with the new lineup) “a true highlight of the night”, suggesting “the band could’ve done a whole lot worse than recruit Neil Finn and Mike Campbell to fill Buckingham’s shoes.”

They could have indeed. It leaves one with conflicting emotions – partly hoping this will be the final and definitive lineup for the band and partly hoping it drives them along enough for there to be a 20th!

April 9 – Righteous-ly Inspiring

This day in 1966 was a high-water mark for “Blue-eyed Soul”…arguably the biggest hit of the Righteous Brothers career, hit #1 in the U.S. – “Soul and Inspiration.”

It was the second- and last- chart-topper for the duo of Bill Medley and Bobby Hatfield, coming about a year after “You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling.” The pair had been together since 1962, originally under the name The Paramours. But after one show at a military base, a  Black Marine stood up and yelled “That was righteous, brothers!” and they liked that moniker better. Although “Soul & Inspiration” was the first record for them without Phil Spector producing and on the (largely jazz-focused) Verve label, it sounded much like their earlier hits, in no small part due to being written by the same writers- Barry Mann and Cynthia Weill. Although it didn’t have Spector producing, (Medley himself did that), it was produced in a style reminiscent of Spector’s Wall of Sound, and used some of the same Wrecking Crew studio musicians to complete the sound. The song seemed a more upbeat, happier flipside to their earlier hit and the public ate it up – it spent three weeks at #1, and remarkably was their only single to earn a gold record until “Unchained Melody” did in the ’90s.

Nonetheless, it hasn’t gained such a prominent place in our culture as “You’ve lost That Loving Feeling” or “Unchained Melody”. The latter of course had a second-life when used in the movie Ghost, the former ended up being most-played record on U.S. radio in the 20th Century according to BMI. Writer Weill says it “will always be ‘Lovin’ Feelin’ ‘ sideways” to her.

Hatfield died in 2003, but Medley still is active on the concert stage with a new Righteous “Brother.”

April 8 – STP Made A Big Bang To The North

Were STP the CCR of the alt rock world? Creedence Clearwater were well-known for being a band that somehow never had a #1 single despite several of their hits stalling at #2. Fast forward two decades. Stone Temple Pilots weren’t quite as big as them, but were a major force in the ’90s rock scene, yet somehow the top spot on the Billboard “Alternative Rock” chart eluded them throughout the decade. But this day in 1996 was a big one for them as they managed to get to the top of the (short-lived) Canadian version of that chart with “Big Bang Baby.”

The single was the lead-off one from their third album, Tiny Music..., an album which saw them to continue to expand their musical horizons. As Rolling Stone noted, despite being labeled as “grunge”, it was as much a “Beatlesque” album as a Nirvan-esque one. The tune was composed by bassist Robert DeLeo with the lyrics penned by singer Scott Weiland. Weiland told people looking for a hidden meaning in the song not to spend too much time searching. He called them a “Bowie-esque stream of consciousness lyrics that didn’t need to make sense.” He did add that the “gas gas gas” in the chorus is a bit of a deliberate tip of the hat to the Rolling Stones “Jumping Jack Flash” though.

Rolling Stone approved of the single, calling it an “impressive chunk of ear candy” and noting “Weiland’s vocals are bubblegum tough and downright glammy”. The public agreed, sending the song to #18 overall in Canada, their best showing there in the ’90s, and to #2 on Billboard‘s alt rock list…their third one to get to that spot, following “Vaseline” and “Interstate Love Song”. They’d eventually score a #1 on it in 2010 with “Between the Lines”… and in May ’96, this song did hit #1 on another chart – the Mainstream Rock chart. So perhaps Stone Temple Pilots weren’t so “alternative” when it came to rock… but at their best, they were good!

April 8 – Steve A Guitar Great And Howe

Do we wish a happy 74th birthday to one of prog rock’s best guitarists? well, “Yes”!. Steve Howe, formerly of Yes and Asia does that today.

He listened to all sorts of music as a child – jazz, brass bands, pop and (surprisingly for Britain) country in particular. He especially liked Chet Atkins whom he thought was “one guitarist , could play any kind of guitar style.” Howe taught himself guitar and played in various less-than-successful bands around London in the ’60s before joining prog-rock aces, Yes in 1970.

With keyboardist Rick Wakeman joining the following year, Yes had its “classic” lineup that put forward classics like “Roundabout” and “I’ve Seen All Good People”. That was the lineup which got Steve inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2017 (see yesterday’s post) and scored most of the band’s 13 gold or platinum albums in the U.S. (where their popularity seemed to even eclipse that they enjoyed at home.)

Trevor Horn (whom he’d later work with on the Frankie Goes To Hollywood album) joined in ’80; a year later the band dissipated and Howe, along with Geoff Downes – briefly a bandmate – Carl Palmer and John Wetton (from King Crimson and Roxy Music) formed Asia, which went on to have the biggest-selling album of his career with their ’82 debut. He did the second Asia album as well, which met with considerably-fewer sales and accoloades before turning his attention to mostly solo projects, and enjoying family life with his wife (of over 50 years.) One of his sons, Dylan is an accomplished musician in his own right, and toured with his Dad in the latest incarnation of Yes.

Guitar Player voted Steve the best “Overall Guitarist” for five years running from 1977-81 and in 2010 Rolling Stone listed him as the 69th best guitarist of all-time, complimenting how he “Brought jazz, country, flamenco, ragtime and psychedelia into the mix for prog-rockers.”

April 7 – A Long Journey For Some To Rockhall

Not everyone adores the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame but few can deny that within their building’s walls are some rather cool exhibits and some very great musicians honored. Or that at times, they’ve put on great shows. Such was the case on this day in 2017 when they had their annual induction ceremony at the Barclay Center in New York City. Among the acts they honored that night were Journey, Yes, ELO, Pearl Jam and Joan Baez. Quite a panorama of the “rock” world that, from the folk rock scene of the ’60s with Joan through the ’70s Prog Rock of Yes and melodic pop of Jeff Lynne’s ELO through the ’80s classic rock of Journey into ’90s grunge with Pearl Jam.

Many felt it was a case of “better late than never.” While Pearl Jam, grunge’s most enduring major band by far were in their first year of eligibility – the Hall requires a 25 year minimum timespan between an artist’s first album and induction – the others had shone for decades before 2017. Baez of course jumped to international fame with her performance at Woodstock. Yes made their debut that same year, 1969 (Geddy Lee of Rush who inducted them joked “we thought we had to wait a long time”) and ELO not long after that, nor Journey, always a fan favorite but not always awarded the same respect from critics despite their 11 platinum albums in the U.S., including their Greatest Hits which has sold beyond 15 million copies.

Of Journey, the hall says “call the style what you will – arena rock, stadium rock, concert rock – Journey dominated in the ’70s and ’80s”. It was a treat for fans to see Steve Perry, the voice that elevated them to superstar status, back with them, although ironically when it came time to perform, new singer Arnel Pineda (not one of the seven members listed as such by the hall) took the mic, Perry graciously saying Pineda “sings his heart out every night.”

Pearl Jam were going to have their friend and significant influence, Neil Young induct them but Neil pulled out at the last minute, leaving David Letterman to fill in. The talk show host joked about Neil (“poor guy just can’t stay up this late anymore”) and endeared himself to the band by calling Ticketmaster “blood-thirsty weasels.” Many may remember the group’s outspoken criticism of that agency and taking the unusual stance of not having their concerts distributed by them at times.

Alex Lifeson of Rush called Yes his “gateway band”, the one which he listened to endlessly as a teen which really got him wanting to play music himself. Not surprising perhaps because in their early years, Rush were a prog rock act not that different than Yes, who as the Hall put it “pushed the boundaries of rock…they created complex, progressive and virtuosic rock suites.” Geddy joined them onstage in their performance.

Another boundary-pusher were ELO, which the Hall suggest started by “picking up where the Beatles left off…expanded the concept of great melodies, epic song structure and great orchestrations.” Something which must make Lynne proud, given his fondness for the Beatles, being asked to work with them in the ’90s remastering some of their early works and his work with George Harrison in the Traveling Wilburys. Fittingly, George’s son Dhani inducted the band.

Those in attendance got to see the acts each perform and Lenny Kravitz do a tribute to Prince, who’d died the previous year to boot. For a finale, even though Neil Young wasn’t there, one of his songs was. Pearl Jam, along with members of Yes, Neal and Geddy of Rush and Neal Schon jammed together on “Rockin’ in the Free World” as a finale. A good time was had by all, one which perhaps will begin being replicated soon … now that David Letterman’s words that night seem strangely prophetic and wise – “never take the opportunity for live music for granted.”

This year’s ceremony is slated to take place in Cleveland, near the museum itself, on October 30. Ironically, tickets are available through Ticketmaster.

April 7 – When Wham Go-go’d To China

The music world expanded on this day in 1985 as the “West” finally met the “East”. Wham! played a concert in China three dozen years back, and changed the global topography of music in so doing. They were the first western “rock” (or popular of any genre) act to be allowed to perform in Communist China.

Wham! were very hot at the time, at least here in the “Western” world. Their first album, which they unabashedly named Fantastic had been a #1 hit in their home of Britain, and generated four top 10 singles there. The follow-up, Make it Big, did just that, expanding their success to North America. The album went 6X platinum in the U.S. on the worldwide #1 hits “Wake Me Up Before You Go Go” and “Careless Whisper” (which was variously released as a Wham! song and a George Michael solo one). They were on a five-month tour, entitled with their characteristic bravado “The Big Tour” and had played the UK, Australia, Japan, half a dozen shows in the U.S. when they tacked on two more shows, in Beijing and Canton, China.

China was just beginning to open its doors a crack to western visitors and wanted to dispel their reputation as a ruthless, iron-fisted regime. A few selected performances from leading western musicians or other entertainers could be the way to do that. They wanted to bring in a popular – but not too controversial – music act from our end of the world. Wham! wanted that gig. Or at least, their manager Simon Napier-Bell did. So did Queen, but Napier-Bell lobbied the Chinese government hard to get his band the honor, portraying his band as young, fresh and clean-cut middle class youth whereas Queen was old, rich and … well, Queen.

It worked, after much scrutinizing. Billboard note that even a few years ago, every song to be played has to be approved by China’s Ministry of Culture and approval can take months. So Wham!, their backing musicians and dancers showed up at Beijing’s Workers Gymnasium (the largest venue in that city then) to play in front of a sold out show for about 13 000 young Chinese. They’d paid about $1.75 to see the band they didn’t really know… outside culture was extremely limited to them at the time. But they knew it was big, it was new and it was what the rest of the world enjoyed, so they wanted a part of it!

George Michael and Andrew Ridgely powered through a relatively brief 11-song set, starting with their song “Bad Boys”, covering their hits like “Careless Whisper” and “Everything She Wants” and ending with “Love Machine,” the Miracles Motown tune that they’d covered for Fantastic. Video shows the youth in the crowd, neatly dressed and cheering appreciatively. A restauranteur interviewed years later said he was there, in his early-20s at the time and “everyone was ready to make some noise and stand, but there were so many police officers there, people didn’t dare to.” Some people who started dancing were carted off by the police. The Chinese experiment with Western culture didn’t extend to crowd-surfing or slam-dancing! Even the backing singers’ miniskirts on some tunes were rather shocking to the crowd who still had to wear government-approved conservative outfits.

Wham! spent ten days in China, playing a second concert three nights later in Canton. They took along film-makers, and the result was a documentary called Wham in China – Foreign Skies. The cultural impact of the pair of shows lasted longer than Wham! … the documentary was premiered at Wembley Stadium right before the duo’s farewell concert, in 1986.

Since then however, many other Western acts have played China, which is now much more relaxed in its travel restrictions (and dress restrictions for its fans.) The New York Times in 2007 noted Linkin Park were touring there at the time, shortly after Eric Clapton and Avril Lavigne had. Western acts see the country of over a billion people as a vital new market, but it’s still not an easy one to crack or get the best of. “Well-scrubbed pop singers from Taiwan and Hong Kong dominate the airwaves”, they noted and touring is a long ways from what stars are used to over here. Travel is expensive, mostly done on public transit and low ticket prices make touring a money-losing procedure (although many corporations are quick to sponsor events to increase their profile there.) And rampant piracy make CD sales of legitimate copies almost neglible. However, when there are literally hundreds of millions of potential new fans awaiting, there’s no shortage of artists from over here who are eager to cross the Great Wall.

Chinese TV paid tribute to George Michael when he died. As for Queen… they never did make it over to play there.

April 6 – Not Just Wine – California Had A Pretty Good Jam

Was it the tail end of one era or the dawning of the next? Either way, it was one big show. California Jam took place on this day in 1974. The huge, all-day concert at the time set records for the largest paid crowd, the biggest revenue and the loudest sound system of any concert.

Some saw it as a last hurrah of the greatly-publicized ’60s festivals like Woodstock, Monterey Pop and the infamous Altamont (after which few shows of that scale had taken place in North America for several years.) Others saw it as the front-runner of a series of major “jams” that were popular in the ’70s and early-’80s and probably helped pave the way not only for Live Aid but for later events like Lollapallooza. Whichever was correct, it was a heck of a show, and few of the 250 000 – 300 000 in attendance went home disappointed… although some got home a lot later than they might have expected. Unlike some of the past huge concerts, California Jam went off without any major hitches, in terms of violence or deaths. In part that was due to organizers, including ABC-TV, learning from past mistakes in huge concerts. They had 700 professional security staff on hand to keep things in check, and had a number of water fountains and even handed out free jugs of water, to keep people safe in the 85 degree heat.

They ran the show at Ontario Motor Speedway, an 800 acre site near San Bernadino. They had two stages, with most of the crowd (who paid $10 in advance or $15 at the gates… equivalent to perhaps $80 or $120 now) sat on the grassy lawns rising up above them. Two 50-foot high towers of amps provided the sound and the Goodyear blimp floated overhead. Now, while there weren’t major problems with the concert, whenever you try to have a few hundred thousand people together, some glitches will arise. In this show’s case, much of that had to do with limited parking which filled fast, and people parking anywhere they could – nearby farms and vineyards, and thousands of cars simply parked along the highway. Fans walked up to four miles to get to the gates in some cases, and as often as not, found their cars towed by the time they went back.

Many probably didn’t care, because it was a star-studded lineup and by all accounts, a great show. Rare Earth were first up, followed by Earth, Wind & Fire, the not-yet gigantic Eagles, Seals & Crofts, Black Oak Arkansas, Black Sabbath and then the two heavy-weights, Deep Purple and Emerson Lake & Palmer. Officially they were listed as co-headliners, but Deep Purple called the shots…and they actually chose to go on before ELP, specifying they’d make their appearance just after sunset. Unfortunately, set changes were efficient and some bands played a little less than expected and it was still sunny when Deep Purple were due. They stalled for over an hour before going on, which irritated many. Their set was perhaps the most problematic, with guitarist Richie Blackmore in a seemingly bad mood, throwing things at the crowd at one point, and getting in a fight with a cameraman. And one of his amps inadvertently caught fire too. They were quickly whisked away by helicopter.

Emerson, Lake & Palmer went on after midnight, but it was a Saturday night and by most accounts were worth the wait. The local paper reported afterwards that the show’s highlight was “Keith Emerson’s piano elevated, him with it. They both began rotating like a wheel midair, as he kept on playing!” The band described the show as of “biblical proportions” and not surprisingly, the newspaper picked them for the “most dynamic set” while calling the Eagles “most effective.”

ABC taped the show and used segments of it for their In Concert TV show, and Deep Purple recorded their set and released it as a home video, by many accounts the very first concert VHS tape.

It set off a minor run of similar huge, multi-star events in years to come. Their was a California Jam II in 1978, with a similar sized crowd turning out to see Foreigner and Aerosmith among others, and the same year there was Canada Jam, in the other Ontario – Ontario, Canada. That one drew 110 000 people, at the time Canada’s biggest-ever show, and featured Triumph, the Doobie Bros., Atlanta Rhythm Section and more. Also in 1978, the first Texxas Jam took place, a show so big it apparently required an extra “X” in the name! Those shows ran annually into the ’80s, using alternating between Dallas and Houston for sites.

There was some interest in having a 40th anniversary reunion concert in 2014, but it was a case of “you can’t go home again.” The speedway itself had closed in the ’80s and been redeveloped and several of the acts like Seals & Crofts had by then retired, the Eagles had elevated themselves into a whole different level of concert success and several of the other acts had little interest. Maybe if you’re Keith Emerson, one go-round is enough!

April 6 – The Cult’s New Sound Was ‘Electric’fying.

The Cult went Electric. That was the name and mood of their third album, released this day in 1987. It wasn’t quite as big a shock as when Bob Dylan had “gone electric” but it still came as a surprise to fans who were of mixed opinions about the shift.

The band had morphed out of Ian Astbury’s Southern Death Cult a band which mixed goth and heavy metal and began in England in 1981. He fired much of the band, brought in guitarist extraordinaire Billy Duffy and dropped the “Southern” from the name in ’83, the “death” was stricken from the name by the first full album the following year. That release did OK on the UK indie charts on the strength of the single “Spirit Walker” -one of several songs on the release that showed Astbury’s fascination with native cultures of North America and Australia. Their second album, Love, hit the bigtime for them in ’85 with singles like “She sells Sanctuary” and “Rain” and was drenched with a neo-psychedelia reminiscent of The Doors (which was entirely appropriate as we’ll see). The album hit top 5 in the UK and Canada (where Astbury had spent his teen years) and was double platinum there, but had only middling success in the U.S.

They recorded their third album , initially to be called Peace with the same producer, Steve Brown but didn’t like the sounds, so much to their label’s dismay,(Beggars Banquet had reportedly spent 250 000 pounds recording it) they scrapped it and brought in Rick Rubin to work it at the Electric Lady studios. He toughened the sound up considerably, shocking many of the fans – but helping them breakthrough in the U.S. market. While it sold approximately the same as its predecessor in UK and Canada, it was their first to hit top 40 and earn them a platinum disc Stateside. Singles like “Lil Devil” and “Love Removal Machine” got them rock radio play, something enhanced by them having Guns’n”Roses open for them on tour. Rolling Stone noted the hovering ghosts of “Zeppelin, Bon Scott and others” on it but liked the sound which “does more than just pilfer bygone metal.” The Cult followed up with similar success in 1989’s Sonic Temple but rather went downhill from there.

Astbury meanwhile, was Oliver Stone’s pick to play Jim Morrison in the Doors movie, but Astbury turned it down as he didn’t like the portrayal of the Lizard King…but has taken his spot in recent years with the 21st Century Doors.