June 6 – Country Night Fever

Could lightning strike thrice? Hollywood, and record exec Irving Azoff, betted it could. And they weren’t entirely wrong. In 1977, John Travolta danced his way into superstardom with Saturday Night Fever, the music of which dominated the record charts the following year. In 1978, he did the same with Grease. Could the public buy Travolta in a cowboy hat, doing a two-step? And would it produce a mega-selling soundtrack? Turns out it would. And although neither the film nor the soundtrack quite matched the success of the previous two, Urban Cowboy certainly was a hit on the big screen and on big radios. The album came out this day in 1980.

The movie starred Travolta as Bud, a Texan oil worker and his at times problematic relationship with Sissy, played by Debra Winger. At night, they liked to hang out at Gilley’s, a huge bar near Houston which played itself in the film. It was billed as the “world’s biggest honky tonk” , having a capacity of 7000 people and famous mechanical bulls. It was owned by Mickey Gilley, a country music, piano-playing cousin of Jerry Lee Lewis, who saw the possibilities as soon as someone suggested a film be shot there. “I’m thinking ‘Saturday Night Fever’? Country Night Fever,” he told Billboard.

The bar had live music and musicians like Bonnie Raitt and Charlie Daniels appeared as themselves in the movie (and also appeared on the soundtrack.) And like Saturday Night Fever, they put together a double-LP (66 minutes of music, which was on a single CD when finally released in that format) using a mix of existing hit songs (like “the Devil Went Down to Georgia” by the Charlie Daniels Band, “Nine Tonight” by Bob Seger and “Lyin Eyes’” by the Eagles) and brand new ones for the movie. Those included a couple by Gilley himself and contribtuions from country acts like Johnny Lee and Kenny Rogers as well as rockers like Joe Walsh as well as adult contemporary stars like Boz Scaggs and Anne Murray. It was a winning combination, with Travolta getting a Rolling Stone cover that summer to publicize it and no fewer than six singles from it making the American top 40: “All Night Long” by Walsh, “Love the World Away” by Rogers, Gilley’s own cover of “Stand by Me”, “Lookin’ for Love” by Lee, “Look What You’ve Done to Me” by Scaggs and “Could I Have This Dance” by Murray. Three of those hit the top of country charts and overall, the album got to #3 in the U.S. (only #21 to the north in Canada, and worse elsewhere) and went triple-platinum.

It generally got good reviews, with retroactive ones like allmusic‘s 5-star one and Billboard pointing out how it was able to make “the music and the culture that surrounds it a pop phenomenon.” The latter says “40 years later, country owes a lot to Urban Cowboy.” Indeed, we’ve noted here how in 1981, just after this movie and album, the charts briefly had a good run of country crossover hits from the likes of Juice Newton, Dolly Parton and Eddie Rabbitt. One can only wonder what would have happened if Travolta had taken up waltzing on the big screen in ’81!


May 28 – The Gong Sounded Start Of The Police

If you happened to be in Paris on this day in 1977, you might possibly have seen The Police play for the first time. Although you almost certainly didn’t notice if you did and they weren’t even called “The Police” yet. But it was the first time Sting, Andy Summers and Stewart Copeland performed together. Oh, and there was Mike Howlett too.

Band histories are often complicated; few are like Asia and have several well-known musicians get together and decide all at once to form a new band and take it from there. Most involve guys or girls getting together, playing a few tunes together randomly, often in a garage or perhaps a college party, and starting to gel more and more with members coming and going. Such was the case with The Police.

Sting had met Stewart Copeland in Newcastle in 1976. Copeland was the drummer of Curved Air and Sting went out to see them. Sting, probably still going by Gordon Sumner at the time, talked to Copeland after the show and they hit it off, musically at least. Sting was playing in a jazz-based band at the time, which should come as no surprise to those who’ve listened to much of his solo material. The pair exchanged phone numbers and got together once Sting moved to London.

Copeland was wanting to form a punk, or at least “punkish” band; Sting wasn’t keen but agreed. They added in guitarist Henry Padovan, and they began playing shows in March, 1977 under the name The Elevators.

Sting also briefly formed a band called Strontium 90 with Mike Howlett. As we see, they’d done the original version of the later Police hit, “Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic”. Now, Howlett also had been in a band called Gong. Gong decided to have a big reunion show in Paris at the Nouvelle Hippodrome, and the members got to play solo sets as well. Howlett asked Sting to play with him, and he brought along Stewart Copeland since they didn’t have a drummer. Somehow Andy Summers was added in too, and Padovan wasn’t, so the trio played with Mike Howlett.

The show didn’t seem to stand out much in many people’s memories but it was the genesis of The Police. They played a few Elevators shows that summer but soon Sting wanted Andy Summers (a veteran guitarist who’d been in the Animals) to join; he wanted to as well but only if he could be the guitarist, not a guitarist. Before long Henry was given the polite “heave ho” by Sting and Copeland, Summers was in and The Police were on duty. They played their first show in August ’78, in Birmingham. Around that time one critic noted they were “criticized by other punk bands for not being authentic, lacking ‘street cred’” but adding they did share “a brand of nervous, energetic disillusion with 1970s Britain.”

Within months they were signed to A&M Records and took their brand of punk-crossed-with-jazz and nervous energy into the studio to record their debut, Outlandos D’Amour.

May 27 – When Rock Found A Chum In Canada

One wonders if it began with a DJ like Johnny Fever from WKRP In Cincinnati ripping an old easy-listening record off the turntable and breaking it. Rock & Roll really arrived for good in Canada on this day in 1957, when CHUM Radio in Toronto switched to an “all rock & roll” format. It was the first station in Canada to do so.

Rock was becoming quite a big thing by then of course; Elvis was becoming “The King” and artists like Fats Domino and Little Richard were in their prime…and confusing a lot of radio people. Something new was happening, but radio was rather conservative and didn’t know quite what to make of it. So when the powerful, 50 000W station in Toronto made the change, it was a watermark. CHUM had been on air since 1945, but oddly only broadcast during daylight hours and had a lot of news and sports and a little music, mainly of the Big Band or crooner-style variety. That changed dramatically 66 years ago when the DJ there put on “All Shook Up” by Elvis, the new format’s first record and also the first #1 song on their chart. For nearly 30 years they published a weekly singles chart, initially a top 50 but later a top 30. It was influential enough to be considered the “official” Canadian chart until 1964.

Elvis songs spent another eight weeks at #1 on CHUM that year and it would soon become the source of rock music in Ontario, for instance sponsoring three different Beatles concerts in the city. By the late-’60s they’d launched an FM station which was largely an early “album rock” station that played bands like Pink Floyd and Emerson, Lake & Palmer that AM hit radio often overlooked.

For a couple of decades, it worked amazingly well for CHUM. It typically was the most-listened to pop/rock channel in the country and it vied with CKLW in the border city of Windsor (which we heard about yesterday in the Skylark post) for the most-influential one. But of course, times change and by the ’80s FM was taking over music radio. Their own FM station was beating them in ratings with a blend of album rock and top30 singles, there were new Classic Rock and New Wave stations on air drawing hundreds of thousands of listeners and CHUM-AM began to falter. In the summer of ’86 they published their last Top 30 chart (Madonna had the #1 hit), played “We Built This City” by Starship, then switched from hit radio to “favourites of yesterday and today”, playing mostly oldies. That didn’t click all that well and by 1989, they were only 11th in ratings in the city itself. Since then they’ve gone through various incarnations as talk radio and now TSN Sports talk radio. Young music fans up there will probably never have a clue as to how much that now seemingly All-Maple-Leafs-and-Blue-Jays-all-Gab station changed the musical landscape from coast to coast in their parents’ (or grandparents’) generation.

That was Canada. Many of you are probably asking what the first such rock station in the U.S. was. That is not as easy to answer, as Google will quickly show you.

Many would point to WJW in Cleveland for an obvious reason – it was the home of DJ Allan Freed, who coined (or at least popularized) the term “rock & roll” and sponsored the very first “rock” concert, the Moondog Coronation in 1952. It also had Casey Kasem when he was young and far from well-known. But it was primarily a “beautiful music” and classical one which gave Freed a short late-night show to play his type of music.

KSHE in St. Louis bills itself as the “longest-running rock station in the world”, which is debatable, but they weren’t first to do so, appearing on the rockin’ airwaves in 1967. Their claim though does point out how most of the early rock pioneer stations have long-since switched to other formats, usually talk or sports. So, if one was to answer the question, a good choice might be right in the home of … Country music. WLAC in Nashville.

WLAC went on air in 1926 and by the 1940s had amped up their transmitter to 50 000W, one of the strongest in the nation. On some nights it could be heard as far as away as the Northeast … Robbie Robertson and Levon Helm both say they listened in at times at night from Canada. By the early-’50s it had adopted a format playing mostly R&B music, or “race music” as it was often called then, to appeal to theoretically the African-American population in the Southeast. But a lot of youth of other races loved it too and as the decade wore on it incorporated more and more rock into its playlists. If not the very first, it was probably the most influential American station in getting early rock heard far and wide. However, it dropped the rock music format in 1979, like so many other AM stations in that era. But at least there was still WKRP…

May 14 – Atlantic Showed Off Their Sea Of Talent

It was a big night for one of rock’s biggest companies in 1988. Atlantic Records held a concert/party at Madison Square Garden in New York to mark it’s corporate 40th birthday. The incredible 13-hour long event was broadcast live on HBO in the States and highlights were shown over the coming weeks in four BBC programs across the sea. Atlantic had been established by well-known music mogul Ahmet Ertegun and lesser-known Herb Abramson and quickly became one of the premier labels for Black jazz and soul artists. Fortuitiously for them, they were bought by Warner Brothers right at the time rock was transforming and taking over the world – 1967- and they quickly expanded into that genre as well.

The show featured sets from a varied bevy of artists on Atlantic through the ’50s through ’80s, including Ben E. King, Yes (who did five songs) , Phil Collins by himself and later with Genesis, a reformed Rascals, the Average White Band, Foreigner… the list of hit-making artists and celebrity emcees went on and on until the night’s finale. Perhaps the biggest band ever to appear on Atlantic were reformed for one night only, three years after a one-off at Live Aid and nearly eight years since their last concert, in Germany. Led Zeppelin were the undisputed headliners for the event, and they added in Jason Bonham to drum, filling in for his late father John (whose death brought about the band’s demise in 1980.) It should have been one for the ages.

Only it wasn’t. As music writer Andrew O’Brien notes it turned into “more of a headache than a triumphant return.” Robert Plant was pissed off at being told he had to sing “Stairway to Heaven”, a song he’d apparently grown tired of, and his voice was rough. Jimmy Page’s guitar was inexplicably out of tune and the sound mix so bad most couldn’t hear John Paul Jones bass at all. They trundled through a set of “Kashmir”, “Heartbreaker,” “Whole Lotta Love”, “Misty Mountain Hop” and of course, “Stairway to Heaven.” The crowd seemed pleased enough but the band hated it. Page said their performance was a “big disappointment” and Plant called the set “foul.”

It would take awhile, but eventually they got back together for a show that they seemed to like, a massive concert in London in 2007 that they released on DVD. And as for Atlantic, they just had their 75th anniversary, although without the spectacle they had in ’88.

May 10 – Who Knew The Band Would Be Around For Decca-des

Everyone makes mistakes. The thing that separates the winners from losers is often the ability to learn from those mistakes. In that, Dick Rowe is definitely a winner, and he proved it on this day in 1963. That was the day he signed the Rolling Stones to Decca Records…not long after turning down a chance to do the same with a band called The Beatles!

Rowe was the head of A&R for Decca in Britain. It was one of the better established record companies, dating back to 1929. By the WWII era, they were home to many of the most popular musicians of the day from Louis Armstrong to the Andrews Sisters. They also had a way of being ahead of their time. In 1954, they put out what would by most accounts be the first hit “rock and roll” record – Bill Haley’s “Rock Around the Clock.” No surprise then that when the Beatles got back home to the UK, Decca would have an interest in adding them to the roster. Rowe listened to them and alledgedly told their manager, “guitar groups are on their way out, Mr. Epstein” , although he later denied saying that. Whether he did or not, what is fact is that Decca didn’t sign the Beatles and by spring ’63, it was already becoming clear to all that that had been a huge mistake – Beatlemania was taking the world by storm. So when a Beatle suggested a new band to him, Rowe wasn’t going to mess up again.

The Stones had been rolling for about a year, but spring ’63 was very eventful as they’d just signed on with a young manager named Andrew Oldham… being a teenager, Oldham actually needed parents help to legally sign some contracts! But he had a good idea of how to make a hit. Bill Wyman remembers a day or two after signing him as manager, Oldham took the band shopping and bought them matching “tight black jeans, black roll-neck sweaters and highly fashionable Anello and Davide black Spanish boots” to wear on stage. Other times they wore suits. He soon changed his opinion and let them wear their own street clothes and grow their hair longer to provide a visual contrast to the Beatles who were seen as “wholesome” or “clean cut” for rockers. Oldham also recognized musical talent and urged Mick Jagger and Keith Richards to write more of their own material. for the first few months, all they played were essentially old Blues numbers and Chuck Berry covers.

Although he didn’t sign the Beatles, one might guess the London rock scene was quite small and close in the first half of the ’60s, so George Harrison kept in touch with Rowe. He told the Decca man that the Rolling Stones were the real deal and needed to have a deal. Rowe caught them in a show in early May at the Crawdaddy Club in London and signed them days later. Within a month, Decca issued the first Rolling Stones single – a Chuck Berry cover as it were, “Come On,” which got to #21 at home. They’d stick with Decca throughout the 1960s before forming their own label, appropriately enough Rolling Stones Records, in 1970.

At the time, Disc magazine suggested “The Beatles who recommended the Stones to Decca may live to rue the day. This group could be challenging them for top place in the immediate future.” And although they did, few would think the Beatles cared much about it. Most biographies suggest the two bands were friends and enjoyed the rivalry for chart dominance and in effect pushed each other to greater heights of creativity. It seemed guitar groups were on their way in, actually!

May 10 – The End Of An Era…I-carrumba?

They say time and tide wait for no man. These days we could probably add technology to that list. A perfect example of that came one year ago today when a once cutting-edge piece of tech fell by the wayside, deemed obsolete by its one-time proponents. Yep, on this day in 2022, Apple discontinued Ipods. They had a pretty good run though!

We’ve discussed how while love of music seems a constant, the ways we listen to it are constantly changing. 1970’s 8-tracks gave way to ’80s cassettes like the LPs turned their shelf space over to CDs. Then came a computer in every household and mp3s…which is where the Apple music story began.

Digital storage of music had been possible for years (it was the basis for compact discs after all) and the mp3 format, which compressed some sounds to use up less storage space, dated back to around 1988. But it was of little interest to most since computers were rare and the internet almost unknown – not to mention slow with dial-up should you have been one of the early-adopters. By the mid-’90s it was gaining popularity and some portable devices which stored and played the files (ie – songs or pieces of music) were introduced. They caught on gradually, with the emergence of things like Napster and high-speed internet (making downloading a song fairly fast as opposed to a possibly hours-long process with dial-up) , but most were a bit chunky and had very limited capacity for storage. Apple saw the opening.

By the late-’90s, the company wasn’t doing all that well and their computers seemed to be being trounced in the marketplace by Windows-based PCs despite their good looks and “cool” appeal. They set out to make a stylish and powerful mp3 player. That arrived in October 2001 with the first Ipod (also at times spelled iPod or I-pod). They bragged it was the first portable mp3 player to be able to hold 1000 songs. That was a lot of music in your pocket suddenly. And conveniently enough, they’d just launched Itunes, their proprietary seller of mp3 music. In time, they’d boast having 90 million songs available on it. The Washington Post suggest that “arguably, the first Ipod…revived Apple.”

Soon it seemed everyone had one of the little players with their distinctive white ear buds. They quickly expanded capabilities to include a screen making it possible to watch videos or play games (also available through Itunes of course.) They were indeed stylish, came in an array of colors and capacities – the more you paid, the more your Ipod could store and play for you.

By 2007, they sold their 100 millionth, pronounced it the “best-selling digital music player of all-time” and saw it trouncing the Microsoft competition, the Zune, at the checkouts. The next year, sales peaked at about 50 million and it represented 42% of the fast-growing company’s total revenue – more than the computer division or any other part of Apple. Even the TV commercials became famous.

But of course, that was around when they decided to introduce a brand new bit of tech gear – the Iphone. By then, celphones were common place but most didn’t do much. You could use them as a phone (duh!), text with them, and perhaps take a low-res, grainy picture with one. The Blackberry was probably the most advanced and even it was limited in what you could do with it. The Iphone put the concept of “smart phone” into the vocabulary. Now a phone with a hi-res camera, bigger screen, internet…and of course, music-player built in. As the sales of their phones (and then Android competitors) rose steadily, so too declined the Ipod.

By 2015 they removed the item from their consumer home page and had already more or less stopped upgrading the product. The last one they had available was the 7th Generation Ipod Touch, which retailed for $199…and that was what you were going to pay for one, as Apple exercised very tight control over retail prices of their products. A few were still selling by 2020, mostly to hipster collectors or parents who wanted their younger kids to have the smartphone experience without an actual phone, but the writing was on the wall for it. So few were surprised that much when they announced that after 450 million (give or take) had rolled off the Chinese assembly lines, they’d ceased production of it. Like GPS units and $200 pocket-sized digital cameras, they’d been rendered obsolete by the do-everything phones.

Apple tried to make it a suitably poignant moment, stating “the Ipod has captivated users all over the world who love the ability to take their music with them on the go” and pledged that “music has always been part of our core at Apple” …and always will be, no matter how it ends up getting into your pocket or ears.

May 9 – Seems Like U2 Day In Canada

On this day in 1987, U2 got to the top for the first time in Canada. On the singles charts that is, about a month after The Joshua Tree hit the #1 spot on the album chart there. “With or Without You”, the first single off that album zoomed up the Canuck charts as it did throughout much of the world…it did in the U.S. as well, but almost astonishingly, they only scored one more #1 song there.

But in the Great White North, fast forward five years to the day, and in 1992, they’d place their fifth song atop the charts there – the appropriately titled “One.” (In between they’d had chart-toppers with “Desire”, “Angel of Harlem” and “Mysterious Ways”) In their native Ireland, mind you it was their tenth #1. Although it didn’t quite get to #1 in the U.S. or UK,(it made #10 in the former and #7 in the latter) it’s widely seen as close to the band’s finest hour. As Jon Bon Jovi gushes, “Achtung Baby was bigger than life. It was unique. A song like ‘One’- beyond ridiculous!” Entertainment Weekly at the time called it “biting and unprecedentedly emotional” while Rolling Stone thought it a “radiant ballad… few bands can marshal such sublime power.” Q readers agreed, in 2006 voting it the fifth greatest song ever. Bono likes the song but says it’s not a love song. “It’s a bit twisted. I could never figure out why people want it at their weddings!” Michael Stipe and Mike Mills of R.E.M. performed the song with U2’s Adam Clayton and Larry Mullen in ’93 at a concert for president Bill Clinton.

They’d go on to top both the Canadian and Irish singles charts 11 more times…and counting. That included “Staring at the Sun”, which was #1 exactly five years after “One”, this day in 1997! U2 should really like May 9th by now. With a new album out recently, Songs of Experience, and another one rumored to be coming shortly, one might not bet against them making that a dozen!

May 8 – The Ferry Launched Again For Good Cause

An all too common type of rock story – a disaster inspires a fine hit record. And a rare rock story – Paul McCartney gets told “no!” . That’s because his producer got his way for the quickly-recorded single “Ferry Cross The Mersey”, which came out this day in 1989 as a fund-raiser.

Although this version of the single seems primarily credited to McCartney, it was actually a collaborative effort put together, fittingly enough, by Gerry Marsden. Marsden had written the song and recorded the original version of it with Gerry & the Pacemakers back in 1965. At the time they were rivaling The Beatles for popularity in Britain, having started their career with three-straight #1 songs there in 1963 including “You’ll Never Walk Alone” and there was a certain rivalry between the two Liverpool bands back then. So when the Beatles did the movie A Hard Day’s Night, Gerry came back with his band in a movie, a similar musical comedy about their supposed trip to America and their triumphant return to their hometown…via the ferry across the Mersey River. That being the one which flows into the sea through Liverpool. It was a lovely pop song that made it to #8 at home and #6 in the U.S., however their trajectory would go the opposite way to the Beatles over the next few years.

Frankie Goes to Hollywood recorded a surprisingly true version of it in 1983 but the song would only go to the top of the charts in a third version, spurred on by a horrible sporting accident. In April ’89, there was a mad rush into a football stadium in Sheffield, England when Liverpool fans were let into the stadium through a narrow tunnel to get to two small standing room areas designated for them. It was a first-come, first serve type of thing (strikingly similar to one that caused deaths at a Who concert in Cincinnati ten years earlier) and the crowd surged in, far exceeding the tunnel or designated area’s capacity, resulting in hundreds being crushed or trampled. By the end of the day, 94 fans had died (two more would later) and over 700 were injured. Police blamed “hooliganism” but an official report blamed them for inadequate crowd control and poor planning.

Seeing as how they were all Liverpool fans, it hit that city hardest and Marsden decided to do a record to raise funds for the victims and their families. He called Pete Waterman of the “ Stock Aitken Waterman” team that has written or produced over 100 hit singles on the British charts, starting with “You Spin Me ‘Round” by Dead or Alive. Waterman agreed to produce it and agreed that “Ferry ‘Cross the Mersey” would be a good choice. Soon Paul McCartney, the band The Christians and Holly Johnson (former singer of Frankie Goes to Hollywood) were on board as well. It was recorded in three parts, first Marsden, then McC and Christians and finally Johnson, but it was put together seamlessly. Compared to the original it was a little longer and had a bit of an electric guitar solo, but all in all, was quite faithful. The careful listener might notice Paul “wails” briefly midway through it. He hated that and wanted it edited out but Waterman refused. Linda McCartney later said to the producer “you know you’re probably the only person who’s ever told Paul McCartney that he couldn’t have his own way. But all of us down here think you’re right; we think it’s marvelous to hear him showing some emotion.”

The record was quickly put out on the small PWL label, as a 7” and 12” single or CD single, with a choir singing “Abide With Thee” on the b-side.

In two weeks it got to #1 in the UK, and it also made the top in Ireland; in Australia it made #45, but it generally went unnoticed in North America. Precise sales figures are unavailable but it’s said to have raised “millions of pounds” for the charity.

Curiously, Paul’s been a part of two more #1 singles in Britain since, both charity fund-raisers – the 20th Anniversary remake of “Do They Know It’s Christmas” and a remake of “He Ain’t Heavy” in 2012 for the Justice Collective.

May 4 – And The Winner Is…

Every tradition has to begin somewhere, sometime. In the case of music, one of the biggest got going in both New York & L.A. 64 years ago. That was the first Grammy Awards, held in 1959 for the 1958 year in music. Over six decades later, despite the jokes and criticisms they are still the industry standard. Sure, there are American Music Awards, Junos, Brits, CMAs… but a Grammy is the one that has the prestige and carries weight (and the weight is about five pounds per trophy in case you’re wondering.)

The awards were thought up by the people behind the Hollywood Walk of Fame. They noticed that the movies and even the relatively new-fangled television had awards to honor their best, but music didn’t. So they coupled with the Recording Academy to change that and give out trophies for musical excellence and have a fancy ceremony/party to do so. They had a contest to pick a name, and Jay Danna from New Orleans won with the suggestion, a shortened version of “gramophone”, which they decided to use as the main theme for the trophy itself.

The first awards, split between fancy hotels in Manhattan and Hollywood, handed out 28 awards. By the early-’00s, it had grown to over 100 a year; after a little scaling back and reconfiguring of categories, there are 91 currently. NBC filmed the awards and aired them, although not live. It wasn’t until ABC took over the broadcasts that they were shown coast-to-coast in real time on TV.

Actor-comedian Mort Sahl hosted the first ones (although it’s not stated if he was the West coast or East coast one) and since then they’ve used a line of famous actors, comedians and only infrequently, musicians, as hosts. Andy Williams holds the record, hosting seven straight (1971-77), followed by John Denver with six. Denver has the distinction of being the host to the most-watched ones, the 1984 edition which over 50 million people tuned into… although more probably were waiting for Michael Jackson’s moonwalking appearance than hoping to see the bespectacled country singer. This year’s Awards drew about 12 million viewers by comparison.

Among the big awards were the first winners for Record of the Year, Album of the Year and Song of the Year. Henry Mancini’s Music from Peter Gunn won the Album, beating out two Frank Sinatra ones among others. Song of the Year (basically for the actual song lyrically and melody-wise) and Record of the Year (for best-sounding song, with the producers and engineers also being credited) both went to “Nel Blu Dipinto de Blu” by Domenico Modugno. Not familiar? The hit was better known as “Volare”, and to this day it’s still the only foreign-language song (Italian) to win best song. Among the competitors it beat out was … “The Chipmunk Song”. By The Chipmunks. Don’t feel sorry for the singing rodents though, they won three awards that night, for Best children’s Recording, Best Comedy Album and Best Engineered, non-classical recording. Interestingly, comedy records were a much bigger deal back then; a Bob Newhart stand-up routine won the Best Album in 1961. Other winners in the first show were Ella Fitzgerald and Perry Como in their “pop” category and The Champs rockin’ “Tequila” which was classified as the Best R&B record!

Obviously there’s always debate and arguments aplenty over the winners and losers, and there’ve been some obvious missteps, perhaps none more glaringly than Milli Vanilli who had to give back their 1990 Best New Artist one after it was found that the supposed winning duo didn’t perform on it. Certainly some greats like the Beatles, Led Zeppelin and Elton John seem to have been overlooked relative to their importance and enduring records, and at times the Awards seem to play catch-up, like naming Ray Charles the winner of Album of the Year posthumously in 2005 and Steely Dan winning their first in that category in 2001. But in general, one would probably agree that the list of winners, at least for the 20th Century have been a pretty good, if perhaps conservative, list of records and artists who mattered. Since then… well, debate amongst yourself if you think Beyonce really should have more wins than any other act , ever?

And if you were wondering, the actual trophies are gold-plated and hand-made in Colorado by Billings Artworks. The owner John, and his small staff make the awards each year, personally drive them to the Awards pre-ceremony and then engrave nameplates for them when winners are announced.

May 1 – Uncle Tupelo Became Two

One of those influential bands everyone’s heard of but no one seems to have records by called it a day this day in 1994Uncle Tupelo. The band had been around for some seven years and had just released their first major label album, Anodyne on Sire Records after three well-reviewed, small-selling indie albums.

The band had been formed by one-time friends Jeff Tweedy and Jay Farrar, who shared writing and singing duties, as well as drummer Mike Heidorn. They drew on influences ranging from old country and folk to the Sex Pistols and Black Flag to create a new, low-fi, roots rock sound that many, such as the BBC, credit with single-handedly starting “Alt country” (although it was already a movement in Canada with the likes of Blue Rodeo and Crash Vegas and of course Gram Parsons had made similar music before them), and as Heidorn notes, “people are wrong in saying we started anything because we were just picking up the ball starting with Woody Guthrie in the early-’60s and on to the Flying Burrito Brothers.”. Although well-liked by critics, at the time they failed to put any record onto charts in either the U.S. or UK, though years later a compilation of theirs rose all the way to a lofty #173 at home. Tweedy and Farrar’s egos clashed and they fought over how many songs each should get per concert – and a girl. After playing this night in a bar near the Gateway Arch in their hometown of St. Louis, they went their own ways, Farrar (along with Heidorn) forming Son Volt and Tweedy going on to reasonable fame with his new band, Wilco.